In November 2021, Grant and I took our first cruise since the COVID-19 pandemic began. This particular cruise was a 5-night Western Caribbean cruise with Princess Cruise Lines on the Regal Princess with a couple of our dear friends, Dave and Jen. While dealing with the COVID-19 protocols was a little cumbersome, overall it was a great experience and we were reminded why we’ve come to love cruising so much!
While the cruise itself was fantastic, cruising with friends was probably the best part of it. We’ve done other cruises with family and friends and we’ve also done cruises just the two of us. Since we live together, work together, and generally travel together, it’s always nice to have other people along to share in the fun.
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Cruising and COVID-19
If you haven’t yet cruised in the world of COVID-19, you might be wondering how that affects the experience. And, like many things these days, that’s difficult to predict since things change so frequently and vary so much across the country. But, we’ll share our experience to give you some idea of what to expect.
First, it’s important to note that we somehow planned our cruise for the magical time when cruising started to really pick back up but before the crowds hit a peak. Also, our cruise was just before Thanksgiving 2021, right before the massive COVID-19 surge in early 2022. In terms of the timing, that made it just about perfect.
Our cruise was initially supposed to be just 3 nights to Princess Cays, the cruise lines’ private island in the Bahamas. A month or two before the cruise Princess changed the itinerary to a 5-night cruise to Cozumel and Costa Maya without any additional fees for current guests. We certainly couldn’t complain about more cruise for the same price!
Prior to the cruise, we had to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination and a negative test. This is fairly standard for all cruise lines these days. And, we understand that it’s a necessary step to keep most people healthy.
Once onboard, we found the ship to be at only about 20% capacity. In fact, from what we heard, there actually were more crew members on board than passengers! This meant essentially no wait anywhere and no worries of large crowds. We did need to wear a mask when walking around and in the large theater but were otherwise free to take it off when seated.
Western Caribbean Itinerary
Our itinerary took us to two ports in Mexico: Cozumel and Costa Maya. While we technically had been to Cozumel before, our excursion on that trip got canceled and we ended up just staying on the ship. So, it really felt like two new ports for us… well, for me anyway. Grant went to Cozumel several times before we started dating when he was doing a lot of SCUBA diving.
In Cozumel, we did a Jeep and snorkel excursion at Punta Sur, an ecological park with white sandy beaches, a lighthouse with an observation deck providing 360-degree views and some of the best snorkeling around. While the Jeep we had was not in the best shape, it was still nice to drive ourselves and get to explore some of what Cozumel is best known for!
Costa Maya is farther south, near the Belize border, and is basically a small fishing town that has built a cruise dock to provide tourism. There is a nice shopping and dining area right at the dock but once you leave that area there really isn’t much to the town. We took an excursion to the Chacchoben Maya Ruins, which is about an hour away by bus. At the ruins, we enjoyed a guided tour past several temples and even saw some spider monkeys.
Stay tuned for upcoming articles with more details on both of these ports and our excursions.
In addition to our two days in port, we had two at-sea days. While exploring the ports is one of our favorite parts of cruising, we also enjoy being on the ship and just relaxing. Having one day at the beginning and one day at the end really was absolutely perfect for us.
On Board the Regal Princess
We have now cruised with Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian. One thing that we are consistently impressed with is how all the cruise lines make sure that the cruise ship is appropriate for the itinerary. When there are more at-sea days, you’ll generally find larger ships with a wide variety of onboard entertainment. Shorter itineraries with more days in port tend to have smaller ships and fewer onboard activities. That said, even the smaller ships provide plenty of options for the amount of time available.
Dining on the Regal Princess
One thing we liked about the Regal Princess is the variety of options for complimentary dining.
The Regal Princess has three main dining rooms: the Symphony Dining Room on Deck 5 and the Allegro and Concerto Dining Rooms on Deck 6. As is fairly standard these days, guests can make individual reservations for whatever dining room and time they prefer each night. Generally, we would make a point to dine in all the various dining rooms just for a change of pace but only one was open during our cruise based on the limited number of passengers on board.
Still, the variety of foods just in the main dining room kept things interesting for us. Over the course of our six days, we enjoyed breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a variety of appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Each night, the menu will include several standard dishes such as pasta or chicken but also rotating specialty appetizers and entrees such as beef tartare, pork medallions, or duck.
While all the food onboard the Regal Princess was fantastic, I have to say that the desserts were some of the best we’ve ever had! From ice cream to turnovers and just about anything chocolate, make sure you plan ahead so you can end your meal with a sweet treat.
