BACKGROUND INFORMATION- My wife and I were celebrating our 25th Anniversary on the May 19th sailing of the Golden Princess. Granted, our anniversary did not fall until August, but in planning our trip, we had to make many financial decisions to bring the cruise within our budget. One of those decisions was whether to travel earlier and take a balcony; or wait until later in the season when the prices went up and potentially have to forego the balcony. After consulting with friends who had sailed previously, we felt the balcony was a non-negotiable on the Alaskan Cruise so we made our decision then to sail earlier in the season in order to save around $600 per person vs. the July/August rates. Typically, the room is not a big consideration in our cruise decisions, because we aren’t in our room a lot and we would rather take 2-3 cruises in an inside cabin rather than 1 cruise with a mini-suite. As we were sailing up Tracy Arm Fjord on the 4th day of our cruise, my wife turned to me and thanked me for making the choice of a balcony. We are in our early 50’s and have cruised 9 times, but this was our first Princess Cruise and our first Alaskan cruise.
HOTEL INFORMATION- We made our own air reservations and flew into Seattle on the Friday before our cruise left on Sunday. The initial 2 nights were at the Downtown Westin hotel which we had secured through competitive pricing on online hotel websites. The Westin location was absolutely perfect for all downtown activities, including Top Pot doughnuts! You simply walked out the front entrance and could be on a trolley to South Lake Union, a monorail to the Space Needle, or the light rail station to head to a Mariners game. It was no more than a 5 block walk to Pike Place, and about a 10 block walk if you chose to the Space Needle. On the back end of our cruise, we had reservations near the airport for 3 nights through a Friends and Family discount with a popular hotel chain. The Fairfield Inn near the airport was a nice choice and the rate was great for us due to the discount, and the front desk staff was superb. They offered complimentary shuttle service to and from the airport. It was very easy to just catch a shuttle to the airport, jump on the light rail, and you were downtown for a mere $2.75.
ACTIVITIES- All of our cruises have been in the Caribbean, so our activities on Sea Days tend to be plant me next to the pool with my I-Pod and my sunscreen and I’m good to go for the day. The activities on an Alaskan cruise require a little more willingness to interact with the group at large. There is a good amount of activities aboard the ship to occupy the time on Sea Days. We especially liked the horse racing on the Piazza. That was fun. There was a passenger fashion show that was alight, but it cost me money as my wife then needed to go shopping. For me, it was just harder to find things to do on the Sea Days than a Caribbean cruise.
SERVICE- Our waiter, assistant waiter, and room steward were all great. They met expectations. I don’t know if it’s a “Princess thing” or what to attribute it to: but they don’t make towel animals on the boat! We have always looked forward to coming back to our room at night and seeing what animal we had waiting. Finally, on the last night, I ran back to the room after my wife was headed to dinner, found the steward, gave him a $10 tip, and told him there better be a stupid towel animal on my bed when I got home so my wife could get the picture of it. They are usually prominently featured in our photo albums. I was a little surprised they didn’t do that-not sure if Princess is too haughty taughty to do towel animals or what. LOL
PORT AND SHORE EXCURSIONS- It has been a long time since I booked shore excursions through the boat. Since this was what we perceived to be a “once in a lifetime” cruise, we didn’t want to miss the boat somewhere and get stuck! So, we booked all of our shore excursions through Princess. As expected, it is pricier. I did a lot of shopping online prior to leaving, and never found tours that I deemed to be that big of a discount from the onboard price. Perhaps booking on the dock, or in town, may have served us better. Sticker shock would be my sentiment on the Alaskan shore excursions as a general thought. I felt like the $199 whale watching excursion in Juneau was realistically about a $139-$149 value. I felt like the White Pass-Yukon railroad trip, while incredibly scenic, was probably about a $89 value instead of the $129 Princess charge. We just chalked that up to the fact we were there, we wanted to see it, and the price was relatively insignificant on this our 25th anniversary. All the excursions were awesome though, and I although pricey, was very professional and well done. I would advise for others that it is really worthwhile to use the Cruise Critic “Roll Calls” to read through not only their particular date of cruising, but read through other threads. Many people who have traveled a lot more than I have in Alaska have some great suggestions for tour brokers they have dealt with, etc. If there is a next time, I will pay more attention to those roll calls prior to leaving for that type of information.
