Grand Princess Pre-inaugural One Night Cruise September 27, 1998
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What can we say? This is one biiiiiiig ship. We were only aboard for 17 hours, and 6 of those were spent sleeping. We can't very well comment on the food, which was not served from the standard cruise menu, or other "software" items from such a short time on board. However, the service we received along the way was excellent, and we think you can expect the same when you cruise for a week or longer on the Grand Princess.
If you are a lover of big, modern cruise ships, and don't spend a lot of time (actually, any time) looking at her rather bizarre exterior design, you will like the Grand a whole lot. Once you find your stateroom and get your "bearings," the public rooms and areas are well laid out and similar to that on most cruise ships. The public rooms are all on the three lowest passenger decks, with most being located on Promenade Deck 7. Traveling fore to aft on this deck you will find the upper deck of the two-story showroom, Princess Theatre, the forward bank of four elevators, the Painted Desert "southwestern" alternative dining restaurant, the Wedding Chapel port side opposite the Limelight photo studio, and the top level of the three-deck high Grand Plaza atrium with its two panoramic elevators surrounded by shops on the port side and the Promenade Lounge & Bar which serves as the Piano Bar on the starboard side. You are now at the center of the ship and, proceeding aft, you arrive at the middle bank of four elevators, the large Explorers Lounge, the Wheelhouse Bar and Sabatini's Tratoria "Italian" alternative dining restaurant, both on the port side, the photo gallery on the starboard side, the aft bank of four elevators and, finally, the large secondary showroom, the Vista Showlounge.
By completing this "walk" of the Promenade Deck fore to aft, you have traveled almost 935 feet - the overall length of the Grand Princess. Not to worry, there are many rest stops along the way. This deck is lined with windows, although viewing is limited as they look out on the outdoor promenade rather than directly to the sea. The outdoor promenade does not circumnavigate the ship on this deck. Forward, to continue around, you must go up the stairs to Emerald Deck 8. The promenade deck area is also quite narrow for a ship this size - it is not wide enough for both "walkers/joggers" and for deck chairs. This is not the official jogging area, as there is a jogging track up on Sports Deck 16.
One deck below Promenade Deck 7 is Fiesta Deck 6. Again, traveling from fore to aft on this deck you will start in the lower level of the two-story Princess Theatre showroom, and continue to the ludicrously tiny sports bar, Snookers. (If you are a sports nut, there are tons of video screens all on one wall, but I would be surprised to see more than 100 folks fit into this lounge.) Continuing, you arrive at the forward bank of four elevators, the Atlantis Casino, the middle level of the Grand Plaza with shops on either side, the top level of the two-story Pursers Desk, the center bank of four elevators and the entrance to the Da Vinci Dining Room, one of three main dining rooms on board. All the way aft on this deck is the Botticelli Dining Room, but you "can't get there from here." The galley occupies the full width of the ship between the Da Vinci and Botticelli dining rooms. If you are assigned to dine in the Botticelli, you can only get there from the rear bank of four elevators or by walking down from the deck above.
Plaza Deck 5 is the lowest passenger deck, although it is not under or near the water line - nothing is very close to the water on this 15-deck high monstrosity. Inside and outside staterooms occupy the forward third of this deck. Amidships you will find the lowest level of the Grand Plaza where the center area is set up as a lounge with a grand piano for "easy listening" music while you sip the drink you have purchased from the Lobby Bar on the port side. The lower level of the Pursers Desk is here, along with three rooms on the starboard side: "A Quiet Corner," the writing room and the card room. The Michelangelo Dining Room occupies the space on this deck directly below the Da Vinci Dining Room on the deck above.
If you are in need of medical attention while on board, the Medical Center down on Gala Deck 4 can be reached from the aft elevators.
Above Promenade Deck 7, with the exception of a small "Terrace Pool" at the stern of Aloha Deck 12, there are five decks which contain only staterooms. The public areas topside span decks numbered 14 to 18, although only Lido Deck 14 and Sun Deck 15 span the full length of the ship. The center bank of elevators, four regular elevators and the two panoramic elevators, "top out" at Lido Deck 14. We found these the most convenient to use to get to the Lido Deck. When you exit any of these elevators, you are midship. If you go forward from here, you enter Neptune's Pool & Reef area, the larger of the two swimming pools on this deck, surrounded by two whirlpools, a bar, the pizza counter and an outdoor grill. If you go aft from the elevator, you enter the Calypso Reef & Pool area, surrounded by two more whirlpools and the Calypso Bar. This pool area has a sliding dome "cover" and was covered on the evening we were aboard.
