Ports: Barcelona, Marseille, Monte Carlo, Livorno (Florence), Civitavecchia (Rome), Lisbon, Ponta Delgada (Azores), Ft. Lauderdale
Senior Officers: Captain- Andy Proctor Bernard- Warner (fromLisbon) Staff Captain- Stefano Ravera Passenger Services Director- Nigel Stewart Cruise Director- Alastair Greener
Cabin: D736 (St. Tropez Suite)
Cruise Pictures: Go to http://www.cruise-addicts.com/picturepost/ Click on "GOLDEN PRINCESS Transatlantic" from the drop down menu
Background: 35 year old male from Atlanta, GA
Past Cruises: 45 total including..Holland America, NCL, Celebrity, Princess, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Premier, Sitmar, Home Lines, Royal Viking Line, Dolphin, Costa, Chandris, Eastern Steamship Line
Next Cruises: CARNIVAL PRIDE 1/9/2002....SEVEN SEAS MARINER 6/6/2002
PRE-CRUISE A+ Princess Cruises does an excellent job with pre-cruise documentation, including shore excursions, a cruise answer book, and other pertinent information. This package is sent out approximately 60 days prior cruise and is a nice way to get geared up for the upcoming trip!
Princess allows you to pre-book shore excursions online. In addition, you may enter all your pre-cruise documentation information online (including credit card info for onboard purchases) by going to www.princess.com . Princess is currently the only cruise line which allows you to pre-enter all this information. You may also look at your booking online to check on dining and cabin assignments.The great thing is that Princess allows you to do this regardless of who you booked through, so long as you have the correct booking number and name. Other cruise lines such as Carnival will only let you view the booking if you booked it directly through them on their website.
The actual tickets arrived about three weeks prior to sailing. They are in a ticket-book style with coupons rather than paper tickets. This seems to be the norm for most major cruise lines these days. Since I had already entered my personal information online, everything on the immigration and credit card coupons was already filled out for me. Princess calls this feature "express check-in".
EMBARKATION A We flew into Barcelona the day of the ship's departure. We took a Delta flight from Atlanta to Madrid, then a short flight on AirEuropa from Madrid to Barcelona. We were in BusinessElite on Delta, which truly made the flight enjoyable. We befriended one of the flight attendants who supplied us with a bag full of liquor upon deplaning. Nice touch! The amenity kits in BusinessElite were great. They are in a "period style" tin with the old Delta logo embossed on the front. The AirEuropa flight was also pleasant, and a brief service was provided on the 45 minute flight. Upon arrival in Barcelona, we easily claimed our luggage and caught a cab to the ship.
The actual embarkation was painless. We handed over our forms and ticket along with a credit card and were issued our cruise card (cabin key and ID). Our picture was taken for the A-Pass security system, and a second picture by the photographers. We were onboard GOLDEN PRINCESS within minutes of checking in. While Princess does not offer an escort to your cabin, they do position staff throughout the ship to offer directions.
CABIN A+ The St. Tropez suite is located all the way aft on Dolphin Deck (Port Side). I loved the suite and location. The suite consisted of a marble entry, living room, bedroom, walk-in closet, mini-bar area with sink, two TV's, and a marble bath in two sections (green marble sink and toilette in one room, Jacuzzi tub and glass enclosed shower in another room). Of course the best part was the balcony. It was quite large and contained all teak furniture. A table and four chairs along with two loungers and cushions. We made great use of the balcony and suite, entertaining guests with no less than four parties during the voyage. I loved the aft view of the wake, especially at high speeds, which was the case many times during this cruise.
There was a fully stocked bar upon arrival (not replenished) and two flower arrangements from the ships staff (Captain and Passenger Services Director). Robes and terry cloth slippers were provided, as were upgraded linens and towels. I loved the huge ribbed white towels which were quite luxurious. Every night at 5pm, a fine selection of hot and cold canapes were delivered to the cabin. This extra service was not because we were in a suite, but because we were placed on the ship's VIP list thanks to a friend of mine that works in the Purser's Office.
A nice touch in the corridors are glass mail slots outside each cabin. They use these to deliver the Princess Patter (daily activity sheet) and any other mail to your cabin. It's a lot better than slipping things under your door, and it must save the backs of the poor delivery personnel. Part of this device includes a place for your name, which is printed onboard for every passenger and placed in the slot. Very nice touch Princess Cruises!
