The OLD Grand Dame is still mighty fine
My Family of four (53 me, 44 DW, 14 DS and 11 DD years old)just finished a 15 day cruise to Hawaii in a mini suite on the Grand Princess, and boy, we had a blast. I am going to write a review listing some of our highlights, a few LOW lights, and a few things for general consumption.
Grand Princess is the original Old Lady of the Grand class ships, beginning in 1998 the evolution of this popular princess class into SUB classes such as the Gem class, Caribbean Class, Crown class and Ventura Class ships. Anyone familiar with the later classes (Ruby and Emerald are OUR 2 favs) will easily navigate the Grand, with some significant (one whole floor missing, Sky walkers club missing and one less buffet /dining room) and some minor differences (pizza, Ice-cream and grill moved around but still locatable).
The Grand is a stunning but older women who has been dressed and pampered, but shows her age in MANY subtle and NOT so subtle ways. Rust abounds, at floor joints and railings, and some of the carpeting is getting worn down. On our recent cruise, Princess had carpet crews replacing stairwell carpeting throughout the long nights, disappearing in daylight only to reappear night after night like carpet vampires. The Linen, bathroom towels and comforters are well used and some have stains that show up in direct light. Bathroom fixture plates and covers fall off and have to be replaced, and TV’s and room appliances need fiddling to work, or simply need to be replaced (such as one of our stateroom TV’s. STILL, the Grand Princess staff is very attentive and proactive, and they seem cognizant of the Grand’s age and are determined to fight her maturing condition at considerable costs. Septic odors and brown water at the end ofthe 15 day cruise were simply beyond human intervention, and resulted in some passenger complaints.
There were SO many excellent things about this cruise and here are a few of my most memorable.
1. Dinner service in the three Main dining rooms was exceptional and the food consistently delightful. The Steaks were Amazing (From NY Strip to Chateaubriand, all were moist, flavorful and delicious), the soups and appetizers fantastic, and the deserts memorable. In my opinion, the consistently best Dinner service and food at sea.
2. The Covered and mostly enclosed Calypso pool, which is the location of the MUTTS screen on other class ships, was open almost 24 hours, and was warm and swim-able even in cold weather (more on that later).
3. The great Pizza debate raged in my family, with the NY style pies on lido deck 14, and the individual specialty pizza on five (sit down but free restaurant) getting equal love. Either choice is great; you WILL be able to get an excellent piece of pizza on the cruise.
4. The Ice Cream/Coffee shop on lido 14 was open most hours, and served lots of great frozen treats, many for free. Coffee cards were taken here as well, but the Latte and Cappuccino’s were better on 5 at the;
5. International Café. Open 24 hours, the morning pastry and donuts and mid night panini (The Cuban on a toasted ciabatta roll was my fav) are free and available round the clock, and the Specialty Coffees top notch (for a charge) Here’s a tip, if you have a single punch left on your coffee card, you can get all the fresh brewed regular coffee you want all cruise long right here, which SOME people find better than the dispensers on the lido deck and in the Dining rooms.
6. We used room service every morning as our wake up call, and it was fantastic, with a selection of cereal, fresh rolls, pastries and croissants, coffee and milk for free. Simply leave the card out at night and great service every morning. (Ordering Room service during the day/night via phone was MUCH slower, and not as tasty.)
7. Our room steward WAS FANTASTIC, and was our number one ally in fighting the aged conditions of Grand. On day one, he laid it out there for us on the challenges/limitations of a 20 year old ship, and let us know the steps he would take to mitigate and to make it a great cruise for us. He lived up to his word. Daruisz Pawel Kujawa on Dolphin (D-731 mini suite) was in the top 3 room stewards we have ever had on any cruise ship. Superb.
8. The Gym located on 15 forward near the spa was great, and I formed a friendship with the 10-12 folks waiting in line for it to open at 0600 every day. Good modern equipment and few lines made for a good experience. One HUGE negative however was no showers in the tiny locker rooms. The only showers were at poolside in the spa next to the sauna and steam rooms. AWKWARD!
9. The Show “Born to Dance” was excellent, worth getting there early and jostling in the crowds (I am not kidding, people were verbally fighting and shoving for this one). The other comedians and shows were good, but BTD was exceptional.
10. Brian and Rowena the Hawaiian ambassadors were excellent, offering cruise long classes, crafts and Hawaiian themed entertainment in lots of different venues. The Ukulele classes (instruments provided) were particularly well attended.
