by Sea Dawg
June 1, 2011
ISLAND PRINCESS ~ 10 Voyage to the Glaciers ~ June 1-11, 2011
If you're reading this then you may be debating whether or not to take this cruise. Sea Dawg says you should because it promises to be among the most scenic of cruises available. Compare to discover how this is not the same as an inside passage cruise. Or you may have already booked and now you might be wondering whether or not you messed up. Sea Dawg predicts this is the cruise you'll want to take again. Princess is the cruise industry leader in Alaska.
Or you might be hoping to learn a few things from a salty dawg. Sea Dawg will try to do just that. Is Sea Dawg critical? You betcha. I call it like I see it. Criticism, if any, should not be equated with dislike of cruises. You should know ahead that I am an ex-Loyal Royal Caribbean diamond member.
You may have learned that sodas and alcoholic drinks are available for a price. But on Princess you are allowed to bring your own sodas aboard, but not alcohol. And on Princess you don't need an overpriced beverage card to receive fruit or vegetable juices! Thank you Princess! RCCL will nickel & dime dawgs at every turn and the cruise ends up more expensive than Princess.
A Day 1 Princess Patter listed all the ongoing activities, information and suggestions. The lifeboat muster station location is posted. Take but do not wear life jackets to the mandatory muster drill. Muts need to be warned not to skip drill because staff is checking your name on their roll.
AROUND THE SHIP:
Sun Deck 15 is open to the sky, makes a good observation deck, and is surrounded by blue tinted glass wind screens. But camera hounds needing clear vistas were challenged here. You'll find the Cyber-Golf simulator midship.
Lido Deck 14 is home to Horizon Court and the pools. Horizon Court is the Deck 14 buffet restaurant offering panoramic views forward. You can also spot chow hounds loading plates like they're about to be stranded on Mt. McKinley for a month - only to eat half of it. And few appreciate line crashing hyenas who snatch away all the remaining servings forcing those whose mothers taught them better to wait until another tray arrives from the kitchen. Incredibly, I witnessed one Saint Bernard actually pick up the entire serving tray of pastries and arrogantly haul it to his table! Deck 14 is home to the open Lido Pool and enclosed Lotus Pool. Locate the ice cream bar. Chow hounds know to get cones and milkshakes here! The Lotus spa and gym is here. Astern is the Sanctuary, a retreat for adults that is a perk for pedigrees, available for a fee to hounds.
Aloha Deck 12 (there is no Deck identified 13) is primarily a cabin deck, but the Sanctuary and Youth Centers are astern.
Baja Deck 11, Caribe Deck 10, Dolphin Deck 9 and Emerald Deck 8 are cabin decks. Outside cabins mid-deck 8 have obstructed (by lifeboats) views though fortunate dawgs taking shoulder season cruises may get upgraded if space is available. The Library, Card Room and internet cafe is on Deck 8 at the top of the atrium.
Promenade Deck 7 is the main activity deck. As the name implies, this is the strolling deck. It's poor design is quite apparant as you stroll through a narrow hallway forward. Dawgs debating selecting a deck 8 cabin should anticipate noise coming from below. The Wheelhouse Bar and Crooner's Bar are here. There are two theaters that make for packed audiences: the upper levels of the Princess Theater forward and Universe Lounge stage aft. Two premium restaurants, Sabatini's and the Bayou Cafe are well worth your consideration. The art gallery is worth a look but sharp dawgs know to compare print prices online before purchasing.
Fiesta Deck 6 features Provence (traditional) Main Dining, the Casino, Explorer's Lounge, specialty shops, photo shop, and lower levels of the theaters.
The main dining room, has two levels: Bordeaux (anytime) Deck 5 and Provence Deck 6. Sea Dawg prefers traditional because the wait staff learns your preferences and can better prepare for your pleasant dining experience. At this time of year, the sun goes down late so there's not much advantage to early or late seating.
As for shopping aboard, think of pricey little shops at upscale hotels and you'll have the right idea. Resist the temptation and don't pay "retail" early in the cruise. There are usually "sales" throughout the cruise and a few good values might be found.
Thoughtful design permits dawgs to traverse Deck 6 fore to aft without obligatory navigation through the Casino. By far the largest cash intake comes from the gaming. House odds are higher aboard than at Las Vegas. In other words, there are greater odds you will lose. So consider money lost gambling the cost of entertainment. To that end there are free gaming lessons offered. Be careful, the ATM machine is here, too.
Plaza Deck 5 is where Passenger Services, Tour Desk and Future Cruise Sales are located. Some cabins are located aft. Curiously and inconveniently, the Atrium elevators do not left all the way to the top decks. Our cruise was not fully booked, so we were pleased few experienced long waits for an elevator. Even so, we found the stairs quicker at peak times. The majority of passengers were mature dawgs 50 years up. School was still in session and there weren't many pups or frisky college canines. Not to worry, we had our share of incredibly rude, line crashing, seat saving Japanese Shiba Inus aboard.
