Like any Princess, she likes to be the centre of attention. So when the Majestic Princess arrived at the port of Trieste, on Italy’s Adriatic coast, her captain chose to play the theme song from The Love Boat on the ship’s foghorns.
Trieste, a town that has seen a ship or two, was transfixed.
Next day, thousands turned out to see her leave the dockside on her maiden voyage. But this time, another theme found its way onto the giant TV screen on the pool deck – the music from Kung Fu TV icon Wong Fei Hong.
For the Majestic Princess, a US$600 million 19-deck mega-liner with room for 3,560 guests, isn’t any ordinary cruise ship. She is Carnival Corporation’s biggest and boldest play yet for the Asian market.
But Majestic Princess had better learn to play Waltzing Matilda on those foghorns. Because she is coming to Australian next year for a full season.
She will be here from September, 2018 until March, 2019, with 16 cruises to Fiji, New Zealand, Tasmania, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
She will be the largest Princess ship ever to sail Australian waters – and the most luxurious.
There are 13 dining options, including Harmony by Richard Chen and La Mer by Emmanuel Renaut – both Michelin-starred chefs. One represents the best of Chinese, the other Parisian Bistro.
There is 1,000 metres of shopping featuring top brands – Cartier, Bulgari…the list goes on and on.
There is a fabulous spa and perfumed steam rooms, private karaoke, a three-tiered casino, new live shows and an enclosed pool with private cabanas which transforms into a night club.
Over 80 per cent of the ship’s 1,780 staterooms have balconies.
The World’s largest cruise company, with ten brands, over 100 ships and a payload of 12 million guests a year, is renewing its faith in the premium market.
Premium is being redefined as competitors sniff at its heels. The Majestic Princess represents the latest shift towards the top end.
Carnival Australia chair Ann Sherry told Cruise Passenger this is the area Australians love to play in. Now they have a new toy.
Princess, already a firm favourite in Australia and southeast Asia, has pushed the boundaries with this ship.
She is the third Royal Class vessel – there are three more in the pipeline – with tweaks that will make them even more desirable.
Built at the famed Italian yard Fincantieri and launched after a glittering hand-over ceremony attended by the Italian Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni and Carnival Corporation’s legendary chairman Micky Arison, son of the company’s founder, the Majestic Princess was described as the ultimate Princess built for China.
Cruise Passenger was aboard when she sailed out of Trieste to a tumultuous send-off.
We were told she would tour Europe before taking the “Silk Road Sea Route”, a 49-day journey from Rome to Shanghai, her new home, where she will be officially named.
She was to be based there – her gaming rooms and mahjong tables designed with China in mind.
But, thanks to the importance and growth of Australian cruise, there seems to have been a change of heart. A move to be heartily applauded!
So what’s life like aboard the Majestic?
Princess says it is a truly international ship. And we agree.
From her multi-tiered atrium to her dancing central water fountains, this is a ship for a new age of cruising. Almost any nationality will feel at home.
The suites and cabins are comfortable and large. The corridors are expansive and ceilings high. The public areas feel grand.
“From her gourmet restaurants to her stunning on board features, Majestic Princess is nothing short of magnificent,” says Stuart Allison, vice president Australia and New Zealand.
We were wined and dined in the ship’s new food venues – Richard Chen has a lobster bar on the pool deck (additional US$18) and Harmony, a bright, light Cantonese food venue with gorgeous sea views and a fresh take on traditional Chinese.
On a shakedown cruise, the ingredients are limited. But our Chilean cod was a sensation.
La Mer, a partnership with three-times starred Michelin chef Emmanuel Renaut, offers Bistro dining like escargots and mushroom ragout.
There is a Chef’s Table Lumiere (US$120 pp) – a fascinating light-infused curtain surrounds guests as they feast on a specially prepared menu. And, of course, there is perennial Princess favourite Crown Grill and Bar, home to one of the best steaks at sea.
We love the Crown Grill – and it retains its reputation as one of our favourites, with the French Onion Soup an all-time best.
The vessel’s buffet areas have been transformed into The World Fresh Marketplace – a series of food stalls serving a huge variety of dishes prepared from fresh produce in the Majestic’s prodigious kitchens.
There are two main dining rooms and six speciality restaurants, many of which will now start to appear in the Princess fleet around the world. Curtis Stone’s Share puts in a guest appearance – with one dish on the main dining menus.
But the changes to accommodate the Asian market – and a more sophisticated cruise passenger globally – don’t stop with the food.
The spa has been expanded, and now features an amazing area called The Enclave, where a pool, perfumed steam rooms and heated sunbeds are sure to relax you. Just 50 guests get unlimited access for US$119.
And The Hollywood Conservatory is a completely new design: a sanctuary for adults in private cabanas by day, and transformed into the Hollywood Pool Club, a rocking night venue, once the sun goes down.
The Vista Gaming Lounge features mahjong – including digital tables – and the casino has a high roller and VVIP room where the Baccarat limits change every day, depending on who is on board. During our visit, it was set at $100 to $5,000 a bet.
Guests can use their winnings at the world’s largest retail mall at sea – 1100 square metres – showcasing Cartier, Chopard, Bulgari, Prada, Coach, Gucci, Burberry and many more.
There are full production musicals in the theatres, a light and dance show by the pool and, because Asian guests love to do their own signing, an array of private karaoke rooms and a TV studio.
The suites and cabins
There are 36 suites with private balconies, 374 mini suites also with private verandas, 312 deluxe balcony cabins, 716 balcony cabins and 342 inside cabins.
Traditional Princess layouts are mixed with brighter designs. And there’s a new “Asian friendly” bed. Princess is replacing all of its beds with a new specially designed mattress and pillows created by US sleep specialist Dr Michael Breus.
Asians, apparently, prefer harder mattresses because of their history of sleeping on hard floors or beds.
As a result, the new Princess bed will feature a hard mattress base and a soft cover. In tests, they have proved so popular, says Dr Breus, that they are now on sale to the public online at US$1,200. So far, only to the US market but a global delivery system is in the works.
The ship features a big move to provide facilities for families – Executive vice president guest experiences and product development Rai Caluori maintaining the line’s child-friendly position was “one of the great Princess secrets”.
He said Princess didn’t offer the rides and rock climbing of competitors, but instead put on a more educational approach – a direct appeal to Asia’s legendary Tiger Mums.
One thing missing from this excellent new ship is Carnival Corporations’ Ocean Medallion.
The device, which delivers a new level of personalised service using sensors and digital technology, won’t be available yet but will be retro fitted later.
Highs: Bright, airy and spacious public areas with lots going on – the piazza really is like the town square. The famed friendly and efficient Princess service and new dining venues re-defines Premium Cruising.
Lows: This ship deserves some rock star staterooms in the style now aboard many luxury ships. She’s a small step away from luxury herself, and larger suites would make a big difference.
Who’s it for: this is a Princess on steroids – she’ll attract a new and younger Princess cruiser without offending the line’s most loyal fans.