This is our 23rd cruise, but only the second on Princess. Our recent cruises have been on Holland America and Celebrity. I have a sense of where I think the different cruise lines compare and fit, and for better or worse it's hard not to compare the various lines.
To begin with, for an older vessel the Golden is in extremely good condition and has been very well cared for. Its layout and style reflects the period and time of its construction compared to the new builds of, say, the Celebrity fleet. It is hard to believe the tatty state of the Celebrity Galaxy (since sold on by RCCL)when we travelled, it being almost the same age that the gleaming and stately Golden Princess is right now.
Our journey started with an overnight at LAX, from where we took a prebooked Supershuttle directly to San Pedro. This is the first time we used the shuttle, and it worked like a breeze. We arrived early (as we nearly always do) only to find that Princess doesn't have the system of gradual flow of passengers onto the ship that other lines do. This means that rather than boarding and using public areas until cabins are cleaned and finished, all boarding passengers are held shore-side until everything is ready. Far from disliking this arrangement, I think I now prefer it, as it works extremely efficiently.
First impressions were very positive, a warm and inviting interior to the ship, albeit a little dated. Our interior cabin was very well appointed and a very workable design. Again, the fittings were in great shape, the bathroom fixtures also didn't have the old 'used' look that some ships of this age have.
The area that particularly lets Princess down in comparison to other lines (in my very subjective opinion) is their dining. The food was competent rather than spectacular and the use of the dining facilities need a complete rethink. It will be interesting to see if the new Grand Princess design allows for more creative and varied food options in the buffet. We found that on the occasions that we were able to use anytime dining, the food in the main dining room was somewhat disappointing.
The promotional video for the new Grand Princess that was featured on board, gushes about the new remarkable open buffet concept - well it has been around and in use on other lines for years. The Horizon Court area on the Golden with its enclosed and claustrophobic serving area seems cramped and dingy, with the result that the food has less appeal than it deserves. Conversely, the vast seating areas both port and starboard means that unlike almost any other ship I have been on, there was never an occasion when we didn't find an empty table.
One very sensible procedure that Princess uses, is for breakfast waiters in the Horizon buffet to bring juice and coffee to your table, which helped reduce the spillage and congestion that you find on other ships. There was also a much higher ratio of staff in the Horizon Court that I have seen elsewhere, resulting in tables being cleared and cleaned very quickly.
We came badly unstuck with the Princess flexible dining option. I realise that it is difficult shoehorning a newer concept into the existing three smaller dining rooms built for fixed seating dining, but the whole point of flexibility is lost when you are essentially required to either turn up earlier than 5.45 pm or to eat after 7.45pm. If I wanted this lack of choice, I would have taken assigned seating. Our first experience of anytime dining involved an almost 30 minute wait in a non-moving queue for the Bernini dining room because the second anytime dining room (Donatello) had been reconfigured for an extra early dining sitting and wasn't available until 7.45 pm. It doesn't take a genius to realise then that with only one dining room available for flexible dining, it would fill up on opening and then not be available for the next 90 minutes or so.
Our dining experience wasn't all negative - the desserts on the ship (particularly in the buffet) were exceptional. Kudos to the head pastry chef as he could give lessons to just about every other cruise line in how to craft appetising and flavourful cakes and desserts rather than the tasteless stuff other lines serve.
The entertainment offerings on the Golden varied in quality, but I really liked the flexibility of using the three public spaces to enable more entertainment options and events. It is a very clever use of the facilities and worked really well, allowing guests to coordinate the performance times. We loved the Movies Under the Stars, and really enjoyed the films offered. I'll skip the misses (an illusionist with a dreadful script that unfortunately detracted from his very good illusions and a ventriloquist stuck in the sixties with both his act and his material - it should have been a giveaway that his big claim to fame in his promotional video was an appearance on 'Laugh-In') and mention the two very talented guest comedians and extremely hard working singers/dancers and instrumentalists. A J Jamal is an extremely funny stand up comedian who brought the house down at every performance. The resident backing band on the Golden is also exceptional - very tight and precise, and a very talented group of performers in their own right.
The Hawaiian Island ports of call were stunning, we hired a car on each island as this was our first visit and toured comprehensively. Next time we will concentrate on specific places and enjoy in more detail.
Despite some issues with certain aspects of the cruise, we did enjoy the experience and would return to Princess - the staff were incredibly friendly and attentive - our Steward Jesus from Mexico was fantastic, as were a number of our favourite staff on board, particularly in the Horizon Court.
Sorry this review is so long, I hope it has been useful.