I had booked our cruise with Princess for the January 17-31 Hawaii cruise for a variety of reasons: my husband and I wanted to go to Hawaii, we had never been on a cruise together, we live in Los Angeles and didn't have to worry about getting to the embarkation port, and we couldn't beat the deal we got for a balcony stateroom. And, while I had some trepidation about the Golden Princess from some previous posts here, I was still eager to give it a try.
Embarkation was very smooth. We had Karmel Shuttle Service drop us off at the pier and we followed the Princess personnel to check in. We had arrived at 11:00 AM and were on board the ship by 11:30. Everyone was polite and efficient. Our balcony stateroom was enclosed on three sides, which turned out to be a blessing during the trip itself. Our room was very clean and ready for our arrival, even at 11:30. I had read on this site the problem with the Golden Princess' mattresses, but our bed was very comfortable, and we did not need the egg-crate mattress top that many suggest. We enjoyed the food at the Horizon Court buffet as we took a walking tour of the ship before departure. Not as big a ship as I had expected it to be. It only took ten minutes to walk her length. We also knew before hand that the median age of our fellow cruisers would be 70, and that there would only be a handful of children on board. We looked forward to a very quiet cruise, and on that we were not disappointed.
The embarkation party was so subdued, though, that at one point I thought they had called it off altogether. A little bit more enthusiasm from the entertainment staff would have helped with that, but it was no big deal. But the first week out went from subdued to ghostly. The ship struck 20-foot swells nearly the entire way to Hawaii - at night you could hear the ship cut through the waves, followed by a long shudder that ran through the metal hull; very disturbing - and so many people wound up confined to their cabins because of sea sickness that we had the ship pretty much to ourselves. Our own balcony never got wet, though, because of the covering, so we were able to enjoy breakfast and several other meals there during the rough trip to Hawaii.
I enjoyed the on board entertainment. Four shows were put on, including a musical tribute to the movies and to Broadway, with the same cast. The shows themselves were good - not great - but the cast members' obvious enthusiasm made for a great night's entertainment. The comic was so-so: I had heard most of the jokes before from other comics, so I wasn't impressed. The magician put his heart into his routine, but I caught several of the sleights-of-hand, so unfortunately I couldn't recommend him. The on board lecturer I found to be bright, witty, and eager to answer our questions about Hawaiian flora and fauna.
The food, unfortunately, was mediocre at best. The pizza was greasy and salty. I never cared for the buffet food - never hot enough, too few selections, and there was this odor I could never identify in the Horizon Court that upset my stomach, which made it impossible to eat there. We had Anytime Dining, which we very much enjoyed. Never had a problem making a reservation. I never much cared for sitting with strangers for dinner - you can never truly be yourself - so Anytime Dining allowed us to always have a table to ourselves. Food in the main dining room was hit and miss. Some dishes were excellent (loved the mashed potatoes) while others were downright terrible. The filet mignon tasted like the vacuum-packed variety you purchase at Costco. I took one bite and sent it back. The dining room staff was always courteous and always remembered our names, so a gold star for them.
Once in Hawaii the pace picked up on board the ship. We no longer encountered the heavy swells and the Trade Winds made the air hot and humid. Wonderful. There were more parties and games by the pool, including the traditional ice and fruit carving. Except for Ensenada, we booked our shore excursions through Princess, in part because Princess only charged 15 to 20 percent above cost if we booked it ourselves, and also because we didn't want to worry about getting back to the ship in time. We knew they would wait for us. We were often told not to take a cruise to Hawaii - since we would only get a sampling of the islands and be left craving more. And they were right. We don't regret taking the cruise (I loved our balcony and the days at sea), but one is left wanting more of the islands.
I have no complaints about the hotel crew. Our room was always cleaned (though not always the same time) and we always had shampoo and soap stocked in our bathroom. Bed was always turned down and the sheets were changed regularly. I did not like the soap and shampoo, though. Alkaline content was too high and it never left you feeling clean enough. But, we brought our own soap and shampoo with us, so that was a relief. Also no complaints with the cruise director or his assistants. They were always pleasant with us whenever we ran into them on the ship. Since I drink Diet Coke like a fish drinks water, I purchased the soda sticker for $68, and drank well over $100 worth of soda. While I don't agree with the practice of charging for soft drinks on cruise ship, I do recommend purchasing the soda sticker if you drink a lot of soda.
The return trip to Los Angeles was smooth sailing the entire way. Some days the water was like glass, it was so smooth. We saw plenty of whales (one breached within fifty feet of the ship) and dolphins playing around and under us, which was a bonus. We hadn't planned on doing anything while Ensenada, but wound up going to La Bufadora on our own - a pleasant and unexpected adventure that capped an enjoyable trip indeed. Disembarkation for us Americans was a snap. I felt sorry for the non-U.S. citizens who were herded into long lines for customs declarations. We were told to gather at the Explorer's Lounge in order to be let off the ship by 10:15 AM, but everything went so well we were actually off the Golden Princess and through customs by 9:45. The ease of embarkation and disembarkation left me very impressed with Princess. We will sail with them again.
