We just returned from our trip on the Grand Princess (11/18/01) and had a wonderful time! On the trip there was myself, my daughter (8), my sister, her daughter (5), my parents, brother, aunt and cousin.
I have previously been on Carnival (once) and Royal Caribbean (4 times). My parents and my aunt and cousin had been on several cruises before, including different Princess ships. It seems to me that if you have been on other Princess ships, you will be disappointed in the Grand. If you have never sailed on Princess, you will be impressed - at least that is how it worked with our group.
My parents and aunt were very, very disappointed with the size of the cabin and the amount of storage space - they both had much larger cabins on the previous Princess cruises. On the other hand, I thought that the cabin (a standard inside cabin) was fine. I really liked the safe (you enter your own pass code to get in - prior to the cruise I had thought that the cabin card would be how you got into the safe), and I loved thelittle refrigerator. There were four of us in the room - my sister and our 2 children and I didn't feel we were too cramped and that there were enough storage. We unpacked everything and kept our suitcases under the bed.
The service on Princess was very efficient and most of the staff we met were nice, with the possible exception of the personal choice waiter - more on that later!
My daughter and I arrived on Sunday without incident. We had booked our own flight but everyone else booked through Princess, and I would strongly recommend booking your own flight over leaving your flight up to the cruise people. We arrived at about 12:30, whereas everyone else was scheduled to arrive around 5:00pm (too late for the first day!), and our return flight left at 1:30, while everyone elses left at about 4:30pm (too late for the last day!).
We took a taxi to the airport (it cost $10 including the tip). We arrived at the terminal at about 1:00pm and walked right up to the check-in and was on-board 5 minutes later! We did the usual walking around, bought our drink tickets (get them right away so you can start getting your money's worth!) - these can be purchased just about anywhere! The drink sticker cost $17.50 that is put right on your card. When you want a drink you just show them the card - you don't have to sign anything at all. This works great, especially because pop is not included at dinner. After the first time the waiter has seen the sticker, he will just keep bringing you your pop the entire week - it was great! At this time, we also signed up for Sabatini's for Saturday evening.
The muster drill worked better than the other ships I had been on - you gathered in a specific lounge with your life jackets, sat in a comfortable chair while they talked a while, and then practiced putting on the jackets for about half a minute. They also didn't call off your names, which was great. On other ships you had to stand around for a long time while everyone gets their names checked off, then you stand around for a longer time until the captain says you're done!
We ate at the Horizon Court for lunch the first day, and switched between the Horizon Court and the DaVinci dining room for breakfast and lunch through out the week. The food was good at the buffet, and my daughter actually preferred this over the dining room. They had a wonderful selection of cheese, they always had pasta, rolls, fruit, salads. They had a lot of dessert, but I actually didn't really like the dessert here (and I generally LOVE dessert) - it was the weird European desserts with unsweetened whipped cream, etc.
The breakfast food at the buffet was good, but it didn't really change from day-to-day. I believe that they will make an omelet to order if you ask (I overheard someone asking for an omelet with just egg whites). In the dining room the breakfast menu always had 2 specials of the day, and these were always very good - I heard that the Eggs Florentine were wonderful, and the French Toast with a Corn Flake crust on the last day was also great!
The pizza was yummy. They make 2 different kinds a day - one cheese and one different type. They will also make that to-order, if you are willing to wait 10 minutes (someone had asked them to make the pizza without sauce). Again, the people in my group that took a previous Princess cruise was very disappointed with the pizzeria - they said that the other ships had much a much fancier pizza restaurant. I think there was nothing better in this world than eating pizza by the pool and reading a wonderful book with the band playing Caribbean music in the background, and my daughter practicing her dives in a beautiful pool with new-found friends. YES!!!
I only had a hamburger at the grill, and I wasn't very impressed - it was pretty dry. They also served onion rings and french fries, which were both just ok. At the grill you could also get hot dogs, sausage, a chicken burger - whatever that is, and a veggie burger, but I didn't try those.
We had first seating in the Bottecelli dining room (this room is only used for traditional dining - the other 2 dining rooms are used for personal choice dining). First seating started at 6:15pm - and they didn't let you in one second before 6:15! We had 2 very nice, efficient waiters at table 250. We told them what drinks we wanted on the first day, and they had it ready for us every day after! Here are some of the dishes that I had:
Shrimp Cocktail with some weird mango sauce (skip the sauce!) / Mushroom Soup (we decided that it had the consistency of split pea soup, but it tasted ok) / Prime Rib (very good) / Fettuccine Al Fredo (always VERY good - YUMMMM) / Love Boat Dream (a thick chocolate mousse shaped in a hard with an oval chocolate candy piece on top and some kind of crunchy crust on the bottom - I thought it was rice crispies, but my sister thinks it was coconut?) / Cesar Salad (kind of bland) / Bow-tie Pasta with Peas, Mushrooms and Veal (the veal was tough, but there wasn't very much in it - otherwise pretty good) / Chocolate-Hazelnut Souffle with Vanilla Sauce (YUMMMMM) / Penne with Lobster Sauce (good - not fishy tasting at all) / Harlequin Souffle (YUMMMMM) / Baked Eggplant (very cheesy on top - good) / the Always Available Chicken Breast (boring) / Tiramusu (OK) / Pumpkin Brulee with Cinnamon Ice Cream (YUMMMMM) / Chilled Strawberry Soup (good) / Twin Lobster Tails with Butter (good) / Tropical Souffle (good).
One night we did the Personal Choice dining. We got there at 6:00pm, and they said they didn't have our reservations (even though my aunt called them). They did get all 9 of us in right away. The room was darker than our usual room, but it was also much quieter, which my aunt really liked, because she had problems hearing our conversations in our regular dining room. I noticed that many people were waiting on our way out. We talked to other people who had personal choice and it seemed that the later you arrived, the more time you would have to wait for a table. Also, if you wanted to have a table for 2 you HAVE to do personal choice - the traditional dining doesn't have tables for 2. My sister and I were not very impressed with the waiter - he seemed to have some type of superior attitude (but it may just have been that we were used to our usual, great waiters and their very nice personalities - I don't know?)
On our last night we ate at Sabatini's ($15 per person). It was kind of fancy - I believe there were 15 different appetizers, a choice of soup, spaghetti and a main dish. It was a fun experience and the waiters were wonderful - they joked with our kids. It was my daughter's birthday, so the waiter asked the whole dining room to sing to her, and she loved being the star!
There was a LOT to do on-board. We took the line-dancing class, the paper-flower making class, the step aerobics class (not as good as Jazzercise!), we played bingo twice (my mom won $150 the first time, and on the last day I won $150 - hurrah!), took the juggling class (very fun and addicting - my sister and I kept trying LONG after the kids gave up!), the tour of the galley, attended the Cabaret Night with Kikos or some couple that wasn't very funny, the comedy/magician act (good), the Pub Night (hilarious!!!!), the comedian (pretty funny).
My daughter and niece really enjoyed the Kids Zone. You have to sign them in and they aren't allowed to leave by themselves at their age. Each time they went there we took a pager and made sure that the staff knew that they should call us if they wanted to leave at any time (it may be silly, but I didn't want them having a bad time on their vacation). They sometimes chose to stay with us and other times chose to go to the Kids Zone. They actually had a lot of fun there - all the kids received a tee-shirt which they got to color, they played mini-olympics, attended the disco and danced to fun songs, watched movies at night, had an ice cream party, played Simon Says, played Bingo and miniature golf, etc. The counselors there seemed very good with the children. The first day there was a little boy screaming his head off and the counselor had him in her arms the whole time, and then the mom came because they had paged her (which I thought was great - the poor kid shouldn't have to be traumatized on vacation!).
We went to Jamaica instead of their private island. I had climbed the falls previously and I believe it's too dangerous for kids, so we just shopped for a little bit, my daughter got a few braids in her hair and we returned to the ship to relax by the pool.
In Grand Cayman we took the Sting Ray tour through the cruise and was VERY happy with the entire experience. It was great and will be a wonderful memory!
In Cozymel we took a cab ($10 for everyone) to Chankanaab Park - we were hoping to get to swim with the dolphins, but they were booked. We were on the wait list, but still weren't able to get in - I would recommend signing up for this tour through the ship. The park was pretty and we swam a while.
Costa Maya was actually much better than what I was expecting (but let me tell you that I wasn't expecting anything at all). They had built this new plaza place where you shop, and then there's a free island show at 11:30 which we all actually really enjoyed. You should wear your bathing suites here - it is REALLY hot and you can jump in the pool to cool off. We also went to the beach just to the side of the shops. It was a little scary at first because there are warnings about the tide. It was really rocky, but the water was clear and my daughter had a BALL collecting seashells, and my father had a nice time sleeping in the hammock!
This really was a nice cruise. I thought the cruise director (Graham Seymore) was hilarious - how can someone read the Princess Patter and make it hilarious??
There were 2 negatives that I can think of - the pool towels had to be brought from your room and then returned (it's just kind of a pain to lug wet towels around) - I guess they've had problems with people taking the towels? It's really too bad - that's another thing that the previous Princess cruisers mentioned, the previous Princess cruises had the towels at the pool.
The other negative was disembarkation. YUK! They let people leave by the color of your luggage ticket, and unless you have an early flight, I would recommend waiting a while until you leave - relax in your cabin, or up on deck! We waited in line to get off with a whole bunch of cranky people, and then since we were among the first with our color tag, I couldn't find our luggage. If you wait, others have gotten their luggage and there's a lot less luggage to search.
There were a whole bunch of taxi's around the building just waiting for people (whereas the people who went via bus with Princess seemed to be in huge lines, and were very disorganized and confused).
So there it is - our week on the Grand Princess. It was a wonderful week… I wanted to write this as a way to thank the other people who wrote reviews and helped me know what to expect.
Have a great cruise!!!
Sailing on the Grand Princess
Following are my observations and impressions of my experiences.
We flew out of Chicago O'hare to Ft. Lauderdale the day before our ship sailed from Ft. Lauderdale. We got to the airport 2 hours in advance as advised. Our flight was at 7:45am. The lines for check in inside at United Airlines seemed to move along with no problem. They were not opening anyone's checked luggage so this moved as quickly as normal. The line for the security metal detector was rather long but as we approached the metal detectors the line split to 4 different detectors. They checked our tickets and photo I D and they had us walk through the metal detector. They sent our carry bags through the x-ray and were only opening carry on bags at random. They did use the wand on both my husband and I and oddly enough a woman checked my husband and the man checked me. I didn't like this distraction because I was trying to keep an eye on my bag since my purse was in there. Only after all of this and picking up our carrybags from the belt did we see the National Guard folks standing watch over all of this. So, I guess no one could have taken my bags anyway.
At the gate they checked our tickets and photo ID one more time before we boarded the plane. Our United plane was very full and relatively on time. Our flight home was a full flight too.
In Ft. Lauderdale we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express on 17th St. near the Embassy Suites. The hotel was clean and uneventful. The double rooms have 2 doubles instead of Queens and they were very small beds. The location of this hotel is very close to lots of shops, a grocery store, and nice restaurants and there was an Internet cafe across the street. They offered a complementary shuttle to the pier and this worked out nice because I had made reservations for the shuttle to pier when we checked in. I had read in some of the posts on line to make reservations for the shuttles because they fill up with cruise passengers quickly and then you can't go to the pier when you want and end up paying for a taxi. Good Advise! I hope I can help someone else by mentioning this little hint.
We arrived at the Grand Princess at about 12:00noon. They opened the check-in at about 12:30 and then everything started to move very quickly.
We had three cabins A738, A742, and A732. These turned out to be a great location. They are all the way in the aft on Aloha deck. We were able to go about 10 steps down the hall and out the door to the aft pool area and a few more steps up from there to the horizon buffet. Our balconies were totally private with a full overhang. The ones on Baja are private too. We could see down onto Caribe and Dolphin balconies. Since we had two balconies next to each other we were able to have the door opened between them and could walk back and forth on both balconies. We really enjoyed our balconies and use them quite a bit. We had coffee and breakfast out there most mornings. We also watched the sail out from Ft. Lauderdale and watched the sail in and out from every port. They are also great on sea days to enjoy the sun and a good book.
Our first port was the private island and we had a delightful day. The weather was in the mid 80s and so was the water temperature. After returning from this day we found out that because of hurricane Iris and Jerry the captain had decided to sail to the Eastern Caribbean ports of St. Thomas and St. Maarten instead of Grand Cayman, Costa Maya and Cozumel. We were disappointed for a number of reasons. First, we had 5 certified divers in our group who were really looking forward to diving in these ports. Second, my husband and I sailed on the Grand in April of this year and just went to the eastern ports. But, none of us wanted to sail into bad weather so we made the most of the ports that we were given.
