Playing the theme songs from The Love Boat and Kung Fu TV series Wong Fei Hong, the Majestic Princess made a dramatic entry onto the global cruise market this week – Carnival Corporation’s biggest and boldest play yet for the Asian market.
The World’s largest cruise company, with ten brands, over 100 ships and a payload of 12 millions guests a year, is renewing its faith in the up-market Royal Class vessel that will not only tackle the Chinese market, but become the template for Princes ships well into the 2020s.
The Premium brand is being redefined as competitors sniff at its heels. The Majestic Princess represents the latest shift towards the top end. From her bold new livery to her food, fashion and leisure outlets, this ship pushes Princess, already a firm favourite in Australia and southeast Asia, further into a new luxury class.
She is the third Royal Class vessel, there are three more in the pipeline with tweaks that will make them even more competitive.
The 3560-passenger, 330-metre 19-deck Majestic Princess is the very latest iteration – and the first built for China.
The $US$600 million ship left the famed Italian yard Fincantieri after a glittering hand-over ceremony attended by the Italian Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni and Carnival Corporation’s legendary chairman Micky Arison, son of the company’s founder.
Also present were CEO Arnold Donald, Jan Swartz, Group President of Princess Cruises and Carnival Australia, and Cherry Wang, Vice President and General Manager of the Princess Cruises’ offices in China.
She then sailed out of Trieste, Italy to a tumultuous send-off. Thousands lined the shore as she left, still playing the two theme songs on her fog horns and giant TV screen – underscoring her east-meets-west lineage .
Her inaugural voyage on April 4 took her to the Adriatic Sea on a five-day cruise from Rome. She will tour Europe before taking the “Silk Road Sea Route”, a 49-day journey from Rome to Shanghai, her new home, where she will be officially named.
She will be met with welcomes along the way – including a party in Singapore.
But Southeast Asia will have to work hard to beat the tremendous Trieste farewell, which featured fireworks, cheers and tears from the ship’s captain, Dino Sagani, a Trieste boy who fished from the very pier she docked at when a child.
Carnival Corporation lays claim to being the first to tackle the China market, homeporting a Costa ship in China in 2006.
Much has happened since, with many lines rushing to build specialty ships for China.
The Norwegian Joy, a similarly sized vessel with race tracks and rides, is on her maiden voyage in Europe before heading for China. Royal Caribbean, which boasts the largest fleet in Asia, already has a presence.
But the Majestic represents a new play for the premium market – the growing middle glass that is fuelling growth as high as 77% a year.
Her “preview” voyage was attended by 50 global media representatives, including 38 Chinese journalists, and 350 agents, mostly Chinese.
Cruise Passenger and its Asian publications ASEAN Cruise News and Cruise&Travel Asia were on board, along with British and German media representatives.
Guests were wined and dined in the ship’s new food venues – there are two Michelin award winners represented on the ship: Richard Chen has a lobster bar on the pool deck (additional $18) and Harmony, a bright, light Cantonese food venue with gorgeous sea views and a fresh take on traditional Chinese.
La Mer, a partnership with three-times starred Michelin chef Emmanuel Renaut, offers Bistro dining like escargots and mushroom ragout.
There is a Chef’s Table Lumiere (US$120 pp) – a fascinating light-infused curtain surrounds guests as they feast on a specially prepared menu. And, of course, there is perennial Princess favourite Crown Grill and Bar, home to one of the best steaks at sea.
The vessel’s buffet areas has been transformed into The World Fresh Marketplace – a series of food stalls serving a huge variety of dishes prepared from fresh produce in the Majestic’s prodigious kitchens.
In all, there are three main dining rooms and six speciality restaurants, many of which will now start to appear in the Princess fleet around the world.
Curtis Stone puts in a guest appearance – with one dish on the main dining menus.
But the changes to accommodate the Asian market – and a more sophsticated cruise passenger globally – don’t stop with the food.
The spa has been expanded, and now features an amazing area called The Enclave, where a pool, perfumed steam rooms and heated sunbeds are sure to relax. Just 50 guests get unlimited access for US$119.
And The Hollywood Conservatory is a completely new design: a sanctuary for adults in private cabanas by day, and a rocking nightclub once the sun goes down.
The Vista Gaming Lounge features mah-jong – including digital tables – and the casino has a high roller and VVIP room where the Baccarat limits change every day, depending on who is on board. During our visit, it was set at $100 to $5,000 a bet.
Guests can use their winnings at the world’s largest retail mall at sea – 1100 square metres – showcases Cartier, Chopard, Bulgari, Prada, Coach, Gucci, Burberry and many more.
There are full production musicals in the theatres, a light and dance show by the pool and, because Asian guests love to do their own signing, an array of private karaoke rooms and a TV studio.
The cabins and suites
There are 36 suites with private balconies, 374 mini suites also with private verandas, 312 deluxe balcony cabins, 716 balcony cabins and 342 inside cabins.
Traditional Princess layouts are mixed with brighter designs. And there’s a new “Asian friendly” bed. Princess is replacing all of its beds with a new specially designed mattress and pillows created by US sleep specialist Dr Michael Breus.
Asians, apparently, prefer harder mattresses because of their history of sleeping on hard floors or beds.
As a result, the new Princess bed will feature a hard mattress base and a soft cover. In tests, they have proved so popular, says Dr Breus, that they are now on sale to the public online at US1,200. So far, only to the US market but a global delivery system is in the works.
Mr Arison, putting in a rare press appearance, predicted the ship will have a huge impact on the Asian market.
“It has everything all international cruises offer to all around the world – with the addition of special features for guests from China.” Princess Cruises Vice President Australia and New Zealand Stuart Allison said the new food partnerships “elevated the Majestic Princess dining experience to a new level”.
The Majestic Princess will have 250 Chinese speaking crew and all signs are bilingual. But the moves are subtle.
The ship also features a big move to provide facilities for families – Executive vice president guest experiences and product development Rai Caluori maintaining the line’s child-friendly position was “one of the great Princess secrets”.
He said Princess didn’t offer the rides and rock climbing of competitors, but instead put on a more educational approach – a direct appeal to Asia’s legendary Tiger Mums.
To book the Majestic Princess, Southeast Asian and Australian cruisers will have to find a Chinese agent. She is not being sold through Princess offices in Singapore or Sydney.
But the new Royal class will be. And many of her new features will find their way onto the rest of the Princess fleet.
One thing missing from this excellent new ship is Carnival Corporations’ Ocean Medallion.
The device, which delivers a new level of personalised service using sensors and digital technology, won’t be available yet but will be retro fitted later.
For more on the ship, see www.princess.com