Grand Princess Cruise Review by Shivatopia
- Sail Date: April 2018
- Destination: Pacific Coastal
- Cabin Type: Penthouse Suite with Balcony
We are locals to the SF Bay Area, so it was a simple Uber ride into the city and to Pier 27. For embarkation, the terminal ran like clockwork for us. The traffic control personnel did a great job controlling the incoming vehicles seeking to drop off passengers or pick up people who had just disembarked the ship from the previous voyage. A porter was quick to meet us as we exited the vehicle, and in moments, we were heading into the terminal to the check in counter. Check-in was quick. It only took a few minutes to be issued our Cruise Cards, and we were promptly brought to the priority boarding waiting area. In less than 10 minutes, we were escorted onto the ship. The cabins were not accessible yet, so we proceeded to have lunch first.
Disembarkation was also very painless, though I must comment that the Priority Disembarkation area at the Wheelhouse Bar was not big enough to host the number of people that qualified to be there, and the assigned crew person announcing the disembarkation group orders seemed stressed and curt, which made it unpleasant enough that we left and went to the regular (non-Priority) waiting area designated for our color group, which was the adjacent Explorer's Lounge, which had ample seating and was overseen by the always charismatic Theo. When our disembarkation color was called, it was a quick walk off the ship, though the "customs" area (they checked our passports and let us through), picked up our checked bags that were nicely organized by color group, and departed. It was very smooth.
I had no preconceived expectations for the ship itself, other than it be solid and pleasant. Knowing that the ship is now 20 years old, one has to provide some allowances for certain fixed design features or reasonable general maintenance needs. Overall, we did not observe any glaring issues that one could not encounter at a hotel of a similar age. The areas we saw were clean and well-lit, and there were no rips or holes in the carpeting or furniture.
Our cabin was one of the Penthouse Suites on the Caribe deck, and it was everything one could ask for. It was spacious, clean, and very comfortable. The bed was the Princess Luxury Bed, and it lived up to its name and reputation. We had very relaxing and restful sleep on this bed. The closet had plenty of space, and there were more than enough drawers for storage all throughout the cabin. The bathroom was very nice. There was a deep bathtub with spa jets and an enclosed glass shower stall, which was separate from the toilet and the sink area. We did not tend to use the sitting area of the cabin all that much, but psychologically it was still very nice to have the extra space and the walk-around layout of the suite. We never felt any cabin fever or claustrophobia. The balcony was perfect and very spacious. It has the partially exposed area along the outer part of the balcony, but there was plenty of space for privacy (about the length of the lawn chairs) as well, where no one could see you from above. The balcony furniture was made of wood, and it was in need of a new coat of varnish (which was done on our balcony midway during the voyage--lucky for the next guests of this suite!). Our cabin steward Renato was wonderful. He was fully attentive, efficient, and prompt.
In terms of the dining on the ship, I have nothing but praise. We tried out most of the available options, with the notable exception of the Horizon Court buffet (because we avoid buffets like the plague). Our first dinner was at Sabatini's, where we utilized our suite perk complimentary specialty dining embarkation dinner. Franco, Antonio, and Siwa took excellent care of us. They were so personable and friendly. Apart from his engaging colloquial conversation, Franco gave excellent menu recommendations and made excellently timed visits to see how our meal was going. Antonio and Siwa work so efficiently that one almost never realizes that they were there to clear out finished dishes and silverware or provide drink refills. The food was excellent, from the bread rolls to the pizza dough with prosciutto and aioli to the pastas to the mains to the desserts. We probably spent over 2 hours there, and every minute was a leisurely delight.
We took full advantage of the daily suite passenger breakfasts at the Crown Grill, only missing one morning due to sleeping in, and again, the experience was always superb. Franco, Antonio, and Siwa also serve these breakfasts, but also present was the phenomenal Julieta, who is my favorite crew member on the ship. She perfectly combines friendliness, efficiency, speed, awareness, and attention to detail in a way that makes you feel so comfortable and at ease, like you have known her all your life. Julieta, Franco, Antonio, and Siwa are the Dining Dream Team.
We did have one dinner at the Crown Grill, and true to form, it was a perfect dining experience. Julieta serves during dinner there, and we of course requested to be seated at one of her tables, where she ensured the best of everything. She made very informed recommendations, and every dish we ordered was made perfectly with excellent textures and flavors.
