Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Golden Princess
Sailing Date: February 7th, 2004
Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean
This was the Eastern
Caribbean tour on the Golden Princess from February 7 to February 14, 2004
out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.. A sold-out sailing, meaning
approximately 2600 passengers and approx. 900 crew.
sea, Day 3 at St. Maarten, Day 4 at St. Thomas, Day 5 at sea, Day 6 at Princess Cays, Day 7 return.
Cabin: Mini-suite, Dolphin deck, located middle-rear of deck, left side of ship. Great space, with balcony. Bed was comfortable, sitting area was very nice. Cabin service was excellent.
Weather: Moderate seas (e.g. some swell, some wind, periods of light rain) during first 2 at-sea days. Otherwise sunny, hot, and slight seas/no wind the rest of the cruise.
Food: Abundant and good. Personal Choice dining option. Always dined after 8:00PM. Never a wait for a table, whether just for ourselves or for a group table to meet other folks.
Cruise staff: friendly and service-oriented.
Entertainment: moderately good to really bad.
Fellow passenger demographics: majority 40’s to 50’s aged couples, mostly American and Canadian. Few 30’s couples, some families, some 70+. Some large groups.
One medical evacuation during the cruise, but no effect on the ship’s itinerary. Embarkation/Disembarkation process: very smooth for what it could have been – read the detail for more information.
DAY BY DAY SUMMARY
We had flown into Miami a couple of days ahead of the ship’s departure, and drove our rental car to Fort Lauderdale, which was approx. a 30 minute drive. We had planned to drop off our rental car at Fort Lauderdale Airport, then take a taxi from the airport.
**All major rental car companies (Hertz, Budget, National, Alamo) run shuttle buses directly to the cruise terminal so there is no need to be shuttled to the airport and hire a taxi to the cruise terminal. The ride is approximately 15 minutes.
We checked in at 2PM. Luggage porters were on hand to take our large luggage – no tipping required. There were no lines and since we used the website to input our details check-in took all of 5 minutes. We did notice a huge line for the next cruise when we returned, which began to build about 11AM. If you want to check in easily, be sure to arrive after 1PM.
**You may carry on as much wine and champagne as you wish..There is a $10 corkage if you drink this in a dining room. Hard alcohol will be confiscated at check-in. Water will be confiscated if you try to carry it on, however if you pack it in your packed luggage, then there’s no problem. It is a good idea considering that it’ll cost you $2 a bottle if you buy it on board – and they don’t miss any opportunity to sell it to you especially during port days.
>From check-in you proceed through a security checkpoint, then up through the waiting area. This leads to the ship’s gangway. A welcome aboard picture is taken, then you have a picture taken to assign to your cruise card. At that point you’re on board!
Staff are stationed all over to guide you to your cabin. Upon arrival to our cabin we met our cabin steward who introduced himself and gave us a quick room orientation.
**The room includes a refrigerator (we used it for our wine, water, and leftovers during the trip). There is also a room safe for your valuables. Robes aren’t included by default but your cabin steward is happy to provide them upon request. Same with extra pillows and blankets. There is a digital thermostat to control the room’s temperature (in mini-suites there are two, one for each zone). The bathroom soaps are nice, though shampoo and conditioner is provided in little squeeze packets. Turndown service (complete with chocolates on pillows) is provided nightly. Pool towels are provided in-room and can be replaced with fresh ones upon request.
We stowed our stuff and proceeded to explore the ship. The Horizon Buffet does have food available throughout the boarding day in case you need a nosh, but it is slim pickings (looked like leftovers from the previous cruise). The Horizon’s food vastly improves during the cruise as you will see later.
At 4:30 PM there was a muster (fire) drill where we all had to grab our lifejackets and run
through evacuation procedures. The staff made it bearable and it’s a great picture taking
We went up on deck for the sailaway, which included a live band. There are no streamers or anything like that anymore, but the local Ft. Lauderdale folks who live along the channel were all out waving. Some waved Princess flags and one fellow even had a bullhorn and kept shouting, “Don’t eat the lobster!” It was a bit cold on deck so bring a sweater.
