by Susan Hofer
January 28, 2012
GRAND PRINCESS EASTERN CARIBBEAN CRUISE
This was my third Princess and my tenth cruise overall. For my friend Jan, it was her first ever cruise and she couldn't have been more impressed. We left the hubbies home for a girls' week of fun. Stayed at the Embassy Suites 1 day pre-cruise which was an excellent choice. We had booked Princess transfers and the move from the airport to the hotel was seamless. Our room wasn't ready so we left our bags with the bell desk and set off in search of lunch since breakfast had been at the airport around 6:30 AM. Jan had some recommendations from a co-worker who had lived in Ft. Lauderdale so we chose Anthony's oven-fired pizza. Not knowing where it was, we took the shuttle for $3/pp. It turned out not to be very far from the hotel.
We decided on sharing a large salad and ordered a personal pizza each. It was way too much for us to finish so we took the leftovers with us. The shuttle driver had given us his card so we could call for a pickup but he was stuck in a traffic jam on RT 75. Looking at the street signs, I figured out that we were only a few blocks from 17th Street so we walked back to the hotel w/o any problems. There was a CVS pharmacy right on the corner which was great since I had forgotten a few personal items.
Back at the hotel, our room was ready so we were happy to sit down in the air-conditioning and put our feet up for a few minutes. I don't know what it was, but we both were complaining of swollen feet which made walking around rather uncomfortable. After a brief rest, we took off in search of the Total Wine shop. Everyone said it was right behind the hotel but what they don't say is that there is quite a nice strip mall there and the wine store was in the far left corner. I even had some coupons to use. Purchasing one bottle apiece seemed to be the limit of our alcohol consumption.
Proceeding to the Dollar Store which is kitty-corner from the front of the hotel in another strip mall, we got gift bags for our Meet and Greet gift exchange. At this point, it was getting dark and we were getting tired. I was cranky because my feet hurt so we headed back to the hotel for the free evening cocktail hour. One drink each seemed to satisfy our thirst and made us very relaxed. Still full from the pizza, we opted out of dinner and headed back to our room for a shower and bed.
Setting the wake up call for 8 AM, we were up early and started getting cleaned up for breakfast. Our breakfast was great with made to order omelets and other things. The letter from the cruise line told us to have our bags outside our rooms by 10 AM and be in the lobby at noon for check in with the Princess reps. They were late so everyone was milling around getting antsy to leave. General chaos reigned as everyone tried to get their health forms and to identify their luggage for transport. This was the only problem with using the Princess transfers. Once the buses arrived and everyone had their luggage loaded, it was much better. Dropped us at the correct pier where we took our carry-ons through Security and checked in to receive our room keycards. We stopped for the boarding photo and then went up the correct ramp according to our cabin number. Found our room without any problem and dropped our stuff.
Our cabin attendant was Savone from VietNam and he got everything we asked for; robes, top sheets, extra hangers, 2 tote bags. He was quick with cleaning the room when we were at breakfast and did a superb job.
We were in Caribe 308. The room looked identical to the one I had previously on the Grand in 2008. I was disappointed in the balcony. Although it was quite spacious, there was no rubber matting and the 2 chairs were recliners but no foot stools so they were actually not very comfortable. The reason that was given to other cruisers for the lack of matting was weight which is ridiculous when you realize the ship lost 4 Tons with the removal of Skywalkers. What was 113,000 RT in 2008, is now 109,000 RT. The probable reason is cost cutting.
Jan wanted to do the "Treasure Hunt" card we were given upon boarding. It required you to find different departments on the ship and receive a stamp for each one. We dropped the cards into a box by the pool for a drawing. The nice thing about it was it makes you become familiar with the ship. Jan was totally blown away by the beauty and size of the Grand. She kept saying she felt she was in the first class section of the Titanic! This was the only frame of reference that she had to cruising. We ran up to the Sanctuary to reserve some space for a sea day only to be told we had to be there @ 8 AM on the day desired. International Cafe won our lunch choice for shrimp and chicken salad.
