We were due to do this cruise over xmas and new year 2010, but we got no further than Heathrow airport, as all flight out were cancelled due to heavy snow. So this was our second attempt at doing this cruise. Second time lucky!
We booked the flights and pre-cruise hotel stay as a package through Princess, staying the night before we left Heathrow at the Premier Inn, which was a very good choice. A quick Hoppa bus and we were at terminal. An American Airlines flight of 11.5 hours landed us in LA, where it then took over 90 minutes to get through immigration! We were reasonably near the front of the non-US citizen queue, with around 12 people in front of us, but boy was it going slowly. As the US immigration queue was whizzing through, staff decided to let us non --US folks go through that way, but instead of doing this from the front of the queue, they moved people from the back! This is not how we do queuing in the UK and there was the usual grumblings (not from us I may add), but eventually we got through, going from nearly at the front of the queue to bringing up the rear! It was light when we landed and dark when we saw outside...ah well.. we were there.
We were met by a Princess rep and sent to another queue to wait for a bus to the hotel. Guess what we did when we got to the hotel...yep, joined another queue to check in and then yet another queue to see the rep to get our names signed off and a coloured ticket for our transfer the following day to the ship. It's a good job I have so much experience in queuing, I would get a gold medal in it!
We desperately needed a walk and some fresh air at this point, so while we left the staff to take away all feather pillows and duvets and replace them with a sheet and one blanket (good job they put one on both beds as I raided that bed later that night as I was so cold), we found a local store and bought some pop (known as soda to those across the pond) to carry on with us, and a large packet of crisps (aka chips) that we scoffed about 4am when we were peckish!
We were instructed to leave our bags in the room by 8am, and after a hotel breakfast, we sat out by the pool for an hour or so before we made our way to our designated meeting room to wait for the bus to the ship. There were lots of folks there when we arrived, and we waited about an hour for our turn, then we were on the way with our pink tickets! The bus trip was around half an hour, then into the terminal (after having to show our boarding passes), where we saw the platinum line and get what....we were in a queue! This was a very short one though and we were met by a lovely happy chap, who gave us our cards and we were on our way. Through the security line, then we were directed towards a short line as platinum, but yeh!...another queue! Then it was onto the ship. Hurrah!
I absolutely love that first moment that I step onto the ship....being welcomed aboard by staff.....walking to the big machine that takes your picture and makes a big "ding" noise....then you know you have arrived. You can imagine my disappointment then when we were just met by a notice on the wall, with arrows each way for different numbers of cabins! We went left and came across three staff who didn't even acknowledge us or say "hello" or "welcome". They seemed more interested in chatting among themselves. Then it was into the passageway, where instead of the big "ding" machine, I was met by a member of staff who again didn't even say welcome or hello, and but took my card off me and took my photo with a hand held devise. Wow I know these are quicker and more convenient, but I felt totally let down by the procedure, and the lack of a welcome by the staff. Ah well.....things will get better.
We went straight to our cabin (C deck midships) to dump our carry ons and I had a good nose around. When I saw previous occupants hairs in the bathroom (this is a pet hate of mine in hotels!), it made me wonder about the standard of cleaning, but hey ho, I'm on holiday so try not to think about it.
Our steward arrived soon after, and I asked him to please remove the feather pillows (due to my allergy to feathers) and replace them with non feather ones, and I asked for robes (which came the next day) and an egg crate. At this point he started to take the bedding apart to see if there was already one on the bed, but fortunately changed his mind and said he's do it later at turndown time. As he didn't take the feather pillows out of the room, DH put them somewhere out of the way -- I felt that I'd already annoyed the steward by asking him to replace them and put on an egg crate, and I didn't want to risk annoying him any more going after him about the pillows.
DH sorted out the safe which was smaller than ones we've had on other ships, but we managed to get the stuff we needed in it.....then it was off to my favourite part of the ship (apart from my balcony)...the IC! A yummy chicken sandwich and a chocolate mousse later -- it would have been rude not to have had the sweet after the sandwich -- and a bit of people watching in the atrium, I dragged DH to look at the evening menu. YEH....my second favourite soup is on the menu (its taken me lots of cruises to work out that this appears to always be on the first night!)...pina colada soup!! YIPPEE.
