We took the 7 day Southern Caribbean cruise on the Grand Princess from Ft Lauderdale. This will be a little lengthy review because I want to cover everything and address frequent issues brought up by other reviewers. First off let me put this all in prospective. We are a couple with me being 40 and my partner 39 and this was our 4th cruise with Princess. This was a vacation so you should relax and enjoy. And for what my partner and I paid, it boiled down to $397 a day for us both. Where else can you get a 7 day vacation with lodging, entertainment, great sights and endless food for $397 a day?
Ft Lauderdale: We flew down on Friday prior to the cruise to enjoy 1 day in Ft Lauderdale before getting on our cruise. We stayed at the W Hotel Ft Lauderdale. Over all a nice hotel with great views and would probably stay there again. Sat morning we got up, got ready, and headed to the port using taxis. We debated on having a van come get the 6 of us, but 2 taxis worked just fine and were probably faster.
Embarkation: We arrived at the port at about 1135. The porters took our bags from the taxi trunk and immediately loaded them directly in the luggage crates. We didn't even have to touch our bags but don't forget to tip your porter. In the terminal, the line for security wasn't too long and moved pretty quickly. Probably 5-10 minutes. After security you were herded in a queue to wait until noon to go upstairs to the check-in lines. If you were priority you could go immediately upstairs. With only a dozen people in front of us, once the doors opened and we got upstairs the check-in lines were fast. We were on the ship by 1215 so this was a quick and efficient check-in process.
Ship: The ship was in ok shape but did show its age and wear & tear. The areas that were refurbished all looked really good. The removal of Sky Walkers Lounge really improved the look and gave the aft pool area more sun and the sensation of more space. There was rust here and there, warn carpet in areas, apparent holes in the floor in spots, and rusty balconies and balcony divider doors but everything was operating without issues. And you routinely saw crew out painting and doing other maintenance stuff. The ship was well maintained and was very clean.
Cabin: My partner and I had was in E728 (AD mini-suite) on deck 8 with our friends in the next 2 mini-suites. Because ours was the end cabin, our balcony was extended and almost twice the size of the others. We had the dividers between our 3 balconies opened to allow outside travel between balconies. The cabin had a good layout which gave us plenty of space without becoming too pricey. I would say the best choice for size and price for the amount of time we are in our cabin. Cabin was really clean and well maintained despite showing her age but everything inside was operational. The locks on the balcony dividers had been corroded away so they were held closed by wedges and the hinges were corroded to the point that the dividers were almost falling off once opened. There was brand new furniture on the balcony consisting of 2 reclining chairs with foot stools and nice size table. The balcony mat that we have had on other Princess ships were no longer covering our balconies which caused them to be slick when wet and required more maintenance by our steward. Our room steward, Ernie, did an outstanding job the entire week. He always greeted us by name in passing and went out of his way to make sure we had everything we wanted. You could clearly hear when the Vista lounge, directly below us, was having a show because it could be loudly heard from inside our cabin. However, the shows ended early so there were no issues with them bothering our sleep or use of the cabin. We had an internet package and it worked better than expected. I normally did email first thing in the morning or later at night and had no real issue with speed. However, during the day it tended to be slower. And as a tip, it's www.logout.com to log out if you lose the window where you logged in to.
Food: Over all the food was really great. For breakfast we normally ate in the buffet or got sandwiches and snacks from the International Cafe except for the 1 morning when we had a Champaign Balcony Breakfast in our cabin. Unlike previous cruises where we had aggressive passengers who feared someone would take the last piece of bacon and leave them hungry, this time the buffet had a good atmosphere with lots of selections and pleasant & courteous fellow passengers. The new separate section for desserts really seemed to help the flow of the buffet as well.
For lunch we either ate at the buffet, International Cafe, Alfredo's Pizzeria, the pub lunch in the Crown Grill or on the Lido deck by the pool. The new Alfredo's Pizzeria was very good and should be tried at least once. The pub lunch is always a good Irish change of pace. The International Cafe had great sandwiches and soup. And the pool deck delights were all very good for fast food while enjoying the sun & fun.
We had traditional early seating in the Botticelli dining room for dinner and enjoyed it every evening for the 3 nights were there. Both our lead and back waiter were quite attentive and a lot of fun despite us being a nutty bunch. The sommelier visited us daily and was very personable and offered great wine selection advice.
We ate at the Crown Grill twice and both times had outstanding food and service. And with there being way too much excellent food, it's well worth the surcharge. We ate at Sabatini's once and thought it wasn't worth the surcharge. The food was mediocre and the service was really slow and not very attentive. For those of you leery on paying the surcharge, the dining room has really good food but Crown Grill was even a level higher and worth the $25 surcharge. I'm hoping Sabatini's was just having a bad night but we got similar responses from others who tried it on our voyage.
We ate just about everything offered on this cruise which is why our pants are now tight and we hear the gym calling. There is just too much to choose from to eat in my opinion. I've read from other reviews that on days there was nothing good to eat. Not sure which cruise they were on because there's always something good to eat and if you don't find something you want on the menu, just ask, they will no doubt make it for you for the following evening. They have for us in the past.
