Since we did so much on this two week cruise, I'm going to subdivide things into some sections that people might find interesting.
Those sections are:
1. The back to back experience 2. New Waves SCUBA certification program 3. Captain's Circle Platinum Benefits 4. Tours 5. Review of ship/food/entertainment
Back to back cruises
We were able to do back to back because the rates were down because this was hurricane season (we knew this, and so does Princess). You take your chances. The cruise on the Grand the week before us skipped Grand Cayman because of hurricane Lili. We lucked out with no weather problems whatever for both weeks. We originally booked a cabin on Carribe deck with a balcony. Later, Princess changed rates, and a mini-suite guarantee was as cheap as the balcony cabin we originally booked, so we changed to that. Even later, for the second cruise, all mini-suites went for the same price, no matter the location. So with that we asked for, and our travel agent got us, a category AA mini-suite right in the center of the ship. It was to die for!
We had the same cabin for bothweeks, so we didn't have to re-pack. At the end of the first cruise, we waited until all passengers had been called ashore (approximately 9:30am) and then we walked off in a group (there were at least 20 of us on back to back), checked with customs, and then walked back on! We left the ship in the afternoon of that Sunday to make phone calls home, and stop in the "Publix" supermarket for more sunscreen and other "supplies".
At the end of the first cruise, we were asked by the dining captain whether we wanted to keep our same table and waiter. We said yes, but that didn't happen. When we got our new cruise card, we were at a table a couple of tables over from the original one. However, instead of a table for eight which we asked for both cruises, we were now at a table for 11set up like a long Thanksgiving table. It was impossible to carry on conversations with both ends of the table, and one end had a woman in her fifties with her parents in their eighties who were kind of out of contact (she ordered everything for them and they didn't talk throughout the meal). This kind of took away from the dining experience for us, and the table was so crowded against one wall, the waiter couldn't get around to serve the passengers. So for the first time ever, (and this was our 5th and 6th Princess Cruise, and 8th cruise in total), we asked the dining captain if it was possible to change to a table of eight for the rest of the cruise. The next day, we got the new assignment delivered to the room, and immediately hit it off with the other six people and had a second wonderful week "at table"! by the way, the entire dining room staff rotated between the two weeks, so we didn't/couldn't have had the same waiter for both weeks. I think this happens often.
New Waves SCUBA certification programI'll also post this part separately, as many people have asked about this program. Certainly, because we live in Southern California, I could have gotten SCUBA certification here. But with work, etc., there didn't seem like there ever was time (and Southern California Pacific Ocean temperature is 65 degrees, rather than the 85 degrees of the Caribbean!). So I signed up in advance for the certification program. They sent me the official PADI CD-ROM interactive textbook which I used on my laptop. I went through this twice before we left for the cruise. Filled out all of the "knowledge reviews" before we left. On board the first two days were at sea. So each morning with unshine, the instructor, I and five others went through the knowledge reviews, and then took an exam on the subjects covered in each of the five sections. Each session was about two hours or so.
Each afternoon from about 3pm to 6pm, we did the pool training with all of the SCUBA equipment in the Conservatory pool. Finally, we did the qualifying dives in St. Thomas and St. Maarten. Both Sunshine and David, the instructors were wonderful. Sunshine couldn't dive with us as she caught a cold, so David did all of the pool and qualifying dives with us. I learned a whole lot in a concentrated period of time, but it made everything immediately make sense.
I wasn't their best student, but did qualify, and had a wonderful time with it. Since we were doing back to back cruises, I did the regular Princess SCUBA tours on Grand Cayman (they use Don Foster's for that), and Cozumel (they used Dive House for that tour). Both of these were spectacular, especially Cozumel with a reef dive with a vertical drop of hundreds of feet (we stopped at 70 feet), but could look down forever into the ocean when we weren't looking at all of the color and life of the reef itself. Was wonderfully peaceful. The second Cozumel dive was Paradise Reef and it was a "drift" dive--you just kind of stood still and the current carried you around as you passed by wonderful reefs and fish. I thought the program was great, although others on this board have said to do the program onshore. I had the luxury of back to back cruises, so I could relax more on the second cruise which others can't always.
Captain's Circle Platinum Benefits
I'm just going to summarize here, as bits and pieces of this have come out. September began the new categories of "gold" and "platinum" Captains Circle benefits. Gold are passenger with 1-4 cruises, and platinum are 5 or more. This was our 5th and 6th cruise with Princess so we were given platinum benefits. There was a platinum checkin line separate from the quick checkin, and by deck check in lines. Internet access was charged, but then deducted from our room charges (kind of a paperwork exercise). We used the laptops from the pursers desk, but the business center PC's seemed a little faster. Surprisingly, we did receive the $10 credit for filling out our Captains Circle profile online when they opened that up in September. We had thought that we would only receive this on a cruise in 2003, but there was a card in our room announcing they gave it to us on this cruise. Finally, the morning of disembarkation, we had access to the Wheelhouse bar exclusive for Platinum passengers to wait. They had Sunday morning copies of the New York Times available to read.
I'll be quick here as most of my tours were covered by the SCUBA training program the first cruise, and New Waves SCUBA dives the second cruise. My wife went on snorkeling trips mostly. She loved the St. Thomas snorkel to St. John's. She had a small accident and bumped her head getting off the St. Maarten's snorkel, so she didn't really have a chance to do that one well. We both did the swim with the dolphins tour on Cozumel. It was a real kick! Only 24 passengers about of 2,700 got reservations, as it is a small group experience (and they divided us into groups of six at the water park). They take a great video of you as you actually interact with the dolphins, and the dolphins push you around twice while you are in the water with them.
Review of ship/food/entertainment
I'm not going to go into great detail in describing the ship as that's been done many times. We like the arrangement (wished the main central staircase went through all the way as we had a room in the center of the ship and couldn't use the staircase, so had to use the ones in front or back, or the central elevator bank). The production shows and movies were the same on both cruises, in slightly different order. The lead comedy/juggler (James Michael) was on both cruises, but the other comedians seemed to change between weeks (and one got off in the middle of the first cruise). We enjoyed "Lights, Camera, Action", but have seen "Rhythms of the City" two years in a row, and while the singing, dancing, sets and costumes are great, it's lots of music you never remembered before. We didn't catch the newest production as it was never offered after late seating dinner. They only showed it at 7pm for late seating passengers, and 8:45 for early seating passengers. That night we had dinner at Sabbatini's so we didn't get a chance to see it.
I'm a little disappointed in that like last year on Sea Princess, they think that showing movies in the Princess Theater or Vista Lounge in the evening counts as "big" entertainment. It's certainly cheaper for them, but I look forward on a cruise to entertainment I can't really get at home easily, but many passengers love them (My Big Fat Greek Wedding was the big hit onboard).
We loved the food in the dinning room. The menu's were largely the same. On the second week, the "English Dinner" from week one which was crab legs, prime rib with Yorkshire pudding etc, became "Chef's dinner" the second week, and the prime rib was changed to lamb chops. Otherwise the themes were the same, but in a different order. Sabbitini's was a lot of fun and had all of our Italian favorites and we didn't mind the 2 and 1/2 hour experience. We treated it as our entertainment that evening.
I didn't gain a pound for the two weeks! Swam laps in the conservatory pool each morning at sea, and we went for 1 mile walks around the Promenade Deck each day too. Had light breakfast on the balcony each morning and we brought wine onboard that we bought at Publix in Ft Lauderdale so we could have "happy hour" at sunset on the balcony. We raided the Horizon Court for crackers, cheese and cold cuts for our snacks.
We also did a renewal of vows ceremony with the captain of the day (not the Italian chief captain). Was very nice. Had a glass of champagne before the ceremony while they pinned the boutonniere on me and gave my wife her orchid bouquet. Then the ceremony which was about five minutes and then photos. There was a bottle of champagne in our room upon return. It was done at 6pm on the first formal night so everyone was dressed up. They had three weddings and five renewal of vows that day.
I just hope everyone going after us has as much fun as we did.
Thanks Norm and Maureen Reeder
This is a review of our 9/1/02 trip on the Grand Princess to the Eastern Caribbean. Just a little background: I am in my mid 40's, my husband in his mid 50's. He is a assembler for a defense contractor; I am an administrative assistant for a state university here in New Jersey. Our past travels include several trips to Disney World and local stays throughout the Eastern Seaboard. This review shares our views and opinions.
We booked this trip way back in January of 2002. Hubby has wanted to cruise since our first anniversary, but we never had the opportunity. We decided, however, to plan the trip for our 25th wedding anniversary. We spoke with several people we knew who had cruised for their opinions and ultimately, used the Cruise Critic website to help us decide that Princess was the way to go.
We departed Newark Airport at 9:45 am on Sunday, September 1 and arrived in Ft. Lauderdale at 12:15 pm. We had chosen to use Princess's shuttle service to the ship and one of our biggest concerns was how were we going to find the Princess representatives in theairport. Well, not to worry.As we descended the escalator to baggage claim, there they were.several representatives holding up large signs reading, "Grand Princess." We were directed to retrieve our luggage from the carousel and then bring it to an area directly adjacent to the escalators. One of the representatives met us there and collected our shuttle vouchers. We waited for several others and were then escorted out of the terminal for a short walk to the shuttle bus. Others were already waiting and we discovered that the representatives take small groups at a time out to the bus instead of waiting for huge groups inside the airport. We were happy to see that the bus was an air conditioned coach bus, and after leaving our luggage outside the bus, we boarded to await a few more passengers. After a short delay of about 15 minutes.it seems there was more luggage than room on the bus and we had to wait for another bus to transport for the rest of the baggage.we departed for the short (10 minute) ride to the ship. We arrived at the Port Everglades terminal at approximately 1:15 pm.
