OVERVIEW"It's more than a cruise, it's the Love Boat." This 21st cruise for us (in the past five years), had a full moon. As we had cruised twice on its sister ship, the Grand Princess, there was also a sense of déjà vû as we spent an excellent week aboard the beautiful new Golden Princess.
She was built by Fincantieri Shipyards, Monfalcone, Italy and is the 6050th ship launched by this venerable company. Her Port of Registry is Hamilton, Bermuda. The Golden has a gross tonnage of 109,000; a length of 951 feet; breadth of 118 feet (not Panamax); her cruising speed is 22.5 knots and a passenger capacity of 2,600 (this cruise had approximately 2,500) with a crew of 1,150.
Princess has made these two sister ships distinctive through the use of a rear spoiler, which houses the Skywalkers Night Club - a gorgeous two tiered room with surround view (and an automatic moving sidewalk to reach the club). This is the closest place to heaven on the ship and an excellent place for reading and ocean watching during the day, and disco dancing at night.
The first two cruising days were rainy, but port days were sunny. The last two days we rode the high seas caused by Hurricane Michele. There was a bit of movement and we saw "barf bags" placed at every elevator, but fortunately we never saw anyone in need of them. They were just precautionary. Captain Bernard Warner is an excellent skipper, who treated us to a lovely sail away from St. Thomas, USVI on the Bridge - 6:00 pm, at dusk, we watched the sunset and then the lights of St. Thomas came on and twinkled as we departed. This was a fabulous first time experience for us.
EMBARKATIONWe normally embark at noon, but this time, because of a family obligation, we arrived at Port Everglades, Ft. Lauderdale at 3:30 pm, when most of the passengers had already boarded. The shore crew was closing up and we had no wait! There were no curb side attendants left, so Mary had to push the wheelchair on board by herself. We also missed the Welcome Aboard Buffet, but judging from those we had during the week, our old friend Executive Chef Antonio Cereda (14 years with Princess Lines) out does all others and surprises the passengers with delectable culinary masterpieces. When we saw that he had moved over from the Grand Princess, we knew that we were in for a week of dining pleasure. . . . Complimenti Antonio, you've surpassed yourself.
PUBLIC AREASAs passengers board on Plaza Deck 5 (first of the three lower decks of public rooms), they enter the three deck high Grand Plaza (though not as grand in size as we have seen in some other mega/giga ships), yet it is a very lovely and stylish area with lots of mosaics, especially a really nice round one on the floor of the atrium. Glass cage elevators with truly unique fern and wildlife walls face the Plaza. Here also you will find a nice, larger than life bronze sculpture by George Kerish called "Standing Woman." Deck 5 has the reception desks, the library, card room, Bernini Dining Room, and the art galleries (with one of the most extensive collections afloat (and art auctions boasting 85% off).
Fiesta Deck 6 has a second reception area, boutiques, the Atlantis Casino (almost exactly like the casino on the Grand with 3D aquariums on the walls. Mid ship are the Donatello Dining Room and the ship's galley, aft is the Canaletto Dining Room, while forward is the Princess Theater.
Promenade Deck 7 has boutiques, the Desert Rose Restaurant (Southwestern/ Mexican), Explorer and Wheelhouse Bars, Sabatini's upscale restaurant, the photo shop and aft is the Vista Lounge, where Captain Warner hosted the Captain's Club Repeater's cocktail party. This room has tiered seating and a spacious dance floor.
On decks 8 through 12 and 14 forward are cabins, mostly with balconies. There are 21 wheelchair accessible cabins: 14 with balcony, 6 inside, and 1 suite.
Decks 14 through 17 are again public areas:
Lido Deck 14 has Mermaid's Tail, Trident Grill, Prego Pizza, Neptune's Reef and Pool and The Conservatory with the Calypso Pool, which sports the Oxford Dipper, unique to Princess. This lift allows wheelchair bound passengers to be lowered into the pool and gives them the joy of swimming. The Conservatory has a retractable roof with eight functional columns supporting it, which are decorated with mosaics of fish. Very nice! Aft, on Lido deck, are the Horizon Court (buffet), the Horizon Terrace and the Outrigger Bar (a beautiful outdoor setting overlooking the ship's wake).
Sun Deck 15 has the Lap Current Pool, Lotus Spa and Beauty Parlor, Aerobics and Gymnasium Exercise Rooms. Also on this deck and on 16 there are the Off Limits (Teen Center) and the Fun Zone (Children's Center).
Sports Deck 16, in addition to the Kids and Teen Centers, has a Jogging Track, Center Basketball Court, and, at mid ship, Shuffleboard and other deck games. This ship has something for everyone.
