Grand Princess 10-21-2011 Western Med 14 Day Roundtrip From Southampton B751 OS Aft Suite
Charles and Judy -â€“ Colorado Springs, CO Ports -â€“ Malaga, Alghero, Rome, Florence, Cannes, Barcelona, Gibraltor
Definitely in our Top Five of all cruises. This was our 30th Anniversary cruise and we were able to do a Renewal of Vows on our actual Anniversary day, followed by a fantastic Ultimate Balcony Dinner, the best photograph we've ever taken on a cruise (it will be put on canvas), great food, incredible ports and a fantastic bunch of Grand Princess ship's personnel.
Although we had to cancel out 28 day Tahiti cruise and book this one, I really have no regrets. This was a great cruise and it worked out really well for us.
The Highs -â€“
Suite Upgrade - Upon arriving at the port, we found we had been upgraded from our AB mini to the aft, 1 of 2, Owner's Suites. WOW! This was pretty incredible. (This was actually our 2nd upgrade. We booked an AE mini GTY, was upgraded to an AB and then to the OS.) What an incredible suite. B751 is one of two OS suites on the Grand. The other is opposite us on the Port side of the ship. The cabin is simply huge. We have a couch, a table with 4 chairs, a 10-12' long desk area, coffee table and chairs on one side of the cabin. Bed, dressing table and desk, with closet on the other side of the cabin. Typical 2 room walkthrough bath with shower, jet tub on one side, toilet and sink on the other. We could easily host a dinner party of 12-14 people and no one would have to sit on the bed. The deck has only one post in the center and slightly wraps around so you can see quite a bit on the side. The balcony is half covered which had two downsides. People from the back of the ship near the pool can look down on your balcony and at night during the deck washdown or rain, the loungers will get soaked from the runoff.
Renewal of Vows -â€“ This is pre-booked and pre-paid prior to the cruise. (We did the less expensive version.) When arriving, the on-board coordinator will contact you (in our case it was Terry) and organize the date and time. The ceremony is not a group ceremony. The couple and up to 30+ guests, in our case we invited the entire cruise staff and a couple we met on board from ABQ, NM, attend a private ceremony in the Chapel. Our ceremony was wonderful with Captain Tony Herriot performing the ceremony. Judy was walked down the aisle by one of the Purser's staff. The vows were poignant and appropriate. A miscommunication resulted in our ceremony not being video taped, but they were able to compile the stills taken in to a very moving video presentation. Highly recommended.
Melissa -â€“ Our baby has grown up. (Sniff!) We first sailed with Melissa on the Star in February 2010 to Antarctica. And we had a reunion of sorts on this ship. She attended our ROV ceremony and is just the sweetest Assistant Cruise Director you will ever want to meet.
Cruise Staff -â€“ Paul, Hersh, Eric, Stu, Martyn, Sasha, Melissa, Lisa-Marie and Alicia were all so very friendly and highly entertaining. We got to know them very well during the cruise and our best cruises are when we interact with the cruise staff.
The Photo Gallery Staff -â€“ Never before have we spent so much money on photos! But the quality of the photos and the friendly nature of the entire staff have to be mentioned. We got some great shots, one of which will go on the wall as a canvas.
Ultimate Balcony Dinner -â€“ This was the best, hands down, UBD we have ever had. It was absolutely delicious and the views off of our aft balcony into the setting sun were simply stunning. Viktor and Anna did a wonderful job of taking care of us and the food was perfectly cooked and perfectly seasoned. We spent an absolutely wonderful 2 hours eating, drinking and chatting with Viktor and Anna. A completely perfect experience.
Chef's Table -â€“ Our April 2011 chef's table with Jeremy, the head chef, was just so so, so we were hesitant to spend the extra $20 each ($95 each total) for Chef's table. While the jury is still out on the $95 each, this was an excellent Chef's table. The food was superb, the interaction with Jeremy, the Matre De (Pasquale), the sommelier (Stefano) and the Head Waiters was fun and entertaining. My only issue is that with the increase in cost to $95, they need to be more generous with the wine. The first chef's tables had flowing wine. Later it became you had to ask for it, and it still is such that you have to ask for more wine. With the $20 increase, you should not have to ask for more wine.
