I have been on 4 other cruises but had yet to sail with Princess. After much research , I chose the Golden Princess to Alaska for our anniversary cruise and I am very glad I did. I was a little nervous because I don't like to be cold and I was thinking Alaska at the end of September might not be a good idea. But the weather actually wasn't too bad. I am from the Portland Oregon area, so a little rain wasn't anything to worry about.
One of the main reasons we chose this cruise is because we didn't have to worry about flying anywhere, being from the Portland area, we could just drive up that morning and thereby saving a little money. If you are driving in and looking for somewhere to park your car during the cruise, I found Seattle CruisePark to be perfect. They charged less than parking directly with the cruise line, they were in a nice and secure lot and they provided shuttle transportation to and from the ship that was quick and convenient.
I found the embarkation process to be pretty smooth, keeping in mind; they are trying to load 2000 people onto one ship at pretty much the same time. It took us about an hour from the point that we were dropped off at the pier until we were on the ship. I didn't find that too terribly long. The lines seemed daunting, but they moved pretty quickly. It did seem like you were going from one line to the next, but it all worked out fine. If you really want to avoid the lines, I would recommend coming later. They don't start letting people on the ship until noon and as we were eating lunch around 1:00 or so, there was hardly any line left at all to board the ship.
A piece of advice about lunch. I know the majority of the people head up the buffet for lunch once they get settled, but I would recommend heading over to the dining room to have a wonderful sit down, unrushed lunch. I heard the buffet lines were pretty long, but it was very empty in the dining room, I don't think many people know about it. I know they really push everyone going to the buffet, but I find the dining room to be a great start to the trip. There is usually only one dining room open for lunch, for us it was the Donatello dining room, but you can just check with one of the crew, they will let you know.
We booked a balcony room on deck 11, Baja deck. I would certainly recommend a balcony if you are cruising to Alaska, the little bit extra that it cost was well worth it! It was great to sit on our own balcony as we were traveling through Tracy Ford and you don't even have to worry about getting dressed. Just throw on one of the robes your room steward will bring and enjoy breakfast on your balcony. We were on the starboard side which I think worked out nice because that was the side that you came into the ports on so you could see town as you were coming in, but really either side has a beautiful view. I also liked being on the Baja deck because both of the decks below us were open to the top and you could see right down on the balconies I personally just preferred not to have to worry about people looking down on me, plus we were completely sheltered so we could be out on the balcony while it was raining and not get wet whereas you couldn't if you were on decks 10 (Caribe) and 9 (Dolphin).
I felt there was plenty of space in the room. The beds were high enough off the floor so you could store the suitcases underneath which kept them out of the way. There was plenty of cupboard and drawer space to store your clothes. I even found there was enough room in the bathroom to store everything; there were 3 shelves that were pretty deep. It also worked out well to store my shoes on the very bottom shelf in the bathroom. As I did read in other reviews, the hairdryer wasn't very strong, so if you have long or thick hair, you probably will want to bring your own. I found the beds to be very comfortable, but I like a firmer mattress, for those that don't, you can just ask your room steward to throw one of those eggcrate mattresses on top for you. I would recommend bringing an outlet adapter if you have electronics you will need to plug in. There wasn't much for plug-in space.
I have read some of the other comments about the ship looking run down, but I really didn't see that anywhere. The decor is very warm and inviting throughout most of the ship and it all seemed to be well maintained. I didn't see anything that looked like it needed updating or maintenance. Everything was very pretty and I felt, very classy.
The food was the only thing that was a little disappointing. While most everything I tried was pretty good and very nicely presented, it did seem to be lacking a little in flavor. I do suppose they have to keep the seasonings to a minimum so everyone is able to eat the food, but I felt they could have used more, even a little salt works wonders. I think in comparison, Carnival had better food. It was pretty good for the most part, just nothing spectacular. We didn't try the specialty restaurants, I just didn't feel like spending the extra $50 for the two of us to have dinner when we had already paid to eat in the dining room. The food that we received for dinner was always hot and fresh. Also another note about the dining room, they also serve breakfast and lunch in the dining room so you don't always have to go to the buffet to eat. Again, I found that not everyone knew they could eat lunch and breakfast in the dining room. Which we tried to do most of the time, because it was nicer and more relaxing than fighting the buffet crowd.
