My spouse booked this cruise in celebration of our 45th anniversary. We have cruised with Princess before and our last time was in 2011 on the Diamond Princess, also to Alaska. This was my 4th and my spouse’s 3rd cruise to Alaska. This was also our first cruise from Seattle and it was round trip; our other Alaska cruises have always been northbound from Vancouver to either Seward or Whittier.
We had accumulated a lot of credit card reward points, so we decided to book our air and hotel to use them up. We selected the Hampton Inn & Suites, 700 5th Avenue North, in Seattle. See my review on TripAdvisor for details.
Travel to Embarkation Port
We pre-booked Shuttle Express, a Seattle-based operator, to get us from SEA-TAC airport to our pre-cruise hotel as well as from the hotel to the pier. This company is great to deal with, fares are reasonable and the drivers are very personable and helpful. We used a shared van which means that it is loaded to capacity with passengers and luggage before departing for the booked destination; we were on the van for about an hour after leaving SEA-TAC. Our hotel to pier pickup on embarkation day was right on time and everyone was heading to the same pier (91); we arrived in about 15 minutes.
PCL uses Pier 91 for the Crown. We arrived about 11:15 via Shuttle Express and were dropped about 50 metres from the terminal. A porter took our bags (do tip these guys, they work their butts off) and we entered the left door into a large reception area. We were directed to tables to fill out health questionnaires and then to escalators to the 2nd level for check-in (make sure you have both your passport and boarding pass out for security before going through the scanners). We had preferred check-in due to my Platinum status so that part was straightforward and very quick. We were seated in a preferred guest check-in area and enjoyed coffee and pastries while we waited to board. We barely finished these when we were called to board about 11:45. We entered the ship and were ushered for the customary boarding photo. We went to the Crown Grill and Sabatini’s to make dining reservations and then went to our room. We had ordered an Anniversary Celebration Package through Princess and this arrived shortly afterwards, and our luggage arrived about 1 p.m. At 3:15, we went to the theatre for our muster, in advance of the 3:45 “General Emergency Stations.” This was nothing we had not experienced before but noticed a very large group of Asian guests seated around and below us who apparently did not speak or understand much English. When safety instructions were being provided, they did not follow the direction of the crew running the drill which caused the crew to start shouting at them and confusion reigned. We thought about what would happen in the event of a real emergency. We learned later that a large group of Chinese guests were sailing on this cruise. We did not attend the sail away party as we had early dining.
I will not get into ship information as this is well documented on Cruise Critic and the Princess Cruise Lines web sites. As far as I am aware, this 10-year-old ship has not undergone a refurbishment. Our only observation is that several common areas appeared to need a refresh: for example, we noticed carpets were worn, elevator panels were scratched and dented, and the cushions on theatre seats were canted forward to the point where one almost slipped out.
Our room was a basic balcony stateroom, A215, on the Aloha deck. It is small, however, well laid out for the space. It consists of a compact three-piece washroom on the left with a tiny (and we do mean tiny) shower stall (dark when the curtain was drawn). Just outside is a closet housing shelves and the room safe, and opposite is a large open closet with top shelf. The bed was configured to queen and was OK, but not particularly comfortable; apparently it will be a few years before this ship receives the new Princess Luxury Bed. There are bedside tables with fixed lamps, a desk/drawer unit and mirror with two 110-v outlets and a hair dryer, a corner unit with a flat screen TV on top, an open shelf area below, and a mini-fridge in an enclosed cabinet. The fridge never did cool very well and the top of the cabinet became very warm – don’t place anything on top that you do not want to get warm, like Godiva chocolates! There is a sliding door onto a small balcony equipped with two lounge chairs and a small table. The balcony overlooks all the other balconies below. Environmental control was very good and easy to use. Numerous light switches are located throughout the room.
We did not do much in the way of activities onboard, preferring to just relax, watch the magnificent scenery in Alaska or do shore excursions. During the day, we spent time in the Skywalker’s Night Club at the rear of the ship, Deck 18, as it was usually quiet and the views were spectacular. We did do a wine tasting (“Maitre d’Hotel Wine Club – kind of a misnomer) one afternoon. We also went to a martini demonstration in the Piazza; we would have preferred a martini tasting, however, as we have done on other cruises. The Captain’s Welcome Aboard Party and Champagne Waterfall was held on the first formal night, however, as our Crown Grill reservation was a bit later than our regular dining time, we missed most of it. We attended the afternoon tea (my spouse is English by birth) one afternoon; it was nice, and tea was served correctly, although the order of food service was opposite to what it should be. We changed our dining time at Sabatini’s in order to attend the Captain’s Circle reception on the second formal night. Apparently there were only 326 Ruby, Platinum and Elite members onboard out of a guest population of 3,357. There was a nice choice of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and hors d/oeuvres. Oddly, after speaking to the members, the Captain only stayed for a very short time; at least we got some dancing in!
