This is a very long review with a lot of detail.
Golden Princess June 9, Inside Passage S/B Whittier AK to Vancouver BC
Cabin B737 Aft Starboard Veranda Cabin
This is our 4th Princess cruise - Ruby level Captains Circle.
(Our last sailing was a 12 day New Zealand cruise in Feb of 2016)
We took a pre-cruise FB4 land tour. Fairbanks River Lodge, Denali Wilderness Lodge, McKinley Princess Lodge, Train from Talkeetna to Whittier. The land portion will be reviewed separately.
We chose this cruise because of other family members already booked on this cruise/tour.
We are an active couple in our late 50’s and mid 60’s. My husband and I have sailed on quite a few cruises. Mostly mainstream cruise lines. Our most recent cruise prior to this may have tainted this review because it was on a more upscale cruise line and it was an extended voyage on a very small ship. We got pretty spoiled and our cruise bar has been permanently raised. Nevertheless we had realistic expectations on the Golden Princess. Our last Princess voyage was a 12 night New Zealand on the Diamond Princess - similar in size and passenger/crew ratio and only a slightly newer vessel, but built in Japan and designed with that market in mind. We had a good time on that cruise mainly due to the itinerary but with many similar complaints. It seems Princess is either not listening or they don’t care to improve.
This cruise/tour was a first for us. We did an Alaskan land tour combined with a 7 night inside passage southbound cruise. We had never sailed in anything other than warm weather before nor ever taken such an organized tour via any cruise line. This is probably not the place to review the land portion, but I will say that Princess did an excellent job of providing communication, transportation between points, moving luggage and arranging large, but enjoyable land tours in Alaska.
The cruise portion was enjoyable. Our intent is always try to make the most of any cruise, even when things go wrong. Bad shows, disappointing food, illness, missed ports .. this will happens to some extent on every cruise at every level. So my motto is: There is no such thing as a bad cruise. Being at sea, being lulled to sleep by the rocking and vibration of the ship, beautiful vistas everywhere, exotic ports of call and being waited by smiling faces.
But taking all that into consideration the food and dining experience was painfully disappointing. From menu selections to food quality to presentation. Princess is sliding backwards and seem to be catering only to those who have nothing else to compare to... 1st time cruisers.
Our stateroom B737 (Baja deck #11) was comfortable and clean. We had an aft starboard balcony stateroom. We had a wonderfully attentive and friendly cabin steward from India named “Tony”.
We thought the itinerary was wonderful. Whittier-Hubbard Glacier-Glacier Bay-Skagway-Juneau-Ketchikan-Sea day-Vancouver. No tendering. Ample time over 2 days to meander into Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay with lots of time to take it all in. There were park rangers on board to talk about the glaciers, the people, the local habitat and such and it was quite a new experience for us to be bundled up on deck with puffy coats and blue jeans and boots on drinking an Irish Coffee to warm up! We had the most amazing weather too. The captain and the crew kept saying how we brought the sunshine with us!
The ship boasted several main dining rooms (MDR’s) and 2 specialty dining rooms. Neither of which we could get a reservation for. We waited until we were onboard to book a night or two in one of these “fine dining” upcharge restaurants because we had a large on board credit from our travel agency. When you book dining in advance you must pay for it without using your shipboard credit. But once onboard we found out that there were no reservations for ANY specialty dining restaurants for ANY night - ANY time. (The standard practice is to save some specialty dining table reservations to be booked on board) We had a private conversation with one of the head waiters of the Crown Grill and he was apologetic and stated that “corporate” had allowed too many reservations ahead of time from passengers booking online and from travel agents giving dining perks to their clients. He felt bad but all he could do was put us on a very long waiting list. Even one of our family members who is an Elite Captains Club Member could not secure a reservation for our small group of 4. So we were “stuck” in the MDR. Table #263 in the Canaletto dining room every night at 7:30. We could have gone to the Donatello “anytime” dining room, but we would have spent time standing in line waiting for a table. Our waitstaff “Jed” from the Philippines and “Sinisha” from Serbia were our team of waiter/assistant waiter. The first few days I felt like we were a chore for them, but as the week progressed, they both delighted us with more personality and time to bond and interact. This is one of the fundamental parts of a great cruise experience. The relationships between passengers and crew. Maybe not everyone feels that way, but we do. We respect them for their choices and are usually interested in their lives and hope to love them so much we want to take them home with us..... (Not really.. but hopefully you understand my meaning). Most people return from their cruises - remembering the people who they interacted with far more than the places they visited. But the food in the dining room was very disappointing. Service was rushed. There were no sommeliers on board. They would just drop the menu on your lap and come back with a quick suggestion for the menu that evening and start round the table taking orders. Most of the courses had decent presentation but were not well prepared. And let me add that my husband and I are adventurous eaters. The staples were not well prepared. In fact there were no staples like a NY steak or onion soup or a fresh piece of grilled fish. In 7 days we never had a steak dinner. We had some “Prince” crab legs. (To call them King would be an injustice). We had lobster tails that were a musty color and mushy texture and would have been sent back in any standalone restaurant. Our first night I ordered prime rib, medium rare. It tasted more like chuck roast and it was medium well with a lot of fat and gravy surrounding the meat.
Among our group of extended family at table 263 was someone who worked in the food service industry for over 30 years, marketing dinnerware, linens, food prep equipment and food products, aiding restaurant owners and chef’s to create and design menus that satisfied customers and made profits for the restaurant owners. Her last Princess experience was quite a few years ago and she had expectations of Princess past. She and her companion also felt ... as we did that the quality of the food and the selection of menu had greatly dipped below par.