Anyway, once we were clear of the channel most folks went down to their cabins and/or to dinner.
**This first evening is by far the most chaotic in terms of executing Personal Choice dining. We correctly anticipated the chaos and chose to dine extra-late, about 8:30, and in one of the alternative restaurants (The Desert Rose) rather than one of the main Dining Rooms. This avoided the long lines and unhappy people who were all trying to have dinner at the same time. Don’t fret, the dining situation improves vastly after the first evening, but take my advice and avoid the crush on the first night by choosing either a late dining time (the Dining Rooms take new diners until 10PM) or an alternative restaurant, or both. The Desert Rose was, well, deserted during our entire meal.
The food at the Desert Rose was acceptable. $8/person extra, but that includes a free Margarita or Daiquiri. The food ranges from quesadillas to fajitas to grilled entrees (steak, seafood) with Mexican-influenced flavorings and styles. Very good guacamole and salsas, too.
That evening we saw a stage show which was somewhat lame. Singing, dancing, you know the drill.
Day 1 – First day at Sea
Now for the oh-so-sensitive topic about poolside lounge hoarding. In spite of the many signs and warnings around the ship not to do this – it happens. And with a vengeance. The lounges in full sun, closest to the pool entry areas, go by 9AM. The next couple of rows are gone by 10AM. All lounges are occupied by 11AM. While the warnings exist, no staff actually ever enforced the no-reserve rule, so here’s my advice:
**If you want a “prime” lounge, have breakfast early and be out there by 9AM. Hopefully you’ll be traveling with at least 1 other person or better yet, a group, so that you can snag a group of loungers and then rotate in and out as your group wants to go to lunch, or to an event, etc. Again, the lounges closest to the pool go first, followed by the partial sun/shade lounges, then the upper deck lounges.
Oh, I should explain there are 3 main pools, one at the front (the most popular) of the ship, one amidship (which has a retractable glass roof), and one at the very back of the ship. The middle pool seemed to attract mostly older folks, I think because there was more shade and more chair/table seating than simply loungers. I’m not sure about the demographic at the back pool as we never actually hung out there.
As many other reviewers have noted, the poolside food is great. There is a grill at the front pool serving hamburgers, hot dogs, etc. There is also a pizza place, with great pizza, though there are only two choices – cheese and pepperoni. When that got tedious we ventured into the Horizon Buffet where we could grab a sandwich or a hot entrée and bring it back to our loungers. Now, a couple of notes on daytime food:
**The biggest food queues for lunch are from about 12:00 to 1:00PM. Maybe you have to wait 8 minutes in line – no biggie. The Soda Sticker (purchased at sailaway) is a great bargain. We purchased one as a couple but often ordered two sodas and were given both against the Sticker. Technically they’re supposed to charge you for the second soda since we only had one sticker between us. I think they enforced this a total of twice the entire week. And we had a lot of soda.
Interest in poolside activities waned around 2PM, so we ventured into the Art Auction. I’m not sure who this is targeted for, as many of the pieces start at several thousand dollars. Unless folks deliberately come prepared for this, I can’t believe anyone would just plunk down $14K on a painting on a whim – and they didn’t. The auctioneer, while entertaining, was visibly frustrated by the lack of interest in buying, even though he had a good sized audience. There were 3 more auctions during the week, and some things did sell, but mostly prints and serigraphs of originals that were several hundred dollars, not several thousand. The selection includes pieces Wyland and Kincaide, sports memorabilia, animation art, and some other classic as well as contemporary stuff.
The rest of the afternoon and early evening were a mélange of naps, reading on the balcony, watching some movies, and playing cards.
