In the last four years we have cruised seventeen times on eleven ships of four cruise lines and we have always had memorable cruises. In the 50's and 60's we made three transatlantic crossings (one trip together) on luxury liners between Naples, Italy and New York. That's when we were first captivated by the sea and enchanted by ships: these luxurious floating palaces. Now, during retirement we are finally free to cruise and we love it. This was our second cruise on board the Grand Princess and it will not be our last! The beauty of this ship recalled us like the fabled sirens of old. We were on board for her first birthday party May 4, 1999 and for her third anniversary this year. When launched three years ago, she was the largest ship afloat, now the Voyager of the Seas and her sister ship, the Explorer of the Seas, hold that honor.
She is truly worthy of a return visit, although some elderly cruisers kept repeating that there is a lot of walking, we found her as lovely as ever and easy to navigate. This review will have somespecific information for the physically challenged passengers, which may be of note, since recently we have read negative comments on cruising for the handicapped. We say "Phooey"! Going on wheels or on legs doesn't have to be any different. The Grand Princess welcomes all equally as do all of the other magnificent ships on which we have traveled. The Princess has taken extraordinary measures to make cruisers feel welcome and comfortable, more about that later.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: The Grand Princess is easily spotted in Port Everglades, Ft. Lauderdale, since she is the one with the "Spoiler." This month her new sister ship the Golden Princess will make cruisers do double takes before identifying which is which. She is all white with touches of blue on the upper decks and the orange stripe of her lifeboat tenders. She was the 5,956th ship to come out of the Fincantieri, Monfalcone shipyard. She has a gross tonnage of 108,806 and is 951 ft. long and breadth is 118.8 ft. with a height of 185 ft. above the water line and her six diesel engines have 92,500 horsepower. Her top speed is 24 knots and her two Fincantieri stabilizers have a 90% Roll Reduction. Smooth Sailing.
She can accommodate 3,100 passengers and boasts a ship's crew of 1,060, and many of these crew members were highly visible during embarkation: assisting passengers onboard, and on each deck stationed at the elevators directing passengers to their cabins of which there are 1,296.
EMBARKATION: We arrived at the pier at 11:45 where our luggage was removed from our car. We were greeted curb side by a crew member who pushed the wheelchair up the ramps to the disabled check-in counter. We had to fill out one travel document which was not in our ticket packet. We had filed our personal information sheets via the internet, but brought them along just in case. And, as we had predicted, this information was not available on the computer at this counter --- we simply handed the clerk those sheets, signed a credit card form and were escorted directly on board by the same crew member all the way to our wheelchair accessible cabin (there are 28 onboard 18 outside and 10 inside). Very nice and easy does it!
by 12 noon, we were in the Horizon Court having the Welcome Aboard Buffet which we are very happy to say was excellent (No tired looking, recycled food here-- it was delicious.). In fact normally we avoid the buffet, but we tried it three times this cruise and each time it was excellent. We had fried calamari cooked to perfection, Waldorf salad that was crisp and crunchy, and the fruit and desserts were excellent.
CABIN: Our Baja Deck #B301 wheelchair accessible cabin was very clean, spacious and restful. When entering there is a small foyer which is handier that the usual narrow hallway. On the left, there is the extra large bathroom with one sink two mirrors and a set of three shelves. The shower is spacious (5 ft. x 5 ft.) with chrome rails all around, a pull down seat and a call cord for emergency assistance. Then there is the queen size bed, flanked by two low bureaus each with four drawers, a shelf and topped with reading lamps. The head board of the bed was tucked tapestry and a wall of mirrors. The mirror trick to make the cabin appear larger was not necessary in this spacious cabin, which is about one and one half the size of category BC cabins.
When entering the cabin on the right there is a triple armoire: the first door holds several cubicles and the personal safe; the next two doors are the hanging closets with nice removable wooden hangers. There is ample storage for even two week cruises. Then there is a desk/vanity with three more drawers, and a comfortable chair; the 10 ft. long counter has the telephone and a hair dryer on the wall. There is a coffee table and an upholstered barrel chair, but alas no sofa.. The sliding glass door leads to the balcony (approx. 16 ft. x 5 ft.) with two reclining chairs and a table. The balconies in categories BA and BB on Caribe deck are twice as large as those in category BC on Aloha and Baja decks, but with less privacy from the above decks. The decor is peach/gold and an abundance of maple wood; it is very inviting and the condition is excellent. There is one large picture on the wall depicting a row boat in a calm reflective bay with a small white town on a mountain in the background.
Our Cabin Steward was Vitor Calado of Portugal; he was prompt and always smiling. . . . Thank you, Vitor.
THE SHIP: We found the ship to be in very good condition with perhaps only minor showing of wear and fading in the upholstered chairs and sofas in some of the public rooms (i.e., the seats in the Skywalkers Night Club). From our several talks with the affable gentleman Gianfranco Sampiero, Passenger Services Director, we learned that the Grand Princess is scheduled for an upcoming dry dock, possibly in December, when it will undergo a long list of repairs and refurbishing in order to maintain its elegance.
We found her quite spiffy as is, and easily got around her with the pocket sized directory cards (4"x4") placed in our cabins and color coded to the hallway carpeting. Very handy! The Daily Princess Patter distributed to each cabin the night before also gave the times and decks of each activity. More importantly, it is the layout of the ship which makes it easy to "navigate." Decks 4 through 7 and 14 through 17 are Public Areas (restaurants, shops, reception desks, casino, lounges, theater, pools, spas, etc.). On decks 8 through 12 (no 13) and decks 5 and 14, forward, are located all the staterooms, suites and cabins.
There are three sets of lifts/elevators, one forward, one mid ship and one aft, which make movement easy. At the top of the "spoiler" is the Skywalkers Night Club (17) which presents a beautiful 360 degree view of the ship forward and the wake and the sea aft. Even if you are not into the disco dance scene, you must not miss this view, during the day it is private and serene. Lido Deck 14 houses the Alfresco Bar, Horizon Court, Horizon Terrace, Calypso Bar, Poseidon's Pizzeria, Trident Grill, Ice Cream Bar and two pools. In addition there are two more pools, one at the aft of the Aloha deck (12) and the lap pool in the Plantation Spa on the Sun Deck (14).
Our morning dip was taken in the retractable covered solarium pool and spa while many passengers are still sleeping. It is quiet and relaxing, though after the third day, we felt that the Gregorian chant in the background could be replaced with some other music, or at least expand the repertoire so that cruisers would not be subjected to the same music day after day, hour after hour.
The ship has six laundromats located on decks with staterooms. This eliminates the needs to do ironing in the cabins, which is discouraged for safety reasons. We normally carry enough clothes for the week, but families with small children would be pleased to have access to washers/dryers.
This cruise we took a closer look at the Atlantis Casino and saw many things we had missed on our first cruise aboard: at one end there are huge Dolphin sculptures and on the walls are several simulated aquariums showing 3D pictures of underwater scenes where the fish and other ocean denizen seem to swim at you and then veer off, fascinating.
As usual, the Chapel on board was busy with several weddings and was decorated with large fresh flower arrangements and candles, what a heady scent emerged from the doorway. Other beautiful public rooms that we favored are the Explorers Lounge, a nice tiered room with worldly murals and exotic mosaics evoking travel, and the Wheelhouse Bar, an interesting room with some P&O Line history, portraits, nice ship models and interesting marine hardware.
THE FOOD: Princess Lines states "We have blown conventional dining out of the water"! The new Personal Choice Dining program is an alternative to the traditional fixed seating dining (main or second seating) and allows cruisers restaurant style seating at their preferred time and without reservations required. Passengers are charged $6.50 per person per day gratuity (a bare minimum by U.S. standards) since this eliminates the last night tipping you would have done for the single waiter serving you for an entire week. You may go to any dining room anywhere on board between 5:30 pm and 10:00 pm. Choose the Michelangelo (Deck 5), Da Vinci or Botticelli (Deck 6), or the Painted Desert (Deck 7), etc. and if you want to have a large group dining together, call ahead for a reservation. We chose this plan and loved it. We also tipped individually for extraordinary service, which we had continually (this is our preference, but it is optional). We thought the prepaid gratuity was a good idea, since we recalled many a last night dinner, in an almost deserted dining room, with many cruisers conspicuously absent so that they could "stiff" the hard working waiters. Excellent service deserves generous tips.
For alternative dining in Sabatini's you need to make reservations the minute you get on board ($15 additional charge and it serves lunch and dinner). The first night we dined at Sabatini's with the Maitre d' Mirko and were served with a flair by Davide, and enjoyed the newly designed menu: Antipasti (hot & cold) served from huge platters. We had the veal chops and lobster tails, dessert was Creme Brulee` and Georgia Peach Cobbler and a courtesy glass of Limoncello. The pastas were good cannelloni tricolore, gnocchi al formaggio, the appetizers excellent, but the fish, mussels and clams were not so good.
Hereafter, we dined in the Michelangelo. The two Assistant Maitres d', Oscar Perego (Italy) and Carlos Justina (Portugal), flanked by a line of white coated waiters, each evening greeted and seated diners. They were always cordial and prompt to push the wheelchair to our favorite table. There are no sommeliers, the wine list is varied, but not too extensive and the prices are a good value. We met an interesting couple, Dwayne and Deborah, who became our table mates and with nice and intelligent conversation made our evening dinners delightful events.
Tuesday night we were invited by the Maitre d' Beniamino Acler to a table for four and told that Executive Chef Antonio Cereda would prepare especially for us a risotto ai funghi Porcini (wild mushrooms). Chef Cereda came to greet us at our table since he had met the four of us on previous separate cruises. Our waiter Virgil and assistant waiter Alex gave quick and courteous service. The risotto was delicious and on succeeding nights we had spaghetti vongole, spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino and gnocchi as light as clouds. Chef Cereda makes delicious fresh tomato sauces and you can get spaghetti cooked al dente if you specify it and are patient enough to wait a little longer. Other dishes we enjoyed at dinner were prime rib, duck a` l'orange and cornish hen and of course the desserts: souffles, swan puffs, and excellent fruit tarts. We also had Tartuffo, a ball of vanilla/chocolate ice cream covered in dark chocolate and rolled in roasted coconut. Mouth watering!
The Painted Desert Maitre d' Memo accommodated us even though we had not made reservations and we enjoyed the Southwestern fare. The salsa was a bit too spicy for us, we managed to use it sparingly, although other diners acclaimed it perfection. We ate several times at the Pizzeria (Deck 14) where Carmelo makes the dough each morning and serves up pizza all afternoon and evening. The pizza was great: There were a lot of young happy faces around here, as testimonial. There is also formal tea served in the Da Vinci every afternoon 3:30 to 4:30. Room service was available 24 hrs. and always prompt for continental breakfast in the morning, but slow and iffy at other times. They need a caller I.D. system like the Millennium and the Costa Atlantica (once, when our order didn't arrive after a 45 min. wait, we called again only to find out that B301 had been confused with P301). The order arrived in 5 min. with profuse apology.
SERVICE: The service aboard the Grand Princess is TIP TOP and this was particularly evident after our last cruise aboard the new Radiance of the Seas where service was dismal. (We were happy to read in recent reviews that it has improved). The new Captain of the Grand came on board the day we sailed: Captain Andy Proctor of Aberdeen (by way of Kingdom of Fife), Scotland. He is very friendly and approachable and we liked his Scottish kilt joke; however, we would have been curious to see his tartan! The Captain's Circle Cocktail Party for repeaters was extremely nice: red and white wines, Manhattans, Martinis, fruit punch and hot and cold hors d'oeuvres. The Bridge tour was thorough, but no champagne and canapes like the Costa Atlantica, yet still it's a marvel to behold all the hi-tech equipment which makes the easy maneuverability of such a huge ship so awesome. Even the Bridge has wheelchair access!
Each night the chocolate on the pillow ritual is augmented by a love note from differing crew members, after all, this is the "LOVE BOAT"!
ENTERTAINMENT: Cruise Director Graham Seymour set the pace for an upbeat ambiance with his infectious laughter. He went beyond the call of duty in the hilarious production of "If I Were Not Upon the Ship," (A tutu to remember is all we can say about his costume). The Asst. Cruise Director Sylvain "Sly" Couture (Canada) and the rest of the cruise staff kept the passengers hopping and entertained. The shows were a fine mix of singing, dancing, comedy and magic. They were abundant, high quality and many were recently staged retaining old favorites and adding new sections, but nothing of memorable note.
There were the usual daily activities: Bingo, trivia contests (we participated to some and won four), casino gambling (we played the slots machines and poker and lost every time), and there are four pools (one with retractable dome and one lap pool), several Jacuzzis, Gymnasium, Aerobics and Health Spa with saunas and massage treatments. Here the Grand Princess outdoes herself with a British hydraulic lift called the Oxford Dipper (although we didn't observe anyone using it) which permits wheelchair bound passengers to enjoy a swim. Who says, "Stay home!"? Princess makes cruising delightful even for the physically challenged passengers.
PORTS OF CALL: Wednesday: St. Thomas U.S.V.I. "The American Paradise" has exotic flowers like frangipani and jasmine and boasts a great beach, water sports and tours, etc. Mr. Tablecloth is a must, since high quality linens are 60% below U.S. prices!
Thursday: St. Maarten (or Martin) part of the Dutch Leeward Islands, this island is divided between the Dutch and the French. Take a bus tour the first time to get the lay of the land, but there is also scuba diving, kayaking and mountain biking.
Saturday: Princess Cays, Eleuthera, Bahamas (discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492) is Princess Line's private beach. Tendering is necessary here and there are elevators on Deck 4 expressly for those in wheelchairs to have direct access to tender platforms. The highlights are the ship's barbecue, island music, beach and water sports. Bring cash if you want to purchase souvenirs, credit cards not accepted here.
DEBARKATION: As on other ships, passengers are given color coded tags for their luggage and for debarkation priorities. We had orange tags which were the 4th group to debark. Passengers in wheelchairs, who needed assistance, assembled at the lobby bar on deck 5, until their color was called and thereafter were accompanied by a crew member to the pier exit. by 8:30 a.m. we were on our way home, looking back to a great cruise and forward to doing it again and again.
Because some of the reviews I read leading up to our cruise was so helpful, I wanted to thank people and also provide a good review of my own so that others can benefit from some of my experiences. So that you know, my wife and I are in our lower 30s and are pretty active people who like to do things. We were expecting a cruise to provide a good vacation that takes a lot of the issues involved with vacations away. This was very important as we traveled with a varied group of family members. I can provide some insights there as my parents and brother's family (including infant) were aboard. I think I will approach this review as a log after some sweeping statements.
