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Grand Princess

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When Grand Princess debuted in 1998, the line billed it as "the biggest, the fastest, the most elaborate, the most technologically advanced ... the grandest ship on the ocean." Although the vessel has since been dwarfed many times over by those that are bigger, faster and more modern, it continues to be a great option for cruise departures from the U.S. West Coast.

Princess has done a decent job of keeping Grand Princess updated. In recent years the ship has seen its atrium converted into the more modern Piazza, and new venues -- including the adults-only Sanctuary, Alfredo's Pizzeria, Tea Leaves tea salon, Crown Grill steakhouse and The One5 nightclub -- have been added. Most recently, the vessel welcomed a completely revamped kids club, Camp Discovery, which offers newly renovated spaces for three age groups through the cruise line's partnership with the Discovery TV network.

Overall, food and service are considerably above average. Although selections at the buffet are limited, the quality of the items is high, and the offerings change just enough on a daily basis to keep passengers from getting bored. Dining room options are tasty and served with a smile, and the pizza found onboard is out-of-this-world delicious. The service is consistently pleasant, helpful and efficient, from cabin stewards and waiters to the folks at the guest relations and shore excursions desks.

Despite Princess' best efforts, the ship does show its age in cabins with creaky doors, mismatched drawer knobs and dated bathrooms; in hallways with scuffed walls and loose carpeting; in some public areas like the theatre with corny production shows; and in the buffet, which is set up a bit like an old-school cafeteria, often causing lines to form; and especially in elevators, which are so scratched and scraped that they look even older than their age.

The buffet isn't the only space where there are traffic flow issues. Most main corridors in public areas are difficult to navigate, due to the number of other passengers making their way through. Shows in the theatre are often standing room only, as are many events in the ship's main lounges. Plus, the ship's design doesn't include a central stairwell servicing all decks, so passengers are forced to either walk all the way forward or aft or wait, sometimes several minutes, for an elevator. (One elevator was closed for maintenance our entire sailing, making wait times even longer.) Overall, this nearly 2,600-passenger vessel generally feels more crowded than some ships that carry two -- or even three -- times as many passengers.

Above all, what you'll get with Grand Princess is an affordable cruise on a well-worn, casual-yet-elegant ship that's great for young retirees and multigenerational groups departing from the U.S. West Coast.

"Smart casual" is the way Princess prefers to label its dress code. It generally means nice jeans, slacks or shorts during the day with T-shirts, collared shirts or blouses. Itineraries of seven to 13 days include two formal nights; five- and six-night sailings have only one. Some passengers prefer tuxes and ball gowns, but you'll find most in pantsuits or cocktail dresses and dark suits. Shorts, tank tops and swimwear are never allowed in the dining room for dinner, but dark jeans without holes are acceptable.

Princess entertainment is fun but slightly more traditional and less active than some of the offerings on other lines. Shows range from stellar to slightly cheesy, but the talent of the singers and dancers was enough to offset the Las Vegas vibe. The daily Princess Patter lists a multitude of trivia, lots of singing and dancing, magicians, comedians and, of course, karaoke. Combine that with outdoor pursuits like movies and sail-away parties, and there's lots to do.

Theatre

Princess Theatre shows include standard song-and-dance production shows with names like Stardust and British Invasion, which focus on popular music from various genres. Featuring sparkly costumes, fun scenery and talented performers, the shows were just the right amount of fun and kitsch. Our favourite was Born to Dance, a touching medley of Broadway hits interspersed with video outtakes from the dancers explaining why they love their craft. Other memorable offerings were a magician (who also hosted a "how to do magic" seminar where we learned some impressive card tricks) and a singing ventriloquist-comedian. Our least favourite was a vocal impressionist who sounded nothing like the artists he claimed to be impersonating; the only thing in which he succeeded -- before we decided to leave -- was mocking Stevie Wonder's physical disability and mannerisms.

Daily Fun

Throughout the day, passengers can play bingo; watch movies; learn towel folding or a new dance step; attend art, photography, shopping and health seminars; take a free tour of the galley following a cooking demonstration by the head chef; and check out activities that centre on the itinerary the ship is sailing. (On our Mexico voyage, there was a Day of the Dead celebration with music and face painting.) Trivia is offered several times each day and covers topics like general knowledge, animals and Disney movies; a compounding cruise-long trivia runs every sea day, focusing on a different topic each time, and pits the same teams against each other for the highest cumulative score. Live music plays throughout the day in the atrium. Meetings for various groups (LGBT, Friends of Bill W, singles, veterans and military) are offered, as well; times are listed in each day's schedule.

