Island Princess Cruise Review by napunani: 13 nights OFF THE BEATEN PATH...ALASKA cruise/land tour
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13 nights OFF THE BEATEN PATH...ALASKA cruise/land tour
We are professionals in our mid-50s; I have sailed 11 cruises; hubby 6 cruises. This was our third PRINCESS cruise. Last cruise was January 2011 with PRINCESS. We used a TA for the Princess booking, which was completed August 2011, and booked our own airfare and embarkation hotel.
Ports visited: Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, College Fjord. Disembarkation at Whittier Alaska
We spent two nights at the Hampton Inn Robson Street in Vancouver. Excellent downtown location. This hotel offers a free shuttle to Canada Place, but you have to line-up, in person at 7am at the front desk to sign-up for that same day shuttle. No advance reservation is accepted for this shuttle; no phone calls are permitted to make a reservation.
Upon arriving at CANADA PLACE at 11am, we were advised by the terminal staff that the Coast Guard was conducting an inspection of the Island Princess and all boarding was delayed with no time determined for boarding to begin. We More continued processing through immigrations and waited only 20 minutes before boarding. We hand-carried onto the ship two bottles of wine without any hassle. The emergency station muster drill was conducted at 4pm. For the first time ever, we were "scanned" (crew scanned our cabin keys) into the drill. Sailing was scheduled for 430p, but approximately 60 passengers had been delayed by the airlines, so the sailing was pushed back to around 6pm to allow those passengers to come aboard.
We were in mini-suite DOLPHIN 415 (starboard). D415 balcony is 100% uncovered. We did not experience any vibration or swaying at any time during the cruise.
There were numerous infrastructure problems encountered with D415:
- Cabin toilet would not flush for 12 hours.
- While showering, water stopped intermittently for 40-60 seconds.
- Cabin ceiling fire suppression sprinkler head dripped into cabin intermittently.
- Cabin ceiling lights turned on/off at their will.
- There is no heat option in cabins; only "warmer" air conditioning that cannot be turned off.
- We were extremely disappointed in the service from our Cabin Steward. It was obvious to us that he just didn't care.
- Cabin Steward advised no bath towels available one day, so we went and found pool towels.
- Cabin Steward left one wash cloth and when we asked him for another he said he couldn't give us another one and told us to "share"!! (we had to go to CUSTOMER SERVICE to get another wash cloth.)
- As mini-suite passengers, we requested bath robes which resulted in horribly used robes unfit for wear! Requested replacements from Cabin Steward--still waiting!
- Request to Cabin Steward to remove all sodas from cabin refrigerator to make room for medications--Cabin Steward told us to do it ourselves!
- Request to Cabin Steward for 2 wine glasses--still waiting!
High on our "to do" list once on-board was to reserve Sabatini's for hubby's birthday celebration, so we stopped by in person and mentioned the celebration when asked by the staff who then noted it. When we did dine in Sabatini's, we experienced poor service -- salads forgotten and so was hubby's birthday! Our lobster was overcooked. Loved the pasta! After dessert, as we were leaving, the head waiter stopped us and asked us to return to our table -- that WE forgot something at our table. It is then that a small birthday cake with a candle was brought to the table.
We were pleased with the dining room food, available menu selections and portion sizes. The service was another story--we've seen much better from PRINCESS. Service was very slow for our table for two with a 20 minute wait between courses and dishes remaining on the table once we were finished. Formal nights were more casual than any other cruises we've sailed and we were very comfortable with our choice of sports coat and tie and shimmery top and black slacks. For the first time ever, we wore jeans to the dining room on smart casual night as it was just warmer.
We try to avoid the Horizon Court whenever possible, for numerous reasons, so we ate several breakfasts and lunches in the dining room (even on embarkation day) where we had much better service than at dinner! Pool-side pizza was its usual great! There was a poor attempt to have a TASTE OF ALASKA seafood lunch buffet poolside. It was set up as though they were serving 50 people, not hundreds. We stood in a very long line for over 20 minutes without any movement (delay was due to no food in serving dishes) and then gave up. We were among dozens of disappointed passengers that afternoon! We got to only one afternoon tea, which was quite crowded and selection of yummies were extremely limited. We were so busy on the last sea day, we totally missed the Extravaganza Buffet photo session!
