Let me start from the beginning ... 10 of us booked this cruise in September of last year. We used a local travel agent. We will never book a cruise through them again !! Not only did they not seek confirmation for a 10 person table, made only a request, they did not get any of special occasions dates correct. We were celebrating a 50 year wedding anniversary, a 30 year anniversary, and two birthdays. I basically had to do all the legwork myself to force our travel agency to obtain seating confirmations, the dates of the occasions, etc. The travel agent ended up giving us $50 per person refunds, but after spending a combined total of $21,200, this really doesn't amount to much. Basically all the travel agent did was collect money for the cruise, and give us invoices.
We were all taken to the terminal via a limo service that I found, very good, on time, no complaints.
Embarkation went incredibly smooth, we arrived at the San Francisco Cruise Terminal a little after 1:00PM, and were onboard Dawn Princess about 20 minutes enjoying a lunch in the buffet before leaving San Francisco. The weather was perfect.
We were able to get into our room, and meet our Cabin Steward Ruel who was very helpful and responsive. My wife and I, and two other parties in our group had balcony staterooms on the Riviera Deck. The other two parties in our group had interior cabins, which by the way, were decent sized cabins on the Caribe Deck. Our cabin was a bit smallish, we had gone on the Dawn to the Mexican Riviera in December '07, and our balcony stateroom on the Baja Deck on that cruise seemed bigger.
My wife and I are both non-smokers, but it seems most of the passengers who had balcony staterooms on the Riviera Deck were smokers, at times while in port, and at sea we had to smell all their cigarette smoke. It is our opinion that Princess should restrict smoking to only certain public areas outside, or have a lounge or sealed off room designated for smokers (hopefully Princess reads these blogs, because they do have a CruiseCritic.com get together on their cruises). All that aside, the room was not the most comfortable, but comfortable enough to allow us some peaceful, much needed battery charging time away from the masses, and there was room under our bed to store our luggage.
We had traditional first seating. Princess needs to review their menus, because the selections are the same ones, on the same night of each cruise, as has been the last three other times we have sailed with Princess, some of the selections were okay, others weren't so okay. Our Waiters (esses) were Georgeana from Romania, and Svetlana from the Ukraine. They both did an EXCELLENT job keeping up with our group of big eaters, and at times quite finicky eaters, especially when it came to some of the seafood selections, but that's okay, people go on a cruise to try different things they have not tried before. Both Georgeana and Svetalana would notice right away if something wasn't eaten, and they would immediately offer to bring something else.
The Maitre D (Mr. Saldanha) on this cruise was very friendly, and approachable. We saw him everywhere where food was served, always asking if everything was fine, we saw the evening in the buffet during dinner after getting back from shore excursions, and the one occasion in the steakhouse, which by the way is well worth the $15 cover charge. My brother-in-law ordered the porterhouse, which he consumed, and then he ordered a filet both of which he stated were excellent, as did everyone else in our group (10). The service was excellent in the Steakhouse as well as the main dining room, and surprising the buffet was quite good, usually I'm not a fan of buffets, but this cruise the buffet was quite good.
The only complaint I have is about dress code enforcement in the dining room .... If it's smart casual, guys -- at a minimum that means a button front shirt, slacks, and dress shoes; NOT a logo t-shirt or hoodie, blue jeans, and walking/running/tennis shoes, if you want to look like a slob or a rube, stay in your cabin and get room service or go to the buffet where the dress code is very casual, that's cool, but don't come to the dining room or the steakhouse dressed very casual. The same goes for Formal nights, I saw people permitted to come into the dining room wearing open collared shirts, and blue jeans, when most of the men were wearing either dark suits, or tuxes. Princess has dress code rules posted outside the main dining room, if Princess is going to have these rules, they should be enforced or just get rid of them and let people come "as you are". There usually isn't a problem with dress codes with ladies. 'Nuff said about that.
We had shore excursions in each port, we attended the Lumberjack Show in Ketchikan, fun way to spend about 90 minutes; in Juneau was were taken to a gold mine, and were able to go about 360 feet after donning hard hats and hearing protection for the underground equipment demonstration, the views of the Gastineau Channel from the mine were incredible, and the tour was worth the money. We took a 3 hour ride on the White Pass Railroad out of Skagway, always worth the money, and in Victoria, BC we took a "Walk on the Wildside" through a rainforest and then along a beach, the guides were very knowledgeable, and informative, the drive to the location was awesome, got to see some of the other parts of Vancouver Island outside of Victoria. Victoria is an awesome port, the only drawback to our stop in Victoria was the limited amount of time, we were there from 6AM-2PM, it would have been nicer to spend less time in both Juneau and Skagway, and more time in Victoria.
We were not able to get in the Tracy Arm on this cruise, due to very thick fog, and a pretty heaving ice flow. The Captain very much regretted not getting us there, but as he stated it's safety first, and in his own words he would have been very irresponsible to take the vessel into the Tracy Arm given the weather and sea conditions.
The entertainment on this cruise, with the exception of the magician and two comedians, was terrible. We were offered the same old, rehashed Princess theatre productions (Piano Man, Tribute and something else that I can't think of, but had seen it along with the others on past cruises), and they were offered on back to back nights in a row. It would have much better as far as evening entertainment goes, to have some type of theatrical production in the Princess Theatre, and a comedian show in the Vista Lounge. Dawn Princess is a large enough ship to accommodate this, and there was more than enough passengers on this cruise (about 2000+) to offer this type of entertainment option.
Disembarkation was wonderful, it wasn't the usual, get off the ship, wrestle the other passengers for your luggage free for all, for once it was very relaxing, and organized, BUT I don't understand what all the pomp and circumstance Princess puts into seeing the agent from Homeland Security, which was just a quick glance at our passports, and a friendly. "Welcome Home".
This was a good cruise, although Princess seems to be lowering their standards as mentioned about the lax dress code enforcement, and taking their accommodations down to the level of a Holiday Inn rather than what we were accustomed to in the past, a high end Hilton.