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Mike Yardley: Cruising’s new wave on Sun Princess

Mike Yardley ,
Publish Date
Sat, 15 Jun 2024, 1:59pm
Sun Princess In Europe. Credit Princess Cruises
Sun Princess In Europe. Credit Princess Cruises

Mike Yardley: Cruising’s new wave on Sun Princess

Mike Yardley ,
Publish Date
Sat, 15 Jun 2024, 1:59pm

By any measure, she’s a game-changing giant to reset the cruise industry’s compass, pivoting to the future. Earlier this year, Princess Cruises launched their next-generation flagship, Sun Princess, the first of two planned Sphere-class vessels to enter the Princess fleet. (Star Princess is launched next year.) With a capacity for 4300 guests and 1600 crew, and weighing in at 177,000 tons, she’s a twinkling ocean beauty. During her inaugural season in the Mediterranean, I spent a starry-eyed week aboard Sun Princess, marvelling over her myriad innovations and titillations.  

If ever there is a floating glass-house on the high seas, Sun Princess is it. I have never experienced a cruise ship gloriously clad in so much glass, purposely designed to accentuate the elemental glory of the sea and the port calls you’ll be visiting.  This masterpiece vessel, affectionately dubbed the next level Love Boat, sports an array of spellbinding architectural flourishes.  At the top of the ship, the Dome is an ingenious geodesic, multi-level, glass-enclosed structure, which drew its design inspiration from the hillside terraces of Santorini. By day and by night, this glittery space transforms from an indoor solarium-like pool space by sunlight, draped in loungers, to a show stage by starlight. The nightly circus performances are exquisite, created in partnership with Cirque Eloize, fusing acrobatics with comedy and dance. The hairs on my arms stood on end as a trapeze artist effortlessly soared around the venue with panache, while I happily quaffed on my prosecco.

The Dome. Photo / Princess Cruises


Then there is the Sphere, the outward and suspended glass features strutting either side of central Piazza hub, in the middle of the ship. Like a giant glass bubble protruding beyond the side of the ship, it’s pure “starchitecture,” spanning 10 decks mid-ship. The Piazza is the electrifying, vivacious beating heart of Sun Princess, pulsing with an ever-changing roster of activity throughout the day. You may have come across piazzas on other Princess ships, but this is a pepped-up piazza with extra panache. It’s strung across three levels, flanked by those spherical windows, soaking up ocean views, while a colossal LED wall ramps up the theatrical factor. With a seating capacity for 300 guests, spread over three decks, guests flock to this energetic hub throughout the day. You might find a band playing rock hits, a ballroom-dancing class, a Zumba class, game shows…you name it.  

It’s a dazzling atrium-like entertainment space, doubling as a highly sociable hub, in the proud spirit of a vibrant European town square. Beyond the razzle-dazzle, nothing beats recharging at sea by simply drinking in the ocean vistas around you. The Sea View Terrace sets the tone at the front of the ship, while the new Wake View Terrace features an infinity pool and more dreamy views. The two-story Lotus Spa and Lotus Salon proved to be hugely popular on my cruise, offering a wealth of relaxing treatments.  

Mike abord the Sun Princess. Credit, Mike Yardley.


Across its 21 decks, cutting-edge design features, intuitive technology and classic elegance are all seamlessly interwoven. Sleek panelling adorns the walls alongside interactive LED screens that give an overview of the ship and all its amenities. Despite its size, you will find it difficult to get lost. Being such a tech-savvy ship, the medallion device synonymous with Princess Cruises expedites and personalises your onboard experience. Roughly the size of a one dollar coin, thanks to the magic of sensors, hidden cables and facial recognition, your wearable medallion will expedite boarding and disembarking; opens your stateroom door as you approach; allows you to order food and drinks anywhere on the ship; and has great way-finding functionality.  

Accommodations are truly premium onboard Sun Princess, thanks to the greatly improved entry-level layouts and elevated amenities. There are 1500 balcony-included staterooms – more than any Princess ship ever. From economical interior staterooms (including single rooms) to signature suites, there’s a home at sea for everyone. I stayed in a Cabana Mini-Suite, which is a resort-style stateroom featuring a private balcony and cabana which delivers expansive outdoors lounge space, with flatscreen TV. My Princess luxury bed was cloud comfortable, with Jacquard woven cotton bedding, plush European-style comforters and supersized feather pillows. Staterooms are loaded up with tech touches, from multiple USB charging points, to an extraordinary array of TV entertainment options. The onboard WiFi was also super strong and reliable.  

