Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Grand Princess
Sailing Date: August 10th, 2003
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
Choosing the right cruise for our family was very important to us - we wanted to avoid the g-string/wild party crowd. A great help to us was Frommer's Caribbean Cruise and Ports of Call book - gave detailed descriptions of ships' facilities, assigned a 'theme' to the cruise lines, ie: known to be a party boat, more for a senior citizen crowd, etc. A very helpful and informative tool.
From the start Princess was most accessible by phone, the operators really taking the time to help us through the process. Having looked into the excursions on the internet site I reserved the two that were most important (via internet) to us before we received our cruise package. We received a large and informative package in the mail - detailing embarkation system, etc., so it all went very smoothly.
We opted for the Embassy suites Ft. Lauderdale the night before our cruise. Although a nice hotel - I was unhappy with the party scene in the lobby, and as our flight arrived very late we had a hard time finding somewhere to eat. The fun thing about staying there was that we could see the ship from our room the next morning (it arrives in the wee hours of the am). For the same nightly rate (Auto Club discounted) we stayed at the Lago Mar Resort our last night in Ft. Lauderdale - it was fantastic, a one-bedroom suite (the teens slept on the sofa bed which offered two separate twins which fold out of one couch) - delicious food, and a great beach. From there you could see the ships arrive or depart from the harbor. My husband says he would probably opt for the nearby Holiday Inn Express for the first night next time, and stick with the Lago Mar for the last night because of the shuttle to the port in the morning, which the Lago Mar doesn't offer.
Embarkation was a breeze.
We have two teens, but were unable to get attached rooms and opted for two mini-suites next to one another. We had the balcony door unlocked and kept it propped open. This allowed my husband and I privacy while still giving easy access for the family. The rooms were great - large bathrooms, comfortable beds, roomy seating area...
On my first cruise I was often sea-sick and had to rely on ginger tablets daily...it was a smaller and much older ship. I took the tablets with me, but never had to use them this time. It took me a couple of days to get used to seeing the sea gliding past (I have experienced vertigo so am sensitive to certain motion), but no sickness.
We chose late night dining and were very happy with that choice. It seems that we would just be getting back to ship from port and others would already be having to be clean and dressed for dinner...we still needed our refreshing pool swims and deckside naps! Yes, we would be hungry, but we would get 'first' dinner - usually at the pizza parlor (which has really yummy pizza) or we'd pick up the onion rings from the buffet - I determined that I would use the stairs rather than the elevator to keep the cruise pounds down - no matter how many floors! The dining room food was delicious every night...to my great disappointment we never were offered creme brulee for desert.
The buffet offers a good variety for breakfasts and lunches...we were quite disappointed with the desserts from the buffet though; pretty - but all bark and no bite.
The ship itself is beautiful, if you wanted to find the party scene you could by the outside middle pool - but it was easy to find a quiet deck spot anytime. For the number of people on the ship it was surprising how it usually seemed uncrowded...the adult pool in the back of the ship was usually pretty empty - it is almost always in the shade and is cold - but refreshing.
Entertainment was easy to find, we are pretty conservative and were disappointed that much of the comedy or music acts would eventually hint with sexual innuendo. Most movies offered in the theatre on TV (and in the teen program) were PG-13. There is an arcade and we made much use of the air hockey table...we were also great fans of the ping-pong tables.
We were happy with the service - it was fine...they're just real people doing their jobs.
Princess Cays is a waste of time and the fact that almost all the Princess' Caribbean cruises stop there would encourage us to choose another line.
Grand Cayman - we didn't select an excursion, although I heard that the Sting Ray swim is fantabulous. We caught a taxi bus (very easy to find at the end of the pier) to 7 mile beach - paid a couple of dollars for beach use. Finally found some good smoothies at that port. Wish we had more time to explore this port.
Costa Maya - Chacchobean ruins...I was so looking forward to climbing the steps to the top like the excursion book and the internet said I could...but when we got there the policy had changed. It was a good tour, very hot and sticky - the bus ride was comfortable (although the driver played chicken with some poor little white car!). There's a 'Disneyland fakish' kind of shopping area at the pier. My husband and I rented a golf cart ($12p/h) and took a drive to the nearby fishing town...pretty coral reef, poor town. Some local vendors have predictable wares for sale.
Cozumel - my favorite shopping stop. I wanted jewelry and this was the place. Be sure to get the VIP cards that the shopping expert will hand out on ship...at Gold Mark they really give great discounts with that card...and you have the ability to return any purchase via mail to a New York office if you have buyers remorse.
At this port our excursion was for the kids to do the dolphin swim. I honestly can't say enough about how wonderful it was for them (I wish I had done it) we two parents paid the observers fee which allowed us into the park and the ability to closely observe the kids with the dolphins on a sort of raised boardwalk. Skip the encounter - but pay the $$ for the swim (unless you have young kids who are afraid. There was a young girl who was petrified the whole time. She would have probably enjoyed the 'encounter' instead). We also bought tickets to then transfer to Playa Sol - but it ended up there is a nice beach right at the dolphin swim park and we just hung out there all day. There are restaurants, bathrooms, and lounges with palapas, snorkeling.
The last night you pack all luggage and set it outside of your room, just keeping a carry on for your next days wear and make-up stuff, etc.
Disembarkation is smooth. It's necessary to be out of your stateroom by 8:30 and we were a bit silly thinking that we had to be dressed and breakfasted at that time. We should have just slept, dressed, left at the last possible minute and gone straight up to the breakfast buffet to then listen for our number while enjoying a leisurely breakfast. Oh well, live and learn. Only when we returned did my husband find that bit of info in the Frommer's!
Finding the luggage was a breeze - we actually missed our first call, so when we got to the luggage area for our ticket number group ours were some of the last bags left - making it very easy to find!
We will definitely cruise again, but will be mindful of taking our teens. There were kids who were asking adults to buy them liquor - groups that were drinking and taking advantage of the freedom that the impression of safety gave their parents. While our kids were just on the young side of the social activity (15 and 13) we will be cautious about exposing them to pressures or temptations that too much freedom might offer. While they were still innocent and wide-eyed at what was happening around them, we will have to be in-tuned about where they are in attitude before booking another cruise.