Grand Princess Entertainment
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.
Grand Princess Public Rooms
Some ships have the razzle dazzle of a disco; some ships look like children's playgrounds; and some ships are boringly bland. But Grand Princess has managed to evoke an understated elegance throughout with no compromise on quality. There is no soaring atrium, no neon, no copious amounts of brass or marble -- just an overall feeling of elegance with a lot of golden wood trim, contemporary lighting fixtures, and a subdued color palette in the carpeting and furnishings.
Flow, too, is, with one major exception, excellent on Grand Princess. The cruise I was on was extremely full (over 100 percent capacity) -- but the way the onboard space is divided into smaller, more intimate areas, I never felt crowded. Three elevator areas (14 elevators in all) provide easy access around the ship. The central bank has "panoramic lifts" over the atrium as well as four standard elevators. The exception: Those central lifts, which weren't upgraded during the refit, could be seriously frustrating. Because the original design of Grand Princess did not include a central stairwell servicing all decks, you've either got to walk forward or aft from the middle of the ship or wait, interminably, for a lift. It didn't help that two were out of service during our cruise.
A new -- and perhaps dubious -- invention aboard Grand Princess is Tea Leaves, a combination tea salon and library. The space itself is dark and windowless, open to a corridor between the Piazza and the shore excursions service desk, and the identity crisis was jarring. Is this a place for a designer cup of tea or a hideaway to simply read a book? The selection of books to borrow is rather measly; board games as well are available to checkout.
Smoking is limited to designated areas -- parts of lounges, casinos and the open decks -- and is prohibited in passenger cabins.
Grand Princess Spa & Fitness
The Lotus Spa is a self-contained environment located high up and over the bow of the ship. The spa and workout facility itself surrounds an outdoor pool enclosure, with hot tubs, sauna and steam rooms, chaises and chairs for relaxing. There's a generator to create a resistance current in the pool so you can swim laps without moving. It's a nice, quiet, adults-only area ... or it's supposed to be. There were a couple of children splashing around the hot tubs while I was there, with no one asking them to leave.
Spa services run the gamut of "the usual" (facials, massages, wraps) to exotic rituals and pseudo-medicinal (Get rid of cellulite! Remove toxins!). A nicely equipped beauty salon takes care of hair and nails.
The workout room has a variety of equipment including treadmills, stair climbers, bikes and weight stations, but the space is fairly small and gets crowded. A large aerobics room at the very front of the gym offers fabulous views. Pilates, yoga and group cycling sessions are available for a fee, usually $11.
On Deck 16 forward, the newly added Sanctuary is a lovely adults-only area, with gorgeous wrought iron cushioned chaises, iPods for music, and a small menu of food and drink that can be delivered to your lounge chair (service fee is $3.50). The Sanctuary is also handily located near the spa pool (it's down a level). The cost for some respite in the Sanctuary is $10 for half a day, $20 for a full day.
There are four more pools on Grand Princess. The family-friendly and always active Neptune's Reef is more boisterous. Calypso Reef has a glass, retractable roof that closes during inclement weather. The aft Terrace Pool has the best views (out over the ship's wake) and the kids' Splash Pool is located near the Fun Zone. All, save for the kids' splash pool, have adjoining hot tubs.
The Promenade Deck does not make a complete circuit of the ship, but you can complete one by climbing one deck up near the bow and then back down again. It adds a bit of aerobics to a morning walk. A jogging track is available on the Sports Deck (10 laps is the equivalent of one mile), as is a tennis court. A putting green and golf simulator are located on the sun deck. Passengers can always get a great workout by taking one of the many line-dancing classes, offered twice daily on most days.