CruiseClout score: 95.0
Golden Princess: A serene, rejuvenating retreat at sea
Golden Princess is a 109,000-ton gem of a ship that makes you feel good the minute you walk on board. A lot of the credit has to do with the crew on board. I have sailed on just about all of Princess Cruises’ mega-ships. And while I enjoyed them all, I can’t say I became a fan of sailing on jam-packed ginormous vessels. But Golden Princess was really an exception to the rule (along with the Ruby Princess, which is also reviewed on Cruiseable by yours truly). It passed muster with flying colors.
From art auctions, boutique shopping and poolside lounging to spa treatments, sports and a kinetic nightlife, the ship is loaded with fun things to do. But one highlight is the lack of activity in the adults-only Sanctuary, an outdoor spa-inspired setting where Serenity Stewards offer you refreshing beverages, light snacks and the occasional massage. It makes for one ultra-relaxing, rejuvenating retreat at sea.
Who will like sailing on Golden Princess
Cruise passengers wanting a wide choice of shipboard activities, but still that touch of personalized service, will enjoy sailing on Golden Princess. The ship's programs for children and teens also make this a family-friendly cruise.
The median age usually tends toward the older side, but on Caribbean cruises you do find young couples and families. You'll likely see plenty of wheelchairs and scooters: Older passengers are super fans of the company and they're rewarded well — Princess has one of the best loyalty programs in the industry.
Where Golden Princess sails
Golden Princess sails in and out of the U.S. West Coast, British Columbia, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand. The ship features itineraries ranging from two-day Australia Coastal voyages to a 31-day Andes and Cape Horn Grand Adventure cruise.
Where I went & what I loved
For me and my first mate, Richard, our 14-day cruise from Los Angeles to Hawaii and back provided five days each way at sea with island stops at Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, Nawiliwili, Kauai, Lahaina on Maui and Honolulu on Oahu. Golden Princess has stopped her Hawaii runs, at least for now, but other Princess ships still sail from L.A. to Hawaii and back.
Although we often cruise as guests of Princess Cruises and have logged more than 30 voyages, we paid for this trip because it was a birthday/anniversary celebration. We received priority boarding, got a bar set up in our veranda mini-suite, had our laundry done and received lots of other perks, such as special breakfasts served daily at Sabatini’s, a fantastic treat usually reserved for suite guests. We dined each morning with about 70 other passengers in the same category. It was a special treat that came with extraordinary service, fresh orange juice, specialty dishes and our choice of cappuccinos or espressos.
Highlights on the ship
For us, a real highlight was meeting the gregarious hotel director (or maître d'hôtel), Giuseppe Castino, who went out of his way to provide a top birthday/anniversary celebration for us, complete with decorations in the mini-suite plus cakes in the Crown Grill and Sabatini’s. We brought a bottle of very expensive Opus One on board for the occasion (there is a corkage fee we happily would have paid but Giusseppi waived it), and the wine steward carefully decanted the fine Bordeaux-style wine and had it ready at the table for our anniversary dinner in the Grill, where the steaks were huge and impossibly delicious.
Other best bets on board
We had lots of time to wander, and so we had the chance to encounter quite a few highlights during our sailing:
- The promenade deck, where you can jog or walk all the way around in the fresh sea air with a slight detour up the bow stairs.
- The fitness center, spacious and well equipped with everything an exerciser needs--but not ear phones, so bring your own.
- The two alternative restaurants, Crown Grill and Sabatini’s, proved exceptional. More on that below.
To truly review this 2,600-passenger ship properly, one must take into perspective its class. While not considered high-end luxury by industry standards of price (think Crystal Cruises, Seabourn, Silversea), Golden Princess ranked with some of the best service at sea we’ve ever encountered. The crew was simply sensational, helpful, attentive and more like those on higher-priced vessels.
Highlights on shore
Because we spend a few months a year in Hawaii and know it well, we did our own thing ashore. That meant making a beeline for the beach, except in Lahaina, Maui, where we walked around the crowded town and went for lunch to Mala Ocean Tavern, one of our favorite spots.
Shore excursions are usually tops on Princess. There were lots to choose from and we heard nothing but positive comments from passengers who took them. We love days at sea, and this cruise was filled with choices such as the educational programs from the line’s [email protected], lei making, photography classes, treasure hunts, trivia sessions, pingpong tournaments, movies, shows and more than we have space for here. Of course, there’s also a well-attended casino, terrific fitness center, a jogging/walking deck, the signature Wheelhouse bar with a piano player and plenty of nooks and crannies to get lost in.
Like other ships in the Princess fleet, Golden Princess offers three main dining rooms. Traditional cruise dining — a set seating time with the same tablemates and waiter each evening — is hosted in the Canaletto Dining Room. For a more relaxed, flexible dining schedule, you can go to either the Donatello or Bernini dining rooms when you want, with whom you want. There's no extra charge for any of the main dining choices.
