Kuki's Golden Princess Report Dec. 29- Jan 5 New Year's sailing
I'd previously sailed the Grand Princess, in 2000, so pretty much knew what to expect out of the ship. Though we had been a bit under-whelmed with some of the layout of the Grand, we'd hoped Princess may have made some corrections on the Golden. Other than adding mid-ship stairs and elevators, and making the Atrium area a bit larger, nothing seemed too different on the Golden.
Unfortunately some of the things about the Grand Princess that I didn't care for were carried right over to the Golden. They are both HUGE ships, and in my view Princess had tried so hard to create areas with more of a small ship feel, that they've gone overboard. It seemed to us, by overdoing the small spaces, they've made a large ship feel cramped, crowded and rather choppy.
Admittedly, we were traveling with a group of 71 cruise mates, so were often looking for a larger space where we could all congregate comfortably, so that was a problem most smaller groups may not take note of. The only lounges onboard which were rather wide open and airy were the Vista Lounge aft, which is used as a movie theatre, bingo hall, and show room, and the Explorer's lounge, located mid-ship, which I liked a lot. Other areas, like the Promenade Bar, which should have been a great people watching spot, were so small and sectioned off, as to leave them rather useless if we were meeting more than 4 other people for a drink. We did manage to find a few bartenders who were antler friendly, so that helped ease some concerns.
Even the Lido deck was chopped into smaller spaces, with two small swimming pools, and not much deck area that actually got sunshine during the course of the day. This limiting design was exaggerated by people saving deck loungers on sea days. The "Princess Patters", daily onboard activity guide, always mentioned that saving deck loungers and seats in the showrooms was against policy. However, with no staff ever visible to enforce these policies, it was rather a waste of ink and paper printing them. It's probably clear that not having any enforcement of policies is a pet peeve of mine.
I'm certain if I were to light a cigarette in the dining room, or showrooms, someone would have come right over and informed me of the rules against this. Of course, I wouldn't attempt such a thing, but I was certainly tempted. Selective enforcement of ship's policy just serves to irritate me more.
Now that I've taken my opportunity to rant, let's get back to discussing the ship and the cruise experience we had.
The embarkation process was a breeze. We arrived at the pier early, by about 10:30 AM, thinking we would be there to greet people, as the rest of our group arrived. We really didn't expect the boarding process to start much before noon. However, they started letting people begin the check process by about 10:45 AM. All our documentation had been filled out in advance, online, using the Princess web page. Even though when our documents arrived they did not carry the Express Check In sticker we were expecting, when we reached the counter we found all our information had made it's way into the system. Therefore the check in process was a breeze. We gave them a credit card to swipe, received our shipboard charge card/ID/cabin keys, and were on our way through security and upstairs to the embarkation lounge. After waiting for a very short period of time, they started boarding the ship. As we entered our cabin, I checked my watch and surprisingly it was only 11:15 AM. In my experience, this is the earliest I can ever recall being onboard a ship.
The debarkation process, at the end of the cruise, was equally painless. When our color was called to leave the ship, we took the elevator down to the gangway, and I was pleasantly surprised to see there were no hordes of people filling the Atrium areas, or stairways, as we'd experienced previously on so many other cruises. We walked off the ship, found our luggage easily in the appropriately color tagged area, and left the building.
We had a mini suite, on Dolphin Deck. Nice sized cabin, and neatly laid out with plenty of storage space. The bedroom area is separated from the sitting area slightly, by a half wall counter space. Some sort of separating curtain would have been a nice finishing touch, but not big deal. One oddity in the cabin is the two television sets. One facing the bed, the other facing the sitting area. A nice thought in theory, but with the size of the cabin, they really served no purpose. If one person was in bed watching TV, and another in the sitting area, you had best be watching the same program, or the dialogue from both gets lost in the jumble.
Our balcony was totally open to above. We knew this ahead of sailing, and it really didn't bother us. In fact Mrs. Kuki and I probably had more fun talking to the passengers above and around us, than if we would have had the privacy of being together. If you're after some private moments on your balcony though.. This deck is not for you!