Dinners are an event that Sea Dawg doesn't like to rush. If you are in a hurry, do your tablemates and waiters a favor and eat at Horizon Court. If you want to know the chef's secrets, you can purchase the recipes. Waiters come from all over the world. Their English proficiency varies but is generally merely functional. Most try very hard to please you and really do earn their tips. Wit and humor were in ample supply at our table and any pretense of formality fortunately disappeared the first night. Dinnertime became an enjoyable highlight of this cruise.
Dancing Under the Stars:
Day 1 - Vancouver
Day 2 - At Sea
Tonight was the first of two formal nights in main dining. Some pedigrees were dressed to the nines, but most wore their "Sunday best". A word about expensive jewelry and valuables. Leave them at home! There are personal safes in the cabin, but a master code to open them is known to more than a few. Sharp dawgs use the ship safe available through Passenger Relations to store truly valuable items. New U.S. federal law mandates the FBI be promptly contacted to investigate serious shipboard crimes for all ships that enter/depart any U.S. port.
Day 3 - Ketchikan
The Misty Fjords & Wildlife Explorer excursion is deservedly popular. Independent dawgs should stop by the Ketchikan Visitor's Bureau near the ship and pick up a free walking tour map. Hop a ride on their free shuttle and ride up the hillside to the Totem Heritage Center and walk downhill on Creek Street or on Married Man's Trail along Ketchikan Creek on down to Dolly's.
A word about shopping: make your shopping list before you leave home. Too often dawgs purchase items on a cruise destined for a yard sale. Record the local or internet price so you'll know whether you are getting a bargain. U.S. citizens who booked flights on a Canadian airline should bone up on custom limitations before you leave or you might find yourself in the dawghouse.
All dawgs had to be onboard by 1:30pm for an early afternoon departure. Unless you are on a Princess Shore Excursion the ship will not wait for stray dawgs! The ship sailed north through scenic Clarence Straight.
Day 4 - Juneau
Day 5 - Skagway
Day 6 - At Sea
Tonight was the second of two formal nights in main dining. It was also lobster with giant prawns night. For Sea Dawg is was a perfect ending to a perfect day!
Day 7 - At Sea
College Fjord was socked in with cloudy weather and some showers. We could not see the mountaintops but could discern the beautiful glaciers through the mists.
You'll receive a comment card. My thinking is that if you mark everything "excellent" then Princess will have no incentive to improve anything. But what most cruise dawgs want to improve is not even on the comment card. You'll have to write in comments like "enforce the rules", "need more crew checking Cruise Cards and attending the Passenger Relations Desk", etc. yourself.
We packed our suitcases and affixed the proper "Meet Us Tonight in Denali" tags.
Day 8 - DISEMBARKATION and Bus to DENALI
Departure went well. Princess has this well-organized so there were few rude line-breakers trying to beat the system. I can't figure out why line-breakers think they're the only ones in a hurry or why they are more important than anyone else in the scheme of things.
Post-cruise plans vary. Some catch a flight home from Anchorage. But most continue north either by train or by bus. We were placed on a bus and spent the day going up Alaska 3 to Denali. We had high hopes of seeing some wildlife and maybe a glimpse of the elusive, cloud shrouded Mt. McKinley along the way. We saw neither. The harsh reality of the end of the cruise stared back at us as we looked at the menu prices at the Denali Princess Lodge. The Denali Princess Lodge is fairly rustic and informed dawgs were glad they heeded the advice to pack powerful bug repellent. Sunset at midnight. Sunrise at 3am. No night - just twilight.
Day 9 - Talkeetna
Arrival at Talkeetna Depot happened much too soon. Princess put us aboard their shuttle to McKinley Wilderness Lodge. We checked into our room and our luggage was awaiting us inside the door. How's that for great service? Princess has Alaska cruising and vacationing buttoned down!
McKinley Wilderness Lodge is so remote it generates its own electricity. Even so, there are hot tubs with a view here! We found the 20320 (twenty-three-twenty - named for the height of Mt. McKinley) Restaurant to be fairly reasonably priced and serving Alaska sized meals. But be prepared to wait for a table. We made arrangements for a "Mountain Out" call before we collapsed into bed.
Day 10 - Anchorage
The sun was high in the sky when we woke up - at 8am. Princess had us scheduled for a train trip from Talkeetna to Anchorage that afternoon. After breakfast we affixed "Meet Us in Anchorage" tags to our luggage and caught the free shuttle to spend the day in tiny Talkeetna. This is a town that exists on the tourist trade. Locals know the McKinley Wilderness Lodge prices and charge accordingly. We found the best priced food in town to be at the Roadhouse that has catered to mountain climbers for decades.
Soon we were aboard the train in the Princess private domed car taking a scenic rail to Anchorage. The bottom level of the car is where the kitchen and dining are located. We spotted numerous moose in the afternoon, especially as we neared Anchorage. I have to admit that I preferred Alaska Railroad's Adventure class.
We arrived at the Anchorage Depot and had a 5 minute shuttle to the Captain Cook Hotel. We opened the door and our luggage was already there. Our room was an absolutely luxurious suite! Thank you, Princess! We had an early flight from Anchorage to home. Princess was there again for us to the very end as a Princess representative greeted us to bid us farewell as we caught a very early shuttle to the airport.
Should You Take This Cruise? My recommendation is an unqualified yes.