Warning! This is somewhat long~~~~~ This was a spur of the moment cruise, in as much, as I received the e-mail on Feb. 22, 2013 for a Mini-Suite Sale for a 14 Day Hawaiian Cruise aboard the Golden Princess. The cruise was for March 27, 2013. This gave us just one month to book, plan, and finance, schedule and get to San Pedro, CA from Oklahoma. No Problem!
We discussed the offer and determined that while it was short notice, the deal was just too good to overlook. The savings amounted to just over $1,250 per person savings over the cruise that we were planning to take in the spring of 2014. After a quick check of the financials the booking process got underway.
Since we had just returned from an Alaska Inside Passage in Sept. 2012, we knew what was needed! Clothes were going to be the first issue as the climates of Alaska and Hawaii are somewhat different. (Dont ya think?) What we determined as essential soon became unnecessary or irrelevant. But enough about that, what I want to let you know is how great the Princess Cruise Line (PCL) personnel are. My call connected me with Kimberly Simaha, Consumer Support Personnel representative who answered our questions and handled the basics in one phone call. We even got the area of the ship that we prefer, mid-ship deck 9. The next day I called Sharonda Huff, our normal Cruise Vacation Planner. With her help we completed the little extras that take the cruise one step above the normal.
Over the next 3 weeks, we retrieved from various nooks & crannys and closets our suitcases and items of importance (?) as was determined. I purchased a couple of Hawaiian Shirts and an extra pair of Bermuda shorts for the trip, while the wife managed to keep her purchases to a minimum also. We really did a good job.
During this time we selected a number of excursions that might be of interest to us and started paring them down to the best for our first trip to Hawaii. We booked 3 PCL Excursions and 2 Online Excursions, do to conflicts with what we wished to see.
Then there was the e-mail on Mar. 19 with the offer to upgrade to a Full Suite from the Mini-Suite for what to us was a very reasonable amount. Making the call was easy but accepting the revised location was another issue all together. The suites offered were located at the aft of the ship on the Sun Deck, deck 15. Since we had never been anywhere but the middle of the ship this presented a dilemma since this was our first open ocean voyage. However, the luxury of the suite won out over the aft location on the ship, so we booked the upgrade to the Corsica Suite, S703. More on S703 later.
Start of Vacation:
We drove to the LA area. Being retired does have some advantages and I would rather drive than fly anytime. After 2 ½ days of relaxed travel, we arrive in LA and drove straight to the Pacific Ocean and Redondo Beach Pier. We arrived around 10:30AM where we met some dear friends for a nice relaxing lunch at Tonys on the Pier. We started out with a Mai Tai followed by a wonderful lunch and great conversation. After several hours, we parted to go our separate way for who knows how long. We drove south from Redondo Beach around Palos Verde on our way to San Pedro. If you are new to the LA area this is one of the most scenic drives of California. The Crowne Plaza Hotel in San Pedro was the hotel of choice since they offered the best rate and the best accommodations, hotel and car wise. The rate included garage parking for the 14 days of the cruise, transportation to and from the ship plus several extras during our stay at the Crowne Plaza.
Cruise Time: 1st Day of Voyage & Embarkation; Wed. 03/27/13. Clear & Cool!
The morning of our cruise, we enjoyed a buffet breakfast at the hotel before boarding our shuttle to the ship. At the Pier, we were directed to the proper line based upon our boarding passes and quickly preceded through the boarding process which took less than 30 minutes total. After boarding the Golden we were directed to our suite and upon arriving found it to be just a luxurious as the suite on the Star last September. The Golden and the Star are as close to twins as possible. The major exception is the suites on the Sun Deck!
