A long review I am afraid. Firstly thanks to all on CC who organized the M&G, Sail Away party, and Slot Pull. Lots of fun as always!
Our Thanksgiving cruise is becoming a tradition, at two complete, and the Royal already booked for next year. We had a blast on the NCL Epic last year and would have gone again but it was the same ports as last year, plus its fun to try a different ship. I booked the Grand because - 1. We have had a good time on previous two Princess cruises - 2. We had not been to Aruba or Curacao - 3. The price was really low.
Embarkation was a little hectic as the ship changed piers at the last minute so we received e-mails and texts from Princess to let us know of the change plus a little later boarding time. Ft Lauderdale is not an easy port to drop off and park, plus Pier 29 has no parking garage nearby. So at the last minute I booked at the "Park and Go" which turned out to be a great decision. You drop off the car there and they shuttle you right to the luggage drop off and then pick you up and take you back to your vehicle. About half the price of parking at the dock, no hassles of walking the distance from the parking garage to the ship. Very efficient and Park and Go staff very polite. I was pleased. At the pier only one x-ray machine so slow going, but arrived at 11.30 and by 12.30 we were in the cabin. Luggage was there when we arrived!
OK, so during this embarkation process I was having a case of shopper's remorse. I am no spring chicken at 57, but whilst getting on board I could see I was one of the youngest folks around. The Epic passenger age was say low 40ish. Oh well too late now I thought. But as it turned out although the passengers were all up there in years they wanted to have fun during the holiday period. And they did!
We had booked our normal inside cabin on the Plaza deck which we like as it's close to the action and dark for my wife's needed recovery cruise sleep . Because the cruise was sold out we received an "upgrade" to an obstructed outside cabin on deck 8 (E228). It was actually quite nice to have a window and we could see a lot even the lifeboat was outside. However, as we soon discovered, also outside the window was a compressor which periodically went off say once every three hours. As I say this was an "upgrade". However as are most CC'ers, we roll with the punches and it quickly became a source of amusement for us. The cabin itself was nice, clean, and very well taken care of by our steward Ernesto. He was concerned even after a few days of why we had asked for twin beds instead of a queen set up. "Because we are on vacation Ernesto" I said. He never did get it. There was a large flat screen TV and fridge. Cabin showed a few signs of age in the bathroom, but overall no problems.
The Grand itself, while being an older ship, was in my opinion in good shape. If you looked hard while on the outside decks you could see signs of rust and wear and tear, but you had to look. All inside the ship was fully up to speed.
We ate every night at Di Vinci dining room with Anytime dinning, and always asked to share a table (an option if you like). We met lovely couples and had fun conversations and got to know some nice people that way. I think the longest wait was maybe a few minutes at the most, but we never went before 8pm. Food ranged from good to really good. At least twice I had two main courses at the same time as they were both appealing. Portions are small so this is not a problem. Thanksgiving was a great seafood night so we both skipped the turkey. We had eaten at both Cagney's and Sabatini's before, and while they are lovely and well worth the few extra dollars we just couldn't be bothered this trip. Wine list was perfectly fine, with a number of good bottles in the upper $20's range. If you drink two a day like us that's important! The new pizza place Alfredo's was very good and the Venice styled pizza was perfect both times we tried it. You might want to split one. Afterwards you can cross 20 feet to the International Cafe and have a desert of your choice. We had the Pub Lunch both sea days. Breakfast we ate in the buffet (except once in the dining room which was very nice.) Plenty of room in the buffet if you go out towards the back of the ship, and we like sitting in the open area on the aft. Selection was good.
All food servers in all locations were fantastic every day, with not a single problem.
Formal nights were Sunday and Thursday and I threw on my JC Penny tux and my wife got dolled up. Much to my surprise everyone else was dressed to the nines. It was very nice, and we had taken (and purchased) some formal pictures both nights. Photographers not pushy at all. The Captains Greeting in the Plazza with the Champagne poring was fun as always, as was the Captains Circle gathering. Any chance to get some free drinks is always a good time to me.
In the evening we like to drink and mingle, so we checked out the bars during the cruise. The Wheelhouse bar had great staff, and was the only location on the ship where you could get a full 20 once pint of draft beer, albeit Stella is your only choice of draft on the whole ship. Plus it was off the beaten path and dark and just nice. Both Crooners and the Plazza bar, although nice, are right on the main pathways around the Atrium, and not conducive to a lot of fun. The One-Five bar on deck 15 is well designed and fun to look at, but was dead every night. We went one night to the 50s & 60's disco hosted by DJ Mickey and Mickey never showed up. He also did not show up to the DJ Mickey All request show on the pool deck either. Both events should have been fun but were flops. Snookers bar is a cigar/sports bar which should also have been a happening place for the younger crowd, but for some unknown reason the temperature was constantly kept at a freezing 45F and no one could stay in there more than 20 minutes. I smoked two cigars in there and both times I was shivering before I had finished. I really think that the entertainment staff missed out in one area though, and that was NFL football. Now if I wanted to spend all day watching football I would not have booked the cruise. But last year on the Epic they played both college and NFL games whenever possible in their large screen TV area, and it was a great atmosphere and they sold heaven only knows how much booze. On the Grand there was no Sunday NFL, and they only played one of the three Thanksgiving games. And that was in the "ice bar" Snookers, which was not even open! You had to go to the casino bar to get a drink then come back to the closed Snookers to watch the game. No evening game. I hate to think how much money they lost on beer sales doing that.
We went to two shows, the British Invasion and the Motor City and both were wonderful. Didn't do the MUTs as we can't stay up that late. Both pianists Maurizio and Marguerite had big followings. The gent who played the steel drums was fantastic. One other strange thing was during a nice sunny sea day when everyone was lazing around the pool listening to music, they played a MUTs Back to the Future at 2pm. Loads of people just got up and left. Couldn't figure that one out. The Zumba class had a lot of people there and was fun to be in. My wife signed up for the cycling class and enjoyed it. The gym is small but up to date.
Princess Cays was a little chaotic due to heavy winds but eventually all got off. None of the bars were operating when we got there at 11am, and our favorite hangouts (last two beach bars on the left when you get off) where not even opened during the day. Shame as we, and I'm sure others, would have stayed and dropped a bundle on drinks, but another lost dollar opportunity for the ship. BBQ was fine though. We left at 2pm to miss the tender crowd and went back to the front of the ship to swim and relax without a lot of people.
Both Aruba and Curacao were fun stops. We had downloaded walking tours of each town. In Aruba that takes about 30 minutes so no need to rush. We then took a taxi ($14) from the ship to Moomba Beach and walked down the beach and had drinks in fours beach bars before heading back to the ship. All who we talked to that had taken excursions enjoyed them. In Curacao it's an easy walk to the town and you can easily spend three hours walking around looking at things. Again found a nice bar after that and people watched until time to head back to the ship. While you are only there for five hours, that's enough to get a feel for the place. Both places were very safe and people quite nice.
So to sum, up the Grand was in good condition, staff just wonderful as always, and food great. It's not a "party ship" like the NCL Epic, and to be honest if our kids, whom we had invited but were busy with college and work, had come they would have been bored stiff. But for us it was relaxing. It was nice to dress formally and we had a good time. Royal Princess next Thanksgiving!
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E228 Outside cabin obstucted view. Nice room - only problem is it has a compressor just outside the window which goes on periodically and its fairly loud.