We (wife and I) are independent travelers who like to go at our own pace and see what we want to see how and when we want to see it. Without a private plane or boat SE Alaska is tough to see independently. We took a west Indian cruise with Princess in January of 2012. It was OK but a bit confining. We had been to Alaska in 2011 by flying to Anchorage and renting a car to travel the interior. Great trip.
We realized that to see the SE coastal are a cruise was in order. All of our friends who had been on one loved it. Got a good deal through a travel agency for a stateroom with a view. Good call as the window was huge and there is much scenery to see. We were on the second level and the ride was very smooth. The room was larger than the interior stateroom we had on Princess. In just about every other measurement Princess was superior.
We took an early flight to Vancouver (up at 2:30 AM) and opted for a cab ride to Canada Place. It was a Friday and downtown Vancouver was in gridlock at the noon hour. Should have taken the train from the airport and saved $25.00. The boarding process was chaos. Took hours and much walking. The old and infirmed were in trouble. Everyone blamed it on three ships in port. Well there were multiple ships in port at Fr. Lauderdale for our Princess cruise with no such problems.
Once on board the luggage was very slow in getting to the staterooms. Went to the buffet and more disorganization. The layout was poor. You had to walk all the way around the entire area to find things. Slow carving stations with not enough staff. No consistency in beverages. The cream was at a separate station from the coffee as but one example. The serving tongs required a super grip to grab items such that the non-weightlifters had problems and dropped many items. Unless you were about 5' tall with very long arms it was quite difficult to reach many items. Ladles were too short so they were often submersed in the soup. Quality of food was inferior to Princess. Best thing they had was the sushi on the evening buffet. Pizza was good as was the lemonaide (when it was mixed properly.)The hot dogs with onions and sour kraut might have tied the sushi for best eats.
We opted for the anytime dining as opposed to the set time seating. On Princess you could just show up and be seated. Here you needed a reservation. Get the set time seating. Service was similar to some of the scenery. Glacial. Generally took over two hours to get served. After a couple of nights we opted for private seating where you could get done in an hour or so. The quality of the food went downhill on a daily basis such that by the last night it was quite poor. It was hard to get a glass of ice tea. If you were not buying an expensive cocktail/wine/beer no one was interested in serving you.
One of the best things they had was a naturalist who spend a lot of time on the top deck lounge describing the scenery and making recommendations for port activities. The guy knew his stuff and was quite informative and helpful. The shows were also good outside of the magician who was kind of sad. Also many of he pieces of cardio equipment were broken. This was a problem when not in port.
The disembarkation was a problem as much of the luggage did not get off when the passenger did so a lot of anxious waiting and looking for staff that had a clue ensued. Left hand and right hand were not often acquainted.
There was confusion with some of the shore excursions between written directions and those of the staff on the pier. This led to considerable excess lapping of the pier area looking for busses ect.. Had much better prices and service booking the excursions when we got to port.
The weather, scenery, ports, ect. were great. Worth the boat hassles.