31/05/2011...8:37 am

Grand Princess: Our last impressions

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In a blog written as we were preparing to board Grand Princess last week to check out its mighty refurbishment, I wondered: Will this new stuff make cruising better on Grand Princess? Will it make the experience more fun? Can you teach an old ship new tricks?

Grand Princess loses its most striking feature in a major new refurbishment that has changed its personality. Its sunnier now.

After our seven night cruise has ended – boy did that week pass quickly – we weigh in on hits and misses on Grand Princess.  

Biggest Hit (inside): The new Piazza, which replaced a more traditional atrium that was pretty much a place you passed through on the way elsewhere, is a dynamic new hub. Perhaps it’s anchored by the entertainment – you never know what you’ll see throughout the day and into the evening, from acrobatics to juggling and from smoochy dance tunes to martini-making demos.

But what kept this fresh new space on deck five a must-visit, several times a day, was its fabulous dining and drinking spots, such as Vines, a wine bar; Alfredo’s, a pizzeria, and the International Café, where, depending on the time of day, you could find doughnuts, tapas and quiche.

Best Food: While lines like Celebrity and Holland America make a bigger fuss about culinary quality, I was pleasantly surprised by cuisine onboard Grand Princess just about everywhere (the casual options on deck five’s piazza distracted me from the buffet on this trip so I can’t judge that venue). The dining room fare was consistently excellent; alternative restaurants like Crown Grill and Sabatini were superb (my picky-eating husband had trouble getting his slacks fastened the last day) and were tough to get into (reservations a must) even with surcharges of $20 or more. Also marvellous: the sea-day pub lunches, hosted in the Crown Grill.

Biggest Disappointment? Those mid-ship elevators are a major mess. They’re creaky, slow and inconsistent. Just take the stairs, you say? Not so fast – there is oddly enough no staircase beyond deck 7 that supports mid-ship ascending. Coming in second? The kids’ facilities are 13 years old and they looked it (a planned rehab of the teens area wasn’t complete yet and so I couldn’t judge that).

Hippest Lounge? The new One5 Bar. Read our take on it here.

Biggest Misfire? Maybe it’s me but as elegant as Leaves, the combo tea-room, library and game room was, it didn’t knock my socks off. It was a bit too dark and woody for a tea-room and its open-air position on a busy pedestrian walkway made it less than relaxing as a library. Check out our report on Cruise Critic’s U.S. blog.

Biggest Hit (outside): In removing the iconic Skywalkers Bar, with the odd escalator-powered mezzanine whose shadows loomed grimly over the ship’s aft pool, this sundeck area is completely transformed. It’s simply a stunning place to retreat, quiet (without the hub of the main pool areas), close to food and drinks (it’s on the other side of the Horizon Court buffet venue and there are a couple of bars) and on a sunny day was perfect.

A cheese and wine pairing at Vines was a highlight

Needs Tweaking: If you’re promoting wine as an alcoholic drink that’s best enjoyed with food – you need to serve food. Vines on newer Princess ships like Crown, Ruby and Emerald all have sushi bars and tapas menus. Space is clearly more limited here but there could be a small tapas/cheese plate menu. During one of Vines’ intimate (and fantastic) wine tasting events, we tested various reds with various cheeses. Both were delicious and frankly made for a superb lunch or light dinner. (If you want to participate in one of these smaller events, ask at Vines to be put on the list; they’re not promoted as publicly as the ship’s larger wine tasting events, held in a dining room).

Also Needs Tweaking: I loved the concept of Alfredo’s Pizzeria (and the pizza was delicious) but the reason I only went once – and wasn’t lured back – was that you need to do more than just pizza. If I’d been able to pair pizza with a simple salad it would have made for a great repeat destination.

As Lovely As Always: Service, especially on a ship that’s just undergone a huge transformation, has to be challenging and can take a toll on crew. Not here – we recognized familiar faces from past voyages (always delightful!) and crew consistently went out of their way. It felt homey and that’s because the crew was as warm and efficient as I remember from previous Princess trips.

Best Memory? No question, while my enthusiasm for the cruise initially was sussing out its refurbishment (hey, I’m a ship lover and I won’t apologize for that!) what I’ll remember until the day I die is our vow renewal ceremony. In a way you could say that I got to balance both interests – we were ceremonialized in the ship’s brand new wedding chapel, way up on deck 15, across from One5, so I got to critique the space. But there’s no better way to judge a place than by participating in an activity that it was designed for and it came up trumps. Elegant, gorgeous, special. Just like the vow renewal.

We’ll go into more detail on life aboard Grand Princess in our newly updated ship review; it’ll launch in mid-June. Stay tuned.

CSB

PS A number of Cruise Critic readers have sent me questions and I promise to answer them this week on the blog (probably later in the week). So check back.

6 Comments

  • Just got back from the Norwegian Fjords on the ‘Grand’ and it is refreshing to read such a balance assessment of this refurbished vessel. I concur will all your comments. There are still minor issues which need to be sorted suich as the cabin toilets. Ours stopped flushing after day 2 but was soon repaired once reported.

