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Kitty Ellas Mom

Royal Princess in Alaska: What to Expect

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I'm booked on the Royal from Vancouver to Whittier in June 2020.  I did this b/c I wanted to be part of a group that is going then so the ship and itinerary were not my choice if I wanted to go with the group.  My question is this:  I've read a lot about how the Royal is too big to dock at Juneau sometimes b/c of winds, when smaller ships are able to dock.  Also, this was an Inside Passage cruise when I booked it but now it seems the Royal is not going to do that because of size?  I read a comment on here somewhere about how they were barred from doing the Passage but I couldn't verify that elsewhere.  I see a little bit here and there about this but never an in depth discussion except for several articles that came out last spring about how pilots thought the Royal might not be a good fit for Alaska.  I would appreciate anyone's thoughts about this.  I read several trip reports from people who were unhappy that the Royal missed Juneau but I couldn't tell if that was a chronic problem or just one sailing.  I will not be changing to a different ship but I want to have a clear idea of what to expect.  I've planned my excursions so that I have some redundancy in what I'm going to do in Juneau---e.g. dog sledding (on land) in Juneau but also a tour in Skagway that includes the dog sled place in case I miss it in Juneau. This will be my first cruise so I don't think I'll know what I'm missing re: the Inside Passage.  I'm also a little worried about getting seasick when the ship departs Vancouver and goes around the island out to sea instead of inside.  Thank you for any advice.  

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The Royal goes around the outside of Vancouver Island because BC barred her from transiting Seymour Narrows.  This is more of a big deal if you’re southbound as you’re missing Johnstone Strait in daylight, which is a beautiful area.  I believe she only missed Juneau once or twice.  On the other hand, the weather was amazing last year - warm and sunny for the most part thru mid-August.  She has restrictions on wind speed and direction for docking in all the Alaska ports, not just Juneau.  

 

 

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We did a B2B on the Royal to Alaska last year.  The ship itself is beautiful.  We did have a few items that did not check our boxes:  no true Promenade to walk around the ship and lack of covered places for taking pictures should the weather get ugly --- these are personal preferences and do not apply to everyone.

 

We did leave Vancouver about an hour earlier than we have when cruising on other ships --- this was due to the tide --- no real impact on us.  As for sea sickness, we ALWAYS take Bonine the day prior to embarkation and take it throughout our cruise --- works well for us even when the seas get a little choppy.  If you need sea sickness help, suggest that you contact your physician to see what would work best for you.  We don't want to miss anything so we take precautions in advance.

 

We had two opportunities to visit Juneau (one northbound and one southbound) and did NOT miss our port. 

 

Attached is a link that has a lot of chatter about the Royal to Alaska. 

Alaska is a beautiful place with lots of scenery and memories to be made.  Try to go with no expectations and enjoy each moment as it unfolds.  We, as well as numerous others here on this board have been to Alaska multiple times.  No trip has ever been the same; there is always something new to explore just around the corner.  Relax and have a wonderful time.

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Prior reported issues with Royal are primarily the fact that it is banned from using the Narrows, and that both Ketchikan and Skagway, as well as Juneau, have access issues (high winds in the latter two, angle of approach in the former).  Royal is the only ship that always approaches Ketchikan from the north even when sailing northward, but this adds even more sailing time to the trip due to the extra distance looping around Gravina Island on top of having to sail all the way around Vancouver Island.

 

Tides rarely have much to do with Royal's departure times - it can fit under Lions Gate bridge pretty much any time except at high tide, and the only other area where tides are a concern is the Narrows which it isn't allowed through. The one time the tide did actually genuinely delay departure was when there was a fuel spillage - port authority required the ship to be cleaned before it could leave and it got stuck waiting a couple of extra hours because it was high tide when the cleaning finished.

 

However Princess consistently blamed tides to cover up the fact the early departure is actually due to the longer route that has to be sailed because of Royal's lack of maneuverability - which is because they cheaped out building her, choosing not to use Azipods and then further cheaping-out on the props and rudders they installed.

 

In short, it's not too big to get through the Narrows or port in Ketchikan safely - significantly-larger vessels like Ovation of the Seas and NCLs Joy & Bliss (both of which ARE too big to fit under the Lions Gate except at the lowest of low tides) can do both because they have azipods - what it lacks is the ability to steer as well as those larger ships.

 

There's an interesting commentary from Heidi, who sailed BC coastal vessels for many years, on this thread from last year which goes into some detail of the comparative expectations of wind and current conditions that Royal can handle compared to smaller ships. In short, all three of Skagway, Ketchikan and Juneau could have conditions where Royal would be unable to dock... but most other ships assigned here could handle another 10+ knots of wind and dock safely.

