Coral Princess Alaska Southbound 8/20/2011: Coral Princess Cruise Review by GweninTX
Overall Member Rating
Coral Princess Alaska Southbound 8/20/2011
Princess embarkation process was simple, and handled very well. We were lucky in that we went on an afternoon 26 Glacier cruise out of Whittier on Major Marine from 1:15 to 6:15 - so we were able to drop off our luggage outside at 12:45 and go on our cruise. When we returned from the cruise there was no one in line and we got our paperwork done extremely quickly, pics taken and walked right to our room. Our luggage was already in our room waiting on us. Overall - The embarkation in Whittier is probably one of the least crowded you could come across. Boarding was spread out from probably 12:30 PM through 7:00 PM, with buses and trains evenly spaced throughout that period. Rather low stress all around. The only stress for some was a fatality accident on the highway between Anchorage and Whittier which closed the rode from 4:15 till midnight. 19 people did not make the cruise at all and were stuck in Anchorage and a large truck with luggage for 126 cruisetour More passengers did not make it either! Made for a fun first formal night - lots of jeans seen! They got their luggage in the first port and the 19 passengers also boarded there too! Maybe a plug for taking the train??
Given the late departure from Whittier, the first night of dining was handled by cards handed to us upon check in. So, for one night only, we were in the Bordeaux dining room at 8:00pm....or immediately after the required safety/lifeboat drill. Walked right in and were seated immediately.
The drill, conducted at 7:45pm, was very organized and quick, in that all groups met INSIDE in one lounge/showroom/theater or another, rather than forcing us to stand on deck. It was quick and painless. The best I have ever experienced!
I would say that Coral Princess in general did NOT have a high pressure sales atmosphere, (photographers, drink options, wine tastings, etc.) "No Thank You" worked the first time, and nobody tried to force us into anything we didn't want. I had to hunt down the correct bar to buy my coffee card - no one offered me one at all! I even attended a "FREE" vodka tasting in the Wheelhouse bar and got a pretty good buzz that afternoon on all the samples they gave us - but then I am a cheap drunk! They did not pressure us to buy and gave away a free bottle of Vodka and showed 4 different drinks and gave those away too! (I won nothing but enjoyed it a lot!)
We reserved, and received, two port side balcony rooms side by side on the Caribe deck. We were travelling with my sister and her husband - both of us were celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary. We reserved back in January to make sure we had connecting balconies and really enjoyed this feature! We could open the metal door between our balconies and go back and forth! The room was pretty much what I expected, and was perhaps a bit more roomy than I recall from my last cruise on Princess when we had an ocean view room. We had C624 and C626 and these were part of the furthest back bump out and made for a larger balcony. The balcony was half covered and half open which made it perfect! 4 chairs and a table. Complete privacy unless you were leaning over the railing.
The king sized bed was comfortable, and I had no complaints about it being too hard, as some have reported. I had sent a fax ahead of time and asked for the egg crate and the top sheet and both were on the bed. There was plenty of hanger space, and spare hangers, and we probably didn't even use all of them provided. A fairly large cabinet of shelves and nightstand drawers easily handled the rest of our clothing. The robes we requested were in such poor shape we did not use them. I was glad I had brought a light robe of my own. I requested a sharps container for my husband and it was brought instantly to our room. We removed all the soda and water from the refrigerator and we had plenty of room for soda, bottled water and wine.
The bathroom was sufficient, but we did experience the somewhat cramped shower that others have reported. But in reality, it was doable! I was glad I had brought the clothespins to hold down the shower - that worked quite well. I did not care for the scent of the lotion, shampoo and shower gel - eucalyptus - YUCK! Glad I had brought my own - but you could have used them if you could stand the smell. The hair dryer was pitiful and I was glad I had brought my own (1875 watts travel dryer with foldable handle at Wal-Mart - $9.88 ordered onsite and delivered to store) I also commandeered the desk to do my makeup and hair- not enough room or outlets for me! Worked out perfect as I could shower first and then give up the bathroom to my husband.