There is also a mini-bar fridge in the cabin, and it comes empty, so you'd have room to store any drinks or sodas which need refrigerating.
The cabin's interior decoration seemed rather stark, but not really an issue with me, as I am not an interior design critic. My only real complaint was the tub/shower unit in the bathroom. When used as a shower, the ceiling is very low, so you'd best not be too tall. At 6'3", I'm a bit on the tall side, and could just fit in without banging my head. However, when lifting my arms to wash I kept banging my knuckles on the ceiling. And, of course, not being very bright, I repeated this process over and over for the duration of the cruise. The height of the shower head was quite low, and water flow hit me right around chest high. And the bathtub is quite small, so a man my size using it would look alot like a hunter in the jungle waiting to be cooked in the cannibal's pot.
Also, tall people be warned about the beds. They must be about 6 ' long, because my ankles hung over the end of the bed. The beds were at a very good height. We were able to store all our luggage under the bed, just by sliding it underneath. No lifting and pushing involved at all, other than my pushing Mrs. Kuki to store them.
All and all a very comfortable cabin, but why it's referred to as mini suite is questionable. To me, suite or even mini suite implies two rooms. Oh well, again not an issue, just the thought process of a sick mind.
The Golden has three dining rooms. Two mid-ship dining rooms are used for the Personal Choice option. The idea is that anyone using these dining rooms may show up at the time of their choice, during dining room hours, and be served. There is one dining room on Deck 6 furthest aft which is used for assigned traditional dining times; main seating at 6:15 PM, late seating at 8:30 PM.Princess is really pushing the Personal Choice options. On this sailing, so much so, that people who had requested Traditional dining, were unable to have their requests fulfilled, and were assigned Personal Choice. This seems a bit of a oxymoron, if your choice is Traditional, but you can't get it. At any rate, we had requested main Traditional dining, and that's what we got. 54 members of the group were seated in the central area of the dining room, at 9 tables. It was fun being to walk around amongst the group tables between courses, visiting with the gang.
Our wait staff were both wonderful and somewhat clueless. The waitress, Katirina, was warm, friendly, fun, cute and professional. Her ass't/bus girl, Zita, didn't seem to understand what her job was. So, while food service was mostly excellent, simple things like drink service. drinks, ice tea, sodas was left lagging behind. By the third night something happened. Either the head waiter noticed, or Zita realized she was out of her element. Whatever the case was, she sort of disappeared; replaced by a number of different assistants. From that point on the flow of team service improved greatly, and made the dining experience much more enjoyable.
Of course, as a group, we gave them some challenges along the way, by inviting people from other dining rooms to join us for dinner. We'd ask them to add a chair to this or that table, or move around amongst the tables, etc., and the head waiter and the rest of the staff were VERY accommodating.
I had intended to try the Personal Choice Dining Rooms one night, but never did get around to it. In talking to people who were assigned Personal Choice, either by choice, or assignment, we found a few loved it, and the flexibility it awarded them. Others were not so enchanted with the process. Besides occasionally having to wait for their choice of tables, they mentioned those dining rooms being very busy. Traffic constantly moving in and out, servers running around more than usual because some people in their sections would be on appetizers while others were on desserts.
Everyone at PC was told the best times to come to be able to enter those Dining Rooms, with no wait was between 7 and 7:30 PM. A decent time to dine, but they are basically telling you your "Personal Choice" would work better if you come when they suggest. The mind maze of this kind of gave me a chuckle.I'm not a fan of the layouts of the Dining Room on these ships. Once again the drive to create small spaces makes the dining room choppy and congested. Combine this with the low ceilings of the one storie Dining Rooms, and the noise levels seemed pretty significant as well. At a table for 8 we found it difficult to carry on a conversation without raising our voices. Being a bit of a low talker, my tablemates either never heard me, or pretended they didn't (which happens to me often).