Angelo's -â€“ We ate five times at Angelo's. The pizza is simply the best we've ever had, anywhere, anytime. We never missed the sushi or Tapa's from Vines. Give us Angelo's any day.
Rome -â€“ WOW. OMG. We did the connoisseur tour with Princess. The really expensive one. And it was worth every penny. From Mario, the bus driver getting us around Rome, to Sophia's helping with all of the people and Valentina's expert archeological viewpoint we got blown away by the sights. Oh, and I should mention that Judy, my pastaholic, loved the lunch pasta we got served in the Hotel Savoy. All I can say is that I was personally moved by the scope and majesty of St Peters. From the basilica to the square, the grandeur, the sheer scale of the architecture and statuary was simply breathtaking. To think that mortal men, mere homo sapiens created something that moving, that spectacular is overwhelming and humbling.
The Food -â€“ All good. Not one bad dish in 14 days and some that were quite memorable. We ate in the MDR, the UBD, Chef's Table, the IC, Angelo's, the HC, the grill and the Pizza place upstairs.
The Lows -â€“
The lows simply revolved around the excursions, especially Barcelona and Monte Carlo, and to some extent Florence. It rained in Malaga, but that wasn't the cruise line's fault and the tours for Gibraltar and Sardinia were good, enjoyable and worth the price (just not WOW), but the Barcelona and Monte Carlo tours suffered from subject matter and tour guides that just paled in comparison to Rome. Florence I have mixed feelings about. If the tour guide had spent less time on art appreciation lessons and more time on art history, as well as more time at Pisa, we would have been much happier.
The ship was too hot! The internal temperature was kept much higher than any ships we have ever been on. It was warm in every venue.
We flew into Heathrow Wednesday morning on United having started Tuesday morning in Colorado Springs. The flight was on-time and uneventful. We had pre-arranged a Smith's For Airports car hire to pick us up and take us to Hilton in Southampton. (The Hilton because I needed to build up some points for future use.) The driver had the little sign and off we went. An hour and a half later we were in the Hilton waiting for them to clean our room. By noon we were snoozing.
The Hilton is more of a destination if you have a car and I really don't recommend it for pre-cruise unless you are from the area and have a car. Most of us who fly in would have more restaurant choices in downtown Southampton where we will stay next time if we do this again. It's a very nice hotel with good food and good service, but it can get very hectic during holiday.
A good nights sleep does wonders, so we hit the free breakfast for HH members, very nice btw, and then started out on our trip to Stonehenge. Based on research on the CC board we determined the best route, and one for most views, was to taxi to Romsey and pick up the train to Salisbury, then get on the Stonehenge HOHO bus. The ride over was great, with blue sky and nice weather. We chatted with a few locals at the Romsey station, Britishers are fascinated with us Americans, and scooted to Salisbury. We got tickets on the HOHO bus and headed to Stonehenge, which is really fascinating. Lots of photos, videos and souvenirs later and we headed back to Salisbury on the HOHO to catch the train to Southampton central. We were hungry and Judy wanted some fish and chips. We got off the train in Southampton central and wandered around the town for a while and found the Slug and Lettuce and had a wonderful fish and chips lunch, complete with a local brew. The taxi stand was right across the street, so we hopped on a taxi and went back to the Hotel.
Embarkation Day. We had another great breakfast in the hotel and then taxied down to the dock and basically got right on the ship around noon. The first surprise was we got upgraded to B751, which we did not know which suite that was. The second surprise was that it was one of the owner's suites on the Grand! Now this was going to be good! Princess has recently started upselling to suites on selected ships and I did notice a lot of empty suites last week, so we enquired about upgrading with no luck. We originally booked an AE GTY and were upgraded to an AB on Dolphin deck. We then got upgraded to the largest suite we have ever been in.
At Sea 10/22/11 and 10/23/11
As usual Judy was down the first day at sea with motion sickness. Always happens in open water. So spent the first sea days checking out the Grand's upgrades. I have to say WOW to One5. I really like what they did with the space. No more smoking in One5! All the smokers have been banished to a really nice space outside aft of One5 and the chapel.
