As Promised here is the first installment of my review of the Island Princess on itís 5th cruise on Aug 9th, 2003. This was our first cruise and did it to celebrate our 20th anniversary. I didnít want to be bothered with the details so I booked everything through Princess (Air, Tours, Transfers) except one Tour (details later).
AIR FROM SAN DIEGO TO VANCOUVER Ė We (it was really me since Iím taking the wife on the cruise) let Princess arrange for the flights. The flight was at 0645 and arrived in Vancouver at 1125. We didnít see the need to come a day early but if I do this again I will probably arrange my own flights and get in a little later in the day. Getting up at 0400 makes for a real long day. We arrived in Vancouver and they had Princess Reps directing us all the way. We did not put our Princess tags on our luggage until we were at the baggage claim area. Seems a lot of people didnít. We got a porter to take all 4 (we over packed in hindsight) bags to the princess reps outside the baggage claim area and never saw them again until they appeared outside our room. We took a Princess chartered bus through the city that included an informal tour narrated by our German bus driver. He was pretty funny and informative. Iím excited and am annoying the wife the whole time.
WE ARRIVE AT THE PIER Ė We are getting close to the pier and can see the ship. What a beautiful ship and now Iím really excited (never know I spent 20 years in the Navy). We get off the bus; go through the security check and on to the Princess Check-In Counter. Iíve carried on Champaign and Princess allows that and Wine as well. We are the only princess bus on the Pier so no lines. Weíve filled out all the Immigration, Emergency Contact Info, Ships Cruise Card info, etc. on-line so all we had to do was sign a couple things, smile for the Cruise Card Picture and we were on our way in about 5 minutes but not to the ship (donít jump ahead). Now we have to go through Customs. Took about 30 minutes but got to talk to some real nice folks while waiting. Weíve cleared through customs (now jump ahead) and board the ship.
WEíRE ON THE SHIP - Princess staff was everywhere directing us although I knew the layout like the back of my hand. That Princess Cruise catalog looks like it a hundred years old cause I studied it so much.
The ship is simply awesome (youíll see that word used a lot in this review). Everything looks so new. With a few exceptions the staff always greeted us with ďwelcome aboardĒ or ďgood afternoonĒ. The crew seemed pretty hyped up. My first impression was that things were going to be first class all the way. Weíre off to the room and Iím leading the way (I could have found it in a snow storm). I get the urge to direct others to their rooms but restrain myself.
ROOM Ė Canít miss my room, Happy Anniversary balloons and sign on the door. The wife is now looking a little impressed (she worked on a cruise line many years ago). We booked an AE guarantee and were upgraded to an AB/C-718 port side aft. I have pictures of it in the photo gallery under ďAlaska Ė Island Princess 8/9/03Ē. Your Cruise Card among other things is your room key. We requested the beds be joined through our TA and they were when we arrived. There was a slight ridge in the middle but didnít really bother me. The pillows were too hard and big for me and no, I never asked the room steward for something else. Even so, Iím still loving this room. Nice size shower and bathtub combo. Ceiling in the shower is only 6í 2Ē and add a couple inches when you get out. There was only one outlet in the bathroom, apparently for an electric razor. All our other electrical devices didnít want to work in there. There are only 2 outlets in the room which are on the desk. We took some advice from other cruisers and brought a power strip to plug in our clock, battery chargers for 2 cameras and hairdryer. Our clock seemed to loose 10 minutes a day so we had to reset it every morning. There were 2 TVs and both had a video RCA jack in front but donít have s-video ports. The balcony was 75% covered but we didnít care. Everyone has their own preferences but I would definitely get another balcony room. We loved sitting out there or watching the sights go by from the sofa. Donít touch the water bottles or things in the refrigerator or youíll have to pay. The room safe was a nice size and we were able to put our digital camera, wallets, passports, and jewelry in it. Our room was cleaned at least twice a day. It seems like every time we came back from eating or a tour the room was cleaned, used towels replaced, our clothes (ok, mostly mine) were picked up, folded and placed on the sofa. I asked for 20 extra hangers (again, in hindsight we over packed) and promptly received them. My only complaint was that I wanted to eat Dinner at 5:30 but my bag with all my dress clothes didnít arrive until 5:15 or so. Remember, Princess took my bags at 11:30 that morning.
