The Highlights: This was our first B2B and will not be our last. A B2B is the best way to cruise Alaska. Our first Alaska cruise in 2001 was hectic, trying to cram two excursions into each port. This B2B cruise allowed us to enjoy and browse around each port, unhurried and leisurely. The Island is a great ship with lots of modern amenities and plenty of space. Thus, this was our best cruise(s) yet. We were treated like royalty by basically everyone. Our room steward was first rate, probably the best we ever had. Extra patter, extra towels, we hardly ever saw him. Our dinner waiter, Claudia and her assistant Michael were absolutely excellent. This was also our first foray into PC dining. And we loved it.
We also got to meet another great couple on their first ever cruise. She was literally pinging off of the walls and having the time of her life and loving every minute of it. Judy spotted her across the theatre, easily, since she was the only one bouncing off the ceiling. It is so refreshing to see someone enjoying every single minute of acruise with no complaints, only awe and wonder. Makes us appreciate our cruise even more.
This was the also first time we had been completely smoozed and catered to by Princess. Rich, the cruise director, sponsored a CC party for all of us CC people. Champagne, mimosas and canapés. We got to chat with Rich and most of his staff, one on one, for about an hour. They are an energetic and nutty bunch for sure. (Rich also sent Judy and I flowers for our anniversary and wanted to send some crab legs to our room for dinner since we were going to miss dining on crab night.) Nice guy! See, it pays to be a cruise critic! We even got invited to the most traveled party and rubbed elbows with the Captain, the Staff Captain and senior staff. We heard all the juicy rumors about the Star, future ships, how the various ship's work. It was far too short a time to dig for lots of details, but really interesting and provided some more insights into Princess, the company, and how they operate behind the scenes.
As a side note - the ship literally will not wait for anyone. It turns out a member of the crew missed the ship in Juneau. We knew him and provided a little rubbing salt over the incident, along with his fellow shipmates, for the next few days. I did mention to the security guy at the gangplank in Ketchikan that a cavity search may be in order. Interestingly enough on some lines missing a ship is cause for immediate dismissal. Not Princess, and the comments I heard from various members of the crew indicate that they appreciate the policy and that Princess takes very good care of them.
So when they say they won't wait, they won't wait!The Lows:
We were a bit disappointed in the on-board notifications of sea life near the ship and of the nature presentations. The commentary on the Ocean Princess in 2001 was continuous and informative. However, I did find out later that the naturalist on board was on his first cruise. He did improve as the cruise went on and did related some pretty interesting stories on the way back to Vancouver through the Inland Passage. I'm hoping he gets the hang of it since some of his stories are pretty good.
Turnaround day in Whittier was a big joke. We didn't get off, but had to deal with the "turnaround story of the hour". We got five different versions of what we were supposed to do from five different people at the purser's desk, including a "manager". We would have to get off, go through the line, get back on, do this, do that, etc., etc. The fifth person, a "lowly", but very knowledgeable security guy finally said, oh yeah, put the card here, you're done! It took all of 30 seconds. I guess if you want to know how to do things, go the people who do them all the time.
The new mattresses in the mini-suites are a bummer. They are the most comfortable I've ever had on a ship - for one person. They are the pillow top European style with stiff sides. The stiff sides create a "hump" in the middle, which makes it near impossible to cuddle with your mate. I didn't even think about asking them to change it out, but probably should have and I'm sure they would have.
Internet access was an issue. Upon embarkation, some switch was not set right until the next day. It only took the IT guy 2 minutes to fix it, but it didn't get fixed until a bunch of us got a little irate with the Purser's desk. At Skagway you lose LOS to the satellite until you leave, but we were off line for almost 18 hours after leaving, both north and southbound. (The IT person locks out the workstations.) That should not happen, especially when free internet service is one of the few perks I really like AND I'm writing "Live From" posts praising everything else about the cruise.Notes For the Budget Conscious:
Water is $3 per liter on board and canned soft drinks are $1.50 each. But, there is water and soda at every stop. We picked up a 12 pack of soda in Vancouver and restocked in Skagway along with a couple of 6 packs of water bottles. In Ketchikan a 6-pack of soda or water was $2.99 right next to the ship - so not too far to lug it.
The coke sticker is up to $31.80 (w/tip) for 7 days. That's getting pretty high for fountain drinks that cost $0.06 per glass!
There is free ice cream in the HC from 330 to 430 daily (chocolate and vanilla) and they have two ice creams available during dinner. Last night was melon yogurt and coffee. We think the coffee ice cream was made from their coffee syrup.
The Island Princess now charges for all brewed coffee - $1 per 12oz cup in the HC and in the Patisserie. They charge for caps, lattes and mochas as well.THE ITINERARY:
The Island, along with the Coral, Diamond and Sapphire, was doing the Voyage of the Glaciers 7 day route from Vancouver to Whittier and back. The itinerary for Northbound is, and it is reversed for the southbound: Day 1 - Sea Day - Inland Passage to the East side of Vancouver Island Day 2 - Ketchikan Day 3 - Juneau Day 4 - Skagway Day 5 - Glacier Bay Day 6 - College Fjord (Half Day Evening North Bound, Half Day Morning South Bound) Day 7 - Whittier
The Sea Day: This day, north or south, is often understated, but very scenic and at the right time of year, full of wildlife sightings. It is pretty incredible to sail within hundreds of feet of rocky shores looking up at the snow capped peaks on either side of the ship. Otters, seals, orcas and porpoises will be the most likely sightings. Of interest are the various villages on either side of the passage. Here the naturalist can make a great difference by his commentary and sharing of experiences. Ours had a unique experience near the whirlpool. He was in a rubber boat looking down at a 20' hole in the water with a pod of Orcas between him and the shore.
Glacier Bay: Ranger pickup was at 6am on the northbound leg, 10am on the southbound leg, but the show started earlier as we saw whales, porpoises and otters in the junction between glacier bay and icy strait. Make sure to get out and about and see the sites as you enter the strait. Both days started cold, windy and foggy/drizzly, but turned out mostly cloudy at the Marjorie with periodic breakouts of sunshine. (On the northbound trip, the sky was absolutely blue, blue) In the trip down the bay to the Lampleu we did see several seals on ice flows with their pups, one mother and pup in the water and two Mink whales or at least they did not fluke when they dove if they were humpbacks.
The captain did a good job of turning the ship around in front of the Marjorie glacier. We did two full 360's so that everyone could see from their balconies or run from one side to the other. We saw two big glacier calves on the northbound leg and one on the southbound leg. We were up on deck for the northbound leg and used our balcony on the southbound leg.
I have to say the ranger presentation since we were there in 2001 has really gone downhill. In 2001 as we entered the bay we were treated to a trip through time as the ranger explained the retreat of the glaciers, the various landforms they left behind, the flora and fauna differences as you follow the retreat and what the various avalanche zones and rock formations mean.
Now we were treated to a long description of a "snowflake and its friends". The best line was something like - under pressure the snowflake turned into ice - huh? Come on folks, we're a pretty intelligent bunch and should not be treated like a bunch of 12 year olds. The commentary was intermittent and spotty. When there was commentary, it revolved around that most important snowflake. None of the wildlife we saw was pointed out by the ranger on the mike. There were goats, seals, whales and birds. Either they weren't looking or they weren't talking.
College Fjord: College Fjord is entered in the afternoon on the Northbound leg, early morning on the Southbound leg. In fact, we woke up to the Harvard Glacier outside our balcony door on the southbound leg about 0630 in the morning - just gleaming in the sunshine. Both days were blue sky with no clouds and incredible sights of the glaciers dropping into the Fjord. On the northbound leg we were eating dinner watching dozens of otters out our window as we entered the Fjord. A few seals were on the ice flows according to some reports, but we never saw one.THE SHIP:
The Island Princess is not, despite the Princess website, a Sun Class (Sea, Sun, Ocean, Dawn) ship. She is more of an upgraded Sun. She is smaller than a Grand (Star, Grand, Golden, Diamond, Sapphire), larger than a Sun, but only carries 1950 passengers and 900 crew. She and the Coral are the longest ships in the Princess fleet, even longer than the Grands. She is a Panamax, meaning she can still fit in the Panama Canal locks, but barely. She was built in 2003 in France and is very modern.
In our opinion, this is the best ship class in the Princess fleet. Our favorite. She has all the amenities of a Grand (Sabbatinis, Bayou Café, Explorers Lounge) without the extra people. The lure of the Sun class (small nooks and crannies), but with a few extras. The internet café is on deck 8 at the top of the atrium near the library. The library and card rooms are comfortable places to hide from the weather, yet still see the sights.
Those "hidden" decks off baja, caribe and dolphin at the rear of the ship are a real find for experienced cruisers. Most newcomer's don't know about them and they are great for a wind free view off the rear of the ship.
We did nose around and look at cabins during turnaround day. The handicapped balcony cabin is huge. The two room suite is pretty cushy and the tub is a Jacuzzi tub. There is a DVD player as well. I guess we can only dream.
The gym equipment is modern and plentiful. Have yet to find it too crowded. I couldn't get the Lotus pool current machine to work for the first week, but it finally got fixed and served as a good workout. Its not adjustable like the Star's, but it's not bad. Unlike other ships, the gym is open 24 hours. The treadmills and ellipticals are Precor - top of the line. They do offer classes (Pilates, Spinning, Yoga), but with the port and sight seeing itinerary, I doubt many people make them.
A important navigation tip. On the Island, the even sided cabins (Port) have an Orange color outline in the hallway carpet. The odd sided cabins (Starboard) have a Blue color outline in the hallway carpet.THE CABIN:
B503 - A bumpout mini-suite. After two cruises in a Sun Class balcony cabin, we'd forgotten how nice a mini was. The aft facing balcony bumpout was a shrewd move on my part. It was perfect. Sheltered by the wind when the ship was moving, yet you could still look around the divider forward. The balcony above on the Aloha deck provided some shade and a little bit of protection from rain.
The balcony had a round resin table and two resin chairs. You do lose a little balcony space due to the curvature, but the view you get more than makes up for it.
The new mini-suite mattresses are the most comfortable yet - for one person. The ravine in the middle that brought you closer to your significant other is now a hump about the size of a speed bump. Unless both people can fit on the one twin, which we can't comfortably, you are all alone on your side of the hump. Might as well have a wall there - and as Judy says, we ain't that old or that tired of each other yet!
The sofa is a nice addition as is the wall space across from the sofa. That's where all the shoes can line up out of the way. The fridge is larger than those on the sun and so is the closet and hang-up space. We had no problem fitting 9 days worth of clothes (washing and drying is $1 per load) in all the little nooks. It would have been more crowded in a normal balcony, but we probably would have managed. Judy's comment was that we could both get dressed in the cabin at the same time.
