We have never been on cruise in which we've had a bad time. Cost & value is always a consideration for us and we rarely pay for any optional services or meals onboard. We treat the ship as a floating hotel and book based mainly on itinerary. While we had a good time, comparison to last years cruise always came up for us. When reading reviews I realize they are opinions and to decipher how they will affect us is sometimes difficult. I have 35+ years experience in customer service, restaurant, & convention service so I may be more critical in those areas.
So this review will compare my Princess Grand 2012 TA vs. NCL Pearl 2011 PC and hopefully will be helpful to 1st time cruisers. I will add more detailed info on the Trans-Atlantic cruise in the regular review section.
I felt the comparisons are valid because of the following similarities:
• Size of vessel
• Length of cruise
• Number of sea days
• Passenger demographics
• Time of More
• Relocation cruises
Embarkation: This was the first time that we've had to use staggered embarkation and while I agree with it in theory, I don't believe it worked very well in this instance. We were given letters upon arrival at the pier which would dictate when you would be allowed to board. Instead of giving out letters to correspond with your staggered time it was based on 1st come 1st served. I believe this and the quantity of "Elites" caused us to board over 2+ hours after our arrival time.
Stateroom: The Grand cabin is larger and the floor plan more user friendly than the Pearl. The Grand steward was good but not as meticulous, friendly, or outgoing as the Pearl. The cabin had a phone that didn't work and I had to request a replacement. I needed the phone for wake up calls as well as weather info. No towel art on the Grand but done nightly on the Pearl.
Room service: I have never had a room service issue until this cruise. With a broken phone, I ordered room service for 6:30-7:00 delivery as a wake-up call. I just happened to get up early and waited. We waited until 7:15 and it never arrived so we left a note on the door to cancel as we had an 8:00am excursion planned. Upon our return the steward told us that room service had left a bottle of champagne and canapEs' for the inconvenience. Good recovery for a potentially disastrous day.
Buffet dining: Breakfast was your standard pre-cooked fare with the exception of Lox and a juice dispenser. Lox and juice is available on request but was a standard offering on the Pearl. The pearl also cooked your eggs and omelets to order.
Lunch and dinner quality at the buffet on both lines were good and comparable however the service was indifferent on the Grand. You were never asked if you needed a beverage, condiment, or how the food was. I asked for ketchup in the seating area at breakfast and they told me to go back to the buffet line to fill out a ramekin.
Coffee and Ice Tea was inconsistent in dispensing a quality product. Strength of the beverage varied at all times. It is my belief that the Grand uses a liquid coffee concentrate while the Pearl grinds and prepares by the batch.
Snack time and desserts were a higher quality and the selection better on the Grand buffet line.
Sanitation procedures at the buffet was very lax in my opinion as there was no enforcement of sanitizer use and the changing of thongs and serving utensils were non existent. Even when there was someone at the entrance they did not say anything like the "washy, washy" staff on the Pearl.
MDR dining: Breakfast and lunch on both lines were good and comparable. Dinner menus were not very good at the beginning of the cruise but got a little better as the cruise went on. I say this because it was not very difficult to choose an item and I did not have one dinner in which I had every course which is a cruise first for me. While most of the meals did not meet the exotic description on the menu there were a few meals that were quite memorable such as escargot, lobster tail, and prime rib. Unfortunately the lobster and the prime rib were on the same evening so one was the appetizer and the other a main course. This was my only dual entrEe evening on the cruise which is also a first for me. It is my opinion that the inclusion of at least one vegan, and one "spa" item in each menu category diluted the choices for the mainstream cruisers. I grew tired of the "1980's pepper spiel" pretty quickly.
Other Dining: Pizza on the Grand is the best that I have had on a cruise. A good tasty crust and ample toppings made to order.
The burgers are better on the pearl as they offer hot condiments such as grilled mushrooms and onions. The mustard had a Dijon flavor even though it looks like the standard yellow mustard. I was also concerned to see the cook turn his hamburgers with the same utensil he used to turn chicken. This is a "food safe sin" in restaurants
The British pub lunch was outstanding on the days that it was offered in the Crown Grill. The "steak N kidney pie" and the "bread N butter pudding" were highlights.
The Panini and salad snacks offered on the Grand's deck 5 are superior to the Pearl's "Blue Lagoon" cafe.
Afternoon tea was superior on the Grand but the scones on the Pearl are better.
