My wife and I just completed the Alaskan Inside Passage cruise on Sunday. Had a great time. Only disappointment was our stop in Skagway...not much there at all...big let down after visiting Ketchikan
This cruise on the Grand was the Baltic and Scandinavian. We got a lot of hype about the ship getting an extensive "over haul ".. The main areas were re-done, and were very nice, however, we and many other passengers were very disappointed that the cabin were NOT re-done a bit ! Walking into the old, run down cabin was very upsetting. Everything was very old, even the very flat pillows, and the thin worn out towels. The toilet had black stuff in it, and the shower was old, and the closet was VERY tiny. We had an oceanview. I just hate it when the window is over the head of the bed, instead of having the bed along side the other wall. The cabin stewart was one of the worse we have ever had in our 50 cruises.
We contacted his supervisor, who did see to it that he did his job. He was just lazy and forgetful. The last straw was on the last night before disembarking, he forgot to give us the note about setting out clocks ahead. Also the food on Princess ships has gone downhill. We noticed a lot of "cutting back" on a lot of things.
GRAND PRINCESS Southern Caribbean Cruise March 17-24, 2012 By Mary & Vincent Finelli
When the Grand Princess entered Venice, Italy in 1998 for the first time, it was said: That the only thing more brilliant than the sight of the Grand Princess on the Venetian Lagoon is the sunrise! She was truly innovative then and now; even though her spoiler has been removed, she still is a splendid sight. The spoiler once held the lively Skywalker Nightclub; suspended high above the ship and the sea, cruisers danced the night away among the stars. Reached only by elevator and escalator, it was a veritable gorgeous crow's nest.
This was our third cruise aboard the Grand and she is just as lovely now as on our first trip during her inaugural year. This cruise is billed "Discover Old World Charm:" and there's plenty of it from the hub of the Piazza (Square) with "Vines" and its fine wine selection to the new "Alfredo's Pizzeria." The marvelous continuous entertainment in the Piazza was headlined every afternoon by guitarist Ron Steta. Then of course between 3:30 and 4:30pm, there is High Tea in the Da Vinci DiningRoom. Fit for a queen, with the whole gamut: from water cress sandwiches to fresh hot scones --- all served with white gloves. Captain Anthony Herriot (England) and Hotel General Manager Richard Harry (England) are the two men on board who are the keepers of "Old World Charm."
Port Everglades, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida is easily accessed from I-95 after a short ride from Boca Raton. We arrived at 12:45pm and dropped off our luggage curbside. We were through check in and on board in less than ten minutes. This is an excellent use of deck by deck boarding and priority boarding for elite members. Our cabin was ready, and we left our hand luggage and were off to the Welcome Aboard Buffet.
We wrote a review on the Grand during her inaugural year; wherein we described her deck by deck in detail, so this review will center on the general ambiance and the many on board possibilities. The Grand was built in 1998 and refurbished in 2011. She is 109,900 tons and registered in Bermuda. Her length is 951 ft. and beam is 118 ft.. She has a passenger capacity of 2,600 and a crew of 1,200 (an excellent passenger to crew ratio). There is a total of 372 inside cabins and 928 outside cabins of which 710 have verandahs. There are 215 suites. There are three dinner seatings: 5:30pm, 6:00pm and 8:15pm. We were in the first seating and found 5:30pm a bit too early even for us to dine. Especially after tea at 4:00pm There are 12 Bars & Lounges, a Casino and Chapel and 12 elevators plus on board self service laundromats. There are a library, where tea is also served, a theater, a giant outdoor screen for "Movies under the Stars", on board shops, a health spa and a video arcade. The physical fitness facilities include basket ball, golf simulation, a jogging track, four swimming pools (one heated) and eight whirlpools. There are children's facilities including a playroom, kiddie pool, youth program and teen center.
Our wheelchair accessible cabin #A304 was on Aloha Deck 12. When entering on the right is a triple armoire: two sections are for hanging clothes and the third has a personal safe and six shelves. Next, there is a TV and a refrigerator with a complimentary bar set up for Elite Members of the "Captain's Circle." Then, there is a long desk/vanity with lighted mirror and four drawers.
When entering on the left, there is a huge bathroom with an extra large shower 4'X 4' with a folding seat. There is a single sink with mirror and several shelves for sundries. Next is the king size bed (at just the right height) flanked by night stands, each with a reading lamp a top shelf and four drawers. There is an upholstered barrel chair, a desk chair and a small wood and glass coffee table.
The far wall has a sliding glass door to the balcony -- on which are two chairs, a table and a chaise which Dixon, our excellent steward, added for Vincent. Housekeeper Violetta Cecane was very courteous and helpful and made sure that the service remained excellent throughout the cruise. The interior of the stateroom is mostly beige trimmed nicely in walnut wood. The carpet is a diamond patterned burnished red. There is one huge picture of a small row boat with its reflection sharply delineated in the clear water of a bay. In the background, there is a small whitewashed town and a hill. The drapes and the headboard of the bed are a soft blue accented by a beige trellis pattern. All pleasant and comforting.
FOOD & SERVICE
We always say the quality of the service filters down from the top -- Capt. Herriott and Hotel General Manager Richard Harry set the very British tone and it is terrific. As elite passengers (more than 15 cruises), many things are gratis: complimentary bar set up, laundry, shoe shines, afternoon tea in the cabin, etc....
