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August 22, 2013

The Princess and the Sea

The newest ship in the Princess fleet embarks on her maiden voyage.

You’re sailing down the Giudecca Canal, the broad channel separating Giudecca island from the rest of Venice. There goes Santa Maria della Salute, the octagonal basilica crowned with double domes; and there’s Piazza San Marco; and there’s the start of the Grand Canal.

But the rarest, most breathtaking sight is the red-tiled roofs of the city glittering in the early morning light and dissolving against the blue shadow of distant mountains. Venice is a city we all know from sea level. Who knew you could see the Dolomites from Venice?

This is not a scene experienced by gondola; not even from a vaporetto. It’s a prize reserved for those leaving Venice by cruise ship — namely, the Royal Princess, one of the world’s newest cruise ships.

After being sent to sea in June with a Champagne blessing by Britain’s Duchess of Cambridge — aka Kate Middleton, the ship’s official “godmother,” who follows in the footsteps of Diana, godmother of an earlier Royal Princess ship — the 3,560-passenger vessel embarked on its inaugural cruise: a summer tour of the Mediterranean. It’s in Venice that globorati hopped on for a few days of that journey.

Royal Princess is the newest ship in the Princess fleet (to be followed next year by a sister ship, Regal Princess). All of its outside staterooms (1,438 of a total 1,780) have private balconies, perfect for taking in early-morning port arrivals in the comfort of your robe. But the most striking element of the ship’s exterior design is the SeaWalk: a glass-bottomed walkway extending from the top deck, nearly 30 feet above the sea (pictured).

Inside, the social heart of the ship is the Piazza, where four twisting, golden-railed staircases converge; singers and dancers entertain; and dining options from gelato to panini to cocktails are on tap. Food is where Royal Princess really excels: theirs goes way beyond the 24-hour buffet to include creatively executed experiences.

Take Sabatini’s, Princess’ impressive Italian restaurant that serves the largest collection of Super Tuscan wines at sea. On the maiden voyage, a wine tasting was hosted by 30th-generation winemaker Lamberto Frescobaldi of Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi in Italy. The tasting included Ornellaia, a wine sold so affordably on Princess that we heard more than one oenophile gasp, and so good that Frescobaldi has forbid his own family members from purchasing more than three bottles per year for fear of wiping out the market (”notice I said ‘buy,’” he noted with a twinkle in his eye).

There’s also the chef’s table experience, in the Allegro dining room, that is setting new standards for flash presentation. It is aptly named the “Table Lumiere” as the guests are surrounded by a curtain of fiber-optic light. The black lacquer table was constructed by a piano company for $33,000 and a flamboyant Murano glass sculpture crowns the scene. The multi-course experience seems like a steal in this setting: $115 per person (that includes the wine).

Of course, after all this decadence, you’ll need time to detox (or at least digest) — and that’s best done in “The Enclave,” the triple-sized thermal suite at the Lotus Spa; in a private cabana near the adults’-only “Retreat” pool; or, our favorite, on a plush lounge in “The Sanctuary,” an oasis of sun-deck peace and cucumber water tucked away at the front of the ship (and far from the uptempo beats and squealing swimmers of the main plunge pool).

Whether you’re sailing the Med, crossing the Atlantic (18 days, Venice to Ft. Lauderdale, Oct 9) or cruising the Caribbean (5 days from Ft. Lauderdale, Oct 29), you’ll be on the most state-of-the-art ship in the Princess fleet and a leader in the industry. The security command center looks like something from Mission Impossible with touch screens that allow officers to keep tabs on the entire ship (don’t worry — there’s no camera in your stateroom, but there is a heat censor to alert them to fire).

Royal Princess is also the fleet’s most energy efficient vessel — four diesel generators used to be needed to go 22 knots (25 mph), but this ship only needs three, according to Captain Dino Sagani. Royal Princess can go faster sideways than the original “Love Boat” (the Pacific Princess) could go forward.

Of course, the inner workings of the ship is the last thing on your mind as you’re watching the new $1.5-million theater show, or enjoying breakfast on your balcony (fun fact: 20,000 croissants are made — from scratch — each day). And much of that blissful experience can be credited to the impressively intuitive crew who discreetly move about the ship.

And the more conspicuous ones too — those making your latte each morning or serving you dinner — who remember you by name, bend over backwards, and make you feel like, well, royalty.

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read more: 05. Eat | 06. Drink | 08. Journey | cruise | 11. Family

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