Editor's Note: Golden Princess' theater now hosts the line's own spinoff of NBC's "The Voice," called "The Voice of the Ocean," in which passengers who are handpicked from karaoke auditions earlier in the week compete for winning title.
Both the Princess Theater and Vista Lounge can host production shows and featured entertainers, and each show runs several times onboard. The Princess Theater is done up more like a Broadway theater than a typical cruise-ship show lounge. It has same-level orchestra seating, with stadium seating behind and a few boxes, though there's no second balcony level. The Vista Lounge is more cabaret-style, with chairs clustered around small drink tables and large windows facing aft, making the room pleasant and light during the day.
Side by side on the Promenade Deck, the Wheelhouse Bar and Explorers Lounge are smaller entertainment venues, hosting theme parties, karaoke, pianists and dance bands, as well as trivia and games during the day. The blue-and-gold Wheelhouse Bar has a nautical theme with model ships and captain's wheels on display, and it boasts plenty of nooks for tete-a-tetes. We especially liked its comfortable couches, live oldies band and modestly sized dance floor, where even we felt at ease moving to slow rhythms. The larger Explorers Lounge has a somewhat over-the-top Egyptian theme, not quite in keeping with the "casual elegance" exuded by the other venues.
The Grand Casino is on Deck 7, just forward of the atrium. It's outfitted with 11 gaming tables for poker, blackjack, craps and roulette, as well as oodles of slot machines. There are even screens for video poker. If you're extra-competitive, look for poker and other tournaments held throughout the cruise.
The moving ramp that takes passengers into Skywalkers Night Club enhances the spaceship feel of this top deck (Deck 17) disco with its panoramic sea views and outer space-inspired decor. The place didn't get busy until after midnight. Each night, a D.J. spun country, contemporary, Latin and other dance tunes. Open to ages 18 and older, the nightclub only serves alcohol to passengers 21 and older, as do the other bars onboard.
Other places for drinks include the Promenade Bar at the top of the atrium. For smokers, the Players Bar, tucked away behind the Crown Grill, offers cigars and cognac in an intimate space, with big TVs for watching sporting events. It's completely enclosed, so, for the most part, the smoke didn't seep out into other areas.
Movies Under the Stars, the big-screen outdoor theater located above the Calypso Reef Pool, shows movies, concerts, sporting events and other special programming throughout the day and evening. Afternoon movies might be shown in the Vista Lounge, as well, and on in-cabin TVs. At night, you might also be able to catch a late movie in the Princess Theater.
The video arcade is oddly located on Deck 6 near the Passenger Services Desk. It's nowhere near the youth facilities.
Through Princess' ScholarShip@Sea program, lecturers discuss art, diamonds and digital editing. The line brings on fascinating specialists to speak about destination-specific topics, such as Alaskan wildlife and sled dog-racing. We enjoyed the enrichment activities onboard, especially the expert lecture on Alaska as we sailed through Tracy Arm.
For wine-lovers, the ship staged one tasting in the dining room for $7.50 per person and a gourmet tasting for $25. Passengers can purchase ship tours, which will take them to places such as the bridge, the medical facility and engine control room for $150 per person.
Golden Princess' public rooms and entertainment venues are clustered on Decks 5, 6 and 7, with the focal point being the Deck 5 Piazza. The center of the Piazza is a circular open space, surrounded by comfy seating and a piano to one side. The central space, in turn, is circled by public venues, such as the Internet cafe, library (with board game selection), art gallery, Vines Wine Bar, International Cafe and, on port days, the gangway.
The Internet Cafe and library share a space, dotted with multiple workstations and lined on one side with bookshelves. Internet use costs 79 cents a minute, or you can purchase a time plan (100 minutes for $69, 200 minutes for $99, 400 minutes for $159 and 600 minutes for $199). There is also a one-time $3.95 account activation fee.
One deck up, the Passenger Services Desk faces the atrium with the Shore Excursions Desk at its back by the Crown Grill. Also facing the steakhouse are Future Cruise Sales and the Captain's Circle Office. Around the atrium, Essence sells perfumes and cosmetics, while Calypso Cove sells Princess logo items and sundries. Head aft to find the photo/video gallery along the corridor that fronts the Explorer's Lounge, Wheelhouse Bar and Sabatini's.
On Deck 7, more shopping options await with Facets for watches and fine jewelry and Meridian Bay for more jewelry and souvenirs.
Six onboard self-service laundry facilities, located on passenger decks, feature washers, dryers, ironing boards, sinks and vending machines for detergent (as well as change). A load is $1 for either wash or dry. There's a medical center on Deck 4.
The Hearts and Minds wedding chapel on Deck 15, aft, has a lovely backdrop of a manicured garden, which opens to reveal a large, flat-screen TV. Princess has cleverly designed the chapel to double as a meeting facility. A high-tech sound system is hidden in one corner, the room is wired for Wi-Fi, and a webcam can broadcast lectures or vows to friends, family and colleagues off-ship.
With four pools onboard, there was less of a rush to grab a lounge chair than on ships with just one or two pools. Alas, some passengers still insisted on saving chaises for the afternoon by plunking down towels and books in the morning.
