After cruising on Royal Caribbean for most of our previous dozen plus cruises, we took this 15 day cruise to the Hawaiian Islands aboard the Grand Princess. To be honest, we took this cruise mostly for it's itinerary. We have ... Read More
After cruising on Royal Caribbean for most of our previous dozen plus cruises, we took this 15 day cruise to the Hawaiian Islands aboard the Grand Princess. To be honest, we took this cruise mostly for it's itinerary. We have neighbors who sail Princess almost exclusively and after listening to them, felt comfortable taking our first Princess cruise.
We had our friends who live just a bit north of San Francisco take us to the pier. He's a retired SFPD officer who worked the marina district for many years so he not only knew all the best shortcuts but also the officers directing traffic at the pier. Those officers even helped us with our luggage. That's what I call public service!! We arrived about 1:00 PM which was a bit later than we planned but traffic headed to the pier was awful. Just as we were getting close, a semi truck pulled out in front of the light rail train that runs in front of the pier. Pretty nasty accident! When we got unloaded from the car and headed inside to check in we walked right up to a counter, took care of the paperwork and were given our cabin keys. We then walked aboard and were in our cabin by 1:30. We had heard so many horror stories about embarking in SF that frankly, we had put this trip off for a couple years. I don't know if our experience was different than most, but that was pretty painless. I am sure that having someone (friend, taxi, bus, shuttle) drop you off is the easiest way to go. We were planning to park nearby (there are a couple lots) but after fruitlessly trying to get someone to confirm a parking reservation, we decided to impose on our friends. It's nice to have great friends.
Our first impression on boarding the ship was that it was nicely decorated but not as clean as other ships that we have sailed on. I had read previously where people had complained that their balconies were dirty. After seeing them first hand, I now understand what they meant. I'm not sure dirty is really the right word but a lot of the trim on the balconies could have used maintenance and I really wish they would have cleaned the glass on the balconies on a regular basis. Also, although the ship hasn't been that long out of dry dock, there are some places where the wear and tear are beginning to show again. It's not like there aren't people always working on the ship, it just seems like some things are let go. Another issue I had is that there were leaks everywhere on this ship!!! There were always buckets catching drips from the ceiling and wet spots and puddles on the floors. I'm not sure what's up with that... 3 other beefs with the ship. Two of them are inherent in the ships design and probably can't be dealt with, first is the size of the theaters and lounges. Every show was SRO. Now I will grant you that the shows were entertaining but the venues were just too small. We missed a couple of shows because of that reason. My wife can't stand for 1 hour due to a recent knee surgery. Second is the elevators. They were dreadful. On most other ships we have learned that if you avoid using the central elevators, the elevators are tolerable. On this ship all of the elevators were awful most of the time. My other complaint is about the Jacuzzi pools. None of them operated properly. There were probably 8 jacuzzi pools on the ship and none was hot enough and none of them bubbled properly. Not acceptable!!!
We had a starboard forward balcony cabin on Aloha Deck 12. Rooms were neat and comfortable, but I'm not sure why there are no closet doors. Bathrooms were a decent size. No complaints about the cabin. It was nice to have a fridge to keep water and the like cold... It's not really a cabin topic but one of the things I really liked was having laundry facilities on board. We even chose the cabin we did because it was close to the laundry facilities. But bring a couple rolls of quarters since washing and drying a load will cost 4 bucks and the change machine seemed rather touchy. Also pick your laundry days carefully. We tried for one whole day and could never get an open machine. We just waited until the next day.
I thought the food was tasty and well done. The buffet is a buffet and so it was nothing to get real excited about and after 15 days got monotonous but I think that's to be expected. For dinner we ate in the dining rooms every night but one and were very pleased. We did not have a set meal time and varied out meal time based on what was going on for the day. We never waited more than 15 minutes for a table and if you're willing to share a table, it was often immediate seating. Dinner choices were excellent and the food was well prepared and tasty. I only had one disappointing meal on the entire cruise. We also ate one night each at Sabatini's and the Crown Grill. Both meals were excellent and well worth the $25pp cover charge.
Service and staff were overall very good. Unfortunately on the second evening out of SF one of the assistant waiters took his life by jumping overboard. This obviously put a damper on the spirits of the dining room staff as well as the other staff and it took them a while to come back around. After a memorial service led by the ships captain, spirits seem to slowly but surely improve. I must give kudos to Captain Justin Lawes. He kept the passengers informed during the Coast Guard mandated 36 hour search, he handled the situation as graciously and professionally as can be imagined. Through out the cruise, before and after "the incident", he could be seen on deck and would chat with the passengers. He attended our Cruise Critic meet and greet on the first morning of the cruise and spoke with the attendees for nearly 45 minutes. Of all of our cruises, he has been the most personable, approachable and visible of all the captains. (BTW, despite some news reports, we were never confined to our cabins but were asked to stay off the promenade deck so that search activities could be carried out without interference)
There were quite a few activities to keep you busy during the 5 day (for us 6 1/2 days) crossing. The activities staff was first rate and as involved with the guests as any we had previously experienced. One of the best activities was the daily lectures from the onboard "naturalist". He gave port orientation talks for each of our scheduled ports, he gave talks on whales, sharks, gave talks on tsunamis, volcanoes, earthquakes and Route 66. Each talk was well attended and very engaging. Had he been one of my instructors in high school, I'd have probably paid attention. Definitely a high light of each day.