Angelo's in the Piazza is great and the new Piazza is as well. The IC is pretty standard, but Vines no longer serves Sushi or Tapas. That has been given over to Angelos. At first we were a little upset. Not after trying the Pizza!
Our CD, strangely enough, on this cruise was Martyn Moss. You will remember him from his videos on the Grand drydock. We got to meet him early in this cruise, but he's a pretty hands-on guy. Stu was his deputy, with Mellisa, Eric, Paul, Hersh, Sasha, Lisa-Marie and Alicia as the cruise staff. And a real fun bunch as well.
Activities during the day were Ballroom Class with Eric, Line Dance with Paul and Eric, and Zumba with Paul. Never tried Zumba before, but I had a blast. Judy got a kick out of watching me when she couldn't take the motion and had to sit down -â€“ and yes, I did the whole routine. Didn't keep up in spots, but I didn't quit.
The second sea day was the first formal night. Since this was our 30th anniversary cruise, out came the tux and we hit every photo location for some Christmas presents.
Nighttime entertainment was dancing with Phoenix Rising, we've sailed with them before, in the wheelhouse and Opus, never sailed with them, in Explorer's lounge and DJ Michelle in One5. Plenty of dance spaces and venues, although we were a little ticked that the new Explorer's lounge stage protrudes on one side into the dance floor.
A couple of new things on the Grand:
1 - The Horizon Court schedule has changed on the Grand. The close at 11PM and don't reopen till 6. If you want a late night snack you must go to the International Cafe. Which isn't a bad thing. The IC has everything you might need.
2 - They don't run lunch until dinner, but set up a "tea time" snack line in the new dessert bars outside each side of the HC.
3 - Vines does not have Tapas and Sushi. When they installed Alfredo's Pizzaria they didn't have room for the other stuff.
4 - The Pizza in Alfredo's is really good, but totally different from the one upstairs. Fresh vegetables, no pepperoni (parma ham) and different cheeses are the draw here. The Pizza upstairs is good, this is just better. Order the vegetarian pizza smothered in ham!
5 - Suites can still order off the MDR menu in-suite. Last night was french night and we ordered in extra snails and bread. The deck was still wet, so we ate on the large table in the suite. Very nice.
We skipped Cadiz (Seville) due to weather in the Atlantic and instead stopped in Malago. We took the Flamenco dance tour. It was raining cats and dogs, but we came prepared with rain gear. We met Mike and Kathleen, from Albuquerque, NM, fellow dancers, on this excursion and they spoke Spanish! Hurray! So we went in search of cheap, corny souvenirs. Having found the required magnets and hand fans, we went to an old church/convent/hospital and was treated to some really good flamenco dancing. I never knew that 50% of the dance for the ladies is keeping that dress train out of the way!
After the excursion, we went back to the ship and enjoyed dinner in the cabin.
At Sea 10/25/11
Our Anniversary day. Renewal of Vows day. UBD dinner. Our ROV and UBD was fantastic. The UBD photographer from the ship, Teryn, caught the photo of a lifetime for us off the balcony with the sunset in the background. It will go onto canvas. Probably the best photo we've had taken ever...
The ceremony was great with a couple of new found friends and a lot of the cruise staff, including Melissa, whom we've sailed with before, Eric, Sasha, Stu, Herge and Martyn as well.
The dinner was hands down the best UBD we've ever had. The view off the back was breathtaking as the sun set, the air was cool, but not chilled. Viktor and Anna were delightful to talk to during the meal and the food was fantastic. We even had Earl, their supervisor, popping in an out making sure everything was going right. If you've never had a UBD, we highly recommend them. The personalized service, the food and the view just can't be beat.
It was a perfect 30th anniversary celebration. Worth every last penny and every penny we spent on photos! We've celebrated almost every anniversary since the 20th on Princess, but this ranks on the top. As Judy put it to me, money or memories.
Alghero was a nice port stop. We did the Princess tour that included the ancient 2500 year old civilization on Sardinia that built the 7000 Nuraghi towers. That was pretty interesting. The various churches and cathedrals in town were also nice to visit and the weather cooperated by being absolutely perfect. Having never been to Europe, I quickly found out that the churches are the art center of the world. Such fantastic works of art, both in statuary and in painting. Really, really impressive and interesting.