Then we proceeded down to deck 14 to the Horizon Court for lunch. After lunch, we found half of our luggage in the room and began the unpacking. By the time we were almost through the rest of our luggage arrived. What timing, however, that would come after Muster Call. This is mandatory and you are checked into your muster station with a scanner. After Muster, we completed the unpacking. We then combined our luggage within itself and stored it under the bed. However neatly we pack, it seems that there are always things that need pressed. So we laid out my suit, Hawaiian shirts along with several of my wifes pants suites and nicer blouses to be pressed. One of the many perks of a suite is free laundry & dry cleaning. Before dinner time our room steward Charlie had retrieved them and brought more ice for our bucket. He was starting off really great.
Now it is time to relax and unwind on our wonderful full deck with a glass of the complimentary Champagne and Chocolate Cover Strawberries. There was also a large Fruit Bowl of selected fruits and of course lets not forget the beautiful flower bouquet in the room. Now that is rejuvenating and relaxing.
Our major issue with the Sun Deck Suites is the paltry number of aft elevators that service the Sun Deck. As previously stated the Sun Deck Suites are located at the aft of the ship. To get to our suite, the best route is to go to the Lido Deck 7 and walk to the elevators at the rear of the ship. While All Aft elevators go up to deck 14 where the Horizon Court Buffet is located, only the two outer aft elevators go to deck 15 and beyond. Needless to say, they are very busy, so getting to our rooms was a bit of an adventure.
Time to check out the Golden Princess! Guess what? Its just like the Star Princess except for the Sun Deck Suites. The Piazza is the central focal point for most gatherings, shops, lounges or access along the hall of the Lido Deck, casino and dining rooms. It also has entertainers performing most of the time from lunch until late every evening. As a perk for booking a suite, we had a free cover charge for the sail-away dinner and we chose Sabatinis (again). The atmosphere was spectacular and the meal and service was outstanding. They pampered you and by the end of the 2 hour meal were calling you by you names. After dinner we began our cruise with the entertainment of the night. Of course we celebrated with a cocktail (Mai Tai) to break the ice, so to speak.
During the evening, we started meeting couples we had conversed with on Facebook and Cruise Critic. Everyone was thrilled to finally be onboard and cruising. One couple that we met was from Michigan and we became good friends with them over the course of the cruise. Another couple & their daughter that we had met on Facebook, were just great and really made the cruise enjoyable. We ran into quite a few couples daily and looked forward to our encounters. One of the great things about cruising is that you never meet a stranger. Everyone is willing to share their tables, provide information and just be pleasant. We ran into all of these people daily and looked forward to our encounters. One of the great things about cruising is that you never meet a stranger. Everyone is willing to share their tables, provide information and just be pleasant. We signed up for Anytime Dining and were really thrilled by our tablemates almost every day, whether breakfast, lunch or dinner. The staff of the Golden Princess proved to be one of the friendliest and hospitable assemblages of people we have come across in our travels.
2nd Day of Voyage; Thurs. 03/28/13. Somewhat rough seas!
The ocean cruising days were simply refreshing! The DW & I really enjoyed the relaxation that came with the cruising! We began to fall into a rhythm that soon became the norm. The day began with coffee delivered to our room around 6:45AM, followed by breakfast at Sabatinis around 8:00AM. This morning we met another couple at breakfast, Pam & Cal and we struck up a mutual friendship. Then it was time for the Lecture by Naturalist John Manke. His talks were very informative and quite interesting. At 12 noon every day the bridge would sound 12 Bells and provide the status of the ship with all pertinent information (including the depth of the ocean at that location). They also, provide a bit of sailing history with explanations of where certain nautical term came from. These were really interesting facts to learn. We were having a bit of roughness in the seas. It was fun to watch everyone staggering down the halls without bumping into everything. It was the latest craze, as everyone was doing it.
Shortly thereafter, we made our way to the Piazza for live entertainment. Of course, if you wanted to you could just find a place to sit and watch the people. Later it would be time for lunch and of course you had your choice of several places to eat. Then you might want to retire to you stateroom and enjoy your balcony and read! This was something that I enjoyed even if it was sometimes a little windy. However it was never crowded. Around 3:00PM it was time for Snowball Jackpot Bingo which was relaxing as well as exciting. There were many lounges to relax in or there was the casino for a little more excitement. When we got back to the room to freshen up prior to dinner there was a fresh plate of Chocolate Cover Strawberries. (This occurred every day of the cruise and believe me they were delicious!) Evening began with Anytime Dining at your convenience which provided the opportunity to meet a variety of fellow passengers. The evening shows were among the best that we have seen on a cruise and the Piazza entertainment was simply outstanding.
