We arrived in Seattle two days prior to embarking the Star Princess so our chronicle includes highlights of those two days as well as our adventures on the Star Princess.
Once we arrived at SeaTac we retrieved our rental car from EZ Rental conveniently located at the airport and headed straight to the hotel, Sleep Inn SeaTac. The hotel was very clean and the staff accommodating. We rose early the next morning and had breakfast in the lobby, standard continental breakfast with make your own waffles. We decided rather than drive in a strange city and try to find parking we would take advantage of the light rail from SeaTac into downtown Seattle. The hotel shuttle van dropped us at the SeaTac Airport Station for the Central Link and we purchased a day pass for both of us at the ticket vending machine for $11. The trains run every 10-15 minutes and it takes about 35 minutes to get to downtown from the airport. We were destined for the Seattle Art Museum to meet up with a tour guide so we departed at the University Street station -- about 2 blocks away. We met our tour guide, Kristin, with Seattle Bites and began our food tour at 10:30. This is a must for anyone visiting Seattle and Pikes Place Market. The market is truly a circus for the senses, visually, auditory and olfactory! This tour gives a sense of direction and order to what can be quite overwhelming for the first time. The vendors we visited (8 in all) were extremely friendly, providing generous samples of their food offerings and a story of how they got there, everything from fresh crepes to coffee to clam chowder to sausages and smoked salmon! Kristin was a wealth of information regarding the history of the market and had mapped out the itinerary well, going as far as calling ahead to the vendors so they knew we were coming and had everything ready when we arrived. We even stopped at the gum wall for some history and Kristin was prepared with the necessary gum and the opportunity to contribute to this aberrant landmark! We finished the tour at 1:00 p.m. with a wine tasting at Lost River Winery. I should note that the vendors we visited offered a discount if you wanted to return and sample more of their wares after the tour if you reminded them you were on the tour. By the time we completed the tour we were full and satiated so wandered back through the market on our way to Pioneer Square and Bill Speidel's Underground Tour. We had purchased tickets online before departing for Seattle for the 3:00 p.m. tour but arrived at 2:00 and they let us join that tour. Our guide was Liam and as promised he regaled us with stories of dirt, corruption, sewers and scandal! This was a fun and enlightening tour of some of Seattle's offbeat history. By the end of this tour we were growing weary and hungry. We walked to Ivar's Acre's of Clams at Pier 54 on the waterfront and started with their Oyster shooters and followed with their Pier 54 Seafood Bounty for dinner. It was all extremely fresh and delicious. Replete and ready to relax we headed for the light rail station at Pioneer Square but were side tracked when we saw a sign for Smith Tower, the fourth tallest building in the world when built in 1914, stating that their observation deck was open. Since we weren't going to make it to the Space Needle, we decided to pay the $7.50 and take the elevator to the 35th floor to view Seattle from above. The observatory puts you in the middle of the downtown skyline and the historic waterfront. After descending back to ground level we headed for the light rail and back to the hotel for the night!
The next day we again started with breakfast in the lobby of the hotel. It was a bit more crowded in the dining area as a group of 70+ had stayed the night there in preparation for a cruise aboard a ship other than ours. We left the hotel and headed for the Alaskan Way Viaduct on the waterfront to drive aboard the ferry for Bremerton for a day of sightseeing across the sound.