Other Complimentary Dining Options
We generally enjoy the experience of the dining room for many meals. That’s usually where you’ll find the most variety, which is great if you’re feeding a large group. Sometimes, though, you want something a little more casual or just want a change of scenery.
Perhaps our favorite of the complimentary dining options was Alfredo’s Pizzeria on Deck 6. Seriously, this was some of the best pizza we’ve ever had. And we spent nearly a month in Italy back in 2013, where we pretty much ate our weight in pizza. With a perfectly thin crust to a flavorful yet light sauce and fresh toppings, everything about the pizza at Alfredo’s was on point. They also serve salads, calzones, and desserts if you aren’t interested in pizza.
Another great option for any meal or snack is the International Cafe on Deck 5. Here, you can easily pick up a yogurt parfait or pastry in the morning and a sandwich or salad later in the day. They also carry a variety of small bites such as carrots and hummus and a wide selection of desserts if you just want a quick snack. With counter-service only, the food is definitely geared to be grab-and-go but we appreciated being able to get something quick at any time throughout the day or night.
Finally, the Horizon Court buffet was open, though with limited offerings and altered serving procedures. Honestly, as we get older we have less patience for the general chaos that you find around the buffet, especially at prime meal times. Additionally, the limited options at the buffet during this particular cruise left us underwhelmed. Still, it’s a nice area and having attendants dish up food is a good move to meet updated health guidelines.
In addition to all of these options, there is also the Trident Grill outside by the pool that serves up basic hamburgers and hot dogs during the day. At night, you’ll find a variety of barbecue and chicken wings.
As you can see, the Regal Princess provides some of the best options for complimentary dining that we’ve found on any cruise ship. There is a wide variety and everyone should be able to find something they can enjoy with no additional charge.
Pro Tip: There’s one other spot aboard the Regal Princess you can get complimentary dining and it is a bit hidden. On at-sea days, the Crown Grill, which is one of the premium specialty restaurants, offers a Pub Lunch from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. This special lunch offers British-style pub fare, including bangers and mash, fish and chips, and steak and kidney pie. We snagged a table on the last day of the cruise and we all loved the meal.
Of course, sometimes it is worth it to spend a little extra money for a unique experience or a special occasion. The Regal Princess has several specialty restaurants, including Crown Grill (a steakhouse), Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria (serving signature pastas) and Ocean Terrace (a seafood bar).
We opted for dinner at the Crown Grill, which has been recognized as one of the best cruise ship steakhouses by USA Today. When it comes to restaurants, steakhouses are some of our favorites and the Crown Grill definitely did not disappoint!
As you would expect, the steak was divine and the accompanying salts definitely added just the right touch to elevate the flavor. I have to admit, though, the Black and Blue Onion Soup stole the show. Our friend, Dave, who was with us on the cruise, found a copycat recipe online. One day, we’ll see if we can recreate the dish, which includes a bit of Jack Daniels whiskey.
There is also the Vines Wines Bar, which is generally something we would enjoy. After paying for the drink package, though, we just didn’t want to pay even more to check it out. That said, the fee does include tapas and antipasti, so you could easily enjoy it as a light meal.
We did indulge in the Gelato bar, though. I always have a soft spot for ice cream and it’s an even softer spot for gelato. While the two are very similar, gelato has less butterfat and, interestingly, fewer calories than ice cream. I definitely can’t argue with fewer calories! I won’t say that it was the best gelato I’ve ever had but it was tasty and definitely better than soft-serve ice cream, which is what you’ll usually find on a cruise ship.
As with any cruise ship, the Regal Princess has no shortage of bars. And, with the limited number of passengers, we rarely had to wait to get a drink at all! Of course, there are several different bars by the pool. There are also a number of bars scattered throughout the ship.
Anytime we cruise, we are on the lookout for the “perfect bar” that is out of the way and relatively quiet. There’s just something about relaxing before or after dinner in a quiet spot that balances out the craziness of the rest of the ship.
Honestly, this might be the one thing that the Regal Princess is lacking. We did find several bars that we liked, though, and since the ship really wasn’t crowded, we didn’t really need to escape the crowds.
Club 6, near the Casino, actually was one of the most secluded bars and carried a good variety of scotch, including Johnnie Walker Blue. We also liked the bar outside the Princess Live! area, though it’s not at all secluded. Additionally, we really enjoyed the Outriggers Bar at the Horizon Terrace in the evenings right around sunset.
