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Princess Cruises Then and Now

Island Princess 1974

Sky Princess 2021

Island Princess 1974 Sky Princess 2019

Tonnage 19,900 Tonnage 145,281

Length 550 ft Length 1082 ft

Capacity 626 Capacity 3600

Crew 350 Crew 1350

My first Princess ship was Island Princess right back at the beginning In 1974. In fact as I was joining her she was undergoing the transformation from Island Venture to Island Princess. I joined her in San Francisco having just completed her refit. We were to sail to Los Angeles to commence her new life with P&O Princess Cruises. At this time Princess was located at Wiltshire Blvd, before later moving to Ave of the Stars.

Left - Island Princess Key Ring

Right - Sky Princess Medallion

I remember the great excitement we all had to be starting a completely new style of cruising. Up until this time P&O consisted of ocean-going liners that had been converted to cruising. Line voyages were on the decline with the advent of bulk air travel and the passenger shipping industry was in decline.

Island Princess was born and her maiden cruising season was from LA to Mexico, moving to Alaska in the summer. The purser's office was a slimmed-down version of the ones we had been used to on Oriana and Canberra. The Purser, deputy purser, senior assistant purser, and two woman assistant pursers, and two male A/P’s. We were a pretty tightly knit department. The Catering onboard was operated by a separate Italian catering company with shipboard control by an Italian Chief Steward and Assistant Chief Steward.

The Original Island Princess Purser's Team 1974 - The Start of P&O Princess.

This month I once again boarded a Princess Ship for the first time in over four decades. This time on the other side of the fence as a passenger. The Sky Princess is a magnificent ship launched in 2019 she was very soon mothballed due to covid and restated cruising this summer as restrictions were lifted. To all intents and purposes, she is like a brand new ship.

Back in 1974 embarkation was a pretty simple affair. Passengers arrived at the cruise terminal with a paper ticket in hand, this was checked on the dock by one of the Woman Assistant Purser’s assisted normally by three people from Princess Offices. One of which would take up residence in the Purser’s Office for the afternoon with a computer printout of passengers and sort out any berthing problems. Please bear in mind that there were no computers on the ship and everything was done by hand. With no security to speak of the passenger walked on board and shortly afterward their baggage would hopefully arrive at their stateroom as the cabins were now called.

I was rather dreading arriving at Southampton docks to embark on the 3500 passenger Sky Princess. But I have to admit everything was very shipshape and Bristol fashion. Of course, everyone had to be covid tested but the whole process was pretty seamless, with only a short wait while the test results came through. In no time at all, we were walking up the gangway to be clapped aboard by a handful of crew members.

The big difference, no paper tickets. Instead after checking identities you are issued with a medallion, this now becomes your passport around the ship, entering your cabin, purchasing anything on the ship you just wave this medallion around, and of course is your identification for leaving and boarding the ship at any time. Just flash your medallion and your rather dubious photograph pops up to confirm your identity. Of course, you had to drop your mask to verify it was really you at times.

Sky Princess Atrium

You enter the ship into the Piazza which is very impressive rising three floors. Having driven to Southampton, walked twenty minutes from our car park (another story) and gone through the covid testing and embarkation procedure we were ready for a cup of tea. Luckily on entering the Piazza we were right by the International Café which was serving sandwiches, cakes, and the long-awaited cup of tea. Finding a table was a bit tricky as lots of other passengers had the same idea. Having said that it was the only time on the cruise that you had a wait to be served at this café

Pacific Princess Pursers Lobby. The one on the Island Princess was almost identical but furnished in red

Back on Island Princess, we had a very stylish two-deck Purser’s lobby. The Pursers and the shop were on Fiesta Deck with the hairdresser, photographer and small library on Aloha deck with a stylish staircase between the two.

This of course was nothing compared to the magnificent Atrium raising three magnificent decks on Sky Princess, the home to various restaurants, bars, shops, photographers, not forgetting the Gelato bar for that ice cream you simply must-have.

The pursers have disappeared from Princess, now you have a Hotel manager and a host of Customer Service assistants. The purser’s office is Guest Services, separate Shore Excursions office, HR department, future cruise office, you get the picture. Back in my day, we did the lot. The hotel department still has white stripes, but the number of stripes has increased. From three stripes for the chief purser, the hotel manager now has four stripes.

Island Princess had the Coral Dining Room where almost all meals were taken. Guests could request first or second seating. Senior officers had guests tables, normally on the second seating. In addition to this, some nights there would be a mid-night buffet normally served in the dining room. Pizza was often served in the Caribe lounge around 11.00 pm and once in a while, there would be a deck buffet.

