My wife and I were looking for a relaxing cruise. No pressure, few ports, easy shore exclusions. We had sailed on Carnival twice and before and were eager to try Princess
We stayed in Fort Lauderdale the night before departure at the Renaissance (Marriott) on 17th Street, right near the cruise terminal. It was very nice, clean and amazingly convenient. A Walgreen's across the street was the perfect spot to buy last minute items like water and forgotten toiletries.
Travel To Port of Embarkation
We waited at our hotel until 1:30PM and took a five minute cab ride to the port. We literally walked directly on. I couldn't believe how empty it was. I asked the check in clerk and she said it had been very busy earlier. So the advice is clear: don't be afraid to wait and avoid the lines.
We had a mini-suite on the Dolphin Deck (9). I like this deck because its between two cabin decks and is generally very quiet. Our cabin was starboard and very close the back of the ship. The room was great: nice balcony, a sofa area with second flat screen TV. The bathroom had a full tub/shower. The water flow, pressure and temperature in the shower were fabulous. Since the stern stairs and elevator don't open on the promenade decks, we did a lot of walking to mid-ship. On a ship this size, its not very far so we didn't mind.
The Grand is a good size ship, not giant by today's standard- but several venues with stuff going on. The ship's restoration is really nice. The multi-story Piazza area is very nice.
We ate anytime dining and only had to wait briefly once. The menu is good, and the food well prepared. I wasn't totally happy with the selection some nights, but with the every night choices of steak, chicken and salmon - whats to not like? The buffet on the Lido deck was very good (better than I've seen on Carnival). It was self-service, IMHO better than waiting for staff to give you the portions they choose. Variety was excellent and quality high. The breakfast had everything you could want - we eat it most days as seated breakfast ended at 9:30. Lunch was nice, and we ate it at sea when we didn't like the choices in the dining room.We did eat at Sabatini's - the up-charge Italian dinner ($25/person). Well worth it- we had lobster and steak- the best meal on the cruise by far.
We played trivia and passenger feud - both fun. The casino was OK, but slow. I guess that's more a statement about the passengers than the Casino. The daily Holdem tournaments were fun (played in 2 - won once); unfortunately the last day we didn't have enough players for it. On other cruises I've been on the table is busy constantly. The crap table was only open after 9pm.
The service was very good. Our steward Jessy was very responsive when needed; and behind the scenes when not. Our room was refreshed every time we went out. Dining staff was good to very good. With anytime dining you see a lot of waitstaff, and they aren't specifically being tipped by you. I thought this would lower the service level, but it didn't. Some staff knew to serve from the left and clear from the right - but others didn't. Regardless, staff was responsive and focused on their diners.
Brad Stevens, the pianist in the Crooner's bar nightly was GREAT. The "dive in" movies were fun. Basically 2-3 films a day on the giant screen at the pool deck. Good movies in the staterooms too. Not a lot of choice on TV- why don't they have CNN?
We did the AMAZING "direct check" of luggage. For $20, Princess checks you in for the return flight, prints your return boarding passes, and checks you luggage all the way from your stateroom to your final airport destination. Yes - no luggage to find and pass through customs- it all goes automatically to your flight. We were supposed to disembark at eight. Instead we ate breakfast and at 9:30 stood in a short line and left. With no bags to deal with, transfer and customs was a breeze
This is a great cruise for people who want to take it slow. There is a lot of time on the ship. Three days at sea, and landfall at Curacao isn't till 1PM. We wanted a slow pace and found it.
Final Note: There was a private 50s/60s rock concerts series thingy all week. It tied up several of the venues. I think the cruise line should tell you about these type of private events at time of booking.