We booked this cruise for 23 days, but Princess considered it two back to back cruises. That had its advantages and disadvantages. The first cruise, on the 18th of Sept, that went to Vigo Spain, Lisbon Portugal, La Rochelle France, and St. Peters Port embarked with no problems. We had sailed on the Grand before, but still wanted to familiarize ourselves with the ship again before heading for the Horizon Court for lunch. It was like coming home. Later that day and all the next day I noticed that there was a long line at the purser's desk. I asked what that was about and was told that they were all cancelling their automatic gratuities. Talking with our room steward, he said that is a common occurrence when the ship leaves Southampton (the Grand's homeport). I just wonder how many people under-tip or don't tip at all. Anyway, the stops were great except for St. Peter's Port which was cancelled due to high winds. We encountered some strike problems (nothing violent) in La Rochelle, but the tours finally went on. One returning bus was delayed by the strikers and didn't get back until 2 hours after our scheduled departure. I expect the Captain wasn't very happy! On the 25th we departed for the crossing to Ft. Lauderdale...the second back to back cruise for us. Most of the Brits had disembarked and were replaced by primarily Americans and Canadians. We stayed on board to avoid the embarking crowds. I guess the embarking was a nightmare with down computers and too many people arriving at the terminal at the same time. The ports were the main reason we booked this cruise. We went to Bergen, Norway, Shetland Islands, Faroe Islands, two stops in Iceland (we swam in the thermal pools there!), and on to Sydney, Nova Scotia. It rains 300 days a year in Bergen, but not that day. The only rain we got was in Nova Scotia.
INTERNET: Those of us who get free internet were told that we were supposed to get 500 minutes of internet, but in actuality, we only got 400 minutes and even that was a struggle as the system deleted any usable minutes when we started the second cruise and then deleted the entire account. We worked, without much success, with the manager of the Internet Cafe and the Captain's Circle manager, Lola. It was very frustrating, to say the least.
DINING: We had traditional dining in the Botticelli dining room with some great table-mates. The service was impeccable, but I found that the food selections had gone downhill from the Princess cruise we took last summer and the eight others that we had taken in the past. As the Grand is usually home-ported in Southampton, maybe the menus changed to accommodate that clientele. Not sure. The food in the Horizon Court was good, but it is always a hassle to find a table.
LOUNGES: Our favorite lounge was the Wheelhouse Bar. The place is quiet, intimate, and with great service. They also make great martinis! I just wish that they could have found more peanuts to put on the table. The Skywalker Lounge was a great place to read and just watch the water go by. It was quiet during the day and I understand it was even quiet at night on this trip. Every evening they served tapas and discounted drinks of the day to Platinum and Elite members. Loved that.
STATEROOM: Our stateroom, this trip, was an inside one on the Baja Deck. It was perfectly adequate, but we had to ask for a blanket as just the sheet was too cold and the comforter was too warm. Edgar, our room steward, provided great service.
ENTERTAINMENT: We passed on some of the entertainment. A couple of times the cruise director, Billy London, had to cancel performances due to the rocking of the ship and schedule something else. Most of the entertainment was adequate to good in my estimation.
The ship is old and falling apart. The maintenance crews were busy, but nothing was down enough to inconvenience anybody. You can see lots of wear and tear which is why the ship is scheduled for a 6 week, $60 million dry dock this spring. The Captain stated that we will not recognize the ship when she comes back out. We are looking forward to the first trip out of dry dock. I believe it is scheduled to head back to Southampton on 5 May.
NOTE: I noticed that there were more short-tempered passengers on this cruise than on others that we had taken. Spouses were at each other and even strangers were getting testy with other strangers. Most of the passengers were veteran cruisers so there was no explanation (or excuse) for it all. The "Walk-off's" had congregated in the Michelangelo Dining Room for debarkation. When they finally allowed the first group to depart one older man pushed his way to the door and someone pushed him. He came up swinging and apparently connected with the person who pushed him. The fight only lasted seconds, but seems to be typical of the temperament of the people all during the crossing. Maybe these people need to fly next time.