Let me begin by telling you a little about my family and what our expectationsare/were for travel. I am a 38 year old stay at home mother of a 3-year-old daughter. My husband is a 35-year-old aerospace engineer. We take a "large" vacation, like a cruise, every 4-5 years and travel to visit family at least once a year. When vacationing, we splurge on luxury resort properties with onsite amenities like pools and spas. On a more routine basis, we dine out frequently. When we go out as a couple, we tend to choose upscale restaurants and often steakhouses. We traveled on the Grand Princess in December of 2000 and the two-part review of that ship is also on the cruise-addict site. Because the Grand Princess and the Star Princess are sister ships I will not go into as much detail about the ships layout in this review unless something is different. (The Grand review is VERY detailed-please see it for more information)
We have cruised 4 times: our honeymoon, on Norwegian Cruise Line's Seaward (now the Norwegian Sea); our fifth anniversary, on Celebrity Cruise Line's Zenith; our tenth anniversary, on Princess Cruise Line's Grand Princess and now we are celebrating my husband's parents retirement. For this trip we are traveling with our 3 year old and my husband's parents. My husband, daughter and I shared a mini-suite and my in-laws shared the mini-suite next to us. We enjoyed our Grand Princess cruise so much that when we learned that the new Star Princess would be in Alaska we booked that ship. Our interests are good food and excellent service in an elegant atmosphere. We are NOT party people, so discos, bars, pool games and the like are not important to us. We want to relax and reconnect with one another and take in the amazing scenery.
ARRIVING IN VANCOUVER/EMBARKATION:
We usually book our airfare independently of the cruise line. We feel that we are usually able to get better fares and schedules by doing it ourselves. Because our Alaskan itinerary was one way (Vancouver to Seward) I was NOT able to find a price better than what the cruise line was offering. Therefore, we allowed Princess to make our flight arrangements. We were VERY lucky with our schedules and seat assignments. Princess booked us on a flight that landed us in Vancouver at 10am, giving us plenty of time to stop in the city to pick up wine and get to the pier BEFORE embarkation began.
After deplaning in Vancouver, you exit into Customs. At this point, we claimed our luggage. I like to SEE my bags so I did not place my luggage tags on until I claimed them in customs. If you had placed them on your bags before you left, you did not need to do this (I was told). I also HATE cruise ship transfers. So since there were 5 of us traveling I explored my other options. I found that I could rent a stretch limousine to take us to the pier for the same money as the cruise line wanted for 5 transfers. SOOOOOOO, we were met outside customs by our driver. He assisted us in giving our now tagged baggage to Princess and then took our hand luggage to our awaiting car. After dropping us off at the pier we realized we were too early to board so we walked the two blocks to the Vancouver Liquor Store on Alberni Street, to pick up the wine I had ordered. My husband and I enjoy wine not offered on board, so we decided to take advantage of Princesses policy allowing you to take wine and champagne on board with you. We did not want to take it on the plane however and risk breakage. I discovered a store close to the pier and called in advance to check prices and place our order. Prices were about the same as California (once you do the currency conversion). Then we went back to the pier.
Embarkation on our last cruise on the Grand was exceptional. The Star, however, suffered from disorganization and of course September 11th. The checking-in process went quickly and smoothly, but customs/immigration was a nightmare. After the less than 2 seconds it took to check in we had to STAND in a line for an hour to clear immigration. The line was not organized at all. (I must say we could see the Royal Caribbean side and they had it much more organized.) I realize this line was for security reasons but I felt it could have been handled more smoothly, especially in light of RCCL's handling of the same problem. Our tip to you: Allow for extra time.
Once through immigration, it is a quick photo for your cruise card and then another for you to buy later. After that it is on to your cabin. You are not escorted individually; instead employees placed along the way direct you to your cabin. I have no problem with this system.
