Princess Cruises' latest ship, the 3,560-passenger Regal Princess, debuted less than a year ago in the Mediterranean. When we hopped aboard it's inaugural Caribbean cruise from Fort Lauderdale last November to check it out, we discovered a ton of awesome perks onboard that would make any vacation at sea much more enjoyable. From an abundance of balcony staterooms to a thrilling glass-bottomed walkway, here are seven reasons why the new ship rocks.
1. Balconies galore.
As we teased in the introduction, the Regal Princess is for those who love having the sea breeze in their hair (and who doesn't?). Of the 1,780 staterooms onboard, no less than 1,438 have balconies. And while the remaining interiors are slightly cheaper, it's only by $25-$50 per person per night, depending on the itinerary.
2. You can channel your inner daredevil.
Located just behind the Lido Deck pool on the 16th deck, the glass-bottomed SeaWalk extends 28 feet beyond the ship's edge to make you really feel like you're out at sea. It's a relatively new addition to the cruise line's fleet, first debuting on sister ship Royal Princess in the fall of 2013. Watching the waves crash 128 feet beneath you isn't for the faint of heart, but you can always steady yourself with a cocktail at the SeaWalk Bar.
3. It's always foodie hour.
Indulgent bites are never far away on the Regal Princess. After all, the ship is now home to the the largest pastry shop at sea, the expanded International Café -- which now serves up its own version of cronuts, the famed croissant-doughnut hybrid invented in NYC. Elsewhere on the ship, sushi, poke, and oysters await with a side of amazing views at Ocean Terrace, while alcoholic-infused sundaes scream "vacation" at Gelato. And for the craft beer enthusiast? There's an exclusive Seawitch West Coast IPA new to the cruise line, courtesy of San Jose-based Strike Brewing Company.
Extra-special experiences (at extra fees) can be found at Chef's Table Lumiere, a new gourmet concept that envelopes patrons with gorgeous sparkling lights, or in two wine rooms, where paired dinners are served thanks to a partnership with Napa Valley's Mondavi and Italy's Marchesi de' Frescobaldi.
4. There's more elbow room for fun and dancing.
The Atrium is arguably the heart of the ship, and the Regal Princess' is 50 percent larger than ever before. Cruisers have always flocked to this space for wines by the glass at Vines and martinis with piano music at Crooner's, but the expanded space means an even more jam-packed line-up of musical performances in the Piazza. Once a night on every itinerary, the Piazza is also home to the signature Champagne Waterfall, where bubbly flows freely.
5. The nights sparkle -- and teach.
Have you ever dreamed of being an astronomer? You'll be one step closer with Regal Princess' Discover Under the Stars program, a brand-new partnership with Discovery Communications -- the folks behind the Discovery Channel. Come nightfall, a staff member will be pointing out the night's constellations on the ship's top deck, pouring a little bit of learning and wonder into each sailing.
6. You can treat yourself to a delicious cocoa emporium... or spa treatment.
Front and center in the candy shop just off the Atrium, chocolate-loving cruisers will find decadent treats designed by master chocolatier and pastry chef Norman Love. Even if you don't opt for a gift box, chocolate bar, or wine and chocolate tasting ($39), you'll find Love-crafted desserts in the dining rooms and specialty restaurants onboard. The chocolate craze continues in Lotus Spa with the Chocolate Journey full-body treatment. After a skin exfoliation, get all wrapped up in a rich chocolate mask -- followed by a shower and a massage using warmed chocolate oil. (There's a reason why the treatment is dubbed an "indulgent body treatment.") Choose from 75 minutes for $195 or 100 minutes for $259.
7. It's easier to stay connected.
Completely new to the entire cruise line, Princess@Sea Messenger, a completely free messaging web app that's great for communicating among members of your group who are also onboard. Think: no more leaving messages back at the room or having to coordinate meeting points in advance. It's a great perk considering how expensive Internet and phone data is at sea, and it's easy to use, too. Simply use your tablet, phone or laptop to log onto the app -- where the day’s itinerary, port guides, and restaurant menus are featured. The service will be available fleet-wide by the end of 2015.
Costs: The ships' itineraries include jaunts in the Eastern Caribbean, Western Caribbean, Canada & New England, the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Scandinavia & Russia, the British Isle & Norway Passage. You can find fares as low as $249 per person on a two-night Bahamas cruise or $1,799 for a 22-night sail to Scandinavia and Russia (not including taxes and fees). The Caribbean cruises that depart from Fort Lauderdale are especially appealing when it comes to costs. From most domestic cities, airfare is often under $400 round-trip.