In November 2009 we spent 10-days on the Island Princess cruising to the Panama Canal. We selected this trip primarily because it went into the Panama Canal. Some cruises just stop at Colon Panama since it costs big bucks for a cruise ship to pass thru the Panama Canal.
We saw 109 bird species in 6 countries on the 10-day cruise: City Country # Birds Ft Lauderdale US 9 Oranjestad Aruba 23 Cartagena Columbia 19 Colon Panama 26 Puerto Limon Costa Rica 46 Ocho Rios Jamaica 32 Total 109
In Jamaica we were able to find a birding guide - Wendy Lee @ email@example.com 876-973-4305. Wendy runs the Seven Oaks Sanctuary for Wildlife in Runaway Bay, and is a volunteer Game Warden. She is a native of the islands, has a Master's Degree in Biology from the University of Florida. She is of English decent and really knows the birds, butterflies and flowers of the island.
Finding a beach in Aruba near the ship with lots of Beach Glass.
Finding a Mask Boobie rookery on some small islands 3-hours west of Aruba.
Finding a store that sold Aguadiente (Fire Water) in Cartagena.
Seeing a flock ofKeel-billed Toucans and a Black-mandibled Toucan while approaching the Panama Canal. Seeing a pair of Crested Caracaras, a Yellow-headed Caracara, and a Fork-tailed Flycatcher while in the Panama Canal.
Hearing "Kiss-K-dee" everywhere in Port Limon Costa Rica and seeing 5 Kiskadee and Flycatcher species around town, finding a gorgeous Montezuma Oropendola in the suburbs, seeing a Violaceous Trogon and 3 Tanager species in the Rainforest, and getting a good enough photo to identify the Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer hummingbird.
Birding the Prospect Plantation near the Port in Ocho Rios Jamaica for 4 hours and seeing 16 endemic bird species, including the very long-tailed Red-billed Streamertail hummingbirds, Lizard-Cuckoo, Northern Potoo, Jamaican Woodpecker, Stripe-headed Tanagers and Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo.
Walking 4 to 6 miles a day on the Promenade Deck.
Relaxing on the heated stone beds of the private Spa.
Smoking on the Island Princess
Princess fails to protect non-smokers from the well-known negative health consequences of second-hand cigarette, cigar, and pipe smoke.
Princess makes no effort to enforce the minimal rules they do have. If you point out a violation of the rules to the Pursers office, they will listen to you and do nothing.
There is so much Princess and other cruise lines could easily do to make things better - like have all smoking cabins on the Port side and all non-smoking cabins on the Starboard side; and restrict smoking in public rooms to enclosed designated areas. Celebrity and RCI have taken a step in the right direction by banning smoking in cabins and on balconies, but more is required!
Princess needs to join the rest of the civilized world and highly restrict smoking on ships so that non-smokers are not continually subjected to the stench and health impacts of second hand smoke, the potential of spending many hours/days in a life boat, or worse - cancer from second smoke or death by fire.
I personally favor an absolute ban of any type of smoking on cruise ships – with violators removed from the ship at the next Port (like they do for drug possession or use). My wife and I have decided to boycott Princess until they completely ban smoking on their cruise ships. The perks of being Platinum means nothing compared to the stench of cigarette smoke.
If I Could Do It Over I Would
Consider going on Celebrity since they don't allow smoking in the cabins or on the balconies. The buzz on Island Princess was that Celebrity had better food. Celebrity stops in Colon all day so you could arrange for a bird guide.
We had a balcony cabin on the Port side of Deck 12 (A304). The room was pretty standard with lots of storage. The bed was very hard and by 2am your back would be hurting (we heard other passengers make the same comment).
We didn't use the balcony as much as on other cruises because of smokers in other cabins around and below us polluted the air to the point we couldn't stay out. Also, the people next to our cabin talked so loud you didn't want to be out when they were around – you could even hear them thru the walls.
Some of the cabin furnishings were in need of replacement; i.e., the bedspread had cigarette holes , the duvet was ripped in several areas, and the refrigerator didn't get things very cool.
The Port side balconies are best for birdwatching going from the Atlantic to Pacific thru the Panama Canal, but the best side for seeing the operation of the locks is on the Starboard side.
Food & Drinks
We had one Br, one Lu, and one Dn in the dinning room. Br was OK. The Lu and Dn Dinning Room choices were pretty mediocre, even by cruise standards. A restaurant would soon go out of business with these uninteresting menu selections and tasteless choices.
We avoided the public areas as much as possible because of the stench of cigarette and cigar smoke. Princess encourages people to smoke cigars at the Churchill Bar on Deck 7, but this contributes greatly to the overall stench of the public areas on Decks 5, 6 and 7. We never went in the Casino on Deck 6 because of the strong smell of smoke. The Wheelhouse Bar of Deck 6 Midship was large, comfortable and smoke free.
We enjoyed the private Spa (limited to 20 couples a day) with 4 hot stone beds, 3 steam rooms and 1 dry sauna on Deck 14 Aft. It's a great place to spend sea days and the afternoons of port days – especially since it is No-Smoking! The Rainforest showers are very large with lots of water (in case you don't like the small showers in the cabins). We thought it was well worth the $199!
We used the Sanctuary on the day we went thru the Panama Canal. It was probably not worth $70 per person, especially since someone was smoking a cigar on one of the balconies on Deck 12 Aft that wafted up to the Sanctuary. I did get some good pictures of the locks from the Sanctuary as we sailed back toward Colon (but you could get the same pictures from the basketball court on Deck 15).
They have removed the freestanding smoke stands from the Promenade Deck and from the elevator areas. This seemed to reduce the number of people smoking on the Promenade Deck, but sometimes people with cigars would congregate there anyhow, even though the Princess handbook in each cabin specifically requests that no cigars or pipes be smoked anywhere on the ship except the Churchill Bar. The handbook also says some areas are marked Non Smoking, but we never saw any signs.
We only took a ship's shore excursion in Cartagena Columbia because of safety concerns. It turns our there was nothing to be concerned about. The tour spent 45 minutes at an Emerald store (we didn't buy any). We should have gotten a taxi on our own at the Port to take us to the impressive Fort and Old Town.
