Good cruise; Hubbard Glacier was incredible: Crown Princess Cruise Review by ahm081212
Overall Member Rating
Good cruise; Hubbard Glacier was incredible
ABOUT US: It was my sixth or seventh cruise (I've lost track); his first. I've been on Royal Caribbean, Holland America, NCL and American Hawaii (RIP), but this was my first Princess cruise. We're in our late 20s with no kids, but we are not into partying or drinking at all. We like natural scenery, photography, eating and relaxing so we fit in well with the older crowd on Princess.
PRE-CRUISE: We did a week in Alaska before the cruise that we arranged independently. We flew into Anchorage, did a day trip to Katmai National Park for brown bear viewing at Brooks Falls, drove to Denali National Park where we took the shuttle bus to Wonder Lake, and then drove to Seward where we explored the Kenai peninsula and Kenai Fjords National Park by kayaking to Aialik Glacier and hiking the Harding Icefield trail. Then we drove to More Whittier, returned our car and got on the ship. Our first week in Alaska was spectacular but very hectic and we booked the cruise for two main reasons: 1) to see Glacier Bay and Hubbard Glacier and 2) to relax and have a "vacation to recover from the vacation" after our very busy first week.
I booked the cruise about 6 months out, and the price fell quite a bit after I booked it (steadily, not all at once). I kept calling Princess and they kept giving me price adjustments to the lower fare, even though sometimes the lower fares were advertised as "new bookings only." This was hugely appreciated and definitely started off our cruise on the right foot with very positive feelings about Princess. I highly recommend checking the price after booking but before final payment and asking for a price adjustment if it drops.
FOOD: Overall, I thought the food was satisfactory but not outstanding, probably average or slightly better than average compared to my previous cruises. We ate dinner in the dining room every night (anytime dining) and ate breakfast and lunch in either the dining room or the buffets (there are two, both on the Lido deck – the traditional Horizon and the Caribe, which serves Caribbean fare). Breakfast in the dining room was the most unimpressive meal on the ship. Eggs ordered over medium came out almost raw with the whites not cooked, hashbrowns were a quarter-size patty that tasted worse than McDonalds, etc. The breakfast buffet was the usual mid-range hotel quality, but the French toast was great and there were made-to-order eggs that I think were better than those in the dining room. Generally we preferred lunch in the dining room, but it’s not served on port days (which I found annoying) and we didn’t have time for a sit-down lunch in Glacier Bay, so we only took advantage of it a few times. I had a sole meuniere at lunch in the dining room on our last sea day that was probably the best meal I had on the ship. There’s also a poolside grill with hot dogs, hamburgers, ice cream and very good pizza, and the International Café is open 24/7 and has good pastries and also little sandwiches and appetizers.
There’s also a British Pub Lunch on sea days, and reindeer chilli and fish chowder served on deck in Glacier Bay (both free). One thing that Princess does that is unique is that in addition to the usual appetizers, soup/salad, entrée and “always available” choices at dinner, they have two pastas – their signature fettucine alfredo and a pasta of the day – available as either appetizers or entrees every day. We are big pasta lovers and had one of these almost every day and found them to be generally very good. The dining room desserts were underwhelming but the “Love Boat” heart-shaped chocolate mousse was very good and always available. My husband had never cruised before and found the food pretty bland. We both found it amusing that they came around with fresh pepper and offered it to you no matter what you ordered – they even offered it for a Philly cheesesteak. Maybe they are trying to mask the blandness of the food. The food at the buffet for lunch was adequate, but we definitely preferred the dining room. The most annoying thing about the buffet was that it was very crowded and there wasn’t enough seating at peak times. I did like that the buffet has waiter service for drinks so you don’t have to walk around carrying heavy trays loaded with food. We never ate at any of the restaurants with an upcharge because the free food was more than satisfactory.
