This was my 8th cruise, 2nd on Princess, 1st to Alaska. Overall, this trip was good, better than my first Princess cruise, but definitely not the best cruise I've ever had. The ship was nice and very clean, but nothing special.
Embarkation: Tip-If you have a lot of luggage, buy the transfers. They're $18 per person. The shuttle that takes you to the ship will take care of transferring your luggage onto the ship. A cab ride is $20, which is a better deal if there are two or more people riding together. Take note that most of the cabs are sedans and only fit three suitcases if you're lucky.
Embarkation was a little intimidating but fairly well organized so I couldn't complain. Follow the signs and get all your cruise documents and credit card ready. You might as well do something while you're waiting. I'm thinking we arrived at the busiest time, around noon. Took about 1.5 hours waiting to get onto the ship.
Amenities: Cabin - I had a balcony on the Baha (11th) deck. Can you say small?! I've never been in a balcony room so small before, especially at the premium price we paid. All in all, I got used to the size and having a balcony is a must on this cruise, especially when sailing through Tracy Arm. The beds were very comfortable and high enough off the floor to fit my monster sized suitcase underneath. There is also plenty of storage in the closets so feel free to overpack. My one complaint, aside from size, is that the upper bunks when lowered protrude about 6 inches out into the already very narrow walkway of the room, a definite safety hazard, so be careful when you come into the room late at night after having a few margaritas. Another tip -- if you like your privacy, get a balcony on the 11th or 12th deck. Although these balconies are smaller, no one else can see into them, unlike the lower deck but larger balcony cabins.
Dining -- Food ranged from fair to pretty good. Lots of options. As always, we chose the traditional main seating option. We chose this because we like having the same servers and eating early enough to also be able to eat at the midnight buffet. But, the dining option you choose doesn't make a great deal of difference in the food you get. The menus and service are the same where ever you go, even at the buffet and in room service. The only two times this is untrue is on crab leg and lobster nights.
If you do go the traditional dining route -- be on time or be prepared to be reprimanded. Not once in the eight cruises I've been on have I ever encountered such rudeness for not arriving at exactly 5:45. Even when we arrive late, we always finish well before the second seating. Anyway, on the second night we came to dinner 20 minutes late and were greeted by a sign stating that the dining room was closed. The head waiter gave us a stern look and said that we were late but he would "allow" us to still have dinner as long as we hurried. So, we sat down and ordered before the rest of our party arrived. When they did come, I advised them that the head waiter raised a fuss at our lateness and suggested they try eating at another restaurant to avoid his wrath and being rushed through dinner. On their way out, the head waiter stopped them and told them they needed to arrive to dinner on time. They told him that they were leaving since they arrived late. He told them to stay but to come to dinner on time in the future. Not only did the head waiter physically put himself in their path out the door but insisted they stay while also making them feel guilty for staying. All of this happened in the middle of the dining room resulting in a very embarrassing and infuriating situation. You better believe we filed a report. Of course, when approached about the incident, the head waiter denied any wrong doing. Whatever. We decided not to deal with it any further so we could enjoy the rest of the trip.
Although our waiters were very friendly and hospitable, the overall dining experience left much to be desired. It was a very hectic atmosphere, even when we did arrive on time. Only on the first night did the servers have enough time to make dinner recommendations. And a dessert menu and coffee weren't always offered.
A don't miss is the pizza. Absolutely fabulous. Never had a bad slice. Also make sure to stop by the covered pool area leading to the buffet. They set up a special table every day around lunch featuring all kinds of yummies. The chocolate bar was a hit. The line went the entire length of the pool area.
A please miss is the sushi. It was displayed beautifully but that's about the only good thing I can say about it.
Try Sabatini's at least once during the trip. This is the $20/person restaurant and absolutely worth it. I've never been inclined to go to these restaurants but I'm very happy I decided to try it. The food and service were wonderful and the environment very relaxed and quiet. Make sure to bring a wheelchair so you can get back to your room. You get so much food and it's so good that you can't stop yourself until it's too late and you can barely walk.
Don't forget tea time. It's a fun experience. White-gloved waiters bring tea, pastries and finger sandwiches to you while you chit-chat with other cruisers.
Lotus Spa -- I really enjoyed the spa and all it's amenities. Reservations fill up fast so book before the cruise if there is a treatment you must have. Otherwise, you can wait and try to book a last minute treatment. The spa runs a special everyday in the Patter. The spa sells Elemis products. Very expensive. I believe the eye cream was $70 and the moisturizer was over $100. Because the spa recently switched over to this line, they were selling the products they used to use at 50% off. A much better deal which is probably why they never advertised the sale.
Internet Cafe -- Every time I tried getting access, it was very slow. So, I stopped trying. But, if you do go to the cafe, you can get some really good non-alcoholic coffee drinks.
Entertainment -- Much better than on my previous Princess cruise but the entertainment on the last one was really bad. There was also a decent array of activities to appeal to everyone. Princess Idol was pretty good, especially at the finals. The miniature golf course is a joke. Don't bother trying to find it. The kids' programs are pretty good.
I could elaborate more on the amenities but basically, if you've ever been on a cruise, this one won't present any surprises. It's the typical, traditional big ship.
Ports: Ketchikan -- Cute little town. I found the best prices to be in this port so don't be afraid to buy your souvenirs here. They're pretty much the same in all the other ports. My parents did the sport fishing excursion here. A little pricey but they said it was a great experience. If you catch something and want to have it prepared and shipped to your home, the cost will be over $100.
Tracy Arm -- Very cool. The scenery is breathtaking. Definitely not something that can be captured in a picture. You really have to be there to fully understand the beauty.
Juneau -- Did the Mendenhall Glacier and Whale Watching Excursion. It was really cool to see wildlife in their natural habitat but it's nothing like the pictures you see in the books and brochures. You really had to look to see anything. Binoculars are provided. Good luck getting anything on camera. All my whale pictures are water scenes with little black blobs.
Skagway -- Restored Gold Rush era town. Lots of cool old stuff. Make a stop at the Red Onion and take a picture with the "ladies." My dad and brother went to town and bought tickets to the train ride. Don't know the specifics of what they did, only that they had a great time.
Victoria -- Very charming city. I wish we had been there longer to do more exploring. We just walked the town and took in the scenery. There are many talented street performers to keep you entertained. The shopping was a little expensive.
So, that concludes my review. Congrats if you made it all the way through. This was an overall good trip. Although we had some problems, the Purser's Desk was very knowledgeable and helpful in getting them resolved. Service was very good but no one really went out of their way, maybe because gratuities are automatically billed to passengers. Although we always tip more at the end, I'm sure many don't, preventing those working on the ship from giving you that extra effort. Sorry to those expecting towel animals.