THE CABIN: The mini-suites on the Star Princess are 323 square feet, including the balcony. I had read that the room was very narrow, but I did not find it too narrow at all. Of course, ship cabins are not as large as most hotel rooms. This room was MORE than adequate for a week's stay. The entry way is a little too narrow, especially when entering with luggage or when opening the door for the butler with room service trays. Past the entryway, to the right (in cabin D330) is the closet, shelves and bath. You take a left into this little hallway, to your left is the bathroom door, to your rightt is the closet (it has no doors), and straight ahead is a closet of shelves with mirrored doors, this houses life jackets, a small safe with a programmable lock, and 6 or 7 shelves. This closet of shelves will serve as your dresser drawers, as all other drawers in the room are too small for clothes. We found it quite suitable for 7 days, despite our over packing. The mirrored doors serve as your full-length mirror. The closet had PLENTY of hangers, wooden suit hangers, slacks hangers, and skirt hangers. I would say there were 40 or more. I could have used a few less shirt hangers and a few more skirt hangers, but as I said I over packed. There is a shelf above with extra blankets and pillows and more storage space. The floor space below our hanging items, held our largest suitcase, our daughter's stroller and all of our shoes. Our other three (yes three) suitcases fit under the bed.
The bathroom holds a decent full-sized bathtub. I did in fact take a bath several times and it was quite comfortable. There is also a toilet and a sink, with a good amount of counter space. In addition to the counter, there are two small shelves to the left of the mirror and a large shelf below the sink, all with a small railing to keep things from sliding off. All in all, a lot of bathroom storage for a week. There were two bath towels, two hand towels, two face clothes, a terry cloth bath mat, and a rubber bath mat too. If you require additional towels (as for long hair), merely ask your room steward and one or more extra will appear each day. The towels on the Grand (our last cruise) were far from fluffy. Either they have improved towel quality or fabric softener on the Star OR the towels are newer and therefore softer. Princess participates in an eco-project, which encourages passengers to use their towels more than one day. If you wish to participate you hang your towel on the rack. When you wish for clean towels simply throw them on the floor and they will be replaced with clean towels. Two beach towels are also provided, although more are available upon request. These towels are much larger than the bath towels. We always asked for an extra to use for drying off balcony chairs and tables.
Just past the closet hallway are a mirror and a small counter for change, room keys and what not. This small counter at first seemed frivolous but it was actually quite useful. We kept our room keys here when we were in the room, and we always knew where they were. Past this is the bedroom area. To the right is the queen-sized bed (actually two single beds fitted together with queen sheets), with a nightstand on each side. The nightstands have a open shelf and two drawers each. They are each topped with a lamp. There is also an overhead light which is quite bright. There are control switches located all about the room for all the lights. This is quite convenient, especially the ones on the head of the bed for the bedside and overhead lights. The bed is made up with 3 pillows, I think. They are extremely comfortable pillows. There are soft sheets and blanket on the bed in addition to the bedspread. The steward removed the spread the first night, but we pulled it out because we were cool and the rest of the week the bed was turned down with the spread remaining. The bed was not too soft or too hard. We slept extremely well, and I frequently don't sleep well in hotels. I did find the bed on the Grand to be more comfortable than the Star, maybe they cut corners on the mattresses or I am was more sensitive since my daughter was in the room with us. At any rate, I did not sleep quite as well on this ship.
Just beyond the bed is the desk to the left (facing the balcony) and the mini-fridge to the right, in between there is the opening to the sitting area. There is no curtain or door separating the areas. This was not a problem for us, but if one of you rises early or stays up late AND the other requires complete darkness to sleep it might prove inconvenient. The desk is attached to the nightstand on the right. There is a mirror with a hairdryer on the wall. I had read much about the hairdryer's lack of power. I have shoulder length curly hair that is quite thick. I found that the hairdryer on the high setting was quite adequate to dry my hair. The writing surface was deep enough to write letters or keep a journal. There are three small drawers to the left of the desk. These were perfect for keeping hair accessories and makeup, as well as a corkscrew, bottle opener and the like. To the left, above the mini-fridge is one of the televisions (one remote control works for both). The TV runs several stations, including CNN, the ship channel (running current weather, port information, etc.), a movie station running somewhat current films, and a few other stations. They advertised that they had a channel of children's programming, but we never found it. The mini-fridge is located in a cabinet beneath this. It is empty except for an insulated ice bucket that was full of ice. There is a bowl of fruit delivered the first day and with it is an order form so you can customize your refills. The sitting area consists of a sofa (much shorter than the one on the Grand), an armchair and a coffee table. THe sofa folds out into a bed. My daughter slept here. An adult might have trouble the mattress is very thin and the bed very short. A three year old however, loved her own bed. There is another TV on a high shelf (opposite the first) and below it are a marble counter for storage and two shelves below. We used these for reading material and our beach/pool supplies so they were always handy. Beyond this is the balcony. There are two sets of drapes in front of the sliding glass doors, one sheer and one very dark and heavy. The heavy set closed completely and were effective "black-out" curtains.
