Grand review of 5/20 sailing.
I want to preface my review by saying, trying to please 3000 people from all over the country (actually the world) with different senses of humor, age levels, tastebuds and levels of expectation is a huge undertaking! Princess, in my opinion (it was my 15th cruise) made an audacious attempt and pleased me in just about all aspects of my cruise vacation.
I LOVED the Grand and hopefully you will get a better idea of the cruise from my review;
Embarkation...A breeze..If you have the time fill-out info online w/Princess on their website. We booked the cruise 40 days prior so not enough time. We were there at 11:00 and that's when they opened the gates!!! It took us about 20 minutes (mostly because of the 2 couples in front of us (language problems). Express check-in was aprox 5 min!
***TIP*** Even if you book your own air, Princess has you fill out a form at embarkation for your airline (we used Delta) not all airlines are included...then you get to meet your airline reps on disembarkment day and check-in on board, get tags for your luggage, tag them after customs and check them at the airline truck...then you just take a taxi (flat rate $10) to the airport and just go right to the gate! A breeze.
First Impression of the ship....Excitement, it is gorgeous, clean and has a casual elegance that is welcoming and comforting. The crew pointed us towards our deck/minisuite (Dolphin D717). The cabin is a perfect size for our family (son age 19 was with us), the sitting room doubled as my son's bedroom (had his own tv) area to relax & watch the ocean when it was raining (we had a few days of rain) The deck was terrific had 4 chairs (2 reclined) a large table & small one (I used as an ottoman!) It was fully exposed to above decks but that allowed more sun & stars. The bathroom has a full (deep) tub/shower..worth the extra $$. The refrigerator does not hold a lot but enough soda/water/beer/wine for us. The walk-in closet was wonderful.
Lunch at the Horizon court was freash, hot and there were many choices....the best buffet on all our cruises except for Celebrity & HAL (on par).
There was lots of music everywhere, smiling crew & as always people trying to sell you stuff.
****Tip***Book all your reservations for alternitive restaurants. We decided to only book The Painted Desert, the Mexican restaurant. We selected it for lunch on the sea days...That turned out to be a great idea, it's the same menu as dinner, you are not rushed on sea days and you don't give-up a dinner (best meal of the day in the dining room).
We decided we have wonderful Italian restaurants where we are from (The Boston area) and felt why spend the extra$$.
First time cruisers...the cruise staff conducts tours on embarkation day, it's posted in the Princess Patter Newsletter, where & when you meet and that will help you orientate the ship.
Overall food experience....
Since I had been a caterer years ago I know what it takes to cook for a group! First of all this is not Gourmet and can not be unless the ship is catering to a very small group. When you go to a gourmet restaurant there are usually 2 seatings and less than 20 tables. Therefore don't expect that high level on a cruise ship.
This ship does a wonderful job in food service. I have learned to order basics. The items that are listed as "Always available" at the bottom of the menu are cooked to order. I had grilled salmon 2ce and it was perfect, same with the steak (my husband had one 2ce), perfectly cooked to order. The Beef Wellington was perfect, the lobster was good but we're from New England...just OK...The rack of lamb was good and prime rib was good as well. STAY away from the turkey dinner the last nite...turkey was great but the fixins were horrible. In fact if you want to pick a night for Sabitini's do it the last night. Ofcourse if you are on traditional dining I would tip your waiter/assistant on Friday & say you are not coming Sat. We did personal choice so didn't matter. The desserts were tasteless eat the ice cream.
***Tip*** Cappuchinos,lattes/mochachinos are complimentary in the diningroom...go for it!!
The Horizon court was exceptional. I am NOT a buffet type and usually avoid them however this is the place for breakfast & lunch (along with the pizza place & hamburger grill). The Horizon crew have their act together...very fresh, lots of choices and they will cook your eggs to order...just ask...get a large glass at the bar and bring it to get OJ in and you won't need refills.
****Tip*** the ice machines are awful but there is always a plastic bucket of ice...bring lots of ziplock bags...fill bags to keep your drinks cold in a tote on shore excursions.
The Painted Desert was wonderful...you get to substitute a mediocre lunch with a "cooked to order" one, at no additional cost to you. The Margaritas were wonderful at this restaurant (1800 gold ones). Cooking to order improves any level of food. The caramel flan was very good
***Tip for people w/children***
Don't pay extra for ice cream...just go to the dining room during the hours of operation and sit down and have just ice cream or take it to go!! I saw many families getting dishes of ice cream and leaving with them. Why pay for Hagen Daz...as long as people pay extra for all these things cruise ships will get more and more additional cost things...DO NOT SUPPORT THIS KIND OF THING...they will go away if they are not supported...trust me.
