Dennis' Supplement to Kuki's Golden Princess Review Dec. 29-Jan. 5 New Year's Eve sailing
I have read Kuki's previously posted review of this particular cruise and really did not find anything significant that he said with which I disagreed. At the same time, there are things that we noticed that he did not report on.so I thought I would add my/our thoughts for the enlightenment of those sailing on the Golden in the future or those contemplating doing so.
This was our fifth cruise--the third on Princess plus two on HAL. We selected this particular cruise over a year before sailing (and six months before the Golden was launched) because we wanted to try a new ship of the mega variety. This was also our third New Year's cruise, two with Princess and one on HAL.
Embarkation/Debarkation-Princess does a wonderful job of getting people on and off this ship. It's the best job of any cruise we have been on. It does help if you have completed and submitted all paperwork well in advance. The Golden is in berth 2 at Port Everglades. We arrived and departed the pier via the Budget Rent A Car courtesy shuttle. This worked well. The berth area is fairly small and congested so it can be difficult getting into and out of that area. We decided to let the professional drivers handle the headaches.
Cabin/Balcony-we were on Baja deck which means a smaller, though more private, balcony. Unfortunately, the balcony is poorly furnished with two small, armless, plastic chairs and a small pedestal table. My wife likes to lounge and sun so we tried to bribe our cabin steward to procure a lounge for her. He was afraid to do so (had to pass it by his supervisor who nixed it) but he did come up with two chairs with arms which were slightly more comfortable. The larger balconies (Caribe deck and below) were larger though less private and came with better chairs but still no lounges. There seems to be an artificial shortage of lounges on this ship. You can't get one on your balcony and people keep reporting shortages in the pool area. Yet, in my almost daily workouts on the exercise bike in the fitness salon, I stared all week at over two hundred lounges stacked right in front of the window that were never moved from their moorings. Why have them on a completely full ship and not use them? Why not accommodate your guests by supplying them with what they want when it is easily within your power to do so? I loved my balcony but my wife had to go elsewhere to lounge and sun. The balconies were mostly empty so apparently others did likewise.
Dining-we had first seating traditional dining. We had requested a table for eight since we were traveling alone and wanted to dine with the same group of people each night. With one exception, one of the highlights of our previous cruises has been the people we meet by this approach to dining. This time, on the first night, we ended up at a table for four with the other couple the overflow from the next table of eight (there were ten in their party). by the next night they corrected the problem and we ended up with three other couples, all traveling singly, who we had a great time getting to know over the next five nights. As mentioned in the previous review, a lot of people who wanted traditional dining did not get it because two of the three dining rooms were devoted to Personal Choice dining. Why is Princess seemingly devoted to promoting PC at the expense of traditional? If it's harder on their personnel (which it seems to be) and it's making a significant number of their guests unhappy, why force it? Why can't they split one of the PC dining rooms to accommodate those who want traditional?
Dining Room Food-as in previous cruises, Princess food is "spotty". There are some very good things on the lunch and dinner menus but you have to work hard and turn some things away and reorder to find them. Beef items are uniformly poor to mediocre. Some seafood is pretty good (halibut) and some is too dry. The lobster on Thursday night was surprisingly good. The cioppino on one of the lunch menu's was the best dining room item I had all week and it was on there as an appetizer. Rated very good: the "always available" cheesecake and the Mediterranean pasta on the first night. Other "worth ordering" items: the French Onion soup; the escargot; and the clam appetizer (first or second night).
Dining Room Service-we had an excellent waiter (Zoltan) and his assistant (Robert). We are somewhat demanding (dry blue cheese for the salads each night, a bowl of chocolate sauce with dessert each night, etc.) and they quickly picked up on our eccentricities and made sure they were met. The head waiter for our area (Pietro) also did a nice job, making our table a special platter of bruschetta on Italian night because I had asked about it the night before. Even though a gratuity for our dining room staff was automatically added to our bill, I felt they deserved extra for their extra efforts and provided such on the last evening. by the way, the ability to go to one of the bars aboard and put gratuities on your master bill is a nice addition over our last Princess cruise three years ago.
Room Service (food)-we utilized room service for several breakfasts (instead of the Horizon Court which is just buffet food that you can get anywhere) and for a couple of lunches so as not to interrupt my balcony time. Service was prompt, the food was good (the Cobb salad especially) and hot when it should have been, and we wrote in special requests several times which they always delivered.