The one small complaint would be the stinky cigars I smelled from my balcony. I have only mentioned it for the benefit of the truly sensitive. It never bothered us much at all - but it was always there when we were outside.
Food and Dining
For the most part, we ate breakfast in the Bordeaux dining room. I love being served and enjoyed their specials they had each day. I did not care for their scrambled egg dishes - they did not taste like real eggs - but if you ordered eggs cooked to order or eggs Benedict they were delicious. The bacon is really good too! We loved the special French toast on debarkation morning and were glad we did not miss it. We never ate breakfast in the Horizon Court so I cannot comment on it for breakfast. Our lunches were a mix of Bordeaux dining room and Horizon Court. The special Glacier Day Seafood buffet was especially good on Hubbard Glacier day - it was served by the pizza restaurant and was really yummy. The clam chowder was especially good that day as it was cold and rainy. We also had the Pub lunch in Bayou Cafe - good fish and chips- but tiny portions! I absolutely LOVED the pizza. I had it 3 different times and the reindeer sausage was my favorite! We also enjoyed the Dessert buffet in the Horizon court at 11:00 AM on the last sea day - beautiful presentation and took lots of pics! We had first sitting (5:30 PM) traditional evening dining in the Provence dining room at a table for 8. We found the service adequate, but often we waited long periods for requested items. We noticed a huge difference in the attitude of the staff from 10 years ago when we still gave out the little envelopes of cash on the final night. In my opinion, the auto tip does not make them work very hard for it. They do just enough to get by and it is not the wonderful dining experience of 10 years ago. I am not saying it was BAD - I am just saying it has slipped a notch. We loved most dishes we ate and I was pleasantly surprised in the quality. I had read many reviews on the food and was expecting it too not be as good as it actually was! We requested escargot a second time and it was ready for us the night we requested. They sang to us to celebrate our anniversary and brought a surprisingly good cake with a candle on top to us. All in all - a big thumbs up for the traditional dining experience!
We ate at the Bayou cafe and we all were not impressed. Again - it was NOT the food, but the service that killed the experience for us. It was not busy the night we went - only 5 tables - but the service was so slow we did not enjoy it at all. There was NO reason that the service was so slow - there were plenty of waiters on hand. The oysters Bienville appetizer was to DIE for! The steaks were good, not great. We wanted to go to a show so we did not have dessert at all. I only recommend this restaurant if you want to devote the ENTIRE evening to it. We thought we could get thru in 2 ½ hours - NOT!! Because of this disaster, we cancelled our reservations for Sabattini's.
Overall as far as dining room food - I really enjoyed the appetizers, soups, and salads more than the main course, for the most part. The foods that stood out were the French onion soup, wild mushroom soup, all the cold soups, goat cheese soufflE (OMG), fettuccine Alfredo, fresh salmon filet, escargot and seafood salad appetizers. I was underwhelmed by all the desserts. Again, they weren't BAD, but they just didn't WOW me.
Room service was efficient and always brought at the time we requested. We tried the "egg McMuffin" knock off on an early morning we could not make it to the dining room and it was pitiful and not hot. It also had a runny yolk and would run all over you if you were not careful. Stick to the safe items like fruit and rolls. The granola was tasty too!
I bought a coffee card and LOVED it! The mug is really cheesy - the pad on the bottom of the mug fell off the first day, but the coffee was so good I did not care! We really used it a LOT and the brewed coffee is soooooo much better than the syrup swill. I just wished there were more places to use it on the Coral - I spent a lot of time at the Patisserie! If you time it right - 3:30 to 4:30 you can get a hot chocolate chip cookie off the cart that is parked by it! My timing was great! (like every day!) each morning I prayed my jeans would zip! I still have 6 punches and will put it in the safe for our next cruise!
