This was our first cruise and my DW and I have prepared for months reading and trying to absorb any and all details about the ship and the trip. Both of us are in our late 50's and were totally excited about this adventure. We went with her two sisters and their husbands both from Cleveland, Ohio, where we originally came form prior to relocating to south central Kentucky in 1982.
Start of Planning
We started planning the trip in April and my sister in law was going to make all the arrangements for us through AAA in Cleveland. After hearing the cost at $4800/ couple for a balcony stateroom on the 11th deck for cruise and air I became a little concerned. The AAA agent wanted us to fly to Cleveland for an additional $600 round trip so we could travel with the in-laws or she would not be able to arrange the trip. I basically told my sister in law that I'd make our arrangements and we'd meet them in Seattle a day early so we could site see and not be so tired from the flights. As it turned out the in-laws didn't even fly together and one couple had to go to Newark, NJ, and then to Seattle leaving Cleveland at 6:20 a.m. We picked a flight that left at 9:05 a.m. from Nashville since we have an hour and a half drive to the airport.
Went online through Travelocity and booked the balcony stateroom right next to theirs for $3440 for the seven night cruise. Our cabin number was B330. A stateroom with a balcony on the Baja deck. I also checked the box which kept us in mind for upgrades. Secured airfare on Orbitz for both of us via American Airlines for $370 round trip from Nashville to Seattle via Dallas. So our trip at that time was $3,820 vs there's at $4,800.
Kept checking every week by logging in at the princess web site and filled out all the immigration paperwork etc there and had us ready for all the particulars. In early May while checking the site I noticed that our cabin had been changed to a larger balcony cabin on the Carbide Deck. I called Princess and explained that we wanted to stay together as a group with the in-laws. The Princess rep advised me to call my TA because another upgrade might be possible. I called and after holding for about 10 minutes she came back and said "I've got good news and more good news!". "I've got you a mini suite on the Dolphin deck". I again explained we wanted to be with the in-laws and she said "the other good news is it's $400 less than the balcony state room and about twice as big ". I said "I'LL TAKE IT!" So we are in a mini suite for $3,040 plus the air at $370 or a new total of $3,410 and now the wait begins.
August 23, 2003
We got to the dock at about 11:45 a.m. and the ship was still disembarking passengers with what appeared to be alot of confusion. We had stayed at the Holiday Inn at SeaTac and the cab ride to the dock was $30 with the tip. We took our luggage and gave it to a baggage handler and saw it again in about 3 hours in our mini suite. The check in process went fine with about 20-30 minutes to get through. When we started in line there were only 5 people checking in passengers. but at 12:00 p.m. four more came out and the process went very smoothly. They opened the roll up door and the stampede began. First a picture of the two of us for purchase later and then the wait to go through the next set of doors and through the xray machines. Total time for this process maybe 10-15 minutes max.
Walked up the gangway to the ship, slipped our cruise card in the picture making equipment and we were officially on the ship and cruising. Well, maybe not cruising yet, but the journey had begun. Found our room D-620 on deck 9 the Dolphin deck easily, should have been easy I could probably have walked through the ship blind folded I'd seen most every nick and cranny in the thing for the past 4 months while investigating the ship and trip. The room was immaculate even though some other couple had been in it no more than two hours earlier.
Our suitcases hadn't arrived yet, but a knock on the door produced our cabin steward named Alvin. I requested a foam egg crate mattress pad that Alvin said would be no problem and he gave us a quick tour of our mini suite. The bed mattress felt fine, but the egg crate made it feel real good. This was a tip we read in a cruise review. We also had our bathrobes waiting that I requested via their web site. Alvin never really appeared in the cabin again although we would see him in the hall and speak several times daily. Alvin kept our cabin immaculate always.