THE SHIP B GOLDEN PRINCESS is a lovely ship, although not my favorite in terms of decor or layout. The ship is very low key, and nothing stands out that could be considered garish or over the top. The ship is almost too mainstream or cutsy for my liking. The artwork is probably a bit below average although I 'm no connoisseur. All the materials used are first rate, but certainly no chances were taken on the design. You might be wondering what type of decor I prefer, well, Celebrity Cruises is more my style in this department. They are a little more daring and unique in their artwork and decor. They take a few chances and might be considered a bit eclectic. I also prefer the large two and three story dining rooms offered on Celebrity and Royal Caribbean. Princess is trying to be intimate even with large ships, and they succeed at this but at some cost. For example, the three dining rooms on GOLDEN PRINCESS are virtually identical and are largely forgettable in terms of decor.
There are some areas that stand out, and they include all four pool areas which are exceptional in function and design. Of course Princess uses fresh water in the pools and they are open 24 hours. I certainly enjoyed this feature which I think is unique to Princess.
Skywalkers is the disco (or shopping cart handle from the outside of the ship) and serves it purpose well. I would rate it as one of the best night clubs afloat and we had great fun in this lounge. Another bar which we enjoyed every night around 8pm is the Wheelhouse. All new Princess ships offer this bar, which is nautical in theme and includes music and dancing.
The Lotus Spa/Gym was an area I frequented every day except for a day or two. I like to work out and the gym was fairly well equipped. The cardio equipment was by StarTrek and was quite good. Of course there were free weights and resistance machines that were first rate. The gym itself probably needs to be larger, especially for cruises in the Caribbean, and that is something that will be addressed on the new STAR PRINCESS. Just outside the spa area is the "swim against the current" pool, which really works, and separate men's and women's saunas and steam rooms. I enjoyed speaking with the trainers (especially Corey from New Zealand) as these guys were in incredible shape and really gave me some good tips. The spa area is run by the infamous Steiners, and I did not partake in any of their services. There were two supervisors onboard from Steiner's Head Office who were trying to boost sales and get the spa team onboard into high gear. Apparently this team was not even close to meeting their sales goals. For those of you familiar with Steiners, you know how aggressive they can be.
The rest of the ship is also lovely but nothing really strikes out in my mind. My previous cruise was onboard RADIANCE OF THE SEAS in May, so many things about that ship were fresh in my mind. The RADIANCE had a lot of the "WOW" factor which the GOLDEN does not.
For those of you familiar with GRAND PRINCESS, there are some differences between these two sister ships. They include:
Atrium - the atrium on GOLDEN is much more open and bright, with glass staircases
Mid-ship Staircase - this staircase is actually a crew staircase on the GRAND PRINCESS (although it is scheduled for refurbishment to a passenger staircase)
Gym/spa - The juice bar is removed and the aerobics area enlarged.
Wedding Chapel / AOL Internet Cafe - on the GOLDEN, the wedding chapel is located where the F/X Limelight studio is on the GRAND and the AOL Cafe has been greatly enlarged. The F/X Studio has been moved adjacent to the video games on Deck 15 aft.
Promenade Deck - Unfortunately on GOLDEN, this area has a rubberized surface instead of teak as on GRAND PRINCESS
Most other areas are identical between the two ships. More extensive modifications will be made to the next sister in the series, STAR PRINCESS. On this ship, the spa will be greatly expanded offering far more services by moving the kids and teens area to Deck 15 aft.
Of course everything on the ship was basically new, and was kept in pristine condition. Painting, varnishing, carpet cleaning and so forth seemed to be a round the clock operation.
FOOD B- I'm not going to get too in depth about food, because it's so subjective. Suffice it to say, no one should starve onboard the GOLDEN PRINCESS. Food was literally available 24 hours a day. I've found food to be pretty much equal in quality and variety on all the major cruise lines I've recently sailed. When serving 3000+ passengers, there is only so much you can do.
I never ate breakfast or lunch in the dining room, always opting for room service and my far more scenic balcony, or the Horizon Court / Trident Grill. Breakfast was the usual and you could request made to order omelets, pancakes and French toast even in the Horizon Court. In most cases I had lunch from the Trident Grill. Here you could order hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled chicken and so forth. Everything was made to order and fairly fresh. I did nickname the server in the Trident Grill "soup nazi". For those of you that watch Seinfield, you will understand. He was probably the only unfriendly crew member I encountered on the entire ship.