At every port, it was possible to get tours at substantially reduced prices from the ship's Shore Excursions.
Carl & Wilma Ball
Our cruise to the Panama Canal on the Island Princess. From Ft. Lauderdale to LA, CA was our 26th cruise and 10th on the Princess line. I am in my 70's and a retired College Professor.
We booked 15 months in advance and were told the ship had very few staterooms available both by our travel agent and by Princess' main office. I got a total of 14 people to go along with the understanding Princess would upgrade us, but they never did. I chose and inside cabin because I feel we are only in our rooms to shower, change and sleep. The ship has MANY places to sit and view the outside better than the best suite. During the 15 months I called Princess many times to check on this or that so I was always in contact with them and up on what was going on. I chose to have Princess arrange my flight to Ft Lauderdale from LA, CA. I felt that if there was trouble with the flight Princess would wait or make alternative arrangements for us. I could have found a better price and timemyself, but chose to have Princess do it.
As the country's economy slumped, more staterooms and better prices came available. I am not sure Princess passed on the better prices to us.
Princess booked us on the red eye American Airlines from LA to Miami. We left home at 7 pm for the 10:30 pm flight. An hour trip to the airport and the two hour early arrival the airlines/airport requires. We arrived in Miami at 6:30Am. A Princess Blue Coat Representative met us in the baggage area and escorted us to an area to wait, miles away from anything. No food and few chairs were available. We waited there 5 hours until the bus arrived. This was not acceptable. Princess really dropped the ball here. There was a small group of grouchy old people by the time that bus came. We have never been treated so poorly. I think a better plan would be to go a day early and have less frustrations.
Princess no longer gives you a book of vouchers that includes every ticket you need. You have to go on line and print them out or have the travel agent do it for you. What I received from Princess 45 days before we were to leave was: Cruise Answer Book, Passage Contract, Pre-Cruise Check List, Travel Care Book (I would recommend using Travel X insurance) and a Shore Excursions sheet. That's it. Not even an Airline ticket!!! I recommend taking along your "Booking Confirmation" sheet just in case or What if!!!!!!!!
I had printed out a Boarding Pass and the Embarkation went very fast, maybe 30 min. We went to the Horizon Court for eats. Then to our room to change. Our room was on the Carb deck. Here is information that is helpful to all. On the stern there is an outside balcony with cover and lounge chairs the width of the ship, a great place to relax and see where you have been. This deck if you go all the way forward has a outside balcony or should I call it a viewing platform on the front of the ship. My wife couldn't find it as there is a fire door (that will open easily) in front of the outside door.
Here are some things you might take: Electric Power Strip like for your computer, LCD clock, and all kinds of Battery Chargers.
Our ride was very smooth but we didn't have any bad sea days. No need for sea sick pills.
I think the condition (paint, carpet, and general use areas) of the ship is very good. The mattresses need replacing, I asked for an egg crate rubber mattress and was very comfortable.
Places that show cutting back by Princess:Room Stewart now has 18 to 20 rooms they care for without an assistant. (Less service), Dining Room waiters have 5 tables to serve, our table had ten people. All dishes with beef now use choice meat cuts instead of Prime cuts and smaller helpings. A positive move in the dining room is that the presentation of each dish is more artful. They have fewer production shows for evening theater entertainment (lots of repeat shows) The Horizon Court on all ships is hectic and unorganized. The Island is no different. Early dining makes it easy to find a seat in the Princess Theater after dinner. The Chapel is no longer a chapel, but a computer lab. I listened in on a couple of classes but was not impressed.
Golf: The pro sounded like he knew what was going on. I went to the virtual golf course and talked a while with him, but I didn't take a golf excursion.
Another small complaint was that Princess has converted the rear pool into a "Sanctuary" a place you can go for peace and quiet. The cost $20 all day. They will nickel and dime you to death.
There are several Laundromats and the cost is a dollar to wash, a dollar to dry, and a dollar for soap.
The outside main pool was very busy when the weather was good, The inside pool always had chairs available.
Ice Cream: Now here is something I want to talk about. All Princess ships have an ice cream bar now and each scoop costs. In the Horizon Court at 3:30 pm they give ice cream away for an hour, as well as fresh made cookies.
Our first stop was Aruba. We walked around town for a couple of hours and then decided to hire a van for a tour of the countryside. Ships cost was $50 and our cost of doing it on our own was $5 each. We got together with 4 others.
The next day we were in Cartagena. We took the ship's tour #325 as it was a mile or two for the freelance tour operators' location (too far to walk).
All day the next day we traveled through the Panama Canal locks. View it from Carb Deck forward. It started at 7:00 am until 4:30pm. A tripod might be a must for this. I saw the first group of locks on the bow and the last from the stern.
Our next port was Costa Rica. I gathered a group of 8 that wanted to do a shore tour on our own. I bunched three adventures together and walked to the independent tour operators and bargained a price of $20 each. We saw Macaw, Panoramic scenic drive, Reserva Biologica Carara, Wild Monkeys, and the Mangrove boat trip. The boat was another $35 each. Our total cost was $55, and the ship's cost over $250 per person.
The next day we were in Nicaragua and we did a self tour of Granada and Lake Nicaragua and on the way back to the ship we stopped at the center of the town of Rivas all for $25 each. It was great. At this port one of the crew got off the ship and played soccer with other crew at the local park. He had a heart attack and died. A sad moment!
Some passengers returned to the ship with the Noro virus from eating and drinking at local spots in town and it spread throughout the ship fast. The Island Princess took prompt action to stop it.
The next day we were in Guatemala. This was our favorite country. We again did a self tour to Antigua, the jade factory, the Mayan textile weaving and the Auto Safari. This cost us $30. there was an entrance fee of a couple of dollars.
All of our self tours lasted the full time the ship was in port. I told all the drivers we wanted to be back to the dock one hour before sailing time. These self tours need someone that speaks Spanish to go along. It is cheaper if you do the translations and don't need the translator.
Our next day was to be at Huatulco, Mexico, but because of the global flu scare, the captain did not stop anywhere in Mexico.
The temps were in the 90s and 100s with 100 per cent humidity to this point. As we sailed north it became steadily cooler. The last day there was no one around the pools. In LA it was in the high 60s.