The bath is a tub/shower combo and much larger than a balcony bath. Its one of the better features of a mini, but I wish someone would figure out a way to keep the shower curtain from wrapping around you while you are showering.EXCURSIONS:
We only did one real excursion, the rock climbing and rappelling in Skagway. Incredible challenge, exhausting and fulfilling to reach the top. The rest of the time we hiked and traveled on our own.
In Ketchikan we walked up to the fish hatchery, around Married Man's Trail and went to the Lumberjack show - highly recommended. The lumberjack show was a real kick. We missed it in 2001 because we, by that time, were just too tired. Lots of shopping in Ketchikan using those coupons you get in Vancouver or Whittier. When the salmon start running, the walk around the fish hatchery and the fish ladder at Married Man's Trail will be a great show.
In Juneau we rode up on the Tram (also highly recommended) saw the movie and plodded around in the snow banks. Later in the year when the snow melts, this would be a great place to hike. We then bussed out to Mendenhall ($6pp one way) where we hiked out to Nugget falls and took some great video and pictures of the glacier, the lake and the falls. You can walk all the way to the falls. Great views of the blue on blue ice at the base of the glacier. The arctic terns were nesting as well. There are tons of quartz laden rock if you want to look for gold as well. Different areas around the base of the glacier have an abundance of habitat to look at and in a few weeks the salmon get here to see as well. A very cheap, but great excursion. For those of you planning, I would plan on spending at least 2-3 hours on Mt Roberts and 2-3 hours at Mendenhall. We came back to town and went shopping with all the special coupons in the book. Tasted Taku wild smoked salmon - incredible but whoa is it expensive. So we went into the Twisted Fish next door and had Alaskan Amber Ale (MMMMMMMM) and the smoked salmon appetizer (Taku of course) - a nice fulfilling day.
In Skagway we rock climbed on the northbound leg and hiked out to smuggler's cove on the southbound leg. Its real rock climbing. They have several different paths up the cliffs from easy to impossible. You have a climbing harness on and are belayed via anchors in the top of the cliff so its perfectly safe, but they don't help you get up the rock. You have to cling and grab and strain. I fell once, but got right back at it. Judy is afraid of heights, yet did a 30' easy climb and a 70' crack/flake climb before rappelling down a 100' section of cliff. There were only 4 of us on the trip with one guide (Kyle). They try and keep a 4:1 ratio. Really recommended for all you adventurous types.
In Whittier, we watched everyone get off, waved bye and went hot tubbing and swimming. There were only about 20 of us B2B persons (called Transit Passengers) on the ship. It was GREAT!ENTERTAINMENT:
Kevin Hughes was on vacation. Hal Spear was on the first night, but he's shifted to another ship. Cary Long was on the ship, but he's switching back and forth on various Princess ships in Alaska now. He's a must see if he's aboard.
The illusionist, Alexander, is pretty amazing - that's another must see. We saw three of his, and Pamela's (his assistant), shows. By sitting up front, close, we could see some of how the illusions are done, but by the 6-8th row back, its really hard. It's a great show and they are a great couple if you get to meet them in the HC.
The juggler/comedian is Mike Price. This is the young kid, not the older mathematician juggler/comedian that's been on Princess before. His juggling is amazing, his comedy is ok, but his energy level is off the scale. If you like juggling you'll like his show. His comedy was getting better as we got off the ship. When he tries stand alone jokes they kind of fall flat, but when he interacts with the audience it gets much better.
We saw the production shows as well, but we've seen all of them over the years and since I'm not a huge fan, I can't tell you anything more than there's a bunch of really cute young girls in tight/skimpy outfits with gorgeous legs. (I think they sing too.) But Judy says they're pretty good dancers and who am I to argue with her.
Jere Ring (Crooner's Bar Resident Piano Entertainer - Much, Much More than a Pianist) was going to get off the ship, but if he's still there you MUST see him early in the cruise. After the 4th night its SRO at Crooner's as people find out about him or listen to him as they walk by.
Fun things to do: Line dance with Veronica, Country and Western Night with the cruise staff, Passenger Feud with Francious, The Newly Wed and not so Newly Wed with Francious, Dancing with Devonish, Dancing through the Ages.
We did see Greg Bonham's show. It was highly recommended by Rich and was great. He got two standing O's for his performance, but according to Rich he doesn't do this on a regular basis, but I suspect Rich has other great entertainment lined up for other cruises. It appears that the CDs use a lot of personal influence and have a lot of flexibility to book talent from a variety of locations.
One special note - the lighting of Greg's show was incredible. The guys and gals in charge of lighting control and choreography are extremely talented. As Greg did five different songs to honor five different artists, the lighting changed moods (colors) to match the songs/artists and for the culminating solo's, multiple spots (5 at a time) would rotate in and highlight Greg in a brilliant white aura.DINING:
Now for the most controversial part of a review - we liked the food. But I have noticed the WOW factor is missing and I finally figured out why - WE'VE BEEN CRUISING TOO MUCH! Princess does not change their menus too often and we've now cruised 4 cruises in the past 14 months. While the food does vary from ship to ship AND from cruise to cruise, it is basically the same and I've tried everything on the menus now. Don't get me wrong, we really enjoy the food and we've learned to take a bite, and if we don't like it, send it back and get something else. They don't mind at all!
Service was first rate at dinner. For the first time we tried PC dining instead of late seating traditional. AND WE LOVED IT. Why? - LESS NOISE! In traditional everyone, the room is typically packed, is eating soup, salad and such at the same time. The din rises and rises and rises. In PC we ate at 530 and it was hardly crowded at all, but everyone was eating at a different pace and schedule and the overall clanking and conversation level was noticeably less. I'm sure it gets more hectic at 700 but at 530 it was perfect. So much so we ended up making a reservation every morning at 0800 for 530 at Table 94, by the window with Claudia and Michael. (She and he will have moved by now. They rotate waiters among tables and PC/Traditional and a weekly or monthly basis.) The window table, our first that you could actually see something out of because of the late sunset, was pretty incredible. By eating early we could see all the shows, get into all the events and go to bed not stuffed, unless we hit the HC late at night.
BTW, the Beef Tournedos are headlined on one menu and featured on the always available on the others. The cut of meat they use is Filet Mignon. Why they don't call it that, I don't know, but I never had a bad steak the whole trip - except the night I got the one with the liver sauce on it. I sent it back and got a sauce free version that was scrumptous. I could cut them with the butter knife, they were always perfectly cooked (medium rare) and seasoned well. Most of the sauces I did like.
I especially enjoyed the Pizza and burgers for lunch. HC lunch food was just too buffet for me. The dining room was great for lunch as well, this is where we had all the CC lunches, AND you can get ice cream there for free!
The HC breakfast buffet was ok. It had its moments. The French toast was awful! A few times the eggs were over cooked and the bacon was crispy salad toppings instead of strips, but the made to order omelets, the luncheon meats and cheeses, the fruit, breads and various potatoes were very good. The coffee is ok with me. Judy can't stand it and we brought Folger's tea bag coffee for her.Dinner Schedule (Northbound AND Southbound - And What We Liked Best) Monday - Sailaway Dinner Menu - Cream of Porcini Mushroom Soup Filet of Zander Tuesday - Captain's Welcome Menu- Formal Crab Quiche Lobster Bisque Tournedos of Beef Ketchikan Salmon Wednesday - Italian Night Menu Baked Eggplant Parmegiana Red Bean Soup Swordfish Pork Medallions Thursday - Continental Night Menu Sabbatinis Escargot Onion Soup Rack of Lamb Beef Tournedos - WITHOUT THE PERIGOURDINE SAUCE WHICH IS LIVER BASED Friday - Chef's Alaskan Menu Smoked Salmon Crab Cakes Fish Chowder Crab Legs Halibut Saturday - Captain's Gala Menu - Formal Baked Clams Casino Garlic Veloute Lobster Beef Wellington Sunday - Landfall Menu Volau Vent (Chicken) Asparagus Soup Linguine Alle Vongole Sea Scallops Beef Tournedos EMBARKATION:
Very smooth and well done. We stayed at the Hilton Airport on our own. We had Princess transfers. We shuttled back to the airport around 1130 and dropped our luggage off at the Princess desk and awaited the bus. It arrived at about 1230 and we were bussed to the cruise terminal. Immigrations was the longest and most frustrating line - it usually is, but by 200 we were in our rooms and headed for lunch. The actual Princess check in line for Platinum was unmanned so we used the Baja desk and was checked in in about 15 minutes. The HC was open, the pizza and grill were as well.
Note - If you fly in the same day, use the cruise direct line. It avoids customs processing delays. We heard it was pretty good unless the bus driver screws up and opens the door, breaking the seal, before its time.DISEMBARKATION:
We used the $15 dollar per person option to use the cruise direct program in Vancouver. It worked great. (Note - we had our own air arrangements, not Princess air.)
We registered two checked bags each, received 4 bar coded tags, 2 per person, 2-3 days before disembarkation. We received pre-printed luggage forms the morning before disembarkation. We placed the luggage tags on the bags and placed the bags outside the door at 8pm on sunday night - that's the last we saw of them until we got off the plane in Colorado Springs Monday night.
On Monday morning (0845) we went to the Universe Lounge as instructed and within 10 minutes had received our boarding passes and luggage tags for the four bags. (We had purchased Princess bus transfers.) We were then sent out through a special line through Canadian Customs and onto a bus which took us to the airport. We were screened prior to entering the airport and then were taken to a special area for security checks. We went through US Customs there. Once we were screened we entered the terminal in the gate area.
We were at our gate at 1045.
Considering the alternative of waiting for a bus or taxi, standing in an airport check in line, then standing in the main security screening line, it was a bargain.Charles and Judy Crain - 48 and 50, Mexican Riviera (Dawn Princess) - 10/2005 Eastern Caribbean (Sun Princess) - 4/2005 Western Caribbean (Star Princess) - 12/2004 Panamá Canal - Partial Transit (Island Princess) - 1/2004 Mexican Riviera (Sea Princess) - 1/2002 Alaska (Ocean Princess) - 6/2001
We recently returned from this roundtrip cruise, San Pedro/Los Angeles to The Hawaiian Islands. I would advise anyone taking this cruise to NOT book transfers with Princess. It took 3 hours from the time we picked up our luggage at LAX til the bus dropped us off at the pier. There were many Princess representatives at the airport, but no one knew where the bus was. As it turns out, we had to take a cab for the return Flight and the cab was $5.00 less than the bus! So be advised,take a cab. We barely had time to grab a bite in the Horizon buffet til lifeboat drill was being sounded.
