HAL Cruisers Give Princess a Try
Our last HAL cruise was to Alaska on the Eurodam last July – August (2018). We have been dedicated HAL cruisers for some time now. DW decided she wanted to do another cruise so we did some exploring. ... Read More
HAL Cruisers Give Princess a Try
Our last HAL cruise was to Alaska on the Eurodam last July – August (2018). We have been dedicated HAL cruisers for some time now. DW decided she wanted to do another cruise so we did some exploring. The dates, itinerary, cabin choice, and price lined up for us doing the 15-day Hawaiian out of San Francisco on Grand Princess. This was our first Princess cruise and this review will be specific to that cruise. However, comparisons to HAL will also figure in my narrative.
About Us: We live in Minnesota and have cruised extensively. Originally on Royal Caribbean until RCCL started building the floating amusement parks. Since then we’ve been with HAL. We are both retired. Yes, we are foodies and we are also detail orientated so we notice the little things (décor, condition of the ship, attention to detail) but without losing the big picture.
Embarkation: We flew to San Francisco a day early, as we do with any cruise, and stayed with my oldest friend in life (we grew up across the street from each other in SF), and enjoyed a French restaurant for dinner along with several Bay Area friends that we travel to France with every five years.
On embarkation day we dropped our luggage with a porter at Pier 27 then went across the street to Fog City Diner for brunch. Check-in and boarding was seamless and we went immediately to The Sanctuary to book our space for a port day in Hawaii (Sunday Feb. 3). We did not find any port excursions that were of interest for that stop so we decided to kick back and Veg. Besides, it was Super Bowl Sunday and the game started at 1:30PM Hawaii time and God forbid DW would miss Super Bowl. Our business at The Sanctuary complete we headed to our cabin. Muster Drill on Grand Princess is done indoors and does not require life jackets. The weather was beautiful and sunny for our sail away and I felt such pride at being a native San Franciscan since the skyline and bay and Golden Gate Bridge are all so stunning.
Our Cabin: We had booked a Mini-Suite that has a slightly larger veranda the other cabins in that class. Unpacking, we found that our stuff fit in the closet, drawers, and bathroom quite nicely. No lacking for space. We never over pack so we knew there would be no problem. On our HAL cruise to Alaska we had a Neptune Suite so this was a big downsizing. Hey, it was fine. We enjoyed the mini-suite and our cabin steward Abriham was fantastic.
Entertainment: We are not big fans of shows on cruise ships so I’ve got nothing to report on that score. We did attend two events in the Princess Theater however. The first was a very informative lecture/slide show with one of the ships officers about how cruise ships work and navigation. The person was nervous and spoke too quickly to be heard clearly but he was quite humorous. The second event was a cooking demonstration featuring the ships two main chefs. It was interesting but the corny humor was a bit dull although I found it somewhat interesting what people will laugh at.
We played Trivia during the first week of the cruise and that was lots of fun. Also, DW has had a big streak of luck with the slots in the casino during our last three cruises, winning big within an hour of sitting down to play. The streak ended on this cruise. Oh well!
Food: Here is the big difference between HAL and Princess. While we had several meals that were quite delicious, the food on Princess is way below the standard on HAL, including the Horizon Court Buffet. We ate in the Botticelli dining room for a fixed 7:30PM seating. On the last formal night (there are three on this cruise) I ordered the Beef Wellington. Now, Beef Wellington is a filet wrapped in a pastry shell with a layer of Foie gras (duck or goose liver pate) in between the shell and the meat. The grayish matter that was supposedly Foie gras definitely wasn’t. What it was I have no idea. If the chef is going to put that item on the menu it should be properly prepared or left off entirely. Our waiters, Alan and Komang were marvelous and we quickly established a wonderful relationship with them. During our diners they would always bring plate of another entrée for us to share. We tipped them heavily at the end of the cruise. Not wanting to be totally negative about the food on Grand Princess I must say that we enjoyed several deserts from all venues serving desert. They were excellent! One menu item that is a must do if it’s offered is the Goat Cheese Soufflé. It’s absolutely stunning. One huge disappointment is what Princess offers as the Cheese Plate on the desert dinner menu. It was the exact same cheese (only one cheese) and dollop of dried/fruit/nut mix every night on the 15 day cruise. On HAL the Cheese Plate is different every night with at least four cheeses and fruit per serving.
We had one meal at each of the specialty restaurants. Crown Grill for steak and Sabatini’s for Italian. The Crown Grill was top notch and had a lovely ambiance. We also enjoyed the Pub Lunch three times in that venue. Pub Lunch is only served on sea days and is a limited menu with only one desert offered. We enjoyed it a great deal and would recommend it to anyone cruising with Princess. Sabatini’s was a wonderful seven course dinner that I would highly suggest you book. However, the ambiance (décor) of the space is horrible. It looks like Princess threw together a bunch of faux walls and columns with the intention of finishing the space later on but never did. The ceiling was a scatter of painted boards with the ventilation system visible. Probably the most egregious decorating sin was the lack of table cloths. All the tables were some sort of faux wood that was totally unappealing. The restaurant was not busy at all and two crew from high up the chain in the food and beverage department asked to speak with us after we were finished. We shared with them what I’ve written here. Based on their response it would seem like they had heard our concerns many times before. We had lunch at the Alfredo restaurant off the Piazza and that was quite good as were the pastries and coffee at the International Café (open 24 hours). We did not do the Burger place near the Lido pools nor the Pizza place also located there.
