We drove from our wedding in Helena, MT to Seattle the day before the cruise. This was an interesting 9 hour drive - not much of the road was straight! Fortunately, we had a friend in Seattle who we could leave our car with, saving us about $200 in parking fees at the port.
We stayed at the Homewood Suites Convention Center/Pike Street. This was one of the nicest Homewood Suites properties I've ever seen, and had a great location. Parking was $30 a night, but fortunately, Seattle has some on street parking in this area which is free from 6pm on Saturday up until Monday morning, so we were able to avoid that charge as well. One warning: There was broken car window glass on the sidewalk in one area under a bridge, so try to park in an area where there are condos/apartments so people will be around. On Sunday morning we walked about a mile to the Pike Street Market. This is definitely a recommended stop for anyone who has time in Seattle. A friend who had lived in the area said it was an option to check out, but she wasn't sure about how active it would be on Sunday morning. I can assure you that it is as busy as it could have been! Everything was open and the place was flooded with people. It was a fun place to walk around, see the shops, watch the street performers, and pick up a few gifts. We spent so much time there that we didn't make it to the ship until about 3pm!
I think I was a kid the last time I made it onto a ship this close to sailing, but I guess the one benefit is that you will go from the curb to the ship in about 10 minutes. Everything went according to plan, and the port folks did a great job. The one thing I will say is that three different people said we wouldn't be able to get our larger luggage through the x-ray belt, but this is not true. We convinced each one to let us pass and we were not even questioned about it by the security personnel. The bags went through with no problem, allowing us to immediately unpack and not worry about when we would get our belongings.
The ship is in pretty good shape considering it is due for a dry dock soon. You'll notice a chip or scuff here or there and some worn carpet, but otherwise, she is doing pretty well. We are very active people, so we seek out the areas where one can be active. I was shocked to see that this ship has no basketball hoops - probably the first time I've not seen one. They do have a paddleball court which was in use every time I went past it. The miniature golf course was in horrible condition. The turf was worn so much that it was almost impossible to play. Plus, they had removed most of the rocks and fake bushes and stuff that give the course character (having seen these courses on three previous sailings). The ship's gym was adequate and perhaps the most crowded I've seen at sea. It seemed to be at, not over capacity at times. There was one occasion when all treadmills were in use. One major complaint about the ship was the jogging track. I went to jog on the first sea day at about 5pm and was shocked to see a sign on the JOGGING TRACK which said "No jogging between 8am and 8pm". Seriously? No jogging on the jogging track pretty much the whole day unless you get up really early or run after dinner? This is inexcusable. I believe it had to do with the spa rooms below, but how can you design a ship that way and then basically tell people the jogging track is unusable. I was told I could jog on the Promenade Deck, but on the day I went to jog there it too had a sign at the stairs saying "This deck is closed after sunset". The only problem I had with this was it was about 6pm, and sunset wasn't for almost three more hours. Thanks for making fitness a priority Princess! One other complaint has to do with the buffet set up. They have two identical areas on either side of the ship on the Lido Deck. Oftentimes, one or the other was closed. These spaces are very small and flow and crowding were constantly an issue. We ate dinner there one night and both sides were open. We got our first serving at about 6:30pm and when we went back for seconds at 6:45pm, the line was closed and we had to go across to the other side. Correct me if I'm wrong, but 6:45pm is pretty much prime time for dinner. How can they close half the service in the middle of dinner? Just a bad set up overall. I'll also say that I think the tables along the window by the buffet are family owned for generations and handed down. I didn't once see an available table by the window. This is true of any cruise ship, so just an observation.
We almost always sail in an inside cabin because we spend so little time in there and it is actually better for sleeping, which is our main function in the cabin. We found this room to be perfectly fine. If any complaint could be made, I'd say while the orientation of the closet does serve as a divider between the bathroom and the bed, it also makes it hard to get around when one person is going in/out of the bathroom and the other is at the closet. But we've come to accept the size limitations of cruise ship cabins, so it wasn't much of an issue.
Dining on the ship was ok, but seems to have taken a step or two back since my first Princess cruise a few years ago. I noticed little things such as quality and availability of dried apricots. They were only available at night (not at breakfast as I'd seen them before) and they were overly dried out. This is just one example of a change from years past. At other times my wife had trouble finding common items at the buffet such as apple sauce or watermelon. Desserts were pretty good overall and the food in the main dining room was mostly a hit. We did enjoy the food during the cruise by and large.
We found service on this cruise to be excellent overall. Our stateroom steward, Carolina, was excellent and a very hard worker. Service in the dining room was very good as well. On a few nights we asked for expedited service as we were trying to catch a show, and we were in and out on those nights in about an hour.
The activities on the ship were adequate, but not extraordinary. My wife did enjoy the very popular Zumba offering, which was free and happened four times, I believe. I was disappointed at the amount of competitive games on the ship. Several times on the Patter it will state "Shuffleboard Tournament - Coordinate with your fellow passengers". In my opinion it is the job of the social staff on the ship to organize a tournament, not for the passengers. They also did a Ryder Cup Tournament. In my past Princess cruises, this involved miniature golf one day, chipping into the pool on the next, and a long drive on the final day. Points were awarded for play and there was a champion for the entire tournament. On this sailing, Ryder Cup involved going to the aforementioned miniature golf course and getting six shots at hitting a ball into the cup which was about eight feet away. If you failed you got a second round to try again. Everyone got a gold medal. While this was nice of the organizer, I don't do the activities to get a gold medal - I want to have a good spirited competition with fellow passengers. I can hit six balls eight feet anytime I want. Again, we are active people, so we enjoy the competitions. Anyone who has sailed on Royal Caribbean can relate.
Entertainment offerings on the ship were ok. We enjoyed the comedian/magician and comedian/singer. The stage shows were as good or better than ones we've seen on previous sailings, although I wouldn't call them memorable. The naturalist was ok, although I wish he had spoken more during our trip down Tracy Arm. I found it ironic that he was silent most of the time and said a couple times that he wanted us to just enjoy the peace and quiet of the area. Then, Princess sends around an overzealous photographer with a costumed penguin and eagle to take photos on deck. Many of the passengers had to say no two or three times before the photographer would move on. I was also surprised that the few times I heard announcements from the bridge, it was one of the officers and not the captain himself. Furthermore, I don't recall one announcement from the bridge mentioning whale sightings or other wildlife observations. I've been on Caribbean cruises where the captain has made such announcements. Surely, I thought, the captain of a ship sailing in Alaska would make several of such statements, but there were none to my knowledge despite several reported sightings by passengers.
Please see my port/shore excursion reviews for further information in those areas.
Disembarkation was pretty much as easy as embarkation. We did the self walk off, and I think we were clear of customs about 10 minutes after the announcement was made in our lounge that we could vacate the ship.
Overall we really enjoyed this cruise, but for the reasons stated above, we will sail on Royal Caribbean and Carnival in the future.
After returning to town, we went to the Lumberjack Show. This was an awesome time and really fun to watch. We bought tickets to this through Princess and the cost is the same as if you buy directly from the site ($35 each, I believe). I'd highly recommend this show.
We finished the day by looking at some of the shops. There are tons of shops very close to the port.