This was our 6th cruise, 3rd on Princess, but our first to Alaska. Since we are from the Northwest, we've never wanted to spend vacation money to go further north than we already live. However, we had a very enjoyable first Alaskan cruise. The Star Princess was very nice and the staff was excellent. Our cruise was R/T from Seattle so I will start there with the Pros & Cons as they happened.
So, right off the get go, the boarding was awkward in Seattle. Last year my hubby and I did HAL from the same Pier 91, and the boarding was very different...better than Princess. Princess had us go into a large room (same as HAL) but HAL allowed us to sit where we wanted and spread out, until our number or letter (can't remember which) was called. Princess had us go into sectioned off seating areas where you were sitting shoulder to shoulder with the other passengers without any wiggle room, so to speak. Awkward! Then, when our section was told we could board, we were told we would be moving outside(where it was not the warmest)and possibly would be standing in line up to 30 minutes and if you couldn't stand that long, you were asked to stay in the section until later (I didn't wait to find out how long). So we went outside and continued to wait in line as we weaved in and out of a Disneyland-type zig-zag line. HAL only loaded as many people as they could take a picture of and get onto the ship. Pre-boarding photos this trip were taken on the ships walking deck with the lovely "cargo" port as the backdrop. They did try and add a fake tree to spruce it up....fail! Didn't purchase that one...duh!!
Once inside the staff was lovely! We found out that we were the second to last trip to Alaska for this ship that season, and I was a bit concerned we would encounter a tired staff. Quite the opposite. On every cruise, we've always encountered one or two staff members not "on their game" or be a bit grumpy... Until this trip...NOT ONE PERSON/STAFF member we came across was grumpy or not perfectly happy on this entire trip!! Kudos to the staff of the Star Princess!! That's impressive!!
We booked a lowest of the low inside room, very very early, which is exactly what we got. Princess is very stingy with their upgrades apparently. 3rd cruise, no upgrades. HAL, first cruise, upgraded to an ocean view. Interesting. Upon finding our inside room, we found it clean-ish. I noticed that our mirrors had not been cleaned, either in the room or bathroom. In fact, the bathroom mirror and back splash looked like it still had toothpaste splash on them. But a quick call and our room steward, Romeo was quickly there and cleaned it promptly for us. The rest of our trip Romeo was ALWAYS around and super happy. I've been on cruises that I wouldn't be able to pick my room steward out of a line up because we never saw them. Not Romeo, he was always poking his head around a corner, if he heard us leaving, to say "Good Morning" to us or "Have a nice day," or "Have fun." Very pleasant. Also, our room was kept top notch during the rest of our trip. Kudos to Romeo!!
As far as room selection, we've done both inside, ocean-view, and balcony. I've read many ideas on the matter, including that "you don't spend much time in the room, so why spend the money for a balcony." Well, how I see it, when you have an inside room or ocean-view, well, why would you spend much time in there??? There's nothing to see or space to relax in, so no you don't. But when you have a balcony, we spend a lot of time in our room enjoying "our own space" and still feeling like we are not missing out of the scenery that we paid to come and see. This trip, for financial reasons, we went cheap and got an inside room....NEVER AGAIN! Especially in Alaska!! Our ship sailed the Tracey Arm VERY early in the morning and I really, really wish I didn't have to jump up, get presentable to be in public spaces and rush around the ship to find a decent viewing spot on deck, all the while missing scenery. Luckily we viewed from the deck under the tenders, so the tenders protected us from the rain. That was nice. However if we had a balcony, we could have looked through our sliding glass door in our PJ's while we leisurely got dressed, then could step out on the balcony (possibly with an umbrella) and see the sights and step inside when it got too cold to warm up and back out again, and so forth. Would we have used our balcony to just sit on this trip?? Probably not to just sit and relax out there, but to view the sights from our own comfortable warm room, at any time, I would pay for one in a heartbeat if I ever did it again! My opinion: WORTH THE EXTRA MONEY....ALWAYS!!!!
Buffet: Just OK. Not the best, not the worst. Hand sanitizers when you first enter, but then you are serving yourselves vs. the staff serving you. I would prefer the staff to serve so that I wasn't handling serving spoons everyone was touching before I sat down to eat. Also, there were no utensils until a wait staff wandering around brought you one. One morning I sat about 5-10 minutes waiting for utensils to be given to me. But that wasn't the norm.
Coffee: The coffee in the buffet wasn't good, in fact...horrible. But if you want a Starbucks-type coffee in the morning, the coffee shop (International Cafe) downstairs served a great coffee for an extra fee. But, again, worth it to me as I'm a coffee freak. I've been on ships that just didn't know how to make a Starbucks-type coffee. You will get good coffee on the Star if you want to pay for it. Kudios to the International Cafe for knowing how to make a good coffee.
