Southampton: Embarking on the Grand Princess British Isles cruise

Wednesday, July 4, 2007 — ALL ABOARD!

Embarkation went very smoothly. We arrived at the port, and as soon as our driver dropped us off, we encountered Princess Cruise employees who directed us to the check-in area. We showed our passports, provided our booking information, and were given our cruise cards. As we prepared to board the ship, they took our I.D. photos (which pop up on a screen every time our cruise card is swiped when leaving or returning from a port), as well as the obligatory Embarkation Photo that would later be on sale in the Photoshop on Deck 7. The weather was rainy and cold, but we were too excited about our trip to care.

We headed to our staterooms (Caribe Deck 10, Rooms 503 and 505) and met our room steward, Arnulfo. He was very friendly, and throughout the trip, we found him to be attentive and accommodating—one of the best staff members we encountered on the ship. The rooms had large balconies, and were actually a little larger than I expected.

Stateroom 503 on the Caribe deck

According to our copy of the Princess Patter (the ship’s daily newsletter which lists all of that day’s events and activities; it was waiting for us at the stateroom), sit down lunch was available in the DaVinci diningroom, and buffet lunch was available in the Horizon Court. Unfortunately, when we got to the DaVinci, they turned us away because of a “private function” that was taking place, so we had to head back up to Deck 14 for the buffet. It was very crowded, and finding a table was difficult.

Outside the Horizon Court buffet, staff members were selling “Unlimited Soda” stickers for $47.40 (plus a 15% gratuity), which also comes with a souvenir Coca-cola thermos. We were told we’d need one for each of our kids, so we decided against it, since they could get iced tea and milk for free at the buffet. Later that night at dinner, however, our server told us that we could just purchase the one sticker and order as many sodas as we wanted, regardless of whether or not it was for one child or all three. We went ahead and got the sticker then, and only had a waiter question it once during the trip (and even then, he brought us the sodas and didn’t charge us). In the end, it did turn out to be worth it, because my daughters got in the habit of ordering Shirley Temples wherever they went.

After lunch, we explored the ship a bit, had a drink at in the Explorers Lounge, and listened to the string quartet in the Atrium. Since it was Independence Day, they had a display of cakes decorated with American symbols (bald eagle, stars & stripes, Statue of Liberty) that would be served later that evening.

Most of our luggage arrived together in one set, but we did have two “stragglers” (small carry-on sized bags) that took a bit longer to get to the room. We were nervous that they’d been lost, but were told that all luggage would be at the stateroom no later than 7pm. By late afternoon, we had all of our bags, safe and sound. Whew!

At 4:15, it was time for the Passenger Emergency Drill (muster stations, everyone!) which was very quick. Unlike last year’s cruise I took on Millenium, they kept us indoors and did not have us standing outside under the lifeboats. We never left the comfort of the lounge, and after a quick demonstration of how our life jackets worked, we were free to explore the ship again.

Our dinner was 2nd seating in the Botticelli Diningroom, which we quickly discovered was not reachable via our elevator bank (the galley location blocks elevator access, except for the two elevators on the far right and left of the ship). So, we had to take the elevator to the deck 7 and walk down one flight each evening. A bit inconvenient, but we quickly got used to it. The first night, there were lines to get into the diningroom, but this was because people needed to be given their table assignments. On subsequent evenings, we were able to walk right in and take our seats without waiting.

The service was a bit harried that evening (again, being the first night, everyone was getting their “sea legs’) but the food was good and, since we were a family of 5, we had the table all to ourselves. My soon-to-be 13-year-old made her choices from the regular menu, but my younger daughters (ages 11 and 7) opted for the kids menu. The choices they had each night included hot dog, hamburger, pasta, and fish sticks, but our server Monika was very accommodating of any request we had, especially for our youngest daughter, who is a very picky eater. As she got to know us, she learned what things my daughter would and would not eat, and was very good about bringing her a selection of things throughout the cruise. She brought a variety of fresh fruit (bananas, blueberries, etc) for my daughter each night, along with an appetizer of crackers and assorted cheeses. She made special, dressing-free salads for the 11-year-old (mostly cucumber and tomatoes, with a little carrot thrown in) and brought steamed veggies along with the main meal. She seemed genuinely concerned that my daughters get a well-rounded diet, and we found her to be very caring and attentive throughout the cruise. The seas were starting to get a bit choppy, and we could feel the ship moving quite a bit while we were in the diningroom, but we were able to enjoy our meal nonetheless.

After dinner, we went to the Princess Theater for the 10:30 All Aboard show (aka Grand Adventure Showtime). It turned out to be less of a show than a “meet and greet”, where the Social Staff took an opportunity to introduce themselves. A comedian from Las Vegas (Tim Walkoe) did a short set and was very funny.

Big surprise of the evening: they announced at the end of the show that tomorrow evening was our first Formal Night, which meant that we would be having THREE formal nights on this cruise, not two as we’d previously been told. Whoops!

Back at the room, the kids were a little disappointed in the lack of TV choices for them, so we headed back down to Deck 7 and browsed in the gift shops. I was planning to purchase a sweatshirt (since the weather was decidedly chilly) but I didn’t like any of the styles they had for sale…they all looked like walking Princess billboards, so I decided to take a pass and just layer what I’d brought with me.

Overall impressions thus far: while the ship itself was large and impressive, I was a bit underwhelmed by the crew. With two or three exceptions, I didn’t find the staff members to be as helpful or courteous as the ones I’d encountered on other ships. I decided to reserve judgement for a few more days until everyone had settled in, and hope that it was just “opening day” jitters. I was still excited about the trip, and looking forward to our first stop: St. Peter Port.

Coming up: St. Peter Port, we hardly knew ye

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