We traveled on the Golden Princess July 16-23, 2011. Our group totaled 11 people from Portland, Oregon. We had four adults in their 60's and 70's, four more in their 40's, and kids ages eight, 11, and 12.
We drove up to Seattle the day before the cruise and stayed at the Comfort Suites Downtown/Seattle Center at 601 Roy Street. Hotel is in the middle of a remodel but the work should be done soon. The rooms are nice and the hotel has secure underground parking, so I would recommend it, especially if you need to park your car for the week.
We asked about getting some taxis for the two mile drive to Pier 91 and were told we should take a shuttle instead because the taxis would cost more. We went with the shuttle the hotel recommended and paid $7.00 per person plus tip (Total of about $90.00). On the way back we took two Taxi vans and the total including tip was $40.00. Not sure if hotel is getting a commission or kick-back from the shuttle company, but I would take a taxi both directions next time.
As others have stated, the hotel is a block away from a QFC Supermarket, so we purchased two cases of bottled water there and put luggage tags on the water (Thanks to Janet Foster for this tip in your review). The water was delivered to our cabin without any problems.
Hotel is about a 10 minute walk to the Seattle Center and Space Needle. There are a few restaurants within walking distance. We ate at McMenamins, about four blocks away on Roy Street. It is a brewpub chain that we also have in Oregon. Lots of beer choices and good burgers and pub food.
Embarkation: We arrived at the port a little before 11:30 am. Getting onto the ship took about 30 minutes. Had to go through security, fill out our health forms, and then get into another line to receive our room keys. Grab an Alaska coupon book here before you get on the ship. We saved some money on souvenirs and ended up with free hats and cloth bags from stores in Ketchikan by having the coupons.
Reading other reviews, I knew that one of the dining rooms would be open for lunch. The staff tried to get us up to the Horizon Court Buffet, but we went downstairs instead and found the Donatello Dining Room open. We had a relaxed sit down lunch in an almost empty dining room while the rest of the ship fought for seats up at the buffet. While we were eating, there was a shipboard announcement for guests to visit either the buffet or the International Cafe for lunch. Not sure why the Donatello is kept secret, but I highly recommend lunch there to start your cruise.
After lunch we unpacked and toured the ship. They have a little treasure hunt where you have to get a card stamped at different parts of the ship. If you get all the stamps, you can put the card into a raffle at the sail away party. We didn't win any prizes but had a good time learning where things were on the ship. Tip: There is red in the hallway carpet on the left (Port) side of the ship while it is all blue on the right (Starboard) side. The ship is huge and when getting off the elevators or stairs, it was easy to get turned around.
Room: All four rooms were balcony cabins on the left side of the Baja deck. We traveled with our 12 year old daughter and didn't feel cramped with three people in the cabin. The room steward lowered her bed from the ceiling at night and put it back up each morning. This was my fifth cruise but first in a balcony cabin. We LOVED having the balcony! Spent much time reading on the balcony and also was out there a bunch in Glacier Bay.
A few minor negatives: Found a few small crumbs under the bed and a smudge or two at the top of the shower, but other than that, the room and bedding were very clean. Only other small issues in the cabin were desk drawers that were very hard to open and a t.v. remote that didn't work very well, so it was hard to change the channels. However, these were small matters and did not take away from our enjoyment of the cruise. Tip: We left notes for each other on the little room number shelf in the hallway (Where they leave the Princess Patter each night). With 11 people in our group, we were spread out on the ship and it helped us meet up for activities.
Food & Drinks: While others have complained about the food in their reviews, we found almost all the food to be excellent. The buffet was nothing special but I'm not sure how anyone could be disappointed in the dining room food unless they eat at the finest restaurants at home. We had early seating in the Canaletto Dining Room with great servers. Our head waiter had super recommendations each night and told us about specials that were not on the menu (French onion soup, special desserts, etc.). Other than a fatty prime rib, all the beef dishes were very good and the presentation was top notch. We liked the seafood and my wife and daughter were pleased with the pasta dishes. There was a children's menu available at each meal, so if everything was too fancy, the kids could order chicken strips, hamburgers, etc. Dinner was scheduled at 6:00 p.m., but we were able to come at 5:30 p.m. in case there was a show or talk we wanted to see. They let us in at 5:15 p.m. the last night so we could get off the ship in Victoria right away. Tip: You can't get from the front of the ship to the Canaletto Dining Room on the sixth (Fiesta) deck since the galley blocks your way. If you have this dining room, you need to use the back (Aft) stairs or elevators.
Had most of my lunches at either Prego Pizzeria or the Trident Grill and sat by the pool. The pizza was top notch and better than a lot of restaurants. There was cheese and pepperoni each day and one specialty, which changed daily. The grill had hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken sandwiches. The burgers and fries were good and my daughter gave the hot dogs a thumbs up. Many of the others in our group went to the dining room for lunch and said the food was excellent.
I only ate at the Horizon Court twice, the first two mornings for breakfast. The food was fine but didn't think anything was excellent. I walked through once at lunch but didn't see anything I wanted so went for pizza instead. There is plenty to choose from, but with the dining room, pool grills, and the International Cafe available, the Horizon Court seemed to be the least appealing option. Others in our group seemed to enjoy the Horizon buffet, so I may be alone in my opinion.
