Year Started: 1965
Ships in Fleet: 17
Summary: Princess is one of the most consistently excellent cruise lines in the upper mainstream to premium group. All the diversity of larger ships but personalized service.
Regions:Canada, Caribbean, Europe
Good for: Families. Value for Money. Teens.
Regions:Alaska, California Coastal, Panama Canal
Good for: Teens. First-time Cruisers. Families.
Regions:Caribbean, Europe, South America
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Families.
Regions:Asia & Africa, Australia, Europe
Good for: Group. First-time Cruisers. Families.
Regions:Alaska, Asia & Africa, Australia
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Seniors.
Regions:Canada, Caribbean, Europe
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Group.
Regions:Alaska, California, Hawaii
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Group.
Regions:Alaska, California, Hawaii, Mexico
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Families.
Regions:Alaska, California, Panama Canal
Good for: Seniors. Group. Singles.
Regions:Asia & Africa, Australia, Europe
Regions:Asia & Africa, Australia, Europe, Hawaii
Regions:Caribbean, Europe, Transatlantic
Good for: Seniors. Overall Service. Group.
Regions:Caribbean, Europe, Transatlantic
Good for: Overall Service. Teens. Children`s Programs.
Regions:Alaska, California, Hawaii, Mexico
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Families.
Regions:Asia & Africa, Australia, Panama Canal
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
Regions:Alaska, California, Hawaii, South America
Good for: Families. Overall Service. Teens.
Regions:Asia & Africa, Australia, South Pacific, Tahiti
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
We just had our first Alaskan Cruise with two other couples, our best friends on the Golden Princess. So excited to see what everyone is talking about the "Glaciers". We probably picked the wrong time of the year knowing the weather might not cooperate with us. And We were disappointed as the Ship decided not to go thru the Tracy Arm Glaciers due to Fog and Ice forming (small pieces). Our whole point of the trip was for that but other than that and getting so lost finding the right floor on this Huge ship for the different Dinning Rooms, and Bars, we had a great time.
Background: I decided to take my wife on a cruise to Alaska to celebrate our 10th anniversary. We had always discussed cruising before, and always decided against it. We just never thought it was our type of vacation. We like to be very active, outdoors, and go at our own schedule. We have about ½ a day maximum of sitting on a beach. We want to DO, that is how we relax. However, with kids and jobs straining the amount of time we can get away, and with a strong desire to see Alaska, I decided to take the plunge and try out a cruise. We elected for the 7 day Seattle-Alaska-Seattle cruise on the Golden Princess.
Overall Thoughts on Princess and the Golden: Dealing with Princess was easy. I booked directly with them, and they were good about sending documents, updates, etc. I booked my flights separately, which caused no problems. The website for Princess was easy to use, and allowed me to complete all of the required information online. I also pre-reserved two tours (Skagway and Ketchikan) online prior to our cruise, which worked out nicely. On board, the staffwas very responsive to our needs. A couple of examples: We need to change our Skagway tour from the AM to the PM. This took about 30 seconds; was really easy. One morning I went to the buffet and tried to get a pot of coffee to bring back to my wife in our room. When the person suggested I contact Room Service, I indicated I wasn't willing to wait the 30-45 minutes. She thought out of the box, and got me 2 large "to go" coffee cups that I could take back to my room. Was it the pot I asked for? No, but it solved my problem 100%. One afternoon while leaving my room, I noticed that the door was not locking correctly. Within 30 minutes, a crew of guys had taken the entire locking mechanism off the door, disassembled it, fixed it, put it back on the door and had me test it with my key to ensure it worked. The most impressive thing was that 5 minutes later the supervisor knocked on the door, checking in to make sure we were satisfied. The staff on board the Golden really do want to make sure everything is perfect for you. On the down side, there was a lot of trying to sell us stuff. Not so much the soda package (a few people asked us the first day, but after that nobody tried to get us to buy it), but everything. For example, many of the "activities" were actually trying to sell us stuff. The art "auctions?" Sales event. The "trunk shows?" Sales event. The port shopping lectures? Sales event. It got old after awhile. Is that just Princess, or the industry overall? My guess is that it is the industry overall (and based on other reviews I have seen, I think it is an industry thing, not a Princess thing).
Weather: The weather in Seattle was great; a bit foggy in the AM, but sunny and mid-60s the rest of the time. Really nice. The weather in Alaska was bad. 50's the whole time, and raining all the time (or cloudy and about to rain). However, the mist and clouds added an element of drama to the scenery, and rain doesn't make me melt; so I was happy! It is the second to last cruise of the season; I didn't expect perfect weather. In Victoria we had a beautiful evening; 60's to high 50's, and sunny.
Embarkation: All of the Princess materials say to arrive after 1 PM for faster boarding. We took Princess at their word, and have to say it was true. We got to the terminal at 1:45, and were on the ship 20 minutes later. I have waited in check in lines at airports for much longer. It was EASY to embark, we couldn't have been more pleased. We found our cabin, and set out to explore. Our bags arrived about 2 hours after we did, which was fine.
Cabin: We booked a mini-suite on the Dolphin Deck, starboard side. The room was fine, exactly as expected. The balcony was nice, with plenty of room for 4 chairs and a table. The carpet, curtains, bedding, décor, etc. were all fine. Not worn out and old, but not sparkling new either. There were no obvious signs of wear and tear, but it wasn't brand new either. There was plenty of space for all of our things. Three things to note: First, there is no iron in the room. We had some wrinkly clothes that we sent out to be pressed (about the same as we would pay in Chicago). Second, there are very few outlets in the room (total of 4, three in the room one in the bathroom). With two laptops, two cell phones, two ipods, a camera and other electronics; .keeping everything charged was a juggling act. Our cabin steward, Antonio Pereira, was good. Always there with a smile and energy, happy to do everything he could to make our cruise the best possible.
Public areas: The public areas are designed in the same fashion as the cabins. The look was fine. Not to my taste, and maybe a bit dated (it is 8 years old or so), but fine. No paint peeling, nothing hanging by a thread; .in general it was in good shape.
Dining/Food: We elected for anytime dining, and were happy we did. The food in the dining rooms was good, not great. The service in the dining rooms was good, not great (to be great, I would have expected napkins that match my pants so visible lint didn't get on them, crumbs swept off of the table between courses, a charger plate at my place setting when I arrived at the table, consistent clearing from the left, a never empty glass, etc. I have high standards for "great" service at a restaurant). I would equate it roughly with the quality of food and service level to be found at the hotel restaurants of the flagship hotels of the various national chains (Hilton, Sheraton, Marriott, etc.). Better than an Applebees or Friday's or those types of places, not as good as a fine dining restaurant of acclaim in any large city. The buffet was a buffet. Buffets are never that good, and this one is no exception. There is a lot of food, and a lot of people trying to eat it, and it was OK for a buffet. We have friends who have cruised on other lines and raved about the buffet, about fruit carvings, people taking pictures of the buffet before people started to eat from it, etc.. The Golden Princess had none of that; it was just a buffet. When we did eat in the buffet, finding a place to sit was not really tough at all (and our cruise was sold out, 2,800 passengers). We ate almost all of our meals in the dining rooms. Formal night wasn't very formal. Only 2 tuxedos in the restaurant we were in, which made me glad I had not brought mine. Lobster night was the 2nd Formal night, and was a disappointment. The lobster tail was small, probably 4-5 ounces. It was drowned in butter. The two king prawns served with it were so drowned in butter that you couldn't taste the prawn. Like I say; .disappointing. Overall, the service was good and the food was good in the dining rooms, and the buffet was a buffet.
