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We chose this cruise for the itinerary and the departure port. Living near San Francisco allows us to travel on the Grand Princess without flying. We drove to the Embarcadero, allowing extra time to get past AT&T Park where the Giants were playing at noon. When you get to Pier 27, the traffic cops do a skillful job directing motorists between the Embarcadero and the cruise terminal traffic circle. Dropping off my wife and our luggage was a breeze. While she was handing the luggage to the porter I drove the car four blocks to Francisco Street where we had a reservation at the Impark garage for $18/day. Easy walk back to the terminal for check-in. Princess embarkation is expertly orchestrated. The entire process: security, check-in, getting our cruise cards, checking our wine and waiting to board took 90 minutes max. Regarding the wine: my wife is in the business and checked everything out ahead of time. Princess permits one bottle of wine per adult to be brought aboard free of charge. Make sure the wine is in your carry-on. Other than Vines Wine Bar, the wine onboard is generally mediocre and most wines on the list were not available on our cruise. So, bring your own if you want something decent at a fair price. A cruise is a great time to open that special bottle. Princess also allows you to bring additional bottles beyond the two free ones. Those extra bottles will cost you $15 each for corkage, but they are also marked so you can then take them into any bar or restaurant and enjoy them at no extra charge. We took one of our bottles into Vines Wine Bar one evening and the sommelier was happy to open it and serve it to us in some very nice Riedel glasses. The two “free” bottles are not tagged for corkage and are best consumed in your stateroom. Your room steward can bring glasses. If he’s good, he’ll keep bringing them. Once onboard we headed for our stateroom so we could drop off our carry-on items. The room was ready, which is a testament to the crew because our ship arrived two hours late due to a medical emergency on the previous cruise. It’s amazing how fast they can turn around a 2600 guest floating resort hotel. Next, we took one of the panoramic elevators up to the Lido deck for the lunch buffet and some great views of the San Francisco Bay area. After lunch we went up to deck 15 for the sail away party. It’s a great time with epic views as you depart San Francisco, sail past Alcatraz Island and under the Golden Gate Bridge. Everyone is on deck taking pictures and making new friends. Going under the bridge while 15 decks above the water is unforgettable. We had Anytime Dining and dined in the Michelangelo most nights except for one night in each specialty restaurant and a night in our stateroom. We always had to wait for a table for two at Michelangelo unless we were willing to share a table. One night they told us it would be 30 to 40 minutes. That was the night we took our pager and bottle of wine to Vines. It worked out fine and was much less than 30 minutes. The main dining room food and service are excellent; it’s like eating in a good restaurant every night. It is advisable to listen to your servers’ recommendations; not everything on the menu is created equally. They can also go “off menu” if you like, as they did one night when we were served the linguini and clams entree as an appetizer. You also can order two appetizers, two desserts or even two entrees. The shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad appetizers are available every day. Both are good and small, so don’t be afraid to order one in addition to another app. The soups on Princess are made from scratch and always delicious. If you like chocolate, do not miss the Norman Love Chocolate Journeys desserts. They are available every night at the specialty restaurants and less frequently in the main dining rooms. Formal nights are Monday and Friday on the California Coastal. That’s the first sea day and Ensenada day. Passengers take formal night seriously on Princess. Ladies wear evening gowns or cocktail dresses and men wear tuxedos, suits, or slacks with a sportscoat. On the second formal night, lobster tails are served. Ours was good, but don’t expect a whole Maine lobster. They also make beef Wellington and you can get both if you ask. Also included in the cruise is unlimited access to Alfredo’s Pizzeria and the International Café, both located on the Piazza. We frequented both often. Alfredo’s serves individual, delicious made to order thin crust pizzas. You can sit at barstools and watch the guys make and bake your pizza or have ocean view table service. Alfredo’s also has bar service. If you want a salad, you can bring one over from the International Café. The International is open 24 hours for coffee, pastries, desserts, panini’s, salads and soup. Great chocolate mousse. Everything was tasty, and the service was prompt and friendly. We hopped on the elevator many times to pick up a midnight snack from the International Café. Room service is still free on Princess and the menu looked pretty good. We ordered breakfast once by putting the card out the night before. It arrived right on time. The egg sandwiches are decent, but the Horizon Court buffet is the better way to go for breakfast. The OJ was small so I would order two next time. The Horizon Court Buffet is on the Lido deck (14). We ate breakfast there nearly every day and had a couple lunches. Take a good look around because there are some hidden gems like the tasty little homemade quiches they served several times at breakfast. The melon was fresh, and I also liked the triangular hash browns. I suspect they were factory made, but tasty and cooked perfectly every time. They also have made to order omelets that they bring to your table. No waiting. Sometimes it was hard to get a table and one time we ended up all the way aft on the terrace deck. The omelet runner still found us. On Monday, the first sea day, pub lunch was served in the Crown Grill specialty restaurant at no charge. There is little mention