This is a review of our 9/1/02 trip on the Grand Princess to the Eastern Caribbean. Just a little background: I am in my mid 40's, my husband in his mid 50's. He is a assembler for a defense contractor; I am an administrative assistant for a state university here in New Jersey. Our past travels include several trips to Disney World and local stays throughout the Eastern Seaboard. This review shares our views and opinions.
We booked this trip way back in January of 2002. Hubby has wanted to cruise since our first anniversary, but we never had the opportunity. We decided, however, to plan the trip for our 25th wedding anniversary. We spoke with several people we knew who had cruised for their opinions and ultimately, used the Cruise Critic website to help us decide that Princess was the way to go.
We departed Newark Airport at 9:45 am on Sunday, September 1 and arrived in Ft. Lauderdale at 12:15 pm. We had chosen to use Princess's shuttle service to the ship and one of our biggest concerns was how were we going to find the Princess representatives in the airport. Well, not to worry.As we descended the escalator to baggage claim, there they were.several representatives holding up large signs reading, "Grand Princess." We were directed to retrieve our luggage from the carousel and then bring it to an area directly adjacent to the escalators. One of the representatives met us there and collected our shuttle vouchers. We waited for several others and were then escorted out of the terminal for a short walk to the shuttle bus. Others were already waiting and we discovered that the representatives take small groups at a time out to the bus instead of waiting for huge groups inside the airport. We were happy to see that the bus was an air conditioned coach bus, and after leaving our luggage outside the bus, we boarded to await a few more passengers. After a short delay of about 15 minutes.it seems there was more luggage than room on the bus and we had to wait for another bus to transport for the rest of the baggage.we departed for the short (10 minute) ride to the ship. We arrived at the Port Everglades terminal at approximately 1:15 pm.
We were dumbfounded when we saw the ship. We knew it was big, but WOW!!!!! The shuttle bus dropped us right at the terminal entrance and before we knew it we were in the terminal. We showed a representative our Express Check-In sticker and were directed to the express check-in line for Caribe deck. The woman there greeted us with us smile, took our tickets, handed us our cruise cards, directed us to security and then we were on the ship and opening the door to our stateroom. All within 15 minutes!!! Amazing!!!
We headed straight for the Horizon Buffet for lunch. It sure tasted good!! Then we wandered the ship and began to familiarize ourselves with the different decks, pools and areas.
We had made arrangements to meet many of our Cruise Critic board buddies at 5:00 pm in the Oasis Bar. We were thrilled that so many of them showed up. Several of the younger couples immediately bonded while those of us middle aged and older formed our own friendships right away. It was great to experience sail away with people we had been corresponding with for the past six months!
Our luggage showed up piece by piece at our door and was all there by 6:00 pm. We had previously packed our clothes for dinner that evening in our carrions; however, in case the luggage didn't arrive in time for dinner. We met our room steward, Gil, and requested robes for both of us and wine glasses. It didn't take long for them to be delivered.
We chose personal dining and were not disappointed. It was great to have the flexibility to dine whenever we wanted. Four of the couples we met began the cruise with late traditional dining and three changed to personal choice.
We chose to eat dinner by ourselves the first night and had a short 5 minute wait for a table at 8:00 that evening. We ordered prime rib and it was perfect. I don't know about those people who have said in previous reviews that Princess doesn't know how to cook beef, that it is always overcooked. Our's was exactly as ordered - medium rare. It was juicy, tasty & excellent.
We went to the opening show in the Princess Theater which featured a musical number for the Grand Princess singers & dancers, an intro to the cruise crew and a comedian, Scott Wyler, who started slow but had us laughing out loud by the time he was done.
Monday - Our first full day at sea. The evening before we had filled out a request for room service breakfast between 7:30 & 8:00, wanting to eat breakfast on the balcony. I was happy with the continental breakfast offered on the hang tag and chose several items. Hubby, however, wanted eggs, so I figured, let's try it. On the bottom of the hang tag I wrote in: "2 eggs, bacon, hash browns & toast". At approximately 7:50, the room service waiter knocked on the door & brought in not only my requested continental breakfast but TWO orders of eggs (scrambled), bacon and hash browns. (No toast, however.) What a fantastic way to start your day!!!! by the way, the coffee from room service was pretty good.
