The grandparents offered to watch the kids so my husband and I could go on a vacation this summer. We've been on several cruises, and my husband has never been to Alaska, so we figured it was time. We flew into the Anchorage airport the morning before the cruise. It's a small but lovely airport. Friends who were visiting Anchorage for several weeks picked us up from the airport later in the morning and we had a wonderful drive, where we stopped to see Dall sheep up in the mountains, got photos of Turnagain Arm, and visited Potter Marsh. As we drew closer to Whittier, one of our friends' children pointed out a glacier, which was actually Portage Glacier. We stopped and walked on a wonderful trail, saw a beautiful creek, and got closer to the glacier. Finally, we arrived at the Whittier Tunnel. It's $12 to get through and we waited about 20 minutes. It was a non-cruise day, so it was pretty quiet.
We had booked a room at the Inn at Whittier because we were a bit nervous about any airplane connection issues. We arrived into the town around 12:00, so we enjoyed a lunch with our friends in the Inn. The views from the restaurant are lovely and the food was plentiful and very good. All of the restaurants in town cost more than what you'll find in most towns in the lower 48. We walked around town with our friends and visited the little museum over by the Anchor Inn. In addition, we found a really lovely waterfall and rushing creek, up past the Begich Towers. Our friends left after a while, and we checked into the hotel. It's a lovely exterior, with excellent views of the mountains and the Prince William Sound. The price was very reasonable compared to Anchorage hotels. The rooms are average, but very clean, and the bathroom was nice. It's a very quiet hotel, and the town is incredibly quiet. You might get bored, but we enjoyed sleeping, watching the trains come in and walking around the tiny town. They have free wi-fi for guests, and we were able to go back in after checking out to check our internet.
The cruise terminal is right next to the hotel, just past the creek. You can walk to the ship from the hotel, pulling your bags. We were actually the second people to check in, around 12:15 was when they let us check-in. You do not drop off luggage like at Miami or Ft. Lauderdale; rather you walk it to a "drop" or just take it right onto the ship, which we did (maybe because there was really nobody in front of us). They had a nice lunch buffet ready when we got on to the ship. It was surprisingly quiet during the embarkation time. For the first day, we were being pushed to buy wine packages, drink packages and other things. It died down by the end of the second day. I had heard it was really bad, but honestly, once you got through the first day, it was better. All rooms are ready for guests by the time they start check-in. We were able to get off of the ship after checking in. The ship didn't leave until around 8 pm.
The ship is a pretty good size. It's not enormous like the huge RCL ships, but was big enough that people were not on top of one another. It was very clean throughout. I found it to be a bit dated in some places, although I am pretty sure it was refurbished just a few years ago. I noticed some rust in a few spots, more so than I saw on our last cruise. In addition, there appeared to be a couple of leaks in the conservatory pool area. Crew members were constantly wiping down and cleaning the public areas.
It seems like different lines draw different people. This particular ship had a surprising number of families; nothing like RCL or Carnival’s longer cruises, but there were many more than when I went to Alaska years ago. Dining in the main dining rooms was very casual the first night. It was open seating, and people were wearing shorts and jeans. However, on following nights, people dressed up more in the dining room. Formal night was very dressy; not tuxes or anything, but no sloppiness, and many pretty dresses and nice suits. A lot of people wore jeans during the day. It’s chilly out there, and jeans are comfortable. The crowd was somewhat older, like people who are just retiring or nearing retirement. This crowd was not as advanced in age as HAL. We saw some multigenerational families. Most of the people are very nice and happy to be on the cruise. They tended to be really positive; not too many grouches, though one older guy was upset he had to wait in line for ice cream and another woman was in a tizzy in the dining room about something. This cruise attracts some people who appear to be from Asian countries, and some of them were pretty pushy, and they didn’t really acknowledge others. However, I think that part of that is cultural. People, including myself, did get annoyed by the pushiness, however. If you are a party animal, I’d suggest going for something like Carnival. If you want lots and lots of families, then maybe Royal Caribbean or Disney. However, it really was a good mix of people, and was a nice well -mannered group, overall.