of this Princess tradition, but many seasoned travelers know and start lining up about 11:30. They have four classic British dishes. The fish and chips were great. The couple at the next table seemed to enjoy their bangers and mash. I highly recommend trying it. Oddly, there was no craft beer on this voyage. What happened to the Princess Sea Witch IPA? We tried both specialty restaurants. The food and service at the Crown Grill Steakhouse are at the level of Morton’s or Gibson’s. I’d you like a New York or Chicago style steakhouse, don’t miss it. We had the sea bass with panko breaded prawns and a perfectly cooked, delicious filet mignon. We both had the Black and Blue soup which is an extraordinary French onion soup. The waiter warned me that the steak tartare app was “unconventional”. Note to self: that means don’t get it. It was like a tiny undercooked hamburger. Nothing like actual tartare. But the fried polenta sticks that came with it? Awesome. I would order those with a different app. Sabatini’s is fabulous. The service is outstanding and everything including the pasta is made fresh. You can see your pasta come out of an extruder in the open kitchen. They serve a slow five course meal which can be your entertainment for the evening. The first course is always some excellent breadsticks and antipasto. I like to wrap the prosciutto around the breadsticks. The handmade burrata cheese is our favorite. The first of two entrees is your choice of pasta dish. It’s our favorite of the two courses because it is such high quality and so well prepared. The second entrée was also good, but the chicken was better than the parchment steamed seafood. We tried two different Norman Love desserts, the sampler and the Rocher, and both were incredible chocolate creations. Every stateroom has a TV and a mini fridge. Suites have 2 TVs. There are 3 movie channels, 4 cable news channels and 3 sitcom channels. Plus, some Princess info and promo channels. Channel 35 has a map of your journey with ship status scrolling by. One of the sitcom channels includes some old episodes of the Love Boat. There are lovely terraced decks and a pool on the stern that always seemed to be uncrowded. I think you have to know they are there and how to get to them. I will leave that mystery to the reader. Princess offers constant entertainment. We enjoyed several shows in the Piazza, including live music, food carving and the paper airplane contest. Our sailing included an interview and Q & A with Paul Burrell who was Princess Diana’s personal butler for ten years and author of the book “A Royal Duty”. I thought it might be lame and sat near the side door of the Princess Theater, but Paul is a great storyteller and we ended up staying for the whole thing. The next day Paul was on our tender back from Santa Barbara and entertained us with more stories. If you are a repeat Princess guest, you will get an invite to a special Captain’s Circle event at the theater where they play live music and try to sell you a future cruise. They also raffle off a couple bottles of Champagne and everyone leaves with a free drink coupon. Since we were parked near the ship we chose to handle our own luggage and chose “walk off” disembarkation which was a breeze. There is a fair amount of walking involved but we enjoy walking and our luggage rolls well. We were among the first off the ship, so it was an early day. There was a minimal wait at Customs & Immigration, then we stepped out into a sunny San Francisco morning and drove home. Ports In Los Angeles you dock at the old Princess cruise port that appears in nearly every episode of the Love Boat. The USS Iowa is now a floating museum just a short walk from the terminal. Show them your room card to get a discount. Do not miss the color-coded map showing everywhere the Iowa has been. Which is pretty much everywhere. The Port of Los Angeles is also the nation’s busiest container port. The Grand Princess was surrounded by cargo ships and cranes operating 24/7. It is impressive to see. In Santa Barbara we tendered into the marina. One of the tenders lives just under the balcony of our mini suite D608 so we woke up to it being lowered into the water on winches. We’re pretty good natured about that kind of thing because we’re on a ship. And happy to be going into Santa Barbara. The tenders have an open upper deck, which I like more than being squeezed into the hold. Once ashore we took one of the new electric city busses as far up State Street as they would take us, which cost 50 cents. From there we took a leisurely stroll thru some lovely upscale neighborhoods to the mission. We took an Uber back from the mission to the middle of State for $8 and had tacos and margaritas at Sand Bar. Then on to wine tasting in the Funk Zone, which is the newly revitalized industrial area of lower State nearest the ship. In San Diego we caught the Old Town Trolley at the end of the pier. The ticket booth charged $40 vs $60 on Princess (per person). The difference is that you do not have to wait for the first trolley on the $60 Princess plan. They have one waiting for you closer to the ship. The trolley is a hop-on hop-off affair, so you can explore many famous areas of San Diego. They even drive over the big bridge to Coronado Island. We jumped off at Balboa Park where we found museums, beautiful architecture and a botanical garden. We also had lunch at the bar in the Prado Restaurant. Good food at reasonable prices. Always good service. Don’t use the trolley to get to the San Diego Zoo. It doesn’t go there. Use Uber, it’s faster and costs less. In the past we’ve also toured the USS Midway which is docked so close it dominates the view on one side of the Horizon Court buffet. Ensenada We’ve been to Ensenada many times, so we didn’t even go into town. We walked over to the Carnival terminal which has better souvenir shops and a better margarita bar and hung out for a little while. Then we got back onboard and had pizza at Alfredo’s. Twice before we have done the wine bus out to LA Cetto and that’s a fun Ensenada shore excursion.

