April 29 to May 6, 2001
By Mary and Vincent Finelli
In the last four years we have
cruised seventeen times on eleven ships of four cruise lines and we
have always had memorable cruises. In the 50's and 60's we made
three transatlantic crossings (one trip together) on luxury liners
between Naples, Italy and New York. That's when we were first
captivated by the sea and enchanted by ships: these luxurious floating
palaces. Now, during retirement we are finally free to cruise
and we love it. This was our second cruise on board the Grand
Princess and it will not be our last! The beauty of this
ship recalled us like the fabled sirens of old. We were on board
for her first birthday party May 4, 1999 and for her third anniversary
this year. When launched three years ago, she was the largest
ship afloat, now the Voyager of the Seas and her sister ship,
the Explorer of the Seas, hold that honor.
She is truly worthy of a return
visit, although some elderly cruisers kept repeating that there is a
lot of walking, we found her as lovely as ever and easy to navigate.
This review will have some specific information for the physically
challenged passengers, which may be of note, since recently we have
read negative comments on cruising for the handicapped. We say
"Phooey"! Going on wheels or on legs doesn't have to
be any different. The Grand Princess welcomes all equally
as do all of the other magnificent ships on which we have traveled.
The Princess has taken extraordinary measures to make cruisers feel
welcome and comfortable, more about that later.
The Grand Princess is easily spotted in Port Everglades, Ft.
Lauderdale, since she is the one with the "Spoiler."
This month her new sister ship the Golden Princess will make cruisers
do double takes before identifying which is which. She is all
white with touches of blue on the upper decks and the orange stripe of
her lifeboat tenders. She was the 5,956th ship to come out of
the Fincantieri, Monfalcone shipyard. She has a gross tonnage of
108,806 and is 951 ft. long and breadth is 118.8 ft. with a height of
185 ft. above the water line and her six diesel engines have 92,500
horsepower. Her top speed is 24 knots and her two Fincantieri
stabilizers have a 90% Roll Reduction. Smooth Sailing.
She can accommodate 3,100 passengers
and boasts a ship's crew of 1,060, and many of these crew
members were highly visible during embarkation: assisting passengers
onboard, and on each deck stationed at the elevators directing
passengers to their cabins of which there are 1,296.
We arrived at the pier at 11:45 where our luggage was removed from our
car. We were greeted curb side by a crew member who pushed the
wheelchair up the ramps to the disabled check-in counter. We had
to fill out one travel document which was not in our ticket packet.
We had filed our personal information sheets via the internet, but
brought them along just in case. And, as we had predicted, this
information was not available on the computer at this counter. We
simply handed the clerk those sheets, signed a credit card form and
were escorted directly on board by the same crew member all the way to
our wheelchair accessible cabin (there are 28 onboard 18 outside and
10 inside). Very nice and easy does it!
By 12 noon, we were in the Horizon
Court having the Welcome Aboard Buffet which we are very happy to say
was excellent (No tired looking, recycled food here - it was
delicious). In fact normally we avoid the buffet, but we tried
it three times this cruise and each time it was excellent. We
had fried calamari cooked to perfection, Waldorf salad that was crisp
and crunchy, and the fruit and desserts were excellent.
Our Baja Deck #B301 wheelchair accessible cabin was very clean,
spacious and restful. When entering there is a small foyer which
is handier that the usual narrow hallway. On the left, there is
the extra large bathroom with one sink two mirrors and a set of three
shelves. The shower is spacious (5 ft. x 5 ft.) with chrome rails all
around, a pull down seat and a call cord for emergency assistance.
Then there is the queen size bed, flanked by two low bureaus each with
four drawers, a shelf and topped with reading lamps. The head
board of the bed was tucked tapestry and a wall of mirrors. The
mirror trick to make the cabin appear larger was not necessary in this
spacious cabin, which is about one and one half the size of category
When entering the cabin on the right
there is a triple armoire: the first door holds several cubicles and
the personal safe; the next two doors are the hanging closets with
nice removable wooden hangers. There is ample storage for even
two week cruises. Then there is a desk/vanity with three more drawers,
and a comfortable chair; the 10 ft. long counter has the telephone and
a hair dryer on the wall. There is a coffee table and an
upholstered barrel chair, but alas no sofa. The sliding glass door
leads to the balcony (approx. 16 ft. x 5 ft.) with two reclining
chairs and a table. The balconies in categories BA and BB on
Caribe deck are twice as large as those in category BC on Aloha and
Baja decks, but with less privacy from the above decks. The
decor is peach/gold and an abundance of maple wood; it is very
inviting and the condition is excellent. There is one large
picture on the wall depicting a rowboat in a calm reflective bay with
a small white town on a mountain in the background.
Our Cabin Steward was Vitor Calado of
Portugal; he was prompt and always smiling... Thank you, Vitor.
We found the ship to be in very good condition with perhaps only minor
showing of wear and fading in the upholstered chairs and sofas in some
of the public rooms (i.e., the seats in the Skywalkers Night Club).
