Northbound Alaska Cruise on the Island Princess and Cruisetour
6/4/14 to 6/18/14
Due to the length of the review, it is in four parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top and bottom of the page.
Page 1 - Embarkation; Ship; Cabin; Dining; Entertainment
Page 2 - Activities; Ports of Call: Ketchikan, AK; Juneau, AK; Skagway, AK; Glacier Bay, AK
Page 3 - Ports of Call: College Fjord, AK; Whittier, AK; Land Stops: Kenai, AK; Mount McKinley, AK
Page 4 - Land Stops: Denali, AK; Fairbanks, AK
Ports of Call: Ketchikan, AK; Juneau, AK; Skagway, AK; Glacier Bay, AK; College Fjord, AK; Whittier, AK
Land Stops: Kenai, AK; Mount McKinley, AK; Denali, AK; Fairbanks, AK
We took our first Alaska cruise in 2007 and ever since we have wanted to return for another cruise and this time to also do a land tour. Since I was now retired, I finally had the time to be able to do the land portion. There were several major decisions to make when planning for any Alaska vacation. The biggest one is when to go. We went in August the first time and there wasn’t much snow anywhere. So I knew that we wanted to go early enough in the season to see snow on the mountains; but not so early that we wouldn’t be able to fully access Denali. We chose the June 4, northbound cruise on the Island Princess, followed by a seven day land tour. We decided that since we were early in the season, doing the land portion after the cruise might make for a bit warmer weather there. We chose Princess because they are able to cruise into Glacier Bay. With only a maximum of two ships per day allowed to cruise in Glacier Bay, the opportunity to go there is limited and many cruise lines don’t have permits for it.
Pre-cruise visit to Seattle
Since we would be leaving from Vancouver for our cruise, we thought it would be a great opportunity to visit our good friends, Jim and Kathleen in Redmond, WA. Our flight actually arrived a half hour early, so our vacation was starting out great. They picked us up from the Seattle airport and took us to one of their favorite Mexican restaurants, Cactus. The food was just amazing! I just hate that our new favorite Mexican restaurant has to be 3,000 miles away.
The restaurant was in an area called Alki Point, which is the birthplace of Seattle. That is why there is a monument right across from the restaurant.
The area is quite pretty, with a great view of Seattle. It is also a popular beach area.
Carol wouldn't let me take a picture, but we couldn’t believe that we saw women laying on the beach in bikinis. I mean the temperature was about 60 degrees with a strong wind. Jim told us that since the sun was shining, it was considered a warm day. Not for south Floridians!
While in the Seattle area, Jim and Kathleen took us to the Redmond Green Market. It was a first class one. There were so many fascinating things to look at including gorgeous flowers and fruits.
One day we went downtown to ride on the Seattle Great Wheel. It is a very nice new attraction for the area. It was a shame that the weather wasn’t clearer so we could see Mt. Ranier; but it was still fun to do. And it gave me an opportunity to take a photo of Jim and Kathleen.
Later that day, we went up to Kerry Park to get the best view of the city. On a clear day, you can see the city, Space Needle and Mt. Ranier. Two out three was still very nice.
That evening we went out to a dinner theater called Teatro Zinzani (http://zinzanni.com). Jim and Kathleen have been going to their shows for several years and always raved about them to us. We were apprehensive about going, since it did appear to be a bit strange from the website; but we trusted their judgment and went. We were so glad we did. The performance takes place in a relatively small theater that is inside an antique circus tent imported from Belgium. It is billed as a three-hour whirrlwind of international cirque, comedy and cabaret. All of the action is up close and personal because the venue is small enough so thateveryone has good seats.
The show comes with a meal; but the food isn’t much to write about. But the show was just unbelievable. The talent of the acrobatic performers was spell binding, especially in such a small venue where you are so close to them. All of the performers got in on the various acts and comedy routines. We laughed till we cried. The show was just hilarious, with enough breaks with acrobatics to give our laughing muscles a rest. It was certainly one of the most enjoyable evenings we have had in a long time. Unfortunately, since photography is not allowed, I don’t have any photos of the show; but they wouldn’t be able to properly represent the experience anyway.