By the way, this buffet was the smallest I have senn on any ship. It seemed they always had on side closed. Maybe because they would not let you serve yourself later in the cruise as an unknown number of people were sick. You couldn't go anywhere without someone squirting your hands with sanitizer. The Captain would not shake hands with anyone at the reception.
The theater on this ship is also small, including the stage. MAybe thats why theshows were sub-par. The 2 "headliners". Benjamin Perez and Tawney Dolley (how's that for a stage name?) were less talented than the regulars in the shows. The dining rooms felt cramped and the ceilings are low, unlike other shipe with 2 level dining rooms. The food and service, however, were very good. Our Potugese waiter, Filipe and Assistant Nuno from Madeira were exceptional. The food was excellent except for the steak. The "prime" rib part of the surf and turf was better suited for resoling ones shoes. Rhe fish entrees were also very good.
What can one say about the cabins? We had a balcony on deck 12. I don't know how many of the people even fit as it measured 20" X 24".
The fitness room also was small. Would you believe 3 exercise bikes? The mens locker room only had 2 showers. The bed was probably the worst we have ever had on aship. You could feel the binding/springs through the ticking and this ship is only 2 years old. Would I sail this ship again? Definately no. There are to many others to try.
That brings us down to the constant announcements hawking something.Flyers in your cabin pushing all sorts of things, but you have to ask to have the little world news sheet delivered. I asked late in the cruise why they no longer give that out and was told they try to save paper. I guess so they can print more sales flyers. We love cruising but this was not one we will fondly remember.
One final note in closing. If you have not been to Hawaii before, don't expect to see too much from a ship. We have been there 5 times, fly and stay on the Islands. We also were told the ship would sail from Kona to Hilo past the lava flow at night and was a sight to see, but for an unknown reason, we took the short route away from the lava fields. Thanks, but no thanks Princess.Gene Simasek
I wanted a little time off before writing this review. I would give this cruise 4 stars, because the ship was 5 stars and the weather was 2 stars, but you can't blame the cruiseline for the weather. We left LA on February 20th returning March7th. We had 10 days at sea and only 4 in port since we couldn't get into Kauai for the weather. Only had 4 days of sun the entire trip, with the rest being cold, cloudy and windy.
Our first port was Hilo overcast with a high of 73, 2nd Kono partly cloudy and also 73, followed by Honolulu 75 and cloudy and Maui partly cloudy and 78. Otherwise our sea days were mostly cloudy and from 59-64 with moderate seas and up to 30 mile an hour winds.
We took 3 tours the volcano on Hilo[pretty good also saw the Thurston Lava Tube better then I had expected], the south of Kona tour seeing the Painted Church and the Place of Refuge[ also better then I had expected] and then rented cars in Honolulu and Lahaina.
The food, entertainment, service and room on the ship werejust great. We had dinner on our balcony in Honolulu for an extra $100, but felt it was well worth the price. Flowers,drinks,music, exceptional food and or'dourves were included with our own private waiter and head of room service. Would definately do it again.
I am looking forward to our next cruise, but am glad it isn't until 2007. If anyone has any questions feel free to e-mail me. Ladybug5
This was a really fantastic cruise. I would recommend it wholeheartedly. Also, Norm with Cruisin Easy at email@example.com helped me choose this cruise. I found him through this Web site. The embarkation was very smooth, as was disembarkation. Everyone on the Island was very helpful and polite. We had a balcony stateroom which was bigger than I had anticipated.
It was wonderful to be able to just go onto our balcony and watch the wonderful scenery and see the dolphins playing in the wake of the ship. Glacier Bay was beyond belief. The only downside was we couldn't hear the overview by the ranger on our balcony, just from the open decks of the ship. We took the escorted cruisetour which was worth every penny. I would not hesitate to travel with Princess again.
EMBARKATION & DAY AT SEA
My husband and I were excited to go on the Island Princess to Alaska after having gone on the Star Princess a year and a half ago to the Mexican Riviera. This was our second trip to Alaska, having gone with Holland America the first time in 2001.
Our trip from Salt Lake to Seattle was pleasant, on a Boeing 767, the largest plane I had ever been on. The Princess personnel in Seattle were friendly and helpful, and the transfer to the bus and on to Vancouver was smooth and without complication.
We had filled out the questionnaires and immigration paperwork on Princess website, so were able to do the easy Express Check-in at the cruise terminal. We were escorted to our room, #B311, where we received our luggage, one piece at a time, in just about the right timing to get it unpacked and settled with out being overwhelmed by the task.
Vancouver was as beautiful and the harbor as picturesque as we remembered it, and it was a gorgeous day. I took a whole roll of pictures there and during the time we wereleaving the harbor.
After having a balcony, at which I typed most of this review, I have no idea how I survived on the trips before. To have the fresh air and the sea sounds right there in the room all the time is amazingly calming and restful. As a result, we spent more time at our room and less out on the decks and going to activities. This may also have been because we like to watch the scenery in Alaska, and our balcony was a perfect place for that.
One complaint about the balcony was that the surface of the floor hurt my feet when I went out barefoot, so I would advise flip-flops or slippers for relaxing on the balcony. The balconies below us were terraced--not as much as on the Grand Class ships. It didn't cause us any trouble because ours and the deck above us were flush with each other, with the Lido deck over-hanging.
We found the international personnel on board ship to be friendlier than we'd encountered before. We had requested a table for two in the later seating traditional dining and were delighted with our assigned table for two in the Provence Dining room and the wait staff that came with it.
The food was excellent and the service friendly and efficient. The ambience was just right--not too starchy or formal, but not so casual as to be less than we would expect. Our waiter and jr. waiter were both from Roumania, very pleasant and efficient young men.
At both the dining room and buffet, a touchless dispenser of waterless antiseptic hand wash was provided, which I noticed most people were using without complaint. This helped alleviate my fear of Norwalk virus and other cleanliness-related hazards.
We wanted to just chill out and relax that first day, which we were able to do. We went on a ship tour in the morning, and a little later a talk by the Naturalist on Alaska in general. We also enjoyed the miniature golf up top.
We walked around the wraparound promenade deck and familiarized with the ship. I missed having a promenade that takes you to the forward-most point of the bow with total view around you, as on the Grand Class. We did enjoy the real wood decking that was wide enough for traditional deck chairs with plenty of space for walking.
The other disappointment I encountered was the high blue plexi-glass surrounding the forward part of the ship up top. This caused havoc with picture taking, but on the other hand, also shielded from the wind.
Otherwise the ship met and exceeded my expectations. I had a little bit of disorientation because the ship is so like the Star in most features, the design, the decor, and even some of the layout of the ship. There were differences here and there, mainly in the layout of the ship, but if I didn't concentrate on it, it was easy to think I was back on the Star.
The temperature was around 60 degrees, rain or shine, during most of the time at sea. We encountered some stiff breezes at times when walking on the promenade. We didn't have any breeze problems on our balcony, which is the first room after the side of the ship jogs in. The forward view is limited, but we also were protected from the breeze.
Our first port day was in Ketchikan. The disembarkation worked smoothly and surprisingly quickly. Our shore trip was the Guard Island Lighthouse and Eagles cruise, which we enjoyed. We were in a small group, so there was plenty of room on the small excursion boat that took us out. It was fun to view Totem Bight State Park from the ocean side, we took our shore excursion there last time we came. I remembered and photographed a totem pole that I'd said I'd only be able to photograph from the sea.
We had plenty of time to walk around, see the sights of the town, and go shopping. We found Ketchikan to be as interesting to us as we had before. We found the prices high for the two places we were interested in seeing, the Totem Park and the Fish Hatchery, but had a nice walk around the town and plenty of picture-taking opportunities.
After re-embarkation, I lost my ID card at the security point, which was recovered and at the pursers desk when I went to inquire about it. They had de-activated the card for security purposes and quickly coded me a new card.
An improvement we have seen over the Grand Class ships is that inside on the promenade deck, the lounges and other rooms are all to the port side of the ship, with the corridor for walking on the starboard. Thus, you don't end up wandering into one of the restaurants from the back side.
JUNEAU, SKAGWAY & GLACIER BAY
Our days at Juneau, Skagway and Glacier bay were each very good. All three days were overcast most of the time, but warm and pleasant.
We got to Juneau quite early, but our shore excursion, the Wildlife Quest with Allen Marine tours, was not until noon, so we went on a self-designed walking tour and shopping. We looked at the unremarkable Capitol building, the Governor's Mansion, an old Russian Orthodox Church, and other sites in the area. Then we shopped in the tourist district near the piers.
On our Wildlife Quest we were able to enjoy ten humpback whales bubble-net feeding--a magnificent sight. Later we viewed a mother and baby humpback playing--rolling and spiraling in the water, beginning with four breaches in a row. It began raining in earnest while we were on our way back in to the docks from the Wildlife Quest, so we just returned to the pier on the bus and returned to the ship. We were surprised to learn that our Sprint cell phones found regular Sprint service in Juneau, so made a couple calls each.
Italian night at dinner presented more choices than we knew what to do with. We chose yummy food with a pasta specialty made by our headwaiter.
We arrived at Skagway fairly early in the day, and like the day before, our shore trip was not till noon. We went out and did our own walking tour of the town, not hard to accomplish in Skagway. Then we did the rest of our anticipated shopping.
We returned to the ship, where we ate sandwiches and got ready for our trip on the narrow gauge White Pass & Yukon Railroad. We chose the option to go up on the train, make a loop and come back down without stopping. The train picked us up and dropped us off on the Railway Dock adjacent to the ship. The narration was interesting and informative. We were able to see mountain goats high on the rock face of a mountain near the top of the pass.
We found the Princess people in all three ports very organized, friendly and efficient. I thought the security check in and check out in the disembarkation and re-embarkation was done well, and we didn't experience any further problem.
I had two rolls of film processed on the ship. I was surprised to find that the prices were the same as I pay at a camera shop at home, and the quality was just as good. Later I decided the 18 rolls of film I'd brought with me was not enough, and was able to get a package of four rolls for $10.95 at the photo shop on the ship, not much more than at home. This was quite a pleasant surprise when compared to the high prices of the portraits and pictures that they take of you all over the ship.
Glacier Bay was very pretty, but I was disappointed because the captain did not pull around to the nicer blue face of the Margerie Glacier where we had gotten all our really nice pictures last time we came. In fact, he hardly kept the ship still for any length of time. I don't know if this was a Princess thing, or the choice of the Captain.
One thing we noticed on the whole trip was that we did not hear any public announcements in our room or balcony. This was good and bad. We were not disturbed during naps or anything, but we didn't hear informational things either. Out on the balcony, I felt in a world apart. That's good, because that's what I went on vacation for, but sometimes we missed info we'd like to have heard. Later on we found out that the naturalist narrations were on the bridge-cam channel on the TV.