At Night

Trivia carries over into the nighttime with more intricate offerings like a Sherlock Holmes murder mystery, where passengers had to identify song clues. Other game shows include Passenger Feud (the at-sea version of Family Feud), Majority Rules (the most popular answer wins), Who's the Cuckoo? (passengers decide which of three entertainment staff members is lying) and Battle of the Sexes. Meanwhile, recent-release Movies Under the Stars (MUTS) are shown on the poolside movie screen. Several versions of karaoke are held throughout each sailing and include one where singers are projected onto the MUTS screen and another where participants are backed up by a live band. Other live music (piano in Crooner's piano bar, jazz in the Explorer's Lounge, mariachi in the piazza) is offered throughout the ship daily until late. Additionally, a DJ spins in the top-of-ship One5 nightclub until the wee hours. On the second-to-last night of our sailing, there was also a balloon-drop party in the atrium where passengers danced to music from the ship's band amid the sounds of popping balloons.

On voyages of a week or longer, Grand Princess hosts "The Voice of the Ocean," a spin-off of the NBC TV show "The Voice." Singers, chosen by their fellow passengers during several days of karaoke tryouts, rehearse for several days with coaching from onboard singers. On the final night of the sailing, they compete in front of a panel of judges (who sit in the signature spinning chairs) to win votes from the audience.

The ship's Grand Casino, located on Deck 6 forward, is home to several dozen slot machines, roulette, craps, blackjack and poker, as well as games of chance. Passengers can also purchase scratch-off lottery tickets at the cash-out window. Although smoking isn't allowed in the casino, we smelled it more than once, and it was overpowering.

Grand Princess Bars and Lounges

Grand Princess has more than a dozen bars; some are rarely crowded, while others force passengers to wait several minutes for their orders to be taken. Watering holes in central locations -- mainly the Piazza and the Deck 7 promenade area -- are generally the most frequented.

We found that the ship quieted down significantly after 11 p.m., so there wasn't much of a bar scene after hours. Even the glitzy One5 nightclub was dead most nights.

Bar Piazza (Deck 5 midship): This staple Piazza bar is centrally located, providing standard alcoholic drinks to the masses on the first deck of the ship's atrium area.

Vines (Deck 5 midship): Found next to Alfredo's Pizzeria, vines is the ship's wine bar, offering for-fee pours and tastings throughout each sailing. Tastings include food pairings and cost $25 per person. A Norman Love chocolate and wine tasting is also featured.

Snookers Bar (Deck 6 forward): Located just outside the Deck 6 entrances to the Princess Theater, Snookers is Grand Princess' cigar bar. Decorated like an English sports pub with rich woods, sports memorabilia and several flat-screen TVs, it's the ultimate man cave. Sadly we only did a quick walk-through thanks to the smoke but would have enjoyed spending time in there otherwise.

Crooners (Deck 7 midship): Crooners functions as the vessel's martini and piano bar, boasting comfy seating with ocean views and live music from a gorgeous white piano.

Wheelhouse Bar (Deck 7 aft): It's easy to see how this bar, with a purely nautical theme, got its name. Drinks are served at a central bar surrounded by pockets of cushy seating and a small stage/dance floor area. This is the place to be for happy hour specials from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

Explorers Lounge (Deck 7 midship): Along the main thoroughfare on Deck 7, this venue, with an exotic theme featuring Egyptian art and animal carpeting (think elephants and lions) is where you'll find most trivia events and game shows. A large bar at the back serves cocktails via roving waiters.

Vista Lounge (Deck 7 aft): The vista lounge is the ship's secondary theatre and often hosts Zumba, dance classes, bingo, trivia and movies. Drinks are offered through waiter service.

Al Fresco's Bar (Deck 14 aft): This back-of-ship bar services Horizon Court buffet, as well as the Deck 12 Terrace Pool and anyone who happens to wander outside after a trip to Deck 15's One5 nightclub.

Calypso Bar (Deck 14 midship): This bar, located in the conservatory area, which houses the ship's covered Calypso Pool, is also close enough to be of use to those going to or coming from the Horizon Court buffet.

Mermaid's Tail (Deck 14 forward): Sandwiched on Deck 14 between Prego and the Trident Grill, this bar serves the main Neptune's Reef & Pool area, as well as MUTS.

The One5 (Deck 15 aft): This swanky lounge, nightclub and bar hosts trivia and loyalty member events and turns into the ship's nightclub after 10 p.m.

Sea Breeze Bar (Deck 15 forward):  The Sea Breeze Bar, found just above the Mermaid's Tail, acts as a secondary bar for the main pool area. It provides drinks for sail-away and other deck parties, for passengers sunning themselves on Deck 15 and for those watching MUTS, taking a dip in the Neptune Pool or grabbing a bite at Prego or the Trident Grill.

