We sailed on the 9-7-2013 "Voyage of the Glaciers" from Vancouver to Whittier. Overall, the experience was a good one, but there were some significant "problems." However, as the saying goes, "even the worst day at sea is better than the best day on land." While this quote may not be literally true, the spirit of it is.
The Good: Princess was remarkable with both embarkation and disembarkation. In Vancouver we arrived around 11:15, and we were on Sapphire at just a few minutes after 12. The boarding process was very efficient. Disembarkation was even better. I have been somewhat displeased by disembarkation on each of my previous five cruises (because it always seemed that people just left whenever they wanted and not in any type of order). In Whittier, my group left exactly when it was suppose to, we were sent right onto the train to Anchorage, and we were off. No fuss, no muss.
The ship itself was another positive. I agree with the people who say that the ship seems uncrowded. It was also very well maintained. I saw no significant maintenance issues.
Ultimate Ship Tour: yes it's expensive at $150 per person, but we thought it was worth it (at least once). We're the people who always wonder what it's like "down below" on the ship. In our three hour tour (insert Gilligan's Island theme here) we saw the print shop, photo lab, laundry, backstage at the theater, rope room (you know, where those big mooring ropes live), the engine room control center (not where those big engines actually live, but the room where they are controlled), the galley, and the bridge. We got to chat with the chief engineer, who was clearly happy to tell us about his "beautiful ladies." We chatted with the head chef in the galley, and we met the captain on the bridge, but the bridge part of the tour was handled by the 3rd mate, who was really nice and answered everyone's questions. All in all, it was absolutely fascinating.
Excursions: we booked one through Princess, the Haines Wilderness Adventure, which was very cool.
The Not-So Good: This was our fourth cruise (2 Celebrity, 1 Royal Caribbean, 2nd on Princess, and 1 HAL). Up until this cruise, I have never had reason to find fault with a staff member on any of the ships. However, this time I was disappointed. We ate in The International dining room, and the waitstaff appeared poorly trained. One of them was often whistling during dinner; another kept breaking into song (badly). Yet another young man started cleaning menus about two feet from our table. These young men meant well, but I was disappointed by the overly informal atmosphere. I'm not looking for "stuffy," but whoever was in charge did not seem to be paying attention.
This was also the first time I felt I was being a "burden" to food service staff on a cruise ship. We went to the MDR for lunch of embarkation day. From the maitre d' who made it obvious that he would rather we be elsewhere to the food servers who rushed us, it was an uncomfortable experience. The staff at the Pub Lunch was just as bad. We could not get water refills even though the event seemed overstaffed; no one asked us how the food was. I had to say "excuse me" several times before I could get anyone's attention (and they were just standing around).
We also found our cabin steward to be somewhat untrained. She was very nice and very accommodating, but the room was never 100% clean (especially the bathroom). This is not something I would have ever added to a review until now. We were also annoyed that there were cleaning carts in the hallway nearly all day. It just didn't look nice, but they were there from about 5am to 9pm.
I wasn't all that fond of our naturalist either. She was a rambler. She would tell us about a particular glacier and end up going off track. She did not seem able to discuss one thing clearly and concisely. The park rangers, on the other hand, were wonderful. I could have done without the spiritual poetry additions, but whatever.
Were any of these issues terrible? Did any ruin my vacation? No, of course not. However, I was really surprised, as I have never seen these types of issues before.
The Bad: food. I know a lot of people rave about the food on Princess, and I am really glad they like it. However, with respect, I honestly do not understand how anyone could consider this food "good." The food, both in the buffet and in the dining room, was cafeteria grade at best. The buffet was, frankly, not as good as an MCL Cafeteria. The food at Denney's is significantly better. I am not a gourmet; I am surprisingly easy to please when it comes to food, but I did not have one really good meal. The 'best' was the pub lunch, but Long John Silver's is better. What was my problem with it? It was utterly bland. The meats had little or no taste. The only taste came from whatever sauce they were using, and a little salt and pepper would have helped a lot. Nearly every night I thought to myself, "did the head chef really taste this? Did he really consider this ok?" I have always looked forward to meals on other lines, but not Princess. I would describe a majority of dishes I tried as "textured, calorie-laden air." I will say, however, that the pizza on deck 14 was consistently good. I know this because I ended up there nearly every night after dinner. The breads were always fresh, which was nice. And, the curries were always tasty. Go figure. One more food note: I live in Las Vegas, land of the buffet. I realize how difficult it is to please everyone. It can, however, be done.
Final Thoughts: I don't think I'll be sailing with Princess again, unless the deal is too good to pass up. It's fine, but I want more than just a "fine" or "ok" cruise. All things being equal (price, itinerary, etc), I'll opt for Celebrity or HAL. I haven't tried NCL; maybe I'll like them too.