Island Princess Cruise Review by critterchick
- Sail Date: May 2006
- Destination: British Columbia
- Cabin Type: Vista Suite with Balcony
We embarked at the Port of Los Angeles, 10 minutes from home. Princess had 2 ships in port, and the Sapphire was at Berth 93, the new and preferred embarkation location. We arrived at 1:15 at Berth 92, where you have to go through security prior to checking in. There were 3 agents and two security screening points, so getting through took us 40 minutes. We checked in quickly, and then stood in another line to board the ship. Total time from the cab dropping us off was about one hour. Some of our friends had arrived at 10:30 and were onboard in 20 minutes, so perhaps the moral of the story is to arrive early. On the other hand, our luggage arrived 10 minutes after we did, and the early arrivals didnt get theirs until almost dinnertime.
We were in Caribe 703, a penthouse suite. I posted some pictures at http://community.webshots.com/album/550701530KuleXj The PH category on Island, although the top category on the ship, is similar to a minisuite on the Sun class ships a nice sitting area with a desk, little wet bar, sofa and chair. The bathroom had one sink and the toilet on one side, and a jetted tub and shower on the other. Not really a full suite by Princess standards, but very nicely appointed nonetheless. We had white plastic furniture on the balcony, instead of the teak we have usually seen, which included two padded loungers, 2 chairs and a table. The bed was firm with heavenly linens. I would say the comforter was synthetic down. I loved it!
Our cabin steward, Ronaldo, did everything expected of him, but nothing extraordinary. He brought us our embarkation champagne and a couple of down pillows. That and several loads of laundry were the only extras we asked of him.
Our cabin vibrated a great deal. Although we were a good 20 cabins from the aft of the ship, we could feel the aft thrusters throughout the cruise, and it was a bumpy ride on our one rough sea day. Worse, there was a lot of rattling from the ceiling. After 4 nights of not sleeping well, I finally stuffed some tissues into the woodwork cracks and found a wire in the overhead light fixture that I shifted about. That helped quite a bit, but the cabin is just plain noisy, the worst I have experienced.
We had traditional late seating, and had a wonderful wait team in Relu and Laura, both from Romania. They were friendly, efficient, helped me drink my red wine, and had good senses of humor. Our headwaiter, Eduardo, was a bit of a ghost in the beginning, but warmed up to us by the end. I thought Relu had a bit of cheek asking us to be sure to fill out the questionnaire so he could get a good job rating and, when we handed him an extra tip at the end of the cruise, asking if we had also left the autotip in place. Hes nothing if not ambitious!
We had a table for 2 in the middle of a group of what we think were real estate agents/employees. One of them in particular was very loud, obnoxious and opinionated. She finally changed her seat at her table so she wasnt braying directly at us, but she was incredibly annoying. Oh, well. Next time well ask for a larger table so we can make our own noise!
The food was nothing special, but we always found something to make us reasonably content. We usually went with what Relu recommended, and it was almost always beef. I tried fish every now and then, and it was a mistake overcooked and flavorless for the most part. We didnt see much variety in the offerings, either. We ate at the Bayou Cafe one night, and it was just ok, although the chocolate dessert and the pound cake (soaked in orange liqueur, as I recall) were divine. The food tended to be quite fatty. I had the filet, and scraped off the bacon/mushroom concoction on top. Next time, Ill try the shrimp. We had a nice time, though, and the service was impeccable. We went back frequently to listen to the live music, and the maitre d tolerated with good humor my butchering of his native Italian. The offerings in the Horizon Court were usually the best a very good salad bar, fresh fruit (looked a little tired toward the end) and a variety of entrEe offerings. We ate there for lunch most days. Pizza was delicious thin, crispy crust and a selection of toppings every day. We didnt go to Sabatinis, having eaten there on the Star and Diamond and not needing that much food by dinnertime.
We always find that RCI has warmer and friendlier staff than Princess, and this cruise was no exception. The times we ate in the dining room for breakfast or lunch, we found the waiters to be indifferent never a smile, no my pleasure, sir/madame, no visible enthusiasm for their jobs. Waiters in the bars were friendly if we ordered a lot to drink, which we usually didnt. Otherwise they were correct but distant. Crew members we encountered around the ship did no speak until spoken to, which I found a little disconcerting. I went out of my way to greet people and always got a response, but having the make the first effort got old.
We went to a few shows, and enjoyed them. The quality of the musicians was excellent, from the string quartet in the atrium to the various bands and combos playing all over the ship. The singers and dancers were also very good. We particularly enjoyed the Big Band show.
As Southern Californians, we had been to both Santa Barbara and San Francisco a number of times, so we didnt book anything through the ship. In SB, we walked up to the Santa Barbara Winery tasting room, sampled some wines and bought a couple of bottles to bring back onboard. We then wandered down to Stearns Wharf, looked around a bit, and then headed back to the ship.