Oasis Bar (Deck 16 aft): This seemingly forgotten watering hole originally provided bar service for those relaxing in the twin Oasis hot tubs on Deck 16. While it's included on the ship map, it wasn't mentioned on the list of bars in any of our Princess Patters and was always closed. The hotel manager told us it's now only used for special gatherings and private functions.

Grand Princess Outside Recreation

Pools

Grand Princess has five pools: Neptune's Reef & Pool, the main open-air pool on Deck 14; Calypso Reef & Pool, the secondary pool, which is enclosed and located inside the Conservatory on Deck 14; the Lotus Spa pool, available to those who book spa treatments, located on Deck 15 forward, just below the adults-only for-fee Sanctuary sun deck; the Terrace Pool, found on Deck 12 aft, at the bottom of a terraced area that also includes Al Fresco's Bar and the entrance to The One5 nightclub; and the Splash Pool, a tiny, shallow wading pool that's great for little kids, found on Deck 16 forward.

Neptune's Reef & Pool is the best place to take a dip if you want to watch MUTS. It has its own bar, and Prego and the Trident Grill are nearby, as is Coffee & Cones, where you can grab coffee and ice cream. Much like Neptune's, the Calypso pool is flanked by two hot tubs, and the space is done up in white and blue mosaic tiles. They're pretty, but they give the areas a dated look. Some of the decking in these areas is warped and cracking, but with extra sunbathing space on Deck 15, there seemed to be enough loungers for everybody who wanted one. Calypso also has its own bar, and it's the pool closest to the Horizon Court buffet.

The Lotus Spa pool and Terrace Pool feature elegant, tiered wooden areas for sitting, sunbathing and placing towels, flip-flops and other pool gear. They're less utilized than the Neptune's and Calypso pools. The spa pool area features two hot tubs. The Terrace Pool doesn't have any, but it does offer gorgeous views of the ship's wake.

The Splash Pool seems like a bit of an afterthought, hidden behind windbreaks on Deck 16, just across the way from The Sanctuary. The placement of this forlorn outdoor space -- so near to The Sanctuary, one of the grandest and most exclusive spaces -- seems almost inappropriate.

At the back of the ship on Deck 16 are the Oasis Hot Tubs, a pair of seldom used whirlpools coupled with the defunct (except for occasional use by small groups holding gatherings) Oasis Bar. Oddly, there's no Oasis Pool. The closest place for a dip is the Terrace Pool three decks below.

Recreation

Outdoor pursuits are plentiful and include Movies Under the Stars, which feature popular recent titles and, at night, free popcorn and padded loungers with blankets. Films and concerts are shown at various times throughout the day, but when it's really spectacular is after the sun goes down -- when you're actually under the stars.

Speaking of stars, through a partnership with Discovery, Princess offers stargazing on each sailing, weather permitting. A member of the ship's staff leads everyone up onto Deck 15, and the captain turns off the ship's exterior lights to reduce light pollution, making the constellations easier to see on clear nights. Because this popular event has limited space, you'll have to pick up free tickets. Check Princess Patters for times and locations of ticket pickup.

Other outdoor evening and nighttime activities include festivities like sail-away parties and parties with themes like disco or country-western.

Decks 16 and 17 are where sporty passengers will likely spend some of their time, playing shuffleboard on Deck 16 aft or practising their short game on a nine-hole putting green on Deck 16 midship. (The ship also has a golf simulator, but it was out of order on our voyage.) There's a sports court on Deck 17 aft that's primarily used for basketball; free-throw shootouts are scheduled on each sailing.

Cruisers on Grand Princess can also choose to walk several miles around the ship's promenade deck as part of Princess' On Deck for the Cure program, which raises money for cancer research.

Sun Decks

The Sanctuary, the ship's exclusive adults-only extra-fee sun deck, is located in a serene space on Deck 16, above the Lotus Spa pool. Passengers pay to enter this haven of amazing views, padded loungers, shaded awnings and outdoor cabana massages.

There are also plenty of outdoor areas with loungers that are ideal for sunbathing, including Neptune's Reef & Pool and the area just above it on Deck 15. The Terrace Pool (Deck 12) is another great and less crowded option.

Grand Princess Services

Guest Services is where passengers can go to ask general questions, resolve customer service issues and settle or inquire about onboard account charges. The desk can be found in the Piazza on Deck 6 midship. Every person we talked to there was extremely friendly and helpful.

Grand Princess offers a variety of shore excursions that, on our Mexico sailing, ranged from beach breaks, tequila tastings and swimming with dolphins to an absolutely fantastic "Salsa and Salsa" tour, where we learned to both make it and dance it. There were options to fit a variety of budgets. Passengers will find the shore excursions desk on Deck 7 midship.

