We set out for a once in a lifetime opportunity that I must, must, must do again. We are a forty-something couple, married 22 years. Three couples we are friendly with (ranging in age from 42 - 62) booked a cruise-tour with Princess and we decided to join them to celebrate our anniversary. The land-tour portion was sold out, so we settled (!) for a mini-suite with balcony and managed to get the land portion covered on our own for about the same cost they were paying for balcony staterooms. Passengers included all ages. Some young couples had stroller-bound infants and other young kids. I believe I saw around a dozen kids in all. There were some new college grads along with their parents and plenty of seniors. There were a fair number of passengers with disabilities and the ship seemed quite navigable by all. It did not seem crowded at any point.
Embarkation: This hinged on disaster. There was absolutely no signage and it was quite confusing to determine where to check our luggage. We took the advice to arrive after 1PM for faster boarding. A broken elevator and three ships boarding simultaneously made for an extremely crowded terminal full of cranky people. We got there around 1PM and were on-board at about 4PM. The sequence of events was get in line, pre-check-in, find out that luggage needs to go outside into an unmarked van, go back and get in another line that snakes throughout the terminal, show passport & boarding pass to go thru security with X-Ray. Next came customs. Then came a health form -- but also a chance to sit down. Then finally check-in, collect keys, and get on-board. Smile -- Princess will take the first of about a million photos that you can later purchase.
Cabin: We had a mini-suite in the middle of Baja deck close to stairs and elevators. We had Starboard side for a North Bound Inside Passage cruise, so we got to see the sunrise from our room every day. Our room was in the bump out portion which made for great views from the balcony. Our door was directly across from the service elevator, but there was only a little noise on the last evening when they were taking luggage down. We were (at that time) getting ready to go to dinner so it was not a bother. I appreciated the full-sized bathtub and the sofa in the mini-suite, but will try to get a room lower on the ship for my next cruise. They appeared to have bigger balconies, and we did spend a lot of time out there. Our cabin steward was wonderful, bringing us Champagne and balloons. He saw that we had brought our own wine aboard and brought extra wine glasses, and kept us nicely supplied with everything we could want.
Dining (and drinking): We had anytime dining, which meant the Bordeaux dining room. But we only ate there on formal nights. On those nights, the food was OK. Not spectacular, or especially generous. We celebrated our anniversary on the first formal night and were given a lovely chocolate cake. We ate in Bayou Cafe one evening where portions were larger and the desserts were truly extraordinary. Several in our group had beef throughout the week, and the consensus is that the ship's grill or broiler does not get hot enough to do a good job searing the meat. The rest of our meals were in Horizon Court or Pizza/Grill type fare. The seafood buffet on the Lido Deck while in Glacier Bay was the finest meal of the cruise week. Hubby bought the soda package which was worthwhile for him. We attended the first wine-tasting even which seemed worth the price and wound up ordering some of those wines to enjoy with meals throughout the cruise. I'd read somewhere that the cruise ship coffee left a lot to be desired so I brought along my own coffeemaker. I enjoyed my in-room Starbucks, but it was not necessary. The ship's coffee was fine. I did, however, have my own travel mug which will come with me again. We ordered room service for about half of our breakfasts
Entertainment: We saw the comedian (Billy Vader) twice. We caught Movies under the Stars a few times, it was fun. They provided warm blankets and I had my hot mug of coffee. We saw the hypnotist's show which was very good and listened to many of the musicians. No events or nightclubs were ever crowded.
Activities: We aren't gamblers, but our friends made great use of the casino and bingo. They were winners. We attended one of the wine tastings and the Art auction. The art was nice, but I do more research before making that kind of a purchase. Maybe next time. After the first Art Auction, we were invited to a Champagne Art reception where canapes were served. It was a nice gesture, but I'm glad I never ordered (and paid for) canapes to be delivered to our room. There was an opportunity to do pottery and if I'd known enough in advance to make time for it, I'd have taken advantage of this. Again, maybe next time. We attended the Naturalist's last presentation. She was terrific and we highly recommend everything she does.
Highlight of the Cruise: Sight-seeing from the ship. The first and last at-sea day were full of a lot of sight seeing and looking for wildlife. We saw humpbacks, orcas, eagles, sea lions and bears all from our balcony. A pair of binoculars for each passenger is a must. The day in Glacier Bay was split between viewing from our balcony, viewing from Decks 14 & 15, and viewing from my perch in the pedicure chair in the spa.
Things I wish I'd known: There is a push to get you to shop, buy drinks, book the next cruise, buy photographs, buy, buy, buy, buy. We got better at dodging this as the week went on. Next time, I'll be better prepared for it, but I include it here because I wish I'd known it was coming, planned my budget more carefully and been able to focus on what I really wanted. The next thing I wish I knew is that Laundry rooms are on each floor. At only $1 per load to wash and $1 to dry, we could have brought half as many clothes. Alaska isn't all that cold in May, so some of the heavy layers were never needed.
Post Cruise Land Tour: We tried to cover the land portion of the tour that our friends were getting with Princess by doing it on our own. We booked thru an Alaskan tour provider closely approximated their experience. Instead of a train from the ship to Denali, we took a bus from Whittier and had a leisurely ride to Anchorage. We visited the Alaska Heritage Museum and had lunch at their restaurant then took another bus to Talkeetna where we spent one night. The next day, we took a jet boat tour and did some more flight-seeing, flying around Mt. McKinley. Spectacular. The views from Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge are breathtaking. Later that day, we took a bus to Denali and stayed one night at McKinley Chalet. The first day in Denali, we did the Tundra Wilderness Tour seeing dozens of wild animals. Our next night was in the Denali Bluffs. We ate at the Grande Denali and had the finest meal of our entire trip. The next morning, we went White Water Rafting and saw a fox. We then boarded the noon Alaska Railroad train to Anchorage. After an overnight in Anchorage, we had plenty of time to walk around town before catching our afternoon flight home. Alaska is so beautiful, it warrants a return trip.