Galveston:The Port of Galveston has not developed the Cruise terminal embarkation facilities that have been promised. The terminal building is haphazard and crowded. Local parking lots are available on Santa Fe street for $45 for seven days. Your local travel agent can get you coupons. Shuttle bus is provided by the lot. The company we used was "E-Z Cruise Parking".
At Sea: The Seas were relatively calm throughout the trip. Short periods of a small amount of rolling but very slight.
Belize Belize is a small costal town with narrow streets and a shallow port. (ships have to anchor out) Passengers go ashore via launch boat. Prices are reasonable.
Costa Maya: This is a picturesque and beautiful coastal stop. Shop at the port. Town is $5 away by Taxi. When you return to the ship the "Mexicans" will not allow you to just walk down the dock to your ship. You have to pass through an I.D. check where they want to see your ship pass card and a picture I.D. then you must walk through their shopping mall building, which is very well stocked, before you return to your ship.
Grand Cayman:The Cayman Islands are highly over rated. Everything is sky high in cost and there are no good eating or relaxation restaurants along the shopping quarter downtown area. We went out on the glass bottom boat to see the reefs everyone is bragging about. The reefs are dead and lifeless, all brown and covered with pollution. this place is a dud.
Cozumel: Cozumel is a beautiful little island with lots to offer. The ship docked about 5 miles from the main downtown shopping area. We rented a two seater motor bike across from the terminal for 2 hours for $20. Then we rode all over and had fun.
The Ship This ship shows a lot of wear. The claim that it was put into service in 1998 may or may not be true, but for just six years of service the ship needs attention. The carpets and all the surfaces show a lot of wear. The bright work in the elevators, theaters, rest rooms and lounges show salt tarnish from finger prints and general use. Some marble and glass floors are scarred, cracked and damaged from use and abuse. This ship is tremendously large and for the first few days you stay continuously lost and turned around. The main areas are on decks 5,6 and 7 amidships fully enclosed with no atrium, just a staircase. The elevators are slow and sluggish although there are lots of them. In every elevator lobby you are constantly confused as to where you are because the lobbies are not well marked. They all look the same whether you are in the "Forward", "Midships" or "Aft, Stern" lobby with one small sign on the wall telling you which floor you are on but not where you are located and all the print is small and hard to read. The paint on the exterior is beginning to peel and flake off at many locations. You can tell the management is not putting very much into maintenance. The "Cruise Director" was a big mouth blow hard with a strong British accent by the name of "Tim Donovan". This guy yells and hollers over all the load speakers like a raging bore daily telling passengers where to spend their money. The Bingo games are the biggest rip off game you've ever seen. 200 people in a theater paying 20 to 25 dollars a piece for bingo cards to have fun. They take in 4 to 5 thousand a session and give away $500 in prizes.
Embarkation This ship is as long as 3 football fields and holds 3000 passengers.(950 feet) The terminal was a madhouse with snaking lines of people for over an hour to get aboard. What an experience! If you don't like crowds your not going to like this. It is the Carnival Cruise Lines policy to add $10 per day per person to your room bill as a gratuity rip off as if you didn't have enough sense to do your own tipping. Therefore before you board they want you to give them a credit card number to bill your account so you can't refuse to pay this form of extortion. I chose the "Cash" option and refused to give them my credit card number.
The Cabin Generally, rooms on a large ship are spacious and accommodating. Our room was an inside cabin and was large enough to be fairly comfortable. The mattresses for the queen size bed (two singles put together with a crack in the middle) were worn and marginal. Some large heavy person must have had mine because there was a large indentation in the middle of mine. The other mattress was normal. There were only two movie channels on the TV. The ships movie channel and the satellite channel "TNT". The satellite tracking system was sluggish and about every two seconds the screen would trash out and come back in two seconds later. This was continuous throughout the voyage. The ships movie channel was clear at all times but there was only one clear movie channel. All other channels were shopping or informational. They had CNN international news but it also had the same sat tracking problem.
After Boarding After you arrive at your room a fire drill is immediately scheduled and it is mandatory for you to attend. This is for your personal knowledge and safety but the bad part is you have to stand in place and listen for a half hour to a pre-recorded "Captain's Message" in his broken English of redundant information and boring pointless sentences of things that you really don't need to know. There is only three things a person needs to know. #1. The whistle signal for life boat muster. #2. How to put on your life jacket. #3. Where your muster station is located. All other activities are supervised by the crew and officers.
Dining Rooms There are 3 main dining rooms (all Italian menus) The "Boticelli" on deck 6 aft. The "DaVinci" on deck 6 midship. And the "Michelangelo" on deck 5 midship. Also, two other (in house) restaurants, the "Painted Desert Steakhouse" and "Sabatini's" (Italian) where you pay $15 per plate plus a 15% gratuity ($2.25) in order to eat at their tables. The "Boticelli" is a stuff shirt totally enclosed Italian. Most of the time you can't understand anything the hired help says to you so you can only guess. The "Davinci" had a few windows mostly all covered and had the atmosphere of a New York restaurant with over crowding and waiters moving all around you with dishes banging and silverware rattling, it is far from a relaxing experience. I know a lot of restaurants where you can have a nice meal for $17.25 a plate and be treated as if they appreciate your business. There is no dinner entertainment or music in the dining rooms. Just noise.
Food/Service Carnival has cheap company policies that you will experience on all Carnival owned ships. Only water is served on dining tables and all the water smells like bleach. When I complained that my water smelled like bleach the waiter said, "We have to sanitize the water. All the water smells like that." Iced Tea is never put on the table, you have to ask for it after all the table hawks come around to prod you into ordering wine or something from the bar. If you ask for Iced Tea they bring it to you in a small little 6oz glass full of ice with lemon. Lime is not available. Carnival Corporation orders things in bulk because they are cheap. There is no individually wrapped butter. All butter is served in small pats in a small silver bowl coved with crushed ice along with all the cold stale hard bread they serve at all meals except breakfast. All the kitchen staff has been handling your butter before you get it including what they have taken off other tables. There is never any warm fresh bread served. The same goes for the jellies and jams at breakfast. These are bought in bulk, dispensed in small demitasse ceramic cups. A waiter will come around with different flavors on a tray and ask who wants jams or jellies. They are never put on the tables and never served as individual sealed portions. Syrup is only portioned out as one small serving pitcher per table of eight. This is disgustingly cheap service. It doesn't surprise me why they have outbreaks of onboard viruses spreading from crew member to passengers and vise-a-versa. In all the time I was aboard, I was not served one outstanding or remarkable meal. All the menus are cock full of cheap pasta and cheap meals. The food is bland and under cooked. All vegetables are served in small portions (six strips of carrot, 3 brussel sprouts, ect.) and always blanched and half cooked with no spices. I ate things such as "Green Pea Soup", "Red Bean Soup", "Cream of Chicken Soup". There was not one decent seafood entrée served during the entire trip. On the second day lunch I ate "Red Snapper". The fish was dark and oily on the inside and brown on the underside. That afternoon I came down with food poisoning, stomach cramps until I was hollering with diarrhea in my stateroom. I called the pursers desk and told them what happen and asked if they could send some coke-a-cola to my room. They acted unconcerned and removed from the situation and I was told "I can connect you with room service!". So I soon learned that to Carnival Corporation you're not a person, you're just another buck.
Bars There are an abundance of bars onboard. If you ask for a mixed drink such as a "Rum and Coke" it is served to you in a small 6oz glass full of ice with about 1/2oz of rum and fountain coke. After about two or three sips it's done. For this privilege you pay them $3.90 plus $.59 (15% gratuity fee) for a grand total of $4.49 for a super small Rum and Coke. Do you know any local bars that treat you like this?
The Squeeze On the second day in the afternoon when we arrived at Belize we found two letters on our stateroom door. (one to my wife and one to me) telling us that since I did not register a credit card with the pursers office, they wanted me and my wife to deposit with them "a minimum cash deposit of $300.00 per person by the end of the day today!" in order to settle our bill at departure. Why didn't they just come to the room, put a gun to our head and say "give us $600 or we'll throw you off the ship!" They just wanted to insure that all their gratuity rip offs were paid at the end of the voyage. Carnival Company policy of course. I ignored all their threats and when I arrived back at Galveston I had a total of $25 in onboard charges. I called the pursers office and asked them to send a final bill to my room. They refused, they said they don't have personnel to deliver bills. They said I would have to come to the pursers desk. I went to the pursers desk. My bill was $240.00. The travel agent had paid a $100 ship board credit to my account in appreciation of my business, so the balance was $140.00. $25 worth of on board charges and $215.00 worth of tacked on gratuities thanks to Carnival Corporation. I paid the $140.00 in cash but I will never be high jacked on the high seas by Carnival Corporation again, period.