Continuing aft from the Calypso Reef & Pool, you enter the Horizon Court buffet and alternative dining restaurant. We found this one of the most impressive areas on the Grand Princess, with its floor to ceiling windows, understated wood-veneer and upolstered decor, and comfortable eating areas both inside and out, all the way to the stern.
Sun Deck 15 is accessible from the forward elevators, aft elevators and center stairway. The forward area of this deck houses the Plantation Spa with its own pool, whirlpools, sauna, steamroom, massage area, gymnasium, juice bar, non-juice bar and beauty parlor. It's all here for you fitness folks! There's also a two-deck Teen spot called "Off Limits" next to the two-deck-high kids area - The Fun Zone. Both looked to be a good size and loaded with teen and kid's stuff. Continuing aft, you'll be on deck and encounter the Sea Breeze Bar, lots of sunning space and deck chairs, Princess Links putting green and golf course simulator, the Conservatory - an outdoor eating area, more deck space and deck chairs, the rear bank of two elevators, "Voyage of Discovery" (the video arcade - virtual reality center), and then more open deck space for sunning or eating what you loaded on your tray in the Horizon Court.
Sports Deck 16 forward lays out a jogging track and houses the paddle tennis courts, the Center Court Bar, and upper levels of Off Limits and the Fun Zone. Aft on this deck are shuffleboard courts, another pool and two more whirlpools at the Oasis Pool area, the Oasis Bar, more deck space and deck chairs, and a life-size Deck Chess Set - very impressive!
Now, take the rear elevator up to the entrance to the walkway - moving sidewalk up to the Skywalker's Disco. Warning: face forward and DO NOT turn around to talk to someone behind you. One of our party did just that and took a rather unceremonious fall. She was okay, but her panty hose will never be the same! The walkway will take you right into the Disco-by-night and fantastic Observation Lounge-by-day. This is a multi-level room with wonderful views, a dance floor in the center, and many semi-private seating areas near the windows. The place was absolutely packed the night we were on board, which makes us wonder if it is large enough for a ship this size carrying so many passengers. A major surprise was that with the size of the crowd and the music blasting, IF you could find a seat, you could actually carry on a conversation and hear each other.
That's pretty much the "hardware" and layout of the ship. There is supposed to be another "pizzeria," but we never found it. Following are some of our opinions on certain features. Keep in mind that we are basically "small ship" lovers who delight in feeling the sea move beneath us and in the resulting natural vibrations, love being close to and ON the water, would rather walk up on deck at night than watch a big production show or dance in the disco, and find ourselves bored to tears on any vacation that is not on a cruise ship of some kind.
Botticelli Dining Room
Excellent layout. The dining rooms are all one story, but claustrophobia is not a problem. The tables are spaced well apart from each other and from the serving stations, and we definitely got the feeling of dining in a restaurant rather than in a banquet hall. We were seated at a round table for six and were not crowded in the least. Service was excellent. As we were not served from the regular menu, we won't comment on the food quality or variety.
Princess Theatre - Main Showroom
After sailing on the Carnival Destiny, the other mega-mega ship of this size, we were disappointed in the Grand Princess showroom. It is two decks high, as opposed to the three-deck high showroom on the Carnival Destiny. The ceiling is low and does a continuous "slope down" to the stage. The chairs were quite uncomfortable and there was no place to put your drink. We found this facility to be too small for the size of the ship and for the number of passengers she carries. To compensate, there were three shows scheduled instead of two. However, we still found the theatre very claustrophobic and uncomfortable.
The show we saw was one of the big production shows called "Glamour" (with the French pronunciation), which was performed by 18 dancers, four singers and a direct-from-Las Vegas vocal impressionist "star" named Bob Anderson. Mr. Anderson's act consisted of changing into various jackets and impersonating Sammy Davis Jr, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. He was pretty pathetic and should be put on the next plane back to Las Vegas. The other performers "did their thing" in various medleys - the singers hit the right notes, the dancers got their steps right, the costumes were pretty, the lighting was attractive and the sound system and balance were excellent. But it was all very uninspired and, frankly, rather boring.
Decor and Furnishings
Beautiful. Superb. Very fine. The public areas are tastefully decorated with a lot of wood and wood veneers of all shades, appealing upholstery and fabrics, samplings of etched glass and art work - all understated, yet elegant and comfortable. Sabatini's Trattoria and the Deck Chess Set were definite stand outs.