Next day Embarkation Day! We ate breakfast in the lobby of the hotel around 6:30 a.m. and before packing up to head to the ship. Again, it was very crowded with the 70+ tour group headed for the other cruise ship. We had pre-arranged shuttle to the Star Princess via Seattle Express ($12 pp) who was to pick us up at 10:00 a.m. We decided it would be prudent to go ahead and take a luggage cart from the lobby and get our luggage ready to go. Turns out the tour group was departing at 9:30 (they thought) for the cruise pier so by 9:15 you could not walk through the lobby due to people and luggage. It was another pleasant day, so we took our luggage and waited outside on the curb. It didn't take long for the others to spill out as well. While I would definitely stay at SeaTac Sleep Inn again, I will ask if there are any large tour groups staying there and plan accordingly! Turns out their tour planner had also reserved Seattle Express to take them to the pier. What could have been a logistical nightmare was handled very well by Seattle Express. The shuttle was late arriving for the 70+, closer to 10:00 than 9:30, with three 25 passenger buses to get this group to the pier and while it was a bit chaotic getting them loaded with both people and luggage they made it work. I was initially concerned thinking they may put us on one of those buses and wondering how they would keep our luggage separate. No worries, however, they were well prepared and had a fourth van on the way to pick us up and deliver us to the pier separate from this group. Whew! We made a couple of stops along the way to pick up other cruise passengers at nearby hotels but they still managed to have us on the pier by 11:00 a.m. We were met by a very friendly porter who took our bags and walked us straight to the VIP boarding line (we're Platinum with Princess). We entered and completed the obligatory pre-boarding health form then to the counter to show our passports, cruise documents and pick-up our cabin keys. We were directed to the VIP boarding area. This is a nice quiet area separate from the general waiting area. We waited maybe 20 minutes until called to board and were lined up and onboard by 12:00 p.m. We were advised that our cabins were ready but had planned to go straight to Guest Services as we had done on previous ships to make sure our name was put on the list for consideration for the Chef's Table. We were advised to make our waiter in the dining room aware and he/she would take care of this. As we had read on previous reviews that the Portofino Dining Room was open for lunch on embarkation day we decided to take advantage of this and avoid the crowd on the Horizon Court. We practically had the dining room to ourselves for the first part of the meal. As advised we let our waiter know that we would like to do the Chef's Table so he called the Head Waiter over. He was very obliging and put our names down in a small notepad - it could not have been more than 12:15 and we were most likely within the first 100 people onboard. Needless to say, we received a call the next day letting us know we did not make the cut. We were the #8 couple on the list and they were only accepting 7 couples (14 people). I was disappointed but won't lament. Back to lunch, it was superb and the wait staff was wonderful. Not realizing that I would have the opportunity to have salmon several times on this cruise, I opted to have it for lunch. It was very tender, flaky and the sauce that complimented it was divine. After lunch we headed to our cabin. We opted for an inside for this sailing as we were concerned that a balcony would be too cool and rainy to enjoy. We had read about a category of inside cabins (II) that were a little larger so thought we would give them a try. We're sold! These cabins are laid out a lot different and we think smarter than other inside categories we've stayed in. After unloading our carry-on bags we headed out to explore the ship. To aid in familiarization you'll receive a Treasure Hunt card when you board with 9 locations listed and a chance to win a $1000 if you get stamps from all of them. This is helpful in learning the ship if you start from your cabin and figure out how to get to all the locations from there. After the safety drill, since we had never sailed from Seattle before, we made our way to the Lido deck for sail-away. It was another glorious clear day for Seattle so the views of the sky line were clear and great for picture taking. After sail-away, we headed to Skywalker's for appetizers and libations in the Platinum, Elite, Suite cocktail lounge. We have met some of the nicest, most knowledgeable people who enjoy cruising as much as we do in this venue and commend Princess for this offering! The Capri dining room was the anytime dining venue from 5:30 to 9:30 so this is where we ate on non-specialty restaurant nights. We typically don't mind being seated at a group table and meeting new people and this night was no exception. Princess has revised their menu and there are a few new standard offerings each night like salmon as mentioned earlier and Tri-tip steak. Embarkation night, however, was Prime Rib night so we enjoyed a nice juicy steak done just to our liking. After dinner we attended the Welcome Aboard show. Cruise Director, Martyn Moss, has been with Princess since 2007 and did a fabulous job making everyone feel welcome. The show was pretty standard, the ships performer's singing and dancing and a comedic magician got things moving and off to a good start. It had been a long day so we headed to the cabin to read ourselves to sleep and get ready for the first official day of the cruise.