Late on the Glacier Bay day, we found a cute little deck space at the back end of the ship on our deck. This would have been enjoyable to have gone to during some of our slack times, and we will remember for future reference.
I did not enjoy some of the younger teenaged kids on this trip--the small children seemed better behaved. They did not seem to appreciate the things they were seeing, especially in Glacier Bay, instead being loud and obnoxious, teasing each other, some bad language, and a LOT of running around. We were near two sisters on two of our shore excursions that couldn't seem to sit still or be quiet for more than about 35 seconds.
When we passed Cape Spencer to head north, I would have liked to have been closer to the land. We enjoy the coastline, the coves and islands and inlets, and at times, we were so far away that it was hard to tell there even was any land over there.
Dinner on the Glacier Bay day was formal night, with excellent seafood choices in the dining room. We skipped the Captain's Circle get-together.
DAY AT SEA AND DISEMBARKATION
We then had a day at sea, arriving at Prince William Sound in the afternoon and proceeding to College Fjord late in the afternoon.
Before arriving there, we enjoyed a matinee performance of a show featuring Broadway music. We didn't go to any other shows or entertainments on the cruise, where going to Mexico, we had gone to several. This is for two reasons: first, we enjoy viewing the seemingly endless flow of islands the ship passes in Alaska, and secondly because we had late seating at dinner and didn't want to be up any later in the evening.
I had thought of College Fjord as a kind of a little side-trip, but little did I know that it would turn out to be a highlight experience of the whole cruise. The naturalist talked to us about the various glaciers, giving facts about each as we came to them. The rows of tidewater and hanging glaciers were amazing and beautiful. We spent a good long time at Harvard Glacier, watching it calve repeatedly while the captain rotated the ship, moved it closer and rotated it some more. We spent more time there than the disappointing time at the Margerie Glacier. On the way out of College Fjord, we sat on our balcony and enjoyed a reverse showing of the procession of glaciers.
The way Princess numbers their days seems kind of odd to me, numbering the disembarkation day as 7. When leaving College Fjord, we were only a short distance from Whittier, arriving there in the middle of the night. Our disembarkation time was 6:15 a.m.--this hardly sounds like a day worth numbering.
I was amazed by the organized chaos of disembarkation! It was done on a color-coded system, based on where you were going after the cruise. We were in one of the first groups to get out of the ship, meeting a bus to go north for the land part of the trip. This was done in an incredibly efficient way, given the number of people and destinations involved.
I was sad to leave the ship, I had very much enjoyed my time on board. I was consoled mainly by the thought of going on the land portion of our cruise-tour that was still ahead.
LAND TOUR TO DENALI NATIONAL PARK
Princess coordinated everything on the land part of our trip. They took the seemingly impossible task of sorting out people and their various packages and options, and getting them to the right places at the right times.
We stayed one night at the McKinley Princess near Talkeetna, and two nights at the Denali Princess, right outside the park boundary. We found both lodges to be very nice, comfortable and beautiful, in the most beautiful settings I could imagine. The only thing that I thought needed any improvement at all was that our luggage took all day to catch up when we went to the lodges. This inconvenienced some of the people we talked to, but we had planned ahead with normal travel sense, taking carry-on bags with the things we would need for the rest of the day.
The meals were expensive at both lodges, as could be expected, but the portions were huge and the food was of excellent quality. For example, we observed people at the next table in the pizza restaurant at McKinley Princess, order a 1/2 order of nachos, which seemed really overpriced. When it arrived, it filled a pan as large as a pizza, and piled high with all the traditional nacho trimmings.
While at the McKinley Princess Lodge we went on a raft trip on the Chulitna river, which we very much enjoyed. Our operator/guide was skilled with the raft, knowledgeable about our surroundings, and very personable to talk with. We went through some beautiful scenery far from any roads or trails. We saw eagles and black bears along the way. Our only regret at the McKinley Princess is that we were only there one night. There were hot tubs, laundry, gift shop, and all other regular hotel features, several restaurants to choose from, all in a beautiful landscape, with a breathtaking view of "The Mountain"--Mt. McKinley, or Denali, as I prefer to call it (assuming that the clouds went away so you could see it, which it did--briefly--while we were there).
We arrived at the Denali Princess Lodge to find another scene of semi-organized chaos, with people waiting to leave for various destinations and tours, while other people were arriving from a number of places. This quickly sorted itself out as buses left for trains and tours and transfers, rooms became available, and lunches were eaten. Our room was in a building that was new just this year.
We had time there for relaxing, as well as going on the 8 hour Tundra Wildlife Tour. We saw all the animals we hoped to see, but clouds covered Denali all through our tour. We relaxed in one of the comfortable hot tubs one of the evenings, overlooking the Nenana River and the beautiful forested mountains. We went to a dinner theater called "Music of Denali", which was a lot of fun, with a farmhouse style dinner, piano music, and a play about the history of the area.
As a little side-trip of our own, we caught the shuttle bus into the park and walked back to the park entrance sign for a traditional "we were there" picture, then walked back to the lodge (about a mile). On our walk, we saw two moose munching on leaves right across the road.
The same amenities were found at the Denali Princess Lodge as at the McKinley lodge, plus a few specialty shops that we weren't interested in.
I woke up that last day thinking of the trip as being over, but was pleasantly surprised to find that another adventure was still to be had. We had a leisurely breakfast at the main restaurant with an overlook on the Nenana River, then checked out from our room.
As we became the waiting crowd in the chaotic scene we'd arrived into two days before, everything continued to be well-choreographed and orchestrated. We rode a bus over to the train depot (within the national park) and boarded the Alaska Railroad in Princess' nice dome observation cars. I had not been in a regular train since a field trip in about fourth grade, so the train was a fun and different experience.
The train passes through some incredible scenery--mountains, meadows, beaver ponds, rivers and some breathtaking views of Denali, which was totally clear all day. There was a narration (history, heritage & humor) about the surroundings we were going through, and interesting facts about the train. There was one stop in Talkeetna, and arrival in Anchorage in the evening. The transfer from the train to the airport went smoothly, and our luggage had been taken directly from the lodge to the airport, where it was waiting for us.
Our flight was during the night, and I was able to sleep some on the plane. We arrived at home early in the morning, where we deemed the whole trip to have been an awesome vacation.
We Floridians like to escape the summer heat, so when Vincent saw a July Alaskan Sea/Land Cruise advertised, "North to Alaska" sounded great ---- we just returned from this trip, and it was great. The Sea cruise included the following ports: Vancouver, Canada; then in Alaska: Ketchihan, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, College Fjord and Whittier. The Land tour included Anchorage, Fairbanks and the Midnight Sun rail tour through Denali National Park (Healy and Talkeetna). We now realize that the expectations that we had for the land tour were unrealistic in terms of wild life. However, the interior of this largest state in the union is a fascinating geological lesson unfolding, due to the Pacific Plate's movement against the N. American Plate: the vista of the effects of subduction and mountain building is awesome. Geology Professors speak of fault lines and their consequences, but, sailing or railroading past rows on rows of mountains formed by tectonic plate movement is an incredible trip.
We flew from Ft. Lauderdale, had a change over in Los Angeles and arrived in Vancouver on July 9th and embarked on the 10th. Having sailed on the Island Princess' sister ship,the Coral Princess, we will refer you to our review of the Coral Princess (Oct. 2003) for the description of shared characteristics. Suffice it to say that the Island Princess is also Panamax, 964 ft. long, 105 ft. in the beam, a gross tonnage of 91,627 and with a passenger capacity of 2,368 (on this cruise 2,100 passengers, 400 of which were repeaters). The most distinguishing feature of the sister ships is their polished steel gas turbine/diesel enviro engines perched high above decks, adjacent to the stack.
This review will concentrate on the excellent service provided by Captain Andrea Poggi, always punctual in every port and cognizant of the passengers' curiosity regarding the glaciers, and the flora and fauna of the wonderful wilderness of Alaska. Passenger Service Director (PSD) Adam Gorst was very helpful and informative; and the Dining Room staff, under the direction of Maitre D' Giuseppe Gelmini, was just superb. Overall, Princess service was as usual tip top.
EMBARKATION Boarding began punctually at 12 noon. Those passengers who had filed their data sheets on line received "priority boarding" status. Passengers in wheelchairs were assisted in boarding first and were accompanied to their cabins. PSD Gorst has a finely tuned crew; we were on board in less than twenty minutes, dropped off our carry on baggage, and were off to the Buffet. On Lido Deck 14, Vincent's old acquaintance from the Golden Princess, Pizzaiolo Carmelo Maesano, greeted us so warmly, that within five minutes of boarding, we felt personally welcomed and at home!
THE SHIP The Island Princess was built at Chantiers De L'Atlantique, St. Nazaire, France, 2003. Princess provides a handy trifold pocket guide of the 15 decks (there is no Deck 13). Five decks are allotted to passenger staterooms and suites, and six decks are allotted to public venues (See the Coral Princess review for a deck by deck description, which is replicated on the Island Princess). Many of the public areas are thoughtfully arranged with passengers needs foremost. For example, in the Princess Theater, all seats have an excellent view of the stage, free from obstructions by columns or poles. The decor is simple but elegant in red and gold. In the beautifully decorated Universe Lounge, the seats on Deck 6 have an unobstructed view of the stage, while on Deck 7, there are seats with obstructed views from decorative railings and inadequate deck slopes, thus passengers continually play "Musical Chairs" seeking a better view.
The Wheelhouse Bar is a huge room with nautical memorabilia (many ship portraits in oil, wonderful dark wooden tables with brass accents, etc.) This was the setting of terrific on board Lecture series like "World of Whales" and "History in the Making" (Iditarod dog sledding). Very appropriate for this cruise.
Stairwells on the Island Princess are full of interesting, large art work, too numerous to describe here, but well worth checking out. Unlike most ships the Bordeaux and the Provence Dining Rooms are located forward. The center of activities is the four deck high atrium (Decks 5 to 8), where are located the Passenger Service Desks (Purser and Tour offices), in addition to the dining room entrances, and the Wheelhouse bar, the Internet Cafe`, the Library, the Card room, shopping boutiques and various bars and sitting areas. All of them interconnected by four Panoramic elevators. Overall this ship is elegant and beautiful.
Decks 14, 15 and 16, are also devoted to public areas such as the Gym, Lotus Spa, and the Lotus pool (a domed heated lap pool and two hot tubs) immersed in a South Sea Island atmosphere. Here is also located the Oxford Dipper to aid handicapped passengers in and out of the pool. Midship on 14 is the open area Lido Pool, and forward is the Horizon Court devoted to casual buffet dining.
This ship with her traditional nautical motif and tasteful decorations has struck a perfect balance of style and comfort.
