I fell for cruising long before I joined the Cruise Critic staff. My first cruise was a Western Caribbean itinerary onboard Carnival Sensation, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Over the years, I had sailed a number of lines, including every major U.S. mainstream line — except Princess.
It wasn’t intentional avoidance. Somehow, it just never worked out, until last week, when I took an Alaskan cruise on the Golden Princess. As always in cruising, it’s the little touches that give a line its identity. Here are six small things I noticed on Princess that made a big impression:
1. Movies Under The Stars
Having a big-screen on the Lido Deck has become par for the course these days, but Princess has been doing it for so long, it’s perfected it. The variety on the screen is vast: newer movies (“Oz: The Great and Powerful,” “Skyfall” and “The Croods”) as well as concerts (Pink and Lionel Ritchie, for example). Fluffy blankets are available — and necessary on our cold-weather cruise — and the staff pops up fresh popcorn. Plus, the already comfy cushioned loungers are enrobed in special MUTS covers with small pillows attached – which means no uncomfortable neck craning.
2. Expressions of Celebration
Cruising for a special occasion? Princess will make it one you never forget. Walk down any cabin hall, and you can quickly identify those celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and honeymoons. That’s because the cruise staff hangs balloons that read “Congratulations” and large door magnets that read “Happy Birthday” or “Happy Anniversary” for all the ship to see. How could a celebrant NOT feel special?
3. Singing Waiters
OK, singing waiters aren’t exclusive to Princess, but it’s something I’ve never loved; honestly, watching it makes me a bit uncomfortable. But on Princess, I found I enjoyed it. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t feel forced; rather, a few select waiters have decided to do it on their own. My favorite? Edgar, whom I met in Sabatini’s, the ship’s alternative Italian restaurant, who dished out fresh-ground pepper and Parmesan cheese with songs that included lyrics such as, “Yummy, yummy, yummy, yummy yum” (think the Italian classic “Funiculi Funicula” song) and “Here comes the pepper” (“La Cucaracha”). Trust me, it worked, and it made requesting your seasonings a fun experience.
Muster drills vary greatly from one line — and one ship — to the next. Many lines have tried to streamline the process, even bringing in videos to assist the staff in showing how to stay safe in case of emergency. Princess is the only mainstream line I’ve sailed recently that still requires passengers to bring a life jacket to the drill. And we had to practice putting on the jacket, which is something I haven’t done since my first cruise. I like the concept; I paid attention and felt confident I could do what needed to done, if an emergency happened. Yes, it took a little longer than other drills, but it was well organized and clearly aimed at keeping everyone safe. While all lines make safety a priority, I liked the old-school tactile approach.
Princess has a reputation for great excursions, and after trying out three of the line’s offerings in Alaska, I get it. I loved the options I tried: snorkeling in Ketchikan; glacier viewing, whale watching and a salmon meal in Juneau; and kayaking in Skagway. I tend to be leery of large-group excursions mostly because I like to move at my own speed and ask lots of questions. On this trip, the smallest group was eight; the largest was about 40. In all cases, I felt as if the tours and guides provided personal attention. We were on a schedule but never felt rushed, with the guides providing fascinating information while smoothly moving along the group. Best of all, the activities fit my interests — active and informative. I spoke with a number of other passengers who selected other excursions through the ship, and they raved about their experiences.
6. Hot Tubs and Pools
While being in the water on a cold-weather cruise isn’t a priority, passengers on Golden Princess have plenty of options as the ship offers nine hot tubs and four pools. I couldn’t believe I found myself swimming in a heated pool as we cruised to Juneau. It was an excellent experience (well, getting out into the 60 degree air wasn’t excellent, but the water temp was perfect and made for an enjoyable 30-minute dip). Sitting in a hot tub while cruising through Tracy Arm was also unforgettable. We found a number of passengers had the same idea, though none of the pools or hot tubs ever was overcrowded on our trip.