We were dumbfounded when we saw the ship. We knew it was big, but WOW!!!!! The shuttle bus dropped us right at the terminal entrance and before we knew it we were in the terminal. We showed a representative our Express Check-In sticker and were directed to the express check-in line for Caribe deck. The woman there greeted us with us smile, took our tickets, handed us our cruise cards, directed us to security and then we were on the ship and opening the door to our stateroom. All within 15 minutes!!! Amazing!!!
We headed straight for the Horizon Buffet for lunch. It sure tasted good!! Then we wandered the ship and began to familiarize ourselves with the different decks, pools and areas.
We had made arrangements to meet many of our Cruise Critic board buddies at 5:00 pm in the Oasis Bar. We were thrilled that so many of them showed up. Several of the younger couples immediately bonded while those of us middle aged and older formed our own friendships right away. It was great to experience sail away with people we had been corresponding with for the past six months!
Our luggage showed up piece by piece at our door and was all there by 6:00 pm. We had previously packed our clothes for dinner that evening in our carrions; however, in case the luggage didn't arrive in time for dinner. We met our room steward, Gil, and requested robes for both of us and wine glasses. It didn't take long for them to be delivered.
We chose personal dining and were not disappointed. It was great to have the flexibility to dine whenever we wanted. Four of the couples we met began the cruise with late traditional dining and three changed to personal choice.
We chose to eat dinner by ourselves the first night and had a short 5 minute wait for a table at 8:00 that evening. We ordered prime rib and it was perfect. I don't know about those people who have said in previous reviews that Princess doesn't know how to cook beef, that it is always overcooked. Our's was exactly as ordered - medium rare. It was juicy, tasty & excellent.
We went to the opening show in the Princess Theater which featured a musical number for the Grand Princess singers & dancers, an intro to the cruise crew and a comedian, Scott Wyler, who started slow but had us laughing out loud by the time he was done.
Monday - Our first full day at sea. The evening before we had filled out a request for room service breakfast between 7:30 & 8:00, wanting to eat breakfast on the balcony. I was happy with the continental breakfast offered on the hang tag and chose several items. Hubby, however, wanted eggs, so I figured, let's try it. On the bottom of the hang tag I wrote in: "2 eggs, bacon, hash browns & toast". At approximately 7:50, the room service waiter knocked on the door & brought in not only my requested continental breakfast but TWO orders of eggs (scrambled), bacon and hash browns. (No toast, however.) What a fantastic way to start your day!!!! by the way, the coffee from room service was pretty good.
We spent time checking out the ship.Voyage of Discovery Game Room, the Casino, wandering Promenade Deck. At 11:30 we went to Calypso pool to learn to snorkel and wound up spending the rest of the day there. While we tried both adult pools throughout the cruise, we gravitated to the Calypso pool each time we went swimming. We just liked this pool better. Hubby spent time in the casino in the afternoon where they offered free lessons for the table games. Since he had never played Caribbean poker, he was anxious to learn. Unfortunately, I guess they never taught him all the inside tricks, because he lost!!!
This was the first formal night and also the evening we were scheduled to renew our vows. We chose the basic Renewal of Vows package which included a bottle of champagne, a bouquet for myself & a boutonnière for hubby, a framed formal picture and the vow renewal ceremony. While short, the ceremony was touching and beautiful. The chapel is attractively decorated and the ceremony was conducted by the Staff Captain (who is second in command). One of the crew members was happy to take over our video camera and taped the entire ceremony for us to share with our family back home.
Formal pictures were being taken that evening by the ship's photographers. One hint which we found invaluable was that different backgrounds are available in different areas/levels of the atrium. Make sure that you visit at least three of them; you have a better chance of getting pictures that you are happy with. One other tip.as you find your pictures the next day on deck 7 where they are displayed, pull them and ask the photography people to start a file for you. They will put your pictures in an envelope and you can keep adding to it. This way all of your pictures are in the same place and it is easier, on Saturday, to chose the best ones.
We ate late that evening with two other couples. The food again was great. Good appetizers, soup, entrees & dessert. Ahhh, the desserts..who said Princess doesn't know how to make desserts.they were great!!! It was late by the time we finished dinner and decided to just spend some time in the Wheelhouse Lounge just dancing and listening to some music. It was relaxing and great to spend time getting to know our new friends.
Tuesday - second day at sea. We again ordered breakfast on the balcony and it was delivered promptly and exactly as ordered. Today we did some more exploring and found the Princess links. It's tucked away upstairs between the Calypso & Neptune pools. It's just a small 9 hole putting course, but we had fun!! We visited the Vista Lounge and tried the horseracing. We had lots of fun & even won $4! The afternoon was spent by the pool, just relaxing and laying in the sun.
This was a smart casual night and the dress ranges from almost formal to barely casual. Believe me, short of wearing a t-shirt & shorts, you can wear almost anything to dinner on these evenings and not feel out of place. This was French Night and the escargot was excellent. I even got adventurous and beside ordering the pork loin as my entrée, told the waiter I would love to try the frog legs, since I would probably never get the chance again. He happily brought out a full entrée for me to try them. And they were good..not quite like chicken.I thought more like mussels, but that may have been because of the sauce. After dinner we went to see the hypnotist, Alexander. He was phenomenal. We had a great time.
Wednesday - St. Thomas. What a great day!!! We chose to do the Champagne Catamaran to St. John as our excursion which we booked through Princess. This was a fantastic experience. There were 28 of us on the catamaran - Heavenly Day out of the Bolongo Bay Beach Resort. We departed at 9:30 am and after a short safety talk, we found our spots out in the sun on the front of the catamaran and enjoyed the ride. The captain and crew were great and when they say that drinks (both alcoholic and non) are available, they are not kidding. The rum punch/soda/champagne/wine starting flowing by 10:00 am and never stopped. We arrived at Honeymoon Beach at 11:00. What beauty!!! The aqua of the water contrasting with the white sand beaches and the deep green of the palm trees was breathtaking!! The boat pulled within 10 feet of the shore, we were given snorkeling equipment and off we went. It was a great place to snorkel, clear & warm. We were also given a great lunch while there (roast beef, turkey, tuna sandwiches, potato salad, pasta salad, chips, pretzels) We stayed at the beach for over 2 ½ hours. On the way back to St. Thomas, we were served more beverages and dessert. This excursion was definitely worth every penny! After docking, we still had about 1 ½ hours to do some shopping in the mall area at the dock.
This was the only night we didn't eat in the dining room. We were so exhausted from the excursion that we didn't feel like dressing up and ate in the Horizon Buffet. It was Italian Night and much of the food that was offered in the dining room was also available in the buffet. Again, we were pleased with the quality. We met our friends later in the evening in the hot tub on Oasis bar for a relaxing soak and glass of wine.
Thursday - St. Maarten. Another beautiful day!!! We had an early excursion on the America's Cup Regatta. What an experience!!! We were chosen for the crew of the US Stars & Stripes and raced Canada II. Hubby took an active role and I was a cheerleader - RAH, RAH!!! It was exhilarating! And while we didn't win.we lost by 6 feet..we had a great time.
We spend the rest of the day on the island at Everythin' Cool. We took the ship's excursion for this and realize now that it wasn't necessary. Transportation is not included in the excursion so you still have to pay for a taxi or the water taxi to get there & back to the ship. It's easy enough to get to and you don't get anything more for your money taking the excursion than you would pay yourself. Lunch was OK; the drinks were good. If you want a pair of chairs & an umbrella it will cost you another $10. Beware of the locals selling their wares - they are everywhere. The second you sit down on your beach lounger, they accost you and don't want to hear no. We spent most of time in the water to avoid them. (This certainly wasn't a hardship!!) We did only souvenir shopping here also. We're not into jewelry or linens. Again, walking along Front Street we were harassed by shop merchants and taxi drivers. Next time I think we would definitely head to Orient Beach or a tour of the island.
Tonight was Island Night and we had a great time playing games, dancing and listening to music on the back three decks of the ships. We had lots of laughs as they crowned Mr. Grand Princess!!!!
Friday - Last day at sea. Today was the first day the sun wasn't out. We awoke to cloudy and cooler weather and after the all the days of sun & heat, we welcomed the reprieve. We spent time exploring new areas of the ship. We went to the cooking demonstration and then took the galley tour. Don't miss it!!! We took a juggling class and when the sun broke through a bit, spent time at the pool and relaxing on deck. What is it about the ship that makes it so easy to fall asleep??? We couldn't lay on the deck chairs for more than ½ hour without falling asleep!!! What a life!!
This was the second formal night and portraits were again being taken by the photographers. After dinner we went to the Lights, Camera, Action production show. It was OK. Just as others have reported, it just doesn't run smooth. Unless you read the Patter, you would have no idea as to the premise behind this. The dancers were mediocre & I always felt like the singers were lip syncing instead of singing themselves. They also had the champagne waterfall at 11:45. If you want to see it, get there early. People are lined up at the banisters around the atrium, five or six deep.
Saturday - Princess Cays. This was a great way to end the cruise! You have to tender to the island and Princess certainly knows how to move lots of people. This was organized and effortless. We just reported to the Explorer's Lounge, picked up a ticket with a number & waiting for our number to be called. They call 100 people at a time and we waited only 15 minutes. Before we knew it, we were on the island. We went to the right - to the quieter side. Yes, it's somewhat rocky, both on the beach & in the water, so it is a good idea to bring some type of water shoes. We truly enjoyed the island, though. There are various locals selling their wares behind Princess's store and we got some great bargains!!! We didn't snorkel there but others said there were many fish to be seen.
We spent a better part of the evening packing our luggage and feeling sad that this magnificent cruise was just about over. After another great dinner, we spent time with friends just sharing memories and listening to some good and not so good (karaoke) music.
Sunday - Back in Fort Lauderdale. Tears all around for the end of our cruise. In true Princess fashion, they easily moved all 3,000 people effortlessly off the ship. They started disembarking at 8:15 and we were off the ship by 9:15, through immigration & customs, found our luggage and were on the shuttle bus by 9:30!!! We had a 12:00 pm flight out and were in the airport by 9:50. One more hint.make your luggage distinctive. We had purchased some fluorescent pink duct tape & placed a few pieces on the corners of our luggage. It allowed us to easily spot our own bags in the sea of luggage in the terminal.
