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Shawn O'Brien

Age: 43

Occupation:District Sales Manager

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Grand Princess

Sailing Date: April 19th, 2003

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

My partner and I recently returned from our first cruise on the Grand Princess. We are both professionals from the San Francisco Bay area in our 30’s and 40’s. We chose Princess after researching all the cruise lines and itineraries offered through both Cruise and other related web sites. We booked our cruise through the online provider Orbitz. We were not really sure if cruising was the right vacation for us but wanted to try it out as it seemed to be a good value. We were thoroughly satisfied with the experience and can’t wait for our next cruise.

I did quite a bit of research before booking the cruise and yet I made some big errors that I hope others can avoid. Do yourself a favor and find a good travel agent that specializes in Cruises. I booked through Orbitz and found that they were really uneducated on the processes of Princess and that cost me time and money. For some reason that I can’t begin to remember I booked my airfare through Princess. This was probably the biggest mistake I made and it caused a lot of frustration before we even embarked. I had been told that I could make my own arrangements and receive a flight deviation before I was ticketed which they said would be 21 days before sailing. The people at Orbitz actually told me to call back approximately 30 days before departure to finalize the flight arrangements. Flying from the West Coast I had hoped to get into Ft Lauderdale 1-2 days early to be rested for the first day of the cruise. About 40 days before the cruise I received my tickets from Princess which had me flying out at 12:50 am in the morning on the day of the cruise and making multiple stops before arriving in Ft Lauderdale at 12:00 the afternoon of the cruise. I immediately contacted both Princess and Orbitz who were very nice and apologetic but would not allow any changes to the flights. To add injury to insult, I paid $599.00 x 2 for a flight readily available on the web for 234.00 round trip. So I figure even before I left the dock they made an extra $730.00 on my partner and me. I felt a little ripped off and thought the customer service was lousy but I decided to let it go even though by the time we arrived in Ft Lauderdale we were so exhausted we slept through the ship leaving port which I was looking forward to. Embarkation was quick and painless but remember to do the work on line and get express check in.

The ship itself really exceeded my expectations. I was impressed with not only its design and attention to detail but also thought it was really in good shape. The ship was full and it is true that very rarely did it even feel that crowded. You could literally find yourself alone in areas at most times. We had booked a Balcony cabin with a Category guarantee and received a bump up about 2 levels onto the Aloha deck near the front that we really liked. We spent every morning having coffee on our deck and spent a lot of the sea days reading from our chairs rather than fighting for a chair by the pool. We found the room to be a nice size given our expectations and loved our cabin steward – Lenie who always greeted us by name and took very good care of our needs. In general, we found the service to be superb and enjoyed talking and meeting the people from around the world who work on the ship.

We chose to do the Anytime dining feature and it worked out really well with our schedule. We never waited more than 20 minutes and we had great waiters and good service. The food was good when you take into consideration the number of people they are serving. We ate at Sabatini’s on one night and although I enjoyed the experience, the constant bringing of small courses does not make for a leisurely meal. The Horizon Court was good for breakfast and raiding for a late night snack.

Princess Cays was our first port of call and was really the first time we felt really crowded. We did not rush to make the tenders and by the time we arrived it was a zoo. If you go to the right from the tenders it is less crowded and we eventually walked down the beach and perched under a tree. It’s really rocky in the water so you need water shoes if you want to swim. The snorkeling is kind of a joke. The island is well designed for kids of which this cruise had many, very many.

Costa Maya would have been disappointing if not for the tour we took of the Mayan ruins with a great tour guide named Lalo. We had lunch in the complex right off the pier and went into the town for about 15 minutes which was about as much time as it took to see it all and buy a souvenir.

Grand Cayman was by far the highlight of the trip and we booked a snorkeling trip through Captain Marvins as many had recommended. One of the smarter things we did as we saw the group from the ship sponsored tour all crammed on this boat with about 100 people and our group was only about 30 with plenty of room. The water was crystal clear, the snorkeling great and the stingray sandbar was an experience not to miss even if it is really crowded with other tours.

Cozumel would have been an awesome port and I can’t wait to get back but we scheduled an all day tour to both Tulum and Xela Lagoon that met at 7:00 am. We boarded a ferry for an hour then a bus for 2 hours and we finally got to do something at 10:00. The whole process was unorganized and rushed leaving little time to enjoy the Xela Lagoon which had great snorkeling. I probably would do something on my own in the future.

As I mentioned there were a lot of families that was probably due to the time of year. Princess has a lot of activities and areas set up for children and also for adults but they don’t enforce the adults only policy so it was kids everywhere but they were pretty well behaved. They have a lot of good policies like no bathing suits in the dining rooms but again they don’t really enforce them – what’s the point. It was great people watching. Although we were one of the few gay couples that we saw on board we never really felt out of place. People just kept asking us when are wives were coming. Not in this lifetime was all I could reply. We played the slots and lost but enjoyed the casino. And we were impressed by the calibre of the show that we saw.

We really enjoyed the whole experience. The crew of the Grand really makes the difference. As we both have stressful jobs (doesn’t everyone) we felt immediately relaxed, well taken care of with very few decisions to make. We did talk to some other people in port who were on the Holland America Zuiderdam who said we were lucky to be on the Grand. They liked their ship but thought the service and food were lousy as compared to a previous cruise they had on the Grand. We would cruise with Princess again and probably also try Celebrity with this cruise as a point of reference. Yeah we are hooked.

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