Wine: Selection and pricing are similar on both cruise lines. The $25 Princess wine tastings are better than any wine tastings I've experienced on NCL. The best wine value on both lines is a French "Chateaunerf du Pape" as they are priced similarly on land. The most overpriced wines are the $25 entry levels which are triple the land price.
Anytime Dining: On my next Princess cruise I would not chose anytime dining again and would choose the second seating instead. They encouraged you to make a reservation on the day of dinner by calling a number but the staff never accepted it and told you to just show up. There seemed to be to be always a wait to be seated and they never checked to see if you had anytime or a scheduled seating. With a second seating I think I would always have a seat by 8:30. Freestyle is the pioneer!
Cruise staff: I found the cruise staff average and indifferent at best on the Grand. There were cancelled activities, no shows and tardiness to activities and a general lack of enthusiasm. I also found the arrogance of the cruise director may have set the example. The group on the Pearl was heads and shoulders above the Grand group. A failure to correctly announce a "clock rollback" by the CD almost cost us to miss an excursion and the corrected announcement came after some tours had left.
Activities and lectures: I believe the activities and the cruise staff go hand in hand. If it was not for the golf related activities there would have been some boring sea days. My wife felt 4 days at sea seemed longer than on the Pearl because of the lack of varied activities. The "scholar at sea" lectures were a joke and just selling opportunities for the art, camera, and jewelry departments.
Casino: The staff on both lines was attentive, patient, and welcoming. There were lots of Blackjack, Slot, and Hold'em tournaments during the passage.
Disembarkment: Both cruises had custom's wait issues but the went rather smoothly considering that there were 8 ships at Port Everglades on that morning.
Summary: I wouldn't hesitate to cruise either line again but was "underwhelmed" by Princess based on reviews that I have read. My opinion may change when I hit "Elite" status but as an "everyday Joe" looking for value I felt more welcomed and a better atmosphere on the Pearl. I know for sure the quality of Princess services have declined since my sailing on the sister ship Golden a few years ago. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
LAND HO! Bermuda West End! (King’s Wharf) After 4 sea days we were pretty excited about getting on shore to explore Bermuda. The weather was overcast and misty when we docked at 8:00. It took longer than expected for customs to clear the ship we got off at 9:30. All aboard is at 3:30 so that gave us 6 hours in port. Lot of the passengers were taking the 40 minute bus or the 25 minute ferry to the city of Hamilton. I asked at the visitors centre about Hamilton sites and was told the cathedral was worth seeing but mainly it was for the duty free shopping. We decided that the “Royal Naval Dockyards” area close to where the ship was docked was worth exploring. We had docked close to a fort and I wanted to head for that area. The area provided a free shuttle from the ship to 5 locations in the area so we took it and stopped at the final location which was the fort. The fort surprisingly housed the National Museum of Bermuda as well as the Dolphin Quest attraction. We took over an hour checking out the grounds. The ground was covered with sheep droppings as there was a flock roaming around freely. There was a lot of “crap” on the ground and we forgot to ask why the sheep were there. We went into the Commissioner’s House on top of the hill and discovered the museum as well as the “Prisoners in Paradise”, “Shipwreck Island”, and “Hall of History" exhibits. We spent close to 3 hours there so we headed for the other stops on the shuttle route by foot. The stops were basically shopping opportunities for tourists. Everything was pretty expensive but there was a deal on Bacardi Rum cake. We were going to buy a couple of boxes except the label said they were made in the USA and not Bermuda. We took the last hour on shore to access the internet to check emails etc. You can buy a hours wifi time for 43 at the visitors center.
West End Kings Wharf is the original cruise ship berth or the pier in Royal Naval Dockyard of Bermuda where the large ships dock. The Dockyard is the largest cruise port in the island. It is located at the western tip of Bermuda in Sandy’s Parish at Ireland Island (North). Kings Wharf is used as the docking destination by most of the cruise lines operating to Bermuda. A second berth Heritage Wharf was added in May 2009 next to Kings Wharf. So two large cruise ships can now dock here. The Dockyard once served as an outpost for the British Royal Navy, and has come a long way to become the busiest passenger ship port in the island with great many tourist attractions.
