When Grand Princess debuted in 1998, the line billed it as "the biggest, the fastest, the most elaborate, the most technologically advanced ... the grandest ship on the ocean." Although the vessel has since been dwarfed many times over by those that are bigger, faster and more modern, it continues to be a great option for cruise departures from the U.S. West Coast.
Princess has done a decent job of keeping Grand Princess updated. In recent years the ship has seen its atrium converted into the more modern Piazza, and new venues -- including the adults-only Sanctuary, Alfredo's Pizzeria, Tea Leaves tea salon, Crown Grill steakhouse and The One5 nightclub -- have been added. Most recently, the vessel welcomed a completely revamped kids club, Camp Discovery, which offers newly renovated spaces for three age groups through the cruise line's partnership with the Discovery TV network.
Overall, food and service are considerably above average. Although selections at the buffet are limited, the quality of the items is high, and the offerings change just enough on a daily basis to keep passengers from getting bored. Dining room options are tasty and served with a smile, and the pizza found onboard is out-of-this-world delicious. The service is consistently pleasant, helpful and efficient, from cabin stewards and waiters to the folks at the guest relations and shore excursions desks.
Despite Princess' best efforts, the ship does show its age in cabins with creaky doors, mismatched drawer knobs and dated bathrooms; in hallways with scuffed walls and loose carpeting; in some public areas like the theater with corny production shows; and in the buffet, which is set up a bit like an old-school cafeteria, often causing lines to form; and especially in elevators, which are so scratched and scraped that they look even older than their age.
The buffet isn't the only space where there are traffic flow issues. Most main corridors in public areas are difficult to navigate, due to the number of other passengers making their way through. Shows in the theater are often standing room only, as are many events in the ship's main lounges. Plus, the ship's design doesn't include a central stairwell servicing all decks, so passengers are forced to either walk all the way forward or aft or wait, sometimes several minutes, for an elevator. (One elevator was closed for maintenance our entire sailing, making wait times even longer.) Overall, this nearly 2,600-passenger vessel generally feels more crowded than some ships that carry two -- or even three -- times as many passengers.
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Above all, what you'll get with Grand Princess is an affordable cruise on a well-worn, casual-yet-elegant ship that's great for young retirees and multigenerational groups departing from the U.S. West Coast.
Princess passengers are generally sophisticated but unpretentious. For longer sailings, most are baby boomers on the younger end of the retirement spectrum. They're satisfied with activities like trivia and enrichment lectures and don't necessarily need the high-tech or adrenaline-pumping amenities found on some modern ships. On shorter sailings, you'll find a slightly younger demographic and a significantly higher number of kids. Most Grand Princess passengers hail from the U.S., but you'll also find Canadian, British and Chinese contingents onboard.
"Smart casual" is the way Princess prefers to label its dress code. It generally means nice jeans, slacks or shorts during the day with T-shirts, collared shirts or blouses. Itineraries of seven to 13 days include two formal nights; five- and six-night sailings have only one. Some passengers prefer tuxes and ball gowns, but you'll find most in pantsuits or cocktail dresses and dark suits. Shorts, tank tops and swimwear are never allowed in the dining room for dinner, but dark jeans without holes are acceptable.
A pretty pleasant return to big-ship cruising on Princess