Grand Princess as seen from a grand height in Rotterdam, Euromast, during her first visit to the Dutch port at the 14ht of may 2004.
She was not the first ship to exceed 100.000 tons, that title was won just a little earlier by Carnival's Carnival Destiny. But when Grand Princess floated out of her building dock at the Fincantieri Navali Italiani wharf at Monfalcone, Italy at the 22nd of may 1997, she surpassed the Carnival Destiny in size with ease and became the largest passengership ever built. Like the Carnival Destiny, the newest Princess ship was one of dazzling figures in a time that ships measuring more then 100.000 tons were a true novelty. Nowadays, the Grand Princess can be called midsize, because there are ships that easily double her figures like Oasis Of The Seas and Allure Of The Seas. For a long time, it was thought that there would never be ships built of a size larger then the largest oceanliners ever, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and Normandie, but after the first 100.000-plus passengerships were introduced, there seemed to be no limits anymore. In a huge advertizing campaign by Princess for their new giant, the ship was placed right behind the American Capitol Building just to show her size. This used to be a good way of showing how big ships were in the time of the large oceanliners, where every new seacastle was shown in comparissement with buildings or streets.
With a tonnage of 108.806, and a lenght of just 289,51 meters, the Grand Princess mostly grew in height, exactly like the earlier Carnival Destiny, the ship's superstructure towered from the bow to the stern, leaving no room for forward or aft decks. Above the aft open deck, high above the water, the Skywalkers Lounge was placed, accessible by an escalator. This lounge, turned into a discoteque at night, was placed here so other passengers would not be bothered by the loud music. It also gave the ship the look of a shopping-cart, the lounge being the handle. Officially, it had been designed as a resemblence to the looks of a Spanish galleon, of course with some 'architectural freedom', as we say... This lounge proved to have some difficulties over time, as we will see later. In contradiction to her soon-to-be sisterships within the class, Grand Princess had a different interiour, a little more classic and darker like the ships of the Sun-class. Her newer fleetmates would soon be more light and modern in style.
The ship has 750 outside cabins with balconies, at the time the most balconies on any cruiseliner. Five swimmingpools, three show lounges, three dining rooms (besides an 24-hour alternative restaurant), a virtual reality theater and a greenscreen studio were also part of . More dining options are at a pizzeria and a Southwestern-style restaurant. In total, there are four options for breakfast, seven options for lunch and eight for diner. All of this, in a ship that was supposed to be a 'big ship with a small ship feel'. Opinions about this are not the same with every passenger...
Grand Princess was not only the largest passengership ever built, she was also the most expensive one, costing a staggering $450 million. Also, she was wider then any other ship in service with 36 meters while her draft reaches a normal 8 meters. Her passenger capacity is a maximum of 3100, in lower berths (2-per cabin basis) it is also said to be 2592. Her crew capacity is 1100 persons and all those people use 17 decks, of which 12 are available to the passengers. When she was launched, after she had been built under yardnumber 5956, the ship was registered at Monrovia and flew the flag of Liberia. Her normal speed is 24 knots.
She sailed her trials during december of 1997 and was planned to be delivered to Princess Cruises at the 3rd of may 1998. But it seemed that a ship this large could not be finished on time, so delivery was postponed, because the ship was not going to make her first cruise from Southampton to Istanbul. Still a lot had to be done, for example the carpeting was not ready and it was impossible to take on passengers. There was a voyage towards Istanbul, though, but during this voyage all work that had to be done was finished. At the 19th of may, the ship was finally delivered to the company and sailed her first Mediterranean cruise from Istanbul to Barcelona, departing the Turkish port at the 26th of may. She wasn't officially named, though. This was planned in a special ceremony at New York at the 29th of september. The ship was named by Olivia de Havilland, a British-American actress born in 1916 who appeared in films like 'A Midsummer Nights Dream' in 1935, 'Gone With The Wind' in 1939 and 'The Heiress' in 1949.
The ship settled in quite well as the new flagship of the Princess Cruises fleet, sailing Caribbean cruises in winter and European cruises in summer, although she was actually sailing worldwide. Grand Princess got two direct sisterships, the second Golden Princess, that was launched in 2000 and the second Star Princess, launched in 2002. After those, several other ships were built to the same basic design, but they were different in looks and lay-out in several ways. All of these ships are mostly referred to as Grand Class, but that's not exactly true. All the diversions of the Grand Class even have their own class names.
