Our 12 day Mediterranean cruise on the Grand Princess was an incredible vacation in every respect. It met every expectations and exceeded many. I won't go into much detail on the ship itself as others have written some excellent reviews regarding the ship on Cruisecritic.com. I'll concentrate mainly on what we did in the various ports and offer some random thoughts as well. Hopefully, won't be too long and you will be able to garner some bits of information that you will find helpful. To those of you that haven't started your journey, you are in for a trip of a lifetime. How we wish we were just starting our journey instead of just having finished it.
First of all if you want to learn something especially in Europe with so much history to be explained, you are most likely not to hear much when traveling in a group of around 50 or more persons. Then you have no freedom in the ports.
Located right on the Aegean, Kusadasi is a marvel of a seaside village the water was a limpid crystal color just like the Caribbean and the airsmelled of history. We had a private tour from a local tour operator, recommended by a cruise reviewer. Right on the dock we met our guide, a very knowledgeable one, who studied in the U.S. He made the places we visited come alive. He met the ship on arrival in Kusadasi and we toured Ephesus with him. You can e-mail the tour company directly at [email protected] Ephesus is beyond description. The library of Celsus is an impressive 2 story facade that has been carefully restored and is one of the most impressive sights in this town. We sat in the seats of the Great Theater that holds 25,000 people. Surprisingly, it is still in use today for concerts. You will walk on a street paved with marble that gives a hint of this city's great wealth years ago. Kusadasi has a bazaar which is the second largest in Turkey and it is situated right at the dock.
Athens was our least favorite port. We found the city to be very, very crowded, smoggy and really, in my view, not a particularly pretty city. However, the Acropolis is spectacular and something that everyone should see once in their lifetime. If you have a choice, go as early in the morning as possible. We were there around 10:30 a.m. and it was starting to fill up, and I do mean fill up! We took the tour that included the Acropolis, Corinth and the Corinth canal. It was Ok, but not something that I would highly recommend. By the time the cruise is over, you will have seen both Ephesus and Pompeii. The Roman ruins of Corinth are not nearly as developed and a bit of a let down. However, it does have a great biblical significance and for some that may be worth the trip. My wife on the other hand loved Corinth as to her it was the perfect continuation of what we had seen in Ephesus. She enjoyed it very much. So, as you can see, even in the same family there will be a difference of opinion. The Corinth Canal is alright but not worth the trip. If I (not my wife) had to do it over again, I would take a cab to the Acropolis in the morning and after seeing it back and enjoy the ship in the afternoon. You really don't have a great deal of time to spend on the ship as with only 2 days at sea the others are fairly intensive with touring the various ports.
Venice is Venice. It is everything and more than you expect. When the ship pulls in it is as if you are looking at a postcard. Venice is extremely easy to do on your own. The vaporetto's are easy to use although some can be very crowded. We bought a two day pass. I don't recall the cost but it was quite reasonable. Take the #4 vaporetto which completely goes around the Grand Canal and harbor with only 5 or 6 stops. Go to Murano Island. They talk about the glass factory and I almost didn't go because I thought it might be very commercial. We just ignored the pitch to go see the glass factory and headed out on our own. It is beautiful with many quaint colored houses along a small canal. Lovely to walk along. A photographer's paradise. You can take a vaporetto there as well. Quite simple. Mainly we just walked around the small streets in Venice.
A hint: leave St. Marks Basilica for the 2nd day. When we arrived, it seemed like the everyone from the ship was waiting in line to get in. Instead, make it your first stop on the second day. It opens at 9:30 a.m. We got there around 9:00 a.m. and while there was a line we got in by 9:45 a.m.
In Naples, we took the Princess tour that included Sorento, Capri and Pompeii. It was grand. We loved Sorento and Capri. They are such lovely and picturesque places. Pompeii was unbelievable. It was much bigger than I had anticipated. I am so glad we got to Pompeii. It was more than I expected. While this tour was a bit expensive, I think it was worth it. There is no way we could have seen everything we saw on our own and these are all places I wanted to see.
We felt very rushed in Florence. We made the mistake of taking the "Florence on your own" tour. This is the tour in which they take you by bus into Florence, drop you off and then meet you at an assigned spot for the return bus ride. In spite of the fact we docked at 7:00 a.m. the "tour" didn't leave until 9:30 a.m. and by the time we arrived in Florence it was 10:30 a.m. We wasted over 2 hours while many of the other longer tours left shortly after docking. I guess Princess was just taking care of the higher priced tours first. We simply were not given enough time to do the city justice. We didn't make it to any of the spectacular museums because we just didn't have the time to wait in line for entrance. If we had waited in line to see Michelangelo's David in the Accademia, we would have missed other sights. If I had to do it over again, I would take the train as was highly recommended to me by others before we left. Unfortunately, I opted not to do this, because of my concern of missing the boat, so to speak. However, it is incredibly easy and many, many others took that option. I wish I had as well. But, in spite of this, Florence is also a wonderful, picturesque city. Everything is very close together and easy to see (providing you have time). Get a good map. We got a National Geographic map at Borders Books which was perfect for our needs. Incidentally, we also got the National Geographic map for Venice and Barcelona and found them to be very helpful. This is where we said goodbye to Italy. What a beautiful country. Florence and Naples are destinations in their own right and deserving of much more time than a day on a cruise. We will be back.
In Monte Carlo we walked to the train station on our own and took a train to Nice. There is a small little tram that looks like a small train that tours Nice. It is called Trains Touristiques de Nice and costs 35 francs per person. We found a brochure at the train station and followed the map to find it. It took us through some lovely parts of town. This small tram took us thoughout the old city of Nice and eventually up a hill which gave us the most incredible view of all of Nice. The tram then took us back to the originating point where we walked back to the train station to catch our train back to Monaco. Along the way we stopped and had a great lunch at an outdoor cafe. Got back on the train and headed back to Monaco. In the afternoon, we took a tour to the village of Eze. It is a quaint little village on a mountain top. It is pretty commercial and has mainly shops and a couple of restaurants in it. It is quite pretty, but I think I would pass on it and explore Monaco instead if I had to make a recommendation.
You will love Barcelona! We spend 3 days there after the cruise. What a unique and exciting city. They have a tourist bus that has two routes. You can get a one day or two day pass and these buses cover all the sights. You will see the buses everywhere. The top level of the buses do not have a roof, so when you get a top seat you will have a great view of the many sights. Additionally, you can get on and off at any sight as often as you like. One of the highlights was sitting at one of the many outdoor cafes and sipping a sangria and snacking on Catalan bread which is a bread coated with olive oil and tomato...ummmm, delicious!! This is a great way to people watch. Walk Las Ramblas. It is crazy with people, street artists and vendors. We walked it once and then came back a couple of more times to soak up the atmosphere.
Through our hotel we hired a car with driver who took us to Montserrat. It is the sight of a Monastery and home to the world famous Montserrat Boy's Choir. They perform daily at 11:00 a.m. but unfortunately we were there during their summer vacation and we missed their performance. We took the funicular to the top of the mountain where there are several trail. We were short of time so we missed taking a short hike along the top. It would have been spectacular. Montserrat is not to be missed and can be done in as little as 3-4 hours from Barcelona. While there don't forget to take in the small museum. They have an impressive collection of antiquities and paintings by Casa, Pissarro, Picasso, Monet and others.
Some other random thoughts....
The evenings were the best. Everywhere we went, we found that the people come out at night. They fill the restaurants (indoor and outdoor), the plazas, and the parks. It is a social time.
Don't be in such a rush to see everything that you miss the opportunity to sit at a sidewalk cafe sipping a glass of wine or a cappuccino and watching the world go by. This may well be the highlight of your day.
