We booked a Christmas/New Year 13 day cruise round trip from Melbourne. It was our first ever cruise.
Ship - Having read some reviews about Golden Princess saying it was old leaky and creaky I was a little worried, however we did not experience any of that. We found the ship to be clean and well maintained throughout. The only sounds we heard (D111) were the anchor and when the thrusters came on entering/leaving port. Just normal ship sounds that reminded us where we were.
Golden Princess has a promenade deck that encircles the entire ship, even the bow although some/all parts of it were closed depending on conditions. Aside from this there were plenty of areas for appreciating scenery on the upper decks with most of them accessible most of the time.
Public areas - Golden Princess has plenty of bars, cafes and seating areas. Some of them seemed to be always occupied all day by the same groups of people but there was never a problem finding some other place to sit, relax or have a drink. The open deck and pool areas had plenty of space and chairs/loungers although this was partly due to the weather being a bit cool so demand for most of the voyage was fairly low. For the most part, the ship never felt crowded despite being fully booked.
Room - We booked 2 interior staterooms, one for my wife and I, the other for our children aged 7 thru 22. The rooms were small as expected but functional and clean. The mattresses on the lower beds were very comfortable but the pullman beds not so great. The rooms were always kept fresh by the excellent stateroom stewards.
Dining - This was a real highlight. We mostly ate in the dining rooms and found the standard of food and service very high. Unusual requests such as my children ordering an entire plate of mashed potato or pasta carbonara were accommodated no problem. We had some breakfast and lunches in the buffet which was easy and convenient when in a hurry or just grazing outside of mealtimes.
Specialty Dining - We dined once in each of the specialty restaurants. Sabatini's was very nice with our only complaint being too much food. Crown Grill was excellent. Crab Shack was fine but below expectations. My wife and I also did Chef's Table which includes a guided galley tour and 12 courses of special dishes prepared and introduced by the executive chef. This was simply the best dining experience we have ever had!
Entertainment - We thought the standard of production shows was very good and enjoyed all we attended. Other entertainments such as karaoke, trivia, dancing lessons and other games and activities run by the entertainment crew were heaps of fun. How these guys and gals find the energy to do this stuff with such enthusiasm day in day out is beyond me, especially since this cruise also included various activities and celebrations around Christmas and New Year. (thanks Corey, Kelly, Lauren, Yuki and Micah. You are all awesome!). Between the dining and the entertainment, this made our holiday.
Drinks - We bought the premium beverage package so had a chance to try many of the amazing cocktails on offer. A nice touch was that these were often made with premium spirits rather than the standard. e.g. margaritas are made with 1800 tequila, Cointreau and Grand Marnier. These are all twice the price of the standard tequila and triplesec margarita ingredients you'd generally get in a bar or Mexican restaurant but was being sold by Princess for AU$15.75 which is very reasonable. Needless to say we sampled a lot of them! With the drinks being quite reasonably priced it was difficult to really get value out of the beverage package when compared to "pay as you drink" and I probably wouldn't buy it again.
Service - We found the service at all levels to be excellent. It really felt like every member of crew were doing their best to ensure our enjoyment. Even as base level passengers in the cheapest staterooms (not Club Class or Captain's Circle) we were treated like royalty.
Ports and Excursions - As others have noted, the Fiordland and Dunedin part of the cruise were removed due to weather, which from talking to other more seasoned passengers is apparently quite common. Although disappointed, we understood this could not be helped and frankly I think it's a bit rich of some reviewers to complain about it. We did a few excursions booked through the cruise line and they were as advertised.
Children - Our 7yo loved the kids club. Our 14yo registered but never attended, happy finding his own thing to do or hanging out with his older siblings. Kids were well accommodated in dining rooms and eateries with waitstaff always friendly.
Lotus Spa - Very good but expensive, then you get the hard sell of overpriced skin care products. This is annoying but these places all do the same thing so not surprising. Just know it's an indulgent luxury and be firm when all the expensive bottles come out.
Captains Announcements - I mention this because another reviewer complained about it. From our perspective all six of us loved the daily noon navigational update and interesting nautical trivia from the captain each day. It's part of what makes a cruise different from any other sort of holiday, but I guess if this sort of think annoys you, maybe cruising is not for you.
Conclusion - We loved it and have already booked our next Princess cruise. I recommend Princess Cruises and in particular recommend the Golden Princess. I really can't understand most of the negative reviews except maybe where something went wrong, I can understand how that would sour one's impression but as for comments saying the ship is old and dirty, or that the food was poor I just don't get it. I really don't. This was the best holiday of our lives and we can't wait for the next one.
Small as expected but functional and clean. The mattresses on the lower beds were very comfortable but the upper pullman beds not so great.