We opted for early dining at 5:15 p.m. in the Da Vinci dining room, on Deck 6 midships. We were at a table for six, near the starboard side and next to a window – very nice. Our servers, Leonil and Aurelio, were fantastic and took very good care of us. Food quality was average, nothing special. Portions, at times, were quite small. Our meal was usually over by 7 p.m. so it left time to attend the evening’s activities, although we missed the nightly Captain’s Circle Elite/Platinum reception as it ran from 5-7 each day. We usually ate in the same dining room for breakfast. Again, the menu was nothing special. Unfortunately, the galley does not know how to toast bread or bacon and we finally gave up ordering them. (think cold toast, hard as leather and then a server plunking a cold tab of butter on your plate or bacon that was burned beyond recognition – what???). On the mornings of our shore excursions, we opted for room service – it was delivered on time and everything was correct, as ordered. We also dined in two specialty restaurants: Crown Grill and Sabatini’s. Crown Grill was the occasion of our anniversary. Service was attentive but, unfortunately, we were seated at a window table for four near the galley – too much noise and traffic – in retrospect, we should have asked to be seated away from this. The entrées were nice, although portions were very small. Food quality was excellent overall and we were given a small chocolate cake in celebration of our anniversary. Sabatini’s was a much more enjoyable experience, with a table for two at a window seat at the rear of the restaurant and absolutely wonderful service. The antipasti, starters and main courses were excellent and generous. The tiramisu was to die for. We had lunch only once at the Pizzeria. The Margherita pizza we ate was thin, droopy and tasteless; we do not how PCL was awarded ‘best pizza at sea’ – not on this ship, anyway. We did not try the Trident Grill. We bought one coffee card and used it quite a bit at the International Café. Specialty coffees (hot) were very good, pastries and sandwiches were exquisite; the iced coffee was tasteless. There was usually a long wait time to get served.
We attended most of the evening shows in the Princess Theatre and some shows in the lounges. The ship’s company was excellent in their performances, such as “Disco-Blame it on the Boogie, ”Magic To Do,” and “Motor City.” In one of the lounges, they did a “Ye Olde London Pub Night,” which was just OK but they redeemed themselves in a Beatles trivia contest. Carlos Oscar, a comedian, was also very good. Lounge entertainers were generally good, especially Slava, a Russian trio that played the most amazing classical music.
Skagway – we did the Yukon Suspension Bridge tour which also involves travel through British Columbia into the Yukon Territory. This is an all-day tour and a passport is required as you are entering Canada (or re-entering, as was the case for us). We were taken by coach by Charlie, our excellent driver, up the Klondike Highway, who provided a very entertaining narration all day. We stopped at the Canada Border Services Agency station before entering British Columbia then proceeded to the Suspension Bridge for an hour. It was a breathtaking sight and we really enjoyed our time, crossing the bridge and taking a lot of video and photos. We were then on our way into the Yukon. Our first stop was the desert at Carcross (yes there is a desert composed of glacial silt), arriving at our lunch stop, the Caribou Crossing Trading Post, just north of Carcross. We enjoyed a great chicken BBQ, toured the various shops and petting zoo and also visited with two of our nieces who live in Whitehorse and had driven to Caribou Crossing to meet us for a short visit. We then stopped at Emerald Lake, a favourite beach for locals, and then drove back to Carcross for an hour’s visit, just touring the town, again with our nieces. After 45 minutes, we bid our nieces farewell and were on the road again, stopping only at the Welcome to Yukon and Welcome to Alaska signs (this is a narrow highway so we could only stop when safe to do so). We had an enjoyable ride back to the pier, arriving about 4:30 p.m. Highly recommended.