Don't be afraid to get out on your own. There was no place that we could not communicate in English. Some struggled, but as long as you are kind the people there will go out of their way to help you. I am sure that the guy I heard refer to the local currency as "funny money" didn't get nearly as much assistance from the local people as others did. (Come to think of it, he probably didn't get as much out of the trip either....what an idiot!)
The cruise documents we received said there would be 3 formal night, 3 semi-formal and the rest smart casual. Forget the semi-formal. They are 3 formal and the rest smart casual. Before we left, I heard this might be the case. I called Princess myself and was also told there would be 3 semi-formal. Well, there were no semi-formal nights. Just thought you might like to know as it might save some packing space.
When they say this cruise is very "port intensive" they are not kidding. You are on the go the entire time except for the two days at sea. Expect to be tired and expect to wait until you return home to rest. There is no time to rest on this trip!
As far as we are concerned, personal choice dining is the only way to go. It is so convenient to be able to walk into the dining room at any time and be seated. We generally ate between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and never had to wait once. This is particularly important on this cruise as you will be touring all day, get back to ship and there is no need to hurry up, shower and change in order to make a certain sitting time. We liked this so much that we canceled our Eastern Caribbean on another line that does not have personal choice dining and re-booked on Princess. Traditional is fine for some, but not for us. Personally, I did not notice any less service from the various waiters than if we had the same waiter each time.
If you are traveling with teens, they are in for a treat. The Teen Center on the Grand Princess is great. Our daughter has a marvelous time and made several new friends that she has been e-mailing with since we got home. They have tons of activities. If it had been up to her, I think she would have just as soon moved in up there.
We only used the Internet on the ship on one occasion. The cost is $7.50 for 15 minutes. (Try to tell a teenager they only have 15 minutes to read and send e-mail to her friends!) However, we found Internet café's everywhere along the way so we could send e-mails home and check our e-mail as well. Our family were pleasantly surprised to receive an e-mail from the various ports. In Kusadasi there is one a few steps away from the where you board the ship. We used them in Venice also and saw them in other ports as well. The cost ranged around $2.00 - $4.00 for 30 minutes. Considerably less than on Princess.
If you plan on visiting some of the Cathedrals make sure your knees and shoulders are covered. We saw one lady from the cruise refused admission to St Marks Basilica in Venice because she was wearing shorts. I believe they are far more strict about this in Italy. Although, out of respect, we always tried to dress appropriately when visiting any Church. Most Churches do not permit photography or video.
This cruise was definitely a dream. We enjoyed every single day especially in our cruising adventure!
Whatever you do, and whatever it is you're looking for, you're sure to have a brilliant, audacious, tranquil, and unbelievable HOLIDAY!!!!!
Our Cruise Background: This was our 5th cruise in 6 years. Prior to sailing on the Grand Princess, my wife and I sailed on Royal Caribbean's Monarch of the Seas, Royal Caribbean's and Grandeur of the Seas, Celebrity's Mercury as well as on the Sea Princess. This was actually supposed to be a cruise for us on Celebrity's Millennium but our particular sailing was canceled due to ship vibration problems Celebrity wanted to fix. Celebrity gave us ample notice of the cancellation. The Grand Princess was leaving on the same day and from the same port as the Millennium was supposed to sail from. Because of this and since we enjoyed our trip on the Sea Princess last year, we decided to give the Grand Princess a try.
Embarkation: We arranged for our own air and went down to Ft. Lauderdale the night before our sailing. The morning of our cruise, we took a shuttle from the hotel to the Pier at 11:35. We beat most of the crowds to the terminal so there was no line whatsoever to wait in when we got there. We were in our cabin by12:10. This impressed me. It pays to it there a little early if you can.
First Impressions of the Ship: Obviously the Grand is HUGE! Although it's interior is very attractive, the Grand Princess is not what I'd call a 'flashy' ship. We read MANY reviews prior to our trip so we expected this. All carpeting and furniture in the public areas seemed to be well maintained and we saw very little wear and tear. Other reviews we've read said that the Grand was not aging very well but I saw no sign of this. I tend to be pretty picky about such things so if I had seen excessive wear and tear to the public spaces I would have certainly noticed it.
Our Cabin: We booked an outside cabin with a verandah but were fortunate enough to be upgraded to a mini suite. We knew this about two months before our trip. The cabin was on the Dolphin deck. Because it was a mini suite, the room was quite large (for a cruise ship any way). In the bedroom area there was a queen size bed along with a TV, a desk and two nightstands. In addition to the bedroom area there was a sitting area with an additional TV, a table and a couch. Both of the cabin TV's were 20". Beyond the sitting area was the verandah. You've probably read in other reviews that the verandahs on this deck are NOT private (they are visible from all of the decks above you). While I understand why some folks might have a problem with this, we did not. It was nice to be able to look up at night and have an unobstructed view of the moon lit sky. It was not too often that any of the folks above us were on their verandahs anyway. The bathroom in the mini suite was nice in that one of the perks is a full-sized tub (not the standard cruise ship tiny shower). Closet space was more than ample. While the mini suite was nice, had we not received it as an upgrade, personally I would not have paid the extra money for it. We really didn't use the sitting area. The butler service that comes with the mini suite was nice, but we really didn't use our butler much at all either. Princess is discontinuing this service soon anyway.
The Ship: One might think that because this ship is so large it is hard to find your way around. NOT TRUE! In your cabin, you will find a foldable map of the ship that you can carry with you. This is nice to have and it allows you to learn your way around quickly. The ship is designed in a manner that tends to scale things down. For example, the Grand's atrium is smaller that the atrium on the Sea Princess?.quite a bit smaller.
There were four pools and there was never a problem finding deck chairs (unless you wanted to be right next to the pool). As I mentioned earlier, all public areas were well maintained. There are so many lounges and bars to sit in. All of the lounges were decorated very nicely, especially the Wheelhouse lounge and the Explorers lounge. The sports bar looks like your traditional sports bar back home. Our favorite 'hang out' spots were the Wheelhouse Bar (nautical theme), and the atrium coffee bar. Both had entertainment before and after dinner.
The Grand has three dining rooms all of which are similar in layout, appearance and size. We were seated in the DaVinci dining room and my only complaint is that we were seated somewhat close to the kitchen. The noise bothered us a bit the first night but we got used to it and had no problem with it after that. It was actually quite interesting to sit so close to the kitchen because we could see all of the activity going on. It's amazing how hard the waiters on these ships really work.
Buffet food was available in the horizon court. Just like on our trip on the Sea Princess last year, we found this area to be a bit unorganized. The serving stations are set up in no particular pattern and everyone getting food seems to wander about getting a bit confused as to where to go next. This is not a horrible experience, just a bit annoying at times.
The Food: The food in the Grand's dining room was on par with that of the Sea Princess. Most of the food was very good. The only dish that stands out in my mind as being absolutely OUTSTANDING was the eggplant parmagaine. It was absolutely delicious! Buffet food was good as well. Nothing was outstanding, but most of it was very good. We did order room service once via our butler. The food came within 15 minutes and it was piping hot. Pizza, burgers, hot dogs and fries by the pool were all GREAT. We did not have a chance to use the Italian alternative dining option (Sabatini's), but we did have a chance to eat in the Painted Desert (the Southwestern alternate dining option). The service was SLOOOOOOW, but since it was lunchtime we were in no hurry. The food here was excellent.
The Staff: As it turns out, the cruise director and his assistant were the same two guys that we had on the Sea Princess last year. We loved these guys! Both of them were very animated and always sociable. Waiters were terrific as was the room steward and the butler. Every person we encountered had a great attitude. I have no complaints about anyone on the staff.
