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65 Whittier to Alaska Cruise Reviews

Incredible Alaskan Adventure with an Island Princess "letdown" My wife and I just returned from our 19 day "bucket list" trip to Alaska that was more than 18 months in the planning. We traveled with two other ... Read More
Incredible Alaskan Adventure with an Island Princess "letdown" My wife and I just returned from our 19 day "bucket list" trip to Alaska that was more than 18 months in the planning. We traveled with two other couples and truly had a great adventure despite our disappointment in the Island Princess. Our vacation was a combined "on our own" for 3 days in Fairbanks, the Princess Landcruise Experience for 6 days and a cruise from Whittier on Island Princess for 7 days. To say that Alaska is "INCREDIBLE" is the epitome of an understatement. My wife describes Alaska as "Colorado on steroids" and that is truly an appropriate description. While in Fairbanks, we traveled to Coldfoot, AK and Dalton Highway (Ice Road Truckers) with the great folks who run Northern Alaska Tour Company (they earn 5+ stars). Our trip was 12 hours long and included a 1 hour plane ride to the dirt landing strip (think Flying Wild Alaska) in Coldfoot and nearly 9 hour return trip on the Dalton Highway. We also visited 4 of the 6 restaurants featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (highly recommend the Cookie Jar and Silver Gulch Brewing Company-again both earn 5+ stars for superb service and superb food.) By the way, kudos to the staff of the Alpine Inn located in Fairbanks near the airport—those folks could not have been friendlier and genuinely happy to see us. Joining the Landcruise portion of the trip included visits to the Riverboat Discovery and Gold Mine Dredge #8 (another great set of tours and more 5+ stars awarded). The accommodations (Bear Lodge) provided by the landtour in Fairbanks was clean, comfortable and again staffed with friendly folks. Our next stop was by bus to Denali and the Princess Lodge. Please plan on the Tundra Wilderness Tour instead of the shorter 3 hour trip into Denali—worth the time and extra money. Did manage to see the Park's notable three-legged bear-"Tripod"—he is known throughout Alaska. The dinner theater production was loads of fun and really great food. Accommodations were again clean and comfortable and my wife and I truly enjoyed walking around the hotel grounds. We did manage to eat at a couple of local places just across the highway from the Lodge-nice people and great service. Then, it was on to Talkeetna on the Princess private railcars. Again, I have nothing but accolades for the Alaska Railroad and the folks who staff the Princess cars-great ride and spectacular scenery. To describe Talkeetna as quirky is again an understatement but loads of fun—great people, great drink and food (make sure you visit the West Rib Pub and Talkeetna Roadhouse). Next up was a jet boat ride up the Talkeetna River into Class 6 rapids at Devil's Canyon—the folks at Mahay Tours (Capt Izzy) really know how to give you a great show in a truly amazing boat. After nearly 12 days on land it was time to get back on the train to Whittier and head for our cruise portion with Island Princess. But, first, I must again offer kudos and a 5+ star rating to the folks on the McKinley Express. It is one of America's great train rides particularly as it hugs the coast on the run from Anchorage to Whittier. Coming out of the tunnel into Whittier seeing the Island Princess was indeed impressive. As we were the last train into Whittier, our embarkation went very smooth. In fact, I was the very last guest to board Princess. We barely had time to drop stuff off to the stateroom and head out to the muster drill. I was surprised to find that Princess keeps track of folks at the muster drill using your boarding card—not something I have experience in three previous cruises. Is this post-Costa Concordia reaction? I am not sure but I liked it. Our stops in Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan were every thing we had hoped for and we booked each shore excursion independent of Princess—high praise goes to the folks at Chilkoot Tours (White Pass train ride to Carcross and our tour guide Lorie), Harv and Marv's Whaling Watching in Juneau (thank Capt. Jayleen—you were just plan super-hope you reach your goal to serve in the US Coast Guard) and the Island Wings (Ketchikan). Michelle-your excursion in a float plane to Misty Fjords will serve as the true highlight on our bucket list. I am a firm believe that if you have the time to research and study the shore excursions that you can save a huge amount of money by booking the excursions on your own. I will also add that the bus drivers, tour guides and staff members that we encountered at nearly every stop were truly superb—we met a great bunch of young American kids who are working their tails off to make sure that the Alaska Experience is everything we expected and more. They work long hours, are always smiling and were exceedingly grateful for the gratuities given for their efforts. If you are still with me, please understand that my wife and I truly enjoyed nearly every phase of our Alaska Adventure and that we are not overly critical folks—we have been on 3 other cruises that exceeded our expectations and we had very high expectations from our friends who had sailed with the folks at Princess (we have traveled on NCL and Carnival). But, I must regrettably report that the hotel and dining room staffs on the Island Princess were a disappointment. I must single out the head waiter in the Anytime Dining venue as being surly, rude, condescending and sarcastic towards his staff and guests. I personally witnessed him yelling at an older gentleman whose pager was flashing that the table was ready. The head waiter just yelled at him and told him that the pager must stop flashing before he could approach the dining room. My group was so upset we walked out of the venue and headed for the Horizon Court buffet rather than sit in his dining room. Speaking of Anytime Dining, the reservation system in place on Island Princess is not my idea of Anytime Dining—guess that I just missed that part of previous reviews. The head waiter was also uncompromising in trying to seat our party of 6—what part of the Princess Service Points about 'not saying no to a guest" did he not read. When I managed to get a reservation at table with our preferred waiter (Jason—BTW, thank you Jason for truly caring and attentive service), the head waiter turned to me and sarcastically comment that "you managed to beat me and get your table with Jason. (We had to agree to a table of 10 that others might join us.) The Horizon Court food was average but what really surprised my traveling companions and me was the lack of attentive service (plates were removed from table before we finished, no offers for water, ice tea or coffee refills), bickering among the staff and lack of staff monitoring use of the hand sanitizer by guests serving themselves in the food court.. In fact, except for the Horizon Court, we never saw one hand sanitizer anywhere on the entire Island Princess. (I watched from the dock in Ketchikan as the NCL staff sprayed hand sanitizer on every passenger who reboarded their ship.) Our stateroom steward was punctual and kept our stateroom clean and comfortable but no towel animal each night was a let down. Our stateroom was what we have come to expect and our steward did open up the balcony partitions so that we could visit with our traveling companions in the adjoining staterooms. A balcony cabin in Alaska is a must!! Disembarkation in Vancouver was a piece of cake—best disembarkation I have experienced. So in closing, Alaska is truly stunning and needs to be on every "bucket list". Princess Landcruise exceeded our expectations in every way but the Island Princess was "underwhelming" and I am not really sure that Princess will get a chance to earn my cruise dollars in the future. Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
This and a short trip on the Golden Princess a month earlier were an introduction to the newer Princess ships. These are nice ships, and the visits to the glaciers and the scenery in the inland passage are the highlights of this particular ... Read More
This and a short trip on the Golden Princess a month earlier were an introduction to the newer Princess ships. These are nice ships, and the visits to the glaciers and the scenery in the inland passage are the highlights of this particular voyage. This is especially true with the number of cruise ships overpowering Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan these days. We had been on an inland passage cruise on the old Regal Princess in 1993, so the ports were familiar. We were blessed with beautiful weather for this trip, which came on the end of a tour also blessed with seeing Mt. McKinley for at least some portion of the day all four days. FOOD We do traditional late seating dining and the service was spectacular, really made the evening meal a treat. Menu variety was good, and the only thing that would have made it better would have been a nice lamb chop or leg of lamb one night. We also generally have breakfast and lunch in the dining rooms and these were very enjoyable. The breakfast menu could be better with additions such as corned beef hash, and beans. We also tried the pizza available on deck and it was very nicely done. A couple times we tried the buffet and were not impressed. Breakfast lacked fish dishes. Usually you expect to see at least salmon available, and the size of the buffet itself seems cramped, too crowded to be a pleasant experience. We had taken a trip recently on the Golden Princess and it had the same "too small" feeling. ROOM The rooms are configured with what is essentially a dressing area between the bathroom door and the closet space. This appears a little strange at first, but it works well in practice and it is an improvement over the "in-line" configuration on ENTERTAINMENT The shows were very good. They also had an excellent presentation by Libby Riddles who won the Iditarod in Juneau. It would be nice to see Princess provide more educational opportunities. The one Cunard cruise we were on had daily educational lectures and it was very enjoyable. PORTS Since we had been to the ports and taken the excursions previously, we spent our time in Skagway and Juneau exploring the towns, and found that worthwhile. Good museums and Capital tour in Juneau. In Ketchikan we rented a car from First City Car Rental. They delivered to the dock, let us return it to the parking space there and mailed us the receipt, great service. We visited the Totem Bight Park, hiked the Ward Lake and Lunch Falls Loops and had a nice picnic lunch watching the activity on the fishing boats at the Clover Pass Resort.. EMBARCATION DEBARKCATION These were both well done. We had an assigned dining room debarkation which was equipped with juice, coffee and tea and a representative who kept you appraised of progress, made this hurry up and wait experience passable. Much better done than we've seen on other ships. Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
We have cruised several times on several different lines (Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Carnival) and were looking forward to our first trip on Princess. We were blown away with the fantastic itinerary and excursions, but must admit to ... Read More
We have cruised several times on several different lines (Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Carnival) and were looking forward to our first trip on Princess. We were blown away with the fantastic itinerary and excursions, but must admit to being disappointed about Princess in general. We did the 3-day land tour followed by a sailing from Whittier to Vancouver in July 2011. The Land Tour: Pros: Well organized, properties very nice, the tour guides friendly and pretty knowledgeable. We did a 2-hr river guide ride (booked through the Lodge) and flightseeing/glacier landing (booked through a private company - TAT) in Talkeetna along with breakfast at the Talkeetna Roadhouse (not to be missed if you are in the area - the cinnamon rolls are AMAZING and all the portions are ENORMOUS - pancakes literally hang over 10-inch plates and the toast looks like it is on steroids). Cons: Would have preferred food be included in the base cost even if the base cost was increased- we quickly tired of the $15 breakfasts and burgers. Regarding the Denali History tour, I was told by my TA and later Princess when I called them directly, because of our arrival time, we couldn't book the longer tour. When we arrived; however, people who were on our same bus had tickets for the longer tour. The air conditioning in our rail car on the way to the ship broke 3 hours into the trip, which made for a very long remaining 6 hours. The Cruise on Diamond Princess: Pros: Nice layout, clean, great itinerary, and awesome shore excursion options. We did the Yukon Pass train in Skagway (booked thru the ship), in Juneau we did whale watching via a private company (H&M) and sledding on the Mendenhall Glacier via Helicopter (booked through the ship) and in Ketchikan we took a floatplane tour with all-you-can-eat crabfeast in a private dining room at George Inlet Lodge (also booked through the ship) Most of the on-board staff seemed very nice. Enjoyed the park rangers being on the ship as we cruised through Glacier Bay. Cons: Room steward service left a bit to be desired. The plate with the remnants of our welcome chocolate-covered strawberries stayed in our room for 1.5 days until we finally got tired of looking at it and set it outside the cabin. Our champagne only had ice in the ice bucket the first night; it was never checked or refilled again the entire cruise. These are a couple of things to me that are "no-brainers" and I didn't feel that I should have needed to "ask for ice in the bucket" with the bottle sticking out of it right in the middle of our suite. Anytime dining was anything but. We arrived the second night at 5:45 and were told unless we had reservations, the wait would be 45-70 minutes. Reservations for "Anytime" dining defeats the purpose of ANYTIME dining. When I tried to call the next day for "reservations" I was told the earlier seats were again taken but I could have a reservation for 8:15. As a result we ate most of our meals in the Horizon buffet, which were okay but not what we were expecting to do. The couple of times we did eat in the dining rooms the food seemed to be the same options for each night and the service was slowww---several times I had to find someone simply to refill my water or take away my dishes. When we took pictures, some of the photographers were very pleasant but others seemed to be counting the time until they were off work. We like to have a couple of pictures from our cruises that don't look mass produced yet when we asked if we could "try this" or "try that," we could see the irritation in their eyes (and we made sure there was not a line when we asked). Some finally agreed to our requests but we felt it was an extreme imposition for them to accommodate our request and that they were doing us a favor...but seriously, at $25 a pop, who is doing who a favor here? The Sundaes ice cream station was simply horrid - hard, horrible tasting ice-milk....the ice cream offered in the dining room was much better. We were delighted to see the ship had a number of hot tubs, but disappointed when so many of them were closed during the cruise. A couple of days were so warm people were out by the pool yet I believe it was closed a fair amount as well. The Piano "Bar" we have experienced on other ships was much different than the one on the Diamond. This one appeared to be a regular seating area with a piano stuck back in the corner...no stools that sat around the piano, simply regular chairs arranged like you would see in any of the other seating areas around the ship, some facing the piano and others facing the opposite direction. Post-Cruise Once we arrived in Vancouver after the cruise was over, we stayed overnight so we could take in some of the sights but we had to arrange for our own transportation back to Seattle. Transportation was only available if we left the same day we disembarked the ship - EVEN if we purchased their optional post-cruise Vancouver tour...wow. So in the end we booked our own room in Vancouver at the very same hotel Princess wanted to book us at for $150 less. We then used the savings to purchase business-class tickets back to Seattle on the Amtrak train, cab fare to the station and breakfast on the train. That ended up being a nice relaxing trip back to the states....Why couldn't Princess have done the same thing for us? Take these issues one by one and they may seem insignificant to some, but to us they added up and equaled a really disappointing experience (and trust me, I kept giving them the benefit of the doubt because I really REALLY wanted to be impressed with them). All of the tours, both those booked through Princess and the ones we booked on our own, couldn't have been more spectacular. The scenery was breathtaking, service exceptional and we were not disappointed in the least. But the rest? We couldn't help but wonder if Princess thought because their itinerary was so great and people were going to book because of it, they could afford to provide less-than-stellar service. We received better service on not only Holland America and Royal Caribbean but even extended Carnival cruises...and they seem to have a reputation of being "party" ships. You can reach us with any questions at lookforus@bellsouth.net. Read Less
Sail Date July 2011
I am an experienced cruiser, having traveled on Carnival, Disney, Princess and Royal Caribbean with my family in the past. I have just returned from an 11-day land/sea tour , cruising on the Diamond Princess from Whittier to Vancouver. ... Read More