In SF, we docked at Pier 27. We had purchased tickets to Alcatraz Island from blueandgoldfleet.com, which is the official operator of the Island. We walked to Pier 39, passing through a bit of a mob disembarking from Celebritys Infinity at Pier 33 or so, but it was still only a 10-minute walk. The ride to Alcatraz is 15 minutes, and its a trip well worth taking. The history of place is fascinating, and its a good way to get in some exercise walking up & down the hill.
In Sitka, we took 2 ships excursions the Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest and the Semi-submersible. I wrote a mini-review of the submersible trip: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=348904&highlight=submersible. Suffice it to say that I wont do it again once was enough! The Sea Otter excursion was terrific we boarded the excursion boat directly from the Island, so no need to tender to shore and then meet up with our group very convenient! The crew of the boat was friendly and knowledgeable and we spotted tons of wildlife, including several whales frolicking within about 200 feet of the boat. The guide told us that it was one of the best showings he had ever seen. Loved it, and highly recommend it! The trip included free admission to St. Michaels, but we didnt have time. We grabbed a reindeer dog in between excursions. Next time were going to walk up to the Raptor Center and not take any ships tours. Two was really one too many.
In Ketchikan, we walked up to Creek Street in the morning and checked out the stores. On the way back to town, we spotted a Mexican restaurant, Chicos, and just had to try it. It was very good. I had a gyro (!) and DH had tacos. We had booked an afternoon Misty Fjords trip directly with Island Wings, based on what we read on Cruise Critic. We had booked the Fjords & Glacier combination, but the glaciers were fogged in, so the trip was shortened to the Fjords only (and the price was lowered accordingly) Wow! What a flight! Michelle is a terrific pilot, and pointed out all kinds of interesting sights. She landed on one of the lakes and we were able to get out, go to a little bit of land and take some pictures of the breathtaking scenery.
In Victoria, where weve been several times, we walked to Craigdarroch Castle, which is only 2 inches from the pier on my AAA map, but is about a 45- minute walk. It was a good workout, which we needed, so we didnt mind. Wandering around the castle was a fun way to spend an hour. We walked back to the Inner Harbour and had lunch at Il Pescatore, a place we had stumbled upon in 2004. Its just up the street from the Empress Hotel. We both had a salmon sampler, and it was delicious. The amber ale went down easily, too! We got back to the ship (on foot) at about 4:00.
We had a very active Roll Call, and had a terrific sailaway party in the Wheelhouse Lounge on Deck 7. Sue T. at Princess was good enough to set up 2 parties (I booked one and jrobinson booked the other so I wouldnt look greedy), which consisted of some reserved space, a dedicated waiter and some peanuts & pretzels. Fortunately, we all got along in person as well as we did online! The second party was on the 10th, our second sea day, at Crooners.
Colo Cruiser spoke with the CD, Richard Joseph, about having another get together, and he came through for us he hosted a champagne & mimosa party for us on the 13th, as I recall. They served some nice munchies and some members of the entertainment staff (CDs in training) mingled with us.
We got a fabulous deal on our cabin, so we spent the money we saved in the spa. DH had 2 Swedish massages, and loved both (same tech both times). I had a Swedish (excellent) and a seaweed wrap/massage combination (heaven on earth). As veterans of the Steiner sales pitches, we were able to fend off any attempts to sell us product I told my techs up front that I didnt want anything, and they accepted that gracefully.
We mostly had good weather from LA to SF. Our first sea day out of SF was pretty rocky, and the Horizon Court, all the way forward & bumpy as all get out, was pretty much deserted. I slept all morning, but felt better after a workout, and things calmed down by the evening. We had some rain in Sitka, and clouds in Ketchikan, but the seas remained calm. We had a glorious day in Victoria, and Tonidee and her husband hosted a wonderful sailaway party as we left the harbour, then turned in lazy circles all the way to Vancouver.
We had thought of trying for the 11:15 flight, but decided to book the next Air Canada flight at 3:55. Although we probably would have made the earlier one, it was less stress wondering if something might go wrong. We booked the Vancouver city tour to kill some time until the flight. We arose in time to watch our passage under the Lions Gate Bridge, had breakfast in the dining room served by the surliest waitstaff of the entire cruise, then finished packing our carry ons and went to the Universe Theater to await our tags (Navy 1). We were off the ship at about 8:15 (1/2 an hour behind schedule), through Canadian customs in about 2 minutes, collected our bags and went to the waiting area for the tour. We were on the bus by 9:15, as I dimly recall. The driver was fun he took us through Chinatown, Gastown and Stanley Park, making two stops for photos and snacks. We were at the airport a little after noon. US customs was understaffed so it took close to an hour to get through the line, but as we had plenty of time, it was no biggie. I did have time to compare duty-free prices between the airport and the ship, and the ship had better prices on what we were interested in (Clinique and Johnny Walker Blue). We were home to be slobbered on by the dogs by 8:00.
This cruise was the most fun I have experienced, thanks to all of our new Cruise Critic friends. Quite a number of us have booked the Diamond repositioning cruise for 2007. I cant wait!
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