A few notes from our recent trip aboard the Royal Princess (Inside Passage Southbound, Whittier to Vancouver) August 10-17th, 2019. Overall, we had a great experience and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend an Alaska cruise on the Royal Princess.
Our traveling party: myself (DW) & DH (mid-50s) and two teenage daughters. Fourth family cruise but first time on Princess and first time to Alaska. Other cruises were on Royal Caribbean big ships (Independence, Liberty and Allure) to the Caribbean.
Here are some things we loved about our Alaska vacation:
1. The ship itself, especially the outside viewing areas. Before our cruise, I read the parade of horribles about the Royal in Alaska, and briefly even considered cancelling our trip. So glad I didn’t. To echo others who have actually sailed on the Royal to Alaska, there were plenty of outside viewing areas: four smaller Promenade areas on Deck 7, Sports deck up top, Skywalk areas, open seating area behind the Horizon Court, the Retreat, and all over the Lido deck. Yes, it is true that there is no wrap-around promenade deck, and if that is important to you, then don’t sail on the Royal. Personally, I prefer open air, so the Royal Princess was perfect in my opinion for experiencing Glacier Bay. (And yes, the Park rangers did encourage everyone to get outside, and yes, there were lots of people outside, but the ship is huge and there was plenty of room for all. We never felt crowded.)
2. Teen programs. We’ve sailed only the larger ships because my teens are very sociable and a big part of cruising for them is meeting other teens. The bigger the ship, there more teens there will be aboard, and the greater the likelihood they will make friends. Compared to Royal Caribbean, the Princess ships have fewer built-in activities for teens (e.g., rock-climbing wall, ice skating, flow-rider, water slides) but the teen staff on the Royal Princess made up for it by offering lots of fun activities (scavenger hunts, jewelry-making, scary-movie night, caputure the flag various parties and pageants) and I think because there weren’t as many outside activities, many of the teens actually attended those activities. And having pizza and a burger/dog stand by the pool gave them a ready-supply of food at seemingly all hours. We also loved being able to find our teens using the Medallion Compass app —a great innovation.
3. Cruise director and staff, and entertainment in general. In one word: amazing! Matt O. and his staff were non-stop, with so many triviea events / game shows / parties that there was no way to attend everything. I thought the best-of-the-best was the “Dancing with the Staff” competition (a la “Dancing with the Stars”) the last night in the Piazza. I laughed so hard my muscles were sore the next morning. A.J. Jamal was the the comedian, and he rocked it, performing to packed houses on two nights. If he is on your ship, make sure not to miss him. (And, perhaps best of all, his comedy is family-friendly, so everyone can enjoy).
4. Food. We enjoyed all of the food on board. Particular highlights were afternoon tea in the Allegro Dining Room (as soon as we were seated, waiters appeared pouring tea and bearing trays of sandwiches, cakes, cookies, and hot scones with cream and jam — all excellen), the International Cafe (almond croissants in the morning and shrimp and fennel salad in the afternoon), and Alfredos (tables were always available, and the pizza was made fresh and could be customized as you like), and hot seafood chowder at the Trident Cafe during the Glacier Bay visit. MDR food was very good but not great. Horizon Court food was varied and plentiful, with smoked salmon and steamed shrimp the highlights for me.
5. Cooking demonstration and galley tour. The last sea day, there was a cooking demonstration by the Executive Chef Giovanni Sisto and Maitre D’Hotel Generoso Mazzone in the Princess Theater, followed by a galley tour. I know one can sign up for a full tour of the ship, the cost is high and the availability is limited, so I appreciated that Princess provides a complimentary walk-through of the galley, including a demonstration of seventy ways to prepare a potato. And the cooking demonstration itself was very entertaining (I mean, who couldn’t enjoy Italians talking about food?)
6. Educational talks. I attended talks by Sue Hazlett (the on-board naturalist) and by the Park Service rangers, and both were excellent. I learned quite a bit about glaciers and the natural history of Glacier Bay. And while we were in Glacier Bay, the rangers had a table set up in the Vista lounge where they answered questions and had some displays. I missed the talk by Olympic gold medalist Kikkan Randall (cross-country skiing) but ran into her later in the stairwell and had a nice chat. All of the lectures are available to watch on tv in the staterooms, so I watched her very inspirational talk there. If you don’t know anything about her, look her up — she is amazing!
7. Adjoining balconies. We originally booked two adjacent interior cabins but got a great upsell offer ($140 per person) to move to adjacent balcony cabins with a connecting door. In lieu of taking an excursion in Ketchikan, we jumped at the upsell and didn’t regret it. We opened the door between our balconies and created one extended balcony, which was great. With so much scenery in Alaska, we could take it in the view from our cabins. And a special highlight was waking early on the last morning to see the our ship pass under the Lions Gate Bridge on the way into Vancouver.
