Number of Cruises: 4
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Golden Princess
Sailing Date: May 5th, 2003
Itinerary: Eastern Mediterranean
Summation: WOW - What a trip!
We ended up with approximately 2000 passengers on the May 5th sailing of the Golden Princess. Of the 2000, there were about 900 from the USA, 700 from Canada and 400 from Great Britain. There also appeared to be a pretty large contingent of Russian and Asian speaking passengers.
I know that they did not upgrade to fill all of the suites. When you walked along the Caribe deck you could see that some of the penthouse suites were not occupied. We ended up not getting an upgrade, but we were happy with our cabin.
We were in Aloha 632. It was small, we would find ourselves constantly bumping into each other as we walked around the bed to get to the balcony. We also had to keep opening and closing the bathroom door as it blocked access to the shelving where our clothing was. There are no dressers in the cabin, but the shelving had more than enough room for our clothing. Suitcases (even the very large ones like mine ) fit nicely under the bed. We had a very small round table inside the cabin and one comfortable chair. The balcony had a round plastic table and 2 plastic chairs. The balcony was totally covered. We had 2 more chairs delivered and they fit just fine. It was a tad cramped with 4 on the balcony, but nothing that we couldn't live with. Our steward did a great job. We never had to ask for anything twice, and we were never disturbed unexpectedly by him.
We were quite aft and never felt
any motion from the ship. That, of course, could be due to the fact that we had
perfect weather the entire cruise. Temps in the low 70's, never a cloud and
perfectly glassy-calm seas. Even Captain Warner kept commenting how unusual it
was to have the seas be so beautiful.
Our cruise docs said that embarkation started at 5pm. I sure didn't believe that. Since we had been in Barcelona a day early, we arrived at the ship at 2pm. There was no one in line and we got on the ship within 3 minutes. The next day, while looking at embarkation pictures, I noticed that they had them categorized by time of embarkation and it looks like passengers had been arriving since 11am.
Barcelona - We stayed at the Regencia De Colon hotel. It is a sister hotel to the Colon, both which sit at the foot of the Cathedral and a 2 minute walk from La Rambla. The room was small, but well appointed in a great location. We had to go to the Colon to get ice for our drinks. We had dinner at Neya's. A small tapas bar 1 1/2 blocks from the hotel. The food was great-tapas and paella..and very inexpensive. We really enjoyed the city. La Rambla is maybe 6 blocks long and activity abounds! We spent much of the time just watching the street mimes. They get dressed up in amazing costumes and hold perfectly still til you come up to have your picture taken….then they go into action! Quite a site to see. La Rambla is alsolined with plenty of street vendors, artists etc. But they even have street vendors that are pet shops along with the normal florists and trinket sellers. We had sangria at a street side cafe. Ugh...it was thick and really sweet and reminded us more of children's cough syrup than a cocktail.
On the day of embarkation we took
the hop off/hop on bus. We took the north route to catch all of the architecture
and it really was a beautiful ride. It did,however, take the entire morning as
the traffic in the city was really bad. We bought a one day ticket that would
have allowed us to take the south route if we had thetime. Two day tickets are
also available. Cash only, but you purchase the tickets at the boarding stops.
We thought Barcelona was beautiful, we were pleasantly surprised. It is a very
easy city to do on your own. Cabs are very easy to get either in the city or at
the pier. It is about 10-15 E from the pier to the close end of La Rambla. Make
sure and negotiate price before you get in.
We had late seating, traditional dining. We love traditional dining, however, due to the lateness of some of the tours we ate every night at 8:45 pm. That's pretty late even for folks who like to have prolonged cocktail hours! We were rarely finished with dinner by 11pm. I won't comment too much on food...but...all of the soups were absolutely fantastic..we never had a bad one. Many of the nights I had a hard time choosing which entree to select as none of them completely excited me, but they were all good.
Muster drill was noon on sailaway day...it took many folks who were having lunch in the Horizon Court by surprise as they were herded out by the staff to attend the muster. Sailaway was also our 1st formal night We never had any pomp or circumstance for any of the sailaways. I find that disappointing..I really used to love watching the bands or school children perform as we sailed away.