A brief walk around the ship followed -- well I have at least to try to walk off at least some of those mousse calories -- then it was back to our cabin. Although we've not been on the Golden before, we have been on a number of other ships, so knew our way around, with the odd difference.
Both cases came before muster, although I didn't manage to get it all unpacked before we had to go to the casino. I got a bit annoyed as I was trying to listen to the muster information (I know I've heard it all before but I need reminding), and behind me there was a group of 3 men who talked and laughed all the way through, who I heard more than the info. Although a crew member was directly behind them, he said nothing to them, so I had to hope my "evil eye" did something, but of course they didn't even notice me as they were too wrapped up in gossiping and laughing!
We did "sail away" on our balcony, with a glass of pop (soda) each -- with ice -- but I was surprised when my neighbor above shouted out "where did you get that ice from?". Blimy, someone has good eyesight to see the ice in my glass! Apparently our steward had put ice in our fridge but her's hadn't. I'm sure she'd got that fixed for the rest of the cruise!
Rather than give a day by day account, I'll try to do the rest of my review under headings, so you can choose what you want to read -- or not -- or just skip to the end!
The bed was somewhat more comfortable than those I've had before....I only woke up with mild backache each morning rather than crippling backache that I have woken up with on past cruises, that I needed a chiropractor to sort out! I didn't delve under the bedding to see if the mattresses were new, but it certainly felt more comfy.
Yippee ......balcony furniture! We got the "old" style two reclining chairs and two fixed "old" chairs (sadly looking a bit worse for wear though with stains on and paint missing, but looked more reasonable with a beach towel thrown over), a table you can actually put more than a grain of sand on (sorry slight exaggeration!), and two footstools (ottomans to some). I must say that with the footstools and the bigger table, even the Caribe balcony looked a bit cluttered, but I wasn't complaining, especially as I looked below and the Dolphin balconies had two of the "new" style chairs, a table and two footstools.
Our steward over the two weeks was only what I would describe as OK. I've had some great stewards in the past and we are not messy or demanding passengers -- and we really are very tidy -- so he didn't have much to do in our cabin. He did seem to get used to us going to breakfast about 10.30 and had mostly done the room by the time we got back, and even opened the door for us if he was near by when we returned, which was nice. However I didn't feel that the cleaning was as good as it perhaps should have been, and I found a used towel on the back of the bathroom door one evening after we returned from dinner. We never put towels on the back of the door -- our robes were there, so I know it didn't get there by us. I even pulled a long black hair out of a newly laundered towel one morning, which I know is nothing to do with the steward, but not a nice thing to find anyway.
There was also no laundry bag in the room anywhere -- it was when I saw the offer of a bag of laundry done for I think it was $20, it just struck me that I hadn't seen a bag anywhere. It wasn't a problem as we didn't want to use the service...just an observation. The next guests might like to though.
While I was unpacking the bags, DH noticed something shiny on the floor by my side of the bed -- if he'd been helping me to unpack rather than trying out the chair for comfort he wouldn't have noticed it! So he was down on his hands and knees and picked up a few slithers of glass! As I always go around in bare feet both in the cabin and on the balcony, he was like a human vacuum cleaner, going very thoroughly over the carpet, picking up what he could. DH picked up a few more glass slithers before he would let me paddle around on my own, but not before he checked the rest of the carpet, not just by the side of my bed! We thought we had better let the steward know just in case, so we mentioned it as we went to dinner. Well, we both said after "that was more trouble than it was worth" and wished we'd never bothered!! He obviously took it personally, saying he had vacuumed that morning, and he even had DH getting the glass out of the bin to show him! That was potentially dangerous in itself! The steward tried to insist that it was "crystals"...eh?...but quickly emptied the bin into his cart. We tried to say that we didn't see it as a reflection on him or his cleaning, but I don't think that he cared for us much after that.
When we got back from breakfast (or should I say brunch?) one morning, we were greeted with a mystery on the balcony.....we noticed what looked like glass rocks at the end of the balcony under the screen! Wracking my brains, I know it had been cold outside, but I don't remember seeing any icebergs that we could have hit -- I remember the scene from Titanic -- so we were both very confused. Being the intrepid detectives that we are.....did we go and look.....no.....and later they had disappeared!
