We are back from our 15 day Princess cruise on the Grand Princess RT to Hawaii from Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro. This review will be my first chance to provide details about what one can expect from the Princess experience, focusing on the venues of the ship and the affect they have on the overall cruise experience.
We both felt that Princess provided a engaging, entertaining, and relaxing cruise experience with attention to details, attentive service, on a beautiful and well laid-out, comfortable ship.
Ship: Design, Lay-out, Amenities, and State Rooms
The Grand Princess has most of the features you would expect in a modern cruise ship including pools, hot-tubs, theaters, dining rooms, specialty restaurants, and gymnasium.
The ship had 4 pool decks, so none ever felt crowded. These pools included a interior pool in the solarium, the main mid-ship outdoor pools and hot tubs, the forward “Sanctuary” pay per day pool and the aft adults only pool. For this itinerary, where one could always find an available deck chair and the pools were never crowded, I am not sure why anyone would pay for the Sanctuary pool and deck area. On a cruise where the pool deck might be crowded or the aft deck noisy, it might make sense, but on this particular cruise if one wanted a quite place to sit by the pool and read, that feature was nearly always available on the aft decks of the ship near that aft adults only pool.
Deck 7 of the ship contained most of the ships entertainment venues. The lay out of entertainment Promenade deck maximized the space available for the entertainment venues. The hallway traversing the ship is set on the Starboard side of the ship, with all the Venues on the port side. Because the ship has a modified-wrap-around promenade on this deck, it was still possible to traverse the Port side of the ship, but only on the outside on the promenade. Having the venues set off to one side gave the impression that the ship was much wider than some of the recent ships we have sailed like Vision of the Sea or Celebrity Solstice class, however the beam is actually a foot wider on the Solstice class ships, and about the same on the Vision class.
Traveling from forward to aft, the venues included the main theater, the Crown Grill specialty restaurant and shore excursion desk, the Piazza which extended below to decks 6 and 5, the Explorers Lounge, The Wheel House lounge, Sabatini’s Italian specialty restaurant, and the Vista Lounge.
Simply called the Princes Theater, the largest venue on the ship hosted many different events during the course of our cruise including muster drill, enrichment lectures on Hawaii, science and nature, musical production shows and feature acts, comedy acts, movie screenings, shore excursion presentation, shopping guide lectures cooking demonstrations and more.
Princess made good use of this theater and almost always had an event going on in the facility. I have included pictures of several of the events held in the Princess theater. One day there was a guest lecture on sea levels during ice ages, another day they had a cooking demonstration by the comedy team of the head chef and maitre’d. My favorite production show was the British Invasion show with its lavish costumes and rock music. Productions shows in the theater were offered three times a night in order to accommodate early, late and anytime diners. They also had Hula School come perform for us while we were in Honolulu.
The crown grill served as a specialty steak house with a $25 cover charge and as a free British Pub lunch venue during select sea days. We actually enjoyed both very much.
With the many sea days on this itinerary Princess smartly offered British Pub Lunch on several of our sea days crossing the Pacific. The menu varied slightly from day to day but always featured my husbands one and only seafood favorite, Fish and Chips. They also offered other British pub favorites like Bangers & Mash, a featured curry each day and Ploughman’s Lunch. They also offered an assortment of British lagers, ales, and a new favorite for me Strongbow Cider. Having the venue open for lunch meant that one could get a quick service seated meal in an uncrowded setting.
By night this venue serves as the specialty dining steakhouse. We decided to dine here after our port day in Hilo, and apparently port days are a great time to book specialty dining because there was hardly anyone else in the restaurant. Crew member are allowed to book the venue late in the evening during their time off, so some of the activities staff had table in a separate room. Our waiter from the Phillipines, Michael, did a fantastic job providing us with attentive service and our food was hot and cooked to perfection. We both enjoyed steak and I added lobster tail to my dish. We felt it was well worth is to spend the extra $25 in order to enjoy this venue.
The Shore Excursion Desk
The shore excursion desk is located just across the hall from this venue as is the tea bar/library venue. To be perfectly honest we never used either of these facilities. The Captain’s Circle host and Future Cruise sales office are also located in this area.
