The Grand Princess

Ricardo y Catalina’s Fantastico Adventure on
The Grand Princess (Dec. 1-8, 2002)
Saturday, November 30, 2002

We got up bright and early at 3:00AM to get ready to make our way to the airport for our 6:00AM Delta flight to Atlanta and then on to Fort Lauderdale. We arrived safely at the Fort Lauderdale airport at 10:00AM. Our fastest trip to Florida yet. One of the benefits of living closer (and in the same time zone).

We took a 15 minute taxi ride to the Harbor Beach Marriott Resort. By 11:00AM, we were ensconced in our oceanfront king room with balcony that overlooked Fort Lauderdale beach. We had a delicious lunch at one of the hotel’s restaurants, Riva. We were seated on an outdoor patio with a splendid view of the beach and ocean.

After lunch, we couldn’t resist strolling along the beach and wading in the water. Quite fantastic, especially after coming from the snow and cold of Ohio. In fact, the word “fantastic” was used innumerable times to describe our beautiful Florida surroundings.

Sunday, December 1, 2002

This was our first Princess cruise. Having sailed the other mainstream cruise lines (Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean), we were anxious to experience Princess and to make our own comparisons. We have included a comparison table at the end of this report. For each category, we have also include a grade. Our cruises vary with what we’re trying to accomplish and this particular one was earmarked for relaxation. After uprooting our lives and moving across the country, this was our first vacation in a year and we really just wanted to unwind. It took a couple of days but after a steady rocking of the ship, we felt ourselves starting to relax.

Embarkation: A+

Princess lived up to their reputation for their quick and easy embarkation process. We were checked in and exploring the ship in no time. The ship is the largest we have sailed on (109,000 GRT with app. 2700 passengers) and we were eager to get started exploring. We have to say that this ship was the most fun for exploration. Each room was well-themed and we were looking forward to experiencing the different rooms throughout the week.

Balcony Cabin: A

The cabin proved to be the most comfortable cabin we have had yet to date. Not the largest but it seemed to work the best. The bed was comfortable and there was plenty of room to move around. The closet, drawers, storage and bathroom were all well-designed. There was a refrigerator and we ordered a soft drink package and a beer package. It was nice to have refreshments in the cabin for when we wanted to just relax on our balcony and have something cool to drink. The only strange thing about the cabin on the Princess Grand Class is that the balconies tier out like a wedding cake. Ours was private but the 2 levels below us stuck out and were in plain site. It made for a strange experience. We felt like we were at group camp, watching everybody below us in their pjs and robes. It made for a noisier balcony experience but everybody was having a fun time.

Cabin Steward: A+

Our cabin steward, Joey, was the best we’ve had. On ships with a more flexible dining schedule, as we found out on the NCL Sky, the cabin steward didn’t know for sure when we would be out of the room. Joey was very friendly and was always on top of things. Our previous cabin stewards ran the gamut of grumpy to indifferent.

Lifeboat Drill: A+

This was the best lifeboat drill we’ve had to date. With Princess, you go to the public room you are assigned to and sit in a comfortable chair and listen to instructions and watch a demonstration on how to put on your lifejacket. On most cruise lines, you have to report outside to your lifeboat station, wearing your life jacket strapped around your neck, stumbling down the stairs you cannot see because your lifejacket is sticking straight out. Then you stand in the heat and line up until attendance has been taken. It’s always painful and you can’t wait to get this part of the cruise over with. You don’t feel like you’ve started the cruise until after. On Princess, we never had to go outside. It was very nice – almost tempting to only sail Princess.

Dining Room: D-

During our ship exploration process, we stumbled into the dining room and ended up sitting with 2 other couples for lunch. We had a very nice lunch, the other couples were fun and the waiter was excellent. The food was a bit disappointing. Kathy didn’t like the sauce on her prime rib. Princess is one of the few lines who serve embarkation lunch in the dining room. Usually you have to hit the buffet. We returned to the dining room for only 2 other meals: dinner on the first formal night and the last night of the cruise. We found that Personal Choice caused long lines. When we arrived at the maitre’ds station, he gave us a beeper and we were not called for 40 minutes. We found that Freestyle on NCL was much more efficient. We rarely had to wait more than 5 minutes. We did not enjoy the food or service in the Princess dining room. It was all disappointing.

Horizon Court: A+

On the other hand, the Horizon Court, the buffet on the Grand Princess, was unusually good. For one thing, instead of long cafeteria lines, there were separate food stations and you can dash in and out and just get what you wanted. Also, there was a nice variety of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, including a variety of seafood. In fact, this buffet was open 24 hours, which made it a little too easy to grab a quick snack.

Painted Desert: B-

Because the dining room was so disappointing, we made reservations in the Southwestern-cuisine alternative restaurant for 2 nights. It had an $8 cover charge, which included a delicious Margarita. While the service and atmosphere was very nice, complete with a country band, most items on the menu were rather inferior and we came close to trying them all over 2 different evenings.. The salsa was delicious, as was the Tequila Shrimp that Kathy had but the fajitas were pretty bad. But the overall experience was definitely better than the dining room.