From our several talks with the affable gentleman Gianfranco Sampiero,
Passenger Services Director, we learned that the Grand Princess is
scheduled for an upcoming dry dock, possibly in December, when it will
undergo a long list of repairs and refurbishing in order to maintain
We found her quite spiffy as is and
easily got around her with the pocket sized directory cards
(4"x4") placed in our cabins and color coded to the hallway
carpeting. Very handy! The Daily Princess Patter
distributed to each cabin the night before also gave the times and
decks of each activity. More importantly, it is the layout of
the ship which makes it easy to "navigate." Decks 4
through 7 and 14 through 17 are Public Areas (restaurants, shops,
reception desks, casino, lounges, theater, pools, spas, etc).
On decks 8 through 12 (no 13) and decks 5 and 14, forward, are located
all the staterooms, suites and cabins.
There are three sets of
lifts/elevators, one forward, one mid ship and one aft, which make
movement easy. At the top of the "spoiler" is the
Skywalkers Night Club (17), which presents a beautiful 360 degree
view of the ship forward and the wake and the sea aft. Even if
you are not into the disco dance scene, you must not miss this view.
During the day it is private and serene. Lido Deck 14 houses the
Alfresco Bar, Horizon Court, Horizon Terrace, Calypso Bar, Poseidon's
Pizzeria, Trident Grill, Ice Cream Bar and two pools. In
addition there are two more pools, one at the aft of the Aloha deck
(12) and the lap pool in the Plantation Spa on the Sun Deck (14).
Our morning dip was taken in the
retractable covered solarium pool and spa while many passengers are
still sleeping. It is quiet and relaxing, though after the third
day, we felt that the Gregorian chant in the background could be
replaced with some other music, or at least expand the repertoire so
that cruisers would not be subjected to the same music day after day,
hour after hour.
The ship has six laundromats located
on decks with staterooms. This eliminates the needs to do
ironing in the cabins, which is discouraged for safety reasons.
We normally carry enough clothes for the week, but families with small
children would be pleased to have access to washers/dryers.
This cruise we took a closer look at
the Atlantis Casino and saw many things we had missed on our first
cruise aboard: at one end there are huge Dolphin sculptures and on the
walls are several simulated aquariums showing 3D pictures of
underwater scenes where the fish and other ocean denizen seem to swim
at you and then veer off, fascinating.
As usual, the Chapel on board was
busy with several weddings and was decorated with large fresh flower
arrangements and candles, what a heady scent emerged from the doorway.
Other beautiful public rooms that we favored are the Explorers Lounge,
a nice tiered room with worldly murals and exotic mosaics evoking
travel, and the Wheelhouse Bar, an interesting room with some P&O
Line history, portraits, nice ship models and interesting marine
Princess Lines states "We have blown conventional dining out
of the water"! The new Personal Choice Dining
program is an alternative to the traditional fixed seating dining
(main or second seating) and allows cruisers restaurant style seating
at their preferred time and without reservations required. Passengers are charged $6.50 per person per day gratuity (a bare
minimum by U.S. standards) since this eliminates the last night
tipping you would have done for the single waiter serving you for an
entire week. You may go to any dining room anywhere on board between
5:30 pm and 10:00 pm. Choose the Michelangelo (Deck 5), Da Vinci or
Botticelli (Deck 6), or the Painted Desert (Deck 7), etc. and if you
want to have a large group dining together, call ahead for a
reservation. We chose this plan and loved it. We also
tipped individually for extraordinary service, which we had
continually (this is our preference, but it is optional). We
thought the prepaid gratuity was a good idea, since we recalled many a
last night dinner, in an almost deserted dining room, with many
cruisers conspicuously absent so that they could "stiff" the
hard working waiters. Excellent service deserves generous tips.
For alternative dining in Sabatini's
you need to make reservations the minute you get on board ($15
additional charge and it serves lunch and dinner). The first
night we dined at Sabatini's with the Maitre d' Mirko and were served
with a flair by Davide, and enjoyed the newly designed menu: Antipasti
(hot & cold) served from huge platters. We had the veal
chops and lobster tails, dessert was Creme Bruleè and Georgia
Peach Cobbler and a courtesy glass of Limoncello.
The pastas were good cannelloni tricolore, gnocchi al formaggio. The
appetizers excellent, but the fish, mussels, and clams were not so
Hereafter, we dined in the
Michelangelo. The two Assistant Maitres d', Oscar Perego (Italy)
and Carlos Justina (Portugal), flanked by a line of white coated
waiters, each evening greeted and seated diners. They were
always cordial and prompt to push the wheelchair to our favorite
table. There are no sommeliers, the wine list is varied, but not
too extensive and the prices are a good value. We met an
interesting couple, Dwayne and Deborah, who became our table mates and
with nice and intelligent conversation made our evening dinners
Tuesday night we were invited by the
Maitre d' Beniamino Acler to a table for four and told that Executive
Chef Antonio Cereda would prepare especially for us a risotto ai
funghi Porcini (wild mushrooms). Chef Cereda came to greet
us at our table since he had met the four of us on previous separate
cruises. Our waiter Virgil and assistant waiter Alex gave
quick and courteous service. The risotto was delicious and on
succeeding nights we had spaghetti vongole, spaghetti aglio, olio e
peperoncino and gnocchi as light as clouds. Chef
Cereda makes delicious fresh tomato sauces and you can get spaghetti
cooked al dente if you specify it and are patient enough to
wait a little longer. Other dishes we enjoyed at dinner were
prime rib, duck à l'orange and Cornish hen and of course the
desserts: soufflés, swan puffs, and excellent fruit tarts. We also
had Tartuffo, a ball of vanilla/chocolate ice cream covered in
dark chocolate and rolled in roasted coconut. Mouth watering!
