Royal Princess: Inside the cruise ship helping bring a $150m economic boost to New Zealand

Inside the Royal Princess cruise ship.
The Royal Princess will bring millions to New Zealand. Photo credit: Princess Cruises / Newshub

The arrival of the Royal Princess cruise ship into Auckland on its maiden Australasian voyage is more than significant for an industry recovering from the decimation of COVID-19. 

Having docked in Auckland on its 28-day voyage from Vancouver, Canada, the Royal Princess signalled the official start of the cruise ship season, an event destined to bring a major financial boost to the motu's cities and regions. 

Over the coming six months, the Princess' lineup of five ships will become very familiar with Aotearoa's shores, as the industry tries to put the spectre of a disastrous 2020 and the global pandemic behind it. 

"Royal Princess will be one of five Princess ships that will visit New Zealand this summer season bringing over 100,000 visitors and almost $150 million in economic value. Overall, Princess Cruises will make a total of 186 calls to New Zealand ports over the next six months, making this one of our biggest seasons on record," Princess Cruises senior vice president Asia Pacific, UK and Europe, Stuart Allison, told Newshub. 

But it's not just the financial boom that the ship has to offer - this 19-deck high liner is also home to a piece of royal history, having been christened by the Princess of Wales, Catherine Middleton back at its unveiling in 2013. Inside its levels lies a dress left by Kate as a memento, framed for all to see. 

Kate Middleton's dress on the Royal Princess cruise ship.
Kate Middleton's dress on the Royal Princess cruise ship. Photo credit: Princess Cruises

There is much to see on the 330-metre-long ship - if that sounds big, it needs to be. From 1780 rooms that can accommodate up to 3560 guests along with 1346 crew members - and over 15,000 towels at any one time - it needs to have enough space to provide guests with the luxury treatment they're expecting. 

Within the ship's walls there are nine halls which can comfortably seat some 900 people and keep them entertained - if they want to stay inside, that is. 

It's not just interiors that the Royal Princess excels in: its outside areas and sun decks represent the pinnacle of luxury, as well as privacy for holidaymakers looking for their own space. 

The Royal Princess cruise ship's cabins.
The Royal Princess cruise ship's cabins. Photo credit: Princess Cruises

Vicki Johnson, the senior vice president of Communications for Princess, told Newshub their fleet of ships stand out because "they are not a theme park on the water." 

"We have a passion for retaining intimate spaces for our guests," she said, adding that you can pack as many hydroslides and above-deck extreme activities as you want on some ships, but more isn't necessarily better. 

Nowhere is that more evident than on Royal Princess' top sun deck on level 17: it offers a luxurious setting in an area designated 'the Sanctuary', an adults-only space that can comfortably seat 56 but will hold 70 if circumstance demands. 

The cabana atop the Royal Princess.
The cabana atop the Royal Princess. Photo credit: Newshub

It's a stunning outdoor venue with 360-degree vistas, but it's the luxury curtained cabana sun beds that have proved to be the most popular.  

The secret tip to securing a slice of solitude and some of the greatest poolside views any ship has to offer is a simple one. 

"Book early and book everything as soon as you're on board," Johnson laughed, adding that as guests know the itinerary of the ship and can ascertain when it will be nearing spectacular views, it's the smart thing to do. 

That doesn't mean there aren't still waiting lists: when the Royal Princess heads to Alaska, its views of Glacier Bay - a national park that mixes rugged mountains, dynamic glaciers, wild coastlines and deep sheltered fjords - are second to none from atop the Sanctuary. 

"It makes you feel like a little speck," Johnson mused. 

One of the Royal Princess's entertainment venues.
One of the Royal Princess's entertainment venues. Photo credit: Newshub

Nature and the offerings from the environment are key to Princess Cruises' commitment to Aotearoa, with the inaugural visit to Auckland seeing a confirmation their local partnerships programme will continue. 

With a desire to help restore and regenerate parts of New Zealand's wilderness, the company's committed funding from its Princess Local Partnerships programme to two Kiwi programmes. 

One is Dunedin-based Natures Wonders, which is building a habitat for an emerging Blue Penguin colony in Otago and preserving the last major yellow-eye penguin colony on the mainland of New Zealand. 

The second is Bay Bush Action in the Bay of Islands, a cause which the company has supported since 2019 and has already yielded results. In recent years there has been a 120 percent increase in Kiwi numbers in the Ōpua State Forest and revival of the Kaka and Kokako native bird species in the region. 

Guests are soon expected to be able to visit the Dunedin conservation efforts as part of upcoming cruises, but no date has yet been announced. 

The Royal Princess' atrium.
The Royal Princess' atrium. Photo credit: Princess Cruises

Among the other offerings for passengers looking to get their fill of life on the water is the Sea Walk, a glass-bottomed enclosed walkway that extends nearly nine metres beyond the ship's edge - gifting guests "awe-inspiring views" while suspended above the sea. 

Johnson told Newshub they have changed the cruise experience for their passengers by introducing the MedallionClass app "to maximise vacation time." 

Essentially, guests carry around a piece of wearable tech that resembles a circular fob. They then access the app on any device, from which they can order drinks, food, or anything they want, and staff then use the tech to locate them and deliver their needs. 

Described as a "gamechanger", Johnson said it ensures wait times are radically reduced.  

"We had feedback from guests that waiting in queues 'yanked me out of vacation mode'," she said, revealing what inspired the instigation of the service. She said it would now be possible for travellers to not miss a moment of their carefully planned downtime, or sightings of pods of orca or dolphins, simply because they had to collect a coffee or wait for a drink. 

Royal Princess Captain Andrea Spinardi will be at the helm until 2024.
Royal Princess Captain Andrea Spinardi will be at the helm until 2024. Photo credit: Princess Cruises

The Royal Princess' captain, Italian-born Andrea Spinardi, told Newshub the guests were one of his highlights in the 25 years he's been with the company. 

"My intention was to only do one year, but I fell in love [with the life]," he said, revealing he will be at the helm of the Royal Princess until February 2024. 

"Music, food, entertainment, moving from one city to another, great service on board, a different menu on board every night, what's not to love?"  

He believed even newcomers uncertain of whether the cruising life is for them will be hooked. 

"If they try, they will come back. Once everyone comes on board, the first time is not the last time!" he laughed. 

Certainly, that would appear to be the case: it was revealed that one couple who set sail in July 2022 with the Royal Princess was still on-board as of October 2023, and they had already secured their seating to stay on deck until August 2024. 

The Royal Princess by the numbers 

  • Guests: 3560 
  • Guest rooms: 1780 
  • Crew: 1346 
  • Length: 330m 
  • Gross tonnage: 142,229 GT 
  • Accommodation: 
  • 1780 rooms 
  • 36 suites with private balconies 
  • 314 mini suites 
  • 358 deluxe balcony cabins 
  • 730 balcony cabins 
  • 342 inside cabins 
  • 19 decks
  • 2 Swimming Pools (Fountain Pool, Retreat Pool) and a separate Plunge Pool
  • 8 Outdoor Hot Tubs