Our meals in the Club Class Da Vinci main dining room were also wonderful. We were first greeted and seated by the Club Class Hostess Ana, who like Franco and Julieta, is so incredibly friendly and personable that she makes you feel like family. That is an invaluable talent. Other superstars there are David, Royston, and Tamara, who made every dining experience there so comfortable and enjoyable. The food in the main dining room was great. In general, the style of cuisine is definitely more of what one would find in American or European fine dining establishments, so I will say that there is a bit of a lack of variation if one wanted more global selections, but everything we ordered was made to perfection. There was only maybe one dish that I was not super thrilled with (the Quail and Venison Terrine), but that had a lot to do with me not knowing what a terrine was (or that its texture was akin to pate), so that has nothing to do with the dish itself. The menu changed daily, and we always found many selections to try and enjoy.
We did employ room service to our cabin a few times, including complimentary Afternoon Tea (another suite perk), and they were prompt and efficient. The food was perfectly in order, and the hot beverages were of the correct temperature. I do very much enjoy the Afternoon Tea on the ship, but I only ordered the scones, coffee, and tea. We never did do the Afternoon Tea experience in the main dining room... we only ordered it to be sent to the privacy of our cabin.
We did also do the Ultimate Balcony Dining Experience, which was on the last night of the cruise. The presentation and service were excellent, especially from our dedicated server Waiyu. Everything was served in leisurely, but appropriately timed, pacing. We never felt rushed. The food was delicious, but be warned that when you finalize the menu options (no later than the day before the dinner), they typically only ask you about your choice of main course and what cocktail you would like to start with. The first course is an assortment of canapes, mostly seafood based. The second course was a crab cake. I am not fond of seafood at all, and if I had known that the first two courses were these selections, I would have requested non-seafood substitutions. What we were served were prepared and cooked well, but I did not enjoy them purely because I do not like seafood. The filet mignon, however, was perfect, as were the desserts.
I will make a brief mention of the International Cafe (which we frequently visited) and Alfredo's Pizzeria (which we visited once): do visit them! The food is at no extra charge in both locations, so why not? The International Cafe is open 24/7 and offers breakfast pastries in the morning and sandwiches, soup, salads, and an array of desserts the rest of the time. Alfredo's Pizzeria offers gourmet-style pizza, and they were very tasty. Note that at the International Cafe, we found that the regular (non-espresso-based) brewed coffee came with a charge, which seemed odd. I guess they serve a special blend specific to them?
As mentioned, our objective for this cruise was to relax and enjoy the departure from the "real world." So, we did not engage in most of the available activities on the ship. But based on what we read in the daily Princess Patters, there were plenty of offerings throughout the day. We did catch a few of the nighttime performances at the Princess Theater after dinner: the British Invasion, the Born to Dance show, and The Voice of the Ocean. All were entertaining and well produced. We did miss seeing the stage interview with actress Lorna Luft in the Princess Theater on the first sea day, but it was recorded and televised on the ship's internal TV channels, so I still got to see it. This was Lorna Luft's first gig since her very recent medical leave, and she seemed in great spirits. We did have an opportunity to meet her by chance when we were having dinner at the Crown Grill, as she was also having dinner there that night, and she was one of the witnesses to when my (now) fiance proposed to me. Lorna was so very gracious and friendly, and she took the time to stop by and congratulate us in person after her meal and on her way out the restaurant! I have never met a famous person before in my life, much less a famous person that I actually have admired for decades! Talk about adding the cherry on top of an already momentous occasion!
I have already raved about the top quality of the dining staff and our cabin steward, but more generally speaking, the service we received by pretty much all of the crew was excellent. No one was unpleasant, which was nice. Granted, we did not use every facility on the ship or encounter every crew member, but our overall impression of the service was positive. I have read other reviews with very scathing words against the Guest Services desk, but we hardly used them other than a quick question once or twice, so I cannot adequately compare experiences. For us and our needs, they were adequate, but we also did not have any major issues that needed to be resolved.
The ports of call were not a major draw for us at all. Again, they were not the reason why we chose this voyage. Being California residents, locations like Santa Barbara and Long Beach are nothing all that special. We did enjoy San Diego, but we went out on our own via Uber to destinations that we wanted to go there. Ensenada was a very unfortunate destination. We walked along the waterfront near the ship, but there is not much worthy of note in that area, so after an hour we returned to the ship. We did not book any shore excursions, so I have no feedback on those.
We set out on this journey with few expectations other than enjoying some peaceful, quiet time on a luxurious ocean cruise ship. With few expectations, it was easy to not be disappointed or upset about anything, as everything ran very smoothly for us. If you put out a friendly, relaxed, and easygoing energy, chances are that everyone you encounter will reciprocate that energy, and if you need help with something, they will be more likely to want to jump to your aid. We plan to cruise again, and when that time comes, it will be again on the Grand Princess (and hopefully in the exact same suite).
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