This cruise, my first, was primarily a trip to visit with family, but secondarily we wanted to enjoy the mountains, glaciers, and wildlife viewing. Overall, it was wonderful, and I have already recommended it to a few friends. For my review, I will touch briefly each component of the cruise, with a target audience of novice cruisers like myself in mind. If you are an experienced or wealthy cruiser who prefers to spend more time at the bars and nightclub and looks forward to the formal nights, then this review will likely not be helpful to you.
I recommend to those who also weigh heavily the nature portion of the cruise that you obtain a detailed itinerary for the first two cruising days (days 1 and 2 at Yakutat Bay and Glacier Bay, respectively) as soon as possible and use it to prepare your schedule. I never saw one until we received the Princess Patter—which is a daily newsletter placed in your room’s mailbox in the evening that contains the next day’s itinerary—and I felt a step behind as a result.
At Yakutat Bay, after a foggy morning the sun came out when we arrived at Hubbard Glacier, which made for breathtaking scenery. On top of that, Hubbard Glacier gave us quite the show! The same area of the glacier kept calving over and over, which prompted the naturalist to instruct us to keep an eye on that area because repeated calving in the same area is a sign of instability. That we did, and eventually a moderate-sized piece gave way. I thought that might be it, but it kept going until an entire tower of ice tumbled over into the water generating quite a wave and creating a small iceberg! Both sides of the ship received equal viewing time at Hubbard Glacier.
On the morning of Glacier Bay, there was so much fog that visibility could not have been more than a hundred feet, but once again it lifted by early afternoon. When the landscape appeared, Glacier Bay impressed with its glaciers and backgrounds of snow-capped mountain peaks. We did not witness nearly as much calving as we did at Hubbard Glacier, though. The shipped stayed at Margerie Glacier for what seemed like two hours (more than scheduled). Here, the port side of the ship received 80% of the viewing time for some reason, which disappointed us starboard siders. The scenery in the bay was nonstop from this point on. I found the ranger narration to be pleasant with an appropriate amount of talking, except in one case when he claimed to have spotted a brown bear swimming in the water and did not provide enough instruction on how to find it. No one in our area ever saw it, grr!
Skagway exceeded my expectations. The ship should spend more time there. The downtown area is the typical tourist scene, but I like those every once in a while, and Skagway’s is nice with plenty of stores. You can take a free, ranger-led tour from the visitor center at 2nd and Broadway, which we started to do until we realized that you are supposed to sign up for it because some of the locations that the tour visits have limited capacity. For an excursion, we chose the Haines Wilderness River Adventure (SGY-700) over renting a car at Avis to drive to Emerald Lake.
The Haines tour was good, but a bit rushed. The ferry to Haines was indeed very scenic as we had read. There was not much to see on the bus to the boats, so the quality of that part of the trip will depend on your driver. We had this boat captain character named C.P. who I thought was a riot, but I could see where his blunt humor might not fit well with a more sensitive or upper-class crowd. He knew just about every person we passed on the road and told several anecdotes.
On the boat ride itself, we saw a buck moose and a few bald eagles, but were hoping to see more wildlife. The other boat did not see the moose, and our captain, Sierra, told us that it is rare to see bears on the tour. That being said, kudos to Sierra for spotting the moose and taking the time to turn the boat around to go see it!
The moose was not our only good fortune: Sierra took us all the way to Bear Lake, which she said can only be done a few times a season because conditions have to be perfect to access it. She stopped the motor there and we enjoyed a serene, isolated setting in the middle of the small lake surrounded by spectacular grassy marshes and mountain landscapes. I would have preferred to be on the water for much longer, as the 1.5-hour trip flew by. Perhaps they could accomplish that by having lunch in the boat or in a patch of solid grassland somewhere out in that wilderness instead.
Upon return to the ship, we attended an event at midship where you could pet sled dog puppies that had been brought on board. It was a big hit! Again, remember to check the daily itinerary to learn about these special events so that you won’t miss the ones that interest you.
