ABOUT US: We are a married couple in our early 30's, who have previously taken 3 cruises in the Caribbean all on Carnival (expect Princess vs. Carnival comparisons throughout this review).
EMBARKATION: Prior to the cruise we stayed one night at the Renaissance Marriott, which offered a fabulous view of the harbor and float planes. We walked to the port from the hotel (about 4-5 blocks downhill) arriving at 11am. There were two ships in port that morning, a Holland America ship and our Coral Princess. The luggage drop off for Holland America was well signed. However, the luggage drop off for Princess was not, but at that time of day it was not yet busy and there were lots of Princess employees to point us in the right direction. This was the first port where we were not hassled about tipping when dropping off our luggage (We have found that the ports of Ft. Lauderdale and Miami have been a nightmare with aggressive baggage handlers demanding excessive tips). Check in when smoothly and the lines moved very quickly and were done by 11:30am. However, the boat was not ready until 11:45am, so we were temporarily put in a holding area.
STATEROOM: Upon boarding the ship we were able to go directly to our room and leave our carry on items. Our luggage had arrived when we returned from lunch. We were in a starboard balcony room on the Caribe deck 10. We chose this particular deck because of its partially covered balconies and because the balconies are twice as large as other decks. (Prior to cruising we had been upgraded to a mini suite on the dolphin deck 9, but fought to get our original room back. The mini suites on dolphin deck 9 are advertised as partially covered, but are not! We had a complete view of the minisuite's balconies on the dolphin deck below us.) Our room was nicely decorated with a large closet and 32 hangers (I mention this because on prior cruises with Carnival we've only had about 10 hangers and Carnival's stateroom are not nicely decorated). There were several drawers and shelves to pack your clothes and other items into. Our luggage fit perfectly under our bed, so we unpacked completely for the week. It was nice not to live out of a suitcase, and to have the suitcases out of the way. Our room steward was Gil and he was amazing! It seemed like every time we left the room he was in there straightening up. He was outstanding and by far the best room steward we had ever had on a cruise! The beds were on the firm side, but that is exactly what we like, so we did not request an egg-crate mattress pad like many Princess cruisers do. There was a minifridge in our room, but we never used it. We had a 27" flat screen TV, which we used often to listening to the naturalist talk while we sat on our balcony. The balcony was huge with 4 chairs, a table, and room to spare! The hairdryer was worthless, but I had expected that and bought my own. The only disappointment with our room was the super tiny bathroom, but that was minor.
CREW: Like I said our room steward was amazing, but outside of him we didn't run across anyone else truly remarkable. The majority of the crew members are male and from the Philippines. We were surprised with that lack over diversity of crew members and the male dominated staff. Also, many of the crew were older than the crew members we have seen working on Carnival.
FOOD: Disappointing. We were expecting food similar to Carnival. Let's start with the buffet...it was small, about half the size of a Carnival buffet and the food always looked like it had been sitting out for hours. It was unappetizing. They don't have trays, but have normal size plates and larger platters. There is just something weird about eating off a platter, but it is what it is. Water, ice tea, and coffee are available for you to serve yourself...if you want anything else you'll have to wait for someone to stop by your table to get you anything, some times they were quick and other times very slow. We are big water drinkers and were expecting water easy access to dispensers like on Carnival, but the only place there were dispensers were in the buffet. This was very inconvenient when eating at the grill or having pizza as they are not right next to the buffet. We ate in the real dining room as much as possible for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Lunch is available in the main dining room from 12-1:30pm, it was never busy, I think a lot of people just didn't know about it. We even ate there the first day we boarded the ship. The burger and fries that they serve in the main dining room is amazing compared to poor quality burger you'll get at the grill. For dinner we had traditional dining for the first 5 nights and switched to anytime for the last two because we didn't want to miss any of Glacier Bay or College Fjord. On Carnival, I've never had a problem choosing an appetizer, soup/salad, entrEe, and dessert on the menu...but on Princess it was hard to find anything that I wanted. We had heard the Princess was known for their fettuccine alfredo, we had it, it was ok, but nothing special. The ice cream was great, both the hard scooped you would get in the main dining room, and the soft serve out by the pool. The problem with the ice cream is that if you order hard scooped by the pool then there is a charge, but it is free in the dining room as dessert. Also, you cannot serve yourself at the soft serve, so you often have to wait in a line, but it was worth the wait each time! We did not purchase any drinks, but we did appreciate that there was no pressure to buy drinks on Princess like there is on Carnival. Breakdown of who we think does a better job with food: Main Dining Room: Carnival; Desserts: Carnival; Buffet: Carnival; Grill: Carnival; Pizza: Princess; Ice cream: Princess
ENTERTAINMENT: Ugh. Where do I begin?! First, if you want a seat at the 8:15pm show, get there by 7:45-8pm or else there might not be a seat left. We were amazed by how early people got there to get seats. Once seated, prepared to be disappointed. On the first night when the dancers and singers came out, my husband and I looked at each other and said "is this a joke?" we honestly weren't sure if it was supposed to be serious or comedy...turned out it was supposed to be serious. The dancing and singing were off the charts as horrible. There was a juggler/comedian (Dan Bennett) who was very good and a magician (Garimo) who was ok. The day time activities were far and few between. Sure, you can check out a book from the library, work on a jigsaw puzzle, play board games, but those are all things you can do at home. There just wasn't much going on during the day, that includes days in port and days at sea. The best "entertainment" we saw were the naturalist lectures, and Libby Riddles dogsled presentation.