There was a very large number of bars, which to me, is unnecessary. The casino was terribly smoky, and there was even an outdoor smoking area. That seemed to be over the top to me. Probably the main thing I disliked on this cruise was the smoke that seemed to permeate in various areas of the ship. The air on the ship seemed to be very dry, especially in the cabins. My husband and I had sore throats and coughed a lot in our room, especially if the heat was on. Maybe it’s because I live in south Florida, I don’t know. They had a few spots where it was like a “dead end,” which was kind of strange. I think it was due to the layout of the dining rooms. There were at least four pools, and several hot tubs, which is a plus on an Alaskan cruise. Our rooms was just down the hall from the laundromat, and so we did a couple of loads of laundry on the trip, which helps, since you have to pack heavier clothing. It’s $2 for a wash, and $2 for dry. The drier didn’t get everything very dry one of the times. It seemed better to have MORE clothes in it, rather than less. They will give you change at the front desk; the change machine didn’t work for me. Bring clips to air dry any clothes on the clothes line in the shower, or just hang the damp items on the hanger, and they’ll get dry pretty quick with all that dry air.
I thought that they had a laundry list of activities. At least, that’s how the daily informational brochure appeared to me. Lots of trivia, karaoke, practices for a flute group, practices for a guest singing group, , et. Unlike a line such as Carnival, there were no hairy chest competitions or great leg competitions. I really didn’t participate in activities because there was a lot to see when cruising, and when we were in a town, we went out on the town. One activity I always enjoy is the galley tour. They had a really good cooking show in the Princess Theater immediately before the galley tour. The show was very entertaining with the head chef and head maître d cooking and bantering back and forth. The maître d was hilarious. The galley tour walked us through a very clean, very large kitchen. It was not nearly as interesting to go through as the one I went on when I travelled with Holland America. However, it was a free activity, while some ships actually now charge. There was a good bit of “enrichment,” as one might call it. The naturalist on board did an excellent job. She gave a couple of presentations, and advertised when she’d be outside on the front of the ship for nature watching. During those times, people would look out for various animals, point them out, and she’d talk about them, along with the area itself. They had some rangers come on board during a day at sea, and they presented a program, and were available during our time there in Glacier Bay. They even had a Jr. Ranger program for the kids and youth.
My husband and I found the service to be excellent. Our room steward, Jimmy M., was probably one of the best we have had out of our 14 or so cruises together. He quickly learned when we’d be in or out of the room, and followed the schedule and just did a lovely job. No towel animals here, just a heads up! Dining Room service in the Botticelli, where we ate each night was excellent. Our waiter, Amado, and assistant waiter, John, were both great. They learned in a day what we liked and brought it almost immediately. They were very friendly, and efficient. We like to take our time on a cruise, so the timing of each course was really good. I never felt “forgotten” witht hem. What I liked on this cruise was that ALL of the waiters in our dining area were friendly, and I noticed that they helped one another out when needed. Sometimes, on some ships, if a server is not assigned to you, then he or she just totally ignored you. However, on this ship, they were extremely friendly. Service in the buffet area was good. They brought your drink to you during lunchtime; we never ate there for dinner. Sometimes, I got my own refills from the server’s station. Another thing that really stood out was the headwaiters in the dining rooms of the ships. Antonio, our headwaiter in the Botticelli, always came through and checked on each table, every night. He had a good sense of humor, and seemed to communicate with the servers well. Arturo, the headwaiter in the DaVinci, where breakfast and lunch were (open seating) learned that my husband likes a “table for two,” and was very nice about remembering that and making sure we got one. He was really funny and I saw him smooth the ruffled feathers of a couple of grouchy guests, without embarrassing the servers. The service seemed rather slow at the guest services desk. It was often covered by three workers, when there was a very long line there. They might want to talk with Holland America about keeping that line moving better. Overall, great service on the ship, though.
The itinerary was wonderful on this trip. We had two days at sea, but there’s so much to see! First, there was the Hubbard Glacier, where our ship went up as close as possible. We spent THREE hours outside as the ship drew nearer and nearer and eventually idled near the glacier. We saw a few seals, some ice floes, and a little bit of “calving.” The glacier had beautiful colors and was massive. The naturalist was there, sharing the whole time.
For the day in Glacier Bay, we went to Margarie Glacier, which was smaller, but I got great photos. There was a lot of calving at this glacier. We saw kayakers, a whale on the way there, otters, a few seals, and several eagles. The panoramic views were outstanding. When we went to the John Hopkins Inlet, there are five glaciers there, though some are receding. They don’t get very close to John Hopkins glacier, due to the seals living there. Lamplugh Glacier had a lot of silt. There were many pretty waterfalls in the area, and some beautiful rock formations. Be sure to have layers to wear when near the glaciers, as it can get very chilly, especially at Hubbard Glacier.