Princess takes out tips for the crew day by day automatically at the rate of $10.50 per person. I think I would like to do my own, and yes I could, but it takes extra effort to set that up.
The disembarkation went smooth. Princess does have getting on and getting off down pat.
If I were to complain, it would be a complaint with the home office as everything on the ship went smoothly.
We recently returned from the Oct 9th sailing on the Island Princess from Los Angeles to Ft Lauderdale via the Panama Canal. On this cruise we celebrated our 50th anniversary. The views are ours alone and passengers on the same cruise may have different opinions.
Pre-Cruise: We opted for the Princess two day pre-cruise at the LA Airport Marriot. Princess excels in these programs. We were met at LAX by two Princess Reps and quickly placed on the hotel shuttle. The Marriot is a nice hotel. The rooms, though small, are clean and bright. The only drawback is the area. There are only a couple of places to eat nearby and the food in the hotel expensive. We used VIP tours one day for a 5 hour tour of the LA area. The second day was spent at Disneyland. We have been to Disneyworld a number of times and really enjoyed seeing the California version. The next morning you were given a bus number and we were off to San Pedro and the Island Princess. From arrival to departure it was well organized.
Embarkation at San Pedro was fast. Being Platinum cruisersthere were only 8 people in line although regular check-in lines were longer. We were onboard in less than 15 minutes, received a nice Princess upgrade, and proceeded to cabin A321. Our cabin served us well for the 15 days as it was clean and bright with the usual storage space and small bathroom. We were very pleased. Our Cabin Steward, although a little short on personality, was very efficient. We left him a little extra at the end of the cruise.
Without going into detail may we say the Island Princess is a beautiful ship. The size was perfect, less than 2000 passengers. All of the venues were very nice, good after dinner entertainment and nice spots to relax. One of our favorites was the Lotus Spa and Pool. This was the "Adults Only" area. Very nice decor, a few hot tubs and beautiful pool. We enjoyed the relaxing music in the area. At night some parents did bring their kids in the pool but by then it was quiet and it was no big deal. There were also lounges available in the regular pool area, not nearly the "chair hogs" one finds on the usual Caribbean runs.
Food: Like entertainment this is very subjective. We cannot comment on the regular dining room as we used "Anytime" dining. We tend to eat early so we never had a wait. We enjoy a table for two and never had a problem getting one. The tables for two are in reality tables for four and we met some delightful people during our mealtime. We opted one night to dine in the Bayou Cafe for an extra $15 pp. We were extremely pleased in the New Orleans style meal and felt we received our money's worth. We dined in the 24 Lido Buffet several nights. The food was good, not great, but again the subjective thing creeps in here again.
Let me briefly toss in the Formal Dress thing at this point. On this cruise there were 3 Formal Nights. We dressed for the first and last, opting for the buffet on the middle night. I would say the mix was about 70% dark suit and 30% tux. Yes, there were a couple of rebels with open neck sport shirts, but I don't want to get this controversy ramped up again! A good number of people changed into more comfortable attire for the evening shows and again this is a matter of opinion but in no way offended us personally!
Entertainment: Again we approach something subjective. What we enjoy, you may not! We were fortunate to have been able to see the second performance of "So You Wanna Dance". Outstanding! The other production shows were "Piano Man" and "Motor City". We had seen both these productions on prior cruises but still enjoyed them. The Princess singers and dances and the lead performers were excellent. So young and so much energy! Oh my! There were also the usual array of Comedians, Magicians etc. All were entertaining.
The Ports (very briefly):
Huatulco, Mexico: In one word "Beautiful"! It is the new Cabo! Beautiful beaches and magnificent scenery. They are planning for the explosion which is certain to come. At this time they want to keep the area "their little secret". I don't blame them! We also stopped to try Mexican Mescal drinks. It got kind of blurry after that!
Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala: All the tours were well received. We opted for the "Drive Through Animal Sanctuary", and had complimentary fries, beer and soft drinks in the thatched hut refreshment area. We got caught in a real jungle rainstorm but with the heat and humidity it felt good!
Puerto Cortino, Nicaragua: Very poor area. Some passengers say it is a "diamond in the ruff" but will take time to develope. Some liked it and some didn't. We are from the "didn't" camp. We had a scary situation which we will not cover here. The jury is out on this stop!
Puntarenas, Costa Rica: Again the tours were mostly well received. We opted for the Mangrove Boat Tour and Scarlett MacCaw Santuary". We saw some huge croc's along the banks of the Mangroves along with many birds and monkeys. The sanctuary itself, with the beautiful Red and Green MacCaws all allowed to fly free was one of the highlights of our trip. Costa Rica itself is beautiful and the people friendly.
The Panama Canal: What can be said about the all day journey though the heat and humidity and magnificent scenery of this man-made wonder. This is an experience we wish everyone could do in their lifetime. Magnificent!
Cartagena: What a beautiful old city this is! We attempted a walking tour of Cartagena but as soon as your feet quit moving you are besieged by a relentless array of vendors. We never heard what our guide was explaining. I could have bought a genuine Rolex watch for $25. (for you I will make it $15). Stupid me! Again it is a beautiful city!
Aruba: Bright, colorful and fun. Been there before so no tours. Shopped a bit and returned to ship.
Montego Bay, Jamaica: The best part of Jamaica is when your ship sails out of the harbor. Personal opinion only!
Fort Lauderdale: Opted for our usual "walk-off" debarkation and it worked well. We were at the airport by 8:30. The friendly folks at Delta said they would get us on an earlier fligh to Detroit. Then they mentioned this little favor would cost us $100 extra. We waited!
Finally -- Great cruise on a fine Princess ship. The weather was excellent although very hot and humid. We were a couple of days ahead of the Pacific storms and had smooth seas all the way. This was cruise #29. We have #30 already booked and are in the hunt for #31. We are very fortunate to be able to do what so many people dream about. Don't think we do not appreciate it!
We have sailed before on Celebrity, HAL and Princess to Alaska and are great Alaskan cruise fans. After the almost unbelievable treatment last year on the May 7, 2006 Summit we had a great deal of trepidation before this cruise. For anyone that is interested I will post a review of that cruise on the Celebrity cruise review board on this cruise forum. Fortunately, all of our fears went away after just a few days of cruising and we made all ports and were on time for every port.
