Princess entertainment is fun but slightly more traditional and less active than some of the offerings on other lines. Shows range from stellar to slightly cheesy, but the talent of the singers and dancers was enough to offset the Las Vegas vibe. The daily Princess Patter lists a multitude of trivia, lots of singing and dancing, magicians, comedians and, of course, karaoke. Combine that with outdoor pursuits like movies and sail-away parties, and there's lots to do.
Princess Theater shows include standard song-and-dance production shows with names like Stardust and British Invasion, which focus on popular music from various genres. Featuring sparkly costumes, fun scenery and talented performers, the shows were just the right amount of fun and kitsch. Our favorite was Born to Dance, a touching medley of Broadway hits interspersed with video outtakes from the dancers explaining why they love their craft. Other memorable offerings were a magician (who also hosted a "how to do magic" seminar where we learned some impressive card tricks) and a singing ventriloquist-comedian. Our least favorite was a vocal impressionist who sounded nothing like the artists he claimed to be impersonating; the only thing in which he succeeded -- before we decided to leave -- was mocking Stevie Wonder's physical disability and mannerisms.
Throughout the day, passengers can play bingo; watch movies; learn towel folding or a new dance step; attend art, photography, shopping and health seminars; take a free tour of the galley following a cooking demonstration by the head chef; and check out activities that center on the itinerary the ship is sailing. (On our Mexico voyage, there was a Day of the Dead celebration with music and face painting.) Trivia is offered several times each day and covers topics like general knowledge, animals and Disney movies; a compounding cruise-long trivia runs every sea day, focusing on a different topic each time, and pits the same teams against each other for the highest cumulative score. Live music plays throughout the day in the atrium. Meetings for various groups (LGBT, Friends of Bill W, singles, veterans and military) are offered, as well; times are listed in each day's schedule.
Trivia carries over into the nighttime with more intricate offerings like a Sherlock Holmes murder mystery, where passengers had to identify song clues. Other game shows include Passenger Feud (the at-sea version of Family Feud), Majority Rules (the most popular answer wins), Who's the Cuckoo? (passengers decide which of three entertainment staff members is lying) and Battle of the Sexes. Meanwhile, recent-release Movies Under the Stars (MUTS) are shown on the poolside movie screen. Several versions of karaoke are held throughout each sailing and include one where singers are projected onto the MUTS screen and another where participants are backed up by a live band. Other live music (piano in Crooner's piano bar, jazz in the Explorer's Lounge, mariachi in the piazza) is offered throughout the ship daily until late. Additionally, a DJ spins in the top-of-ship One5 nightclub until the wee hours. On the second-to-last night of our sailing, there was also a balloon-drop party in the atrium where passengers danced to music from the ship's band amid the sounds of popping balloons.
On voyages of a week or longer, Grand Princess hosts "The Voice of the Ocean," a spin off of the NBC TV show "The Voice." Singers, chosen by their fellow passengers during several days of karaoke tryouts, rehearse for several days with coaching from onboard singers. On the final night of the sailing, they compete in front of a panel of judges (who sit in the signature spinning chairs) to win votes from the audience.
The ship's Grand Casino, located on Deck 6 forward, is home to several dozen slot machines, roulette, craps, blackjack and poker, as well as games of chance. Passengers can also purchase scratch-off lottery tickets at the cash-out window. Although smoking isn't allowed in the casino, we smelled it more than once, and it was overpowering.
Grand Princess Bars and Lounges
Grand Princess has more than a dozen bars; some are rarely crowded, while others force passengers to wait several minutes for their orders to be taken. Watering holes in central locations -- mainly the Piazza and the Deck 7 promenade area -- are generally the most frequented.
We found that the ship quieted down significantly after 11 p.m., so there wasn't much of a bar scene after hours. Even the glitzy One5 nightclub was dead most nights.
Bar Piazza (Deck 5 midship): This staple Piazza bar is centrally located, providing standard alcoholic drinks to the masses on the first deck of the ship's atrium area.
Vines (Deck 5 midship): Found next to Alfredo's Pizzeria, vines is the ship's wine bar, offering for-fee pours and tastings throughout each sailing. Tastings include food pairings and cost $25 per person. A Norman Love chocolate and wine tasting is also featured.
Snookers Bar (Deck 6 forward): Located just outside the Deck 6 entrances to the Princess Theater, Snookers is Grand Princess' cigar bar. Decorated like an English sports pub with rich woods, sports memorabilia and several flat-screen TVs, it's the ultimate man cave. Sadly we only did a quick walk-through thanks to the smoke but would have enjoyed spending time in there otherwise.
Crooners (Deck 7 midship): Crooners functions as the vessel's martini and piano bar, boasting comfy seating with ocean views and live music from a gorgeous white piano.