Our first day, we went to dinner fairly early, around 6 pm and getting a table for 2 was no problem (although I found that they seemed to want to force you into sharing even when there were lots of open tables for 2 or 4 – if you want to sit alone you’ll have to be somewhat insistent about it). The second day, which was a formal night, we went around 8 pm because there was good glacier viewing until after 7, and we were told (after waiting in line for about 15 minutes) that the wait for a private table was indefinite. Since they couldn’t even quote us a time, we shared a table with 4 other people and our meal took way longer than we like. After that, we made a reservation for a private table every day. I recommend doing that. Even with a reservation, we frequently had to wait a few minutes, which was frustrating. You can only make a reservation on the day of, but we never had a problem getting a reservation even in the late afternoon.
Menu and food photos are here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/123726325@N05/sets/72157646139180645
CABIN: We had an interior cabin on the Lido deck. The cabin was big for an interior cabin and very well organized with a lot of closet space and a big (for a cruise ship) bathroom. We had closet space to hang all of our clothes up and then could stack our suitcases, which saved a lot of space. I debated getting a balcony cabin (if you’re ever going to get a balcony cabin on a cruise, Alaska seems like the place to do it) but then decided to just go with the interior cabin, partly because our first week in Alaska was very expensive and I was looking to save money and partly because I figured we’d be out on deck when there was anything scenic anyway. I really regret not getting a balcony cabin. In Alaska it’s impossible to comfortably spend hours on deck and so I would have to retreat to the room to warm up and then I’d feel like I was missing scenery, whereas if we’d had a balcony I could have mostly stayed inside but easily popped out every 10 minutes to take a photo. I highly recommend a balcony cabin if you can afford one, even though Princess’s inside cabins are very good for inside cabins. The bed was very comfortable and I slept like a baby, finally away from the bright Alaskan “night” after 8 days of very restless sleep.
SERVICE: Service was very friendly but inconsistent. Our cabin steward Glenn was great, we had no complaints about him at all. He never disturbed us and whenever we returned our room was always made up. The service in the dining rooms was generally ok, but far from perfect. We got the wrong meal a couple of times and once the hot chocolate I ordered didn’t arrive until after we had eaten our food. One night I ordered tea & mignardises off the dessert menu and only got tea, no mignardises. Of course I had plenty of food, and could have gone to the buffet for additional desserts, but these little lapses in service were noticeable. My husband hates wasted food and was upset that they brought us things we didn’t order a few times and wouldn’t take them away, and they always brought more bread without asking if we wanted it. On the first formal night, the waiters were very pushy about a champagne breakfast, asking each person at our group table several times if they wanted to order it and leaving forms about it on the table, even though every single person said no the first time around. I do agree with other reviews that there was more upselling than I remember on previous cruises.
SHIP: I thought the ship was beautiful and well-maintained and I do not understand comments about wear and tear showing. The piazza (atrium) area is particularly beautiful. The elevators were of course crowded, and it’s annoying that people take them down 1 floor, but that’s not the cruise line’s fault. My biggest complaint about the ship is that the Lido Deck (where 2 of the pools are) was always absolutely soaked to the point that there was sometimes standing water on the deck. I understand that Alaska is rainy, but it seemed like absolutely nothing was being done to dry the deck. Our room was on this deck and it got to the point that I couldn’t wear flip flops anywhere on the ship, because trying to get back to our room across the slippery deck in flip-flops was death defying.
ACTIVITIES: We didn’t take advantage of a lot of the activities, due in part to the fact that we only had one true sea day and also the fact that they were (in my opinion) somewhat poorly scheduled. For example, on our first full day, we didn’t have scenic cruising until after 3 pm, but aside from a few naturalist talks, there wasn’t a whole lot going on during the day. They scheduled a formal night that night, which I found odd, since we didn’t leave the glacier area until around 7, meaning everybody had to get ready after the glaciers & descended on the dining rooms around 8 pm. Then there was a comedian/vocal impressionist at 10 and the Newlywed Game at 9:30 – we wanted to go to both but they conflicted and we went to the comedian since we were still eating at 9:30 (on previous cruises I’ve done, the Newlywed Game is a daytime activity that doesn’t conflict with shows/dinner). There were no poolside/on deck activities but that makes sense because it’s Alaska. Perhaps due to the limited number of activities, there were very few onboard announcements, which was nice.
