23/05/2011...9:45 am

Grand Princess: First Impressions

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Formal night in Grand Princess' new piazza has pizzazz

The much heralded refurbishment of Grand Princess has indeed inspired about the vessel a new buzz of excitement. And yet I’ve set out on this seven night cruise along the Atlantic coast of France, Spain and Portugal with a persistent message thrumming through my head. Call me a traditionalist (actually most mariners in the classic mode would never do so because I do love cruising’s racy new ships) but there’s this:

No matter how spiffy a vessel, how many rock climbing walls and bowling alleys there are to challenge, or internationally-renowned entertainment acts to entertain or high flying celebrity chefs for tastebud dazzling, the heart and soul of a great cruise comes from a ship’s crew and staff.

So far, Grand Princess has heart in spades. Complementing that is the fact that its multi-million-pound facelift has taken what was already a comfortable (if somewhat dated) ship and made it more pleasing with contemporary touches that have brought it into line with newer ships like Crown Princess (and its Emerald and Ruby siblings).

The best thing so far? My last few cruises have been taken on ultra-new and ultra-mod ships like Celebrity’s Eclipse, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, and NCL’s Norwegian Epic. They’re great fun but what I am reminded of on Grand Princess is how nice it is to cruise on a ship that feels like a ship and not a Vegas-style resort-at-sea.

Other impressions:

The brand spanking new International Cafe on Grand Princess

The new piazza is magnificent. On embarkation day, a rather sedate chamber combo welcomed passengers most of the afternoon. But later, a performance by a Polish acrobatic duo in the piazza’s “theater in the round” drew a standing room only crowd. The balance of the two – traditional music and heart-stopping acrobatics – in this space makes it a destination. You just never know what you’ll see.

Part of the piazza’s appeal too is that casual eateries, such as the International Café, which offers snacks all day (and throughout the night), a coffee bar, Alfredo’s, for pizza (verdict: among the best pizzas we’ve sampled at sea), and Vines, a wine bar. There is no charge for any of the food in this arena (though of course coffees and cocktails are clocked to your account) and that’s a major plus.

Not part of the ship refurbishment necessarily, but worthy of note is that Princess is debuting a brand new menu in Sabatini’s, its Italian alternative restaurant (it’s the first ship in the fleet to have the new offerings). You don’t have to order everything but boy, is it hard to pass up the artichoke cheese soufflé and the incredibly light fried calamari, the day’s pasta special (best carbonara ever), and the branzino (cooked in a salt crust and deboned tableside). As such, we don’t need to eat today. There’s a $20 charge to dine at Sabatini and reservations are highly recommended.

The ship-top nightclub that is replacing the infamous Skywalker disco (with its unforgettable shopping cart handle exterior) still isn’t open yet – we’re told it will debut the day we’re in Lisbon, which is Thursday – but it looks magnificent. It’s bright and bold with lots of color and a fantastic outdoor area with wicker-like chairs.

The verdict’s out at this point about the combination library and tea salon (called Tea Leaves); most times I’ve walked by it’s been pretty quiet though it’s very elegant. I figure if it’s not drawing crowds on this trip — the ship’s mostly filled with British passengers for whom tea is staple — it’s going to undergo a re-think.

There’s plenty more to see – including but by no means limited to the new spa – and we’ll continue to report throughout the week from Grand Princess. Got questions? Post them here and we’ll do our best to answer them. And we’ll also be sharing insights on the ports we’re visiting, which include Guernsey, France’s Brest, Spain’s Vigo, and Lisbon.

CSB

9 Comments

  • I love the International Cafe on the Crown and Ruby…especially the gelato…is the Grand serving gelato, too?

  • Hi, Carolyn

    Will you please check-out the new Window Suites? The casino was not moved-up one floor like it was on the CB and Golden. The Window Suites are squeezed-in between the casino and the cigar bar. What is the noise level like for Window Suites? And is it smokey in the WS hallway? Is the WS hallway private with the doors to the hallway closed, or is it public with a lot of foot traffic?

    Thanks.

    • Hi, Mary. Haven’t been able to see inside the new suites (all booked) but have been lurking during cleaning time to try to catch a peak (figure worst case scenario is we’ll get a look on the last day). But: the hallway’s gorgeous (took a photo, will post today).

      • I wasn’t able to see the suites in full but did lurk around one morning while cabin stewards were cleaning and they looked gorgeous, small marble foyers (quite elegant), very new, fresh and modern looking. Also the hallway is beautiful (and set off from the casino by doors on either end so didn’t hear any noise bleed.

        CSB

  • Hi – We are travelling on the Grand Princess next week and have been very keen to see your thoughts. Someone mentioned it is very cold onboard – how are you finding the temperature? Also I remember from Martin’s dry dock video diaries the children’s facilities were being refurbished – can you please give your impression on these areas? Also what sort of evening entertainment is currently on offer? With thanks – Rachael

    • Hi, Rachel. It is rather cold onboard in spots (I like it that way) but otherwise quite comfortable. The children’s facilities, especially the teen area, are definitely getting an overhaul but haven’t yet. Figure the cruise line’s not anticipating a lot of children at this point in the season…so is still working on it.

      I’ll do a larger report on entertainment later but last night was fun! Romantic cheek-to-cheek dancing in the Wheelhouse, a blast of a 1950s themed night in Explorers, and various musical stuff in the atrium.

      Carolyn

  • hiya we are going on the ship end of june for 17 nights it says 3 formal nights but doesnt mention any “theme” nights have they got theme nights on your cruise? eg black & white? tropical? also do the sockets in the cabins take english plugs? thanks & happy cruising x

    • The sockets only take the American two slot style plugs. Buy a cheap adaptor from amazon…we did and everything worked fine.

  • Hi Carolyn
    How are the staterooms? I plan to book the Grand for July 2012 & am excited about all the open area renovations however it doesn’t sound like the staterooms were touched. Do they reflect their age? This will be my first Princess cruise….. I’m usually a Celebrity & RCCL cruiser . Tks.


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