This was my first cruise on Princess and first to Alaska. I have
sailed twice previously on Royal Caribbean, most recently on the
massive Voyager of the Seas. I sailed along with my wife and 2
I didn't take the Princess transfers from the airport to the sea
port as they seemed overpriced to me. Turns out I was right. From
the airport I spent $22 plus tip for the four of us to take a
Shuttle Express van (no reservations necessary). We did have to
haul our bags to an elevator to go up and over the street but it
was worth it. The shuttle was quick as we didn't have to wait
around for a bus to fill up. By the way, after the cruise we took a
cab back to the airport for $23 plus tip which was even faster and
more convenient. The cabs are lined up and we just hopped in.
Sunday morning traffic is light so don't worry that it might end up
costing more. The guy at the pier told us it would be $23 and it
thought the ship was beautiful. All the balconies have nice wooden
rails and "sapphire" tinted glass which contrasts nicely with the
generally white ship. We had booked both a balcony stateroom (for
me and my wife) and an inside stateroom across the hall (for the
kids), and I looked forward to enjoying the scenery from my very
own balcony (a first for me).
Checking in required about 45 minutes of weaving back and forth
in the queue, but once we reached counter it was quick and the
attendant was friendly and helpful (more helpful than I would have
been dealing with that massive crowd!) After that it took another
20 minutes of stop-and-go traffic on the gangway before we were
finally on board.
We skipped the usual getting-on-board photograph, as they were
doing it in the terminal building in front of a couple of cheesy
fake palm trees (on an Alaskan cruise??) with people walking by in
the background. Seems like they could have chosen a spot with the
ship in the background (the weather was perfect).
Our stateroom was about as expected, perhaps a little smaller
than our room on the Explorer (without balcony). We chose a room on
the Baja deck because I heard that the lower balconies are open to
view from above. As a trade-off, the lower decks have balconies
that are about twice the size. Our balcony was only comfortable for
2 people, but the lower balconies could easier accommodate 4.
I was satisfied with the room. Others have commented that they
should have doors on the closet, but I don't agree. The closet is
very wide and I don't know where the doors would go. Without the
doors you have easy access to the wide closet floor (to store my
wife's 8 pairs of shoes) as well as the upper shelf. Lots of nice
wooden hangers were provided. I liked the additional closet with
safe and storage shelves. The bathroom was small but usable. I much
prefer the sliding curved shower doors on the Explorer versus the
shower curtain on the Sapphire, but it wasn't a big deal. Hot water
came quickly and the controls made it easy not to scorch your
privates off (one knob controls the temperature only, so you can
just leave that alone all week).
I agree that this ship doesn't have the Shock and Awe of some
other new ships. It doesn't have the amazing atrium or large number
of shops that the Explorer had. However, it is elegant and
beautiful and in some ways cozy, and to me that is more important.
My daughter doesn't agree with this point, as she very much enjoyed
riding the glass elevators in the atrium of the Explorer.
We liked the indoor pool with the glass ceiling. This room was
nicely appointed with neat tile work on the walls and supports.
Most importantly, the water was warm enough to get right in (no
small feature in Alaska).
Interestingly, to get those heavy deck blankets you have to go
to the upper level of the indoor pool area (the "Conservatory").
Strangely, you have to check them out and return them the next day.
I'm not sure what they would do if you didn't return them until the
end of the trip, but I didn't find out. It would seem logical to
keep the blankets for the whole week. Make sure to get some
blankets on Tuesday so you will have them for the cruise through
Tracy Arm Wednesday morning.
The outdoor pool was also nice and again the water was warm
enough to get right in. Neither pool was ever very crowded,
although we only had 2 days that the weather was conducive to
outdoor swimming (though some other people apparently have a
different definition of swimming weather).
Throughout the ship the crew was friendly and helpful. They
seemed to be everywhere, picking up dirty dishes, cleaning windows,
etc, and they all stopped to say hello, smile at the kids or
whatever. Sometimes I felt like I was one of the first class
passengers on the Titanic, with people waiting on me and calling me
"sir", while musicians played in the background. The dealers in the
casino were even nice, and that was a big surprise. I always
figured casino personnel were required to be surly. To top it off,
we actually won a little money at the blackjack tables.