Dinners were quite good for the most part. I was surprised to see so many repeated items on the menu during this 15 day cruise. We opted for Personal Choice dining and I'm glad we did. I loved being able to show up at the dining room at anytime and be seated. In fact, on the second night of the cruise we sat in a section of the Donatello Dining Room with exceptional service. The waiters were Darius and Kataryna, and we decided to sit in their section every night. This was never a problem and the Maitre d' knew exactly where to sit us the minute we walked in. Some nights we ate alone, other nights with new friends that we asked to join us. It really worked out well and we enjoyed the flexibility. With Personal Choice, your orders are more made to order, and this was evident in that all items arrived at the proper temperature and did not appear to have been sitting under a heat lamp for a ½ hour.
One night we ate in Sabatini's with several new friends. The cost is $15 per person and I thought it was OK, but not great. Our servers in the main dining room were actually much better than our waiter in Sabatini's. I don' t eat a lot of the items that Sabatini's serves (I watch my carb intake) so that may be part of the reason I did not enjoy it as much. We never did eat in the Desert Rose, as we just did not find it appealing. The decor looked like something out of your local Acapulco or Red Onion restaurant. Not a lot of atmosphere in my opinion. I will say other's that ate there were impressed. I believe the cost is $7.50 per person which includes a margarita.
Room service was excellent, delivered on time, and with all items as ordered. We really took advantage of room service due to the large balcony. Sometimes we would order cheeseburgers at 3am after the disco. Never a problem. Also, we were able to order off the dining room menu during dinner hours if we chose to.
SERVICE A Service on GOLDEN PRINCESS was excellent all around. The staff was friendly and always helpful. Most everyone said hello in passing, which you don't see as much of these days. As stated earlier, our waiter and assistant were exceptional, as was our cabin steward. No complaints here.
ENTERTAINMENT B- Entertainment was good, but not great. In 15 days there were only three production shows, which I tend to enjoy. The first was "Lights, Camera, Action" which I consider to be the best onboard production show I have seen. The only exception to this might be the ice skating show on VOYAGER OF THE SEAS. The second show was "Shake, Rattle & Roll". Typical 50's and 60's type show which I did not care for. The last show was "Words & Music" which was also excellent, but not as good as the first show.
Of course there were other entertainers onboard, in fact three different shows a night in the different lounges. I really can't comment on the rest of the performers because I did not see their shows. We usually were so late getting out of the dining room (our choice) that it was too late to see anything. Certainly the Disco was the best show in the house!
We made friends several of the dancers and Officer's since they also frequented the disco. It was great to hear about shipboard life on GOLDEN PRINCESS and also have such talented dance partners! There were actually two different dance teams onboard, as one was preparing to leave in Ft. Lauderdale and they were rehearsing with the new team to get them up to speed.
Regarding other activities, they were all offered as you might expect. Dance classes, napkin folding, pool games, etc. This was pretty much the same as any major cruise line.
WEATHER Some of you might be wondering what the weather was like on a fall transatlantic cruise? Well, it was excellent for the most part. Out of 15 days, I think there were only 2 or 3 days that were not sunny. Most days were warm and I certainly came home with a tan. The crossing itself was quite smooth except for maybe the last day. Surprisingly, GOLDEN PRINCESS handles the seas fairly well considering how top heavy she is. One night during some moderate swells we were up in Skywalkers. The periodic shaking was incredible! You literally had to hold on to your glass or it would shake off the table! Too much fun.
PORTS The ports on this cruise were fantastic! It was such a great mix of interesting places and wonderful sea days. I love days at sea, and that is one of the reasons I picked this cruise. A westbound transatlantic cruise is truly idea for another reason as well, you pick up an extra hour sleep almost every night of the crossing. Believe me, that came in handy.
My favorite ports were Monte Carlo, Rome and Florence. We took an escorted tour in both Rome and Florence as we wanted to see as much as possible. Both tours were excellent. Princess has this down to a science and they use first rate tour operators. I was amazed at how easily the ship was able to organize hundreds of people and several different tours and not lose a single person. Kudos to a job well done!
In the other ports we were on our own, which is what I usually prefer. They were all easy to walk around and Princess provided maps for assistance. I any of you have specific questions, please feel free to email me.
One interesting tidbit happened in the Azores. About an hour after we left, Captain Warner came over the PA with an "important announcement". The ship was returning to the Azores as two passengers had disembarked with no explanation. Of course the logic was that these passengers may have planted something like a bomb onboard the ship. The crew went into high gear and started searching the ship left and right. Once we were back at the Azores we never actually docked. The Captain made another PA stating the situation was resolved, the ship was safe, and we would be on our way. It was not until returning to the US that I found out what really happened. One of the Cruise Staff members made a bomb threat from onboard the ship. It was supposed to be a joke, which in this day and age is not something you joke about. He was locked in a cabin for the remainder of the cruise and arrested upon arrival in Ft. Lauderdale. Needless to say, his employment was terminated from Princess Cruises. He was only employed by the line since April of this year.