PS - if you want a really COOL insulated coffee mug - go by a Starbucks before you get on the cruise in Anchorage -- I got the neatest mug that has a moose and bear on it and it says "Alaska" and was the superb quality Starbucks is known for and was only $9.98!
On Coral, for this itinerary, formal nights were the evening at Hubbard, and the evening we were in Juneau. Our cruise was a little unusual in that 162 people did not have luggage - i.e. - no formal wear - so they let anyone in the dining room in almost anything!
Just to cover a hot topic on CC, I found that MOST people were dressed appropriately for formal night on the second night. I saw mainly suits and dresses, a few tuxedos, and maybe a few skating by without jackets or ties. For me, it's a big "I don't care what you wear", but most want to know what to expect. Dress to the code, and you won't be out of place!
On casual nights, I didn't see too many people in inappropriate attire either. We did see some shorts during the one lunch we ate in the dining room, and the rules got stretched on the final night in the dining room, but for the most part, it was a well behaved cruise.
Public Spaces, Activities, and Options
I thought the Coral Princess was a very nicely laid out and decorated ship. Besides your own room deck, there are probably 3 decks you really care about, and everything you need to get to are within easy access. It is easy to remember where to go after about the first day. It is a long narrow ship and it is good to get your exercise walking from front to back! The gym was great and I loved the staff and trainers. I loved all the classes I went to! I did not go to the Spa - prices too high for me!
Shows and Entertainment
We loved ALL the stage shows. The comedian was really funny! The juggler was more of a comedian than a juggler and we laughed a lot. The true magician and his partner was my least favorite. The dancers were really good and I thought the production shows were great. I am a singer so am usually critical and these singers were really good! The Universal lounge has a really amazing stage that moves up and down and shifts for the entertainers and we really liked the show in there that featured songs of the 50's and 60's - we knew all the words! Adrian Zmed was great also and I was his dance partner on our cruise - do not sit on the front row if you do not want to be chosen. Everyone complimented me and said I did great - but I was sure glad when I got to sit down! There were movies most nights, but they we never went. We preferred the real deal! Patters were well written and my highlighter was well used each night while we waited for our show to start. I would run back to the room and pick it up after dinner so I could see what fun was in store for tomorrow! We had hoped to catch a "Movie Under the Stars", but it seemed that either the weather was against us, or the movie that night didn't interest us. All in all, there was plenty to keep a person busy.
Games, Casino and Trivia:
We played trivia several times and never won, but had a good time! We watched the Not so Newlywed game and laughed a lot! One of the highlights was learning to play Craps with lessons in the casino! I had always wanted to really understand it and they were so patient - even when I threw the dice off the table - LOL I doubled my hundred dollars in 2 hours! My brother-in-law won the Slot machine tournament - $500 and we loved how they ran the tournament - show up any time between noon and 3 to play your machine and the final 5 played for the big money! The machines had a counter on them and that was used for the final number! My husband did well on the slots - so all in all we liked the casino too!
We were shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, that the photographers were really quite good! Each formal night had several stations set up with backgrounds for pictures, each manned with a different photographer. It wasn't the "Smile-*Flash*-Next" thing we had experienced in the past. Actual cool backgrounds and posing - expect lines - we did them both before and after dinner. We LIKED the pictures they took, and bought a lot of them. We also bought enough to do the Pan Raven book and I have to get going on getting it put together! We got our cards stamped for getting all of the poses in all of the places and my Sis actually won one of the drawings - she got 2 free 8X10's - pretty cool! The only thing I would change is the horrible way you have to search for your portraits. You would think with technology they could give you numbers to find your prints --- a lot like an Easter egg hunt every day.
For me, this was the highlight of the trip. Everything I read said, "Hubbard or Glacier Bay: You have to see one of them". Getting to go to both was a real treat, and the reason we picked this itinerary. We were NOT disappointed and so happy that we had our balcony to watch from. Be sure and pick up a bottle of wine to share on the balcony for that day - it is one of my best memories of the cruise!
