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40 Whittier to Alaska Princess Sapphire Princess Cruise Reviews

We did a combination land/sea package. We flew from DFW to Seattle, changed planes (a very interesting boarding process with Alaska Air requiring us to go outside, down a long flight of stairs, across the tarmac, and back up the stairs at ... Read More
We did a combination land/sea package. We flew from DFW to Seattle, changed planes (a very interesting boarding process with Alaska Air requiring us to go outside, down a long flight of stairs, across the tarmac, and back up the stairs at the rear of the plane. It was dark and we had to lug our carry on items with us. Not favorably impressed with Alaska Air) and flew into Fairbanks. Even though it was the middle of the night, Princess staff was there to meet us, take charge of our luggage, give us our room keys, and speedily get us to the hotel. We stayed at Fairbanks Princess where we had a lovely view of the parking lot. The hotel was okay. The room was small and plain. Our biggest complaint was the lack of dining options. The menu was the same in both restaurants and very pricey. We did a tour of the gold rush area, and even though it was very touristy, we enjoyed it very much. Panning for gold was harder than it looked! That afternoon we did the riverboat cruise and really enjoyed it. Again, it is very touristy, but we learned a lot and liked the experience. Then we went by bus to Denali Princess. The grounds are beautiful, the dining choices were varied (even pizza delivery to our room!) The room was small but tastefully decorated. We did have a frustrating experience in the main dining room. Since we didn't make reservations we were told it was a minimum 30 minute wait. After the obligatory wait, we were shown to a table that had been open the entire time we were there. Not impressive. The food at the facility was very good, however. We did the nature tour through Denali and found it to be very well done. Our driver was excellent and the length of the tour was perfect. It was very rainy and cold so there were no views of Denali itself. We saw a couple of moose, but the blueberry bushes were in their fall colors as were the aspens and birches so the drive was beautiful. The next day we went by train to the Princess lodge in Talkeetna. The train ride was pleasant, and we absolutely loved this facility. It is so remote and quiet. We loved the huge fireplace in the main lodge which burned day and night. Still no view of Denali due to clouds although the other mountains are magnificent. The food here was very good. We took a nature hike with one of the rangers which was fun. We didn't ever cook s'mores at the outside firepit but would if we stayed again. My birthday fell during this portion of the trip. They gave us a view of the mountains and a special dessert. Very nice. We went into Talkeetna and walked around a bit. That is a very unique little place, to say the least. We did an afternoon jetboat tour on the river and saw lots of eagles. Again an excellent guide although I've never done a hike through the woods before with a guide who carried a shotgun The next morning, it happened. The clouds disappeared, and there was Denali. Oh my gosh! Words would never be adequate. We just gazed in awe for hours. The staff said it was the first sighting of it in more than three weeks, so I bought the 30% magnet since we are now members of the 30% club! Unfortunately all too soon it was time to board the bus to the train station and leave this truly wonderful facility. The train ride was okay. Lots of trees until we did the portion between Anchorage and Whittier which was incredibly beautiful with the sun glinting off the glaciers. Our guide was awful and gave virtually no information during the ride. The Princess rep got on the train, as promised, in Anchorage and checked us in to the ship. It was getting dark as we arrived in Whittier and the line to board the ship was very long. By the time we got to our cabin, it was almost time for the lifeboat drill so between that and unpacking we had virtually no time to explore the ship at all. We ordered room service which came rather piecemeal--no spoon for my husband's soup, and no hamburger for my condiments, so they ended up making three trips to our cabin. We book A201 which is up high and at the very front of the starboard side of the ship. Although we had been told it would be a long trip to anywhere we wanted to go, it was actually fine and extremely quiet. The officers' quarters were next to us on one side and we could view the bridge from our cabin. It was a nicely appointed room with way more storage space than I would have thought possible. The first day we cruised to Hubbard Glacier. The crew does a wonderful job of positioning the ship so that everyone could see everything from any side of the ship. We bundled up (and re-bundled up!) and utilized our balcony for incredible pictures. And since we were cruising in September, we also got to cruise up to the Johns Hopkins glacier which is only open to cruise ships during September when the seals have finished mating, bearing, and raising their pups. So it was great to see something that most never get to see. The next day was Glacier Bay. Again, the crew did a wonderful job of providing visibility to everyone on board. Our other stops were at Skagway (we did a private tour arranged by our travel agent and took a very small van up to Whitehorse Pass. This was great as we got to make some stops when we felt like it and it wasn't crowded). From there we took the train back down to Skagway. Unfortunately, it was very misty and foggy so the views weren't as good as we had hoped. We did some good shopping in Skagway and headed off to Juneau the next day. Again we did a private tour through our travel agent which went to Mendenhall Glacier in the morning and the whale watching in the afternoon. Although rainy, the weather cleared as we got out into the water. The whales were performing well, and we had a great experience. Our third stop was supposed to be Ketchikan, but a storm blew in with very high waves and winds so we did an extra sailing day. Although we rocked and rolled, we never felt uncomfortable. It was funny watching all of us lurch around the ship as it dipped and dived. We ended up docked in Vancouver where we had decided to stay a couple of extra days. We had a magnificent room at my favorite Vancouver hotel. We had view over the harbor and could watch the ships enter and leave. Being on the 36th floor had its perks. Although again there was rain the first day, we happily got tickets for the tram that circles Vancouver and took off. The weather cleared early in the afternoon, we had lunch outside at Bridges restaurant (no relation to us), and walked and walked. The next day was more of the same although there was heavy rain for part of the day. We found a great little local Italian restaurant down a few blocks from our hotel with some of the best food and live entertainment we have experienced. On board the ship, we loved our cabin and thought the food on the cruise was pretty good. We had chosen anytime dining but made reservations each night, especially after finding a waiter we really liked in one of the restaurants. The only minuses were 1) a Philly cheese steak sandwich with a cheese whiz like cheese on it (weird!), and 2) the night we went to the steakhouse. The service was poor, the steak not as good as what we had in the regular dining room, and glitches like the sauces for the steaks arriving after we had nearly finished eating them. Not impressed! We loved the small bar in Crooner's lounge where the bartender recommended a wine that was better and cheaper than what we would have picked ourselves. He had chilled glasses, and every night was ready for us with our order instantly appearing without us having to ask. The singer in the Crooner's Lounge was terrible. First of all, his singing style was unimpressive. Second he must have decided that our entire crowd was somewhere in the vicinity of 150 years old since he decided we would love to hear things like "Sixteen Tons" and other up-to-date ditties from the 1950s. He also wanted the audience to sing along, and when people didn't he berated and belittled the audience. The ship was beautiful, clean, and there was lots to do. It was great fun on the first morning, cruising along, wrapped up in blankets by the pool and watching NFL football on the big screen used for outdoor movies. So would we cruise again in September? Absolutely! Being there as the seasons changed was beautiful, there are far fewer crowds, and for shopping everything is on year's end close out sales. Also we got to see Johns Hopkins glacier and some other things that we wouldn't have seen earlier in the season. The only time we were really cold was at Hubbard Glacier and in Glacier Bay, but that would be the case anyway. Would we choose Princess again? We'll we're trying them again in February in the Caribbean, and after that we'll see. Read Less
Sail Date September 2013
We've done 3 Caribbean cruises prior to this Alaska cruise, and this was by far the most relaxing cruise we've ever taken. We did a 5 day connoisseur land tour prior to the cruise and highly recommend spending the extra money for ... Read More
We've done 3 Caribbean cruises prior to this Alaska cruise, and this was by far the most relaxing cruise we've ever taken. We did a 5 day connoisseur land tour prior to the cruise and highly recommend spending the extra money for this level (friends did the Denali Explorer version and didn't enjoy it nearly as much as we did). But I'm here to talk about the cruise! Embarkation: By taking the Connoisseur tour, we we're checked in on the train from Denali to Whittier, so we basically just walked right onto the cruise ship. Cabin (Baja 416) was great. Midship, clean, incredibly quiet. One piece of luggage (which we had sent ahead) was already in the cabin; the other two arrived just before dinner (we ate at 8:15 the first night). Cruising Hubbard Glacier: Words cannot describe how beautiful this is. It ranked right up there with sunrise over the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Sit on the balcony and enjoy a bottle of wine (and take about 500 pictures!). Until you hear a glacier break away, you cannot imagine how incredible it really is. If you weren't already completely relaxed, you will be by this point. Glacier Bay: Ditto on Hubbard Glacier, although Johns Hopkins Glacier is amazing! NOTE: Folks will tell you "don't sail Alaska on a big ship, only the small ones go all the way into Glacier Bay." NOT TRUE. Access is limited based on the molting of the seals that are in Glacier Bay. Park service lifted the restriction this year on Sept 1. We sailed in on 9/2. The Naturalist from the Park Service who accompanied us from 7:30am until about 6pm was great. Did a fantastic job describing everything (they played the audio via the cabin TV's, so we could stay on our balcony and watch / listen). You could tell he was actually excited by how far in we could go and how close we got (in addition to the volume of calving's taking place). Skagway/Juneau/Ketchikan described elsewhere Cruised inside passage: Wine, pictures and complete relaxation. Saw another humpback whale and a ton of dolphins. Disembarking in Vancouver is painless. Maybe 10 minutes from lounge to curb. Ship itself: Loved it. We last cruised on the Caribbean Princess, and found Sapphire Princess to be less crowded, a little more "classy" and the staff was flawless. Every meal was delicious. I can't speak for the buffet because we only had 2 breakfasts there. Breakfast in the International Dining Room was quick, comfortable, and always delicious. Never had to wait for a table, and my wife and I ate alone (by choice) about half the time. For dinner, we ate at most of the dining rooms and found anytime dining a breeze. We found Savoy to be the best (that may have just been the two waiters we had we're phenomenal. Overall, the ship is spacious, quiet, does not show any sign of wear and the staff is tops! This is the first time we've ever done the future cruise deposit, which speaks to how much we loved this cruise!   Read Less
Sail Date August 2013
We have always wanted to take an Alaskan cruise and upon finding a good deal online, our group of six (ages 24-67) booked our three inside cabins less than three weeks before embarkation through Costco. We were assigned three rooms that ... Read More
We have always wanted to take an Alaskan cruise and upon finding a good deal online, our group of six (ages 24-67) booked our three inside cabins less than three weeks before embarkation through Costco. We were assigned three rooms that happened to be handicapped rooms. Two of the rooms (E717 and E714) were very spacious with sitting areas complete of a second TV, minibar, and a sofa. I read somewhere that people have described this layout as an "inside mini suite". The third room (E706) was smaller, without the sitting area, but still bigger than other inside cabins. All three rooms were very close to the elevators and the dining rooms. It was easy getting to all areas of the ship since the Emerald deck (deck #8) goes the entire length of the ship so we could easily walk to the very front or the very aft of the ship then take the elevators or stairs up to wherever we want to go. Overall very comparable to Carnival -- except the towel animals were missing :D. FOOD: It seems that on port days the offerings for sit-down dinners were better than other days. We had surf & turf one day with king crab legs as appetizers, and lobsters and escargot on another day. For breakfast, the buffet usually has all the selections offered by the sit-down breakfast. But for dinner, the dining rooms had better offerings than the buffet. We especially liked the shrimps, very good quality every time. We also visited Alfredo's Pizzeria -- very good thin-crust pizzas indeed. At the pool area in the afternoons, we'd happened upon reindeer chili (so-so), fish & shrimp kebab (loved it!), sandwiches, etc. The bratwurst station near the pool was pretty good too, but I don't think I enjoyed any of their chowders offered anywhere, in the dining room, at the buffet or at the afternoon stations. We brought six bottles of wines with us but we ended up only drinking three. After eating so much alcohol seemed like extra calories we didn't need to consume. We did order occasional beers with our pizzas though :). ENTERTAINMENT: Dance & song shows were very mediocre. We are from NYC so we have high standards. The stand-up comedian (Duncan?) was the highlight; his ADHD persona was very funny indeed. Some people liked the international crew show but we also thought it was just so-so. The crew director's fiddler on the roof segment was quite good though. Our family friend enjoyed the karaoke hours and oldies in Club Fusion. We got into the hot tub and watched Oz at Movies Under the Stars. It was very enjoyable and kind of funny since everyone else on the lounge chairs was hiding under winter jackets and blankets while we were in our swimsuits. They had relatively new movies rotating on TV so sometimes we actually stayed in our rooms and watched Iron Man 3, Skyfall, Wreck It Ralph, and Quartet. ANCHORAGE/WHITTIER: We flew into Anchorage and stayed the night at Springhill Suites University Lake which had an airport shuttle that could also take you anywhere into downtown area. It was a nice rest and breakfast was plentiful, and we took a walk around the lake after breakfast before we took their shuttle to the other Springhill Suites downtown to be picked up by Alaska Cruise Transportation shuttle to Whittier. The University Lake location seemed much nicer and newer than the Downtown one. The bus ride was pretty smooth, and it stopped at a scenic spot and again at a wildlife reserve so we were able to have lunch and see some caribou and moose before the cruise even began. It was an economical and painless way to connect to the cruise. EMBARKATION: Embarkation was quite efficient and smooth. We had to unload the luggage from the shuttle bus onto the receiving area. It was a rainy day so it would've been nice if the staff could get the luggage directly from the bus since the bus parked right in front of the receiving station and the staff had raincoats on and we didn't. No big deals though, it was just a matter of taking the luggage from the left of us and passing it to the right. Just the rain made it kind of annoying. The line wasn't long at 2:45pm, and after filling out a quick info sheet we were onboard in 15min. Luggage was delivered after dinner. HUBBARD GLACIER: It was a cold day when we got to Hubbard Glacier. Our cabins had no windows, so we went up to the Horizon Buffet area on deck 14 early and sat down at a table for six which allowed us to drink tea and eat all day while enjoying the scenery indoors. Later on two of us ventured outside to take pictures, and decided to follow the two brave souls in the hot tub to enjoy the view from the back of the ship. It was a very good decision and we got great views of the enormous glacier and calving while relaxing in hot water. The cold and windy day meant we had the hot tub to ourselves (there were two hot tubs at the AFT, deck 16, so the other couple had a hot tub to themselves, and we had the other). GLACIER BAY NATIONAL PARK: The park ranger talk was so well attended we had to sit on the steps and some of us decided to skip it. But it was the best ranger talk we'd heard, and everyone had the same sentiment. We again got a table near the buffet. It was a sunny day so unfortunately we could not get the hot tub to ourselves so we just stayed around the table and walked around the ship some times to get better shots. SKAGWAY: We booked the Emerald Lake tour with Dyea Dave and opted to take the scenic train back from Fraser. Debbie drove our 21-passenger shuttle and was very friendly and knowledgeable. She made frequent stops for us to take photos, and the Emerald Lake was indeed very special, well worth the long ride. We were very happy to have taken the train back even though the price of the train ride was more than the tour. As amazing as the scenic spots were during the tour, the scenery for the train portion was even better! We stayed between the cars and leaned out to take tons of photos. I'd say sit on the right side going back to Skagway -- most of the scenery is on the right side. JUNEAU: our parents went whale watching with Harv & Marv. They didn't seem very enthusiastic about their experience although we read good reviews. Their friend, afraid of being sea sick, opted to stay on the ship and enjoyed a leisurely day. Three of us children went on a glacier trek with Above and Beyond Alaska tours with Chelsea. There were two other people in our group so it was a very intimate hike with just six people overall. We loved this excursion! It was physical but not too strenuous, and where else do we get a chance to walk on a glacier??? We started the hike at 8:30am and got to Mendenhall glacier around 10:30am. After snacking and putting on our crampons we were on the ice by 11am. We walked all around and visited an ice cave (so cool!), filled up our water bottles with glacier water, then got off the glacier at 1pm. We made our way back just before the ship took off at 3:20pm. We are not very experienced hikers (we had to buy hiking boots just for this excursion -- our KEEN boots worked very well), but Chealsea is very experienced so we felt safe the entire way. KETCHIKAN: It was a drizzling day and we were glad that we booked with Ketchikan Taxi Cab Tours who picked us up at the Discovery Center 5 min away from where our ship docked. We got the town map from visitor info center as we got off the ship. David took us to spots where we could see eagles perching on trees near the hatchery, salmon jumping out of the water, Totem Bight Park, took us berry picking and tasting, and answered tons of questions we had about the area and his former life as a commercial fisherman. We also caught a glimpse of the arrival of Native Americans who paddled all the way from Vancouver (the last of such event was 15 years ago). We all enjoyed the tour tremendously and would highly recommend booking with Ketchikan Taxi Cab Tours. The van was very nimble and we were able to stop wherever we pleased. David dropped us off at Creek Street at the end and we got some souvenir shopping done. DISEMBARKATION & CUSTOMS: We missed the chance to do self help check out for 7:30am disembarkation because we didn't read the disembarkation request form until after it had to be turned in. It's ok because we didn't want to carry our own luggage around that morning anyways and we wanted to eat breakfast before we left the ship. So we were assigned to leave at 9:55am. We had to clear our rooms by 8am, so we headed up to the buffet and hung out until 9:40am. We were able to leave the ship soon after we got to our designated waiting/meeting spot, picked up our luggage at the designated area where they had carts available, and got on a cab to go out our hotel near the airport at Richmond (cab fare $40). Very smooth I'd say. Very relaxing vacation, overate as predicted, but finally could cross off "Alaskan Cruise" off our bucket list! :) Read Less
Sail Date August 2013
Quick cruising background: We are in our lower mid-40’s and just recently took up cruising. Our first experience was over 10 years ago with family…and our children were little then. I only half remember the cruise itself, not sure if ... Read More