The comedian/vocal impressionist was decent, although a lot of his impressions seemed to go over the heads of people under the age of 60. There was another comedian who did two shows; he was pretty funny and his two shows are different so it’s worth going to both. Note that his act is audience-participatory, so if you come late or sit up front beware you may be part of the act. We went to a production show on the final night, and it was ok but not amazing.
EMBARKATION/SAILAWAY: We were at the cruise terminal by 11:30 and were disappointed when they announced they would not begin checking people in until 1 pm. However, they started checking people in shortly after noon and we were on the ship by 12:30. Overall, embarkation was very smooth. We went straight to the dining room and had a nice, relaxed lunch – I love that the dining room is open for lunch on embarkation day. Our stateroom was ready as soon as we got onboard, which was great. Luggage arrived around 4 pm. We were supposed to sail at 8 pm. We ended up being quite delayed (they said because they were still loading luggage, although I heard later in the week that there were some late-arriving passengers) and we did not sail until almost 10 pm. This was a little frustrating because there was good scenery for at least an hour after sailaway and possibly longer. As it was, we went to bed around 11 pm, which was later than we wanted, and we still felt like we might have missed some scenery.
HUBBARD GLACIER: We lucked out with weather at Hubbard Glacier. It was overcast and drizzly as we entered Yakutat Bay but by the time we reached the glacier it was partly sunny and a balmy (for Alaska) 60 degrees. Thanks to the lack of fog and ice in front of the glacier, we got incredibly close to it (closer than any ship this season, they said) and watched it calve over and over again for more than an hour. I think it was calving about once a minute on average. Hubbard is the largest tidewater glacier in N. America (6 miles across and 76 miles long) and incredibly active. It was spectacular and definitely the highlight of our cruise. I did find it pretty annoying that the ship’s photographers came around bugging you to take a photo on the glacier days. It’s fine at dinner, where people can decline if they’re not interested, but when you’re standing on the deck with a huge camera pointed at the glacier, trying to capture a calving, it’s pretty distracting to have the ship’s photographers repeatedly tapping you on the shoulder, “Turn around for a photo with the glacier, ma’am!” I’m trying to TAKE a photo of the glacier, thank you very much. Perhaps thanks to the large number of people with balcony cabins, the decks were fairly uncrowded and it was easy to move around to different places, you didn’t have to stake out a spot.
Since there was nothing going on scenery-wise until after 3 pm, I went to a naturalist talk in the morning – I found her talk fairly slow-paced and repetitive but her on deck commentary about the glaciers & wildlife was adequate (certainly better than the Glacier Bay park rangers the following day).
GLACIER BAY: Glacier Bay was honestly a pretty big letdown after the spectacular Hubbard Glacier (and our pre-cruise trip, which included hiking and kayaking to glaciers). We did get closer to these glaciers than we did to Hubbard (1/4 mile) but we got plenty close enough to Hubbard. These glaciers didn’t calve nearly as much – Margerie calved a handful of times in an hour and I didn’t see Lamplugh calve at all - compared to Hubbard, which seemed to be calving every minute or two. The weather also didn’t help – it was partly sunny and about 60 in Hubbard, and raining and around 50 in Glacier Bay. The commentary from the park rangers was absolutely terrible, I thought. They went on and on again about the same scripted factoids but failed to point out anything that was actually of interest. At one point the ranger casually said, “As you can tell from the bear on the shore, this area is rich in wildlife…” Seriously? You can tell us 852 times why glacial ice is blue, but you see a BEAR and you mention it ONCE, casually, without telling anyone where it is? The ranger was particularly annoying, going on and on about what a peaceful, undisturbed wild place this is (it would have been a lot more peaceful if she would have shut up) and telling a long, boring story about her own kayaking trip where she saw humpback whales and bears, the only point of which seemed to be to make us feel bad about all the wildlife we weren’t seeing. (Jokes about the rangers’ repetitive commentary were the funniest part of the comedian’s act that night.)
