We chose this cruise as we had not been to any of the Canary Islands before or to Lisbon. We had also not sailed from Southampton. We chose this cruise in preference to the April sailing because it also visited Lisbon in addition to the Canary Islands.
Our transport to the Grand Princess, using Eavesway Travel, albeit at our own expense, was flawless and efficient. We can highly recommend this method of transport to Southampton
The embarkation was not efficient. We were given lettered cards on our arrival and had to wait until our "letter" group was called. This waiting did not apply to Elite and Suite passengers. It was noticed that, most of the time, staff were sitting chatting, without guests to process. The waiting could have been reduced by better management of the queue to available processing desks. As it was, it took us a hour and a quarter to reach our stateroom and we had only 15 minutes before the muster. We were certainly not the last on board so a second muster had to be arranged before sailing.
On the second day we noticed an intermittent knocking noise in our stateroom near or around the bathroom/ bedroom wall panelling. By the end of the holiday this had become severe, heavy, metal to metal clanging which on investigation,turned out to be a large dislodged pipe. This was acknowledged by Grand Princess staff but could not be resolved during our cruise. We endured restless and eventually, sleepless nights as a result. The noise also disrupted our enjoyment of an otherwise comfortable balcony stateroom.
During the cruise, on our corridor on Baja deck starboard side, we noticed buckets and other containers catching drips of water from the ceiling and each day a maintenance worker was up a stepladder, removing ceiling panels or other panels to repair something or other...there seemed an awful lot of duck/gaffer tape around pipes when you looked into the exposed areas. It was not unusual to hear banging and knocking, in addition to our own stateroom's "personal noise", as something was continually being repaired or replaced. We were told by another passenger that their neighbour's stateroom was flooded when water seeped in under the balcony sliding door during the initial passage through The Bay of Biscay. In gerneral the whole ship creaked, especially near stairwells. This was more pronounced than on the newer ships we have been on in eqally rough seas.
Despite the recent expensive major refit of this ship, it is still an older ship, launched in 1998. Although the Atrium is new and attractive, the staterooms don't appear to have been updated. The bottom seal and frame on the outside of our sliding door to the balcony was severely corroded and I could imagine that it was just a matter of time before most balcony staterooms had a water seepage problem. There was no matting on the balcony floor to raise you up from any rainwater. The blue painted stateroom balcony floor could be very slippy and very wet.
We found the shower bigger with more shoulder space than in the Ruby or Emerald however this was at the expense of wardrobe hanging space. Under bed storage of suitcases was welcome but more storage space should be provided in the bathrooms. The under sink area could be better utilised....this applies to the Ruby and Emerald too.
The staff we encountered in Michelangelo dining rooms in the evening, and Da vinci in the mornings were mostly excellent. The cheerful staff in the Piazza Bar were welcoming, hard working and entertaining. Our stateroom steward was excellent.
Some meals were very good, some mediocre. Our first cruise with Princess was 4 years ago and we are still experiencing the same dishes...some good, some to be avoided.
We had one visit to The Crown Grill and the service and food was excellent. We did book for a second night near the end of the cruise but due to the almost total lack of sleep on the previous night we cancelled as we felt too tired to enjoy the experience.
Both the outgoing and return trips throught the Bay of Biscay were fairly choppy and windy. No worse than cruising through the Gulf of Lion or the Skagerrak, just more prolonged. This might not be a cruise for first timers!
Lisbon was interesting, dampness in the morning gave way to a sunny afternoon. A trip on the No 28 tram is to be recommended. We took the ship's shuttle bus $8 each way and explored on our own.
Gran Canaria was so-so. Not a good impression from the ship. Our trip to the Botanical Gardens and Teror was interesting and the weather was warm and sunny.
Tenerife was warm and very humid. Our trip to Puerto de la Cruz and the Orotava Valley was pleasant and very scenic.
Lanzarote surprised us. First impressions from the ship were not good but our trip to Timanfaya National Park (volcanic landscape)followed by a camel ride (don't be put off, this is excellent fun) and wine tasting, gave us a good idea of what the island was all about. It was very warm again but this time a dry heat. Great care has been taken to make this island unique and different but you need to go on a trip away from the port to find this out.
Madeira...can't comment as, on the morning we arrived, it was shrouded in fog and it was too rough/windy to dock. The Madeiran port authorities closed the port to local ferry sailings as well as not allowing us to dock. I managed to get some good videos of the tugs and the pilot boat being tossed about in the waves!
An extra day at sea was not welcomed but although disappointed we fully appreciated that it was impossible to dock.
The days at sea, 5 planned, which turned into 6 days have to be considered. This is half of the cruise. The ship organised plenty of things to do and there was something for most people. It also gave Princess chance to open the on board shops more often and arrange "sales" in one of the dining rooms on at least 2 mornings. We had plenty of retail opportunities!
Vigo was a disaster. The whole ship was more than ready for a day on shore after the extra day at sea, however, November 1st is All Saints Day, a public and religious holiday in Spain. There is a large shopping mall at the port but this and all but a handful of gift shops were closed. Churches were either closed to visitors or busy with religious services. Fortunately we had been warned of this a few days earlier by the cruise director on the "Wake Show". We chose to cancel our trip to Santiago de Compostela, which was an "on your own" trip with the ship providing the transport. We did not want to spend 3 to 4 hours wandering around aimlessly and take an hour and a quarter each way to do this. It was a rainy day anyway apart from a couple of hours around lunchtime.
Given the religious holiday,it would have been better if Princess had arranged to visit Vigo on the way out and Lisbon on October 31st, on the way back.
As you will gather, this was not our best cruise. If you want to visit the Canaries, try a June sailing which I believe is available from 2013. The Grand Princess will not be doing the trip as it is off to the Caribbean and then on to Alaska (Alaska cruisers be warned!)