Now as for dinner, this was the first formal night. The dining rooms were not as chaotic as evening #1, though there were still some confused souls roaming about. Once again – if you dine after 8PM, there is no wait. So we grabbed some appetizers from the Horizon about 6PM and hung out with friends over drinks for the early evening. Of course we had to go change into formal attire (yuck) but them’s the rules. There is a laundry on each deck ($1.00 for a one-load box of detergent, $1.00 for washing, $.50 for drying, change machine available in the room) complete with 2 washers, 2 dryers, and 2 irons with ironing boards, should you need any of these facilities. Anyway, back to dinner:
**Don’t be intimidated by the line at the maitre’d’s podium at the dining rooms – it often looks like a lot of people waiting for tables but in fact when we saw this it was only a large group (8-10) waiting to be seated. If you are 2 or 4, it is immediate seating after 8PM. The maitre’d’s and the head waiters are very accommodating so bring a smile and some patience. We saw a lot of people getting exasperated for no reason at all. You’re on vacation – relax. They won’t run out of food, believe me.
The waitstaff on our cruise was mostly Portuguese or Romanian, but everyone spoke English well. We noticed that they had trouble with Southern accents in particular. If you speak clearly and slowly though, they’ll get it. Service was always swift and attentive. In fact because we dined towards the end of dining time, we noticed that the waitstaff was more relaxed since the dining room wasn’t full. They were fun to joke with, too, and it really made dinner all the more fun.
Day 2 – Second Sea Day
A repeat of Day One. We did a scuba review class in the pool on this morning with the resident divemaster, ahead of a scuba dive excursion we had planned. Apparently we were that morning’s poolside entertainment, too, flopping around in full gear and all. But that was about the biggest highlight of the day.
We attended a shopping “seminar” hosted by the ship’s “Shopping Coordinator.” The premise was that she was going to show you where the best bargains were and talk about how to get around each island. The reality was that she just read aloud the flyers that she had previously created that described all this. These flyers are included in every cabin, so there’s really no need to attend. And she went on and on about how if you purchased something from one of these “preferred” stores, even a t-shirt, it was “guaranteed” by Princess and you could get your money back any time if you wanted. What in the honey-baked hell? Skip that presentation – all the information is in the flyers. Including maps.
Later, we went to high tea. This was quite fun, actually. It’s served every day at 3:30 and it’s got all the things you’d expect, including scones, little finger sandwiches, etc. It’s never very crowded, and an elegant way to spend an hour.
Day 3 – St. Maarten
First port. Our ship secured a pierside mooring so a simple march down the gangway put us on dry land. We noticed ourselves weaving a little bit after two straight days at sea. We had booked an excursion (a hike through a rainforest preserve) and folks were standing at the gangway to direct us and other folks to their various excursion transportation.
Our excursion took us by bus up to the hiking trail. This included lunch, and afterwards our bus driver took us over to Marigot (the French side) for just a few minutes so we could look around. Basically St. Maarten has better shopping on the Dutch side, better beaches on the French side. He then drove us back over the Phillipsburg, dropped some of us off there, and carted the rest back to the ship.
We got off in Phillipsburg and went shopping. The shopping experience is kind-of-a yawn…jewelry, linens, tacky tourist stuff, etc. We did have some good ice cream, though, and people watching. Anyway when we had our fill we simply walked back to the ship – about 15 minutes. You can take a taxi back to the dock if you want.
The ship left the island about 6PM. Dinner was as I have previously described. We then went to that evening’s show called “Lights, Camera, Action,” which had been advertised all week as a great experience. We were anticipating a great show as the curtain went up and the lead came out, but as soon as he opened his mouth we new it was doomed – a really bad rendition of an early 90’s song. So after about 5 minutes we got up and left, and when to the other side of the ship where a guest comedian was performing. His show was packed (we should have known we made a mistake since the Lights, Camera, Action theater was only ½ full) and it made up for the other show.
Day 4 – St. Thomas
Once again, we managed to secure a pierside mooring, while other ships had to tender
(motorboat) their passengers into town.
