Joanne and John Bowers s
Age: 49 and 61
Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Golden Princess
Sailing Date: February 7, 2004
Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean
Joanne and John Bowers
Occupations: Legislative Researcher; Data Base Manager
Introduction: We never thought we would enjoy a cruise. We like independent travel and were afraid a cruise would too structured. A colleague recommended cruisereviews.com. We read some reviews and decided to take a chance. Our first cruise was on the Grand Princess in February 2003. What a surprise to learn that we could do our own thing. A floating hotel transported us from port to port – no packing and unpacking, no dashing off to catch the next flight. It was wonderful to return to our room at night to find the bed turned down, a chocolate on our pillows and a light burning low. Work seemed so far away. So did the blizzard we narrowly escaped. It was the most relaxing, romantic and stress-free vacation we ever had. We’re hooked!
Why This Cruise? The Eastern Caribbean beckoned. The Golden was our choice for two reasons: 1) we enjoyed our last Princess cruise; and 2) the itinerary included 3 days at sea (more time to relax).
Overall Impressions: In the language of the Caribbean, the cruise was boonoonoonoos (“fabulous”)! The ship was clean and in great shape. The crew was very friendly. Requests were handled cheerfully. The food was good. We loved our excursions.
According to the Purser, the age group on this cruise was 45-65. We saw many young people and children, however, as well as a number of passengers older than 65. We like a mix of age groups; this cruise worked well for that purpose.
The Golden is huge. It took us 2 days to find our way around. There were 2,663 passengers on board, yet the ship rarely felt crowded.
Captain Nick Nash enjoyed interacting with passengers. His announcements were humorous. The Cruise Director Paul O’Laughlin planned a wide variety of interesting activities for passengers of all ages – a nice improvement since our last cruise.
Pre-Cruise. We spent the night of the 6th at Amerisuites. Our room was clean. The hotel was ½ mile from the port and within walking distance to many stores and restaurants. A breakfast buffet was included in the rate, as was a continuous shuttle to the port beginning at 10:30 a.m. on the 7th. Amerisuites is ok for a 1-night stay, especially if you get a good rate. The down side was worn furniture, a room that reeked of stale tobacco despite a “Non-Smoking Room” sign on the door and a pool that saw better days.
Embarkation. We were on our balcony, unpacked and sipping iced tea, 30 minutes after entering the terminal at 11:20 a.m. Our luggage arrived at 1:30 p.m.
Stateroom. We stayed in C612. The room had a queen-sized bed, safe, hair dryer, refrigerator, TV, phone, desk with chair, bucket chair, and two nightstands. The bathroom was very small. It had a shower (no tub). Narrow shelves held most of our toiletries. Amenities included shampoo, conditioner, lotion and soap.
The best part of the room was the balcony. We ate breakfast and lunch there – dinner on port nights, too. The balcony was 9’x9’, half-covered and half-exposed to balconies above ours (we didn’t see anyone spying on us, though). We had two sturdy, white plastic loungers, a dining-height table and two straight-backed chairs.
Dress. “Smart casual” attire was recommended in the dining rooms most evenings. We dressed as if we were dining in a fine restaurant. That’s what we like to do. Others, however, preferred neat casual clothing (e.g., khaki slacks and open collar shirts). Jeans and shorts can be worn in the Horizon Court in the evening.
Passengers were asked to be courteous of others and dress appropriately in the public areas. One evening around 7 p.m. we were in the Wheelhouse Lounge listening to a combo. Passengers there were dressed in evening or neat casual clothing. In walked 2 elderly couples in bathing suits, flip-flops and damp towels draped over their shoulders (no other cover up). And they were seated. We don’t spend our vacations fretting over how others dress. Those two couples, however, were inappropriately attired for a lounge at night and should not have been seated.
On formal nights, more men wore business attire (e.g., dark business suits with white dress shirts) than tuxes. A handful of men wore dress slacks with sports coats. Women tended to wear long dresses, short cocktail dresses, or long skirts with fancy blouses.
Dining. The dinner menu was identical in all 3 dining rooms. It featured 5 courses (appetizer, soup, salad, entrée and dessert). You are not obligated to eat all 5. A 3-course low-fat menu (soup/salad, entrée and dessert) and a vegetarian menu were also offered. Shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad, grilled salmon, green beans and baked potato were available every night.
