What a difference a couple of months and 24 days in dry-dock can make! Grand Princess, once the biggest cruise ship in the world, was looking a little tired and in need of some TLC when I saw her in Aruba at the beginning of March. A world away from the sparkling vessel I took a quick look around in Southampton at the weekend.
Shorn of its trademark “shopping trolley handle” at the stern, and upgraded with new restaurants and other features which have proved popular among passengers on her younger sisters, Grand is like new again.
A new Piazza atrium provides space for Alfredo’s Pizzeria, Cafe International and Vines wine bar. The garish SkyWalkers nightclub which used to soar over the stern and was reached by a travelator has been replaced by The One-5 club. It’s a much calmer space – or it was on Saturday afternoon – with muted decor, comfortable seating and bar round the corner from the dance floor, and an outside terrace for smokers.
Across the other side of the Sun Deck is the spacious Hearts and Minds wedding chapel – they’re big on marriages and renewal of vows ceremonies on Princess.
Down on the Promenade Deck large areas were ripped out to be make way for Crooner’s Bar, the Crown Grill Steakhouse and – a first for Princess and probably any other ship – a tea lounge.
Leaves combines a library with a venue for a refreshing cuppa . . . and so much more. Unfortunately it was occupied by a film crew and a group of models shooting for a new brochure when I was aboard, so I wasn’t able to sample a $3 Tea Flight – tasting three different varieties from India, China and South Africa – or to blend my own tea from the many jars of leaves and additional ingredients on hand.
So I’m still wondering what a mixture of organic Japanese Karigane and some Chinese White Peony, together with a hint of hibiscus flower and lemon myrtle would be like. And I’ll have to wait for a chance to drink a $6.95 Tropical Tea Mojito, combining Bacardi and tropical green tea with fresh lime and mint.
I wasn’t the only one taking a look at the changes to Grand on Saturday – Pieter van der Schee, head of brand marketing, was overseeing the photo shoots and I bumped into the newly-appointed UK Director of Princess Cruises, Paul Ludlow (left).
He takes up his new role in July, and he told me he was looking forward to building on the 100,000 passengers a year that Princess attracts to its ex-UK cruises – this year on Grand, Crown and Caribbean Princesses from Southampton – the fly-cruises to the Mediterranean, and the long-haul journeys to Alaska.
“What the refit of Grand has achieved, and the work we will be doing on other ships, is to provide consistency. Passengers who choose to cruise with Princess will know that wherever they travel in the world, on whichever ship, they can be confident of getting the same amenities, and of course the same high standard of service,” he said.
The picture at the top shows the Leaves tea lounge in mid-photo shoot. Below are The One5 club, the Hearts and Minds wedding chapel, Alfredo’s Pizzeria and Cafe International.