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Cruise Ship Review
Princess Cruises

Grand Princess

by Tom & Mary Milano

Grand Princess

Introduction

Mary and I live in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Because of a decision we made some years ago to never board an airplane unless it was absolutely necessary, we restrict our cruising itinerary to the ships that leave from Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. The restrictive itineraries are not a problem for us because we truly enjoy the Caribbean and on every cruise we find new ways to make them interesting and exciting.

This cruise aboard the Grand Princess was our 16th cruise, ('honeymoons,' as we refer to them), in the last four years. It was also our 32nd anniversary which made it very special, and although we will be telling you of a number of negatives, we still had a wonderful cruise.

First, we would like to repeat what we have said in other reviews. We are writing this review from our perspective which might be very different from yours. We all have different thoughts about what is pleasing and what is not pleasing. What strikes our eye and we think is beautiful, you may pass without a second glance. The very things that Mary and I find interesting and exciting, you might consider boring and what we consider boring might be the very reason you booked your particular cruise. You may not agree with any or all that we say, and that is all right, because we all have a different viewpoint. This has been a very difficult review to write because much of what we say is the complete opposite of what has been said in the many Grand Princess reviews we have read.

Arrival and Embarkation

We arrived by car at the Ft. Lauderdale terminal, left off our luggage and parked our car in the very convenient parking garage. We entered the terminal at 11:40AM, had our documents checked and were ushered aboard at 12:00 o'clock. As you no doubt have read in many reviews, Princess is by far the best at embarkation and disembarkation. They have it down to a science.

We entered the ship on the fifth deck and were greeted by a member of the crew. Instead of him leading us to the elevator directly ahead in the foyer, he told us to follow the people who were walking down the hallway to the left. We followed the large group along a wide hallway that had paintings displayed on easels and also covering the walls on both sides. We walked almost halfway through the ship to the central elevator shaft, with paintings displayed every step of the way. If they wanted us to know they were going to have an art auction, they certainly made their point. This we thought was rather tacky, and it most certainly did not leave us with a very good impression as we started our cruise.

Cabin E518, Obstructed View

We had booked an inside cabin the Aloha deck and were upgraded five categories to E518 on the Emerald deck, which is an outside cabin with an obstructed view. As we entered the cabin, we were surprised to see two upper berths in a closed position folded against the wall. We hadn't realized it was a quad cabin. I always have a brochure of the cruise that we are taking and make a pretty careful study of our accommodations. But when we got our tickets, for some reason, I didn't take notice of the small red dot inside the cabin picture which designated it as a quad. If I had, I would have called my agent and asked him ask to change our cabin. Make sure you check the symbols on the bottom of the page to see if they apply to your cabin. Sometimes they are so small it is difficult to read them. I now keep a magnifying glass on my desk, just for that purpose.

The upper beds which were folded against the wall jutted out from the wall some 12 to 14 inches. We had to be careful not to bang our heads when we got out of bed. Mary thumped her head a couple of times before she got the knack of bending down as she got up.

The cabin décor was very bland, and the closet and drawer space was limited. The closet was stocked with a number of wooden hangers and two terry cloth bathrobes. The bathroom was smaller than usual with very limited storage space. But surprisingly, the shower was a little larger than usual. There was a hair dryer just above the phone on the desk and a refrigerator off to the side. It was a true refrigerator and not a mini-bar. If you have children, it would be convenient and cost-saving to stock it with soda. The TV had a number of channels, including four music channels that gave us a good choice of music. Even though the cabin was just above the activity deck, it was exceptionally quiet.

Our cabin stewardess was absolutely perfect. She had the unusual name of Blessie. We only saw her about four times during the entire trip, but she kept our room immaculate and took care of our every need. If we needed something to be done, we would leave her a note and it would be taken care of. She was a cute little Filipino girl who looked like she was in her twenties. We found out later that Blessie was 44 and had two grown boys. It was a pleasure to leave her a generous tip.

Checking Table Arrangements & Tour of the Ship

As soon as we took care of necessities, we went to see the person in charge of table arrangements. As he was located one deck below us, we headed toward the central elevator shaft to walk down the stairway. That is when we realized there were no stairwells at the central elevators. We soon found out there were only two stairwells on the entire ship: either completely aft or completely forward. It didn't make any sense that we had to stand and wait for an elevator to descend one deck.