SECURITY A Speaking of security, let me touch on this for a moment. I think Princess did a suburb job in this respect. They are one of the only cruise lines which use the A-Pass system. Other cruise lines are getting it, but it may take a little time. The A-Pass system imprints a picture of you in the computer (taken at embarkation) along with your cabin information. You swipe you cruise card each time you enter and depart the ship. Your picture pops up and the officer on duty can identify you. Also, it lets the ship know if you are on or off the ship at any given time. I felt security was taken seriously onboard GOLDEN PRINCESS, and never once did I feel a lapse or have concerns in this area.
DISEMBARKATION C Disembarkation was a bit disorganized in my opinion. Although this was the first time GOLDEN PRINCESS had entered the US, the GRAND PRINCESS uses the same dock every week, which is pretty much exclusive to Princess Cruises. Each of us had to go through Immigration onboard the ship beginning at 6am depending on your last name. Well, the Customs and Immigration Officers did not even board the ship until after 6am, so this is where the trouble began. The line stretched through every lounge on the Promenade Deck. I took one look and decided to eat breakfast instead (lines are not my thing). by the time I finished breakfast things were moving and I was through in about 20 minutes. As it turned out, there was a single Immigration Officer taking a quick look at your passport picture compared to your face. Nothing else to verify you even went through this line. I'm all for extra precautions, but only when they accomplish something. This seemed like a waste of time since they were not crossing off your name when you passed through.
We were the second group of passengers to debark, and I was amazed at the congestion to find your luggage. by far the worst set up I have seen. The luggage for the first group was placed right at the entrance to the luggage holding area. For this reason, a huge bottle neck formed with people literally unable to move. Only a small walkway was left open between the luggage and the exit. Adding to the problem were the porters who had large luggage carts and were blocking the only exit. It was a nightmare and very poorly set up. Once we exited the building, there was no problem getting a cab for the short ride to the airport. I never use the ships transfers because I hate busses and waiting for the seats to fill up. I guess I'm too impatient for that. In this case, as usual, I was relieved to get in a cab and leave the madness behind. Of course we arrived at the airport far earlier than any of the busses, and zipped right though the check-in lines at the airport. Just as I finished checking in, the first busses were beginning to arrive. Boy was I glad I took a cab!
CLOSING In closing, I hope you can tell this was an exceptional cruise in almost every way. Although the ship itself was not my all time favorite, the entire experience as a whole ranks as one of the very best. It's been several years since I've sailed Princess, and I'm happy to say they are still an exceptional cruise line, which offers a superior product.
BON VOYAGE! Ernest Roller
Cabin D729, Mini-Suite
This review is broken into three sections: The Ship; Ports of Call; Contact Information
I began writing this review as a spectacular sun was setting over eastern Canada as we made our journey across the Atlantic to meet up with the Golden Princess in Barcelona. It was a wonderful way to begin a cruise vacation.
Actually, the fun began months ago during the planning process. I've decided that part of the fun of a cruise vacation is in the planning and anticipation. The friends you make through research for the trip just adds to the fun. This is our 14th cruise and the planning had already made it grand.
This review will contain three separate sections. One that focuses on the ship; one that discusses the ports of call; and the final which will list all of the contact information for the tour guides we used and favorite restaurants. My husband and I cruised with our 14-year-old daughter. We selected the Golden Princess for several reasons. First was the itinerary and ports of call. Second, we had cruised with Princess four times in the past and they remain among our favoritecruise lines. It had been two years since we were on a Princess ship so we were looking forward to returning.
We book our own air (and have done so since nearly missing a ship through the cruise line air several years ago). We arrived in Barcelona three days prior to boarding the Golden. It gave us a chance to adjust to the time change, really enjoy a spectacular city and arrive in plenty of time. We didn't want to miss the ship! This was one of the best things we did. by the time we boarded the ship on Thursday, we were completely adjusted to the time change. A lot of passengers who arrived the day of boarding were tired for the first several days.