I few things weren't finished yet. The video arcade is currently
a large storage room, so it looks to be a while before that is
ready. The mini-golf, which my son loved on the Explorer, was
pitiful on the Sapphire. All the holes were near each other with
nothing between them except for a few fake plants so you could
easily end up on the wrong hole, or even off the course entirely.
Hopefully they intend to add rocks, windmills or whatnot to make it
at least playable. We tried out the mini tennis court, which was
kind of fun, but unfortunately the wooden rackets were already
badly damaged, which is surprising and disappointing given that we
were only the 4th cruise on this new ship. There was some painting
and varnishing going on throughout the ship during the week, but it
wasn't a problem.
Make sure to check out the aft end of the ship above the
promenade (deck 7) and below the Horizon Court (deck 14), which we
didn't really even see until mid-week. There you will find a pool
with a couple of hot tubs, plus shuffleboard and a giant chess
board. It tends to be less crowded back there and can be a
wonderful spot to sit and watch the ocean (not that the rest of the
ship was crowded).
The entertainment was very good, including the singers/dancers,
comedians, and the ventriloquist. The main theater was perhaps a
bit small (compared to the Explorer), and they often put the
comedians in smaller lounges which were entirely too small for the
crowds that wanted to attend. I'm not sure what they were thinking.
Usually when there is one main act going on in the evening, whether
it is a comedian or a dance troupe, there will be a lot of people
that want to see it. On other ships they always used the main
theater. Hopefully they re-think this, but if not, I recommend you
go early to get a seat. Of course, people sometimes send one person
to save a large number of seats which I think is unfair. I didn't
play bingo but there were people saving seats TWO HOURS before
bingo was to start (in one of the lounges, of course).
An earlier review said "don't miss the morning show with
Hollywood and Alistair." While the two guys are nice, their banter
gets annoying very quickly and I personally couldn't stand it for
the 30 minutes required to find out all the activities planned for
the day. Besides, you get all the same info in the Princess Patter
delivered to your room each night. You can submit messages to be
read during the show, and my kids did that one day (which is why I
had to suffer through the whole show).
My kids really enjoyed the Kid Zone and spent much of their days
playing with new friends there. They hated the kid's center on the
Explorer, so we were pleasantly surprised by this. They worked on
many projects and won lots of prizes (Princess tote bags, stuffed
animals, toy boats, etc). As a family we also won stuff by
participating in the various games (Taboo, Pictionary, Trivia,
Weakest Link, etc). So there were lots of little things to do,
although attendance was generally small at these "events".
For some reason, my daughter (age 10) really enjoyed going to
afternoon tea and talking with the old ladies. To each her own, I
There were a lot older people on this boat. In fact, I chose not
to run on the "track" because it was narrow, had sharp turns and
you never know when you might come around the corner and run into
an old guy with a walker. That was disappointing to me, since I
could stand to burn some of the calories I was shoveling in.
Ketchikan was okay. We did some shopping, but you quickly learn
that port towns in Alaska are just like port towns elsewhere. The
shops all have the same stuff and it gets pretty monotonous. I did
go for a "run" in Ketchikan, although it was more of a shuffle up
the steep grades for 15 minutes and then 2 minutes of terror back
down the wet streets. The locals looked at me like I was nuts, and
they were probably right. I had hoped to find a good spot to take
some pictures up in the hills but didn't have much luck. I probably
would have enjoyed Ketchikan more if I had signed up for a tour,
but those tours are expensive and I'm not made of money (contrary
to what my kids think).
Tracy Arm was the highlight of the cruise, so get your butt
topside early Wednesday so you don't miss it (don't forget your
blanket and camera). This is the only time you sail through narrow
a narrow fjord and get to see floating ice chunks with (if you're
lucky) some seals on them. There are also waterfalls and sheer
cliffs that are just beautiful. I wish we could have left Ketchikan
earlier and spent more time here. We never got very close to the
actual glacier, so that was a little disappointing but the scenery
was great nonetheless. Add a deck blanket and a hot chocolate with
Bailey's in it, and it was a memory I won't soon forget (there
wasn't THAT much Bailey's in the hot chocolate). The naturalist
added some interesting commentary, although she could use some
caffeine (or something stronger) to liven up her presentation. It
was pretty monotone.