We located the Assistant Maitre d' in charge and he told us he could tell us our table assignment, but only the head maitre d' could make any changes. It was our 32nd anniversary and we had requested a table for two, but he told us there were no tables for two on the Grand Princess. I thought it would be a good idea to make a reservation for our first dinner at the Painted Desert restaurant and give the maitre d' a better chance of accommodating us, by giving him an extra day to make the changes. We then went to the Horizon Court for lunch.

We suggest that you check your table arrangements as soon as possible. If they need to be changed, the earlier you see the maitre d', the better chance you will have of getting the arrangements you want.

The Horizon Court

Horizon CourtHorizon Court for lunch and as we looked around the room, that old bugaboo, making comparisons, caught up with us. We were looking forward to the Horizon Court area because we enjoyed it so much when we cruised the Sea Princess. Not only was the Horizon Court on the Sea Princess the most beautiful lunch area of any ship we have cruised on, but also at night it was converted into a bistro with a large circular dance floor. After dinner, a very talented combo would play dance music till the wee hours of the morning. None of the above was to be found. There was no dance area and no music in the evening. This was very disappointing. In our opinion, there is nothing outstanding about this room.

They had an odd way for the guests to choose their breakfast and lunch items. They didn't have one line, but a number of lines. You were handed a large oval plate instead of a tray and silverware, and you could go to whatever food counter that had the items you wanted. There were seven or eight different counters. After people got their plate they would take off in all different directions, zigging and zagging all over the place. For the first three or four days it was very confusing, but then we kind of got the hang of things and we learned when to zig and when to zag.

We found the food and the selection to be very good. They had a very good variety of hot and cold dishes that were tastefully presented and a varied assortment of pastries and cakes that were also very good. There was a very nice open lunch area in the aft section of the Horizon Court overlooking a small pool. While having lunch, it was a very pleasant sight to look out at the blue water being churned up by the two huge propellers. (We later read in the ship's paper that each propeller weighed 40 tons.) This is a very nice area in which to relax and enjoy your lunch. When we finished our first lunch, we headed toward the Atrium area, which we so admired aboard the Sea Princess.

 

The Atrium

This paragraph will be more readily understood and have significant meaning to those readers who have sailed on both the Grand Princess and either the Sun, Dawn, Sea or Ocean Princess. After sailing on the Sea Princess and reading the many positive reviews of the Grand Princess, we had very high expectations. We had sailed on the Sea Princess and were overwhelmed with the beauty of the ship, especially the two atrium areas, with their spectacular floating stairways, outside elevators and the way these areas were used as activity centers. We expected that when Princess came up with the design of the new, largest ship in the world, (at that time) they would expand on the beauty of the atriums and make them even larger and more spectacular on the Grand Princess, but they didn't do that.

AtriumWith the Grand Princess having almost half again as much tonnage as the Sea Princess, and carrying 650 more passengers, they chose to design the Grand Princess with one atrium instead of two, and it is much smaller than either of the atriums on the Sea Princess. That doesn't make any sense. One would expect that as this ship was going to be the largest ship in the world and the talk of the industry, that Princess would make every effort to have its design surpass any of the other ships in their fleet. One would think they would have a ship designed that would leave their guests breathless.

Just the opposite happened. In actuality, the atrium is relatively drab and not very well lighted, and very unspectacular. And for some reason which we don't understand, they enclosed the exterior walls of the two outside elevators with very dark glass that we could hardly see out of. We think they really missed the boat. In our opinion, the Sea Princess is much more beautiful then the Grand Princess in every aspect of design, workmanship and overall atmosphere. Only if one has never sailed on the Sea, Sun, or Dawn or Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas, can I can see why they might rave about this ship.

Checking With the Maitre d'

At six o'clock we scooted down to the Michelangelo Dining Room to meet the head Maitre d', Nicholas Furlan. I told him we were celebrating our 32nd anniversary and would appreciate if he could arrange for us to have a table for two. As he was looking at his charts, I told him I realized how difficult it would be to change table arrangements at the last moment and we had made reservations at the Painted Desert for this evening so he could have extra time if needed. As I was talking to him I shook his hand and placed a Hamilton [Ed.: $10 bill] in his palm. He smiled graciously and said he would send confirmation of our new table assignment to our cabin. We felt much better knowing we were now going to have a table for two. We then went on to the Painted Desert restaurant to have our first dinner aboard the Grand Princess.

