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Slumming it on the Mexican Riviera - Royal Princess 1/4/2020 Photo Review

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The last time we sailed with Princess Cruises, it was on Regal. The ship was newly launched and a major concern at the time, hotly debated here on Cruise Critic, was the potential health-risks associated with inhaling grains of smokestack soot that were being deposited every night on the aft stateroom balconies. This ash deluge happened every time the ship exceeded 15-knots or the prevailing sea breezes blew just the right way. And every morning, our poor room steward had to hose down the balcony and shake blackened detritus from the seat cushions.  

 

We happened to have one of these affected, aft-facing, family suites on that voyage, a cabin I came to detest, not because I minded ingesting bunker-fuel ash with my sunset views – I was part of the fringe group who argued soot was a reliable source of life-sustaining nutrients like iron and sulphur - but because the room layout itself stunk.

 

The suite was essentially two regular rooms, adjoined by a narrow passage, where some idiot cruise-cabin designer chose to situate the make-up vanity. The result being, each night when we got ready for dinner, I had to squeeze by the seated Mrs. Winks (who routinely spends hours at the vanity, working on her hair using a curling-iron of questionable legality) to access the closet, or retrieve my wine glass, or grab my reading glasses, or anything else that I had foolishly left in the “other” room.

 

Regularly trying to wedge my butt between her and the bed essentially gave the stateroom experience the bump-and-grind feel of a tight cabin. Hardly what you could call spacious suite-level accommodations. In fact, the only real perks to the room were the oversized bathroom, concierge service, and the nightly balcony soot-showers.

 

But I digress.

 

This is a recounting of our latest voyage, upon Regal’s sister ship, the Royal Princess, in January 2020. Gone today are the soot and sulphur stories that plagued this ship class’s inaugural sailings, but as it turned out, far darker things than tar and ash were conspiring to cloud-up our humble little voyage.

 

 

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For this Princess cruise, we booked a 7-night Mexican Riviera itinerary, roundtrip from Los Angeles, stopping in Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. The classic Love Boat circuit.

 

Having learned from our Regal suite experience that premium accommodations weren’t the value play on this category of vessel, Mrs. Winks decided to book us a standard balcony stateroom.

 

“No Soot for You!” she proclaimed in a weak homage to Seinfeld, explaining that she was opting for a regular balcony cabin this time, and purposely avoiding situating us anywhere near the aft. “Steerage class will be good for you,” she tried to assuage me. “You’ve gotten way too heady and, frankly, addicted to those upscale quarters. It’s time to take you down a notch.”

 

We’d be slumming it on this cruise, she prepared me with all the nuance of a sledgehammer. There would be no suite accommodations, no concierge service, no mini-bar set-up, and, apparently, no black lung. I packed some Flintstones Vitamins (with Iron) so I wouldn’t feel deprived, and then resigned myself to go with the flow. How bad could it be? He said. They have Medallions and everything.

 

 

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Now, I say Mrs. Winks booked a regular balcony stateroom, but if you know Mrs. Winks at all by now, you know she never settles for anything remotely “ordinary”. Staying true to that resolve, the cabin she ultimately booked ended-up coming with a number of rather unique features.

 

First, it was located on the top passenger deck, Lido. The highest you can occupy. This turned out to be ultra-convenient because it situated us right on the pool level, mere steps away from Movies Under the Stars (where we would spend the first weekend watching NFL wildcard games), the Horizon Bistro and Court Buffets, and the poolside Prego’s brick-oven pizza station, which arguably serves the best pies at sea.

 

There were other advantages to this location as well. Not having to participate in Princess passenger-elevator roulette every time we wanted to test-taste the latest dessert bar offerings was refreshing… although continually having to walk past Journey’s live performance of “Don’t Stop Believing”, which constantly played on the MUTS screen during the day, quickly became its own special kind of Streetlight People hell.

 

 

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As well, Lido 101 was a for-facing balcony cabin, located well out of the path of the smokestack’s plume of death and far above the ship’s bow and even atop the ship’s bridge. We’re talking seriously high up. Have you ever stayed in one of these suckers? Let me tell you, it’s a real treat. Especially if you’re a fan of gale force winds and roller coaster rides.

As you can see from this picture, cabin L101’s balcony is fairly generous, even though, as a booking category, it’s listed as an “obstructed view” (A Category DW, Deluxe Balcony Obstructed View to be exact).

 

That can be attributed to the steel-front balcony panels installed in the place of standard-issue transparent Plexiglas ones. Some might consider this a drawback, but if you’ve ever had to hunker down out there, as we did on several nights, fighting to suck in a single breathe and holding on for dear life as the bow slams down against the raging sea, the steel panels are hardly an obstruction; they’re life-sustaining shelter.

