Our group of 3 families (11 persons total) cruised from Seattle to Juneau, Skagway, Tracy Arm Fjord (cruising), Ketchikan, and Victoria departing on June 30 and returning on July 7.
Embarkation at Pier 91 in Seattle was relatively painless given our Princess Platinum status. Despite cautions about staggered boarding times, no direction was ever given on this. We arrived at the pier at 11:30 and were aboard the ship as soon as it opened at noon. We went to our cabin, D523, a mini-suite on the Dolphin Deck.
This was our 11th Princess cruise, so the general layout and accommodations on Princess ships is very familiar to us. Perhaps too familiar -- we found little need to "explore" the ship this time. Golden Princess is now 11 years old and, frankly, it's starting to show its age in many respects. We found significant rusting around our balcony area, tile in the bathroom had been cracked and (poorly) patched. The mattresses on the beds sagged, the pillows had no stuffing, and the sofa bed had only a very thin mattress...but it didn't sag because it had no springs and rested on wooden slats. Talk about firm. Carpets in some of the common areas appeared to have been replaced fairly recently, but the cabin decor is looking quite tired after all these years. The ship was in good condition but didn't seem to show the standard of maintenance we've seen on other Princess ships.
As this was an early summer cruise, the ship was packed with families, and many cultures were represented. We found that parents of nearly all cultures now allow their young children to run around destroying everything in their path. The ship's putting green and "lawn" area were practically unusable due to unsupervised young children wielding golf putters like swords and golf balls flying everywhere. The same behavior could be seen around the ping pong tables and pools. On several occasions children got on an elevator, pressed all the floor buttons, and then ran off. It is unfortunate that so many parents do not see the need to manage their children, especially in the limited confines of a cruise ship.
The hotel and dining staff on this cruise was overwhelmingly Philippine, and unfailing smiling and happy. Unfortunately, they also spoke the least English of any crew on any cruise we've taken to date. This made it very difficult to make even very simple requests or ask questions. Most requests went unfulfilled (but with a smile) due to this language barrier.
The cruise director's staff suffered from a similar case of language barrier. Sammi Baker, the American-born cruise director, was outstanding, reflecting a genuine enthusiasm for Alaska and cruising. Most all her assistants were not native speakers, and often tried to turn their lack of English speaking skills into jokes...bad ones. In one trivia game session, the leader said there were two goals of the game: answering the questions correctly, and understanding the questions in the first place. All too true.
Our cruise featured Michael Modzelewski, naturalist and expert on all things Alaska. His speaking style reflects his passion for the grandeur of Alaska, and takes some getting used to. Some liked him, others did not. He presented a number of lectures and spoke over the sound system at key times like the period in Tracy Arm Fjord. There could be no disputing his knowledge.
We did not attend any of the song and dance shows, finding them to all be re-runs of past cruises ("Motor City" must have been running for at least 10 years now). We did enjoy the comedian Rollin' Jay Moore and magician Alexander.
Food on this cruise was mostly standard Princess fare. We did notice that Indian food was always available in the Horizon Court -- perhaps in recognition of the large number of Indian passengers on board. There was a goodly amount of seafood, as expected on an Alaska cruise. The seafood barbeque lunch on deck was particularly good. We ate in the Crown Grill on the second formal night and found the food to be excellent and the $25/person upcharge to be a good value for what turned out to be a 2-hour-plus dining experience.
We did several side trips worth mentioning: In Juneau, we booked the Sled Dog Summer Camp through Alaska Sled Dog Tours. Our party of four were the only people on the late-afternoon tour and we got a very personal view of the camp, the dogs, musher Austin Barr, and the puppies -- the main attraction. The price of $129/person seemed steep, but where else could you go to see and learn about this sport and its people? We also ate King Crab at Tracy's Crab Shack. If you go, head there straight from the ship to beat the crowd. It's worth it.
In Skagway, we took the White Pass Railway. This was our second time on the WP&YR and, frankly, it gets a bit long. Something you should do, once. In the afternoon, we took a Hike and Float trip with Skagway Float Tours. Our guide, Ian, was very knowledgeable and led us through a 2-mile hike in the temperate rain forest followed by a 45-minute float down the Taiya River. The hike is quite strenuous, but they can accommodate non-hikers so I'd advise checking them out.
Our time in Tracy Arm Fjord was short but very good. Our captain was able to maneuver our ship up very close to the Sawyer Glacier. Rain and fog at the beginning of the Arm cleared up as we got farther in, giving us a good view of the blue ice at the face of the glacier. We heard that our ship got closer on this trip than any other trip this year. For me, the complicated navigation through the fjord was as interesting as the view of the glacier itself. If you want to see glaciers, Glacier Bay National Park is a much better choice. Tracy Arm is spectacular as much for the journey as it is for the destination.
In Ketchikan, we had only a short few hours in port in the early morning. This was a big disappointment to many people on the ship for two reasons: lack of time to really see much, and it was the best weather of the whole cruise. All we did there was walk around the town and do some shopping. I noticed that it took almost 45 minutes after our scheduled departure time to actually leave due to the large number of passengers returning at the last minute.
In Victoria, we took the Butchart Gardens tour. The gardens are beautiful, but with two ships in town for a short few hours (in the evening) it wasn't a great time to see the place. Very crowded and felt rushed. We would have had a better time had we stayed in town and explored Victoria. We will be back to see it another time as it looks like a fascinating place.
There is quite a bit of sea-time on this cruise: the whole first day sailing to Juneau, then a whole day at Tracy Arm Fjord and cruising to Ketchikan, and another whole day on the way back to Victoria. If you like sea days, you'll like this cruise. The weather on our cruise was very cool and cloudy for all except the last day, so this pretty much forced all the passengers to stay indoors, making the ship's public spaces and elevators *very* crowded. We all had a bit of "cabin fever" as it was even too cold to sit on our balcony very much. We enjoyed very smooth ocean conditions the whole week.
Disembarkation in Seattle, using the walk-off method, was a breeze. We gathered with our bags in the Casino and at 7:45AM were allowed to disembark. Passport control was no problem and we were outside the terminal in 10 minutes, on an independent shuttle to the airport in plenty of time for our 11AM flight. We will definitely use this walk-off method again.
In summary, we enjoyed this cruise, but it did not have the "wow factor" of our other cruises or even our last trip to Alaska five years ago. There was nothing terrible about the ship, but it didn't feel as nice and new as some of the others, reflecting the wear and tear of the mass market it serves. The crew was fine if uncommunicative. The food was Princess standard. The passengers seemed to be more rude and pushy than we are accustomed to, perhaps due to the lengthy time confined on the ship. The time ashore in Ketchikan and Victoria was too short. If you have never been to Alaska, and you enjoy sea days, this cruise would be a good choice for you.