National Museum of Bermuda The earlier Bermuda Maritime Museum located at the dockyard in Sandy’s, has been expanded, exhibits and programs enhanced making it the National Museum of Bermuda. It was housed in the 10-acre area of the fort Keep. The Bermuda government decided to transfer the Casemates Barracks, additional buildings and fortifications to the existing Maritime Museum giving it a national stature and covering an expanded area of 15 acres of land. The former Maritime Museum had been instrumental in restoring the Commissioner's House and other historic buildings within the Keep Fort through a painstaking process. With the present expansion to the Bermuda's National Museum, there have been many enhancements to the exhibits, programs, nature of its research and publications.
We were the last to arrive so our vehicle didn't get a Garmin (English) and it was equipped with a stock French GPS. The manual Peugeot 208 VTI that we got handled well and was easy to drive. All the paperwork was completed shortly after 9:00 am and we headed onto the expressway for the town of Bayeux to see the famous Tapestry depicting William the conquerors conflict with Harold and his rise to the throne. The audio tour and museum was surprisingly interesting and we spent one and a half hours there. Our next stop was the cathedral of Notre Dame across the street. It was closed for renovations but its magnificence could be appreciated from the exterior. We had time for a quick stroll through town and stopped at a local patisserie for snacks on the drive to Juno Beach. We just wanted a croissant but we also left with a cheese stick, apple tart, and a dark & white chocolate loaf. All of the items were tasty but the chocolate loaf and apple tart were items we have never experienced before. We arrived in the town of Courseulles-sur-Mer and headed for the Juno Beach Centre. We took the self-guided tour and spent an hour in the museum before heading to the beach area. The tour gave us an appreciation of Canada's involvement on the D-Day landing at Juno Beach. There are monuments and war artefacts left throughout the area and while it's sentimental to Canadians, and the older French people, it's become a sail surfing beach for the locals. The Canadian guide working at the centre suggested that we visit the Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery for Canadians. He said the French government allowed the loved ones of the buried soldiers to post a message on the tombstones. We took his advice and drove to an area that really was open for miles without any buildings or distractions. It was quite moving to read some of the 2500 headstones and that the age of most of them were in their early twenties. We paid our respect and headed for the drive to the Pegasus Bridge Memorial. It was a "flyby" stop on our way back to Le Havre. We dropped the car off at 6:30 and headed back to the ship.
Bayeux Tapestry is an embroidered cloth and not an actual tapestry. It is nearly 70 meters (230 ft) long, which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England concerning William, Duke of Normandy and Harold, Earl of Wessex, later King of England, and culminating in the Battle of Hastings. The tapestry consists of some fifty scenes with colored woolen yarns. It is likely that it was commissioned by Bishop Odo, William's half-brother, and made in England and not Bayeux in the 1070s. In 1729 the hanging was rediscovered by scholars at a time when it was being displayed annually in Bayeux Cathedral.
Juno Beach Centre is a museum and cultural centre, which opened at Courseulles-sur-Mer, France on June 6, 2003. The Centre presents the war effort made by all Canadians, civilian and military alike, both at home and on the various fronts during the Second World War, as well as the manifold faces of contemporary Canadian society
Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery was created as a permanent resting place for Canadian soldiers who had been temporarily interred in smaller plots close to where they fell. France granted Canada a perpetual concession to the land occupied by the cemetery. The graves contain soldiers from the Canadian 3rd Division and 15 Airmen killed in the Battle of Normandy.
Pegasus Memorial is a memorial to the first British soldiers to arrive in Normandy who captured the Pegasus Bridge from the Nazis.
We had to make our way to the Lisbon Welcome centre at Commerce Plaza to pick up our Lisboa cards which I ordered on line. The card allows us free admission to 27 attractions as well as transit fare for a 24 hour period. We took tram 15e to the Belem Tower and spent an hour touring the site. We climbed the narrow staircase to the top rampart and it was a bit claustrophobic in the tight quarters. After an hour touring the sight we headed for the Monument of the Discoveries. It was such a beautiful structure and we were so impressed with the carvings. Our next planned site was the Jeronimos Monastery as it was listed as a must see on trip Adviser. We didn’t know much about it before our visit but it was pretty spectacular in its gothic glory. On our way to the national coach museum we stopped and purchased a couple of Portuguese egg tarts which apparently are a must have when in Portugal. They are similar to Chinese egg tarts but I find the pastry better. They serve it with a dusting of powdered sugar. Delicious! The Coach Museum was like the Royal Mews in London. Portuguese royalty must of loved coaches as there were so many in the museum. On completion of our visit we took bus #714 back towards the cruise terminal shortly after 2:00 pm. We arrived at the pier area earlier than we expected so we took a stroll down the waterfront boardwalk and stopped at a restaurant to use their free Wi-Fi. I got wired on an Americano, an Espresso, and tiramisu. We decided to head back on board at 4:00 pm as we wanted to be on deck for the sail away. The harbour area in Lisbon is spectacular and it’s actually too bad that it was foggy and misty. Many were disappointed that we couldn’t see the statue of Jesus on the Redeemer monument.
