Princess LineGolden Princess Review7 Day Southern CaribbeanEric Nakpil
Occupation:Water Distribution Operator
Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Golden Princess
Sailing Date: December 17th, 2005
Itinerary: NOT FOUND
Princess Cruise Line
Golden Princess Cruise Review
7 Day Southern Caribbean
My wife and I are new to cruising and while I did sail on the Pacific Princess back in 1980, I was too young to remember much about it and I am sure that things have changed since then. For our honeymoon, my parents offered us a cruise anywhere, anytime.
We decided on Princess based on our own internet research, quality of their website, itinerary and excursions, and from my parents’ own recommendations. We booked through Travelocity.com because they offered a $50 per person shipboard credit and a free “Roaming Gnome” statue. I have to admit, it was the statue that tipped the scales in favor of Travelocity instead of Expedia or Princess.com. We were able to select our cabin immediately and picked a forward balcony stateroom on the Aloha Deck, starboard side. We were able to purchase our transfers and insurance also from Travelocity in the same transaction.
We arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico 2 days early so we could tour San Juan and get a little settled in. We stayed at the Sheraton which is across the street from the pier where the Golden Princess docks. On embarkation day, December 17, we walked our luggage over to the pier to begin the boarding process.
We set off at 11:00am from the Sheraton, on foot, with our luggage in tow. 5 minutes later we arrived at the pier and the scene was a bit chaotic. Our boarding passes stated that boarding would begin at 12:00pm and that if we wanted to avoid crowds, we should arrive sometime after 2:00pm. Since this was our first cruise, we wanted to be early, naturally!
Once at the entrance to the pier, we immediately noticed that previous cruisers were still disembarking from the ship, which had arrived at 6:00am that morning. There was a short line for those waiting to embark so we stood there for about 15 or so minutes after we handed off our bags to Princess baggage handlers to be loaded. After about 15 minutes, we were ushered inside the large building at the end of the pier which Princess uses to check everybody in. More lines here, but here you were divided into separate lines depending on what deck your stateroom was and you filled out a health questionnaire, which took another 20 minutes or so. When you check in, you register your credit card number to your shipboard account and receive your Princess Cruise Card. Your Cruise Card is your ticket on and off the ship, your stateroom key, and the way you pay for anything on the ship, since Princess is completely cashless. At exactly noon, they open the gates to the metal detectors and then it’s on to the ship. Once you get on the ship, you are directed to the elevators and there are plenty of Princess Staff to help you find your way to your cabin.
EMBARKATION GRADE: B
The ship is HUGE! When you are standing in line, waiting to check in, you get to see just how big this ship really is. The ship has a classy look to it and the atrium, stairs, elevators and passageways are all very elegant.
Our balcony room was small, and the balcony was too, but we didn’t really expect it to be much larger than it was. We had 2 twin beds configured to a queen which wasn’t that comfortable but wasn’t uncomfortable either. We did run into our cabin steward and requested an egg-crate foam for our bed which the took care of immediately. The bathroom is tiny. There was just enough space for a sink, toilet and single-person shower. You could sit on the toilet and reach over and brush your teeth if you were so inclined. There were ample closet and cubbyhole spaces with plenty of hangers available. The balcony had 2 chairs and a small table. There was a small refrigerator under a counter which was underneath the television which is mounted on the wall in the corner. A desk, chair and additional cushioned seat were also in the room. Sparse, but more than enough amenities for us.
STATEROOM GRADE: A-
Princess offers Personal Choice Dining which is a break from the traditional fixed seating and time dining. If you choose Personal Choice Dining instead of Traditional Dining, you can dine anytime from 5:00pm to 10:00pm in either the Donatello or Bernini Dining Rooms with the same menu as the Traditional Dining Room. Show up to eat between 5:30 and 7:30 and you might have to wait a few minutes. They even have pagers à la The Olive Garden that light up and buzz when your table is ready so you can go have a drink at one of the bars while you wait.