The balcony is not huge. The furnishings consisted of two armchairs that reclined (not loungers), a table for eating or cards, a footstool and two chairs for the table. We had our steward bring an extra table chair for our daughter and still had enough space. A word of caution, they clean windows at night and so the balcony furniture was ALWAYS wet first thing in the morning. (Remember the extra beach towel). The flooring on the balcony is plastic and rather hard, but contrary to what I had read it did not hurt my bare feet. The railing is wood and beneath it is tinted Plexiglas. This is great so you can see the ocean while sitting, some of Princess' other ships are solid metal below the railing and you will only be able to see the water while standing. We were on the Dolphin deck and yes the balconies can be seen from above. In the Caribbean I found this not to be a problem. In Alaska it rains frequently. A covered balcony would have been nice but the balconies that are completely covered were much smaller. (The balconies on the Caribe deck are have covered and half open but the rooms do not have the seating area and the two decks above that have completely covered balconies but they are very small. They hold a table and two small chairs only) The lack of covering did not bother us. We preferred the extra space. Keep in mind that NONE of the balconies have side partitions that are floor to ceiling. You can and will hear your neighbors' conversations quite clearly, but as long as no one is too loud it is not a problem. In Alaska (esp at the glaciers) everyone is on their balcony and it can be quite loud).
In all, the room was very comfortable and very attractively decorated. The color scheme is tans and light blue, very elegant and not at all flashy. I felt that Celebrity's rooms were too bright for a bedroom and really much more designed to hide dirt rather than be visually appealing. This room really felt like casually elegant. The room was spotless and remained that way throughout the week. I would HIGHLY recommend a mini-suite, if you can afford it.
SHIP/PUBLIC ROOMS: This ship is gorgeous. The public rooms are well thought out and attractively designed and decorated. I truly did not believe those that said you did not feel like you were on with 2700 other people. But you DON'T. Only at disembarkation did I see ALL those other people at once.Pools:The pools are heated (and fresh water). That said, only the pool covered by the retractable roof was utilized. Even that pool was used only sparsely. Our three year old LOVES to swim so we used the pool three times. Twice we were alone. The hot tubs however were used often. Those in the covered pool were the most utilized but I frequently saw people in the open-air hot tubs too. The pools and hot tubs are open 24 hours a day, though some are occasionally closed for cleaning. There were NO water aerobic classes held. One side note, the "kiddie" pool on deck 15 (I think) has a cute slide and looks like a lot of fun. It is NOT heated, so in Alaska it was useless. The covered pool is deep. The shallow end is 5 feet 2 inches and the deep end is 7 feet. It was challenging swimming with a small child in this pool.
The Rest of the Public Areas We Used:
Skywalkers: The view is awesome and you really need to go up there to see it. Great for viewing the glaciers and sail aways if you do not have a balcony. When we sailed on the Grand we never found the bar open there except late at night. On this cruise the bar was frequently open and well staffed.
Children's Zone/teen Zone: The teens looked mostly bored, but it did provide a place for them to meet and be together. I don't think Alaska is the most fun destination for them. There were not a lot of kids on this cruise since it was before most schools were out for the year. In the 8-12 group there were around 40 aboard and in the 3-7 there were approx. 15 children aboard. During most of the sessions there were less than 8 kids in the 3-7 group (my daughters group). She attended about 1/3 of the sessions offered. (On Sea Days activities are offered 9-12 am, 2-5 pm and 7-10 pm; on Port days child care is offered-for free- including meals but you must sign up the day prior and activities are limited to free play and videos; also offered is child care from 10pm-1am each evening for $5 per hour per child-again service is video only) Our daughter did not attend on port days or the late evening sessions, but thoroughly enjoyed the other times. We had to practically drag her out when they closed a session. Twice they had group kids meals, which worked out nicely for her and for us to enjoy an adult only dinner.
Video Arcade: There is NO Video Arcade on the Star.
