I have enjoyed this message board so much in the months leading up to our cruise, I thought I should give back with a review of our July 1st Grand Princess Western Carribean cruise.
First, a little about us. We took our first cruise last summer on the Grand Princess Mediterranean with our 14 year old daughter. We then took the Grand Princess Eastern Carribean in March without daughter. We just returned from Western Carribean with daughter. We are in our early 40's.
Any rumors about service deteriorating on the Grand Princess our exagerrated. In fact, we thought the food and service on the last cruise was the best. The food seemed to have improved marketedly.
In March we staye at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport Hilton through Princess. We were disaapointed. Our room was dirty and the hotel seemed beat up. It is located next to the freeway and their was no place to walk. Our flights (from Detroit) were booked through Princess. We had to change planes in Atlanta, despite the fact that there are many non-stop flights between Detroit and Ft. Lauderdale.
This time, we got wise and booked our own flight and reserved our own hotel on the Saturday before the cruise. The flight was non-stop and much less expensive. We stayed at the Marina Marriott with a special weekend summer rate of $79 per night. We had previously been to the Harbor Beach Marriott and we preferred the Marina Marriott. Since we were going to be on beaches most of the week anyway, the beautiful pool at the Marina Marriott was all that we needed.
The Marina Marriott is located right on the intra-coastal. Many yachts are tied up at the hotel. Benches are located next to the hotel, on the intra-coastal, so you can sit and watch all of the boat traffic. The hotel provided all kinds of flotation devices for the pool, which both the kids and adults enjoyed. At 1 p.m. employees wheeled out tables by the pool with complimentary fresh fruit for people at the pool(watermelon, grapes, etc.). We thought that was a nice touch. It is also a short walk from the Bimini Boathouse, our favorite restaurant in Lauderdale. Between 4-7 catch the "early bird special", which, for $14.95, you get soup or salad, the most delicious, homemade "Bimini Bread" I have ever eaten, your choice of entree, including steak or jumbo lobster, and choice of dessert(try the key lime pie). I would highly recommend this place.
Now for the cruise. With respect to entertainment, Marty Allen and his wife seem to be wonderful, fun people, however, they are not our cup of tea. Our favorite show was City Heat. It is better than most shows we have seen on Broadway.
As noted, although the type of food was the same, we thought everything was much better prepared this time. Everything we ordered was better, both in the Horizon Court and every night at dinner. In March, we did personal choice. We thought the Maitre' De in the personal choice dining room was very rude. Although they advertise "dine when you want, with whom you want", when I asked for a table for two, he would say none was available but that we could eat if we joined others. When I told him we would wait for a table for two, he acted quite put off and looked down his nose at us. Accordingly, since we had our daughter this time, we took traditional dining, early seating, since she wanted to finish dinner to get to the show and/or teen club. I do not know if traditional dining was the difference, but the food and service were far superior this time.
The best suggestion to anyone is the new shore excursion offered in Playa Del Carmen-yes, we stopped at Playa Del Carmen, not Costa Maya. We were glad we did. We had absolutely our best day at sea on any of our vacations on the tour we took at Playa. It is Tour J-1(they did not give us notice of it until we were on board)Jeep-Jungle-Cavern-Beach tour. It is expensive-$279 per jeep, which seats up to four, but it was well worth it.
There were approximately 8 jeeps in our tour. Tour leader Martin led the tour. He had a walkie-talkie as did the other tour guide, Oscar. Oscar would follow the last jeep to make sure there were no stragglers. If the caravan got stopped midway by, for example, a traffic light, Oscar would radio to Martin and he would wait for the rest of the group. We first drove out of town through some interesting neighborhoods tourists do not usually see-our daughter, who just finished her first year of Spanish in high school thought that was really cool and interpreted the various signs for us.
We drove south, turned off the main road and drove through a little town on a dirt road. We then drove off of the road on a path through the jungle. This is not for the faint of heart. There were extreme hills and bumps-I would not recomend for older folks or for anyone with a bad back. Martin then stopped his jeep and walked back to make sure everyone was alright. He said, with a smile, "now we are going to turn onto the bumpy trail! I thought he was joking-he was not. The path got even more hilly and bumpy.
We then arrived near the caves. To get to the caves, we had to take a short hike through the jungle. Martin came prepared-he sprayed everybody down with bug spray because the mosquitos were terrible. We then walked through the jungle to the caves. We saw many wild animals-monkeys, wild boar, big walking birds that looked like oversize wild turkeys, as well as other birds. Before going into the caves, Martin passed out hardhats for everyone to wear. The caves were beautiful-stalagtites and stalagmites everywhere. We then came upon a beautiful, freshh water, underground lake, called a cenote. The caves are dark and you must walk very low to the ground to avoid hitting your head-again. Bats were flying around the top of our heads and we saw two silver foxes inside the caves. When we came out, there was Oscar with a cooler filled with bottled water for everyone.
We then walked back to the jeeps and Martin led the caravan to the beach. We had a grilled lunch on the beach, with freshly caught grilled red snapper, beef fajitas, fresh cut fruit and chips with salsa and fresh guacamole. In our prior experience, every lunch that has been provided on a our has been so-so to downright terrible. This lunch was delicious-a first for us. At the beach, kayaks, volleyballs and snorkeling gear are provided at no additional charge. Martin took my daughter way out in the ocean on a two person kayak-she had a ball(he also taught her a little more Spanish). We cooled off in the ocean and walked along the beach. Martin told us that this was a brand new tour that they were starting and that he wanted to impress us so that we would tell Princess so they would offer the tour on a permanent basis. One thing I forgot to mention-I can't drive a stick shift, therefore, Martin found a jeep for me with an automatic. Again, this was an example of how Martin and Oscar aimed to please.
We did the Stingray City tour in Grand Cayman. It was O.K. In Cozumel, we enjoyed just walking around the town and shopping.
For both the March and the July cruises, the cruise documents said there were 2 formal and 1 semi-formal night. On both cruises there were no semi-formal nights.
Although, of course, the ports in this cruise cannot compare to the Mediterranean, this was our favorite cruise to date. We also liked the ports better in the Western Carribean than the Eastern.
I hope this was helpful-if anyone has any questions, feel free!