Deck space itself appears to be adequate for the passenger count, which it is NOT on the Carnival Destiny. A big plus: deck chairs have PADS. When you arrive on the Lido Deck from the center elevators, you can get a bit confused until you have your directional antenna perfect. If you look forward from this elevator lobby, you see the Neptune pool area. If you look aft, you see the Calypso pool area. The decor and layout are identical and you have to stand and think about which way you want to go. Just remember: go AFT through the Calypso area to the Horizon Court restaurant.
Unfortunately, staterooms were not open for viewing on this pre-inaugural cruise; this was a major disappointment for all of the travel agents and press on board. We can only describe our own cabin - E406, standard outside, directly midship on Emerald Deck 8. WARNING: This is a partially obstructed view "category." It is NOT so noted in the 1998/1999 Princess Caribbean brochure. It is noted, however, in the 1999 Princess Europe brochure. Our cabin had a larger-than-normal window which looked out on some scaffolding, not a life boat. As a rule, we have no problem with obstructed view cabins, as we don't sit and stare out of our window. We still got a good amount of "light" in and that's what we enjoy about an outside cabin. We dislike "dark" all the time.
Our two twin beds were made into a very comfortable, firm queen bed pointing fore and aft rather than perpendicular under the window. This type of bedding arrangement is better for those who suffer from motion sickness, which we do not. Although the seas out of New York harbor were calm that night, we rarely felt any movement at all on this ship. We only knew we were moving by looking out the windows.
The cabin had end tables, each with two drawers, on either side of the bed, a desk with three drawers, an upholstered desk chair, an armchair and glass end table, a corner cabinet with TV on top and a refrigerator on the bottom with a shelf in between and two large mirrors - one on the wall behind the bed and one over the desk. The clothes closet was quite substantial in size and had LOTS of wooden hangers which were NOT "steal proof." Nice. A narrow shelved cabinet housed a safe and six or seven narrow storage shelves. The bathroom was small with a corner shower with curtain, but was adequate. Bio-degradable containers of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion were provided, and there was a built-in hair dryer hanging on the wall next to the desk in the main cabin area.
Cabin decor was quite pleasant with blue/green/tan upholstery and lots of light wood accents and cornices. We guessed the actual size of the cabin to be around 160 square feet, a bit larger than those on the Sun and Dawn Princess, but smaller than those on the Regal and Crown Princess. The interior of this cabin is pretty much identical to all the BB/BC/BD balcony cabins.
The only negative thing we have to say is about the entrance door. We have been on a LOT of cruise ships, both new and old. We have never found a cabin door HARDER to open. The springs on these doors are incredibly tight and the entry hallway is narrower than usual. Once you manage to get the door open, try to hold on as it closes; if you don't, it slams shut with a violent boom that's sure to wake anyone around. If you are a 100-pound weakling cruising solo, you may find yourself stuck on one side of the door or the other for the entire cruise, or searching for your room steward to let you in and out of your stateroom!
Horizon Court Buffet Dining
As we mentioned already, the Horizon Court is a highlight of the Grand Princess: very large, beautifully decorated, comfortable seating and wonderful views out of prolific windows. We had breakfast in here and the only drawback was the way the buffet lines were set up. Rather than a "line" where you take a tray and slide it along a track going from station to station, the different "food areas" are set up in various places, not in any particular order. You grab a tray and silverware and then just head for the area you want. On a week-long cruise, you'll probably get the hang of this a lot better than we did on a one night cruise.
The breakfast offerings were probably typical of a full Grand Princess cruise. There was no "made-to-order omelet" station set up, but there were pre-made scrambled eggs, "over easy" fried eggs, and omelets which you could select for yourself. There was a station where you could add "things" to your eggs like mushrooms, cheese, salsa, sour cream and the like. We stuck with the fried eggs and bacon and they were excellent. The sausage links were different - not sure if they were American "meat" sausages or British "bangers." The baked apples were good, and there was a large selection of cheeses, cold cuts and fresh and stewed fruits in addition to traditional french toast, pancakes, bagels, etc.
Now, we're hungry and it's probably time to end this.
We hope we have given you a good overview of the Grand Princess and have prepared you for SeaLetter Columnist Doug Terhune's complete review coming next month! Doug is sailing on the October 4th Grand Princess inaugural Caribbean cruise this week, and we will have his complete review in the November 1st issue of The SeaLetter!
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