FOOD & SERVICE Director Gorst has a staff with a "can do" policy. If you have a special need, just voice it and you shall be accommodated. When dining, we need a table near the entrance, so we won't disturb too many diners with the wheelchair. We spoke with Maitre D' Giuseppe Gelmini, the first afternoon on board, and he chose for us Table #20 near a window, where service was excellent and our waiter Vlad and his assistant took great care of us.
First Purser Melania Parnisari, Food & Beverage Director, is the first woman on the Princess Cruise Line to hold this position. She told us that as a child she watched "Love Boat" on TV and dreamt of sailing on board, and now she is living a dream come true. She took us on a private tour of Executive Chef Gunter Deseske's galley. Here we saw the incredibly neat and organized food preparation areas (all stainless steel) and met Gunter's Sous Chef Saverio Brattoli and the Pastry Chef (Artist!) Vincenzo Frigulti who did all the classics: N.Y. Cheesecake, Swan puffs and pies which he augmented with sugar or fat free tasty alternatives. Over 9,000 meals are served daily, very delicious and beautifully plated.
Across the Princess Lines the menus are standardized and thematic; the following are the highlights of the week:
* The Sail Away Dinner with shrimp cocktail and Prime rib; * The Captain's Dinner offering Crab Quiche, Lobster and Pheasant; * The Princess Dinner featuring Endive salad and Roast Buffalo; * The French Dinner with Pate` de fois gras, escargot and Duck a l'Orange; * The Italian Dinner featuring Prosciutto and Pappardelle (pasta) with Rabbit; * The International Dinner had WonTon Soup, and Surf and Turf; and finally, * The Chef's Dinner with Asparagus, Lobster Bisque, King Crab Legs or Rack of lamb.
These were all delicious dinners with many more choices, too many to list them here.
If passengers want to snack, go to see Pizzaiolo Carmelo who makes crispy, gourmet pizzas at Princess Pizza on the Lido Deck during the day and at Sabatini's at night. He specially made one for us with porcini mushrooms: Semplicemente deliziosa (simply delicious). Thank you, Carmelo! There is 24 hour room service, which we used mostly for breakfast, and it was always punctual and excellent. The two alternative restaurants are well worth the nominal additional fees: At Sabatini's feast on eight appetizers, four specialty pizzas, two soups, mesclun salad, three pastas (spaghetti, gnocchi and cannelloni) and finally choose from several entrees (Shrimp, Lobster, Chicken, Scallops, Prawns and Veal). The final touch is Tiramisu, of course. All this under the watchful eyes of Manager Michele De Mario. We also ate at The Bayou; cajun cuisine was an experience for us: Mary loved the corn bread and the sampler plate of appetizers, but it was Vincent who ate all of his Alligator ribs. If you dine at these alternative venues, skip lunch or you may rue the fact that you can't taste it all!
One afternoon there was a delicious Fish Barbecue served up on the open deck featuring crab cakes, fish filets, sea food kabobs and a tasty reindeer chili (all references to Rudolph aside) many passengers enjoyed the fare.
Service on board is excellent and the dining room staff includes Head Waiters Ciro and Ennio who ensured that all staff were alert and on the job. The "Personal Choice Dining" offers both the traditional fixed seating and the Anytime Dining which gives passengers flexibility in dining hours and venues: many cruisers availed themselves of this new system.
CABIN Stateroom #B620 on Baja Deck 11 with ocean view and balcony, is a spacious cabin and the exact replica of the one we had on the Coral Princess. It has a double wide door, triple armoire, personal safe, refrigerator, huge bath with shower and appropriately placed safety rails, king size bed, night stands, and end tables. Best of all was our wonderful steward Cristina, who anticipated our needs. There were sheer curtains and heavy drapes to block out the white nights. As previously noticed on the Coral, the shelves in the bathroom are much too small to hold the necessary toiletries.
ENTERTAINMENT Cruise Director Richard Joseph was literally born to his job. Princess includes serious lectures on Alaska, a friendly staff, some of whom imparted interesting information we are seeking. For example, Tim Spicer knew specific details for planning a dream Tahiti cruise. He confirmed what others suggested: Air Tahiti Nui direct from L.A. is the best, and try the local bread fruit, mangos and other delicacies.
Several shows were memorable, among which Greg Bonham, the trumpeter who could hit the high notes, and who could also sing in a voice with a huge range. Excellent in cabin TV (CNN, ESPN, BBC) and the movies both in cabin and on the big screen at the Princess Theater ("Calendar Girls," "Plot With a View," and "Mona Lisa Smile," plus many more). For sports enthusiasts, there are three decks 14, 15 and 16 with aerobics, gym, Center Court, Princess Links golf, Lido and Lotus pools, hot tubs and spas. Princess has it all covered.
PORTS OF CALL This was our second Alaskan Cruise with the same itinerary doing the Inside Passage out of Vancouver.
July 10th, Saturday: Vancouver Embark. 12:00pm Depart 5:30pm
July 11th, Sunday: At Sea July 12th, Monday: Ketchikan Arrive 6:30am Depart 2:30pm Its name means Eagle River in the Tlingit native language, and this is the best place to see Bald Eagles. There are the following tours: 42A - Totem Pole and Town tour 2.5 hrs, $36. 48I - Great Alaska Lumberjack Show 1.5 hrs, $29.
July 13th, Tuesday: Juneau Arrive 6:00am Depart 7:40pm Alaska's capital is named after the co-finder of three of the largest gold mines in the world. Among the available tours are these: 18A - Mendenhall Glacier and the Salmon Hatchery, 3 hrs, $39; 28P - Whale Watching, 4 hrs, $109. July 14th, Wednesday: Skagway Arrive 7:00am Depart 8:42pm The tour of choice for us: 67H - White Pass Scenic Railway, 3.5 hrs, $95. There are great number of tours for hiking, fishing, boating and flying.
July 15th, Thursday: Glacier Bay Cruising through the bay from 6:00am to 3:00pm. If there is any one left who doesn't believe there is global warming occurring, well, from the ship's Bridge, Park Ranger Adam Gomez narrated this interesting fact about the bay: 200 years ago Glacier Bay was covered by 400 feet of ice. Captain Poggi, with immense respect for the area, slowly and reverently navigated this bay of still water with floating icebergs and views of magnificent glaciers. Some of the icebergs (growlers) make noises like bubbling seltzer water. There were Orca whales in the lower part of the bay, where they feed in shallow waters near the shores.
July 16th, Friday: College Fjord Cruising in the fjord from 3:00pm to 6:00pm. Cruising by the famous glaciers named after some of the United States oldest and most famous Ivy League Colleges and Universities (Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Holyoke etc.). Enchanting sights! That evening we cruised across Prince William Sound on the way to Whittier.
July 17th, Saturday: Whittier Arrive 1:00am Debarkation began as early as 7:00am for those passengers with early flights.
DEBARKATION Exiting the ship was orderly and color coded. When our color was called, crew assisted us with the wheelchair off the ship and we collect our luggage. For those continuing on the Land Tour, there was the Alaskan Airlines check in desk located at the end of the baggage claim area. Be careful of heavy luggage. There is a charge for extra weight over the allotted amount (44 lbs per passenger? Check it with the airline!): The lady in front of us had to pay $50 additional for the extra weight. We were off the ship by 9:00am and on a bus to begin our Alaskan land tour.
ALASKAN LAND TOUR This five day tour, starting in Whittier and ending in Anchorage, Alaska's largest city, includes an air transfer and three long train rides.
July 17th, Saturday: Passengers were transferred by coach from Whittier to Anchorage (2 hrs.), then took an Alaska Airlines flight to Fairbanks (1 hr). From the air we saw some of the wild fires that have been plaguing Fairbanks this summer. The air on the ground had a distinct smoky scent. Many locals told us we were lucky to have missed the really bad days two weeks before, when everyone was wearing surgical masks. The temperature was 88 degrees (F) when we landed, so much for the cool northwest.
We transferred from the airport to the Fairbanks Princess Lodge for a two night stay. We were given an envelope on the bus with our schedule and room key. This was neat, no lines to wait on, and our luggage was already in our rooms when we arrived. This was to be repeated at each city on the tour. Nice preparation on the part of Princess Tours.
July 18th, Sunday: At 8:30am the "City of Gold" tour took us through an old gold mine, where panning is still done by tourists. This is a good place for souvenirs and the tour included complementary hot chocolate, coffee and freshly baked cookies for the weary gold miners. At 1:30pm we boarded a three deck paddlewheel for the "Riverboat Discovery Tour." There were several stops where natives shared and demonstrated their culture; we saw Iditarod Champions with their dog training farms, and samples of local huts and homes. This was a wilderness ride that Disney would have appreciated because of its authenticity. We even watched a native Eskimo (Inupiat) filet a salmon for preserving.
July 19th, Monday: We placed our luggage outside by 5:30am, transferred to the railway depot at 7:15am and boarded the Midnight Sun Ultra Dome at 8:15am. If this sounds early, just remember most of us were easterners used to DST, so this was like 12:15pm to us. Up to this point Fairbanks had been flat land, now we started a 4.5 hrs train ride through miles and miles of tundra with scrub like trees (low willows, birch and alder, plus the miniature scrub black spruce). Then the train went into a river bed and through canyons, tunnels and over trestles and into the mountains. Always with delightful changing vistas.
We arrived in Healy and were transferred by bus to the Denali Princess Lodge, with its Old Hickory Furniture (Shelby, Indiana) This lodge and its surroundings are extraordinarily beautiful: many gigantic begonias, dahlias and marigold grown so lushly by the long, long summer days. Look out for the giant cabbages.
Monday afternoon we took a three hour "Natural History Tour" with guide Josh Becker through the taiga (forest) and the tundra and up into the mountains to Inspiration Point (also called Primrose Ridge). From this site one can see 360 degrees panorama of mountain peaks. Fantastic! This is where the very spiritual natives sit to communicate with their spirit friends. An Athabaskan native woman spoke of their matriarchal society and subsistence hunting. The roads are lined with fire weed a beautiful lavender spiked wild flower.
Wild life is scarce here, but we did see the Alaskan State bird the ptarmigan, to be exact we saw the whole family: a hen, a rooster and several chicks. They look like bantam chickens small and brown with a more colorful rooster, who fiercely defends the family. We saw white Dall sheep with their curled horns and a caribou that walked across the scrub straight toward the bus. Josh stopped and warned the passengers to be quiet. This beautiful animal walked along side the bus and strode to the front of it and then turned and slowly walked back. All the while cameras were clicking. We were all amazed by the huge rack of antlers.