California Coastal Cruise on Grand Princess

Grand Princess Cruise Review by Z0nker

5 people found this helpful
Trip Details
  • Sail Date: September 2018
  • Destination: Pacific Coastal
  • Cabin Type: Mini-Suite with Balcony
We chose this cruise for the itinerary and the departure port. Living near San Francisco allows us to travel on the Grand Princess without flying. We drove to the Embarcadero, allowing extra time to get past AT&T Park where the Giants were playing at noon. When you get to Pier 27, the traffic cops do a skillful job directing motorists between the Embarcadero and the cruise terminal traffic circle. Dropping off my wife and our luggage was a breeze. While she was handing the luggage to the porter I drove the car four blocks to Francisco Street where we had a reservation at the Impark garage for $18/day. Easy walk back to the terminal for check-in.

Princess embarkation is expertly orchestrated. The entire process: security, check-in, getting our cruise cards, checking our wine and waiting to board took 90 minutes max.

Regarding the wine: my wife is in the business and checked everything out ahead of time. Princess permits one bottle of wine per adult to be brought aboard free of charge. Make sure the wine is in your carry-on. Other than Vines Wine Bar, the wine onboard is generally mediocre and most wines on the list were not available on our cruise. So, bring your own if you want something decent at a fair price. A cruise is a great time to open that special bottle. Princess also allows you to bring additional bottles beyond the two free ones. Those extra bottles will cost you $15 each for corkage, but they are also marked so you can then take them into any bar or restaurant and enjoy them at no extra charge. We took one of our bottles into Vines Wine Bar one evening and the sommelier was happy to open it and serve it to us in some very nice Riedel glasses. The two “free” bottles are not tagged for corkage and are best consumed in your stateroom. Your room steward can bring glasses. If he’s good, he’ll keep bringing them.

Once onboard we headed for our stateroom so we could drop off our carry-on items. The room was ready, which is a testament to the crew because our ship arrived two hours late due to a medical emergency on the previous cruise. It’s amazing how fast they can turn around a 2600 guest floating resort hotel.

