A New Year's Bash On Golden Princess

Mrs and Mr. Kuki

Have you ever dated sisters? Well, this story begins with me dating the sister of the Grand Princess I went out with a couple of years ago. While I had a great time with the Grand, things didn't really work well enough for me to call back.

I recently heard that her younger sister Golden was like the Grand, but possibly more to my taste. So I called and booked a date with her--and this time, I invited a whole bunch of friends to double/triple/quadruple date with us.

It was a most interesting date! In the end, I'd have to say this family of ships is not for me. I enjoyed the overall experience, probably because of the people we shared it with rather than any direct impact from my Princess, the Golden.

From experience, I can tell you that there aren't many things more fun than cruising with a group of friends. It can be even more fun if you've never met your group of friends except on the Internet. That's what this cruise on the Golden Princess was for many--meeting "old friends" for the first time.

Moose Horns on New Year's Eve

Some of us, including Mrs. Kuki and I, who were in Ft. Lauderdale for a pre-cruise night got together with each other and some other non-passenger "net buddies" for an evening out. The Marriott Marina's patio bar is an excellent spot for this, though a bit dark for picture-taking, so I didn't get any good shots. We had great fun reuniting with past cruise mates and meeting new ones.

As a surprise for the gang, I had arranged a "Kuki Shuttle" to the pier the next morning. Beginning at 10:30 a.m. for three hours, there was a stretch limo shuttling CruiseMates passengers to the pier. This was vastly superior to standing in line for taxis or the hotel shuttle bus--a fun way, with a twist, to begin the cruise.

Embarkation was surprisingly smooth. We had completed all our pre-cruise documents online, and the information was in the system, even though we didn't get an express check-in sticker on our documents. At check-in we simply gave a credit card imprint, got our cabin keys and moved to the embarkation lounge. After a short wait, we were aboard the Golden at 11:15 a.m. This was as efficient a check-in service as I've ever encountered.

Indeed, the same could be said for debarkation at the end of the week. Things were orderly, without folks gathering in atriums and hallways, blocking all exits. All our pieces of luggage were together, in one spot, as they should be, and it was very easy to find!

The majority of the group had requested main seating, traditional dinner, and 54 of our CruiseMates crowd sat together in the central section of the dining room. The rest were mainly Personal Choice diners, by desire or assignment. This arrangement for the early diners worked well, I thought. We managed to move around, visiting with almost everyone each evening.

Captain Romano explains the bridge  to our group

Of those who had Personal Choice, a few said they really enjoyed it, and others seemed less pleased. I didn't try it, and I probably wouldn't enjoy it based on the concerns of those who did. They said they had to wait for a table on occasion, and that the Personal Choice dining rooms were very busy all through the meal, as people kept going in and out. Some people were served desserts while others were just getting their appetizers, and others were being shown to their seats.

Given the size of our group, it took a day or two to solve the seating arrangements in the dining room, but then everyone settled in and seemed to be having an excellent time.

The first night onboard, we arranged to meet at 10:30 p.m. in SkyWalker's Disco. As I was heading up there, some of our people were coming out, saying the music was too loud. I chuckled to think that we must be getting old, since we were looking to meet somewhere where we could actually hear each other. We did move into the Wheelhouse Bar for a couple of hours of quiet conversation, where everyone got to know each other better.

Helen & Ray celebrate 60 years of bliss

Monday afternoon we had an informal meeting at the Promenade Bar. That night was New Year's Eve, and a formal night. I handed out sequined antlers to everyone, with instructions to wear them to dinner, and for the duration of the night until we welcomed in 2002. Most folks complied, but just to be sure, I had a bag of extra antlers in the dining room with me, in the event that someone "forgot" theirs. The group looked particularly charming all antlered up.

New Year's eve onboard was the BEST! I love the atmosphere on a ship for New Year's: Everyone is there to celebrate, and the festive atmosphere is contagious. One can't help but smile walking around the ship, with different parties going on everywhere.

CD Alastar 0001 hours Jan. 1, 2002

We welcomed 2002 at a deck party by the pool. Streamers were everywhere. The crowds were great. And it felt terrific doing this at sea. The only disappointment: No free champagne, not even for a midnight toast. Shame on Princess. I have done several New Year's cruises, and this was the first time there was a charge for the champagne.

Still, that didn't dampen the spirits. There was no shortage of alcohol consumption, goofy hats (which made the antlers look good), streamers and balloons. One fellow even took the microphone from the band to propose to his girlfriend. "Don't do it," I yelled as the clock struck midnight!

On New Year's day, chief CruiseMate Anne Campbell had arranged a private bridge tour for those in the group who were interested. What made this tour of the bridge even more special is that our escort was the Captain himself, Guiseppe Romano.

The CruiseMates Gang

We had the sweetest bunch of "characters" in our CruiseMates group. There were Ray and Helen, the most ardent cruisers I know, celebrating their 60th anniversary onboard. For them, this was a short cruise; they normally do 21 days and longer. Then we had Anita and Mark, first-time cruisers from Texas, who were so interesting to talk to. And of course, all the CruiseMates staffers: The Bosses (Anne Campbell and Paul Motter), Tripearl, Tweety, Donna, Mary Lou, and Cher.

To be honest, although there were thong presentations, antlers and many laughs, this was not a group for practical joking. Everyone was so sweet it almost made my teeth hurt. I was worried that I'd hurt someone's feelings by "pulling something" on them, so I behaved. We'll save the tricks for the CruiseMates "Let's Get Lei'd" Cruise, coming up on the Summit in May.

Our gang exemplified all the positives of cruising with a group. Everyone enjoyed each other's company. Smaller groups would form to do port excursions or go dancing in the evenings. Wandering around the ship, it was terrific to constantly run into each other and visit. It was like cruising with family--not a typical family, but one whose members like each other. We enjoyed each other's company so much that I'd cruise with this bunch again any time and any place, even on a barge.

I've heard some people say cruising with a group is not for them. I'd give odds that anyone cruising with this group would be converted, and ready to do it again in a heartbeat.

Photos: Ray Boudreaux

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