Our Cabin The Golden Princess is a gorgeous ship. Our cabin, D729, was a mini-suite with a nice sized veranda on the Dolphin deck. It was the third cabin from the rear of the ship. We loved the location. The decks are staggered on this ship so there is little if any privacy on the verandas on most decks. The laundry room was just across the hall (a nice convenience on a 12 day cruise). The cabin was spacious with a king bed, a sofa bed for Amanda, a coffee table, and two chairs. There was a great hutch in the center of the room with two TVs and plenty of shelves for storage. A large closet and plenty of drawers offered more space than we needed. The bathroom was good sized and the balcony was very nice - four chairs and a table.
Our cabin was located deck 9 between two floors of other cabins. For the least noise, we've found a floor between decks of other cabins to be best. If you are under or above public decks, you get a lot more noise.
Our cabin steward, Narciso, was quiet and efficient but often seemed "stressed." I kept telling him we were never in a rush for anything and by the middle of the cruise he seemed to be a bit more comfortable. A nice convenience was our room was directly across from the self-service laundry on our deck. For a 12-day cruise, this was great as the laundry areas seemed to fill quickly, especially on the days at sea. Being so close made it easy to use the facilities early in the morning.
Public Spaces The Lido, Sun and Sports decks offered a nice variety of outdoor activities during the days. There were plenty of deck chairs around the pools at all times. I think this was partly due to the itinerary (we've been on the Grand in the Caribbean and there were never deck chairs available). The pools and hot tubs, all very nice, are fresh water and do not close early like they do on other ships.
The Spa, located on the Sun deck was lovely and I had a great massage, however it had two drawbacks. First is there system of booking appointments. We were on the ship at 11:00 AM (two hours prior to published boarding time) and I had to wait in line 45 minutes to make a massage appointment. Two crew would shuffle paper schedules back and for so much that neither of them could keep anything straight. You would think in the age of technology on a brand new ship that they would have computerized the scheduling of spa appointments. The second drawback is that the massage rooms are located directly beneath the outdoor basketball court. Consequently, there was the constant "thud" of a basketball above the room at all time during the massage. Not exactly relaxing. It makes one wonder who really designs ships! But as I said earlier, the massage itself was great, even with the "thud."
Entertainment Most of the evening activities were all located on the Promenade deck. From the Princess Theater, to the lobby lounge (always hopping with Marucio playing), the Wheelhouse Bar (our favorite hangout where Edy Smith plays a mean piano), the Explorer Lounge and the Vista Lounge. Entertainment throughout the ship was generally very good if not excellent. Production shows were great and the entertainers in the lounge were outstanding. There was always a good variety of evening activities to keep you going late into the night. Unfortunately, I think everyone was pretty tired from the busy port days and the ship was pretty quiet by 11:00 PM.
Dining Even though we are younger (my husband is 38 and I'm 43) we prefer traditional dining. We like having the same tablemates and wait staff each evening. On this particular cruise, one dining room was traditional, one was personal choice and our dining room was split (but probably 75% personal choice). The first evening, we were very skeptical. All of the crew in the dining room seemed to be running around in a frenzied hurry to keep the personal choice diners moving in and out of the dining room. It was an atmosphere we didn't care of at all. Additionally, there were no other people seated at our table, even though we had a table for six or eight. We were considering requesting a move to the all-traditional dining room. However, we REALLY like our waiter (Hakan) and assistant waiter (Chris) so we thought we'd try it a second night. As we were seated the second night, we heard another couple walk by saying to our waiter "we'd really like to be seated with other people." I told our waiter that they could join us and by the third night they brought another couple to the table and we were having a great time. The atmosphere seemed to quiet down as the cruise went along and everyone seemed in less of a hurry. The captain even dined at a table next to us one evening in an inconspicuous table on the side of the room near a window.
The food was very good, although Princess had pretty much done away with their popular tableside pasta dishes and flaming desserts with the advent of personal choice dining. We mentioned this to Hakan and from the seventh evening on, our head waiter was preparing things tableside for our table. We shared with other traditional tables around us and it was a nice touch that they offered to do these dishes for us.
If you are with a group of people or a larger family, I can see the where personal choice is an attractive option. However, we'll probably stick to traditional dining as long as we can. by the way, Princess food is still far superior to Royal Caribbean. The pizza on the pool deck is 1000% better.
We did not try either of the alternative restaurants and the design of the Horizon Court was very disorganized making it difficult at times to get food. There aren't really "lines" like a typical buffet. It's kind of a circular area with an additional food bar in the middle. Consequently, you have people coming and going in all directions. The food here was average.
PORTS OF CALL
For this trip, the itinerary was more important to us than the ship. We really wanted to visit these ports of call. The fact that we could do it on this fabulous ship was a bonus! Before I describe our port experiences, please note that I've listed the cities by their European names. It kind of bothers me that we don't use the "real" names of the cities.
