Sue Clark Koenig
Number of Cruises: 10+
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Grand Princess
Sailing Date: April 25th, 2004
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
First, a little about us so you can understand the perspective of this review. We are Jim and Sue, in our mid-fifties – all kids grown and gone. We both work fairly high-stress jobs and Jim works out of town much of the time. For us a cruise is a way for us to kick back and relax and have some time together without any cell phones, pagers or radios beeping at us. We book ships that offer an elegant experience rather than casual or high-energy atmosphere. Also, for the Caribbean and Mexico, we tend to book for the ship and stateroom rather than the ports. We spend much of the time in the cabin and on the verandah so for us booking a suite makes sense.
Each spring we take a cruise with my Aunt Sherry and Uncle Tom. They are “70ish” and Tom requires oxygen. We usually book suites next to each other, but this time we were able to get both Grand Suites so we were on opposite sides of the ship. It worked ok because there was an elevator hallway almost directly between the suites.
This was our first Princess cruise and the first on any ship the size of Grand Princess with 2600 passengers.
I should also mention that through the Cruise Critic message board we had become “acquainted” with about 40 of our fellow cruisers and were looking forward to meeting them onboard.
We flew from Denver to Ft. Lauderdale on Saturday, the day prior to sailing and stayed at the Howard Johnson’s. Since this isn’t a hotel review, I won’t go into detail, but I wouldn’t ever stay there again. I’d give it a very low two-star rating. Sunday morning we awoke about 6:00 and called room service for coffee only to find out that there was no room service available until 7:30 – and no coffeepot in the room. We survived the lack of coffee for the hour and a half and later took a taxi to the ship. We handed our luggage off to a longshoreman and went into the terminal where we were pointed to a special counter for suite check-in. We checked in within five minutes and were pointed to the entryway to the ship. Our boarding picture was taken and we went up the gangway for the Lido deck cabins. Princess staff were located in various areas to point you in the right direction to your cabin. I have to admit that I was surprised that we were not escorted or welcomed onboard in any special way since we were in the top suites on the ship. We have always been escorted on both Celebrity and Holland America and when in a high level suite we are usually welcomed by the Social Hostess or Cruise Director.
We headed in the general direction of our suites and ended up at L301, which was ours. After several months of looking at pictures of the suite we couldn’t wait to see it – so in we went. It was beautiful, by far the most lavish suite we’ve had. We took a few minutes to look around and then headed across the ship to theirs, L302. As we were looking around there was a knock at the door and their room steward, Dennis, and his supervisor arrived to say hello. After a few minutes of looking around we decided to give them some privacy and head back to our cabin. When we opened the door Tom’s oxygen had arrived thus eliminating that worry!
The two Grand Suites are identical except for the art and we all liked the art better in L301. The woods are a rich mid-tone, not too light and not dark enough to make the cabin gloomy. The furniture was in good condition with no noticeable wear. The dining table was nice. It was a drop-leaf design - normally with the leaf down and against the wall, it had plenty of room for two and when pulled out from the wall, it made a nice table for four. The balcony was small, but had room for two lounges, a table with four chairs and the Jacuzzi. The bedroom was nice and we really enjoyed the huge floor-to-ceiling window by the bed. There was a small dressing table in the bedroom, but it lacked any outlets so there was nowhere to plug in my lighted make-up mirror or curling iron. We ended up running an extension cord from a plug many feet away when I needed it. There were many ceiling lights and lamps in each room and so many light switches it took forever to figure out which ones operated which lights.
We spent some time checking out the suite and making sure everything was in working order – everything was fine except the door from the living room to the balcony; it would stick and you couldn’t open it – the maintenance people worked on it several times during the trip, but never really got it fixed. (Sherry adds that the door problem was the same in their suite.) We managed to get it partially opened most times and squeezed through the opening. Norman, our steward arrived to welcome us and I asked why we had no bouquet of flowers (Tom and Sherry had a beautiful one) and if we were to receive our complimentary glasses of champagne. I also asked him to check on the bottle of champagne I had pre-ordered to be in the cabin for sail-away.
