CruiseMates' Readers Cruise Reviews


Princess Cruises Golden Princess Eastern Caribbean November 17, 2001

This cruise was out of Ft. Lauderdale going on an Eastern Caribbean route to St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Nassau in the Bahamas (substitute for the Michelle-damaged Princess Cays). This was our 8th cruise, if we count our 2 adventures on the Baltic Shipping Company (now defunct) going to St. Petersburg a few years ago. We really did have a good time on this cruise. First of all, it was cheap...an unreal price for a balcony cabin during Thanksgiving week...the first Thanksgiving in 16 years I haven't cooked all day! Plus, we had perfect weather all week and enjoyed all three ports and three lovely days at sea, and there really is no such thing as a bad cruise in my book.

Part of this will be a day by day travelogue, other parts more rambling impressionistic commentary. After reading it you will probably know more about me than the cruise ship itself!

For you lazy readers out there, here's my quickie guide to this cruise:

Cabin: B Food: B Staff: B Activities: B Ports: B

Feeling in a very "B" mood I guess!

For the truly information deprived, here are all the details....

Friday

Given the state of air travel in the US, we decided to go down a day early just to be careful. Normally we would fly out of Washington National airport (I'll never call it Reagan!) but it was still closed when we booked this cruise in early October. Side note: we are habitual "late bookers" when it comes to cruises...due to our work schedules and I love to monitor the prices on various online booking engines to zoom in on good deals....which more and more seem to go to late bookers.

Our driver picked us up at home and whisked us off to BWI airport. We have found this to be a very nice start to traveling, a little conversation, a nice town car, and someone else to worry about traffic or parking. Since our original flight for 11:00 am was cancelled by USAir a few weeks in advance, we were put on the 5:00 pm flight to Ft. Lauderdale. We arrived over 2 hours early and found curbside check-in for USAir, which we took advantage of. I believe they were doing this only for folks with paper tickets...which I always get anyway even if there is a service charge. There was a long line to check in with USAir indoors so I was especially glad to avoid that. The line at the metal detectors was not bad at all.

We checked in at the gate about an hour prior to liftoff and were assigned seats in the front row of a 737. We did get to talk to the cabin stewards during the flight, who were nice, and in fact one of them was on our return flight...what a nice lady. Snack mix and half a coke onboard.

We arrived at Fort Lauderdale on time and got our bags quickly and grabbed a cab to our hotel - the Extended Stay America on 17th Street. As most folks know, it is a quick ride from the airport to the hotel or to the port area and cost us only a few bucks. Upon checking in we found that our reservation had, for some reason, been cancelled, even though it was reserved online using a credit card for $64/night. This was irritating to say the least but they did find us a room even though they were "full" for $89/night. At 8 pm at night I was in no mood to fight so we took it. I was more concerned about getting food at that point since I was starving.

The hotel room was large and clean and had a little kitchenette area. I don't think I could stay in this place for more than one night but for one night it was ok. Location wise it was nearly across the street from the Publix grocery store and the Einstein Bros. bagel place. We walked around the neighborhood and ended up at the restaurant next door to the hotel, called "Hopps" which was a brew pub sort of place. It was decent if nothing to write home about. Our waitress had some friends eating there at the table next to us so we were sort of an afterthought to her evening...

Saturday

Waking up the next morning....over nearby buildings I could see the Golden Princess from our hotel room! Boy was I excited! After getting a bit cleaned up we went out for coffee across the street (there is literally nothing in this hotel) and picked up a few sodas at the drug store, some film, a little notebook, and took a stroll over to the causeway bridge so we could see the ships in port. The Golden is one big "mutha" of a ship! Don't care much for the "spoiler" on the back, but I was getting quite excited about getting on board. I wondered whether the pool area in the back got much sun due to the spoiler effect. It was about 9 am....waah! Too early yet to go over there to board.

Somehow we managed to amuse ourselves until about 11 at the hotel and then had them call a cab for us, and off we were. The cab ride was all of 2 minutes or so to get to the Golden Princess. Since we never got our cruise documents before we left (hey, we live in Washington DC...we don't have real good postal service right now for obvious reasons...) so the porters at the cruise terminal gave me some Princess luggage tags to fill out, I gave the guy a $5 for our 3 bags and off to the cruise terminal we went. Needless to say, at 11 am there weren't a whole lot of people there so we went to one of the Caribe deck lines for express check in. In advance of the cruise I had filled out our information (passport #, credit card, etc.) online on the Princess web site "Cruise Personalizer". What a great feature! Jay, our check in person, was super fast and helpful and had us checked in with no problems in mere minutes. I liked the cruise card...featuring a nice picture of the Golden at sea! There was a little neon green sticker dot on our card...never did figure out what that meant. After going through security (no hooch confiscated that we saw) we were directed to the 2nd floor of the cruise terminal to wait for boarding time. This area of the terminal was laid out extremely badly....the "archway" where a passenger would stand for the embarkation photo was only about 3 feet from the railing of that level...an extremely cramped layout. And there was absolutely no way to avoid getting that picture taken, as we've been able to achieve on other lines. It was a must as far as Princess was concerned. I guess "what you want, when you want it" is more of a marketing gimmick. I'm not talking about the security system photo...that we gladly did.

Let me digress for a moment here to talk about some of my own tastes on these things. We tend to avoid cheesiness at all costs....goofy photos, singing waters, bingo anouncements...these are things we avoid like the plague!

In any case, we were greatly appreciative of the fast boarding even if we had to run the cheesiness gauntlet.

We wisked ourselves off to our cabin (no white gloved person to show us the way...boo) and were greatly excited to be on the ship.

First impression of the cabin...small! We are balcony people and love having our little piece of real estate on the sea however. This balcony cabin was imminently affordable and that we truly appreciate. We had cabin C325 on the Caribe deck....huge balcony, half convered, half exposed. This was to be one of the saving graces of this cruise. We were on the starboard side and thus had direct sunlight on the 2 sea days at the beginning of the cruise...no fighting for deck chairs up top! The balcony had 2 upright chairs and a small 30" tall table and two larger chairs which reclined. I used the reclining chairs and put my feet up on the other chairs.

The cabin is nicely appointed though...nice wood veneers, wood trims, tasteful bedspread. A desk area with a chair, a barrel chair and a refrigerator/shelf/TV area. The very light veneer used on the desk top could get dirty I think in a few months? Overall, the cabin was a terrible use of space however! There is one "hallway" from the front door to the bed area and another "hallway-ette" that contains a very large open closet and the door to the bathroom...thus making two "hallway" areas that take up huge amounts of cabin space for no practical reason. I would have preferred having a larger bathroom! This was the tiniest bathroom we've ever had. I didn't like the open closet concept either...I really don't want to look at my junk every time I come into the room and would have loved to have closet doors to hide it away! Also in this area were a closet full of shelves and a small safe (numerical password type). All and all, for a ship that's going to be doing 7 day runs in the Caribbean this is an excess of closet space most likely. They did have a very large number of wooden hangers though! Very much liked the nightstand lights that had their own dimmers....very nice.

On the little wood table in the cabin was a tiny plate with two fancy little cookies on it on a doily with a little tent card saying "compliments of the Captain"....I guess the Captain doesn't think all that much of us! Why bother with the 2 little cookies?

The bathroom, like I said, was tiny! Three corner shelves above the sink area, a toilet on a diagonal corner and a tiny shower wedged in there somehow. The shower had a fixed head, which I don't like (I love the ones on the metal hoses that you can move around), and even though I am by no means a big person, I found the shower curtain catching my a** a couple of times during the week. I always find it a bit hard to rinse off on a cruise ship because the water is so soft...so this shower was a little bit of torment all week. The blowdryer was over by the desk in the main cabin area...creating a clutter of sorts by the phone. Given how small the cabin was, it would have been nicer to have a blowdryer right in the bathroom where we could shut the bathroom door and dampen the noise for our partners who are still asleep. Oh well.

Am I sounding too negative here? I really did like how the cabin was furnished, if not it's layout or size, and that balcony....what a treat. Oh...the floor covering on the balcony...this hard pebbly blue plastic stuff that was indeed hard on the feet a bit (and hot in the sunlight!). I missed the teak decking we have had on other balconies.

