February 2017 - Grand Princess to Mexico
This was our first time on a cruise ship leaving out of San Francisco. We live in San Jose, so we booked Super Shuttle to get us to the Terminal. I believe the cost ($200 round trip for 2) was justified by the relative ease of traveling to and back from the ship home. Parking in SF would have run about $165 with no shuttle service from the parking garage to the pier. Princess provided transportation (for a fee) from SFO but not San Jose Airport. The Boarding process and Departure after the cruise went smoothly and didn't take much time. Super Shuttle dropped us off at the pier and the pick-up was at the same place. We are 2nd time Princess passengers, so we had minimal Princess related perks.
Our cabin was ready when we boarded at 1:30 PM. The cabin steward greeted us as we arrived and took our request for daily buckets of ice. We later learned that Princess provides complimentary bath robes - which were convenient with the cool weather in northern California and the non-effectiveness of our room temperature controls (our cabin was cold during our time off the coast of Northern California). The cabin was always clean and neat. Although the Grand Princess had a towel folding demonstration, there were never any folded towel animals in our cabin (not a big deal, but I admit I missed them).
The dining room food was very good and outstanding on a few occasions (we have had outstanding meals for nearly every meal on other cruises). The dining room staff was very good and at one time even went beyond their duties to help out a passenger in distress - on a non-dinning related issue. The Buffet seemed small for a ship the size of the Grand Princess. Seating was always an issue and the variety of dishes was limited compared to other cruises we have taken. The quality of food was OK. Coffee in the dining room and buffet was not very good and noticeably better in the Specialty Restaurants or when paid for at bars. The Pizzeria Pizza was outstanding however, there was a wait for a table anytime near normal meals times. Food at the 24 hour venue was very good but there was a fee for coffee (much better quality than the dining room coffee).
The entertainment was very good overall. Most evenings had two different shows with two show times each (and each at a different venue - at opposite ends of the ship). Depending on the popularity of the performers, we (and others) had to occasionally leave a performance early in order to get a seat at the other show venue. In general, the non-showroom performers were very good. Guitarist / vocalist Luca Cervo was outstanding. His performances always seemed to be scheduled at the same times as the traditional seating early dining times. Double odds at the Crap Table was something we had not seen before on a cruise ship.
Since we have been to the Mexican Riviera several times, we only took one shore excursion - to the Arches at Cabo San Lucas. The boat trip to the arches was very good (we even got to see some whales), but the bus tour segment was just OK. Walking through Mazatlan, through the old town area and over to the divers, was an easy and pleasant experience (following the "Blue Line" painted on the streets and with the assistance of several volunteer tourist guides). The police presence along the walking route was reassuring. The dockside shopping area at Puerto Vallarta was convenient although perhaps more costly than going into town. Manzanillo seemed more chaotic and rougher (for lack of a more accurate term) than the other ports.
The vibrations from the propulsion system, especially when the bow thrusters were used, was very noticeable, even in our cabin on deck 10 and just at the back third of the ship. Although the Fitness Center was well equipped, we missed access to a dedicated, continuous (without stairs or wind barriers) running / walking track.
Forgot to mention that RCCL provides access to your cabin account through the cabin TV (as in many hotels). On Princess, access is through the ship's WIFI so you view your account on your phone or I-pad. You can also see replays of all the shows and shopping / port info talks throughout the cruise from your cabin on RCCL. On Princess the shows are not replayed on TV. Not surprisingly, Princess shows replays of the Love Boat TV series throughout the cruise on cabin TV (and I kind of enjoyed it).
Our first RCCL cruise was in 1985 and the dinners were all outstanding, The quality has declined a bit since then so that on our last few cruises, from 2012 - 2016, only 5 of 7 dinners have been outstanding (the other two were very good). The Princess cruise dinners had 5 outstanding - 5 very good. Can't really make comparisons here since this was our first Princess cruise in over 35 years (and first on the Grand Princess). We've been on 15 RCCL cruises on 7 different ships.