Having just arrived home yesterday, I wanted to get thoughts down quickly on our cruise to Alaska (Inside Passage) on the Golden Princess. For reference, this was my husband's and my second cruise and second time with Princess. Growing up watching "The Love Boat" definitely had an impact.
As Seattle is our home city, getting to the pier was a breeze. Word to the wise - do not expect to find much around the pier in the way of hotels, shopping or restaurants. You will need to cab it for any sort of amenities.
There were 10 of us traveling together - myself, husband, mother, father, in-laws, and extended family. I had sent the gang a "be sure to pack" list that I assembled from posts on this site and others. My mother-in-law thought that this was some sort of official list from the cruise lines as she packed EVERYTHING on the list including an entire extra suitcase full of soda and water. Needless to say, the amount of luggage we had was insane.
We were in an aft balcony room (Caribe 709) which we booked at the recommendation of this site.
Unfortunately, this meant we didn't get the grand atrium entrance with the string quartet. The balcony was sizable and I was happy to see much more closet space than we had on the Dawn. The shower was TINY, however (shaving my legs was very hit and miss as a result). The balcony was by no means private, so the rule about Caribe balconies being covered is not true on every ship. We could see below and above (and they could easily see us). It was also noisy out there as well which I hadn't anticipated. I got to hear things I would rather not have including private conversations and rather loud gassy emissions. Overall, still was very happy to have our own outdoor space.
Was sorry to see that the bed linens had apparently not been part of the dry dock update earlier this year. The Princess bed spreads always look a little faded and shabby to me. Not sure if the design is intentional or not. I do wish they had updated the decor a bit.
We took the afternoon to run all over the ship before dinner. After being on the petite Dawn, it was fun to be on a larger ship. However, there were some definite layout challenges and I was sorry to see that the atrium actually appeared to be smaller than the Dawn's. My husband missed the much larger, more luxurious Wheelhouse Bar as well.
We did traditional dining, early seating, in the Canaletto Room. Robert, our waiter, was definitely a highlight of the trip. Not only was service excellent, but he was absolutely hysterical! He handled our table for 10 with ease and all was well orchestrated. He would frequently see us in the Horizon at breakfast and come over to check on us even though we weren't technically sitting in his section. I was torn between two deserts one night and asked his opinion. He recommended one of them, but brought me both in the end without my asking.
Horizon Court was good. Not the best buffet I've ever been to, but certainly not the worst. I was VERY pleased this time to see they had lox every single morning this cruise! I piled my plate high with salmon and fruit every morning. My husband joked that I probably ate at least $20 in smoked salmon daily.
We had our final meal in the Crown Grill. Lovely decor, weird music. It was a 70's/80's soft rock soundtrack ("Xanadu", anyone?) in a restaurant that should have had jazz playing. The food was EXCELLENT and the four sampler desert was just amazing. Well worth the $25 cover charge, IMHO. I even tried fois gras for the first (and last) time.
I took special care in looking at cruise style during both our formal and informal nights since there are always a myriad of questions about what is and isn't appropriate/acceptable. Yes, you can wear jeans on an informal night. I wore dark jeans one night with a dressy sweater and didn't get nary a glance from any of the wait staff. However, I tend to like to be dressed a bit more on the fancy side and felt personally under dressed. On formal night, it seemed most anything went. I saw everything from tuxes (quite a few, actually) and ball gowns to attire that would have been questionable on even an informal night. The table next to us had men and women dressed in "dressy" polos and sweaters. I opted for cocktail dresses and my husband was in a dark suit and tie.
In Juneau, we did the Mt. Roberts Tram. I was a little nervous as I don't necessarily get along with heights, but the day was sunny and the ride was smooth and breathtaking. It was amazing to see Lady Baltimore, a permanently wounded bald eagle, up close. We did a mini hike at the top and just enjoyed the views. Highly recommend this! Frankly, don't bother with the port shops in Juneau unless you are looking for trinkets made in China, furs, or jewelry.
