MONFALCONE, Italy — The Fincantieri shipyard here will take the Royal Princess to sea for the first time this weekend to test the ship's systems before its scheduled debut in June in Southampton, England.
One of the areas that will be looked at is the wind protection around the ship’s signature feature, the Seawalk, a semi-elliptical glass-bottomed walkway that will extend over the ocean on a top deck.
Princess Cruises' engineers have modeled the wind around the walkway in a wind tunnel but won’t know for sure how it performs until the sea trial. The walk is fully screened with glass panels on the exterior, but has waist-high glass panels on its interior-facing side.
“I would be surprised if it’s an issue,” said Stuart Hawkins, vice president of newbuilds for Princess.
On a tour of the unfinished ship for the media, Hawkins credited Fincantieri for executing an idea that was faithful to the rendering that Princess presented to the yard.
“We were surprised that they could make it as free-standing as they did,” he said.
Rai Caluori, Princess' executive vice president of fleet operations, said the walkway will be shown to finest effect at night, when fiber-optics built into the ceiling and beneath the glass bottomed structure will illuminate the way.
Calouri and his design team detailed a host of new features packed into the ship designed to make it stand apart from previous Princess ships and vessels from competitors.
The Horizon Court buffet restaurant has been expanded to include a total of nearly 1,500 seats, including 150 in an alfresco area facing the main pool deck. Caluori said this will be a big improvement for passengers.
“Buffets on cruise ships tend to be an Achilles heel because of the heavy traffic,” he said.
Princess has eliminated beverage stations in Horizon Court and will have wait staff bring drinks to passengers’ tables.
The adjacent Bistro Lounge will include a 1,200-square-foot pastry kitchen that will turn out everything from breakfast waffles to after-dinner deserts.
Princess' vice president of hotel operations, Jonathan Wilson, said the cruise line prides itself on its pastries.
“This is not a gimmick,” he said, noting that the kitchen is as large as the homes of some potential passengers. “It’s not just one-of-a-kind to Princess, it’s one-of-a-kind anywhere [at sea],” he said.
Another new dining feature will be Chef’s Table Lumiere, a 12-seat circular private dining area in the middle of the ship’s traditional dining room that will be encircled by a fiber-optic illuminated curtain.
The dining area will feature a table with a six-foot Murano glass sculpture rising through it. When diners arrive, the retracted floor-to-ceiling curtain will move on an automatic track, closing around them and illuminating vertically at the same time, Caluori said.
There are less dramatic chef’s tables in the ship’s other two main dining rooms. On current Princess ships, they are only available on some nights of a cruise, but on Royal Princess they will be used every night, Caluori said.Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly.