Wheelchair Accessible Grand Princess Cruise to the Western Caribbean
by Vladimir Drobashevsky 2002

Vladimir and Elfrieda Drobashevsky share their 7-day Christmas cruise to the Western Caribbean.

Our previous cruises were on Regal, Dawn, old Star and old Sky Princesses, so Elfrieda and I were a little bit apprehensive about boarding this mega ship Grand. It turned out to be a big / little ship and we loved it (hm - her). For those of you not interested in details, let me just say, our Christmas cruise, Western Caribbean, with some minor glitches, was just great. A fat B+. Wife and I cannot wait to "assemble finances" for a next cruise in the near future.

Now the details. After a painless flight from Pittsburgh to FTL, we had a quick flawless embarkation as early as 1 pm. In difference to previous trips we had to get  our luggage off the bag belts at FTL terminal and carry it over to the Princess' bus. I did not understand this new security step, since all our luggage was well x-rayed  in Pittsburgh and now in FTL delivered by porter to the bus and later dropped off by the  PR crew to our stateroom door!

Stateroom

For the last three years, my wife is in the wheelchair and we book now a HP cabin. Both of us were surprised to find a huge room with a king-size bed, lots of storage drawers and closets, a balcony approx. 7 x 14 ft and a large bathroom. One negative bit about the bathroom. The flooring is glazed tile including the shower stall. Imagine standing on equal to skating ice rink surface and taking a shower! It gets a little bit more challenging since my sweetheart is an amputee and has to transfer from the WC to the folding shower bench and back. I did explain the problem to the purser  - no results, and further, the room steward told us, we are not the first to point out the danger.

Food, Service and Entertainment

Both of us are used to having dinner at home around 6 o'clock, so we always choose the traditional seating/early dinner; table for four. At Grand, this  was  at 6.15. This enabled us to be done with "wining and dining" by about 7.30, go back to our room, refresh and then have plenty of time to attend the shows and/or casino. There were excellent selections on the menu every night, and since I value my wife's culinary abilities and judgment (only second to Julia Childs!) - she was well pleased and so was I. Cannot say the same for the Horizon Court. We had 2-3 breakfasts and lunches there and found that although one had endless selections, some of it was nothing to write home about. Example, greasy K-y fried chicken and fried fish. We lucked out with our waiter Eduardo and his assistant Maxim. We had the feeling that we were the only couple that they catered to and including our  room steward, that could not do enough for us, we firmly believe all three contributed a lot to our successful cruise.

Most evenings we preferred smaller  shows, such as the comedians, jugglers and one very funny hypnotist. This had to do with our fiasco the first night at the main Show Lounge. It was Christmas Eve and what else would be more appropriate then the Christmas Show. Well, little did we know that the Princess entertainers were hardly prepared for the performance and Santa's visit to Grand. It was a plain disaster, obviously, a none-rehearsed 40 minutes! One could tell by the line in the darkness of exiting guests. We did hear, that the variety shows the next couple of nights were much better...

Shore Excursions

Both of us are quite happy to remain on the ship at various stops. Our attitude: "been there, seen that". Seriously, there is always so much to do, and think how relaxing and quiet it is on board with most of the passengers ashore. The library with a fantastic choice of volumes, the card room and all the lounge chairs waiting for us by the empty pools on deck 14!

Our first stop Princess Cays. As I've said, we've been there on our Eastern cruise some time ago. Fellow passengers were very satisfied with snorkeling, swimming and a great barbeque, and we were off to Grand Cayman. Well, it was not to be. Choppy sea would have prevented safe transfer to tenders and so we continued to Costa Maya, Mexico.

There were several good selections including Chacchoben Mayan Ruins, and the Museum of Mayan Culture. Here, I should point out one misleading shore excursion called "Jungle Beach Break" ($29.00-adult). According to  the PR brochure "Adventures Ashore" at Uvero Beach, describing tranquil waters, beautiful sand and tropical foliage, the club and the amenities, it fact, it turned out to be a body of water knee deep up to some 200-300 yards out, bottom full of dead coral and seaweeds. Sand beach was OK, but the "Club" was nothing more than a large open hut with  a bar and dirty, smelly toilets. It is certainly not the $29, but a wasted afternoon including 40 min each way on the bus.

The next day we were in Cozumel. Heard from many, that trips to Tulum Mayan Ruins and X-Caret Eco-Archeological Park were very nice, but both of us elected to "hang out" downtown. The sales people, in all the stores, I found to be a little bit pushy;  they followed us everywhere through the store with all kinds of offers. For the HP people, a word of caution: if you are in a wheelchair, remember that most of the store entrances are one, two  or even three steps up from the sidewalk.

Going Home

Our home flight was not until late in the evening and we opted for a bus tour in Ft. Lauderdale, specifically tour of Everglades and the famous Ft. Lauderdale Flamingo Park. Thus the  reason for our early disembarkation. The previous night our suitcases were picked up from the cabin, and after super fast exit (surrendering our ID/key cards and showing our passports) we were at the Pr terminal building - searching for the luggage. Thank God for porters, our bags were now on the bus and we were off to Everglades. Really an excellent tour, providing one uses the ear plugs properly. Mine - fell out for a second and due to a real aircraft engine roar right at my left ear... I could not hear for a couple of days. Oh well, live and learn! We arrived at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport right after lunch and found an earlier flight home. In contrast to Pittsburgh Int'l, that has seven Security Stations, Ft. Lauderdale, US Airways terminal had two, and only one working! Needless to say, the line was a mile long, and the two of us were the last passengers to enter the aircraft. In spite of some tiny problems, we still think, it was one of the best cruises we ever had. We would not hesitate to return to Grand Princess, depending as always, on itineraries and reasonable fares. It was our 7th Princess  cruise, a total of 9, one each on Costa and HAL.

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