 

Basically, you're statistically more likely to miss a port - but since cruise season is summer, you're still going to be unlucky to do so even on Royal.

 

The actual report from the Alaskan pilots can be read in full here; I'll be danged if I can find the statement about not being allowed to traverse the narrows by BC pilots, but they did confirm by July 9th on Twitter that Royal would not be going east of the Island in 2019...

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4 hours ago, martincath said:

Some more info, based on the five weeks I spent on the ship in Alaska last year:

 

Royal is the only ship that always approaches Ketchikan from the north even when sailing northward, 

Actually, at the end of the season we approached Ketchikan from the south. I was surprised as earlier in the season we were approaching from the north. Doesn't mean that'll happen this year, though.

 

Tides rarely have much to do with Royal's departure times - it can fit under Lions Gate bridge pretty much any time except at high tide, and the only other area where tides are a concern is the Narrows which it isn't allowed through. The one time the tide did actually genuinely delay departure was when there was a fuel spillage - port authority required the ship to be cleaned before it could leave and it got stuck waiting a couple of extra hours because it was high tide when the cleaning finished.

Again, another late-in-the-season difference here. In May we didn't notice a bit of difference in the timing. During our August and September sailings we saw huge differences in the times we were leaving. On our southbound August and September voyages we had to leave Ketchikan hours earlier than planned to arrive back under the Lions Gate Bridge at midnight-ish. On our northbound August 31 voyage we had to leave Vancouver at 1 AM-ish and wound up in Ketchikan late. None had to do with the spill, either - that happened the day we disembarked the ship.

 

I'll be danged if I can find the statement about not being allowed to traverse the narrows by BC pilots,

I addressed it here when I spoke to the Captain and 3rd officer during my Bridge visit in May: https://www.debsdays.com/2019/06/royal-princess-to-alaska-cruise-wrap-up.html They obviously didn't get the expected clearance because in August and September we were still going around Vancouver Island.

 

 

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8 hours ago, idahospud said:

Actually, at the end of the season we approached Ketchikan from the south. I was surprised as earlier in the season we were approaching from the north. Doesn't mean that'll happen this year, though.

... During our August and September sailings we saw huge differences in the times we were leaving. On our southbound August and September voyages we had to leave Ketchikan hours earlier than planned to arrive back under the Lions Gate Bridge at midnight-ish. ...

... They obviously didn't get the expected clearance because in August and September we were still going around Vancouver Island

Thanks for the 'from the ship' info.

 

Perhaps conditions just proved to be ideal for Ketchikan on your later trip, or perhaps the ship turned out not to be quite so much of a 'cow on rollerskates' as the simulations had feared. If the latter, I'd expect the normal northbound route to be used at the start of this season - and just maybe they'll even be allowed to use the Narrows this season too if they have proven to be more maneuverable in practise than on paper. For the sake of the folks booked this year, I hope this proves to be the case - or at the very least that Princess start informing the cruising public of the 'always outside the Island' route rather than acting surprised every single week and blaming the tide!

 

As to tides under the bridge here - local pilots confirmed that Royal has an air draft of 58 metres, Lions Gate offers 61 metres clearance, and they require a 2m safety gap to allow for traffic over bridge flexing it, temperature variations etc. Which means that there's a metre of spare clearance beyond normal tide levels. We did have some major water level variations last summer - early July and early August especially saw more extreme Spring tides than normal (enough that we were among the many folks driving the coast early to see shipwrecks and the like which are normally under water even at low tide).

 

Personally I feel that the biggest issue is not that the ship has maneuverability issues, but the deliberately-poor communication by Princess - even if we assume the most generous interpretation of the facts: that they were actually surprised when the AK & BC pilots raised issues and they were actively working to try and have those decisions re-visited and hoped to be able to resolve them before the end of the season... they could have told people about the changed route and chose not to. Also, there's no excuse for any genuine issues with bridge clearance - they knew exactly how tall their ship was and the clearance of Lions Gate, they knew their dates and tide timetables are readily available.

 

It's something that other ships have been dealing with seasons before Royal was dispatched, and even NCL - terrible at communication in general - managed to inform people many months ahead that their monster ships would be leaving harbour in the wee small hours (even if they didn't clarify what time they had to be on board until close to departure date). Further, the announcements I saw on these very boards from folks on roll calls who were given a heads-up usually just a few days before their cruises that they had to board early were based on a straight-up lie - they said nothing about tides impacting bridge clearance, they claimed it was tides in the Narrows to blame, despite the fact that the ship was not going to sail that route.

