We arrived at the port in Vancouver early at about 11 am, there was no crowds at all. Embarkation was a breeze and we encountered no problems at all. We were on the ship within 15 minutes. Our room was tidy but a couple of the drawer hinges were broken. We carry tools with us so my husband made quick business of fixing it! Our Steward Frederick was friendly and helpful and fixed all the little things that we asked for (or that we couldn't fix ourselves).
The balcony room was a little cramped; it took us awhile to figure out who got which drawer because we had to figure out the logistics of two people dressing at the same time. The closet was adequate for this Alaskan cruise but I might have wanted more if we were sailing in warmer waters. The balcony was a nice size and fully covered. We had a small table and two chairs on it. The bathrooms surprised us; they were much roomier than we had imagined lots of storage, and a decent sized shower. I could shave my legs in the shower!
We had a weird and uncomfortable first experience at the dining room where we were seated in the dead center with another couple at a tiny table. Our waiter started out negatively stating what we couldn't have, couldn't do, and how if we came in a few minutes later than 5:45 for our early seating we wouldn't be getting appetizers. OK it was so military that I had to laugh. I told this waiter that he was scaring me and I half meant it. We were not going to be one minute late for our 5:45 early seating!
The next night, the couple at our table didn't show up (didn't blame them at all) and we were alone with the scary waiter. Another couple at another table invited us to sit with them, they had a wonderful waiter and we looked longingly at their empty table. The Maitre D Lorenzo said NO and look away from us with disdain. We tried a new approach, ignorance. We went ahead and just sat with the couple and the great waiter and acted dumb! It worked; we got to change our seats. Actually, I think they just let us sit there. As long as the couple who were supposed to sit there never showed up, we were ok. They never showed up!
Halfway through the cruise, I met another couple who couldn't get early seating, in spite of a medical condition. This really fired me up. I asked Lorenzo why these people couldn't join our still partially empty new table and after much bla-bla-bla and bull, they were able to join us. I met a lot of people who were unhappy with the dining arrangements.
The food in the dining room was good, sometimes great. The service, once we changed tables, was some of the best we've ever had and we loved Dilyan and Danilo our waiter and junior waiter. Even the dour and disdainful Lorenzo softened up by the end of the cruise when he actually looked at us warmly!
Our first Sea day was terrible weather, storming and cloudy all day long. I was worried about the Glacier Bay day because the last time I was here it was too foggy to see anything at all. Meanwhile there were lots of activities to keep us busy. My husband played Bridge while I lazed about writing in my journal and just daydreaming.
Ketchikan on day 2 brought us much better weather. It didn't rain at all, making our day there really nice, and a bit hot. We took an excursion to Totem Bight. it was nice but we should have done it on our own. When we got back, we walked around town and shopped. We visited the Discovery center which was very nice, and close to the ship. By the time we departed at 2pm, it was clear. We all got sunburned as we watched the magnificent scenery unfold from our balconies. Bring sunscreen!
Glacier Bay was incredibly scenic. As we were entering the park we sighted 12-25 Whales all around the ship providing plentiful opportunities to watch them. The weather was incredible, clear and warm. As we made our way through Glacier Bay, people were swimming and most had on short sleeved tops. For the most part, it was quite warm. What a day! I spent most of the time swooning over the views...
The park rangers who boarded the ship as we entered the National park were great. Their presentations were informative and thought provoking. You can really see the effects of global warming here. There are few glaciers left and only one is advancing. I cannot believe the difference between now and two years ago when I last visited.
Princess is now charging for many things they never did such as most juices and hot chocolate. I noticed a big difference in the food from just a few months ago. It now has less meat in it and more cream, butter, and filler! The food here is not my favorite thing. It ranges from good to so-so, with a few stand out dishes. The Pizza is very good and we really liked that it came in small slices so we could try different ones for snacks. I found the Buffet terrible except for the fresh fruits and vegetables. Otherwise, I don't like heavy creams and buttery sauces that most of the dishes sat in... We bought Cranberry juice, water, and sodas in the various ports and stocked our fridge with the extras we wanted.
I had a bad experience at the Steakhouse. I was served a dish with what looked like a nice mild salsa. I took a big bite, and it turned out to be Jalapeno sauce! I hadn't been warned, it was not indicated on the menu, and two months ago when I ordered it on the Golden Princess, it did not have that hot sauce on it. I burned my mouth badly and it was numb for a few days. I needed to diet anyway.