In Rome we did the expensive princess connoisseur tour which included the Trevi Fountain, the Coliseum, the Vatican museum, the Sistine chapel and St Peters.
WOW. INCREDIBLE. FANTASTIC. OMG!
We've never been before so we splurged and did we ever get our money's worth. It started with a bus trip from the port to Rome with Mario, the bus driver, and Sophia, the tour guide. About an hour we hit the famous Rome traffic. 1 Million people, 1.5M scooters, but honestly considering the size of the bus, we really never stopped. I've been in worse traffic in LA or on the beltway in DC.
The tour was quick paced, because we had a lot to cover and only one day. We started at the Trevi fountain, really interesting, then walked through the streets to catch our bus to the Coliseum. From the Coliseum on, things blur together. The sights, the sounds, the ability to skip around the long lines, Valentina walking us through various points of view, Sophia taking care of one of our group that was wheelchair bound. It's strange but the Coliseum looked smaller than I thought it would be playing field wise, but much taller and larger around the perimeter than I thought it would be. All through Rome I was having a bad case of Perspective Dyslexia, sizes seemed all out of proportion.
Anyway, from the Coliseum you can see one of the triumphal arches, Palentine Hill and a host of ongoing excavations. Valentina walked us through the whole thing from the upper decks of the coliseum and hit the highlights of what is going on around the area archeologically.
From the Coliseum we went to lunch as the Savoy Hotel. A private room on the top floor with a veranda overlooking the entire center of the city. A really breathtaking view, and what a contrast of roof styles, from the satellite and analog TV antenna infested row style house roofs to the domes and marble roofs of the various basilicas, cathedrals and churches stretching as far as the eye could see.
Lunch was great. The wine flowed and the food was really good. Oh, and I should mention that Judy, my pastaholic, loved the lunch pasta so much she had seconds instead of the main course. She states it was the best pasta she's ever had. It had better been, we were in Rome afterall!
From lunch we went to the Vatican, and once again went around all the crowds with Valentina flashing her official tour guide ID. We then traveled on a course of rooms and hallways that started in the museum in the hall of statues and tapestries, down, around and through various Pope's apartments filled with breathtaking frescos from Michelangelo, Rafael and all the other teenage mutant ninja turtles, to the Sistine chapel. Now I must admit, I was a bit underwhelmed and confused by the Sistine chapel as photos and even video do not do it justice, but Valentina walked us through the various frescos and I went away with a feeling of sheer awe at one was accomplished.
That lasted until we entered St Peters. It was like the entire tour was one amazing site after another, one more incredibly detailed fresco or tapestry or statue or painting to an entire ceiling of magnificent frescos, and then the crescendo that is St Peters.
OMG. We were floored when we stepped inside the entrance and looked down the central area of the basilica and up and around the pillars, the roof. Judy and I have seen Antarctica, Cape Horn, the Grand Canyon, the glaciers of Alaska, some pretty impressive natural sights that literally take your breath away. Nothing we have ever seen anywhere comes close to matching the overwhelming feeling of "presence", not in a religious sense, but in the sense of 'in the presence of greatness -â€“ real greatness'.
Simply put, they just don't build them that way anymore. I've been in some pretty impressive building, walked across Hoover Dam, toured the capital in DC, but this was something extraordinary. I was personally moved by the scope and majesty of St Peters. From the basilica to the square, the grandeur, the sheer scale of the architecture and statuary was simply breathtaking. Even now, weeks later when I try and describe the scene I get emotional. It was simply that great.
To my engineering mind, trying to grasp for a reason for this emotional response, it is problem with proportion. The statuary is larger than life, the roof is so high, the pillars so far apart and yet it seems so cozy, so welcoming, but so impressive at the same time. When Valentina pointed up to the Golden Letters around the ceiling and stated that those were 6' tall, I couldn't believe it. When she pointed out that the altar is 120' tall and that the entire area can house 60,000 people, I was blown away. Walking through St Peters, you seem to walk and walk and walk, and yet you don't really move that far.