I am an experienced cruiser, having traveled on Carnival, Disney, Princess and Royal Caribbean with my family in the past. I have just returned from an 11-day land/sea tour , cruising on the Diamond Princess from Whittier to Vancouver. Overall, the trip was a fabulous experience, due to the magnificent scenery and the natural beauty of Alaska. However, there were some serious disappointments that would cause me to hesitate to recommend the Diamond Princess to future travelers. Land Tour Positives: well organized, generally nice hotel facilities, plentiful, good options for excursions, very good, friendly service from Princess hotel staff, bus drivers etc. Land Tour Negatives: demands for luggage to be out for collection and extremely early hours. They wanted our bags outside our rooms at 6am at the Mt.McKinley Lodge, even though we didn't depart for the day until 11am. Fairbanks Princess Lodge- lobby not large enough - always very crowded, how about adding an indoor pool? hot tub? game room? something more to do? Natural History Tour in Denali- some of our group took this included tour, and found it to be too short, and they did not see much of Denali. We were glad to have been "tipped off" in advance via internet blogs that the Tundra Wilderness Tour was much more inclusive of the park and we upgraded to that and enjoyed it very much. Diamond Princess Cruise Positives: Good itinerary, nice selection of shore excursions. We chose this itinerary because it included both Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay. Both were magnificent and not to be missed. Diamond Princess Cruise Negatives: *Arrival: On board the Princess train to Whittier, our train hostess announced that because our train was nearly 2 hours late coming to the ship, the ship would be having "open seating" in all dining rooms that evening and it would be "come as you are" as far as the dress code. After waiting through a very long line to go through the process of boarding the ship, (600 passengers all arrive at once on the train) we dropped our carry-on bags at our cabins and proceeded to the International Dining Room. We were turned away because it was not our time to dine (5:45 had come and gone) I told them about the "open seating" announcement that had been given and he just said "NO". We were referred to the "anytime" dining rooms, where we were turned away because one in our group was wearing shorts. Obviously, this was not a very warm welcome. When we expressed our concerns on the ship, it only brought about lectures about dress code. We are experienced cruisers and we understand dress code. The point is that their employees gave us erroneous information, and no one felt the need to apologize or adapt to the information that had been given to the passengers. We were forced to spend our first evening dining in the Horizon Buffet- a very over-heated serving area and dining room. There was a long line- only one side open, and a disorganized arrangement of food and people all bumping into each other. * As I said above, we chose this itinerary because it was the only one that included both Hubbard Glacier and Glacier bay, but the one big draw back I would say, is that when you arrive so late on the Princess train from the land excursion, you really miss your whole first day of cruising. We normally arrive to a cruise ship about 11am and spend the whole first afternoon exploring the ship, getting oriented etc. In this case, boarding at 7:30m and scrambling to find a place that would welcome us for dinner left us feeling cheated of our normal welcome aboard routine. * Horizon Buffet - this venue was always too warm. On another occasion, at breakfast, one side of the dining room was closed at 9am, even though this created a huge line on the remaining open side. We were hoping for a quick breakfast so we could explore the port that day, but the staff seemed more intent on "closing up" one area than on serving customers quickly and efficiently. This is only one small indication of an overall feeling we got that the staff was just not that interested in providing flawless customer service. *International Dining Room- our servers seemed to struggle to keep up with the tables they had. Any special requests took a long time to fulfill because they seemed to be always behind. On past cruises, our friendly servers quickly knew our names and we got to know them a little as well. Other past servers have been very helpful with the menu, and generous, even offering to bring out two appetizers or entrees if there was question about which one to order. These guys were strictly business with no "extra" offers of any kind. *One very important part of cruise travel that we appreciate, is the ability to travel with a large family group, each member doing their own thing during the day, and then all gathering together for dinner in the evening to share experiences and dining time together. We were traveling with an extended family group of 12. We were told that Princess would not accommodate us dining together at a table that large. Rather we were seated at two tables of 6, next to each other, but with different service staff. They were usually finished well before us, due to their efficient servers.... not much fellowship time together at dinner. I consider this a very significant reason to choose Royal Caribbean or Disney over Princess for our family travels in the future. Our experience with Disney and RCCL in the past was one of the staff going out of their way to accommodate the wishes of the passengers whenever possible. A table for 12 or even 15 is not a problem on those lines. Also, we chose traditional early seating, hoping for our family group to dine together regularly. I would recommend "anytime" dining instead. We missed much of the good viewing of Hubbard Glacier because we were at dinner. Also, some shore excursions run into dining times as well. *A second very important reason we enjoy family cruising is the variety of activities for all ages on most ships. We were pleased to see that the Diamond Princess had multiple swimming pools and 4 hot tubs, as our teenagers really like to swim (as do we). We were more than disappointed to find that the hot tubs were closed for most of the cruise. We were lucky if there was one open at any given time. The indoor pool was also closed periodically. Again, I spoke up on the board the ship, but was told a variety of "stories" by different staffers. One made up an amusing tale about the fact that they aren't allowed to have the pools open due to the environment in Alaska (???) Others told us the "chlorine was off". There seemed to be very little effort to correct the situation. We paid a huge sum of money to vacation with our family on your ship, and we felt cheated that one of the amenities that was important to us was rarely available. If pools / hot tubs are not generally available in Alaska, then that should be publicized well in advance. * Shows: we attended the shows in the large theater each evening. They were decent, but you had to arrive early for the first show or the seats would be gone. Other more popular shows in the show lounges also were standing-room only. *Cabin Steward: our cabin steward was the most friendly staff that we encountered and he kept the room nice and clean. However, on a number of occasions we tried to "page" him as per the instructions by the phone in the cabin and we never got any response to our pages. We were looking to get ice in the room for cold drinks, but that did not happen all week. The only way we finally got ice was by ordering it from room service. * Food: I usually found one item on the menu each evening that I wanted to order, but no more than that. Many of their selections were just plain "weird". The Alaskan food buffet and a dessert buffet were set up outside on the lido deck two afternoons. They looked great when first presented, but huge crowds of people waiting in long lines quickly devoured these foods and they didn't seem to make any attempt to replenish the foods. The buffet was published to be from 11am-2pm, so we decided to wait until closer to 2pm when we hoped the lines would be down. Surely the lines were down, but the food was wiped out by then as well. These problem areas might seem small and insignificant, but as a passenger, it's all these small "niceties" that add up to a wonderful cruise experience. Maybe these disappointments were magnified because one of the couples that were traveling with us had never cruised before. We had bragged to them, in advance, how attentive, friendly, and accommodating a cruise staff is normally, making every passenger feel like a "prince" or "princess". Instead, once on board the Diamond Princess we spent much of our time apologizing to these friends that the experience was not as we had described. After our trip on the Star Princess in 2007, followed by two cruises on Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas, I would have told people that Princess and RCL were about equal in service, food, etc. My opinion has now shifted well in favor of Royal. Finally, I know Princess doesn't control things at the airports, but I will tell you I would recommend that folks avoid departing through the Vancouver airport if at all possible. Their system was ridiculously complicated. We waited in no less than 7 different lines, showing our documentation over and over again and dragging our luggage with us much of the way. It took over 2 hours to make it through their system and I am told is "quick" for them. We've traveled a whole summer in Europe with less immigration/ security hassle. Thanks for reading my comments- feel free to email me with any specific questions: rknelson3@comcast.net Read Less
Sail Date June 2011
This was our first experience with Princess Cruises. We usually travel on Celebrity or Holland American. The trip was just "OK", but not nearly what we expected. We wondered if we weren't being too critical until we began to ... Read More
This was our first experience with Princess Cruises. We usually travel on Celebrity or Holland American. The trip was just "OK", but not nearly what we expected. We wondered if we weren't being too critical until we began to hear similar comments from fellow travelers as the trip progressed. Let's begin with the positives: Entertainment was excellent throughout the week. There was something for everyone. Our room steward was wonderful. He was friendly, helpful and did a great job. Excursions were usually of good quality A request for dining change was handled well. We were able to rearrange reservations so that the group which met the first morning was able to change to the same dining time and table. We began with a six day land tour of Fairbanks, Denali and Mt. McKinley. Our tour guide, Liz, was wonderful. She was full of energy and excitement which carried over to the group. We got introduced at a breakfast on the first morning and met some wonderful people who we stayed with for the full two weeks. That evening, the head of food services for the lodge, (Mr. Wynan?), treated us to a wine dinner. The food and beverages were outstanding, as was his commentary on the meal and his tales of living in Alaska. This was a true highlight. The land accommodations were in lodges with impressive public spaces and comfortable rooms - usually in separate buildings - for sleeping. The rooms were nice, but they had no air conditioning. During most of our land tour, the temperature was in the high 70s to the mid 80s. Sleeping was uncomfortable. In two of the three lodges, we were on the first floor and there was no way to lock the window so that it was only open partially, but we could still feel safe at ground level. There were several included excursions, but we were on our own far too much. The included excursions, as well as the ones we purchased, were of excellent quality. The last day, they had nothing planned and most of the available trips were repeats of things we had done earlier in the week. We left for the cruise at 11 AM on Saturday morning, but there was nothing to do but wait for the bus to the train. Any excursions at the McKinley lodge got back too late for us to partake. We had a very good time on this portion. We saw lots of the scenery and the wildlife. We were checked in for the cruise by Princess personnel who got on the train in Anchorage. They were friendly and efficient. This process made boarding the ship a breeze. When we got to the ship we saw the differences between this line and the others. As we entered the ship we were handed a glass of champagne and then had to walk a gauntlet of people trying to sell wine packages, drink packages, photo packages, tours, etc., etc. We asked each how to get to our floor, but they said they weren't sure and passed us along to the next salesperson. Only when we found the elevator did someone finally tell us which number floor corresponded to the letter on our documents. The room was a big surprise. We booked mini-suite. Based on our experiences on other lines, we expected a spacious room and large balcony. Instead, we had a cramped room which was poorly set up. Much of the floor space was dedicated to a tower with a refrigerator and two flat screen TVs. One faced the bed and the other faced the couch. The room was small and not always seemed to have some piece of furniture in your way. The bathroom had a full tub, but that extra space could easily have been dedicated to room space. The closets and shelving were adequate, but the dEcor looked like we had walked into a hotel in the 1970s. The room was about ½ the size of a mini-suite we had on Celebrity last year. The balcony was only about 1/5 the size of our previous cruise. There were four chairs and a small round table, but we constantly had to rearrange the furniture to move around the balcony. On Celebrity, the mini-suite came with champagne, flowers, fruit, personalized stationary, daily tea, a dining table, and a butler. On Princess, the mini-suite came with a room steward. He was terrific and kept the room spotless, but he couldn't compare with a butler. Day for day, the Princess cruise was more expensive. One of the couples at our dining table had a full suite. The expensive accommodations didn't begin to compare with our Celebrity experience. Our stays in Juneau and Ketchican were very short. We needed much more time there to get a feeling for the destinations. The main problem during the cruise was the lack of attention to detail. We had our first dinner and most breakfast meals in the Horizon Court. The food selection was much smaller than other buffet venues we have experienced. After getting your food, you were left to your own resources to find seats in the crowded venue. There were plenty of workers there, but they didn't interact with the passengers. After being seated, we needed to call a waiter to get coffee or juice. They weren't very friendly and the service was often slow. In the dining room, the service was perfunctory. Our waiter wasn't very friendly and his assistant didn't say 10 words during the seven days. Waiters, especially at assigned seatings, are often the people who make you feel the most welcome onboard. This was not our experience during this cruise. On several occasions we were served the incorrect selection. When asked what was in the wild-game pate, our waited insisted that it was a vegetarian selection. He was unable to correctly identify a number of dishes throughout the week. They also pushed the wine list heavily at each dinner. Offerings were inconsistent. On two afternoons a pub lunch was served in one of the specialty restaurants. The food was good and there was no extra charge for lunch in the room, but they charged for coffee after the meal and no dessert was available. It would have been nice if other specialty lunches were offered on additional days. The ice cream bar served small soft-serve cones, but charged for hard ice cream. After about 10 cruises, this was truly a first for us. One night we watched a movie under the stars on the open deck. The movie was fine, but someone forgot to turn on the sound. A number of us tried to find someone who could address the problem. The first two workers I approached told me that was not their department and kept on walking. Other passengers had the same experience. Finally I got one of the servers at a snack bar to allow me to use the phone to call the main desk to report the problem. It took over 30 minutes to get it working. The movie was a popular title and many people wanted to see it. Many requests were needed to get the stewards to unlock the blankets and let us use them. We were on the open water in Alaska and it was cold! They only brought out a few blankets at a time and needed constant prodding to produce more. Our last day was a sea day. We wanted to sit on the deck and read, but we were told that blankets were not available. There were three stewards standing on the outside deck chatting, but the rest of the space was nearly empty except for a few people who bundled up with coats and towels from the pool. They wouldn't give a reason why we couldn't use the blankets. While the entertainment was excellent, the timing of events was poor. Many activities overlapped by a few minutes. By the time one show or game was finished, the next event was already starting in the next room. If the cruise staff left a little additional time between events, there would be more availability for the passengers. It seemed like much of the time on ship was spent catching the last portion of one event or another. Many entertainments took place during only one of the dining times. If you were scheduled to eat then, you just missed the entertainment. The event times in the Princess Patter newsletter didn't always match up with the actual events. Several things we wanted to attend were just terminated early. One of these was the highly-touted "dessert extravaganza." We went up to get a snack about 45 minutes before it was supposed to end. The "extravaganza" had been moved to the regular food line and two waiters were doling out minute portions of the final half of just two cakes which were available. While seated in the various theatres or lounges, we were often approached by four or rive servers hawking drinks. It servers had been assigned to a particular section, they would know who didn't want service and that would be the end. After a few days, the constant bombardment got to be annoying. The disembarkation process did not go nearly as smoothly as the embarkation. We were assigned tags with colors and numbers. When we assembled in the Princess Lounge (theater), the numbers were not seated separately. When they called a group, people found themselves crawling over others who were still waiting to be called. It truly felt like we got the bum's rush getting off the ship. We were told that we could be in our rooms until 8 AM. When we got back from breakfast at 7:20, our things had been piled on the couch and the room was ready for the next passengers, even though the next boarding was 5 hours away. While the personnel on the pier were friendly and helpful, those who worked on the ship gave the impression that the tips had been given and they were more than through with us. When the Princess buses arrived at the airport, we needed to stand in a very long line for nearly 45 minutes before any luggage arrived. We were there over an hour when we finally received our bags. Anyone in PR should know that the first and last impressions are the most lasting. This last impression wasn't what they should be giving. Read Less