Our day at Hubbard started off a little scary. There was a heavy fog as we turned into Yakutat Bay, and I had visions of disaster running through my head. "What if we have to turn back and skip it?" OH NO.
But I shouldn't have worried. As we moved closer, the fog cleared, and it was a beautiful day at the glacier. Overcast, to be sure, but clear as high as the glacier was! And, according to the onboard naturalist, we got closer to the glacier than she had all year. It is truly majestic. Calving was slow to develop, but it picked up during the day so that it became more and more frequent. We saw bigger and better calving on our Kenai Fjords cruise out of Seward, but enjoyed it. We didn't see any HUGE calving events, but there were frequent small to mid-sized events, and they were spectacular. The creaking, popping, and crashing was exciting to watch!
Glacier Bay was just as good. Again - a bottle of wine after our really yummy Seafood buffet on the Horizon Court. (Do not miss this buffet!) The scenery and glaciers were just amazing as well. We got very close, again, to the Grand Pacific and Margerie glaciers. The Margerie is like a mini-Hubbard. White and blue, and dominating the sky. The naturalist explained that when it is overcast like it was you really get to see the beautiful blue in the glaciers because of how our eye sees it. Seals, and Sea Lions were spotted. And we were able to get far enough up the Johns Hopkins inlet to see the Johns Hopkins glacier. The naturalist, who knows a whole lot more than I do, said it was a rare treat. Be sure and go to the naturalist lectures or watch the re-runs on TV at night if you can stay awake. She really knew her stuff and added to the natural beauty outside our balcony! I attended all of her lectures in person and was never bored. She also was easy to talk to around the ship and I thought she was the perfect person for the job.
Ports and Excursions
Skagway: A nice little tourist town and our first stop. As soon as we got off the gangway we saw Dyea Dave in his big top hat and they showed us to our waiting van. We had booked this trip with Dyea Dave back in February and were so glad we did. Our trip took us all the way to Carcross, BC where we had lunch and then they dropped us off in Frasier and we took the White Pass Railroad back to Skagway. This really is the best of both worlds - a little pricey to do both the train and Dave's tour, but so worth it! The day started off kind of foggy and we stopped frequently to take pics. Dave had advised us to take the train back so the fog would have a chance to burn off. He was SO right - bright sunshine in the afternoon for our train trip! Our tour guide was also very good at telling us the history of Skagway and took us thru downtown to buy our train tickets and he told us the best places to shop and he was spot on! We really enjoyed the scenery and we ate lunch at a small family owned diner that had homemade soup (minestrone that day), homemade sandwiches (try her fresh salmon salad sandwich) and homemade pies (my groups loved the dutch apple - I did not indulge). I am SO glad we were on this small tour bus of 16 people - we could all get out quickly, take pics and get back on the road again. Those huge buses that you booked thru Princess looked AWFUL!! I give it an A for tours.
We had them drop us off in downtown to do our required amount of shopping. Was a beautiful afternoon and we used some of the coupons out of the free newspaper we were given as we got off the ship. Really fun place to shop - quaint shops with lots to see.
