GRAND PRINCESS - even better the second time around.
We'll get the ‘negatives' out of the way with first:
- The cruise was far too short.
- They are doing away with the Limelight Studio.
- They're no longer going to be selling liquor in the shops for cabin consumption. And finally,
- The doctor aboard ship does not perform liposuction.
This is one humungus ship. A lot of people might not like it because of its size, but don't be put off by this because she "feels" a lot smaller; except for the amount of walking you have to do, which is a lot. The GRAND PRINCESS is a beauty from bow to stern, and she is very "user friendly." The itinerary is just right for this ship - St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and Princess Cays, with 3 days at sea. This was one of the most relaxing cruises my wife and I have taken and we spent 95% of our time aboard ship, and still found we didn't have time to do all there was to do. If anyone wants a laid back cruise, this is it. And first time cruisers will enjoy it because of its blend of ports (probably the two most popular) and days at sea.
There are a number of unique things on this ship, as there are on each new ship that comes out. One interesting spot is the ‘Voyage Of Discovery' room (for young and old) which has virtual reality based games and rides for just about everything imaginable from simulation rides (we did the interior of a volcano and a magic carpet ride), jet fighters, snow and water skiing, to motorcycle racing and hanggliding, just to mention a few. This room cost $$, but you can purchase a $20 pass and make it stretch for the 7 days. I think this room was designed for younger people, but every time we went, older people (like us) were in the majority. You don't realize how long you've been away from playing with these things; I found out I was terrible, but I had fun being bad. Golfers might like to try the ‘Princess Links,' another virtual reality spot where you pick one of a dozen famous golf courses to play. There is also a nicely designed 9 hole mini-golf course for the not-so-serious golfer.
For the little tykes, there are indoor and outdoor play areas that look like something you'd see on a kids TV show. They also have planned, supervised activities. For the older ones, there's a place called the ‘Teen Deck' (adults not allowed). And for the older, older ones, there's the casino, supposingly the largest one afloat. When you do go to the casino, pay particular attention to the holograms of underwater sealife. For the late crowd, there's the ‘Skywalker Night Club,' high atop the stern, gotten to by a skywalk that "moves" you up to the club. Sorry, you have to walk back down, but by this time you're used to walking a lot. We enjoyed this area early morning with a cup of coffee and watched sunrises.
Other gimmicks of note are the music chairs in the atrium - earplugs, controls, keypads - lots of gismos. These are similar to the reading chairs in the library for listing to books on tape. On your journey exploring the ship, poke your head into the ‘Wedding Chapel.' They average 1-2 weddings per day on our cruise. Of the 4 pools on the GRAND PRINCESS, one is called the ‘Lap Pool,' or ‘swimming against the current' pool.
Following are some general observation about this ship:
CABIN: Ours was a very nice outside cabin with a balcony. The use of wood, mirrors, fabrics and soft colors give it a homey feeling or look. Using every nook and cranny, there is just enough storage space for a 7 night cruise. There's also some wasted space under the TV, between the TV and refrigerator, which could accommodate a good size shelf or small cabinets. The Sony TV's have front cable plug-ins to make it easy to view videos you tape and/or pictures taken from a digital camera. Don't pack a hair dryer, it's provided, and the beds are just high enough off the floor to slide your luggage (soft sided) underneath. Standard inside and outside cabins aboard Princess ships are not spacious, until you get into a mini-suite, or better, category. But if you pack (and unpack) right, you will have ample room.
Our balcony was GREAT!! - again, second time around. We spent a lot of time on it and it was one of the larger ones we've had. The balconies on the Aloha and Baja decks have 4 chairs and a 30"X 30" table and were totally private. The balconies on Dolphin deck were the same as Aloha and Baja, but had absolutely no privacy. Our balcony, on Caribe deck, was twice the size as the others, offered 50% privacy. We lived out here. For all you sun worshipers, choose the starboard side, shade lovers, port side - at least on this itinerary.
AROUND AND ABOUT: Not being a connoisseur of fine art, I really enjoyed the artwork and sculptures aboard ship. I could actually look at and see a painted picture and/or a figure in the later. All the lounges, bars and common areas were attractive and uncrowded. Public restrooms (at least 13 each for men and women, by my count) are spaced conveniently throughout, as are the elevators and stairways. The stores (boutiques) are nice and stock the usual variety of items found on all ships. The ship had a nice blend of brass, wood and soft colors. The only place that might be considered a little glitzy is in the Skywalker Night Club, on deck 17, but only at night.