The buffet was open 24 hours a day with different selections everyday. The buffet was hit or miss for us. It was only really great once or twice. Breakfast was usually pretty consistent but you never knew what to expect for lunch or dinner. There are two specialty restaurants onboard: a steakhouse and an Italian place both which charge $20 and $15, respectively. Both places we did not sample since we felt that we should not have had to pay extra to eat there.
There was a grill by the pool which was open most of the time which served your basic hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken burgers, fries, etc. Next to the grill was a pizza place which served up some decent pizza but it was always crowded. There is an ice cream and sundae type bar near one of the pools and they charged almost $4 for a bowl of ice cream! They did give gigantic portions, but I was still miffed that I had to pay for the ice cream.
You can buy an all-you-can-drink soda sticker which goes on your Cruise Card so you can have unlimited sodas from the bars (not in your stateroom) which cost $22 a person. There were plenty of bars from bow to stern so you never had to walk very far to find one. Alcoholic drinks served were okay. You will pay $4 for a Bacardi and Coke and $6 for a strawberry daiquiri. When you order from the bar or from a server, 15% gratuity is automatically included on the bill.
FOOD GRADE: B-/C+
The onboard entertainment was also hit or miss. The comedians were top notch and I was laughing the entire time. The magic show was ridiculously stupid and an insult to my intelligence and the singing and dancing show by the ship’s dancers and singers was equally horrid. Princess Pop Star is their version of American Idol with cruisers as the contestants which provided a few laughs but was predictable. Bingo was pretty fun, but that was only because I won a game. The Cruise Director and his staff were entertaining enough but the whole onboard entertainment was the most disappointing part of the whole cruise.
The casino was just like any other casino in the world: you will lose your money but you might have some fun doing it. My advice is to play the game where you drop quarters in and they flip up and hit more quarters that get pushed down to you. Sometimes when the ship is swaying, the quarters fall a little easier.
ENTERTAINMENT GRADE: C- (the comedians saved this grade)
Our cabin steward, Michael, was very attentive and efficient. He did his work when we were out of the cabin and always left the stateroom perfect. He would make our beds in the mornings while we were out on excursions and then turn the bed down while we were at dinner. He always had a friendly greeting for us whenever we passed him in the hallways.
The Purser’s Desk and the attendants who worked there were very impolite. Only one purser ever really helped me when I needed it and the rest were downright rude. We had a problem with our return flight and none of the pursers wanted to help us except for one of them. Everyone else, including the Practica, offered no assistance and told us that we had to deal with the problem ourselves. More on this problem later.
The waiters and servers were mostly rude and discourteous. My very first meal at the buffet, I asked a waiter or server where I could use my all-you-can-drink soda card to get some Cokes. He actually scowled at me and said “All over the place.” I didn’t really understand what he was talking about so I asked for specifics and he impatiently told me at any bar, without telling me where the closest one was. This was not the kind of reception I was expecting from the crew but I thought that maybe he was just the exception to the rule and I quickly forgot about it. The servers never came around enough and if you ordered just sodas from them, they would not come back periodically to refill your drink because gratuity is not added to soda bills. I found it much faster to get your own drinks at the bar as it will generally save you lots of time.
The bartenders are not that friendly either. I actually had to plead with a bartender to pour me a new Coke because I thought the one I had was a little light on the syrup. He argued with me for a few minutes and then stuck his own straw in my Coke and sipped it to see if I was lying! He eventually poured me a new Coke but why did I have to argue with this guy?! This cruise cost more than $2500 and I can’t get a decent Coke without a fight? The mixed drinks were inconsistent: one day a Toasted Almond would be fabulous then the next day it would be absolutely terrible!
This is where I feel the automatic $10 per day gratuity charge misses. The wait and bar staff know that they are already getting tipped and do not offer extra services or go the extra mile. There is no incentive for them to do anything special or to make you feel comfortable where you are.
