Having sailed Princess before to the Caribbean, I was certain this would be a safe bet to Alaska. 38 y.o. male traveling with my 68 y.o father, who had previously cruised with Princess to Alaska. We specifically chose Alaska in May since it assured a minimum number of children on the ship. There were not many, and as expected, this cruise was mostly older, well-heeled, and well behaved foiks.
Embarkation was slightly confused, with not enough attendants for the rush of people boarding in Seattle. Ship was bright and airy upon entry, and quite large, with much to explore. After check-in, headed to the buffet while waiting for luggage to be delivered. As usual, hoards of vultures acting as if they had never seen what would end up being just average, banquet-type food for the week. Cabin was ready immediately, and we were upgraded to a balcony stateroon (thanks Princess) due to many previous trips on Princess between us. Cabin steward was attentive, and kept our ice bucket filled and clean towels stocked. We never ask for much, but were absolutely satisfied. A balcony cabin, if it is in the budget, is a must for Alaska. The scenery is beautiful and wildlife (including a large bird that made our balcony railing his home), can be seen throughout the trip. Our room steward Mae was excellent, but I heard several complaints throughout the cruise. Thanks, Mae, for making our cruise enjoyable.
As for the food, since this is one of the most important parts of the cruise (at least for us), this was good -- for a cruise, but certainly not top-notch. Being return cruisers, we knew what to expect, and the menu on Princess, along with the days in which certain meals are served, has not changed. Meat was odd (was that really filet mignon on night one?), but where Princess really shines is in its bakery/pastries. Golden Princess has a desert bar where complimentary desserts can be had nightly, and the chocolate mousse was absolutely divine. During sea days we opted for the buffet for lunch, and again, the meals were ample and satisfying. I admit I was mostly eating just to get to the desserts, and they never disappointed. One note on the dinners -- plan ahead if you can to eat in the specialty steakhouse. There are one or two nights where the dining room selections for dinner are of the quality that one might find at their local hometown diner. It is disappointing that Princess has cut back so much. It is all about profit, but if Princess wants return cruisers, the food quality really needs improvement. Ask the maitre'd if you can look that the dinner menus so that you can choose early which night you will eat at the steakhouse. Also, you can't help but notice the plethora of hand-sanitizer machines. Make use of them, or skip at your own peril. Finally, beware of the steps in the dining room. These are poorly lit, and often dangerous. We witnessed one serious injury in the dining room, and several other minor injuries throughout the ship, all of which would be avoidable if Princess would upgrade the lighting in the stairway areas. This is a stupid way to save a little money, especially when passengers are being injured.
As for the activities on the ship, Princess definitely needs help here. Many of the days, there were few options to keep cruisers busy, and even though the casino is entertaining, it is somewhat small on Golden Princess, and not for everyone. The comedians were excellent, but Princess relies on passengers for one of the nights' entertainment, and this screams "money saving opportunity." There was also a magician, which was one of the best cruise ship shows I have ever seen. As mentioned, the casino is entertaining, but seemed small for a ship with so many passengers. There are many shopping venues on the ship, but beware of prices. There also seems to be a never-ending art auction, if that kind of thing interests readers. As an aside, you will definitely get your exercise in on Golden Princess. The ship is quite large, and since elevators are painfully slow, walking is essential in order to get to places. Not all areas are accessible by one direct elevator trip which can be confusing, but there are maps everywhere, and staff is mostly eager to help. Finally, when going to the shows, arrive 20-30 minutes before they begin. This is essential if you want a seat. For some reason, the showrooms are not nearly lage enough to accomodate the number of passengers, This is probably done to push people into the casino, but in any event, they fill up quickly, and many latecomers were left standing, or skipped the shows altogether. Princess also shows movies on some days in the showroom areas, if you are interested.
The highlight of the trip was the Princess-organized shore excursions. We chose a whitewater rafting trip which was quite fun, although tame. Our guide was knowledgeable, and wildlife along the river was plentiful. Bears and eagles abound along the river, but dress warm. It can get quite chilly on the river. We also chose a train trip in Ketchikan. It is a scenic, guided slow moving trip through the wilderness of Alaska and should not be missed. In Skagway, we chose to go on our own. This is a boardwalk town, which has become yet another tourise haven. Unfortunately, the charm is long gone, but it is still fun, provided you can navigate your way through 10,000 tourists who crowd the tiny town on the same day from the 3 cruise ships that dock there. If you don't get frustrated, there are bargains to be had. If you do, however, head back to the ship and drown your disappointment in some strawberry shortcake. The excursions are costly, but worth the expense. Save money in other areas and try to take part in the excursions. They really are a worthwhile opportunity.
Finally, our cruise ended with our nonstop flight canceled from Seattle back to New York, leaving us with the only choice being a flight with stops in California and Las Vegas. Our dinner at the airport in Las Vegas was superb (probably better than the steakhouse on the ship), and although we have many good memories of our trip to Alaska, perhaps we will look to another cruise line, or perhaps a land vacation for our next trip.