 

We’d also seen pictures of people storing their empty suitcases out there, though we found adequate room for that purpose under our bed, so wouldn’t recommend it.

 

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In the end, the balcony proved to be a terrific vantage point when it came to sailing into, out of, and while docked at port, but it became quickly apparent that once the ship reached open water, it was best to stay off the balcony entirely unless there was a tail wind blowing.

 

 

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One of the other nicer aspects of the room was not having any other passengers living above you. There was no one dropping cigarette butts, red wine or drunken expletives over their railing and onto ours. Theoretically, the Sanctuary Spa was above us, but it was situated towards the rear, making room for navigational devices directly above us that didn’t make any noise, early in the morning nor late at night. It was a rather peaceful location that was advantageously close to a lot of the action.

 

 

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While the room’s balcony did a nice job distinguishing itself from the others, the cabin interior had all the appeal of a wallflower at the school dance.  It was unadorned and unassuming, with no special flair or charm.

 

Everything worked well, except the lavatory shower drain, which remained slow to run throughout the entire cruise. And the bedding was marshmallow soft, making me wish some nights that there had been a firm cushioned full-length couch to find relief on. But there was none to be had in this small cell, only a love chair that clumsily folded out to a twin bed.

 

Accustomed to staying in suite, mini-suite or simply larger one-off staterooms in the past, Mrs. Winks and I slowly adjusted to living in standard-issue quarters, but not without anguish. The experience was humbling and challenging. And worst of all, we were only getting single Captain’s Club loyalty credit for the trip. We were truly slumming it on the Mexican Riviera.

 

 

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This will be a rather long and laborious review and not told in chronological order nor in a timely manner. If you have the patience for all that, welcome aboard. If not, you can always just weed through the pictures.

 

Another reviewer, a neighbor of ours on the Lido deck it turns out, on this very same itinerary, has already shared the Princess Patters. So we won't re-post them here. But be sure to check out her review, as well ->  JennyB1977's Royal Princess Review

 

Coming up next:  Medallion Living at Sea

 

Edited by WinksCruises
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Thanks for your review.

 

I have never heard of an aft facing Family  Suite on Royal Class ships or any Family Suite on Royal Class ships for that matter.

I am only familiar with the Family Suites on Grand Class ships. 
Can you give me some info on these please.

TIA

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Amusing review. Will be following.

 

I hope to write something like this on our next cruise but my ADHD keeps me fro …..

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How fun!  You are an excellent writer!  Enjoying your writing style and story telling!  Great pics too!  

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13 hours ago, Colo Cruiser said:

Thanks for your review.

 

I have never heard of an aft facing Family  Suite on Royal Class ships or any Family Suite on Royal Class ships for that matter.

I am only familiar with the Family Suites on Grand Class ships. 
Can you give me some info on these please.

TIA

Actually, Winks got the room category wrong. We were in the corner aft facing Penthouse Suite. I loved the balcony (soot and all) but the room def had a very choppy feel. Mainly because it is an awkward corner design. I hope that helps!

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2 hours ago, Mrs. Winks said:

Actually, Winks got the room category wrong. We were in the corner aft facing Penthouse Suite. I loved the balcony (soot and all) but the room def had a very choppy feel. Mainly because it is an awkward corner design. I hope that helps!

Thanks.
I agree about choppy. 
Those cabins actually had that aft facing balcony cabin next door was part of the suite in the original design. 
They decided to remove that space from the suite and created that balcony cabin leaving the suite with a terrible cramped layout. 

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Looking forward to this review. This ship is a real possibility for my next cruise.

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Great pictures of the room and balcony.  I do have a concern about the graffiti on the balcony divider wall 😉     I will have Maintenance clean that up and unplug the slow drain in the shower when we board the ship in a few weeks being we have that stateroom for our cruise. 

 

Happy Trails  🥃

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@WinksCruises can't wait for the rest of your review! I'm glad you mentioned the "roller coaster" and "slams down against the raging sea" LOL I was curious if it caught anyone else's attention. I like to be high and forward but it was crazy. My next cruise is high but toward the aft.

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OMG it's been too long since I've read a WinksCruises Princess cruise review! Can't wait for the rest!!

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The OceanMedallion is so innovative and transformative of the whole cruising experience that it’s hard to fathom that Princess Cruise Lines is the brand behind its roll out. AI infused RFID-technology is the cutting-edge marketing currency of much hipper purveyors of sea travel; something you’d expect coming from Richard Branson’s new Virgin Voyages or the youth-oriented Carnival Cruises itself – though I wonder if the clientele on that line possess the necessary intelligence-base to understand, much less use the device, before accidentally ingesting it!

