Mike and Renée Hall's GRAND PRINCESS

The Grand Mediterranean cruise on Grand Princess was our 27th cruise, and our 7th on Princess, but our first time to the Mediterranean. Grand Princess is a magnificent ship and we had a wonderful time. The great itinerary of scenic and historical ports we visited were very interesting. This page is mostly concerned with the great ports as lots of information on Grand Princess is available at Cruiseclues shiptips Grand princess page.

Here are some specific menus: Dining room, Sabatini's, bar, sundae bar, and also the medical center charges, because that is a frequently asked question. For those of you who are primarily interested in information about the ship, not the ports, follow these links: (***) to jump to the ship information scattered through this review.

We were traveling with a small and loosely organized group of friends and enjoyed that very much. We arrived in Venice at 10 AM on embarkation day, and by 12:30 we were on board in the buffet. Princess reps met us at the airport and led us to the buses. Nothing in Italy seems to be accomplished with much organization or efficiency, but it works somehow. Check in as Platinum members was quick and easy, but then there was a long wait for security screening as they had only two machines. For tired people, it was a long hot walk down the dock to Grand Princess. They did have little shuttle buses available for the less mobile. Then there was another line to get our picture taken for security before boarding. After the loooong plane ride it would have been nice to have an easier embarkation process, but that is part of the price paid for cruising on a megaship. We would see this recur throughout the cruise. In general the crew makes a great effort, but 2600 people is just too many to handle quickly and efficiently.

As soon as we walked up the gangplank, however,things started to be wonderful and we had that great feeling of being back where we belong! We had a standard outside cabin on the Plaza deck near the atrium, a very convenient location. The cabin was well laid out and comfortable, but there is not very much storage space, especially drawers.

We went right up to the buffet. It is perfectly adequate,but not one of Grand Princess' strong points. The food service area is small and the selection not very exciting. Everything was good, hot things hot and cold things cold. The view from Lido deck was marvelous, overlooking the canal and the city of Venice with its domes and towers.
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We were scheduled to stay overnight aboard ship in Venice. After freshening up, we disembarked and met our guide from IC Bellagio. Barbara was charming and attentive. She led us to our private water taxi which whisked us to the gondola ranks at St. Mark's square. The center of Venice is a bustling place crowded with tourists,and rows and rows of gondolas waiting. Barbara led us right to the ones reserved for us. This personal service was a great advantage over waiting in line for the Princess water shuttle, and then trying to negotiate with the one of hundreds of gondoliers on the canal.

Our group of six boarded two gondolas, accompanied by an accordionist and a singer. The accordionist played the famous melodies of Venice and the wonderful Italian tenor serenaded us with all the classics. His rendition of "Santa Lucia" made the evening perfect.

We traveled up the Grand Canal a bit, and then turned into the Canal Greci along the Doge's Palace and passed under the Bridge of Sighs, on our way to a wonderful tour through the smaller canals accompanied by beautiful music. It was delightful to have our own private music, instead of being one of many gondolas surrounding one group of musicians as on the ship's excursion
After the gondola ride we walked around the square a bit, past the Doge's Palace and St. Mark's Cathedral with its famous bronze horses and mosaics, and the renowned Campanile. Then the ladies discovered the marvelous shopping of Venice! We wandered the small streets and crossed over many bridges. Finally we saw light at the end of a small alley and made our way back to the gondola ranks. We located the Princess water shuttle which got us back to the ship efficiently.
Anytime dining worked well for us and we enjoyed our first dinner in the Michelangelo dining room, then off to bed after a busy day.
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The next morning, the ladies returned to the Piazza for a bit more shopping, and the "secret itinerary" tour of the Doge's Palace (booked independently, not available through the ship.) This took them up and down narrow stairs through the back ways of the Palace where the notorious Council of Ten held its secret trials and condemned many Venetians to prison. It included the cell in the "plombi" under the lead roof where Casanova languished. A long hot queue followed as many many passengers waited until the last minute for the shuttles back to the ship.

We sailed away at 1 PM, making a marvelous trip down the canal under tugs, past the entrance to the Grand Canal.
The sailaway provided lots of great shots as we passed the Piazza with the Princess lecturer giving a commentary.

