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Grand Princess

Itinerary

It's no wonder Tony Bennett left his heart there. San Francisco is a compact city of world-class culture, historical landmarks, award-winning dining, outdoor adventures and nightlife -- all wrapped up by a sparkling bay flanked by the famous Golden Gate Bridge, visible from historic cable cars that ply the hilly streets. Even the unpredictable fog adds to the beauty.

Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala discovered the inlet in 1775, but it wasn't until 1847 that San Francisco got its name -- just before gold was discovered in "them thar" Sierra Nevada hills to the east. In 1850, California became the 31st state in the union, and, by 1854, more than 500 saloons and 20 theaters graced the booming Gold Rush town. But the real "gold" to be found was in its seas. The area known as Fisherman's Wharf, on the San Francisco Bay, is still the center of Northern California's commercial and sport fishing industry.

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To really experience Hilo, forget first impressions and dive right in to old Hawaii. Unpretentious and just a little bit gritty, this often-overlooked city on the Big Island is abundantly authentic and full of charm.

Why is it overlooked? Hilo is the departure point for shore excursions to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state. And that's too bad because there's much to recommend Hilo itself, defined in part by a history of tsunamis and challenging economics.

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Known the world over as a "trip of a lifetime" destination, the remote Hawaiian Islands were settled by the Polynesians more than 1,000 years ago and were "discovered" by explorer Capt. James Cook in 1778. In 1959, Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state, and to this day, it retains a sort-of-outsider status. Hawaii clings to its rich history while accepting newcomers and absorbing their unique traditions. Every Hawaiian island is imbued with a friendly "aloha" spirit, and most travelers fall in love with the destination the moment orchid leis are draped over their shoulders upon arrival.

Maui, the second-largest island of the archipelago, typifies all that is magical about the Sandwich Islands (as Capt. Cook first called the island chain). It's also referred to as the Valley Isle because a verdant, low-lying isthmus connects the two halves of the island. From the air, Maui looks like a butterfly with the 10,000-foot Haleakala volcano on one wing, Pu'u Kukui and the West Maui mountains on the other and the valley in the middle. You'll revel at the stark contrast between the stunning variety of flowering tropical plants and cascading waterfalls and the lunar-like landscape of Haleakala and Maui's other mountain peaks.

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With a cosmopolitan population of 950,000, Honolulu is Hawaii's largest city. It also is the hub of cultural, educational, political, dining, shopping, business and entertainment activities in the Aloha State.

After Captain James Cook put the Hawaiian Islands on the map of the world in 1778, Honolulu became an increasingly important stop for ships traveling between America and Asia. First came fur traders, who made fortunes exchanging otter pelts from the Pacific Northwest for teas, spices and silks from China. Later, fragrant sandalwood became such a prized commodity that Island forests were nearly stripped clean of it. Then came the whalers, who plied the seas relentlessly in search of the gentle giants that were the source of rich oil.

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Kauai is the oldest of the eight major Hawaiian Islands, with volcanic rock dating back more than 5 million years. But the island still displays all the beauty and vigor of youth. From lush rain forests and valleys to majestic mountains and long stretches of white sand, there's no question: Nature takes center stage here.

In fact, Kauai has more beaches per mile of coastline than any of the other islands. Only 3 percent of the island has been developed for commercial and residential use; the rest is agricultural and conservation lands. Two-thirds of Kauai's land area is impenetrable.

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Ensenada, known as Baja's "Love Boat" port, is no longer a sleepy resort town. Each year, some 4.5 million visitors descend on this seaside city 68 miles from the border, joining 325,000 residents. Fishing, processing and shipping have made Ensenada Mexico's second busiest port.

It's quite a change from 1542 when Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed into the sheltered bay in his quest for the mythical Northwest Passage, or sixty years later, when Sebastian Vizcaino named the area Ensenada de Todos los Santos after All Saints' Day. Over the centuries, many have left their mark here, from Spanish missionaries and Russian settlers to gold miners and gamblers.

The result is eclectic mix -- from Mexico's oldest winery and Baja's first cantina to a plaza featuring statues of national heroes. In addition to expected attractions like the large tourist shopping area and fish market, Ensenada also offers the unexpected - an elegant Prohibition-era casino and a blowhole that spews water sixty feet into the air.

Ensenada is an informal city dependent on fishing, shipping and tourism. Among the highlights are fresh seafood, cantinas, crafts shopping, sport fishing and winter whale watching. Beaches are located north and south of the city.

  • Day 15

It's no wonder Tony Bennett left his heart there. San Francisco is a compact city of world-class culture, historical landmarks, award-winning dining, outdoor adventures and nightlife -- all wrapped up by a sparkling bay flanked by the famous Golden Gate Bridge, visible from historic cable cars that ply the hilly streets. Even the unpredictable fog adds to the beauty.

Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala discovered the inlet in 1775, but it wasn't until 1847 that San Francisco got its name -- just before gold was discovered in "them thar" Sierra Nevada hills to the east. In 1850, California became the 31st state in the union, and, by 1854, more than 500 saloons and 20 theaters graced the booming Gold Rush town. But the real "gold" to be found was in its seas. The area known as Fisherman's Wharf, on the San Francisco Bay, is still the center of Northern California's commercial and sport fishing industry.

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Cruise Critic Editor Rating:
3.5
1,239 reviews
Why Choose Grand Princess?

Pro

Offers affordable mix of sailings from the U.S. West Coast

Con

Older ship shows signs of wear; crowded public spaces

Bottom Line

Great choice for older couples and multigenerational groups

Grand Princess Overview

When Grand Princess debuted in 1998, the line billed it as "the biggest, the fastest, the most elaborate, the most technologically advanced ... the grandest ship on the ocean." Although the vessel has since been dwarfed many times over by those that are bigger, faster and more modern, it continues to be a great option for cruise departures from the U.S. West Coast.

Princess has done a decent job of keeping Grand Princess updated. In recent years the ship has seen its atrium converted into the more modern Piazza, and new venues -- including the adults-only Sanctuary, Alfredo's Pizzeria, Tea Leaves tea salon, Crown Grill steakhouse and The One5 nightclub -- have been added. Most recently, the vessel welcomed a completely revamped kids club, Camp Discovery, which offers newly renovated spaces for three age groups through the cruise line's partnership with the Discovery TV network.

Overall, food and service are considerably above average. Although selections at the buffet are limited, the quality of the items is high, and the offerings change just enough on a daily basis to keep passengers from getting bored. Dining room options are tasty and served with a smile, and the pizza found onboard is out-of-this-world delicious. The service is consistently pleasant, helpful and efficient, from cabin stewards and waiters to the folks at the guest relations and shore excursions desks.

Despite Princess' best efforts, the ship does show its age in cabins with creaky doors, mismatched drawer knobs and dated bathrooms; in hallways with scuffed walls and loose carpeting; in some public areas like the theater with corny production shows; and in the buffet, which is set up a bit like an old-school cafeteria, often causing lines to form; and especially in elevators, which are so scratched and scraped that they look even older than their age.

The buffet isn't the only space where there are traffic flow issues. Most main corridors in public areas are difficult to navigate, due to the number of other passengers making their way through. Shows in the theater are often standing room only, as are many events in the ship's main lounges. Plus, the ship's design doesn't include a central stairwell servicing all decks, so passengers are forced to either walk all the way forward or aft or wait, sometimes several minutes, for an elevator. (One elevator was closed for maintenance our entire sailing, making wait times even longer.) Overall, this nearly 2,600-passenger vessel generally feels more crowded than some ships that carry two -- or even three -- times as many passengers.

Above all, what you'll get with Grand Princess is an affordable cruise on a well-worn, casual-yet-elegant ship that's great for young retirees and multigenerational groups departing from the U.S. West Coast.

