Editor's Note: Grand Princess' theater now hosts the line's own spinoff of NBC's "The Voice," called "The Voice of the Ocean," in which passengers who are handpicked from karaoke auditions earlier in the week compete for winning title.
The new piazza is magnificent. On embarkation day, a rather sedate chamber combo welcomed passengers most of the afternoon. But later, a performance by a Polish acrobatic duo in the piazza's "theater in the round" drew a standing-room-only crowd. This wide range of entertainment possibilities makes the versatile space a popular destination. You just never know what you'll see. The best vantage point is from seating in the Piazza itself -- or grab a table in adjoining lounges, such as the International Cafe and Vines, the wine bar.
Beyond the piazza, Grand Princess has' no lack of entertainment aboard. There are first-run movies both in cabin and in the Vista Lounge, production shows in the Princess Theatre, daytime music poolside by the Calypso Band, and, of course, the many activities devised by the cruise director's staff. In addition, passengers can enjoy the nighttime strains of the Rosario Strings in the Grand Atrium, the comics and individual performers in the Vista and Explorer's Lounges, the country western band in the Wheelhouse Bar, and the boogie-'til-morn action in One5, a sophisticated new venue that replaces the infamous Skywalker's disco.
A well-equipped casino is located just forward of the main atrium on Deck 6, with several tables, slots and video poker consoles.
One of the highlights on Grand Princess is its Movies Under the Stars. Located above the Neptune's Reef pool, the giant (300 square feet) open-air screen is reminiscent of a drive-in movie theater, with one great exception: Because of LED high-tech projection, movies can be shown during the day, even during the brightest sunlight. It's at night that the feature really shines. The pool chaises, adorned with burgundy pad covers and plaid stadium blankets, are lined up at an angle and the smell of fresh popcorn wafts through the enclosure. With a movie or event on the screen, the location becomes like a cozy, relaxing outdoor club.
Another highlight onboard is the deck parties held in the evenings. Mostly family-friendly, young kids who were able to stay up late enjoyed the Island Night as much as their parents did, and sang along on the Wizard of Oz night.
During the day, art auctions, several bingo events, wooden horseracing, and pool contests and silliness (knobby knees, anyone?) provide even more diversions.
Educational entertainment is available, too, such as guest lecturers who speak about world events or regional interests. A Computers@Sea program is held in the Internet center, where for $25 you can take a class in beginning Photoshop, HTML, Web design or effective use of digital photography. (These were always popular during my cruise.)
At "paint your own pottery" classes, you can purchase and paint "green" clay items that are then fired in a special kiln, and returned to you complete. The most popular items are the set of four coasters at a cost of $20 and the mugs at $15. A platter can cost $40. Not only is it fun to be creative while at sea, and to chat with new friends, but these classes also take place in the conservatory above the Calypso Reef pool so you don't feel that you are missing any "vacation" time. Just remember: You are responsible for carting your creations home.
Voyage of Discovery, located high and aft, is a gigantic room filled with virtual reality machines, games and motion simulators. It's open to adults and kids alike and you use your room's key card to pay for the games.
On Grand Princess, as on any ship in the fleet, shore excursion offerings are comprehensive, and range from standard city tours to more exotic fare (such as farmhouse visits, culinary-oriented outings, and even the occasional overnight to another place). The only thing lacking is a focus on recreational outings.