We are a married couple, mid-50's to early 60's, and we have cruising with Priucess exclusively since 2002. We are very comfortable with their product, and generally know what to expect from Princess. Hence, when they really miss on something, or don't deliver as promised, we know it! And when they do what they are supposed to do, or do things better than usual, we know that as well.
We took this cruise since we had to be in San Francisco the week before departure on business, and also because it was an opportunity to take my parents along for their first cruise to Alaska. They cruise, but only with us, and not nearly as often.
Since we arrived well ahead of embarkation day, we chose to take a shuttle from the airport to our Fisherman's Wharf hotel. It was very smooth. One could also take public transportation, but I am not known for packing lightly, and with six pieces of luggage between the two of us, it would have been nearly impossible. Our stay along Fisherman's Wharf was quite enjoyable, and very relaxing for me. DH worked.
My parents arrived two days before our sailing, so we took the opportunity to take a Greyline tour on Wednesday, from SF, down to Monterrey and Carmel by the Sea. It was a long day, but the scenery was wonderful, and my parents, being avid golfers and true golf fans, loved the opportunity to see Pebble Beach. That was the highlight for them. I personally loved the Monterrey Aquarium as well.
We took two taxis (lots of luggage, remember?) from our hotel to the pier just before 11 am on embarkation day. The place is a zoo. Our drivers managed to get us curbside, and there were porters just waiting to help out. But really, the port authority or local police - whoever is responsible for the area outside the pier - should take a look at managing arrivals and departures in a better way.
Inside, kudos to Princess. We were ushered to pierside check-in promply, no lines, and through security. Then we had to walk up - and up and up - a series or ramps to the lounges - only to be sent right back down the elevator to the ground floor. Embarkation had already begun, and so we had to walk up another ramp to board the ship. I realize that Princess has to cope with the physical layout at the pier, but this was ridiculous, especially for my pushing 80 parents. Well, we passed the physical fitness test and walked aboard. No one was waiting to direct us to the elevators to go our room. I had to ask...oh well.
Our rooms were ready, our cabin steward was fantastic. We put some things in the safe, etc, and made our way to midship to the dining room for lunch on embarkation day, just a few moments after noon. Princess looses big points here from us, to the point of an inexcusable gaffe. Not only does the FAQ on the Princess website indicate that a dining room will be open for lunch, so does the FAQ on the ship's diagram, and so did the patter for that day! But were we welcomed in? NO!! We were told by someone standing outside the open doors that the dining room was closed, and lunch was available in Horizon Court. If we had wanted lunch in Horizon Court we would have gone there. We waited for my parents to arrive and walked right past the "guard dog" who had been placed there to lie to passengers. Arriving at the head waiter's stand, we were escorted to a table for 4 and enjoyed a leisurely lunch. There were two groups in the dining room: travel agents and "bon voyage" experience people. There were also about 80% of the tables unoccupied. Menu, waiters, food - the dining room seemed open to me. Why do they have to make an awkward first impression by playing dining room games for lunch??? That one is on the F&B Department, and the Maitre d'.
After lunch we walked my parents around a bit, and then went back to the cabins to get a little more settled in. No luggage before muster drill. Muster was painless, as usual. We do appreciate that Princess musters in comfortable lounges, however, my parents did not manage a seat at their muster station. That was a bit tough on my dad, who cannot really stand for any amount of time without a fair bit of pain in his hips.
After muster, we put more items away, headed up on deck for sailaway, and for dinner chose the wonderful Cafe Corniche. We were tired, and called it an early evening, hence no comment on the entertainment the first evening.
Waiting for me upon arrival in our cabin was a letter from Sean Leach, the F&B director confirming our Roll Call meet and greet the next morning. Our roll call was quite well attended by the members, and also by the officers. Wow! Kudos to Princess on this one. The Captain, Martin Stenzel, the Staff Captain, Domenico Lubrano, Hotel General Manager John Ibbotson, Sr, Purser Admin James Eaton, Food and Beverage Director Sean Leech, Manuel Radmanto Accommodation Services Manager, and I'm sure I've left out a few others, attended, along with our wonderful cruise director Gavin Chandler. Surprising me was the Captain's Circle Host, Tiago Tavares, who was so gracious throughout the cruise. The officers came a few minutes after the start, Captain Stenzel made a few remarks and then opened it up to questions from the floor. The entire group stayed until almost the end of the hour and most graciously answered question after question from our curious group. Well done Princess, and many thanks for making our group feel so very welcome and appreciated!! Later I got a call from the Future Cruise Sales Ralph Cathro, who had office hours during the meet and greet, apologizing for not making the gathering, but who did invite me stop by and say hello. I not only stopped by, I booked another cruise.
We had some rough seas on our way up to Alaska, rougher than usual for the season according to some of the staff. This was not a problem for us, but did keep people off the open decks.