In St. Thomas we went shopping in the morning and the divers managed to put together a last minute dive trip for the afternoon.
In St. Maarten we just went shopping and went to the beach by the pier downtown. The water was little rough but it was warm and sunny.
If anyone needs a good jeweler in St. Thomas be sure to see Rocky at the store called "Royal Caribbean" in the downtown location. The deals and selection in St. Thomas are not to be missed by serious shoppers.
A few words about the ship. This is a very comfortable ship. The cabins on Princess have some great features. The empty fridge is great for storing your own drinks. The cabin safe is free and easy to use. The balcony is the best thing since sliced bread! The bathroom is small but what cabin bathroom isn't? We had the mini-suite last time on the Grand and the bathroom had a bathtub and full vanity….that was nice.
I want to share a great experience that we had sailing out of St. Maarten. We were parked across from the Dawn Princess on the pier. When it was time for the Dawn to sail we went out on our balcony. It was at twilight. We brought our American Flag from home (the big one from the front of the house) We hung it over the balcony to show our American spirit at the sail out. Our family in the balcony next to ours had brought red patriotic (Christmas) lights to hang on their balcony. We put up our display for the sail out and people from the ship across started to yell out "USA" "USA". People were taking pictures and taking video from all over. Then from one of the balconies on the Dawn a group of people started singing "God Bless America"! Well, before we knew it people from the balconies and topside of both ships were ALL singing along. It was amazing! Then they all clapped at the end. As the Dawn continued to back up the front end of their ship was able to see the display (since we were all the way in the aft of our ship). Then the singing started all over again. Believe it or not this actually went on again for a second round of "God Bless America!" I will never forget this. When my husband came in the cabin I told him what had happened and he asked if I got it on video. I was so caught up in the moment that I didn't even think of it. If any one out there was a part of this and got it on video please email me, as he would love to see the tape!
Overall, we really had a good time. We had traditional second seating at 8:30pm each night. Our waiters were excellent and this made dinners very enjoyable. My husband tested another tidbit that I read in an online review and asked if he could get a shrimp cocktail each night. No Problem! Some nights he had two! We also had the best cafe ole, and hot chocolate with desert each night!
A word about the unlimited soda card. We thought this was a very good deal and very convenient. Since they put a sticker on your cruise card on the first day when you buy it, it was really nice to just flash it for a soda and not have to sign the receipt for each soda. It is only good for fountain drinks. The only place this is a problem is room service or some spots on the private island that only have cans. The sticker for a 7-day cruise is $17.50 per person. Otherwise soda is $1.75. The buffet only offers ice tea and coffee. No punch or lemonade for free.
We went to the karaoke a few times and listened to some of the piano music. We are not much for the shows so I can't say one way or the other since we never went to the main show lounge. They also showed movies in the Vista Lounge on certain nights.
Casino: I like to play roulette and won a few dollars here. I quit while I was ahead and never went back.
The pools: We had a good time with the pools. Since the waters were about 4 to 8 foot waves…the pools were like being in a wave pool. This was a blast!
The Spa and Gym: They look nice…we never used either!
The Disco: The Skywalkers Disco is located in the "Spoiler" of this ship. It doesn't get going till pretty late but shouldn't be missed at least once.
The Tropical night party: Be sure to bring your craziest Hawaiian or Tropical shirt or dress for this after dinner deck party. It is a lot of fun and a great photo op with the streamers and confetti.
Debarkation: ALL passengers now have to go to immigration on the last day of the cruise. This creates LONG lines. Get there early and bring a big dose of patience. We cleared the ship to BEGIN getting off around 9:45am so forget any flights before 12:00noon from Ft. Lauderdale. The lines in FLL airport were pretty long for check in and for all the security there too. Try to be patient it is all you can do.
I think I have just about covered it all. If you have any further questions please e-mail me.
This was our 10th cruise, and our 25th wedding anniversary (on the 24th). We are both 46. Previously we have sailed on four Carnival ships and five RCCI. In March of this year we sailed to the Eastern Caribbean on RCCI's "Explorer of the Seas" and had a FABULOUS time. This was our first Princess cruise. We'll be comparing a lot with the Explorer in this review.
For this cruise we traveled with my sister-in-law and her husband. Since the two ladies were stressed out about flying, we agreed to drive. We rented a van and drove to Ft. Lauderdale (1460 miles). We left on Friday at 3:30 pm and arrived at our hotel at 4:00pm Saturday. Driving (which I didn't do any of) was not as bad as expected and much better than agonizing over flying. The best decision at least for me!
We stayed at the Ft. Lauderdale Marina Marriott. We booked through Priceline at $40 for the night. We were given a beautiful room overlooking the marina with a palm tree next to our balcony, and a nice view of the yachts. Brother-in-law smokes and their smoking room hada view of the cruise ships. We ate dinner at the restaurant at an outside bar/cafe (there is a nice restaurant inside but we wanted to save our money for the casino). Unfortunately, I was too pooped to sight see so we hit the hay early.
We drove the 5 minutes to the port in the morning and parked at the pier. Rates were $10 a day. We arrived at the Grand check in at about 11:00am. Inside the terminal my bandage scissors (I am a nurse) were confiscated. I don't know why since they left my metal nail file which I could do a lot more damage with than with blunt ended scissors, but I did not argue.
We waited in what turned into a very long line until almost noon. Customs officials were late arriving, which caused most of the delay. Once the line began moving, it went very fast and efficiently. We had completed all our paperwork on line, so we only had to sign our cruise cards and go on our way. Be sure to have your Bahamas card completed!
Once on board, we ran straight to our rooms to check them out. We had rooms 8721 and 8723 on Emerald deck. The mini suite balconies (Cat AD) on the Emerald deck are completely private (one of my concerns). The room is plenty big enough (34.5 x 10) with a fridge, two TV's, and a sitting area with a sofa. Nice big bathtub too. The balcony is 7 x 10. As someone else had stated, the towels are thin and not too soft, but that is a minor thing. We did make use of the robes that you can request to use. This is a nice touch we have not had on Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Our room steward Gil was great. I asked for a lounge on the balcony, and was very happy to see it arrive the next morning. By the way, our room was VERY quiet. I am normally a light sleeper and I never heard a peep in the hall or from the showroom below.
Impressions We really liked the personal choice dining. We had a bad experience the first evening with a terrible waiter and switched from traditional to personal choice after that. The switch was as easy as telling the Maitre'D in the personal choice dining room the next evening, that we wanted to change - DONE.
If anyone is unfortunate enough to have Eugene in the Botticelli Dining Room, run to get your seating changed. We are not fussy about waiters. We have had great ones, good ones, and ho-hum ones, but this guy was terrible. He never did introduce himself or the assistant waiter, never smiled, and sighed when a change in appetizer was politely requested by sister-in-law. He banged things down on the table, and generally looked like someone who hates his job. Very poor impression on Princess to start the cruise. In contrast, when we switched to personal choice, we were lucky enough to be seated at table #78 in the Michelangelo dining room. This is a great table with a window and a terrific waiter (Manuel from Portugal) and assistant waiter (Paulo). Although we were not successful in reserving the table ahead of time, we did manage to get Manuel and Paulo every night. We dined between 5:30 PM and 7 PM and never had to wait a minute for a table. Manuel and Paulo worked extremely well together and were very enjoyable. Since we wanted our tips to go directly to Manuel and Paulo, we cancelled the automatic tipping and gave them tips personally, along with our thanks for a pleasant dining experience.
Note, there were no dining room waiter entertainment activities - no singing, Macarena, etc, and we did not miss it. Someone on their first cruise would likely enjoy that kind of thing, but it does get stale after a few cruises (and who can do just one cruise)! There was no midnight buffet. Again not missed by us now, but I do think it is too bad for first timers to miss this experience.
There were formal nights on Tuesday (at sea day) and on Friday (Cozumel). The rest were "smart casual" with no semi-formal night.
We did not try Sabitinis nor the Painted Desert. We also did not buy ice cream. We don't like to patronize these places. We think it encourages charges for more services in the future, and is not a good trend for cruising.
We found the layout of the ship frustrating and confusing, especially if you're used to climbing stairs on the ship. The stairs in midship only go up to the 7th floor. You are forced to either use the elevator or walk forward or aft to walk up to the next floors. Some of the elevators don't go to the upper levels, but you don't know that until you have hopped in. We were on the Empress deck 8, in the aft part of the ship. To get to the casino on deck 6 for example, you could not simply walk down 2 flights of stairs and walk to midship where the casino was, but you had to walk down 1 flight of stairs, walk to midship and walk down the next flight or walk to midship and take the elevator down. There are no stairs midship above level 7. The ship seems to be designed to use the elevator all or most of the time. What were the designers thinking?
The ship is pretty. However, I missed the large atriums we enjoyed on almost all other ships. This one is small, only 3 floors high. There are some nice lounge areas. The sports bar, Snookers was not always open??!! And sister-in-law found the limited internet hours maddening. The ship rarely felt crowded - lots of nice little intimate areas. Buy and bring your own drink to them though because there just aren't as many waiters ready to serve you as there are on RCCI and Carnival.
Some Positives Hot tubs and pools open all night which was very nice! Also pads on the lounges. Few children and teens whooping it up - older average crowd than we are used to. More buffet choices at breakfast and lunch (Horizon Court ). No cold eggs all week! Good coffee. Fruit basket in cabin. Lifeboat drill inside instead of in the hot sun. Production shows were wonderful - very very good. Disembark was easy after we waited an hour for the inconsiderate folks who didn't go to immigration when told to. (This was the first time we had to go to immigration since we are US).
Some Negatives Most of the hot tubs are very small. Enough room for only 4 adults or 6 very close friends. Many are in the full sun with no overhead protection. No bar service in the Princess Theater. The meats at dinner are cooked an extra grade. If you normally like your prime rib medium, it will be cooked throughout. No pink middle. You have to order medium rare to get a pink middle. I learned after a couple nights. Drinks do not measure up to either Carnival or RCCI, although the "Berried Treasure" was very good. I missed my Love Connection (RCCI) terribly. Prices were not consistent for drinks at each bar. No free lemonade or punch at lunch. The Skywalkers Nightclub on the back of the ship is really nice. It's Princess' version of the Royal Crown Lounge on RCCI ships. It affords great views and is always open to go and sit, but something we missed there is that there is no bar service until it opens up for business at night. RCCI gets the nod for this because there was always someone to take your drink order almost anytime.
Deserts were not as good on this ship as on past cruises, but are certainly not bad. Dining rooms are all small with very low ceilings. Not large, wide open multiple level dining rooms as are in many of the newest ships.Comments Food was very good overall. Except for the buffets though, I did not think it was that much different from Carnival and RCCI. Presentation was better though. Barbecue on Princess Cays, not so good.
Always found something to make us happy though - no bad meals - miss it terribly.
Entertainment Comedian / magician James Michael acts like he missed a few days of Ritalin. We liked his act a lot - we needed a good laugh after recent events.
Singer impressionist Tony Cherry very good, but didn't sing anything modern. London Pub Night- fun- don't miss
Island Night Deck Night- good fun and a great location on the rear pool of ship; enjoyed throwing the streamers.
Liked the band, S'il Vous Plait in the Explorer lounge. They are an extremely versatile band. The female vocalist was excellent and could sing anything. Probably the best band we've ever listened to on the ocean.
Newlywed / Not so newlywed game is always good for laughs - we always go. Having so many choices every night was a big plus. Most shows were repeated twice and the Princess Patter tells you when they are on the first night for the whole week, so you can plan ahead. The first of 3 shows that we saw was in the Vista Lounge. The name of it was "Gotta Sing Gotta Dance". We didn't care for this show all that much, not because the singers and dancers weren't very good, but because they didn't sing anything that we've ever heard before and the set wasn't as elaborate as in other shows that we've seen on other ships. We later found that this was the exception. The other shows, "Lights Camera Action" and "Rhythms of the City" were in the larger Princess theater and were absolutely top notch productions. The sets were very elaborate and we enjoyed them very much.
Princess Cays We enjoyed just lounging around. As others have said, if you like it quieter, go to the right after leaving the tender. We did not feel at all crowded. Eat on ship! Typical native crafts and hair braiding. Tender required. Princess uses lifeboats for tenders and have poor ventilation - yuck. Doesn't last long luckily. Thanks to all who suggested water shoes - don't go without!