My impression as a first-time cruiser is that the Grand Princess is an excellent ship and it is a solid value as a vacation. I am not sure I will rush to take another cruise, but I certainly was not displeased in any way with this vacation. It is a neat way to spend a week. The service on board for the mostpart was very good. My wife and I did not have the most wonderful room steward in the world and there is a controversy over chocolates that continues to brew, but the room was clean and had a bed so that is what counts! In the dining rooms, it was impeccable considering we had a 1-year-old at our table and she was not the most patient person at the table. She is more patient than I am, but that is not saying very much. The food? I guess at some point I should talk about that. I have almost exclusively positive things to say about food in the dining room. It was very good. Of course, everything was neither gourmet nor 5 star but this was not my expectation, and I was not disappointed. The food in the Horizon Court buffet was obviously a step down, but was fully adequate. I will comment further below. The entertainment was pretty good considering this is a cruise ship. The review programs were good for what they were (singing, dancing, etc.), and the alternative entertainment was very good with the exception of a comedian I just did not get at all.
Now, on to my daily log.
SUNDAY Well the day started pretty early for the family. My wife and I arrived from California at 11pm Saturday night and after waiting inexplicably for our bags for an hour in the Fort Lauderdale Airport baggage claim section, we headed to my brother's home in Coral Gables. No time for anything that night other than falling asleep, but in anticipation I was up at 5am Sunday morning. Being 2am PST, I was a bit tired, but was still the first up to welcome Pluto, my doggy niece who would not be joining us on the cruise. We were all ready to go at about 11am after some errand running and a final hat shopping spree for my wife. We got to the dock at 12noon and were set to board. The lines for embarkation were not very long, but I was a bit at a loss as to why others thought embarkation was such a breeze. There were probably 4 couples in front of us, and it took at least 10-15 minutes per couple to be processed. Eventually, we were processed and headed on to the ship.
After walking the maze assisted by smiling Brits all the way, we made it to our cabin right next to the main pool area on the 14th deck at about 1:30. I was immediately impressed. We had the highest category outside double without a balcony and the room was very large. I would say it compares favorably in size to most NY hotel rooms, for example. No doubt there would be enough rooms for all of our things, even with overpacking. We even could have fit another couple of suitcases under the bed. No complaints at all about our cabin or our beautiful view outside the ceiling to floor window. I am glad we did not get a balcony in retrospect actually because I think this room was larger than most balcony rooms.
After getting settled by putting away our carry-on items, it was time for the food orgy to commence and we walked down the hall to the Horizon Court buffet. It was fairly standard buffet food but there were very good choices daily. I had roast beef and various other tasty items. Also, the best dessert item was chocolate, chocolate chip cookies. Enjoy them because they will return again only towards the end of the cruise. At about 3, we were ready to explore. We had planned on lounging by the pool, but it was a windy and rainy day so the choice was to explore and we were not disappointed. While the ship is large, it literally took about 30 minutes to learn where everything was and we had no problems the rest of the cruise. Our luggage was delivered at around 5 and we were all unpacked and ready to start the evening at 6.
Because we had a baby, we felt it made sense to go with Personal Choice dining. We always ate before 6:30 and never had an issue getting a large table for 8. Note, however, that if you do take personal choice and plan to eat alone (for couples), that after about 7, there WILL be a wait for a table. Just plan on it and put your name in a little early. Dinner was quite good this night. I went with the prime rib and seafood turnovers. I generally ordered two entrees. Both were very tasty, and I give them high marks. Despite beginning dinner at 6:15, it was obvious we would not make it through dessert before the departure, so we put off dessert until later (another positive about Personal Choice) and went to watch the departure. This was a bit disappointing, as by this time the wind was fierce and the rain strong. We still watched the departure and we were very happy that our vacation was officially underway. After the departure, we went back to the dining room to continue our meal and get dessert. No waiting, and we had no problems ordering only dessert, although my brother intelligently also ordered another prime rib. Kudos to him! The special desserts were not very impressive so we tried some of the always offered items such as sundaes (good), love boat dessert (a very very rich chocolate brownie type of dessert), and the NY style cheesecake (it is neither NY style, nor especially cheesecake...in short do not order is my recommendation). This would start a theme for our vacation. The meals in the dining room are excellent, but the desserts are not top-class. Get stuffed before the dessert. The ice cream is always good, and some desserts are ok, but the tiramisu is really the only outstanding dessert served that we saw.
After dinner, there was more exploration including a weeklong obsession of my wife's at the casino. She loves casinos (I discovered) and especially likes slot machines. I did not like this as it began a weeklong losing streak (or so I thought). Still we had fun and I must admit that it was fun seeing my wife so excited about the casino. We concluded our evening entertainment by going to the Disco at the very top of the back of the ship. It was a great view, but very quiet, which was a consistent theme throughout the cruise. We were off to bed by about 12:30 which brought a long day to a nice end.
MONDAY My wife had made plans to go work out this morning as she laughingly decided that if she worked out she could eat as much as she wanted and not gain weight. I admired her enthusiasm. So, instead of working out, I joined the rest of my family for my only breakfast in the dining room. I order an omelet that was very good but the service took very long. It is simply the nature of the dining room. So, after breakfast, at 10am I was very impressed with myself and decided to join my wife in the gym. The gym is nothing spectacular, but it is a ship after all. I lifted some weights and used the few machines and then rode the exercise bike for a half-hour, which for me is quite the accomplishment. Note that the first couple days the gym is crowded, and if you want to use a treadmill, you will need to sign up for it. After a bit of time, people stop kidding themselves and you do not need to sign up any more. My wife really liked the exercise classes and since she is quite the class taker back home, that is saying something. Some courses were strictly for beginners, but they were pretty good about telling you that up-front.
After the gym, my wife and I decided to take advantage of the 50% prices in the Voyage of Discovery arcade and that was a lot of fun. Note that if you are going to use the arcade, on Monday and Saturday, prices are 50% so this is the time to do it. Prices are quite reasonable taking this into account. We liked the jet ski machine and auto racing especially. I would like to inform all interested parties that I did nip her at the finish line the one time we raced cars against each other! After this, it was time for lunch and we went to the Horizon Court buffet for that. We did not go at all to the dining room, but the menus were not very stellar and we did not want to spend that much time doing lunch when we could be having fun. After lunch, we had planned to head to the art auction, but the weather turned sunny and we headed out to the pool to play, which basically constituted doing nothing and being lazy. After a couple hours of this, it was time for a well-deserved nap to save up reserves for dinner.
Dinner came luckily and not a moment too soon. I was starved! I had the rack of lamb and the chicken kiev and both were quite tasty. There were some that thought the chicken was dry but I was not dissatisfied, so you will need to take that up with them. For dessert, I had the blackforest cake, which was not bad, but again not outstanding. We finished dinner just in time for the first production show, Lights Camera Action. We arrived at about 8:15 and the theater was packed. My wife and I were lucky and got some of the last seats available. Go in on the 6th floor entrance and you can generally find something. The show was good for what it was ad my wife who likes these things more than I do really enjoyed it. I thought the camel was very entertaining, but that tells you something of my maturity level! After this, I was ready for the entertainment highlight of my week, the hypnotist. He did not disappoint at all. The show was hilarious, and he can do some amazing things. I did not agree with the choice of the crowd for most entertaining hypnotee (is this a word?), but there were no disappointments in the show. After the show at 1am it was off to dream land for us.
TUESDAY We were now fully into cruise mode and this was a day of relaxation for the real work of ports came tomorrow. We started with the breakfast buffet. I guess I should comment on this buffet. The breakfasts probably left the most to be desired of any meal on ship. The fruits were not especially ripe, and it is hard to keep eggs, pancakes and french toast fresh in such an environment. It passed, but was not up to the standards of the other meals. I generally had sausage links, french toast, a danish and yogurt. You will not get fat from breakfast food unless you are a true glutton, in which case you should wait until 11 when the grill and pizza bar opens! After breakfast, my wife and I got primo places by the pool. This would be the only time during the week that we would camp out at the pool, but it was worth it for one day. We were right in the sun by the main pool. At 11:30 we had snorkel lessons as neither of us had ever snorkeled before and would be off on an excursion the next day to see turtles! by 4, we were done with the pool and went back to the cabin for a nice afternoon nap.
Dinner came and it turned better than expected when glancing at the menu. I went with the crayfish and beef medallions, both of which beat my expectations. I was getting sufficiently fat by this point in the cruise. After dinner, we went to the Vista Lounge to see the comedy magician. His show was not especially bad, but was quite short and not very impressive. On almost all of his tricks, it was evident how he performed them, and just when you thought his warm-up was over, he was saying good night. Following this came another couple hours of losing at the casino. I was beginning to wonder if it was a good idea introducing betting to my wife!
WEDNESDAY Ahhh, our first day at port in St. Thomas and it was an early morning for us because we were signed up for the 8:30 snorkeling trip to Sea Turtle Cove. We had an early breakfast and were off the ship well in time for our snorkeling trip. We took a sailboat to the cove but unfortunately the wind was coming straight against the ship and we motored it there instead of sailing. I was a bit apprehensive of the snorkeling since I had never done it before and was not so sure I could breathe underwater. I put on my mask and fins and jumped in. For about 5 minutes I struggled and did not snorkel as much as hold my breath and look at the clear water for fish. But, after this I figured it out and was snorkeling like an experienced semi-pro! It was great out there with stingrays, turtles and colorful fish everywhere. My wife struggled like I did for a few minutes and even got salt water in her eyes and lungs but after getting her to join me she had a great time. The one thing I can strongly recommend is to wear a shirt in the water. I ended up with a very bad sunburn on my back, as did my wife. Mine blistered but she got away with just the lobster red skin. Still, the snorkeling was a blast. We came back to the ship for lunch and were off to shopping in St. Thomas, or rather browsing. We walked to and from downtown with no difficulty at all and had fun looking through the shops. The shopping is fine I guess, but I do not get going crazy and buying a lot of things. We had no gemstones on our shopping list so I cannot tell you much about that. I can tell you about tennis bracelets as I got one of those for my wife for putting up with me for the first year of our marriage. It was earned so I cannot necessarily call it a gift.
We got back to the ship at about 5:30 and got ready for dinner. Wednesday might have been the weakest menu of the bunch but it was fine. I got a rabbit dish (very tasty) and shrimp diablo (if you like spicy food very good). Following dinner, my wife and I went to English Pub Night with low expectations. We were tired and just wanted something to watch. It turned off that we were off base, as it was hilarious. There were stupid games with the audience and silly songs by the cruise staff led by the cruise director. But, if you go in not expecting highbrow drama or even comedy it is a fun time. Note, however, that my parents went and did not like it at all so it may be a show for the younger audience. After this, we went quickly to the Princess equivalent of Who Wants to be a Millionaire...or win champagne anyway. This game moved very slowly, but was sort of fun. My wife even got called up but the host asked some hard questions and refused to allow for translation by me (English is my wife's third language) and she bowed out quickly. To be fair, not sure my translations or even me being at the front would have helped. We ended the evening by making a donation at the casino, but this was quick as my wife was convinced she would not win anything and cut her losses.
THURSDAY Another port day which made me happy because it meant more snorkeling for me and I really liked it even with a burned back, which by now was hurting pretty good. We woke up and had an early breakfast because we wanted to go to the Dutch side of the island pretty early. We again walked and after making some phone calls (do not use the center by the ship and instead go into town and use one of the plethora payphones) made it to downtown Philipsburg in just over 5-10 minutes. St. Maarten has a very long shopping strip but again not all that much of real quality. We bought some souvenirs and some very good chocolate (free tastes available at the Belgian Chocolate Factory) and they even delivered it to the ship for us. We made it back to the ship at about noon and had a quick lunch in anticipation of our snorkeling trip. I noticed going back to the ship that the water was rough and was worried since my wife had felt a little seasick earlier. She was now taking pills and the problem was alleviated but in rough seas, no pill is going to help. We learned when showing up that our trip had been cancelled. This was disappointing but they said all on the morning excursion had gotten seasick and on top of this, no fish were to be seen. So, better to not go than go and get seasick and see no fish anyway. We made lemonade of lemons and decided to go to the French side of the island, Marigot. We negotiated with a cabbie and got taken there lickety split while being told a lot about life on the island. The cabbie lived on the French side of the island and had a great perspective. The Dutch side is very commercial and the French side more refined, which is very evident when going to the French side. We walked around a while and soon it was time to find our same cabbie to go back to the ship. We got back on literally at 4:30 just when we had to get on.
This was a big night for the family as we had all been looking forward to going to Sabatini's, despite the $15 cover charge. Based on how hard it is to get reservations (we made them by 2pm Sunday and our first choice had been filled already) and the reviews we had read, we had very high hopes. To be honest though, I do not understand why this place is popular at all. The service is very good, but the meal is exceedingly long and while some of the things are tasty, they are no better than in the main dining room. The amount of food served is not even exceptional. In short, I would not recommend anyone to spend a night away from the dining room, much less $15 on this restaurant. The lobster was very good, but not as good as in the dining room. After Sabatini's we went to the Island Party and it was entertaining but nothing special. After this, we were off to bed at 1am even without hitting the casino. I was pleased.
FRIDAY Our last day at sea and it was a pretty big one for us. We were supposed to catch up on all the video camera and picture taking that we had been lazy about up to this point. After breakfast, we went to videotape things around the boat so that my wife's family could see about our vacation. In our adventures, we were reminded of the ping pong tables on the 15th floor and set out to play. I was a little confident but my wife took the match 3 games to 1. She was brought up to be a table tennis star back home so I cannot say it was a crushing defeat. Plus, I would take my revenge the next night! After our tour, it was time for lunch, and this was our best lunch on the cruise. I had prime rib and sushi. The sushi is not well done especially and is mostly veggie sushi but I had missed the spicy wasabi and this helped to fill a void in my life. After lunch, my wife and I attended a rumba class. I am not the most graceful dancer (heck I am not even good) but I stuck it out until the time she figured out I was hopeless, which took longer than expected. The afternoon then turned into rest.