Entertainment was on the whole very good. I do not like production shows to start with, but my wife enjoyed them. The comedians were all quite funny and most of the musical talent was really good. One of the biggest and most pleasant shocks came during the crews talent show. One of the waiters who worked in Sabatinis and served us upon our visit sang the Andrea Bocelli song "Con te patire" (Time to say goodbye). It was fabulous!!!! He brought the house down. Absolutely Amazing!! A definite cruise highlight!!
Due to the search, we missed our first port of call, which was Hilo and arrived at our second port (Honolulu) 6 hours late. Princess has given us a discount for our next cruise based on a percentage of the price we paid. Considering that none of this is their fault, I think this was quite a generous gesture. Since my wife and I had cruised Hawaii previously and had taken all of the ships tours we were interested in, we rented a car and drove off on our own. As soon as you exit the port terminal in Honolulu, look for the rent a car shuttle. We drove to the north shore of Oahu and visited Haleiwa. It rained hard while we were there but the rain quickly broke and we stopped at a couple spots to watch the surfers tackle the high surf. Pretty amazing! Make sure you get a shaved ice at Matsumotos's. We then drove to Waikiki at quitting time on a Friday (not smart) walked around for a while, returned the car to the airport and took a taxi back ($25 bucks) The next morning we were in Kauai. Again take a shuttle to the airport to pick up your car. We drove north to Princeville and took in the sights along the way, we turned around and then went off to Poipu beach and Old Koloa Town. Make sure you take in the blowholes near Poipu Beach. We returned the car and caught the shuttle (Hertz) back to the ship. Maui (Lahaina) was our last Hawaiian port. We booked a trip online through Maui Ocean Adventures for a two hour whale watch. Our crew were Jill and Andrea and I recommend them highly. They will take you out in a Zodiac style craft, which puts you close to the water and the whales and since you can accelerate much faster than a larger boat, you get first shot at getting up close to the whales when you spot them spouting. An amazing trip with lots of whale activity, 3 whale breeches, lots of pec slaps and lots of tail fins. They said it was an "above average" tour. I call it excellent. We also arranged the submarine adventure through the ship for our afternoon activity. That was a lot of fun and a great way to see alot of undersea life if you don't want to swim or snorkel. I was disappointed that we didn't stay in Maui longer.
Our requisite foreign port was Ensenada, MX. Though the port is much improved since our last stop there about 20 years ago, the town is still tough and grimy. We walked about and bought a couple of items but after a couple hours we decided it was time to return to ship. The 4 hour stop there was plenty.
Disembarkation was orderly but since we had made our own travel arrangements and we also have no standing with Princess, we waited a very long time to disembark. Grabbing a porter and your luggage was quick, and there was no having to go through customs with your passport. I suppose since they check you in with your passport and your cruise card is encrypted with your photo there is no need for a customs check. Once you are out on the curb, it is a zoo trying to wait with your luggage for your ride. some people are coming on, some are coming off, drivers don't pay attention and there is really insufficient curbside room for many cars at one time. Mix in the occasional bus and delivery truck that needs to get through and it is sheer chaos! The offices directing traffic really do a good job of keeping it all flowing.
In summary, I wish Princess would do something about the leaks, the jacuzzis and the maintenance of the balconies but definitely a nice trip and Princess will be getting our business again soon. We'll still sail with other cruise lines but Princess has been added to our "approved" list. I can't say that for every cruise we've ever taken. I believe Princess will soon be sailing from their new pier which hopefully will make getting through the traffic an easier task.
Some added tips:
I probably would wait until all passengers have disembarked before trying to get on board, for right now, there's not enough space to both embark and disembark passengers at the curb.
I think some passengers may have not made it to the ship on time due to flight delays caused by weather. We sailed about 45 minutes later than scheduled due to passengers who were late but the ship waited because their travel had been booked through Princess. Something to think about if you have to pay for airfare anyway.
There are two long stretches of sea days on this voyage and this may make it difficult for some passengers. I started to get stir crazy on the leg from Hawaii to Mexico but there were some things I couldn't do because of recent shoulder surgery. If I could have done more of the things that were offered I might have been happier. Read Less