This cruise for us will always be remembered as the one sandwiched in between the farce of the government closure of our National parks & the unfortunate suicide of a passenger.
Cruise was planned well in advance and booked with the express PROMISE that we were to gain access to Pearl Harbor & the USS Arizona Memorial. This was extremely personal to me. When it almost came to pass that access was still being denied, I contacted Princess Cruises directly , not to cancel, but to get a voucher for a later date cruise. I know the closures were not the fault of Princess, but I don't understand the lousy customer service I subsequently received, especially since Princess prides themselves on being a cut above the competition. I was flatly denied, even though they had my payment in full, and still had 3 weeks to re-sell the accommodation, which sailed "sold out". They offered me a partial refund that left me with a $2,600 out of pocket expense. Even with the so-called "insurance" they said i should have bought, I still would have been out the price of the insurance plus at least another 2 grand. In addition, in the 2 months prior to the cruise, without prior notification and consent, they changed my room assignment 3 times. They said that these changes were "upgrades" that they freely offer. On 2 of these occasions I was "upgraded" from my chosen cabin amidships, to a different deck, with one room being far forward and the other adjacent to a laundry room. These changes required numerous calls to correct. So I have to admit I started this cruise with a chip on my shoulder. However, what was to follow over the next 15 days, for the most part, was enjoyed & commendable.
Boarding was supposed to begin @2pm. For some reason passengers were allowed to board by 12:15, had access to their rooms. Our inside cabin was a bit small but you don't go on a cruise to sit inside your cabin. Touring the ship at that time we found an unexpected and excellent lunch buffet waiting on Horizon. I found none of the price gouging on drinks, evident on the competition we've tried. At first for supper, we tried the elegance of The Michelangelo & DaVinci Dining rooms and did not come away disappointed, but found the Horizon buffets more convenient and more than adequate for our needs .Specialty restaurants are at additional cost and are not needed. While not advertised as a senior cruise, I'd venture that 85% of the passengers were seniors, as we were. Schools in session nation wide; you could count the number of kids on your fingers. Elevators are over used with some long waits, especially at popular dining hours. A tremendous amount of people walk around in designer shorts or workout/jogging suits and big buck sneakers, yet call for an elevator to ride up/down 1 floor. There was at times what I feel was an overuse of motorized "scooters" . They clogged up elevators and cabin passageways which weren't built to handle these. Witnessed a verbal altercation over this. Strangely, when it came time to enter the buffet lines these scooters weren't needed by their occupants. The service staff was unbelievable. God forbid your glass goes half-full or you have a dirty plate on your table; within 10 seconds somebody is there to refill,remove, or replace it. We must have came face to face/eye to eye with appx 1,000 different cruise personnel over the 15 days, and virtually everyone of them warmly greet you, cater to your every request, or make you feel like part of the family.
We booked 4 shore excursions; were very happy with 3 of them. The Haleakala Crater tour for some reason got off late between the assembly point on the ship, to the tender, to the bus, and then to the Crater, and the time was never made up leaving everyone with a 15 min stop at the Crater. It seems like all we did was ride on transportation all day. Be advised if you sign up for excursions , when you get back to the ship after them, there will be very little time to do or see anything else in that port. The excursions to Pearl Harbor, Wailua River cruise and especially the Smith family Luau & Botannical Gardens, and the Culinary Tour Home stops were exceptional.
We have always enjoyed the idea of "cruising"; just being able to sit back and enjoy, using the on board entertainment options sparingly. But over 15 days, one looks for some diversions. The nightly Theater Shows were to few and often to short. The mid morning lecture classes by the "Professor" were both educational and informative. Other than that I just couldn't get interested in the constant bingo and trivia sessions along with classes that required an additional fee. One thing we always enjoyed was being able to exercise walk , and that becomes a bit difficult on the Grand Princess. Deck 7 Promenade is usually used for this. However, if not every than every other day, portions of the deck were barricaded off as personnel cut/welded or were repairing structural parts of this deck. I felt this could have been done at a later hour. This deck is also not level around the entire ship, forcing you to use stairs or walk around obstructions along that deck. Another option was Deck 15 I believe, but at this time of year, the winds and coldness of the season doesn't make for an enjoyable walk. One other thing that I found quite annoying, despite the old cliche of breathing in that "fresh ocean air". As one walks on this same Promenade Deck 7, just above you will be the life boats. Immediately to your left above you, at the same level but opposite the boats, you will see huge vents along the bulkheads. During the entire time the ship is underway, there was always an odor of raw sewage and/or its by-product, methane.Sometimes the odor even carried into the interior of the ship because of the passage doors between Deck 7 and the interior. Now i know that over 3,000 people are creating this mess, its just that the way the ship is processing, handling,storing, and venting it that just isn't working. I informed a junior Officer of this and he confirmed my suspicions but added its was an unfortunate occurrence when cruising. I felt the venting of this mess could have at least been done during the sleeping hours. Additional odors of exhaust and various fuels are always evident on the pool/lounge areas on the fantail areas of the ship .Ensenada is a complete waste of time, except the stop is required by law and was a convenient spot to off load some solid waste. Back in San Fran, convenience of and disembarkation was flawless.
I still think cruising is a great bang for the buck. Consider the amount of fuel we used over 15 days, versus the mpg the ship gets.The ship was your hotel, meals included. The ship personnel joked about the "hit" this cruise made on the commissary. Food was extraordinary as were all the services that were performed in a professional and courteous manner by there entire staff.
Bottom line that all cruise lines really only care about, "Will we get them to come back again"? I think Princess Line is exceptional in many areas, but I still have that problem that Princess management, some of their corporate decisions, and the way we were jockeyed around with room assignment, leaves something to be desired. If I heard from others that so and so cruise line doesn't do that, I may just be tempted to try another line if the venue and price were right. This offering was enjoyable, but overall I couldn't say exceptional.