A quick description: we're a couple in our 50s with a 15-year old daughter. This was hubby's 12th cruise, my 11th, and the girl's 8th. Our fifth on Princess, second on the Golden Princess and third Hawaiian RT. We've found that the two-week cruises work for us. Seven days go way too quickly before it's time to pack up and leave the ship. To us, the ship is pretty much the destination so the several days of straight sea days don't bother us at all.
Travel to Port of Embarkation
One thing great about going on the RTs to Hawaii is that we're just an hour's drive from the port. With all of our stuff, we just need an adequately large enough vehicle (with a trunk larger than our sedans) to transport us to San Pedro. This time we tried On Time Transportation, which sent us a SUV on time and to the right location (as opposed to the company we used the last time which totally mucked up our pickups from our house and the port).
We usually get insides, with an occasional ocean view thrown in. We had started looking at this cruise just a few months before sail away, but because this was a holiday cruise, it was mostly sold out. We asked to be waitlisted for all inside and OV categories. I was optimistic as we had booked our previous cruise (for almost the same date) just mere weeks before the cruise. (We 'd snapped up an obstructed OV, that turned out to have a great view in between the ropes and all that, for that cruise, but we were also waitlisted for insides (and did get plenty of calls -- but we stayed with our original cabin).
This time, the first few "waitlist match advisories" were for far forward cabins that were under or over the Princess Theater or otherwise not attractive to us. I kept saying, let's wait for something better. But nearing that final payment date, my optimism was beginning to flag. Then we got offered A732, an inside that was far aft. Family meeting later, and that's what we booked, just five days before final payment day. Our teen was very happy; she was lobbying for a cabin close to the Horizon Court. Hubby decided he liked being close to the buffet too, as he likes to get breakfast there.
At one point, I started having qualms about being under the bar there as I've read a few people complain about the same location on other ships (hearing scrapping of chairs late at night). As it turned out, we rarely heard any noise from above. I heard more noise from the cabin to the right.
And just like our previous cabins on Princess, plenty of room for our stuff. The one change is that when hubby decided to place our crates and suitcases under the bed, he discovered the beds were too low. All those items have been stored in the closet on our previous cruise (which was also on the Golden), so not sure if this was the case of new beds (they did fit under our beds on the Island in 2005). Didn't notice anything else that was different from our last cruise.
Whenever we wanted to take a short cut to the Horizon Court, all we had to do is go all the way back (just a few cabins) where there's a door to the deck, then go up the stairs to the Lido deck, and there we were at the door to the back of the Horizon. Of course, it could be daunting on some mornings when it was cold and windy (and a couple of times, rainy). At other times, we could just go down the hallway toward the bow and take the interior stairs up to the Horizon Court. When it was time for dinner, we would go to the next bank of elevators which would take us to the 6th floor where our dining room was.
The Golden Princess is a good size fit for us. Not too small, not too large. It has MUTS (Movies Under the Stars), a pool under a retractable roof (which as far as I know was never retracted during our sailing) and the International Cafe, which I call "a display case of yumminess." Actually, more than one display case,but you get what I mean, right?
Because we had booked our last cruise so close to sailing, we ended up waitlisted for our preferred late traditional. When we boarded, we found we hadn't cleared the waitlist and had anytime dining. Turned out, we found we disliked AT (seemed too rushed, disorganized; missed having the same waitstaff and dining companions).
This time, we were given the choice between early traditional (5:30) and anytime. I selected early, but asked if we could be waitlisted for late, too. I was told that the only way we could be on the waitlist for late was if we went with anytime. No thanks. I was fine with early, but right after boarding, hubby wondered if we could request a switch to late. We went to the location specified for meeting with the maitre'd, but instead there was someone on his staff taking the requests. He said we would have to show up for our assigned seating this night, and if we are switched, we would be notified the next day.
The two of us (our daughter was trying to track down a friend who had been on this cruise two years before) went to our table, and found ourselves alone at a table for six. The next day, we got a letter telling us our new assigned table, at 7:30 in the Canaletto dining room. When we showed up, we found it was a table for four (so it was just for the three of us whenever our girl joined us). Oh, well, at least we got the dining time we wanted.