Wow, the dining possibilities on Sky Princess just go on and on. There are three main dining rooms, all serving the same menu that changes daily, and are perfectly adequate, I found the service very efficient especially when we had afternoon tea one day. There are a number of specialty restaurants where you pay a surcharge. I found the surcharge reasonable and worth it for the uplift in the menu offerings. The Crown Grill is very much in the style of an American Steak House revolving around a large piece of grilled meat. More to my taste was Bistro Sur la Mer, offering a French-inspired menu. Here I found the culinary highlight of my cruise, the cassis sauce served with a breast of duck. The sauce was complex, well made, and reduced to just the perfect consistency. (Yes I was a chef). However, my favourite restaurant was Sabatini’s, with an Italian inspired menu and the best service we received on the ship thanks to waiter’s Tarra and Mario

In addition to all these offerings, there was Alfredo’s Pizzeria, The Salty Dog Grill, Ocean Terrace Sushi, The International Café as mentioned earlier, and the World Fresh Marketplace, which was a giant buffet a bit like a cafeteria. I must admit we do like to be served at a table so did not sample the World Marketplace, but on inspection the food looked very good.

Officers and Passengers entertain in the Carousel lounge - Island Princess

I well remember the shows on Island Princess and often took part as many of the ships officer’s did. Back then there were no production shows, but terrific shows produced on ship by the cruise director and his staff. In addition to this were guest entertainers who often joined the ship for a cruise or two.

When you enter the Princess Theatre on Sky Princess you are immediately blown away by the size. Each night was a different offering from the large production Rock Opera to the ventriloquist who was excellent working four different voices at the same time. One puppet on each lap and one off stage. Probably the best show was the West End Singers on the last night. They had also performed on the first night but we had only seen the end of their performance from the rear doors as we had had a late dinner.

Around the ship were various musicians. The string trio of young ladies performing in the atrium before dinner was lovely. A Motown quartet were pretty good, but best of all were a jazz trio on the “Take Five” lounge, unfortunately, we only managed to get a seat there on two evenings as they were so popular.

Island Princess felt more like a club, over a ten to fourteen day cruise passengers would leave the ship having made lots of new friends. Even as an Officer back then we made many lasting friendships.

Sky Princess with such a large number of passengers you hardly saw the same passengers twice. Which made it difficult to get to know fellow cruisers. Although we would get into conversation with adjoining tables in the restaurants, we rarely saw the same passengers again. By the same token because of covid restrictions, it was very rare to share a table in one of the lounges. However, I guess this may be completely different in more normal times.

Be it 1974 or 2021 one thing certainly does not change and that is the Bay of Biscay. My worst crossing was on Oriana back in 1973 when we experienced a force 10 gale. Ropes were installed around the ship to cross any open space. But my lasting impression of that storm was when visited the galley to see fried eggs traveling backward and forwards across the deck in a pool of cooking oil. Entering the Drake Restaurant from the galley I was just in time to see a five-gallon earn of tomato juice hit the deck and soak into the carpet.

Sky Princess’s Captain Heikki Laakkonen announced over the Tannoy system (yes I am old-fashioned) that during the evening and the following day we would be experiencing bad weather crossing the Bay of Biscay. Deck furniture was strapped down for a bumpy ride.

He was not wrong. Following a bite of afternoon tea the following day as it was too windy to go on deck we were walking through the Atrium when we were treated to a water display cascading from the boat deck, down to deck 5

The following day Mike Hawksworth a fellow purser from my Princess days was following across the Bay of Biscay on Regal Princess he reported that it was like a millpond. That’s The Bay of Biscay for you

I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the Original Island and Pacific Princess. However, a whole new world of

Princess Cruising has now opened up to me.

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Mark Goddard
Mark Goddard
Jan 27, 2022

Having worked for Princess in the early 90's so much has changed now. I recently heard about how life is onboard these days The main differences since I worked onboard are the change in terms of nationalities, the loss of some deck privilidges for some departments, strict policy on how much alcohol is consumed and even random breath tests. Plus far few officers and staff actually mixing with passengers on deck. In my day we worked very hard and long hours but also enjoyed some deck privilidges and partied most nights like it was our last night on earth. I don't think we would get away with that now ! LOL.


Jamie, The Purser
Jamie, The Purser
Oct 31, 2021

Excellent review, David, love the comparison of your life on Princess over 40 years ago, to Princess in the 21st century, as a passenger ( guest) . The most noticeable difference being number of guests, and the fact, that you seldom see the same people twice. The smaller vessels were very much more intimate and friendly, opportunities to meet the same crowd around the decks, which seldom happen with so many people on board. Perhaps when normality returns to cruising, mixing and mingling will become the norm again, without face masks and social distancing.

Pleased you have adapted to cruising as a guest, and two recent samplers, is just the start of a long life on the high seas (…

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