Embarkation: We travelled up to Southampton the night before & stayed in the Highfield House Hotel, a basic but, pleasant place for an overnight stop. On arrival at the docks we dropped our luggage, drove to the short stay car park where we were met by Edward from Looking4Parking (booked through Cruise Co.uk): he took the keys & we set off for the very short walk to the check in desks. After a brief wait we went through security & into the departure lounge where we waited until we were called to board (approx 30 mins). Once onboard we dropped our hand luggage in the cabin & headed to Horizon Court for lunch.
Onboard: After the mandatory muster drill, we headed onto Deck 15 for the rather misty sailaway from Southampton.
Dining: We had opted for Anytime Dining as this suits our needs. However, unlike the last time on the Grand, the tables for two had diminished & if you didn't arrive in time to queue for half hour prior to the dining room opening you were issued with a pager & a wait of over an hour. This did not apply if you were willing to share a table. However, many people wanted the small tables & there were a lot of unhappy diners. Contrary to the info provided tables for two could not be pre-booked, but, larger tables could.
The food was as ever, very good with a varied menu: the "Always Available" selection & was served by efficient waiters.
Food in the Horizon Court buffet was also very good, with a wide selection of hot & cold food & delicious desserts! The International Cafe also had some mouthwatering choices.
We didn't eat in the Speciality Restaurants but, were told they were excellent. As were the Pizzas in Alfredos. We did sample the free ice creams & they were good. Free lemonade was available in the Horizon Court & this was very refreshing especially on the very hot days.
Entertainment: The theatre shows were good. Production shows by the ships singers & dancers were the same as 2 years ago but, enjoyable. The comedians were mediocre & not to everyones taste. We personally did not enjoy the female singer but, that was our opinion. We did enjoy the violinist from Swansea. The theatre was packed every night for both performances & to get an aisle seat you had to be there an hour early! Infact if you didn't want to sit in the front you needed to be there 30 mins early: this also applied to the Vista Lounge.
We did attend all of the lectures by Doug McKensie, a sprightly 85 year old photographer to the celebrities & royals. He was absolutely riviting to listen to & we really enjoyed his talks.
The Ship: The Grand has benefitted from the refit in many ways. The Attrium is brighter & the introduction of the International cafe is a bonus. However, certain areas are still looking very tired & rust has already appeared along with broken handrails.
Our balcony cabin was kept clean by our efficient room steward Luis who was always happy to assist. He provided robes, ice, extra pillows/coat hangers etc.
We used the self service launderette twice as it was a 17 day cruise. There was one per deck with 2 washers , 2 driers & 2 irons. Cost 8 x 25 cents each (obtainable from the Customer services desk). The driers were very good.
Medical Centre: Unfortunately, on Day 16 my husband became ill & needed to go to the Medical Centre. We had just heard from from the Capt. that the ship was diverting to Vigo as a seriously ill passenger was being taken off. The staff in the centre were first class, highly efficient & kind. Despite being busy with the evac. my husband was given all the tests necessary to diagnose & treat him before being allowed back to our cabin. We cannot praise the doctor & nurses highly enough.
Disembarkation: We had been given "Pink 4" as our disembarkation time (9am) but, as my husband had been ill we were told to use the Assisted Embarkation point & left from Deck 5 just before our allotted time. We collected our luggage (with a Porters help) & found our car in the short stay car park.
Cadiz: As we docked in Cadiz the heavens opened: its a long time since we have seen so much rain fall continuously over several hours! We decided that as we were "on holiday" we would take a walk into Cadiz (only a short walk from the dock). It was a pretty place but, due to the appalling weather we headed back to the ship after visiting the Cathedral.
Valetta (Malta): My husband got up early to stand on top of the bridge to film the sail into Valetta & it was well worth it. It is a spectacular harbour & a sight we'll never forget. We spent the day walking the pretty streets, taking in the beauty of the "yellow" brick work & generally soaking up the atmosphere of Malta. It was very easy to find your way around & as we found an elevator in the car park near the port it saved us the long climb up to the city! The sailaway was delayed by the arrival in Valetta of a large tanker which made quite a sight.
Venice: The previous evening the Captain had broken into the address system to inform us that due to an unusually low tide our sail into Venice was to be delayed by an hour to allow suffient water below the ship: to compensate we'd be leaving an hour later. We were all happy to leave the safety of the ship & passengers to the Capt!
Princess issue passengers with tickets for the Water taxi from the dock to St Marks Square, a cost of $15 pp is automatically deducted from your cruise account so if the tickets are not used you have to ask for a refund. We initially went into Venice on the People Mover (1 euro pp) & looked around the markets, back streets etc. Then took the water taxi to the square. There were complaints from some passengers that the taxi didn't drop them "in the square" & they had to walk to it!!!! (the mind boggles!) The square is stunning & a must see as was the hour long sail into Venice & the evening sailaway with all the lights of this beautiful city sparkling as we left.
Split (Croatia): This was our only tender port & we had to wait almost an hour to be taken ashore. We strolled around this quaint port, taking in the markets, cathedral, water side walk & pretty streets. It was very much an "unwinding" port after the bustle of Venice.
Dubrovnik (Croatia): This for us was the highlight of our cruise. We absolutely loved Dubrovnik. We caught an independent shuttle bus in from the docks ($15 pp return) & then bought tickets to "Walk the Walls": the cost was 70 kunas pp: no other currency was accepted although you could use a credit card. The views from the walls of the coast & the little red roofed houses took our breath away, it was amazing & well worth the 1,030 steps we climbed (there were more if you chose to!!!).
Corfu (Greece): Again, in our opinion only: this was the only let down port on this itinary. It is obviously suffering from the Greek economic crisis & was tired, dirty & run down. Apart from the market there was very little to see. We had a free shuttle to the port gates but, it was still approx 2 mile walk to the town along a very uninspiring quayside.
Gibraltar: We had visited Gibraltar before so had done the "touristy" things! So we just walked into the tow, strolled around & then returned to the ship.
Sea Days: We had 9 sea days on this cruise & we spent them ambling around the ship, watching lectures/demonstations eg: fruit carving, ice sculpting. There seemed to be something going on throughout the day if you wanted to take part in Zumba to crafts or art auctions to wine tasting.
Weather: The weather was changeable. We had it fairly calm until we entered the Atlantic when the side winds caused the ship to rock & a lot of people suffered sea sickness (we were lucky not to). As we left Cadiz the sun shone & it continued to do so until we returned. The average temperature on port days was 27 degrees.
We hope that this review was helpful.