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Brian A. Belt

Age: 72

Occupation:Self Employed

Number of Cruises: 15

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Grand Princess

Sailing Date: April 28th, 2007

Itinerary: Galveston to Venice


THE SHIP-The Grand Princess is very similar to a sister sailing we made on the Diamond Princess a couple of years ago that  took us to the Far East. The ship was built in 1998 and is still in good condition. We  noticed the crew is constantly working to keep the ship clean and properly repaired. Nevertheless, I don’t want to leave the impression this ship is spotless or brand new. It is almost 10 years old and thus shows some wear. The ship is big and getting from one end to the other will take a few minutes of your time. Getting from the bottom deck to the 17th deck will also take a little time. We recommend that on embarkation day you try to arrive as early as Princess allows and take a tour of the ship BEFORE heading for the dining room. With very few passengers on board you will be amazed at how quickly you can get around the ship and even more amazed at what you see and can find without the crowds. Be assured that the early buffet will still be there when you have finished your tour. On some decks you will be able to walk from bow to stern, however on other decks there will be a bulkhead in the way and you’ll have to either go up one deck or down one deck to continue your walk.

EMBARKATION—We arrived just after noon on cruise day and it took less than 15 minutes for us to be in our stateroom. The process was quick and easy and by the way we had not received our cruise tickets from our agent. Made no difference as everything needed was waiting for us.

DINING—Might as well start here as for some this is the highlight of their cruise. When booking the cruise you will no doubt be asked for either early or late seating in one of the main dining rooms or “anytime dining” that lets you dine at your own discretion. There are three main dining rooms, the Davinci, the Michelangelo and the Botticelli. Your cabin key card will show which dining room you have been assigned. Our table was the 1st seating in the Botticelli which was traditional early and late seating dining. The table was for six and was located on a corner with an outside window. Just about perfect from our standpoint. The other two dining rooms are very close to being identical to the Botticelli and are for  anytime dining.

ANYTIME DINING ROOM

While we did not encounter any problems with respect to dining location, there were some passengers that wanted to change from one dining room to another, change dining times or switch from anytime dining to traditional dining. They found it was not possible to do and the fact the ship was full was no doubt a contributing factor. Out tip to you is this. When you purchase your cruise, insist that your agent get you the dining you prefer. Just stay after him/her. They can help a lot and usually get you your desired dining. Communicating with Princess prior to sailing will probably get you nothing.

The food is rather good in the main dining rooms. It is all the same. We also found service to be excellent and we don’t often give that rating.

ALTERNATIVE DINING—On the Lido deck (14th) is the Horizon Court. This a traditional cruise ship buffet area. The food was okay, however at 3PM each day that area turns to a more of a bistro dining area. You can get sandwiches on a variety of breads built just like you desire. There was fresh shrimp on some days and the ice cream bar opens at 3:30PM where you can get free ice cream sundaes. The deserts were very good at the mid-afternoon dining. The big problem is that if you are dining at 6PM, eating a lot may ruin your appetite. We definitely recommend you consider altering your dining times so you can include the mid-afternoon dining during your cruise.
 

Horizon Court Buffet Lido Deck 14

OTHER DINING---We always go on a cruise because everything is included when it came to eating. Those that have traveled in the past few years know that many cruise ships now have other dining areas where they charge a service fee. Aboard the Grand Princess you might want to consider dining at Sabatini’s or The Painted Desert. While we have paid the extra fees, normally around $20 per person, we have sworn that we will not pay additional for food. The dining at Sabatini’s is excellent and the food is excellent. The place even looks like a dining room and in fact it is since that is all it is used for. As expected food is Italian. The Painted Desert is actually a portion of the bar area which is open during the day for game and card playing. The food is very good.

THE PAINTED DESERT DINING ROOM DECK 7

ICE CREAM BAR---There is a nice ice cream bar on the Lido Deck, however ice cream is for purchase only. A sundae with unlimited toppings is $2.50. Look for the ice cream bar just behind the pool. During the evening hours, when the movie is showing on the deck, you can pick up a free bag of popcorn at the same location. The bag is small and the attendant will frown if you pick up more than one bag. Go early as the supply is limited and they don’t pop more.