Disembarkation The night before the ship sent printed material to our rooms stating that we need to be ready to disembark from the "Explorers Lounge" and out of our rooms by 7:30 a.m. Do you know any hotels that tell you to be out of your room by 7:30 a.m.? We complied. We sat around the ship for 3 hours waiting to be called to exit the gangway. All 3000 people had to be cleared by customs before they would let anybody off. So at 10:30 that morning we were finally invited to exit the gangway. What an ordeal for everyone on board.
Recommendation If you choose to sail on any Carnival Ship, Beware! Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruise Lines, Holland America, Seabourn Cruise Line, Windstar Cruises, Costa Cruises, or the Cunard Line will all treat you in this manner. Go sail with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. You'll like it a whole lot better. Bring bottled water aboard with you. Buy bottled water at every port as needed. Buy cokes and soft drinks ashore. If you go to the theater take a coke with you.
Grand Princess Ports of Call Review The purpose of this review is to discuss the ports of call for the Grand Princess leaving out of Galveston, TX. I have posted another review discussing the ship and cruise. If you are interested in that information, check out the review for the same date by "Texas Cruiser".
The weather leaving Galveston was damp and chilly. It sprinkled on and off, but nothing heavy. It was still this way when we went to sleep the first night. When we woke up the next morning (Sunday) it was warm and sunshiny. We couldn't have asked for a nicer break from November than we received.
Our first full day on board was a day at sea headed toward Belize City. This was a perfect day and we enjoyed our time by the pools and exploring the ship to find the options awaiting us. We arrived in Belize the third day (Monday). Reading previous posts on the message boards, we had heard it wasn't even worth getting off the ship unless you had a guided tour away from the city. We thought picky people who don't enjoyauthentic experiences probably wrote this. Well, they were right and we were wrong. We couldn't believe how dirty this port was. There isn't anything to see or do within walking distance of the ship other than the cruise line sponsored shops within the fenced in area. There is a good reason for this fencing also. As soon as we left this area beggars bombarded us. Not just the usual "take my city tour" people, but people who would follow you down the street begging for money. The children are beautiful here, but they too kept asking for handouts. It was very disturbing. The town just doesn't have the infrastructure to support cruise ship passengers. Of course, they have only had ships arriving for three years and have never had a ship as large as the Grand Princess. I'm confident they were a bit overwhelmed. Even still, there was nothing to see or do without paying for a ship's tour. There isn't even a beach within driving distance. We stopped in a local Travel Agency for a map and some guidance. They said the taxi drivers lie to you if you ask to be taken to a beach. She said they take you to a small area with just silt and no sand. The ocean water was brown with pollution, so if you plan on snorkeling or diving, I would suggest finding a reputable tour provider or going with a ship tour. Some of the shops do offer some nice hand-carved wooden and shell items, at a good price. You can deal to get the price lower than listed. The exchange rate was double. If the price says $2 Belize it's only $1 US.
Our next stop was Tuesday at Costa Maya/Majahual. This was our favorite stop until we visited Cozumel. The cruise built shopping area called Costa Maya was clean and offered nice items at fair prices. The restrooms were even kept clean and had attendants taking care of you (for a tip). There were a couple of authentic looking Mexican food restaurants, with reasonable prices. After shopping around a little, we left the area and walked to Majahual, the small fishing village said to be within walking distance. I assure you, it was a full 45 minute walk. The four of us are between the ages of 27 and 30 and walked at a healthy pace. Fortunately, it was a cloudy day, or we would have burned up. I would not suggest walking to anyone. A taxi is just $3 per person. Some people suggest the walk for the beautiful scenery. I can tell you, it's only out of the ordinary the last ten minutes while you are walking along the beach. The rest of it is walking down a paved back road. Once at Majahual, you can easily walk back up the ocean line ten minutes if you want the beautiful unspoiled scenery. In Majahual, there are a few quaint open-air shops selling traditional Mexican goods. You can even get temporary Henna tattoos if inspired. There are several restaurants serving very traditional Mexican food, but at a premium for the American tourists. We paid $4 for guacamole that was mostly tomatoes and onions with just enough avocado to bind it all together. Only two of the places offered Fajitas, but the ones we got were delicious. Some one else got their food from another vendor and their guacamole looked a lot better. Take a peak at what others are eating before you decide where to order. All of this is located right on the beach. We ate our food at a table where the water would come up and cover our feet. There are also several places offering seaside massages at $20 for 30 minutes. This was well worth it. There are probably ten different places you can do this along the short stretch. We found a place with three tables right at the edge of the water so we could hear the waves. Most of the tables are good massage tables with the round headrest so look for these. It was worth every penny! The water is a beautiful shade of blue and calm enough to swim and relax in. The swim areas are roped off to protect you from boats, and stay shallow for a long time. It would be perfect for children or those who just want to relax. There are plenty of places to tie a hammock also if you bring one along. We all went back to the ship feeling relaxed.
Our next stop was Grand Cayman. This was just the second week cruise ships were allowed to return after the big hurricane devastated the island. We had been here less than a year ago and could see the massive amount of damage. Most roofs had temporary coverings to protect them until they could be fixed properly. Most of the shops were open and happy to see people returning. We took the public transportation to the Turtle Farm for $2.50 per adult. There were fields of trees lying on the ground pulled up by their roots. It was worse than any tornado damage we've ever seen. The entire island was this way. It will take a long time for the trees and other vegetation to look normal again. Grand Cayman still has so much to offer though; I don't want to scare you off. The Turtle Farm was the same as our last visit. It is such a treat being able to see the turtles in the different stages of their life cycle. We really enjoy being able to hold them and take pictures. It is always a highlight for us. If you are interested in doing the Atlantis submarine, they have cancelled all tours until March 2005. Apparently the reef experienced considerable damage as well.
Our final stop was Cozumel. This would be our third visit here in a year, so my husband and I decided we would stay on the ship. Our previous visits we spent our time downtown shopping and at Chankanaab park. We thought we had seen all there was to see since we aren't divers. Well, my sister and her husband talked us into renting mopeds and driving around the island with them. After getting off the ship, we discovered it would be cheaper to rent a vehicle together. There are a few places to rent from at the end of each pier. Volskwagon Beatles were $45 and Jeeps were $55. We decided on the Jeep with it's removable top. With all taxes and fees we paid just $66 for the four of us. I couldn't begin to imagine the world this opened up for us. The eastern side of Cozumel is simply amazing, like something out of a magazine or movie. The ocean water is turquoise and the sand and rock structures are picturesque. It was so different than the hustle of the shopping and tourist areas. It was basically desolate except for the small restaurants dotting the beach line every so often. We stopped and ate a place with a protected little cove where we could snorkel safely. The ocean on this side of the island was very rough and had a strong under current so it wasn't good for snorkeling, but it was perfect for pictures. It was refreshing driving around with the air blowing through our hair along the ocean's edge. It was a real retreat from our daily lives. We had planned on visiting the San Gervasio ruins, but we arrived at 3:40 and the ruins closed at 4:00 pm. It would have cost $5 per adult, had we gotten to tour them. They are replicas of Mayan ruins, but are said to be quite nice. This stop equaled the enjoyment we experienced at Costa Maya/Majahual. Unfortunately, this was our second formal night and we dined at 6 pm each evening so we left the island a little early. We would love to have stayed here an entire week.
The ride back to Galveston was smooth with more beautiful weather. We couldn't have asked for a nicer cruise experience and this is our fifth cruise. Even though this itinerary is port intensive, it is a nice one. Of course, we would like another sea day instead of Belize considering Grand Cayman and Cozumel offer good diving for those interested.
My husband (30) and I (28) have taken several cruises, including both Royal Caribbean ships out of Galveston – Splendour of the Seas in March 2004 and Rhapsody in November 2003. We sailed the Celebrity Millennium out of Ft. Lauderdale in March 2001 and I sailed Cunard's Princess out of New York as a girl. We enjoy middle-America type restaurants like Outback, Red Lobster, TGI Friday's, etc., on a regular basis; and nicer restaurants like Fogo De Chao, Texas De Brazil, and Ruth's Chris Steakhouse on special occasions. We generally stay at Hilton Garden Inns and enjoy this nicer style of hotel.
