The cruise started off nicely, we were met by a Princess Representative at the airport and boarded our Princess transfer to the pier. Check-in process was a breeze and we were onboard shortly after arriving at the pier. Since we booked so late, i.e., three weeks before the cruise, we had an inside cabin at the front of the boat on Caribe deck. Caribe is my favorite deck on Princess ships, so I didn't really mind until the first morning when we dropped anchor for our first port, Santa Barbara, which was a tender port, at 6:10 am and were awakened from a deep sleep unexpectedly. Found out quickly that we never want a room at the front of the boat when there are tender ports on the itinerary. The ship seemed to be in pretty good shape, with only some areas showing stains and wear. We had Anytime dining and can say that I am not really that impressed with the Princess version of Anytime Dining - much prefer the Anytime Dining experience on the RCL Mariner where you could make More
reservations online before you boarded the ship and didn't have to be put on hold to make reservations. We typically do traditional early seating and are much happier with our experience. With Princess Anytime Dining, if you want to ensure that you do not want to wait for a table, you need to make reservations. After the first night, we basically just showed up to the dining room and asked to share a table, so we could meet people and didn't have to hassle on our vacation with making the reservations. I truly felt that most of the wait staff in the Anytime Dining rooms were providing the same type of service that I would experience in a mediocre restaurant and not what I expect of Princess (which until this cruise was my favorite cruise line - now threatening to fall behind RCL). It just seemed that things were overall disorganized on this cruise and the food was not as good as I expected it to be - seemed more like a Carnival Cruise in a lot of respects and not like a typical Princess cruise. That being said, we did have a good time, because a cruise is after all more about what you make of it and I will give Princess another try to ensure that this wasn't just a one-off experience due to the fact that it was a reposition cruise.
In Santa Barbara, we went on a wine tasting with four wineries and a picnic lunch. This tour went as planned and we were satisfied with this tour. We were late into every subsequent port after Santa Barbara. We were 1.5 hours late in San Francisco (the port we cared about the most) and we were very anxious about missing our self booked Alcatraz tour - we had booked it for noon which was two hours after we were supposed to dock in the event that we were late getting in to port, and was very glad that we had. San Francisco was a great day and we actually ended up getting a bit of sunburn on our faces which was the only exposed body parts because the weather was cool. Astoria was a bit of a disappointment mainly because it was a bit dreary weather-wise. On our tour here, we visited the Maritime Museum and Fort Clatsop. Our guide was not very good at all and we got the opportunity to ride on school buses - a first in about 30 years. In Seattle, we visited Boeing and had a bit of a messed up tour experience. We left the boat at noon and got to the Future of Flight Aviation Center about 45 minutes later. Once we got there, our bus driver got our tickets (since we didn't have a tour guide on the bus) and we were scheduled for a 2:30pm tour. This left us with 1 hour and 45 minutes to tour the exhibits in the Aviation center - an hour would have been sufficient. Anyway, it ended up that too many buses from RCL and Princess showed up and that we were actually the second bus group that had received the 2:30pm time slot. The bus arriving after us took the last tour slot of 3pm. When 2:30 pm arrived, we were told that the first bus would be able to go through the tour, but that they added a 3:30pm tour (the last tour is normally 3pm) to accommodate the mess up. People were very irate at the mix up and it was never clear if the problem was with Princess or with RCL that sent one too many buses than what was expected. All except nine of us, chose to return to the boat - the RCL bus driver was returning and only had 11 people on her bus and indicated that she would stop and drop off the Princess passengers at the dock after dropping off her RCL people. Anyway, we finally were able to take the tour at 3:30pm and it was everything that my husband had hoped for. All in all, we ended up getting back to the ship about two hours later than was planned. But, our tour hiccup was insignificant compared to one of the wine tour buses in Seattle who lost its brakes and ended up hitting a couple of cars and the passengers had to return to the ship and visit the doctor to ensure that everyone was OK - very scary, but fortunately, it sounded like it ended up better than it could have. And, we were pleasantly surprised with how Princess handled the matter of our tour mess up. We never complained about our dissatisfaction with the organization of the tour - it seems like with as many people that went to Boeing, that they could have had at least a Princess liaison on site to ensure things went smoothly instead of just handing us over to bus drivers. When we printed out our charges statement in Victoria and found out that the tour costs were not part of our charges. So, we stopped at the Purser's desk and inquired about the fact that we were missing a tour in our charges and were informed that they were removed from our statement which is not what we expected - a sorry for your inconvenience would have been all that we would have expected. In Victoria, we visited Buchart Gardens and the Butterfly Garden. Buchart Gardens was very beautiful and we totally enjoyed the experience, however, in my opinion, they could have skipped the Butterfly Garden, because it was very small, not that impressive and there were too many people trying to go through it at once.
The only other comment I have is that if you plan on doing this coastal cruise in future and are disembarking in Vancouver, carry your luggage off the boat! Our travel agent had told us this, but when we inquired at the Purser's desk, we were assured that with our Princess transfer to the airport and they told us that we had plenty of time to get to the airport, get our luggage at the airport, check-in, etc., and be on our 11:15 flight (Princess air). My second bit of advice is when they tell you to only show up at the time that that is explicitly written on the schedule for your color/number group, ignore that advice. So, being the rule followers that we are, we showed up at 8:00 sharp as indicated on the schedule and found out that they had already called our group to leave the ship. So, we hustled out and left the boat and got through Canadian immigration and went to our bus (another disorganized mess) and rode to the airport without our luggage, since it was supposed to be already there. The airport ended up being very stressful and chaotic. When we got to the airport, we stood in a very large line waiting to get our luggage that wasn't really moving since none of the luggage was at the airport. Once some arrived and they called a color/number group (which if you were closer to the front of the line you heard, but they really didn't do very good at letting people at the middle to ends of the line know what color/number groups were being called), you could go collect your luggage and get into the line to check-in with the airline. We finally ended up getting our luggage at 9:45 am and proceeded to the very long United check-in lines. United had two flights leaving Vancouver at 11:15, one for Denver and one for Chicago. The United kiosks are not as well equipped as at O'Hare the airport we usually travel from. You could get your boarding pass, but they didn't handle luggage charges. The luggage credit card charges were processed by a United Representative, instead of just checking your id and placing the luggage tags that had printed out on the bags. We had boarding passes that we finally got printed out at 10:30am to Denver (our Princess air was routing us through Denver to get to Chicago). When we got up to the United representative, we were told that they wanted to move our flight to a one leg trip to Chicago since the Denver flight was overbooked and we ended up getting exit row seats as well - which we obviously had no problems with. However, we still had to go through US customs and immigration, security (which they unpacked and thoroughly examined my carryon since I had packed a belt that ended up looking suspicious on the x-ray machine which added to our delay), we ended up pretty much running to our gate which was of course one of the last gates. Thankfully, United was working to help correct that screw-up and was holding the flights back a bit in order for the passengers to get on board. So, unfortunately, for them, United didn't get an onetime departure due to either the cruise line or dock workers screw up, but they also didn't have to deal with the nightmare of trying to rebook everyone. Less