We are back and WOW! What a ship and fantastic cruise! This was our first cruise, but reading the boards we had pretty high expectations. This review was written by Scott (40) and Dawn (29).
On Saturday we checked in and were in our room by 11:45. We were in L214, which is Lido deck, port side with a balcony. The first thing we did was go to the balcony and what a view! Our steward (Jose H) came by pretty early. He introduced himself and explained things that first time cruisers would need to know. We asked for some better chairs for our balcony and our robes, which he said would come by turndown (and did!). He was a bit worried about the chairs as the ship was full. We sat on the balcony for a while and then went out to get some lunch, a drink and check out the pool area. We went back to our room and the luggage arrived about 2:30.
We unpacked and there was plenty of space for everything, and yes, we over packed. When we unpacked we discovered that Scott couldn't find any "personal garments" in his packed luggage. He was sure that he packed them, but we couldn't find them anywhere. Scott did not want to roam free like for the week like Frugalist does J, so at about 3:45, we decided a road trip was in order to a Kmart (fortunately we drove). When we got out to our car, we discovered a flat tire, so we changed it and added a tire plug to the list of things to do. We were able to find a place to fix the tire and a Family Dollar and were back on board by 5:00. We fixed a drink (yes we smuggled) and went out to our balcony to enjoy the view. Our chairs had arrived. Jose later explained he had to smuggle them when the supervisor wasn't looking. The chairs he brought were from the pool area and at least had armrests but did not recline. He did not remove the other 2 chairs. There was plenty of room for 4 chairs and the table and you could still stand at the railing comfortably. The balcony was completely private except one side of it could be viewed from the bridge. Not a problem though. We stayed on the balcony all the way through the send off and then went to the buffet for dinner. The prime rib was probably the best we'd had from a buffet. We explored the ship a bit more and sat out on our balcony. We filled out our room service request (we did follow the tip on writing in items not on room service menu) and then off to bed.
Sunday 11/18 - Because we read the coffee was poor on the Golden we brought a coffee maker and our Gevalia coffee. This was one of the best things we could have done. We made a fresh pot of quality coffee and drank it on our balcony. Room service was a few minutes late today. I ordered French toast, bacon and hash browns; Scott ordered scrambled eggs, bacon and hash browns. My French toast was good but they did not bring any syrup L, be sure to write in syrup if you want it. We both thought the bacon was awful, actually it was the only bad thing we had all week. After breakfast we went to the pool to enjoy the sun. Lounge chairs in the sun were always at a premium on Lido pools this cruise. Even though signs were posted everywhere that there was no reserving lounge chairs, people were always doing it (very annoying). Get to pool area early particularly on sea days to get good chairs. Ate lunch at Horizons. Horizons is very good for a buffet. Dessert selections were very limited though. Checked out ship from bow to stern in the afternoon. We were very impressed with all areas of the ship. Met the Cruise Critics gang outside the Wheelhouse bar at 3:00 PM. We were supposed to gather inside however the room was reserved for a wedding party that day so we went to the Atrium piano bar. Everyone was very nice, and we really enjoyed meeting and talking. Throughout the cruise we would run into one another and talk about our cruise experiences. Thanks to Dorothy and Michele for arranging our meeting. Sunday is the first formal night, so after our meeting we had drinks on our balcony and dressed for dinner. Scott rented a tux through the cruise line formals after much deliberation. The tux fit great and Scott looked very handsome in it. We had formal pictures taken and then went to dinner in the Donatello dining room. We were doing personal choice dining and preferred a table for two for dinner. We were lucky to be seated at table 130, which was an awesome table in the corner with a pretty mural behind us. It felt very private and roomy (highly recommended). Our waiter Joseph was excellent! He and his assistant Marlon gave us personalized service and made us feel special. We liked the table and wait service so much that we reserved the same table for the rest of the week at 8:30 PM. We asked the headwaiter Eduardo if we could reserve for 8:00 but 8:30 was the best he could do which was fine. The food was great and we sampled many of the menu items each night. Scott liked the fact he could order more that one entree and could sample a variety of things. The Love Boat Dream dessert is awesome! We ordered cappuccinos with dessert each night. They were very good! After dinner we went to the Steve Patient show, which was a juggler/comedian act. He was OK but not nearly as good as some of other shows we saw. After the show we went to Skywalkers for some late night partying. It was the "millennium party" night. We had a great time at Skywalkers. It is a great club and you can dance and party till the wee hours. We didn't get back to our room until 3:30 AM!
