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Caroline Gentry

Age: 34

Occupation:journalist

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Golden Princess

Sailing Date: February 6th, 2005

Itinerary: Southern Caribbean

Just got back from a one week cruise on the Golden Princess. On the whole we were very happy with the ship and the cabins were better than we expected.

We went with my parents, who had flown over from the UK, where we are from, to meet us in DC, then we flew down to San Juan. A cruise is a great idea for a vacation with parents as they could go off and do what they were interested in while we lazed on the beach.

Cabins
We both had balcony cabins on the Baja deck and were pleased we had paid the extra $100 or so. We booked in September with vacations to go and got a very good deal, about half of the brochure price. We were pleased we did not have people looking over us like the two decks below - there was a deck above us, but our balcony was covered.

My husband and I tipped the attendant to push our beds together and give us the “egg-crate” mattress we have read about on other cruise review sites, which made the beds a bit softer. This was done really quickly, and he was very attentive the rest of the cruise, providing fresh beach towels every day. We were surprised Princess even lets you take their towels off the ship.

Having the first day at sea is a great idea as it gives you a chance to find your way around. There are plenty of pools although none are very large. The best one was at the back of deck 15 by the gym, adults only, you can swim against the current and it is heated. There is also a sauna and steam room which we didn’t see advertised anywhere.

Food
Horizon food court seemed to be open all the time - food was as you would expect for a buffet, sometimes dry and rather tasteless, although we were quite pleased about this as it meant we didn’t eat all THAT much…. Get there early in the morning for the pain au chocolat - really lovely and even better than in France! Coffee is too weak, but you can get expresso from the bar by pizza and burger stall on deck 14 for a couple of dollars - altho we didn’t get charged if we had it afer dinner for some reason.

We tried out the pizza and hot dogs once, both were good. We opted for anytime dining in the evening, we never had to wait more than about 10 minutes even though we went at 7.30-8pm most night, prime time. Food was better here, although it took too long and we missed most of the entertainment, which seemed to be scheduled mainly at 8-9pm. You can either sit alone or say you don’t mind sharing, which was a great way to meet people and meant you didn’t have to wait as long.

We found the alcohol on the ship reasonably priced, contrary to what we had been told, and the waiters will keep your wine for you for the following night if you don’t finish the whole bottle. Take a jacket, as the air conditioning is vicious.

The all you can drink soda for $25 is a con, however, as you only get coke from the tap and it normally costs $1 a glass - as you’re really only on the ship for 6 days, you would have to drink more than 4 glasses a day to make it worthwhile, and you don’t get a discount on spirits with mixers either. Also you have to carry round the special cup with you all the time. We just bought cans for $1.50 a go - after all there are lots of other drinks on the ship, the non-alcoholic fruit punches and smoothies were great.

Didn’t bother with room service, and our suspicions were confirmed that it often came too late for people who had excursions booked, just as easy to go up to the buffet.

Entertainment
There was plenty of entertainment on the first day to keep you busy, despite the not-so great weather - we managed to get loungers together by the Neptune pool on deck 14 after some searching as we left it too late - the half an hour only reserve time is a really great policy. It clouded over in the afternoon so we did a dance class with Shelby, which was great. The mini golf was fun and we also played table tennis although it was a bit windy on the back deck.
The only real show we got to see was the welcome show on the first night, which was quite good, although we left halfway through to go to the sailing away party on top deck. These parties were all somewhat disappointing really - just people standing around and no lights like we saw on other ships. The Golden Princess seemed to lack imagination in its décor compared to the Celebrity and Carnival ships we saw, although we had deliberately opted for a non-party ship for my parents’ sake.

The Princess Idol karaoke competition was fun although the choice of songs was poor unless you are over 50. The farewell show was a bit of a let down, as we were expecting singing and dancing like the welcome show, but it was just one singer - who was very good - and a not very funny comedian who we had already seen the night before. The disco was great, perfectly cheesey, worth a visit whatever age you are. The cruise directors staff did a really funny Village People and dance show one night, they really livened it up and seem to enjoy their jobs.

Excursions
The most disappointing part of the trip was Barbados. We decided to book just two tours, one on the first day to see what they were like, and one in St Martin with my parents. They did a tour almost every day. We went for the sea kayak and turtle snorkel, expected to be taken along some scenic beaches and coves as promised. But they only take you about a mile from the ship, dump you outside a rum factory on the beach, and then you kayak along the factory, past the Malibu factory, towards the port again, with a view of the industrial waste site, breathing in disgusting fumes. Then you get back on the boat and are taken… back in front of the rum factory again! Where they feed the turtles on dead fish, not part of their usual diet. The only reason the turtles go there is because they feed them there. The only reason we could think why they didn’t take us further to a nice spot is because they want to save money on gas - kayaking back to the port and then getting a boat back to the factory was just stupid and really annoying. There was a big group of us and the turtles swam right underneath us to get the food so it was a bit like a scramble - we were expected to see them in their natural habitat. We have swum with sharks before and the tour guide then was careful to point out that they never feed the sharks as it disrupts their natural way of life and they become too dependent on humans. I think this practice of feeding the turtles should be stopped - I would rather risk not seeing them.