The mystery deepened some days later and when it was nice warm weather.....it was late afternoon and we were sitting (very quietly reading our books) on the balcony, when we heard the balcony door open next door and what sounded like someone banging a drum......then a smashing of glass against the balcony screen..........then........water came hurtling across our balcony screen from next door!! DH and I just looked at each other with a very quizzical look??......A while later......the balcony door opened on the other side of us opened....and the same noises were heard, with yet again water came hurtling across our balcony screen! Then the lightbulb came on (not literally but the one in my head)....have you worked it out yet?.
............The steward was cleaning out the ice bucket and throwing the contents against the balcony screen!! So our iceberg rocks were really what had been left in our ice bucket from the night before. In all my cruising experience, I have never seen nor heard of this as a way of replacing the contents of the ice bucket!
Well I am sorry to say that we slept in late every day and so did not get up in time to try the dining room breakfast! We'd go to the buffet around 10.30am and then of course we didn't need lunch either! So no dining room lunch tried nor the pub lunch. Think of the calories I saved!
Although it was generally busy in the HC, we managed to find a table after a few minutes, and one of us stayed at the table while the other one went to get breakfast. Just my luck....a couple of times they shut the side of the buffet we were on before I even got anything!! So I had to traipse all the way to the other side, which was still open. Another time they were shutting the doors with me inside, so I had to make all my choices in one go! I tried to work out which side we should go to, but never got it right!
We'd go to either the IC or the buffet for a snack about 3.30pm on sea days (I remembered they had warm scones at this time so persuaded DH that he just had to come with me). I was disappointed by the pastries though and thought they looked far nicer than they tasted! At the IC, they only had my favourite vanilla mousse once (unless I just missed it another day), and I actually went to the IC on a few occasions to grab a yummy dessert, only to come away empty handed. Unheard of on previous cruises....I used to live in the IC!! Being so many sea days, there was also a lack of seating in the atrium, but I would have been prepared to take it to my cabin if it had been worthwhile.
We chose anytime dining. On this cruise, there was 1st seating at 5.30pm and 2nd seating at 7.45pm in the main fixed dining room, and what they called "enhanced first seating" at 5.30pm in the dining room on deck 6 (I am useless at remembering what the dining rooms are called sorry). From 7.30pm, this dining room then reverted to anytime. The dining room on deck 5 was open for anytime all evening.
This was another first for me, as I was aware on my last Princes cruise they had anytime in one of the dining rooms, but they didn't stipulate it was shut until a set time (7.30pm). This system worked much better. There was no fixed dining seating at 6pm or 6.30pm, and the 7.45pm slot 2nd sitting was earlier that was on other cruises.
The first evening we went down around 7pm to the dining room on deck 5. We were seated very quickly (table for 2), but our waiters that night had obviously not got into the swing of things. I had spring rolls, and noticed just after I started to eat them there was no sauce. Neither waiter were anywhere to be seen, so rather than let them go cold, I did without. When they collected the plates, I asked if they had forgotten the sauce, and a look of horror flashed across his face. He offered to get me another, but its too late by that time.
There was also no bread basket or butter on the table, and DH remarked that maybe that was a cut back. I thought this was really a bit mean by Princess if it was, but when I looked around, other diners were tucking into their bread, so I knew then DH had got it wrong! We had to ask for the bread and when it did eventually get delivered to our table, there were no bread sticks!! My favourite...I only wanted the bread for the sticks!!
The next evening I didn't make it down to dinner as I had a migraine, so DH went on his own to the same restaurant and shared a table with a family of 4. Service wasn't any better this night though even with different waiters.....they "forgot" DHs main meal, and then when they did bring it, it was not what he had ordered!
My logic said that we should in future go to the other restaurant on deck 6, in the hope that as those waiters were serving the fixed diners, they may have more about them and we may get bread (and sticks!), along with the correct orders. We went around 7.30pm, and were seated at a table for 2 immediately. We had three evenings of reasonably good waiters (well a darn site better than those in the other dining room), but then we were seated at table 131 with Dani and Adam. We just took to them immediately, and found that not only did they introduce themselves (more waiters than not didn't even say who they were to us), but Dani would recommend the best dishes and he always kept my water topped up without me asking (yes I had also had to ask for more water on the first evening).
