Embarkation My parents, husband, and I had an early 6:45am flight from SFO to Vancouver. The flight was delayed by 30 minutes due to a computer problem. We arrived in Vancouver after 9am, exchanged some money for the cab fare, and hopped on a taxi for a 20 minute ride to the cruise ship terminal at Canada Place. The cab fare was about $28 CAN including tips. Since we were early, we had a chance to stop by the various shops and eateries underneath the Pan Pacific and Fairmont hotels right next to Canada Place.
We arrived 1/2 hr. early at the cruise ship terminal before their doors open at 11:30am. It was a wide open area where you can grab chairs and sit anywhere. This was a little chaotic since it was not clear where we were suppose to line up for registration so everyone just bunched up by the double door. When the doors opened everyone rushed it to wait behind the line based on the first letter of their cabin number (A, B, C, …etc.) Here is where we registered and picked up our cruise cards. After registering, you had to wait in another line to go through a metal detector and have your carry-on bags x-rayed. And in the last line, you show your cruise card to a Princess Cruise employee to enter through another area to have your picture taken and finally get onto the ship. by the way, we were disappointed the cruise cards were still the white flimsy paper kind and not at all like the hard credit card-like type we received on Dawn Princess.
Anticipating a private balcony cabin, we immediately went to look for it. To our surprise, my parents were also upgraded to a cabin with a balcony and right next to ours. The reasons for embarking early are to beat the crowds as well as take advantage of the buffet on the Lido Deck (Deck 12) for lunch.
We attended the required passenger emergency drill with our life jackets right before setting sail. This time they didn't have to do a roll call. We were late for our 5:30pm sailing because we had to wait for a Royal Caribbean ship to back out of the dock first. The best view for sailing would be on the Sun Deck (Deck 14), the Lido Deck (Deck 12), or in the enclosed Dome Casino (Deck 14). Going under the Lions Gate Bridge should not be missed. You arrive about 30 minutes after leaving the dock, but you might be late for dinner if you are first seating at 6pm.
Food There is 24 hrs. dining and no midnight buffet. The main Palm Court dining room, buffet in Cafe Del Sol, Bravo Pizzeria, and the hamburger bar.
We all thought the food was excellent in the Palm Court dining room. We lucked out with sitting at a table with a window facing the back of the ship. We enjoyed the regular cruise food (king crab, lobster tail, prime rib, salmon, escargot, baked alaska, cherries jubilee, …etc.). Their bread is baked fresh 4 times a day and it is excellent! The pasta during lunch was outstanding. Coffee, tea, iced tea, and water are free anytime, but you have to pay for sodas and liquor. If you like a before dinner snack, attend the afternoon tea event at the dining room for tea and finger food sandwiches and desserts.
I didn't care for the Cafe Del Sol buffet, but it is a great place to grab a quick bite and it's a good place to sit and chat or enjoy the view with the large windows. They seemed to serve the same food daily, but their items do vary between breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
We tried the pizzeria once and in my opinion Roundtable Pizza is much better. And, they only make 4 slice personal size pizzas. We didn't try the sandwiches at the hamburger bar, but we were able to get some fries as snacks.
Entertainment We thought the evening shows were average. There was a broadway musical, a country music theme, a rock music theme, comedian, magic show, and acrobats. I only liked the comedian and magic show. We were annoyed with people who were trying to save a whole row of seats. In fine print, the Patter says "as a courtesy, we do ask guests not to reserve seats", but we think there should signs with bold print.
They had fairly new movies playing in the Princess Theater 3 times a day. Any movie you missed would play on the t.v. in your room the following day.
We had a funny and energetic marine research naturalist, Brent Nixon, on board who gave several lectures about Alaska and its wildlife. Each of his lectures were outstanding and we learned a great. His shows were packed every time and on the completion of his last lecture received a standing ovation. He has been to Alaska so many times on the cruise ships that he was able to provide us with the approximate time of when we might spot whales and orcas in the water when the ship passes by a specific spot in the ocean. During these times, he would survey the waters for wildlife and broadcast his sightings from the bridge.
Activities There were the usual golf putting tournaments, dance instructions, team quiz contests, shopping seminars, wine tasting seminar, napkin folder, ice carving, galley visit, cooking demonstration, art auctions, bridge card game, workout, group exercises, bingo tournaments, casino with slot machines, roulette, black jack, craps, hot tub, sauna, ping pong, bridge visit, shopping on board, …etc. There about 4 shops on board and they offered sales on different items each day. My husband and I each picked up a thick Princess Cruise logo fleece jacket for only $29.99 each.
Service We felt the service offered on board was excellent. Our cabin was cleaned several times a day. It seemed that every time we left our room, it would be cleaned when we returned. I don't know how the stateroom steward was able to keep track our comings and goings.
Our waiter, Jeremio, and assistant waiter, Guillermo, were excellent. We were exceptionally surprised to have the dining room captain, Constantino, and maitre d', Guiseppe, come greet us on a daily basis. This was hardly done on any of the 4 other cruises that we have been on.
When we docked at Skagway, we actually saw the maintenance crew washing the windows and painting the outside of the ship. Talk about keeping it ship-shape.
Excursions In Juneau we went on the Wildlife Sightseeing Quest. It was well worth the $105 per person price. After docking we took a bus to the other side of Juneau and got on a catamaran for a 3 hour cruise in Auke Bay. We saw eagles, sea lions, porpoises, and a large number of humpback whales up close. One whale even breached (leaped out of the water) which is a rare occurrence. Unfortunately, I missed it, but some passengers were able to capture it on film. The crew provided drinks and snacks and a binocular per 2 passenger. You could stay warm inside the first 2 decks and look out the large windows or go outside on the upper deck to get a better view.