Casino: The casino was surprisingly not crowded. They offered all of the standard table games, and lots of slots. We are not slot players, but they appeared to have most of the slots I remember seeing in land based casinos. It was always easy to get a seat at the table games, which was nice. We won a bit (mainly my wife) and lost a bit (mainly me) and enjoyed the entire time. The staff was great, made you feel at home either way.
Internet: The internet café is well stocked with computers, each with a port for all types of digital media (so you can upload your photos to a web service if you wish). Internet packages were a touch expensive compared to buying time on land, but hey; it's a ship based satellite connection. Between $.40 and $.75 per minute depending on how much you want to spend. Wifi was available in some of the public areas, not in the cabins. I had some work I needed to do, and was disappointed when the link was down for a large portion of Sunday, but hey; it's a satellite link. They go down. On the last day of the cruise, lots of people were in the café trying to print boarding passes, etc. The connection was slow, and some people were upset that they were getting charged by the minute for a slow connection. I say tough for them; .it's clear that the charge is by the minute, and there were big signs everywhere saying the connection was slow.
Naturalist: Michael Medz-Whateverhisnamewas is entirely miss-able. We attended his first lecture on our first sea day, and we excited to learn about Alaska, the culture, etc. Three major criticisms of Mikey: 1. His delivery was so pretentious, so arrogant, that I had to resist the urge to get up and leave. Not everyone in the audience did resist though; as several people got up and left mid-presentation. 2. His content was aimless. He had no theme for his talk, and basically told a bunch of random, unconnected stories. In searching for a theme, the only thing that we could come up with is that he did something (lived alone for 2 years) that he believes nobody else he has ever met could possibly do, and therefore he is far superior to everyone. 3. His delivery was awful. I know I already mentioned it, but I have to say it again. The man is hard to listen to. It's like he took speaking lessons from Shatner, and decided that Shatner's style needed to be emphasized and elongated. Painful to listen to. This guy should be fired. Keep in mind when you listen to him talk about how we should get away from material things, how we should live like the indigenous peoples; .that he's getting paid to tell you that, and that he has 3 homes (Alaska, Florida, and Tanzania). We make a lot of money, and don't have 3 homes. How far, exactly, did he get away from the material aspect of life? He speaks like he is arrogant and pompous, and his talks were self-serving. Which is all a shame, as the content could have been really good. During the tour of Tracy Arm Fjord, he was on the PA system with tidbits about the fjord and what we were seeing. He was slightly easier to listen to, as he was discussing something everyone was seeing rather than his own experiences. Except, of course, when he apparently felt that the grandeur of Alaska needed to be made more grand with his commentary, and launched into his "speakers" voice. Alaska is grand enough; Mikey only distracted from the reason we were there. The disappointing part was that the PA system could be heard on all balconies; you couldn't get away from the pompous jerk. I really didn't like him.
Juneau: Juneau was a cool little town. We got to port around midday, and walked around downtown Juneau for an hour and a half or so. Walked into most of the shops; found very little that we wanted to purchase. Most everything was tourist junk. We then went whale watching with Harv and Marv (not through Princess). This was outstanding. Thank you to this board for recommendations on Harv and Marv. We were picked up and driven for about 20 minutes out to Auke Bay, where the boats are docked. Along the way, Ted (Jay's Brother) gave us a running history lesson on Juneau. He was great. Jay Beedle was our captain (Harv that day), and he took the two of us and 4 others out on a 3 hour tour. The fog was thick, and we spent around an hour or so watching humpbacks in an area that the bigger boats were as well. Closest we got was about 400 yards or so. They we went to a place close to Shelter Island (where Jay lives) and got within 50-100 yards of a mother, a calf, and another adult. It was awesome. Then we went and checked out some sea lions, got some great scenery pics, and cruised back to Auke Bay. On the trip back to Juneau, Ted asked if we wanted to stop at the Mendenhall Glacier. Of course we said yes, so we took the short detour and had about 45 minutes at the glacier. The glacier is awesome, I am so pleased we were able to get there. Don't miss it. While there, we also saw a small black bear (Ted said it was probably 2-3 years old, on it's own but not full grown yet). Everything about our experience with Harv and Marv was top notch. Book a tour with them, it is so totally worth it you just can't believe. After the tour, we went to the Red Dog Saloon and had dinner (Reindeer sausage, yummy!) and listened to a singer, and drank some beer. It was actually a fun place, don't miss it.
Skagway: We got to Skagway bright and early. Permit me to set the scene: Skagway is a town of roughly 900 permanent residents. 4 "mega" cruise ships docked in Skagway at about the same time (including ours). That is somewhere around 10,500 tourists invading a town of about 900 people. And that happens a couple of times a week all season. You know exactly what to expect in Skagway, and the town doesn't disappoint. There are 30 jewelry stores in a town of 900 people. Before the cruise ships started coming, there was 1. It is ALL about separating you from your money. Having said that, it is also a cute little place and the shopping is MUCH better than in Juneau. We took a rainforest bike tour booked through Princess, and enjoyed ourselves. The guides were local (owned the local bike shop) and did a nice job of putting history and scenery together. The bike ride was really easy, not what I would consider exercise, and overall it was a fun time. Tons of people did the White Pass and Yukon Railroad, but sitting on a train for 7 hours wasn't what I was looking for.
Tracey Arm Fjord: We were so looking forward to the scenic cruising. We ordered room service, got our blankets and rain coats, and camped out on our balcony. We were psyched. Only problem was the fog. It was foggy. Foggy like you wouldn't believe. Fog combined with icebergs is a bad deal for ships. We cruised about a third of the way down the fjord (which was really cool), and then they decided to turn around and head out. While this was disappointing, I understand; .and frankly that is the chance you take when you take the second to last cruise of the season. I can't blame Princess for the weather, or deciding to turn around when faced with fog and ice. However, our itinerary stated that we would do the scenic cruise from 7:30 to 12:30. We turned around at 9:30. I thought that they should have waited another hour or so to see if the weather lifted.
Ketchikan: We liked Ketchikan. It was a nice place, seemed like an actual Alaska town like Juneau (unlike Skagway). We did not have much time in Ketchikan. We got up early, grabbed some food from the buffet, and got off the shp by about 7:25. We did a crash-shopping stop (we needed to buy some gifts, and this was going to be our last chance!) and then met our tour for the day at 7:50. We decided on the Eagle Island Kayak trip, booked through Princess but operated by locals.. We boarded a bus and took the roughly 30 minute drive up to the outfitters. Also on the bus were a bunch of people going on a zip line and ropes course at the same place we were kayaking from. There were only 2 other people that had signed up for kayaking that day, and we had one guide with us (really cool guy, turns out he was originally from Chicago). The tour said double kayaks, but we all got our own, which was nice. The tour also said a weight limit of 250 lbs, which I am close to (but under!), but nobody even thought twice about it. The kayak tour was great, the water was so flat and clear you could easily see 30-40 feet down, star fish, sea urchins, salmon, eagles, and seals were all spotted on the trip; .it was a great time. Then back on the bus and to the ship; no time to do anything but get back aboard the ship.