Ports of Call/Shore Excursions: Our first Port of Call was Hilo. We had originally booked the Princess Excursion to the Botanical Gardens. Then we cancelled when we found out we could do it on our own for at least half the price. We did Uber to the Gardens and our driver agreed to pick us up two hours later. We paid the entry fee and did our walk. The Gardens are beautiful and the walk is only slightly strenuous. Our Uber guy was waiting for us and we made our way back to the ship after a short stop at a Target store to pick up a belt which I forgot to pack, and one other item. Our second Port was Honolulu where we did the 5 hour Pearl Harbor/Mighty Mo Tour offered by Princess. Money well spent. Our third Port was Kaui where we had decided to stay on board. We had booked the Sanctuary for the day thinking it would not be crowded. We were the only people there as it turned out. The menu for that venue was perfect for our purposes. It was also Super Bowl day with the game starting at 1:30PM Hawaii time so we watched it on the big screen used for Movies Under the Stars and finished up the game in Snookers Cigar Bar when we had had more than enough Sun for the day. The next and last Port was Maui where we had booked the early Catamaran Sail. This tour was the highlight of our entire cruise. Whales abounded and during our sail at least a hundred Dolphins ran along the sides of the catamaran jumping above the waves. An amazing sight to behold. Also, the food offerings were plentiful and delicious. This shore excursion is a must do if you are even slightly interested. The crew were all wonderful and knew what they were doing. We did not get off the ship in Ensenada, Mexico since we’ve been to Mexico numerous times and I believe once you’ve seen one Mexican town you’ve seen them all. Sorry folks, that’s just the way it is. If you’ve never been to Mexico then you should go ashore by all means. The problem with the Ensenada stop is the only reason the ship stops there is to be in accordance with the Jones Act. You should Google that for information if you are interested. Also, you are only there for just 4 hours, and late in the day.
The Grand Princess: The ship is 21 years old and it shows. A big shout out to the crew of worker bees that are constantly at work on repairs, painting, and polishing. However, it’s time for a major, major make over for this old gal. Grand Princess will be going into dry dock in Portland, OR during most of March but I’ll bet they will not address the stuff that needs the most work. By that I mean the chipped chairs, worn and frayed fabric in countless areas, worn to the bone panels in elevators, more rust on the outside areas than you can count, etc. Having talked with several of the ships officers I learned that Princess is upgrading the Internet system on all the fleet but it will take this dry dock and at least one other before the system will be functional on the Grand. Please note: this is only my opinion, but…I’m constantly amazed and alarmed by the public’s obsession and addiction to the Internet. There is so much more to life than the stupid Internet. DW and I love to totally disconnect from all that stuff when we cruise and wish others could discover that freedom. I believe the money and time spent on Internet upgrades would be better spent on correcting the items I’ve mentioned. Regardless of a new Internet system I’ll wager that passengers will still find reception to be slow and spotty. Speeding up the movement of the elevator doors would be a real plus. On our cruise they opened and closed at the speed of a glacier. Cruise ship décor is, like the food, a very subjective thing. Grand Princess is close to Carnival Line ships (although not nearly as gaudy and offensive) in that most of the décor is meant to imitate something. Totally unnecessary. Fortunately a lot of new builds are moving away from this tired old style. I’ll explain by example; say you have an Italian upscale restaurant….well, whomever is doing the décor thinks, Roman architecture. And what do you get? Roman columns and photographs of Rome, or some other Italian city, or, God forbid, badly done watercolors hanging on the walls. It’s so much better to design a space with sleek but unobtrusive walls and ceilings and muted colors and let the food itself represent the country. As I said, this is just an example, but it applies to any interior public space on a ship.
Smoking: We both smoke but are very conscious of the rights of non-smokers. At home we never smoke inside, always outside. Grand Princess has three smoking areas that will work for those that need to burn a heater; deck 15 outside of the One 5 bar/lounge has a large space with tables/chairs and individual padded chairs and couches. A steward was always available in that section. Snookers Cigar Bar is the inside smoking area and is available 24/7 but the bar itself is not staffed until 12 noon or 1PM. Ventilation is fairly good for an indoor smoking area but it still smells like and ashtray. Also, on deck 7, outside the Vista Lounge and towards the aft on the deck there is a little smoker’s station.
Conclusion: Scale of 1 – 5 with 5 being the highest
Embarkation/Disembarkation: Princess 5; HAL 5
Cabin: Princess 4; HAL 5
Food: Princess 3; HAL 5
Shore Excursions: Princess 4; HAL 4
Ship Condition: Princess 2; HAL 5
So, the bottom line? We are staying with HAL (doing a Panama Canal cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Seattle in April) and not going back to Princess. Read Less