After that, we showed up each evening at around 7.20pm and queued (I was getting severe withdrawl symptoms by now not queuing!), so we could try to make sure we got the same table with Dani and Adam. One evening the table had been given away to someone else but the head waiter at the door put us on a table next to them that belonged to two other waiters, but Dani and Adam served us. That was very good service.
I asked as we were leaving one evening if we could reserve the table for the same time each night, but was told we would have to ring each day. We did notice that some people had managed to get a standing reservation for the same table each night, so not sure how that one worked. Anyway, the door guy said he would "try", and he eventually got used to us saying "131 please" as we entered the dining room, and we didn't even need showing where to go!
The only time that we didn't enjoy that table was on formal night on new year's eve. A family came in with 3 or 4 young children and occupied the big table behind us (they were at that table 4 evenings over the cruise when we were there, but none were as bad as this one). At another nearby table were placed a family of 4 with 2 children and then the crÃ¨che opened! There were children running around the tables -- anyone's table they didn't mind - swinging on chairs and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Did the parents take any notice -- NO. I was so relieved to get out of there that night. I have no objection to children in the dining room, but as long as they behave and don't annoy other diners....I know I'll probably get flamed for this comment, but I have to say it.
Dani and Adam got so used to me that Dani made sure I had more bread sticks than we usually get in the bread bowl....he would also bring us a small portion of other food to try in addition to out main meal order (we don't usually eat lobster but he brought us one to share to try, and he brought a small portion of a special pasta dish that was an "extra" to the menu.). Very thoughtful.
By the end of the holiday, my face was caramalised, and my middle was definitely vanilla!.....I had so many of my favourite CrÃ¨me Brule, that I'm sure I looked like one when I got off the ship! I did think that I should have a change, at least one night, but I never saw anything on the menu that even tempted me. The evening of the crÃ¨che, things got worse when I noticed that they had not included CB on the menu!! Dani tried to coax me into having something else, then said he would see what he could do. Unfortuanatley, he came back saying "no CrÃ¨me Brule this evening sorry, so I've bought you the butterscotch cake desert". What!...I don't even like butterscotch!! AND I can't live without CrÃ¨me Brule!! Dani was trying his best and he did ask me what else I wanted when he realized I didn't like what he'd brought, but I was so distraught with no CB (see I can't even bring myself to say it!), the ice cream he always brought us as well, just had to do!
I was also ABSOLUTELY ECSTATIC to see that my all time favourite....strawberry soup was on the menu one evening (I would have been unlivable with if this had been on the night I was ill and didn't come to dinner)! Its now called "strawberry smoothie". but it come in a glass with a straw (just like before) and tastes just as good as always. I had to have one for my first course.....and another one for my second course....totally yummy!
Before every cruise I say that I will try the fish as I don't eat it at home....after all, if I don't like it, I can get something else....but I always chicken out at the last minute! I must have had a bit of a mad moment though, as I decided to be reckless and try the crayfish. I was horrified when Dani placed the plate before me and I saw what I can only describe as a "weird looking cockroach" staring at me with his beady eyes! That was enough to put me off fish forever! BUT being the trooper that I am, I dug in (but not to the "cockroach") and tried what was presented to me......then I went back to the breadsticks. Sorry I've tried it but it's not for me. That memory of that monster on my plate masquerading as a fish will stay with me forever, and I will be permanently scarred for life!
Food is a very subjective issue on cruises, but I found the food generally very good. I had the most gorgeous steak one evening and a few more beef dishes which were not as tender, but it was generally fine. Did I mention the pina colada soup.....strawberry soup and CrÃ¨me Brule?
Both DH and I choose not to do anything on our cruises, apart from eat, sleep, read and relax....and just chill. We are pretty boring and don't take part in classes, pools or entertainment. The balcony is the most important part of my cruise -- I just love to spend my days sitting out on the balcony, reading and relaxing, and just listening to the sound of the sea.
