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Thea Dalfino

Age: 26

Occupation:Physician

Number of Cruises: 3

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Grand Princess

Sailing Date: September 21st, 2003

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

Background
My husband and I are both medical residents from Albany NY. I am 26 and my husband is 28. This is my third cruise and his first. I chose Princess because I’d heard such good things about it and we got a good price. Although we were worried because September is hurricane season, the weather was perfect!

PreCruise A
We booked through vacationstogo.com and they were very helpful with getting us a great deal. They told me that Princess offers airline tickets as well. However, their price was over 50% more than I had found searching online sources such as expedia or orbitz.com, so we just bought the tickets through travelocity. I would highly recommend researching flight costs yourself or through a travel agent rather than buying airline tickets through Princess. Princess sent us information and tickets a few weeks before we departed.

We did not buy travel insurance and fortunately our flights were on time and we had prearranged through our travel agent to take a shuttle from the airport to the boat for $5 per person. We had no trouble finding the Princess cruise representative, and the baggage carriers charged us an extra $1 per bag to take them to the bus. I know the cost is insignificant, but that was the beginning of the little “extra” fees.

Embarkation B+
I was surprisingly disappointed with the embarkation process. I read numerous reviews prior to booking this vacation and filled out all of our information online, including a credit card to charge our onboard account to, emergency contact info, passport info, etc. However, when we arrived, everyone still had to fill out a form with passport info, etc. We arrived at port at approximately 12:15pm and the lines were quite long. We waited approximately 10 minutes and we were in a short line. When we got to the counter, the gentleman swiped our credit card for our onboard account (I’m not even sure if it was the one I’d entered into the computer weeks before), and gave us our onboard card that doubles as a room key and onboard credit card.

The process was relatively quick, but not as fast as I’d expected. Prior to getting on the boat you must pass through a metal detector and scan your handbags through an X-ray machine just like at the airport.

The Room A-
I have cruised on the Carnival Sensation and Norwegian’s Norway before and found this room to be good sized. We were in L256, an outside room with a balcony, on the same level as the pools. The beds were put together to form a queen bed and the room had a small unstocked refrigerator, mirrors everywhere, a TV, ample closet space, and a very small bathroom. Thank goodness we’re small people because the shower was TINY! We had plenty of hangers but I brought extras just in case. They provided towels for the room and striped towels for the pool/beach. We didn’t even have to ask for bathrobes; they were laid out for us the very first day.

We absolutely LOVED having a balcony and spent quite a bit of time on it. Of course, we could hear everything people were saying on the balconies below us, but with the door closed it was completely quiet in the room. We ordered room service almost every morning and ate it out on the balcony.

Food/Dining A
We selected Preferred Choice dining and ate anytime we wanted between 5:30and 10pm in either the DaVinci or Michelangelo dining rooms. The Boticelli was for those with regular seating. There were only 2 nights that we had to wait in line. Peak hours are from 7-8:30pm, and they give out beepers similar to the one at the Olive Garden to tell you when your table was ready. Most of the time we chose to sit with a group of people, and a few nights we ate by ourselves. It was nice to talk to people and hear what they thought of the trip. We were always the youngest people at the table. One night they seated us with another couple our age, which was nice. Otherwise people were anywhere from 45-75 yrs old and had cruised many times before this. There were also numerous honeymooners on the ship.

The food was absolutely superb! The dinners included an appetizer, soup, salad, main course, and desert. All were delicious and the portions were small enough that you were still able to enjoy the main course without feeling stuffed. Plus, if you wanted to try two entrees, or order another soup, the waiters were more than happy to oblige.

The service was amazing, as always. The only thing I regretted was that my husband did not get the full “cruise dining” experience because we had a different wait-staff each night and we didn’t get to know them. After speaking with other people, I learned it was possible to request the same table every night, and to make dinner reservations to avoid the lines.
Breakfast in the main dining room was uneventful; they had almost the exact same foods as the Horizon Court (buffet). We only did that once. Lunch in the main dining room was nice and had approximately 3-4 courses depending on the day; appetizer, salad, entrée, and dessert. I frequently got lunch from the Pizza place on Deck 14 after returning from our daily excursions. The Horizon Court is open 24 hours a day and has many small buffet lines with plenty of food to choose from.

Afternoon tea was served in the DaVinci dining room from 3:30-4:30 and included coffee, tea, desserts, cookies, small sandwiches, and scones. All of the food was amazing and we enjoyed this a lot.

“Extra Fees”/Tipping D
The ship had two extra dining rooms that served food for a nominal fee- Sabatini’s was $20 per person, and The Painted Desert was $8 per person. We chose not to eat at either since the food in the dining rooms was so good. However, we did hear wonderful things about Sabatini’s.

