My wife and I traveled with our two children, ages 5 and 7, on the Coral Princess 7 day, northbound Vancouver to Whittier "Voyage of the Glaciers" sailing.
The ship - the Coral Princess is a newer ship and it is beautiful. The most notable comment I have is that, although the ship was full to capacity with nearly 2000 passengers and about 900 crew, it never felt crowded. There are a huge number of public rooms and various nooks and crannies where you can hang out. So, whether you want peace and quiet or lots of activity, there's a place for you on the ship.
Embarkation - we boarded the ship at Canada Place in Vancouver. We dropped off our luggage in the late morning and then caught an IMAX show at the Pier before boarding. Boarding was quick and easy. When we got to our cabin, our luggage was already there waiting for us.
Our cabin - we booked an outside cabin with a balcony. There is really no point to booking an inside cabin on an Alaskan cruise. For a family of four, this cabin had two bunk style beds that dropped down from the ceiling above the two lower beds. The upper berths were put away during the day. As is true on most ships, the cabins are small, the bathrooms even smaller. But, somehow, the 4 of us managed to keep our stuff put away so we could co-exist in cramped quarters.
There are two large swimming pools. One outdoor and one indoor pool (retractable roof) for the Alaska sailings. We never had a problem finding available deck chairs, nor did the pools seem crowded. Obviously, this is probably different than what might be experienced on a Caribbean cruise.
Although we didn't use it, the spa and fitness rooms looked very nice. The ship has two main entertainment venues - the Princess theater forward and the Universe Lounge aft. The entertainment was generally good. The ship had its "house" singers and dancers that put on a really good Motown review one night. There were also guest entertainers - magician, comedian, juggler - all of whom were very good.
Our biggest concern getting on the ship was that our younger kids (ages 5 & 7) would have something to do when they decided that they could no longer look at glaciers. Although I have nothing to compare it to, all I can say is that our kids (and many others) were always excited to go to the kids club on the days we were at sea. The staff was first rate and they planned a decent variety of activities to keep the kids' attention. Also, the security and safety of all the kids seemed to be the top priority. The Kids Zone was a very secure area, with strict sign in procedures. Pagers were provided to the parents in case something came up while we were away. Overall, we were very pleased (as were our kids) with the kids club activities.
Dining - the ship has two dining options: 1 dining room for the traditional early and late seatings. The second dining room was for "anytime dining," which we opted for. Overall, we liked the flexibility of anytime dining. The only problem was if you didn't eat on the earlier side, there could be long wait to sit down if you showed up around 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. The dining room had a basic kids menu which had the usual suspects - hamburger, chicken fingers, fish sticks, etc. The ship also has two speciality restaurants (Italian and a Cajun themed steakhouse), which we did not eat at. There is also a pool side pizzeria and grill (burgers, hot dogs), which the kids liked. Finally, there is a 24 hour buffet that changes its selection of food depending on the time of day.
Our biggest criticism of the ship was the food. Not that it was bad; it just wasn't that good. The menu selections in the dining room often were a bit eclectic, and were short on what I'd call more mainstream type entrees. (On one evening, the entree selections were Venison, frog legs, and some strange fish). As a result, my wife and I felt each evening that there were often too few choices that interested us. Looking at the menus in the speciality restaurants, it appeared that the menus there were also a bit strange.
With the exception of breakfast, which was always decent, the Horizon Court Buffet was fairly poor. If you wanted to eat there for lunch or dinner, it appeared that the chefs took left over ingredients and combined them into rather odd concoctions. At least in my view, the buffet was not very palatable at all.
The food in the dining room was reasonably well prepared. Those menu items that interested my family did taste good and the desserts were always good. Overall, though, we'd rate the dining experience on this ship as only being average.
Of course, the main reason one goes on an Alaskan cruise is for the scenery/wildlife and the cruise did not disappoint here.
Ketchikan - a very cute downtown area. We did a rainforest tour, which was just ok. However, the lumberjack show was a big hit with both my wife and I and our kids. I heard from other passengers that the Misty Fjords flight tours were very good. The only problem with this port is it's a short stop - you leave at 2:00 pm on the northbound cruise. So, you don't have a lot of time to do all that you might want to.
By the way, we had very unusual Alaska weather. No rain. Sunny and in the mid to upper 70s in our ports of call.
Juneau - this is the main whale watching stop. We opted to skip the ship's tour and booked our own whale watching tour through Orca Enterprises (aka Captain Larry's whale watching tour). Don't walk, run to book this tour when you get off the ship (there are booths everywhere near the docks and Orca Enterprises has its storefront right on the main street next to the Alaska Shirt company). The naturalist from our ship happened to be with us on this tour and she said this tour is consistently the top rated whale watching tour in southeast Alaska). In the 2 1/2 hours we were on the water, we came across a pod of Orcas that came within 50 yards of the boat. Then we spent quite a while watching a group of 7-10 humpback whales engaging in cooperative "bubble feeding." It was like being in the middle of a Discovery Channel show. It was really the most thrilling outdoor whale watching adventure we'd ever been on.
Skagway - at first glance, we weren't sure what to expect at this stop. Not much peaked our interest on the list of shore excursions. We first took a "Gold Adventure" tour in the a.m. with the kids. It was surprisingly interesting and the kids had a blast panning for gold. Then, on the recommendation of the ship's naturalist, we just rented a car (check out Sourdough rental car at Broadway and 6th) and drove. Skagway is very scenic. We first drove on a road (much of it gravel) to the town of Dyea. Very scenic ride along a glacial water inlet. It ends near a sled dog camp which runs tours from the ship. We weren't able to get into the dog camp on our own, although we did see the puppies. Anyhow, the whole ride to Dyea is filled with scenery and wildlife (eagles, seals, bears). We then backtracked a bit and drove about 9 miles along the Yukon highway, which runs adjacent to a spectacular gorge with lots of pull outs to be able to stop and look at the sights. I highly recommend that you try and drive around when you're in Skagway. The town itself is small, but rather fun to walk around.
Glacier Bay and College Fjords - After the whales, these two stops really are the highlights of the cruise. It really takes your breath away when the ship is stopped next to the massive glaciers. The captain takes his time and spins the ship at times so you can sit on your balcony if you have one and soak in the views. On the very last night of the cruise, the ship was parked at the very end of the College Fjords. With the kids off to the kids club and most of the passengers in the dining room, my wife and I had a quiet dinner in the Horizon Court buffet and we sat all the way forward where there are glass windows all around. I can't imagine a more impressive dinner with a view - glaciers were surrounding us on all sides as we ate our dinner.
Our overall cruise experience was quite good. The ship was beautiful and the sights were even better. The staff, from our room steward to the waiters to the deck attendants were all very friendly and often went out of their way to do the little things to make the cruise even better. Unless you are insistent on a ship with high quality, "fine dining," we would highly recommend this ship and itinerary to anyone that appreciates the beauty and grandeur of Alaska.