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David S

Age: 50

Occupation:n/a

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Coral Princess

Sailing Date: August 23rd, 2007

Itinerary: Vancouver

This was a first big cruise for the two of us and our sixteen year
old son. We had read extensively, both material from Princess, and
other information that's available on the web. Menus are
available online, and seem to be accurate even from several years
ago.

We made our decision to take a cruise relatively late, but lucked
into what seems to be one of the best of the Princess ships, and
an excellent cruise overall. We booked our cruise through a
travel agent, which turned out to be a good thing to do as she
was able to negotiate with Princess in a way that would have been
tough for us to do as civilians.

We ended up booking one of the mini suites, but one of the odd ones
(B201) at the very front of the ship. Although a mini suite would normally
have a balcony, this configuration does not because of the extra support needed
for the front of the superstructure (our cabin was directly beneath
the starboard bridge wing). Instead the cabin had a picture window.
We wondered about the wisdom of forgoing a balcony. People we'd
talked to said that balconies were not useful space on Alaska cruises,
because it was too cold to spend time on them. We're still debating
whether this is true -- people we talked to on the cruise used their
balconies, although when there were things to see, these were often
on both sides, so you certainly give something up by staying on
a balcony.

The cabin was about 300 square feet, about the size of a reasonable
hotel room, but quite long and thin. Our son slept on the pullout
couch, and we had what was effectively a king-sized bed (because it's
two twin beds joined together). Our bed was fine, but the pullout
had the usual problem of a thin mattress. The space is well thought-out,
much better than a hotel room, with decent bedside tables, a credenza,
a central unit with a fridge, and a small table near the door, handy for
keeping things that need to go with you out of the cabin. There's a
large well-organized storage space between the bedroom part and the bathroom,
and the bathroom was also well-arranged. In mini suites, the bathroom
has a bathtub as well as a shower. The main benefit of this seems to
be that the space for showering is a little larger, although the
headroom is poor -- only six feet to the ceiling, with the showerhead
lower than that.

We flew from Vancouver to Anchorage, arriving early afternoon on the
Monday that the ship sailed. There were Princess people with large
luggage trolleys waiting at the luggage carousels, so luggage got
picked up in the usual way and then handed over to them. The Princess
luggage tags only need to be put on bags at this point. We were then
sent down to the end of the terminal where people were accumulated
into bus loads. As soon as a group of perhaps 40 people were ready,
the next bus was dispatched.

The drive from Anchorage to Whittier takes about a hour, but is vastly
complicated by the tunnel that connects Whittier with the rest of
the world. It's a rail tunnel that was only recently improved to take
road traffic as well -- but it's only single lane and quite long, so
southbound traffic is allowed from half past the hour for about 20
minutes, and northbound traffic on the hour for about 20 minutes.
We had left the airport about 2:30 so we would have missed the 3:30
window. As a result, we dawdled along the way, looking at one or
two not very inspiring sights, including some special kind of sheep
that looked pretty much exactly like sheep.

Whittier, at the southern end of the tunnel, is a dock, and
an apartment building where cruise company staff live. We pulled
into the embarkation area along, of course, with several other buses,
and it looked as if it might be a long time before we actually
boarded the ship. However, there were a lot of people checking
us in, and it only took ten minutes or so before that was done.
We had registered a credit card beforehand, so it was mostly a
matter of checking who we were and giving us our cruise cards,
a combination of room key and payment mechanism.

We then had to stop and have a picture taken with some plastic palm
trees before we could actually go onto the ship. This is the
first example in the What Were They Thinking department. At this
point, everyone is tired and not looking their best, and anxious
to actually get on the ship. Why Princess would imagine that anyone
would want a picture of this moment, especially with fake palm
trees (!!) is beyond me. This was a comment we heard from other people
on board too.

Princess tries hard to control any gastric outbreaks, and so asks
everyone as they arrive whether they've had any symptoms of anything
in the preceding 24 hours. This is a good idea but doesn't achieve
much. I heard one passenger saying that someone on the bus had thrown
up, but had blithely ticked the "no symptoms" box anyway.