Skagway was the first port we stopped in. There are some nice trails here that are easily accessible. In addition, there are lots and lots of lovely flowers and gardens. Be sure to go by the Naitonal Park Service Visitor Center for information. I actually printed out a map and walking tour online before leaving for our trip, which was helpful. It’s a nice town to walk through. A lot of people went on the train and raved about it. The people working in Skagway were very positive and nice.
In Juneau, we were docked at the A&J Dock, which was the furthest from town, so it’s a good 15 minute walk into town. If you are not a strong walker, or get tired, I’d suggest the $3 all day shuttle. We just walked, but if we had our kids, we might have sprung for the shuttle. We saw several eagles, and gargantuan crows/ravens as we walked into town. I would highly recommend going to Mendenhall Glacier while in Juneau. It’s very lovely and quite impressive. You can get a shuttle, $10 per person each way, for about a 20 minute ride. Or, if you want to pinch pennies, get a city bus, $2 per person each way for about a 45 minutes ride. Only problem with that is you will walk 1.5 miles from the bus stop to the glacier visitors’ center. We did the city bus in and shuttle out. Some of the people of Juneau seemed sort of depressed or down on their luck.
Ketchikan was our favorite town to visit. Our ship was right in town, at Berth 1. If you like walking a town, go to the Visitor Center at 131 Front Street. You’ll go through an area where they sell tours, and at the other end, find the desk where people work for the visitor center, and will give you a really nice walking tour map. They were happy to give us information. I really wanted to go to Totem Bight State Park ($2 all day city bus pass; 20 minute ride to the park) but we didn’t. I was there years ago and loved it. You can find a nice trail/totem guide for the park on their website. Anyhow, we did a lot of the local walking tour, and got SO much exercise. We walked up a 45 degree steep hill (not on the walking tour) WHEW! St. John’s Episcopal was part of the tour and has pretty stain glass and interesting history. The Waterfront promenade trail has really nice views. The city park is pretty and small, and used to be part of the salmon hatchery. Whale park is a small, very pretty park with cute benches and lovely flowers. There are lots of totem poles throughout the town. Grant Street trestle was a pretty interesting architectural marvel. The creek overlook and salmon ladder are both pretty and interesting. There is a “tunnel” (that’s what it’s called) that is worth seeing. Supposedly, it’s one of a kind. Houses appear to be on top of the tunnel. People working in the town are very friendly and very helpful. Prices at the stores were reasonable. We got our kids’ gifts here (hoodies for two and jewelry for one). Sockeye Sam’s had nice quality clothes with good prices. Talbot’s had some good deals; I think it said “Outlet” above the store. The Salmon Shop area had free wifi. The creek Street area was very busy; I was there years ago, and just walked along a little bit of it. Lots of interesting history in this town.
We were at sea on Friday, and I saw three whales, some dolphins and very pretty views. The Seymour Narrows are a narrow passage that the ship goes through. Lots of nice landmarks to see.
Vancouver is where we disembarked, and it’s really a beautiful city; think Portland or Seattle.
We really enjoyed our cabin. A lot of people insist on getting a balcony cabin on an Alaskan cruise. However, we didn’t feel like spending that much money, and we like to walk a lot. So, we originally booked a comparably cheap inside cabin. Then, the prices dropped on outside cabins; specially “obstructed view” cabins. We had the choice of two, and upon selecting one, discovered, based on the ship diagram, it was between two lifeboats. The diagram was true to the ship itself, so E231 had a nice view, actually. I definitely recommend at least getting a room with some type of view. As I was getting ready one evening, I saw a whale outside the window. The bed was a queen sized bed. The room was very clean and comfy. Bed had a duvet, four fluffy sturdy pillows. There were 2 nightstands with 2 drawers and a shelf on each. A lamp was on each, but not a “reading light.” There was only one closet, with no door. It had space on the floor for shoes. There was a narrow closet with six shelves and a safe. So, not quite as much storage space as some ships I’ve been on, but it worked fine for us, because we brought a limited amount of stuff and did two loads of laundry. There is a vanity by the bed, with a phone and hairdrier and three small drawers. There are only 2 plugs . There was a chair at the desk and a cushioned chair by the window. The bathroom was nice, and tiled. It wasn’t super fancy. The shower was small, like a typical cruise room shower. Carpeting was in good, clean condition. The room seemed a tiny bit dated to me. There is a flat screen television with movies and shows; of course, “The Love Boat.” The room has a frig, a small glass table and heavy curtains. Water in the shower was either too cool or a bit too hot, and there was good pressure. There’s a small sink with three glass shelves. As far as the view, there was a boat a few feet to the right of the window and another about 6 feet to the left. There were a couple of thin metal posts and cables, but you could still see a lot. It was a very quiet room, with the exception of some of the time when we were in port and they were doing work around the lifeboats. Really be sure to check the diagram and look at the ship pictures before booking an “OW” cabin. Some of them are actually just above the walkway. This one was not, but a couple of times, workers were outside of it on the scaffolding.
