Our large family group of 34 traveled to Alaska via Princess in 2009 and we had so much fun we decided to take another cruise together. Because we live in such a hot area, we wanted to cruise in a cooler environment for our summer vacation, and boy did we get it.
We decided to arrive in New York City on Friday before our Monday departure. We had our four children with us, ages 11, 13, 15 and 19. NYC is a little rough for family travel. The expense for six people is overwhelming. The cab ride from LaGuardia to Times Square was about $50 (with tip) and we needed two cabs. Also difficult with children are the crowds. I could not relax because I was always worried that someone would wander off. My daughter and I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the Alexander McQueen exhibit, which I highly recommend, although we waited in line for 90 minutes and again, it was crowded. Perhaps the best thing we did in NYC was to buy tickets for the open top sight-seeing bus tour. The guides were excellent and we saw so much of the city. The harbor tour is included and it was excellent.
We hired a private car service for the transfer from our hotel in Times Square to the Brooklyn port and the cost was $90 before tip, but we were able to get all six of us in one large SUV. We arrived at the port at about 2:30 and embarkation was very speedy and efficient. We neglected to print out boarding passes or luggage tags, yet we were still in our state rooms within 30 minutes.
Our room steward greeted us upon arrival and was very friendly and attentive throughout the cruise, (Ronaldo, Aloha Deck.) We had about 15 adjoining balcony rooms on the port side of the ship. Ronaldo opened the balconies between our state rooms so we could visit outdoors while we sailed. During high winds, the balcony doors had to be locked because of noise (they would bang open and shut), but they were reopened when seas were calm and conditions were less windy.
Unfortunately the weather in Canada was very foggy, cold and windy -- sometimes rainy and misty too. This was quite disappointing since we had no scenery while at sea -- just white fog. We had to skip our first port of call (Sydney) due to winds and high seas. I was not overly disappointed to miss Sydney because I was exhausted after NYC and my kids were thrilled to have an extra day at sea. The weather was so cold that it was very uncomfortable to be up on deck or on the balconies. There were movies under the stars and Princess offered blankets, but only the hardiest souls (and children) were brave enough to participate. In the end, I felt a bit trapped on the ship because the public areas were so crowded and it was too cold to be outside. One of the bar tenders said that kind of weather was very typical for the Canada segment of the cruise.
Charlottetown was our first port and it was not very exciting. The town itself is so-so. It was not very picturesque. We hired a cab to take us to Green Gables (my children had watched the Disney "Anne of Green Gables" with Colleen Dewhurst and Richard Farsnworth prior to the trip.) Green Gables was nice with very pretty gardens. But bear in mind that the home is the place that inspired the fictional story. The author did not live there, and neither did Anne since she is a fictional character. The Disney movie was not filmed there either. It was nice to visit Green Gables by cab since we avoided the large crowd that went with the Princess bus tour. We could come and go as we pleased. The cab was $50/hour and it accommodated all six of us. We hiked around the Green Gables property and then took the cab back to the port. On the way back we stopped at the Cows ice cream factory and had a cone which was delicious at $5/each. We also stopped at the Red Cliffs in the national park, which was fun for the kids because part of the movie was filmed there. Our driver also took us by a lighthouse and the beach. For a family of six, it was much cheaper to hire a cab for four hours and avoid the Princess tour.
Other port reviews are listed below.
Disembarkation was fine -- more chaotic than embarkation, but overall OK. We made the mistake of booking a flight home through Newark and the cab ride for six of us from the port to Newark was approx. $150 (we needed two cabs plus tip).
Notes regarding the ship: The ship itself is a little shabby. It is in need of a face lift in my opinion. There were stained deck chairs, dirty carpet, 80's looking decor done in forest green/peach. There is an unpleasant smell in the Horizon court, not sure what it is, but it never went away. The shows were very crowded and often standing room only. The comedians were both good, but could easily offend certain people. My kids really enjoyed the activities which included an egg drop, scavenger hunt, basketball games, movies, ship building contest, etc. (We had to pick up materials for the ship building and scavenger hunt in port.) There were a lot of games, but we thought it was strange that only a few could play and everybody else watched.
The service in the Palm dining room was good and bad. We had one excellent waitress and one poor waiter. The Horizon Court had a nice service in which a staff member would help you find a seat once you had your plate. Often they seated you with another party which was fine, since you wouldn't really want to do that on your own. Drink service in the Horizon Court/Caribe could be slow at times.
The food was average at best. Lobster and prawns were good. The poached seafood appetizer with avocado was one of the best items. Desserts were mediocre. The food on the Horizon Court was not as good. The breakfast pastry was stale with unidentifiable fruit filling and the pancakes were inedible. The waffles were sometimes good. The quality of the fruit varied widely -- sometimes very good, but usually not good at all. Overall the buffet felt very much like a Furrs Cafeteria or a lunch room in a nursing home.
If you have not cruised Alaska, I would recommend it far and above this itinerary.