Embarkation, 15 March, 2014: Embarkation was very easy. After going through the routine activities of check-in and security, we were directed to a holding area to await our group number being called. The wait was relatively brief compared to other embarkations that I have experienced. The only con that I have for the embarkation from San Francisco was the lack of refreshments and drinks. Other waiting areas I have visited had vending machines for snacks or drinks (water or sodas). The only liquid refreshment that I found was a thermos of cold water. Other passengers were also commenting on the absence of refreshments in the waiting area.
Sailaway: Sailaway was fantastic. I situated myself on the observation platform located on the roof of the bridge. Unfortunately, I forgot my jacket in my cabin. As the wind got stronger, the temperature got colder. Sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge is always exciting. As we sailed under the mid span, we could hear the cheers and greetings from the people waving from the walkway on the bridge. As we looked back at the bridge, the sun made the bridge's red-orange color stand out against the clear blue sky. What a beautiful sight it was, with the city skyline in the background. As we sailed away from the coast, we entered a cold fog bank that required the ship to sound it's fog horns. The fog broke just long enough for us to view a magnificent sunset.
Sea day: A dense fog greeted us for our first sea day. Later, the skies cleared and a warm, sunny day followed. Seas were relatively calm with a gentle swell moving the ship. During the day we could see the spouting of migrating whales on their journey north. We tried our luck at gambling at the Grand Casino. Note, I said tried.
Dining: Our usual pattern is to eat at the Horizon Court buffet. But we opted to try other restaurants during this cruise. For lunch, we had fish and chips at the Crown Grill. It was delicious. For dinner, we went back to the Crown Grill for some Seafood and lamb chops. The lobsters were delicious and plentiful. There must have been four lobsters with wonderful salads and desserts. The wife had lamb chops. What a wonderful, filling dinner.
Crab Shack: A new dining experience is the Crab Shack. Available are boiled Alaskan crab and shrimp, Crawfish (mud bugs), sampler , and other assorted seafood. Make sure you are hungry because the portions are large. It was a wonderful meal.
Stateroom: Our midship mini-suite was very spacious and comfortable. The bathroom had a shower-tub combination with a lavatory with a lot of storage space. There are two flat screen TVs, one for the bedroom, the other for the sitting area. As on most ships, channel selection is minimal, with many repeat broadcasts. Unfortunately, there was only one remote for both TVs, which made channel changing difficult when both TVs were in use at the same time. Another negative about the cabin was the constant creaking and banging at night when the ship was sailing through heavy swells. This made sleeping very difficult. The noise seemed to come from the space above the ceiling and the space between our cabin and the adjoining cabin. This was by far the worst cabin noise I have ever experienced on any cruise ship.
Shore Excursions: See Port section. Since there was no port selection for Santa Barbara, I will comment here.
Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara is a tender port. Tender tickets must be obtained to board the tenders unless you are on one of the Princess sponsored excursions. We did the Trolley tour of Santa Barbara. Our tour took us to see some of the most beautiful areas of town including the Mission and the largest fig tree. I would recommend this tour for first time visitors to Santa Barbara. After the tour, we walked to nearby Stearn's Wharf for lunch and souvenir shopping.
Disembarkation, 22 March, 2014: Disembarkation went smoothly. We were released by groups according to our disembarkation time. Luggage was waiting in the pier as scheduled. Everything was well organized.
The ship: The Grand Princess is a beautiful ship, with a few rough edges. I noticed many areas around the ship where bare rusty metal and flaking paint could be seen. Our balcony door to the adjoining balcony was missing the locking mechanism and the door had to be secured with a wad of paper to keep it from swinging open by itself while at sea. Many areas around the pool were also rusty. The public areas of the ship were beautifully appointed, especially the atrium and the Piazza. Princess made a beautiful upgrade to this area.
While waiting for disembarkation, I watched as the Photo Department crew gathered hundreds of unpurchased photos from the display cases. My wife and I were in awe at the number of stacks of these photos were tossed. The cruise lines need to develop a better method of offering photos to cruise customers instead of printing thousands of photos in hopes they will be purchased. Either offer a digital option for purchase, or display a single photo that can be duplicated if the customer wants more copies. I know the cost of these discarded photos are passed to the cruise customer, so the cruise industry should find a more cost effective alternative to offering photos to customers.