Friday night's dinner wins the gold star in this reviewer's opinion for best dinner of the cruise. Both the beef wellington and lobster ravioli were outstanding, and even the chocolate mousse dessert was scrumptious. This was a great way to start our busiest night of the cruise. First up was the early show of Rhythm of the City on the Princess Theater. We easily got seats and it was another well-performed review. The downside is that there was no camel but my wife insists that should not detract from its value as entertainment. I am still not convinced. After this, we went to the cruise version of the Newlywed Game hoping to be picked. Our hopes were soon dashed as the lounge was packed. We were not one of the four chosen couples but were entertained by the show despite it being a little slow moving. We planned to end our evening with an encore performance by the hypnotist but it started by watching the comedian on board, Billy Vader since his show was in the same lounge where the hypnotist would be about 10 minutes after his show. I would say we deserved seats for the hypnotist after being forced to endure the comedy show. This guy was just horrible. He got lots of laughs but I still do not know why. Again, maybe it was generational, although my father was also not impressed. The hypnotist show resembled very closely his first show (same taglines and intros, etc) but given the nature of hypnotism was sufficiently different to be entertaining. We finally got to sleep at about 2am.
SATURDAY This was our last day on the cruise and reality was setting in but my wife was very excited about going to the beach on the private island, Princess Cays. I was not as excited as my back hurt a lot and I had visions of sand never getting out of our things. We woke up and went to breakfast and were on our way to the beach soon. We spotted a place to the left side of the island (based on help of other reviewers) and found chairs easily. We sat in the sun for a while and then had lunch (definitely not stellar but the fruit was better than on the ship) and I was ready to go. But, my wife wanted to stay and my father convinced us to go snorkeling. He won and I am glad he did because while not as good as in St. Thomas there were a lot of fish to be seen. It ended up that we were one of the last tenders back to the island for 3:30 departure. We got back and showered and packed and were all ready for dinner and our last night on the cruise. I had the Prime Rib and linguine with clams, both of which again were excellent. I also took a lobster tail off one of the two extras we ordered (you can never have too much) and it was quite good. The Baked Alaska was tasty as well although being in Personal Choice you sacrifice the parade.
After dinner I insisted upon a rematch of Ping-Pong with my wife and the rest of the family joined us as well for a full tournament. The finals not surprisingly fitted an interfamily brawl and I am thrilled to say I am now champion. Even the baby enjoyed the ping-pong tables and throwing balls to and fro which was a bit of a theme of the cruise! After this victory I felt sufficiently satisfied to join the family for a last night at the casino. My wife did not even plan on betting anything but my mother insisted she take $21 from her and she set off. I sat at the blackjack tables with sister-in-law playing and expected the worse. I went to check up and found my wife down to her last quarters and then lost. We had forgotten the dollar so I said go ahead and play and she inserted it and went to town. I expect about 30 seconds before taking a walk on the deck but she never came back and I wondered why. I went to check back on her and low behold she was winning a fortune (well not fortune but enough to make it a fun night!). by the time we were done, we ended the cruise with a $5 profit in the casino, which I am still pretty excited about. Well done honey! To basically close our cruise, we took a stroll on deck and went to bed.
SUNDAY Sunday started very early as my wife needed to meet with the very pleasant INS at 6am and that went off without a hitch. Our flight was not until 10:30 so we were not too hurried. We came back took showers and joined the family for breakfast. To say they want you off the ship that morning is an understatement. Breakfast basically consists of leftovers from the midnight buffet and eggs. No big deal, but do not expect a red carpet sendoff. I must say that after my above statements regarding embarkation and that Princess did not live up to expectations, that disembarkation easily lived up to what everyone said. We had red tags and were off the ship by 8:15am and after purchasing the $5 Princess bus transfers were in the airport at our gate with an hour and a half to spare. This was impressive.
Now it is time to get back to real life but I have the memories and fun of being with my family and getting to know my niece a little bit better even if we basically connected best when I would sing! Hope everyone else has as fun a cruise as we did.
GRAND PRINCESS - even better the second time around.
We'll get the ‘negatives' out of the way with first: The cruise was far too short. They are doing away with the Limelight Studio. They're no longer going to be selling liquor in the shops for cabin consumption. And finally, The doctor aboard ship does not perform liposuction.
This is one humungus ship. A lot of people might not like it because of its size, but don't be put off by this because she "feels" a lot smaller; except for the amount of walking you have to do, which is a lot. The GRAND PRINCESS is a beauty from bow to stern, and she is very "user friendly." The itinerary is just right for this ship - St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and Princess Cays, with 3 days at sea. This was one of the most relaxing cruises my wife and I have taken and we spent 95% of our time aboard ship, and still found we didn't have time to do all there was to do. If anyone wants a laid back cruise, this is it. And first time cruisers will enjoyit because of its blend of ports (probably the two most popular) and days at sea.
There are a number of unique things on this ship, as there are on each new ship that comes out. One interesting spot is the ‘Voyage Of Discovery' room (for young and old) which has virtual reality based games and rides for just about everything imaginable from simulation rides (we did the interior of a volcano and a magic carpet ride), jet fighters, snow and water skiing, to motorcycle racing and hanggliding, just to mention a few. This room cost $$, but you can purchase a $20 pass and make it stretch for the 7 days. I think this room was designed for younger people, but every time we went, older people (like us) were in the majority. You don't realize how long you've been away from playing with these things; I found out I was terrible, but I had fun being bad. Golfers might like to try the ‘Princess Links,' another virtual reality spot where you pick one of a dozen famous golf courses to play. There is also a nicely designed 9 hole mini-golf course for the not-so-serious golfer.
For the little tykes, there are indoor and outdoor play areas that look like something you'd see on a kids TV show. They also have planned, supervised activities. For the older ones, there's a place called the ‘Teen Deck' (adults not allowed). And for the older, older ones, there's the casino, supposingly the largest one afloat. When you do go to the casino, pay particular attention to the holograms of underwater sealife. For the late crowd, there's the ‘Skywalker Night Club,' high atop the stern, gotten to by a skywalk that "moves" you up to the club. Sorry, you have to walk back down, but by this time you're used to walking a lot. We enjoyed this area early morning with a cup of coffee and watched sunrises.
Other gimmicks of note are the music chairs in the atrium - earplugs, controls, keypads - lots of gismos. These are similar to the reading chairs in the library for listing to books on tape. On your journey exploring the ship, poke your head into the ‘Wedding Chapel.' They average 1-2 weddings per day on our cruise. Of the 4 pools on the GRAND PRINCESS, one is called the ‘Lap Pool,' or ‘swimming against the current' pool.
Following are some general observation about this ship:
CABIN: Ours was a very nice outside cabin with a balcony. The use of wood, mirrors, fabrics and soft colors give it a homey feeling or look. Using every nook and cranny, there is just enough storage space for a 7 night cruise. There's also some wasted space under the TV, between the TV and refrigerator, which could accommodate a good size shelf or small cabinets. The Sony TV's have front cable plug-ins to make it easy to view videos you tape and/or pictures taken from a digital camera. Don't pack a hair dryer, it's provided, and the beds are just high enough off the floor to slide your luggage (soft sided) underneath. Standard inside and outside cabins aboard Princess ships are not spacious, until you get into a mini-suite, or better, category. But if you pack (and unpack) right, you will have ample room.
Our balcony was GREAT!! - again, second time around. We spent a lot of time on it and it was one of the larger ones we've had. The balconies on the Aloha and Baja decks have 4 chairs and a 30"X 30" table and were totally private. The balconies on Dolphin deck were the same as Aloha and Baja, but had absolutely no privacy. Our balcony, on Caribe deck, was twice the size as the others, offered 50% privacy. We lived out here. For all you sun worshipers, choose the starboard side, shade lovers, port side - at least on this itinerary.
AROUND AND ABOUT: Not being a connoisseur of fine art, I really enjoyed the artwork and sculptures aboard ship. I could actually look at and see a painted picture and/or a figure in the later. All the lounges, bars and common areas were attractive and uncrowded. Public restrooms (at least 13 each for men and women, by my count) are spaced conveniently throughout, as are the elevators and stairways. The stores (boutiques) are nice and stock the usual variety of items found on all ships. The ship had a nice blend of brass, wood and soft colors. The only place that might be considered a little glitzy is in the Skywalker Night Club, on deck 17, but only at night.
DINING: Uppermost in everyone's mind, even with all the walking you have to do on this ship, is food. The dinner meals we had in the dining room were probably the best we've had in many cruises, probably even better than the last GP cruise. There are three main dining rooms; ‘Da Vinci' and' Michelangelo,' which are almost identical and easy to get to, and Botticelli Dining Room,' a little different and not as easy to get to. All are sectioned off to give a more intimate feeling, which it does. We didn't do the alternative restaurants this time around, but the ‘Painted Desert,' a southwestern style restaurant, is still charging $3.50 per person. The Italian restaurant, ‘Sabatini's Trattoria,' is now charging $15 per person. The pizza slices at ‘Poseidon's Pizzeria' and hamburgers at the ‘Trident Grill' were excellent. Didn't try the ‘Ice Cream Bar' (also a charge for ice cream). The buffets in the ‘Horizon Court' were also excellent - we had all of our breakfasts and most of our lunches here. The selections were numerous and the taste outstanding. Just a sampling of what was offered for breakfast: eggs were prepared 3 different ways, a choice of cereals (hot and cold) and yogurts, fresh fruit, sliced melons, fruit salad, pastries, pancakes, 3-4 meats, bagels, breads, french toast, different styles of potatoes, rolls, muffins, 3-4 juice selections, coffee, tea, milk and 20-30 other items I passed up or didn't try; some of which I don't know why they're on the buffet, but it's there. The lunch buffet had even a larger selection and items varied from day to day. I'm not a gourmet, but these 2 buffets offered very tasty food; one is bound to find something to their liking because there's a lot to choose from. Others who've reviewed the GRAND PRINCESS complained about lines; there weren't any to speak of in this dining room.
ENTERTAINMENT: Since this was a repeat cruise, we didn't do any of the shows this time, and spent our evenings in the casino and on the balcony. For anyone who hasn't done a Princess cruise, their standard shows, "Glamour," "London Pub Night," "Variety Showtime" with the Chinese acrobats, "Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance," "Pirates," and "New York, New York," are must sees. There has been only one cruise director who has stood out in my mind in the number of cruises we've done - Greg Maxwell, currently on the GRANDEUR OF THE SEAS. As I mentioned, we didn't do any of the shows, but if Tim Donovan, is still on the GRAND, he rates right up there at the top. The man really enjoys what he's doing, seems to be everywhere, is a bundle of energy, is funny and talented. We only did shows in the ‘Princess Theater' and the ‘Vista Lounge,' on our first GP cruise, but there's other entertainment going on in the ‘Explorers Lounge' as well 5 other lounges and bars.
POOLS: There are 4 to choose from (5 if you count the kiddy pool). The main pool, obviously, is the most crowded, with a mix of people in all age groups. This seems to be where the children congregate. The Calypso Pool, which is in a more enclosed area attracted an older crowd, but with a few children. The ‘swim against the current' pool, adjacent to the Plantation Spa, is for people 17 yrs old +, and 2 hours (I think noon to 2PM) where children are allowed, ACCOMPANIED BY AN ADULT. The Aft pool, my favorite, is strictly for adults only. by my count, there are 8 jacuzzis/spas and none were crowded when we used them or walked by.
ITINERARY: This was a most relaxing cruise, a nice blend of days at sea, 2 ports, and a beach day. We didn't do much in St. Thomas; spent the morning at Sapphire Beach ($5.50 pp taxi fare each way), and a little shopping at Havensight Mall. We didn't go into town because we knew ahead of time that there were going to be 5-8 other ships in port that day. In St. Maarten did some serious shopping (did a very interesting tour last time). There are still deals to be had on these islands, but one has to do their homework and know their prices are back home. Princess Cays has really been developed and upgraded since we were there last. They've added more beach area, expanded the BBQ pavilion, user-friendly walkways and a nice combination of sunny and shady areas. Also, they've doubled the beach area to the right of the tender area, as well as newly constructed pavilions and other buildings. It's a work in progress. The rest of the time was spent aboard ship, swimming, sunning, enjoying the balcony, shopping in the boutiques, eating, gambling, and of course, walking. Princess Cruises does a real nice job of providing their passengers with a booklet with extensive details about their shore excursions. This usually arrives with the cruise docs, prior to sailing. And it seems as though they're adding more tours because people want more and a variety of options.
My wife and I loved the GRAND PRINCESS: Part II. This is a totally relaxing cruise which is what we look for in a cruise. Although others may find it too large and complain about the hikes from one end of the ship to the other, we enjoyed that. It's a beautiful ship, and every aspect of her was a pleasure, from our cabin, our balcony, the food, casino, our tablemates, total relaxation, the motion (little), the super-friendly and efficient staff and crew, sights and sounds...... and yes, even the walking. Would we do it again? You bet, but "Part III" may have to wait a bit; there are a few things on our plate before then; already have the next two cruises planned and deposits are in!
Mary & I live in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Because of a decision we made some years ago, to never board an airplane unless it was absolutely necessary, we restrict our cruising itinerary to the ships that leave from Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. The restrictive itineraries are not a problem for us because we truly enjoy the Caribbean and on every cruise we find new ways to make them interesting and exciting.
This cruise aboard the Grand Princess was our 16th cruise, (Honeymoons, as we refer to them), in the last four years. It was also our 32nd anniversary which made it very special and although we will be telling you of a number of negatives, we still had a wonderful cruise.
First, we would like to repeat what we have said in our past reviews. We are writing this review from our perspective which might be very different from yours. We all have different thoughts about what is pleasing and what is not pleasing. What strikes our eye and we think is beautiful, you may pass without a second glance. The very things that Mary & I find interesting and exciting, youmight consider boring and what we consider boring might be the very reason you booked your particular cruise. You may not agree with any or all that we say, and that is alright, because we all have a different viewpoint. Ken Stutt, on his page 'The Wheelhouse,' has a great article pertaining to reading reviews entitled, "Don't Let the Reviews Scare You." We suggest you read this article because it says everything that needs to be said about reading reviews. Mary & I would like to borrow that title and say to you, "Please Don't Let Our Review Scare You," because it is written from our perspective which might be completely different than yours.
This has been a very difficult review to write because much of what we say is the complete opposite of what has been said in the many GP reviews we have read. 95% of the reviews were very positive and spoke glowingly of the ship. Although we like to and try to judge each cruise on it's individual merits, sometimes it is very hard if not impossible, not to make comparisons with former cruises, especially when one has sailed on another ship of the same line within a matter of months. If you are one of the many admirers of the Grand Princess, you will probably disagree with a number of our observations, but that doesn't mean either of us is right or wrong, it just means we view things in a different way.