A relaxing day at sea! We were determined to stay on our exercise routine this cruise so arose early to head to the Fitness Center which opened at 7:00 a.m. It is nicely equipped with treadmills, elliptical machines, stationery bikes and other cardio machines, weight machines and free weights. If you want to be on a machine as soon as they open you'd better get there early. We arrived around 6:55 and got the last two machines. I could not get the treadmill to work so acquiesced and went down to the promenade deck to run. There were very view people out walking that early as it was a bit brisk in open water on the Pacific. I had come prepared and am accustomed to running in the cold so it was quite refreshing. After our exercise we headed to the International Cafe for breakfast as they have wonderful yogurt parfaits and muesli. We had purchased a coffee card for $31 when we got onboard so we could splurge and have fresh brewed coffee, espresso and lattes with breakfast. Then it was back to the cabin to freshen up. We picked up some fresh fruit in the Horizon Court as a snack late morning. It was then time to head to the Piazza for the Martini Demonstration. A couple of bartenders create popular martinis with some audience participation. We're always amazed as one of the bartenders ends the show with a pyramid shaped multiple martini glass multiple shaker pour with flair -- think Tom Cruise and Cocktail. This time it was 7 glasses! Even if you don't like martinis it's fun to watch. Mid-afternoon we had arranged an informal meet and greet with some fellow Cruise Critic members. The cruise we were on had a very slow board so we only had a dozen people attend. We met around the large table in Vines and enjoyed a glass of wine and shared cruise experiences, and shore excursion information. Martyn the Cruise Director stopped by to personally welcome us all aboard. Since it was the first sea day it was also the first formal night so after the get together we were all off to our cabins to get elegant. We went to Skywalkers for cocktails and then to the Capri for dinner and ended the night with the first production show, Destination Anywhere which consisted of the ship's singers and dancers performing to a mix of modern songs. It includes one of the strangest renditions of the Police's Roxanne that I've ever heard. Despite that it was fun and entertaining. Another day behind us we headed to bed as we have an early excursion in our first port of Ketchikan.
We arrived in port, had breakfast at the International Cafe and were disembarked by 7:30 a.m. We had booked a private float plane excursion with Island Wings, owned and operated by Michelle Masden. We opted to take her most popular two hour tour into the heart of Misty Fjords aboard the earliest tour of the day. We were to depart at 8:00 a.m. but were delayed about an hour taking off. There is a weather camera at the mouth of the fjord so the pilots can monitor visibility. There was quite a bit of cloud cover so Michelle waited for things to clear a bit to offer us the best viewing opportunity. We loaded into the plane (a group of 6 plus Michelle) and I got to sit in the co-pilot seat headed out! The views of the vast, old and new growth wilderness, snow capped peaks, sheer granite walls (some rising more than 3500 feet out of saltwater fjords), and waterfalls were breathtaking and beyond words. We enjoyed a 20 minute stop-over mid-tour landing in a pristine mountain lake for picture taking and the opportunity to take in the sheer silence and majesty of the giant forests of Spruce, Hemlock and Cedar surrounding us. We loaded back into the plane, switching seats to offer other viewing opportunities so I moved to a back seat. The views were just as breathtaking returning to town. Once landing, Michelle provided us a DVD of trip and transportation back to town or the ship. We still had several hours before we had to board the ship so opted to take a self-guided walking tour of town where we viewed the totem poles mentioned earlier, saw a salmon stream and ladder and took in the views of the surrounding harbor.
Once back aboard the Star Princess we headed to the cabin and changed into our bathing suits and hit the hot tubs in the Calypso Reef Pool/Conservatory area for sail-away. Once refreshed we headed to the cabin to ready for dinner in the Crown Grille Steakhouse, specialty steak and seafood restaurant. A quick rundown of the meal, Carpaccio of Pine-nut coated Lamb Loin with Gooseberry chutney; Goat Cheese Salad; and the main course Surf and Turf, lobster tails and filet mignon -- done to perfection medium rare. Accompanied by Kenwood Jack London Cabernet and followed by Molten Dutch Chocolate Fudge Obsession! All I can say is "can I have some more please?"!!! Tell me where you can get a meal like that for $35.00? By this time we were satiated and weary so returned to the cabin for a movie. We fell asleep to Hunger Games and "may the odds be ever in your favor"!