Denali National Park, we were told is the size of Massachusetts, with more then 160 species of birds, 37 species of mammals and hundreds of species of plants. We found that looking for wildlife there is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Imagine seeking less than 350 grizzly bears or 100 wolves in six million acres. Both moose and caribou number less than 1,900 each. This harsh climate is not conducive to either flora or fauna. If you yearn for wildlife, then you should book special tours which bring the visitors to specific areas like Brooks River Lodge in Kanai National Park, where bears congregate to catch the salmon swimming upstream, as shown in National Geographic films. We never even saw the official Alaskan pollinator the mosquito (Skeeter), since this year there has been very little rain.
July 20th, Tuesday: We transferred at noon to the Ultra Dome train again to ride from Denali to Talkeetna 4.5 hrs. The dining car had all glass sides. It was lined with booths and tables covered with cloths and decorated with blue iris in silver bud vases. The wall sconces added an elegant touch. Up the spiral steps is the glassed topped dome of the railroad car complete with bar.
After winding through beautiful taiga forest, we arrived at Talkeetna, which is the starting point for all Mt. McKinley climbs (the local indigenous tribes call it Denali, the big one). This is a town that is little more than a widening in the road. If seeing wildlife in Denali Park was difficult, we were now about to learn just how difficult it is to see Mt. McKinley. We transferred by coach to Mt. McKinley Lodge and our bus driver, Joy Raby, answered our question about which direction to look by saying, "If it's out . . .". We now decided to rename Mt. McKinley "Peek-a-boo Mountain." Joy's mother Wilma told us about the rarity of photo opportunities, not only of the mountain, but also of wildlife (her collection of photographs are stunning, but the result of over thirteen years work!). It seems that the mountain is usually shrouded in clouds and many times it is difficult to discern what are snow covered mountain peaks from what are white clouds. We were told that during this period of the year the "Big Mountain" is only visible 30% of the time.
July 21st, Wednesday: This morning we all gathered on the deck of the Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge and stayed until we had to board our coach at 3:15pm. We saw one or two minor peaks, but never the majestic range depicted on our post cards. Dejected, we boarded the Midnight Sun Ultra Dome for the last time and a 3.5 hour trip to Anchorage. We saw truly beautiful mountain ranges and rainbows. We arrived at the Hilton Hotel at 8:30pm and once again check in was simple; room keys, luggage transfers and tags were provided.
July 22, Thursday: We shopped and walked near the visitors center in Anchorage. The main streets were lined with huge hanging baskets of midnight blue lobelia and golden giant marigolds. At noon we transferred to the airport. We were eager to go home but truly disappointed that Mt. Mckinley had eluded us. Then on our way to the boarding gate, we looked out the panoramic windows and low and behold there was a clear view of Mt. Mckinley and its range. We asked a local and the response we got was "Didn't anyone tell you that Anchorage usually has the best view of the mountain?"
We feel that we had some unrealistic expectations regarding wildlife etc., but we had a terrific trip through the interior of Alaska and enjoyed it immensely.
SUGGESTIONS 1. Many of the public areas on the ship are carpeted making it difficult for wheelchairs; Costa and Carnival lines have used marble and tile extensively and thus are more user friendly.
2. We suggest to passengers with limited mobility to view the deck plans when booking their cruise. In this ship, for example, the cabins closer to the midship elevators are the best to minimize the distance to places most frequently visited, such as the dining rooms, the theater, the various lounges and passenger service desks. Unfortunately for us there are no wheelchair accessible cabins in this area midship.
3. We had a beautiful and comfortable stateroom; however, there is a minor deficiency in the bathroom where the shelves for toiletries were too small to hold a few necessary items.
4. A young cruiser told us to be sure to remind cruisers to bring their bathing suits. Alaska does have a summer!
CONCLUSIONS Overall this was another great cruise. A bit too much traveling for Vincent with his mobility problem, but it was worth the effort. This was our sixth cruise on Princess and it will not be our last, as matter of fact, we have booked two future cruises with destinations to be decided. Our next cruise, however, will be on the new RCI Jewel of the Seas, on her maiden transatlantic crossing in September. Until then, Happy Cruising!
Here is my review of the Island Princess. I am a male in my late 30's. This was my 9th cruise. I have done 4 on NCL, 2 on RCCL, 2 on Princess Including this one and 1 on Holland America.
The ship is a well decorated and nicely appointed. It was not cheesy, including the casino. It was tastefully done. I was not "WOWED" at all by this ship. I am not looking for a Carnival neon type of ship, but it is more on the conservative side than the other ships I have been on.
The state room was great. It was a mini suite on the Dolphin deck in the back of the ship, about 10 rooms from the Stern. We had a covered balcony. Many of the balconies on the ships were not covered. Our friends had balconies on Dolphin deck also, but they were uncovered. When it rained, the uncovered balcony was useless and it rained several times. While ours was covered, we were able to walk out and enjoy the out side with out getting wet. Not to mention that when out on anuncovered balcony, it was like being on stage with many people from above looking down.
The inside layout of the stateroom was the best room I have seen on a cruise ship. We had a large bathroom with a full tub, an awesome closet area, two TV's: one facing the bed and the other the sofa. The TV's were a nice touch. It worked well in our stateroom. I did not see a standard balcony stateroom, so I cannot compare the two, but if you can afford the mini suite, it is definitely worth the money if you like or need the extra room.
The linens and bedding were not great. They were substandard to the other cruise lines I have been on. The sheets were pilly and they did not cover the blankets with another sheet with the turndown service (like some other cruise lines do). Therefore the blankets were exposed and they were scratchy and pilly. The pillows were flat and uncomfortable. The beds, when made up into a queen, would split apart in the middle of the night. It was the most disappointing part of the cruise.
The physical layout of the ship was nice. If you were in the back of the ship, getting to the Horizon Court buffet area (in the front) was far and awkward to get to, but I did not mind the walk.
The pool areas setup could be improved upon. The indoor/outdoor retractable roof pool was very nice. The area was very quiet and elegant. That seemed to appeal to some, but not all, including me. It seemed that most people were interested in sunning at the outdoor Lido Pool area that was livelier. It had the Steel drum tropical music, pool games along with the Grill and Pizza restaurant. It was hard to find a lounge chair poolside at the Lido Pool, while the nicer Lotus Pool had plenty of available chairs. Also, most of the swimmers were in the outdoor Lido pool and sometimes the pool was so crowded with people, that you could not swim, rather just float. While they did a good job with outside pool area, it just needed to be a bigger space with a larger pool.
The food was typical cruise line food in the dining room, it was no better or no worse than any other line I have been on, but the Pizza restaurant on the Lido deck was excellent. I love pizza and being a pizza connoisseur, I believe they did an awesome job making it. I went to Sabatini's and Bayou Café, Island Princess' specialty restaurants that charges a flat fee to eat. Bayou Café was $10.00 and worth it, Sabatini's was $20.00 and not worth it. For two of us Dining in Sabatini's with 4 drinks total, the bill was close to $80.00 including tips and the $20.00 seating charge per person. I am all in favor of paying for a nice meal, but skip Sabatini's and spend the money on your favorite restaurant when you get home. While the food was good, it was not worth the extra money for the dining experience. Based on the pizza they were serving by the pool, I expected their Italian specialty restaurant be as good, but it was not. You win some; you lose some.
As expected, if you are looking for nightlife on a cruise, this 10 day Itinerary does not have much of one. It really is not the ship that causes it, but the itinerary. There were only a handful of people in the Explorers Lounge after 11:00pm. It did fill up for Karaoke and 50's dance party type of things, but they were usually over by 11:00pm. I read on some reviews and talked to friends that cruised a similar 10-day itinerary and they found the same to be true. Princess did a nice job at trying to encourage nightlife, but if few people show up it does not make for an exciting crowd.
The casino was the nicest casino I have seen on a cruise ship. But I don't gamble much so it was not that important to me.
I usually have a massage while on a cruise ship. I did not use any of the spa services so I cannot comment on it. I kept my eye out for a Sale for massage services towards the end of the trip. While they did discount some massages towards the end, it was not significant. The Gym was nice, but it could have used a few more aerobic machines. In the mornings the gym was crowded and there was sometimes a wait for them. But other than the mornings, it did not seem to get very crowded.
Ocho Rios: I did the Dunn's River Falls Climb. It was awesome. I left the group and guide and climbed by myself and it made the experience that much better. Either way it was great.
Panama Canal was awesome. One recommendation if you are staying on the ship and not doing an excursion; when the ship is leaving Gatun Lake and going back through the canal, go to the back of the ship for a spectacular view of the ship being lowered back down to sea level. I stayed on the ship and did not do an excision and thoroughly enjoyed myself at the stern of the ship.
After the locks, the boat tied up next to the Pier in Cristobal Panama. The port had a great little market set up, most likely because the town did not have much to offer. They had local music and dancing along with local crafts and stuff like that. I bought great 100% Haines cotton T-shirts with Panama Canal stuff on them for $5.00 each. A great bargain. If you like shopping, look into a place called the Free Zone. We saw lots of crew running to catch taxis to go there. Apparently it is a shopping market with amazing discounts on clothes, running shoes, electronics etc. By the time I found out about it, it was too late to go and I did not inquire anymore.
Puerto Limon: Do some kind of excursion. The town did not have much to offer. I did one on a boat up a river and it was well worth it.
Grand Cayman: They cancelled swimming with the Rays excursion so we went to 7-mile beach on our own and did a little shopping afterwards. There was not much to the Island but it was a nice day.
Cozumel: Great Island. It is Mexican so it has some flavor as opposed to Grand Cayman with the KFCs and Burger Kings. I did an awesome excursion. It was the ATV (all terrain vehicle) kayak and Snorkel. If you are not interested in riding an ATV, the Jeep off road excursion drives the same route. We drove many miles along the eastern shore beach dirt road, stopped for lunch, swam, rode some more, saw small ruins. It was a great day. The water was too rough to kayak or snorkel, but the ride was so fun that I it did not miss it. If the ATV interests you, reserve one ATV per person. Two people on an ATV can be very uncomfortable.
All in all it was a great cruise. The service from the staff and crew was perfect. I would recommend this ship and trip if the Panama Canal Interests you.
Best cruise to date, but the first to Alaska will always be special. Food, fun, excursions, activities, and itinerary were all great. We picked this cruise because of the length (10 days), seeing the Panama Canal, trying a Caribbean cruise for the first time and the price. The price was the major driver for picking this cruise, the personnel will keep us coming back.
In summary, highly recommended. If you can get onto the Island Princess before she goes to Alaska, try this itinerary.