Grand Cayman Our favorite! Love 7 mile beach. Tender again. We took a cab to beach for $3 a person. We were dropped of at a hotel and paid $2 a person for beach access (the only way to get on the beach is to pay). Beach has white soft sand and no coral or seaweed. If you walk a bit you will find a quiet area without all your fellow cruisers (if desired). We felt like we had the beach to ourselves. Sister-in-law and her hobby preferred to stick close to our drop-off area since it had a bar!
Shopped in the afternoon, but didn't buy anything - this is a rather expensive island.
Costa Maya No tender - was a bit rough so they had to re-maneuver the ship to a slightly better position at the pier. Shops are right off the ship. They put on a nice welcome performance with traditional Mayan costumes, but only for the first couple hours. It's small but nice. Go early, and bring camera.
Small beach (free) is a short walking distance from the pier. It was cloudy and rough but we enjoyed it. Locals expect a tip for setting up lounge chair.
Cozumel We went on the jeep tour and had quite an adventure. It poured rain and we were drenched by the time we got to the end of the pier. Bring a cheap rain cover! Then we had to slog through water over our ankle to the jeeps. We were lucky- ours had windows- not all do. You will go an hour on a VERY bumpy road. Two jeeps got stuck. Water was very deep in the puddles. We had entertainment from sister in law who squealed and hollered the whole way (afraid we would get stuck).
Do not go if you have a real back or neck problem. The excursion warns you of this and we agree. You'll need a chiropractor after this trip.
The ruins are a joke- a little bigger than an outhouse (really). "Authentic Mexican meal" was fruit, soda, fajitas with beef or chicken, and nachos. Brother-in-law enjoyed, but we did not. Flies all over. The people cooling had to keep fanning them away. Something about September when turtles are hatching makes them worse. Beach is beautiful, except we weren't allowed in water because it was too rough. There are no facilities after a quick stop 10 minutes into the trip! I'll let your imagination consider this one, since you spend an hr riding, 30min at ruins, 1hr at beach, 1hr to ride out again.
We laughed more on this tour than we did any other time, but I am afraid it really is a bit of a rip-off.
Lots of shops in town at Cozumel right off the pier. More than we remembered from a few years ago. Silver, T-shirts, blankets, crafts.
Laundry has irons which I discovered too late. Sister-in-law and hobby got us the anniversary package with shrimp cocktail, chocolate covered strawberries, and champagne - very nice - yummy. Nice surprise. Bring large zip-lock baggies. They really came in handy when it rained to protect the camera, and store wet clothes.
Cruise Director was John Cleford is very good (reminded us of Mr. Bean). Other staff was also very good. The assistant cruise director "Peter", is going to make an excellent cruise director. We think he's ready now. He is very funny and seems to be very comfortable on stage. Always someone at the door at beginning and end of shows. They were a very visible staff unlike some other cruises we've been on.
Save your money and don't get a manicure. Lousy job, $15 for less than 10min. Wanted me to spring for a $40 arm massage with it (I can massage my own arm, thanks)
Overall, we had a great time (we always do). We will be returning to Royal Caribbean though. The crowd is a bit younger and so seems more lively. The promenade on Explorer just can't be beat. We loved to sit along it and watch people go by. The Explorer is much easier to get around than the Grand. And I can have my Love Connection in the theater!
The best time we have ever had in our lives!
It was our first cruise. Our first "real" vacation. We tried to postpone in light of September 11, but couldn't unless we wanted to lose all of our money. Insurance doesn't cover acts of terrorism. So much for our travel agent saying "it covers everything except your not wanting to go." We will pay closer attention to our insurance policy next time and we will look elsewhere for insurance. Lesson learned. We boarded our flight September 22 to go to Fort Lauderdale. We breezed through security and that made us feel more insecure. Obviously it turned out ok. We arrived in Fort Lauderdale at 10:30p and stayed at the Marriott. It was free for us and next to Port Everglades. Bonus! My sister and her boyfriend had booked with us and it was a first cruise for us all. I can honestly tell you we had two entirely different vacations. Both were fun and wonderful but she packed everything she could into her cruise while my husband and myself took it a little easier.
On Sunday we got to the portaround 11:50am. The line was a bit long but we were in our staterooms by 12:30pm. We had express check in and apparently that means you have no paperwork to fill out. You still have to fill out the Bahama Immigration form again even if you sent it in. Thanks to a previous poster I had photocopied that form and they accepted it so we breezed right through. We had been upgraded to the Caribe deck with the bigger balcony and it was fabulous! My husband had decided to go get "supplies" for the week so he got back off the ship and a Princess baggage handler drove him to the nearest liquor store and back! The Princess crew laughed when he said, "I heard this could take a week" when he embarked again. We had a starboard side balcony and it's great if you want to see Cuba. If you are more interested in watching the ship go in and out of ports with the exception of Grand Cayman get on the port side. My husband's dinner jacket arrived shortly after we checked in and it fit perfectly. We used the cruise lines recommend formal wear provider because my husband didn't want to lug that around. My husband and I went to dinner without my sister and her boyfriend. The Horizon court was open and they ate too much to go to dinner. We had traditional late seating and loved it. We may try personal choice next time for variety. Dinner was good and I ordered the Love Boat Dream based on other cruiser's reviews. Sorry, but it wasn't that good and being a chocolate lover I was a bit disappointed. However, I did try it again 2 days later thinking I had an old one previously. Wow! It's fabulous. Not only was it wonderful but I swear it got bigger each time I ordered it! It's my favorite dessert on the ship. Later that evening my sister and I enjoyed the adult's only pool and hot tubs to ourselves while my husband enjoyed 3 card poker in the Atlantis Casino.
On Monday we let the crowd go to Princess Cays before we disembarked. It was wonderful. A nice beach day. Previous posters are correct. If you want a more wild time go to the left when you get off the tender and for a more quiet time alone go to the right. I did both. A wonderful beach to walk on alone or with someone when you go to the right. Find the local merchants and they will get you a deal on rum or shirts or whatever. I found the most wonderful sipping rum from Cuba and a couple of nice Cuban cigars for my husband. Won't break your pocket book. Take your sunscreen.
Monday, my husband and I ate at Sabatinis. Great food and they bring you one of everything on the menu. Not kidding! If you don't like seafood, I wouldn't recommend going. I don't care for seafood but I want to, and went with an open mind. I was blown away. It's great food.
Tuesday we were at sea and it was formal night. My sister took in all the shows and ship stuff she could and had a great time. I was a bit more relaxed and loved it. Did the wine tasting and it was fun. Had never done one before. A bit of shock when my husband and I realized we were the "experts" at our table. Every bottle we had tried with the exception of one we had both experienced before. If you know a lot about wine I would recommend you skip this portion as you will probably find it a joke. My husband and I are not experts but found it for beginners only. I enjoyed the experience but would enjoy going to a real wine tasting. You can't taste a $6.95 bottle of wine that sells for $22.00 on the ship and call it a good value.
Wednesday was Grand Cayman the day I was most looking forward too. It was the best!! I did not book an excursion based on what I read on the posts. I took my chances once I got off the ship. I was looking for Captain Marvins and couldn't find them anywhere. I decided to go with Kelly's since they were right there off the ship. We arrived at 8am and ended up booking with Kelly's at half the price you would have booked through Princess. Kelly's left at 9:15am. Captain Marvins showed up at 9:10am and I was a bit upset because of the reviews I've read about how great they are and really wanted to book with them. Kelly's was awesome. I had a ton of respect for the guides as they had done it so many times they had the stingrays named. The guides were friendly and knowledgeable. Our particular tour had a lot of folks from the Carnival Triumph as well as a few from Grand Princess. It was entertaining listening to the comparisons. Listening to everyone, I knew I had picked the right ship for our first cruise. Stingray City is awesome. I felt like I was a child again. The guides gave individual attention and made sure everyone had a good time. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Thursday, Costa Maya. A good day to schedule your spa treatments. No reason to go ashore unless you have an excursion booked. Unless you need a souvenir shot glass get a massage. Jimmy JJ Walker was the comedian that evening and part of his opening was asking how many people had a good time in Costa Maya. Just before the boo's there was a brief silence. It wasn't just us. Set sail at 7p, finally!
Cozumel on Friday. It was ok. My sister loved Xacaret. She said the snorkeling was awesome. It did rain Thursday, Friday and Saturday. My husband and I being Northwest natives loved it. The lighting show off of our balcony each night was beautiful. Cozumel was ok, we are not Mexico fans so I don't want to destroy it for someone else. I thought it ok, my husband less so. Friday was another formal night and we had a great time. Took in another show and it was nice. We are not broadway show kinda people but we weren't turned off either.
Saturday was a day at sea. For the first time we decide to have lunch in the dining room instead of at the Horizon Court. Lunch was awesome and our next cruise we will eat in the dining room instead. Not that the Horizon Court was bad, the dining room was better! We had a wonderful dining experience there.
Sunday disembarkation did not go off well. Not the Princess fault. There were some rude passengers that just didn't get to immigration in a timely manner. They were called upon several times. I felt bad for those that had early flights. Myself I had to meet them at 6:15 am because my last name letter fell in A-F. I was there and even though you don't have to have a passport to get through if you want to get through quickly get one. Read the directions on your disembarkation letter and follow it completely. You will get through faster. Anything else is "not needed!" Oh, if your flight is leaving that day from FLL plan to spend that day at that airport. If your travel plans include Delta Airlines try for an alternate (morons, long story). After the incredible service you will receive on Princess, Delta will seem like a bad cab ride.
We had the best time and truly relaxed. It's hard to vacation in this nation's time of crisis but believe it or not you can do it and it's welcome relief. I loved our vacation and so did my husband and sister. We have a holding booking for our next cruise.
The only tips I can think of that haven't been covered previously are have some slippers if you have a balcony. Myself, I didn't get pressured to buy products at the Plantation Spa. I had my first pedicure there and it was wonderful. We did talk about everything but what she was using on my feet and calves. Maybe that had something to do with it but I didn't buy a single product from there and was treated wonderfully. My sister got a haircut and her makeup done and she looked beautiful. They do a wonderful job. She said she didn't feel pressured either, however she did buy some products just because she liked them. The same happened with her boyfriend. I didn't think the drinks were overly priced but I'm sure that will depend on where you live in the states. If you enjoy wine with dinner get it off the ship. Research your shore excursions you can find a nice one for less money than the ship will charge you. Skip Costa Maya. Maybe if there is a passenger rally we can get Belize or similar on that itinerary. If not the ship is a great place to stay. I at first did not believe other posters who said "if you don't have a good time it's your own fault." I do now. The fact that we could enjoy ourselves so much and take a break from what's happening in America right now was not even imaginable. You can, and probably should. You're not un-American for doing so.
Getting on a plane is a tough choice, once you get to the ship you will feel fine and appreciate the time away from it all.
This was our third cruise together, my seventh cruise total, and my second on Princess. Together, we sailed RCCL's Nordic Empress San Juan-Eastern Caribbean in March of 2000, and Celebrity Century Ft. Lauderdale-Western Caribbean in February 2001. Immediately below and throughout this review I've made comparisons to the Century, but please remember this is just my opinion. Most are personal preferences, you may not agree with me, and that's okay.
For those who don't want to read ten pages (understandable), the following two pages describe highlights of our observations about the Grand in general, and in comparison to the Century, as well as a summary of our activities on the cruise. If you still want more detail after that, read on.
We really enjoyed this cruise and the Grand, and would happily sail her again. This is a very relaxing itinerary. Even so, it probably wouldn't be our first choice, when there are so many other ships to take. We had never cruised during Fall season, and it was great being the only ship in port in both St. Thomas and St. Martin. When we sailed in February, there were at least fiveships in each. The lack of congestion made for a nicer experience. And we really liked having three sea days. Aside from some morning rain in St. Thomas, we had calm seas and good weather throughout.
1. The Grand is a beautiful ship, but overall, we liked the Century better. Not sure why, her decor is nice, but somehow it isn't *as* nice. Level of elegance, perhaps. So, in our limited experience, this ship runs a close second to the Century. We did love the tile work that was all over the ship, especially in the pool areas.
2. Most of the crew and staff were friendly and accommodating, always with a pleasant greeting. There were a few who were nasty, especially in the casino teller cage. We had good experiences with the purser's staff, contrary to some reports. All were helpful, and we never waited more than a minute for assistance. I think both Princess and Celebrity do well in this area.