Arrival At The Terminal: We arrived by car at the Ft. Lauderdale terminal, left off our luggage and parked our car in the very convenient parking garage. We entered the terminal at 11:40, had our documents checked and were ushered aboard at 12:o'clock. As you no doubt have read in many reviews, Princess is by far the best at embarkation and disembarkation. They have it down to a science.
We entered the ship on the fifth deck and was greeted by a member of the crew. Instead of him leading us to the elevator directly ahead in the foyer, he told us to follow the people that were walking down the hallway to the left. We followed a large group of people along a wide hallway that had paintings displayed on easels and also covering the walls on both sides. We walked almost halfway through the ship to the central elevator shaft, with paintings displayed every step of the way. If they wanted us to know they were going to have an art auction, they certainly made their point. This we thought was rather tacky, and it most certainly did not leave us with a very good impression as we started our cruise.
Our Cabin: E 518 Obstructed View: We had booked an inside on the Aloha deck and were upgraded five categories to E 518 on the Emerald deck, which was a outside cabin with an obstructed view. As we entered the cabin, we were surprised to see two upper berths in a closed position folded against the wall. We hadn't realized it was a Quad cabin. I always have a brochure of the cruise that we are taking and make a pretty careful study of our accommodations. But when we got our tickets, for some reason, I didn't take notice to the small red dot inside the cabin picture which designated it as a Quad. If I had, I would have called my agent and had him ask to have our cabin changed. Make sure you check the symbols on the bottom of the page to see if they apply to your cabin. Sometimes they are so small it is difficult to read them. I now keep a magnifying glass on my desk, just for that purpose The upper beds which were folded against the wall jutted out from the wall some 12 to 14 inches. We had to be careful not to bang our heads when we got out of bed. Mary thumped her head a couple of times before she got the knack of bending down as she got up.
The cabin decor was very bland and the closet and drawer space was limited. The closet was stocked with a number of wood hangers and two terry cloth bathrobes. The bathroom was smaller than usual with very limited storage space. But surprisingly, the shower was a little larger than usual. There was a hair dryer just above the phone on the desk and a refrigerator off to the side. It was a true refrigerator and not a mini bar. If you have children, it would be convenient and cost saving to stock it with soda. The TV had a number of channels, including four music channels that gave us a good choice of music. Even though the cabin was just above the activity deck, it was exceptionally quiet.
Our cabin stewardess was the absolute perfect cabin attendant. She had the unusual name of Blessie. We only saw her about four times during the entire trip but she kept our room immaculate and took care of our every need. If we needed something to be done, we would leave her a note and it would be taken care of. She was a cute little Filipino girl who looked like she was in her twenties. We found out later Blessie was 44 and had two grown boys. It was a pleasure to leave her a generous tip.
Checking Table Arrangements & Tour of the Ship: As soon as we took care of necessities, we went to see the person in charge of table arrangements. Being he was located one deck below us we headed toward the central elevator shaft to walk down the stairway. That is when we realized there was no stairwells at the central elevators. We soon found out there were only two stairwells on the entire ship. Either completely aft or completely forward. It didn't make any sense that we had to stand and wait for an elevator to descend one floor.
We located the Asst. Maitre`di in charge and he told us he could tell us our table assignment but only the head Maitre`di could make any changes. It was our 32nd anniversary and we had requested a table for two but he told us there were no tables for two on the GP. I asked when could I see the Head Maitre`di and he told us we could see him at 6 o'clock just before the first dinner seating. Having been in the restaurant business, I knew it would be difficult for the Maitre`di to change our table assignment while taking care of the first seating. I thought it would be a good idea to make a reservation for our first dinner at the Painted Dessert. In this way we would have a better chance of the Maitre`de accommodating us, by giving him an extra day to make the changes. We then went to the Horizon Court for lunch.
We suggest that you check your table arrangements as soon as it's possible. If they need to be changed, the earlier you see the Maitre`de the better chance you will have of getting the arrangements you want.
The Horizon Court: We went to the Horizon court for lunch and as we looked around the room, that old bugaboo, making comparisons, caught up with us. We were looking forward to the Horizon Court area because we enjoyed it so much when we cruised the Sea Princess. Not only was the Horizon Court on the Sea Princess the most beautiful lunch area of any ship we cruised on, but also at night it was converted into a bistro with a large circular dance floor. After dinner, a very talented combo would play dance music till the wee hours of the morning. None of the above was to be found. There was no dance area and no music in the evening. This was very disappointing. In our opinion, there is nothing outstanding about this room.
They had an odd way for the guests to chose their breakfast and lunch items. They didn't have one line but a number of lines. You were handed a large oval plate instead of a tray and silverware and you could go to whatever food counter that had the items you wanted. There was 7 or 8 different counters. After they got their plate they would take off in all different directions. People would zig and zag all over the place. For the first three or four days it was very confusing, but then we kind of got the hang of things and we learned when to zig and when to zag.
We found the food and the selection very good. They had a very good variety of hot and cold dishes that were tastefully presented and a varied assortment of pastries and cakes that were also very good. There was a very nice open lunch area in the aft section of the Horizon overlooking a small pool. While having lunch, it was a very pleasant sight to look out at the blue water being churned up by the two huge propellers. We later read in the ships papers that each propeller weighed 40 tons. This is a very nice area to relax and enjoy your lunch. When we finished lunch we headed toward the Atrium area, which we so admired aboard the Sea Princess.
The Atrium Area of the Grand: This paragraph will be more readily understood and have significant meaning to those readers who have sailed on both the Grand and either the Sun, Dawn or Sea Princess. After sailing on the Sea Princess and reading the many positive reviews of the Grand, we had very high expectations. We had sailed on the Sea Princess this past November and were overwhelmed with the beauty of the ship, especially the two atrium areas, with their spectacular floating stairways, the outside elevators and the way these areas were used as activity centers. We expected that when Princess came up with the design of the new, largest ship in the world, (at that time) they would expand on the beauty of the atriums on the Sea Princess and make them even larger and more spectacular on the GP, but they didn't do that. With the GP having almost half again as much tonnage as the Sea Princess, and carrying 650 more passengers, they chose to design the Grand with one atrium instead of two, and the one atrium on the GP being much smaller than either of the atriums on the Sea Princess. That doesn't make any sense. One would expect that being this ship was going to be the largest ship in the world and the talk of the industry, that Princess would make every effort to have its design surpass any of the other ships in their fleet. One would think they would have a ship designed that would leave their guests breathless. Just the opposite happened. They designed the GP with only one atrium, which is also smaller than either atrium on the SP. In actuality, the atrium is relatively drab and not very well lighted and very unspectacular. And for some reason which we don't understand, they enclosed the exterior walls of the two outside elevators with very dark glass, that we could hardly see out of. We think they really missed the boat. In our opinion, the Sea Princess is much more beautiful then the Grand in every aspect of design, workmanship and in overall atmosphere. If one has never sailed on The Sea, Sun, or Dawn or RC's Voyager, I can see why they may rave about the Grand. But if they have sailed any of her sister ships, the GP pales in comparison. And compared to the Voyager, it's no contest. Of course, that is our opinion.
We took a quick tour of the ship and went back to our cabin. Our luggage had arrived. We unpacked, took a short nap, then got dressed and headed to see the head Maitre`d.
Checking With the Maitre`d: On our way to the check our table arrangements, we stopped by and to say hello to an old friend of some 35 years, Bill Wilson, who was also booked on this cruise. I've known Bill during the good times and the bad times. He has made a huge difference in my life. He introduced us to six of his friends and we then spent a pleasant hour talking about old times.
At six o'clock we scooted down to the Michelangelo dining room to meet the head Maitre`de, Nicola Furlan. I told him we were celebrating our 32nd anniversary and would appreciate if he could arrange for us to have a table for two. As he was looking at his charts, I told him I realized how difficult it would be to change table arrangements at the last moment and we had made reservations at the Painted Dessert for this evening so he could have extra time if needed. As I was talking to him I shook his hand and placed a Hamilton in his palm. He smiled graciously and said he would send conformation of our new table assignment to our cabin. We felt much better knowing we were now going to have a table for two. We then went on to the Painted Dessert restaurant to have our first dinner aboard the GP.
The Painted Dessert Alternative Restaurant: We were looking forward to a intimate, romantic dinner setting in the Painted Dessert. The room was attractively decorated, with a small dance floor in the center and they featured David Pritchett, a country guitar player. Even with all of this, the room was not conducive to fine dining. The location of the restaurant is just before you enter the Princess theater. While your having dinner, the people attending the showroom have to walk right through the restaurant to get to the theater. Yes, you have read it correctly. I know it's hard to believe but in order to get to the right side of the theater, the passengers have to walk right through the area where your dining, then walk over the dance floor on the way to the theater. Can you imagine being at a table, enjoying a romantic interlude with your wife, when all of a sudden a steady stream of hundreds of people come passing by your table. We felt like we were having dinner in the middle of 'Times Square.' If someone told us this happened to them, we wouldn't believe it.
It's unfortunate that the designers of this ship didn't allot a private space for this restaurant, because the food was excellent and was presented in a very appealing way. The servers were dressed in authentic Mexican attire and were very efficient. But all the good points were soon forgotten by the total distraction of the mass of people that passed our table on the way to the show. We racked our brain, but we can't think of another cruise ship that has this sort of dining arrangement. This room was never even half filled. I wonder why?
If you like very good southwestern food and you don't care to much about the surroundings, you will like the Painted Dessert. If you like everything that goes along with fine dining, The Painted Dessert is not the place for you!
Wheelhouse Lounge: After dinner we went to the Wheelhouse lounge, one of our favorite lounges at sea, to have drinks and dance a bit before the show. It is a delightful room. The decor is very much old world. Deep mahogany panels are used as back drops for pictures of sailing vessels and prominently displayed models of older cruise ships are displayed in various places. The seating is also very nice. It consists of groupings of richly upholstered love seats, the kind of intimate setting Mary & I like. A husband and wife duo, Steed & Steed, who played guitar and keyboard, played the kind of music we enjoy dancing to. Their repertoire consisted of songs like, Embraceable You, The Shadow of Your Smile, Unforgettable, Stardust. All those great tunes from yesteryear that tell our loved ones of our feelings in beautiful lyrics, much better than we can in words. What a wonderful setting to start the celebration of our Anniversary. To be able to hold Mary tightly in my arms as we danced and as we listened to the beautiful words of those grand old melodies.
We often wonder if the young people that dance so far apart, going through all sorts of wild gyrations and never having body contact with there partners, know what their missing. Were willing to bet if these young people spent one evening dancing with their arms around each other, they would soon discover that its a lot more fun and they would realize there's a much better way to put their excess energy to use. We know we might be stirring up a hornets nest with this comment, but it appears to us, when we watch couples that dance apart, it seems they are saying look at me, whereas when we are watching couples dancing in each others arms, they seem to be saying look at us. Don't mind us, I think were letting the romanticism of our anniversary get the best of us.
Later on in the same evening, this lounge featured Jerry Brooks and his show band. They were terrific. There music had that kind of beat that made your feet tell your head to get up and dance. Jerry was an original member of the Ink Spots and he sang many of the songs that made that group so popular. He was also a very personable and warm individual. You could tell he enjoyed every minute he was performing. We made sure to go to whatever lounge his group was playing.
Sometime ago, Mary & I decided we would spend our later years collecting memories. These past four years we have experienced a number of special occasions that we have added to our memory collection and cruising is at the very top of the list. We feel the atmosphere and ambiance of a good cruise ship is one of the most romantic and intimate settings one can have for spending some real quality time with one's spouse. We will long remember our evenings spent in the Wheelhouse and will add them to our memory collection. If you haven't cruised, we heartily encourage you to give it a try.
The Princess Theater and Show: The showroom is beautiful in appearance with good sight lines. There is no drink service in the theater. If you want a drink you have to get up and get it. When you get back to your seat, you have a choice of holding your drink in your hand or using the small airplane type tray in the right side arm rest. Then after you finish, you probably will put your glass under your seat on the floor like most of the people do. There is no other place to put it. We never cared for this type arrangement. When waiting for the show to begin, we found it a pleasure to be able to order an after dinner drink. The best example of the way we think it should be done, is the way they do it in the show rooms aboard Celebrity. They have beautifully upholstered love seats with a lighted cocktail table to place your drink on. It's a very elegant way of seating.
The entertainment was one of the highlights of the cruise. Princess features more than one act during each of their shows. Even when it's a production show they usually have two additional acts. The first night the show opened with Roger Carr singing a medley of songs. Every evening, you will find Roger performing in the Promenade Lounge, with most every chair filled with his very loyal followers. He has a big voice and had great stage presence. He was very well received. They then followed with a lengthy production number featuring two female vocalists and two male vocalists who were excellent. The supporting cast of dancers were a group of very talented performers.. After the production numbers we were entertained by a comedy magician, Jeff Peterson. Usually about this time, with this kind of act, I begin to yawn and start to think about how great it's going to feel to put my head on the pillar, but that didn't happen. He really was funny and he had a great gimmick. On a tall plat-formed table next to where he was standing, he placed a gold Genie lamp, and lighted the protruding wick. And every time he told a lie during his performance, even though he might be two or three feet away, the flame would shoot out some two feet. It was a very funny bit. It was a great first night of entertainment. As we passed the Wheelhouse on our the way back to our cabin, we heard Jerry Brooks singing one of his soulful ballads and we took time out to dance a wee bit more before we called it a night. Except for the stampede we experienced in the Painted Dessert, it was a very enjoyable evening.
Where Do We Go From Here: All of the preceding is what we experienced our first day aboard the Grand. For the rest of the review we don't intend to continue giving you a blow by blow account of every move. Instead, to prevent the possibility of you having a total case of boredom, we are going to highlight the Positives and the Negatives of our cruise and highlight a few areas. Being we told you of quite a few negatives we think it's time we told you of a very positive experience.
The Da Vinci Dining Room: The GP has three dinning rooms. The Da Vinci, The Michelangelo and The Botticelli. All are beautiful rooms. Nicolas Furlan the Maitre`de, arranged for us to have a side by side seating at a round table in a corner of the Da Vinci dining room. It was a very romantic setting in a truly elegant room. Just what we wanted. Our waiter was Armindo and his assistant was Johan, both from Portugal. They were a great team. They were very professional and very efficient. They literally couldn't not do enough for us. One exception to this all-around efficiency was the Maitre`de for our section of the dining room. I think it best I not mention his name. Every evening before the meal was not to far along, he would come waltzing over to our table and address us in a few sentences in Italian. Then he would clasp his hands in front of him as if he was praying. He then would put the fingers of one hand to his lips, like he was going to throw us a kiss and loudly proclaim, "The Pasta, Mama Mia, Mama Mia ," and then walk slowly away with a big smile on his face. He did the same exact thing every night and that's all he did. We compensated him the same amount as the service he rendered, which was nothing.