We live just north of Houston, so we drove to the port of Galveston, arriving at the parking area just past noon. We parked at the new "EZ Parking" lot instead of the Dolphin lot as we usually do. This was a mistake. We may have saved $20 for the week, but service was lacking. This lot uses small buses holding only about 16 people, where the Dolphin lot uses larger buses. When hundreds of people and their luggage are trying to get a ride at the same time,bus size really matters in waiting time to and from the ship.
Embarkation was a headache. After waiting 90 minutes to catch a bus to the terminal, then we waited in line another 45 minutes. We were told the ship did not clear customs when scheduled because of a delay by the customs officials. This in no way upset our cruise experience and was probably just part of the adjustment process, since this was Princess' first cruise out of Galveston. I would expect this problem to be fixed for future cruises. It did not happen again when we arrived back in port and debarked. Our debarkation couldn't have been smoother. As "locals," we usually are relegated to the last group off the ship, but we were in the middle this time. We've never gotten off a cruise ship so quickly.
My husband and I had an inside stateroom (C404) on the Caribe deck. My twin sister and her husband traveled with us, and had a stateroom two doors down (C330). These were much larger than our previous Royal Caribbean inside staterooms. We had beds in the Queen configuration (which actually between Queen and King sizes), and there was plenty of walking room on both sides of the bed.
A wall separated the bedroom/desk area from the bathroom/closet area. This was nice; we could have a small night light on in the bathroom, and it didn't light up the sleeping area. There was plenty of storage space for two adults who over-packed, not knowing if it would be warm or cold. The beds were plenty high for our suitcases to fit underneath. There was a floor-to-ceiling storage area with shelves adjacent to the closet for folded items. We like to hang most of our items, so we brought extra hangers and were glad we did.
The room was decorated in nice shades of yellow, blue, and pink. The shower was in a corner, so it was triangular and offered adequate space. Each of the rooms has a small refrigerator that is nice for keeping bottled water chilled. We bring our own to save money and prevent dehydration. The room also offered a full-length mirror on the back of the bathroom door and large wall mirrors over the desk area and the bed. These made the room feel even larger. The lighting isn't very good for make-up application, so you may want to bring a lighted mirror of your own.
Service with a Smile
Our room steward and the rest of the staff did their jobs well, with a smile and a friendly word each time we saw them. Even those off duty were friendly and helpful. The maitre d' surprised us with his level of professionalism. My husband and I had Early Fixed Dining, and my sister and her husband were waitlisted. We talked to the maitre d' about seating us together at a table of four. We tried to give him a $20 tip for his help, but he refused it and asked us to save it for something else. He arranged for us to have the same table in the Da Vinci dining room (Personal Choice) each night at 6 p.m. Even though we were in the Personal Choice dining room, we got to eat at the same time (chosen by us) each night with the same wait staff. This made it feel like Traditional Dining.
Food and Restaurants
Finding the Traditional Botticelli Dining room was a bit confusing, but the directional signs by the stairs help. Directions to the other two dining rooms were straightforward. The food in the dining room was good to excellent. I only returned one item (a cold pumpkin soup) in exchange for another. We expected a different steak to be offered each night, but a sirloin on the fixed alternate menu was the only kind available.
Most beef dishes were not steaks. This was a slight disappointment. The steaks they did offer were tender, though. They had a nice fish offering at each lunch and dinner in the dining room. I should also mention about half of all tables in the Personal Choice dining rooms are tables for two. My husband and I sat at both round and square tables for two at breakfast and felt they offered plenty of room even when we ordered extra items. When dining for breakfast or lunch without our travel partners, my husband and I never had to wait for a table for two.
The buffet food is a different story. We found the food here to be bland and unappetizing in appearance. In the evenings, the buffet offered several of the dining room menu items, but they weren't prepared as well. The seating for this area was outstanding, though. There were small groupings of tables. The areas never felt crowded or noisy due to the layout, and they provided an intimate atmosphere for dining even with the ship fully booked.
We did not visit the alternate dining rooms, but the menus looked appealing. The Sterling Steakhouse was small and had a cozy atmosphere. If you want a quality steak I would suggest dining here. The charge was $15 per adult. Sabitini's Italian restaurant had a very elegant ambiance and was $20 per adult. The people we talked to who visited either place had only compliments.
The food offered at the pools was amazing. It wasn't the usual frozen pizza warmed in an oven -- the staff tossed the pizza crusts right in front of you, added sauce and toppings and then placed it in the oven. This gave a delicious final product. They usually offered three different varieties, one always being pepperoni. My husband said the poolside and dining room burgers are among the best he's ever eaten. At lunchtime, the dining room offered the burgers with bacon and all the trimmings. The pool didn't offer bacon, but they were just as good. They also had chicken burgers, really good hotdogs, fries, and other poolside type food of high quality.
The alcoholic beverages were not watered down. The prices were comparable to land-based prices, but the alcohol ratio was much stronger. You could order small, medium, large, or double.
An ice cream parlor between two of the pool areas serves specialty sundaes and Italian Gelato. The prices were $1.50 for two scoops of ice cream, 25 cents for one topping or a dollar for unlimited toppings, with about a dozen toppings to choose from. They also offered specialty sundaes for $3.75 each. Of course, the buffet offers free ice cream each afternoon from 3:30-4:30. There was always a choice between vanilla and chocolate (or both), with sliced almonds, caramel, chocolate sauce, and sprinkles to add more interest. We took advantage of this almost every day.
The purser's desk was most helpful. During peak times, a second purser's desk was opened to alleviate the lines. The staff here handled some ridiculous questions and complaints with grace and ease. The shops onboard had the normal selection of cruise-related items: port and cruise line shirts, hats, etc. at slightly inflated prices. The price on alcohol was pretty standard -- a little better than U.S. prices, but not as cheap as in the ports of call. The jewelry was beautiful, but overpriced. (You could find anything they offer on eBay for a fraction of the cost.)
There are four pools, two of them adult-only. There were two hot tubs in each of the pool areas, and the spa pool also offered saunas and steam rooms. Even on sea days the pool areas were not crowded. In fact, the pool in the spa area was usually empty or had fewer than half a dozen people. (Of course, there were less than two dozen children on board, so that may have made a difference.)
There were always plenty of lounge chairs available, and we noticed staff removing towels from unoccupied ones. We visited the tennis court overlooking the front of the ship and had a marvelous time. This court is not for professionals, but is perfect for causal play. There are four ping-pong tables above the adult pool at the stern, with plenty of rackets and balls available.
The nine-hole Putt-Putt is a bit difficult to find if you don't follow a ship's map. There are no signs pointing it out, but it is worth finding. The course looks brand new. The difficulty level is high for people who don't putt-putt often, and it's a challenge when the ship gets moving. We also visited the game room several times. I think many new games were added here as well. There are two air hockey tables for $1 per play as well as other arcade games. Most games cost 75 cents to a dollar per turn.
I can't say enough about the "Movies under the Stars." Our entire group loved this feature above all others. The movies shown were new DVD releases, and they change every month or so. Around 5:30 p.m. everyone was asked to begin vacating the area right around the main pool to prepare for the evening's feature presentation. The pool loungers were covered with a thick canvas to prevent the water from coming through onto your clothing. A wool blanket was also provided to keep warm, but the weather was so nice, we didn't need it.
It was wonderful to sit outside with the wind gently blowing, listening to the ocean in the background, and watching a movie on the big screen. The picture was much sharper than I would have imagined for the angle and size of the screen. There were a few times when the image was a little dark, but you could still see it. We would cruise the Grand Princess again just for this feature! They even show Monday Night Football each week on the screen during football season. They offer free popcorn and candy. (The candy costs $2 a box, though.)
We didn't attend many of the shows because they were directed toward the AARP crowd. We did, however, go to the comedian/juggler performance. The performer was extremely talented and funny. He was in the Vista Lounge at the stern, and the ceiling was too low to permit his grandest juggling tricks. Hopefully they will move him to the Princess Theatre where the ceiling is higher. This area also provides more seating with no blocked views -- a fabulous area for performances.