SKAGWAY: We booked a tour to the Yukon through Frontier Excursions, not through the cruise line. We did a 3.5 hour tour called The Yukoner that went just across the border. They also offer a longer tour called Yukon Discovery that is more similar to what Princess offers, but you'll save quite a bit of money booking it directly. The longer tour goes to Emerald Lake, which would have been nice, but also includes a BBQ lunch and stops at a taxidermy museum and a dog sled farm which we not only didn't care about, we actively did not want to do (we are animal lovers & heard the dog sled farms are very depressing with dogs chained up and howling, etc). We cared about setting foot in the Yukon and good scenery/wildlife and for that the shorter, cheaper tour seemed much better. We were not expecting this scenery to be spectacular in comparison to what we saw pre-cruise and also at the glaciers, but it was disappointing even with our lowered expectations. It was overcast when we left Skagway but as soon as we set out, it started raining and very thick fog set in so we could barely see 10 feet in front of us. We skipped a whole bunch of scenic viewpoints (which was objectively the correct decision, since we couldn’t see anything, but it was still disappointing). I was really thinking the whole trip was a waste of time and money, but as we approached the Yukon the rain and heavy fog let up, and we were greeted by a beautiful cinnamon-colored black bear right by the road, whom we observed for 10 minutes or so. On the way home, the clouds cleared considerably and we saw some mildly nice scenery and stopped at the viewpoints we skipped on the way out. Still, had we not seen the bear, the trip would have been quite a disappointment, and the bear sighting of course cannot be guaranteed. I was extremely unimpressed with our guide, who didn’t spot any wildlife on her own (the bear was spotted by other people on the bus), insisted we had seen a brown bear because of its light brown coat when people on the bus, including us, pointed out that it clearly had the tall ears and short claws of a black bear and lacked the brown bear’s distinctive shoulder hump, and at one point actually started to drive the bus away from a viewpoint with two people still outside.
JUNEAU: Today we went to Mendenhall Glacier (on our own, not through a Princess tour). The ship docked early (6:30 AM) and we were at the glacier before 8 AM (we had to take a cab -$40 with tip –because the Glacier Express “blue bus” does not do its first run from the cruise dock until 9 AM. We went so early because the ship naturalist said the best bear viewing was first thing in the morning. We did not see any bears when we first got there but still felt it was well worth being the first ones there because we had the beautiful glacier to ourselves. It was still beautiful later in the day, but it had lost some of its majesty when it was overrun with tourists. Even after viewing numerous tidewater glaciers and hiking the Harding Icefield Trail with great views of Exit Glacier, we still felt Mendenhall was gorgeous and very worth it. After taking a few photos, we hiked the East Glacier Trail, which was mildly scenic but nothing to write home about. We wanted to do West Glacier Trail, which is supposed to be spectacular, but the trailhead is not near the visitor center and looked to be several miles away according to the map – I think you need a car to do that one. To the left of the glacier, there’s a stream that has salmon in it in late July and August and they’ve built an elevated platform over it so people can watch the salmon and any bears that come to feed on them without any harm to bears or people. After our hike, we went back to the bear viewing area and were lucky enough to see a large male black bear (this one with a very dark black coat) fish (unsuccessfully) and then wonder around in the woods right near the platforms munching on berries and leaves. Thanks to the platforms, the bear seemed totally unconcerned with all the people trying to photograph him. We didn’t get good photos, because of the crowds and the fact that the bear was hiding behind shrubs and bushes, but it was still fun to observe him for a while. However, unlike our excursion in Skagway, where the bear was the only thing that really made it worthwhile, Mendenhall Glacier is certainly worth a visit even if you aren’t lucky enough to see a bear. We took the blue bus - $10 per person per way – back to the cruise dock.
