This was a spur of the moment trip. Two weeks before sailing, I got an email offer for a fantastic price on an inside cabin and since we live in the Seattle area, we decided to jump on it. We've always had balconies but had talked about trying an inside to save money and maybe cruise more so this seemed as good a time as any. I've been to Alaska but never on a cruise. DH has never been and didn't really have a desire since he always wants sun and warm weather when vacationing but he was pretty enthusiastic when he heard the price. As a reference on our perspective, we are late 50's with grown kids that we'd taken when they were younger, this was our 11th cruise total, 5th cruise with Princess, having cruise RCCL 5 times and NCL once previously.
EMBARKATION DAY: Friends drop us off at pier 91 at the 12:30 scheduled boarding time for Baja deck (B224 was our room). We weren't overjoyed with embarkation but when we travel, we really don't let the bad stuff affect our trip too much. I don't see any advantage to the staggered boarding. We must have walked through Disneyland-like lines for close to an hour before we boarded the ship and made our way to our room. We may have hit a peak time since the line seemed to go down behind us. I'd suggest that if you want to adhere to the schedule and you're scheduled for 12:30, consider waiting until 1:00 or 1:30. We dropped our carry-ons off at the room, took a stroll around the ship and then went to the Horizon for a bite. The buffet was crazy as we expected so I opted for pizza and DH stood in the long line for the buffet. We left port on time and the weather was beautiful!
DINING -- We ate breakfast in the dining rooms twice and at the Horizon buffet the rest of the time. Lunch was always on land or at the Horizon. We had Anytime Dining and on the first night we went to dinner about 7:45 which I thought would be less busy, however, we encountered lines at both the Capri and Portofino dining rooms. We finally decided to join the line at the Capri and waited for about 10 minutes at most to get through the line and then because we requested a table for 2, we were given a pager. We sat at the bar outside the dining room for maybe 5 minutes at the most before our pager went off and we went for dinner. I know the wait bothers some folks but we didn't mind. It doesn't seem much different than going to a restaurant without a reservation and waiting for a table. The third night we ate in Portofino and really hit it off with our Waiter, Jose, and Assistant Waiter, Hilton. They were very accommodating to my DH's gluten intolerance to the point of ordering special bread and having the ma'tre d' bring the next evening's menu out and review it for gluten free options, writing the order for the next night and even ordering a couple of special desserts that weren't on the standard menu. Jose and Hilton suggested that if we were so inclined, we could ask the head waiter for reservations in their section which we did. Further, since we didn't dock in Victoria until 7:00 pm on the last night, they mentioned that a couple of the early traditional diners had tour reservations and would likely be leaving somewhat early -- would we like them to call us in our stateroom when a table became available? We said sure but weren't counting on it. Well , we got a call at 6:15 from Sebastian, the Head Waiter saying that one couple didn't show up and would we like him to hold the table for us? Heck yes!!! Needless to say, we were thrilled with the service from the dining staff. The food???? Dinners were fine throughout the cruise. Not great, but pretty good and we didn't have to cook for ourselves! The buffet didn't seem as varied as what I recall from my last RCCL cruise but it sufficed. Desserts everywhere were pretty good and they usually had a gluten free option at the buffet as well as at the International Cafe. The only decent coffee we had was in the dining room and that includes trying room service, buffet and the international cafe.
KETCHIKAN - We had the ship's Eagle Island Kayaking tour scheduled for 11:30 so spent some time walking around town prior to meeting on the pier. The kayaking was great. The weather was beautiful and the guides were interesting and fun. They said we had really lucked out as there is rarely that much sunshine in Ketchikan.
TRACY ARM/JUNEAU - Cruising Tracy Arm was jaw dropping beautiful. We didn't get too close to the glacier but it was still pretty incredible. If I make it to Alaska again, I'll definitely spring for one of the tours that take you onto a glacier. We didn't get into Juneau until 2:00 (this was the scheduled time) and it was a madhouse trying to disembark with the line extending up a flight of stairs and into the casino. The wait was probably 15-20 minutes to leave. Many passengers were pretty upset but I'm not sure what Princess can do about it with everyone wanting off at the same time. Once off, we paid the $3 for the shuttle to downtown and then took the "blue bus" to Mendenhall and took the short hike to Nugget Falls. I think there is also a $3 charge for the Visitor's center but we if you have a National Park pass as we do, you don't have to pay. You do need to show them the pass and get a wristband. It seems there are at least 2 companies that operate buses to Mendenhall that pick up and drop off at the same spot so you might want to ask about that when you buy your ticket. I think the tickets were all $8 each way. The last blue bus from the glacier back to town was at 6:00. We took a little time to walk around town and went back to the ship as it started raining and was pretty cold.