Oh...the beach towel policy...don't like it! It was another thing to lug around a big ship (in addition to my book, suntan lotion, CD walkman, etc...) I definitely have found it much more convenient to just pick the darn thing up by the pool every day and I like to have multiple towels..one for the lounger, one to dry off with, one for making a little pillow... :) I know, not very environmentally friendly of me is it?! So I found this practice a bit annoying. We had a constant "battle" with the cabin steward over where the towels were put in the room...he insisted on putting them on top of the TV and I would put them back under the open shelf under the sink.

The bathroom amenities...liked the soaps and shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion, although the little packs are a bit hard to open. I always bring special soaps with me on trips (this time...lemon verbena/rosemary...luscious) so we didn't actually use the Princess soap and brought it home to enjoy instead.

Our excitement of being on the ship continuing....we went up to the Horizon Court for a bit of food. Seemed like a nice area and tons of tables. Can't remember at all what we ate, and I made a resolution on this cruise not to overeat...which I largely succeeded at as it turns out. The Horizon Court has two service areas and no "line" set up per se. I thought this was largely a good idea but wondered how it would fair when it was crowded. To some extent, over the week, I concluded these areas were too small for the size of the ship and the number of people onboard and during crowded time periods there was a sort of "turkish bazzar" chaos to the place. I think this area must also save Princess a bunch of money on personnel costs...there is virtually no personal service of food in this area. The buffet is almost entirely self-serve. The infamous big oval platters were plastic as well...kind of cheap I thought! I kind of missed the level of service we have experienced on other lines, but hey, it's still just a buffet and I'm not a big buffet person by nature so it's no biggie to me.

As was often the case, if we ate upstairs we would take our food all the way to the back of the ship to eat outdoors. This was an area of the ship (spoiler not withstanding) that we often enjoyed. The people at the bar back there were great and would procure for us our sodas. We got the soda sticker option on day one for $17.50 for the week. We were told this was $15 for the soda and $2.50 gratuity. We got large sodas whenever requested...I guess those glasses were a good 20 ounces at least? Hard to say. Not all ice either, so that was appreciated. I had countless ginger ales all week as a result.

After lunch we took our own little tour of the ship starting at the top! This ship has lots of nooks and crannies to explore and I enjoyed that immensely. One area that was hard to find was the "Princess Links" or whatever the mini golf thing was called. It was up an obscure staircase from the main pool area or through a door and up a staircase from the covered pool area...no signs to it! We played a little round of 9 that day but never got back there again all week. It's a fun little course (although showing some serious wear and tear after only 6 months!) with no borders around the individual holes...so your ball can go flying into other holes..which I actually enjoyed! Needless to say, we didn't keep score LOL!

Walking around the ship you see just how big it is!

I liked how on the top decks they had various interspersed "wind baffles", for lack of a better term, to help cut the wind while at sea. This indeed seemed to make these spaces more usable for people to lay out on deck chairs without blowing away completely. The two hot tubs in the back up top also got some good use out of me. The back of the ship, in general, was a nice quiet adult area. I only laid out in the sun on the last sea day up on the decks, however, since I had that big lovely balcony to lay out on the first two sea days on the Caribe deck, so I didn't much notice whether there was a fight for deck chairs or not, but the design of the areas seemed to allow these spaces to be more usable on windy days.

Slightly less aft were two areas for teens, with a hot tub, and for little kids with a kiddie pool. I never noticed any kids up in these areas very much although there was no shortage of either on this holiday sailing. I did notice on the last sea day a large number of elderly adults laying out in the sun in the teen area however. Can't these people read?? I thought that was pretty rude! The teens seemed to find their own places to hanging out, as would be expected. One mom I met on board at our little internet party the first day described the teen disco as "a joke". Oh well.

I don't know that I can do justice to describing the rest of the ship, as it was beautifully documented in photos by Bart de Boer on his great web site. I would say there were areas on the ship that I thought were very nice but by and large I thought it was pretty ho-hum, bordering on yuck in a few places.

I liked the 2 personal choice dining rooms. Understated. Nice wood paneling. Some truly ugly paintings however. I didn't have the heart to take pictures of them. There was this one that was a painting of Zeus perhaps holding a lightening bolt. It was embarassingly amateurish, like most of the paintings in the 2 dining rooms. One funny story...the first night in the dining room 3 older ladies were right near our little table for 2 on the wall near the fore area of the room...they were pushing on the wall thinking it was a door. Now, mind you, it didn't look like a door to me, but they were sort of drunk and confused. I helpfully pointed them on their way to the real door. There were sort of curving walkways through the dining room which were a step down from the dining areas...I had a constant fear of a senior going flying off one of those steps somewhere.

Skywalkers disco up in the spoiler had a very wild decor which I kind of liked. I had never seen gold lamee leather used on a chair before. Undoubtedly this was a space that would look better at night....we never did get up there to disco the night away, but we did go up there on the last night for a cocktail party and really, it did look better at night.

The Wheelhouse bar was a very attractive space. Perhaps the best room on the ship. We never did get down there for drinks...our internet party the first day at sea was to have been there but there was a "special event" that afternoon and we moved ourselves over to the atrium bar. Next time around we're going to make more of an effort to get over that way. Lots of very nice leather couches and a "clubby" feeling to the place. Not sure if they allow cigars there but it looked like it would give Michael's Club on Celebrity a run for its money.

The Princess Theater and the Vista Lounge were fairly non-eventful decor-wise. The Princess Theater has almost a non-decor...it reminded me of a plush college lecture room...tight together arm chairs with little fold out tables that came out of the arms. Perfect for putting a drink on..or taking notes. Better was the Vista Lounge, which had more sculpted areas of seating with actual cocktail tables in them. Didn't go there often but for watching the horse race on Friday and for immigration purposes however. Now the Explorer's Lounge was also nice, and would be a great room but for some of the bizarre "art" they have in there, which Bart de Boer has already documented. It really is an attractive room but for that, and open on one end so that folks strolling through the ship could gaze in while passing by and see what was happening. This is how I stumbled upon a few events in that space. The Explorer's lounge was also where they held the "art" auctions.

Let me digress into that topic for a while....the "art" for these art auctions is strewn everywhere throughout the ship. No deck is safe from having to look at this "art". Much of it is just terrible....semi-naked misty eyed maidens riding horses, neon clowns with tears in their eyes, etc., you get the point. Ok, there were a few nice things, but not very many, and they were literally everywhere all over the ship. There was an entire room (or rather, very wide hallway) devoted to their display all week as well. Yuck! Actually, of the 8 cruises we have taken so far, I would have to say this one was the one most devoted to pushing onboard revenue centers, from the content of the Princess Patter, to the nearly endless promotional fliers put in the mailbox at our cabin. Endless huckstering for onboard spending! I found it kind of obnoxious. Thankfully they did not do these things via onboard announcements...or I would have been screaming to get off the ship in St. Maarten! The Patter also has some very tiny print! 2/3 or more of every day's Patter was about selling stuff, yikes.

Ok...off the soapbox and back to the ship tour.

The atrium area was lovely and the bars surrounding it attractive. I loved the tulip petal stained glass sculpture thingee at the top of the atrium...it evoked a bit of Louis Comfort Tiffany. I also liked the half art deco/half art nouveau-ish brushed steel thingees that encaged the panoramic elevators. Very attractive, although they made seeing out of the panoramic elevators a bit of a challenge! The furniture and decor in the atrium area was generally a very nice job and the atrium, being just 3 decks high, wasn't overwhelming or too mall like (not yet at least...) Also in the atrium area, on boarding day, were the fabulous Lodz Quartet! They largely played classical music, although they snuck in "strings" treatment of more recent compositions every now and then as well. They were great and I enjoyed hearing them on various days and nights aboard the ship.

The shops seemed nice on the various atrium levels (in fact I picked up a bottle of my cologne at a good price later in the week) and I liked some of the mosaic tile treatments they had in the floors in these areas. The Atlantis Casino was huge but I intensely disliked the seahorse-heavy motif of the carpeting there. I know, that's the theme of the place, but boy was that ugly carpeting.