8. Port stops:
Skagway: Bike down form White Summit Pass in Skagway. We took the Princess-sponsored bike ride excursion, which was led by Sockeye Cycle. A made a 20-minute van ride to White Pass Summit. Once there, we were outfitted with bikes, given a quick safety briefing and then the guide made sure we could pedal correctly. From there, down the mountain we went. It was quite windy and definitely an adrenaline rush. I recommend this tour only if you are comfortable on a bike, and I also recommend taking the last tour of the day (ours left at 5 PM) because traffic on the road is lighter then. We loved it.
Juneau: Whale watching with Alaska Humpback Adventures, Captain Steve Olmstead. Trip was amazing. It was just our family in the boat, and Captain Steve really knows his stuff. We saw probably seven or eight different humpback whales, including two females with a baby, but no Orcas that day. I can’t recommend Captain Steve highly enough.
Ketchikan: Totem Poles and salmon run. We didn’t book a tour in Ketchikan (opting to spend that money on cabin upgrades instead) but still had a great time. We walked to Saxman Village to see the totem poles (about 2 1/2 miles) then took the public bus back to town ($2). From there, we walked up along Ketchikan Creek to see the salmon run. We saw thousands of salmon (pink, I believe) making their way up the creek. There is a little rocky beach where you can stand right next to the water for a close-up view of the fish. Quite something. (Note: this port stop was cut short, we were supposed to be in port until 6, but we ended up leaving at 3:30 to catch the tide under the Lion's Gate Bridge. Poor excuse by Princess, as they should have known the tide table well in advance.)
9. DYI Pre-cruise. We flew into Anchorage on Wednesday evening and had a couple of days on our own before the cruise. We rented a car and on Thursday, drove to Willow to visit Matthew Failor and his 17th Dog Iditarod team (booked through Alaska Mushing School). We spent about three hours with Matthew and his dogs, learning all about his seven runnings of the Iditarod race. We got to ride along on a training run through the forest, and our visit was capped with spending time with the husky puppies. Completing the Iditarod is an incredible feat, and we were glad to get a inside view of the race and mushing in Alaska. On Friday, we drove out past Palmer to the Matanuska Glacier, were we spent the day on an adventure hike with Mica Guides. Great way to experience the glacier close up, and one of the only times on our vacation where we needed warm clothes.
10. Friendly atmosphere aboard the Royal Princess. Compared to Royal Caribbean, the Royal Princess certainly has fewer bells and whistles. But overall, we found the vibe friendlier. We talked with people from all over the world who were drawn to the majesty that is Alaska, and all of the staff went out of their way to make sure we were happy and well-cared for. We especially liked that there were fewer sales pitches on Princess than we have experienced on Royal Caribbean. Sure, we got lots of fliers under our door for spa treatments (which we didn’t take advantage of) but never really felt pressured to buy specialty meals or extra services.
Now, a few areas where I think Princess could stand to improve:
1. Luggage handling. This was the worst part of our trip. Prior to boarding, we gave the porters seven suitcases, but only six of the ever made it to our cabins. Our younger daughter’s suitcase, containing her hiking boots and several other pairs of shoes, her raincoat and down jacket and other cool-weather clothes, and various toiletries, never made it to us. Fortunately, she was a good sport about it, but I spent much of the first few days of our cruise at guest services trying to track down the suitcase. We were eventually informed that Princess had searched the ship but never found the missing suitcase. Princess did give us $50 OBC for each day the suitcase was missing (which was all seven) and they gave us a form to file a claim for a claim for the rest of the value, but it was still a bummer that the suitcase was lost (or perhaps stolen) and that I spent so much time trying to find it.
2. Movies Under the Stars blaring during the daytime. We watched Shazam one night, and that was fun, but it bothered me that movies were blaring very loudly during the daytime when folks were sitting around the pool. (We had wonderful weather, warm and sunny, so there were lots of folks using the pool and hot tubs.) I discovered that the Retreat was the only place I could sit by the pool without being blasted by movie sounds. Also, I would have liked more variety in the movies shown — all but one were adventure / action films. It would have been nice to have an old musical or a comedy for those of us who don’t love action films.
3. Confusion about drink packages. We headed to the Horizon Court for lunch shortly after boarding and, while there, asked the wait staff where we could buy drink packages. I wanted to get the soda package for my DH and DDs, plus the coffee card for my DH. Our waiter told us that he could sell us the packages, but he didn’t seem to know about the coffee card, only about the combined soda and coffee package. Eventually we got what we wanted purchased, but it took some doing. The Coffee card isn’t well advertised, and I expect it may soon become a thing of the past.
4. Photo Gallery. Why does Princess have to print out all of the photos, why can’t they make them available to view on digital monitors and then print out only the photos that someone wants to but? Printing them all out is a huge waste of paper and the printing chemicals.
Despite the lost suitcase and all the aggravation that entailed (and there was a lot of aggravation) we had a great cruise. I would gladly sail aboard the Royal Princess again. Happy travels to those who have upcoming cruises on the Royal Princess — enjoy every minute!