Since this was our first cruise, we did not have anything to compare it to. However, after speaking with many others on the ship, the consensus seemed to be that Princess certainly knows how to treat their passengers and offers a great value for the money. Sure there were the normal complaints about having to pay for ice cream, or being nickeled and dimed but overall, the comments were favorable. We found smiling, welcoming faces on all the crew. No matter who you met in the hallways or the public rooms, everyone said hello and wished us a good day. We even spoke with the Captain at least four different times throughout the ship.
Overall, the food was good. Some things were better than others, but that could be said in any good restaurant. The service in the dining rooms was mediocre; we found only one server & assistant, Kayla & Victor, in the Michaelangelo Dining Room, whom we really liked. The entertainment was good - the hypnotist & comic juggler were the best that we saw. The musicians in the lounges play a different types of music.you can usually find whatever you desire.
The cabin was adequate. Seemed small at first, but we easily got used to it and intimate may be a more appropriate description. The larger balcony on Caribe was great. It took a little getting used to the fact that others could look down on us & we could look down on those on Dolphin deck, but after the first few days, we forgot all about it.
We fell in love with cruising and with Princess. While we would be curious to sail with other lines to compare services and activities, we will definitely sail with Princess again. Time to start looking to the next one!!!
We just returned from the July 21 eastern Caribbean sailing of the Grand Princess. This was our 14th cruise, and our second on the Grand Princess. We were in Florida on other business and decided to take a break. We originally planned a five-day Carnival cruise, but discovered that the seven-day Princess cruise was less expensive.
Princess does a great job with passenger check-in. For the most part, it is fast and efficient. We booked a JJ category cabin and were not upgraded. We like inside cabins because they are so dark in the morning. We don't care for a balcony and are not willing to pay for something we probably won't use. This cabin was nice, standard fare.
The Grand Princess is still very nice; a bit worn in places, but age does that. It is elegantly appointed with much marble and wood.
Service: Throughout our cruising career, we have found that service has been about the same from ship to ship. We have sailed all the major cruise lines, including Cunard, and found that, with the occasional exception of a waiter or cabin steward, they are all trying to do a goodjob. Some people are better at what they do than others, and some people are nicer than others. We believe the quality of service depends on the individual server, not the cruise line's policy.
Entertainment: For the most part, we found the entertainment mediocre at best. We only went to one production show, since we had seen the same show last year. It was entertaining and similar to the 20 or 30 other shows we have seen. The comics were good, the comic juggler was OK. We were always entertained -- maybe not to the caliber of Broadway, but adequately. We were bothered by the use of movies as the main source of evening entertainment (We say "main" because they were in the main theater). The movies were OK, but not that new. There was always a selection of gambling, nightclub and lounge options.
The ship offers trivia games two or even three times a day. Since we are big trivia fans, this made us very happy. We met some wonderful people at Trivia, which greatly enhanced our trip. Princess should have a Trivia Theme Cruise. The mandatory art auction was held almost every day, Bingo about 10 times a day. What bothered me about Bingo was the size of the progressive jackpot ($2,200); they must have taken in 20 times that amount. I have seen jackpots as high as $6,000.
Food: This is our main area of interest, and the best basis for comparison to other cruises. This is one of the main reasons we like cruising, so here is where we will get picky. First, we wanted traditional early seating, but we were put on a waiting list of 155 people, and never got past 119. If so many people want Traditional, why don't they rethink their dining policy? We decided that if we did not get Traditional, we would try Personal Choice. We give Personal Choice mixed reviews. We like to meet new people, and feel that eating alone diminishes the cruise experience. Since we ate before 7 p.m. and were willing to sit with others, we didn't have to wait for a table. Only once at 8:15 did we have to wait 20 minutes.
Personal choice is OK, but we aren't sure we would do it again. The dining room food was just OK, the same menu as last year. We ate beef three times for lack of something else to order. The lobster was good, as were the escargots. Desserts were poor to average. We ate lunch in the dining room once. It was adequate.
We never had breakfast in the dining room. The Horizon Court Buffet is among the best we have ever seen on a cruise ship -- very good selection for all meals, and the food was comparable to the dining room. But there were a few problems that bothered us last year which have not been fixed: No Lemonade. No half-and-half for coffee (we had to ask the headwaiter, and he brought us whipping cream each morning, so we made our own half-and-half. No omelet station. If you like French toast, wait until you get home -- they brush the bread with egg, but it never gets inside. On the plus side, there was a great selection of fresh fruit, fresh bread and rolls. Smoked salmon (lox) was available at the buffet five of the seven days. They even had kippers one morning.
Ice Cream: A charge of $2-$4 for ice cream, even premium, is outrageous! All the other ships we have been on had free soft ice cream machines for all (RCCL had yogurt only, which was not worth eating). There was one new development this year: Each day from 3:30-4:30 p.m., they had a FREE "make your own sundae" in the Horizon Court. The pizza was good, and so was the hot dog, sausage and hamburger bar. Princess has stopped midnight buffets, apparently in the belief that since the Horizon Court Buffet is open 24 hours a day, they are no longer necessary. We feel that a Grand Buffet, with the ice carvings, fancy platters, bread figures etc. adds to the cruise experience and should be reinstated.
A word on pool towels: One towel per person is left in the cabin at night. No towels are available by the pools. This inconvenience is something we have not seen on any other ship. The pools were very nice, fresh water, open all night. We saw many children in the pools and hot tubs late at night. Speaking of children, there were many on board - and some of them needed but did not get proper supervision from their parents or whoever was in charge. Gym facilities were inadequate for a ship of this size.
Tipping: A charge of $10 per day (up from $6.50) is added to the cabin account for everyone, not just Personal Choice diners. This bothers us. You can go the purser to remove the charge, but that means you have to take an extra step to stop a tip. Next it will probably be added to your cruise fare as a service fee. We believe in tipping, but we also believe that a TIP (To Insure Promptness) should be earned.
Ports. We have been to the ports countless times. We stayed on board and played Trivia.
Granted some things we mention are not great problems. This review is only our opinion. Personally, we like to read "picky" reviews. by hearing the worst, we can better understand the entire picture. Overall, we met some great people and had a great time. As we get older, different things become more important.
Note: The Eastern Caribbean cruise is also on the Golden Princess, the Grand' sister ship and sails to St-Martin first before going to St-Thomas.
General impression of the ship and embarkation:
Six month before taking this cruise, my husband (Justin) and I (28 at the time, Justin is 35 and our first cruise for both) were in Fort Lauderdale for the weekend. Our hotel was not far away from Port Everglades, Princess's main port of call. As we mentioned it, the concierge told us that a lot of ships were leaving on Sundays and it was well worth a glimpse. We took his words. It happened that we were thinking of sailing on the Grand and, surprise, there it was! I have never seen a ship this huge. My jaw dropped at her sight. Not only was it massive, but it was also elegant with the nightclub hanging over the water like a whale's tail. Other people were there to enjoy the show. And what a show, Once the anchor was off, this huge ship backed up a little, turned around, put her nose toward the sea and sailed away, allof that seemingly without an effort, just by gliding. It was so awe-inspiring that I dreamt of it the same night.
Needless to say we were exited once we arrived at Fort Lauderdale. The taxi ride from the airport is not expensive, the harbour being so close. If you have a car, know that parking doesn't come cheap (12$/day) so you might as well find some kind of arrangement if possible. Now, we bought our ticket online at the price of the lowest level inside cabin, having a guaranteed reservation but we didn't choose our room yet in the hope we might be upgraded. And surprise, when we received our ticket, we were indeed upgraded to an outside stateroom with a partially obstructed room. So that is a thing to remember when you book a cruise. Once you arrive at the terminal, there are employees who are taking charge of the luggage you'll be checking in (don't forget the tip).
The embarkation is quite similar to what happens at the airport. You show your Id, your ticket and you receive your cruise card, which you must have at ALL INSTANT. It will be your embarkation card, your credit card on the ship (and on Princess Cays) and, of course, your key-card to your room. You go through the metal detector thing and you are on your way. Despite the number of passengers the ship was sold out which means they had to process 2600 passengers), we didn't wait too long and everything went smoothly. Just before the gangway, a photographer is already there, prompt to immortalize the smiles on all those happy faces. My heart raced as I climbed on the gangway then stepped down on the boat for the first time. I could already feel a gentle rocking. And how beautiful! You access the ship via the Atrium which is quite "Grand" with lovely tones of beige. The first thing you do is of course, go to your room and drop your stuff. We were quite in a hurry and exited. We took the glass elevator to our stateroom located on the Emerald deck (deck 8), approximately mid-ship. Since the atrium is in front of the ship, the corridor was quite long and it was quite impressive to see. The room was just the right size, not too small but not big either (actually bigger than I expected) with two beds put together and forming a queen size bed, a mini-fridge, a desk on the right of the bed with a chair and a big mirror above (the old trick of the mirror to make a room loom bigger. And of course, a TV (which broadcast CNN, Discovery Channel, TNT, a Movie Channel (with movie that have not been released in video yet), the Princess Channel - which gives you information about what's going on on the ship), ESPN... We also had a big enough closet (in which there is a little safe ) and a smaller one for T-shirts and underwear. The bathroom is small but that didn't bother us. However, if you're tall and/or large, fitting in the shower may be a little tricky. The ship has its own water-recycling unit and the water is probably one of the best I have ever tasted. Our window was partially obstructed indeed but, of course, it didn't matter and we were not there to spend the day in our stateroom. Shortly after we entered our room , our stewardess came to greet us. Her name was Ana-Maria and it was her first time on the Grand Princess. She explained to us some of the basics of our cabin and the ship, showed us how the safe was working and asked us if we had any special request. Nice lady but I was able to notice a hint of authoritarian character. But she will be impeccable during our whole trip. The great thing for those who like to eat is, as soon you embark, you can go straight to the buffet. Having had one of those deli-style bag on the plane from Chicago, we were quite hungry and headed for the Horizon Court.