 

The almighty dollar was obviously their only concern - if the outside-the-Island route was announced, plus shorter stays in Ketchikan, at least some folks would have changed their cruises on Royal to another ship, possibly another line. I'm not saying that I'll never sail Princess again, but the deliberate obfuscation of what was happening - and very likely will happen again this season - was super weaselly so it's definitely lowered my opinion of them...

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RE: less time in Ketchican, we're supposed to be there on our first port day from 6:30 am to 3 pm.  I have booked a ship's shore excursion to Totem Bight plus the Lumberjack show that goes from 7 am to noon.  I definitely want time to just walk around by myself however.  What happens if we have less time there?  Do the excursions get cancelled?  It's my 1st cruise so I don't know how these things go.  I would rather cancel the tours and just walk around if time were less.

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It does look like they adjusted the route. Good for them for being transparent this year.

 

When we arrived late in Ketchikan the excursions were pushed back to later (or earlier, depending if we were going north or south) and some, because of the length of time needed, were cancelled. Here is the letter we received last year on the southbound voyage. (Click on "idahospud replied to a topic".) I didn't post the northbound letter. While the times for your voyage up will be completely different, it should give you an idea of what to expect if the port times are changed.

 

Just a reminder, though...most port times on the Royal Princess last year were not affected by the Lions Gate Bridge timing.

Edited by idahospud

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On 1/28/2020 at 3:24 PM, Kitty Ellas Mom said:

Someone pointed out to me that they did change the map of the cruise recently.  See how it says "Royal Princess route" and shows it going a different direction at first?  I think that means it's not going into the Inside Passage but I'm not 100% sure of what I'm seeing:

 

https://www.princess.com/cruise-search/details?voyageCode=A017

That is indeed a big improvement in transparency - hopefully any other issues will also see honesty instead of weaseling!

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Related question:  I'm assuming that when people say "take a small ship to Alaska" they mean a much smaller ship than the Royal?  What is the definition of a large or small ship for Alaska?

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That would be somewhat of a personal definition, and also require deciding whether you mean physical size (and within that, is overall mass the important thing to you? Length?) or passenger load but as a real ballpark categorization I'd lump Royal in the 'megaship' zone (anything that's 1,000+ feet long and 3000+ pax) and small ships to me are below 500 feet and 1,000 pax even though some of those still seem pretty darn big! Some folks might even class anything in the Panamax size (i.e. it fits through the original Panama Canal locks - some of these go well over 2,500pax) as 'small' these days! CruiseCritic 'best of' awards now have 4 size categories - read the winners over to see which ships fit in each, that's probably as much of a general consensus as you're going to get for 'small ship' sizes 😉

 

Given that you could be sailing on a <100pax vessel (Uncruise), luxury lines like Seabourn run <500 pax, 'lux-lite' lines like Azamara are generally <700, and even within the Princess fleet you have Pacific at ~700 pax any vessel as big as Royal is definitely large, relatively speaking... but her problems locally are not size-related (heavier, wider, longer, and more-pax vessels than her can go places she's not allowed to).

 

Basically it's not absolute size or how many other bodies are onboard, so much as 'how much accessible space is there per passenger - especially bits that they can enjoy the scenery from?' and 'can this ship safely navigate into all the ports?' - and on both of these fronts Royal does come up short compared to most other ships that sail Alaska... but that doesn't mean you won't enjoy yourself in port or see gorgeous scenery while sailing, and of course compared to smaller ships you'll have more dining & entertainment options.

 

I think there was overwhelming support over on the Princess forum recently for Pacific and Coral as best of the fleet for Alaska - mostly because they are on the smallest end of the fleet so have more deck space per passenger, have good covered viewing options that are not just your own balcony, and in the case of Coral it lacks some changes to the design that made Island Princess, it's sibling, less desirable (it now holds a couple hundred extra bodies, but didn't add any extra public space...)

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I am on the Royal in August.  Just got notification that arrival in Vancouver is moved to 5:30 am from 7:30am and Ketchikan is now 9 to 5 vs 10 to 6.  

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We booked Royal for the southbound itinerary in early June. However, we are going to rebook our cruise to different dates due to a change in husband’s work schedules. 
 

Knowing a potential issue with Royal (may miss a port), we will likely rebook with either Pacific or Coral.
 

How is the motion on Pacific?  We don’t get motion sickness, but that was Caribbean cruises. Alaska is different. We will try to book Coral, but the cabins we want may not be available (multiple cabins for a group of relatives). 

Your inputs are greatly appreciated.  Thank you. 

