Snuggled up in a mini-suite with a balcony aboard the Golden Princess sailing from Los Angeles to the Hawaiian Islands had all the ingredients for a fantasy-filled birthday/anniversary celebration. Hardly strangers to the Princess product, we expected the voyage to run smoothly. But it turned out better than ever.
To review a 109,000-ton, 2,600-passenger ship properly one must take into perspective its class. While not considered high-end by industry standards of price (think Crystal Cruises, Seabourn, Silversea), the Golden held her head up well with some of the best service at sea we’ve ever encountered on the line. The crew was simply sensational, helpful, attentive, the quality of a much higher-priced spread actually.
And while our enjoyment ranked as a ‘10’, in all honesty the reviewers can only award it four stars (which is hardly chopped liver). Why? Because the ship failed in two categories. Granted this is purely subjective, but the spread in the Horizon Court buffet barely passes muster. It was uninventive and sometimes hard to eat. However the crew working the room was exceptional. The coffee, served in this setting, which is open from morning to midnight, is undrinkable. You can get better joe by buying it, however.
The other area that was lacking is the Lotus Spa. Not the facility itself, but the staff and quality of the three treatments experienced. The attendants sort of stared and seemed lackadaisical when passengers walked in. A special ‘head to toe’ treatment than ran $139 was way below par for the course, perfunctory at best. Another “Fire and Ice” manicure that ran $50 didn’t even include cuticle cutting. There was a light hot stone massage of the arms that was barely felt. And, get this, there was so few polish choices, I had to fetch my own from my mini-suite.
To accentuate the positive, meals in both Sabatini’s and the Crown Grill—two alternative dining venues that cost $25 a person—were exceptional as were our servers. The hotel manager, maître d and captains were phenomenal. Because we are consider ‘Elite’ passengers who have sailed several voyages with Princess, we were invited to have breakfast each day in Sabatini’s with only about 70 other passengers of the same ranking. It was real treat that came with extraordinary service, fresh orange juice, specialty dishes, and cappuccinos or espressos. Princess does take care of its repeat passengers, especially the ‘Elite’ category for which we also got free laundry and cleaning service, priority boarding and disembarking, an Internet package of 250 minutes and first dibs on reservations in the alternative dining venues—which was welcome since we ate most of meals there, opting out of the crowded dining room.
Another really nice touch was the relaxed dress code of ‘resort casual’ at night, which meant no tie and jackets for guys, and optional formal attire on three evenings.
The shows, activities and Hawaiian diversions on board rated a ‘10’. Regular visitors to the Hawaiian Islands we found little need to partake of shore excursions and opted to go off on our own. From past experiences, however, Princess is really good at arranging off ship activities from water sports to cultural outings.
Our mini-suite was excellent with two flat-screen TVs, king-sized bed, sitting area with sofa and table, desk/vanity, mini-fridge and a one-time complimentary set up of libations. The bathroom had a tub with a shower, robes and slippers and upscale spa products.
The ship was sparkling clean everywhere. Deck space was ample for a ship that was filled to capacity. The four pools (two of which are large) were all kept at a comfortable temperature and deck stewards were always on hand to bring you anything you desired.
The cruise director was entertaining and informative. Our captain, Ronald Wilson, a pure delight, and our cabin steward efficient if not effusive.
The 14-day cruise provides five days each way at sea with island stops in Hilo, Kauai, Maui and Oahu. Days at sea were filled with choices such as the line’s Scholarship@Sea, lei making, photography classes, treasure hunts, trivia sessions, ping pong tournaments, late-run movies, shows and more than we have space for here. Of course there’s also a casino, which was well-attended, a well-stocked fitness center, also used extensively, a jogging/walking deck, and plenty of bars and nooks and crannies.
The Golden Princess makes these Hawaii cruises through the end of March before heading north to Alaska for the summer. She returns in the fall to continue the highly-recommended itineraries.