Proceeding further back on Deck 7, one enters the Piazza. This area extends from Decks 5-7 with different venues opening to the entertainment in the Piazza. Deck 5 includes the International Café with free food and specialty coffees for a charge, the Pizzeria with fantastic made to order pizza, the Vines Specialty wine bar, and a smaller Piazza Bar next to the International Café. Deck 6 includes guest relations, several shops and standing areas around the Piazza as well as access to the Casino. On Deck 7, the ship has another shop and the Crooners Piano Bar.
The most interesting part of the Piazza is the variety of entertainment provided by Princess in this venue. Whether one is enjoying your pizza lunch or glass of wine in the Vines bar, there was always some entertainment in the Piazza including a fantastic string and piano trio, a classic and standards pianist, Elua, the Hawaiian cultural ambassadors, and a folk rock guitarist. Entertainment ran almost continuously from around 11 am to 10 pm or later. After that time, the ship had a Liberace style piano player most nights in the Crooners Bar deck 7 Starboard side.
The activities staff also made use of the piazza with a few activities like the egg drop, paper airplane contest, ping pong chipping contest, Princess Pop-choir, and champagne fountain all taking place in the piazza.
The Piazza also had two casual dining venues the Pizzeria which made fresh to order gourmet pizzas and the International Cafe which had both dessert and savory offering for a quick snack as well at specialty coffees for an extra charge.
USA Today has named Princess’s Vines bar the best wine bar at sea. Though this was one our favorite places to enjoy a drink on the cruise, I have to disagree with USA Today giving the edge slightly to the Cellar Master’s bar on Celebrity. While service was attentive and knowledgeable with Arnie the bar manager having receive quite a bit of expert wine training from Princess, it simply doesn’t compare to the breadth of knowledge had by the Celebrity sommeliers. The Vines bar had fine crystal glasses and wine flights at a reasonable price, and for a beginning wine lover this venue is lovely. However, for me, the Cellar Master’s on Celebrity is slightly better with a greater the variety of offerings, extensively educated staff, enigmatic self service wine dispensing machines, larger room and variety of comfortable seating. However, if we were not officially judging for the “Best Wine Bar At Sea Contest”, we really enjoyed this venue and found many wines on the “by the glass list” that we really enjoyed. This is definitely a recommended venue at Princess. We also liked the big community table that gave us a chance to meet and visit with other passengers.
Continuing down the starboard side of the ship one enters the hallway access to the Explorers Lounge. The ship also made near continuous use of this venue through out each day. Often it hosted the Art Auctions, evening trivia, Karaoke, live music and dancing, and other game shows including the ship’s version of the Newlywed Game. With yours truly being a singer, we were often here for the Karaoke. I even gave my self a go as a panelist in the new Discovery Channel themed Shark Week trivia. During that event, I discovered that occasionally watching shark week is not nearly as beneficial as having a degree in Marine biology and came in a distant second to my fellow panelist with those credentials. One of the things I really liked about this particular trivia as well as some of the other venues, was the use of a computer and projector for the trivia with the questions coming up on screen for all to read.
The Wheelhouse bar served many purposes during the cruise. In the morning it played host to Lei making class, ukelele lessons and other meetings. In the afternoons it was a great place to meet up with friends and enjoy 2 for 1 drinks during happy hour. In the evenings our favorite band Tempo Quattro played pop hits from standards to Adele with a ballroom beat. We loved watching the ball room dancers, ages 65 to at least 90 show us how its done. The front of the bar had modular sofas and wing back chairs that made for a great place for a drink and conversation with friends. The bar staff was extremely friendly and when I had a slight cold, they made sure I had my afternoon Hot Toddy with extra lemon and honey.
The hallway outside of these venues displayed and sold the professional ship’s photographs. We usually do not purchase photos, but this area was always busy with the staff doing a great job of taking casual and formal portraits.
This specialty restaurant services Italian specialties including seafood. During the day it played host to some private group events and worked well for that purpose since it had a door at the entrance. With the Italian offering in the main dining room being numerous and delicious we decided against paying the extra for the Sabatini’s, but others reported it to be very good.
This lounge provided the second largest theater on the ship and again, Princess made near continuous of this lounge through-out the cruise. In morning they offered Zumba and line dancing classes. They also hosted bingo, trivia, and movies during the day. In the evening this venue served as a second show venue for the featured entertainers like comedians, singers, magicians, and musicians who would perform one show in the main theater and then announce a second show in the Vista Lounge. Often the shows in the vista lounge were offered three times a night to accommodate the early, anytime and late diners. On Academy Awards night they showed both the Red Carpet preview and the Oscar telecast in the lounge. This was a fun event that started with some trivia and games and guests got to even submit their own just for fun Oscar Ballot.
