Number of Cruises: 10
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Golden Princess
Sailing Date: 2004
Itinerary: Southern Caribbean
This was our 8th Princess cruise, so obviously, we like Princess. We have also traveled on Holland America and NCL. We weren’t expecting to do a cruise this year as we had done one last fall (Tahiti). We were planning on going to Cozumel so I could dive and Maureen could snorkel. However, Princess sent us a sale brochure and after we looked it over, we found that it was cheaper for a week on Golden Princess than a week on Cozumel (especially since the food is included on the ship). This is a new route for Golden Princess (we were only the second time the ship had done this route so I assume there are readers who would like to know more. We had a mini-suite on Dolphin deck, D326. We've sailed on Grand Princess three times before, so we knew what to expect and we loved the mini-suite. We find that when we have a balcony cabin, we do spend time in it. We especially love having breakfast on the balcony and sunset wine and appetizers (which we get from the Horizon Court at lunch!). It’s also so nice to just have your own balcony to sit out and read and not be with the noise and crowds up on the Lido deck.
We flew to San Juan on our 22nd wedding anniversary, so this was a special occasion for us. We stayed one night before and after the cruise at the Caribe Hilton, using previously earned HHonors points, so the stay both times was free. We had read very conflicting reviews on tripadvisor.com on this hotel. We wondered since we were staying for free whether we would be consigned to the "closet in the dark". However, the front desk staff was great and welcoming. I had called the hotel Concierge prior to the stay to ask about a corsage for my wife. Since the hotel doesn't have a flower shop, he recommended 1-800-flowers, and I used them. They had delivered the corsage prior to our getting in at 7pm, and the front desk had a note to give it to us. Made for a wonderful surprise for my wife! They gave us a wonderful room on the 5th floor of the main building that had an ocean view and a view of the elaborate swimming pool complex. Very tropical and romantic. We had dinner at Morton's Steak House which is located in the hotel. While we would normally have gone to old San Juan, we had arrived so late that we thought we were better off at the hotel. It was of course a great (and expensive) meal!
On Sunday, we left the hotel at noon and headed for Golden Princess. This was the only disappointment of the trip. Apparently everyone else staying in San Juan prior to the cruise also checked out at noon, and arrived at the ship. The waiting line was out to the edge of the parking lot entrance and it was warm and humid and ready to sprinkle. And this was just the line to give your baggage to the baggage people. There was a second line then to get into the check in building. Once in there, they had chairs for you to sit while you waited and even a dance troupe to entertain you. Finally, we got ushered into the check in area, and since we were Platinum Princess members, we had a very short check in line here. However, the whole process exceeded an hour, which we thought was excessive. We've been on Grand three times which is a sister ship and just the same size, and never seen lines like that. There's no real excuse for doing things the way they are currently.
Golden is a duplicate of Grand Princess. The only things that are different are the atrium lobby (much prettier on Golden), the location of the wedding chapel, Internet cafe, and the Grand suite which we didn't have! The dining rooms, cabins and other public rooms were the same design as Grand (which we like, so this is not a complaint).
For those of you who like traditional dining times (we do--so don't flame me), there is one odd thing that happens the first night. The lifeboat drill is at 8pm apparently so late plane flight passengers can attend. However, late seating dinner is at 8:30pm. So it's kind of tight timing. So instead of sitting with your future table mates that night, they just take you to any table for the first night. You go to your assigned table all of the rest of the cruise. We sailed at 11pm. We went up top to see old San Juan since our cabin faced away from it at departure. One "unique" thing we saw, which I've never seen before. When we looked down from the top deck, we could see the balconies of the dolphin mini-suite deck. Someone had taken their bed, blankets, sheets and all, and placed it out on the balcony! What happened to this when it rained, we'll never know, and it did rain a number of times on this trip (we were there just before the big floods in Haiti and the Dominican Republic which made the news.)
First day was at sea (and it was the only day at sea, making this a port intensive cruise). We went up and listened to the port lecture, and I took pictures of the ice carving demonstration out on the Lido deck. We both had booked trips to the spa and had great treatments there. We also met 12 of our "closest" Internet friends that we've never seen in person that we had corresponded with via the CruiseCritic website. Had a wonderful hour with all of them. That night was "formal" night and most really dressed up. A tip for formal night portraits… The first formal night is also the Captain's welcome party in the atrium. This essentially kind of interrupts the taking of atrium portraits, and we tried to wait, but finally had to give up and go to dinner as the line just didn't move.
The first port was Barbados and we had a great time there. Maureen likes to snorkel and I SCUBA dive, and all of these islands are great water sport ones. She had a snorkel booked via Princess which she really liked, and I made separate arrangements via the Internet with Dive Barbados. They picked me up and I went on two dives with them, both involving wrecks which were interesting. They are a little laid back and small operation but very friendly. However, they got me back an hour late, about five minutes after the time I had booked via Princess a 4X4 with my wife for the afternoon! Just as I drove up, Maureen was waiting for the group to finally form. So I quickly dashed inside the terminal for a bottle of water and potato chips which formed my "lunch" that day.
The 4X4 was a real kick of a tour. We used every feature of the Land Rover that it has. We went into sugar cane fields, slip sliding down the gully's and into the mud puddles (you like that--let's do it again!). Saw a close up view of a major sugar cane factory with all of the steam venting out above it as they refine the sugar. Went over to the Atlantic side of the island which has very rough surf but a very scenic coastline with lots of rock formations just offshore that have been undercut by the strong waves and current. Therefore the rocks begin to look like little "mushrooms" as their bottom 1/3 is worn away by wave action. It rained a little during this tour, but the driver put down plastic side curtains which helped. Guide/driver was very friendly and we learned a lot about the island.
