This was our first cruise with Princess. Let me start by saying we choose our cruises based on itinerary, not ship. Princess fit the bill for our Alaska cruise based on dates and ports of call.
We boarded the ship around 3pm on the 24th. This was an incredibly smart choice on our part. That late in the day, there were virtually no lines. We were through security and on our way onto the ship within 10 minutes at the most.
We had originally booked a balcony stateroom, but about a month prior to sailing I had contacted our travel agency to see if there were any upgrades available and was pleased to discover that we could be upgraded to a balcony mini suite for no additional charge. This worked out well since we were traveling with our teenage daughter. The cabin itself was a great size, however I felt it was lacking in drawer space. The safe in the closet area was a joke. You couldn't even fit an iPad in it. The cabin was centrally located which was very beneficial.
The ship was nice, although a bit dated in places. The casino seemed small to me. The princess theater was much smaller than what I am used to on other ships, but seemed to hold the crowds appropriately. The universe lounge on the other end of the ship was bigger than other lounges I have been in on other cruiselines, so I guess they balanced themselves out. The cruise director was OK, but nothing memorable. The shows were some of the worst I have ever seen on the open seas. We stayed for the first show the day of debarkation but walked out of all the other shows after about two songs. We did suffer through the comedian. He had his funny moments, but was so awkward on stage it bordered on being uncomfortable. The one show we look forward to on all cruiselines was the marriage game show. Unfortunately, they had scheduled a headline singer in the princess theater, Life of Pi in the Universe Lounge and the marriage show in the smallest of the three venues. The marriage show was packed and the mikes were turned down so you missed half of what was said. I was also surprised that it was not the cruise director who lead that show.
DINING - We had late seating in the formal dining room. Food was often overcooked and menu choices were strange at times. Chilled Pina Colada soup in Alaska just doesn't make sense to me. Our headwaiter improved as the week progressed, however never even bothered to ask our names. Maybe I was spoiled on other cruiselines, but I had gotten used to being addressed by name when I sat down for dinner and having my regular drink of choice waiting for me when I arrived. We always get iced tea with our meals, but the assistant waiter almost seemed put off when we asked for it. On RCI, by day 2 it would have been waiting for us when we arrived in the dining room. One thing that very much bothered me was on the first night. The assistant waiter came around and offered everyone either flat or sparkling bottled water. The people that accepted the water were quite surprised when they were charged for it at the end of the meal, especially since they were never told there would be a charge for it. I also felt that the assistant waiter was constantly trying to "sell" us drinks. Whether it be the shot of the day or the specialty coffee at the end of the meal. It got annoying after a while.
The Horizon Court consisted of unimaginative cold food. Or at least it was cold by the time we sat down. I think my husband actually lost weight on this cruise as he didn't really like anything that was served on the ship. We didn't even try the specialty restaurant.
I did very much enjoy the cruise through Glacier Bay. Listen to the cruise director when he says to go to the front of the ship on deck 10 or 11. This was the perfect place to stand. We were very fortunate and saw a huge chunk of Marjorie Glacier calving right after we arrived. Truly impressive.
Post cruise we opted to rent a car and explore the interior independently. There is not much in Whittier, but they do have an Avis rental car about 2 blocks from the pier. We booked a one way rental with drop off in Fairbanks. I would recommend that if you do rent a car, send one person to pick it up and then come back for the luggage. A few days prior to the end of the cruise, we received a form to complete outlining our post cruise plans. There are no taxis in Whittier, so you either need to have booked a Princess Transfer to Anchorage, a private shuttle to Anchorage, be part of a cruisetour or rent a car. However, Princess does not include rental car on the list of options, and in fact stated that there was no form of independant travel available in Whittier, so I was a bit nervous until we arrived and I located the rental car store (which is inside the harbor store and a 14 year old boy was manning the counter).
All in all, the cruise served it's purpose in that it got us from point A to point B. Would I cruise with Princess again? Yes, if they offered an itinerary that I wanted. Would I choose Princess over another line with an identical itinerary, probably not.