ABOARD THE REAL PRINCESS – A sure sign of Princess cruise popularity is the huge turnout for the Captain’s Circle cocktail party. For repeat cruisers, the invitation-only get together was packed on my Regal Princess cruise.
No wonder. Of the 3,291 passengers on my cruise, 2,400 were repeat Princess cruisers, Captain Tim Stringer said. “We welcome you back and appreciate your loyalty,” he said.
That’s a whole lot of people. But the most surprising number was the passenger who has cruised with Princess Cruise Line the most on my cruise – Dr. Charles Mitchell of Michigan has cruised on a Princess ship an amazing 1,292 days.
That is almost three and a half years of being pampered on a Princess cruise.
“That’s three days more than our captain has been on a Princess ship,” said Michelle, hostess of Princess Cruises Captain’s Circle, the loyalty program for repeat guests.
Passengers who cruise with Princess get an official-looking Captain’s Circle Passport. I now have one with my name and membership number in it, plus a colorful little Caribbean beach scene stamp with the signature of ship captain Stringer and the Regal Princess name as the ship.
From now on, each time I embark with Princess Cruises, I will get my passport stamped noting the cruise destination, the ship and the captain. Passengers also get cabin cards in different colors noting how many times they have cruised with Princess.
First-timers get a blue card. Then gold. Then comes a ruby card, platinum card and – the most valuable of all – a dark-colored elite card. Each card offers benefits which, of course, become more valuable as the colors change.
Loyalty members also get a pin in the same color as their cruise card. The Elite card goes to passengers who have been on 15 Princess cruises or cruised for a total of 150 days. So Dr. Mitchell has been an elite passenger many times over.
What membership benefits do repeat cruisers like the most? “The biggest benefit is complimentary laundry service. You put your laundry in a bag and it is washed and pressed and returned the next day,” Michelle said. “That is the favorite of most people.”
Next most popular perks, she added, are complimentary WiFi and a mini-bar set up with free liquor and soft drinks in the cruiser’s stateroom. My choice would be the WiFi but Regal Princess has a great new deal on WiFi – 24 hours unlimited internet for $9.95.
Cheaper internet access now available on Regal Princess
“We noticed that many of our guests didn’t really need WiFi every day or want to pay for it every day on a cruise. Maybe they were going to spend most of the day in port on a shore excursion,” explained Yan, digital communications manager. “This way you can pay for just one day or two or however many you need. If you buy it one day at noon, you have it until the next day at noon for 24 hours for $9.95.”
The “unlimited” part is what most passengers can’t believe, Yan added. “They are so used to checking to see how many minutes they have left and to signing off and on to save their minutes. This is unlimited.”
Sure enough, when I was waiting to talk with Yan in the ship’s internet café, several passengers asked her how they could check how many minutes they have left on their internet plan. “It is unlimited. You don’t have to check minutes,” she would say and passengers would get big smiles on their faces.
Other membership benefits include preferred check-in at embarkation, special disembarkation lounge, boutique discounts, vacation protection, complimentary wine tasting, upgraded stateroom amenities, onboard credit, members-only cruise pricing and special onboard events, such as the members’ cocktail party.
“We appreciate our loyal cruisers and the Captain’s Circle is how we recognize and reward their loyalty,” Michelle said, adding that on my cruise there are 847 platinum members and 568 elite.
Of the passengers on my cruise, 2,469 are Americans with the second most nationality being Canadian and then British. The cruise is almost a United Nations of passengers with more than 40 countries represented including Argentina, Austria, Australia, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Iceland, India, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, Russia, Switzerland and the Ukraine.
Back-to-back cruises are popular
At dinner one night on the Regal Princess, I was seated with three other couples at a “shared” table. As a solo cruiser, I have my choice of requesting a smaller table all to myself or dining with other couples at a larger table. I did a bit of both on this cruise.
The other six people at my table were all repeat cruisers. In fact, two of the couples are taking back-to-back cruises on the Regal Princess. When I leave at the end of my week-long cruise, those two couples will be staying on for another week.
Only makes sense, the two couples say, because flying is such an expensive hassle that a cruiser might as well look for discounts and book two back-to-back cruises. Alan and Nancy from Australia are spending five weeks in America and their two weeks aboard the Regal Princess are the finale of their vacation.
“We’ve done planes and trains and now we’re doing a cruise ship,” Alan said. “If we were flying all the way to America, we wanted to stay for awhile. Everything has been great but we think we saved the best for last.”
Photos for Jackie Sheckler Finch