I have been cruising for several years, but this is the first one on Princess. I will try and give you a personal review of what I encountered. So let’s go.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE Before you leave there are some things that you will need. First you must have a current passport. After December, 2005, you must have a current passport to travel. So get this first. Next, the Diamond Princess (DP for short) has only limited outlets in the room. Think about bringing an electrical strip with 4-5 outlets. This will help you if you have several things that need charging.
THE SHIP The ship is large, but getting around is very simple. You will be provided a map of the ship when you get to your stateroom. Really, the only thing that you need to remember is if you want to eat deck 14, if you want to see the ship start on deck 6 and go to the middle. All of the areas are either a deck above you or below you. Not being on a Princess line before, I was not really sure what to expect. Iwas disappointed when we arrived and found out the average age group was in the senior age. My wife and I are in the 50’s and there was nothing for our age group. Most of the entertainment was geared around the seniors. The highlight was needle point and how to make your needle point impressive. Bingo was another highlight, won $200.00 and thought I was going to get mugged. The point is, when making your reservation, find out from other people what age group are expected, you may want to change to another line. The ship is very clean. This is where DP excels, most cruise line clean during the day. You have to move out of the way so that they can clean. DP cleans at night when most people are asleep. Good job.
EMPARKATION WOW, the only thing I can say is patients, patients, patients. Remember that you are only one of 2000-3000 people that are trying to check in. You will have lines to deal with. Princess did move them along, but patients, you will get onboard. Keep in mind, once you fill out all of the forms online, the paperwork you will receive will say Express Check In. This is true for all that are sailing expect those that stay overnight in Seattle and drive to the port. So don’t think that you will get through faster, you won’t. If you arrive by plane, go to baggage check and turn left and go to door 00. There will be a Princess person there and drop off your luggage. Again get in line and wait. You will be sharing the line with Holland American. On to the buses and wait again. You will see your luggage by your stateroom. By the way don’t look at the way they load your luggage into the trucks. This will make your heart sink when you see your luggage being tossed like a shot-put in Olympic Games. So if you have breakables, protect them.
STATEROOM We had a balcony on Dolphin room 212. This is an AB mini-suite. On deck 9, 10 there is no privacy from deck 11, 12. I found this out the hard way. On the second day of the cruise, I wanted to have my coffee and smoke outside. Well I have read the reviews and just forgot so I went outside in my underwear and was greeted by a “good morning”. Being retired from the military, I snapped to attention made an about face (my drill sergeant would have been proud of me) and proceeded back to the room. Put on a pair of shorts and T shirt and proceeded back out where I responded with a “good morning”. Wherein laugher then broke out. She was a great lady with a good sense of humor. So if you need to go outside, check above and you might what to put some clothes on. The room is nice and enough room for the luggage that we brought. The room also had 2 TV’s. This really made no since to me, both TV’s were beside each other. So when I wanted to get the sports up date, my wife turned up her volume and I lost the battle. The TV is good to get updates on the cruise but that is about it. When you go into the stateroom the bathroom is located on the left. If you have not used the toilet before on a cruise, flush first so that you don’t get scared and run away. Also the shower is a tub; this will cause some problems for those that can not raise there leg very high. So care will have to be used. Also there is a cord on the side wall. Don’t make the mistake that I did. When I took a shower, the cord was just hanging there, so I tied it up to the rail on the back of the shower. Well I guess I tied it to tight, next thing everyone but the captain was at my door and the phone ringing. Come to find out this was an emergency signal for help. It worked! Didn’t touch it again. The beds were put together to make a queen bed for us. The only thing that they didn’t tell us when they put the bed together; there was a ridge right in the middle the size of the Rocky Mountains. Snuggling became a new art. We both agree it would have been easier to sleep on single beds. Over all the room was kept clean and neat the turned down when we retired
ENTERTAINMENT This was a great disappointment. Princess like other cruise line try to bring quality entertainment to there passenger. DP failed in this very bad. Having cruised many times, all of the cruise line books both comedian and magician and sold as “Opened at Las Vegas, HBO etc.” On this cruise the comedian was so bad that we left ten minutes into the show and so did several hundred passengers. The only ones left were either to drunk to know what they were laughing at or too stupid to care. The magician also was in the same category. Rumor has it that when we got to Juneau Alaska, they were removed from the ship. I did not see them again. One spotlight of the cruise was the Piano Man. This is a must see try not to miss it.
DINING This is going to take some time. I will try to make it short. First on deck 14 is the Horizon Court. This is where the buffet is. Don’t expect very much there. The food is the quality of a local restaurant. Breakfast is nothing more then fast food quality. Lunch does have a little more to offer. Diner is the same. One problem is the way it is laid out. This is very poor. People have no idea were to enter the buffet and wondered around like ants. (At least ants have some organization) Depending on the time that you got there you will have some gridlock. If DP wants to know how to run a buffet, they need to talk to Disney. Disney has taken cruising to a new level and if you get a chance take a cruise and you will see. We selected traditional dining. Now here is a secret that they don’t tell you. DON’T TAKE ANYTIME DINING! This is not anytime you want to eat but anytime they have room or when they can fit you in. By taking traditional dining you know when you are going to eat. If you miss your time then go to any of the dining hall and they will still admit you. This was a major problem with formal night. Many of the passengers who took anytime dining wound up in the Horizon Buffet because they had no room. Also the food and menu is the same through out the ship. So no manner which dining hall you go, you will have the same that everyone else has. We did go to the Sterling Steak house. This is a great deal. For a $15.00 cover charge, I got a 22oz steak that was great, and wine and excellent meal. I wish I went each night. You can’t beat this at any restaurant that you might go to. So run don’t walk you will have a great meal. Overall, the food is not the quality that I expected on a major cruise line. I can get better at Hooters, IHOP or Denny’s. Don’t expect a lot you will not get it. The service was good though. And both of the waiter and assistance were very nice and if you had a problem with something that you ordered, ask them to send it back. My wife did this expecting a problem and they smile and brought back her meal with the changes. This was nice. Now if you want a good pizza and hamburger, deck 13 by the pool makes homemade pizza which was great. Right next to it is where you can get a good burger. So if you have a need for fast food, this is the place.
SHORE TOURS Princess offers a variety of shore tours and it depends on your taste. I do recommend doing the glaciers tours. You need to see this up close to take in the beauty of them. If you want to take a helicopter ride to the glaciers, don’t book it through the cruise line. Get on line and book the tour directly with the company. You have a copy of the tour in your book that was sent to you. If you don’t have it, you can Google helicopter tour Alaska and you will find it. The cost is cheaper and the tour is identical to the one from the ship. We took the Great White Rail tour, it was great. This is a long tour (8 hours), with a bus ride and lunch. We went to the Yukon and just wonderful. Then we went on the train. One note here, water is provided at the back of your state car. Pick them up when you get on, if not there will not be any left. Some people don’t understand what sharing is. Several people took 3-4 bottles for them self and water ran out fast. Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway were ok, nothing to brag about. You will find many stores selling the same. One thing that you need to be careful about, we did find many stores that said that they sold Alaska products but these items where only made overseas and not made at all in Alaska. So check very carefully when you purchase an item. We didn’t take any other tour so we walked around each stop.
GETTING OFF THE SHIP
Well time flies and it was time to leave the ship. If you have a flight when you get into port, make sure that you contact the front desk when you get on board. We found out for some reason, Princess communication process does not work. We called Princess directly and gave them our flight number and departure information. This was not communicated to the ship. (Big surprise) When you get onboard, make sure that the front desk knows what time your flight is, this will be important when you dock. Princess has a color code system. Each color is a time you can expect to leave the ship. One note here make sure that you keep the stub from your luggage tag. I did see several people turned away and told to wait until there color was called. You will receive a color and a list of times that you will be off of the ship. Make sure that you look at the times so you don’t miss your flight. We got off early and going through customs was very easy. Finding our luggage was a pain, but not to bad. The entire luggage was in a central area, just a matter of looking. Transfer to the airport was simple also.
The trip was nice and we did have a good time. I don’t know if I will go again on a Princess cruise. I don’t mind the laid back slow pace attitude that Princess demonstrated on this cruise, but you have to have something that will inspire you to want to come back. I did not see it on this one. I keep an open mind and maybe try it again in a couple of years; right now I am off again in July on a Carnival Cruise from Port Canaveral. If you have any question you can e-mail me directly, I will try and help with any question that you might have so please let me know. My e-mail is email@example.com I hope that you find this helpful and take care and keep cruising.
Embarkation- A snap. It took 20 min from entry to registration and 10 through security.
Cabin- An inside which was nicely designed and spacious looking due to extensive use of mirrors. There was a large amount of both storage and hanging space. A nice touch was the full length mirror. Kudos to our steward Joao from Portugal who was always available and went the extra mile.
