Sailing on the Grand Princess
Following are my observations and impressions of my experiences.
We flew out of Chicago O'hare to Ft. Lauderdale the day before our ship sailed from Ft. Lauderdale. We got to the airport 2 hours in advance as advised. Our flight was at 7:45am. The lines for check in inside at United Airlines seemed to move along with no problem. They were not opening anyone's checked luggage so this moved as quickly as normal. The line for the security metal detector was rather long but as we approached the metal detectors the line split to 4 different detectors. They checked our tickets and photo I D and they had us walk through the metal detector. They sent our carry bags through the x-ray and were only opening carry on bags at random. They did use the wand on both my husband and I and oddly enough a woman checked my husband and the man checked me. I didn't like this distraction because I was trying to keep an eye on my bag since my purse was in there. Only after all of this and picking up our carry bags from the belt did we see the National Guard folks standing watch over all of this. So, I guess no one could have taken my bags anyway.
At the gate they checked our tickets and photo ID one more time before we boarded the plane. Our United plane was very full and relatively on time. Our flight home was a full flight too.
In Ft. Lauderdale we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express on 17th St. near the Embassy Suites. The hotel was clean and uneventful. The double rooms have 2 doubles instead of Queens and they were very small beds. The location of this hotel is very close to lots of shops, a grocery store, and nice restaurants and there was an Internet cafe across the street. They offered a complementary shuttle to the pier and this worked out nice because I had made reservations for the shuttle to pier when we checked in. I had read in some of the posts on line to make reservations for the shuttles because they fill up with cruise passengers quickly and then you can't go to the pier when you want and end up paying for a taxi. Good Advise! I hope I can help someone else by mentioning this little hint.
We arrived at the Grand Princess at about 12:00noon. They opened the check-in at about 12:30 and then everything started to move very quickly.
We had three cabins A738, A742, and A732. These turned out to be a great location. They are all the way in the aft on Aloha deck. We were able to go about 10 steps down the hall and out the door to the aft pool area and a few more steps up from there to the horizon buffet. Our balconies were totally private with a full overhang. The ones on Baja are private too. We could see down onto Caribe and Dolphin balconies. Since we had two balconies next to each other we were able to have the door opened between them and could walk back and forth on both balconies. We really enjoyed our balconies and use them quite a bit. We had coffee and breakfast out there most mornings. We also watched the sail out from Ft. Lauderdale and watched the sail in and out from every port. They are also great on sea days to enjoy the sun and a good book.
Our first port was the private island and we had a delightful day. The weather was in the mid 80s and so was the water temperature. After returning from this day we found out that because of hurricane Iris and Jerry the captain had decided to sail to the Eastern Caribbean ports of St. Thomas and St. Maarten instead of Grand Cayman, Costa Maya and Cozumel. We were disappointed for a number of reasons. First, we had 5 certified divers in our group who were really looking forward to diving in these ports. Second, my husband and I sailed on the Grand in April of this year and just went to the eastern ports. But, none of us wanted to sail into bad weather so we made the most of the ports that we were given.
In St. Thomas we went shopping in the morning and the divers managed to put together a last minute dive trip for the afternoon.
In St. Maarten we just went shopping and went to the beach by the pier downtown. The water was little rough but it was warm and sunny.
If anyone needs a good jeweler in St. Thomas be sure to see Rocky at the store called "Royal Caribbean" in the downtown location. The deals and selection in St. Thomas are not to be missed by serious shoppers.
A few words about the ship. This is a very comfortable ship. The cabins on Princess have some great features. The empty fridge is great for storing your own drinks. The cabin safe is free and easy to use. The balcony is the best thing since sliced bread! The bathroom is small but what cabin bathroom isn't? We had the mini-suite last time on the Grand and the bathroom had a bathtub and full vanity….that was nice.
I want to share a great experience that we had sailing out of St. Maarten. We were parked across from the Dawn Princess on the pier. When it was time for the Dawn to sail we went out on our balcony. It was at twilight. We brought our American Flag from home (the big one from the front of the house) We hung it over the balcony to show our American spirit at the sail out. Our family in the balcony next to ours had brought red patriotic (Christmas) lights to hang on their balcony. We put up our display for the sail out and people from the ship across started to yell out "USA" "USA". People were taking pictures and taking video from all over. Then from one of the balconies on the Dawn a group of people started singing "God Bless America"! Well, before we knew it people from the balconies and topside of both ships were ALL singing along. It was amazing! Then they all clapped at the end. As the Dawn continued to back up the front end of their ship was able to see the display (since we were all the way in the aft of our ship). Then the singing started all over again. Believe it or not this actually went on again for a second round of "God Bless America!" I will never forget this. When my husband came in the cabin I told him what had happened and he asked if I got it on video. I was so caught up in the moment that I didn't even think of it. If any one out there was a part of this and got it on video please email me, as he would love to see the tape!
Overall, we really had a good time. We had traditional second seating at 8:30pm each night. Our waiters were excellent and this made dinners very enjoyable. My husband tested another tidbit that I read in an online review and asked if he could get a shrimp cocktail each night. No Problem! Some nights he had two! We also had the best cafe ole, and hot chocolate with desert each night!
A word about the unlimited soda card. We thought this was a very good deal and very convenient. Since they put a sticker on your cruise card on the first day when you buy it, it was really nice to just flash it for a soda and not have to sign the receipt for each soda. It is only good for fountain drinks. The only place this is a problem is room service or some spots on the private island that only have cans. The sticker for a 7-day cruise is $17.50 per person. Otherwise soda is $1.75. The buffet only offers ice tea and coffee. No punch or lemonade for free.
We went to the karaoke a few times and listened to some of the piano music. We are not much for the shows so I can't say one way or the other since we never went to the main show lounge. They also showed movies in the Vista Lounge on certain nights.
Casino: I like to play roulette and won a few dollars here. I quit while I was ahead and never went back.
The pools: We had a good time with the pools. Since the waters were about 4 to 8 foot waves…the pools were like being in a wave pool. This was a blast!
The Spa and Gym: They look nice…we never used either!
The Disco: The Skywalkers Disco is located in the "Spoiler" of this ship. It doesn't get going till pretty late but shouldn't be missed at least once.
The Tropical night party: Be sure to bring your craziest Hawaiian or Tropical shirt or dress for this after dinner deck party. It is a lot of fun and a great photo op with the streamers and confetti.
Debarkation: ALL passengers now have to go to immigration on the last day of the cruise. This creates LONG lines. Get there early and bring a big dose of patience. We cleared the ship to BEGIN getting off around 9:45am so forget any flights before 12:00noon from Ft. Lauderdale. The lines in FLL airport were pretty long for check in and for all the security there too. Try to be patient it is all you can do.
I think I have just about covered it all. If you have any further questions please e-mail me.