This was a wonderful cruise all four of us enjoyed thoroughly. We would recommend it to anyone, especially those wanting to cruise out of the Galveston/Houston area. Even if it costs more, it is far better than any of the other ships sailing from this port! You will get your money's worth and more.
Just finished our trip. Everything was fine. Ship is very large, but seems smaller because of the layout/design. This trip is all about the ports and the shore excrusions are excellent.
Take the two day excursion in St. Petersburg. No negatives except for the jet lag. Just enjoy.
First, a little about us so you can understand the perspective of this review. We are Jim and Sue, in our mid-fifties - all kids grown and gone. We both work fairly high-stress jobs and Jim works out of town much of the time. For us a cruise is a way for us to kick back and relax and have some time together without any cell phones, pagers or radios beeping at us. We book ships that offer an elegant experience rather than casual or high-energy atmosphere. Also, for the Caribbean and Mexico, we tend to book for the ship and stateroom rather than the ports. We spend much of the time in the cabin and on the verandah so for us booking a suite makes sense.
Each spring we take a cruise with my Aunt Sherry and Uncle Tom. They are "70ish" and Tom requires oxygen. We usually book suites next to each other, but this time we were able to get both Grand Suites so we were on opposite sides of the ship. It worked ok because there was an elevator hallway almost directly between the suites.
This was ourfirst Princess cruise and the first on any ship the size of Grand Princess with 2600 passengers.
I should also mention that through the Cruise Critic message board we had become "acquainted" with about 40 of our fellow cruisers and were looking forward to meeting them onboard.
We flew from Denver to Ft. Lauderdale on Saturday, the day prior to sailing and stayed at the Howard Johnson's. Since this isn't a hotel review, I won't go into detail, but I wouldn't ever stay there again. I'd give it a very low two-star rating. Sunday morning we awoke about 6:00 and called room service for coffee only to find out that there was no room service available until 7:30 - and no coffeepot in the room. We survived the lack of coffee for the hour and a half and later took a taxi to the ship. We handed our luggage off to a longshoreman and went into the terminal where we were pointed to a special counter for suite check-in. We checked in within five minutes and were pointed to the entryway to the ship. Our boarding picture was taken and we went up the gangway for the Lido deck cabins. Princess staff were located in various areas to point you in the right direction to your cabin. I have to admit that I was surprised that we were not escorted or welcomed onboard in any special way since we were in the top suites on the ship. We have always been escorted on both Celebrity and Holland America and when in a high level suite we are usually welcomed by the Social Hostess or Cruise Director.
We headed in the general direction of our suites and ended up at L301, which was ours. After several months of looking at pictures of the suite we couldn't wait to see it - so in we went. It was beautiful, by far the most lavish suite we've had. We took a few minutes to look around and then headed across the ship to theirs, L302. As we were looking around there was a knock at the door and their room steward, Dennis, and his supervisor arrived to say hello. After a few minutes of looking around we decided to give them some privacy and head back to our cabin. When we opened the door Tom's oxygen had arrived thus eliminating that worry!
The two Grand Suites are identical except for the art and we all liked the art better in L301. The woods are a rich mid-tone, not too light and not dark enough to make the cabin gloomy. The furniture was in good condition with no noticeable wear. The dining table was nice. It was a drop-leaf design - normally with the leaf down and against the wall, it had plenty of room for two and when pulled out from the wall, it made a nice table for four. The balcony was small, but had room for two lounges, a table with four chairs and the Jacuzzi. The bedroom was nice and we really enjoyed the huge floor-to-ceiling window by the bed. There was a small dressing table in the bedroom, but it lacked any outlets so there was nowhere to plug in my lighted make-up mirror or curling iron. We ended up running an extension cord from a plug many feet away when I needed it. There were many ceiling lights and lamps in each room and so many light switches it took forever to figure out which ones operated which lights.
We spent some time checking out the suite and making sure everything was in working order - everything was fine except the door from the living room to the balcony; it would stick and you couldn't open it - the maintenance people worked on it several times during the trip, but never really got it fixed. (Sherry adds that the door problem was the same in their suite.) We managed to get it partially opened most times and squeezed through the opening. Norman, our steward arrived to welcome us and I asked why we had no bouquet of flowers (Tom and Sherry had a beautiful one) and if we were to receive our complimentary glasses of champagne. I also asked him to check on the bottle of champagne I had pre-ordered to be in the cabin for sail-away.
Sherry and Tom arrived a few minutes later with Dennis carrying the tray with their glasses of Champagne and we all went out to our balcony to relax and await the Muster Drill. Soon Norman came back with our champagne and a little plate of appetizers. The bouquet arrived a short time later. Room service called and said our champagne would be in Sabitini's that evening [huh?]. After several calls explaining that we were not eating at Sabitini's that night and that I had pre-ordered the bottle for our suite through Princess, we finally received one. It took several calls and trips to the purser's desk during the trip to have the charge for it removed from our account - I had already paid for it by credit card when it was ordered. Our luggage arrived about 3:00 and we all decided to unpack and meet again at the drill.
We unpacked our luggage and organized everything; there was plenty of space for everything and I always over-pack. We attended the Muster drill and dropped our life-vests off in the cabin and hurried to the Neptune pool for a sail-away party with all the Cruise Critic's. About 35 people turned out for our party - a really great showing! It's amazing what the Internet has brought to today's cruise experience.
After sail-away we went back to our cabin and decided to order dinner to the suite rather than go to the dining room. This is one of my favorite reasons to book a suite - the ability to have the full dinner from the dining room delivered and a table that is actually big enough to eat on. Not long after dinner we called it a night.
Monday - Princess Cay Over coffee we all decided to stay onboard even though the island looked beautiful (we often choose not to leave the ship at Caribbean ports). This would give us the opportunity to explore the ship while it was nearly empty. We did a little sunning and swimming at the spa pool and then explored part of the ship. Jim and I picked up lunch from the grill at the Neptune pool and took it back to the suite and then settled on the lounge chairs on the balcony to read and relax. Towards evening we got back together and decided to again order dinner to the suite.
Tuesday - Sea Day Jim and I had breakfast in the suite and didn't leave until noon to do a little exploring. This was to be a formal night so we made reservations for four in the Michelangelo dining room for 7:15 and agreed to meet at 6:00 to go for cocktails in the Wheelhouse bar. We browsed the photo gallery and purchased our boarding picture. At 2:30 we met Tom and Sherry and headed to the Oasis bar to meet with the Cruise Critic group again. The turnout wasn't as good this time and there really wasn't a good place to sit for any conversation, so after an hour the party broke up.
We all dressed formally - the men in tuxes and ladies in long dresses. We had pre-dinner drinks in the Wheelhouse bar, my favorite bar on the ship. It has beautiful wood paneled walls and many interesting ship artifacts and models. The chairs and tables are well situated in small groupings that make conversation easy. The band was pretty good and tried to play a variety of music. The room was mostly populated by "silver-hairs" (us included) so when they did the big band music, the dance floor was crowded.
The Michelangelo Dining Room is nice, but rather plain and with a very low ceiling which made it quite noisy. The food was good and the service, although somewhat rushed, was also very attentive. Most of the people in the dining room were dressed up, but few were actually in tuxedos and gowns. In the public areas there seemed to be the attitude that "anything is okay" for the evening attire - not what we are used to on the other lines we sail.
We decided to return to the Wheelhouse for an after-dinner drink. With our luck, as soon as we were served the band said "good night." We decided that their balcony would be a wonderful place to finish the evening. After a couple more drinks we all called it a night. We returned to our suite to find a plate of chocolate covered strawberries awaiting us.
Wednesday - Grand Cayman We awoke just as we were approaching Grand Cayman and pulled the drapes on the floor to ceiling window open beside the bed to watch until our coffee and rolls arrived from room service. We took our coffee out to the balcony to watch the rest of the approach and realized there were four ships anchored. We were suffering a bit from the adult beverages of the night before and decided that that was far too many people for us to deal with, even in my favorite jewelry-shopping port! Tom and Sherry went in by tender and had a good time, but also said there were too many people.
Jim and I spent the morning [slowly] recovering on the balcony and then went to explore areas we had yet to see. We even played a game of miniature golf! We went up to Skywalker's, the nightclub up in the "handle". It is a beautiful place by daylight; Jim commented that it reminded him of something that should have been on the QE2. We went up one night while it was operational and found that it lost some of its charm when all the neon was lit - but that's just an "old folks" opinion.
