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Greg Smith

Age: 44

Occupation:U.S. Federal Government Worker

Number of Cruises: 6

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Golden Princess

Sailing Date: November 8th, 2003

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

My wife and I traveled with our two sons, ages 15 and 17, my sister-in-law, and mother-in-law, on a 7-night cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Princess Cays, St. Martin, and St. Thomas. This is our 2nd time on this exact cruise on the Golden. We really enjoyed it the first time and couldn’t pass up the low price being offered.

OVERALL RATING: Overall, the cruise was great and an excellent bargain for the money. Unfortunately, it rained so much the first part of the week that we were unable to go into St. Martin. Instead, the ship went into St. Thomas a day early and we stayed overnight there. Princess was able to get our ship in early and that gave us the opportunity to explore St. Thomas. Although missing St. Martin was disappointing, we were glad that Princess acted quickly and got us a berth in St. Thomas a day early. At the same time, there were at least two other ships having the same problem trying to get into St. Martin and they were unable to dock in St. Thomas early and instead had to sit and wait outside the harbor.

WHY CHOOSE THIS CRUISE? In deciding which cruise to book, my wife and I primarily wanted to cruise on a quality ship at a reasonable price. Also, we wanted to visit nice ports. We got everything we were after with this itinerary on the Golden Princess. This was our 2nd trip on this exact cruise on the Golden which speaks for how much we enjoyed it.

GETTING THERE. We opted not to purchase Princess airfare and had no problem getting good fares into Ft. Lauderdale. We flew Southwest Air into Ft. Lauderdale from Baltimore. We got in a day early and took a taxi from the airport to the hotel. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend purchasing airport transfers through Princess as Port Everglades is right up the street from the airport and taking a taxi is a convenient and inexpensive. I was in a party for 6 and had lots of luggage; I paid $6 per person from the ship to the airport for a large van. The Princess price was $15 per person.

EMBARKATION/DEBARKATION. We arrived to the ship at 11:00am and there was somewhat of a mob of people waiting to get in. But, lines which moved quickly. (p.s., bring a pen). We disembarked around 9:00am and were at the airport by 9:30am. Princess disembarks based on your cabin location (top down).

ROOM. Inside Quad, Aloha Deck, Cabin A-716 (12th floor). Most of the inside activities (dining rooms, show rooms, etc.) on the Golden are down on Deck 6 or Deck 7 so I wouldn’t worry about spending more to stay higher on the ship although we found it very convenient being at the back of the ship only a few steps from the rear swimming pool and one floor down from the buffet. We were impressed with the rooms which we found to be large for a cruise ship and laid out well. There is adequate closet space. The room also has a hair dryer, a safe, a refrigerator, and television. Television channels though were very limited. Princess plays movies on one of the channels but tended to play the same movies over and over.

FOOD. Overall, we enjoyed the food but it was not sensational. I wasn’t impressed with the choices for dinner. We actually skipped two dinners opting for the 24-hour Horizon Buffet instead. We had traditional, first seating. Service was good but slow. Elsewhere, I thought the food in the Horizon Court (buffet) was just ok. Variety also suffered as offerings in the buffet were frequently left-overs from dinner. The coffee and iced tea in the Horizon Court were good. The desserts in the Horizon Court unfortunately were rather tasteless. I think they try to get too fancy; lots of puffy stuff. Nine months earlier they offered hot tapioca one night that was excellent; this time around they tried to fancy it up and combined it with a caramel sauce and it ruined it.

SHORE EXCURSIONS. If you like to just get off the ship and walk around or shop, these ports are great. If you are looking for nice beaches, this would also make a great itinerary. These ports also offer a variety of reasonably priced excursions. Unlike many of the other ports that I have traveled to (in particular, the Mexican ports), it isn’t really necessary to spend a small fortune on excursions to have a good time at the ports.

FT LAUDERDALE is your first port!. Don’t waste the day. Ft. Lauderdale has a lot of options. We decided to get into Ft. Lauderdale a day early (Friday) and got a great deal on a hotel through Priceline.com. We searched Priceline.com for a 4-star hotel in “Ft. Lauderdale Beach” and ended up at the Sheraton Yankee Clipper Beach Resort (1140 Seabreeze Blvd.) for $69/night. The hotel is directly on the Beach and close to the pier where the Golden docks. This was a nice spot to stay and allowed us to get to the ship early and stress free. I took the kids on a 4-hour fishing trip on a “head” boat or “party” boat. There were several to chose from right up the street and they all seemed to offer 4-hour trips at $25 each. They run 3 trips daily. We took the 7:30pm trip and did night fishing on the Atlantic. I’ve never been night fishing on the ocean and it was fun; lots of fish but none too big. To get the most out of your vacation, get there early!

PRINCESS CAYS was great if you enjoy a day at the beach. We left the ship around 11:00am and were tendered in quickly. Go to the far right. The further you go, the quieter and less crowded it will be. We found a nice spot with lounge chairs. Princess Cays offered lots of non-motorized water sports. We swam and had a barbeque lunch. We cruised in November but the water was very warm. The lines were pretty long for food and quite frankly were not worth standing in. The food is mediocre. If you do go for the food, stand in the middle lines (#2 & 3) which are much quicker than the outside lines. The water is calm here with very little waves. This is also a great spot for families with kids. If you want to go to the beach and relax, this is a great spot.

In ST. THOMAS, we just walked around and shopped. Our tour was canceled due to bad weather. For what it’s worth, we found liquor prices on the ship to be at least as inexpensive as in the stores which all seemed to have the same prices. We even took a taxi out of the shopping district to K-Mart based on the advice of some other travelers but their prices for liquor and tobacco turned out to be the same or higher. Liquor/tobacco prices in St. Thomas are generally less than in the States but we didn’t find them to match what we have previously paid in St. Martin. One nice thing though with shopping for liquor in the island stores is that they offer free samples. We found a great vanilla rum that I would never have found otherwise. So sample the local products!

SHIP. Most of the other reviews will cover this area well so I won’’t say much except that the Golden Princess is magnificent. Two specific things come to mind: (1) Princess’ pools have fresh water as opposed to some other lines that fill their pools with salt water, and (2) the Princess Theater, which offers stadium seating and affords great unobstructed views of the entertainment and movies, is magnificent and a tremendous improvement over lounges offered in smaller, older ships.

ENTERTAINMENT. Good. Shows were also held in the Vista showroom which is a traditional, smaller, tougher to see anything, venue. Various musicians played elsewhere throughout the ship. My only complaint was that they kept playing the same movie over and over again in the Princess Theater.

MISCELLANEOUS. We previously cruised on the Golden and its sister ship, the GRAND PRINCESS, and I saw very little difference. The ship offers HIGH TEA everyday (which I admit might not sound too exciting... but, it actually is a lot of fun). I highly recommend you try this activity at least once during your cruise. The kids ARCADE has a lot of different video games. The CASINO is large and offers a lot of choices. Table games, like roulette, had reasonable minimum bets ($1 inside/$5 outside). There were higher minimums on the Grand Princess. This was a November cruise but there was still a modest number of kids on-board.

SUMMARY. You get excellent value for your money on this cruise. The Golden is a magnificent ship, the service was good, and the food was generally good. Having cruised several times before, I could have picked out several things to nag about that Princess could have done different but overall I was very happy to have taken this cruise.

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