My wifeís luggage and one bag of mine were there around 2:30 and she ironed what she needed. There arenít any irons in the room but the laundry mats have 2 irons with boards plus washers and dryers. Recommend you bring your own laundry detergent or buy from the ship early on. The detergent vending machines were always empty the last few days of the cruise.
If you ever need anything, ask your room steward.
Leaving Vancouver (or so I thought) and the 1st night of Dining
Weíve settled into the room and unpacked. I read the Princess Patter Newsletter to find out what was happening for the day. Please look at the ship info attachment with this post regarding info on Dining Dress Code and other things. We decided to watch the ship pull out of Vancouver before heading to dinner. After Crossing under a bridge (name already forgotten) we dress up (Dark Suit, Tie and Pants Suit for the wife) and head for the Personal Choice Dining Room. We always went to dinner between 6 and 6:30. We never made a reservation and never had to wait except one night. That one night, I put our name on the list and was issued a vibrating thing to inform us when our table was ready. Only had to wait about 20 minutes. Never seen so many staff waiting to assist diners. We get to our table for 6 and enjoy the first meal of the Cruise. The Head and Assistant waiter were great. The folks we were sitting with were all from different countries and we enjoyed talking about our cruise experiences. No matter what we choose from the menu, the waiters always informed us it was anĒ Excellent ChoiceĒ ďSirĒ or ďMadamĒ. Asking for two entrees was never a problem although I never asked for two lobster tails. If you donít like something for whatever reason, send it back and get something else. Itís not a problem. The waiters were always watching and cleared the plates and bowls without rushing or interrupting us. Things just couldnít have been better. Before we started desert, someone came around offering shooters of Liqueurs in souvenir shot glasses. This was repeated every night for the entire cruise. A polite ďNoĒ and they were off. As we were leaving the dining room, I start thinking what a smooth ride this is. Canít feel any movement at all and Iím now sure this is the greatest ship ever built. We walk up to the Lido Deck and ship to find out we are dead in the water. The Captain has decided to delay our departure for 3 or so hours so we could watch an International Fireworks Competition. That was a pretty cool. After the fireworks were over, we pulled anchor and set sail. I never felt a thing (until I went to bed). We changed into some comfortable clothes and head for the Casino.
There was a ship tour at 3:15 but we missed it. Even if you miss it, there are pocket guides in the room or you can get more at Passenger Services in the Atrium. Ship layout placards are everywhere to help you get to your destination and for the guys who refuse to ask for directions.
We are basically Slots types but they had Craps, Blackjack, Caribbean Stud and a couple other Table Games. There was at least one Blackjack table with a Min. $5 wager open at all times. The slots ranged from a penny to $25. Most of the slots were fairly new. The Casino was never crowded and I was never overwhelmed with smoke. I donít smoke but it never bothered me the entire cruise. They did have slot Tournaments and Snowball Jackpot Bingo. If you didnít bring enough cash, you can use your cruise card to get cash for slot play only or voucher for table chips. The limit is $1500 per day with a cruise max. of $5000 with a 3% surcharge on each transaction. I used that service many times. The cash advances showed up on our account immediately but wasnít due until you pay your bill at the end of the cruise. In my case by credit card.
Unlimited Soda Fountain - $20 We didnít use it but saw many who did. It seemed the staff were lax on its use when it came to kids. I saw some ordering for others with 1 card.
Cocktails of the day were advertised at $3,25 but there are various sizes so check before ordering. A cocktail of the day in a 15oz souvenir plastic glass goes for $5.25.
Wine - I never ordered so I donít know prices. You can buy a bottle and they will keep it for you for the next nightís meal if you donít finish it.
Vibration in the room.
We head back to the room and I notice something and quite canít figure it out. Every once in a while I hear a little rattle. VIBRATION. If you have a cabin in the aft section of the ship, you will notice a vibration. I talked to folks a deck above and below us with rooms in the 700s and they all said the same thing. Noticeable vibration but not enough to keep you awake at night. The folks I talked to that had rooms forward didnít notice any at all.
END OF EPISODE II
There will be more to come about the Ship and Ketchikan. Episode III will be out in a couple days.
