GRAND PRINCESS Southern Caribbean Cruise March 17-24, 2012 By Mary & Vincent Finelli
When the Grand Princess entered Venice, Italy in 1998 for the first time, it was said: That the only thing more brilliant than the sight of the Grand Princess on the Venetian Lagoon is the sunrise! She was truly innovative then and now; even though her spoiler has been removed, she still is a splendid sight. The spoiler once held the lively Skywalker Nightclub; suspended high above the ship and the sea, cruisers danced the night away among the stars. Reached only by elevator and escalator, it was a veritable gorgeous crow's nest.
This was our third cruise aboard the Grand and she is just as lovely now as on our first trip during her inaugural year. This cruise is billed "Discover Old World Charm:" and there's plenty of it from the hub of the Piazza (Square) with "Vines" and its fine wine selection to the new "Alfredo's Pizzeria." The marvelous continuous entertainment in the Piazza was headlined every afternoon by guitarist Ron Steta. Then of course between 3:30 and 4:30pm, there is High Tea in the Da Vinci Dining Room. Fit for a queen, with the whole gamut: from water cress sandwiches to fresh hot scones --- all served with white gloves. Captain Anthony Herriot (England) and Hotel General Manager Richard Harry (England) are the two men on board who are the keepers of "Old World Charm."
Port Everglades, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida is easily accessed from I-95 after a short ride from Boca Raton. We arrived at 12:45pm and dropped off our luggage curbside. We were through check in and on board in less than ten minutes. This is an excellent use of deck by deck boarding and priority boarding for elite members. Our cabin was ready, and we left our hand luggage and were off to the Welcome Aboard Buffet.
We wrote a review on the Grand during her inaugural year; wherein we described her deck by deck in detail, so this review will center on the general ambiance and the many on board possibilities. The Grand was built in 1998 and refurbished in 2011. She is 109,900 tons and registered in Bermuda. Her length is 951 ft. and beam is 118 ft.. She has a passenger capacity of 2,600 and a crew of 1,200 (an excellent passenger to crew ratio). There is a total of 372 inside cabins and 928 outside cabins of which 710 have verandas. There are 215 suites. There are three dinner seatings: 5:30pm, 6:00pm and 8:15pm. We were in the first seating and found 5:30pm a bit too early even for us to dine. Especially after tea at 4:00pm There are 12 Bars & Lounges, a Casino and Chapel and 12 elevators plus on board self service laundromats. There are a library, where tea is also served, a theater, a giant outdoor screen for "Movies under the Stars", on board shops, a health spa and a video arcade. The physical fitness facilities include basket ball, golf simulation, a jogging track, four swimming pools (one heated) and eight whirlpools. There are children's facilities including a playroom, kiddie pool, youth program and teen center.
Our wheelchair accessible cabin #A304 was on Aloha Deck 12. When entering on the right is a triple armoire: two sections are for hanging clothes and the third has a personal safe and six shelves. Next, there is a TV and a refrigerator with a complimentary bar set up for Elite Members of the "Captain's Circle." Then, there is a long desk/vanity with lighted mirror and four drawers.
When entering on the left, there is a huge bathroom with an extra large shower 4'X 4' with a folding seat. There is a single sink with mirror and several shelves for sundries. Next is the king size bed (at just the right height) flanked by night stands, each with a reading lamp a top shelf and four drawers. There is an upholstered barrel chair, a desk chair and a small wood and glass coffee table.
The far wall has a sliding glass door to the balcony -- on which are two chairs, a table and a chaise which Dixon, our excellent steward, added for Vincent. Housekeeper Violetta Cecane was very courteous and helpful and made sure that the service remained excellent throughout the cruise. The interior of the stateroom is mostly beige trimmed nicely in walnut wood. The carpet is a diamond patterned burnished red. There is one huge picture of a small row boat with its reflection sharply delineated in the clear water of a bay. In the background, there is a small whitewashed town and a hill. The drapes and the headboard of the bed are a soft blue accented by a beige trellis pattern. All pleasant and comforting.
FOOD & SERVICE
We always say the quality of the service filters down from the top -- Capt. Herriott and Hotel General Manager Richard Harry set the very British tone and it is terrific. As elite passengers (more than 15 cruises), many things are gratis: complimentary bar set up, laundry, shoe shines, afternoon tea in the cabin, etc....
