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Cruise Ship Review
Princess Cruises

Grand Princess

by John Mills

Grand Princess

I sailed on the July 1, 1999 sailing of the Grand Princess, the "Grand Mediterranean" itinerary with my friend, Carol. This was my seventh Princess cruise, my second time on the Grand Princess.

Thursday, July 1, 1999 - Arrival in Barcelona, Spain
(evening attire: Casual)

We arrived in Barcelona and were met at the baggage claim area after going through Customs by Princess Representatives. We claimed our luggage and gave it to Princess staff for transport to the ship. In no time, we were on the bus and on the way to the ship. We waited in line only about 5 minutes before getting up to a check-in counter. This process took virtually no time at all and we were ready to board in about 5 minutes. After receiving our boarding cards, we proceeded towards the ship. We had to have our carry-on bags scanned and a line did form there, but nothing obtrusive. Only one scanner was operational. Upon walking up the gangway, we had to insert our boarding cards and have our security picture taken. This is one of the Princess ships where you 'check-in' and 'check-out' when boarding or leaving the ship. The ships personnel can readily know whether or not someone is on the ship. Also, when inserting the card upon re-boarding, the ships personnel verify that you are really the cardholder by the picture.

We quickly found our room, B332, a Cat N inside on Baja deck. The room was nicely appointed and included a television and refrigerator, twin beds (that could be put together) and vanity/chair and sitting chair. There was plenty of drawer space; I have seen bigger closets, although we had room for everything.

We deposited our carry-on bags in the room and proceeded for a tour of the ship and a hamburger. Since this was my second time on this ship, I quickly found my way around again. The rest of the afternoon was spent getting oriented to the ship, the time changes and unpacking. We went to the Horizon Court for dinner instead of the dining room and retired early the first night.

Entertainment for the evening included a Folkloric Show in the Vista Lounge featuring all the colors and sounds of Spain and a Welcome Aboard Dance Party in the Explorers Lounge.

Friday, July 2, 1999 - Barcelona, Spain
(evening attire: Formal)

Seldom what you would expect, Barcelona is a Spanish city, but thinks of itself more as Catalonia's political and cultural capital. Influence from neighboring France is shown throughout the city. A haven for the talented eccentric, it is a world center for modern art. Picasso, Miró, Casals and Dali all lived and worked from this city at one time, and the celebrated architect Antoni Gaudi left an ineffaceable mark on the city.

Since we had been to Barcelona in May, 1997 on the Royal Princess, we chose to take the morning tour to Montserrat, a Benedictine abbey and the site of the famous Black Madonna. This picturesque abbey, which is approximately 1000 years old, is absolutely spectacular. Proceeding to the buses from the ship, our guide gave us an excellent overview of the Barcelona area during the 90-minute bus ride. The guided tour while up on the mountain was approximately one hour in length, after which we had ample time to browse on our own. We were back to the ship in time to have a light lunch in the Horizon Court, then relax as the ship prepared to depart.

At 1:22 p.m., we swung and maneuvered inside the harbor and proceeded out, leaving a picturesque Barcelona in the background. We passed the Oriana on the way out of the harbor. At 1:34 p.m., the pilot disembarked and the Grand Princess began the 287 nautical mile trip to Monte Carlo at an average speed of 17.9 Knots. A Bon Voyage Sailing Party was held on deck as we left port.

The Commodore's Welcome Gala Cocktail Party was held prior to each dinner seating in the Atrium Lobby and Explorers Lounge. Evening entertainment featured the production show of "Pirates: Hi-Jinx on The High Seas" in the Princess Theater; comedian Dave Heenan in the Explorers Lounge; and "Cabaret Showtime," featuring Pamela Blake, star of Broadway's "Evita," in the Vista Lounge. The Disco was hopping on our first night at sea with the superb Viviano as DJ.