We really liked the lobster bisque, seafood turnover, lobster tail, pasta with chicken and olives and the chocolate-hazelnut soufflé. Shrimp fra divalo and shrimp cocktail with mango-tomatillo salsa were just ok. Grilled mahi mahi was overcooked (as were many of the fish entrées – a real disappointment). Yogurt with tamarind soup was so sweet it should have been dessert.
The wine list had selections beginning at $20 a bottle. If you bring your own bottle to the dining room, you will be charged a $10 corkage fee.
Breakfast and lunch were served “open seating” every day in the Donatello dining room. We didn’t eat these meals in the dining room, so I can’t comment on the quality or selection. An English-style tea was served in the Donatello every afternoon from 3:30-4:30 p.m. We attended on the last day at sea. It was a nice change of pace.
Breakfast and lunch in the Horizon Court were fine. Dinner, however, declined since our last cruise. This time there was an over abundance of deep fried foods, heavy (many cream-based) sauces, pizza, burgers and hot dogs. Perhaps Princess was trying to cater to families with young children who might prefer to eat in the Horizon Court rather than in the dining rooms. That’s understandable, but I wished there were a larger selection of lean meats and simply prepared seafood. If we wanted a light meal for dinner, we were basically locked into a green salad, some vegetables and a cup of soup.
We did not eat at the Trident Grill, Prego Pizzeria, or at the ice cream bar. We did not eat at the two alternative restaurants, Sabatini’s and Desert Rose.
Anytime Dining. We’re fans of the “anytime” dining option. We don’t want to eat at the same time every night and with the same group of people. On port nights, when we didn’t feel like dressing for dinner, we ate on our balcony without making apologies to assigned table companions. We didn’t have the same waiters every night, but that didn’t matter. All our waiters gave us attentive service. (We rarely ate more than 2-3 courses at dinner. Without exception, our waiters expressed concern that we weren’t getting enough to eat!)
We dined between 6:30-8:30 p.m. We never waited for a table. If you’re asked to wait 10-15 minutes (7:30-8:30 p.m. was the busiest time), grab a beverage and listen to classical music in the Atrium. The time will pass more quickly than if you hang around the doors stewing or yell at the headwaiter.
Activities and Entertainment. The Princess Patter listed activities and fees, if any. There was no shortage of things to do. The Scholarship at Sea Program offered computer classes for $25 each. We attended a wine tasting class for $7.50 per person. Other activities included exercise classes, line dancing classes, crafts, bingo, art auctions, galley tours, an Island Deck Party, cooking demonstrations, card tournaments, gaming lessons, special interest meetings and so much more.
A free martini-making demonstration was fun. Attendees were given a taste of 3 different martinis (even though it was only 10:30 a.m.). John attended a free snorkeling lesson. The fruit and vegetable carving demonstration was fascinating. The two men who do all the carvings learned that skill on their own.
The Wheelhouse Lounge was our favorite. It was dimly lit with comfortable leather seating. House Party, the Pete Nilson Duo and the Perry Phillips Trio were very good. Tenacity, a calypso band that played by the pool in the afternoons, really put us in an island state of mind. We don’t like loud DJ music, so we avoided Skywalkers.
We weren’t interested in the singers, dancers, juggler-comedians, and magicians. One night we stumbled upon the Princess Theatre a few minutes before curtain time. We sat in the last row just to see what the entertainment – Gregg Bonham – was like. Although Bonham had a good singing voice, he was so 30 years ago. We left after 10 minutes.
Pools. There were 4 fresh water pools on board. The pools were quiet on port days and mobbed on sea days. Lots of passengers saved pool chairs on sea days by draping towels over them early in the morning, then showing up a few hours later to claim them. Chair saving over 30 minutes is not permitted; there were signs to that effect and notices printed in the Princess Patter, but passengers ignored the rule and the crew didn’t enforce it. If you want a chair that’s saved, remove the towel, sit down and ignore the saver.
Ports. St. Maartens. The first sight of this island early in the morning as the ship slowly approached it was breathtaking. I wished we had more time there; it looked beautiful. We went on a ½ day barefoot sailing excursion, booked through Princess, on an 80-foot catamaran called the Golden Eagle. We were supposed to sail to an uninhabited island called Tintamare, but due to wind and high seas we sailed instead to a beach owned by a resort.
