We began our trip with several pitfalls. We had a tansfer set up through Princess from Ft. Lauderdale airport to the hotel (at midnight) that failed to show, but the hotel graciously sent a cab and paid for it. Our embarcation was interesting to say the least. After meeting the Princess rep and getting on a bus with all the other travelers, we had identified our luggage at the hotel it was transported in the bus and supposed to be taken to the ship. Upon arrival at the port we had to identify the luggage and once again pay a porter to take it to the ship (all transfers and fees were to be included in our original cost). The line into the ship was huge, and it took over two hours to be checked in. Many people complained bitterly and we were not told what was the delay. We found it a great opportunity to meet and talk with fellow passengers, and actually met people who are going on the next cruise we are planning on.
Once aboard all went well. The Captain was great. He was visable, humorous, and delightful. This is the first time in 16 cruises that we have seen a Captain outside of his forced duties. He even went in the pool at the crossing of the equator. The Cruise Director, Sammie, was full of energy, but obviously had her circle of known passengers and the rest of us were shuttled to the wayside. I tried twice to speak to her and it was evident she was not listening, and was much more interested in catching the people who were on her previous cruise. Her enthusiasm was delightful, but she often spoke much to loud on the speaker and at meal times. I noted that some felt she was critical of the passengers. I didn't feel that way as there were some passengers who were quite vocal about their complaints to the distraction of others. The assistant cruise director, Bernie, was delightful.
The activities on the ship were many and certainly a wide variety for all to enjoy. The library needs work. I realize that is not a money making place, but the smaller they get the less I am inclined to book with Princess as reading is one of my joys aboard ship, and I do so from the library. The internet was fine, it worked as well as any cruise internet. I found if one got up at three in the morning one didn't have any trouble getting on unless they were updating which we were never told about.
The staff aboard the Grand is superior. Our wait staff, our room stewards, and yes even the tour desk people went beyond their job descriptions.
The food is so-so. Princess has cut back the dinning room selections, obviously. This is on all ships as we recently went on the Sapphire for 28 days. The fish is much better on this ship than others, but the over all quality and variety of foods is not as good as it was a couple of years ago. The dinning room waiters were fantastic but the head waiters need a bit more training in customer service. We ate in the Da Vinci room and were quite happy with our traditional table even though it was in an Anytime dinning room and our waiter never pushed to get us to leave. The junior waiter was so personable, we were greated in the Horizon Grill as well. The Head waiter never aknowledged us even as we walked in to the dinning room each night. Our room was fine, considering we had been on a waiting list for several months we were delighted to have a room for this sold out cruise. It was on the Lido deck and forward. We liked it as we had a private balcony and a great view of the bridge. The closet was smaller than what we have had before but the cruise room pictures on the web site show it that way so it must be a change in configuration. The cupboard space was quite limited, but we made do. The bathroom had a strange water gurggling sound, but it was not heard outside the bathroom so it made no difference in comfort. Our room steward was beyond any expectations. The room was always made up while we were gone, it was spotless, and sliding doors were cleaned as well as the balcony. I cannot express my delight in the entire room experince for 49 days it was great. The ports were fascinating but that has to be to ones own likes or dislikes. Several suggestions from our perspective. The crowds and smells of Rio during carnival is an individual thing. I delighted in spending my birthday there, but others were grumpy. Realize there will be at least 5 to 8 other cruise ships in port and getting outside the port may take a bit of time. There were an inordinate amout of elite captain's circle passengers on this cruise, so our priority disembarkation was prettty much a bygone event. If we were not on a tour, we waited a bit aboard ship in our room and were able to leave the ship quite easily. Montevideo, was remarkable a beautiful city. Yes, there is grafitti in every South American country, It is a cultural thing. It is an expression of political views. It may not be pleasing to some, but we find if we leave out cultural biases behind we are more accepting of different expressions of culture.
Being a person who is not enamored by the Caribbean experience, it was fine. It was crowded by cruise ships and people - particularly in St. Thomas. The waterfall hike in Antigua was strenous and the group that went was all over 60, but hearty. As we had many ports, it would be difficult to describe all. Port Madryn and the penguins at Port Tombo were amazing. A two hour bus ride, but we saw 45,000 plus penguins compared to the Otway experience some had that had 45 penguins. Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego) was remarkable. We had to tender as another ship with priority took our dock. The Captain spoke and offered his apologies. We didn't make it to the Falkland Islands as the sea was rough and it would not be safe to dock. Disappointment yes, anger no - don't want to risk life or limb. Same in Nicaragua. Lima, Peru was crowded as it was the last day of summer vacation so thousands were at the beach. Punta Arenas, Chili was beautiful. Be prepared for thousands of stray dogs in Chile. I don't know why but they are everywhere. They seem to be well fed and not aggressive, but they are everywhere sleeping on the sidewalks, in shop door ways, etc. Fortunately we did not see one hit by any cars or any dog droppings on the street but that is not a Princess issue. The tour to the Peruvian Prancing Horses had to be one of the best tours I have ever taken, but I like horses - it may not appeal to others. Doing a Zip line in Costa Rica had to be a high light and the oldest was 86. Birthday in Rio during Carnival was a once in a lifetime experience. For the most part the tours offered were excellent. The only suggestion is to read and then ask about the level of exertion on a tour. We saw some at a rating of M that were quite streneous. Although we are quite capable of keeping up, we saw several people falter. The rating is often underestimated.
The onboard entertainment may have appealed to some, but we found the production shows inferior to the ones we have seen on other ships. They are shorter, have fewer costume changes, were held (some) in the Vista Lounge which is not a venue for Production shows, and the lead singers were off key multiple times. This compared to the broadway quality of the shows on the Coral in 2011. Over all the individual talent was fair to middle. But trying to entertain 2600+ people forty nine days is an awesome task. It just wasn't good. On the other hand the lectures were remarkable!! All three of the lecturers were fascinating and comanded full houses.
So over all, the cruise was delightful: the ship fine, the staff excellent except for a few who got up on the wrong side of the bed; the Captain (Herriot) terrific, and the food - so so. Pizza and hamburgers were very good. The wine tasting appetizers were limited to say the least. Raise the price by a $1.00 and give us a fourth cracker or two more grapes. Would I go via the Grand again - absolutely - leaving again on the 29th of May. I thought the maintenance of the ship was excellent. There was a Noro virus alert from the bridge. The public health interventions that were evident within minutes were outstanding including cleaning of rails, elevator buttons, etc. That was a gastrointestinal virus. The cold virus is an airborne virus and not stopable by washing door handles. The ships efforts to help were exactly what they should be doing.