NATURALIST: Kathy Slamp She presented 4 lectures in the Princess theater and also provided commentary over the loud speaker and TVs when there was wildlife to be seen and in College Fjord. We thought she was great, but we saw several people fall asleep during her lectures in the theater. She also has published a few book, which are available for purchase on the cruise ship (we did not purchase these).
PASSENGERS: I'm going to be blunt here...most people were old (we would estimate the median age to be 70) and most people were on their first cruise ever (good for them, but at times this can be an annoyance). There were very few children and teenagers (we would guess maybe 25 total out of a boat of over 2000 passengers). The under 40 years old crowd was probably about 100-125 people.
LAUNDRY: Free irons are available (2 per laundry room), washers and dryers are available for a fee.
CASINO: Rarely busy. Always smoky.
BARS: Rarely busy.
SHOPS: Typical shops on a cruise ship, jewelry, watches, souvenir type stuff. The best thing you can buy on ship is the cruising companion book, which comes with a map and is referred to daily in the "princess patter" newsletter. It was $20 and was a great investment. We used it all the time and knew exactly when we should be looking out for various landmarks and when/where the good whale watching would be off the ship.
IN PORT SHOPPING: The best deals were in Ketchikan. (Lots of fleece jackets for $10-20 and jackets for $20-30.)
DEBARKATION: This was very well organized and went smoothly. We continued on a land tour after debarking, and were the last group off the ship about 9:30am.
THINGS WE WERE GLAD WE PACKED: sunblock, binoculars, windbreaker/raincoat, fleece jacket, gloves, liquid hand soap, Lysol wipes (yes, I re-clean the room quickly after we boarded...you can call me paranoid or you can take precautions to avoid getting sick on vacation)
THINGS WE PACKED BUT DIDN'T NEED: umbrellas and shorts
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CRUISE: Glacier Bay, College Fjord, and a whale watching excursion with Harv and Marv out of Juneau, and having a balcony room. (We are so glad that we sailed North as the scenery got better and better everyday. Sailing South would have been a disappointment for us.) Overall, we got what we paid for. It was a fair price for what was offered.
Ketchikan: Misty Fjords and Wildlife Cruise booked through Princess. I'm glad we booked it ahead of time because the price was slightly higher on board. It is an hour getting to the Misty Fjords, an hour there, and then an hour back. It felt like a long time and the fjords were not every impressive...you'll see and be in better fjords while on the cruise ship. We saw eagles, seals, and dall porpoises.
Juneau: Harv and Marv Whale Watching booked independently. This was one of the most amazing experiences we have ever had! First, the company was great! They picked us up dock side and then drove us for about 20-30 minutes the harbor. Their boats are small and they only take up to 6 people, but it was just us and one other couple, which was ideal. We were on the water for only about 30 minutes before we saw the first humpback whale. We had a spectacular whale watching day, definitely a once in a life time experience where we saw approximately 20 humpbacks and about 60 orca! (We also saw eagles and sea lions.) There were several times where the motor had to be shut off because the whales and orcas were so close to the boat. It was an outstanding whale watching day! Even if we only would have seen a few whales, Harv and Marv would have been a great experience! We spent a solid 3 hours out on the water watching the whales. We think this was better, longer, and cheaper than any whale watching you could book on the ship or at the dock. On the way back to the cruise ship we stopped for about 15 minutes at the Mendenhall Glacier. This was perfect for a few pictures, which was all we wanted.
Skagway: Helicopter and Glacier Walk booked through Princess. This was a total of 40 minutes in the helicopter and 40 minutes on the glacier. The helicopter ride was beautiful. The glacier walk about was so so. Would I do it again? Absolutely!
TOUR: We continued from Whittier by bus to the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center, which was nice. It was kind of a drive through zoo with a couple of places where the bus stopped and we could get off. We saw bear, musk ox, caribou, porcupine, moose, moose calves, and bear cubs. The only downside to this visit was the mosquitoes. Then we continued on to the Alaskan Native Hertiage Center, where we visited the museum, and the open air museum outside. We overnighted in Anchorage at the Captain Cook hotel, which was in a good location for walking to shops and restaurants. The following morning we took the train from Anchorage to Denali (8 hours on the train). We saw fox and moose from the train. The following day we took the Tundra Wilderness Tour (We had upgraded from the Natural History Tour and were very glad that we did!), which was great. We saw fox, bear, sheep, moose, caribou, golden eagles, and arctic squirrels on the tour and a partial view of Mt. McKinley. The following morning we departed by bus to Fairbanks (2.5-3 hours), where we went on the riverboat tour, which was really good. The only downside to the land tour was that there were no meals included (no breakfast, no lunch, no dinner).