The next morning I awoke to Pete scrambling about the cabin looking for the long lens for his camera. . The ship had just entered the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness within the Tongass National Forest, located about 45 miles south of Juneau. . As we entered the mouth of the fjord and sailed slowly and quietly for several hours the weather was a bit gray and cooler but still no rain or drizzle! Thankfully, we were bundled up and I ran to the International Cafe for coffees to keep us warm. We stayed on deck as the captain sailed the ship up the fjord. Slowly, we noticed that the water was changing from the dark, blue gray of the Pacific to an unusual blue-green. We also began to notice icebergs of various sizes surrounding the ship. The fjord was strangely quiet; all we could hear was the sloshing of the water as it hit the side of the ship, and the rushing of water as it tumbled down the sides of the mountains that surround the fjord. The views of the snow capped mountains, waterfalls and granite walls were magnificent. Once we reached the glacier, the captain started to slowly turn the ship in what seemed an area just big enough to spin her around. This provided each side of the ship with an unobstructed view of the magnificent glacier. This has to be some of the most majestic, magnificent work of our creator that I have ever seen. By 10:15 a.m. we were out of Endicott Arm and headed for Juneau. There was a special lunch offering outside the Horizon Court in the Calypso Pool Area called the Great Alaskan Sampler offering Reindeer Chili and Rockfish Chowder. I decided to give the Reindeer Chili a try and it was just what I needed to warm me up after the cool morning on deck.
We took in a couple of ships activities, Wii bowling and Team Trivia, killing time until disembarkation in Juneau. ! We arrived around 2 p.m. and readied for our ships excursion, Canoe Trip to the Mendenhall Glacier. We headed to the pier and were met by our van driver, Michelle and tour guide, CoCo, of Alaska Travel Adventures and were ecstatic to find that there were only 12 people including us on this excursion. While I have no barometer, CoCo, who was from northern Ohio and was spending her second season as a tour guide, attested that we had chosen the best excursion for this port for the price ($149 pp). We were to be among a select few to travel near the face of the majestic Mendenhall Glacier under a limited U.S. Forest Service permit. We paddled approximately 2 miles across Mendenhall Lake in a traditional Tlingit-style canoe, an exceptionally stable 28-foot watercraft to within touching distance of a cave shaped cavity in the face of the glacier. The ice was the most amazing shade of blue, almost neon up close. We paused next to the Glacier for a snack provided by CoCo of salmon spread with crackers, cheese and reindeer sausage washed down by nice warm apple cider. After our brief respite we picked up the paddles and canoed past Nugget Falls and the beach accessible from the park visitors center and within touching distance of several large icebergs. CoCo regaled us with stories of the glacier, lake, and surrounding areas and a few jokes to keep us moving. After returning to shore and returning our life vests and rain gear we boarded the van and headed back to the ship, about a 20 minute ride, via Juneau. All that paddling made us hungry! We headed up to the Horizon Court for a late dinner then a walk around the promenade deck and off to bed.
We arrived in Skagway to a foggy overcast gray day but still no rain! We were one of the first to disembark the ship and took the short walk into town. We booked the afternoon White Pass and Yukon Railroad excursion as recommended on several Cruise Critic forums so had plenty of time to explore. We marveled at the rock walls surrounding the port that had been painted with various cruise company logos and ships company names and milestones. When we arrived in town we walked the six block Historic district taking in the sites and charm of this restored village. I was determined and successful in finding an Alaskan Eskimo doll made in Alaska for my granddaughter in one of the quaint shops. We headed back to the cabin to drop off packages and had a delightful lunch on the Horizon Court then met up with our tour group. If you book this tour through the ship, you will board one of the train's vintage cars framed by panoramic windows right on the pier a short walk from the ship. Our train agent educated and entertained us throughout the journey with fascinating facts and local legends on both Skagway and the railroad. The recommendations to take this tour in the afternoon we invaluable. The fog had burned off by the time we left and our visibility was unhindered. After the 3 hour journey came to an end we headed back to the ship and readied for dinner. We were anxious to the see the ship get underway from Skagway so made our way to Skywalkers for sail-away. What a spectacular site to see. The Taiya Inlet and Upper Lynn Canal are framed by snow-capped peaks and untouched coastal boundaries. This was by far one of the best views on sail-away that we've ever experienced. Once darkness prevailed, we headed to the Capris dining room for another evening of lively conversation and a lovely meal, Scallops were the main course of choice this evening and they were perfectly cooked and the sauce accompanying them was a mild lemony delight. After dinner and the past three days of busy port activity we decided to stroll the promenade and turn in for the evening.
