This is our second review of this ship, our first being from a cruise in 1999 -- if anything, it was better the second time around! Let's get the "negatives" out of the way first:
The ShipThis is one humungous ship. A lot of people might not like it because of its size, but don't be put off by this because she "feels" a lot smaller -- except for the amount of walking you have to do, which is a lot. The Grand Princess is a beauty from bow to stern, and she is very "user friendly." The itinerary is just right for this ship: St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and Princess Cay, with three days at sea. This was one of the most relaxing cruises my wife and I have taken, and we spent 95% of our time aboard ship, and still found we didn't have time to do all there was to do. If anyone wants a laid back cruise, this is it. And first-time cruisers will enjoy it because of its blend of ports (probably the two most popular) and days at sea.
Though not a connoisseur of fine art, I really enjoyed the artwork and sculptures aboard ship. I could actually look at and see a painted picture or a figure (in the latter). All the lounges, bars and common areas were attractive and uncrowded. Public restrooms (at least 13 each for men and women, by my count) are spaced conveniently throughout, as are the elevators and stairways. The stores (boutiques) are nice, and stock the usual variety of items found on all ships. The ship had a nice blend of brass, wood and soft colors. The only place that might be considered a little glitzy was the Skywalker Night Club, on Deck 17, but only at night.
Ours was a very nice outside cabin with a balcony. The use of wood, mirrors, fabrics and soft colors give it a homey feeling and look. Using every nook and cranny, there is just enough storage space for a 7-night cruise. There's also some wasted space under the TV, between the TV and refrigerator, which could accommodate a good-size shelf or small cabinets. The Sony television has a front cable plug-in to make it easy to view videos you tape and/or pictures taken from a digital camera. Don't pack a hair dryer: it's provided. The beds are just high enough off the floor to slide your luggage (soft sided) underneath. Inside and outside cabins aboard Princess ships are not spacious, until you get into a mini-suite, or better, category. But if you pack (and unpack) right, you will have ample room.
Our balcony was GREAT!! We spent a lot of time on it and it was one of the larger ones we've had. The balconies on the Aloha and Baja decks have four chairs and a 30"x30" table, and were totally private. The balconies on Dolphin deck were the same as Aloha and Baja, but had absolutely no privacy. Our balcony, on Caribe deck, was twice the size as the others and offered 50% privacy. We lived out there. For all you sun worshipers, choose the starboard side, shade lovers, port side -- at least on this itinerary.
DiversionsThere are a number of unique things on this ship, as there are on each new ship that comes out. One interesting spot is the Voyage Of Discovery room (for young and old), which has virtual reality-based games and rides for just about everything imaginable, from simulation rides (we did the interior of a volcano and a magic carpet ride), jet fighters, snow and water skiing, motorcycle racing, and hang gliding, just to mention a few. This room costs $$, but you can purchase a $20 pass and make it stretch for the 7 days. I think this room was designed for younger people, but every time we went, older people (like us) were in the majority. You don't realize how long you've been away from playing with these things; I found out I was terrible, but I had fun being bad. Golfers might like to try the Princess Links, another virtual reality spot where you pick one of a dozen famous golf courses to play. There is also a nicely designed 9-hole mini golf course for the not-so-serious golfer.
For the little tykes, there are indoor and outdoor play areas that look like something you would see on a kids' TV show. They also have planned, supervised activities. For the older ones, there's a place called the Teen Deck (adults not allowed). And for the older older ones, there's the casino -- supposedly the largest one afloat. When you do go to the casino, pay particular attention to the holograms of underwater sea life. For the late crowd, there's the Skywalker Night Club, high atop the stern, reached by a moving sidewalk called the skywalk. Sorry -- you have to walk back down, but by this time you're used to walking a lot. We enjoyed this area early in morning, drinking a cup of coffee while watching the sunrise.
Other gimmicks of note are the music chairs in the atrium, with earplugs, controls, keypads -- lots of gizmos. These are similar to the reading chairs in the library for listening to books on tape. On your journeys exploring the ship, poke your head into the Wedding Chapel. They averaged 1-2 weddings per day on our cruise. Of the four pools on the Grand Princess, one is called the Lap Pool, or "swimming against the current" pool.
DiningUppermost in everyone's mind, even with all the walking you have to do on this ship, is food. The dinner meals we had in the dining room were probably the best we've had on many cruises, probably even better than our last Grand Princess cruise. There are three main dining rooms: Da Vinci and Michelangelo, which are almost identical and easy to get to, and the Botticelli, which is a little different and not as easy to get to. All are sectioned off to give a more intimate feeling, which they do. We didn't do the alternative restaurants this time around, but the Painted Desert, a southwestern style restaurant, is still charging $3.50 per person. The Italian restaurant, Sabatini's Trattoria, is now charging $15 per person.