Hopefully, one of the first thing you notice in the room is a little plan of the ship you can carry in your pocket because it is quite easy to get lost in the first couple of days. The Horizon court is located on the Lido Deck (or deck 13) on the aft side of the ship. It was really crowded as a lot of people have the same idea as soon they embark: eat! The buffet line was ornate with watermelon and ice sculpture and everything looked REALLY appetizing. Especially the dessert. We will soon discover they're the best part of the buffet. I tried not to stuff myself already because I really wanted to enjoy my dinner in the main dining room. I was so excited I caught myself dancing on the island beat that filled the restrooms and the corridors. At 4:00 PM, it is the mandatory Safety Drill. You won't escape it since the stewards are checking every room. After the drill (you will be pleased to know that there is enough lifeboats to fit all passengers in the improbable case you'd have to abandon ship). We decided to carry on visiting the ship.
Plaza Deck (5): The Plaza deck is the first thing you see when entering the ship. The atrium is 3 decks high and topped with a beautiful stained glass. A piano player is entertaining guest at cocktail time and you can find lots cozy chairs. It also has a lobby bar. You'll also find one of two Purser's desk. Just on the right of the purser's desk, you can find a nicely (although small) furbished library. I recommend you go as early as possible if you don't have a clue of what to see on your trip because the travel books are leaving fast. Just beside, you have Players, the card room that features also games like Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit), for those afternoon at sea, in case you really wouldn't`t know what to do. There is also a writing room. On the back of the ship, you'll also find the Michelangelo, one of the main dining room.
The Fiesta deck (6): is the host of the Botticelli (which is only accessible by a rear stairs, which is weird) and Leonardo main dining rooms, princess boutiques, the casino ( not too tacky and features some cool holographic sea life pictures) and the fabulous Princess Theatre which is 2 or 3 decks high (don't excactly remember).
The Promenade deck (7): Features well. the wraparound promenade which will become one of Justin and I's favorite place, the Painted Desert, the Tex-Mex alternative dining option, the Heart and Minds chapel where the captain can tie the lovers' knot should you decide to get married. The Explorer Lounge has a an Egyptian-Indian feel and is a venue for art auctions during the day, shows and becomes a dance-hall and karaoke performance stage (passengers can also become performers on the last night of the cruise with the passenger's talent contest). The Wheelhouse bar has a gentlemen club feel, here, the nautical theme is dominant and it's very cozy. You will also find La Trattoria, the Italian dining option and last but not least: the Vista Showlounge, one of the busiest place on the ship. During the day, you can watch movies, play bingo, attend lectures and at night, you can. also watch movies and see performances like stand-up comedians. A piece of advice, be early on performance night or you will be stuck behind a pillar that blocks your view. And going from the boutiques to the Vista Lounge, you have a big alley were the photo-service is installed. You will find your ship pictures on display and for you to purchase.
The Lido deck (13) is the second busiest deck on ship with two pools: the Poseidon Pool where all the action is and the Calypso Pool with its retractable roof (great for bad weather or cool sea breeze). By the way, you will find the Poseidon Grill by the pool which serves you the usual fast-food things (burgers'n fries) and the Pizzeria (go have a try, they're delicious and there is a special pizza everyday). There is also Scoops, the ice-cream parlor, but you have to pay, it's a haagen-dasz concession. Words of advice: if you come to the Horizon Court between 3:30 and 5:30, vanilla and Chocolate ice-cream is available (with the indispensable fudges and cream). Further back, the Horizon Court which has a 24 hours buffet and is Justin's favourite place. The aft Terrace is a very nice place to have your breakfast if you don't wake up too late (the heat sets it quickly) with the adult-only terrace pool down on the Aloha deck.
The main attraction of the Sun Deck (14) is the Plantation Spa. If you don't feel like it (or can't afford, it doesn't come cheap) to have a massage, you can use the Lap Pool, the sauna and the gym. if you are thinking about having a spa treatment, it is better you go right away there and make your appointment as it gets all booked up very quickly. It's also the area where kids are kings which the Fun Zone for the young ones and Off-Limits, a teenagers' only nook. For the kids and kids at heart, there is also Voyage of Discovery, an arcade heaven but it's not cheap! The Conservatory is a relaxing place, overlooking the calypso pool. Ideal for your afternoon tea.
The Sport deck (15) has a tennis court-volley-ball-basket ball court and a jogging track that runs all along the ship. There is a golf simulator as well, PrincessLinks. And finally, the Sky Deck (17) which has perhaps the neatest feature of the ship : the Skywalker Lounge, a nightclub hanging above the rest of the ship and which gives the Grand class ships that distinctive look. To access the lounge, there is a glass walkway (that is all lit up with neon at night). The Lounge has floor-to-ceiling windows with a superb view during the day. If you go during the day, you won't find anyone there and you can spend a quiet time.
But the time to sail away was near and quick, we ran to the lido deck to see our departure. Justin and I thought we'd have the Loveboat theme. Alas! I guess since they've been bought by P&O. But, with a LoveBoat cocktail on my hand (with the colours of Princess: blue, green and white), sun in my eyes, music in my ears. Anchors off! We saluted Fort Lauderdale as we left and waved at people at the parking lot that was watching us . thinking that only 6 months ago, we were the ones standing in the parking lot!
The ship slowly backed up in channel and we were gone, everybody gathered at the back of the ship to see Fort Lauderdale disappearing with the setting sun.
On Princess, you have the choice for your dining option: fixed seating (at 6 or 8) or Personal Choice Dining (you can come anytime you want). At first, we had chosen to have a fixed seating at the 6PM service, just to try, knowing that you can change your mind afterwards. Because we would miss the sunsets if we carried on with the 6PM dining, we decided to go on Personal Choice. But for our first dinner, we went ahead with the fixed seating. It's always a gamble because you never know with what kind of dining companions you will end up. Ours were pleasant enough but that didn't stop us from choosing PCD. You can even end up booking a table for PCD, in case you ended up with nice waiters and wanted to keep them. Anyway, the question you are probably asking is : how is the food? First, you have to know that the menu is changing everyday: French, Italian, the Captain's Gala Dinner. and if really, you really don't like what you see on the menu, you can always order from the permanent menu. The food is very tasty and well-presented although not exceptional. Each time we were there, the service was impeccable but if you come at a busy time, you might wait longer than you'd want for your food and drink (although it's part of the experience of dining in any fine restaurants). The Maitre D' (they are all Italians in the three different dining rooms) are all great, using that Italian charm (especially with the ladies, but it's part of the game) to put you at ease. So, no complains from that point of view.
We spent our first night aboard watching Ocean's Eleven in the Vista Lounge and after that, we went to take a look at what was going on in the Princess Theater, we just arrived in the middle of a stand-up comedian's act. Unfortunately, I can't remember his name but he was really good. Not being a fanatic of Las Vegas style shows, we haven't seen any but the comments I heard were very positive, I even heard "dazzling". We also went to the Skywalker Lounge which is really great at night, lots of people, nice light work, good music (we were just there for a "disco-mix, they have theme-parties too). Finally, exhausted, we decided it was time to go to bed.
Days at sea:
The days at sea are REALLY relaxing. And there is so much to do you hardly have the time to get bored. Everyday, the Princess Patter (the ship's newsletter delivered in your room the day before) keeps you informed of what's going on on the ship, the ship's maneuvers, the staff, technology information about how the ship works. First thing first: breakfast. You can go either in the main dining room or at the Horizon court for a buffet style breakfast. The, it's off to the pool. You're not supposed to hog a lounger (if a lounger is unattended for more than 30 min's, the staff can free it but I've never seen anyone doing it). In the middle of the morning, it's quite difficult to find a place around the Poseidon Pool so, you have been warned. Hopefully, people come and go. I tried the gym as well, it is small but has all the essential to keep you in shape. I shamefully have to admit I gave up, the appeal of the pool and sun was too strong. Another advice, although it seems obvious: don't forget the sunscreen and take a high-number screen. Being from Mediterranean origins, I never needed any screen that was over SFP 4. After spending an hour in the sun with an SFP 4, I was burnt. Yes, that tropical sun is harsh!
In the early afternoon, a band will come to entertain you with some island music and the cruise director also organizes poolside game and yes, I'll say it, I took part in one of them. My only reward was a medal (I thought they'd give us some shipboard credits, cheap!). But there are lots of things to do during those days at sea: catching up on that book you wanted to finish, go see an after-lunch movie, take part to a trivia game, attend an "How to make your complexion brighter" lecture, play a game of Monopoly, be pampered at the spa or just bake in the sun. You will barely realize it's almost time for dinner. Which means more activities! A country dance lesson? Ballroom dancing? Magic? Casino? Shows? Movies? It's your pick! The first complete day at sea was "formal night" which Justin doesn't like much. I, on the contrary, couldn't wait to put on one of my gown.
4th day: St-Thomas, US Virgin Island
Finally, our first port of call. We arrive early at St-Thomas. The first thing I do (right after taking my shower), is going down on the Promenade deck and admire the view. It is beautiful indeed. There is a feeling of joy in men when they see land after some time at sea. I could feel it. Everything was very quiet, the harbour filled with boats like little patches of white on the blue sea. On the opposite side of the bay, a vision of white and red: Charlotte Amalie, the island's capital. As soon as breakfast is eaten, we go ashore. The first stop is the tourist info but I already know where we should be going: Magens Bay, supposed to be one of the most beautiful beach in the Caribbean. Taxis are waiting (they are in fact mini-vans that can carry like 9 people and they won't leave until they are full). Ours is a very outspoken guy. "Now, you gotta have my name, just in case you forget something in the car. If you ask for Albert, people don't know who it is. If you ask for small Albert, people don't know who it is. If you ask for Fat Albert, people don't don't know who it is but if you ask for Uncle Albert, now people know it's me!". That may give you an idea. And here we are on our way to Charlotte Amalie. Once you're in town, it's a tricky stuff. The streets are VERY narrow and steep. Uncle Albert describe us the main points of interest along the way, like that park dedicated to the Slaves freedom and were you can see sculptures of important people of the island. Then, we're driving up towards the other side of the island to Magens Bay, as the car climbs up, we have a great view of the harbour and the city below and you can have a clear idea of how big the Grand is. May being the start of low-season, we were fortunately the only cruise ship here and Magens bay will probably be empty. We can get a glimpse of it through the dense tropical foliage and it looks promising.
