Number of Cruises: 6
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Golden Princess
Sailing Date: January 2nd, 2005
Itinerary: Southern Caribbean
My family has previously cruised on Royal Caribbean a number of times. This cruise was my second time cruising on Princess; a previous trip on Grand Princess had given me a very favorable impression of Princess cruises. Unfortunately, my voyage on the Golden Princess disabused me of that notion rather quickly.
I was not the person who planned the cruise for my family, and so I can’t speak to price or itinerary choices. What I *can* describe is my experience regarding the cruise itself.
We arrived at the San Juan airport with a minimum of trouble, only to discover that the baggage claim area lacks any way to indicate which carousel the baggage from a particular flight will come out on. People from our flight milled around from carousel to carousel, hoping to see something familiar go by on the belt. The whole time, two Princess representatives were standing against the far wall of the room, simply watching. I found this a little bit weird, since these representatives were obviously native Puerto Ricans who could have given us a hint about the baggage situation. A similar representative from Royal Caribbean was in the midst of the people, helping move luggage and (presumably) giving information to their passengers. The bus ride from the airport to the ship was unusually long, but the Princess representative on the bus with us explained that there was a famous personage appearing in San Juan that day (perhaps the Governor?) and roads were being blocked off, etc. Not a problem, since it was obviously beyond Princess’s control and they made sure to explain the situation to us.
Arriving at the dock, where the line to embark disappeared into a small building, was when things started to get ugly: the line curved around the parking lot in the hot sun, with no awnings or anything to cover it. Ok fine, we figured – embarkation lines for Royal Caribbean had always moved quickly; we’d get there soon enough. So we settled into line, towing our suitcases behind us. After about 20 minutes (still in the sun, remember), we realized that wow, we’d moved a grand total of…three feet. To describe the line as “crawling” would be generous. Stoic, we waited and waited, slowly moving forward, until after about an hour we had finally reached the door of the building. Yahoo! We were almost…oh. The inside of the building, far from being the promised land we imagined, resembled the waiting area for a ride at Walt Disney World: rows and rows of people zigzagging around those ribbon-like line barriers. The line turned in on itself so many times, in fact, that we couldn’t see where it was that we were heading. Well, at least we were inside and out of the sun, right? So we continued to wait. After another half hour and 1/6 of the zigzag line, I began to realize that I was hungry – it had been 4 or 5 hours since we had eaten on the plane, and we had been given no opportunity to get anything in the journey from airport to line to more line. So, granted, I was feeling a little cranky by the time we traversed 4 more zigs of the line and approached our goal: 2 metal detectors, each manned by one employee, into which bags and passengers were slowly being fed. To reiterate: this was a ship that holds 2600 passengers, all of whom were attempting to board at roughly the same time…and there were two metal detectors.
Once we made it through the detectors and wandered toward a line that we were pretty sure would lead to us getting our cruise cards (no one there to point us the right way), we were given our cards, which the employee screwed up with regard to linking them to credit cards. We were really on edge by this point, but the man was very nice about it and eventually fixed the problem. We were herded toward a fake palm tree, where a ship’s photographer pushed and prodded us into place and snapped a picture of our listless selves. And then finally…we were on board!
Our two cabins were pleasant, with the usual teeny bathrooms. Some high points: there was more clothing storage in this cabin than we’d ever had before – a full closet, plus a ceiling-high stack of shelves; bathrobes were provided free (which we’d never had on RCC), and we had a balcony (our first!). However, there were also some not-so-good points: the balcony layout of the ship was such that depending on what deck you were on, anyone either above or below you could see into your balcony, the blankets on the beds appeared dirty (although we eventually asked the steward to change them), and the mattresses had a row of very hard, very uncomfortable things that felt like buttons or beads running down the center of them, so that it felt like you’d gone to bed with a piece of jewelry under the covers with you.
The room stewards were friendly, though to my disappointment they didn’t make animals out of my pajamas like RCC stewards used to. Ours was a woman (unfortunately I’ve forgotten her name), and by day three, she’d learned the names of all four people in my party and greeted us upon sight.
Food on the Golden Princess was…unremarkable. The buffet, which has always been a high point of my cruising experiences, featured food that was overcooked, stale (from sitting out for so long), and/or mysteriously mushy. The layout was really illogical, so that there were people entering at two points, where they encountered different dishes, and eventually running into each other in the middle as they all tried to get to the non-identical other half of the buffet. I found myself subsisting mostly on bread and fruit salad (both of which were quite good). The water, ice, and iced tea dispensers in the buffet room seemed to be permanently broken, and waiters were scarce. In addition, there was no big Midnight Buffet like we had experienced on previous cruises.
We used the flexible dining option for dinner. The two dining rooms that my family visited were better than the buffet, but still not as good as we would have liked. First of all, both dining rooms were identical, which was completely unprecedented to us, as we’d always been on ships that gave their dining rooms distinct personalities. Wait staff was congenial, but the food seemed to be a little slow in appearing. Being a somewhat picky eater, I found myself eating off of their “permanent” menu a number of the nights – steak, hamburgers, etc. – because some of their main dishes were a little “out there.” Not a big problem, since I’m more of a dessert person than a dinner person. To my dismay, the desserts in the dining room were equally blah and uncreative. I’m used to ordering 2 or more desserts each night on cruises, but on the Golden Princess, I found myself getting one – or even no – dessert, and not finding it appetizing enough to finish.
The grill on the pool deck was good, though I’ve had better fries. Service was gratifyingly quick, even when the burgers were cooked fresh upon order.
Bar service was fine, although again, there seemed to be fewer waiters than I would have expected on deck at any given time. I found myself buying fewer alcoholic drinks than usual, because I was too lazy to get up and go to the bar to get one (due to the lack of waiters).
DECKS & ENTERTAINMENT
I was disgusted at the condition of the bathrooms on the pool deck. They reeked of old urine, to the point where I would take my wet-from-the-pool self into the elevator and ride down three decks to go to the bathroom in my cabin instead. It was just…disgusting – worse than some public bathrooms I’ve been in in cities on the mainland. The bathrooms were full of hand-sanitizing gel dispensers (put there, the staff informed us, because there had been outbreaks of an illness onboard – how pleasant to think of!), which is a good idea – except that by day 4, they were empty and as far as I could tell, they were never refilled. I asked a maid in the bathroom one day about it, and she just looked confused.
The after-dinner “Broadway-style” shows were passable, but of notably lower quality than RCC or even Carnival. My eyes were often caught by dancers being out of sync and shoddy-looking sets. Music was all pre-recorded for the shows, and it was mostly unrecognizable techno and the like.
Overall, I’d say that though there was no one thing that “ruined” my cruise experience, I found cruising on the Golden Princess very disappointing. I’m used to feeling pampered on cruises, and this cruise just didn’t have that atmosphere. It’s hard to indulge yourself when there’s nothing on board that you’d actually want to indulge in.
Because Golden Princess sailed out of San Juan, the ship had a lot of Puerto Ricans. Like, 90% of the passengers. This wouldn’t have bothered any of us, except that at every show, the cruise staff felt it was necessary to start what we came to think of as the “Puerto Rico scream,” where they would yell, “I’m so-and-so, and I’m from PUERTO RICOOOOOO!” and the entire audience would scream deafeningly. We understand the need for Spanish-speaking crew and support, but we felt that the crew placed too much emphasis on that one group of people.
I’ve heard similar bad reviews of the Golden Princess, and good things about other Princess ships, so I’m inclined to say that while you should avoid cruising on the Golden Princess, there’s no reason to avoid cruising on Princess in general.