This has been my 4th cruise with Princess and second on Grand. I don't have much for a frame of reference since all my cruises have been with Princess. I have always enjoyed the level of service and the comfort of the ships with them. My first cruise was in 2006 and I have noticed a change in level of service since then.
We flew to Ft. Lauderdale and stayed a day before our cruise. We stayed at the Marriott North which was an ok hotel about 30 minutes from the port. They had a nice pool and rooms were comfortable. Hotel desk service was great and they drove us to a shopping center so we could buy wine for our cruise. The food there was only so-so but across the street were many restaurants to pick from.
The day of our cruise we had a full lobby of people going out on 3 different ships (we saw 5 in port that morning.) We arrive and quickly got through security and checked in. We were in our room in no time.
After dropping off our "stuff" we headed to the dining room for lunch. Best kept secret on ships I think: that the dining rooms are open for lunch! There were only about 20 or so of us in there and I had a fantastic lunch to start the cruise. No crowds and great service.
We always choose to do traditional dining and we, for the first time, did a table just for the two of us. It was a table NOT in the traditional dining rooms but rather in the any-time dining room. There were plusses and minuses to that. Plus - always had different people around and yet we had the same table and same wait staff everynight... minus... lots of movement since people are coming and going all evening. I thought the food was delicious and our service was incredible!
Our cabin... well we had A703 which is in the back of the ship on the same level as the terrace pool. We booked late on a special and didn't expect to get our regular place on Caribe. The room was a little smaller, mostly noticed in bathroom and in closet space as well as the smaller balcony. I did notice the removal of the mats on the balconies and because of that you hear a constant moving of the deck chairs which can be annoying. The new furniture is not as comfortable as the old and sure doesn't recline any! Bad change as far as I am concerned. Did notice, and was thankful for the lack of people smoking on the balconies now which gives a better experience for non smokers. I notice they created little seating areas for smoking around the back pool and up one level.
Did not have as much noise in the cabin as I expected being in the back of the ship but did notice a lot of rumbling when the ship was parking. Not too bad really.
Ports of call: San Juan, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Princess Cays.
San Juan: Due to the late time of arrival, we chose not to leave the ship and was able to enjoy the ship without all the crowds. Liked that alot!!!
St. Maarten: Went to Orient beach on the French Side. Beach was lovely. If I were to go there again I would take a taxi and not a tour and stay longer! Water was clear and warm and beach was nice. There are notices given on the ship etc that it is a clothing optional beach and we did encounter some but not much of that. I was not bothered one way or another but clearly some Americans were and some did not prepare their children for those encounters.
St. Thomas - We chose to do the catamaran sail to Turtle Cove and then to Honeymoon beach. This was through Princess and was contracted with blongobay.com. Excellent day of sailing, snorkeling, an beach with BBQ. Their crew was fantastic offering snorkeling lessons, a snorkel tour and lots of free drinks including a killer rum punch! Recommend them highly!
Princess Cays - we rented a bungalow. I would do this again. They said they are only for a max of 4 people but people certainly had more. We had a group of people who camped on between our bungalow and the next and I told the bungalow caretaker about it and he immediately had them removed. We decided to add the gourmet lunch which was delicious but way too much food! The lobster mango salad was excellent. I like the area which was quiet but not very close to the swimming beaches. I am not a huge fan of the swimming beaches there.... very rocky which does require use of water shoes and then you still can get your foot caught when the waves carry you around. I didn't spend a lot of time in water at all. But any day at the beach is a good day in my book. The bungalows did have outdoor showers and spigots for getting the sand off one's feet and I liked having that. The air conditioning in the bungalow was nice to cool off and nice to have a cool space to eat all the food!
We didn't use the casino because of all the smoke in there. Hated to even have to walk through it to get somewhere. We never tried any of the other dining venues because I just don't pay more to eat with all the free food already offered.
We did do two days in the sanctuary. THAT I LOVED!! It was so quiet and peaceful there and one cannot help but take a nap in those comfy chairs. I thought the service in there was okay and sometimes non -existent but maybe that is because they want to not disturb. Every time I got up to ask for something, however, they were very attentive. Can get spots in the sun or shade. We went there at around 8 each day and were the first ones in to choose a spot. It was full by afternoon both days. I did the all day and it was nice to leave and come back to your own chair without being label and chair hog!!!
This was a cruise during school Easter break so we did see a few more children than we have on other cruises but it was not ever out of hand. The main pools areas were certainly crowded on sea days but that is on every cruise. We certainly did notice a lot more ships in every port than we have on other cruises.
All in all I think it was a great time. We never had any real issues.
Disembarkation - I think this one was the fastest. I was surprised that we even found a seat in the waiting area at our time to meet. We went there and waited maybe 10 -15 minutes before we were allowed to leave. We got right off and got our luggage - ok, the porters there are AWFUL and pushy, standing between people and their luggage almost forcing you to use them... but we did Not. Got off and to the bus in no time!