Ship- Beautiful. The Diamond has only been in service about a year and is in top shape. This was our first time aboard a vessel this size (116,000 tons) and I was wondering about the passenger load. The cruise was sold out at ~ 3000 pax. Strangely enough, there were times when I walked through public areas and never saw another soul. In our past two decades of cruising, we have been on ships from 25K tons and up.
Dining- The food in both the dining rooms and the Lido was decent. We chose the anytime dining option and it worked out well with no waiting involved as we prefer to eat early. For those who chose dining after 7PM there can sometimes be a wait.My impression is that NCL does it better and has an edge on both the quality and variety of food. I miss the old themed nights with cuisine from a different country each night like Princess used to do on the old “love boat”. Although never noted for their food, I found that Carnival is doing a better job with their variety and quality than many other lines including Holland American.
Service- It was generally good throughout the ship. An exception was a couple of surly individuals on the Lido deck. I had wondered why we saw so few Italian waiters on this cruise (and on previous cruises the last several years). The answer was simple. Italy is a Euro country. The exchange rate now means that staff that get paid in dollars take a 25% hit when converting the money to Euros. The result is that most staff now come from eastern Europe, southeast Asia and the Philippines.
On board programs- Generally good. There were several computer seminars and the usual dancing programs. Of special note were four lectures given by on board naturalist Michael Modelewski. His presentations packed the Princess theater on all occasions and were informative as well as enthralling with almost mystical references to his experiences in Alaska. Another presenter was a Skagway local known as “Buckwheat”. His poetry recitals and personal experiences kept us in stitches.
Shows- The production numbers were OK but I’ve seen better on both NCL and Celebrity. The comedians were a mixed bag. We didn’t see any of the lounge acts but several pax said they were good. The cruise director was fun on stage but we didn’t see much of him during the cruise.
Land tours- These were generally over priced and can be arranged pier side for a lot less.
Disembarkation- Generally smooth although a bit lengthy.
I must admit that despite the fact that we enjoyed this cruise immensely, we still prefer smaller ships like the Royal Princess and even the old Enchanted Isle.
For the first time since we began cruising, we're taking cruises in two consecutive years. We had always wanted to cruise to Alaska and did so in May 2004. We were on the cruise following the ill fated one where the Diamond Princess hit the pier in Victoria BC the night before we were supposed board. Due to all sorts of problems [we didn't get to board the ship until 6:30, the ship didn't leave Seattle until 1:04 am -- it was supposed to leave at 4:00 pm] we missed two ports (Juneau and Victoria) and didn't get to cruise all the way into Tracy Arm (too much ice). So, while mom's still able to get around pretty well (after all, she's almost 90!) we decided to try Alaska again. Hopefully, this time we'll get to see everything. While we were talking about booking, prices, etc., CruiseCritic came up with terrific prices. Since we've enjoyed the group cruises we've taken in the past (this is our 3rd) I booked us on October 4, 2004. On the same day I booked our airfare (United) and hotel (Red Lion Hotel Seattle South)to make sure everything was a go. CruiseCritic later got a good price at a different hotel so I canceled the Red Lion and booked the Seattle Comfort Suites for less money (more to spend on the cruse). The group prices were really good so we were able to book a mini-suite with a balcony like we had in '04 for less than we paid for 3 people the first time. Since there are two of us it's going to be nice and roomy. Our AC cabin is D224 (Dolphin deck 7). The last time we were in E712 near the stern of the ship. This cabin is nbear the bow of the ship and we don't get seasick so there shouldn't be a problem PLUS there usually isn't too much movement in the Inside Passage. This is the first time we've been so far forward so it'll be interesting if there is a lot of movement.
HERE WE GO!!!
Friday, June 3 -- Seattle, WA Our flight is scheduled to leave Milwaukee at 9:00 am which means we must be at the airport between 7:00 and 7:30 am for the security check-in. That's a lot better than a 6:30 flight which would mean we'd have to be at the airport at 4:30 am. UGH! Keep your fingers crossed that our flight takes off on time!! Here comes Limousine Services to deliver us to the airport (15 minutes early!)
Our flight left on time and we made our connection in Denver. Since mom can't move as quickly as she used to, I requested a wheel chair for her and wouldn't you know -- we were only four gates from our connecting flight. Oh well.
We arrived in Seattle and, after picking up our luggage, headed for the ground transportation area where we picked up the Seattle Shuttle ($20.25 for two) to the Comfort Suites Hotel near the Space Needle. The hotel had been set up by CruiseCritic and was very nice. We were hungry so I asked at the desk for restaurants in the area. They directed us to one about four blocks away from the hotel but as we left the hotel we smelled the wonderful aroma of barbecued pig so we followed our noses in the other direction. We found a small restaurant called the Steel Pig next to the hotel with the BEST barbecue I've ever had. We went back to the hotel to relax for a little while before heading over to the Pike Place Market where our restaurant for dinner was located.
We took the free hotel shuttle over to PPM and just wandered around for a while. PPM was a lot of fun -- loads of stuff to see. They had the most beautiful floral bouquets for only $15.00 (small ones $7.00) which back home would cost at least $50.00. The produce they had available was incredible!
We started looking for the restaurant, but dumb me, I couldn't remember the name of the place! I'm asking everyone for Ciabatti's and getting blank looks. Finally, I went to the information booth. The girl there didn't know it either so I said "I know it starts with a C." She started naming restaurants and said "Cutters?" That's it! Boy, am I dumb!
We met part of the CC group and enjoyed a great meal with great company. Our waiter was okay but s-l-o-w! It took an hour (I'm not kidding, folks) for him to bring the check when we were finished with the meal.
Then we headed back to the hotel for bed -- it's been a long day!
Saturday, June 4 -- Sailaway The hotel provided a tasty free breakfast including make your own waffles, cereal, toast, bagels, juice and coffee. The waffles were really good. We were scheduled for the 12:15 shuttle to the ship ($5.00 pp) so we relaxed for a while in the room, then headed off to port. Our luggage went on a separate truck -- piled to the roof (will we ever see our luggage again?) following us. At the pier we were able to do express boarding since our luggage was already there. Very nice and probably took about 45 minutes off the wait in line. From step off the bus to step on the ship it was about 45 minutes. Not too bad! We dropped our carry-ons in the cabin and headed up to eat the first of many meals on board -- burgers and fries. Yum, they have the best fries.
Our luggage showed up before 3:00 -- the fastest ever!
We have a very nice cabin with lots of room. There were two single beds, a couch which opened to a bed if needed, 2 tv's, a small fridge located under one of the tv's and plenty of storage, including a large two shelf area under the other tv. The bathroom had a tub/shower with an unusual shower curtain -- it didn't hug us like they usually do. The only thing was that it's quite a step into and out of the tub! They should put showers in ALL the cabins -- I think it would be safer!
Life boat drill for us was in the Princess Theater at 3:30. I cannot believe that several people blew the whistles on their vest! How dumb can they be? Don't they know how many germs are on those things.
We met the rest of our tablemates in the Savoy Dining Room. They were Caroline (CC host) and her friend Bill; Cynde and her mom Carole; and Diana and her hubby Dannie. Princess has changed the four anytine dining rooms from speciality [Southwestern, Asian Fusion, Italian and Steak House] to regular menus. They did have one entree from each former speciality restaurant but didn't tell anyone. Darn!! Our waiter was Wayne from South Africa and we liked him so much we requested his table for the rest of the nights we ate in the dining room.
After dinner it was off to the Welcome Aboard Show with cruise director Omar Lugo and comic Sheldon Max, who was hysterical. They introduced the cruise staff and I was happy to see that Michael Modzelewski was the naturalist again. He had been on last year's cruise and we really enjoyed him.
Sunday, June 5 -- First formal night; Captain's Welcome Aboard Dinner We had a CC "Bloody Mary 'n Mimosas" meet and greet this morning but only a few people showed up. Four of us (Jacquie, Caroline, mom and me) played Scrabble for a while which was fun. I haven't played in years and won!
Afterwards, we just roamed around getting reacquainted with the ship. Of course we had to check out the shops. I walked into Facets and the guy from behind the counter remembered me (and what I had bought) last year! I don't know how they do that -- I can't remember things I did last week.
After dinner we went to the production show "Undercover." We weren't too impressed with it. I've seen much better.
Beddy bye with really rough seas! The sun was up till after 11:00 pm. That was hard to get used to.
Monday, June 6 -- Juneau, Alaska The ship pulled into port about an hour late which goofed up our privately scheduled shore tour. I found out later that the ship is late to this port almost every week. Maybe they should just change the written timetable to reflect this later arrival time. We had scheduled (through CC) Orca Enterprises whale watching with the famous Captain Larry at 1:00. Because we were so late we were rescheduled to go at 6:00 pm instead.
Since we were scheduled for a later tour we roamed around Juneau checking out the shops (as usual) and taking some pictures. Juneau is the capital of Alaska and is really hilly.
The earlier tours saw loads of whales but we only saw a few spouts and parts of a couple of whales. Captain Larry said it was getting too late in the day. We did see bunches of eagles and sea lions.
