I’ve noticed recently an increase in questions about Hawaiian cruises on social media forums and so I thought it was about time that I wrote a blog post about my cruise to Hawaii from San Francisco.
I’d spied this cruise some time ago as part of a package with Jetline Cruises. The holiday started with us flying to Las Vegas for three nights before an internal flight to San Francisco where we boarded the Grand Princess on a 14-night cruise to Hawaii. After leaving the ship we had two nights in San Francisco for sightseeing. This was an amazing 21-day holiday, which used up almost all of my annual leave – but it was worth it because I had such an incredible time.
Our cruise started in San Francisco with our embarkation day starting very early as we took an internal flight from Las Vegas that morning.
Read about my embarkation day in San Francisco
This was my first Princess cruise, sailing on the Grand Princess, which turned out to be a great introduction to cruising with Princess. I’ve since book two further cruises with Princess Cruises so it’s clear that I enjoyed my time onboard.
The Grand-class ship was built in 1998 and can accommodate 2,600 passengers. The Grand had its most recent refit in 2016 (after my cruise). It’s one of the cruise ships that regularly cruises to Hawaii from either San Francisco or Los Angeles, generally between October and April. This is the peak tourist time for Hawaii as the weather is generally warm year-round and so is perfect for a winter getaway so expect it to be busy during this time of year. It is also the rainy season so there could be the odd shower but this won’t affect the temperature and will stop as quickly as it started. We were fortunate to miss the rain in every port and it was particularly hot in Honolulu.
A Sail Away You’ll Never Forget
The sail away from San Francisco was such a special experience that I will never forget. It seemed like everyone was out on the open decks to watch the ship sail under the Golden Gate Bridge and if you cruise out of San Francisco you cannot miss this. As we passed underneath the bridge, the ship was literally metres away and people on the bridge waved down to us.
Sea Day Activities
I honestly cannot decide whether I love sea days or port days more but if you choose to cruise to Hawaii expect lots of back-to-back sea days! There were plenty of things I found to do on board. If you’re worried that you might get bored here are my 50 things to do on a sea day. One of my favourite activities was the daily Zumba class and here’s why.
The daily activities can be found in the Princess Patter, delivered to the staterooms every evening. Additional copies can be found at the Guest Services Desk or an electronic version can be viewed on the Princess@sea downloadable app.
Another activity that I enjoyed whilst onboard were the Hula Dance lessons, which turned out to be a lot more intricate than just shaking your hips in a grass skirt – there were actually no grass skirts in sight. Each hand movement I learnt helped to tell the story of a song and was taught by a couple of native Hawaiians.
Throughout the cruise, the couple performed in the Piazza with a ukulele or guitar and was the perfect way to set the atmosphere for a cruise to Hawaii. At the end of the cruise the group and I performed in the Princess Theatre to fellow passengers; since being young, I wanted to be a cruise ship dancer so this was my chance to fulfill one of my dreams (kind of).
A great feature of this cruise was the onboard enrichment programme. A lot of people take a Hawaiian cruise to visit Pearl Harbor, including many war veterans, and so I felt that Princess did an excellent job in scheduling a series of enrichment lectures during the first part of the cruise to help passengers learn more about the history of Pearl Harbor. This was particularly helpful for me as I’d planned a visit to Pearl Harbor but had limited knowledge of the events of World War II.
In my opinion, The Grand Princess is a Goldilocks ship, not too big, not too small, just right. The ship never felt crowded and we were always able to get sun loungers next to all of the pools. We spent a lot of time around the main pool and the aft pool, which has a fantastic view of the wake.
I experienced Movies Under the Stars for the first time on this cruise, watching Jurassic World, which was great on the big screen.
Dining on the Grand Princess
The Grand Princess had the quietest main dining rooms of any of the Princess cruise ships I’ve sailed on. There was never a wait for a table, despite choosing Anytime Dining and we had the same waiter throughout the cruise, sometimes we were one of the only tables in the waiter’s area and so service was impeccable.
Some of the food looked too good to eat, especially the Chocolate Journeys desserts.
