We just returned last week from our cruise on the Golden Princess, Southern Caribbean, out of San Juan. This was one of the best cruises I have taken out of 8. I have heard cruises described by other posters as "happy ships" and I really felt that positive energy on this ship and enjoyed every minute of it. I felt it really epitomized what Caribbean cruising is supposed to feel like, with a warm and friendly crew and enough entertainment and activities to keep just about everyone happy.
Embarkation: This was quick and efficient. We had flown done the day before and stayed in the Hampton Inn near the airport in Isla Verde, nice clean hotel with a pool area in the enclosed courtyard, a swim-up bar and grill for drinks and sandwiches,and some a small whirlpool. It was noisy near the pool from the airport, but not inside the hotel, and they include a continental breakfast. You are close to the expensive hotels and 2 blocks from Isla Verde beach. On Sunday, we checked out at 11:45am and took a taxi to the pier for $15+tip.
We had done our documents online so within 15 minutes were being shown the way to our room to drop off the carry-ons. I'm sure it got a lot busier later on, but that is the beauty of going a day ahead, so much less stressful and you beat the crowds flying in. We were up in the buffet by 12:30pm having lunch, then explored the ship and took some pictures while everything was empty and then settled in near the pool, which we had pretty much to ourselves, a great relaxing way to start the week onboard. Some nice private whirlpool time, too.
Cabin-This cruise was kind of a last minute booking, I usually plan way ahead, so we got one of a few cabins that were available, an obstructed view on Emerald Deck in the middle. This turned out to be one of the best cabins I have ever stayed in. We usually book an inside for the price, but this was a great choice, lower and center which I need because of motion problems, but I needn't have worried because this was also one of the smoothest cruises I have been on, only felt some rocking one night early in the cruise when we speeded up some to make the next port. Captain Nick Nash did an excellent job and we felt like we were on land most of the time. The view wasn't totally obstructed either, we had plenty of light and we could see some of the water and the ports through the window between the lifeboats. The room seemed more spacious than it was because Princess uses a lot of mirrors on the walls, we had 2 beds, a desk vanity, a corner unit that had the tv, a small refrigerator and a bar and a long open closet near the bathroom. There was also a tall cabinet in that area with shelved and the safe and the vanity had several drawers as well. Each bed has a nightstand and lamp with a dimmer switch which is a nice touch. The bath is the usual tight fit, but there were always plenty of towels and bath products left for us as well as new pool and beach towels every day. We also were blessed with the best cabin stewardess who kept the place spotless. Her name was Sommung Wancome and she did a fantastic job, never had to ask for anything, it was always provided.
Dining-We always chose anytime dining for the freedom it gives you as we like eating early to catch the many shows and entertainment options on board. The first night was open seating but after that, Bernini and Donatello were designated for Personal Choice. The menus are the same in all the restaurants, so depending on the time, you would go to one of these. Bernini started serving at 5:15pm so we usually went there. We always got a table for 2, never had to wait because of the early time, and each member of the staff gave such excellent service that it was a joy to look forward to each day. We ate breakfast every day at the buffet, it has a big variety of choices and you can get fed fast and on your way. The buffet area is not long lines, but a lot of individual serving stations. Some people find it confusing, but I like it because you can just go get what you need without being stuck behind people that don't know what they want. The only problem there is that it is very busy in the morning so you have to search for a seat, but the staff was really good at clearing tables fast and there is more seating in the Calypso Pool area which adjoins the buffet. Other folks are right about the coffee, though. It is not very good, but I only drink one cup a day for the kick-start, so I managed very nicely. Princess has the buffet open 24hrs a day which is fantastic and quite different from other lines I have cruised and near the main pool, you can get pizza and hamburgers for a quick lunch as well. You will never go hungry on this ship.
Entertainment- There are so many choices of things to do at night, we could never cover them all. They had 2 big production shows "Words and Music" all Broadway type singing and dancing, and "Caliente" which was the best show I've ever seen, great costumes, dancing, and music. They also had a country show, comedians, hypnotists, game shows, various types of music for dancing each night at the many clubs on board. They had a Princess Idol karaoke contest which was fun as well as a big sail-away party with music and dancing in the covered Calypso pool area, a huge 3 deck high Caribbean party at the back on Wed. night and a Champagne Waterfall party in the Atrium on Fri. night. We also tried to fit in time each night to make a donation in the casino, didn't win but its fun to try.