At boarding, we inserted our cards into a box which also took our
picture. This picture was used whenever we came back aboard during
the cruise to validate who we were -- a nice way to avoid the problem
of adding a picture to the cruise card.

We had looked at the ship's layout beforehand, so we had no trouble
finding our way to our cabin. Our cabin steward appeared quite soon
(in general, he always seemed to be aware of whether we were in or
out, and tended to pop out and greet us). We asked for the terrycloth
robes that, for some mysterious reason, are only provided on demand,
and which we used to go to and from the pools.

We also asked for a fruit plate for the cabin, since our son will eat
fruit if it's there. This turned out to be a waste of time -- it
didn't appear until late the next day, and we quickly figured out that
it was better to bring fruit back from the Horizon Court as we
needed it. The fresh whole fruit wasn't great -- the apples were varieties
that keep well rather than tasting nice, and many were bruised a
bit. There was a good selection of other fruit in the HC, for example melon.

The cabin TV gets a few channels, about evenly divided between news
and sports channels, and cartoon channels, including Boomerang which
carries Hanna-Barbera cartoons, most of which I hadn't seen for
forty years (Top Cat, anyone?). Having two TVs in the room is of
limited usefulness, except that the bridge cam channel is silent
except when announcements are being made, so it's a way to hear
them when you ordinarily wouldn't.

We had four hours of jet lag to cope with, so we didn't do much the
first evening. By the time we were settled, we
were ready to eat and went up the Horizon Court (24 hour buffet).
There was dinner in the two dining rooms, but allocation the
first night was based on when you boarded the ship (people were
handed slips as they came on board giving them time and place).

The Horizon Court is a typical buffet, with typical food. There's
a huge variety: salad stuff, breads, hot food, usually of 15 different
kinds, and a range of desserts, usually one hot and the rest cold.
As you might expect, there was a constant problem with keeping food
hot, and much of the "hot" food was lukewarm when served, and
so quite cold by the time we started eating. There was also, by the
end of the week, a certain sameness about the food: breakfasts didn't
change much from day to day, and all the fish dishes tasted the same
(bland).

The other strange thing is that all the plates are plastic,
and so a coffee mugs.  This really does create a cafeteria ambience.

There's a deal where you can pay an up-front fee and get unlimited
sodas for the week. This is priced extremely carefully -- to cover
the cost you have to drink more than two sodas a day, which many
people probably don't think they will do; but many probably end up
spending more than they would have paid. OTOH the soda in the HC and
bars comes from one of those nozzles where the soda is (a) flat, and
(b) different tasting. In the dining rooms, and cabins, sodas are
served from cans. The six for the price of five for sodas in cabins
is probably a good deal.

Coffee, a decent range of teas, juices at breakfast, and iced tea
at all meals is free, as is plain water all the time (although the
restaurants and bars will happily sell bottled water). The coffee
was decent, although the strength tended to vary from moment to
moment. In the HC, staff came around supplying drinks at the tables,
but this was often quite slow and it was easier to get drinks
ourselves.

There's also pizza and burgers available during the day; and
ice cream available for a charge as well. There are two specialty
restaurants where you can eat for an extra charge, one Italian
and one Cajun. We didn't try them, and nor did too many other
people since they always looked rather empty when we went past.

Despite the reputation of Alaska cruises as being for old people
and their parents, there were people of all ages on board, except
perhaps for the age group between 20 and 35.  There were a number of
three-generation groups of families traveling together, with perhaps
50 kids all together.

Emergency drill is required on the first evening, so we went down
to our muster station in the Princess Theatre to learn how to
put our lifejackets on. This lasted about half an hour, most of
it spent waiting to get out of the theatre. I don't think a
space holding that many people with only two exits would be allowed
on land -- it also always took a long time to get out whenever a
show finished.