The boarding process was very smooth and we had plenty of time for lunch before exploring the ship.
We were booked in a mini-suite aft and had a great cabin and close to most activities. We had sailed on the Island Princess a few years ago and the condition was just as good as it was a few years ago. The cabin was well appointed and quite comfortable. You usually have to request robes, if you want them, because of the massive amount of things to be washed on changeover day and the robes seem to have a low priority.
The service inthe main dining and elsewhere was excellent. The food was some of the best that we had ever had on any cruise ship. The one downer was that the price of photos onboard is way over the top, at about $20 for each picture. The shows were very good with a very enthusiastic cast. Spent some time in the casino and it was very well run with a good selection of games and slot machines. This unfortunately, did not result in any windfalls for us!
Did not take any of the ship's tours and just went on our own when in port. One thing that I can recommend is renting a car in Skagway and driving to Emerald Lake. We have done this many time and it is always enjoyable.
All in all it was one of our best cruises ever and I feel that Princess really does have an interest in showing off Alaska. The disembarkation process, which I always dread, was the smoothest that I have ever seen. We were called at exactly the time that Princess had said that we would disembark. We walked off the ship and our buss was sitting right at the gangway and we were on our way in five minutes. We took the Princess transfers from Whittier to the Anchorage airport where we picked up a rental car.
After the cruise we rented a car for a week and drove to Kenai, Valdez and Denali. The weather through the two weeks was very nice with only part of one day that it rained. The temperature in Fairbanks the day that we were there hit a record high of ninety something.
In summary, I think Princess is a great choice for an Alaskan cruise and offers a great cruising experience.
This was a 15 day cruise originating in Los Angeles on January 26 to the Hawaiian Islands and back. It was far from enjoyable.
The weather did not cooperate on the five day trip to Hawaii. We hit a storm, heavy seas and cool temperatues. Of course that is not Princess' fault but it added to the unpleasantness we encountered.
We missed two ports, Kauii and Lahaina. We missed the first because the Captain did not want to take the ship into Nawiliwili harbor in the wind conditions we had. From other reviews I have read it seems this is not an infrequent problem. If they routinely miss this port they should tell you before you book.
As a coincidence perhaps, he also told us there was an ill passenger who had to be taken to a hospital. So we sailed to Honolulu where the passenger was taken off by water taxi in some pretty stong winds and rough seas. It turns out the ill passenger was the wife of the staff captain. We cruised back and forth in front of Honolulu until the nurse who accompanied the patient and the staffcaptain to the hospital was brought back aboard. We then set sail for Lahaina.
We missed Lahaina because the Captain said there was a weather front coming in that afternoon and it would make loading and unloading tenders difficult. He cancelled before 9 am, six hours before the front was due. We had been on that ship seven days by that time and several of us felt he could have told us to go ashore for three or four hours. By this time the wind had died down and the seas were a lot calmer than they had been the day before.
To make matters even worse there was an outbreak of the Norwalk Virus. The steps they took to try to control it made dining a real pain. We were not permitted to serve our own food from the buffet. We were not permitted to put cream or sugar in our own coffee. Salt and pepper shakers were taken away. Everything was served or poured by crew members wearing latex gloves. No tableside deserts were permitted. The traditional pastry display was cancelled.We were repeatedly reminded to wash our hands, use only the restrooms in our cabins, use an antispetic gel each time we went into the buffet line or into the dining room. We were told to avoid using handrails, door knobs and other surfaces where people place their hands. Yet while all these measures were inforced the casino, where people are constantly handling cards, chips and slot machines, opened. The library was open as were the shops on board, the internet cafe, the photo shop and art gallery. People who had the virus were quarantined in their cabins for a period of time. But their spouses or travelling companions were not. They were permitted to roam around the ship.
But the worst part of this cruise was the attitude of many, not all, of the crew. We rarely saw the Captain. He showed up for the sailing party a half hour after the second party ended. He refused to shake hands at the Captain's Circle cocktail party. Not once did he appologize for missing ports. He merely said it was "unfortunate". Very few passengers and many of the crew said they could not understand him. I know his Italian accent was so bad I could not understand him and I grew up listening to my Italian immigrant grandparents.
His indifference to the passengers carries down to some of the rest of the crew. They do some really incondiderate things on this ship.
On several occasions after most of a movie or program on tv was shown on tv something else, usually a promotion for a video tape they were making, would be shown on the channel before what you had been watching was over.
The so called Passenger Service Desk frequently provided anyting but service. Several people who worked there we rude, inaccurate, inconsiderate and condescending.
Several passengers who had as many as sixteen Princess Cruises had been lost in the Captain's Circle computer system and, no matter what they said and no matter what proof of their previous cuises they provided,they continued to be treated as first time customers.
It took them six attempts to properly wash, starch and iron one of my dress shirts.
Our dining room waiter told us on the second to last night that our "extra tips" to him should not be put in an envelope since someone might see it and demand he put the tip into the general pool of tips. He told us to palm it and shake his hand as a way to give it to him. Now this came despite the fact that Princess charges each person $10 a day for that tip fund unless you tell them in writing you do not want to participate.
On the first night of the cruise this same waiter really started pushing the sale of bottles of wine at the table. When I asked him if it was ok for me to make up my own mind on whether I wanted one or not he told me he got into trouble if he didn't produce enough extra revenue.
It is no secret when the first seating for dinner is on a ship. Yet we were about twenty minutes into dinner one evening when the Captain chose to announce the measures that were to be taken to control the virus. Of course he had to also explain in some detail the symptoms while we were eating dinner.
Everyday we were in Hawaiian waters the ship's paper, the Princess Patter, carried a warning about the so called Jones Act. We were told it is a federal law that provides for fines of departing passengers who sail on a foreign ship from one US port to another without first having visited a foreign port. Actually it provides for fines against the ship owner, not the passenger who does this. I watched an argument between a passenger who had had enough and wanted off in Honolulu and a partitularly nasty lady behind the Passenger Service desk. She wanted to charge him for the fine. He kept refusing to pay it. I kept wondering how desperate Princess must be to lie to keep passengers on board an infected ship.
