Jess Clayton – Marketing Manager
Trip details – 23 October 2021 – 7 nights roundtrip from Southampton, aboard Regal Princess, visiting Le Verdon, Bilbao & La Coruna.
In 15 years of cruising this was my first time crossing the Bay of Biscay, and I’ll confess I was a little nervous (although the cruise geek in me was excited to tick it off!). Anyway… more on that later… here’s the review!
I’ll admit that I’m pretty lucky in my job, and I get to see quite a lot of beautiful ships and experience a great variety of cruise lines. So I think it’s worth mentioning that just before the world changed, in October 2019, I was exceptionally fortunate to step aboard Sky Princess for a 3-night jaunt down the Adriatic. What this meant was that I kind of knew already what to expect from Regal Princess; and a second serving of the Princess Cruises treatment on a Royal Class ship certainly didn’t disappoint.
Did I upgrade to Princess Plus? You bet I did! And honestly, the amount of people that were waxing lyrical about the amazing value of it onboard just shows how good it is.
£30pp per day for not having to even think once about how much drinks were, or whether I was being charged for uploading a ridiculous amount of photos to Facebook; or not worrying if the exceptional staff were being rewarded for their service? Bargain!
We had a sweeeeeet Deluxe Balcony cabin (stateroom D223 to be exact). What I love about these rooms is the layout. Rather than the main clothes storage area facing into the room, it faces towards the bathroom. What this does is it creates both a small changing area, and a touch of extra privacy around the bathroom. Marvellous design in my opinion! In the main room you have the incredibly comfy bed (if you don’t spend at least five minutes looking up how much it is, and contemplating buying one of these incredible mattresses, then I fear you just don’t enjoy sleeping!), a decent size vanity area with chair, mini fridge, sofa bed, coffee table and bedside tables. The balcony is a decent size, and happily accommodates the two chairs and tables, and allows a generous amount of sun in.
TV in the room is great… if the weather is a tad poor (or if indeed you catch too much sun!) but you wanted to catch the film showing at Movies Under The Stars, then you can still watch it in the comfort of your room. Plus, you can order food/drinks, see the daily planner and your onboard account with a few touches of the remote control.
Of course you can do all of that from anywhere on the ship with the MedallionClass app (except watch the telly!).
Okay… so the app.
Prior to embarking, you need to do all of your travel checklist (passport details, health checks, et cetera, et cetera) on the app, or on your Princess Cruises account. But honestly, it’s easier to do at your leisure on the app on a mobile device.
The app really is a great piece of tech, and aside from the features I’ve already mentioned there’s a few things I found really useful…
• Ordering drinks/food to the cabin as you’re packing up from a day around the pool – they’ll probably arrive at the cabin a few minutes after you do!
• Amusing myself as I watch my partner’s movements around the casino, knowing exactly which table she’s at!
• Pre-booking dining – regardless of whether it’s main dining or Specialty dining options you can make a booking without having to visit the venue or pursers desk.
Let’s be honest… one of the main reasons we all love cruising is the food. Fact.
So, I’d tried the Crown Grill when I was onboard Sky Princess, but I’d yet to sample the fare at Sabbatini’s. I pre-booked both for nights 2 & 3; and I did this so that my partner and I could decide which restaurant we liked best so that we would revisit it on the last night of the cruise. As specialty dining tends to get booked up early in the cruise it’s wise to make this decision and book as soon as possible for the last night (handy tip right there!).
Of course the main dining rooms (of which there are three) are really good too, but I do like to try and get in as many as possible…
Crown Grill – $29pp surcharge
Worth every penny in my eyes! On both visits I gorged myself on hand-cut steak tartare, a 22oz Porterhouse, and a salted caramel crème brûlée cheesecake!
Sabbatini’s – $25pp surcharge
A fantastic meal in here. And with so many courses to go through, you can really go to town! Just make sure you don’t eat too much in the day leading up to the evening event! Absolutely stuffed ourselves with pasta dishes, before a delicious pancetta-wrapped pork loin.
Alfredo’s – included
This is a pasta & pizza casual dining option just off the Piazza. Perfect for when you don’t want the full works in the main dining room, but don’t want anything as laidback as the buffet.
I often join in the gentle ribbing over who serves up the best pizza at sea…. Princess Cruises and MSC Cruises have had a quiet war over this for years, and I’ve always told both of them that Royal Caribbean’s Sorrento’s takes the crown. And up until this cruise I would have maintained that argument, purely based on the pizza served at the pool area. Alfredo’s pizza changes everything.
I’d say it’s a tie now at the top.
Seriously though. Go to Alfredo’s. Eat the antipasto. And definitely eat the pizza. I was only sorry that I didn’t go back another night to try the calzone that I heard people raving about.
Horizon Court – included
The buffet restaurant. Although Covid protocols have definitely changed the way we use a buffet restaurant, the best thing has to be that I now carefully consider what’s going on my plate. Rather than asking my server to add a bit of this, and a bit of that (you can still totally do that!); I’m now more likely to choose items that go together, rather than a making a weird hybrid of roast dinner with omelette curry and chocolate muffin tart.
I loved that even the buffet restaurant had themed nights though… Spanish night offered a plethora of tapas choices, whilst pie night offered… well I reckon you can guess that one…
Trident Grill – included
By the pool. Amazing burgers. Even better are the rosemary chicken sandwiches. Or the loaded fries. I might have had a snack… or four.