THE ICE CREAM BAR LIDO DECK 14

POSEIDON’S PIZZA and TRIDENT GRILL----On the Lido deck, just to the front of the pool, you can have pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken sandwiches. The items come with French fries and are all good. Just a caution, the bread is sometimes a little crusty and hard. No matter how you try to warm buns, they are not like fresh ones.

MOVIES---You have a great number of choices. Movies are shown throughout the day on your stateroom TV. You can also see some of the movies on the big outdoor screen on deck 14 (M.U.T.S. Movies Under The Stars) Lounge chairs let you relax while watching the movie. It may get a little cool, however the deck crew has blankets available. There is free popcorn at the ice cream bar just a few feet from your lounge chair. Movies  are sometimes shown in the Princess Theater, check the Platter for times and dates. Lastly moves are sometimes shown in one of the lounges. Not a very large screen, however if you sit close enough it’s fine. Movies tend to repeat as we noticed Casablanca was shown several times at different locations aboard the ship.
                 

The big screen in the top of the photo is really excellent. It is bright both day and night. Just like the ones you see at major league sports.

ART AUCTION---Must not leave this out as art auctions are apparently a standard practice aboard most ships. This auction seemed to have the same “customers” at each auction. The display room is pictured below with the auctions being held in one of the lounges.

SOFT DRINKS & COFFEE----Coffee is free when you dine in the dining rooms. However if you want coffee at one of the lounge bars expect to pay. You can purchase a “coffee card” when you go aboard ship and this allows to you have 12 cups of coffee of your choice for around $2 a cup. You can also purchase unlimited Cokes for around $65 for the cruise. These two items are offered in the lobbies of most of the elevator areas aboard ship on the day that you embark. If you are a big Coke drinker this is probably a very good deal. If you like fancy coffee drinks, then go for the coffee card.

LOUNGES and BARS---There are plenty all over the ship. The Wheelhouse Lounge and the Vista Lounge, both on Deck 7, are large and offer entertainment and/or dancing throughout the cruise. We often found the entrainment better in the lounge than in the Princess Theater. The Skywalk Lounge is on deck 17 at the rear of the ship. You may have to search a little for this lounge as only a couple of elevators go to this deck. It’s worth the trip. The view is excellent. This is definitely a Las Vegas style lounge with all the neon, chrome and flickering lights. It’s open only during evening hours however  go there for the view or to read a book during the other hours. There will be very few passengers that will journey this far thus you probably will not be disturbed.

SKYWALKER’S NIGHT CLUB DECK 17

POOLS & SPAS---There are spas on deck 16 as well as a small pool. Neptune’s Reef and Pool is on deck 14 and there is a  pool on Deck 15 towards the front of the ship. If pools are your thing, trust me , you will really like the many on the Grand Princess. The deck crews keep each pool tidy and clean and the lounge chairs are always in order. If you don’t want to swim, these are great places to tap a nap, relax or read a book. If you think for a minute these areas are not among the finest on the seas, just take a look at the ship next to you when you dock at the next port. The grand Princess is really Grand in this area.

                                                                 
NEPTUNE’S REEF & POOL LIDO DECK 14

CALYPSO POOL & BAR DECK 14
 

LOTUS SPA---Sorry folks but I don’t use this area. Now that’s another story for my wife. She gets her hair “fixed” on a regular schedule, so that means if we are at sea, the appointments are still made. She returned from her first hair appointment and her hair looked fabulous. They really do a good job. If you like massages and are willing to pay the price, then go for it.

SHOPPING---Do you really go on a cruise to shop at ship shops? From the long lines on “bargain days” it certainly looks like some folks do that very thing. We always stock up on perfume when aboard ship as it’s usually about 30% less than store prices at home. Our first purchase and only purchase on the ship stores was $300 in perfume. We think it was a real bargain. This ship had a very good “general store” where you could purchase up to date pocket books and a very good variety of sundry items, many at reasonable prices.