Our luggage took a long time to arrive, perhaps until around 9 p.m.
which we didn't mind, but could perhaps be a problem for some
people. Certainly, it wouldn't be wise to assume that you'd
have access to a change of clothes in time for dinner.

Although there was an entertainment program on the Monday
evening (sailing day), we were too tired to be interested
and went to bed early. The first interesting sightseeing is
College Fjord, starting from 6 a.m. on the Tuesday morning,
so we were glad to be able to get up early.

Although the nights are quite short, four to five hours, we
didn't really get to appreciate this because there was almost
constant low cloud cover, so it seemed normally dark, at
least from late evening on.

On Tuesday morning we arrived in College Fjord, which is not
very far from Whittier. It's a long, narrow fjord, ended with
a number of glaciers, which have been named after U.S. Ivy
League schools. The weather was overcast, with cloud cover at
about 4000 feet, but visibility was good (although it looks
really dark in our photos).

Part two of What Were They Thinking was the commentary from
the ship's naturalist, which continued throughout the cruise.
She had to read her material which meant that (a) she talked
much too quickly, making her unintelligible in many places on
the deck (fix those speakers on the Promenade Deck, Princess);
(b) she included far too many details: "this mountain is
3285 feet high" and "this ship was 325 feet in length" which
obscured the big picture of what she was trying to communicate.
Plus, of course, she was unable to look out for wildlife and read
simultaneously.

The ship was parked in front of the two biggest glaciers and
turned every so often so that the views could be seen from
both sides of the ship. The captain, a bear enthusiast, saw
a bear on the shore, but nobody around us could find it.
We spent our time on the top two decks looking at the view.
This is somewhat spoiled by the blue-tinted plastic sheets
that extend upwards from the railings for another four feet or
so. There are gaps between them, so photos can be taken, but it's
hard to take in a scene.

By nine we were on our way south, for what turned out to be a fast run
across more or less open sea to the interlocking fjords where we
would spend the next four days. The weather forecast was poor,
so we went more quickly than usual over this part. Although the
swells increased, it wasn't ever very rough -- the ship acquired
a slow roll but not much more. I saw some dolphins close to
the ship on this run. We also passed the commercial ferry that
serves the towns along the coast going the other way extremely
fast.

One of the dining rooms opens for breakfast and lunch, but they
didn't seem to be much used -- most people seemed to eat in the
HC. The lunch buffet today included a Taste of Alaska, with
things like reindeer sausage, which was interesting but it's
clear why chains of fast food Alaskan restaurants haven't sprung
up.

There's a decent library on the ship, which is staffed for a couple
of hours morning and afternoon. Books are not signed out, just
taken, so it's not really clear why it isn't just left unlocked.
There's also an Internet Cafe and wireless access, but this is priced
ridiculously (another example of trying to recoup capital spent on
a depreciating asset) and was hardly used.

My wife went to the afternoon tea this afternoon, which was indeed
a typical English formal tea. However, we discovered that the same
food was available in the HC from 3 to 4, so we went there instead
on other days if we hankered for scones, jam, and cream. It's also
kept fairly quiet that ice cream is free in the HC during the
afternoon tea slot.

Princess advertises "almost first run movies" on board. What they
mean by this is "movies that have been out on DVD for only a few
weeks" -- in our case movies like "The Queen". This seems like a
waste.

Tuesday night was the first of two formal nights, when a certain
amount of dressing up is required for the dining rooms. Some people
didn't want to bother and ate in the HC. Princess uses a two
dining room set-up: in one there's an early and a late sitting,
and the other is called anytime dining. This is a bit misleading.
The real difference seems to be that in the scheduled dining you
sit with the same people at the same table with the same waiter
each night. In the anytime dining room, there's a little more
flexibility in timing (but not much) but you either have to make
a reservation each day, if you want to sit at a particular table
or with a particular group, or you show up and share a table with
whoever arrived at about the same time as you did. The meals
are good, but not spectacular, with a possible four courses,
and a selection for both healthy eating and for vegetarians.
The menus were more or less the same as those posted online
by others, so it seems that meals are the same across all ships,
all cruises, and across the years. I enjoyed king crab legs and
lobster tails; my son tried frogs legs and pheasant and enjoyed
them too. The service was variable because of being at a different
table each night, but very good on the whole. Anytime dining also
meant that we met different people each night, although the ship
was big enough that it was easy never to see someone again, and
I was still thinking that I had never seen some people before on
the last day.