Staff- Couldn't have been better. Never saw one without a smile or a friendly hello. Cruise Director Paul O'Laughlin and his terrific staff kept things hopping and made sure everyone had a good time. There was always something going on during the day at the main pool and at Skywalkers Lounge at night.
Ports- We picked this cruise for both the ship and the 5 port itinerary, love to see places we've never been and cruising is the best way to do it.
St. Thomas- Been here before, booked with Godfrey Tours online, per recommendation of many people on these boards. He is just as good as everyone says, he picked us up at 9am, went downtown to shop, should have gone later as we didn't need that much time. Left there at 12, did some sightseeing with a stop at a gift shop, and then chose Sapphire Beach, along with most of the people on the tour. This is a very nice beach, with warm clean water. One tip, eat downtown first, we got a dry hamburger and a very small coke for $8 at the beach and not too many choices. This beach is part of a resort, so maybe that is why. Godfrey picked us up promply and returned us to the ship in plenty of time. Its a super deal at $20pp, make sure to give him a nice tip. The same trip was twice as much on the ship.
St. Kitts- Never been here before but did research. Took a taxi to South Friers Beach, $15 and tip. We asked him to return at 11am, it was deserted when we got there and I got a little nervous, but in awhile, others from the ship came, so it was ok. The beach here is not real nice, lots of seaweed on shore and in the water. We like to find shells and it was great for that, we found a lot, even some big conch shells that we took home. There is a run-down snack shack here that opened later, but we didn't try it, also old broken beach chairs that they don't charge for. We enjoyed it as something different, but would try a different beach if we ever return. Did a little shopping near the pier and got back on board for some pool time.
Grenada- I have wanted to see this island for a long time. I was told it was very beautiful before the hurricane. They are starting to come back, but there was such damage from that storm and it is hard to get building materials, everything must be shipped in. We took a ship tour here, the party boat to Morne Rouge Beach. A lot of people took this tour, it was an open sided ferry with a steel band and they gave out rum punch and snacks. On the way back they have a conga line, and limbo contests and everyone seemed to be having a great time! On the way to the beach, they go over a reef and throw out food to attract the fish. The beach is very beautiful. I had picked this tour because the description said there were not many vendors here, but a lot at the other beach at Grand Anse. This was not true, the minute we got off the ferry, we were swamped with people selling things. We rented chairs for $5 each and never got to sit in them because of the aggressiveness of the vendors. I had read about this in other posts and I don't know if it was always this way or since the storms, but it kind of ruined a beautiful time at a gorgeous beach. I got so tired of saying "no thank you" that I had to stay in the water, which was warm and clean, but it still put a damper on things. If they would just stay in one area and let people come to them, they would sell much more, in my opinion. Once you are mad, you tend not to buy. Back at port it was the same way, I quickly bought spices from the least aggressive person,and a t-shirt I really don't like but had no time to chose before escaping. We had more time and decided to take a quick taxi tour for $20pp to see some of the island. We saw first hand some of the terrible damage that the hurricanes did, and our driver, a young man with 3 children said it was the most frightening experience of their lives. We really felt for these people and had planned to do more shopping here to help out, but it is so hard to do with so many pulling at you. We stopped at a spice factory and I bought a few things there, he took us to Annandale Falls, we took a short walk to see them, but again, you are besieged by people and it was not enjoyable, we never got out at Grand Etand Lake for this reason, and ended up going back to the ship early. We were the last ship going there until the fall, so I don't know if its always that way there, or if that was the reason, but I would have liked to see more of this island in a more relaxed way than we did.
