My boyfriend and I found a last-minute deal for the Inside Passage on the Golden Princess a month before we set-sail. I did a lot of research on what to do before going, but decided to wait until we found out what the weather was like before booking any excursions (a 7 hour hike in the rain was not what we wanted to do). Well, Princess closes their online excursion reservation system at least a week before leaving and many outside companies don't have spots left. So, we went on the cruise without much of a plan, and it all turned out for the best.
We flew into Seattle the Friday before the cruise in order to allow for Airline mishaps and to spend some time in Seattle. We found the lightrail train system was 2.75/pp and went directly from the airport to downtown a block away from our hotel. We stayed at The Rosevelt from a priceline "name your own price" of $110.00 and it was right in the middle of everything. We visited the old side of town for dinner, and Saturday morning we went to The Market to see the fish throwing and had breakfast overlooking Puget Sound. We also went on the monorail to the Space Needle. While prices to go up were steep, it was something we needed to do! We hit up a grocery store across from our hotel for our 2 bottles of wine allotment on the cruise and got a taxi ride for $12 dollars to Pier 91.
Like other reviewers said, the embarking process went seamlessly. People were there to make sure you knew where to go and what was going on. The ship was clean, the people were friendly, and the ship was large enough to hold a small town, yet make it feel uncrowded and personal. It might be our age, but we did not have a problem with crew members trying to sell us drink cards - in fact, we were never asked! But, there were tables everywhere advertising them. If you do choose to buy the coffee or coke packages, make sure to get it the first day because the free coffee mug/cup deals disappear after. Although our ship was the last to leave, our Captain sailed very fast and we were always the first to port and passing other ships at sea. It was very fun to watch! We found a spot at the nightclub on the 16th floor before it opened. We would go up there to watch the sunset and the water (because it can be a bit cold on deck) and no one was around! At 10pm, the bartenders come and the lights/music come on.
Because of the last minute deals available, we booked an inside room. I figured that we would be spending most of our time at port or exploring the ship. In hindsight, it would have been very nice to have a window because natural daylight can help one wake up for the early-morning port of calls! The sunset at 1030p and rose at 4030a on some days with the time changes we had to do. We found ourselves watching the TV with the live-stream of outside to see what the weather was like. We did find out that there is an upgrade list at the front desk you can ask to be put on as soon as you board the ship on a first come, first serve, basis. We were #4 in line and did not get a call. Those who booked really early did get upgraded from an inside to a balcony for free before we even left port. While small, the room served its purpose and the room steward was a life-saver!
The weather throughout the cruise was gorgeous and it did not rain once! I packed lots of layers and something for all weather. It was the second sailing of the season and many of the cruise members said we were very lucky because it rained everyday the week before. Instead of packing a winter jacket, I recommend layers with a gortex/wind resistant rain coat for the top. Most of the time at port, I would just wear a long-sleeve shirt or sweatships. It will be chilly while at sea so gloves, hats, scarves are a must. Other important things to pack: wine opener, hair dryer (the one on the ship wasn't very good), travel beverage mug, and business cards!
Public spaces were abundant and there were always empty chairs around. The hot tubs were very popular but with six on board (five working) there wasn't difficulty finding one. We enjoyed the adult pool area. The conservatory, with the covered pool and hot tube, was always populated with kids that liked to splash.
We did not have any complaints about the overall quality (and amount) of food. The buffet was delicious every time we went. My boyfriend preferred it to the more formal setting. The tables next to the windows were hot commodities and people actually waited for them! We found ones in the back easily and yes, you can still see the water. I do recommend bringing a travel mug to get beverages poured in because the cups are tiny! For dinner, ee did have the early 530p seating at the Donatello restaurant - we sat by ourselves at a 6 person table the 4 nights we were there! Everyone we met did the flex dining and did not complain of any wait times. Perhaps good luck. The food at the restaurant was delicious and I thought it was much better than the buffet. They celebrated my boyfriend's graduation from graduate school with a delicious cake and balloons. The only problem with the specific dining times was that we were at port at 530pm some of the days. I preferred it over the late seating because entertainment usually began at this time. We did not do any of the specialty restaurants because we were very happy with the food included. The international coffee shop in the Piazza was open 24 hours a day. I did get the coffee card and used all 16 of my drinks there. It was a lifesaver for an early morning breakfast sandwich before getting off in port.
There was a wide variety of on-board entertainment while we were at sea. The only problem was there was too much to do and it did feel a little overwhelming. We enjoyed the naturalist's lectures. We also enjoyed the Navigator at Sea lecture which featured the 3rd Captain. We learned a lot there. Most of the nights we would crash from our busy day and not be able to see the evening entertainment! Luckily, they have repeat performances and there is a TV station that plays some of them in the room. We did see the Comedian and really enjoyed that evening. We played Bingo and I won! So naturally, that was fun, too.
It may have been our age, but it seemed, at times, difficult to get good service from the bartenders and wait-staff in the buffets. Many would roll their eyes if we asked for lemonade (included) or another orange juice. We felt they went to the older clientele before they came to us. The front desk must have been doing some new employee training on our trip. I had to go to the front desk 4 times over the course of the first two days to get my surname corrected. It seemed like those at the front desk did not know what to do and were not trained. I kept being asked to "come back later." This was annoying and wasted my time. At the end, it was still not fixed. When I went back at another point to pay part of my bill, the front desk staff was unsure what to do and it look much longer then it needed to. Although I am complaining, there were some excellent crew members we came in contact with! Our room steward and our Maitre D were marvelous. All the crew members were smiling. It seemed like they were always cleaning parts of the ship! It was spotless! No empty plates were allowed to sit for more than 5 minutes!