The food in the dining room was decent quality, but I honestly didn't find any of the meals I sampled close to what I would rate excellent. Within the past couple of months, I'd sailed both Carnival Triumph, and RCI's Explorer, and I would rate Princess food quality below both.
I never found myself without food I could eat, and enjoy, but didn't feel I could rave about any of my food the entire week.
The Horizon Court-- 24 Hr service
I liked the looks and feel of the Horizon Court, and I much prefer it's unlimited opening hours, to ships which feature midnight buffets, or midnight bites served in ships lounges.
In my mind, without a doubt, Princess has the best salad bars at sea. Lots of choices for what you can include in your salad, and the vegetables were always crisp and fresh.
The set up of the buffet areas though are quite an interesting mess. There is no real traffic flow at all. People are heading in all different directions, depending on what they were after.
In one sense this worked ok, as there was no waiting in lines. Everyone simply butted into the crowd near the particular food they were after. Selections at the buffet seemed to vary a lot. The temperature of the food in the serving trays under the warmers did seem to vary considerably, but most of the time I found the food close enough to the temperatures they should be served at to make do.
One thing missing from these buffets, that is becoming very common on most ships these days is the fresh omlette stations at breakfast, and fresh pasta stations at lunch. These items are available pre cooked in the buffet, but not always at the temperatures they can be enjoyed at, and not freshly cooked.
To be perfectly frank, I'm not a food connoisseur. Pretty near anything I eat makes me happy, and I had all my breakfasts and lunches at the buffet.
The Golden also has a pizzeria located by the mid-ship swimming pool, and a burger/hot dog/ grilled chicken Grill as well. I tried the Pizza twice (for research) and found it to be average. I still maintain Carnival has the best pizza at sea! The pizzeria disappointingly closed at 6PM each day. To my mind pizza is a lunch, or late night snack food, and the limited hours of operation here has me wondering what they were thinking.
The Room Service menu was more substantial than other cruise lines I've sailed recently. While not elaborate, it had both hot and cold items available. Service was quick and efficient, and the hot food actually arrived to the cabin hot.
If forced to quantify my opinions of overall food onboard, I'd give it a 6 or 7 out of 10. Food service, in all areas about a 9.
We didn't sample either of the alternative (pay extra) restaurants. Sabitini's and Desert Rose both seemed to be pretty quiet, and underused on this sailing.
The Cruise Director, Allister Greener, and his staff are very visible throughout the ship, and very involved with the passengers. Easy to stop and chat with any of them, and most social.
I was told the best shows onboard were the "song and dance" production numbers. I have such a bad ear for music, that I don't attend any of these. Unfortunately, to me, the singing just sounds like Mrs. Kuki screaming at me. The ship did feature an excellent juggler, and pretty good comedian, and perhaps the worst ventriloquist show I've ever seen. The various musical lounge acts around the ship seemed to be well accepted by the crowds, but again to my ear it wouldn't have mattered how good or bad they were.
The Princess Theater, the main showroom onboard has excellent sight lines. No posts or obstacles in the way of the view of the stage. However, it's quite small, and the entrance to the Theatre from Deck 6 is just plain ugly, and awkward. You enter a narrow passageway, up a set of stairs, then down another. Entering through here felt like you were going to a peep show (though I don't admit to know that from experience).
The Vista lounge, right at the aft end of the ship, is also used as an alternative show room. There's a few posts and pillars to block the view of the stage here, but the bigger problem is the floor doesn't have enough pitch to allow good views. Being relatively flat (the floor, not me) you're stuck trying to look over or around the people seated in front of you.
I had little problem finding my way around the ship because of my previous experience on the Grand. But many people found the layout quite difficult. With two dining rooms located mid-ship, and one aft, with the galley between them, one had to know the tricks to get there from here.
We dined in the Carmello Dining Room located aft. To get there one had to take the aft elevators down, or come across the ship a deck higher, and go down one flight to the Dining Room.The entry way to this dining room was quite small, with no real foyer close by to congregate in.