The next day we drove up to Everett, WA to visit the largest building by volume in the world, the Boeing plant. We had recently visited a previous largest building, the NASA Vehicle Assembly Building in Cape Canaveral, FL. The Boeing building is three times larger. We weren’t allowed to take photos of the tour; but were able to take some of the displays in the welcome center and outside. There were so many large airplanes on the grounds. They were everywhere.
The displays before the tour were also quite interesting with jet engines, small planes and other airplane parts. I was able to get into the cockpit of a plane; but couldn’t stay long, because the tour was starting.
It was an amazing tour to see how Boeing assembles their planes. They explained how the new 787 is much more fuel efficient and can go much longer distances. As a result, they have an almost ten year backlog for them. Just unbelievable.
During our Seattle visit Jim made several meals for us that were just scrumptious. Jim is an accomplished cook and it is always a pleasure to experience his many wonderful recipes. We had not planned on them taking us to the Vancouver cruise terminal; but they insisted. Jim and Kathleen were just too generous during our visit. We look forward to spoiling them the next time they are in our part of the country.
Since we were at the terminal pretty early, it wasn’t too crowded. We were easily able to give our bags to the porters and look for the check in desk. We were told that we would have to go through United States Customs and Immigration in Canada Place before we could check in. That made no sense to me. Since we were still in Canada, why US customs? It did turn out to make a lot of sense, since by doing it before the cruise, we didn’t have to do it in Ketchikan, our first US stop after leaving Vancouver. Even though the line wasn’t that long, it took 20 minutes to get through. I have been reading that the wait can be well over an hour when it is crowded. I am so glad we are early people.
Once we got to the Princess check in, we breezed right through and were on the ship by 11:50AM. We were even able to go directly to our cabin; which we haven’t been able to do for many cruises. We were ready for the adventure to begin.
A word of warning – If you want to be seated during the muster drill, arrive early. Those that didn’t had to stand up outside the muster meeting rooms because there just weren’t enough seats.
Canada Place is a lovely terminal, especially with the beautiful city of Vancouver as a back drop.
Sailing out of Vancouver is also enjoyable since we would pass by the Lion’s Gate Bridge and Stanley Park. The two huge sulfur mounds, which we had seen before, always seem to be there in the harbor. The sulfur business must be a good one to have been in business for so many years.
As we took our final look at Vancouver, we anticipated our first look at Alaska in the morning.
The various public rooms are shown below by category.
Dining Rooms - There are two main dining rooms.
Bordeaux Room – This is the open seating main dining room and is located on deck 5. I have never been a fan of main dining rooms that have low ceilings. Multi story dining rooms just have a much more special grand feeling to me. This dining room was attractive and had adequate room for diners. The waiters also had plenty of room to move around, which is important.
Provence Dining Room – This is the main dining room for fixed seating and is located on deck 6. It is basically the same dining room as Bordeaux, except it is used for the set time seatings.
Bayou Café & Steakhouse – This is a lovely room, both on the inside and out. It has a New Orleans motif with lots of pictures of New Orleans around the room.
In addition to a restaurant, it is also a lounge with nightly entertainment.
Horizon Court – The buffet restaurant is located on deck 14 at the very front of the ship. A very unusual location for a buffet. Most ships we have been on have them at the back of the ship and keep the upper decks in the front of the ship for lounges with sitting areas to watch where the ship is going. It did make for an interesting viewing while eating though.
My biggest complaint was that the serving area was very narrow and crowded most of the time. In fact the buffet seemed to be crowded most of the day. There must have been a lot of hungry people on our cruise.
