We had a great Alaska cruise on the Island Princess. While the Island mostly does the Voyage of the Glaciers route between Vancouver and Whittier, this was one of two Inside Passage cruises, round-trip from Vancouver, that the Island did at the beginning of the season.
There were 3 ships in Vancouver on the day we left, so we decided to check in early. This turned out to be a good strategy. We arrived at Canada Place at 10 am, and we were through check-in and immigration by 10:30. We had to wait until they were ready to board, but we were the first passengers on the ship at 11:15.
Disembarkation was even faster. We did the express walk off and it was literally 5 minutes from leaving our cabin until we were out on the street. We didn't even have to stop for customs/immigration - just handed our customs cards to the officers as we walked by, with no questions, no need to show our passport, etc.
The ship looked great. Some people complain about the changes to the ship made back in 2015, when they added 100+ cabins at the back of the ship and eliminated the Universe Lounge and the aft public decks. I've been on the Island twice since they did this, and the changes didn't bother me. I don't find the Island to be more crowded than other Princess ships. We did Anytime Dining, and it worked great. We ate at various times between 5:30 and 8 pm, always asked for a table for two, and were always able to get in right away, even at peak times such as 7:00-7:30 on formal nights. Despite there being no Universe Lounge, we never had any problem finding seats in the theater for the shows. We generally went to the late shows, and they never completely filled up.
I love spending time out on the Promenade deck and the Island Princess has a great Promenade deck. Compared with the Grand Class ships, it is wider and has real teak decking. There are lots of teak loungers, and we never had any problem finding one available (in part because the weather was generally cool). You can no longer walk around the aft section of the Promenade deck, but I didn't find this a problem - either just cut through the back doors, or some people just walked a big horseshoe back and forth. If you want to view out the back of the ship, there is a public deck at the back of the Emerald deck (one deck up from the Promenade). There are also public viewing areas at the front of Baja and Caribe decks.
As is typical of the round-trip cruises out of Vancouver, there were lots of fellow Canadians on board - 900 out of 2200 passengers, making them the largest group by nationality. Of the Canadians, most were from British Columbia. Americans were the next largest group. There also seemed to be lots of Australians on board.
I mostly go on longer cruises, so one thing I noticed on this cruise was how many newbies were on board. At the Captain Circle Party, they said 1400 out of 2200 passengers were first time on Princess. There were only about 120 Elites and 190 Platinum. I'm Elite, so this certainly helped with the Elite laundry perk: on some recent cruises it has taken 3-4 days to get laundry back, but this time I always got it back by the next day - once even on the same day.
I thought the food on this cruise was great. I love fresh fruit, and they had the best cantaloupe and green grapes that I've ever had on a cruise. We generally ate breakfast and lunch in the buffet and dinner in the main dining room, and found the food to be consistently good. My only criticism would be the desserts. Aside from the Chocolate Journeys (which are great), I found the desserts a bit lacking at times. I've heard some people say recently that the pizza on Princess isn't as good as it used to be. I found the pizza on the Island to be as delicious as always. The soft serve ice cream (located in the Lotus Pool area) is also really good - much better than the ice cream in the dining room, in my opinion.
The production shows were “The Secret Silk”, “Encore”, and “On the Bayou”. We actually had two different sets of singers and dancers on this cruise. One group was just finishing their contract. They performed “The Secret Silk”, which I’d never seen before – I really liked it, and the staging was a notch better than usual on Princess. I also really liked "Encore".
MUTS movies were Black Panther, The Greatest Showman, The Post, The Last Jedi, Justice League, and Jumanji. I love getting bundled up for MUTS on cold-weather cruises!
Wildlife and Weather
This was a great cruise for wildlife spotting. On our first sea day in Hecate Strait off the British Columbia coast, we saw the biggest group of whales I have ever seen on a cruise. There must have been 50 of them - there were continual spouts everywhere you looked. One of the whales also came closer to the ship than I've ever seen - it couldn't have been more than 10-20 meters from the side of the ship. We also saw lots of Pacific White Sided dolphins following and porpoising beside the ship, as well as lots of sea otters in Glacier Bay, seals, sea lions, and orcas.
The weather was a bit of a mixed bag: we had rain in Juneau, it started out cold, windy and drizzly in Skagway, but the sun came out in the afternoon, and we had a beautiful sunny day in Ketchikan. Glacier Bay was overcast and misty – in fact you couldn’t even see Margerie Glacier as we approached. But then, the fog lifted and we got very close for a great view. We saw some spectacular calving. I’m not sure if this was just to make us feel good, but Captain, the ships videographer, and the on-board Naturalist all said this was the most calving they had seen at Glacier Bay in several years of going there.
I was surprised at how little the outdoor pool was used on this cruise. I went swimming every day (the water was very warm), but in all the times I was up by the pool, I never saw anyone else in swimming.
My one big disappointment with most Alaska cruises is that they don't go into the British Columbia part of the Inside Passage between northern Vancouver Island and the Alaska border. Instead, first sea day after leaving Vancouver, you are out at sea (Hecate Strait) generally no land visible. It's too bad, because having gone through the B.C. Inside Passage on a ferry, it is beautiful scenery.
This is a standard oceanview obstructed cabin. We usually book inside cabins, but for this cruise, the price was the same. We had a partial view over the top of the life boat - you could see what the weather was like and whether there was land out there.
Generally the room was very comfortable.
Vancouver is a great city to explore and I love the sailaway from here.
We took the public transit bus out to see the Mendenhall Glacier. A real bargain for $2 each way. You have to walk about 20-30 minutes to reach the Visitor Center, but it's an interesting walk with beaver dams along the way.
I also recommend walking the trail up to the top of Mount Roberts - there's a great view at the top.
Great little town to walk around and explore. I also like the walk over to Yakutania Point. If you want to get out of town, I would suggest renting a car and driving over the White Pass into British Columbia and the Yukon. You can easily get to Carcross, Yukon and back, and the scenery all along the way is amazing. You see much more this way than if you just take the train to the top of the pass.
Beautiful and amazing as always.