Shortly after sailaway Captain Warner announced that the predicted weather for Monte Carlo was going to be windy, so we tendered from Villefranch instead. The cities are 5 coastal miles apart. All of the tours went on as scheduled except for the Grand Monte Carlo, and it was replaced with another tour. We took the tour of the medieval village of Eze. It was a beautiful little village..lots of steps with a cactus garden at the top..not what I would have expected for a Mediterranean town! The drive to the town was spectacular and the guide pointed out the homes of Bill Gates, Tina Turner and Bono from U2. Princess ran free shuttles to Monte Carlo, about a half hour drive. We had all been there before so we opted to head back to the ship and relax on deck.
Very hot, no wind, very crowded. All museums in Italy had free admission for the entire week as they were celebrating Italian Cultural Week. Bonus for us as we did Florence on our own. After much deliberating we took the Princess transfers into Florence instead of trying the train. There was just too much at risk if the trains went on strike. The transfer was pleasant and the guide gave us a nice history/cultural lesson on the area. It was 1 1/2 hours by bus and then a 5 minute walk from the drop off point into the city.
The queue for Uffuzi is very misleading. They have a sign out front telling you how long the outside queue is, but there is also a queue once you get inside. We got in line before the gallery even opened, but still had to wait almost an hour before we were admitted. There are 4 or 5 very long/steep sets of stairs to climb before you even get to the showrooms. Also, the showrooms are very poorly labeled. A good guide book of the gallery is a must or you could wander for hours aimlessly. Unless you’re really into themasters..I’d pass. It was also hot in the building. The open air leather market had spectacular shopping, but it was very crowded. If you’re willing to pay cash versus credit card you have more price bartering ground to work with. We loved the food markets and bought 6 bottles of Tuscan wine (red and white) for 5 euros each. When our waiter wanted to charge us corkage we jokingly stated that we hadn’t been charged in the past. This was the first time that the new ownership was mentioned to us…they said that the new policy no longer allows for waiters’ discretion on charging corkage. Oh well..we figured with such inexpensive wine we were still way ahead based on the wines Princess offers. Oh..and the local wine was superb.
The street cafes had big
umbrellas for blocking the sun and we had a great lunch. Everyone we encountered
spoke good English. The bus picked us up at 3:15 for the transfer back to the
ship. Four passengers did not make it back to the ship before we sailed. Never
found out what happened to them.
Naples. We took the morning Pompei tour. We stopped at a cameo factory before heading out to the ruins. The demonstration was very weak and they expected you to shop, although they didn’t shove it down your throat. Small cameos started around 35 euros.
Pompei is amazing…a not to miss site. I had no idea how huge the city was and how well preserved it is. You can still see many frescos. We had a fantastic guide with great knowledge. He was showing us one of the cisterns used to collect water and was swinging his F2 (our tour number) sign around when he dropped it down the cistern.
He was embarrassed and we all had
a great laugh…he kept saying he didn’t know how he was going to explain
what happened to his supervisors! The walking is extensive on very uneven
cobblestones and it was HOT. We found that in all of the sites where we visited
ruins (Ephesus, Acropolis, Pompei) that it was always hot…up on a hill, no trees
for shade. Be prepared to wear as little clothing as possible and carry water
bottles. Many folks carried umbrellas to use as sun shades. Back to the ship by
2pm, had lunch, hit the deck for tanning and reading.
Here I digress…we had some issues with our wait staff. While they did some wonderful things for us, the service was inconsistent. Not at all what you’d expect with traditional dining. For instance..on 3 different nights we had to wait a very long time before our entrée was served. One of the waiters told us it was the kitchen that was backed up….our waiter blamed it on his assistant – saying that she forgot to put the order in. In any case…if he was covering up he shouldn’t have blamed her. We did complain to the head waiter about the delays and it never happened again, but I think he chewed them out pretty well because they were cool toward us after that. I like lemon in my water and had to ask 3 nights before it was automatically on the table. But..we also told them we like garlic and every night they had roasted garlic waiting for us on the table..that was great.
On the last night we got the
shameless pitch for an excellent rating on the comment card as a good rating
does not benefit them. Frankly, this was more information than I wanted. While
we didn’t rate the service as fair, we certainly weren’t going to give them an
excellent and settled for the good rating. They just didn’t seem to gel as a
Saturday at sea.
We went at full speed of 22 knots and even though the seas were totally calm it was windy on deck because of the speed we were doing. No big deal as the weather was outstanding. It has to be a hurricane before it forces me off the deck. We used the Terrace pool as our cabin was aft. It was never crowded, but we did have to move several times throughout the day to follow the sun as Skywalkers can block the sun depending on the ships course.
