Number of Cruises: 4
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Grand Princess
Sailing Date: March 7th, 2004
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
The embarkation process went fairly smoothly, although the gentleman waiting on us seemed to be less familiar with family situations in multiple rooms, so took a little longer.
We were directed to our rooms as opposed to escorted, but it was easy to find our rooms. The airline had lost some of our luggage, and Princess helped to locate it and get it delivered. They even offered a discount when one bag did not arrive until 3 days into the cruise. We had not booked our air through Princess, so this was not something they would have had to do. (The unthinkable of not having all your luggage arrive CAN happen, so it would be wise to not pack all of one person's belongings in one suitcase.)
The Horizon Court buffet had non-stop food. The variety was good, but the quality of the food was not overly exceptional. My 3 children ages 13 - 22 commented several times that "I like Mom's better.
We had selected a set dining time for the evening. We were in the Botticelli dining room. The waiter was very nice, but did not offer a lot of explanation of the dishes and made several errors in mixing up our orders. Her assistant was rarely around, so I think she was working with a handicap. Again the food was very good, but not exceptional.
The staff was polite, but didn't seem to have the enthusiasm or friendliness I've experienced on other cruise lines.
Entertainment was weak. The singers and dancers, comedian, comedian magician, comedian juggler were OK. Not much variety in the lounge bands. Princess seemed to be lacking in that respect. The pool band was good, but did not play until afternoon. During the day the music was recorded DISCO! Hours of disco. Let it die!
Prior to going on our cruise, I had read several reviews that others were disappointed with the Ports. Since we weren't there for barhopping, but for sunshine and outdoor activity, we were not disappointed. Princess Caye had a nice sandy beach and activities available as soon as you arrived on the dock. You had to take tenders from ship to shore. We took a stroll down the beach, and there was not sand available everywhere, but it was peaceful. The water was a little rough that day, so the snorkeling was tough for the less experienced. No one even offered to provide instruction, which might be bad for someone who had never done it, but good because you didn't have to stay in a pack and "follow-the-leader". Due to the rough seas, the kids didn't attempt the clear-bottomed kayaks, which they had planned. There was a barbeque buffet on shore, with lots of food, but they don't grow sweetcorn like in Michigan.
Our second port was Grand Cayman. This is another port where you take tenders in. We were at Scotts Caye rather than George Town due to rougher seas, so getting to George Town required a taxi. Lots of them waiting - $6/person. My son and I went to the Rays and reef snorkeling. The reef was gorgeous - so many different types of coral and fish. I followed this beautiful large parrot fish. One of the guides pointed out a very large green moral eel. They allowed you to explore on your own, directing you away from areas where you should not go. Then we went over to the stingrays. It was crazy there, with a dozen different boats with their load of people. I guess I found this a little disappointing, (and they said this was a QUIET day as far as the crowd). The stingrays were graceful and awesome, not at all scary. We had only 2 pictures left in our underwater camera, so I was disappointed to not get more photos. We were able to feed the rays pieces of squid. Very interesting, but I enjoyed the snorkeling on the reef the most. My husband and daughter had gone to the Reef and wreck snorkeling. Due to the rougher seas, they could not go to the designated area, but they still saw many, many types of fish and coral. My oldest daughter went to George Town, which she said she would never go back to, as everything was very, very expensive. A couple girls on our ship said they had a fish dinner and a drink, and it cost over $50/person.
Our third port was Costa Maya, or actually the "town" of Mahahual. It took a long time for our excursion to assemble and depart. The bus was very comfortable, but a 2 hour ride to the ruins of Dzibanche and Kahunlich. The guide was very nice, but occasionally a little difficult to understand. The excursion provided a "light snack" which, for an 8 hour trip, was very light. A smashed muffin, a smashed banana, a children's fruit drink, some crackers, cheetos... Fortunately, I had taken along some mixed nuts and water. The tour also provided a cup of coke or beer twice on the ride. The ruins were fantastic! but, perhaps due to our late start, or just the way it worked, we were not given any time to look around on our own. We were allowed to climb on some of the ruins. There were no souvenir shops there (which was refreshing) so take lots of photos. The palms were better than those we saw later at the botanical gardens. After we left the first set of ruiins, the tour guide became concerned that the number of tickets did not match with the number of people. She had never done a headcount when we returned to the bus. She discovered that the numbers DID match, but after leaving the Kahunlich ruins, once again, she never took a headcount. We were running an hour late in returning to port on this excursion, but since it was arranged by the cruise line, they waited for us.
One other comment on this port. The cruise lines and the Mexican government are hoping this builds into the next Cozumel or Cancun. The tour guide was very proud of the development that had occurred here, with education from the government with the locals to preserve the historic culture there - Many still uncovered ruins. But along the road, there were houses about 10 x 10, doors open, and it appeared there was very little inside. I think it impressed the kids to see how others live, and makes one feel humbled or guilty to return to the oppulence of the cruise ship.
Our last stop was Cozumel, at Puerto Mayo, which is about 3 miles from Cozumel, a $4 taxi ride to town. We went to the dolphin swim at Chakanaab Park. We waited while everyone got their equipment handed out. Then we waited some more. Then we waited after they took us out on the dock. Each person in a group of 10 was given a turn to have the dolphin come up and give them a "kiss" (the dolphins were penned). So you waited while each person had their turn and their photographer took your picture. You also swam out and would then grab on to the dolphins fins and they would pull you back to the dock. Another photo opportunity. This is so they could later charge you $20 per photo. I guess you could get 8 for $68. There was also a video you could buy for $25. It was very neat to be able to come that close to the dolphins and touch them, but I think we were all more excited when we saw wild dolphins swimming in front of the ship coming into port. The nice thing about this excursion was that you were then allowed to spend as much time as you wanted in the Chakanaab Park, which was not indicated in the tour description. We viewed the botanical gardens, which as mentioned earlier, were not as fantastic as the trees and foliage at the ruins. There were large orange iguanas, which seemed to be in some sort of mating ritual, bobbing their heads up and down, and fish including parrot fish, in a small lake by the gardens.
We went into Cozumel for some contact with the vendors, and again saw the guy who spray paints art. Pretty amazing technique. A little tiresome to have so many people clammoring for your dollar, but gives you a feel for the culture.
Disembarkation seemed to go smoothly. Although we were some of the later people to depart, we weren't the last, and caught the last bus shuttle going to the airport.
Overall, it was a wonderful trip, nice to see some sunshine and feel the warmth of 80 and higher degrees. But I would like to return to the Celebrity ship Century or Mercury, as I felt the service, food and entertainment was better on those ships. However, the Grand Princess would win over the Royal Caribbean Monarch of the Seas.