DINING: Uppermost in everyone's mind, even with all the walking you have to do on this ship, is food. The dinner meals we had in the dining room were probably the best we've had in many cruises, probably even better than the last GP cruise. There are three main dining rooms; ‘Da Vinci' and' Michelangelo,' which are almost identical and easy to get to, and Botticelli Dining Room,' a little different and not as easy to get to. All are sectioned off to give a more intimate feeling, which it does. We didn't do the alternative restaurants this time around, but the ‘Painted Desert,' a southwestern style restaurant, is still charging $3.50 per person. The Italian restaurant, ‘Sabatini's Trattoria,' is now charging $15 per person. The pizza slices at ‘Poseidon's Pizzeria' and hamburgers at the ‘Trident Grill' were excellent. Didn't try the ‘Ice Cream Bar' (also a charge for ice cream). The buffets in the ‘Horizon Court' were also excellent - we had all of our breakfasts and most of our lunches here. The selections were numerous and the taste outstanding. Just a sampling of what was offered for breakfast: eggs were prepared 3 different ways, a choice of cereals (hot and cold) and yogurts, fresh fruit, sliced melons, fruit salad, pastries, pancakes, 3-4 meats, bagels, breads, french toast, different styles of potatoes, rolls, muffins, 3-4 juice selections, coffee, tea, milk and 20-30 other items I passed up or didn't try; some of which I don't know why they're on the buffet, but it's there. The lunch buffet had even a larger selection and items varied from day to day. I'm not a gourmet, but these 2 buffets offered very tasty food; one is bound to find something to their liking because there's a lot to choose from. Others who've reviewed the GRAND PRINCESS complained about lines; there weren't any to speak of in this dining room.
ENTERTAINMENT: Since this was a repeat cruise, we didn't do any of the shows this time, and spent our evenings in the casino and on the balcony. For anyone who hasn't done a Princess cruise, their standard shows, "Glamour," "London Pub Night," "Variety Showtime" with the Chinese acrobats, "Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance," "Pirates," and "New York, New York," are must sees. There has been only one cruise director who has stood out in my mind in the number of cruises we've done - Greg Maxwell, currently on the GRANDEUR OF THE SEAS. As I mentioned, we didn't do any of the shows, but if Tim Donovan, is still on the GRAND, he rates right up there at the top. The man really enjoys what he's doing, seems to be everywhere, is a bundle of energy, is funny and talented. We only did shows in the ‘Princess Theater' and the ‘Vista Lounge,' on our first GP cruise, but there's other entertainment going on in the ‘Explorers Lounge' as well 5 other lounges and bars.
POOLS: There are 4 to choose from (5 if you count the kiddy pool). The main pool, obviously, is the most crowded, with a mix of people in all age groups. This seems to be where the children congregate. The Calypso Pool, which is in a more enclosed area attracted an older crowd, but with a few children. The ‘swim against the current' pool, adjacent to the Plantation Spa, is for people 17 yrs old +, and 2 hours (I think noon to 2PM) where children are allowed, ACCOMPANIED BY AN ADULT. The Aft pool, my favorite, is strictly for adults only. by my count, there are 8 jacuzzis/spas and none were crowded when we used them or walked by.
ITINERARY: This was a most relaxing cruise, a nice blend of days at sea, 2 ports, and a beach day. We didn't do much in St. Thomas; spent the morning at Sapphire Beach ($5.50 pp taxi fare each way), and a little shopping at Havensight Mall. We didn't go into town because we knew ahead of time that there were going to be 5-8 other ships in port that day. In St. Maarten did some serious shopping (did a very interesting tour last time). There are still deals to be had on these islands, but one has to do their homework and know their prices are back home. Princess Cays has really been developed and upgraded since we were there last. They've added more beach area, expanded the BBQ pavilion, user-friendly walkways and a nice combination of sunny and shady areas. Also, they've doubled the beach area to the right of the tender area, as well as newly constructed pavilions and other buildings. It's a work in progress. The rest of the time was spent aboard ship, swimming, sunning, enjoying the balcony, shopping in the boutiques, eating, gambling, and of course, walking. Princess Cruises does a real nice job of providing their passengers with a booklet with extensive details about their shore excursions. This usually arrives with the cruise docs, prior to sailing. And it seems as though they're adding more tours because people want more and a variety of options.
My wife and I loved the GRAND PRINCESS: Part II. This is a totally relaxing cruise which is what we look for in a cruise. Although others may find it too large and complain about the hikes from one end of the ship to the other, we enjoyed that. It's a beautiful ship, and every aspect of her was a pleasure, from our cabin, our balcony, the food, casino, our tablemates, total relaxation, the motion (little), the super-friendly and efficient staff and crew, sights and sounds...... and yes, even the walking. Would we do it again? You bet, but "Part III" may have to wait a bit; there are a few things on our plate before then; already have the next two cruises planned and deposits are in!