Sherry and Tom arrived a few minutes later with Dennis carrying the tray with their glasses of Champagne and we all went out to our balcony to relax and await the Muster Drill. Soon Norman came back with our champagne and a little plate of appetizers. The bouquet arrived a short time later. Room service called and said our champagne would be in Sabitini’s that evening [huh?]. After several calls explaining that we were not eating at Sabitini’s that night and that I had pre-ordered the bottle for our suite through Princess, we finally received one. It took several calls and trips to the purser’s desk during the trip to have the charge for it removed from our account – I had already paid for it by credit card when it was ordered. Our luggage arrived about 3:00 and we all decided to unpack and meet again at the drill.
We unpacked our luggage and organized everything; there was plenty of space for everything and I always over-pack. We attended the Muster drill and dropped our life-vests off in the cabin and hurried to the Neptune pool for a sail-away party with all the Cruise Critic’s. About 35 people turned out for our party – a really great showing! It’s amazing what the Internet has brought to today’s cruise experience.
After sail-away we went back to our cabin and decided to order dinner to the suite rather than go to the dining room. This is one of my favorite reasons to book a suite – the ability to have the full dinner from the dining room delivered and a table that is actually big enough to eat on. Not long after dinner we called it a night.
Monday – Princess Cay
Over coffee we all decided to stay onboard even though the island looked beautiful (we often choose not to leave the ship at Caribbean ports). This would give us the opportunity to explore the ship while it was nearly empty. We did a little sunning and swimming at the spa pool and then explored part of the ship. Jim and I picked up lunch from the grill at the Neptune pool and took it back to the suite and then settled on the lounge chairs on the balcony to read and relax. Towards evening we got back together and decided to again order dinner to the suite.
Tuesday – Sea Day
Jim and I had breakfast in the suite and didn’t leave until noon to do a little exploring. This was to be a formal night so we made reservations for four in the Michelangelo dining room for 7:15 and agreed to meet at 6:00 to go for cocktails in the Wheelhouse bar. We browsed the photo gallery and purchased our boarding picture. At 2:30 we met Tom and Sherry and headed to the Oasis bar to meet with the Cruise Critic group again. The turnout wasn’t as good this time and there really wasn’t a good place to sit for any conversation, so after an hour the party broke up.
We all dressed formally - the men in tuxes and ladies in long dresses. We had pre-dinner drinks in the Wheelhouse bar, my favorite bar on the ship. It has beautiful wood paneled walls and many interesting ship artifacts and models. The chairs and tables are well situated in small groupings that make conversation easy. The band was pretty good and tried to play a variety of music. The room was mostly populated by “silver-hairs” (us included) so when they did the big band music, the dance floor was crowded.
The Michelangelo Dining Room is nice, but rather plain and with a very low ceiling which made it quite noisy. The food was good and the service, although somewhat rushed, was also very attentive. Most of the people in the dining room were dressed up, but few were actually in tuxedos and gowns. In the public areas there seemed to be the attitude that “anything is okay” for the evening attire – not what we are used to on the other lines we sail.
We decided to return to the Wheelhouse for an after-dinner drink. With our luck, as soon as we were served the band said “good night.” We decided that their balcony would be a wonderful place to finish the evening. After a couple more drinks we all called it a night.
We returned to our suite to find a plate of chocolate covered strawberries awaiting us.
Wednesday – Grand Cayman
We awoke just as we were approaching Grand Cayman and pulled the drapes on the floor to ceiling window open beside the bed to watch until our coffee and rolls arrived from room service. We took our coffee out to the balcony to watch the rest of the approach and realized there were four ships anchored. We were suffering a bit from the adult beverages of the night before and decided that that was far too many people for us to deal with, even in my favorite jewelry-shopping port! Tom and Sherry went in by tender and had a good time, but also said there were too many people.
Jim and I spent the morning [slowly] recovering on the balcony and then went to explore areas we had yet to see. We even played a game of miniature golf! We went up to Skywalker’s, the nightclub up in the “handle”. It is a beautiful place by daylight; Jim commented that it reminded him of something that should have been on the QE2. We went up one night while it was operational and found that it lost some of its charm when all the neon was lit – but that’s just an “old folks” opinion.
