Travel Weekly cruise editor Fran Golden joined the 12-day
maiden voyage of the Grand Princess, the world's biggest and most
expensive cruise ship, as it sailed from Istanbul, Turkey, to
Barcelona, Spain. Since returning, she's talked to agents who have
asked questions about the ship. What follows are her answers to
Is Bigger Better?
That's a personal, to-each-his-own matter. I will say the Grand
Princess offers amazing variety in entertainment, dining venues and
recreational activities. There are four swimming pools (there's a
fifth for crew only), three show lounges and even a nine-hole golf
course, so passengers have lots of choices. But, it is a bit
overwhelming if you are at one end of a deck and your cabin is at
another. You have quite a walk ahead of you.
The ship's lower berths alone accommodate 2,600 passengers.
However, it very rarely feels crowded. The Grand Princess has lots
of small public rooms rather than a few large public rooms, so
many, in fact, you can nearly always find a quiet place to be by
yourself if you want to. The funniest example of crowds was when my
friend and I went to the lunch buffet at the Horizon Court on the
Lido deck and found a lot of empty buffet trays. I asked a waiter
where the food was, and he made a motion like vultures flocking and
devouring. It seems the kitchen wasn't quite prepared for the
crowds that had descended. The waiter did direct a group of us
through the food preparation area to the buffet on the other side,
where there was still plenty of food.
Embarkation and Disembarkation
This was very efficient. It took me less than 20 minutes from
the time I got off the bus from the airport in Istanbul to check in
and get to my cabin. That's faster than on most ships.
The cabins are wonderful. They are decorated, like the rest of
the ship, in lovely mellow-colored fabrics like blues, golds and
tans, with light woodwork. The cabins are a good size and have all
the amenities one would hope for: safes, hair dryers,
refrigerators, color televisions, telephones, robes and so forth.
And of course 80% of the outside cabins, or 710, have private
balconies. Twenty-eight cabins are wheelchair accessible, which is
more than on any other ship. The suites and minisuites offer butler
service in addition to steward service. The butler for our
minisuite wore white gloves but showed obvious signs of needing
The food was OK, not spectacular. But keep in mind, this was
just the maiden voyage, and we're talking about a kitchen with 200
cooks. The pasta on Princess ships is always fabulous (the chefs
are Italian), and they always have good smoked salmon at breakfast,
for some reason. And the chefs on this ship did great things with
pastries and dessert souffles, plus there's always healthy-choice
and vegetarian options on the menu. There also were specialty
nights like a Greek night in celebration of the port call at
There are three main dining rooms, all named for famous artists
-- da Vinci, Botticelli and Michelangelo -- and decorated with
artwork accordingly. The da Vinci even has a copy of the Mona Lisa.
The rooms are not particularly large (the largest is smaller than
the main dining room on the Royal Princess), so you don't feel you
are dining with crowds. And the waiters were excellent. As to the
specialty restaurants, I really liked Sabatini's Trattoria. It's a
lively, well-decorated room, and the food was well done. The
Painted Desert, the first Southwestern restaurant on a ship, didn't
work for me though. Maybe it's because tacos and quesadillas just
seem weird when you're in Europe. It may work better when the
ship's in the Caribbean. The Horizon Court also is open around the
clock, and there are other dining options like a pizzeria and an
Despite the ship's delay (the inaugural cruise was canceled),
there were only minor glitches on the maiden voyage, such as phones
that weren't answered, leaking faucets and a whirlpool that had too
many chemicals added and took the color out of bathing suits. And
the smoke machine in the disco set off smoke detectors on at least
one occasion. Nothing you wouldn't expect on a new ship.
The fact that this ship has three show lounges is a big plus.
The Princess Theater is a real theater setup that can handle
Broadway-style shows. The Vista Lounge is more suited for
Vegas-style acts. Oddly enough, however, on our sailing the Vegas
acts, including headliners Rita Moreno, Alan King and Red Buttons,
performed in the theater, while the line introduced its newest
Broadway-style show, the extremely well-done "Gotta Sing Gotta
Dance," in the lounge. I think it would have worked better in
reverse. I love the third venue, the Explorers Club. The room is in
the middle of the ship on the Promenade Deck, and open, so the
performances catch your attention as you walk by, causing you to
stop and watch. The decor is safari, with rattan furniture,
horn-shaped lamps, artifacts and a wildlife carpet. And the bar
staff wears safari outfits. The space is perfectly suited for acts
such as the ventriloquist featured on our sailing and other
cabaret-style performances. The ship's casino is the biggest at sea
at 13,500 square feet and even has nickel slot machines, which is
about my style.
My Favorite Things
There are so many.
Princess spent big bucks on this ship, $450 million, so it ought to
be gorgeous, and it is. The ship's most striking feature is its
disco, which juts out the back, suspended 155 feet above the water.
From the disco, you can literally look back at the ship. You feel
as if you're in a separate pod floating in space. It's quite
spectacular. I also liked the fact that there are so many swimming
pools that none gets particularly crowded. When there are
activities at one pool, you can move on to the next if you want to
swim or lounge in quiet. The aft swimming pool, located under the
disco, was virtually private. Some of the ship's artwork was
interesting, including the several bronze sculptures.
Are we on a ship or in a hotel? It was very smooth. The Grand
Princess is so technologically advanced it can literally control
itself. Capt. Mike Moulin said the ship can alter course on its own
better than any human can. He's eager to use the technology to try
driving it blind, something he's been practicing to do but hadn't
tried as of our sailing.
The layout is a bit weird. There are, for instance, no showers
in the dressing area, just open showers at the spa pool and in some
of the treatment rooms. Also, there's tinted glass that allows you
to look out at the deck but doesn't allow people to look in. Even
though you know they can't see, it feels weird to watch people
outside when you're naked. The beauty parlor is really big. The gym
has an ocean view but is a tad small for a ship of this size. There
are, for instance, only six treadmills among the state-of-the-art
exercise and weight machines in the exercise area. There's a big
space, however, for fitness classes. And the
swim-against-the-current feature of the spa pool should prove
popular with swimmers.
They are hardly ignored here. There are two-level children's and
teens' centers, the latter with its own disco. Kids get access to
computers and games, a kiddie pool, a teen whirlpool and even a
fleet of bright red tricycles for the younger ones. And the ship
has a large virtual reality center, with interactive games and a
motion-based simulator "ride."
For Europe, given that most people want to see the sights -- the
ship visits Kusadasi, Turkey; Athens; Venice, Naples and Florence
(Livorno), Italy; Monte Carlo, and Barcelona, with two days at sea
-- the activities schedule was rather low-key. Just your typical
shuffleboard and bridge tournaments, lectures (including one on
historic ships), games like Passenger Feud, art auctions and
exercise classes. Most people, if they weren't touring on our
sailing, seemed most content to sit in a deck chair and read or
catch a nap.
These are very efficiently operated, but in some cities it's
just better to go off on your own.
And some places, like ancient Ephesus in Turkey, lose a bit in
terms of aura when they get crowded.
* * *
Ship: Grand Princess.
Size: 109,000 tons.
Passengers: 2,600 lower-berth.
Length: 951 feet.
Itineraries: The ship's 1998 Europe season of 12-day cruises
between Istanbul, Turkey, and Barcelona, Spain, is sold out, but
the ship will be positioned in Europe again in 1999. The ship heads
in September to New York for its North American debut and will
offer eastern Caribbean cruises from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.,
beginning in October.
Reservations: (800) PRINCESS