This was my 47 th cruise but 44 of those were as a crew member on RCI's Song of Norway in the Western Caribbean in the mid 1980s. As a musician on board I got to dine with the passengers and had free access to the ship before and after work. I married one of the passengers! Following my tour on the SON I took two cruises with Carnival to the Eastern and Southern Caribbean. Ships were much smaller then! No balconies, no outdoor movies, no specialty restaurants, no fixed gratuities, no Internet nor cell phones. No waterparks or zip lines. There was bingo and Diamonds International though!
2011 and my traveling companion decides it is time she saw Alaska after years of trekking around the USA and Europe together. After much research on CC and company web sites we chose an Alaska southbound cruise aboard the much-praised Coral Princess from Whittier.
We flew into Anchorage the day before sailing so that we were in place for the coach trip to Whittier next morning and had a relaxing day walking around the city albeit in a soft drizzle which would follow us for our first 5 days at sea.
We stayed in the Captain Cook Hotel in a junior suite which was very spacious and well-appointed with great views of the city, mountains and inlet. Lunch and dinner were taken there and both were excellent.
The Egan Convention center, about 3 blocks east was our point of departure for Whittier and soon we were on the road, in the rain, bound for Whittier 65 miles away. Scenic drive with some sightings of beluga whales at one point.
Once through the 2.5 mile tunnel at Whittier we saw the Coral through the mists and she looked very imposing. Within 15 minutes we were processed, through security and on the ship. Princess are very organized.
Some passengers however didn't make it onto the ship as there was a fatal road accident that closed access. Other passengers on the ship learned that their luggage wouldn't join them until Skagway as a result and had to spend a few days in the clothes they were wearing.
Our mini-suite was on Caribe deck, very close to the bridge and far from the elevators. Quiet. The room was immaculate and within minutes our room steward, Rodney from the Philippines, was introducing himself and offering champagne. That had to wait as we had business to attend to....
First up was the Sanctuary-in the rain with more rain in the forecast. We were the only two people to book for the whole week ($180 for two). Then I dialed the dine line to arrange sailaway dinner as there was only one MDR sitting due to late sailing (8.30pm). I booked Bayou Cafe for that evening and Sabatini's for the following evening which would be Formal Night and we weren't packing formal clothes. A coffee card was purchased (for espressos) for about $30 (15 servings) and an Ultimate Kid's Package to cover soft drinks, OJ,"mocktails" and some vital hot chocolate (very good) for my TC (traveling companion). Business taken care of! Once unpacked in the cabin it was "Rodney-champagne!!" and we were in cruise mode.
Muster drill was held before sailing, in the Princess Theater and was organized and brief.
Coral Princess is a handsome-looking tub, in fine shape and the crew are always cleaning, painting, varnishing but not getting in anyone's way. It sparkles inside and out.
The crew were very friendly-smiling, greeting in the hallways, holding doors open, engaging in conversation. Bar waiters Vinny and Ganesh (both from India) kept my glass full all week as the most spectacular scenery slipped by. Vaughan( South Africa), our first contact when he waited our table in the Bayou and also in his other role as Sanctuary steward was a fine conversationalist and on top of his game waiting tables and recommending wines. Miro and Laura (Mexico) pampered us each time we went to take our places in the Sanctuary.
As I got an alarm call each morning at 4.30 so I could be up to see the ship approaching port I visited the Horizon Court buffet often. At 5 a.m. it was empty. The ship's "coffee syrup" was no worse than any diner in the USA and was good enough as a wake-up with my first cigarette on the Promenade deck (starboard only). My first breakfast each day was in the HC, my second was MDR (Provence dining room). HC had enough choices, nicely presented and I always cleaned my plate. I ate there once (Glacier Bay day) when it was super busy and sat at a table that hadn't been cleared yet. Within a minute a server was there to clear it and lay the silverware and fresh glasses. Drinks are served at the table-coffee, juice, lemonade etc. Well-run buffet. Someone is stationed at the entrances to ensure you use hand sanitizer before serving yourself. Very impressed with the HC. It's not haute cuisine but a great place to eat quickly without perusing menus or having a host of waiters buzzing around...the drinks guy, the bread guy, the one who takes your order, the crumb scraper man, the napkin arranger, the DR manager who comes by to chat and have a laugh (a great group of those in the MDRs).