The Itinerary: This particular Eastern Caribbean Itinerary included three sea days. We LOVE sea days so this was ideal for us. The ship made stops in St. Thomas, St. Maartin, and Princess Cays. We had been to all of the ports before with the exception of Princess Cays. Unfortunately, the weather was kind of rainy that day so we stayed on the ship and did not have a chance to explore the island. In St. Thomas we shopped. There were lots of bargains to be found and plenty to keep you busy. In St. Martin we took the "America's Cup Regatta" shore excursion. The seas were a bit choppy when we did this but this is quite an experience to take if you get the chance. You actually get to pilot and race (with supervision) an actual yacht that participated in the 1987 America's cup race. How many people can say they've done that??!!
Disembarkation: Getting off of the ship was fairly quick. We did have a bit of a problem finding our luggage in the terminal because some of it was put in the wrong place. This added about 10 minutes to our adventure but we eventually managed to find it.
Positives: The food was very good and the ship was easy to learn. The staff was extremely friendly and they made us feel welcome all week. We again loved that we were able to sign up for shore excursions prior to the trip via fax or via the Princess website. There was plenty to do on the ship and we were never bored. Except just before dinner in the atrium area, the ship seemed crowded only at one particular time (see comment below).
Negatives: Spa treatments are EXPENSIVE. A simple manicure was $45.00. A massage?..forget about it. The atrium area tended to get extremely crowded just prior to dinner. Much of this traffic was caused but the fact that the shops on board place sale tables in the atrium. This takes up a LOT of space. Princess ships do not seem to have as many shops on board as some of the other cruise lines do so shopping on the ship can be somewhat limited. None of these negatives had a major impact on our trip, but they are things to keep in mind.
Summary: Of the five cruise ships we've been on, this one would probably be ranked just about in the middle. We're happy to answer any questions and we love to share our cruise experiences so please feel free to e-mail us.
This cruise was very enjoyable, I give it 4 stars. We were pleasantly surprised a few days before sailing by a call from Princess offering us an upgrade to a family suite from the mini suites that we had booked. We enjoyed the additional space and the cabin was very nice. The only complaint that I had against the suite was the balcony. It was big, but being at the front of the ship and there being no shield to deflect the wind, it was unusable while the ship was underway. We had several days and nights where the wind howled outside, throwing the deck furniture all over the place often against the door making quite a racket. Unless you don't plan on using the balcony, I wouldn't recommend this suite.
Our cabin steward, Raul took very good care of us. He kept the room clean and was very personable.
The ship has been maintained very well, but you could tell that she has been in service for almost 7 years. We parked next to the Star Princess in Costa Maya, and you could tell that the Star was newer. The maintenancecrew was always busy maintaining the appearance of the ship though.
The food was good, better I would say than the food we ate on the Golden Princess on a 2003 cruise. We would eat most of the time in the buffet, because often the same food is served in the dining rooms. We did eat at Donitello's, Sabitinni's, and the Sterling Steak House. Donitello's was good, and the service was good. The Sterling Steakhouse was an excellent meal, and the service was exceptional. Regarding Sabittini's the service was good, but the food wasn't particularly to my liking. Not to say that the food was bad. But they really feed you a lot of food there.
We went to a couple of the shows. The magician was an excellent show. The comedian show we attended started slow but got better. The Movies under the Stars was pretty cool, and is a nice addition to the ship.
We stopped at 4 ports, Belize, Costa Maya, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel. We took 3 excursions, the Chacchoben Mayan Ruins (Costa Maya), the Nautilus Semi Sub and Snorkel (Grand Cayman), and the Chankanaab Sealion and Snorkel (Cozumel).
Belize, no excursion, didn't get off the boat. Had to tender to the port, the sea was rough it was raining, and according to my wife the port has few things to do. The cruise director, ship staff and even the comedians complained about this stop.
Costa Maya, the excursion was great, well organized and very educational. The port was nice, with some nice shopping and entertainment.
Grand Cayman, I was surprised on how much there was to do this soon after the hurricane. The Nautilus Semi Sub was a lot of fun and we were able to snorkel for a little while. The reefs and water in the area are beautiful. There was good shopping and places to eat. The port supplied the tender boats, which they packed to standing room only, very unsafe. Getting back onto the ship from the tender boat was a problem, had to jump down about 3 ft to the deck.
Cozumel, there were nine cruise ships in port this day. But it didn't seem crowded. The Chankanaab Sealion and Snorkel excursion was a lot of fun, nice facility, nice beach, great snorkeling. The taxi ride to and from the park was scary. This excursion was overpriced, because you could get a taxi to the facility, and rent the snorkel equipement cheaper. The port area offers great shopping and dining opportunities. Would have liked to spend more time here.
The embarkation process was flawless, we were on the ship and in our room 20 minutes from walking in the door. Our luggage made it to our room about 1 hour after we got on the ship. The disembarkation was not good, I don't know why they couldn't setup the immigrations station in the cruise terminal and check everyone as they get off the ship. Instead you go to customs to declare what you bought. Go sitdown where ever you can find a spot. Then they call you to immigration in disembark order, check out and go back and sit down where ever you can find a spot. Then they call you to disembark, go pickup your luggage in the terminal and then go to see if you can get a shuttle to your car. The road in front of the terminal is packed. Took us 2 hours to get off the boat.
To summarize: The Grand Princess is a nice ship but aging gracefully. Room was nice except the balcony. Food was very good. Entertainment was pretty good Ports, skip Belize, the other ports were very enjoyable. Would have been nice to have spent more time in Costa Maya, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel. Embarkation - great Disembarkation - bad.
This is our forth cruise, third with Princess. The first time on Grand. It is a good ship very smooth, nicely appointed and cabins were of normal size. We enjoyed personal chioce dining and never had to wait for a table, there were some nights that a line formed as we were leaving, so what time you go to dinner makes a difference. You can make reservations. We enjoyed the movies under the stars.
The pizza is great and food in the Horizon Court Buffet was good. My wife and I thought the shows were well done and entertaining. I wanted to write a little about the stops. Costa Maya we got off the ship and tried to take a taxi, we had to take a shuttle at $3 per person to Mahahual. Here we hire a boat to take us fishing it cost us $100 for two hours for two of us(they wanted $200 but can down), we caught a barracudda, jack and dorral(dolphin), we then had lunch on the beach and a massage on the beach and sat around the rest of the time reading(great day). Next stop Belize,We had booked a cave tour on the internet because the ships tour was full. We had a great experience with Gilly our guide, the outfiter Yhony was at www.cave-tubing.com the cost was $55 per person but it was just my wife and myself on the tour, the price drops to $45 if you have a group. Third stop was Grand Caymens, we booked a trip to singray city and snorkeling with SOTO cruises cost was $30 per person and enjoyed the trip, great crew and can recommend them highly. Last day was Cozemel we took a cab to Chankanaab, wondered around there and snorkeled, it is a nice park with everything you need located there. Overall a very good week cruising.
First thoughts- WOW! What a great cruise! Staff kept you entertained and food was really good. I can't wait to go on this cruise again.
Day 1- Embarkation in Galveston After a long morning of flying in (our flight was at 6:30 am), we grabbed the Princess shuttle in the Houston airport. A Princess rep was there to greet us and told us what we needed to do, and where we needed to be to catch the shuttle. We were originally told that the shuttle would leave at 12:30 pm, and get to Galveston around 2. However, they must have gotten everyone they could so they left around 11:30 so we got in an hour earlier than we thought, so we got in around 1pm. Embarkation was a breeze. Just like someone else mentioned, as fast as you could walk is how fast you got through the process. Once we got through the line, onboard we went.