There were numerous on-board events in addition to the constant opportunity to view wildlife and sea life. Shelley Gill, naturalist and scientist, provided numerous remarks from the bridge on wildlife sightings which could only be heard on the outside decks and one cabin TV channel. We made it a priority to go to Shelley Gill's naturalist lectures which were very informative and enjoyable. We were extremely disappointed that lectures by Shelley Gill and Libby Riddles were scheduled in the middle of Port afternoons -- such a disservice to those of us who paid for shore excursions. Disappointed yet again to discover that these lectures were not taped and not shown on cabin television, probably due to contractual arrangements with the lecturers. Port information was shown on television 530-730pm only, so we missed that also.
The National Park Service Rangers provided outstanding commentary during our sailing in Glacier Bay National Park, which could be heard on the outside decks and one cabin TV channel. NPS Rangers were also available for an early morning "chat" in the Horizon Court and had a table set-up in the Horizon Court with educational materials available for purchase. This was our coldest day yet with snow flurries and temps in the lower 40s, not including the wind chill.
We were happy to be able to see during our sailing PRINCESS' Performer of the Year, Carlos Oscar. Super comedian! We really enjoyed local entertainer, Steve Hites' one show NORTH TO ALASKA that illustrated Alaskan history in poetry, story and song. The production show, ON THE BAYOU in the Universal Lounge was very good and a nice change from the Princess Theater. We found interesting Alaska documentaries on late-night cabin TV channel 21 throughout the week. Recently released, full length movies were shown in the Princess theater and MUTS. Not too many brave souls watching MUTS, though! With so many activities on-board and all the wildlife/sea life viewing, we did not utilize the internet cafe, library, spa, casino or the aerobic studio.
Ketchikan -- THE BEARING SEA CRABFISHERMEN TOUR (reserved through USAA Travel)
One of THE BEST and unique excursions we've ever experienced! Actual "Deadliest Catch" boat from Season 2 along with crew members from Season 5.
In addition to seeing "the catch" and hearing the crew's stories, we had the awesome sighting of over a dozen bald eagles soaring next to the boat to collect herring! Amazing! If you miss this experience, you've missed part of Alaska!
Juneau -- MARV & HARV'S WHALE WATCHING (reserved directly with Marv and Harv)
Our 28 ft boat captain, Jayleen, grew up in Juneau and knew all the good spots to see whales! Seeing a whale and her calf, side-by-side, was breathtaking! We spotted a dozen whales in the rain, fog and freezing temperatures! What an excellent adventure!
Skagway -- WHITE PASS RR, YUKON SUSPENSION BRIDGE with LUNCH at JEWELL GARDEN
Two-hour train ride into Canada, then onto coaches to the suspension bridge, which was a true tourist trap! The tour and lunch at Jewell Garden, in Skagway, was nothing special. All-in-all, I would skip this excursion all together at $200/pp -- definitely not worth it by the stretch of the imagination!
PRINCESS certainly has disembarkation down smoothly -- no announcements -- no two-hour disembarkation briefings the day prior -- no confusion. Just a handout with details, times and locations along with corresponding luggage tags. Whoever crafted this idea should be the crew member of the year! Seemed that all disembarkation times were an hour earlier than experienced with previous PRINCESS cruises, but that is probably due to many passengers moving onto land tours and having a full day of coach or train riding ahead of them, which was our case.
Upon disembarkation at Whittier Alaska, we boarded a coach at 815am en route to Copper River PRINCESS Lodge. We had a 9am "appointment" to transit the 2.5 mile Whittier tunnel, but had a slight delay due to an on-coming train. We arrived into downtown Anchorage at 1030am and was dropped off at the Convention Center by the coach driver for lunch on-our-own for 1.5 hours. Even after consulting with Visitors' Bureau specialists, we found it difficult to find a restaurant open for lunch that early and ended up at the Fifth Street Mall Food Court -- BLAH! Arrived at Copper River PRINCESS Lodge at 430pm in a coach that you cold hang meat -- it was that cold and the coach driver refused to turn off the freezing air conditioning! This lodge is the newest in the PRINCESS inventory -- 10 years old and in very good condition. Lodge rooms, lobby, restaurants, bar, tour desk, internet cafe, and gift shop all in one building. A very impressive flag lower ceremony honoring veterans and active duty members is conducted nightly at 830pm. $5 shuttle tickets available at tour desk for Copper Center and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Visitors' Center. We had an unusual sunny afternoon (but chilly) which we enjoyed walking on short paths around the Visitors Center. We really enjoyed this slower paced lodge when compared to the other two we visited. The mountain view from the lobby was spectacular. This lodge is a super place to relax and rejuvenate!
