Today marked the day where we would board the Golden Princess for our 14 days’ cruise to and around New Zealand.   It was with great excitement as we checked out of the Rydges Sydney Airport Hotel, and hailed for a cab that would bring us to the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Sydney Harbour where the Golden Princess was docked and waiting for us.

Getting to Overseas Passenger Terminal

The cab fare was a whopping AUD$60 for a short distance from the airport to the Sydney Harbour, but we’ve checked out the alternative transport by rail and found that it will cost almost the same.  I guess the only way to reduce cost is to travel in a bigger group and have more people to spread the cost of the cab among the group.   Having said that, we checked out Uber Australia as well, and prices are somewhat similar to that of a cab – equally expensive.

Some of the city sights we passed by while in the cab.  These were the streets we walked a few years back when we first visited Sydney, and I can still remember vividly the carefree feeling of walking those streets.

Our first glimpse of the Golden Princess which will bring us to New Zealand .  The Golden Princess is comparable in size to the Diamond Princess, but is substantially smaller than the Caribbean Princess.

Must Read: Check out our previous vacations on Princess Cruises!

Cruise #1: Alaska

Cruise #2: Baltic

Cruise #3: New Zealand (this trip!)

Embarkation Begins

We arrived at the earliest time available for check-in so as to beat the crowd and maximize our time on the ship, but found that a huge number of other passengers had the same thoughts.  Princess Cruises usually sends the embarkation information to passengers 75 days before the scheduled departure date.  The embarkation information includes a recommended check-in time based on the cabin that you are staying in.  However, most times, we have chosen to board at the earliest time available, and Princess Cruises has never turned us away.  There are several advantages of embarking early, and we will share more on this later.

The distance between the port and the ship was this narrow.  At ground level, there’s a flurry of activity as food and goods that would feed and service 3,700 people (comprising of 2,600 passengers and 1,100 crew) for at least the next 2 days were loaded.

Stepping onto the Golden Princess for the very first time, we realized that this would be home for the next fortnight.  The ship, despite its massive size is still confined space, and I miss my bed at home already.

Checking out our cabin for the very first time.  One of the advantages of boarding as early as you can, is that you avoid the crowd in the ship, and that allows us to navigate within the ship much easier at a time when we were most disoriented.  It means that lifts are largely available to you, and the corridors are mostly un-congested, making it much easier if you have hand-carry bags with you.

Princess Cruises stipulates that large pieces of luggage must be checked in before embarkation.  In fact, luggage tags are sent to passengers together with the embarkation information 75 days before the scheduled sail off date. Passengers are expected to label their check-in luggages and drop it off before check-in.   It will take a bit of time for the checked-in luggage to arrive outside your cabin, but they usually come before dinner time.  So do make sure that you have your immediate needs with you in your carry-on – things like medication, sweaters, electronics, valuables and the likes should stay with you.

We were quite familiar with the balcony-class cabins, this being the third time we were sailing with Princess Cruises.  The cabin is definitely smaller than my master bedroom at home.  Given that it is already a balcony class cabin, I cannot imagine what those folks staying at the inner state rooms are looking at.  But all-in-all, it is still pretty comfortable for 2 persons, especially with a wide private balcony.  The configuration of the room is exactly the same as our previous 2 trips, so this feels like home already to us.

Another advantage of boarding early is that you get to deposit your large luggage early, and consequently, they get sent to your cabin early way before dinner time.  In fact, it always comes by the time we finish lunch on board.  So right after lunch, and before the ship even set sails at 3pm sharp, we had our luggages emptied, clothes all hung up in the walk-in wardrobe and everything else set up and readied for our 2-week stay on the ship.  Yippee!

Similar to our cruise trip to Alaska on the Diamond Princess, we had a balcony-class cabin on Caribe deck.  The balcony-class cabins on this deck all have balconies that are double in size as compared to other balconies, even for those in some of the suite classes.   The inner half of this balcony is sheltered (with a ceiling above), while the outer half is fully exposed just like what the other balconies have.  This is perfect for a person like me who enjoys the sea breeze, but hates the sun exposure that comes with it.