At 24 years old, we were the youngest couple there. About 75% of the cruise was made up of retirees, 20% new empty-nesters, 4% families, and 1% us. We got to know a lot of people, and they would always say, my grandchildren are older than you! It was nice to get grandmotherly life advice by the pool.
We arrived early in Juneau and the process to leave the ship was very chaotic and somewhat unorganized. For all the coffee drinkers out there, they do not allow drinks to be taken off the ship, so drink fast! Our goal for today was to get to Mendenhall Glacier. Nothing starts until 1200pm (stores are not open and buses do not run) so we walked around for awhile and then caught a semi-guided tour bus that leaves every 30 minutes for 16/pp. Sit on the left side of the bus on your way to the glacier for some pretty views. At the park, there were park rangers outside to talk about glaciers and icebergs. It was very educational. We then paid $3/pp to visit the visitor center and get the national park stamp. Like over reviewers said, it was a very nice visitor center with lots of interesting information. They recommended hiking the nugget trail - a 45 minute walk to a massive waterfall and close to the glacier. It was worth the trip. The mountains were beautiful and we got some wonderful pictures with the waterfall and glacier. We spent some time on the beach watching icebergs flip over, too. In the mid-afternoon, the park was swarming from the 3 other cruise ships docked. There was not enough room to move! We learned that when it comes to cruising, the early bird truly gets the worm! Back in town, we did a self-guided tour of town and visited the State Capital Building (free tours until 5pm), the Governor's Mansion, and the community coffee shop. I was also able to get a few deals from the coupon book I got back at the port in Seattle (make sure to pick it up!).
In Skagway, I reserved a car ahead of time because it was the port that we had the most time in. We were first off the ship and first in line at Avis when it opened at 8am. It was 120$ to rent for the day with unlimited miles. With the Murry's Guide in hand (google it), we explored the Klondike highway over the pass and into the Yukon. By far our favorite day. We saw 4 bears and went all the way to Emerald Lake in Yukon, Canada (bring your passport!). It did not take long at all. By leaving early, we missed the massive amount of tour buses that depart at 9am. We stopped at the visitor center in Carcross for help in finding a nice, hole-in-the-wall place to eat. Caribou Crossings was a tourist trap and we wanted something off the beaten path. Every person that we meet, we told them about this amazing lunch we had in Tagish, Yukon called 6 mile river resort! Homemade right in front of you! We were the only ones there and had great conversations with the owners. It was delicious and the price was fair. We tried the local Yukon Brew there, too! Delish! We arrived back to Skagway around 430pm after visiting the old cemetery right outside of town full of good stories about Skagway's notorious citizens. The only gas station in town was not busy, and we used about 5 gallons of gas in the little Corolla at a little over $5/gallon.
In the Tracy Arm, it was incredible! It was slightly overcast so the blue tint of the glaicers and icebergs were amazing! I recommend getting up early (530am) to see the sights. I was worried about "having a spot" to watch the morning cruise at but it was not a problem at all! They actually open the front of the boat for people to go on and take pictures. I did spend the money to reserve a spot in the sanctuary 60/pp. We did not use it at all in the morning because the conditions were perfect (no rain that would require a cover) and the front of the ship was open. The Sanctuary had glass in the front and we wanted to get some pictures without the glass. However, it would have been very nice if it was raining. The provided hot chocolate on the ship ran out quickly, but we were able to get some in the Sanctuary. We also had 2 adult drinks pp included as well as 2 travel mugs, fleece headbands, and amazing gormet food. We spent the afternoon up there and spotted whales, bald eagles, and bears. We had so much food that we had to skip dinner. There were maybe 20 chairs and at least 3 waitstaff to get you extra blankets or anything else you may need. It was pure luxury.
The Ketchikan stop was short and sweet. We arrived late, at 7am, and had to leave by 12pm. We went to the totem village park - about a 12 dollar taxi ride each way. We split the costs with another couple we met onboard. It was 5pp to enter the park. There were a lot of Totem poles, the most in North America, as a matter of fact. With a quick google search, I was able to find a pdf on my phone while I was there that told the meaning behind the carvings on each totem pole in the park. It was more thorough then the guided tours we watched go through! The master carver's workshop was next door but he never arrived that morning. We spent the morning there and we were back in town by 10am to buy gifts for friends and family. If you want a totem pole carved by the master carver, buy at the gift shop at Totem Village Park because prices were much more expensive in town!
Victoria, BC, was the only port that I would recommend having a plan because of the short time there and it being in the evening - when a lot of places are closed. We took a 7/pp shuttle we found at port that leaves every 20 minutes to go downtown. There, we walked down government street, went to Chinatown, and visited the Capital building. Once it starts getting later in the evening, the types of people on the street made us uneasy. There was not a lot to do there. We were back to the port by 9pm. There was a pier next to us that we walked down and watched the sunset and other cruise ships take off. I would have been happy with just that.
The disembarking process went just as smooth as the entire trip! We choose to take the latest time to get off (930am) and had breakfast/coffee. It took about 10 minutes to get our luggage and go through customs because everyone else was off! We then took a taxi back to the lightrail station and got to the airport with plenty of time to go home at 145pm