The quality of the food was a very pleasant surprise, it was excellent. And of course Mary, who loves Pasta, enjoyed having the extra Pasta course that is served before the main course. We found the desserts to be very good and the ice cream was noticeably better than the Haagen-Dazs we had at pool-side. Mary's favorite dessert is a Souffle. It is not a dessert you see on to many menus's. Because of it's tendency to collapse when completed, very few restaurants even attempt to make it. She had a Chocolate, Hazelnut Souffle with Zabaglione, that she said was one of the best she has had. We had a number of desserts that were excellent.
I'd like to tell you of how at dinner I earn some extra credits with Mary. In one short sentence, Mary does everything for me when we are home. When we cruise I like to reverse the tables a bit and let her know I appreciate what she does. I have her select the bread or roll she wants and I then butter it for her, making a big production out of it. I see that she has salt and pepper, and I make sure she has ice in her wine glass, the way she likes it. At dessert time I put the cream and sugar in her coffee and stir it for her. I even let her taste my dessert. I know I sound like a wimp, but I have learned that these little things I do for Mary pay huge dividends, some of which I am not at liberty to tell you. Now on to the entertainment..
Entertainment: The Cruise Director John Cleford did an excellent job. He was a great MC and always had just the right comment for the occasion. Princess has a great way of programing their performers. Most of them appear more than once and are so scheduled that everyone regardless if they have an early or late dinner seating, will have a chance to see all of them. Their choice and quality of the entertainers is by far the best we have experienced. They do an excellent job. The following is a general listing of the entertainment, with comments when we think it warrants.
Roger Carr: Roger Carr performs nightly in the Promenade Lounge and is featured in two production shows. Very polished performer. When he performs in the Promenade Lounge, as on stage, he gets everyone's attention.
Kathy and James Taylor: They are one of the best performing couples we have ever seen. When they do there dance routine Kathy Taylor performs like Ginger Rogers, when she sings, she's as good as any of the top vocalists and then when she unexpectedly breaks out into her comedy routine, she looks like and acts like she's Lucille Ball. Truly an amazing transition. Her husband James Taylor is the perfect foil for her. Being of small statue, we were amazed at the lifts he was able do with his wife. If you don't care for entertainment that's fine, but do yourself a favor and don't miss the Taylors.
Dave Heenan: Mary likes s to laugh and naturally she loves the comedic acts. We sure found a winner in Dave Heenan. He was hilarious. As we have previously said, Princess uses its entertainers in a completely different way than most cruise lines. We first saw Dave in Monday nights opening production show. We then saw him again in Wednesday's Comedy Showcase. Then on Friday we saw him in Comedy Cabaret in the Explorer lounge. Mind you, normally a stand up comic takes many, many months to put together a 15 minute routine. This man gave three 40 minute performances and he never repeated himself. In every show he had completely different material. What made his routine so refreshing was that his nighttime routine was made up of many things he experienced that day. He brought the house down. Especially when he told some jokes in New Yorkese and about his experience with the Taylors when they went to the clothing optional, Orient Beach. He's a very funny man, don't miss him.
Comedian John Paton: Very, very good. A great style of delivery and great material
The Macaggis: Performed some unbelievable feats of body balancing. Every bone in my body ached as I watched them. Very good act.
Jeff Peterson: We reviewed him earlier.
Chris Bliss: Off beat comedian that had the most unusual finish to his act that we have ever seen. After telling jokes for forty minutes he proceed to take four tennis balls from a box and juggled them in rhythm to the beat of a pop rock song. It doesn't sound like much, but I guarantee you that you have never seen a juggling act like this in all your life. The juggling part of his act was also featured in the farewell show.
Lounges: The seventh deck is the activity deck of the Grand. You leave the Princess theater heading aft and you walk through the Painted Desert Restaurant, entering the atrium area, past the Promenade lounge to the Wheelhouse. Past the Wheelhouse you will find The Explorers lounge, then Sabatini's Tratoria, the Photographers area, then on to the Vista Lounge, the furthest point aft of the ship. We will now tell you a little bit about each lounge.
The Wheelhouse: I think we have already given you a pretty good description of this lounge. As we said it's our favorite lounge and we enjoyed every minute we spent there.
The Explorer Lounge: This lounge is supposed to give you the feeling your on Safari. The pictures on the walls are of a various wild animals. They have a variety of acts that appear here and it's a very popular and active spot. We kind of think they might have gone a wee bit to far in the way they have their beverage servers dressed. To compliment the Safari theme, the men and girl servers are dressed in Khaki knee length shorts, quite heavy Khaki bush jackets, pith helmets to match and shoes that look like they would be more suited to Mountain climbing. That's a lot of clothing to be carrying around when your rushing around to take last minute drink orders. They also held the art auctions in this lounge. It seemed like they had an art auction every other day. This is also where we picked up our tender tickets and where we waited until our color was called to disembark.
The Vista Lounge: This actually is another show room. It's a very attractive room that is fully equipped to handle most any kind of entertainment. Besides the normal single acts that perform here, they occasionally feature a production show. They also use this room for Bingo and held the Captains party here. It's a very versatile setting.
Skywalkers Nightclub: We never went there to dance,. (As you well know by now, it's not our kind of music), but we did go up during the day to see what it looked like. It is truly a spectacular setting and we could easily see why this could be the spot for those who like to do that other kind of dancing. It was so high up we thought we might need oxygen.
Sabatini's Tratoria: Because of our choosing the late dinner seating, the last night of a cruise has always been a bit hectic and uncomfortable. Having to get packed and having to have our luggage in the hallway by 12 o'clock limited our after dinner time. We think we might have found a way around this dilemma. On Tuesday we went to the business desk where you have to make your reservations for both alternative restaurants and we made arrangements to have a table for two at Sabatini's at 7 o'clock on Saturday, the last day of our cruise.. By doing so we were able to catch the early show after dinner and still have plenty of time to visit a lounge and get back to the cabin to do any additional packing. It worked like a charm. I can't say as much for Sabatini's.
We didn't feel that the room was properly set for fine dining. The first thing we noticed was the lack of table clothes. It's pretty difficult to create a fine dining atmosphere with place mats on the tables. Also, the iron chairs were a stark contrast to the plush cushioned settees. and didn't add anything to the room.
While we were reading our menus, the waitress placed on our table a plate of garlic bread covered with diced tomatoes, olive oil and oregano. It wasn't very appetizing or tasty. We would of liked to start our dinner with a minestrone soup but they didn't have it on the menu. We were offered Pumpkin or Asparagus soup, not very Italian. We settled for asparagus soup. We were then served a salad that consisted of a plate of romaine lettuce with absolutely nothing added to it, with an Italian dressing on the side. We ordered rack of Veal as it was stated on the menu, when we were served it was actually a Veal Chop. It had a nice flavor but not much more can be said for it. We rarely if ever skip dessert because for Mary this is the best part of a meal, but we found the dessert menu very uninteresting and we decided to pass. We thought the food, atmosphere and service of the Da Vinci dining room was far superior to Sabatini's. Of course, that is our opinion. Now to the Pool area.
The Pools: The Neptune and the Calypso pools are mirror images. In fact when you get off the elevator you have to think twice as to where you want to go. The pool area is a very attractive setting It is well appointed in all aspects. We weren't able to find an empty lounge chair around either pool for most of our cruise. There were some empty lounges on the upper deck but not around the pool area. The one day we found a lounge chair by the pool we noticed something that was very peculiar. The pools are very attractive but they are designed in a very different way. Around the entire pool is a serpentine, scalloped wall, that is from 2 ½ to 3 ½ feet high. We usually enjoy the pool area, lying on a lounge watching all the happenings in the pool, but you cant do that on the GP. Because of the height of the wall surrounding the pool, when you lie or sit in any lounge chair, in any location pool-side, you can't see the tops of the heads of the people in the pool. Very strange. We'll leave it at that.
On one end of the Neptune pool is the Poseidon Pizza counter and the Trident Grill. The pizza was sensational and the items that the grill served were delicious. The nicest part was the crew that took care of these areas. They were very accommodating, warm and gracious.
On the far end of the Calypso pool is the area where they sell Haagen-Dazs ice cream. I know this has been a controversial subject and we are going to add a little fuel to the fire. We do not mind being charged for ice cream if it's our choice. But when a cruise ship makes those who would like ice cream have to pay an additional charge, we think it is wrong.
We asked the person in charge of the Horizon Court where we would find the ice cream and he said they didn't have any. I said you mean to tell me you don't have any ice cream in this area. He said, "No, we don't. You have to go to one of the main dining rooms." Can you imagine going to the Da Vinci dining room at 3:30 after lunch and try to have someone get you a plate of ice cream. In actuality, what Princess is doing is forcing their customers to buy Haagen-Dazs by not serving ice cream in the Horizon Court or any other immediate area. It made us compare our recent cruise aboard the Rydam, where in the main section of the lunch area they had an ice cream counter with an attendant serving all flavors of ice cream, with a separate area to make sundaes with all the trimmings, all for free. Or the voyager of the Sea, where ice cream is available twenty four hours a day.
In our opinion, we think this Princess Haagen-Dazs experiment is going to be short lived like the Johnnie Rockets Diner experiment aboard The Voyager. People do not like to feel they are being taken for fools and the sooner the people let the cruise lines know how they feel, the sooner they will refrain from implementing excessive extra charge polices.
In our opinion, the next big hullabaloo about pricing is going to occur with the Celebrity line. On their new ship the Millennium, to set sail in November, they have let it be known that in their alternate dining restaurant, they are going to charge $12.50 a person and $10 to $30 dollars for a glass of wine. You have not read a misprint, that's what they say they will be charging. If the cruise lines are going to adopt the extra charge philosophy, there are going to kill the goose that laid the golden egg, you and me and many other passionate cruisers.
For the first four days we spent most of our pool time in the lap, current pool by the spa. It was a delightful place and we had it practically to ourselves. Mary is petite and the pool having a depth of 4ft 6, was perfect for her. We had a lot of fun there. But by the last two days of the cruise it seemed the whole ship discovered our secret. by then the pool which is about thirty by twenty looked like an oversized Jacuzzi, filled to the brim filled with people. Above the machine that generates the current there is a sign that says, "Absolutely no children allowed, Adults only." The last day a mother and father had three youngsters, no more than 5 or 6 years old, in the pool with them playing all sorts of games. They were very noisy and were very disruptive. All this time there was a deck attendant looking down on this pool and he never said a word. So much for rules.
About the Ports
St. Thomas: We had plans of going to Caneel Bay Resort on St. Johns. We have been to the Eastern Caribbean a dozen times and every cruise line we traveled on made an early stop, usually 7 to 8 o'clock in the morning to let those who had shore excursions leave for St. Johns. GP doesn't do that, they go straight to St. Thomas and you have to take a ferry St. John. Enough said.
St. Maarten: Again, ever cruise ship we have sailed on to St. Maartens has docked at the pier that is located at the base of main street. We boarded a tender and after a short while we noticed it started veering to the right. It finally docked at a pier some 1 ½ to 2 miles to the right of the center of town. It was a dilapidated, run down pier. From the tender I asked a princess crew member on the dock why we didn't dock at the downtown pier and he said they didn't have docking privileges there. We never got off the tender but staid on and returned to the ship. Enough said.
Princess Cay: This may be considered a pretty beach but by some people, but in our opinion, we wouldn't define it as such. Much of the water line of the beach and extending into the water are rock formations. We were fortunate to be wearing beach slippers otherwise we would never have gone in the water. Most of the people in the water were looking down at the bottom instead of enjoying the view of the island. They kept looking at the ocean bottom so they could avoid stepping on the coral which was everywhere. Princess Cay may be good for snorkeling but it isn't the idyllic place for bathing. If anyone has been to Holland American's Half Moon Cay, they know what a Caribbean paradise looks like.
If you are still with us, we apologize for this review being so lengthy but we know from all the E- Mail we have been receiving about our Rydam review, that you enjoy reading a detailed review much more than a cursory one. Mary & I are going to have to forego our usual August, September cruise. I'm undergoing a spinal fusion on June 12th and will have quite a lengthy recovery period. We are hoping that I will recover sufficiently to be able cruise on the Zaadam next December 3rd.
It's never much fun writing a review with a lot of negatives but if one doesn't tell it as they see it, they are not being fair to themselves or to the readers. Mary made what I think is a great comment. She said she feels when we say a lot of negative things about a cruise line we should send them the review so they can read what we have said. She said if we don't, it's the same as talking behind someone's back. With that thought in mind, we want you to know we are sending this review to the C.E.O., The Customer Relations Mgr, and the Dining room manager of the Princess. When we finished our recent Rydam Review we also sent it to the C.E.O. and other officials of the Holland American Line. We think they are entitled to know what we say about them, both good and bad.
It may be hard for some people to understand how we can say we had a great cruise when we voiced so many negatives in this review. But it's really quite simple. We can make that statement because the negatives we experience can never lessen our pleasure of being together and fully enjoying each others company. We eliminate the negatives from our mind and concentrate on making each other happy. We have been on some less than desirable. cruise ships but we have never had a bad cruise.
We'll leave you with this thought. When we have found ourselves on one of those less than desirable cruises, we have found that it helps to hum that old Johnnie Mercer favorite, "You've got to accent the positive and eliminate the negative." Mary & I wish that your next cruise will be the best you've ever had. Happy cruising.
Background I'm 46, single and live in Northern California in the San Francsico Bay area. Before getting hooked on cruising I took several camping trips a year to US national Parks throughout the Western US. Previous cruises include Crown Princess Alaska 5/95, Crown Princess Southern Caribbean 1/96, Crown Princess Southern Caribbean 2/97, Crown Princess LA-Panama Canal-Ft Lauderdale 9/97, Island Princess Alaska 6/98, Crown Princess Tahiti-Hawaii 10/98, Norway Norwegian highlights 6/99, Mercury Alaska 9/99, Rhapsody Mexican Riveria 1/00. As you can see I got hooked on cruising quickly.