More Public Rooms

The Painted Desert Alternative Restaurant

Painted DesertWe were looking forward to an intimate, romantic dinner setting in the Painted Desert. The room was attractively decorated, with a small dance floor in the center and they featured David Pritchett, a country guitar player. Even with all of this, the room was not conducive to fine dining. The location of the restaurant is just before you enter the Princess Theater. While you are having dinner, the people attending the showroom walk right through the restaurant to get to the theater. I know it's hard to believe, but in order to get to the right side of the theater, the passengers have to walk right through the area where you are dining, then walk over the dance floor. Can you imagine being at a table, enjoying a romantic interlude with your wife, when all of a sudden a steady stream of hundreds of people come passing by your table? We felt like we were having dinner in the middle of Times Square. If someone had told us this happened to them, we wouldn't have believed it.

It's unfortunate that the designers of this ship didn't allot a private space for this restaurant, because the food was excellent and was presented in a very appealing way. The servers were dressed in authentic Mexican attire and were very efficient. But all the good points were soon forgotten by the total distraction of the mass of people that passed our table on the way to the show. We racked our brain, but we can't think of another cruise ship that has this sort of dining arrangement. This room was never even half-filled. I wonder why.

If you like very good Southwestern food and you don't care to much about the surroundings, you will like the Painted Desert. If you like everything that goes along with fine dining, The Painted Desert is not the place for you!

Wheelhouse Lounge

WheelhouseAfter dinner we went to the Wheelhouse Lounge, one of our favorite lounges at sea, to have drinks and to dance a bit before the show. It is a delightful room. The décor is very much Old World. Deep mahogany panels are used as backdrops for pictures of sailing vessels, and prominently displayed models of older cruise ships are displayed in various places. The seating is also very nice: it consists of groupings of richly upholstered love seats, the kind of intimate setting Mary and I like. A husband and wife duo, Steed & Steed, who played guitar and keyboard, played the kind of music we enjoy dancing to. Their repertoire consisted of songs like, "Embraceable You," "The Shadow of Your Smile," "Unforgettable," and "Stardust." All those great tunes from yesteryear that tell our loved ones of our feelings in beautiful lyrics, much better than we can in words. What a wonderful setting to start the celebration of our anniversary.

(We know we might be stirring up a hornet's nest with this comment, but it appears to us, when we watch couples that dance apart, that they are saying look at me, whereas when we are watching couples dancing in each other's arms, they seem to be saying look at us. But don't mind us -- I think were letting the romanticism of our anniversary get the best of us.)

Later on in the same evening, this lounge featured Jerry Brooks and his show band. They were terrific. Their music had that kind of beat that made your feet tell your head to get up and dance. Jerry was an original member of the Ink Spots and he sang many of the songs that made that group so popular. He was also a very personable and warm individual. You could tell he enjoyed every minute he was performing.

The Princess Theater and the Show

Princess TheatreThe showroom is beautiful in appearance with good sight lines. There is no drink service in the theater. If you want a drink you have to get up and get it. When you get back to your seat, you have a choice of holding your drink in your hand or using the small airplane type tray in the right side arm rest. Then after you finish, you probably will put your glass under your seat on the floor like most of the people do; there is no other place to put it. We have never cared for this type arrangement. The best example of the way we think it should be done is the way they do it in the show rooms aboard Celebrity ships. They have beautifully upholstered love seats with a lighted cocktail table to place your drink on. It's a very elegant way of seating.

The entertainment was one of the highlights of the cruise. Princess features more than one act during each of their shows. Even when it's a production show, they usually have two additional acts. The first night the show opened with Roger Carr singing a medley of songs. (Every evening, you will find Roger performing in the Promenade Lounge, with most every chair filled with his very loyal followers.) He has a big voice and a great stage presence; he was very well received. They then followed with a lengthy production number featuring two female vocalists and two male vocalists who were excellent. The supporting cast of dancers were a group of very talented performers. After the production numbers we were entertained by a comedy magician, Jeff Peterson.