Thursday – Costa Maya
This was a new port for us, but since we had read a lot of pro’s and con’s we wanted to take a look. We took our time in the morning relaxing over coffee before we went ashore. We wandered around a bit at the pier and looked in the shops buying a couple t-shirts and a shot glass. We watched a nice Mexican Dance Show – the guys especially liked the skimpy attire of the female dancers – and then we all had margaritas and decided to head back to the ship.
We decided we’d like to have dinner in the suite again that night and asked if the Painted Desert (the Mexican Restaurant onboard) would serve us. Dennis came back in a few minutes with menus and said it was a first. We ordered and were very happy with the food and the service; a waiter from the restaurant came and put a tablecloth on their balcony table and took our orders. When he returned he had our margaritas and appetizers, about 15 minutes later he returned with the main course. He said it was definitely a first, but that it was kind of fun to serve the Grand Suites because they always wonder what they are like. He came back with our dessert orders and cleared away the main course…. he was tipped well. It was perhaps the best service we had on the whole cruise. After that we called it a night.
I love the Mexican Caribbean and have spent much time here so I was looking forward to a lunch of ceviche and a margarita. The Mexican authorities have developed two piers and now have many amenities at each – without going all the way into town.
We spent our usual morning relaxing over coffee and disembarked about 10:30. We were booked on the Atlantis Submarine excursion. The boat picked us up right at the pier and took us directly to the sub. Although we had all done similar excursions in the past we enjoyed this one. It’s always great for those of us that are not scuba divers to see the fish and coral that are far beneath the surface of the sea.
Sherry and I browsed through a few jewelry stores in the area at the pier since I hadn’t had the opportunity earlier in the cruise. I found a necklace I liked and did the usual barter thing…. I didn’t think they were quite low enough so I said I’d have my husband come back and to give me their card with the price. About an hour later we were all sitting in a great palapa bar having a drink and nachos (I was having my ceviche) and Jim finally agreed to go to the shop… I told him what I thought the right price would be. He came back empty handed – said they came down to within $200 .00 and wouldn’t go any further. Oh well, there are always more diamond necklaces! Back to the ship we went because this was another formal night. We had made reservations for dinner in the Da Vinci dining room so we followed the same schedule as we did for the previous formal night – to meet in the Wheelhouse at 6:00. The Da Vinci dining room was actually very similar to the Michelangelo and we had a table in the same location, sadly the service wasn’t nearly as good. The meal was good, but after sitting with dirty plates for quite some time and no service or desert menus, we left.
Saturday – Sea day
We had our usual relaxing morning on the balcony. Then went to the photo gallery and bought several of the formal pictures. The last day is always bittersweet in that you look back on the trip and don’t want it to end, but know that it must. They spent a little time in the casino and browsing the shops and we spent much time relaxing on the balcony reading. That afternoon, Princess held a Cruise Critic party for us in the Wheelhouse that was attended by almost every one from the message board as well as Captain Andy Proctor, the Cruise Director, the Hotel Manager and other Officers. They had a wonderful cake and a no-host bar with waiters. It was one of the nicest ship-sponsored Cruise Critic parties we’ve attended. Later that afternoon we packed so that we wouldn’t have to rush in the evening.
Just prior to dinner we had a small cocktail party in our suite with a few of our new friends. We ordered extra appetizers by using the suite order card for the appetizers and they were all delivered. Norman made sure we had enough glasses, ice and buckets to chill the wine and champagne. After the party we decided to order dinner to the cabin one last time and spent the evening on the balcony relaxing.
Sunday – Ft. Lauderdale
There was no priority disembarkation for the suites, but since we had an early flight, we were in “Red-4” the fourth group called. Tom and Sherry were in the next color group so we knew they would be on their way soon. We found our luggage quickly and were in a taxi in about 10 minutes. Airport check-in went just as well and we killed almost three hours in the airport before our flight.
And now the fat lady has sung… and the trip is over… but not the memories.
Summary: This was a good cruise, but not a great one. We loved the Grand Suite, but felt that the service was lacking for this level accommodation. The suite amenities were “iffy” – we had to ask for some repeatedly. Perhaps this will smooth out in time, but they have already had four months to smooth it out. On other lines in the top suites we have had invites to special parties with the officers, visits to the bridge, or dinner with the Captain or Officers – generally treated as special passengers. Maybe we are spoiled… but we do pay to be spoiled!