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Grand Princess Cruise Review
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Copyright © 1995-2003 
Linda Coffman

Western Caribbean
March 30, 2003

By Sue Adam

It has been several cruises since I have written a review but after sailing on the Grand when it was new, I thought I would just write down a few of the positive and negative things that we found on board the ship. Along with a little of the security we found on our flights and our pre-cruise stay in Fort Lauderdale.

Flights and Airport Security:
We flew on a smaller airline than we usually do, Air Tran, and am really happy we did. The flights were on much smaller planes than we were used to. Instead of huge 747’s we flew on DC 9’s (only 5 seats across). But the waits and lines at the airports were much less than we had experienced on other flights with United and Delta. Kansas City airport is very accessible with a totally different layout than other cities. Only security is at the gate, but it was very thorough. Security questioned a Bon Voyage gift we had been given and were carrying in our hand luggage. A glass wine stop in the shape of a ship caught their eye in the scanners so we were totally searched. Also our little bubble gun that we use for Bon Voyage parties on the balcony had to have special permission to be carried onboard the plane. I even suggested that I blow some bubbles for them to prove it was not a real gun, but after being actually checked out by the captain of the flight, we had permission to carry it aboard, in fact the captain got a bit of a chuckle out of the security guards asking permission for us to take a plastic gun with bubbles attached onboard the plane. Flights were connecting from Kansas City through Atlanta and all were on time, we landed at Fort Lauderdale at 5:30 in the evening for a pre-night stay.

Normally we stay at the Amerisuites but decided that this time we would give Embassy Suites a try. Prices were very high for our date so I enlisted the help of which helped us find a great rate at the Embassy Suites for our date. Less than half of what the normal rate was for the night that we booked. What a world of difference from the Amerisuites and it is now our favorite hotel in Fort Lauderdale. Huge, spacious, two room suites with dining table and four chairs, large sofa and chair, refrigerator, microwave, two televisions and more than enough room to relax. A manager’s cocktail reception is complimentary each night and it also included a cooked to order breakfast. Located right across the street from Publix, which makes picking up those last minute items very convenient.

We checked in and after a cocktail headed over to the Outback Steakhouse where we were to meet up with friends. There is always a wait list at Outback but we met a wonderful couple on their first cruise that would be sailing with us that we chatted with to pass the time until we were buzzed for dinner. Soon, our friends arrived and after hugs and a chat while waiting for our table, we enjoyed a great dinner. Everyone ordering a different appetizer and sharing them with the entire table was fun. Sorry to say that we were not all sailing on the same ship, so quick good byes after dinner to some and see you tomorrow to the others.

After a great night sleep we decided to walk around the shopping area across the street from the Embassy Suites for awhile the next morning.

Embarkation and the Ship:
We finally decided to head out to Port Everglades around 11:00. Our taxi dropped us off and porters were waiting to help with our luggage. There was no line and we walked right in. The Princess Platinum line was very short with only one other couple in front of us, so checking in went very quickly.

Within 15 minutes we were aboard ship where we headed to our stateroom. Normally staterooms are not ready to occupy before 1:00 but ours was ready and waiting for us. We found out later that it was probably because we had one of the most fantastic room stewards in years. Eldee from the Philippines was the fastest, most thorough steward that we had ever seen. In fact, he got a generous addition to his gratuity the last morning as, even if we were only gone for a short while, our room was completely spotless when we returned.

I am happy to report that the Grand Princess was in as great shape as it was back in 1998 when we first sailed on her. Clean and neat and everything looking still as new as it did back then. We noticed one difference in the staff though, this time they all seemed to know where everything was. Back in 1998 they were about as lost as the passengers were on this mega ship.