Here we booked a tour not from Princess, although it turned out Princess uses them for a piece of what happens. I wanted to dive, and Maureen wanted to snorkel. I had read that one of the best diving operations there is Scuba St. Lucia that is located at the Anse Chastenet resort on the south coast of the island. I e-mailed them and we arranged that Maureen could snorkel and I could dive and they would send a boat to pick us up at the Princess dock. We did get picked up along with others who had booked the same two pieces we did. We also had people from a Princess tour that accompanied us for a mountain bike tour. The 1 hour boat ride down the coast was great and relaxing. The snorkelers and mountain bikers were dropped off at the resorts private beach, and the SCUBA divers were taken one cove down the main resort to dive. For the snorkelers, they had a wonderful beach lined with lots of palm trees and lounge chairs underneath for relaxing. The first dive was a shore dive into the underwater national park that is adjacent to the Anse Chastenet resort. We then were taken back to the beach for lunch with the snorkelers and bikers using a pavilion back in the palm forest. Had a nice relaxing lunch and then the snorkelers and divers had another hour and a half for more diving and snorkeling. Finally they took us back via the same 1 hour boat ride and we just got on the ship at the final boarding time, so this is an all day adventure.
Maureen had a Princess snorkel trip here which she liked very much. I had originally booked a dive through Princess for here as I couldn’t find out much info on diving operator here. However, when we boarded in San Juan, there was a note in our mailbox that indicated that the dive for Antigua was cancelled. The tour staff wasn't too helpful on recommending other dive ships (or even which one they had used that had cancelled), so I went up to the Internet cafe and used Google to find "Antigua and SCUBA". Found a few listings and made a reservation with Deep Bay Divers. The dive master picked me up at the dock. Turns out that this is a one man operation. He has his boat docked at the Rex Halcyon resort where there is also another dive operation (Dive Antigua). Both boats wound up going to the same dive spots. Mine stopped at another resort to pick up a large family who went diving with me. We had a good time on the reefs there.
Came back in the late afternoon (to a rainstorm) and did a little shopping. My dive watch had leaked in Barbados, so I bought a new one at Columbian Emeralds which I like very much. It's a Citizen dive watch that records your dive, and then allows you to transfer the information into your computer to keep a record and a graphic representation of the dive. (BOYS TOYS!).
The tour here was the highlight of the cruise and has been discussed before as one of the most outstanding trips in the Caribbean. We went on the "America's Cup Yacht Race", which was an absolute ball! We've been on a few lazy sailboat trips before. However, you as passengers on this, become the "crew". You supply the muscle to turn the winches etc to make the sails move and tack back and forth across the course out in the bay. We were on Dennis Connor's "Stars and Stripes" which was the winning boat in 1987. We raced against Canada II and True North, which were the two boats that also raced in 1987. It was so much fun, and we really got going fast. Was a blast tacking and yelling at the other boats. We did loose (the two Canadian boats ganged up on us), but it's one of the highlights of any cruise we've ever been on.
Maureen thought she might go snorkeling at Coki Beach on her own, but decided not to. I had arranged to dive with Chris Sawyer's Dive operation at the Renaissance Hotel (since renamed to something I forget). This was a truly first class operation and well deserves the praise that others have given it in reviews. We went to two small off shore islands. The bottom here is a mixture of sand and coral formations, but lighter in color than the other islands I dove on this trip. So it made for the best underwater pictures of the trip. My dive master was a young man who went to high school here in Torrance, CA and grew up not far from the branch library I used to work at--small world!
We got off the ship around 10:30am and waited a long time for the customs check. Got a cab with no problem back to the Hilton and arrived before noon. Of course our room wasn't ready (and we didn't expect it to be). So we checked our bags and then took a taxi down to old San Juan as we really like the old city. Went to Mass at the Cathedral (a little long and of course all in Spanish). Then we went shopping and browsing in the old cobblestone streets. About 3:30pm it started to rain really hard. We had brought ponchos just in case. Then it really came down in buckets! We stopped under an awning of a shop that was closed to see if we could wait it out a little. Apparently we looked so drenched that another couple across the lane took our picture as we were so wet! Finally, we braved it down to the Wyndam which is at the bottom of the hill of the old city. Of course all of the rain also goes downhill, and so the streets were flooded up over the curb. We walked dripping through the lobby and casino and out the front door to a waiting taxi, who looked a little disappointed in picking up two very wet people! However, we enjoyed ourselves and relaxed back at the Hilton. The Concierge had recommended an upscale Puerto Rican restaurant called Ajili Mojili. We had a wonderful dinner of Asoapo a kind of gumbo soup and rice dish with giant shrimp. Yum!
The next morning we boarded our flight home. There's quite a waiting line at the airport for both the agricultural check, and then the security check too, so allow enough time. In reflection, the week seemed so short. Next time I think we will go for the 10 day version out of Fort Lauderdale as the airfare there is cheaper too. We will probably plan to go in fall instead of May. We were trying to avoid the Spring Break crowds as well as the Summer Vacation crowds, but the weather in May is a little iffy. And yes fall is Hurricane Season, but But it was a truly wonderful trip.