My family and friends took the Grand Princess on a 15 night New Years cruise. The idea of leaving out of our home port (San Francisco) and visiting Hawaii was quite enticing. My ten-year-old is a Love Boat freak (really), so when my travel agent called and said there was a sale on this itinerary, we jumped on it. Unfortunately, we had the worst cruise that we have ever experienced. However, I am never one to judge anything by the first go, so despite what you read below, we put in a future cruise deposit and will be trying a 10-day Alaska cruise with Princess next year.
The first day was not bad. We arrived early and the embarkation was by far the easiest we have ever experienced. We showed up around 11:00 am and essentially went directly on the ship. They were great about the soda policy and allowed my kids to carry on a 24 pack of their favorites. One downside was that I have one child that is on a restrictive diet. We checked his beverages and they arrived half gone in our stateroom. I chalked that up to it probably falling and breaking open, so no big deal. He still had enough to keep him supplied for the cruise.
The views from the ship on the first day were great. We explored the ship and found that unlike many of the other cruises that we were on, this ship's layout made it Very easy to get lost. Some of the stair cases do not go all the way up/down and you need to take the elevator or else walk to another stair case. We also discovered that you cannot traverse the ship on both sides due to various lounges and restaurants. The only path that goes from front to rear is on the starboard side of the ship. We were excited for the sail away party on the top deck,and while several people turned out, the crew canceled the sail away deck party.
The muster drill was actually the best we've seen. This was partly due to the cast of the Love Boat doing the safety video, but it was also extremely well organized and done in a timely manner. Our muster station was in the Princess Theater. The theater is substantially smaller that what we are used to seeing and this made for limitations on the kind of productions they could present on the ship.
We had several sea days before reaching Hawaii. Normally, I love sea days. There is generally so much to do on board. I was looking forward to the cultural ambassadors' lectures and on this sailing they had a forensic scientist I was looking forward to hearing as well. On other cruises, I've been a trivia champion, winning a "ship on a stick" for every cruise we've been on (well, Carnival anyhow), so I was looking forward to the trivia as well. I was even interested in some of the more relaxed offerings such as the book club and star gazing. I was so excited I even signed up for the behind the ship tour.
After only two sea days, it was clear that this cruise would not be meeting my expectations. The first production show was horrid and the comedian told mostly bad puns (okay my son loved the puns) but then all the jokes he told were catered for a very old crowd and we simply didn't get any of it.
On formal night, we donned our tuxedos and my children and I opted to share a table. We were sat with a wonderful two 75 year old couples, They lamented that the cruise seemed tailored for cruisers older than themselves. As they put it - “there’s more canes, walkers, and mobility scooters than actual passengers on this cruise.” This was something that we noticed as well, but I was already expecting this based on other cruise critic reviews. We just were expecting that the ship would offer something for everyone as it was voted "best multinational cruise line." That just was not the case.
The entertainment wasn’t just bad, it was outright offensive! A 30-minute production show to Motown done by an entirely white cast that changed the key of several songs. This time, my table mates were two African American women who said, “you can teach them moves, but they have no energy and no rhythm; just awful.” I actually Booed for the first time (ever) during any production show called “The British Invasion.” It was so bad at one point, I was embarrassed for the performers. The “born to dance” production was their best and the production and the guy next to me summed it up perfectly when he said, “I’ve seen better performances at six flags and at least they have snoopy!”
Decor seemed dated and I heard one person ask when the ship was last in for refurbishment. I however, really liked the style of the ship. It did appear older and dated, but I felt it gave the ship a type of elegance that I have not seen on other ships. I do know that some people complained about carpet and caulking issues, but that seemed minor to me. Others were complaining about water leaks, and that was more of an issue. In fact, six cabins were flooded by a water leak during our cruise and I was speaking to one of the crew about this. They did a great job accommodating people despite being completely sold-out. One thing I have to say is that, but for a few very notable exceptions, the staff was extremely friendly and provided excellent service. I found myself tipping several of them on top of the mandatory gratuities on a daily basis. I wish I could tip the captain. He was definitely the best captain I've ever come across. Captain J.P. handled a medivac emergency on board with extreme professionalism and dealt well with those lookieloos who refused to follow crew instructions.
Now on to some of the negative aspects of the cruise: Despite the excellent crew, the trip was not great due to a few bad and very visible members of the crew as well as poor planning by the Cruise Director staff. For example, there was absolutely no thought given to crowd control on this cruise. Do to their ship design, it is only possible to traverse the promenade deck on one side - so let’s go right in the middle of that through way and register people for the art auctions, completely blocking the ability for anyone to get by each day. Brilliant, just brilliant.
The cruise director was nearly impossible to find. It’ was like playing “where’s Waldo” he only appears at the end of production shows and on rare occasion you might find him at a “game” show. The assistant cruise director was everywhere but she is snarky, rude, insulting to passengers and should not be in front of people - ever. If someone from princess reads this -PLEASE for your own good, replace her she is just awful! Many of the other cruise director staff were fantastic and any of them would make a welcome change.