We had a blast in Skagway where it was clear and sunny. After an early morning hike through an old cemetery to a waterfall, we took a glass blowing lesson which was really cool. We did the Glass Blowing at Jewel Gardens and had a great time. Very fun and they just got their insurance policy so you really get to make your own glass orb. They shipped them home for us too. We had rented a car early in the morning and after our lessons we drove up to Emerald Lake and Carcross. This was a very beautiful drive. We stopped at all the turnouts and went slowly looking for wildlife. We had no trouble getting back to the ship on time. If we hadn't taken the morning excursion, it would have been easy to drive to Whitehorse. It was a glorious day and we loved having the freedom to go where we pleased. We were exhausted as we dragged back on the ship but I caught myself saying, ah home…
The weather remained nice as we crossed the Gulf of Alaska and headed toward the Prince William Sound. The whole day was calm and clear, it was like cruising on a lake. We spotted lots of wildlife from the Tahitian Lounge, and other nice spots on the decks. We really used our balcony a lot during the first half of this cruise. I couldn't believe the weather and the best was yet to come. I spotted whales and from the Internet cafe, which ran so fast that I hardly had time to look for wildlife! Best internet connections I've ever had on any cruise.
The next morning I woke up early as the pilot was embarking on the ship to take us into Prince William Sound. It was clear and sunny by 4 am, and it only got better as the day went on. Valdez is spectacular; it is by far the most beautiful place I have even seen. Surrounded by steep snow-covered mountains, this small town offers much for the wild life enthusiast. We took the Columbia Glacier cruise but everybody was calling it the wildlife cruise because that is what we saw non stop. This is a fantastic tour. We never got close to the glacier because the bay is socked in with huge icebergs, something we never saw in Glacier Bay. We cruised through the icebergs, all of us astounded by their size and variety of shapes, not to mention the glacial blue that is so deep and beautiful. Wow.
Next we went hunting for whales, but first we found many Puffins. They are tiny birds, but very pretty and we found both kinds. Then we found the most amazing thing I have ever seen, a sleeping Humpback. Well, this whale woke up and started playing with our boat! He swam back and forth from one side to the other, always coming up and smiling at us. He swam around us for at least a half hour. Suffice it to say that the entire ship and crew were thrilled. We all got lots of Pictures and movies. Wow.
We saw Eagles, Dahl porpoise, Stellar Seal lions, seals, Salmon, Otters, and more but that's all I can remember now. I ran into a couple who I had been on a Panama Canal Cruise with last Christmas on this excursion, what a small world! They were not on the Princess ship but instead were RVing around Alaska. They paid $99 for the cruise; we paid $124 through Princess. The cruise was with Stan Stephens in Valdez (907)835-4731 or 866-867-1297 www.stanstephenscruises.com I think this was one of the best excursions We've ever taken, even if we overpaid!
Captain Ravena took us on a scenic route as we left Prince William Sound --boy I was having a hard time focusing on the computer screen with the views I had in the Internet Cafe. Don't forget good Binoculars, on this cruise they are important. We are spotting schools of porpoises and Minke whales from our balcony all the time. The Otters are wonderful to watch as they float by and wave (I imagine). I brought my giant Nikons to dinner a few time when I couldn't bare to miss a whale sighting.
When the sun was shining it was warm enough to use the pool. Otherwise, it was always nice to get in the Hot Tubs. Except for when we had good weather, not many people used the pool or spas during the whole cruise. Even when it was foggy and raining the pool was open and the music was going. If you are hearty, you can swim whenever you wish on an Alaskan Cruise!
We rented cars in Seward and Kodiak, and they were all very easy. It was raining in both places so it helped to have the car. We did Exit Glacier, Caines Head, and a few other places along the road or backroads in Seward. I love Yolys in Seward for a nice bowl of soup, if you're sick of ship food and want a change. The shopping is good, but the best place for bargains is the True Value/ Fish House which is close to the ship, out on the main street. I love the fleece fish house hat I got, been using it constantly since!
We rented a car from Avis in Kodiak. Right as we got off the boat there was a lady who called the rental agency and they came quickly and took us to the airport. They are opened at 7 am. Also, they let us leave the car right at the cruise ship when we finished, very convenient and easy. You cannot walk quickly to the other agencies in town, unlike what I had read—it's about a mile and a half away and not so fun in the rain. It rained heavy in Kodiak, we were there for the 4th of July but the Parade and fireworks were cancelled! That's life in Kodiak. Although it was very rainy while we were there, it was a beautiful place.