Sail Date May 2010
My husband, 12 y/o son and I did our first cruise on Princess Sapphire from Alaska to Vancouver the first of August. I had booked it through an well recommended internet agency, and got a budget priced room, since past cruisers noted that ... Read More
My husband, 12 y/o son and I did our first cruise on Princess Sapphire from Alaska to Vancouver the first of August. I had booked it through an well recommended internet agency, and got a budget priced room, since past cruisers noted that you spent most of your time up on deck anyway. Our check-in was great, very efficient and speedy with no delays. Note that Whittier is not a place to spend a lot of time, so plan on a couple of days in Anchorage before departure. Pluses - checkin at the pier and checkout at the pier, luggage handling, food, kids activites, shore excusions and ability to enjoy those excusions, quiet, terrific spa (I highly suggest the accupunture series) and pools. Wonderful seafood at dinner. Nice breakfast selection. Nice entertainment with a very family oriented venue. The coffee card was a nice deal but it takes a long time to get the drink back. The liquor on board was reasonable priced in the on-ship store. The ship cooked at fish fillet from the salmon we caught on the shore excusion and presented it to our son in the dining room. The dining room staff was very good. We did the shore events that included the zipline, the salmon fishing, and the hiking/raft ride. Well worth the expense. The ship based excusions were a bit more expensive, but the coupon book bookings were a joke and not to be done! (They would pick up the phone, promise to call us back, then never call back! I guess that they didn't want our money...) By the way, if you book the fishing thru the boat, the captain is required to fillet the fish for you for the cook on the ship, and the ship will cook it. If you go through an outsider, no go for that. Minuses - Housekeeping - the bed for our son was dirty and stained when we checked in, the room was not cleaned very well. We had gotten an interior room with convertible twins, which the internet agency assured me could be pushed together for my husband and I. WRONG! We were warned by the head of housekeeping that it was not allowed and was a fire hazard to push the bed together. I ended up spending the whole trip in what was essentially a room that was 10 by 10 and smaller than a dorm room with the drop down bed (like a bunk) over my husband and each of us sleeping in a twin bed. Not very romantic for our 15th anniversary. The check in for the transportation to Whittier had little old ladies with bullhorns herding us down to buses. The credit card machines didn't work, so they were demanding cash for the transfers to Whittier from Anchorage. How convenient that they knew where the nearest ATM was. The ship constantly hit us up for extras. Internet was ridiculously expensive, they were constantly taking pictures of us and almost harrassing us to buy stuff. I got really tired of finding out that there were things to do on the ship that were nice, but they always, always cost more. The last night they had a "tag" sale on merchandise that they wanted to clear out in one of the bars. Tacky. The first morning when we went to the Glaciers, they didn't have the drink carts out, the coffee ready or the blanket check-out ready. Almost all of us were cold and thirsty. The different dining rooms, we were never able to figure out why the different ones. All the menus were the same expect for the cover charge ones. Overall, the extra expense of the shore trips made this a worthwhile vacation. However, the constant pressure for extra purchases made it less enjoyable and the room was a joke. I will never go again on a cruise unless I have a balcony. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
My husband and I just finished a Princess Cruise tour to Alaska, we did J- Copper River. We started the cruise tour on 5/24/09 and our sail date was 5/30/09.We flew into Fairbanks and landed about 8pm their time.   At the airport, we ... Read More
My husband and I just finished a Princess Cruise tour to Alaska, we did J- Copper River. We started the cruise tour on 5/24/09 and our sail date was 5/30/09.We flew into Fairbanks and landed about 8pm their time.   At the airport, we see the Princess Desk, so I go to check in while my husband goes to find the luggage. My experience started here.  The person working the desk handed me my packet and when I asked what we were to do next he answered somewhat irritated that we were to put the tags on the bags and then leave them behind him.  So, I went back to my husband to find our bags and figured we would figure it out.  We got our bags and put them were they were supposed to go, and listened to other people asking what next.  Many people did not know what hotel they there staying in - I had read the Princess info saying to contact your travel agent to find out.  It turns out that there were buses outside that we could not see from inside.  Day one-  we went on the tours that were booked for us by Princess- the riverboat and the gold mine. - if I had to make suggestions I would skip the riverboat, although they did have one of the best gift shops I had been in.  I would suggest the museum at the university.  Another couple said it was really interesting; we did not make it there.We were sitting on the bus waiting to go back to the hotel and I could hear what sounded like our names and them asking the bus driver to tell us to check with the Princess Desk.  The driver did not check to see if we were on his bus.So when we got back to the hotel, I decided to check with the tour desk, and sure enough it was us she was trying to reach.  Our pre-booked excursion was canceled and we could rebook another if we wanted.  We did rebook and we rebooked a tour that was not even originally open to us to book.  (when we were at home) Also this tour was more expensive. (bait and switch if you ask me)  Then we were informed that bc we pre-booked this excursion from home we would have to wait until we got back from Alaska and then start the process of getting a refund!!! Now mind you when we call to book this excursion they charged us right away.  OH! by the way the tour in question was an Artic Circle Fight, it was definitely worth the money (not twice) for the tour. -very interesting. We flew to Coldfoot and then took a tour in Wiseman, a town of 13, and learned about life there.Denali was great, but the hotel itself was disorganized and expensive.  We did the 8 hour wilderness tour thru the park and we did a white water rafting tour.  I thought both were work it. We also did a Heli hike with a company called ERA- we booked thru princess but I would try to contact them on your own - some of my best pictures are from that hike.We then took an 8 hour ride to the Copper River Princess Lodge.  We had booked another excursion with Princess for that night (a tour they had listed available for us to take) but there was no way we were going to make it - Wrangell- St Elias wilderness tour, it started at 5 pm.  While still in Denali we asked about it, they said if we missed it it would be taken care of at Copper River.  We got to Copper River at 5:45 pm , we went to the tour desk and they handed us a copy of a pre-book land excursion refund!!! They said it would take 2 weeks but they had started the paperwork.The next day we went on a Prince William Sound boat ride excursion.  This was beautiful and I would go again.  I think you would have to book with Princess though bc you are 2 hours away from the sound. the next day we boarded the Diamond Princess.  Boarding went smoothly and quickly.  Our overall ship experience  was ok.  I could not wait to get to Vancouver to get a good cup of coffee and some real food.  We have been on Princess before and their food is nothing special, but I did not expect anything different.  We had anytime dining and unless we went at 5 pm to eat, we waited on average 1/2 hour to eat. We finally did make reservations the last couple of nights but there were select time you were able to make the reservations.  Service in the dining rooms was better when you actually tipped the waiter yourself.(but that is all ships) Lastly, all the passengers that booked a hotel for Vancouver,BC after the cruise were the last to leave the ship and then we waited an hour to get a bus to take us 6 blocks.So now we are home and I have to write a letter to Princess to "start the process" to get refunded for the excursion.  In general the Fairbanks Princess people were the nicest. Even before the cruise I found those on the phone rude.  When we were booking the excursions for the land part the woman on the phone was rude, I thought. Several of the tour name all sound  alike so I was checking to make sure we both had the same tour and she started giving me attitude, I just was asking bc the prices did not match up, and she flip in her tone when she told me " I should be happy bc it was less than the brochure." I was kind of taken back bc I really was just verifying.  Another thing that has come in handy now that we need refunds, we asked to have an email verifying the tours. they were not going to send one  unless we asked.  Sadly Holland America was cheaper at the time of booking, I just felt Princess had the most Alaska options. Read Less
Sail Date May 2009
A trip of a lifetime. As we were traveling to Anchorage we flew over the Canadian Rockies. It was a beautiful clear day. The pilot pointed out the Rockies and Mount Logan. A breathtaking start to our vacation. In Anchorage the ... Read More
A trip of a lifetime. As we were traveling to Anchorage we flew over the Canadian Rockies. It was a beautiful clear day. The pilot pointed out the Rockies and Mount Logan. A breathtaking start to our vacation. In Anchorage the Princess transfers went smoothly and we quickly arrived at the Captain Cook Hotel. This is a lovely hotel with large comfortable rooms. We stayed here the 1st night and then, later the night between the landtour and the cruise. We ate in 2 restaurants in the hotel and one (the Corsair) across the street. The Pantry serves all 3 meals, but we only went there for breakfast- convenient and good- a full breakfast is about $12. The Corsair was very nice- after traveling all day from the midwest we were ready for dinner at 5pm our time, but the restaurants opened at 9pm our time! The staff of the Corsair all wore tuxes and most of the clients on a Monday night were casual. A well-presented chateaubriand dinner was about $100, but at that point we were so tired and so hungry that we found the service and food well worth it. The best food we had in Anchorage and the most memorable of the whole trip was found in the Whale Tail in the Captain Cook. Our waiter Adam brought us a long glass tray of Oysters Rockefeller. The best thing that I have eaten in a long, long time. We had one tray the 1st night and 2 when we returned the next week. The 2nd morning the Princess people took us to the train. The bus driver gave us an interesting commentary on the way, including darn good reasons for the "bridge to nowhere" (I get it, but I still don't want to pay for it). The train was great. I had cards and a book with me because people on the Alaska board had advised that it was a long (7-8 hours) and boring trip-no way! We stared out our window the entire time. The weather was clear and we even had perfect views of Mount McKinley. Some had also said that the restaurant on the train served a very good prime rib- we asked when we didn't see it on the menu and got blank stares- they claim that prime rib has never been available- so, at least not this year. Soups and sandwiches were good. This was a very pleasant trip. At the end of the ride we were given our room keys and bused to our buildings at the Princess Wilderness Resort at Denali. That evening we just nosed around . We had a great halibut dinner at the Salmon Bake restaurant across the street from building 10. This is not a buffet, but a menu restaurant- wavy floors and my husband advised me to skip the bathroom, but the food and service is good- I had good chowder as well. Our room at the resort was of average size. Two double beds, as there was not much room in the closet area we were glad to use the 2nd bed for our suitcases. New friends of ours went on the whitewater rafting tour on the Nenana River that evening. Jimmy and Linda had quite a time! For the next 2 weeks all I had to do is mention rafting to set Jimmy off! They had a thrilling time, but it was not stressed how COLD the water was. Even though they were wearing the special wetsuits, they got very cold and the icy water went down into their suits. They said that they were supposed to hold onto a metal bar, but their fingers got too cold to hold on. Later the tour providers had to help them out of the wetsuits . Linda said she had to have help tying her shoes. Definitely a memorable trip. The next day we went shopping across the street- end of the season bargains- and looked around the resort. We had breakfast at the dinner theater- it was a family style breakfast with a slide show about climbing the mountain. (The last morning we opted for a quick breakfast at the Canyon station because we were leaving from that location, and my husband said that he wished we had gone back to the 1st place- a much better value and a better breakfast). Our documents from the Previous November and repeated on update after update, had us on the early morning Tundra Wilderness Tour, but 10 days before we left they changed us to afternoon- tried, but no dice, stuck with afternoon. We left at 2pm. Our driver was Paul Christianson. He was very knowledgeable and interesting. We went over 60 miles and saw moose, caribou, 13 bears, a fox, and snowshoe hares. We got great pictures of all and had a grand time. When we stopped to take a picture of a hare chewing on one of those white warning signs, the driver opened the door and another bunny came up and started chewing on the rubber on the side of the bus door. That night we got back to the resort a few minutes before 10. We hopped across the street for a hamburger- I'd recommend splitting one- they are huge. (The boxed lunch on the TWT was something! When the 1st person tore open the package of reindeer sausage, the scent wafted throughout the bus and as one we said "What is that???" We were glad we took Subway subs!) The 3rd morning Princess Gene was our motorcoach driver to Fairbanks. He let us off in downtown Fairbanks for a 2 hour break- there are free computers in the visitor center so that you can e-mail your family. It is next to the bridge over the Chena River. We walked a couple blocks to an Italian restaurant and had a good lunch. After walking around town we went back to the Visitor Center- there is a huge statue of Alaskan people. Princess Gene took us to the Discovery Sternwheeler. If you go, (some in our crowd opted for other tours) get a window seat on the farside of the boat. When we went it was hard to see anything, the boat was full. At first we chose seats at the bow of the ship, it was so sunny that I was squinting too much, by then the seats that looked best-Portside outside, but with roof, were taken, so we got seats 2 and 3 next to the window. A Lot is shown from that side- the late Susan Butcher's home (her husband talks and runs some dogs for you), seaplanes (visible from all sides), and the native village- one of the girls cuts up fish. Even people with great views feel the need to stand and block the windows, so the boat ride itself was frustrating at times. There are TVs showing what is going on , but by then most people are standing and milling around trying to see, so make your move and get the seat you want and try to be kind to those around you. The Chena River Native Village was very interesting- Sisters Ida and Gracie were our guides and they were in a playful mood. Rita showed the beautiful chief coats that she and her mother make out of multiple furs. We also talked to a woman who has been in the Iditarod- she had some dogs with her, including puppies. After the tour we were taken to the Princess Riverside Resort- another lovely resort- here we were upgraded to a 2 bathroom suite. This resort is much fancier than the Denali one. The nicest place that we stayed out in Alaska. That night we took the free Pioneer Park shuttle bus to the Salmon Bake- this was neat! We walked through a mining tunnel and then came out into a grove. Very picturesque. It cost $31 each for dinner- there is a show as well, but we would have to hurry our meal to see it, so we passed. The side dishes are not much, but the prime rib, salmon and halibut were fantastic. We sat at a big picnic table outside, there are indoor tables if it is raining or too cold for you. It had been 80 degrees at noon, but it got cool in the evening. The next morning we had breakfast at the resort buffet and it was fine. We waited by the