Our cruise to Canada and New England on the Golden Princess was great. We had been on the Golden in the Caribbean the previous year, so there weren't many surprises about the ship. Probably the most surprising thing was that even though the ship was full, it almost never seemed crowded to us. We learned early on to do things later than most other people on board to avoid any sense of being crowded.
The Golden Princess is a large ship, with 2,600 passengers and 1,150 crew members. I miss the grander atriums of some of the Royal Caribbean ships we've been on. The one on the Golden seems small in comparison and not as grand. The Princess Theater and Vista Lounge offer evening entertainment. There are also smaller venues on board, such as the Wheelhouse Bar, Explorers Lounge, and Desert Rose, with live music in the evenings. We enjoyed the productions shows even though they have not changed much since our last cruise. We also enjoyed listening to Joey and the Boy in the Desert Rose. Our favorite, though, was the Fontana String Quartet. They played in the Grand Plaza of the atrium before dinner each evening and at the afternoon teas in the Donatello Dining Room.
This was our first cruise with Princess's 'personal choice' dining. It worked out well for us this time, although we have requested to go back to traditional second seating on our next cruise (on the Star Princess to Alaska). The food in the dining room is good. I like that the 'always available' selections are on the menu each night as a fallback in case the other items don't look appealing. These include shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad, grilled salmon, strip steak, and fettuccini Alfredo, and chicken breast. I got hooked on shrimp cocktails and ordered one each night, even on nights when I ordered another appetizer.
The food on Princess is good, not great. As I mentioned earlier, there is a nice selection. I think a lot of the stars of the menu are in the appetizer and soup and salad offerings. I had a nice pate one night and a very tasty garlic soup another. My partner enjoyed some of the cold soups. The matzo ball soup (with tiny little matzo balls) was good at lunch one day. My other weakness is desserts. The raspberry creme brulee is delicious, as was the chocolate-hazelnut souffle. The ice cream flavors almost always included something intriguing, so I ordered a few of them along with another dessert. My favorite was the rum raisin. It went well alongside the Love Boat Dream, a chocolate mousse confection from the 'always available' part of the menu.
For many of our cruises, we think of the ship as our destination. This cruise was different: we were there to see the ports. We enjoyed the five ports on this itinerary and would like to return to visit them more in-depth some day. That is what I think is one of the biggest drawbacks to cruising: not enough time to do the ports as fully as I'd like. We did not have time to do anything in the sixth port--New York City. But there's nothing like sailing away from the city at sunset. The weather that evening was perfect. The sun shone on the buildings, making them gleam. We passed Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty a little bit late (after sunset) due to waiting for some late luggage. But the view was still awe inspiring, even if my photos did not turn out very good.
Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Saint John, New Brunswick, were the Canadian cities. Both are charming. We found enough to do within walking distance in Halifax, enjoying a walk through the Public Gardens, a tour of the Citadel, seeing the inside of Province House, viewing the exhibitions (especially the one on the Titanic) at the Maritime Museum, and a wonderful tour of Alexander Keith's Brewery. I heartily recommend this last tour, and we were lucky enough to fit it in, getting back to the ship with a half hour to spare. In Saint John, we shopped in some of the antique shops (or maybe all of them, since there did not seem to be very many), ate lunch at the market (a wonderful poached salmon with french fries on the side), then took a city bus to the Reversing Falls. My mother had clued me in about the famous tides of the Bay of Fundy. It was a remarkable site. We walked back to the boat. (Not recommended unless you are in shape for the three-mile hike.)
Bar Harbor, Maine, was our first U.S. port. It is a quaint, touristy village. We did our only ship-sponsored tour excursion here: kayaking around the Porcupine Islands in the harbor. It was a fun excursion. Bar Harbor was the first of the ports that we had to tender to shore, which went smoother than on some of our previous cruises. We took the tender back to the ship for lunch and then back to shore for some shopping and walking along the beach trail.
In Boston, the ship docks a good ways from the tourist area. Nevertheless, we decided to walk instead of taking the shuttle the ship had available ($8 per person round trip to Quincy Market). We enjoyed walking through town to Boston Common and Public Garden, toured the state capitol, walked through Faneuil Hall, and then ate a delicious lobster lunch at a restaurant nearby. After lunch, we toured the New England Aquarium. When I asked at the shore excursion desk, the woman there could not find any information for me about the aquarium. We had been to Boston a few years ago, and it was the one thing we did not have time to do then that I wanted to do on this trip. I enjoyed watching the penguins. We got there just at the start of feeding time. Staff members in wetsuits were feeding sardines to the penguins and making notes about what each one ate. The central feature of the aquarium is the 200,000-gallon giant ocean tank. A spiral ramp leads around the tank, allowing viewers to see fish at different levels.
Newport, Rhode Island, was another highlight for me of the ports on this itinerary. I read ahead of time about the mansions and ordered us a household membership in the Newport Preservation Society. It allows access to all of the society's properties at a cost that's less than seeing just one of them through a shore excursion. We toured five of the mansions: the Breakers, the Elms, Rosecliff, Chateau-sur-Mer, and Marble House. It would be hard to choose a favorite. Our guide at the Breakers was wonderful, but we also enjoyed the freedom of the audio tour at Marble House. It rained all day when we were in Newport. We walked along the famous Cliff Walk for a small portion. I would like to enjoy it on a fair day.
We enjoyed the Calypso swimming pool and hot tubs most evenings. The water in the pool was a pleasant 86 degrees. Our cabin steward brought us terry robes after we asked for them. One of the secrets to having a great cruise is knowing what to ask for. The people we ate lunch with while docked in Bar Harbor were surprised when we ordered capuccino in the dining room. They'd been on the ship for four days and had not found out it was available in the dining room for free.
The cruise director may be perfect for the older crowd but we found him totally lacking. The final straw was his pitch for 'excellents' across the board on his televised show on the final day. I think the comment cards and ratings should help the cruise line to improve. A blanket 'excellent' across the board for everything will not help those areas that need improvement.
The embarkation went smoothly. We were on the ship in less than 30 minutes after getting to the passenger ship terminal. The longest wait was for security screening, unfortunately a necessary step these days. We had express checkin and did not have any wait to receive our cruise cards. The other little wait was for the obligatory photos. Disembarkation was a different story. We had our own airline reservations and were taking a taxi to LaGuardia. (I thought the cost that Princess was charging--$40 per person each way--was excessive. We were able to take taxis for less than half that, including a nice tip.) They announced our number and color at 10:15, about an hour after disembarkation had begun. By the time we made it to the gangway, they had called three more groups--so there was quite a line. I think there should have been more time between announcements to keep from having a crowd converging all at once. We found our bags easily and cleared Customs. After that was madness. The employees of the Passenger Ship Terminal were directing people the wrong way (trying to get people to go up an escalator that was going down). We finally made it to the cab line, but things weren't much better organized there. We've disembarked in San Juan, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale and never seen anything as disorganized. But our number for a cab was finally called and we made it to LaGuardia on time to catch an earlier flight.
I recommend this ship and itinerary. Overall, it's a great cruise experience.