We spent a leisurely afternoon on board and sent off some email. There is a good Internet center with very slow internet access at 35 cents a minute. We would have been very frustrated except that free internet is one of the perks of Platinum members! Wireless access was also available for your own laptop at the same price, but not free for Platinum (which seemed strange.)
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We enjoyed the pool in the Lotus spa, with a nice hot tub and a cold water pool. The ladies and gents saunas and steam rooms are right next to the pool which is nice and makes a refreshing combination. The Welcome Aboard show was well attended, in fact standing room only as the large theater filled up very quickly, another sign of being on a megaship

The next day was a relaxing day at sea, one of only two on this itinerary. We enjoyed breakfast in the dining room in a leisurely fashion, having such things as eggs florentine which are not on the buffet. We relaxed some more in the hot tubs by the Plantation Pool. We played two games of trivia. All in all it was a very nice day. Then it was time to change into our formal clothes and enjoy a cocktail in the elegant Wheelhouse Bar before another great dinner.
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It was exciting to arrive in the Port of Pireaus, so famous in Greek history. We were met by our guide from Greece Ala Carte, named Kika. We toured in our own minibus. Driving from Pireaus to Athens Kika recounted the story of the Long Walls joining Athens to the port, which were torn down by the Spartans during the Pelloponesian Wars. We then visited the magnificent new Olympic Stadium.
We watched the guards outside the Presidential Palace in their precision drill. The tour of the city of Athens was very interesting, but there can be only one high point of any visit to Athens ...
YES -- soon the Parthenon came into view on top of the Acropolis! We have seen this stunning fortress and temple so many times in pictures, and it was a great experience to be standing there looking up at it.
Yes, looking up ... and up ... and up! It is a rather daunting prospect to contemplate the many steps to be climbed up through the Propylaia, but for such a renowned classical site it is well worth it.
We made our way to the top (slowly) and visited the imposing Parthenon as well as the Temple of Athena Nike and the Erechtheion. Interestingly there were crowds on the stairs up and down, but the top of the Acropolis was relatively uncrowded.
From the top we could see the hill of the Pynx, with its rock platform where the orators addressed the first city to practice rule by the people, demo kratos or democracy. Next was the Aeropagus, famous in the book of Acts as Mars Hill where St. Paul disputed with the Athenian philosophers. We could also see the ancient theater of Dionysos, and the Temple of Zeus, and the Agora or marketplace of the common people which was the favorite meeting place for Socrates and his scholars.
Descending the Acropolis, we continued through the winding streets and steep steps of the Plaka, or old part of the city, to the famous Psarras Restaurant. We were offered white wine and red wine,as well as very welcome cold bottled water, and an array of appetizers, including Greek salad of tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and feta; fried calamari; spinach tarts; dolmades (grape leaves); zucchini fritters; and salmon roe mousse. We then had either beef on rice, or chicken shish kebab, and finished with a plate of fresh fruit. It was a thoroughly delightful and refreshing meal, well worth the long walk!
After lunch, we drove into the countryside of Attica to the Markou Vineyards to sample the Greek wines, not the traditional retsina but very good vintages comparable to French or California wines. Even after our wonderful lunch we could not resist the delicious salami and cheese accompanying the wine.

So tired but happy we returned to the ship. Here anytime dining proved to be very valuable as we could rest, shower, freshen up and go to dinner at our own choice of time.