Speaking of floor treatments...it seemed to be a big Princess thing to cover the floors with carpeting with the edges of the room/hallway/etc trimmed in marble. Sometimes this worked, other times the colors of the carpet vs the marble just did not make an attractive combination. The marble seemed to be trying to say "we're classy" while the carpeting often said otherwise. There was one particular carpeting pattern that stood out as ugly...it was used often in landing areas or hallways....it was this basically aquamarine color with bits of red and other colors thrown in looking like confetti almost (ok, that's not what I really called it, but that word will suffice). It's chief virtue seemed to be its ability to hide stains or wear I suppose. It was not attractive. I did like the numbers on the elevator landings in the carpeting, which was a must on such a big ship, and the fact that the port side hallways in cabin areas were red and the starboard side blue. Of course, it took us 2 days to figure out that little bit of color coding!

The one pool area that was decorated in any sense of the word was the Calypso Reef area, which is covered by a movable dome thing. Lots of colorful tiled columns with pictures of fishes and stuff like that. A little busy for my tastes, but this was one of the few areas of the ship with teak floors and they had the best loungers and chairs in this area with thick pads. The chairs and tables on the upper level were particularly attractive as well. One thing I liked about the covered side areas in the various pool locations was that the ceilings had attractive wooden fans on them....a very helpful thing to take some of the edge off the Caribbean heat if you're sitting at a table near the pools eating or whatnot.

Walking around the various cabin hallways and stairwells...noticed no art whatsoever in the cabin hallways. The stairwells (especially the center stairwell near the panoramic elevators) had the best art on the ship..just about the only art I would consider attractive. A variety of contemporary modern paintings, collages, photographs. Finally on this ship some art that I'd actually consent to have hanging in my home! Generally no name folks but some really decent stuff.

The Lotus Spa area seemed nice enough. Actually kind of small I thought for a ship of this size. I didn't end up availing myself of any spa services this time, but I did find the gym to be rather small for this ship. Also, they charge for some of the exercise classes such as yoga and pulse cycling (and had big warning signs on those bikes not to otherwise use them!) I don't think I've seen charging for classes before but I generally don't take the classes. Other aerobic classes were free. The weight machines were decent and the dumbbell sets went up to 75 pounds, which was adequate for most folks. I didn't see what the competition for the few treadmills, etc., was like in the mornings. The lap pool thingy in the spa area seemed to be closed a few days due to excess motion of the ship while at sea. I missed not having the Thallasotherapy pool! The steam and sauna areas seemed nice. Corey and Wayne of the gym were the best looking personal trainers I've ever seen on a ship...they seemed to inspire some confidence that they knew what they were doing and had all sorts of certifications and trainings. Usually I look at these folks and I'm in better shape than they are...not these two. Up top of this area was a basketball/paddle tennis area that seemed to be well shielded from wind and sun alike.

Up top as well were the F/X digital center (never saw anyone there) and the Voyage of Discovery video game area, both areas designed to separate you from you money of course!

One odd observation...in the Neptune pool area, the main pool, there was no stage or area for the band...Xtent (who were very good by the way). They were just sort of off to the side against a wall. What an afterthought! I guess it was more important to make room for the Haagen Daas revenue center!

Also up top, the chess set and some shuffleboard areas. I actually saw some folks playing chess through the week (as this was my preferred sun tan area!) The back pool area they did play recorded music quite a bit..which after 7 days of the exact same tape/CD/whatever, got to be a bit monotonous. Whatever happened to just the sound of the sea being enough?! Robert says it was quiet back there (i.e., no music) usually much of the morning however.

The laundromat on our floor was not far away and I used the iron a few times to touch up my shirts. I would never do laundry on vacation (eegads no!) but having the iron around was handy. Of course, I usually pack a tiny travel iron for this purpose (and haven't burned down a ship yet!) to do my touch ups on the desk so it was convenient not to have to pack that this time.

What am I leaving out here??

The Desert Rose, or the southwestern hallway as we called it, seemed attractive, but we never got around to eating there. I did use the AOL internet cafe one day to catch up in 15 minutes (mostly deleting junk e-mail of course) and sending a few notes to family. This was an attractive area (and our muster station as it turned out!) and had Aeron chairs and flat screen monitors. Never seemed to be busy in there. $7.50 for 15 minutes. A tad pricey but I only did use it once. Saw several onboard brides so I gather the Hearts and Minds wedding chapel was in use a couple times this cruise! Nice enough space but I think I'd opt for a beach wedding instead! In fact, we had a newly minted couple in Sabatini's the night we went. The photo gallery seemed a bit small for the size of the ship and the # of people on board.

That's about it for my ship tour on this first afternoon. Tiring walking around such a big ship isn't it!?? We were truly excited and eagerly anticipating our week aboard. Oh, public bathrooms...very nice! Lots of marble, and some intriguing design to the sinks (little conical bases underneath the sinks.) Hand dryers and paper towels. Oh...there are some areas of the ship that don't seem "bolted down" all the way...go to the men's room on the port side of deck 14 all the way at the back of the ship behind the Horizon Court. This entire space rattled...even while docked in port! Since we were at the back of the ship we never could figure out what the problem was there.

When we were by Sabatini's we stopped in to make reservations for one of the non-formal at sea nights so we could have dinner there. There was a bit of a line, so I asked the gentlemen from Princess a simple question as to whether they were accepting reservations at this time. A male passenger at the front of the line then starts harassing me saying "hey guy, loosen up, don't be so type-A about it..." whatever. All I did was ask a question, in my usual nice way of course, because it was not clear as to whether the place was open yet to take reservations. So within two hours of being on the ship this guy was already drunk and harassing fellow passengers! I wasn't encouraged. In any case, we got a nice reservation for 7:30 pm for Monday, for 4, thinking we might meet some folks onboard who we might want to invite with us.

We went back to the cabin, and voila, our luggage had arrived. This was about 4:30 or so. We unpacked and I took the drawers in the desk area and my nightstand and Robert took the shelves near the bathroom. Seemed like a good amount of storage space. I do wonder how they fit 3rds and 4ths into these little cabins though!

I also took a little time to write a personal note to the Cruise Director, Alistair Greener, asking for his help in setting up a party for the gay and lesbian cruisers onboard...a "Friends of Dorothy" gathering as they're called. I had met some folks on Cruise Critic (a couple from Dallas) prior to our sailing and we planned to set something up in Skywalkers in the afternoon of either Sunday or Monday while we were at sea. I dutifully hand delivered this down to the Purser's office a bit later today.

At some point, we were off to dinner...our first experience with Personal Choice. We selected the Donatello restaurant on deck 6 and generally we are late eaters...8:30 or 9:00 pm usually. We didn't wait very long for a table for two. This was the table near the really bad painting and the night the drunk ladies tried to make the wall their door. We had a very nice Thai man for our waiter this night. I got the Prime Rib (to be repeated on the last night, btw...never saw a menu repeat before on any line!) and Robert had the seafood in the puff pastry. Both were decent but nothing to write home about.

Like I said earlier, I tried to be very good on this cruise so I skipped the salad and appetizer (and I ended up skipping a few courses most nights) and ordered what I thought looked liked an interesting soup on the menu....pina colada and cream with a touch of rum. This, of course, turned out to be a pina colada served in a fancy glass and not a soup after all! I was startled when the waiter brought it to the table! Well, that was my soup course I guess. Service-wise I was a bit confused on this night (as I would be throughout the entire cruise) as to who on the service staff did what....like who do I order my drink from? Most nights I would just tell the waiter everything and let him or her deal with it. I had a sense that turning over tables was a high priority of the service staff and felt rushed every night. Why I don't know, because we often ate late and the dining room would be pretty darn empty by the time we finished usually. On this first night I noticed the water pitchers were clear plastic (yuck) and that the tables weren't set ever with the china, silverware, etc. I felt like this was missing out on part of the whole "dining experience" for me. I always love seeing the beautifully set table before we start to dine...it seems to lend a "specialness" to the whole affair. This was distinctly missing from the personal choice experience. Also, on this first night, no crumber! The crumber is that little metal thing the waiter uses to clear the bread crumbs off your table, usually after dinner and before dessert. Actually, a few days later in another dining room the crumber emerged! All and all, the dining room persistently had a feeling of being "understaffed" the entire week. Saw numerous examples of food being spilled, plates dropping, glasses crashing in these dining rooms, including one spectacular dump in Sabatini's...right onto this one woman. Her husband was none too happy. I did like the free capuccino and espresso in the dining rooms...not the best, but not bad. For dessert I ordered the profiteroles, which I love. They are tiny cream puffs basically with chocolate sauce. These were the saddest little profiteroles I've ever seen...very small and kind of lumpy. Had they been frozen at some point in their short little lives? Hard to say, but they were not fresh. I guess this was also the night the guy and family came in shorts to the dining room...not bad in itself but the father had a tank top on with a hairy back...not what I wanted to see while dining! Don't know if the maitre'd suggested the Horizon Court to them or not and I guess their luggage maybe wasn't delivered to their room yet? I'll give them the benefit of the doubt this being night one.