Vincent took advantage of the the laundry service and was very satisfied. Mary took advantage of the afternoon tea served in the cabin and made a standing order for all week. Which she later modified, since on the first afternoon the Bell Box waiter arrived with a full High Tea for Two: Two pots of hot water, a sampling of 12 types of tea, two plates of dainty sandwiches, eight scones with whipped cream and raspberry preserves, eight pastries and eight fruit concoctions. This is as close to heaven as it gets! Needless to say, Mary modified the order to just tea and scones for the rest of the week: Excellent and only available on the Princess ships. The butler will also stay and serve if one desires. Next time we travel with friends, tea will be at the top of our agenda.
Breakfast -- we always have in our stateroom. We complete the selections the night before and hang the menu on our door knob. The next morning at 7:00am promptly it arrives. There is an English muffin sandwich: fried egg, Canadian bacon and cheese, very nice. We also selected coffee, hot chocolate, orange juice and half of a grapefruit, cold cereal, yogurt, plain or fruited, rolls, toast, croissants and brioches are all available. Or just go up to the buffet or down to the Da Vinci Dining Room, from 7:30 to 9:30, for sit down service.
Luncheon on the Princess has a full menu -- including pasta courses (Amatriciana, Carbonara, Puttanesca, etc...). Every day fried calamari are available. Some of the lunch items are usually dinner items on other lines: Vitello tonnato, mixed English grill (tiny lamb chops, bangers, veal kidney and beef medallions). Our favorite place for lunch was Alfredo's Pizzeria, where personal pizzas were created for each diner.
Dinner was exceptional every evening. The courteous and friendly Maitre D' Fabio Marcotti assigned us an easily accessible table #01, near the entrance of the Michelangelo Dining Room, which was very much appreciated by Mary who could park her wheelchair within a few step from it. Head Waiter Antoine and Head Waiter Victor saw that service was snappy and courteous. Our waitress Elena was from Romania; she was fast and flawless. Her assistant was Franco from Mexico and he couldn't be nicer.
Service and food on board are excellent.
Cruise Director Billy London has things well in hand and the "Princess Patter" lists the myriad of activities available daily. From Trivia Games, Bingo, Movies, and live entertainment to Wine Tasting with the Sommelier on board, there is much to do. The entertainment in the Piazza lends the atmosphere of "Old World Charm." Ship's musicians, comedians and variety entertainers performed throughout the day in the Piazza. Most of them were good, but our favorite was the guitarist Ron Steta, who had a lovely repertoire of old popular and classic melodies. He performed at least once a day throughout the week.
Enchanted Evening entertainment is emphasized mainly in "Showtime" presented in the Princess Theater and/or the Vista Lounge, twice each night, at 8:15 and 10:15 to accommodate first and second dinner seatings. Showtime consisted of a couple of Las Vegas type shows, several comedy shows and concerts with the Moonlight String Quartet, with guitarist Ron Seta and the Grand Princess Orchestra and with a solo pianist entertainer Alan Shiels. In addition there are some variety shows with a hypnotist and two jugglers.
"Movies under the Stars" is also a popular venue in the morning, afternoon and evening for those who enjoy open air entertainment. Concerts, documentaries and movies are usually shown in the morning; then in the afternoon there are Matinee movies; and in the evening, a main feature movie is projected along with the typical popcorn treat. There is fun for the whole family and everybody else.
PORTS OF CALL
Day 1. Ft. Lauderdale, FL Sail Away 4:15pm
Day 2. At Sea
Day 3. AT Sea
Day 4. Oranjestad, Aruba Arrive 7:00am Depart 5:00pm
Day 5. Willemstad, Curacao Arrive 7:00am Depart 1:00pm
Day 6. At Sea
Day 7. Princess Cays, Bahamas Arrive 8:30am Depart 3:30pm
Day 8. Ft. Lauderdale, FL Arrive 7:00am
This was a snap. Those needing wheelchair assistance met in the Casino. There was a steward to accompany us to baggage pick up and from there a porter assisted us through customs and passport check. The whole procedure took 15 minutes. Excellent!
This was our seventeenth cruise on Princess ships and the third on the Grand, and again a wonderful one. It feels nice to be pampered and appreciated. We enjoy the freebies reserved for the Captain's Circle Elite members, thus we plan to cruise more frequently on Princess. The only difference we noticed between our first cruise on the Grand and this one was our difficulty accessing certain areas, such as the Promenade and the Pool, since now both of us have limited mobility; before, when at least one of us was able and strong, we could open the heavy doors, but now we have to wait for some other person to hold the doors for us. However, on the newer Princess ships, we have noticed the improvements toward making a more wheelchair friendly environment, with automatic door openers and smoother thresholds. Thanks, Princess for listening to our suggestion. We have already booked a future cruise on the Ruby Princess for November 4, 2012. Happy Cruising!
GRAND PRINCESS EASTERN CARIBBEAN CRUISE
This was my third Princess and my tenth cruise overall. For my friend Jan, it was her first ever cruise and she couldn't have been more impressed. We left the hubbies home for a girls' week of fun. Stayed at the Embassy Suites 1 day pre-cruise which was an excellent choice. We had booked Princess transfers and the move from the airport to the hotel was seamless. Our room wasn't ready so we left our bags with the bell desk and set off in search of lunch since breakfast had been at the airport around 6:30 AM. Jan had some recommendations from a co-worker who had lived in Ft. Lauderdale so we chose Anthony's oven-fired pizza. Not knowing where it was, we took the shuttle for $3/pp. It turned out not to be very far from the hotel.
