We cruised to Alaska on the Diamond Princess from Vancouver to Anchorage in late June 2013 with our two adult children. We booked the week before when we finally started thinking of a way to celebrate our 35th anniversary and found some fabulous cruise discounts.
Embarkation: Much easier than our previous two cruises. We arrived at the Vancouver port at 11:00 a.m. and dropped off our luggage without any line or waiting. Rather than wait around to board, we walked around the Vancouver Pier area and did some sightseeing. There was a free historical multi-media presentation on one of the piers about the War of 1812. It was very well done and especially interesting because it was from the perspective of the “other side” - Canada was a colony of Britain at that time.
We decided to board around 1:00 p.m. By that time there was a line and it took us about 30 minutes before we got through all the staging points. The line included passengers boarding a Holland American Line ship – after the customs check, the HAL passengers went to their cruise check-in and Princess passengers to ours.
Princess allows one bottle of wine per passenger and my husband and I each took advantage of this. By the time we got on board, our children’s suitcases were at their staterooms, but ours didn’t arrive until close to the 4:30 departure time. Our luggage had been opened and a note was left inside alerting us to this.
Itinerary: The first full day onboard was a sea day and I appreciated having a day to learn to navigate the ship. Then we had three days at ports: Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway. The final full two days were “cruising excursions” to Glacier Bay and the College Fjords. We disembarked at Whittier Alaska.
We hit Ketchikan on one of the very rare sunny and clear days – they average 13 feet of rain a year! My husband and I did the Totem Bight State Park tour. The totem poles at the park were created in the 30’s and 40’s as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the great depression. Although the totems are newer, they were carved by Native American wood carvers and considered authentic. Our son did the salmon fishing excursion and enjoyed it despite not catching any salmon and our daughter did the snorkeling excursion – she said this was the best excursion she had ever done.
In Juneau, my husband and I did the bus excursion to the Juneau museum, Mendenhall Glacier, and the Rainforest Garden. The tour was good, but you can easily do the Mendenhall Glacier by city bus. I liked the Rainforest Garden, but my husband was rather bored by it, and both of us were vexed by an ungodly number of mosquitos. Our daughter had signed up for the early dog sled excursion, but it was rescheduled for the same time that Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the Iditarod, was to speak onboard the ship. So instead she splurged on a seaplane excursion, which she enjoyed and made it back to the ship in time to hear Libby Riddles. Our son did a bike excursion and then the Mount Roberts Tram. He especially enjoyed walking around the top of Mount Roberts for the excellent vistas.
In Skagway, my husband and son did the off-road Jeep adventure to the Yukon. They had a great time and visited many of the same sights that my daughter and I saw on the tamer bus tour of the Yukon. Our bus driver, Mel, was excellent and gave us a great sense of the history of the area and even recited the poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by the Yukon poet Robert Service.
During the two days cruising the glaciers, Glacier Park rangers were onboard and highlighted the history of the glaciers and wildlife (whales, sea lions, and eagles) that we saw. The glaciers were awesome and the ship got fairly close and pivoted so both sides were able to view them.
Dining: We chose the second seating in the International Dining Room and were assigned a table for 8. We had very congenial tablemates and it was always fun to share our day’s adventures with them. I thought the food there was excellent; my husband thought it OK to good. The service, though, was excellent. We ate breakfast either in the dining room or at the Horizon buffet and always had lunch at the buffet. Breakfasts were actually better at the buffet – the food was warmer! Pizza, burgers and hotdogs were available near the pool, and each day there was something special being served, such as chowder, reindeer chili, grilled seafood, or pastries. Our children usually had room service for breakfast and although the breakfast room service options were limited, they were satisfied.
We enjoy a nightly cocktail and tried to meet in a different bar each night. We especially liked the Skywalker Lounge in the ships aft. Drink prices are average or expensive, depending on your frame of reference. We thought they were average – beer was about $5 a bottle and mixed drinks about $8.
Onboard activities & entertainment: My husband and I thought the Princess singers and dancers were very adequate – maybe not great, but certainly enjoyable. One of our dining companions said that she saw the exact same song & dance numbers on a different Princess ship. We skipped the comedian and magic show, but others said they were good. One night there was a headliner singer, Finis Henderson, whom I thought was fantastic but my husband disliked. He got a standing ovation, so I wasn’t alone in liking him.
There were lots of other entertainers on board. I especially enjoyed the Moonlight Quartet that played classical music and my husband liked the folksinger Steve Hites who played music of Alaska. The musicians playing in the atrium and lounges gave the ship a festive and elegant feel. Our children (in their 20’s) didn’t care for most of the music we liked, but there was entertainment for them too, usually too late for us.
We didn’t take advantage of many of the daytime onboard activities – trivia, bingo, exercise classes, and educational seminars. We went to a digital photography session that was very helpful and not a sales pitch. There was way too much emphasis on shopping, especially for art and jewelry. There was a disproportionate number of jewelry stores at each port.
Internet access was very expensive, so we didn’t sign up for access. We didn’t have cell phone service except during our time in the ports. And, there were limited news channels available, so it really felt like we were disconnected from the outside world.
My daughter and I signed up for the Lotus Spa Thermal Suite package – unlimited access to thermal beds, saunas, and various steam rooms. This turned out to be one of the cruise highlights for me – I made sure everyday I was there for at least an hour. They limit the number of packages sold, so we never found it crowded. It was heavenly!
Overall: The Diamond Princess is a pretty ship, in good shape, and we had a wonderful time. We had previously cruised Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, and each line has pluses and minuses. We’ll definitely consider Princess cruises again – and even another cruise to Alaska. We couldn’t be happier with this last-minute decision.