Generally good. The production shows ...all three... were very entertaining and the lead singers were all good. The comedy entertainers were just OK.
Impressionist...very funny but only for the first 15-20 minutes,,after that just repetitive.
Magician...one wild & crazy guy but fun
Hypnotist...I didn't know if I was "going under" or "going asleep"
Guest singer...didn't go, never heard of her.
The pianist in the atrium...only heard when passing through however he did do "Name that tune" and sing alongs.
Kareoke...well attended and was fun for all age groups.
Jazz band...good only went for a short time.
Dance band "Hip Pocket"...Very good, appealed to all age groups and drew a crowd. Usually the crew did special shows with this dance band...country nite, rock & roll nite, "Liar's club" etc
Princess band needs more practice.
Pub Night, lots of fun...go early (any thing held in the Vista lounge fills-up fast)stay till the very end..Graham (the CD)outdoes himself!!!
Island night...it rained so it was held indoors...I heard from the crew it is much better outside...make sure you pack that hideous Hawaiian shirt..it's all for fun. Lots of hula contests, hula hoops, lip sinking, line dancing...Great fun...
****TIP*** on our Island night they were serving chocolate covered strawberries, pineapple, cherries, grapes & banannas at the Horizon Court...go over (for a break from Island celebrating)and get a few...yummy
Go to skywalkers disco...loud, smokey but lots of fun..great DJ, dance till you drop and it's the cruise staff/dancer/singer/comedian hang out ALSO go there in the daytime at least once. The view is AMAZING...a sailaway is terrific there...JUST DO IT!!
Had all these in one of the theaters...bummer no hot popcorn!!
What women want, Thirteen days, Saving Grace, Castaway,Crouching tiger hidden dragon, The wedding planner...you get the picture
Terrific shipboard activities...
Many trivial pursuit team sessions, mini golf, spa treatments (Book all early on),Library (too small for this size ship), board game room, video game room, virtual reality area, wine tastings, art auctions, horseracing etc...
The photo shop..
VERY confusing...buy the photos you want right away...they get lost,put into large albums and you have to try and find them...DO NOT Wait ($6.95 ea). The staff here is very helpful and will redo any photo and help you locate your missing photo.
***TIP*** do not be in this area when Bingo lets out or when any show gets out of the Vista Lounge...VERY CROWDED...Like cattle going to market!
The Daily newsletter (Princess Patter)...
Confusing, poorly written BUT it's informative and once you figure out how to read it (the next to the last day!) you'll find everything,. HOWEVER it does not list dining times of all the restaurants so learn early on your dining times.
Only 3 times a day eary am, noonish & afternoon. It is brief & informative without being intrusive.
Didn't use...not a gambler...very smokey..many non smokers refused to go in there...me included mainly because of the smoke.
Shopping on board....
Not great, but had some good buys on loose gemstones,perfume and some relly nice unusual jewelery. I bought very large 12m pearl studs...good price. Since liquor is cheap in New Hampshire (I live 1/2 hour from NH) prices were about the same) but I am told many found the prices very good.
Very nice. Prices a bit high then stateside BUT you're on vacation indulge. The pool in the spa area was a nice quiet one and great for swimming lap style in one place.
The gym had limited equipment, sign up and wait!!!
The main one was loud, well used and great for people watching.
The covered pool is where many went to read & sleep!!!
The aft pool was the adults only one...terrific view of the ocean, peaceful and never crowded
Since I had a balcony in my minisuite I spent very little time at the pools.
The barstaff/pool people..terrific and NOT in your face.
The Waitstaff...all terrific, just about perfect...I'm from the "do unto others" and "please & thank you" way of conducting myself so was equally treated with respect. I was also in Personal choice and every waiter/assistant was very professional & bent over backwards to please...NO COMPLAINTS HERE. We had one waiter 2ce and he remembered how I liked everything...UNREAL!
The cruise director..Graham...Very funny, great timing BUT a showman and not too terribly terrific on "One to one" he was always rushing...however did he ever sleep?...always doing something.