While eating we heard the first announcement for the muster drill telling us to bring our life jackets with us. When we got to our room, the luggage was there so we dragged it in and got ready for the muster drill. With the Costa Concordia disaster so fresh in everyone's minds, I have to say this was the most attentive muster drill I have ever attended. Next up was the sail away by the pool with the band and lots of fun and excitement. Our names were not drawn for the Treasure Hunt but it was fun anyway. Got our specialty drinks and watched the ship leave the pier.
Back to the room to unpack and clean up for dinner. We had Anytime Dining and this was the first time I had tried it. I think it worked very well and I would do it again. First night at 7:00 was very busy but we got a pager and only had to wait 20 minutes. We agreed to share a table at every dinner and met lots of very nice people. I was wondering how Jan would like the menus as she is a picky eater. Princess now has "Down-home" entrees on the menu and Jan ate them at least 3 times.
There was quite a range of ages onboard from a 6 month old baby on up. It was nice because the late night activities were well attended. The Princess Pop Star competition was quite good and we really enjoyed attending it. Some very talented people were there. We went to the casino and I started out with a bang by winning almost $200. Jan won $30 on the slots.
Sunday was a sea day and One5 was the location for our CC meeting. The Meet and Greet was a big success. We met the Captain, Purser, Maitre'd, Executive Chef and Trent, Customer Relations. ( A real cutie!) Jan and I got our pictures taken with Captain Bilton who was so nice and accommodating. We met lots of nice people and loved crossing paths with them all during the trip. Tried the pool that day but it was rather windy and had some sprinkles. Of course we went to Bingo at least 5 times and never did win but we had fun anyway. Our first formal night we had to wait a short time with the pager but sat in the Piazza and watched the fashion show. Turned out we got a table for 2! Lots of jokes about our "romantic" dinner. Saw the comedian show and it was ok. Lots of people were walking out. Back to the casino and I won big again. Jan hit the slots for $65.
Monday was a partial sea/tour day. We arrived in San Juan @ 4 PM and we had planned a tour. Jan had never been to any of these places so we did a tour at each stop. In SJ, we went to San Cristobal fort for a self-guided tour and then a short stop in Old SJ for shopping. Jan loves to shop so she was in hog heaven in every port. Back to the ship for dinner and see a show but don't remember which one. We were too pooped to stay up too late and the casino did not open until 11 PM. Saw the first part of Princess Pop Star and thought it was very entertaining.
Tuesday was St. Maarten and this was the best tour we took. Booked the Orient Beach stop with lunch which was very good and 2 drinks. The beach was very nice and the water had big waves which I love!. I was sorry I didn't have a boogie board to ride them. We come from Chicago where not only is our land flat but so is our water. Lake Michigan is not known for it's surf. LOL! Going back to the ship we could have gotten off the bus to go shopping but we had done some with the local vendors and were anxious to get the sand out of our bathing suits. Another nice dinner and back to the casino again. This time Jan won $300 on the slots and I didn't know when to quit when I had doubled my money and had a loss.
Wednesday was St. Thomas and we thought we were being so good to get up at 6:30 to we could eat breakfast before going on our tour to Magen's Bay. Thinking we had lots of time, we decided to go to the dining room for breakfast and as usual, were chatting away with our table mates while eating our meal. Excused ourselves to go back to the room and get our suits on for the tour. Looking at my watch, I was shocked to see it was 8:39 as our tour left at 8:20! We threw on our suits and ran off the ship to see no one waiting for us. Jan was for grabbing a cab to Magen's Bay and catching up with the tour. At this point, it started raining and I was not too keen on that idea. Back to the Shore Excursion desk where they were so kind to book us on another tour leaving in an hour.
Changed out of our suits and were on time for this tour which took us around part of the island and to Blackbeard's castle and it's 99 steps down to street level. From there we hit street level and all the shops in downtown Charlotte Amalie. Our best stop was Mr. Tablecloth where we both scored great Christmas linens. Jan really wanted to go to the flea market to score some deals and I was ok for a while but, still suffering with swollen feet I headed back to the ship by taxi. I sat on the balcony and finally opened up my bottle of wine. Jan came back just long enough to get more cash and run back to the shops on the pier to make one more purchase. We stood on our balcony and watched the Eurodam back out first while we waited our turn. Hearing some cries of "wait, wait, don't leave without us" directed our attention to the entrance to the pier to see several young women running to our ship. I heard someone on a balcony above us saying she heard the ship was missing 6 passengers. The "missing" made it to the gangplank where they boarded and were duly checked in. Back to the casino where Jan won another $300 and I was chasing my money. Saw the Motor City show and liked it but everyone who saw the Magician said he was fabulous. Sorry we missed him. Stayed up late to watch a movie in the Vista lounge; "The Debt" which neither of us had seen before.
