Winner of Best New Ship at the Cruise International Awards 2013, Royal Princess was the most hotly anticipated ship launch of the year – so does it live up to its early promise? Liz Jarvis, Editor of Cruise International, finds out

I’m reclining on a lounger in The Sanctuary, the tranquil relaxation area of Princess Cruises‘ Royal Princess, being plied with afternoon tea, cold towels and iced water. It’s just a few steps to the adults-only Retreat Pool, where there are cool private cabanas for hire, and all around me is blue sky and sea.

As you’d expect from a ship that has the Duchess of Cambridge as a godmother, everything on Royal Princess is effortlessly elegant, from the glamorous gold Piazza, the centrepiece of the ship, with its bars and lounges to suit all tastes, to the luxurious staterooms furnished in neutral tones. Every attention to detail has been carefully thought through, from the in-room entertainment system and its range of DVDs, to the heated beds in The Enclave spa.

If it’s possible to fall in love with a ship, then Royal Princess has probably had my affections from the first time I saw it as a steel shell in the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy. In many ways it feels like a sophisticated, grown-up vessel – the ambience is reminiscent of a Manhattan hotel, particularly if you’re dining at the Crown Grill. But it’s also a multi-generational ship, with state-of-the-art kids’ clubs.

Our cruise itinerary gave us the opportunity to stay overnight in Venice – a wonderful treat which meant we could take the vaporetto into the city and eat authentic Italian food at a local taverna; other highlights included a full day in Athens, where we chose the tour option that gave us transport into the city with a guide who told us where everything was, but the freedom to explore on our own; and a visit to the Turkish resort of Kusadasi, where we joined an excellent excursion to discover the ancient ruins of Ephesus, and saw the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – the Temple of Artemis. We were very impressed with the tours, and how smoothly everything ran; totally stress-free.

Our trip also included two days at sea, which gave us ample time to discover everything Royal Princess has to offer. Much of that includes food.

Master chef Alfredo Marzi is a culinary conjurer, constantly surprising guests with his creations (his eponymous pizzeria comes highly recommended). Of the speciality dining options on board, the food in Princess favourite Sabatini’s is fabulous, although not for the calorie-conscious (my lobster was served in a creamy brandy sauce); we also tried the extraordinarily good Winemaker’s Dinner, which is well worth the $40 cover charge. I’m still dreaming about the gnocchi.

If you want to really push the boat out, the Chef’s Table Lumiere, in an exclusive area of the Allegro dining room, is truly special – diners are surrounded by a curtain of shimmering light. It’s exquisite, although it does come with a $115 cover charge, so probably best reserved for an important occasion.

The in-room breakfast menu is perfectly fine if you have an early-morning excursion, but otherwise you’ll find much more choice (and hotter food) in the Horizon Court buffet. The International Café serves excellent pastries, sandwiches and croissants, all complimentary, while Gelato has a mouth-watering selection of ice-cream.

Of course, there’s also a fully-equipped gym so you can burn off all those calories; or if you prefer a slightly lazier approach, then The Enclave at the Lotus Spa – probably one of my favourite areas of the ship – offers a Turkish hammam, Roman caldarium and a laconicum, as well as those heated beds, just made for lounging (and napping). You may never want to leave.

Entertainment is a big feature of any Princess cruise, but particularly on Royal Princess, with a choice of shows and venues, live music, and of course the TV studio, Princess Live! But it’s the supersized Movies Under The Stars experience (which comes with popcorn, warm cookies and milk) and the spellbinding dancing fountain show which are the real highlights.

My only niggles would be that the adults-only Retreat Pool area isn’t big enough for a blisteringly hot “at sea” day; although this may not be such an issue when the ship is in the Baltic next summer.

To avoid the poolside crush, I recommend booking a cabana ($50 for half a day or $80 for a full day), or better still, reserving spaces at The Sanctuary (although you have to do this at 8.30am if you haven’t done so in advance, and queuing up before breakfast isn’t very relaxing). Soundproofing is an issue in the spa treatment rooms, so my top tip would be to avoid late afternoon appointments (when the orchestra are rehearsing); it’s also worth noting that the over-21 alcohol policy is enforced, even in non-US waters.

But really, these are very minor issues, because Royal Princess is without doubt one of the most beautiful ships to set sail this year, with exceptional detail paid to passenger experience, and a warm, relaxed atmosphere guaranteed to make you feel at home. When sister ship Regal Princess launches next June, sailing the Mediterranean, you’ll be spoiled for choice.

For more on Royal Princess go to princess.com

Watch a video of the christening: Duchess of Cambridge names Royal Princess

Read Cruise Review: Royal Princess

Read Stylish, elegant and classy: Royal Princess is a triumph

Read the latest issue of Cruise International in shops now

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