My wife and I have cruised previously but this trip was the first cruise with our 13 month old son. We met my parents on the trip; they had done a 7 day land excursion prior to boarding the Sapphire.
We arrived in Anchorage a day before the cruise embarkation. We decided upon the Hampton Inn. It was an average business hotel. Highly recommend you request a room NOT near the fitness center/pool. The hall way leading to your room was very humid and you could smell the chorine. The smell did not penetrate the room, but the humidity did.
Transfer to Sapphire Princess:
We decided to book a transfer through Alaska Cruise Transfer and Tours. The decision factor was ACTT picked us up at our Hotel and Princess only offered transfers from the Convention Center. Important: Read confirmation e-mail as there is a potential limitation on luggage. Transfer included two scenic photo stops and a stop at the Wildlife Conservation Center.
Embarkation: Luggage handlers met our transfer in the parking lot. Tagged and took luggage in a matter of minutes. Made our way to the cruise ship terminal. We arrived approximately 3:45 PM. No lines. We were on the Sapphire by 4:00 PM. All embarkation staff were exceptionally courteous and helpful.
Sapphire Princess: The ship itself was familiar to anyone who has cruised with Princess in the past. The ship was in good shape with maintenance crews working daily on different projects with out intruding on our experience.
The room was what we expected. We have cruised with Princess previously. We started to explore the ship to gain familiarity. Having cruised with Princess before, the lay-out was familiar.
Day One: Sea Day and Hubbard Glacier- Due to a denser ice field, we could only get approximately 10 miles from Hubbard. The captain did let each side of the ship have some time with Hubbard in the background for pictures.
Day Two: Sea Day and Glacier Bay- The onboard naturalist stated we had prime whale sights between 7:30 and 9:30 AM. I walked out on the balcony at 8:00 AM and there were approximately 10 whales in the distance. Lots of blows and flukes. You could see them with the naked eye, but binoculars definitely helped.
Glacier Bay was amazing. We had a starboard cabin and the captain provided approximately 30 minutes for Port and Starboard for photos and to witness calving. Amazing views of Grand Pacific, Margerie and Lumplugh glaciers. The nature viewing is the reason people sail this itinerary and it will not disappoint.
Day Three: Skagway- We booked the White Pass Railway excursion through Princess. Worth it, in hindsight I would have booked the day long trip that included Bennett Lake, but I was unsure how my son would handle that length of excursion. It was a nice ride and the scenery is breathtaking. I had expected Alaska to be green (in summer) but was surprised at the lushness. It is truly a temperate rain forest. The main drag (Broadway) is where all the action is in Skagway. Not a huge town and there was 4 ships in Skagway during our stop. The town was busy in the morning with a lot of cruisers in the morning. Afternoon rain shower cleared the streets.
Day Four: Juneau- We booked the Mendenhall Helicopter Tour and Glacier Walk though Princess. Amazing experience with a great guide (Dylan). If you can, both my wife and I highly recommend this excursion. It is about 4 hours total pier to pier. We were able to see the rest of Juneau (State house, Governors Mansion and the tourist area) with the remainder of our day. Some rain during the late afternoon.
Day Five: Ketchikan- We ended up going with a private tour from the Pier. The tour included a Wildlife Viewing and the Saxman totem village. The guide, Tic Tac was interesting and providing a lot of local history for Ketchikan. The Wildlife part of the excursion was just a stop at the mouth of a river. Not much wildlife except some Eagles. Saxman Village was very interesting and Tic Tac provided a lot of information on each of the Totems. After the tour, we walked Creek St and did some souvenir shopping.
Day Six: Sea Day to Vancouver: Overcast day but provided the necessary time to pack up for disembarkation. We did not make it to the Crew Talent show, but from previous experiences on Princess, I would highly recommend it.
Day Seven: Disembarkation. Aside from having too much luggage, disembarkation was easy. We did the Hop-on/Hop-off Pink Bus tour of Vancouver. Going through Vancouver made us regret not taking an extra day for some more exploration.
Staff: The Princess staff were overall very good. The staff was absolutely wonderful with our son; doting on him at every opportunity. I can not say enough nice things about the wait staff. They instantly new to bring my son's dinner immediately therefore my wife and I could enjoy our own dinner. Thank you Alex! Staff went above and beyond daily to assist us in any way with our son; with waiters even cutting up his food for him and buffet staff having a highchair waiting for him each morning for breakfast in the Conservatory. Thank you Roland and Renata!
Food: I have always been satisfied with the food on Princess. Buffet was better than average and seated dinners were offered a good selection and were quite delicious. Don't forget to try the International Café for Panini's and Princess pizza...both are great. We ate many lunches or after shore snacks from the International Café rather than the buffet or dining room. I skipped dessert most nights in the dining room to have some of the sweets from the International café.
The only Cons on the entire cruise were the following.
During the first day scavenger hunt, the Internet staff member was so unhelpful and had such a chip on his shoulder that we decided not purchase a package as we have in the past.
The photo staff was not as helpful as they have been on other Princess itineraries we have cruised. The last day, when we went to purchase our photos, the photo staff had placed the 1st formal and Embarkation photos in unlabeled tubs. You had to go through thousands of photos to find yours. Previous itineraries were longer and maintained the photos displayed throughout the entire cruise.
Many people complain regarding the retail nature of cruising. We just chose not to be apart of the hype and focused on the nature of Alaska which is what Alaska is all about. The only upcharge we purchased was the unlimited Coke fountain products during the cruise.
We enjoyed our 7 days on the Sapphire in Alaska. My wife and I both stated we wanted to do the itinerary again, but have more time in Vancouver. We truly enjoyed the trip and Princess staff put our concerns at ease regarding traveling with a toddler. We are already discussing the cruise vacation!