We are experienced cruisers. We boarded our ship in FLL after a short non-stop flight. We got a taxi to the ship (very easy and cheap to do in FLL). At the conclusion of the cruise, we stayed over night at the Sheraton Skyline in London. It was very convenient to the airport and priced better than most London hotels. We used the "Hotel Hoppa" to the airport. It costs a fraction of what taxis charge. Watch out for the "unofficial" taxis -- they will overcharge you greatly -- sometimes 25 GBP one way. The Hoppa cost 4 GBP.
This review is based on experiences on the Grand Princess' first cruise following her 3 week-long dry dock. This cruise left Fort Lauderdale on May 5, 2011 for a 16 day transatlantic and British Isles cruise. I imagine the reviews will start pouring in soon and this will probably be one of the lowest rated cruises in Princess Cruise history. It seems the dry dock planners greatly overestimated the amount of work that could be done in the number of days available. Based on my own informal survey (from taking to other passengers for 16 days of cruising) there will be many, many negative comments - some very negative.
Indeed, the ship was not ready for passengers, based on what we've come to expect from Princess. Our past experiences have been very nice on Princess and I have faith that this will not happen again. I expect Princess will learn something from this post dry dock cruise. This experience will not prevent me from planning future cruises on Princess, although some of the other passengers had so negative experiences that they did say they would no longer cruise on Princess. I will continue to expect a wonderful Princess experience in the future until proven wrong. I think anyone can make a mistake and this was a mistake in over-planning. My husband and I did not experience any major problems although there were lots of lots of small problems and negative situations we do not expect with Princess.
As usual, the Princess crew - the cabin stewards, the waiters and assistant waiters, the entire dining room staff, including "Victor" in the Michelangelo Dining Room - were wonderful. Herein lies the strength of Princess cruises.
To keep it simple, I'll break the cruise down by the bad and the good.
The bad news first: The ship was in bad condition when we boarded. Many areas were half done and dirty. Some cabins were in bad shape and some balconies unusable. The promenade deck was dirty and full on supplies and materials. The pools were dirty and unusable.
The old Skywalkers had been removed, but the new One Five - it's replacement - was nowhere near complete.
There appeared to be a lot of new staff onboard. The service and food in the dining room started off poor but started to improve after about 4 days.
We started out with a delayed check-in and ship stayed in port until 8:16 am Friday (5/6/2011) morning.
The personnel working the Purser's Desk needed some public relations training. They were not very helpful to the point of being rude, particularly to older passengers (who probably needed their help the most - shame on them L). The Internet connection on the newly "upgraded" communication system was hit or miss. When it worked, it was great - the best I've ever had, but it was down quite a lot. Also, the tech person was very much not user friendly - actually he was rude and condescending.
It was a sad cruise for ballroom dancers. We usually can find at least one venue for dancing and frequently have a Big Band night, Jazz night, or Tea Dances, but not this time. The only danceable band was in the Wheelhouse Bar - small dance floor and they played a lot of blues, which is hard for some ballroom dancers to dance to. The orchestra was kept busy in the theater and only played on 2 occasions on a 16 day cruise.
Now the good news: Little by little, the ship started to take shape. The promenade and pools were cleaned and all the supplies and materials blocking the promenade disappeared. Princess always has amazing, hard-working crew who make things happen.
After a few days, the food and service in the dining room improved greatly. Once we were out to sea, we made up all the lost time (including time for an emergency medical stop in Bermuda) and arrived at all ports on time.
The production shows in the Princess Theater were better than most I've seen and several of them were "excellent". The other entertainers (comedians, musicians, magicians, etc.) were a little better than average and not a "stinker" in the bunch.
The best part of the cruise was the redo of the 5th floor atrium into a Piazza (like to find on other "grand" class ships). They did a beautiful job here with the inclusion of the always fabulous, International Cafe, the Vines Wine Bar (but no sushi or tappas), and another extra, Alfredo's Pizzeria - a very nice sit-down pizza.
As far as our room; we stayed in room 407 on the Emerald Deck and it was a great room for the price. It was "partially obstructed" but still has a nice view and it was one of those rooms with the bed on the wall instead of under the window. I will post pictures of the room and view. You can't beat it for the price.
The cruise across the Atlantic was wonderful - very smooth. The ports were very interesting - a good choice of ports. It would have been better to dock on the eastern side of Scotland to see Edinburgh instead of the western. Also, we need more time if you dock in Greenock or La Harve (if you're going to Paris or Normandy). Ponta Delgada (Azores) was a disappointment. Cobh (Cork) was a wonderful little town and La Harve was a nice city to visit.