The Golden Princess was relatively worn out, but it was due for dry docking and refurbishment at the end of 2017 in Singapore.  In the meantime, we were one of the first passengers to enjoy the new mattresses that Princess Cruises had installed in all the staterooms of the Golden Princess, and I must say, sleeping on new and upgraded mattresses certainly feels better than the lumpy old ones in the older fleet of ships.

As return customers of Princess Cruises, we had an invitation to the Captain’s Circle waiting for us in the cabin.  It honestly was just a boring talk meant to entice you to sign up for more cruises, but it did promise a lucky draw opportunity.  In addition, all guests who turns up for the event gets a drink voucher that they can exchange for a free soft drink, mocktail or cocktail at a few venues on board.

Exploring the Ship

The first thing we did after checking out our cabin was to head out to the International Cafe to get some quick bites and to purchase a coffee card.

Although it’s called a coffee card, this card entitles us to 15 drinks of our choice out of the beverage menu at the International Café, including all coffees and coffee blends, coolers, and blended teas.

Unknown to most people, this coffee card also gives the holder unlimited flow of brewed coffee or premium tea of his choice (and that comes without having to purchase any beverage with the coffee card) for the entire duration of the cruise, although only one cup can be asked for at each instance.

The coffee card cost AUD$35 and can be used at other Princess Cruise ships if you still have left-over quota at the end of the cruise, but the privilege of getting free flow of premium tea ends with the cruise from which you buy the card at.  We highly recommend getting the coffee card because the cost is cheaper than what you would have paid for 15 beverages.  However, Princess Cruises is moving towards digitization, so this coffee card may be replaced by something else in the near future.

By this time, passengers were still filing into the ship, but the ship still remained pretty deserted at this point in time.  Which was all the better for us, because we could take some light bites at the International Café and enjoy the performance at the Atrium in peace and quiet.

Tip:  A buffet lunch spread is served at the Horizon Court which is located at one of the higher floors in all Princess Cruise ships. So head there if you prefer something more than a light bite from the International Cafe. The Horizon Court is the dedicated buffet area which passengers can go to at any time and it operates even on embarkation day.

Depending on the cruise, sometimes lunch is served in one of the restaurants on embarkation day, as was the case for our cruise to the Baltic. This is usually the same spread served at the Horizon Court, except that you order your food through a menu just like a restaurant with proper waiting staff. So all in all, the experience dining at one of these restaurants surpasses those that you get at the Horizon Court or the International Cafe. Be sure to check with the staff at check-in if there is lunch served at the restaurants.

Unfortunately, the shops in the cruise ship cannot open for business until the ship sails off for international waters, otherwise, it will be the perfect time to do some leisurely shopping.  I would have loved to pick up a novel or two, or to simply browse through the souvenirs.

One of the first things we did before heading back to our cabin was to pop over to the library and pick out some board games that catches our fancy.  If you like books, they are also available at the library on free loan on a first-come-first-serve-basis – Yet another advantage of getting on-board the ship early.  We don’t even need to sign out for these things – All that was expected of us was to return the games to the library before the end of the cruise.

Enjoying a game of monopoly or reading a book on our spacious balcony was pure bliss.

Our cabin was on the port side of the ship – meaning the left hand side if you have the direction of travel in front of you.  It was a great pleasure for us to find the iconic Sydney Opera House on our side of the house where the Golden Princess was docked.  Snap away!

I vividly recall taking Captain Cook cruises from Circular Quay to visit the Taronga Zoo a few years back when we first visited Sydney.  The Captain Cook cruise was a hop-on hop-off ferry which facilitates travel between Darling Harbour (Sydney Aquarium, Wildlife Sydney Zoo, Madam Tussauds, Star Casino), Circular Quay (Sydney Opera House, the Rocks Historic Precinct, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Royal Botanic Gardens), Fort Denison, Watson Bay and Luna Park.

Seeing the Captain Cook cruise ship pass so closely to us now brings back fond memories of the day we took this ferry to the Taronga Zoo.

The ferry terminal at Circular Quay where the tickets for the Captain Cook cruises can be bought and where the ferry departs from.  Behind the ferry terminal is the Circular Quay train station which makes it convenient for cruise passengers to get on board the departing cruises from other areas in Sydney.

It seems that whale watching cruises depart from here as well.

