Background - This was our honeymoon and first Princess sailing. My husband and I have been on five cruises (Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Windjammer, NCL). I'm 28, he's 31. Overall we really enjoyed this cruise, even though it rained a lot.
We did arrive in Ft Lauderdale the day before and stayed at the Amerisuites Hotel. It was a full house there-90% of the people staying at the hotel were going on a cruise. The hotel was a great inexpensive place to stay if you only need 1-3 nights before or after a cruise in Ft Lauderdale. Staff was very helpful and the shuttle took us anywhere within reason if they were not busy. They only have 1 shuttle to do everything, airport, pier, etc. Shuttle picked us up from dinner and took us to the grocery store and waited for us to stock up on water. We did eat at the 15th Street Fisheries and liked it. Great view, mainly a restaurant for seafood lovers, prices were a bit expensive and overpriced. As for getting transfers, I would not buy transfers from the airport to the cruise ship since the distance is probably no more then 5 miles tops to get from A to B. I would take a cab and not wait for others to board the Princess bus to take you over to the pier.
The itinerary was:Sunday May 20 - Ft. Lauderdale. Sailed about 7:45 p.m. (Dinner: American - Prime Rib)
Monday May 21- Princess Cays. Arrived 10 a.m., departed 5 p.m. (Formal night. Can't remember the food)
Tuesday May 22 - At sea (Can't remember the food)
Wednesday May 23 - Grand Cayman. Arrived 7 a.m., departed 4 p.m. (Formal night. Dinner featured lobster tails)
Thursday May 24 - Cozumel. Arrived 9 a.m. departed 7 p.m. (Dinner: Italian)
Friday May 25 - Playa Del Carmen. Arrived 8 a.m. departed 6 p.m. (Dinner: French)
Saturday May 26 - At sea (Dinner: American - Prime Rib)
Sunday May 27 - Ft. Lauderdale. (Off by 9amish)
Princess Cays is like a typical day at the beach, with all facilities there. Grand Cayman is expensive. We did the stingray sandbar tour at 9 a.m. The sandbar is 3-5 feet deep, whereas the Stingray city tour is in much deeper water. My husband really enjoyed the sandbar tour. I was a bit overwhelmed by all the people from the various boats in the water together. Cozumel is all right. Most stores have prices in dollars, with no haggling. We stopped at Playa Del Carmen rather than Costa Maya. Playa has prices in pesos and you can haggle. It's kind of seedy looking, with decent shopping on the main street. There's a place next to Senor Frog that offers inexpensive Internet access if you're looking to check e-mail. It was raining when we were there, but the beaches near the tender pier looked nice, with clear water. Shops in all the ports took credit cards.
Here are my pros and cons, and some information that will help you for your Grand Princess trip. I am trying not to give you my exact moment-by-moment experience.
PROS - Embarkation and debarkation were among the best we've experienced. You can avoid the lines with express check in if you fill out your information - including your credit card number - at the Princess website. If you don't include your credit card number you go through regular check in. But if you're there early enough, it still goes quickly. We had printed out our information from the website, which speeds regular check in. We were on board no later then 11:30am I believe.
We paid for a BE guarantee and received a BF-category cabin. We were glad we did. We were in C230 on the Caribe deck. The balconies on that deck are double the size of balconies for regular rooms and mini-suites. Unlike some other balconies, which were partially covered by the balconies above them, the ones on the Caribe deck are half covered and half open.
Personal choice dining is the way to go, hands down. The best way to explain it is it's like going to a restaurant. You just pick a place to eat and make a reservation. It's that simple. You can have a table for two or 10. It's flexible. You can choose the dining room set aside for personal choice, or other options such as the Painted Desert Mexican restaurant or Sabatini's Italian restaurant. For those last two, make reservations early! You can make reservations the afternoon you board, at the Wheelhouse Bar between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. That was the first thing we did when we got on board. More about the food later.
We found the staff to be helpful and polite. Graham Seymour, the cruise director, is very energetic and seems to be everywhere. If you've been on other cruises you'll recognize Graham's jokes and speeches. He's not the best or most original cruise director, but he does the trick.
It was a low-key cruise. The activities were not as in-your-face as on some other ships. The activities are there if you want to do them. We did not do many.
The Grand is beautiful. It's decorated in light wood and leather tones, in a European style. Very nice without being too Las Vegas.
They had meetings for veterans, social and service clubs such as the Kiwanis and Lions Clubs, as well as singles. I thought that was great.
We attended Shabbat services Friday night. The turnout was good, the service brief and led by one of the passengers. Princess provided prayer booklets, challah bread, and wine. I'm not sure if somebody requested this ahead of time, but it was very nice. I don't remember seeing times for other religious prayer but I could be wrong.