After dinner we trotted over to the welcome aboard show in the Princess Theater, which we got late to. There was not a seat in the house to be had, so we left. Being tired, we called it a night and went back to the cabin. We ended up filling out the fruit bowl request card, but we never did request the bathrobes (too hot in the Caribbean to wear on the balcony imho!) Absent from the cabin...no tote bag like we've gotten on other cruises. Is this something they've cut back on?? An ice bucket in the nicely empty fridge...but no ice water pitcher! A big bottle of bottled water, for purchase of course, took its place. Hmmm...

Somehow I've missed telling you about the muster drill and the sailaway..both pretty uneventful. Not much of a sailaway party up on deck, which I usually enjoy.

Sunday

A lazy day at sea. My favorite thing. Laid out in the sun much of the day from our very sunny balcony on the Caribe deck. I had bought a couple of 20 oz ginger ales in Ft. Lauderdale so I didn't have to move far to get a "cold one" as it were.

We went to the open seating lunch in Donatello and were seated with a couple from Florida and a couple from nearby Gaithersburg, Maryland. Had a very nice Cobb salad and polished it off with some cappuccino ice cream. Very yummy! Also had a chocolate and almond cake in puff pastry (seemed to be a lot of puff pastry on this ship...) I wanted to save a piece of it to be analyzed in a professional laboratory...there wasn't a whit of chocolate in this thing! Decent company, so it was a nice lunch. Still that ugly painting of Zeus nearby....oy veh!

Much more suntanning in the afternoon. Ship has an interesting motion at time...thrusters working a bit hard. As the ship rocks gently from side to side on the down side of one of those rolls, every now and then, a pronounced "grind" or shudder to the ship. Also, later in the week I noticed a sort of "fishtail" phenomena on this ship. I guess I was sitting up above the Lotus Spa pool area looking towards the back of the ship...the tail end seems to shimmy a bit back and forth. This is a huge ship...should have brought my binoculars to see all the way to the end!

Reading Stephen Ambrose's book on the building of the transcontinental railroad today.

A wonderful event at 3 pm today....a party that some of us from the internet (RTC, Cruise Critic, Cruisemates...) put together. We met in front of the Wheelhouse Bar (which ended up being closed for a private event..I hate when that happens!) so we moved ourselves over to the Lobby Bar a few steps away. Absolutely lovely meeting Michelle and Dorothy who helped put it together and it was wonderful running into folks from the party all week onboard and on land. A great ice breaker and I highly recommend setting up such events and have done so on our last several cruises. This time we even had a little web page to help build our excitement for the cruise!

Tonight's dinner was ok. Not bad medallions of beef, although somewhat overcooked and dry. Robert (the fish lover) said the Mahi Mahi was definitely dry. Liked the hazelnut souffle thingee! Very tasty and quite hot from the oven. I ordered a bottle of Chateauneuf de Pape for dinner (I usually only have 1 glass a night...tummy problems...and it lasted me nearly all week...a tasty wine!) Oh, did I mention tonight was formal night? Seemed like a fair amount of dressy-ness on board. Tuxes, under 50% certainly. No candlelight in the dining room, no fancy palette cleanser sorbets between courses though.

Tonight was the big production show..."Lights, Camera, Action". Very big on production values...sets, costumes, etc. The physical comedian Uber Rossi really is quite a gifted man, ala, Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. Very acrobatic as well. Princess had obviously spent a lot of money conceiving this show (or whoever really did it, of course) and I thought maybe they should have spent a bit more on the singers and dancers to pull it off! The only good singer in this show was Hunter Gerard, a tall charismatic African-American guy with some stage presence. The other 3 singers...not so good. The dance corps were often out of sequence with one another as well. Whoever the dance captain of this show is should be forced to take everyone back to the rehearsal hall a bit! The content of the show was decidedly curious....one of the early numbers was a Casbah-like setting with dancing arab girls...the song "Midnight at the Oasis". Having lived through the 70s, this is a song that should never be performed in public again-it was awful enough the first time around! This segued into an interesting musical arrangement of a Madonna song from the 80s, "Rescue Me". I thought, given current affairs, that rescuing dancing arab girls in scanty clothing was perhaps not the most entertaining plot line to explore at this time.

A later sketch featured Uber Rossi, done up in full French aristocracy "dandy" costume, flirting with a male member of the audience (it was a continuing gag of sorts, you had to be there)...all of which made me somewhat uncomfortable as a gay man because the aristocrat was then marched to the guillotine where his head was chopped off onstage (a bit of magic actually). I thought, hmmm, you flirt with another man and off with your head! Another number to be cut from this show. Strangely enough, the scene continued....all turned out to be well in the French aristocracy after all....a musical number featuring the song "Masquerade" (ie, sing in your best chessey/lounge lizard voice..."we're lost..in a mask, Masquerade".) So I guess once the gay guy gets it the aristocracy can go back to partying huh? This is such a cheesy song that it too should be banned from public performance! I will say, the set for this number did have some nifty visual references to the decor of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. Oh well. Who the heck wrote this piece of schlock?? In any case, like I have said before, I think most cruise entertainment is pretty cheesy. After these two less than desirable numbers, I started to get worried when a few bars of the theme from Schindler's List started playing and thought....oh God, their not going to cheese that one up as well are they? I'm happy to say, it was an elegant little number. A couple dancing, no singing, and since the theme of this production show was "the cinema", a man brought an old fashioned movie camera on stage and projected onto the video screens were images of the couple dancing, but somehow electronically altered to make it look like an old fashioned, sepia-toned silent movie. It was well done. If only this level of thought and artistry had gone into the rest of the show!

No sign in tonight's Princess Patter of the "Friends of Dorothy" party for the next day at sea...hmmm.

Tonight we were also going to test out a little trick I learned from my extensive cruise research online.... regarding the little door knob card for breakfast tomorrow. All of the items (other than hot coffee or tea, etc) on the card are cold...cereals, danish, rolls, fruit, etc. You can write in something else you want in your own handwriting and within reason (I presume) they will bring it to you. Tonight's request for tomorrow....french toast with syrup (don't neglect to write the syrup in specifically..or you won't get it!)

Around 5:00 am I woke up to go to the bathroom and then wandered out on to the balcony to have a little look. The most magical moments of the cruise.....the Leonid meteor shower was taking place at full display! I had recalled reading something in the Lauderdale paper about this on Friday, but made no mental note of it until I stepped outside and couldn't believe my eyes! Better than fireworks on the 4th of July! It truly was one of the most special moments of the entire cruise. I didn't have the heart to wake up Robert, but what a show. Great job Mother Nature!

Monday

Another glorious day at sea. A little cloudy in the morning but...brightened considerably by the arrival of french toast with syrup!! :) Since we were again pointing south, our starboard side paradisical balcony beckoned. Fighting over lounge chairs...not I! Today I decided to be truly daring....I was going to sunbathe in the nude! :) The Caribe deck balconies are half covered and half exposed, as it were, to the decks above. The sun comes in at an angle, insuring great tanning, while allowing me to stay comfortably under the covered part of the balcony. I almost felt like I was in the south of France again! Robert's not a big sun person so many of these sea days or quiet afternoons he spent in the shade up by the aft pool area...an area of the ship he enjoyed very much. Great bar service there too! For lunch I ordered a cheeseburger and slaw. It came to the room hot, and it was not overcooked like oh so many burgers one gets on cruise ships! It still had a little bit of juice to it! So that was tasty. More suntanning in the pm. Really these first two days at sea I didn't get around the ship during the sun light hours to see or do much else of anything so I can't comment on what the activities might have been like. I was up near the main pool a little bit late in the day since the sun was down on the horizon and thus out of suntan "range". The wonderful band Xtent were playing and boy could they swing...they let this old guy (for lack of a better term) who was a passenger from Ft. Lauderdale sing "Autumn Leaves" with the band. This guy could sing! The arrangement of the song had some swing to it and this guy wasn't too shabby! It was one of the magic moments of the cruise for me. An old guy in a bathing suit (he was fresh from the volleyball competition I might add!) rockin' the house!

