My husband and I sailed on the Golden Princess the week of December 13 to celebrate our third wedding anniversary. This was my husband's first cruise, my second. (My first one was a three-night Carnival cruise about eight years ago, so after this experience, I won't even count that.) I am 29 and my husband is 31. We have no children and did not travel as a part of a group. The first thing I will say to anyone who is worried about the cruise, don't worry! I found myself reading review after review and wondering if I had made the right choice. If you have booked a cruise on the Golden Princess, you will not be disappointed.
Our trip started with an overnight stay in Ft. Lauderdale Friday night. We stayed at the Sleep Inn in Dania, Fla. It was very clean, with good rates and service. The best thing about the hotel was its free transfers from the airport to the hotel and from the hotel to the cruise terminal. Both are about 10 minutes from the hotel. There is also a Walgreen's next door for last minute items and a park nearby for an early morning jog/walk before you go to the ship. I had heard horror stories about airlines losing luggage or flights getting delayed, so I wanted to make sure I was there and settled in.
You can avoid the hassle by booking air with the cruise line, but we found better rates, and wanted to travel on our airline at our convenience. We left the hotel at 11 a.m., arriving at the dock around 11:20. There was already a line at the doors to the check-in area. We waited half an hour as the line got longer and longer. They opened the doors around 11:50. Check-in was quick and simple. Make sure you do the advance check-in. With security and everything we were on the ship and in our room in 10 minutes.
We found our cabin on the Plaza deck. We booked an inside cabin in July, hearing about all the upgrades available. We did not get any free upgrades and the cost of upgrading to a balcony or an ocean view was higher than if we had booked it months ago. We were concerned, being in a small room on the lowest level of the ship, but I was very happy that we did not spend the money to upgrade. It was perfect for us!
I expected the rooms to be slightly cheap looking. I was surprised to find wood trimmed furniture, a spacious closet, nice lighting, pleasant paintings, mirrors, and a comfortable bed. The bathroom is tiny but there is a ton of storage space for toiletries and clothes. I had heard that I would need a nightlight and a power cord. Neither was necessary. There were plenty of outlets; we only used it because my husband's razor was not compatible with the outlet. The nightlight was nice because of the fragrance, but the controls for the hall light for the bathroom were conveniently located on both sides of the bed.
We did not miss the balcony or seeing the water. There were plenty of private spots a short walk from our cabin where we could spend time outside or watch the water. We were on the same deck as the dining room and library, and only one or two decks from the shops, theaters and show lounges. We were far from the pools, workout facility and the food buffet, but it was no problem to take an elevator, and we got plenty of exercise taking the stairs.
Back to the balcony: I will not pretend it is not a nice option to have. If you are going to spend the money, just make sure it is private. Some balconies can be seen by those above you. If it is not going to be private, you might as well go sit with the other folks and save $500! Also, some balconies extend right over a public deck. My husband and I were talking a walk on the promenade deck and looked over to see two people sitting on their balcony. They were less than five feet from us, elevated a couple of feet above the railing. I would not consider that type of balcony worth the extra cost.
The first night of our cruise, I was pleasantly surprised by all that the ship had to offer. by dinnertime we had seen most of the ship. We decided to eat in the dining room. We had Personal Choice dining, so we could eat at any time the dining room is open. Be prepared for lines. I did not expect that, but there were lines 20 to 30 minutes long at dinner. Reservations did not help because the maitre d' did not take kindly to people coming alongside of him to tell them they had a reservation. It was very chaotic and distracting for him. So reservations did not really help; we still had to wait in line.
I was worried about the food. I work for a company that allows me to dine in the finest restaurants during business meetings, and on my own I dine mostly at non-chain restaurants. I was hoping the food was decent. It did not have to be five-star, but I was looking for tasty, quality food. I was not disappointed. I did not have a "best I ever tasted" experience, but the food was good. You eat what you like and leave the rest on your plate! Just because it is there and free does not mean you eat things that are not good! You can maintain your weight on a cruise if you don't eat things you don't like and eat small portions of the things you do like.
The pizza was great, hamburgers good, and the buffet was good if you use the rules above. Some things on the buffet were good, others were not. Just pick and choose. And use the small plate! They hand you a huge platter when you walk in. You would never eat on plates that big at home, so why do it now? Tell the waiter "no thank you," and find the smaller plates near the fruit section.
One more tip: If you drink Cokes at every meal or in between, buy the Coke card for $22.50. It covers Cokes from the bars, at all shows, and in the dining rooms. They give you a sticker to place on your cruise card. The Coke card does not work with room service or on Princess Cays.
The entertainment was decent, depending on your taste. Although we are younger, I felt that some of the entertainment was a bit racy and if I had young kids I am not sure I would have wanted them exposed to some of the material. The opening show was no better than an MTV video, with provocative dance moves and outfits. The magic show was good, but again, the assistant was wearing bikinis and g-strings. I'm not judging others' tastes or preferences, but you should be aware if you do not prefer this type of entertainment.
Outside of those issues, the comedians were funny for the most part. My advice is to just go. You can always leave if you don't like it, but it is better than sitting in your cabin. We did not go to the casino or nightclub, but I am sure they are pretty standard.
During the day there was a variety of activities. Again, I would suggest trying something you may not normally do. We went to a trivia session and had a great time and met some nice people. My husband entered some of the basketball competitions and won three silver medals! There were movies that played during the day; the only thing missing was the popcorn!
We did not spend a lot of time at the pool, but they are very crowded during the day. The lap pool near the lotus spa had fewer kids and you could actually swim a bit. The workout facility was great. It has everything you need. Take advantage of the free classes. They are a good way to maintain your weight and it is fun to vary your normal fitness routine. The Lotus spa was very nice too. Watch for daily specials and you get a break on the prices. I got a mini facial that lasted about 45 minutes for only $20.
The ports of call were nice. It was our first time to the Virgin Islands. St. Maarten had good shopping. We chose to explore on our own instead of a tour. They will tell you a ride to the French side will cost you $15 per person, but if you go with another couple or more, they will only charge $5. The ride was nice, but I was not that impressed with the island. It might have been better to do an official tour to get more out of it. We are not big shoppers so I can not really comment. I will say, save your money on a water taxi or a land taxi to get to downtown Phillipsburg. It is a 10-minute walk and there is a sidewalk all the way.
We did take a tour on St. Thomas. Godfrey was the tour guide and he has a website. This was the highlight of the trip. He will pick you up from the ship at 9, 10, or 11 depending on how long you want to shop, and he will take you downtown. The island tour starts at 12 from downtown and it takes you over the entire island. You can visit one of three beaches -- Sapphire Beach, Coki Beach, or Magens Bay for two hours, or have him take you back to the ship. We chose to go to Sapphire Beach because it was less crowded, no charge to get in, and the snorkeling is great. We rented beach chairs, and snorkeling and other water sport items were available for rent. For this personal service and the ability to shape the day to your preferences made the $20 per person price seem like a steal, especially compared to the excursions the ship offers.
This was a great vacation. We spent last summer at the Ritz-Carlton in Jamaica for a week, and although the cruise was not as luxurious, there was more to do, especially at night. For the money, this is a great deal. Have fun and enjoy your cruise!