3. IMHO, there is no contest on dining service and food presentation and quality. Century wins, hands down.
4. Cabins need more towel racks and wall hooks. We had to dry things on the balcony for lack of hanging space. Otherwise, it was quite comfortable. Century cabin storage is deservedly legendary, and they have the edge here.
5. The Grand excels at cozy sitting areas and having plenty of deck chairs. We never had to fight for a seat, though the show lounges tended to be crowded, as is the usual.
6. Despite her size, the Grand is surprisingly easy to navigate. But like the Century, deck 6 aft must be accessed by stairs/elevators. One cannot walk aft on deck 6 from mid-ship. Must be inherent to ship design or something, because we've seen this on several ships.
7. The Grand had more entertainment options than Century. There were several music groups performing concurrently around the ship, and more nightly shows offered with greater variety. We liked the Century's talent and selections, but the Grand excels here.
8. The Grand easily beats out the Century on pools, pool and kid policies, and pool loungers. First, the pools and hot tubs are open 24/7; we took a tub once around midnight, which was great. Second, there are designated and enforced ‘adult only' areas. There were only a handful of kids on this cruise, so that might not be true mid-summer, but we saw no out of control children. Third, there are signs in each pool area, the lounges, and in the daily Patter prohibiting saving of seats and folks complied. There were more chairs on outside decks than could be filled. Many areas are in shade much of the time and it was difficult to find seats near a pool that also provided sun. The flip side of having so many chairs is they were so close to one another that you had to ‘back in' to sit down--no moving over to make room in between. This was annoying to a lot of people, but no more so than not finding a seat at all. The beautiful Terrace (aft) and Plantation Spa pools (forward) get little sun, and the water was ice cold. The Neptune pool (mid) was lovely, and as the main pool, was usually more crowded.
9. Like Celebrity, Princess keeps announcements to a minimum, which is appreciated. The cruise director still had a knack for making his afternoon broadcast when we were napping. Murphy's Law.
10. We didn't use the spa on the Grand, but we can tell you that to us, any cruise spa that doesn't offer "Rasul Mud Treatment for Couples" ranks below the Century. Anyone who read my Century review from February will understand what I mean.
Things we did:
Had room service deliver coffee and rolls in the a.m. Service was prompt and friendly.
Sat on the balcony.
Spent time by most of the pools, including the Terrace, Plantation and the Neptune. We didn't use the solarium pool, but the room is beautiful. The roof was never retracted during our cruise. There were about 8 hot tubs--two close to each pool I think. We tried several out. The spa hot tubs weren't very hot, but others we used were perfect.
Ate in the dining room every night but one, when we had pizza on the balcony and watched sunset.
Played bingo twice. Lost.
Played in the casino nightly. Lost.
Went to shows nightly.
Attended Captain's Circle cocktail party. Woo-hoo! Hey, it was a free drink.
Got invited (with about 50 others, at the considerable effort of a tablemate) to a tour of the bridge. We heard bridge tours were banned that same day; we toured at 4:30, so figure we got about the last any cruise ship will have. We'll see if that holds.
Things we didn't do/get to, good intentions and a week of no schedule notwithstanding:
Skywalkers Disco at night (though we saw it during the day).
Attend High Tea, held 3:30-4:30 each day, in the Da Vinci dining room.
Go to art auctions, or any other group activity.
Miniature or virtual golf.
Fitness activities of any kind.
Walk the promenade deck all the way forward (really, we were sloths).
Summary completed, on with the more detailed report.
Despite the World Trade Center tragedy on 9/11 and tropical storm Gabrielle--which hit land 90 miles south of us on September 14th--we made our September 15th Southwest flight from Tampa to Ft. Lauderdale, which was uneventful. The mood in the nearly deserted airport was efficient and solemn, and no one seemed to mind the increased security or delays. This was true even on the return a week later, when the airports were considerably busier. Interesting how these little delays and annoyances were put in perspective for everyone, eh?
We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale late morning, and called the Amerisuites 17th Street courtesy shuttle, which arrived within 15 minutes. The hotel is tucked behind a storage facility, sort of on the edge of nowhere, but it's still just a 5 minute walk from 17th Street and Miami, both of which have many restaurants and other shopping. Our requested king smoking wasn't ready, so we dropped our bags and left, returning a few hours later.
Being the first Saturday after 9/11, cruise ships arriving in port that morning were significantly delayed by increased security, and didn't start unloading passengers until 11 or so. Those waiting to board were therefore delayed at the hotel, so everything was running a little behind.
We were given room 625 at the end of the hall on the top floor, a TCB suite. The room has two areas separated by a half-wall. The front area has an L-shaped desk (I hear this is particular to the TCB suite; regular rooms have a sofa instead), good task lighting and internet hookup, easy chair with ottoman, dining table with chairs, and kitchenette with small fridge, microwave, coffee maker and fixings, dishes, etc. All the basics. The back had the bed, two end tables and a good-sized window with little view (there are no views, according to the desk clerk). The requisite hutch with TV was on the wall opposite the half-wall, so the TV was visible from either the desk or the bed.
The bathroom sink/counter sits exposed, almost directly across from the bed. It was impossible to use the sink light without blasting a sleeping partner. Toilet and shower/tub room was adjacent, shampoo and soap provided. Towels were adequate and the shower was good.
I thought the layout was a little weird, and the decor dark, but it was roomy and clean, and would be quite sufficient for a longer stay. I'm just not crazy about that sink outside the bathroom thing.
There is a pool that we didn't use; saw no other fitness facilities. The lobby is spacious with sofas and chairs/tables, and coffee and tea are available there 24/7. The complimentary continental breakfast was nice and more extensive than most. Staff were friendly, accommodating and helpful with information, directions, etc. The shuttle also took us to the ship the next day--both transports at no charge. Overall a fine experience, and a great deal for the Priceline rate of about $40 including fees/taxes. By the way, if staying here pre- or post-cruise, you can leave your car in their lot, saving the $10/day the port garage charges.
While in Ft. Lauderdale, we went on the sightseeing cruise "Carrie B" which was a very enjoyable two hour cruise on the waterways, with continuous narration and lots of info about house costs, etc. The boat also cruised into Port Everglades where we saw the Century and the Maasdam docked. The tour normally costs $11.95/pp, but we had a half-price newspaper coupon provided by a local friend (thanks Cindy!), so it was only $6 each. Cab to and from the Carrie B from the hotel was about $6 each way, with tip.
Because of increased security and delays in last week‘s passengers leaving the ships, the shuttle didn't take us to Port Everglades until 12:15. We waited in line perhaps 10 minutes before getting in the door. Security was definitely higher than I‘ve seen before, with the usual conveyor belt security x-rays plus "wand" checks of both bags and people. I think our ID's were checked at least three times before we made it out. Before going upstairs to the ship, we stopped at the duty free shop for smokes, which we realized meant we had to go back outside and through security again…. It really wasn't a hardship; even with two times through several security checkpoints, we were standing on our balcony by 1:00. Painless.
by the way, at the desk where they check your tickets and issue your ID, there were signs saying, "This cruise is full, there are no available cabin upgrades" or some such. These signs were also on the purser's desk. It was rumored there were 700 cancellations, and from watching balcony activity, ½ empty dining rooms, and talking to others, it seems there were indeed many empty cabins.
If I may opine: My guess is they just don't want to be bugged for upgrades, and IMHO, that's reasonable. People seem to think they deserve an upgrade if there is space (and sometimes even if there is not). As a fellow traveler and admitted cheapskate, I agree that it shouldn't be a big deal to get an upgrade if there is availability, but the fact is, the most the cruise line is required to do is provide the level cabin paid for. Anything else is icing. In seven cruises, this is the first time I got an upgrade, and I was darned happy to get it. I never book anything less than what I'd be satisfied with. Sometimes we set ourselves up for disappointment by expecting more than is reasonable. Book what we can live with, and be thrilled if we get more. No expectations, no disappointments. Okay, I'm off my soapbox now.
The Grand is beautiful, and it is true that the design makes her feels much more intimate than her size would indicate. There are lots of small comfy sitting areas around the ship so it was easy to find a quiet spot to talk or read. Up top, there were plenty of seats, we never had to search for a pool lounger. Other than the photo area on the last night, it never felt crowded anywhere. The ship is clean and well-kept and we saw crew varnishing outside railings and painting several times. She is going into dry dock soon for refurbishment; though I saw little that needed refurbishing, the sofas in the Skywalker disco were quite worn, and it's possible there were other things I just didn't notice. Overall, we preferred the artwork and more subdued decor of the Century, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with the Grand; it was very nice.
We booked BC guarantee and were upgraded to BA C644, Caribe (deck 10), port, aft. This was a great location; couldn't have picked it better ourselves. We were only steps from the aft stairs and elevators, three flights below the Horizon Court and Terrace Pool (14 aft), four up from our Botticelli dining room (6 aft) and the casino (6 mid/forward). There is no 13th level.
We met our steward Cesar around 1:30 when he dropped off John's rented tuxedo (a service booked on-line that worked well). Cesar was pleasant, efficient, and unobtrusive. Something never seen before: there was a sign on the desk with his hours, a pager number for him, and who to call if you needed something when he was not on duty. A nice touch, but we never had to page him or anyone else. We always had the ice, and extra pool and bath towels we requested the first day. The second day we requested robes, which were promptly provided; these were great for balcony sitting. Storage was sufficient, but a more hooks for towels and such would be helpful. Otherwise, we had no complaints; the cabin was comfortable, clean and well maintained, and the shower was strong and hot. The cooler/fridge worked well and we stocked it with soda we'd brought aboard. By the way, our steward emphasized that this is just a cooler, and told us it works better if items are already cold, but we found it chilled our soda cans just fine. The fridge is a great amenity, wish more ships provided one. We also liked the (bolted down) bedside lamps with dimmers that gave very nice lighting at night, and the handy switch by the bed for the doorway light.
Folks ask whether port or starboard side is better. Perhaps those on the starboard side might disagree, but we thought our portside location was perfect for this itinerary. In Ft. Lauderdale, we faced the condos in the channel from the port to the Atlantic, where residents come out on their condo balconies to see the ships off--flashing lights, tooting horns, waving--very festive and great fun. In St. Thomas, we had the approach and dockside to Charlotte Amalie's beautiful harbor. In St. Martin, we had the island-side approach, but docked starboard, so once in port we saw only a rather industrial area. At Princess Cays, we had the island view on approach, at anchor, and after sailing. I'm sure the starboard side was lovely, but I wouldn't have traded this cabin for it.
As you can tell, we loved the balcony, and used it constantly. We had coffee there each morning, saw the sun go up on southbound days and down on northbound days, and we ended every night by watching the stars before retiring… with the door open so we could hear the water and the wind as we slept like babies. So, do ya think we're spoiled for life?
One comment on balconies. Many people didn't turn off their balcony lights at night, which can be bothersome to those who like to sit out late at night and watch the stars. I'm not sure folks even knew they *could* turn the light off. Not a big deal, just mentioning it.
When we booked in mid-August, we were waitlisted for traditional first seating, #153. The week before sailing, we'd moved up to #82. As soon as we got on the ship, we went to the maitre d's table which was staffed by someone not the maitre d', located by Sabatini's (7 midship) and again asked for first seating. We were put on a list, told it shouldn't be a problem, and that notification of the change would arrive by 6:00. About 5:45, we got our reassignment to first seating at a table of 8 in the Botticelli dining room.
The Grand has three separate dining rooms, and with traditional dining, we were assigned to the same room for the entire cruise. We never set foot in the other two. The Botticelli was a perfectly fine room, but we preferred the Century's beautiful multi-level, windowed dining room. This is a fine point, but the Grand had so many intimate spaces that after several days, it almost felt claustrophobic. I started to think that at least one wide-open space on the ship would be nice.
Our dining partners included one couple with their two grown sons, and another couple, all of us from Florida. We hit it off well, but the table was badly located. I don't have the table number, but it was the first table immediately inside the dining room doors, and had constant traffic back and forth. There were many empty tables in the room (more evidence of cancellations), so we asked to be moved to a less exposed table. The next night, we got notice of a new table. This one was waaaaay back in a corner, but we were by two windows--a fine trade-off.
Our waiters the first night were Solin and assistant Daniel, who gave us friendly but very quick service. Great for the first night, but not sure I would have wanted that pace throughout. Conversely, and under the category of ‘be careful what you wish for,' our servers at the second table, Henry from the Philippines and Supachai from Thailand, whether by design or neglect, allowed us a very leisurely 1-½ hour (plus) dinner most nights. It was slooow. I think it was bad timing, as a few dishes were downright cold when served. However promptly they're replaced with hot, and these were, that just shouldn't happen. The service did improve over the week, so maybe it was just timing. That aside, both were friendly and accommodating, and we ended up enjoying them very much. We thought assistant Supachai a rising star--very helpful, smiling all the time, and he had some good jokes. He was flying home to Thailand on Sunday for the first time in 10 months, 26 hours, he said. Hope he goes back to Princess; he's an asset.