Since we were back in the US, immigration is necessary before leaving the ship. You are given an appointment time to show up in one of the lounges where you march by an immigration officer and hand him your passport. Once they OK you, you get a little card allowing you to leave the ship. You don’t have to honor your appointment time, and are welcome to go earlier, which is especially important if you have an early morning excursion, like we did.
So off to scuba diving. Again an excursion representative was there to collect us and others from different ships. We boarded another boat which took us out to an island off the St. Thomas coast. It was a fabulous dive day – calm conditions and 15-20 foot visibility. We did two dives, one on a wreck called the Castanza, the other over a typical coral reef.
We were back at the cruise ship by Noon so we washed down our equipment, showered, and changed. Of course, there’s nothing better than a giant burger after diving, and as we returned we had asked one of the dive boat folks for a good recommendation. Just down the street from the port there was a great dive bar called Shipwreck Tavern which served huge burgers and Red Stripe beer – a winning combination.
After lunch we grabbed an open-bed taxi over to Charolette Amalie ($3.50/person fixed) to the main shopping district. Lo and Behold, it was the same thing as St. Maarten – the exact same stores. Yawn. So we walked around, purchased a couple of knick-knacks for those relatives we don’t see very often, and headed back to the ship.
We did look in the Passman Black Coral Store – watch out for these guys. If you don’t like a hard sell, don’t go in. They will stick to you like flies on **** until you buy something – and they’ll act really disappointed when you don’t. No haggling here, by the way, unlike other stores in both ports where haggling is expected.
Anyway, we left St. Thomas about 6PM, but had to turn back about 8PM for a medical evacuation. We didn’t really notice until the Captain got on the PA system and told us. It had the potential to shave some beach time off our stay in Princess Cays, but in the end I think we lost 30 minutes.
We had dinner at Sabatini’s this night, which is the cover charge ($20) Italian Restaurant.
**The experience at Sabatini’s is organized as a tasting menu. What this means is that you get many courses of various things in small portions (I think I counted 16 different dishes in all). Bring your appetite – we made the mistake of thinking this experience was like that of the regular Dining Rooms or the Desert Rose, where you order a single appetizer, salad/soup, entrée, and dessert. Instead you get a full antipasti course, appetizer sampling, pizza course, soup/salad course, entrée, and dessert. Little bits of each thing (they don’t serve you a whole pizza) but when you add it up it’s a lot of food.
I don’t remember what entertainment was that night – must’ve been drunk on too many Chocolate Bananas.
Day 5 – Last Sea Day
Same as first sea day. Second (and thank goodness the last) formal dining day.
Day 6 – Princess Cays
So we get to Princess Cays about 7AM. This is a tender-only port, which means they lower a number of lifeboats and use them as shuttles back-and-forth from the island. It is also a short day in port – approx. 8:00AM to 2:30PM. Of course you’ve already figured out the potential for chaos as hordes of oiled-up humans rush the boats in order to get dibs on the best loungers.
But the way the staff handled it was great – ahead of the tenders being ready, you show up at a lounge and grab a number ticket…first come, first serve. Then when the tenders are ready they call off groups of numbers and off you go. The first 5 – 6 boats require this procedure, after this there are enough boats running back and forth that it’s just walk up.
The loungers that go first at the Cays aren’t the beachside ones – frankly there isn’t a bad lounger in the house based on view. No, it’s the shady ones that go first, as there are only a few little shade structures on the beach. As always, the saving begins immediately so if you want a shady lounger, be on one of the first tenders – or send out an advance party to hold them for a larger group.
Great snorkeling is available here, as is equipment if you need to rent it. The snorkeling area is divided into two sections – an entry area and then a reef. The staff is very good about watching out for idiots that try to stand up on the reef or otherwise trash the place –they’ll pull you out of the water if you don’t look like you can handle it. Basically respect the reef by not touching anything, don’t stand unless you are on sand, and you’ll be fine.
Avoid snorkeling in the entry area as it’s full of first-timers flailing around. Just swim around to the right of them, around the lifeguard shack, and into the reef – it’s about a 100 yard swim. Then there are few people, lots of fish, and a relatively healthy reef to view.
