This was our second Princess cruise and fourth over all. Food, Service and Entertainment was up to the usual cruise standards so I won't go into detail on these aspects of the cruise. Main points that I would like to make to assist readers are:
Embarkation at Southampton was appalling - almost two hours to get aboard due to a late start to boarding (not until 12.30) and very slow security procedures (G4S!).Disembarkation was excellent.
Cruisers to the Canaries should remember that the Atlantic can be affected by wind and rain more than the Med or the Caribbean. Apart from one night in the Bay of Biscay when winds reached force 7, the movement was not disruptive. It was very difficult to sleep through the night in question and most people suffered loss of sleep. It would not put me off a similar cruise again, it is just something to be aware of.
As a result of strong winds, we were unable to call at Madeira which was the port most were looking forward to visiting. From a mile offshore and in heavy rain, the port looked exposed and no-one was criticising the Captain's decision. Had we have docked, the very low cloud would have spoiled the cable car ride in any case.
The itinerary found us in Vigo on a bank holiday, 1st November, when all except a few tourist shops were closed. Not a problem for everyone and we enjoyed walking around the city, and cafes and bars were open. I wonder whether Princess were aware of the holiday when planning the route. As a result of this, and the sail-by at Madeira, we came home with many more Euros than expected.
There was some maintenance in place during the cruise and having booked an aft cabin on Aloha to be close to the pool at the back, it was frustrating that it was dry with workmen welding and drilling inside until day 6 of the cruise. The Pursers desk didn't seemed to appreciate that this was a facilty that we wanted to use, when I reported this.
Some have written of the Grand Princess showing its age and that cabins are tired, having not benefited from the refurbishment to common areas. We found that apart from some rust on the outside paintwork, visible from the balcony but the other side of the glass, the ship was fine. We went on the Ruby a year after launch and thought that the standard of the Grand was as good. Anyone concerned about booking on a ship that is 14 years old should not worry.
The cabin was fine and the attendant excellent. Having said that I do wonder whether the cabin was fully cleaned as we found three loose beads from a necklace by the dressing table and a pair of glasses under the bed, which should have been spotted before we checked in.
At breakfast, it was nice to see proper back bacon, called "English Bacon" as well as the usual crispy streaky strips, which was called "American Bacon". There was no smoked salmon on the breakfast buffet but I asked for this on three occasions and it was supplied within a few minutes.
Entertainment was very good and we particularly enjoyed Siobhan Phillips, Bernie Flint, Mel Mellors and Jason Isaacs, as well as the Princess shows.
I know that the Casino is very popular and profitable but its positioning, where you have to walk through every day, enduring the smoke from cigarettes, is annoying. At least the cigar bar, Snookers, is at one end of the ship by the Princess Theatre. Sadly though, the doors at both sides of the bar are always left open, leaving the seating by the theatre prone to smoke escaping from the bar. I think Princess need to address this issue.
All in all, the cruise met our expectations except for weather that was cooler and cloudier than expected.