We decided on sharing a large salad and ordered a personal pizza each. It was way too much for us to finish so we took the leftovers with us. The shuttle driver had given us his card so we could call for a pickup but he was stuckin a traffic jam on RT 75. Looking at the street signs, I figured out that we were only a few blocks from 17th Street so we walked back to the hotel w/o any problems. There was a CVS pharmacy right on the corner which was great since I had forgotten a few personal items.
Back at the hotel, our room was ready so we were happy to sit down in the air-conditioning and put our feet up for a few minutes. I don't know what it was, but we both were complaining of swollen feet which made walking around rather uncomfortable. After a brief rest, we took off in search of the Total Wine shop. Everyone said it was right behind the hotel but what they don't say is that there is quite a nice strip mall there and the wine store was in the far left corner. I even had some coupons to use. Purchasing one bottle apiece seemed to be the limit of our alcohol consumption.
Proceeding to the Dollar Store which is kitty-corner from the front of the hotel in another strip mall, we got gift bags for our Meet and Greet gift exchange. At this point, it was getting dark and we were getting tired. I was cranky because my feet hurt so we headed back to the hotel for the free evening cocktail hour. One drink each seemed to satisfy our thirst and made us very relaxed. Still full from the pizza, we opted out of dinner and headed back to our room for a shower and bed.
Setting the wake up call for 8 AM, we were up early and started getting cleaned up for breakfast. Our breakfast was great with made to order omelets and other things. The letter from the cruise line told us to have our bags outside our rooms by 10 AM and be in the lobby at noon for check in with the Princess reps. They were late so everyone was milling around getting antsy to leave. General chaos reigned as everyone tried to get their health forms and to identify their luggage for transport. This was the only problem with using the Princess transfers. Once the buses arrived and everyone had their luggage loaded, it was much better. Dropped us at the correct pier where we took our carry-ons through Security and checked in to receive our room keycards. We stopped for the boarding photo and then went up the correct ramp according to our cabin number. Found our room without any problem and dropped our stuff.
Our cabin attendant was Savone from VietNam and he got everything we asked for; robes, top sheets, extra hangers, 2 tote bags. He was quick with cleaning the room when we were at breakfast and did a superb job.
We were in Caribe 308. The room looked identical to the one I had previously on the Grand in 2008. I was disappointed in the balcony. Although it was quite spacious, there was no rubber matting and the 2 chairs were recliners but no foot stools so they were actually not very comfortable. The reason that was given to other cruisers for the lack of matting was weight which is ridiculous when you realize the ship lost 4 Tons with the removal of Skywalkers. What was 113,000 RT in 2008, is now 109,000 RT. The probable reason is cost cutting.
Jan wanted to do the "Treasure Hunt" card we were given upon boarding. It required you to find different departments on the ship and receive a stamp for each one. We dropped the cards into a box by the pool for a drawing. The nice thing about it was it makes you become familiar with the ship. Jan was totally blown away by the beauty and size of the Grand. She kept saying she felt she was in the first class section of the Titanic! This was the only frame of reference that she had to cruising. We ran up to the Sanctuary to reserve some space for a sea day only to be told we had to be there @ 8 AM on the day desired. International Cafe won our lunch choice for shrimp and chicken salad.
While eating we heard the first announcement for the muster drill telling us to bring our life jackets with us. When we got to our room, the luggage was there so we dragged it in and got ready for the muster drill. With the Costa Concordia disaster so fresh in everyone's minds, I have to say this was the most attentive muster drill I have ever attended. Next up was the sail away by the pool with the band and lots of fun and excitement. Our names were not drawn for the Treasure Hunt but it was fun anyway. Got our specialty drinks and watched the ship leave the pier.
Back to the room to unpack and clean up for dinner. We had Anytime Dining and this was the first time I had tried it. I think it worked very well and I would do it again. First night at 7:00 was very busy but we got a pager and only had to wait 20 minutes. We agreed to share a table at every dinner and met lots of very nice people. I was wondering how Jan would like the menus as she is a picky eater. Princess now has "Down-home" entrees on the menu and Jan ate them at least 3 times.
There was quite a range of ages onboard from a 6 month old baby on up. It was nice because the late night activities were well attended. The Princess Pop Star competition was quite good and we really enjoyed attending it. Some very talented people were there. We went to the casino and I started out with a bang by winning almost $200. Jan won $30 on the slots.
Sunday was a sea day and One5 was the location for our CC meeting. The Meet and Greet was a big success. We met the Captain, Purser, Maitre'd, Executive Chef and Trent, Customer Relations. ( A real cutie!) Jan and I got our pictures taken with Captain Bilton who was so nice and accommodating. We met lots of nice people and loved crossing paths with them all during the trip. Tried the pool that day but it was rather windy and had some sprinkles. Of course we went to Bingo at least 5 times and never did win but we had fun anyway. Our first formal night we had to wait a short time with the pager but sat in the Piazza and watched the fashion show. Turned out we got a table for 2! Lots of jokes about our "romantic" dinner. Saw the comedian show and it was ok. Lots of people were walking out. Back to the casino and I won big again. Jan hit the slots for $65.
Monday was a partial sea/tour day. We arrived in San Juan @ 4 PM and we had planned a tour. Jan had never been to any of these places so we did a tour at each stop. In SJ, we went to San Cristobal fort for a self-guided tour and then a short stop in Old SJ for shopping. Jan loves to shop so she was in hog heaven in every port. Back to the ship for dinner and see a show but don't remember which one. We were too pooped to stay up too late and the casino did not open until 11 PM. Saw the first part of Princess Pop Star and thought it was very entertaining.