We got back to the ship about 9:25 and left Juneau at 10:00 pm.
Because we got back so late we went to see comic Sheldon Max before we ate. He was really funny and I'm glad we didn't miss him. There was only a small crowd but very appreciative -- we just howled!! After the show we went to the HC for a very late dinner, then off to bed. Found out later that tonight was the night they had some of my favorites on the dining room menu (escargot, baked French Onion Soup and Duck a l'Orange. Probably missed the Raspberry Creme Brulee too. Rats!
Tuesday, June 7 -- Skagway, Alaska We pulled into port while we were still asleep! Our ship's tour -- Historic Liarsville and Salmon Bake was scheduled for 12:45 so we relaxed until it was time to leave. It was a nice tour -- we saw where the newspaper people camped out during the gold rush and sent back their "first hand" reports. Thus, the name Liarsville. We had a delicious grilled salmon lunch, saw a fun show and panned for gold. We got a few teeny specks.
After the tour we were left off in town where we did some souvenir shopping. What a surprise! We took the bus back to the pier ($1.50 pp) and then caught the free shuttle to the gangway.
Dinner that night was in the HC with Caroline, Bill, Jacquie and Stan. After dinner we moved to the Solarium and just watched the scenery which was gorgeous! Then bedtime.
Wednesday, June 8 -- Cruising Tracy Arm We entered Tracy Arm about 9:00 am, so after breakfast we went up to deck 14 at the back of the ship. We found a couple of chairs behind Debbie and Nita (two of our group) and spent hours staring at the incredible scenery. We saw eagles, sea lions and icebergs. Ours was the first ship of the season to go all the way in to see both North and South Sawyer Glaciers. Wow! The Sapphire Princess, which was ahead of us, didn't make it all the way in. While we were cruising Tracy Arm, naturalist Michael was narrating and pointing out various sights. It's hard to describe what we saw -- you have to see it yourself.
Dinner was with our group and then off to see comic Glenn Hirsch. He was funny but not as funny as Sheldon Max.
Thursday, June 9 -- Ketchikan, Alaska Since we arrived very early in Ketchikan and had only a few hours in port, after breakfast we left the ship to enjoy the shopping. Mom's foot was bothering her so we didn't walk over to Creek Street as planned. Last year we took a tour that only gave us 15 minutes to look around in town. I found a beautiful rainbow topaz and diamond pendant and at another store a matching pair of earrings. We also bought the last of the souvenirs for the guys back home. On the way back to the ship we decided to take the horse drawn trolley tour of Ketchikan. It was very interesting. After the tour we waited in a VERY long line to board the ship.
In the afternoon we (Caroline, mom and I) played Liar's Club and then went to the Trivia Challenge. Liar's Club was a riot -- if you've never seen it you have got to go!
Dinner with the group and then went to see "Piano Man." After that, to the Atrium Lobby to watch the Champagne Waterfall. The seas were rough so it was amazing that they were able to build it at all. I had visions of hundreds of champagne glasses crashing to the floor.
Tomorrow's our last day -- darn!
Friday, June 10 -- At Sea, then Victoria B.C. Our last day -- no fair!
At 10:00 we went to the culinary demonstration with Executive Chef Guiseppe Pollara and Maitre 'd Hotel Karl Brenner. It was fun and smelled oh so yummy. Wish they would have given us samples. After the demonstration we got a tour of the galley. It was so spotless you could have eaten off the floor!
After the tour we went back to the cabin to pack. I know all this stuff fit when we came!! We arrived in Victoria about an hour late which caused our shore tour to be canceled. We were supposed to take the Enchanting Butchart Gardens tour. The weather was kind of grey and damp so we just decided to stay on the ship.
Suitcases had to be out between 8:00 and 10:00 pm.
Saturday, June 11 -- Disembarkation Nuts! We're back and on time! We packed the last minute stuff in our carry-ons and went for our only breakfast in the dining room.
Back to the cabin, left an extra tip for our steward Lawrence (who was a dream) and picked up our stuff. Then it's wait-wait-wait until they kick us off the ship. We left the ship about 9:30 and were at the airport by 10:00. Got some lunch at Burger King since we no longer get meals on the planes and we don't get home till 9:55 tonight.
I had requested a wheelchair again for mom in Denver and it was a good thing I had. Denver is huge and our gates were very far apart. We'd never have made it if she would have had to walk.
We arrived back in Milwaukee and it was HOT! Our luggage showed up and we were on our way to get transportation home. We were in the hot house at 10:30.
Would we sail Princess to Alaska again? YES!! Princess is my favorite cruise line even if they're late to certain ports.
Would we sail again with the CruiseCritic group? ABSOLUTELY!! We really enjoyed this group and there's a rumor we might do a reunion sail in 2007. I'm up for it and so is mom if she's able since she'd be almost 92!
We just returned from our 1st cruise to Alaska. I cannot begin to describe what a beautiful state it is. The scenary is outstanding! Don't forget your camera and binoculars! You will need them everyday!
Getting on the ship in Seattle was no problem. The lines were long but seemed to move quickly. We boarded around 12PM. Our luggage was brought to our room around 2PM which gave us time to grab lunch at the buffet and explore the ship. Getting off the ship when we returned took longer than they expected. We were "scheduled" to be off at 8:30AM. It was 9:45 before our colored luggage tag was called. Getting thru customs was very quick and easy. The lines look long, but move quick!
If you like sodas, buy the "coke card" for $25. It's all you can drink and most of the time my husband and I just drank off one card (no need to buy two).
Our main disappointment was the "anytime dining" in the Sterling, Santa Fe, Pacific Moon, and Vivaldi restaurants. Before we left for our cruise, I read every review on the ship I could find. Obviouslylast year those restaurants served speciality meals along with what was also being served in the dining room. I read that Santa Fe served fresh made guacamole with the meals, Pacific Moon served sushi rolled table side, etc, etc, etc. Well, NOT this year. All the dining rooms served the exact same thing as the (International) main dining room. So the only reason to book "anytime dining" is so that you can eat "anytime" they are open. The Vivaldi restaurant doesn't open until 8PM, so we never ate there since we like to eat between 6:30 and 7PM. The reservation service is a joke unless you book very early in the day. Don't wait until 2-4 in the afternoon because they won't have anything available until later. It's much easier to just "walk in" the restaurant and wait for a table. We never had to wait longer than 10 mins.
The other disappointment was getting off the ship in Juneau. With 3000 people all trying to get off 2 gangways at the same time--there was little organization and it was mainly just a mad rush (imagine leaving a major rock concert as soon as it's over and they only have 2 doors open leaving the stadium). YIKES! We were pushed, shoved, and touched inappropriately buy the people behind us as they tried to move ahead. Getting off at Skaway and Ketchikan was much easier because we dock very early when most people were still sleeping.
Just a little heads-up about some things. --No organization to the buffet line. It a feeding frenzy. Watch out! The food is good once you get it. --You have to pay for Ice Cream at the Ice Cream bar, better to just order it after dinner for dessert since it's included in your meal. --Don't expect to make it to every port. We were unable to go into Tracey Arm due to fog and safety reasons and we were 1.5 hrs late into Victoria BC because of engine trouble which slowed us down. All excursions were cancelled since we aren't there very long to begin with. We also heard that another ship on another cruise line missed two of their ports because of weather. --It is a very big ship but easy to find your way around if you carry the little map they provide in you state room. Enjoy!
Dana and Jon Abney
First, some photos can be seen at Cruisemates.com in the photo file Alaska May 2005 We had been on shore for a couple of months and we were getting that urge again. Looking for something a little cooler, we set our sights on Alaska. We decide on Princess and looking at their website, decide on the "Diamond Princess", the second week of May. We now had the ship and date, time to start looking. Went fishing on the web, but only got a few bites from hungry T/A's. I contact an agent we had used before (firstname.lastname@example.org who is part of CRUISE PLANNERS, INC.) and he comes in close to the lowest offer we had gotten on the web. By the end of the week, we had called and made a deposit for the May 7 voyage. BA on Caribe deck, port side just rear of amidships with larger balcony. Vacation minus 145 days-I go to the Princess website and update our immigration forms. Quite nice that most of the information is still on file from our last trip. In the past, we had just driven down to the docksand walked onto the ships leaving out of Los Angeles or San Pedro. This time we were going to have to travel to get to the ship. Being Mister Adventure, I start looking to expand our one-week trip into a longer vacation. I get another dumb idea; why not take the train up to Seattle. Another wasted day only to find the train would take 36 hours and if we wanted any type of comfort, would cost about 50% of the cruise cost. Never knew that the word "roomette" was actually a description of an area large enough for two chairs, 3'x6'.
Vacation minus 120 days--We have decide to fly and to get into Seattle a couple of days before the cruise and stay a couple of days after. I go to the SouthWest website and find flights still open for the online advance seats. A few keystrokes and we now have both cruise and flight tickets taken care of. Vacation minus 45 days-Go to the website William Shatner pushes on the radio. Get two different hotels for the pre and post hotel stays. About 40% off the list price, great.