Cabana MiniSuite on the Sun Princess. Photo / Princess Cruises


Sun Princess is also the first Princess ship in its 59 years of operations to offer a separate suite complex, aimed at the growing number of big-ship-loving vacationers willing to splash the cash to be extra pampered while at sea. Boasting over 2100 accommodations, 80 suites are housed on the ship. All of these suites, dubbed the Signature Collection, come with exclusive access to a private restaurant, a two-deck-high lounge overlooking the ship's wake and a sublime outside sun deck, named the Sanctuary. The luxurious, spa-inspired, top-deck Sanctuary is a serene space brimming with plush lounge furniture, private cabanas, pool and jacuzzi, attentive service, soothing music, refreshing beverages and light fare. 

The Sanctuary on Sun Princess. Photo / Princess Cruises


There’s no denying that consumer expectations for greater sustainability is unleashing a wave of changes to the cruise industry, with an unprecedented focus on energy-efficiency and green technology to minimise its environmental footprint.  

Walking that talk, Sun Princess is the first ship in Princess fleet to be powered by liquefied natural gas. LNG is a more sustainable, cleaner-burning fuel solution that is being increasingly embraced by the maritime industry, significantly reducing emissions compared with traditional fuels. Sun Princess receives enough LNG fuel to last roughly two weeks of sailing, from its fuel-supply port in Barcelona.  Powering over 95% of operations, only a small amount of diesel is deployed for combustion in the pistons. What constantly struck me about this gentle giant, particularly when manoeuvring in and out of port is how silent the ship is, compared to the familiar rumble of diesel-powered engines, let alone the absence of fumes and streak of black smoke billowing from the ship’s funnel. 

I enjoyed a behind the scenes tour of the ship’s operations, lifting the curtain on the litany of technological advances that underpin the vessel’s sustainability credentials. These include advanced air quality systems; advanced water systems that allow the ship to create its own water supply through reverse osmosis; energy-efficient LED lighting; an efficient plant with heat and cold recovery systems that reduce emissions on air conditioning, pools heating, sanitary water heating and navigational tools; and the latest advanced waste water treatment system.  

Then there are the 26 biodigesters that breakdown and liquefy uneaten food, through natural aerobic digestion, before sustainably returning it to nature in liquid form, feeding the fish below. They were part of the post-Covid princess pledge. Environmental Officer, Biagio del Vecchio guided us around the inner-workings of the recycling centre, where solid waste is separated and sorted. There are shredders, compactors and incinerators onboard. 70% of single-use plastic has been eliminated from the ship, with 100% remaining the goal. Water stations soon be installed for guests to refill their bottles.  

I was also intrigued by the air lubrication system – which allows the ship to glide on a sea of air bubbles. It reduces drag and conserves fuel. The vessel is also outfitted with two shore power connections, so the ship can turn off the engines and connect to local electric power to run all onboard services during day-long calls in various ports.  

Captain Paolo on the bridge


Up in the Bridge, I summoned my inner-maritime nerd to glean some insights into the technical aspects of the ship, from propulsion to handling. The charismatic Captain Paolo Arrigo remarked that Sun Princess is the first ship in the fleet to utilise the ABB Azipod for propulsion — made up of a pod with a propeller, suspended under the ship’s hull, with the ability to rotate 360-degrees. She’s incredibly nimble, pulling off precision manoeuvres in tricky ports requiring tight turns. Captain Paolo has cultivated quite the following on Instagram (therealoveboatcaptain), and like a real-life Captain Stubing, he featured in the recent reality TV show, the Real Love Boat, filmed onboard Princess Cruises. The short-lived show was a flop. He’s the third generation in his family to work for Princess and from the age of four he dreamed of being captain. He’d have to be the most gregarious, highly sociable ship captain I have come across – just another highlight to the superstar experience you can expect aboard a Sun Princess sailing, in the Mediterranean or Caribbean. www.princess.com 

Mike Yardley is our resident traveller on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings.  

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