My partner and I are frequent cruisers (20+) and enjoy the low stress that comes with cruising once on board. This was our first Princess cruise, we have sailed mostly with NCL. We are middle aged and most of the people on this cruise were in the 45+ age range. With this being a holiday cruise, there were kids, but not as many as we thought there might be. Most of the entertainment this cruise centered on the holidays and would not be typical of the regular weekly sailings.
I would consider the Grand Princess a small/medium sized ship and on the older side (built 1998). I will post some pictures or a link on the Princess boards soon. The recent renovation centered on the main atrium (Piazza) and Sancuary, thus some ware can still be seen in other parts of the ships. The elevators are on the slow side throughout the ship, more so forward and aft (remember going down steps is easier than going up, so be prepared or be patient). It always seems that these size ships are at times difficult to navigate from floor to floor (can't get there from here type issues) and can be a challenge. For some reason I got the impression that the elevators and steps were on opposite sides/reversed than what I was used to on other ships and that caused me to get confused about which direction was forward and aft...probably just me??? The staff on this boat I found to be extremely friendly, always smiling faces and very accomidating. I only found the International CafÃ© to be the one place where the staff behind the counter appeared to be less friendly than the rest (open 24 hrs, maybe reason why???)
Embarkation was very organized and started about 12:00 p.m. We were there early and they had a seating area where we could sit until they were ready. Our bags were at our room by 3:00 p.m. and we were pretty much unpacked before muster.
Disembarking was also well organized and you have to be out of your room by 8:00 a.m. There are places throughout the ship where you can wait based on your luggage tag color. I would suggest doing early morning walk off with your luggage or choosing one of the earlier colors. There is a sit down breakfast, as well as the buffet area available that morning.
There are many bars on the ship, but we primarily hung out at Crooners, the martini bar and Vines the wine bar. Most martinis' are in the $8 range. Wine by the glass can cost from 7 - $8. There is a 'Happy Hour' from 4 -- 6 p.m. where basic 'well' liquor drinks are $3.99 (for example rum and coke) and only the dark rum brand looked decent (cruzan), we didn't know the other brands.
Evening entertainment was veried. There was a string quartet or pianist in the main lobby/piazza each night. We did not see any of the main shows in the evening but heard that a few of them were not the best quality. Movies under the stars is a nice change of pace for something low key in the evening. The ship casino is on the small size and the slots are very tight and don't really even pay enough to let you play a while, better off playing tables.
The Lotus Spa (deck 15 forward) outdoor pool (over 21 only) was where we hung out most of the day. It is a quiet relaxing area with some lounge chairs that offer some shade. There are about a dozen lounge chairs available and are usually occupied by 7:00 a.m. so get up early and grab your spot. We enjoyed being able to have easy access to the locker areas with robes and extra towels as well as hot tea and flavored waters. The spa's outdoor pool area also has men and womens separate steam and sauna, but is kind of odd to have them separate when they are all in the same open outdoor area. There are no showers in the men/women locker areas of the spa, only outside to rinse off after use of the steam/sauna. We enjoy more robust spa facilities; this one was on the low end. The exercise room had lots of equipment, but was on scale with the ship...smaller than most.
The Sancuary is directly above the spa pool, presumably to allow easy access to the users of the Sancuary area. I am sure this boat's area is smaller as compared to other newer ships. We did not use it, but got a tour the first day. There are no cabanas for personal use, only for massages. There are a few dozen lounge chairs, 90% in shaded area and another 10% in full sun. Since the ammenities didn't seem all that different from the spa pool area directly below, we saved our bucks and just hung out there.
We had an inside cabin and were very satisfied with the layout and daily upkeep. The room steward was very efficient and always freshened up the room in a timely manner whenever we put the 'refresh room' card in the door slot. From what I understand none of the rooms were updated in the last dry dock. The mattress is very firm and the toilets don't always flush on command. I found the in-room safe to be a bit tricky to work at times since the knob didn't always turn when it should, seemed like turning it very slowly did the trick.
We found the food in general to be of a higher standard than on NCL or Carnival. We ate most of our meals in the main dining areas since we prefer sit down service versus buffet. We utilized anytime dining and only had to wait a few times with a buzzer for a max of 10 minutes. The dining staff is very efficient and we found one dinner server to be exceptional (Kitipong in Michaelangelo) and requested his area each night. There were two formal nights, but we chose not to dress formal but instead dressed business casual and were still able to eat in the main dining room. There were folks going in shorts and T-shirts some nights and not being turned away...I still think people should at least dress in pants and a nice top in the evening.
Alternate dining was very good. We ate in Sabatini's one night and the food was fantastic and well worth the $20/person cover charge. The menu in Sabatini's has changed and is now a traditional 4 course dinner menu. The new pizza shop Alfredo's in the piazza was very good (no charge). The food and pastry at the International CafÃ© also in the new piazza area was also very good and a great place to grab something small 24 hrs a day (no charge). I heard that some other Princess boats have Gelato at the International CafÃ©, however this boat does not. The Vines wine bar in the piazza has a nice selection of wines to sample by the glass and the staff is very friendly and knowledgeable. The open seating area of the piazza allows you to enjoy your food/wine while watching the entertainment happening in the central area. The internet area is also in the piazza (very slow uplink compared to other boats we have been on). There was also a nice afternoon tea service daily at 3:30 p.m. in one of the main dining rooms with sandwiches and pastries (no charge).
Our southern cruise stopped in Aruba, Curacao and Princess Cay. We didn't use any of the ships excursions and went out on our own.
Aruba is great beach and shopping day. I recommend taking the public bus straight up a block from the cruise terminal ($2.50 roundtrip and run frequently up and down the main hotel zone road) and going to Eagle beach. Food and drinks on Aruba are expensive so be prepared or stop at a store on the way and take your own drinks and snacks.
We were not real impressed with Curacao. Most of the nicer beaches require a long and expensive taxi ride (we went to Porto Marie, 30 -- 45 ride and $90 roundtrip for two). The town area is charming to look at from a distance but not as clean and robust as Aruba (just our opinion).
Princess Cay (cruise line's private island) was ok for spending some time at the beach. Water was much cooler than Aruba and a bit rocky vs. sand in the water. All the same prices for drinks as the boat and had outdoor barbeque food. We got back on board and had lunch on the boat since we are not the hot dog/hamburger type eaters.
Overall the cruise was very relaxing and the service was great. For an older, smaller boat the ammenities were good and the newly updated piazza/atrium area has added some nice touches. If you're looking for more robust modern ammenities, you might want to look into a newer and larger ship.