We just returned from a 2 week Land/Cruise Tour, arranged by Princess Cruises, to Alaska on the Grand Princess. Although we are experienced cruisers, this was our first time travelling with Princess. I must say our disappointment began before we even left home. This review is not about Alaska or the excursions we took, which were wonderful, but about Princess Cruise Lines. Along with the land and sea package, we also booked our airfare with the expectation of security of travel arrangements. I understand that flights in and out of Alaska are limited, but Princess should be aware of what is offered their passengers from their website. We were to arrive in Fairbanks at 2:00 am the morning before our tour began. Several months before our vacation, I called Princess to specifically ask about accommodations for this day since check-in was listed as 3:00 pm and was assured by their representative that they were aware of our arrangements and accommodations would be available to us. Four days before the trip began, I received a call from another representative explaining there would be no accommodations available for the first day. After contacting customer service and having my complaint escalated through many levels, we were extended several complimentary services on board ship and I made our own arrangements for the first night.
It was not until we arrived in Fairbanks that we found out the Princess Wilderness Lodge did not open until 12:00 noon the day our Land tour began. We stayed at a hotel not owned by Princess and had to transfer to the Wilderness Lodge closer to their listed check-in time. Upon check-in, our room was extremely hot. I called the front desk and was told to open the window. We went to dinner and returned to a still hot room. After another call to the front desk, I was told the chillers were emptied over the winter and hadn't been filled yet. After some insistence, a fan was brought to our room. We spent an extremely hot and sleepless night. On our way to breakfast we passed a maintenance worker and explained our situation to him. He assured us that he would take care of it and we would have a cool room when we returned from our excursion. I wish I knew his name because he was true to his word; we came back to a nice cool room. Menu selections were pricey and very limited with little opportunity to go elsewhere. The shampoo and shower gel dispenser was empty for our entire visit. When the manager asked me at check-out how I liked my stay I explained my experience and his response was he had just arrived opening day.
Our next stop was the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge. Thankfully, this lodge seemed to know guests were to arrive and were prepared for us. There was no soap available to wash our hands, but was rectified quickly. The morning of check-out we came back from breakfast to find our room had been stripped. There was a note of apology on the bed from housekeeping explaining they thought we had checked out. This was a small scale problem compared to the inefficiency of the other lodges. There was a larger selection of menu items, and we had a very nice dinner with a beautiful view in the King Salmon restaurant.
Next we stayed at the worst of the three lodges, the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. Check-in was horrendous. You would think this was the first time they had ever received guests. We were given rooms in the next to last building, a good way from the main lodge. Our key cards did not work, but luckily there was a telephone in the small lobby of the building. Upon calling the front desk I was told someone would be right there to help us. We waited 30 minutes for someone to come just to check our keycards. After they verified the keycards did in fact not work, they let us into our rooms and we were told someone would bring us new keycards. We were not the only people with these issues and after a while, the front desk did not answer the telephone. This was disturbing since the front desk line is also the line to call for emergencies. Heaven help the poor person having an emergency! This took several hours of back and forth and wasted vacation time to sort out. There is an on-site shuttle, but this takes at least 30-45 minutes to complete the circuit and was little or no use to us on our many trips. Thanks to the wonderful staff in the 20,320 Alaskan Grill, we did have a nice dinner. The hostess and wait staff were wonderful.
We took the train from Talkeetna to Anchorage which was very nice and relaxing. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and engaging. The wait staff were friendly and very helpful. We stayed at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage. This is a very large hotel, but ran very efficiently. The beds were very comfortable and we had a good night sleep.
The next morning we got on a bus to go to the ship in Whittier. The check-in went smoothly and we were allowed on board the ship. Caesar, our cabin steward, was very nice and kept our cabin clean and tidy. On our way to lunch at the Horizons buffet we were approached many times, almost to the point of harassment, to purchase upgraded drink packages. During lunch we did purchase a wine tasting from our waiter. On exiting the dining area a table was set up advertising the wine tasting. We went over to see what wines would be offered and were told we needed to purchase the upgraded tasting because cheap wines were offered at the one we had purchased.
The next night we had dinner in the Crown Grill, a specialty steak restaurant. The wait staff were aloof and disengaged. They seemed to operate in a state of confusion. The food was mediocre and cold. For a specialty restaurant the attention to detail was lacking.
The Wheelhouse Bar was upbeat and fun. The bartenders were engaging and worked very hard during happy hour. This became our favorite place to unwind. The Explorer Lounge was fun for Karaoke. We went to the Motor City show in the Vista Lounge. The lounge is in desperate need of updating and a very poor venue for entertainment. The ceiling is very low making for terrible acoustics and there are large columns which obstruct the view. We had Anytime Dining which worked well for us. The staff in the Michelangelo Dining room were great. We requested the same table each night because we were so charmed by our waitress, Iwona. She was very professional and knowledgeable regarding menu items, and a pleasure to be with.
Public restrooms are difficult to find and were out of order most of the time. Signage on board is poor making it difficult to find your way around the ship. There were long lines at the customer service desk and the self serve kiosk was out of order most of the time. There was a long wait for disembarkation.
In summary, we felt held hostage with no free will by Princess while given very little or no information regarding our inquiries. We were left with a very low confidence level in Princess' ability to solve the issues we encountered. Lesson learned - NEVER take the first tour of the season.
Princess advertises - "Come back new"- I'm afraid we came back exhausted and stressed.