Victoria: Surprisingly, there was no queue to get off the ship in Victoria. Could be that everyone wanted to eat dinner on board before exploring the city, or that people were just going to stay onboard the whole time? Not us. We made bee-line for the gangway, and set off to explore Victoria. Now, the Gardens are the big attraction in Victoria, but we were there at night, and they stop lighting the gardens on September 15th, so seeing dark gardens wasn't on our hit list. Instead, we just walked to the downtown (about 20 minutes, very pleasant), saw the parliament building (very pretty), and then wandered over to the Empress Hotel. We had been told that the Bengal Room at the Empress was not only a really cool place, but also had a killer curry dinner. We were told correctly. The best meal of the cruise was found at the Bengal Room, the curry was great. The room itself is old world luxury, with the seating being in leather high-back club chairs and on sofas. It is a must do for a drink or dinner. Full of delicious curry, we walked back to the ship (about 30 minutes, we were walking slower!) and got back on board. There was no customs to speak of at all on this boarder crossing. Never saw a Canadian official or border person.
Disembarkation: The process was very easy. We elected to carry our own luggage off the ship, and were asked to meet others of the same persuasion in the Vista Lounge at 7:45 AM. The others who had elected to carry their own luggage off ran the gamut of ages and were both men and women. Good for all the older folks who still carry their own things. The ship was allowed to begin disembarking people at about 8 AM (this is controlled by customs, not by Princess) and the process was orderly. We were off of the ship and clear of customs (a Princess worker took our customs declaration, I literally never laid eyes on a US Government employee) by 8:25. Easy as easy could be!
This was a cruise/land tour combination. The cruise was really wonderful. The ship is very well done, great service, good food, lots of options. Shore excursions were super. Only problem...this ship was always the farthest away from town when it docked in all three cruise ports (Juneau, Skagway and Ketchican). That was a real big drawback for us.
The land tour was quite different. Princess Lodges are very nice and comfortable. However, the food is the same at all their lodges (with few exceptions), and it is just satisfactory. And it was extremely expensive! Like eating in the Hamptons (where I'm from). That was disappointing to say the least. Excursions from the lodges were quite varied, and most were really wonderful.
I'd recommend the cruise very highly and the land tour as quite good. However, find a grocery store and stock up for the land tour.
Princess Cruises Caribbean Princess by Scott Eastern Caribbean August 15, 2008
We just got off the Caribbean Princess today. We had both positive and negative experiences on this cruise. Unfortuntely, some of the experiences were just too major to ignore. This is our 5th cruise, and our first Princess cruise.
Let me just begin by saying that if you are looking for a ship with amazing tasting food, this is not the ship for you. We are not picky eaters, but it was very easy to tell that the food was "diner quality" and sometimes worse. In the dining rooms, the food lacked flavor. The service was inconsistent. In fact, one night, we got the first appetizer BEFORE we got our drinks.
The food and service at the buffets wasn't any better. Much of the food was cold! The food seemed warm because the plates were! Even the main comedian aboard joked about this! Once again, diner quality flavored food for the most part. For breakfast, the bacon and sausage had tons of grease! Also, my father is diabetic. The selection of sugar-free desserts was extremely limited. At least Norwegian had ten differentsugar-free desserts to choose from. This ship had only one choice, not to mention they did not put up a sign that said "Sugar Free" until we alerted the staff.
Now lets talk about the service. Why was it that everytime we sat down to eat at the buffet, they would close it? And, then they would tell us to go around to the other side to get more food (which was a big walk, especially with hot soup and hot drinks). This was a HUGE inconvience. Many passengers were sharing this complaint with us. Keep in mind, we went to the buffets at 8 different times, and each time it closed up for "a changing of the food."
"Find another table closer to the other buffet," said one of the buffet staff. Much easier said than done because of the crowds. Very hard to find a table! We have never experienced anything like this on any other cruise. It was highly frustrating. I had to walk a mile to get a piece of bread!
Now about the the entertainment -- The entertainment on the ship was great! Above average in our opinions! The only thing is the Princess Theatre is not big enough to accommodate a ship with over 3,000 passengers, even with two showtimes. Getting there a half hour before showtime was not enough to secure a seat. The comedian was outstanding and the hypnotist was very entertaining.
I also want to comment that our inside cabin was BIGGER than the outside cabins that we've been in on other cruises. The closet/drawer space was above average. The ship itself was a thing of beauty, but perhaps a bit too big and very crowded in many areas. Everything was clean and tidy. The steward was excellent and friendly. I cannot say the same for other staff members, especially the ones who sold the bingo cards. They looked like they didn't want to be there.
The casino was big, but extremely smokey with little ventilation! There is a sign that says NO CIGARS OR PIPES. That's okay because the cigarettes will get you. At least they had one NO SMOKING night and the casino was packed then. By the way, play the 2 cent machines, they are awesome and you can win a lot.
Don't expect to get a lounge chair anywhere near the pools if you come in the afternoon. Reserve yours early. You may have to skip breakfast to get one. We found nice private spots away from the pools.
We all loved Movies Under The Stars. It was a great alternative to the crowded Princess Theatre. They served flavorless popcorn, but at least it was a nice gesture.
Overall, we did have a good time, but I will have to take at least one other Princess Cruise before determining whether this is as good as they get. Many of our friends love Princess Cruises, so we are willing to give it another shot for comparison purposes.
Princess Cruises Caribbean Princess by Melissa Eastern Caribbean August 15, 2008
My parents have been cruising for years, and I had tagged along for a few when I was a teen. Now that I am in my late 20's and engaged, my fiance and I have taken to cruising as well.
This is the second ship that we have been on in the past year and we prefer Carnival, hands down. We are not big drinkers or partiers, either.
PROS Princess has embarkation down cold. They are excellent at moving a line and getting you on your ship very fast. You get your luggage within an hour or so of being on the ship, too. Very nice starting point, in my opinion.
The ship is pretty big in comparison to others that I have traveled on. Therefore, you are less likely to feel it moving, rocking, etc. Because it is so large, you can find a lounge chair in the sun (but if you want one by the movie screen, you need to get there before 10am).
The cabin steward was a doll. He worked hard and was always pleasant and helpful.
Entertainment wasabove average. The comedian was funny and the hypnotist was enjoyable. I looked forward to the nightly shows.
CONS The senior cruise staff was often rude and rushed. They would host a trivia game and want to get through it as quickly as possible. My fiance and I went to a Wii bowling tournament one afternoon and the guy in charge was so annoyed at the people who had never used the Wii. We ended up teaching people to play (we own one and had played before). The guy just kept saying he couldn't believe that they had never done it before (the people playing ranged in ages from 20s to 60s -- give them a break). The cruise director's staff did little to make me feel comfortable or even happy all week (I am not including cabin stewards -- they are sweet and helpful). I'm the easiest person to please, and they just didn't even try. This was very disappointing.
The casino staff weren't very nice, either. I play roulette and my fiance plays poker, blackjack and tried craps. I like to banter with the dealer when I play, try to establish a little relationship with the person taking my hard earned money, etc. There was only one dealer who would talk back and joke with me. The others were quick to roll the ball and call "no more bets." I lost enough over the span of the cruise, but I could have lost a lot, lot more if there was a decent dealer on deck.