Isla Margarita,Venezuela- The ship has stopped going to Caracas because of safety problems in port, so it now stops here. This was a very short stop, only 5 hrs, so we booked the Fiesta Party bus to the beach through the cruise line. This tour was the most fun I have ever had, and it was all due to the guide Estella and the driver. They give you a great tour of this beautiful island on the way to the beach, she told us so many interesting things about the island and the beach that we went to was the best one of the cruise, absolutely gorgeous with surf. There were many vendors here, also. I did get a couple of really pretty necklaces from them, they gave out empanadas and drinks at the food stand and there was a monkey and a parrot to take pictures with. Back on the bus, the fun began. The music was really loud, the rum punch flowed, and Estella, who is so much fun and has so much energy, had almost everyone dancing in the aisles! We stopped at a shop on the way back, also, where they had beautiful pearls for sale. Estella had told us all about the quality and the colors before we got there, Isla Margarita is "The Isle of Pearls". These were not in my budget, but I guess you could get some great buys if you knew what you wanted. This port is put down by some because you dock in an old warehouse area, but as you get off the ship, there is a whole line of souvenier stands to browse and a small beach nearby. We felt like we really didn't have enough time in this port, the tour took most of the time and we would have liked to shop all the stands. The vendors here were really nice and didn't bother you to buy. I have heard that a nice new pier is being built on this island and I really hope that more ships will stop here in the future and we get a chance to come back.
Aruba- Not much more can be said about this gorgeous, clean island. Its all been said before. You can get around real easy on your own here, public buses are frequent. We made a mistake, which I will pass on to others. I had been here before, but daughter had not, thought a tour of the island would be good for her before hitting the beach. As you get off the ship, they will try to sell you a comprehensive tour of the island for $20. It sounded like a good deal, so we took it. He didn't say he was filling the bus before we left, said 10 min. We waited nearly an hour, my fault(should have got off) they took you to another town to a back street, with a small sovenier shop that must belong to a relative. Big waste of time, there. We did go to Natural Bridge for 15min. stop, drove by Casibari rocks, (no stop) 5 min. stop at lighthouse, and were finally dropped at the Holiday Inn on Palm Beach. Lesson to self and others, take tour in small mini-vans, or bus directly to beach. Fare from beach to town was $1 in mini-van, did some shopping at the stands near the pier. This is another very nice island, no one bugs you, save some shopping for here. Downtown area is gorgeous and safe, wish we had saved more time an energy to look around more. I could handle a week here.
Sea Day- Relaxed all day at the pool soaking up the last of our wonderful time on board. More pool games and music. Saddest part of any cruise, packing up.
Odds and Ends- Lots of nice shops on board, 5 pools, drinks were reasonable as were the soda cards, clean and well designed decks, and the staff and service get an A+ from us. If you don't have the time of your life on this ship, I think no one could please you. Thanks to everyone who made this the perfect week.
Disembarking-We weren't flying back until Monday so we were one of the last groups called. We had a last breakfast in the buffet and waited for awhile in the cabin, then went to Deck 7 and were off the ship in minutes. Again, congratulations to Princess, they are so organized and efficient, I wish it were always that easy. We found our bags with no problem and took a taxi to the Wyndham Condado Plaza for a one night stay. We love this hotel, it has everything and is close to the dock. Had an 11:30am flight, so checked out of hotel Mon. at 9:30am for taxi to the airport. It was pretty crowded for a Monday, long slow lines for security, but made our flight to Boston with plenty of time to spare. Arrived to cold weather, what a let-down after the perfect week. Our shuttle was waiting and we got home by 5:30pm.
I can't think of many things about this trip that were wrong, which makes me sound like a pollyanna, but, honestly, I couldn't find many flaws. Getting back onboard there were long lines at times, wish they would let you use the closer entrance. They re-board you depending on where your cabin is, so you have to walk another 200 ft. sometimes when you are hot and tired from a day in port. The coffee does need some work, but was a non-issue for us. Too short a stay in Isla Margarita,would have liked a few more hours.
This is such a long review, I'm not sure if it will be used, but it was filled with so many experiences that I wanted to cover everything while it is fresh in my mind for anyone considering this cruiseline and itinerary. They will not be back in the Caribbean until fall, but I have gotten so much good information on this website, that I wanted to give something back. Happy cruises to all.