Finally, here we are. Magens Bay is a park but it'll only take you one dollar to get in. The view is stunning. Imagine, a crescent shape beach of powdery sand, a sea of intense blue, further away, an inhabited islet, coconut and palm trees, flamboyant and mountains surrounding the beach. It would be hard to find a beach that can fulfill one's Caribbean fantasy. Magens Bay is being protected from harsh current and is very safe to swim. But Justin and me like waves but what the heck? *lol* The water is warm, fishes are swimming all around. It's a dream. Justin and I have a chitchat with the lifeguard on duty, I go for a little walk around at the end of the beach to have another perspective. Swim some more. As I get thirsty, I decide to go to the snack stand and have a drink. This adds more to the intense feeling of bliss: a book in my hand, a cold drink, in the shade, surrounded by colourful flowers, with the soothing sound of the sea. But unfortunately, after a couple of hours, we have to go. If we want to have a chance to explore some more of the island. We head back to Charlotte Amalie. As I said, Charlotte Amalie is a city of white and red: white for the walls, red for the roofs. It is a cute town which sometimes reminds me of Italy. It used to be a Danish possession and the streets bears 2 name (their Danish and English names). It also have some very distinctive architecture (like the clock tower). At a pub, I have my first taste of Caribbean brew. let's say maybe I didn't choose a good one. Charlotte Amalie is shopping heavens but Justin and I, not being really interested by jewelry, made-in-China pareos. skip it and walk through the city streets, past the tourist area. As soon as you live that little shopping area, the town changes, it is more poor but it is real life. People walk in a slow pace, a police woman in front of a school is controlling traffic, sheltered from the sun by an umbrella. It's indeed time to get out of school for these kids.
A group of majorettes, twirling their batons and babbling walk past us, another little girl on her way back home has to climb stairs that doesn't seem to have an end. Further away, a market is folding. A shame we weren't here earlier. We have a little talk with a man who who was sitting here. Aaaaaaaaaaaah. the legendary Caribbean outgoingness! But it's time to go back to the ship. Unfortunately, the only drawback of a cruise is that there is not enough time for discovery ashore. One our way back, we'll bring some rum bottles, that is mandatory when you go to the Western Indies! As the sun goes down and the evening settles down, leaving the beautiful bay and Charlotte Amalie behind, I hope it's not a farewell.
In short: St-Thomas is very pretty. Those amongst you who don't feel comfortable with a lot of exoticness, be reassured: this is the US Virgin Islands. They even have a baseball park. It is probably too touristy for my taste but Magens Bay really blew my mind. Would I go back? Yes, but I'll take a ferry to St-John this time although I really wouldn't mind staying there a few days.
Day 5: St-Maarten-St-Martin
This tiny island is the smallest land mass to be shared by 2 nations : France and the Netherlands. Does it show? Yes. While St-Maarten offers lively casinos, pubs and is oriented towards mass-tourism and fun, St-Martin wants to show itself like a tiny St-Tropez or a more democratic version of St-Barthélémy (the stars-studded island of the French West-Indies) with its upscale boutique and fine dining. When I wake up, we are just approaching the island. The scenery is not as dramatic. The island is more dry than St-Thomas and a little more flat. Just by sea, lies Philipsburg, St-Maarten's capital. But the sea has such a beautiful hue, I cannot wait. This time, Justin and I will rent a car. This will be the best decision we made on our adventures ashore. It's not cheap but it's worth it! The island is small and you can circle it in an hour. The first beach is really not far away (it's just in front of Philipsburg) but the most beautiful beaches are on the French side so. First of all, we had to buy some supplies for the day. On our way to find a supermarket, we cannot help but notice the KFC's, Burger King and McDonald's. sad. We come in contact with out first foreign money: the Netherlands Antilles Guilders. Euro is the official currency of the French side and US Dollars are accepted everywhere. We only had a glimpse of Philipsburg but, nothing spectacular stood out. After figuring out which way was were, we ended up going counter-clock wise. Passing the Simpson's Lagoon that was full of boat, You barely notice you go through the French-side (only a monument and a sign tells you you're in another country). Soon, here is Marigot, the French Capital, which looks very pleasant. We will have to come and visit. Then, the road goes up with lots of twist and turns and beautiful scenery, passing by Savane (Savanna) which looks like a little corner of Africa, I was expecting to see a lion coming out. Then its Grand Case with its restaurant and. here, signs for Orient Bay, the place we wanted to go. After a drive through the beautifully laid out garden of the holidays villas that are filling Orient Bay, here we are. How can I describe the color of the water? I have never seen a blue so intense it was literally glowing, like a fluorescent blue. The sea was much ore agitated than at Magens Bay, which definitely made our day. The beach is probably a mile long, soft on the feet (so soft that while in the water, my feet were buried up to the ankles in a few seconds) and dotted by cool beach clubs. A change from the secluded atmosphere from Magens Bay. We rented loungers and a umbrella (15$) and off we go to the sea. The temperature of the water was probably in the 70's (never had experienced such a warm sea water). Now, Orient Bay, besides being one of the Caribbean's most beautiful beach, is also renowned for its clothes optional area. Yep, naked people casually strolling around the beach, even out of Club Orient, the nudist part of the beach (after all, anybody can take a walk, no?). As a European, it's not a big deal to me but for some fellow passengers, their reaction was either a big laugh (mixed of unease and surprise) or a consternated look. We had a great time there but once again, it was time to leave after a few hours. We decide to carry on toward Philips burg to complete the circle around the island and go back to Marigot. The first impression of Marigot is. to really be in a small provincial French Town. Knowing France quite well, the impression is even stronger: the street signs, the stores, the cars (lots of Renault). Marina Port-La-Royale is a lovely yachts heaven with cafes and restaurants overlooking the boats. The market square (financed the European Union) is empty but seems convivial, above the harbour, on a cliff, stands Fort-St-Louis which was constructed to defend the island from aggressions. The houses are along the water are really pretty and gives a cachet to the town. Upscale boutiques are all around, beautiful houses with lush front yards. After more than an hour walk, we decide it is time to go check out Philipsburg and those famous "sweet deals" this duty-free part is supposed to offer you. Well. if you are not into alcohol, cigarettes or jewels, you might find it hard to find something worth bringing back. The prices are similar to the US, sometimes even more expansive but you don't pay any taxes. One thing I did bring back was my favourite brand of Belgian chocolate which is impossible to find in the US so, I'm not complaining *s*. Apart from the Courthouse and an old church, Philipsburg is quite a bland town, sorry to say but strangely, the population is more mixed than the French side with Arabs, Indians, Blacks, Dutch, Americans, Latinos living there. The French side is more "white". The Dutch side is livelier too and I wish I could've remained longer to see the stretch Along Simpson Lagoon coming alive at sunset. After our little walk, it was time to drop the car back and go back to the ship.
In short: I loved St-Martin, especially the French side and I definitely recommend it. This island has a lot of things for everyone: beautiful beaches, fine dining, good entertainment. And every time I'm looking at Orient Bay picture, I am still amazed at the colour of the sea. It has 2 very different flavor: the sophistication of the French-side and the laid-back attitude of the Dutch side. I would definitely come back. St-Martin/St-Maarten has another advantage: it is close from a lot of islands like Anguilla, St-Eustatius, Saba, St-Kitt's ans Nevis and St-Barths and boat trips (sometimes taking only a few hours which is great for a day trip) can be easily arranged. I cannot wait to swim in those waters again.
Day 7, Princess Cay, Eleuthera, the Bahamas:
After a relaxing day at sea (stops two days in a row can surprisingly be tiring) and another formal night dinner (the gala dinner with the champagne glasses fountains which gave us the occasion to talk a little with Cpt. Romano who is Italian and in charge of this ship), we dropped anchor at Princess Cay, the company's private island for a day of sun, fun and farniente. Princess Cay is a corallian little cay linked to Eleuthera, one of the Bahamas islands. Tender was required so, we will have a chance to use the lifeboat, which is part of the fun. It's of course more rocky than the Grand but, I love a good adrenaline rush and it seems like the pilot was hitting the waves a certain angle on purpose. The beaches on Princess Cay are all artificial and have a rocky bottom. If you want to find more sand, go the long beach.
Want a quieter place (and have a better chance to find a lounger with a palm tree that shades it? It's better to go to South Beach. The water, once again, is a different shade here: a bright turquoise-green colour. Nautical activities are a big thing here. But so is beach volley (I probably spent more than 2 hours playing). At midday, a barbecue style buffet is organized and if there is something I like, it's eating by the sea, especially after some physical exercises. Only problem? The sand in your food *lol*. Doing nothing is also something you might want to try. Unfortunately, the ship stays here only 5 hours and in the middle afternoon, it is time to go. we embark for the last aboard the ship and we're off for Port Everglades. You might want to know that the last night is somewhat depressing, it seems like a lot of people is in their cabins. It also the night of the passenger talent search *lol*. Princess requires you have your luggage ready before 11 PM so they can be ready for disembarkation.
In short: Princess Cays is really a relaxing spot and it is really an enjoyable conclusion to the trip. No walk longer than a mile to do, if you like action, you can rent a sail boat, or play sports, you can also sleep in the shade of coconut trees (God knows how that sea sound is soothing).
