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?
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.
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.
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.