Vacation minus 40 days-We had been checking the Princess web site every so often. Today we see that some excursions are being reserved and we make our final decisions. Only takes a couple of minutes and boom I owe my credit card company several hundred dollars. Except for the actual paper tickets for the cruise, were almost set. Vacation minus 1 day-- It feels like the time has flown by, start the packing and have that "you forgot something" feeling almost right away. Just after midnight I log on to the Southwest website and print out our boarding passes. Six others had already been there before me. Vacation-- Our son gives us a ride to LAX. We immediately realize how difficult it's going to be to schlep around all the baggage. Up to this time, we have just jumped in the car and driven the 20 minutes to the Los Angeles pier. Anyway, our son drives us to LAX where we hustle into the terminal with our three checkables and two carry ons. Don't know if it's an omen, but the handle of one carry ons decides this is the time to self-destruct. No time to play Mr. Fixit in the middle of an airport, piggyback it on the other working bag and head for the check in counter and get rid of the three larger bags. In the end, check in took about ten minutes and security another ten, we people watch for almost two hours. I am convinced more than ever that SouthWest is one step above a Grey Hound bus. Uneventful flight gets us to Seattle where I hump the bags about a block to where the shuttle buses park. After a short wait and tour of the city we arrive at our pre-cruise (4-star) hotel, the Westin. A fairly nice room on the 37Th floor. We open the curtains for a view of the East side of downtown Seattle. We both look at the view for about a minute, I say, "you know what we forgot?" and without hesitation my wife answers "the binoculars". We walk around the city for about an hour and locate an old-fashioned Army surplus store and pick up a cheap pair. A dinner at a mini brewery/restaurant and we call it a night. Embarkation Day minus 1-- We walk from the hotel and head down hill to the Pike Market, this place is famous for the fish market where they throw fish about 25 feet, where we find great place for breakfast with a view of Puget Sound and the Norwegian Star tied up just North of the market. Some sight seeing at Pike Market then head North to the Space Needle for the obligatory elevator ride to the observation deck. Next stop is the "Duck Boat" tour of down town and Elliot Bay. Get back to the hotel via the monorail. Some more walking, then dinner at P.F. Chang's, an up scale Chinese restaurant, then some quite time back at the room. NOT, turns out this is prom season. Three rooms on our floor with am unknown number of kids. Running, laughing, yelling and the closing of what seamed a hundred doors. Not bad, we find out later other pax at other hotels were up all night with calls to security and police.
Embarkation Day- Wake up to a TV newscast pointing out today is the first day of the cruise season, which brings in $208,000,000.00 to the Seattle economy. Knowing that we will have to get to an ATM already, I feel their estimate is a bit low. Take our time with breakfast and get to packing up the bags. Princess information says embarkation starts at 12:30, we assume they will be letting pax on a little earlier and leave the hotel at 11:30 for the very short drive from downtown to pier 30. As we get to the pier, we find the police doing a poor job directing traffic. Two ships are tied up here, the "Oosterdam" as well as the "Diamond". The last 200 yards to the pax terminal seamed to take 10 minutes, taxies, cars, buses and shuttles all going for the right hand lane to spit out their riders as fast as possible. As we stand on the sidewalk, we are confused as to what is happening. There is a line of about 200 people, all with their luggage, yet there are porters standing idly with empty carts. We get the attention of one porter who in short order picks up out three checkable bags and takes us past the line to the front of the cruise terminal. We there show our tickets and identification to a Princess worker, takes custody of our luggage and then directs us inside the building. We tip the porter and get the low down on the line of people, which is a bit longer now. All these pax are personally riding heard on their bags up to the one security scanner for that line. The people using the services of a porter use a different scanner, to save the price of a tip they are standing in the sun for an hour. We are directed into the building and get into the check in line, which moves quite quickly. Show the ID again, a credit card and the tickets and two minutes later were on the very long pax gangway that zig zags up to the ship. Looking at a clock, it has taken 75 minutes from hotel room to gangway, not bad at all. Numerous pallets of supplies are still on the dock, cages of luggage being brought to the ship by fork lift and as we step foot on the ship, looking back, we see the line of pax dragging their own bags outside the cruise terminal appears to have grown to 400. Once inside, we are funneled to elevators just aft of the atrium where we are asked for our sail cards, seams we cannot be trusted to know our own cabin number. The Princess staffer lets you know what deck to go to. Stepping off the elevator, another staffer directs you fore or aft, port or starboard to get to you cabin. Nothing unusual about the cabin, found another electrical out let behind the TV where we can put the two battery rechargers out of the way. Princess has finally entered the 21st century; two more electrical outlets are by the writing desk. No need the sting wires across the room any more. The banisters for most of the balconies on this deck were varnished just a few hours ago, a little tacky right now but will be dry by tomorrow. Park our carry ons and explore the ship. Very clean ship, haven't seen a bit of rust outside or wear inside. Unlike the Carnival Pride from a few months ago, the Diamond interior is well lit and has an airy atmosphere through out the ship. That is except the casino and a few bars that were designed to have dim lighting even at high noon. Located the Internet Café with it' numerous workstations. In addition the library has an additional four screens. Logged on to check email from our son, four minutes at 35 cents a minute. One minute to read and answer the email. Three minutes for the slow connection time to the server via satellite. Returning to our cabin, the luggage is piled in front of the door and the excursions tickets are inside on the table, as well as a coupon from our T/A for a bottle of wine to be served at dinner. Our room steward appears and introduces herself, Sandra, from Mexico. She appears to be eager to please and several times offers her services if needed. Our only request is for two robes that are delivered later in the day. I have a problem with the refrigerator. It is inside a cabinet under the TV. Somewhere along the line, someone came up with the idea of attaching the door of the cabinet to the door of the refrigerator. In theory, great, except that the refrigerator, cabinet door and mechanism must be in perfect alignment and position. If not, the outside door will not close, or in my case, the outside door closes but the refrigerator is still open. This leaves the top shelf room temperature and the bottom just a bit cooler. This is not a problem, except that my wife takes medication that must be refrigerated. We had already had a problem at the hotel, Westin, they refused to allow us to put the medicine in the "mini-bar" frig saying housekeeping was ordered to discard any thing not belonging to the hotel. Interesting, no medicine in the "mini-bar" is allowed, but housekeeping has to make sure the hotel's brand of condoms are on the shelf above the refrigerator. This is the third day away from home and we have used ice to keep things cold, I can't see doing this for another nine days. I, like most cruisers, carry a "Leatherman" type tool, in short order the two doors are disengaged and a few hours later the frig is in the 30's. Princess should do the math and see how much energy is lost each day from open refrigerators. We are about half unpacked when we shove off. Some Princess staffers waving us off at the pier, other than a blast from the ship's own horn, no fanfare for the first ship leaving port for the Alaskan season. What had the TV reporter say just a few hours ago, the cruise industry brings 208 million dollars into the rather small city of Seattle. A quick trip to Lido deck for a snack and then watch the water go by. Nice set up at Lido, if people bother to follow the signs there should be no bottlenecks or confusion. We return to the cabin and continue to unpack. Large closet with close to 40 hangers, tall floor to ceiling cabinet with 5 ½ shelves. The other 1 ½ shelves is for life preservers and small programmable safe, camera, wallet and keys will fill it quickly. The door is a full-length mirror that sometimes opens on it's own. Finish unloading the first two bags, glance under the bed and slide the bags under the first bed. After the third bag, I look under the second bed forclearance and see something underneath up against the wall. I first think someone has left his trash and housekeeping missed it. In any case, I don't want someone else crap under my bed. I grab what appears to be a large brown paper bag with one hand and it doesn't budge. My curiosity get to me, 20/20 hindsight now tells me I should have contacted someone on the ship's staff. Anyway, I get my waterproof flashlight (first time I have used it in four trips) and look inside the bag. Sodas, a lot of soda, a large pile of sodas. Looking closer, there is a second bag under the bed. I start to count 5, 14, 24, 37, 50, 62. 62 cans of Coke Diet Coke and Sprite. In the mornings I get my caffeine fix from coffee, my wife gets her's from Diet Coke. To answer this early morning soda fix, we had packed 7 cans of Coke. We now had a total 69 sodas, way to many to even think about drinking ourselves. I give away 22 to the cabins next to and below us, but we are still overloaded. We'll worry about this later. Time to get dressed for dinner. Earlier in the day, we had found a card table set up by the dinning rooms staff providing information. I overhear one supervisor talking to another pax. He states that this is the first cruise for a whole lot of the staff; this should be an interesting cruise. My wife chooses the "Santa Fe" room for the sole reason that fresh guacamole is offered. We show up around 7:45 and shown immediately to a table for two. There are a number of these small tables and as couples come in, they are put next to each other. Tables of 4, 6, 8 and ten remain empty in the middle of the room. Our main waiter, "Diego", had a problem with English, and was hesitant and unsure in all paxinteractions. As it happens, the person who we thought was the helper had much more experience. So much, that he was the one trying to get the diners to buy wine tastings and cheap shot glass souvenirs. This practice of using wait staff to sell stuff is nothing but tacky. We expect the " salesperson" to work the dining room selling this type of stuff, not the waiter. We go to a short show by Max Elliot who does monologues and sings with his guitar. His act is passable, but he is much funnier when he appears during the week when he helps the staff doing "game shows". Upon returning to the cabin, something is amiss, there are three sodas on top of the cabinet that were not there before. Looking into the refrigerator, empty except the medicine. Under the bed, nothing but luggage. Except for the lonely three cans, they're all gone. We later learn she uses one room to "store" sodas for her section of cabins.