We dined with new cruise friends on some of the formal evenings, which was very special. We’ve remained friends ever since and we met again on our next Princess cruise to the Caribbean (…and again by chance on a Mediterranean cruise but that’s a story for another time…).
I enjoyed the Crown Grill twice during my cruise (so good I went back a second time). My favourite items on the menu were the scallops, filet steak and lobster tails. The cover charge was $25 per person at the time of my cruise and has since been increased to $29 but I still believe that this is fantastic value for the quality of food on offer. It was always busy in the Crown Grill which was a reflection of its popularity with passengers. For this reason, advanced booking is highly recommended.
The buffet onboard the Grand Princess was smaller than those on the Royal-class ships but was great for breakfast and lunch. I enjoyed dining here whilst looking out of the huge windows at the Pacific Ocean.
For the ‘best pizza at sea’ we headed to Alfredo’s on Deck 5. I am still surprised at how quiet this restaurant is on every Princess cruise ship given how high-quality the complementary pizza is here. It could easily be mistaken for a specialty dining option and I wouldn’t doubt that it would be if on another cruise line.
Day 1 – 5: Sea days
Day 6: Kauai (Nawiliwili), Hawaii – port side
I visited Waimea Canyon and Fern Grotto on a Princess Cruises shore excursion.
Day 7: Hilo, Hawaii – port side
I experienced a helicopter ride over a volcano and felt the heat! I opted to pay a little extra so that they removed the doors of the helicopter! A dedicated blog post about this incredible experience will be coming shortly. This was an independent excursion I booked with Paradise Helicopters.
Day 8: Maui (Lahaina), Hawaii – tender port
I took a Princess Cruises excursion on a boat, which included snorkeling.
Day 9: Honolulu, Hawaii – ported starboard side
I visited Pear Harbor, to read about my trip and how you can do this independently at a fraction of the cost of the cruise ship excursion, check out my blog post Visiting Pearl Harbor, Oahu
Day 10-13: Sea days
Day 14: Ensenada, Mexico
This was only a three-hour port stop so we just had time for a spot of shopping.
Day 15: Disembark
The cruise itinerary, as I previously mentioned, had lots of sea days. It took five days to cruise to the first Hawaiian island so there was plenty of time to explore the ship and relax into the holiday. We decided to pre-purchase the Ultimate Beverage Package and on this cruise it was definitely worth doing. We aren’t heavy drinkers but it gave us the freedom to try a range of different drinks, mainly cocktails, during our sea days as well as enjoy the specialty coffees served at the International Cafe. To learn more about the Princess Cruises drinks packages, you can read my blog post How much is the Princess Cruises’ drinks package?.
My Top Tips for Cruising on the Grand Princess to Hawaii
- For the best experience, I’d highly recommend getting involved in some of the ship’s Hawaiian-themed activities: Hula dancing, Ukulele lessons or the enrichment lectures. This definitely enhanced my time on the islands when I visited.
- Cruising out of San Francisco can be a bit choppy so don’t forget to pack some sea-sickness tablets if you suffer. We discovered Dramamine on this cruise and now swear by it.
- Consider purchasing one of the drinks packages as you are likely to make use of it during the many sea days.
- The Crown Grill serves excellent food and for that reason it is our favourite specialty dining venue. It’s worth at least one visit during your cruise.
- Evening dining was most enjoyed in one of the main dining rooms, there was never a queue for a table on Anytime Dining.
- For exceptionally good pizza, you have to dine at Alfredo’s.
- The sea days are a fantastic opportunity to meet new people. We made lifelong friends on this cruise and I believe that this was because we had the luxury of the sea days to get to know each other.
- Consider booking independent shore excursions. They were our favourite excursions and you can save money by doing a bit of research and booking it yourself.
- You should experience a Movies Under the Stars at least once.
- The pool areas were never overcrowded so there’s no need to be a chair hog!
- Don’t miss the sail away party from San Francisco, passing under the Golden Gate Bridge is an unforgettable experience.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post, if you have any questions about cruising to Hawaii or the Grand Princess, just leave a comment below and I will do my best to help.
For tips on preparing to travel abroad, check these tips.