Arrived in Ketchikan at approx 6am and depart at 2pm. Donít know why but I was awake as we entered Ketchikan so went out on the balcony to watch the scenery go by. A little while later I saw the coming in.
We had a Float Plane Tour of Misty Fjords scheduled for 10:00 so I set my electric alarm the night before to get up at 5:30 and go get the tendering tickets. The clock lost 10minutes from the previous day (happened every day) but not a problem but didnít matter, I was already up and taking it all in. I skipped the shower and threw a ball cap on (it would have been an ugly sight if I hadnít) and headed down to the Wheel House Bar to get a tendering ticket. Find out that there are no advance tender tickets regardless if you have tour arranged by the ship or not. Had I read the Princess Patter (Official Ship Info) it says and itís first come, first served. I let the wife sleep in while I go explore the ship some more. We finally head down to get the tendering tickets about 9am and are off the boat by 9:10. The whole process was quite organized. By issuing tickets to only folks who are physically there, they insured all the boats were full. So now weíve left the ship and almost get to the pier when I discover I left all my credit cars and money behind. We stay on the tender and head back to the ship. We go get tendering tickets again, get my wallet and are back at the pier by 9:45. All of this with no shoving or cutting in line.
We had a tour booked with Carlin Air at 10am but are informed that the only pilot is sick and they will arrange to have another charter take us. This was a tour we booked directly from the tour operator. Due to bad weather earlier, flight tours were cancelled further adding to the scrambling to appease the tourists. We are handed off to a charter booking agent (Jennifer, nice lady) on the pier and are told to come back at 10:45. She suggested we check out Creek Street. It was a nice little walk with little shops lining a creek that is full of spawning salmon. I noticed that some shops have signs that say they are not Ship Recommended Shops. I asked a couple shops what it was all about. The say they arenít on the Ships recommended list because they would rather pass the shipís kickback savings on to customers. Thatís one side of the story so do with it as you will. We head back to the pier and are told the charter we rescheduled to go out on hasnít made contact with anyone and to please come back at 11:30 to check any developments. Now I start thinking about if I should have booked thru the Ship or not. About now Iím wishing I had. Now the reason I booked directly with a non-ship tour operator was that it was $15 cheaper and they stop at a little island in a lake and let you walk around for about 20 minutes. The Shipís tour makes only a brief stop but only allows you to step onto float to take a few pictures, get back in and let someone else out. We wander around and find a bench on the pier looking out at the water and just stare at anything that catches our fancy. We head back at 11:30 we are told that a Carnival Ship hasnít arrived yet so they are releasing all their seats for the 12:00 tours to everyone. Thank you Carnival.
Jennifer has gotten us two seats on a Misty Fjords Air charter Beaver that was built in 1957. What a beautiful plane. By this time there are no clouds, clear as a bell and warm. In fact quite warm. We inform the Van Driver and Pilot that our last tender back to the ship is at 2pm. Not a Problem they say. We take off and I am sitting in the Co-Pilots seat. All I can say is the scenery was just awesome. We flew along at 4000ft and had a pretty good panoramic view. We also flew very close to the sides and tops of mountains but had full confidence in the pilot. We had to get really close to a mountaintop to see some Dall sheep. We didnít fly very fast so it was a leisurely, scenic flight. The pilot bas born and grew up in Ketchikan and was quite informative and mentioned the Park Services also has Cabins in Misty Fjords that they rent for $25 a day. Our tour operator equips and flies people out to those cabins all summer. We land on an island in a lake and spend 20 minutes with ours jaws hanging wide open. It was so beautiful and awesome. It was so peaceful and never heard any other sounds. I highly recommend this tour. Check out my pictures out in the photo gallery at ďAlaska Ė Island Princess 8/9/03Ē.
We get back about 2pm and the Van driver wouldnít drop us off at the pier. We told her again our last tender was at 2pm but she said the normal drop off point is 2 blocks from the pier so we tourists can walk by the shops and spend our money. Now Iím really wishing we had booked a shipís tour. Iím thinking weíve missed the last tender. We make a sprint for the pier and see a tender at the dock. Iím praying they donít leave without us and am totally oblivious of my surroundings. We get to the ramp to the pier and a security guy stops us and asks us if we are on the Island. The tender starts to leave and I tell the man yes (and start kicking myself for not going with a ships tour) and we just missed the last tender. He looks at me and says ďNo you didnítĒ. ďThe line for the tenders starts way back thereĒ (about 2 blocks long) Needless to say, the tenders had to make a few more trips and we still left on time. The Moral: If you have to tender and are taking your own tours, donít take a tour that ends when the last tender leaves. Youíll still make it but itís not worth the mental anguish.