The library, which is awkwardly positioned on Deck 7's main thoroughfare, just outside the Piazza, has no walls to help keep noise levels down for those looking for a quiet space to read. A small selection of books and games is available for passengers to borrow on the honour system. Dubbed Leaves, the area also serves as a tea lounge, where tea drawers, reminiscent of a card catalogue, line the walls.

An internet cafe with 25 desktop computers and a printer is tucked into a corner, near the midship elevators on Deck 5. Although many cruise lines are moving toward per-day flat-fee internet packages and packages that allow for social media usage only, Princess' fees are still based on minutes, and the rates aren't cheap. Passengers can pay as they go at a cost of 79 cents per minute or purchase one of four packages: 100 minutes for $69, 200 minutes for $99, 400 minutes for $159 or 600 minutes for $199. Specials are offered at the beginning of each sailing that include bonus minutes, and a smaller package (15 minutes for $9) is offered the day before disembarkation for passengers who wish to check in for their flights. In general, connection speeds aren't the best, but they're better than some other connections we've had at sea. Ultimately, Princess still has some work to do in this area. Two things we loved: Grand Princess has a staffed help desk in case cruisers have problems setting up accounts or logging in to existing ones, and a free onboard service, Princess@Sea, is available for passengers to view daily schedules, add their own activities (spa treatments, dinner reservations, etc.) and check their onboard bills on their personal devices without having to download an app or use internet minutes. There's even a function that allows passenger-to-passenger text messaging between cruisers who have the service -- no internet minutes or data usage required.

For the shoppers onboard, Grand Princess houses four stores: Calypso Cove on Deck 6 for alcohol, logowear and sundries; Facets on Deck 6, selling jewellery and watches; Meridian Bay for on Deck 7 for jewellery, accessories and gifts; and Essence, also on Deck 7, which offers perfume and cosmetics. Sales are offered frequently on various items throughout each voyage.

Pictures line the walls along Deck 7 midship, where the photo gallery is located. Passengers can buy shots of themselves taken throughout their sailings. Packages are available, and appointments are available for anyone wanting professional photos. Cameras and camera equipment are also for sale, and the staff offer photography seminars.

For anyone interested in information about booking a future cruise or about the line's Captain's Circle membership program, offices for both are found on Deck 7 forward, just next to the Crown Grill. Hours are posted on the door.

Grand Princess has a dedicated art gallery space, which is uncommon for many modern cruise ships. Take a stroll through it on Deck 5 forward, and browse works from Max, Britto, Kincaid and many others. Auctions and art enrichment lectures are staples on every sailing.

Princess is the only cruise line with captains authorized to perform onboard wedding ceremonies. As a result, there's a chapel onboard. Hearts & Minds, Deck 15 aft, also hosts passenger-led religious services and serves as the meeting point for anyone participating in stargazing.

There is a self-service laundry on each passenger deck ($2 per wash, $2 per dry, detergent available for sale), and the medical centre can be found on Deck 4. An ATM is located in the Grand Casino on Deck 6 forward.

Spa

Grand Princess' Lotus Spa and fitness centre complex take up a large portion of Deck 15 aft. A small alcove with a couple of chairs and a table with brochures leads into the reception area, where passengers can inquire about pricing and book appointments for services. Down the hall are the salon, changing rooms and bathrooms, treatment rooms, a waiting area with plenty of seating and fruit-infused water, and the entrance to the spa pool and The Sanctuary sun deck.

Spa treatments include a variety of massages (starting from $165 for 75 minutes) and facials (from $125 for 50 minutes). Less common options feature Ionithermie detox treatments ($159 for 50 minutes), acupuncture (prices vary) and teeth whitening ($149).

Salon services are fairly standard: haircuts, colour, blowouts, manicures, pedicures and updos.

Passengers booking three treatments up front save 10 percent on the first one, 20 percent on the second and 30 percent on the third. Other discounts and special packages are offered almost daily; we tried a 75-minute one that included a hot stone massage, a scalp massage, a foot massage and a body brush exfoliating treatment for $179 and found the experience wonderful. (Although we did find it odd that the treatment rooms have windows with sheer curtains, allowing anyone walking on the outer deck to see in.) Note that the best discounts can often be had on port days.

Lotus Spa uses Elemis brand products, and attendants will try to sell them to you following a treatment unless you request to skip the pitch ahead of time. (We did, and our massage therapist kindly refrained.)