Quick cruising background: We are in our lower mid-40’s and just recently took up cruising. Our first experience was over 10 years ago with family…and our children were little then. I only half remember the cruise itself, not sure if it was because of some sea sickness and worries about the little ones, or the food/service was just ok. Regardless I didn’t come back from that cruise eager to book another one. Then for our 20th anniversary looking for a special trip, all inclusive or renting a house on an island, I stumbled across cruising and cruise critic, and the rest is history (in terms of vacationing). I wanted a balcony experience, and Carnival had the itinerary and price at the time, so we sailed on the Miracle. We really enjoyed the experience, and have been hooked on cruising ever since....sailing twice a year so far (Carnival 4 times in a row). BTW I haven’t had a bad cruise yet, I just love the water, scenery, ports of call, and overall cruising experience. I do look forward to trying other lines and ships in the future…there are darn too many destinations/ships to try in my lifetime! So since my last 4 cruises have been with Carnival, I will have some inevitable comparisons between Princess and Carnival. I have another Princess cruised booked in January 2014, so after that I will know if I am hooked on Princess, but I think I am already. We just had a fabulous time on the Sapphire, which I know a lot of Princess cruisers claim as one of their favorites. Quick overall comparisons/thoughts MDR food – I thought was great. Always hot and fast (dinner was never over an hr), interesting selection at times (never heard of some of the dishes, but tried them anyway. Crème Brulee was great! (my go to staple dessert – like the warm melting chocolate cake on Carnival). What surprised me with Princess during the entire cruise…every MDR dinner and in 3 different dining rooms, sometimes very crowded – we were in and out within 45 minutes or so…every single time. This never happened to us in our 4 previous Carnival cruises (in fact MDR dinner would always be 1.5 hrs to 2 hrs sometimes, the steakhouse would always be 2hrs). I don’t know if this is typical Princess or just the Sapphire, but we appreciated this. We didn’t feel rushed at all…everything was just timely. Loved the live music on the ship, shows were ok but not bad (I did like the shorter format, gave us more time/options every evening). Alcoholic drinks were weak on Princess, not sure if just this ship or fleetwide (every Carnival drink on every ship I have sailed were pretty potent, even the free drinks for past guest). International Café (IC) and Alfredo’s were very nice – visited both every day it seems. Service was fantastic and the crew/staff very friendly. Another nice touch by Princess was the various communications regarding our anniversary on this cruise. We received a nice card one evening, of course a spa special offering, one night they placed balloons/flyer on our cabin door, and the anniversary chocolate cake/singing at dinner one night. Day 1 -We had booked a package deal (train/lunch/Prince William Sound tour) with Major Marine to spend the afternoon seeing glaciers/water falls/wildlife before boarding the Sapphire, since the ship did not leave until 8:30pm. The train arrived at 12:15pm and Major Marine took off at 12:45pm. We got close to two beautiful tidewater glaciers, and to Hidden Falls. We saw seals and otters, and scenery was just gorgeous. After Major Marine we boarded the Sapphire no problem - stateroom itself was nice, loved the location behind the art gallery on the Piazza level. Room P327 - Inside 1C. The cabin had easy access to the Promenade deck (LOVED how wide it was, I wish more ships had this type of room), dining rooms, bars, International Café and Alfredo’s…and nearby stairs to avoid the elevators for just going up a few floors. It was pretty quiet (no foot traffic, ship equipment etc.), but we could hear snoring from our neighbors form time to time, so the room was not as soundproof as our Carnival cruises (I never heard our neighbors). The TV/movie choices were great, a lot better than Carnival. I do wish they had MDR menus/stateroom account access like they do on Carnival though. Our inside cabin had plenty of closet space, and I liked the safe system (4 digit code versus using a card w/magnetic strip). Yes the shower was small, smaller than Carnivals, but one can manage (barely). Day 2 - Hubbard Glacier Unfortunately the ice field in front of Hubbard was extensive, and we had to stay 12 miles away from the glacier itself. That sounds like a lot, but Hubbard was 6 miles wide, and we looked closer than we were. The expansiveness of Alaska is something you need to experience. So Hubbard was too far to observe any calving, but she was beautiful to see. Day 3 - Glacier bay was awesome - fabulous weather---did the Glacier Scenic Package in the Sanctuary - loved it. Day 4 - Skagway---Based on trip advisor/port forums on CC I decided to book a Carcross/Yukon tour with Dyea Dave. We enjoyed British Barry as our tour guide and his commentary. We always stayed ahead of the big tour buses on every stop, and had lots of photo opportunities (off and on the mini-bus). We were treated again to wonderful weather (it was sunny, no wind, lakes were glass, and in the afternoon it nearly reached 80) and to seeing a black bear eating dandelions roadside. The highlight for us was seeing the various glacier lakes along the way, including Lake Bennett and Emerald Lake. Carcross was a neat small town (quickly saw the world’s smallest dessert), and we had a quick lunch there as well. The backdrop Yukon scenery for your 2 hr road trip up to Carcross was magnificent. Day 5 - Juneau For Juneau we had a Harv/Marvs whale watching tour booked. We were fortunate because the time I actually booked the cruise itself (late March), Harv/Marvs had one slot left and only for their 11am tour (Sapphire left at 3:30pm). However that gave us enough time to have breakfast in the IC, take the $8 shuttle to Mendenhall Glacier, and have Harv/Marv pick us up at the Mendenhall Visitor’s Center at 10:45am (Mendenhall close to the docks where whale watching boats are kept). Mendenhall Glacier, wow, I was surprised at how beautiful this place was. I had seen pictures, but the hike/views were fabulous. Again this was a beautiful sunny day, so that played a factor in its awesomeness! Nugget Falls was flowing heavy too, it was just a roar. The hike is easy, most can manage it, worth doing! There were beautiful flowers and trees along the way as well. Harv/Marv - awesome!!! Saw 5 or 6 bubble nets and plenty of eagles, sea lions, and humpbacks of course. PERFECT day. Day 6 - Ketchikan For Ketchikan we did not have any excursions planned (I tried getting a tour with Ketchikan Cab Tours but they were full), so we planned to do our own walking tour. Day turned sunny in the afternoon - just a shopping day and laying out! Day 7 - Inside Passage - nice scenic cruising...weather good. Overall the Princess product met/exceeded my expectations. I really enjoyed our cruise and the ship. Love the Sapphire and its amenities (the multiple dining rooms, Alfredo’s/Vines and IC in the Piazza). That large Promenade deck that circled the entire ship was nice. I liked having the options during the day/evening (dance classes, other stuff), the music choices were good. Most of the music was a decade or so earlier than what I am used to (I am an 80’s/90’s lover – rock and dance) but it was fine to me. I dig 70’s and good 60’s rock and roll. I didn’t miss the rapping DJ even though at times I enjoy that as well. The service and food was great – better than my previous 4 Carnival cruises (and I enjoy the food on Carnival as well – again I have not had a bad cruise yet!). Alaska was better than I imagined…hope to get back soon!   Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
We met a Canadian couple on a Princess cruise in 2008 and became very good friends. Since we live in Florida cruising is a good way for us to get to see each other. They joined us for this cruisetour and this is our 4th cruise together. We ... Read More
We met a Canadian couple on a Princess cruise in 2008 and became very good friends. Since we live in Florida cruising is a good way for us to get to see each other. They joined us for this cruisetour and this is our 4th cruise together. We are in the 55 to 65 age group. This was our 11th cruise, with it being our 5th Princess cruise. I am giving information on the land portion too, because when we were looking at cruisetours we found very little information that covered the land portion of the cruise which to me was the best part.We booked the 15 day Princess Escorted Connoisseur Cruisetour with 8 days on land before our Southbound cruise. I am glad we did the land tour first because there was a lot of long days and it gave us time to rest up on the cruise. Booking the connoisseur tour meant our breakfast and dinner (including gratuities) was included in the price at all of the Princess Lodges. It included one beverage, appetizer, entree and a dessert. We didn't have to worry about where we were going to eat or how much is was going to cost. We could order anything on the menu and had king crab 3 times! There were 54 people in our group including our bus driver and our escort. I can't say enough about our Tour Escort Bruce Miller who was with us for the entire land portion of our tour. Not only was he very knowledgeable about Alaska, but he was witty and kept us amused with his jokes, stories and games on the long 9 hour bus rides between lodges. We didn't have to make a single decision our entire tour because he had already taken care of every detail including a wonderful group photo. We were also able to keep our fantastic bus driver Gordon Scott for our entire tour. All of the Princess Lodges were beautiful and comfortable with fantastic views from all of our rooms. At the end of our land tour we were like a big family and had new friends to start our cruise with. All of our excursions were booked through Princess. Some were included in the price, which I will mention.We flew into Fairbanks a day early to start our land tour at the Fairbanks Riverside Lodge for 3 nights. To our surprise the temperature was in the 80's. Beautiful view of the Chena River right out of our window. Our tour started with a welcome breakfast and then an excursion for an enjoyable trip down the Chena River on the Sternweeler Riverboat, followed by a beef stew lunch and a Gold mine tour, that were all included in the price. The next day we departed the lodge and boarded the train for a scenic ride to Denali National Park and the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge for 2 nights. We had beautiful views of the river with the mountains behind it. Our excursion the next day was to Denali National Park on the Tundra Wilderness Tour. We saw a blonde colored mother grizzly with a jet black cub. Later we were stopped looking at a fox on the hillside when a grizzly came right over the top of the hill the fox was on. Awesome! We also saw moose, caribou and Dall sheep. This excursion and the â(EURO)oeMusic of Denaliâ(EURO) dinner show was included in the price. We departed the next day for a 9 hour bus ride to Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge. We had wonderful views of the mountains of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. The next day we took a scenic excursion to the beautiful town of Valdez where we did the Prince William Sound Glacier boat tour. We saw humpback whales, sea otters, seals, eagles, puffins, numerous other birds and the glacier. Highly recommend this tour! The next day we were off to the Kenai Peninsula and the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge. This was my favorite lodge because it sits over the beautiful blue-green waters of the Kenai River with the mountain behind it. It is absolutely breath taking and there is a trail that goes down and all around by the river. The next day was an excursion to the Kenai Fjords National Park boat tour out of Seward. The water was pretty rough at times and a lot of people got seasick, but we were fortunate and didn't get sick. We saw a pod of Orca whales. They put the hydrophone in the water and we could hear the Orca's calling each to each other. We also saw humpback whales and Dall's Pourpoise which look mini black and white Orca's and more of everything else we saw in the previous boat trip. Highly recommend this awesome tour! We departed the next day for our cruise.Whittier - Embarkation Whittier is a small port and you have to go through a tunnel to get there. Our bus was the first to go through the tunnel so our group was the first ones on the Sapphire Princess. We walked right on and it was like having the ship to ourselves. ShipThe ship was beautiful and spotless. It was a little confusing to get around, because if you went to the 6th deck aft you couldn't get to the front of the ship without going back up to the 7th deck. StateroomsWe had an aft port side balcony stateroom on the 12th Aloha Deck. We liked it because it was right under the horizon court which takes less than 5 minutes to get coffee in the morning. Was not noisy at all. The stateroom was nice with adequate storage. Our cabin steward's language was limited so he didn't talk a lot but did a good job of cleaning our room which is all that matters. DiningWe had any time dining and prefer to eat early so we usually eat around 6:00 and never had to wait for a table. With anytime dining you have your choice of 3 dining rooms, which are the Santa Fe, Savoy and Pacific Moon. The menu is the same in each dining room except each one has a specialty dish that is the same every night. We like Princess because the food is consistently good and this was no exception. We tried all of the dining rooms and the food and service was excellent with the exception that one night in the Savoy the service was slow and we were there for 2 hours and missed the 8:00 show and had go to the later show. The food was still good but I think the waiter was overwhelmed with too many tables for his section.EntertainmentThere are 3 show every night at 6:30, 8:00 & 9:45. We attended a show every night and enjoyed all of them. The comedians were good and we thought the singers and dancers were very good.Shore excursionsSkagway: Eagle Preserve Rafting & Wildlife Quest. We boarded a catamaran for a 45 minute ride to Haines which is a beautiful town. The weather was so warm the local people were sunbathing on the beach when we arrived and a few brave enough to swim in the 40 degree water. We then took a bus to our drop off point to where we had sandwiches before boarding our rafts for a leisurely (not white water) hour and a half raft trip. We saw many eagles along the way, some so close you could almost reach out and touch them. We were greeted with fresh cookies at the end of the raft trip. Beautiful scenery and a good tour.Juneau: Town, Tram & Timberline Trek. This tour was a bit of a disappointment. We went by van for a narrated tour of the city. We were supposed to go up the Mt. Roberts Tram and the take the Timberline Trek walk, but they had the trail closed because they still had snow on the ground. We then did a walk around an old gold mine instead and then took the tram up to the top of the mountain for the view which was spectacular. Ketchikan : Wilderness Exploration Cruise & Crab Feast. We were taken by bus to the George Inlet Lodge where we boarded as enclosed tour boat and cruised the George Inlet waterway. It was a scenic boat ride that took us to a cove that is a crab estuary to Dungeness crab. They pulled up some crab traps to show how the crabs are caught. There were many eagle seen along the way. We returned back to the lodge where we had all you can eat Dungeness crab, and believe me, it was all you can eat! This was my favorite shore excursion on the cruise portion.Disembarkation: Was not quite as easy as embarkation. We were to be in the Fusion Bar at 8:05 which was very crowded as everyone had to be out of their staterooms by 8:00. We were only there about 15 minutes when our number was called. We had booked the Princess transfer to the Vancouver airport which was great. They took our bags to the airport, which were there waiting for us when we got there. The Vancouver airport is a whole different story. We went through numerous lines and numerous security checks.Summary: The Hubbard Glacier was huge but we were not able to get very close due to the amount of ice in the water. This is the only place that was really cold. In Glacier Bay we were able to get very close to a glacier and you could even hear it cracking and popping. We were able to see some calving of smaller pieces, which still sounded like thunder when it hit the water. It was so warm people were sunning on the deck and swimming in the pools. On the last sea day, right before we entered the inside passage we were met by a group of Dall's Pourpoise which were every where you looked. They put on quite a show jumping out of the water. We had absolutely beautiful weather our entire cruisetour with not a drop of rain. Some of the mornings started out cool only to turn into beautiful warm afternoons. All of the locals said how lucky we were to have that kind of weather. Over all we could not have asked for anything to be any better than it was. It was the trip of a lifetime. Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
My wife and I have cruised previously but this trip was the first cruise with our 13 month old son. We met my parents on the trip; they had done a 7 day land excursion prior to boarding the Sapphire. We arrived in Anchorage a day before ... Read More
My wife and I have cruised previously but this trip was the first cruise with our 13 month old son. We met my parents on the trip; they had done a 7 day land excursion prior to boarding the Sapphire. We arrived in Anchorage a day before the cruise embarkation. We decided upon the Hampton Inn. It was an average business hotel. Highly recommend you request a room NOT near the fitness center/pool. The hall way leading to your room was very humid and you could smell the chorine. The smell did not penetrate the room, but the humidity did. Transfer to Sapphire Princess: We decided to book a transfer through Alaska Cruise Transfer and Tours. The decision factor was ACTT picked us up at our Hotel and Princess only offered transfers from the Convention Center. Important: Read confirmation e-mail as there is a potential limitation on luggage. Transfer included two scenic photo stops and a stop at the Wildlife Conservation Center. Embarkation: Luggage handlers met our transfer in the parking lot. Tagged and took luggage in a matter of minutes. Made our way to the cruise ship terminal. We arrived approximately 3:45 PM. No lines. We were on the Sapphire by 4:00 PM. All embarkation staff were exceptionally courteous and helpful. Sapphire Princess: The ship itself was familiar to anyone who has cruised with Princess in the past. The ship was in good shape with maintenance crews working daily on different projects with out intruding on our experience.The room was what we expected. We have cruised with Princess previously. We started to explore the ship to gain familiarity. Having cruised with Princess before, the lay-out was familiar. Day One: Sea Day and Hubbard Glacier- Due to a denser ice field, we could only get approximately 10 miles from Hubbard. The captain did let each side of the ship have some time with Hubbard in the background for pictures. Day Two: Sea Day and Glacier Bay- The onboard naturalist stated we had prime whale sights between 7:30 and 9:30 AM. I walked out on the balcony at 8:00 AM and there were approximately 10 whales in the distance. Lots of blows and flukes. You could see them with the naked eye, but binoculars definitely helped. Glacier Bay was amazing. We had a starboard cabin and the captain provided approximately 30 minutes for Port and Starboard for photos and to witness calving. Amazing views of Grand Pacific, Margerie and Lumplugh glaciers. The nature viewing is the reason people sail this itinerary and it will not disappoint. Day Three: Skagway- We booked the White Pass Railway excursion through Princess. Worth it, in hindsight I would have booked the day long trip that included Bennett Lake, but I was unsure how my son would handle that length of excursion. It was a nice ride and the scenery is breathtaking. I had expected Alaska to be green (in summer) but was surprised at the lushness. It is truly a temperate rain forest. The main drag (Broadway) is where all the action is in Skagway. Not a huge town and there was 4 ships in Skagway during our stop. The town was busy in the morning with a lot of cruisers in the morning. Afternoon rain shower cleared the streets. Day Four: Juneau- We booked the Mendenhall Helicopter Tour and Glacier Walk though Princess. Amazing experience with a great guide (Dylan). If you can, both my wife and I highly recommend this excursion. It is about 4 hours total pier to pier. We were able to see the rest of Juneau (State house, Governors Mansion and the tourist area) with the remainder of our day. Some rain during the late afternoon. Day Five: Ketchikan- We ended up going with a private tour from the Pier. The tour included a Wildlife Viewing and the Saxman totem village. The guide, Tic Tac was interesting and providing a lot of local history for Ketchikan. The Wildlife part of the excursion was just a stop at the mouth of a river. Not much wildlife except some Eagles. Saxman Village was very interesting and Tic Tac provided a lot of information on each of the Totems. After the tour, we walked Creek St and did some souvenir shopping. Day Six: Sea Day to Vancouver: Overcast day but provided the necessary time to pack up for disembarkation. We did not make it to the Crew Talent show, but from previous experiences on Princess, I would highly recommend it. Day Seven: Disembarkation. Aside from having too much luggage, disembarkation was easy. We did the Hop-on/Hop-off Pink Bus tour of Vancouver. Going through Vancouver made us regret not taking an extra day for some more exploration. Staff: The Princess staff were overall very good. The staff was absolutely wonderful with our son; doting on him at every opportunity. I can not say enough nice things about the wait staff. They instantly new to bring my son's dinner immediately therefore my wife and I could enjoy our own dinner. Thank you Alex! Staff went above and beyond daily to assist us in any way with our son; with waiters even cutting up his food for him and buffet staff having a highchair waiting for him each morning for breakfast in the Conservatory. Thank you Roland and Renata! Food: I have always been satisfied with the food on Princess. Buffet was better than average and seated dinners were offered a good selection and were quite delicious. Don't forget to try the International Café for Panini's and Princess pizza...both are great. We ate many lunches or after shore snacks from the International Café rather than the buffet or dining room. I skipped dessert most nights in the dining room to have some of the sweets from the International café. The only Cons on the entire cruise were the following. During the first day scavenger hunt, the Internet staff member was so unhelpful and had such a chip on his shoulder that we decided not purchase a package as we have in the past. The photo staff was not as helpful as they have been on other Princess itineraries we have cruised. The last day, when we went to purchase our photos, the photo staff had placed the 1st formal and Embarkation photos in unlabeled tubs. You had to go through thousands of photos to find yours. Previous itineraries were longer and maintained the photos displayed throughout the entire cruise. Many people complain regarding the retail nature of cruising. We just chose not to be apart of the hype and focused on the nature of Alaska which is what Alaska is all about. The only upcharge we purchased was the unlimited Coke fountain products during the cruise. We enjoyed our 7 days on the Sapphire in Alaska. My wife and I both stated we wanted to do the itinerary again, but have more time in Vancouver. We truly enjoyed the trip and Princess staff put our concerns at ease regarding traveling with a toddler. We are already discussing the cruise vacation!   Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