Every activity listed in the Patter (the onboard itinerary) has a "nominal fee." On Carnival, my fiance got free golf swing lessons, played ping pong, golf, trivia, etc., etc. On Princess, he ventured up to the golf area and was told that he could sign up for a clinic at $40 per half hour. We would go to bingo and the card packages were in a range from $10 to $50, and you need to buy a bingo dauber to play. The Scholarship at Sea was offered each day for fees ranging from $25 and up. Temporary tattoos are $7 and up. It just never ended with the nickel and diming on this ship.
The food is, quite simply, bland and cold. The buffet was boring and inedible. The dining room was decent, but not what I have come to expect from a cruise ship. I CRAVED Carnival's warm chocolate melting cake every night. Princess had little selection and almost no taste. I was actually excited to get home and cook my own meals with some flavor (and seriously -- whoever says that after a cruise?)
Everything must go to your shipboard account. I like to pay a little cash here and there, but Princess makes you sign for everything. And, they charge a little more than other ships for their gratuity. It is $10.95 per person/per day. I was tempted to have it taken off of my account and just give cash to the room steward only (let's face it -- the maitre d' doesn't really deserve his dollar a day but the steward should get more than $3 of that $10.95). I didn't bother, in the end. I wish that there was a way you could adjust the gratuity to who you felt deserved it more.
And finally -- the ship's design is one of the worst ever! The dining rooms are at midship, but you have to walk past them and then go down a flight of stairs -- they are not accessible from all sides. It is strange. You can't just walk around and find things to do -- you need to know where things are. I like to take stairs (a little exercise, I figure), but it was annoying to navigate the levels. It is hard to explain, but those who have been on the ship will understand.
I heard throughout the vacation that the staff was ready to leave (our Carribean cruise was the last for the ship -- it is now doing tours of New England and a majority of the staff was getting their month off at the end of our cruise). I spent almost triple on the Carribean Princess than I did on the Miracle last year and was so disappointed that I came to Cruisemates to give a review. I don't mean to bash it, but seriously -- I'd need to be offered some AMAZING deal to travel with Princess again.
Summary Our extended family group of 5 adults and 4 teens cruised on Crown Princess August 8, 2008. Overall, I felt the Baltic cruise was excellent in terms of the ports of call, but only average for the shipboard experience, resulting in an overall rating of 4 out of 5 stars.
Weather was generally in the mid 60s with a chance of showers. Bring layers, a packable rain jacket with hood, and a folding umbrella. Pants and jeans, rather than shorts, were practical most days, although we did have a couple days that were sunny and in the 70s. The seas were relatively calm except for the night we sailed into Gydinia, when the boat was visibly rocking, making walking (not to mention dancing) a challenge. We heard that the prior sailing never made it to Gydnia because of the rough weather. Our itinerary was supposed to include a stop in Helsingor, but this stop was eliminated and instead we went right to Copenhagen arriving at 12 noon.
Shipboard Experience Overall I found the Crown Princess to be very similar to the Diamond Princess (which we had previously cruised on to Alaska), onlylarger. In terms of overall satisfaction, we liked the Diamond better than the Crown, mainly because it was less crowded and the service was better than the Crown.
Liked Salon, Spa & Fitness Center: We had good experience with both the salon and pampering services. The fitness center is large, although the free exercise classes did not live up to expectations.
International Café: Nice place to relax with a cup of real brewed coffee or tea. Note that coffee on the ship is otherwise terrible! The additional charge for coffee/tea in the International Café is worth it.
Entertainment: We enjoyed music by the band Amante, the comedy of Kevin Hughes, and a 70's night dance party. Most of the shows in the Princess Theater were not very good, although we liked the magician. The Troika show was AWFUL.
Port Lectures: The port lectures given by John Lawrence were excellent and informative. You can catch them live or watch a replay on your stateroom TV.
Teen Center: The four teens (ages 14 to 17) in our group made good use of the teen center Remix. On port days, games and activities were scheduled from 7pm to 1am. The teen dance party in Club Fusion was a highlight.
Currency Machine: Because the ship stops at so many different countries, only two of which (Finland and Germany) use the Euro, the shipboard currency-exchanging machine was a real convenience.
Did Not Like Swimming Pools: Temperature in the pools was 95 degrees, hardly refreshing. At the Calypso pool, "Movies Under the Stars" plays continuously on a huge screen; the loud volume makes relaxation impossible. The Neptune's reef pool was slightly better except during the loud (and bad) music sets by the band Endur. I did not get a chance to try the Lotus spa pool, but suspect it would be the best place to have peace and quiet.
Sanctuary: This is a special "quiet area" near the spa pool where you can sit on a deck chair and relax. However, the additional charge of $15 per half day is a rip-off and it did not appear that many people took advantage of this.
Anytime Dining: With Anytime Dining you can generally only make a reservation for 6:00, 6:30 or after 8:15 -- so if you think that you will be able to make a reservation "anytime" you will be disappointed. Instead, the in-between hours are "walk in." Since we were a group of 9, this meant that if we wanted to plan to eat together we had to choose to dine either at the early or the late time. Several nights we decided to split up (the five adults ate separately from the 4 teens) and we had no trouble walking into the dining room without reservations, although one night we had to share a table with another group, which was fine. Before you agree to share, know that you will not be served until the table is full. Therefore, it is better to share with a group that is already there, than to be the first group at a large table. A problem I see with Anytime Dining is you don't get to know your waiter and they have really nothing invested in serving you. On our prior cruise to Alaska, we chose the set dinner seating, had the same waiter each night, and the service at dinner was much better.
Food: Overall the food in the dining rooms was just average. Most of the appetizers and soups were very good, but the quality of the entrees was hit or miss.
Billing & Front Desk: On the last night of the cruise, people lined up for hours to get their bills to review. There were not enough people at the front desk to handle the inquiries. The situation was deplorable. Why Princess would not deliver a copy of the bill the day before the cruise ends is beyond me. Perhaps they want to discourage people from questioning their bills? You need to check your bill to make sure someone else's charges are not on it. One of the people in our group had an extra $2500 of shipboard charges on their account, which apparently had been charged to the wrong stateroom.
Princess Transfers: In Copenhagen, Princess transfers from the ship to the airport were about $60 per person. This would have been $540 for our group of nine. Instead, we pre-booked a 16-passenger van for about 980 DKK, which is a little under US $200. Our hotel concierge took care of this, however, you could do it directly through midibus.dk or another car service. If we had thought about it, we probably could have reduced our cost even more by taking on some additional passengers who were waiting in the very long taxi line at the port (I am guessing it was about an hour wait for a taxi). Therefore, my advice is NOT to waste your money on Princess transfers, but try to arrange a private taxi so you don't have to wait in the taxi line.
Ports of Call Overall: On the Baltic cruise you have to plan your port visits carefully. Consider whether you really want to cram a lot of sightseeing into a small period of time (which leaves you tired), or go at a more relaxed pace (but then you see less). Consider your energy level-- there is a lot of walking involved wherever you go. For us, the highlights of the trip were Copenhagen, Stockholm and St. Petersburg. We did not take the trip to Berlin.
