We had heard such great things about cruising, that we finally broke down and decided to belatedly treat ourselves to a 25th anniversary cruise. It was our maiden voyage and we were prepared to like it, love it, and want more of it. Unfortunately, this was another case of the hype outweighing the substance.
It started out wonderfully with a long weekend in San Francisco prior to setting sail for the Inner Passage.
TIP: If possible, arrive at your departure port at least a day early to avoid flight hiccups and last minute rushing.
On embarkation day, Pier 35 was bustling with activity and excitement. We got there around 11am for a 1pm boarding.
TIP: If you get to the Pier early, hunt down one of the Princess agents and see about early boarding. That's exactly what we did, and they ushered us right in to get the onboarding process started. You don't ask, you don't get.
From there getting settled was pretty smooth. They had crew members on each floor at the elevator banks directing guests to their cabins.
TIP: Have either a big breakfast or lunch before boarding, because it seems that the first thing people do is head to the buffet. No other restaurants are open, and the Horizon room is a crowded mess of chaos inhabited by many people who act like they haven't eaten in a week and look as though they belong in "People of Wal-Mart" parodies.
The first 2 1/2 days were very rough seas. So much so that the captain announced a cancellation of our first port, Juneau. There was so much noise overnight with all the booming of the stabilizers and rocking of the ship that we got hardly any sleep for almost 48 hours. This did not set a very nice tone, although things got better as the weather did.
TIP: The Alaskan scenery is stunningly beautiful. Take the opportunity to get off the ship in ports, but know that the towns are tourist traps. How do they support so many jewelry stores?!
There are plenty of activities to occupy your time, from movies, board games, live music, and lectures, to casino gambling, live production shows, a spa and fantastic fitness center. Note that the casino allows smoking and it stinks to high heaven in there. It even wafts out to the stairway nearby.
TIP: Carry your "Princess Patter" with you. No matter how good your memory may be, you won't remember all the activities and their time slots.
Our state room was called a mini-suite. It was a well-appointed comfy room with a balcony and had just enough room that we weren't tripping over each other.
The food. This is where they really need improvement. All I've ever heard is how wonderful food is on a cruise ship, but this was not the case for us. The Horizon Room was like a floating Old Country Buffet. We avoided it as much as we could, but even the DaVinci and Michelangelo dining rooms didn't deliver anything that wowed. Everything was plated and presented beautifully, but with the exception of only a couple dishes, food was bland and forgettable. The standouts that we liked: breads, most of the pastas, and coc au vin.
TIP: Ask your waiter for recommendations. Ours had some great suggestions. Also, if you give them 24 hour notice, you may be able to request off-the-menu special dishes.
There were no "name" entertainers, but the entertainment was better than I expected. We saw all the production shows performed by the Princess Singers and Dancers and they were top-notch. The musical performances were also top-notch and could be found in the Piazza and various lounges around the ship. There were also trivia contests and other fun-filled things done by the crew.
Getting off the ship was easy-peasy. You get assigned a color designation and a waiting lounge.
TIP: You have to be out of your rooms by 8am, so get up early and get whatever coffee/breakfast you want as soon as you can, because you will again be dealing with herds of grazers everywhere. Allow yourself enough time to be able to return to the state room for one last freshen-up before heading to your wait lounge.
So, as you see, there were good and bad things about this cruise. I think my expectations were set a little high, because I feel like we paid for a mid to upper-level champagne experience only to come away with a low-end beer. I'm thankful I was able to experience this, but I will not be rushing out to book another cruise anytime soon.