We cruised on the Grand Princess on July 6th from Seattle to Alaska on the Inside Passage.
As other reviewers have noted, Seattle is a cute port terminal and it was very easy to board. First, we were taken aback by the procedure for checking your baggage. Instead of handing the luggage to a stevedore, you bring your bag inside the terminal and hand it to a security officer to run through an X-Ray screener, and then it magically disappears. We proceeded up the escalator and checked in with no lines! We were seated for about 30 minutes, and then it was onto the ship.
The Grand Princess is a nice ship, but she is definitely showing her age. There are rust marks EVERYWHERE. The ticketing agent gave us a pocket sized map of the ship which was very helpful. You must remember that when Larry, Curly and Moe were designing this ship, they forgot to put the decks together in a row! So if you want to go to the fixed dining time dining room, which is on Deck 6, you must go UP to Deck 7, and walk around the central elevators, and then DOWN the stairs to the dining room. There are only two elevators that service this dining lobby. Good luck on getting in or out of the elevator if you are physically challenged. We have been on a LOT of ships, but this ship reminded us of Majesty of the Seas in which decks do not run the length of the ship, and there are gaps that make it hard to find your way around the decks.
As other reviewers have noted, get ready to be inundated with sales by Princess. The waiters are hawking drink packages and the customary photo people. There is constant mail in your mailbox outside your room for the Spa, packages, etc. Our stateroom attending Benjamin was VERY nice and extremely attentive. He fixed our TV, got us ice every night, and blankets when we asked. The heating control on the thermostat did not work fully which might just be a slight problem if you're going to ALASKA!!!
We are used to sailing with Royal Caribbean, and this was our first experience with Princess. The food was basically the same quality. Perhaps RCI was a bit better. However, Princess has high tea each day which was great. The shows were the same quality - - how many magicians and comics can you see???? However, the lead singer Ms. Williams was absolutely flawless. We went every night that the singers performed just to hear her. We were surprised at how many seats were saved by fellow passengers (and then the saved seats were never filled by passengers who never showed). The ship should just bar any reserving of seats. We understood before our cruise that Princess was a "middle market" cruise ship line by Carnival. It was supposed to be comparable to Celebrity. IF- - IF - - Princess is "middle market", it only compares with RCI's line ships, and is certainly no better than RCI.
We had a very very unfortunate situation on the first night at dinner. We went to our assigned table 201 and there were 2 women there who said "this table is reserved for our entire family!". We pointed out that we had seats and perhaps there was some confusion, but no, this table for 6 was reserved. So the head waiter sent us back upstairs with a waiter to sort things out with the maitre' d. He said that indeed we WERE in the right table, but then one of the ladies appeared and said that her family was taking over an 8 person table and that we were free to go back to our assigned table. We went BACK down, only to find that these folks had left the table in shambles, Pigs do a better job of eating than they did! There was bread, half empty glasses and napkins piled ALL OVER THE TABLE!!! We were not going to sit down in this mess (I'm not going to mention the condition of the chairs) until it was cleaned. We FINALLY had the head waiter to order the table cleaned and set up. Bottom line, HOW difficult can it be for a computer to sit people at a table? Once it was straightened out though, we had a nice table of 2 other couples and a marvelous dining experience with them. The first night should never have happened.
The excursions were quite nice at the ports, and we really enjoyed Alaska. There was none of the "hurry up and wait" that we got on RCI in the theater before disembarking for a tour. We met on the pier and quickly were put onto buses. Very smooth operations. We saw a LOT of bald eagles, whales, seals and even a bear cub. I highly recommend the Princess tours. Princess sure has the procedures down to get folks off of the ship and onto their tours.
This is not a complaint, but rather an observation: we never SAW the captain. The morning and noon announcements were generally by a "bridge officer". We never SAW the Cruise Director except at the shows. There was NO attempt by the officers to mingle with the passengers. RCI has a "meet and greet" for new cruisers which Princess does not. RCI tries to have their officers meet the guests.
Overall, Alaska was wonderful and we will go back again sometime in the future.
We can check Princess off of our bucket list, and continue to sail with Royal Caribbean. Basically, we concluded that there is no difference between RCI and Princess. Princess DID have larger and fresher lobster, but other than that the food was identical. The afternoon high tea was fabulous and very relaxing on Princess.
Our conclusion is that since the two cruise companies are about the same (even though Princess is sold as a "middle market cruise company", we'll stay with RCI.
This was our least impressive tour of the 3 that we took. Basically, you are driven up to Mendenhall National Park and dropped off for 2 or 3 hours. You're on your own! We saw the glacier and the National Park Service lectures were fantastic. We had HOPED to see the glacier up close or to hear/see the calving of ice bergs from the glacier, but this is not part of this tour!
What was a saving asset of this tour was "Big John" Rock, our tour guide/driver. He made the drive fun, and he dropped us off in Juneau for a shopping tour. Following a dinner at the Red Dog Saloon, we waited at the tour bus stop for a 2nd bus to take us to the ship. Wouldn't you know it?? John was the driver of the second bus AND he remembered us. He made this tour fun.
This was a GREAT tour!
We are driven a short distance from the ship to a double deck boat to tour the habour. Wow!! We saw a LOT of bald eagles and the captain/guide was very knowledgeable. The 2 guys who assisted could not have been nicer or more helpful. We saw a black bear cub (going after trash, of course!) and seals. This was just a bay/harbour tour, but was very nice and complete.
EVERYONE on the boat enjoyed Totem, the captain's puppy. "Please don't feed my dog" (as though that was going to happen!). There were two dogs: Totem and another pup and they went from person to person to get a pet. The dogs added a LOT to the at home, friendliness feeling that we all got.
I highly recommend this tour.
This is a narrow gauge rail trip, and you can say "once I've been on one narrow gauge, I've been on them all", and that is true to some extent. The rail cars were the usual narrow gauge cars.
However the scenery was unforgettable! The narrator/guide Lindsey did a good job of alerting passengers to upcoming photo opportunities. There were toilets in each car, and complimentary water. No coffee (they could have made a FORTUNE selling coffee!!!) was available.
If you want a sample of the trees and topography of Alaska, this is a MUST take tour!