Usually about this time, with this kind of act, I begin to yawn and start to think about how great it's going to feel to put my head on the pillow, but that didn't happen. He really was funny and he had a great gimmick. On a tall platformed table next to where he was standing, he placed a golden Genie lamp, and lighted the protruding wick. And every time he told a lie during his performance, even though he might be two or three feet away, the flame would shoot out some two feet. It was a very funny bit.

The Da Vinci Dining Room

Dining RoomThe Grand Princess has three dining rooms: The Da Vinci, The Michelangelo and The Botticelli. All are beautiful rooms. Nicholas Furlan, the Maitre d', arranged for us to have a side by side seating at a round table in a corner of the Da Vinci dining room. It was a very romantic setting in a truly elegant room -- just what we wanted. Our waiter was Armindo and his assistant was Johan, both from Portugal. They were a great team, very professional and very efficient. They literally couldn't not do enough for us. One exception to this all-around efficiency was the Maitre d' for our section of the dining room. I think it best I not mention his name. Every evening before the meal was not too far along, he would come waltzing over to our table and address us in a few sentences in Italian. Then he would clasp his hands in front of him as if he was praying. He then would put the fingers of one hand to his lips, like he was going to throw us a kiss and loudly proclaim, "The Pasta, Mama Mia, Mama Mia," and then walk slowly away with a big smile on his face. He did the same thing every night and that's all he did. We compensated him the same amount as the service he rendered, which was nothing.

The quality of the food was a very pleasant surprise: it was excellent. And, of course, Mary, who loves pasta, enjoyed having the extra pasta course that is served before the main course. We found the desserts to be very good and the ice cream was noticeably better than the Haagen-Dazs we had at poolside. Mary's favorite dessert is a soufflé, which is not a dessert you see on many menus. Because of it's tendency to collapse when completed, very few restaurants even attempt to make it. She had a chocolate hazelnut soufflé with zabaglione, that she said was one of the best she has had. We had a number of desserts that were excellent.

The Lounges

The Wheelhouse
I think we have already given you a pretty good description of this lounge. As we said it's our favorite lounge and we enjoyed every minute we spent there.

The Explorer Lounge
This lounge is supposed to give you the feeling you are on safari. The pictures on the walls are of various wild animals. They have a variety of acts that appear here and it's a very popular and active spot. We kind of think they might have gone a wee bit to far in the way they have their beverage servers dressed. To compliment the safari theme, the men and girl servers are dressed in khaki knee-length shorts, quite heavy khaki bush jackets, pith helmets to match, and shoes that look like they would be more suited to mountain climbing. That's a lot of clothing to be carrying around when you're rushing around to take last-minute drink orders. They also held the art auctions in this lounge; it seemed like they had an art auction every other day. This is also where we picked up our tender tickets and where we waited until our color was called to disembark.

The Vista Lounge
This actually is another show room. It's a very attractive room that is fully equipped to handle most any kind of entertainment. Besides the normal single acts that perform here, they occasionally feature a production show. They also use this room for Bingo, and the Captain's party was held here. It's a very versatile setting.

Skywalkers Nightclub
We never went there to dance. As you well know by now, it's not our kind of music, but we did go up during the day to see what it looked like. It is truly a spectacular setting and we could easily see why this could be the spot for those who like to do that other kind of dancing. It was so high up [above the stern], we thought we might need oxygen.

Sabatini'sSabatini's Trattoria
Because of our choosing the late dinner seating, the last night of a cruise has always been a bit hectic and uncomfortable. Having to get packed and having to have our luggage in the hallway by midnight limited our after-dinner time. We think we might have found a way around this dilemma. On Tuesday we went to the business desk where you have to make your reservations for both alternative restaurants, and we made arrangements to have a table for two at Sabatini's at 7 o'clock on Saturday, the last day of our cruise. By doing so we were able to catch the early show after dinner and still have plenty of time to visit a lounge and get back to the cabin to do any additional packing. It worked like a charm. I can't say as much for Sabatini's.

We didn't feel that the room was properly set for fine dining. The first thing we noticed was the lack of tablecloths. It's pretty difficult to create a fine dining atmosphere with place mats on the tables. Also, the iron chairs were a stark contrast to the plush cushioned settees, and didn't add anything to the room.