We spent time checking out the ship.Voyage of Discovery Game Room, the Casino, wandering Promenade Deck. At 11:30 we went to Calypso pool to learn to snorkel and wound up spending the rest of the day there. While we tried both adult pools throughout the cruise, we gravitated to the Calypso pool each time we went swimming. We just liked this pool better. Hubby spent time in the casino in the afternoon where they offered free lessons for the table games. Since he had never played Caribbean poker, he was anxious to learn. Unfortunately, I guess they never taught him all the inside tricks, because he lost!!!
This was the first formal night and also the evening we were scheduled to renew our vows. We chose the basic Renewal of Vows package which included a bottle of champagne, a bouquet for myself & a boutonnière for hubby, a framed formal picture and the vow renewal ceremony. While short, the ceremony was touching and beautiful. The chapel is attractively decorated and the ceremony was conducted by the Staff Captain (who is second in command). One of the crew members was happy to take over our video camera and taped the entire ceremony for us to share with our family back home.
Formal pictures were being taken that evening by the ship's photographers. One hint which we found invaluable was that different backgrounds are available in different areas/levels of the atrium. Make sure that you visit at least three of them; you have a better chance of getting pictures that you are happy with. One other tip.as you find your pictures the next day on deck 7 where they are displayed, pull them and ask the photography people to start a file for you. They will put your pictures in an envelope and you can keep adding to it. This way all of your pictures are in the same place and it is easier, on Saturday, to chose the best ones.
We ate late that evening with two other couples. The food again was great. Good appetizers, soup, entrees & dessert. Ahhh, the desserts..who said Princess doesn't know how to make desserts.they were great!!! It was late by the time we finished dinner and decided to just spend some time in the Wheelhouse Lounge just dancing and listening to some music. It was relaxing and great to spend time getting to know our new friends.
Tuesday - second day at sea. We again ordered breakfast on the balcony and it was delivered promptly and exactly as ordered. Today we did some more exploring and found the Princess links. It's tucked away upstairs between the Calypso & Neptune pools. It's just a small 9 hole putting course, but we had fun!! We visited the Vista Lounge and tried the horseracing. We had lots of fun & even won $4! The afternoon was spent by the pool, just relaxing and laying in the sun.
This was a smart casual night and the dress ranges from almost formal to barely casual. Believe me, short of wearing a t-shirt & shorts, you can wear almost anything to dinner on these evenings and not feel out of place. This was French Night and the escargot was excellent. I even got adventurous and beside ordering the pork loin as my entrée, told the waiter I would love to try the frog legs, since I would probably never get the chance again. He happily brought out a full entrée for me to try them. And they were good..not quite like chicken.I thought more like mussels, but that may have been because of the sauce. After dinner we went to see the hypnotist, Alexander. He was phenomenal. We had a great time.
Wednesday - St. Thomas. What a great day!!! We chose to do the Champagne Catamaran to St. John as our excursion which we booked through Princess. This was a fantastic experience. There were 28 of us on the catamaran - Heavenly Day out of the Bolongo Bay Beach Resort. We departed at 9:30 am and after a short safety talk, we found our spots out in the sun on the front of the catamaran and enjoyed the ride. The captain and crew were great and when they say that drinks (both alcoholic and non) are available, they are not kidding. The rum punch/soda/champagne/wine starting flowing by 10:00 am and never stopped. We arrived at Honeymoon Beach at 11:00. What beauty!!! The aqua of the water contrasting with the white sand beaches and the deep green of the palm trees was breathtaking!! The boat pulled within 10 feet of the shore, we were given snorkeling equipment and off we went. It was a great place to snorkel, clear & warm. We were also given a great lunch while there (roast beef, turkey, tuna sandwiches, potato salad, pasta salad, chips, pretzels) We stayed at the beach for over 2 ½ hours. On the way back to St. Thomas, we were served more beverages and dessert. This excursion was definitely worth every penny! After docking, we still had about 1 ½ hours to do some shopping in the mall area at the dock.
This was the only night we didn't eat in the dining room. We were so exhausted from the excursion that we didn't feel like dressing up and ate in the Horizon Buffet. It was Italian Night and much of the food that was offered in the dining room was also available in the buffet. Again, we were pleased with the quality. We met our friends later in the evening in the hot tub on Oasis bar for a relaxing soak and glass of wine.
Thursday - St. Maarten. Another beautiful day!!! We had an early excursion on the America's Cup Regatta. What an experience!!! We were chosen for the crew of the US Stars & Stripes and raced Canada II. Hubby took an active role and I was a cheerleader - RAH, RAH!!! It was exhilarating! And while we didn't win.we lost by 6 feet..we had a great time.