Day 8, disembarkation at Port Everglades, Fort-Lauderdale
Princess ask you clear your room by 9.00 AM but it leaves plenty of time to get ready to dismbark. The Leonardo dining room is open and so is the buffer so you can pig out one last time before going back home. Disembarkation is done with little color tags. And top decks go first. For us, mere passengers, it takes a little longer. But Princess provides you with coffee, tea and water. Funnily enough, it was pouring rain, like a revenche from the sky because we were leaving. If you want to beat the disembarkation blues, I recommend you spand a day at Fort Lauderdale or Miami before going home, that helps smoothing the transition to normal life *;o)*.
After the cruise:
The least you can say is that I am now hooked. And I have been able to put up only one pound despite the abundance of food aboard (and that's something). The itinerary of this cruise is really good for someone who has never been to the Caribbean because it gives you the occasion to try 3 different cultures here.
Princess catered to our every needs (not that we are that demanding), I came back with 30 dollars more from playing the roulette at the casino (Justin stuck to black-jack and got out with 60$). Because your only worry is: what am I going to do today? Cruises are a very relaxing experience you can only find at all inclusive. We went during early May, which is the start of low-season, and didn't regret it. The weather was great and at at each of our ports of calls, we were the only boat there and hopefully avoided the crowd. Tipping is not necessary since a gratuity is calculated automatically from your account (which you have to settle on your last full day aboard) but you may do so if you find the service is worth it. We gave a good tip to Ana Maria, our cabin-sterwardess and one of the waiter in the Michaelangelo dining room who surpased himself. You can also make adjustment to your gratuity (even remove it) if you wish. Our fellow passengers were mostly aged between late 40's and late 60's but you have some younger passengers as well.
The staff on the ship was very friendly and I didn't have any single complain against anyone. They really make you feel like you're a VIP.
About the food... the buffet was OK. Not excellent but of good quality, especially the desserts. It's always great to know that you can go there and grab a bite to eat in case you've got the munchies. Highly recommended: the 3.30 PM Ice-cream and the 5:30 PM tea time "sandwich buffet" were the staff is making sandwich to order. For fine pallates, there are of course the main dining rooms where breakfast, lunch, tea-time and dinner are organised.
Downs: Only one actually: No free ice-cream parlor which is a little weird when you know that ice-cream is free on other ships BUT, as mentionned earlier, ice-cream (vanilla or chocolate) is available from 3:30 to 5:30 PM at the Horizon Court.
I didn't know Justin and I would be back on the Grand six months later for a much different cruise. So come back later for the rest of my stories.
With much anticipation, my husband and I began our Western Caribbean cruise on the Grand princess on Sunday, April 28, 2002. Just like other cruisemate reviewers, we had an exceptionally easy time getting boarded through the express check-in.
I have to say that at first, I was a little disappointed with our stateroom. My husband, however, loved it and thought the balcony was really spacious. We were located on the Caribe level. In hindsight, I would have liked a little more room inside the cabin, but overall it was extremely comfortable. Our steward was Amy; she did a nice, but not exceptional job of taking care of us (but in all fairness, we didn't have any special requests or needs).
Anyway, we began that afternoon getting acclimated to our surroundings -- the ship is huge -- but very manageable -- I don't know how they do it, but you never feel like you're in a megaship! We had lunch at the Horizon Court and ate too much!! We couldn't even go to dinner that night! All in all, the first night was lovely -- balmy air and relaxing drinks on the balcony-- heaven!
We ate dinner the second night at Sabitinis and it was FANTASTIC!! we ate for two solid hours with gourmet appetizers; great service and atmosphere! Highly recommend it to all. We tipped our waiter $50 extra because it was such a special night.
The first show we saw was a "tickler" -- a little of everything wonderful to expect.... and it proved to be true because all the shows were really wonderful. We especially loved the ship's singers and dancers -- they were absolutely fantastic and most of them should be on broadway. Makes you wonder what kind of talent it takes to really become famous since all these kids were outstanding. The only show we really didn't care for was the comedy night -- but I heard a lot of people laughing so someone must have liked it!
Our first port was Princess Cays and that was pretty standard. Beach time; always drinks; on their private island. Not much to do if you didn't want to drink, eat or sunbath. We didn't stay all day but had fun.
We finally met our tablemates at Boticellis that night. A wonderful lady traveling alone from Washington, Delores; a very special cute couple from Texas, Avi and Carolyn; and two other people who we never saw after meeting them that night! I kept thinking I had offended them in some way, but I guess they didn't like the early dining. Anyway, every night we had a lot of fun and great conversation at dinnertime. (I never drank so much wine in my whole life)! Our Waiter and assistant waiter were really excellent and took great care of us.
The second port was Grand Cayman and that was a lot of fun. We opted to walk around town -- my husband is a banker and we wanted to see the banks (but they weren't really exciting -- like in the Firm).... There really was not much to see in the City so we went shopping and I bought some silver jewelry. The prices are excellent. The water there is absolutely beautiful - but wait until I get to Cozumel!
We couldn't get off the ship in Costa Maya because of swells, but if we had to lose a port, that's the one to lose. I understand it is a new port and not very developed (in other words, not really ready for all these tourists!) Most of the attraction is the ruins and I'm not really into that.
Cozumel was our favorite port, as I'm sure it is for almost everyone taking this trip. You could really feel the excitement building in the air as we got closer to port -- literally everyone (including crew) wanted to get to that city -- partly because of the excellent reviews and instructions given by Elizabeth, the tour/shopping person. She was really full of great info and fully prepared everyone for their trip into the city.
We rented a jeep from Budget for $85 (including ins.) and used it to travel around the island. We couldn't believe the ocean... it was 4-5 shades of blue and some of the most beautiful water I've ever seen. We took a lot of pictures. We found out that nobody lives on that side of the island because there isn't any electricity there! Too bad, because it is so beautiful... we also drove into the city but frankly, it's a little scary driving there because the streets are so narrow and people really don't stop at the stop signs! The gas prices are $2 gallon and tax is 10%! We don't know how good we have it!!
We didn't keep the jeep even half the time and wished we had friends to split the cost with. But all in all, it still was worth it to see that part of the island. The people are so nice and even though they're a little pushy in the shopping district, it's really not in an agressive way. We stuck to the instructions from Elizabeth and went to the shops on the ship's list and didn't have any trouble. We purchased a watch for my husband and got about a $500 discount on it. Pretty good....
We really loved Cozumel and the people... We made the mistake of going to Carlos and Charlies (msp?) for a marguerita and WARNING -- don't go there unless you are prepared for a frat party atmosphere where everyone is drunk and dancing on the tables....!! Our two margueritas cost almost $20! It's really a tourist trap....
Sadly, we had to leave that port and head back to Ft. Lauderdale.
That night we went to the Painted Desert for dinner - that is something I wouldn't do if I had it to do over.... it was not very good and cost us each $15= $30 extra. But we met some nice people that night so all was not lost. Have I said that every night there was a fantastic show after dinner?! The cruise staff also entertained with extra shows such as a sock hop, island night, etc. which were so much fun! I can't say enough about the cruise director and his staff!! So much energy!! You couldn't help to have a blast around them! The cruise director is exceptionally talented but I would have liked to have a time where we could meet him and his staff and connect a little more personally. The way it was really kept us at arm's length and there's probably a reason for that , but I like to meet people. It would have been a nice touch. (They're probably so sick of people by the end of the cruise they just want to get away from us for a few hours!!)the night they held the island (tropical) party was such a blast. The kids working for the cruise director went through the crowds getting volunteers to do stupid things on stage, etc. and Graham gave a sort of "rock concert" (didn't know he could sing...) it doesn't seem fair that these people (including the ship's dancers and singers) have so much talent... they can't just do one thing, they do it all!!
Finally, I want to say that this review only scratches the surface of our cruise experience... it's written to give you an idea of what a great time you'll have if you go on this cruise. There was a lot of negativity about going on a megaship, but I have to say they did an impressive job of feeding, entertaining and generally doting on you and it never felt a bit impersonal to me. In fact, I probably like it better than a small ship because there are more places to go and more things to do. As with all things, it wasn't completely perfect, but came really close. As my friend Judy S. says, cruising is your best vacation dollar!! I'd go again on the Grand princess and am already planning a cruise to Hawaii!!
This review is my humble, subjective opinion based on our previous experiences and personal taste.
Who we are and why we cruise: Myself 50, Husband 66, and Daughter 14 7 previous cruises: Princess (2), RCL (2), NCL (2), Commodore (1) We cruise for the ship experience - life at sea, food, entertainment, and service. We have been to the Western Caribbean several times so the ship was our ultimate destination, but we like this route for the weather and the water sports.
Pre-Cruise: We flew to Ft. Lauderdale the day before and stayed at the Embassy Suites. I got a great deal on Priceline - $55. This is a fine choice for cruisers - free (24-hour) shuttle from the airport, free full buffet breakfast, and free shuttle to the pier. We did not arrive until 11:00PM so I had called from home that morning to reserve our 11:15AM spots on the pier shuttle and make sure they saved our room.
Embarkation: The shuttle left promptly the next morning and we were at the pier by 11:30AM. We had express check-in, but still had to fill out the Bahamas immigration cards (why don'tthey send these to you, too?). No pens at the tables - bring one for everyone in your group so each can fill out their own. No line for our deck, so after a short wait for the photo we were escorted up the elevator to our cabin.
The cabin: A418 - BB category, Aloha deck, mid-ship. This is a triple, but the smallest cabin we have ever had. Plenty of closet space and hangars, but for three people, drawer space is in short supply. Bunk bed comes down from the wall over the queen bed. Hit my head on it several times. Also, with the bunk ladder down, it is difficult to maneuver out the door or into the bathroom. Would gladly have traded a larger cabin for the balcony. First time for the balcony, but I did not feel it was worth the extra $1100 we paid for the 3 of us over an inside cabin. We were on the port side so every time we docked in port we were next to another ship. The noise generated made it impossible to enjoy sitting out on the balcony.