Ketchikan – we did the “Lighthouse, Totems & Eagles” excursion and totem pole tour by small boat. This was a highly rated tour so it was an easy decision for us. We were taken by coach to Air Marine Harbour, north of Ketchikan and boarded the “Totem Princess.” The captain and crew got us settled and we were quickly on our way and at our first eagle viewing stop, with many more to come. We then approached the Totem Bight State Park and viewed several totem poles. Unfortunately, it was difficult to see much without a zoom lens or binoculars (provided), and the bobbing of the ship just made things worse to locate the wildlife. Our last visit was to the Guard Island Lighthouse and more wildlife and eagle viewing. An excellent buffet of salmon spread (recipe provided), vegetables, cookies, and beverages was available in the inside cabin; there are two washrooms onboard as well. There are souvenirs for sale. After about three hours, we returned to shore and returned to the pier. It was almost time to go leave port so we just did some quick shopping and then boarded ship. Highly recommended.
Juneau – we opted to just explore the city on our own but did take the Mount Roberts tramway. The tram takes visitors from the dock area near the piers up 1800 feet to Mount Roberts. There is gift shop, restaurant, theatre, and a raptor exhibit, in addition to several walking and hiking trails. Unfortunately, this was a typically rainy gloomy day and we could not see much from Mt. Roberts due to the heavy fog.
Victoria – the stop here is only a few hours so we opted to stay on board and finish packing.
Our dinner servers were fantastic. In the Da Vinci dining room, I think we saw the headwaiter once. Breakfast service in the Da Vinci was hit and miss for understanding what we wanted; the staff appeared tired. The servers, Maître D’ and Head Chef in each specialty restaurant were very attentive and ensured we were completely satisfied. Boutique staff were cordial. We only dealt with one Customer Services agent; she was very difficult to understand so our query was never really answered. Staff in Crooners, Wheelhouse and the Explorers lounges, and the International Café were either pleasant, standoffish or just bizarre; in one case, a Crooners’ server could not or would not make my spouse a “Paralyzer” [known in the U.S. as a “Colorado Bulldog”] with vodka instead of tequila – what? We also dealt with the Future Cruise Consultant for a Future Cruise Credit (Kyler Mann, a fellow Canadian) and the Captains Circle Hostess (Tiffany Zhao) – both very nice. Our room steward was cordial but seemed very tired; his room care was fine but a repeated request to replace our faulty blow dryer was never actioned, and he threw out our anniversary cake which we had planned to take to dinner one night for our tablemates. He also said we had not ordered robes through our Cruise Personalizer – yes we did, but we had to wait until the following day to get them – why?
We were given tags for luggage and leaving instructions, based on our flight time. As Platinum members, we were able to wait in the Da Vinci dining room where we enjoyed a continental breakfast. At 9:00 a.m. our colour was called, we proceeded off ship and started the fun of finding our luggage! After about ten minutes, we found our bags, were through US Customs & Border Protection quickly and made our way onto the pier and boarded a very full Princess bus. We were at the SEATAC airport by 1015. There was a Delta check-in area curbside, and in retrospect, we should have taken advantage of it. It is simply too long a walk with luggage in tow (yes, we should have used a porter) to find the Delta check-in area at this airport.
Princess has a tag line of “Come Back New.” We’re not sure if they really met our expectations but came fairly close.
Princess generally delivers a good to excellent overall experience for us. We would rank this cruise somewhere in between. The cruise itself was smooth, the ship was in generally good condition, amenities were easy to find and enjoyable (except as noted) and my spouse even earned her Platinum status with this cruise. The ports were reached on time and were generally enjoyable and the highlight of the cruise, Glacier Bay, was an unbelievable experience. Unfortunately, there was a constant hard sell for the $199 photo package and a confusing system of finding photo prints from the previous days’ activities; this continued with the promotion of beverage packages, top shelf liquor (make sure you specify which spirits [i.e. the brand] you want in your drink), spas, shore excursions, boutiques (sales) and off-ship tie-ins to stores in the Alaska and Victoria ports. At times, Deck 7 midships resembled a flea market with guests trying to maneuver around “sale” tables and photographers set up for portraits. Dining was OK but nothing as good as what we have experienced on our last three cruises (Disney and HAL), nor our last Princess cruise in 2011. The crew were polite but not friendly (except as noted) and rarely made eye contact; even the officers riding in elevators seemed buried in their phones or paperwork and never said hello.
The large group of Chinese guests was also challenging for us and other guests to deal with. During the cruise. Their behaviour was often just rude. There were obvious language barrier issues. To their credit, PCL provided announcements in English and Mandarin, however, it just was not enough.
The round trip itinerary is fine for a quick exposure to Alaska. However, we would recommend a north or south bound cruise from Seattle or Vancouver, bookended by a land tour. Read Less