Day 2-Leisurely sea day, start with a little room service coffee then a stop at Lido deck for some food. Walk about the ship, people watch, have some drinks, take a nap, go to a take off on the Match Game TV show, bingo and then change for the first formal night. We defiantly want to see the production show "Piano Man". We walk into the " sterling" room at 6:45 and are seated immediately. We saw a women walk up and ask for reservations that night for 8 people at 8:00, she can't have it, but she can have two tables for 4 next to each other at 8:20. No problem. Because I was handed the wrong menu, we learn that the menu in the "themed" restaurants changes each week. After dinner, we go to the theater for Piano Man, which as a whole is pretty good. Afterwards I check my watch and am amazed that the entire show was less than 53 minutes. We donate some money at the casino and then watch a magic/comedy show which was almost ruined by a drunk who had seen the first show and wanted to yell out the punch lines. Although we gain an hour tonight by changing time zones, were whipped and call it a night. Day 3-Wake up with the ship in Alaskan waters, which are almost glass. Watch the shoreline pass by the balcony about 120 yards away. Decide to have breakfast in the dinning room for a change and get dressed. For the first time on the cruise, we at put at a table with other people. Later, we go up to Lido to watch more coastline slip away and I get to se my first iceberg; it has only taken 54 years. I am able to see a ship ahead of us in the passage. My research had shown that the " Diamond" was to be the first into Juneau this season, boy was I wrong. We were fourth. First in was the Sapphire Princess, then the Oosterdam (which we had left in Seattle with at least an hour head start) and third, just ahead of us, Radiance of the Seas. We find out later that the Sapphire was to have already left port and we were to taken that berth at 12:30. There was over an hours wait, rumor was a princess lead excursion for the Sapphire had not returned, so ship had to wait. During this time, we were amazed by the number of crew who turned up at the rail with cameras and binoculars. As I said before, this was the first time for a lot of the crew and I imagine this was the first time that some of them had seen snow. As we approached Juneau we are amazed at the condition of the water. For some reason, we were expecting pristine conditions. Instead the water has swirls that look like scum. As we wait for the Sapphire to move on so that we can dock, we watch large puffs of smoke coming out of the forest that surround the city. After we dock, I speak with a local and get an explanation of what's going on. Pollen, tons of pollen in fact. For the past several days, the millions of Spruce trees have been releasing their spore. So much that the it does appear to be smoke that eventually settles on to ground, water and balconies. Our newly varnished banister is thick with pollen at the end of the day. A flash picture taken after sundown appears to have been done with a filthy lens. In fact, there is so much pollen in the air; the photo has many white dots. Anyway, we return to the cabin and check the ship's weather recording, some clouds and a high of 66 We get into the recommended "layered" look (shirt, sweater and jacket) and grab the only new item purchased for this trip, a large backpack. Cameras, extra socks, jackets, rain ponchos, hats, gloves and a sweatshirt for good measure stock this nylon creation. We are set for everything but an ice storm or hurricane. We hit the dock and are directed to the correct bus. There we get the correct weather report, 77 with a perfectly clear sky. Our bulky sweaters come off and are somehow crammed into this suitcase that is attached to my back. I now have to check for clearance should I choose to turn my body. Small children and old ladies will be knocked senseless by this 25-pound mass of unneeded clothing. Menenhall Glacier: if you have come all this way, it would be a shame not to travel the extra 15 miles to see this wonder. If you are NOT doing anything else at this port, save your money and take a local bus from the dock or downtown area (which is less that 2500 feet away from the ship) no need to involve the cruise line with this one. Whale Watching: when you think about it, looking at about 5% of an animal that happens to appear above the water's surface somewhere in your general area does sound a bit strange. That is unless you actually get close enough to watch these wonderful creatures. Several companies provide this service using small to quite large boats built for this sole use. Juneau: I don't think I have ever seen a state capital as small as this. "Downtown" consists of about 8 blocks of commercial buildings surrounded by interesting looking houses. The tourist trap section consists of about three blocks of storefronts. True the vast majority of the stuff sold is not made locally, much less in Alaska. But then does your friend know you paid $0.99 for that key chain and you peeled off that "made in China" sticker the night before you gave it to them. The long bus rides, the hours on the whaleboat and the heat have drained us. A quick stop at "Alaska Shirt Company" for some gifts. I can only say this store the equivalent to Hawaii's "Hilo Hattie's" chain of stores. There is a mix of both $0.99 trinkets and higher end souvenirs. Back at the ship nothing strikes our fancy on the main menus and end up eating on Lido. We happened to pass the Sterling room and saw many an empty table, and as expected, lido was quite full. Found much duplication between the main menus and the Lido buffet, none being memorable. Anyway, we finish eating and look at what is offered as far as entertainment tonight on the Princess. After five minutes of reading about acts and shows that don't interest us, we retreat to the cabin and go to bed far earlier than we expected.
Day 4-The ship docked at Skagway while we slept, the 6:15 wakeup call got me out of bed long enough to open the drapes before I got back under the covers. I remember looking out at an empty bay and the side of a mountain less than a half-mile away. Closed my eyes for a few minute, OK more than a few, twenty to be exact. Opened my eyes again and my panoramic view now included a cruise ship. In that short amount of time, the Radiance of the Sea had eased into the dock and had tied up. Another crowed day on shore, great. Splashed some water on my face, get dressed and get something to eat, have to get ashore by 8:20 with our birth certificates. We are taking a bus into Canada and taking the White Pass Railway back to Skagway. Have the TV on in the background, local Alaskan news show going on. Find out that yesterday, Juneau had set some sort of record for heat. Get to the dock and find our bus in about four minutes, then have to wait over a half hour because some one can't find the first bus from the gangway. After we get going, we find we have lucked out and have a driver that is not only knowledgeable, but is entertaining. A quick tour of a still sleeping Skagway, then head North for almost a hundred miles. Jokes, stories and even poems with frequent photo stops make the trip fly by. We started at sea level, go up through forests, to ice fields at the summit, back to forest and even a small area of bare sand called the Alaskan desert. The turnaround point is a place called Caribou Crossing, which is a jumble of restaurant, stuffed animal museum, Husky dog breeder and miniature golf course. Sounds like a tourist trap or a dump, and looks questionable from the highway, but the food is great and the people running it are wonderful. Could have used at least another 30 minutes there looking at all the stuff, but have to get on the bus to keep to schedule. Backtrack about 30 miles to where the train will pick us up. There are three other buses dropping people off at this wide point in the road, which is also a border checkpoint between Alaska and Canada. There are eight railcars to handle the crowd so there is plenty of room. This narrow gage train was reborn after the cruise industry started making Skagway a normal stop. Different types of ore mines would use this rail system, to get the load to the ships. Pax who take the first train in the morning, step off the ship, walk about 25 feet and get on the train. There is a steam locomotive that is still in use, but you will more than likely get two or three diesel engines to take you. Ice, snow, frozen lakes, forests, waterfalls, streams, rivers, trestles, bridges and tunnels, quite a trip. As excursions go, this is on the expensive end, just under $200 a head. But as far as value it is worth every penny. Get back to the Skagway train station and wait for the U.S. Customs man to walk through, other than a couple from England, everyone in our rail car was checked through in less than four minutes. The downtown area has gone out of it's way to have the buildings to have the 1800's look. All the buildings are either bare wood or painted wood on the outside, wooden sidewalks and even barrels cut in half serve at very large flowerpots. We were at the first corner from the railway office and saw that a fire had started in one of these "flower pots", the barrel itself was burning putting up about eight inch flames. I stepped into the store closest to me and asked if they had any water, the young man working as a barista pointed to the rear of the store where sodas and bottled water were being chilled. I said, " it's not for me, it's for you. Your barrel's on fire". The guy grinned at me and I left. We got about 30 feet away before he bothered to check it out. He ran inside and came out with a pot and poured coffee on the fire. I yelled back "did you use