In Skagway, we did the White Pass Railway. It was gorgeous, but LONG. The ride there was wonderful, but the ride back was a bit repetitious. The landscape at the top of the pass is surreal. I almost felt like I was on another planet. My parents did the bus version of the trip and had a lovely time. The bus stopped periodically for photos which the train did not.
Tracy Arm and the Sawyer was just indescribable. The best day of the cruise! Not only was it a gorgeous sunny day, but we got the closest to the Sawyer Glacier than any cruise had in the past three years. In fact, our captain told us later that day that had we gotten closer, we would have been off of the nautical charts. My one complaint, the rail hogs at the bow of the ship. It just seems like the polite thing to do to move aside once you have taken your photos and absorbed the beauty so that others can get photos as well.
Ketchikan was cute, but we didn't do any excursions as we were only there from 6:30 AM to noon. I did a bit of souvenir shopping (hint: the "outlet" store near the dock is more expensive than the regular stores just a bit further down). I would have loved to have seen more. We also stayed on ship in Victoria.
Coulda, woulda, shouldas:
1. We didn't buy either formal night photo. I am still kicking myself. We didn't like the ones from the first night (washed out) and the checkout line for the photo desk after the second night was insane.
2. As pretty as it was, I could have done without the White Pass tour. It was spendy and long. The bus would have been a cheaper option, shorter, and allowed for photo stops. I would have also liked to have done town tours to learn more about where we were.
3. I love the slots, but the machines on the ships are TIGHT. That money would have been better spent in the gift shops (I am still coveting a Majorca pearl necklace I saw...).
4. Soda card. Husband bought one, I did not. Consequently, my drink tab was high. I will also pack individual drink pouches and a water bottle next trip.
5. MORE photos. I took almost 600 and still am seeing gaps. Lugging around the camera is worth it.
6. I didn't pack enough. I tried to be comprehensive, but careful, and was sorely missing a few items of clothing as a result.
NOT TO MISS:
1. Art auctions. Even if you aren't an "art person", give one a shot. At worst, you will learn a lot and get some free champagne.
2. The lunch fare in the International Cafe. The sandwiches and cold shrimp salad was amazing as were the fresh-from-the-oven cookies.
3. The views from the Sky level and Skywalkers Lounge.
We had AMAZING weather for the whole trip. We were told that most of the ports hadn't seen sun in weeks and that we truly were lucky. The seas were rough coming back, however, to the point where barf bags hung on the garbage cans around ship and they closed the decks off. I was reading on the Promenade deck at 2 AM because I couldn't sleep that night.
Specific questions about the Golden? Feel free to ask! I am still editing and posting photos and will likely post an album within the week.
ETA my husband's comments:
Things I liked about the Golden more so than the Dawn, in general, not our cabin:
* Much more deck space, pools, outside areas on Golden
* Outside movie screen
* Crown Grill and International cafe
* Princess Theater a little nicer on Golden
* Larger casino on golden
* Golden's Vista Lounge! Explorer's Bar! Skywalkers!
* Horizon Court hours
Things that I liked more on the Dawn than Golden:
* Dawn seemed to have more little nooks, crannies, lounging areas in public
* Nicer feel, more character on the Dawn; Golden felt a little too 'corporate'
* Dining room decor more interesting, inviting on Dawn
It seemed that some jewelry/watch prices were actually quite good on board, so go ahead and buy some without feeling like you're being ripped off. Same goes with the art. Nino Barrette was the auctioneer/art director and he never lied or BS'ed anyone, and I talked to him personally a few times. The James Flood QE2 limited edition numbered/signed piece we got was $60. Park West auctioneering on other cruise lines are in hot water, but there's not one bad word online anywhere about Princess Cruise Lines / Global Art. Would buy with confidence (after doing research first, of course, and only that what you can afford and really like)