We did eat in Sabatinis one night -- I'm not a foodie, so it was wasted on me. The rest of the 14 days, we ate dinner in the MDR. We always had breakfast in the Horizon. Sometimes hubby would get there first and make his girls a plate after he got his made-to-order omelet. For lunch, we would either eat in the Horizon or go to the poolside grill for a grilled chicken sandwich. There were often poolside themed buffets, but only got food from them a few times.
Usually in late afternoon, we would often head for the Horizon for a keep-our-tummies-from-growling nosh.
Food was all right. As I said, we're not foodies. Hubby will eat just about anything, but prefers healthy food. I'm a picky eater and don't eat fish, turkey or ham (and rarely beef now), so about half of the entrees are not desirable to me. Twice I ordered the famous noodles alfredo in the parmesan basket, but didn't get the basket. In the future, if I do order it, I'll request the basket, just to make sure. It became a running joke with the waiters that if a souffle was on the dessert menu,I was getting it.
One thing that Princess seems to do well at is providing a major slate of activities on sea days, of course depending on the cruise director on board. If you're on a ship that has the musical duo Elua (Leialoha, a native of Hawaii, and Dave, a native of the "island of Boston"), expect a great variety of Hawaiian activities and cultural talks. You can't be on the Golden between late September and early May and not know you're on the way to Hawaii. As opposed to most other cruises on which you can be blindfolded and tossed on board, and not know your destination unless you go to a port talk (and then you're hearing about why you should shop at the stores the cruise lines have a "deal" with).
For the second cruise in a row, I went to the hula classes and then participated in the last day's Aloha 'Oe show. Scary, but fun. Yes, it was a bit daunting even during the classes, especially with the rolling seas affecting the balance of even our instructor, Leialoha.
I had never even seen a Zumba class, so I went to the kinder/gentler Zumba class. Hopefully worked off a souffle that way.
As for the cruise director, Sammi Baker, I would definitely give her a better grade than the one on our previous cruise. The only times I saw David Bradshaw on that cruise was on the Wake Shows and a brief appearance (maybe 15 minutes) at a party in the Piazza on the last night of the cruise. I do think she tended to overdo the PAs. I think if you really are into bingo or art auctions (neither of which appeals to me),you've probably have already highlighted those activities on your Patters. But at least she was there emceeing many of the shows, as well as partying with everyone at the New Year's party in the Piazza and at the Ultimate Deck Party.
On the last cruise, my daughter went up to the Remix club for teens, made some friends, but otherwise said the activities were lame. We were concerned that she would be bored this time and racked our brains to make this cruise enjoyable for her too, as we know how hard high school is nowadays. Hubby asked me to find out how much an Internet package is. We decided to book the one with 300 minutes (counting the extra ones for booking prior to the cruise). You have to either fax in a gift form or call -- you can't book this online.
She seemed happy at the prospect at being able to post on Facebook during our cruise. I warned her that the connection could be slow, and that occasionally I'll want to check my email (especially as I had put on the itinerary handouts for our neighbors and family my email address for any messages, which hopefully we won't get). And yes, it often seemed that you can run over for a chocolate chip cookie from the International Cafe in the time it would take for a page to load.
As for the Remix program, she claimed not to spend too much time there. They did have some late night activities, utilizing MUTS (video games and an occasional movie that teens really like such as "The Hunger Games.").
We felt the service was okay. It was nice having the same waiters. Sometimes they would remember that I like lemon wedges for my salad. It wasn't a dealbreaker when the plate didn't appear. It became a running joke when one of them appeared with the pepper grinder as I would always turn it down while my hubby and daughter always wanted pepper. Our cabin steward seemed very attentive, even bringing us a filled ice bucket every day, even though I don't think my hubby requested it (I know I didn't).
Princess should thank whoever thought to hire Eula for the Hawaiian cruises. This duo of Dave and Leialoha not only teach passengers in Hawaiian arts,they perform beautiful Hawaiian songs just about every day in the Piazza or on the pool deck. There's plenty of live music on board, which is one thing we love about cruising vacations.
This was our first cruise with the shortened shows. Yes,they are shorter, but with three performances, it seems that passengers don't feel the need to be arriving in the venue a half hour early and then saving tons of seats. Most of the shows were on the Golden two years ago. We did see three of them again -- Stardust (which features music from the 40s or so), Motor City (Motown, of course), and the British Invasion, which was brand new back in 2010.
