ForewordAfter previously cruising on the highly acclaimed Oriana & thoroughly enjoying the whole P&O experience, we decided to sample the Princess way of life.
In all honesty I was rather apprehensive about being disappointed by Princess as I truly believed that, once you have cruised with P&O, nothing comes close. However I discovered Princess comes a very close second, and for those looking for a less formal and more personal option, Princess could well be the ticket for you!
EmbarkationThe embarkation process was one of the smoothest and quickest I have experienced, we simply joined a relatively fast moving queue towards a very large number of check-in desks where our tickets were checked & cruise cards issued.
With regards to the cruise card system this is another plus for Princess. Once issued, your card acts as your on board credit card for your shipboard account, as your room key & as a security pass for entering or leaving the ship at any destination - very simple but very affective.
The ShipGolden Princess is the second in the Grand-Class fleet. The first ship in the class was the Grand Princess launched in 1998, and the third will be Star Princess due for completion in early 2002.
In general the ship has been very tastefully decorated with lots of warm rosewoods, bright brasses & appealing artwork adorning the walls. There is an element of glitz to Golden Princess as expected, but Princess made a conscious effort at making the Golden Princess a lot less glam than her sister Grand Princess. This appears to have worked very well as the Golden received a lot of praise from her mainly British compliment of passengers on this preview cruise.
The StaffUnlike P&O, Princess has a much wider spectrum of nationalities serving onboard their fleet, especially with a new ship where a large percentage of the crew have been recently recruited.
This did unfortunately lead to problems during our cruise. On numerous occasions throughout the cruise, I encountered passengers struggling to convey their wishes to staff members purely because the staff did not have a full enough grasp of the English language to understand what was being asked of them. This is in no way a reflection on the staff's competence or willingness to help. I believe the entire staff tried very hard and it was not through neglect of duty that some passengers where offended. However if passengers are having trouble conveying basic requests to staff members, this is an issue which I feel Princess needs to address.
The CabinFor my time aboard Golden Princess I stayed in a BB graded cabin on C deck, an outside cabin with private balcony. The only suggestion I would make with regards to this grade of cabin is to try to get one on C deck where you will benefit from a much larger balcony than that of an identical graded cabin on other decks. Our balcony itself was approximately 9ft by 8ft and was furnished with a table, two chairs & two loungers.
The cabin in general was of a more than adequate size, with plenty of drawer/wardrobe space, a writing desk, fridge, safe & a generously sized television. The only point to note is that, as with all Princess ships, all electrical outlets are of the 110v type so, if you are European, make sure you take an adapter if you require power for any items.
The bathroom consisted of wash basin, WC & a small but effective shower unit. In general the bathroom was compact but functional and had plenty of little shelves for toiletries,etc.
DiningGolden Princess has three main restaurants, The Canaletto, The Donatello & The Benini, the former two both offer the traditional allocated seating arrangement which includes a 1st & 2nd seating option. The Benini offers the same menu but with Princesses Personal Choice dining.
Personal Choice dining is basically the option to be able to sit where & with whom you choose, and to be able to dine at anytime between 17:30 & 22:00. During our cruise this seemed to prove to be quite a popular option, rather than the more rigid times imposed in the other two main restaurants.
Also, in addition to these three formal restaurants, you have a further choice of dining options, ranging from a buffet arrangement within the Horizon Court (Conservatory to P&O customers!) Or one of two specialty restaurants - Sabatini's, an Italian style restaurant or the Desert Rose which offers Mexican style cuisine. The only bone of contention I have with these two restaurants is that, in addition to the $6.50 per head/per day gratuities charge that is automatically charged to your shipboard account, you are also expected to pay a further $15.00 per head to use either of these two restaurants. This is something I know that was not warmly received by the other guests that I spoke to.
In general the food was to a very high standard & there was certainly no shortage of it!
EntertainmentGolden Princess offers a very wide range of entertainment options during both the day and evening. During the day there are a variety of activities & lectures, a very well equipped gym & aerobics studio, and a choice among no less than 4 pools to cool off in should the need arise.
With regards to the evening entertainment, the main theater has to be seen to be believed, and the theater company provides some excellent shows. In addition to the main theater there are also two other show lounges which host a variety of live entertainment each evening. During our cruise, we had the pleasure of watching P&O's now resident comedian, Mr. John Martin. For any of you who have not seen him, he is one of the true greats and will have you in stitches for the entire performance! (Maybe not one for the kids though!)
Golden Princess has a wide selection of bars, ranging from numerous pool side & deck bars to the more formal Wheelhouse. There is also a very convenient little bar at the top of the stairwell in the atrium, just in case you get that desperate on the journey between any of the other bars! Also there is never any shortage of mobile bar staff waiting to provide for your beverage needs!
Also, as expected from Princess, the ship has a very large casino, with enough slot machines & tables to keep even the most avid gambler happy for the entire duration of their cruise.
A highlight of Golden Princess is her night club, Skywalkers, which is suspended 150 ft above the stern in the handle of the Shopping Trolley as the stern of Grand-class ships has been affectionately dubbed. This position makes for some fantastic views. Just make sure you take in the scenery before you start the drinking!
SummaryIn general, Golden Princess surely has a very bright future ahead of her. She is subtle enough to appeal to the British market but also classy & glitzy enough to attract other nationalities. Her sheer size makes for a never-ending array of dining & entertainment options which are guaranteed to keep even the most restless passengers amused. With the advent of Princess's Personal Choice Cruising, She is as formal or informal as you choose to make her.
She does however lack that certain personality of a true ocean liner. Whether that is due to the fact that she is still finding her feet, or can be attributed more to the fact that she was never intended as a liner but more of an ocean going resort, we will have to wait to see. Regardless, she is still a fantastic piece of engineering and jolly good fun into the bargain!
Our only complaint had to do with the Princess experience itself. While, in general, the entertainment & food was to a very high standard, a lot of passengers were offended by the $6.50 per head per day gratuities charge that you had no choice in paying & also by the $15.00 per head charge to use either of the two specialty restaurants. In general I feel that most people will be more than happy to reward good service when it is received, but feel a little put out, when being forced to pay for it regardless of whether you are satisfied or not, especially when you are paying premium prices for the basic holiday itself to start with. However at the end of the day, people have to realise that Princess Cruises is running a business, one which requires a very heavy investment, in this case just over $450 million for the ship alone, and these cost have to be recouped somewhere. [Editor: By going to the pursers office, you can adjust either up or down or completely eliminate the $6.50 per person, per day gratuities charged to your shipboard account.]
The only other little gripe that I personally have with this class of ship was the lack of a forward observation lounge, a point other P&O passengers raised as well. This area seems to be a favorite amongst most of us. But this is only a very minor issue, when, in general, the public rooms on board are to a very high standard.
I hope that this little insight into the Golden Princess has been of use to you, and that you will perhaps try a Princess Cruise yourself one day.
I will no doubt return to Princess at some point, but for the moment my loyalties are still firmly with good old P&O U.K!
PHOTOS courtesy of Princess Cruises.
For lots more SeaLetter photos and information on Golden Princess, click HERE.
Chris Ross founded the Unofficial P&O Homepage located at http://www.unofficialpo.f9.co.uk/. This site has LOADS of information on the P&O ships, the port of Southampton and Cunard Line. Chris can be reached for questions or comment at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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