August 23, 2003 Lunch in the Horizon Food Court
In a word CHAOS. The Horizon has two sides, but only one was opened and several hundred people were trying to get in it at once. The food court needs better supervision or at least traffic control on the first day. However, I told the DW that this was going to happen based on all the reviews I'd read so we were prepared. Food was excellent and service was fine for the first time. Everyone had a major learning curve the first day at the Horizon. No problems at all after that.
After lunch we toured the ship and watched other passengers get directions from the crew and staff that were basically everywhere to help people find their staterooms. We walked most of the this mammoth ship finally seeing with my own eyes areas I'd only seen via others pictures or in advertisements. In a word the ship is "BEAUTIFUL". It is also as clean as a whistle. During the cruise it was common in almost every area to see a crew member cleaning something and I'm talking about on their hands and knees to make sure the ship was spotless.
Our Mini Suite
We got back and unpacked all of our luggage and and had plenty of room in the hugh closet and wardrobe that were right by the bathroom. We also had at least 8-10 other drawers in the tables and desk to store items. Our room was never cluttered. Having the couch, chair, and coffee table was really great and worth the extra expense to have a separate room for lounging in. In fact even when the in-laws came in to the room you still didn't feel cramped at all.
We brought an extension cord along to plug in the charger for the camera, cell charger, curling iron etc. In reading reviews people had said that only one 110 outlet in the room was available. In the mini suite we had two by the TV's, two more by the desk, and one in the bathroom. Therefore, the extension really wasn't needed.
Our in-laws said they had a bottle of champagne on ice courtesy of AAA waiting for them in their room which we later found out was just a hoax. We had (2) bottles of wine and Princess tote bags from Travelocity which were for real. The in-laws weren't real happy campers for what they had spent for there facilities .
There was only one occasion during the entire journey of over 2,000 nautical miles that we ever felt the ship rocking or rolling and that was as we were going toward Victoria in the inland passage and came upon a point where the Pacific was rolling in as the water in the inland passage was going I guess in an opposite way that gave us some rolling and rocking for about and hour. I believe the captain slowed the ship from 20 knots to 8 knots to avoid any serious discomfort.
The weather in all ports of call was absolutely perfect picture post card weather 62-68 degrees, very little wind, and plenty of sunshine. The only rain we experienced was for about two hours on Sunday on at sea day and except for some periods of fog the weather was great.
The day we cruised Tracy's Arm to see the glacier it was overcast which according to the naturalist was perfect for viewing the blues of the glacier. He was right. Water temperature was 38 degrees and the outside air temperature was only 45 degrees and we were on our balcony and it was COLD! We put on gloves, hats, and wrapped in a blanket and the scenery was breathtaking. How the captain got that hugh ship in there through all those ice bergs is beyond me, but I'm sure glad he did because it was absolutely awesome.
We took excursions in Juneau and Skagway. In Juneau we went out on a jet boat whale watching. The jet boat held about 40 people and had an open area as well as enclosed area with rest room facilities on board. We found several hump back whales and were even able to watch them feed which was really exciting. We also saw many eagles and sea lions on this excursion. This trip ended with a bus ride to the Mendenhall Glacier which is a beautiful site to see. I took several post card quality Camera shots at this site. We highly recommend this trip which I believe was around $129.00 each. No Bears!
In Skagway we boarded another boat and traveled to Haines, Alaska, to a wildlife preserve we had a weenie roast and chili for lunch which was provided prior to getting on flat bottom twin engine boat for our river wildlife quest. We went up and down that river for about 30-45 minutes and the only wildlife we saw were several eagles and a couple of salmon a fisherman had caught. This trip was nice and the scenery from the river was beautiful, but for the price $159 each I wouldn't recommend it. No Bears!
Ship Board Activities and Entertainment
There were lots of things to do while the ship was sailing between ports from bingo, to an excellent casino, pools, hot tubs, basketball, putt putt, etc. and we did all of them at least once. The entertainment in the evening was good and we especially enjoyed the live broadway type show in the Princess Theater except the audio was entirely to loud.