Monday 11/19 - Had room service delivered again today but this time just the croissants and coffee. We requested delivery for 8:30 - 9:00 but they came at 8:15, which was way too early after the late night. We wanted to try the room service coffee. It was about the same as the coffee in Horizon's. One word sums it up...NUTTY. The coffee has a nutty flavor but is not really all that bad. Given we had our coffee maker we made a pot of the good stuff and drank it with breakfast on our balcony. Ah, what a life! Relaxed at the pool again and got ready for lunch. We made a reservation on Saturday for brunch at Sabatinis for Monday but really did not need it. Our reservation was for 12:00 but we decided we wanted to wait until 1:00 as we were still a bit hung over. The restaurant was nearly empty. The food is excellent and yes they have all you can eat king crab legs on the buffet. The omelets were awesome too. We drank mimosas and bloody mary's and ate lots of good food. After lunch we lounged around most of the afternoon. The sunset on Monday was spectacular from our balcony. Went to dinner in Donatello dining room again but our table was taken. Eduardo said he would give us the same table on the other side of dining room, 122 I think. It was a nice table but the wait staff was not nearly as friendly or attentive. I think Andre was turned off that we didn't order wine and Scott wanted 2 entrees. We went back to the room after dinner, had a drink on our balcony and went to bed early to be fresh for St. Martin. Tuesday - 11/20 - St. Martin - Our first shore day has arrived. Scott watched the sun come up on the balcony as the ship pulled into dock. A spectacular sunrise indeed. We decided to rent a car and explore St. Martin on our own. We made our "to go" cups of coffee and we're off. We had to lug our bag of snorkel equipment down the length of the dock as the Golden was in the far spot. It was definitely the worst part of our day. We negotiated a price for an economy rental with the local Hertz agency at the pier. It cost us $50/day, which is high, but you have the convenience of them being right at the pier so no taxi into town and back. We were a bit surprised by the condition of our car. As we went over the existing damage on the car, I recommended that the Hertz guy just circle the whole car. Of course he wouldn't do that (but he should have as he circled every possible area on the car diagram). We drove off. We saw signs for Dawn Beach so we followed them. We wanted to check out a place called Scavengers that we heard about before we left. We got there, but Scavengers parking lot was still closed, so we decided to move on to Orient Beach. When we turned off onto the road that led to Orient Beach we had our first "wild encounter". In the middle of the road a mother and baby goat had decided it was feeding time. The sight of our dinged up rental car didn't seem to bother them, but the camera did and they walked off. We moved on and not more than 100 feet down the same road another goat tried to play chicken with the rental (maybe that explains some of the damage). We finally got parked and walked down to the beach. It was beautiful, at least until the naked men showed up. I knew it was possible, but it was a bit too much for me, so we decided to move on. We drove around and checked on the northeast end of the island. It was very beautiful. About 10, we decided to see if Scavengers at Dawn Beach was open, so we went back. It was, so we unloaded and set up on the beach. It was a little cloudy and you could see some storm clouds far off. We saw a water spout develop, drop from the sky and then disappear. It was awesome. We went snorkeling. The snorkeling was great. There was coral reef right off the beach and you could see so many fish. Lots of Blue tangs and damsels. We snorkeled some more and had lunch at Scavengers. They had great burgers and we had an awesome raspberry Margarita and some Caribbean beer. There were very few people at Dawn beach this day and the water was calm and clear. Highly recommended! We packed up and drove to Marigot to check that out and then went to Phillipsburg to shop. The pricing was great on smokes (10.95 a carton) and liquor, so we stocked up on some extras. Back to the ship around five where we watched the sunset from our balcony and showered off the salt. Went to dinner for Alaskan King Crab Legs (yummy). Joseph brought us double portions and Marlon loaded our plate with extras, when we thought we couldn't eat more. We had an after dinner drink on our balcony and went to bed early to be fresh for St. Thomas.
Wednesday - 11/21 - St. Thomas - Woke up early today to see the sunrise. We were pulling into St. Thomas as the sun was rising over the hillside. It was beautiful. We had a great view from our port side balcony. We booked our only excursion through Princess for 8:30 am to go scuba diving. The diving arrangements were very convenient as the dive shop that operates the tour is only a 5 minute walk from the ship and the dive boat was located right next to the Golden. The dive boat went to Buck Island which is about a 10 minute trip. We dove an area called Shipwreck cove, named so because there are several shipwrecks there. Our first dive was a reef dive and the second was a shipwreck. Both dives were excellent. The visibility was fantastic (80+ feet) and there was a wide variety of marine life to be seen. We even saw a sea turtle. Overall we were very pleased with this excursion. We at lunch on board at Horizons and went into town for shopping. Dawn had been looking at jewelry in St Martin and really wanted a tanzanite ring. It seemed like most of the stores did not really want to bargain too much. She did buy a ring and is very happy with it. Liquor prices are a little higher in St. Thomas than St. Martin but the allowance is more generous. They allow you to purchase 4 liters as opposed to one in St. Martin. We boarded the ship at 5:00 and prepared for sail off by having some drinks at the pool. The sunset over St Thomas was awesome and made for some excellent pictures. Went to dinner and table 130 was running late so we took the other table. It was Italian night. I had the veal chop and Dawn had the shrimp dish. Dinner was good but probably our least favorite night except the dessert was tiramisu! Yum! After dinner we went to the Vista lounge to see Jonathan Clark, the vocal impressionist. He was good and does a darned good Sinatra. He sings as himself a few numbers and he does have a great voice. It seemed that he should be at one of the bars versus one of the main showrooms though.