Thursday - Costa Maya This was a new port for us, but since we had read a lot of pro's and con's we wanted to take a look. We took our time in the morning relaxing over coffee before we went ashore. We wandered around a bit at the pier and looked in the shops buying a couple t-shirts and a shot glass. We watched a nice Mexican Dance Show - the guys especially liked the skimpy attire of the female dancers - and then we all had margaritas and decided to head back to the ship.
We decided we'd like to have dinner in the suite again that night and asked if the Painted Desert (the Mexican Restaurant onboard) would serve us. Dennis came back in a few minutes with menus and said it was a first. We ordered and were very happy with the food and the service; a waiter from the restaurant came and put a tablecloth on their balcony table and took our orders. When he returned he had our margaritas and appetizers, about 15 minutes later he returned with the main course. He said it was definitely a first, but that it was kind of fun to serve the Grand Suites because they always wonder what they are like. He came back with our dessert orders and cleared away the main course.. he was tipped well. It was perhaps the best service we had on the whole cruise. After that we called it a night.
Friday, Cozumel I love the Mexican Caribbean and have spent much time here so I was looking forward to a lunch of ceviche and a margarita. The Mexican authorities have developed two piers and now have many amenities at each - without going all the way into town.
We spent our usual morning relaxing over coffee and disembarked about 10:30. We were booked on the Atlantis Submarine excursion. The boat picked us up right at the pier and took us directly to the sub. Although we had all done similar excursions in the past we enjoyed this one. It's always great for those of us that are not scuba divers to see the fish and coral that are far beneath the surface of the sea.
Sherry and I browsed through a few jewelry stores in the area at the pier since I hadn't had the opportunity earlier in the cruise. I found a necklace I liked and did the usual barter thing.. I didn't think they were quite low enough so I said I'd have my husband come back and to give me their card with the price. About an hour later we were all sitting in a great palapa bar having a drink and nachos (I was having my ceviche) and Jim finally agreed to go to the shop. I told him what I thought the right price would be. He came back empty handed - said they came down to within $200 .00 and wouldn't go any further. Oh well, there are always more diamond necklaces! Back to the ship we went because this was another formal night. We had made reservations for dinner in the Da Vinci dining room so we followed the same schedule as we did for the previous formal night - to meet in the Wheelhouse at 6:00. The Da Vinci dining room was actually very similar to the Michelangelo and we had a table in the same location, sadly the service wasn't nearly as good. The meal was good, but after sitting with dirty plates for quite some time and no service or desert menus, we left.
Saturday - Sea day We had our usual relaxing morning on the balcony. Then went to the photo gallery and bought several of the formal pictures. The last day is always bittersweet in that you look back on the trip and don't want it to end, but know that it must. They spent a little time in the casino and browsing the shops and we spent much time relaxing on the balcony reading. That afternoon, Princess held a Cruise Critic party for us in the Wheelhouse that was attended by almost every one from the message board as well as Captain Andy Proctor, the Cruise Director, the Hotel Manager and other Officers. They had a wonderful cake and a no-host bar with waiters. It was one of the nicest ship-sponsored Cruise Critic parties we've attended. Later that afternoon we packed so that we wouldn't have to rush in the evening.
Just prior to dinner we had a small cocktail party in our suite with a few of our new friends. We ordered extra appetizers by using the suite order card for the appetizers and they were all delivered. Norman made sure we had enough glasses, ice and buckets to chill the wine and champagne. After the party we decided to order dinner to the cabin one last time and spent the evening on the balcony relaxing.
Sunday - Ft. Lauderdale There was no priority disembarkation for the suites, but since we had an early flight, we were in "Red-4" the fourth group called. Tom and Sherry were in the next color group so we knew they would be on their way soon. We found our luggage quickly and were in a taxi in about 10 minutes. Airport check-in went just as well and we killed almost three hours in the airport before our flight.
And now the fat lady has sung. and the trip is over. but not the memories.
Summary: This was a good cruise, but not a great one. We loved the Grand Suite, but felt that the service was lacking for this level accommodation. The suite amenities were "iffy" - we had to ask for some repeatedly. Perhaps this will smooth out in time, but they have already had four months to smooth it out. On other lines in the top suites we have had invites to special parties with the officers, visits to the bridge, or dinner with the Captain or Officers - generally treated as special passengers. Maybe we are spoiled. but we do pay to be spoiled!
Let me start by saying this was our first cruise and I felt we were well prepared for it. Our travel agent Dick Cooper of Cruise Connections Consortium gave us good advice and found us a good fare on the Grand Princess for a mini suite. It also helped to read some of these cruise ship reviews. We flew in to Fort Lauderdale on Saturday and stayed at the Holiday Inn Express using their free shuttle for pick-up from the airport. After check-in we walked about ten minutes to an Outback Steakhouse for an early dinner - the snacks from the plane had worn thin by then. After a good dinner we relaxed and decided on early bedtime in preparation of our trip in the morning.
We enjoyed our continental breakfast at the hotel and were out front with our luggage by 10:15am for our free transfer to the pier again by the Holiday Inn Express. We struck up a conversation with a family who were also booked on the Grand Princess, we were to run into them almost daily while on board. Upon arrival at the pier we were metby porters who took our luggage and Princess crew members to direct us to the right line. Our line moved swiftly and we could feel the excitement in the air as we boarded the ship. After checking our room out we were able to do some exploring. The pocket size directory card found in our cabin made it easy for us to find our way around the ship. We found the Horizon Court for their Welcome Aboard Luncheon Buffet which was amazing with many choices and a great presentation.
Back to our cabin we were relieved to find our luggage had arrived. The large walk in closet and shelves provided enough space for our belongings. One of the nice things about the mini suite is the full size bathtub. We kept the shower curtain pulled to the side so it made the bathroom seem larger. The Lotus Spa provided toiletries and I especially like their eucalyptus cream.
Our queen size bed had a nightstand on either side with a reading lamp. Then there is a desk/vanity table with more drawers. There is a hair dryer on the wall and I found this the best lighted place to sit and do my hair before going out. Our room includes two televisions, one facing the bed and one facing the sitting area. Soon my husband had his electronic equipment hooked up to both televisions so we could either watch the video or view the digital snapshots during our trip. The couch opens up to another bed which we never used since there were only two of us. We were slightly disappointed with our balcony as the internet picture showed 2 lounge chairs, two chairs and a table. Ours had no lounge chairs but two semi loungers, two chairs and a table large enough for two people. The balcony was uncovered so people above could see what you are eating and/or wearing. It was not a real problem and we enjoyed talking to our "neighbors."
The ship appeared to be in very good condition. The staff was often visible working continuously keeping the ship neat and clean. We were impressed by how polite and respectful the staff was at all times. Whenever we encountered staff in the hallways they were pleasant and scurried to move out of our way.
We were very pleased with our room steward Edwin. Even when we were gone for a short time our room was neat and clean when we returned and we always had fresh towels. And yes there would be a chocolate on our pillow at night and the covers turned down. . . . really makes you feel special.
The ship appeared to be in very good condition. The staff was often visible working continuously keeping the ship neat and clean. We were impressed by how polite and respectful the staff was at all times. Whenever we encountered staff in the hallways they were pleasant and scurried to move out of our way.
We were very pleased with our room steward Edwin. Even when we were gone for a short time our room was neat and clean when we returned and we always had fresh towels. And yes there would be a chocolate on our pillow at night and the covers turned down. . . . really makes you feel special.
We chose the Botticelli dining room for traditional fixed second seating. We would recommend this for first time cruisers especially if there is only two of you. We dined at the same table with the same people and wait staff every night. It was a little ackward the first night meeting our dinner companions who were from Mexico and England. They had varying travel experiences and that made for interesting and enjoyable conversation. After a couple days we looked forward to meeting up with our tablemates and talking about our day and interesting to hear about differences between our countries. The waiter and his assistant were very attentative to our needs, always refilling our glassed and cups and took note of our likes and dislikes. Most of our meal had an exotic flair to them and the portions were small but that was fine as you could ask for more and sometimes we were not sure of what we were getting. Breakfast and sometimes lunch we ate at the Horizon Court as we loved their buffet. The fixed seating was a good choice otherwise we may have eaten every meal by ourselves.