Next up, a relaxing day at sea it was! We spent the morning lounging in the Conservatory reading. We took in the British Pub Lunch in the Crown Grill mid-day and enjoyed the Fish and Chips and Bread and Butter Pudding with Vanilla Sauce. Next to the Love Boat Dream this is a favorite dessert! We took advantage of a couple of the Scholarship at Sea offerings, Photography and Origami. The photography class taught by one of the onboard photographers was educational. The Origami fun and entertaining taught by one of the cruise director's staff. We also took in the Veteran's Get Together in the Wheelhouse Lounge. Having both served we enjoy sharing the camaraderie and experience this get together offers. The cruise director's staff member offered a glass of champagne and a toast to honor our service and made sure that all were aware of the military cabin credit that Princess makes available to those who served honorably and possess a valid DD214.
This was the second formal night and we had dinner reservations at Sabatini's with friends that we met at the Cruise Critic get together earlier in the week. We had chosen different excursions so it was interesting to share the outcome of our experiences and get ideas for the next trip to Alaska. The meal was lovely, starting with complimentary antipasto followed by the artichoke souffle as an appetizer (if you've had the goat cheese souffle in the main dining room and like it you have to try this!), complimentary Bolognese sauced pasta and our main course of Lobster Three Ways. We shared desserts of Espresso CrÃ¨me Brule and White Chocolate Mousse with Limoncello cream and honey tuile and waddled away. Another twenty dollars well spent!
Our final day of cruising and the port of Victoria, BC involved another relaxing morning spent reading in the Conservatory and soaking in the hot tub! We braved one of the tubs on the open deck under Movies Under the Stars and listened to Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. It was comfortable and warm in the tub but very brisk when we stepped out! We headed to Prego pizza for a good loaded Italian style pizza for lunch and a warm up. Afterwards, it was time for my least favorite part of the cruise, packing for the trip home. The afternoon brought entertainment in the form of the Princess Pop Star -- Grand Finale in the Vista Lounge, fellow passenger singing competition. It never ceases to amaze me how many talented fellow guests are onboard. There were six finalists and the winner was a talented lady from South Carolina that sang a soulful rendition of a country ballad that I had never heard but brought tears to my eyes as she sang with such emotion. From there we headed to the Princess Theater for the International Crew Show to see ships company perform such acts as a ukulele playing bar manager from the Philippines and a Thai Saxophone player that should have been playing in the show band! From there it was back to Skywalkers to watch the ships arrival into Victoria, B.C. Even though we had arrived almost an hour ahead of schedule, we decided to stay onboard and enjoy no crowd in the dining room. We were awarded a table for two without even asking. I tried the new every night menu offering of Tri-Tip steak with the chimichurri sauce and it was delicious. I had hesitated as it states on the menu that it is done medium well and I like my steak medium rare but it was deliciously tender and flavorful. I finished off the last meal of the week with my favorite dessert, the Love Boat Dream, rich chocolate mousse on a brownie like crust. A perfect ending to a perfect cruise!
We were up and out of the cabin by 7:30 and headed to our disembarkation group meeting area in the Portofino Dining Room. We had chosen to do the EZ Check baggage option so our luggage had been picked up and checked all the way home. We were in the first group to disembark the ship, get through customs and met the representative from Seattle Express Shuttle service on the pier as we had pre-arranged and were on our way to the airport by 8:30 a.m. This was an amazingly smooth disembarkation! EZ Check is worth every penny - $10 per bag. The staff of the Star Princess and the majesty that is Alaska made this one of our best cruises.