Dining room: We had late seating, and that always works well for us. We don't have to rush back onto the ship just to eat. We always can find a snack if we need to before the late seating. Our waiter was fantastic! Friendly and happy. Nice menu selection, not a big selection, but nice each night and the food was excellent!
Special Dining: Crown Grill, we did pay for this one evening because we wanted all you can eat lobster. (I know, you get lobster one evening in the dining room for free, but ironically, that night our waiter was a bit off and we got our lobster when everyone else was getting dessert, so glad we did Crown Grill) And we did!! Very nice atmosphere. Again, friendly wait staff. Food was beyond excellent, and I have to say I just couldn't finish all of my 4th tail!! Now that's what I paid for!!! May never want to look at lobster for a year, but it was worth it!!
Ketchikan: Took the city bus ($2 each way) to Totem Bright State Park. Didn't go with the ship and glad we didn't. Walked to the Visitor's Center by the Pier and asked where to catch the bus. Took the 25 minute ride (with local stops along the way, which was fun) and got off at the Park. Walked at our leisure around the park, with a free handout given to us by the park ranger. Not a HUGE park, but it was quiet because we didn't go with the crowds from the ship. By the time we were done and had seen it all, it was about time for the city bus to pick us up and bring us back to the ship. Could power through the park in 15 minutes if you wanted to, but we took about 45 minutes- 1 hour. However we purposely passed the ship on the bus ride back and asked to be dropped off at Creek Street. We had brought an umbrella from home and needed it!! Saw Creek Street, got rockin' deals, as we were end of season on shirts, etc. Then walked back to the ship.
Tracey Arm: We got a cloudy, rainy day. So it was a lovely and breathtaking cruise through the Fjord, but once at the glacier, the fog made it hard to see even the face of the glacier. Bummer. But not the ships fault. Can't change mother nature. But this was the most breathtaking part of the cruise. Next time we'll sign up for a cruise that also does Glacier Bay now that I know how awesome this part of the cruise was. Very special!! I can only imagine how awesome it would be in good weather!!
Juneau: Got off the ship and signed up for a local tour. The offer was for $8 just to go to the Glacier or for $30 you got a tour of the city AND a ride to and from the Glacier. We sprung for the tour. Ummm.....next time I'll just go to the glacier and skip the strange tour of "this fast food place came on this date and that fast food place got here on this date, there's the Governor's mansion, there's the airport, here's a local church/museum....." You get the idea. Due to the tour, we only got 45 minutes at the Glacier, which was my personal place I wanted to spend time. There was not much time to hike to the waterfall that was just beside the glacier and see the boardwalk where the bears like to come. (We did see a bear there!!) But I personally would skip the tour next time and just go to the glacier. I'm guessing we'd probably pass a few of those "tour highlights" along the way anyway. Then you could just catch a bus back from the glacier when you were done, on your own time. HIGHLIGHT: Red Dog Saloon....MUST GO!! It was packed! But we were lucky enough to score a couple of seats at the bar. The gentleman entertainer on the keyboard was a crack up! Crude at times, but due to his age (70s???)he totally got away with it and he was great!! The house root-beer (I'm not much of a drinker) was excellent! Next time, would plan to spend more time there and maybe get a bite to eat just to have an excuse to stay longer.
Skagway: We rented a car from Avis ($79??). A small walk to their office from the ship, but this was our best day. We downloaded and printed, before we left, Murray's Guide to the Yukon Hwy. ($5??) Then followed this mile by mile guide all the way to Whitehorse, stopping as needed to see certain sights and deciding which ones just to see as we drove by. Get an early start if you plan on doing this. We cut it close. But still had time to come back and have a drink in the Red Onion Saloon and do a tiny bit of shopping. But I think we left the ship around 9am and only got to the outer edge of town of Whitehorse before we decided to turn back. Had to be back on the ship by 4pm. So if you plan to do this (and it was soooo awesome to see it on our own) get off the ship as soon as you possibly can!! Well worth it!!
Victoria: We almost didn't get off the ship as it was 7pm and had seen the city the year before. But so glad we did. We just walked to downtown from the ship (20min walk??) But to see downtown at night with the lights, was special. We were lucky enough not to have rain that evening, but jackets were a must. We just walked around downtown and shopped at the small outdoor market that was set up by the waterfront.
Overall, we had a very lovely trip. I am very prone to seasickness, but not once did I feel sick!! I did have Dramamine Chew-ables daily and the patch. But after closer inspection, the patch ($15 each) delivered less meds than my Dramamine....how come I've never noticed this in the past?!? So I switched to the chew-ables only and dropped the patch. Anyway, as much anxiety as I anticipated with motion sickness on an Alaskan cruise, I never felt it. (But other passengers did) The Star Princess was nice, very clean. I'm sure more picky people could find faults with the ship, but we were happy with it. The food was nice, staff was EXCELLENT and our stops were nice. All in all, I would do this trip again.