We found our cabin, dropped off our carry on stuff and met our steward Larry. Before we ran off to get lunch, we decided to find the place where we could make the reservationsfor Sabatini's. Found it with no trouble, and made our reservations for 7:30pm the next night. After this we went to the Horizon court to grab some lunch. The food itself wasn't bad, but the fruit and beef left a lot to be desired, however, the desserts we had to go back for seconds! :) We went up to register for the free spa treatments, and went on to our muster drill. No one ever likes muster drills, but the crew made the most of it. They were a fun bunch. We even got a picture in our lifejackets! We dropped off our lifejackets and went to the Lido deck for the sailaway party. What a blast! The crew was really getting into it and seemed to be enjoying themselves, a lot. They gave away some good stuff, but we were not lucky enough to win anything. After the deck party it was time to go up to the spa for their giveaways. They need to get a bigger space for the giveaway for this one. There were at least 100 people trying to squeeze in to the small reception area for the giveaways. Again, not lucky enough to win, but kinda glad since one of the prizes was a couples massage teaching session, basically they teach you how to give your partner a massage. Went to the 7pm show and the best I can say is "CHEESY"!! They did a take on a Ricky Martin song talking about being at sea. The singers and dancers were good, but they need a new show. Although you did get to meet the cruise director staff, which we would find out would know us very well by the end of the cruise. Checked out the casino quickly, no donations this time, but was surprised to see how small the casino was for a ship of about 3000 people. Went to dinner in Michaelangelo and met some great people (we affectionately referred to them for the rest of the cruise as the royal family). After dinner we went to check out the Karaoke, and there were a ton of people there. I have to say that with that many people there, they need to have this longer than 1 hour long. From there we headed to bed after a very, very long first day.
Day 2 - Day at sea Woke up only to find out there was no hot water in our room. After 2 of us got showers, they finally showed up to fix it. I was the only one in the room to get a hot shower, so boy am I glad I waited. Went to breakfast at the horizon court and was pleasantly surprised, although found my eyes to be way bigger than my stomach. From breakfast, we went to the port talk for Costa Maya, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. We got all the raffle tickets so we could try to win all kinds of good stuff. We decided to check out the scavenger hunt from there, and were determined to get everything on the list, which proved to be tricky with a toupee and false teeth on the list. We finally decided to check out the casino again, but this time was for gaming lessons. Daniel our teacher, did a great job teaching us craps, even though we still ended up losing money later on. From there went to lunch, and then onto Swing lessons with Michelle and James. They were great teachers too. It was quite comical because they split us up into men and women and taught us the steps individually first, then put us together after we learned the steps. It was a very good time, and I was very happy that I didn't hurt anyone in the process. From swing lessons we attempted to go play water volleyball only to find out they canceled it since no one really wanted to play. So, instead we checked out the Dicey Wooden Horse racing. That was a hoot. For those of you who do not know what this is, they take 6 wooden horses numbered 1-6 and they way they move up the track is by throwing 3 dice and the numbers on the dice determine who advances. James did a great job calling the race cause I really felt like I was in Saratoga all over again! Once the horse races were over, we stuck around for a little bit to get an orange bingo card for the scavenger hunt. From there we decided we were exhausted and needed a nap before formal night. Then we got all dressed up and checked out Sabatini's for our reservation there. I must say that I was disappointed in only 1 thing there, and that was that they didn't stand by the formal night dress code. We seemed to be the only ones dressed up for the longest time there. Others were dressed in normal casual wear. But, this was the only thing I was disappointed in. The food there was absolutely amazing, and the service even better. We got to try everything on the menu, except for the entree's which is what you got to choose. We were so full on dinner, that we had to get dessert to go, and ate that the next day during the comedy show. We were thinking that we would go to the Princess Idol auditions, then to skywalkers, but only made it as far as the princess idol, and decided to food had gotten the best of us and we needed to go to bed.
Day 3- Belize Since we were not scheduled to get into Belize until 1 pm ewe decided that we could easily sleep in. So we slept til almost 9 am and went down to breakfast in the horizon court again. We never did try the dining rooms for breakfast since we were so pleased with the buffet. From breakfast we were off to the Diamond and Gemstone talk so we could attempt to win some bling bling, only to be interrupted by the captain telling us that we were going to be arriving in Belize 1.5 hours late. What a disappointment. We were most looking forward to Cave tubing in Belize, and with the late arrival there was no chance for that. Since we were arriving so late, we decided to grab our suits and head to the pool for most of the day til we arrived in Belize. Since most of the tours were canceled due to the late arrival, tendering was a nightmare! We got in line around 2:30 and didn't get a ticket til about 3, and finally on a tender at 3:30. Then the tendering took another 20 mins to get to shore. By the time we got there it was 4 pm and last tender was around 6:15, so we didn't even have a lot of time to shop. Shop around a little bit in the gated area and decided not to leave the gated area because it did not appear to be safe. Once we got back we decided to shower and go see the comedian Jack Wilkes. Boy was he funny! He made the best joke about finding out about the origin of "the virus". He said it was in the hand soap so all of you who hadn't been washing your hands are safe! He was very funny, really enjoyed him. Went to see the magician, Gene Boucher, after that and he was really good too. A couple of the acts he did were ones we have seen before, but there were the few that we had no idea how he did them at all. He was very funny and really enjoyed this show. From there went to dinner in the horizon court and to make our donation to the casino. We decided to try our hands at craps for the first time and I lost a small fortune. Then I tried to win it back at every other table with absolutely no luck. I even tried the Megacash Bash twice and blanked on both attempts. I guess my gambling karma wasn't that good on this trip. Finally after our donations, it was beddy by time.
Day 4 Costa Maya WHAT A DAY! If it weren't for the sting rays in Grand Cayman, I would have to say this was my favorite day. We decided to attempt to get up early so we could be some of the first off the ship so we could enjoy the whole day in Costa Maya. Went to breakfast, and off the ship we went. We got there so early we had our choice of chairs, and paid $6 each for an all day rental. We didn't mind because we got the chairs that had cushions on them. Our chairs were off to the left of Tapas bar right on the beach, next to 2 massage locations. Really nice spot where you could get right into the water and snorkel. Snorkeling was ok, but the reef was a little ways out, so you didn't get the best views, but it was good to get some practice in before Grand Cayman. We mainly laid on the beach, got some food from Tapas (Fried Conch and Shrimp with Tequila Sauce, both I highly recommend.) We also got some drinks from our waiter (He asked us to call him Antonio Banderas, but his real name was Jose). The pina colada that my girlfriend got was the best one ever! It was fantastic, made with real coconut milk and pineapple juice. Yummy! After lunch, Traci, one of my girlfriends went for a massage and Britt went for hair braiding. Once Traci returned, I went to have my hair braided and get a henna tattoo. Couldn't beat the price. $25 for half a head braiding and a pretty big tattoo, which my husband hates! Went back to the main port area, did more shopping then back to the ship, only to find out I forgot to pick up a ring I bought in town! Nuts! It was already 3:15 when that was the time for all aboard. I ran back to the shop only to find out they delivered it! AHH!! So I had to run back just to make sure I didn't miss the boat. Made it just in time. After I got back to the room, my girlfriends and I went up to the Neptune pool to play the Pool Olympics. The first event was a number game where everyone on the team was given a plate with a number from 1-6, then they would call out a 6 digit number and you had to swim across the pool and get in order. My team lost all but one of these I think. The next event was tube wrestling. They put you in one of the life preservers and you had to get the person out of it. I was the only person on my team to win, and I was also the quickest! After this I was identified as the most competitive person on the ship.After losing the first two events, we came back in the final event! The final event was a relay where you had to swim across the pool, chug a beer, blow up a balloon, swim back across the pool, then sit on the balloon to pop it. The cruise staff here was fun, but they were cheating to help the other team (they kept putting holes in our balloons or blowing up the other teams balloons) so I tried running over and throwing them in, but no luck. Being only 4'11" it was hard throwing in a 6'5" man! But it at least got a laugh from the crowd. That was a lot of fun! After the pool games, we decided the Oasis hot tub was in order. My poor little legs were hurting from running back to town and all that swimming in the pool. We decided that this was a fantastic idea since we just caught the sunset and met some great people! Went to dinner then to the casino for more donations. Britt tried the blackjack tournament but to no avail. From there we went to the International Crew show. What a great show- the highlight of the cruise was the "If I were not upon the Sea" portion. From this day forward, we continued to sing the song through the hallways! It was hysterical, if for nothing else than seeing James in a tu-tu.