Unfortunately, for a number of days on this cruise, my balcony had to be substituted for the room, with me gazing longingly at the chairs and footstool that had my name on them.
I had done my research and I know that the first few days out and the last few days back would be "chilly". I would say these were "cold" -- it was the wind! The wind whistled around the balcony and around the balcony door day and night for a number of days. One of the officers we spoke to said it was the roughest weather he had know in all his time on the ship! It didn't help that the sun was on the other side of the ship going out -- but we got the benefit when we were coming back. By day 13 I think it was, the wind had finally dropped and we had a great day just chillin' - rather than chilling - on the balcony. Fantastic!
There was a film that I wanted to see on MUTS -- Men in Black 3 -- but it was on the first evening, and we were so shattered from the previous 2 days and flight that we were far too tired to stay up to see it. It would have also been too cold for me. It was shown again near the end of the cruise, but in the afternoon -- the only reason I know this is because that day I just fancied a pizza...which meant a walk past MUTS...and although I couldn't see the screen then, I recognized the music and Tommy Lee Jones voice! Was I annoyed with myself!! YES -- why didn't I read the patter....why hadn't I been sent an invitation?.....why did I want a pizza that day? ...I could have lived in ignorance! As I had no idea how long it had been on and what I'd missed, I decided it was no good staying to watch it....for all I know it was near the end! I will just have to buy the DVD!
The pizza was excellent by the way.........
Talking of reading, I was disappointed with the choice of books in the library. DH was using the kindle, and I quite like the feel of holding a proper book. I did manage to get enough reading material to last me the cruise, but DH read most before me and then told me if I'd like it!
I went to check a few books out at the library, and sitting in the "cupboard" outside the library were two guys. One was giving a lesson on the IPad to a young girl and her parents, and the computer guy was playing with his computer and completely ignoring me! He eventually realized I was waiting and nudged the other guy to sort my books out.
When he looked at the one I'd chosen on William and Catherine, he remarked that he "didn't like the Royal family"...as he was "Australian" (I know Australians who do like the Royal family!) but all I wanted to do was borrow the book, not an opinion on my reading material. I don't know what he would have said if I had picked up the Fifty Shades of Grey book! Yes it was on the shelf....but not a Princess book...it was one that had been left by a previous cruiser (it obviously wasn't that good then).
Would you believe, a few days later, I was innocently walking through the atrium on my way for a browse at the IC, when I saw a woman, sitting at the bar, brazenly reading the Fifty shades of Grey book!! Blimey....that takes some nerve in my book (excuse the pun). I would have hidden it in a bag...AND she had the front page facing outward toward the atrium! Some people have no shame!! I was so shocked that I walked right past the IC without stopping....and no I didn't go straight to the library to see if they had another copy! Which I knew they didn't anyway!
PORTS OF CALL:
We did two Princess tours -- the lava Fields tour on the Big Island, (there were about 12 of us on the tour) and the Pearl Harbor Memorial and city tour. The other islands we did our own thing.
Both these tours were excellent. On the lava fields tour, I managed to get soaked by a big wave, which the tour guide said was meant to be "good luck" -- they'll tell you anything when they're laughing at a soaking idiot who got too near the edge! Walking on lava was such an experience for me and one I won't ever forget. Our tour guide made it extra special, as he had a great sense of humour and was passionate about volcanoes.
When we arrived at the Big island though, it was raining. At least it made me feel at home! When packing, I had neither brought a rain jacket nor umbrella. DH meanwhile, had obviously planned for all weathers, as he'd brought his '3 in 1' coat -- rain coat and fleece in one but can be separated. I had my beedy eye on his rain coat (a bit like the "cockroach" had his beedy eye on me that night from my plate!) and even though it would have been too big for me., needs must......! Anyway, as it had stopped raining, we decided to go as we were, without coats as it was lovely and warm. Travelling to the first stop, it heaved it down with rain but thankfully the tour guide said he had rain ponchos in the bus. When we got to the first stop - a lovely church the islanders had moved during a volcano eruption -- it had stopped raining, and was dry for the rest of our tour. We even saw the sun once! Only when we got back to the ship was it raining again. Someone said it had rained there all day...oh dear...but not for us!