Lunch starts at 11:15AM, which consists of a full barbeque (chicken, ribs, hot dogs, sausages, hamburgers) and all the trimmings. It’s staffed by the ship’s staff.
**Soda stickers don’t work on Princess Cays – you pay for all drinks. It’s $2 a soda, by the way. Whether you want to carry some of your bottled water to the Cays (see my previous tips above) or not is up to you and your wallet.
After lunch we took a Catamaran lesson and then got to sail around on our own for a while. That was fun – we paralleled the tenders a couple of times and tried to race (just kidding).
By 1:30 I had had enough fun and sun so I headed back to the boat, while my wife and our friends stayed on. There was a line to get back at 1:30, which I waited in for maybe 10 minutes. Last tender is at 2:30. Everyone makes it back to the ship - no castaways.
Dinner was the Captain’s Gala dinner. You know, the one with the lobster and all. No Baked Alaska though, however it may have showed up in the traditional seating dining room. Can’t remember the entertainment on this evening, either. The last night on board there’s a lot of information passed around about disembarkation procedures, and there’s definitely a right way and a wrong way to do this. Here are my recommendations to make this easy:
**Get a printout of your shipboard account from the purser’s desk sometime on Day 6. This gives you time to review it and ask questions/make adjustments BEFORE the masses. Most people won’t see their bill until first thing in the morning, and you can just guess that the purser’s desk is pretty chaotic as a result on that morning.
The night before disembarkation you are given color-coded luggage tags that designate when you will be allowed to leave the ship. They publish a complete list of these colors, but basically you disembark from the topmost decks downwards. The lower you are, the later you leave. Everyone’s off by about 10:30AM, though. If you have an early flight, you can inform the Purser’s Desk and they will provide Red luggage tags, which are the very first to go.
Luggage needs to be staged outside your cabin after dinner on the last night. This can be really late, so don’t feel pressured. But be sure you set out enough clothes for sleeping and getting ready to go the next morning – once you set your bags out they’re gone until you’re off the ship. And don’t pack you’re bathroom stuff! Otherwise how would you brush your teeth? :)
This is also the last night to purchase the reams of pictures that the ship’s photography staff have been taking all week. I’ve never been a fan of these, but a couple were good enough to purchase. The photo staff is great about cropping and retouching, too, so if you like something that needs adjustments, just ask.
Day 7 – Disembarkation Day
This day is actually not Armageddon if you read my tips, and have patience:
**We chose to double up on breakfast the day before and store it in our refrigerator for disembarkation day. Fruit, cereal, milk, even bagels and doughnuts. There is a regular breakfast service on disembarkation day and the Horizon Buffet is open for breakfast from 7:30 – 8:30AM, but we expected both those to be swamped. Thus we had a leisurely breakfast on our balcony at our own pace, without a crush of people.
After breakfast we said goodbye to our room steward and hung out on deck until our color was called. A quick walk off the ship, down through the cruise terminal, and passport check and you find yourself in the check-in area from a week ago, except this time it’s filled with luggage.
Luggage is organized by color (remember the colored tags?) and you have to wade through the other 400 bags in each color to find yours. It took me about 5 minutes.
Outside the cruise terminal, the same rental car agencies that drop you off are available to pick you up.
**If you choose to rent a car right out of the cruise terminal, be sure to book it from the airport (FLL) location. Hertz and Budget both have “local” rental locations nearby and it’s not hard to misbook a reservation. The airport shuttle will not allow you on unless you have a car reserved at the airport location. Not that you won’t get a car, but the shuttles to these local locations don’t run as often nor are they as organized as the airport locations.
Because of all the cruise ships arriving on the same day (I believe there were seven) it took about 45 minutes for the shuttle to reach us and for us to circle all the cruise terminals for other passengers.
So ended our great trip. I hope this was helpful. Enjoy your cruise!