Number of Cruises: 4
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Grand Princess
Sailing Date: December 23rd, 2006
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
We parked in the EZ Cruise parking lot, nearby to the dock area and were transported with our baggage to an area of the dock where official porters were available to take our luggage to be screened and to show up in our rooms later that afternoon. Then on to embarkation which was fairly orderly and not prolonged. We arrived around 11:30AM. After standing in line about 15 minutes we met with a very efficient processor and were rapidly on the way aboard the vessel and to our cabin. Our bags did show up, one of the last sets to find their way to Caribe deck.
The cast-off festivities were not appreciated as well as they could have been because the weather--on December 23--had turned cold and wet. We ate a light meal and the evening meal at the 24 hour Horizon Court buffet on Lido deck. Other than a few breakfasts during the week, this was our last meal encounter with this poorly run phenomenon. Although the food was good, poorly trained wait staff, inadequate seating, oddly inaccessible beverage service and other such amenities made this our last choice for mealtime.
One thing about Galveston that you should bear in mind is its distance from the Yucatan and Caribbean. You will spend one whole day and a half just getting to the Yucatan and the same amount of time getting back. Although I will admit the weather was not the best, the pitching, rolling, and yawing experienced the first night was far more than warranted by the weather. The instability of this massive ship was our chief complaint for the entire voyage--even when on calm waters. If you are the least bit plagued by motion problems, I don't suggest you choose the Grand Princess!!
The rest of our meals and sometimes an afternoon tea were taken in either the DaVinci or Michelangelo dining rooms. The wait staff was impressive, in sharp contrast to the Horizon Court. The selections were excellent and we thoroughly enjoyed our meals there. Breakfasts are fairly basic and not up to the noon and evening meals. Late in the cruise we selected one of the specialty restaurants only to discover that the food and service in the DaVinci and Michelangelo dining rooms was its equal or better. We suggest you save your money as there is an added charge per person to eat in the specialty restaurants. The wine selections, price and service was quite good. So were the bars.
On our first day in port, which was Cozumel, we were greeted by overcrowded and confusing conditions when queueing for our shore excursions. Other cruise lines had representatives ashore to help, Princess had none. Even with an overcast sky, we had a pleasurable excursion to Passion Island. Transportation and re-boarding were efficient. On the return trip, the bus will let you off in a place which requires you to walk through shopping areas. If it had not been raining--on Christmas day--this would not have been too bad.
The second stop, Roatan, the loading and travel to Coral Cay beach resort went well, but when we got to the location, we were just let out--no directions, no instructions for pick-up time or how the beverage service worked. The resort and its manicured grounds, however was lovely and well equipped with beach chairs, pavilions and all in all was very pleasant. Do take your own insect repellent as the sand fleas and other little critters will pester you badly without it. On return to the ship we did not shop--we went to the cabin to clean up. Other family members and people we talked with did, however, shop in the nearby areas and had very favorable experiences to report.
Next came Belize City and Geoff's Cay. Wow!! This was what we had hoped the entire trip would have been like, but of course there is no controlling the weather. The snorkeling, whether walk-in or off-the-boat was superb. The water was like crystal and the excursion staff well-trained and helpful. Soft drinks and snacks were reasonably priced but the chicken, which smelled unbelievably good, was very expensive. This is not a big complaint considering the perfect day had by all. Just remember that if you get out of the water, sit around on benches and towels that you may need to re-apply sunscreen because you rub it off. Shopping in Belize City was first class and the shopping area and clerks a joy to deal with.
Costa Maya was last and the weather again was beautiful. We chose to go to Chachoban and had a pleasurable trip to and from the ruins. The expertise of guides appears to be quite uneven but it was well worth it. Shopping in Costa Maya leaves a lot to be desired, much like a Texas border town at its worst. The pool area, however was very nice. Upon departure the water was gorgeous; crystal clear phasing to turquoise to blue. If the shopping can be brought up to a high quality this will be a first-class stop.
Then again came the day and a half trip back to Galveston and the stability of the ship, which was never good, again became an issue. The only time we could walk straight down the corridors was when docked. We also had issues with the laundry rooms--nicely equipped with good machines but change machines which never worked, no matter which day or deck.
On our other cruises we have been impressed with the constant work, repair and maintenance we have seen. While in port on other cruises, the painters and craftsmen were at work before you could begin your excursions. None of that was apparent on this cruise and it is beginning to show in the appearance of this magnificent vessel. It was rare to walk down a corridor without smelling sewage somewhere along the way--and I do mean sewage, not the smell from a bathroom. Carpets in some areas had a heavy mildew smell. This is in stark contrast to the assets of the ship which include a great crew and well-versed shopkeepers. Another oddity--when a family member discovered a problem with their life-vest during the drill, the vest was taken and not returned till past the half-way point of the cruise!
Debarkation was uneventful as we chose the express procedure in which we walked off with our own baggage. Do not believe the stated times for embarkation or, for that matter, debarkation. Go with the flow and you will be just fine.
We intend to go on many cruises in the future. I do not think that the Princess line will be high on our list of repeat cruise lines.