The service on the ship was also very disappointing as we had higher expectations. Our standards were not set too high…we just felt that we ought to have been paid more attention too and for the staff to actually act like they cared about us.
SERVICE GRADE: C- (Michael, our cabin steward, saved the grade from being lower)
Hands down, the best part of the trip. We disembarked in every port but we signed up for 3 Princess organized excursions: kayaking in St. Kitts, river tubing in Grenada, and snorkeling on a private island in Aruba.
Our complete ports of call in order were: San Juan, Puerto Rico, St Thomas USVI, St Kitts, Grenada, Isla Margarita and Aruba.
Every port was great and I wish that we had more time to stay at each location. The beaches were beautiful with white sands and had the bluest water you have ever seen. The fish were abundant with plenty of places to snorkel. Bring some dog biscuits to feed to the fish underwater and bring an underwater camera to snap some pictures too! Just make sure you buy your underwater cameras stateside or else you might pay upwards of $30 to get one on the islands.
All the excursions accepted US dollars so currency was not a problem.
San Juan is a nice place. We stayed in Old San Juan and walked around the area, checking out the huge walls encompassing the old city. We saw the castles and forts there too. Take the 10 minute ferry across the harbor and catch a cab at the green building to go see the Bacardi Distillery. You won’t be disappointed and be sure to take advantage of the rock bottom prices on their world class rum!
St Thomas is the place to do your jewelry shopping. Deep discounts abound on all sorts of precious stones and gold. On the ship, the very first night, be sure to attend the Discover Shopping lecture which will tell you all the best places to get what you need. I was able to upgrade my wife’s engagement ring at one of the jewelers on St Thomas for a steal! Don’t miss St Thomas if you are a shopper!
St Kitts (and neighboring Nevis) is gorgeous. If I could, I would move to St Kitts; it is that beautiful. We kayaked for 2.5 miles and snorkeled in the blue waters. Don’t miss St Kitts!
Grenada was nice, with most of the shopping you could do located in a bazaar near the pier. The island is beautiful but had been devastated by hurricanes in the last couple of years and you can see all the massive rebuilding. The island is covered in green throughout the mountains and we took a 45 minute cab ride to the river where we went tubing. The cab ride was pretty scary as the roads are very narrow and it is a little unnerving for Americans as Grenadans drives on the left side of the road like in England! Take your Dramamine for this cab ride or any ride through the mountains.
Isla Margarita was up next and everything was a minimum of 25 minutes from the dock. There is one beach adjacent to where the ship docks and I would recommend that if you don’t want to go shopping or see the sights. I don’t know if Princess will still continue to go to Isla Margarita since it is part of Venezuela. We were originally scheduled to go to Caracas, Venezuela but that was changed before we sailed.
Aruba was our favorite destination and I can now see why it is so popular. The air is clean, the water is blue, the beaches are white and the people are friendly. We picked an excursion to a privately owned island which has its own beaches and an all-you-can-drink bar. We snorkeled but you can also helmet dive and scuba dive there if you wanted to. Aruba also offered ATV rides and horseback rides along the beach. There is so much to do but don’t forget about the shopping. There are plenty of jewelry stores here in case you missed out on St Thomas. The (in)famous Carlos and Charlie’s bar is right across from the pier and the cab and bus stations are very close by too. My wife and I loved Aruba and the people and the atmosphere. I think I could live there too.
EXCURSIONS GRADE: A+
A few days before you get back to San Juan, you get papers at your stateroom if Princess doesn’t already know when your flight is leaving. They then organize you into many groups depending on what time your flight leaves. The earliest you can leave is 8:30am on disembarkation day. Make sure you don’t schedule your flight prior to 10:00am or you might miss it! We almost learned the hard way. Our biggest complaint about Princess was when we made our airline reservations to San Juan, months prior to sailing we were told, in fact assured, by a Princess Representative, that we would definitely be able to make a 9:30am flight from San Juan. We would just have to be in the first disembarkation group. We gave our flight info to the Purser’s desk when we were on the ship and were told flat out that there was no possible way to make our flight.