I only really did the Pearl Harbor tour because DH wanted to do it. However I am so pleased that I did -- another memory I will never forget. It was a very thought provoking experience and very well organised and informative. Very touching and the highlight -- with the lave fields -- of my cruise.
Unfortunately, I appear to have a negative impact on tour buses. On a holiday in Canada, we were on a bus late at night (trying to get to a train that could not get to Vancouver due to a derailment), travelling through the Rockies, when it broke down. We were sitting in the bus by the side of the road in almost total darkness (all I could make out were the tops of trees), with big trucks hurtling past. I had a vision of one of thee big trucks ramming the bus from behind and we would be obliterated into the darkness (I think I must have good imagination!). Truly though, I was scared!
On a bus tour in the Caribbean a few years ago, yet another bus broke down, this time with a puncture.
Being true to form -- the bus from Pearl Harbor broke down! I think it was when I heard the driver say something like....."oh dear, that shouldn't happen", that I came out of my daydream and took notice. The driver pulled onto the side of the freeway....when I looked through the window, we were next to a sheer drop right into a car garage...WOW the people looked small down there! The big trucks were hurling past and yet again I had the dread that in a minute, one of these trucks would rear end us, and tip us over the edge onto the cars below. There goes my imagination again!
I was very relieved when the driver said he was going to put out the warning triangle, "to stop any trucks from running into the back of us". What a relief....a triangle will certainly stop a big truck in its tracks...no problem! IF he could get the door open that is....as the bottom of the door had "peeled back like a sardine tin"! Of course we couldn't see this until we eventually got rescued by another bus and our driver came along with us for the rest of the trip back to the ship (or to Hilo Hatties). Hopefully that is now my lot with tour buses and breakdowns....but we'll see.
I had originally said that I wouldn't get off in Ensenada, but by that time I was a bit stir crazy and I was desperate to put me feet on land and so glad I did. We were treated to the most beautiful sunset and a nice walk.
Princess arranged for buses to take us to Long beach for a couple of hours before taking us to the airport for our long flight back to the UK and Heathrow. It was sunny and very warm that day, as there was no breeze, so we had a lovely amble to the lighthouse, then around to the other side of the harbor, where there were a few nice little shops to mooch about in. I really enjoyed that visit and it was the perfect wind down before sitting on the plane for hours.
It was an uncomfortable 9 hour flight back, with BA (sorry but American Airlines beat BA hands down in my opinion of this flight experience) then a three hour journey home, and back to reality.
OTHER THOUGHTS AND FINAL RAMBLINGS:
I am an arctophile (that's a teddy bear collector for the uniniciated), and we managed to add to our huge collection on this trip. We got 6 bears from different places, including a Pearl Harbor bear, so I was a happy bunny...or should I say "bear". I've juts got to find space to put them all in now...the other bears will have to "bodge up a bit", as we have over 1000 teddy bears in our lounge and dining room already!
Did I enjoy the cruise holiday?....Yes definitely.
Would I do it again?............No.
I learned a lot about myself and what I want from my cruises by doing this cruise, and I am really glad that we have now done it and I can tick it off my bucket list. It made me realize though what I want from my cruises and what I love about cruising....
Let me explain before you all start throwing things at me (if its teddy bears though I will catch them and give them a good home!)......
I knew that the number of sea days would be a test for me. I have only ever done one or two sea days in a row before, and I love sea days, but......I love them when I can sit out on my balcony, in my shorts and t shirt, feeling lovely and warm, reading a good book. The inability to use the balcony due to the cool temps and wind got me down a bit. I was expecting it to be cool as I said I did my research, but I didn't expect me to feel the way I did about it.
I also need more ports than 4 (not counting Mexico of course). I like getting off and have a walk around and exploring. I enjoyed the Hawaii ports, but I need more. It has made me think that a TA cruise would not be for me...something I was considering.
So its off to the Caribbean again next Christmas for me.
As I say, I really enjoyed the cruise and learning about me and my cruising was a bonus. It was worth going just for Pearl Harbor and the lava fields...and of course the pina colada soup, strawberry smoothie and the very yummy CrÃ¨me Brule (I was giving each one marks out of ten by the end!).
Hope you enjoy reading this review and my take on my latest cruise.