The Painted Desert Maitre d' Memo
accommodated us (even though we had not made reservations) and we
enjoyed the Southwestern fare. The salsa was a bit too spicy for us,
we managed to use it sparingly, although other diners acclaimed it
perfection. We ate several times at the Pizzeria (Deck 14) where
Carmelo makes the dough each morning and serves up pizza all
afternoon and evening. The pizza was great: There were a lot of
young happy faces around here, as testimonial. There is also
formal tea served in the Da Vinci every afternoon 3:30 to 4:30.
Room service was available 24 hours and always prompt for continental
breakfast in the morning, but slow and iffy at other times. They
need a caller I.D. system like the Millennium and the Costa
Atlantica (once, when our order didn't arrive after a 45 minute
wait, we called again only to find out that B301 had been confused
with P301). The order arrived in 5 min. with profuse apology.
The service aboard the Grand Princess is TIP TOP and
this was particularly evident after our last cruise aboard the new
Radiance of the Seas where service was dismal. (We were happy to read
in recent reviews that it has improved.) The new Captain of the Grand
came on board the day we sailed: Captain Andy Proctor of Aberdeen (by
way of Kingdom of Fife), Scotland. He is very friendly and
approachable and we liked his Scottish kilt joke; however, we would
have been curious to see his tartan! The Captain's Circle
Cocktail Party for repeaters was extremely nice: red and white wines,
Manhattans, Martinis, fruit punch and hot and cold hors d'oeuvres.
The Bridge tour was thorough, but no champagne and canapés like the
Costa Atlantica, yet still it's a marvel to behold all the hi-tech
equipment which makes the easy maneuverability of such a huge ship so
awesome. Even the Bridge has wheelchair access!
Each night the chocolate on the
pillow ritual is augmented by a love note from differing crew members,
after all, this is the "LOVE BOAT"!
Cruise Director Graham Seymour set the pace for an upbeat ambiance
with his infectious laughter. He went beyond the call of duty in
the hilarious production of "If I Were Not Upon the
Ship," (A tutu to remember is all we can say about his costume).
The Asst. Cruise Director Sylvain "Sly" Couture (Canada) and
the rest of the cruise staff kept the passengers hopping and
entertained. The shows were a fine mix of singing, dancing,
comedy and magic. They were abundant, high quality and many were
recently restaged retaining old favorites and adding new sections, but
nothing of memorable note.
There were the usual daily
activities: Bingo, trivia contests (we participated in some and
won four), casino gambling (we played the slot machines and poker and
lost every time), and there are four pools (one with retractable dome
and one lap pool), several Jacuzzis, Gymnasium, Aerobics and Health
Spa with saunas and massage treatments. Here the Grand Princess
outdoes herself with a British hydraulic lift called the Oxford Dipper
(although we didn't observe anyone using it) which permits wheelchair
bound passengers to enjoy a swim. Who says, "Stay
home!"? Princess makes cruising delightful even for the
physically challenged passengers.
PORTS OF CALL:
Wednesday: St. Thomas U.S.V.I. "The American Paradise"
has exotic flowers like frangipani and jasmine and boasts a great
beach, water sports and tours, etc. Mr. Tablecloth is a must,
since high quality linens are 60% below U.S. prices!
Thursday: St. Maarten (or Martin)
part of the Dutch Leeward Islands, this island is divided between the
Dutch and the French. Take a bus tour the first time to get the
lay of the land, but there is also scuba diving, kayaking and mountain
Saturday: Princess Cays, Eleuthera,
Bahamas (discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492) is Princess
Line's private beach. Tendering is necessary here and there are
elevators on Deck 4 expressly for those in wheelchairs to have direct
access to tender platforms. The highlights are the ship's
barbecue, island music, beach and water sports. Bring cash if
you want to purchase souvenirs, credit cards not accepted here.
As on other ships, passengers are given color coded tags for their
luggage and for debarkation priorities. We had orange tags which
were the 4th group to debark. Passengers in wheelchairs, who
needed assistance, assembled at the lobby bar on deck 5, until their
color was called and thereafter were accompanied by a crew member to
the pier exit. By 8:30 a.m. we were on our way home, looking
back to a great cruise and forward to doing it again and again.
of Princess Cruises