Top 10 Best List:
1: Princess Personnel (The Good) - Like our Alaska cruise, this one was filled with notable Princess personnel that made the cruise exceptional. Of note was Jessy, our cabin steward who was almost perfect (no one is perfect), friendly, helpful, cheery and always there when we needed him. He kept the cabin immaculate and did such a good job we tipped him in addition to the normal tips. Rick, the shore and shopping advisor, checked on and kept tabs on all the people shopping on shore to ensure everything was going all right. Our table mates from Colorado were amazed that he kept checkingin on them during their shopping. His shopping tips, especially the puzzle boxes in Costa Rica, were right on. Last, but certainly not least, was Samantha, one of the asst. cruise directors. She was one cute, bubbly ball of energy and our line dance instructor. Please, do not feed her any caffeine, she has enough energy to power the ship in an emergency. Constantly smiling, friendly, outgoing, helpful, she represents the best of Princess's most important resource, the personnel. Now, its important to note that all of the other people we ran into, our wait staff, Susan, Trevor and Josh, the other asst cruise staff, the buffet cooks, TK in the Explorer Lounge, were wonderful as well. But we had more contact with Rick, Sam and Jessy and were able to notice their above and beyond contribution to a wonderful cruise. All cruise lines have to realize that without great personnel, you can never have a great cruise and with lousy personnel you will have a lousy cruise. Everything, we liked on this cruise is directly attributable to a specific person or persons doing an outstanding job. Without those people, you just have a motel that moves with a Denny's out front.
2: Cruise Price/Value - For the price paid, this cruise was incredible. 10 day, mini-suite, beautiful ship, great food, the overall value or "bang for the buck" was sensational. None of the "worst" list detracted from the experience. We spoke to many other veteran cruisers and their unanimous opinion was that this was one of the best cruises. One couple was on their 27th cruise spread out among all of the major cruise lines and this was in the top five.
3: Food - As near to perfect as you can expect on a cruise ship. Consistently good quality with some surprise exceptional taste treats sprinkled in -lobster at dinner, kiwi tarlett in the lunch buffet, eggplant appetizer on Italian night, incredible prime rib and a lot of others. Based on our previous two cruises we expected differences between the buffet, the dining room, the grill and the alternatives, but in this case the quality was well above average everywhere.
4: Mini-suite Layout - We are now spoiled. The mini-suite with its extra length and couch was just the right size. All of the "stuff" that ends up on the bed and just migrates to the desk, table and chair in a regular room now has a place on the couch. Full bathtub, huge closet and a larger balcony -however, our balcony was not covered which caused some issues (see negatives). But all in all, well worth the extra money on a 10 day trip.
5: Activities and Entertainment - From Kevin Huges (comic) to the shows (Panama [Pub] Night) to the production shows and activities (Cowboy night), there was too much to do it all. We missed a lot of stuff going on and were never bored.
6: Ship Cleanliness - The Island Princess was in immaculate condition. Every restroom, every public area was spotless. Dining rooms were exceptionally clean. (The only exception was the Lotus Pool which had rust spots where the coating was not applied properly.)
7: Ship Layout - The Island Princess layout reminded us of an upgraded Sun class. The separate Lotus Pool area with its swim current and 2 meter depth made it the exercise pool of choice. Three main ship's elevator wells plus the normal atrium elevators made navigation easy. It almost appears that they added an additional deck by lowering slightly the ceiling of all of the other decks. The designers also used mirrors a lot to add a sense of openness to spaces. The gym was full of modern workout equipment including Precor ellipticals and a full set of circuit training weight machines.
8: Sabbatini's - An experience all in itself. You choose your soup and your main course. Everything else on the menu is provided to you to taste. Don't even try and eat it all. Skip lunch for this one. Well worth the $20 extra per person. Service is exquisite. The wait staff love to talk to you. Let them explain the history of the dishes and the wines.
9: Discover SCUBA Cozumel: In Alaska it was glacier trekking, in the Caribbean its SCUBA. No certification required. A 20 minute orientation, checkout in shallow water and then 30 minutes down to 25 feet examining fish, coral, rays, eels and other divers. We might just get certified now.
10: Stingray Sandbar Catamaran Grand Caymen: An un-crowded (22 of us) trip on a catamaran out to the Stingray Sandbar to dance with, touch and feed the stingrays. One stingray is over 30 years old and is blind in both eyes due to cataracts, but she sure can dance and find the squid ok. Princess really does a good job of finding great companies for their excursions. This was no exception. The personnel were friendly, knowledgeable and really cared about the rays. The trip out and back aboard the catamaran was a real treat as well. For value added the crew does a video of the excursion, in and out of the water. You can buy the DVD for $60 and it will be mailed to your house. The VHS is cheaper. Great for those who don't want to take their $600 digital video camera into the salt water.
Top 7 Worst List (Just Could Not Come Up With Ten and some of these are real nits)
1: Sell/Sell/Sell - All of the cruise lines are reducing prices to attract guests. To make up the difference they are selling everything in sight during the cruise. During the cooking demonstration, they will push a cookbook, during lunch in the horizon court, they will walk by with the same cookbook for sale. The photographers are everywhere taking pictures. 5x7 photos are overlaid with stock maps or information on an 8x10 format and sold as an 8x10. 8x10's are up to $20 each. Some of this is not bad - the personalized trip specific video is a great idea, but they need more than one video camera. Unobtrusive photographers on special occasions are welcomed, but some of them get pushed out of shape when you refuse a picture. The Lotus Spa's prices on products are outrageous. No you don't have to buy and we recommend you don't - at all. Pocket the money, call the Mary Kay lady and save a literal fortune. For example, the minimum for Judy's skin care products that she "must" have, was over $300 for three items. That's just insane.
2: Bar Staff Tips - Sales vs. Service; This is a corollary to #1 above. Princess adds 15% to each drink tab that the server him or herself gets directly. This creates a feeding frenzy of drink waiters and waitresses that put sales above service. People who want water will only get bottled water. People who want coffee, or coke (with the coke sticker) or tea that are free with no tip will be ignored or lied to as in, " we don't have any coffee or tea" or " we're not allowed to do that". There were a few waiters that did put service above sales and brought water or coke promptly. I truly believe that if a drink waiter would walk around with a tray of free water glasses, he or she just might even score more drink orders with the good will generated. Princess needs to do something about this situation. I would even suggest going as far as paying the wait staff to deliver the free dinks by accounting for them and giving them $0.25 for each glass given out.
3: Princess Personnel (The Bad): The sell/sell/sell probably contributed to this as well, but on one occasion we actually saw a waitress leave a restroom without washing her hands, and went right on serving drinks - touching napkins, glasses, straws. Not good. Room service was bad as well. Out of 5 different room services orders, all were screwed up somehow. Three were delivered to the wrong room, one had a canned coke instead of a "free" glass of coke (sell/sell/sell again?) and one was incomplete.
4: Deck Washing/Balcony Cover - As regular as clockwork between 0200 and 0300, the upper deck would be hosed off, right onto our balcony table and chairs, 4 stories below. The dolphin centerline balconies protrude out and anything washed off the top deck would land on our balcony. We liked to sleep with the door open and the first few nights we though it was rain. Found out later it wasn't. This was a bad design choice. The uncovered balcony removes some privacy and does not provide any shade or rain cover. Things from the top deck that are dropped or blow/roll off inevitably end up on the Dolphin deck balconies. The Sun class balconies are covered and we did prefer that.
5: Coffee Outside the Horizon Court - On the Sun class ships there is coffee service on both sides of the grill on deck 15. In the Coral class, there is not. This means that for a cup of coffee you have to fight the lines in the Horizon Court. They did add coffee service at the entrance to the buffet line, but when its busy, it's a challenge to reach it.
6: Bayou Café - A big disappointment. The food was good, the service was good, but it wasn't Cajun. In fact when I asked for recommendations, none of the recommendations were the "New Orleans" style courses. The recommended dished were normal, typical Nuevo French or European cuisine. After Sabbatini's this was a downer. We did go against the recommendations and order the "New Orleans" style - the best of which was the gator ribs, but everything else, while good, was not as good as what we were getting in the dining room.
7: Universal Lounge Layout - Unlike the Sun class, the Universal Lounge is not tiered, but sloped. This sloping is inadequate and frequently allows taller people in the front to completely block the view of people behind them. In the upper deck, a great design idea and makes for a spectacular view from above, the second row of seats has their view almost totally blocked.
Just completed the January 15th 2004 - 10-day Panama Canal cruise on the Island Princess. Just brief note about me. I am in my mid-30's and have been fortunate to have taken 18 cruises (this is my 3rd on Princess) thus far on most of the major lines (I try to take 2 per year). I love to cruise because I think it is the most relaxing type of vacation you can find. You can do as much or as little as you want.
Overall Impressions: An excellent trip and Princess continues to be a solid choice for the mass market cruise lines. I would think that Princess should appeal to most people unless you are looking for a very active nightlife (more about that later).
Embarkation: Very smooth. I always book my airfare separately. Arrived in Ft. Lauderdale around 10:30 and was at the Pier at 11:15. A line had formed outside the terminal building of early arrivers, but they started processing people about 20 minutes later. As I pre-registered on the Internet, it took just a few minutes to check in and I was on the ship
Ship: Overall, Iliked the Island very much. I was on the Golden last year and the Island seems similar only a bit smaller. I thought the lobby/atrium was one of the nicer ones I have seen recently. Other public rooms were nice and seemed functional. I don't really concern myself with these things too much so I won't spend much time on it here.
Passengers: Not that it really matters to me, but the average age of the passengers on this sailing was likely in the 70's and probably the oldest crowd on any cruise I have been on. It could be a combination of the fact that it was a 10-day trip and that it was mid-January, not a popular vacation time for families. I make note of this only since there was not much activity around the ship past 10 or 11pm. So if your looking for a lot of nightlife, this is probably not the exact itinerary and timing for you.
Cabin: I was in category BA on Caribe Deck. It is a standard outside balcony but had an "extended" balcony. The cabin was pretty standard and functional. Same goes for the bathroom. I will note that I had read the comments on the small size of the shower and I must say it is all true. They do seem smaller than usual. I had trouble figuring out how some people I saw on board fit in there. However, it did have awesome water pressure if you turned it all the way up. Having the larger balcony was a plus. It had two reclining chairs and a pretty good size square table. This balcony offered some privacy from above, but not total privacy.
Service: I was very happy with the service. Our cabin steward was excellent and very friendly. He did a good job of always being available and efficient, but never being intrusive. Most of the other staff I had contact with were mostly friendly but I am not a high maintenance passenger.
Food: As many people have appropriately said on these reviews, food is a subjective thing so I will only give you my opinions. After 18 cruises, I realize that when you are cooking for 2,000+ people, the likelihood that you will have a "gourmet" experience is remote.