Entertainment: Over all we found the entertainment good. There's a wide variety of stuff to do in order to please a wide range of people. Key being there's a wide range of people on board with diverse tastes. We saw the martini demonstration which was fun and the guys doing it looked as if they were really enjoying themselves. We did the wine tasting with food pairing. That was a lot of fun and quite informative. We attended an ice carving demonstration up on Lido deck. They have some talented crew members. The piano player at Crooners was pretty good as well as the live music acts up on the pool deck. Didn't attend any of the big shows but they appeared to have been well enjoyed. Many reviews have called them amateurish but fellow passengers had good things to say about them. And you need to keep in mind these aren't shows straight from Broadway. We attended an art auction which was interesting and educational. On one afternoon we went to a cooking demonstration followed by a galley tour by Alfredo who is the master chef of Princess. He was on board for this cruise and was so very knowledgeable and personable. We like to relax a lot on our cruises but there were enough options to keep everyone as busy as they wanted. We also attended the daily GLBT get together which a nice chance to meet new people and have some good conversations. However, sadly I think they chose the wrong location. It was at Crooners Martini Bar which doesn't have good seating for large groups, is right in the middle of everything, and can get a little loud for large group conversations. It should have been located in the Wheelhouse Bar or an area that could better accommodate us.
Bars: Our favorite bar has always been Crooners, the martini bar, on deck 7. We meet there at 5 for pre dinner drinks and good conversation as well as occasionally stop by for a refreshing martini in the afternoons. Our favorite bartender, Refern, was there with great waiters like Juliet and the others. They knew your name, your drink preferences, and your account number which made it feel like a warm comfortable home town bar. It was our Cheer's. In the evenings, after we recovered from over eating at dinner, we normally hung out at the new Bar on One Five. The new design is smaller but has a much better layout than the old Sky Walkers. The dance floor is around the corner from the open lounge like area. This allows people to lounge, relax, and talk without being overcome with the dance music. There is also seating around the dance floor and even outside under an awning. The wine bar Vines, on deck 5, was a nice place to sit, have a nice glass of wine, and watch the waves go by.
Ships Staff: The ships staff was all very attentive and nice. From our favorite bar staff, room steward, Purser's desk staff, to random staff in passing, everyone smiled, was friendly, and helpful. I've read reviews of buffet staff not providing drinks to Purser's desk staff being argumentative and rude but we didn't encounter any of that on our cruise. I think a lot of that has to do with us being nice to the staff and not treating them as subordinate servants.
Ports: We stopped at 3 ports before returning to Ft Lauderdale. First stop was Princess Cays, Bahamas. We did not get off the ship here because we have been here before. But we enjoyed a relaxing un-crowded time on the ship since most passengers were ashore.
Second stop was Curacao after a sea day. There we took the distillery/gallery tour. This was an interesting tour because while not only did we visit those places the tour guide pointed out sights on the island and gave us the history of the island and its people along the way. This was probably more interesting than the places we visited. After returning from that excursion we walked around and did a little shopping around the port until close to dinner time. And since the ship wasn't going to leave port till 9:30, we took our bags back on ship, cleaned up, and returned ashore for dinner. We ended up eating in a nice restaurant that had patio dining with good local atmosphere. Food was just ok, but sitting outside eating with local watching the sun set was worth it. Third stop was Aruba. We chose to start with just walking around, doing some more shopping, and grabbing a little lunch. After eating, my partner returned to the ship with the bags and the rest of our group ventured down the street in search of the public beach we got directions to from the nice host at our lunch spot. Spent a little time in the water to cool off and to be able to say we went to the beach then walked back to the ship. Along the way we stopped at a resort for a couple drinks and to relax before returning. Aruba is very pretty and I would return here for a land vacation. We had 2 more sea days before returning to Ft Lauderdale.
Disembarkation: Easiest disembarkation ever. We signed up and paid the $20 fee for EZ-Check. With EZ-Check, Princess prints your flight boarding passes, luggage tags, and drops them off to your cabin the evening before. You place your bags outside your cabin the night before and they get checked all the way through to your home airport. How easy is that? The next morning we got up early, got ready, and went to the dining room for breakfast. We needed to be in the Princess Theater at 7:50 for disembarkation. Breakfast service was slow and we didn't get to the theater until 8:15 we found it completely empty. So we just headed to the gangway where they noted we should have been off already and was allowed to walk off. It was so easy that maybe being late to the theater was actually an advantage. After debarking we walked right through customs, got in a cab/van and were at the airport easily by 9 without the stress of lugging our bags.
Airport: First, I should say there were 7 ships in port this morning. Since we were off the ship and to the airport pretty early for an 11:55 flight getting through security and to the terminal was a breeze. But by about 10:00 our terminal was literally wall to wall people. I've never seen a terminal so full and was glad we got there early despite having to wait. I bet the security lines were just a zoo. At 11:25 we boarded, were having cocktails, and arrived home in no time.
Last thoughts: I know I've run on long enough but just a few last thoughts. Even though all cabin were occupied the ship never felt crowded as some had mentioned in many reviews. We never had any issues finding a deck chair, long lines, or crowding. We never ran across any crew that wasn't totally friendly and helpful. There was never any hard selling of stuff. It's a vacation so relax and have fun. Finally in closing, remember, $397 a day.