The Spa/Beauty Salon: My experience on the Grand was poor. I had no plans to utilize the spa on the Star but my in-laws treated me to a Chakra Hot Stone Massage. Wow. It was wonderful. The spa area is well laid out and attractively presented. The relaxation room (for spa patrons only) was very nice with a rock sauna, steam room, rain forest shower (think lots of shower heads) and warm stone relaxation chairs. The massage was very pricey $158, but it was 1 and ½ hours long. It was without a doubt the nicest massage I have ever had. There was a small pitch for product at the end, but very, very low pressure. Yeah.
Gym: Very well equipped, with the exception of treadmills. There are 6-8 treadmills in all. There is a sign up sheet for use of the treadmills and it is needed. I was surprised that they were in such demand. The sign up sheet only allows for each person to stay on for 1/2 hour, which is less time than most users are used to and many exceeded their time, throwing off the schedule. There are also stationary bikes, stair machines, free weights and a life cycle weight system. There is also an aerobic room and many classes were offered. They have started charging for a few of the classes offered (yoga, spinning, pilates, kick boxing) but some others are still free. I believe they have done away with the cruisercise program, where you could earn logo merchandise by attending exercise classes
Deck 14: This deck contains pools, bars and restaurants all of which are covered above or below.
Deck 12 (there is no 13)-8:Cabins only
Vista Lounge: This is one of the large show lounges. It is located all the way aft. This lounge is set up with couch seating with small cocktail tables. It did offer cocktail service during shows. Site lines were not great, mostly due to pillars and the rake of the floor not being sufficient to see over tall people in front of you.
Wheelhouse Bar: Cool area with a nice trios playing big band style music most evenings. Lovely seating designed to feel like a small intimate bar. This was our favorite lounge. Unlike the Grand service here was top notch. This lounge is also typically not crowded.
Explorer's Lounge: This is a big space. It is used as a show lounge after dinner and for art auctions in the afternoon. It is a lovely area, which reminded me of Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile, sort of campy Egyptian with waiters in pith helmets and khaki's. The woodwork is gorgeous and the decor elegant. It does have a few more private areas and prior to dinner it is almost deserted.
The Atrium (Center Decks 7-5):I read a lot of complaints that the atrium is not grand enough for the Grand Princess, well it is the same on the Star, and I still like it. I found the atrium to be lovely and serviceable. It was convenient to use it to reach the stores, the purser and the dining rooms. It made a lovely gathering place for the Captain's Welcome Reception. It is beautifully appointed with glass elevators and spiral staircases. The string quartet at the base and the pianist in the lounge make it an elegant area for pre dinner drinks. Having purser's offices on two floors also helped congestion. The purser's office is much friendlier on the Star, than they were on the Grand.In this area are the ship's shops. There is a clothier, a perfumery, a jewelry shop and a notions and cruisewear/logo shop. The prices were reasonable and the selection very good. A couple of days they held "sidewalk" sales that made the area a little crowded but tolerable.
Promenade Bar:This bar held a piano bar. Great place to enjoy a pre or post dinner cocktail, listen to music AND look out the window at the amazing scenery.
The Princess Theatre (Decks 7 & 6):This is all the way forward. Deck 7 is the upstairs entrance. This lounge is the MAIN show lounge and headliners perform here. The sight lines are much better. The Star Princess DOES offer cocktail service in this theatre. With the addition of Personal Choice Dining, the theatre is not as crowded and you can usually find a seat without a problem. They also made announcements frequently telling passengers that seat saving was not allowed.
Deck 6: Amalfi Dining Room:This is the traditional dining room. It is a pretty dining room, much like the others. The only catch with this one is that the only way to get there is the stairs and elevators all the way aft. You cannot walk down Deck 6 to get here. Therefore the entryway does get congested prior to dinner. We used Personal Choice Dining, so we did not eat in this room.
Portofino Dining Room: This is one of the two Personal Choice Dining Rooms. We used this dining room exclusively. It is also the dining room that is open for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. As with all the dining rooms, it is well laid out with short walls dividing the room into more intimate seating areas. it works. we never felt like we were eating with 500 other people. The ceilings are too low though and noise does bounce around some. We never had to raise our voices to speak to our table companions but it did have a din to the place.The linens are lovely Egyptian linen by Frette. They are different almost nightly, I believe, as are the wait staff's attire. The silver, china and stemware are also very nice. The decor here, as throughout the ship, is top notch and very elegant.A note on Personal Choice Dining: We LOVED it. We never had to wait for a table, even when requesting the same waiter each night without a reservation. The freedom to go when you were ready cannot be beat.