Juneau: We had used the Toursaver book and used a B1G1 free coupon for our whale watching trip with Alaska Galore Tours. I was very apprehensive, because they had recently gotten bad press about not picking people up for a tour. This group is a consolidator and books boat captains based on their needs - kind of like a matchmaking company! When we stepped off the Coral we immediately saw a woman with a sign that said Alaska Galore. I was immediately relieved and she showed us to a warm van that was waiting for us. It was cold and raining and we had dressed for it. (Be sure and buy WATERPROOF rain gear - do not scrimp on this - buy the best you can afford and try it out before you go - do not skip waterproof shoe or boots also!) we went by and picked up the other couple for our tour - there were 6 of us on our boat. When we got to the wharf we were met by our boat captain and his assistant. He recommended using the clean warm bathroom before we left on our trip - good idea! He had a head on his boat, but I was glad I did not need to take one minute away from our whale watching to go down to find it! The boat we were on was about 30 feet and was spotlessly clean. It was the perfect size for our group! We all had a place to sit inside and the upper deck was big enough for all of us when we went up there. He immediately found us humpback whales and we were thrilled. He talked on his radio with other captains and they all shared where all the whales were. He got excited as they were seeing pods of Orcas and could hardly wait to find them for us. I loved the fact that he was as excited about seeing the whales as we were. He was personable and easy to talk to. He really wanted to find the whales and did not disappoint. When we were watching the Orca's we saw another humpback and my husband asked if they ever jumped out of the water? He said, not very often - that is called breaching and we see it about every couple of weeks. About that time, a mature male jumped right out of the water as if to say - "Today is the day!" The boat captain said WOW! We stayed and watched that whale breach 16 times and got amazing pictures! He was even amazed at the number of times the whale continued to breach. All in all we had an amazing time with him! He offered us soft drinks and water numerous times and offered us cookies and granola bars for the trip back in. I give this trip an A++++++
We cancelled our plans to go to Mendenhall glacier because it was totally socked in with fog. Alaska Galore was more than willing to drop us off on the way back from whale watching. Strangely enough our van for the ride back to the ship said "Harv & Marv" on the outside of it which makes me believe they ALL work together on whale watches! We shopped for souveniers at this really neat store that was right next to where the Coral was docked. They had really good prices and we bought quite a few things.
Ketchikan: We didn't schedule a tour, and instead we rented a car from Alaska car rentals - $62 + tax - they came just as soon as we called them. We got a clean Jeep Cherokee which worked well for the 4 of us! Split between our 2 couples was a cheap day. We went all over and enjoyed a wonderful day with bright sunshine! This is a rarity in Ketchikan! I had printed out a map on the Ketchikan site and it gave us lots of places to go. We went to all the totem places and saw eagles in a nest. My sister and her husband wanted to go on a "Duck" ride so we took them to get their tickets. While they were on the Duck we went bird watching to a nearby lake. After we picked up my sis we went shopping at Tongass Trading Company - BEST shopping we found the entire trip for selection and price and they gave us a really nice shopping bag free! We went up to Creek Street and saw all the salmon ladders and sites there. We ended the day by watching bears eat salmon down at the boardwalk by the rainforest at Herring Creek. WOW!!
Disembarkation - Vancouver
All-in-all, I thought they did a very good job here. Bags were requested to be left outside our stateroom by 10:00pm, "or before you retire for the evening". We chose the latter = maybe about 11:00 PM and they seemed to be watching for them because as soon as we started putting them out they were whisking them away! We had filled out all the tags and thought the instructions were clear and simple. I LOVED that we were not bombarded by announcements over the PA system - they made a big point to let you know they would NOT be doing that and they did not.
We ate a leisurely breakfast in the Bordeaux dining room along with others who had late flights or were staying over. We LOVED the special cornflake coated French toast we had heard all about for debarkation breakfast. I did not want to leave!! (sob!) Would someone be home waiting to lay a napkin on my lap each night - NOT!
We were assigned to the appropriate group, (independent plans), and given a lounge to report to by 9:20am. We did as we were directed, and probably sat there for only 10 minutes before our group was called. Very efficient.
A quick walk off the ship, short line to get through customs/immigration, turn a corner to the luggage pickup, carts were available, got our luggage without delay, and a quick walk to a well managed taxi stand. We were easily out of there by 9:40am. We had a great taxi driver who gave us a narration of all we saw thru the downtown area. Cab for 2 was only $32 +tip!
All in all we loved Princess and bought our future cruise credit and cannot wait to get back on soon!!
Book Early - we got a great deal in January on a site which allows online travel agents to compete!
Read Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor - we got great advice on both sites!
Get a balcony if you can afford one and stay on the Port side if you are going Southbound!
Buy REALLY good WATERPROOF jackets, pants and boots (I know - I sound like a broken record but this is so important - I hope you do not need, but if you do ---) Less