CONS - Marginal entertainment. Each show seemed off, whether it was pace, song selection, or choreography. On two consecutive nights they had the same show, and one night they showed two movies. In the main theater, performers included a magician and hypnotist. Not what we expected. Also, on at least two nights the first show began at 7 p.m., a bit early. On the flip side, the pianist at the Promenade Lounge and the jazz quartet in the Wheelhouse bar were good and nice to listen to.
The Princess Theater is smaller than most cruise ship theaters. It's auditorium style, without drink tables for groups of seats. In the Princess, your drink tables fold out of the armrest, as on an airplane. The other large lounge is the Vista. It's smaller than the Princess and allows smoking. If you're going to any Vista show, arrive early. And if you want to see the Pub Night show in the Vista, get there very early.
The spa was expensive, even with specials. It was open until 11 p.m. most nights, later than on many ships. Onboard shops were just ok. There are not many shops on the ship.
During the rain showers, Princess didn't have ponchos or umbrellas to borrow, buy or rent. Since the ship's stores are closed when in port, we couldn't buy one either. We had forgotten to pack rain gear. Take a small umbrella or poncho. You never know. If you don't you'll find yourself paying $3 or more in the port shops and you will be wet!
FOOD - The meals in the main dining room were generally average. Breakfast was consistently sub par. Food elsewhere was good. The Painted Desert is very good. We especially liked the guacamole, quesadilla, stacked enchilada and fajitas. The Desert is open for dinner, and lunch on at-sea days. The menu is the same for both meals. Reservations go quickly, although if you have two-four people you can try going right at 6 p.m. when it opens. We did this twice and both times they were able to seat us.
We had a mixed reaction to Sabatini's. The food is good and yes it does take at least two hours. The place is kind of small and doesn't have enough waiters, or at least that's what it seemed like, so service slows as it gets busy. They give you a lot in small portions. By the end of the meal you're full. Is it worth $15 per person? That depends on you. However, we'd advise against taking children under 12. It's a waste of money for you unless you and the kids have a lot of patience and like to try new food.
Find the Horizon Court. It's buffet, it was good for each meal and you could wear shorts (although not bathing suits) any time. You're not supposed to wear shorts in the main dining rooms during dinner. We're not vegetarians but there seemed to be a good selection of vegetarian food.
Near the main pools and the Horizon Court are two grills. One serves hot dogs, hamburgers, and knockwurst, the other pizza. Both were good, especially the pizza.
Room service menus are limited, particularly for breakfast. You can order off the dining room menu - we enjoyed lobster tails on our balcony one evening - if you're prepared to wait about an hour, provided you order right at 6 p.m. when dinner begins.
FYI STUFF - The passengers were a mix of young, old, honeymooners, families, and singles. The ship seemed to do a good job handling the disabled passengers. There were a lot of disabled people on our sailing. They participated in all activities from what I saw.
They add $6.50 per person per day to your account for dining service tips. The only person you have to tip separate is your cabin steward, and that can be charged to your cabin. You do so at the ship's bars. If you do that, they give you a receipt to give to your steward. Overall we liked the automatic tipping. We didn't have to worry about figuring anything but our cabin steward's tip.
Read the Princess Patter flyer, your bible of events. There are not a lot of announcements. The Patter will tell you what's happening and where. The televisions had CNN International, CNN Headline News, TNT, and sometimes ESPN, among a few other channels.
Weddings are during the at-sea days. On our sailing there were a lot. The chapel is near the Painted Desert on deck 7. That's also where the business center is located. You can access the Internet for $7.50 for 15 minutes.
There are plenty of deck chairs. Most are not near the main pools, although they are in the sun. Near the main pools the first rows of chairs are in the sun, the rest under overhangs. We found the adult pool at the back of the ship to be an excellent place. Towels are distributed by your cabin steward. None are available on deck.
Photos were $6.95 per small photo, $19.95 for an 8" by 10".
They'll charge you a 3% service fee if you charge bingo cards or casino chips to your stateroom. Also, they charge for soda and juice (outside the dining rooms and Horizon Court) as well as alcohol drinks. They had a wine tasting for $5 per person.
We did a post cruise tour of the Ft Lauderdale Highlights tour to kill some time before our 2:30pm flight. The tour allowed us to leave the ship by 9:15amish I believe. The tour was done at 10am and we were at the airport by 10:30am. The tour was average-not many sights to see in Ft Lauderdale, though we did like what we saw. The Ft Lauderdale airport is PACKED after everyone gets off their cruise ships. Not many places to eat or sit before going to the gate area. Only one real restaurant that I saw which was Chilis (sp?) and the line was out the door around the corner because there was nothing else to do there except wait and eat.
We would cruise again with Princess, which is "classier" than Carnival or Royal Caribbean. We'd try another ship and itinerary to see some different things, but the Grand was a great experience.