I started my trip a day early arriving on Friday for an overnight at the Seattle Weston Hotel downtown. My arrangements were made through Princess and they even saved me a few bucks over my costs had I made reservations directly with the Weston. I was met at baggage claim by a red vested lady who directed me to the transfer point to the Weston. The transfer was smooth and prompt, and the driver gave us a nice narration of those Seattle points of interest as we approached them.
The Weston is well appointed and comfortable and is situated within walking distance the waterfront, the Space Needle, restaurants and shopping, and within spitting distance of at least 3 Starbucks.
Saturday morning we were directed to the lobby starting around 8 AM to take care of our boarding requirements. Our documents and Passports were checked, and we were cleared for boarding. The only action required at the port was for us to collect our stateroom key/cards. Our bags had already been collected and delivered to the Golden. I was surprised at the number of people who use this service... must have been over a hundred people at the Weston for the cruise.
We met again in the lobby at 10:45 AM to await our buses. It appeared people were put in groups for busing in the same order they had registered earlier that morning. This was the only time all week that found me waiting in lines for some kind of activity. We boarded buses as soon as they arrived... but they didn't all arrive at the Weston at the same time. But... by 11:45 we were at the port. We all went to the same window to get our key/cards and that process went very fast. At noon, we were aboard.
(I've never had embarkation problems with Princess. If I were to do it again, and stayed at the Weston again under the same circumstances, I would opt to take a cab with my bags to the port. My morning was kind of taken over by these steps we needed to take to get aboard. Barely time for a good breakfast between check-in and bus boarding time. And Hotel check-out time isn't until noon... plenty of time to get to the ship after the early rush and be aboard by 1 PM.)
I met with family who were also on the cruise and we headed to the dining room for lunch. The dining room was sparsely used by passengers as was evident by the many empty tables. The lunch and wait staff were great; so, even though you might be encouraged to visit the buffet for lunch... use the dining room for a leisure meal while the first-timers are still trying to locate the Horizon Court.
A few months prior to the cruise, I changed my stateroom category from a balcony to an obstructed-view stateroom in order to save cash. As I cruise alone, I still pay double occupancy rates for the stateroom, so I needed to make the trip more affordable. (This would cause a hiccup later as I would find the Veteran's Benefit of $100 on-board credit which I had previously arranged for dropped off the record for the new stateroom. This is being corrected by Princess by a refund of the credit to my credit card.) The obstructed-view room was only 20% obstructed as it was between two lifeboats and in front of the catwalk used to deploy emergency craft. So I could certainly see where we were, and had a good (though somewhat obstructed) view of Alaska along the way. The stateroom was clean and comfortable and the central air system did a good job of keeping the temperature in the room reasonably comfortable.
The ship is in good shape considering it is scheduled for a makeover in 2012. Since it's last remodel, Golden has seen lots of feet across her decks. I was pleased with the overall condition of the Golden.
The food was great! I tended to eat in the dining rooms rather than the buffet mainly because it is more comfortable, and the dining experience is much more leisurely. Conversation seems to be easier as I had little difficulty hearing what others were saying -- sometimes the buffet area can get a but noisy. Also ate at Sabatini's, and the Crown Grill, and were not at all disappointed. We had been concerned about Sabatini's and their change to the a la carte appetizers; but we fixed that by asking our waiter to bring us each a different dish of his choosing. We shared those around the table -- it was great!
We visited Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan as our prime ports in Alaska. These haven't changed much over the years and provide much for the first time visitor to choose from. Out of Skagway, I headed off to Haines via ferry, then from there by bus up the Chilcat River for our Power Riverboat excursion into the Bald Eagle Preserve. We were provided extra clothing, blankets, earmuffs and gloves for this potentially chilly and rapid run up the river... but the weather cleared some, the rain went away, and we enjoyed a relatively comfortable trip into the Preserve, where in the later Fall and Winter, some 4000 Eagles migrate to the Chilcat (which doesn't freeze) and the constant food supply it provides. This was a great excursion. I recommend it.
We selected this particular cruise because it spends the better part of a day in the Glacier Bay National Park. I can't describe to someone who hasn't seen it how majestic this national treasure is. This was the highlight of the entire trip. Narrated by National Parks Service Rangers, we got the galley tour of this wilderness which stretches as far as the eye can see. The sound of the cracking glaciers as fissures erupt where the stress of weight, and movement, and friction overcomes an ice mass which is 300 feet deep and over a mile wide, and many miles long up into the mountains beyond what we could see. Wow! I'll go back just to see that again!
Cruising the inside passage has to be pure joy for the Captain and crew. Protected by land on both sides, the water is calm and serene. Many whales, otters, and schools of ocean things we never identified make this a memorable and restful way to unwind. Our final Port at Victoria was uneventful; although it is a show of technical skill and human invention to observe those in control of Golden backing her in to the berth at Victoria. That to many is worth the price of admission as the Captain and crew turn this nearly 1,000 foot long ship around and back it into a closed berth. We viewed all of that from Sky Walkers... maybe for the last time as Sky Walkers is rumored to be removed during the makeover.
This is my second cruise to Alaska... and not my last!