Copenhagen: We arrived in CPH on Wednesday, giving us two days to look around the city before embarkation on Friday. Five of us took a taxi from the airport ($258 krone for a 10-15 minute ride) to our hotel (SAS Royal), the other four took the train. The taxi arrived first but train was pretty fast too! Of course it was too early to check in but the hotel took care of our bags and we walked to Town Hall Square, Stroget & Nyhavn where we had a nice lunch. Returned to the hotel for a nap and then spent the evening at Tivoli where the teens went on the rides, I enjoyed a pantomime show, and we had a great dinner at Groften restaurant. Entry was 85 krone pp and unlimited rides for the kids at 200 krone each. Thursday we did the hop-on hop-off bus tour from the Town Hall Square which we enjoyed tremendously. Hopped off at the statue of the Little Mermaid, and at the Danish Resistance Museum (WWII museum) then hopped back on to return to the vicinity of the hotel where we had a nice lunch at Axelborg Bodega on the Axeltorv. Dinner was fabulous Thai food at a place called Spicylicious, a lovely restaurant though we had to walk through the red light district to get there. Friday we enjoyed a great breakfast buffet at the hotel, took another walk down Stroget and had some of those great Danish hot dogs from a stand for 25 krone each. The hotel arranged a van to take our party to the cruise terminal. Embarkation was a bit hectic as it was pouring rain. Did I mention that it rains a lot in CPH? Make sure to always have a raincoat and umbrella handy! First order of business on board was to register the kids for the teen center. The next day was a relaxing day at sea.
Stockholm: The ship docked at 10am and we had to be back on board by 4:30pm, thus we had just over 6 hours to see something of Stockholm. There were several ways to get into town from the cruise berth, including a Princess shuttle bus ($13 round trip to Stromgaten Street near the Opera House) and a Hop on, Hop off (HOHO) open top tour bus. We opted for the HOHO sightseeing ferry, which was very enjoyable (100 Swedish Kroner or $15 US dollars per person). The ferry dock is just to the left of the cruise berth and departs at 15 minutes before and 15 minutes after the hour. The HOHO ferry route takes you to Old Town first, followed by the Royal Palace, Nybroplan and then Vasa. We decided to sightsee in Old Town then go to the Vasa. Unfortunately, by the time we got to Vasa in the afternoon, there was a line to get in. That is the problem with 3,000 cruise passengers all trying to see the same attraction on the same day! We could have used more time in Stockholm, and really would like to go back again.
Helsinki: Princess offered a shuttle bus to the Esplanade ($10 round trip), which is near the famous Stockmann's department store. From there it is a short walk to the Market Square, where you can enjoy local food specialties and shop for crafts. From the Market Square, you can take the ferry to Suomelinna Fortress (5.50 euro round trip), where there is a very interesting museum focusing on the history of the fort, which was originally built by the Swedes and later used by Russia. The film was a good introduction to the museum and was offered in an array of languages. It would have been interesting to walk around the island and explore the fort, but as it was raining, we returned by ferry and took a LONG walk to the Rock Church. Worth the trip but of course it was filled with the same 3,000 cruise passengers all wanting to see it. Took the 3T trolley back to the Market Square (2.20 euro).
St. Petersburg: We spent a great 2 days in St. Petersburg touring with our guide Albina from Alla Tours. If you are touring with an independent company like Alla, you do not need a visa (Princess tries to mislead you into thinking a visa is required, but this is not true when you are touring with a licensed guide). Also, contrary to Princess warnings, there was no trouble disembarking. Ignore any instructions that Princess gives you to assemble in a particular room on the ship to be assigned a gangway pass. No gangway passes are needed. Just walk right off the ship using the forward gangway on deck 4. There are then 3 lines to go through passport control. One of these lines is designated for independent tour passengers and the other two are designated for Princess tours. Princess will try to make you stand in the line for the independent tours; however, if there is no one in the other lines you can go through passport control there. The people in the passport booth don't care which line you go through. We disembarked at around 7:10 am to meet our guide at 7:30 am. We were through in 10 minutes. Note that the line for passport control does form outside so if it is raining you'll need an umbrella or raincoat.
A highlight of our 2 days in St. Petersburg was the canal cruise. The city is beautiful as seen from the canals. We happened to do the cruise on a sunny day and it was wonderful. Alla had arranged a private boat for our group of 8, so we did not have to share the boat with other passengers and our guide used the microphone on the boat to explain the buildings and bridges we were seeing.
Unless you really feel you need to see the Amber room, I would skip Catherine palace altogether, it was so crowded with tour groups going through it. The excursion to Peterhof gardens was wonderful. We toured through the Catherine Block of Monplaisir palace on the grounds of Peterhof, which was not crowded at all and was very enjoyable. The Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood is not to be missed! But once again you will find crowds here. Beware of pickpockets; one of our party had her wallet stolen.
Tallinn: Our port stop in Tallinn was from 7 am to 1pm. After two exhausting days in St. Petersburg it was hard to be motivated to get off the boat at 7am. We slept in and did not see too much of Tallinn. Took the Princess shuttle bus ($5 each way), which takes you to the edge of "old town," a pedestrian only area with cobblestone streets. It is picturesque, but very touristy, and we were accosted several times by people selling souvenirs. We made it as far as the Town Hall Square. There is an interesting museum in the Town Hall (75 kroon family ticket, local currency only).
Gdansk: In Gdansk we signed up for a Princess tour as that seemed the easiest way to travel from the port in Gydinia to Gdansk (about a 45 minute trip). We happened to be there on Aug 15th and locals were celebrating the Catholic holiday Assumption of the Virgin Mary as well as the anniversary of Solidarity. The city was very festive and packed with people. Because of the holiday, St. Mary's church was only open to tourists limited hours, and as a result, it was super crowded. St. Mary's church is the largest brick church in Europe and worth a visit. We had a nice lunch of pierogies in a café in Gdansk. We tried several kinds and I recommend the mushroom pierogies!
Warnemunde: We arrived on a Saturday and it was sunny and in the mid-60's. We took advantage of the long port stop to sleep late while about 2,000 of our fellow passengers got up early to board trains and buses bound for Berlin.
We walked into Warnemunde (it was about a 10 minute walk from the ship) and were in luck because the fish market was open (it is just to your right before you cross the canal). Try the sandwich of herring, lettuce and onion on a roll, you won't be disappointed!
After crossing the bridge over the canal, we turned right and walked along the Am Strom, a pedestrian street that runs along the canal and is lined with cafes, ice cream parlors and souvenir shops. The atmosphere was very festive and the crowd was mostly German. We turned left near the lighthouse and walked out to the beach. The beach is very wide and clean. People were flying kites, playing beach volleyball, and sunbathing. It would be a good idea to wear your bathing suit under your clothes because there were not any places for changing, and bring towels from the ship. Or, if you fancy bathing in the buff, walk down to lifeguard station 5, which is the nudist beach. After sunbathing, we had an excellent lunch at the restaurant in the Kurhaus, an open-air cafe on the second level that overlooks the beach.
Overall, Warnemunde was one of our favorite port stops even though we did no sightseeing whatsoever.
Copenhagen: As noted above, there was no port stop in Helsingor. We arrived back in Copenhagen on a Sunday, which was unfortunate because most of the stores are closed Sunday. We took a taxi from the ship to the Town Hall Square and then walked to the Danish National Museum (Nationalmuseet). I highly recommend this museum, though we only did the ground floor, which takes you from Danish pre-history through the Vikings. There are some fascinating things on display. It was a warm day and the museum was not air conditioned so we had lunch at a nearby café. After lunch we took a look through the Dansk Design Center, which the teens especially enjoyed. We returned to the ship for our last night on board. What a great trip it was!
I sailed on the Crown Princess last summer doing their Baltic itinerary which included St Petersburg.
This ship is enormous and is designed to extract money from passengers at every turn. I'm used to ice cream being a free treat, but on this ship it was $3.
