This spring, we went on a memorable family and friend cruise from Vancouver to Alaska. For this trip, we went with the Golden Princess with Princess Cruises. I’ve been on two cruises in the past (one was actually roundtrip to Alaska from Vancouver in 2009). In general, I feel that this experience is comparable to my previous experiences, but I will note any differences along the way.
The embarkation and check-in process was excellent! The service agent at check-in was very friendly. The whole process from luggage drop-off to getting to our stateroom was very efficient. Most of the services including the buffet and the pools were up and ready by the time we embarked.
The staterooms were larger than I had expected. Our room was an “obstructed view” room, so we had a window but did not get a full view since there was a staircase outside of it. I did not mind that since I was not intending to spend a lot of time in my room anyway. We were pleasantly surprised with the size of the room. It was more spacious than we had expected. I appreciated the large closet space with plenty of hangers, which is often a problem at hotels. The washroom was a little smaller than expected but it was clean and functioned well.
The service was mostly excellent throughout the cruise, similar to my previous experiences. I particularly appreciated the amazing patience and friendliness of our waiting staff and housekeeping staff. I found that the shore excursion desk and bar staff were less impressive.
The food was good but not amazing. The breakfast buffet had many options but remained quite similar day-to-day. I particularly liked their congee and had that almost every morning. We had breakfast at the traditional dining room one day and the food was good but the service was less welcoming.
For lunch, their buffet again had many options. I found that the Asian food quality was better than the Western options, except for the sushi, which was not good. We also tried the pizza and grill (including burgers and hotdogs), but were quite disappointed.
I was impressed, with the ever-changing dinner menus. Dinner was nice because we had reservations and even if we split up during the day, this gives us a chance to regroup and have a meal together. The menu was different everyday with certain staples which were available everyday if you don’t want to try something new. The food was generally good except for one night when we realized the steak quality can vary greatly. The steak Aaron had was like a sad burger patty, whereas the one his brother was served was excellent. I appreciated how they had a king crab legs night, although this cannot compare to the huge and meaty crab legs we got at the famous crab shack in Juneau.
We wanted to check out one of their specialty restaurants one night. We paid the $25 USD per person cover and ordered a full 5-course meal at Sabatini’s, their Italian restaurant. The quality of their food was a little better than at the meal dining room but I am not sure it’s worth paying extra for. If you just want a more intimate dining experience, this might be a good option.
Surprisingly, we discovered that the best food was found at the 24-hour “International Cafe”. We just stumbled upon this on our first night when we felt hungry at 11pm and everything else was closed. We had a few of their paninis and they were all amazing. It is toasted on the spot and super crunchy. I particularly liked the croissant sandwich after its been pressed and toasted.
Like with most cruises, only basic drinks (tea, coffee, water, lemonade and iced tea) were included. Other drinks are ubiquitously available for purchase throughout the ship. Apparently, the complimentary coffee was not very drinkable. Aaron got his coffee fix either at the International Cafe or on shore at local coffee shops. For alcohol, they had an extensive wine list and cocktail list. They also served various beers on tap, including some from Alaska. You can also purchase a drinks plan but would require significant amounts of drinking to make it worthwhile. Aaron did order a few drinks with dinner at times and I was impressed by some of their wine. We did go to two wine tasting events and I was impressed by their premium wine selections. (Refer to “The Entertainment” section below for further details).
The Golden Princess was a pretty spacious ship. I liked that they had various pools and hot tubs available. Some were kid-friendly while others are adults-only. The gym was a good size with many cardio machines and a decent weightlifting section.
For seating, there were many places to hang and lounge. During busy lunch hours, however, it means having to share a table with others. The only thing missing is a more quiet cafe area for quiet activities, like reading. They had a library/internet cafe but there were only a couple of comfortable sofas by the bookshelf. It was a cold-weather cruise so lounging outside will not be very viable for long-periods of time. They had seating at the cafes and bars but I felt the pressure to order some drinks even when I did not feel like drinking anything. I mostly chilled on lounge chairs located on the indoor deck above the pool.
We did not purchase the internet plan because of the ridiculous prices (charged by the minute) but it was nice to have access to their free web application system while we were cruising. Every day, they will update the schedule for the day allowing me to save activities that I was interested in attending. It would have been nice if they could update the agenda to include events of the next day as well as the day of. I understand that they probably cannot plan their activities too far in advance but we will have to wait until midnight for the schedule to change over and to start saving the events for the next day.
I can also share with others if I wanted to, using their messaging system. I was nice to be able to contact others in my party while on the ship; however, their messaging service could definitely be improved. In order to message someone, you needed to add them to your contacts and that required you to type in a long string of digits assigned to someone as their messaging ID. Unfortunately, you cannot share contacts with others and you will need to painstakingly add each person in this manner.
