Island Princess Cruise Review by johndc: Great way to sample Alaska
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Great way to sample Alaska
My wife, adult daughter, and I sailed the Island Princess in July -- August 2012 from Whittier to Vancouver, and had a blast! We had booked our daughter her own room, which by a tremendous stroke of luck, turned out to be a very good decision indeed. I suppose that Princess must have over-booked the cruise, because 2 days before embarkation, they called and offered to exchange our 2 interior rooms for one premium suite, plus give us $1,000. We received the message late in the day on a cell, plus our daughter was a bit hesitant to give up her private room for sleeping on a pull-out sofa, so (fortunately) we didn't respond that day. I called the next day to ask about the sleeping arrangements in the suite, and the agent informed me that the pull-out sofa could be separated from the bedroom area with a curtain, and when she described all the amenities that came with the suite, and upped the ante to $2,000, this was an offer we couldn't refuse! They apparently really wanted space, and I More
suspect we were one of the very few families of 3 -- if not the only one -- from whom they could get 2 cabins. In any case, we didn't look that gift horse in the mouth any longer, and so we were livin' large on the cruise.
If money is no object, I highly recommend the suite. You'll feel like a rock star. Only qualifier is that sleeper sofa has a rather thin mattress, so it's hard to sleep on it comfortably. Two solutions are to put the mattress on the floor, or, if you enjoy sleeping under the stars and the weather cooperates, pull the mattress onto the balcony. The latter was what our adventurous daughter ended up doing most nights, and she enjoyed the experience. Otherwise, perfect -- lots of storage space, roomy bathroom with both shower stall and jetted tub, wet bar, 2 TVs and a DVD player, enormous balcony. But even apart from the sweet suite, the cruise itself was great.
About the ship: As a perk of staying in the suite, we ate breakfast at Sabatini's every morning (with free mimosas), and loved it. (Only suggestion for improvement here would be to expand the menu a bit, but the service and food were great, including an excellent rendition of my favorite, eggs benedict.) For lunch, we generally went to the buffet (we only ate lunch at the sit-down restaurant once), and for dinner we did the buffet 3 times, the Bayou Grill once and Sabatini's 3 times. As you might infer from this, we had great experiences at Sabatini's and so kept going back. But the food at the buffet was quite good, with lots of options. We also enjoyed the pizza place a couple of times. For wine lovers, they have a pretty good wine list, with prices that in general are moderate. The exercise room on the ship was well equipped with weight machines and all kinds of exercise machines (running, rowing, ellipticals, biking, etc.). The only time it was crowded in my experience was at prime time the first day cruising; otherwise, it was very under-utilized. They offer an extensive list of spa services, and our daughter used a few. She was unhappy with one massage, but they immediately offered her another. We didn't avail ourselves of many late-night activities -- too much to do during the day -- but we did watch a movie in the Universe Lounge, which is a nice facility. The lectures by the Park Rangers and narration during the cruise (rangers came on-board 2 days of the cruise) were very informative. The cruise resident lecturer, Dr. Ryan, is obviously very knowledgeable and has a lot of experience in Alaska, but we found his talks a bit disorganized. Still, they were worth hearing, except the last one (titled something like ''The Inside Passage''), which we found was pretty repetitious of the previous ones. There was a lecture by the first woman to win the Iditarod, but unfortunately this was during the day in Skagway, so we had to miss it. (It would seem they could have brought her on board the previous evening.)
About the sights and ports: As much as we enjoyed the ship, what really made the cruise special was what went on in the water and on shore. While cruising, we saw our first whales soon after leaving Whittier, then later saw many, many whales, sea otters, seals, sea birds, and even a bear and wolf (a long way off) while cruising Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay. The only excursion we did was whale watching with Alaska Galore tours in Juneau, which was fabulous. (Read my review on Tripadvisor; search ''Alaska Galore''.) In Skagway and Ketchikan, we looked around town on our own, and had a great time. I'm sure the excursions are good, but we found plenty to see and do on our own.
A final word on a topic about which I consulted Cruisecritic chat groups before our cruise -- bringing beverages on board. At our original embarkation and while re-boarding after a port call, I brought on board boxes and (at embarkation) plastic bottles of wine and a 12-pack of soda cans. At one stop, our daughter brought a 6-pack of beer and some cans of cider. No one said anything about this. This is not Princess's official policy, but I have to infer that they have sensibly concluded that it's not worth the time and aggravation (for their staff and passengers) to really try to prevent this. This certainly makes me more willing to cruise on Princess again. Less
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Cabin review: S6C628
If money is no object, I highly recommend the suite. You'll feel like a rock star. Only qualifier is that sleeper sofa has a rather thin mattress, so it's hard to sleep on it comfortably. Two solutions are to put the mattress on the floor, or, if you enjoy sleeping under the stars and the weather cooperates, pull the mattress onto the balcony. The latter was what our adventurous daughter ended up doing most nights, and she enjoyed the experience. Otherwise, perfect -- lots of storage space, roomy bathroom with both shower stall and jetted tub, wet bar, 2 TVs and a DVD player, enormous balcony.