After reviewing dozens of colourful cruise brochures, husband Rob and I chose the seven-day Coastal Wine Country itinerary on the Golden Princess. We liked the Los Angeles-Vancouver itinerary and ports.
At Pier 93 in Los Angeles, it took only 15 minutes to check in. Just back from dry dock refurbishing, the 3,100-passenger ship had a new carpet smell and a renovated Horizon Court buffet. Throughout the ship we found friendly international crew eager to please. We noted today's cruisers are somewhat younger and prefer casual dress.
Many food options
We chose "Anytime" dining in the Bernini (main) dining room. Making a standing 7 p.m. dinner reservation enabled us to bypass a long entrance line. While dining with congenial cruisers from Australia, Canada and throughout the U.S., we enjoyed exchanging tips and anecdotes with other veteran cruisers.
Waiters delivered sumptuous meals with smiles and humour. Anyone trying to decide between two desserts got both! One of my favourite meals was a shrimp cocktail followed by artichoke soup, green specialty salad, delicious broiled salmon and a sinful dessert served with humour and flair.
A popular casual dining option, International Café served European-style sandwiches, salads and decadent desserts 24 hours (extra charge for beverages). Cruisers can find alcoholic beverages in seven venues and food in nine.
Music is big part of the cruise experience. Entertainment venues offered everything from folk and classical to jazz and rock, as well as dance music. The Princess Theater hosted Broadway-style production shows with singers and dancers, plus comedians, a mentalist and more. In the Piazza on deck five, something was always happening: A plethora of musicians, fashion shows, spelling bees, games and more.
To work off the fat, cruisers hit the fitness centre, swam, danced, used the sports deck or simply circled the ship on the promenade deck. With a casino, karaoke, trivia, art shows, wine tasting, lectures, spa consultations and treatments, plus onboard shopping and specialty classes, no one was bored.
For us the highlight was the bridge tour where an officer explained the ship's communication and navigation systems, as well as thruster, stabilizer and crew functions. We were thrilled to experience the same views as senior officers have as they control the ship.
The Golden Princess called on four distinctively different ports.
Pretty purple Jacaranda trees welcomed us to Santa Barbara. At the waterfront, we hopped on the white shuttle bus (50 cents or 25 cents for seniors) to attend church services. While there, sunshine broke through the morning fog. From the waterfront we walked past the yacht basin to the Maritime Museum.
Later on the popular Santa Barbara Trolley tour, Richard, our knowledgeable driver, made local history come alive with fascinating anecdotes about the city's architectural styles, celebrities, and local entrepreneurs, including Ty Warner, inventor of Beanie Babies.
On State Street, beautiful government buildings meld with a plethora of friendly retailers who warmly welcome cruise ships. The trolley tour included a 20-minute stop at Old Santa Barbara Mission. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more.
Our ship docked at Pier 27 for a full day. We chose the Woods & Wine tour with San Francisco City Sight Seeing Tours. It was a joy to walk among the giant Coastal Redwood trees in Muir Woods, just 30 minutes from Fisherman's Wharf. The fresh piney scent and peaceful environment are great for the soul.
In the afternoon, a different City Sightseeing bus took us to picturesque Sonoma County, where vineyards dot the landscape. While tasting award-winning white and red vines at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, we learned about the Italian Jacuzzi family's history, then sampled olive oils and strolled the beautiful grounds. We also tasted wines at Larson Family Vineyards, visited a cheese store and enjoyed a humorous wine tasting at Roche Winery. Visit www.city-sightseeing.us for more.
Volunteers warmly welcomed us to Astoria's museums, shops and the 38-metre Astoria Column. At the Maritime Museum we learned when Lewis and Clark camped here in 1805-06, they established Fort Clatsop. This was the first U.S. military post west of the Rocky Mountains where the Columbia River flows into the Pacific Ocean. Known as the Columbia Bar, these treacherous waters where ocean and river meet cause many shipwrecks.
Today the Coast Guard has a major presence in this friendly town of 10,100, where fishing, logging and tourism drive the economy. Buses drove visitors around town and up a 183-metre hill to see the pictorial Astoria Column. This beautiful hilltop provided fantastic views.
In Canada's island city, welcoming hosts deftly directed cruisers to waiting shuttle buses. A CVS motor coach driver (www.cvscruisevictoria.com) narrated passing scenery as he drove us to world-famous Butchart Gardens, which were ablaze with millions of spring flowers. Built on a former stone quarry, the spectacular sunken garden elicited a "Wow" from everyone. The 22-hectare privately owned property blends rare and exotic shrubs, giant Redwoods and other trees, flowers and fountains with Italian, Japanese, Rose, and Mediterranean theme gardens.
A special treat was high tea with a delightful medley of delectable tea, tiny sandwiches and sweet treats elegantly presented in a three-tier server. The gardens are open all year displaying seasonal flowers to a million guests. Christmas is a magical time with musical entertainment, massive poinsettia and 12 Days of Christmas displays, plus an ice skating rink. Check out www.butchartgardens.com for more.
Learn more from your travel agent or www.princesscruises.com
A widely published travel writer, Pat Woods encourages readers to SKI (spend the kids inheritance) on a cruise.