This was our second Princess cruise, the first being on Caribbean Princess, Southern Caribbean B2B in March 2011 and our eighth cruise in total. I was travelling with my civil partner and we are a male couple in our 40s.
We chose this cruise purely for the departure date, as due to the additional UK bank holiday for the Jubilee, we had only to take 3 days off work. Living within an hour of Southampton it was also appealing to avoid the hassle of airport travel and try sailing from the UK.
Given the CC threads, comments and anger about Staggered Boarding, we arrived just after our specified time of 12 noon expecting a chaotic scene. However, we walked straight to a check in desk, noting that the Elite desks had a queue, were given a boarding card and then joined the short queue for security, which unlike in the US, was manned by very friendly, courteous and efficient staff. After a short wait of about 10 minutes in the departure lounge, our group was called aboard. After a quick trip to our cabin, we were having lunch in the MDR before 1pm where it was very quiet.
We were in a mini suite on Dolphin deck towards the aft. We always book a balcony, but thought the extra sitting area might be handy given the cooler weather in Scandinavia, and we weren't wrong. As the sea days were cold, often wet with rough seas, the buffet was busy as no one was sitting outside, so we enjoyed eating in the cabin. It was nice having a larger bathroom with a good shower head, though we never actually used the tub itself. The quality of towels varied during the week from new and fluffy to old and hard.
The beds were very comfortable, possibly the best we've ever had. Being a mini suite, we had two flatscreen TVs, neither of which could be tilted downwards from their high position at the top of the shelving unit, which made viewing them from the sofa uncomfortable. They would have been better wall-mounted at a lower level for viewing.
Our steward introduced himself shortly after our arrival with our glasses of cava. He kept the cabin clean and tidy during the week, and we never saw him again until the morning we disembarked. This was in complete contrast to last year when our steward sat us down on arrival to tell us about the cabin and ship, then greeted us like friends everyday in the corridor asking about our trips and what we had been doing. A clean cabin is what you want, so last year was a bonus.
The cabin itself was mostly in a good state of repair. The carpet looked new and there was little visible wear and tear in the fixtures. Most noticeable was the balcony door with its corroded catches which crumbled if you rubbed them. No wonder the wind was whistling in on the windy sea days.
As has been mentioned before, the balcony rubber matting had been removed, leaving bare metal which was wet a lot of the time due to the weather. This meant treading dirty water into the cabin carpet. A small door mat would probably work well.
The cabin was generally quiet apart from thrusters noise and significant vibrations during port docking manoeuvres and the occasional whining noise coming from beneath the cabin floor, possibly from one of the lifeboat cranes.
The areas of the ship updated or installed during last year's refit (International Cafe, Vines, Alfredo's, Piazza Bar, One15, Crown Grille, Horizon Court, piazza staircase, etc) were in very good condition and looked very contemporary and fresh. Existing areas were still OK but looked somewhat dated in comparison.
The Anytime MDRs were OK, but compared to Caribbean Princess last year, the service was rushed and not as attentive and the food wasn't as interesting. Not once this time did I get the "wow" feeling as a plate was put down on the table. On one evening the senior waitress in our section admitted that she was having trouble serving the number of tables she had to the standard she would like, especially as she was having to tutor her junior waiter constantly. A heated discussion between her and the M d' ensued.
One thing I did notice on the Grand was when you arrived at the MDR the greeting wasn't "Good evening gentlemen, welcome to Da Vinci's, where would you like to sit this evening?" as it had been on Caribbean Princess last year (during our two weeks on board), but simply "Share?". I don't want to be made to feel guilty for wanting a table for two, especially when you hear the greeter saying to other people "You've made my evening for sharing". Similarly, I don't recall being given a pager more than a couple of times last year, but this year it was every night and we were arriving at 8:30pm.
We ate both lunch and dinner in Alfredo's pizzeria. A limited choice -- just pizza and no sides, but with the International Cafe just across the way, bringing a couple of side salads over was no problem followed by tiramisu and cappuccino in the Piazza. The venue itself is a good addition to the Piazza and it often had a queue at lunchtime.