As for food, we don't sail for the food and we are not gourmets. In fact, we usually lose our appetites when traveling. When we do eat, we tend to the less creative, so perhaps we missed the best of what they had. We appreciate that it can be difficult to infuse "grilled chicken breast" with excitement.
That disclaimer in place, we thought the food was okay; not bad, not outstanding, but with some definite high points. It is very good for what it is and the number of people being fed in a short time. The main courses were fine, but unremarkable (see disclaimer). Desserts were average, and we rarely finished what we'd ordered, so you know they weren't spectacular. I had the Love Boat Dream the first night, which is beautifully presented and should be to my liking--death by chocolate--but it was too gooey/dense/fudgy, and I didn't finish it. My partner had cheesecake which was also just okay. After that, we stuck with ice cream and sorbet, which were very good. And the chocolate cake (see below). And the little plates of cookies they put on the table. Gee, no wonder I didn't finish anything. ;-)
John raved about a chicken and mushroom puff pastry appetizer served one of the final nights. Our tablemates seemed to like the fish they had almost every night. One who leaned to the more adventurous liked the food more than any other cruise they'd taken. We all thought the lobster served the second formal night was excellent--melt in your mouth perfect. The shrimp cocktail was also very good, much better than the Century's, which had popcorn shrimp buried in sauce (a travesty, but one of very few failings). It was on the menu the first night but not the second, so we asked if we could have it again, and every night after we had shrimp cocktail without asking. Our tablemates requested a sugar free desert one night, and we were baked a different and delicious sugar free chocolate cake for each of the last three nights. Another tablemate wanted strawberry ice cream (unknown why that isn't standard), and got it by the bowlful. Once we requested anything, we were accommodated every night. In that way, the service was excellent. It's a fine line, but overall, we liked the Century's service, ambience, and food quality and presentation better… except for the shrimp cocktail and the lobster.
There is a carry-out pizzeria at the forward end of the Neptune Pool, open 11-7. We thought the pizza was very good and took it back to our cabin several times. Unfortunately, it isn't available through room service. It had a nice thin crust that was only improved by a few more minutes in the oven. The food in the Horizon Court was fine, typical cruise buffet fare. The room is lovely with raised seating areas so most everyone has a window view, but the buffet area is poorly organized with several intersecting food lines and no obvious way to go through without bumping into others. At times, it was like bumper cars. Very good lox was available five of seven mornings, which I took full advantage of, but otherwise, we never had a hot meal here. We took a light lunch back to the cabin a few times, and they had a nice selection of salads, meats, cheeses, breads, fruit, hot foods, etc. Sushi was also available several days, nicely presented. It is impossible not to find something suitable, regardless of one's taste. We did not eat at Sabatini's or Painted Desert. We're not interested in spending more for food.
Personal Choice Dining didn't interest us: one of the things we like most about cruising is we never have to decide when or where to eat. We like to have the same servers all week and to tip in person. Sometimes we have to rework our plans a little to make 6:15, but that's an acceptable trade-off for us. We spoke to some who really liked the flexibility of PCD, but there was also the couple who had it (their TA actually told them they had no choice), who'd asked repeatedly to be switched to traditional. For some reason, they were not accommodated. I don't know why not. There was certainly room in our dining room for two more, but perhaps I missed some of the story. Thus, the ultimate question: If PCD is forced on people who don't want it, is it really PCD??
We went to at least one show each night except the first. The Vista lounge (deck 7, aft) has lousy sightlines, with huge pillars around the room that make many seats useless. The Princess Theatre (deck 5? forward) was larger and had a much better layout. Suggest arriving for any show at least 20 minutes prior to show time to get a decent seat. Saving is definitely frowned upon here and everywhere on the ship.
Steve Michaels, a magician/comedian had some good moments, but the bathroom humor was tiring. Warning: do not sit in the first 6 rows for this show. Trust me.
We also saw hypnotist Buck Macleod. I didn't care much for his style, but he was still good. He couldn't resist stooping to bathroom noises and such to embarrass the volunteers either. What is it about flatulence, anyway? I'm amazed that folks volunteer for these things… Still, it was entertaining and interesting, as these things are, and there were several people who were completely under. Everyone was a good sport. He has an adult show at midnight later in the week that we wanted to see, but it was just too late, and I never did find anyone who'd seen it to get an opinion.
I thought juggler Dan Bennett was amazing. Hilarious, talented, extremely intelligent, just a hoot.
The final night, there was another show with Steve Michaels and Dan Bennett, with all new material. It was good--we liked them even more the second time around (ubiquitous bathroom humor aside).
We also saw comedian Glenn Hirsch, who started out slow but improved as the show went on.
Marty Allen, alas, was not on this cruise. And I'd just run across an old "Let's Make A Deal" where he won a car for some lady in Hackensack or something. Must have been taped at least 30 years ago. I was disappointed I didn't get a chance to mention it to him. Instead, we had Marty Brill. He had a few great jokes, but it was too Catskills for our tastes. The older set did seem to enjoy him, however, so who am I to judge.
The only song/dance show we saw, "Lights, Camera, Action," was excellent. The sets were complex and beautiful, the production values tight, the song and dance well coordinated with good talent, very professional start to finish. This was really a good show.
We don't drink and didn't spend much time in the many lounges, so we missed several of the performers, but we did hear "The Westmorelands" a few times in the Wheelhouse. This male/female team perform standards from the Carpenters to Sinatra--usual lounge music. They had a nice sound and were quite personable. We also heard the Grand Princess Orchestra a few times--mostly big band standards and great stuff IMHO.
Princess has the edge over Celebrity on entertainment. There were several choices each evening, and every show was pretty good. One curious thing: they put the combined Michaels/Bennett show in the smaller Vista lounge, and reserved the Princess Theatre for a showing of "Shrek." The Vista was packed to overflowing. I don't know if anyone showed up for the movie.
Ports -- St. Thomas
Since our last cruise, we planned to snorkel on St. John snorkel next time, but the morning was rainy, so we stayed on St. Thomas. We hired a cab for an island tour, which we enjoyed ($20/pp + we tipped another $5 for the two of us). Saw all the high points, as it were. Spent a little time in the shops in Charlotte Amalie, and returned to the ship. We'll do St. John next time. I swear.
St. Martin/St. Maarten
In early 2000, we anchored and tendered in, but now there is a dock and welcome center, and there also appears to be a shopping mall going up adjacent (think Havensight in St. Thomas). You can take the water taxi to town for $5/day unlimited, or hire a land taxi at $3/pp each way to town. We took a cab/van from the port to Orient Beach for $6/pp each way. We rented two lounge chairs with cushions and umbrella for $5/pp, which included two bathroom passes… don't laugh, the toilets are clean and well worth the .50 cents a visit.
This was my third visit to Orient in 4 years. It still has some of the most beautiful waters anywhere, but the beach itself has eroded terribly since 2000. What was a 40'-50' wide beach is now about 12', if that. A real shame. The water and surroundings are still lovely, but the beach is nearly gone, and many of the vendors were closed. Not sure whether this was because of the erosion or because it is low season; possible they were just on vacation. At any rate, it was not crowded, and we enjoyed ourselves. We prearranged for the cab to pick us around 2:00. After returning to Philipsburg, we shopped a bit and took a cab back to the ship.
This is a lovely island with lots of facilities and activities. We tendered over at 10 a.m., and spent a few hours, returning to the ship by early afternoon. We did not eat the barbeque lunch they served, and the only activity we did besides sit, was snorkeling. I rented the required vest for $8.00 and snorkeled for quite a while. I believe you can rent a vest for the entire week at that price, but I didn't need it except for this day. The snorkeling was good, with clear water and lots of fish. I was impressed. If you go, swim from the crowded main swimming area around the gazebo into the open area to the right (facing the water). Visibility is much better there. And, though a little rocky, the beach wasn't nearly as bad as some have reported. If you don't use fins, do wear water shoes for protection of your feet and the coral. (Soapbox note: Despite highly visible signs reminding everyone of the fragility of the reefs, we saw lots of people sitting (!) or standing (!) on coral. Please remember to respect your surroundings. Thank you. Off soapbox.).
When we asked on the second day, the purser cheerfully removed the $6.50/pp automatic tip for Personal Choice diners from our folios. Since we had traditional dining, we just tipped the last night as usual. We did not tip cash. We instead went to a bartender (any bartender), who charged our tips to our shipboard card, and gave us receipts with envelopes. We then gave these to our steward, waiter and assistant waiter. This was a handy service.
We got our tags and paperwork on Saturday. Sunday morning at 6:45, we had to be at immigration, which took the form of a line through the Vista Lounge where passports or ID are checked about three times by federal marshals. Though the line was long when we got there, it took only about 10 minutes. It was handled efficiently, and we were off the ship by 9:15 a.m. We had no problem finding our bags, but it was chaotic in the terminal as usual. Just part of the experience.
A word of caution: while in line at immigration in the Vista, someone took a picture of the room--quite innocently, I'm sure--and was loudly and sternly chided by one of the guards. The offending photographer was given a choice to have the film processed on ship and give the guards back those pictures and the film, or surrender the entire roll. I imagine they took the former option. Lesson learned: Do not take pictures of any federal marshals, security checkpoints, airports, or other potentially sensitive areas or people. Rightly so, there is little sense of humor about this right now.
Finally, a question to my fellow cruisers: on the morn of disembarking, is anyone else bothered by the voice on the PA repeatedly listing name after name of those who 1) didn't show up for immigration, or 2) won't get their accounts settled? What is the problem with people? If I may, a brief rant: They make the boat, but they can't make immigration; they buy the cruise, but they won't pay for their on-board expenses when requested. This has been true on every cruise I've taken, and I just don't get it. It is rude to hold up everyone else, especially since we all know these things must be done. End of rant.
Well, there's yet more detail in this weary head of mine, but nine pages is enough. Happy to ramble further if anyone has questions; write to me (Peg) on the Princess board here at cruisemates.com. Otherwise, that's it. Hope you enjoyed it.
We just returned from the 7/29,Grand Princess-Western Caribbean sailing. This was our 12th cruise and the first on Princess. Let me first preface this review with a few comments. It is important to understand that these reviews are very subjective. We have read reviews of cruises that we were on and couldn't believe that we were on the same ship. We are by nature a bit critical. We see little things that bother us. We will report these things at the risk of someone saying "who cares about that", or "these people are mad". We feel that since cruise ships are so similar, it may be the little detail that will help someone make a decision.
Princess does a good job with check-in. For the most part it is fast and efficient. The express check in tags you receive for your luggage seem to be on everybody's luggage . The express comes in if you registered all of your information on line. Express looses something if the people in front of you didn't.
We booked a K and were upgraded to LL (3 categories). We like inside cabins because they areso dark in the morning. We care not for a balcony and are not willing to pay for something we will probably not use. A balcony, for us, would probably be like buying a treadmill and using it for a coat rack. We were given a wheelchair accessible cabin. This cabin was nice, since it was 50% larger than a regular cabin and it was on the Lido Deck, which was very convenient for us.
The Ship is beautiful. It is elegantly appointed with much marble and wood. It was a long stretch getting from one end to another, but things were laid out well and we had no difficulty in this area. We prefer a smaller ship, with fewer people, but never really felt crowded except in the Vista Lounge which we will discuss later.
Service. We have found that throughout our cruising career, service has been about the same from ship to ship. We have sailed all the major cruise lines including Cunard and find that, with the exception of a waiter or cabin steward here and there, they are all trying to do a good job. We can't believe that there is a cruise line that doesn't tell its staff to give the best possible service. Some people are better at what they do than others and some people are nicer than others. So, we believe the service is dependent on the individual and not the cruise line.