Flights to/from Ft Lauderdale I flew on TWA from SF to St Louis and on to Fl Lauderdale. Flights heading East went smoothly with only a short connection in St Louis, finally arriving about 11am. After a short cab ride spent Saturday night at the Amerisuites hotel. Flights home were more of a problem as when I arrived in St Louis only to find out the next flight had a broken autopilot. TWA found another plane quickly but transferring passengers and luggage and loading fuel delayed takeoff for over two hours. We then dodged thunderstorms heading west to finally arrive back in SF at about 9:45pm. All4 flights were overbooked because of Spring Break and if I didn't have to get to the ship or back to work I could have gotten a sweet deal for being bumped. Meals aboard the flights were the worst I've ever had,I didn't think it was possible for airline food to go much further down.
Embarkation/Debarkation The whole process went extremly smoothly and quickly at both ends of the cruise. When I arrived at the terminal I was directed by a friendly security guard to move to the far side of the waiting room to be at the head of the line when they opened. When the process started sure enough I was among the first group through. Check in was by deck and cabin number and after 5 minutes I was directed upstairs to the gangway. Another short wait and I was one of the first on board. I arrived at my cabin before 12 noon.
Cabin My cabin was A204 the first inside cabin on Aloha deck. Standard cabin, with a double bed and a fridge. (loved this to keep my Cokes and Red Stripe beer cold) As I was travelling alone there was plenty of storage space but it would get tight with two people. 3-4 would have major storage problems. Noise was never a problem although I did hear the occasional echo of footsteps on a staircase in the crew area forward of my cabin. Hallway traffic was not a problem as I was essentially at a dead end. Sea motion was also never really felt even though it was noticable throughout the ship.
Overall Ship The Grand is certainly huge but I never felt crowded and really never had lines for anything. As there are numerous descriptions of the ship I'll skip that. Several areas were very nicely done including the Wheelhouse bar and the Explorer Lounge. I spent most of my time on the upper level of the Calypso pool on the Lido deck. I think that Princess may have gone a little too far in trying to make the Grand feel like a smaller ship in that there was no one single area that just screamed "big". Would have liked to have seen the Atrium extended several deck higher for a more impressive presentation, but in reality I guess that is really just a waste of space. One big negative was the lack of a central staircase. There are stairs at the bow and stern, but why they didn't put a set in the center is beyond me. Overall a very nice ship that has that "Princess" feel to it.
Food I'm far from a gourmet and was very satisfied with the food aboard. Ate all breakfast and lunches at the buffet, pizza and burger stations Dinner was early seating and I never got to try the alternative dining. Several things that I love about Princess food are the pasta courses and the French Onion soup. I did notice several strange things. The hamburgers have been made smaller than on my last cruise, but on lobster night we were served two lobsters without asking. Also I ordered a Hagen-Daz ice cream sundae for $3.75 that was made with 2-3 scoops of ice cream, but when I got a milkshake for $2.75 it was made with 4-5 scoops! Can't figure that one out either.
Shows I was very impressed by all the performers about the Grand, The shows were very good to excellent. Marty Allen was good, Dave Heenan very funny, ventroliquist Gary Hunter very good, the Macaggis excellent,and Alexander the hypnotist hilarious. I attended every show and went to one of Dave Heenans and the Macaggis twice. If I had been at the first show of Alexander I would have definetly gone to the second. Be sure to sit in front for this one to really see peoples reactions.I also was also very impressed by how accessible and visible these people were throughout the cruise. Marty Allen was visible at almost every show I attended, he was sitting in the front row and was obviously having a good time. He could not walk 50 feet without being stopped for a picture or to have his hand shaken and I never saw him turn one down all week. Very pleasant to watch.
Ports We stopped at St Thomas, St Marteen and Princess Cays. I did not take a tour in St Thomas but just walked into town. On the return took the Tram to the top for some pictures and bought some odds and ends at Havensight mall. On St Marteen took the "Under Two Flags" tour and was not real impressed. On both previous visits had done the America's Cup regatta and wish I had done it again. Ate lunch in town and just wandered around taking pictures in the afternoon. Princess Cays is very nice but you could sure use more time. Tendering in eats into the schedule and sailing at 3pm doesn't give you much time here.Crowd tends to go left so head right for some more space.
Conclusions Overall a very nice cruise. The Grand is a huge ship that in some ways feels much smaller than it really is. As Princess says, there are many choices aboard to keep you busy. I like the way they schedule the evening shows to allow you to catch them all, but they could be spaced out another 5-10 minutes to give you more time betwen them.I think the Grand is perfect if your trip has lots of sea days, but think I might prefer a smaller size on some itinearies. For example, my cruise on the Island Princess was perfect to be much more up close and personal in Alaska. I look forward to sailing on the Grand again soon. One negative is that I was surprised at how much motion was felt throughout the ship in realtively calm seas. There was noticable vibration in the stern lounge at almost any time. Not enough to bother me but many people were commenting on the motion.
After having combed this web site for weeks before we took this cruise (6/17 - Western Caribbean), I thought I would try my own hand at helping to prepare future Grand Travelers. Hope this review helps you plan for your cruise in as many ways as other reviews have helped us. This is my first experience at this so please bear with me.
First of all, a special hello to Maria, Chris, Patty and Brad (our table and "adventure" mates). ! We miss you guys and thanks again for helping to make our trip so much fun. We WILL be in touch. May all of you future cruisers be as lucky as we were to meet and share this trip with such great friends
Before I start, I wanted to list some of the more helpful hints that I wish I had known or paid more attention to. These are the things that stand out most in my mind as MUST HAVE's or DON'T BOTHER
1) Instead of a beach bag, bring a backpack instead
2) Find a neoprene or some sort of waterproof pouch that you can take your cash/travelerschecks, etc.... in while you snorkel/swim or scuba. The plastic cases on the neckstrings are too bulky and the ziplock baggies did not work for us. We never could find one and we are pretty convinced that if we made them and sold them through cruiselines, we would be millionaires. In any case, make sure the husbands' swim trunks have velcro or zippered pockets to hold this sort of stuff.
3) Make use of the safe in your cabin and get into the habit of checking with your cabin-mate upon leaving your room that you have your cruisecard and that the safe is closed
4) Bring water bottles and fill them up with water and ice from the Horizon Court machines - otherwise it's 2.95 every time you ask for bottled water
5) Go to the Pursers Desk at least twice during the week to get a print-out of your account. You will thank yourselves later and also better pace yourself with the power that the little cruisecard holds.
6) READ YOUR PRINCESS PATTER every morning. My husband and I are avid newspaper readers and the Patter became my morning paper. Lots of great info and worth the time.
7) Watch Graham Seymours' morning show every morning. Very funny and very informative.
8) Bring more bathing suits and cover-ups than you think you need
9) Bring hats or visors and LOTS of the cheap cameras - Princess will develop them right on board. - pretty reasonable.
10) Check out your ship photos on display every night before/during/after dinner outside of the Wheelhouse Bar. We didn't spend alot of money on souvenirs or in the ships boutiques but we did splurge on these photos and an album to store them in. These we will have and look at forever and are worth every penny
SUNDAY - Sunny Upon arriving in Florida around 11am and taking the Princess shuttle to the ship, we were in our balcony stateroom at 11:45. Absolutely everything that you have heard about the easy embarkation is true. Truly painless and so quick. We unpacked our carry-ons, threw on some bathing suits, admired our extremely spacious balcony (everyone who said the Caribe deck balconies are the biggest and best were RIGHT), and headed out to explore this beautiful ship. Again, taking the advise from cruisemates.com, we made our Sabatinis' reservation and spa appointments right away - no problem getting the days/times we wanted. We left the ship at 1pm and took a cab to the liquor store for some wine and beer. Very easy, no problem bringing it aboard. Had a little trouble with the dining arrangements. Although we were confirmed for 2nd seating traditional, our cruise card reflected Personal Choice. when we inquired about it, we found that we were 157th on the wait list for 2nd seating and were given a pretty hard sell for Personal Choice. We didn't really mind and decided to try it. After being on deck for the "sail-away" at 7:30, we took our time getting ready for dinner and found that we already appreciated not being rushed to make a particular timeframe. The "sail away" was so awesome!! DON"T MISS THIS!! The music, the Fort Lauderdale lights, the ships horns, ----it is very special and the perfect beginning to a great cruise. We had dinner in the Michaelangelo Dining Room which was very good. The only small glitch was when we presented our own bottle of wine to our assistant waiter. She frowned and told us that there would be a $10 corkage fee. We told her that we understood that and that it was fine, but she kept her frown, shrugged her shoulders and looked like she wanted to continue with a debate. She eventually walked off to "un-cork" the bottle and, we hoped, her attitude. We then went to the opening night "review" of the Grand Princess Entertainers in the Princess Theater. It was really very well done and we enjoyed it very much.
Went back to our stateroom and took Mactarheel's advise to set the air-conditioning to "hanging meat" cold and throw open that balcony door for a great nights sleep listening to the ocean. .............heaven.
MONDAY - Sunny Princess Cayes is absolutely beautiful. After a room service breakfast (pretty decent, right on time, great coffee), we took the tender to the island and had an absolute ball all day long. No cash, no credit cards, no travelers checks necessary - just your cruise card. Cruisemates. com was right again. For quiet and peace go to the RIGHT. For fun and games, go to the LEFT. We intended to go to the RIGHT but never made it - had way too much fun on the LEFT. This is not the place to do some intensive snorkeling, but it is the place to relax, get some sun, swim and start to meet your fellow passengers. This is where we met some great folks who invited us to sit with them that night at their 6 person, 2nd seating, traditional dining table that had 2 empty seats. Ok, so we ended up there everynight until the end of the cruise and wouldn't have traded it for anything but the point being that no matter what, you will have the opportunity to meet wonderful people and the whole Personal Choice deal makes it that much easier to adjust dining companions accordingly. After all day on Princess Cayes, we got back to the ship at around 4:30 and headed to our spa appointments. Seaweed massage for hubby and a facial for me. Both were nice but not worth the high prices. In hindsight, we wouldn't have done this. The product push was on throughout the facial and at one point, I just came right out and said that I was not interested and to please stop. We then got ready for dinner and joined our new friends in the Boticelli Dining Room. Again, the food was wonderful and the waiter, Miguel, (whom we had to the end of the cruise) was excellent. We went to a variety show in the Vista Lounge. It was pretty good but not as good as the first night. BRING A WRAP OR SWEATER because they really have that airconditioning blasting and it feels downright cold at times. We then experienced Skywalkers Nightclub. Had a great time and danced until 1am. But, this is a nightclub with a bit of an identity problem. Since it is open to teens that are 18 years and over, the crowd tends to be pretty young. We are in our early 40's and pretty young at heart, but didn't find many other 40-ish solemates up there too often. As the week went on, Skywalkers had different theme nights that, I am sure, were a decent attempt to bring in all different ages but if you were already soured by the very young atmosphere that personified this club at the beginning of the week, then it was probably unlikely that people would return on other nights. We liked it though, and went alot.
TUESDAY - Sunny Again, room service and again it was fine with great coffee. Having breakfast on the balcony every morning was a treat I will NEVER forget. This was a sea -day for us, so we planned for some relaxing time. Hubby went with new friends to play a round of simulated golf. He said it was just "ok" and you hard-core golfers out there probably should skip this. The 9-hole putting green, on the other hand, was a great challenge - and FREE. After lunch at Horizon Court we walked around the decks to find a good sun/read/snooze spot and ended up where Cruisemates.com suggested we go. The Terrace Pool in the very back (aft) of the ship, under the Skywalkers nightclub. Incredible view, pretty laid back and we always found lounge chairs. It's also very close to hot tubs, the Horizon Court for food and an outdoor bar for drinks (although I never had to leave my chair for a drink - poolside service was excellent). The other pools all had personalities of their own. Calypso Pool was the "rockin" spot. Always crowded with great music and a great party atmosphere. The swim against the current or "spa" pool, as we called it, was definitely adult and definitely private. The Neptune pool seemed to be where the families with younger kids were. It is also very nice, partially covered, but very airy and tropical. Food and drinks are available everywhere and everything is good. Dinner was excellent yet again on this first Formal night. We headed to Deck 6 for pictures - didn't have to wait at all and met our tablemates at the Wheelhouse Bar for drinks beforehand. This is a wonderful place to relax and feel pampered. Different entertainment every night and always good. My husband decided to try bringing our own bottle of wine again to dinner since we were now firmly tied to and very impressed by Miguel, our waiter. Miguel not only complimented our choice of wine, he waved the $10 cork-age fee without a word from us..........Played some slots and blackjack in the casino - didn't win a thing but enjoyed ourselves anyway. Went to Karaoke (sp?) in the Explorers Lounge and had a ball. Hint..... go there with someone who is a professional singer and have them sing to the crowd. All the attention you get afterwards is alot of fun!! Turned in early since we were scuba-diving the next day in Grand Cayman.
WEDNESDAY - Sunny Grand Cayman- This was our first shore excursion day and the one and only time that I experienced dis-organization with Princess. We had pre-booked our shore excursions on-line through the Princess website and received confirmation for only one. All others were booked and we were waitlisted. No problem with that- that's just procrastination on my part - BOOK THESE EXCURSIONS ON-LINE AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE!!!!! Anyway, our waitlisted excursion for Grand Cayman "opened up" for us on Tuesday afternoon and we were all set to scuba-dive on Wednesday morning. On Tuesday at 5pm, we had a message from the Dive Master that we had to have completed Medical Forms to his office by 6pm or our excursion would be canceled. Didn't know about these, but we hightailed it down to the Tour Office, filled out our forms, handed them to the Dive Master - all well before 6pm. At 8am on Wednesday morning, we checked into our meeting place for scuba-divers and our names were called due to "missing" medical forms. I looked right at the Dive Master and asked him if he remembered me handing them to him the night before. He looked frazzled and embarrassed and pleaded with us to just quickly fill them out again and put them in the pile. We weren''t the only ones this happened to. Scuba-diving is not an event that you just wave people through paperwork so that you meet your excursions time. This is serious stuff. This paperwork should be carefully reviewed by qualified dive instructors/masters well before the scheduled dive so that questions can be asked and potential disasters diverted. Regardless of this, we had an incredible diving experience with Don Fosters' Grand Cayman Diving as our hosts. Beginner divers should really try this and Grand Cayman is the place to do it. The rest of the day was spent taxi-ing around and site-seeing. 7-mile beach is beautiful. We had lunch at the Westin Hotel with a beautiful few of the ocean and headed back to the ship around 3pm. Sorry, we are not big "shoppers" so we can't comment on shopping in Grand Cayman. This was Island Night at dinner and it seemed to me that most everyone was playing along with the dresscode so DO NOT forget your island shirt!
