We loved the trip, and had a great time! Alaska is a place that everyone should add to their "bucket list", whether by cruise ship or not. The scenic beauty is simply breathtaking.
As a first time Princess cruiser, I can say I enjoyed the ship and crew a great deal, and have no serious complaints. Any problems we did have were minor, and attributable to everyday life and personal taste, as opposed to any inherent problem with Princess. I certainly wouldn't hesitate to take Princess again if/when the itinerary matches our specific travel desires.
For our transportation to Whittier from Anchorage, we booked a shuttle from Alaska Tours and Transfers. It had several advantages over Princess provided transfers:
1) It was cheaper!
2) They offered hotel pickup!
3) Beyond just a bus ride, this shuttle also stopped at several scenic lookouts, and the Alaska Animal Conservation Center.
We had a full hour to visit the Animal Conservation Center, and enjoyed the rather rustic "zoo" atmosphere. All in all, I would recommend them to a friend. I thought it was a very nice option.
Princess embarkation process was simple, and handled very well. We were in line for maybe 10 minutes if that. The embarkation in Whittier is probably one of the least crowded you could come across. Boarding was spread out from probably noon, through 7:00pm, with buses and trains evenly spaced throughout that period. Rather low stress all around.
The only downside of using the private shuttle was handing off our luggage. I'm sure that with the Princess shuttles, you never had to touch your bags again. On the other hand, we had to retrieve ours from the shuttle bus, and hand deliver them to an uncovered luggage dropoff area. It wouldn't have been an issue....if it hadn't been raining! A minor annoyance. After luggage drop off, the walkway to the ship was covered, in preparation for what I'm sure is often a rainy day.
Given the late departure from Whittier, the first night of dining was handled by cards handed to us upon check in. So, for one night only, we were in the Bordeaux dining room at 8:00pm....or immediately after the required safety/lifeboat drill.
The drill, conduced at 7:45pm, was much more humane than what we experienced on HAL, in that all groups met INSIDE in one lounge/showroom/theater or another, rather than forcing us to stand on deck. It was quick and painless.
I would say that Coral Princess in general did NOT have a high pressure sales atmosphere, (photographers, drink options, wine tastings, etc.) "No Thank You" worked, and nobody tried to force us into anything we didn't want.
We reserved, and received, a starboard side balcony room on Emerald deck. The room was pretty much what I expected, and was perhaps a bit more roomy than I recall from my one previous cruise on Holland America's Veendam. The king sized bed was comfortable, and I had no complaints about it being too hard, as some have reported. Of course, that's a matter of personal taste. There was plenty of hanger space, and spare hangers, and we probably didn't even use all of them provided. A fairly large cabinet of shelves and nightstand drawers easily handled the rest of our clothing.
The bathroom was sufficient, but we did experience the somewhat cramped shower that others have reported. But in reality, it wasn't out of line....and I'm not a small man!
The balcony was fully covered, which was nice for what turned out to be a rather drizzly week. It fit 4 deck chairs and small table. Honestly, having 4 people on the balcony would have felt cramped, but for the two of us, it was quite spacious. Peculiar to the aft cabins on Emerald deck, the balcony was also more private than some, being a hard bulkhead wall on one side, and less permanent divider on the other. It was like having only ONE neighbor.
The one small complaint could be the sound coming from the Universe Lounge directly below our room. The bass from the sound system tended to bleed into the room, but never during our "core sleeping hours", so I have only mentioned it for the benefit of the truly sound sensitive. It never bothered us much at all.
Food and Dining:
For the most part, we ate a late breakfast in the Horizon Court, (around 10:00am), and had pizza or the deck buffet mid-afternoon, and the dining room for dinner. So, like most reviews, my experience won’t cover ALL of the options out there.
Horizon Court for late breakfast wasn’t nearly the circus we expected, particularly on port days. I guess we figured out a way to beat the crowd! We never had problems finding a seat, and the serving lines handled the diners quite well. The food was hot, and the “eggs to order” station was much appreciated. The rolls and danishes were quite good, and we never had to wait long for drink orders to be taken.