This was our first Princess cruise, which we were planning with friends of ours for over a year. We chose Princess specifically due to the recommendations I've read here and its itinerary. We did not regret that decision. We started ... Read More
This was our first Princess cruise, which we were planning with friends of ours for over a year. We chose Princess specifically due to the recommendations I've read here and its itinerary. We did not regret that decision. We started by arriving two days early into Anchorage and stayed at a lovely B&B called the Wildflower Inn. I highly recommend it. On Saturday morning, we caught the 9:30 train to Whittier, having booked the 26 Glacier Tour through Phillips Cruises. I was under the wrong impression that we would have to handle our own luggage, since we did not arrange transportation through Princess, but happily discovered I was misinformed. When we arrived at the station, there were tables for Princess and Holland America. A porter from Princess collected our luggage and the next time we saw it was when we arrived on board and went to our stateroom. A quick aside about the 26 Glacier Tour. Highly recommended. We saw more wildlife in those four hours that we did the rest of the cruise. And that's not a knock on the cruise. The tour boat is right next to the Princess, so once we were finished, we were right there for check in. Embarkation This was a little confusing. Because we came from the tour, we went into a side entrance. We accidentally got on the boarding line, not seeing the registration area. We realized our mistake in time and a security guard was very helpful in pointing us in the right direction and allowed us back into line, so we didn't have to start all over again. The line had been long, since we arrived just as the land tour buses arrived. Room Since we boarded later in the day, we were able to go up to our room. Luggage was already there. The Sapphire Princess is a beautiful ship. We had a category B2 cabin on Caribe deck. We chose it for the larger veranda which did not disappoint. Our friends were in the cabin next to us, so we were able to open a connecting door between the two verandas. The room was a little smaller than other Deluxe rooms with veranda that we were accustomed to, only having enough room for the bed and a small desk. Storage was in a closet and wardrobe next to the bathroom. The bathroom was adequate, but the shower was tiny. I only had so much room to turn around. The temperature of the water was also a little inconsistent and had to be occasionally adjusted. Dining This was the first time we experienced Anytime Dining and I am hooked. I loved the flexibility since most cruise lines the 5:30 main seating is a little early for us and the 8:00 late seating too late. Even though reservations are recommended, we never had trouble getting a table without one. We did try to make reservations, but never got that process down right. Either we called outside the reservation window or when we called at the right time, were told they didn't take reservations past 6:30pm. Regardless, it didn't turn out to be much of an issue. By the thrid night, when we realized we were eating about the same time (7:00) each night, the matre d' assured us he would hold our table the following night. The serving staff was wonderful as was the food. Since three of the four of us are non-meat eaters, there was ample vegetarian choices. Service was prompt and efficient, only once did we have to ask for service to be sped up a little only because some of us participated in the pop choir. The other dining venues were equally impressive. I visited the International Cafe frequently and invested in the coffee card, which was well worth it. We also had the pizza which was as good as New York pizza (and we should know, since we're from New York) Entertainment This was the one negative we encountered. We went to the shows the first two night and never returned. The first night was a production show that we found amateurish and have seen better high school performances. While the dancing was okay, the vocals were off and sometimes out if synch. The following night was a comedian that put me to sleep. Maybe because we cruised Disney so much, we're spoiled, but I don't think it would have made a difference had we never experienced Disney. The seminars, on the other hand, were excellent. We attended one where an expert on Alaska gave us a presentation on the various forms of wildlife we might experience. The theater was packed and she held us captive. The Park Ranger presentations were equally fascinating. Which leads us to Ports The three ports exceeded our expectations. The first two days at Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay had us gazing with dropped jaws and mouths open the whole time we were there. We spent part of the time up in the bow and and some of it on our deck. The captain turned the ship around so guests on both sides of the ship would get their fair chance to see the glacier. Our visits to Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan were equally amazing. We did the White Pass Railway in Skagway which was wonderful and the Taku Lodge Feast and 5-Glacier Seaplane Discovery, which was the highlight of our trip. My wife is a nervous flyer, only getting back into it three years ago. Our pilot was great and even let her sit in the copilot seat. A recorded explanation of what we were seeing and the history of the area played while we flew to Taku Lodge. Taku Lodge is a rustic and charming place and the salmon bake gave me a whole new appreciation for one of my favorite seafood dishes. We did Ketchikan on our own, taking the shuttle to Saxman Totem Village and then going to the Totem Heritage Center before ending up with some shopping in town. Despite all our anxiety about what to pack pre-trip, the weather fooled us and we had three delightful days in ports, with temps in the 70s and bright sun. Disembarkation This was a little disorganized. We were told not to show up to the Pacific Moon any sooner than 10:10, so we hung out in Horizons until 10:00. But no sooner did we show up in Pacific Moon, than they announced our group. Lucky we were on time. Having to walk the one flight up was also inconvenient for those carrying any bags with them. Finding our luggage was a mess. It was not in the zone it was supposed to be and with people standing around and the exit line snaking into the baggage pick up area, it took us a while to find our bags. But, once found exiting through customs was a breeze as was the organized line up for a taxi. Post cruise We stayed in Vancouver for two days and found a great suite hotel called the Rosellen Suites in a residential area of Vancouver right next to Stanley Park and two blocks from Denman St. with plenty of stores and restaurants. Be forewarned, it is not a full-service hotel, but if you don't need 24-hour desk, a pool and in hotel dining, the suites were spacious with a full kitchen, living room and dining room. Summary We thoroughly enjoyed the Sapphire Princess. Had we been on a different itinerary where you spend more time on the ship, the entertainment might have been a bigger issue, but since we chose her for the itinerary and not the on board services, it more than met our expectations. Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
Sapphire Princess Cruise Critic Review September, 2012 Voyage of the Glaciers, Southbound (Whittier to Vancouver BC). Our group of 13 people took the Sapphire Princess from Whittier to Vancouver BC, starting on Labor Day weekend, ... Read More
Sapphire Princess Cruise Critic Review September, 2012 Voyage of the Glaciers, Southbound (Whittier to Vancouver BC). Our group of 13 people took the Sapphire Princess from Whittier to Vancouver BC, starting on Labor Day weekend, 2012. Age range from 40s to early 60s. Our journey started in Anchorage, with a group dinner at Glacier Brewhouse on the night before our cruise. This was excellent, but reservations are an absolute must. Thanks to suggestions on CruiseCritic, we knew to visit the liquor store just up the street to stock up on wine (Downtown Wind and Spirits 930 W. 5TH AVE -- 907-258-0930). Important note... Everyone in your group who enters the store must have ID, or they cannot sell to anyone in your group. We had heard this on CC, and confirmed it with the sales person. Princess allowed us to bring a couple of bottles of wine on board, with no fuss, which was much appreciated. We stayed at the Comfort Inn Ship Creek. Some reviews had made it sound like it is right across the street from the train station, but actually it took about 10 minutes to walk there, with rolling baggage. The staff was very pleasant, and the motel is OK, except for the train noise. Not only do the nearby tracks serve the Alaska passenger railroad, but also the freight services as well. We heard a lot of train noise, and it made sleep difficult. I would suggest a different hotel, and pay for a taxi in the morning. We checked in for the Anchorage to Whittier train approximately an hour before departure, and were able to drop off our bags and have them delivered directly to the cabin. The seats on board almost all face the direction of travel, and are pre-assigned, so if you want to travel with friends, then have someone in your group make one reservation. Even though we were in different carriages, there is no difficulty walking between carriages, and visiting with people. People moved about quite a bit, to use the cafeteria, etc. They also have open platforms on the train where you can take pictures. By the way, you can make reservations directly with Alaska Rail Some in our group were under the impression that they had to book through Princess in order to have luggage accepted for direct delivery to the cabin. This was not the case. The train journey was very pleasant, and I highly recommend it. Upon arrival at Whittier, you disembark from the train and walk about 800 feet under a covered walkway to the check in area. We were some of the first to arrive, and the lines were very short. Including filling out the health questionnaire, the embarkation process took us about 15 minutes. Initial Boarding: Our group contained some experienced cruisers, and we knew what we wanted to do when we first went aboard. We quickly walked to the Purser/Passenger Services Desk to make reservations for the Ultimate Ship's Tour. Unfortunately, they were only offering this on the day when we would be in Skagway, and we already had reservations for a shore excursion that day. We were very disappointed, since we had heard good reviews about this activity. We also took the tour of the Lotus Spa, and the Serenity area. Some of our group later signed up for individual treatments, but none of us signed up for the Spa area pass. The "public" area of the spa does not have any outside windows, which is a shame because it would have been great to be sitting on a heated stone lounger watching the glaciers. Note that you can use the Lotus pool, hot tubs, steam room and sauna without needing to buy a pass. The changing rooms are also available if you want to change before using the gym. Serenity is the adults-only area. Since poor weather was forecast for the first few days of our trip, we knew that the area would likely be closed. Also, we had chosen this trip because there likely would be fewer kids on board, so it did not seem to be worth purchasing a pass. For glacier days (Hubbard & Glacier Bay) only full day passes were available. Other days you could purchase morning and/or afternoon passes. Because of the foggy/cool/wet weather on our trip, the Serenity area was never open that I saw. Upon boarding we were also told that our cabins were available for immediate occupancy. This was a very nice touch, and we stopped by our cabin to drop off our carry-on items. We wanted to have a "served" lunch as opposed to the buffet, and so (after asking a couple of staff members) found that the International Dining Room was doing served lunch. Note that this is different from the deli-style International Cafe in the Atrium. Lunch was lovely, including a souffle! They do however, stop serving promptly at 1:30 PM, so make getting there a priority if this is important to you. Ship's Ambiance: In January, 2012 the Sapphire Princess went through a refit, and we found her to be very clean and well maintained. The addition of the International Cafe was very nice, but the addition of the MUTS (Movies Under the Stars) screen and sound system was not so welcome; more about that later in this review. Our journey had a bit of an older crowd, with hardly any children at all. We had wanted a relatively "kid free" experience, so this was welcome. Our group ranged from 40s through early 60s, and we thought we were perhaps on the younger range. The impact of this was later shows, and the nightclubs, tended to be quite quiet, but we still had a good time. One thing which we particularly liked was that there were very few announcements (bingo, art auctions, etc.). One thing which we wished they would have announced was the sail away at each port, including the embarkation port. We quietly slipped out of port and so missed that special moment when you first get underway. Activities on Board: There were a wide variety of activities on board, and it was nice to see that Princess stays away from the hairy chest contest and similar events which some other lines can go in for. The on board Naturalist was OK, but not great. We felt sorry for the people who had interior or ocean view cabins, and so who needed to be on deck to enjoy the view, since the Princess Naturalist was broadcasting to the public spaces and her voice became annoying after awhile. The National Park Service Rangers were much better, and we appreciated their presence on the day when we were in Glacier Bay National Park. The magician, Landon Swank was very good. In addition to the formal show in the Princess Theatre, he also participated in a magic lesson in the Explorer's Lounge. This was mostly presented by Princess staff, but Landon did demonstrate a couple of tricks (without giving away his secrets!). There are now three 1/2 --hour showings of the production shows in the Princess Theatre. This is in comparison to the old system of having two 45-minute shows. This seems to work out quite well, as it gives more flexibility during your evening. A very enjoyable activity was the behind-the-scenes tour of the theatre. We got to talk to some of the cast members, and to see how the lifts and changing areas are laid out. It is impressive what they are able to do. We enjoyed the music on board, ranging from the string quartet in the Atrium to the disco at Skywalkers. The production show that we saw was fun and energetic. I also went to the Future Cruise Consultants presentation and was impressed that she was knowledgeable, and provided good information, without the "hard sell" atmosphere I have experienced on other lines. I had some questions for her afterwards about the Amazon, and was glad to hear that she had actually been there, and had first-hand knowledge. Food & Dining: We very much enjoyed the food on board. We had anytime dining, and our group tried a variety of the four available dining rooms. Pizza at the pizza restaurant in the Atrium was excellent, and since the International Cafe is on the same deck it is easy to walk over, pick up a dessert, and bring it back to the pizza restaurant to finish up your meal! Even with Anytime dining, we got to know some of the waiters, and they fun and gave great service. Servers in the bars were also great, remembering us and being friendly and attentive. Sterling Steakhouse had very good food, and was worth the additional $20 each in our opinion. The "restaurant" is actually just an area of the Horizon Court Buffet which has been blocked off, and table clothes added, but it was still nice, and our table by the window allowed us to watch the ocean as we enjoyed our delicious steaks. We had the champagne breakfast (delivered to our cabin) one morning, and enjoyed that. Cabin: We had a BA -- Balcony cabin on the Caribe deck. This is the top of the range of balconies. The advantage of this is a cabin which has a balcony which is larger and is half covered and half uncovered. We found this very helpful when it was raining in Glacier Bay. The location of the cabin midships, which means less motion is felt. This can be significant, if you have someone in your group who is prone to motion sickness. Our cruise did experience some motion both during our first sea days after leaving Whittier, and also in the passage between Ketchikan and the entrance to the strait east of Vancouver Island. I would definitely recommend a balcony cabin for Alaska. On our Glacier Bay day it was raining and passengers with ocean view or insides were either braving the elements on the upper decks, trying to find space on the promenade deck, or packed into public spaces with windows. The cabin was a bit tight for two of us. More storage space, in the form of shelves in the cabin itself, would have been welcome. There was plenty of space to hang clothes, and a shelf running above the space for hanging clothes. There was also shelving inside a separate closet. The bathroom is small, but adequate for two people for a week. The shower is quite small, and women in our group said that it was difficult to shave their legs. Our cabin steward (Chris) was very good. He provided good service, without being intrusive. Other Aspects of the Trip: I mentioned MUTS (Movies Under the Stars) above. This is a very large movie screen, with equally large speakers, mounted outdoors in the center of the ship. We could hear some noise from this when we were on our deck (Caribe), which was not welcome when trying to just enjoy the view of the ocean, but the really annoying thing about this system was when we were in the passage just north of Vancouver Island. We saw pack of Orcas and other wildlife, and the Captain was giving updates from the bridge. We were having a final-evening party at a bar in the midships area, and could not hear the Captain's announcements due to the noise from MUTS. We asked several crew members if the volume could be turned down, but were told that only the Cruise Director could do this. I checked both decks where MUTS could be viewed, and no one was watching it! All eyes were turned outwards, watching the wildlife. This was very disappointing. Sea Days: Our ship left Whittier on Saturday evening, and arrived at Hubbard Bay on Sunday afternoon. In Hubbard the presence of some fairly fast moving ice kept us from getting too close to the glacier, but we still had good views. We left at Hubbard on Sunday evening, and arrived at Glacier Bay entrance at approximately 9:30 AM on Monday, where we took three National Park Service Rangers on board. We spent the day cruising up to Margerie Glacier, arriving at approximately 1:30 PM. Due to thick fog during the time in Glacier Bay, we did not get to see the spectacular scenery. We also did not stop at the second glacier on the way out, due to visibility. This is a risk you take if you decide to go later in the season. The people on board the week before us had spectacular weather, so you just can't tell. Shore Excursions: Our trip had three port stops: Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan. We had privately organized group activities in Skagway and Juneau. In Ketchikan we each did our own thing. In Skagway, we went with Chilkoot Charters Van and Train excursion to the Yukon. Our small van was much more nimble than the larger buses which people who were on Princess excursions were on. We got to make more stops, and the itinerary was more flexible. The cost was also less. The driver (Mike) was excellent, with lots of local knowledge. We had been told that the road up to the Yukon was a winding pass, but we did not think it was bad. One of our group had chosen not to do the excursion for that reason, but we felt that it probably would have been OK for her. It was foggy and damp in Skagway, but cleared out to be a beautiful day once we got to the higher elevations. We had lunch at the Carcross dog sled attraction, which is clearly set up for tourists, but it was fun never the less. In Juneau we went whale watching with Harv and Marvs. Our group had its own boat, which was wonderful. Again, a smaller group experience than was had by those on the ship's excursions. Our skipper and the on board naturalist were both excellent. Again, cold and foggy weather with a choppy sea. Definitely bring layers of warm clothing. Conclusions: This was an excellent trip. All of us in our group were impressed with Princess, and with the service we had received on board. If I was to do the trip again, I would probably book for July or August since the weather is the thing which disappointed us most. The scenery in Alaska is spectacular, but is best experienced in the sun! Read Less
