We arrived to the Seattle airport very early for the cruise (around 9:30) so we hung around for a bit and had some coffee and pastries (SEA has multiple coffee shops downstairs by the luggage claim). We then summoned a taxi from "Eastside for Hire" through an app available for smart phones called "Taxi Magic". What a cool system: my husband registered an account with his name and phone number. When we needed a taxi, he opened the app and typed in our location and destination as well as pick up time. We then got notifications that we were assigned a taxi, the taxi number and it's location. The driver called upon arrival and was super patient with us while we figured out where to meet him. FYI: if you use this service you must meet the driver two floors up from luggage claim at the departures drop off. This is because they are independent drivers that all belong to this association called "Eastside for Hire" and not paying the airport fees for pickup. The benefit to you is significant cost savings. We paid $35 for the two of us to be taken to Pier 91. Yellow Taxi is $50 and Princess transfer is $30 a person each way.
Embarkation: The lines were long and there were a lot of them. Line for dropping off large baggage (but you gave them to someone that worked for the Seattle port authority to scan which meant you didn't have to pay a porter to take them), line for going up the escalator, line to have your ticket checked, line to fill out health questionnaire and to check in, then a final line to get onto the ship (which was the longest). Fortunately they all seemed to move pretty quickly. Total time to get on the ship was about 45 minutes. Not our fastest embarkation but not our longest either.
Cabin: We had booked an inside guarantee pretty last minute (three weeks before departure) because it was such a great deal. We were, of course, hoping that we would be one of the lucky folks to get an upgrade to a balcony, especially since 80% of the cabins on this ship have them but no such luck this time. The day before departure, we did get assigned cabin A203 on the 12th deck, and the cabin most forward on the ship. Upon arrival there were documents for another passenger in our "mailbox" and their names were on the place card by the door. We did point out the error to our cabin steward who claimed that someone must have received an upgrade and that she would fix it. By day five our name was by the door but we did, again, receive the other passenger's excursion tickets which we handed to the cabin steward. The cabin was smaller than most we have been in as there was no seating area (most cabins do have a couch). I did like having the shelving and closet areas separated from the rest of the cabin (this was behind a wall, by the bathroom, and there were plenty of hangers to hang all of our shirts, dresses, jackets and suits. The beds were firm but comfortable but the pillows sank all the way to the mattress when you put your head on them. The television selections were extremely limited and were canned programming based on a schedule released by Princess. Little disappointed, especially since we spent more time in our cabin than usual on this trip.
The public rooms were in great condition and we really enjoyed how many stages and movie screens there were on this ship, especially considering that it was cold up on Lido and we weren't crazy about watching a movie under the stars in Alaska waters. There was an area with a pool and hot tubs that were under a retractable roof but we had never ventured here in our swimsuits. By the looks of it, not many others did either so if you want to go you would have plenty of room!
Dining: Not real impressed here. As others mentioned in reviews of this ship, the buffets were unimpressive and they had no specialty lines like Asian food. Grill and pizza were exactly what you would expect. Dining room was pretty good on the first night and not so good on the following nights. Fish was overcooked and rubbery and the fried chicken (which should be super easy) was soooo dry we couldn't bear to eat it. We had booked Sabatini's because they had a "Lobster three ways" on the menu but after a tablemate mentioned that they had also overcooked the lobster we cancelled and booked with the Crown Grill after hearing good reviews from fellow cruisers. Portions were large but I thought a lot of the dishes had a funny flavor to them. Better than the dining room but not really worth the $50 cover. On our last Princess cruise, they would come around in the afternoon with warm cookies from the oven and cold milk which was a highlight for us. Not this time although you can get the cookies from the International Cafe.
Entertainment: We weren't all that thrilled with the variety on the ship. Most nights were the house dancers and singers (we are never very enthused with this sort of entertainment). There were two nights with a comic ventriloquist and two nights with a comic guitarist. The cruise director must have been selected just for the Alaska cruises on this ship because it was someone different than described in other reviews. She was from Juneau, Alaska and named Sammy. At first we felt that she wasn't as charismatic as some other cruise directors but we did have a nice discussion with her at the past guest reception. Just a very nice and real lady. Kind of reminds me of Joan Cusack for some reason. I think it's the voice...