We spend the rest of the day on the island at Everythin' Cool. We took the ship's excursion for this and realize now that it wasn't necessary. Transportation is not included in the excursion so you still have to pay for a taxi or the water taxi to get there & back to the ship. It's easy enough to get to and you don't get anything more for your money taking the excursion than you would pay yourself. Lunch was OK; the drinks were good. If you want a pair of chairs & an umbrella it will cost you another $10. Beware of the locals selling their wares - they are everywhere. The second you sit down on your beach lounger, they accost you and don't want to hear no. We spent most of time in the water to avoid them. (This certainly wasn't a hardship!!) We did only souvenir shopping here also. We're not into jewelry or linens. Again, walking along Front Street we were harassed by shop merchants and taxi drivers. Next time I think we would definitely head to Orient Beach or a tour of the island.
Tonight was Island Night and we had a great time playing games, dancing and listening to music on the back three decks of the ships. We had lots of laughs as they crowned Mr. Grand Princess!!!!
Friday - Last day at sea. Today was the first day the sun wasn't out. We awoke to cloudy and cooler weather and after the all the days of sun & heat, we welcomed the reprieve. We spent time exploring new areas of the ship. We went to the cooking demonstration and then took the galley tour. Don't miss it!!! We took a juggling class and when the sun broke through a bit, spent time at the pool and relaxing on deck. What is it about the ship that makes it so easy to fall asleep??? We couldn't lay on the deck chairs for more than ½ hour without falling asleep!!! What a life!!
This was the second formal night and portraits were again being taken by the photographers. After dinner we went to the Lights, Camera, Action production show. It was OK. Just as others have reported, it just doesn't run smooth. Unless you read the Patter, you would have no idea as to the premise behind this. The dancers were mediocre & I always felt like the singers were lip syncing instead of singing themselves. They also had the champagne waterfall at 11:45. If you want to see it, get there early. People are lined up at the banisters around the atrium, five or six deep.
Saturday - Princess Cays. This was a great way to end the cruise! You have to tender to the island and Princess certainly knows how to move lots of people. This was organized and effortless. We just reported to the Explorer's Lounge, picked up a ticket with a number & waiting for our number to be called. They call 100 people at a time and we waited only 15 minutes. Before we knew it, we were on the island. We went to the right - to the quieter side. Yes, it's somewhat rocky, both on the beach & in the water, so it is a good idea to bring some type of water shoes. We truly enjoyed the island, though. There are various locals selling their wares behind Princess's store and we got some great bargains!!! We didn't snorkel there but others said there were many fish to be seen.
We spent a better part of the evening packing our luggage and feeling sad that this magnificent cruise was just about over. After another great dinner, we spent time with friends just sharing memories and listening to some good and not so good (karaoke) music.
Sunday - Back in Fort Lauderdale. Tears all around for the end of our cruise. In true Princess fashion, they easily moved all 3,000 people effortlessly off the ship. They started disembarking at 8:15 and we were off the ship by 9:15, through immigration & customs, found our luggage and were on the shuttle bus by 9:30!!! We had a 12:00 pm flight out and were in the airport by 9:50. One more hint.make your luggage distinctive. We had purchased some fluorescent pink duct tape & placed a few pieces on the corners of our luggage. It allowed us to easily spot our own bags in the sea of luggage in the terminal.
Since this was our first cruise, we did not have anything to compare it to. However, after speaking with many others on the ship, the consensus seemed to be that Princess certainly knows how to treat their passengers and offers a great value for the money. Sure there were the normal complaints about having to pay for ice cream, or being nickeled and dimed but overall, the comments were favorable. We found smiling, welcoming faces on all the crew. No matter who you met in the hallways or the public rooms, everyone said hello and wished us a good day. We even spoke with the Captain at least four different times throughout the ship.
Overall, the food was good. Some things were better than others, but that could be said in any good restaurant. The service in the dining rooms was mediocre; we found only one server & assistant, Kayla & Victor, in the Michaelangelo Dining Room, whom we really liked. The entertainment was good - the hypnotist & comic juggler were the best that we saw. The musicians in the lounges play a different types of music.you can usually find whatever you desire.
The cabin was adequate. Seemed small at first, but we easily got used to it and intimate may be a more appropriate description. The larger balcony on Caribe was great. It took a little getting used to the fact that others could look down on us & we could look down on those on Dolphin deck, but after the first few days, we forgot all about it.
We fell in love with cruising and with Princess. While we would be curious to sail with other lines to compare services and activities, we will definitely sail with Princess again. Time to start looking to the next one!!!