Sail Date September 2012
Background: Mom / Daughter travel team. I, the DD, wanted to show my mom Alaska, before she gets too old to endure the trying travels of an Alaskan 9 day land package and 7 day cruise. Alaska is not an easy vacation...if you do the shore ... Read More
Background: Mom / Daughter travel team. I, the DD, wanted to show my mom Alaska, before she gets too old to endure the trying travels of an Alaskan 9 day land package and 7 day cruise. Alaska is not an easy vacation...if you do the shore excursions! Worth the effort but far from just kicking back in the Caribbean! We were booked in the Grand Suite, September 1, 2012, just for reference purposes. Weather was basically horrible (rain, fog, wind) the entire 7 days. The very last day, debark day, was nice! Glacier Bay was socked in with fog...total disappointment. Visibility was about 3 feet, at best, most of the day. Boo hoo! Embarkation: We embarked in Whittier. There was no line for suite guests, so we had the 'pleasure' of waiting nearly 30 minutes. Not the end of the world, but Princess states that a priority check in is part of what a full suite guest is paying for. At check in, the Princess rep informed my mom that she did not 'exist'. Not good! Then, after we got a supervisor involved (and yes, we had all of our boarding documents pre-printed and in hand, so we most definitely DID exist!), we discovered that either Princess or our TA, had my mom classified as a Mr. instead of a Ms. or Mrs... This was a fairly big deal, that added another wrinkle to an already challenging embarkation. Finished up with security and voila! We were on board and headed to the Grand Suite. It is on deck 11, completely aft. Normally, I enjoy an aft view, but for the purpose of wildlife viewing, a side balcony would have been much, much better. Grand Suite: In a word... PERFECT! The only improvements that Princess should make to this wonderful layout is a 2nd toilet. We were only a party of two, but I know that a lot of large groups reserve this suite. A true 2nd bath, like most of the other major lines offer, would make the suite perfect! The bed linens were very good. The master suite bed was a bit FIRM, but with an egg crate topper, things were better. I had the sofa bed and our wonderful steward, Roel, put a TempurPedic (or Tempur-Like!) pad on the sofa bed for me. Wonderful! Warning for future grand suite guests...the shower STINKS! No, I don't mean that it's bad (quite the contrary with its 9 jets!)...I literally mean it smells like the oldest, nastiest kitchen sponge you could ever imagine. Be prepared! Also, there is a small pillow menu. Be sure to look for it in your 'Suite Benefits' book. It is sort of hidden but is definitely there. For room service, please note that you can order basically ANYTHING that is offered on the ship. Just be nice when speaking to the operator and she will work hard to make you happy. If there is something specific you want for breakfast, just write it in on the door hang tag. It will be brought without question. Like I stated earlier, staying in a suite definitely makes for a nice experience. TV: In a word... AWFUL! Since this is a very big election time for our country, we were interested in following the news. Not going to happen on Princess. They could never keep any of the national cable news channels going. Now, you will be relieved to know that they were able to keep the annoying Princess 'sales pitch' channels running at all times! Seriously, if we could get cable news more than 1 full day, it was cause for celebration! Breakfast in Sabatinis: Wonderful! This is a wonderful perk that Princess offers its' full suite guests. The brioche french toast is truly Heaven! More! I want more! Unlimited internet is GONE for suite guests and this is a shame! Princess 'replaced' the perk with a complimentary night in a cover charge restaurant. This is no replacement! I hope that Princess brings back this benefit, as it was one of our deciding factors when selecting which line we were going to spend our 'suite' dollars on! Room Steward: I normally do not have good Room Stewards and sit and stew in my own envy, over the cruisers that constantly brag about how they wanted to adopt or kidnap their stewards... Not this time! Roel, our room steward, was truly amazing! He made our 7 days wonderful...greeting us every day with a giant smile, rushing to open our stateroom door when he would see us walking down the hall, offering to help us unpack, etc..etc...All requests were met with a big smile and the word 'no' did not ever happen! Food: We ate in Sterling Steakhouse for dinner... C+ at best. Waiter (Christian) was argumentative, food was only so-so, service (not including the arguing!) was OK, but honestly, I have had better at Denny's! Also, what's up with putting a 'high end' steakhouse in the Horizon Court Buffet area? I guess that us dumb passengers are just toooooo stupid to know da difference, huh? Our friends had a dinner at Sabatinis and said that it was soooooo much better, on all fronts, than Sterling. Horizon Court Buffet: I give it a strong "B" grade. Food was not very hot, salad bar selection could be better...but all in all, no one went to bed hungry. I will give Princess high marks for always having the buffet open, breakfast/lunch/dinner. When we would return from a busy shore excursion day at 3:00 PM, unlike Celebrity, there was plenty of food for us to select from. Entertainment: The singers/dancers on Princess were excellent! Costumes were in good shape and you could tell that the performers had practiced their routines thoroughly. The jugglers tried hard, but were just 'flat'. The one juggler that performed sword swallowing merely grossed out the audience and ALL of us hated it! The illusionist played to a standing room only crowd, so that gives you an idea how truly GREAT he was. The bands around the ship were barely OK to truly awful. When walking by the bars at night, you would cringe when hearing the sounds being sung by various performers. Not all were terrible, but overall, it was just bad... The classical music/piano being performed in the Piazza was lovely and well done. Casino: Smokey! Ick! Another shameful moment for Princess! Casino must be non-smoking or patrons will simply not stay there. I refuse to play the uber tight slot machines and get lung cancer! No thanks! Based on the tightness of the machines and their lack of payouts, this would be a losing proposition, for certain! Debarkation: Shame on you, Princess! So many of our friends had their trips nearly ruined thanks to the way that your porters treated their luggage! So many broken bottles of wine in their clothes.... expensive pieces of luggage destroyed... Why must the porters be so rough? Is it really necessary? Porters will keep on until NO ONE will tip them, ever again. Personally, after seeing my FUL duffel (if you have seen these Duffels at Costco and the hard core way they are constructed to stand up to any abuse, you will understand why this is a big deal) destroyed by Princess, I am probably DONE tipping these porter jerks! If they take my money and then still destroy my luggage/belongings, then they can play someone else for a fool. I'm done! The laundry room was very busy on the 1st night with people desperate to wash the wine from their clothes. Sad.... The debark process is OK, but if Princess isn't going to allow us off the ship until 9:45 AM, then why kick us out of cabin (that we paid for!) at 8 AM? Senseless... Give us at least until 9 AM to not be going like a frog in a blender, on such a busy day. Yes, I know that the rooms have to be cleaned and turned around, but other lines allow 9 AM so Princess can, too. Summary of thoughts: Princess does a lot of things right, and as with anything, has room for improvement on others. The food was better on this cruise, than on previous cruises. Entertainment, overall, was a strong 'B'. Suite was wonderful! Wish the balcony would wrap a bit, around the side, in order to not ONLY have an aft view. On board shopping has gone downhill. Merchandise is becoming more and more super high end. Who the heck goes on vacation to purchase a $100 Tommy Hilfiger shirt? What happened to the more reasonably priced items in the shirt's clothing/general merchandise store? Will I sail Princess again? Maybe to probably.... I prefer Celebrity and I constantly heard while on board, that HAL gives a much better experience, so my first vacation/cruise dollars would most likely go to one of those lines. Read Less
Sail Date September 2012
We have travelled on Carnival three times and loved it! Usually there newest ship, the latest being lasy sept. in the Medditeranean on the Magic. We chose Princess at our agents reccommendation as they are rated as number one for Alaska ... Read More
We have travelled on Carnival three times and loved it! Usually there newest ship, the latest being lasy sept. in the Medditeranean on the Magic. We chose Princess at our agents reccommendation as they are rated as number one for Alaska cruises. We booked the land add-on pre-cruise with a night in Anchorage, a night at Mckinley Lodge, and two nights in Denali with a 9 hour train back to Whittier. The land portion was a highlight! I would suggest if you are going it should be mandatory! Made the rest anti-climatic. Beautiful Lodges, Great views and country and the train dropped us of in front of the ship, you miss a lot by not not doing this! The Sapphire Princess itself is a nice and somewhat classier ship decor wise than Carnival. The rooms were much smaller than Carnival, first thing I noticed walking in was the smallness, Carnival has room for a couch and coffee table in all Balcony rooms here you could barely walk around the bed let alone have a sofa at the foot! Carnival has the convenience of looking at your sail card balances and purchases on your in-room T.V., You can also book last minute tours with a click of the remote and even preview the tour by watching a video of it! On Princess your statement comes the morning you disembark! How do you remember what or when you made a purchase? the only option was to line up at the desk or go to a kiosk and print off a copy ahead of time. Seems small but it was an unexpected inconvenience I assumed all ships hwould have the technology. Next were the captains announcements, although rooms and baths were wired with speakers, no announcements came over them. Another really dumb and inconvenient decision. If you had the tv on and were lucky enough to think you heard talking in the hall you would run for the door and open it to hear the last part of the announcement, while waving at everyone else in the hall wearing your towell! Speaking of towells, if you wanted a robe you had to call and order one, they werent provided in the room otherwise. On Carnival, all three ships, our room stewards knew when we dined and always did the room then, we never seen him it was always done when we returned. On This cruise we were told to put our "please service room" card on the door handle when out. We would go out a couple hours, come back, still not cleaned. It was really not a well run department. On carnival we would get one free bag of wash done, not so here, although it isnt expected. But when you book a 4 or 5 night pre-cruise package if anytime it would be appreciated it would be now. The dining room service was very lackluster! and everyone we met agreed so it wasn't just our waiters. I have to say on Carnival if one person asked for oil to dip bread in one bight, every night after it was already on the table when you arrived. On Princess we would order a bottle of white wine with Dinner and every night we would arrive and the half bottle was nowhere to be found, we were asked nightly if we had any leftover, we said yes, then they got it. This was a real dissapointment! Not once, but every night. So much for service. So overall the cruise itself was a dissapointment. But the land portion was amazing! Read Less
Sail Date September 2012
The Sapphire Princess is a lovely ship that has many amenities available without additional charges. For example, you can use the spa changing facilities which includes the large showers, lockers, steam rooms, hot tub, and secluded adult ... Read More
The Sapphire Princess is a lovely ship that has many amenities available without additional charges. For example, you can use the spa changing facilities which includes the large showers, lockers, steam rooms, hot tub, and secluded adult pool for no charge. If you want to use the hot beds in the Serenity area it is an additional $99.00 for the week; I did choose this option and enjoyed the peace and quiet but would have been happy knowing that you don't have to pay extra to use many of the facilities. The International cafe is open 24 hours and has really excellent food....no extra charges for the meals there or for the very wonderful deserts! Try the peanut butter chocolate mouse! Twice the ship had a special pub lunch which includes fish and chips/Scottish eggs/Shepherd's Pie/Chicken Curry, check the princess patter for those days. The casino staff will take the time to teach you how to play the table games.......take advantage of their expertise...it's free. The library has a number of games to play, be sure to bring your Mah Jongg card; they organize games for the guests and have several sets available. Bring a book and take a book exchanges were also available in the library. Avoid the specialty coffee because the Sapphire has the best "free" coffee I've had on ANY of my 26 cruises. Don't worry about "run of the mill" food on the Lido deck, it's excellent! Especially if you don't want to do the formal nights in the regular dining rooms, this is a very pleasant option. This is a ship that you can easily have a wonderful vacation and not break the bank Read Less
Sail Date September 2012
Let me start by saying that my husband and I have cruised quite a bit both by ourselves, with friends and family. Living in Florida, we taken advantage of the convenience of cruising without much planning or hassle. That being said ... Read More
Let me start by saying that my husband and I have cruised quite a bit both by ourselves, with friends and family. Living in Florida, we taken advantage of the convenience of cruising without much planning or hassle. That being said taking a cruise to Alaska is one of those things that has been on my bucket list. l love to watch National Geographic, Discovery Channel or any thing affiliated with nature. So Alaska and the Glaciers was something that we were really looking forward too. I planned the trip and my husband's brother and sister-in-law met us there from DC. We took the land portion of the cruise first for 6 days starting in Fairbanks, which was wonderful. I would highly recommend if anyone goes all that way, to try and take the land portion with Princess. The scenery, rustic lodging and excursions are well worth the extra money and time. Now on with our cruise. the day before we arrive in Whittier, we heard that they weather may be bad for the 1st day of our cruise. Having been in rough seas before, I was prepared and had my dramamine close by. Winds and a down pour started out our arrival on the ship. We were to take off at 11 the evening and our group was one of the last ones to arrive. I had a feeling that we may be leaving late but when the captain came on and informed us that not only would we be leaving late but we would be staying over another night in Anchorage and would not be leaving until 11 the next night. This seemed pretty strange to me that we would already know the need to leave so late. But it all became clear with the next announcement saying that tours would be offered in Anchorage the following day (who in their right mind would want to go in pouring cold rain) and because we were leaving so late, we would be missing both days (2) of the glaciers. Which meant our Glacier Cruise was now Glacier-less!! I completely understand about safety but to cancel both days for leaving one day late without even giving the weather a chance to clear up irritated me to say the least. And then to make matters worse he made it a point to let us know we would not be missing any of the ports (tourist paying excursions) As it turned out, the sun came out about 3 the next afternoon but since all the passengers had been told they didn't need to be on the ship until 9 p.m. we could not leave and sat at port. I have traveled on Princess many, many times and I really can't remember being so irritated in the "name of safety". Now for the good news.....we loved our mini-suite. We have always booked a balcony but decided to upgrade to a mini-suite balcony (for those sight seeing glaciers). I don't think the mini-suite is that much bigger than a normal balcony but that extra room really makes a difference. It was clean and the beds were very comfortable!! Our room steward was great as well. It was pretty cold for us Floridians so my husband enjoyed the balcony more than me. Thank heavens I signed up for excursion or we would have not even seen a small glacier. My favorite excursion was a photo/whale watching trip. The professional photographer helped everyone with their cameras and took so much time with us. The excursion is limited so there were just 12 of us and we saw lots of whales!! Back to the ship....we had second setting and very much enjoyed our meals and waiter. We had planned on going to a specialty restaurant but never felt the need. I love the speciality coffee and goody area in the center of the ship and love to listen to the musicians. The ship is very clean and someone always is working on something to keep the appearance of the ship up. They work so hard on the ships I give them all the credit for making our week so relaxing and enjoyable. We were so busy once the boat left the dock that we didn't have a lot of time to go to all the activities they offer but if you have never taken a cruise and like to stay busy, this is the vacation for you. Or you can just kick back, read a book and enjoy the quiet. We arrived in Vancouver and had about 6 hours for our flight so we took a tour of the city which I really enjoyed. I wish that we would have stayed over another night. If we hadn't taken the land tour as well, I think I would have been really upset that our Glacier Cruise was Glacier-less but seeing the beautiful sights on land help a bit. But I will never be convinced that the additional day of missing the Glaciers was not based on economics. We could have easily skipped a port to see a glacier since they were both on the same path!! Read Less
Sail Date September 2012
We booked a cruisetour with Princess, and after a week of touring and traveling were eager to board the ship and relax. Embarkation was handled very efficiently and went quickly. The first two days were at sea, a great way to relax and ... Read More