Sabatini's – This Italian specialty restaurant, to me, was the prettiest dining room on the ship. The Italian motif and decorations just made it look so appetizing. It just looked like a quality restaurant.
The Grill & Bar – The hamburger grill was kind of out of the way on deck 15. Plus with it being a cold weather cruise, it was uncomfortable, at times, to eat near the grill. In addition to hamburgers, they also had hot dogs and an excellent knockwurst and sauerkraut. Although it wasn’t too crowded there most of the time, it did seem to take a long time to get your food selection after ordering.
Princess Pizzeria – I was very impressed with the Pizza which is located on Deck 14, just outside the buffet. There were always a few different types of delicious pizza available.
Ice Cream Bar – The soft serve ice cream didn’t seem to have much taste; and they only had vanilla or chocolate. The hard ice cream was pretty good; but the selection didn’t seem to change much. The main plus was that with it being located in the Lido Pool area, it was always a comfortable temperature for ice cream.
Lounges (Link to Menus)-
Wheelhouse Bar – This was the largest bar on the ship and decorated liberally with nautical pictures and decorations. Even the entry way into the room was nautical.
It was a very comfortable room and was used for many activities during the day.
Churchill Lounge – This was the ship’s cigar lounge. Being an ex-smoker for 37 years, it wasn’t a room I was interested in visiting, other than to take some quick photos.
Crooners Bar – This was a small bar located off the Deck 7 atrium. It had a lot of character and was decorated with pictures of the Rat Pack. There would be nightly entertainment at the piano.
Explorers Lounge – This is another large bar. It amazed me that a ship would be built with so many public rooms that had stages. I am sure it made it convenient for activity planning.
Lido Bar – The long Lido Bar was located right next to the Pizzeria on Deck 14 to be used for people enjoying the Lido Pool area.
Patisserie Bar – Located by the Deck 5 Atrium, this is the place for specialty coffee and drinks. Free finger foods are served there during the day.
Casino Bar - On one side of the Casino is the bar. It kept busy providing drinks to the many gamblers.
Princess Theatre – The Theater was unusual in that there was no balcony. It was just one large room with lots of stadium seating. It was a very austere setting with no decorations in the room. There were normally two shows each night. There was adequate seating for everyone that attended, except for very late arrivers for a production show. I did like that there was plenty of leg room between the rows. For some reason the spot lights didn’t seem bright enough to highlight who they were aiming at. That did make it more challenging for taking photos of the show.
Movies Under The Stars – This is a great concept for a mild weather cruise; but with the Alaska weather normally pretty cold, especially with the wind, I found it very uncomfortable to sit there for very long. Additionally, with the sun really never completely setting while the movies were showing, it just didn’t appeal to me as much. I was also shocked at the picture quality. The below photo shows the large squares that were constantly showing on the screen. Not good!
Right under the screen was a bandstand where a band would play for sailaway. The sailaway for our two previous cruises were pretty tame, so it was nice to have an upbeat sailaway in several ports.
The Universe Lounge – This theater is almost as large as the Princess Theater. It is arranged more as a lounge with tables mixed with chairs. It also has a balcony. It was used for many activities during the day and even had one of the production shows performed there.
Shops – There are several shops located on Deck 6.
Calypso Cove –
Meridian Bay –
Fitness Center – The fitness center didn’t appear to have much equipment; and what they had looked to be pretty old. The few times I went by, there weren’t many people using it. One side of the Fitness Center was an aerobics area.
Internet Café – The Deck 8 Internet lounge had very comfortable chairs to use; but passengers didn’t use them because they were using their phones and tablets on WiFi. Most of the time the Internet speed was quite adequate. We were pleasantly surprised.
Laundromats – One thing we like a lot about Princess Cruises is that they have laundry rooms for the guests to use. This is particularly helpful for longer vacations, since the airline baggage restrictions are quite limiting nowadays. There was a laundromat on each of the five cabin decks. They were different shaped rooms; but they all had the same equipment.