Thursday was our last sea day and I ran upstairs at 8 AM to reserve our spot in the Sanctuary from 1-5 PM. Jan got her lounger in the sun but I am definitely a shade girl and I had trouble finding and keeping a spot. Most of the loungers are set up for 2 together so the odd single person is hard to accommodate. Everyone talked about how great the service was up there but honestly, no one came around with water spritzers, I-pods or menus. I asked for a menu and finally got one. Jan and I both ordered something and waited quite a while for it to arrive. Turns out one of the waiters dropped a whole tray full of lunches and they had to re-make everything. I wanted the tuna pate with pita bread but the "tuna" was not what I received. Vlade from Macedonia was knocking himself out to please us. I mentioned the food error and he went to get us 2 additional entrees as well as to replace my mistaken order. We ended up with 3 lunches!
We went to the Captain's Circle cocktail party in the Vista lounge that I was invited to as a repeat cruiser and got a free drink and snacks. I have learned not to accept the drinks the bar staff is pushing at these things and wait for someone to ask me what I want. The Captain was very welcoming and mentioned that there were so many repeaters so they had 3 of these meetings scheduled. Off to our last formal night and sat with one couple from Texas and 2 couples from Canada. There were 7 lobster dinners and 1 short ribs. (guess who?) I was very disappointed in this meal as I think they feel that the lobster is the star of the plate. It was served with white rice and carrots. This is an elegant dinner? I thought the presentation was not that great. There was a sorbet for the Chef's Special night which I passed on as I am diabetic and thought it would be too sweet. No one at the table liked the combination of flavors, especially with a sprig of thyme in it.
Back to the casino where they finally got us good and we left with our tails between our legs. Saw the show British Invasion and it was not bad but the usual cruise ship show.
Friday was our Princess Cays day and we had rented a bungalow. Unfortunately or not, we slept in and had a late breakfast. Our priority tender tickets were a moot point since almost everyone who wanted to be off the ship was already there. Jan had popped for the Gourmet Lunch which they wanted to serve us immediately. We prevailed upon them to wait a little time. The appetizer alone was enough for a meal. They brought 8 dinner rolls for the 2 of us! Vlade was our server at the bungalow also and brought us plates loaded with everything on the buffet table. There was enough food for 4 people. We had a table with 4 small chairs in the bungalow and 4 loungers outside it. I was never a big fan of the beach there and even though we both had surf shoes we did not really venture too far into the water because of all the rocks. After Orient Beach, this is actually a come-down. Princess really has a huge facility there with 3 different buffet areas, very nice clean bathrooms and some vendors. Jan wanted to do her last bit of shopping so we ventured outside the gates to the small area of vendors there. It was the usual tourist stuff but Jan found some jewelry for her granddaughter. I was all shopped out by that time. The line for the tenders was long but moved fast. It was good to get back on the ship.
Being the last night for our cruise, it was a bittersweet ending. We went for anytime dinner and ended up at a table for 4 which we shared with one of the couples from our first night! We decided to head back to the cabin just to get everything packed so we could enjoy the last evening. Back to the casino for one last chance and joined all the other losers. One of the nice things about playing the table games, you get to know several people because you all are there together every evening. We crashed for the last time and set a wake up time for 7 AM.
Our last breakfast was in the buffet and we shared that with one of the couples from our formal night dinner. Jan had just discovered the chocolate croissants and grabbed one for the wait in the airport. Our disembarkation group met in Explorers lounge and we were only there for about 15 minutes before we were called to disembark. Found our luggage, went through customs and headed for the bus to the airport. While we were sitting waiting for our flight we heard people talking about an outbreak of illness on other ships. So glad it wasn't on the Grand!
Hubby picked us up at Midway Airport and our vacation was over but not forgotten. All in all, we had a great time and Jan can't wait to take her next one. We are hoping to get our nursing school classmates together for a 4-5 day reunion cruise next year.