When the alternative dining competition heated up among the cruise brands Princess Cruises created its own variety: Anytime or Personal Choice Dining (PC Dining). A cruise on the Golden Princess gave us an opportunity of sampling this arrangement and experience the Grand Class of ships that Princess spawned a few years ago.

Anytime Dining

Having a choice between fixed or personal choice, we opted for PC dining (of course) and later were told that roughly 900 passengers of the 2,700+ on this Thanksgiving cruise had chosen the traditional Canaletto Dining Room. Ship stats show that the number of passengers who choose traditions is declining. While two personal choice dining rooms: Bernini and Donatello were available, reservations were a wise thing and this ship offered beepers to passengers who could then go to lounges, bars to wait if the situation occurred. Showing extraordinary service mentality, Princess allowed passengers to switch mid-stream as well from one to the other.

It is truly liberating to be able to eat at whatever time one chooses and not have to watch the clock on vacation. Somehow for us, 6:15/6:30 is too early and 8:15/8:30 is too late and 7ish seems just about right. We had this flexibility and welcomed it. Also, we did not have to sacrifice the wonderful relationship that often develops with wait staff as we chose Bernini and stuck with it with the exception of one night at the Desert Rose - the nifty Tex-Mex option onboard. A chance to get to interact a bit with the wait staff and perhaps learn a thing or two about their lives, experiences and the ship, too, is a shame to miss.
Buffet

Up until now I felt breakfast buffets were just "okay" and lunch good. The Golden, by far, had the most extensive selection of food we had ever seen on a contemporary market ship. They managed to serve fried eggs, omelets, even eggs benedict without us having to stand in a line to order. Scrambled eggs were inventive with chopped vegetables, cheese, onions and of course plain! Lunch usually offered several kinds of fish (and not just shrimp and perhaps salomn) as well as the usual wide assortment of meat and lunch meats.
Ship and Cabin

So much of the design of The Golden Princess is focused on curves, circles, ovals, and easy flow of patterns, from chairs to tables to light fixtures that the effect is one of ease, calm and beauty. It was a pleasure to stroll through this ship and absorb its tranquility amid a sea of activity.

It was hard to pick a favorite lounge but the number of them aboard allowed concurrent and varied entertainment each night - from intimate to big-time. The spectacular Skywalker Disco - housed within the ‘spoiler' or shopping cart handle of the Grand Class (as some trade press writers have teased) it hard to surpass at sea. Its dramatic entrance at the top of a escalated sidewalk adds to the drama and excitement.

We had an outside stateroom on Emerald level and with our 16-year old son had enough storage with no fights over space. There seemed to be an inordinate amount of papers floating about each day. Who needs junk mail on vacation? However, one learned quickly to sort through and zero in on the essentials. Realizing space limitations on the daily "Princess Patter" it seemed strange that dining and bar hours were on a separate and tiny piece of paper that was easy to miss and double sided - why save paper for something so essential?

One source of irritation, though, which we actually complained about to the Purser's desk, was second-hand smoke in our cabin at night. The only time we've had this problem was aboard an old ship many years ago. It was disappointing that we had to deal with this on such a new ship. The problem went away for a few days and then re-occurred toward the end of the cruise.

Ports/Days as Sea

While the ports in the Caribbean are always fun and lively, we also enjoy days at sea. This 8 -day cruise had three days as sea - unusual for an Eastern Caribbean itinerary. This is something a large ship can easily afford to do (at least in good weather) as there is a lot to do all the time - or nothing to do all the time. Princess has to be applauded for its Scholarship@Sea Program - an unbelievable array of enrichment courses - some complimentary and others for a nominal charge. Computer classes - beginners to advanced, ceramics, ballroom or line dancing classes, photo editing, and web design to name some. Princess also offers Princess "U" for its crew and staff ashore. Courses designed to offer personal as well as professional improvements
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Ports of call were St. Maarten and St. Thomas. We noted there are more excursions available now in both ports attesting the fact that repeat passengers are demanding this. The last ‘stop' was Princess Cays in the Bahamas that has now been enhanced since last time we visited.

Golden's ten pluses:
1. Very few announcements
2. Buffet selection (see article)
3. Movie theater with current movies/in cabin as well.
4. Florist on board
5. Service recognition nominee form in cabin.
6. NFL football
7. Sign-up sheet for treadmills
8. 35 cents a minute internet
9. Efficient fire drill
10. Formal nights that sparkled

Golden's minuses:
1) Dropping the "love boat" theme.
2) Disembarkation notices started on Thursday night
3) Tea in the dining room rather than a cozy lounge.
4) Friendliness of crew/staff was a bit inconsistent.
5) Overflow of artwork for the auction...messy, messy.
6) Champagne by the glass with no bubbles (happened twice!).

Entertainment

With its two larger theaters: Princess Theater and the Vista Lounge, and its other popular Explorer's Lounge and Wheelhouse Lounge, the Golden was able to juggle an array of simultaneous entertainment choices. While the big shows were generally held in the Princess Theater there was something for most any taste somewhere on this ship during the evening hours.

This review would be incomplete without mention of Golden's cruise director. Graham Seymour is one of those rarities work a crowd easily and sing! In the ‘old' days such multi-talented cruise directors were the norm; now it seems they are the exception..... Angela R. Mathisen

Excerpt from the Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Spring 2004