Before I give my review of the ship, I guess I should tell you about the people I traveled with: I sailed with my fiancee, and a couple we are good friends with, and we are all in our early 20's. My fiancee has been on several other cruises with Norwegian, Celebrity, and Cunard; The other couple had sailed on Princess 2 times before; as for myself, this was only my second cruise. My first was on the Disney Magic, which I surprisingly loved. :)
Itinerary: Western Caribbean; Fort Lauderdale, Princess Cays, Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, Cozumel
Cruise Director: Tim
Dress: Each night was smart-casual, with the exception of the at sea evenings, which were formal. On the smart-casual nights, we saw everything in the dining room from t-shirts to cocktail dresses and suits; on formal nights we saw everything from polo shirts to white tuxes.
Embarkation ----------------------------------- This went very smoothly to our surprise; it was a very quick and well organized process. We used the express check-in and it seemed to really save a lot of time.
Food ------ I should start off by saying that I personally am a vegetarian (no fish, no chicken, no beef), so that probably affects my views on the dining situation. My traveling companions are not vegetarians. For the most part, with the exception of the island night buffet, all 4 of us were very underwhelmed by the Horizon Court buffet. We really felt that most of the buffet food was mediocre at best, with breakfast being the worst. The eggs were strangely rubbery, no omelette station (as previously mentioned), and the hashbrowns were as if someone deep fried a blob of mashed potatoes until all the moisture was gone. I will say, however, that my fiancee raved about the banana bread every single morning. Dinner in the dining rooms was exceptionally better. We had personal choice seating, and no matter what time we ate we never had to wait for a table. I enjoyed most of the appetizers, soups, and salads I sampled, while I felt that the vegetarian entrees were lacking in variety/creativity. Lots and lots and lots of pasta. The meat-eaters in my group had nothing but good things to say about their entrees each evening. The desserts were actually somewhat dissapointing...mostly everything looked good, but tasted bland and boring. The raspberry creme brulee was excellent. We had planned on eating at Sabitini's one evening, and after we had already paid the $20 cover charge per person and been seated, I told the waiter that I do not eat meat...he informed me that "they most likely could not accomodate me". How can an Italian restaurant not have one single vegetarian entree? The maitre 'de came to our table and apologized, and promptly credited our account. As for the service in the dining rooms, maybe it's due to the personal choice seating, but the waiters seemed rather unfriendly most nights and some nights even a little bit snobby. I experienced FAR superior service on the Disney lines. The maitre 'de however was EXCELLENT. He gave us personal attention and always made us feel welcomed. If you want a real treat, request Guido in the Da Vinci dining room to bring you a flaming Sambuca shot. He becomes very enthused with the whole process ;)
Entertainment ------------------- As far as entertainment during the day went, we particicpated in a few of the organized activities such as the trivia challenges and the dicey horse racing. Not many people show up for the trivia, so your chances of winning are very good. Over the course of the cruise we ended up winning a beach bag, a toiletry bag, 3 really nice insulated coffee mugs, 2 key chains, and a ball point pen. The dicey horse racing was a lot of fun even though we lost every single solitary game we played (grr). And if you plan on participating in the horse auction, be prepared to pay in the upwards of $200 for a horse (we did not participate in the auction). In the evening, there was always something for everyone going on in the 3 main theatres/lounges. Every night there was some type of Las Vegas production with lots of dancing and singing and lights etc. We only watched one night, and it was a nice show, just not really our taste. We saw the two comedians aboard the ship, Scott Wyler (not our favorite), & James "the kid" Michael (funny in an...obnoxious kind of way). There was also a comedic juggler aboard who we did not see. My hands down favorite act was the hypnotist ("Alexander") on board. I went to all three of his shows and they were absolutely hysterical. Don't miss this if it is an option on your itinerary. We also participated in some of the passenger game show type events (Jeopardy, Passenger Feud, The Newlywed Game) which were a lot of fun, and more prizes. Oh, and I have to add one thing, about the shopping talk: It's way way way way way way WAY too LONG! The advisor was supposed to cover three ports in his talk, and we left after an hour and a half of listening to him, and he had only covered one port so far! YEESH!
The Ship and Our Cabin -------------------------------- The Grand Princess is a beautiful ship, while I found it just a little bit on the plain side. atrium is very pretty, as are the theatres and the dining rooms. I found the pool areas to be somewhat congested and felt that they could have been larger. I did not like the fact that some portions of the ship (i.e. the Boticelli dining room) could only be reached by taking a certain elevator...and the area where the photographs are sold becomes WAY too congested after shows in the Vista Lounge let out...but other than that the crowd control is pretty efficient, and the elevators work well. The cabin we stayed in was on the Plaza level (5) and it was the cheapest of the cheapest cabins available. We honestly could not have asked for more. The closet had plenty of hangers for our formal outfits, and the steward had no problem bringing us extra hangers. There were plenty of drawers for everything else. The bathroom of course was tiny, but this was to be expected. The service from our room steward, Benjamin, was excellent. He was extremely friendly and efficient. The bed was always made before lunch, and the covers were always turned down by dinner time. We had fresh pool towels every days whether we returned the old ones or not, and we got plenty of fresh bath towels, shampoos, and conditioners daily as well. No complaints about our cabin at all.