In Juneau, do not miss the bubble-net feeding humpback whales if you sail in late July as we did! It was one of the top highlights of the whole trip. I recommend a whale-watching plus Mendenhall Glacier combo, as Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls were also nice. If you are limited, though, try to learn whether the tours are finding the whales and whether they are bubble-net feeding at the time of year that you are there. If so, then take a chance on seeing the whales over the short trip to Mendenhall Glacier.
Thumbs down for Ketchikan. The weather was foggy and overcast for us; therefore, I am not sure if the scenery is normally good, but we did not see much. Overall, I was not impressed with Ketchikan and could have done without that stop. I would much prefer more time in Skagway or Juneau over Ketchikan, but our cruise had it reversed. Consider staying on the ship or booking an excursion that takes you out of the city.
From downtown Ketchikan, we took the public bus to Totem Bight State Park based on Sheridan's port guide. I didn't care to see the totem poles, but I was looking forward to searching for wildlife from the park. I was very disappointed. While we did see a magnificent bald eagle there, the park was tiny and the wildlife viewing opportunities were not good. For the time and money (2+ hours + $4 bus roundtrip + $5 park fee) it was not worth it.
On the last day, consider allocating some time to watch for wildlife in the Inside Passage, especially if you have a balcony room. Between sleeping in, exercising in the fitness room, attending trivia, playing cards, and eating, I did not dedicate any time to watch for wildlife, and I regret it. Also note that you start to lose some daylight time by the time you sail through the Inside Passage; so, I made a mistake by waiting until after a late dinner to look outside – it was already getting too dark. Through the windows while eating and playing cards, I noticed smooth waters and small, picturesque islands passing by. I suspect those are excellent conditions for dolphin- and whale-watching. Don’t miss your chance!
Now on to the ship. By the way, you can familiarize yourself with the deck plans of the ship (available on the Princess web site) before your cruise. Consider doing so even before choosing your cabin.
On board, the general mood of the ship was festive and there always seemed to be some hustle and bustle at midship where the stores and a couple of bars are located. I have read a few other reviews that complain about the shops and sales in the midship area. I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed or made use of them, but other than a few times when sales events were announced over the speakers, I didn’t find them overly bothersome. In the afternoons and evenings, musicians played at midship, adding to the pleasant atmosphere. Some bars and the nightclub were not open during the day, but you could still go sit there, even though no employees were working. In fact, the nightclub on the top deck had comfortable-looking seats and good views, making it a bit of a surprise to see it mostly empty when I went up there to check it out.
The anytime dining in the Capri Dining Room was five-star. The service was incredible and the food was excellent (though keep in mind I have never experienced five-star dining before). In my group, we typically each ordered an appetizer or salad, a dish from the “always available” section, and a main. We also ordered one more main for the table. According to the experienced cruisers in the group, you can order more if desired. And yes, they had desserts and they were delicious. I will mention that I did notice a high noise level during our last dinner, straining conversation, but otherwise the dining experience was fantastic – don’t miss it!
If I may, I would like to commend Nadia from Argentina of the wait staff, who provided the most outstanding service of our trip. Thank you, Nadia!
The Horizon Food Court was a mix of a cafeteria and a buffet. It had a decent selection of food, including two long stations dedicated to desserts, and the service was excellent. Note that if you see something nonstandard that you like, grab it, because that might be the only day they offer that item.
By the outdoor pool, you have three food stations: Prego Pizzeria, Trident Grill, and the ice cream bar. Note that you can watch Movies Under the Stars from here, too.
The Prego Pizzeria was okay. I was told before the cruise that Princess has the best pizza of all the cruise lines, but while good, it didn’t blow me away. Also, the selection was poor: they offered cheese, pepperoni, and one special each day, but that was it.
The Trident Grill had a better selection. They offered hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken sandwiches. You could add fries, too. I got a hamburger and it was fine—comparable to fast-food as you might expect. The queues there were much longer than at the pizza station, but the guys behind the counter did a great job working quickly to keep the line moving.