In the brochure, it looked like the catamaran anchored in shallow water. Perhaps it does on Tintamare. On our trip, however, the Golden Eagle anchored about 500 feet off shore in 12 feet of water. We were told to swim to the beach. Right! Noodle floats and snorkeling vests weren’t secure enough for me. A crewmember took non-swimmers to shore in a motorized dinghy. That was a good decision because there was a nasty undertow near the beach. John and a few others either stumbled or crawled onto shore gasping for breath. Hint: Don’t take any chances. If you’re not a strong swimmer, ride in the dinghy.
After an hour, we returned to the catamaran. Some who had trouble swimming to shore rode back in the dinghy with us non-swimmers. The crew played calypso music and served (generously) sandwiches, chips, rum punch, champagne, beer and soda. We had a fun time, the swim to shore notwithstanding, and highly recommend this excursion.
We changed on the ship, then took a water taxi into town. The water taxi cost $5 per person round trip and operates continuously. We ate delicious jerk chicken at the Barefoot Terrace, then went shopping. Most of the stores sold jewelry. Other shops sold spices, sauces, rum cakes, souvenirs and liquor. A café called Saviers de France on Old Street sold light groceries, pastries and cookies. We purchased a cup of French roast there. It tasted heavenly compared to the coffee served on the ship.
St. Thomas. We went on a ½ day barefoot sail and snorkeling excursion, booked through Princess, on a small sailing yacht. We sailed to Buck Island, a wildlife refuge. There, the boat anchored in Turtle Cove in 20 feet of water. After reviewing safety procedures and demonstrating the proper way to wear snorkeling equipment, one of the crew took passengers on a guided (and supervised) snorkeling tour of the reefs. People said the fish were gorgeous colors. I stayed on the boat watching sea turtles surface for air. It was very peaceful.
After an hour, we sailed back to the dock. The crew served bowls of chips and salsa, rum punch, beer and soda. We highly recommend this excursion.
(I wore sea bands and swallowed ginger capsules prior to the excursions. Even though the seas were rough, I did not get seasick.)
After changing on the ship, we took a van into town. Vans were very easy to get (they troll for passengers) and cost $3 per person one way. The stores sold the same items that we found on St. Maartens. Hint: Save the cab fare and shop at the outdoor Havensight Mall, across the street from where the ship docks. There you’ll find 50 stores that duplicate what you’ll see and spend downtown.
Eight ships were in port. Downtown Charlotte Amalie was mobbed. It was almost impossible to find a seat in a restaurant without a 50-minute wait. We found a café called Tavern on the Waterfront on the 2nd floor of a building on the main street. Prices were higher than expected, but we were seated almost immediately. We waited 35 minutes for our food because they were so busy. The food was worth the wait, though – delicious! I had jerk chicken and shrimp on skewers over coconut rice. John had sautéed grouper.
Princess Cays. We stayed on the ship. This is not our favorite port. It’s just a beach with bars, souvenirs, and expensive “water toys” that you can rent from Princess. A mediocre BBQ was served on the beach. I went to the spa instead for the Spa Tasting, a “port day special.” It included a 25-minute massage, followed by a 25-minute facial and scalp massage. I was so relaxed afterward that I couldn’t walk for 1-2 minutes! If you chose this special, ask for Lisa from New Zealand. She was wonderful.
Disembarkation. Two words describe it: Chaotic and stressful. The process began at 8:15 a.m. with the red tags (first off the ship). We waited 50 minutes for our tag color (Orange 7) to be called, then inched along to the terminal. It took a few minutes to find our luggage. Forget about grabbing a cab right away unless you engage a porter – and porters were few and far between (in the cab “pecking order,” porters seem to have priority). For all others it was a free for all. There were no cabstands with orderly lines like you find at airports. We gave up and took a privately operated van ($8 per person) to the airport.
Seven ships returned to port that morning. Thousands of cruise ship passengers descended upon the airport at virtually the same time. We waited in line almost an hour to talk to a Customer Service agent about arranging an earlier flight home. Booking the flight took about 10 minutes (computer problems). We waited in a long line to put our bags through the CTX, and then got into another long line to go through security. John’s bag was selected for a thorough search. It took 3 hours and 45 minutes from the time disembarkation began until we reached the gate. Hint: Take this into consideration when making your return flight reservation, or you could miss your plane.
Bottom Line. We had a wonderful time on the cruise. Can’t wait to sail again!