Hmmm….Why did Princess tell us months ago that we would make our flight? I asked what I was supposed to do and the Purser told me to call the airline, from our stateroom, and incur the $4.95 per minute charge! He didn’t offer me a free phone call at all! Later on, I went back to the desk, and a different purser connected me to the airline for free and even let me make a courtesy phone call to the states, all of which took more than an hour for me to get settled! My math calculations say that’s more than $300 worth of phone charges I could have incurred had it not been for one very nice attendant I talked to at the desk. I still had to pay the airline an extra $200 to change my flight info and I am writing to Princess to see if I can get that refunded to me as well. The lesson here is not to book a flight earlier than 10:00am. Since we got back on Christmas Eve, and 5 ships arrived at San Juan at the same time, it took us an hour to get through check in and security so you might want to get an even later flight if you can.
Overall, the disembarkation and transfer to the airport went very smoothly although we were very sad to leave.
DISEMBARKATION GRADE: A
ODDS AND ENDS
The ship sailed from San Juan about an hour late because of some late arrivals. The television in the room has a channel dedicated to the ships position and weather conditions so you can see the speed, location, etc., of the Golden Princess. The first night’s sailing was the roughest. Maybe not rough, but it sure did sway from side to side a lot. Once we got out of Puerto Rico’s harbor, the swaying began in earnest. My wife and I tried to sleep through it but just couldn’t. So we hit the casino and tried not to bump into too many things. The swaying of the ship has a mildly intoxicating effect; my wife and I both thought we were somewhat drunk! The swaying died down after a few hours or maybe we just got used to it. The rest of the trip was much smoother once we entered the Caribbean Sea and we barely noticed the ride anymore. Still, for those prone to motion sickness, bring some Dramamine or those wrist bands. I saw lots of people with the patch behind their ears too. Better safe then sorry!
The pools were always crowded. They are open 24 hours a day and there is at least one adults only pool at the stern of the ship.
The elevators in the ship are something else. There are several different elevator locations on the ship with 4 to 6 lifts each but it never seemed like more than 2 were working at any given time! It was so frustrating to try to get an elevator since they were always packed. It was easier to just press both the up and down buttons and get on the first one that comes.
ELEVATOR GRADE: F
There is an arcade on the ship, a gym with treadmills and ellipticals, a 1/10 mile jogging track, a tennis court, shuffleboard, table tennis and an enormous chess set. The Skywalker Lounge at the top of the ship boasts the best views but at night, with no land in sight, all you see is black.
There were 2 formal nights, one of which we attended. It didn’t seem all that special but maybe that was just because there were only two of us, and we always ate at unusual hours of the evening.
Every night, you receive your Princess Patter, which is the next day’s guide to the ship and a Discover Shopping shop guide to the next port of call.
The TV entertainment was actually quite good but don’t spend all your time in your cabin!
There is a Laundromat on most of the levels which are coin-operated. You can get quarters and detergent there also. Each Laundromat also has several irons and ironing boards for your free use. Don’t wait until the last day to do laundry if you plan on bringing home clean clothes. Everyone on the ship is doing laundry on the last day too!
We enjoyed our time greatly on the Golden Princess. It was so relaxing having that balcony and just walking around the ship. I like the big ship since there is usually someplace you can go to have some privacy. It just takes a day or so to get to know where everything is. The faults of the ship and its crew will not prevent me from sailing the Golden Princess again although I would like to sail some of her sister ships just to compare. This is an excellent value for your money and the ports of call made this trip worth every dollar spent. We had a fabulous time with Princess and overall, I would definitely recommend this ship and this itinerary to others especially first time cruisers!
OVERALL GRADE: B