Excursion: SCENIC WILDERNESS RAFTING of the COPPER RIVER.
Thankfully we were outfitted in rubber waders, boots and jackets for this float. We got splashed a couple times, but never soaking wet! Magnificent scenery and an excellent guide! We would definitely take this excursion again.
Checked baggage was due in the hallway at 630am with a scheduled departure from Copper River at 8am (stragglers caused a 30 minute delay) en route to Denali PRINCESS Lodge via 100 miles of gravel roads. Looooooong day riding the coach. Very remote road trip, but we did stop at for lunch at Maclaren River Lodge, Mile 42, Denali Highway. This is basically a home that served lunch to all of us on the PRINCESS coach. Choice of either all-you-can eat soup/chili (three choices) with homemade bread ($9) or a turkey or ham sandwich with potato salad ($13). If you wanted both, $22. Canned sodas extra. Seating was family style. Our recommendation -- skip the soup and sandwich and just have the pie ($5)!
We arrived at the Denali PRINCESS Lodge at 430pm which allowed us to quickly run over to the Music of Denali Dinner Theater ($59/pp) that we had reserved in advance. Great young singers/actors/actress. The pork "riblets" and salmon were served family-style along with salad, potatoes, and mixed veggies followed by a fruit crisp for dessert. Alcoholic beverages were available at additional costs only during dinner. There were "slop buckets" --metal buckets set in the middle of the dining table where diners scraped anything off their plate they did not want to eat--it was disgusting! The show was average and the meal was horrible. We would not recommend it.
The Denali PRINCESS Lodge is a campus with numerous hotel-type lodges, gift shops, and restaurants. There was a van shuttle to designated pick-up sites throughout the property. Across the Denali Highway is Glitter Gulch -- a row of small buildings occupied by merchants from a SUBWAY to a tiny Harley-Davidson shop to a very tiny grocery store. Also across the Denali Highway is Prospector's Historical Pizzeria and Alehouse, which was very good ($18.59 for 13 inch Kodiak Bear pizza). Beers on tap from 10 Alaskan breweries. Ate breakfast at the PRINCESS King Salmon Restaurant where we had faster than normal service!
Excursion: Tundra Wilderness Tour.
Ten weeks prior, we cancelled the PRINCESS Natural History Tour and reserved through the ARAMARK website (www.reservedenali.com) their Tundra Wilderness Tour ($113.25/pp). This included pick-up at the Denali PRINCESS Lodge Lobby at 5am, but the bus never showed until 6am! The bus driver is also the on-board naturalist who excellently provided unending information and commentary as we traveled along. A nice box lunch (four large slices of reindeer summer sausage, Tillahook cheese slice, bun, condiments, bag of chips, bag of baby carrots, and trail mix) was provided along with bottle water. We traveled 53 miles (one-way) into Denali National Park and Preserve with restroom stops every 1.5 hours. We saw numerous grizzly bear, caribou, moose, and sheep. Once wildlife was spotted, the bus would stop to permit viewing and the driver would engage the bus' zoom camera which allowed showing on the on-board overhead video screen. We arrived back at the Denali PRINCESS Lodge at 2pm. We would highly recommend taking this tour in the morning if you are interested in seeing wildlife.
After spending two nights at the Denali PRINCESS Lodge we took the glass domed-car train from Denali National Park Visitor's Center Rail Station to Talkeetna and onto Mt McKinley Princess Lodge by coach. We spent nearly two hours at the Denali National Park Visitors Center, viewing exhibits and film. There is small cafeteria restaurant and a Starbucks co-located with the Visitor's Center. While waiting for the train, a moose ate its way towards us at the Rail Station. What a bonus with some excellent photos!! Since the train was nearly an hour late, we all commented that PRINCESS must have hired that moose to entertain us while we waited!