It was literally too much to comprehend in just the 45 minutes we were there. Michelangelo's Pieta was incredible. John Paul the II's chapel area memorable and then when we left the same issue with perspective hit in St Peter's square. It turns out the statues lining the two "horns" or "arms" of the square are 20' tall, yet perfectly proportioned. As you walk away from the basilica into the square, you seem to walk forever before you can get one photo of the entire face of the basilica.
Absolutely incredible day. Worth every penny, that's for sure.
We also did the Connoisseur tour of Florence and Pisa for 10 hours. It really suffered in comparison to the Rome tour with Valentina. Our tour guide was good, a little bit too much on the art appreciation side rather than the art history, but she wasn't even close to Valentina's personality, wit or charm.
Florence actually started out pretty good with a walking tour of the various squares, churches and government buildings. The museum tours were ok. The Academia was my favorite, the Uffizi just ok. The Academia was small, but the most impressive for me were the unfinished statues of Michelangelo. Those, and David, were really impressive.
In the Uffizi, the tour guide did a lot of art appreciation lecturing, which went right over my head. It was hard to make out when she was asking a real question or asking a rhetorical question, which made for some pretty awkward silences.
We had lunch at a hotel on the banks of the Arno River. Wow did that name ring a few bells from my Latin and History classes. Lunch was pretty good, with the Risotto being the highlight. But due to traffic and scheduling we only got 30 minutes at Pisa, but the tower is pretty impressive. funny how an oopps became so famous. I would have liked more time in Pisa and less time in art appreciation class.
Monte Carlo was ok. Wanted to see it, been there now, probably won't be back. The problem, once again, is that the excursion suffered in comparison. After being in the Vatican and in Florence, the small rooms that make up the palace were like moving from our OS suite to an inside cabin. There were some interesting historical points, but overall it was one of those ok excursions.
Lunch, on the other hand, was horrible. Salad, bread, chicken breast with French fries and a dessert that I can't remember. One glass of wine, yuck, and one dainty cup of the most horrible coffee known to mankind. You had to chew it.
And this was advertised as a gourmet French lunch. I don't think so...
After lunch we went to the Monte Carlo casino. That took all of two minutes. But it was quite funny. As we passed by the gaming tables, about 10 of them, I noticed that the Blackjack table had a 25 Euro minimum. Geeeze, and followed the crowd to the .02 and .05 slot machines. I threw away 5 Euros on video poker, used the restroom, it was free for once, and headed out into the square for some shopping.
Back on board the ship, it was Chef's table night. Jeremy, the head chef, made up for April's "so-so" Chef's Table we had with him on the Golden. Food was pretty incredible, wine selection good (but they are still pretty chincy with the wine compared to a couple of years ago) and the presentations and service was excellent. Not quite sure if its worth the extra $40 or not. Jury is still out on that.
Our Barcelona tour was pretty forgettable, primarily due to the tour guide who did not know how to smile. The only advantage was being able to get into La Familia through the group entrance and not through the individual entrance who's line stretched around the block.
Also did a tour of Parc Quell. I just did not get it until halfway through the tour! Oh, a development gone south and taken over by the government. Gee, we probably have thousands of those in the states thanks to Freddie and Fannie! (Sorry, my cynical side seeps through everyone in a while.)
It was Sunday in Barcelona and a lot of shops were closed. The church is pretty impressive, more so from the inside than the outside, and when it is finished in 2030, the stained glass windows will be pretty incredible. Don't quite get the architecture though. Personally the interior columns are too close and too numerous to create the soaring ceiling perspective, but then beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Worth a look see, but I can't recommend the Princess excursion on this one.
At Sea 10/31/11
Halloween! Halloween night was fun and deserves special attention. It started with the cruise staff getting really dressed up, as did most of the wait and bar staff at almost all the venues. We spent a couple of hours and several batteries taking photos of all the various costumes.
At 930PM the cruise staff did a full version of thriller in the Piazza that was a lot of fun. Everything then moved to Explorer's where there was some dancing, a costume parade, a mummy wrapping contests (with toilet paper), apple bobbing and pin the wart on the witch. A lot of fun and a lot of photos taken.