We booked a cruisetour with Princess, and after a week of touring and traveling were eager to board the ship and relax. Embarkation was handled very efficiently and went quickly. The first two days were at sea, a great way to relax and begin the southbound trip. Our suite was spacious and our steward, Raul, was very courteous and attentive. The strangest thing we encountered, was the way the bed was dressed. There was only a bottom sheet and duvet...no top sheet. Towels were plentiful and luxurious, nice bathroom amenities. Princess lacks the large, 2 story diningroom we were accustomed to on Holland America. Their dining options were smaller, themed restaurants. Since we chose the early seating, we were assigned to Vivaldi. After requesting a move to the International Diningroom, we were given a nice table at a window. The wait staff seemed friendly and we looked forward to seeing them each night. The food, however, was rather mediocre. The steak was chewy and some of the other preparations were not as well prepared as they could have been. Comparing it to the dining experience on Holland America, it was definitely not as enjoyable. We had one breakfast in the Horizon Court--not a good experience--and decided to get up early enough to eat in the International Diningroom that served breakfast until 9:00 AM. We could have had breakfast in Sabatino's since we were in a suite, but our friends would not have been included, so we chose to eat with them. We did have tea delivered to our suite, and that was very nice. The pizza restaurant in the piazza was wonderful! Great homemade pizza. Drinks were extra, and they even tried to charge for a milkshake at the ice cream bar on the pool deck! The musical shows were not that good, so after the first night, we chose to miss the remaining two programs. We did enjoy the ventriloquist and magician. The groups playing in some of the lounges were definitly not worth the time, with the exception of the duo that seemed versatile enough to do an Eagles and Beatles tribute as well as sing a variety of "oldies" and country in the different locations throughout the ship. We tried to hear them each night. The Casino is a poor excuse for a cruise ship casino. They permit smoking in the casino, which seems to be the gathering place for everyone who wants to smoke since the rest of the ship is non-smoking. The casino is directly behind the passenger service desk, and the smoke invades this entire area and much of the piazza when the casino is in operation. There are very few slots and table games,along with a very tired apprearance, so the area definitely seems like an afterthought. We did use the spa, and felt it was not only very expensive, but the services were not as good as we expected. The pedicurist seemed very uninterested in her work, was rather rough, and seemed eager to finish her tour and return home to Jamaica! We cruised Alaska with Holland America several years ago, and the crowd on Princess is younger with quite a few children. We chose Princess primarily because of their offerings on the land portion of the cruisetour. The weather was great and we could get quite close to the glaciers. We spent quite a bit of time on the balcony. We did enjoy our week, but will definitely book with another line when cruising in the future. Read Less
Sail Date August 2012
After writing my whole review, I would agree with everything reviewer ckellyne said so I will not repeat it again. Only differences: We took the cruisetour (one night Mt. McKinley, two nights Denali and 7 night cruise to Vancouver) and ... Read More
After writing my whole review, I would agree with everything reviewer ckellyne said so I will not repeat it again. Only differences: We took the cruisetour (one night Mt. McKinley, two nights Denali and 7 night cruise to Vancouver) and the weather was rainy, in the 50s and gloomy every day (first two weeks of August 2012). This, of course, is not Princess' fault. We just picked the worst 11 days ever to go but can't predict that. Pros: The ship is beautiful, the cabins are as comfortable as our home. The beds are great with two pillows for each person and the storage is fantastic. Even thought lots of cabinets and drawers, you can store a lot under the bed. The temperature in the room is adjustable and was very comfortable. We had five couples in a row and all had connecting balconies which was great! We had a cabin midship up and midship across which was a perfect location (Caribe Level). Cons: We wish they had more activities for older people in the afternoons. Seems like a lot of things we went to turned out to be people trying to sell us something. I wish there was a lot less of that and more activities. The entertainment was kind of high schoolish but the singers and dancers were good. Over all, the Princess Sapphire is a great ship! Read Less
Sail Date August 2012
First Princess & Alaskan cruise for me & wife. Wife's sister also joined us, her second, for a flight into Anchorage and five days of self-touring the area before a bus transfer to Whitter and boarding. Were dropped off right ... Read More
First Princess & Alaskan cruise for me & wife. Wife's sister also joined us, her second, for a flight into Anchorage and five days of self-touring the area before a bus transfer to Whitter and boarding. Were dropped off right at the dock and was on ship within the hour with no problems. Stayed on Dolphin deck in a mini-suite which was plenty of space for the three of us. Outside balcony was great for viewing wildlife and snow covered mountains sailing through the passages. Had early seating in the dinning room which worked good for attending shows and early too bed for busy days. Food in the dining room was OK, but I would only give it average at best. The buffet was just as good and sometimes better for dinner as we ate there for breakfast and lunch with snacks throughout the day & evening. Skagway we rented a car for a drive up to Canada which went really well. There are limited amount of cars available and would plan ahead if this is for you. Juneau we did whale watching with a private company on a small boat, there were five of us, which was the high-lite of the trip. Self guided tour in Ketchikan which was also easy as they have a free bus that loops around the tourist area. Disembarkation was easy in Vancouver as we carried our luggage off for a transfer to the rental car agency and drive down to Seattle. A few pointers, rental car rates in Anchorage are cheaper downtown versus airport due to taxes. Our first time with Princess and missed the 24 hour ice cream that we had on Carnival. Scenic trip on The Alaskan Railroad down to Seward was great for viewing wildlife and snow covered mountains. Overall "Great" time as we had very little rain and can't wait to go back. Read Less
Sail Date July 2012
My wife and I have a number of friends or acquaintances we have met over the years in awe regarding the Alaskan cruise they took. This is a "big" destination for us, as we live in Atlanta and it is a long trip and major ... Read More
My wife and I have a number of friends or acquaintances we have met over the years in awe regarding the Alaskan cruise they took. This is a "big" destination for us, as we live in Atlanta and it is a long trip and major "investment" to take a trip like this. After reading the reviews from other cruisers and critics, we decided on a few "major" criteria items: 1) A balcony is a must, because of the spectacular views it was well worth the money to get the balcony for Glacier Bay National Park as well as each of the ports and while cruising at sea. It is far better than viewing through a window; 2) Start north, and cruise south - a read a critic review that the beauty is so incredible that if you start south and cruise north you end up having a let down as the beauty of the mountain / glacier landscapes is stunning and you have to "stop" and get off the ship. Cruising north to south (starting in Whittier, AK and cruising south to Vancouver (with a cruise day in Glacier Bay National Park) starts you off with spectacular views and then as you near civilization e.g. Vancouver, you are able to transition more easily; 3) select a cruise window of mid-July to mid-August since the cost of this trip was going to be high, we wanted to minimize the risk of "colder" weather as well as biting insects. Our itinerary was fly into Anchorage and do a 3 day land package first. We stayed at the Captain Cook hotel for one night, we continued our land tour to overnight at the Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge and one night at Denali Princess Lodge in Denali via motor coach "bus". We then boarded a train from Denali National Park to Whittier, AK where our ship was a short walk away. The land tour went very smoothly and I would encourage anyone that has the time to take advantage of it. We did not take the extra day or two to go further to Fairbanks, and I'm glad we did not. We met several people on the cruise and I asked them the tell all question, "would you return to Fairbanks if given the opportunity?" Everyone we met that went to Fairbanks said "no", not worth the trip. Very small, not much going on, VERY rustic (more than Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge and Denali Princess Lodge. I would spend the time to go deep into Denali National Park on tours to see the wildlife vs. traveling to Fairbanks. The train from Denali to Whittier was about 8.5 hours, yep - 8.5 hours! From Fairbanks, I believe someone stated it was closer to 12 hours. The train is very comfortable, you are assigned a train car and a table so no need to rush to get a seat as one will be assigned to you/your party and you are seated at table that has a bench seat on each side to accommodate 2 people each. The one thing I would suggest to you is to be sure you are seated in the direction the train is moving vs. watching the landscape pass you facing the back of the train. This is ESPECIALLY critical for anyone who suffers from motion sickness who must face forward when they travel. Thus, if this is important you'll want to board the train as soon as possible and claim your seat at the assigned table first. Keep your eyes open for moose, we say about 6 of them and you are more likely to see them within the first 2 hours of the train ride. The train has a dining car and the food was very good, it was not "fast food" quality at all. You are able to freely move from car to car on the train if you would like. With a train ride that long, you'll want to stretch your legs for sure and want to be sure you bring a camera, reading material, cards, or other games especially if you have children. The storage you have on the train for carry-on's is one small bag that you can store under each of your bench seats. One of the benefits of booking the tour with the land package through Princess was that they actually check you in for the ship on the train. In Wasilla (en route to Whittier), the train boards several Princess cruise line staff who will spend the next hour or so checking in each passenger for the ship. You'll want to have your passports and cruise itinerary with the booking code available for them to reference. Once they are done your cruise "credit card" for each passenger, cruise packet will be waiting for you the minute you arrive in Whittier. When the train stops in Whittier, another Princess Cruise Line employee will board each train car and begin handing each person their cruise credit card and packet. Once you receive that you can immediately leave the train while others are receiving theirs --- so you walk steps away to the canopy and follow the directional signs onto the ship. You'll pass through 2 security checkpoints, two before you are physically on the ship which includes a cruise credit card check, security scan of bags / metal objects, and then once you are on the ship you'll show your cruise credit card again where the security officer will then take a photo of you to associate with your personalized cruise card. All of this happened in less than 3 minutes, as there was NO line for my wife and I since we were the first ones off the train (luckily we were assigned to sit at the first table so were given our packets first). When planning our trip, my wife and I could not decide on Anytime Dining or Traditional Dining. Originally we booked Traditional, 2nd seating but then decided to do Anytime Dining since we were on vacation and did not want to have a rigid time for dinner every night. Additionally, we enjoy meeting people and wanted to mix it up so we could meet new couples, etc. This worked out well, we met so many couples and made numerous new friends throughout the trip. Each evening, we would see what the ship's itinerary was for the next day and then pick a time to have dinner and made a reservation via the cabin phone. We never had a problem and ate dinner at a different restaurant every night, including The Pacific Moon, The Santa Fe, The Savoy, The Vivaldi, Sterling Steakhouse and Sabatini's. The Sterling Steakhouse and Sabatini's was FANTASTIC (both require a $20 per person cover charge). The other 4 restaurants had terrific service (no issues at all), the food in those restaurants on a scale of 1 to 10 has about an 7/8 which works for us. Sabatini's and the Sterling Steakhouse was a 9/10. We also had lunch at Alfredo's Pizzeria --- it was fabulous, do not miss out on that! For breakfast, we ordered room service a few times where you can order cereal, pastries, coffee, juice, fruit, yogurt, and an egg/bacon breakfast sandwich. This worked out well when we had early starts for shore tours, the rest of the time we ate breakfast in the Horizon Court buffet where you could custom order your own omelet if desired. **Navigating on the ship** One tip I would have is to figure out how far down the hallway from your cabin you need to walk until you can go directly up to the restaurants, clubs, etc. It took a few days to learn this, but the ship has areas where you can not just walk end-to-end on each deck. Some decks require you to go up one deck, down, then back up again to get to your destination depending on what you are looking for if you try to go end to end. Thus, my wife and i learned it was best for us to always walk to the start of the last third of the ship and then take the stairs (assuming the venue we were seeking was toward the back of the ship which most are). We almost always landed exactly where we wanted to. We also ALWAYS took the stairs, there are plenty of calorie opportunities on the ship so the last thing we needed to use was an elevator. That was part of our daily exercise regiment if you are well enough to do so you might wish to do the same. **Exercise on the ship** I learned this on the next to last day, so here is a heads up for you joggers / walkers that like to start you day with exercise. The ship has an exercise facility in the front of the ship near Lotus Spa with a wide assortment of weight machines, treadmills, etc. However, if you are a power walker or jogger the place you want to go to is Deck 7 and Deck 8. Deck 7 allows you to powerwalk around 3/4's of the ship and from Deck 7 as you near the front of the ship has steps to allow you to go up and walk the front 1/4 of the ship then back down the steps again to Deck 7. It is posted if walk around decks 7/8 3 times this = 1 mile. My wife and I LOVED this track, we both wore sweatshirts and my wife wore sweatpants, hat and gloves whereas I wore shorts and the nippy air doesn't bother me as much. We found this to be much more enjoyable and we had the best view in the world as it was covered and we could enjoy sights, see an occasional whale, sea lions, etc. as we were walking. I ended up power walking 5 miles, and could have gone 10 more since you enjoy the sights so much and the cool air keeps you from overheating while power walking. I used the exercise equipment also, but would take the Deck 7/8 power walking route exclusively next time. We did the White Pass rail trip which was very nice in Skagway, we did the Whale Watching and Salmon Bake in Juneau which was excellent - the whale watching is a must! We also did the float plane mountain tour and crabfeast which was very enjoyable in Ketchikan. On this, I wish we did the float plane bear tour vs. the floatplane mountain tour as you really don't get to see anything much different from what you have already seen when touring the mountains except you are in a small plane. Go for the bears! Also, while in Ketchikan walk down to the city centre where the water ladder is and the salmon swim upstream, it is fantastic and free. Ask a local, it is about 2 blocks from where the ship docks. Look up at the top of the trees above the waterfall and you will likely see bald eagles ready to fly down and scoop up one of the salmon. Ports I would go back and visit if I had the opportunity were Juneau and Ketchikan. We felt both of these ports had much more going on, more to do and atmosphere. Did I mention Jewelry stores? Get ready, there are a TON OF THEM! We understood that the jewelers are predominately from the Caribbean and come up during the hurricane season to operate these satellite stores. They are EVERYWHERE! We attend several of the shows and enjoyed each of them. There were just right, long enough but not too long where you start to wondering when the show will end so you can do other things that evening. *** High Tea *** We became fast fans of high tea as we met a number of very interesting people and enjoyed fantastic small pastries, cookies, and club sandwiches . Try this at least one afternoon, don't get off the cruise until you give this one a try. It is very UNDER-RATED and easily missed. That was our experience, I hope you enjoy yours as much as we did ours! Read Less
Sail Date July 2012
Despite some issues and glitches along the way, we had a wonderful experience. Our group consisted of 9 Family and friends (2 children and 7 adults)who ranged in age from 9 to 59....We also had 2 balcony suites and 2 inside cabins. Our ... Read More
Despite some issues and glitches along the way, we had a wonderful experience. Our group consisted of 9 Family and friends (2 children and 7 adults)who ranged in age from 9 to 59....We also had 2 balcony suites and 2 inside cabins. Our trip began with a very long flight into Anchorage and we were met at the airport by a Princess Rep. Because of such a late arrival, which was not planned (notorious flight delays and plane problems) we were unable to do much touring or site seeing in Anchorage. We did not purchase the land portion of the princess cruise package because of the length of the entire trip. The adults in our group are all professionals and working, so the "extra" land days were not convenient for us. Hopefully we will do that at another juncture. In talking with others on the ship who had been on the "land" portion of the trip, we made the right decision. Our trip from Anchorage to Whittier was aboard a train and it was very enjoyable. It was not crowded and we could move about very easily, constantly looking for wildlife along the tracks. We spotted several Moose crossings. the rail transfer to the ship was part of the "Hotel Captain Cook & Rail" package. I found it to be a bit expensive, but considering it was rather effortless in the transfer for all of us, I guess you get what you paid for. When we departed the Hotel Captain Cook, the lobby was full of confused and anxious cruise passengers, not really sure who to look for or where to go next. Luckily, our experience was organized and went very smoothly. Upon arriving in Whittier, we off-loaded the train and walked almost immediately into a "check-in" line. There were no lines since our train group was the first to arrive, and the walk through Security and on to the boat took less than 30 minutes in total. Later in the afternoon we overheard other passengers talking about the long check-in lines and subsequent long waits to get through security. So in essence, the higher priced "Hotel/Rail" package was worth it.....enjoyable train ride and early boarding. We were in our staterooms by 12:45 p.m. and at 7:00 we witnessed some passengers still boarding. The food was "ok" for the most part. Nothing spectacular, with the exception of the Sterling Steak House and any and all of the desserts. The breakfast buffet was ok, but there is not really a great way to jazz up breakfast for the masses. The fruit was great! It was consistent and always fresh. We are "southerners" and we like our "down home" breakfasts...and the omelets were made to order and very good. Lunch was a challenge most days. The International Dining Room was open at lunch for everyone, including those who had selected "Anytime Dining"(which meant us). The menu selection was ok, and the hamburger was very good, but ordering a hamburger on a cruise just doesn't seem right. The evening meals were again...ok. There was a "theme" each evening, and the menu was basically the same in each dining room. The most outstanding meal, outside of the Sterling Steak House, would have to have been the Italian Night in the Vavalde Dining Room. The Waitstaff in that room is EXCEPTIONAL. There were some attitude issues with the waitstaff in the Savoy Dining Room and I would not recommended dining there. The Santa Fe was very nice and cordial, but the staff in the Vavalde went beyond what was required to make you feel welcomed and happy. We did not eat in the Pacific Moon, as it was also criticized for waitstaff problems. There are several short order areas around the ship and our kids loved the pizza and ice cream. The ship staff was very annoying on the first day in their attempts to sell "soda cards" to each and every passenger. At our first meal on the ship shortly after we boarded, we were asked 4 times during the course of the meal to purchase this soda card. We were asked by 4 different waiters. I finally told them to please allow me to finish my meal and not to ask again. I found that very unpleasant made a comment on my comment card. It is so amazing that a ship can serve you such expensive foods, with no regard to the cost or quantity, especially since your meals are inclusive, and charge you for fountain drinks! I can't quite understand the reasoning. Also, if you enjoy a nice cocktail or a nice glass of wine, also be prepared to pay a rather steep price. Your cost has an automatic 15% gratuity added to your bill. I also found that the prices for cocktails varied from bar to bar, which according to the cruise information, should not have been the case. The wine list in each restaurant was consistent, as was the pricing. The wine list was nice. The "Wine Bar" staff manager was great. He obviously enjoyed his job and found pleasure in helping you choose a nice wine. Their tastings were very nice as well, whether a seasoned wine drinker or a novice. Ship activities were OK, but nothing exceptional. I was not impressed with the live shows, but they were entertaining. The best entertainment on the ship was a band called "Indigo" which was leaving the ship at the end of our cruise. That is a shame that future passengers will not get the opportunity to hear their talents. The spa services were also very nice. We had several spa services during our cruise. The casino is nothing out of the ordinary, but did provide some "down time" entertainment. Our group did a variety of excursions from zip lining, hiking, sea plane rides, riding to the summit, and partaking in outdoor shows and salmon bakes. They were all entertaining and fun, with the BEST being the Sea Plane ride over the glaciers and landing in the Takut (spelling ?)River at a lodge at the base of the "hole in the wall" glacier. We dined on BBQ'd "fresh" salmon (just caught that morning and some still in ice chests yet to be cleaned)and some of the best side dishes we ate during our entire trip! We had a very close encounter with a black bear, about 10 feet from us, who was being kept at bay by one of the employees while another was cooking our lunch...grilled salmon. We were told that the bear was not interested in us, only the fish, but the experience of being so close to such a magnificent creature was very surreal. After the salmon was removed from the grill and we went into the lodge to eat, we all witnessed his determination...he went to the grill and proceeded to "lick up" the salmon drippings. It looked like something from a movie. Our excursion ended with another 30 minute plane ride back to Juneau. The plan trip was narrated and we flew over several glaciers that looked incredibly close. Wonderful experience and I would HIGHLY recommend it. All of our rooms were adequate, with nothing outstanding. The beds were a little hard, but we had ample space to move about in the cabin. We have cruised the Caribbean and the boat was larger, but accommodations were basically the same. We did not take this cruise with expectations of staying in our stateroom all of the time, so bigger and better staterooms were not an issue. A balcony room IS the way to go. We enjoyed our balcony and I would HIGHLY recommend paying more for it. The vistas are breathtaking. We had our cabin steward open the balcony door between our staterooms so that we could sit on our balconies together, since two of our staterooms were side by side. It worked out great. The children didn't mind the inside cabins and they were across the hall and were able to enjoy our balcony as well. Our Princess experience was great. I did not go into our glitches, but every trip has them. We travel extensively and this trip was well worth the money spent. Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
