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Age: 70


Number of Cruises: 13

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Grand Princess

Sailing Date: March 11th, 2006

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

This is a review of our W. Caribbean cruise on Grand Princess (GP) March 11, 2006, R/T Galveston, TX.

Up front, you should know this was a Spring Break cruise topped off by the maximum capacity of 2900 passengers, which included only 538 Princess repeaters. There were 900 minors. The timing and passenger load obviously slanted our experience and colors the following comments. Your mileage may differ.

This was a good seven-day cruise with four ports. Three tender ports and one dock, Costa Maya, which we missed due to high winds. All of the tender ports required use of large local tenders. These take considerable time to load. We were fortunate that on our tender trips we were nearly last on and first off, so our waits were minimal. Others may have experienced up to twenty or thirty minute delays.

Although large, 109,000 GRT, GP’s interior design minimizes the impact of her scale. The only place I became conscious of her size was walking full aft to fore through a cabin deck corridor. Then the extraordinary length becomes very real.

This was our second Princess cruise, both of them on GP. Again we enjoyed the marvelous multi layered Lido deck, the courtesy and efficiency of the crew, and the excellent food quality in the main dining rooms. A weight gain of six pounds in only one week attests to the latter. A full month of Stouffer’s will be required to regain my svelte figure.

We were in a balcony cabin on Aloha deck. The cabin is small, but adequate for a seven-day trip. Storage space is at a premium, but again ok for just one week. On longer trips, you might want to consider the larger minisuites, if price isn’t a barrier. Our cabin steward “tuffy” was fantastic. She was so quickly in and out that on the first day I thought she might have done a slap-dash job. Not so. She was absolutely thorough. Tuffy has a great attitude and personality to complement her efficiency. The extra tip and accolades I included on the ship’s comment card were well earned.

The variety shows were quite good. Most notable were the ship’s dancers. As expected, the music and book are boilerplate cruise ship offerings. A marvelous band, Party Of Four, played the Wheelhouse Lounge. The band boarded GP just this week for their first cruise ship gig. Party Of Four has to be the best band at sea, either for dancing or listening. They play an amazingly eclectic repertoire with great beat and musicality, both instrumentally and vocally. On Thursday the band was transferred to Sun Princess for an extended engagement where they’ll entertain that ship’s lucky passengers.

Tours: Belize Rendezvous Cay Snorkel. Good coral and lots of fish. The snorkel boat picks up at ship’s tender door. It’s about one hour trip each way. The boat is open 360deg both top and bottom decks so prepare for wind on both decks and sea spray on the bottom. This is excellent snorkeling at the second largest barrier reef on the globe. However, this excursion combined three tours, beginners, experienced and snuba on the same very overcrowded boat. They need to at least separate snuba to another boat.

Playa Del Carmen: Tulum Mayan Show and Lunch At Alux Cavern Lounge. An outstanding guide who possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of Mayan history and culture heightened the Tulum tour. The lunch was a just ok buffet in a lounge cum restaurant created out of an underground cavern. The ‘authentic’ Mayan dance performance was actually very good, including a Vegas style fire handling ceremony. This tour’s a bit pricey, but worthwhile.

Cozumel: Snorkeling at Palancar Reef. The deeper reefs are still eighty percent intact. This is world class snorkeling with enormous and many colorful coral mounds and heads of great variety. We saw many varieties of fish including three Eagle Rays. Our snorkel guide was good and easy to follow. He chummed up some hungry fish with pieces of tortilla. I failed to ask if he used corn or flour tortillas. There were thirty-nine snorkelers on board. It was crowded, but not too bad. Palancar is a large reef with plenty of room for everybody. The depth, maximum about twenty feet, is perfect and the water was crystal clear. If time permits, I’d recommend combining both Palancar and Columbia Reef. Columbia is deeper at forty feet, but the visibility is usually good. Both are easy drift snorkels.

You’ll do best by staying with the deeper reefs. Dive and snorkel guides report that Wilma destroyed the shallow reefs such as Dzul Ha and Chankanaab.

The shoreline plant life is dead as far as the eye can see. Our boat captain estimated it will take the vegetation about a year to recover. Much property damage is still evident. The worst example I saw was El Presidente Resort. The main building was so badly damaged it looks like a teardown. There are a few beaches such as Paradise and Palancar open for sunbathers, but many are literally gone.

As much as we enjoyed this cruise there were a few problems. We prefer traditional dining and, as requested, were seated at a large table for eight. Only one other couple appeared the first night. They failed to return. Being the only couple at a table for eight is an intensely awkward experience. One other couple finally appeared, but they didn’t materialize until the fourth night. At a different table was another couple whom we knew through the Cruise Critic message board. We met on board and learned that they shared exactly the same experience. The Maitre d’ informed us that all of the other seats were assigned, making reassignment impossible. Finally, the situation became so uncomfortable that we did an unauthorized reassignment on our own. Passengers who abandon their assignment without notification are being disrespectful toward others. Our circumstance was far from unique, there were many other empty or near empty tables throughout the dining room. A fleet wide policy change is certainly in order. An effective solution might be if Princess would provide advance notice to diners that if they fail to appear the first two nights without prior notice, automatic reassignment to Any Time dining will occur. That would either allow proper seating reassignments, or fill the chairs as assigned. Undeniably, better ideas are afloat that might solve this problem, but something needs to be done.

One final note about dining and I’ll let it go: Neither formal night dress codes or dining room entry time limits were enforced. The latter is not a ‘don’t care’ issue. As a tablemate correctly observed, late arrival disrupts the waiter’s timing, which negatively affects service to the other diners in his charge.

Maybe the rules were suspended in recognition of the large numbers of first time cruisers. Despite a few gripes, I’m compelled to add a notch to my belt as testament that I cleaned my plate thoroughly and often. The food was excellent and the service was as good as circumstances allowed.

Crewmembers shared some concerns they endured with kids that were not visible to all. They reported troubles with underage alcohol consumption, use of fake Ids, minors buying alcohol with parent’s charge cards and “lost” teens. The latter was obvious when everyone on board was awakened at 3AM with a public announcement seeking a wayward teen.

The Atrium bar attendant said instead of covering the glasses at night, they had to put away all the bar glass because the kids were throwing it around. That’s after closing time, folks. These are problems with the parents more than the kids. Only we are responsible for the behavior of our children, not the ship’s crew or staff.

We sailed this same Spring Break cruise last year. There seemed to be a more of the older teens this time.

Overall, this was a good cruise. We enjoyed the ship, the port tours and most of all our companions. The problems did not, as they say, ruin our cruise. We’re certainly not canceling our Sea Princess cruise this December 9th.

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