MAIN DINING ROOM
As we had chosen Anytime Dining we had the Bordeaux as our assigned room and we ate there 4 of our 7 nights. Always a table for two. We waited once for ten minutes during which time we listened to a fantastic trio-Joseph Band from Budapest. Service and food in the Bordeaux was faultless. We ate each night at 8.30 and still made the 10.15 shows without rushing. I bought a bottle of wine on my first night in the Bayou and it followed me from one dining room to the next. It cost about twice a normal store price but Princess is a business and I was on vacation-so pour away my good man! Both our plates were licked clean at every course. Presentation of the food was very appetizing. I took photos of each meal as my memory isn't what it used to be. I didn't choose Princess for their dining reputation but I was well satisfied and had no cause for complaint. The dining rooms, like every room on the Coral were elegantly appointed, soothing on the eye and ear and divided into smaller sections for a more intimate experience. Nothing was sent back. No order was messed up. Deeee-lishus!!!
Afternoon tea in the Provence was a very civilized and tasty experience. Mini cakes, pastries, sandwiches and scones with a good full-bodied tea. Great idea, well executed.
We ate there twice, on both formal nights. Fantastic for the extra $20 a head. Silvio is a very gracious host in this beautiful, under-used room. He is a waiter in the HC before changing into a gracious Italian welcomer at the entrance to the restaurant. We were given a window table (seating for four) upon request and had Julia from Ukraine as our waitress. Fabulous finger-licking food. You'll even want to lick your partner's fingers. Great breadsticks, olives. Feather-light calamari. My TC had lobster 3 ways and I had a steak. Also had maybe the best Spaghetti carbonara outside of Italy. Julia had great timing and we never were kept waiting. As with all my restaurant meals I finished the repast with a double espresso (using the coffee card) and charged a sambuca (less than I pay on land).The italian chef came to the table after the meal to ask how everything tasted. I licked his fingers.
Cajun inspired food. Spicy. Generous servings. There was a great little piano jazz trio there with the drummer singing. They swung! Excellent service, very attentive. Room didn't do much business in the evenings but was packed on Monday and Friday for the British pub lunch (fish and chips/bangers and mash etc) Chicken curry was very mild but flavorful.
Ate here a couple of times when the weather was good. Cooked to order burgers and fries-very good. Knackwurst with sauerkraut was fantastic. Attentive bar waiters ensured we didn't have to wait long for a nice cold Beck's beer ($5). I never got around to trying the pizza or ice cream bars but they were popular.
A good place for a morning espresso and a biscotti while relaxing in a comfy armchair looking out at the water, low down in the ship.
As the name suggests-a place to get away from it all. No kids. No anybody on a drizzly cruise. Big comfy loungers and two stewards waiting on you hand and foot. Even under grey skies and drizzle it was nice to take a nap under a blanket after listening to some tunes, sipping a cocktail or reading a Kindle. Stewards will bring you whatever you need to eat though there is a $3 charge for the fetch n carry service as they have to go all over the ship for you. We had the best glacier views from there. The stewards kindly ejected people who strolled in to take photos or find a nice quiet spot without paying. I am a fan of the Sanctuary. We had it to ourselves for 4 days.
I began to read one of the Princess Patters early in the cruise but the choices of things to do was overwhelming so I just didn't plan my sea days, preferring to drift along enjoying the scenery, the bars and Churchill's the smoking lounge where I spent many happy hours meeting people from all over the USA. My TC however went to many lectures on Alaska from the on-board naturalist Kathy Slamp who would do commentary over the PA system. She also attended a cooking show featuring the Swiss head chef and the very funny Maitre' D, Neville from India. This was hosted by the naturally witty Brett Siborne the cruise director who was a fun guy. I meet him during a CC Roll Call meeting early on (hosted by GweninTX) and enjoyed talking to him.
I did join my TC for some shows (she saw all of them including a juggler she raved about and an illusionist I am sorry I missed). All the shows-great comedian, MOTOWN and the Crew Show were fun and well attended. The ship's show band were very good and the sound and lighting just fine. I don't expect Vegas quality on a ship and nor should you. I joined a free galley tour and the place is spotless.
Not knowing if my friend would like cruising or we would ever be back in Alaska, I booked us on some excursions as I have zero interest in shopping or visiting Red Onion saloons.