Entertainment: Very hard to review, we just read a review where he/she reported that the shows were among the worst they have seen on any cruise. We didn't think so, we felt that the production shows were entertaining and not too dissimilar to the 20 or 30 other shows we have seen. Marty Allen and his wife, Karon ‘Kate' Blackwell put on a very funny and entertaining show. The hypnotist ( Buck Macleod) was very good as was the comic (Miguel Washington). The magician (James Michael) was so, so. We found the juggler (name withheld by request) charming, but lacking in talent. You might hire him for you child's birthday party. There was usually something to do in the evening and we were always entertained, maybe not to the caliber of Broadway but adequately. We have never seen and were bothered by the use of movies as the main source of entertainment (We say main because the were in the main theater). The movies were good but not that new (Castaway, What Women Want). They put the hypnotist in the smaller theater at the same time as the movie and had people sitting in the aisles and standing. Very poor planning. There is always gambling, nightclubs and lounges etc. They have trivia twice a day which is unusual and since we are trivia fans, made us happy. The mandatory art auction was on, most every day. We still don't know if the prices are good?
Food: This, to us, is the main area of interest and comparison to other cruises we have taken. We are not ashamed to admit that this is one of the main reasons we like cruising, so here is where we will get picky. Firstly, we chose traditional early seating. For us it was a great decision. We met some very nice people and enjoyed every meal with them. We were usually the last table out of the dinning room. With personal choice we might not have had such a good time. For us, this is a very important part of the cruise experience. We spoke to people with Personal Choice and some loved it but others felt that they missed the kind of experience we had. Personal choice is OK for some but not for us. We had such a good time at dinner, none of us wanted to miss a meal to go the alternative restaurants. We heard that Sabatini's ($15) was excellent and The Painted dessert $8.00 with Margarita was OK. We passed The Painted Dessert many times and seldom saw many people dining there.
The Dining room food, in a nutshell, was just OK. Much better than RCCL (our least favorite cruise line) not quite as good as Celebrity or Carnival. The food was good but never outstanding. We ate beef 4 times for lack of something else to order. The lobster was good, as was the escargot. Deserts were poor to average. We ate lunch in the dining room twice and had to go the buffet afterwards. We never had breakfast in the dining room.
Horizon Court Buffet was 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. There were, however, a number of those picky details that we noted. No Lemonade (never saw that). No half and half in the AM for coffee (we did ask the headwaiter and he brought us whipping cream each morning, but we had to ask every morning). No omelet station, all the eggs (and omelet, of their choice) were premade. If you like French toast, wait until you get home. They brush the bread with egg, but it never gets inside (check it out). On the plus side, great selection of Fresh fruit, fresh berries (black, blue and rasp and strawberries). Fresh bread and rolls were plentiful. Smoked salmon (Lox) was available on the Buffet 5 of the 7 mornings which we have never seen.
Ice Cream. Yes, more on the ice cream controversy. A charging 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 and was not worth eating). A cruise has traditionally been an all inclusive vacation. It is the beginning of trouble when we get charged for anything that should be included. If people pay for this it will not be too long before they are asked to pay for a slice of Pizza or a Burger.
Speaking of Pizza, it was just OK, much better than RCCL, no comparison to Carnival. The Hot Dog, Sausage and Hamburger bar was very good.
Princess stopped all Midnight Buffets. They seem to feel that since the Horizon Court Buffet is open 24 hours a day, it is no longer necessary. We feel that the lack of at least a Grand Buffet, with the ice carvings fancy platters, bread figures etc. add to the cruise experience and should be reinstated.
A word on pool Towels, one per person is left in the cabin at night. No towels available by the pools. A major inconvenience and something that we have never seen. The pools were very nice, fresh water, open all night. From what I saw there were many children in the pools and hot tubs late at night. Speaking of children, there were many on board and some who needed and did not get the proper supervision from their parents or whoever was in charge. Gym facilities were inadequate for a ship this size.
Tipping - a charge of $6.50 per day is added to your charge for everyone, not just personal choice diners. This bothers us, it's true that you can go the Purser to remove the charge, but now you have to do something to stop a tip. Next it will be added to your cruise fare. Don't misunderstand, we believe in Tipping, I worked my way through college and Grad School waiting on tables, but we do believe that A TIP (To Insure Promptness) should be earned. When they recommend a $3.00 TIP for the waiter and $1.50 for the asst. and charge $6.50, $2.00 is going to, as we were informed, the head waiter and Maitred'. I have a problem tipping somebody who just says good-evening.
Ports. We have cruised this itinerary a number of times. We are not crazy about tendering, but with such a large ship, there is little choice. We shopped, as usual, and we tried the snorkeling and stingray city tour on Grand Cayman from Captain Marvin (who has representatives on dock as soon as you get off the ship). It was cheaper than the Princess tour and from what we were told much better. (http://www.captainmarvins.com). Princess Cays has a very nice beach, as does Playa Del Carmen.
All this said, we had a great time, met nice people and enjoyed ourselves. We didn't feel that Princess lived up to all the hype. They should stop cutting corners and give their passengers a better quality product. We prefer Carnival and Celebrity, but that's not to say that if the occasion arises we would not go on Princess again.
Took our second cruise of the summer, this time on the Grand Princess, and I can safely say that she is certainly Grand. Princess has this industry down pat, and we love to sail on her ships. This one was certainly no exception.
Since we had some extra time, we decided to drive down and park our car at the cruise terminal at Fort Lauderdale. This has always been a good decision for us, we enjoy seeing a bit of the countryside on the way down. (we live in Missouri) We got into the cruise terminal about an hour early, however, and Princess was certainly adamant about not allowing anyone to board the ship before noon. Once onboard we were just awestruck. This ship is beautiful and took our breath away. What my husband phrases as tasteful elegance. When you get to your staterooms, you'll notice pocket sized maps of the ship. These are really handy and we used ours repeatedly during the week.
After we checked out our stateroom, we decided to go and get a quick bite of lunch at the buffet and do some exploring. It was during ourexploring that we had our first glimpse of comedian Marty Allen. He was sitting at a coffee bar, people watching, with his T-shirt that read his trademark "Hello Dere". We stopped and chatted with him for a while and he was very gracious and friendly. Don't miss his show. I don't care what someone else may have reviewed about it, we thought that his show (along with his very talented wife, Karon "Kate" Blackwell) was one of the best shows we've ever seen on a cruise ship. We laughed so hard we had tears running down our cheeks. And, keep an eye out for him on board, for he mingles among the guests frequently. Marty - you were great and we loved you. And someone else on this cruise is pretty great, also. The cruise Director, Graham. This guy is a hoot. Get up early enough to catch his " breakfast" show on the television in your stateroom. It's not only very informative, it's extremely entertaining as well. London Pub night is not to be missed, as well as the hypnotist act.
We chose Personal Choice dining, and for us, it was the right thing to do and what we'll continue to do. We enjoy going to eat when we are ready and don't care so much for the chit-chat with other table mates as some do. We like to eat and get through, so that we can go to the shows, or the casino or whatever activity there may be that evening. We found out though that upstairs in the Horizon Food Court that they usually had the exact same items that you could order down stairs in one of the main dining rooms. And you could get as much or as little as you liked, etc., and be about your business. What really impressed me about the Horizon Food area was the freshness of the food there and the selection. Every day I got to have fresh asparagus spears with my salad, and every morning and night I ate fresh raspberries with cream. There was such a selection, I couldn't begin to relate it all here. Let's just say that for my husband and I, there was the largest selection of foods to choose from on a buffet in a total of 16 cruises. And, kept clean as a whistle. We had heard all the rave reviews about the alternative dining on the Grand, so we were quick to reserve our table at the Painted Desert. We were unable to reserve a table at Sabatini's as these were reserved all the first day. We were a bit disappointed with the Painted Desert, we just thought it was ok. Our margarita's were way too sweet (I guess it's what you pay the $8 per person for) and I've had better fajitas at my local Mexican restaurant. I suppose it depends on what you like - it was just overrated for us.
I wish the other cruise lines would take note and keep their pools and hot tubs open the hours that Princess does. One of my biggest disappointments when we first began cruising was how early most cruise lines close their pools. But, Princess is the exception, keeping theirs open practically 24/7. We appreciate this. What I didn't care for was having to bring my beach towel from the room every day as they don't keep any around the pool. So, don't start out without that blue towel in your room if you're going for a swim, it's there for a reason.
One thing that really surprised me with a ship this size was how small the gym facility was in proportion to every thing else. There is really not enough exercise equipment or even space in that area. However, the aerobic room seemed quite large, in comparison. I can also advise you that if you want any spa "treats" book early in your cruise, the lines the first day were very long and took up available space quickly.
The ship is easy to navigate, surprisingly so. Once you sort of get the basics down, you don't have any difficulty getting around from place to place. It may take a bit longer, but I appreciated the extra bit of exercise that I got walking around. We had a great room steward, "Rick", kept us in clean sheets and towels and always had a smile on his face.
All in all, a fantastic experience, one that we'll definitely want to take again. (and again, and again!)
We were on the July 1 sailing of the Grand to the Western Caribbean. We had a wonderful time. We read many posts before our sailing, especially one that kept us amused the entire time. We are convinced that this person was overly critical and would probably not enjoy anything.
The Ports: Grand Cayman is expensive, we had a $65 lunch of chicken sandwiches, conch fritters and a few beers! We took our own excursion to Stingray City with several other passengers. We were very pleased. As soon as we were at the dock there were tour guides waiting. We signed up with one for $35 each and were taken in vans to the yacht club with 15 other passengers. Then got onto a charter boat to Stingray City. When we got to the sandbar it was so crowded, mostly with the big boat from the Princess excursion, so we went to the nearby reef to snorkel. It was beautiful, when the sandbar cleared out, we went back and fed the stingrays. It was so cool! Since we were a small group our guide picked up a stingray let us touchit and hold it if we wanted. We loved it. DO NOT FORGET to bring the disposable underwater cameras. THey are much cheaper to purchase at home! Bring 2-3 if you plan on snorkeling, etc.
Cozumel was lots of fun. Shopping is easy and a little less expensive off the main street. The beaches are gorgeous! Make sure you stop a Carlos and Charlies Bar before you head back to the ship!
Playa Del Carmen has replaced Costa Maya due to damage at the dock. We really enjoyed Playa Del Carmen. It is beautiful. We did not take the shore excursion that Princess offers. Upon getting off the ship, we got a taxi driver who stayed with us the entire afternoon for $70. He drove us to Tulum which is breathtaking, but VERY HOT in July, then to a resort where we had lunch and went to the beach. It was nice being on our own schedule and doing our "own thing".
The Ship: The ship itself is impressive. By December when it is refurbished, it will defintitely need it though. Don't misunderstand, it is still beautiful, but with thousands of people on it every year, the carpets, etc, do get worn. The only problem I had was that Princess does not offer non smoking cabins. I have allergies and find ciagrette smoke unpleasant. The people who occupied our cabin before us, must have been chain smokers because it was awful. Fortunately I had a can of lysol with me and it helped. I would recommend to others to bring a small bottle of "Febreze" just in case. Our cabin steward, Ricardo, also brought us fresh pillows and freshened the room. After 2 days of the air conditioning though, the room was better.
Dining: I don't even know where to start with the food and dining other than to say that we LOVED personal choice dining. FOr us, having 1st seating would have been terrible! We always stayed late in port, took naps and enjoyed the back deck pool in the later afternoon. We like to eat around 7:30 so P.C. worked great for us. We were not troubled by the short wait for a table. We got a table for two 3 times and joined a table for 8 once. Since it was our first vacation alone, we preferred the table for 2. We did not have difficulty getting it. We only ate in the dining rooms 4 times. We preferred Da Vinci. One night we ate at Sabatini's and 2 nights at the Horizon Food Court. The dining room food was good. Not great. They offerered a large selection of foods.......veal, rabbit, escargot, lobster, crawfish, salmon, chicken, pheasant. This did not always appeal to us. There were standard items available as well. We always checked the menu before we decided where we wanted to eat. Sabatini's is totally worth the $15 cover charge. They give you so much food that you have to beg the waiters to stop!!!!!!! The waiters are incredible. We also ate brunch at Sabatini's on the 1st at sea day. If you love shellfish(shrimp,lobster, crab legs) this is the place for you!!!!!!! Try it, you will NOT be disappointed. The Horizon Food Court is great! We at lunch and breakfast there. The selection is incredible.....scallops, shrimp, lobster, chicken, beef, salads,fresh fruit, chocolate covered strawberries...........We were always surprised to see what was there. We ate there on the French Night and the last night.
The entertainment was good. We enjoyed the marty Allen show as well as the singers and dancers. Jennifer Stein is very talented. We thought the Cruise Director, Graham was funny. He is a little risque at times, but we enjoy that type of humor.