Saturday, July 3, 1999 - Monte Carlo, Monaco
(evening attire: Casual)

At 6:43 a.m. the Grand Princess anchored off Monte Carlo, the French Riviera. At approximately 7:35 a.m., continuous ship-to-shore tender service commenced. The calm seas we had experienced since our sailing from Barcelona gave rise to a glorious day, with clear skies and temperatures at around 75 degrees (F).

We waited until the tours had disembarked the ship and no tender tickets were required before heading down to the tender. We took leisurely strolls around the town, enjoying looking at the many yachts docked in the harbor. Hiking up the mountain towards the palace, we caught the changing of the guard, then walked through the narrow streets towards the cathedral where Princess Grace is buried.

At 6:39 p.m., the last tender from shore set out for the Grand Princess and after weighing anchor at 6:47 p.m., the Grand Princess set sail at 7:06 p.m. on an easterly course across the Gulf of Genoa towards Livorno, Italy, a 121 nautical mile trip.

A sailaway wine and cheese party was held on the Lido Deck aft with music by the Honey B's and Melodics. This evening, early seating dinner was served at 6:30 and late seating dinner was served at 8:45. Entertainment for the evening was the final performance of "Pirates" in the Princess Theater, "Cabaret Showtime," featuring the comedy and juggling of David Deeble in the Explorers Lounge, and more cabaret in the Vista Lounge with Pamela Blake.

Sunday, July 4, 1999 - Florence/Pisa, Italy (Livorno)
(evening attire: Semi-Formal)

Boarding the pilot at 6:02 a.m., the Grand Princess commenced the approach to Livorno harbor, mooring alongside the pier at 6:58 a.m. The day was going to be clear and sunny with temperatures in the low 80's.

Florence is about a ninety-minute ride and Pisa is about a forty-minute ride. Having been here in May of 1997, at which time we went to Florence, we opted for the tour to Pisa. Best known for its Leaning Tower, which is actually the freestanding bell tower for the cathedral, Pisa is a picturesque town.

Our morning tour lasted approximately three hours. Exiting the ship, we were directed to air conditioned buses. Our guide narrated the ride to Pisa, pointing out places of interest while giving us an overview of the area. The guide stayed with us while telling us the history of the Tower and while walking through the Cathedral. We had approximately 45 minutes to ourselves to admire the architecture and shop amidst the many local merchants set up along the street.

At 5:54 p.m., the pilot came on board for the departure. With the gangways off, all lines clear, the ship proceeded out of the harbor at 6:05 p.m. The Grand Princess set a series of southerly courses along the western Italian coast towards Naples, Italy, a distance of 265 nautical miles at an average speed of 22.1 Knots.

Evening entertainment featured the movie "October Sky" in the Princess Theater; the comedy and magic of Jeff Peterson in the Explorers Lounge; and "New York, New York," featuring Tami Tappan and James Campbell in the Vista Lounge. Alternative dining in the Horizon Court (available every evening in addition to Sabatini's and Painted Desert) was buffet style that evening, as compared to the normal menu selections most other evenings.

Monday, July 5, 1999 - Naples/Capri, Italy
(evening attire: Casual)

The ship began her approach to Naples, and by 8:10 a.m. was moored alongside Naples Cruise Ships Terminal. The temperatures were in the mid 80's with sunny to partly cloudy skies.

 

Having been to Naples before, Carol opted to take the easily accessible boat to Capri for the morning, while I took the tour to the Pompeii ruins, remnants of the thriving Roman resort town that was buried under ash and mud during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A. D. The ride from the ship to Pompeii was about thirty minutes. Before taking the short walk to the ruins entrance, we were escorted into a cameo shop and shown the technique for making these delicate and ornate adornments. Our guide led us throughout the ruins providing a narration as we went. He took his time to tell us in detail about what we were seeing. These ruins were utterly fascinating, providing a record of how the ancient Romans lived and played. Included are impressive temples, a forum, ancient condominiums and one of the largest know Roman amphitheaters.

At the end of the tour, we made the trek back to the ship in time to have lunch and rest up before the afternoon tour to Herculaneum, another Roman resort town close to Pompeii, that was destroyed at the same time. Leaving the ship, the drive on our air conditioned coach was shorter than that to Pompeii. It is important to note, that on both the Pompeii and Herculaneum tours, there was extensive walking.