We did the White Pass Yukon railroad and kayak tour in the rain. This was a Princess Tour and only 8 attended so we left Skagway on a coach all to ourselves and headed over the mountains to Bernard Lake in Canada (BC) for a great hour on the water, ringed by mountains. We got back to shore and onto the waiting train, riding in the caboose, just the 8 of us. Unbelievable train ride back dowm from 3,000 feet to sea level. Saw my one and only brown bear on the tracks after we had passed (more traffic savvy than your typical deer/raccoon) Exhilarating day. I walked into Skagway before the tour (15 minutes stroll) and even with 4 ships in port it wasn't crazy. Stunning setting for a town. The excursion took 5 hours and was worth every penny ( a lot of pennies)
Rain again but after my usual two breakfasts we were off on another Princess excursion-Era helicopter flight landing on Taku Glacier. Stunning-both the flight in rain and low cloud and landing on the glacier. No other humans in sight. No sound or sight of the 21st century. Just ice 1000 feet thick for miles. Silence. Crystalline air to breathe. No Diamonds International ( I checked carefully with binoculars)
30 minutes after arriving back at the Coral to charge batteries we were picked up by a van saying Harv n Marv for an independent excursion. Whale watching!! A 20 minute drive to Auke bay where we met Cap'n Tony in a brand new boat with room for 6. Us two and a wonderful family, two adults and two teenage daughters. We bobbed about on the water, far out to sea, seeing whales one after another breaking surface and diving. Too far away for good photos. We cut the engines and drifted, chatting. There were maybe 9 other boats half a mile away,one of them holding 140 people. Suddenly a "whoosh!" as a huge whale breached by our boat. Tony reckoned the tail landed 15 ft away and the head about 40 feet distant from that. A mighty splash. No photos ! We were all too taken by surprise at the event. The other boats got on the radio to check that we were OK as we bobbed in the whale's wash. After that unbelievable encounter we headed home stopping only to view some seals lounging on rocks and some eagles sitting on their nests. Wonderful excursion-thank you Harv n Marv!
We had booked a Misty Fjords float-plane flight through Michelle the pilot. Coming into Ketchikan on a beautiful 80 degree, rain-less morning, I spotted a familiar sight tied up at the dock...a crab boat named the "Cornelia Marie" known and loved by fans of The Deadliest Catch on TV. We had booked the flight to start 20 minutes after docking (you live and you learn) but there was a line of maybe 1000 passengers ahead of us to disembark so we were 10 minutes late and as a result the planned water landing on a mountain lake was cancelled by a vote as we were flying so that we could see more from the air. Michelle knows her fjords and is a great pilot. It was a fantastic 90 minute flight and we landed next to the Coral . Michelle's company is called Island Wings and I endorse this message (LOL)
Princess offers an excursion in Ketchikan to Saxman totem village. That's $59 you may kiss goodbye if you are as enthusiastic about totem poles as I am (there is no instrument that can measure how little they interest me). Most of the poles have a carving at the bottom, then 20 feet of bare wood and then a carving at the top. We took a taxi independently but that was @ $16 including tip for a 3 mile ride. Taxi driver, surrounded by empty soda cups, food wrappers, old dirty laundry or whatever offered to wait for us for half an hour for $40 but we declined. Half an hour was about 28 minutes more than you need for this excursion.
This has been a long review. Our first cruise together and our first Princess experience. Thrilled with both. Great value for money. Beautiful ship. Superb staff. Wonderfully spacious and well-appointed cabin. Well fed and entertained all the way. We met some great people who felt the same way and will return. Even 5 days of rain couldn't dampen our spirits. Glaciers were stunning. The last two days in brilliant sunshine made us want to return even more. Disembarkation in Vancouver was painless and efficient. We were very impressed by the experience Princess is currently offering and are already looking at the Crown and the Grand for possible winter getaways to the Southern Caribbean next January.
A quick shout-out to the passengers on the other ships who shared docks with us that week- Zuiderdam,Zaandam, Westerdam, Oosterdam, Celebrity Infinity, Sapphire and Golden Princess- sorry I didn't get to meet all you guys....let's do lunch sometime!
Two thumbs up...each! for Princess, the Coral and Alaska.