Tuesday was St. Maarten and this was the best tour we took. Booked the Orient Beach stop with lunch which was very good and 2 drinks. The beach was very nice and the water had big waves which I love!. I was sorry I didn't have a boogie board to ride them. We come from Chicago where not only is our land flat but so is our water. Lake Michigan is not known for it's surf. LOL! Going back to the ship we could have gotten off the bus to go shopping but we had done some with the local vendors and were anxious to get the sand out of our bathing suits. Another nice dinner and back to the casino again. This time Jan won $300 on the slots and I didn't know when to quit when I had doubled my money and had a loss.
Wednesday was St. Thomas and we thought we were being so good to get up at 6:30 to we could eat breakfast before going on our tour to Magen's Bay. Thinking we had lots of time, we decided to go to the dining room for breakfast and as usual, were chatting away with our table mates while eating our meal. Excused ourselves to go back to the room and get our suits on for the tour. Looking at my watch, I was shocked to see it was 8:39 as our tour left at 8:20! We threw on our suits and ran off the ship to see no one waiting for us. Jan was for grabbing a cab to Magen's Bay and catching up with the tour. At this point, it started raining and I was not too keen on that idea. Back to the Shore Excursion desk where they were so kind to book us on another tour leaving in an hour.
Changed out of our suits and were on time for this tour which took us around part of the island and to Blackbeard's castle and it's 99 steps down to street level. From there we hit street level and all the shops in downtown Charlotte Amalie. Our best stop was Mr. Tablecloth where we both scored great Christmas linens. Jan really wanted to go to the flea market to score some deals and I was ok for a while but, still suffering with swollen feet I headed back to the ship by taxi. I sat on the balcony and finally opened up my bottle of wine. Jan came back just long enough to get more cash and run back to the shops on the pier to make one more purchase. We stood on our balcony and watched the Eurodam back out first while we waited our turn. Hearing some cries of "wait, wait, don't leave without us" directed our attention to the entrance to the pier to see several young women running to our ship. I heard someone on a balcony above us saying she heard the ship was missing 6 passengers. The "missing" made it to the gangplank where they boarded and were duly checked in. Back to the casino where Jan won another $300 and I was chasing my money. Saw the Motor City show and liked it but everyone who saw the Magician said he was fabulous. Sorry we missed him. Stayed up late to watch a movie in the Vista lounge; "The Debt" which neither of us had seen before.
Thursday was our last sea day and I ran upstairs at 8 AM to reserve our spot in the Sanctuary from 1-5 PM. Jan got her lounger in the sun but I am definitely a shade girl and I had trouble finding and keeping a spot. Most of the loungers are set up for 2 together so the odd single person is hard to accommodate. Everyone talked about how great the service was up there but honestly, no one came around with water spritzers, I-pods or menus. I asked for a menu and finally got one. Jan and I both ordered something and waited quite a while for it to arrive. Turns out one of the waiters dropped a whole tray full of lunches and they had to re-make everything. I wanted the tuna pate with pita bread but the "tuna" was not what I received. Vlade from Macedonia was knocking himself out to please us. I mentioned the food error and he went to get us 2 additional entrees as well as to replace my mistaken order. We ended up with 3 lunches!
We went to the Captain's Circle cocktail party in the Vista lounge that I was invited to as a repeat cruiser and got a free drink and snacks. I have learned not to accept the drinks the bar staff is pushing at these things and wait for someone to ask me what I want. The Captain was very welcoming and mentioned that there were so many repeaters so they had 3 of these meetings scheduled. Off to our last formal night and sat with one couple from Texas and 2 couples from Canada. There were 7 lobster dinners and 1 short ribs. (guess who?) I was very disappointed in this meal as I think they feel that the lobster is the star of the plate. It was served with white rice and carrots. This is an elegant dinner? I thought the presentation was not that great. There was a sorbet for the Chef's Special night which I passed on as I am diabetic and thought it would be too sweet. No one at the table liked the combination of flavors, especially with a sprig of thyme in it.
Back to the casino where they finally got us good and we left with our tails between our legs. Saw the show British Invasion and it was not bad but the usual cruise ship show.
Friday was our Princess Cays day and we had rented a bungalow. Unfortunately or not, we slept in and had a late breakfast. Our priority tender tickets were a moot point since almost everyone who wanted to be off the ship was already there. Jan had popped for the Gourmet Lunch which they wanted to serve us immediately. We prevailed upon them to wait a little time. The appetizer alone was enough for a meal. They brought 8 dinner rolls for the 2 of us! Vlade was our server at the bungalow also and brought us plates loaded with everything on the buffet table. There was enough food for 4 people. We had a table with 4 small chairs in the bungalow and 4 loungers outside it. I was never a big fan of the beach there and even though we both had surf shoes we did not really venture too far into the water because of all the rocks. After Orient Beach, this is actually a come-down. Princess really has a huge facility there with 3 different buffet areas, very nice clean bathrooms and some vendors. Jan wanted to do her last bit of shopping so we ventured outside the gates to the small area of vendors there. It was the usual tourist stuff but Jan found some jewelry for her granddaughter. I was all shopped out by that time. The line for the tenders was long but moved fast. It was good to get back on the ship.
