I write this as a passenger, previous customer, and from the perspective of someone who was on the Grand Princess when it made its last transatlantic trip from Southampton to Florida last Sept/Oct 2010 (pre-dry-dock). And one who made an identical crossing one year earlier.
To be clear, the press on the refit and the video diary on YouTube made this cruise appear as if the ship was "all-new" and completed. It was neither. Many contractors were on-board as we departed since the work had not been completed - example the One5 night club.
The boarding process itself was confusing with some passengers being told they could not board until 2:00pm, others told something different. Some having received emails from Princess, others not. As a result, thousands of people assembled at the dock and waited several hours, sometimes in the rain before the boarding process began. Rumors spread that people were standing on line in the rain while Princess was hosting a party for travel agents to show them the "new" Grand Princess.
Once boarded there was confusion as to departure time - some thinking it 5:00pm, others 7 or 8pm. No one on the staff could confirm until a message from the captain came after 5 stating we would not leave port at all that evening. Apparently some structural test, not previously done during the dry-dock/refurb period had to be completed during the early morning hours before being permitted to sail. Passengers were free to disembark and visit Ft Lauderdale for the evening. Had we known that the ship was not ready to sail, we would not have flown in a day earlier and incurred a hotel expense in Ft Lauderdale. Had we known of the delay in departure, we would have flown that day and boarded ship.
Our room was not "fresh", missing things like an ice bucket but most importantly, hot water in the shower. Our steward did not introduce himself nor provide us with information on how to contact him. Previous cruises on both the Grand and the Crown, our steward gave us his card, and came to the room to be certain we had everything we needed. We didn't learn his name until day 10 when he stopped us in the hall to tell us how we should be reporting to him when we had problems with our room (kind of odd that a room steward would admonish us when we didn't know who he was or have a way of contacting him). I would also note that Jonathan visited often, almost always unannounced - no knock on the door, just barge in to discover us in the room and quickly retreat. Very unnerving.
We reported the hot water to the front desk many times but suspect that this was not recorded each time. Others in our zone at the front of the ship and elsewhere had similar problems with hot water. Most had little hot water while some reported to us that they had showers too hot to use - one passenger telling us she was nearly scalded. I even filed a written note with the Purser asking for a personal meeting with him to explain why days had passed without someone responding. I never got that meeting. (I should point out that someone from housekeeping came to the room turned the sink on, felt hot water and declared there was no problem - apparently he didn't test the shower which was the reported problem ). I also sent letters to customer service in California and to our travel agent reaching out for help since no one on the ship seemed willing or capable of solving the problem. I also attempted to call the director of public relations aboard ship and was told she was unavailable. My wife ended up showering in the Lotus Spa on night 6 but only after making an insistence that some accommodation had to be made since Princess would not provide us with a different cabin. We wrote a commendation for the young man who took the time to get us in to the Lotus Spa.
On the 6th evening of the cruise, plumbers came to our cabin and a series of other cabins in our area to resolve the problem. In our case, a defective shower valve. I presume the others were similar repairs. We learned through one helpful attendant at the Purser's desk that this was a "major" problem and it was also acknowledged that there were many contractors on-board in passenger cabins to complete the "new" Grand (therefore no available rooms to move passengers with defective cabins).
Other problems we were personally told by other passengers included no cold water (we had same issue - we were told there was none since the hot and cold water pipes run together in the ship), overflowing toilets and inoperative toilets (you offered one travel agent in that situation a free dinner in exchange for their overflowing toilet) - there were banks of this problem on Emerald deck, electrical shocks from the lamps in the Explorers Lounge, dirty carpets in the staterooms - one passenger told that they wanted to replace her carpet and she declined (wisely) because of the toxic fumes from the adhesive used to lay new carpet. Princess cleaned her carpets. One gentlemen I was standing with in line at the Pursers desk had high blood pressure and diabetes - his luggage was lost, his air conditioning was not working in his room and no one was helping him with a room he could sleep in. Others had no working toilets, some with no electricity.
To be clear to all, this was not and is not an all "new" Grand. Many things that should have been refurbed were not, especially things like the elevators. Numerous reports throughout the ship of people stuck in elevators - we experienced the same and had to use the elevator phone for help. Loose electronic panels - flickering and flashing panels - inoperable buttons, elevators that plain did not work, others that didn't stop at the floors. Indicator lights outside the elevators that didn't work so one could not tell which direction the elevators were going. This is not new - we experienced these problems in our previous trip on the Grand but were not addressed in the refurb. Also, automated doors didn't and still don't. One in particular in the aft-end of the Horizon Court was broken last October and still is after the refurb. Everywhere you look, something was broken, rusted, dirty, coming apart or undone. Suffice it to say that this refurb was about transforming the central area of the ship - the money making areas and adding more of those, rather than addressing the basics of comfort, egress, basic cleanliness, etc.. This was about adding areas like a wine bar to encourage more sales, a free pizzeria (that tried to sell customers wine), and international cafe (to sell food/ coffee), a library that tried to sell tea and the like.