    The upholstery in Explorers was a bit shoddy as some of the chairs had straps across the seat and sagged in the middle. A minor inconvenience. The food, service and staff, excellent as always.

    My biggest gripe was the Entertainments director. Unfrortunately Martyn Moss look a few weeks leave and his replacement was a waste of space. Not visible during the day. His deputy would fill in for him. He only made an appearance when the captain was present. Nothing but a glorified ‘red coat’ more suitable at a holiday camp. It’s people like him that give the company a bad name. His main appearance would be to close the show each night. Not bad work…if you can get it!!!!

  • Rachael Wilkinson

    Yes, we too returned from the Grand Princess Norwegian Fjords cruise yesterday. First time with Princess Cruises – it was fabulous! The service was superb. I loved all the new gym equipment but heard some complain (understandably perhaps) that certain classes which run alongside in the same space (e.g. yoga) do not sit well when you can hear people training right alongside you. Many of these classes and seminars also attracted a fee so were not as well attended as they could be. The food was great mostly but some odd combinations didn’t sit well. For example on formal night a beautiful steak and fresh veggies was served with what looked like a defrosted Aunt Bessie’s potato croquette! We liked Alfredo’s and went twice. The menu has 5 pizzas on it but you can order a plain one or a pepperoni if you wish. I asked where Alfredo was and was told he has already left! They have a new Executive chef onboard who we met – David from South Africa. Go to the culinary demo and kitchen tour on the last day if they run one. The Maitre D was hilarious and both he and the executive chef made a great double act. The International Cafe is lovely but seating is limited. I went to get some food from there and then took the forward lift to deck 14 where there was ample seating and great views. The Princess Theatre was superb and my husband who has worked in the entertainment industry said the lighting setup was certainly first class. The shows were good but it would be great if there were more variety options after 10pm when the 2nd sitting finish dinner. We enjoyed both Gary T Thompson (comedy vocal impressionist – 2 different shows) and Phillip Hitchcock (comedy magician) and would have liked more of these or game shows at this time of night. We also saw the show British Invasion which was fabulous. One of the singers (female – Kathryn?) was fabulous and could really belt out a song. As for the kids areas I was told they had recently been refurbished. They certainly were newly painted/carpeted and had some fab kit – large TVs, an interactive juke box, XBoxes and PS3s and a football table. Teens had a great chill out area with bean bags and games consoles. My sons, who rarely like kids clubs, couldn’t wait to go to each session and even did some craft and science projects which was great. The shore excursions were nice but expensive. Try and do some research beforehand to see which ports you can do yourself on foot. For example we did Stavanger and Bergen ourselves but took tours in Geiranger and Olden. Do not rely on the maps provided by Princess. They are not at all detailed and have no scale on them! All in all my first experience with Princess was a great one – we will be back!

  • GRAHAME LEE

    Also just back from Ffiords cruise and agree with all the other comments. The most annoying feature was the lack of midships stairs and the glass fronted lifts not working just added to the problem. Having a cabin at midships meant much waiting for lifts! The refit to the piazza has made the area much more lively and the International Cafe is a great idea but the Library is no longer a quiet escape area and not sure that I have ever met a Brit who drank anything other than Breakfast or Earl Grey tea !
    Some of the other areas of the ship are now looking tired and the new shiny bits have made them look positively shabby. Third time on the ship and the service and food quality are still very good but more money still needs to be spent to finish the job !

    • My wife and I will be cruising on the Grand Princess from the 29th June for 17 days round the Med.

      Basically this will be our third cruise but first on the this ship or indeed the Princess Cruise Company.

      I contact you because the CSB report I thought was fair and contructive and your comment helpful but other reports have been very depressing indeed.

      Perhaps you could put my mind at rest or otherwise as to your view upon food anf food venues and on a balcony state-room if indeed that it what you resided in.

      By the way I myself am never hypo-critical because cruise ships are difficult things to organise but I do expect good service,a good stateroom.

      I look forward to your comments and if you do reply could you do so directly on my e-mail address i.e.KENNETH.ORME@SKY.COM

      Thanks

      Ken Orme
      Cirencester

  • Mr and Mrs Williamson

    I was reading the reviews and do also have to say that my wife and I have been cruising for many years now. We do sometimes go on other cruise liners, without mentioning them, and have to say, Princess cruises have to be the very best of all. All of the staff are very welcoming and very helpful. The food is out of the world, and the destinations that we go to are wonderful. The entertainment is always good, though it would be nice to see some of the other acts on the Princess that are on other cruise liners, like Gary T Thompson, who is one of our favourite acts, we see him quite often no matter which ship he is on. Our top favourite would have to be Mercury Rising, a Queen tribute, he has to be one of the most talented we’ve seen and deserves the standing ovations. We’ve also experienced Nick Page, who also blew us away, yet another tick in all the boxes. Overall, the Princess cruises are the one for us, and would recommend them to anyone, lets just hope we see the same high level of entertainment as other liners. One last thing, 10 out of 10 for all the staff from the porters to the bar staff and everyone else. Excellent!


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