Tonight would be our time to try out Sabatini's, the Italian specialty restaurant on board. It was a $15/person extra charge, and I think worth it if you like seafood...plus you can get a lobster there as well. This was, however, just the basic charge...at the end of the dinner the waiter presented us a form with which we could tip the waiters....huh?? We tipped them a $20, but really, I wondered what the deal was with that.

This was a very interesting meal. The room itself was basically attractive. Not as assaulting as the comparable (free however...) restaurant aboard the Rotterdam, although the wall murals were not too great. The room had a mall-like artificiality about it somehow. The dinner menu itself was sort of strange. Some antipasto choices (great prosciutto though...much better than in the main dining room), with several seafood choices, and then a caviar course (not something I knew Italian food was known for particularly), some wonderful thin crust (fire oven? I guess not on a ship) pizza, a very good minestrone soup, some tasty pasta choices, and then main courses. Many people got the lobster, of course. The non-seafood choices were somewhat limited I have to say (not being a seafood eater myself...it was all those years of fish on Fridays during Lent that permanently turned me off to the stuff!). I was also somewhat mystified by the lack of Italian wines on the wine list in this place. Seems like a wonderful venue to try to highlight the wonderful grape-based products that country is rightly famous for! Also, the dessert choices were very curious as well....Tiramisu, of course (although once frozen in a previous life I think...I was starting to thing Pepperidge Farms was the major dessert supplier for this ship or something...), a cheesecake choice, and several other choices....one of which, an apple tart that bore a striking resemblance to Tarte Tatin, the famed French dessert....oh yeah....it was "French Night" in the regular dining rooms! I wondered why no Canolis (the original pastry cigar!) or Panne Cotta or Spumoni or one of the many fabulous gelatoes that Italy is famed for??? In fact, Haagen Daaz, surprisingly, makes a wonderful hazelnut gelato...maybe the waiters in Sabatini's could have run upstairs and gotten me some?? I also found the service quite rushed at times, and very inattentive....I repeatedly had to tell the waiter that I did not eat seafood..averting within split seconds his spooning various fishy-things onto my plate! It was almost like the guy was not paying attention at all. Also, coming in at the proper time for our reservation the maitre'd was pretty insistent that "wouldn't you want to join a table with 2 ladies"...hello!!! I guess he wasn't too swift.

They seemed to be always rushing around...in fact I noticed that at nearly every dinner onboard. No time to chat up the waiter or assistant! One night we had a Lithuanian waiter (my mother's side is Lithuanian) and I startled and befriended him by saying hello in Lithuanian to him. Another night we had a Hungarian assistant and we got to briefly recount our travels in his country. He seemed genuinely flattered/touched that we wanted to celebrate his heritage, in however a small way. It was one of those nice moments that I really enjoy on a cruise. This waiter even taught me how to properly say "Szentendre"...a town on the Danube bend.

The service tonight did have its high points, however. The maitre'd did make a valiant effort to locate my open bottle of wine in the other dining room...it turned out it was on 5 in Bernini rather than on 6 in Donatello, and they brought us some special treats that the tables nearby us did not get....a plate full of amaretti...various almond based cookies (super yummy!) and a generous glass of Limoncello...the potent Lemon based liquor. This managed to help salvage what was otherwise a somewhat disappointing meal. Hey, even I can make a passable fresh Lemon sorbet from scratch here at home....let's see some real Italian desserts in this place! We stole the remaining cookies and stuffed them in my pockets before leaving. They were worth stealing! (Little did we know, we'd see the same plate of cookies on "Italian Night" in Bernini later in the week...)

Tonight Robert was somewhat in pain as he slipped in the (tiny) bathroom and pulled something out in his back...a somewhat recurrent problem of his actually. So he took some pain killers (actually, it was hard for him to even get to Sabatini's and sit down in a chair) so we went back up to the cabin after dinner (with our amaretti of course....need to get my blue blazer cleaned after smuggling them though!) and got him situated up there. I went back out to see the production show "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" in the Vista Lounge. This show didn't have any sets and all that kind of thing, but the singing got much better, and the dancing somewhat better. Hunter Gerard shined again, especially singing "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" as a duet. This guy did have some definite chops and charisma. There were some very comical moments in the show...a little wry parody never hurt anyone. During the song "Who's Sorry Now" (although maybe it was "It's My Party"???) the beehive hairdo on the Connie Francis wannabe (wearing a poodle skirt, of course!) got bigger as she sang! That was (quite intentionally) very funny! Also, when they did a Sonny and Cher skit, the male singer came out in costume on his knees to make him 2 feet shorter than the Cher character! It was a bit of fun visual humor to go with the much improved singing.

I have noticed, although maybe I'm wrong, that in the production shows the dancers are not miked....so who is singing the backup vocal parts?? And for that matter, where's the orchestra or band playing the music? The back up singing was some of the best singing in all of the shows....because it had been recorded by professionals some time in the past??! I truly don't like "canned" performances. I mean, why not just let me up there on stage to lip sync?

After the show I tooled over to the Princess Theater to catch the end of the Gaetano magician show. He seemed pretty good. I really only caught the last trick....I won't give it away but it caught me by surprise! I'd like to see that one again and really watch it to see if I can figure out how it was done! The crowd seemed to really enjoy this show as well. I also passed by and watched the famed Maurizio for a bit in the Promenade Lounge. He's really pretty good. I'm somewhat more of a Bobby Short fan, more traditional piano bar (Marilyn Woods on the Horizon...still my favorite!), but Maurizio definitely had a fan club on board! He really should be moved to a bigger venue on board for his nightly performances because he draws a crowd (and a dance floor too would be good). I saw some couples, of various ages, holding each other close and swaying to his music...what a romantic sight. My recommendation would be: ditch the Desert Rose concept, kick the yahoo band off the ship (can you tell I'm not a big fan of country western?), and make that space into a little Russian Tea Room at sea, fill it with plush burgundy velvet banquets, twinkling stars on the ceiling, and give this guy a little palace to play in! He'd fill it every night I'm sure.

Ok, to bed now. I filled out my breakfast card suggestion for tomorrow..a cheese omlet with bacon on the side. Princess Patter....still no sign of a "Friends of Dorothy" mixer. Giving up hope!

Tuesday

Success two days in a row....cheese omelette with bacon! I'm liking this breakfast card trick, and I have to admit I'm not a big fan of buffets to begin with. We never did get down to the main dining rooms for breakfast this entire cruise...oh well. Can't tell you if they had anything different down there!

Featured on today's Patter...several column inches of things for sale of course! The virtual reality center, the fitness programs you pay for, several inches of shore excursions you can buy! The entire back page, like every day, nothing but ads! The front page...spotlight on purchasing the crappy art on board, purchasing future cruises, and purchasing flowers on board. Why do I get the sense this is a publication not intended to convey useful information to us!?? Yikes!

The Golden docked first in St. Maarten. Another beautiful day I might add. I watched the Radiance of the Seas pull in about 8:00 am. Little did I know Bart de Boer was aboard! What a missed opportunity to meet someone I truly admire! The Radiance seemed like a handsome ship I thought. Our plan for today was to escape St. Maarten and go visit St. Martin! Being the French-American that I am...I can't resist a little bit of France wherever it might be! We hopped a van taxi over to Marigot...can't remember the exact price but it was very reasonable. We even got off the ship at a reasonable hour....we're often not off until 11 am...being the late risers that we are! We walked around Marigot for a couple hours. A charming little town...made especially attractive by the absence of throngs of cruise passengers. We got ourselves a real Napolean pastry! Yum! We were trying to find the Cartier store in Marigot so I could get my watch band replaced - I took it with us on this trip certain that we'd find someone to fix it (of course, there is a Cartier a few miles away from our house here in Washington...god forbid we just get on the Metro and go there instead!)...and we looked round and round and even had it on a tourist map of the town...it ain't there no more! Happily, while looking around town, we stumbled upon a confiserie/chocolaterie called "Jeff de Brugges". How can you not trust a name like that? :) We bought a nice kilo of various little treats, including nougats, fruit pates, the chocolate covered orange peel things, and some calissons. These brought back wonderful memories of our recent trip to the south of France in September. I especially love the chocolate covered orange peel things and the nougats. YUM! The woman in the store was super nice and we alternatively spoke french and english throughout the conversation. She had moved to Marigot to be with her boyfriend and had only been there a few months. St. Martin is no colony or territory - it's literally a part of France!