Princess is incredibly organized. Checking in was so fast, our baggage was at our room quickly. However, we did not come by airplane. I heard a couple of people had trouble with that. I would NOT recommend arriving by air the day of the sailing. Try to arrive in Ft. Lauderdale on Saturday. This will give you plenty of time. In my experience, the airlines are not nearly as efficient. Disembarkations was a snap. We were off the ship, luggage in hand 15 minutes after they called for our group to go. We were very pleased.
We loved our vacation and would recommend it We are in our 30's and were very comfortable with the mix of ages. There were lots of teenagers since it is summertime, but they were very well mannered. I am sure there were many proud parents.
After having combed this web site for weeks before we took this cruise (6/17 - Western Caribbean), I thought I would try my own hand at helping to prepare future Grand Travelers. Hope this review helps you plan for your cruise in as many ways as other reviews have helped us. This is my first experience at this so please bear with me.
First of all, a special hello to Maria, Chris, Patty and Brad (our table and "adventure" mates). ! We miss you guys and thanks again for helping to make our trip so much fun. We WILL be in touch. May all of you future cruisers be as lucky as we were to meet and share this trip with such great friends
Before I start, I wanted to list some of the more helpful hints that I wish I had known or paid more attention to. These are the things that stand out most in my mind as MUST HAVE's or DON'T BOTHER
1) Instead of a beach bag, bring a backpack instead
2) Find a neoprene or some sort of waterproof pouch that you can take your cash/travelerschecks, etc.... in while you snorkel/swim or scuba. The plastic cases on the neckstrings are too bulky and the ziplock baggies did not work for us. We never could find one and we are pretty convinced that if we made them and sold them through cruiselines, we would be millionaires. In any case, make sure the husbands' swim trunks have velcro or zippered pockets to hold this sort of stuff.
3) Make use of the safe in your cabin and get into the habit of checking with your cabin-mate upon leaving your room that you have your cruisecard and that the safe is closed
4) Bring water bottles and fill them up with water and ice from the Horizon Court machines - otherwise it's 2.95 every time you ask for bottled water
5) Go to the Pursers Desk at least twice during the week to get a print-out of your account. You will thank yourselves later and also better pace yourself with the power that the little cruisecard holds.
6) READ YOUR PRINCESS PATTER every morning. My husband and I are avid newspaper readers and the Patter became my morning paper. Lots of great info and worth the time.
7) Watch Graham Seymours' morning show every morning. Very funny and very informative.
8) Bring more bathing suits and cover-ups than you think you need
9) Bring hats or visors and LOTS of the cheap cameras - Princess will develop them right on board. - pretty reasonable.
10) Check out your ship photos on display every night before/during/after dinner outside of the Wheelhouse Bar. We didn't spend alot of money on souvenirs or in the ships boutiques but we did splurge on these photos and an album to store them in. These we will have and look at forever and are worth every penny
SUNDAY - Sunny Upon arriving in Florida around 11am and taking the Princess shuttle to the ship, we were in our balcony stateroom at 11:45. Absolutely everything that you have heard about the easy embarkation is true. Truly painless and so quick. We unpacked our carry-ons, threw on some bathing suits, admired our extremely spacious balcony (everyone who said the Caribe deck balconies are the biggest and best were RIGHT), and headed out to explore this beautiful ship. Again, taking the advise from cruisemates.com, we made our Sabatinis' reservation and spa appointments right away - no problem getting the days/times we wanted. We left the ship at 1pm and took a cab to the liquor store for some wine and beer. Very easy, no problem bringing it aboard. Had a little trouble with the dining arrangements. Although we were confirmed for 2nd seating traditional, our cruise card reflected Personal Choice. when we inquired about it, we found that we were 157th on the wait list for 2nd seating and were given a pretty hard sell for Personal Choice. We didn't really mind and decided to try it. After being on deck for the "sail-away" at 7:30, we took our time getting ready for dinner and found that we already appreciated not being rushed to make a particular timeframe. The "sail away" was so awesome!! DON"T MISS THIS!! The music, the Fort Lauderdale lights, the ships horns, ----it is very special and the perfect beginning to a great cruise. We had dinner in the Michaelangelo Dining Room which was very good. The only small glitch was when we presented our own bottle of wine to our assistant waiter. She frowned and told us that there would be a $10 corkage fee. We told her that we understood that and that it was fine, but she kept her frown, shrugged her shoulders and looked like she wanted to continue with a debate. She eventually walked off to "un-cork" the bottle and, we hoped, her attitude. We then went to the opening night "review" of the Grand Princess Entertainers in the Princess Theater. It was really very well done and we enjoyed it very much.
Went back to our stateroom and took Mactarheel's advise to set the air-conditioning to "hanging meat" cold and throw open that balcony door for a great nights sleep listening to the ocean. .............heaven.
MONDAY - Sunny Princess Cayes is absolutely beautiful. After a room service breakfast (pretty decent, right on time, great coffee), we took the tender to the island and had an absolute ball all day long. No cash, no credit cards, no travelers checks necessary - just your cruise card. Cruisemates. com was right again. For quiet and peace go to the RIGHT. For fun and games, go to the LEFT. We intended to go to the RIGHT but never made it - had way too much fun on the LEFT. This is not the place to do some intensive snorkeling, but it is the place to relax, get some sun, swim and start to meet your fellow passengers. This is where we met some great folks who invited us to sit with them that night at their 6 person, 2nd seating, traditional dining table that had 2 empty seats. Ok, so we ended up there everynight until the end of the cruise and wouldn't have traded it for anything but the point being that no matter what, you will have the opportunity to meet wonderful people and the whole Personal Choice deal makes it that much easier to adjust dining companions accordingly. After all day on Princess Cayes, we got back to the ship at around 4:30 and headed to our spa appointments. Seaweed massage for hubby and a facial for me. Both were nice but not worth the high prices. In hindsight, we wouldn't have done this. The product push was on throughout the facial and at one point, I just came right out and said that I was not interested and to please stop. We then got ready for dinner and joined our new friends in the Boticelli Dining Room. Again, the food was wonderful and the waiter, Miguel, (whom we had to the end of the cruise) was excellent. We went to a variety show in the Vista Lounge. It was pretty good but not as good as the first night. BRING A WRAP OR SWEATER because they really have that airconditioning blasting and it feels downright cold at times. We then experienced Skywalkers Nightclub. Had a great time and danced until 1am. But, this is a nightclub with a bit of an identity problem. Since it is open to teens that are 18 years and over, the crowd tends to be pretty young. We are in our early 40's and pretty young at heart, but didn't find many other 40-ish solemates up there too often. As the week went on, Skywalkers had different theme nights that, I am sure, were a decent attempt to bring in all different ages but if you were already soured by the very young atmosphere that personified this club at the beginning of the week, then it was probably unlikely that people would return on other nights. We liked it though, and went alot.
TUESDAY - Sunny Again, room service and again it was fine with great coffee. Having breakfast on the balcony every morning was a treat I will NEVER forget. This was a sea -day for us, so we planned for some relaxing time. Hubby went with new friends to play a round of simulated golf. He said it was just "ok" and you hard-core golfers out there probably should skip this. The 9-hole putting green, on the other hand, was a great challenge - and FREE. After lunch at Horizon Court we walked around the decks to find a good sun/read/snooze spot and ended up where Cruisemates.com suggested we go. The Terrace Pool in the very back (aft) of the ship, under the Skywalkers nightclub. Incredible view, pretty laid back and we always found lounge chairs. It's also very close to hot tubs, the Horizon Court for food and an outdoor bar for drinks (although I never had to leave my chair for a drink - poolside service was excellent). The other pools all had personalities of their own. Calypso Pool was the "rockin" spot. Always crowded with great music and a great party atmosphere. The swim against the current or "spa" pool, as we called it, was definitely adult and definitely private. The Neptune pool seemed to be where the families with younger kids were. It is also very nice, partially covered, but very airy and tropical. Food and drinks are available everywhere and everything is good. Dinner was excellent yet again on this first Formal night. We headed to Deck 6 for pictures - didn't have to wait at all and met our tablemates at the Wheelhouse Bar for drinks beforehand. This is a wonderful place to relax and feel pampered. Different entertainment every night and always good. My husband decided to try bringing our own bottle of wine again to dinner since we were now firmly tied to and very impressed by Miguel, our waiter. Miguel not only complimented our choice of wine, he waved the $10 cork-age fee without a word from us..........Played some slots and blackjack in the casino - didn't win a thing but enjoyed ourselves anyway. Went to Karaoke (sp?) in the Explorers Lounge and had a ball. Hint..... go there with someone who is a professional singer and have them sing to the crowd. All the attention you get afterwards is alot of fun!! Turned in early since we were scuba-diving the next day in Grand Cayman.
WEDNESDAY - Sunny Grand Cayman- This was our first shore excursion day and the one and only time that I experienced dis-organization with Princess. We had pre-booked our shore excursions on-line through the Princess website and received confirmation for only one. All others were booked and we were waitlisted. No problem with that- that's just procrastination on my part - BOOK THESE EXCURSIONS ON-LINE AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE!!!!! Anyway, our waitlisted excursion for Grand Cayman "opened up" for us on Tuesday afternoon and we were all set to scuba-dive on Wednesday morning. On Tuesday at 5pm, we had a message from the Dive Master that we had to have completed Medical Forms to his office by 6pm or our excursion would be canceled. Didn't know about these, but we hightailed it down to the Tour Office, filled out our forms, handed them to the Dive Master - all well before 6pm. At 8am on Wednesday morning, we checked into our meeting place for scuba-divers and our names were called due to "missing" medical forms. I looked right at the Dive Master and asked him if he remembered me handing them to him the night before. He looked frazzled and embarrassed and pleaded with us to just quickly fill them out again and put them in the pile. We weren''t the only ones this happened to. Scuba-diving is not an event that you just wave people through paperwork so that you meet your excursions time. This is serious stuff. This paperwork should be carefully reviewed by qualified dive instructors/masters well before the scheduled dive so that questions can be asked and potential disasters diverted. Regardless of this, we had an incredible diving experience with Don Fosters' Grand Cayman Diving as our hosts. Beginner divers should really try this and Grand Cayman is the place to do it. The rest of the day was spent taxi-ing around and site-seeing. 7-mile beach is beautiful. We had lunch at the Westin Hotel with a beautiful few of the ocean and headed back to the ship around 3pm. Sorry, we are not big "shoppers" so we can't comment on shopping in Grand Cayman. This was Island Night at dinner and it seemed to me that most everyone was playing along with the dresscode so DO NOT forget your island shirt!
THURSDAY - Sunny This was the day to remember................ Beautiful Cozumel............ We got off the ship around 9am, rented a Jeep ($45) with our dinner buddies and drove all over the island. This was a great idea but BE CAREFUL. We rented from National Car Rental (pretty reputable, huh??). MAKE ABSOLUTELY SURE that you walkaround the car with the agent before driving off. In fact, if you have a video camera, take a video of the car "pre-trip" so that there is no question as to the condition of the car upon returning it. They tried to stick us with a damage claim for a dent in a door that must have been paid for at least 100 times over by poor suckers who get scammed. We, fortunately were not one of those poor suckers, thanks to our valiant travel companion Sir Lancelot (Chris) who fought to the bitter end. Anyway, we took our Jeep and ended up at an out-of-the way ocean side joint where we pulled up some chairs, ordered up the Corona's and Modelo's and watched the surf. We tried some "Snuba-ing" to get our new friends introduced to the scuba world. This was lots of fun but be careful here........... my husband and I are certified divers and our friends had never tried this. They felt safe because we were there to coach them since the SNUBA "guide" spoke very broken English and sort of flew through the instruction part. Without us there to translate and guide them, it might have been a bit dangerous. We went from our SNUBA experience back to the center of town and straight into CARLOS AND CHARLIES Restaurant. Friends from home told us we can't miss this and now we know why. Without spoiling the surprises that you will experience once you are in there, we will tell you this.............1) This is INTENSE partying. If you are a stick-in-the-mud in any way shape or form, this place is not for you 2) You will have the time of your life 3) make sure you keep an eye on the real TIME since you will easily forget you have a ship to get back to 4) Be hungry 'cause this will be the BEST Mexican food you will ever have 5) bring your camera and extra film and be prepared to rip up into very tiny little pieces, all of photos that you took or were taken of you while you were in this fine establishment 6) not a good place for kids and I mean that 7) Realize that this will be one of the highlights of your entire trip - Don't miss it.
Back at the boat and after some serious recuperation efforts, we met our buddies at Snookers Bar before dinner. Great little place and expertly placed right next to the Casino. Dinner was again, wonderful. I think this was English Pub Night in the Vista Lounge - don't miss this. It is truly hysterical. Graham Seymour (Cruise Director) is an extraordinary entertainer and I find it hard to believe that he hasn't been scooped up for "greater" things.
