This was our sixth cruise, the second on the Grand Princess. We chose it primarily because of the interesting Caribbean itinerary, and for the fact that we got to spend both Christmas and New Year on the ship. It was 14 days, visiting 9 ... Read More
This was our sixth cruise, the second on the Grand Princess. We chose it primarily because of the interesting Caribbean itinerary, and for the fact that we got to spend both Christmas and New Year on the ship. It was 14 days, visiting 9 ports. This is not a review on our flights or on the islands we visited, this is about the ship itself. It is long, but full of information.
We are not big complainers, and we tend to believe that many cruisers are too picky or expect too much. On this category of ship, you cannot expect 5 star dining. At best, 3+ is our overall rating for Princess, RCCL and Celebrity. But, I do not have to cook or clean, and service is generally good. We are very fortunate to be able to enjoy a cruise, so we always try to look at the positive side of things. This time, it's a little different...
It all started when we arrived at the cruise terminal. Since we flew in the day before the cruise, we arrived at the terminal at around 11:00am. Thank God! We were able to get a seat inside the terminal and have a ticket that should have allowed us to board at around 12:30-1:00pm. We had to wait until 3:00pm to board, apparently there was a coast guard inspection going on, but wasn't this ship on dock for one complete week prior to this cruise? There were about 1500 passengers waiting outside the terminal building, in the sun, for a few hours due to this supposed inspection.
Having sailed on the Grand about 6-7 years ago, we knew that this ship is the best looking one on the outside, but the inside is definitely not spectacular. Having read all the reviews and knowing that this ship is now 10 years old, we were expecting to see signs of wear. Well, the Grand is definitely showing its age. Although it is kept clean, chairs, sofas, balconies, carpets and various areas would surely need refurbishment or replacement. The cushions on the chairs in all bars and lounges are so soft, I almost fell on the floor the first time I tried to sit on one in the Explorer's Lounge.
Our cabin was on Caribe deck 10 portside, so we had a larger balcony (10'x10') which was nice. They install rubber tiles on the balconies, but ours was missing all the surrounding tiles so we had a nice view of a rusted balcony. The chairs had probably not been cleaned for months, so we did it ourselves. I do not particularly enjoy resting my arms on sticky chairs.
Our cabin attendant was the worst we had on all 6 cruises. All he could do was change the towels, make the bed and vacuum. After 5 days of constantly asking for ice, my husband had the good idea to give him $10., and from then, we always had ice. Let me tell you this is the only extra tip he received, and on all previous cruises, we "extra tipped" very well the cabin attendants.
Since this was a two-week cruise, I was curious to find out when the bed sheets would be changed, so we made a small mark on the sheets and pillows. After 9 days, they still had not been changed, so we went to the Purser's desk to find out if they expected to change them? We were told it should have been done on the 7th day, so the gentleman at the counter called room service and just said "Can you please have the sheets changed, thank you." not even mentioning that it had not been done. 24 hours later, nothing was changed. We went back to the desk, but this time I was not polite and requested that this matter be escalated to the Manager. An hour later, our bedding was changed. I do not expect to have my bed sheets changed every day, but once a week is not excessive...
The power went off one evening in the cabins located on our floor, our shower head fell off the wall, and a whole bunch of cabins had no air conditioning for one day.
The worst event was that the bow thrusters did not function for half of the cruise. This meant that they had to rely on tug boats to push the ship on the docks. However, in St-Vincent and Antigua no tug boats were available so we had to anchor and we were taken ashore by the tender boats. Then, we were not able to sail away from St-Thomas in the evening, apparently the tug boat had a mechanical problem! Therefore, we stayed overnight in St-Thomas, and don't believe they let us go ashore for the evening, it would have been too much trouble... The next morning, the tug boat was miraculously repaired, so we were able to sail away. Of course, since we were late on our itinerary, we could not go to La Romana, so we had an extra sea day instead.
To compensate for the inconveniences, Princess offered compensation in the form of dollars on our shipboard account. This was granted to all passengers two days prior the end of the cruise, and was not refundable. We were quite happy about it, we had spent a little more than expected so this cleared our account.
The food was good overall in the dining rooms, in our opinion Princess does better than RCCL. We chose Anytime dining, which meant that we had to wait at least 30 minutes every night to get a table. If you are willing to share a table, and have dinner at 6:00pm, you will not wait. But we wanted tables for two, and had dinner around 8:00-8:30. So depending on what you want, you will have a seat or a pager. You can make reservations on the DINE line, but you have to call at 8:00am sharp every morning. And of course, we always forgot and by 8:20 they are out of "reservable" tables. We are not complaining, we do prefer the little wait for a private table. The quality of the service varies from one table to another, but is basically efficient.
As far as the Painted Desert is concerned, in our opinion it was not worth the extra $40. I ordered filet mignon, medium rare, and it was served well done. I returned it, asking again for a medium rare, and this time got it fully rare, barely a little grilled on the top, and it had a big strong white nerve in the middle. When your only job consists of cooking steaks, how come you do not know the difference between rare and well done? But we had ordered a good bottle of wine, and Elena our waiter was the best. So we had a good time, but would not pay for this again.
Sabatini's is good, but if you do not want to be stuffed with food, tell the waiter you are not in a rush. Otherwise you will eat in an hour, the equivalent in calories of two dinners in the regular dining room!
As far as the islands are concerned, we mainly made our own arrangements. I will not bore you with all details, but will recommend the following tours:
Aruba: ABC Tours (www.abc-aruba.com), we did the 3.5 hours Safari Jeep tour which brought us to see the most magnificent views we have seen in the Caribbean. Warning: This tour is extremely BUMPY!!! The Jeep takes you completely off-road, and I mean off-road! Not adviseable for everyone, but soooo beautiful! We booked online without any problem. St-Vincent: Hazeco Tours (www.hazecotours.com), we did the Darkview Falls tours. It is one full day, they pick you up at 9:00am at the pier and take you back at 4:00pm. Our guide was the sweetest person, and gave us lots of information on the island. Only warning: the lunch is not good, but the tour is well worth it! Do not try to book online, you have to call them directly.
Antigua: We had booked with Princess for the "five-star catamaran tour with lunch". Hi Hi Hi, the guy NEVER showed up at the pier and they could not locate him!!! So they offered us a different catamaran tour which is "Circle Antigua" offered by Excellence Tours, and it was the BEST tour we could have. You go around the island on a motorised catamaran (do not expect sails), they take you to a small island for a good lunch and snorkeling, and take you back to the pier at around 4:00. Warning: when they get to sail on the Atlantic Ocean, it gets really bumpy, but this lasts only about 20 minutes. Just be advised in case you tend to get seasick, but it really lasts about 20 minutes so it's not too bad.
Overall this was a great cruise, as far as itinerary and celebrations are concerned. We very much enjoyed the fact that we celebrated Christmas and New Year on a cruise ship. The food was good, the overall service was medium (not bad, but the worst on our 6 cruises), the shows were sooo amateur (the crew talent show was the best one!), the ship definitely needs to be refurbished. Would we sail again with Princess, yes. Would we recommend the Grand? Well, if you like the itinerary and price, then yes. But be aware it is worn out, and technical problems could arise. Would we sail again on such an old ship? Well again, if the itinerary was interesting and the price was good, we would consider it, but our next cruise will certainly be on a newer ship where we can get more dining options and cleaner spaces.
Happy and healthy New Year to all cruisers! Read Less