The dining room at dinner time was excellent. It was some of the best cruise food I have had. My husband loves seafood and was thrilled with all of the seafood that was available each night, and with its quality. I especially enjoyed the desserts, especially the chocolate desserts. They were incredible! They always had beef and poultry available, along with a vegetarian dish. We had breakfast there each morning. My husband enjoys lox and bagels, so that’s why we went there. I found the breakfast to be good, but the menu was not quite as extensive as some other ships I’ve been on. Lunch in the dining rooms was very good. The buffet was okay. The quality of food was good, but the selection was nothing outstanding. We found that the buffet line was pretty long during at sea days, so we only went there on in port days, where it was very quiet. At the grill, they had hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken sandwiches, with fries. On a couple of previous cruises, this area was more “specialized,” like on Holland America and Carnival’s Guy’s Burger Joint. I don’t really enjoy that kind of food anyhow, so I didn’t get it. They have a special recipe each day there. One day, it was crabcakes, and another, it was fish tacos, while another, halibut sandwiches. My husband LOVED those lunches. There is a pizza place up by the grill, with large cheese or pepperoni pizzas. They serve you by the slice, and the pizza was some of the best cruise pizza I have had. It had a very thin, but crispy crust. Each day, they had a specialty pizza, too. There is an “International Café,” next to the coffee bar, where you can get premade sandwiches for lunch, egg muffin sandwiches and yogurt parfaits for breakfast, and desserts and pastries. I did get breakfast parfaits a couple of times, and tiramisus and mousses there. They were excellent. The doughnut my husband got was good but too greasy. Alfredo’s pizza is near the Café, and we ate there for lunch twice. We were able to sit by the window. The pizza was cooked in a wood fired oven and was delicious. We did not eat in ANY of the restaurants where you pay extra. Honestly, the dining room food pleased us well enough.
Our children did not come on this cruise. I spoke with kids and parents and grandparents who were all a part of the children’s clubs, and they had nothing but positive things to say about them.
We didn’t take in too much entertainment. The “Princess singers and Dancers” were the typical cruise show. I was not really impressed at all. They shows always seem cheesy to me. Every so often, they’d have entertainment in the open area of the ship. The flamenco dancers were quite entertaining. A guy named Liam Ryder played in a few venues. He was a singer/pianist and had an excellent voice. The two Irish performers were really good. I never actually saw the comedian’s show, but heard that he was hilarious. I did meet him out on the deck and visited with him for quite a while. He was singing as I walked along; apparently, he used to be a backup singer. Anyhow, in person, he was very nice and really funny.
Disembarkation was in Vancouver, BC. We had breakfast in a very busy dining room. We had to be out of our rooms by 8 am, which is fairly typical. There were a lot of people standing in line with their suitcases, and the halls became terribly congested. We hung out with our tour group in the casino starting at 8:20. People were nice and we visited. We were supposed to start our Vancouver tour at 9 am, but things got behind all around, and we didn’t actually board our bus until 9:40. Originally, we were going to take an 11:30 am flight. I don’t know how easy it would have been to get there with the delays in the cruise terminal. Since we had a very late flight, we took the tour, which was nice. It was supposed to be three hours, but we lost some time, due to the late start. You can actually take a tram or train thing from the cruise port to the airport, which I didn’t realize. Our bus just dropped us off at the airport. Honestly, if I didn’t have kids waiting at home, I probably would have booked two nights in a hotel to see more of the town, because it’s awfully pretty.
My husband and I had a wonderful time on our cruise. The main negative was the terrible amount of smoke and the very dry air in the rooms. In addition, the condition of the ship was not quite a nice as a couple of the more recent cruises I’ve taken. The positives were the dining room food was delicious, the itinerary was wonderful, and our service was very good. I can't give it a 4.5, so I'm rounding up to the five star, because we really loved our time on the cruise, and in the ports. Read Less