Being the last night for our cruise, it was a bittersweet ending. We went for anytime dinner and ended up at a table for 4 which we shared with one of the couples from our first night! We decided to head back to the cabin just to get everything packed so we could enjoy the last evening. Back to the casino for one last chance and joined all the other losers. One of the nice things about playing the table games, you get to know several people because you all are there together every evening. We crashed for the last time and set a wake up time for 7 AM.
Our last breakfast was in the buffet and we shared that with one of the couples from our formal night dinner. Jan had just discovered the chocolate croissants and grabbed one for the wait in the airport. Our disembarkation group met in Explorers lounge and we were only there for about 15 minutes before we were called to disembark. Found our luggage, went through customs and headed for the bus to the airport. While we were sitting waiting for our flight we heard people talking about an outbreak of illness on other ships. So glad it wasn't on the Grand!
Hubby picked us up at Midway Airport and our vacation was over but not forgotten. All in all, we had a great time and Jan can't wait to take her next one. We are hoping to get our nursing school classmates together for a 4-5 day reunion cruise next year.
This was a 14 day cruise that included stops at 8 islands. The ship was in good condition for its 12 years of use. I found the food to be ordinary although the chef tried hard with prime rib, chateaubriand and tournedos. The entertainment was pretty standard with two big production numbers and the usual comedians and assorted entertainers. This was my 35th cruise and I would rate it as nothing special. I enjoyed the Sea Princess more two years ago (again a 14 day cruise).
This is the 6th Princess cruise and 18th overall and I have to say the Grand Princess ain't so Grand.
The best part was the itinerary although I wish Princess would stop visiting St. Vincent on Sundays as there is not much to do there. Unfortunately the negatives outweighed the positives.
I could never get a hold of the Circle Club rep. The food was severely subpar. And this was not just in the quality, the preparation as well - and portions too and even in the Speciality Steakhouse we had to send meals back. The Cruise Staff was smug and not interested in the passenger experience and seemed far from geniune -they were all as phony as a three-dollar bill.
Service was close to non-existant. Often times staff had the attitude that amounted to "Mr/Ms Passenger, you are inconviencing me and the only reason that I will stoop so low as to assist you is that someone may be watching." It was like the vibe was I like it here just fine with the exception of having to serve you. Often times orders were mixed up and they blamed iton staff being on their first cruise. Really, I don't care what number cruise this is for you - it's still my vacation and you should be trained so it doesn't show.
Placemats/napkins in the Lido were really worn. Public areas in the ship were tired looking, rather than fresh and inviting. They have made some substitutions (instead of halibut they now have tilapia).
Knowing that the main reason we chose this cruise was positive past experiences on the princess line and the great itinerary we were expecting a lot. The Grand Princess did not deliver, it was more like sailing on a toad with warts than a typical Princess vessel.
Here are port reviews and shore excursion information that we took on our Grand Princess Med Cruise - 6/9 - 6/21.
Venice: We flew in a day early and stayed at the Hotel Monaco. The hotel is very well located - right next to St. Mark's Square! The hotel was nice and room was clean but very small.
We did not book any tours of Venice through Princess. We did, however, book the Doge's Palace Secret Itenerary Tour. This is not the regular tour of the Palace, but a behind the scenes tour with only 25 people. It takes you through back rooms of the palace - the jail cell where Casanova stayed, the secret police room, etc. I highly recommend this tour. I booked it ahead of time through the internet.
Athens: We booked the Acroplis/Plaka Sampler shore excursion through Princess. It was very enjoyable and was just about the right amount of time. Showed us the highlights of Athens, important buildings, etc. Then on to the Acropolis. Tour guide was very informative. Included time on our own at the Acropolis for wandering around and pictures.
The tour dropped us off atthe Plaka for a couple of hours on our own of shopping and eating. Many designers stores in this area. We ate a delicious greek lunch at a local cafe. It started raining so we were happy when it was time to be picked up by our bus.
Kusadasi/Ephesus: We booked the Ephesus, Virgin Mary, St. John's shore excursion through Shorex Turkey (www.shorexturkey.co.nr) . Also very enjoyable. First stop was Virgin Mary home. Then Ephesus. Ephesus was beautiful but an absolute zoo! It was packed full of people! I wish that we would have stopped there first - maybe we would have been able to avoid some of the crowds.
Be prepared for the local vendors. They will bug you to buy stuff constantly.
Istanbul: We booked a full Day tour through Transbalkan. Istanbul was one of my favorite stops. It felt very exotic! In the morning, we visited the Blue Mosque, St. Sophia and Underground Cistern. They were all within walking distance of each other. Then lunch in a garden patio of a restaurant. Nice atmosphere - good food.
The school children taking tours of the local areas like to practice their English on the American tourists! They were very friendly and asked questions like "What is your name?" and "How are you?". When I answered them, they were so happy and excited!! I felt like I was a rock star or something, when they all were clamoring to say hello and give me high fives!! We joked about my "fan club" for the rest of the trip!
After lunch, we went to the Grand Bazaar (what a place that was!!) - with time on our own for shopping - and the Topkapi Palace - also time on our own. It was a long day and we were very tired at the end!