3rd Day of Voyage; Fri. 03/29/13. Somewhat rough seas!
Again the day began with coffee delivered to our room around 6:45AM, followed by breakfast at Sabatinis around 8:00AM. (If you start to see a routine then you are correct.) This morning I attended a seminar on Acupuncture and back pain. I scheduled two appointments for Friday and Saturday late afternoon. Of course we found the ships Casino and were enjoying ourselves at the Slots. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and meeting other passengers. This was our first â(EURO)oeFormal Nightâ(EURO) and the atmosphere was exciting and fun. Some people dressed to the nines while others simple wore suits and nice dresses or blouses & pants.
4th Day of Voyage; Sat. 03/30/13. Calm seas but windy!
It was Coffee & Breakfast @ Sabatinis as usual to start the day. This was the first day that the seas were somewhat calm, and people didn)t know what to do! After the second Acupuncture treatment, I couldnt see any real improvement and chose not to schedule any follow-up treatments. But within a few days even my wife began to see some improvement in my ability to get around, so I guess you could say it worked.
5th Day of Voyage; Easter Sunday 03/31/13. Calm seas but windy!
The morning began as usual and I noticed that there were Easter Services scheduled so after breakfast we attended the service. It was a very good sermon and service. Of course, later on Easter Sunday morning and afternoon was kids time for Easter egg hunts and what have you. This was really the only time that we actually saw the majority of the kids.
Meeting fellow passengers became the rule of the cruise. It seemed that every other person was from England or Canada. I guess the cheap dollar worked form them. This was the day that I decided to go to the Internet area and send out a short email to friends and family.
Ports of Call:
The port of calls for this cruise were Hilo (Big Island), Honolulu (O'ahu), Nawiliwili (Kauai) and Lahaina (Maui) beginning tomorrow.
6th Day of Voyage & 1st Day in Hawaii; Mon. 04/01/13. Beautiful skies!
April 1st came but it was not April Fool Day as it was a Hawaiian Celebration that we had been looking forward to! We sighted the Big Island early that morning while drinking our morning coffee and after breakfast we retired to our balcony to view the docking at Hilo! It was interesting to watch the tugs assist the Golden Princess in to dock. There were a myriad of excursions from which to choose, depending upon you activity level. Ours choice was Akaka Falls, Kahuna Falls, Rainbow Falls, Tour #ITO480A, it departed at 09:30AM and returned by 01:00PM. Given a choice, we usually take the waterfall tours. The scenery was spectacular and of course the weather was perfect! Since neither my wife nor I are much at shopping and since walking long distances are not our cup of tea, well, guess what. We arrived back at the ship in time for a late lunch at the Horizon Court. Then it was time to enjoy the balcony with relaxation, reading or napping. As the time came to leave port it was also time to eat again.
Our first encounter with Hawaii was everything we expected and more. This gave birth to an idea in the back of our minds that this might not be our only visit to Hawaii!
7th Day of Voyage & 2nd Day in Hawaii; Tues. 04/02/13. Clearing skies!
Sailing proved to be a much need tonic for my insomnia, what with the gentle rolling of the ocean and ship I had little trouble sleeping soundly until around 6:00AM.