We heard that Princess offered a lot of planned activities and we found that to be true. You could do as much or as little as you wanted to daily. We enjoyed the nighttime shows and usually ended up in the lounges to dance and/or enjoy the live entertainment. We especially liked the Piano bar player and ended up there most nights.
Ports of Call
Princess Cay was our first scheduled stop, however we were not able to tender off due to the rough water so we continued on and enjoyed the pool area and relaxed on board. The next day was an at sea day and our first formal night. It was fun to see everyone dressed up and a lot of cruisers had visited the spa for fancy hairdos. After dinner we changed into casual clothes for the shows and lounges afterwards while some people stayed in their dressy outfits.
Grand Cayman was our next stop and we tendered off which moved along quickly considering the number of people on board. We took their Highlight tour since we had never been there before and found it to be a real tourist trap. The first stop was just a souvenier store and then we stopped at a town called Hell which was just another small souvenier store with a post office that they encouraged you to send a post card from for a unique post mark. We did not have much time there so we just took a couple pictures. The last stop was the Turtle Farm and that was more interesting than the gift shops so far. Most of us elected to be dropped off in town for shopping. We found the Bernard Passman famous coral store and I acquired a wonderful little gold diamond and black coral ring. After wandering around for a while we took a taxi back to the ship to cool off and have lunch as we decided not to eat or drink anything while off the ship.
We docked at Costa Maya for our next stop and found it to be a neat little town. The weather was hot and sunny and there were a lot of small shops to wander through. We decided against the excursion to the Mayan ruins as it was an all day affair - maybe another time. The water was a vibrant turquoise color and I am sure even though we took pictures they will not be able to capture the beauty of it. The white sand of the beach seemed to go on forever and a lot of people were enjoying the nice weather. Again we went back to the ship early and relaxed by the pool as it was not crowded with so many people off the ship and there was a great Moriccan band playing nearby, very enjoyable. This was our 32nd Anniversary and our tablemates from England surprised us with a bottle of champagne during our dinner. Princess had given us a cake our first night also to celebrate our anniversary with a card signed by the captain of the ship. We ended our evening at the casino where we cashed in our winnings of thirty-two dollars in nickels: a memorable number.
Our last port of call was Cozumel where we were informed the best deals for shopping would be. One of the first things we saw were military armed guards on watch. It should have made us feel safe but it gave us an uneasy feeling and put a damper on our shore excursion. We found a nice silver diamond band for my husband and while it was being sized we took our Atlantis submarine excursion. Submarine was a great choice for non-swimmers who want to see the coral reef and fish. The sub was well ventilated even at 119 ft. below the surface the temperature remained comfortable. Afterwards we took a taxi to town for shopping but we found it dirty and crowded with traffic, tourist and local. We quickly finished shopping and after a bit found a taxi to take us back to the ship.
After seeing the other cruise ships at port we are sure we made the right choice by choosing The Grand Princess. She towers above the others and has more balconys available than any other cruise ship we encountered. We were a little nervous about cruising over Easter week that there would be too many children on board but it was not a problem. There were families on board with small children and teenagers but the ship was so big that the only time we really saw them was around the pool areas.
All too soon our week was ending and it was time to put our luggage outside our suite before going to dinner. It was color coded and was quickly picked up and taken away. There was a sweet sadness at dinner our last night as we said goodbye to our new friends and exchanged e-mail addresses.
The last day we enjoyed breakfast at the Horizon Court and headed down to the lounge area just before our color and tag numbers were called. Disembarkment went as smoothly as embarkment as Princess is very organized. My best tip for you is too mark your suitcases with something bright colored such as a scarf or tape as you have never seen so many black and navy blue suitcase before when you go to find your luggage. Soon the free shuttle picked us up to take us back to the Holiday Inn Express where we spent another night to let the airport clear before heading home.
My husband was apprehensive about taking a cruise and brought six books ( that he never read ) and is more excited about taking another cruise than I am. We would not hesitate to travel the Princess line again. This was a trip we will remember and talk about for a long time.
This was a first time cruise for our family, and on the whole, a better-than-expected experience for our group of skeptics. Our cabins (for 2) were small, but no worse than some European hotels I've been in. The ship was kept very, very clean, the rooms tidied twice a day, the crew seemingly everywhere with a smile.
The ship towered over its neighbors in the port, and its size was best appreciated at night. Three large dining rooms kept the flexible-time eating arrangements working well --- we never waited more than a few minutes for a table, if at all, and service was prompt. I can't imagine why anyone would go on a cruise where you are restricted to one of two fixed dining times, since on days where you are ashore, the early time would be tough to get ready for, while on at-sea days, there's not much point in dining very late.
Since I can't compare to other cruises, for those who are also first timers, what I can offer is a comparison to land-based resorts.
The food wasn't what you would get in a fine, small restaurant, but was betterthan what you get in a large, all inclusive resort. Choice was ample, both in the dining room and at the buffet (where we ate lunch most days). Food was a bit underspiced for my taste. Portion sizes are reasonable --- no one is trying to suff you (For those who want to, you can order seconds, but I'd rather have to do so than have it all put in front of me at once.) Avoid the weak coffee at the buffet --- there's much better at the coffee bar on the 7th floor.
At night, a big ship means multiple entertainment choices --- two shows going at once, several bars with live bands, and an impressive disco soaring above the aft decks. For those like me comparing a cruise to a land-based resort, the night time options were much better on the boat.
Service in the dining rooms, bars, etc. was far better than at a typical caribbean resort. The quality of the entertainment was also superior. (Dont miss James "the kid" --- a wild eyed comic magician, and Scott Wyler was also quite funny).
Daytime activities aren't quite as flexible as when you are at a resort --- you have to wait to get off (particularly on the two stops where the ship anchors offshore and tender boats are needed), and you don't really have time to take in any of the places you visit. You just do an activity (beach, snorkling, etc) then get back aboard. Good swimmers should try the drift snorkling off Cozumel -- they scare you by saying its for "experienced" snorklers, but its no huge challenge and a great excursion.
Its easier to meet people on a cruise than at a resort, and even kids have an easier time matching up with others, even if they turn their noses up at the organized events.
Add it all up, and the Grand princess was a pretty grand time. An easy vacation with everything looked after for you, even if it all has a Disneyland, corny, plastic sort of feel to it. You never really leave the US, you never absorb much local culture, but you do get a no hassle vacation with old fashioned service.
While I haven't been on other ships, I can't imagine what they might offer over this one that would make a difference.
First of all, We had the pleasure of meeting 3 other couples from a posting on a message board that cruised with us on the Grand Princess. I strongly advise using message boards using their "Who's Cruising With Us" option. This allows you to post messages and receive replies with others who are on the same cruise as you are. The cruise would not have been the same without meeting our new found friends. It's a long review, But, If your going on the Grand Princess, You may find the info useful...
DAY 1 - Embarkation It's true...Princess HAS perfected embarkation procedures. They board you by deck assignment, NOT by the usual "1st come..1st serve" basis. We were on board, From terminal to stateroom in 10 minutes (not a misprint!) On past cruises, we waited 30-60 minutes to board. I suggest doing the pre-boarding at the princess website. This really expedited boarding. What a pleasure. Excellent planning Princess!!
DAY 2 - Princess Cays We dropped anchor and used the ships tenders to get to the island. WARNING.....If you are prone to sea sickness, Prepare yourself...this was a VERY rough ride to the beach.All in All...A VERY beautiful beach. They use their own ships tenders and not the contracted boats from the island. The island tenders handle the waters MUCH better.
DAY 3 - Sea Day/1st Formal Night I love the days at sea. On other ships I have been on, They use the ships main theatre for the Captain's reception. On the "Grand", they used the Atrium and had picture taking right in the area of the lifts (elevators) and it was difficult getting off the lifts due to the crowd.
DAY 4 - Grand Cayman I can only compare this wonderful island to Bermuda. We did the "Sea & see" tour (Turtle Farm) and the bus driver (Ivan) was funny and VERY friendly as was everyone we came in contact with on the island.
DAY 5 - Majahual(Costa Maya) Not bad, But not impressed. We did the Uvero Beach Break" tour here. It was very unorganized. We had a 12:45 time for the tour but found you could go whenever you wanted.They have an open bar and sell food. Stay away from the burgers...Don't know what kind of meat it was but it sure wasn't cow!! The buses returning to the ship later in the day ran every hour so plan accordingly. If one bus fills up, You have to stand in the sun for an hour for the next transfer to the ship. This was bad planning on the tours part...They should of had the buses running every 15 to 30 minutes.