Like all things in like, there is generally some good parts and some bad parts. The overall experience is which side outweighed the other. I will start with the good points. The scenic cruising through Hubbard Glacier and Glacier ... Read More
Like all things in like, there is generally some good parts and some bad parts. The overall experience is which side outweighed the other. I will start with the good points. The scenic cruising through Hubbard Glacier and Glacier National Park was simply breathtaking. Because the Margerie Glacier was extremely active the captain allows us to stay in front of it longer. That was definitely the highlight of the trip. The housekeeping staff was impeccable. They were in and out of the room quickly and rarely noticeable. Only one small negative, they need to learn to make towel animals. The casino staff was very friendly and made it a joy to play at the tables and in their tournaments. Now, I will go over the bad points. These overwhelmed the good and made this an experience one I would like to forget. The food was on the level of a Furr's Cafeteria. It was very bland and borderline tasteless. If you like full flavored food, you'll hate the food on any Princess cruise. None of the steaks that I ordered were cooked as I ordered it. They refused to cook my salmon to temperature. Their presentation was lacking and in some cases very unappetizing, especially with their pureed vegetables in a gelatin mold. The food service was slow, inattentive, disorganized, and at some points rude. There were several meals that I thought about walked over to the wait station to fill the water glasses on the table. There were times we sat for a half hour or more with empty plates waiting for the next course to be served. Rarely did they come over to see how we were doing or if we need anything else. At one point, the waiter asked me if I was done with my plate, I say yes, and he left without taking my plate. This happened 2 more times, with the same waiter, before they removed my plate and I nearly bused the table myself. There were also a couple of occasions that they got my order incorrect and it was painful getting their attention to correct it. The cruise staff was not as friendly as previous cruises. On most of my cruises, the thing I remember most is the cruise staff because they go out of their way to make my cruise memorable. On this cruise, my most memorable cruise staff is Casper because I showed up to several events that no cruise staff showed up to organize. At a minimum, they should have sent someone to say that it was canceled. We didn't even get greeted by the cruise staff as we entered the ship. The customer service has been abysmal and it started with booking the trip. I was on the phone for over 3 hours just to book my trip. The Princess representative was very friendly but was severally under-trained. I was constantly put on mute so she could talk to someone else to find out how to do something. During my land excursion, I asked a representative which bus I needed to get on. They sent me to the wrong bus. The organization was horrible and the Princess personnel seemed lost. When to Denali, they got my rooms incorrect. First off, they game me two adjoining rooms when I only needed one. Secondly, it was a room that was already occupied. During the tour from Denali to Whittier, I was told that the bus was better than the train because it'll stop so you can take picture. We sped by a moose on the side of the road, even with the entire bus yelling "MOOSE." We didn't even slow down. We also saw a bear and several other scenic spots. All of which are blurs as we zoomed by them. When my cruise ended, the customer service was still bad. They neglected to send me a survey for feedback on the cruise. I asked customer service to resend it and I still have not received it. I contacted customer service to tell them that I still have not received it, and their response was terse; "Sorry for your disappointment, the survey's were sent on {Date} and resent on {Date} to email address {Email Address}." With this response, they gave no options in remedying the situation. Throughout the cruise there were tons of minor glitches that all add up to making the experience miserable. Little things like not getting your coffee order correct or giving you a look of disgust when you ask them to rinse your refillable cup out before the refill it. I purchased the cruise video. It has a lot of stock video that was not part of the cruise so it probably not truly worth it price. However, regardless of the price, I received a bad copy. It has been over a month now and I still have not gotten a working copy. This cruise was my second with Princess. I would not recommend Princess to anyone. Neither of the Princess cruises were extraordinary. In fact I would not place them in the good category. I know I can generally get a Princess cruise for a cheaper price, especially to Alaska, but you definitely get what you pay for. Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
We decided to start our trip out with a land tour and finish with an Glacier Bay Inside Passage southbound cruise that would end at Vancouver. We chose Princess Cruises because we had read many good reviews of their Alaska tours. Also ... Read More
We decided to start our trip out with a land tour and finish with an Glacier Bay Inside Passage southbound cruise that would end at Vancouver. We chose Princess Cruises because we had read many good reviews of their Alaska tours. Also after reading many reviews we were encouraged to book the land tour and ship and excursions ourselves. This saved some money and we were also able to customize our trip to our personal tastes. It was also a more intimate time for us, going out and discovering this beautiful place on our own. Our planning began over a year in advance which gave us a lot of time to read and research our trip. We found driving the roads to be very easy (be sure to check Alaska driving sites for their particular driving laws. Our land tour started in Anchorage. We picked up a rental car closer to the hotel and away from the airport to save money (also saved money going through my employee discount site several months ahead). On our way to our hotel we saw that the Saturday Market was still going and stopped in. We enjoyed speaking to the locals and seeing their handiwork. We bought some items and went to check in at the Comfort Inn Ship Creek. We chose this hotel because of its proximity to the train station as well as reviews. We found the hotel comfortable and clean and liked having breakfast provided as this saved more money and time (the breakfast was more than ample and tasty). The staff was nice and accommodating, helping us locate a convenient pack-and-ship place and giving us directions as well as directions to some local restaurants, and we loved smelling the complimentary fresh baked cookies each evening when we returned to the hotel. Although salmon season was just starting when we were there, the hotel provides fishing poles to try your hand just outside in Ship Creek. We ate at Orso Restaurant that night, nice atmosphere, good food (I enjoyed the Cashew Crusted Halibut!) and good service. The close parking is scarce unless you want to pay a good bit for the private parking-$10-$12. There is a public parking garage but you have to walk a little farther. The first morning we ate breakfast and checked out and headed on our driving tour of the Mat-Su Valley. We stopped at Eagle River Nature Center-a pretty place where you can walk out over the water on boardwalks and see the fish and get great views of mountains. There are some walking trails as well. Then we headed to Thunderbird Falls, an enjoyable and easy hike (about 30 min) led us to the falls. Beautiful and so peaceful. We continued from there on the Glenn Highway toward the Matanuska Glacier. I recommend a travel guide to fill you in on some of the things you will see on your road trips-my favorite-The Rough Guide to Alaska 2007 version. The scenery along the way was amazing, the glacier, although disappearing fast, was still impressive and there is a little park where you can get out and walk closer to it and get some good pictures. It was suggested by a CC reviewer to drive about 15 minutes after the glacier and we couldn't believe our eyes! We saw some of the most awesome views of our trip-beautiful snow capped mountains, pretty rivers and lakes. Breathtaking! We headed back the way we came and saw our first moose crossing the road in front of us. (Drive safely, a lot of moose get run over in the Mat-Su Valley). We had no problems, however and got onto the Parks Highway headed toward Healy where we would stay for the next 3 nights. We took a side trip into Talkeetna because we had read that some of the best views of Mt. McKinley and the Alaska Range could be seen there. Coming over the hill we saw an amazing view of the range. We couldn't tell which one was McKinley at that time (little did we know that it was covered by clouds then). We drove into a little pullout on the side of the road and took pictures and then continued on our way. Not too long after we spotted the range again and pulled over at a mountain view inn and cafe to get a better look. There we saw McKinley in all of its glory, the clouds had moved away and the sun was shining on the range. There was no mistaking which on was "The High One" this time-it was the most incredible thing I think I had ever seen-we were in awe. We became members of the 30% club (only about 30% of visitors ever get to see McKinley because it is so massive that it makes it own weather system and is often covered by clouds) so glad we did-I will never forget it! That is also a good reason to plan to spend about 3 days there-it will give you better odds of seeing it. We spoke to the owner of the inn-a very pleasant lady-and shopped in her little gift shop. She said that her grandmother had chosen that site to homestead because she thought it was the best view of the mountains. We continued on past Denali National Park and about 10 minutes farther to Healy and Denali Lakeview Inn where we stayed, eating some dinner at Black Diamond Grill on the way in - good variety on the menu, decent food and plenty of it, and nice folks there. We arrived and went up to the Moon Dream room and after unpacking and settling in, opened the curtains to our private balcony that overlooked a lake with the mountains behind it-so tranquil and beautiful. We kept our curtains open all the time so that would be the last view we saw at bedtime and the first when we awoke. The room was clean and very comfortable for 2 people. The next morning we were up bright and early, ate the breakfast that was left in our rooms and headed to Denali National Park for our Tundra Wilderness Tour (the shuttles do not pick up in Healy). This was my husbands favorite activity of the whole trip! Our bus driver gave us instructions about alerting him that we had spotted some wildlife so he could stop and we were on our way. Right away we saw a porcupine, snow-shoe hares, ptarmigans, some moose and baby, caribou, then a little later some Dall sheep right by the park road, a lynx, a grizzly bear and more! We stopped and got out for scenic views as well and bathroom breaks and at the park center where we ate our boxed lunch that was provided as well as water. We headed back an saw some more things although not as much since half of the bus was napping and I think the animals were, too! We both highly recommend this as a must do! We went from our tour to the visitors center near the front of the park and attended the free sled dog demonstration. It was fun seeing how excited the dogs got to pull the sled! The visitor center was worth checking out, too, if you have time. Back to Black Diamond Grill for dinner and to bed (we slept like babies, dreaming of all the things we had seen that day). Up again the next morning, a little more leisurely, eating the breakfast that the breakfast fairies had left in our little frig (micro in room, too). There was fresh fruits, toast and jam, cereal, oatmeal, milk, juice, hot chocolate and coffee and fixings of course and muffins which we took with us sometimes for a snack. Plenty to choose from. Then we headed on our drive to Fairbanks (about 2 hours from Healy and a very easy drive) stopping at the little Healy post office to mail post cards. There was much more gorgeous scenery and enjoyed reading our Rough Guide about different interesting things we would see along the way. When we arrived in Fairbanks we went straight to the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center and got some information on a local camera repair shop-DH had found a spot on his pictures and was very distressed! Fix Camera took good care of him! The visitor center was where we would also meet for our segway tour of downtown with EcoSeg Tours. We decided this was a good way to tour and learn and see some of the highlights of the Fairbanks downtown area. We had never ridden a segway before and after a 15 minute training session, we were off! We had so much fun riding the segways and Peggy gave a very interesting and informative tour. We highly recommend it! We got to free ride in a large grassy area afterward and zip around and just have fun. Katie with EcoSeg took pictures of us on our tour and emailed them to us. Afterward, we dropped off DH's camera and headed to the North Pole. We had a whirlwind tour and wish we could have had longer but enjoyed seeing the Santa Claus House and shopping for a bit. Then back to Fairbanks, picked up the camera (no more spot!) and on to Pioneer Park. There weren't a lot of shops open yet but we enjoyed seeing the old historic cabins that had been relocated there as well as the old Nenana Sternwheeler that was being refurbished. We visited the Alaska Aviation Museum (very interesting) and then went to the all-you-can-eat salmon and prime rib bake there. It was good (wish I could've gotten my prime done a little more) and filling but not great. Back to Healy we headed, enjoying the scenes along the way and another pleasant night's sleep. The next morning we ate breakfast and checked out and headed to Talkeetna where we would ride in a flightplane around Mt. McKinley. We saw caribou alongside the road and more magnificent views of McKinley along the way. In Talkeetna we chose Talkeetna Air Taxi after reading reviews and because they offered the glacier landing and would work with you to reschedule or cancel with refund if the weather was bad. We were blessed to have perfect weather and off we went. The staff at TAT was so friendly and accommodating and our pilot, Tyler took very good care of us pointing out many points of interest and giving some facts and history of the range and area as well. This was my hands down highlight of the trip!! You finally get an idea of the massiveness of the mountain range when you are up in the air and so close! I was awestruck and have never seen such beauty! We flew over a base camp, around McKinley and landed on our glacier (you have to add this to your flight!). We got out and got pictures and just breathed in the air and the views and threw some snowballs. INCREDIBLE! You must save up and splurge on this flight! After we landed we ate at the Talkeetna Roadhouse-interesting menu, good food and yummy cinnamon rolls (try the Razzy)! Then we shopped at some nice shops and headed back to Anchorage and the Comfort Inn Ship Creek. The next morning back we drove down the Turnagain Arm to Seward for our Kenai Fjords boat tour with Major Marine Tours. Another easy and very beautiful drive! Major Marine was first class and took good care of us. Right away we saw Dall porpoises, Orcas (two of them breached the water), otters and bald eagles. We went to a glacier and stayed for a little while and watched it calve. We also saw humpback whales, sea lions, mountain goats, seals, a bird rookery and more! It was awesome! The park ranger was very informative and helped us spot the wildlife and Captain Nicole invited us up to visit with her. We had the prime rib and salmon buffet and really enjoyed it with dessert a little later on the tour. (All-you-can-eat). Another great outing and highly recommend! Back to Anchorage and bedtime - slept great and didn't hear the trains any of the time we were sleeping. The next day was a relaxing day in Anchorage, visiting the Anchorage Museum of History and Art at the Rasmusson Center. We especially enjoyed the Native Alaskan and historical exhibits but everything was interesting. We missed the Northern Lights show at the planetarium (check the show times when you get your ticket because you have to purchase it up front) and we ate at the Muse cafe - good lunch menu and we enjoyed it. Then we did some souvenir shopping around town and headed back to repack and get ready for dinner at Simon and Seafort's Saloon. Very tasty, nice atmosphere and view and great service. The restaurant will validate your parking ticket if you park at the public garage about a block and a half over. The next morning we checked out and walked over to the train for Whittier. We reserved this independently (contrary to what the Princess customer service rep tells you, you can book independently on any travel means you wish and get on the boat. For the train, just drop your bags off with the porter and tell him your going on the cruise and next time you see your bags will be at your cabin door! And you will get off the train at the same place with everyone else, right in front of the dock. The train ride was fun although a little squished if you have any bags with you (there is not much room to store bags on the train). We chose not to do any excursions there as we wanted to get on board the ship and explore and do our first weeks worth of laundry. Embarkation was easy and we picked up a soda pass for the week (yes, they are around every corner asking if you want a pass but unintrusive - just get your cup right away and carry it around and they will see it and not ask!). We found that we didn't really save money for ourselves with the soda pass-we only filled it up about once or twice a day and got the extra milkshake pass but only got a few milkshakes but if you are going to use it and be on the ship a lot it would be worthwhile. There are some cans of soda and water in your fridge that you can purchase if you like. We would have probably been better off doing that. We explored while we waited for our luggage to arrive and got familiar with the ship - we thought it was a beautiful ship and never felt crowded. Then we did our laundry which was just down from our room on Caribe deck aft and port side (the best side for the southbound cruise). We had a balcony that was half covered and half open (we could stay under when it was rainy or misty and move out to get better pictures when it wasn't). We are so glad that we splurged for the balcony because you could look out and step out whenever you were in the room and it was awesome for Glacier Bay day. Everyone was out on their balconies and it was like a glacier and wildlife viewing party! We saw (and heard) a lot of calving at the glaciers as well as bald eagles and sea lions. Wonderful! I recommend making reservations that first day for the specialty restaurants if you are interested as they book up later on in the cruise. We ate traditional dining which was good but recommend anytime dining because it gives you more flexibility and you can make reservations and it is basically the same menu. All the waitstaff was awesome even in the Horizon Court buffet, clearing plates, bringing you drinks,etc. Our favorite things we did on the ship was the Lotus Spa Thermal Spa Pass - you can use the thermal grotto steam rooms and fog and rainshower showers and the wonderful heated loungers (we bought our pass at the beginning and did this every night before bed and slept like babies),DH and I would often take my showers here because the showers were larger and they had the shampoo, conditioner and shower gel dispensers in there as well as towels and the spa personnel gives you a robe when you check in, and a nice changing area with lockers. The women's dressing room also had its own steam room and sauna that you could use. We also enjoyed the afternoon teas (the scones are to die for!)and participated every day that we could. DH liked the photography Scholarship at Sea and was able to ask the photographers some questions he had. I got the Sole Delight Pedicure at the spa and it was great and my toenails were beautiful! We enjoyed the ventriloquist, the illusionist and the comedian shows. It was nice having different styles of music all around the ship. And we also enjoyed whale watching on the deck (bundle up! very cold!) when we went in and out of the Glacier Bay area. It was fun dressing up for formal nights and getting pictures taken (most do dress up, although some eat at the buffet and do not). There were some really good movies playing at the Movies Under the Stars but too cold (although some brave souls bundled up and got the provided blankets and watched them, the ship pops popcorn for you!). The nice thing is most of those movies played in your room later on that night and different times of the day so you could watch in comfort if you wanted. Our ship excursions we also booked ourselves because we wanted to go in smaller groups and pick what we wanted. Skagway-Yukon and Emerald Lake tour with Dyea Dave-they pick you up at the dock, a tour through the town and then on into the Yukon on a small van. Dave gave a lot of interesting and comical facts and history on the area and stayed ahead of the big buses. We stopped at many scenic sites such as Bridal Falls and a short shopping trip in Carcross and to get our passports stamped, and had lunch at a nice little resort along the way (get the specials-good soup!