I am showing the pricing and supplies that are available, since it is a frequent question from cruisers. They have a change machine, but its best to just bring a roll of quarters.
Lido Pool – This is the main pool on the ship located on Deck 14. I am sure that it is a beehive of activity for a Caribbean cruise; but with the weather being cold, it wasn’t used too much.
There was a lot of seating area on Deck 14 and above the pool on Deck 15.
At the front of Deck 14 was also a nice seating and viewing area.
The Sanctuary – This premium area is spread over three decks on the back of the ship for adult relaxation. The main lounging areas are on Deck’s 14 and 15, with the Sanctuary Pool just below on Deck 12. There is no Deck 13. The charge to use the area is $20 per half day per person. With the cold weather, it was not an area that was used much for this cruise. It was a very comfortable looking area, especially the cabanas.
Lotus Spa – As with most ships these days, the spas are nicely decorated and full of features to sell to the passengers. Located at the back of Deck 14, the Island Princess Spa was a very popular place, partially due to outside activities being less desirable with the cold weather.
The Beauty Salon was a real money maker. The price shown on line for a manicure ended up being quite different than what Carol encountered on board. Pre-cruise, she had reserved a manicure that was advertised as $41 on line. There was no mention of additional charges or fees. However, on board she was charged $45 for the manicure and an additional $20 for polish removal, plus an additional included tip of $9.75. So instead of $41 plus an $8 tip equaling $49, she paid a total of $74.75. As she told me, “In all of the manicures I’ve had both on land and on sea, I have never been charged extra to remove the old polish. That’s ridiculous! Of course the old polish has to be taken off before new can be applied! It’s normally included. If you want to charge extra for a necessary step, at least be up front about it or include your charge in the basic price. If you plan to include this extra charge on board, then it ought to be noted on line where the price is first given. I felt taken.”
The spa also had the saunas, hydrotherapy, many massage rooms and the popular heated ceramic loungers.
Lotus Pool - Located between the Lido Pool and the Lotus Spa is the only covered pool on the ship. For an Alaska cruise the Lotus Pool is the perfect place to swim. Not only is the area heated, but it is a lovely Polynesian environment.
Promenade Deck - With newer ships only having partial promenade decks, it was very nice to have promenade deck that went entirely around the ship. The lounge chairs were very comforable also. The sign along promenade lets walkers know how many times around the Promenade equals a mile.
Photo Gallery – The photographs were displayed in a long row of moveable shelves like most ships have. I have to say the photography staff did an excellent job. Their photos were very well done; but a photo would have to be very special for us to buy one at those prices these days.
Princess Fine Arts Gallery –
Princess Links – I was surprised at how much space was devoted to the Princess Links. It looked like a nice miniature golf course. I only saw it once during the whole cruise, while taking photos deck by deck. It was sort of out of the way on Deck 15 and you had to go through a door to get into it.
The Card Room –
The Library – Carol spent a lot of time in the library reading, since the chairs were better than in our cabin. The big squishy chairs were very comfortable, but somewhat puzzling since they had switches and knobs in the arms that didn’t function. The ship is due for a retrofit, so I hope they update the main chairs in the room with equally comfortable ones.
The Princess Casino – The casino on Deck 6 had lots of games and slot machines. It was very popular during the cruise. The mime type character statue was eye catching.
Wedding Chapel – The Deck 7 venue had something going on regularly. I am sure there weren’t that many weddings. It was used for acupuncture seminars.
Youth Center – The ship had nice facilities for the kids and teens to spend time in. The Youth Center even had their own swimming pool.
Teen Center –
Viewing area - At the front of Deck’s 10 and 11 were small areas that were perfect for watching where the ship was going. Since there was no obstructing glass, it was a great place to take photos; but it was also quite cold and windy for the same reason.
There was also a nice viewing area on several of the aft decks
Deck 5: The below venues were all around the Deck 5 Atrium
Passenger Services – The customer service desk was always active. I never saw long lines because they had adequate staff and more importantly, fast working staff.