Barcelona We arrived in Barcelona three days prior to the ship's departure. We connected through Paris without any problems and were very happy that all of our luggage arrived with us in Barcelona. We had a bit of a wait in line for a cab to our hotel, but once in the cab it was a short (5 minute) ride to our hotel that cost less than $5. We stayed at the Hotel Colon in the heart of the Gothic district across from the Barcelona Cathedral. It was a perfect spot! We walked almost everywhere from here. We spent our first evening just exploring the area and having an early dinner since we were a bit jet-lagged. Our early arrival in Barcelona allowed us plenty of time to adjust to the six hour time difference - a huge benefit.
On the next morning, we were met in our hotel lobby by a private guide I arranged for through APIT - Barcelona (the Association of Professional Tourists Guides of Catalunya - the state where Barcelona is located). Anna Maria was a marvelous guide and provided the perfect overview of Barcelona. Whether you begin or end your cruise here, we highly recommend at least a ½ day tour (with a private guide or through the ship) to get acquainted with the city. Anna Maria pointed out things we'd never have noticed on our own. Our tour with her included sites in the Gothic Quarter, Gaudi's La (its unfinished by the way and not scheduled for completion until 2082 !!!) and Parc Guell (another Gaudi development). She also recommended dining and shopping (more on those later).
We found Barcelona to be a warm & friendly city. Cabs were very inexpensive as was the food & shopping.
On our final day before boarding, we walked from our hotel down to the pier to catch our first glimpse of the Golden Princess. On our return walk, we visited the Picasso Museum (a must for anyone who enjoys his art) and then dined that evening at the 4 Cats restaurant - a Picasso favorite.
The morning of boarding, we left for the ship at 11:00 AM. We had a tough time explaining to our cab driver exactly where the ship was docked even though we had walked there. Be sure the driver understand that the ship is not at the main Barcelona harbour. When we arrived at the ship, this was by far the easiest embarkation ever. We walked in, signed our payment card (we have done all of our "paperwork" on line before leaving home), got our keys and walked on the ship. We were in our cabin by 11:30 AM! Since we had been in Barcelona for a couple of days, we didn't get off the ship again even though we overnighted in Barcelona before sailing the next afternoon.
Monte Carlo/Nice This was one stop where we took a ship's tour. We wanted to visit Nice so we did the early morning trip to Nice and had the afternoon to explore Monte Carlo on our own. The tour to Nice was well organized and the drive was very scenic. We had an hour to walk around Nice on our own. We drove past the medieval town of Eze on our return to Monte Carlo….a great sight to behold on the mountainside.
We lunched at Quai des Artistes, a delightful French restaurant on the harbour in Monte Carlo. We were in search of a water color for a gift so we walked around town after lunch looking for art galleries. After finding the perfect painting, we took our daughter back to the ship and returned to town to visit the casino. There is a $7 per person charge to enter the casino but it was worth it. It is VERY different from any casino you've seen in the U.S. It was very elegant and extremely subdued for a casino. Just walking around was an experience.
Firenze (Florence) This was a GREAT stop. We want to go back and spend a week here. We visited on a Sunday but that didn't have a tremendous impact on what we could and couldn't see. We took the ship's tour here as well (our last one) as it's a 90 minute drive from the ship to Firenze. Our guide was great and gave us tremendous background on the trip to Firenze. That passed the time quickly. When we arrived in the city, another guide joined us (apparently you have to be licensed in the city where you are providing guiding services). She, too, was very good. As we began our tour at the Duomo, the Annual St. John the Baptist parade began so we stayed and watched the festivities. If you are going to be in Firenze around this time of year, read up on the event. It was a great site!
Our guide spent two hours with us before giving us a couple hours to explore on our own. It was very informative but there is no question that there was just far too much to take in in one day. You need four or five days here to truly appreciate the city and everything it has to offer. We met friends from home for lunch who were vacationing in Italy and explored with them for the rest of the day. Of course, the highlight for Amanda was the two gelati stops at the SAME store….Vavoli's. Our map said it was the site of the best gelati in the world. Amanda agreed!
Napoli (Naples) We hired a private car and guide here through a service in Roma (Rome). We'd highly recommend doing this at this stop. Our driver/guide, Pietro Mastromano, was outstanding! This was a terrific port of call for us. I knew before we arrived that we wanted to visit Pompeii early and spend the rest of the day along the Amalfi Coast. We arrived in Pompeii and even though it was early in the day, it was very hot and crowded. There is very little shade here on a hot summer day. It was extremely interesting and we could have stayed much longer except for the crowds and heat.