Fitness

The tiny and often crowded but functional onboard gym offers weight benches, free weights up to 75 pounds, Star Trac weight machines, two exercise bikes, two recumbent bikes, one rowing machine, six ellipticals, 12 treadmills, 16 spin bikes (for hosted spin classes), yoga mats, foam rollers and towels for passenger use. Fitness classes like free Zumba and for-fee yoga, TRX, spin and personal training sessions are offered on a regular basis. For those who enjoy walking or jogging, two laps around the ship's promenade deck (Deck 7) equal a little more than a mile. The promenade doesn't make a complete circuit of the ship, but you can complete one by taking the stairs up one deck up near the bow and then back down again.

Food on Grand Princess is impressive. On the dining room menu, cruisers will find plenty of dishes that draw inspiration from the local cuisine of the places the ship visits. There's also pizza, grill fare, barbecue, Italian cuisine, a steakhouse and a pop-up restaurant specializing in seafood.

Perhaps one of the most delightful aspects of dining on Grand Princess is that the cruise line leverages its partnership with Chef Norman Love to include fabulous chocolatey desserts on the menus in most of its restaurants, including the main dining room and the ship's steakhouse and Italian restaurant.

Vegetarian and gluten-free options are often noted on the menus. Special dietary requests can be accommodated with advance notice.

In addition to food, Grand Princess serves up a plethora of beverages. While lemonade, tea, water and basic coffee are free, charges apply for soda, bottled water, juice (except at breakfast), speciality coffee drinks and, of course, alcohol. Several packages are offered, including a soda package ($8.05 per person, per day) that entitles the holder to unlimited soda, juice, mocktails and hot chocolate, and an all-inclusive beverage package ($52 per person, per day) that includes everything in the soda package, plus speciality coffees and teas, beer, glasses of wine and cocktails valued at $10 or less. Those who enjoy fancy coffee can purchase punch cards that entitle them to 15 specialty cups of joe for $31. Bottled water can be had for $6.90 per 12-pack.

Free Dining

Michelangelo (Deck 5 midship), Botticelli (Deck 6 aft), DaVinci (Deck 6 midship): These three venues, named and themed after famous artists, serve as the ship's main dining rooms and are elegantly appointed with dark woods and large murals adorning the walls.

Michelangelo is strictly for Anytime Dining between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Botticelli features two set-seating dining times: 5:30 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. DaVinci hosts early set-seating dining at 5:30 p.m. and then opens for Anytime Dining from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. DaVinci also offers sit-down waiter-served breakfast every day from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., lunch (sea days only) from noon to 1:30 p.m. and daily afternoon tea from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

All three venues share the same menu for dinner, but it changes daily. Starters generally include small fruit plates, salads and soups like French onion or frozen rum-infused pina colada soup (served in a glass with a straw). Mains consist of items like pan-seared basa with pineapple-papaya salsa, grilled beef tenderloin, Asian-spiced duck breast and tempura vegetables. Always-available entrees include shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad, fettuccine Alfredo, grilled salmon, pan-seared chicken breast and hamburgers.

Desserts run the gamut from Black Forest cake with sour cherries and orange Grand Marnier souffle to sugar-free choices like strawberry mousse and always-available options like New York cheesecake, ice cream and a cheese plate.

For the sea day lunch, passengers will find always-available brunch options like eggs Benedict and James Beard French toast in addition to items that change daily. Examples from the rotating menu include chicken liver mousse, seafood quesadillas and Chinese egg drop soup for starters. Mains might include burgers with fries, pasta, fruit salad with cottage cheese, egg-fried Monte Cristo sandwiches, grilled minute steaks and griddled rockfish with pineapple-cilantro salsa. (Combos of soups, salads and sandwiches are also available.) Desserts featured on our visit were amaretto cake, a delicious apple walnut cobbler and a selection of ice cream.

The breakfast menu includes standard fare: juices (orange, apple, prune, tomato, pineapple), fruit, cereal, pastries, yoghurt, eggs a variety of ways (fried, poached, soft boiled, scrambled, omelettes), pancakes, bacon, sausage and hash browns. Part of the menu also changes; on the day we went, it included melon fruit cocktail and grilled minute steak with eggs and mushrooms.

Service on our sailing was always friendly and generally efficient, with dinner service being the best. After dining elsewhere one evening, we noticed a soup on the dining room menu that sounded delicious. We stopped in to ask if it would be possible to get a couple of bowls to go, and the staff kindly had them sent to our cabin via room service. However, one morning at breakfast we asked for an off-menu cheese omelette with peppers and were told it wasn't possible. We then shortened the request to a simple egg and cheese omelette, thinking it would be no sweat, given that the menu did include a ham and cheese selection. What the waiter brought us instead was an omelette with ham and no cheese.

