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Karen Knowlton

Age: 50's

Occupation:travel professional

Number of Cruises: 9

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Golden Princess

Sailing Date: February 6th, 2005

Itinerary: Southern Caribbean

My husband and I cruised on Golden Princess, our first time on this cruise line. We were pleased with the itinerary and in general with the ship, and had a good time relaxing, meeting a few new friends, and sampling some beautiful islands in the southern Caribbean. The ship sailed full, with about 2600 passengers, most of whom seemed to be from the Northeast or Midwest, with a fairly large complement of Britons onboard as well.

Perhaps our favorite part of the ship was our cabin, an outside with balcony on deck 11, aft of amidships. Unlike some passengers, we like to spend quite a bit of time in our cabin, so we enjoyed the access to fresh air – especially the sliding door between cabin interior and balcony – and the spaciousness of our cabin. It was large enough for a kingsize bed – unusual on a cruise ship – and plenty of storage space. In fact, we didn’t even use all the storage provided! The large closet serves as a noise buffer between bathroom and bedroom area, and the space between the bathroom and closet is big enough for at least one person to change clothes, so we could leave the drapes open much of the time without sacrificing modesty. We discovered a small refrigerator hidden in a cupboard below the TV; it was great for keeping drinks handy for use in the cabin. And the safe was more than adequate for all our valuables, including our point-and-shoot camera.

We also rather liked the smaller dining rooms than usually found on such big ships, each being one deck high instead of multiple stories. They are made to appear more intimate by attractive room dividers built into the design. Unfortunately, this didn’t help with the noise level, and conversation sometimes became a bit difficult when the dining room was full.

Another convenience I really enjoyed was having a self-serve laundromat on each cabin deck. Our cabin happened to be quite close to the one on deck 11, which made it even better. Rather than having to pack lots of clothes, or worry about running out of clean clothes partway through the cruise, I could spend an afternoon doing laundry and cut down on what we were carrying! Cost was reasonable too; $1 each for washer and dryer, with the latter running a full 45 minutes on that dollar.

It’s important to consider, when reading or writing a cruise review, that food is probably the most subjective aspect. Please bear in mind that this reflects my own tastes and preferences in food, and that your own experience may likely be very different, though the food itself may be just the same! That said, we thought the food was very good, although – at least during the first part of the week – not exactly to my taste. There was a good variety of choices in the buffet, Horizon Court, with wonderful fresh fruit available nearly every day (the papaya and pineapple were especially delicious), both hot and cold foods available for each meal, and at dinner many of the items featured on the dining room menus were also to be found at the buffet. We ate breakfast and lunch in the buffet most days, and had one dinner there. The buffet is laid out in a bit of a jumble, and if it’s busy, can get quite congested and confused, as people move in and out, back and forth, between and around the different little islands within the serving area. It takes patience and courtesy to negotiate successfully. Breakfast in the dining room has a more leisurely feel to it, and we did eat there twice, when we didn’t have early shore excursions. The coffee was much better there, according to my husband; in fact, the coffee in Horizon Court was the one real downside to the food on this cruise, being quite variable, and usually so weak as to be unpalatable. My downside was that the only things to drink during the day that didn’t cost extra were water, tea and coffee. Since I don’t drink either of the latter, that left me with only one choice, which is ok, but I would really have appreciated having access to some juice or lemonade as an alternative.

We opted for Personal Choice dining, partly because I wanted to see how the concept actually works. In the main dining rooms that use this option, reservations can be made by calling an onboard “dine line” in the morning, and when one arrives at that time, generally can get right in. Or one can just show up at the dining room during its dinner hours; if a table the size requested is available, one can be seated right away, but if not, one is given a “buzzer” and an approximate wait time (which can be up to 45 minutes or so). We found that we never had to wait if we agreed to share a table, or if we arrived at the dining room before 7 PM. As we prefer to eat early, this system worked very well for us; the one night we requested a table for two, we got that right away as well. We also discovered that Donatello dining room, on deck 6, had longer wait times than Bernini, located one deck lower; as the dining rooms are virtually identical and serve the same food from the same menu, it wasn’t hard to see that going to Bernini was a really good idea!

As on other cruise lines, there is at least one fish, one vegetarian and one meat choice, and – endemic to Princess – there is also at least one pasta choice. The traditional standards, like beef Wellington, lobster, and baked Alaska (called “bombe” on Princess), are all there at some point during the week, and there were a few unusual entrees, like pheasant. I twice chose one of the “always available” entrees – steak, grilled salmon or broiled chicken. The quality of the food and preparation seemed to be very good to excellent (again, this is subjective!) and presentation was usually attractive, and sometimes a bit unusual and fun. The lobster was tender and delicious on second formal night, when it was offered, and was apparently quite popular. Kim had a sirloin steak in the dining room early in the cruise and wasn’t thrilled with it, but we had fantastic steaks in Desert Rose the night we opted to eat there. Desserts were excellent, though many were prepared with liqueur, so twice I had to opt for ice cream instead.

The alternate restaurants, Sabatini’s and Desert Rose, can be reserved any (or all) nights if one chooses, and is willing to pay the cover charge We didn’t visit Sabatini’s, but we did eat one night in Desert Rose, a “Sterling steakhouse,” and were very pleased, finding the food quality and service truly 5-star, in our opinion. Well worth the $30 we paid for the two of us to eat there. Steaks there (we had filet and NY strip) were tender, juicy and tasty, and prepared just right; we also had our favorite dessert of the cruise there, raspberry crème brulee – and when it was served the next night in the main dining rooms, we enthusiastically recommended it to our tablemates. Our waitress, Magdalena, from Romania, was cheerful, pleasant and offered excellent service with a smile. Both the alternate restaurants have a fixed menu that does not change throughout the cruise.