Marigot has a wonderful marina area that is lined with cafes and stores, I thought much more attractive than Phillipsburg. by comparison, Phillipsburg kind of reminded me of Pottersville in Jimmy Stewart's nightmare sequence in "It's a Wonderful Life"! Ok, so maybe that's an exaggeration.

I did stop by one of the Little Switzerland stores to pick up another piece of the Waterford Nativity set that I have been buying my mother for the last several Christmases. These were "discontinued" by Waterford before 2000 but magically I am always able to find pieces she does not yet have in the Caribbean at Little Switzerland or elsewhere. Good prices too. I noticed that liquor and cigarettes were very cheap here (much cheaper than St. Thomas as it would turn out) so I picked up a bottle of Raspberry Stolichnaya vodka here. Little did I know that Robert (who took the van right back to the ship) had picked up a bottle of Vanilla Stoly as well. Gosh, I don't even drink all that much! These bottles went for $5 for a fifth, I guess that's the quantity. Cigs seemed to be around $10 or $11 a carton. Not my thing anymore, but just a price reference for you readers out there.

I went back to the ship and met up with Robert for lunch. I wanted to get my hands on one of those juicy cheeseburgers again and there was a little line at the grill but not much. The down side to having such a big ship....the hamburger and pizza place is on the forward side of the first main pool...the Horizon Court is further aft on the ship...after walking through two pool areas. So if you want a little salad or something with your burger....it's a HIKE! Naturally, we ended up taking our food to the back terrace area...our favorite little place.

Empty ship later in the afternoon....time for some more primo suntanning! I love an empty ship! Our beautiful balcony wasn't getting any direct sun so I headed up top to the back of the ship near the chess set thingee. Even at 38, oops, 39 now, I am a bit too "fidgetty" to just sit there and lay in the sun...so I had to lug around my minidisc player (Bjork, Robbie Williams, The Producers, and Shirley Horn featured this week) and my book, and of course the ubiquitous beach towel. How much nicer it would be to just pick up the d*mn thing somewhere on deck! What you want, when you want it.....hmmmm....

Tonight's dinner turned out to be a pretty good one. Nice aspargus tips, a very nice apple and peach cold soup, pretty decent rack of lamb, kind of small though. For dessert I had a semolina custard cake. Very good and something different and unusual for a change. Robert had a banana custard Napolean...not very good! Thank goodness we got a real French one on land today! Robert is the self-styled King of All Napoleans after all!

Robert's back was acting up quite a bit tonight so we skipped the shows and really were pretty tired and went back to the cabin. Of course, after wondering for a few nights whether the Golden would have any deck parties.....tonight was the "Tropical Island Night" deck party! I really enjoy the deck parties even though they can be pretty cheesy (think Macarena). Something about the sea air and the sway of the ship, some music, and maybe a funny tropical drink can be just the ticket. Oh well, next time. Also, I was kicking myself for not buying a tropical shirt I had seen earlier in the day in Marigot...it was medium and I wear a large. It had large Tiki heads all over it! It was the best tropical shirt I saw all week, although I can be partial to black or navy shirts with white flowers on them as well. If only they had the Tiki head shirt in large!

Ok...filling out the breakfast car for tomorrow...let's try for pancakes with syrup!! Princess Patter...still no sign of a party.

Wednesday

Pancakes it is! Although two orders arrived instead of just the one ordered. Robert looked at me like I was going to have to eat all that food rather than have it go to waste! I can't eat that many pancakes! The pancakes themselves were about 4 inches in diameter and suspiciously perfectly formed. Robert was convinced they were frozen and heated up, but I wasn't quite sure. Hard to say!

This morning we were to arrive in St. Thomas (another perfect day weather wise I might add!) and this was the morning we had to report to US Immigration at some ungodly hour of the morning. I can't remember exactly..7 am? That sounds about right. My name is early in the alphabet and Robert's is much later and he had a later time than me. We went together just to get it over with. Although the proper "path" to the Vista lounge was a bit confusing, it did move along very quickly and we were in and out of that in under 10 minutes. I did feel bad for the older folks and mobility challenged....quite a hike (as is everything on this ship) for them at such an early time of day. Quite unusual for us, we were off the ship by 8:30 am and were docked in position 1 at Havensight. We grabbed the $3/person open air taxi thingee to downtown Charlotte Amalie. The two Russian couples sitting next to us looked a bit shocked when I asked them in Russian to please excuse us so we could get out of the van once we hit downtown. They seemed nice.

You may have noticed by now...we are not big beach people! Robert is not big on the sun so I generally only hit the beach if I have someone else to go with. Today we did have a mission though....Cartier! Recalling from our Galaxy sailing of a few years ago that there was one in Charlotte Amalie we set off to find it...grazing our way through other stores on the way of course as well. Since it was still early and most of the ship's passengers were still grazing their way through the Horizon Court buffet, the streets were pleasantly empty for the most part and Charlotte Amalie was still rubbing the sleepiness out of its eyes. Nonetheless, there were any number of folks offering to take us on island tours of course. One of these days we'll actually go out and see this island! I know, it really is a crime that we haven't. Actually, I think I'd rather spend a week or two down in this area and spend a few days on each island and take the ferries between them....seems like one could easy do St. Thomas, St. John and some of the British Virgins for an extended period of exploration.

We found Cartier...darn...not open until 10:00 am...so we continued looking about. Charlotte Amalie seemed a bit cleaner to me than it was 3 years ago. Ok...we've killed time. A little espresso in a local joint did the trick. Off to Cartier. Met this wonderful lady there who tried to help me. We spent a good half hour going through leather straps to fit the deployant clasp that this watch has....unfortunately, it's an antique Cartier and it looks like we're going to have to go to NYC to get a replacement strap! I really should have gotten this lady's name so I could write a nice letter to the company commending her service. She really did take the time to try to help me out.

In my general distress over that, I just had to go buy something!! Plus, I had no nice watch for the second formal night! So, sniffing around I went. Saw a Movado watch that caught my eye...something a bit less formal than the Cartier. It's one of the new Sports Edition watches. Steel band and case, either black, silver, or cobalt blue faces, with the little Movado dot on the top, of course. Hmmm, silver or blue face? We went to several stores and got the clerks to give us their best price and their business cards. Ended up at Little Switzerland (a company I do generally trust...) and bargained them down below the lowest price I had received elsewhere, but they did moan about it a lot. I opted for the cobalt blue faced one. Kind of a sleak looking watch and really I've never owned a metal band watch before (never liked 'em much) but this one definitely caught my eye. It's a design thing. I thought it could go well with dressy stuff, or I could wear it to a rave party, in the unlikely event I would ever be attending one (oh yes, I'm getting old aren't I!) I was happy with the price and the service at Little Switzerland was just great. They took me upstairs to take out a few links to adjust the size of the band for me right there. When buying something like this I'm a bit more comfortable dealing with an "authorized dealer" rather than some of the more marginal operations I stuck my head into this day.

Meanwhile...since this purchase was taking quite a while, Robert amused himself in the other jewelry sections of the store....Christmas was coming up and a special gift for mom was in order. Really, with his father passed on some years now you can't leave him in jewelry store for long without some damage being done...somebody's got to buy his mom a few nice things. So if you can keep a secret, she's getting a gold necklace with a big pearl set with a diamond clasp thingee on it. Seems like a nice necklace and hopefully she will like it.

Ok, mission, if not accomplished with regard to the Cartier watch, at least shopping demon partially exorcised for now--it's back to the ship. Lunch in the Horizon Court, can't remember it! Heading to the upper deck for more sun! Mother Nature has been doing such a good job this week! Some other ships in port...a Disney ship and the Veendam. The Veendam seems really tiny near the Golden! Watching from up top while the Disney ship pulls out of port..."When You Wish Upon A Star" on the ship's horn tooting away. Cute!

