This was a special cruise as I'm a travel agent and completed Princess' Education Program. For me, it was particularly special as it was my first time back to Vietnam since 1971 when I was there for non-tourist reasons as a young Navy Sailor. It was also a chance to visit Australia, which I missed in 1970-71 due to my father's illness and death as I went home on Emergency Leave in November/December 1970.
The itinerary was perfect, although my Partner Paula found it too long to be away from home and was less enthralled with the sea days. As with most cruises, the time in port was way too short. This was particularly true in Ho Chi Minh City where we had to bus for almost two hours each way, which takes a lot out of a nine hour day. Of course, this makes us want to return to many of the places we saw, particularly Vietnam and Hong Kong.
We spent three nights in Beijing pre-cruise and opted to do private transfers from the airport and from hotel to port. We did two tours through Viator and they were great. However, traffic in Beijing put a damper on both the tours (long days) and the trip to the port. We left Beijing at 10:30am and didn't get into our cabin until about 4pm. Most of that was traffic jammed highways and a long wait on the bus once we reached the port before we could get off to check in.
There were several ports where Princess contributed to the lack of time as the organization for getting people off the ship for tours and/or tenders was really a challenge with long lines and delays. Overall, however, getting on and off was fairly easy.
We chose Anytime Dining and often called for reservations for the time of our choice depending on activities on a given day. Some days, such as late port calls, we were unable to do that (one had to call by 5pm) and we found that a few times we had to wait for a bit to get our chosen table for two. The wait was never overly long, however.
The food was very good, although I don't feel it measured up to Celebrity Cruises quality. There was an interesting mix of Asian Fusion and Australia/New Zealand concentrations that often limited the choices outside of those areas. The promised "beef on every menu" in promotional material was too often an "Aussie Burger" which included beets and fried egg. That was a disappointment to me as a beef lover. I never went hungry and only ordered from the daily repeat side of the menu once, orher than for ceasar salad; so I guess it wasn't that bad.
The Golden is definitely showing signs of age, but overall is a great ship. Our cabin was small but quite adequate. In the future I will be sure to note my need for an extension cord for my sleep apnea machine as there were none available from the ship and our cabin steward gave up his own so that I could use my CPAP. That created some anxiety when it turned out he was leaving the ship on finishing his contract mid-cruise but he was able to come up with a replacement just before he left the ship!
Service all around was generally excellent.
Another bonus of the cruise was that we paid for onboard expenses in Australian dollars which meant that we got about a 25% discount on posted prices.