-then to the beautiful Emerald Lake and then back to Fraser where we got the White Pass and Yukon Railroad train that took us down the mountains and back to Skagway where Dave picked us up and continued the tour or dropped you off wherever you wished. We got dropped off in town and did a little souvenir shopping-cute town. Juneau-whale watching with Harv and Marv's-we were picked up at the docks and our nice driver gave us some interesting information and pointed out things about Juneau on the way to the marina. We boarded our 6 man ship with Captain Liz and she gave us a great whale watching adventure - everyone looks out for the spray coming up from the whale's spout but it was usually Liz who spotted them. We were then able to go out on the deck or stay in the warmer cabin with windows or sit on the bow. We saw many humpbacks (some with babies) and got some great "whale tail" pictures! We also saw bald eagles and sea lions. Drink and snack were provided on board. Then we got picked back up at the marina-one couple was dropped off for a brewery tour and the rest were taken to the Mendenhall glacier-impressive! This was worthwhile as it was one of the rare chances to get really close to a glacier, they had a nice visitor center there but we did not have time to view the film about the glacier that others on the ship said was very good. Then we chose to get dropped off at the Red Dog Saloon with another couple who wanted to eat there but we went shopping for souvenirs for all the grandchildren. Juneau had some good kichy souvenir shops, one store near the docks had a big selection of Tshirts and other things and the best prices on the trip. Ketchikan-After stopping at the visitors center to get a map and information we went to the Ketchikan post office to ship off our souvenirs (2 1/2 weeks later we still haven't received the box) then went on a quick walk through Creek Street and then a floatplane sightseeing trip of Misty Fjords National Monument with Island Wings. We were picked up in close proximity to our dock and met Michelle who took us on a fabulous ride through the monument. Gorgeous and she pointed out different things about the area as we went along and had inspirational music playing on our headphones when she wasn't talking. We could ask her questions along the way, too. We landed in a very picturesque and serene cove surrounded by the mountains and waterfalls and she took the extra time and effort to allow us to get out on a small island in the middle of the cove (this sets her apart from other tours and one of the reasons we chose her company). It was rainy at first but then the rain stopped and Michelle took pictures of us and we took all the beauty and serenity in and then loaded back up for the return trip. This was worth every penny, the flight was smooth and it was amazing scenery! We were driven back to our pick up place although our driver took others that wanted to eat lunch to his favorite eating place. We wanted to catch "The Bus" (the blue one) to Totem Bight State Park to see the totem poles. There are other places to see the totem poles but our timing allowed us to catch this bus and take the ride out. It takes about 30 minutes to get there about 45 minutes to tour the poles with a self guided tour pamphlet that tells about the totem poles and the replica clan house (impressive collection and on a nice setting on the water), and then the bus picks up an hour later and 30 minutes back. Download a schedule or ask at the visitor center right off the ship. $1.00 each way. the buses do tend to run a little bit behind when it is busy so allow time for this. Or you can visit the totem pole park as a ship excursion along with the lumberjack show which others on the ship said they enjoyed. A full and great day! One recommendation on all the small boat and flight tours - if you are prone to motion sickness take some meds about 30 minutes beforehand and if you are real prone, take another one later on. We only took one on the Kenai Fjords boat trip as recommended and we were fine. We are not super sensitive to motion sickness but did not see any others getting sick on this tour either although some teenagers had gotten ill on another whale watching trip and our floatplane trip. The cruise to Vancouver along the inside passage was very picturesque and you could be looking out the windows or from on deck at any time and see whales, sea lions, etc. Then it was time to pack up our suitcases and place them outside our cabin after dinner and sleep. When we woke up we had just gone under the Lion's Gate bridge (wish I had awoken a little earlier to get pictures) and we were getting ready to dock. We had breakfast at Horizon Court and went down to our disembarkation point in the Pacific Moon dining room. It was a little slow but we were comfortable and they provided hot tea and coffee or water while we waited and I got out my Nook and read and DH grabbed a magazine to look at so all was well. Those that booked excursions or had early flights out got off earlier. Then through customs and waiting in a long, but fast line for a taxi to our hotel. The Blue Horizon was a nice hotel in a good location on Robson Street. The staff was nice and helpful and we were able to get an early check-in. (They will store your luggage for you if you can't check in early). The room was very roomy with a nice view of the city off our balcony. The bathroom wasn't real big but very ample for an overnight or two. We were going to the Capilano Suspension Bridge and we bought our tickets right outside the hotel and got picked up there by the free shuttle. This was a lot of fun and a very pretty place to visit (although the bridge is a little scary-it does wobble and sway-if you are afraid of heights like me! But I made it across and back and got a certificate. We went throughout all the treetop walkways and cliffhangers and then had lunch (yummy hot dogs) and headed on the public bus to Grouse Mountain-$2.50 exact Canadian change and your ticket is good for 90 minutes. The customer service center at Capilano made some change for us) We rode the tram up Grouse mountain when we got there, saw the wolves out below us and then went to the bear habitat and saw the end of the lumberjack show there. We watched the bird show - very fun and interesting information about the birds and getting to see them up close. Great views on top! We had a beaver tail and then headed back down the mountain. The ziplining looked fun but didn't have time but we did take the public bus and got off at Stanley Park and walked around a small area of it - beautiful park! Wish we had more time but we caught another bus and got off near our street and walked the rest of the way to the hotel, windowshopping at the stores on Robson St. DH wanted some italian so we looked up and found good reviews for Zefferelli's, just a block and half from the hotel. Yummy, food, plenty of it and great service. We were fortunate to get a booth but you may wish to make reservations as it looked liked it was getting pretty busy (it was a weekend day). Then to bed. Slept well, very comfortable room although a bit dark but you can open your curtains if you wish. Up the next morning for our taxi ride to the airport (they do have a rapid rail system that you can take if you don't have a lot of luggage). Vancouver is a beautiful, clean city and wish we had more than a day to visit. But off we were on our flight back home filled with memories that we will never forget!! And although we planned as if this would be our only time that we would get to go, we now know that there is so much more to do and to do again, and we have to get back to Alaska! Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
Let me start saying Alaska is a wonderful place, truly a must-see for anyone. The scenery is unparalleled, and the entire experience not to be missed in a lifetime. This is also a combo-review. I am reviewing the land tour as well as it ... Read More
Let me start saying Alaska is a wonderful place, truly a must-see for anyone. The scenery is unparalleled, and the entire experience not to be missed in a lifetime. This is also a combo-review. I am reviewing the land tour as well as it was integral to our overall experience. DW and I are seasoned travelers, both in our late-50s. Little bumps in the road are generally part of the fun. We were traveling with a group of nine, who were all family members ranging from mid-twenties to eighty. All have been around, and have cruised happily before. In full disclosure, for most, including myself, this was our first with Princess, and first booked through a major cruise agency. We arranged our travel to Alaska through Princess, staying one night in Seattle prior to flying into Anchorage. We arrived there at 9:30 a.m. Princess agents at the airport check-in desk told us we'd be leaving on our bus soon, and to be back by 11:30. They distributed our boarding passes and then we sat until 2:30. Why? Turns out waiting for more passengers to arrive on later flights. Okay...here's how it works...I'm the customer on a time-limited visit with unlimited curiosity and anticipation. Princess, you're hired to help me use my time efficiently for the purposes of vacationing and sightseeing. Instead of having customers waiting hours (for more passengers), with Princess certainly knowing exactly the passenger transfer demand...ADJUST! A smaller "turtle bus" would have been welcome...or some straight-up information on a departure time so we might grab a cab and see the town a bit instead of cooling heels in the luggage pick-up hall. And, while I'm at it, I'll toss in how someone between our major cruise agent and Princess failed to book certain of our party on any flight...and took days to fix the faux pas once we untangled the documentation sent us between the line and agent. It also helps with security to get the names right. I don't care who shot John. They both do this for a living...I don't...and blaming the other guy doesn't fix this significant problem. After a comfortable coach ride up to the McKinley Princess Lodge, we were treated to a rare, beautiful and ever-changing view of "The Mountain." It is indeed the "Land of the Midnight Sun," and I have pictures to prove it. For those who have never experienced it before, it can play heck with your biological clock, especially after traveling across four time zones. Beware the time! The next day we were bussed early to Talkeetna and boarded the train there to Denali National Park and the Princess Denali Lodge. The train was a fine scenic ride in the dome. Service on board was great, and the running commentary welcome and witty. There are open platforms on each car for window-free photography. At Denali we took the Tundra Wilderness Tour through ARAMark, the National Park concessionaire. First bus out at 0500. Typical overcast day. We were treated to many roadside wildlife viewings, including moose, caribou and Dall's sheep, stopping for close-up pictures through open windows, and to drink in the stunning views...except for the two most came to see - The Mountain, and a grizzly bear. Clouds obscured The Mountain, and the bear eluded our driver despite several reports passed from other buses. Nonetheless, if going to Denali, take this tour. Beware: The roads are sometimes very narrow on high, rail-less cliffsides. Another Denali gem is to meet Alaskan sled dogs...your choice...visit the kennels of a six-time Iditerod champion, or those of the National Park Service. Our party split. The real dog fanciers went to the commercial offering, the others to the free Park show. Both were very happy with their choices. Book the commercial show at their office across from the Denali Lodge and save significant money. The Princess Lodges both were fine facilities that had just opened for the season. Some of the help was new and unseasoned, but all tried hard to make things work. At McKinley you're locked into the lodge restaurants. "Club 20320" offered several excellent and reasonably priced meals in a casual surrounding. OTOH, Denali offers several food alternatives across the road, from roach coach Thai-Chinese to the large "Salmon Bake"establishment. BTW: The Chinese-Thai was excellent! And here was also the first "iceberg." One of our party is gluten-allergic. This isn't skinny Brittany going with the next fad diet, but an adult who reacts to any ingested gluten with severe gastric distress. Princess advertises gluten-free dining. The telephone agents pitch that they take special care of those with dietary allergies. At McKinley Lodge our fellow traveler enjoyed a wonderful meal. At Denali Lodge there must be different standards, or a misunderstanding of gluten free. Despite ordering off the "gluten-free" menu, she suffered an attack...and later was told by kitchen staff that their gluten-free menu really wasn't TOTALLY gluten free. It was also clear the staff had no understanding of the meaning - some confusing it with lactose intolerance. That's bad enough, but when she told them it induced...you know what, the Princess rep told her that symptom may keep her off the ship - and that the agent was obligated report it! That nonsense was fixed by the intervention of a restaurant staff manger, who phoned someone to explain that his food was the cause of her distress, not some contagious virus. However, the induced distress needlessly stole a day from her trip, as one cannot enjoy an excursion with a rumbling stomach and an eye necessarily scanning for a nearby rest room. It also induced great mistrust of Princess' claims for any gluten-free food items. The coach ride down to Whittier to meet the Sapphire was picturesque and we arrived there earlier than scheduled. Boarding was the easiest I've ever experienced. The port staff, especially the security folks, were all on their game, processed us quickly with a smile, and had us standing on-board within minutes. Luggage came to our cabin almost immediately, and our room steward, Mary, introduced herself with a smile that never left her the entire week. She was certainly among our best stewards ever, if not #1. Rooms were nicely designed, the bed easy to navigate around with a good foot-wide margin at its edge. OTOH, the mattresses were described by one as something from a pop-up camper. This was a common comment offered by other passengers. Each of our party suffered various cricks and aches in the mornings. Yes, of course, there are egg crates...but really, everyone? Better to correct the underlying problem. One svelte suite passenger with whom we shared breakfast complained her rump was red in the morning from the lack of padding. Princess provided a "nice cruise." The food was good. The entertainment was good. The staff was unfailingly nice, sometimes the life of the party...especially when people flocked to windows when anyone "spotted" a whale! At each of the fjord cruises up to the Hubbard or Glacier Bay, we witnessed wondrous things, watching glaciers calve, eagles soar, otters swim, seals clown, and the occasional whale blow. The shipboard naturalist was very good, and the National Park Service Rangers were excellent explaining what we saw. The Sapphire offers some excellent viewing spots, both indoors and on deck. A great platform for this adventure. Organized ship activities were afterthoughts (at best) in all the excitement of visiting these sights. The ports were what they were. Skagway is a National Park amid commercial development mining the tourists the way merchants mined sourdoughs 125 years ago. The town is two blocks by seven blocks of the usual jewelry, diamonds and duty-free vendors, as well as local merchants pushing knives, fudge and Russian kitsch. Take the NPS walking tour...take pictures...buy your stuff...you've done it all. Excursions are available. (I did not hear a single rave from anyone about any of them at any port - whether arranged by the excursion desk or privately. They were invariably "okay.") Juneau and Ketchikan were more of the same, without the Klondike gold rush angle. Bigger towns, they offered more eating and drinking establishments...both also offer worthwhile self-guided walking tours. And these places are pretty gritty beyond the tourist streets, as are the year 'round inhabitants. BTW: Most of the folks in the stores are not locals, and leave well before the winter comes as the tourist season ends. Back to the ship... our Southbound cruise was a jumble. Please, someone take a good look at the cruise schedule and adjust things accordingly. Let's start with traditional dinner at 5:30. Let's perhaps delay that, or open all venues as "any time." At least consider not holding formal night the day one is face to face with the intriguing Hubbard Glacier, a trip highlight. Really, the cruise is programmed to showcase the Alaskan natural beauty that is all-enveloping. Okay, my mistake...here's my tip: Go with non-traditional dining on this cruise, period. And this cruise would do well to scrap the formal nights altogether. Few tuxes, mainly coat and tie, and poorly attended overall in the main dining room. Half the tables were empty at the early seating both nights. The food was okay, best described as bland. Nothing stood out particularly for anyone. It was nice. The service was good. I felt rushed nightly...one cup of coffee and the wait staff disappeared to prepare for the next seating. By 7:00 the room was nearly empty, except for the scurrying staff preparing for the 7:30 crowd. Here's your food, here's your hat... After two nights struggling with "gluten free," our dining room headwaiter finally figured out that it was best to simply allow our fellow cruiser to pick and choose items from the menu - served with no additional sauces, seasonings or embellishments. Once that practice was established, it worked perfectly. Before then, food was ordered and returned to the kitchen as the staff there apparently could not allow a dish to go out without a slathering of whatever that invariably contained gluten as a thickener. If you are gluten intolerant or suffer Celiac disease, be on your guard and get the headwaiter squared away from the first day. Other meals were taken in the Lido buffet. The food was good. The service was good. I really liked the meal experience there. Fresh Belgian waffles were available...a plus! One downer, the plates of rubbery fried eggs under heat lamps at breakfast. Big shout out to the pizza and grille for their great fast food. The ice cream corner was another big hit...but let's forget the "cone only" serving rule when someone tells you they are allergic. Must one really beg a plastic tumbler from elsewhere to dump the contents? The nightly entertainment...the hired performers were all good acts. From a comic ventriloquist, an illusionist, to stand-up comic, they were all very amusing. The singers and dancers...they were okay. Their shows were fine. Movies under the stars, despite the "evening" cold and damp, were well-attended. The screen was sharp, even during the odd bright sun moments. Arriving in Vancouver the disorganized bus drill started up again. It took two hours, once we were called to disembark, to actually board a bus and turn a wheel. We cleared customs in minutes before we waited on our feet, getting lame explanations from time to time from the cute, perky young lady (apparently port staff, not Princess) who had no real explanation for the hold-up except "safety." (Princess staff appeared briefly once the bus was boarded.) The eventual result was people stressed and pressed to arrive in time for their flights at SeaTac airport. Another tip: Book a late flight! Nonetheless, the suspense was needless. And note, you will be deposited in a charter parking lot likely a long way from your airline check-in. The good news is you will be on your way quickly. If going again, I would book a Northbound cruise, with the land portion following. Honestly, for us, after Denali it was anti-climatic. Eventually it devolved into just lots of unnamed mountains with snow on them. It was also difficult to reset one's biological clock with the jumbled schedule and long daylight hours. Some found the endless gray days a drag, too. That's the way it is. Everything is a 50/50 chance...to see Mt. McKinley, to see significant wildlife, to see the sun, to avoid the rain and damp, and so on. Temps ranged from near freezing to around 70 degrees. Most of the days were "sweatshirt weather." In conclusion, as the cruise relates to the ship, it was "nice," everything about it was "nice." It was so "nice" it was boringly nice...there just was no WOW to it...shipwise! Perhaps I'm jaded...that can happen to us inside cabin snobs...but I heard the same from so many others, many new to Princess. It was..."nice." Go for the scenery, enjoy the port days for what they are, and treat the ship as your platform...you'll be overwhelmed by the beauty, thrilled by nature, and probably pay little attention to the ship in the overall scheme of things. Writing this review of the Sapphire Princess is a bit like ending a date that just didn't click fully. Princess, dear, I'll call you soon, promise... It was "nice." Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