Alfredo's Pizzeria (Deck 5 midship): Princess has some of the best pizza we've ever tasted at sea, and Alfredo's is one of two places onboard to get it. This sit-down waiter-served eatery offers a small room with tables and chairs amid mosaic tiles and interesting wall art depicting scenes from Venice. The menu includes fancy pies that combine standard tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese with ingredients like artichoke hearts, mushrooms, prosciutto, black olives, anchovies, capers, mussels, bay shrimp, tomatoes, grilled zucchini, peppers, onions and avocado. Strangely, you won't find the usual Margherita or pepperoni options listed. The made-to-order pizzas take about 15 minutes, and they're created at a counter in the atrium where passengers can watch the preparation. There are four small slices to a pie -- enough for a light snack for two. Beer, wine and soda are available for purchase. Alfredo's is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily; reservations aren't necessary.

International Cafe (Deck 5, midship): The centrally located International Cafe is the only place on the ship that serves food 24 hours a day. Free nibbles include soups, sandwiches, salads, pastries and other light fare. For-fee speciality juices, teas and Illy coffees are also served there, ranging from $2.75 to $5.

Horizon Court (Deck 14 aft): Horizon Court, the ship's fairly nondescript buffet eatery, has two identical sides, each set up with three rows of cafeteria-style stations that often lead to long lines during peak times.

Hours are the same, regardless of whether it's a port day or sea day. Breakfast (6 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.) features meats and cheeses, eggs, bacon, hash browns, fruit, cereal, yoghurt, pastries, fruit smoothies, juices, pancakes, waffles and an omelette station. Lunch (11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) is a mix of soups, sandwiches and salads; Asian cuisine; and comfort food like french fries, macaroni and cheese and chicken fingers. Dinner (5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.) might include mini-quiches, a carving station with meat and mashed potatoes, seafood like shrimp cocktail and a variety of desserts that include fruit tarts, JELL-O, chocolate cake, banana-vanilla pudding, blueberry crumble and an assortment of cookies and brownies, as well as some sugar-free options like strawberry mousse layer cake.

Although the food quality is high, the offerings became a little repetitive by the end of our 10-night sailing.

On our cruise, the starboard side always seemed busier and more crowded; head to the port side to find shorter lines and additional seating. The pool area also offers tables and chairs if you still can't find room.

Trident Grill (Deck 14 forward): From 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, Trident Grill prepares hamburgers, hot dogs, fries and onion rings by the ship's main pool. Smokehouse BBQ is also available there daily from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., featuring dishes like orange molasses grilled chicken, beef chilli and pulled pork. Veggie burgers are provided on request.

Prego Pizzeria (Deck 14 forward): Fortunately for those who prefer more standard pizza options or a grab-and-go counter service experience, Prego, adjacent to the Trident Grill, near the main pool, makes fresh pizza daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Standard pies include margherita and pepperoni. A special third type changes daily and might feature white pies or less common options like the "Nizzarda" (tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, tuna, onions, chilli pepper, fresh basil and olive oil), to name a couple.

Coffee & Cones (Deck 14 midship): Feeling like some alfresco coffee or ice cream? Check out Coffee & Cones, which specializes in free soft-serve (chocolate, vanilla or twist) and extra-fee coffee drinks that range from $1.75 to $5. Also for a charge of $3 each, you can try an out-of-this-world ice cream sandwich in amazing flavour combinations like a chocolate chip cookies with vanilla ice cream, coconut-ginger cookies with pina colada ice cream, snickerdoodles with cinnamon ice cream, oatmeal raisin cookies with honey yoghurt ice cream or chocolate-chocolate chip cookies with peppermint ice cream. This is also where you can snag a bag of free popcorn to munch on while you catch Movies Under the Stars.

Pub Lunch: On select sea days, Grand Princess offers a pub-style lunch in the Crown Grill. Free of charge, the meal's shining star is the fish 'n' chips, which are superb. Princess Patters list days and hours.

Room Service: The ship's free room service menu is surprisingly extensive. Choose from soup, salads, sandwiches (with choice of french fries, potato chips or coleslaw), hot dogs, hamburgers, beef chili, lasagna, Moroccan veggies with pita bread, and a selection of desserts.

Breakfast can be ordered via a card that you fill out and hang on the outside of your cabin door handle after selecting the desired delivery time. Our meal arrived on the dot, the food was hot, and it was just as we had ordered it with special requests -- no banana yoghurt, no bacon, etc. -- honoured flawlessly. (One note: The bacon that comes on the bacon, egg and cheese English muffin is Canadian bacon, which took us by surprise.)