We visited Abercrombie Park on our own and bumped into all our Ship pals anyway. We drove to the ends of many roads, picked a big bunch of wild flowers and brought them back on the ship. I had a bouquet of wild Kodiak flowers in my room for several days.
We also visited the Baronoff Museum (ok but the Russian nestled dolls are cheaper on the ship) and the Aleutiq museum which I really loved. They had a great mask display, and a nice movie about excavations and Aleutiq culture. Also, I bought some fabulous pre-shrunk T shirt with unique Masks on them, very Kodiak. Finally, they have offered the "stuff a laundry bag" for $20 twice on this cruise. They only allow one bag per room, but you can roll up and stuff a lot of clothing in that little bag. It comes back hung up, nice.
The shopping in Kodiak was very reasonable, for example I found a Russian nesting doll that I liked in Kodiak for $23, but I figured I would wait and find it cheaper in Juneau or Sitka. I couldn't find it in Juneau, and in Sitka that same doll cost $78. I did find some rather common nesting dolls which were less expensive in the Princess gift shops, but nothing out of the ordinary.
When we got into most ports, you could almost immediately disembark. Unlike other princess ships I've been on, the environment on this ship was casual and laid back because everybody knows everybody, so it's like a big family. Furthermore, the Captain is often walking through the ship and talking to passengers about how they are doing. We bumped into him as we were getting on the ship in Juneau (to unload packages) and he went up the elevator with us asking about our day. He is very down to earth, for us a breath of fresh air.
Cookies are hard to find on this ship. They turn up with the Ice Cream between 3:30 and 4:30 in the Buffet that is the only time they are available. If you buy the coffee card at $24, you get 15 fancy coffees, and unlimited brewed coffee and hot chocolate. If you have kids, that can be very economical! The Soda card was $59, my DH decided to drink water and Ice tea. I wished I would have gotten the coffee card.
The Spa has an exclusive patio at the very front of the ship. It is protected some what from the wind but is out in the open. They have a spa tub up there and charge $140 per person to use this for the entire cruise, with a limit of only 20 total people allowed. It's probably a nice place to be on Glacier Bay day if the weather is decent, but there are plenty of places to view that don't cost anything extra. Most people did not even know about this area.
I heard lots of complaints about the Laundry being crowded, all the machines being filled, and passengers flipping out and yelling. If you have a poor weather port day (and I hope you don't), that is the time to do laundry! Also, ask you Steward if he can open it early for you. If he chooses to, he can. You will have the toughest times during the Sea days in the middle of the cruise.
The tender in Sitka was a breeze. If you hike around the national park (it's wonderful) and you cross a bridge and get to a Street, don't turn around because it leads right to the Raptor center. After, you can hike back through the park and finish the loop trails. I picked a baggie of Salmon Berries; they can be yellow, orange, or red. If they are easy to pull off, they're ripe and good.
I am not prone to sea sickness but noticed a headache and little weird feeling on the last day of the cruise because the ship was rolling and pitching and the combo seemed to affect me. I am glad I brought Ginger; studies show that Ginger works best!
Our cabin steward was very wonderful, he was never around unless we need something and then suddenly he appeared like magic. I don't know how he did that, but he was great. Most of the staff was very nice; for the most part this seemed like a happy ship. This might have been due to the Captain who had a wonderful, down to earth personality and was always visible and accessible on the ship. He made the cruise so much better; I've never had such a great experience with a Captain.
We requested a visit to the Bridge and Captain Ravena gave us a very personalized tour. We really enjoyed this, we got to ask all the questions we had about the ship and then we both got to wear the Captains hat and sit on the Captains chair! That was a kick.
We had a great time in Victoria; we hired a Kabuki Kab which is a bicycle driven covered surrey. Our guide was Jamie from Ireland and he was extremely intelligent, interesting, and knowledgeable. We knew Victoria very well so we were not interested in the typical tour. Instead, we got a tour of the "Free Masonic" Victoria. We learned about all the mysticism surrounding the Masonic traditions and some pretty cool places build by the masons. My Grandfather was a Mason, so I found this all very intriguing and I learned a lot about my history! We paid $30 each for a one hour tour, and got picked up at the Ship and dropped off downtown. You will see the Kabuki Kab as you exit the ship in Victoria.
Disembarkation was relatively easy but there was a massive traffic jam in the Cabaret lounge and it probably does not make sense to go there early. Once our number got called, it took less than 5 minutes to get off the ship and out of Immigration.