Next, we took one of the panoramic elevators up to the Lido deck for the lunch buffet and some great views of the San Francisco Bay area. After lunch we went up to deck 15 for the sail away party. It’s a great time with epic views as you depart San Francisco, sail past Alcatraz Island and under the Golden Gate Bridge. Everyone is on deck taking pictures and making new friends. Going under the bridge while 15 decks above the water is unforgettable.

We had Anytime Dining and dined in the Michelangelo most nights except for one night in each specialty restaurant and a night in our stateroom. We always had to wait for a table for two at Michelangelo unless we were willing to share a table. One night they told us it would be 30 to 40 minutes. That was the night we took our pager and bottle of wine to Vines. It worked out fine and was much less than 30 minutes. The main dining room food and service are excellent; it’s like eating in a good restaurant every night. It is advisable to listen to your servers’ recommendations; not everything on the menu is created equally. They can also go “off menu” if you like, as they did one night when we were served the linguini and clams entree as an appetizer. You also can order two appetizers, two desserts or even two entrees. The shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad appetizers are available every day. Both are good and small, so don’t be afraid to order one in addition to another app. The soups on Princess are made from scratch and always delicious.

If you like chocolate, do not miss the Norman Love Chocolate Journeys desserts. They are available every night at the specialty restaurants and less frequently in the main dining rooms.

Formal nights are Monday and Friday on the California Coastal. That’s the first sea day and Ensenada day. Passengers take formal night seriously on Princess. Ladies wear evening gowns or cocktail dresses and men wear tuxedos, suits, or slacks with a sportscoat. On the second formal night, lobster tails are served. Ours was good, but don’t expect a whole Maine lobster. They also make beef Wellington and you can get both if you ask.

Also included in the cruise is unlimited access to Alfredo’s Pizzeria and the International Café, both located on the Piazza. We frequented both often. Alfredo’s serves individual, delicious made to order thin crust pizzas. You can sit at barstools and watch the guys make and bake your pizza or have ocean view table service. Alfredo’s also has bar service. If you want a salad, you can bring one over from the International Café.

The International is open 24 hours for coffee, pastries, desserts, panini’s, salads and soup. Great chocolate mousse. Everything was tasty, and the service was prompt and friendly. We hopped on the elevator many times to pick up a midnight snack from the International Café.

Room service is still free on Princess and the menu looked pretty good. We ordered breakfast once by putting the card out the night before. It arrived right on time. The egg sandwiches are decent, but the Horizon Court buffet is the better way to go for breakfast. The OJ was small so I would order two next time.

The Horizon Court Buffet is on the Lido deck (14). We ate breakfast there nearly every day and had a couple lunches. Take a good look around because there are some hidden gems like the tasty little homemade quiches they served several times at breakfast. The melon was fresh, and I also liked the triangular hash browns. I suspect they were factory made, but tasty and cooked perfectly every time. They also have made to order omelets that they bring to your table. No waiting. Sometimes it was hard to get a table and one time we ended up all the way aft on the terrace deck. The omelet runner still found us.

On Monday, the first sea day, pub lunch was served in the Crown Grill specialty restaurant at no charge. There is little mention of this Princess tradition, but many seasoned travelers know and start lining up about 11:30. They have four classic British dishes. The fish and chips were great. The couple at the next table seemed to enjoy their bangers and mash. I highly recommend trying it.

Oddly, there was no craft beer on this voyage. What happened to the Princess Sea Witch IPA?

We tried both specialty restaurants. The food and service at the Crown Grill Steakhouse are at the level of Morton’s or Gibson’s. I’d you like a New York or Chicago style steakhouse, don’t miss it. We had the sea bass with panko breaded prawns and a perfectly cooked, delicious filet mignon. We both had the Black and Blue soup which is an extraordinary French onion soup. The waiter warned me that the steak tartare app was “unconventional”. Note to self: that means don’t get it. It was like a tiny undercooked hamburger. Nothing like actual tartare. But the fried polenta sticks that came with it? Awesome. I would order those with a different app.