The two alternative dining venues on Golden Princess — at $25 per person — were exceptional, as were our servers. The hotel manager, wine steward, maître d' and captains were phenomenal.
- Sabatini's: A refined but casual restaurant rich in atmosphere, Sabatini's showcases an Italian and Mediterranean menu with a heavy emphasis on premium seafood.
- Crown Grill: Chefs at this showplace steakhouse, which features an open, theater-style kitchen, custom-prepare steamed shellfish such as lobster, scallops, clams and mussels and cooked-to-order steaks and chops.
Reservations are recommended. Princess perks for Elite level passengers also include an Internet package of 250 minutes and first dibs on reservations in the alternative dining venues where we ate most meals, opting out of the crowded dining room most evenings.
It you'd like to maximize your pool time and minimize your mealtime, just grab a quick bite whenever you like at one of the casual dining eateries, or get takeout and dine by the pool.
- International Cafe: Open 24/7, the restaurant serves a range of sandwiches, salads, soups and desserts. (Surcharge applies to select items.)
- Horizon Court: Nice sea views for your breakfast or buffet dinner, but disappointing fare, as mentioned below.
- Vines: A wine bar that offers 30 wines, sushi and tapas.
- Wheelhouse Bar: Serves fish and chips and other traditional British pub fare for lunch.
Room for improvement
Although our enjoyment aboard ranked as five stars, in all honesty I cut it down a notch because the ship slipped up in two categories. For one, I thought the buffet in the Horizon Court — the ship’s three-meal-a-day casual dining venue — barely passed muster. The food was uninventive and it was sometimes difficult to find something satisfying to eat. The coffee was subpar, and to get some good joe you have to actually pay for a coupon which is stamped every time you order even a regular brewed or specialty coffee (espresso or cappuccino). That said, the crew working the room (open from morning to midnight) was exceptional.
The other area that was lacking is the Lotus Spa: not the facility itself, but the staff and quality of the three treatments we experienced. Attendants tended to stare blankly when passengers walked in. (Spas on most ships are operated by Steiner’s and not the cruise line.) A special “head to toe” treatment that cost $139 was way below par, perfunctory at best. The $50 “Fire and Ice” manicure didn’t even include cuticle cutting and amazingly there were so few polish choices that I had to fetch my own from the suite. There was also a hot stone massage of the arms that was so light I barely felt it. (Note: I cover spas both on land and at sea for various publications and websites, so I am fussier than most).
YOLO (You only live once!)
For $100 a couple, you can book the Ultimate Balcony Dining experience, served by a dedicated waitstaff on your balcony al fresco style. (A breakfast option is also available).
Entertainment, activities & lounges
A really nice touch on the ship is the relaxed dress code of resort casual at night, which means no tie and jackets for guys and optional formal attire on three evenings. The shows, activities and Hawaiian diversions on board rated a 10.
To say the nightlife on board is entertaining is an understatement. Musicians, singers and dancers illuminate the stages in three theater venues, Princess Theater, Vista Show Lounge and Explorers Lounge. The outdoor Movies Under the Stars shows first-run feature-length films. Other activities include a swim-against-the-current lap pool, nine-hole putting course, shuffleboard and Center Court for paddle tennis, basketball and volleyball.
For adults, the colorful neon dance floor on the top-deck Skywalker's Nightclub and casino tables beckon. Other choices for cocktail sipping include Wheelhouse Bar, Player's Cigar Bar and Promenade Lounge and Bar, a live piano bar that serves cocktails, wine and a caviar menu.
Our superb and reasonably roomy mini-suite was fitted with two flat-screen TVs, queen-size bed, sitting area with sofa and table, desk/vanity, mini-fridge and a one-time complimentary set-up of libations. The bathroom had a tub and a separate shower, robes and slippers, and upscale spa products. We love the suites on the Golden, but they do sell out quickly. No problem as our choice worked out well for 10 full days at sea.
When kids and teens need a break from their parents, they have their own place to hang out. Golden Princess' youth and teen centers are equipped with the latest video games and movies, arts and crafts, Foosball tables, board games and jukeboxes. And for the littlest ones, activities like kids' karaoke, pizza parties, pajama nights and more are available.
Golden Princess was sparkling clean everywhere. Deck space was ample for a ship that was filled to capacity. The four pools (two of which are large) were all kept at a comfortable temperature and deck stewards were always on hand to bring you anything you desired.
The cruise director was entertaining and informative. Our oh-so-British captain, Ronald Wilson, a pure delight, and our cabin steward efficient if not effusive.
Have you sailed on Golden Princess ? Please share a story, tip or discovery. What was the highlight? We would love to hear about your experience — please share!
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Top highlights on this ship
- Spa services
- Casino tables and piano lounges
- Wide range of dining and nightlife options
- Programs, activities for children and teens