Vincent took advantage of the the laundry service and was very satisfied. Mary took advantage of the afternoon tea served in the cabin and made a standing order for all week. Which she later modified, since on the first afternoon the Bell Box waiter arrived with a full High Tea for Two: Two pots of hot water, a sampling of 12 types of tea, two plates of dainty sandwiches, eight scones with whipped cream and raspberry preserves, eight pastries and eight fruit concoctions. This is as close to heaven as it gets! Needless to say, Mary modified the order to just tea and scones for the rest of the week: Excellent and only available on the Princess ships. The butler will also stay and serve if one desires. Next time we travel with friends, tea will be at the top of our agenda.
Breakfast -- we always have in our stateroom. We complete the selections the night before and hang the menu on our door knob. The next morning at 7:00am promptly it arrives. There is an English muffin sandwich: fried egg, Canadian bacon and cheese, very nice. We also selected coffee, hot chocolate, orange juice and half of a grapefruit, cold cereal, yogurt, plain or fruited, rolls, toast, croissants and brioches are all available. Or just go up to the buffet or down to the Da Vinci Dining Room, from 7:30 to 9:30, for sit down service.
Luncheon on the Princess has a full menu -- including pasta courses (Amatriciana, Carbonara, Puttanesca, etc...). Every day fried calamari are available. Some of the lunch items are usually dinner items on other lines: Vitello tonnato, mixed English grill (tiny lamb chops, bangers, veal kidney and beef medallions). Our favorite place for lunch was Alfredo's Pizzeria, where personal pizzas were created for each diner.
Dinner was exceptional every evening. The courteous and friendly Maitre D' Fabio Marcotti assigned us an easily accessible table #01, near the entrance of the Michelangelo Dining Room, which was very much appreciated by Mary who could park her wheelchair within a few step from it. Head Waiter Antoine and Head Waiter Victor saw that service was snappy and courteous. Our waitress Elena was from Romania; she was fast and flawless. Her assistant was Franco from Mexico and he couldn't be nicer.
Service and food on board are excellent.
Cruise Director Billy London has things well in hand and the "Princess Patter" lists the myriad of activities available daily. From Trivia Games, Bingo, Movies, and live entertainment to Wine Tasting with the sommelier on board, there is much to do. The entertainment in the Piazza lends the atmosphere of "Old World Charm." Ship's musicians, comedians and variety entertainers performed throughout the day in the Piazza. Most of them were good, but our favorite was the guitarist Ron Steta, who had a lovely repertoire of old popular and classic melodies. He performed at least once a day throughout the week.
Enchanted Evening entertainment is emphasized mainly in "Showtime" presented in the Princess Theater and/or the Vista Lounge, twice each night, at 8:15 and 10:15 to accommodate first and second dinner seatings. Showtime consisted of a couple of Las Vegas type shows, several comedy shows and concerts with the Moonlight String Quartet, with guitarist Ron Seta and the Grand Princess Orchestra and with a solo pianist entertainer Alan Shiels. In addition there are some variety shows with a hypnotist and two jugglers.
"Movies under the Stars" is also a popular venue in the morning, afternoon and evening for those who enjoy open air entertainment. Concerts, documentaries and movies are usually shown in the morning; then in the afternoon there are Matinee movies; and in the evening, a main feature movie is projected along with the typical popcorn treat. There is fun for the whole family and everybody else.
PORTS OF CALL
Day 1. Ft. Lauderdale, FL Sail Away 4:15pm
Day 2. At Sea
Day 3. AT Sea
Day 4. Oranjestad, Aruba Arrive 7:00am Depart 5:00pm
Day 5. Willemstad, Curacao Arrive 7:00am Depart 1:00pm
Day 6. At Sea
Day 7. Princess Cays, Bahamas Arrive 8:30am Depart 3:30pm
Day 8. Ft. Lauderdale, FL Arrive 7:00am
This was a snap. Those needing wheelchair assistance met in the Casino. There was a steward to accompany us to baggage pick up and from there a porter assisted us through customs and passport check. The whole procedure took 15 minutes. Excellent!
This was our seventeenth cruise on Princess ships and the third on the Grand, and again a wonderful one. It feels nice to be pampered and appreciated. We enjoy the freebies reserved for the Captain's Circle Elite members, thus we plan to cruise more frequently on Princess. The only difference we noticed between our first cruise on the Grand and this one was our difficulty accessing certain areas, such as the Promenade and the Pool, since now both of us have limited mobility; before, when at least one of us was able and strong, we could open the heavy doors, but now we have to wait for some other person to hold the doors for us. However, on the newer Princess ships, we have noticed the improvements toward making a more wheelchair friendly environment, with automatic door openers and smoother thresholds. Thanks, Princess for listening to our suggestion. We have already booked a future cruise on the Ruby Princess for November 4, 2012. Happy Cruising!