When Golden Princess' sister ship, Grand Princess
, first left port in May of 1998, it helped launch the era of mega-ship sailing. And, like Grand Princess, Golden Princess -- a vessel measuring 109,000 tons with a double-occupancy capacity of 2,632 passengers -- offers a boatload of possibilities.
Golden Princess may be a ship whose design was created more than a decade ago, but Princess hasn't let it show its age. In particular, a significant refurbishment in spring 2009 added a lot of features -- like the Piazza, the Sanctuary and the Crown Grill -- made popular in the line's newer, Crown Princess
series of ships.
Old or new, our favorite onboard spaces include the following.
The Piazza is the perfect onboard hub, surrounded by the International Cafe for coffee and anytime snacks. (The aroma of baking cookies is heavenly.) Vines Wine Bar is also nearby for tapas and drinks. Clusters of cozy chairs make this the best place to enjoy the "street theater" type entertainment, meet with friends or just people-watch.
The two specialty restaurants, Crown Grill and Sabatini's, take onboard dining up a notch. During a five-course marathon meal at Sabatini's, you'll eat your way through eight types of antipasto, plus some very tasty pasta, entrees and desserts. The New York-themed Crown Grill expands the typical steakhouse menu to include all sorts of seafood -- while still offering a wide assortment of premium-grade beef. Both are well worth the extra fee.
The Sanctuary is an oasis of calm for adults, with snooze-inducing cushy lounge chairs, a soothing atmosphere with touches of greenery and the ultimate in pampering -- al fresco massages.
Movies are always better on the big screen, and Princess' pioneering Movies Under the Stars has made its way to Golden Princess' Calypso Reef Pool. Enjoy a concert or sporting event as you splash around during the day, or curl up next to your sweetie under a blanket with some popcorn to take in a feature film at night.
The teens-only sun deck provides this hard-to-please group with an outdoor place to mingle, and the splash pool area (while small) offers parents a tot-friendly place for water play with their pre-schoolers.
Four pools ease the swim crunch. The outdoor Calypso Reef draws kids, teens and adults, while the covered Neptune Reef provides a climate-controlled space so water enthusiasts can get wet even in inclement weather. The spa's outdoor current pool, targeted for swimmers 16 and older, is best at odd hours when it's not filled with kids, while the Terrace Pool provides great views at the aft of the ship.
The three show lounges -- the Princess Theater, Vista Lounge and Explorers Lounge -- allow you to find some entertainment, no matter what time you finish dinner. Production shows and performances by headline entertainers are repeated three times over two nights, so everyone has a chance to enjoy them.
A comfortable ship, Golden Princess floats a tasteful decor of beige, accented with soft pastels. The only times you feel the crowds are during the popular 8:30 p.m. show in the Princess Theater, when latecomers stand in the aisles, and afterward, when passengers stream toward the elevators.
With supervised activities in the Fun Zone (a children's area for ages 3 to 7 and 8 to 12) and Off Limits (the daytime teen room), Golden Princess works well for families, especially on the ship's seven-day summer Alaska sailings. In the winter, when the ship focuses on longer cruises to Hawaii, the ship caters to an older clientele.
Golden Princess' demographics change with the seasons. On its two-week Hawaii cruises, expect an older crowd -- specifically retirees with more time for vacation. Seven-night Alaska sailings tend to be skewed younger, with more families and multigenerational groups.
Evening attire is typically "smart casual," but two or three nights will be formal, depending on the itinerary length. On formal nights, most women wear gowns or cocktail dresses, and men wear tuxedos or dark suits. Men don't need to wear jackets or ties on smart casual evenings, though some do -- open-neck shirts are just fine. Shorts and T-shirts, frayed or holey jeans, and swimwear are not acceptable attire in the dining rooms. For Alaska cruises, bring layers, and be prepared for both warm, summery days and chilly, rainy ones.
Gratuities, which are automatically charged to onboard accounts, are $11.50 per person (including children), per day, for passengers staying in standard accommodations and $12 for passengers staying in mini-suite and suites. A 15 percent gratuity is added to beverage purchases onboard, including wine at dinner. Spa and casino staff members do not share in the gratuity charges -- if you use these services, tips are advised.