So here it goes.overall, it is my opinion that Princess has some of the better food of the large cruise lines. Dinner in the dining room was good to very good. I think that the beef dishes were typically not the best I have had (somewhat tough) but the chicken dishes, seafood and pasta's were generally very good. I tend to think that Princess does excellent pasta (a lot of cream sauces). I would typically order the pasta entrée as a starter in a small portion. This is a way to try the pasta entrée without having to have it as a main dish. Of course, if your hungry, just order both as an entrée. As with all cruises I have been on, the waiters are very eager to bring you whatever you want and however much you want. Appetizers and soups were also mostly good but I thought the salads were typically uninspired. As a comparison, dining room food was just a notch below what I had on Celebrity Constellation in May and hands down far superior to the dining room food I had on Explorer of the Sears in November of 2002.
Horizon Court: This is where I think Princess is much better than the other large cruise lines including Celebrity. I ate most of my breakfasts and lunches in the Horizon Court. Despite being poorly designed for traffic flow, the Horizon Court has pretty good food for a buffet. There is a nice selection and it doesn't seem like it has been sitting around for a long time as it can sometimes on other lines. Also, the food is always hot. For breakfast, you can go with the standard items but there was also a fresh egg & omelet area where you could pretty much order what you wanted. I am a big milk drinker and one thing I didn't like was that milk was only available at breakfast and at the dinner buffet. I have been on the Grand and Golden and I recall that there were milk dispenser's available 24hrs in the Horizon. Anyway, I took a bunch of milk cartons and stored them in my cabin refrigerator.
Room service: Pretty standard here too. Ordered room service for breakfast twice and it was delivered on time and was usually hot. If you don't know.you can pretty much write down whatever you want and they will bring it. It does not need to be listed on the door menu card. A note of caution, be very explicit in what you want.. if you order pancakes, you must specify syrup, or else they wont bring it. Also you can write down whatever time you want. I asked for breakfast 1 hour earlier then was listed as available on the card and the food was delivered at the time I requested.
Entertainment: I saw most of the production shows and they were pretty good. While the production shows tend to be similar content across the various cruise lines, the Island Princess singers and dancers were very talented and I enjoyed the shows very much. They also have a long term comedian onboard who does three shows through out the cruise and he was also very enjoyable. Lots of other bands and music on board all of which seemed to be good.
Shore Excursions: Cozumel - Took a taxi over to the Chankanaab National Park for some snorkeling / sun. If you're looking for a lazy beach day, this is a good place to go. They have a variety of water sports if that is of interest. It is $10 cab fare each way and $10 entrance fee to the park. Snorkel gear was $6 per person if you head farther down the beach ($10 near the entrance). The snorkeling is ok, but not great.
Grand Cayman - Booked the Stingray City and Snorkel tour though an independent operator Native Way, who was recommended on the boards. Native Way didn't show up at the pier as promised. Medical emergency was later cited as the reason. Don't know if I would trust them again. We just did the same trip with people advertising the same trip at the pier. I would recommend going to Stingray City if you have never done it before.. it is a unique experience.
Panama Canal - Nice experience if you have not been through it before. We had booked the Ocean-to-Ocean tour, which was going to be the highlight of the trip (you get to go through the canal and locks on the Pacific side in a smaller boat). Unfortunately, this tour got cancelled about a half-hour before it was supposed to depart. This is where Princess really dropped the ball. As they insisted it was beyond there control, they still did not handle the situation very well. There were about 250 very unhappy people who were scheduled to go on this tour and they were none too happy to hear that not only was the tour cancelled, but there were no other options to join another tour. Therefore, we were all stuck on the ship until late in the day when the ship went back through the locks and docked in Colon. To add to our frustration, the tour desk supervisor didn't handle the angry passengers very well. In fact, he became downright hostile as many of the passengers affected were voicing their displeasure to him. Princess obviously refunded everyone the cost of the tour and then a few days later (bowing to persistent complaints and angry passengers) decided to give everyone scheduled on the tour a $100 ship credit.
Limon, Costa Rica - Went on the Jungle River Eco-Cruise. 2-3 hour cruise in the rain forest. It was interesting and the guides were excellent.
Ocho-Rios - Was booked on the Yacht sailing trip to Dunns River Falls. This tour was cancelled early on in the cruise (no reason given). Decided just to cab over to Dunns, which was just as well ($11 cab each way and $10 per person to enter the falls).
Other Comments: Cutbacks continue to be noticed on all the ships as cruise prices continue to be very reasonable. I have been cruising many years and prices are lower now than they were several years ago. That being said, I am of the opinion that I would rather pay an extra $50 or $100 for the cruise then be nickel-and-dimed for things that used to be included in the cost of the cruise.
Some things I noticed on the Island were that juices are only available at breakfast time. If you want any type of juice at any time other than breakfast, it will cost you. Same thing goes for hot chocolate. I sometimes like hot chocolate after dinner but there is now a $1.50 charge. This seems pretty petty, but it did really bother me. All the cruise lines are doing this extra charging, but it varies on what items they have decided to start charging for. Any way you cut it, it's not a good trend.
I never had any problem getting lounge chairs. I don't know if it was due to the age of the passengers or that there seemed to be lounge chairs everywhere. I pretty much had my pick of chairs anywhere on the ship.
Overall, Princess continues to be a great choice in the large cruise line segment. They have good food, nice ships and friendly staff. The Island Princess is comfortable and I have no problem recommending this ship or line.
Just back from the 12/16 to 12/26 Island Princess Panama Canal cruise. This was my 14th cruise, 4th on Princess. We do not expect gourmet meals on the mid-range cruise lines, just tasty food, well presented, with good service. I am a lawyer, 63, my wife a housewife, 52. The following are my comments on this cruise:
Pre-cruise-Booked the Marriott Marina through Priceline--$48/night. Very nice hotel, two restaurants, a hopping bar (the Philadelphia Eagles and their fans were staying there for the Monday Night Football game against the Dolphins). We had heard some disparaging remarks about the hotel on the boards, but found it very nice. Also closest hotel to the Princess dock. Shuttle service to the pier by reservation-none of the hassles we found at Amerisuites on prior visits. Embarkation-Arrived about 11:10, line was starting to form. They opened the doors at 11:30, at which time a long line existed. Check-in by stateroom deck or Platinum Captain's Circle took all of 10 minutes and we were on the ship.
The ship-Island Princess is a beautiful ship in its inaugural season. We had an aft cabin on Aloha Deck, which presented three problems: 1)Theship is almost 1000 feet long, so it's a long hike to some of the places where we spent the most time-Horizon Court buffet, regular dining room, Wheelhouse bar, and the Princess Theater, 2)There is an intermittent vibration in the cabins when underway which can be quite annoying, and 3) There is absolutely no privacy on the balcony. The Lido Deck is directly above, a fairly high-traffic walking area that looks directly down on the balcony. Similarly, the verandahs on the Baja Deck are open, but only to those looking from the Aloha balconies. The Caribe Deck balconies are partially covered. Unless you book a suite or mini-suite, be prepared for the smallest showers on the face of the earth. They are a squeeze for a normal size person. I saw many on board (those wearing Speedos who shouldn't and other large people) who couldn't possibly have taken a shower in the 10-day cruise. The Wheelhouse bar is probably one of the prettiest and well-appointed lounges at sea. Needless to say it accounted for significant entries on my shipboard account. Food and Service-A great disappointment. We had traditional late seating, table for 6 of us travelling together, so we all arrived together. We had a couple of very nice dinners, particularly French night with escargot, onion soup, and rack of lamb. But we also had several nights where the food was almost inedible. But most disappointing was the service. Our waiter and assistant, while quite pleasant, just couldn't get the food out. We had long waits between courses, cold food, and had to ask for what they should have seen we needed. Don't try the buffalo pot roast. I couldn't eat it and told the waiter to take it away, don't bring another entrée, just the dessert menu. We were told one evening that the maitre 'd would be preparing a special pasta at our table for us to try or have as a main course. Good thing I ordered something else-we never saw him. There are two alternative dining rooms on the Island Princess-Sabatini's and the Bayou Café, both of which provided wonderful food and outstanding service. Amazingly, they were virtually empty every night. We did get a hint the first time we went to make reservations at Sabatini's when the maitre'd suggested a 7 PM reservation since dinner would likely take 2 ½ hours. Be aware that the menu lists many appetizers that appear to be choices. Instead, you are presented with course after course of delicious appetizers, then soup, salad, soup, pizza, pasta, and then the entrée and dessert. Superb food and service.We ate there twice. My only suggestion would be to add another choice or two for an entrée-the only things available are seafood (including a wonderful lobster tail) and a veal chop. Similarly, the Bayou Café should add an entrée or two that is not so "ethnic". I've had wonderful meals in New Orleans that were not cajun-creole. The Horizon Court-a large selection, with something to please anyone. Often the same dishes available in the dining room for lunch. Don't miss the short ribs when they have them. A little congested, but it gets better after a few days when everyone figures out the system. I've always been a critic of Princess' coffee in the Horizon Court, but it has been greatly improved and is drinkable now. Pool-Lido Deck. Lots of kids on this cruise, but amazingly most hung out at the Tholassotherapy (?) pool, a place originally designed for adults only. While I was assured that the deck waiters were not on commission, I found the service intrusive. A waiter would come up to the table, "Something from the bar?" when another waiter was actually there taking an order! A couple or waiters could not speak enough English to take an order. Stateroom-The room steward, Elizabeth was absolutely perfect. Greeted us by name, managed to sneak in between my naps and keep the cabin in perfect order. Room service never took longer than 10 minutes, amazing. Other staff-Pursers Office (Passenger Relations) proved to be difficult. Two of our travelling companions brought their 18-month infant (and paid almost $700 for her fare). There was no crib in the cabin. When one was requested, the Pursers Office simply responded that they only have 5 onboard, that they were all taken, and nothing could be done until we reached our first port, 2 days away. $700 for a person who doesn't eat much food, requires no other services, and doesn't even get a bed. I found this to be unacceptable and requested to see the Hotel Manager. In speaking with an Assistant Hotel Manager and pointing out that any cruise line can encounter problems, but finding an acceptable resolution to the problem is the gauge of a good line, she provided an additional cabin for two nights so mom could share her bed with the baby and dad could have a bed. Splitting up the family was not a good solution, but a crib arrived in Ocho Rios (borrowed from Carnival I think). By booking the baby and charging a fare, Princess should have no excuse for failing to have a crib available. Debarkation-Princess sends out a questionaire early in the cruise requesting air connections and assigns disembarkation colors accordingly. We had an 11:15 flight out of Ft. Lauderdale, got an early color, found our luggage, got a cab and got to the airport and through security with an hour to spare. Overall-A nice cruise, nice itinerary. But the food and service, an essential element of my desired cruise experience, left me looking to Celebrity, RCL, or even Carnival for my next cruise.