My wife and I've now cruised on NCL, Carnival, and Holland to Alaska, Mexico and the Caribbean. So we are actively comparing the cruise lines to see which we prefer. This is our second cruise with Princess, both out of San Francisco. The first was the Sea Princess to Alaska, which we really enjoyed, so influenced us to try Princess to Hawaii as well.
We live in the SF Bay area, so getting there is pretty easy and eliminates the headaches of flight and hotel arrangements, and the airline's baggage restrictions--a big decision as to why we also selected this cruise.
(4 of 5) Ship: The Grand Princess is clearly an older ship, well-maintained but seemingly in constant maintenance--there were constant wet paint/varnish signs posted on the various decks and public areas. And I don't know what was going on with the decks--there seemed to always be either wet carpets or wet trails of water near or in the eating areas (and of course the pools), with yellow caution plastic teepees marking some, but not all, the wet areas. Even areas that you didn't expect water to be, there was a wet deck or trail of water across our paths.
(3 of 5) Activities: The Zumba classes were great and the instructors kept everyone moving and sweating to the terrific Zumba music either in the Vista Lounge (which was not the best venue because of the large class size) or on the open deck. Other than that, we were not tempted by the other options.
(5 of 5) The Gym is really well outfitted with both free weights and StarTrac equipment--all in excellent condition. The only thing for the taller of us is that the elliptical machines are so tall that you will bump your heads into the ceiling (unless you choose the one machine with the dented ceiling tile that gave you extra headroom) We went around 1-2 PM when the crowds were the least. And they had a stretching class most days at 5 PM.
(5 of 5) Service: This is the one area that Princess shines. Great, helpful, smiling, genuine people providing excellent service. Announcements on the PA were restrained--few announcements for art auctions or bingo or sales--and the Noon report from the Bridge always had a little tid-bit of information that was both informative and fun.
Port & Shore Excursions: We only did one whale-watching excursion on Maui, which turned out to be excellent--2 hours and we saw many whales (no breeching) even though this was passed peak season. The rest of the islands we simply rented a car (for less than $40 per day--if you don't add the collision protection) and drove around to check out what we wanted.
- We birded on Oahu, walking the Aiea Loop Trail.
- We explored beautiful and quiet Kauai coastline by driving up 56 to Haena State Park.
- In Hilo, we drove to both Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (volcano was quiet but the fern grove was fantastic) and the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Farm (tip: Costco in the US has 24 oz Mauna Loa Macadamia nuts for under $19. The shop there had 11 oz bags for $10 and the rest of the islands that same bag was about $13 at this writing).
- In Ensenada we had low expectations for the less than 4 hours we had there; we walked in and braved the endless gauntlet of people trying to sell you things on the main drag (Avenida Adolfo Lopez Mateos) and ended up having a few fresh Margaritas at Margarita House Restaurant (at under $6 per each large one they were a bargain) and then watched the pelicans fish. It was safe but just be aware of all the vendors and don't buy anything from the children, who are just being used by others to prey on you (because they really should be in school and not trying to sell trinkets to tourists).
(3 of 5) State Room: Our stateroom was good overall--we had a partially obstructed view on the Emerald (8th) deck on the Starboard side aft which was a great location. Easy single stairs up from the main deck 7 and just below the 14th Lido deck for the Horizon Court, and just in front of the Vista Lounge. The air conditioning could have been better--it seemed to get warmer just before bedtime. And the lack of hooks on the walls to hang anything from your hat or coat or even your binoculars was an oversight. (4/5)
(1/5) But oh the horrid beds! Imagine an ungiving steel wire crate that serves as your foundation and put a thinly-padded steel spring mattress over it. We tried making it better by requesting the egg crate foam but that was not enough. We double and triple-folded the comforter and sleeping on top of that but it still left our hips aching and badly rested. The beds were the single worst part of this entire trip and the lack of sleep robbed us of the energy to do more activities the next morning.
(3.5-4 of 5) Dining: We did the Horizon Buffet 90% of the time since we were trying to go low carb. The food there is largely very good, if you get there early. The dining rooms we did on two of the three formal nights and again the food was really very good.
(3 of 5) Crown Grill: this was an overall disappointment. At $25 each I guess this can be called a good value, but it was very uneven. Here are my ratings from 1 being Awful to 5 being Perfect:
- Ribeye (Medium-Rare) it was OK but grisly, with plenty of tough bits to it. This was the recommended steak there and I cannot say that I enjoyed it compared to even the Outback version: 3/5
- Shrimp Bisque: Excellent 5/5
- Lobster Cake with Tarragon Foam: Excellent 5/5
- Creamed Spinach: Not as tender as could be but tasted fine: 4/5
- Grilled asparagus: Perfectly prepared, tender but with a crunch: 5/5
- SautÃ©ed Mushrooms: Very good: 4
- Lemon Meringue Pie: Bad crust, poor lemon flavor: 2/5
- Chocolate molten cake with chocolate ice cream: Seriously lacking rich chocolate flavor and depth. The accompanying chocolate ice cream was just passible but a real disappointment. 1/5
- Coffee (Decaffeinated): not even fresh brewed--the stuff you get on the Horizon Buffet: 2/5
(3 of 5) Entertainment: My wife and I are clearly not the demographic they are targeting for entertainment. The bands were OK, but not to our liking (music choice or quality were not to our standards). The one exception for us was the Island group that came aboard and did Hawaiian chants and dancing--excellent.
(3 of 5) Disembarkation: We were expecting a smoother one than the one we had (lounges we were told to wait in were stuffy with little/no air conditioning) and the decks did not provide the public announcements of the luggage tags/groups now ready to disembark. But overall it was not as smooth as the embarkation was.
(3.5 of 5) Summary: On balance, we would take this trip again, with reservations about the beds and the entertainment. We liked the relaxing sea days but some of the port days were too short to do very much. We liked the whale and bird watching that you could do from the ship (when nearer to a port). We liked the service. We hope the other