The internet was, however, impressively strong since we were able to use the service even when on the port close to the ship at times. It was helpful when some of us already left the ship while others were waiting for them on the ship.
Unlike previous cruises, I did not end up going to all the nightly entertainment. There was a mix of comedian shows, musical shows as well as variety shows. I usually really enjoy the musical shows but felt a little disappointed this time because the musical numbers did not really appeal to the younger demographic (<40 years old). I love musicals but even their tribute to musicals show included mostly music from much before my time. The comedian was pretty good though and I really enjoyed the vocalist/pianist who performed in their lounge.
We also participated in their two wine tasting events. The first one (premium wines) was very good with a very nice selection of wines. The second one (table wines) was disappointing not only because of the quality of the beverages but also because they basically reused all of their dialogue and jokes from the first wine-tasting. You would think they would change it up for guests who were attending both.
Aaron had attended the naturalist presentations and found those very interesting. I enjoy the photography, Zumba and ballroom classes. Too bad these were not offered as frequently as we had hoped!
As foodies, we were looking forward to the cooking demonstration and the Galley Tour. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a corny comedy show. There were many off-colour jokes made by the Maître D which was very disappointing. I know he was trying to be funny but his sexist/racist comments and sexually-explicit jokes in an audience full of children were not appropriate.
We also really enjoyed the Movie under the Stars held at the top deck of the ship. There were lounge chairs, warm blankets available to keep you warm, and popcorn to munch on while we watched a movie projected on a screen above the outdoor pool.
The ports were nice. I have been to many of the ports before so it was nice taking a couple of excursions to change things up. We were only given half a day at Ketchikan so there was not a lot of time to explore. The downtown area itself is pretty small but it would have been nice to do a long hike. We checked and it would have taken 6 hours so that was a no-go. We did mini “hikes” though, like the Married Main’s Trail and Schoenbar Trail but these were more like short nature walks.
At Juneau, we went on a whale-watching excursion. Our guides were very knowledgable and we saw orcas, humpback whales and sea lions that day. After that, we were driven to a salmon bake. Here is where we had one of the best meals on this trip. The salmon was very smoky, the sides were delicious (especially the salmon salad) but the clam chowder was my favourite! It was perfect after being on a cold, windy boat. For dessert, there was a blueberry pie as well as the option to roast marshmallows by the fire. After lunch, we walked around and enjoyed nature a little more before heading back downtown.
After Juneau, we headed to Skagway, where went on the White Pass Railway Excursion. This was advertised to us by previous visitors as well as the onboard flyers. It was a 3-hour train ride was nice scenic views but Aaron and I both agreed that it was a bit overpriced.
The last two ports were two scenic cruising days to allow us to witness two glaciers up close. I’ve seen glaciers in my past trip and I found that the glaciers that we saw this trip were either actually smaller (sadly, global warming is real) or we were not able to go as close to them as we had in the past. It is still an amazing sight and is definitely the highlight of any Alaskan cruise. I liked how park rangers joined us and provided commentary from the bridge broadcasting into our staterooms. This kept us informed of when we had to be keeping an eye out for wildlife and other interesting sights even when we were not on the deck
The disembarkation process began very organized. We were split into groups and were given coloured luggage tags to place on our luggages. Our luggages were collected the night before so we can disembark without have to carry around many bags. The groups then would meet at a designed time and place on the ship and we were all instructed to disembark as a group. Some passengers were complaining that they had to carry their carry-ons down the stairs to disembark but it did not bother us too much (due to our packing light). We purchased a transfer to the airport and this was again very organized and efficient. Our driver was very knowledgable and gave us plenty of tidbits of Anchorage facts on our 1.5 hour journey to the Anchorage airport.
It was when we got to the airport that the experience really went downhill. We were wondering where our luggage were. We were told to wait outside the luggage storage room. It then took another hour and a half for them to unload all the luggage. Then we were asked to enter the room in groups of 10 to search for our own luggages in a room of hundreds of bags. They tried to organize it somewhat but it was still chaotic. It was too bad that a nice, relaxing cruise ended on a bit of a sour note.
Overall, I had a great experience cruising with Princess Cruises. Service was excellent, the food at the International Cafe was impressive, the wine list was good and some of the classes onboard were great! If they can make improvements to some of their entertainment, food quality and luggage handling process, I will more likely to travel with them again in the future. Regardless, there is something very lovely about spending time in a micro-environment with family and friends for a week and I definitely cherish these memories.