The domed-car train trip was spectacular, but way too short (four hours). A full-bar is available in each car and the attendant service was excellent! We ate lunch in the dining car, but would not recommend it. Once we arrived in Talkeetna, a PRINCESS coach was waiting to transfer us to the Mt McKinley PRINCESS Lodge -- a one hour ride! The Mt McKinley PRINCESS Lodge is so remote, they are off the grid and have their own diesel generators. Once again, this was a campus of numerous buildings, similar to Denali PRINCESS Lodge with a van shuttle to designated sites throughout the property.
Upon arriving at our lodge room at 645pm, we found housekeeping in the middle of servicing our room and reported they required another two hours to finish! We went to the Mountain View Dining Room in the Main Lodge and were quickly told we needed reservations to be seated prior to 9pm. After some discussion and a review of their reservations and remaining availability, we were seated within 10 minutes and were surrounded by at least a dozen empty tables the entire time we dined!
We identified a disconnect with our PRINCESS-reserved McKinley Discovery Flight Tour scheduled for the next morning and brought it to the attention of the Princess tour desk that they had failed to inform us how we were to get transportation from Talkeetna back to the Lodge. Their direction to us was to catch the coach from Talkeetna back to the Lodge, but it did not guarantee we would arrive at the Lodge in time to board our scheduled coach from there to Anchorage. When we identified this disconnect, the quick response from the tour desk, "not our problem" and "your tour is not refundable at this point"! Once again, we stood our ground and requested a discussion with the Tour Desk manager, who also replied "not our problem", but after we expressed our disappointment, she then made some phone calls and within 10 minutes she identified a solution, which would be a PRINCESS van transfer from Talkeetna PRINCESS operation office to a highway junction where we would wait along the highway for our coach en route to Anchorage. She assured us it would work and we tried to keep a positive outlook as we were so excited for our flight tour.
In retrospect, one night, well, really it was 14 hours, at the Mt McKinley Lodge wasn't worth it and recommend this only if your schedule permits more time. We never got a chance to explore the property and our experience with our room, dining and the tour desk really was the worse experience of all the three lodges.
We boarded a PRINCESS Talkeetna-bound shuttle in ample time to walk the couple blocks from the drop-off point to the Talkeetna State Airport. Once we checked in for our flight, we were informed by operations that all flights were suspended due to low cloud cover. Due to our arrangement to catch the coach to Anchorage, we were unable to reschedule later that afternoon. We were extremely disappointed but certainly understood the weather situation. It became our responsibility to take the cancellation notification to the PRINCESS operations office in Talkeetna so they could process our refund. Once this was all settled, we had lots of time to explore the quaint town of Talkeetna, where Mt McKinley climbers register at the Ranger Station prior to their trek. We had lunch at the Talkeetna Roadhouse -- very good -- interesting place! The US Post Office in Talkeetna was very useful to send a shipment home. We were greatly relieved to board our van transfer which took us to meet our Anchorage-bound coach!
All three PRINCESS Lodges sleeping rooms were nicely furnished, clean and comfortable with in-room coffee maker, hair dryer, television, ceiling fan and automatic temperature controls. There are no in-room refrigerators. Our beds were also comfortable. Except for the Music of Denali Dinner Theater, the Lodge restaurant food was very good with large portion sizes. We especially liked their blueberry mojito! Upon arrival at each Lodge, we were presented with an envelope that contained our room keys, schedule of events during our stay, and our excursion details/tickets. Our luggage was waiting for us in our rooms upon our arrival.
We arrived at the Captain Cook Hotel in downtown Anchorage at 5pm which was a very spacious king-bed room with an excellent view. Enjoyed night-caps at their top-floor Crow's Nest bar.
Our recommendations of items NOT to leave home without when taking a late May/early June Alaska cruise/land tour...
Waterproof hat (or hood from waterproof jacket)
Your favorite cold/cough medicines/remedies (it seemed everyone had a cold!)
Extra SD card for your digital camera (we used two 4GB and 1GB SD cards) Less
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