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Cruise Reviews

Sail Date: January 2018
My husband and I have been on 20+ cruises and this was our third time on the Grand Princess. It has been 15 years since we sailed on her in the Caribbean. I chose this cruise out of San Francisco to celebrate my hubby's 60th birthday, and ... Read More
My husband and I have been on 20+ cruises and this was our third time on the Grand Princess. It has been 15 years since we sailed on her in the Caribbean. I chose this cruise out of San Francisco to celebrate my hubby's 60th birthday, and so we wouldn't have to fly! We live close to SF, so we took a shuttle from our home to the port and arrived at around 12:30 PM. Embarkation was smooth and we were on the ship in 15 minutes. We went to the buffet, had a cocktail, and when we got to our room, the luggage was already there! A new change now is that when you go to the passenger drill you do not have to bring the life vests that are in your room. They have an instruction video playing on the TV in the room and then you just go check in at your muster station. This was really easy and took at lot less time. We did anytime dining, and I think I will continue with that on cruises moving forward. I like the flexibility. We ate at both of the specialty restaurants during the cruise - Sabitini's was great, but the Crown Grill is awesome! My hubby had a Porterhouse Steak and I had a Sirloin, they were fabulous and I loved the different salts and sides that were offered. My biggest suprise of this cruise was the entertainment. We started crusing in our 40's and are now in our 60s. My husband is a musician and we have been involved in music and musical theater for years, so we are maybe a bit over critical. Well, we loved the entertainment on this cruise - the comedian was great, the Acapplla group "These Guys" from Vegas were awesome, the Princess shows and band were really good, and the "Voice of the Ocean" show was well done and very entertaining. I was glad that I packed for all kinds of weather. It was cool on the sea days heading down and back to Mexico, but once we got down there it was 80-90 degrees. We did one Princess Shore excursion in Puerto Vallarta - The Yelapa & Mahajuitas Beach catamaran for snorkeling, hike to waterfall and/or beach. I didn't do the hike, but the trip on the boat w/lunch and drinks, snorkeling & beach time was awesome. The crew on the boat does a great show on the way back. We did our own thing in the other ports and it was all fun. I had read that people think the Grand Princess is showing signs of age, etc. Well, I did see a few people having problems with their toilets, water leaks, etc. but it wasn't anyting major. I still love this ship. The international cafe, the new nightclub, the casino are all great and super nice to hang out in. I also had a great experience at the Spa, Spa pool and hot tubs. OK, someone probably wants to hear something negative...It's crowded at the buffet and dining rooms on the first night, and the last morning...Get over it, chill out, you are on vacation! Read Less
Sail Date: January 2018
We booked this trip because the embarkation/disembarkation port was close to home and we were interested in the itinerary. The embarkation was a little slow, the port was understaffed and it seemed a little confused. Our port agent ... Read More
We booked this trip because the embarkation/disembarkation port was close to home and we were interested in the itinerary. The embarkation was a little slow, the port was understaffed and it seemed a little confused. Our port agent did not tell us that we needed a boarding number so we were just sitting around until we started asking how we know what group we were in. A port representative then told us we were supposed to have a number then gave us one. All went well after that. I expected Princess to be an upscale large line with their service and accommodations. I usually cruise Celebrity and have heard many comparisons between the two lines. As far as a luxurious line Princess needs to improve to be considered in the same league. In general the staff was very friendly and helpful. Top service is definitely missing from Princess. For example; when I get up to leave the table in the middle of dinner and come back, refold my napkin, offer a wine list in the specialty restaurants without having to ask, provide something other than plastic dining plates and glasses in the buffet, make sure the wine glasses match in specialty restaurants. The service n Crown Grill and Sabatini's was HORRIBLE almost pushing unfriendly. It is surprising this ship was just in dry dock a little over a year ago. During this cruise there were several locations of buckets catching leaks throughout the ship,including dining areas. The carpets were always wet and musty in the common areas. Most of the cruise I saw carpet dryers all over the ship. The furniture in many of the bars was stained or was threadbare. I have come to expect more than what Princess provided while cruising, especially for the price point. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2018
This was our 2nd time sailing with Princess Cruises, and 2nd time on the Grand Princess. Overall this is our 10th cruise with many different lines. I have to say living right in the Bay Area is so convenient. We took a 20 minute drive to ... Read More
This was our 2nd time sailing with Princess Cruises, and 2nd time on the Grand Princess. Overall this is our 10th cruise with many different lines. I have to say living right in the Bay Area is so convenient. We took a 20 minute drive to the cruise terminal and from curbside to the ship took less than 10 minutes. It was absolutely fabulous. The terminal was very well maintained and the porters and staff on the ground were very helpful. It was the fastest check in/debarkation process from any other port I have been to. We stayed in a Mini Suite Cabin (D314) as we did so last time we were on the Grand. The Cabin was very nice, 2 tv's and a separate sitting area. We were welcomed by our very friendly Room Steward Dominador and made our way around the ship. You can definitely see some spots where the ship is showing its age however for a 20 year old ship, its in pretty damn good shape. Last time we took this cruise we were cut 2 days short and an overnight in SF. Due to technical difficulties on the last cruise before us which sent the ship into dry dock to get necessary repairs. Fortunately departed right on time, and also a different Captain. The sail away out of San Francisco is extraordinary it's unlike any other port. The Iconic Golden Gate Bridge. The really exhilarating part was there was 10 people on the bridge waving down at us as we passed under! It was great. Food options were great in the dinning room and buffet. We dined at the Crown Grill 4 times as well as the Sabatini's Italian Trattoria once. The Crown Grill is definitely the best restaurant on the ship, all though it does cost extra to dine there, it's definitely worth it. On the other hand, wouldn't recommend the Sabatini's. They completely changed the menu from the last time we were there and wasn't all impressed with their options... Wait staff and Matîre D's were very kind, especially a shoutout to Oana (Assistant Matîre D) and Aleksander (Head Waiter Crown Grill) They were simply amazing. Entertainment onboard was great, there was something for everyone. From outstanding piano players, magicians, vocal groups, and of course the ships dancers and singers. All the ports were great but wasn't so impressed with the stop in Manzanillo, more of an industrial port and was lacking stuff to do. Not to impressed. However the rest of the ports were great! Overall I would definitely recommend this ship especially if you are within the Bay Area or near to San Francisco. It is totally worth the money and even though the Grand is one of Princess's oldest ships it's still very well maintained. I will definitely be sailing on the Grand again. Read Less