Golden Princess Entertainment
One of the bonuses of being on a big ship is choice, and that includes the entertainment. Both the Princess Theater and Vista Lounge can host production shows and featured entertainers, and each show runs three times onboard -- two performances in the Princess Theater, followed by one repeat performance in the Vista Lounge the following evening.
The Princess Theater is done up more like a Broadway theater than a typical cruise-ship show lounge. It has same-level orchestra seating, with stadium seating behind and a few boxes -- though there's no second balcony level. The Vista Lounge is more cabaret-style, with light blue chairs clustered around small drink tables and large windows facing aft, making the room pleasant and light during the day.
Side by side on the Promenade Deck, the Wheelhouse Bar and Explorers Lounge are smaller entertainment venues, hosting theme parties, karaoke, pianists and dance bands, as well as trivia and games during the day. The blue-and-gold Wheelhouse Bar has a nautical theme with model ships and captain's wheels on display, and it boasts plenty of nooks for tete a tetes. We especially liked its comfortable couches, live oldies band and modestly sized dance floor, where even we felt at ease moving to slow rhythms. The larger Explorers Lounge has a somewhat over-the-top Egyptian theme, not quite in keeping with the "casual elegance" exuded by the other venues.
The Grand Casino has been moved to Deck 7, just forward of the atrium. It's outfitted with nine gaming tables for poker and blackjack, as well as tables for craps and roulette and oodles of slot machines. There are even screens for video poker. If you're extra-competitive, look for poker and other tournaments held throughout the cruise.
The moving ramp that takes passengers into Skywalkers Night Club enhances the spaceship-like feel of this top deck (Deck 17) disco with its panoramic sea views and outer space-inspired decor. The place didn't get busy until after midnight. Each night, a D.J. spun country, contemporary, Latin and other dance tunes. Open to ages 18 and older, the nightclub only serves alcohol to passengers 21 and older, as do the other bars onboard.
Other places for drinks include the Promenade Bar at the top of the atrium, where you'll find a pianist in the evening and $2.99 drink specials after 8 p.m. For smokers, the Players Bar, tucked away behind the Crown Grill, offers cigars and cognac in an intimate space, with big TV's for watching sporting events.
Movies Under the Stars (M.U.T.S.), the big-screen outdoor theater located above the Calypso Reef Pool, shows movies, concerts, sporting events and other special programming throughout the day and evening. Afternoon movies may be shown in the Vista Lounge, as well, and on in-cabin TV's.
The video arcade is oddly located on Deck 6 near the Passenger Services Desk. It's nowhere near the youth facilities.
Through Princess' ScholarShip@Sea program, lecturers discuss art, diamonds and digital editing. The line brings on specialists to speak about destination-specific topics, such as Alaskan wildlife and sled dog racing, or Hawaiian culture, history and marine biology. Hawaii cruises also feature activities like hula-dancing, ukulele-playing and lei-making.
For wine-lovers, the ship staged one tasting in the dining room for $7.50 per person and a gourmet tasting for $25. In addition, there were trivia contests, art auctions, paint-your-own-ceramics sessions by the Calypso Reef pool, backstage tours, line-dancing classes and, of course, gambling in the casino.
Golden Princess Public Rooms
Golden Princess' public rooms and entertainment venues are clustered on Decks 5, 6 and 7, with the focal point being the Deck 5 Piazza. The center of the Piazza is a circular open space, surrounded by comfy seating and a piano to one side -- the central space, in turn, is circled by public venues, like the Internet cafe, library, art gallery, Vines Wine Bar, International Cafe and, on port days, the gangway.
The Internet Cafe and library share a space, dotted with multiple workstations and lined on one side with bookshelves. Internet use costs 75 cents a minute, or you can purchase a time plan (100 minutes for $55, 150 minutes for $75 or 250 minutes for $100).
One deck up, the Passenger Services Desk faces the atrium with the Shore Excursions Desk at its back by the Crown Grill. Also facing the steakhouse are Future Cruise Sales and the Captain's Circle Office. Around the atrium, Essence sells perfumes and cosmetics, while Castaways sells Princess logo items and sundries. Head aft to find the Photo Gallery along the corridor that fronts the Explorer's Lounge, Wheelhouse Bar and Sabatini's.
On Deck 7, more shopping options await with Facets for watches and fine jewelry and Meridian Bay for more jewelry and souvenirs.
