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Cruise Ship Review
Princess Cruises

Grand Princess

by Vincent & Mary Finelli

Grand Princess 7 Day Eastern Caribbean Cruise
May 1999

Grand Princess

After having read so many reviews on the Grand Princess, there seems to be very little to add without sounding repetitious.  However, since this cruise has been one of the best that my wife and I have had in the past three years, I am going to write a short review, mainly comparing this huge ship to two other classes of ships familiar to us, the medium sized CostaRomantica and Norwegian Wind, and the megaships Grandeur of the Seas and CostaVictoria. 

As I have stated before in other reviews, we have never had a bad cruise and hope that we'll keep on cruising the same way in the future.  We are addicted to cruising and we have already booked two more cruises for this year: One in August, on the Celebrity Century for a 13 day cruise from Amsterdam to Genoa; the other in November, on the yet to be launched Voyager of the Seas, the gigaship, that surpasses all others in size and novelties.

Strangely enough we prefer the medium size ships, but we would sure like to try all others.  During the six cruises in the last two and one half years we have encountered minor problems or negative aspects in each of the ships, but we go cruising with the attitude of getting the most enjoyable time possible and of leaving worries, chores, and whatever anxieties we may have, behind us.  My theory is that a problem is not a problem if it can be fixed or bypassed.  If I don't like something, I may politely ask the appropriate person to change it and usually on most ships the staff will bend over backwards to please.  If there is a person or a condition or item that does not satisfy us, we'll try to avoid him/her or it and search for the right alternatives which are abundant everywhere.   Whether or not a cruise is a pleasant event for anyone depends mainly on one's expectations.  If these expectations are met, then the cruise is a good one.

I believe that our expectations are generally similar to those of most cruisers.  With some difference in the priorities, they may be summarized as follows:

1. Resting and Relaxation-- For us the ship must provide the right ambiance, such as sea breeze, moonlight or starlight, the sound of waves, minor ship motion (no storms, please) and an isolated location on deck or on the veranda, which can be our lullaby to complete relaxation and daydreams.  Sometime solitude is so dear.  I may lay on a chaise on the veranda while my wife reads a book or does her crossword puzzle.  That's nirvana for me, the utmost peace of mind not easily achievable in modern times.

2. Good Service-- Almost always on any ships we have had great service from stewards, waiters and other staff.  We usually get breakfast in cabin on time, pleasant service in restaurant and on deck, courteous responses from the personnel, etc., and we respond to them graciously with generous tipping.

3. Great Food-- I know that food is a personal preference, but the large assortment offered on most ships makes it possible to find the preferred delectable dishes.  I prefer to eat small portions and to savor many of the varieties served; on the CostaRomantica and on the Grand Princess we found several gourmet or quasi gourmet dishes, deserving a merit badge to the excellent chefs aboard these ships.  We usually make our preferences known to the head waiters and most of the time, they try to please us.

4.  Entertainment-- Even though entertainment is not a high priority for us, we enjoy seeing a good Broadway or musical show; we also enjoy listening to some classical music, preferably light sonatas or arias performed by a pianist or string quartet; we also like to listen to the calypso band playing on deck.

The Grand Princess provided all of the above and then some.  However, for food preferences, for cabin spaciousness and elegance, for the personal attention received from the officers, and for the intimacy offered by the smaller size vessel, the CostaRomantica remains our favorite ship.  I know that there have been some mixed reviews on this ship, but as they say in France: Vive la difference!

The Ship

The Grand Princess takes one's breath away, especially when berthed as she was, when we first saw her in Ft. Lauderdale, beside a small older cruise ship, the Sea Escape.  She is presently the largest cruise ship afloat.  We thought that her size would make it difficult to get around, but with the help of the deck plans which we had taken from a brochure, it was easy to find places.

 

As we entered the ship we were directed by the staff toward the elevators and in the direction of our cabin, but we did not receive the formal welcome which we encountered on the CostaRomantica where two lines of white gloved stewards greeted the passengers as they entered the atrium and picked up the carry on luggage accompanying the guests to their cabin:  The same special welcome we received from the staffs of the Grandeur of the Seas and CostaVictoria, but not on the Norwegian Wind.  It is only a little show which may cost a few dollars in tips, but it is worth the initial feeling of a warm welcome.  Some people may call this decadent, but to me it gives the opportunity of gladly disbursing a few dollars to the service personnel who will cater to us during the cruise.

Once inside the ship we did not feel crowded, nor did we encounter any long lines anywhere and the ship did not seem too big, but looking from our balcony or from outside, the enormous size becomes amazingly evident.  In the port of St. Thomas the Grand Princess and the Grandeur of the Seas were docked on the same pier and, by comparison, the Grand Princess dwarfed her companion megaship, thus the need for coining a new word for this new class of gigantic ships, the gigaships.