FOOD AND SERVICEPrincess offers Personal Choice Dining which gives passengers the freedom and opportunity to dine in varied venues with different menus and at flexible times. No longer are passengers rushed on port days to meet a rigid dining schedule. We are happy with the Personal Choice system and hope other cruise lines will adopt it. Two of the restaurants offer Personal Choice, the Donatello and the Bernini from 5:30 pm to 10:00 pm. The third restaurant, the Canaletto dining room still has the traditional main (6:15 pm) and late seating (8:45 pm) arrangement.
All three of these formal restaurants use the same menu, and are beautified by murals and pictures evoking the work of the famous artists for which they are named. There are many beautiful tables by the windows. Chef Antonio Cereda offers the passengers wonderfully prepared and plated food always fresh and palatable. We feel he is the best chef we have encountered afloat. His pasta sauces are authentic. The menu is vast with many choices for appetizers (some of our favorites are fried calamari, the avocado boat filled with shrimp and seafood, prosciutto and melon, escargot, and small portions of pastas made available as appetizers). The soups were excellent including the oriental ones, minestrone and the pumpkin one served for Halloween. Salads aboard the Golden were especially fresh and crispy (Caesar is available every day, but there were excellent combinations of fruit, nuts and vegetable salads, Belgian Endive and roasted zucchini, eggplant and red peppers, etc...). Breads and breadsticks were fresh, hot and varied.
At dinner there were five or six entrees to choose from in addition to a list of constant dishes always available: steak, chicken and the delicious Fettuccini Alfredo, fresh made noodles served in a basket made of Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese. Also Chef Cereda prepared delicious Risotto with Porcini mushrooms, Rollè of eggplant and angel hair pasta and, on Halloween night, potato gnocchi with pumpkin; what a treat!
Aaaah!, the desserts were out of this world both in presentation and flavor. The pastry chef Franco Gentile is a wizard; he made chocolate do things that we had only dreamt about. Vincent's favorite Swan Puffs were tiny, delicate and presented floating on a heart shaped pond of melted chocolate. Chef Gentile's baskets of chocolate and pulled caramel were decorated with butterflies so light that they seemed to float. Bravo Franco!
Sabatini's upscale restaurant charges $15 per person. Make reservations as soon as you board, since it fills quickly. Sabatini's Supervisor Luigi Clesceri makes this three hour dining experience unforgettable; if you are really nice, Luigi will treat you to an after dinner liquor - Limoncella (his recipe). We had a nice table for two by the window with a view of the full moon rising: This is cruising, this is living! The antipasto here is excellent with freshly sliced prosciutto, porcini mushrooms, and a superb Pizza Margarita made by Antonio (he also makes the pizza at Prego's, Lido Deck). Our waiter Augusto was excellent.
Princess has an Afternoon Tea served in the Donatello Restaurant from 3:30 to 4:30 pm. There are gloved waiters offering hot scones with clotted cream and preserves and delicate tea sandwiches. Don't miss it.
The 24 Hour food service is as follows:
The Horizon Court is open from 4:00 am to 11:00 pm.
Service aboard the Golden Princess is top notch under the direction of Maitre d' Giuseppe Gelmini (Italy) whose background includes two of London's best hotels, the Dorchester and the Savoy - he knows how to pamper people and he has taught his staff well. Our head waiter Sandro Ranieri (Italy) was very attentive and kept a close eye on the waiters. We were served excellently by waiter Ricardo De Guia (Philippines) and ass't. waiter Luciano Patrasou (Romania).
Of course service depends on a great leader, which this ship has in Nigel Stewart, Passenger Services Director, with whom we had a nice chat. He patiently provided answers to all of our questions. Thank you Nigel!
CABINOur Baja Deck 11, wheelchair accessible Cabin B302 is spacious and beautiful. Entering, on the left is a triple armoire (with personal safe, shelves and wooden hangers). Then there is a wall unit with TV, refrigerator, and then a long desk/vanity with lighted mirror and hair dryer. Entering, on the right is a large bathroom with a 5' X 5' shower, safety rails all around and handy. There is a double dresser with dimmer lamp, a king size bed, and another double dresser with dimmer lamp. The wall behind the bed is mirrored and there are two upholstered barrel chairs. The sliding glass door leads to a balcony (60 sq. ft.) with room for a table, stool, two chairs and a chaise, which Vincent used extensively, especially on sunny days. The spectacular view of sun rise among interesting cloud formations on the morning of arrival to St. Maarten, with all of the splendor of changing colors from fiery red clouds to the brilliant golden rays and pastel blue sky, is a sight to remember: Another dose of pure pleasure to our eyes and minds to keep our "addiction to cruising" alive!