We had photos taken before dinner, since it was one of the few times
that all of us get dressed up. Unfortunately, the photos were awful,
with elementary composition mistakes. In my opinion, Princess would
do better to have fewer, more professional photographers taking
fewer photos, sold at lower prices. Overall, more money would be
made, and many fewer passengers irritated.

After dinner we went to see a comedian in the Universe Lounge,
a nightclub-ish sort of venue. It's not clear to me what the
senior entertainment staff do, because the only time we saw them
was on stage spoiling the mood of the entertainment by trying to
milk yet one more round of applause from the audience than they were
willing to give after every entertainment. The rest of the entertainment
staff were excellent: Tracy was friendly to everybody, Mark was
good on stage and in person -- he taught a juggling class throughout
the cruise, and by the end my son had become a good juggler and my
wife and I had made a reasonable start.

Wednesday was the highlight of the trip: Glacier Bay. We arrived
fairly early because of the fast run the previous night and so went
slowly in towards the bay itself. The sea was very calm and we
started seeing humpback whales spouting in large numbers. Unfortunately
very few actually came out of the water so we didn't see much of
backs or tails. They tend to dive deeply when the ship is close so
it's hard to predict where they might come up next.

At the entrance to Glacier Bay itself, the ship put down one of its
tenders and went to fetch the park naturalists who stayed on the ship
for the day. Then we cruised slowly north up the bay. The weather
lightened through the day, so we had almost-sunshine for much of the
time.  The water is the characteristic color of glacier melt. We
saw several puffins floating quite close to the ship - there is a
colony near the glaciers but we weren't close enough to see exactly
where it is.

The bay ends at the Grand Pacific glacier, which is very wide
but heavily covered with rock. The other glacier is the one that
appears on all the brochures, the Margerie glacier. It flows about
five feet a day, and so is always calving and stays fairly pristine
white. We were parked in front of it for about an hour, with
the ship being turned every half hour or so; but we, and many
others, stayed on the promenade deck so we could keep watching it.
At one point, a gush of pressurized water opened up and burst out
of the middle, and as we were leaving it obliged by calving two
house-sized chunks from the front.

We then went back to one of the side inlets to look at the Lamplough glacier,
which is also quite impressive. The captain spotted a brown (grizzly)
bear with two cubs on the opposite mountain, and once the naturalist
figured out the proper direction, lots of people tried to spot them.
The mountain was a perfect distance-free illusion: it looked as if
it was about 2 miles away and covered with scrub, but was really 10
miles away and covered with trees. Once I worked out the scale, I
was able to see the bears, but even with binoculars they were not
much bigger than dots.

One of the pools is closed in and the other is not, but both areas
were warm enough that we went and sat in the hot tub for an hour
on several afternoons. I don't know how this would work on a
Caribbean cruise, because neither of the pools is large, but
they were never to busy on this cruise. There's also a family
pool at the aft end of Aloha deck which is pleasant, although
the edge is too high to be able to look out and enjoy the scenery.

We wanted to see both shows that evening, so we had an early dinner
(still jet-lagged) in the HC, and went to see the Coral Princess
Dancers in a tribute show: Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Beatles, and
Beach Boys. The show was very good, with high-quality singing and
dancing and sophisticated staging and lighting. Unfortunately, two
of the four lead singers are much stronger than the other two, which
left the show a bit unbalanced. Most of the shows run about an hour.
We then went to see a Las Vegas magician, Garry Carson, which was
also great.