Wheelhouse Bar (Deck 7 aft): It's easy to see how this bar, with a purely nautical theme, got its name. Drinks are served at a central bar surrounded by pockets of cushy seating and a small stage/dance floor area. This is the place to be for happy hour specials from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
Explorers Lounge (Deck 7 midship): Along the main thoroughfare on Deck 7, this venue, with an exotic theme featuring Egyptian art and animal carpeting (think elephants and lions) is where you'll find most trivia events and game shows. A large bar at the back serves cocktails via roving waiters.
Vista Lounge (Deck 7 aft): The vista lounge is the ship's secondary theater and often hosts Zumba, dance classes, bingo, trivia and movies. Drinks are offered through waiter service.
Al Fresco's Bar (Deck 14 aft): This back-of-ship bar services Horizon Court buffet, as well as the Deck 12 Terrace Pool and anyone who happens to wander outside after a trip to Deck 15's One5 nightclub.
Calypso Bar (Deck 14 midship): This bar, located in the conservatory area, which houses the ship's covered Calypso Pool, is also close enough to be of use to those going to or coming from the Horizon Court buffet.
Mermaid's Tail (Deck 14 forward): Sandwiched on Deck 14 between Prego and the Trident Grill, this bar serves the main Neptune's Reef & Pool area, as well as MUTS.
The One5 (Deck 15 aft): This swanky lounge, nightclub and bar hosts trivia and loyalty member events and turns into the ship's nightclub after 10 p.m.
Sea Breeze Bar (Deck 15 forward): The Sea Breeze Bar, found just above the Mermaid's Tail, acts as a secondary bar for the main pool area. It provides drinks for sail-away and other deck parties, for passengers sunning themselves on Deck 15 and for those watching MUTS, taking a dip in the Neptune Pool or grabbing a bite at Prego or the Trident Grill.
Oasis Bar (Deck 16 aft): This seemingly forgotten watering hole originally provided bar service for those relaxing in the twin Oasis hot tubs on Deck 16. While it's included on the ship map, it wasn't mentioned on the list of bars in any of our Princess Patters and was always closed. The hotel manager told us it's now only used for special gatherings and private functions.
Grand Princess Outside Recreation
Grand Princess has five pools: Neptune's Reef & Pool, the main open-air pool on Deck 14; Calypso Reef & Pool, the secondary pool, which is enclosed and located inside the Conservatory on Deck 14; the Lotus Spa pool, available to those who book spa treatments, located on Deck 15 forward, just below the adults-only for-fee Sanctuary sun deck; the Terrace Pool, found on Deck 12 aft, at the bottom of a terraced area that also includes Al Fresco's Bar and the entrance to The One5 nightclub; and the Splash Pool, a tiny, shallow wading pool that's great for little kids, found on Deck 16 forward.
Neptune's Reef & Pool is the best place to take a dip if you want to watch MUTS. It has its own bar, and Prego and the Trident Grill are nearby, as is Coffee & Cones, where you can grab coffee and ice cream. Much like Neptune's, the Calypso pool is flanked by two hot tubs, and the space is done up in white and blue mosaic tiles. They're pretty, but they give the areas a dated look. Some of the decking in these areas is warped and cracking, but with extra sunbathing space on Deck 15, there seemed to be enough loungers for everybody who wanted one. Calypso also has its own bar, and it's the pool closest to the Horizon Court buffet.
The Lotus Spa pool and Terrace Pool feature elegant, tiered wooden areas for sitting, sunbathing and placing towels, flip-flops and other pool gear. They're less utilized than the Neptune's and Calypso pools. The spa pool area features two hot tubs. The Terrace Pool doesn't have any, but it does offer gorgeous views of the ship's wake.
The Splash Pool seems like a bit of an afterthought, hidden behind windbreaks on Deck 16, just across the way from The Sanctuary. The placement of this forlorn outdoor space -- so near to The Sanctuary, one of the grandest and most exclusive spaces -- seems almost inappropriate.
At the back of the ship on Deck 16 are the Oasis Hot Tubs, a pair of seldom used whirlpools coupled with the defunct (except for occasional use by small groups holding gatherings) Oasis Bar. Oddly, there's no Oasis Pool. The closest place for a dip is the Terrace Pool three decks below.
Outdoor pursuits are plentiful and include Movies Under the Stars, which feature popular recent titles and, at night, free popcorn and padded loungers with blankets. Films and concerts are shown at various times throughout the day, but when it's really spectacular is after the sun goes down -- when you're actually under the stars.
Speaking of stars, through a partnership with Discovery, Princess offers stargazing on each sailing, weather permitting. A member of the ship's staff leads everyone up onto Deck 15, and the captain turns off the ship's exterior lights to reduce light pollution, making the constellations easier to see on clear nights. Because this popular event has limited space, you'll have to pick up free tickets. Check Princess Patters for times and locations of ticket pickup.
