I'm just off the March 20th sailing of the Golden Princess to St. Martin, St. Thomas and Princess Cay. I'm going to summarize my experience, and then go into details towards the bottom.
This is my second cruise on Princess, and my third cruise overall. I would rate this cruise a 9 out of 10. I took .8 points for the food in Horizon Court, and 0.2 points for our wait staff at Dinner. I would definitely repeat this cruise on this boat. I would treat the day in St. Martin as an additional Sea Day, and I would make sure that I did not have table #252 in the Donatello dining room.
I found that purchasing alcohol in St. Thomas at the AHRise store was cheaper than doing so on the boat, but if you only wanted a bottle or two, or were pressed for time, purchasing from Princess was very competitive. I found that for watches < $150, the shop on the boat was very competitive, and my wife purchased a set of earrings that were about the same as what she found in both St. Maartin and St. Thomas. The boat did not stock watches > $150, and the jewelry on board was pretty low end as well. I found that Princess was competitive on what they stocked, and you could find lower prices, but you would have to shop in stores that might give you second thoughts about quality.
Top Side entertainment.
This sailing had pretty lousy weather. Just about every night we averaged seas of 3-5 feet, and on both formal nights, the seas reached 7-10 feet. The stabilizers on the boat were terrific. However, things were a little dicey getting around, and the entire boat looked like it was drunk. Even the crew was having a rough time, so you know it was pretty bad.
The bad weather made getting loungers kind of tough, because when the weather was clear, everyone wanted to be outside. All the loungers had signs stating that if the towel was left for > 30 minutes, then it would be removed. I did not do much sunbathing on the top deck as I used my balcony instead, so I can not attest as to whether or not the deck crew moved towels, but when I was up and about, I did see a lot of towels sun bathing on their own, and there seemed to be a lot of people looking for an empty seat.
The boat seemed to have a younger mix on it than our sailing in April last year on the grand. There were much fewer "geezers" on board, and a lot more young adults. The ratio of humans versus idiots appeared to be about the same across all age groups. The thing I did notice is that there appeared to be a lot more smokers on this cruise. I had to wash my balcony furniture every morning because of all the ash on it, and I noticed a lot more smoking on the top deck. This last may have been that everyone was taking advantage of the sun when it was there, so all the smokers went outside when the rain stopped. Even so, I really notice smoke because of my lungs, and I was bothered very little by the smoke in the public spaces.
Ports of Call: I took the Americas cup regatta excursion in St. Maartin. I think it was worth the $90, but we were actually on the boats for about 1hr 15 minutes, and "racing" for about 45. The rest of the time was shuttling to/from the boats, and then the forced stop at their store before returning to the boats. I'm not sure I would repeat this tour.
I found very little in St. Martin of interest, the stores were expensive (for my type of things), and I did not find the store keepers easy to deal with, other than at Diamonds International. I have shopped Diamonds Int. on several Islands in the Caribbean and in Alaska, and their customer service is always outstanding. My wife and Mother-in-Law really liked the DI store at St. Martin, and got some great jewelry. Other than that however, the day was kind of a waste. We were back on the boat pretty early. Next time, we will treat the day as a Sea Day, and perhaps book hard-to-get appointments on the boat.
No one in my group had excursions in St. Thomas. We took the $3 taxi to the shopping district, and had a pretty good time. We followed the store guidelines off the Princess recommend shopping list, and found good deals on Linens and Liquor. I found some great deals on watches, but I didn't want to spend $250 or more for a watch (I'm very hard on watches, I am a clutz), so I ended up purchasing an $85 watch on the boat that would have cost me about $150 in the US. I wanted to look for an MP3 player, but the electronics firms were packed full with 6 ships in port, and I was going to need a lot of help, so I gave up. I was tired from the Rocking and Rolling ship motion at night, and didn't have the energy to fight/stand and wait for a salesman. However, from the traffic that the stores were doing, a lot of people found good deals. When I returned to the boat, I saw a group of men delivering a 55 inch plasma TV to the Disney Magic...Where were the people going to put it in their stateroom, and how where they going to get it off the boat?
In summary, I would recommend that if you are a beach person, do the beaches in St. Martin, and your shopping in St. Thomas. My wife found similar prices and items in St. Thomas to what she had purchased in St. Martin.
I found that the AH Rise store in St. Thomas was about $1/bottle cheaper than the Princess store, and its selection was much better. This price got better because if you purchase the liquor in St. Thomas, you can purchase 4 liters from outside the island, and one Liter of local manufacturer. If you purchase on the boat, you can only purchase one Liter duty free. The duty on a 1L bottle is about $2, so if you purchase a lot, the difference could end up being $3/ bottle. However, I saved on average $8-15 / bottle to start with over the state mandated prices in NC, and if you only want a few bottles, with limited time, it certainly is easier to order from Princess.