This morning, there was a change in our routine as we had ordered Breakfast on our Balcony delivered to our room by 6:30AM for an early start. While shaving out on the balcony, I saw the outline of Oahu around 6:00AM. We watched the sunrise over Waikiki Beach/Hotels! We arrived at the dock at the projected time of 7:00AM. While eating breakfast, we were able to enjoy the beautiful sights of Honolulu from the ship. We had a perfect view of the Aloha Tower just off our balcony. WOW! Then it was time for our first tour of the day, that being the USS Arizona and the Mighty Mo! We were not going to miss this on our first trip to Hawaii and we were glad that we didnt. Words cannot convey the emotions that you experience! Please remember this is a memorial and as a show of respect, gentlemen should remove their hats while on the USS Arizona Memorial.
We had time for lunch on shore before we caught a tour bus for The South Shore of Oahu Sightseeing Tour! I love tours where I get to set back and relax and not drive. This was a spectacular tour of Oahu and we really got to see a lot of the island. After the actual tour was over and we were dropped off other passengers at our pickup hotels, we found out that we will never book a hotel within the Waikiki Beach area. That area is block after block (6 wide by 15 long) of nothing but High-Rise Condo and large Resort-Hotels. If you are going to Hawaii for rest and relaxation then the wall-to-wall people in the Waikiki Beach area is not that place! Arriving back at the Golden Princess and our suite, we relaxed with a pick-me-up and showered before dressing (casual) for dinner.
8th Day of Voyage & 3rd Day in Hawaii; Wed. 04/03/13. Beautiful skies!
Early Wednesday morning, we were treated to a magnificent sunrise over Kauai! This was just one of many grand sunrises that we saw while on this cruise. In-bound for the port we spotted a whale from our balcony. This was our first whale sighing, but not our last. As we entered Nawiliwili Bay, we saw the prototypical Hawaiian cove and decided that this was just what we came to Hawaii to see. During the docking process, while awaiting instructions from the harbor master, a tug captain who evidently was a little bored began to put on quite a show of the tugs skills. I only wished that I had taken a video instead of pictures of the tug doing what we came to call the Tug Dance. All of the people on our side of the ship seemed to really enjoy it because when the tug finished the show everyone applauded. Again after a very relaxing breakfast at Sabatinis we gathered out cameras and hats for our on-shore experiences. This was our first experience of visiting an ABC Store. Talk about a tourist trap, which seems to be its claim to fame.
At the appointed time we met up with the rep from Wings over Kauai for our tour of Kauai! While this was our first time in a smaller airplane, it was absolutely fantastic. Our pilot Josh was the greatest and really seemed to enjoy showing us the island and its wonders. We even spotted a mother and her calf in a lagoon and he made a couple of loops so we could get a great view and really great pictures. Wings over Kauai advertisement states: Every seat is a window seat and that is what sold us! The 65+ minute flight was wonderful. The sights were unbelievable and fantastic. To top it off, the cost was much cheaper than the helicopters.
After returning to the ship, we grabbed a bit at the International Cafe & Coffee Bar. Then spent another afternoon enjoying our balcony with its great view. This port has a spectacular view of the Pacific, the cove and the Island.
One bit of Kauai Information, after the first two multi-story hotels were being built, Kauai governing board made a decision that from then on No Building would be taller than a palm tree! Simply a great idea to retain the tropical scenery as the first thing you see!
9th Day of Voyage & 4th Day in Hawaii; Thurs. 04/04/13. Clear & Beautiful!