 

With this program, Princess has one upped the competition, and while its deployment is not without faults, after using it a few days, you come to understand it’s destined to become a new standard for the industry. And that’s both a good and scary thing, as we will see.

 

Our OceanMedallion experience, like most passenger’s, began pre-cruise. We registered for it as part of our cruise planning duties.

 

Doing so was fairly straightforward, with having to upload your-own selfie as your security-photo being the only step in the process that was a little off-putting. And as you can imagine, Mrs. Winks spent the better part of a Sunday afternoon in an attempt to capture just the right free-and-breezy look she was ultimately satisfied with. I on the other hand accepted the first photo we snapped, though I’ll be the first to admit it I probably should have shaved and at least combed my hair for the occasion.

 

The real thrill comes the day your Medallion box from Princess arrives at home. It’s like getting your Little Orphan Annie Secret Society Decoder Ring in the mail. Scrooge that I am, even I have to admit it was probably the most exciting present unwrapping experience of the season.

 

The chips are sleek. They had our individual names engraved on them. They came in the color of our Captain’s Club Loyalty Level, so that uppity ship crew would instantly know who they were dealing with and dial back the attitude accordingly.

 

We showcased our treasured prize from Princess all over our social media accounts (@WinksCruises and @MrsWinksCruises on Instagram - come follow us!) and even built a make-shift shrine to Medallion on the dining room table (pictured below) we were so enamored. A lot of things can get you excited about an upcoming cruise: final payment, printing out luggage tags, single digits on your countdown calendar – but nothing comes close to the excitement of getting your Medallions in the mail from Princess.

 

 

 

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You’ll notice in the photo above that we opted for wrist bracelets to hold our Medallions.  This is an upcharge item, and I think Mrs. Winks and I are both on the fence as to whether they were worth the investment.  

 

The Medallions care package comes with a free lanyard, from which a square plastic capsule hangs that you can snap-shut your Medallion in (you can see it in the first picture, up above). Those are fine, and may actually be the better choice, as you can quickly throw the lanyard over your head, or reach father out with it, when you have to make contact with a chip reader (which is basically every time you make an onboard purchase).

 

Having to throw out your arm and sometimes twist it for the Medallion Pay reader wasn’t as convenient, and unbuckling it from your wrist was a hassle you saved mostly for once a day, at bedtime. And Mrs. Winks that the small wristband was a little tight, maybe more appropriate for kids than an adult. That said, there was nothing like wearing your loyalty level out there in the open, visible for all the less qualified members to see, so there was always that.

 

So what do Medallions do? For one thing, they get you on the ship faster. Flash it for the embarkation staff and they pretty much know who you are and what you ate last night.  Present your Passport to them for verification and you’re pretty much good to go.

 

One of the most convenient features was not having to fumble for a room key every time you need to access your cabin, where you know you’re always carrying something, be it bags from your shore excursion of a plate of raisin-oatmeal cookies and a glass of milk from the buffet. With Medallion, once you get within about 5-feet of your door, it unlocks for you.  You still have to deploy the door handle, but not having to retrieve a key is great. A little display screen welcomes you to the room and shows your picture.

 

 

 

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But again, not all the kinks with Medallion are worked out.  Imagine my delight when our cabin door wasn’t as sensitive to Mrs. Winks’ chip as it was to mine!  Most times, she had to raise her hand to the pad to get the door to unlock, where as it would readily click open for me, just steps before my arrival. That was fun torturing her with, but ultimately, something that shouldn’t have happened.  The experience should be the same for all, if only to avoid the ensuring marital spats! But we are sure that day will come.

 

Making a purchase at the bar, or gift shops, or photo gallery requires you to actually make physical chip contact with a device call MedallionPay. Thank goodness for that. Can you imagine if they charged you for a drink every time you passed within five feet of a venue!  But as stated previously, twisting your wrist to make full-on contact with the device was a little awkward and not befitting for someone of our loyalty status to be seen clumsily doing.  Nonetheless, the process was efficient and we didn’t experience any real problems with it.

 

 

 

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So now, here’s where some of the Medallion creepiness starts setting in.  But first a side note, OceanMedallion comes with a suite of ancillary apps.  One app lets you instant message other members of your party (super convenient) and annotate you Princess Patter with a calendar feature. But then there’s an entirely different app, which you have to download and access separately, if you want to explore another function, which, if I’m remember correctly, is the “Find Mrs. Winks” feature.

 

In the future, I’m sure they’ll have this all packaged together into one single app.  It’s all great stuff. Just a little cumbersome having to switch through apps to get to the particular function you’re looking to use.