The Grand Princess departed for a much-needed day at sea. Setting a southeasterly course across the Gulf of Naples, we were cruising along Sorrento at approximately 8:30 p.m.

That evening, the Horizon Court featured a Mediterranean Buffet. Evening entertainment featured Broadway concert pianist, Elliot Finkel in the Princess Theater; a 50's Sock Hop in the Explorers Lounge; and the comedy and music of Alan & Shane in the Vista Lounge. As with other evenings, music was featured in the Painted Desert and the Wheelhouse Bar, as well as piano melodies in the Atrium.

Tuesday, July 6, 1999 - At Sea
(evening attire: Semi-Formal)

The seas remained smooth, the skies partly cloudy with temperatures hovering near 80 degrees. Evening entertainment consisted of the amazing acrobatic feats of the Duo Macaggi in the Princess Theater; comedian Dave Heenan in the Explorers Lounge; and "Swingtime" ­ big band sounds in the Vista Lounge, after which was the popular London Pub Night. Other entertainment featured Pele in the Explorers lounge and the Ray Perry Trio.

Wednesday, July 7, 1999 - Venice, Italy
(evening attire: Casual)

Just slightly past noon, the Grand Princess was docked alongside the pier in Venice, with temperatures in the high 70's and partly cloudy skies.

The decks were crowded with anticipation as the Grand Princess made her way into Venice. After docking, we took the afternoon tour to San Giorgio and viewed the stately cathedral, getting stranded inside during a torrential rain. As the rain subsided, we ran to the waiting boat for our trip to Murano, and one of the glass factories. After a demonstration of glass blowing, we had time to shop for glassware, then back to the boat. Up until this point, it was uncear if we would be able to take the gondola ride, due to the rain, but it cleared up and we were able to enjoy a leisurely ride through the canals of this picturesque town.

Evening entertainment included the movie "Message in a Bottle" in the Princess Theater and Pele in concert in the Explorers Lounge. Many people chose to enjoy the evening ashore in Venice.

Thursday, July 8, 1999 - Venice, Italy
(evening attire: Semi-Formal)

The morning dawned with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-80's. Long revered as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Venice was no disappointment as we spent the morning on our own strolling through the cities picturesque streets and shops.

At 1:44 PM, the ship commenced to maneuver out of the docking basin. Leaving Venice behind and disembarking the pilot at 3:15 p.m., a southeasterly course was set towards the Greek coastline. Seas remained smooth as we awaited another day at sea.

Evening entertainment included Greg Bonham in concert in the Princess Theater and the production show "Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance" in the Vista Lounge.

Friday, July 9, 1999 - At Sea
(evening attire: Formal)

We reached the Greek coastline during the late afternoon. The Captains Circle Party was hosted by Commodore Mike Moulin in the Calypso Reef & Pool. In addition to the normal enertainment for the evening, Karaoke made its appearance tonight in the Explorers Lounge as passengers took their turn at the microphone.

Saturday, July 10, 1999 - Athens, Greece
(evening attire: Casual)

The Grand Princess was docked at Piraeus harbor by 6:35 a.m. The skies were clear and the temperatures approached 90 degrees.

With two new friends, Carole and Becky, we hired a cab for 4 1/2 hours. He took us to the Yacht Club overlooking Pireaus harbor, then took us directly to the Acropolis. We arrived at the Acropolis ahead of the tour buses, many of which were just arriving as we were leaving. We had as much time as we wanted to explore and when we came back down the hill, our cab was waiting with the air conditioning on. He then took us by the Palace and to the Olympic Stadium and we ended up in the Platka for some shopping before heading back to the ship. This was a fantastic way to see Athens.