Early the next morning we arrived at Kusadasi, Turkey. We had a marvelous buffet breakfast on the back deck, enjoying the beautiful weather which marked our whole cruise. The buffet breakfasts were very good, featuring all the American favorites such as scrambled or fried eggs, omelettes, bacon, sausage and biscuits with gravy, as well as more European breakfast items such as baked beans, cheese and cold cuts.
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We set off on the ship's "EZ" tour of the museum and Turkish village. Our guide Iskander, or Alexander, insisted that Turkey is NOT like a bird, but is pronounced "Turkiye." In return I asked him how to say Alexander the Great in Turkish, and called him "Buke Iskander" the rest of the tour. The museum contains several statues of the famous fertility goddess Artemis, known to St. Paul as Diana of the Ephesians, whose followers almost killed Paul and his companions. As an emblem of fertility she is depicted with many breasts.
Then we proceeded to the small village of Srince. We began with a tasting of local wines such as blackberry, apple and cherry, and then had a chance to explore (and shop!) As Turkey is a Muslim country, the village was dominated by the minaret of the mosque.
While I rested in the shade and sampled Turkish tea, the ladies took time to shop the village crafts. Renee had a chance to observe local bread being baked and purchase some, which made a nice snack on the way back to the ship.
It was a true mob scene at the port as passengers from at least four ships all arrived at once, but we negotiated it safely and got aboard. We sailed shortly after one PM. Today we choose to have hamburgers on deck, and then a steam and sauna before Renee and the other ladies of our group had their spa treatments.
This evening we had reservations to dine at Sabatini's. I usually think the food aboard is so good there is no point in paying $20 extra, but we make an exception for Sabatini's on Princess. There is an extensive menu, but the headwaiter told us to only order the "Secundi Platti" or main course -- EVERYTHING else is served to all! We had wonderful appetizers, from eggplant and roasted peppers to prosciutto and cured beef to shrimp and crab cakes and much more. Then we had several kinds of pizza to sample. Of course the pasta was a specialty, and we had three kinds -- cannelloni, gnocchi, and clam spaghetti. Then the main course arrived. Renee had the veal chop and pronounced it excellent. I could not choose among the seafood entrees so I had a mixed seafood grill, with lobster, langoustine, scallops, scampi, and sea bass. It was wonderful! A delightful selection of desserts finished the meal in just over three hours time.
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After dinner was the comedian, Rickie Jay, a Brit. He had a few good cruising jokes, such as referring to his cabin as his "statecupboard." He did a terrific life vest routine. "Why is there a light on the life vest. Do they think you are reading a book? And the whistle, why is it there? Helicopter coming to rescue you-- WHUP WHUP WHUP WHUP WHUP-- pilot says 'Wait, I think I hear a whistle' ?"

The next morning I sampled the room service breakfast. For some reason the earliest time on the order card was 7:30 so I checked that, and my breakfast arrived at 7:20, including a nice herb tea.
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Then we departed on our tour of Istanbul. Along with our friend Pam, I was booked on the "EZ" tour of Two Continents. We crossed over the Bosporus from the European side to the Asian side, and went to a hilltop viewpoint from which to view both continents.

It took me a bit to get the geography straight in my mind, and understand just how Asia is separated from Europe. The Dardanelles lead from the Aegean Sea, part of the Mediterranean, to the Sea of Marmara. Then the narrow channel of the Bosporus leads from the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea. So both the Dardanelles and the Bosporus serve to separate the continents. The Golden Horn is a bay or channel off the Bosporus which divides European Istanbul into old and new sectors.

Then in the hilltop cafe we were treated to the Turkish hospitality which always includes apple tea.

Then we, along with about a hundred other buses, headed for Haggia Sophia, the church of the Divine Wisdom, erected by the Emperor Constantine and later turned into a mosque by the Ottoman Turks. Today it is a state owned museum dedicated to both faiths. It is famous for the wonderful mosaics, including the Christ Pankrater and the Virgin Mary. It is a beautiful place but immensely crowded and the guide is almost impossible to hear. Nevertheless it is a wondrous experience just to be there.
As Pam and I viewed the Bosporus, Renee and Susan were touring the Topkapi Palace for its wonderful exhibits of treasures, including the famous dagger whose handle is a single huge emerald.
The next stop was the Bazaar. As we were there on a Sunday, the Grand Bazaar was closed and we visited what was advertised as a smaller shopping area. It was certainly big enough! If this was a small shopping area the Grand Bazaar must be truly awesome. Then we fought the traffic once again, encountering gridlock in the tourist areas, finally arriving back at the ship 2 1/2 hours late. This is one of those days that we were glad we were on a ship's excursion as an independent tour would have been chancy at best.