fire in the main lobby for Princess Grag to collect us. From now on we would spend more time with the other 34 people on our tour. We left the hotel at 7:30 AM. Greg drove us the 259 miles to Coldfoot. Along the way we made many photo stops and we also stopped at Joy, Alaska for an outhouse break and to shop- got a diet coke here and a little wooden bear. That outhouse sure has an interesting updraft! We stopped to walk along the pipeline and at the Arctic Circle and at Finger Mountain. Great photos including a caribou using the pipeline for shade. For lunch we went to the Hot Spot run by a former Playboy Bunny, Theresa, I think- still pretty hot! Greg radioed her when we were close and then again when we were 5 minutes away so that lunch would be ready- there was a choice of several types of hamburgers (with cheese, teriyaki, etc), a chicken sandwich, and something vegetarian. You got your own drink, chips, and cookies. After everyone had a chance to order and was served, Julie came around and asked if you wanted a milkshake- we were warned ahead of time not to inquire about milkshakes until she told you that you could. We told both ladies that we were told not to "poke the bear" and to be good or else! Lunch was very good- Theresa pre-cooks the burgers and then simmers them in beef broth , at the last radio message she flips them onto the grill to finish them off. After lunch and a trip around her buildings-we ate under a tarp between 2 shacks- we went to the "gift shop" and told her what we had- strictly on the honor system- lunch, 2 cheeseburgers, 1 bag of chips, coffee, 1 diet coke, and a milkshake-$32.50 plus tip. No complaints- I'm not sure how far her reach is. A very good lunch. We arrived in Coldfoot at 6pm. This is a very rustic place- basic, but clean. Greg asked some of us to take bedtime showers so that there would be enough hot water for morning showers. There was a dinner buffet- the general menu was only available after 9pm because of the number of us, so we had a Coldfoot Pilsner and then went to the ranger talk down the road- an interesting slide show about eagles. After that we had some good fried shrimp at the restaurant. We slept well and started the next day with Greg pounding on our doors to wake us up at 6:30am. There are no phones or TVs at Coldfoot. The walls are paper-thin, so keep the hanky-panky to a minimum here. Another buffet breakfast and then onto the bus. Great vistas today- we went through the Brooks Range and the Antigun Pass. We saw 3 wild herds of muskox, lots of caribou, and moose. Today we had a "box" lunch- there is nowhere to eat between Coldfoot and Deadhorse, so Greg pulled the bus to the side of the road and handed out ziplock bags for our lunches. The day before we picked our drink and sandwich- ham, roast beef, turkey, cheese, or peanut butter (no jelly), and a flavor of pop. We also got various small bags of chips and cookies- if you didn't like what you got, you could trade. Greg suggested that we hunker down by the side of the road- Charlie and I sat in the dirt and ate- everyone else had better sense and ate on the bus. My hands were freezing and I may have said "Charlie, you are killing me!!" After we ate our sandwiches we went back to the bus to eat our cookies. Greg found outhouses for us from time to time and there was bathroom on the bus- we never had to use it, so Greg must have had good timing, at least for the 2 of us. This day was my favorite of the whole vacation- the Brooks Range was magnificent and that was followed by the Northern Slope and the amazing Tundra. We got to Deadhorse (Prudhoe Bay) about 7pm. We washed up in our rooms and then got into the buffet line along with the oil camp workers. They were very nice. The buffet was good- spaghetti, lasagna, and cod almondine that night. A salad bar with fruit as well. 5 or 6 choices for dessert (I had german chocolate cake), ice cream, and coffee, juices and pop. There is no booze in Deadhorse- workers are not allowed to have any and you can be arrested if you give or sell any to a worker- safety reasons- there are a lot of wild animals outside, the work is dangerous, and of course the winters are rough. We ate at long tables in the lunchroom. There is a large TV in there- workers have the remote, so don't even think about it! The rooms are a little nicer than Coldfoot, but maybe a little smaller. Still no phones, but a 13 inch TV- turned it on for a few minutes, but too bushed. There was a small digital clock with alarm- Greg can't bang on doors here- the workers are 12 hours on and 12 hours off, 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off. That evening a young Yupik Girl,Sarah, (20 years old) spoke about life in her remote village and life working in the Arctic Caribou Inn kitchen. She was so sweet and giggly. There was also an older guy- Henry, about 35, I'm not sure what he does at the camp- he talked about drug abuse and suicide. He is from a remote village as well-you can get there by boat, airplane, or snow machine or ATV. We slept well again- it felt like sleeping in a snug box. No problems with the room- the arm chair was just in the way- no where to lay open the suitcase- 2 twin beds, 2 dressers, armchair, 1 nightstand, bathroom up one step-indoor-outdoor carpet everywhere- I laid down towels to walk on after showering and then straight to shoes! Up at 6:30am-luggage out by 7am. We had another breakfast buffet- not bad. Both in Coldfoot and here they have flavored creamers- a bit of luxury in the wild. After breakfast we went to the general store- a Napa parts store on the bottom and a general store upstairs- snacks, movies, clothes, fur hats ($500 for a fancy one), and sundry items. This is where the only cat in Deadhorse lives- John Denver. You can even buy a t-shirt with his picture on it. Cars in Deadhorse have no license plates (leased land- no where to go) and they always have the keys in the ignition-and are unlocked. This is in case you are being chased by a bear, moose, muskox, or caribou, you will be able to jump in the nearest car. There was a sign at the Inn- "don't go out alone". It was up mainly because the polar bears had been hanging around. Two in our group went out together and were charged by a caribou! It was pretty scary looking- the caribou had been scraping off the velvet on his antlers, so he was bloody and the velvet was hanging from the antlers like spanish moss. Later we drove around and spotted it. When we got back from the general store Grant the oil camp security guard talked to us and took us to his bus. He said that we couldn't go swimming in the Arctic Ocean that day because of the bear activity. We could not even take off our shoes to wade! I don't think he wanted to do the paperwork if one of us got killed. I had planned to swim- I had my swimsuit in my tote. Grant drove us through the security gate and then by the pump stations- very interesting. It was in the low 30s that day. We got to see and touch the Arctic Ocean. We collected thunder stones along the edge of the ocean- gray and black rocks with a circle of white around them. They told us that eskimo people consider them good luck. I found about a dozen. Back to the Inn- we identified our luggage for the Alaskan Airline official and then went to lunch- reindeer stew, chicken, beef casserole, all the extra stuff and great apple cobbler. Do you know the difference between reindeer and caribou? Reindeer are owned by someone and caribou are wild. After lunch Greg took us on another ride around Deadhorse- we saw more manufactured-home type buildings- offices and housing- they say the elite have fancier digs with gyms and theaters, but all in the same type buildings. Greg pointed out buildings with "refrigerated" foundations. We saw a "christmas tree", the piece on top of a drilled well where the pipes are attached. We also saw some caribou and trumpet swans. Princess Greg was a great driver and guide- he wrote the thesis for his masters degree about the Dalton Highway -a long and bouncy gravel road. He was knowledgeable and kind and funny. Greg put us on the plane on Monday afternoon and would hang out at the Arctic Caribou Inn until Thursday morning when he would return to the airport and pick up a new crowd. He was good to us- stopping any time we wanted- to take a better look at an animal or a mountain and he even turned the bus around to look for some wolves a passenger saw. That night we were back at the Captain Cook and feasting on oysters rockefeller. The next morning we had breakfast in the Pantry and got on buses heading to the Native Heritage Center and the on to Whittier. We scared our driver (Grandma Jo) with the song that Greg had taught us -"Off we go, like a herd of Turtles! Where we go nobody knows!" Our little group would do this from time to time- we lived to startle! Grandma Jo was a disappoint after all the great drivers that we had had, including the ones that just drove us to and from airports and trains. We learned a lot about her ex-husband, children, grand-children, and their significant others, but not much about the things we were going past. We arrived at the Heritage Center about 10 minutes too late to both go on the escorted tour and see the dance show, so we walked through the village on our own and then went to the dance- I am glad that we saw the dance- I can now do the "seal". This is a very interesting place and I would have preferred more time there. Next we got back on the bus and went to the tunnel-pretty cool. Embarkation was smooth and quick. We went straight to Emerald 712. Our travel with me luggage was there, so we settled in and I did laundry. We met Supatra, our stewardess. A nice girl from India. She did a fine job all week. We called for ice and had a cocktail on our balcony- I still had a little whiskey left over from the landtour. Charlie and I had spotted a liquor store across the street from the Captain Cook, so we had our own source throughout the 1st week. Our laundry was done by dinner time, but the meet suitcase wasn't there, so dinner in jeans. We shared table 128 in the Provence dining room, early traditional, with Teddie and Claude. They were celebrating their 57th anniversary and happened to be in cabin E714!!!! That NEVER happens unless you are traveling together! At our table were a family from Toronto, Ontario, Canada-Mom, Dad, Daughter and son-in-law. All nice people. Dinners were unremarkable. Food okay, service okay. Except on one night when it was awful- sat with dirty plates for so long that we finally left and got our dessert and coffee upstairs. Our balcony cabin was fine, 4 chairs and a table on the balcony, but the shower is just ridiculous- it is so small that the whole bathroom was flooded every night- you wouldn't think that I would have to long for the showers at Coldfoot or Deadhorse! The 1st morning we cruised into the College Fjords- a little fog as we started, but it cleared within 30 minutes. A wonderful day. We spent time on the balcony and then we went through the "secret" door on Baja deck- what a view-we spent 2 days there! Glacier Bay was spectacular as well. We never had any rain from the time we left home on August 18th until we got back on September 1st. Entertainment on board: bands not very good; hated the hypnotist; Garry Carson, the comedian/illusionst-quite good; Scot Wyler, comedian, good; Adrian Zmed, song and dance man- surprisingly good; cruise director-annoying. Not much late-night entertainment- pretty quiet after 11pm. The singer/dancers were not very good and the night the orchestra had a Big Band show people started leaving after the 2nd song- we left after the 3rd. We were led to believe that Princess was a class act, but the food, service in the dining rooms, and the entertainment were below par. We have been on the Norway, Costa , Carnival , and Royal Caribbean. My husband says no more Princess. The landtour portion was fabulous, with accommodations as expected, but the Coral Princess was less than we expected. Tours during Cruise: In Skagway we privately booked the White Pass Railway- train up and bus back- ours was a morning tour and I would recommend a later time- it was our only lasting foggy time- the bus ride back was better- the fog had lifted- BJ was a great driver and stopped for lots of photos. We had a choice of getting dropped off in town or back at the ship- we thought that we would do some shopping, but with 4 ships in town it was too busy for me. We walked back to the ship. Boy! What a long way. We stopped at the Skagway Fish Company and had a great halibut lunch. In Juneau we went on the Princess "Best of Juneau"- Mendenhall glacier followed by whale watching and then a salmon bake. Their salmon bake was not as good as the one in Fairbanks. We had a good time. The tour started at 8:20am and we were back at the ship at about 3pm- last boarding at 3:30pm, so no time to go to the Red Dog or to shop- I would trade the salmon bake for some time downtown. At Ketchikan we went on the Princess Totem Traditions tour- good driver/guide. Had lunch at the Ketchikan Fish Company- We DO NOT recommend this place- hard, dry fish. Checked out Creek Street- shopped there and at stores by the dock- late season- some good bargains. All in all we had a great trip- the best part was the land portion- saw beautiful sights every day for 15 days. Princess kept track of our stuff and delivered it to our rooms from Anchorage to Deadhorse to the ship. Some things on our ship bothered us- we have never had a Captain's party where the Captain doesn't come (he only goes to the late-sitting party on the Coral). I highly recommend Alaska- beautiful beyond words- the landtour-we never felt "herded"- we always felt cared for and special, especially after we headed north out of Fairbanks. We don't plan to ever set foot on a Princess ship again. Read Less
Sail Date August 2008
We booked this cruise because it looked beautiful and saw the good reviews it got online. Also, we got a great deal on it, only 450 for a 7 day. Boy, were we sorry. I should start by saying that the group I traveled with is used to ... Read More
We booked this cruise because it looked beautiful and saw the good reviews it got online. Also, we got a great deal on it, only 450 for a 7 day. Boy, were we sorry. I should start by saying that the group I traveled with is used to something a bit more fast paced than what we got. The ship was bustling with the 55 and older crowd, and not that I have a problem with them, but they were just a bit too quiet and snobby to our liking. We also chose this cruise because of the "extensive" child facilities. Our two 15 year olds and one 16 year olds were always complaining that there was nothing to do for them and one even spent the last few days in the cabin just playing games on his laptop. The food was horrible. It looked really nice, but, just like the ship, that's all it had to offer. The only thing edible on the lido deck was the pizza. The food in the dining rooms was not much better, and when my daughter asked for the Grand Marnier souffle for dessert one night, the waiter wouldn't let her have it because it contained alcohol. WOW. Great excuse, right? We paid for that food and we should be allowed to order what ever we want. The only time the service was good was during tea time. The entertainment was blah. My husband and I ended up leaving early on 2 occasions because we simply did not enjoy the shows. The fitness center was busy at all times. The equipment was nice though, very new looking. Embarkation/Debarkation was well organized and we were on without too long of a wait. Our stateroom was rather small, but as always, the beds were just so amazingly comfortable. I slept like a baby every night. The ports were so-so. I recommend buying the shore excursions from private companies because the ones offered by Princess were overpriced. The good thing about the ports is that there are lots of liquor stores and Princess wasn't anal at all about letting us 'sneak' some on. Sure saved us a couple hundred bucks. In conclusion, you get what you pay for. The 450 bucks was worth it, but I would have gladly paid more for something that had better entertainment and more activities. Read Less
Sail Date June 2008
This was my 6th Alaska cruise and NO ONE can spoil this cruise. This time it was a family reunion of adults ranging in age from 40 to 85. I used an internet agency that I explicitly trust to book the cruise. We flew to Whittier because it ... Read More
This was my 6th Alaska cruise and NO ONE can spoil this cruise. This time it was a family reunion of adults ranging in age from 40 to 85. I used an internet agency that I explicitly trust to book the cruise. We flew to Whittier because it is easier to get the long flight over first. I used Princess to book the flights and that was a mistake. My traveling party had 2 disabled and we were split up all over the plane, none close to the front. EMBARKATION: We were the last onboard and there were no wheelchairs for the disabled (includes me). The 6 cabins were not in a row as booked and confirmed. Got an excuse 4 days later that made no sense but Passenger Services onboard tried and that matters. CABINS: The cabins are very small compared to other lines. No seating area or table to enjoy your morning coffee. The shower was built for an 80 lb. pygmy. You couldn't even turn around in the bathroom. AWFUL!! Lots of space wasted on a huge closet area that experienced travelers would never use. The balcony was wonderful as usual. NEVER cruise Alaska without a balcony stateroom. You will miss the splendor of Alaska. Our cabin steward did the minimum. I had to ask her to vacuum! Ice didn't appear as I asked and my soda order was not submitted as asked. No extra tip here!! Princess needs to get with the rest of the industry and upgrade their beds and pillows. FOOD: The food in the dining room is excellent. We had a head waiter since Princess stuffed 12 people at a table for 10. Nicolu was superior as you would expect. He didn't even push the cookbook and I had to ask since I collect them. The buffet was mediocre at best. The food was hot but a small variety. There were more raw fruits and veggies than hot food. You had to PAY FOR ice cream. Also, plain coffee and tea everywhere but with a meal. Omelets not as ordered, awful french toast, just overall the worst food at sea. Many of the food serving crew did NOT speak English. I asked one young man in his language and he said a few words but not a lot. ACTIVITIES: Superb selection for all ages. I was sorry the naturalist was not on board for the entire trip as on Carnival and HA. I missed her pointing out wildlife, high points on shore and history. The scenery and shore excursions are MAGNIFICENT! DISEMBARKATION: The Canadians do a great job in Vancouver. We used a new program for some US airlines where your airline boarding passes are given to you onboard and your bags checked from the ship to home. WHAT A HUGE HELP!!! Customs clearance is a breeze. Like I said, You Can't Mess Up an Alaska cruise even thought Princess tried very hard to do so. I will never book on Princess again. Read Less
