We had sailed the Inside Passage previously, but this cruise intrigued us as it sailed all the way to Whittier. We also knew one of the Assistant Cruise Directors from a previous Princess cruise, which was also one of the reasons for choosing this itinerary and ship. We made the right choice.
We flew into Vancouver the morning of the sailing and took the subway (Canada Line) to the cruise terminal (Waterfront Station). We were early and had to wait about 30 minutes in a holding area, but were on board by about 11:45. We were very pleased with our outside cabin on the Plaza deck. There was plenty of space for our belongings. We opted to not have a balcony, but be close to the water line, which suited us fine for this particular cruise because we had excellent views of the wildlife in the water, and could easily go up on deck for a broader view of the glaciers and land.
We had sailed Princess twice before with differing experiences. We had taken the Golden Princess to Hawaii and loved it. We had sailed on the Sea Princess to Alaska and found the ship to be too small and crowded. Our first impression was that Diamond was very similar to the Golden Princess because of its size, layout and overall vibe.
Vancouver is a beautiful city and we had wonderful weather for our departure. It was the perfect sail-away and the scenery was wonderful for hours. The sail-away party up on deck was a great time.
Dining was extremely convenient. We had anytime dining. We made dinner reservations every morning and there was never a problem getting a table. We tried each of the four anytime dining rooms at least once. One evening we splurged for the Chef Table ... which was very much worth the premium of $95. The maitre d', Silvio, was a fantastic host. We received a personal tour of the kitchen by the Executive Chef, Raggie.
Each evening, we would try to catch the show and then head up to the disco, Skywalkers. The DJ, JT, was great. Unfortunately, the party crowd was limited and the scene started to quiet at midnight. We also went to the spa ... the treatments were nice, but the hard sell for product at the end was a bit irritating.
The food was pretty good, though this being our third Princess cruise in two years, the menu is starting to feel redundant and kind of "basic." We believe that Princess should to jazz up its menu and not be afraid to try some more unusual or interesting items that are more interesting, unusual or gourmet (as opposed to plain). Also, this was the first cruise in which they stopped the 24 hour service in the Lido. In fact, it closed at 11 p.m., too early to get a late evening snack. This was very disappointing.
We had been to two of the three ports before, but wanted to try to get the most out of nature. In Ketchikan, we rented bicycles at a great little shop across the street from the dock and cycled out to Ward Lake, seven miles north of town. In Juneau, we rented a car and then drove 25 miles north and did a 15 mile round trip hike to Eagle Glacier ... it was a fantastic hike. In Skagway, we took the White Pass & Yukon train to the Denver whistle stop and hiked three miles to the Denver Glacier. (Note that we had to book this separately from the Princess excursions, since the Denver trip was not one of the offerings).
Glacier Bay National Park was amazing and we were able to get really close to the Margerie Glacier, and see other excellent views of many others. It was incredible to hear the sounds as the ice was calving. However, the highlight of the trip was the last day, sailing to College Fjord. The weather was 75 degrees and perfectly sunny. The views were breathtaking ... prettier than the brochures.
The Princess team was great. Assistant Cruise Director Aleks is the best, and we just loved Emma, another perky member of the Cruise Director's Staff. They all made you feel as though you were the highlight of their day! The Captain made a special effort to make everyone feel welcome. We believe it is the people that set Princess apart from the other cruise lines.
We had to say goodbye a week later. Getting off the ship was a breeze and the drive to Anchorage was beautiful. We spent another three days on land, on our own, touring the Denali National Park area - a must-do! Along the way, we stopped for an overnight at the McKinley Princess Lodge, which we highly recommend as a nice place with great views, excursion opportunities, interesting educational lectures about the area, and good restaurants. Even though it's owned by Princess, it feels "different" than the cruise - not better or worse, just different.