Room service also has for-fee options that include a whole pizza ($3), assorted canapes ($10–14), a vegetable platter with dip ($6), cheese and crackers ($12), shrimp ($14), guacamole with tortilla chips ($8), and chocolate-dipped strawberries ($8). Alcoholic beverages and soda are also available for a fee.

Fee Dining

Crown Grill (Deck 7 forward; $29 per adult, $14.50 per child): Crown Grill is Grand Princess' steakhouse. Outfitted with a combination of light and dark woods accented with green marble and white tablecloths, this restaurant specializes in seafood and some of the best and most expertly cooked steak we've ever tasted.

From the menu, diners can choose appetizers like black tiger prawn and papaya salpicon, carpaccio of pine nut-coated lamb loin, spiny lobster cakes or pan-seared Pacific scallops, while soups and salads might include shrimp and pancetta bisque, black and blue onion soup or marinated goat cheese and tomato salad. Entrees fall into three categories: seafood (a mussel pot, Chilean sea bass with king prawns or Maine lobster tails), chops (beef, veal, lamb, pork or porterhouse) and steaks (New York and Kansas City strip, rib eye or filet mignon). A variety of gourmet salts is also provided to complement each meal; the options include Hawaiian black salt, smoked applewood salt and Himalayan mountain pink salt. Try the sampler for dessert, and you'll get a taste of molten Dutch chocolate cake, lemon meringue pudding tart, a seven-layer s'mores stack and a milk chocolate peanut butter bar that features Norman Love chocolate.

The food preparation area is open to the restaurant so passengers can view their meals being created. Alcoholic beverages cost extra; Crown Grill has an excellent wine selection, which can be viewed from the wine cabinets that line part of one wall. This venue is open from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. every day; reservations are recommended.

Sabatini's (Deck 7 aft; $29 per adult, $14.50 per child): Italian eatery Sabatini's is a bit hidden, tucked away on Deck 7 between the photo gallery and Explorer's Lounge. Two small waiting areas flank the entrance, giving way to a space that was updated during the 2016 refurb. The neutral decor features creams and browns with light and dark woods and small pops of muted blue and yellow. Columns line the walls, which are somewhat minimalist, bearing an occasional planter or mural of the Coliseum. A chef's work station is set up to one side of the restaurant, and cruisers can watch as their meals are prepared.

All tables receive a selection of breads and marinated olives. Examples of menu items include white bean and black mussel soup, baby field greens with cheese and vinaigrette, fried baby squid with lemon garlic dip, and thinly sliced chilled veal roast with tuna caper aioli as starters. One of the most popular items is hand-formed burrata cheese on a bed of tomatoes with balsamic reduction, and it's absolutely superb. A second course of pasta includes one of the following: spaghetti with lobster, scallops, shrimp and mussels in tomato sauce; braised short rib over penne; or manicotti with spinach, ricotta and fontina cheese roulade over tomato coulis. For mains, passengers can decide between delectable baked striped bass, garlic-infused shrimp, lobster three ways, strip steak, veal rack or chicken supreme stuffed with eggplant, Asiago cheese and tomatoes. Dessert examples include espresso creme brulee, a citrus tart with chocolate and tiramisu with espresso gelato (made with Norman Love chocolate).

Alcoholic beverages, including wine, are available for an extra fee, as is the restaurant's signature olive oil, which can be purchased for $16 a bottle. Sabatini's is open every day from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.; reservations are recommended.

Crab Shack (Deck 14 aft; $29): Crab Shack is generally offered twice per sailing. (Dial 3463 for details on days and times or to make reservations, which are recommended.) Located in a special section of the Horizon Court buffet, this casual venue is the type where you'll don aprons to protect your clothes, wield special tools and eat lots and lots of seafood.

Prepare to get messy with menu options such as crawfish with corn on the cob; Alaska king crab legs with peel-and-eat shrimp; a clam, mussel and shrimp pot; or a mix of snow crab, king crab, jumbo shrimp, clams, mussels and kielbasa. Each person starts off with a basket of popcorn shrimp and hush puppies, as well as a bowl of Manhattan clam chowder, and a small rotating selection of desserts is offered from a small display case. Options might include a fruit tart or flourless chocolate cake. Drinks are available for a la carte purchase.

Ultimate Balcony Dining ($45 breakfast, $100 four-course dinner): Anyone with a balcony cabin who would like to dine alfresco and in private can book one of Princess' Ultimate Balcony Dining packages. The packages are pricy, but they include a special menu and in-cabin waiter service that will bring everything out to your balcony, complete with tablecloths and place settings. Breakfast includes a half bottle of chilled sparkling wine, homemade pastries, cold smoked salmon with dill cream cheese and roasted lemon brioche, fresh fruit and quiche. Dinner might feature combinations like Pacific blue crab cakes baked in a puff pastry with marinated chevre and mesclun field greens and broiled lobster tails with veggies or grilled filets of beef tenderloin with chateau potatoes and veggies. Reservations are required.