There was not an Elite, Platinum and Suite Lounge from 5 to 7 in the evening, or at all on the Sea Princess. We really missed this, and were disappointed that there wasn't a quiet place to relax. We find it a very relaxing opportunity to chat and start the evening off. This is a decision of the F&B department....are you listening??? We really miss it, and there were enough Platinum and Elite members on board. The most traveled passengers had 75 cruises and over 1000 days.....really, there would have been attendance.
Let's get the rest of complaints out of the way, then we can get on to the good stuff and there was plenty of good stuff.
We like to play cards, the 4 of us. We don't like smoke at all. The card room is located in the casino. (We like the new smoking policy coming in January.) When Cafe Corniche was closed, we could use a table there, but it was open a lot. We dined there more than a few times, so we don't begrudge them the use of the tables for dining. Tables elsewhere, with the exception of Horizon Court were too small. This puts us in Horizon Court, which shares space with the steakhouse in the evenings. That is ok, but for some reason a whole lot of the remaining tables in Horizon Court are completely blocked off and people wanting a light snack or tea, etc., before dinner is really served are compressed into a tiny area. Those tables really didn't need to be blocked off to the extent that they were. Really. Only the tables at the bow, in the front section, not those further back from the windows....were available. We prefer to take our card game out of the way of those really wanting to enjoy their late afternoon/early evening snack.
About 8:05 am the morning of our Haines port call, I ordered the Elite afternoon tea for our stateroom, to be delivered at 4 that afternoon. It never arrived, ever. Grrr...we knew that the lunch we would have on our excursion wouldn't appeal to us, and we would get back hungry and kind of grimy, want to shower, wash hair, etc., and afternoon tea would be a perfect to our day. Never arrived...starving by the time we got cleaned up and dressed to meet for cards. Had to snack first. Grrrrr....F&B strikes yet again.
Final gripe: Fact - it rains in Alaska. Princess knows this, they tell us this in announcements whenever possible so we don't blame them for the weather. I don't blame them for the weather, I thank them for their excellent Alaska experiences. But, they know it rains, and to make people stand outside of the available canopy covers while waiting for the next tender is just mean. I know security wants people back from the edge of the boarding area for the tender, but to waste an entire canopy enforcing that, instead of 3 or 4 feet of it - just doesn't make sense. It rains in Alaska and old people are standing in the rain unnecessarily. Change how you do things in this regard Princess.
The rest was all good, or great or exceptional. We enjoyed good to excellent service for breakfast in the dining room, enjoyed some luncheons in the dining room and some dinners there as well. Dress codes were enforced in the dining room, according to our observations. We kind of mixed it up and had lunch and dinner at Cafe Corniche from time to time, as well as a few meals as the buffet. Overall, we though the food was good to excellent, depending on the item and the location. Pizza always gets an exceptional, and this cruise was no exception.
Our cabin steward (A742) was sensational, almost clairvoyant, and he apparently didn't want to come with us, as he successfully dodged our kidnapping attempt. Seriously, we have had lots of cabin stewards, and we had #1 who held that place for a long time. Now we have a tie for first place. Renato was sensational!
Laundries were closed during Juneau through Glacier Bay, and boy, were they in demand thereafter. I finally managed to run a load of my things that I don't send to the ship's laundry through several days later.
Cruise staff - loved 'em. We played trivia occasionally and they were fun. Managed a dance class or two - fun as well. Hit a show here and there, it was all good. Loved the crew talent show!!! We enjoyed Sammy Goldstein several evenings as well. Only good things when it comes to Gavin and his group, as well as his choices for entertainers.
We were delighted to be invited to the most traveled passenger luncheon, and enjoyed the experience very much. Our table host was James Eagen, who was a delightful luncheon companion. An American officer is rare, and one who can talk Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab is even rarer - great time. The food was excellent as well - all in all a lovely time, our thanks again to Captain Stenzel and the ever-gracious Tiago Tavares.
Disembarkation was a breeze. Princess is to be commended for working with ICE to allow US passengers with passports to disembark and go directly to luggage. Our transfer to the airport was smooth...however Irene had other plans for our flights home. We knew this by Saturday morning and. Thank You Princess! for the internet benefit. This time it just wasn't a nice thing to have to stay in touch, we really needed it. I was able to change our flights, get hotel reservations and take care of the associated issues, and even though the connection wasn't peppy, between DH and I we had enough time to do things properly so the trip home with mom and dad smooth - that was so important to us.
I guess I'll cover the rest port by port.