In warm weather, most kids and teens congregated around the outdoor Calypso Reef pool, while the glass-roofed Neptune Reef pool attracted fewer kids and more adults. But on rainy or chilly days, the climate-controlled Neptune Reef pool was quite crowded. The Conservatory offers extra indoor deck space above the pool, and it's there you'll find Ping-Pong and, interestingly, jigsaw puzzles. Tucked away on Deck 12, aft, the smaller heated Terrace Pool offers views off the back of the ship. Outriggers Bar, on Deck 14, overlooks the Terrace Pool. Sun deck space above on Decks 14 and 15 ultimately lead to the Oasis on Deck 16, which includes two hot tubs, sun loungers and a giant chess set. The Oasis Bar is also located there, but it was closed during our trip, and we were told it's open seasonally.
In addition to these pools, the spa features a small outdoor current pool, activated with the touch of a button. It's targeted for swimmers 16 and older. It's flanked by two hot tubs.
Above the spa and spa pool is the Sanctuary, Princess' adults-only, spa-inspired deck area. Access to this gated sun deck is available by purchasing half-day passes (8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. or 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.) for $10 per person, per half day. There, you'll find two cabanas for alfresco massages; cushy padded lounge chairs in striped, neutral hues; and serene, potted plants and small trees. Serenity Stewards provide cooling Evian misters, chilled towels and, at a nominal fee, MP3 players and healthy and refreshing drinks and snacks, such as fruit skewers, spring rolls and smoothies.
The Lotus Spa offers a range of wraps, massages and treatments, including facials, Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture, men's barber services and teeth-whitening, done by competent therapists. We enjoyed the bamboo massage, which made us feel a little bit like a piece of dough being worked over by a rolling pin -- in a good way. We also tried out the teeth-whitening and were satisfied with the results -- and the price, which was significantly less than we would have paid on land. Spa services book up quickly, especially for the popular afternoon hours.
Unlike some other ships, Golden Princess doesn't offer a pre- or post-massage relaxation area -- only some chairs that ring the often-busy treatment check-in desk. Also missing is a thermal sanctuary suite with heated mosaic tile lounge chairs, common on other vessels. The small dressing room has three very narrow showers and not a lot of privacy. Incongruously, the sauna and the steam rooms are located on the outside area, facing the coed current pool, which made it awkward to sashay over wearing just a towel or bathrobe. The women covered their glass-fronted sauna with a towel, which, of course, slipped off every time someone opened the door.
Although the aerobics area takes up a major portion of the gym, treadmills, stationary bikes and ellipticals are available, along with weight-training equipment and a small assortment of free weights. If you arrive during peak morning hours, you'll likely have to wait for equipment; we showed up at 7:30 a.m. and waited about five minutes for a treadmill. The sea views from the gym made exercising more fun than usual. Golden Princess hosts a variety of free fitness programs, including stretch, Zumba and abdominal classes. Pilates, yoga, boot camp and Tour de Spin sessions cost an additional $12 per class. TRX costs $45 for a three-class package. Participants in boot camp classes use the free weights in the main gym area, so if you arrive while class is in session, you might not have access to the weights you require.
Golden Princess doesn't have a traditional jogging track. We asked several different crewmembers where the jogging track was located, and all of them directed us to Deck 7: the Promenade. Yes, you can jog on the Promenade deck, if you're comfortable feeling a bit like a jerk running between people out enjoying the views. You'll also have to walk when space is tight around the aft of the ship, and you'll need to take a flight of stairs up to Deck 8 to get around the bow of the ship before returning down to the Promenade Deck. During peak hours in the early morning and around dinner, jogging is nearly impossible. For deck-strollers who exercise by taking long walks, the Promenade Deck proves perfect anytime, though. A mile requires you to put in 2.5 laps.
Passengers will find shuffleboard on Deck 16 and can shoot hoops on a half-size basketball court. A large putting green, with a number of holes to practice your short game, is located on Deck 16 behind the Movies Under the Stars screen.
Although the Fun Zone, the activity area for ages 3 to 12, isn't as large as those found on later Grand-class ships, the program is the same and is well thought-out. For most of the day, except for ice cream socials at the Horizon Court and a few other activities, 3- to 7-year-olds spend much of their time in the bright red, blue and yellow room face-painting, coloring, making puppets, decorating masks and playing games.
The adjacent area for 8- to 12-year-olds has craft tables, games and a plasma television, and it leads into an alcove with computers. These kids also create lanyards, play bingo and other games in the Fun Zone, and use other shipboard spaces. Children, ages 8 to 12, may sign themselves in and out of the program with their parents' permission, a freedom cherished by cruise-savvy kids. One deck up, The Fun Zone has its own outdoor deck with a whale-shaped kiddie pool, play houses and tricycles.
When at sea, the free children's program operates from 9 a.m. until noon, 2 p.m. until 5 p.m., and 7 p.m. until 10 p.m. On port days, the children's program operates from 8 a.m. (or a half-hour before the ship arrives in port) until 5 p.m. and from 7 p.m. until 10 p.m., also complimentary. Reserve ahead for group babysitting, available from 10 p.m. until 1 a.m. for $5 per child, per hour.
At Remix, the teen center located on the other side of the Fun Zone's computer alcove, 13- to 17-year-olds mingle and play Ping-Pong, foosball and cards. They also get to know each other during hip-hop dance classes, obstacle races and pizza parties. Teens can hang out, sun and soak in their own hot tub on the teens-only deck area, which is accessed by a set of stairs just outside the youth lounges. Older kids can come and go from youth activities as they please.