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A recent three night Mexican quickie has me asking the question – how did I get here??!!
I wasn’t always the kind of girl who wrote cruise reviews. Heck, I wasn’t the kind of girl who went on cruises until last year. When and how did that happen? My recent quickie cruise on Golden Princess was a quest to answer that question.
I’m not big on multi-part reviews, but for readability sake, I’m breaking this one up.
* Part I – How Did I Get Here?! – planning & departure
I don’t believe in dragging things out on trips that are completed so I will try to get all five parts posted quickly.
So back to the cruising thing. I took my first cruise last summer on Seabourn Sojourn. I’d always wanted to try cruising – and I also wanted to tour St. Petersburg. A Baltic cruise seemed to be the best way to do it – and I just happened to pick one a luxury line to start.
Apparently that last part is now how it’s “supposed” to go down, a fact that many veteran cruisers would remind me of. Supposedly you are supposed to start at mass market and work your way up until you find a favorite. I was doing it wrong and others wondered “how did I know I wouldn’t like another kind of cruise ship?” They had a point. Still, I took another longer Seabourn cruise. And then I tried a gigantic mass market ship (Norwegian Getaway) but I felt a bit like Goldilocks trying out the wrong size chairs.
And then came another Seabourn cruise (three in under a year) – and I booked a fourth for later this fall. I was getting into a serious relationship with a line and I needed to know what else was out there before I committed.
So back in August I reported here about the Love Boat cast coming back as Godparents of a new Princess ship. That sent me down the rabbit hole, purely for research purposes. It was there that I discovered that Princess offers a handful of shorter three and four night cruises. I had wanted to fit in an October weekender trip, so I started searching. As luck would have it, there was a three night Los Angeles to Ensenada weekender that backed up to a work trip to California. One of my travel friends has been on a California-based project and she too was game to try out a new cruise line, so we decided to book.
It’s important to watch cruise line sales carefully. I started looking at this trip at the end of August and it looked like a exterior stateroom would not be much more than an interior. Then while that was on hold, an online Labor Day sale ran and a balcony cabin was available for around the same price as the exterior.
I use a traditional travel agent for my cruise bookings – I like the level of service I receive and she is usually able to match sales I see at some of the online sites or directly with a cruise line. In this case, that was true as well so a nice balcony cabin was secured.
The Golden Princess quickie was booked!
Fast forward to the week before the cruise.
My friend had circumstances come up that would prevent her from taking the cruise. We had not elected the optional trip insurance (which is usually not a great deal if you are healthy and have total control over your schedule). In this case, it would have been the safer gamble as my friend had three options – sail, don’t sail (and forfeit her entire fare), or don’t sail (and substitute another passenger).
The cruise line would have still allowed me to sail solo if she was unable to go but fortunately they also allow for substitution of passengers as long as its done more than 24 hours prior to the cruise. Since I was already in Southern California at this point I was committed to going either way. Because my sister lives in Los Angeles she was willing to come along with me at the last minute.
Online reports were that the ship normally is ready for embarkation around 11:30 am, with priority guests (those with status or suites) boarding first. Time of boarding becomes an issue on some cruise lines when certain things cannot be booked until you board the ship.
On Princess, those “book on board” experiences can include reservations for specialty dining, access to The Sanctuary (a posh deck area with a limited number of lounger reservations), and special experiences such as the Chef’s Table (which was not advertised for our sailing). As well, there is usually one full service dining room open for limited lunch hours on that first day (12:00 to 1:30 pm, for example). Boarding early allows one to take full advantage of all ship amenities.
Two weeks before the cruise we received this notice:
Please be advised that Golden Princess will berth at Pier 93 and embarkation will not begin until 12:30 PM. To ensure a smooth start to your voyage, we operate a progressive embarkation schedule. Guests with a Preferred Boarding Pass may check in at any time from 12:30 PM – 3:00 PM, though we kindly request that you arrive during your recommended time. If you have booked a Princess Cruise Plus Package or Princess Transfer, your check-in time will be provided at your hotel or airport. Boarding will commence shortly after check-in. Please do not arrive prior to 12:30 PM, as your cabin will not be ready, and there are not adequate facilities at the pier to accommodate early-arriving guests.
12:30 PM – Dolphin, Fiesta & Emerald Decks: Cabins begin with D, E and F
1:15 PM – Caribe, Sun & Riviera Decks: Cabins begin with C, S and R
2:00 PM – Aloha & Baja Decks: Cabins begin with A and B
2:30 PM – Lido & Plaza Decks: Cabins begin with L and P
This was a minor concern to me when the original plans were made as I wanted to at least have the option of a lounger in The Sanctuary and possible specialty dining reservations (I was very interested in dining in Cagney’s, the onboard steakhouse). With a reservation on the Baja deck, 2:00 pm would not only put me at a disadvantage behind the majority of passengers for any limited services. Also important to me, this would put us in past lunch time!
Since we were leaving out of San Pedro, my sister suggested that maybe instead we’d just want to go have lunch at the Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, only about ten minutes from the port. I (being the more high strung sibling) wanted to get to the ship as I had read reports online of this “suggested” boarding order not being enforced with passengers boarding as early as 11: 3o am. So we arrived at the port shortly after noon.
Parking in front of the terminal was easy and daily parking is available for $12/day (or $1/hour for those dropping off/picking up). The terminal offers curbside porter service and there is a shuttle from parking lots that are further out (we parked about 30 yards from the front door).
We were able to quickly enter the terminal port and go through preliminary baggage screening. Princess allows each adult passenger to bring on one 750ml bottle of wine or champagne at no charge (with a $15 per bottle charge for any additional bottles) so we had to go to a special table after the first x-ray so we could register our bottles (which we were able to keep with us).
We then went to the check-in line where we presented our cruise documents and passports, confirmed our credit cards for onboard charges, and were issued our key cards. (Key cards are used not only to access cabins but also to scan on and off the ship as well as for any onboard charging.)
From the front door to issuance of key cards, we waited about 10 minutes.
Our next step was a second security check – we again went through x-ray and on the other side we were handed boarding numbers. We received Group 7 and at that time, they were on Group 3. Each group took about five minutes to board as this was where each passenger was individually scanned onto the ship. They try to keep the passenger flow controlled so that there is not congestion on the elevators or in the areas near the embarkation door.
We took a seat in the embarkation lounge until our group was called, about 20 minutes at which point we were able to scan onto the ship. Sometimes copies of the daily onboard information (for this line the “Princess Patter”) are available in the boarding area but we were unable to locate one so that we could begin planning the rest of our day. The total process took about 30 minutes so we were on the ship before 12:45 pm.
Princess allowed us to drop our bags in our assigned cabin even though it was not ready. This is a nice touch as some lines do not allow cabin access until all are prepared for guests which means you must tote any carry-on luggage with you around the ship until then.
I was pleased to find that we made it onboard in time to have lunch in the open main dining room (as I’m not a buffet fan) so I began to relax, finally!