THURSDAY - Sunny This was the day to remember................ Beautiful Cozumel............ We got off the ship around 9am, rented a Jeep ($45) with our dinner buddies and drove all over the island. This was a great idea but BE CAREFUL. We rented from National Car Rental (pretty reputable, huh??). MAKE ABSOLUTELY SURE that you walkaround the car with the agent before driving off. In fact, if you have a video camera, take a video of the car "pre-trip" so that there is no question as to the condition of the car upon returning it. They tried to stick us with a damage claim for a dent in a door that must have been paid for at least 100 times over by poor suckers who get scammed. We, fortunately were not one of those poor suckers, thanks to our valiant travel companion Sir Lancelot (Chris) who fought to the bitter end. Anyway, we took our Jeep and ended up at an out-of-the way ocean side joint where we pulled up some chairs, ordered up the Corona's and Modelo's and watched the surf. We tried some "Snuba-ing" to get our new friends introduced to the scuba world. This was lots of fun but be careful here........... my husband and I are certified divers and our friends had never tried this. They felt safe because we were there to coach them since the SNUBA "guide" spoke very broken English and sort of flew through the instruction part. Without us there to translate and guide them, it might have been a bit dangerous. We went from our SNUBA experience back to the center of town and straight into CARLOS AND CHARLIES Restaurant. Friends from home told us we can't miss this and now we know why. Without spoiling the surprises that you will experience once you are in there, we will tell you this.............1) This is INTENSE partying. If you are a stick-in-the-mud in any way shape or form, this place is not for you 2) You will have the time of your life 3) make sure you keep an eye on the real TIME since you will easily forget you have a ship to get back to 4) Be hungry 'cause this will be the BEST Mexican food you will ever have 5) bring your camera and extra film and be prepared to rip up into very tiny little pieces, all of photos that you took or were taken of you while you were in this fine establishment 6) not a good place for kids and I mean that 7) Realize that this will be one of the highlights of your entire trip - Don't miss it.
Back at the boat and after some serious recuperation efforts, we met our buddies at Snookers Bar before dinner. Great little place and expertly placed right next to the Casino. Dinner was again, wonderful. I think this was English Pub Night in the Vista Lounge - don't miss this. It is truly hysterical. Graham Seymour (Cruise Director) is an extraordinary entertainer and I find it hard to believe that he hasn't been scooped up for "greater" things.
FRIDAY - Sunny This was our Playa Del Carmen stop and my personal favorite. The town is clean, lovely and easy to maneuver through. We took the Tulum/Xel-Ha Lagoon excursion. It was wonderful. Tulum was very hot so bring lots of water. The bus ride was fine, about an hour. Here is a tip,......... your guide that you will meet on your bus ride is also your guide in the Mayan ruins park. If you can't understand him/her (broken English, etc...) as they make announcements on the bus, you can bet you won't understand him/her explain the Mayan culture as you tour the park. Once in the park, hook up with another group where the speaker is understandable. You have almost 2hours at the ruins site and it is worth it. There is a beach there that is accessible to the tour and you can just run in and out of the water to cool off. Your bags/purchases are safe on the bus. We then went to Xel-Ha (pronounced shell-ha) for another 2 hours. This is a beautiful lagoon snorkel park that is simply fabulous. I am frankly shocked that no other Cruisemates.com review mentioned this in any detail. 2 hours here is a crime. This should be an all day excursion in itself. I would suggest trying this on your own if you want to skip the ruins portion of the trip. Upon leaving the ship, I would inquire at the Continental Plaza Hotel right at the dock if there are tour buses/shuttles going to Xel-Ha and go that way. A taxi might be steep since it is about 40 minutes away. The beaches at Playa are the best I had ever seen. I heard the shopping was decent as well. This was another Formal night and the night for the baked Alaska parade. Just lovely. Formal nights this week were very well attended and there was a nice mix of suits and tuxes for the men and dressy to very dressy outfits for the women. Not a pair of jeans or shorts in site. Hit it BIG at the casino tonight. Hubby won $400!! Hint - seemed like the winners started winning at the end of the cruise. (Hmmmmm). Took a last dance turn in Skywalkers and turned in.
SATURDAY - Sunny Nice relaxing day. Grabbed our usual spots at the Terrace Pool, opened our books, ordered our Mimosa's and slept the morning away. We were invited by our buddies to have lunch at the Painted Desert so we thought why not, since we had canceled out Sabatini's reservations and still wanted to see what all the fuss was about with these "on-board restaurants". Bottom line for us......... don't go. The menu was extremely limited and the food was nothing special. We were not impressed. We packed up our suitcases in the later afternoon and got ready for dinner with very heavy hearts. Dinner was again, fabulous and our waiter Miguel, made the night very special for the six of us who were now almost like family to each other. We took one last turn in the casino, put our suitcases out in the hall at 11pm, spent one last night taking in the breathtaking ocean sounds and view from our balcony and prepared to say good-bye.
SUNDAY - Sunny As easy to leave the ship as it was to get on, although we wouldn't have minded hanging out for a bit longer. This trip was too wonderful. The crew was very nice, the food was very, very good, the ship itself is elegant and very easy to get around. The itinerary was just perfect. We just can't say enough good things about the entire experience. My husband and I are seasoned travelers and have been fortunate to stay in some incredibly beautiful places. This trip, for us, met every expectation that we had and then some. Grand Princess is grande cruising and we hope they never change. Bob Voyage to the next group sailing......... you are in for the time of your life.
Background - This was our honeymoon and first Princess sailing. My husband and I have been on five cruises (Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Windjammer, NCL). I'm 28, he's 31. Overall we really enjoyed this cruise, even though it rained a lot.
We did arrive in Ft Lauderdale the day before and stayed at the Amerisuites Hotel. It was a full house there-90% of the people staying at the hotel were going on a cruise. The hotel was a great inexpensive place to stay if you only need 1-3 nights before or after a cruise in Ft Lauderdale. Staff was very helpful and the shuttle took us anywhere within reason if they were not busy. They only have 1 shuttle to do everything, airport, pier, etc. Shuttle picked us up from dinner and took us to the grocery store and waited for us to stock up on water. We did eat at the 15th Street Fisheries and liked it. Great view, mainly a restaurant for seafood lovers, prices were a bit expensive and overpriced. As for getting transfers, I would not buy transfers from the airport to the cruise ship since the distanceis probably no more then 5 miles tops to get from A to B. I would take a cab and not wait for others to board the Princess bus to take you over to the pier.
The itinerary was:Sunday May 20 - Ft. Lauderdale. Sailed about 7:45 p.m. (Dinner: American - Prime Rib)
Monday May 21- Princess Cays. Arrived 10 a.m., departed 5 p.m. (Formal night. Can't remember the food)
Tuesday May 22 - At sea (Can't remember the food)
Wednesday May 23 - Grand Cayman. Arrived 7 a.m., departed 4 p.m. (Formal night. Dinner featured lobster tails)
Thursday May 24 - Cozumel. Arrived 9 a.m. departed 7 p.m. (Dinner: Italian)
Friday May 25 - Playa Del Carmen. Arrived 8 a.m. departed 6 p.m. (Dinner: French)
Saturday May 26 - At sea (Dinner: American - Prime Rib)
Sunday May 27 - Ft. Lauderdale. (Off by 9amish)
Princess Cays is like a typical day at the beach, with all facilities there. Grand Cayman is expensive. We did the stingray sandbar tour at 9 a.m. The sandbar is 3-5 feet deep, whereas the Stingray city tour is in much deeper water. My husband really enjoyed the sandbar tour. I was a bit overwhelmed by all the people from the various boats in the water together. Cozumel is all right. Most stores have prices in dollars, with no haggling. We stopped at Playa Del Carmen rather than Costa Maya. Playa has prices in pesos and you can haggle. It's kind of seedy looking, with decent shopping on the main street. There's a place next to Senor Frog that offers inexpensive Internet access if you're looking to check e-mail. It was raining when we were there, but the beaches near the tender pier looked nice, with clear water. Shops in all the ports took credit cards.
Here are my pros and cons, and some information that will help you for your Grand Princess trip. I am trying not to give you my exact moment-by-moment experience.
PROS - Embarkation and debarkation were among the best we've experienced. You can avoid the lines with express check in if you fill out your information - including your credit card number - at the Princess website. If you don't include your credit card number you go through regular check in. But if you're there early enough, it still goes quickly. We had printed out our information from the website, which speeds regular check in. We were on board no later then 11:30am I believe.
We paid for a BE guarantee and received a BF-category cabin. We were glad we did. We were in C230 on the Caribe deck. The balconies on that deck are double the size of balconies for regular rooms and mini-suites. Unlike some other balconies, which were partially covered by the balconies above them, the ones on the Caribe deck are half covered and half open.
Personal choice dining is the way to go, hands down. The best way to explain it is it's like going to a restaurant. You just pick a place to eat and make a reservation. It's that simple. You can have a table for two or 10. It's flexible. You can choose the dining room set aside for personal choice, or other options such as the Painted Desert Mexican restaurant or Sabatini's Italian restaurant. For those last two, make reservations early! You can make reservations the afternoon you board, at the Wheelhouse Bar between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. That was the first thing we did when we got on board. More about the food later.
We found the staff to be helpful and polite. Graham Seymour, the cruise director, is very energetic and seems to be everywhere. If you've been on other cruises you'll recognize Graham's jokes and speeches. He's not the best or most original cruise director, but he does the trick.
It was a low-key cruise. The activities were not as in-your-face as on some other ships. The activities are there if you want to do them. We did not do many.
The Grand is beautiful. It's decorated in light wood and leather tones, in a European style. Very nice without being too Las Vegas.
They had meetings for veterans, social and service clubs such as the Kiwanis and Lions Clubs, as well as singles. I thought that was great.
We attended Shabbat services Friday night. The turnout was good, the service brief and led by one of the passengers. Princess provided prayer booklets, challah bread, and wine. I'm not sure if somebody requested this ahead of time, but it was very nice. I don't remember seeing times for other religious prayer but I could be wrong.
CONS - Marginal entertainment. Each show seemed off, whether it was pace, song selection, or choreography. On two consecutive nights they had the same show, and one night they showed two movies. In the main theater, performers included a magician and hypnotist. Not what we expected. Also, on at least two nights the first show began at 7 p.m., a bit early. On the flip side, the pianist at the Promenade Lounge and the jazz quartet in the Wheelhouse bar were good and nice to listen to.
The Princess Theater is smaller than most cruise ship theaters. It's auditorium style, without drink tables for groups of seats. In the Princess, your drink tables fold out of the armrest, as on an airplane. The other large lounge is the Vista. It's smaller than the Princess and allows smoking. If you're going to any Vista show, arrive early. And if you want to see the Pub Night show in the Vista, get there very early.
The spa was expensive, even with specials. It was open until 11 p.m. most nights, later than on many ships. Onboard shops were just ok. There are not many shops on the ship.
During the rain showers, Princess didn't have ponchos or umbrellas to borrow, buy or rent. Since the ship's stores are closed when in port, we couldn't buy one either. We had forgotten to pack rain gear. Take a small umbrella or poncho. You never know. If you don't you'll find yourself paying $3 or more in the port shops and you will be wet!
FOOD - The meals in the main dining room were generally average. Breakfast was consistently sub par. Food elsewhere was good. The Painted Desert is very good. We especially liked the guacamole, quesadilla, stacked enchilada and fajitas. The Desert is open for dinner, and lunch on at-sea days. The menu is the same for both meals. Reservations go quickly, although if you have two-four people you can try going right at 6 p.m. when it opens. We did this twice and both times they were able to seat us.
We had a mixed reaction to Sabatini's. The food is good and yes it does take at least two hours. The place is kind of small and doesn't have enough waiters, or at least that's what it seemed like, so service slows as it gets busy. They give you a lot in small portions. By the end of the meal you're full. Is it worth $15 per person? That depends on you. However, we'd advise against taking children under 12. It's a waste of money for you unless you and the kids have a lot of patience and like to try new food.
Find the Horizon Court. It's buffet, it was good for each meal and you could wear shorts (although not bathing suits) any time. You're not supposed to wear shorts in the main dining rooms during dinner. We're not vegetarians but there seemed to be a good selection of vegetarian food.
Near the main pools and the Horizon Court are two grills. One serves hot dogs, hamburgers, and knockwurst, the other pizza. Both were good, especially the pizza.
Room service menus are limited, particularly for breakfast. You can order off the dining room menu - we enjoyed lobster tails on our balcony one evening - if you're prepared to wait about an hour, provided you order right at 6 p.m. when dinner begins.
FYI STUFF - The passengers were a mix of young, old, honeymooners, families, and singles. The ship seemed to do a good job handling the disabled passengers. There were a lot of disabled people on our sailing. They participated in all activities from what I saw.
They add $6.50 per person per day to your account for dining service tips. The only person you have to tip separate is your cabin steward, and that can be charged to your cabin. You do so at the ship's bars. If you do that, they give you a receipt to give to your steward. Overall we liked the automatic tipping. We didn't have to worry about figuring anything but our cabin steward's tip.
Read the Princess Patter flyer, your bible of events. There are not a lot of announcements. The Patter will tell you what's happening and where. The televisions had CNN International, CNN Headline News, TNT, and sometimes ESPN, among a few other channels.
Weddings are during the at-sea days. On our sailing there were a lot. The chapel is near the Painted Desert on deck 7. That's also where the business center is located. You can access the Internet for $7.50 for 15 minutes.
There are plenty of deck chairs. Most are not near the main pools, although they are in the sun. Near the main pools the first rows of chairs are in the sun, the rest under overhangs. We found the adult pool at the back of the ship to be an excellent place. Towels are distributed by your cabin steward. None are available on deck.
Photos were $6.95 per small photo, $19.95 for an 8" by 10".
They'll charge you a 3% service fee if you charge bingo cards or casino chips to your stateroom. Also, they charge for soda and juice (outside the dining rooms and Horizon Court) as well as alcohol drinks. They had a wine tasting for $5 per person.
We did a post cruise tour of the Ft Lauderdale Highlights tour to kill some time before our 2:30pm flight. The tour allowed us to leave the ship by 9:15amish I believe. The tour was done at 10am and we were at the airport by 10:30am. The tour was average-not many sights to see in Ft Lauderdale, though we did like what we saw. The Ft Lauderdale airport is PACKED after everyone gets off their cruise ships. Not many places to eat or sit before going to the gate area. Only one real restaurant that I saw which was Chilis (sp?) and the line was out the door around the corner because there was nothing else to do there except wait and eat.
