We embarked on a 7-day Coastal California cruise on the Grand Princess with 8 of our friends out of San Francisco, Pier 35. The embarkation was quick, painless and professional. We were on board with 15 minutes of getting into the cruise terminal. Parking was nearby at a cost of $14 a day, which is reasonable for SF, but is about a 1/4 mile walk back to the pier. Traffic getting to the ship is difficult, as Pier 35 is near Fisherman's Wharf and other SF waterfront tourist destinations, so we would suggest public transportation to lessen the stress of getting to the ship so you don't have to park.
Once on the ship we found that the maintenance has not kept up with the aging vessel. The carpets were worn, painted wall surfaces were in need of an update, teak and wooden railings were chipping, checked and unvarnished. The ship did not have a "grand" feel in the atrium as other ships we have sailed on have had. The atrium was only 3 floors, very compact and a tad claustrophobic. There are no stairs in the center of the ship and only at the fore and aft of the boat. Even though there are many elevators, they are extremely slow and frustrating. A walk to the front or back of the ship and using the stairs were the best choice for us.
We noticed the crowd for this ship was about 70 years old, with a lot of physically handicapped and older folks. If you are looking for a younger crowd or a more "active" experience, this cruise is not for you. Most daily activities on board included, card playing, bingo, art auctions and trivia. The entertainment was sub-par and not overly talented. The production shows were good, the entertainers tried their best but nothing that would want you to return to a second show of singing or dancing.
The "Welcome Back Party" for repeat cruisers was a joke. Not even a free drink was offered and 2 bottles of champagne were raffled off to the hundreds of attendees as a "reward" for hearing the Captain speak for 5 minutes. No photo opportunities, mingling or social interaction with staff or crew. Very disappointing as compared to every other cruise we have been on with 6 different cruise lines, including Princess a few years back.
Our cabin, on the Baja deck, was maintained by the room steward with great integrity. It was always clean, beds made, linens replaced, floors cleaned and supplies restocked. The cabin was a little small, even with a balcony. From our balcony, we could look right down onto the larger balconies on Deck 9 and 10. If you want some privacy, even though the balcony is bigger, don't book these decks. Decks 9, 10 & 11 are set up in tiered fashion. Deck 12 was right under Deck 14 and from comments by some cruisers on Deck 12, they could hear footsteps, chairs and general commotion above them at all time of the day. Since the ship is getting older, we heard cracks, creaks, vibration and lots of movement making the ability to get a complete nights rest impossible. Bring ear plugs to drown out the ships noises.
The cabin shower was good, water pressure & temperature good. Unfortunately the entire toilet system for our cabin and many other rooms connected to the same "zone" went out one day for over 8 hours. We had to use public restroom facilities in another part of the ship just to get the toilets to flush. No warning, explanation or notice was given that the plumbing was inoperative and left some of them more immobile passengers in a perplexing and difficult situation. The problem was eventually fixed with no other issues.
After returning to the US after a stop in Ensenada, we had to go through Immigration at Long Beach. The whole situation was handled poorly and it took over 5 hours to get everyone through. We lost the entire day in port, standing in line to get our passports checked, which took about 2 minutes once we got to the font of the painfully long lines. We were "bought off" with a free drink from Princess for our trouble.
The food generally was mediocre. One night a slice of ham replaced was described as pork shoulder. Another night a piece of rolled, formed meat, was described as a pot roast. Most of the food in the main dining room was poorly prepared and tasteless. Seafood was sometime undercooked and food was very salty. We ate in the Crown Grill one night for a $25 up-charge, which was better. The meat was higher quality, but not "fantastic". The service however, was exceptional and attentive. Another night we ate in Sabatini's, another $25/person up-charge. The food here was exceptional, service even better and the experience made up for a lot of failures elsewhere on the ship.
The bar service was always good, but the waiters were generally trying to sell, sell, sell to get more of their 15% tip on additional sales. The drinks were prepared well, but we would suggest buying only shots of alcohol, beer or wine as the pours into mixed drinks seemed to fall short or a "normal 1 oz. pour".
The ports we visited were fun with San Diego having the USS Midway Museum right next to the pier, along with Little Italy, Gas lamp and Seaport areas. Long Beach was lost to the Immigration lines all day. Santa Barbara is always great with wineries, the beach, shopping and restaurants. Ensenada, well Ensenada is Mexico. Very touristy but fun shopping and haggling. We suggest getting to town here, have a beer, shop for an hour, get back to the ship and enjoy the warmth on deck.
We would not take another cruise on this ship even though the dining room and cabin staff do a fantastic job in trying to make your vacation enjoyable. The ship is showing it's age and does not have the amenities & experience that many other cruise ships and cruise lines provide for the same consumer dollar.