On the final night we managed to get a last minute reservation for Sabatini’s Italian restaurant at 5:30 pm. We have sailed on many cruises offering “specialty dining” for upcharges ranging from $10 to $35. Usually it is worth the extra to have a slow meal with service and food far above the the main dining room experience. In the case of Sabtini’s ($25 cover charge per person) we were very disappointed to see the dining room styled after a Trattoria - without table linens and without a slow dining attitude. The shared appetizer was a wheat bread served in a funnel of parchment paper with prosciutto and a basket of rolls and breadsticks with sides of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The menu actually depicted in writing we were only able to order 1 item from each course and the wait staff also explained this to us at the table. No tableside Caesar salad. No Osso Bucco, No Veal or Chicken Picatta, no Saltimboca, no zuppa di minestrone. And worst of all .... no slow eating experience. It was a longer dining experience from the MDR but not at all what we should have received from the $50 upcharge. My Veal Scallopini .. more like Cordón Blue - cheesy - oily and heavily breaded. My soup was supposed to be a mushroom “fondue” but it was watery. My husbands “fritte” was merely tempura. Our waiter offered to bring me something but nothing appealed to me. While writing this review I wanted to look up the name of the chef. I found a YouTube video of this same restaurant from 2013 where it was set up like the brochure and they panned the menu and took video of the dinner. This is what we expected to pay for.. not a trattoria experience with truly unappetizing food. (I take photos of all my food -I will post what they will allow me to). To end this terrible evening after having them take my entree away we ordered dessert. The presentation of the sampler was beautiful with 4 mini glasses of different desserts. Our waiter took our order which included an espresso and a capuchino .. neither of which came to the table.
Afterwards when my husband walked by the restaurant later that night, he stopped in to speak with the head waiter and politely explain our disenchantment - - he offered to remove the charge from our account, but instead of doing that - he billed us another $25. We had to make a trip to the Pursers desk to straighten that out. They should have removed both charges, not just one.. but 1/2 an effort was made.
The Horizon Court Buffet was our option for breakfast most mornings. Friendly staff, but nothing really appetizing. Whole fruits were not always ripe. I asked for an omelette most days and special ordered it to be made with fresh eggs (vs the egg mixture they ladle into the omelette pans). I enjoyed those and I enjoyed my daily fix of Congee. An Asian/Indonesian porridge served with green onions, salsa and pickled kimchee. On the glacier days at sea they also offered steaming hot cups of either Miso broth or Chicken broth poolside with some garnishment veggies to help warm you up on deck. This was a very simple treat I thought was a nice touch. They also passed out warm plaid blankets to anyone roaming the decks on glacier days to help stay warm. The coffee in the MDR and especially the buffet was just terrible. Forcing you to go to the International Cafe on deck 5 to purchase an Americano or Capuchino at $4.95 per order. I probably should have pre-purchased a specialty coffee card.
I think it is absolutely ludicrous that Princess and most mainstream cruise lines do not offer a decent cup of coffee or bottled water free of charge to their customers. $4.95 bought us a 1/2 gallon of water in our cabin.
Since we were traveling to a cold climate for the first time we decided to not purchase a beverage package. Princess wanted $59.95 per person per day. Instead we enjoyed 5 bottles of wine ranging from $33-48 per bottle and cocktails most days ranging from $7.95 - $11.75 and found it made better sense on this trip to buy as-you-go.
Here is where I can give the Golden Princess a thumbs up. This ships entertainment was the highlight of the cruise for me. The production singers and dancers were truly all talented dancers and equally wonderful singers. The choreography and sets were clever and anyone with an eye for quality performance could appreciate this. Bravo.!! The crowd however - never rose to their feet as they should have for any of their performances.
Our sailing also had a comedian/musician who had bronchitis and was unable to do much of his regular show, but he was entertaining nonetheless. Another headliner did a cheesy Dolly Parton tribute which we didn’t like so we didn’t attend her second show.
Skywalkers bar - a nice concept, but the people mover was out of order for several days leading up to it. The windows over the jetway leading to it were unbelievably dirty * (as were most of the windows on the ship - dining rooms - balconies - everywhere). The ship is in general disrepair. We didn’t notice the usual crews painting or lacquering the rails during the voyage.
Wheelhouse Bar - was a nice classy little place for a cocktail and on some nights there was a bluesy band in there playing great dance music. Bravo again.
Elsewhere on the ship there was a piano man who had a good crowd nightly. There was a duet of gals who played folk music. There was another duet of classical music and a pianist who played some beautiful tunes in the Atrium.
There was plenty of music and fun to be had on this ship as well as trivia, moose racing, bingo, art auctions, casino tournaments, shopping events. We got together with other bridge players on one day for non-hosted social bridge.
The cruise director John was - so typical of a mainstream cruise line. He was everywhere and always smiling and getting others to participate in different activities on board. We just get a little tired of hearing the same thing from them with the same tone of voice and choice of words. They also tend to work too hard to try and make us “appreciate” all the hard work being done for us on the ship by all the personnel. I can’t imagine anyone on board not seeing this for themselves.
All I can say is that it will take a pretty unique itinerary for us to ever book another Princess cruise based on this last experience. We are only Ruby level Captains Club members.. it looks like that will never change. Food is too much of a highlight on a cruise where you are sequestered for all your meals. Good food is essential. We know you cannot have it all, but we have learned that a smaller more intimate ship albeit fewer activities but a higher level of customer service and a truely exquisite dining experience is more our style.
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