There is the Gem-class of ships that consists out of Diamond Princess and Sapphire Princess. These ships have a totally different lay-out as the original Grand-class trio. Also, they were not built at Fincantieri, like the rest of all Grand-class lookalikes, but at the Mitsubishi Yard at Nagasaki, Japan. The most striking difference is the change of place of the Skywalkers lounge. It is situated directly behind the funnel instead of above the stern, due to the earlier problems Princess faced with the original ships.
The Caribbean Princess, launched in 2003, has no changes made to the basic layout of the first ships, but she recieved one extra deck so around 300 passengers more can be sailing her. No other ships were built exactly like her, so she is a unique ship within the Grand-class family.
Then there is the Crown-class, where three ships can be connected to. They have the extra deck like Caribbean Princess, and above that another extra deck is added, so theses ships offer two decks more then the original Grand Class ships. Their Skywalkers lounge is also placed just aft of the funnel like at the Gem-class. Also, some new cafe's and grills are added for her passengers and the Crown-class ships also have The Sanctuary, a for-fee, adults-only area above the spa, where the Sports Courts are located on earlier ships. The Crown-class is Crown Princess, Emerald Princess and Ruby Princess.
For P&O, also two ships are built based on the original Grand-class design. These ships are referred to as Ventura-class, named after the first of the two. The other ship beiing the Azura. These ships are built in the style of P&O, thus very different from the Princess ships.
In the year 2000, the ships registry was changed to the Bahamas, her homeport now was Hamilton. And in october of that same year, an important step was taken when the cruise division of P&O Princess separated itself from the P&O Group and was going public on its own. A few years later, the rest of the P&O Group was absorbed into Dubai Ports and the name P&O dissappeared as such. The cruisedivision was planning to merge with Royal Caribbean a few years later, but this deal collapsed and P&O Princess was instead taken over by Carnival Corporation making it part of the largest passengership company since the International Merchantile Marine Corporation from J.P. Morgan in the beginning of the 1900's.
In 2011, a large rebuilding took place to get the ship up-to-date with its newest fleetmates. In may of that year, the ship was drydocked and she recieved a completely renewed Atrium, new dining options, a Princess Cruises first tearoom called 'Leaves', a remodelled casino, boutiques and an art-gallery and the Crooners Martini Lounge. Also, new suites were added and a lot of public rooms updated and refurbished. But the most distinctive change was the removal of the Skywalkers Lounge, wherefor a new nightclub was built called 'The One5'. Officially, the Skywalkers Lounge was removed because of fuel-efficiency reasons. But it is known throughout that the lounge above the aft decks of the ship suffered some structural problems and small cracks in the steel were the true reason for its removal. Also, there were complaints that the lounge took away the sun from the aft deck pool because of its place above it. It was of course already in the newer ships of the class that the lounge had been removed more midships, so the aftdecks were cleared.
The two pictures below, dated the 8th of july 2012, show Grand Princess when she first visited the port of Rotterdam after her refit. She looks quite smart without the shopping-cart handle, and the ships of the Rotterdam harbour company awarded her renewed entrance with a watery curtain.
On the 23rd of september 2011, the promenade deck of Grand Princess was used by one of her passengers, the 57-year old Englishman Steve Eaton, who ran the equivalent of a marathon aboard to raise money for Help for Heroes, a charity that provides support for those wounded, sick or injured in the line of duty since 9/11. Eaton completed this first marathon at sea in a time of 5 hours, 16 minutes and 45 seconds. A less feelgood incident occured during a cruise around Hawaii in november 2013. A woman was reported jumping overboard, presumably commiting suicide. The ship turned around to search for her and also an US Coast Guard searchplane assisted, but she wasn't found.
Another incident occured at the 30th of november of 2015, when a malfunction of the ships swichboard started a fire in the engineroom. The ship was sailing the Pacific Ocean on her way from San Fransisco to Hawaii when the fire broke out. Luckily, nobody was injured, but the ship had to skip two ports at Hawaii because the speed was affected. All passengers recieved a full refund of their cruise and an airfare back to San Fransisco, after repairs were carried out at Honolulu.