While we were reading our menus, the waitress placed on our table a plate of garlic bread covered with diced tomatoes, olive oil and oregano. It wasn't very appetizing or tasty. We would have liked to have started our dinner with a minestrone soup, but they didn't have it on the menu. We were offered pumpkin or asparagus soup, which are not very Italian. We settled for asparagus soup. We were then served a salad that consisted of a plate of romaine lettuce with absolutely nothing added to it, with an Italian dressing on the side. We ordered Rack of Veal as it was stated on the menu, but it was actually a veal chop. It had a nice flavor but not much more can be said for it. We rarely if ever skip dessert, because for Mary this is the best part of a meal, but we found the dessert menu very uninteresting, and we decided to pass. We thought the food, atmosphere and service of the Da Vinci dining room was far superior to Sabatini's.

The Pools

Neptune PoolThe Neptune and the Calypso pools are mirror images. In fact, when you get off the elevator you have to think twice as to where you want to go. The pool area is a very attractive setting, well-appointed in all aspects. We weren't able to find an empty lounge chair around either pool for most of our cruise. There were some empty lounges on the upper deck, but not around the pool area. The one day we found a lounge chair by the pool we noticed something that was very peculiar. The pools are very attractive but they are designed in a very different way. Around the entire pool is a serpentine, scalloped wall, that is from 2½ to 3½ feet high. We usually enjoy the pool area, lying on a lounge watching all the happenings in the pool, but you can't do that on the Grand Princess. Because of the height of the wall surrounding the pool, when you lie or sit in any lounge chair, in any location poolside, you can't see the tops of the heads of the people in the pool. Very strange. We'll leave it at that.

On one end of the Neptune pool is the Poseidon Pizza counter and the Trident Grill. The pizza was sensational and the items that the grill served were delicious. The nicest part was the crew that took care of these areas. They were very accommodating, warm and gracious.

For the first four days, we spent most of our pool time in the "current pool" by the spa. It was a delightful place and we had it practically to ourselves. But by the last two days of the cruise, it seemed the whole ship had discovered our secret. By then the pool, which is about thirty by twenty, looked like an oversized Jacuzzi, filled to the brim with people. Above the machine that generates the current, there is a sign that says, "Absolutely no children allowed, Adults only." On the last day of the cruise, a mother and father had three youngsters, no more than 5 or 6 years old, in the pool with them playing all sorts of games. They were very noisy and were very disruptive. All this time there was a deck attendant looking down on this pool and he never said a word. So much for rules.

An Ice Cream Aside
On the far end of the Calypso pool is the area where they sell Haagen-Dazs ice cream. I know this has been a controversial subject and we are going to add a little fuel to the fire. We do not mind being charged for ice cream if it's our choice. But when a cruise ship makes those who would like ice cream have to pay an additional charge, we think it is wrong.

We asked the person in charge of the Horizon Court where we would find the ice cream and he said they didn't have any. "You have to go to one of the main dining rooms." Can you imagine going to the Da Vinci dining room at 3:30 after lunch and trying to have someone get you a plate of ice cream? In actuality, what Princess is doing is forcing their customers to buy Haagen-Dazs by not serving ice cream in the Horizon Court or any other immediate area. It made us compare our recent cruise aboard the Ryndam, where in the main section of the lunch area they had an ice cream counter with an attendant serving all flavors of ice cream, with a separate area to make sundaes with all the trimmings, all for free. Or the Voyager of the Seas, where ice cream is available twenty four hours a day.

In our opinion, we think this Princess Haagen-Dazs experiment is going to be short-lived like the Johnny Rockets Diner experiment aboard the Voyager. People do not like to feel they are being taken for fools, and the sooner the people let the cruise lines know how they feel, the sooner they will refrain from implementing excessive extra charge polices.

Entertainment

The Cruise Director John Cleford did an excellent job. He was a great MC and always had just the right comment for the occasion. Princess has a great way of programing their performers. Most of them appear more than once and are so scheduled that everyone, regardless if they have an early or late dinner seating, will have a chance to see all of them. Their choice and quality of the entertainers is by far the best we have experienced. They do an excellent job. The following is a general listing of the entertainment, with comments when we think it warranted.

