We went to Alaska from San Francisco through Princess Cruise on Aug 15, 2008 for 10 nights. This is the first time we took the cruise. It was one of the best vacations I have ever had. It was completely stress free, relaxing and really enjoyed the days in cruise and Alaska. The cruise we took was Dawn Princess. It was built in 1997 with dimension of 857 X 106 feet. It has 12 decks. We were in Dolphin (Deck 8) in inside cabin. For family of four it cost around $4500, which is the best deal we got IMO. Also Outside/ocean-view cabins are not worth the extra price.
We book the cruise through travel agent. I spend some time on CruiseCritic.com to learn more about the cruise since this is my first time. We had a list of thing to pack. We book our offshore excursion for Juneau. We choose to go Mendenhall Glacier by helicopter. The cost was $250 pp. $30 cheaper than offered by the Princess. We decided Princess, because Princess has invested heavily in Alaska cruises & has good support for logistics at the ports.
Embarkment: We got a ride from one of our friend to Pier 35. We were there by 10:30 and check in. The porter were ready to pickup over baggage. The check in process was smooth. We were on the ship by the lunch time and had lunch on board. We explore the cruise and gathered all the information. Our baggage was arrived little later. The cruise was little late for Embarkment. We passed the Golden Gate Bridge around 4:45. The weather was foggy and windy.
Rooms and Facilities: The ship in general was good. The room is spacious than I thought. There was a enough space in the closet. The TV size was small and selection of the channel was horrible. No CNBC or major News channel except CNN Headlines, few movie channels and some channels for kids. On the ship, they had a decent library, computer center, four heated swimming pool, 5 hot tubs, fitness center, two theaters, casino, art gallery, shopping stores, 24 Hour Buffet, Grill, Ice Cream Center, Pizzeria, various bars and lounge to relax and couple of fine dining rooms. The internet connection was slow and expensive (75c/min). Fitness room and 24 Hour Buffet was in very good location with a view of the ocean. Theaters were nice too, they used it for the show and movie and the seats are very good. They also had a kid's center divided by the age; one with 3-7 and other with 8-18. They have a big area on the top deck to tan your skin under the sun. They also have a Spa, nearby there was a Sauna and Steam Room. On Deck 7, they have a walking/jogging trail around the ship; three laps makes one mile. They had a night club for dance as well.
People and Program: You always get a warm welcome wherever you go. The staff was highly professional. The steward was very nice and can do whatever you ask him to do. They always want to make you happy. They have a variety of programs in various places going on. We had a five days on the sea and never felt "what do I do now?". There is always something going on. There is free as well as paid seminar in the fitness center about your health. They have a exciting programs for the kids, one day kids has a dissection of the fish. Every night they have entertainment on Princess Theater, it could be song, dance, comedy show, bingo, magic, information, seminars, knowledge session and movie. There were two formal nights where they take the pictures; you have to buy to get it though. They have 3-4 Art Auctions where they draw for free art, and give drink and appetizer free. The entertainment show, comedy show and magic show was best, they are very talented in what they do to entertain you. Most of the staff are Canadian, Indian, Philippines and East European. I guess they pay less to them in terms of salary, so they highly rely on the tip. Princess charges the tip everyday 10.50pp/day. If you do not want that way, you can tell them and give the cash to the people who served you most. We have 75% of passengers were 60year and old. So lot of programs, food and facilities were based on that age group.
Food: In general I was not impressed with the food, but the other people was praising. The food is more American rather than continental.
They have a Japanese, Mexican, Alaskan day to make the food based on theme. Pizzeria has one of the best Pizza I had. Fine Dining food is same as Buffet. We use first seating most of the time. In the fine dining, they have a choice of Indian and Philippines food too. The grill was ok, they never cook on fire grill. The food is mostly pre-cooked and the cook again to server you. They do not have any spicy ingredients such as Jalapeno. We bought unlimited drink package for $90, which allow to order Beverages, Hot Coffee, Virgin margarita, Soft Ice Cream anytime anywhere.
Victoria - This is the third time I went Victoria so I was not that excited. We went to Victoria Parliament and get a free tour inside the parliament rest of the time we walk around the wharf. The wharf is approx 1.5 mile from the cruise terminal.They have always canoe race going on, its fun to watch those.
Ketchikan - This is the place I like the most. We took a Rain Forest Tour from local for about $25pp, kids free. The princess was charging $79 pp for the same tour. The only difference was the bus, we got school-bus and they had a hi-fi bus. But we enjoyed very well. The guide took us to the important places to see in the town. We saw Eagles, their 100 year old nest, lot of Salmons, sea lion. The Eagle is a truly represents Unites States. We had on of the best lunch there, Burger Queen, very old restaurant with fresh food. If you want to do shopping this is the town to do so.
Sitka - This is very small historic town. You do not need to take any excursion here. You can walk to the places that is interesting. We went to the Salmon Hatchery, Raptor Hatchery, and a small walk in the rain forest, it was very nice place. There was tons of salmon in the creek. We had another good lunch, Salmon Fire-Grill Sandwich.
Juneau - In the morning we went to see the Glacier through Express bus, we paid $6 pp one way. We went their saw the glacier, took lot of pictures and we saw bears. To see the bears sometimes you have to wait for 2-3 hours. We were lucky we saw two times one on the creek and second they were on the Road! In the afternoon, it was raining, so our tour to Mendenhall Glacier was cancelled. It was disappointing. There is also skyline you can go. We eat lunch on the ship and dinner in the local restaurant. The ship stops at very close by to everything. We didn't bother to see the Governor House (Now she is contending for Vice President with McCain!). Some other folks took a tour for Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest and they saw lot of wild life.
Tracy Arm: Before the cruise I had no idea what it is. They had a information session couple of day before we go to Tracy Arm. That session excite me most. We wake up 5am in the morning to see this beautiful place and it was the absolutely blast. The captain took all the way to the North Glacier, if you see the route you would think how he is going to turn around. But he did a fantastic job handling ice-berg and cursing. We saw glacier from about 500 feet distance. This is the first time in 15 year some big ship like Dawn Princess went there; according to them. We saw both North and South Glacier. The valley was amazing, it is the most beautiful place in the earth, or at least I think that way. We went to 11th deck to see this. This is a best place to see, not many people knew about this place. The 5 hour experience you get in Tracy Arm was mind blowing. After couple of hour, we were in the hot tub on the top deck and we saw these beautiful mountains from the hot tub. While returning from Tracy Arm, we saw lot of Whale doing their show, the one you see it in the Sea World.
Disembarkment: They give enough information about this.
They divided the people into batch, we were on the last batch, we request to go on first batch and they honor it. Since we were the first it was each to find the porter to take our baggage out.
The ship ride overall was good, lot of shaking first 2-3 days. This vacation was the best one so far. If you love Mother Nature, wild life you should go to Alaska. This is the vacation to relax and enjoy. On Monday, when we back from the cruise I directly went to work and didn't felt tired unlike other vacation. One must go before those Glaciers go away. Ciao for now.