The next time we cruise on halloween, we will bring or plan on a costume. It would have been so much more fun to get in the thick of things. Highly recommended and a lot of fun.
Gibraltar was really interesting and really good. We took the tour that hit almost all the highlights and we had a good tour guide. The bus could have been more comfortable, but oh well it's a very small place. We saw all the sites except St Michaels cave. I wish some of the excursions would have included the WWII tunnel systems as well, but we saw all of the tunnels and major gun positions from the "Great Seige". Wow - pretty incredible. At one point in the battle 42 French and Spanish ships came in to bombard the Rock, and 24 hours later they were all sunk. Look out of the various gun positions, you can see why. What a perfect natural fortress.
Had a good tour guide as well. Unfortunately fog covered the top until later in the day, so our trip to the top in the cable car was enclosed in fog to the point that you couldn't see 40 feet.
Oh and the apes, well one took a liking to Judy's hat and wanted it. She didn't want to let it go, so the ape climbed on her back and tried to pry it off her head. I'm taking photos and she's arguing with it. Nice set of pictures.
The princess tour on this one is very highly recommended.
Back to the ship and lunch at Alfredo's. The pizza there is basically the best we've ever had anywhere, anytime. The Tarantina is my favorite -â€“ with shrimp and mussels in a red sauce with cheese. Judy's is the Vegetarian with olives and ham. Couple that with a couple of Blue Moons, a couple of cold salads from the IC and you have a completely delicious meal.
After the Pizza lunch, we grabbed a quick 30 minute nap and shower, Judy wanted to wash the monkey smell off of her. We went to the British sailaway and sing along. Have never seen so many Union Jacks in one place in a long time!
Dinner was Cosmopolitan and we both had the lamb, and I had to sample the Lemoncello. Really good. All three of them. Even Judy liked it.
But the cruise's excursions and dancing caught up with us. With nothing really going on last night, we crashed really early and slept the entire night till 0700 this morning. A really good nights sleep.
At Sea 11/2/11 and 11/3/11
Moderate seas put Judy flat on her back all day the first sea day, so it was kind of a bummer of a day - but I sort of expected it and was prepared for it with kindle in hand. Did Zumba and line dance, but not ballroom. Rain showers most of the day kept the decks cleared, so I did visit the Gym and did several laps around Deck 15.
NOTES ABOUT THE GYM: All of the machines have been upgraded to state of the art STARTRACS with touch screens. No precors. The ellipticals, which I used, and the treadmills/stationary bikes, have a touchscreen interface that doubles as a TV screen. There is also a place to plug in your IPOD or equivalent to play music from. The only problem is headspace. I am 6' and if I stand very straight, my head hits the ceiling, so taller people may have a bit of trouble on the ellipticals.
I also tried out the platinum/elite/suite lounge in One5. They had a Port marinated stilton cheese on a walnut toast with a port wine reduction and a Port wine as the drink of the day, in addition to assorted cheeses. Boy was this good! Since it was a formal night, and I wasn't getting dressed up alone, I went to the HC. They had nice cold shrimp and cracked crab - which were both very good.
The second sea day was packing day and Judy was feeling much better. We basically rattled around the ship getting photos, settling accounts, writing up cards and trying to enjoy our last day of the cruise.
Disembarkation Friday 11/4/11
Disembarkation was really smooth. We had purchased a Heathrow transfer, cheaper than any other way I could find, even though we wouldn't fly out until Saturday. Out through the terminal, grabbed our bags and onto the bus. About 1 and Â½ hours later we were in Heathrow (Terminal 1) by 10:15AM.
Getting to the new Hilton at T5 was a challenge. We first tried a taxi, but they wanted a minimum of 60 quid! We ended up on the Hoppa bus, but probably should have just called and arranged with the hotel. The hotel is brand new, with nice rooms, really good food, but really high prices. We stayed because I needed the points, but if not for the points, I would have stayed elsewhere. But if I were on a business trip, I would really like to stay there because of the quietness of the area and the amenities of the hotel.
The next morning, the hotel arranged a car, 15 pounds, to the airport. We checked in, settled in our seats for the 8 hour flight to Dulles and back to work.