January 14, 2006
We just returned from a 7-day cruise to the Western Caribbean aboard the Grand Princess. We had a great time! This was our fourth cruise, third on Princess, second on the Grand. The ship is in great shape. There were a few spots that show some age, but nothing really distracting from the beauty of the ship.
We arrived in Galveston on Friday night. There were 16 of us in our group, so we had contracted Galveston Limousine to pick us up at IAH airport. We picked up our luggage and walked out the ground transportation doors. We waited less than 5 minutes when the mini-bus pulled up and took us to Galveston. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Seawall. Not the fanciest hotel, but it served the purpose. Saturday morning the hotel provided a free shuttle to the cruise terminal.
Embarkation: We arrived at the cruise terminal at about 11:15 am. They were not boarding yet and there was a line building. I'd guess we were probably about 200-250 people from the front of the line. The metal detectors and screeners opened at about noon, and we were on the ship by 12:15. I've always been pleased with Princess' embarkation and this was no exception. Within 5 minutes the check-in rep had us ready to go with cruise cards in hand.
The boys (15 & 13) were in an inside cabin and we were in a balcony across the hall. I've never stayed in an interior cabin, but I was pleased with the boys' cabin. Seemed to have plenty of space and wasn't laid out much differently than our balcony cabin. We were on the Grand in 2002 so we knew our way around. We walked around and showed the boys the different areas and how to find places. Since we had to book the cabins with me and one son in the inside and my wife and other son in the balcony, we had to make a stop at the pursers desk to get a key for me to access the balcony cabin and my oldest to access the inside cabin. No problems. The purser's desk didn't even ask questions. We sailed away from Galveston on time and Princess had a great sail-away party on the Lido deck.
Our itinerary was supposed to be Costa Maya, Belize, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel. Due to recent problems with the ships electrical/propulsion they dropped Grand Cayman and we went to Playa del Carmen instead. Princess gave each passenger a $75 onboard credit for the inconvenience. As it turned out, going to Playa del Carmen made for longer stays in all the other ports which was great.
We usually do the Anytime Dining on Princess. Since we had a large group of people we booked traditional dining in the Boticelli dining room. Wow! Great service! Our waiter was Dante from Romania and his junior waiter was Yusen from Bulgaria. They were fantastic. We're never going back to Anytime Dining. After the first night, they had everything we wanted ready without us even asking for it. They knew what we drank, how we liked our food, etc. Top notch service from these guys. The food was very good, presentation was great.
All the ports except Costa Maya were tender ports. After reading all the horror stories about tendering on the Grand, I wasn't sure what to expect. Playa del Carmen was pretty hairy when it came to tendering. The seas were not cooperative and a Norwegian Cruise Line ship left Playa del Carmen without stopping. So there were some long lines to tender there as the crew dealt with the conditions. But in the other two tender ports, Cozumel and Belize, we didn't have any problems at all. We stopped and picked up our tender tickets, but didn't even need them. There were no lines and we walked right onto the tender boat each time. We were on the last tender back from Cozumel and the waves started coming up again. Made for an interesting hop back onto the ship, but no problems.
Ports are kind of what you make of them, so I won't go into much detail. In Costa Maya we went to the Chacchoben Mayan ruins. Very nice set of ruins. We really enjoyed that excursion. In Belize we did the snuba diving trip to Rendezvous Cay. The water was not as clear as I'm used to and I didn't think there was much of a reef system to look at. But the kids enjoyed it. It was their first experience under water. In Playa del Carmen we went to Xcaret. It's a very interesting park. Cozumel we did some shopping at Puerta Maya before our excursion to Playa Mia. Playa Mia is a fun beach. They had plenty to do. It was sad to see the condition of Cozumel after hurricane Wilma. We've been there twice before, so we had seen it before the destruction. Cozumel is bouncing back, but it was hurt pretty bad.
The boys signed up for the teen program in case there was an activity they wanted to do. As it turns out, they only did the free video arcade night. The rest of the time they did the regular ship activities with the adults.
The two stage shows were well done. The rest of the entertainment on board was also good. Rollin' Jay Moore was the headliner comedian and he did a great show. We had seen him last year on the Diamond, but he had new material was very funny. The ship's band Onlyne was very good. They were poolside most afternoons, in the Explorer's Lounge in the evening and played for the deck party one night. We really enjoyed them. Neil Chandler is now the CD on Grand. He did a great job. He wasn't trying to be the center of attention all the time like some CD's do.
Disembarkation: I've read a lot of negative about disembarking from the Grand. I must say it went quite well for us. They began self-service embarkation at about 6:45 am (you can leave the ship first, but you have to carry all your own bags). There were 800 people who opted for self service and they were off the ship by 8:00 am. At 8:00 they started calling for disembarkation by color groups. We were in the fourth group called at about 8:50. We were waiting in the Explorer's lounge, walked down one set of stairs to deck 6 and walked right off the ship, no line. Once in the terminal we had to wait a few minutes while the area ahead of us cleared out. We found our bags without any problem and stood in line about 15 minutes waiting for Customs. Galveston Limousine had a mini-bus waiting for us right outside the terminal doors and we were on the road to IAH airport by 9:30 am.
I could keep going on about every little detail of the cruise, but I won't. I will say we had a fantastic vacation. The Grand Princess is still a beautiful ship. The crew and service were always top-notch. Was everything perfect? No, it never is in any organization. But it was excellent! Princess put together another great experience for us.