I tried the ice cream bar by the outdoor pool once. I got a vanilla ice cream sundae with chocolate sauce and it was great, though I would have preferred hot fudge, which they did not offer. (Now that I think about it, hot fudge was not offered anywhere on the ship that I know of.) They also have soft-serve vanilla, chocolate, or swirl cones, along with a few topping choices including sprinkles.
There are a few pools on the ship (at least four), but the two biggest pool areas I saw are on the Lido deck. The Neptune pool area is outdoor and could get cool, while the Calypso pool area is covered and felt a bit steamy at times. Those two areas were generally dominated by families with kids. Mostly kids were in the pools, while mixes of all ages were in the hot tubs when I walked by. I suspect that if you are bringing your kids, then you will be spending a lot of time in these two pool areas, and if you are not traveling with any kids, then you will not be.
The Princess Theater was nice and the three production shows I attended were excellent. The dancers were attractive and, to my untrained eye, highly competent. One of the male dancers stood out and received extra applause for a couple of his solos. My only complaints would be that the volume was too high, and one show in particular pointed the lights into the audience which was disorienting and detracted from the show. A comedian did a couple of gigs in the theater on one night, but I was disappointed not to see a magician on the schedule. On the final night, the theater hosted the Voice of the Ocean finale, a voice competition where apparently the winner was determined by audience vote.
The other entertainment options were good. The best event I attended was the Majority Rules event, where the hosts, which included Cruise Director Steve Campbell, were hilarious when commenting on the audience’s answers. I recommend it. The Liars Game and the Match Game were other good ones. My family and I attended several trivia sessions, which we liked, but they were typically low-energy. Unfortunately, while I wanted to, I did not attend any Movies Under the Stars either due to bad weather, the foghorn (which is extremely loud there), conflicts with dinner, or the movie shown. I mention only to recommend that you schedule your evening, account for weather, and have a plan B if you want to watch any Movies Under the Stars.
The fitness room was small and only had a few weight machines, so I never used them. The first day, I had to wait a few minutes for a treadmill, but there was no wait on subsequent visits. The treadmills had televisions, but they did not have any of those new systems where you can run through a famous city. The room did have large windows, though, so you could enjoy the scenery while exercising, which was nice. An adjoining room held fitness classes, such as Zumba, but I didn’t attend any.
The casino was usually empty during the day, but got busier in the evening. Note that smoking is allowed (except for a couple of smoke-free nights) and you will smell it if you come anywhere near the casino on those evenings. I specifically noticed (in addition to several other tables and gaming machines) a few blackjack tables, at least one craps table, and one electronic Texas Hold 'em table, which I found fascinating to watch.
That about covers the components of the cruise that I experienced. Hope that helps.
Keep in mind that this was my first cruise and I am usually a value traveler, but to me the cabin and balcony were excellent.
One of the first things I noticed when the ship got underway was that you could feel the vibrations of the ship’s engines in our room. It didn’t bother me, but it was unexpected. The engines are generally quiet, but you do hear them. For me, it acted as a distant and pleasing white noise—except when docking or turning because the vibrations and noise picked up significantly then.
The balcony had plenty of space for the two of us. I suspect that a family of four would be just fine out there watching the glaciers (although only two chairs were provided). The view did not have any obstructions.
On the inside, I could see where a very large or tall individual would have trouble in the bathroom and shower, but I had no troubles whatsoever at six feet tall. The shower was fantastic: excellent heat and water pressure. The twin bed was comfortable. Space was tight in the open closet area.
Location of the cabin was great as we were directly below the cafeteria food services and had a short walk to the stairs and elevators. Not as good for the fitness room, which is forward, and required a walk outside through cool weather when sweaty. I don't consider it a long walk to get to the forward sections of the ship. I never timed it, but I would allocate five minutes to take the stairs quickly and walk briskly to the Princess Theater from our room, for example. Probably more like ten to walk it at a leisurely pace.
Finally, the room is starboard and I thought we may have made a mistake by not requesting a portside room for the southbound itinerary (since the mountains are to the left when traveling south). I don’t have any regrets now, though, since we saw plenty of mountains during the scenic cruising.