The other food venues, like the grill and pizza corner and the ice cream shop (for extra $!) we visited a couple times. Never did try the pizza – there’s only so much one can stuff in during a 7-night cruise! – but the hamburgers were pretty good, at least not thin like McDonald’s. Ice cream was pricey but the sundaes were good and let us be creative.

We wanted to spend much of our time relaxing. Because of that, and due to our port-intensive itinerary, which reduced our time onboard, we participated in few onboard activities. We did attend one of the production shows together, and I went to the other two while my husband relaxed in our cabin or visited the library. I also sampled a couple of the other individual performers on different occasions, and we both attended the culinary demonstration on our sea day – interestingly, held in the atrium, rather than in a dining room or on the pool deck.

The production shows were uneven. The staging and costuming were creative, fun and family-friendly (no thongs), and the dancers quite good. The singers, however, were weak, often overwhelmed by the accompaniment, and occasionally off-key, a grating disappointment, and the entire crew lacked pizazz – at least the kind that connects with the audience. Of the individual performers, a male singer/pianist, Maurizio, who had his own electronic accompaniment, got rave reviews from some of the other passengers and attracted big crowds, which often made it difficult getting around the atrium area in the evening. And Darryl Orr, who played Latin-style guitar as background music in Desert Rose, was very good – his playing was quite pleasant, and the perfect dinner accompaniment for a Southwest-themed restaurant.

We liked the library – it actually had an attendant a few hours a day, and had a good selection of books to borrow. There was a small swap shelf too. I tried the internet café a few times, but got very frustrated at the slower-than-molasses connection the first couple days. Although Princess charges less than other cruise lines, at only 35 cents per minute of use, I still wasted several dollars just waiting for the darn thing to get hooked up to the internet. Service speeded up dramatically later in the cruise, so I was able to send a few brief messages without breaking the bank.

Compared to other cruise lines, I would classify the service by the Golden Princess crew to be average. There were few standouts, for either excellent or poor service. I did mention Magdalena, the waitress in Desert Rose, and we also had superior service from a waiter/assistant waiter combination in Bernini on 2nd formal night – these two, Kieron (pronounced Ky-ron) and Teka, were both from Grenada, and they were so friendly, fun and yet professional that I remember thinking, if all Grenadians are like these guys, that’s an island I would like to visit! We noticed that the people at several other tables around us that night seemed to know these waiters, and I suspect they had asked specifically for them, after having had them as waiters early on in the cruise. Our steward, Roger, was pleasant, remembered our names from the first day, and provided good service. Other waiters ranged from competent but slow to speedier and personable. Buffet staff were attentive to dirty dishes and good at removing them quickly – sometimes too quickly. They did not dish out food or bring drinks, except in one instance. There were plenty of them around. The purser’s staff were helpful and pleasant, as were the shore excursion desk, although at the times I visited them they seemed a bit overworked. Bartenders ranged from remote to mildly friendly; we don’t spend much time in bars, though, certainly not enough to establish a relationship like some passengers seem to have!

Shore excursions and getting on/off the ship in ports generally went quite well. I did encounter some frustration with the shore excursion staff when we were in St. Thomas. We had opted for an excursion to neighboring St. John, and when we got off the ship, could not find anyone leading or directing our excursion. Staffing from the ship seemed inadequate that morning and there was a great deal of confusion before we finally got going on our excursion.

I was very impressed with how smoothly both embarkation and disembarkation went. Our arrival time at the Pan-American dock, 1:30 PM, was prime time, and there was a good-sized line outside the terminal, but it moved very fast, and was under cover the entire time, so no one had to stand outside in rain (or hot sunshine, had that been the case.) Each of the three lines we were in moved quite fast, and we were onboard in perhaps 20 minutes, tops. The obligatory boarding photo was snapped on the promenade deck, rather than in the terminal.

Disembarkation was, if anything, even smoother. We were among one of the first groups to be called, as we had booked a post-cruise shore excursion, so perhaps we encountered less of a line or crush to get off than others did. However, we left the ship quickly, with no line, and even the lines for customs check went fast. The luggage was arranged in the terminal in rows, according to the colors & other designations on our disembarkation tags, and there were crew members there to help if we had a problem locating them. Porters circulated too, and in short order we had our bags on a porter cart and were following him through the terminal to where the bags would be stored (later placed on a truck and taken to the airport) while we were on our excursion.

We enjoyed each of the ports we visited (Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, St. Maarten, and St. Thomas, with our side excursion from there to St. John). Every island is beautiful in its own way, and they are all quite different. The weather was variable, rainy in Puerto Rico and St. Lucia, but most took this with good humor (especially in St. Lucia, where all of us on the catamaran ride from Castries to Soufriere got quite wet, but many were just dancing in the rain on the ride back). It was nicer on the other islands, and we had a simply beautiful day in the Virgin Islands. Whether wet or dry, it was a lot warmer than back home! We had good guides on all our shore excursions, with an excellent one in Barbados, Geoffrey, who led the photo adventure tour of the island. In almost all cases, not being beach people, we chose tours which offered a basic overview of the island, especially since it was our first visit to all but St. Thomas and Puerto Rico. Having an evening flight back home from San Juan after the cruise, we took the rainforest excursion there as well, and though too fast-paced to be really excellent, it was definitely preferable to spending the entire day in San Juan airport!

We really enjoyed this cruise, especially being able to get away and relax, and see some new places. Formal night was dressier than we are comfortable with on this ship – I think there were more tuxes and long gowns here than on any other cruise I have been on (including one on Holland America)! In the future, I would probably choose a more casual line for our vacations, but we have no complaints. What’s not to like about a cruise?

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