Despite all this not one time did the Capain order so much as a free glass of wine to appease the passengers. By the end of the trip, the hostility between passengers and the people who had to dish our food out was open and plain with passengers telling them they couldn't wait to get off the ship and them telling the passengers they couln't wait for us to get off.
Imagine my surprise when I called Princess the day after I got home and was told they will only deal with complaints in writing and it might take two to four weeks to hear back from them.
I do know two things about this cruise. First is was markedly different from the 24 day cruise I took on the Pacific Princess. That one was a pleasure. Second, I will do my future cruising on a differnt company's ships.
This was my first with princess (was on island princess) but about the 10th time sailing. Had a mini suite.Suite was nice but the optional bath robes were all for small builds. Food was not what it was described as. For example chicken Marsala had no Marsala taste, lemon sorbet....was sugar and ice (no lemon)...The $20 more restaurant sabitini's had only 1 pasta dish.....which was part of the 5 course meal.....service was poor, except for the head waiter. $20 Bayou restaurant was better with lots of good choices and good service.
Gym had lots of equipment, to relax near the pool in the back of the ship costed extra.
TV in the room was mostly ....no signal or poor signal on all the real channels. The rest were old tv shows and princess commercials. Live entertainment shows were pretty good.
Nightly meetings of LGBT folks. Lots of dance lessons. Ship layout gave no area where that was closed off, quiet and air conditioned.....except for smoking area.
Many passengers got on for a song and had never been on a cruise.Huge number of mobility challenged with scooters and wheel chairs.
Ports included dangerous......Colon and Colombia...Costa Rica wasnice and safe.
Not what I would do again but anything is better than Costa Cruise lines and Celebrity.
On 12-19 September I took my first Princess cruise after sailing almost exclusively with Carnival and Holland America. Carnival's sense of fun was the attribute I most admired about the “Fun Ships” and Holland America always seemed to possess a sense of class.
Based on my Island Princess cruise I must say that Princess seems to combine the best of both worlds.
The entertainment was fast paced and plentiful, while at the same time always with a sense of good taste. For example, the comedians could be funny without using profanity. We had 3 high energy production show,... "Do you want to Dance", "On the Bayou", and "Motortown". There were trivia games every day and the disco rocked in the evening with the very fine band Sol Provider.
My dinner was at 1730 in the Provence Dining room where the service was excellent. The food too met or exceeded my expectations with salmon, pasta, lobster, surf & turf, and other cruise ship staples. Of course for desert what Alaska cruise would be complete without baked Alaska?
I had stateroom B537 and inside on the Baja deck. Besides always getting lost, I was most pleasedwith both the room and my cabin attendant. This room being mid-ship was remarkably stable at all times. No sea-sickness for me! Not that I get sea-sick, but I have felt the ocean on previous ships where I was in the bow or stern.
This was a Northbound Vancouver to Whittier voyage.
Vancouver: This is an absolutely beautiful city so I highly recommend coming in early as to enjoy what the place has to offer. Princess's contract hotel ~Four Seasons~ is magnificently located in downtown just a few blocks from Canada Place ship terminal.
Since I had the package, my bags were picked up at the hotel and my ship card was issued in the lobby. The picturesque Gastown is an easy walk from both Four Seasons hotel and Canada Place. Please don't use Vancouver simply as an embarkation... it is a destination in of itself.
Ketchikan: Besides a walk over to Creek Street, I took the scenic boat to Misty Fjords National Monument. That is a beautiful place and well worth the cost of a shore excursion to get to.
Juneau: They call the rainforest a rain forest for good reason, as I found out with the “guide's choice” hike around Mendenhall glacier. Yes, I got wet... but all part of the fun.
Skagway: like most everyone else I took the White Pass train which is perhaps my favorite shore excursion out of 14 cruises. Fantastic!! My tour also included a motor coach trip to Carcross Yukon, of which I can enthusiastically endorse doing.
Whittier: Not much there, but do spend some time in Anchorage which is a lovely city. So... two thumbs up to Alaska, Vancouver, and to Princess !!
ISLAND PRINCESS ~ 10 Voyage to the Glaciers ~ June 1-11, 2011
Itinerary: Vancouver-Ketchikan-Juneau-Skagway-Glacier Bay-College Fjord-Whittier-Denali-Talkeetna-Anchorage
If you're reading this then you may be debating whether or not to take this cruise. Sea Dawg says you should because it promises to be among the most scenic of cruises available. Compare to discover how this is not the same as an inside passage cruise. Or you may have already booked and now you might be wondering whether or not you messed up. Sea Dawg predicts this is the cruise you'll want to take again. Princess is the cruise industry leader in Alaska.
Or you might be hoping to learn a few things from a salty dawg. Sea Dawg will try to do just that. Is Sea Dawg critical? You betcha. I call it like I see it. Criticism, if any, should not be equated with dislike of cruises. You should know ahead that I am an ex-Loyal Royal Caribbean diamond member.
ARRIVAL: Since we had a long flight to Vancouver we decided to arrive a day early and rode the free shuttle to our hotel. We toured this beautiful city via the subway interestingly namedSky Train. A main hub is Waterpark - very near the cruise ship port. We took the hop on/hop off trolley tour of Vancouver and especially recommend at least a drive through Stanley Park. We caught our hotel shuttle back to the airport to connect with the Princess shuttle to the port terminal.
EMBARKATION: We arrived at the terminal after 1pm and following the initial noon check-in crush. Prior online check-in expedited our process. Most dawgs knew to have their passports, travel documents, completed forms and credit card in hand as we were herded through security screenings then customs then Princess check-in. What threatened to be a hour long test of patience took less than 15 minutes we had our Cruise Card and packets and we were aboard. We have never experienced a more organized and efficient boarding process.
PHOTOGRAPHS: Photographers will greet you throughout the cruise. You should know in advance that these photographs are not complimentary or cheap. But you are not obligated to buy. If interested, stop and pose. If not, say, "no thanks" and be on your way. Sea Dawg has experienced a few times when photos go on sale or can be bargained down in price near the end of the cruise.