Day 5 Grand Cayman Even though the itinerary says that it was going to be a 12pm start in Grand Cayman, we determined that we were getting in around 10:30, so we pretty much only had time to get to breakfast, get a trivia sheet, then it was off to the explorers lounge for a tender ticket. We actually got there so early we were able to get on the first tender off. The tender process here was much better than in Belize. The tenders are larger so more people can fit on them, and it is only about a 10 min ride into town. We got off the tender and looked for our tour guide. We were originally scheduled with Dexter's Fantasea tours, but couldn't find him anywhere on the dock. So we booked at the dock with Moby Dick tours. Best decision! I don't know how good Dexter's would have been, but Moby dick was fantastic! Great tour guides that showed you how to get the Stingrays to come up to you so you could hold them. It was really an amazing experience. From there we went to a 2nd location which was only a little ways off from that one and did some real snorkeling and it was really neat. The current was a little high so the swimming was difficult, so we didn't stay long. Once we got back we did some more shopping and bought our liquor and rum cakes at Tortugas. I haven't actually had a chance to try mine yet, but I am told they are fantastic. I guess I should be glad I only bought a really small one. Once we got back onboard the ship, we showered and changed. Traci thought the captain's circle reception was this night, but was mistaken- the formal attire should have been a dead giveaway- :) So we met up with her and got a drink from Snookers. Was not all that impressed with there, but got our drink and off to dinner we went. For some reason, they put us at a table for just the 3 of us, and we waited 10 mins to be greeted with menus and drink requests. Very disappointed with this. I think we determined that the service is much better when you sit at a table with more people. From here, we went to the island night party and it was a blast. The crew was really getting into it having a good time. They had a musical man game, just like musical chairs except with men. Britt was doing really well until one woman wanted the man so bad she stomped on poor Britt's toe. That swelled up so she had to spend the rest of the night sitting down. Traci and I didn't let that stop us, so we partied all night long with the staff. From there we went to Skywalkers for the first time and got another stamp in our bar hopper card. Skywalkers was neat, but wasn't all that big of a deal to me.
Day 6 Cozumel Woke up around 8:30 am and went to breakfast. Just as we were finishing up with breakfast, the captain came on and said that we were read to disembark. We got off the ship and hit the local stores there. Once we were finished with those we grabbed a cab to downtown. Took a few photos in front of Carlos and Charlies/Senor Frog's and off shopping again. We got a lot of raffle tickets for the ship so we decided which ones we wanted the most and found those stores. After a lot more shopping than we intended, we grabbed a cab to Paradise Beach. Now, before I go on, I have to say that I was not all that thrilled with downtown Cozumel because the place is in shambles right now. They are doing a lot of construction on the roads, so you have hundreds of people walking around on very thin sidewalks trying to get around. It was horrible. Once we left the downtown area, it wasn't so bad. Paradise beach was actually quite nice and not very crowded by the time we got there. We arrived around 2:30pm and decided not to pay for the watersports and just laid on the beach. I got a very large Pina Colada in a Pineapple(which had a face made out of fruit), and grabbed a menu to get some food. My girlfriends got the Nachos and I got the childrens chicken fingers. Both were very good and enjoyed them thoroughly. We named our Pineapple after our room steward, I know it is strange but that is what we do, and finished it up. After we were finished up with our food, we sat a little while longer in the shade, and then headed back to the ship. We got back to the ship and got showers to get ready for formal night. Traci was headed off to the Captains Circle reception while Britt and I got ready. Went to dinner and I have to say if you haven't gotten 2 entrees all week, tonight is the night to do it! They had Caribbean lobster tail on the menu as well as Beef Wellington. I had one of each. The wellington part of the beef was ok, so I skipped it and ate only the beef which was very good. The lobster was FANTASTIC! Several people at our table ordered 2 lobster entrees which each had 2 big tails on them. After this, we went to the Princess Idol auditions and apparently the staff was having a rough time so they asked us to sing. I was actually shocked because so few people were there. The first couple of nights were jammed packed and on this night, there weren't that many and several people actually sang twice. From there we checked out the Champagne waterfall and what a neat sight. When people say this is not to be missed they weren't kidding! While we were getting a drink from the Lobby bar, we bumped into Michelle and James from the Cruise Staff and got pictures of them while we could. James was actually a little concerned about us because he hadn't seen us all day! He said the horse racing just wasn't the same without us. He promised to get us drunk if we would just come to the final one the next day by keeping us in the Champagne enclosure. We told him as long as it didn't interfere with the raffles, we would be there! They had to run, and our food was tiring us out again, so off to bed we went!
Day 7 -Day at Sea We woke up at our leisure and went for breakfast. The scavenger hunt was closing at noon, so we ran up to the golf links to get a signature, and found out that the dancers are usually manning the tables out in the lobby, so we got a dancer's signature as well. We ran back to the room before noon to finish up with our creativity (we actually created a toupee and false teeth), and we actually ended up getting everything on the list. We were the only ones to do so, so we won a bag of goodies. Went to lunch then off to play some Jeopardy. Decided that we suck! And waited for the raffle which was also in the Vista Lounge. We waited around and finally I won a 1L bottle of Kahlua, now I was just sorry that I had already bought 2 bottles of it! When the raffles were over, we waited around since the Dicey Wooden Horseracing was next. We were a lot luckier the first time we played, but we still had a lot of fun. The first time we got to be horses, the second time we got to name them. I really enjoyed this! From there we went back to the room to see if we were selected for Princess Idol. I was disappointed not to find a notice waiting for me, but decided to go down to see who got picked. As it turned out, they had my wrong room number, so it was a good thing I showed up anyway! So I waited around for the rehearsal, and Britt and Traci relaxed in the room. I met up with them afterwards and we got ready for dinner and enjoyed our last dinner on the ship. From there we got a drink from the final bar we needed to complete the bar hopper card. Once we finished our drink, I finished packing and getting ready for the show. Went down to the vista lounge, and into the "green room". It is amazing to me what you learn backstage! Met all the celebrity judges, Brian the lead male singer, Leslie, the lead female singer, and I can't remember his name but he was the Australian Bandleader. I had the unfortunate luck to go last. But at least I got to see how things worked. Tyrone would introduce you, you would sing your song, the judges make comments, then Ryan would bring you back into the Green Room for a quick interview. Sarah, the first girl, was 19 yrs old, she sang "We Can" from Leanne Rimes, and for some reason, the screen wasn't working so she had no words to sing by. Judges complimented her for being able to do it without the words. Next up was Gayle, who sang "Man I feel like a woman," from Shania Twain. Eddie came next, I think that was his name, and he sang "Some of God's greatest gifts" not sure who it was by. Another Sarah was supposed to be next, but they queued up the wrong song, so Tony had to go. He sang "My way" from Frank Sinatra. I have never seen anyone sing with such feeling before in my life! Sarah finally got the right song up, and she sang "Not a girl" from Brittany Spears. Unfortunately, Sarah was not feeling well, so it was not her best performance, but she did well. Finally, it was my turn, I sang "Don't be Stupid" from Shania Twain, and just had fun with it. The judges were very kind, although, couldn't really understand the Australian guy. He said something about wanting to be a country trumpeter, I don't know. Tyrone brought us all back out again, and announced me as the winner, and I got to sing again, the only unfortunate thing about it was I had to sing the same song I had just sung 5 mins before. It was a great experience and I was getting recognized a lot the next day, even in the airport! Went up to Skywalkers afterwords, only to find out that I was the only one there from Princess Idol, not even the cruise staff were there. I met up with some fun people, shared my bottle of champagne, then off to bed I went.