We choose Personal Choice dining on this cruise and found it to be great. We ate when we wanted to without having to worry about offending someone at our assigned table because we just did not feel like going to the dining room some evenings. I must admit that we still dressed in the appropriate attire suggested for the evening even though we did not go to the dining room. We visited the dining room only once on the first formal evening so that we could share a table with friends. We really weren’t that impressed with the dining room so it was the only time we visited for diner. It was great to sit with friends though and the meal was fine, we just wanted more of a relaxed atmosphere on this cruise.

I was amazed to see the shorts and bathing suits with cover ups at the buffet late into the evening where we usually dined.

We made reservations one night at the Painted Desert and I think maybe we caught it on an off night. I called to request a reservation for hubby’s birthday and informed them of the celebration. We arrived on time, were seated immediately, but after we ordered it took over 30 minutes for the first course to arrive. I had heard many good things about the Painted Desert, but throughout our meal we did not see anything very good about this one alternative restaurant. Oops! Let me correct that statement. The Margarita’s were fabulous. (Big grin)

They also evidently did not make a note of the birthday dinner so finally we just left without any type of celebration. Would I dine at the Painted Desert again? Not likely, it was not worth the time and it really was not that good. But as I stated, we might have just caught it on an off night.
Hubby did get a great birthday surprise when a bottle of Champagne arrived from delivered to our stateroom from a friend.

We had not made reservations at Sabitini’s on this cruise but had friends that did. It sounded like they have changed it a lot since 1998 as we were told that some arrived in shorts for dinner, whereas it used to be strictly semi-formal. I noticed that the price has also dropped down to $15.00 pp from the previous cruise where it was $25.00 pp.

Our ship also must have sailed during part of spring break and there were many children onboard. If I am not mistaken, we carried the maximum allowed by Princess on this ship. We love children, but it is amazing what the little rascals can get into when the parents are not looking. It was not uncommon to find groups of 10-year olds and under playing in the elevators pushing every button just to watch the doors open and close several times a day. I would love to know where their parents were and why they were not being supervised. So many parents think that their children would not do things like playing on the stairs and running other passengers down in the halls. But it does happen, and much too often during times when there are many unsupervised children onboard. When some are given the run of the ship while parents seemed to care less where they were or what they were doing. This was our first cruise taken during any type of spring break or school holiday and I have to admit, it will probably be our last. We will continue to go back to cruising only during the seasons when school is in complete session.

Now back to the ship and our cabin. We booked cabin 729 on Emerald deck, the furthest one aft on the Starboard side with the extended balcony. Now, admittedly these were great mini suites (as they are all pretty much the same inside) and the balcony was wonderful. But... we did not have very nice weather the first few days and with only protection on one side, it made it so windy on the balcony, we could barely use it. Others I talked to with regular balconies said there was not a time when they could not use theirs. The extra two lounge chairs looked so inviting but the darned wind was so strong it would suck a book right out of your hands if you were trying to read. But we did get to enjoy it in port and the last several days of the cruise.

A couple other things we noticed about this cabin. First of all the vibration in the aft of the Grand Princess is unbelievable when pulling into or leaving port. This is something I had never heard mentioned before. We have always noticed a slight vibration when booking cabins to the aft of other ships, but this was much more than slight. Not just a small shudder, but it would shake the pictures on the walls. Also, there was a terrible noise that sounds like the engines are right out in the hallway. Admittedly, it is louder in the sleeping area then the sitting area, but it does take a bit of getting used to if you are a light sleeper. After a few days, it was barely noticeable; I guess we just became used to it. It was nice to have a semi private room with only a neighbor on one side though.

We love the mini suites on the Grand Class ships as they are very comfortable for any length of cruise. These mini suites have tons of storage space and a great sized bathtub to relax in after long days in port. I remembered to pack my bubble bath and aroma therapy beads so relaxing in a hot tub is something I did often.

The adverse weather we encountered turned into cancelled ports for us. The first day Princess Cays was cancelled because of rough seas so we could not safely tender into the pier. But that was fine as they opened the casino and after a very small investment, I hit a progressive poker slot machine and walked out with almost $1900.00 more than I came in with. Now that would make any cancelled port look good to me.