Thursday 11/22 - Thanksgiving at sea - Slept in a bit. After coffee on the balcony, we went to the pool for some sun. Once again people were saving seats. Very frustrating and we ended up in the back of the boat on the sun deck. After getting some sun and some time in the hot tub, we decided to try lunch in the dining room. I had the lasagna which was very cheesy and delicious. Scott had a chicken and rice noodle stir fry which was also good. We shared a delicious quesadilla appetizer and had ice cream for desert. We then went to the casino for the blackjack tournament we signed up for earlier in the week. That was a lot of fun! Neither of us made the finals, but we stayed around to watch and see who won. We walked around the ship and made our way back to the room to have a drink and watch the sunset. This was probably the most beautiful sunset the whole trip. There was an awesome contrast of color and we got some great pictures. Got ready for the second formal night. Again Scott looked so handsome in his tux. We were off for our Thanksgiving feast. LOBSTER!! Again Joseph and Marlin gave impeccable service. We also tried the Beef Wellington and would highly recommend it for anyone who doesn't care for seafood (or does and orders both as Scott did). We also tried a couple of the pumpkin dishes and they were good too! We went to the Billy Vader show in the Vista Lounge after dinner. I guess he was the bathroom humor every one referred to in our pre cruise readings, but we found him hysterical and the audience gave him a standing ovation at the end of his show. We would love to see more shows like his on future cruises. Following the show we were off to the champagne fountain. Watching them set up the fountain is interesting, but if you arrive too early it is a bit like watching paint dry. But once it's done, let the champagne flow. We enjoyed several glasses of free champagne and got our picture taken with Guiseppe the maitre 'd . We went to Skywalkers to finish off our night, but I was a bit too tipsy from the Champagne to dance. We got back to our room about 2:30 and went to bed with the sound of the ocean drifting in from our balcony. A wonderful Thanksgiving day!
Friday - 11/23 - Nassau - As you know we were supposed to be at Princess Cays but ended up in Nassau. Woke up and could see the islands in the distance as the sun was rising. Docked at 10:00 AM, The entry to the port is actually quite pretty but once all the cruise ships arrive they are all you can see. We went to Horizons and took our plates back to our room for breakfast on the balcony before going into town. We really wanted to dive in Nassau but with the ship not docking until 10:00 and having to back on board by 3:30 there was not enough time to go. Princess should have given us more time in port. Nassau was about like we expected from what we had read. The "hawkers" were very aggressive and wanted you to buy everything from taxis, braids, carriage rides and moped rentals. Town and shopping was not too interesting. Did get some good souvenirs from the Hard Rock Cafe that were heavily discounted. The Hard rock is a store only and serves no food (What???). Got back on ship by 1:30 and got some good chairs at the pool. Stayed poolside for sail away party. Was a sad sight for us, knowing our cruise would soon be over. We had several "errands" to run including getting tip receipts for the room steward and wait staff. . Princess charges the $6.50 per person per day for tips for the wait staff and if you want to give additional you can charge to your shipboard account by going to any of the bars. They ask who and how much and print a receipt for you to give to the staff personally. You use the same procedure for the room steward. They recommend $3.50 per day per person. We also wanted to pick up some of our formal pictures. While they were more expensive than we expected, we thought they were very good quality photographs. We also got some digital pictures developed onboard at $.35 each. We even got doubles for this price because they only printed singles originally and we had to wait for them. (Thanks for great tip Frugalist). After errands we packed some (reluctantly) and went to comedy show with all 3 of the acts we had already seen. They did some new material and Billy Vader was again a riot. He really digs on Alastair (cruise director) and it is hilarious. By the way, we thought Alastair was a pretty good cruise director. Went to our final dinner. We both had prime rib which was excellent. Had our favorite dessert, the love boat dream (if you like chocolate this one is for you). We gave our additional tips to the staff and they were all appreciative. Joeseph talked to us more this night than any other. He told us contracts with Princess for 10 month stints and then goes home to the Phillipines for two months. His wife and children are there. Must be difficult being away from your family for so long. After dinner we finished packing and put our bags outside our door. Had a final drink on the balcony and went to sleep.
Saturday - 11/24 - Debarkation - Woke up early as our letters said we had to report to immigration at from 6:40 to 7:10 am. We asked for earliest possible debarkation since we getting of the ship and driving straight back to Raleigh. They issued us red tags that indicated we were in first group to leave. Immigration was a breeze and we waited in atrium lobby until everyone cleared immigration. As usual there were a few folks whose names had to be called to report to immigration. They began letting people off the ship about 8:00 AM. Finding our luggage in all the confusion was difficult. Some folks who had other color tags snuck through with the red tags and their luggage wasn't out there yet. Made it even more congested than it should have been. We were on the road by 9:00 AM. Traffic on I-95 was brutal. Arrived safely in Raleigh at 11:30 PM.
All in all we had an excellent cruise. This is by far the best vacation we have ever had. I now understand how one becomes "addicted" to cruising. We took advantage of the deal Princess offers for future bookings while onboard so soon we'll have another cruise to look forward to.