Having never cruised before, we were concerned by the poor reviews we had read on Cruise Critic prior to our cruise. Comments about the shabby condition of the Grand Princes and an outbreak of norovirus in May, made us start to think that we had made an expensive mistake! However, we decided that we should go with an open mind and having nothing else to compare it to would probably be to our advantage.
We had free transport from South Wales to Southampton and when we arrived we joined a rather large queue of people waiting to embark. However, the queue went down pretty quickly and we were soon in our inside cabin on the ship. This was small but adequate for the amount of time we spent in it. My husband and I slept in two single beds and my daughter used one of the pull down beds. Our room was kept spotless by our steward and I particularly liked the towels made into swans to celebrate our anniversary. Staff were extremely helpful and eager to help from the moment the cruise started. This was to continue for the whole of the cruise and we were amazed at how hard everyone worked to provide excellent service at all times.
To begin with, we were a little in awe of how big the ship was but after a few days, we began to get more comfortable with finding our way around.
On our first morning we got together with our Cruise Critic friends in the Skywalkers nightclub. Great to put faces to names after months of chatting. The daily Princess Patter gave details of onboard activities of which there were many eg quizzes, bingo, dancing, pottery, lectures, etc. We did not take part in many of these, preferring to spend any spare time we had relaxing in the sun. This was a downside of the cruise- beds were very difficult to find unless you were prepared to sit there from 8 am. Many people put towels down on beds despite the rule that they would be taken off if left unoccupied for 30 minutes. Due to the busy port schedule, there wasn't much time to relax and when we did have two sea days on the way home, the weather wasn't good enough to sunbathe and so there were plenty of beds to choose from!!
The choice of food onboard was excellent. We chose to eat in the Da Vinci restaurant most evenings and for other meals we preferred the Horizon Court buffet which offered a huge variety of dishes to suit all tastes. The warm scones served at afternoon tea or in the Horizon Court were beautiful. We did not dine at Sabatini (extra charge required) but hear it was well worth the money. We enjoyed a pub lunch at the Painted Desert on the last sea day and wished we'd visited this more often on our cruise. I am slowly beginning to lose the 9lb I put on during my two week cruise!!
There were three formal nights on the cruise which enabled everyone to dress up and have photographs taken. We wanted to buy a number of these but were shocked by the price Princess were charging for them. I am sure they would sell far more if they reduced the price. Needless to say we did buy the photos as this was our first cruise. Don't think I'd do it next time though.
My daughter decided to visit the teen club on the very first evening to register. This turned out to be the best decision she made and we didn't see much of her for the rest of the cruise! Due to school holidays, there were a large number of children on the cruise and there were a lot of complaints from older people about behaviour. However, I can honestly say that we did not witness any. The only complaint we had was the overcrowded swimming pool and jucuzzis which were always occupied by young children.
'Movies under the Stars' was a great attraction in the evenings as well as the daytime but we preferred to see the shows at the Princess Theatre and Vista Lounge. Entertainers included Bernie Flint(Opp Knocks winner), Diane Cousins (Welsh comedienne/singer), Syd Little, David Copperfield,etc. We particularly enjoyed the Princess production shows and appreciated how hard they worked to provide some great entertainment. We also enjoyed listening to Paul Burton playing a selection of music from the shows.
On returning to Southampton, there was a well tuned method of disembarkation. Everyone was given a time to leave. Suitcases had been taken the night before so we only need to carry a small amount of hand lugguage. We did have a little difficulty locating our cases but were soon on the bus home to South Wales.
The Grand Princess is going into dry dock in April to receive a refit. I did not go down on my hands and knees to find worn carpet or rust and have very few complaints about my first ever cruise on this wonderful ship. I would not think twice about sailing on her again and indeed look forward to doing so in the future. However, ultimately it was not the ship that made our cruise so special but the wonderful people we met on our holiday. I would not have met these if I hadn't found them on Cruise Critic's Roll Call Forum. I will most certainly be booking another cruise soon and will definitely continue to use Cruise Critic to get valuable cruising advice.