that Hazelnut crap, it never sells". He just grinned and kept pouring coffee, I think the fire was a lot bigger than either of us thought. Did some window-shopping and returned to the ship. We were up to getting dressed for dinner, but looking at the "Italian" menu we just looked at each other and said Lido. After eating, went on to Club Fusion where a take off on the Match Game was put on, then a movie in the Explores lounge. After midnight we drag ourselves back to the cabin to find a bed. Day 5-this is a sea day with a stop at Tracy Arm, a scenic fjord where the ship is to rotate 360 degrees, from 11 A.M. to 2 P.M. We watched the steep canyon walls get closer to the ship and the number of small ice chunks increased. Went to Lido, sat where it was out of the wind and had something to eat. At 10:15 we returned to our cabin to get jackets and camcorder and head for the top deck. Just before we get topside, I look outside and I notice the ship has stopped. In a nutshell, we are still two turns away from the fjords end, but all that lies in front of the ship is a solid field of small ice. Very few appear to be wider than 20 feet or 5 feet high, the vast majority are less than 10 feet wide and just above the water's surface. The captain has cited safety concerns and has decided to cancel this stop. The ship slowly does a 180 turn and navigates through sparse ice to the channel. It's not long before we are going over 17 knots. As my wife reads, I go to the closest Laundromat, for the second time, and find an empty machine. On other cruises we have looked into the laundry rooms but not used them. Two days a go I stuck my head in the one closest to our cabin, half the machines were in use. Today it's a problem getting in. After the clothes are dry and put away, we head out to the Pacific Moon dinning room at 7 PM and were seated immediately, there was no line. Made our way to Club Fusion where we get involved in a take off of "Weakest Link". Within four rounds were both sitting downstairs holding gift certificates for some type of clock. Head back to the cabin since we need to be getting up at 5:15 AM. Day6-our wakeup call comes way to early and looking outside it's cloudy and there's water on the railing. The ship has already tied up at Ketchikan and from what I can see the town is still asleep. Get dressed in some warm clothes, this time they are needed, and head for Lido for some substantial food. Twenty of us meet on the dock at 6:20 for our final arranged side trip, Adventure Kart Expedition. By bus we go about 30 miles, where we take small gas powered "karts" on a ten mile round trip on private property near lakes and waterfalls. We then took a fast boat along the coast back to a small pier between the bow of the Diamond and the arena where the "lumberjack show" is held. Still had a couple of hours to kill, so we stopped at a couple of the tourist traps next to the pier. I don't think it has to be said, but I will, three ports and a number of stores, all the same merchandise (most of which is made in China) with about the same prices. That is until today; at the left end of the pier is what appears to be another shore front tourist store. I wanted to pick up a few more sodas for the last days at sea and they weren't being sold at the regular tourist traps for some reason. Anyway, I saw a small sign for this store saying "shop with the locals" with an arrow for directions. Tongass Trading Company is very interesting. I entered on the side closest to the pier and saw most of the same junk I had seen in the past hour at four other large stores. However midway through the store, it changed to general merchandise, hardware and marine supply store. And true to their word, I stood in line with locals buying light bulbs and batteries. Returning to the ship I stopped at a small coffee "shack" on the pier. Talk about an Alaskan gold mine, cup after cup of real brewed coffee being sold at twice the normal cost. Get on the ship and drop off my bags at the cabin. Looking down, the "lumberjack" has just let out. The line returning to the ship went from about twenty people to two hundred in just minutes. We took a couple of minutes to fix our "helmet" hair from the excursion and went for lunch, again on Lido. Both sides of the buffet were open and general gridlock ensued. The people were packed into the actual buffet area so tight, those wanting to leave had to wiggle their way to the one opening marked exit. Once you were out, you now had to find a place to sit down. Again packed, people holding tables for relatives trapped inside the buffet, small groups of people standing behind other pax waiting for them to leave like a busy lunch counter. Or like me, just kept walking till I found two empty chairs by the rear bar. We sit and have our lunch as we leave port. There has been a little movement in the harbor. When we got off this morning, we saw the Oosterdam tied up behind us. Just before we push back from the dock, another Princess ship appears from a channel in the distance. As soon as we pull out the Princess ship, someone tells me it's the Island, heads for the spot we vacated. We left at 12:30 leaving the Oosterdam still tied up. At about 4:20, the Oosterdam is of out port beam, and stays there for close to an hour. At 6:15, it crosses our bow and is lost from sight to the starboard side. As we are about to get ready for the second formal night and my wife is channel surfing and comes across some American Film Institute documentary. I am sure no one on the ships' crew knew about this, but as my wife hits the remote, the scene of the " Poseidon Adventure" comes on in mid capsize scene. We both crack up and finish getting dressed. Take a short walk about the ship; note that quite a lot of people have not done the formal thing. In fact one would think the dress code asked for Levi's and wrinkled T-shirts. Pass by the Vivaldi Dining room and see a line of about eight people, go to the starboard side and we can be seated immediately in the Sterling Room if we don't mind sharing a table. We sit at a table for four with a nice couple from Colorado and have a sociable meal with them. Up to this point, we have experienced nothing but friendly, attentive and professional service from each and every Princess employee or representative. This is remarkable since this is the first trip for many of the crew. The name badge of our headwaiter read "Garbot" and from the start we noted he had an "air" about him. Without rehashing the entire meal, this waiter was rude and straight out insulting to the wife of our tablemates and myself. Princess will be notified, but not tonight. We refuse to let this spoil our evening. Nice company and great food followed by a stand up routine at the Explorers Lounge. Another full day leaving us whipped and we call it a night. As soon as we get there, the ship's movement starts to get active. We have just cleared Queen Charlotte Island and are now in open ocean vs. inside passage. As I retire, we are traveling at over 17 knots, winds are near gale at 28 knots and seas are 5-7.5 feet. As my wife sleeps, I stay awake and enjoy the motion while I can. Day 7-Woke up to a calmer sea, although per the ship's channel on the TV say 7.5 to 12 foot seas. Either there's a twelve-hour time warp between the event and the report or they are pure fiction. I guess if I want to know the weather, I'll look out the window. This is more of a sea day since we will stop in Victoria at 7:00 for a 4-½ hour stop. Things are winding down around the ship; the string quartet who have been in formal attire all week are in street clothes as they play, fewer activities are planned around the ship, a long line of people are in front of the purser's desk making arrangements and the shops are having "sales" of overpriced items. By chance, we stumble by the Vivaldi room, which is usually closed and locked. This morning it is open and has the appearance of the basement at Sears. Half the room is filled with clothes, watches, dolls, purses andhats, which are advertised at big savings. What I find interesting is the fact that a lot of this stuff has last years date on them. Check for email from home; go to another game show parody and then the final bingo session of the cruise. Why not, the odds at the casino are worse and there has to be a guaranteed winner in the final game. There is, but it isn't us. A little after 5:00, there is a general announcement. The captain states that do to the bad weather the ship has seen last night and today, it is impossible to get to Victoria on time, we will be an hour late. All pax with certain excursions will be credited the cost of the side trip. The problem I have is I have been looking out my window. Since 9:00 this morning there has been calm seas, in fact at the time of the captain's announcement, it is almost glass. Last night the ship was going 17+ knots and the bow wake was still foam back of amidships. Since I got up, we are going slow enough I can see no wake and the "from the bridge" channel no longer has the ship's speed listed. In any event we dock at Victoria at 8:00 and it felt like every person on the ship hit the dock at one time. From the time the ship tied up, all pax only had 3 ½ hours to find a way into town, do whatever and then get back to the ship. We stepped off the gangway with no particular plan. We saw at least 1200 people in lines waiting for different types oftransportation. We look at the lines and then at a very small store right there on the dock. No contest, go to the store and pickup a phone card for our stewardess and head back to the ship. Went to Lido and loaded a platter of sandwich makings and returned to the cabin. We spent the next few hours eating, packing and watching movies I had brought on the laptop.