The trivia caters to teams of six so forget about winning a prize if you are a single player (in my case I always was one question behind the teams of six and I was just one person but they only award to the teams) when I suggested they do an award for teams and award for single players, I was told to just join a team. Well done, however; there will always be those that don’t want to be on a team and considering the grand prize is a coaster (no ships on sticks here) it seemed trivial (pun intended) to give out one extra coaster.
While it's certainly not the fault of the cruiseline, given the weather, EVERY on-deck activity (sail away, disco party, star gazing, shuffleboard, etc.) were all cancelled. Some were rescheduled and moved indoors but were not advertised on the computer app. When I asked why not, I was told that most of the passengers were older and only read the printed patter. Again, it essentially costs nothing to put it into the app and everyone in our group never read the printed patter, we relied 100% on the phone app because we always had it with us. It truly seemed like they didn’t plan very well/at all for alternative activities.
Then there was the Ensenada incident. The ship was supposed to arrive at 4:00 pm and leave at 7:30 pm, but due to weather, it was announced several days in advance that we would not arrive until 7:30 and depart at 9:30. On the day we arrived, the ship activities had absolutely nothing to do from 4:00 pm to 7:30 pm and then had all the activates starting at 7:30. In other words, despite having DAYS to plan and reschedule the activities, they kept to the original schedule assuming we would be in port at the original 4:30-7:30 timeframe. What a joke!
The food on the ship was not what I expected. The buffet was pretty bad. It had pretty much the same foods each day, but occasionally they had a build your burger bar, a ramen bar, and a nacho bar.The main dinning room food was actually very good in general and we spent most of our time eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the anytime dinning halls. The wait staff were all very friendly as well, except on our last night, the waiter was just plain rude! I figured he was having a bad night, so I purchased a bottle of wine for him. He loved that and everything was much better thereafter.
The food venues around the ship were okay, but definitely not great, with one exception. The Salty Dog is a winner! Everything they offer was top notch, and while it may not be healthy for you, those bacon cheese fries are AMAZING! The street tacos were my second favorite, and the bacon Princess burger with swiss - oooh soo good. Not quite up to Guy's burgers on Carnival, but really good. The Alfredo's Pizzaria which boasts "best pizza at sea" really wasn't. In fact, I actually preferred the pizza at Slices on deck 14. The International Cafe was also a major disappointment. We were told they rotate their selection throughout the day, but really, it just looked the same no matter when we passed by. A note to first time cruisers: Most of the food at the international cafe is FREE and they are open 24/7. Also, the specialty restaurants were all exceptionally good, more on that in a bit.
One more complaint I witnessed "food" related... I saw another passenger in the “tea library” have a complete meltdown. He went up and walked to the wall of drawers of tea leaves and opened several and found minimal leaves there to make his tea. There were several tea kettles available on shelves on the wall and he grabbed one. There is a large water spigot on the counter with a big red warning sign that said “Caution: Hot Water”. Except, it was all FAKE. When the guy realized this, he came undone and went out and walked around the ship ten times (he came back in just to tell me this before finally calming down enough to confront the customer service desk). Customer service attempted to satiate the situation by offering him chocolate covered strawberries. He was not amused.
There were two other similar issues that I experienced myself. The first - there is NO mini-golf. Despite the website clearly showing that it is there, it was removed. My kids were disappointed at this. In it's place is a flat golfing green for putting or croquet. We chose to play croquet (despite all the mallets being horribly bent), and the kids loved it! The second, the website advertised an escape room for $8. That also did not exist on this sailing. When I asked a crew member, she said that they do offer the escape room for free on the Grand Princess, but only when they are not sold-out because they just repupose one of the staterooms.
On the first day, I went to the spa raffle and they had a really good deal where you could get a massage and several other services for only $99. I took advantage of the special and I was not overly impressed with he spa. It was okay, but not great and the up sell was unforgivable. Despite telling the staff before my massage that I didn't want the product sale at the end, they did so anyway - relentlessly. They also signed me up for a shave, a weight loss program, and another massage - all without my permission! I had to cancel them at a later time because she literally would not let me leave the room without saying it was okay and she made me late for my meeting with my family. My older teen sons enjoyed the gym. It was well served with cardio machines, weight machines, and free weights. I also did one of the yoga classes as I was experiencing leg cramps at night and thought the yoga could help - it did.
The casino was the typical Carnival brand casino - horrible odds (worse than Indian casinos). I'll give one tip for those who've read this whole review this far... For you video poker players out there, if you play the spin poker machine in the non-smoking section, you can set the bet to 5 quarters, single line and get 7/5 odds without affecting the game variance due to the "spin poker" nature of the game. While that's still an awful pay scale, it's the highest odds on the ship. The lady I ate lunch with appreciated my tip as she played that machine with three lines and was dealt a Royal Flush on her first hand - winning 12k quarters or $3,000.00 from $1.25 bet! On the first day, I tried asking the cashier staff how many points I'd need to get any kind of comp and they said they had no idea, that it was at least several thousand and it would just show up when I got it. Not very helpful.
