Well, we've been back from our two week Western Mediterranean cruise on the Grand Princess (our second cruise aboard the Grand) for two weeks now. I haven't had time to sit down and write a review as yet, but Sue is at work and there is nothing else to occupy my time (for a change!) so, here we go!
We arrived at the Mayflower Terminal at around 1220, having only travelled five miles from our overnight hotel, the Best Western Chilworth Manor which, by the way, was superb and comes highly recommended. Being on Baja Deck, our assigned check-in time under the new staggered boarding policy was 1330. However, the terminal was very quiet and there was no sign at all of the staggered boarding being adhered to. We were ushered straight to a check-in desk and were on in our cabin by 1300. We were just about to head down to the Piazza for a coffee when our luggage arrived. I cannot fault the embarkation process, it was so much better and quicker than our first cruise two years ago.
The Grand Princess, as I'm sure you all know, underwent a massive (but not total) refit last year and is all the better for it. The removal of Skywalker's is a shame as it was a lovely, quiet place to go and read a good book on a sea day. The new nightclub, OneFive (for some reason, I couldn't stop referring to it as Ten Forward!) is a nice place to be, but never seemed to be busy of an evening.
The Piazza is a vast improvement. Last time we were onboard, the Atrium was just something you passed through on the way from A to B. Now it is somewhere you stop and linger, and a lot of events were staged there. The International Cafe is a great place to stop for a coffee (I purchased a coffee card as I enjoy an espresso after my dinner -- it also gave us unlimited fresh-brewed coffee and unlimited tea) and a pastry.
The overall condition of the Grand is very good indeed. Whilst we were onboard, there was a seemingly continuous programme of maintenance, mainly to the deck handrails. Also, there was always someone painting various areas and on disembarkation there were several people painting the hull. The public areas are in good condition, although some of the seating is a bit tired. It did puzzle me that, while some areas such as the Piazza have been totally transformed, areas such as Explorers Lounge don't seem to have been touched at all.
Our cruise director was Peter Tredgett and, overall, he did a good job. Perhaps a little too obsequious for my liking but quite likeable. He was very visible, and was happy to stop for a chat. The production shows were to Princess's usual high standards and the visiting artists that we saw were pretty good too. The pick was a young ventriloquist called Gareth Oliver who was astoundingly clever. At one point he has three voices on the go, as well as his own. Amazing.
The ship's band, The Speakers, were superb. All of them were masters of their respective instruments and the music they played was varied. Sometimes, you can pretty much guess the set-list of a ship band once you've been on a week but even on the last night they were playing stuff that they hadn't previously played.
On the whole, I thought that the food on this cruise was head and shoulders above our last cruise. There was only one thing throughout the whole cruise that I didn't enjoy and that was the Scotch Egg served in the Crown Grill during one of the pub lunches.
We ate in the MDR for evening meal nearly every night and were on Anytime Dining. Mostly we were happy to share a table with others (and our holiday was all the better for it) but occasionally we wanted to dine alone. This was not a problem, and the longest we had to wait was about fifteen minutes.
As I alluded to above, the International Cafe in the Piazza is a lovely place to stop for a panini or a pastry and the Cheese, Egg and Bacon Muffins served at breakfast time are fabulous! Also, the tiramisus are a thing of wonder.
We ate in the Crown Grill on one of the three formal nights and it was well worth the money. I indulged myself with a Porterhouse steak that was nearly the size of my face! It was beautiful, though I could barely move after I finished the whole dinner.
Horizon Court is another of the areas that have been dramatically improved. The layout is much better now that the desert stations have been relocated and the whole buffet area flows much more easily. The seating has also been vastly improved with all the fixed banquettes having been removed. The tables are now set with cutlery and glasses, meaning that it looks a bit more classy than the '1990s motorway service area' theme of old.
Burgers and pizza are available poolside at the Trident Grill until around 2200 and are excellent.
Almost without exception, all the crew we met were absolutely wonderful. There was one waiter who was a bit grumpy but we had him again a few nights later and he was great -- everyone's entitled to an off day, I guess.
As with our first cruise on the Grand, we brought alcohol with us. Three bottle of wine (two in our hand luggage, one in our suitcases) and two bottles of spirits -- one of gin and one of vodka (in our suitcases). We also brought on two multi-packs of mixers to use on our stateroom. During the cruise, I brought on board two more bottles of wine without a problem. Obviously, this was to be drunk in our stateroom. We also recharged our spirit supplies by bringing more vodka and gin (both purchased very cheaply from Lidl whilst ashore) onboard in water bottles. Our cabin steward plainly knew what we were up to but was perfectly happy to keep us supplied with glasses and ice.
Booze onboard is rather expensive with a pint of Stella (lager) coming in at around $7 and a decent bottle of wine around $27. We purchased the soda package which gave us unlimited coke, diet coke, lemonade, Sprite, soda and tonic water and took our spirits in miniature bottles secreted in Sue's handbag. Naughty, I know, but we don't have a money tree growing in our back garden!
Faultless. We were supposed to meet in the Princess Theatre at 0930. We wandered up there at 0920 to be met by a crew member who told us that we were fine to disembark there and then. We were off the ship, through baggage recall and customs and in our taxi back to the hotel by 0940.
A fabulous holiday, well worth the money. If you're not sure about cruising then I urge you to give it a go. We've certainly been bitten by the bug and while it's not something that we can afford to do every year, we intend to cruise every other year. The Caribbean next time, may be.