For lunch, the Wife fell in love with the pizza! I think she had it nearly every day for lunch. And, despite being served essentially outside, it was always hot and fresh. Quite often, and as near as I can tell unadvertised, they had an outdoor buffet either on deck, or at the Grill. Smoked salmon, “reindeer chili”, salads, and a variety of other options were available, and I enjoyed them quite a bit. Let the wife have her pizza, I’m sampling new things!....and we were both happy.
For dinner, we had requested late traditional dining, at a table for 8....and that’s what we received. We decided on this because, frankly, we got BORED eating at a table for 2 during our last cruise. There’s only so much you have to say to your spouse after spending the whole day with them! Late seating was at 7:45pm, which is a little earlier than advertised, but that may be specific to either Coral Princess, or maybe the itinerary involved.
Now, this is a matter of personal taste. But the dining room food to me was good, but rarely outstanding. I really enjoyed the appetizers, soups, and salads more than the main course, for the most part. The foods that stood out were the French onion soup, goat cheese soufflé, fettuccine alfredo and seafood salad appetizers. I was underwhelmed by the scallops, shrimp, and steak main courses. Again, they weren’t BAD, but I love shrimp, and REALLY love scallops, and they just didn’t “sing” for me.
The wife is another story. She’s a rather picky eater, and commented several times that she just couldn’t find anything that she really wanted. She resorted to the chicken breast “always available” several times, but got tired of that. This isn’t out of the ordinary, but in all of her cruising experience, (which is much more than mine), she said it was the worst she had experienced. The “best” she came across was the special pasta course served during the “Italian night”, and that wasn’t even ON the menu. She was able to order that as a main course. The last few nights, she resorted to the children’s menu, and was a little happier.
The deserts, however, always satisfied. No complaints from us there.
On Coral, for this itinerary, formal nights were the evening at Hubbard, and the evening after leaving Juneau. Considering that we were still AT the Hubbard glacier at 5:30pm, I felt sorry for those at the early traditional dining. It seemed like a poor choice.....and made me glad we had the late seating. Future cruisers may want to take this into account.
Just to cover a hot topic on CC, I found that MOST people were dressed appropriately for formal nights. I saw mainly suits and dresses, a few tuxedos, and maybe a few skating by without jackets or ties. For me, it’s a big “I don’t care what you wear”, but most want to know what to expect. Dress to the code, and you won’t be out of place!
On casual nights, I didn’t see too many in inappropriate attire either. We did see some shorts during the one lunch we ate in the dining room, and the rules got stretched on the final night in the dining room, but for the most part, it was a well behaved cruise.
Public Spaces, Activities, and Options:
I thought Coral Princess is a very nicely laid out and decorated ship. Besides your own room deck, there are probably 3 decks you really care about, and everything you need to get to are within easy access.
Shows and Entertainment – We weren’t really all that interested in the stage shows, and only went to the comedian’s show, which did give us some laughs. There were movies most nights, but they weren’t always publicized very well. Patters seemed to catch about half of them. We had hoped to catch a “Movie Under the Stars”, but it seemed that either the weather was against us, or the movie that night didn’t interest us. All in all, there was plenty to keep a person busy....we just chose to not be that busy.
Drink Cards – Several tables set up the first day or two giving you the chance to purchase them. As mentioned earlier, no hard sell. Very well handled, actually.
Games and Trivia – I think we would have partaken of this more often in the evening, but they were always scheduled for 9:30pm. And since we were enjoying dinner until at least that time, we usually missed out. I think Coral needs to spend a little time working out their timeline. Then again, maybe we just weren’t all that good at our own time management....take your pick.
Photographers – We were shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, that the photographers were really quite good! Each formal night had several stations set up with backgrounds for pictures, each manned with a different photographer. It wasn’t the “Smile-*Flash*-Next” thing we had experienced in the past. Actual sitting and posing. We LIKED the pictures they took, and bought a few of them. The Wife commented that she didn’t see any “Oh my God, that’s hideous” pictures on display at all.