Juneau was our first stop and were at anchor. We arrived a bit late, and our lounge location for our tour was changed. We chose the whale watching and Mendenhall Glacier excursion to give mom and dad those experiences. What was really strange is they assigned us a section to sit in at Vista Lounge, with those going on our excursion, and then instead of calling us to board tenders group by group, they told the entire lounge to proceed to the tenders. That was really crazy and created an unnecessary mob scene. It was a bit rough on mom and dad, too. If they had called the lounge by excursion, it would have been simpler. The tender ride was short, but they really jammed everyone into the tender. Our waiting bus was clean and very comfortable, our driver competent and pleasant. We first went to the marina at Auke Bay to board one of the boats operated by Allen Marine. They are clean, well-maintained and have comfortable cabins, complete with complementary binoculars and warm drinks. Off we went, in rain, in search of marine mammals. This was an afternoon excursion, so they had the morning to find wildlife, and find it they had. First, an orca. We were told this was a rather rare sight in Auke Bay, and tend to believe it as we hadn't seen one in our 4 prior visits. Then on to the sea lions hanging out on their channel buoy - napping. They hang there every summer. Then on to find humpbacks. We had some great sightings, and even saw a bubble feed. We were happy, mom and dad saw wildlife and everyone stayed as comfortable as they chose to. We had a good naturalist and captain....as pleasant as we had hoped it would be for mom and dad. Back to the bus, and on to Mendenhall Glacier, where it was raining pretty hard. Bathroom stops were the first thing on everyone's mind, but we opted to make the short climb up to the visitor center rather than those by the bus drop off and were rewarded with no line at all. The places we had hiked by the shore of the glacial lake were under water this year - it seems an ice dam holding back melt water burst earlier in the season and did "flood" the area. We had a different view than we had a few years ago. To us, it was very interesting to observe the changes. Mom and dad enjoyed the views from inside as well, and took a look at the exhibits. Then it was back to the bus, a black bear sighting in a meadow along Mendenhall Road, and a wait for the tender in the pouring rain. By the time we returned to the ship, we were about 45 minutes later than planned, and we missed Libbey Riddles, I had wanted Mom and Dad to see her, but at least her talk was on the TV throughout the rest of the cruise.
Glacier Bay: We got lucky. There wasn't much rain at all, and the fog was far enough away to allow for a good view of the glaciers. We saw some calving, had some great commentary by the park rangers Princess brought on board, but didn't really see much wildlife until we were practically surrounded by marine mammals as we exited the bay and made our way around Icy Point. Wow! Humpbacks, harbor porpoises, and more humpbacks. We truly had an excellent day there.
Haines: This is the first time we came in by cruise ship. The pier - well - we had a really, really steep descent from the ship. I am not entirely clear why this was, as the ship had the gangways on Deck 7...I don't understand why they weren't on 4 or 5. Anyway, our bus was waiting for us, along with our driver/tour guide who was full of great information and kept us entertained on the ride to the Bald Eagle Sanctuary on the Chilkat River. We did the jetboat ride (for the second time) hoping mom and dad would enjoy some great wildlife sightings from a relatively comfortable vantage point. It was overcast and chilly, but we had just a bit of drizzle for the boatride, and the outfitters made sure we had warm waterproof parkas, waterproof blankets, gloves, earmuffs....the river was very high, much higher than our first trip a few years ago, when the Chilkat really was a threaded river with channels only about twice the width of the jetboat. This time it was very swollen, and our pilot was quite skilled at finding the channels despite the flooding. We saw trumpeter swan and bald eagles. Lots. But no moose this time, no bear. Oh well. We saw lots of eagles and it didn't rain. Back at the landing, there was a campfire to roast hot dogs, warm beverages, chips, cookies, and yes, reasonable bathrooms! After a bite to eat, it was back to Haines, where the skies had opened up and it was pouring. We climbed those steep ramps back embark on Deck 7 of the ship.
Ketchikan: Alongside at dock 3, with the sun trying to shine! What good luck, as we had booked the flightseeing and Dungeness crab feast at George Inlet. This time, we started with a ride to George Inlet to gorge ourselves on wonderful Dungeness Crab. And we did!! Wine, beer, smoked salmon appetizers, a nice salad and all the crab one could eat with drawn butter, and then cheesecake with blueberry topping. Happy customers, each and every one. We had a few moments to use the facilities (decent) and check out the new gift shop...or take some photos of the area. Then it was into our DeHaviland Beaver Aircraft for some flightseeing on our trip back to Ketchikan. Our pilot was so happy it wasn't raining after about 12 days of rain, that he flew like a very happy fellow and gave us some fantastic views of mountain goat herds, glacial lakes, now melted, and just a great flight back to the town. Smooth pontoon landing, and everything I hoped the experience would be for mom and dad. It was a highlight for us several years ago, and my parents loved it!!! So happy! The driver offered to take us back to the ship or further into town, which was great. We took the drop off at Creek Street and dad spent time looking at the salmon in the creek. We wandered back through town slowly, stopping at the National Park Service center in Juneau, which had marvelously clean restroooms, and also a stuffed grizzly bear in the lobby. Photo op - yup, we posed by the bear.
Victoria: Brilliant sunshine, comfortable temps, and a comfortable bus ride to Butchard Gardens with a very cordial driver made this my mom's favorite stop. The gardens are breathtaking, and very approachable in 90 to 120 minutes. We had tea there, which was delightful, and a few minutes in the gift shop, where we did some damage to the old credit card. On the way back from the gardens, we had a bus tour through some of Victoria itself, which is very charming. Mom wants to spend some time vacationing in Victoria.