We had a wonderful cruise on Sun Princess northbound from Vancouver to Seward. Let me preface this review by saying that DH and I are quiet and do not do the party life. This was our second cruise. The first was on Carnival, and we liked Princess much better. Some of the differences could have been attributed to Alaskan vs. Caribbean itineraries, but Princess has a more refined atmosphere. The Sun Princess was beautiful, with a shining brass atrium, but it is not showy like Carnival. There was a casino, bingo, etc., of course, but all that wasn't being constantly pushed on us. We only saw one couple inebriated enough to disturb other passengers.
We flew into Vancouver the night before and stayed at the Pan Pacific Hotel, which is right at the dock. It was neat seeing two HAL ships as they sailed the night we got there, then waking up to see the Sun Princess waiting for us. The Pan Pacific is a very nice hotel, but you pay for all these privileges. Next time we'll go somewhere less pricey and take a cab to Canada Place when it is time to board.
Embarkation was very easy. We had Express Check-In since I had filled out all the forms on line. But even those not in the express line didn't have hours-long waits like we did on Carnival. Princess somehow manages to keep all lines short: embarking, at ports of call, in the buffets, in the photo shop, disembarking -- everywhere. One way they did this was to open more lines, and in the photo shop, to stay open longer hours so everyone didn't have to crowd in at the same time.
Our cabin was small, but we had more room than we needed in closets, storage spaces, drawers, etc. You just had to keep picking up and putting away. When we got to our stateroom, the in-room safe was missing. We reported this, and they brought one up early the next morning. We loved having our own balcony and we spent a lot of time sitting there, watching the beautiful scenery pass by.
Everyone in the crew spoke English very well (not true on Carnival, where most could only communicate about what they generally expected to hear while doing their specific job). Crew members were polite and friendly, and went out of their way to be sure that you were completely happy.
On Carnival I had asked for a salad dressing not listed on the menu, but was told that only those listed were available. I just assumed that would be true industry-wide and didn't even ask on Princess. When I didn't like the dressing on my salad one night on Sun Princess, I thought the wait staff was about to cry, they were so distressed. The assistant waiter called over the waiter and they apologized profusely as if they were somehow to blame. They insisted on bringing me an alternate salad that I would like. They emphasized that if I wanted something different, I should just ask. When our waiter found out I especially like Alaskan King Crab, he brought me seconds without my asking.
We loved Personal Choice dining. We had the freedom to eat around our activities, rather than plan our activities around a meal schedule. After the salad fiasco, we asked for the same waiter each night and were taken to one of his tables immediately. We never had to wait, even though we didn't make reservations. We didn't care for the lunch buffet on Horizon Court; there wasn't much that appealed to us. And desserts are not a Princess specialty.
Being from the deep South, I didn't know what to expect weather-wise. I've never heard of having both fall and winter coats (most people down here don't even have one coat). We were blessed with cold but beautiful weather. Temperatures ranged from the low to mid 40s (a fairly cold winter day for us Southerners). That wouldn't have been bad if not for the constant cold wind. Most people we met were from the northern states or Canada. Everyone we saw, including the crew, wore what appeared to my Southern eyes to be warm jackets. The crew's appeared to be down. Everyone wore hats. Get something that covers your ears - it makes a big difference. A hood or a scarf was helpful. Even with layers, warm jackets, etc., we saw many people with blankets. The public viewing decks were very windy. It was more comfortable on our balcony, where we were somewhat protected from the wind. I would suggest zip or button-front sweaters. I was constantly pulling off my sweatshirt when we went inside for a while, then putting it back on to go outside.
I wore layers and a down jacket I got on sale from Land's End and still wanted a blanket, but I do get cold easily. DH wore a T-shirt, long-sleeve shirt, wool shirt with a quilted lining, and one of those Stearns double-layer nylon rain parkas, and a skull cap, and was fairly comfortable. In short, IT WAS COLD! But it was fair or sunny the whole week.
We saw eagles in Ketchikan, but no other wild life until we left Skagway. Then we saw harbor seals, sea lions, sea otters, black bears, and both humpback and killer whales. Most of these sightings were in College Fjord. The naturalists' talks were broadcast on Channel 35, so we could hear even when we watched from our balcony. A warning: Don't believe the naturalists when they say you'll see the same things going out from the opposite side of the ship. Most of the sightings in College Fjord were on the port (left) side of the ship. As we sailed in, the animals were out sunning themselves in the early afternoon sun. Returning later, either the wildlife was no longer there or the naturalist wasn't broadcasting any more to point out where they could be seen. (There are islands, coves, etc. where particular species are often seen.) Also, they describe the scenery going in but don't repeat it going out, so if you were sitting on your balcony (starboard) expecting to see it on your way out, you didn't know what was what. The best place for wildlife viewing was on the lowest public deck (Promenade on Sun Princess).
Take the helicopter trip and land on a glacier. It was well worth the expense and was the highlight of our trip. A picture just doesn't show how pretty it was to see in person.
We took the train from Seward to Anchorage and were glad we did. It was very comfortable, and the scenery was beautiful. While some of the trip paralleled the road, part went inland where we saw scenery not visible from the road. We saw an eagle up close, and mountain goats that looked like they were posing just for us. I saw a moose just as he turned to go back into the woods, but we got another really good view of a moose - in downtown Anchorage. They have so much greenery and parks in Anchorage that moose, and occasionally bears, actually wander around in town. Beware! They are said to be irritable and dangerous. The train will let you off at the airport or take you to the Eagan Center, where they hold your luggage while you sightsee. You have to tell Princess ahead of time where you plan to get off, so your luggage will be waiting for you.
The tips I picked up from the Message Boards were a big help. One of the best was to order sandwiches from room service the night before an excursion. We kept them in the refrigerator overnight, then packed them in a soft-sided collapsible cooler for lunch when we were away from the ship. (Be sure to take sandwich bags.) On both train rides (White Pass out of Skagway and Grandview from Seward to Anchorage) we enjoyed our picnic lunch while everyone else complained of being hungry. On the White Pass train, the promised snack consisted of a bottle of water. The Grandview had a sweet roll and water.
The other best tip was to use those bright straps around your luggage. They not only hold it closed, but provide easy identification. We also tied bright yellow ribbons on each handle. The strap and ribbon were a big help on the airline baggage turntables. They were an even bigger help in claiming our luggage when we disembarked. Luggage was stacked in many long rows, and ours was at the far end of three of these rows. As soon as we got close enough to see to the end, we recognized our luggage instantly.
We tied balloons to our balcony rail so we could find our cabin from shore at our ports of call. It's neat being able to point to our room in our pictures.
They only recommended item I never found a use for was the duct tape! The balcony door stayed open by itself. The beds stayed together. Our luggage didn't break.
Overall, this was a wonderful cruise. Alaska is so beautiful. We will definitely cruise with Princess again!