This afternoon I did the unthinkable - I called my parents on my cell phone while in port from an open deck! I promise I was really quiet!! And really there was no one around. I just wanted to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving since we'd be at sea tomorrow and didn't much care to call from the ship. They were stunned to get the call to say the least (they don't know how these things work) and dad of course asked me if we found "Smitty's Hideaway" in St. Thomas...a place he had gone to in the 50's when he was in the Navy. We did ask around about it in town, but found no info. Anyone out there on the internet ever run into the place?

We decided to break the mold....and go see a movie before dinner. We tend to eat late, 8:30 or 9:00, so we went to the 6:30 pm showing of "Moulin Rouge" in the Princess Theater. Was a little disappointed that the movie was shown in "pan and scan" format rather than widescreen, although this is the movie distributor's fault rather than Princess of course. The cinematography of this film is so outlandish that you really do have to see it in widescreen. Previous films this week have been "Legally Blond", the "Mummy Returns", "A Knight's Tale" and "The Mexican"...generally stuff at a video store or airplane near you.

"Moulin Rouge" is a loud movie in some ways...hey, it's a musical, but during the quiet parts of the movie........the Princess Theater squeaks like nobody's business! It's all that sound and light gear in the ceiling not bolted down too good! So that was a bit of a distraction. They had movies about half the nights of the cruise, and otherwise in the afternoon. You would think on a ship this size they could have a dedicated movie theater like HAL or Celebrity and show more! Oh well. HAL has that lovely popcorn as well. The Hearts and Minds wedding chapel can't be used all that much, and certainly not at night. Why not have a Hearts and Minds Wedding Chapel Cinema...only would take adding 1 word to its name on the wall and deck plans!

The line in this movie I love the most....when somebody says to Nicole Kidman: "only your acting can save him now" or something like that. That is truly a hilarious line!

After the movie we toddled off to dinner in Bernini and met our best wait staff of the cruise....Esther from Mexico. What a doll she was! (We never did hunt down Doreen in Donatello, stupid us!) We were fairly late eating so she seemed less rushed than others we had earlier in the week. It was "Italian Night" in the dining room, but for some reason I didn't write down what we had other than the amaretti, like those we had at Sabatini's. Yummy cookies...and we stole the whole plate of them as well!

I'll get on my philosophical soapbox for a minute here....much like on HAL, this whole "theme night" thing in the dining room on the Golden I thought was pretty cheesy. Esther had on an Italian flag themed vest and bowtie (I think) and there was a little Italian flag on the table. This evokes for me what the borscht belt hotels of the 50's must have been like. Corny! Of course, HAL hands out goofy hats and sends the "little Dutch girl" out to every table to have their pictures taken with the dirty old men on board. Do the cruise lines really have to do such silliness in the dining room? God only knows what my reaction to singing waiters would be! Oh well...I'm willing to give that a go even just for the experience. I shudder to think what "French" night (we were at Sabatini's that night) must have been like onboard...little berets and penciled in mustaches? Or perhaps an interpretive dance tribute to Pepe LePeu?? Gosh, I could use a good martini bar right now!

Caught the last song or two of "70's Night Fever" a tribute to that "wonderful" decade. The band was, rather credibly, doing an old ABBA favorite. Sorry to have not seen more of that. Also, missed the London Pub Night comedy show....Robert kind of in pain from the back and me tired. Next time!

Didn't fill out a breakfast card tonight...I decided to live on the edge and see what the Horizon Court might offer tomorrow.

Thursday

Another gorgeous day at sea...no direct sun for us since the starboard side is facing sort of northeasterly today. I had finished the book on the transcontinental railroad and was starting in on "A Painted House" by John Grisham. I spent most of the day trying to be a bit out of the sun for a change. I think this was the day I saw the adults taking over the teen sunshine area! I spent some time up above the Lotus pool area..not bad, although noisy basketball players. Not as windy up there as you would think. Picked up some fruit in the Horizon Court...this space is kind of on the small size when there are a lot of people up there....today would be the "Turkish Bazaar" day! Although "Inch of Gold" has been making regular appearances in the skinny walkways around the atrium area, today would see tables and tables of merchandise (have these people never seen a t-shirt before?) all around this somewhat "space challenged" area. I will say also, on the big nights (such as tonight...formal night and Thanksgiving) they have the photographers set up in one "chokepoint" off the atrium and then another in the panoramic elevator lobby as well...making it hard to navigate around the atrium. These flea market tables they had out this afternoon once again contributed to this effect. Although this ship is attractively sliced up into smaller spaces, it sometimes works against the sheer number of people on board.

I think this was the day I checked my internet mail. They do have some really goofy paintings in that area of the ship....happy couples lying on the beach with a laptop...give me a break! Yuck!

Rather strangely, we've been seeing various colored construction paper notices all around the ship (in elevators, bathrooms, the dining rooms, wherever...) touting some upcoming horse race. Some of them are actually quite funny, but I can't imagine why Princess would let folks put tape all over their wood veneers, glass, brass, etc. I know, that must make me sound like a fussy grandmother LOL. But it was a sort of visual pollution. Very strange, never seen this before. There was even a gay horse...with quite a life story as I was to learn on Friday. Some truly tongue and cheek humor from this horse syndicate.

Since I was avoiding the sun today I thought I would partake of some shipboard activities. Nothing says Thanksgiving quite like a bellyflop contest up by the pool. Some of the folks were actually quite funny and the crowd seemed to like this. Of course, everyone wants to kiss up to the female judges, naturally. One middle aged guy made a bold play for their sympathies by dropping his trunks right in front of them and giving them a generous glimpse of the moon! Then he strutted around the pool to the other end where he would launch his bellyflop and mooned the other side of the ship...nothing like family-friendly entertainment! I actually thought it was somewhat funny but the cruise staff was a bit horrified, and there were small children within a few feet of the guy's butt. Hmmm....

In the atrium was a big Thanksgiving decorative display. Nice to see. It wasn't there the day before so it must have taken some work to get it up that day. Earlier in the day we made sure to make a reservation for 9 pm so we could have dinner with Esther as our waitress tonight for Thanksgiving.

Tonight people were dressed to the nines...much more so than on the first formal night I would say. It was Thanksgiving after all. We arrived at Bernini right at 9 pm. Our reservation was not honored....but they managed to find us a table for two (again, a folding card table I might add...how reminiscent of the Thanksgivings of my childhood!) Sadly, this would mean no Esther tonight. The dining room, unlike other nights at this hour, was packed. (We later heard reports of very long waits to get in to personal choice on Thanksgiving...over an hour some people said.) Unlike other nights, I would order something from each course...since overeating is a Turkey Day tradition!

For appetizer I had the gnocchi filled with pumpkin and asiago cheese. It was to die for! Super tasty. For the soup I had the chilled creme of pumpkin and chestnut. It was also very good. This was shaping up to be the best meal of the cruise! I had the mesclun salad which was ok. For my entree, of course, I ordered the Vermont Tom Turkey with all the trimmings!

When the waiter delivered the entree to the table I wondered - what is that gravy on top? It was hamburger gravy! Literally ground beef swimming in some brown sauce. by the end of the cruise we referred to it as the "boeuf chutney" to give it a classier sounding name. I was completely aghast and I'm sure I sat with my mouth open for several minutes. What the h*ll was up with that??? Some crazy Italian chef just went wild in the kitchen that night I guess. To say I was upset would be an understatement. (Oh, I'm not the type to send things back...I really should get in the habit of that, but for the life of me I can't imagine what possessed anyone to do such a thing to turkey!) The trimmings were pretty good although the stuffing portion (usually my favorite thing!) was a little paltry. The pumpkin polenta on the side was good.

Princess managed to salvage this traumatic dining experience by having a wonderful pumpkin (it was pumpkin night tonight!) creme brulee with cinnamon ice cream. This was to die for! I really should have ordered a second one, but I ordered a slice of pumpkin pie as well...which was lacking in spice and kind of bland. I asked our waiter for a copy of the menu as a souvenir...he never got back to us on that one (these folks are constantly rushing around...I really do think the staffing is not what it needs to be) so I just picked one up and took it with me.