Visited the Crown Grill on our last night. The restaurant had a nice atmosphere with tables far apart, decorated in dark wood and even incorporating a large marble fireplace. The service and food were both excellent. I particularly enjoyed the way the waiter wheeled over the trolley with all the cuts of meat to explain your choices. The staff on the night we visited were clearly happy and proud to be there and it showed in the service.
We bypassed Sabatini's again as in our opinion it doesn't seem to have much atmosphere and is too brightly lit.
We had room service breakfast most mornings and without fail it arrived early. After our experience on other cruises, we'd brought some coffee filters with us and just ordered hot water but it just didn't taste right. So having bought a coffee card one of us went for free filter coffee from the International Cafe in the mornings but more often than not it tasted as though it had been brewing for a while. The cappuccinos were fantastic though.
Crooners was packed every night, so we had to forgo the pre-dinner Martini there and ended up in the Piazza bar every night, which was just as nice, especially when the string quartet were playing.
The International Cafe was also a great place to get a coffee or dessert or both at any time of the day. The staff in both venues were always smiling and friendly.
We didn't drink in the new nightclub One5. It's an updated version of Skywalkers. The bar area is very sleek but I thought some of the seating- the gold leather, for example, looked old-fashioned. The times we walked through the venue, both day and night, it was extremely quiet.
Being half-term in the UK, I was expecting more children to be on board, but we didn't encounter that many, and the ones we did were generally well-behaved.
Sailing from the UK, the majority of passengers were British, but there was a fair percentage of US and Australians as well as a minority of European travellers.
There was a broad spectrum of ages on this sailing.
We didn't attend any of the evening shows, as they aren't our thing. Instead we prefer leisurely dining and a stroll around the deck, even though it was quite chilly. It was quite a feeling watching the Queen's Diamond Jubilee concert up on deck in MUTS, still light at 11pm, as we sailed around the top of Denmark.
During the two sea days, they showed the films The King's Speech and War Horse in the Princess Theatre. Given the poor weather and rough sea, this was a good way to spend a couple of hours inside.
Zeebrugge / Bruges -- the weather was so awful that I was pleased we hadn't organised anything in advance. We simply took the free port shuttle to the local seaside town of Blankenberge and walked along the seafront for an hour. It was rather bleak in the cold wind and grey drizzle.
Copenhagen -- we docked in Langelinie, which is only a short walk (20 mins) into the centre and about 5 mins to the Little Mermaid statue on the way. After a few hours taking in the sights, we jumped on a train from the central station and headed over to Malm' in Sweden via the 'resund Bridge. The weather had picked up by then, so we enjoyed a late lunch sitting outside a cafe.
After dinner we ventured out again in the evening sunshine to the IceBar in Copenhagen. Even though we'd already had enough of the cold weather, it was an usual experience.
Helsingborg -- I never enjoy using a tender as it seems to take such a long time. We waited until about 10:45am thinking we'd miss the rush and still had to wait about 20 mins. A nice place to spend a couple of hours walking round.
Oslo -- this was the highlight of the itinerary. The weather soon cleared to produce a warm and sunny day. We spent the morning walking round the centre of the city from the harbour to the Opera House and then hopped on a tram up to the Vigeland Sculpture Park. All very easy. It was a shame that the ship left at 4pm, but this meant that we had ample time to admire the passing scenery as we exited the Oslo Fjord over the next few hours before dinner.
This was one of the easiest disembarkations ever. We'd asked for a later time, as we didn't have to rush for a change. This meant we had time for a leisurely breakfast in the MDR then a stroll on deck before our scheduled departure time of 9:45am. We didn't even make it to the departure lounge before a crew member spotted our coloured tags on the way there and said we could disembark. We were standing on the platform at Southampton station by 10am having taken a taxi outside the terminal after collecting our luggage in the hall. Amazing.
Though I enjoyed the cruise, I didn't find it as special as our cruise on Caribbean Princess last year. This didn't have anything to do with the ship itself, but more to do with the weather, meaning it wasn't possible to spend as much time outside, either on deck or on the balcony and also with the service and food in the MDR. For the most part, all the staff were happy, smiling and very courteous and trying their best to provide a good service. I would sail on the Grand again for the right itinerary, but I'm looking forward to boarding one of the newer ships again for our next cruise with Princess.