We did go to the Ultimate Deck Party, which occurred on one of our port nights. First Leialoha gave everyone a hula lesson (we all performed the Hukilau song). Then New Deal took over with pop songs. Sammi directed the action from next to one of the hot tubs, with members of the staff encouraged those on our side of the pool to get dancing. The Golden Dancers could be seen on the other side of the pool.
One major difference from our last cruise was that there weren't any tables with lavish spreads at the UDP. Not any food at all. But if anyone was starving, they're just steps away from the Horizon Court. And you can always boogie down to the Plaza deck where the International Cafe is.
As a movie buff, I'm glad that Princess has a variety of movies shown on the MUTS, on the in-cabin TV, and in a couple of other venues. I know that many people say they didn't book a cruise to be doing something they could do back at home, but it's relaxing for me.
This was our second cruise with "silent disembarkation." All passengers were given a group color/number and an assigned place. You had to be in one of these lounges in order to hear the announcements. Much safer than with passengers hanging out in stairwells as one would witness some years ago.
Miscellaneous and random opinions of mine:
Princess should consider switching to a digital facial recognition method for their photography. Have the photography scan a cabin card of one of the passengers in the group (or more if there's more than one cabin). Then you can view your photos in a kiosk to view your photos and order them that way. Even better, have that capability available via your cabin TV. I'm sure many people can't find all of their photos, or perhaps simply forget to check the gallery for theirs. There's less waste of paper and time as the photography staff won't be printing out all those photos, probably the majority of which never get purchased. And maybe more photos would actually get bought.
Love that drink vouchers are passed out at the Captain's Circle gatherings, instead of offering watered-down drinks. You can use them at any bar at any time of the cruise.
Not a lot of hard-selling, which is good as it makes many of us uncomfortable. Except for the first day, where you can't turn around without being offered a chance to purchase the drink sticker. As I don't care for Coke products, it's not on my must have list.
I didn't like finding out that Princess added a charge for a transfer package to our booking. This should be offered by those who are coming in from out of town, but not automatically added to anyone's booking. We weren't flying in or staying at a hotel so we obviously had no need for Princess transportation from the airport. I only found out about this by getting an email asking us to give them our pre-cruise info.
If you buy an Internet package prior to the cruise, you should be given the log-in info in your cabin before the cruise. It should be a seamless package and not a major rigmarole, which it was for us. It seems stupid to make the passenger buy another package and get a credit for the original one. Really stupid.
Still like the fact that Princess has a lot of storage in the cabins, a mini-fridge no matter what category you book, self-service laundry rooms for those who don't wish to send their laundry to the ship's service (some of us have items that can't be washed in hot water and some that have to be air-dried).
Wish the pre-show announcements no seat saving, no flash photography, etc.) included a "please no talking." I know there will still be inconsiderate jerks, but out of the three major shows we went to, two had people in the audience gabbing during the shows. A major pet peeve of mine.
If there are teams that are tied during the trivia matches, why not give members of both teams prizes, especially if there's still a tie after the tiebreaker. We're talking about inexpensive items that Princess buys in bulk anyway. During the second match I went to, there were many people waiting for a winning team to be declared so that the football game would be put on in the Explorers' Lounge. So the two tiebreakers were keeping them from the activity they came for.
There are measures that Princess can do to cut down on chair hogging. Have cubbyholes in the pool area so that people who are using the pool, but don't need a deck chair, can stash their towels, sandals, sunscreen. Deck staff can actually enforce the time limits of non-use of a deck chair (I believe on some cruise lines they put a blue dot with the time if they see unattended stuff on a chair, and then after a while, remove the items so that others can use the chair). When I wanted to sit in a shady spot to watch a movie on MUTS, I cleared a paperback book and a shirt off a deck chair. The owner of that stuff didn't come by until more than an hour later (and that wasn't including the time before I got there).
As a native Angeleno, I know the phrase "Sunny California" can be misleading at times. We do get cool weather and rain, especially in the winter time. There was rain a few days before our cruise, but it cleared up on our embarkation day. One morning, I noticed the aloha deck was wet, and there was rain one sea day around noontime. Not surprising. We had rain in Hilo, not a surprise. It rains in Hawaii. We did have some days in the islands in the high 70s. Mostly in the 60s on some of the sea days. I'm not looking for a sun-bunny type of cruise anyway.
All in all, another fun vacation.