The closest lounge to the dining room is up a deck, and mid-ship, making it a trek to dinner, if you were meeting for pre or post dinner drinks.
I've sailed on other ships which share this problem of the galley in between two dining rooms, but in those cases, the deck above normally goes the length of the ship, and has had better traffic flow than we experienced on the Golden.
We were on this cruise with over 70 CruiseMates people, and the group got along so well, we had an absolutely FANTASTIC cruise. That likely wouldn't have changed if we'd been together on a garbage barge, other than some added odors.
With some of the changes in the way Princess does things, since my last Princess cruise, I have to say I feel Princess seems to have lost some of their "identity". Now this is a particularly hard thing to define, but I'll try and break down some of my thoughts on it.
- Princess has eliminated their pasta course at dinner. They've moved their daily pasta selection into the list of entrees, so it's not that pasta is unavailable. But in doing this I believe they are trying to lead people who want pasta to order it as an entree. Of course, they didn't fool me. I simply ordered it as it's own course, when the particular pasta sounded appetizing. However, except for one night, when the head waiter made a special pasta, and everyone was given a sampling, the pasta course made table side is a thing of the past.
- In a move that was almost disgusting, Princess has added to the "nickel & dining" experience, of charging for ice cream except in the dining room. We came back to our cabin one evening to find a packaged disposable camera laying on the bed, along with a note describing what a great price it was available for. In other words, if you opened it, you bought it.
We just left it sitting there, but the first thing Mrs. Kuki and I thought of was people traveling with young kids. The kids could easily enter the cabin, see the cameras, and assuming they were gifts, rip them open. This whole thing was just plain tacky. They would be better served to put a note in the Princess Patter saying these cameras were on sale in the sundry shop. Leaving them on the beds in every cabin showed a complete lack of class, and though in and of itself, not a "big deal", displayed an attitude that most found intrusive.
- This was my 4th time sailing over New Years, and it's a wonderful time to be at sea. Very festive, and the passengers are out and about and enjoying each other and the ship's nightlife. Being a New Year's sailing there was a premium charged on fares for that reason. However, this was the first New Year's sailing I've been on where complimentary Champagne was not offered at least for a short, limited time. I'm not even a Champagne drinker, so this had no direct affect on me. Just another display of a "chintzy, tacky" attitude.
- I had the privilege of meeting and talking to the Master of the Vessel, Captain Remano on a couple of occasions. He has a delightful personality and sense of humor. But, I did notice, unlike most cruises I've sailed on, there was no Captain's Welcome Aboard Party. These are normally held the second evening onboard, and serve as bit of a mixer for passengers and crew. By eliminating this evening, it wasn't the few appetizers or a free drink that I was missing. It was just another example of changing attitudes of Princess towards their passengers.
- With the cruise lines all searching for additional onboard revenue sources we did run across one real oddity. There happened to be an unusually high number of cigarette smokers in our group. They discovered the sundry shop onboard did not sell cigarettes by the carton. They only sold them, by the package, at the bars onboard. Of course, most smokers simply waited until the first port of call, and bought their cigarettes on shore. Therefore Princess was directing a possible source of extra revenue off the ship.
Normally on a cruise I like to jot down notes each evening to remind me later of my thoughts about things I experience each day. This time I was so busy enjoying the CruiseMates group, I didn't take the time to do this, and I regret it a bit now.
Therefore this report is just a compilation of thoughts about the cruise from someone who has a really bad memory.
I'll end by saying we had an absolutely incredible cruise! I enjoyed it as much as any cruise prior. However, the group we were traveling with had a significant impact on that. Definitely more so than the ship.
It would be very hesitant about sailing a Grand Class ship again, and somewhat reticent about trying Princess again, until I hear some passengers coming back describing a general change in attitude by the cruise line. Of course, that could change if Mr. Ratcliffe wanted to hire me a consultant.