Despite the negative, there were some highlights and we cannot forget those. As I mentioned at the start, we don't consider one bad experience the end of things. My family put down a future cruise deposit for a 10-day Alaska cruise with Princess next year. The Hawaii ports were great. It would have been nice to have a little more time in Oahu and Maui, but the time spent on the other islands (Kilo, Kauai) was appropriate. The choice of shore excursions was excellent, although we chose to do all of ours independently. A few times I did speak to the shore excursions desk and they seemed quite knowledgeable about the various options.
As mentioned above,we also really enjoyed the specialty restaurants and we went to all three. Yes three (well, four if you count the British Pub lunch). While not well advertised, the Grand Princess does a Crab Shack on selected days. They alternate the crab shack between the Horizon buffet and the Crowne Grill for the location. We chose to go on a day when it was hosted in the Crowne Grill. The food was excellent and plentiful. In fact, I think at Sabatini's it was almost too much food. But it was out of this world good. Oddly, the only restaurant that seemed a bit not up to expectations was the Crowne Grill itself. Oh, and despite others complaining about the decor in the English Pub, I found the fish and chips to be the best I've ever had - including those that I've had in pubs in London.
One thing that we liked more than other cruises were the pools. The Grand Princess has several and they are both larger and deeper than what we've seen elsewhere. We also really liked that one of the pools/hot tubs is indoors, while others are outdoors. I actually rather enjoy going in a nice steamy hot tub when it is windy, cold, and raining. Plus, the outdoor hot tubs aren't crowded at those times. My son enjoyed swimming in the indoor pool when it was cold outside. One request for Princess though - put in revolving doors! revolving doors are designed to prevent wind from entering a doorway. On our sailing, there were times when we had very high winds that would rip from the outside pool, through the inside pool, and right into the Horizon court! A revolving door would have kept each area climate controlled. The other thing that bumbed me out was that the back of the ship with the aft adult pool and hot tubs were closed for several days due to a maintenance issue with the ship's stacks (apparently, cowling and other material was falling free).
We did enjoy the lounge approach to various areas. As a secret for those who took the time to read all of this... while the tea leaf library is a great place to play board games, it is often full, has smallerish tables, and can be noisy as it is an open area near the Piazza. The secret is to take your game to the Wheelhouse Bar. It is a wonderful, quiet, relaxing location, is almost always empty or nearly so (even when they are doing presentations in it), and has a wonderful view of the water. Plus the tables are larger and the chairs are more comfortable.
My ten-year-old raved about the kids club. It is up on deck 15 near the spa. He said it was the best one that he's ever been at. I really liked the fact that it was themed with the Discovery channel. They kids even had a chance to do Junior Chef at sea and decorate a cake! Wow. They had a dance party just to themselves up in the club One5 and the kids all seemed to have a lot of fun. He made several friends and we would eat with the other families and play games as well. It was a great way for both him and our whole family to meet new people. Every day he brought a new craft project back to the room and he really liked his kids club T-shirt that he got to decorate himself.
My older teens also really enjoyed the Beach house that was just for them. My 16-year-old said the thing he liked most was how many kids there were from foreign countries. Apparently, they enjoyed exchanging stories of how to misbehave in several countries. On one of our shore excursions, some of his friends and their family came along and it made for a wonderful day in Maui. They also enjoyed the free basketball hoop machine and ping pong on the upper deck above the indoor pool. The only issue here was that often times when relaxing at the indoor pool there was always several unattended smaller kids on that level hitting ping pong balls down at people in the pool. They were also very loud, but that is mostly because it was indoors. I could tolerate this as I have several kids of my own, but several older guests were openly complaining about this at dinner time on several days.
One thing that I did notice was that the Sanctuary (adults only paid lounge area on deck 16) went completely unused the entire trip. Often when I went by, it was simply closed due to weather, and when the weather was nice, the ship was in port and I did not see anyone in the Sanctuary. It's too bad because I was looking forward to trying it out. It may have been a mistake for Princess to devote so much ship space to such a large area if no one can use it. The other odd thing about the ship is that the kiddie splash pool is located just in front of the Sanctuary in a location that is nearly impossible to locate. Unfortunately, it too was closed every time my son came by.
All in all, It was the worst cruise we've ever been on, but it had a lot of positive experiences as well. We will definitely give Princess another go before discontinuing to cruise with them. The embarkation/disembarkation was smooth as could be, there were many very positive crew members, the captain was the best, and we met many nice people. On the flip side, the entertainment was the worst we ever encountered, the activities were lacking, there was very poor planning on behalf of the cruise director and staff, the food was not good except in specialty restaurants, and the ship itself had a few maintenance issues: flooding of six cabins and the cowling falling off the smoke stacks causing them to close the aft section of the ship for a few days). There were many passengers complaining throughout the cruise. All in all, I gave it two stars because the bad slightly outweighed the good on this sailing. Read Less