SUMMARY- Overall, it was awesome. Our weather could not have been better all week. The boat was nice and clean, but not lavish. The food was not as outstanding as I was expecting, but it was average in comparison to most cruises we have been on (Carnival & Royal Caribbean). It was our first balcony ever on a cruise and it was worth it for this trip. I wouldn’t probably get a balcony in the Caribbean, because you are just going to look at water all day! But the Alaskan views were incredible. The Princess staff was excellent.
TRAVEL TO PORT OF EMBARKATION- From our downtown location at the Westin, we caught a cab to Pier 91 where Princess departs from. The cost was $16 including a tip to the driver. It was a fairly painless procedure. Our hotel did not offer complimentary shuttles to Pier 91. I was a little surprised (both good and bad) on the embarkation process. Having cruised many times out of Florida, I was expecting to see a multitude of porters waiting when we got out of the cab to lug our 5 bags to the terminal. There were none to be found. We had to drag the bags from the taxi drop spot through the terminal to some waiting conveyor belts that were manned. It was an unexpected pain to start the day. However, it went up from there. In retrospect, I suspect that many of the passengers utilize the cruise services that take the luggage burden away from the guest and transport bags from arrival to departure. The embarkation process was extremely smooth and the line perpetually moved. More surprising was by the time we checked in, walked aboard, and found our room; our luggage was already waiting there for us. It was approximately 45 minutes since I had last seen my luggage. Never in my previous cruises can I say the luggage ever arrived by even 4:00 pm, and sometimes not until the evening after sailing. Definite kudos for that process.
STATEROOM- We were on the starboard side near the front of the boat on Deck 11 (Baja Deck). The room was B239. As I said earlier, we did get a balcony for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed it. It seemed like, at least on this trip, most of the action in Alaska (whale sightings, significant falls, and other wildlife) happened on our side of the boat.
DINING- In the past, we have typically done 1st seating dining. Being from the East Coast, we felt that would be appropriate as a 5:30 first seating would translate to about 8:30 pm EST eating time and that is considerably later than we generally dine. However, you quickly acclimate to the time change and there were times the 5:30 seating felt too early. On our other cruises, we have either dined with friends that were aboard the boat in about half of the occasions, and dined with strangers the other half. We have always had a great experience dining with new friends. This time challenged our thinking. Our dining proved to be challenging from the conversation standpoint. We were at a table of 6 and on night #2, our four new friends had a minor disagreement over air traffic security. It turned out 2 of the people then bailed on the table the remainder of the week, and we were left at the table with a couple that we just didn’t mesh with. It made conversation tough. I would advise thinking through the dining options, regarding anytime dining or requesting a table for 2 if you are traveling as a couple. The cruise is too fabulous to have drawbacks for dinner.
Regarding the food itself, we found Princess to be on par with every other cruise ship. We have found Carnival to have pretty good food on our cruises. I would probably go so far as to say the Lido Deck buffets on the Golden Princess were probably sub-par. Don’t construe this as the food was inadequate-far from that. Our expectations had just been set so high on all we heard about Princess compared to other ships, that it seemed to fall a little short of those lofty expectations. The sail away day at lunch was a nightmare-never have I stood in line for food so long. Be prepared for that. One of the evening dinners which were a “chef-inspired” meal, I found to be almost too “over the top.” It was like the duck, pheasant, lamb, and veal all got brought out on the same night. I realize it was meant to be a fine dining experience, but I felt left out when it came time to order. I couldn’t find anything normal that night.
ENTERTAINMENT- Overall, I thought the entertainment on Golden Princess was a bit above the cruise ship average. The shows were well-done. They utilized multiple venues for different performances and that was nice in that every evening you didn’t just parade from the dining room to the main theater. You had to pay attention to your ship activity booklet.
DISEMBARKATION- I thought it went very well. It was smooth-customs was a breeze. We were off the boat and on the road by 8:30 am. I would definitely do a better job next time preparing for our exit. Taxi cab was not the way to go in order to get to our hotel near the airport. It cost me $62. (Thank goodness for having won the ship blackjack tournament). I did not thoroughly check out my airport hotel that night and once I got there, I found out they would have picked me up at the pier for $12. Ugh.
Incredible memories. Fantastic time. We truthfully thought this was a "once in a lifetime" bucket list cruise. All the way back to Orlando, though, my wife and I discussed how we could possibly do it again with the rest of our family. I think we will be back.