Our in-laws enjoyed the comedians in both theaters especially the juggler who somehow and please don't try this at home sucked(litterally) five ping pong balls into his mouth and juggled them by inhaling and exhaling as he juggled items with his hands on a unicycle.
Shipboard activities for each day were very clearly explained in the daily newsletter called the patter. Also the cruise director reiterated activities at the theaters and via the closed circuit TV channels. We enjoyed keeping up with where we were via the room TV and the ships own private TV channel.
We elected to go personal choice dining and although I've never done the 6 or 8 routine I'm sure the flexibility of PC is the only way to go. On Tuesday we were seated at a table waited on by a beautiful little Romanian girl named Georgetta. She was absolutely excellent and I reserved her table every evening there after in the Portofino restaurant for 8 or 8:15 p.m. We never waited more than 2-4 minutes anytime we went for meals at either the Portofino or Capri restaurants whether it be lunch or dinner. For lunch in the Portofino we sat with Horacio who was from Mexico via Samoa. Horacio was alot of fun and also an excellent waiter.
I guess the one thing that really surprised us was that out of 1,100 crew members only 11 were from the U.S.
We had two formal nights where the men wore tuxedos or suits and the women wore more formal attire. In my judgment no more than 20% of the men wore tuxedos and we went through most parts of the ship on each night. Did not see anyone dressed in anything other than a suit or tux in the dining rooms.
After dinner at the shows at least 70% of the men had changed into more casual attire or at a minimum took off their ties and jackets. In the atrium areas formal attire was more prevalent than in other public areas of the ship. However, that amount of people didn't represent more than 2-5% of the ships population. I wore a dark suit at dinner and changed into smart casual attire for the 10:30 p.m. comedy show in the Princess theater which a lot of the men did.
They need some help here. Went in at least six to eight times and at best 4-5 machines of about 30 were working. Heard alot of disgruntled passengers as they couldn't log in or the machine wasn't even on. The rate was only $.35/min which was fine and the speed was comparable to a standard modem. I got all the information about my business in a sit down each day and the total bill was just over $10.00. The problem was sitting down and getting a machine that worked. The Internet is a way of life with lots of us and even though we are on vacation from our business, it will still be there when we get back and information on current activities is vital.
We have a local company here in Kentucky, but clarity was fine in all the ports of call and connecting was just like dialing a long distance number at home. The easiest way to tell if you had cell connection was to watch the TV and see if they had there cable channels. If the ship had the cable channels, chances were pretty good you have cell connection and Internet connection as well.
The disembarking process was done by color code and ran about 10-15 minutes behind the assigned schedule. I'm sure one of the problems was that the Amsterdam uses the same terminal for customs as Princess and that ship was disembarking at the same time as the Star. We went through customs found our bags in our color coded row and went out side the terminal. Then chaos broke loose again. Outside the terminal were buses for Princess furnished transportation, a cab row, and family members pickup all together.
We grabbed a cab that was the sixth one in what was supposed to be a line and our guy headed out of the mess. The pick up and drop off process could be greatly improved with some simple signage and a traffic control. We had no problem, but did get cussed out by some people waiting for a cab that we had no idea what they were waiting for.
Our total time to disembark and travel back to the Holiday at Sea Tac was only one hour and another $30 dollar cab ride. Our total cost for lodging and transportation for the two days was $184.00. The in-laws cost was $290.00 and they finally got to their hotel at 1:30 p.m. total time of 2 hours and 30 minutes.
In summary, we would rate this experience a four out of five and enjoyed it very much. We definitely recommend that you spend the time prior to the cruise researching everything you can find about your ship, itinerary, port of calls, etc so surprises are kept to a minimum. We even called back home and had our girls at our place of business see us on the ships web cam in Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Victoria. Granted we were real small, maybe 2-3 pixels, but that was fun too.
But still NO BEARS! Well, I guess we'll just have to come back and find those bears on another cruise to Alaska.