While this was the last morning of the cruise to Hawaii, we vowed that it would not be our last time in Hawaii! This was the only port that we didnt dock at a pier, but instead we anchored off-shore about Â½ a mile. Tender boats were very active this morning going to and from the docks at Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii. Fortunately, we had scheduled a PCL Whale Watching Tour and boarded a separate ship for this. During this excursion, we were never more than 1 Â½ miles from the Golden Princess. Our first sighting was within Â½ a mile and that was a mother and her calf. Both of whom were being followed by a male as an escort. As our guide stated, he was hoping to get lucky as the mother would not leave the Hawaiian waters until she was pregnant with her next calf. So he was hanging around
After the excursion, we were dropped off Lahaina, where we finally decided to do our shopping, other that the shopping we had done onboard the Golden. First off we took a couple of pictures of the magnificent Banyan Tree Grove. It covered the entire central square of Lahaina. Our goal was to find a Sun Catcher to hang in a window of our 4 Seasons Sunroom. However, we found a wonderful little jewelry store and proceeded to buy a beautiful pair of Plumeria Earrings and a Plumeria Necklace Pendant to go with it. Then it was time to grab a bite to eat and of course we had a local brew, Kona Longboard draft that was so good that it deserved an encore brew. Of course the local food was very good, particularly the fish tacos. Then we walked across the street to a tourist trap gift shop, which was what we were looking for. There we purchased Hawaiian shirt and dresses for the grandkids. Then we boarded the tenders back to the Golden Princess. While we had a great day, it soon became evident that our visit to the beautiful islands of Hawaii was now at an end. Tonight we would up anchor and begin the relaxing cruise back towards the mainland with its intermediary stop at Ensenada, Mexico.
10th Day of Voyage & 5th Day @ Sea; Fri. 04/05/13. Calm seas & clear skies!
This was the first day of our return voyage to the mainland. Of course it began as almost every morning began, with coffee delivered to our room around 6:45AM, followed by breakfast at Sabatini's around 8:00AM. The staff at Sabatiniâs seemed to become more than just the maitre de and waiters, by now they were great friends. One of the waiters was in charge of serving the pastry tray and everyone referred to him as their pusher or dealer since with his smiling face would greet you with the tray and immediately go into his spiel for your selection. Of course, if you only took one pastry, he immediately stated that this other pastry comes along because it would be lonely to be left. While another server believed that if one Bellini was good then two was better. Needless to say it often took up to 1 ½ hours to eat breakfast. But there was never any hurry!
Since the Snowball Jackpot Bingo was temporarily halted during port days, it was now time to resume. Every day the jackpot was not won, it increased by $200. The casino held daily Slot Tournaments. And not to be outdone, there were daily Bargains for sale in the boutiques and on sale tables. One of the best buys were reversible weather proof jackets prior to arrival at the islands.
As usual, we went to Bernini Dining Room for dinner. This was our second Formal Night and of course we were seated with several interesting couples that added to the festive atmosphere of the night. The ability to meet other cruisers is the main reason for choosing Anytime Dining. After dinner it was off to the Princess Theatre for the evening's entertainment along with a cocktail to relax us from our hectic day at sea.
11th Day of Voyage; Sat. 04/06/13. Somewhat rough seas & clear skies!
This proved to be a wonderful day to just enjoy the relaxation. After breakfast at Sabatini's we went down to the Piazza, found a couple of seats and watched the people while partaking of a couple of coffee-lattes before attending the Naturalist Seminar. Then the wife went to the casino while I head up to cabin to get a book and read. Even though there were rough seas, I enjoyed sitting in the chaise on the balcony to read with the sun beaming down. Around 11:30 AM we got together in the Piazza to decide about lunch. Salad and Fruit was the order of the day. Of course, we checked the picture galleries just like so many others were. We did buy more of the ships pictures this trip because of the scenery and poses. Again I decided to use the balcony for reading and maybe a little nap! Did I mention that they had refilled the fruit bowl in the room yesterday?
This evening we had dinner at the Crown Grill with our friends from Michigan. It was a truly spectacular meal. Everyone's steaks were grilled to perfection and the sides were outstanding. I can honestly say that I have only had a better steak one time and that was at Jess & Jim's Steakhouse in KCMO. The evening was one to remember because of the meals and of course the company. The atmosphere at the Crown Grill is second to none and helped make the evening what it was. Spectacular!
12th Day of Voyage; Sun. 04/07/13. Calm seas & beautiful blue skies!
After the morning coffee on our balcony while shaving, it was time for Sabatini's again and another spectacular breakfast. Then it was time for Sunday services. This is something rather nice that is provided by Princess. I believe that my better half and I are really getting use to this cruising thing. While everyone told us that we would go crazy with all of the sea days during this cruise we found it simply great for relaxing and enjoying life without any pressure to constantly be doing something.