I recall standing here at the Sydney Opera House during the Vivid Sydney Festival back in 2013, watching the dazzling lights and water show, and looking at the large cruise ships docked at the harbor.  And I thought to myself that one day, we will take a cruise from this very harbor.  That wish has come true today!

Off We Sail!

At 3pm sharp, the Golden Princess sounded its horn, and we started our sail past Sydney Opera House towards New Zealand!

The Sydney Opera House begins to show the other sides of its beauty as we cruise along at snail speed out of the Sydney Harbour.

Leaving the Sydney cityscape behind as we head in the direction towards New Zealand.

The majestic Sydney Harbor Bridge came into view as we proceeded out of the harbor.  In fact, if we had gone to the top deck of the Golden Princess, we would have been able to catch a 360 degrees view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge together with the Sydney Opera House.  Come to think of it, there would usually be a sail off party going on at the top deck of the cruise ship, but we usually avoided it, preferring the sanctuary of our own balcony.

Sailing by the iconic Luna Park which is an amusement park in existence since 1935.

Now we have really left Sydney behind.  New Zealand, here we come!

First Dinner on Board

There was really not much else to do after the ship sails, so we had an early dinner.  We had chosen Anytime Dining, so it was really up to us to choose a time of our convenience for dinner.

On the left was our starter of Lobster and Seafood Terrine. while on the right, another starter of Steamed Royal Dragon Potstickers.

Tip:  At the point of booking a cruise, Princess Cruises will ask passengers to make their indication whether they prefer a fixed time dining or anytime dining.

Fixed time dining means that Princess will allocate a fixed timing for you and your group for dinner, and you may need to share a table with other passengers depending on the size of your group. This arrangement is best for passengers who prefer to have social interaction with other guests.

Anytime dining, as what we prefer for all our cruises, allows you to walk in at any time to the restaurants dedicated to serve passengers on anytime dining. Passengers on anytime dining can also call the reservation line to book a specific time for dinner at a specific anytime dining restaurant. In doing so, it also gives you loads of flexibility in managing your dinner time especially for port days where you may want to spend more time on land rather than returning to the ship for dinner at a fixed time, or on days where there is a gala show that you want to watch at a particular time that conflicts with your fixed tine dining. What we liked most about anytime dining was that if we call in early enough to reserve seats, we usually get to reserve a table entirely for ourselves, without having to share with other passengers. This arrangement works best for passengers who enjoy and value their privacy at dinner time.

Of course if you do not like either options, there is still the Horizon Court which serves mostly the same things in the restaurants. The last time we checked, the Horizon Court even has stuff that were not available at the restaurants, mostly in the form of cakes and desserts.

For soups which was also classified under ‘Starters’ we had Hearty Chicken and Sweet Corn Soup and Chilled Beetroot Boracht.  That’s one of the beauty of cruise ship dining, you can order anything off the menu and ask for multiple portions without having to pay.  The exception to the rule of ‘no-paying’ is alcoholic drinks, some coffees and bottled water.

Tip:  Do confirm with your waiter if you are unsure if an item will be charged. Sometimes, it can be embarrassing to ask. In that case, the best and surest way of determining if an item is about to be charged would be when the waiter asks for your cruise card. This is when the restaurant will be billing the charges to your cabin, and you need to step in to cancel the order if you do not wish to pay.

Our mains of Baked Seafood Parcel in Lobster Cream, and Conchiglie Pasta Shells with Lemon Chicken.

I’ve noticed that Princess Cruises has at least one sorbet on their dessert menu for the length of the cruise, and today, this would be a honeydew sorbet.  We ordered another ice-cream and fruits to top it off.

First Night Entertainment

The entertainment for the first evening on board usually involves a gala show – which is usually one of the better productions on board, so be sure not to miss it.  There are usually 2 runs for each evening’s show at the Princess Theatre.

Checking out the gym after dinner is the most appropriate, because I need to know the equipment available to shed all those extra calories after all that eating.

The outdoor pool, which I had promised myself that I will make use of, but never got to use it because there were just too many things to do on board.

The outdoor pool area is also where ‘Movies under the Stars’ takes place every evening.  For a schedule of the movies that will be screened, you will need to refer to your Princess Patter which is delivered to your cabin every evening.

This ends the first day of our cruise.  Stay tuned as we start sailing towards New Zealand.

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