Back at the ship we were glad to hit the buffet and then take some time off to relax. The ship's internet connection was doing its usual job of annoying passengers. It was good to have the Platinum perk of free internet, as paying for the miserably slow and erratic connection would have certainly upset us! The evening closed with the Motown production show, which is simply too loud for the smaller Vista Lounge. But inexplicably the main Princess Theater was just used for a movie.
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Monday morning was a relaxing time as we did not dock until Noon. Arising about 8, we practically had the ship to ourselves, as almost everybody on board chose to sleep late. The internet was up and finally working well so we sent off email and then went back to the Plantation Pool for steam, sauna and hot tub. Next was the Trivia game, and our team finally won! We got Princess tote bags.
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At noon we docked at Mykonos in the Greek Isles, famed for its small white and blue houses marching up and down the hills. Entering the harbor is a very beautiful experience.

Our ship's tour took us onto a motor launch across a small channel to the island of Delos, mythological site of the birth of Apollo and his twin sister Artemis, children of Zeus by Leto. This is truly a wonderful site, and one that still retains the power bestowed on it by its long sacred history. It was a major religious site to the Greeks and many of the Greek isles made lavish gifts to Apollo.
One of the most famous is the Naxian Lions, dedicated to the god by the people of the isle of Naxos. Five of them remain and they are very imposing in their guarding stance. It was a long hot walk to explore the sacred precinct, but it was well worth it.

After departing Mykonos, we went down to the dining room early. The anytime dining was always wonderful and the servers were attentive and efficient. I did miss the chance to get to know the server. It seemed that they were not able to display any personality or charm when you just met them once.

On the nights of big shows, it was absolutely necessary to dine early and get to the theater early. By 20 minutes before show time the theater was absolutely full and no seats were to be found. This is another disadvantage of traveling on such a big ship. The evening's entertainment was Duo Des Isles, a man and wife team which is stunning in its beauty and almost impossible to describe. Fabulous split second costume changes, wonderful comedy and pantomime, puppets -- an amazing show! We loved every minute of it.
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For the day at sea it seems everybody on the ship slept late! Our cruisemates ordered the "Breakfast on the Balcony" package and reported it was marvelous, from the champagne to the basket of pastries and cantaloupe with berries. We breakfasted on the pool deck and watched the sea go by in leisure. Then it was up to the Sun Deck for sauna and hot tub. The small pool and hot tubs inside the spa are beautiful and usually not heavily crowded.

Then it was time for Trivia. We won again, more Princess tote bags! Our winning edge was "What was Spiderman's real name?" although we lost points for not being able to name the five Spice Girls. It got a little embarassing as we kept winning tote bags all week!

Following trivia the ladies had some time to shop the stupendous "Inventory" sale which occupied the whole Michelangelo dining room. (Why do I have the feeling they take "inventory" every week?) After that we went to the Da Vinci dining room for lunch, and spent a leisurely afternoon enjoying the ship and went to bed early.
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The next morning we arose bright and early to watch the ship sail into Naples harbor under the flanks of Vesuvius. It is a beautiful place and the historical city rising onto the hills above the harbor is a magnificent site. We docked very close to the famous volcano and had wonderful views of all the sights.
It turned out that the morning tours to Pompeii were cancelled, due, apparently, to a strike by the Italian workers. So the ladies went ashore while I stayed on the ship and relaxed (and won another trivia game.) They hired a cab for two hours for $80 to show them around the town and reported they had a great cab driver and a good time.
In the afternoon we went to Herculaneum. This is a wonderful excavation site. In the eruptiont that buried Pompeii in lava, Herculaneum was buried under 75 feet of mud. It is marvelously preserved and very informative.
Our guide led us down the long ramp and into many buildings including dwellings of the rich, a wine shop, the baths, and even the public toilets! There were many wondrous decorations in the form of mosaics and frescoes.
In the port of Civitavecchia, our friend Susan took the ship's excursion to Rome and reported that it was wonderful, although the city was very crowded and the guide moved very fast to cover all the sights. As we had been to Rome before, we chose a half day tour in this port, so we were able to relax on an almost empty ship in the morning. We felt as if the Plantation Pool was our own personal spa!

In the afternoon we left on the "Medieval Hills and Olive Oil" tour. The first part of the tour took us through the beautiful Tuscan countryside to an 11th century walled village with lots of charm and ancient buildings. The church of San Pietro standing on a hill was an imposing sight. It is a fine example of early Romanesque architecture, dating from the 1th century.