WELCOME ABOARD: Island Princess, (2003), mid-size class (92,000 tons - 964 ft. length) shows few signs of anticipated wear and tear. The interior is sleek and sophisticated. The ship has a welcomed intimacy without the overcrowded feeling. Sea Dawg's megaship experiences have been bigger is not always better. Most appealing to me was the quality of life aboard the Island Princess. Gone were the incessant "Bingo Time" and swimming pool water temperature announcements. I was aboard to experience Alaska, and Princess offered cruise dawgs a series of outstanding programs from naturalists, park rangers and an Iditarod race winner. In place of barmaids constantly hustling drinks by the pool, we had a crew lady politely offering warm cookies. Rather than a long hike aft, fresh pizza and hot sandwich venues were convenient to the pools and lounge areas.
You may have learned that sodas and alcoholic drinks are available for a price. But on Princess you are allowed to bring your own sodas aboard, but not alcohol. And on Princess you don't need an overpriced beverage card to receive fruit or vegetable juices! Thank you Princess! RCCL will nickel & dime dawgs at every turn and the cruise ends up more expensive than Princess.
CABIN: This is one cruise dawgs WILL want a balcony. Most cruises offer horizons of ocean for views at sea, but this cruise offers mountain and wildlife scenary almost everyday so bring good binoculars. Sea Dawg recommends selecting starboard (right) odd numbered cabins for northbound and port (left) even numbered cabins southbound. Order room service and brunch on your private balcony. We are not ones to spend much time in the stateroom. Our stateroom was small but efficient. Two people had to choreograph moves to navigate the tiny floor space. One person standing in front of the closet could be caged in if another opened the bathroom door. The bathroom was something like an airplane restroom with a tight don't-drop-the-soap shower. Sorry, no bathtub except in suites. Sea Dawg says it is a good idea to pack your own soap and specialty shampoo. Be forewarned - hot water might be in short supply during peak shower usage times. We find that we keep a small stateroom neater than a larger one - have to or else the accumulated clutter immobilizes us.
A Day 1 Princess Patter listed all the ongoing activities, information and suggestions. The lifeboat muster station location is posted. Take but do not wear life jackets to the mandatory muster drill. Muts need to be warned not to skip drill because staff is checking your name on their roll.
AROUND THE SHIP: Take time to explore the ship. If you have time, try to locate places where events happen. My advice is start at the top Sports Deck 15 and work down using the stairs. You should at least know where the medical facility is (Deck 4). You might want to inquire if your medical insurance covers you - in most cases it won't.
Sun Deck 15 is open to the sky, makes a good observation deck, and is surrounded by blue tinted glass wind screens. But camera hounds needing clear vistas were challenged here. You'll find the Cyber-Golf simulator midship.
Lido Deck 14 is home to Horizon Court and the pools. Horizon Court is the Deck 14 buffet restaurant offering panoramic views forward. You can also spot chow hounds loading plates like they're about to be stranded on Mt. McKinley for a month - only to eat half of it. And few appreciate line crashing hyenas who snatch away all the remaining servings forcing those whose mothers taught them better to wait until another tray arrives from the kitchen. Incredibly, I witnessed one Saint Bernard actually pick up the entire serving tray of pastries and arrogantly haul it to his table! Deck 14 is home to the open Lido Pool and enclosed Lotus Pool. Locate the ice cream bar. Chow hounds know to get cones and milkshakes here! The Lotus spa and gym is here. Astern is the Sanctuary, a retreat for adults that is a perk for pedigrees, available for a fee to hounds.
Aloha Deck 12 (there is no Deck identified 13) is primarily a cabin deck, but the Sanctuary and Youth Centers are astern.
Baja Deck 11, Caribe Deck 10, Dolphin Deck 9 and Emerald Deck 8 are cabin decks. Outside cabins mid-deck 8 have obstructed (by lifeboats) views though fortunate dawgs taking shoulder season cruises may get upgraded if space is available. The Library, Card Room and internet cafe is on Deck 8 at the top of the atrium.
Promenade Deck 7 is the main activity deck. As the name implies, this is the strolling deck. It's poor design is quite apparant as you stroll through a narrow hallway forward. Dawgs debating selecting a deck 8 cabin should anticipate noise coming from below. The Wheelhouse Bar and Crooner's Bar are here. There are two theaters that make for packed audiences: the upper levels of the Princess Theater forward and Universe Lounge stage aft. Two premium restaurants, Sabatini's and the Bayou Cafe are well worth your consideration. The art gallery is worth a look but sharp dawgs know to compare print prices online before purchasing.
Fiesta Deck 6 features Provence (traditional) Main Dining, the Casino, Explorer's Lounge, specialty shops, photo shop, and lower levels of the theaters.
The main dining room, has two levels: Bordeaux (anytime) Deck 5 and Provence Deck 6. Sea Dawg prefers traditional because the wait staff learns your preferences and can better prepare for your pleasant dining experience. At this time of year, the sun goes down late so there's not much advantage to early or late seating.
As for shopping aboard, think of pricey little shops at upscale hotels and you'll have the right idea. Resist the temptation and don't pay "retail" early in the cruise. There are usually "sales" throughout the cruise and a few good values might be found.
Thoughtful design permits dawgs to traverse Deck 6 fore to aft without obligatory navigation through the Casino. By far the largest cash intake comes from the gaming. House odds are higher aboard than at Las Vegas. In other words, there are greater odds you will lose. So consider money lost gambling the cost of entertainment. To that end there are free gaming lessons offered. Be careful, the ATM machine is here, too.
Plaza Deck 5 is where Passenger Services, Tour Desk and Future Cruise Sales are located. Some cabins are located aft. Curiously and inconveniently, the Atrium elevators do not left all the way to the top decks. Our cruise was not fully booked, so we were pleased few experienced long waits for an elevator. Even so, we found the stairs quicker at peak times. The majority of passengers were mature dawgs 50 years up. School was still in session and there weren't many pups or frisky college canines. Not to worry, we had our share of incredibly rude, line crashing, seat saving Japanese Shiba Inus aboard.