On the southbound cruise, a few hours after you sail away from Juneau, from around 7 pm to 8 pm, there’s a very good whale watching opportunity. Unlike other supposed whale watching opportunities (into and out of Glacier Bay, in Johnstone Strait, BC on our sea day), where I only saw one whale or none at all, there were TONS here – I saw probably 20-25 humpbacks over that hour, including a mom with calf and several that came very close to the boat. I think this is definitely the best whale watching opportunity of the whole week. If you want to see whales on the cruise for sure, schedule your dinner to avoid this hour.
KETCHIKAN: After gloomy, overcast weather all week, we arrived in the rainiest city in Alaska to brilliant sunshine and warm (by Alaska standards) temperatures. I think it broke 70 degrees, if not, it was definitely high 60s. We didn’t have an excursion planned and unfortunately I had to do a fair amount of work, so we walked around Ketchikan a bit to the Totem Heritage Center which was mildly interesting and probably worth the $5 admission fee, and then walked along Creek Street, which is quite picturesque with brightly colored buildings on stilts (just don’t tell the people you’re showing your photos to that they were once brothels and are now extremely touristy shops). We did some shopping and then observed a harbor seal in the creek eating a salmon. We got back on the boat around 3 pm and took advantage of the nice weather by going swimming for the first time all week. The adults-only pool was freezing cold, but the other two pools were a good temperature and not too crowded. If I ever do another cold weather cruise, I’ll certainly look for a ship with an indoor swimming pool; I really missed swimming regularly.
SEA DAY: I went to a culinary demonstration/galley tour in the morning. The culinary demonstration was alright, although the maitre d’hotel and head chef were a little too into their not very funny comedy routine. It was also a little horrifying to see how much butter, cream and cheese went into the mushroom risotto, a dish I make at home that can be very flavorful without butter or cream and with a much smaller amount of cheese. The galley tour was badly organized. There were hundreds of people in attendance and they led us down into the dining rooms while we waited and waited and waited…I eventually got bored and left, before we ever made it into the galley. There was a shopping event taking place in the dining room at the same time, which seemed like poor planning.
The patter said we would be passing through Johnstone Strait, “one of the best places in the world to see killer whales” sometime after noon. Around noon, we went outside but couldn’t see any land at all. We frantically tried to find the naturalist or someone who could provide us more information, to no avail. We finally discovered a map outside the gift shop, which indicated that we wouldn’t get to the whales until 5:15 pm – you would think they could have provided something more detailed than “sometime after noon” or at least made an onboard announcement.
We had afternoon tea in the dining room, which was fun – they serve you tea and come around with pastries, cookies and sandwiches. Around 4:45, I went out on deck to look for killer whales. Johnstone Strait is very picturesque and I saw a couple more humpbacks, but the killer whale eluded me.
DISEMBARKATION: We had an early tour in Vancouver that we were supposed to check in for at 10:15 AM so we opted for walk-off disembarkation. We were assigned 7:45 AM (other walk-off times were 7:25 and 7:35), which was pretty much perfect since Princess requires you to be out of your stateroom by 8 AM. As soon as we arrived at our meeting point they made the announcement that we could disembark and we had no line getting off. This was so smooth I will never do regular disembarkation again. Plus if you walk off, you get to keep your luggage with you and don’t have to put it outside your stateroom before dinner on your final night. In Vancouver, I went whale watching with Wild Whales Vancouver, which was spectacular. We observed a pod of killer whales for an hour & the company was great – I highly recommend them if you want to see killer whales in Vancouver.
For the price paid (which was less per night than most of our hotels in Alaska, and included food and transportation) I was very satisfied with the cruise, and cruising is a good way to see tidewater glaciers. I wouldn’t hesitate to take another Princess cruise if the price and itinerary were good, but I also wouldn’t seek out Princess above other lines. Less