Captain's Circle – This is where the Captain’s Circle Hostess hung out for a few hours a day to aid past passengers when not doing other functions.
Future Cruise Sales –
Princess Plaza – The Atrium area itself was nicely done. It was a relaxing area.
The views down to it were also nice.
On the last formal night, they had the traditional Champagne Waterfall celebration. It is a photo opportunity and it is a very popular activity.
Shore Excursions – This was one of the busiest places on the ship. I tried for days to get a photo with no one standing in line and finally got one on the last day. Even then they had regular activity.
Deck 16: The below venues were all on Deck 16 at the top of the ship
Center Court –
Deck Chess Set and Shuffleboard –
Splash Pool – This is probably the best pool to lay around in the Caribbean; but it was never used during this cruise and the chairs weren’t even put out. It was just way too cold and windy up there.
With it being on the top of the ship, the views were quite nice from there even with the glass wind protectors.
Looking down to Deck 15, there was even more deck chair space to be used by pools on Deck’s 14 and 16.
We had cabin D418, which was in a great location. It was right in the middle of the ship with a large 49 sq. ft. balcony that was partially covered. It is one of the few standard balcony cabins on Deck 9, among all of the suites. I had studied deck plans and read many cabin reviews before picking it. We were lucky to have been able to book it. We also really enjoyed being close to the main elevator on the ship. The room seemed roomier than its 185 sq. ft. area. This was in part due to there not being a large love seat taking up a lot of room.
Carol was really impressed with the refrigerator. It was larger, deeper, and colder than most on cruise ships. The ice bucket easily fit inside, so the ice lasted longer.
The desk just had two US type electric outlets, but we always take a power strip with us.
We really liked the closet area. It was huge and totally separated from the room right outside the bathroom. We had lots of extra hanging space. Unfortunately, having such a great closet area probably took off a little of the shower space.
The bathroom, other than the shower was quite functional. The shower was smaller than we prefer. I am a pretty big guy, but normally can stand facing the shower. In this one, I had to stand sideways. Kind of a pain.
We did enjoy the balcony, even with the weather being cold much of the trip. With the occasional rain the partial cover was most appreciated.
We had an outstanding Cabin Attendant, Marlon, from the Philippines. He was very helpful, always trying to serve us in any way possible; all while having a great attitude and smile. He had to take care of seventeen cabins on his own. This is the first cruise we have ever been on where the attendant didn’t have an assistant.
Dining (Link to Menus)
I have included copies of the menus for the main dining room along with photos of some of the food items at the Menus link just above and at the top of each page of the review.
Main Dining Rooms – The dinner seating’s were at 5:15 PM and 7:30 PM. As always, we picked early, fixed seating, but 5:15 is really early, even for us. When we originally booked early seating, our confirmation said early seating was at 5:45; but Princess changed it with out notifying us till we got on board. We found the food to be pretty good on this ship. Some items were very good and some just so-so. The breads and soups were very good. The dessert selections and quality seemed pretty weak to us. Most of the meat dishes were reasonably good; but the vegetables were uninspiring. We had been spoiled by some outstanding food on recent cruises, so it probably wasn’t a good time to try Princess again as far as food goes.
On the plus side the service was very good and we had an outstanding waiter named Ariel from the Philippines and his assistant Alexander from Serbia.
We also had some wonderful tablemates who continued on the land tour with us after the cruise. John and Louise were from northern California and John and Virginia were from central Florida. We had a really good time each evening with them as well as the many times we crossed paths during and after the cruise. We really lucked out with these lovely tablemates.
John and Louise Virginia and John
Buffet – Fortunately we didn’t have to go to the buffet very often other than for breakfast. We were just not happy with the food selection and some of the items didn’t taste good to us. There were some decent items the few times we ate there; but for the most part we tried to avoid the buffet.