Belem Tower was bbuilt in 1515 as a fortress to guard the entrance to Lisbon's harbour, the Belem Tower was the starting point for many of the voyages of discovery, and for the sailors it was the last sight of their homeland.
Monument of the Discoveries was built on the north bank of the Tagus River in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator. It represents a three-sailed ship ready to depart, with sculptures of important historical figures such as King Manuel I carrying an armillary sphere, poet Camões holding verses from The Lusiads, Vasco da Gama, Magellan, Cabral, and several other notable Portuguese explorers, crusaders, monks, cartographers, and cosmographers, following Prince Henry the Navigator at the prow holding a small vessel. The only female is queen Felipa of Lancaster, mother of Henry the navigator, the brain of the discoveries.
Jeronimos Monastery is located near the shore of the parish of Belem, in Lisbon, Portugal. The monastery is one of the most prominent monuments of the Manueline-style architecture (Portuguese late-Gothic) in Lisbon, classified in 1983 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site
National Coach Museum is located in the Belem district of Lisbon, in Portugal. The museum has one of the finest collections of historical carriages in the world, being one of the most visited museums of the city.
Ponte Delgada is a town on the island of Sao Pedro in the Azores belonging to Portugal. The Azores are to Europe what Hawaii is to North America. The ship was docked near the town centre at a new cruise terminal so we decided to take a short hike to Fort Sao Bras as it was a turn of the century fort that also housed the Military Museum of the Azores. We spent over an hour visiting the fort and museum before taking a trek to the “larger mall”. At 2:00 we decided to head back to the ship by taking the narrow side streets and exploring the town. We stumbled onto the “smaller mall” and it had free internet so we stopped. As it was only 3:00 pm with “all aboard” being at 5:30 pm, we returned to the ship for a late lunch before heading back ashore to use the internet. The internet was free at the local Burger King so I took the opportunity to update and post my journal. The espresso that BK severed was quite good. The Portuguese egg custard tart sold along the boardwalk were as good as the ones in Lisbon so we bought some more to take aboard. We boarded at 5:00 and prepared to be on deck for the sail-away.
Ponte Delgada is a city and municipality on the island of São Miguel in the archipelago of the Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal. It includes 44,403 residents in the urban area, and approximately 20,113 inhabitants in the three central parishes that comprise the historical city: São Pedro, São Sebastião, São José
Fort Sao Bras was bbuilt in the 16th century to defend against pirate attacks, São Brás Fort was the most important fortress of all the existing fortresses in the city, strategically placed west from the narrow earth tongue that later gave name to Ponta Delgada. This fort has a monument dedicated to the seamen who perished in World War I. In present day, this fort is used by the Command of Azores Military Zone. It houses Azores Military Museum, which presents an interesting collection. It was classified National Trust Building.
We took just over an hour to get there passing many mussel farms in Vigo Bay along the way. We were dropped off at a bus depot and walk up to the Cathedral Plaza. We took a brief walk along the NE road and looked at some shops before heading to the Cathedral for noon Mass. We watched the Mass till its completion and noticed many pilgrims who made the long journey to the cathedral. We started for the public market and got ourselves lost but many of the locals volunteered to help. When we finally arrived at the market it was closing down as they are only open till siesta time. Many of the shops were closed for siesta but many stayed open for the cruise tours. We headed back to the Cathedral area shortly after 2:00 pm and spent the remaining time visiting the tomb of St. James and shopping near the plaza area. At 3:00 pm we were missing 2 passengers and had to wait before making the journey back to the ship. The 2 finally showed up at 3:15 and we managed to just make the 4:30 all aboard.
Santiago De Campostela has its origin in the shrine of Saint James the Great, now the city's cathedral, as destination of the Way of St. James, a leading Catholic pilgrimage route originated in the 9th century. In 1985 the city's Old Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.