This was my 7th cruise and my first with Princess. I have previously sailed with Holland America, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean. This is my first review.
Embarkation: We had scheduled our private transfer before we got our staggered boarding time of 1:30, so we arrived in Southampton at about noon, but they let us check in right away. Security got backed up, which made them hold the check-in lines until the security lines were cleared. It took us about an hour to get through. However, our rooms were ready and waiting for us, as was our luggage. I was impressed! I talked to some folks that arrived at about 1:00 and waited 2 Â½ hours to get through the embarkation procedure. I don't think staggered boarding would have helped.
Ship: I think the Grand Princess is one of the most beautiful ships I have been on, and was also the largest. I enjoyed the ambience in the dining rooms and really didn't miss the huge windows I am used to. I especially thought the Wheelhouse Bar was lovely. The lack of central stairs was awkward, though. We had to keep remembering to walk down to deck 7 and then go across to the center for decks 6 and below. It was also a bit weird that the Lido was in two completely separate spaces. I am used to being able to go from one side to the other without having to walk back into the hall and go around to the other side. I never thought it was crowded, though. Traffic flow was good, but it was sometimes difficult to find a place to sit. That worked well for me, though, as I got to sit with and enjoy the company of strangers. We had some nice conversations! I thought the burgers, hot dogs and pizza were situated very far away from the Lido. It might work on a cruise with warmer weather, but I had no intention of sitting in the pool area -- too cold! I also thought the traffic flow on deck seven by the photos was horrible. There was always a crush of people looking at their pictures and hardly room to squeeze through. Since the Wheelhouse Bar and Sabatini's were here, it got crowded quite often. I also thought the areas on deck 15 were hard to get to since they were so spread out with no way to get to them without having to go up/down several sets of stairs. I thought there were several areas of the ship you could go to for some peace and quiet, which I like.
Room: We had an inside cabin, deck 11 aft. I wasn't sure if I was going to like the layout, but overall I thought it was very nice, with ample space. The extra outlet behind the TV was the perfect place to recharge camera batteries. A little more storage space would have been nice, but it was adequate. We read there was nowhere to place your shower items, so we purchased a hanging shower caddy beforehand and were very glad we did. One thing I would have liked would be the option to turn a switch and have the public announcements come through your room like I have had on other ships. I had read about the mattresses being hard, but I most certainly did not find that to be the case. Mine was just right. The location of the room was very convenient, but unfortunately seemed to be a place where smells would settle, and they weren't pleasant. One day the whole hall and the room just reeked of garlic.
Food: I thought Princess had the biggest selection of places to eat compared to other cruise lines, which was good, since I was not a fan of the Lido buffet food. Actually, of the four cruise lines I've been on, this was the worst buffet food for me. Perhaps it was because it was a bit more international and less "Americanized" than I am used to, but squid ball soup for breakfast just seemed a bit odd. You can get omelets or eggs made to order, but there is no sign telling you this. You just have to know to ask. I did enjoy the selection of fruit. After embarkation day, I pretty much avoided the Lido for lunch. The burgers and hot dogs were good. Alfredo's was fantastic. I ate lunch there twice. I enjoyed the Panini and soups at the International Cafe, as well as the cookies. The other desserts did not really impress me, and I had several! We also sampled the chicken salad in the IC that we had read so much about. It was good, but once was enough for me. I enjoyed sitting in the Piazza late at night and enjoying coffee and cookies at the IC. I had read complaints about the coffee served in the Lido and the dining room, but I found no fault with it. The dining room food was good, with the exception of desserts. I just didn't find them flavorful enough. The apple pie on the last night was fantastic, however, and I enjoyed the ice cream very much. I loved the fruit soups, particularly the pina colada, and the filet on the first formal night was some of the best, if not the best, I've ever had. Melt-in-your-mouth! We tried the much-touted Fettuccini Alfredo served in a parmesan bowl. It was just OK. The parmesan bowl was the best part. Another favorite of mine was the scones at afternoon tea. Delicious. We did not eat at Sabatini's or the Crown Grill so I can't comment on that.
Service: I have mixed reviews. Our room steward did a good job of keeping our room clean and was quite friendly and willing to help. We did ask for top sheets the first day we met him. We also asked him for robes, which we had previously asked for online, and he said he already had that on his list. We got the sheets, but not the robes until we reminded him the next day. I'm not sure he ever vacuumed. I really hate that they stuff those bed covers and luggage mats under your bed then put them on the bed. That just seems so unsanitary to me. Our dining service was adequate, but nothing outstanding. This is the first cruise they have never asked our names. The assistant waiter was constantly busy carrying dishes in and out and was mostly attentive when he wasn't doing that. I asked for a straw the first night and he had one for me every other night! However, we noticed he paid more attention to those tables that ordered wine, and one night he never even offered or brought us coffee or tea with dessert. This is the first cruise we've had to ask for our water glasses to be filled. It's also the first time they only filled certain glasses and ONLY when they were low enough they needed to be filled. In the past, every glass at the table was filled to the top each time they came around to fill the glasses, whether you had taken one sip or your glass was empty. We had an awkward incident with our waiter, which I won't go into, but it made us feel a bit uncomfortable with him for the remainder of the cruise.
