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Len Skilton

Age: 73


Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Grand Princess

Sailing Date: 2010-06-19

Itinerary: Western Mediteranean

Will we go on another trip like this? Probably - but perhaps I think we will allow time for this one to wear off first.

Apart from a one-way trip on the QEII to New York this was our first proper cruise and we thoroughly enjoyed it. The Grand Princess visited seven west Mediterranean ports in a fortnight.

Firstly, the good points: -

We were advised of embarkation times at Southampton of 1 - 3 pm, but not to arrive until 2 pm to avoid queues. We spent 30 minutes sitting in the car in the traffic queue at the terminal, and a further 90 minutes queuing for passport and boarding detail checks. The timing was fortuitous because earlier arrivals claimed to have spent at least two hours in the queue. We were on board by 4.05 pm with a further 30 minutes of queue behind us, and were just in time to hear the closing words from the emergency lifeboat drill being broadcast over the public address system. A cabin notice informed us that the lifeboat drill instructions would be repeated for late arrivals. Fortunately this never took place and so saved valuable time, a well judged decision by the captain as we did not need to act on this drill during the cruise.

On reaching our cabin we discovered that the WC did not flush. The stewardess said this had already been reported before the ship berthed and she thought it now fixed. It took several phone calls and robust exchanges with the Purser’s Desk to establish that we considered a working WC a necessity. By 11 pm that evening the problem had been speedily and partially solved, and with hindsight gave us some needed exercise as we had a 100m walk along the corridor and down to a lower deck to use public toilets. The WC failed again a few days later, but was fixed the same day. Explanations were extremely ingenious and reflected great creativity on the part of the staff, varying from "Our technical team are looking at it", to "It's not our fault” (this last comment clearly established for us that blame for a non-working WC lies with the passengers). We discovered later that mention of the word ‘compensation’ sometimes achieves an even faster response.

We had elected to make use of the two ‘Any-Time’ restaurants. This great flexibility meant we could go to the restaurants for the evening meal between 5.30 and 10.00 pm. The head waiter would then find a table, and as a group of four we were given one to ourselves on almost every occasion. The first two meals found us in a door queue that varied between 10 and 15 minutes long, but we solved this by dining later, from 8.15 pm onwards, by which time the queues had disappeared. Shipboard definitions apply in the restaurants: a 9.30 pm finish means the waiters prefer you out of the restaurant by 9.30 pm, and not that this is the time for last orders. There was also a good 24-hour self-service restaurant, but at peak times the crowd of passengers at each food counter meant that the food could get cold by the time you were back at your table. The food was superb in all restaurants and was certainly 5-star compared to the cabin accommodation which is nearer 3-star (although it has to be said that the cabins and en suite are extremely ingeniously laid out). The waiters were always very helpful and speedy and sported useful lapel badges giving name and nationality, and this positive attitude from the friendly and efficient staff was general throughout the ship.

An insoluble challenge proved to be finding towel-free sun-loungers on deck after 8 am in the morning. Occasionally towels began to disappear from 4.30 pm and by 6 pm sun-loungers became pretty free, as they were of course on overcast days. This inability to sunbathe until early evening is reassuring if you worry about solar skin cancer, and should recommend the cruise to you. We saw a note that towels would be removed from sun-loungers if unattended for half-an-hour but this was never applied by the deck attendants. Maybe it’s a good case for booking cabins with balconies on the sunny side of the ship. By contrast the two shipboard theatres were full on only one occasion and when seats were available the shows were all varied and excellent.

We went ashore at every port and found it easy to arrange our own transport, so we experienced ship-arranged excursions on only one occasion. Tender vessels were used at two ports and there was a longish wait with these unless you left your departure until about 10:30 am. Some of the ports are a long way from the major towns or places of tourist interest so each of the tours and shore excursions seemed expensive at £50 to £350 per couple. It would have been very useful for planning if we’d had information about each of the excursions before boarding the ship but this was not forthcoming from the travel agent (Gill’s Cruise Centre).

Another distinctive feature was the three power cuts suffered by the ship in the 14 days aboard. These power cuts only lasted about 10 minutes so we considered ourselves fortunate, and they were hardly long enough to upset claustrophobia sufferers caught in an elevator in one of these outages. It was comforting to hear the captain announce that although we had lost electrical power the ship, with its electric motors, was in no danger.

Our 4-strong party shared two cabins but these were not assigned until we had paid the fare, and although we asked that they be adjacent, we found that they were more than 20 cabins apart, albeit on the same deck. I realised later that this approach, far from being a disadvantage, was a great boon for mothers with young children or couples perhaps with elderly parents aboard. This “no guarantee” of adjacent cabins means that parents can have restful nights away from noisy children or over-demanding grandparents and this could clearly lead to relaxed holidays. Some 90% of the passengers were British with a few Americans (these figures are reversed on Caribbean cruises I understand), the facilities for disabled people appeared excellent and there were very few schoolchildren on board since the schools were not on vacation.

Secondly, were there any bad points? Very few indeed. There is a restriction on bringing alcohol on board other than one bottle of wine, but the rule was not rigidly applied.

In summary: An interesting experience; with first class facilities many of which were overcrowded; the food was superb; the staff are outstanding, helpful and friendly. Who would the cruise benefit? Certainly those with a big appetite, who like good food; those who enjoy queuing; disabled people; and especially those with their own porta-loo and sun-lounger. Will we go on another trip like this? Probably - but perhaps I think we will allow time for this one to wear off first.

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