DAY 6 - Cozumel This is one of my favorite Islands. We rented a Jeep at the terminal with one of the other couples we met on a message board and had a real BLAST!! Here we did the sun beach break. This was the best of all the beaches. Very clean & very organized. They have an Open Bar as part of the tour and have a $10 buffet that was worth the price. You MUST go to Senior Frogs in the middle of town. We stayed there for a few hours and had a really good time.
Day 7 - At Sea/2nd Formal Night The last day of a cruise is ALWAYS a somber one. The nights dinner included the "Baked Alaska On Parade" dessert.
Day 8 - Disembarkation Nicely done. They began calling groups at 8:20am and we were off the ship by 9:20am. I always hated sitting around waiting to get off on the other ships I have sailed on. Princess Cruises has this down to a science.
PRO's : The Ship was VERY beautiful. The itierary was very good. The ship handled rough waters VERY well. Sabitini's restaurant was excellent, just be prepared to eat for 2 hrs there. It was worth the $20 pp. You weren't inundated with PA announcements. There was always deck hands maintaining the ship. Our room steward (Bricchio) and our dining staff (Monika & Alex) were top notch. The slot machines were very loose and paid out alot. Also not what I had read in other reviews that stated that Princess doesn't pay out.
CON's: The other staff on the ship were VERY unpersonable. They were more patronizing then friendly. I didn't expect this on a Princess cruise that boasts "Were You Belong" as their trademark. The shows sumed up in 1 word....SUCKED!!! The theatre was TOO small and it was more like a High Schools show. We only went to 1 show and my wife fell asleep.I went to Snookers Lounge and had a cigar during the show. Much more pleasant than the show. We heard from others that the other shows were no better. Don't waste your time going to the shows. I'm sure you can find something else to do. The Food was good...But the Menu was VERY out of the norm of my previous cruises. I like the "Towel Animals" on our bed at night, This ship didn't do this. They just turned down the bed and put a chocolate on the pillow. Posting of restrooms on the ship were poor at best. By the time you found a restroom...your eyeballs were floating. Finding the restrooms on this ship is almost as important as the Muster drill!!! I had ordered some stateroom amenities (tray of canapes & tray of Shrimp cocktail) for embarkation day,,,it wasn't there. The baggage handlers at Ft.Lauderdale are thieves. Our friend had a Laptop with a DVD player and 12 movies stolen before it even got onboard.Pay close attention to what you check on and what you carry on. ALWAYS carry on anything of value.
All in All, I have not ever had a "BAD" cruise. I just feel that Princess did not live up to my expectations. Next time I think I'll go back to NCL. I haven't given up on Princess, they have alot to offer, they just need to do some fine tuning. As for the people that have posted reviews saying that the ship is becoming run-down, Let me put it to you this way....The ship sailed on her maiden voyage in 1998. Since then, there have been on average 2600 passengers per WEEK. People can be slobs and don't respect the beauty of a vessel such as the "Grand". There was always some type of cleaning or painting going on on the ship and taking into consideration what I stated above, She is a VERY beautiful vessel. We asked the staff and she is due for overhaul later this year when she relocates to do her Baltic sailings. Would I recommend this ship, YES to 1st time cruisers...NO to Veteran cruisers who have a habit of being too judgemental while comparing it to other ships. To the veterans, Wait till she is refurbished.
Fabulous, Fabulous and did I mention... FABULOUS.
This was my second cruise. The first was on the Star Princess in September of 2003. Seeing that they were sister ships (and because the cost was very low) I felt comfortable booking the Grand. My first cruise I traveled alone (hence the screen name) but a good friend of long standing and I decided we could tolerate each other for a week and she agreed to travel with me.
Pre-cruise: I arrived in Ft. Lauderdale and stayed at the airport Hampton Inn. My friend had flight delays and got there much later than she expected. The hotel was sold out but not overly crowded, clean and the staff was friendly. We took a hotel shuttle to the port and that was a smooth operation.
Embarkation: So easy that I'm convinced Princess should give seminars on registration to hotels, conventions, and theme parks. We handed off the big luggage to porters at 11am, got through the lines and security and were onboard by noon. We dropped off carry-ons and headed to the dining room for lunch, avoiding the zoo that is the buffet the firstday. Unpacked carry-ons, explored the ship, participated in the muster drill and met some online acquaintances for drinks. Sailed away to a setting sun and the sound of airhorns and whistles from the shore.
Cabin: Category II Inside cabin, Aloha 411. Roomy closets, sufficient drawer space for 1.5 persons. I brought a closet organizer made of canvas that encircled the closet pole and fastened with velcro. This was a helpful gadget and I stored the bulk of my folded clothes in it. ($10 walmart) With the beds in the two singles configuration there was ample room to move around. Yes the bathroom is small but certainly big enough for all intended purposes. Even with two women, one could shower while the other did her hair or applied makeup at the dressing table. One trick I've used successfully on both cruises was to attach a goodly number of wooden clothes pins to the bottom of the cloth shower curtain. This will keep it from blowing in on you while you shower.
Public areas: Spotlessly clean, decorated with great style. They were rarely crowded even though the ship was sold out with 2600+ passengers. Dining rooms for Anytime Dining were seldom at capacity and the longest wait we had for a table (sharing with others) was 5 minutes. Pools were very crowded on sea days with the exception of the aft pool. Buffet area and tables along the sides of the ships near the pools were always clean and well serviced. Yes, there were early chair reservers at the pools. But I saw some things moved from chairs that hadn't been occupied for an hour by members of the staff. Casino was very smoky but I smoke so it wasn't a problem. Theaters had great sight lines and good pre-show bar service.
Service: Dining room service was exceptional. Friendly and professional wait staff. Our cabin was scrupulously cleaned and our rare requests were met speedily. Room service was fast and friendly. Bar service ran from good (showrooms) to excellent (lounges).
Entertainment: I had seen most of the same shows on my previous cruise but the performers were talented and very enthusiastic. Movies that were offered were very current.
Shore Excursions: Princess Cays was the best beach stop we had. The staff there made the private island a great day for all. By comparison, Uvero Beach Break at the port of Costa Maya was a not to be repeated trip. The beach was cramped, the drinks from the open bar watered down and the staff repeated how they wanted to be of service because they were anxious for tips. As we boarded the bus to return to the ship, one of the staff members stood by the door of the bus with a huge jar marked tips and said if you like us you will tip us. As I said, not to be repeated. The tour of Grand Cayman was an excellent way to get acquainted with this paradise. The Atlantis Submarine tour was incredible.
Food: The food was all delicious and beautifully presented. We ate some meals in the dining rooms and some in the buffet (don't forget the pizza grill). Food quality never wavered. One note - the Princess Love Boat Dream on the first night was wonderful... I also had it at the farewell dinner and it tasted like rubber. Perhaps the gelatin had set up way too much by the final meal.
We had a marvelous time and we will both sail Princess again. Now comes the unpacking, laundering and researching for the NEXT cruise.
Grand, 2/8/04 Star, 8/30/03
Before I give my review of the ship, I guess I should tell you about the people I traveled with: I sailed with my fiancee, and a couple we are good friends with, and we are all in our early 20's. My fiancee has been on several other cruises with Norwegian, Celebrity, and Cunard; The other couple had sailed on Princess 2 times before; as for myself, this was only my second cruise. My first was on the Disney Magic, which I surprisingly loved. :)
Itinerary: Western Caribbean; Fort Lauderdale, Princess Cays, Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, Cozumel
Cruise Director: Tim
Dress: Each night was smart-casual, with the exception of the at sea evenings, which were formal. On the smart-casual nights, we saw everything in the dining room from t-shirts to cocktail dresses and suits; on formal nights we saw everything from polo shirts to white tuxes.
Embarkation ----------------------------------- This went very smoothly to our surprise; it was a very quick and well organized process. We used the express check-in and it seemed to really save a lot of time.