At 5:52 p.m., with the pilot off, an easterly course across the Aegean Sea towards Kusadasi was set. In addition to the assortment of comedians and magicians, tonight was Country Night in the Explorers Lounge, as well as an "Island Night Deck and Pool Party." This was not heavily attended and could have been tailored to a Mediterranean theme. The music was quite pleasant with the Honey B's and Gordon & the Orchestra. The Poseidon's Pizzeria and Tident Grill were open, as well as the Horizon Court featuring a Greek dinner buffet.

Sunday, July 11, 1999 - Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey
(evening attire: Semi-Formal)

The ship moored at the pier in Kusadasi at 7:02 a.m. The day dawned with clear skies and temperatures rose to approach 90 degrees. We opted to take the morning tour to Ancient Ephesus and spend the entire morning exploring the ruins. Other tour offerings included Ancient Ephesus as well as the St. John Basilica and the Virgin Mary Shrine. We wholeheartedly enjoyed the tour we took: our guide was quite good and spoke excellent English. He had worked for some years as an archeologist on ruins excavation.

After leaving the ruins, there was a short time for shopping before boarding the bus back to Kusadasi. We were dropped off at a Turkish carpet store, where we were ushered into a room and told about how the carpets are made and about the different materials. It was quite interesting, but then the sales push began. The majority of the passengers left and walked back to the ship, but some stayed back to look at carpets. I don't think that anyone actually bought them. We were back to the ship in time to grab a quick bite and if desired, go back in and do some more shopping.

By 5:30 p.m., a westerly and then a series of northwesterly courses towards the Dardanelles Strait were set as we headed for Istanbul, our final destination.

Tonight, the excellent Grand Princess dancers debuted a new show, "Rhythms of the City." It is a high energy, "Rent" style show. Of course, the normal assortment of comedians, etc. were entertaining throughout the ship.

Monday, July 12, 1999 - Istanbul, Turkey
(evening attire: Casual)

At 11:00 a.m., the pilot came on board to guide us into Istanbul harbor. At noon, the Grand Princess was secured alongside her berth. The day had produced partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-80's. In the afternoon, we did the Imperial Istanbul Tour (Topkaki Palace, Blue Mosque, Hippodrome, and Cisternes (St. Sophia was closed).

The production show from the night before was repeated again this evening. Most people were preparing for the trip home, putting luggage out and going to bed early, in addition to saying their good-bye's to new friends. We had eaten a hamburger when we got back from our tour late afternoon, so we chose to skip dinner (but yes, we took our tips down). We ate a light dinner later in the Horizon Court and headed to bed.

Tuesday, July 13, 1999 - Istanbul, Turkey
(disembarkation)

Disembarkation for early flights began at 3:30 a.m. and continued throughout the morning, with the last set of passengers scheduled to disembark the ship at 1:00 p.m. Our scheduled disembarkation was at 5:45 a.m. We set the alarm for 4:00 a.m. and had a quick bite in the Horizon Court. We were ready ahead of schedule and we actually got off the ship at 5:15 a.m., claimed our luggage and were on the bus in less than 10 minutes. The bus left with a load of passengers at 6:35 a.m.

Food Thoughts

The food in the dining room was excellent -- a nice variety, along with the 'always available' selections. The staff made every effort to ensure that we had exactly what we wanted and that it was prepared to our liking. If they discovered that there was something you particularly liked, they made sure you had it every evening.

The Horizon Court offered a wide assortment of items at all three meals, as well as in the evening. The buffets were not presented in the typical cafeteria style fashion, but in smaller stations, making the whole experience of the buffet less institutional. There was a nice variety of food and it was presented in an appealing way. I would rate the Horizon Court food very good.

There is pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers available by poolside. The hamburgers were particularly good and I enjoyed them on several occasions instead of lunching at the Horizon Court.

Service

The service we received while on the ship was excellent. Our cabin steward, José, kept the cabin clean and made every effort to not be in our way at all. Our service in the Bottacelli Dining Room was exemplary, also. Our headwaiter Nello came to the table every evening to check on our day, the service and food. He was interested in making sure that we were having a great dining experience, and was not merely there to get a tip on the last night. Our waiter, Maurizio, was one of the best I have ever had on a ship. He was efficient and courteous. On the second night, Nello found out that I liked (actually, LOVE) mashed potatoes, and he instructed Maurizio to make sure that I had them if I so desired. Every night from then on, they showed up during the meal, many times as my 'soup,' laden with mushroom gravy!