After spending $399 for the two-day tour of St. Petersburg, they want $3 for a bottle of water as you depart. The land tours were well organized and visited all the places advertised. If you are used to exploring on your own, you will have the feeling of being herded like cattle.
The most disappointing thing about this cruise was the food. It was not good even by banquet standards! I ordered what sounded like wonderful fish entrees three times and the fish was old and unacceptable each time. If one pays the additional fee to visit the "upscale" restaurant, the food is much better.
Stopping a couple of times at the buffet for lunch, I found the fare there to be dull and tasteless.
Princess Cruises Caribbean Princess by Coffeelady Eastern Caribbean July 9, 2008
This was our 5th Princess trip and we had a great time. Due to Hurricane Bertha, our stop in Bermuda was cancelled. While I was disappointed I understand that safety comes first and, it's difficult to dock a huge ship with high waves. Many passengers, including myself and my husband specifically took this cruise because of Bermuda. Once that was settled, the rest of the cruise was fine. We had an inside cabin and I will not take an inside again. Yes, it was a bargain, but I like seeing the water. I prefer a balcony which I will book on the next cruise.
Meals were fine. I just don't understand why people crank and complain about the meals. There's certainly enough food for every taste. What we did notice are the little things -- smaller plates and glasses, and smaller portions at dinner. Not that one couldn't have more but the initial serving(s) were often microscopic in size, and, no grand buffet. One could literally eat 24 hours a day on the Caribbean Princess, so finding something to eat isn'ta problem. Sometimes finding a cold beverage can be daunting at times and not a bar drink. Soda is a bar beverage so just ice water requires a trip to the buffet(s) or back to the cabin. Sterling steakhouse has it's own location rather than as part of the buffets as on other Princess ships; and Sabatini's is well worth the $20 per person charge. It's one of the best meals you can imagine.
Our cabin was on the Baja deck mid-ship which was great once we became acclimated to the ship. Yes, it can be confusing -- e.g., the Palm Dining room is down a flight of stairs -- we found it by accident. It's great if you want a table for 2. Plenty are available. We had the anytime dining rather than the fixed, which was much more convenient especially on extended port days such as San Juan, PR, when the ship was in port until at least 10PM.
San Juan was wonderful. We went to Baracina's -- the home of the pina colada. Well worth the stop if you have seen it on any travel show. Shopping is great and everything is close to the port.
The stop in St.Thomas was cut short due to mechanical problems (as we were told). We went to Coral World and took the semi-submersable sub. It was interesting but not if you have mobility issues. The only rain we had was while we were on the 1 hour bus ride to Coral World. Because our stay was cut short in St. Thomas, no time for shopping; however there was a very small (5 or 6 store) shopping area at the dock. Otherwise, shopping in Charlotte Amalie is worth the trip. Mr. Tablecloth is the best bargain in the Caribbean. If you like the beach, there are plenty of stunning beaches to visit while in St. Thomas.
Grand Turk is just adorable. The ship pulls into the dock, and the beach is right there! Shopping is good with plenty of stores for bargains. Try the Caribbean Coffee. A huge Margaritaville is at the dock area offering plenty of entertainment, etc.
We had a great speaker on Board, Bruce Caplan who lectured on the Titanic. Mr. Caplan lectures around the US and had insightful and informative talks throughout the cruise.
Entertainment is average; Movies Under The Stars was okay, but they need better padding on the lounge chairs.
My only real gripe is that there is NO enforcement of children under 15 in hot tubs. I get upset when I see parents of small children, even infants, in hot tubs (diapers and all). I just avoided the pool areas as much as possible since no one reads the signs. Smoking seems to be a non-issue as many passengers seem to have given up smoking. Shopping on the ship is average -- nothing special. The shops are spread out on 2 levels. Even the laundry facility was fantastic. It helps because one doesn't need additional clothing.
We saw family reunions and weddings and people having a great time. This cruise was very relaxing with no rushing from port to port, and having an extra sea day just made the trip feel that much more relaxing. A cruise is a great vacation bargain with no cooking and no cleaning. That's a vacation. I'm ready to go again.
Princess Cruises Caribbean Princess by Jackiesbooks Bermuda June 13, 2008
This cruise took place on the Caribbean Princess -- June 13 to 22, 2008, sailing out of New York to Bermuda, San Juan, St Thomas, and Grand Turk.
We met Princess's Northeast motor coach bus in Baltimore. Since we planned some time in NY after the cruise, we only needed one way tickets. Princess only sells round trip tickets, but this was still cheaper than taking the train and getting a taxi to the Brooklyn Port. It was cheaper than driving. It was very easy. This is a great way to go. I talked to several people on the cruise that had trouble with cab drivers getting lost and/or very expensive car hires. One route goes across PA and the other goes up the coast from DC to NY. If you live in VA, MD, DE, PA or NJ, check this option out.
My husband is disabled so we had a wheelchair escort thru the check-in process. The regular line was moving pretty fast. When we got up to the counter, fellow cruisers that were on the bus with us were very closeto the front of the line.
Cruising past the Statue of Liberty and under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is a wonderful sight. On the return trip, we used a car hire that another CruiseMate recommended. We called him when we were going thru customs and he was there within 15 minutes to pick us up and take us to our hotel. The process for pick up in Brooklyn needs to improve. Most of the people leaving are being picked up. The area for pickups is very crowded.
The Ship There were small things that need to be updated/repaired, such as cracked tiles around the pool, missing decorative tiles in the theatre. None of these took away from our fun. I just mention them because there has been talk about her condition. These are the only issues I saw. I love the Movies Under the Stars!
Food We had Anytime Dining. The two times we went to the Coral Dining Room we waited approximately 20 minutes. We then tried the Pal Dining Room and we walked in every night except one. That night we waited 5 minutes. We also ate in the Sterling Steakhouse one night. It was well worth the money. In addition, we ate at the buffet two nights. I have never before done this, but these 2 nights they were having Lobster claws, shrimp and crab legs -- we could not pass. My son and husband loved the Pizza. I found some of the waiters not as friendly as I like, but all were very efficient.
Activities This ship had so many more options for activities than I have had on other lines. It usually had 2 different types of shows in two different locations. I like to play Bingo, but have lately found on some lines that it costs too much for little prize money. Princess had Bingo card packages from $10. The prizes started at $150 and on the last day it was $3300.
My 6 year old attended the children's program at least once a day. He loved it.
Cabins We had an inside cabinet -- P236. The closet area does not have doors, but was the largest closet I have ever had. On the other hand, the shower was probably one of the smallest. The room had 2 bunks that pulled down.
Overall We had a great time and I would not hesitate to book on this ship again. We had a wonderful time on this cruise.
While we have sailed many times, this was our first sailing on the Sapphire Princess and sailing out of Whittier. May we suggest that if you are sailing our of Whittier you fly to Anchorage a few days earlier and enjoy some of Alaska. In the past we have flown into Anchorage and taken a cruise ship out of Seward. Traveling from Anchorage to Whittier will be a great experience. You have several choices on how to get from point A to point B. You can prepay the cruise line for ground transportation and that is not bad as your luggage will be taken care of. There is a train that can be used to get to Whittier or you can pay for taxi, bus or limousine service. Instead of all of these we opted for a rental car. A word of caution -- plan way ahead as there is only one rental car company at this time (Avis) that permits a one way drop from Anchorage to Whittier.