Atrium Deck 6: Some of the shops are on level 6 they are discussed above. The Casino entrance is on Deck 6 in the atrium. It is a large casino. We did not use it, but we did walk through many times. It always smelled of lingering smoke but it was never overwhelming (and I have a pretty sensitive nose). They did offer gaming lessons and several blackjack, slots and poker tournaments were held.
Shooters Lounge: We walked through once. This is the sports lounge. They advertised what sports would be on each day in the patter but it was always subject to satellite coverage. I had read it was frequently poor coverage. Also the bar staff is NOT into American sports, so if you go in and ask what is happening with the game, they usually did not know or care. This bar is ALWAYS empty.
Deck 5: Capri Dining Room:We did not use this room.
Atrium area: On Deck 5 of the atrium are the library, listening room, and computer area There is also a internet room next to Tequlia's). The library and writing area are really quite lovely, though the library hours (the staffed hours) are really too short. The writing area has comfortable desks that face the ocean. The library even had needlepoint kits for sale. The game room had tons of games to borrow of many kinds. This room always seemed to have activity. The listening chairs were only sparsely used, as was the computer area. The area right across from the listening chairs (chairs where you could listen to CD's or books on tape) and adjacent to the writing area was consistently being used to sell future cruises. I really felt it spoiled the solitude and the look of this area.Also in this area is the art gallery. It is set up gallery style and displays many of the works that will be auctioned during the week. Even if you don't intend to buy, it is a nice area to browse through.
FOOD: This area was a hit and miss category for us. We were pleasantly surprised by some and disappointed in other areas.
Horizon Court: The Horizon Court buffet was a better than on our last cruise. The food was better but the variety was minimal. It is a beautiful room with lots of window seating. In addition the deck areas had a great number of tables and chairs to use as well. The buffet itself is not one long line but five or so food stations. Sometimes but not always an attendant handed you a large oval plate and silverware (sometimes you helped yourself) you take this to whatever station you choose to start and begin. We found this system very efficient, but it definitely confused others used to the one line method. I never had to wait in line for anything here. Many of the dishes catered to the large Asian clientele on this sailing (maybe all sailings, I don't know). Because of this, there was less space for a large variety of American dishes. At breakfast there was juice station, two bread/pastry stations, a fruit station, a milk/yogurt station, a station with an Asian soup, fried rice and a variety of other ethnic cuisine, a station with eggs (typically fried, scrambled and scrambled with some type of meat or veggie), and a station with eggs benedict or omelettes and breakfast meats. Lunch was two salad stations, a bread station, a fruit station, a dessert station, an ethnic station, a deli meat station, and two luncheon item stations. The hot items were standard buffet fare no better or worse than a Country Buffet or the like back home. The other stations were better. The salad bar was fresh and well stocked and there was always a large selection of cheese, fruit and breads. There was always something carved. We ate breakfast and lunch here most days, but never dinner or late night.
The Outdoor Grill and Pizzeria: The Outdoor Grill was excellent. The burgers, hot dogs, and bratwurst were partially pre-cooked (I believe this was due to the cold weather) and then finished while you waited. The pizzeria was also very good and we never waited long for a fresh slice. I also never saw a pizza sit out long. Fresh pizzas were out every few minutes. I REALLY enjoyed the pizza and found it to my New England taste, my husband thought it was good, but not great. It just shows everyone's taste is different. Attendants in both locations (on either side of the pool deck) were helpful and pleasant, esp. when treated the same way.
Sabitini's: We did not dine there, nor did we talk to anyone who had. We heard it was excellent but since I am allergic to shellfish the menu (which is mostly seafood and lots of shellfish) did not work for us. I printed the whole menu from the Grand Princess' Sabitini's in my earlier review.
Tequilas: We did not dine here. We tried the Painted Desert on the Grand and we were disappointed. We therefore did not bother with Tequilas.
Room Service: We had breakfast or at least coffee in our room daily. The service and the food were good. I had one complaint at the beginning of the week. Cream. In the Horizon Court and from Room Service the cream was powdered in packets. I must not have been the only one with this complaint. By mid-week, room service had pitchers of cream available and the Horizon Court had a carafe of cream next to the coffee. Powdered cream on a luxury vacation is not acceptable.