Sail Date June 2007
My husband and I travel a lot using Princess cruises for our destinations. We are in our 40s. This was our 8th cruise-5th on the Princess. Travel to Port of Embarkation: Make sure you do the longest part of your travel in the ... Read More
My husband and I travel a lot using Princess cruises for our destinations. We are in our 40s. This was our 8th cruise-5th on the Princess. Travel to Port of Embarkation: Make sure you do the longest part of your travel in the beginning--not the end. You'll handle it better. Embarkation: They do the best they can under the circumstances. If you go into this not expecting perfection you'll be fine. I have no complaints here. 1. Disembarkation: Best advice! When your cruise gets closer to the end you'll get a note about how the airlines are now offering an Onboard Airline Check-In service for $15 per person. It is the best $30 you will ever spend especially if you have cruised before and experienced the long waits to hear your color called for you to begin the check-out process. You have your baggage out before midnight and you do not see it again until you are at your home base airport. It was great. 2. Land tours. 4 days on land before cruise. This is a warning! First, find ways to bring snacks to save money. The food at the Denali Lodge was expensive and not all that great for the expense. Also, the train ride to Whittier was a 9 long hours and we happened to be very lucky to have sun the entire time. BUT, we were in a dome car. You've got to make sure you have water, sunscreen and a cap. I was sunburned and my husband ended up with heat stroke by the time we reached our suite on the cruise. City of Gold and Riverboat tours in Fairbanks very relaxing and informative. In Denali we were on the bus trip to the national park. It was absolutely fantastic, yes a bus trip and I was scared about that, but it was very nice, plenty of room and our driver was great. Even the box lunch was good. Denali also had a theatre/dinner and that was fun, ok--just don't expect a lot and you'll be fine to just be able to relax. 3. Cruising only days of College Fjord and Glacier Bay. Make sure you have an extra memory card for the camera. Absolutely beautiful. This is where spending xtra for the patio deck is definitely worth it. 4. Skagway. I'm sitting here trying to remember what we did. We cancelled the famous train ride after being on a train for 9 hours I didn't care to hop on another train, even though it was just 3 hours long. We walked about the city--that was it. 5. Juneau, Do all your shopping here. Juneau will be the best place to buy totem poles and everything else is priced fairly as well. We regret that we didn't buy the 4 foot tall totem pole we saw for $1700. Best fudge store, great restaurants and bars. They want you there and you feel welcomed. 6. Ketchikan. The Promech Air seaplane tour was the only good part about this port. The Promech Air staff were helpful and very nice! Our pilot Ryan was GREAT, cute and we should have brought our 23 year old single daughter to meet him, haha. BUT, everything else about this town was a complete waste of time. The other townspeople and sales clerks were RUDE. Same totem pole we saw in Juneau was now selling for $3750! T-shirts, sweatshirts all way over priced. We should have just gone back to the ship after the seaplane tour. 7. Best prices for Diamonds in Alaska? Are you kidding me? Don't do it! Now about the Island Princess Ship. The appearance of the ship always looks beautiful and the restrooms are kept very clean. When I see the staff in the restrooms cleaning up, I take a minute and thank them for their efforts. I used the Lotus Spa for the first time--2 visits. My Advice is don't prebook anything. They offer daily spa specials for a third of the price. I had the facial and mini massage and the aromatherapy massage. Definitely worth it. Service: Ever since the cruise changed how we pay tips to our room steward and wait staff the attitude and service has plummeted. BUT, room service is still the greatest part of the ship. NOTE: Anything on the dining list can be brought to your room. They're quick, everything is made fresh, we've started tipping them extra CASH for their pockets just because they offer such great service that is disappearing everywhere else. The beds were awful. But our last night all of a sudden I had a comfortable bed. They clearly flipped over the mattress--maybe this was just timing of flipping the mattress. Anytime dining is continuing to receive less and less quality service. You don't get the baked alaska on the last night. Sure I understand the preparation timing of things, but next cruise we'll be back on assigned dining. A few things about travelers. You're still not washing your hands when you come out of the bathroom stall! I can't believe this, it takes 30 seconds to wash your hands and prevent the rest of us from being exposed to your dirty habits. Another reason to stay away from the buffets! I don't mean to be disrespectful to our older community BUT I can't tell you how many times I saw older citizens moving slowly, getting crabby if they felt they were being pressured to move faster BUT as soon as there was a food line for them to be in, or a FREE something being given away, ALL OF a SUDDEN--they became fast moving teenagers!?!? Entertainment: I'd like to know what happened to the good entertainment we use to see about 5 years ago? Overall, Alaska is a must see. Do the cruise only. I would pass on the land tour just wasn't worth the time and money spent. Read Less
Sail Date May 2006
We arrived in Anchorage early to see the sights there. We, as in my husband, 2 children ages 2 & 7, my mother-in-law & father-in-law & sister-in-law. The Best Western at Shipcreek-awesome salmon in the creek, fishing right ... Read More
We arrived in Anchorage early to see the sights there. We, as in my husband, 2 children ages 2 & 7, my mother-in-law & father-in-law & sister-in-law. The Best Western at Shipcreek-awesome salmon in the creek, fishing right there, you can rent gear. The rooms were nice, but walk in closet is a joke. We were there only a few minutes when we received a call, we were too loud, try keeping 2 children under control after sitting on a van for over 2 hours & they were so excited about finally being there. Needless to say we spent our trip trying to hush our kids. My suggestion would be to make certain levels/areas for families & leave the couples on honeymoon & elderly people not used to excited kids on vacation in an area away from noisy families. Princess offered the cruise as family friendly & I have to laugh at that statement & have set my friends saving for this trip to look else where for family friendly. The indoor pool was adult only most of the day. Now it was not a kid friendly pool since the kids could not touch bottom to begin with, but trying to find a time when it was not nap time or bed time (even then we were chased out for the teen party) was very hard & frustrating. By the way yes there are outdoor pools, but when cruising it was windy & too cool to swim outside. The lady in the boutique was very rude to my crying 2 year old daughter, telling her to hush, while I had to stand in line for 10 minutes waiting to make my purchase, while another sales lady stood at her register looking busy not waiting on people. Our room steward was very nice, but we did not feel pampered. The shows were great. The food was really good, dessert lacked taste. The wait to get on & off the boat was awful. Especially in the rain in Ketchikan. Make sure to pack rain ponchos, they come in handy! We were on board on the 4th of July, however it was not celebrated other than, cakes sat out on display, wait staff wore red, white & blue attire & the show that evening had a title about all American. What a disappointment to us. What truly made our trip the most wonderful, once in a life time experience was the beautiful sites we saw a long the way narrated by the most informative, entertaining person on the bot, Barbara, the Naturalist. Make sure to set aside the time to go to her talks & tune in to her when possible. I doubt we will ever use Princess Cruise Lines again, but Barbara made us forget how awful other parts of our cruise was. Oh, yeah I won't forget to say the staff working with the kids in the Princess Pelicans were awesome also. They made my son's trip enjoyable & memorable. The excursions were very nice, Skagway the Yukon, White Pass train up to the summit is a must. Juneau- Mendenhall Glacier is wonderful, we did the Hatchery, glacier, salmon bake combo, skip the hatchery & do a trip out to the Glacier. However the salmon bake was absolutely the best! The food was good, but the rain forest was so beautiful. You can walk up to see a gold mine entrance, a waterfall that will take your breath away & many beautiful trees, flowers & sights. Ketchikan we walked around town, my in laws were treated to a cruise around town with Classic tours (I booked this on my own from an ad in AAA book) & they loved it! Upon departure in Vancouver we had to wait for a cab- make arrangements ahead of time- we stayed at the Holiday Inn- AWFUL!!! the elevator is tiny & you will wait 30 minutes or more to get all your bags upstairs. Stay on the water, Grandville Island is a must. All in all we had a good time, but feel that Princess could have made the trip more enjoyable for our family by taking the adults only signs on the indoor pool down & making a more family friendly atmosphere. I believe the brochures & print available is misleading & does not state areas are adults only. My children were charged the same price as adults, discounts given to # of people, not ages. Therefore we should not have to put ourselves in the position to upset fellow passengers by being in restricted area, Princess should not have the signs up period! Again, memories of a life time was made, but Princess did not do their job in providing my family the vacation of a lifetime. We would have to think really hard before using Princess Cruise lines again. Read Less
Sail Date July 2005
First glimpse of this ship and we were already in awe! Quite enchanting. That feeling continued as we boarded and were ushered toward the glass elevators to our cabins. Very dramatic woodwork and murals, and this was to be our home for the ... Read More
First glimpse of this ship and we were already in awe! Quite enchanting. That feeling continued as we boarded and were ushered toward the glass elevators to our cabins. Very dramatic woodwork and murals, and this was to be our home for the next 7 days! We were quite happy with the size of the cabin, and had a nice sized balcony. We purchased 8A, partially obstructed, with the life-boat below us never obstructing any view except straight down. I did dislike that it was a bump-in and the view behind us became obstructed more quickly than other balconies, but knew this when I booked. Still, great value for a balcony. Service staff was always very friendly and kept the ship neat. Buffet food seemed comparable to land buffets and the dining room food was what I would call average for general mid-priced dining on land. Not horrible by any means, and a few items were quite outstanding. The enchanted feeling began to fade a little after 7 a.m. the day after our Whittier departure. We'd set our clocks early so we could be up and view College Fjord. Carnival Capers had noted that we'd cruise through the fjord around 7 a.m. After all, glacier viewing was the main reason we chose to vacation in Alaska, and Carnival offered exactly what we were looking for. With the southbound cruise it was on the first day, no less!!! The brochure pictures alone we had seen of Prince William Sound and the glaciers looked breathtaking. How much more majestic they must be in person! We could hardly wait... but wait we did... and waited... and waited... to the point where I was beginning to wonder... did we miss it already??? How'd that happen??? We were up EARLY! Well, I finally had my answer around 9 a.m. It was announced that we were NOT going to be viewing College Fjord. What?!?! And we could forget Sitka too! We were heading straight to Juneau for engine repairs. Right through the Gulf of Alaska with only an occasional glimpse of mountain shoreline in the distance. Disappointment is not even the word for what I felt. Some people on board were very upset, some didn't seem to care. I just felt loss, what we had saved for, and had so looked forward to was suddenly excluded from our itinerary. Do we expect the unexpected, yes, and accept it when it is out of our control. However, Carnival should expect the unexpected, also, and plan for something like this to happen. One port missed is not that big of a deal... One port missed AND missing the majority of the reason for choosing a destination like Alaska, (the glaciers) causes it to become a little bigger deal. Along with the announcement was that, 'Carnival is crediting $50 per person to the Sail & Sign account.' Took a little while for it to dawn on some of us that the $50 was only the Sitka port charge being returned. So much for ANY compensation toward a future cruise to include College Fjord. In addition, Ketchikan was listed in the brochure as an 11:00 a.m. arrival. It was nearly 4:00 p.m. before we docked and then we had to be back onboard by 7:30 p.m. Carnival did begin tendering around noon for those who had booked excursions, but we had not (it was my one shopping day in addition to a planned walk along Creek Street -- which I had no time for), so we were put on a later tender. Just as we were first in line for our tender, it was announced that no more tenders would be allowed as the ship was now going to dock. I have nothing but wonderful things to say about the serving staff, they were so awesome, putting up with disgruntled cruisers in a very classy fashion. Some complained about Michael, the cruise director. We thought he was fine, but this was our first cruise, so we can't compare. Michelle, the naturalist was fantastic, pointing out wildlife, sea life and points of interest. There were 4 of us in our cabin, my husband, myself and our teenage sons. We requested no steward services except clean towels and washcloths and the beds changed once. Our stewardess respected this. We just hated for her to fall all over our suitcases, and I'm sure she was happy not to have to worry with our room -- yes, we did leave all tips due her. Our dining room waiter and his assistant earned extra tips from us. They were great. So, all said and done, how would I rate this cruise? Good marks straight across the board, except for one thing... the MOST important thing of all. We missed what most people (including us) book an Alaskan cruise for... to VIEW THE GLACIERS. That said, what we did see, we enjoyed immensely! I will recommend an Alaskan cruise to anyone who'll listen. Just not with Carnival. Customer relations will have to greatly improve before I'll even search for a BARGAIN with Carnival or any subsidiary. Read Less
Sail Date June 2005
This is VERY LONG. I apologize if your eyes explode. Embarkation: We had arrived in Anchorage very late the night before, so no worries about making it to the ship on time for a 9 pm departure. We left our bags at the hotel (Ramada on ... Read More
