Grand losing her luster?
We did back to back sailings on the Grand in April/May -- an 11 day Canary Islands and a 17 day Mediterranean. This review covers the Canary Islands cruise. This was our 55th cruise on Princess, and 12th on the Grand. Overall it was a fairly good cruise but we sadly concluded the Grand isn't as grand as she used to be.
We used Princess Ezair because the rates were competitive and in the past they helped us reroute when we had a flight cancellation enroute due to an aircraft mechanical. This time there were no problems, we arrived on time and with Princess transportation arrived at the ship around 2:00 pm. Since we are Elite it was relatively quickly through registration but then joined the long long line to go through security -- that took a long time so overall it may have been the longest embarkation process we have experienced on Princess.
We have always enjoyed the Grand, and there are both positives and negatives in the changes made during the major drydock. The One5 is a nice bar but can't replace the spectacular views and uniqueness of Skywalkers. The Piazza has become basically just another place to eat, and it is usually crowded with passengers snacking on food from the International Cafe. On a positive note the flow through Horizon Court seems much improved although it is hard to find a place to sit during mealtimes.
We had never been to the Canary Islands before, and seeing them was the major reason we booked this cruise. While we enjoyed all the ports on this cruise, unfortunately the weather was cool to cold and cloudy so the experience was not as good as it might have been. April might not be a good time to take this cruise!
We either took ship tours or ventured out on our own for those ports we knew. We did the hop on hop off yellow bus in Funchal -- and next time will do it again but start out earlier so we can explore the nearby fishing village in more depth. In Vigo we wandered around a bit and bought some wine, too cold and windy to really enjoy this port as we did on our last trip there.
For the three Canary Islands ports we took Princess tours. All three were enjoyable and provided good value. If interested you can check out the details on the Princess website.
Las Palmas LPA200A Columbus Museum & Bandama Caldera
Santa Cruz TCI310A La Laguna & Taganana
Arrecif e ACE225A Timanfaya National Park & Camel Ride
The most memorable experience was the camel ride -- we had checked it out before sailing on youtube and you can get a good idea of the experience there.
We had booked a guarantee and received a cabin assignment a few months later. But three days before sailing we were reassigned to balcony cabin Caribe 608. We had always enjoyed Caribe balconies as the balconies are larger and had four chairs and a large table which made it ideal for having breakfast on the balcony or entertaining friends. But changes were made during the major drydock. There used to be a rubber type matting on the balcony floor but that is now gone so it is just painted metal (showing many rust spots) and usually water and dirt and salt spray. It is also very slippery. There are now only two chairs and one small cocktail table. But as it turned out it did not make much difference to us as we did not spend much time on the balcony anyhow as the temperatures were cool to cold during the entire cruise. When we first checked out our new room we found the refrigerator was not working and the shower drain did not drain well. Both problems were fixed the next day. Otherwise the stateroom was what we expected as far as "Princess standard" and our steward Maria was superb. Before retirement we always booked a Caribe balcony for our one cruise a year but now we are cruising more and have tried a variety of cabins. So since a Caribe balcony is no longer the premium experience it used to be we can be quite happy in other accommodations.
We did learn something else about cabins on the Grand this cruise that will make us very wary of booking guarantees in the future. Some very good friends onboard were assigned a Baja balcony cabin that could accommodate four people -- those cabins are identified with red dots on the deck plan layout on the Princess website. On the website you can also click on a specific cabin to view its details. But when you click on a red dot cabin you see the usual diagram of a standard Princess balcony cabin. But be warned -- if you read the fine print you are advised that it is the diagram for a "typical" cabin. And let me advise you that unless you need to have four bunks stay away from those cabins as they look more like dormitory rooms or perhaps even jail cells -- and have a different layout! No wonder there can be widely different opinions expressed by reviewers. So no more guaranteed cabin categories for us on Princess!
The Food and Service
Food was basically good with some dishes superb and others not to be ordered again. Service was the same, basically all waiters were competent to take food orders and bring food and some did a much better job than others. What was very different on the Grand this time was the lack of involvement of the head waiters and the maitre'd. We only saw the maitre'd once in the dining room during the entire 11 day cruise, and he was just rushing through on his way elsewhere. On other ships the head waiters usually stop by and inquire about the food and service, and often even provide something a little special such as a different appetizer or pasta dish as a surprise -- just a little something to make you feel special. Not so on the Grand this time, more like their goal was to get you in a seat, feed you, then get you out. Also, there was no possibility of a standing reservation in either dining room for anytime dining. In January we had sailed on the Crown -- it was a very different and enjoyable dining experience, the kind we expected of Princess. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case on the Grand.
We also did the Crown Grill and tried the new menu at Sabatini's. With the menu changes in the main dining room the rack of lamb we love is now only available in the Crown Grill so that was our choice -- and it was excellent as was the rest of the meal. But as far as Sabatini's opinions were a little mixed. The new menu offers more appetizer choices. While the service is very good (but fashionably slow) and performed with a flourish, the food wasn't as tasty as we expected -- and the lobster three ways was a disappointment.
Entertainment was as usual on Princess, the same production shows that we have seen for years and an assortment of vocalists and comedians and such. Most are pretty good and some are really good and a few are not so good. The cruise staff do their best with game shows and trivia and theme parties. We have gotten into art with Princess and really enjoy the art auctions so that became our major entertainment "have to do" during the day. This was also a cruise where enjoying a book in the cabin (rather than on deck due to weather) became a frequent activity for us. Unfortunately the library selection has been reduced with the introduction of Leaves and it would be best to take a flashlight with you to help see what books are on the lower shelves. But in this age of Kindles et al the library itself may disappear soon anyhow. So if you have sailed with Princess before you know what the entertainment offerings are, and if you will be a first timer you will have more than enough options.
For us turnaround day was the day we changed cabins (a quick and painless process) and learned that loud rock music was played both in the hallways and passenger cabins -- perhaps to get the staff to hurry up? It was so loud we could not stay in the cabin so we found some seats in the piazza and read.
To answer my own question posed in the title of this review -- yes, the Grand is indeed losing her luster and we have lost the special feeling we have had in the past for this ship. It is ironic how Princess proclaims they are the "consummate host" while at the same time they reduce services provided. We can only guess that senior Princess management is either delusional or uninformed or hoping that mind control propaganda will make passengers happy. Unfortunately when the gap between what they say they are and what they actually provide is so blatantly obvious -- the "consummate host" claim is more like a cruel joke on themselves and we found it actually became irritating to have to listen to those false claims.
In any event, a cruise is mostly what you make it -- and we were fortunate to be sailing with some of our best cruise buddies so we made the most of it in spite of the Princess problems...