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Mike Yardley: Soaking up the Sun Princess

Mike Yardley,
Publish Date
Tue, 18 Jun 2024, 11:07am
Sun Princess in Port. Photo / Princess Cruises
Sun Princess in Port. Photo / Princess Cruises

Mike Yardley: Soaking up the Sun Princess

Mike Yardley,
Publish Date
Tue, 18 Jun 2024, 11:07am

She’s big, she’s beautiful and she’s pushing boundaries. As the newest cruise ship in the world to be sailing the seven seas, the shiny new flagship for Princess Cruises is a glittering marvel. Sun Princess resembles a giant floating glasshouse, powered by LNG, currently purring through the Mediterranean on her inaugural season, before repositioning to the Caribbean for the Northern Hemisphere winter. My week-long cruise aboard this brand-new beauty featured an all-star cast of port calls including Athens, Naples, Sicily and Barcelona. But pleasingly, a couple of sea days enabled me to savour the constellation of epicurean delights housed on this ship. Not to mention the onboard treasury of entertainment extravaganzas that have considerably lifted the bar.  

With a tantalising array of 30 food and beverage venues onboard Sun Princess, grazing from this extraordinary collection of culinary experiences, mixology mastery and celebrity collaborations is my idea of discerning indulgence. The vessel has a far more diverse array of eateries than any Princess ship to date — a conscious effort by the line to offer enhanced options. Sweet dreams are made of this! Across all dining venues, this is the highest quality food offering I’ve experienced on a Princess ship. Starting with the basics, the main restaurant, Horizons Dining Room, has been thoughtfully configured into a triple-decker venue, wrapped in a huge wall of glass, dramatically overlooking the ship’s wake. Each deck has a different label and service type: Soleil Dining Room is for traditional dining; Eclipse Dining Room offers anytime dining; and the All American Diner serves up supreme comfort food at brunch and dinner hours. Come on down for fried chicken, a buttermilk pancake stack and shrimp po’ boy.  

Horizons main dining room. Photo / Princess Cruises

The traditional “lido” buffet has been recast as the Eatery, with a lip-smacking array of food stations, catering to all palettes. Yes, the buffet has survived the Covid age, but self-serve gluttony is a gone burger on Sun Princess, in favour of pointing at the glassed-off serving areas, selecting what you’d like the whip-smart staff to plate up for you. Interestingly, it has heralded a welcome plunge in daily food waste. It’s a pleasingly more mindful buffet. There’s a spoil of casual bites draping the Lido and Promenade decks, spanning custom salads, burgers and hot dogs, pizza, tacos and ice cream. The Gelataria was a regular haunt for me – and the delicious gelato served up here is the real deal, certified by the Italian government. Definitely sink into a pizza or two at Alfredo’s Pizzeria, all pizza bases are made onboard and Alfredo’s claims to be the best pizza at sea. I wouldn’t disagree. I took a galley tour with Food & Beverage Director, Peter Priestly, who remarked that the ship produces an astonishing 25,000 meals a day. All breads are made on board – 6000 rolls a day, just for the main dining room! 

Alfredos Pizzeria. Photo / Princess Cruises

But it’s the arsenal of speciality dining experiences where Princess has really pushed the boat out. If you’re the sort of cruiser who never likes to eat in the same place twice, Sun Princess is destination dining in excelsis. Purchase Princess' Premier Package and you’re entitled to two specialty dining meals at no extra charge. In addition to the two specialty restaurants found on almost every Princess ship (the Crown Grill steakhouse and Sabatini's Italian Trattoria), Sun Princess is home to some epic collaborations. 

The Butcher's Block by Dario is a new meat-focused grill curated by celebrity Tuscan butcher Dario Cecchini. If you've seen Netflix's "Chef's Table," you know who he is. This seven-course experience is pure theatre, with each dish featuring a different cut of beef, prepared tableside. This is a carnivore’s delight – go hungry! Seafood fans rejoice. Catch by Rudi will be your nirvana, helmed by award-winning Chef, Rudi Sodamin. Then there’s Makoto Ocean, a collab with celebrity chef and sushi master Makoto Okuwa, showcasing his splendid menu of Edomae-style sushi accompanied by sake. Also on the hit-list, Sun’s flagship dining venue, Love by Britto, highlighting spectacular views high above the stern for romantic dinners. This partnership with world-renowned artist Romero Britto is underpinned by a seven-course tasting menu. 