The cost of bus or limousine service is approximately $50 per person. For approximately $250 (plus gas) you can rent avan in Anchorage and drop it off in Whittier. The drive from Anchorage to Whittier is one of the most scenic and most interesting you will find in Alaska. You travel along the coast right next to the ocean. Along the way stop occasionally to see fish being caught by dozens of fishermen and observe the eagles flying in and out of their nest. Don't forget to leave the camera out of your travel bag.
A few miles south of Anchorage there is a roadside park. Take a break and take a look at the old snow blower engine sitting in the park. It's difficult to find one of these in operation in Florida or California!!!
The trip is approximately 60 miles and you will turn off the main highway after about 50 miles and head toward Whittier. Just before the tunnel there is a National Park and information building. It is very nice so take about an hour for a rest break and take in all the info center has to offer. There will be glacier bits floating in the water behind the information center.
Back into your rented vehicle (can't do all this if you are on the bus) and head for Whittier. This was be one of the most interesting few miles you have ever taken. We have traveled extensively throughout Switzerland by car and this segment tops even those road trips.
You will be stopped at the entrance of the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, a 2-1/2 mile long tunnel that will exit at Whittier. There was a $12 toll fee. Turn your lights on and maintain the required distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. You will literally ride the railroad tracks for 2-1/2 miles. The flow of traffic is reversed every thirty minutes and occasionally car traffic stopped so that a train can travel on the tracks. Don't worry all this is carefully controlled so you don't meet a train in the middle of the tunnel.
When traveling through the tunnel forget using your cell phone and if you are the driver just concentrate on staying on the tracks. The speed of our "caravan" was quite brisk. We exited on the Whittier side and presto there was Whittier. Our first business was to turn our rental car in. The cruise line had a tent set up close to the ship where you could drop your baggage. (TIP: have all your baggage tags completed and drop your baggage and go as there are others waiting).
After dropping the baggage off we headed for the Avis drop off, a small hardware store. All the person wants is your keys, the level of the gas and your contract. They will complete the information and mail you a receipt in about two weeks. This is a no nonsense drop off so don't plan on staying around and talking the morning away.
The town is only 60 miles from Anchorage and you will immediately notice the beauty of Prince William Sound. The Sound is made up of numerous deep fjords with tidewater glaciers that calve right before your eyes. Whittier is also surrounded by the Chugach National Forest. In Whittier there is day cruising, fishing charters, kayak tours and in the winter time many winter activities including cross country skiing and snowmobiling. Thus if you have an early arrival for a late sailing ship you have plenty of time to engage in one of the above activities. You will immediately notice two very large buildings in Whittier. One is now vacant. This area was a secret military base during World War II. One of the buildings is now occupied by local residents and reportedly almost all the town's population now lives in that one building. The port remained an active military installation until 1960. At that time the town had just over 1000 residents. The town was eventually incorporated in 1969.
The brochures tell about a lot of good dining in Whittier. It was time for lunch when it started pouring rain so we decided to head for the ship instead of lunch. Below is a picture of one of the restaurants that was closed when we were there. Looks like a great business venture if you want to relocate to Whittier.
The Sapphire Princess is one of the mega ships in the Princess fleet. Put in service in May 2004, it is capable of carrying 3100 passengers. Our cruise was not totally full however the number onboard was plenty by any standards. A ship 14 years old just has to show some wear and tear, however the crew continues to do a very good job and the public areas as well as the cabins were in good shape and clean.
We have sailed on the Diamond and Grand which are almost identical to the Sapphire. There is also the Golden and the Star which are comparable. This is a large ship that takes a little time to get used to. Public areas are too small for the number of passengers. For example there is a theater that seats less than a thousand yet there could be as many as 3300 on board. Seating for two shows is always a problem. It is not possible to have a single Captain's Reception thus there will be more than one. The common space just isn't there. The ship's designers have foregone the high ceiling two story spiral stair type dining rooms for a more traditional on shore type look for the International Dining seating. Even the other restaurants where you have anytime dining look more like a nice on shore restaurant. Having said this let's look at the rest of the ship.
Dining Got to get this one first since this seems to be the main topic of discussion about one's cruises. We opted for the traditional second seating dining and that was a mistake. We were seated at a table for 6 in a dark corner. Service was poor and we were close to everything you did not want to be close to. Serving stand, dirty dishes, waiters walking back and forth with other table's meals, etc. Dining with the traditional dining service just wasn't what we had in the past.
We tried to get Anytime Dining and found out that the staff does not like to see changes made after you are onboard. However we used Anytime Dining the second night. By getting there early the next four nights we had Anytime Dining in the Santa Fe. It was nice and we all enjoyed some very good dinners.
Breakfast was always in the Horizon Court on the Lido Deck, which leads us to that dining area. There are 11 serving areas in the Horizon Court on the Port side and 11 serving areas on the Starboard Side. This no doubt presents a real problem for many passengers as they just stand and stare at the food. I don't know how many times we witnessed a passenger using the tongs to pick at a particular strawberry only to lay that one down and pick up another. With so many choices it appears some of them just can't make a decision.
The dining in the Horizon Court, which we usually ate breakfast and lunch at, was actually very good. Nothing much has been changed from previous cruises. This is not 5 star restaurant food, however it is good food. You can usually get your food very quickly however finding a place to sit may be difficult. Seems like some passengers tend to hibernate at a table from morning to dark. Some were talking while others were playing cards. Did not matter, as there were many other places on the ship where this could have taken place. You can take your food out to the aft deck, however in Alaska this is sometimes a little cold and windy. There is also the swimming pool areas on the same deck and there were usually several tables available.
Ice Cream There is an ice cream bar on the ship where you can purchase -- yes I said purchase -- sundaes and cones. The prices are in line with those you will pay back home at a similar ice cream store. TIP: There is free ice cream between 3 and 4PM on the Lido Deck and you can add toppings for a sundae. We found a lot of people apparently did not know about this, thus we never found any real long lines. The time period also had a lot to do with this, as days we were at a port a lot of the passengers were still on tours.
Movies There is no dedicated theater on this ship however you can still watch movies. The listing will be in your daily guide. Movies are shown in the large entertainment theater, in the Explorer's Lounge and on your cabin TV. Some showings included current films. We missed the outdoor movies under the stars and the popcorn we have had on other Princess mega ships.
Atrium The ship has a beautiful atrium in the center of the ship that extends up through several of the decks. Surrounding the open center are shops, with perfume, clothes items, etc., souvenir store, purser's desk, tour desk, a store with small drug and candy items. Usually the staff sets up tables on the perimeter where they sell items usually related to the port that is next or the port the ship has just left.
Photos The area around the photo sales area was always crowded. The staff will literally make thousands of photos as they seem to be everywhere. Formal night is especially a challenge as the photo crews will actually block several passage areas to set up their cameras. The candid photos are made using a digital camera from which they print a mass production snapshot. They sell these from formal night shootings as "portraits." Trust me, these are far from being professional portraits. If you must have a snapshot, then spend the $25, however a better option is to have your own digital camera, make several photos and print them on your computer when you return home.
Drink Cards The first day aboard you will be asked (sometimes many times) to purchase an all you can drink soft drink card. They are about $60. If you drink several cokes each day this is a real deal. That's about $9 worth of cokes each day, however at bar prices that may not be all that many. They also sell a coffee card for gourmet coffee such as cappuccinos. I purchased one for $30 and only used it eight times thus my coffee was rather expensive. On a longer than seven day cruise I would have easily used the entire card. I did get a souvenir cup out of the deal though.