The service that we received on the ship was outstanding! Our waitstaff in the dining room was friendly and attentive. They remembered our drink order every night and really made us feel cared for. Our room steward did a great job as well. Our room was always cleaned and ready for us twice a day without us even seeing him in there. He would greet us in the hall every time he passed and always asked about our day. Every crew member that we interacted with seemed to enjoy their job and made us feel very well cared for.
We didn't make it to any of the shows so I can't really say how they went. I did hear the magician was good and the comedian was very funny. We did get a chance to listen to the piano player one of the nights and he was amazing. He sang and played the piano and provided us with a lot of information about different composers. Very entertaining and informative.
I did see some of the other reviews that mentioned all the selling that they felt was extreme. But I really didn't experience anything that I found to be a "hard sell". They did offer things like wine tasting and such, but when we said no, they didn't push it, now I didn't go to any of the shopping/sales shows so I don't know about that, but I would kind of expect that there.
One thing I found kinda interesting.... I saw a lot of people in other sites talking about smuggling alcohol on board and all the various ways you could do it and HOPE you don't get caught. Which really I found silly. You are allowed to bring one bottle of wine per person and we just brought one of the box wines which meant we didn't have to try to recork it if we didn't drink it all, plus it also provided us with more than 1 bottle per person all in one package. But if you would rather have the hard stuff, it was only $14.95 to buy a 375ml bottle of alcohol from room service such as Bacardi, Skyy, Gordons gin, Jim Beam or Cutty Sark. I don't know about your liquor stores, but that's cheaper than ours and you don't have to worry about them confiscating it! And you can keep the bottle in your room and use it whenever you want. Then you could also buy the unlimited soda package for $4.95/day and just get the soda or tonic water to mix with your drink.
A word of advice for those of you that are first timers.... go ahead and get as many pictures taken as you can by the ships photographers, it doesn't cost anything to take them and you might find something you really like. But wait until after the last formal night before you buy anything. That way it gives you a chance to compare all the ones you had taken and pick the ones you like the best. Otherwise, if you buy them after the first formal and you like the second set better, you will end up spending more money you might not have.
Disembarkation was quick and easy! It only took 15 minutes from the time we left the ship until we had our luggage in hand and was headed to the parking lot to meet our shuttle back to our car. We had to meet in one of the lounges with lots of other guests to wait our turn before they called our group to leave, but we ended up being called almost exactly according to the schedule on the sheet so it wasn't bad at all.
All in all, I found this to be a wonderful cruise. The staff was friendly, the ship was lovely and the scenery in Alaska was beautiful and the food was even okay. I would definitely sail with Princess again!!
I knew I didn't want to book an excursion through the ship, I wanted to go with a local company and after much research, I booked a whale watching tour through Orca Enterprises and was so very happy that I did! Captain Larry was the boat captain who is a very interesting man with lots of experience. Our tour guide was a young lady that obviously loved her job. I think she was almost more excited when we were whenever we would spot a whale! It was a great experience! We saw tons of bald eagles and ended up seeing a whole heard (is that the right word?) of whales! We even got to see one breach! It was very educational and exciting! We only had about 16 people on our boat so there was plenty of room for everyone to move about and watch the whales. They even provided a snack of cheese and crackers and smoked salmon along with coffee and hot cocoa. It was well worth the money and I would highly recommend booking a tour with Captain Larry and Orca Enterprises.
Ketchikan was an interesting little town, downtown was a lot of jewelry shops and tourist stores. I had decided not to book an excursion and we just walked the town which worked out just fine for us. We walked up to the city park which was just a little ways from downtown. The salmon were running when we were there and it was amazing to see all of the salmon stacked on top of each other making their way up the river! Also amazing was the amount of dead salmon all over the place, it got very stinky in a couple of places. There is a neat waterfall just above the Creek Street area where you can watch the salmon try to jump up the waterfall. It was all very nice.
Again, I didn't want to go through the cruise line to book my tour but preferred a local company. I ended up booking with Dyea Dave and it turned out to be a wonderful choice. I know a lot of people go with the White Pass train, but I wanted to do something beside just go up and back. With the van tour, we went along the same route as the train, but we got to stop and get out and take pictures. We went clear up into the Yukon Territory and were able to experience some beautiful scenery. Our tour guide was wonderful! She was friendly and personable and provided us with lots of information. There were only about 15 people on the tour so it made it personal. It was a full day tour from 8am-3pm and a great value for only $79/per person. We even had a little time to wander around town once the tour was over.