Sabatini’s is fabulous. The service is outstanding and everything including the pasta is made fresh. You can see your pasta come out of an extruder in the open kitchen. They serve a slow five course meal which can be your entertainment for the evening. The first course is always some excellent breadsticks and antipasto. I like to wrap the prosciutto around the breadsticks. The handmade burrata cheese is our favorite. The first of two entrees is your choice of pasta dish. It’s our favorite of the two courses because it is such high quality and so well prepared. The second entrée was also good, but the chicken was better than the parchment steamed seafood. We tried two different Norman Love desserts, the sampler and the Rocher, and both were incredible chocolate creations.

Every stateroom has a TV and a mini fridge. Suites have 2 TVs. There are 3 movie channels, 4 cable news channels and 3 sitcom channels. Plus, some Princess info and promo channels. Channel 35 has a map of your journey with ship status scrolling by. One of the sitcom channels includes some old episodes of the Love Boat.

There are lovely terraced decks and a pool on the stern that always seemed to be uncrowded. I think you have to know they are there and how to get to them. I will leave that mystery to the reader.

Princess offers constant entertainment. We enjoyed several shows in the Piazza, including live music, food carving and the paper airplane contest. Our sailing included an interview and Q & A with Paul Burrell who was Princess Diana’s personal butler for ten years and author of the book “A Royal Duty”. I thought it might be lame and sat near the side door of the Princess Theater, but Paul is a great storyteller and we ended up staying for the whole thing. The next day Paul was on our tender back from Santa Barbara and entertained us with more stories. If you are a repeat Princess guest, you will get an invite to a special Captain’s Circle event at the theater where they play live music and try to sell you a future cruise. They also raffle off a couple bottles of Champagne and everyone leaves with a free drink coupon.

Since we were parked near the ship we chose to handle our own luggage and chose “walk off” disembarkation which was a breeze. There is a fair amount of walking involved but we enjoy walking and our luggage rolls well. We were among the first off the ship, so it was an early day. There was a minimal wait at Customs & Immigration, then we stepped out into a sunny San Francisco morning and drove home.

Ports
In Los Angeles you dock at the old Princess cruise port that appears in nearly every episode of the Love Boat. The USS Iowa is now a floating museum just a short walk from the terminal. Show them your room card to get a discount. Do not miss the color-coded map showing everywhere the Iowa has been. Which is pretty much everywhere. The Port of Los Angeles is also the nation’s busiest container port. The Grand Princess was surrounded by cargo ships and cranes operating 24/7. It is impressive to see.

In Santa Barbara we tendered into the marina. One of the tenders lives just under the balcony of our mini suite D608 so we woke up to it being lowered into the water on winches. We’re pretty good natured about that kind of thing because we’re on a ship. And happy to be going into Santa Barbara. The tenders have an open upper deck, which I like more than being squeezed into the hold. Once ashore we took one of the new electric city busses as far up State Street as they would take us, which cost 50 cents. From there we took a leisurely stroll thru some lovely upscale neighborhoods to the mission. We took an Uber back from the mission to the middle of State for $8 and had tacos and margaritas at Sand Bar. Then on to wine tasting in the Funk Zone, which is the newly revitalized industrial area of lower State nearest the ship.

In San Diego we caught the Old Town Trolley at the end of the pier. The ticket booth charged $40 vs $60 on Princess (per person). The difference is that you do not have to wait for the first trolley on the $60 Princess plan. They have one waiting for you closer to the ship. The trolley is a hop-on hop-off affair, so you can explore many famous areas of San Diego. They even drive over the big bridge to Coronado Island. We jumped off at Balboa Park where we found museums, beautiful architecture and a botanical garden. We also had lunch at the bar in the Prado Restaurant. Good food at reasonable prices. Always good service. Don’t use the trolley to get to the San Diego Zoo. It doesn’t go there. Use Uber, it’s faster and costs less. In the past we’ve also toured the USS Midway which is docked so close it dominates the view on one side of the Horizon Court buffet.

