My wife and I, who are fairly experienced cruisers (14 cruise with two coming up in 2013)decided it would be very convenient for a family vacation to cruise out Seattle to Alaska. Since all but one of the three parts of our family has to fly to get to Seattle. Two out of three live in Seattle and had a 20 minute ride to the cruise dock.
The check in process went very smoothy, we had priority boarding, and our stateroom was ready upon arriving on the Ship, a pleasant surprise. Elevators were hard to find as is typical on the embarkation day. Our cabin was a bit to the aft part of the Ship, which provided ample opportunity for daily exercise as we were walking for meals and activities to and from our cabin. This is typical on a ship the size of the Golden.
We like to get on the Ship around Noon and have lunch on the Lido Deck. This time we just made it into one of the dining rooms and had a very nice and quiet lunch compared to the hectic pace at the Horizon Court.
Our first problem started with making dining arrangement for 10; 6 adults and 4 children. We had asked for early seating when we booked, but it was not available and we could not get it when we boarded the Ship. Thus we were thrown into Anytime Dining "hell"...where you can only make a reservation the day you are dining starting at 8 AM. By 8:30 AM the only times available are 5:30 PM or after 7:30 PM. Anytime Dining is any time Princess cares to feed you. Even with Children 5:30 PM was too early for us and 7:30 PM was too late. It is also guessing game to know what dining rooms at what times are available for what meals. The Donatello is fixed seating for early seating, then it becomes open for anytime. The Bernini is anytime, but times change for different meals. On other lines you can reserve for two days in advance and sometimes they will accommodate a group for a week or more. Princess was not accommodating at all. By the time you where learning how and where to have a meal the cruise was over.
Also, Princess has to do something about the Horizon Court. The entire ship has to squeeze, push and line up in one line to get into the food area, where the RCC lines use food stations where certain types of foods are at different stations. It is a more open less crowded situation. It would hurt Princess to learn from other. We went to the Horizon Court for a late meal one night and the food was tired and tasteless from sitting in the hot pans all night; very unappealing.
I was surprised how crowded the Ship felt on the Lido deck. I have been on larger ships that did feel as crowded.
Princess has a winner with the International Cafe in the Piazza. We had a coffee card and used it every day. They always had a nice selection of snacks and wonderful desserts. We had a few of best meals there. Also 24 hours a day.
We really liked the mini suite. It gives you that little extra room that allows you to feel that you are not living in closet. Although the couch in our room was possible the most uncomfortable we have encountered in 20 years of cruising. It will also be nice to have some interactive TV where you can see your cabin bill and do other functions on the TV.
The staff was generally very accommodating and helpful. However with the anytime dining, you get some good waiters and some not so good waiter. The important aspect is that you do not develop a rapport with your wait staff.
The Golden is a nice ship and Princess does a very good job with Alaska (this is our third Alaska cruise with Princess. Yet we are taking a break from Princess. They are using the same processes that they did 20 years ago and have not adapted to a lot of the new technology and logistics that RCCL is doing with their ships.