13th Day of Voyage; Mon. 04/08/13. Choppy seas & cloudy skies!
Since this was the third of 3 Formal Nights and this was the last of one. That evening we were seated at 'Table 63' which as it turned out was quite an honor. We were seated along with another couple at the table. Everyone introduced themselves and we were introduced to Mr. Thomas & Mrs. Dorothy Churley, Princess Cruise Lines 'Most Traveled Passengers' of the voyage. They have sailed 1,097 days with Princess since 2005! This was their 6 b-t-b cruise to Hawaii and were also booked on the next cruise. They have this table each cruise in addition to having the same waiter. The evening was most entertaining. Now to the other couple, Mr. and Mrs. John Manka were a very interesting, both of whom who are retired US Park Rangers having served at many National Parks across our wonderful country. I knew that I recognized his voice but couldn't place the face. Then just before the dinner was coming to an end, it finally dawned on me he was the Ship's Naturalist. When we attended the Naturalist's Talks, we set in the back of the Princess Theatre due to the stairs. It is at least 60 rows away from the podium and my eyes must really be bad. Anyway, it was an extreme pleasure to sit and talk with these two interesting and nice couples. Of course that is why we chose Anytime Dining.
14th Day of Voyage & Port of Ensenada; Tues. 04/09/13. Calm seas & clear!
After morning coffee it was breakfast at Sabatini's. This was one thing that we both were going to miss after the cruise. Then we went down to the Piazza, found a couple of seats and watched the people while partaking of a couple of regular coffees, before attending the Naturalist Seminar. This day was just for relaxation and enjoyment. I partook of the balcony as we had sun and pleasant temperatures on our balcony for most of the day. Well, too be perfectly honest, it wasn't exactly all relaxation and enjoyment, as we had to pack our suitcases for tomorrows debarkation. This really brought home the fact that this wonderful cruise was fast coming to a close and we would be back to waiting on ourselves.
As we entered the port of Ensenada, we fixed ourselves a couple of drinks and enjoyed the docking experience. We chose not to go ashore but instead just relax and have a late dinner. Before going to eat, we placed all of our luggage outside of our door. Then we enjoyed dinner followed by the entertainment in the Piazza one more time. All through the afternoon and evening, we exchanged travel cards with several of the couples that we had met and enjoyed each others company during the cruise.
15th Day of Voyage & Disembarkation; Wed. 04/10/13. Clear skies but LA still has smog!
With coffee delivered at 6:30AM for the last time I enjoyed it while shaving on the balcony as the Golden Princess docked for the last time. After docking, around 7:30AM, we checked out of our suite S703 and went down to our assigned disembarkation site, the Bernini Restaurant, where we were served an assortment of pastry's, coffee or tea. Several of us went out to the International Cafe and picked up breakfast croissants. Our Color Tag & # was called around 9:50AM and we proceeded through the cattle chute of disembarkation. Surprisingly, we flew through customs and immediately found our luggage. (We wrapped each piece in a brightly colored and decorated duct tape which made identification quite easy. We had a porter with a cart that lead us to our rendezvous point for pickup by the Crowne Plaza shuttle. We waited around 10 minutes and were on our way to get our car. After getting our car, it was on the road again heading towards Las Vegas and the Flamingo hotel. We spent 3 nights at the Flamingo before heading back to Oklahoma.
Now let me inform you that while we prepaid gratuities! But I always carry a stack $2.00 bills to reward the extra service that we received almost all of the time: morning coffee, bar service, special waiter/waitress, International Cafe and other services too numerous to mention. I also carried a stack of $5.00 bills for bellhops, parking attendants, tour & shuttle drivers, etc. I believe that you get what you pay for and I believe in rewarding service.
Remember what my wife and I always say;
TRAVEL FIRST CLASS, IF YOU DON'T, YOUR KIDS WILL!
Just us, RetiredNTraveling!