Roger Carr
Roger Carr performs nightly in the Promenade Lounge and is featured in two production shows. Very polished performer. When he performs in the Promenade Lounge, as on stage, he gets everyone's attention.

Kathy and James Taylor
They are one of the best performing couples we have ever seen. When they do their dance routine, Kathy Taylor performs like Ginger Rogers; when she sings, she's as good as any of the top vocalists, and when when she unexpectedly breaks out into her comedy routine, she looks like and acts like Lucille Ball. It's truly an amazing transition. Her husband James Taylor is the perfect foil for her. Being of small stature, we were amazed at the lifts he was able do with his wife. If you don't care for entertainment, that's fine, but do yourself a favor and don't miss the Taylors.

Dave Heenan
Mary loves the comedic acts. We sure found a winner in Dave Heenan -- he was hilarious. As we have previously said, Princess uses its entertainers in a completely different way than most cruise lines. We first saw Dave in Monday night's opening production show. We then saw him again in Wednesday's "Comedy Showcase." Then on Friday we saw him in "Comedy Cabaret" in the Explorer Lounge. Mind you, normally a stand up comic takes many, many months to put together a 15-minute routine. This man gave three 40-minute performances and he never repeated himself. In every show he had completely different material. What made his routine so refreshing was that his nighttime routine was made up of many things he experienced that day. He brought the house down. He's a very funny man -- don't miss him.

Comedian John Paton
Very, very good. A great style of delivery and great material.

The Macaggis
Performed some unbelievable feats of body balancing. Every bone in my body ached as I watched them. Very good act.

Chris Bliss
Off-beat comedian that had the most unusual finish to his act that we have ever seen. After telling jokes for forty minutes, he proceeded to take four tennis balls from a box and juggle them in rhythm to the beat of a pop/rock song. It doesn't sound like much, but I guarantee you that you have never seen a juggling act like this in all your life. The juggling part of his act was also featured in the farewell show.

The Ports

St. Thomas
We had planned to go to Caneel Bay Resort on St. Johns. We have been to the Eastern Caribbean a dozen times and every cruise line we traveled on made an early stop, usually 7 to 8 o'clock in the morning to let those who had shore excursions leave for St. Johns. Grand Princess doesn't do that -- it goes straight to St. Thomas and you have to take a ferry St. John.

St. Maarten
Every cruise ship we have sailed on to St. Maarten has docked at the pier that is located at the base of main street. We boarded a tender and after a short while we noticed that it was veering to the right. It finally docked at a pier some 1½ to 2 miles to the right of the center of town. It was a dilapidated, rundown pier. From the tender I asked a Princess crew member on the dock why we didn't dock at the downtown pier and he said they didn't have docking privileges there. We never got off the tender, but stayed on and returned to the ship.

Princess Cay
This may be considered a pretty beach by some people, but in our opinion, we wouldn't define it as such. Much of the water line of the beach, and extending out into the water, is rock formations. We were fortunate to be wearing beach slippers, otherwise we would never have gone in the water. Most of the people in the water were looking down at the bottom instead of enjoying the view of the island. They kept looking at the ocean bottom so they could avoid stepping on the coral which was everywhere. Princess Cay may be good for snorkeling but it isn't the idyllic place for bathing. If anyone has been to Holland America's Half Moon Cay, they know what a Caribbean paradise looks like.

Never A Bad Cruise

It's never much fun writing a review with a lot of negatives but if one doesn't tell it as they see it, they are not being fair to themselves or to the readers. We want you to know we are sending this review to the CEO and Customer Relations Manager of Princess Cruises, and to the Dining Room Manager of the Grand Princess, too. It may be hard for some people to understand how we can say we had a great cruise when we voiced so many negatives in this review. But it's really quite simple. We can make that statement because the negatives we experience can never lessen our pleasure of being together and fully enjoying each other's company. We eliminate the negatives from our mind and concentrate on making each other happy. We have been on some less-than-desirable cruise ships, but we have never had a bad cruise. Mary and I hope that your next cruise will be the best you've ever had. Happy cruising.

Photos courtesy of Princess Cruises.

Click HERE to view more (and larger!) photos of the Grand Princess.

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Tom & Mary Milano are obviously addicted to cruising. They would love to hear your experiences and can be reached at tmilano@n-jcenter.com.


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