Quick cruising background: We are in our lower mid-40’s and just recently took up cruising. Our first experience was over 10 years ago with family…and our children were little then. I only half remember the cruise itself, not sure if it was because of some sea sickness and worries about the little ones, or the food/service was just ok. Regardless I didn’t come back from that cruise eager to book another one. Then for our 20th anniversary looking for a special trip, all inclusive or renting a house on an island, I stumbled across cruising and cruise critic, and the rest is history (in terms of vacationing). I wanted a balcony experience, and Carnival had the itinerary and price at the time, so we sailed on the Miracle. We really enjoyed the experience, and have been hooked on cruising ever since....sailing twice a year so far (Carnival 4 times in a row). BTW I haven’t had a bad cruise yet, I just love the water, scenery, ports of call, and overall cruising experience. I do look forward to trying other lines and ships in the future…there are darn too many destinations/ships to try in my lifetime!
So since my last 4 cruises have been with Carnival, I will have some inevitable comparisons between Princess and Carnival. I have another Princess cruised booked in January 2014, so after that I will know if I am hooked on Princess, but I think I am already. We just had a fabulous time on the Sapphire, which I know a lot of Princess cruisers claim as one of their favorites.
Quick overall comparisons/thoughts
MDR food – I thought was great. Always hot and fast (dinner was never over an hr), interesting selection at times (never heard of some of the dishes, but tried them anyway. Crème Brulee was great! (my go to staple dessert – like the warm melting chocolate cake on Carnival). What surprised me with Princess during the entire cruise…every MDR dinner and in 3 different dining rooms, sometimes very crowded – we were in and out within 45 minutes or so…every single time. This never happened to us in our 4 previous Carnival cruises (in fact MDR dinner would always be 1.5 hrs to 2 hrs sometimes, the steakhouse would always be 2hrs). I don’t know if this is typical Princess or just the Sapphire, but we appreciated this. We didn’t feel rushed at all…everything was just timely.
Loved the live music on the ship, shows were ok but not bad (I did like the shorter format, gave us more time/options every evening). Alcoholic drinks were weak on Princess, not sure if just this ship or fleetwide (every Carnival drink on every ship I have sailed were pretty potent, even the free drinks for past guest). International Café (IC) and Alfredo’s were very nice – visited both every day it seems. Service was fantastic and the crew/staff very friendly.
Another nice touch by Princess was the various communications regarding our anniversary on this cruise. We received a nice card one evening, of course a spa special offering, one night they placed balloons/flyer on our cabin door, and the anniversary chocolate cake/singing at dinner one night.
Day 1 -We had booked a package deal (train/lunch/Prince William Sound tour) with Major Marine to spend the afternoon seeing glaciers/water falls/wildlife before boarding the Sapphire, since the ship did not leave until 8:30pm. The train arrived at 12:15pm and Major Marine took off at 12:45pm. We got close to two beautiful tidewater glaciers, and to Hidden Falls. We saw seals and otters, and scenery was just gorgeous.
After Major Marine we boarded the Sapphire no problem - stateroom itself was nice, loved the location behind the art gallery on the Piazza level. Room P327 - Inside 1C. The cabin had easy access to the Promenade deck (LOVED how wide it was, I wish more ships had this type of room), dining rooms, bars, International Café and Alfredo’s…and nearby stairs to avoid the elevators for just going up a few floors. It was pretty quiet (no foot traffic, ship equipment etc.), but we could hear snoring from our neighbors form time to time, so the room was not as soundproof as our Carnival cruises (I never heard our neighbors). The TV/movie choices were great, a lot better than Carnival. I do wish they had MDR menus/stateroom account access like they do on Carnival though. Our inside cabin had plenty of closet space, and I liked the safe system (4 digit code versus using a card w/magnetic strip). Yes the shower was small, smaller than Carnivals, but one can manage (barely).
Day 2 - Hubbard Glacier
Unfortunately the ice field in front of Hubbard was extensive, and we had to stay 12 miles away from the glacier itself. That sounds like a lot, but Hubbard was 6 miles wide, and we looked closer than we were. The expansiveness of Alaska is something you need to experience. So Hubbard was too far to observe any calving, but she was beautiful to see.
Day 3 - Glacier bay was awesome - fabulous weather---did the Glacier Scenic Package in the Sanctuary - loved it.
Day 4 - Skagway---Based on trip advisor/port forums on CC I decided to book a Carcross/Yukon tour with Dyea Dave. We enjoyed British Barry as our tour guide and his commentary. We always stayed ahead of the big tour buses on every stop, and had lots of photo opportunities (off and on the mini-bus). We were treated again to wonderful weather (it was sunny, no wind, lakes were glass, and in the afternoon it nearly reached 80) and to seeing a black bear eating dandelions roadside. The highlight for us was seeing the various glacier lakes along the way, including Lake Bennett and Emerald Lake. Carcross was a neat small town (quickly saw the world’s smallest dessert), and we had a quick lunch there as well. The backdrop Yukon scenery for your 2 hr road trip up to Carcross was magnificent.
Day 5 - Juneau
For Juneau we had a Harv/Marvs whale watching tour booked. We were fortunate because the time I actually booked the cruise itself (late March), Harv/Marvs had one slot left and only for their 11am tour (Sapphire left at 3:30pm). However that gave us enough time to have breakfast in the IC, take the $8 shuttle to Mendenhall Glacier, and have Harv/Marv pick us up at the Mendenhall Visitor’s Center at 10:45am (Mendenhall close to the docks where whale watching boats are kept).
Mendenhall Glacier, wow, I was surprised at how beautiful this place was. I had seen pictures, but the hike/views were fabulous. Again this was a beautiful sunny day, so that played a factor in its awesomeness! Nugget Falls was flowing heavy too, it was just a roar. The hike is easy, most can manage it, worth doing! There were beautiful flowers and trees along the way as well.
Harv/Marv - awesome!!! Saw 5 or 6 bubble nets and plenty of eagles, sea lions, and humpbacks of course. PERFECT day.
Day 6 - Ketchikan
For Ketchikan we did not have any excursions planned (I tried getting a tour with Ketchikan Cab Tours but they were full), so we planned to do our own walking tour. Day turned sunny in the afternoon - just a shopping day and laying out!
Day 7 - Inside Passage - nice scenic cruising...weather good.
Overall the Princess product met/exceeded my expectations. I really enjoyed our cruise and the ship. Love the Sapphire and its amenities (the multiple dining rooms, Alfredo’s/Vines and IC in the Piazza). That large Promenade deck that circled the entire ship was nice. I liked having the options during the day/evening (dance classes, other stuff), the music choices were good. Most of the music was a decade or so earlier than what I am used to (I am an 80’s/90’s lover – rock and dance) but it was fine to me. I dig 70’s and good 60’s rock and roll. I didn’t miss the rapping DJ even though at times I enjoy that as well. The service and food was great – better than my previous 4 Carnival cruises (and I enjoy the food on Carnival as well – again I have not had a bad cruise yet!).
Alaska was better than I imagined…hope to get back soon!