The dining is where Princess lost its points in my review. In general, I found the food served in any dining room to be terrific (breakfast, lunch, tea time and dinner). I found the food served in Horizon court to most likely be cold, and very heavily salted. On several mornings, I found the food I selected to be so salty I couldn't eat it, and had to try something else. I normally found something I liked, and for small snacks, I would try 5/6 things, and eventually got something I liked, but it was a much lower percentage of the time than when I was eating in the dining rooms.
I ate a couple of breakfasts in the dining rooms, almost all the lunches, and all of the dinners. I was very adventurous in my choices, and most of the time had to stop myself eating a certain item because I knew that I had several more courses coming up. The couple of times I didn't clutz something it was because of the combination I had chosen, not because of preparation. I guess I should caveat that with the words "almost everytime". (more later).
My last review of the Grand complained about long waits to get in personal choice seating. I did not see it this time. Last time it was not uncommon to see loads of people wandering around the shops with pagers waiting for tables. This time I saw very few people with pagers.
We had late traditional seating, and ended up with table #252 (table for 8). Our table mates were outstanding, and because of them, we were able to handle the service issues we experienced without noticing. The first issue was with the table. This table is the only table in the dining room with a concave space in the ceiling above it. The effect of this decoration was that our table was so noisy that we had to shout to be heard by our table mates. The concave shape captured all the noise in the dining room and focused it down at our table. You could walk up to the table, and be fine, and as you stepped up to get your seat, the noise became amplified. I did an experiment, and leaned back in my seat so that my head was outside the circle, and the noise level dropped incredibly.
The second issue was with our wait staff at Dinner. Very nice people, tried very hard, but their organization was off. Our table would often be the first ones completely seated in the dining room, but the three tables that our waiter served were always among the last tables to finish. It was not unusual for everyone to finish a course and then wait 10-15 minutes for the next course to show up. However, we were enjoying ourselves so much, that we didnMartMartinnd, other than the fact that we didn't finish dinner until 10:30 most every night. It turns out our waiter had just gotten promoted, and was having command issues. It didn't really bother anyone until the last night. The last night was the "Baked Alaska Parade". Thus, this gets presented when the first tables are finishing up. The wait staff was so rushed trying to get us ready for dessert "on time", that they spent very little time at the table. I made a bad choice for my soup course, and my seafood pasta main dish was cold. Each time I tried to ask my waiter for something different, he was busy doing something else, and by the time I got his attention, the rest of my table was finished with their dinners, and the Baked Alaska was being served.
In fairness to our waiter, I need to explain that every night I ordered one item from each category, and then only ate 1/3 to ½ of it because I wanted to be able to try lots of food without exploding. For the first 4 days, every time the waiter took my plate, he asked me if I liked the food, and if I wanted something different. Each time my answer was "No, food was great, there's just too much of it". Therefore, when we got to the final night, and he was very rushed, he didn't ask, and I wasn't able to get his attention over all the other noise/commotion in the dining room.
We all talked about the issues, and no one wanted to complain because he was trying so hard and was so pleasant that we did not want to take the chance of getting him in trouble. Please note that these issues were limited to one waiter and one specific table. Every other waiter we had at lunch was perfect.
Dining and Shows:
Being that I was cruising with my inlaws and we are self-entertaining, we were not really concerned about going to see the shows, the following did not bother us too much, for others, it might be a concern.
When we cruised NCL, the shows were set opposite dinner, so that if you had early seating, you went to a show that started at 8:30, late seating, your show started at 6:30. On the golden, the shows start at 8 and 10:30. If you are like me, up at 6:30 or 7 AM (even on vacation), going to see a show at 10:30 is just too late. I also noticed that the late shows were very full. I talked to several people that said that if you were not in place 20-30 minutes ahead of time, there were no seats available. This fact in combination of our "Waiter issue" would have ensured that we didn't see many shows. In all fairness, being that I wasn't dying to see any of the offered shows, I didn't deduct points for this, I thought that if someone did want to see the shows however, they might want to think about PC, early seating, or just make sure that they can stay up to see a show that ends around midnight.
I did get to experience some entertainment while on the boat. The nautical themed bar on Deck 7 next to the photo gallery was really cool. They had a vast selection of martini's for $4.95, and some really good Jazz combo's. We started going for a pre-dinner drink any night that it was raining and we could not be on the balcony. At $5 for a martini, this was the best drink value on the boat.
Rooms: We stayed on the same deck and same category as last year, but we thought that these rooms were better organized. The difference was that the shower was rotated from its location in the Grand. The result is that there was about an additional 3 feet of hanging closet space. Last year we had to put luggage under the bed because the closet was full. This year we had enough room to put the clothes in the hanging closet, along with the luggage. (We also brought fewer clothes, but that's another story)
All in all, we all really enjoyed the trip. Last year on the Grand we had bad luck in table mates but outstanding weather so we ate on our balcony every night and had a ball. This year it was the opposite, and we had a ball. Read Less