This is VERY LONG. I apologize if your eyes explode. Embarkation: We had arrived in Anchorage very late the night before, so no worries about making it to the ship on time for a 9 pm departure. We left our bags at the hotel (Ramada on 3rd - very nice and affordable, GREAT breakfast buffet) after checking out, and wandered around downtown for a while seeing the sights, including the Saturday market and statues of Balto and Cook. If you go to the statue of Balto, don't do anything embarrassing - there's a 24 hour web cam trained on the statue. We called our family back home and they could see us "live"! We noticed a Princess bus in front of the Captain Cook Hotel, so we asked about times for our own bus transfer from the Egan Center, as we'd been told by Princess 800 number reps that the buses would start at 1 pm and run until 5:30 p.m. Turns out the Egan had been switched to the Marriott, and the Princess representatives said that we had to check in by noon. It was already past 11, so we hightailed it to the Marriott and spoke to another rep outside who said the first bus left at 1:30, but that we should have our luggage there by noon. A rep inside gave us conflicting information - as long as the bus wasn't full, we could check in up until the time it left without having to rush to get our luggage, however, if there weren't enough people for another bus, then that would be it for the day. (By the way, the reason we left our luggage at the hotel in the first place was because a customer service person at the Princess 800 number told us we WOULD NOT be able to check it in and had to accompany our luggage to the pier. So that wasn't true.) We decided not to take any chances, and made our way back to the hotel, stopping at the Oomingmak Qiviut (musk ox hair) shop, near the bus station. The Ramada graciously gave us a lift to the Marriott, and after handing over our bags and checking in, we were given a pass for the second and last bus of the day from downtown, the 2 p.m. bus. We went to a nearby restaurant for lunch, The Teriyaki Box (I have a feeling that the food from this place is what made both of us sick later that night). After lunch, we waited inside the Marriott. The bus was ¾ full and left promptly at 2 in order to make the 3:30 opening of the Whittier tunnel. Hint: Sit on the right-hand side of the bus in order to see the best scenery and possibly belugas along Turnagain Arm. When my parents took the Sun Princess northbound last year, their bus stopped along the way at a zoo of sorts. Ours stopped at a pulloff past the Portage Glacier Visitors Center area, where we could see a hanging glacier and stretch our legs a little. We found out later that other buses did stop at that zoo, so we felt a little disappointed that we'd missed out, and wondered why only some buses made the stop. However, our driver did time our ride perfectly so that we hardly waited at the entrance to the tunnel. Driving through the Whittier tunnel is a surreal experience - the walls are nerve-wrackingly close on each side, and no natural light is visible - just the taillights of the vehicle in front of you and the orange glow of widely spaced lights along the walls. The driver told us that back when the buses had to be loaded onto trains to make it through the then-skinnier tunnel, there weren't even the orange lights, and you'd be plunged into total darkness for the whole ride. Luckily, the ride through the tunnel is over in less than 10 minutes, and you emerge safe and sound on the other side in the tiny town of Whittier. The pier is before the town, so we didn't even walk around, just hopped off the bus and into the building. Before we got in line, though, I looked for the coupon books my mother had told me about. We spotted a girl standing near the bathroom entrance with a display of books and asked her if they were the coupon books. Yes, they were, and she was happy to be getting rid of two of them. Few people had stopped to grab any, as the kiosk was out of the way of the line, and the girl wasn't allowed to just hand them out. (By the way, on the way out of Canada Place in Vancouver we saw at least 3 of these displays so they're a little harder to miss coming northbound.) Checking in process was PERFECT, best yet - just in the time it took for us to grab our books and use the restroom, the line was gone and we walked right up to the counter. When my husband was issued a blue card, though, while I got a gold cruise card, I was told that this was because Princess apparently didn't know he'd cruised before. "Just go to the Purser's desk inside to get it changed," the man told us helpfully, and we were on our way. After the obligatory photo (by the way, Princess, how about a better backdrop than the next people in line??) we were onboard and finding our way to our room. Four of our five bags were at our doorway when we arrived at our cabin, and we shoved them all inside and took stock of our digs for the week. Usually when we first get onboard, we make it a point to explore the ship. We were hungry, though, and still not adjusted to the time change, so exhausted this time, too. We also scrapped our original plan to hike the Portage Pass Trail (the trailhead is near the Whittier-side tunnel entrance) and instead just headed to the buffet for a snack (even though we had personal choice dining, for the first night we were assigned the 5:45 pm dinner seating, so we didn't want to have a full meal). We first went to fix hubby's blue card, but the passenger services desk person told us to come back the next day and see Bernadette, the Captain's Circle rep, at her desk around the corner. After a quick bite at the Horizon Court, we made our way aft, where we ended up in the spa, so we took the tour they were offering. Afterward we went back down to our cabin, where we met our steward, Florencio. This initial introduction was the longest conversation we would have with him, and if he used our names at that time, it was the last time we'd be addressed by name. We rested a bit, and made an inquiry as to the whereabouts of our fifth bag. Still sorting, they said. So we went on to dinner in the Provence dining room, since the rest of our personal choice meals would be in Bordeaux (the dining rooms are pretty much identical, we discovered). Service and food at dinner was good enough - quite honestly I don't remember what I ate, so not memorable. We met a single older gentleman who'd already gone northbound and was starting the leg back, a couple of ladies traveling together, and a friendly couple who we ran into many more times over the course of the cruise. Soon after dinner was the muster drill, at 8 p.m. Our muster station was the Bayou restaurant - we'd decided not to pay extra for the specialty restaurants, so this was our only time inside the Bayou, nice enough, but not as New Orleansy as I'd expected. After muster, we called again about our lost bag. Still sorting, they said, so we fell into bed and slept through the sailaway. Sea Day #1/College Fjord This day was honestly a bit of a blur, as I spent most of the night up sick and was just exhausted. Not sure if it was the aforementioned Teriyaki Box in Anchorage or something I ate from the buffet (although I ate there again many times and was fine) but first time in my four months of pregnancy and in five cruises that I ever had to worship the porcelain (well, probably fiberglass) god. Hubby was also not feeling up to snuff, just not as bad. We were a little afraid we might have picked up a Norovirus - but we were also afraid of being quarantined in our cabin, so we went crazy using the Purell (our own and the ship's, both before and after going through the buffet line) and figured if we still didn't feel well by later in the day, we'd go to the ship's doctor. As it turned out, we both felt much better by lunch and all through the rest of the cruise we were absolutely fine. Still not adjusted to Alaska time, so we were both awake early enough to enjoy College Fjord. It was a very overcast day, and colder than we'd thought - good thing I had my gloves and hubby had his earmuffs. We breakfasted in the Horizon Court buffet, which due to its far forward location has great wraparound, protected views of the scenery. We could hear the naturalist talking about the glaciers - quite honestly, we'd expected them to be a little more spectacular. We couldn't get as close as everyone would have liked due to ice, so we snapped a few pictures and left a little early. The naturalist noted that overcast days are best for seeing the blue in glaciers - still, we hoped it would clear off later on. We left College Fjord at around 9 am, normally on vacation we'd be getting up at that time! We had left a note for Florencio about our missing bag, as well as getting an eggcrate mattress pad and feather pillows to counteract the rock-hard beds. The eggcrate was on the bed, but no bag or pillows (and our little plate of cookies that we hadn't eaten the night before was gone too). We decided to see what passengers services knew about the missing luggage situation, so we headed to the Atrium. After getting one of the staff members' attention (they seem to be more interested in talking to each other than the guests), she pointed to the opposite wall. "Is it one of those three over there?" Why, yes, it was. "Well, we have a lot of guests with your last name," she explained. "Are they all in our stateroom?" I asked, showing her the Princess-issued tag with our stateroom clearly marked on it, as it had been on the tags for our other bags. She apologized (somewhat insincerely, I felt). We headed to our room with the missing bag. Upon inspection, we found that my makeup cover had been cracked and broken, and all the powder spilled out. Hubby took the broken item back to the passenger services desk while I unpacked the rest of the bag and checked for more breakage. Soon hubby returned, noting that the girl could only promise to speak to her supervisor about the inconvenience and damage we'd experienced. She'd kept the makeup case. So, we'd wait and see what they might do. At 11 am we went to Crooner's for our pre-arranged Cruise Critic meeting. We met up with John and Suzanne and all the rest of the CCers and spent a good hour chatting and enjoying each others' company. When they started the martini demonstration, hubby and I slipped out, but not before we'd all arranged to meet again on Friday to compare notes on our cruise. We headed to lunch in the dining room, where, when we're not pressed for time, we really prefer to eat if possible. Again, good, but not memorable. Then, really exhausted, we went back to the room and slept most of the afternoon. Not the usual way we spend a cruise, but this was our first in a different time zone. We slept right through bingo! After our long nap, we decided to check on the broken makeup/missing bag situation, since no one had gotten back to us on it. The assistant purser thought that the situation had been taken care of, but upon investigation, he discovered that the note and "fixed" (ie scotch-taped) case was still in the back. He apologized (sort of getting sick of apologies, just make it right!) and gave us onboard credit, as well as allowing me to purchase a replacement from the onboard boutique. I chose the least expensive one (actually contained the most product) and they credited our account back for the cost. So, at least that was taken care of. Next, to Bernadette at the Captain's Circle desk. An assistant of sorts was handing out forms, as B. was busy talking to other guests. Apparently being issued the wrong color card was a common problem. "Just fill in your name, address, and telephone and we'll take care of it," she promised. We had no problems getting a seat for the first formal night dinner, since we were happy to share a table. We were seated across from the same couple as the night before! Our server was a bit strange - polite enough, yet somehow arrogant, I guess I'd say. One of our new friends had mentioned she'd wanted to tour the galley - when I asked if she knew when it was, he jumped right in to say that HE knew because HE was the one who did scheduling. Then, he went on to tell us how much food is wasted - even before it hits the table. For example, almost double the number of desserts ordered are made up and then have to be dumped into the sea, according to him. Now, everyone on board is aware that cruises are known for being gastronomical adventures, and waste is a given, but I didn't feel it was necessary to make us feel guilty about our vacation choice. After dinner, we headed to the Princess Theater for the first production show, Curtain Up, basically a collection of Broadway hits. I was impressed by the fact that they had printed programs for each show. However, unfortunately, I was very unimpressed by the actual shows. Quite honestly, I've seen better high school and college performances. The set design was uninspired (basic risers, not even set with rope lights), costume changes were performed onstage (with no dressers to help, one girl was still getting into costume halfway through each song), and the choreographer didn't take advantage of the fact that these people are professional DANCERS. Most of the time, they just stood or sat on the risers. Understandable, maybe, in rough seas, but we barely felt that we were moving. We'd really expected better, as on our last Princess cruise, we thought the dancers were first-class, and even made a go of a show one night when we were rocking pretty good (they decided to stop the show when it was really TOO rocky). The Princess Theater itself doesn't inspire much of a Broadway-show atmosphere - very nondescript, more like a movie theater, plain walls, only one level (ie no balconies) of seating. After the show, which lasted less than an hour, we went back to the room and tried to stay awake as long as possible to get adjusted. It was still light out when we went to bed, though. At least we had some time to sleep in before Glacier Bay tomorrow. Sea Day #2/Glacier Bay National Park We just missed the whales when we came up to the Horizon Court for breakfast. Too bad Princess doesn't make any hallway announcements about this kind of thing - we would have skipped the toothbrushing if we'd known. Afterward, the naturalist aboard said that the area was well-known for whale watching, and mentioned it several times later. Should have been printed in the Patter, since I'd say that wildlife and whale-watching are pretty much why people come to Alaska. This would be more useful, than, say, an essay on sextants, which took up a good part of the right hand column on the front of the Patter for that day. We were on deck, however, to watch the Park Rangers board, hear their Glacier Bay Talk in the Princess Theatre, and then to listen to their commentary throughout the day. Far superior to the naturalist's. We enjoyed the scenery from the Promenade deck, staying on the port side and bundling up in deck blankets (had to be signed out on the Lido Deck) on the deck lounges (which were quite dirty - I flipped my chair pad over to lay on). Bar staff came by selling hot drinks - $1.50 for cocoa. We asked if there was anywhere we could go to get free cocoa ourselves, but they said, No. This was the first of feeling a bit "taken" by Princess - cocoa had always been free at the buffets on our other cruises. (We did find, however, that hot chocolate is complimentary if ordered at breakfast in the full-service dining room. Comes in a metal pot - don't know if you could take it with you. Wasn't available at other meals.) The scenery in Glacier Bay is truly breathtaking - the mountains on each side were still snow-covered (don't know if they are later in the summer). We worked our way up to Margerie Glacier, where we spent considerable time just doing 360s in the water so everyone could have a nice view. No calving that we witnessed, but there were some harbor seals lying on ice floes closer to the Grand Pacific Glacier who seemed to be used to seeing large cruise ships already. They only were scared off when the captain started the engines to leave. On the way out, as we were having an afternoon snack at the buffet, the captain spotted a bear and her two cubs along the rocky beach, so he turned the ship around (!) and we went for a closer look. Even with binoculars she was pretty tiny, but still, our first bear! How the captain saw it I don't know. By the way, we were going to go for the afternoon tea, but they were seating on the starboard side, and we'd already seen that scenery. If we had gone, we wouldn't have known about the bear, as the announcement was only made to the buffet and outside decks. We eventually settled in to a couple of lounges inside at the Lotus Pool area - still bundled up, as this "inside" area didn't seem to be heated. As we left Glacier Bay, we saw quite a few humpback whales headed the other direction - pretty far from the ship, but you could still see their spouts and dorsal fins. We opted for dinner at the buffet, as we were starving and had been eating at off-hours all day. Not much appealed, unfortunately - it would be nice if the pizzeria stayed open later than 6 pm as another dining alternative to the buffet and the formal dining room. Port Day: Skagway We faced the morning crowds at the breakfast buffet, then made our way off the ship and into Skagway. The first thing we noticed was the graffiti on the rocks alongside the pier. So much for pristine Alaska. Apparently ship captains have been "signing" their names at Skagway for decades, so the tradition continues. Transportation was available into town but we opted to walk as it wasn't very far - we could see the main street from the ship. As we wandered into town, I was struck by how many Caribbean-type shops there were - the same jewelry stores and souvenir shops we'd seen before. I had a bit of an idea of this after getting a Del Sol shirt from my mother as a souvenir from their Alaska cruise last year, but it still seemed out of place. We wandered up the main drag, looking for Avis, and finally I asked at a shop. The nice woman inside directed me around the corner, where the Avis was situated actually in a hotel room adjacent to the side street. We had no problems picking up our car (although for some reason they had two reservations for us - for two cars - which was odd). Lori, the manager there, had all our information and we were in and out in just a few minutes, and on our way up the Klondike Highway to the Yukon, with Yukon Murray's guide in hand (see explorenorth.com). We stopped first at the Gold Rush cemetery - we parked at the turnaround area, where you see the first sign for the cemetery, but if you go a little further along the road to the left, you'll be closer to the main cemetery, as it's right along the road. We hiked in and found Reid Falls first, which were beautiful, then wandered back along the trail and to the cemetery, where we easily found Frank Reid's gravestone (the biggest in the cemetery) as well as the infamous Soapy Smith's (off to the right as you come in from the road). Back in the car, we headed up the one road out of town and into Canada. I highly recommend printing out Murray's mile-by-mile guide before you go, but if you don't, we also were given a guide at Avis, contained within the Skagway tourist newspaper. One person in the car should be the designated "sightseer" - keeping up with what's coming up next, as pulloffs appear without a lot of warning sometimes. We could see the train line off to the right along the next ridge, as we made our way up to the White Pass (not as steep/scary a road as it sounds). You pass U.S. customs on the other side of the road BEFORE you reach the border (and will hit Canadian customs long after you pass the border). After crossing the William Moore Bridge (you can stop at a pulloff and take pictures of it after you go over) we hit the summit, at 3292 feet, and the US/Canada border. On the way back downhill, we were surprised to happen on a busload of Asian tourists, dressed in red, who were all standing in the road - we had to honk