DINNER: I've read some Cruise Critics comments from Pedigrees about dinners and I have to reply that it is completely unrealistic to expect 5-star dinners at Princess' moderate prices. Sea Dawg found the quality and quantity of the prepared food consistently very good. No, it's not the best culinary offerings the cruise industry has to offer. - and while some other cruise lines lower qulity to drive patrons into premium restuarants, Princess still serves lobster. Pedigrees who want 5-star cuisine should book luxury cruise lines and pay their premium prices. For the rest of us, this is a chance to sample cuisine we don't often enjoy. If it's not to your liking, your waiter will bring you something else. Chow hounds can order a second entrée if they like. I feasted on duck, lamb, veal, salmon and prime rib. And, yes, you could order steak or shrimp cocktail every night. Vegetarian, "lite" and Asian offerings were usually available.
Dinners are an event that Sea Dawg doesn't like to rush. If you are in a hurry, do your tablemates and waiters a favor and eat at Horizon Court. If you want to know the chef's secrets, you can purchase the recipes. Waiters come from all over the world. Their English proficiency varies but is generally merely functional. Most try very hard to please you and really do earn their tips. Wit and humor were in ample supply at our table and any pretense of formality fortunately disappeared the first night. Dinnertime became an enjoyable highlight of this cruise.
Dancing Under the Stars: Romantic sounding isn't it? Weather dictates outside activities aboard. Unfortunately, on this cruise there were only limited opportunities in the clubs for romantic dancing and dance floors are small. Dances advertised as "ball room" were mostly loud rock or jazz. Never learned how to dance? There are free ballroom dance classes available. Our instructors were excellent and attentive.
Weather: Fortunately our cruise experienced mostly fair weather. This is Alaska and cloudy, rainy days are normal. Mornings are chilly and afternoons can get almost hot. Dressing in layers is necessary. Dawgs, especially shoulder season cruisers, are wise to pack hooded water-proof jackets. But also pack swim suits (for hot tubs) and sunglasses (for snow glare).
Day 1 - Vancouver If you've never seen Vancouver don't miss this opportunity. We arrived a day early to tour this beautiful city. See Cruise Critic port reviews. Once aboard, plan to take part in the sailaway party. If you pre-reserved shore excursions online, your tickets should be in or shortly delivered to your stateroom.
Day 2 - At Sea This usually means out in the open water with nothing but waves and ocean horizon in view. Island Princess transits the Straight of Georgia along the scenic coast of Vancouver Island then heads across Queen Charlotte Sound.
The Shows Current and classic movies are shown on the outdoor big screen overlooking the Lido Pool. There are two venues for stage shows, but limited seating. The Princess productions proved to be better than theme park shows. To their credit, the shows were performed live to music provided by a live band. However the sound tech preferred the volume loud and distorted. Headliner guests were hit and miss. Your cruise will probably feature different entertainers. Few presentations had show dawgs streaming out the exits mid performance.
Tonight was the first of two formal nights in main dining. Some pedigrees were dressed to the nines, but most wore their "Sunday best". A word about expensive jewelry and valuables. Leave them at home! There are personal safes in the cabin, but a master code to open them is known to more than a few. Sharp dawgs use the ship safe available through Passenger Relations to store truly valuable items. New U.S. federal law mandates the FBI be promptly contacted to investigate serious shipboard crimes for all ships that enter/depart any U.S. port.
Day 3 - Ketchikan I was up early and watched the ship navigate the Tongass Narrows toward Ketchikan. At first I thought I was in the Caribbean! Salty Dawgs promptly growled at the immediate presence of Carnival's and Royal Caribbean's Diamonds International, Tanzanite International and other cruiseline venues. But this is America and local retailers exercised their right to advertise they are independent of the cruise lines!
The Misty Fjords & Wildlife Explorer excursion is deservedly popular. Independent dawgs should stop by the Ketchikan Visitor's Bureau near the ship and pick up a free walking tour map. Hop a ride on their free shuttle and ride up the hillside to the Totem Heritage Center and walk downhill on Creek Street or on Married Man's Trail along Ketchikan Creek on down to Dolly's.
A word about shopping: make your shopping list before you leave home. Too often dawgs purchase items on a cruise destined for a yard sale. Record the local or internet price so you'll know whether you are getting a bargain. U.S. citizens who booked flights on a Canadian airline should bone up on custom limitations before you leave or you might find yourself in the dawghouse.
All dawgs had to be onboard by 1:30pm for an early afternoon departure. Unless you are on a Princess Shore Excursion the ship will not wait for stray dawgs! The ship sailed north through scenic Clarence Straight.
Day 4 - Juneau Juneau is reached by sailing up and down the Gastineau Channel. The ship arrives at 8am and departs at 8:30pm and the sun is up longer as we reach higher latitudes. So plan a full day ashore. The Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest (guaranteed sightings) is highly recommended and fills quickly. Independent dawgs will be rewarded to take the "blue" Glacier Express bus from the Visitor Center parking lot to enjoy at their own pace Mendenhall Glacier, the lake and huge waterfall! It was only $16 (sixteen) round trip and rates as one of the great values of the entire cruise. The bus driver can tell you about some other value excursions their independent company offers. And what dawg would miss the infamous Red Dog Saloon? Yes it's a tourist trap but a howling good time!
Day 5 - Skagway Skayway is reached by sailing up and down scenic Taiya Inlet and Lynn Canal. Snow-capped peaks and numerous cascading waterfalls reward watchful dawgs on a fair weather day. Our ship arrived at the railroad dock near 7am and departed near 8pm on this last port of call before reaching Whittier. The little town of Skagway exists because of the railroad and any of the White Pass & Yukon Route narrow guage train ride tours takes you to heaven and is highly recommended. Another way to be taken to heaven is to stop by the Red Onion Saloon.
Day 6 - At Sea "At Sea" would technically be correct. But this is Alaska and Princess arranges to be one of only two cruise ships allowed to enter Glacier Bay National Park a day. "Scenic day Cruising Glacier Bay" is an understatement. Remember to charge up (or put in fresh) camera batteries! Several NP Rangers provide commentary as the ship slowly sails past towering snow covered mountains and through ice strewn Tarr Inlet to the foot of Grand Pacific and Margerie Glaciers. About every twenty minutes there is the sharp crack and thunder heralding another calving. Then the ship sailed up John Hopkins Inlet and rounded Jaw (as in jaw dropping) Point to view John Hopkins Glacier. We were truly blessed to have incredibly clear and sunny weather! Every photo we took could be a post card.