SKAGWAY -- Again, we didn't do a tour but did stop by the National Park Visitor's Center and got a map to Yakutania Point. It is a very short, easy hike. The walk from the ship to the trailhead was probably longer than the hike! After the "hike" we strolled around town and ended up going to the Days of '98 show. It was really much better than I had imagined.
VICTORIA -- Didn't get in until 7:00 and we didn't leave the ship until about 7:30. There are several routes to walk to downtown, the quickest taking about 30 minutes so we decided to take the shuttle. Princess had advertised buying shuttle tickets on board for $9 each so you could avoid the lines. When we got to the shuttle line, you couldn't tell the difference between who had tickets and who didn't -- it seemed like one line and it wasn't really arranged according to the signage. We found our way to one of the individuals selling tickets (for $8) and caught the shuttle for the 8 minute ride to town. I'm not convinced that buying a ticket for a dollar more onboard would get you anything, but then I wasn't there for the first Â½ hour after they let folks off the ship. We walked around town and visited a few shops. Quite a few shops were closed, the museum was closed and there didn't seem much of interest for us to do so we decided to walk back to the ship taking one of the longer routes along the waterfront. Nice walk at sunset - I'd highly recommend walking too/from the pier if you're able.
ENTERTAINMENT -- We went to the intro show the first night that showcased the Production company and one of the comics, Tim ?last name?. We also saw the first talk by the onboard naturalist and thought he provided a good introduction to Alaska. He had several presentations later in the cruise that we didn't attend but did see some of them on the TV. We ended up seeing the British Invasion production show which I thought was awful but DH enjoyed. Also saw the full show by Tim ?last name?..., and neither of us thought that show was very good. We did enjoy 2 shows by another comedian, AJ Jamal, later in the week and had fun watching the typical cruise event where married couples embarrass each other by answering personal questions. I was going to play the last day of bingo but it was packed full by the time I got there so we skipped it. You probably need to get there at least Â½ hour early if you want a seat for that.
CABIN - The inside cabin seemed pretty much the same as the balconies we've had in the past without the balcony of course. There was plenty of storage for the two of us and a large wall mirror helped to make it seem larger. It did seem to get stuffier and warmer than any other cruise I've been on. We did have a couple of problems. On the last day at sea, my cruise card suddenly stopped working so I went to get a new one. That one didn't work either so I went back to get another one. They gave me another one and sent someone down to take a look. He met me at the cabin, verified my key didn't work and changed the batteries on the lock. It still didn't work and I went back two more times before telling them to call me when they figured it out. Around the same time that morning, we'd noticed and reported a loud banging noise that actually vibrated the walls. We were first told it "was just because of the ship movement on a windy day". It was rough seas at the time but come on guys, this isn't the normal creaking, groaning and vibrating of a ship. It was obviously something unsecured in the passage between the inside cabins. We finally got a couple people to come in and listen and they agreed it wasn't normal. After a passenger service manager and technical officer finally took a listen, it was fixed sometime in the next few hours (we weren't in our cabin). They were ready to give us another cabin to sleep in if it didn't get fixed and sent a bottle of wine for us at dinner because of the key card situation. We had a message when we did get back to the cabin about 11:15 that it was "a bucket rolling around and hitting the wall". Shortly after that we got a call saying they'd fixed the keycard problem and if it was okay, they'd bring a new card by. This was all pretty irritating and would probably spoil the entire cruise for some people, but while I think they could have fixed the noise problem sooner had someone simply investigated, all in all, I think they did a pretty good job addressing our problems.
DISEMBARKATION -- We had a chosen a late departure to allow our daughter some time to drive in from her house to pick us up. We were assigned 9:20 but had to be out of our rooms by 8:00. We had breakfast in the dining room which wasn't very crowded then went to our assigned waiting area in the Portofino dining room to await our group to be called. We were called right on time, were off the ship pretty quickly and it only took about 5 minutes to locate our luggage. Our daughter picked us up and we were soon back at home and thinking about our next vacation.