and signal to get them to clear out of the way so we could get through! At Fraser we hit Canadian customs, which we quickly cleared, and were "officially" in British Columbia. I was under the impression that we were in the Yukon until we hit Fraser - so there's a little bit of B.C. to drive through until you hit the BIG "Welcome to the Yukon" sign. There was still a considerable amount of snow on the mountains as we'd been driving, and we saw snow even on the ground once we hit Canada. Before you hit the Yukon is "Log Cabin" - where the Chilkoot Trail "ends" - I expected a town of sorts, but there isn't much there. Once into the Yukon Territory, some interesting sights included the Venus silver mine ruins and Bove Island. Right before we got to Bove Island, I spotted a bald eagle perched in a tree, so we took some pictures of it before moving on. After Bove Island, it's a short drive to Carcross, the biggest "town" between Skagway and Whitehorse. We stopped in the visitors center (public restrooms) and browsed at the Matthew Watson General Store. The little town felt very overrun by cruise tour buses (I didn't realize that they came up this far) so we didn't linger long. After passing the "world's smallest desert," we came to Caribou Crossing. We opted not to pay for the museum/zoo tour, but instead just browsed a little in the gift shop and went on up the road to the Cinnamon Cache for its famed cinnamon buns and lunch. Gail and BoBo seemed surprised at the volume of business they'd already done that day - they were out of soup and all but two flavors of buns. So we settled for sandwiches (HUGE! Made on homemade bread, with sliced real meat, not lunchmeat) and we split a MONSTROUS cherry-cinnamon bun, which Gail heated up when we were ready. We sat out on the enclosed patio area and enjoyed the view and our food, and talked a bit with a couple sitting nearby who were traveling on the Diamond. We lingered a while, enjoying the friendly atmosphere, but knew that our turnaround point - Emerald Lake - was just a few miles up the road. After more than four hours on the road (and eating lunch), Emerald Lake was almost anti-climactic. Very beautiful, but not much to stay long for, so we snapped pictures and were soon on our way back to Skagway, seeing it all in reverse. On the way up and back, we kept a sharp eye out for wildlife, and were finally rewarded. A couple cars were pulled off the road, and as we passed, I yelled "Bears!". Sure enough, a couple of black bears were at the pull-off, too, as were our Cruise Critic friends John and Suzanne, who had driven to Whitehorse. We all snapped pictures as the bears took no notice of us (John even got out of his car!) and eventually made their way across the road and up the hill. We continued on, and again, "Bear!". This one was larger, and stood down a slope a little off the road, but again didn't seem at all fazed by our presence. Later, John said that these were the closest bears he'd seen in 10 Alaska cruises, so we were very lucky! We wanted to drive a bit down the road to Dyea as we got close to Skagway (Lori at Avis said there was a good place to watch wildlife) but the road was under construction, so we turned around and made our way back to Skagway, filling up the gas tank at the only station in town, and then to drop off the car. We did some quick on-foot shopping, stopping especially at the Rushin' Tailor to pick up pins for my mother (she'd seen them but hadn't bought them for herself last year) and at the Skagway Outlet Store (S.O.S.) for bargain souvenirs. We also made a detour to the local grocery store to buy a box of cocoa packets. :) One unique souvenir to look for in Alaska is rainbow-colored ammolite jewelry - made from fossilized shells. Expensive to buy, but beautiful to look at. Back onboard the Island Princess, we rested in the cabin a bit, and found a message waiting for us on our phone from the Captain's Circle representative. She hadn't found any record of hubby's first cruise, after we'd given her all his information on the form. So we left her another note in her box with his CC number, and went on to dinner and the show. The show, called "Tribute," started with a Beatles medley, and that was about all we could take (see Sea Day #1), so we snuck out and watched the sunset over the Alaskan mountain ranges instead. Tomorrow would be an early day, so we retired early. Port Day: Juneau Another quick breakfast at the Horizon Court and we were off the ship for our whale-watching tour. We bought our $2 tickets for the all-day Princess bus to take us from the pier (we were docked at the AJ dock, which is the furthest from town) to the Mt. Roberts Tramway area (whatever happened to free shuttle service, as we'd gotten with Celebrity?). Right across from the tramway was the office for Orca Enterprises, with whom we'd booked our excursion (independently from the cruise line). We checked in and waited for the rest of the group to arrive, most of whom we'd met at the CC get-together our first day at sea. Once everyone was assembled, we all boarded a purple bus and were on our way. We passed Mendenhall Glacier along the way to the marina - visible, but we were glad we'd opted to take a closer look later in the afternoon. From the purple bus we followed the purple-shirted guy to the purple boat - the Awesome Orca - and met Captain Larry, a character in his own right. We headed out into Auke Bay, and soon Capt. Larry spotted two bald eagles resting on a small island, so we sauntered up and took the obligatory pictures. From there, it was all eyes on the water as we searched for whale spray. It wasn't long before Capt. Larry found some humpbacks, and our whale-watching had begun! We encountered several humpbacks, which would surface a few times, then dive down, tail flukes the last to go. Since they could stay down for 10 or 15 minutes, we'd wait patiently for them to re-appear - one came up quite close to the boat! We continued into the channel, and the humpbacks gave way to orca, traveling in separate groups of males and females. The orca were a real treat, as they don't appear every day, and they came up very close to the boat also. Our naturalist onboard, unfortunately I've forgotten his name, was a font of information. We could see other whale-watching boats around us, many of which seemed to be following us, but after nearly 3 hours, we were one of the last to leave the area. A few orca followed us back toward the marina, but finally faded from sight. We were very happy that we'd decided to book this tour, as we'd debated about being able to just see whales from the cruise ship. This was a completely different experience! The rest of the group headed back downtown, but we'd arranged with Orca Enterprises to be dropped off at Mendenhall, since it was on the way back. The rep gave us vouchers to use for the white or blue shuttle buses back. We started toward the visitors center and noticed people staring at the closest mountain with binoculars. Apparently there were mountain goats up there, but we couldn't see them. We walked along the Photo Point trail first, to get the best photo-ops of the glacier, then walked along the beach out to Nugget Falls for an even closer view. Out on the water while whale-watching, I'd been wearing gloves and a zipped-up jacket, but here near the glacier it had gotten quite warm, and we were both down to t-shirts as we hiked back up to the Visitors Center. We paid $3 admission each, and skimmed through the exhibits. Telescopes are set up inside the center for looking at the glacier, or for searching for mountain goats, but again, no luck. We caught the shuttle bus back to Juneau, and got off near the Red Dog Saloon so that we could take in some shopping (me) and check email at the Juneau Library (hubby, although the wait was too long). We were back onboard at about 3 p.m. - just in time to have missed Libby Riddles. I'd wanted to hear this Iditarod winner's talk, but Mendenhall took precedence, as the talk was scheduled while the ship was in port. We went out on deck for the sailaway, then to afternoon tea, where we ran into some of our whale-watching friends again. Afternoon tea was wonderful - you can special-request herbal or decaf tea, although only regular tea is initially offered. The scones were small but tasty, and the mini-sandwiches and pastries were also very good. We stopped again the Captain's Circle desk after tea, and finally got to speak with Bernadette, who insisted she was "caught up" on getting back to people. She seemed surprised to find our note in her box from the day before. Anyway, long story short (how unlike me!) she issued a new number to hubby and promised he'd have his gold card the next day (like it would matter at this point). She also noted that he'd have to show the card in order to get into the Captain's Circle party, but I reminded her that I had my invitation and gold card already. We went out on deck - the weather was unseasonably warm, and people were lying out on the deck chairs in bathing suits and jumping into the pool. It was nice to enjoy the warm weather, but I think almost everyone was surprised and maybe concerned at temperatures so warm in May. Even though we'd had tea at 3:30, we ate an early dinner and were back in the room around 7:30 or so. Hubby wanted to go to the "big screen" movie in the Universe Lounge, but I was tired so we decided to relax in the room and again went to bed at a "decent hour". Port Day: Ketchikan Our ship was scheduled to tender in Ketchikan rather than pulling up to the pier. We weren't set to arrive until 8:30 am, so slept in and headed to a late breakfast at the buffet, after watching the cruise director and his assistant's very corny and collegiate-level-looking (ie not very professional) morning show. Lot of fluff, little information, and if it was someone's sense of humor, it certainly wasn't mine. After eating, we made our way to Explorer's Lounge, where we were given numbered tickets and waited to be called for our tender. Of all things we'd experienced on this cruise, this was superior to anything we'd run into as far as tendering before - it was nice to be able to relax in a comfy chair in the lounge, and then, when the boats were available, to follow a member of the cruise staff to the waiting tender. We seemed "parked" far from the pier (and actually, another ship that came in after ours even got to be closer - I don't know how they determine this) but before long we were stepping off the tender and onshore at Ketchikan. Of course, gift shops abound at the pier, but we walked past and toward Creek Street. The sun was shining brightly, although it looked like it had just rained, so we took pictures of the dock area while the weather held. Our rudimentary map from the coupon book served its purpose, and we found ourselves at the infamous brothel-turned-giftshop-lined Creek Street. We wandered through a few shops, walking from one end to the other along the boardwalk over the water. At the far end of the "street" was Dolly's house, home to one of Creek Street's proprietors back in the brothel days. So we paid our $5 each (many of the city tours seemed to include Dolly's) and took the mostly-self-guided tour. It was interesting, but not quite $5 interesting. Each room had an audio clip to go along with it, triggered by a light/heat sensor over which you'd place your palm. We soon exited Dolly's and decided to head to the Totem Heritage Center. Again pulling out our map, we made our way uphill past Creek Street, then turned left up a steeper hill, then saw the entrance finally on our left. (On the way back, we asked about a short-cut - there is a much more direct pedestrian route down, I believe it was Park Street, which came out right downtown.) The Totem Heritage Center had the actual, unrestored totem poles that had been found in the area, inside a small museum and interpretive center. A few college-aged guides were standing around to answer questions, but mostly we were on our own to read placards and look at the totems. In a room to the right were more totems - hard to see in their glass cases due to inadequate lighting. But around the room were signs with folk stories and information about the totems. Some of the totems were so far gone it was hard to imagine an orca, or an eagle, or a bear in the wooden facades, but at least we were seeing the real thing. This WAS worth the $5. We opted not to check out the salmon hatchery next door - you could do both as a combination ticket. By the time we started back toward the ship and lunch, it had begun to drizzle, and we made our way through the streets of Ketchikan in its natural, wet state. We stopped at a couple souvenir shops and finally bought what we'd been looking for - a t-shirt for our baby, due in November. We figured she should have some souvenir of her trip to Alaska, even if she didn't see anything! We stood in line to get back on the tender, then made our way back onto the ship for lunch in the dining room. Our waiter wanted to see if anyone else appeared to sit at our table (the two of us were seated at a table for 8) but finally took our orders, just as another couple came in. So we talked with them as we enjoyed the rainy but scenic view of Ketchikan outside the nearby window. They, too, had had more than their share of service problems with Princess (they actually broached the subject) so we compared notes as to which lines we'd been on and how we liked them. At least, we were happy to find, we weren't the only ones feeling a bit dissatisfied. After lunch we'd originally planned to go back into Ketchikan, but it was still raining and we were tired, so we decided to just stay onboard and relax. We popped in to afternoon tea again and had more scones (mmm), and rested in our room, where hubby's gold card had finally appeared. The Patter noted that the Libby Riddles talk from the day before would be replayed on the Princess TV station - we waited for it to appear, but nothing ever came on. Eventually we went up on deck for the 5:45 sailaway, listening for the naturalist's commentary, which was all of three minutes. We got dressed for the second formal dinner (in the Patter, they'd mistakenly printed that dress for the evening was "smart casual" - someone actually knocked on our door and made us get up from a nap to give us a little reminder card that it was actually formal night - don't know why they stuff everything else in the little mailbox outside the door but had to hand us that!). This was also Captain's Circle party night, and since this was the first time we'd ever cruised on a line for the second time, we wanted to see what it was all about. Basically, drinks, a short speech from the Captain, and awards for most days cruised/most cruises taken/etc. Pretty dull, so we went on to our lobster dinner. One thing to note about PC dining - at least, if you choose anytime dining, is the lack of waiter entertainment. Not that we were ever big fans, but it is sort of sad to see things like the parade of Baked Alaska go by the wayside (but maybe that's a fire code change?). I thought that on our Carnival cruise they went overboard with the singing and dancing waiters, but on our last Princess cruise, one of our favorite waiters wasn't even our own, but a man who would bellow "To You!" for every happy birthday/anniversary/bar mitzvah/new house/new pet celebration. After dinner we steeled ourselves for the last production show, "Piano Man." This time we just went for the laughs. The worst were the pink, piano-key, sky-high costumes that the girls had to wear about halfway through the show - hubby took a no-flash picture just so we could always remember how bad they were. The folks around us, though, really seemed to enjoy it, for some reason we couldn't fathom. Even if you've never seen a Broadway show, you'd know the show was bad. Afterward we waited in the atrium as the maitre d' set up the champagne waterfall. Since I'd done the champagne pour before, we just took pictures and watched other people get it flowing this time. Having it in the atrium was a good idea, since it gave multiple levels of vantage points (including a group that just kept going up and down in the elevator - one of the waiters even went in to the elevator to offer them the complimentary glasses of champagne that were being served) - but giving people streamers to throw before the pouring started sort of killed the idea, as the streamers covered the netting over the waterfall and blocked the view of anyone who was above the bottom floor. At least we saw it before the streamers were thrown. Sea Day #3 Before breakfast, we went up to the hot tubs – I only put my legs in (doctor’s orders) but hubby had been in and out of the hot tubs all week. We talked a little with a woman we’d met before, and relaxed, setting the pace for the day. Down at the dining room for the first time for breakfast, we enjoyed the much more relaxed atmosphere and better, fresher food, including a pot of cocoa. (And again got a taste of the “no-can do” Princess attitude, as people at a neighboring table requested fruit muffins repeatedly and were told that the muffins had to be brought down from the Horizon Court, which they never were!) Just a note – we never did use room service for breakfast, which we usually do at least once per cruise. After breakfast in the dining room, we went out on deck for a while to watch the scenery. At 11 a.m. we headed inside for the naturalist’s “Whale Tales” talk. It was, at least, more interesting and informative than what she’d been saying over the PA system all week. She made a special note that later in the afternoon, around 4 pm, would be prime orca-watching time as we passed through Johnstone Strait along Vancouver Island. We had lunch, again in the dining room, and lazed away the afternoon. Usually when we’re cruising and at sea, our day is packed with activities – but on this trip, the scenery and wildlife were the main attractions, so we skipped bingo, the newlywed game, the galley tour, passenger talent show, etc. It seemed that every activity we wanted to do coincided with some prime time for looking for whales, seeing scenery, etc. It had