Six onboard laundromats, located on passenger decks, feature washers, dryers, ironing boards, sinks and vending machines for detergent (as well as change). A load is $1 for either wash or dry. There's a medical center on Deck 4.
The Hearts and Minds wedding chapel on Deck 15, aft, has a lovely backdrop of a manicured garden, which opens to reveal a large, flat-screen TV. Princess has cleverly designed the chapel to double as a meeting facility -- a high-tech sound system is hidden in one corner, the room is wired for Wi-Fi, and a webcam can broadcast lectures or vows to friends, family and colleagues off-ship.
Golden Princess Spa & Fitness
With four pools onboard, there was less of a rush to grab a lounge chair than on ships with just one or two pools. Alas, some passengers still insisted on saving chaises for the afternoon by plunking down a towel and a book in the morning.
In warm weather most kids and teens congregated around the outdoor Calypso Reef pool, while the glass roofed Neptune Reef pool attracted fewer kids and more adults. But, on rainy or chilly days, the climate-controlled Neptune Reef pool was a nice plus. The Conservatory offers extra indoor deck space above the pool, and it's there you'll find Ping-Pong. Tucked away on Deck 12, aft, a smaller pool offers views off the back of the ship. Terraced sun deck space above on Decks 14 and 15 ultimately lead to a hidden retreat -- the Oasis Bar and Spa, with two hot tubs, sun loungers and a giant chess set.
In addition to these pools, the spa features a small outdoor current pool. Although targeted for swimmers 16 and older, the pool is often filled with kids and bobbers, making it difficult, if not impossible, to swim. The spa staff simply shrugged their shoulders, refusing to ask the underage kids to leave the pool.
Above the spa and spa pool is the Sanctuary, Princess' adults-only, spa-inspired deck area. Access to this gated sun deck is available by purchasing half-day passes (8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. or 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.) for $10 per person. There, you'll find two cabanas for al fresco massages; cushy padded lounge chairs in striped, neutral hues; and serene, potted plants and small trees. Serenity Stewards provide cooling Evian misters, chilled towels, MP3 players and healthy and refreshing drinks and snacks like fruit skewers, spring rolls and smoothies.
Editor's Note: On Alaska cruises, if you book the Sanctuary during scenic cruising by a glacier, you'll be treated to plush fleece blankets, earmuffs and binoculars, as well as private commentary by park rangers and naturalists. Special menu items on these days include Alaska Rockfish Chowder and freshly fried "Beaver Tail" pastries, fried dough shaped like a beaver's tail and often served with toppings like cinnamon sugar and maple butter.
The Lotus Spa offered a range of wraps, massages and treatments, including facials, Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture, men's barber services and teeth-whitening, done by competent therapists. My husband really enjoyed his hot-stone massage. Despite prices higher than one would find in land-based establishments, spa services book up quickly, especially for the popular afternoon hours. Lotus also offered Generation Y Spa services for teens 13 to 17. A parent must be present when the teen tries these facials, scrubs and exfoliation treatments. Parents can join in the relaxation by booking mother-and-daughter or father-and-son side-by-side massages.
Unlike some other ships, Golden Princess doesn't offer a pre- or post-massage relaxation area -- only some chairs that ring the often-busy treatment check-in desk. Also missing is a thermal sanctuary suite with heated mosaic tile lounge chairs, common on other vessels. The small dressing room has three very narrow showers. Incongruously, the sauna and the steam rooms are located on the outside area, facing the coed current pool, which made it awkward to sashay over wearing just a towel. The women covered their glass-fronted sauna with a towel, which, of course, slipped off every time someone opened the door.
Although the aerobics area takes up a major portion of the gym, enough treadmills and bikes are available so that waits are minimal. The sea views from the gym made exercising more fun than usual. Golden Princess hosts a variety of free fitness programs, including a walk-a-mile morning wakeup, stretch and abdominal classes. Pilates, yoga and Tour de Spin sessions cost an additional $12 per class.
Passengers will find shuffleboard on Deck 16 and can shoot hoops on a half-size basketball court. A golf simulator on Deck 15 lets you practice your swing at various virtual courses. A nine-hole mini-golf course is located on Deck 16 behind the Movies Under the Stars screen.
For deck strollers who exercise by taking long walks, the Promenade Deck proves perfect. It's open to passengers almost all the way around, requiring just a short jog up one flight of stairs and then down to complete the circuit.