Naples: We booked a private tour with Marcello of seesorrento. It was the highlight of our entire trip! The first thing Marcello asked us when we started was what were our expectations. If we wanted to go shopping, he would take us shopping. If we wanted to go off the beaten path, we would go there. By this time, we were pretty tired of the buses/herds, so we wanted to see Marcello's Italy. He took us through Sorrento, Positano and along the Amalfi Coast. Many photo stops. He showed us beaufiful little villages that the buses don't stop at. He then ventured beyond where the buses can travel and totally beat the crowds. As I said before, by then we were very tired to the crowds, so we really loved this. We stopped at a village called Pontone and had a wonderful lunch in a garden patio with an awesome view. We did not order off a menu. Marcello brought us dishes upon dishes of food that he thought we would enjoy - food that the locals eat. The food includes the yummiest olives I've ever had, caprice salad, goat cheese, cheese cooked in lemon leaves, gnocchi, mussels with linguine, red and white wine carafes...I could go on and on.....then on to the dessert. We had an assortment of 4 different desserts on our plates! He also brought out bottles of liquers - Lemoncello, some sort of fennel liquer and cantalope liquer. We all had shots of these in chilled glasses. So much fun - what an experience he made this lunch for us.
After lunch, we went to Pompei. Since we went in the afternoon, it was less crowded, then if we had gone in the morning with all the bus tours. I can't even describe Pompei! It was huge! Street after street after street of ruins - and so well preserved!! We spent 2 hours there which just flew by. We definitely could have spent many more hours there. We were glad that Marcello had taken us to the farthest place first (Amalfi) and worked his way back to the closest place to the ship (Pompei) so we wouldn't worry about being late in arriving back to the port.
There were some tours that arrived back at port late, but they were Princess tours so the ship waited for them.
Mykonos: We did this on our own. We just wandered around, walked up to the windmills and ate lunch. This town is definitely doable on your own. It is the cutest, most beautiful place. Many back streets with shops and cafes. I loved this port!! We also got to see the pink pelican!! Took pictures - will post later.
Civetevechia: We did not do a shore excursion into Rome, since we had visited Rome two years ago and it's a 1 1/2 hour drive into Rome. We thought we would just wander around Civetevechia and do some shopping, maybe eating. There wasn't much around this port at all. Minimal shops and restaurants - most closed since it was Sunday. We walked around and then just got back on the ship and relaxed. If you want to walk around, you will have to take the Princess shuttle as it is not possible to walk from the ship into town.
Livorno: We booked the Medevil Lucca shore excursion since we had been to Florence a couple of years ago. The Lucca tour was a half day tour. We didn't really enjoy the town much. We had thought it would be a more charming town, like Siena or San Gigmanio, but it was more of a working class town. We were disappointed in this tour but maybe it was just our expectation of something different.
Marseilles: We booked the Arles/Le Baux all day exursion through Princess. We enjoyed this tour much. The drive to Arles was approx. 45 minutes. Guide was very informative. Van Gogh had spent time in this town. Walking tour of important sights, then time on our own for shopping. Lunch was at the Atrium Hotel in Arles included in the excursion. The buffet salad bar set up was very. I didn't enjoy the chicken lunch much, however. The lunch also included red and rose wine and also dessert.
We then went to Le Baux in the afternoon. Beautiful medevil town up on a hill. Very hilly area with many cute shops and cafes.
I hope you enjoyed this information regarding the tours and excursions we went on. If you have any questions, please let me know!
CRUISING BIG STYLE! MERVYN HANCOCK JOINS THE GRAND PRINCESS FOR A TRIP AROUND THE MEDITERRANEAN.
We whizzed through the dock gates at Southampton with some apprehension, on the weekend after the children had been returned to their classrooms after a half term break! We knew that our cruise ship, The Grand Princess, would be filling up with mainly adult passengers, but wife Sue and I also knew that there were three ships in dock, ready to embark on the first of the 2009 season's Mediterranean cruises, and that the total number of souls taking part in this adventure would total over 7,000.
I expected chaos, but was pleasantly surprised at the slick and efficient operation which saw our car parked, luggage hoisted onboard, and being established in our cabin within the space of 20 minutes. Not bad considering the ship had only docked five hours earlier and was due to set sail again in just 120 minutes.
The Grand Princess had sailed from Fort Lauderdale in the USA and brought over a cargo of Americans, 240 of which would remain with us for the 14 day voyage to Spain, Italy, France andMonaco, and prove to be most amiable travelling companions.
With almost 20 cruises under our belts, Sue and I were considered to be veteran sailors, but nothing prepared us for the vastness of our amazing ship, which dwarfed everything else we encountered, and only needed six walks around the promenade deck to complete a mile! Two other giants set off before us, following more or less the same route, and the numbers and variety of people waving from their balconies as they sailed past demonstrated how cruising has now become a vacation that's affordable for almost everyone.
Indeed, there are so many cruise ships plying the world's oceans at the moment that it is possible to embark on a holiday that costs around £60 per person per night -- and don't forget that food, travel, accommodation and entertainment are all thrown in. Not many, if indeed any, hotels can match that. And with another ship, capable of holding over 5,000 passengers, due to be launched in a few months, competition and prices between the big operators can only get keener.
Thus far, Sue and I had stuck mainly to the smaller ships, which are capable of getting into a bigger variety of ports, but the Grand Princess was a lady with a lot to offer.
We were allocated a mini-suite on deck nine, midships, and very near to the countless elevators which swept passengers up and down to various dining rooms, theatres, bars, salons, pools, gyms and shopping areas.
This was like being in the middle of a large town, with so many places to visit that, at first, we were quite mesmerised by it all.