The Ports -------------
Princess Cays: Princess Cays is Princess's private island in the Bahamas. It was actually a little chilly the day we stopped at Princess Cays, so we didn't go in the water, though it looked nice and clear. From what I could tell there were all kinds of water toys for rental like kayaks and rafts, and I believe you could rent snorkel gear as well. They had all kinds of beach games (which were kind of silly) and they had a barbecue lunch set up which was kind of minimal and nobody in our party really enjoyed very much.
Grand Cayman: We did not venture out of the ultra-touristy shopping district in Grand Cayman except to go on our excursion, which was AWESOME. We booked outside of the ship with a snorkeling boat called "Soto's Cruises"...it was $19, and the boat took you to 3 different locations; 2 reefs, and of course Stingray City. The fish were very diverse and beatiful, and the guide we went with was great; he chased a huge morray eel out of his rock for us, he pointed out a nurse shark to our group while snorkeling, and he showed us all how to pick up the stingrays. I was reluctant to do this tour at first because I am scared of the water, but I am so glad I did it, because it was such an awesome experience. Plus, to book a similar tour on Princess, they wanted $54 and that tour only stopped at Stingray City. One warning about Camanian money: Remember that it adds up QUICKLY in U.S. dollars. Just two of us ate lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, we ordered two sandwich entrees and one drink, and our bill was $53 USD! Imagine our shock!
Costa Maya: We were so very unimpressed with Costa Maya. We had actually booked an excursion for the Uvero Beach Break (which was basically a bus trip to a near-by "white sands beach" that promised an open bar, water toys, and fun activities) since we had heard that there was nothing to do at the actual port. What a RIP OFF. First of all, the bus driver drove like a complete maniac. We thought we were going to die. Everyone on the bus was screaming as the driver ripped around sharp curves and skidded through stop signs. Then, the beach itself turned out to be basically a trash heap. There was litter everywhere you looked on the shoreline. Most of the lounge chairs were broken and they were all extremely uncomfortable. And the "open bar"? They didn't even have blenders. They could basically make you about 4 different kinds of drinks, all of which tasted watered down and generally, well, bad. There was no toilet paper in the restroom stall I used and the attendant had the nerve to tell me that "it is customary to tip the attendant". I told her that it is customary to stock up the toilet paper! Needless to say, I expressed my displeasure to Princess and I was pleasantly surprised when I got my bill on the last day and saw that they had credited us 50% of the excursion price without us even hinting for such an action to be taken. We felt taken care of in that incident.
Cozumel: We rather enjoyed Cozumel, and we all wished that we would have had more time there. This time we found our excursion outside of the ship again. We went horseback riding at Ranchos Palmitos (apparently there are 2 stables by this name...we went to the one closest to the port). It was $35 for two and a half hour ride through the jungle, where you would supposedly see small caves, a brook, and mayan ruins. Aside from the fact that I felt terrible for the horses, who looked on the malnourished side in my opinion, we really had fun on this excursion. The "caves" were underwhelming...the "brook" was a large puddle, and the mayan ruins, well, they were basically a big pile of rocks...but the ride was FUN and we did see some beautiful butterflies along the way. I would say that this is not an ideal ride for a totally unexperienced rider, because the horses would go into a full throttle GALLOP sometimes without warning and the guide did not seem to see any problem with this. In fact, he was laughing at us when we expressed fear (i.e. when we SCREAMED lol). I will tell you that I am not an experienced rider, and I was SCARED, but it was still fun at the same time. One other thing: the guide spoke no english, so if your Spanish is poor that is something to consider. We did a little bit of shopping downtown because the taxi driver told us that we would find better prices there than by the port- I did not find this to be the case at all. We eventually returned to port and did most of our shopping there. And of course, almost anything you are interested in buying you can get the price down if you haggle a little bit. Especially the jewelry.
Disembarkation --------- Overall this went very smoothly, and while the lines to get out to the terminal became annoyingly long at times, I suppose it was an organized madness. They handled it well.
Overall ---------- I had a wonderful time on the Grand Princess. The ship itself was beautiful and clean. The food was mostly good and definitely plentiful. The Cruise Directors were funny and charismatic and made the cruise very enjoyable. The entertainment was mostly excellent. The ports of call were interesting to say the least. I'm not sure that I prefer Princess over Disney, but it comes close, and would I do it again? In a heartbeat.