Day 8- Disembarkation Least favorite day for obvious reasons. We had an early ticket so we went down for the customs around 7 am, then off to breakfast. Once we were done there, we headed back to the room to nap and read books until we were called to leave. We were called I think around 8-8:30 and were off the ship around 9. The disembarkation itself wasn't bad at all, however, the bus situation needs a lot of work. I sat around for about an hour waiting for a bus because they would only give out as many numbers as were seats on the bus. Then you had to wait for the next one, if you didn't get one of those numbers, you were out of luck, again. I finally got on the 3rd bus, and it wasn't like they just had them waiting to pull up either. It was horrible. They need to have a booth set up that everyone goes to to get their number for their bus, then call them out like the delis at home. Something a little more organized would be appreciated for certain! Finally got on a bus and off to the airport I went. Got to the airport around 11:30 and got my tix and grabbed some lunch. My flight wasn't due to leave until 3:50 pm so I had a lot of time to wait. Finally, got on my plane and left. :(
Good's- Cruise Staff- whoever said that the staff wasn't very good must have been a sourpuss because we had a blast! Food- Although, this was not 5 star quality, it was just as good as several of the more expensive restaurants we like to frequent at home. By the way, the butter and the rolls were all very good during our week! I even tried escargot and liked it! Thank goodness they took it out of the shells for me! Costa Maya- Wonderful day to relax! Grand Cayman- Snorkeling with the stingrays- do not go on the ship's tour. They arrived after us at stingray city, and got education for 15mins before they were able to get in the water, then left at the same time we did!
Bad's Karoake- I am not saying the Karaoke was bad, but it definitely needs more time early on in the week. Too many people wanting to sing, and not enough time to get everyone in. Belize- They need to totally skip this port, or give us more time in it because with us being so late, we didn't get to do an excursion and this is not a place to go exploring on your own.
Larry the room steward- Now I have only been on one cruise before, but we had a great steward there. He made up our beds properly and even left us nice towel animals. Here, Larry was awful. We had to ask multiple times to get robes and champagne glasses in the room. He would constantly move stuff (we finally called it "being larried" by the end of the week) and we would have a hard time finding it, then we would find them under the bed or somewhere else equally as unusual. Finally about midweek, he actually looked like he was cleaning our room. It was almost as if he wanted us to remember only the cleaning and not before.
All in all it was a fantastic cruise, and we didn't let any of these bad things bring our spirits down. We were very disappointed about Belize, but we made up for it in the other ports. We finally starting laughing about the Larry-isms toward the end of the week, what else could you do? :) I would definitely recommend this cruise to others as we enjoyed it immensely.
Any questions, feel free to contact me at [email protected]
A snapshot: SHIP: very good ITINERARY: fair FOOD: good SERVICE: good PUBLIC AREAS: fair ENTERTAINMENT: good
We stayed at Harbor House in Galveston. Very nice hotel, although it was lacking something that I can't put my finger on. There is no pool at the hotel. They do have a continental breakfast. We had a view of the ship, but because of a building next door we couldn't see most of the ship. A room at the end of the hotel might afford a better view. We ate at The Fisherman's Wharf next door. It was ok. Apparently Landry's owns that restaurant as well as most in the area. Two entrees, two appetizers, and a couple of beers cost almost $75.
For breakfast we ate at Phoenix Bakery, which was about two blocks away. It was good. Harbor House has a menu of most of the food places in the area, and it was the only breakfast place nearby.
Parking at Harbor House is a major bonus. While they did charge us $8 for parking for the one night we stayed, it was only $20 for the time the car was there whilewe were on the cruise. The major benefit, of course, is location. We were able to walk over to the pier with our luggage, and when we returned we walked back to the car.
Embarkation was crazy, due to the fact that there were 3 ships in port that day: Carnival Ecstasy, Celebrity Galaxy, and Grand Princess. We got there way too early. Unlike Florida cruise terminals there was nowhere they could take in early arrivers. So we had to stand outside and wait for an hour while the ship finished unloading. When we were allowed in, that was also a mess. Again because there were 3 ships, Princess had to use a temporary area as their check-in location. While there were line markers to keep lines separated, no one was monitoring them, and people just rushed the check-in counter. After we checked in we could barely get out of the area, as the people in the lines behind us were standing right behind us and not standing back to give any room for those leaving the area. We were onboard by about 12:45pm.
We got to explore the ship without any crowds for quite awhile. One must-see place is Skywalker's. It sits at the top of the rear of the ship. There is a moving sidewalk that takes you up from the elevators to Skywalker's. Skywalker's overlooks what became my favorite area of the ship: the aft pool and surrounding area. This was an adults-only pool with deck chairs along the rail overlooking the ship's wake. Beautiful location. It was almost always quiet - except for the sound of the wake - and one could easily find a lounge chair in the area even as late as noon.
Being a holiday cruise we knew there's be children. We were told there were approximately 600 under the age of 18, and about 200 between 18 and 21. Unfortunately many of them were allowed to run rampant around the ship ignoring authority and doing the usual kid things like push all the buttons in the elevators or crowd the adults-only pools. I never saw Princess crew enforce any rules related to this.
Movies Under the Stars is definitely something to witness. It's amazing. Most of the time the picture was clear and sharp, and the sound was equally impressive. When it wasn't showing movies, they constantly showed video of underwater scenes or other nature scenes accompanied by music. This was even done on port days, and you could see some people in port who weren't on Grand Princess staring at the amazing screen. It was even clearly visible when the ship was anchored offshore in Grand Cayman. It served as an incredible advertisement for Princess.
Ports were ok. Unless you do an excursion in Belize, Costa Maya, and Panama, there's not a whole lot to do. Panama has most of the three, but we were warned by a crew member that it's not the safest place. Costa Maya does have a nice beach area right at the pier, but the food and drink there were not cheap. A co-worker who went on the week-long cruise a few weeks ago said to try the Costa Maya Beach Break excursion: free booze and at least a nice beach.
The Puerta Maya pier in Cozumel has been built up since we were last there 21 months ago. It's the usual shops, including 30 versions of Diamonds International. We took a cab into town, walked through the stores, and then returned to the pier and drank the rest of the afternoon at Fat Tuesday. Because it was Sunday when we were there, Carlos 'n' Charlie's wasn't open until 5:00pm. That was too late for anyone to go there.
In Panama we did get to see Coral Princess emerge from the locks and dock next to us. While we couldn't actually see the locks from Grand Princess, we could see Coral Princess in the distance as she approached the pier.
The layout of our cabin was nice. We were in E708, an outside on Emerald deck with a partially obstructed view. It must have been the creakiest cabin onboard. It was so loud we originally thought someone was knocking on the door and running away until we figured out the creaking. A couple of days were rough, and the creaking was even worse then. Just beyond our cabin were cabins that were above the Vista lounge. One night when there was a band in the lounge, I went back down the hall further, and I could hear the music back there. It was pretty loud, and I imagine it could be heard in those cabins above the lounge, too.
The layout of the cabin is good. The bathroom and closet are separated from the rest of the cabin, so if someone uses the restroom in the middle of the night there's no bright light that shines into the room. The closet is small, and there's only one. Storage is lacking a bit. Otherwise, though, a nice cabin.
I am aware that the ship was created to be a big ship with a small ship feel, but I think that's been taken to the extreme. There are no large, public areas. Even the atrium is only three decks high. The ship does, though, have a reasonably nice flow.
We had Personal Choice dining. I didn't like it. I prefer to go to the dining room at a time that I know I'll actually be seated. Our group usually went at the same time - around 8:00pm - but each time we had to take a pager and wait up to 20 minutes. I know that we could have made reservations at the beginning of the cruise for a table at the same time each night, but some in our group didn't want to do that. Even the one night we did have reservations, we still had to wait about 10 minutes for our table.
