While we have been on dozens of cruises, this was only my second cruise with Princess (and my spouse's first). We are primarily Celebrity cruisers (with RCCL second), but have tried a variety of cruise lines, so we thought we would give Princess a try out. I have always had excellent service on Celebrity (and Azamara), but have found RCCL to be sliding downhill in recent years (along with food quality), so we wanted to give Princess a try. I had sailed Princess around the British Isles in 2005 and found the trip above average (although the food was excellent). As Princess is allowed to enter Glacier Bay for their cruises, testing them in Alaska seemed like the ideal choice. We sailed a northbound itinerary from Vancouver to Whittier, but did not use Princess for any land tour package add on.
In one word, the cruise was excellent! Really, really great cruise. The thing that stands out to most was the staff. Helpful, but not intrusive; polite, but not solicitous, every person we dealt with was simply congenial and kind. From the guest services to the waiters (more on the wait staff to follow) to our cabin attendant to even the maintenance people we met working routine inspections around the ship, everyone was so calm, helpful, and efficient that it made the cruise even more relaxing. Just superior service and personnel all around.
I can easily place the waiters and food staff on par with Azamara. We frequently went to the buffet in the cafÃ© for breakfast or even afternoon snack/lunch. Within seconds of sitting down, the staff were there to take our beverage order, a very nice touch. And they returned often to ask about refills.
The cabin attendant worked alone and kept the cabin clean and ready for us. We were given a handicapped balcony cabin, although we do not require it (we were on a BD guarantee and assigned this cabin). The only negative to this was that the shower was a large area with only a shower curtain and drainage track on the floor to define the space. Unfortunately, with each shower, the floor past the drains would flood and leave a wet mess in the bathroom. Talking with our neighbors who were also in a handicapped cabin we learned that they, too, had the same problem. The cabin attendant was very familiar with this problem and gave us each extra towels to place around the drain areas to "dam up" the water and then soak up the wet areas. What a mess for the cabin attendant, and an little inconvenient for us, but not enough to detract from the benefits of a much larger cabin and at least 50% larger balcony! Still, this drainage problem needs a little work (and redesign) by Princess.
Food was excellent. I ate scallops and shrimp just about every night. Perfectly cooked, huge portions and excellent sauces. Many of the pasta dishes, however, (especially the gnocchi) were not very good (I tired a few as smaller portion starters). I had read in previous reviews that the menu never changed, but I found this absolutely incorrect. The left hand side of the menu listed the daily appetizers at the top and then the "always" available entrees just beneath this. The daily and changing salads, soups, and entrees were listed on the right page with both the "always" available desserts and daily changing desserts also on the right page. And desserts were also wonderful and the best of any cruise line I have sailed in the past few years! The scale when I arrived home proved that! I noted there were also many sugar-free desserts available, at least one different one in the cafÃ© and dining room each day. And they would even make special dishes for you if you asked ahead of time; one couple we dined with were vegetarians and the chef prepared Indian specialty meals for them every night that were not listed on the menu...just ask. I also noted that if you asked for minor changes in a dish, such as adding blue cheese to a house salad or leaving out certain ingredients, they happily took care of it. On many other cruise lines the waiter is puzzled or hesitant to get special requests that cannot just be picked up in the kitchen line, so the easy going and helpful waiters on this Princess cruise impressed me.
Also, the sales staff is not very pushy, which is nice. You can get a drink when you wish, but they don't pester you. I even purchased photos from the ship and the travel video, something I have very, very seldom done, just that good and professional. They did have about the best selection of Citizen Eco-drive watches I have ever seen aboard a ship, and as I love eco-drive watches, I found one I purchased.
The following is a chronological review of our trip.
Embarkation was a snap. We arrived at the check in around 12:15, handed over our luggage, sat waiting after check-in for about 4 minutes before they called our group to board. We were on, had access to our room, and were snacking at the buffet by 12:40...just great. Even our luggage arrived speedily; by 1:30 when we returned from the buffet, both our bags we waiting outside our door.
The ports were so different than any other we have visited. The towns are small, filled with tourist shops, but no pressure, great tourist info centers, lots of sales for tours and excursions off the ship, and even our cell phones worked on our network! Of course, there is state sales tax, lol!
We had rain in Ketchikan, so we simply walked around, bought a few things, then took the city bus and toured around on it to see things. They do have a free shuttle into town from your parking berth, but the walk (depending on exactly where you dock, of course), is less than a mile (3/4 mile for us at most). We used the shuttle into town, and the city bus route (fare is $1 each) went right past our ship, so we just got off there.
We took a private whale watching excursion in Juneau with Harv and Marv...absolutely amazing day! Saw dozens of whales, including up to 11 working in a group to feed. Even had a humpback calf sound right near our small boat...beautiful and truly, truly visually stunning!
Nice day in Skagway, partly cloudy, but barely even needed a jacket, just a polo shirt for most of our walking around. Many people took the White Mountain pass train, but we just walked around town and visited the shops. Found a needlecraft/quilting shop with definitely one-of-kind designs and kits; fabulous and very fair pricing.
Also discovered that all the Caribbean gem shops bring their new stock into these Alaskan ports for the summer, then distribute the remaining items throughout their Caribbean stores (along with additional new stock, certainly) for the fall and winter months. As such, stores such as Diamond International, Princess jewelers, etc... all have amazing items and fully stocked stores in each port. If you visit with the personnel, you will find they are in Alaska from their parent stores in St. Maarten, Roatan, Cozumel, St, Thomas, St. Kitts, etc.. great fun visiting with them and looking through the lovely babbles.
Whittier is TINY, so disembarkation was absolutely a snap. We excited around 8:00 am and were alone getting off the ship, and maybe a few dozens people waiting in the designated areas of the port's terminal for their tour/transport to board. Our bags were sitting there waiting for us. We had arranged for an independent vendor/bus to travel to ANC airport and we left on time and found the trip smooth and interesting with much to see and great narration enroute.
So, the overall verdict is a definite thumbs up for Princess and the Coral Princess. We will definitely look for more sailings and itineraries with Princess, which has now made my top 3 cruise lines along with Azamara and Celebrity, placing Princess ahead of RCCL.