The ship charges approx $20 for a soft drink sticker and that covers all sodas on the ship except on Princess Cays. We don’t drink enough soda to warrant buying the card, and simply drank ice tea, water, coffee, or hot tea. There was also a charge for ice cream near the pool, and of course, all alcoholic beverages. There’s a $10 uncorking fee for drinking your own bottle of wine in the dining room. Tips for the waiters and room stewards are automatically charged to your onboard account. If you have any problems or want to change how much you’d like to tip it can be done at the purser’s desk. I can’t remember how much they automatically tip for each waiter and room steward but I believe our total tip bill came to approximately $85 per person for the entire week. Be careful how much money you spend on drinks- they add a 15% gratuity and it all adds up. We heard about one couple who cried when they saw their bill on Sunday morning.

Princess Cays A-
This was a typical “private island” that only Princess ships go to. When we got off the tender, we walked right, over the bridge. There were significantly less people over there, and no bar service. We swam in the beautiful warm water and explored the small tide pools with little colorful fish in them. In the water the ground is quite rough and water shoes would have come in handy. There were more than enough beach chairs in the sun and shade. The barbeque lunch on the left side of the island was good.

Grand Cayman A
This was our favorite port. I highly recommend swimming with the stingrays. We knew that the prices through the cruise line were excessively high and therefore waited until we got on shore and booked an excursion there. There was a group of people holding up yellow laminated signs charging $30 per person for stingray city and the reef, including snorkel gear. There were 12 of us on the boat, as opposed to the other boats that had upwards of 50-100 people on them. Our tour was much more personalized and we had a great time. We got to feed the stingrays, hold them, and get a “stingray massage”. The snorkeling was also very nice.

Costa Maya B+
This is a very primitive port only used 2 days per week by Princess cruises. Right off the ship there were beaches with chairs and hammocks, restaurants, snorkeling, tons of shops, and pools. We went to a booth on shore and negotiated $40 for 40 minutes on a wave runner and $30 for both of us to snorkel for an hour, including gear. It cost $5 per person for a roundtrip taxi ride to the small fishing village (population 250) a few miles from the ship. The snorkeling was very nice; we saw a lot of coral and different types of fish. The jet skiing was ok- we own a jet ski but wanted to see if it was any different on the ocean as opposed to a lake. The waves were the same size, the water was much warmer, but the jet ski didn’t do 360’s like ours does.

The fishing village was poor and people kept coming up to us trying to sell us various trinkets or food. It was worth going out there to see. Most of the people only speak Spanish and my husband learned that most of them drive ~5 hrs from Cancun or other places to come and sell stuff or work there for the 2 days that Princess boats come.

Cozumel B+
Cozumel was very touristy, and there were at least 3 other cruise boats there while we were. There were plenty of shops right off the boat but no available beach. We split a taxi with another couple to a nearby beach. I can’t remember the name but we ate at a restaurant there and went swimming. Some people we spoke with had a great time at Senor Frogs, or the party boat.

Pools A
There were 4 pools on the ship with the one in the front and the back adult only pools. Most of the pools had 2 hot tubs next to them except the pool at the back of the boat. All were warm freshwater and even on sea days they weren’t too overcrowded. They are all open 24 hours a day.

Entertainment A-
We saw most of the comedians but none of the musicals. The newlywed show was hilarious. We also went to the cooking show and tour of the galley which was unimpressive. The galley was perfectly clean and shiny but I would have liked to have seen it during dinner with all the food and waiters running in and out. Many of the nights were just too exhausted to stay up for the shows and went to bed early. In addition, the theatres were often quite chilly and I had to wear pants and carry a sweater with me if we went to any of them.

Debarkation B+
We put our suitcases outside the room the night before leaving so they could be taken off the boat. We left the room at 8:30am for breakfast at the Horizon Court and sat in the lounge until our color was called. It took at least 30 minutes from when we left the boat until when we got on the bus back to the airport. I would advise that if you’re in a rush to get to the airport that you take a taxi rather than the bus because they had to load all the luggage then make numerous stops at different airline terminals. The customs people didn’t even look at our customs card, only our passports.

Things to Bring
Do not forget sunscreen, small bills ($1) for tipping, watershoes (but we did fine without them), formal wear for the 2 formal nights (men wore tuxedos or suits, women with nice cocktail dresses- nice, but not overly dressy), bottled water (they charge you for the bottle of water in the room), over the counter medications (dramamine, pepto-bismol, tylenol, etc). Although the rule is that you are not allowed to bring hard alcohol on the ship, they actually let me on with it and no one gave us a problem. However, the official policy is that they keep it until the last morning when they’ll return it to you. You are allowed to bring wine and soft drinks on but there is a $10 uncorking fee if you choose to drink your own wine in the dining room. You do not need to bring soap, shampoo, or conditioner- they are all provided.

Overall Impression A-
The ship was meticulously cared for and it never felt too overcrowded. My only complaint was that the atrium was not very “grand”. It was only 3 stories high and very unimpressive. All of the rooms- the lounges, dining rooms, etc had low ceilings and made it feel warm and cozy but never “grand” or overwhelming. There were very few children on the ship and not many teenagers or singles, mostly older people and younger couples.

We had a wonderful, relaxing time and didn’t want to leave. I would highly recommend this ship, but the itinerary could have been better

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