We were first time cruisers, at least on a big ship. We?d previously only gone on windjammers, so our expectation of amenities was not that high. Service was a different story. We had been told Princess was top shelf among the cruise lines.
We boarded at Vancouver. The US Direct program was a big disappointment. Technically, we got through customs faster; however any time we saved, and more, was spent waiting for the coach. The actual embarkation process was smooth except for Security. I have stainless steel hips so I always get special attention. At least the TSA has optional body scanners.
Only one of our bags made it to the stateroom. Due to the flimsy baggage tags Princess has its customers print and attach, I feared the other bag (mine) might be lost. We went looking for a baggage steward and found him amidships on our deck. He had a card, which would have eventually made it to our aft stateroom, stating that the bag was being held in Security. That area on Deck 4 is not accessible from the stern. Unfamiliar with the ship and trying to find Security, we were misdirected by a restaurant staffer to the Customer Service desk. After waiting in line we were escorted to Security where my bag had been held because it contained the allowed bottles of wine and had a TSA-approved lock. Did Princess personnel think I was trying to smuggle two bottles of vodka on board?
Located near our stateroom, it contained irons, coin-operated washers with coin-operated dryers above, detergent and fabric softener vending machines, a TV tuned to Fox News, and a bill changer which said it accepted $1s, $5s, and $10s but really only accepted $1 bills.
The Plaza, where live entertainment the Captain's champagne waterfall took place, was pleasant, open space with the International Cafe on one side and Vines and Antonio's Pizza on the other.
The Anytime Dining restaurants and Horizon Buffet were OK. We're not gourmands and we were not disappointed with the offerings, although we did not go on this cruise for the food. Service was good, including the beverage service at the Horizon Buffet, except for one instance at the latter where a server snapped at my wife when she renewed her request for hot tea at breakfast. At our first dinner, a helpful Peruvian waitress at the Santa Fe suggested a Premium Coffee Card when I ordered a cappuccino after our first dinner onboard, and it turned out to be the best extra I could have purchased. It entitles one to 15 specialty coffees (espresso, macchiato, cappuccino, latte, and various excellent iced blends) as well as unlimited regular or decaf REAL coffee at the International Cafe. (The complimentary coffee served at the Horizon Buffet and presumably the restaurants is made from a concentrate, one notch above instant.) If you're a coffee lover, get the Coffee Card. The International Cafe is supposedly open 24/7, although I did not put this to the test. Their snacks and deserts were quite good.
ENTERTAINMENT & SPA:
We did not partake of much of the entertainment. We watched one of the "Movies Under the Stars" and a show with chefs creating animals from fruits and vegetables. We also attended two of the naturalist's talks in the theater. Despite including a pitch for her book, the talks and slides were informative. Glacier viewing was outstanding.
I called the spa to take advantage of a "special" advertised in the Princess Patter and was placed on hold for a good while when Damkerng knocked. I hung up and didn't bother to call back. I see from other reviews that I didn't miss much.
SHIP DEPARTURE AND LAND PORTION:
Disembarkation was scheduled too early to enjoy a breakfast in the International Dining Room, our usual haunt. The bus ride to Princess Denali Lodge included a very early (10:30 ish) stop for lunch at a shopping plaza at which the best choice was the deli in a mega-mart. Arrival at the lodge was late enough that few excursions were practical. Departure the next day required bags to be packed, tagged, and outside the room before our return from breakfast, a major inconvenience given the size of the allowed carry-on. We learned that only the train from Princess Denali Lodge to Talkeenta (McKinley Princess Lodge) is limited to 17"X14"X4" for carry-ons. The coaches had ample luggage compartments for airline-sized carry-ons.
Fortunately we hadn't booked any Talkeenta excursions as it rained all morning and the jet boat ride we would have booked would have been unpleasant. Our train table companions, hunters dubbed Hawkeye and Eagle Eye, spotted wildlife that others at the front of the car missed, which made the train ride from Talkeenta to Anchorage much more interesting. Their presence made up for having to ride facing the back of the train. Tip: Get to your train coach early if you want first choice of seats at your numbered table. Food on the train was OK; not gourmet but we had no complaints.
The Captain Cook Hotel was excellent, and I would book there again in a heartbeat. Princess, on the other hand, gets a generous "C" for failing to inform us that the coach to the airport was canceled. I only found out when I visited the Princess desk in the hotel that evening (which I almost omitted, wanting to retire early) to inquire as to whether my carry-on would need to be tagged and available at 3:30 AM along with the two large bags. The staff did a fast shuffle and arranged for a taxi voucher to be slipped under our door in the early AM. The Captain Cook Porter's Desk was excellent, going so far as to confirm we had our taxi voucher, calling the taxi, and handling our bags with aplomb.
If your schedule allows, arrive and depart a few days before and/or after your cruise. Book your own air travel (if necessary), accommodations, and transfers.
For port calls, you can do better on your own, as another reviewer (danaruns) has pointed out. (EntryID=103243) This probably also applies to visiting Denali or Talkeenta. At least you'll be able to stop and stretch your legs, take photographs, or visit any interesting place along the way on your own schedule without the time spent getting on and off a full bus. If you do decide to Cruise Tour, choose one that includes more than one day at the lodge(s).
Bottom line: If I/we ever cruise again (not a sure bet), I see no reason not to try another line.