The Butcher's Block by Dario. Photo / Princess Cruises

There’s two other destinations I found especially enchanting. Umai Teppanyaki is a cracking experience, delivering a fun-with-food interactive experience, as our effusive teppanyaki chef, Romeo Larcello, sliced and diced his way through a spree of dishes, flicking food here and there, and cracking Dad jokes which were executed with the same precision as his flashing knives. He fried fish, chicken and beef on a hotplate in front of us, flipped utensils and juggled fried eggs till they landed on the edge of spatulas and the whites spilled into perfectly shaped hearts. Then, with an intoxicating smell of spices hanging in the air, it was all promptly served, piping hot, into our bowls. Beyond the showmanship, I noshed my way through a sizzling feast of treats including black tiger shrimp, seared scallops and teriyaki chicken, all accompanied with stir-fried Umai vegetables. 

But the most mesmerising dining experience would have to be Spellbound by Magic Castle. Created in partnership with the famed Hollywood venue, the exclusive academy for aspiring magicians, Spellbound combines feats of magic with winning mixology. Splash out on this remarkable encounter, an illusion-themed, four-course dinner before being granted exclusive access to the speakeasy-esque magic venue itself. A welcome drink and unlimited cocktails spill forth throughout the evening, crowned with a world-class magic show in an intimate auditorium. The signature cocktails are whimsical, like Houdini’s Chest, which is served in a leather chest, brimming with dry ice, as you open it. 

Spellbound by Magic Castle Magician. Photo / Princess Cruises

After dining, our group of 30 passed through a nondescript door and entered the escapist world of Spellbound. A "greeter" with a top hat and Victorian attire ushered us into the evocative bar and lounge, where the walls are wondrously furnished with magic-themed artifacts, some paying homage to leading luminaries, like Houdini. Add to that, a piano-playing ghost. Two magicians enthralled us - the first at the bar with some killer card tricks that left us baffled. Then we took our seats in the auditorium where acclaimed British magician, Jon Allen, wowed us with his close-up intimate cabaret magic. We were all left completely dumbfounded by his captivating tricks and sheer wizardry, which has to be seen to be believed. 

Spellbound by Magic Castle’s cocktails personify the daring makeover Sun Princess has performed to its mixology. 200 cocktails have been incorporated into the bar menus, including 100 brand-new signature cocktails, like the water-themed mixology at the Cascade Bar in the Dome. Down at the Wake View Terrace bar, order up a Blowfish, which fittingly comes in a bulbous blowfish-shaped glass.  This delicious drink was my personal favourite, a blend of Matusalem rum, passionfruit and dragonfruit. At Umai Teppanyaki, whistle up an Umai Pink – a sublime mix of white rum, lime, agave and strawberries.  

Mike at Spellbound by Magic Castle. Photo / Mike Yardley

Speaking of beverages, there’s some effervescent bar venues like Crooners and Bellini’s Bar that you could easily while away the evening in, but don’t miss O’Malleys Irish Pub, which belts out cracking music, great brews and pub fare, and even better craic. Entertainment options are laid on thick. Sun Princess has pulled out all the stops as she heralds a new era, from poolside movies under the stars, blockbuster stage shows at the Princess Arena, acrobatic acts in the Dome, comedy sets and live music at Princess Live! and additional aerial performances in the Piazza. The ship keeps cranking, in multiple venues, deep into the night.  

My highlight was Princess Arena, which sports the most technologically advanced theatre design that Princess has ever deployed on any ship. Three different configurations can maximize sight lines in this shapeshifting venue, which seats nearly 1000 guests. It was here that I caught a performance of the refreshed Fiera! The setting is a late 19th century European fairground, with a brilliantly costumed cast of performers, high-energy dancing and spectacular digital effects.  

Sun Princess Arena Fiera. Photo / Princess Cruises

There’s no doubt that Sun Princess is keen to resonate with a broader, younger audience and more "new to cruise" customers. There is a concerted move to make families with younger kids feel more welcome, even if they're still not the target market. Notably, a large chunk of the top deck of Sun Princess is adorned with a family-friendly play zone called Park19, where the marquee attraction is Sea Breeze, a hang-gliding-like ride experience that is billed as a first on a cruise ship.  

The area also has a ropes course with swinging bridges and balance beams and a climbing wall-like experience that will take visitors to a lookout at the very top of the ship, with slides that will take them back down. There's a splash zone with water jets, too. But mercifully, unlike some cruise lines, Princess is not pretending to ape a thrills and spills theme park on its top deck. In addition, younger travellers will find fresh new tween and teen hangout zones (called Neon Grove and The Underground, respectively) within the ship, plus a large playroom for the littlest Princess cruisers called Firefly Park. 

Sun Princess is the first of an all-new class of ships in the Princess fleet that are far bigger and more venue-packed than any vessel the line has launched before. Whether you’re sailing solo or with your partner, children or grandparents, Sun Princess will have a siren-like pull with a broad audience. Chock-full of choice, whether it be for dining, drinking or entertainment, this is the best Princess ship I’ve had the pleasure of sailing. Get aboard! www.princess.com 

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

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