The next day was a sea day and again the weather was pretty nasty, our balcony was rendered almost useless so we enjoyed the ship and the company of friends.

Wednesday we were scheduled to tender into Grand Cayman. The weather again was not co-operating and all water activity tours were cancelled. We booked privately with Captain Marvin to visit Sting Ray City, but we have to put that on the list for next time. So we did some shopping and just walked around for a short while. With seven cruise ships in Grand Cayman that day, it made even walking pretty impossible as that is far too many people in a small port town.

Our next port of call was Costa Maya. We had never been there before and were looking forward to it. Again, the weather stopped this from happening, but our wonderful captain made arrangements to anchor off Cozumel a few hours later so that we would now spend almost two days there. As soon as there was pier availability, the ship then pulled in to the pier which made access much easier than taking the tenders. One thing I noticed is that the Captain kept the passengers completely aware of the situation and the weather conditions and let all know what was happening with several announcements.

A special addition to our cruise:
Half way into this cruise we received a formal invitation from the Captain for a special luncheon, with an RSVP. Before we had a chance to even discuss it, we received a phone call from Lori the social hostess asking us to please attend. She informed us that a special luncheon was being prepared by their new chef and that she would be honored if we attended. Now, where this came from is beyond me as I sure was not expecting it. We did accept since it was a luncheon and it was not going to be formal or stuffy. Shortly before the luncheon we were given a private galley tour which is something I always wanted to see on the Grand Princess. What a massive place that galley is, all spotless with wall to wall stainless steel, very impressive to say the least.

The luncheon was actually quite nice and there were a dozen or so passengers attending. We were able to meet many of the officers and had a nice chat with the assistant cruise director who is supposed to be on the Star Princess with us in November sailing from Bangkok to Sydney.
At the luncheon, pictures were taken and we were presented with our menus that had been personalized with our names, they were also autographed by the captain. Wine and drinks were served and a fantastic lunch was prepared by the chef who we also got to meet during the galley tour and the luncheon. Pictures were taken and after being developed, they were delivered to our cabin. It was a nice surprise and almost an honor to be invited.

As usual, the last day is a very unhappy one. We ate breakfast and then said goodbyes to friends we had met. We returned to our cabin where our room steward was not in a hurry to have us leave. Before breakfast we had the cabin ready for cleaning and left our carry on’s in the closet out of the way. We let Eldee know he was free to enter at any time to prepare the cabin for the next passengers. When we returned he had already changed the linens but left the bathroom for our use and the balcony. We sat on the balcony and finished our coffee and then wandered out right before our color and tag numbers were called.
A quick ride to the airport by taxi and we found ourselves in the madhouse of the Fort Lauderdale Airport. Even though we saw all the lines with passengers trying to check in, we found Air Tran to have no line at all. Within minutes we were checked in and had our boarding passes and headed for the long security line to enter the terminal gates.

Although leaving the ship always makes it a sad end to a great week, we were able to place another phantom (ghost) booking while onboard the Grand Princess. Still at the nominal fee of $100 pp for a deposit. The cruise credits remain as they have been on previous onboard bookings and depend on the type of cabin and length of cruise that you book. They run from $25 pp minimum to $150 pp maximum.

Now, I know that we missed two ports, had some nasty weather with rough seas, and had a lot of excursions cancelled and you would think that it might have dampened the enjoyment of the cruise a bit. But believe it or not, it did in no way spoil this cruise. The Grand Princess is such a lovely ship and offers so many things to see and do onboard that you really don’t miss the ports that much. Also meeting up with new Internet friends and sharing information, stories and laughs made this cruise memorable in everyway.

If anyone has any doubts about the Grand Class ships, PLEASE be assured that they are lovely and are a destination in themselves!

Photo: Courtesy of Princess Cruises

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