Arrived in Florida on Tuesday ahead of a Saturday sailing on the Grand Princess. Stayed at a Hampton at Cypress Creek on the north side of Fort Lauderdale. This is a convenient location for avoiding most traffic while visiting Olas Blvd and enjoying the views and food at Ft. Lauderdale Beach. Had three excellent meals--at H20 at the beach, at the Melting Pot in FL near the Galleria Mall, and at GG's on the inter-coastal waterway in Hollywood. Prior to sailing we had a great time with a two hour tram tour of the Everglades National Park at the Shark Valley entrance on Highway 41 West. Also enjoyed the broard walk (not "board" walk) at Hollywood Beach just south of FL. The Hardrock Casino, also in Hollywood, provided slot entertainment and and a very good breakfast at their Blue Plate restaurant. Made good use of U.S. 1, the Federal Highway, to avoid rush hour traffic on I95, and to easily access the FL Airport. Used a rental Dodge mini van from Alamo, and took advantage of their free shuttle to the ship on Saturday.
Boarded the Grand Princess at 1:00 pm--no lines and no problems; this was facilitated by the fact that almost 1/2 the passengers were staying on the ship for a second week, many from Europe. The ship is in excellent condition with 2600 passengers--somewhat smaller than the Crown (our personal favorite) and the Ruby--same size as the Star. Our cabin on the Caribe deck was the best part of the cruise, with a balcony that is twice the size of a mini-suite, and with a roof for privacy. The furnishings in the public rooms were up to Princess' normal very high standards, and immaculately clean.
We had traditional early dinning with excellent service. The appetizers offered were innovative and delicious. The entries seemed more limited than on past Princess cruises, and the desert offerings never changed during the entire cruise. For the first time on four Princess Cruises, we had a dreadful meal with inedible veal, very disappointing. On the plus side, two meals at the optional Crown Grill were outstanding. The food at the Horizon Buffet was generally ok, but much more limited in variety than on past cruises. Free salads and desert items at the all day International Coffee Shop on the 5th deck were excellent--and I also took advantage of Princess reasonably priced "Starbucks style coffee card".
In regard to entertainment, the Motor City, and the British Invasion production shows were very good. The two New Orleans Jazz events were outstanding! We also enjoyed the rock and roll night at one of the bars. Casino was ok.
Took advantage of shipping our luggage to the airport and having it checked back to Laredo, Texas--a great option for little cost. Also bought the Princess bus transfer to the airport--had to wait on the bus for 45 minutes for it to fill up--not a great experience. The Fort Lauderdale airport is one of the worst in the world, and I have been in 23 countries. The security personnel are rude and crude, the employees at the food concessions are not much better, and the surroundings are grey drab. This was the fourth time at FL airport, and each time I have had the same conclusions. The United Flight back to Houston (United took over Continental) was also very unpleasant. The flight attendants let a 3 year old play and walk in the aisle even while the seat belt light was on. Even though the 737 was new, the seats were cramped and uncomfortable. I strongly recommend Southwest Airlines as an alternative.
Visited San Juan, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Princess Cay. Very much enjoyed driving an open air Jeep on the left side of the road in St Thomas. The shops on the Dutch side of St. Maarten were attractive. San Juan old town looks and feels like many slightly run-down Mexican towns, but the harbor views of Fort Moro are spectacular.
All in all, we had a great time on the Grand Princess. Princess needs to improve on food selection, but sailing on Princess is a great value.