Cabins on Grand Princess are dated in colour, worn around the edges and smaller than the industry average -- an industry-standard inside cabin, for instance, is typically about 185 square feet, while on Grand Princess an inside is only 160 square feet. On the plus side, they're clean and comfortable, and they make intelligent use of the available space.

Despite the staterooms' slightly aged appearance, Princess has kept up with necessary improvements, including the addition of flat-screen TVs and the line's signature Luxury Beds, which are insanely comfortable and will have you sleeping like a baby.

Standard rooms feature an interesting setup, where the entry door is set to one side. Rather than the closet and bathroom being across from one another with the entry door in the middle, you walk through a closet area to access the bathroom.

Cabins are done up in a blue and cream palette, accented by honey-coloured wood. Each standard cabin includes a small closet (oddly with no doors) for hanging clothes, across from a tall, thin cabinet with shelves and a safe. Two twin beds can be bumped together to form a large queen. Each room also has two night stands with reading lamps and drawers, as well as a sitting chair and round wood and glass table; a vanity/desk with a chair, drawers, large mirror, phone and weak wall-mounted hair dryer (bring your own); and a console with a mini-fridge and flat-screen television that offers FOX, CNBC, MSNBC, BBC, ESPN, Discovery, Animal Planet and movie channels for specific genres like romance and family. There are also ship-specific channels related to art, the onboard shops and the vessel's location.

Standard bathrooms each feature ceramic tiled floors (a rarity on modern ships) and a small shower with separate dials for water temperature and pressure (which, by the way, is superb). In the shower, you'll also find a clothesline for drip-drying washcloths and bathing suits, wall-mounted Lotus Spa brand shower gel and a shampoo/conditioner combo, and a too-small space for storing your own toiletries. The sink area is short on storage space, but we were able to find a place for everything elsewhere in the cabin. Ladies be warned: Bathroom lighting is dim; you'll have better luck applying makeup at the vanity.

One particularly nice touch is that there are switches by each bed (or each side of two beds bumped together) so you can turn off the main cabin lights without getting up if you're already under the covers.

Outlets are North American only, and there are three in each standard stateroom: two at the vanity and one behind the TV. There's also a "shavers only" outlet by the sink in each bathroom.

Robes are available by request.

Accessible cabins are available in almost every stateroom category. They have large roll-in showers and rooms large enough to support any turning radius. All show and dining venues are wheelchair accessible, and public bathrooms have accessible stalls. Kits are available for hearing-impaired passengers, and the cruise line even provides ASL translators. Service animals are permitted with advance notice. (We saw six on our sailing.)

One thing we missed was an in-cabin directory of important phone numbers for things like the "Dine Line," the spa and the shore excursions desk. If you need to reach a particular venue or department, simply hit the "Purser's Office" button on your cabin phone, and someone at the front desk will transfer you.

Interior: Averaging 160 square feet, these are the ship's most basic accommodations. They feature everything mentioned above.

Ocean-view: Coming in at just 168 square feet, these cabins offer windows for a view of the sea. They include everything mentioned above.

Balcony: Basic balcony cabins range in size from 214 to 257 square feet each, including the balcony. They feature the setup and amenities mentioned above. Standard balcony furniture consists of a small metal table and two metal and mesh chairs that recline.

Most of Grand Princess' staterooms have balconies, a concept that was new when the ship was built. What's a bit odd, though, is that the verandas are tiered, growing larger the lower on the ship you go. With the way they're positioned, passengers with balconies on upper decks can see onto the balconies of those below them, leaving little privacy.

Mini-suite: These rooms each measure 323 square feet (including balcony) and include everything mentioned above, as well as a sofa bed and a divider between the sitting room and the sleeping area. There are two TVs in each of these cabins; one can be viewed from the bed and the other from the living room. Bathrooms in this category are large and have showers with bathtubs.

Suite: There are several types of suites on Grand Princess. The newest were added on Deck 6, near the casino, during the 2011 refurbishment. They range from 319 to 341 square feet, but don't have balconies.

Suites with verandas range from 468 to 591 square feet and include everything the mini-suites have. The Grand Suite, the ship's largest accommodation, offers 730 feet of space, a faux fireplace and a whirlpool bathtub.

Suite balcony furniture varies by balcony size but generally includes nicer wooden chairs and tables, as well as sun loungers.

Family suites are also available and are essentially two standard cabins with a living room in the centre and an extended balcony. Each family suite sleeps eight people.

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