After leaving Pompeii, my favorite part of the tour began. Pietro took us to a charming mountain town called Ravello where we ate a wonderful lunch at a small Italian restaurant and visited the quaint shops before moving on. I could spend a week here. Uncrowded, secluded and picturesque! An ideal spot after the crowds of Pompeii.
From their we drove to the coastal towns of Amalfi and Positano. Breathtaking is the only way to describe these. The drive is reminiscent of the Coast Highway in northern California only the cliffs are steeper and the villages much older. I loved this area and could easily spend vacations in any of these coastal towns.
Venezia (Venice) This was probably the port we were most looking forward too prior to the trip. We were not disappointed. We knew there would be a lot of tourists so we were prepared for the crowds. The sail into Venice is amazing. You want to be at the front of the ship or on the starboard (right side) of the ship as you sail into Venice. If you have a veranda on the starboard side, all the better. On this sailing, the ship docked away from the main tourist areas so you had to take one of the ship's water taxi or take a vaporetta (local water taxi) to get to the tourist sites. This wasn't a big deal to us but probably bothered some people.
We had planned a private cultural tour here the first afternoon through www.venicescapes.org. However, upon arrival, we learned our tour guide had an accident and was unable to accommodate our tour. We were flexible and headed out on our own. We may have missed out on a bit of the culture but we had a grand time exploring the streets and canals on our own. The food was incredible from the gelati to the pizza, sandwiches and pastas. The first day we just roamed. It was amazing to walk down an alley into a square with a spectacular church. Photo opportunities abound (I took about 200 photos in Venezia alone). The amount of Murano glass is amazing. You do not have to take the tour to Murano to find plenty of beautiful glass. We had visited the Murano glass factory in Venezuela so we didn't feel the need to go in Italy. We took a late evening gondola ride (a must) and then searched for dinner. The gondola was $75 for 45 minutes.
This was probably the find of the cruise. We were walking from alley to alley looking at menus and finally selected a restaurant with what we thought were good pasta dishes. To our surprise, we picked what turned out to be the best restaurant of the trip - Ai Leoncini. We shared three pasta dishes and a veal dish. The ravioli in a tomato cream sauce was some of the best pasta we've ever had and we eat a lot of pasta. As it turned out, we discovered we entered the "back" door of the restaurant and when we left through the "front" door, we were just off St. Mark's Square.
Princess did run continuous water shuttles from the ship to St. Mark's Square but we also purchased a 24 hr. vaporetta ticket that allows you to ride any water bus all day long. Water taxis (which are smaller, private boats) are very expensive and we didn't see anyone using them.
On day 2 in Venezia we got an early start to see the Doges Palace and St. Mark's Basilica. Doges Palace begins selling tickets at 9:00 AM (we were first in line - a one time occurence). Escorted tours like those from the ship are allowed in at 8:45 AM while individual tourists are allowed in at 9:00 AM. I'd recommend bringing a map of the Palace from a tourist guidebook. Posters in many of the rooms describe where you are but with all the tour groups you often couldn't get to the posters. They also have audio hand held recorders to rent for $3 that describe the rooms. The Palace was indescribable. Paintings filled every room and ceiling. Amazing gold molding could be found everywhere. The palace contains a great collection of armour and swords. There is so much here that it is overwhelming.
When we left to go to St. Mark's Bascilica at 10:30 AM the lines were enormous so we were forced to skip going inside. While we hated to miss it, we were on overload at this point. We finished our visit to Venezia by doing a little shopping and having another calzone.
Sail away, in our opinion, was even better than the sail in. Andre Bottecelli played over the ship's loud speakers. Get a spot on the rear of the ship. It is fabulous back here! There were not very many people and the view as you leave Venezia is unobstructed and unforgettable.
Athena (Athens) We once again hired a private tour guide here. The guide we originally hired had tourists the previous day that wanted him for a second day so we ended up with the partner of the person we originally booked. As it turned out, Dimitri was a fabulous guide and driver and we couldn't have asked for anyone better. We got an early morning start. Our first stop was at the "original" Olympic stadium. It seems ashame that they do not play to use it during the next summer Olympics which will be held in Athens. From there, we went to the Acropolis. Without question, this was at the top of our list for sites we visited. An important note that I had read in other reviews - there is a tremendous amount of walking on very old, uneven stones, including walking up and down some steep areas. It is very important to wear proper shoes here and be very cautious, especially if you have trouble walking. Words really cannot describe this masterpiece that sits atop this exciting city. The Acropolis should not be missed if this is your first time to Athens. Our last stop was at a great restaurant in the Plaka. We could definitely spend more time here and would love to visit the Greek Isles on a future trip. The people here were wonderful!