SHOPS CIRCLE THE ATRIUM MID SHIP

PRINCESS THEATER---Some of the poorest entrainment that we have seen on cruise ships. We opted not to go about 50% of the time. We attribute the level of entertainment to the fact the ship was repositioning for the summer. It just could not be that poor all the time. The theater itself is very nice. Very few obstructed view seats. We found the lighting person’s limited ability to be annoying at many of the shows. Performers were not followed by light and at time completely out of the spotlights. We sat in the rear and trying to following the performers in a dimly lit theater was usually  a real challenge. Even though Princess tries to discourage passengers from saving seats, there were always the groups of people that attempted to “save” an entire row for their friends who would be arriving late from the casino. O did I mention---there is no smoking which was great. You will be constantly asked by waiters if you want a drink so just be prepared.


THE PRINCESS THEATER DECKS 6 & 7

PHOTOSHOP----My advise---save your money, however, if you just have to have a “snapshot” from the cruise then go for it. Just remember these are all snapshots and not custom portraits or photos. The pictures are made from using rather inexpensive digital cameras which allow for quick processing of the snapshot.  My camera is a few steps above the ones the kids use so I’m sticking with my digital shots when I get home. Now the price—either $19.95 or $24.95 for a snapshot. In my judgment, that is just too much for a snapshot. As I said—if you just have to have one ---go for it. On a brighter side, we saw many , many passengers stopping at the photo desk and asking how to use their camera, or if they could get their photos transferred to a CD, etc. The young folks always appeared to be interested and helpful. Therefore we give an (“A+) to the kids at the desk and a “C” to Princess for charging too much.


PHOTOSHOP PROMENADE DECK 7

INTERNET---This is a subject I could always write a book on. The charges at sea for internet service is actually not all that bad, HOWEVER, the quality of service can run from excellent to non-existent. Yet you pay one fee for both types of service. I usually subscribe to a block of minutes knowing full well I probably won’t use all of them. If you have cruised on Princess at least 5 cruises, they have some great programs for the internet for those passengers. Go for them. It ‘s the best way to stay in touch with friends and family.


COMPUTERS AT SEA---Aboard the Grand Princess you can take one hour classes on a wide variety of computer course. There is Word, Excel, Adobe, Front Page, etc. The cost for each course was $25 or 4 for $75. If you want a simple course in how to operate a particular software program, then take time to attend one of these courses. The young man in charge was both professional and knowledgeable. There will not be time to take a lot of notes. Don’t worry, you will be provided a sheet that shows a download address so you can download the class outline when you return home. Expect to pay a lot for these courses in your home town.

LIBRARY---There is a small library on deck 5 close to the internet room. There is a small number of books. Games and cards can be checked out for use.

WEDDING CHAPEL---The Grand Princess has a very nice wedding chapel when marriage ceremonies and renewals take place. We noticed several couples taking advantage of this facility. It is located on deck  7 across from the Painted Desert dining room.
                                

DISEMBARKATION---We were provided a form a couple of days before the end of the cruise that asked us about our future plans and preferred disembarkation time. We opted for a late disembarkation as we had plans to stay in Venice and we knew our hotel room would not be ready early. Since we are platinum members at Princess, we were invited to wait in the Vista Lounge. There was coffee, orange juice and Danish waiting for everyone. We sat there with another couple for well over an hour and not once did we think about getting off the ship. Once our number was called we headed for the elevators and in no time at all we were at the dock and picking up our suitcases. One of the easiest, best organized disembarkations we have had on any cruise.

FINAL BILLING---There seems to always be long lines at the Purser’s Desk with people clutching their invoice for the cruise and some shouting "I did not charge that". Folks---you can get a copy of your on board statement anytime by just going to the Purser’s desk and asking for one. Try doing that a day of so before the end of the cruise so you will have time to check for errors and if there are some you’ll have time to get them corrected long before the lines form on disembarkation day. Our on board statement was 100% correct.