This cabin with almond cabinets, maple wood trim, and linens and carpets of blue, peach and salmon was crisp in its newness and quite spacious. The in cabin T.V. offered several satellite channels, such as CNN, ESPN, TNT, Discovery, and a Financial News channel, along with several movies, repeated during the week, and the regular ship's channels showing nautical data, shore excursion information, taped shows and a live cam from the bridge. The entertainment and T.V. guide available in the cabin was very clear and accurate.
ENTERTAINMENTCruise Director Alastair Greener (England) with his varied background and managerial expertise kept the ship's routine working with clock like precision. The Cruise Staff was everywhere, leading everything from Trivia Quizzes, Bingo, Basketball, Ping Pong (Paddle tennis) and Golf (both Virtual and Real Rolling greens) to Sail Away Parties. This ship has it all.
The shows were on a par with those of other cruise lines. The headliners "Welcome Aboard Showtime," "Lights, Camera Action" and "Words and Music," featuring Hunter Gerard, Joseph Hale, Susan Orrell and Tiffany Hale are the usual Las Vegas style shows - the dancers were bouncy, but the truly notable performers were the following:
1. Maestro Maurizio, a singer/musician, performed in both the Promenade Lounge (packed) and the Explorer's Lounge (in concert). He sang many songs from around the world, but the show stoppers were Andrea Bocelli's "Con Te Partirò" and Modugno's "Volare" with standing ovations.
2. Acrobat/ Comic Uber Rossi was superb and his contortions were unbelievable.
3. The Magic and Illusion Spectacular show by Gaetano was excellent.
ACTIVITIES AND PORTSIn addition to previously mentioned activities there is also the Lotus Spa and Fitness center. Vincent tried some of the equipment and liked the set up. Many cruisers enjoyed the art gallery as we did. This seven day cruise starts with two sea days, then two port days, a sea day and a final port day and then return to Ft. Lauderdale.
Ports of Call:St. Maarten (7:00 am to 6:00 pm) Capital of the Dutch Leeward Island Group is divided between Dutch and French rule. It presents a unique opportunity for cruisers to enjoy two international cultures. There are several shore excursions:
1. Beach and Shopping ($25)
St. Thomas US Virgin Islands (6:00 am to 6:00 pm) This lovely island has it all -- beaches and shopping (especially Mr. Tablecloth with the best linens and prices available). There are three tours available:
1. Sailboat & Snorkel ($49)
This port also has taxis available at the pier and for only $3 you can go downtown for shopping, or you can also arrange for a private island tour. Always remember to fix the price and the itinerary first.
Princess Cays (8:30 am to 3:00 pm.). The ship gives a Barbecue & Buffet ashore from 11:30 to 1:00 pm. There is tendering ashore, so the physically challenged may encounter problems if the sea is choppy.
SUGGESTIONSAfter a great cruise there is very little to suggest. However, there is always room for improvement until perfection is achieved. The following suggestions are about minor things which can be easily corrected.
1. We arrived at the pier at 3:30 pm and did not find any wheelchair assistance for boarding. This was unexpected since boarding time was until 4:00 pm and helping staff had already disappeared. What a difference from our embarkation experience on the Grand Princess six months ago, when we were escorted from the front of the terminal all the way to our stateroom, albeit at noon. We suggest that Princess Lines make available staff personnel to help those in need during embarkation until the gangways are closed.
2. The drinking water in the dining rooms, as well as the juices, cold drinks and ice cubes, have a strong chlorine smell, more so than we experienced on other ships. We suggest that Princess Lines install water filters at the various distribution points, where needed.
3. A problem in common with some other ships is the type of pasta used aboard, not the freshly made one, but rather the pre-packaged one. We noticed that even though the chef had tried to cook the pasta al dente, it always tasted starchy and gluey. We believe that the fault is in the quality of the pasta. It is possible that several cruise lines use the same pasta supplier, thus, the problem is rather common. Pasta is not an expensive ingredient, and for a few cents more per pound, the chef can achieve better tasting pasta dishes. As pasta lovers we can attest to the fact that the great sauces of Chef Cereda deserve a better pasta, such as La Molisana, Barilla, Colavita or some other good durum wheat pasta, possibly imported from Italy, the cradle of pasta lovers.
We will surely cruise on Golden Princess and other Princess ships again; however, our next cruise will be on the new RCI Adventure of the Seas on 12/9/01. We are addicted cruisers who have never had a bad cruise, but we'll always be looking for the perfect one.
PHOTOS courtesy of Princess Cruises.
For lots more SeaLetter photos and information on Golden Princess, click HERE.
Vincent & Mary Finelli have written many reviews for the SeaLetter and may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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