For me, this was the highlight of the trip. Everything I read said, “Hubbard or Glacier Bay: You have to see one of them”. Getting to go to both was a real treat, and the reason we picked this itinerary. We were NOT disappointed.
Our day at Hubbard started off a little scary. There was a heavy fog as we turned into Yakutat Bay, and I had visions of disaster running through my head. “What if we have to turn back and skip it?” Uhg.
But I shouldn’t have worried. As we moved closer, the fog cleared, and it was a beautiful day at the glacier. Overcast, to be sure, but clear as high as the glacier was! And, according to the onboard naturalist, we got closer to the glacier than she had all year. The last official announcement over the PA said we had passed within 1 mile. But by the end of the day, I’m pretty sure we had drifted to within ½ mile. It is truly majestic. Calving was slow to develop, but it picked up during the day so that it became more and more frequent. Not having much (any) experience, I would say we didn’t see any HUGE calving events, but there were frequent small to mid-sized events, and they were spectacular. The creaking, popping, and crashing were spectacular. I didn’t want to leave!
Glacier Bay was just as good. Sitting on my balcony early that morning, I saw my first humpback whale. One tail in the air...one swimming silently past the ship. Puffs of mist. Fantastic.
The scenery and glaciers were just amazing as well. We got very close, again, to the Grand Pacific and Margerie glaciers. The Margerie is like a mini-Hubbard. White and blue, and dominating the sky. Seals, and Sea Lions were spotted. And we were able to get far enough up the Johns Hopkins inlet to see the Johns Hopkins glacier. The naturalist, who knows a whole lot more than I do, said it was a rare treat.
If the cruise ended here, I probably would have still been happy.
Ports and Excursions:
Skagway: A nice little tourist town, really, but still a nice stop. We took the White Pass Railroad tour, and really enjoyed the scenery. I give it B+ for tours. A bit pricey, and the commentary was a bit bland.
Juneau: We took the glaciers “Flightseeing” tour, which flies float planes over 5 glaciers descending from the Juneau ice field. Again, spectacular views. I’ll give it an A-, with my only complaints being that the tour is guided by pre-recorded audio, and 40 minutes just seemed too short! I would have much preferred a more personal live guide....but I guess the pilot was probably busy with other concerns.
Ketchikan: We didn’t schedule a tour, and just took in the town on our own. Too bad we had a downpour about midway through our day, and we decided to cut it short. It’s a nice town, I thought, but we missed out on going up to Creek Street. Still had a nice day.
All-in-all, I thought they did a very good job here. Bags were requested to be left outside our stateroom by 10:00pm, “or before you retire for the evening”. I have a little problem with the wording being vague. Is it “whichever is later”, and 11:00pm would be OK? Or is “before you retire” assumed to be before 10:00pm, and everything should be out before 10:00pm? No matter...we had ours out at 10:00pm, but might have liked to have another hour or so to arrange things.
We were assigned to the appropriate group, (independent plans), and given a lounge to report to by 8:20am. We did that as directed, and probably sat there for only 10 minutes before our group was called. Pretty good considering we were probably right in the middle of all of the groups listed.
A quick walk off the ship, short line to get through customs/immigration, turn a corner to the luggage pickup, carts were available, got our luggage without delay, and a quick walk to a well managed taxi stand. We were easily out of there by 9:00am. Bing, bang, boom.
Complaints, Problems, and Issues:
- Our toilet quit flushing on two occasions. Push the button, and nothing. But to the credit of Coral Princess, it was fixed both times I called it in within 30 minutes, and without having to enter our room. Minor annoyance....And really a compliment to the crew.
- Poor manning/signage at Internet Café. I had some trouble signing up for internet, but nobody seemed to be manning the desk. Only later did they post hours....I just wasn't going at the right times.
- Uncovered luggage dropoff. (See above).
- Event timing around dinner times could be better.
- Some noise on Emerald Deck from show rooms below them. Minor.
Alaska was the "Star" of the cruise, and Princess played their part very well as the supporting staff.