We totally enjoyed our cruise to Alaska. There were four of us, two adults and two 14 year olds. We flew into Seattle on Wednesday and stayed at the Sheraton Four Points Seattle Center. I highly recommend the area. Hotels were significantly less than downtown and it was an $11 taxi ride downtown, much less than parking if we had rented a car. We were a block from a grocery store and a short 15 minute walk to the Space Needle. Also that evening there was a free beer/BBQ tacos happy hour. Its something Sheraton offers on Wednesdays so it was a great economical start to our vacation. I really felt the Sheraton Four Points was a great value for our money in a city where hotels are outrageously priced!
Since there were four of us, when we got to the airport and called a taxi, I requested a limo. The dispatcher was going to send an SUV but when I asked if it was possible to get a stretch limo since we had four people and lots of luggage, he said that was fine. The kids really loved starting their vacation in a limo and it was the same cost as a taxi/SUV ($50 from airport to Seattle Center area).
That evening we took the ferry to Bainbridge as a cheap way to get a tour of Puget Sound. My husband is retired Air Force so it was $24 for all of us ($7.70 adults, $6.20 youths, $3.85 military). We had timed it to go out when it was light and return after dark. It was beautiful seeing the city lights upon return. The only downside was all the stores were closed when we got to Bainbridge so if you have enough time, you might want to plan on spending the afternoon in Bainbridge. The return ferry home is free so you only pay one way. You can catch a taxi right across the street from the ferry building but ask for their rates before getting in. It was an $11 fare to get to the ferry from the hotel and $15 getting back because the return taxi never started the meter.
The next day we rented a car from Budget Downtown Seattle #2. They will pick you up from your hotel if they arent busy. We went to the Museum of Flight, which we really enjoyed. From there we went to Slims Last Chance Chili (highlighted on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives). Since we have kids, we actually went to the BBQ place right next door. Kids arent allowed in Slims since its a bar but since both places belong to the same owner, they will let you order from the Slims menu at the BBQ place and vice versa. The kids really enjoyed their award winning BBQ meal. I had the Chili Verde and my husband had the Texas chili from Slims. His was much better than mine. We got there at 3:30 and the BBQ place closes at 4 pm so keep that in mind if you plan to visit. After Slims we went to the Ballard Locks and that was really interesting to see if youve never been to locks before. We tried to go up the Space Needle that evening but only one elevator was working so the wait was too long. You might plan for something like that if you must go up the Space Needle. We were able to go the next day, no problem. We were in the 8:30 pm group up and stayed until dark to see the city in daylight and at night. You can buy refreshments (including wine and beer) and they have seating so you can relax while waiting for nightfall without having to go to the restaurant.
Our last day in Seattle before the cruise included a tour of the Public Market where I got discounted tickets prior from Groupon. It was a great tour highly recommend it if you have time. Then we went to the first Starbucks to buy souvenirs, did the obligatory Piroshky Piroshky and Beechers Mac and Cheese - plan on having time for standing in line at those places. I also bought a beautiful bouquet of flowers at Pike Place Market. They have $5, $10 and $15 beautiful bouquets. I bought a vase at the grocery store by our hotel but noticed others were carrying their bouquets without vases so Im not sure what they did onboard. If you are by Pike Place Market, I recommend this as it brighten our (little inside) cabin so much and smelled awesome! We also visited the Klondike Gold Rush Museum (so my daughter could get her National Parks Stamp). Unfortunately we didnt have much time here since it was difficult getting a taxi since Paul McCartney was in town for a concert. Yes, my 14 year old daughter did ask, Who is Paul McCartney? when we mentioned this is why we had to wait so long for a taxi. We had dinner at Ivars Seafood since it was convenient and Im so glad we did. Everything was very tasty. Then we took the Spooked in Seattle tour, another Groupon deal. We really enjoyed it and I highly recommend it if you are looking to please adults and older kids.
Embarkation: We took the shuttle to Pier 91 on Saturday morning since we had too much luggage to fit in a taxi. We got there around 10:15 but it took a long time for the shuttle to get to the drop off point since passengers from the previous cruise were waiting in the same area. m glad we arrived early because we were able to get seats to wait for embarkation. If you dont get there early, you will need to stand in line to wait. They started embarkation at 11:45 but we had to wait a while in line. Our rooms were ready when we boarded. I think it was about 12:15 when we got onboard.
After dropping off our carry-ons, we went straight to Portofino Dining Room for lunch. It was an enjoyable lunch, much better than fighting the crowds at the buffet. Some of our luggage was at the room after lunch so we were able to get unpacked before the muster drill around 3 pm.