Acropolis and Plaka Sampler tour. Acropolis is really really really crowded and the stairs up and down are narrow. You can have quite a queue just getting up and down. Again, we had a terrific guide. We walked down from the Acropolis to the Plaka..he gave us a map to show us where the pick up point would be and off we went for lunch and shopping. Great food (I’m Greek) and great shopping. I got lots of kisses from the older ladies when they found out I was Greek…sure didn’t help get me any better prices tho’!
Pronounced Ku sha dasi. We were so thrilled to make it to Turkey and they were thrilled to have us. This was definitely the highlight of the trip. What amazed us all was how clean and beautiful Turkey was. No garbage in the streets, beautiful parks and landscaping everywhere. And the architecture…wow.
We were only in port til noon…not
nearly long enough. But we saw the house where the Virgin Mary lived..it’s a
beautiful drive up a very steep and winding mountain road. Lots of great ruins
and tons of religious history. I’m not all that religious but even I was
fascinated by it all. You did not need to have knees and shoulders covered, but
you do for Istanbul. We thought the shopping at the bazaar (right next to the
port) was better than the Grand Bazaar in Instanbul. More quaint, great
trinkets..very friendly folks who definitely encouraged you to come into their
stores, but again…it wasn’t shoved down our throats. We bought lots of artwork
and "I Dream Of Jeannie" costumes for our daughters.An aside…all of the WC’s
were in fine condition…nothing to worry about. This was true in all of the
ports, although in Venice they are difficult to find and you have to pay .50
euros for a public WC.
Amazing city…extremely clean with lots of parks. I expected it to be more like Marrakesh..dirty and crazy and always watching my back. Actually, it was more like Des Moines…calm, lots of flowers and beautiful. We did the Grand Istanbul tour and saw the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Cistern and Topkapi Palace. Worth every penny. The palace was officially closed that day, but they opened it up just for us. So..if you weren’t on a tour you wouldn’t have been able to get in. One gal in our tour did get pick pocketed by kids.
When we first got off the bus we
were approached by kids selling postcards..they held them up under her
chin then reached underneath and unzipped her fanny pack. The guide did a great
job of contacting the port agent and they got her card cancelled right away.
Again, we had an amazing guide..a history professor with a huge amount of
knowledge. We had a dynamite lunch at a Turkish restaurant that included all the
beverages you could drink..yes, that included beer and wine. You do need to have
knees and shoulders covered to enter the Blue Mosque, but they provided
oversized scarves you could wrap around your waist or shoulders. The Grand
Bazaar has amazing, very high end shops. It is very clean and beautiful and very
large. It was more like a shopping mall, but still very fun.
Perfect weather, again. Formal night and Captains Circle Party. On the 2nd at sea day we tried to see the future cruise gal. Man is she busy. I recommend you queue up at least an half an hour before she’s scheduled to open. We want to do the Bankok to Sydney cruise in 2005. It’s scheduled to be on the Sapphire, but since she’s not out yet we couldn’t book. So, she gave us an open booking that we can transfer to our TA as soon as the Sapphire is available.
We did Venice on our own for both days. Princess offered a free boat shuttle from the pier to the city..took about an half an hour and dropped you at San Marco. Get a good street map..we used Streetwise. It was a lifesaver. Prices for glass are the same in Murano as they are in the city and there is very little bartering. We bought lamps for our screen porch, Christmas decorations and quite a spectacular statue that is being shipped. Everyone spoke great English…look for signs that say they will ship…even in the food markets you can have wheels of parmesan shipped home. We had an early evening flight out to London. The last Princess transfer to the airport left at 3pm. Perfect for us. Even though it was more expensive than a cab, it was well worth the money as they held our luggage for us. So..we were able to spend the day of disembarkation touring (without worrying about what to do with our luggage) and then get to the airport in a timely fashion.
We did not use the spa, beauty salon or gym. Nor did we eat at any of the alternative dining rooms.
We saw Uber Rossi, a very talented and physical showman, and enjoyed his performance. We also saw Shake, Rattle and Roll. The music and costumes were fun, the dancing very lively. One of the lead performers was obviously more of a Broadway show tune kind of gal than a rock and roller. We likened her performance to Judy Garland doing Janis Joplin.
In conclusion…no problems, no complaints. Yes, I would’ve liked a bigger cabin and yes, I would’ve liked the wait staff to be better, but all in all…we had a lovely time.
Already counting the days until Bangkok to Sydney, March 2005.