My husband and I love cruising, it is a true getaway. We have been on about 14 cruises, including the inaugural season of the Grand Princess, but for some reason, had not been back on Princess until now. We have been to some exceptional nature destinations, including Africa, the Galapagos, and Costa Rica, and we have to say that Alaska is right up there toward the top in ranking. We traveled with another couple who had never been on a cruise before, and they say they will do it again after this experience.
Pre-cruise: We did a land tour prior to the cruise. We arrived in Fairbanks a day early, mostly to avoid any travel problems. We had read that Fairbanks isn't all that interesting, which we agree with, but we booked a Segway Tour through EcoSeg Alaska, and it was a lot of fun. We stayed at the Hampton Inn the first night before beginning the "official" Princess tour, and it was a bit worn. The second night we stayed at the Princess Riverside Lodge, which was very nice. We ate at the Pump House, which has a great outdoor deck. Our weather was great the entire time we were in Alaska. Sitting on a deck at 10 pm with the sun still shining was strange, but fun. The Denali Princess Lodge was nice, but a bit more rustic, and the Mt. McKinley Lodge was very nice. Food at the lodges was pretty mediocre. Upgrade to the tundra tour at Denali instead of the included history tour, you will be glad you did. It's 8-9 hours on a school bus, but worth it with all the scenery and wildlife. We saw Mt. McKinley in all its glory from both sides in the 2 days we were there. Our train ride to Whittier was a bit disappointing. We were not on the Princess train, but rather a train they lease from the Alaska Railroad during peak season. It did not have all the amenities that the Princess train has.
Ship: We thought the ship was in great shape and had a lot of interesting venues. I agree with another cruiser, though, the shower was definitely the smallest we have ever seen on a ship. It was very difficult to move around and the bathroom was flooded most days. The dining rooms were always way too warm, there just didn't seem to be any air circulation.
Activities: The best activity was watching the scenery go by and looking for marine life. We saw quite a bit. We also did the dance lessons that were offered on sea days - the instructor was excellent - and played bingo.
Entertainment: We did not go to many of the shows as we always seemed busy doing something else. The Bayou show was good, but was interrupted by technical difficulties and we had to sit around and wait for them to sort that out. The performers were real troupers. We also enjoyed the marriage game. We especially enjoyed Dan Hodges in the Crooners Lounge and went every night to listen to his songs and stories.
Service: Contrary to what we read in some reviews, we found the staff to be friendly and helpful. Our cabin steward, James, and the bar staff in the Wheelhouse Bar were great.
Ports/Excursions: In Skagway we did the Glacier Point Wilderness Safari - saw whales on the way out, sea lions on the way back, and walked on a glacier - would recommend. In Juneau we did the Whale Watching & Mendenhall Glacier Photo Safari since my husband and our friends are into photography - would also recommend. In Ketchikan we did the Rainforest Island Nature Walk & Seahawk Adventure, and I would say "pass", there are better things to do here. Be sure to walk up to the salmon ladder in town. It's amazing, but kind of sad, to see these fish work so hard to get up stream.
Dining: The food on board was a nice surprise. We really weren't expecting much, especially after reading some other reviews. We are all "foodies" and enjoy nice restaurants. We did any-time dining most nights and never had a problem getting a table as we always ate after 8 pm. We did both specialty restaurants and the meals were excellent. Even the main dining room food was good to very good. I had lobster 3 times and it was done perfectly every time. Others said the steaks were some of the best they had ever eaten.
Summary: All in all, we had a great time. Princess is a master of moving people. We never had a problem in the 12 days we were in their care. Alaska is a wonderful place to see, and having great weather the whole time made it even better. We will definitely sail with Princess again.