Spa: Wouldn't really recommend it. My husband was very sweet and booked a 75 minute full body massage. It was super overpriced at $149 (plus tip) but he wanted to do something nice for me. I have to admit that the massage felt wonderful. What ruins it for me is that right after the massage, they recline the table up, while you are still naked under the sheet and all spacey from your massage and try to sell you products. I get that this is fairly typical but get this: she recommended $1000 worth of spa products (which is more than we paid for the cruise for the two of us!) and when I declined she tried again THREE MORE TIMES saying that I "really needed it" and "it was an investment in me". Never again.
Service: Cabin steward and dining room servers were respectful and attentive. Most employees on the ship were very friendly, and in particular, we enjoyed Johnny from the Explorer's Lounge. No complaints here.
Ports: This is where it was really fantastic. We had sunny weather every single day (which we were reminded of time and time again of being quite rare for Alaska in May). We didn't book any excursions through the cruise ship but we had a great time in the ports and our sail through Tracy Arm Fjord was breathtaking.
I realize that I brought up a lot of shortcomings in my review however when I think of the fact that we paid $349 a person, which amounts to $50 per person, per night, how can we be angry about any of this (except for the spa)? This is less than you would spend per night on a decent hotel room plus it includes your transportation to these beautiful ports, food and entertainment. I really think that the cruise lines are trying to do more with less like most of us. What ultimately happens is that corners get cut, but then again, I did encourage this by booking at a super low rate right?
We walked through town a bit and then stopped by one of the many local tour operator booths and paid $16 round trip per person to be taken to Mendenhall Glacier. Just beautiful and worth every penny. We did do the 1.3 mile hike to the waterfall which is totally worth it. If I was to offer one piece of advice, it would be to go early; right after your cruise ship arrives in port. As we were leaving there were tons of tour buses pulling up, dropping off hundred of passengers. It is much more serene, and easy to enjoy without as many people. Once we got back, we had to try the seafood at Tracy's Crab House. Although it was spendy, it was really delicious. The crab bisque was incredible, as were the crab cakes and king crab legs.
We booked this wildlife sanctuary tour through the Travelocity site. The tour group was small and our guide throughout the sanctuary was very good, but there was just very little wildlife to be seen which is disappointing. We did see two eagles way up in the trees, one bird and a cat. Little disappointing but who can control these things? We did see the eagle and owl that they had in captivity for a short period of time, followed by about five minutes to feed the reindeer who were cute. The we went into a shed for about five minutes where someone showed us a big log that they will carve into something for a totem pole. In our opinion, not really worth the money we paid for the tour but hopefully some of it went to preserving the rainforest and wildlife in it. Ketchikan was a cute town and I wish we could have been there for longer than three hours.
We booked a six hour Yukon Discovery Tour through Frontier Excursions. The cost was $99 a person but they had a coupon online for about $7 off per person. Totally worth every penny especially considering that we only had twelve people on our tour. Our tour guide, Mike, was great. He had lots of information about each place and was happy to take pictures of me and my husband with our camera. We saw so many beautiful places. We had a bbq chicken lunch at Caribou Crossing which was pretty decent and we got to hang out with the husky puppies. On our way out of there, Mike got radioed by another tour operator from their company that there were three moose at the watering hole nearby. Mike made a detour and we got to get out of the bus and take pictures of the mama moose and her babies. Priceless! We would love to do this tour again in July when the lakes are thawed and the bears are out of hibernation and looking for salmon.
Only five hours in this port (from 7pm to midnight) so we walked into town and went to the Bard and Banker Scottish Pub. The food and drink was expensive which we expected but the building was really neat. We were impressed with how clean Victoria was as well as the fact that we walked through the residentials by the cruise port and it was incredibly quiet. We were the only ones to be seen during most of the time.