The pizza slices at Poseidon's Pizzeria and hamburgers at the Trident Grill were excellent. We didn't try the Ice Cream Bar (there is a charge for ice cream). The buffets in the Horizon Court were also excellent -- we had all of our breakfasts and most of our lunches there. The selections were numerous and the taste outstanding. Just a sampling of what was offered for breakfast: eggs prepared three different ways: a choice of cereals (hot and cold); yogurts, fresh fruit, sliced melons, fruit salad; pastries, pancakes, 3-4 meats, french toast, different styles of potatoes; bagels, breads, rolls, muffins; 3-4 juice selections, coffee, tea, milk; and 20-30 other items I passed up or didn't try. (There were some things there I didn't know why were there, but there they were.)
The lunch buffet had an even larger selection, and items varied from day to day. I'm not a gourmet, but these two buffets offered very tasty food; one is bound to find something to their liking because there's a lot to choose from. Others who've reviewed the Grand Princess complained about lines; there weren't any to speak of for us.
EntertainmentSince this was a repeat cruise, we didn't do any of the shows this time, and spent our evenings in the casino and on the balcony. For anyone who hasn't done a Princess cruise, their standard shows, "Glamour," "London Pub Night," "Variety Showtime" with the Chinese acrobats, "Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance," "Pirates," and "New York, New York," are must-sees.
There has been only one cruise director who has stood out in my mind in the number of cruises we've done: Greg Maxwell, currently on the Grandeur of the Seas. As I mentioned, we didn't do any of the shows, but if Tim Donovan is still on the Grand Princess, he rates right up there at the top. The man really enjoys what he's doing, seems to be everywhere, is a bundle of energy, and is funny and talented. We only did shows in the Princess Theater and the Vista Lounge, on our first Grand Princess cruise, but there is other entertainment going on in the Explorers Lounge as well as five other lounges and bars.
PoolsThere are four pools to choose from (five if you count the kiddy pool). One of the main pools, Neptune's Reef, is the most crowded, with a mix of people in all age groups. This seems to be where the children congregate. The Calypso Pool, which is in a more enclosed area, attracted an older crowd, with a few children. The "swim against the current" pool, adjacent to the Plantation Spa, is for people 17 years and older, with a two-hour period (I think noon to 2PM) where children are allowed, accompanied by an adult. The Terrace Pool (aft), my favorite, is strictly for adults only. By my count, there are eight jacuzzis/spas and none were crowded when we used them or walked by.
ItineraryThis was a most relaxing cruise, with a nice blend of days at sea, two ports, and a beach day. We didn't do much in St. Thomas; we spent the morning at Sapphire Beach ($5.50 pp taxi fare each way), and a little shopping at Havensight Mall. We didn't go into town because we knew ahead of time that there were going to be 5-8 other ships in port that day.
On St. Maarten we did some serious shopping (we had done a very interesting tour last time). There are still deals to be had on these islands, but one has to do their homework and know their prices are back home. Princess Cay has really been developed and upgraded since we were there last. They've added more beach area, expanded the BBQ pavilion, user-friendly walkways and provided a nice combination of sunny and shady areas. Also, they've doubled the beach area to the right of the tender area, as well as newly constructed pavilions and other buildings. It's a work in progress.
The rest of the time was spent aboard ship -- swimming, sunning, enjoying the balcony, shopping in the boutiques, eating, gambling, and of course, walking. Princess Cruises does a real nice job of providing their passengers with a booklet with extensive details about their shore excursions, by the way. This usually arrives with the cruise documents, prior to sailing. It seems as though they're adding more tours because people want more and a variety of options.[Editor: Since mid-1999, about 2 months prior to the cruise, Princess has been sending to the travel agent who made the booking a pre-documentation package, including a shore excursion booklet and pre-cruise order form. Some agencies are not taking the time, nor paying the cost, to send this package to their customers.]
We Loved It!My wife and I loved the Grand Princess, Part II. This is a totally relaxing cruise which is what we look for in a cruise. Although others may find the ship too large, and complain about the hikes from one end to the other, we enjoyed that. It's a beautiful ship, and every aspect of her was a pleasure, from our cabin, our balcony, the food, casino, our tablemates, total relaxation, the motion (little), the super-friendly and efficient staff and crew, sights and sounds . . . and yes, even the walking. Would we do it again? You bet, but "Part III" may have to wait a bit -- there are a few things on our plate before then. We already have the next two cruises planned and deposits in!
Exterior photo courtesy of SeaLetter Columnist Doug Terhune. Other photos Courtesy of Princess Cruises.
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Wes & Barb Carter have been on 13 cruises and counting. They would love to hear your comments and answer any questions you may have. Wes & Barb may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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