We had dinner in both alternative dining restaurants. Sterling Steakhouse was very good. Great steak selection. Sabatini's was a gorge-fest. It is a seven course meal served - in our case - over 3 hours' time. It was good, but the seafood selections were not good except one. One friend had the Chilean seabass that came out dry and chewy. I had the sea scallops, and they were unseasoned and bland. The shrimp, however, were good. And I'm glad I ordered the veal chop along with my scallops. It's a scallop-crusted chop that was just perfect.
I think that because there were so many families, Skywalker's was deserted almost every night. One thing I was glad to see was that they were carding everyone at the door. Minimum age was 18. By the third night they even had a passenger manifest, including birthdates, to confirm if some passengers were 18.
Internet usage in the café was 35 cents a minute. Wireless access was available in the bottom level of the atrium for the same price. You bought a 30-minute block of time ($10.50) for that and were given a logon number and password.
The Coke card on this trip was $22.50, which meant unlimited Coke and Coke products for the cruise. You also got a Coke mug, which was a soft drink version of an insulated coffee mug. Beer was about $3.50 a bottle. There were ongoing specials for a bucket of Dos Equis or Beck's Light. The Dos Equis bucket was 5 for the price of 4. Beck's was 5 for the price of 3. This was the better deal, as Beck's was only $2.95 a bottle. There was a sort of bar hop contest where if you ordered a Dos Equis or mixed drink at a bar you got your bar hop card stamped for that bar. Collect all 14 and you get a free t-shirt that says "I completed the Princess bar hop."
The daily Princess Patter was good, but a very visually busy publication. I wish they would do what Royal Caribbean does, which is have a tear-off daily card that lists all activities by time only. Once nice touch, however, that Royal Caribbean should try in return is the Princess "Log of the Cruise." It is a recap of the entire cruise, start to finish, briefly detailing the times we were in port, the time we docked and the time we left, the weather conditions, and the route traveled that day.
I have a price list of the liquor that was sold onboard if anyone is interested. The selection seemed limited, but there were still quite a few varieties.
Debarkation went quickly and efficiently, mainly due to the lack of any other ship that day. We were in an early debarkation group. That and our close parking at Harbor House meant we were on the road by 9:15am. We were back in Austin by 12:30pm.
All in all this was a very nice cruise. Having read so many great things about Grand Princess online, I expected more, though. Even so it was still a nice time, and I'm glad we went.
Philip ----- Norwegian Sea 4/00 Vision of the Seas 3/01 Explorer of the Seas 9/01 Rhapsody of the Seas 12/01 Rhapsody of the Seas 5/02 Celebration 9/02 Brilliance of the Seas 3/03 Mariner of the Seas - Inaugural 11/03 Carnival Glory 5/04 Grand Princess 12/04
My wife and I, along with several other people from our area, cruised the Mediterranean and Greek Isles itinerary on the Grand Princess, with a pre-cruise stay in Venice and a post-cruise stay in Rome. It was the last Eastern Mediterranean cruise of the 2005 season for the Grand Princess.
SUMMARY The late season timing was very good -- nice weather and light crowds at nearly all the stops we made. It was a special treat to walk where ancient Romans, Greeks and Turks lived, worked and played. We stood in the Roman coliseum, walked on the field at the ancient Olympic stadium, sat in the stands at the Pompeii theater, and saw the modern Olympic stadium in Athens. In between, we walked the streets of Venice with St. Mark’s Square at its center, dined at the cafes in the streets of Rome, and toured incredible places with magnificent scenery and met very nice people. All this with a grand class cruise ship as a base of operations.
PRINCESS' SHIP AND ARRANGEMENTS The Grand Princess lives up to its name, with all the onboard amenities of a Princess Grand Class ship. It hasthree large restaurants for evening dining with two set aside for Personal Choice dining, and a nice selection of shops and entertainment -- but the focus of this cruise was the ports.
Hint: For personal choice dining, make reservations before noon. There may be a long wait on some evenings, like formal night for prime time seating, but the flexibility for shore excursion-intense itineraries is a clear advantage if you enjoy having dinner in the dining rooms.
The only disappointment with the ship was with the steak house, which doesn’t come close to matching up with other specialty dining options on other ships.
Embarkation in Venice and disembarkation in Rome were smooth and quick. It is a memorable treat to take the water taxi from the hotel to the ship in Venice.
VENICE AIRPORT TRANSFER Use the water taxi to get from the airport to Venice. Its almost a door-to–door service. Other options may not be as easy. Taxi reservations can be made on the Internet and a taxi will be waiting at the airport, just a short covered walkway walk from baggage claim.
VENICE We stayed at the Luna Hotel Baglioni, a very nice place half a block from St Mark’s Square that supposedly was established by the Knights Templar in the 1400s. The water taxi docks within 15 feet of the entrance. Convenience to the square is a major plus in Venice, where walking is the only way to get around. St. Mark’s Square has the famous places like St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doges Palace that should be toured. Don’t miss the music on the square or the chance to walk the narrow streets with a lot of shops and sidewalk restaurants at night. Our late season visit was nice, with small crowds and comfortable temperatures for more enjoyable walking.
Hint: Street signs are few. Note that “Per Rialto” and “Per San Marcos” are on many corners, so you will always know the way to the Rialto Bridge or St. Mark’s Square.
Take the elevator to the top of the Campanile (bell tower) for photos of the city. Great views! Walk the waterfront to the residential areas for a feel of how locals live. Murano Glass has a large presence in the city as well as having a factory on a nearby island. There is a mini-factory near the square where you can get a glassblowing demonstration and purchase glass in a large showroom.
DUBROVNIK, CROATIA We took the tour to Cavtat and the old city that included a folk dancing presentation in a roofless theater. The drive was a breathtaking trip along a narrow road with a huge drop-off to the water. Cavtat was quaint but not spectacular. I would focus on the old city and its walls next time. The folk dancing was fun.
Hint: Focus on the old city made famous by its ancient walls and importance that rivaled Venice.
CORFU, GREECE We took the island tour, which is a bus ride up a mountain along hairpin turns with great views of the sea. We stopped at Paleokastritsa and Lakonas Village, both with nice views and a lot of olive trees. In Corfu town we saw the old fortress.
KATAKOLON, GREECE A centerpiece of the trip is a tour to Olympia, the ancient site of the original Olympic games. The ruins are much more extensive that we had imagined, and included are not only the stadium but a large number of buildings as well as a museum with significant artifacts including statues. The most impressive may be the statue of Hermes. A guided tour of the ruins is worthwhile.
Hint: Be prepared to walk over uneven ground for at least an hour.
You can also walk along the Katakolon shoreline with its shops and restaurants after the trip to Olympia. The shops are a short walk from the ship’s pier.
ATHENS, GREECE The ship docks at Piraeus, a port city a few miles from Athens. We booked a tour of Athens that included major city sights and a coffee stop.
Hint: Book a tour, because the area is large and very busy with a lot of traffic. Venturing on your own has a much higher risk because of the traffic unknowns and the distance of Athens from the port.
We stopped at the modern Olympic stadium used in the last Athens Olympics, an appropriate contrast with the first stadium at Olympia. We got a nice view of the Acropolis. Athens is a very busy city with unbelievable traffic. (Off-season traffic was actually busy in all the cities. I can’t imagine what traffic must be like in peak season.)
KUSADASI, TURKEY We were impressed with the Ephesus area, especially the Virgin Mary Shrine and the ruins of St. John’s Basilica. Friends toured Ephesus and said they believed the ruins rivaled Pompeii for size and detail. St. John’s Basilica is much larger than we expected, and has as a highpoint a marker noting the position of the tomb of St. John. The Virgin Mary Shrine, on the site of the home where the Virgin Mary spent her last years, is a must-see, especially if you are a Christian, and you will be rewarded with impressive scenery and a special experience.
Shopping in Kusadasi is very near the pier.
