My wife and I decided to get a last minute cruise to Alaska for our June vacation. We looked at availability and found the Star Princess, which had Seattle for embark/disembarcation, and did Juneau and Glacier Bay, two of my desired locations. Having never been to Alaska, i was excited for any destination.
Embarkation at Pier 91 wasn't terrible. We stayed at the Arctic Club downtown so took our cabbie 15 minutes to get us there for 16 bucks. Reminded me of Army days, of hurrying through one section to wait in another. All told, a little over an hour to get on board and get to our cabin, which hearing some horror stories seemed good to me.
We had an inside cabin, Caribe deck 10, C728 as it was a last minute travel agent rate, so no upgrades or freebees. The cabin was nice. We opted for the queen, in retrospect my wife and should have gone with the twin set up to get a little more space inside the room. It was clean, comfy bed, nice closet space. The only thing missing was a clock somewhere in the room, in an inside room, there is no way to tell the time in the dark unless you do a wakeup call. As we spent a lot of time on deck and attending games and enjoying the nature, we didn't spend a whole lot of time inside, so the lack of a window or balcony made little difference for us.
we had anytime dining which is usually in the Capri dining room except also in Portofino after a certain hour. Menus were generally good, solid service, and overall decent experience. The buffet we found enjoyable. Different items every night, (my fav, suprisingly was the Kashmiri Korga dish with chile, lime, and yoghurt). The only negative is breakfast was the same all days. There are two sides to the buffet, if you see a long-line at one, walk around to the other. There is a pizza grill on the lido deck that makes some good pizza and a short order line immediately adjacent. there is an ice cream shop that does soft serve and shakes (for a 2.50 upcharge) There is the 24-hour international cafe in the Piazza with a good coffee bar and sandwiches/desserts the entire day. Buffet room servers were wildly inconsistent as far as service went. Sometimes eager to help other times wandering around.
Easy to navigate, lots to do, great areas to sit on the lido deck and stern pool./ The movie under the stars on the lido deck is awesome. they have a 300ft movie LCD screen that shows movies during the day and evening. On alaska runs they offer blankets, which you'll need. But awesome to watch. Lots of movies every day. Constant events the entire day round. Captain did a good job keeping us informed. Easy to remember the two main theaters, Princess forward on deck 7, Vista Lounge aft on 7. With nothing to compare it to, i enjoyed the layout and found it really easy to navigate,
Juneau was good. We privately booked a whale watch through Orca Adventures (125/pp) and did our own trip to Mendenhall glacier. for the glacier it was 18//pp roundtrip on a shuttle bus that they sell at all the boths. Ended up saving us over a $100 off the ships cost. The humbacks were bubblenet feeding and we saw it at least 10 times, great tail shots, best sighting we ever have ever had on whale watches between alaska, cabo, and provincetown. juneau town has jewelry and souvernir stores and not a whole lot else.
Skagway was a small town, here we did a ship expedition that was called Glacier Point Wilderness Safari. We left skagway, took an hour boat ride to an island near Haines (seeing several whales along the way) landed on the island, geared up, hiked to the canoe point, and then canoed (31 ft long wide canoe) to the Davison glacier, where you could walk around the bottom of the glacier and take some amazing photographs. After this, a brown bag lunch, another boat ride back to Skagway, stopping at a huge sea lion rookery along the way. Total trip 6 hours. 200//pp. Totally worth it to walk on the lower part of the glacier where it meets the water, As for the rest of Skagway, walk down Broadway and have some great microbrew at Skagway Brewing Company.
Glacier Bay was simply awesome. lots of fog and low visibility entering (the Westerdam was ahead of us) so for safety reasons we weren't able to make it to Margarie glacier, instead we entered the bay over where Lamplegh? glacier and one other was. We got some great shots as the weather cleared and it was simply stunning to be there seeing such beauty, and not having to pay extra for it!
Ketchikan was short. We walked around on our own. found a nature park, the totem pole heritage center, creek street, the fish ladder (salmon arent ready to climb until 2 weeks from now) and bought some coffee and a trinket.
Back at sea enroute to Victoria, which was beautiful. best bet is but the 9 tickets for the shuttle into town from the excursion deck, but if not, there are many cruise shuttles there who offer roundtrip to downtown for 10 bucks. We found a great bar/restaurant along the waterfront, had some local microbrews, and then went back to the ship early.
Some people did excursions in every port. We tried to limit it to stuff we could find for less (in juneau and ketchikan) and opportunities like Skagway do ship excursions. Saved us some money overall. If you plan on booking private whale watching in Juneau, Orca Enterprises and Harv and Marv's are two of the most popular, book as far ahead in advance.
The entertainment shows were maybe a step above a high school production. there were four main singers and a group of male and female dancers and they did revue shows every night. The male singers were good, a few dancers were always a beat ahead or behind. Its a good way to pass 45 minutes, but dont expect Vegas level shows.
On the positive, we also saw Carlos Oscar (comedian) twice who was very funny, and Matilda the Jamaican puppet ventroliquist act by Patrick Murray, also entertaining. The rest was silly game shows, bingo. There was lots of excellent music at the small lounges, including one piano player who always had a huge crowd. Some nice string music in the piazza.
Totally inconsistant. some language barriers, but depending on the day upstairs at buffet you either got great service or wildly indifferent service. Main dining room was good, but if you are a couple who doesnt like sharing expect a table near a host stand. Cabin service was friendly.
BUY ME! SPEND THIS!:
One thing that surprised me, and shouldnt surprise any veteran cruiser is the numerous attempts to get you to buy clothes, special wine tastings, jewelry, spa packages, vitamins, etc. Everything seems to have a price tag attached. a beer was 4.25 plus automatic 15% service charge, with an additional gratuity line. Alcohol is where they will get you. The 25 upcharge pp for the Sabatinis or Crown Grille was not warranted given the menu, and there were always open tables, so obviously others thought so. Every time you turned around someone was taking photographs they would try to sell you on deck 7 starboard hallway.
We did the carry it yourself disembarkation. In 14 minutes we went from the Vista Lounge, to the gangplank, to the custom hall, through security and into a cab. It was almost surreal. If you can self-disembark and arent arranging for transfers to the airport and plan on doing it yourself, its crazy quick.
All in all, we got great value for the price we paid. Having no expectations going into this experience, i was impressed by Princess in many ways and would definitely do a cruise again. Having my first time being Alaska, and the stunning beauty associated with it, made it that much better.