Entertainment Venues other than Deck 7
The ships had several entertainment options other than the ones on deck 7 including Movies Under the Stars on the pool deck, the One5 Disco Lounge which played recorded DJ music “late night”. Most of the Movies Under the Stars were actually shown during the day, but included newer movies like Tom Cruise in The Edge of Tomorrow and older movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark. They even showed Top Gun one day. The disco was a little under utilized at night as this itinerary tended to be an early to bed group of passengers, so “late night” usually meant until just past Midnight. The casino was located on deck 6, and since I am not a gamble or smoker, I spent no time here. However they were always offering a variety of activities including Hold’em tournaments and slots tournaments.
Princess offers several options for included dining: The main dining rooms, Pizzeria, International Café, Horizon Court buffet, Trident Grill, Prego Pizza and the aforementioned British Pub lunch.
Main Dining Room
First, the ship offered dinner in three different dining rooms. The Davenci Dining room off the Piazza on Deck 6 is used for 6:00 pm dining and for anytime dining after 7:30. The Michelangelo Dining room is used exclusively for anytime dining. We often encountered couples in the Vines bar with a beeper who were waiting for the their anytime tables. We had 8 pm dining in the Botticelli dining room which is on deck 6 aft. This venue can only be accessed by first going to deck 7 and then taking the aft stairs or elevator down to deck 6. For this reason many cruisers do not want to be seated in this dining room. They would rather dine in one of the venues right off the piazza because they can be accessed by the mid ship stairs and elevator or the forward stairs and elevators. However, being a contrairian, I can honestly say that for the most personalized and attentive dining experience choose the late seating in this venue. If you can take the stairs you won’t have to wait for the elevator. Because this is the least desirable time and location, the dining room was only half full, but fully staffed. Our food was always prompt and hot.
While the buffet food area of the Horizon Court initially seemed a bit undersized, we ended up growing to love this location for our breakfast and lunch. Most of the time they had both the starboard and port sides open so that once we got our plates, we never had trouble finding a place to sit either inside or out. I liked the fact that we didn’t have to bother with beverage service or silverware. The silver and napkins were already placed at the tables and as soon as we sat down the wait staff was greeting us offering the free beverages: coffee, tea, juice, or ice water.
Plates were always cleared immediately and if you wanted to order a paid beverage like a coke or a glass of wine, there was always someone there to take your order. The offerings at the buffet were really about same as any other cruise line with bacon, eggs, pancakes, french toast, pastries, smoked fish, fresh fruit, yogurt, and a potato of some kind at breakfast. At lunch they always had a variety of salads, curry, meat and chicken dishes, a carving station, and two soups. They also had a cold cut station and a dessert station with individually portioned desserts. We sometimes had difficulty discerning if it was supposed to be a line or stations. We weren’t sure if we should move a head to the next station or if that would be perceived as cutting. The omelet station was also a little awkward, but about two days in my husband figured out how to handle the omelet station. We’d order the omelet and waited for it during which time we might ad some cold options like smoked fish or fruit. Upon arrival of the omelet, we then filled out plate with other hot item. If one person ordered an omelet it was best for both parties to wait, otherwise one of us would be done before the other sat down.
Trident Grill and Prego Pizza
Located on the pool deck, the Trident Grill served burgers, dogs and french fries, and the Prego Pizza served pizza by the slice. Both were great convenient venues for a quick snack. My tip is that if you like a salad to go along with these dishes, visit the Horizon Court first to get you salad, then head out to the pool area with your plate to get your pizza or burger to add to your meal.
The gym on this ship was little undersized. In the morning there was a wait for cardio equipment and the weight training equipment was minimal. With so many people wanting to stay fit and healthy while cruising, it would be nice if Princess could figure out a way to expand the amount of equipment in the gym on this size of ship.
This is the first of a series of comprehensive reviews. My goal is to point out the details of the cruise experience that seem trivial at times but can greatly affect a guest’s enjoyment of the cruise experience. Please visit our sight again for our next installment.