SANTORINI, GREECE If you like magnificent scenery you will enjoy Santorini. As a start, the ship anchors in the crater of an ancient volcano with the sides rising almost straight up for hundreds of feet above the sea. Atop the rim are the whitewashed buildings, with blue trim, of the towns that dot Santorini. Tenders take people signed up for tours to Athenios for a bus ride up switchbacks along the cliff sides. Incredible views!
The island is covered with small villages, all with whitewashed buildings, just like the travel brochures and postcards. Grapes and wine are the island’s economic base along with tourism. Vineyards seem to cover every square inch of available land and we stopped at a winery to sample the results. Their wines were quite good with a slightly sweet taste.
Perhaps leaving the island is the most memorable experience. After a tough walk through the streets of Fira, located on top of the edge of the crater, we found three ways to get down the cliff to the tender pier: Walk, donkey and cable car. We were told the walk has 480 steps and opted for the cable car. We were tempted by the donkey ride but couldn’t reconcile looking over the edge of the path from the back of a donkey. The cable car takes only three or four minutes.
Hint: Don’t forget your camera. You can also take the cable car up to Fira, which has a lot of shops near the cable car station.
NAPLES, ITALY Another centerpiece of our cruise was the opportunity to visit Pompeii and its ruins. We were not disappointed! Pompeii is a huge site, perhaps best demonstrated by its two mile long main street. It’s a “you have to see it to believe it” experience. The tour covered a gladiator training school, shopping district, bakery, brothel, baths, a home, and a theater. Frescoes on the walls and mosaics on the floors were interesting, as were the plaster figures made from voids in the ash by the bodies of people who died in Pompeii (they were in special cases in the baths).
The cobblestone streets and sidewalks along the streets were picturesque. Grooves from ancient chariot wheel are easily seen in the stones.
Hint: Be prepared to walk over very rough terrain. Purchasing a map/guide before you tour might be helpful even though the tour guide was good.
ROME, ITALY Rome was a fitting finale to a great cruise and tour adventure. We stayed for two days at the Westin Excelsior Hotel on the Via Veneto, right in the center of the bustling city and next door to the U.S. Embassy. The Excelsior is a very elegant old hotel with all the amenities of a first class hotel. It is very expensive to partake of some of its amenities (e.g., continental breakfast, $35).
Hint: Eat at local restaurants very near the hotel -- nice food and a fun atmosphere with seating in protected areas on the street.
There are very nice shops and restaurants all around the area. We went for several walks in between tours, both during the day and at night, when the atmosphere was special. English menus are available when requested.
We took a tour in combination with our transfer from the Civitacecchia port to Rome.
Hint: We didn’t book the Princess transfer or hotel. I would do so next time for several reasons, including smoothness of the transfer and access to guided tours.
There are almost endless famous places to visit in Rome. We put the coliseum at the top of our list and enjoyed a great tour. The coliseum is much bigger than I expected and includes a museum on its second floor. Don’t miss taking the elevator to the second floor.
We also visited/saw the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Circus Maximus site, Pantheon, churches, embassies and several ancient Roman sites. The Westin is just a couple of city blocks from one of the ancient Roman city gates.
Rome’s taxis, traffic and parking are worthy of note. Taxi rides can be a thrill because rules like we know don’t seem to apply. Lots of police are visible on the streets but they seemed oblivious to the action around them. Traffic is heavy, with swarms of Vespas/scooters buzzing around and parked everywhere along with autos and delivery vans -- sometimes three deep in a busy street. Every available spot has at least one parked vehicle.
CONCLUSION: This is a great cruise itinerary filled with opportunities to experience famous cities and sites. The end-of-the-season strategy was rewarded with very tolerable weather and small crowds.
My husband and I took the Golden Princess ship from San Juan for a delightful 7 day cruise South - we had great expectations and were awarded a wonderful holiday trip. This was not our first cruise but we always look forward to the beautiful white ships of Princess!
We were pleasantly met at the Airport and helped with our luggage - upon arrival at the dock, checking in and boarding the ship was so quick and easy - the photographer was very good and made the first impression that was very rewarding. Our balcony cabin was very clean, the steward was friendly and welcoming asking if we needed any additional help. Very nice touch.
We were on the first seating and although at first we had been put at a table for 10 - not to our liking, we were advised that we would be moved to a table of 6 - this was great. The food was very good, served hot and every meal not only looked good, was delicious. I always drink wine with my dinners and it was served promptly, with a smile, I never had toask. We enjoyed touring the ship, discovering new appeals. The Atrium was impressive and never seemed crowded even though the ship was filled to capacity.
We enjoyed eating at the 24 hour Horizon Court, the food was always different with pleasant surprises. We had our "late evening" snacks at the Horizon Court - we were surprised at the wonderful variety - theme nights also with special absolutely delicious dishes from different Countries.
We have only one regret, we never found the gym - we saw inside from the outside but couldn't figure out - also, we didn't ask enough directions - how can we get into the gym? We did a lot of walking on the decks - we never felt we were on a crowded ship - never any line up at any show - great comedians - hot coffee with liquors in one show lounge - nice touch again.
We truly enjoyed our cruise - very pleasant experience and we will definitely take this ship again. There is only one drawback, not attributed perhaps to the ship - disembarkation - clearing U.S. Customs took a very long time - it was not done on the ship but inside the terminal and small groups at a time only. This could have been handled better and quicker.
All in all - great ship, great holiday!!
We are both 56, well traveled, and have completed 13 cruises on five different lines.
We arrived in Galveston two days early and stayed at Islander East Condos, a great alternative to a hotel. We parked there free during the cruise, taking a taxi to and from the terminal.
The embarkation process in Galveston was swift and painless, We used Princess' advance interrnet registration for all of our pre-cruise information. As a result, the counter time was only 2 or 3 minutes.
Passengers are mostly middle aged, largely from Texas and surrounding States. They were friendly and pleasant.
Our cabin was a mini-suite on Dolphin deck. It was clean and in good condition. Our steward, Roy, was efficient and always very friendly. The price for this cabin was a phenomenal $899 per person with a $150 shipboard credit. Doubt I'll ever see that low price again!
Food was good and seemed to us to have improved from prior Princess cruises. I would rate the dining room a good solid 8, and I am particular. If Olive Garden (and it is good) is your idea of a big night out, Princess would improve to a10. The buffet is a 6-7, and was fine for breakfast and lunch. Service in all areas was efficient, polite, and cheerful.
The ports included Belize (we arrived 2-3 hours late due to currents), Costa Maya, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel. Belize is a great port for snorkelling or diving, otherwise a waste of time! Most travelers are familiar with the other locations, so I won't take space discussing them.
Entertainment was good. In addition to the normal large cast reviews, there were good individual performers including a great singer, comedian, magician, and hypnotist. We enjoyed the entertainment in the Wheelhouse Lounge where the servers were friendly, and remembered our names and our drinks.
Disembarkation was good. We were in a later group, but off the ship by 9 AM. Luggage was well organized by group and there were attendants to help locate bags. By the way, Princess tells passengers numerous times that taxis are "limited". We needed a taxi for local travel and found a long line of taxis waiting with no passengers in the taxi line!
We had two minor complaints about our experience.
First, we were very disappointed in the art auction. There was way too much talk and not enough "auction". The art selection was not good by our standards, although this may be an individual opinon. Despite my wife placing request cards on numerous pieces, they never made it to auction. The auctioneer seemed to have a tendency to want to sell a few very expensive pieces as opposed to many moderately priced ones. The Park Galleries auction on Holland America was far superior.
Second, we tried "Movies Under the Stars", a terrific concept. On the night we attended, the sound was so loud and the bass so high, it was nearly painful. A number of people left as did we. Other nights, when we walked by, it was much better. Someone needs to better monitor this.
Overall, this cruise was excellent and rates a good solid 8-9.