We have never been on a cruise and to celebrate our 30th anniversary, we booked this Alaska cruise on the Golden Princess based on date constraints and desiring to go round trip Seattle.
The cruise experience was better than we expected! We were on the second week of the Golden Princess cruises to Alaska for the season.
Embarkation in Seattle was a bit harried and had long lines. The people helping to organize people were friendly and we were excited and happy to be going so we weren't too bothered by the wait. I do understand they are processing many people all at once.
Upon entering the ship we were very happy with our mini-suite on the Dophin Deck 9, in the middle of the ship...booked to attempt to avoid seasickness! The room was spacious and clean. Our steward was there to see if we needed anything and his service continued to be fabulous the whole week. We ate at the International Cafe instead of the buffet for lunch that day after I had read that there were long lines that first lunch and we did not want to begin our cruise that way. Also, we are not huge fans of buffet foods in general. There were virtually NO people eating from the International Cafe and we basically had the beautiful Piazza area to ourselves...that was lovely! And the food at that Cafe proved to be tasty and fresh as we frequented it throughout the week for lunch or snacks.
We had early seating dining and were not sure we would like being tied down to that. However, friends had told us we would appreciate having the same waiters each night and we did! We requested a table for two when we got on the ship and the maitre d' accommodated our request. Our waiters gave us great service and anticipated our beverage needs even after the first meal. Also, the early service allowed us to be free for the 8:15pm show times. Food in the dining room was delicious, generally, especially the soups. I agree with another reviewer, the shrimp in the shrimp cocktail was small, wet and flimsy...I did not order that again. But the special nightly entrees, especially the fish were nicely prepared and presented. The specialty salads were good too. And, ship-wide, the desserts were great either for dessert or as treats during the day.
We only ate in the buffet for a few breakfasts and for a few lunches. Both meals were just fine, nothing inspired. The views when you sit next to the windows are nice and were able to find them each time.
There are many activities offered and I would have to say, most of which did not interest us at all. Art auctions, jewelry sales, sales pitches for port stores, etc. We avoided all that. We enjoyed the comedian immensely and were pleased that his humor was not R rated. The magician was more fun than we thought he would be and we enjoyed him too. The singers and dancers worked very hard, had great costumes and sets, but we enjoyed them the least, as far as entertainment. I think I would have enjoyed a full Broadway style show better than the "British Invasion" show we saw. We had no interest in the casino or the game shows each night, but those things were easily avoidable as we made the trip our own. We did appreciate that they replayed in our stateroom the movies from the outdoor movies. It was nice to relax to them when we were back in for the night. Also, the music in the Piazza was enjoyable as we walked through or had something from the Cafe.
The cruise director, Billy, was completely smarmy and overbearing. We totally did not enjoy him AT ALL. He was almost something out of an old Bill Murray SNL bit with his obnoxious manner and nightclub style, and unnecessary singing before the comedian. Ugh. We avoided him as much as possible, but he was everywhere, seemingly!!! And there was a "cooking demonstration" we went to that we walked out on because the maitre d' kept interrupting and trying to be "funny" while the head chef was trying to demonstrate. It was not funny and very annoying.
Being a trip to Alaska, there was a naturalist on board who had presentations that we attended. He was most enjoyable and we took advantage of seeing them again in our stateroom as they were taped. He was definitely a highlight of the trip. The National Parks guide who came on the boat for Glacier National Park was also a real highlight. She was marvelous and informative and assisted in making our time at that amazing place even better!
Disembarking at the ports consisted of long lines and took too long. That they had the intrusive and time consuming "stuffed animals" and characters there in order to take picture$$ with them cut into our precious port time too. Very disorganized. It was especially so in (short port time) Ketchikan, causing us to miss the city bus to Totem Bight, the activity we planned to do that day. The next bus was an hour later, and with a noon departure, we had to skip going there. We wished we had had more time in Ketchikan in general.
We went out to Mendenhall Glacier while in Juneau, on our own, so as to not be constrained by the excursion. The shuttles out there are easy to manage. We loved being there by ourselves and deciding how to spend our time. Try "Pie in the Sky" in Juneau for freshly made pie! Yum!
In Skagway, we did book an excursion through Princess to take a fast ferry to Haines where we took a bus up the river and then had a river raft down the Chilkat River, ending in lunch riverside. It is through an eagle preserve and while we did see a lot of eagles, we understood that there are tons more in the fall. Oh well! It was a wonderful experience and I would recommend that excursion very highly. It was well organized, had friendly knowledgeable people and we had great scenery away from the crowds of Skagway. We did the National Parks tour in Skagway and had such a lack-luster tepid guide that it was pretty much a waste of time...and we generally LOVE the National Parks presentations. Skagway was our least favorite stop and we were glad we spent most of the day in Haines.
The time in Glacier Bay was magical, again with the guide and the ship taking lots of time to stay in the area. We saw an amazing amour of calving of the glaciers!! Wonderful. Worth the whole trip.
The stop at Victoria was pretty much useless for us. We arrived on time, but again it took a long time to get off the boat. We walked to the inner harbor and then back to the boat. A longer day in Ketchikan would be better than this silly stop.
Disembarkation was very smooth and done quickly and efficiently. Why couldn't the disembarkation at the ports be this way?!
In summary, in general, we thought the ship seemed a bit tired in decor and upkeep. We enjoyed the Promenade deck and walked it most days, especially sea days, and we were mostly alone in doing so! Being in Alaska, it was too chilly to use the pools, so I can't speak to them, though they looked nice. We loved our balcony, but even that was rather tired with the rubber flooring pulled up and rust in places. (Here's a tip! In a mini-suite, pull the couch away from the wall and have it face the balcony! Get the views when it is too chilly to be outside!) The service people on the ship were wonderful.
I was thankful that the seas were smooth almost the entire time and did not impact me with discomfort. We would definitely do another cruise to Alaska, but would probably try another cruise-line. We liked our cruise, in general, but were not "wowed" as I read about other cruises and cruise lines. Also, we would likely go out of Vancouver thus avoiding the required and silly stop in Victoria. We also saw that we could navigate the cruise our own way and easily avoid activities that had no interest to us.