Other outdoor evening and nighttime activities include festivities like sail-away parties and parties with themes like disco or country western.
Decks 16 and 17 are where sporty passengers will likely spend some of their time, playing shuffleboard on Deck 16 aft or practicing their short game on a nine-hole putting green on Deck 16 midship. (The ship also has a golf simulator, but it was out of order on our voyage.) There's a sports court on Deck 17 aft that's primarily used for basketball; free throw shootouts are scheduled on each sailing.
Cruisers on Grand Princess can also choose to walk several miles around the ship's promenade deck as part of Princess' On Deck for the Cure program, which raises money for cancer research.
The Sanctuary, the ship's exclusive adults-only extra-fee sun deck, is located in a serene space on Deck 16, above the Lotus Spa pool. Passengers pay to enter this haven of amazing views, padded loungers, shaded awnings and outdoor cabana massages.
There are also plenty of outdoor areas with loungers that are ideal for sunbathing, including Neptune's Reef & Pool and the area just above it on Deck 15. The Terrace Pool (Deck 12) is another great and less crowded option.
Grand Princess Services
Guest Services is where passengers can go to ask general questions, resolve customer service issues and settle or inquire about onboard account charges. The desk can be found in the Piazza on Deck 6 midship. Every person we talked to there was extremely friendly and helpful.
Grand Princess offers a variety of shore excursions that, on our Mexico sailing, ranged from beach breaks, tequila tastings and swimming with dolphins to an absolutely fantastic "Salsa and Salsa" tour, where we learned to both make it and dance it. There were options to fit a variety of budgets. Passengers will find the shore excursions desk on Deck 7 midship.
The library, which is awkwardly positioned on Deck 7's main thoroughfare, just outside the Piazza, has no walls to help keep noise levels down for those looking for a quiet space to read. A small selection of books and games is available for passengers to borrow on the honor system. Dubbed Leaves, the area also serves as a tea lounge, where tea drawers, reminiscent of a card catalog, line the walls.
An internet cafe with 25 desktop computers and a printer is tucked into a corner, near the midship elevators on Deck 5. Although many cruise lines are moving toward per-day flat-fee internet packages and packages that allow for social media usage only, Princess' fees are still based on minutes, and the rates aren't cheap. Passengers can pay as they go at a cost of 79 cents per minute or purchase one of four packages: 100 minutes for $69, 200 minutes for $99, 400 minutes for $159 or 600 minutes for $199. Specials are offered at the beginning of each sailing that include bonus minutes, and a smaller package (15 minutes for $9) is offered the day before disembarkation for passengers who wish to check in for their flights. In general, connection speeds aren't the best, but they're better than some other connections we've had at sea. Ultimately, Princess still has some work to do in this area. Two things we loved: Grand Princess has a staffed help desk in case cruisers have problems setting up accounts or logging in to existing ones, and a free onboard service, Princess@Sea, is available for passengers to view daily schedules, add their own activities (spa treatments, dinner reservations, etc.) and check their onboard bills on their personal devices without having to download an app or use internet minutes. There's even a function that allows passenger-to-passenger text messaging between cruisers who have the service -- no internet minutes or data usage required.
For the shoppers onboard, Grand Princess houses four stores: Calypso Cove on Deck 6 for alcohol, logowear and sundries; Facets on Deck 6, selling jewelry and watches; Meridian Bay for on Deck 7 for jewelry, accessories and gifts; and Essence, also on Deck 7, which offers perfume and cosmetics. Sales are offered frequently on various items throughout each voyage.
Pictures line the walls along Deck 7 midship, where the photo gallery is located. Passengers can buy shots of themselves taken throughout their sailings. Packages are available, and appointments are available for anyone wanting professional photos. Cameras and camera equipment are also for sale, and the staff offer photography seminars.
For anyone interested in information about booking a future cruise or about the line's Captain's Circle membership program, offices for both are found on Deck 7 forward, just next to the Crown Grill. Hours are posted on the door.
Grand Princess has a dedicated art gallery space, which is uncommon for many modern cruise ships. Take a stroll through it on Deck 5 forward, and browse works from Max, Britto, Kincaid and many others. Auctions and art enrichment lectures are staples on every sailing.
Princess is the only cruise line with captains authorized to perform onboard wedding ceremonies. As a result, there's a chapel onboard. Hearts & Minds, Deck 15 aft, also hosts passenger-led religious services and serves as the meeting point for anyone participating in stargazing.
There is a self-service laundry on each passenger deck ($2 per wash, $2 per dry, detergent available for sale), and the medical center can be found on Deck 4. An ATM is located in the Grand Casino on Deck 6 forward.