Should we lounge around on our private balcony in the sunshine, and take advantage of the 24 room service, find a lounger on one of the vast decks, or risk piling on the pounds in the dining areas, where food and drink were available throughout the day and night? Or should we wander around this veritable metropolis on the high seas and simply soak up the atmosphere? We did both, and enjoyed every minute of it!
Princess Cruises offer a really useful dining plan too! You can either choose traditional dinner, with the same companions each evening, or go for "Anytime" plans where you simply turn up when you are hungry, sit alone or join others, and if that doesn't suit, there's a 24 hour buffet offering more or less the same choice of food.
Lobster, steaks, pasta, exotic dishes specially created by top chefs, mouth watering sweets, cakes and other delights were eagerly demolished by an appreciative audience, who seemed to still find room for the afternoon treat of home made ice-cream!
We deliberately stayed away from the eating areas during the morning and afternoon, because it was simply too tempting.
Entertainment was available from early morning to the wee small hours, although no one tried to force anyone to join in! Two main theatres -- as lavish as anything on shore -- offered variety shows, while music and dancing could be found in many other parts of the ship. Many of the Americans favoured the huge Casino, while the discotheque at the very top of the vessel was mainly occupied by people seeking sanctuary, as there weren't many youngsters onboard to take advantage of the nightly boogy-woogying!
Many of the onboard cabins had their own veranda – a trend which is becoming more and more popular, and available as the ships get bigger. Ours had a bathroom with tub and shower, walk-in wardrobes, a Queen-size bed, separate sitting area with a comfortable settee and chair, fridge and two huge televisions – one for the lounge area and the other for the bedroom. Programme choice was limited, but who wants to watch television with so much else going on?
Bargain prices for the initial cruise mean that many people can now take advantage of what used to be, a holiday for the "well off" and often a once in a lifetime experience. But you do need to be aware of those "extras" which seem to crop up a lot more often on the bigger ships, especially those operated by the Americans.
Gratuities are the main taking point among the British passengers – many of whom opted to remove the "discretionary" charge of around £7 per night per passenger -- including children -- which is automatically added to each bill. We were told that this cash is distributed among the crew to people like the cabin steward, waiter and backroom workers, and makes up a large part of their wage. I have no doubt that this is true, but it does beg the question of why they need to rely on such a substantial tip, and whether it should be imposed even before you meet many of them! I do prefer the system operated in the Fred Olsen ships, where you tip individuals at the end of the voyage, and give them what you think they deserve.
Onboard prices for drinks include a 15 per cent gratuity, and by British pub standards are expensive. I paid £10 for a can of draught Guinness and a medium glass of red wine, and even the soft drinks were around £1-40p, although you could buy a "soda package" which allowed you to drink as many as you like.
Another moan on many ships is the charges for "shuttle buses." Often the vessel docks away from the main town and city centres, and you have to pay to get from the port to the shops. Organised shore excursions also add up to hundreds of pounds, so you need to watch that credit card. You don't actually spend money onboard, as everything is charged to your shipboard account and settled at the end of the voyage. My own bill – modest by many standards – came to $1100 or around £730 for two weeks, which included two shore excursions, tips, drinks, cover charge for an onboard steakhouse and some duty free items.
We were looking forward to three of the eight ports of call -- Rome to see the Vatican, Naples for a visit to Pompeii and Monte Carlo to see the preparations for the famous Grand Prix. At all three the local "businessmen" were awaiting the tourists to extract as much money as they could from our short visits. Like £14 for a pint of lager in Monte Carlo, £8 for two ice cream cones in the Vatican, and an attempt to get £5 for a cone of popcorn in Pompeii! But the tours were well organised and worth the money.
Bargain hunters were out in force in Gibraltar, and with cigarettes costing £14 for 200, and spirits as little as £4-50p a litre, it is no wonder that some thoughts turned to smuggling! Don't try it though. You are allowed the old duty free allowance, and customs officers await you at Southampton. We opted, instead, for a wonderful fruity curry in the local pub, run by a cheerful Cornish woman, at normal prices – a real change from the very expensive Euro zone!
Glorious weather followed us most of the way, and we even sunbathed on our veranda through the notorious Bay of Biscay, which was flat calm.
Many of our fellow passengers were on their umpteenth cruise with Princess, and looking forward to even more adventures. On my part I would happily book another trip on Grand Princess, and despite those extra charges, cruising is still -- pound for pound -- one of the best bargains around.
Mervyn and Sue Hancock travelled with Princess Cruises onboard Grand Princess which is offering a selection of cruises from Southampton throughout the year. Contact reservations on 08453555800 for details.
Friday & Saturday-Precruise
My family includes (husband 43, myself-41, daughter-17, and son-15) we began our trip with a 2 night stay at the Marriott Harbor Beach in Ft. Lauderdale. The hotel was beautiful and the beach was so pretty, nice white sand and warm blue water. We did have a couple of rain showers, but that's par for the time of the year. The kids were so excited as the New York Yankee's were also staying at the hotel.
We arrived at the cruise terminal around 12:15, and we were in our cabins by 12:30. We had booked a minisuite and were planning on the four of us sharing that cabin. Then about 3 weeks before the cruise I was checking prices, and found that the cabin prices, had gone way down. We were able to get the kids, an outside cabin on the same deck without paying any more money! I am so glad we did that, as we are not on the same schedule. Our kids had the time of their life, without parents and no curfew! We were in Emerald 720, and the kids in Emerald 229 (waydown the hall on the opposite side). We loved our minisuite, our balcony was covered, and it gave us a lot of privacy. We had breakfast every day on the balcony. We found that room service was terrific. You can order items, which are not on the menu, and they will bring them. After getting settled in our room we explored all over the ship. We were so surprised about the size of the ship. It was raining so, we had a little lunch, and continued to explore.