started to rain, dampening our hopes of seeing much, though. The trip along Vancouver Island is supposed to be a highlight of a southbound cruise, but the weather just didn’t cooperate for us. We stayed near the windows in the Lotus Pool area and kept our eyes peeled at 4 pm for the promised resident pod of orca, but didn’t see a one. I did sample the “mocktail of the day” while we watched and waited – a huge virgin strawberry daiquiri – which helped to make up for the lack of alcohol I’d had all week. I also had another slice of Princess pizza – which is pretty good, and again, I wish it was open later for those late-night munchies. At some point we relocated to the Horizon Court for more watching, but still didn’t see anything. It was starting to get pretty rainy and dark when we decided to give up and go to dinner in the dining room (we hadn’t eaten anything substantial at the Horizon Court – and since it was pretty empty we felt comfortable just hanging out there). We were seated at one of the tables for two – which actually are tables for four, since the space between the two tables are all of a couple inches. It’s very hard to ignore the people at the next table – almost rude, since they’re right at your elbows. So we chatted with the older woman who was seated next to us – her husband wasn’t feeling well, so he’d gone back to the room. After I’d had my appetizer (avocado boat with seafood – something wasn’t quite right), I wasn’t feeling too well, either, so we cut dinner short. Well, we stayed to have a bite of the Love Boat Dream – as it only seemed to be offered that one night, and it was worth staying for. Just FYI, here’s a great site for looking at the dinner menus; they’ve been helpful in refreshing my memory: http://www.imagestation.com/album/?id=4287137705&mode=invite. Although, the "Alaska night" menu is not there. So we went back to the room to start the grim task of packing. Even though I will say that, overall, this cruise had not lived up to my expectations due to the overall lackluster service, the ship itself was very nice and well laid out, the food was good in most cases, and, of course, the itinerary was once-in-a-lifetime. And as a day cruising is ALWAYS better than a day at work or at home, it was disappointing to have to end our vacation. Also disappointing was the fact that no one had left us our colored luggage tags (the job of the room steward), so I called the passenger services desk one final time at around 10 pm. Rather than having them delivered to our room by our steward, they told us we should come down and get them. A final black mark on the Princess service slate. And after our missing bag incident, we decided to carry all our bags off ourselves, anyway. We didn’t have enough time in Vancouver to lose another bag. Disembarkation: Overall a very smooth process for us. We were staying overnight in Vancouver, so no plane to catch and no rush in the morning. We were almost in the last group to leave the ship – 9:15 am, so we decided to have breakfast again in the dining room and avoid the crowds in the buffet and around the ship. We brought our bags with us and left the room open so the steward could get it ready for the next guests. Outside the window we watched the loading process beginning – huge crates of food and supplies that had to be loaded onto the ship for the next two weeks of cruising (since Whittier is such a tiny, relatively inaccessible port, they don’t load supplies there). Just a suggestion to Princess: only get enough bananas for the first, northbound week. They offered bananas as part of the “fruit bowl” menu for the stateroom – but the bananas were already pretty brown when they were delivered to us the second day of our cruise, and they were garbage on day three. Some other CCers commented on this, and someone figured out the Whittier problem and how the bananas were already over a week old when we got them. Best to just keep them off the menu. After breakfast, we cleared out of the dining room. The Horizon Court was still open, until 9:30, so we killed the rest of our time there while waiting for our color and number to be called. Once off the ship, we passed through passport control with no problems, bypassed luggage pickup, and stood in line for customs. We weren’t sure at the customs line exactly what we were standing in line for, so I flagged down an official-looking person, who let us know we should dig our paperwork back out. As we were doing this, a very rude, older woman behind us pushed past. Apparently we weren’t closing the 5-foot gap up to the next people standing in line in front of us fast enough. Her husband said, “What are you doing? Get back here!” and she grumblingly returned to him. I mention this as it was the third time an elderly woman had pushed past (and in one case pushed) me, the visibly pregnant lady, in order to jump ahead in a line that wasn’t moving. The other two instances were while waiting to board the tender – in both cases we hung back as two different disabled gentlemen were being helped onboard the tender by the Princess crew, and two different impatient women thought that they’d have something to gain by nipping at the poor man’s heels. So, even though we’d definitely experienced some problems with the Princess people, some of the passengers weren’t too well-mannered either! After the cursory customs wave, we headed to our hotel, which was within walking distance of the pier. Unfortunately, the Canada Place pier is LONG. VERY LONG! We walked and walked and walked, passing a LONG line for taxis as well as people waiting to board our ship. Eventually we got to a point where we were no longer inside, and we were faced with the choice of either going left and up a driveway ramp, or going through some doors to an elevator. We chose the elevator, went up one floor to the lobby of the Pan Pacific and came out onto Burrard Place. After we got our bearings, we headed to our hotel, the Ramada on West Pender. My parents had stayed here last fall before their Alaska cruise, and recommended it to us as being close and inexpensive. Of course, they went from hotel to pier downhill with their bags, and we were going uphill, so it felt like a much longer walk than we’d expected. But, finally, we saw the Ramada sign and checked in. It was still early, so our room wasn’t ready, but we were able to leave our bags and start our sightseeing. Vancouver seems to get rave reviews from many visitors, including my parents, who’ve been there twice, but we found it didn’t quite live up to the hype. We wanted first to head to Stanley Park, but we couldn’t decipher the bus routes (no information at the bus stops we found). We’d walked to another hotel by this time, and the concierge there recommended the trolley – but then we discovered that it cost about CA$30 per person for hop-on, hop-off, which would have been fine if that was our plan, but we just wanted to go to the park and back. So eventually we gave up and just caught a taxi, about CA$10. The taxi dropped us at the visitors information kiosk, rather than the totem poles, as the streets inside the park are one-way and he would have had to go around a big loop to get back out. So we bought some ice cream from the snack stand there and started walking around. We first stopped at Painters’ Circle, where local artists work and display their paintings, then we wandered back along Brockton Point Trail toward the totem poles. We walked a little bit of the way along the famed seawall, where we got a faroff view of the Island Princess and Canada Place. The totem poles were interesting enough, but after what we’d heard, we’d expected there to be more of them, and that they’d be older, rather than newly-created for the park. We followed the seawall along the northern edge of the park, passing the Girl in a Wetsuit statue and turning back south at a playground. We passed the entrance to the Aquarium but opted not to go in, and made our way back to the information stand, where we were able to quickly catch a cab back downtown. We’d checked out the Harbour Centre tower on our quest for a bus, so we’d decided to have lunch there. If you just go up the tower, it costs CA$10 for an all-day pass, but if you go up to the revolving restaurant, the view is included with your meal. So we took the restaurant option and were soon seated, with Vancouver spread out beneath us. This time we were above the Island Princess, so we took a few pictures and enjoyed our meal. The food was pretty good, the service was excellent (we both agreed afterward, that after being on the ship for a week, THAT was the kind of attentive service we should have had!). After an hour, our table had returned to its original starting point and we’d finished our meal, so we returned to ground level and headed to Gastown. Gastown is a small, easily walkable area, mostly populated by gift shops. The main attraction is the steam-powered clock on Cambie Street, so we waited until it “chimed” and then continued on our way. We made our way back to the hotel, where we could now get into our room. The Ramada itself isn’t in the best part of town – on one side, if you walk toward Gastown, you’re fine, but on the other, east side, the locals get a little dicey-looking (one guy looked like he was snorting something off the sidewalk). I don’t know that I’d recommend it overall – our room was nice, spacious enough considering the size of the hotel and what we’d read on Tripadvisor, with a coffeepot and comfy bed and all, but there were many hotels that were closer to the pier and much more upscale. And, since our trip, I’ve read that many of those can be had on Priceline for less than what we paid. We rested awhile in the room, then decided to head back to Gastown to see the Storyeum show/museum that we’d passed earlier. However, contrary to what was printed on the sign in our hotel lobby, they were already closed. So we hiked toward Chinatown instead, in search of dinner. I definitely would have felt more comfortable if we’d taken another cab at this point – this was actually when I saw sidewalk-snorting guy. We hit Chinatown and it, too, was apparently closed for the evening. No tourists, no non-scary locals, no lights in the shops. We skirted the edge of the area and walked along Keefer Street, next to a park, until we got to the Tinseltown movie theater building. If nothing else, we figured we could see the new Star Wars movie (something we’d thought about doing in Ketchikan, actually, since the movie had opened that day, but the Ketchikan movie theater wasn’t playing it until 7 p.m., after the cruise ships had left). But Star Wars wasn’t playing at that theater. At this point, we were tired and getting pretty hungry, so we decided to eat at the Asian restaurant inside Tinseltown. We lucked out – the restaurant, Wild Ginger - an Asian fusion/Korean BBQ kind of place – was great! I like to drink tea, so I ordered the white tea. The owner or manager of the place suggested the “flower tea.” It was so good I took some home! I won’t spoil the surprise if you ever get the flower tea, but it’s entertaining AND tasty! The food was wonderful, as well, and again we had excellent service. After dinner, we didn’t linger in the streets, as it was still not the greatest-looking area, and quickly made our way back to the hotel to prepare for our early flight the next day. Overall, would we do this trip again? Not on Princess, at least not in the near to mid future, so the whole problem with the gold card and Captain’s Circle membership was really a moot point. This was only the first time we’d returned to a cruise line – our first Princess cruise was on the old Pacific, which made for some interesting stories to bring home, but the only service problems we’d had then were with our room stewardess' stinginess with our beach towels. Before this trip, I would have rated our Pacific cruise about even (in third place) with our Carnival cruise, but at this point I’d say Carnival was much better than our Island cruise. We chose Princess because it seemed like THE cruise line for Alaska, but all the beautiful scenery and experiences onshore didn’t erase the problems on board. Would we ever cruise Alaska again? Perhaps – I would have liked to have visited Sitka, there were many other options in Juneau that we would have enjoyed, and had we hit Ketchikan first (and therefore with a little more energy) we might have gotten more out of it. Victoria also sounds like a nice port for a return trip. Things we’d do differently? Spend a few more days in Anchorage pre-cruise, whether taking a trip to Denali or not, to get adjusted to Alaska time. Plan Ketchikan better, perhaps even take a ship’s excursion – we’d expected independent taxis at the pier (read on CC), to be able to just go to Totem Bight but we didn’t see any. Use Priceline to snag a good deal at a hotel closer to the Vancouver pier, if possible. One other thing I would suggest to all the cruise lines. People come to Alaska for the scenery and the wildlife. At least on our cruise, much of the wildlife came and went without so much as an announcement to the public decks, and definitely not into the rooms. At the very least, when there’s a bear, or a pod of dolphins or whales, or something of interest coming up, make a hallway announcement so people know what’s going on. We were so disappointed to have “just missed” whales on more than one occasion because we were either in our room or in transit to the public decks, and had we gone to that afternoon tea, we would have missed that bear and her cubs entirely! We only knew to look for the orca at Johnstone Strait because we'd gone to the naturalist's talk that day - that kind of information should have been in the Patter. It would also be helpful if the TV station that broadcasts the weather and nautical info would also indicate which milemarker we were on at that point in the Cruise Companion book. Some information is given in the Patter, but we had no idea when we were passing some of the points of interest in the book. Read Less
Sail Date May 2005
The Island Princess is an absolutely amazing ship. It is beautiful and clean and very charming. We found the trip to Whittier from the Anchorage airport to be slightly painful. The Princess representatives @the airport were clueless. We ... Read More
The Island Princess is an absolutely amazing ship. It is beautiful and clean and very charming. We found the trip to Whittier from the Anchorage airport to be slightly painful. The Princess representatives @the airport were clueless. We got multiple answers to our questions. Basically - they hold you either at the airport or at the convention center in downtown Anchorage till around noon or 12:30. So no one is able to leave for the ship earlier than this. We were misled to believe that if you arrived at the airport earlier in the day-they would send a bus as soon as it fills up. This is not the case and we ended up waiting at the airport for about 2 hours. Then we were told that we would make the 2:30 tunnel into Whittier. This was a mess. There were about 10 Princess cruise buses in that 2:30 tunnel time lined up. Therefore, we waited-waited-waited and finally went thru the tunnel and then waited-waited-waited to be dropped off at the port. Then we were in a line about 75 people deep. The entire process took over 2.5 hours. It was very frustrating. Our cabin C230 on Deck 10 Caribe was fantastic. It was forward and quiet. I strongly recommend going for a balcony mini-suite. The bathroom is huge compared to the regular rooms. If you have 3 or 4 people in your party- it would be a perfect size. I am highly disappointed in Princess for this sail. I do not agree with the automatic gratuity being added to your account. My husband and I did the open seating and found the staff to be unhelpful and merely efficient. The normal atmosphere that you expect from a waitstaff was not there. It is my belief that since they knew they would be tipped- their incentive to provide exceptional service was not there. As it was - we adjusted the tips on the last night. We gave to those that we felt appeared to give more service and did not allow the automatic gratuity to hit the account. I hope Princess revisits this in the future- we voiced our opinions as did multiple persons around us. The food sometimes read like an episode of Fear Factor. Frog legs, venison, rabbit. They were big on the presentation- but not so big on the taste. I found the food to be less tasty as Royal Caribbean or Disney. This cruise had very little to offer for entertainment for anyone under the age of 55. The programming appeared to be geared towards a more "retired" age and my husband and I (in 30's) found ourselves watching movies in our room because we were not interested in tea, bridge or watching a classical pianist. It was very hard to sail for 7 days and find that there was so little to do in plans of the programming. Disembarkation was a complete catastrophe. We had a transfer from Vancouver to Seattle. We were advised to be read by 730 for that transfer. We were not able to disembark until 915 am. Then we found out that we were on the wrong gangway (had been standing there for over an hour waiting for our "color" to be called) and had to take our stuff and carryon to another deck. We had asked several princess employees where we needed to be - and never once were we advised the correct information. Overall this cruise would appeal to someone who was looking to Alaska only for the sights and not the usual fanfare and excitement of shows and programming that you would expect on other lines. The ship itself was beautiful. With the exception of the waitstaff in the dining room - we felt that the room steward and the general upkeep of the ship was very good. We would recommend this ship for older adults without children or with older children. On this sail we saw very few children or teenagers- and the ones we did see always appeared quite bored. But with theater movies like Calendar girls and Welcome to Mooseport and a Barry Manilow singer- it is no wonder they may have been a bit bored. Read Less
Sail Date May 2004

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