Tonight was the second of two formal nights in main dining. It was also lobster with giant prawns night. For Sea Dawg is was a perfect ending to a perfect day!
Day 7 - At Sea Today we sailed across the Gulf of Alaska toward College Fjord, and salty dawgs know to anticipate a sea day. The weather turned cold, windy and rainy. Long but narrow beamed Island Princess (designed to cross the Panama Canal) gently rolled through moderate seas. It wasn't so rough that seasick bags for green dawgs appeared, but dawgs sensitive to motion sickness should be prepared to medicate before crossing this open expanse of water.
College Fjord was socked in with cloudy weather and some showers. We could not see the mountaintops but could discern the beautiful glaciers through the mists.
CHECK OUT: You'll receive a bill for $11.50 ($12.00 if in a suite) per person/per day gratuity, any shore excursions and any other expenses you put on your Cruise Card. That's when many discover their bar tab, purchases, casino gaming and excursions cost more than the stateroom! Even though we had Express Departure, we checked our account for charges and accuracy at Passenger Relations before the crowd formed a long line.
You'll receive a comment card. My thinking is that if you mark everything "excellent" then Princess will have no incentive to improve anything. But what most cruise dawgs want to improve is not even on the comment card. You'll have to write in comments like "enforce the rules", "need more crew checking Cruise Cards and attending the Passenger Relations Desk", etc. yourself.
We packed our suitcases and affixed the proper "Meet Us Tonight in Denali" tags.
Day 8 - DISEMBARKATION and Bus to DENALI We ate a final breakfast then got to our assigned departure meeting place.
Departure went well. Princess has this well-organized so there were few rude line-breakers trying to beat the system. I can't figure out why line-breakers think they're the only ones in a hurry or why they are more important than anyone else in the scheme of things.
Post-cruise plans vary. Some catch a flight home from Anchorage. But most continue north either by train or by bus. We were placed on a bus and spent the day going up Alaska 3 to Denali. We had high hopes of seeing some wildlife and maybe a glimpse of the elusive, cloud shrouded Mt. McKinley along the way. We saw neither. The harsh reality of the end of the cruise stared back at us as we looked at the menu prices at the Denali Princess Lodge. The Denali Princess Lodge is fairly rustic and informed dawgs were glad they heeded the advice to pack powerful bug repellent. Sunset at midnight. Sunrise at 3am. No night - just twilight.
Day 9 - Talkeetna The next day we rode the free shuttle to Denali National and took their free park tour. We saw some wildlife in the distance but no Mt. McKinley. Here Sea Dawg made a quick change in plans. Princess had us scheduled to ride the bus from Denali to Talkeetna, but I decided to buy the inexpensive Alaska Railroad ticket to ride the Denali Star to Talkeetna instead. I called Princess from the Denali rail station (right by the Denali NP Visitor Center) and made arrangements. Princess agreed with absolutely no hassles to shuttle us to McKinley Wilderness Lodge along with other Princess passengers on their private cars on the train. Our luggage would be waiting for us in our room. It was among the best decisions of the vacation. Though we were "Adventure" class and not "Gold", Alaska Railroad has several cars for passengers to use including a dining car and, on our train, a domed car! Though the rail trip followed the same highway we traversed the day before it was far superior in scenery and comfort to the bus trip. We saw a lot of wildlife, some close to the tracks, but still no Mt. McKinley.
Arrival at Talkeetna Depot happened much too soon. Princess put us aboard their shuttle to McKinley Wilderness Lodge. We checked into our room and our luggage was awaiting us inside the door. How's that for great service? Princess has Alaska cruising and vacationing buttoned down!
McKinley Wilderness Lodge is so remote it generates its own electricity. Even so, there are hot tubs with a view here! We found the 20320 (twenty-three-twenty - named for the height of Mt. McKinley) Restaurant to be fairly reasonably priced and serving Alaska sized meals. But be prepared to wait for a table. We made arrangements for a "Mountain Out" call before we collapsed into bed.
Day 10 - Anchorage We were sound asleep when the almost midnight "Mountain is out" call came. We scurried out with bug repellent and camera in hand to join the sleepy-eyed "30% Club" of tourists who actually get to see the cloud-free and beautiful Mt. McKinley as the sun slowly set behind it. We gawked at the mountain in the comfy chairs of the main lodge until we both were nodding off to sleep. We retired to bed a second time - another perfect end to another perfect day.
The sun was high in the sky when we woke up - at 8am. Princess had us scheduled for a train trip from Talkeetna to Anchorage that afternoon. After breakfast we affixed "Meet Us in Anchorage" tags to our luggage and caught the free shuttle to spend the day in tiny Talkeetna. This is a town that exists on the tourist trade. Locals know the McKinley Wilderness Lodge prices and charge accordingly. We found the best priced food in town to be at the Roadhouse that has catered to mountain climbers for decades.
Soon we were aboard the train in the Princess private domed car taking a scenic rail to Anchorage. The bottom level of the car is where the kitchen and dining are located. We spotted numerous moose in the afternoon, especially as we neared Anchorage. I have to admit that I preferred Alaska Railroad's Adventure class.
We arrived at the Anchorage Depot and had a 5 minute shuttle to the Captain Cook Hotel. We opened the door and our luggage was already there. Our room was an absolutely luxurious suite! Thank you, Princess! We had an early flight from Anchorage to home. Princess was there again for us to the very end as a Princess representative greeted us to bid us farewell as we caught a very early shuttle to the airport.
Should You Take This Cruise? My recommendation is an unqualified yes.
Unaware that "Uncle Bob meets Bill W" and "Dorothy meets Friends" were "cloaks" for specific types of meetings and by their nature not for the general public, entrance to one of the first of those, in good faith, provoked an act of violence and outburst of profanity towards a friend that could have provoked further trouble. A complaint was made to the Cruise Director who said that Princess had no responsibility for those meetings and that they merely provided a room.
I would suggest that someone on the staff should be present at the start of these meetings to see that they are properly underway without any embarassment.