First, the positives:
(1) Excursions. Give in to the arch-tourist nature of packaged few-hour bus-herd excursions, go with the flow -- it's only for a few hours, cynic! -- and you'll get an effortless taste of what's fun, ... Read More
First, the positives:
(1) Excursions. Give in to the arch-tourist nature of packaged few-hour bus-herd excursions, go with the flow -- it's only for a few hours, cynic! -- and you'll get an effortless taste of what's fun, cool, interesting, and breathtaking about Alaska. Plenty of options with minimal tour-bus time -- see how rugged the land is from a floatplane, meet happy sled-pulling mutts, see glaciers and maybe whales and hungry bears, wonder if your tour guide never breaks character because he *is* a character.
(2) Premium dining, 2 out of 3 ain't bad. At the back of the boat, Share is legit gourmet. If not outstanding, at least consistently crafted and palate-pleasing. In the pub, The Salty Dog may push "artisanal" an inch too far, but it's blessed relief from the culinary crimes of dispassion everywhere else. Sadly, you *can* screw up the basic steakhouse experience, and the Crown Grill is proof -- even when the second ribeye was rightly rare inside, it was an underaged, unseasoned, joyless too-thin cut from a too-big cow. Sides were drab.
(3) Music. The jazz group playing one night in the Adagio is so happy to have an audience and happy to play that you won't care that they're not a tight group or that they never get past the most standard of jazz standards. Especially not after a week on this boat. Elsewhere, the acoustic guitarist in the pub knew just how to render dad-rock classics to make you smile.
Thank heaven for four great excursions and two great meals, or I'd have abandoned ship like a fellow passenger did. (Seriously -- so unhappy with spa & fitness & food they quit at Ketchikan.) The highlight from here on out is you can appreciate the pleasantness of purgatory.
Embarkation is a ridiculous four-hour rat's maze with no cheese at the end. Leaving from Vancouver in this frosty-border era is irredeemably stupid. It's not just having to get a US passport to visit Alaska, or going through Canadian customs at the airport and then US customs dockside -- it's the maddening meandering in and out and up and down through the terminal with cruelly interspersed glimpses of the ship for no purpose other than to create the illusion that you're not just waiting in long lines. Your DMV ain't got nothin' on the Port of Vancouver. It's actually an ingenious management of expectations, fooling you into thinking you're almost there over and over and over again until you cannot believe that they fooled you again, but they did. At the end you're so relieved it's over you don't have the emotional energy to find and torture the evil genius responsible for masterfully obfuscating the most colossal jerk move in handling travelers since three ounces and no shoes.
But at least once we were on board the food sucked. Seriously. "Anytime Dining" means Anytime As Long As You Love Retirement Home Buffet Or A Midwest Ramada Inn Hotel Restaurant Meal From 5:15-9pm. If you're an urban coast dweller who eats at restaurants or just shops at Safeway, you are not prepared from this grim food desert. You know the past-their-prime trends you make fun of for their bandwagon ubiquity in mediocre chains and fast food like southwest chipotle and aioli everything with Applewood smoked bacon? Princess isn't that sophisticated. By mid-cruise I pined for Denny's, and a Guadalajara-style carnitas burrito seemed the height of exotic culinary fantasy. Half the waitstaff is Thai, but there's no Thai food here, no curry, no cajun... no spice but black pepper, no unadulterated proteins or green vegetables except a post-bankruptcy Sizzler romaine-only salad bar -- heck, even gas station sushi would be welcome. The full-service dining menu is competently prepared and perfectly reasonable, if your idea of exotic is Italian food that isn't pasta. If you don't like the Italian dining room, don't fret -- you can go to the other Italian dining room. Oh, and your favorite timeless cocktail? Forget it. Just what's on the menu, that's what I was told. Really. And they want me to spend money on drinks?
Lest you dismiss this as the ravings of a food snob, a different way to look at this: some days you just want a couple of tacos at Taco Bell, or a Spicy Italian at Subway, or just to give up with a QPC. No such comforts, either gramps' buffet or mom-made-it hamburgers or cheap takeout pizza (both pool-adjacent for that sea-air-and-chlorine aroma) or airport chicken salad and sadsack mini-sandwiches for you until dinner time, and then it's dad's-birthday dining every night. Oh, but don't worry about the dress code -- it's a lie. Just look like you thought about trying not to be a slob, that's probably enough to get by. Or actually wear the black suit and tie you packed and feel like the idiot who didn't know the rules are for suckers.
Service? Great with premium dining, happily efficient with regular dining, attentive and respectful everywhere else -- but with the pervasive cattle-call atmosphere, much of it was lipstick on a pig. Perhaps it's just the nature of a ship with 3,000 passengers... but if so then maybe the ships should be smaller. One particularly frustrating experience typical of the cruise: for glacier-skirting catamaran tours, everyone was directed to gather in the theater. After being seated and subjected to a ads for GoPro cameras, photo packages, and future cruises for a half-hour, they announced the boats would be another half-hour or so, and gave everyone the option to leave the theatre and come back in 20 minutes. An hour later, they announced it would be another 20 minutes, and anyone with a second excursion for the day would need to choose which one to cancel.
Finally, Internet access. THE WIFI IS A LIE. My in-cabin wifi suffered from constant router flap, probably between two overlapping radios in autosense duking it out over what frequency to use, so even connecting to the onboard directory Princess@Sea was an exercise in browser timeouts. But go where there's solid wifi signal (conference room!) and the satellite Internet connection is simply choked to death -- and my expectations were low. Forget even basic websurfing -- mere POP3 email downloads would sometimes time out, and a 2MB attachment might take five tries over an hour to fetch. It was so slow Kindle for PC wouldn't download a novel. Neal Stephenson, but still, one novel, text only, took 45 minutes. The good news is THEY CHARGE BY THE MINUTE FOR THIS FIST-SHAKING FAIL. Last time I was charged by the minute was at a greedy hotel back when RealPlayer was cool. It's barbaric. Princess would do their customers a great service by unplugging their Internet service and telling them to lump it. By promising Internet access they mislead passengers into thinking they might actually be able to answer a help-what-do-we-do email from work in an emergency.
A sense of captivity is hard to avoid on a cruise. But Princess makes it far worse than it needs to be with repeated poor group management, restricted dining, utterly useless Internet, and daily upselling for onboard art auctions, official photography and video diaries, jewelry and fragrance "workshops," and future cruises.
I would in all honesty rather book passage on a cargo ship and eat stew with the crew -- at least that would be authentic. Read Less