If youre a smoker, Shooters Bar right outside the Princess Theater allows smoking, even cigars. Also the area all the way aft on Deck 14 offers an uncrowded place to see the views and a nearby bar and smoking area. Its a great place to hang out for sail away.
Juneau: We pre-booked an excursion with Allen Marine to Tracy Arm/Sawyer Glacier. Allen Marine did a fabulous job and made the excursion enjoyable but after seeing Glacier Bay, we felt Sawyer Glacier was no comparison to Marjerie Glacier so it really wasnt worth the money (basically $200 per person). I think I would have preferred to book a whale watching excursion once off the ship for a lot less money. We did see Orcas on our excursion and plenty of wild life and Allen Marine was fabulous. Im just not sure it was worth the $800 for a family of four.
Skagway: We booked the White Pass Yukon Railway train/bus with Frontier Excursions and Adventures. They were fabulous and made sure we got on the train early and sat on the left side for the best views up to Fraser. I thought it was great to take a small van back (eight of us total) stopping at sights on the way to take pictures and jumping in the van before large buses got in front of us. Im glad we did this excursion but again I felt it was over-priced for a family of four ($500 total) so I doubt Id do it again. If you must check this off your list of things to do (which you will enjoy if you do it), Id highly recommend Frontier Excursion and Adventures. They also offer tours that dont include the train that are more reasonably priced.
Ketchikan: We didnt book an excursion since we were in port such a short time (and I didnt want to get up early since, after all, we were on vacation). We really enjoyed walking around town, seeing the salmon spawning and having time to shop. If you like to fish, Id imagine youd have a good time on a fishing excursion since there were a ton of salmon you could see in the creeks. I think if we go back, Id plan a fishing excursion and even get up early for it, which is a lot coming from someone who enjoys sleeping in on vacation!
Victoria: We took at taxi downtown ($9) and enjoyed walking around and shopping. There were plenty of street performers to entertain you. My husband loved the city. Its beautiful and worth seeing so Id highly recommend getting off the ship even though its tempting to stay onboard with such a late/short port time.
Debarkation: I was pleased with how Princess handles this. We needed to vacate our cabin by 8 am and there werent those frequent annoying announcements. We requested the 9:30 time group and were given 9:10 which worked out fine. We had breakfast in the dining room and headed over to the Vista Lounge around 9:00. Shortly thereafter our group was called. Our flight was at 2:30 and I wished I had made it a little earlier, maybe around 1 pm or so.
General thoughts on Princess: This was our first seven day cruise and the length was perfect. We have done three and four day cruises prior, which are too short. It was nice to have sea days to relax. And since we had spent three days prior sightseeing in Seattle, I was ready to go home when we did. The staff onboard was very friendly and service was great. However, I think the food and entertainment was not as good as Royal Caribbean and Carnival, which I found surprising.
It was our first time trying Anytime Dining, which was perfect for us. We enjoy having the same wait staff so you can get to know them and they can get to know you. Since we dine late, we were able to go between 7:45 and 9:00 pm and always get the same table/waiters. It was like having the best of both worlds. Service was fantastic and we tipped both our waiter and assistant waiter extra on the last evening for their efforts. You can get envelopes at the Pursers desk. Out of curiosity, we asked our waiter what his wage was that last evening once we had gotten to know him. Waiters get paid $50 per month (before tips) so please keep that in mind if you get great service from your waiter. We even learned waiters dont even get the entire 15% automatic gratuity on your bar tab. The company takes half and the waiter gets the other half, which he splits with his assistant.
Despite the food/entertainment not being what I expected, Im positive we will cruise with Princess again. My husband and I are both veterans and we appreciate the Princess veterans benefits. Also I like the idea of having laundry facilities onboard. And Princess has other things the other cruise lines dont offer, such as afternoon tea, Scholarship at Sea, and a generous wine program where you can bring onboard as many bottles as you want as long as you pay a $15 corkage fee. This allows you to pair your favorite wine with dinner. Also the onboard naturalist was fabulous and it was great having the National Parks Rangers onboard in Glacier Bay.
All in all, we had a fabulous time even the hard to please teenagers who couldnt wait to go to the Teen Center every day. As a final couple notes, I had concerns prior to the cruise about our cabin, D123. I had read it was noisy because of the crew stairs nearby and noise from the Princess Theater below. We had no problems with noise and even though I brought ear plugs, we never used them. We never heard noise from the theater and we were in the room getting ready for dinner during the early show times. I only heard noises from the crew stairs a couple times and it wasnt bothersome. And lastly, I had booked the July 20th cruise because I had read it was a good time of year for the best weather. We had fabulous weather in all the ports and felt so lucky. Although it rained for short periods while onboard, we couldnt have asked for better weather and I never once opened my umbrella the whole trip. What a fabulous vacation! Thank you Princess!