Perfect for when you’re lazing in the hot tub watching a movie!
And whilst I was shocked by my own gluttony onboard, I did at least attempt to work some of the calories off in the gym. The running/walking track sees plenty of use (7 laps is a mile apparently), and there’s some great bodyweight equipment to use on the way around it. The basketball court sits in the centre of the running track, so obviously I had to pretend I was near 7ft tall and an absolute pro shooting hoops.
The gym itself is well equipped with treadmills, a variety of bikes, rowing machines, weight machines and free weights. I did miss the bootcamp style area that I enjoyed so much on Sky Princess, but I had plenty of choice to create a decent workout for myself.
For entertainment there was so much going on around the ship… it seemed every time we went past Princess Live! there was another quiz going on; comedians or singers rotated throughout the venues from the Wheelhouse Bar to the Piazza to the Princess Theater.
Bravo! was the main show, and I really enjoyed it – great mix of pop and opera (it works!) – especially the James Bond section!
Olivier Award winner, Paul Baker also commanded his own show, performing West End songs from his career – also thoroughly enjoyable.
We did take the night off from dressing up one evening though, and situated ourselves in a hot tub as the stars came out and Black Panther started on Movies Under The Stars. A magical experience followed up by the Watercolour Fantasy fountain show – a lights and music affair which is pretty cool.
I should mention that we did in fact get off the ship! For the first time in two years my feet actually walked on foreign soil!
Le Verdon (for Bordeaux)
I like wine. I don’t love wine. And I don’t like red wine. So an excursion to the vineyards of Bordeaux wasn’t on the cards for us.
However, Princess offer a free shuttle into Soulac Sur Mer (you cannot walk through the port at Le Verdon), which is a charming town with incredible remnants of World War II. Take a long walk down the beach to the amazing graffiti-covered bunkers, before returning to the main street for a spot of souvenir shopping, or head to a bar for a glass or two of the region’s wine and maybe the catch of the day.
The actual port here is Getxo, but again Princess offer a free shuttle into the heart of Bilbao throughout the day.
Here we visited the Guggenheim, which is worth at least walking around the outside for amazing works in the grounds even if you don’t fancy the exhibitions inside.
From there we walked across the city to the Old Town and the Ribera Market hall, where I popped my Pintxos cherry! Try losing yourself a little in the little side streets here… I found it a little reminiscent of some of the Italian cities I’ve visited like Rome or Florence.
Bilbao is a lovely city to walk around, with much to catch the eye architecturally.
You couldn’t get closer to the town for this one. No shuttle service needed!
We’d been recommended a visit to the Tower of Hercules, which is on the other side of town. It’s an ancient lighthouse, from the Roman era, and is quite unbelievably still in use today! The immediate area around the lighthouse is fantastic (the views here are gorgeous too!) if you fancy extending your walk a little with a stroll through the sculpture park.
Once we’d earned our lunch we headed back towards the port area and a place we’d scoped out on TripAdvisor – Jamoneria La Leonesa. If you want to try some of the delectable food available from Iberia then pay this little place a visit.
€25 bought us two glasses of local wine, bread, cheese, pork loin, chorizo spread and, of course, Iberian ham. Honestly the very best ham we’ve ever had! (Make sure you pay for the stuff cut straight off the bone 😉 )
Bay of Biscay cruising
Absolutely nowhere near as bad as I thought it was going to be! The evening of day 6 (the first of two days at sea after La Coruna) was the worst of it. Yes, it was the most motion I’ve ever felt at sea. Yes, I had to grab a couple of handrails every now and then – but I was wearing heels and had a couple of rums… Yes, I went to bed earlier than usual (about 10:30pm).
At no point did I feel unsafe or even nauseous. I actually felt disappointed for the pack of ginger nuts and Stugeron I’d packed that weren’t going to get used! (Okay, okay, so I ate the ginger nuts anyway…).
Maybe I got lucky. Maybe the wind was blowing the right way. I heard we had 4-5m swells… I think that’s high…
Anyway, Bay of Biscay – easy. done. tick. I’d do it again too, no problem.
Also, because you’re cruising international waters, the casino is open… so I put my time to good use and finally learnt how to play Craps! Managed to pay off what I lost on some of the other tables!
So those are the highlights of the trip and ship, but of course it would be remiss of me not to mention cruising with Covid protocols…
- This was a half term cruise (23 October 2021) but there weren’t any children (that I was aware of!) aboard due to vaccination regulations.
- Mask protocols were still in place – when moving through the ship indoors masks were required until you were sat in a venue with a drink/food. Certain areas are designated “Sip & Cover” venues, such as the casino or theatre, so you have a drink with you but remain masked whilst you’re not actually drinking.
- Lateral Flow Tests were still being done at the port before embarkation is allowed.
- Everyone onboard was fully vaccinated.
- Lifts were limited to 4 people (or a “bubble” if more than 4)
- Masks had to be worn on any shuttle services and through terminal buildings.
I’m not going to join a mask debate. I’m happy to accept the rules if it means I get to travel again. Not once did it detract from my enjoyment of the cruise. I will however admit to almost attempting to drink through my mask by accident on more than one occasion.
Thanks for an amazing time Princess Cruises!
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