Tours

We took many of the ships tours. All the guides we had spoke very good English and made every effort to make sure we were understanding what they were saying. The tour to Ephesus from Kusadasi was excellent, but at the end, the guide took us to a carpet store where we were told about the different types of Turkish rugs. Then, we were encouraged to look at and purchase rugs. I could have most definitely done without this.

One good thing to remember while taking these tours is to take a bottle of water with you. Overall, the tours were excellent. I am ever amazed at the way passengers behave on tours, though. I heard some of the most ridiculous complaints I have ever heard. Some complained it was too hot (dah! You are in the Mediterranean in July, what do you expect?) and that there was walking involved (well how else do you think you are going see the ruins or Florence?). One complaint that I particularly like, which a passenger was voicing to several Princess staff on our tour in Herculaneum was that in Florence, they had to walk to the Ponte Vecchio . . . well, if you have ever been there, you know that there is a large 'pedestrian only' area. Another classic I heard was in Pisa: we were getting ready to enter the cathedral and our guide had just finished telling us that construction started close to 1000 years ago and one passenger made the remark, as we were entering, "these doors are old!"

Some of the complaints I heard were just downright ridiculous and I firmly believe that these passengers were voicing them in an effort to get something back from Princess.

Transfers

The transfers were handled in a very efficient manner. We were met at the baggage claim in Barcelona, after going through Customs by Princess representative who instructed us to retrieve our luggage and give it to one of the porters. They then grouped passengers and escorted a group at a time to the waiting busses.

In Istanbul, we were on our way to the airport with a bus load at 5:35 and through the airport security by 6:10. We had some difficulty with the check-in, as we were on a Turkish Air/SwissAir shared flight. After being to three gates and unsuccessfully checking in, I went and asked one of the Princess representatives to help, which he gladly did. Also note that in Istanbul, the airport gates are not marked with the flight numbers of departing flights, and at the gates, a microphone was not used to announce departures, so listen carefully.

Entertainment

There was definitely a wide variety of entertainment options on the Grand. The production shows were repeated at least once so that everyone had a chance to enjoy them without missing other shows. The production shows were high energy and the dancers and singers were enthusiastic. There was definitely something for everyone. The DJ was great, providing a mix of music throughout the evening and during the cruise, with several 'theme' nights.

On nights that the ship was in port, the shows were a bit more laid back, as many passengers chose to go into port. This was especially the case with Venice.

Final Thoughts

Although the Grand Princess is quite large, she is kept sparkling clean by the ever-working Princess crew. Her interior is intimate for the most part, her décor subdued. This was the second time that I have had the pleasure of sailing on this beautiful vessel. I have noticed that on both of these sailings, the photo area, just outside the Wheelhouse, gets crowded and congested in the evenings as the first seating is letting out, just before second seating begins. One particularly nice feature on the Grand is the Business Center, which for a minimal charge allows you to access the Internet and keep in touch with home via email. I utilized this quite frequently this last trip as my father had been hospitalized just prior to my departure.

I would like to mention the lap pool and health club area. I have had several questions concerning the layout of this area in particular. The changing rooms are separate from the health club, therefore, you would have to go out by the beauty salon or through the lap pool area. There are separate sauna and steam rooms for ladies and men, but they are not private -- you walk out of them out onto an open deck at the lap pool.

I would definitely recommend this itinerary. The ports are great and to be able to relax in the evening on such a magnificent vessel as the Grand Princess is an added benefit.

CLICK HERE to view lots of PHOTOS of the Grand Princess!

Line

John Mills is a Senior Programmer/Analyst in Gaithersburg, Maryland and has contributed frequently to the SeaLetter. John is a Princess Fan, a true cruiseaholic, and can be reached for questions or comment at: cruiseaholic@hotmail.com.


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