International Cafe: Wow! Everything I had here was fantastic! In the morning they have doughnuts, croissants, muffins, cinnamon rolls, and other pastries. Later in the day they change to fancy desserts and have about four different salads and one soup which changes daily). Next to the food is a coffee bar. Individual specialty coffees are about $1.75 for a small and $3.50 for a large. I purchased a coffee card the first day for $33.35. It gives you 15 large specialty drinks and unlimited brewed coffee, hot tea and hot chocolate. Besides the hot drinks, they will also make iced coffee and blended coffee drinks. Most of the drinks I had were much stronger than at Starbucks.
My wife purchased the Ultimate Kid's Soda Card for $56.35. It provided unlimited soda, juice, virgin cocktails, smoothies, and milkshakes. While costly, she and my daughter easily drank enough to make it worthwhile.
Entertainment: We went to all the shows in the Princess Theatre except the crew talent show. We enjoyed all the music and dancing. It's not Broadway but the quality of the performances is worth your time. The hypnotist was good and we especially liked Carlos Oscar, the comedian (family friendly).
We played trivia about five or six times and had a blast. Some in our group even won. Prizes include things like refrigerator magnets and pens. Some contests gave the winner a bottle of champagne. We also watched the Princess Pop Star talent show one night. We expected Karaoke night at the local bar but there were a few performers that were very good.
We played Bingo once and also went to see Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the Iditarod. She had a talk, answered questions, and showed a slide show of her experience.
The kids were all in Shockwaves (Ages 8-12) and went a couple of times during the cruise. The first time they went, they put the eight year old in a separate group than the 11 and 12 year old, so we asked that she be included with the older kids the next time and it wasn't a problem. They did some arts and crafts, like painting a t-shirt, making a necklace, and painting on cloth. They also played video games and had an ice cream social. There were also some meals and evening activities for the kids but our group did not participate. For this age group, you can choose whether the kids check themselves in and out of Shockwaves by themselves or whether an adult needs to sign them in and out.
Much of the rest of our time was spent by the pools or reading on the balcony or in a public area. The kids swam in both the covered pool and the outdoor pool below MUTS (Movies Under the Stars). There is also a nice "Adults Only" pool at the back of the ship that was much quieter. However, I saw at least one family that brought their kids, so not sure they enforce the "Adults Only." We did follow the rules and kept our kids in the other pools.
I didn't find the staff to be pushy selling things. They were selling the soda packages all over the ship the first day, but that pretty much disappeared the rest of the cruise. I actually had to ask about the coffee card, so they weren't bothering people about it that I could see. They did ask about wine tasting at dinner a few times, but we said "no" and they left. The photographers were a little annoying, especially on the formal nights, but we put up with it. At $20.00 a piece, no one in our group bought any photos.
Juneau: The first stop on the cruise and it rained the whole day. We had planned on doing both Mendenhall Glacier and the Mount Roberts Tramway, but since the weather was so lousy and we had done them on a previous cruise, we decided to pass. Instead, we took a walk around the city center, including the State Capitol and the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church. After a little shopping, we spent the rest of the day on the ship. If you have never seen Mendenhall Glacier, it is worth seeing, even in poor weather, and part of our group did go out to see it. I would also recommend the Mount Roberts Tramway but only in nice weather. At $27.00 a person, didn't seem worth it to go up and have no view because of the cloud cover.
Skagway: I got off the ship early and spoke to a few different tour companies about going into the Yukon. Ended up using "Frontier Excursions and Tours" for a six hour round trip to Carcross. Regular Fee is $99.00 for adults and $79.00 for kids plus tax but I had visited their website before the trip and printed a $7.77 discount coupon per person. We traveled in a 28-person shuttle van and stopped at a waterfall, three or four lakes, the welcome signs for both Alaska and the Yukon, and the general store in Carcross. We also stopped at Caribou Crossing, a "nice tourist trap" just outside Carcross. Included in our tour price was a casual chicken lunch on picnic tables, entrance into a wildlife exhibit, and the chance to play with adult sled dogs and some puppies. For an additional fee, you can also go on a sled dog cart ride (on the road, not snow). The scenery was fabulous and much cheaper then anything we could have booked through Princess. Other people in our group went on the White Pass Railroad. They also enjoyed themselves and loved the scenery.
Ketchikan: We spent most of our time in town shopping for ourselves and friends back home. Plenty of cheap trinkets, so if you are looking for cheap gifts, wait until Ketchikan (and don't forget the coupon book). The weather was gorgeous, so we walked to the Tribal Hatchery and Eagle Center but did not go inside (I was cheap and our daughter was not in a learning mood). We did see an eagle in a tree on the way and took pictures of the totem poles outside the center.
Victoria: We have been to Victoria a few times before but would have loved a few more hours here. We walked from the ship to the Inner Harbour (about 15-20 minute walk each way), but you can also take a taxi, shuttle, or horse-drawn carriage. There was some sort of festival in town, so the kids wanted to watch a juggler for about 20 minutes. We then went and had tea, desert, and fancy popcorn on the porch of the Empress Hotel. This was not a fancy high tea, but it was nice to sit there and watch the sunset. We ran through a few shops and then walked back to the ship, stopping at a grocery store for a few Canadian products, including Old Dutch Ketchup chips (It may sound strange, but we get these every time we are in Canada. They have kind of a salt and vinegar taste).
Disembarkation: We were scheduled for one of the last departures (9:30 am) since we didn't have a plane to catch but were called early and were off the ship by 9:15 am. A Holland employee yelled at us for gathering on their side of the luggage area, so remember that Princess is on the right side of the room.
Overall, we had a great trip! I would recommend the Golden Princess highly. My parents felt the food on this ship was a little better than some other Princess ships (although all were good).