Then for the final part of the trip we were taken to an adjacent beach - on the site of an abandoned hotel, still right next to the factory and within view of the ship. Talking to people at dinner that night who knew Barbados, they said we had been totally ripped off and missed some lovely beaches along the West coast, where the advert for the trip said we would be taken. We complained and were reimbursed 20%, but this did not make up for the fact we missed out on seeing the real Barbados. This trip is definitely not worth the $79 per person! One positive note was the rum punch, which was really lovely and you could have as much as you liked.

In the afternoon we managed to get a taxi to the nearest beach to the port, which was OK, but we returned to the ship feeling very deflated and this was not a great start to the vacation. My parents did the best of Barbados tour to see some gardens and a sheep farm - they said it was OK, but the gardens were not that impressive.

St Lucia was also disappointing, although possibly because it rained. We just got a taxi to take us on a tour with a group of about 7 others, so it cost $20 a head. We went to see Soufriere and the sulfur spring - I wouldn’t bother again - really not much to see and a smell so bad you don’t want to hang around. This took up most of the day, we returned and met up with my parents, went over to Froggy Jacks, the restaurant recommended by the ship, that meant taking two boats. Not impressed with this - the waitresses didn’t seem to want to serve us, and it was pretty expensive, so we left after waiting for 10 minutes and went back to the ship for a late lunch. There is nothing in Castries, the capital, which is really not very nice and quite hectic. My parents were quite pleased with their mamiku gardens trip.

Antigua was much better, we all had nothing planned so we got a van to take us to half moon beach, which is supposed to be the best one, on the other side of the island. Cost us $150 for a driver for the whole day - probably ripped off but still cheaper than Princess tours. Roads are very bumpy! Stopped at the English harbour on the way, interesting. The tour guide warned us there was nothing at Half Moon Bay and to go to a nearer beach but we wanted to go anyway. He was right, so we didn’t stay long and then went to the nearest beach to the ship, (Dickenson Bay?) which was much better, and had lunch there, which was good.

St Martin was lovely, we did the See and Sea tour, which was the best one of all the Princess tours my parents said. Really nice friendly guide, we got to see the Dutch and the French side, had time for shopping in the market, then did the semi submarine thing and saw loads of fish and sting rays. Highly recommend this tour. And we were back by 11.30 so had plenty of time to get out to the nearby beach by water taxi. Caution, don’t get out euros as we did on the French side as they are only accepted 1 for 1 dollar on the Dutch side when they should be 1.30 for 1 dollar. Bought a digital camera here, got one for $320 (Konica Minolta 5MP) and found out our local shop does them for $350 so not much of a saving, although we did get a good memory card (over 500 bytes or whatever) with it for $60 which was not bad.

Had to get up at 6am to go through customs - not too happy about that… St Thomas was also lovely, we just went to Magens Bay all day, one of the top ten beaches in the world apparently. Get there by 10am ish to get a sun lounger (around $6 each ;plus deposit) or a flotation mat. Loads of pelicans swooping down to catch fish provided entertainment all day. Jetskis and pets not allowed.

Disembarking would have been easy although my husband left his suitcase out too late - you are supposed to put them out the night before, although this is really inconvenient, so we just put them out and called the pursers desk in the morning to have them taken down, but they didn’t take my husbands and we had to hang around for about half an hour after getting off.
We spent a day in San Juan afterwards, a great idea as it softened the blow of the cruise being over. We thought we’d book a really nice hotel as it was just for one night so we chose the Sheraton in the old town as it was near the port, mistake. It is really run down, not at all what you would expect - dismal rooms and stains on the bedding. We got an upgrade to a mini suite as we are Starwood preferred guest members, but even so it was not fantastic - really small not very nice pool outside - also it was cloudy which didn’t help. Looked around the town - not much to see really - got really ripped off at a lunch place on the main shopping street, one of the ones with tables and chairs outside, awful food, even worse service, very expensive. The next day we had a late flight so asked the hotel to find us a tour, which they did at very short notice, and this was actually the best of them all, far better than the Princess tours. Sorry, can’t remember the name of the company, but our guide was called Mauritzio, and they drove black vans with tinted windows. He has a degree in eco tourism and showed us round the rain forest with such a detailed and knowledgeable commentary on all the plants and animals that went far deeper than the other tours. A fantastic tour, and he took us to a place for lunch that was great, real local food and very cheap. Then he took us straight to the airport, for a total of $140.

We were very happy with the cruise and with Princess in general. The people we met were all really nice and friendly. A few years ago I might have been bored in the evenings, but as it was we wanted early nights so we could get out and make the most of the port stops. Would have preferred it if everyone was just on one week, some were on two. One week is just not long enough!

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