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I never had any problems with motion on our Azamara cruise last summer (Pacific Princess is one of 8 ships that were originally the Renaissance cruiseline 'R Class' fleet - the others are mostly now Azamara/Oceania and still have the same layout, engines etc. so should handle identically - just varying degrees of fancy-schmancy upgrades to the interior fixtures & fittings).

 

If anything, Alaska is smoother sailing than the Caribbean in summer - Inside Passage routes especially - as we get the big summer storms that are common throughout the Caribbeans hurricane season way less often up in this corner of the Pacific. If you stick to a one-way cruise you will sail open waters for the first couple of days heading south, but as soon as you hit the first port it's then protected waters all the way to Vancouver (except Royal).

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13 hours ago, martincath said:

I never had any problems with motion on our Azamara cruise last summer (Pacific Princess is one of 8 ships that were originally the Renaissance cruiseline 'R Class' fleet - the others are mostly now Azamara/Oceania and still have the same layout, engines etc. so should handle identically - just varying degrees of fancy-schmancy upgrades to the interior fixtures & fittings).

 

If anything, Alaska is smoother sailing than the Caribbean in summer - Inside Passage routes especially - as we get the big summer storms that are common throughout the Caribbeans hurricane season way less often up in this corner of the Pacific. If you stick to a one-way cruise you will sail open waters for the first couple of days heading south, but as soon as you hit the first port it's then protected waters all the way to Vancouver (except Royal).


Thank you very much for your input. 
 

What do you think of Grand?  Does this ship have the same issue that Royal has (too big for the inside passage)?

 

It seems Grand offers some of the amenities that Coral has. So in case we cannot book with Coral, we have Grand as an option for medium ship. 
 

Your thoughts?

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We are on the same route. Our options were limited, as we needed a tour that goes Southbound, to Vancouver or Seattle, and where we are around the 23rd on the ship. We are very dissapointed that the Royal now skips the Inside passage, I would have picked the other ship last year when we booked if I had known (we booked April 2019, just before everything was announced). My TA suggested that we write Princess, but even if they offer that we could step back from the booking I would not gain anything...flights, hotel, train are all booked and paid! I try hard not to let everything overshadow this, but its an important family trip where the cruise part alone costs us in the very high 4-digits, and I am not rich enough to spend this money lightly

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8 hours ago, botbien said:


Thank you very much for your input. 
 

What do you think of Grand?  Does this ship have the same issue that Royal has (too big for the inside passage)?

 

It seems Grand offers some of the amenities that Coral has. So in case we cannot book with Coral, we have Grand as an option for medium ship. 
 

Your thoughts?

Grand Princess is the first of the Grand Class ships - which includes Coral, so they are much more similar than different although Coral is I think now the only one that hasn't had changes made to add passenger cabins. The loss of the 'sticky out' Skywalkers at the top rear on Grand - nickname for this class was the 'shopping cart ships' because it looked like the handle of a shopping cart! - also reduced indoor public viewing space some. But we've spent enough trips on this class to still be happy to sail any of them - and the only Vancouver-based ship with a problem at the Narrows is Royal, so as long as you avoid that specific vessel you should always be sailing between Vancouver Island and the mainland, whether north or south, on any other ship.

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On 1/28/2020 at 6:24 PM, Kitty Ellas Mom said:

Someone pointed out to me that they did change the map of the cruise recently.  See how it says "Royal Princess route" and shows it going a different direction at first?  I think that means it's not going into the Inside Passage but I'm not 100% sure of what I'm seeing:

 

https://www.princess.com/cruise-search/details?voyageCode=A017

very interesting they have this posted this way as the picture below is right off my online reservation and shows no deviation!  Ugh.  Well - it does still  transit part of the inside passage by looking at your posting - just not inside of vancouver island which would be alot of cruising at night - am I wrong?  I am still looking forward to it but questioning my choice of ship as our last 2 trips have been magical - hoping nothing get canceled.

image.png.6f446f0791c9e40ce4ff912e8d7aa80b.png

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kruzyns4me, you're not imagining things:  I still see this same map when I look at my reservation, which is a different sailing date than yours.  I just checked and the same map you're showing is also on my reservation under "itinerary."  You see the alternate Royal route map on other parts of the Princess website.  I dislike that but at least am grateful for somewhat of a heads up.  I learned about it from a Facebook group about the cruise I'm on.  Someone noticed that if you look up the cruise as if you weren't booked on it you'd see this new map, with the dotted line that says "Royal Princess route," going on the other side of Vancouver Island.

https://www.princess.com/cruise-search/details?voyageCode=A019

Edited by Kitty Ellas Mom
added information

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The map on my itinerary for my June 7 roundtrip seattle does not even show the ports in the correct order. I have no faith in the accuracy of the map on the itinerary page.

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