Ocean Princess Cruise Review by KaiWahine: Connoisseur's Alaska
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The long gray Seattle Winter was barely over when we packed for this trip. So the same warm winter clothing we had been wearing went into the suitcases for the trip to Vancouver. We were happy to avoid airports by driving to Vancouver, BC, taking about 3 hours including a brief stop at the border crossing. We stayed one night at the Pan Pacific Hotel, Vancouver, which is right above Canada Place and the cruise pier. The convenience of parking at the cruise pier and being able to access the hotel made this the perfect choice. Being in our 60s we like to keep things simple and easy.
Having checked the Canada Place web site for parking info as well as the Pan Pacific Hotel site, we knew to drive into the underground parking marked for cruises (there is a special discounted rate) and left the car in an open spot. Accessing the hotel from the elevator for check-in was simple, and they sent a bellman to the car to get our luggage. We were then free to relax and enjoy this lovely More place. Having been upgraded to a room overlooking the harbor and Stanley Park, we enjoyed watching the ships and harbor activity as well as the report of the Nine O'Clock Gun at sunset. There are many restaurants and pubs around this hotel, and a food court and shops are in the basement level. Strolling around Canada Place is interesting and pleasant with shops and cafes and many viewpoints to enjoy.
We watched the Tahitian Princess arrive at 6 AM and tie up at the pier. After a good buffet breakfast, included with our hotel package, we checked out and had the luggage sent directly to the ship Leaving us free to leisurely walk down to the cruise pier level and start the embarkation process. Since there is a US Customs agent there to check documents, it took a few minutes longer, but we were soon on the Tahitian and in our Mini-Suite. We had taken the 10 day Tahiti cruise on this ship in 2006 and loved the entire trip. Of course, the itinerary was beautiful, but we liked the ship as well. It is a lovely smaller ship with the feel of an English manor, and it really added to the experience. There are many lovely public rooms with fireplaces and Club style furniture. The library is wonderful for browsing titles or just relaxing. We enjoyed morning lattes in the Club Bar or the Horizon Court. The Tahitian Lounge had an excellent musical group called Rhapsody playing a wide variety of music each evening. We avoided the usual shows as we had seen them on previous cruises. The ship's decor is vibrant South Seas and colorful florals, and we hate to think of these beautiful decorative touches being erased when the Tahitian is renamed the Ocean Princess next year.
Our cabin was forward where we can watch the bow wave for dolphins and easily access the open decks above. Mini suites are large with ample floor space including a large sofa, table, and two comfy chairs. The balcony is double-wide with two lounge chairs, two chairs and a table. We could open our curtains wide, turn the chairs to the view, and enjoy all the scenery in warm comfort. This was especially wonderful in Glacier Bay. We brought along a viewing scope and tripod for seeing wildlife. We saw black and grizzly bears on the shores, eagles, sea lions with pups, harbor seals, and sea otters. We saw two types of dolphins and many Humpback Whales near the ship. There was also a Finned Wale and one Gray Whale with a flipper slap near us. The scope added to our fun, but a good pair of binoculars is also nice to bring. Do bring a coat or parka as you will need it! Bring a hat, gloves, fleece, flannel, sweaters, or sweatshirts for your comfort. Public areas of the ship are also kept rather cool. The wind off the glaciers makes the ports seem even colder so dress appropriately.
Our cabin attendant was Ramon, and he was the best of our many cruises. He took excellent care of us, and he did everything perfectly. He was polite, attentive and friendly. In contrast, Nick, our dinner waiter was very odd. He sang songs loudly, mimicked accents of passengers, and made rude remarks. He always seemed to be revved up on cigarettes, caffeine and energy drinks. He was an excellent server, but his personality was terrible. The menus started well but declined from there. We had lamb three times in a week. Most disappointing were the lobster tails in brown gravy (no butter), the fatty prime rib, and the single potato cake with crab flakes listed as "crab cakes" on the menu. Be forewarned that Princess is stretching every food dollar with synthetic substitutes, colors and additives. If you have known allergies, beware! Nothing is labeled for your information. Food in the Horizon Court Buffet was plentiful and pleasant with dining by the huge windows. Lunch at the Burger Bar taken to the cabin worked well especially for Glacier Bay when we did not want to miss a moment of scenery. This unique 14 day itinerary to some of Alaska's less-traveled spots was what drew our interest. The chance to visit not only the Inside Passage and Victoria, but also Sitka, Seward, Valdez, Glacier Bay and Kodiak Island were a great opportunity. Valdez and Kodiak had not had cruise ships visit in many years so they welcomed us quite royally. We even had three fireboats spraying water and doing a pirouette in our honor as we departed. It was really pleasant to be the only ship in most ports, and to visit little known places besides the usual busy ports of Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway. Shore excursions were fun and varied. We took town tours, visited glaciers, did hikes, saw recent tracks of moose and bears in the snow and eagles in the trees, were entertained by dance troops, visited heritage Russian sites, and toured museums.
Disembarkation was quick and easy with assignments to various public rooms on the ship. There were no public announcements so it was rather calm. We left the ship by 10 AM, picked up our vehicle and were off quickly. The trip went quickly, and we enjoyed every moment. the days were full but not so intensive that we became tired. The weather was clear and 45 degrees every day. Even the people of Kodiak Island thanked us for the first sunshine in months!
The scenery was spectacular, the wildlife plentiful, the glaciers awesome, and the room steward excellent. If only the dining room food and service had been better. Maybe on the next cruise? One can only hope. Less
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