Our cabin stewardess, Emilie, was wonderful. Requests for robes and wine glasses were answered promptly. It took a day to fix our refrigerator, but that was not her fault. When the electricity went out in the cabin, it was fixed within 20 minutes. Chocolates on our pillows appeared every evening, but no towel animals.
Dining: We originally had traditional, late sitting, but changed to personal choice the second night. We liked our tablemates and the waiter, but getting out of the dining room at 10:30PM, we would have missed most of the evening's entertainment. I thought we had made a huge mistake changing when we waited 45 minutes for a table the second night. Fortunately, we never had to wait again so it was a good move. Yes, I think there is a reduction in service with personal choice. We had a different waiter every night - some were better than others, but none were as good as we had on our last Princess cruise on the Sun. But I would say the service was just as good as you would get in a fine restaurant. Food in the dining room was very good. Beef tenderloin and lobster were outstanding. I sent my scallop dinner back (too rubbery) and it was replaced with an excellent turbot. I loved the baby vegetables. Desserts, especially the souffles, were yummy.
Unlike our past cruises where we ate most all breakfasts and lunches in the dining room, we ate mostly in the Horizon Court on the Grand. The variety and convenience won us over. We had one bad lunch - the Mexican Buffet and we love Mexican food. I filled up on the pizza - good! Sushi and shrimp bar on Saturday afternoon was fabulous - very fresh and beautifully presented.
Sabatini's: We had read many reviews of this and thought we should try it for brunch (sea days only). Service was excellent and the food good, but I would not do it again. The same food can be had in the dining room or at the Horizon. It's just too much food to eat at one sitting. We slept the rest of the afternoon!
Room Service: Teenage daughter loved this and used it often. Very prompt. One funny incident was when she ordered her favorite bananas and cream and they brought whipped cream. I could not communicate, try as I might, that she wanted liquid cream like you would pour in coffee. He went back to the kitchen to ask the chef, but returned with the can of whipped cream! He did try hard to please!
Entertainment: This is a hit and miss area for Princess. NCL definitely has the best, IMHO. It is impossible to see everything, but several shows were offered on alternate nights. The one production show we saw, Lights, Camera, Action was so-so. The costumes were cute and the dancers had a lot of energy, but the choreography was lacking. Certainly, can't beat the Jean Ryan dancers on NCL.
We did not make the Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance production. Kimika, an English duo of comedy, singing, and guitar playing was excellent. Very funny and talented - we went to both their shows. Jeff Peterson, the magician and comedian literally put me to sleep. Card tricks in a huge theatre just doesn't work. However, he did amaze the audience with his zip code "trick." We went to both shows (one adult-only) of the hypnotist, Alexander. My husband took part in the adult show and we laughed so hard we had to buy the video. We also attended both shows (different) of comedian, Phil Paulsoul. We enjoyed his first show more, but he made us laugh both times.
Princess does a fine job of offering a variety of entertainment choices from piano bars (not us) to karaoke to game shows to deck parties. This is not only great from an option standpoint, but also we could go to a show at the last minute and always find a seat. None of that wasting a half hour sitting at a venue to be assured a seat.
Finally, I have to mention Graham Seymour, the cruise director. He is simply the best cruise director we have ever experienced. He is a riot and a talented singer. Don't miss his morning show on the cabin TV.
Teen Program: There were 186 teens on board. Very few attended the teen program, which included some great activities. Our daughter didn't go until Wednesday. Much has been written about the lack of a good teen program, but I really think it has to do with teens themselves. Let's face it - most of them just like to "hang." However, they were never a problem as far as I could see. None of the horror stories of unruly, drunk teens or kids running around unsupervised. Kudos to Princess for limiting the number of children per sailing and kudos to their programs. My daughter enjoyed the teen sessions at the Skywalkers disco, the teen hot tub parties, free arcade night, and the teen dinner on the last night.
Photos: The most laid back of any cruise we've been on. In fact, we had three free coupons and could not find three good ones - only 4 or 5 taken!
Beauty Shop: Daughter had her hair and make-up done for her first formal night. Betty is very sweet and did an excellent job. Yes, they do try to sell products and services - a barrette for her new coif - $25!; acne? - a facial and our skin products are all she needs. It cost $135- with tip (and barrette), but it is something she will always remember and vacations are for making memories, aren't they?
Fitness Center: It is small as has been reported - only six treadmills, but I managed to get my 5 miles in every day either on a treadmill or on the jogging track. Hint: if you go in the late afternoon, it is less crowded and one can usually get a machine. They do have a sign-up sheet if you can predict 24 hours in advance when you want to work out.
Princess Cays: This a beautiful spot, but even going to the right, there were no lounge chairs to be had. Daughter and I rented a two-person kayak - quite pricey at $26- for ½ hour, but we enjoyed it.
Grand Cayman: We had booked Captain Marvin in advance on the Internet and had a great time on their ½ day tour. I had worried that we wouldn't get a tender early enough for the 9:15AM meet time, but no problem. Princess (unlike NCL) has tendering down to a science and we were at the dock by 8:45 AM. Captain Marvin's is well-run - small parties (15-20), air-conditioned vans, and cold refreshments on board. Hint: make sure to book ahead. People who tried to book that morning were shut out.
Costa Maya: This was a disappointment for us because we wanted to rent bikes and ride to Majahaul. However, an organized tour had reserved all the available bikes. We walked around a bit and saw some local entertainment, but it was very hot so we just went back to the ship. Friends who took the Jungle Beach Break were disappointed with it, others liked the ruin tours.
Cozumel: We had planned to snorkel at Chankaanab Park, but hubby and offspring were snorkeled out so we shopped. It's been said before, but buyer beware! An onyx and silver necklace and earring set started at $145 and was down to $40 as we were walking out the door! My daughter was able to practice her Spanish and even figured out what the shopkeepers were saying about lowest prices to each other!
Pros and Cons: We had a wonderful cruise and enjoyed it immensely. Princess has always been our favorite line and continues to be for overall product and service. The food, the 24-hour, freshwater pools and hot tubs, the entertainment variety, and pleasant attitude of the crew make it so. We are non-smokers and smoke was never an issue on this ship (except on our balcony because both neighbors were smokers). Also, with 2750 passengers, the ship never seemed crowded. The major con on this ship was the lack of a middle staircase. Being located midship, just one deck below the Lido deck, it would have been great to walk the one flight up. Instead, we seemed to be endlessly waiting for the elevator. The ice cream was a non-issue for us. We never bought it, we ate it in the dining room.
Debarkation and Post-Cruise Hotel: It is no longer required to report to customs on board. Colors are called by deck and they called ours while we were having breakfast. We just took our time and exited the ship when we were ready. Found our luggage easily (we colored coded it with fluorescent tape) and were directed to a taxi. $10 took us to the Doubletree Oceanfront ($55, Priceline). This is not as nice as the Embassy but the location is great - right on the beach. Land shock hit us at the restaurant that evening. We ate at the Oasis just a couple of block from the hotel. Very cute with table swings outside, but I can't recommend it for the mediocre food and drink which cost us $65 for 3 sandwiches and 3 drinks, tip automatically added! Where's da boat!
Finally, it's the people you meet that make the cruise. We enjoyed spending time with our Cruise@ddict and CruiseCritic friends. Thanks and hello to Jan and John, MaryAnn and Bud, Robin and Bill, and Leslee and Earl for a most enjoyable time!
It's been a couple of weeks since our cruise and I felt it was time to write about my experience aboard the Grand. She is a Grand ship. We were very pleased with our stateroom, which was an inside cabin. The food was always god and plenty of it no matter what time of day or night is was. My wife and I pre-ordered a bottle of rum and vodka for or room and it saved us a lot of $$. The prices of the drinks are somewhat high and if you drink, you have no choice but to buy, well sign you life away.
We do have a major complaint with this ship. Our stateroom was near the rear of the ship and the Baja deck. Whenever the ship was out of port it jerked from side to side. I questioned members of the cruise staff and have also written Princess, we are still waiting for a response. If it was only us that felt it I would understand but every person we spoke to around out cabin had the same complaint. If you experienced the sameplease send me an email. I would like to know there are others and possible find out what the cause was. When we were waiting to get off the ship in Ft. Lauderdale we noticed Princess loading a very large metal object that appeared to be like an engine part of propeller shaft.
The ports we visited were ok. WE enjoyed Princess Cayes the best. It could be because it was our first stop. I suggest diving and snorkeling wherever you can.
We took my daughter and husband Mrand Mrs. James Kramer for there 35 th wedding anniv. aboard the Grand Princes, we arrived at the port and went right thru the lines, had a very nice cabin, and it was the frist time we ever had lunch in the dinning room on the day we left, the lunch was great and the service was great, we chose the personal dinning and really enjoyed it, all thru the dinners the servers were very kind and most pleasant, one came to every table we were at just to say hello. this only proves that it comes from the top, if the captain of the ship likes his job it reflexs all the way thru the ship, the front desk was most helpful we had a wonderful time for all seven days.
Also on coming into Grand Cayan we had a problem with squalls and they had extra men to help get you on and off the tender.
i just wish to thank all of the ships personal, my travel agent Mr . ERNIE GROSSMAN for a wonderful 7 day cruise, this wasour 4 th cruise on the Princess Line since Oct. and have enjoyed them all.
There's been so many reviews of the Grand Princess, so here's one more :) . If you have any direct questions, feel free to email me or post them on the bulletin boards.
Itinerary: Western Caribbean; Fort Lauderdale, Princess Cays, Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, Cozumel
Commodore: Mike Moulin
Cruise Director: Graham Seymour
Five Semi-Casual Nights, Two Formal Nights; the formal nights were Tuesday night and Thursday night. Plan for one island night -- where the dress code is wild tropical shirts / dresses, and the like.
