When the 109,000-gross-ton Grand Princess entered service in spring 1998, it was billed as the biggest, most expensive cruise ship ever built. Its debut even made headlines in the pages of The New York Times. As the first installment in what came to be known as the Grand Class, the Grand Princess represented an impressive list of seagoing achievements, including the first swim-against-the-tide lap pool at sea, the largest casino afloat, the first wedding chapel at sea, and more private balconies than any other ship at the time.
But as singular as the Grand Princess was, it actually was part of a much larger family tree that included three sisters of the same tonnage and four smaller sisters that together composed the Grand Class. Its influence was felt far beyond even those original seven ships, however; even the most recent offerings from Princess right up to the Ruby Princess are generally based on the blueprint of the Grand Princess.
One of the most distinct features of the Grand Princess and her sisters was the disco in the sky—a unique structure high above the stern that some observers likened to a shopping cart handle. It was the calling card of the ship, making her instantly recognizable in any port. Most recently, the Grand Princess emerged from a major refit where the shopping cart handle was removed.
Another visionary aspect of the Grand Princess design was its three dining rooms, instead of a single cavernous one, that come in handy for the line’s Personal Choice Dining Program, which allows passengers to choose from Traditional Dining with early and late seatings for dinner or Anytime Dining. The ship’s 24-hour casual restaurant, the Horizon Court, offers a buffet alternative for breakfast and lunch; at night it becomes a sit-down bistro. Sabatini’s—another Grand Princessfirst—is the ship’s venue for upscale Italian fare, and has established itself over the years as one of cruising’s more popular alternative restaurant concepts. New dining venues added during the recent dry-docking include Alfredo’s Pizzeria and the Crown Grill steakhouse.
High above the bridge, the Grand Princess has a forward-looking ocean-view spa and fitness center. Further aft, the ship offers two outdoor pool areas: One amidships with a sliding canopy, the other a more secluded spot overlooking the stern. The designers of the Grand Princess wanted private verandahs to be available to virtually everyone, and this ship has more than 700 cabins with balconies, ranging from standard outside cabins to mini-suites and full suites. An unusual tiered design means the balcony above doesn’t block the sun, but nor does it offer much in the way of privacy. It’s worth noting that except for the handful of mini-suites on Emerald Deck, the majority of staterooms in this category are situated on the completely-uncovered Dolphin Deck. Regular balcony staterooms one deck up on Caribe deck feature balconies that are half covered, half-uncovered.
In keeping with the “Big Ship Choice, Small Ship Feel” mantra of these ships, there are a number of nooks and crannies for a little peace and quite, including a small library, writing room, and a card room. Kids, on the other hand, will find plenty of spaces just for them on this truly groundbreaking ship.
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