Room Service (Cabin Steward)-we have always had great cabin stewards on Princess (unlike on Holland America) and Victor was no exception. From greeting us by name with a nice smile before we ever reached our room on Saturday to picking our room up promptly when we put the card on the door, he earned his tip and then some.
Soda Card-we really got our money's worth on this one! I like sparkling water with every meal, in the theatres during shows, etc. and my wife has to have her regular infusion of diet cola. The $17.50 was well spent.
Internet Access-Expensive! $8.00 for 15 minutes plus $1.00/page to print. Time flies when you are on the net and, on the Golden, so does your money. No trouble getting on, though.
Alternative Dining (Sabatini's)-we rushed aboard and went immediately to book Sunday brunch since I had the impression from the Internet that demand was high. Several others were also in line when we got there but not anything like I expected. We booked brunch for Sunday at 11:00. We were the only guests' in the restaurant until 12:30 so we had plenty of attention. The food is really excellent (the pork loin I had as an entree was truly exceptional) and we felt the $15.00 per person extra was well worth it. As one of the waiters explained, the dining rooms have to prepare their foods hours in advance and then hold it until you arrive. They have no choice since they have to serve so many people in such a concentrated amount of time. The alternative restaurants prepare everything fresh so it should be a lot better and it was. We liked it so much that we also scheduled a dinner for the last night-which we ultimately cancelled because we didn't want to miss the last night with our new found friends and dining mates in the Canalleto dining room.
Alternative Dining (Desert Rose)-this may have been the most pleasant surprise of the entire cruise. Going aboard, I had not read a single positive review on this restaurant. After Sabatini's, however, we looked closely at the menu and booked a late dinner on New Year's Eve since on previous New Year's Eves there seemed to be a lull aboard ship between the evening show letting out and the midnight festivities kicking in. (by the way, we also had a light dinner with our tablemates in the dining room at 6:15). We like Southwestern food and this was very, very good. Great guacamole, the black bean tortilla soup with lobster was excellent and the pork entree quite good. The complementary margaritas in themselves were worth most of the extra $8.00 we had to pay. In fact, when bad weather cancelled Princess Cay on the last day, we went back to Desert Rose for lunch and had another excellent meal.
Entertainment-like the food, the entertainment was "spotty". There was some good stuff but you had to pick and choose. The first night's production show in the Vista Lounge, "Shake, Rattle and Roll" had great costumes and sets but I felt the cast's voices were really lacking. The same cast in later shows in the Princess Theatre did a first class job for a cruise ship so my conclusion is that they should not be doing production shows in the Vista Lounge. In fact, we ultimately left the Vista Lounge that night and went to the Princess Theatre to catch the last half of the "World's Worst Ventriloquist". This guy did not belong in the Princess Theatre or in the Vista Lounge. He should have been left on the dock. We also particularly enjoyed the vocal impressionist (Tony ?) and the Jerry Seinfeld opening act comedian. Avoid the juggler-if you have seen one, you have seen them all. The Benny Hill style English magician was--well--unique. The last night's show in the Princess Theatre featuring three of the entertainers with Alister, the cruise director, doing a Jay Leno format was a terrible finale after three nights of good production shows in that theater. Conclusion: with all the new ships, I think the entertainment is getting a little diluted. I didn't feel it quite came up to the standards of previous cruises.
Cruise Summary: As I mentioned at the beginning, this was our fifth cruise. Of the five, I would probably rate this as #5. At the top of the list (#1 and 1a) would be the 7 day Alaska cruise on Holland America out of Vancouver and the 10 day trans Panama Canal cruise on Princess starting in Acapulco and ending in San Juan. Numbers 2 and 2a would be the 7 day Southern Caribbean on Princess (out of San Juan) and the 7 day Western Caribbean on HAL out of Ft. Lauderdale. I really enjoyed each of these four cruises and wasn't ready to leave the ship on the last day. This time, by the last day, I was ready to get off and get home. I was tired of life aboard ship and ready to get back to California and back to work. Don't get me wrong. I haven't given up on cruising. I'm sure we will go again but maybe next time we will try something slightly different like a small boat cruise (Windjammer or such).