We are back on the ship and head to the room before going up the buffet. Back in the all of my clothes that were lying around were neatly folded and placed on the couch. All of my papers, folders were neatly placed on the coffee table. A+ for room service. We head to the buffet for a late lunch. Itís hot and the pools are full. Canít believe it was such a nice day.
Dinner was a treat. Iíve now come to the conclusion that every night is a food theme night and asking for more one entrťe wonít get me any stares. Again, the dining staff were all courteous and professional. I enjoyed the food although one person at the table told the waiter to take the food back and bring something else. Different folks have different tastes. After dinner the wife heads back to the room and I take the video camera and videotape all the public spaces I could find. Wish I knew how to get still pictures off videotape.
Although we spent the whole day trying to get on our tour, I donít think I really missed much in Ketchikan. Our Misty Fjords tour was worth every minute we waited. It was just absolutely awesome.
Sorry, it seems that I was originally intent on sharing some good info and but turned this into a diary. Next up when I can find the time to write is Juneau. We did the Wildlife and Whale Watching and Mendenhall Glacier Tour in Juneau. That was really awesome.
To get an idea what the ships activities, I've attached a page from the Princess Patter.
alaska bound, great to see the detail in your messages. i also like the princess patter picture. wife and i took your alaska trip in '99 on the sun and i find myself reliving it while reading your info. new years in panama - counting down. ps. when/where is your next trip?
I slept like a baby so didnít notice when we actually arrived in Juneau and tied up at the pier. We had booked two tours from Princess, morning and afternoon so we didnít plan on going into town. I had lived in Anchorage and Wasilla for a couple years, have some property on Prince William Sound and visit my relatives all over Alaska so the novelty of an Alaskan City wasnít quite there for me. We hit the breakfast buffet and I pigged out after convincing myself that the shore excursions will somehow magically burn off all the calories.
Please make a mental note. If you take a whale watching or glacier tour or any tour for that matter, TAKE LOTS OF FILM, VIDEO TAPE and FLASH MEMORY. Youíve read this in other posts and now here. I donít own or have any interest in companies that make film, videotape or flash memory so Iím not saying this for profit. Itís true what youíve read. Although Iíve lived in Alaska before, Iím still taken back by the beauty of it all. And most important, watch what your doing and donít tape over anything like I did. Iíve already edited my Digital Video tapes and am making DVDís so we can watch them on TV without all the hours of feet, sky and lap shots that somehow always end up getting on tape.
I highly recommend you take a power strip if you have battery chargers, hairdryer (we didnít use the ships), electric clock (one that you can see and will wake you up) etc. That way you can charge everything up at once and still have available outlets. We headed down to the gangway, inserted our cruise cards into the security machine and walked down almost to the pier. We noticed that the Island has arranged some gangway activities. This game wasnít listed in the Princess Patter but I call it ďDodge the MooseĒ. The object of the game is sneak past the photographer and guy (or gal) in a moose suit trying to take photos with you without getting grabbed. We let a couple get in front of us and just as they were grabbed, we lowered our heads and slide past while the moose was trying to get a group hug. Once on the pier there was a low barrier fence that encloses the gangways (one going on, one going off) on the pier. Security folks checked cruise cards when you entered that area and again right at the gangways before you go up to the ship. As we exited the barrier, there was a bus parking lot for tours right there. The buses all had the tour code in the front window and the drivers were standing around holding signs with the tour name on it. DO NOT loose your tour ticket or you will not get on the bus. It happened to a couple and they had to go back and look for it. The tours we went on were on tight schedules so they will leave without you.