Specialty Dining There are a couple of restaurants where you can get specialty dining with special entrees. They are the Sterling Steakhouse and the Sabatini's Trattoria dining room. On this trip we did not eat at either. We really don't like to pay the extra charge associated with this type dining although we must admit we have done it in the past. The restaurants were never full on any evening.
Hot Dogs and Hamburgers Oh yes, there is a place on the ship where you can dine on hamburgers and hot dogs, plus there is pizza available. This is at the end of the pool area. They cook your burger to order while you wait.
Internet One of the nicest internet rooms of any ship we have sailed. There is also a coffee bar in the room. Space was always available on this cruise and the internet connections were excellent. Probably because we were always close to land, either Canada or the United Sates. The staff was very pleasant and helpful. Cost is about the same as on other ships. In our case $100 for 250 minutes. TIP: Sign up the first day aboard and they may give you some additional free minutes. TIP: If you encounter problems with the internet, such as getting several disconnects, etc., ask the attendant to make an adjustment or add the lost minutes. We found them to be accommodating.
Computer at Sea School Don't know how to work with Adobe Photoshop? Then take a couple of classes aboard ship. The classes were almost like having your own personal instructor. Even though I know some about Photoshop and my granddaughter knows a lot, we still took the classes and found them to be well worth the $25 per class. Take three classes and the fourth is free. They give you easy to read handouts and you can also download them from the Princess site when you return home.
Casino This ship is reported to have one of the largest casinos on the seas. There are more than 250 slot machines, including penny machines, two roulette tables, craps tables and blackjack. We found the casino being very well used throughout the cruise.
Art Auction I am still amazed that people go on cruises to attend art auctions and unless I am being conned, there are people actually buying some of the "art." After attending for three days I found the same people attending day after day. If this is your thing go for it, I would not know what I was buying or what it was worth. The auction is held in the Explorer's Lounge.
Golf There is a neat golf putting area on the top deck. The wind and cold will just add to the challenge. We never found more than two or three people on the course partly because it was difficult to find. Take a break from the auctions and bars and go outdoors to the putting area.
Wedding Chapel There is a very nice small wedding chapel on this ship. The door remained locked every time we were in that area however I would imagine it may be used on longer cruises.
Hospital/Sick Bay As is on many new ships, there is a nice looking medical facility. Since we did not have to use the facility (we have on other sister ships) we really can't review the service. On other Princess ships where we have used the service we found professional, courteous personnel and very clean facilities. Expect to pay in full before you leave as they don't accept insurance. You can file a claim against your health care provider when you return home, so be sure and get a detailed receipt of the procedure you used.
Hair Salon My spouse is always a customer whether the cruise is 30 day or 7 days and this cruise was no exception. The service is always good and the prices are always high. Also expect to provide the person with a hefty tip as tips are not added to the bill.
Fitness Center The fitness center is really excellent with lots of the very latest equipment which was in very good condition. We have been on ships where the equipment has been neglected. At times the area was crowded and you have to put your name on a time schedule.
Library There is a very nice library on the ship and it also contains several internet stations. In the same area there is a writing room which is equally nice. Both places are good areas to read a book and just take life easy.
Swimming Pools and Spas They are all over the ship. Some are crowded while others remain mostly empty. Look for the ones where kids are not allowed, otherwise some of the younger kids will run wild around the area with parents nowhere to be found. On this cruise there were plenty of lounge chairs around all the pools.
Children's Area There is a special part of the ship set aside for children of all ages. We had a teenager that went a few times but for the most part opted to stay with the adults. There are games including high tech games in the children's area. When we passed by we always saw the area being adequately supervised by ship's staff.
Outside Basketball & Tennis Court A very nice area that we saw being used quite often. Located on the front of the ship on a top deck.
Shore Tours In the past we booked some of our shore tours on the internet before the cruise. On this trip we did not book one tour until we arrived on board. The tours were plentiful. We had also traveled to Alaska many times thus many sights we had seen on our own. In every port there were several large ships and the crowds on the streets were just more than we cared to handle. We will probably take earlier or later cruises to Alaska in the future in order to avoid the really large crowds on shore. This time though we did take a train out of Skagway. It was very good though a little expensive. In previous shore trips we try to go on our own. Usually we rent a car along with another couple and head for non-tourist sites. We find the cost to be much lower, the freedom to do what you want and seeing sights where tourists don't generally go.
Theater & Entertainment The theater does not adequately seat the number of passengers that want to attend each show. Thus you must arrive very early to get a seat. We found that 45 minutes before the show the theater started filling so we usually arrived about 45 minutes before the show. The shows presented by the entertainers on board were rather good IF you overlook all the errors and mistakes. Just take those with a "grain of salt" and look at the lighting, special effects and costumes. They are really very good -- not Broadway -- but think about it, you are not paying an extra dime for the entertainment. Individual performers in the theater were on a scale of excellent to extremely poor. On the one night where the entertainer was very poor the theater was no more that 60% full. A lot of folks knew something that we did not know.
Arcade Really nice electronic arcade located close to the casino. Lots of nice new machines in the room however we never found anyone using them. If this keeps up that room will someday disappear.
Cabins Our cabin was an outside room on the Emerald Deck. Clean and the cabin steward maintained it that way throughout the cruise. The bed was excellent, bathroom always stocked with supplies and in general we were well pleased with the room. We did not have room service during this short cruise -- we were just too busy. Fresh fruit was brought to our room each day we requested. Just leave the request on the door the evening before. We did not use the laundry service on this cruise however we did use the washer and dryer on our deck. The place was clean and all machines worked. Even the coin machines were in working order. Each evening the ship's paper was delivered to our room and a mint placed on each pillow. We were able to control our temperature in the room exactly as we desired. The TV set was in first class working order. Ice was left in our refrigerator each day and we got clean towels each day.
Dress We normally would not list this as a review section on a cruise however we feel this is becoming a major issue. We are savvy enough to realize that people are going to dress as they please. There were two formal nights on this seven day cruise, however I would challenge anyone to show me which of the nights were those formal nights. At dinner there were many people that came with t-shirts, sport shirts and a form of shorts. Some people appeared to be wearing what they had worn on shore tour rafting. Tennis shoes were all over the place. A very small percentage of passengers were actually in formal clothes. We went to the last entertainment and noticed even some of those returned to their cabin after dinner and changed into sport clothes. Formal night dress meant very little for a great percentage of the travelers on this cruise.
Embarkation We boarded at Whittier and the embarkation was easy, efficient and fast. We arrived at a time when few passengers were arriving (1:00PM). The ship had a departure time of 9:00PM. The staff was most helpful and friendly. We could not have asked for a better experience.
Disembarkation We purchased bus tickets from the ship to Vancouver Airport and that was a great move. We left our luggage outside the door the evening before, and saw it next at the baggage area at the airport. We were among the first to leave the ship and among the first to arrive at the airport. The cost was only $25 per person. We highly recommend this.
We have traveled enough on cruise ships to know that a lot of factors will influence one's perception of the cruise. The observations we post are those of our own and we respect the differences others may have experienced aboard the same cruise. We had a great time and will cruise with Princess again. We trust this review will provide a little insight, especially for those who had not cruised on the Sapphire. Have a great trip.