The Duchess of Cambridge Christens Third Royal Princess – Other Cruise News: P&O Cruises Stung In The Tail By Vantage Fares

by Kevin Griffin

Last Thursday, in her last solo appearance before giving birth to the next heir to the British throne, Kate Middleton, more formally known as Her Royal Highness Catherine, Duchess of Wales, named Princess Cruises’ new flagship, the third Royal Princess, in Southampton. Meanwhile, P&O Cruises has been attracting criticism of its more recent fare structure that allows for two different classes of fare.


The Duchess of Cambridge Christens Third Royal Princess

Last Thursday saw Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, christen the third ship with the name Royal Princess for Princess Cruises. The latest Princess Cruises flagship has a trick SeaWalk, which has a glass floor and extends out about fifteen feet over the starboard side of the ship for about sixty feet at a height of about 128 feet over the sea.

Royal Princess in Southampton – Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises

Equally, the port side features a cantilevered bar above the sea, but residents of balcony cabins located below have been given reason for concern about their privacy. Otherwise, the new ship features expanded public areas, including the outdoor cinema, a Sanctuary area with cabanas and a huge central Piazza as atrium. The pool deck will also now become a night destination, with dazzling water and light shows.

After the naming ceremony, in which the bottle broke on first impact, the Duchess was given a tour of the new ship, which is some 20% larger than any other Princess ship. Among other things, the latest Royal Princess features 80% balcony cabins. The Duchess’s time on board included a visit to the bridge and being shown the Morse Light and the Whistle, which of course she was allowed to sound.

More than 100 international media covered the event, which followed June previews by the Norwegian Breakaway and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ new Europa 2, also in Southampton.

In these modern times it is interesting to see that this ultra-modern ship still features a Morse Light, especially as the US Coast Guard phased out the use of Morse signals two decades ago.

The first Royal Princess, introduced in 1984

Today, passenger and cargo ships of 300 gross tons or more no longer use Morse code for distress calls, relying instead upon the sophisticated global communications system that has taken its place.

Meanwhile, what of the first two ships of the name? The first Royal Princess, introduced in 1984, was a groundbreaker in her time. A product of Wartsila of Helsinki, she was the first major cruise ship to feature balcony cabins as a significant feature of her design.

Some 25% of her cabins were so equipped, a very high proportion at the time. She also featured one of the first atria at sea. In fact, so successful was her design that the first ship to be built for the new upmarket Crystal Cruises followed her in many ways. Royal Princess (i) was christened by Diana, Princess of Wales, mother of Prince William, and was an advance in her time as she featured all-outside cabins. In 2005, she became P&O Cruises’ Artemis and since 2011 has traded as Phoenix Reisen’s Artania.

P&O Cruises’ Adonia – The second Royal Princess

The second Royal Princess was not as much of a groundbreaker, but was a placeholder in her own way in the P&O Princess stable, in that she featured 73% balcony cabins. Having entered service as the R8 for Renaissance Cruises in 2001, she was laid up when that company went bankrupt the same year, and became the Minerva II for P&O-owned Swan Hellenic Cruises in 2003.

Under Carnival ownership, she was moved to Princess Cruises in 2007, where she became Royal Princess (ii). Princess was already operating two of her ex-Renaissance sister ships, the Ocean Princess (ii) and Pacific Princess (ii). Meanwhile, the Swan Hellenic brand was sold to outside owners. In 2011, Royal Princess (ii) moved once more within the group, to become P&O Cruises’ Adonia (ii), renamed by Dame Shirley Bassey.

Comparison table: the three Royal Princess

Comparison table: the three Royal Princess

The latest Royal Princess is also somewhat of a preview for UK cruisers who inspected the ship in Southampton or travelled on one of her pre-inaugural mini-cruises last week. P&O Cruises’ next ship, to be introduced in 2015, will be largely based on the design of the Royal Princess and her sister ship Regal Princess, which is to be introduced next year.


P&O Cruises Stung In The Tail By Vantage Fares

Last July, P&O Cruises introduced something they called Vantage Fares, whereby early bookers paid a 15% deposit and were assured that any subsequent reductions in the Vantage fare would be honoured, with passengers being protected at the lower fare.

What they perhaps did not make clear enough, however, was that this did not apply to its cheaper Getaway fares, special discounted fares that are released on the basis of 100% payment at time of booking and a 100% penalty if cancelled. This kind of fare has a sting of its own as anyone forced to cancel because of accident or health reasons must be sure that they are insured to cover the 100% loss of fare.

But a different kind of sting has been hitting P&O Cruises recently as people who have booked the Vantage fares see Getaway fares advertised at up to £500 per person less than what they paid, and then find out that they do not qualify for an equivalent reduction as they booked a different type of fare.

Some commentators forecast at the time that P&O came out with these new Vantage and Getaway fares that there would be confusion and sure enough there has been. To a cruise passenger a fare is a fare and they don’t care what you call it. When P&O introduced its Vantage fares it should perhaps have included a more significant “health warning” that specifically said that lower fares could be available under its Getaway fare scheme and that Vantage ticket holders would not qualify for those fares. Their price promise applied only to Vantage fares and not to Getaway fares.

After complaints by some of its passengers, P&O was quoted by BBC Radio 4 to say the following, “With Vantage fares, passengers pay a 15% deposit, are able to choose the cabin type, location and number, and can choose from an additional benefit such as onboard spending money or complimentary car parking. When bookings are made on a Getaway fare, passengers are not able to select the cabin type or location and there are no additional benefits.

”In our future advertising campaigns, we plan to promote Getaway Fares alongside Vantage Fares. This allows the customer to make an informed choice about the promotion and the associated benefits of each fare.”

More proof that the old saying keep it simple works.

(Kevin Griffin is managing director of specialist cruise agency The Cruise People Ltd in London, England. For further information concerning cruises mentioned in this article readers can visit his blog)

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