Kusadasi/Ephesus Again, we had made arrangements for a private guide. Our situation here was a bit unusal. I had been corresponding with our tour guide (Lale Kosagan) for several months when I learned her 5-year-old daughter was scheduled for surgery during our visit. She enlisted the services of her sister (Hale) who is also a guide. The great thing was Hale could be with us both days in Turkey. She and our driver, Uhls, drove from Istanbul to Kusadasi the day before we arrived. They spent the day with us then drove back to Istanbul to meet us the next day. We were amazed since it was an 8 hour drive each way and the cost for her, the driver and the car for each day was very reasonable.
Hale was delightful and another wonderful guide. I don't know if we simply lucked out or if all guides in Europe are good but we were fortunate that we had great guides everywhere.
We spent most of this day touring Ephesus. We visited the Virgin Mary's house, the ancient city of Ephesus where the "library" must be seen to be believed, had a terrific lunch on an outdoor patio overlooking a scenic valley and visited a rug factory. Actually, the rug factory was a lot of fun (I had read a lot about "rugs" before we left) and the process amazing. As a special treat, Uhls bought us a bag of fresh peaches which we took to our head waiter that evening at dinner. He flambeed a wonderful dessert for our tableside!
Istanbul It was great to get off the ship in Istanbul and have Hale and Uhls meet us again. It would have been great to have one guide to tour all of Europe with! I'd strongly recommend using the same guide in both locations. It made the second day even better. In Istanbul we visited the Blue Mosque, the Palace (be sure to go into the Harem) and finally the Grand Bazaar. The traffic was horrendous and it took a long time to navigate the city streets. This is a BIG city. by the time we reached Istanbul, we were tired. While we always wish cruises would last longer, we were ready to head home. On the final morning, we disembarked and took the ship's tour up the Bosphorus River. This was a relaxing ride and best of all, they transferred our luggage and us to the airport at the end of the tour. I'd recommend this excursion if you have a later flight.
Our return trip (with an overnight in Frankfurt) was uneventful. I took some 600 photos and probably could have taken more. The sites, the people, the history and culture were fabulous even though it was easy to be overwhelmed by it all.
SHOPPING We really didn't do a lot of shopping. We did this trip to see the sites. We did purchase several nice souvenirs (the pottery in Ravello was my favorite) but I can't report on great buys on leather goods, jewelry, etc. as we didn't look for any of the these items.
FINAL IMPRESSIONS We had been on the Grand Princess in the Caribbean several years ago and did not care for it at all. We were pleasantly pleased, however, with the Golden Princess. We've come to learn that cruising is about the entire experience, not just the ship and not just where it goes. While the Golden and Grand are sister ships and in many ways the same, our experience on the Golden was much better than on the Grand. The passengers, the atmosphere, the service….everything was a step ahead of the Grand. So when you read these reviews, keep in mind that your experience could possibly vary from others depending on a number of different factors. The most important thing, regardless of the ship or where you go, is to have a wonderful time!
Final comment: Go on-line and complete all your immigration information, onboard credit card form and shore excursions. It will make your cruise vacation much more enjoyable!
CONTACT INFORMATION Here is a listing of the guides we used and some of our favorite restaurants. Email me for more info.
Barcelona Hotel Colon: $150 per night; Phone 34-93-301-1404 Email: [email protected]
Tour Guide: Anna Maria Sangenis Crotogino; Phone 34-93-207-3321 Booked through APIT-Barcelona: Email: [email protected]
Restaurants: Caputxes in the Gothic Quarter; Phone 34-93-319-7757 4CATS in the Gothic Quarter: 34-93-302-4140
NOTE: 34 is the phone country code if calling from the USA; country codes are listed for all countries below. You do not need the country code once you arrive I that country.
Monoco Restaurant: Quai des Artistes on the harbor
Napoli Tour Guide: Pietro Mastromano Phone: 39-081-870-8985
Venezia Restaurants: Ai Leoncini (our favorite restaurant for the entire trip) just off St. Mark's Square (Piazza S. Marco); Phone: 39-041-523-6049
Food & Wine Store: Antica Drogheria Mascari: www.imascari.com
Athena Tour Guide: Dimitri; Phone: 30-093-788-3786