Food ------ I should start off by saying that I personally am a vegetarian (nofish, no chicken, no beef), so that probably affects my views on the dining situation. My traveling companions are not vegetarians. For the most part, with the exception of the island night buffet, all 4 of us were very underwhelmed by the Horizon Court buffet. We really felt that most of the buffet food was mediocre at best, with breakfast being the worst. The eggs were strangely rubbery, no omelette station (as previously mentioned), and the hashbrowns were as if someone deep fried a blob of mashed potatoes until all the moisture was gone. I will say, however, that my fiancee raved about the banana bread every single morning. Dinner in the dining rooms was exceptionally better. We had personal choice seating, and no matter what time we ate we never had to wait for a table. I enjoyed most of the appetizers, soups, and salads I sampled, while I felt that the vegetarian entrees were lacking in variety/creativity. Lots and lots and lots of pasta. The meat-eaters in my group had nothing but good things to say about their entrees each evening. The desserts were actually somewhat dissapointing...mostly everything looked good, but tasted bland and boring. The raspberry creme brulee was excellent. We had planned on eating at Sabitini's one evening, and after we had already paid the $20 cover charge per person and been seated, I told the waiter that I do not eat meat...he informed me that "they most likely could not accomodate me". How can an Italian restaurant not have one single vegetarian entree? The maitre 'de came to our table and apologized, and promptly credited our account. As for the service in the dining rooms, maybe it's due to the personal choice seating, but the waiters seemed rather unfriendly most nights and some nights even a little bit snobby. I experienced FAR superior service on the Disney lines. The maitre 'de however was EXCELLENT. He gave us personal attention and always made us feel welcomed. If you want a real treat, request Guido in the Da Vinci dining room to bring you a flaming Sambuca shot. He becomes very enthused with the whole process ;)
Entertainment ------------------- As far as entertainment during the day went, we particicpated in a few of the organized activities such as the trivia challenges and the dicey horse racing. Not many people show up for the trivia, so your chances of winning are very good. Over the course of the cruise we ended up winning a beach bag, a toiletry bag, 3 really nice insulated coffee mugs, 2 key chains, and a ball point pen. The dicey horse racing was a lot of fun even though we lost every single solitary game we played (grr). And if you plan on participating in the horse auction, be prepared to pay in the upwards of $200 for a horse (we did not participate in the auction). In the evening, there was always something for everyone going on in the 3 main theatres/lounges. Every night there was some type of Las Vegas production with lots of dancing and singing and lights etc. We only watched one night, and it was a nice show, just not really our taste. We saw the two comedians aboard the ship, Scott Wyler (not our favorite), & James "the kid" Michael (funny in an...obnoxious kind of way). There was also a comedic juggler aboard who we did not see. My hands down favorite act was the hypnotist ("Alexander") on board. I went to all three of his shows and they were absolutely hysterical. Don't miss this if it is an option on your itinerary. We also participated in some of the passenger game show type events (Jeopardy, Passenger Feud, The Newlywed Game) which were a lot of fun, and more prizes. Oh, and I have to add one thing, about the shopping talk: It's way way way way way way WAY too LONG! The advisor was supposed to cover three ports in his talk, and we left after an hour and a half of listening to him, and he had only covered one port so far! YEESH!
The Ship and Our Cabin -------------------------------- The Grand Princess is a beautiful ship, while I found it just a little bit on the plain side. atrium is very pretty, as are the theatres and the dining rooms. I found the pool areas to be somewhat congested and felt that they could have been larger. I did not like the fact that some portions of the ship (i.e. the Boticelli dining room) could only be reached by taking a certain elevator...and the area where the photographs are sold becomes WAY too congested after shows in the Vista Lounge let out...but other than that the crowd control is pretty efficient, and the elevators work well. The cabin we stayed in was on the Plaza level (5) and it was the cheapest of the cheapest cabins available. We honestly could not have asked for more. The closet had plenty of hangers for our formal outfits, and the steward had no problem bringing us extra hangers. There were plenty of drawers for everything else. The bathroom of course was tiny, but this was to be expected. The service from our room steward, Benjamin, was excellent. He was extremely friendly and efficient. The bed was always made before lunch, and the covers were always turned down by dinner time. We had fresh pool towels every days whether we returned the old ones or not, and we got plenty of fresh bath towels, shampoos, and conditioners daily as well. No complaints about our cabin at all.
The Ports -------------
Princess Cays: Princess Cays is Princess's private island in the Bahamas. It was actually a little chilly the day we stopped at Princess Cays, so we didn't go in the water, though it looked nice and clear. From what I could tell there were all kinds of water toys for rental like kayaks and rafts, and I believe you could rent snorkel gear as well. They had all kinds of beach games (which were kind of silly) and they had a barbecue lunch set up which was kind of minimal and nobody in our party really enjoyed very much.
Grand Cayman: We did not venture out of the ultra-touristy shopping district in Grand Cayman except to go on our excursion, which was AWESOME. We booked outside of the ship with a snorkeling boat called "Soto's Cruises"...it was $19, and the boat took you to 3 different locations; 2 reefs, and of course Stingray City. The fish were very diverse and beatiful, and the guide we went with was great; he chased a huge morray eel out of his rock for us, he pointed out a nurse shark to our group while snorkeling, and he showed us all how to pick up the stingrays. I was reluctant to do this tour at first because I am scared of the water, but I am so glad I did it, because it was such an awesome experience. Plus, to book a similar tour on Princess, they wanted $54 and that tour only stopped at Stingray City. One warning about Camanian money: Remember that it adds up QUICKLY in U.S. dollars. Just two of us ate lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, we ordered two sandwich entrees and one drink, and our bill was $53 USD! Imagine our shock!
Costa Maya: We were so very unimpressed with Costa Maya. We had actually booked an excursion for the Uvero Beach Break (which was basically a bus trip to a near-by "white sands beach" that promised an open bar, water toys, and fun activities) since we had heard that there was nothing to do at the actual port. What a RIP OFF. First of all, the bus driver drove like a complete maniac. We thought we were going to die. Everyone on the bus was screaming as the driver ripped around sharp curves and skidded through stop signs. Then, the beach itself turned out to be basically a trash heap. There was litter everywhere you looked on the shoreline. Most of the lounge chairs were broken and they were all extremely uncomfortable. And the "open bar"? They didn't even have blenders. They could basically make you about 4 different kinds of drinks, all of which tasted watered down and generally, well, bad. There was no toilet paper in the restroom stall I used and the attendant had the nerve to tell me that "it is customary to tip the attendant". I told her that it is customary to stock up the toilet paper! Needless to say, I expressed my displeasure to Princess and I was pleasantly surprised when I got my bill on the last day and saw that they had credited us 50% of the excursion price without us even hinting for such an action to be taken. We felt taken care of in that incident.
Cozumel: We rather enjoyed Cozumel, and we all wished that we would have had more time there. This time we found our excursion outside of the ship again. We went horseback riding at Ranchos Palmitos (apparently there are 2 stables by this name...we went to the one closest to the port). It was $35 for two and a half hour ride through the jungle, where you would supposedly see small caves, a brook, and mayan ruins. Aside from the fact that I felt terrible for the horses, who looked on the malnourished side in my opinion, we really had fun on this excursion. The "caves" were underwhelming...the "brook" was a large puddle, and the mayan ruins, well, they were basically a big pile of rocks...but the ride was FUN and we did see some beautiful butterflies along the way. I would say that this is not an ideal ride for a totally unexperienced rider, because the horses would go into a full throttle GALLOP sometimes without warning and the guide did not seem to see any problem with this. In fact, he was laughing at us when we expressed fear (i.e. when we SCREAMED lol). I will tell you that I am not an experienced rider, and I was SCARED, but it was still fun at the same time. One other thing: the guide spoke no english, so if your Spanish is poor that is something to consider. We did a little bit of shopping downtown because the taxi driver told us that we would find better prices there than by the port- I did not find this to be the case at all. We eventually returned to port and did most of our shopping there. And of course, almost anything you are interested in buying you can get the price down if you haggle a little bit. Especially the jewelry.
Disembarkation --------- Overall this went very smoothly, and while the lines to get out to the terminal became annoyingly long at times, I suppose it was an organized madness. They handled it well.
Overall ---------- I had a wonderful time on the Grand Princess. The ship itself was beautiful and clean. The food was mostly good and definitely plentiful. The Cruise Directors were funny and charismatic and made the cruise very enjoyable. The entertainment was mostly excellent. The ports of call were interesting to say the least. I'm not sure that I prefer Princess over Disney, but it comes close, and would I do it again? In a heartbeat.