I didn’t necessarily plan on flying to Italy, but when Princess Cruises offered up the chance to check out the still-under-construction Sun Princess, that was an opportunity too good to pass up.
So join me as we take a behind-the-scenes tour and get a preview of Sun Princess.
So, after a somewhat exhausting trip, I joined a small group who were allowed to explore this incredible vessel as she neared completion.
Hard hats were necessary, as we’d soon see that virtually every space — from the central atrium to the staterooms — was still under construction.
This was my second visit to the shipyard to check on progress. But while that visit was to little more than a hollowed-out hull, this time around, things were coming into focus. You could get an idea of what she would look like in many areas of the ship when completed.
Over the next two hours, we wandered about the ship taking in sites such as the pools above. One thing that pictures can’t capture is the cacophony of sound. Music came from radios keeping the construction crew entertained, but it was nearly drowned out by the more prevalent sounds of a construction site. Hammers slamming, saws buzzing, instructions being spoken loudly into radios.
Just beyond the pool area, workmen were constructing what would eventually be the giant screen on which people would watch Movies Under the Stars.
Tour guide Richard Parker — no relation, by the way — told us that this particular ship’s journey had begun almost seven years earlier when the first designs started to take form on blank sheets of paper.
Those plans are coming to life in spaces like the one above, which will soon serve up drinks as O’Malley’s Irish Pub.
“As you walk around the ship,” he said, “you’re going to have times where you say, ‘Wow, there’s a lot to do.’ But you’re also going to find times when you walk into a bar and go, ‘Wow, are they serving drinks yet?'” While that proved true, the answer, sadly, was that they were not!
As seen above, one of the most striking features is The Dome. This new-to-Princess concept will serve multiple functions, with its look inspired by the terraces of Santorini.
Beneath this structure, passengers will be able to relax and bask in the sun during the day before returning to see several different shows in the evening hours, including Come Fly With Me, a tribute to the Rat Pack era of music… which will also see the performers take to the air.
A highlight of the area will be the Cascade Bar. “We’re going to have a 30-foot waterfall cascade into the pool,” said Parker, explaining how the venue got its name. The Dome will also be home to a pool that begins indoors but extends to the outdoor area of Seaview Terrace. At night, the pool will be covered by a stage to facilitate the various performances.
Everywhere we looked, details were being worked on, including things that most would take for granted upon boarding. For example, the carefully placed tiles above will see hundreds of thousands of feet march across them in the future.
We also got a sneak preview of the Victorian-style bar, which will be the heart of Spellbound (above). This first-of-its-kind venue, developed with the folks at the world-famous Magic Castle, will combine spooky cocktails and crafty entertainers for an experience sure to impress.
“For those of you who don’t know, Magic Castle is this legendary clubhouse in Hollywood that is a private clubhouse for magicians and guests,” explained Parker, adding that the Hollywood version was an “invitation only” type venue.
On the ship, Parker explains that “this entire space feels like a Victorian house,” with a music room being one central area. “In here, we’ll have a beautiful old grand piano.”
Here, passengers will meet “a past guest named Isabella, who used to love sailing on the original Sun Princess. Unfortunately, she is deceased but will join us nightly to entertain our guests!”
Spellbound will also feature a parlor bar, a library, and roving magicians who will create intimate experiences with guests. “The attention to detail is stunning, and it’s such an incredibly unique venue. Entrance to Spellbound will come at a cost. Think of it as a specialty event much the same way you would think of a specialty restaurant. As of yet, there are no details as to what that charge will be.
The above space may not look like much at the moment, but soon it will be part of the massive retail outlets known collectively as The Shops of Princess. “We’ll actually have two decks of retail,” shares Parker, adding that vendors had plenty of opportunities to weigh in on how the spaces would look and feel. “On this ship, we actually brought in several new designers who’d never worked on ships before” which meant they brought in “some fresh ideas.”
Okay, so the picture above is a little bit of a cheat. Or maybe we’ll call it a “preview.” Because that picture wasn’t taken on the Sun Princess but at another location in the shipyard where they construct fake versions of staterooms in order to work out all the details, and yes, I will do a whole separate piece on that, because it’s just that cool.
But what you see above is the new cabana balconies. As Parker explained, “Basically, it is a balcony cabin, but with an additional area. You have two sets of doors. So you can open your inside door, and then you have the outside door, which now gives you a bigger cabin. The other option is to close the inner door, and now you have a cabana attached to your balcony.”
While this type of stateroom will be located throughout the ship, 76 will be found on the Cabana Deck and feature direct access to a particular area. All guests in Cabana staterooms, whether on the Cabana Deck or not, will have access to the area. But never fear… those preferring a traditional balcony without the cabana area will also have plenty to choose from.
The main dining room, Horizons, spans three decks and features a gorgeous wall of glass offering incredible views. The lowest level, deck six, will feature slightly more formal dining. For a more casual experience, head to the middle deck of the restaurant, known as Decades. “Think of that as the place to go if maybe you have a show to see and the family with you,” said Parker. “You want to get in and out a little bit quicker.”
This next bit of news will likely be met with mixed reactions, as Sun Princess will feature “smart” elevators. “What you do is you walk up to an elevator, hit the deck you want to go to and it tells you which elevator to get in,” the designer explained for those who have not yet experienced them. “It is the most efficient way for us to move guests around the ship. Being new, there’s obviously a bit of a learning curve initially,” he admitted.
Although the ship will carry over 4,000 passengers, Parker said it was important to “still feel small, intimate. You can get around quickly, and there’s great guest flow.”
Additionally, the layout was designed to “not only help guests get around the ship easily, but also not feel like you’re with a lot of other guests. There are so many sort of private areas.”
Next up, we visited the theater space, which here is called The Arena. One thing I noticed even before our guide could point it out?
The lack of sight-view blocking columns. “That’s something we do on all of our ships,” stated Parker proudly. “It’s a nightmare for the shipyard, but we always achieve it!”
Additionally, the theater is able to reconfigure itself. “In the middle is a central elevator which goes down a deck,” he pointed out. The theater will also feature nine “LED screens which can move upstage, downstage, across the stage or become one large wall.” When additional seating is required, the space can morph into a theater-in-the-round. “It’s quite impressive what can be done!”
And, of course, it wouldn’t be a full ship tour without a stop in the casino! “This is our largest casino,” Parker reveals, “and our highest. More and more, the machines you experience in Las Vegas are getting bigger, higher, and more spectacular.
The reality is that on some ships, we can’t accommodate that. But on Sun Princess we’ve got more height.” The casino also incorporates LED lighting around the walls and lighting columns. “When someone hits a jackpot in here,” promises Parker, “this place will come alive!”