Ensenada
We’ve been to Ensenada many times, so we didn’t even go into town. We walked over to the Carnival terminal which has better souvenir shops and a better margarita bar and hung out for a little while. Then we got back onboard and had pizza at Alfredo’s. Twice before we have done the wine bus out to LA Cetto and that’s a fun Ensenada shore excursion.
Z0nker’s Full Rating Summary
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Cabin Review

Mini-Suite with Balcony
Cabin MB D608
We had Mini Suite D608, category MB. Great room. It’s port side so we could see every port from our balcony. The balcony was also great for leaving port. We were out there every time. The mini-suite was spacious and conformable with a nice sitting area. The new beds are great, slept well. Loved the walk in closet and spacious bathroom. Many cruise ship showers are tiny, but the mini suites have tub showers, so you have elbow room. And leg shaving room for the ladies. There is also a nice sized vanity around the sink with plenty of room for two people’s stuff. D608 is about as close to midship as you can get without paying $1000 more for a Club Class mini-suite. The location makes for a smooth ride and easy access to the central elevators. We booked 8 months early and got a great price, plus $300 onboard spending credit and a free dinner for two in one of the specialty restaurants.
Dolphin Deck Inside Cabins, Balcony Cabins, Suite Cabins

Port & Shore Excursion Reviews

  • Ensenada
    We’ve been to Ensenada many times, so we didn’t even go into town. We walked over to the Carnival terminal which has better souvenir shops and a better margarita bar and hung out for a little while. Then we got back onboard and had pizza at Alfredo’s. Twice before we have done the wine bus out to LA Cetto and that’s a fun Ensenada shore excursion.
    View All 505 Ensenada Cruise Port Reviews
    View Cruise Critic's Ensenada Cruise Port Review
  • Los Angeles
    In Los Angeles you dock at the old Princess cruise port that appears in nearly every episode of the Love Boat. The USS Iowa is now a floating museum just a short walk from the terminal. Show them your room card to get a discount. Do not miss the color-coded map showing everywhere the Iowa has been. Which is pretty much everywhere. The Port of Los Angeles is also the nation’s busiest container port. The Grand Princess was surrounded by cargo ships and cranes operating 24/7. It is impressive to see.
    View All 515 Los Angeles Cruise Port Reviews
    View Cruise Critic's Los Angeles Cruise Port Review
  • City Tour
    In San Diego we caught the Old Town Trolley at the end of the pier. The ticket booth charged $40 vs $60 on Princess (per person). The difference is that you do not have to wait for the first trolley on the $60 Princess plan. They have one waiting for you closer to the ship. The trolley is a hop-on hop-off affair, so you can explore many famous areas of San Diego. They even drive over the big bridge to Coronado Island. We jumped off at Balboa Park where we found museums, beautiful architecture and a botanical garden. We also had lunch at the bar in the Prado Restaurant. Good food at reasonable prices. Always good service. Don’t use the trolley to get to the San Diego Zoo. It doesn’t go there. Use Uber, it’s faster and costs less. In the past we’ve also toured the USS Midway which is docked so close it dominates the view on one side of the Horizon Court buffet.
    View All 30 City Tour Reviews
  • Santa Barbara
    In Santa Barbara we tendered into the marina. One of the tenders lives just under the balcony of our mini suite D608 so we woke up to it being lowered into the water on winches. We’re pretty good natured about that kind of thing because we’re on a ship. And happy to be going into Santa Barbara. The tenders have an open upper deck, which I like more than being squeezed into the hold. Once ashore we took one of the new electric city busses as far up State Street as they would take us, which cost 50 cents. From there we took a leisurely stroll thru some lovely upscale neighborhoods to the mission. We took an Uber back from the mission to the middle of State for $8 and had tacos and margaritas at Sand Bar. Then on to wine tasting in the Funk Zone, which is the newly revitalized industrial area of lower State nearest the ship.
    View All 19 Santa Barbara Cruise Port Reviews
    View Cruise Critic's Santa Barbara Cruise Port Review