 

Okay, so Mrs. Winks has the unnerving habit of moving her location when she’s up at the pool grabbing sun. Some noisy family sets up camp near her, or the bar service is slow, or the sun has moved position, so she ups and moves to another area completely.  That means, when it’s time for me to grab her - for say Main Dining Room Lunch, which closes in 10-minutes, or some strange tom-foolery happening in the Piazza (rare, but it does happen), I can’t find her!

 

Well, Medallion Class has an app for that.  You can literally locate your dear family member via their RFID chip.  Big Brother is always watching. And there’s an location app that lets you see exactly where your significant is at any given time.

 

Throughout the day, I would get instant messages like these: “What are you doing in the buffet again?”  “Why are you back in the cabin; is your stomach giving you trouble?” And the constant “For goodness sake, what are you doing at the Wheelhouse Bar?? Are they even open this early?”

 

I don’t know how Mrs. Winks got any of her paperback book read, since she appeared to fill her pool time keeping tabs on my whereabouts on the ship!

 

 

 

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But are you ready for the creepiest aspect of all this? Well, here’s a little story.

 

As the cruise progressed, we eventually settled on the Wheelhouse Bar as our pre-dinner cocktail venue of choice.  Mrs. Winks will tell you it’s because I like the wasabi nut mixture they traditionally serve, but quite honestly, I find the vibe there the most appealing and the staff the most personable. There’s generally a light jazz troupe playing in the performance space and the bartenders aren’t so busy (like those at the active pool or martini bars) that they can’t take a moment to chat.

 

There was one such bartender at The Wheelhouse who greeted us nightly and knew our drink preferences.  In fact, she seemed to know more about us than either of us remember ever revealing to her during our nightly small talk.

 

“Oh yes, Mr. Winks, I know you are Platinum Level, in fact, you are so close to Elite you can taste it,” she laughed one night, when she mentioned my bracelet. “A couple of us were howling in the back just now, laughing at how silly it was for you to book a standard stateroom, especially such a windy one at the front of the ship, when a suite would have made you Elite on this cruise.”


She was right, but how did she know this particularly sore point about us on this cruise?  It was true. Had we booked a suite, we would have earned Elite Status on this trip, a level Mrs. Winks, and her odd booking machinations, seem hell bent on us never achieving!  But how did our server know?

 

She soon explained.  When we sit at the bar, our faces come up on an iPad near venue’s POS device.  She can tap on our faces to instantly know who we are, what status we’re at, what we like to drink, where our cabins are… a plethora of personal information.

 

I noticed these devices at several venues, and the menu of passenger face-avatars the staff would rifle through when charging a drink or settling an account.  Then, one night at the Anytime Dining Room, when the hostess was off checking a table, I snapped a full screen shot of the iPad.

 

There were some other disturbing features to be had, including two scary looking buttons: My Notes (Are our bartenders writing opinion pieces on us here?) and Activities (like excessive drinking?!) (see picture of the iPad below… passenger details blurred out to protect the innocent!) Also note the Inferred Preferences area. Is artificial intelligence at work predicting what are preferences should be?  All 1984 - Big Brother stuff that should have us all uncomfortable, for sure.

 

 

 

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Our friend at the Wheelhouse went on to tell us that she had recently attended at a crewmember seminar where Medallion’s next gen features were being showcased. She couldn’t detail what those features would be, as she is under a binding non-disclosure agreement, but she assured us, yes, pretty soon, Princess would know EVERYTHING about us!

 

It’s a scary proposition.  And who knows what agencies and companies Princess is sharing all that information with? But at the same time, the Medallion’s convenience and ease-of-use are as disruptive as they are enticing, and are a game-changing enhancement to the cruise experience.

 

#BeCarefulWhatYouWishFor

 

Next up: Passenger Mutiny On Our Pirate Ship Excursion in Cabo.   

 

 

 

 

Edited by WinksCruises
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Love L101 - stayed in that stateroom on the Royal as well as the L103 next door.  Both fantastic, but L101 and L102's balconies are wider due to there being a fire locker between the 2 rooms that the balconies extend in front of. 😎

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4 hours ago, SharkieRools said:

Love L101 - stayed in that stateroom on the Royal as well as the L103 next door.  Both fantastic, but L101 and L102's balconies are wider due to there being a fire locker between the 2 rooms that the balconies extend in front of. 😎

I really enjoyed cabin L101. The balcony was fantastic, the room had plenty of storage and there was just enough room to change your mind if you needed to! Seriously, I love finding cabins with unique features, like a giant balcony!! And the price was too good to pass up.

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As an FYI, even if you were on a non MedallionClass™ cruise and had to use a key card, the card reveals the number of cruises that a passenger has taken. Down at the bottom, there is a letter followed by a number(s). If that was say A12, then the card holder was an adult (able to purchase alcohol) and had taken 12 cruises. 

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