Background Information As a young couple, who had never been on a summer holiday together, we were looking for an experience away from the loutish clubbing/beach holidays, which is not really our scene. We had previously been on coach holidays and enjoyed the transient nature of a new place to explore each day, so a cruise seemed like the ideal option.
Travel To Port of Embarkation A comfortable, spacious coach was provided from a pick-up point near us, to take us to Southampton, where we boarded the Grand Princess. Sufficient comfort-breaks were provided en route and the duration of these was adequate to ensure time to grab something to eat and drink, stretch the legs and use the toilet.
Ship Info On first sight, the ship seemed massive and forboding. The sheer scale from the quay side was truly amazing. We were greeted by staff in a warm and friendly manner as we boarded the ship and we found our room with ease. The ship was very clean and tidy, which came a slight surprise to us as having read reviews before taking our holiday, we had heard that this ship is particular was in need of updating and redecoration. We did not find this to be the case at all. It took a couple of days to orientate ourselves, due to some areas looking rather similar, but this was part of the charm of finding our way around. After these intitial orientation issues, the ship became a home from home.
Activities There was no shortage of things to do on the ship, whether you were looking for buzz and excitement, or a place to chill and relax, there was always a suitable area for you. Swimming, spa treatments, hot tubs, crazy golf, casino, open air cinema - to list just a few. There were of course other daily activities, such as pottery classes, art auctions, bingo, live singers, comedians and magicians, karaoke and cookery demonstrations. These differed from day to day and all info pertaining to activities could be found in The Princess Patter Newsletter, which was delivered every evening. Some activities are available for a fee, but most were free.
Service The service on the ship was second to none - from the meet and greet staff at the embarkation points, to the pool side staff, from the stewards, to the crew... every member of staff greeted you with a smile and kind word. We were allocated a steward on arrival, who attended to our every need, even going above and beyond the call of duty on more than one occasion. There is a service charge which you can opt to pay on a case by case basis or you can opt to pay a standard charge which is added to your bill and is payable at the end of your cruise. We opted for the latter as it is much easier than carrying around large amounts of dollars in your pocket. We never received service which was of a low standard, therefore we did not resent having to pay the service charge. When totalled up at the end of the cruise, it seemed rather high, but when we realised how many different staff we had encountered throughout our stay and how well we had been treated, it was well worth every penny or cent!
Port & Shore Excursions You should prepare yourself in advance for the fact that you will not always just be able to hop off the ship and then hop back on again, at your leisure. Some ports were accessible on foot, with a shuttle bus from the port to the town or village, at others you had to be transported by a tug boat to the actual port, as the water was too shallow to dock the ship. Another scenario was where the port was easily accessed, but the actual city you wished to visit was a fairly long journey away, e.g. for Florence and Rome, which were an hour's train journey away. We had researched this, prior to starting our holiday to find the best possible methods of accessing ports of call, so were not surprised to discover that we needed to travel by train. Others however, did not realise until the night before that the port was so far inland and had to do some rather quick thinking in order to get the most out of their visit. We decided not to take up any offers of tours or excursions, due to the fact that we felt we would see more and feel less hassled to go at our own pace. Friends we met on the ship had taken up every excursion available and with a 6am-7am start every morning, were very tired at the end of a day! This is not to say that I would not recommend the excursions, I might just advise that you only take up a few and space them out to allow a "long lie" to recharge the batteries now and again! Stateroom Our inside stateroom was by no means spacious or airy, but had the basic conveniences required to make our stay very comfortable. If we were to book again, however, we would still opt for the budget inside stateroom to allow more money to spend on other things! We visited our friends outside stateroom, with balcony and although, it had slightly more room than ours, the balcony did not give much privacy, was a little draughty and unfortunately there was not a lot to see out of the patio doors, except sea for miles and miles! The presence of a window meant that you were very much aware of the elements, when the sea became choppy, as opposed to being inside. Also, an afternoon nap was not spoilt by the sun streaming in the window in an inside stateroom, as there was no window!
Dining The food was fantastic - something for everyone and for every taste. A huge range of fruit, vegetables, meats, fish, pasta, pizza, etc is available in a wide variety of cooking styles, was available and was changed on a daily basis. You can opt for anytime dining where you can literally roll up to the buffet any time of night or day, or eat at one of the fine dining restaurants, any time throughout the evening. I would recommend booking a table and booking early so that you do not get caught up in the queues of the fixed diners. Fixed dining is when you can eat at the same table, with the same people at the same time every night, in one of the fine dining restaurants. We found anytime dining to be more conducive to our "fly by the seat of our pants" existence, as sometimes we just wanted a snack or to eat in our shorts and T-shirt and other evenings we wanted to embrace the whole formal affair, by dressing up and being wined and dined in style. Entertainment The entertainment was perhaps the only let down on this holiday, but then I really am scraping the bottom of barrel to find anything negative to say about the whole cruise experience! For a couple in their 30s, we found the singers, comedians, dancers, etc to be a little out-dated for our tastes. We could have done with the option of a young, vivacious band who played current tunes to get us up on the dance floor or an up and coming comedian to give us a giggle, but the bands were very middle of the road and the comedians were a bit Friday Night at the Palladium (circa 1985). In saying this, however, I do appreciate the diversity in the ages and tastes of the audience and therefore understand how difficult it must be to strike a balance and to try to please everyone. The saving graces were the karaoke and the Wheelhouse Jazz Bar, which played live music from a very talented young jazz pianist. You will not be stuck for something to do in the evenings, however, as there are so many options - it's just a matter of finding the right vibe for you.
Disembarkation This was swift and hassle free. We were given an approximate time slot to make our way to a specific area of the ship and then were given a ticket. When your number was called, your coach was ready and you were prepared to disembark. All organised to make it quick, pain free and efficient.
Summary On reflection, this was the best holiday experience I have ever had and I would recommend it to anyone, young or old, as the perfect way to relax and enjoy their holiday, with no worries. On balance, we have nothing to compare it with, this being our first ever cruise experience. Oh well, might just have to book another Princess cruise to create a more balanced review...!