On the last night of the cruise we went to the Crab Shack dinner held in the buffet area, for which there was a $25 charge per person. Since they had all you can eat King Crab legs, it sounded like a good deal. Everything looked good; but the first batch of legs we received were just terrible. They were overcooked and the meat just didn’t taste right. It wasn’t spoiled or anything like that, but it just wasn’t right. The next batch was better; but not up to the Alaskan king crab we are used to getting in Florida. Our regular tablemates also ate there that night and also complained about the bad crab. Very disappointing.
Bayou Café & Steakhouse – We went to this venue twice. The first time was for the Pub Lunch, which I really enjoyed. It was a small menu; but each item looked very good. I had the fish and chips, which was great. They also had a selection of British beers. I was going to go a second time, but arrived later than I had the first time and there was a very long line. Watch the Princess Patter to find out when they are going to have it; and then get there when they open if you want to be sure of getting a table.
One night we went to a regular dinner there because we had received a free specialty dinner coupon with our booking. Since the Island and Coral Princess ships are the only ones with a Bayou Café, I decided that we should go to one while we could. Since all the Princess ships have a Sabatini’s Italian Restaurant, we could always visit it on any Princess cruise.
Bayou Cafe is advertised as making their dishes with a Cajun flair. They even gave out Mardi Gras beads at dinner. However, Carol grew up in the New Orleans vicinity and makes great gumbo and Cajun dishes. Also, we lived in the New Orleans area at one time, so this just wasn’t up to the flavor level we would have liked. Besides the unauthentic gumbo, the biscuits were hard and certainly not up to Carol’s standard. It was still a good meal; but we wished that we had tried Sabatini’s instead. We should have known not to expect Cajun flavors on a cruise ship. Side note: Muffuletta sandwiches do not use olive tapenade. They have olive salad on them. Big difference!
Sabatini's – Although we didn't eat dinner at Sabatini's, we did eat there for their Alfredo's Pizza lunchon the last day of the cruise. They had some very good pizzas. Had I realized how good it was earlier in the cruise, I might have visited a few times.
The ship had lots of entertainment at night at the various venues. Below are the performers and production shows that played in either the Princess Theater or Universe Lounge. The Cruise Director, Richard Joseph was a very good host each evening. He had a good speaking voice, a great attitude and was interesting to listen to. We understood why he is one of Princess Cruise Line’s most popular Cruise Directors.
Michael Wilson – The first night we had Michael Wilson who is a comedian. He did a pretty good job and I enjoyed him; but passed on his second show a couple of days later where he was a vocal impressionist.
Lorenzo Clark – He performed in the Universe Lounge the same night as the first production show, Motor City. Since he was on at a different time, he fit nicely into the evening’s schedule. His specialty was comedy magic. Since the magician on the cruise a month before this cruise did some of the same tricks and showed us how to do some of them, I wasn’t impressed with this magic. His comedy was interspersed with the magic and wasn’t bad; but it just went too slow. He did have fun with some of the guests he brought on stage.
Steve Bruner – This comedian also did a couple shows. I only went to the first one. He was OK, but not my style comedian. A lot of people seemed to enjoy him.
Production Shows – I was quite pleased with the productions shows. The singers and dancers were good and the music selection was excellent, at least for us. We were just very disappointed that the standard 45 minute production show had been whittled down to just 30 minutes. We felt short changed.
Motor City – We love Motown music, so this show was most enjoyable. They did a good job.
On the Bayou – This show was performed in the Universe Theater. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize it and sat in Princess Theater until I checked the schedule, my mistake. By the time we got there, the seat selection was not good for taking photos; but we did get to enjoy the show. It had a lot of New Orleans / Southern Rock type music. The costumes and staging were very good and added to the show. It had a Mardi Gras feel to it at times.
Piano Man – Once again we had some good music with pieces from Billy Joel, Elton John, Barry Manilow and others. The audience loved it, as did we.
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