11. Morning trivia with the cruise staff was fun, but the questions were VERY British focused. When you form your 6 member team, find a Brit to play along with. They were everywhere on our cruise.
12. The Crown Grill offered English Pub Lunch twice (2nd and Last sea day), and Scotch eggs were on the second menu. Free and delicious.
13. The Buffet offered an amazing collection of cheese (Gruyere, Provolone, Gouda, and many more) with crackers and other bread products. The FRUIT and mixed fruits bowl was also plentiful, tasty and available almost round the clock. Another nice touch for the Buffet was whipped butter to spread on breads and rolls, an alternate to the hard frozen butter that tears the bread up when you try to spread it. MY DW LOVED the Chocolate croissants that princess does so well, available in the buffet, at breakfast and at Tea in Da Vinci, and at the international cafe.
14. Embarkation was a dream, fast and efficient with room’s available at 1200 noon. Debarkation was slower (no fault of Princess, but due to CBP backups) and Platinum (and Black) card holders were provided a lounge for Platinum and above to chill with coffee and Danish. NICE touch.
15. I normally NEVER book an excursion through the ship (less money and easier from land), but the Snorkeling adventure to Molokini was the VERY nice exception. Ship Priced LOWER than the outfitter directly, we were provided two SUPERB snorkeling stops, a continental breakfast, delicious sandwich lunch and plenty of snacks and salads. Superb highlight to the cruise.
16. The Sanctuary is a favorite of my DW, and she used it almost every day. Service was top notch and the pampering was in full effect. I pay for it as her gift every cruise, and she loves it.
17. We took MOST breakfast and Lunch meals in Da Vinici, and though SLOW, it was very pleasurable. If you “Shared” a table you sat right away, and we met some very nice people that way. Less sociable folks waited in chairs for a table to open up for eating alone. Don’t understand that concept, but hey, to each his own. BONUS, my favorite dessert is Napoleon and it was served at lunch only and only once. The chocolate version was served in the buffet often, but THAT is NOT the real thing in my humble opinion. The Lunch version was flaky layered pastry, with soft whipped vanilla cream and strawberries and was just marvelous.
18. We had a “Glitch” on the first formal night with a staff photographer. We addressed the issue with the Photo manager, and the staff bent over backwards to make things right for us. A Highlight of the cruise and Princess in general is our consistent experience in GREAT customer relations we have had. These guys GET IT, and make things right for maximum customer satisfaction. A negative made into a HUGE positive for us on this cruise. Well Done asst manager Hoffman R. of the Grand Photo team.
19. We love(d) high tea in Da Vinci every afternoon. Princess is the only main stream line that does it (or does it this well), with the white gloves, delicious delectable pastries, mini savory sandwiches and amazing scones, with Cream and Jam. A Family favorite and the Grand did not disappoint.
Now, there were SOME negatives, many of which we addressed with the ship staff. We LOVE Princess and want to be part of the solution to problem's , and to keep my favorite Cruise line the best it can possibly be. We do NOT complain just to complain. There was some of THAT on this cruise, and we did not feed into it. SOLUTIONS and getting better are what Princess is about, it's why we love them.
1. This trip was COLD. The Temperatures in the first three days leaving San Francisco and the last three days was often in the 50’s, with high winds making it feel worse. The MUTTS, usually one of our family favorites were intolerable, unless you bundled up and mummified yourself with the blankets princess provided. The sight of a few brave people bundled up and lying on the loungers with just their eyes visible through the blanket was a common sight on movie nights. The strong cold winds would flip pizza and fries off your plates if you dared cross the open deck (And the pizza, Ice cream and grill were all ON the open deck). Most people wore hoodies, winter coats and jackets for 6 whole days of the “Hawaiian” Cruise. NOT Princess’s fault for sure, but a major bump for most people on the cruise.
2. The Horizon Buffet spotty service. I have NEVER seen so many people on a Princess cruise getting their own beverages, cutlery, and condiments. SOME of the wait staff was working hard for sure, but too many stood around as people waited on themselves and awkwardly carried plates looking for a clean table. At peak times (when Dining room staff augmented the Horizon workers), service improved immensely, but returned to mediocre at best when the Horizon staff was left to their own resources. Early on we addressed this issues with Head waiters, supervisors and finally the head Maitre D, and to their credit, they all looked troubled and pained by our report of the service issues. Still, the problem persisted, even with the obvious response of more supervisors to the area over the remainder of the cruise. New Staff, Poor training, bad communication? We never figured it out, and no real permanent solution every materialized.