Of our 7 dinners, I never did get around to ordering the cheese course. I really need to do that the next time. I usually like to try that out at least once a cruise.

Tonight's show was "Words and Music" which was a basic sort of "best of broadway" type revue. The singers were only ok and I again wondered who was playing the music and doing the backup singing. I lost my $20 at the roulette wheel. I really didn't end up going to the casino very much at all this cruise, only 2 nights. Usually I can be counted on to be there nightly. I think it was the seahorse carpeting! There didn't seem to be a non-smoking area in this casino at all, but I could be wrong about that.

Princess Patter for tomorrow.....the "Friends of Dorothy" party scheduled for 6:00 pm in Skywalkers! While I'm glad they finally got around to scheduling it...it really is kind of worthless doing a mixer on the last friggin' day of the cruise, so I was still officially annoyed with Princess for all of this. What you want, when you want it....hmmmmm, I think not! How hard could it have been for them to find an empty room on this ship on one of the first two sea days??? They had parties for newlyweds, and singles, and people with anniversaries, and Masons (how many of them still alive?), and the Bill W people, and members of service clubs, and college graduates (never seen that one before).....in fact, the "Farewell Cards and Games" meeting was scheduled to take place earlier than our little party. Anyhow, we would go tomorrow night of course but I was annoyed!

Friday

Another sunny day! Thank you Mother Nature! Really, to be in such beautiful places and have the time, money and ability to travel really reminds me of how blessed and thankful we truly are. Now if we could only convince our families and friends to take cruises as well - we know they'd love them. This morning I think we only ordered coffee for breakfast...sitting out on the balcony, the cabin steward for the cabin above us once again dumps water from the balcony chairs above onto our balcony! They really need to stop doing that! This was the second time this week water's landed right on our table with the coffee on the table. I continued reading my book and thought about the restaurant recommendations for Nassau my sister in law sent me by e-mail.

We went into town once the ship docked and really Nassau was nicer than I expected it to be. Didn't see any bobbies though. We nosed around some stores (another Waterford nativity piece for mom!) and set off for the Queen's Staircase, Ft. Fincastle and the Water Tower. The Queen's staircase is really pretty cool...carved out of solid rock by slaves. What an interesting little place. Of course, tables of vendors lined the walkway somewhat spoiling the overall effect of the place. Nonetheless, we did purchase a bunch of straw Christmas ornaments from a lovely woman working at her table there. After climbing the staircase you are at the Water Tower and Ft. Fincastle. Not much of a fort really, but some nice views up there of the port area and of the Atlantis resort. We didn't climb all the way to the top of the Water Tower since it was pretty hot that day.

We never did get to any of the restaurants recommended by my sister in law and ended up going back to the ship for late lunch, a little more sun, and a few activities. For one, I had to see what this whole horse racing thing was all about.

Allistair Greener, the cruise director, proved to be a champion race caller. Very quick, just like you'd see at "the track". The whole thing is goofy fun, and of course, another way for the cruise line to shake you down for more money! The Vista Lounge was packed for this activity, although some of the folks might have been hanging around for the all important Bingo to follow.

Greener and a guy named Frankie also did "Big G TV" every morning, which was pretty funny when we tuned in. What a pair.

After showering and changing, Robert and I went up to Skywalkers for our little "Friends of Dorothy" party. Skywalkers really does look better at night and kind of fun. I realized being up there what a nice view there is and really should have gone up there during the day a few times while we were at sea. I did notice this ship does not have a forward observation lounge of any sort. Is the Star Princess going to be a sister ship doing Alaska? That would seem to be a drawback, as Skywalkers is also very small. Don't know how many glacier viewers you'll be able to get in there. The covered pool area (Calypso?) would be great in Alaska though, of course.

The party was nice, although sparsely attended. There were definitely more lesbian and gay folks on board (I'm not counting staff of course) than attended the party, but still we met four nice women from the Minneapolis area, an older couple from Houston, and Greg and Ty, two friends traveling together from DC and NYC. Greg and Ty sponsored the gay horse in the horse racing derby! They were nice guys and the kind of folks who can make a cruise...we all wished we had met earlier in the week so we could have shared some dinners and that kind of thing. We talked up there for about two hours. At one point we were joined on an "unofficial" basis by one of the cruise staff who wished us well and wanted to get our perspectives on whether other lines did this kind of thing, and general feedback. That was considerate of him to ask and he got kind of an earful from us all! Hopefully Princess will do better in the future. He really seemed to want to try to make a difference.

Having hit it off, we decided to meet Ty and Greg for dinner tonight down in Bernini, and join their friends who they met onboard, Lisa and Dave, who were from the DC area as well. We met for drinks down in the atrium and then went off for dinner. We got a table for 6 in Esther's area! Although I can't remember at all what we had to eat....what I will remember is this was the kind of experience we had been missing all week at dinner...good social conversation with intelligent, interesting people. What a shame that we didn't meet some of these folks earlier in the week. On such a large and somewhat impersonal ship, it was nice to find a little place to drop anchor after being adrift all week on a social level. We enjoyed our conversation so much that we were virtually closing down the dining room at 10:30 pm....whereupon they turned up the lights and started playing loud polka music...I kid you not! What you want, when you want it.....hmmm.... So on that off key note, the best dinner of our cruise was ended.

Not having packed a single thing into a suitcase yet (Princess recommends your bags be put out at dinner time) we begged off playing a round of cards with our new friends. We did invite them up to our balcony so I could give them my card so we could stay in touch. No big balcony party this cruise....if we had met folks earlier in the week we could have planned one I suppose.

Saturday

A few days ago I thought to myself that I wouldn't be all that upset about getting off the ship today...and when today arrived I started to think otherwise! :) We started getting sad that our cruise was over, however mixed our feelings have been all week. We went up to the Vista lounge at around 6:20 to do the whole immigration check thing with our passports. Again, it went quite quickly. Then it was off to the Horizon Court for breakfast. We ran into Greg and Ty and so had breakfast with them out on the outdoor terrace area aft. Since we had an 11:15 am flight out of Fort Lauderdale we had disembarkation #1. After breakfast we went back to the cabin (why people wait in hallways and large public rooms is beyond me....just insist on staying in your own cabin!) to enjoy the balcony for a few more moments until our number was called. by 8:30 am we were off the ship, found the bags ok (although that was chaos in the terminal...a very cramped space where the "red" bags were) and literally in a cab to the airport in 10-15 minutes.

At the airport Robert's 1/3 consumed bottle of raspberry Stoly was confiscated by the security folks. Oh well, it was darn cheap in St. Maarten, so no biggie. Cheaper than a mixed drink here in DC! The flight was uneventful and our driver was waiting for us at BWI to whisk us home. Quite cool and rainy in DC...YUCKY!!

I hate back to reality!

Conclusion

I know it must sound like I've done nothing but bitch throughout this entire travelogue!

Honestly, we had a lot of fun and we would sail Princess again. I'm kicking myself for not booking Christmas week at the same price!

Now these are my own opinions....I found the ship attractive in places, not in others. A swanky little hangout for young urbanites would be cool....this ship has a very "middle of the road" feel to it. Not bad, but not exciting either. Both the food and service were a bit hit or miss. I think when we sail a big Princess ship again we're either going to go with people we know (it's a huge ship...) or definitely do traditional dining over personal choice. While the scheduled dinner time concept is a bit of a constraint, there is ample alternative dining on board for when you want to "buck the system", and really, most nights we ate at 8:30 or 9:00 anyhow. For the money we paid, it was a great cruise.

What's next for us? Hmmm, maybe one of the cheapo Windstar 7 day cruises in the Bahamas this winter (god I love all this discounting), or maybe the Celebrity Summit 10 or 11 day sailings (would be nice to do more than a week for a change). Hey, I would even try Carnival for once if the price was right...but probably not in the Caribbean...that might be too much. They go to Canada so maybe that next summer. Bermuda would be nice to convince my parents to take a cruise as they can drive to Boston or NY or even Baltimore or Philly. Would love to get back to Scandinavia and Russia again so I'll need to watch those prices too (so few ships next summer there though...) The Galaxy out of Baltimore also beckons.

Well, hope you enjoyed my meandering recap of our Golden Princess cruise!

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