Despite some issues and glitches along the way, we had a wonderful experience. Our group consisted of 9 Family and friends (2 children and 7 adults)who ranged in age from 9 to 59....We also had 2 balcony suites and 2 inside cabins. Our trip began with a very long flight into Anchorage and we were met at the airport by a Princess Rep. Because of such a late arrival, which was not planned (notorious flight delays and plane problems) we were unable to do much touring or site seeing in Anchorage. We did not purchase the land portion of the princess cruise package because of the length of the entire trip. The adults in our group are all professionals and working, so the "extra" land days were not convenient for us. Hopefully we will do that at another juncture. In talking with others on the ship who had been on the "land" portion of the trip, we made the right decision.
Our trip from Anchorage to Whittier was aboard a train and it was very enjoyable. It was not crowded and we could move about very easily, constantly looking for wildlife along the tracks. We spotted several Moose crossings. the rail transfer to the ship was part of the "Hotel Captain Cook & Rail" package. I found it to be a bit expensive, but considering it was rather effortless in the transfer for all of us, I guess you get what you paid for. When we departed the Hotel Captain Cook, the lobby was full of confused and anxious cruise passengers, not really sure who to look for or where to go next. Luckily, our experience was organized and went very smoothly. Upon arriving in Whittier, we off-loaded the train and walked almost immediately into a "check-in" line. There were no lines since our train group was the first to arrive, and the walk through Security and on to the boat took less than 30 minutes in total. Later in the afternoon we overheard other passengers talking about the long check-in lines and subsequent long waits to get through security. So in essence, the higher priced "Hotel/Rail" package was worth it.....enjoyable train ride and early boarding. We were in our staterooms by 12:45 p.m. and at 7:00 we witnessed some passengers still boarding.
The food was "ok" for the most part. Nothing spectacular, with the exception of the Sterling Steak House and any and all of the desserts. The breakfast buffet was ok, but there is not really a great way to jazz up breakfast for the masses. The fruit was great! It was consistent and always fresh. We are "southerners" and we like our "down home" breakfasts...and the omelets were made to order and very good. Lunch was a challenge most days. The International Dining Room was open at lunch for everyone, including those who had selected "Anytime Dining"(which meant us). The menu selection was ok, and the hamburger was very good, but ordering a hamburger on a cruise just doesn't seem right. The evening meals were again...ok. There was a "theme" each evening, and the menu was basically the same in each dining room. The most outstanding meal, outside of the Sterling Steak House, would have to have been the Italian Night in the Vavalde Dining Room. The Waitstaff in that room is EXCEPTIONAL. There were some attitude issues with the waitstaff in the Savoy Dining Room and I would not recommended dining there. The Santa Fe was very nice and cordial, but the staff in the Vavalde went beyond what was required to make you feel welcomed and happy. We did not eat in the Pacific Moon, as it was also criticized for waitstaff problems. There are several short order areas around the ship and our kids loved the pizza and ice cream.
The ship staff was very annoying on the first day in their attempts to sell "soda cards" to each and every passenger. At our first meal on the ship shortly after we boarded, we were asked 4 times during the course of the meal to purchase this soda card. We were asked by 4 different waiters. I finally told them to please allow me to finish my meal and not to ask again. I found that very unpleasant made a comment on my comment card. It is so amazing that a ship can serve you such expensive foods, with no regard to the cost or quantity, especially since your meals are inclusive, and charge you for fountain drinks! I can't quite understand the reasoning. Also, if you enjoy a nice cocktail or a nice glass of wine, also be prepared to pay a rather steep price. Your cost has an automatic 15% gratuity added to your bill. I also found that the prices for cocktails varied from bar to bar, which according to the cruise information, should not have been the case. The wine list in each restaurant was consistent, as was the pricing. The wine list was nice. The "Wine Bar" staff manager was great. He obviously enjoyed his job and found pleasure in helping you choose a nice wine. Their tastings were very nice as well, whether a seasoned wine drinker or a novice.
Ship activities were OK, but nothing exceptional. I was not impressed with the live shows, but they were entertaining. The best entertainment on the ship was a band called "Indigo" which was leaving the ship at the end of our cruise. That is a shame that future passengers will not get the opportunity to hear their talents. The spa services were also very nice. We had several spa services during our cruise. The casino is nothing out of the ordinary, but did provide some "down time" entertainment.
Our group did a variety of excursions from zip lining, hiking, sea plane rides, riding to the summit, and partaking in outdoor shows and salmon bakes. They were all entertaining and fun, with the BEST being the Sea Plane ride over the glaciers and landing in the Takut (spelling ?)River at a lodge at the base of the "hole in the wall" glacier. We dined on BBQ'd "fresh" salmon (just caught that morning and some still in ice chests yet to be cleaned)and some of the best side dishes we ate during our entire trip! We had a very close encounter with a black bear, about 10 feet from us, who was being kept at bay by one of the employees while another was cooking our lunch...grilled salmon. We were told that the bear was not interested in us, only the fish, but the experience of being so close to such a magnificent creature was very surreal. After the salmon was removed from the grill and we went into the lodge to eat, we all witnessed his determination...he went to the grill and proceeded to "lick up" the salmon drippings. It looked like something from a movie. Our excursion ended with another 30 minute plane ride back to Juneau. The plan trip was narrated and we flew over several glaciers that looked incredibly close. Wonderful experience and I would HIGHLY recommend it.
All of our rooms were adequate, with nothing outstanding. The beds were a little hard, but we had ample space to move about in the cabin. We have cruised the Caribbean and the boat was larger, but accommodations were basically the same. We did not take this cruise with expectations of staying in our stateroom all of the time, so bigger and better staterooms were not an issue. A balcony room IS the way to go. We enjoyed our balcony and I would HIGHLY recommend paying more for it. The vistas are breathtaking. We had our cabin steward open the balcony door between our staterooms so that we could sit on our balconies together, since two of our staterooms were side by side. It worked out great. The children didn't mind the inside cabins and they were across the hall and were able to enjoy our balcony as well.
Our Princess experience was great. I did not go into our glitches, but every trip has them. We travel extensively and this trip was well worth the money spent.