Disembarkation-Princess has come up with something new to us. Everyone is issued new baggage tags that have a pull off tab showing color and number (we have orange 4). The idea is that pax show this tag to security to let you off the ship in a controlled flow and order, per a pre-arranged timetable. In the past pax would get off the ship out of order and stand around until their bags were made available. In theory, this may work, but there's a problem. The Oosterdam, which has been shadowing us all week, is also letting off their pax into the same customs line. Per the schedule, we were to hit the gangway at 8:55.we waited in the cabin for our tag to be called. That time came and went without ANYONE being called. As usual, no explanation is given, and the first release of pax occurs just prior to 10:00. I woke up before 7:00 and we were already tied up in Seattle. At least three hours in delays and no info from Princess, however the are numerous announcements telling waiting pax not to block stairways and to stay away from the area around the gangway. From our balcony, we can see the new passengers lining up at the terminal building. Our color was finally called at about 10:45, but by looking at the line ON the gangway I knew we were far from getting out. About two hundred people are standing on the gangway with little movement, leading to another line inside the building. Misinformation on where bags were piled inside the building and fighting your way through the people waiting to get on the ship for today's sailing we get in a cab a few minutes prior to noon. On the ride to the hotel, we learn that a lot of cabs have been waiting for hours for us to get off the ship. Almost feel guilty about the $8 fare downtown vs. the $20 fare to the airport the driver was waiting for, but I know he will return quickly and get another customer within 15 minutes. At the Renaissance Hotel, here was a room available and since it was prepaid, they let us check in early. I see a few people walking about the hotel I will describe as strange. We then see the signs for the Xena Warrior Princess convention. My wife has to get me away from the area after we see the guy with a plastic sword and the rear half of a cardboard horse glued to his butt. Got half way up the escalator before I started laughing out loud. We then went down to the pier where a maritime festival was in progress. Tugboat races, chowder cook offs, free museums and kids having fun. Have a great time and go back to the hotel around 4:00. We both lay down, just for a second, next thing we know it's 9 PM. Roam the streets finding places already closed and others we are not dressed for. After about 40 minutes we stumble across a McCormick's seafood restaurant. Post Cruise Day2-after breakfast, make our way to Safeco field and watch a MLB game. After the last out, we take twenty steps out the gate and get on a free bus heading north. I'll take this time to write about getting around Seattle. From the airport, there is the line of taxis waiting for you into town for around $20. The problem is almost all the taxis are standard cars. The two of us used taxis to and from the ship, one large suitcase, one "jellyroll bag", one garment bag, two small roll along bags and two adults filled all the space except for the seat next to the driver. A third person would fit, but don't know if the extra luggage from the third person would make it. We opted for the shuttle run by gray line that uses full size buses. $17.50 per person for a round trip airport to the downtown area. Stops at about 15 hotels in the downtown area, running every 30 minutes. If you don't mind spending a lot of money you can rent a car. The problem is where to put it when you're not driving. All the street parking does not look like it, but it is metered. You park and find the "machine" on your side of the street. Put your money in, get a receipt, return to your car and place the receipt in your window. Or you can park at your hotel. Our hotel wanted $20 a night. We saw one lot that wanted $24 for anything over 6 hours. I had done a little research and we relied on public transportation. In the downtown area, it's only about 7 blocks (East to West) from the pier area to the boundary of the freeway going through town. There are numerous bus lines going North South and just a few going East West. The amazing thing is, except for a 90-minute period in morning and evening "rush hour", the buses are free downtown. In addition, there is a bus underground line with five stops along the downtown area before it returns to the surface once out of the area. The monorail is still being used from the Seattle World's Fair, and get up to a pretty good speed, but the entire trip is over in less than 100 seconds. If your if your stopping at the Space Needle, the monorail may get you back close to your hotel for a couple of bucks. Then there's the trolley built sometime in the 20's, starts just North of the waterfront area, goes South to the ferry building and turns East for several blocks makes a turn South and stops across the street from the South end of the underground bus way described above, depending on the hour $1.25 or $1.50 that will let you ride back and forth for four fours. We had used this series of transportations several times to get back to hotels from the waterfront. I bother to get into the Seattle mass transit operations because of our experience. Got off the free bus from the baseball game near the pier and had dinner at a Red Robin. Headed for the trolley and head South. One stop before the rails ends, the crotchety old conductor booted everyone off the trolley, saying he was going out of service. One couple started fighting with him and got back on and the trolley, only to jump off into the street about 100 yards ahead. We ended up in the wrong part of town on foot among the homeless. Kept moving until we spotted a bus, didn't care where it was going, jumped on and got out of Dodge. Got back to the hotel 45 minutes later and locked ourselves into the room. We later learn the conductor does this on a regular basis to get a longer break at the end of the line.
Last Day-Take the shuttle back to the airport several hours ahead of time and watch movies on the laptop until our flight leaves. Didn't pay to much attention to a planeload of people who were waiting for a replacement airplane. Hit some rough air on the way home but arrived back in Los Angeles ahead of schedule. Getting home we watch the news, the original SouthWest airplane people were waiting for in Seattle had hit clear air turbulence and people were hurt. This explains why at one point the stewards were in mid snack service and a slight bell rang four times and they dropped what they were doing and ran for their seats and strapped in. A great trip that spanned twelve days, but sped by like four. In a short period of time, we traveled by plane, diesel bus, trolley, amphibious vehicle, monorail, electric bus, subway, taxi, cruise ship, ATV and smaller boat. By the way, there was a fire on the monorail a few days after out ride; per the local TV news, it may take months or years before it's running again. If you have lasted through this short story, congratulations. Over 720 still photos were taken and over 10 hours of videotape used.
Having just returned aboard the beautiful "Diamond Princess" last weekend, it was a great experience, not a complaint, staff, dining room services, shows, all around good time and very much fun. One small complaint, not being able to have direct access to the International Dining Room, having to go down one deck to another and if in a wheelchair or on a walker, only one bank of elevators to get there, with every one of them full to capacity at mealtimes.
Having limped into port (San Pedro) with a mechanical problem and missing our flights, together with many of the other passengers, I would say, beyond that, everything was wonderful and we will be putting our onboard deposits to good use for another cruise on Princess. Good Job!
Family of 5, including Nana and twin 10 year old boys, went on Princess Diamond for our first cruise experience. We enjoyed this cruise emensly and have already put a "ghost deposit" onto another cruise. Embarkation went quite smoothly, arriving in San Pedro around 11:00 and we were in our cabins by 1:15 or so. We had a balcony and inside stateroom on Aloha deck, and our luggage was arriving as we got to the cabins. We took a case of water per cabin and a partial case of wine, which all arrived in tact, good job Princess! The Diamond is a spectacular ship and for it's grand size has a nice elegant feel to it. It's main atrium is very classy and though it rises only 3 floors, it feels quite grand and elegant, formal photos are done in front of the staircases and are nice. The service in all areas was excellent.
Our cabin stewardess, Viktoria, was charming and very helpful. We had traditional dining first seating and our wait staff Jose and Richard were terrific. I tipped them early on and we were not charged the $10 corkagefee any night. Entertainment on board was good, the stage show "Piano Man" was excellent, but "Undercover" was not to par. Comedians/ Jugglers were fantastic. Horizon Court buffet is good as buffets go. With two sides to the restaurant, it never was crowded. My boys didn't participate much in the Pirateer's Program, but they enjoyed what they did do. There was plenty to do with the 5 pools, basketball, food etc. Cabins were nicely decorated and plenty of storage for clothes and gear. We enjoyed our balcony, and are now spoiled to sail with anything less! Princess really did exceed our expectations and we can't wait to do it again...
After a number of recent cruises on Celebrity, mostly on Millennium class ships, we returned to Princess for a one-week Mexican Riviera cruise on Diamond Princess in early February, 2005. We were once Princess regulars-in fact our Captain's Circle logbook begins with a Princess forbear, the Sitmar Fairwind way back in 1976. We've also cruised on Cunard, NCL, RCL and Holland America.
Design and Layout
Before the cruise we thought we'd find the Diamond simply too big. That didn't happen. The ship's designers have done a good job of breaking up the spaces so things don't seem overwhelming. Even so, there are some "you can't get there from here" issues that are befuddling. Traffic flow gets pretty strange in a few places. But, while there are always some passengers who are eternally confused on any ship, it is possible to get the hang of the Diamond within a day or so if you work at it.
I kept getting turned around on the Lido deck when emerging from the midships elevators or stairs, located between the indoor and outdoor pools. From the elevator landing the similar look and color schemes of the pools gotme going the wrong way a few times. Something as simple as different primary colors in each space would have helped a lot.
The other pretty obvious design flaw is the food service area in the buffet restaurant. Make no mistake, I think scramble lines are a great way to go, but they only work when there's sufficient space to scramble. The best such setup we've seen was on the Brilliance of the Seas, where there's ample room to maneuver your way to whatever type of food you'd like to grab. On the Diamond, the cramped quarters render the scramble concept largely ineffective and at peak periods, claustrophobic.
We didn't visit other rooms, so our impressions are only of our own cabin-a standard balcony on Aloha deck. We liked the design very much, and thought that the "around the corner" closet and bathroom entrance was a very good feature. The balcony was pleasant and we thought the overall cabin design was just fine. We did miss the always full water pitchers found on some other lines. We had to call room service for pitchers of ice water, which was a bit of a nuisance. Our cabin steward was very good, on a par with what we've come to expect on the better popular priced lines.
This was our first experience with "Personal Choice" dining and we became fast fans of the concept, and consider it a big plus for Princess. This scheme fits perfectly with our personal preferences in two ways. First, we're late diners. We eat no earlier than 7:30 or 8:00 at home, and we always take second seating on cruises. This means that getting a table at the personal choice restaurants was no problem, since we always showed up after the crowds had departed. We made reservations some nights, but it wasn't really necessary except at Sabatini's. Second, we tend to prefer a table for two (or the size of our party). We've never considered dinnertime the place to make fabulous new friends any more than we'd consider a good restaurant a place to sit down randomly at a large table of people. At the same time, we're not shy and we're far from antisocial. We never fail to make new friends on a cruise, and sometimes lasting friends. This cruise was no exception, and being able to dine with these friends when and where we wanted to was a big plus.