The cruise staff....Very nice, very friendly...one was ditzy but I think that was her MO...one was on her last cruise so she was very upbeat & very helpful. These young people work really hard to make your cruise fun..do they ever sleep? I asked a few of them...they all laughed and admitted they can go for so long then NEED to get off the ship to rest.
The cabin stewards...Mine was Rodney...if you are in a cabin of his please say hi to him from the Belseths (with son Andrew)cabin D717. He was top notch, professional and very patient, even when my son stayed in bed till noon (stayed out at Skywalkers till 4!!)He was one of the most accomodating steward we have had.
All in all the service was up there with Celebrity & HAl and I must say I liked the more upbeat attitude of this staff. Absolutely terrific.
PORTS OF CALL....
You'll wait if you go early to get a tender ticket..tendering started at 10:15 and we waited to go to the wait area till 11:30 and we still waited for 1/2 hour..We went to the right at the dock...this area is much more quiet. Both sides have a barbeque area, great view of the ship, shaded spots under large umbrellas (natural straw type) and lounges with pads.....DON'T FORGET YOUR STRIPED POOL TOWELS...The barbeque is the same as the grill on board, but everyone knows that food is better at the beach!!
The beach toys are all there, snorkle (awful) but fun, rent boats, floats...and all that kind of stuff...just a wonderful day at the beach but remember tonight is formal nite!!!!
***TIP** bring rubber bottom beach shoes...very rocky beach bottom.
Grand Cayman...You tender in again starting at 7:30...The swim with the stingrays is a must...great fun, adventure, photo opportunity and NOT to be missed. When my son was younger we went on an island tour that went to the turtle farm, he loved it...I learned a lot about the life of the turtle!! You also get to go to Hell...mail a postcard back to your friends postmarked Hell, Grand Cayman....7 Mile beach is wonderful also..just a short cab ride.
Shopping is very good but rather expensive BUT keep in mind this port city is where the "Jet Set" frequents so stores are going to cater to a more affluent crowd. Some things are 20% cheaper then the states (no import tax like US)I found some good buys. It's not St. Thomas.
Remember it's formal nite!!
You dock just a 20 minute walk from town...If it looks like it may rain bring an umbrella...TIP...bring a collapsible umbrella for your cruise. I got caught in torrential downpours...got drenched but had a ball!!!
If you haven't been here it is a wonderful port...been here many times...book the Jeep Adventure, Ruins, (if you are in good shape and don't mind heat & humidity),Snorkel or just shop & go to "Carlos & Charlies" and have a ball...Shopping is not like it used to be, haggling isn't something done so much here, everything is in US $$. There is a good selection of silver (DO NOT BUY ON THE STEET) make sure you are getting the good stuff.
The eco parks are also wonderful...we went to them and the underground rivers are very nice, especially on very hot days.
This is a wonderful port, even if you just go to the beach...
Playa Del Carmen..
Tender in BUT very quick (7 minutes) you don't wait at all. The beach at the dock is beautiful, there are all water sports available, many tours to ruins/eco parks/Cancun trips....then you can also shop & bargain your brains out!! The area where the shops are is real Mexico...a little seedy, food being cooked on the street...many Mexican spices.. smells woofing around and right there on the dock..."Senor Frogs"...Party hardy...with the cruise staff...lots of fun and if you MUST check your email (I refused) it is relly cheap at a place next to "Senor Frogs" $3. for 20-30 minutes. A friend of my son got a $50. item for $10...it was a bargain. This is what Cozumel was like 15 years ago...lots of fun, bargains and very friendly natives waiting to take every penny you have, but they are not obnoxious. I had a ball. Drizzle and all!
One terrific vacation! Princess made a friend out of me. I thought they were much better overall then RCI (I have done 7 cruises), NCL (2 cruises), Carnival...only one cruise...never again, not even for free...OK twist my arm...free maybe but they will have to throw in the air, give me a $50. on board credit & tote bag w/wine. Celebrity & HAL were wonderful too but a little more money so I would say Princess was overall the best value.
I would go back on the Grand tomorrow...I am thinking of booking it or the Golden in the fall...that is saying a lot for me...however giving credit when it is due is how I conduct myself...The Grand was one of the best overall cruise experiences I have had.
Just keep in mind she's "THe LUV Boat so just book her and GET OUT THERE and enjoy yourself...you've earned it!!
I hope this helps all you future "Lucky" Grand passsengers and please if any one has any spacific questions about the cruise email me at firstname.lastname@example.org