Our first tour was at 10am for the Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest that we booked thru the ship. I posted some pics of the tour boat in the photo gallery under ďAlaska Ė Island Princess 8/9/03Ē. These folks went out early to spot the locations of these pods so we didnít spend a lot of time looking. Also the boat Captains let each other know the locations as well. People rave about Capt. Larry but I was totally satisfied with our tour. We saw 6 or 7 Pods (are groups of whales called pods?) of Humpbacks. Some of the pods were just cruising along and some were feeding. For those that were cruising along we just watched for a few minutes and moved on. For those that were feeding we would spend 15-30 minutes watching them as they did the ďBubbleĒ feeding thing. The boat also dropped a microphone in the water and you could hear the whales singing. It was just awesome to hear them. When there was bubble feeding going on, the water would be calm one moment and the next a pod of whales would break the surface head first. I actually got a baby breaching but I accidentally taped over it in Skagway. It was a great tour and really, no matter which tour operator you go with, you wonít be disappointed.
With the tour over, we head back to the ship to get some lunch. We headed up the gangway, put our stuff onto the x-ray machine and went through the metal detector. Highly recommend you put EVERYTHING through the x-ray. Coins or a watch will set off the alarm.
We did the Horizon Court buffet lunch and headed back to the room for a rest. Of course just as we expected, the room was cleaned up. We didnít actually do anything physical but it was nice to rest and watch the Ships TV. They had a program on about Juneau. One nice thing is that if the ship has a speaker or important news to put out, they record it and play it on TV later.
We got ready for the second tour of the day. Itís the Mendenhall Glacier Helicopter tour that we booked thru the ship. Dressing in layers is the key to success on this tour. We initially dressed in long johns, jeans, sweaters and light jackets for the trip out to the heli port. We also took snowsuit overalls, Gore-Tex gloves and heavy rainproof coats to be put on later. A van took us out to the heli port where we were greeted and taken to a staging area to watch a safety video and be issued glacier boots that fit over your own shoes. There is very limited space on the helicopter so anything over the size of a video camera isnít allowed on the helicopter. They provided a group locker to put your camera bags, purses and other oversized items. The employees wore the key to those lockers around their necks so we felt comfortable our stuff would be safe. Right before we head out to the heli, I put on my snowsuit and heavy jacket and start sweating like a pig at a luau. There are 5 helis waiting and we climb in ours and off we go. As we cruised around the glacier it was raining a little but I still got some great video out the side window. I captured some awesome scenery and particularly a lot of blue ice that I would accidentally tape over later. We (all 5 helicopters) land and on the glacier out we climb out so the group before us can get in and head back. It was drizzling, windy and really cold. I know it was really cold because my face was freezing. The rest of me was feeling just comfy. I felt really sorry (for at least a few seconds) for the folks in pants and windbreakers. The Tour Operator had a tent on the glacier for the guides to keep warm and a place for the ill prepared to get out of the cold. Why didnít they check out Cruise-Forums and get better prepared. Our guide gave us some info on the glacier before we were turned loose to burn up our rolls of film and videotape. The guide showed us a couple of spots where we could drink glacier water. I think I was the only one who did and it was really quite good. Before we knew it the helicopters returned and it was time to go. I took a few more pictures and we climbed into the heli to head back to Juneau. After we landed we found out that the group that we left on the Glacier was the last tour. The weather was turning bad so all tours for the rest of the day were cancelled. We got our stuff out of the locker and head back to the ship. Regardless of the type of glacier tour you may want to take, just do it. This was truly a worthwhile experience that you wonít forget.
WEATHER Ė It was a factor in Ketchikan and Juneau for canceling tours. It seems that early morning flying tours in both cities were cancelled. There is a higher chance of flying tours getting cancelled in the late afternoon as well. Bring appropriate gear if you are going to a glacier otherwise it may be the coldest 30 minutes of your life.
So that pretty much ended our day in Juneau. We went dinner and afterwards went to see ďAlexander, Americaís Funniest HypnotistĒ. It was a great show. The wife went back to room to read while I was left to my own devices. I figured Iíd go to the Casino to win back some of the money I lost the night before. I needed a bankroll to get me started so I got some cash using my cruise card. After paying a 3% fee for the cash and loosing the rest I decided to call it a night. What is great about using the Cruise Card for cash is that if you use it enough, the casino transactions donít stand out as much on your cruise bill when the spouse gets a hold of it.
Iíve provided the ďEntertainment TonightĒ portion of the Princess Patter as an attachment to this post.