We just returned from a fabulous Vancouver to Whittier cruise on the Coral Princess. This was a repeat of our first Princess cruise (same itinerary, same ship, just 3 weeks later in July) in 2007 that hooked us on cruising and Princess. In the back of my mind there was the nagging thought that we couldn't strike gold (Alaska pun intended) twice.
This cruise was a special trip -- four siblings who hadn't traveled together since childhood (more than 40 years ago) and their spouses. I did most of the organization (and was deemed 'the best bossy cruise director ever' before dinner on Embarkation Day). Sister and BIL have never sailed before. Brother #1 and SIL have sailed once on Carnival. Brother #2 and SIL have sailed once on Royal Caribbean. DH and I have cruised 9 times, 7 of them on Princess.
Arrival in Vancouver -- DS/BIL arrived in Vancouver the preceding Friday, we arrived on Saturday afternoon and spent Sunday with them at the Capilano Suspension Bridge (hate heights, loved the bridge and the entire attractions), DBs/SILs arrived on different flights Sunday evening.
Embarkation Day - we met at Canada Place around 11:30 and were on board by 12:05. While the Princess Patter didn't list an MDR Embarkation Lunch we went in search of it. I asked a guy standing in front of the shops (turned out he was the 'shopping guy') which restaurant was open. He replied the Horizon Cafe and I said no, which dining room? He waved in the direction of the dining room and muttered (loudly - it was heard by the 7 other folks traveling with me) 'good luck with that'. Well, the Provence dining room was open (and mostly empty) and we had a wonderful lunch. And the 'shopping guy' was the only rude person (crew or passenger) we met on the cruise (and needless to say none of us went to any of his talks or spent any money in the shops - both out of spite and the fact we aren't big shoppers ).
Staterooms -- each family had a mini-suite (3 in the Dolphin 7XX series, one -- he decided to join us late -- in the Caribe 21X series). All had fully covered balconies -- we opened the doors to the 3 in a row on Dolphin). We had a pillow tip mattress too (I assume they all did too since no complained about hard beds or back problems).
Dining -- we had late traditional dining and, since we didn't bring 'dress up' clothes, ate in the Bayou Cafe and Sabatinis on formal night. As for palates we range from years of living (and eating ) overseas, to adventuresome, to steak and potatoes.
It may be embarrassing to say this but we were all members of the 'clean plate club' - I'm going to attribute that to both the great food and the more appropriate portion size than 5 or more years ago. In 7 dinner meals (5 in the MDR, 1 in the Bayou Cafe, 1 in Sabatinis) and embarkation lunch in the MDR only one serving was not up to par and my SIL said it was because she didn't realize what kind of fish she was ordering. Our waitress saw she wasn't eating it and quickly brought her an alternate bowl of pasta which she loved.
We ate many of our breakfasts in the MDR which I much prefer to the chaos of the Horizon Court. Lunches were catch as catch can -- one day they were offering 'create your own pizza' (think Subway only with pizza dough instead of sub rolls) which was tasty but took some time to order and make the individual pizzas.
There were two lunch buffets on deck: an Alaskan Fish BBQ leaving Ketchikan and a Seafood Buffet in Glacier Bay. The latter was wonderful! There were mussels, crab cakes, two types of salmon and the most wonderful halibut I've ever tasted -- it melted in your mouth.
Both brothers/SILs began raving the first afternoon about the quality of the food - especially compared to their other cruising experiences - and never stopped the entire week.
Entertainment -- the first production show was "Dance". We'd seen it before and didn't understand it then or now but were pleased at the caliber of the singers (all 4 of them more than held their own). The second production show, "On the Bayou" was phenomenal. It was designed for the Coral/Island Princesses Universe Lounge with the 3 revolving stages. Set design was fabulous, and in addition to the singers and dancers, the show band had a major part in the production. My only complaint was that it was only on one night (2 shows). We liked it so much we would have seen it again.
The comedian, Sarge, was also phenomenal. In addition to be extremely funny he has a wonderful voice and is an accomplished pianist. He did 3 different shows and we loved them all. We also saw a local singer/songwriter from Skagway, Steve Hites, who was very good -- unfortunately he only sang for about Â½ hour; we would have liked to hear more (but the ship was leaving and he didn't want to go to Glacier Bay with us).
The naturalist, Kathy Slamp, showed a real love of Alaska but was more a historian than a naturalist. We enjoyed her talks but also wish there was more discussion of nature. Five years ago Barbara - can't remember her last name - was the naturalist. She concentrated more on 'nature' less on history. Best for passengers would be someone who could do both equally well!
- Ketchikan -- It was beautiful in Ketchikan! We were overdressed and didn't use enough sunscreen (how many cruisers can say they got sunburned in Ketchikan?!). We hiked about 3 miles to Saxman Village Totems (and took the bus back) and then walked around town. The salmon were starting to run up the creek.
- Juneau -- More sun, less sunburn (we were prepared), extremely calm seas. We took a whale watching excursion with Harv and Marv -- just the 8 of us in their new 12 person boat. Absolutely fabulous - we spent an hour watching about 10 humpbacks bubble-netting all around us and then went to the other side of Shelter Island (I think), saw a few more whales including one breaching, and sea lions. We were dropped off at Mendenhall Glacier and walked to Nugget Falls. Upon return to Juneau we took the tram up Mt. Roberts (one couple walked back down, the rest of us took the tram down too). The ship was in port for more than 12 hours so we had lots of time.
- Skagway -- it was raining in the morning off and on while on the train to Fraser with Chilkoot Tours but it didn't impact visibility from the train (it did from the van on the return ride). In Fraser we disembarked and took the van to Emerald Lake and Carcross. The views from the train ranged from breathtaking (going up the mountain) to other-wordly (crossing the tundra into Fraser).
- Whittier -- DS/BIL and DB #2/SIL left on a Princess tour to Denali. We and DB#1/SIL took the Portage Glacier Boat Ride/Alaska Wildlife Conservancy/Bus to Anchorage excursion which worked out perfectly -- we arrived at the airport at 3:00 pm for our 5:00 pm flight.
By the 2nd day, all the siblings were asking when we would do this again. Now the discussion will be where -- one vote is in for Australia/New Zealand, one for fall Canada/New England, one for any that fits a public school teacher's schedule and I've already told them they're all welcomed to come with us on our next cruise around the British Isles next summer to celebrate their big sister's 60th birthday.