I still can't figure out the expansion of the Crown Grill. This used to be a cozy, partitioned restaurant where one could get away for an intimate meal. It was expanded to take away one of the two main corridors running forward and backward making an egress problem through the newly relocated travel desk. The reasoning I'm sure was to gain the windows for the restaurant at the expense of movement about the ship. What was once a nice restaurant comes off looking like an Outback Steakhouse that lost its charm. The extra space was not needed and it's a shame what was done in the name of design. Being from New York, the New York "theme" was a bit cheesy and not convincing. There appeared to be no upgrades in the main dining rooms. While Horizon Court was upgraded the egress through the serving area has been made worse by creating serving stations where once there was seating. Seating was always an issue before in the Horizon. The food was good, but bland and not hot. During the last several days of the cruise the temperature on the heating lamps was increased but the impact was only felt on your hands.
We had, for 11 nights, a rather noisy room - so noisy that sleeping was often not possible. The reason? From what we could gather from the ship's carpenters, new wires/conduits that had been strung between the walls during the refurb were not properly fastened. As the ship moved through the water (especially during the first 6 days since the captain had to make up for lost time and ran us at near maximum speed), the cables banged against the walls all night loud enough to keep us awake. The carpenters disassembled our ceiling and wall to repair the problem.
In my career, I've been an avid observer of people and customer service organizations - it's part of what I do to make my service organizations better. I was absolutely amazed by how many unsolicited comments I heard from people on tours, in the elevators, in line at the buffet, etc... who said things that I would sum up with these statements: "This ship should have never left dry-dock" "These people are in denial about all the problems on-board".
I should mention the Holyhead disaster since it was brought up in another review. Here we had a situation where transparency could have diverted a lot of confusion and resulting anger by the passengers. The rather flimsy dock at Holyhead was only wide enough for one bus - no two lanes of traffic. The dock's end had limited space to store buses for tours and shuttles. This was not told to the passengers in the daily "Patter" the night before. There was a delay in docking because of weather and a lack of cooperation between port officials but once we were cleared to depart ship, mass confusion began because passengers were not made aware of the limited egress on the dock. People with private tours were delayed while Princess tours were permitted to leave. Then a small group of people on a private tour were allowed to leave while others were not. It turns out that the owner of the private tour company is also a driver for Princess and managed to get his way on to the dock ahead of others and Princess allowed him to service his tour. This was confirmed to me by a travel agent who took that private tour.
The entertainment was marginal at best, something that has never been a strong point on Princess. We made an identical transatlantic cruise exactly one year earlier on R/C's Jewel of the Seas. We had a balcony room, better service, less cost and much better entertainment than this cruise. For example, we had acts like the Jersey Boys on-board that were on their way to the summer engagement in London. We also had hypnotist who had a long running TV show in the UK unlike our hypnotist who did not. The Jewel also had a very engaging duo that performed in the atrium every night and drew large crowds of people who danced for hours. I believe we had a much better set of entertainers on the Grand's west bound trip in Sept/Oct 2010 and certainly on our June 2009 trip on the Crown.
I found the information on weather, wave height, positioning much better on the old Grand - most of that was missing on the "new" Grand. Weather reports were often missing and the weather line was often a day old and not accurate. Wave heights and forecasts were completely missing. In this age, people are looking for content, content, content. They want internet connections that are reliable and they want information. That was completely lacking on this cruise.
I didn't notice much improvement in Horizon Court - yes there was new furniture and serving stations but the food was often cold even when they turned up the temperature on the heating lamps near the end of the cruise. Moving the dessert/ bread station away from the main area took away valuable seating area (a problem with the "old Grand") and often caused egress problems when there were many people eating. It narrows the spacing between the serving area and seating area thus creating bottle-necks. I found the service non-existent when the cruise began - I would conservatively estimate that about 40% of the time I would have to get my own water/ coffee/ juice. There were plenty of waiters standing around but they seemingly did not know what to do. This improved over time.
The new night-club that replaced the demolished Skywalkers never opened and was still under construction when we left ship. I remember the old Skywalkers as a quiet place to go and read during the day and a terrible place to go at night given the music selection. The cruise director in Sept/Oct was begging people to go. Hopefully the new One5 will be better but if there continues to be a disconnect between music choice and the average age of those onboard, it will be a loser like Skywalkers. In general I would say that whoever does the entertainment selection is not in touch with the age group on board. Royal Caribbean seems to do a much better job at this.
One other comment here, during Movie Under The Stars one evening, as we sat trying to watch, chunks of carpet were flying off deck 15 - workers pulling up old carpet, sanding down the decks and applying very pungent adhesive to glue down the new carpet. Not conducive to movie watching. I don't particularly care for bits of carpet in my popcorn. I did keep a 5x3 section of new carpet that flew off and landed on my legs as a "souvenir".
Other things noticed - no changes to the lounges that really need new furniture, no changes to the theater which is sorely in need of better lighting especially in the aisles and repair to loose risers on the stairs - we observed one gentlemen who fell there. Apparently the focus here was on updating sound systems but not in the comfort or safety of the passengers. An upgraded speaker system to the Movies under the Stars system was completed but nothing to the screen itself which is in need of repair. Swimming pools were not filled for the majority of the trip (my guess here is the flying pieces of carpet and other construction debris).
To sum then, 6 nights without hot water, 11 nights without sleep, a late departure, a non-responsive Pursers desk, a room attendant who appeared unannounced, a lack of attention to basic services, a dirty ship still under construction, an attitude of "we don't care" and a sense that this trip was not about serving the customers on-board customers but getting a ship ready for future cruises because it wasn't completed in dry-dock.