If you didn't want to pay for a Princess sponsored tour, you could join one of the many independent tours offering their service just outside the pier when you leave the ship. A tour to the Mendenhall Glacier was only $10, but I don't know what it entails.
After our excursion, we had plenty of time to look around at the stores by the pier since we were not required to be back on board until 8:30pm, but it was rainy and we didn't want to miss our dinner.
In Skagway, we decided to purchase a tour from an independent dealer. We chose M&M Brokerage a little walk from the pier. They are the ones with the big sign by the pier about a free northern lights show with each tour ticket purchased. We took the van tour to the Yukon via the Klondike Highway paralleling the White Pass Railway tracks. We originally had tickets for the White Pass Railway, but I cancelled them and took this tour instead which was less expensive and one in which I felt could get better views. The van fit 20 passengers and we made several stops along the Klondike Highway to look at different waterfalls and sceneries. We even drove to the Canadian boarder and come back so we could take a picture by the "Welcome to Alaska" sign. If you plan to do this tour, bring insect repellent or wear pastel colored clothing which doesn't attract as many mosquitoes. There wasn't a mosquito problem in downtown Skagway.
Speaking of downtown, I didn't really care for it. Unlike Juneau or Sitka, Skagway felt more like a tourist town than a real town. We did shop at the Skagway Outlet Store (S.O.S) which was brimming with shoppers because of their reasonable priced souvenirs. Other than that, we took the 20 minute walk back to the pier and visited the Sea Princess cruise ship docked next to the Regal. We had a buffet lunch on the Lido Deck, toured its atrium, and took some scenery shots from its open deck.
We had been lucky with the weather throughout our trip except for that one rainy day in downtown Juneau. But our day at Yukatat Bay to view the Hubbard Glacier was exceptionally beautiful. Not a cloud in the sky and it was fairly warm with some people sunning in bathing suits. The captain was able to get relatively close to the glacier so we could see and hear part of the glacier calving (pieces breaking off) that sounded like thunder in the distance. We stayed in the bay for over an hour and the captain kindly re-positioned the ship several times so the right and left sides of the ship was facing the glacier. Unfortunately, we had to leave when another cruise ship arrived to view the glacier.
In Sitka, this was the only time we had to get on a tender to access the pier. We took the Sea Kayaking Adventure tour leaving at 7:30am. On the pier, we don on our rain gear and life jacket for a motorized Zodiac cruiser (inflated yellow craft) ride to a tranquil cove to get on a 2-person kayak. After some brief instructions, we got on to our kayak and followed our guide down the cove. We saw salmon jumping out of the water and a deer. Only several weeks before, there was a brown bear in the area. The water was so calm and peaceful. When the guide spoke, we could hear her voice echo off of the high mountains surrounding the water. This was our first time kayaking and we had a blast. The 2 hours in the water went by too fast. Afterwards we were provided hot apple cider and clam chowder. Finally the Zodiac cruiser ride back to town where we walked through the many shops on our way back to the pier for the tender. The stay in Sitka is short so we had to be back on board by 12:30pm.
DisembarkationWe did our laundry just like everyone else, packed the day before, tagged our luggage with the appropriate colored tags, and had our luggage outside our cabin before dinner. On disembarkation day, we got up early and had breakfast and waited for our tag color to be called. Of all the cruises we have been on, this was the smoothest I could remember. And for some reason, they skipped a number of colors and called our color before the scheduled time. It was sad to leave some good friends we made and a week of pampering, but there is no place like home to get back to reality.
1. You must bring binoculars. Preferably several if you going with your family.
2. You can also bring your walkie-talkies to communicate with other family members on board. The ship also rents them, but I don't know the cost.
3. You might need insect repellent if you will be taking excursions in Skagway.
4. Tag your checked in luggage with the airlines with the Princess Cruise tag you received with your cruise ticket. This way, after you de-plane, your luggage is automatically transferred to the ship.
5. We did not purchase the bus transfer tickets between the airport and the ship knowing that the cab fare would be less than $30 CAN. I think the bus transfer tickets were $20 per person.
6. After dinner, get to the theater early to get a good seat.
7. When you dock at the various ports, another Princess cruise ship might be at the same dock. You can use your Princess cruise card and visit the another Princess cruise ship to have lunch just as long as you don't incur any charges since your card is not valid on the other ship.
8. There are 2 laundry rooms (Decks 5 and 10). There is no charge for the washer or dryer, but you will need to pay $1 US to buy the detergent. Go early since they are usually packed. There are also several irons and ironing boards.
9. Don't buy whale bone souvenirs. We read that if you do, it will be confiscated at customs.
10. Humpback whales might be spotted close to Juneau. Orcas might be spotted on the last evening on the way back to Vancouver passing Johnstone Straits.
11. During the summer, Alaska has close to 18 hours of daylight so it will be difficult to spot the northern lights. Unfortunately, all our nights were overcast.
12. Remember to set your clock back one hour on your way to Juneau and one hour ahead after the evening in Sitka.
13. If you must communicate back home via email, I suggest visiting the Juneau or Sitka library to see if they have computers instead of paying a fee at the internet cafe. by the way, you can also rent laptops with wireless connections on board for a whopping $7.50 US per 15 minutes.
14. The suggested gratuity for your stateroom steward is $3.50 per day per person, for your waiter is $3.50 per day per person, for your assistant waiter is $2 per day per person, and paying the dining room captain and maitre 'd are up to your discretion. You can also pay the gratuities with your credit card to earn extra frequent flyer miles.
15. If you never disembarked before, you should attend the disembarkation talk the day before.