This was my second cruise -- the first was the identical itinerary on the Veendam 7 years ago. First time was with my husband; this time with a friend. I chose Princess over HAL for this trip because of the itinerary; I wanted a northbound trip and I most wanted to visit Glacier Bay, College Fjord and Hubbard Glacier. This was the only cruise that visited two out of those three.
I give the trip okay ratings with one serious, serious problem that I have not seen mentioned anywhere else. I had been telling my friend -- a first time cruiser -- about how wonderful the moment is when you sail away under the bridge in Vancouver. So we rushed up to the front of the ship (not enough time, really, because we began sailing before the safety drill was over) only to find great sheets of blue glass that obscured the entire view! A few people were trying to stick their cameras into the little space between the sheets of glass -- really sad. The most important thing to me on a cruise to Alaska is to SEE ALASKA. We did finally find two little spaces on decks 10 and 11 -- behind doors marked "emergency only" -- that gave an unobstructed view. But there was nowhere to get the wonderful views that we had on the Veendam where I could see such a wide area.
The second view-related problem was the dining room. I had been resolved not to keep comparing the Coral Princess with the Veendam but, my gosh, what a difference in the dining rooms! The Veendam's formal dining room was in the stern -- there were great curving windows with outer tables on the lower level and inside ones on the higher level so that everyone had a nearly 180 degree view of the water. The Princesses dining rooms were in the middle of the ship with low ceilings and as much wall space as window area. There were heavy curtains that covered some of the window space and sheers that covered it all. The dining room staff explained to me that when people think of "formal" dining they think of draperies. I was able to open the sheers most of the time but it gave a very limited view. This meant that on evenings when my dinner seating coincided with good viewing I had to either eat earlier in one of the other dining rooms or miss the view.
In addition to the multiple outdoor decks in the stern of the Veendam, there was a gigantic bar area with an amazing view. The Coral Princesses buffet restaurant, OTOH, featured the trademark low ceilings and actually had great potted plants obscuring what view there was!
I have to assume that most people don't find any of this a problem since I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere on CruiseCritic but (as must be obvious) I was both surprised and disappointed.
As far as the rest of the trip:
We flew to Seattle (used frequent flyer miles and the carriers didn't fly into Vancouver) and spent a day exploring on our own. Then took the Amtrak Cascades to Vancouver and took the hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus the next day -- well worth it if you want to see Vancouver in two hours! Then we hit a wine store -- no problem with Princess about our bringing on boxes of wine.
Embarkation was easy. We had booked an obstructed view cabin, got upgraded to unobstructed twice but each time Princess had a fare sale and we went back to obstructed view to get the discount. Would, of course, have preferred a balcony but it wouldn't have solved my "view" problems since I wanted the wide scope that's only available at the front and back. Also the balconies have the blue glass halfway up and it looks like it would obscure the view if one were sitting down. Storage areas in the cabin were quite nice -- I needed an eggcrate mattress for the bed but it was fine once I unmade the bed and turned the eggcrate right side up! Lighting was excellent. And the fridge was nice. Steward did his job but no towel animals or really special touches.
Food was average to good. Maybe better than the Veendam had been. There were two Alaska lunches at the grill on deck 14 that were very good. We used room service a few times for coffee in the morning -- very good and efficient.
Another big lack -- to me, ymmv -- was that no one could ever tell me where the ship was and when we were expected to get to certain places. I bought a very good Princess guidebook to the cruise that highlighted certain areas to watch for whales or lighthouses, etc. but I could never figure out when we would be at those areas. There was one tv channel that had a gps screen but it wasn't at a high enough resolution to be helpful and you had to sit through all kinds of "how to use your life jacket" before the map flashed -- briefly -- on the screen.
I liked the design of the ship. It was filled with little nooks with chairs and couches and we almost never felt crowded.
I didn't go to any of the entertainment -- I'd rather watch Alaska than Vegas-style shows -- so I have no opinion here.
In Ketchikan we did the boat trip into the Misty Fjords which I highly recommend. On my first trip we had taken a floatplane and while that experience was great fun I had much more appreciation for the Misty Fjords from the boat.
In Juneau I took a non-Princess 10 hour boat ride to the Sawyer glaciers in Tracy Arm. That was a trip highlight because we got so close to the glaciers, floating through icebergs and we saw dozens of harbor seals resting on the icebergs.
Skagway was socked in but we had reserved the White Pass railroad and it was too late to cancel. Not a good value for the money.
Great whale watching from the ship! We listened to the naturalist and did the research so we knew when to be watching.
I brought on several bottles of wine -- took them to the dining room and paid the $15 corkage fee so the cost was about the same as buying the Princess wine. Their wine list is much more extensive than it shows on their web page so it turned out that I would have been able to get what I wanted without bringing it on board. They will re-cork the bottle and save it for you or give it to you to take back to your cabin. Wine and drink prices are comparable to restaurant prices but the bartenders aren't very liberal with the alcohol.
Formal night was less so than on the Veendam -- not sure if it's the ship or the passage of 7 years. Almost no tuxedos on the Coral Princess while there had been a nice sprinkling of them on the Veendam.
Disembarkation was handled well. We took the transfer to Anchorage with several sightseeing stops. Not Princesses fault but I find it very tedious to get on an off the buses!
They took us to a downtown "hospitality center" where we could leave carry on luggage while we explored Anchorage and then take a shuttle to the airport. That worked well except the last shuttle was at 6:00 -- not so good for those of us with late flights. There's not really a good way to get from Anchorage to the East Coast!
I'm glad that I took this second trip to Alaska -- no sense of 'been there; done that'. But I would never sail on another Princess ship because of the various impediments to good views.