BACKGROUND INFO: We are retired, late 50's, and discovered cruising in 1990. It has become our favorite method of enjoying a relaxed, stress-free adventure (which every cruise should be!). We had discussed taking this exact cruise itinerary several times in the past, but felt that the extended (4+ days) ocean crossing would not be our thing, so we never really pursued this style of cruise. We came upon a last minute deal from Costco Travel for this trip that we really couldn't turn down, so we rolled the dice and jumped aboard.
TRAVEL TO PORT:
We flew from our home (Boise, Idaho) to Los Angeles the morning of departure with no problems. Instead of a pricey taxi or the princess bus offered, we opted for the "prime time" shuttle service, which delivered us conveniently to the ship, at an expense of about half that of these aforementioned transit options.
We had booked an outside stateroom (rectangular window)for this trip. We had considered a balcony, but in hindsight, the windowed room was better. Remember, this cruise was in wintertime (January)and other than the final day before and after the islands, the weather was cloudy, windy, some rain & coolish, so a balcony space would not have been completely usable. For us, it's not important where you sleep, but what the ship offers overall, so we were happy with our room selection. We liked our room layout-large closet, adequate cabinet space, flat-screen TV, refrigerator and a comfortable bathroom. The shower stall was much larger than that of our last cruise (RCCL Rhapsody of the seas) so that was a good thing. And our location was convienient....about 100' forward of the Piazza and close to the laundromat on that deck.
The Golden Princess is in the "Grand" class of Princess ships. Built along with the Grand and Star Princess. We believe the layout is almost identical to each other. Golden is 950' in length, with a passenger capacity of about 2600. We have always sailed smaller ships, so this size was a concern to us; turns out we loved it. The ship is so well-layed out that we never felt crowded or squeezed in. It took about a day to find all the public areas and remember how to get around the ship. Princess offers you a pocket map of the ship upon boarding, and every deck has a wall map at the elevator stations, so no one has a reason to feel "lost". One peculiar feature is the promenade (walking) deck: it is deck 7 on aft and climbs to deck 8 at the bow of the ship. As we like to "walk the deck" every day, this incurred climbing up/down a flight of steps each lap. And on most of the sea days, the deck 8 section was closed off due to high winds at the bow of the ship. Just a quirky construction method to us. Another quirkiness is that the Canaletto dining room is located on the 6 deck, but you have to access via the 7 deck...but no big deal. There is a well-laid out gym at the bow, with a wall of windows offering a 180' view out forward. The gym received lots of passenger use on this cruise. The one issue that we thought wasn't laid-out well was the sauna & steam room areas; these were outside on deck forward of the current pool, and visible to anyone walking past. Then, to access the changing (Bathroom)room, you had to walk past the pool deck, and pass through several doors, so, trucking along with a towel wrapped around your torso didn't offer much privacy. Since we have these features at home, we didn't utilize this space. Other than this, there were no issues with the ship design. We did notice that Princess (and probably others) have become quiet accomodating to passengers with mobility issues (lots of scooters on board) Doesn't bother us, and we're glad to see the seniors still participating in cruising.
You cannot go hungry on a Princess ship!
We traditionally start our morning with room service of coffee/juice/fruit/pastry, then we get serious and head to the buffet (Horizon Court) for the "official" breakfast. Selection there was fine; both hot/cold items/pastries/fruit always in abundance....we just don't understand other cruisers who complain about "nothing to eat"...are we on the same ship? We would walk to the back of the dining area or go outside under the covered roof, and always find a table for ourselves, or share with other passengers, if invited. The waiters quickly brought your beverage of choice for you. For lunch, we usually did the HC again, or grabbed a hot dog or burger at the Trident Grill (these were excellent!). There was often a outdoor buffet (Mexican, Chinese, etc) on the pool deck that offered delicious lunch opportunities.
When it comes to the evening dinner, we are traditional cruisers through and through....if traditional sit-down dining isn't offered on a ship, we won't book it. Other cruise lines have lost our future business because of this issue, so please continue traditional dining! We like the comfort zone of having the same table, at the same time, with the same wait staff....they become like family to us. And we had great staff attending to us- Sherwin, Jeffrey, and Enanche were all top-notch and professional. We feel that the dining experience makes or breaks your cruise experience, and these guys delivered to our expectations...job well done! We had debated whether to have a table for two or have extra table mates to dine with....in the end we chose a table for two....it offered us so much more privacy for our conversations, and we discovered that our service was more expedient than a large dining group...our waiters had time to converse with us, which enriches the dining experience.
You name it, Princess has it. There is always something going on that interests you: gym workout, dance lessons, church service, tastings, naturalist seminars(Randy Ashley), bingo, casino games, store sales, etc. You would be hard-pressed not to find something that interests you throughout the day!
Excellent all around. In addition to our waitstaff, our room steward, Nilo, was spot-on. If we needed anytime, a call to his pager, or a note left on the bed took care of it. The bar waiters were always attentive to our presence, and were not pushy if you chose not to order bar service.
Here's where Princess really shines. Their production shows are top-notch, very professional...we looked forward to every show. Comedian Kevin Hughes killed us with his routines. The hypnotist was great. The illusionist did things that are not physically possile, very enjoyable. Another comedian, Carl Banks, was sub-par on his first show, but came back on his second night and blew us out of the water with his routine. The solo singers were on their game. Steve Lawless at his piano was always a treat. Celine Deeaz and her group provided wonderful dancing/lounge music nearly every night. Russian string quartet was great, too.
The cruise director, David Cole, has his act together. He and his assistant (Marahscalh)were on top of everything, seemed to be everywhere on the ship at all times, and kept us totally up-dated on what was happening. Drake & Melissa kept us laughing throughout the cruise.
Since we have taken many land vacations of Hawaii previously, we decided to forego any paid excursions (which we would have contracted through private operators OFF the ship anyway; much less expensive that route) and made our daily goal in port to find a beach in the morning and then, for the afternoon, a reasonably priced restaurant offering a good happy hour with a beach view. This resulted in relaxed days ashore for us. Don't be afraid to walk around, you'll see/absorb so much more on foot versus a bus window!
This went well for us. Princess gives you color-coded luggage tags 2 days before cruise-end with well-worded written instructions on how to leave the ship. The most important item to remember is to have your passport ready/in hand for customs, as it will be required to entry back into the good 'ol USA. We were completely clear of the ship by 9:30 AM on "get-off" day
We feel that this was probably the best cruise we have ever taken. All of our needs/expectations were met. Our cruise philosophy is this: if the ship didn't sink, nor run out of food, then this was a successful cruise....anything beyond this is a bonus to the trip. Personally, we don't understand how people can spend 2 weeks aboard, be treated like kings/queens, entertained continuously, eat like gluttons, and then complain that they'll "never cruise again". Some folks have stopped living already, yet don't realize it. Rest assured, we'll be back!