FRIDAY - Sunny This was our Playa Del Carmen stop and my personal favorite. The town is clean, lovely and easy to maneuver through. We took the Tulum/Xel-Ha Lagoon excursion. It was wonderful. Tulum was very hot so bring lots of water. The bus ride was fine, about an hour. Here is a tip,......... your guide that you will meet on your bus ride is also your guide in the Mayan ruins park. If you can't understand him/her (broken English, etc...) as they make announcements on the bus, you can bet you won't understand him/her explain the Mayan culture as you tour the park. Once in the park, hook up with another group where the speaker is understandable. You have almost 2hours at the ruins site and it is worth it. There is a beach there that is accessible to the tour and you can just run in and out of the water to cool off. Your bags/purchases are safe on the bus. We then went to Xel-Ha (pronounced shell-ha) for another 2 hours. This is a beautiful lagoon snorkel park that is simply fabulous. I am frankly shocked that no other Cruisemates.com review mentioned this in any detail. 2 hours here is a crime. This should be an all day excursion in itself. I would suggest trying this on your own if you want to skip the ruins portion of the trip. Upon leaving the ship, I would inquire at the Continental Plaza Hotel right at the dock if there are tour buses/shuttles going to Xel-Ha and go that way. A taxi might be steep since it is about 40 minutes away. The beaches at Playa are the best I had ever seen. I heard the shopping was decent as well. This was another Formal night and the night for the baked Alaska parade. Just lovely. Formal nights this week were very well attended and there was a nice mix of suits and tuxes for the men and dressy to very dressy outfits for the women. Not a pair of jeans or shorts in site. Hit it BIG at the casino tonight. Hubby won $400!! Hint - seemed like the winners started winning at the end of the cruise. (Hmmmmm). Took a last dance turn in Skywalkers and turned in.
SATURDAY - Sunny Nice relaxing day. Grabbed our usual spots at the Terrace Pool, opened our books, ordered our Mimosa's and slept the morning away. We were invited by our buddies to have lunch at the Painted Desert so we thought why not, since we had canceled out Sabatini's reservations and still wanted to see what all the fuss was about with these "on-board restaurants". Bottom line for us......... don't go. The menu was extremely limited and the food was nothing special. We were not impressed. We packed up our suitcases in the later afternoon and got ready for dinner with very heavy hearts. Dinner was again, fabulous and our waiter Miguel, made the night very special for the six of us who were now almost like family to each other. We took one last turn in the casino, put our suitcases out in the hall at 11pm, spent one last night taking in the breathtaking ocean sounds and view from our balcony and prepared to say good-bye.
SUNDAY - Sunny As easy to leave the ship as it was to get on, although we wouldn't have minded hanging out for a bit longer. This trip was too wonderful. The crew was very nice, the food was very, very good, the ship itself is elegant and very easy to get around. The itinerary was just perfect. We just can't say enough good things about the entire experience. My husband and I are seasoned travelers and have been fortunate to stay in some incredibly beautiful places. This trip, for us, met every expectation that we had and then some. Grand Princess is grande cruising and we hope they never change. Bob Voyage to the next group sailing......... you are in for the time of your life.
Background - This was our honeymoon and first Princess sailing. My husband and I have been on five cruises (Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Windjammer, NCL). I'm 28, he's 31. Overall we really enjoyed this cruise, even though it rained a lot.
We did arrive in Ft Lauderdale the day before and stayed at the Amerisuites Hotel. It was a full house there-90% of the people staying at the hotel were going on a cruise. The hotel was a great inexpensive place to stay if you only need 1-3 nights before or after a cruise in Ft Lauderdale. Staff was very helpful and the shuttle took us anywhere within reason if they were not busy. They only have 1 shuttle to do everything, airport, pier, etc. Shuttle picked us up from dinner and took us to the grocery store and waited for us to stock up on water. We did eat at the 15th Street Fisheries and liked it. Great view, mainly a restaurant for seafood lovers, prices were a bit expensive and overpriced. As for getting transfers, I would not buy transfers from the airport to the cruise ship since the distanceis probably no more then 5 miles tops to get from A to B. I would take a cab and not wait for others to board the Princess bus to take you over to the pier.
The itinerary was:Sunday May 20 - Ft. Lauderdale. Sailed about 7:45 p.m. (Dinner: American - Prime Rib)
Monday May 21- Princess Cays. Arrived 10 a.m., departed 5 p.m. (Formal night. Can't remember the food)
Tuesday May 22 - At sea (Can't remember the food)
Wednesday May 23 - Grand Cayman. Arrived 7 a.m., departed 4 p.m. (Formal night. Dinner featured lobster tails)
Thursday May 24 - Cozumel. Arrived 9 a.m. departed 7 p.m. (Dinner: Italian)
Friday May 25 - Playa Del Carmen. Arrived 8 a.m. departed 6 p.m. (Dinner: French)
Saturday May 26 - At sea (Dinner: American - Prime Rib)
Sunday May 27 - Ft. Lauderdale. (Off by 9amish)
Princess Cays is like a typical day at the beach, with all facilities there. Grand Cayman is expensive. We did the stingray sandbar tour at 9 a.m. The sandbar is 3-5 feet deep, whereas the Stingray city tour is in much deeper water. My husband really enjoyed the sandbar tour. I was a bit overwhelmed by all the people from the various boats in the water together. Cozumel is all right. Most stores have prices in dollars, with no haggling. We stopped at Playa Del Carmen rather than Costa Maya. Playa has prices in pesos and you can haggle. It's kind of seedy looking, with decent shopping on the main street. There's a place next to Senor Frog that offers inexpensive Internet access if you're looking to check e-mail. It was raining when we were there, but the beaches near the tender pier looked nice, with clear water. Shops in all the ports took credit cards.
Here are my pros and cons, and some information that will help you for your Grand Princess trip. I am trying not to give you my exact moment-by-moment experience.
PROS - Embarkation and debarkation were among the best we've experienced. You can avoid the lines with express check in if you fill out your information - including your credit card number - at the Princess website. If you don't include your credit card number you go through regular check in. But if you're there early enough, it still goes quickly. We had printed out our information from the website, which speeds regular check in. We were on board no later then 11:30am I believe.
We paid for a BE guarantee and received a BF-category cabin. We were glad we did. We were in C230 on the Caribe deck. The balconies on that deck are double the size of balconies for regular rooms and mini-suites. Unlike some other balconies, which were partially covered by the balconies above them, the ones on the Caribe deck are half covered and half open.
Personal choice dining is the way to go, hands down. The best way to explain it is it's like going to a restaurant. You just pick a place to eat and make a reservation. It's that simple. You can have a table for two or 10. It's flexible. You can choose the dining room set aside for personal choice, or other options such as the Painted Desert Mexican restaurant or Sabatini's Italian restaurant. For those last two, make reservations early! You can make reservations the afternoon you board, at the Wheelhouse Bar between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. That was the first thing we did when we got on board. More about the food later.
We found the staff to be helpful and polite. Graham Seymour, the cruise director, is very energetic and seems to be everywhere. If you've been on other cruises you'll recognize Graham's jokes and speeches. He's not the best or most original cruise director, but he does the trick.
It was a low-key cruise. The activities were not as in-your-face as on some other ships. The activities are there if you want to do them. We did not do many.
The Grand is beautiful. It's decorated in light wood and leather tones, in a European style. Very nice without being too Las Vegas.
They had meetings for veterans, social and service clubs such as the Kiwanis and Lions Clubs, as well as singles. I thought that was great.
We attended Shabbat services Friday night. The turnout was good, the service brief and led by one of the passengers. Princess provided prayer booklets, challah bread, and wine. I'm not sure if somebody requested this ahead of time, but it was very nice. I don't remember seeing times for other religious prayer but I could be wrong.
CONS - Marginal entertainment. Each show seemed off, whether it was pace, song selection, or choreography. On two consecutive nights they had the same show, and one night they showed two movies. In the main theater, performers included a magician and hypnotist. Not what we expected. Also, on at least two nights the first show began at 7 p.m., a bit early. On the flip side, the pianist at the Promenade Lounge and the jazz quartet in the Wheelhouse bar were good and nice to listen to.
The Princess Theater is smaller than most cruise ship theaters. It's auditorium style, without drink tables for groups of seats. In the Princess, your drink tables fold out of the armrest, as on an airplane. The other large lounge is the Vista. It's smaller than the Princess and allows smoking. If you're going to any Vista show, arrive early. And if you want to see the Pub Night show in the Vista, get there very early.
The spa was expensive, even with specials. It was open until 11 p.m. most nights, later than on many ships. Onboard shops were just ok. There are not many shops on the ship.
During the rain showers, Princess didn't have ponchos or umbrellas to borrow, buy or rent. Since the ship's stores are closed when in port, we couldn't buy one either. We had forgotten to pack rain gear. Take a small umbrella or poncho. You never know. If you don't you'll find yourself paying $3 or more in the port shops and you will be wet!
FOOD - The meals in the main dining room were generally average. Breakfast was consistently sub par. Food elsewhere was good. The Painted Desert is very good. We especially liked the guacamole, quesadilla, stacked enchilada and fajitas. The Desert is open for dinner, and lunch on at-sea days. The menu is the same for both meals. Reservations go quickly, although if you have two-four people you can try going right at 6 p.m. when it opens. We did this twice and both times they were able to seat us.
We had a mixed reaction to Sabatini's. The food is good and yes it does take at least two hours. The place is kind of small and doesn't have enough waiters, or at least that's what it seemed like, so service slows as it gets busy. They give you a lot in small portions. By the end of the meal you're full. Is it worth $15 per person? That depends on you. However, we'd advise against taking children under 12. It's a waste of money for you unless you and the kids have a lot of patience and like to try new food.
Find the Horizon Court. It's buffet, it was good for each meal and you could wear shorts (although not bathing suits) any time. You're not supposed to wear shorts in the main dining rooms during dinner. We're not vegetarians but there seemed to be a good selection of vegetarian food.
Near the main pools and the Horizon Court are two grills. One serves hot dogs, hamburgers, and knockwurst, the other pizza. Both were good, especially the pizza.
Room service menus are limited, particularly for breakfast. You can order off the dining room menu - we enjoyed lobster tails on our balcony one evening - if you're prepared to wait about an hour, provided you order right at 6 p.m. when dinner begins.
FYI STUFF - The passengers were a mix of young, old, honeymooners, families, and singles. The ship seemed to do a good job handling the disabled passengers. There were a lot of disabled people on our sailing. They participated in all activities from what I saw.
They add $6.50 per person per day to your account for dining service tips. The only person you have to tip separate is your cabin steward, and that can be charged to your cabin. You do so at the ship's bars. If you do that, they give you a receipt to give to your steward. Overall we liked the automatic tipping. We didn't have to worry about figuring anything but our cabin steward's tip.
Read the Princess Patter flyer, your bible of events. There are not a lot of announcements. The Patter will tell you what's happening and where. The televisions had CNN International, CNN Headline News, TNT, and sometimes ESPN, among a few other channels.
Weddings are during the at-sea days. On our sailing there were a lot. The chapel is near the Painted Desert on deck 7. That's also where the business center is located. You can access the Internet for $7.50 for 15 minutes.
There are plenty of deck chairs. Most are not near the main pools, although they are in the sun. Near the main pools the first rows of chairs are in the sun, the rest under overhangs. We found the adult pool at the back of the ship to be an excellent place. Towels are distributed by your cabin steward. None are available on deck.
Photos were $6.95 per small photo, $19.95 for an 8" by 10".
They'll charge you a 3% service fee if you charge bingo cards or casino chips to your stateroom. Also, they charge for soda and juice (outside the dining rooms and Horizon Court) as well as alcohol drinks. They had a wine tasting for $5 per person.
We did a post cruise tour of the Ft Lauderdale Highlights tour to kill some time before our 2:30pm flight. The tour allowed us to leave the ship by 9:15amish I believe. The tour was done at 10am and we were at the airport by 10:30am. The tour was average-not many sights to see in Ft Lauderdale, though we did like what we saw. The Ft Lauderdale airport is PACKED after everyone gets off their cruise ships. Not many places to eat or sit before going to the gate area. Only one real restaurant that I saw which was Chilis (sp?) and the line was out the door around the corner because there was nothing else to do there except wait and eat.
We would cruise again with Princess, which is "classier" than Carnival or Royal Caribbean. We'd try another ship and itinerary to see some different things, but the Grand was a great experience.