My first cruise was in 1985 & I have cruised with NCL (& NCL when they were NCCL), HAL, RCCL, Princess, Wind Star, Paul Gaugin when it was Radisson, and the now defunct Ocean Quest. This was my 3rd Princess cruise, my first on Golden.
My first Princess cruise was a 7 night Caribbean on the Caribbean Princess & it was a fabulous cruise. My second Princess cruise was a Trans Atlantic on the Grand & it was nice, but not fabulous. This cruise was less than nice, it was adequate.
Embarkation & debarkation went smoothly. Debarkation was excellent -- very well done! The only annoyance was that there were no cabs waiting & I'm not sure that Princess has anything to do with that. So a tight airport connection was made tighter. Embarkation was annoying in that we stood in line for over an hour. There were 18 spaces for agents, but only 9 present, & 1 of them was designated for passengers needing special assistance. Anyone could place themselves in the "Special Assistance" queue, & many did. There was an agent directing passengers to the check-in counter & when a space became available, she would direct a passenger from the "Special Assistance" queue. Consequently, all check-in agents were utilized for "Special Assistance" passengers -- many of whom looked healthier than those standing in the routine queue -- & tempers began to flare. Things settled down when another agent took over & started letting the routine queue check in.
I can't say anything about shore excursions because we had arranged for rental cars in each port except Ensenada. This worked very well for us, but we hadn't been to Hawaii in several years & we were astounded by the increased traffic!
BEST PARTS: Beautiful ship, very clean, very well maintained, tasteful, beautiful & elegant public spaces. The crew were fabulous & most of them definitely go out of their way to please you. Just being on a beautiful ship on that beautiful ocean is worth the trip in itself. Another Best was the specialty restaurant, Crown Grill. It was excellent. Wonderful steaks & accompaniments, very elegant surroundings. One more Best were our fellow passengers. I had many wonderful conversations with delightful people -- surely one of the absolute joys of cruising!
NOT-SO-BEST PARTS: The Spa. I don't mind getting gauged for spa services on a ship. I really don't -- having a massage at sea is really wonderful! But I do get really tired of the constant hard sell to purchase more services & $400 worth of products. It's a real turn-off. And the spa facilities were OK, not great. I paid $225 for a treatment & while the treatment itself was nice, the room was tiny, too bright, the shower too small & the table wobbly. The table kept rocking & jarring with the massage. The tranquility of the treatment was totally broken at the end, when the masseuse entered with an armload of products to push.
DISAPPOINTING PARTS: Ships parties. I love the Sail Away parties on cruises &, sadly, this one was over before we left the dock. The party started on time, our departure did not. A bit anti-climactic & surely could've been avoided. And only one deck party on the cruise? A 2 week cruise with only 1 deck party -- not as I expected. The other disappointment was the entertainment. We learned quickly that if we wanted a seat for a show, we needed to get there at least an hour ahead. We went to 2 shows -- one was a hypnotist that was dreadful & the other was a stand-up comic that I found pleasant enough, but my husband found boring. We opted out of further shows as we decided they were not worth the wait. We heard from other passengers that we missed some very good shows, I'm sorry to say. Next time we will try to choose more carefully.
MISERABLE PARTS: The food. Absolutely awful (except as noted above). We chose Open Dining & ate in the restaurant twice -- one breakfast, one dinner. We sat at large tables & enjoyed meeting other passengers. The food was mostly inedible & the service was agonizingly slow. At dinner, one couple left before the main course because we had already been sitting for over an hour & they wanted to see a show. We chose the buffet for the most part because it was the lesser of 2 evils. Compared to the buffet we had experienced on the Caribbean Princess, this buffet was small, boring, poor quality food, mediocre service. The other misery was the dinner we ate at the specialty restaurant, Sabatini's. The atmosphere was bright, the food was terrible. My lobster in 3 sauces was cooked to death & all 3 sauces tasted the same -- awful. The waiter recommended a mousse for dessert & it was tasteless, rubbery & stayed on my plate.
CONCLUSION: I have found that many people tend to be extreme when it comes to cruising -- they either LOVE it, or HATE it. I think I'm in the middle somewhere. I do love cruising, but I also love other types of traveling. And even though this is a mostly negative review, overall I had a marvelous time. I love just being on the ocean. For that experience alone, I love cruising. I saw many whales, a huge school of dolphins, enjoyed pina coladas while gazing at stunningly beautiful islands, got in some absolute quality reading time ... what's not to love?! Would I go again? Yes, but not on the Golden Princess & not on the Grand Princess.