Dining Room: Breakfast: We did not eat breakfast in the dining room.
Lunch: We did not eat lunch in the dining room.
Afternoon Tea: This event was hit and miss. I really enjoy afternoon tea. British afternoon tea. Princess is a British line. Afternoon tea on Princess needs work. The Star Princess has improved the actual tea served. While on the Grand they served only Lipton and you could not get any other kind. The Star serves Lipton also, but if you ask they will brew a small pot (metal not china like the lipton) of another flavor (I chose Earl Grey). The tea sandwiches, sweets and scones served were identical to those served on the Grand. The Grand however, served tea more elegantly. Presentation and level of service at tea time was lacking on the Star. The servers looked and acted bored or resentful both times I went. You are always seated with others at this event. On Celebrity, tea was held in one of the lounges instead of the dining room. This offered more seating options (including solitary) and more intimate groupings. Celebrity also did an outstanding job of the food and teas served. Princess should take note. Tea never used more than 1/3 of a dining room for tea. This could have easily moved to another venue, and by reducing it's size more variety could be offered.
Dinner: Dinners were excellent. We had Personal Choice (as stated above), but we used the same waiter all but one evening. (The rest of our group used Jun, but we opted for a "date" night and sat away from our group). We brought our own wine to dinner 5 nights and we were always charged corkage. Our waiter, Jun and our Asst. Waiter, Leo, did an excellent job (which is why we returned to his section nightly). Our headwaiter, Neil, did a great job also. He had a special cake prepared for us one night because we enjoyed it on the Grand. He even had the temperature in the room adjusted one night when I mentioned I was hot. As for the food: Appetizers were mostly standard with the exception of the escargot and the proscuitto and melon, which were great. The onion soup and the chilled soups were outstanding. Of the entrees, the prime rib, beef Wellington and the duck were highlights for me. The rest of my table also really enjoyed the lobster and king crab legs. Desserts were really excellent. esp. the souffles and the raspberry crème brulee and any of the homemade ice creams. The Love Boat Dream is always good, as is the cheesecake. The rolls are almost the best part though. I could not stop eating them. I was again impressed that the meat was cooked to the temperature ordered. I have never had a ship or banquet in a hotel manage it before and now Princess has managed to do it on two cruises. My husband and I like our meat rare, my in-laws liked theirs medium-well. They were all right EVERY time. Even prime rib, which is hard to get rare. All in all, we were VERY pleasantly surprised by the food and the service we received.
ENTERTAINMENT:Great Improvement over the Grand. Dance and Da Beat were technically varied and visually interesting. They were pretty well choreographed and danced. The singers are average. The plot line is thin. They utilized lots of special lighting, effects and hydrolic lifts. The Give my Regards show in the Vista Lounge was not as good. I would still prefer less flashy shows in favor of more talented performers.There was also nightly musical entertainment in the lounges and Tequilas. These trios, quartets and soloists were usually pretty good, but still not great.There was three "Celebrity" performers: Sarge-a comedian, fairly funny; Greg Bonham-the "big" celebrity- a Vegas style performer, talented but not my style; and Kevin Hughes, a funny comedian.
SERVICE:Room Steward: Excellent. Our room was spotless and all our requests were filled promptly. Josh was very pleasant and had a good command of the English language. He also took very good care of our daughter. He placed her stuffed animals in different places each night and she would hunt for them.
Other:We encountered problems with billing on our last cruise. No problems this trip. Purser staff and tour staff on this ship were much friendlier and seemed less harried.
THE CAPTIAN: Captain Andy Proctor. Or as he was referred often "Captain Andy" was a joy. Very approachable, friendly and funny. It was such a joy to have such a personable captain. Hats off to him.
GENERAL SERVICE: Excellent. Friendly, outgoing. Lounge staff was ever-present without hovering or pushing. Horizon Court staff were the same way. They cleaned dirty plates almost invisibly and offered cocktails or soft drinks unobtrusively. It would have been nice if the "free" beverages were brought to you, but they were not far from the seating.
PORTS:Alaska is amazing. What a great cruise destination. We sailed to Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway. We also visited Glacier Bay and College Fjord. Vancouver: I would love to visit again. Since I spent only one hour there I will not comment, other than to say it is beautiful.