If you got up early for Tracy Arm, take a nap when you get to
Juneau if (like us) you have to tender ashore. They haven't worked
out the kinks yet, so you are best off waiting a couple of hours,
or signing up for an afternoon tour which might (I repeat, might)
get you off the boat quicker. It is too bad because we could have
used more time exploring Juneau. It seemed to have more than just
the same old trinkets in every store.
We signed up for the Mendenhall glacier helicopter tour. This
was expensive ($200 per person) but you don't want to miss it.
Soaring up, up, up over the crest of the mountain and then seeing
the ground drop off thousands of feet to the valley below was very
cool. You don't get much time on the ice, and if you have kids stay
with them. There are some cracks and holes that could be dangerous
for small kids (one of the guides immediately began shadowing my
son, who is a toothpick). Although it was overcast most of the
week, we did get sunshine during this tour and the early evening
lighting made this an incredible experience. FYI, we heard the
first two flights of the day were cancelled because of "ice fog" or
something like that. Apparently, that is not uncommon early in the
morning (even in July) so beware of early flights as the weather
may ground the helicopters.
Skagway was similar to Ketchikan. We didn't have a tour
scheduled so we just wandered around town. Make sure you get back
to the boat on time. We left a passenger in Skagway and we heard he
had a heck of time catching up with the boat. One of the crew told
me they leave someone behind in almost every port. They do normally
wait a little while, but not long.
The Food? Well I'm not the kind of person that goes on a cruise
just to eat. I cruise because it is a lazy man's way of seeing lots
of stuff with little effort and for a reasonable cost. The fact
that they serve you food whenever you want just adds to my
In general the food was fair to good. The Horizon Court buffet
was decent but not extraordinary, and it can be a zoo. A couple of
times there wasn't a single table available in the entire
café and we had to go quite a ways forward in the ship to
find a place to eat. We ate lunch in the regular dining room twice.
The second time the service was very slow, so we never did that
again (I don't like wasting my precious vacation sitting at a table
waiting for food). I'm guessing other people had the same
experience, thus the crowd in the Horizon Café.
I really enjoyed breakfast at the horizon café. The bacon
was always crisp and delicious, the French toast was good and they
had a good selection of other stuff. Except no 2% milk, just skim
milk (blah!) or whole milk (yikes!). If you get hungry after
dinner, the café has pretty much all the entrees available
in the dining room and I enjoyed tasting ALL of them.
The hand sanitizers by the café were a great idea and
most people used them.
We did personal choice dining, and it is true you are better off
making reservations. But even if you don't you can usually get in
with a little wait (lots of people make reservations for the whole
week but don't always show up.)
By the outdoor pool you could get pizza which we enjoyed quite a
bit. It was thin crust and a little floppy, but at the same time
crunchy. There is also a grill serving hamburgers and hotdogs and
those were pretty good too. And if you want a double cheeseburger
they serve it up with a smile.
The dining room service was excellent and the food was good.
Generally speaking, there were fewer pushy people trying to sell
you drinks than we experienced on the Explorer which was greatly
appreciated. They did try to sell us cookbooks and wine tastings,
but they were not pushy about it, and it was always with a
Overall, it was an enjoyable cruise for all of us. The service
and food was good, the ship was nice, there were enough activities
to keep us busy, and the price was reasonable. I was a little
disappointed that spotting wildlife from the ship was rare. I guess
you have to go on tours if you want to see much wildlife. I was
also disappointed that we never got anywhere close to a glacier to
watch chunks "calving" off, which to me is one of the main reasons
for going to Alaska. I know others have seen calving glaciers from
their ships, so maybe this ship was just too big to get close? I
suppose there was probably a tour that went up close to a glacier
(but again, those cost a fortune for a family of 4).