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Travel: Princess Cruises’ new gourmet food, craft cocktails and digital world

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PORT OF SAN FRANCISCO — We’re perched 128 feet above the ocean on a glass-bottomed walkway circling the top deck of the Royal Princess cruise ship. The enclosed SeaWalk extends more than 28 feet beyond the edge of the vessel, creating the illusion that you’re walking alongside the 1,000-foot-long ship — like, on air — rather than inside it.
Much like the entire mega-cruise experience these days, it’s dizzying and electrifying all at once. Cruise lines are forever trying to out-do one another with the biggest (or smallest and most intimate) ships, with celebrity chefs helming the menu, rock stars as entertainment and slides, rides and more to bewitch families. Late last year, Carnival Cruise Lines announced it was putting a roller coaster — the Bolt — on its Mardi Gras ship, which is set to hit the high seas in 2020.
Earlier this month, Princess Cruise Line sent the 3,560-passenger Royal Princess, christened by the Duchess of Cambridge in 2013, on her maiden voyage to San Francisco before sailing to Alaska. The cruise line will be offering 10-day round-trip cruises on that route from May 26 through Sept. 13.
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During its Bay Area stop, the crew unveiled new on-board experiences found throughout the fleet, from celebrity chef food and drink programs to a wearable device called OceanMedallion that allows you to personalize your entire voyage with your mobile phone.
That’s right. When you’re not streaming your current Netflix binge — most Princess Cruise ships will be equipped with fast, land-quality WiFi by year’s end — you can sync up your device and use it to do pretty much everything: Unlock your stateroom door, order a cocktail and have it delivered wherever you are (OceanNow mode), scan it on one of 140 portals to navigate your way on board (OceanCompass) and use it to wager real money in a game of poker (OceanCasino).
Keeping track? The innovative platform eliminates long lines, key toting and other hassles associated with cruising. But for the uninitiated, parts of it can feel like an episode of “Black Mirror.” Imagine a steel floating city where everyone is looking down into the glow of a device. Make a new acquaintance? Friend them through Shipmates, and you can follow their every move with your phone. You can un-friend them, too, if things get weird.
Using smart devices on portals located shipwide, PlayOcean lets guests play interactive games, go on a digital scavenger hunt and use customizable avatars called tagalongs. (Princess Cruises) 
Meanwhile, GuestView allows crew members to view the personal information you provided pre-cruise (OceanReady). Got a dairy allergy? Celebrating an anniversary? Prefer chardonnay? They’ll know. If you want to keep things private and spontaneous, limit what you share. The Royal Princess was one of the first MedallionClass ships in the fleet; by the end of 2020, 11 ships sailing in the Caribbean, Europe, Australia, Mexico, the California Coast and other locales will have the platform.
It certainly comes in handy when you’re lounging at the pool, customizing your avatar, and suddenly have a wicked craving for a zippy Yucatan Sandia en Fuego, one of several new cocktails created by master mixologist Ryan Floyd of “Bar Rescue” fame. Depending on the Princess Cruise ship, you’ll have access to a slew of impressive new beverages, from a wine list curated by master sommelier Doug Frost to an impressive international whiskey program.
Cruise ship food has improved drastically in recent years, and Princess offers several gourmet options, including casual French bistro dishes from three-Michelin starred chef Emmanuel Renaut and six-course fine dining at Share, celeb chef Curtis Stone’s only restaurant at sea.
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Still, our favorite was a savory, kimchi-topped rib-eye burger from Umami Burger’s inaugural chef, Ernesto Uchimura. You can enjoy it inside the Salty Dog Gastropub, while taking in the sea breeze and a craft beer, or in the comfort of your stateroom at the touch of a button.
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