Ketchikan:Small town similar to Breckenridge Colorado to me. Several touristy shops. Good selection of souvenirs at some decent prices. Cute. My husband and father-in-law went Sport fishing (booked through the cruise line). Ketchikan was touted as THE place to sport fish in Alaska. It might have been great fishing but there was no catching that day. According to my husband none of the boats they saw (cruise line booked or not) came in with fish. Ketchikan is known for rain.. and it did. Our cruise director had a clever line. "Ketchikan has the cleanest air in the country it is washed everyday".
Juneau:Another quaint town, though much larger than Ketchikan. I enjoyed walking around and looking at the shops but the highlight was our excursion. We went Whale Watching (booked through the cruise line) with Allen Marine. It was a great excursion. We saw whales (killer and humpback), Dall's porpoise, bald eagles, seals, and sea otters. It misted most of the trip, but did not rain hard.
Skagway:I really liked this very small town. Nice shops, great scenery. We took the White Pass Railway excursion. Amazing scenery, great photo opps.
Glacier Bay:OH MY GOD, is it beautiful. This is why you get a balcony. We had a port side room, we had the BEST views of the glaciers. We sailed slowly through this bay. I NEVER WANTED TO LEAVE. We started out on deck above the bridge along with about 200 other people. After a short while we moved to our balcony (once we realized it was all on the port side). We ordered room service coffee and watched the glaciers calve what seemed like inches from our faces. This "port" defies words.
College Fjord:Not quite as amazing as Glacier Bay and yet breathtaking in it's own way. We saw much more wildlife this day including a bear, whales and lots of sea otters.
EVERY DAY:Whales, porpoises, and seals or sea otters were visible. Sometimes we missed the sighting, but often we caught the show. The scenery and wildlife made most of the shipboard activities superfluous.
Seward: We disembarked in Seward and took the transfer to Anchorage. (Our only other option was to rent a car since our flight was so early). It is a 3 hour bus ride with great scenery so I will count it as a shore excursion. Not bad for a bus tour.
DISEMBARKATION:Since we had to leave so early, it was not really a problem. We got up early ate at Horizon Court and SHOULD have stayed in our room until they called our color. But since we were to be called third (they give you a list of the order to be called) and they had already called the first two we made our way to deck 6. Well they ended up going out of order and we stood waiting for an hour. Our fault mostly, we could have been comfortable in our rooms. Oh well live and learn. We were able to check into our flight home at the dock, a nice touch.
PACKING: Do bring layers, but we overdid it. We had to bundle up on deck for Glacier Bay and at the summit of the train trip. The rest of the time I was fine with a long sleeve T, a light sweater and a light rain jacket. On the two bundle up days, I added a fleece, a hat (or ear muffs), a scarf and gloves. The dining room and show lounges can be very hot esp. after a cool day. Bring evening clothes that are not too heavy. I can only assume it will get warmer not colder as the season progresses. We also did not need rain pants (though we did take them) but it did not rain heavily any day nor did we do any hiking excursions. We did wear duck shoes (waterproof shoes) on the whale watching trip. We did not need umbrellas since we had raincoats with hoods.
I am usually a strong anti-jeans on cruises person, but brought some along for the whale watching trip. I was glad I did. They were perfect for whale watching and for cruising through Glacier Bay. I would say 95% of the ship wore jeans at some point on the trip. Sadly, I saw 10% of the patrons in jeans on the second formal night (also Glacier Bay day) and 65% of the patrons wore jeans and even overalls on the last night (yes in the dining room on both nights). As for formal nights, this was by far the most casual cruise we have been on. I would say only 70% dressed formally those nights. Of those 30% were in gowns and 10% in tuxes. Most men who did dress up were in suits, women were mostly in nice church dresses. The 30% who did not dress up were in all sorts of attire, from jeans to sweat suits.
Please bring the best binoculars you can (wide angle is best) and the best camera with a BIG zoom if you can. There was wildlife to be seen and photographed if you had good zoom, my camera did not zoom enough to get wildlife on shore.
SUMMARY:This was a great vacation. Taking a three year old was NO PROBLEM, she loved it and the kids program allowed us some grown up time too. Alaska was amazing, we will be back. I took over 300 pictures. Princess did a great job. I would definitely recommend this itinerary and this cruise line to my friends.