On Thursday we arrived in Skagway. Shopping is evidently a very
big deal for many of the people on the ship, and also for the cruise
line. Skagway has a permanent population of 800, and on the
day we arrived there were four cruise ships in port, so about
8000 people plus staff. Skagway only has one main street, about four
blocks long, and divided almost equally between jewelery stores
and purveyors of Chinese-made junk: t-shirts, souvenirs, and so on.
The cruise line offers many shore options at each port, and these
are also evidently a major part of the experience for many people,
including pricey options such as helicopter and float plane trips
at $500 per person and up.

Getting off the ship required another photo, this time with a
moth-eaten bald eagle stuffed toy. I don't think they sold many
of those either.

A humpback whale and its baby spent the day in the harbor right
by the ship, so there was plenty of opportunity to watch them.
There were also a pair of harbor seals hanging around the
breakwater, as well as the usual traffic of a working harbor,
and another of the local ferries coming in and out.

We took the three-hour White Mountain Pass train ride in the afternoon,
having been advised (correctly) that the clouds tend to lift in the
afternoon so the views are better. The track runs all the way to
Whitehorse, but the trip only goes up the Canadian border and
then back down again. Five trains go up in a wave, and then come back
down in roughly reverse order, three times a day: morning, just after
lunch, and around 4:30. I can't imagine that these ever sell out, and
it's possible to buy tickets locally if you want to wait and see
what the weather is like.

The trip itself is interesting, with good views of the mountains,
back down to the town twice, and a 6000-foot set of waterfalls.

Thursday evening we went to see a performance by an Australian,
Greg Bonham, who normally performs in Las Vegas, a kind of Celine Dion type
of show. He had an excellent voice and was a more than excellent trumpet
player, but the show somehow fell a bit flat.

Evenings were a good time to get some exercise walking round the
promenade deck, about three round trips to the mile. Unfortunately,
some problem with the garbage system means that the aft lee side
of the promenade deck always smelled strongly of garbage, which
rather spoiled the walking. Surely this is a fixable problem?

On Friday we were in Juneau, the capital of Alaska.
Photo with two poor crew members dressed up as a moth-eaten moose
and a moth-eaten bear. The cruise dock is
in the older part of Juneau, and there's a much larger part, and
a substantial airport out of sight around the corner. More
shopping! We took the tramway that goes up around 2000 feet right
by the cruise ship dock to the top of the ridge where there's a
chance for a walk (didn't see any animals except for a couple of
red squirrels and a caged bald eagle). It's possible to buy
tickets for this through Princess, but there's absolutely no need
to, as they can be bought easily on the spot. The tickets allow
unlimited rides. It's also possible to climb up to the top and
ride the gondola down for $5.

On the ride down, the attendant said that she had seen a baby
black bear halfway up the slope on the previous run; and she showed
us a bald eagle nest in which we could see the babies (full-sized
but still brown) flapping and the mother in the next tree.

Friday evening we went to see Dan Bennett, an extremely impressive
juggler, all the more so as we were learning to juggle. He has a
clever way of using his name as an expletive when he drops things,
so that everyone goes away remembering who he is.

Leaving Juneau, the water was dead calm and glassy and we passed through
several groups of humpback whales, perhaps thirty all together.
One group at least was hunting, with the matriarch diving deep
and then coming up below a school of fish, forcing them to the
surface for the others to eat. This happened well behind the ship,
but it was possible to see the huge splashes.

On Saturday we arrived in Ketchikan for, you guessed it, more
shopping. The airport at Ketchikan is on an island opposite
the town and is unusual because the terminal area is below the
level of the runways, so planes have to go up and down quite a
steep slope between runway and terminal. Ketchikan gets a lot
of rain and was the only time that we encountered serious rain -- but
it only lasted half an hour or so and then the weather improved.
We had a quick look around the town, but the only interesting area
is along a creek not far from the cruise dock where houses built
out over the water have been converted into shops and connected
together by wooden walkways. There is also a taxidermist's shop with
stuffed animals, and many different skins that can be bought.