Honestly, though, there are plenty of places to get a drink and you can take it anywhere you want… even back to your room if that’s the only quiet place you can find.
Pro Tip: If you like high-end scotch (or other expensive drinks), it’s important to know that you will only be charged the difference between what the drink package covers and the actual cost of the drink. This means if your drink is $30 and the drink package covers up to $14, you’ll only pay the difference of $16. This is one reason why Grant usually splurges on a glass of Johnnie Walker Blue while cruising!
Entertainment and Things to Do
The Regal Princess is a large ship, with all of the “standard” activities including a pool, multiple hot tubs, and basketball and volleyball courts. You’ll also find table tennis, a jogging track, a driving range, and even a bullseye (archery) range. Sadly, the bullseye range was closed during our cruise; that would have been really fun to check out!
Inside, there are a few shops, a casino, and various classes and trivia games offered throughout the day. On the at-sea days, the ship provided specialty programs including an ice carving demonstration by the pool and a cooking demonstration in the theater. We also enjoyed a specialty wine tasting (for an extra charge) on our first day.
We have found that participating in the various activities is not only good entertainment but generally provides more insight into the ship and the cruise line, like the fact that the Regal Princess has 27 pastry chefs on board.
In terms of nightlife, there were scheduled shows in the Princess Theater each night. From comedy shows to musical revues, there was a good variety throughout the cruise. If you prefer something more relaxed, there were nightly Movies Under the Stars on the giant screen by the pool.
While we found plenty of things to keep ourselves busy (and mostly just wanted to relax, anyway), it did feel like there were fewer scheduled activities than some other ships. Honestly, I think that was mostly due to the fact that our cruise was the first one of the season in the Caribbean and they just didn’t need as many activities since the ship was only at about 20% capacity.
We opted for a balcony room, which is generally our preference on any cruise. Our room was comfortable, though a little smaller than it has been on most other ships. While the room had a king bed and a small desk, it did not have any kind of sofa, which we definitely missed. It’s just nice to have that little bit of extra room to sit down.
Additionally, our balcony was a little small with barely enough room to sit and actually relax. Right next door, our friends’ room had an angled balcony, which did provide them more room outside but it also meant less privacy for both them and us. That really wasn’t a big deal but it’s not necessarily ideal if you don’t know your neighbor.
While the room was a little small, it had everything we really needed.
Princess Cruise Lines uses a wearable medallion while onboard that serves as your stateroom key and onboard charge card. Additionally, the medallion helps to identify contact with others on board to assist with contact tracing in the event anyone does become sick. While some people might not like being tracked, it provided us some peace of mind. And, honestly, you can’t really hide on a cruise ship anyway.
We also liked that when ordering drinks we didn’t even have to fumble for a card. The bartender could see our medallion and “charge” our account without us even having to do anything. In the same manner, our medallion prompted our stateroom door to unlock as we neared, so we could just walk right in with ease.
I know that taking out a card to open a door or charge something at the bar really isn’t a difficult thing, but not having to deal with that just made our experience that much more relaxing.
Overall Impression of the Regal Princess
After sailing on six different ships between three different cruise lines, we’ve come to discover that there are many things that are fairly consistent on every cruise ship. The main differences are the number and types of different dining areas and bars and upgraded on board activities, such as a rock wall or pool slide.
Every cruise ship will have a main dining room and a buffet. They’ll all have a pool, a casino, and some sort of shopping. And each family will have different preferences for their onboard experience. Since we are just two adults, we don’t care about activities for children. Instead, our preference is for a quiet bar and a good variety of restaurants.
The Regal Princess was a good standard cruise ship for all of those things. Admittedly, there weren’t really any upgraded “extras” in terms of things to do. But, it was a fairly short cruise so we didn’t need a lot on the ship. On the flip side, we were impressed by the dining options, especially for a short cruise. Honestly, we didn’t even really have time to get tired of any one option.
In terms of the overall feel of the ship, it’s difficult to judge since there weren’t many people on board. The cruise definitely didn’t have the same energy that we’ve found on other cruises, but that’s because it was really just quiet. We loved that, though! The tough part is making sure our friend, Dave, who was on his first cruise, understands that this was not a “normal” cruise experience!
And, while this cruise may not have been “normal,” it was still enjoyable and we are definitely looking forward to our next cruise! Now, we just need to figure out when that will be and where we will visit.
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