MEDICAL SERVICE---I trust you will not need this service, however if you do, as I did, head for Deck 4 where you will find a very nice medical staff that in my case provided quick and professional medical service. The cost will be billed to your stateroom. If you have insurance, be sure and get a copy of the charges and procedures from the medical director so you can file with your insurance company when you return home.

KIDS & TEEN DECK ---We had no need for this area, however every time we passed by, the kids looked like they were have a great time. The area is not accessible to the passengers. If you have young children ask Princess about this program.

CASINO---The casino is a place for entertainment and a little fun. Forget about leaving as a big winner---it just is not going to happen. We did visit the casino several times and not once did we see a big winner at any of the tables or at any of the slot machines. Like I said---this is entertainment. We did not find the staff to be very friendly and perhaps they would rather have the high rollers.

LAUNDRY & LAUNDER MAT---On our deck there was a self service laundry that went all the way from port to starboard side. The machines were fairly new and worked great. Ironing boards were plentiful as were irons. The cost was very reasonable and this was a reflected in the number of people that used this facility. There was a change machine as well as a soap & bleach dispensing machine. There are additional self service facilities on just about very deck. The ship also has laundry and cleaning service available. Prices are not all that bad. One day they had a $15 all you could put in a sack laundry sale. That was the only one on the entire cruise.

SAFE—Each cabin has a safe that will hold small items. We noticed that more than one cabin passengers apparently forgot their safe combination and had to call for assistance.

BATHROOM---This bathroom was really small. When I write ‘you could hardly turn around in it’, believe me you could not. We had an outside cabin and I have no way of knowing if other cabins had such a small bath. It is adequate but you must take turns---one person at a time!

SHORE TOURS---Are you like me---you get upset with the shore tours and swear you will never purchase again, then the next cruise you go right back to purchasing half dozen shore tours? I generally find the people at the tour desk not all that helpful and for the most part not that knowledgeable about the tours. Their job of course was to sell and sell and sell. Do your research on the ports before you get on the ship. Plan your shore tours long before you set sail. You’ll get a lot more sights in and you can make those sights quality ones. Also go to the Princess tour site and get the information they have posted. If the tour looks interesting and it is fairly priced, then purchase. If the tour appears to be way out of reason, then make another decision. On this cruise we took 8 tours with the cost being almost $3000. Some of the tours were fabulous and others were a complete bore, mainly because of the tour guide and his/her knowledge and presentation. You are going to find knowledgeable tour guides on just about any tour , however you are also going to find those tour guides that are just working and not really interested in the group. It’s the “luck of the draw”. I wish I could give you advice on which ones to take but that just isn’t possible. This ship carries almost 3000 passengers and some tours will sell out quickly so you may have to book several weeks in advance prior to sailing. You are taking a risk. Are there alternatives? The answer is yes however let me caution, there are some risks.

For example, we rented a vehicle where the office was just a few hundred feet from the docks. Four of us went together and headed for a particular site that we wanted to visit. After visiting the site we stopped for lunch at a local restaurant. Out total cost was less than 50% of the cruise ship price and we had lunch on our trip. Plus we moved about at our leisure and not that of the last person to board the tour bus. Just remember the ship will sail without you if you don’t return to the ship by departure time.

One couple, we met on this cruise went to the internet where they found a driver and car available at the port. The price was not cheap. The driver alleged he was fluent in English and very knowledgeable about the area and that he would take the couple to sites that the tour companies did not. After a 10 hour trip in a late model Mercedes, the couple told us at lunch, it was the most fantastic tour they had every taken. They saw sites that the big buses couldn’t even get to and the driver was most professional and knowledgeable. They had lunch while on the tour and asked the driver to join them. They stated they learned so much and had such a good time on the tour they had plans to do it again. It’s hard to compare prices as the price they paid was about double what two four hours tours would have cost.