Saturday evening was the second formal dinner, and this time we managed
to get some decent pictures for our families. After dinner we went
to see Scott Wyler, a standup comedian. We liked him so much we bought his
CD afterwards.

Clocks go forward on Saturday night to move from Alaskan time to
Pacific time.

Sunday is spent at sea, first heading out into the open sea and then
working our way back in, ending up in the shelter of Vancouver
Island. There were 2 meter swells for part of the evening and night,
and it was extremely windy, but the ship didn't really move. Incidentally,
the different track followed on this leg in southbound voyages seems to
be the explanation for why traveling southbound is more expensive than
traveling northbound.

We started seeing orcas (killer whales) on this stretch, and also
porpoises surfing in the ship's bow wave.

There's one critical part of the strait between Vancouver Island and
the mainland that can only be safely passed through at slack tide,
so the timing of this leg is completely determined by that.

There were a few places, also, where tides coming in from different
directions meet and where the bottom is uneven, creating large
whirlpools (say 20 feet across). These bring up fish from deeper
down and so attract all the predators. In particular, we saw a
pair of bald eagles hunting across the largest whirlpool, and
taking a fish.

There was a culinary demonstration in the morning, followed by a
tour of the kitchen. This wasn't made very clear in the announcements,
so if all you want to do is see the kitchen you don't need to
sit through the demo -- just hang around outside about 45 minutes
after the starting time.

The lunch today included the Pastry Extravaganza, a table covered
with cakes and other similar desserts in the HC. This looked impressive
but I suspect that most of them tasted more or less the same.

The evening featured Scott Wyler and Dan Bennett in an encore, but
new, show. We must have arrived near Vancouver a little early because
by the time the show was over we were heading north -- made obvious
by the fact that a full moon was rising to starboard! All the men who
were out on deck were looking puzzled, and all the women were asking
how they knew :-).

We were given a schedule for disembarking, color-coded, with the people
getting early flights first. These came with matching color-coded
luggage tags, and the request that we have most of our bags outside in
the halls by the end of dinner. Staff gradually removed these to somewhere
below. We were told that there would be no problem leaving one last
bag until late evening, so it wasn't particularly difficult to wait
more or less until we went to bed to put the last bag out.

We got up at 6 a.m. on Monday to watch the ship coming in to
Vancouver harbor, and take some photos. We were tied up at the wharf
by about 7:30, causing some rerouting of the sea bus along the way.
We then had breakfast and did the last few things in the cabin, from
which we were supposed to be out by 8:00. The HC remained open until
9:30 and lots of people obviously waited until after they were finished
in their cabins to eat breakfast. We watched the unloading, which was
remarkably low-tech: both bags and supplies for the kitchen were
taken on and off using small wire cages handled by cranes. The
contents of the these cages were handled by forklifts on the wharf
(and presumably on board as well).

Disembarkation was well-organized and went fairly smoothly, except that
lots of people hung around the disembarkation points long before
they would actually be called, and made it difficult for other people
to get off. Also the elevators opened right into the middle
of the disembarkation lines, which caused some confusion.
Announcements cannot be heard in cabins, unless the right TV
channel is on, so some people obviously missed their disembarkation
group because they didn't hear at the right moment.

On shore, customs and immigration was very fast because only small
groups went off at a time. Luggage is simply piled up in rows,
but wasn't too messy because each color-coded group was handled
separately.

We only discovered on the last day that there's access to the front
of the ship from decks 9-11. This is evidently allowed because
these areas are visible from the bridge, and the naturalist even
mentioned people on those decks, but they can only be reached
through doors that are labeled "Crew Only". This should be
clarified -- a lot of people missed some great viewing because
they didn't know about this possibility.

Overall the cruise was excellent, and Princess has obviously put a
lot of thought into making things both efficient and fun. There are
a few places where it would improve the experience for Princess
to realize that less can be more.











 

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