We are Elite cruisers with Princess and have chosen their ships for our last five or six cruises. We chose this cruise because of its itinerary--from Buenos Aires, around the Horn to Los Angeles with a side trip to Machu Picchu.
First, the good points. The service on the ship by the dining staff, bar staff, cabin attendants, International Café staff, room service and everyone else on board was top-notch and excellent. Friendly, smiling folks at all times. All of the staff, including the hotel personnel aboard who were doing the daily, mundane cleaning chores always had a smile and a very pleasant greeting. These folks are the heart and soul of the ship and can make or break your experience. They were great, as always.
The ship's excursion to Machu Picchu, while of necessity rushed, used excellent guides, transportation and the hotel facilities for both nights in Peru were five star. The tour was expensive but well worth the price for what we saw, how we were treated and where we stayed. It was a once in a lifetime experience and Princess did not let us down.
The service in the dining room went beyond excellent. Two folks in our party had food allergies and the Head Waiters and wait staff went above and beyond to make sure their problems were handled, personally, each evening. Hats off to them.
Princess has greatly limited the smoking areas on the ship. It is probably too much to expect that a ship could be smoke free, but that would be nice. Their efforts are a bit of a help. However, a non-smoker almost has to hold their breath to walk through the casino. They do have one or two smoke-free nights in the casino, to their credit.
Now the less than good points. The ship itself is becoming a rusty eyesore. We docked with a Celebrity ship and a RCCL ship at points in the cruise. Their, clean and shiny exteriors almost made the Golden look like a tramp steamer. As we were tendering in to the Golden at one port rust, from huge amounts at the anchor well, to lesser amounts was visible all over the ship up to deck six. Along side of all this rust the huge, black circles caused by the rubber abutments in docking lined both sides of the ship. We have sailed both Celebrity and RCCL and were embarrassed by the appearance of the "Golden." It's not so golden anymore.
On our balcony, rust was the main color along the bottom of the rail. The matting on the deck was speckled with white paint slopped from who-knows-where. Not much care in maintenance here. This all falls back onto the captain. His apparent lack of pride in his ship shows.
The food: The dining experience was always a high point of the day because of the attention and friendliness of the wait staff and the companionship at our table. On some nights the food was excellent but on most nights it was mediocre at best. The lobster was almost inedible and, in fact, after the first two samplings I wouldn't order it. They were small, flat and poorly cooked. The desserts were OK but if you didn't care for chocolate, your options were limited and the menu varied very little over the 31 days. In fact, the kitchen obviously ran out of some items when, without explanation, substitutions were made. They did run out of some fruit and other fruit was put out at the Horizon Court that was obviously well passed its prime.
The embarkation experience: We chose our own flight to Buenos Aires and chose the Princess transfer from the airport to the ship. To say that the pick-up and transfer experience was horrible, terrible and confusing would be understating it. What a mess. The worst experience of this type we have ever encountered. I could write pages. Then, after the airport mess, when we got to the ship we had to board another bus to get to the ship. They overloaded each bus by putting at least twice the number of passengers allowed, maybe more, and then we just sat for 15 minutes while they overstuffed other busses. We spent two nights in Buenos Aires but we might as well have been home because we felt we could not easily or leisurely exit and the re-board the ship. It was that bad.