We would cruise again with Princess, which is "classier" than Carnival or Royal Caribbean. We'd try another ship and itinerary to see some different things, but the Grand was a great experience.
May 13- Houston to Ft. Lauderdale - arrived at 2:00pm, no transfers, just took a taxi (approximately $10). 15 Minutes to board, upgraded to a mini-suite on Emerald (deck 9). The whole deck 9 is mini suites. Stocked mini-fridge with beer and diet cokes. Mini-suite was nicely appointed and spacious. They must have done away with the butler, because all we had was a room steward. Deck 9 balconies can be seen from the upper deck balconies, so if you are looking for privacy, go up.
Bring your collapsible cooler for more storage. It also comes in handy if you are planning on going to the beach on St. Martin or St. Thomas. Get ice from your room steward and buy beer, sodas off the boat for the day. We also brought insulated beverage holders and made drinks in the room to take to the pool. Ice melts very fast out in the sun. If you like to munch on Doritos or that kind of junk food, bring it with you. I was dying for potatoes chips and could not find any.
The ship was full. We only saw a minimalnumber of children (
If you would like to eat at Sabatini's or the Painted Desert make your reservations the first day. In your cabin they have a Restaurant Hot Line to make your reservations. We tried later in the week and they were all booked up. I heard the food was excellent in both locations. Overall, I thought the food everywhere was above good. There was a good variety of beef, poultry and seafood on every menu. A few times, we were still full from lunch, so we went to the buffet and just had a salad a soup. All the soups were out of this world. I am a big soup eater and I did not find one that did not seem home made. They had mushroom, lobster bisque, vegetable, minestrone, potato, etc. All were to die for.
May 14 and May 15 at sea - just lounging, eating and drinking. We had great, sunny weather, mild temperatures. I really enjoyed the fresh water pools vs. salt water ones on Carnival. We were up and out by 9:00 and had no trouble finding lounge chairs on the upper deck (deck 15). Put our stuff down and went to breakfast in the horizon court. Anyone trying to get a chair right by the pool needs to be out by 7:00. We were on the upper deck and it did get crowded around 11:00 am.
We never went to sit down breakfast in the dining room. We always ate at Horizon Court. There was always a good variety of foods (eggs, French toast, fruit, bacon, hash browns, corned beef hash, etc) for breakfast and never waited in line.
May 16 - Docked at St. Thomas. We did not opt for an excursion. We hired a cab driver to take us to Sapphire beach. A beautiful beach with a good restaurant, beach chairs, bar. Had the cab driver come back at 3:00pm to pick us up. Afternoon was for shopping. Walked through Havensight mall, but from past experiences, went to downtown (Drake's passage) for shopping. You will need to take a cab to Drake's passage. They really compete for business, so do your homework before you leave home if you are looking for a watch or jewelry. We found a Tag Hauer watch that lists for $1895 in Houston and on the internet that we really wanted to purchase. Went to three dealers in Havensight and the lowest price we found was $1250. We went to downtown and purchased the watch (after much haggling) for $1050. The savings was definitely worth the taxi fare. Just a FYI: If you plan to make a large purchase on your Visa or MasterCard, let your credit card company know before you leave home. I heard several people say that their credit card was declined because of the charges and you will have to talk to your credit card company in the middle of a store confirming who you are,etc. It seemed like a pain.
May 17 - St. Martin. We docked on the Dutch side and shopped all day. We did not go to Orient beach or Cupecoy like a lot of people did. I had been before. Orient beach is nice, but when we had been before, due to high winds, the surf was very rough, so swimming was out of the question.
This was the only day/night that we went to any shows. We went to see the Newlywed/Not so Newlywed game and Karaoke. It was very entertaining and the whole crowd seemed to have a good time. This was one of the places that seemed to not have enough places to sit. It was over flowing with people. Servers were sparce and we had to go to the bar a couple of times to get drinks. We did hear that the hypnotist was very good, but we just never made it to any other shows.
May 18 - At sea -
May 19 - Princess Cays - very nice setup on a okay beach. I think this is the only time it felt crowded to me. We did not get off the boat till around 10:00am and had trouble finding chairs remotely close to the beach. The sand is very soft and deep, and makes it hard for older guests to navigate. Finally found two beach chairs and called it a day. The weather was very nice is in the shade, with the cool breeze blowing. Food was okay, bbq and such.
May 20 - departure. Getting off the boat was a breeze. Waited for about 20 minutes for a cab to the airport since we did not purchase transfers.
It was a fantastic vacation. Very relaxing. I think it is a very good value for your money. We are hooked on Princess and will only go on that line. I really enjoyed personal choice dining vs. a fixed seating table/time. It is very flexible and you get the same food plus it only takes about an hour to eat vs. 1 1/2 to 2 hours when you are seated with 6 or 8 other people. My boyfriend just wanted a table for two and we got one every time. I did not mind the $6.50/pp per day for gratuity and left it on the bill. We tipped over the recommended amount for our room steward.
Introduction This was my 7th cruise, and our 6th cruise together. We decided to go on this cruise only six weeks ahead of time, and we still managed to get a good deal on a mini-suite. This was our first time sailing with Princess, but our third cruise in the last year, so I will be comparing some aspects of this cruise with our most recent cruise, the Carnival Destiny that we took in January of this year and also to our cruise on Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas, which we took last July. I will say upfront that we had a wonderful cruise on the Grand Princess.
Pre Cruise We arrived into the Grand's home city of Fort Lauderdale on Saturday evening, and stayed at the Hampton Inn and Suites. The hotel was close to both the airport and the cruise port. We got the information on this hotel from rec.travel.cruises and true to what was advertised, they had free airport pickup and cruise terminal drop off. They also had a van that would take you to various restaurants in the area, and we used this service toget dinner shortly after we arrived. One word of advice, you need to book the port transportation as soon as you arrive at the hotel. We checked in at around 6:30 PM on Saturday night, and the only shuttle time they had available the next morning was for 11:00 AM (which we wanted anyway). One thing that really impressed us is that when the hotel manager saw how many people and bags he had for the 11:00 shuttle, he used his own car to transport some people and bags so that his shuttle driver would only have to make one trip. We were in the hotel's van, and very smartly the van driver added an additional row of seats where the luggage usually goes, then went around back and hitched on a trailer for everybody's luggage! We arrived at the pier at 11:40 AM.
Embarkation We arrived at the port at the same time the first wave of busses from the airport arrived. We checked our luggage with the porters outside and had a five minute wait to get through security. This would be the longest line of the entire cruise. I had filled out all of our documents on line on the Princess web site, but we did not have the Bahamas immigration cards, so we filled those out while waiting to get through security. Immediately after security, we saw the check in area, which was arranged by deck and cabin number. We were in line for about two minutes before being checked in. Here is where the only annoying part of the entire cruise came into play. Even though we had filled out the documents on line, we again needed to fill them out at check in. The agent said that they needed the information in front of them, not just on Princess' computer. After being checked in and given our cruise cards, we were off to get our embarkation pictures taken and proceed to the gangway of the ship. Just before getting on the ship, security again took our picture for our cruise card so we could be identified when we got on and off the ship. We were in our cabin by 12:00 noon.
Our Cabin We had cabin D-214, a mini suite with a balcony on the Dolphin deck near the bow of the ship. Our cabin steward already had the beds converted from two twins into one queen for us. The balcony was used by both of us quite a bit, and we could sit out and read while listening to our walkmans and watch the scenery pass by. This is the third time we have had a balcony and find it hard to go back to a cabin without one.
The Ship The Grand Princess is a little over two years old. She is in excellent shape, and we saw very little wear and tear. The ship has sixteen decks and the rear Skywalker's disco. The main restaurants were on decks five and six; the three showrooms were on deck seven along with the two alternate restaurants Sabatini's and the Painted Desert. The casino along with some shops is on deck six and there are also some shops on deck seven. This ship actually has two pursers' desks. The main one which was open 24 hours a day was on deck six and there was also one on deck five which was open at various times during the day. (The Princess Patter always had the hours shown). There was one pool at the very end of deck twelve (this was the adults only pool), two other pools on deck fourteen and the wave pool was on deck fifteen by the gym and spa. Also on deck fourteen were the grill for hamburgers etc. the pizzeria and the ice creamery (which you do have to pay for). Towards the aft of deck fourteen was the 24-hour restaurant, The Horizon Court. There were many various bars spread around the ship. The elevators were a little slow at times, but they all worked. However, we very rarely used the elevators and walked up and down the stairs 99% of the time-no weight gain on this cruise for us!
Service The service that we experienced on this cruise was the best we have had on any cruise! Our Steward, Jesus from the Philippines was wonderful. He kept the room very clean, the ice bucket full, and we very rarely saw him. Since we had a mini suite, we also had a butler, Daniel from Romania. He brought us canapes and a copy of the dinner menu every night. We asked him to change out our original bar setup to Diet Coke which he did, but we did not have any other special requests of him. He would have made any restaurant and spa reservations that we needed, but we enjoy doing that ourselves. He was very personable and kept trying to do things for us.
We used and very much enjoyed the Personal Choice dining. We ate in the main dining room five out of the seven nights, and each night at a different time. On two of the nights we asked for a table for two and were put at their smallest table, which is a table for four, but only the two of us were seated there. The other three nights there would have been a wait for a table for two, so we joined large tables those nights and had a good time. The waiters were always friendly and gave us wonderful service. One night there was nothing on the menu that my wife liked and the waiter Alphonso from the Philippines said with a twinkle in his eye, "I have another menu for you." He brought over the kids menu, and my wife found many things on there that she liked. Alphonso made sure that she had adult sized portions, and kept checking on her the entire dinner. A couple of nights later we were at a different table and Alphonso came by and checked up on us to see how we were doing. Also memorable was our waiter at the first dinner, Roberto from Italy. He made sure that everything was perfect and even asked if we wanted seconds (which we didn't do the entire cruise actually, except for one lunch where my wife had three desserts, but that's another story). We did not eat at Sabatini's, but did go to the Painted Desert twice. The service there was also great, and Miguel from Mexico who took care of us the second time in was exceptional. Again he made sure that everything was perfect, and if we didn't finish our plates wanted to make sure that nothing was wrong with the food. On the last morning when we went to the dining room for breakfast we were not rushed like the usual last day "thanks but it's now time to go routine." In fact I asked the waiter that was bringing around the pastries if he had any donuts, and he checked and couldn't find any and apologized. Five minutes later he was back with a plate of donuts! The service on this cruise was miles ahead of Carnival, and even a bit better that the great service that we had on Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas.
Food The food was good on this cruise. At dinner I enjoyed the steaks and prime rib, which were done perfectly. My wife enjoyed the fish entrees, but wished for more lamb and chicken offerings. We both also enjoyed the pasta. The food at the Painted Desert was great! One night I had the tequila chicken and the other night the filet mignon, while my wife had the chicken fajitas one night and the catfish the next. We also enjoyed their appetizers, salads and soups. At breakfast and lunch most days we ate at the Horizon Court, which was very good. My one complaint was that there was only iced tea and water as the "free" drinks at lunch, where both Carnival and Royal Caribbean offer lemonade. We also went to the Horizon Court late at night and tried both the buffet and ordering off the late night menu. Overall, we thought the food was good, the portions large, but the choices limited. The food was comparable to Royal Caribbean, but I have to admit that since Carnival improved their food, we thought that the food on Carnival was better than the food on Princess, the Painted Desert being the exception.
Spa The spa is not normally something I would mention, but we saw great improvement in the spa services on this cruise. Maybe Steiner is catching on, or being dropped by NCL made them wake up, but I went three times (massage, seaweed massage and reflexology), and my wife went twice (two massages) and the Steiner people were polite, good at their services, and we did not get a hard sell on their products.
Ports of Call The ports were part of the attraction on this cruise. We went to St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Princess Cays with three days at sea. This cruise had a first for us; we did not do any ship sponsored shore excursions. St. Thomas is always fun, we wandered around on our own for most of the day. In St. Maarten we took a tour (two and a half hours-$18 per person) offered by one of the taxi drivers, that took us all around the island, including the French side; we walked around Marigot for about half an hour. After the tour we went back to the ship for lunch, then went out and wandered around Phillipsburg for a couple of hours. We docked at the new pier in St. Maarten and took the water taxi to the shopping area. The water taxi charges $5 per person for an all day pass. Princess Cays was very nice. We brought our snorkel equipment with us on the ship, but the waters around the island (and in fact all of our ports) were too choppy, so unfortunately no snorkeling for us this cruise. We had a nice lunch on the island and saw most of the rest of the passengers on the beach, so we went back to the empty pools on board the ship.
Entertainment The entertainment was very good. We greatly enjoyed one of the production shows, "Lights, Camera, Action!" and also saw a couple of comedians, Billy Vader and Jim McDonald. We also enjoyed the comedy juggler Thien Fu. Of course went to the "Newlywed/Not so Newlywed show; even though we know the questions and will never volunteer to go on stage ourselves, we still like to watch that show. We also played in the casino a little and actually broke even! The music we heard around the ship was very enjoyable as well.
Debarkation We thought that debarkation was handled extremely well, especially for a ship the size of the Grand Princess. We finished breakfast at 8:30 AM and our color was called at 8:45 AM. We collected our bags and got a taxi ($12) and were at the Ft. Lauderdale airport by 9:20 AM.
Conclusion We had a great time on this cruise, doing the things we like to do: relax, eat good food, have fun at each of the islands we visit, and meet nice people on board. In general, have a good time. Would we take Princess again? In a heartbeat! We loved being spoiled by their great service and are already looking at booking another Princess cruise.
My husband & I took our 1st cruise on the Grand Princess 2/11/01. We had a marvelous time. Every thing from embarkment to disembarkment went as smooth as a cake. This cruise line is so well organized that it's unbelievable. Our first 2 nights at sea were a little rough. The captain later on the second night said he was going to take us the long way around the Florida straights as we were hitting Trade Winds. Sure enough he did, and it was beautiful.
Didn't even feel like we were on a ship. This ship is like a city on water. Our stateroom A707 on the Aloha Deck was perfect. We were near everything. Our balcony was great. Our room steward Joshua was great. What else can I say, but please for a cruise of your life you have to cruise on the "Grand Princess".