Our cabin was small, but there was enough room for all our clothes and a place in the open closet to store our luggage. The balcony was by far the best feature - roomy and enclosed, free from the sun's rays. Didn't like the mirrors - there supposed to add depth but I think they just take up space. Nice and quiet.
We booked the "Highlights of Hilo" tour. Hank from Roberts Hawaii met our group at the pier and took us on a long and winding tour through Hilo, with stops at the Lili'uokalani Park and Gardens, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden ( a beautiful place - we were there only an hour, which wasn't even a third of the time you would need to fully enjoy it), a wonderful buffet lunch at the Naniloa Volcanoes Resort (I know the resort is run-down and in sore need of renovation, but the food was outstanding! Far better than on-board the ship), followed by a trip to Volcanoes National Park, which turned into an exciting experience when the sulfur dioxide levels became so high from the volcano that the Thomas Jagger Museum was closed and the park rangers ordered us off Crater Rim drive. Our clothes and hair stank of sulfur dioxide the rest of the trip. It was a blast (no pun intended). Hank was a great tour guide - always offering information about the places we were visiting. I only wish we had more time in the botanical garden.
We arrived in Honolulu at 7 AM, but because we didn't know our way about, we wasted five hours hanging around the ship and the port when we could have gone to the beach. Our tour bus didn't pick us up until noon for a trip to the Polynesian Cultural Center. We booked the big show, which included the tour, the Luau, and seats for the big nighttime show: HA, Breath of Life. We didn't arrive at PCC until nearly 2pm. We learned that PCC opened at noon, and we couldn't understand why the tour operator didn't pick us up earlier, so that we could arrive at PCC at noon. But both Princess and Roberts Hawaii told us that that's how the tour package works. That makes no sense. If we had arrived at PCC at noon when it opened, we could have spent more time enjoying the center's surroundings, and then met up with our tour guide at 2pm for the guided tour. It would have meant we would've spent more money at PCC, but no one seemed to take that into consideration. That being said, the show at PCC was breathtaking. One of the most enjoyable experiences in my life. I love fire-knife dancing, and I was not disappointed. A dozen fire-knife dancers in the show. Beautiful. The food at the Luau was very good - not great, but very good. We weren't back at the ship until 11:30pm, and were the last fifty people back on board before the ship set sail. Another reason why we booked the excursion through Princess.
We booked the Wailua River cruise and romantic ceremony. Again, Roberts Hawaii picked us up from the port and drove us to Wailua River, where we took a flat-bottomed boat a few miles up the Wailua River to the Fern Grotto and a little romantic song preformed for us. We got a kick out of this tour, because we're hard-core Indiana Jones fans, and parts of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" were filmed along the river. At the end of the little cruise, we made our way to Smith's Tropical Paradise, where they had set up an outdoor luau for us. We took a little tour of their botanical garden, where they had peacocks and chickens aplenty, then went to the luau. Members of the Smith's extended family performed on the little stage. The food was fantastic - the Kalua pork was excellent (I only wish I had some corn tortillas with me, it would've topped the meal) and we had all the Mai Tais we could drink. I felt like I was at a family picnic, so relaxed and comfortable that this excursion was my favorite.
We did two excursions here. We took the tenders to Lahaina, then went on the Atlantis Submarine. That was fun - 45 minutes underwater looking at the fish and coral reef. We did get to see some Moray eels, so that was a bonus. That excursion was exactly what we expected. After Atlantis we ate at the Kool Kat Cafe, which served some heavenly hamburgers. So much better than what was served on the ship. After lunch we met up with Maui Nei and took their "Walking Tour Through Lahaina's Past." It was one of the most touching historical tours we've ever taken. Since my husband and I are both Native Americans from tribes decimated by history and Manifest Destiny, we were keen on learning Hawaiian culture and history, and how their story mirrored our own. We were not disappointed. We learned so much so we joined Friends of Maui Nei that day. It is a very long walking tour, and very sad, too, so be prepared emotionally if you decide to take it, as you'll learn about the tragic fates of so many Hawaiians under colonial and then American rule.
We didn't plan on doing anything here. But we did decide to step off the ship to stretch our legs, and took a shuttle to downtown Ensenada. From there, though, we decided on a whim to take another shuttle to La Bufadora, the Blowhole. So glad we did. While La Bufadora is just Olvera Street (in Los Angeles) on the cliff, it was exciting to see it. We ate soft tacos at one of the vendors and washed it down with real Coca-Cola, made with sugar cane. Excellent.