The Cabin

We were in cabin #304 on the port side of the Aloha deck, a wheelchair accessible stateroom with ramps to both the huge bathroom and the extra long veranda. The overall size of this cabin and the veranda seems to be about one and one half that of a regular cabin of the same category.  The decor was simple and pleasant, with blue and gold tones.  There also was plenty of closet and drawer space for storage of clothes needed for a seven day or longer cruise.  Terry cloth robes, hair dryer and bathroom sundries were complimentary with every cabin.

The Food

Dining RoomThe food in the Botticelli restaurant ranged from fair to excellent, depending on the items.  The appetizers were generally very good.  For the entrees, most of the sea food was good, with the lobster tails and king crab's legs being great.  The pasta dishes were not as good as expected from a galley directed by a great Italian head chef, Antonio Cereda.  It seems to me that they are not utilizing a good quality pasta, since even when it was cooked al dente just for us, it was not that great.  Our waiting staff in the restaurant, Fernando and Greg, waiter and assistant waiter, Michele and Daniele, the head waiters, and Nicola Furlan, the Maitre 'd, have been all great in giving us the personal attention that made every meal a special event.

Sabatini'sWe also ate twice in the Sabatini trattoria and the manager Pasquale Marino treated us very well.  The seafood appetizer, the veal chop, cooked medium rare, the pizza with prosciutto and the calzone were delicious, while the linguine with clam sauce were gluey and unappetizing.

The pizza served on deck 14 at pool side was very good, as were the buffet served in the Horizon Court, and the hamburgers, hot dogs and french fries from the pool side grill. But to top them all were the desserts, creme brulee`, soufflés, petit fours, marzipan, amaretti and the best baked Alaska afloat.  These desserts matched those on the CostaRomantica or in the best pastry shops throughout Europe.

Entertainment

We saw only two Broadway type shows, the "Grand Adventure Showtime," on the first night, and "Glamour," on the fifth night, and enjoyed both of them, especially the featured dance/comedy team, Kathy & James Taylor.  Kathy's talent is comparable to that of any prima ballerina performing in a classical ballet.  These shows were better than the usual ones presented on various cruise ships.

We also enjoyed a few times, on our way to dinner, the string quartet who performed in the atrium on deck 5.  We specially enjoyed pieces by Mozart, Vivaldi and Albinone, which were performed well, but the frequent comings and goings of people through the atrium, at times talking loudly, distracted the few listeners who were appreciating the performances.  Another location for this type of music should be considered.

On May 4th the Grand Princess became 1 year old and "The World's Largest Birthday Party at Sea" was held pool side on deck 14.  Some champagne and cupcakes went around but the party did not last longer than 20 minutes.  This was advertised in pamphlets to be the biggest floating birthday bash ever, to be carried by TV stations across the USA, as well as on the Princess web site, but it did not materialize as intended.  However, "Happy Birthday Grand Princess!" you deserve a better celebration.

Ports of Call

The ports of call in the Eastern Caribbean cruise are St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Princess Cays.  A lot of reviews cover these ports, thus we are not going to comment on them much.  Princess Cays is very similar to other cruise lines' private islands: very pleasant, clean and restful.  We had a nice day at the beach, complete with a good barbecue.  We enjoyed swimming and snorkeling; the water was exceptionally clear.

Embarkation-Debarkation

Among the cruise lines we have used so far, Princess has the best systems of embarking and disembarking.  Both operations went very smoothly and rapidly, with no waiting lines.  One of the reasons for this speedy service are the many windows at the check-in counter servicing the passengers by deck and  cabin number.

Conclusion

The Grand Princess, with a multitude of balconies and her gigantic dimensions, represents the new trend in the cruising industry: a great variety in dining and entertainment, and verandas, not only in suites, but also in affordable staterooms.  But vestiges of the elegant classic ships built at the Fincantieri Shipyard (this ship is #5956 built in their shipyards) are still evident in the design of public rooms and stairways, constructed with good quality wood, marble and furnishings.  Style, colors and lines evoke some feeling of luxury, at times modernistic and futuristic, as in the Skywalker Disco which is located in the unique "spoiler" in the aft, a feature that sets this ship apart from all other cruise ships.  We enjoyed an excellent cruise on this ship and hope that some day we'll be back.

To view more photos of the Grand Princess, click on

http://www.sealetter.com/ships/grandp.html

Line

Vincent and Mary Finelli have contributed previously to the SeaLetter and can be reached for questions or comment at: finellivn@mindspring.com.


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