Ports: We went to Zeebrugge (Brugge), Belgium; Copenhagen, Denmark; Helsingborg, Sweden; and Oslo, Norway. We did not take any ship's tours as we thought they were pricey and it was easy to do each of these ports on our own. Our day in Brugge was cold and drizzly and generally unpleasant weather-wise. It was a relatively nice place but would have been more enjoyable had the weather been better. We took a canal tour and just walked around a bit -- there was a choir performing in the Grand Platz, which was a nice surprise. Copenhagen was very nice. We did a HOHO tour and visited the National Museum, plus did a little walking tour and spent some time on the Stroget. I had wanted to visit Tivoli at night, but could get no other takers in my group and so decided on walking along the canal from the ship all the way to Nyhavn after dinner. I got some great pictures as the sun was out that evening and had not been out much during the day. I was able to watch the changing of the guards at Amalienborg Palace at 9:00 p.m. and I didn't even know it took place! It was a public holiday in Copenhagen, so banks and some shops and things were closed, but it didn't affect our day there. Helsingborg was lovely -- I liked Sweden a lot. Again, it was a holiday there, which makes me wonder about Princess' planning skills. Very few shops were open. We walked the quaint streets, visited St. Mary's church and Helsingborg castle, which I thoroughly enjoyed -- a highlight of the trip! Then since the shops were closed, we took the ferry to Helsingor, Denmark. My sister and I went to Kronborg, Hamlet's castle, which we found very castle-like and impressive, especially the casemates. The rest of my group toured the town and the markets and said they had an enjoyable day there. On the ferry over, we were on a "small" ferry, which we thought was the big ferry. My sister and I ended up on the BIG ferry going back. It's like a mini mall. Very fun. Oslo: I enjoyed Oslo very much. Again, we did a HOHO tour, stopping at Viegland Park, the Viking Ship Museum and the Folkmusuem. We loved the Viking Ship Musuem. Our main reason for going to the Folkmusuem was to see the Stave Church, which was the most interesting part. I would like to go back to Oslo as there is so much to see. I would have enjoyed a few more hours at that port, plus it was the best weather we had the whole trip. As we cruised the fjords on our way out, the captain pointed out an island where a German sub had sunk. I enjoyed the scenery very much.
Entertainment: After the first night, we did not go to the Princess Theater to see any of the Princess singers/dancers as we weren't impressed. There were two singers/comedians there that were good. The crew show/cooking demonstration was quite creative and funny. The ventriloquist in the Vista Lounge was quite good -- the first half of his show was OK; the second half was hysterical. There were a lot of Queen's Jubilee events, and I think we attended them all. Now I can sing "Rule Britannia" with the best of them! I felt proud to be British, even though I'm American! I watched more Karaoke on this cruise than any other and had quite a good time. I was surprised at the amount of middle-aged men that sang. We enjoyed the trivia events, the game shows, the 50's and 60's Sock Hop and the Country and Western night. Princess band "The Speakers" was very good. I also enjoyed the guitarist and the string ensemble that played several times. They had an acrobat the first night in the Princess Theater, and then she also performed in the Piazza and other places during the cruise. I call her a contortionist more than an acrobat. It was not pleasant for me to watch her. The rest of my group agreed. MUTS was a nice concept, but this cruise was really too cold for me to experience it. I did like the variety of movies in the staterooms, though. I enjoyed playing mini golf, but our balls would constantly escape the green. They could build the barriers up a little higher to try to avoid this. Once, my ball went down the steps. Thankfully the stairwell was fully enclosed so I didn't injure anyone -- we got a good laugh out of it! Overall I thought there were a lot of different things to do, but would have liked a few more activities on our last sea day. As it was, I found a spot in the Wheelhouse Bar that wasn't affected by the rolling seas and read a book.
Disembarkation: other than a glitch I mentioned below, everything went well, albeit slightly delayed. Our meeting time was 7:30 and we didn't get off till almost 8:00.
Other observations: As far as age goes, this seemed like an older-skewed cruise to me. I don't think it was, as there were plenty of children, but the amount of wheelchairs and folks with crutches and canes was the largest I have experienced -- and I sail mostly with HAL! We had issues with Princess staff not knowing what was up. In Zeebrugge, there were free shuttles that took you to the train station in Blankenberge. There was no one at the gangway to tell us where they were or where to meet them, and it was POURING rain. There was no place to stand to stay dry, so we finally gave up and went back on the ship until the rain slowed, then went back outside and had the same problem the second time. I think all the staff ran for cover and left the others out there just to scan our cruise cards. Then when we got back to Blankenberge to get the shuttle back, there were no Princess representatives. We got in a line with folks waiting for the shuttle. The police stopped the first bus that came by and told the driver he couldn't stop there, so then we all started walking in the general direction the driver pointed to. Eventually a Princess representative came with a sign to show us where to go. I was surprised there were no warm cloths or anything to drink or other refreshing perks waiting for us as we embarked the ship at any of the ports. When we disembarked, the person in our meeting area told us to go to deck 6, when the gangplank was clearly on deck 5. That caused lots of confusion as well. Also, we had two rough sea days. A couple people in our group were not feeling at all well, so I went to the desk and asked for seasickness pills. I was told I had to buy them in the shop. I was not a happy camper. On our previous cruises, these pills were free of charge. This gave me the feeling that Princess was more interested in the almighty dollar than in the welfare of their passengers. However, one bartender did give us a free ginger ale when he realized it was to settle a stomach. I felt in general that you get more of a "package deal" with Princess than a "personal touch."
Overall: I was pleased overall. I had high expectations of Princess after reading the CC boards. Some of them were met, some of them were not. Would I sail with them again? Probably, but it would depend on the price and itinerary.