July 24, 2003 -- In yet another move by the cruise industry to spread ships around the country, convenient to major population centers, Princess Cruises announced this week that its Grand Princess will sail from Galveston, Texas, starting in fall 2004.
Beginning November 13, 2003, Grand Princess will offer seven-night round-trip cruises to the western Caribbean, visiting Belize, Grand Cayman, and Costa Maya and Cozumel (Mexico). A special holiday sailing on December 24 will also feature a call in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.
At 109,000 tons and carrying 2,600 passengers, Grand Princess becomes the largest ship in town, joining Carnival's Celebration and Elation and Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas and Splendour of the Seas. Galveston is located southeast of Houston on the Gulf of Mexico.
With 18 decks soaring higher than the Statue of Liberty from pedestal to torch, a hull too wide to fit through the Panama Canal, and an elevated, space-age disco that stretches from port to starboard, looking like the handle on a giant shopping cart, Grand Princess looks like nothing else at sea -- except her sister ships, Golden Princess, Star Princess, and Caribbean Princess, the latter due for launch in April 2004.
Despite her size, she's an extremely well laid out, easy-to-navigate, and surprisingly cozy vessel, whose public areas never feel as crowded as you'd expect with so many people aboard. The ultramodern ship even manages to offer a few areas with traditional accents that recall the Golden Age of sea travel, including the clubby and dimly lit Explorer's and Wheelhouse lounges and an elegant three-story atrium, where classical string quartets perform on formal nights and during embarkation.
Early-booking fares for Grand's Galveston itineraries begin at $549 per person, based on double occupancy.
Princess Cruises: tel. 800/PRINCESS, www.princess.com