I’m going to insert a topic here that is bugging me. We met folks that went ashore early in the morning that were so intent on getting back to the ship for lunch it appeared they were always watching their watch so they would not miss a meal aboard ship. We opted to stay on shore and had some delightful lunches at local restaurants.

TENDERS---If you are like us we don’t really care for “tender” rides and especially on a 2800 passenger ship. It makes no difference how you try to “slice” this, tender trips’ are a pain. The tenders can only hold 125 to 150 passengers and you have a ship of 2800 people , all wanting to go ashore. Even with the use of three or four tenders, the math quickly shows you that a lot of waiting will be involved when a trip to shore take 10 to 15 minutes. Just be prepared on this ship as well an any other large ship to spend a lot of time waiting if tenders are involved. The really bad part about all of this is it means less and less time ashore at that port. Passengers holding tour tickets seemed to always go on the first tenders.

THE STATEROOMS---You know there are so many different types of staterooms on a ship of this size, this subject is almost impossible to intelligently discuss. We had an outside room on the Emerald Deck. The room was fine. We got what we paid for. If one wants to go for the Captain’s Suite then go for it. It will cost about 4 times the price of the room we purchased. While I cannot say that I know about all the rooms aboard the Grand Princess, I doubt you are going to get a really bad room. They are clean and well maintained. Our cabin steward was excellent and responded to our every need. He was always there when we needed him.

SPORTS ACTIVITIES---You can find the usual activities of this day and time on this ship. There was ping pong, shuffleboard, a ship building contest, and electronic golf driving and putting. Not a lot of folks showed up for these activities. Just check the daily Platter for times.

THE PLATTER---The Platter is the daily paper for the ship. We were rather disappointed in the content and the delivery. Our copy never arrived at the cabin until early in the morning, like 5AM, thus you could not check for the next day’s   activities the evening before. The Platter contains a great deal of advertising about  sales in the shops and the drinks available in the lounges. Times were shown for activities. The “news” on the front page wasn’t anything to write home about.

THE PORTS—We have been to a number of ports several times on cruise ships and found that some have little to write home about. There are several really great ports on this cruise that we would like to mention. We can’t say enough positive things about the ports in Santorini and Mykonos. These are ports we could easily stay a week. If you get a chance to go to either of these destinations, do so, you will not be disappointed. We just did not have enough time to explore at each of the stops. We also highly recommend the port at Kusadasi, Turkey. Go to Ephesus. The area is well worth your time. Athens was a most interesting city and while we found the ruins to be fascinating and worth the trip, the huge crowds are a real challenge. Two other Greek stops that we want to mention are Corfu and Katakolon. Do as much research on all of these ports so you can get to the most interesting sights if you are traveling by ship. We decided that we could have spent days at each of the Greece locations.

Out ship docked in Civitavecchia, Italy and Livorno, Italy. You won’t find much in either of those ports so think about heading for Florence and Rome. Just be prepared for thousands and thousands of people. There were five large cruise ships docked at one of these ports at one time. This means moving up to 15000 people in and out of these port cities. We strongly suggest that you cruise to these areas in off season when the tourist crowds are not so large. That may not be possible if you want to cruise from the United Sates.

On the first segment of the cruise we stopped in ports in the Azores, Portugal and Spain, but you have probably been there a dozen times so I’ll just move on. Barcelona was especially interesting to us and a visit to the Gaudi Church construction site will impress you.

SUMMARY---The Grand Princess is a very nice ship. We still prefer the smaller ships and less people. That may not be your thing! The ports on this cruise were great. The ship as a whole, food, staterooms, service, etc. we would say was very good. This is not a five star cruise ship and we knew that. You get what you pay for (usually). Would we go on this cruise again---probably----just for the ports. Would we recommend this cruise and cruise ship. We think if you don’t mind the crowds on a large ship—then the Grand Princess might be just what you are looking for. Once again—it’s the ports that impressed us. The crew was very nice and accommodating and that seems to be a quality that is getting harder and harder to find when traveling.


 

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