Sabatini’s: A+

After the crowded first formal night, we chose to make reservations at the Italian eatery for the second formal night. It turned out to be an excellent choice. Not only did we have a reserved table at a set time, but the experience was outstanding. We were seated in a cozy booth for two and the waiter would give us each a sample of the entire tasting menu. The service and food was superb.

Entertainment: D-

We left the dining room before dessert on the first formal evening in order to make it to the show room for the big show, “Lights, Camera, Action.” We should have stayed for dessert and skipped the show. We arrived at the show room half an hour before showtime and could barely find seats. The Grand Princess showrooms are not large enough for the crowds, especially now that they have flexible dining. After the show, we went to the Horizon Court for dessert and coffee. While Rich was at the coffee station, an older woman asked him what he thought of the show. Wanting to be polite, he said he had seen better. She woman replied, “It was painful!” An accurate assessment. We talked with other Princess repeat passengers and they concurred that Princess entertainment used to be better.

Lounges: C

We have to admit that the Norwegian Sky spoiled us for any other ship’s lounges. We sailed on the Sky twice and fell madly in love with the Windjammer Martini Bar/ Churchill’s Cigar Bar area. Not only was this area extremely inviting in décor and intimacy but every night there was a wonderful performance by a talented pianist. You could make requests and sing along. It reminded Kathy of a fantasy evening in New York that you’ve seen in the movies. A couple of times we had no intention of ordering anything but as soon as we settled into one of those comfy leather wingback chairs or settees, we found ourselves ordering off the Martini menu.

So, naturally, the Grand Princess did not even come close to this experience. Although there was a pianist in the Atrium Lounge, it was not inviting at all. It was too busy and there were usually tables set up in the atrium with merchants trying to sell you something. The next best thing to the Sky was the Wheelhouse Bar. It also had Marine décor with rich, leather chairs and loveseats and on the last night there was a nice older couple who were playing and singing. The problem we had with the entertainment is that raucous rock bands seemed to permeate throughout the ship and kids were all over the dance floor. Sometimes we like that, too, but we really enjoy a nice adult-oriented piano bar when we’re at sea.

Swimming Pools: A

The Grand Princess had a nice variety of swimming pools, open 24 hours, and there were always lounge chairs available, either shaded or out in the sun. Besides 2 main pools midship, there was also a Lap Pool in the Spa area and an adult aft pool, which we really enjoyed. Aft pools are hard to come by and, besides Holland America, this class of ship is the only one that has an aft pool. Having it be adults only also made it nice. Our one complaint, though, are the aggressive bar servers on the GP. They didn’t want to take no for an answer and it got tedious having to turn them down over and over again. They wouldn’t just move on. And when you did order a drink, they would try to talk you out of the small and insist the large was a much better value. And when you said “no, thanks”, they would stand there and pout. Holland America has the best bar servers at sea. They only come by when you call them and they will do anything for you.

Ports

We love the Caribbean side of Mexico. The so-called Mexican Riviera in the Pacific is no comparison. Cozumel is our favorite port. This time we went on an excursion to “Passion Island.” It had a nice beach with lunch and drinks included and very relaxing. Our guide, Rafael, was quite entertaining and we really enjoyed our day. This itinerary took us to 2 Mexico ports. We also stopped at a new port, Costa Maya. It is just starting to be developed. There is a cute little town square with shops, restaurants, a pool and a beach. It was a beautiful, perfect day, 87 degrees. We enjoyed a couple of cold beers, chips and guacamole while listening to a Mexican band after the hot, trip to the Mayan ruins. We had an excellent guide and we enjoyed the trip. The other two ports, Grand Cayman and Princess Cays (Princess’ private island in the Bahamas) did not interest us. We enjoyed staying on the ship while the herds went ashore. We have been to Grand Cayman and those “Bahamian private islands” a few times.

Disembarkation

Disembarkation went rather smoothly, although we didn’t like Princess’ policy of asking for some of your bags before you go to dinner the night before and the rest before you go to bed. When we got off the ship, our bags were located in 2 different areas, which made it difficult to retrieve them and head for the airport. The airport was the usual zoo and we arrived home exhausted. We hope top put off any more cruising until we live in Florida and don’t have to fly home.

Final Thoughts

We accomplished what we set out to do on this cruise – relax. After cruising all of the mainstream cruise lines, we’ve come to realize that it’s difficult these days to distinguish one cruise line from another. Each has their pluses and minuses. We have noticed with the enormous amount of berths to fill these days and post 9/11, quality has definitely slipped. There are bargain prices to be found but some of the experience is altered as the cruise lines’ main goal on the cruise is to separate you from your money. Photographers are a case in point. You can’t do anything without somebody sticking a camera in your face. This is bad enough when you have a mouth full of food but even when you pose for them, the pictures are overlit so that you look 20 years older and 20 pounds heavier. The only photo we purchased was the one taken on Passion Island. The islanders, not affiliated with Princess, did a good job. There will probably be another cruise ship in our future, but for now, we are concentrating on our March trip to Central Florida.

About Kathy

Author of Cruise and Travel-Themed Novels ("Real Women Wear Red" / "Real Women Sing the Blues"), Songwriter & Poet