Being loyal to Royal Caribbean, we ventured beyond the brand for the first time last September and had a disappointing vacation. So, it was with trepidation that we would gamble again; only this time with Princess. We could not have been more pleased for a Grand, third cruise to Alaska!
For starters, we booked directly with Princess online in October 2013. The process was smooth; and when we had questions over the next few months, customer-service agents were knowledgeable, professional, and most courteous. We opted for eZair; and, unlike our previous experiences, reservation airfare was not due until the final payment date. Additionally, excursion charges were not due nor applied until the excursion occurred. If one had to cancel, he could do so up to the day before. Another positive is that with the cruiser’s authorization, Princess will automatically charge the cruise/airfare balance on the final payment date, thereby eliminating the possibility of missing said date.
Airport greeters at Seattle’s SeaTac were on hand upon our arrival and assisted with baggage claim and transfers to the ship. We arrived at the pier about two hours before ship’s departure. As such, there were no lines, and check-in could not have been more quickly completed. Our cabin “stewardess” greeted us with glasses of champagne and provided us with the usual information: name, phone number, safety drill, et cetera. With 19 cruises behind us, this was only the second time we had a stewardess—and she was absolutely superb! The warmth and friendliness with which she welcomed us was indicative of the cheerful outgoingness of all the Grand’s personnel, regardless of job classification. At no time did we ever pass a crew member who did not make eye contact, smile, and offer a “hello,” or “are you enjoying yourselves,” or “have a great day,” and the like.
Our mini-suite cabin, D402, appeared a bit worn, but was clean, well-lighted, and smartly appointed. The king-sized bed was comfortably firm and high enough to store luggage beneath it. There was ample closet space; and for the first time, we did not need to request extra hangers. Water pressure was excellent, and very hot water was plentiful when needed. Another cabin nicety—small, but welcoming—was our names posted below the cabin number at the door. One thing that did surprise us, though, was that our bed did not have a top sheet. We were told that top sheets were only provided when requested—which we did immediately.
With quite a variety of dining venues, we never had even a mediocre meal. The da Vinci dining room offered breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner. Meals were prepared to one’s own preference and were served hot or cold accordingly. Courses were nicely plated and tasted fresh. Afternoon tea consisted of beverage choices, as well as confections and finger sandwiches. We dined at Sabatini’s the first formal night. The Italian menu featured some cuisine not known to us, and others that were prepared differently from the usual, everyday restaurant fare. Even the Horizon Buffet proved tasty. Despite the fact that the offerings were limited, the food was plentiful and prepared well. We also sampled coffees and sweets at Café Selects and had no misgivings. Service in all locales was exceptional—almost as though servers and managers could not do enough to make our cruise memorable. Servers were so willing to take time and chat about their respective homelands, their families, and their lives at sea. One negative and our only complaint regarding the entire cruise was the buffet lines—one single-file line on each side. The buffet is set up much like a circular tour, with the exception of the dessert bar, which stands alone. Individuals can only enter one-at-a-time, and generally must follow the crowd in a tight, circular pattern. If one only wanted to make a salad or grab a sandwich, and there were 29 people in front of him, he had to wait his turn to enter. A remodeling recommendation would be to “open up” the buffet to the different stations, allowing for easy in/out traffic.
Speaking earlier of formal nights, there were two on this cruise, both on sea days. Somewhat “old fashioned,” we still tote our tuxes and don them for formal night. Much to our surprise, we noticed more men in tuxes and women in formal evening wear that we’ve seen recently on RCCL. Are we just the last holdouts, or is there a returning to formality?
Lounges were located throughout the ship and were comfortable and uniquely decorated. Cocktail/wine/soft-drink selection was ample and reasonably priced. We also enjoyed the nuts/nibbles served with our drinks.
Entertainment consisted of lounge acts, guest performers, production shows, game shows, talent shows, movies, DJs, bingo, casino—and the list goes on. The activities offered by an energetic cruise director and staff were practically nonstop. From early-morning aerobics to bible study to line dancing to educational/enrichment seminars to galley tours to shuffle board—there was something to do for everyone on each day, whether one went ashore or stayed on board. But, for those who just wanted to sit back and relax, several venues provided that opportunity for quiet and solitude.
Excursions were diversified for all interests at each port. Several crew manned the excursion desk, so lines were minimal. Also, an electronic posting of all the excursions indicated availability. As we’d been to these ports before, our only excursion was in Juneau where we bussed out to Mendenhall, Glacier Gardens, and Macaulay Salmon Hatchery. The four-hour experience was well worth the cost ($75), and an added bonus was our tour-guide bus driver who blended Alaskan/Juneau history/facts with humor and enthusiasm.
Disembarkation was the smoothest ever! From what we could tell, compared to our previous cruises, Grand Princess disembarked smaller groups. This allowed for a smoother process of exiting the ship and finding one’s luggage and passing through Immigration/Customs without long lines. Then, once we were out of the terminal, guides were posted who pointed and assisted us to our transfer bus back to the airport.
Princess Cruises provided an excellent Alaskan experience that we would recommend to fellow cruiser. We were so impressed that we took advantage of an "open booking" for only a $100 deposit!