The DW and I booked a Cruisetour to Alaska with Princess for 5/23/12 to 6/2/12. There were a few glitches, but we enjoyed the adventure all the same. We arrived in Anchorage late on 5/22 and stayed in Anchorage the first night on our ... Read More
The DW and I booked a Cruisetour to Alaska with Princess for 5/23/12 to 6/2/12. There were a few glitches, but we enjoyed the adventure all the same. We arrived in Anchorage late on 5/22 and stayed in Anchorage the first night on our own. Early on the morning of 5/23 we traveled to Fairbanks by Alaska Railroad, Adventure Class. We used the Alaska TourSaver for this and several other Tours along the way which saved us quite a bit of money. We were fortunate enough to be guided and entertained by Conductor Steve who had almost 41 years with the Alaska Railroad. He had many interesting stories and made our trip very enjoyable. Were left Anchorage with partly cloudy skies, but as we approached Mt McKinley we were lucky enough to see it out. They say the weather covers it about 80% of the time. We also got a chance to see a Momma Bear and her Three Cubs as well as lots of Moose along the way. We arrived in Fairbanks about 8pm and made our way to the Hotel. Princess had arranged for the Bear Lodge for our two night stay in Fairbanks. We got our check in packet from the front desk right away. When we took our bags to the room, we quickly discovered there was already someone else occupying that room. It was a little embarrassing, but it was quickly resolved by a very apologetic Manager. The next day we inquired about the complimentary shuttle to the airport, we had reserved a rental car for the day. The front desk staff advised that the shuttle service was only for non-Princess customers. We paid for a Taxi and got our Rental Car. We visited The Santa Claus House in North Pole, Alaska. We later booked a tour on the Riverboat Discovery. That was a very enjoyable and informative tour. Later we visited Pioneer Park and ate at the Salmon Bake. It was good. Most of the vendors at the park had not opened, so I can't comment on the other attractions, but they looked interesting. We made a stop by WalMart and Safeway to pick up some supplies, which were cheaper there than anywhere else along the way. The next day we headed to Denali on the Train. In Denali we had only about a half day to enjoy the park, so we went to the Dog Sled demonstration and then caught to shuttle bus to Savage River. These two activities were free we enjoyed ourselves. Later we attended the "Cabin Nite Dinner Theater" near our lodge, it was entertaining and the food was good. The accommodations at the Denali Princess were very good. The next morning we boarded a Motor coach for Whittier to begin our cruise on the Sapphire Princess. We did have a two hour lunch break in Anchorage and got a chance to walk around downtown. The Sapphire is a beautiful ship and our cabin was nice. Our Room Steward was accommodating and worked very hard to make our vacation a special one. We visited Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay NP on our first two days southbound, both were spectacular and very much highlights of our trip. We visited Skagway next and took the SMART bus out to Jewel Gardens for a visit. That was fun and a nice break from the touristy stuff (shopping) that goes on downtown. Our next stop was Juneau and we booked a private Whale Watch Tour. It was fun, but not too many Whales were out that day. Later we took the Tram to the top of Mt. Roberts. We spent about an hour up there and enjoyed our time. We even got to see a Black Bear on one of the trails on our way back down the mountain. Our third stop was Ketchikan. We made this our shopping stop. We also had Halibut and Fries on the Dock for lunch, that is always a treat. We didn't go on any tours here, just walked and shopped. Our on board experience was generally good except of two incidents. 1) on our last day a sea the DW and I decided to go to the pool forward near the Spa/Salon, before we could get into the pool the DW cut her foot on a piece of glass in the pool area. It wasn't a serious injury, but the was a fair amount of blood on the deck. When assistance was requested from Spa/Salon staff twice) it was ignored. They didn't seem to be interested. 2) there were two changes on out sign and sail that the DW and I could not account for (five day apart). We inquired and the customer service staff acknowledged that we had not made the charges, and said they would make the corrections. The corrections were never made. Disembarkation was not a real smooth process either. We had transfers from Vancouver, BC to SEATAC. That intial process was far too long and disorganized. Even though there were some glitches along the way, we very much enjoyed our Alaskan Adventure. Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
We combined a six day Princess escorted landtour with a seven day cruise. The landtour was before the cruise, which we felt would be more relaxing. The landtour was wonderful, with stays in Fairbanks, Denali, and McKinley. The ... Read More
We combined a six day Princess escorted landtour with a seven day cruise. The landtour was before the cruise, which we felt would be more relaxing. The landtour was wonderful, with stays in Fairbanks, Denali, and McKinley. The princess lodges were very comfortable and the food very good. Our tour guide (Liz Bell) was great and I highly recommend booking a landtour with her. The tours included with the package were very interesting (gold dredge; Chena Riverboat tour; Denali National Park). The train rides were very comfortable. We boarded the Sapphire in Whittier, around 7:30 p.m. We stayed in a premium suite, amidship on Deck 10 (Caribe). Beg, borrow, or steal the money because the premium suite is worth every penny! Very large and comfortably appointed. We found the firm mattress very comfortable but several people we befriended found it too hard so I suggested they ask for an egg crate. The bathroom was huge, with a full-size shower and a whirlpool tub, and a second room with a sink, toilet, and large vanity. Soaps, shampoos, etc., were high quality, according to my wife. Bath towels were large but relatively thin and scratchy. Robes were very comfortable. The bedroom closet was good size, plenty large enough for us to hang lots of clothes, with several shelves for shoes. Drawer space in the bedroom was very generous. The bedroom also comes with a desk and chair. The suite portion of the cabin included a desk with chair, sofa, and comfy chair, and a mini-fridge. There were two televisions in the suite, one in each room. The suite has a very large partially covered balcony, with a round table and four chairs, and two thickly padded lounge chairs. Our steward came to the cabin and introduced himself. We didn't see much of him during the cruise but he made up the room several times during the day. We received a bowl of fresh fruit upon our arrival, and a new bowl of fruit twice during the cruise. The fridge was stocked with 6 soft drinks of our choice and an assortment of eight mini-bottles of booze were set up on the bar counter to the left of the television. Fresh flowers were also placed in the suite for our arrival. We didn't have time for a sitdown dinner before muster so we grabbed a slice of pizza on Deck 14. One of the benefits of a premium suite is breakfast in Sabatini's and it was a wonderful way to start the day. Radu, the maitre d', and George and Jane, waiter and waitress, were very friendly. The fresh squeezed OJ was delicious, as was the salmon benedict. We ate two dinners in Sabatini's. The veal chop was fantastic and for the second dinner we split a striped bass cooked in a sea salt crust. Delicious! Desserts...what can I say? Life is uncertain so eat dessert first.... George was our waiter both nights and he did a great job, making recommendations as to wines and desserts. We ate several lunches in the main dining rooms and they were good. We became very friendly with four couples during the landtour so for two dinners the ten of us dined together in Pacific Moon. Service was good and the food the first dinner was very good. For the second dinner I had the 10 oz. strip steak; it was the weakest link of the MDR meals I ate. A cheap cut of beef with little flavor. I tried for three nights to get a reservation at Sterling Steakhouse but they were booked. I overheard several passengers saying the meals there were very good. I was not impressed with the buffet. The flow of diners wasn't bad (contrary to what others have posted) but the food had little flavor. I ate several breakfasts and lunches there and was not impressed. It was less of an issue at breakfast - I mean, what do you expect from scrambled eggs, toast and oatmeal? - but the hot dishes at lunch were lacking flavor. I was not bothered at all by photographers. They stayed out of the dining rooms and set up station in front of the theater, by several elevators on formal nights, and other public areas. They also took pictures upon boarding but I expected that. We attended three shows in the theater. Two were from the singing/dancing troupe and they were fantastic. It's a shame the shows were only 30 minutes long. I was told by a crew member they used to offer two shows per night of 40-45 minutes and recently switched to three shows of 30 minutes. Please, bring back the longer shows! The third show was Dan Horn, a ventriloquist. He's done national TV a number of times but frankly , his show was boring and stale. I left after 15 minutes; my wife stayed for the rest of his show and she said she was sorry she didn't leave with me. Speaking of my DW, she spent a significant amount of cruising at sea time in the spa, getting her hair done and massages. Not cheap but the therapists and stylists did a GREAT job. My wife visited three times and came back to the suite looking like a million bucks and very relaxed. I treated myself to two shaves with scalp/shoulder massages and a facial. Gina did a great job; guys, do yourself a favor a visit her for a relaxing experience. I'd estimate the average passenger age to be the mid- to late-60's. I understand in a few weeks that will drop as more kids come on board. MUTS showed movies in the evenings but it was cold and I never saw more than a few people watching. Had the misfortune to visit sick bay (cotton from a Q-tip came off in my ear!). Very professional staff and I was in and out in under 30 minutes. The doctor said it was not uncommon and they usually treat a half-dozen of these cases every cruise! We didn't visit any of the nightclubs except for Skywalkers for afternoon drinks and canapes, which are available for suite and elite passengers. Very nice selection of canapes and a beautiful view from Deck 18. Left a little money behind in the casino. Nicely set up, with friendly dealers. I spent some time in Churchill's, the cigar bar near the casino and the theater. Overstuffed leather chairs, a full bar, and a gazillion televisions tuned to sports. A nice place to spend an hour enjoying the fragrant leaf and a single malt scotch. Security did a good job getting passengers on and off the ship as fast as possible during port visits. Every staffer we interacted with, from busboys to housekeepers to wait staff to front desk staff, were very cheerful, friendly, and professional. I was very impressed. Debarking can be stressful with close to several thousand passengers are leaving in a short period of time but princess did a good job of herding everyone out in an organized manner. We took a bus back to SeaTac from Vancouver, which took about 3 1/2 hours. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and would do another Princess cruise in a heartbeat! Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
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
Our cruise began in Whittier. We had stayed the night before in Anchorage at Hotel Capt Cook. Nice independent hotel centrally located. Breakfast there very expensive so would recommend eating a great breakfast at Snow City Cafe short ... Read More
Our cruise began in Whittier. We had stayed the night before in Anchorage at Hotel Capt Cook. Nice independent hotel centrally located. Breakfast there very expensive so would recommend eating a great breakfast at Snow City Cafe short blocks away from hotel. While in Anchorage recommend Heritage Center and Anchorage Museum to pass the time. Took bus transfer to Whittier. Nice scenic ride. Bus stopped to let us watch salmon running. Really nothing in Whittier except the ship. Embarkation checkin was quick and painless. Ship was in good shape-clean and new looking interior in spite of its age. We had a port side cabin on Carib deck with a good sized balcony covered by an overhang. Laundromat on floor which took quarters. Ship didn't leave port until around 9 pm so there was lots of time to explore the ship beforehand. Fortunately the seas were very calm, almost eerily calm sometimes except for one little patch during the night. Weather was 50s-60s.Glaciers with their blue color were incredible of course.Ports-Skagway we did White Pass Railroad. It was chilly but there was a little potbelly stove in each car. We ran into fog halfway up and back so missed a lot of scenery so disappointing to us. Juneau we took helicopter to Mendenhall glacier which was worth the splurge as we will always remember both the ride and the glacier walk. Ketchikan we didn't book through the ship-we booked Misty Fjords flightseeing with Island Wings owner Michelle. She is plane owner and longtime pilot-a lovely blonde who was raised in Chicago but fell in love with Alaska and it shows. We landed the seaplane on a pristine lake in the middle of granite cliffs, forests, and glacier and walked around on an island before flying back. Her plane parks right next to ship so just a quick walk. Be prepared for lots of Jewelry stores from the Caribbean in Alaska. The shopkeepers close their doors in Sept and go back to Caribbean with their wares. Food: we weren't expecting much but we never had a bad meal onboard. Sterling not worth the money compared to other steakhouses in our opinion, but Sabatini was good. Savoy dining room for anytime dining was our favorite. We often had the same waiter-Edgar from a sweet,tall, handsome Mexican man who provided incredible customer service and often brought us extra items. We gave him a big extra tip so he could buy something for his 2 year old son when he went back home. We did teatime-lots of fun and food was very good. Our cabin steward was just ok, friendly enough I guess but ended up stealing my great LLBean rainjacket the last day as it turns out. Great lectures, a whale naturalist and a woman Iditarod winner. All in all great ship, great cruise. Just be prepared to spend much more than you planned in the end! Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
We sailed on the Princess Sapphire the week of July 18, 2009.  It was great to see Alaska, and the awesome Glaciers.  Highly recommend going on a cruise that takes you into Glacier Bay.  That was the highlight of the trip.  No, ... Read More
We sailed on the Princess Sapphire the week of July 18, 2009.  It was great to see Alaska, and the awesome Glaciers.  Highly recommend going on a cruise that takes you into Glacier Bay.  That was the highlight of the trip.  No, overpriced tours, no shopping, just pure scenery, and beautiful nature to stare at and take pictures.The ship itself was nice, the room stewards, and servers in the dining rooms were excellent.  We had a great server in our main dining room, who advised us on the best selection of meals to eat.  She remembered what we liked, and didn't like.  The room steward greeted us each time we were walking down our corridor, very friendly.  It was nice to leave the room a mess, and come back having the beds made, and new towels in the bathroom.  We didn't get the towel buddies on this cruise, which I thought makes a cruise, but oh well.I also, highly recommend to take rain gear.  It rained in two of the three ports.  We had our umbrellas, which was a must!  You could buy umbrellas, and plastic rain coats so if you forget, or don't have one, you can get it in the ports.  They also sell the heavy raincoats for $20, good price, as I couldn't find any rain gear here in Southern California before we left.  The rain did slow us down a bit in Ketichan, but we didn't want to go on another tour that was 2 hours long, and took us to places we didn't want to see.  The tours are overpriced for what you get.  We went on the train ride in Skagway, beautiful scenery, takes you into Canada, so carry your passports, but when we got to the stop, it was raining!  Did get a lot of pictures on the ride up, we took the motor coach on the way back, good choice.  The train takes you up, and if you take the train back, it goes back the same way, I have heard through other reviews, that it's a long 3 1/2 hours on a train.We did shopping in Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan.  All the shops sell the same things, at different prices.  We took the coupon book, and got a few items for free with a purchase.  We had to buy sweatshirts, as we didn't pack enough warm clothes.  If you get lucky and get the 80 degree weather then you don't need the sweatshirts.  We were not lucky and we got the cold and wet weather.  We also had to buy another umbrella!  By the time we got to the shops in Ketchikan we were drenched!  All the ports are walking distance from the ships.  I don't advise the tours that take you into town, if you can walk, just walk into each town.  We thought we needed the exercise anyway, from all the eating we were doing.The food on the ship was good.  The buffet was okay, the sit down dinner was better, and the cover charge resturants were excellent, but way too much food!  Again, the servers were excellent!  Baked Alaska was the best, the last night of the cruise!I did get to the gym four times, the first day at sea, everyone was in the gym, so we had to wait for the thread mill, after that, no waiting for machines, I guess most people gave up on exercising.Overall, we had a great time.  We did do some ship activities.  Went to the shows, the entertainers are amazing, and the comedian was funny.  The last day on the ship into Vancouver was beautiful, we actually saw sunshine, and didn't need our sweatshirts.  Very relaxing.  We saw whales, standing on our balcony off the distant.  We saw a bald eagle in Glacier bay, and bear cubs at the Mendenhall Glacier.To get a balcony room, we spent a lot of time on the balcony, especially while on the scenic part of the trip, viewing the glaciers from your stateroom is awesome!Enjoy Alaska, it's a beautiful site to see. Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
Sapphire Princess Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.4
Dining 4.0 3.9
Entertainment 4.0 3.6
Public Rooms 4.0 4.4
Fitness Recreation 4.0 3.9
Family 5.0 3.9
Shore Excursion 5.0 3.7
Enrichment 4.0 3.6
Service 5.0 4.3
Value For Money 4.0 3.9
Rates 4.0 4.2

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