3. Leaky ceilings. Several times during the cruise I watched ceiling/roofs leak water drips onto people in the buffet and the dining room. Buckets collecting water drippings were common in the hallways in the stateroom areas. Sad really.
4. Horizon Court layout. Without the extra buffet area (Caribe on the newer class ships), the Horizon’s layout becomes hard on people trying to find tables. The extra desert/break/utility area located adjacent to the main buffet areas are very functional, but take up lots of premium seating space. The tables near the extreme rear and the mid ship entrances were hardly being used due to the cold strong winds that would hit people seating there when the automatic doors opened and closed. We much prefer the improved layout and functionality on Ruby, Emerald and newer class ships.
5. The main pool deck and Mutts station is at the MID deck pool, not Calypso as in the other class ships. As I stated earlier, uncovered, cold and windy, this area was little used during most of the cruise. A bummer, since the ship offered LOTS of great first run movies throughout the cruise, which most folks had to watch in their cabins rather than brave the elements on deck. Popcorn was provided for the movies at the Ice Cream shop, but many folks complained at how greasy it was. A matter of putting the popcorn in the preheated HOT kettle instead of a cold one with oil which leaves it saturated. Again, a simple training issue would have corrected that problem, but it never was.
6. Suffocating Smoke Stink (SSS) was TERRIBLE on the decks and atrium near the casino, near the lower Theater deck next to Snookers (Smoking/cigar Bar) and on aft deck 14. I applaud Princess’s ban of smoking in staterooms, balconies and other common areas, but the smoke from the sanctioned areas needs to be contained better. Our room balcony was occasionally subjected to the SSS from a nearby cabin’s passenger who decided the rules did not apply to them, and smoked on her balcony anyway. THIS is why smokers get a bad name. Rude, Boorish and self-absorbed, many smokers inflict there addiction on the rest of us as if our health concerns were imagined, unimportant or over stated. Many smokers DO observe the rules, and I have NO PROBLEM with them and their right to smoke and do as they please, IF they in fact respect the rights of those who do NOT smoke. The Scofflaws are the ones I have a problem with, and ruin whole sections of the cruise ship for us.
7. The ship run excursion to the Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor got LOTS of complaints. People felt rushed and in a cattle call, without the opportunity to show reverence and respect, and all at a very high cost in dollars. “Handlers” rushed people along and the museums and exhibits people wanted to see were either hurried through or deleted altogether.
8. This “Complaint” is from me as a foodie AND a grill master. The Grill guys on 14 were good, but they butterflied the hot dogs and sausages (Sliced wide open stem to stern) to finish them on the flat top, and cut open the center of burgers (letting out all the juices and moisture), two rookie mistakes and CARDINAL sins for any grill guys out there. The fries were great, and condiments (including onion and Kraut) were plentiful, but cutting open any meat during cooking should be punished with keel hauling. NEVER have I seen this method of finishing on any other Princess Grill. Terrible way to lose the sandwich.
9. My Kids loved the kid’s clubs amenities and friends, but had nothing good to say about most of the Kids club staff. I made several unannounced visits to the area, and the staff looked bored and uninterested, even sitting on couches with their feet up on one occasion. No tip from here ladies.
10. We were alarmed at the lack of hand washing/sanitizing we observed throughout the ship. The Horizon buffet has a really nice full service hand washing stations at all four entrances, but they were little used by passengers and unsupervised by ship staff. Hand Gel stations were present at the Restaurants, but again, no staff enforced and use by passengers was sporadic. I know people hate being babysit on this issue, but the fact is that when not enforced, MANY people do NOT use these features, and that is eventually going to go very bad for the health of some folks. Other ships man these stations with staff, and gently but strongly encourage people to use them for the safety and health of others. Grand dropped the ball on this one.
So, to sum up, we had a GRAND time on this cruise, loved the Staff and really enjoyed the sea days, food, itinerary, service (for the most part), ports, amenities and fellow passengers(for the most part). We would definitely cruise Hawaii again, and we would do the Grand again as well. Now, if we could get on the Ruby or the Emerald AND sail Hawaii?!?!?! All the better!! Read Less