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
This was the first cruise my wife and I went on. We boarded the ship at 1:30 and found no lines. Yes, food is ready as soon as you board.
We left form Galveston and first ported in Belize City. I highly recommend Sargents cay's excursion. They take you to a 50 by 50 foot island 3 miles out and snorkel in about 8-10 deep water on the barrier reef. An experienced tour guide leads you through the reef. Take an under-water camera for the beautiful fish and coral. Doing this excursion, you never get to see the city.
We ported in Costa Maya. Dont buy anything here. You can find things cheaper in Cozumel. We did the beach break excursions. I did not feel it was worth it.
The next day we ported in Grand Cayman. The island was still pretty bad looking from hurricane Ivan. But the beaches are good. We shopped and then took a taxi for $3 per person to a local hotel to use their beach and facilities.
Cozumel was our last port. We did the Passion Island excursion. This was so nice. However it took 40minutes to get the the island. You spend about 3 hours on the the island with all you can eat and drink (alcohol included) buffet. We still had time to shop afterwards at the port.
Princess was so friendly. There was always something to do from broadway musicals to comedy to movies under the stars on the jumbo screen on the upper deck.
Things I would do different....
They do offer a hair dryer but most women would not consider it that. No irons either. But they have a laundry mat with irons.
If you are traveling in a family or group, bring walkie talkies. They come in handy.
I have cingular and nextel cell phones. Cingular worked in Grand Cayman. So save the $5.00 a minute phone call.
Consider a balcony. I wish I did that. This will be a must next time.
I saw a few people bring cases of bottle water as their carry-on. Those where experienced cruisers. I probably will do the same next time.
For kids, they have a game room, ping pong, tennis court on the upper deck, putt-putt and other activities. However, I did not see many kids on the ship.
We will take this cruise line again. Very Soon!
I took my first cruise this past January 11 on the Grand Princess. It was a last minute vacation that was booked through my local travel agent less than one month before leaving. The reason for choosing this cruise line was because it allows adults under 21 to travel without someone over the age of 25. We originally were booked in a room without a window, but because my friend was a previous cruiser we got upgraded about 2 weeks before leaving to one with a window.
Embarkation: We flew into Ft. Lauderdale from Newark with no problems. We chose to the package which allowed us to be picked up and brought to the port. We had to wait in line to give them our credit cards but the whole process took about 1/2 hour and we were on the boat by 1 pm. We found our room Emerald 622 and decided to explore the ship. We ate at the buffet and then hung out by pool and had a few drinks until the boat left the port around 6pm. The first night was casual and we had chosen thelate seating at 8:30, which was in the Botticelli Dining room. When we arrived to dinner, we were the only 2 people at the table (this stayed this way the entire week.) We invited a guy from the table next to us to join, since he was the only person at his table also! The waiters were just as confused as we were, but i suppose the other people just chose to eat in one of the other dining rooms. Afterwards there was a show in the theater with a preview of what was to come the next week. We also went to the casino where my friend won $50 in Black Jack.
Day 2 This day we made our first stop to Princess Cays. We were awoken very early by the sounds of the lifeboat being lowered into the ocean! Here we just laid on the beach for a few hours and had some food from the huge barbeque they have there. There wasn't much to do here, so we stopped in the gift shops and then went back to the ship. That night magician James Michael was performing in the Vista Lounge, which we enjoyed very much. For the second night in a row we went to check out Skywalkers, but it was not very busy and did not stay very long.
Day 3 We were at sea this whole day and we took advantage of the adults only pool area to sunbathe and test out the current pool. We also ate in the Da Vinci Dining Room for lunch, which i liked much better than the buffet. Most of this day was spent hopping from one hot tub to another (however, at least 2 or 3 were closed every day throughout our vacation.) That night was the first formal night. The dinner wasn't anything more special than any other night.Hyptonist Alexander put on a show this night, which unfortunately we missed because we fell asleep.
Day 4 We arrived early into Grand Cayman. We didn't book any excursions, so we were not in a hurry to get off the ship. When we did we just did a little shopping and ate at a restaurant called Breezes By the Bay. After ordering we received our drinks but our food never came! We were told the order got lost and that something would come free on our bill. We didn't mind though and the shrimp I got was great. Plus they took off the $17 in alcohol we had bought! Later on that night was a casual night, but we were told to dress carribbean! After dinner there was a huge deck party in the back of the boat and I had the best time! They even made pina coladas in a real coconut! I had a great time dancing and the band was excellent (though I can not remember who they were.) Afterwards we ventured up to the night club with some people we had met and partied there until around 4 am. I got to meet some employees of the ship (band members and casino dealers) which i thought was great.
Day 5 After waking up a little late we eventually made our way out to Costa Maya. This place was not very appealing and every shop had the same things. Even the mexicans knew they were selling junk when they told us to "come buy my junk." Needless to say we didn't stay here long. Instead we chose to hang out by the adult pool and fell asleep until the sun set. Before dinner we checked out the horse racing and London Pub night, which was funny, but our new found friends from Scotland found it hilarious! We also chose to eat in Sabbattini's that night which I thought was excellent. I ate everything, including the caviar! And eventually we made our way back to Skywalkers and partied until the early morning once again.
Day 6 This was our last Port of Call, Cozumel. We took a taxi for $6 downtown where we went shopping and ate at Senor Frogs. I recommend anyone who wants to party to eat here and they will definitely make you dance on your chairs! Back on the boat we saw the comedian Scott Wyland and The Magician James Michael again before heading off to the champagne toast. We could not see much because it got very crowded very fast. This was another formal night and we got our pictures taken which was fun for me, but not my friend. That night was also spent at Skywalkers till the early morning.
Day 7 We were at sea this whole day and also very tired and worn out at this point. I checked out the Culinary demonstration and tour, but the tour itself was not very long. We spent most of the afternoon by the Neptune's Reef pool. At dinner that night they had all the waiters come out with flaming baked Alaska. We saw the hyptonist that night. It was an adult show with "adult humor", however we felt there were sexual comments made in everyshow we went to on the ship, which was hilarious and went to skywalkers but headed to bed early since we had an early flight.
Disembarkation We had a red luggage tag which meant we were the fist off the ship. It took about 30 minutes from the time we were called until our bus left and we made it to our flight on time, no problems.
I highly recommend this ship to anyone. There was enough to do for each age group that everyone could be happy. FYI be prepared to spend a lot on alcohol because uless you have a drink in your hand, they will keep asking you for one until you buy one!
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.