Then we drove through the hills to an ancient olive grove, full of twisted but productive trees. We saw the farming equipment and the huge stones which are used to press the extra virgin olive oil.
We relaxed on the hilltop with the light breezes cooling us off and sampled the local San Gervasio wine, peccarino cheese, and different types of olive oil on bruschetta. It was delightfully refreshing and enjoyable. Back on the ship I enjoyed those wonderful Princess crab legs while Renee dined on lamb chops dijonnaise. This was followed by a magician of only middling quality.
In the port of Livorno, I had found a special independent excursion offered by Dock & Discover. We were met by a private minivan and motored through the picturesque hills of Tuscany to Castle Oliveto, a Renaissance castle built by the Pucci family which had been host to several of the Medici family and three Popes. It sits high on a hill amid beautiful scenery.
We had a wonderful tour of the castle including the gardens, crenellated battlements, the wine cellar, and the Pope's bedroom!
In the castle's kitchen we met the chef and began our Italian cooking lesson. Under her careful instruction we made canapes of zucchini, mushrooms and liver on bruschetta; grilled tomatoes with lots of extra virgin olive oil; gnocchi and ravioli in a tomato sauce; turkey stuffed with meat paste; and almond biscotti.

For lots more pictures of our great cooking lesson, CLICK HERE.

While the meal was cooking we were treated to a wine tasting of the castle's own white wine, plus a young Chianti and an aged Chianti. We then tried the two blends named after the popes who had visited the castle, Leo X and Paul III. To finish it off we had a sip of the local grappa, a potent beverage which is 43% alcohol.
We went into the beautiful dining room, decorated with pictures of popes, dukes and countesses. Here we lunched on our own cooking, and a wonderful meal it was! The castle's own Vin Santo, a sweet dessert wine, finished off the meal with our almond biscotti to dip in it. After lunch we had a chance to purchase the local wines and extra virgin olive oil, explore the castle a bit more, and then returned to the ship. It was an outstanding experience!
Our final port call was Marseille, France. We were on the ship's excursion which took us on a long, but scenic, bus ride through the area known as the Camargue. They are well known here for their bloodless bullfights, and the beautiful horses which are born black but turn white at 4 years old.
We stopped at the ancient Roman aqueduct known as the Pont de Gard. It is an amazing and impressive feat of engineering. The arch was the great invention that allowed the Romans to build such accomplishments. Our guide told us that six slaves, working a great wheel, could lift one of those blocks to the keystone of the arch.
Then we drove along the Rhone River and crossed it to the medieval walled town of Avignon, home of the Popes and Antipopes in the Fourteenth century. Here we had free time to explore the fascinating Place de l'Horloge, Square of the Clock, which is teeming with people of all nationalities.
Exploring the square is an adventure in itself. There are many things to see, and of course lots of shopping. A little restaurant under a tent proved a fine place for lunch. Renee had marvelous Gratinee l'oignon, French Onion soup, and I had a wonderful Tarte a fromage de cheval, toasted goat cheese sandwich.
Finally came disembarkation. It was a wonderful cruise but 12 days with only two sea days is a busy trip and we were happy but tired. Disembarkation was relatively easy and transfers to the airport were smooth. We waited in a very long line to check in with Delta, and were told the flight was overbooked. They were looking for volunteers to stay over in Barcelona and fly home the next day. They offered to put us up in a good hotel, pay for all meals, AND give us a $1000 voucher for future Delta flights. How could we refuse?
So we took a taxi to the Fira Palace Hotel, a four star hotel very close to the National Palace. We had a chance to ride the Bus Turistica and see many of the sights of Barcelona, including the Olympic stadium, Olympic village, and much wonderful architecture including the famous Gaudi buildings and also the Juan Miro Park. It was a very good whirlwind tour.

Then we sampled (at Delta's expense) the famous paella of the city. So our one day extension was very well spent. The next morning we made the long flight home and slept in our own beds with wonderful dreams of the Grand Mediterranean cruise in our heads!

We like to discuss our travels. Email us at thehalls@bully4.us

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