Both went smoothly. Arrived at the dock around noontime, was on the ship by 12:30 pm. At the end of the trip, debarkation began at 8:30 am, and the last person was off the ship by 10 am. Passengers with early flights get off the ship first, of course.
All the food, no matter where we ate, was good to excellent. We had Personal Choice dining and never had to wait more than 3 minutes for a table. The Horizon Court buffet had a great selection of choices, which always included a carving station, cheeses, fresh fruits, and salad choices; sometimes there were specialty items likesushi.
We ate in Sabatinis for brunch one day. They only do this "at sea", and it fills up quickly. The food there was excellent. But, you must be a seafood lover to truly enjoy its offerings. The brunch includes all the bloody marys, mimosas, or screwdrivers that you can drink. I would highly recommend Sabatinis for brunch. I didn't eat there for dinner, but the buzz was that it was also highly complimented. The cover charge for either brunch or dinner is $15.
We ate in the Painted Dessert one night for dinner. The food in this venue was good, but not as good as the main dining rooms or Sabatinis. You get your first margarita for free, however, the margaritas served here seemed to be watered down, and mostly just margarita mix. I would say that you can miss the Painted Dessert. But, for the $8 cover charge, it isn't a bad thing to do for a change in scenery.
The main dining rooms for Personal Choice Dining are the Da Vinci and the MIchaelangela. Boticelli's Dining Room is for the Tradition Dining. However, all three dining rooms have the same menu. The food here was very good. If you're a seafood lover, you should try the crab legs the night they are offered -- however, the portions of them weren't very big, so you'll either need to order two orders of them, or a second entree.
I admit, I didn't participate in the formal nights, although I brought my suit. On those nights we ate at the Horizon Court buffet -- at our choice. They served almost the same exact menu every night as the main dining rooms. As a matter of fact, the Horizon Court offered a couple of desserts not offered in the main dining rooms, such as Cherries Jubilee and Crepes Suzette.
Overall the entertainment was pretty good. A nice way to spend an hour every evening. The Princess Theater is well designed, and there is no bar service there. We saw "Rhythms of the City" and "Lights, Camera, Action". Both shows were entertaining, and had some good numbers in them. High energy dancing, and special effects, were quite good. The only downside of both shows was that they weren't very cohesive -- meaning, sometimes songs were thrown in, seemingly, because the set was there, but had nothing to do with the theme of the show.
Kimika, a British comedy/musical duo, performed two nights. They were very funny and entertaining the first night, but the Saturday night show was basically the same as the Monday night show. I would recommend seeing them at least once, for either show, but not both times.
I didn't go to the comedian/juggler (Rick Klingler) or the vocalist (Karen Saunders) shows, so I can't comment on them. The various musical acts in the lounges were consistently good, though. Try to see The Jackie Harrison Trio in the Wheelhouse Bar if you like "Karen Carpenter" and/or "Irish - themed" songs.
The Ship and Our Cabin --------------------------------
The Grand Princess is truly a beautiful ship. Well designed lounges and staterooms with plenty of storage. We had a minisuite, and it was quite big for three people. Plenty of storage, and room to just hang out. We had coffee on our balcony every morning. Although people could see you on your balcony from other decks, there were never any people staring --- it was quite comfortable. The balcony also has a glass wall, so that you can view the sea through it, even when sitting down. It's very nice.
My only qualm with the ship, was the lack of atrium area stairs. The only stairs were aft and forward. If you wanted to get to the atrium (where lots of lounges/theaters, etc are located), you had to wait for an elevator in the main area or walk all the way to the front or the back of the ship to get to the stairs, then all the way back to the atrium.
It only took us a day to get used to the layout of the ship. There are handy maps in your stateroom that you can use. Also, the color on the carpet lets you know if your cabin is on the port side or starboard side.
The Ports -------------Princess Cays: A very nice private beach/island with lots of room for everybody. There's a number of water activities and equipment that you can rent. There's a nice brunch, BBQ style, on the beach, too. Lots of fun, and relaxation. We rented the aqua bike for half an hour. It was fun, but it's really a workout on your legs. You can also rent snorkeling equipment, kayaks, sail boats, and the like. There's also volleyball.
Grand Cayman: This was a beautiful island. We walked around the main part of town checking out the shops and the scenery. We then did the Stingray City tour. That was quite an experience. We booked the 2nd tour of the day through the ship (although I hear that you should use Captain Marvin's). We lined up and got on a small motor coach to a boat launching area. The buses were then divided up among many different boats. Some of the boats were very crowded. Luckily for me and my group, we got on a small boat with just 14 people. Then our luck ran out. *LOL* The boat would NOT start. So, they took our group over to another boat, which started fine .... until we got out a little bit, then the engine started smoking very bad. So, the captain of the small boat, turn off the engine and radioed for help. Another boat (actually the first boat we were on) came out to meet us and we had to change boats right there on the water.... now that was interesting with the waves and all, but we all made it safely. Once we were underway, we were told that we would all be given refunds (which, we promptly received). Once we made it out to Stingray City, the 14 of us had our own private area away from the other crowds. It was incredible how these stingrays just came right up to us, and even out of the water. They know they're being fed, and even rub up against you. Our tour guide showed some of us how to hold them. I picked up a couple of them. I hope those pictures come out. Definitely do Stingray City if you're in Grand Cayman -- it's the time of your life.
Costa Maya: this is what I refer to as a "private island PLUS*... well sort of. It's a newer port, with a small shopping/eating/entertainment area. It was often referred to as what Cancun or Cozumel was like 30 years ago. It's unspoiled, new, and very beautiful. There were ruins tours offered, but I didn't go on any of them. They really do a great job keeping you entertained. They have Mexican shows and different entertainment all day long. The shopping is a lot like Jamaica or the Nassua Straw Market -- be prepared for some pushy vendors and some bargaining. At one shop, the keeper wanted me to trade my watch for some merchandise -- so, be prepared for some of this, too.
Cozumel: we had a leisurely day in this port. We do a morning sail/snorkel/beach party tour on the Fury Catamaran. That was a lof of fun. First they bring you out to an area for some snorkeling. Since it was raining, I didn't pack my bathing suite, but I should have --- my friends who did say the snorkeling was one of the best they have ever done. We then went out to Fury's private beach. Lots of chairs, tables, and room. They have bar service on the beach, which is included with your tour (there is also beer and margaritas on the boat). When you get to the beach, you get off the catamaran in waist deep water -- because of the water shelf. There is also a bathroom on the beach, a silver shop, and place to buy a burger, if you're hungry. Later in the day, we just walked around the main streets of Cozumel. Then we had a drink in Carlos & Charley's, and also at Senor Frogs. If you go to Senor Frogs, be sure to have a "shooter" when the waitress comes around -- it's quite an experience. I won't spoil it by telling you what happens. *LOL*
I love Princess Cruiselines because they are consistenly good. Overall the food, entertainment, service, ship, ports, and everything was very good. This is a ship, I would definitely sail again.
Let me start by saying that both me and my boyfriend are deaf, so we will be explaining some things about how accomodating Princess was when communicating with us. My boyfriend and I had planned this vacation since August of 2001 so as you can imagine we were so excited. This was his first cruise on any ship,it was my 6th cruise and 3rd with Princess. We flew out of National Airport and landed in Fort Lauderdale saturday morning. The flight was uneventful. We were staying in a nice hotel about 10 or so minutes away from the port itself. You could see the ships from our hotel room. We saw the Golden Princess which is the Grand's sister, so it was like seeing double. That evening we went out to eat at Houston's. I recommend this restaurant, wonderful food. Anyway, Sunday morning we got up early and we were so excited. We saw the Grand from our hotel room window. Embarkation was relatively simple and it went smoothly. When we first stepped on the ship... my boyfriend had only one reaction. He said it was gorgeous and HUGE! We hadalready previously asked for a "kit" to be sent to our room with the things we needed- a TTY (phone for the deaf), a vibrating alarm clock for the deaf, and a doorbell that would flash the light in the room.
For us, since we were deaf, we didnt go to the nightly entertainment in the theaters, but we heard some were very good. We walked around the ship, we read, we had nice long dinners in the dining room. I already knew the headwaiter from a previous Princess cruise so we were treated like VIPs. The food was heaven. We had already decided not to eat in the alternative restaurants because I knew the food in the dining room was so good that there was no point in paying extra for food in another place. Everyone was very accomodating on the ship- both the staff and the passengers but especially the staff in terms of communication, they would send all messages to our "mailbox", which was wonderful. For me, the food was the best part of the cruise. Princess always makes sure their passengers are satisfied with the service. Now about the ports. We were unable to get off at Princess Cays because we were supposed to tender to shore and the waters were very rough, and the captain decided not to risk our safety, so it became an extra day at sea, which was nice. We swam in the pools, explored the ship some more. Our next port was Grand Cayman. We had booked our excursion through Princess.
We took a snorkeling tour to Stingray City. I had already been there two previous times and it was still great! The stingrays were fun to pick up and hold. Our next port was Costa Maya, Mexico. It was a tourist trap specially built just for the cruise ships. It was like 20 stores, thats it. around it was woods and woods for miles and miles.. it was not even a town, it was just a "shopping mall" for us tourists. The beach there was VERY VERY ROCKY. They actually had a sign saying "The cruise lines accept no responsibility beyond this point" at the entrance to the beach. We never ate on shore at any of the ports, we always went back to the ship for lunch. Our next and final port was Cozumel, Mexico. Now, this was a genuine city. LOTS of stores and et cetera. We shopped a lot and we went on an excursion (Again, we booked it through Princess). The excursion was a semi-submarine ride.. which was wonderful, we saw all these fish, et cetera. We were very sad to leave the ship. We loved it so much. My boyfriend is now hooked on cruising. I will definitely sail on Princess again in the future. I rate this cruise FIVE STARS!