Had dinner and then when to the cabin and set on the balcony and continued to have a wonderful evening.
We were very happy with this stop. A day at a beautiful beach! We loved just swimming, and snorkeling around all day. Had a BBQ, and then more swimming. Headed back to the tenders around 2:00, and took a nap, showered, and then got ready for dinner. Had dinner and then went to the Marty Allen and Kate Blackwell show. It was okay; I could of easily done without the show, but still entertaining.
Tuesday-Day at Sea
Slept late, then had breakfast on the balcony. We went around to all the different pools and found that the adult pool aft on deck 16 was best suited for us. We found loungers on the sun deck and soaked up the sun and read until we decided it was lunchtime. Our daughter came and found us, and we had pizza with her outside by the pool. Then went back to deck 16 and swam and read the rest of the afternoon. This was the first formal night, my husband and son were all decked out in their tuxes, and my daughter and I had long dresses. We had our pictures taken but they turned out horrible! We shared a table with four other people and had an enjoyable dinner. Then the kids left to hang out with all their new friends, and my husband and I walked around the ship, did a little shopping, and then went to the casino for about a hour.
My husband was scheduled to dive, and the kids and I had schedule the stingray and snorkel trip with Captain Marvin. The kids and scheduled the 10:00-1:00 trip. This was absolutely the best excursion of all time. We were the only 3 on the boat, with two guides. I could write pages and pages about this excursion. My daughter and I were a bit scared of the stingrays, but got over it with the help on our encouraging guides. They also took us to three different places to snorkel. We saw all kinds of different boats just loaded with people. We were able to snorkel all by ourselves without people floating on top of us. My husband also reports that the certified reef dive was terrific! After we arrived back from the trip, did a little shopping, but we were ready to get back to the ship and shower.
Sat on the balcony with my husband, had a couple of beer and just relaxed until it was time to get ready for dinner. The kids decided not to have dinner with us tonight, as they needed to rest before another long evening. We joined a table for eight and had a lovely evening with these people. After dinner, we went to the London Pub Night Comedy show put on by the cruise director. This show was somewhat entertaining, but again I could have easily skipped it.
My husband went on his first ever drift dive and just loved it. He has been diving in Hawaii, St. John's US VI, British VI, and he thought this was his been ever diving experience. I wish I could be as positive about my excursion. The kids talked me into book an ATV four-wheel excursion over the Internet before we left home. This was a three-hour trip over huge rocks and rough terrain. The kids loved it, so I guess it was worth it. The trail was along side the ocean, and the whole time I just kept thinking about spending time at the beach. We did stop halfway through the tour for about a 10-minute swim. If you were young you would also enjoy this trip. Both of the kids drove their own ATV'S and I rode with each of them half of the time. It was really hot in Cozumel, but not too bad on the ATV'S as you are moving along pretty fast. We arrived back at the ship, showered and met up with my husband, and went back into town to shop, and stock up on our drinks. We did not last very long in Cozumel shopping, as it was just too hot. Went back and sat on the balcony and had a few beers before dinner. Had dinner and then went to the casino. I played the slots for a couple of hours and lost $40.00, my husband stayed longer at the craps table and was ahead about $120.00.
Friday-Playa Del Carmen
We took the tender to shore about 10:00, with our daughter who wants to get her hair braided. We walked around and found a lady to do her whole head for $20.00. She has had her hair braided before, and we paid a lot more. While she was getting her hair braided, my husband I did some shopping. Again we really didn't find anything we needed to buy. My son stayed on the ship and swam with his new friends. My daughter went back to the ship after her hair was braided. My husband and I then went to the beach. We loved this beach; there were restaurant and bars along it. We swam, then would have a drink, swam some more and so on. We went back to the ship around 4:00. We stayed on the balcony for a couple of hours before getting ready for dinner. After dinner we just walked around and then went back to our room.
Another lazy day, at the pool. We had lunch on our balcony, because we didn't want to change out of our suits for lunch. They have a great chicken ceasar salad, they we order a few times from room service. We had a nice dinner and then went to the casino for about a couple of hours. We were so sad to be packing our luggage. But then again we knew that we were so fortunate to have had the opportunity to cruise on the Grand, and to have such a wonderful experience to remember.
Overall- fantastic trip, will go on other cruises with Princess, loved their service. Food was so so, but that didn't bother us. Entertainment was always available if you want it. My husband and I preferred to spend most of our time alone together. Our children loved the trip and have been chatting to their new friends non stopped since we arrived home.
A complaint from a member re. the rising costs of cruising:
All the extra charges for dining and other nicities as ice cream, etc. are getting out of hand. You pay a high enough cruise fare and then are expected to pay even more for all of this which is uncalled fro especially with all the new ships coming out. It is nice to goout for a good meal with excellent service etc., but people can get roped into this and then just CHARGE IT UP.
We love cruising think it is the only way to travel meeting alot of nice people, good food and service and much more but cruiseline need to draw the line on this matter. It costs a family $10.00-$15.00 a shot just for icecream and $50.00 a meal it should be BOYCOTTED. Well that's my opinion as well as others I've talked to on the last few cruises we've been on.