We never ate dinner in the main dining room. We did eat some lunches there. We ate in all five of the specialty restaurants, including Sabatini's. Overall, the food was good, but we felt it wasn't as consistently good as on Celebrity. There were some dishes that were real winners, such as the rack of lamb and the osso bucco. All the food in Sabatini's was excellent. Generally, the beef was just OK, as were the salads and soups.
The four "standard" specialty dining rooms are very pretty places where, as most people know, you can choose from either the main dining room menu for the evening, or the set specialty menu for the individual restaurant. In some cases this makes for a strange juxtaposition, especially in the Pacific Moon restaurant, where the dinner rolls on the table were a bit of a surprise, and where the two menus seemed quite the odd couple. We decided to stick with the specialty choices, which turned out to be not such a great idea. The spring rolls were basically awful, and the stir fry was a bland chop suey-type affair. Our neighborhood strip mall Chinese restaurant has nothing to fear from the Pacific Moon, although it must be said that our neighborhood strip mall Chinese restaurant is a very good one.
Making the rounds of the other restaurants, we found the Sterling Steak House had a very good atmosphere, but the beef was just OK, and not always cooked as ordered. The "South of the Border" Santa Fe dining room was quite good, and worth the trip just for the excellent guacamole. The Vivaldi room featured the osso bucco, which was an excellent choice.
Our evening at the surcharge Sabatini's restaurant was a highlight. All the food was well above average. The only negative is that they serve way too much of it. The variety is impressive, but this is one of those situations where "less is more." Instead of automatically serving all of the appetizers and pastas to everyone, they might be better off letting people choose as they go along. The service was very good, but not at the level of the specialty restaurants on Millennium class ships.
If you're a wine drinker, you should note that if you order a bottle and don't finish it, it will be put away for you and can be retrieved from any other dining room. This is an excellent service feature.
Finally the buffet at the Horizon Court was, well, a buffet. Unremarkable food was made less appetizing by the cramped food service quarters mentioned earlier. The main dining room is a better bet for lunch where even something as simple as a composed salad was more rewarding than the scramble line.
And here's the best food news of all: my wife and I both went on diets at the new year. By the time we left for the cruise I'd already lost 15 pounds. After a week on the ship and another week in Palm Springs we returned home to discover. . .no change! We both stayed at the same weight over two and a half weeks of vacation, which we felt was a real moral victory. Now it's back to the serious weight-loss grind for both of us. But it's a bit easier knowing we're starting where we left off.
I've all but given up on "production shows" on every cruise line. They're usually poorly conceived and rely on form over content to please their audiences. I stuck my head in for one of them and found the usual belching stage smoke and dancers trying their best in what was essentially a lost cause. I left after five minutes.
Much more successful were the individual acts, especially the comedians. There were three or four comics on this cruise, and many of their performances were in the very pleasant Explorer's Lounge on deck 7. A smaller, cabaret-style venue, this place is perfect for a drink and a comedy or magic set, and we enjoyed the place very much. I wish more ships had this kind of entertainment in a more intimate setting. This sort of atmosphere was standard on the older, smaller ships. It's a real plus for Princess that they've resurrected the idea on some of the biggest ships afloat.
One night in the main theatre featured an American songbook set by a very good vocalist called Tony B. No, not that Tony B., but a darn good performer who can really hold a stage in the old Al Martino/Jerry Vale style. We thought he was excellent, and the show band really did justice to his top-notch arrangements.
Officers / Cruise Staff
The Diamond features a very pleasant cruise staff and some wonderful deck officers. We'd sailed with Captain Bernard Warner before on the Dawn, and it was great to see him again. He's a warm, energetic Brit with a wry sense of humor who handles his "social" obligations with great comfort and grace. His best one liner came when he was talking about taking command of the brand new Diamond in Japan last year. When Mitsubishi handed over the keys they also gave him the results of the sea trials. He said that he did a little math and realized that "Basically, this thing gets 63 feet to the gallon." We also had a chance to chat with Senior First Officer Jon Paul Bryant who's an equally delightful guy.
The daily activities are about what you'd expect: wine tastings, napkin folding, drink making, crafts and the like. They also hold computer classes in the wedding chapel (is there a message here?). Except for an introductory class or two, there's a fee for each class. Most classes center around Photoshop, which is a program I use regularly. I stuck my head in a few times and my impression was that the instructor was very competent. Princess also offers enrichment lectures of various kinds at no cost, and I found the two talks on genealogy especially useful. The internet café is large and pleasant, and features the best coffee on the ship (extra charge). Connect time is 35 cents a minute, but is waived for Platinum and Elite Captain's Circle members. As is typical on ships, the service is very slow.
But best of all, we made some new friends at the first trivia contest, and over the week our crack team won four or five times, which means that we returned home with a bagful of travel clocks, luggage straps, passport wallets and luggage tags. We could open a Princess logo merchandise store.
You're almost certain to have a very good time aboard the Diamond. The ship is new, lovely, well-fitted and the spaces are well proportioned so they don't seem cavernous or overcrowded. The cabins are ample, the staff is great, the service is good, there's some entertainment for everybody, and the food is serviceable. Have fun.
Wow! What a cruise ship the Diamond is. I've cruised 6 times previously on different lines, and this was just a great experience. Everything was wonderful, the food, staff and ports were great.
I can't imagine anyone really having anything negative to say about this cruise experience!!
This was our third cruise, the second on Princess. Our first Princess was on the Grand in 2002.
Pre-Cruise We arrived in Los Angeles a day early and booked the transfer and hotel with Princess. They did a great job. We were met immediate at LAX by a Princess rep who grabbed our bags off the conveyor and walked us out to the shuttle stop to the Marriot. The next morning, they came to our room at 10:30 and took our bags. Got on the bus at 1:30 and at 2:00 we were at the port in San Pedro. Grade: A
Embarkation: We filled out all the passenger information online weeks before we left. So we had express check-in when we arrived. It was seriously no more than 15 minutes from the time we stepped off the bus until I was standing on our balcony in our stateroom. There at least 4 buses checking in at one time. Princess did a great job with us & express check-in! Grade: A+
Ship This is a GREAT ship! It's similar enough to the other Grand class ships that you know your way around.But there are enough differences to still feel new. Even with 2,700 people on board, we were never in a crowd. Decks are laid out very well and plenty of room. Grade: A
Service You couldn't pass a crew member without him saying "Good morning" and smiling. Without exception. The dining room waiters seemed a bit more business-like than they do in traditional dining rooms (we had anytime dining). Bartenders were always prompt. The casino staff was extremely pleasant. Grade: B+
Food The food was very good. I'm no gourmet, so I guess when you get to a certail level it all seems good to me. We ate in each of the 4 specialty resteraunts. The Sante Fe is about the same as any upper end Tex-Mex place you'd see in the states. Good food, but nothing spectacular. The other three were very good. The buffet menu was changed every day and for dinner included many of the items from the traditional menu in the dining rooms. Not cafeteria quality buffet food. Ice cream was good, but I don't like having to pay for ice cream. The girl working there said it used to be free but the line of kids stretched all the way across the Lido deck when it was. Grade: B+
Cabin We had a Lido deck balcony. I find the finish of a Princess cabin nicer than a Carnival cabin. Little things like the wood accents, refrigerator, etc. The balcony was great. I'll find it hard to cruise without one. Bathrooms on Princess are, however, more cramped than on Carnival ships. But we weren't hurting for space. Grade: B+
Onboard activity You could do as much or as little as you wanted. There was the golf chipping contest, hairy chest contest, blackjack tournament (I won), slot tournament, dance lessons, bingo, horse racing.... the whole gammut. Or you could sit in any of the very quiet pool areas. They had a deck party one night. If you were bored on this trip, it was your own fault. Grade: A
Entertainment We saw one of the two main shows. It was very good. We spent the other nights watching comedians in some of the other lounges. One comedian was not funny, but the others were. The lounge bands were pretty good also. Grade: B+
Dis-embarkation This took a while. It wasn't a Princess issue, it's a INS/Customs issue. Princess did a great job of staggering the departures and getting you your luggage after you made it through INS/Customs. It wasn't an unbearable experience, but it wasn't quick by any means. Grade: B
Ports are what you make of them, so I won't grade them. We stopped in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas. I will say it would have been nice to stay in ports a little longer. Maybe it was due to time required to get to the next port. Not sure.
Overall This was another great Princess cruise. We had a great time and booked an open booking for a future cruise while still onboard. We also enjoyed our Carnival cruise. I won't say one line is better than the other, but they are different experiences. We like them both and will cruise on both again. Princess does a great job and gives you enough choices to really make your vacation whatever you want it to be. Overall I'll give this cruise an A-.