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Ann Martie

Age: 49

Occupation:Owner of small business

Number of Cruises: 10+

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Coral Princess

Sailing Date: n/a

Itinerary: Southbound Alaska

A year ago my mother proposed taking me, my two sisters and brother on a cruise to Alaska. We “kids” are all forty-somethings and my mother is 72. We were very fortunate to have chosen the Coral Princess. I have been on more than 10 cruises representing half a dozen different cruise lines and this was the best ever.

We booked the southern trip through the Inside Passage from Seward to Vancouver, BC August 9-August 16, 2003. We made our own arrangements to fly to Anchorage the day before sailing and to spend the night. The next day we took a bus chartered by Princess from the Egan Convention Center to Seward. The 3 ½ hour bus trip to Seward is the only complaint I have concerning our whole trip. Be sure to bring something to drink since it is not provided. We stopped along the way briefly at a little store/tourist trap where there were already three other busloads of people waiting to use the port-a-john toilets and waiting in long lines to buy a drink. I recommend looking into taking the 1:00 p.m. train from Anchorage to Seward. I only found out it was available when we checked in to get our reservation on the bus, which we had already paid for.

The drive to Seward was breathtaking. We were entertained too by our young bus driver and his corny Alaska jokes. Example: You might be an Alaskan if: Your second freezer is your car trunk.

In reviewing this ship, I’ll cover it in two parts: 1) The Coral Princess 2) The Ports

1) The Coral Princess
Once we arrived in Seward, the boarding of the ship went very smoothly. There were no long lines and the staff was very cordial. When you first stick your boarding/credit card in the slot your picture is taken so that every time you reboard the ship security has a picture of how you looked when you first came aboard.

The tropical flower arrangement and chocolate covered strawberries we ordered for my mother’s were in her room and were just as the brochure pictured them. She was delighted with them. My mother had a room with a balcony which was big enough to have a table and three chairs around it. There were sliding glass doors leading out to the balcony, so there was a magnificent view from the room. My room was an inside cabin. I prefer being able to sleep in total darkness anytime of the day. It was a decent size room. There was a nice area to hang clothes and a locker with shelves where the safe was located. The safe was very easy to program to your own four digit number. There is a TV which had several stations available. We were able to watch CNN’s coverage of the blackout which occurred while we were cruising.

We went upstairs that first night to the Horizon Buffet to eat since we didn’t want to wait for late seating n the formal dining room. We had requested first seating but were not given it. I immediately went to the Maitre’d and put in our request. I don’t think I’ve ever been called madam so many times. The next afternoon we all had notes in our staterooms of our new table number and the change to first seating.

The ship itself is beautifully and tastefully decorated. There is an inside and outside pool area. The atrium area is four floors where you find stores, glass elevators, the two internet areas, the coffee shop, lounges, a library, the dining rooms and a card room. It has a beautiful staircase where we had our formal family portrait taken the first formal night. The Captain’s Party took place here the first formal night. Waiters circulated with hors d’oeurves and cocktails. The second formal night a waterfall was made with champagne glasses and champagne was also here. Champagne was passed out and live music was played for people to dance. Unfortunately, I missed that evening as I was too tired to stay up.

The casino is located off to the side on one of the decks. If you do not want to go to through it, you can avoid it. All other ships I’ve been on, you have to go through the casino to get to other public rooms on the ship. Since I’m a non-smoker and non-gambler, this has been an irritant in the past.

There is a fully equipped gym on the back of the ship. I did not use it, but my brother and sister did. They said you had to reserve the treadmills ahead of time. I did go in there to take pictures. The treadmills were situated so you can walk on them while looking out big glass windows to the outside.

Each afternoon I made a point of going to the La Patisserie (the coffee shop) to have a cappuccino. There is a charge of $2.30 which includes the tip but pastries are provided at the bar gratis. My sister went with me a couple of times and ordered hot chocolate for the same charge. When we were there one afternoon, a school of dolphins went swimming by. When we were in Glacier Bay, I enjoyed viewing the glaciers from my bar stool while sipping my coffee. Now that’s my idea of how to view nature.

The Horizon Buffet is open 24 hours. This takes the place of the midnight buffet. There were no fabulously decorated buffets on this cruise. However, I didn’t miss them or the long lines that accompany them. I only went there late one night. That night I had salmon Wellington and some fruit. I believe they served up there many of the same things found on the menu of the formal dining rooms. The food was excellent and was not at all like cafeteria food. I could have happily eaten there all the meals for the week. I did eat breakfast there half the cruise and a couple of lunches.

The dining room, however, was fabulous. Our waiter went beyond the call of duty in providing excellent service and entertaining us. In my opinion, any night was equal to the farewell dinner on the other cruises I’ve been on. For example, one night Alaskan king crab legs were on the menu. My family all ordered them except me since I’m sensitive to shell fish. They were given all the crab legs they cared to eat. The legs were already split so there was no messy cracking to do. Another night they ordered lobster. Our waiter brought them all a couple of lobster tails. But it wasn’t that the food was mass quantities. all the courses were excellent. Sometimes the food on cruises, especially the desserts, looks good, but doesn’t taste as good. That wasn’t the case on the Coral Princess. The wait staff also was excellent. I asked the head waiter of our section for a sample menu of the cruise for my mother and he offered to get me all the menus. My mother was thrilled.

The entertainment was first class. We enjoyed the ventriloquist/comedian twice and a couple of other comedians. We went to a big band tribute one night. The lounges had live music if one wanted to dance. My husband and I are dancers, so it was frustrating to me to not have a partner since he wasn’t along. I enjoyed, however, going and having a drink in one of the lounges and listening to a dance trio each night before bed. The dance floors were big enough to dance on. They were not huge, but much bigger than the postage stamps I’ve danced on on other ships.

I didn’t go to one of the dance review type shows, but my sister said it was good. Many passengers dressed for the two formal nights. I saw many tuxedos and long gowns those nights. Many men also wore dark suits, as did my brother. However, if a person did not want to dress for dinner, the option of eating at the Horizon buffet was available. I did not see people going to the formal dining rooms at night in casual clothes (jeans and shorts) as I have seen on other cruises. The crowd was mature, but not ancient as I had expected. Many appeared to be middle aged children with their parents like us. There were also younger families with young children and teenagers. There were activities provided for children of different age groups. My brother’s 11 year old daughter participated in some of the program, but preferred hanging out with her aunt’s and grandma.

When we disembarked the ship, I forgot one of my bags. A Princess representative willingly went back with me through customs and helped me retrieve it without having to go through the long line. She also enthusiastically recommended restaurants in Vancouver for us. When we got out to the waiting taxis, another representative helped us get a taxi even though we were arranging our own transportation. I have never been helped after a cruise by the line’s personnel once I was off the ship.

2) The Ports
Anchorage-It wasn’t a port, but where we started out and where many will end their trip to fly home. We enjoyed the Downtown Saturday Market that is held every Saturday from mid-May to mid-September. It was a farmer’s market/craft fair/food tents/live entertainment venue. Also we bought many of our souvenirs in Anchorage. An exceptionally helpful lady at the Once in a Blue Moose Store sold my sister and I the majority of our gifts to take home. There is no sales tax in Anchorage so I would recommend buying them here. I bought my husband a beautiful ulu knife with a caribou antler handle and stand made in Anchorage for half of what they wanted for similar ones in Juneau. I also bought a nice Alaska photo album there. We went to the Visitor’s center where a nice lady gave us suggestions on what we might want to do with our couple of hours before boarding the bus for Seward. Since we arrived in Seward too late to go into town, I have nothing to relate about it. It was also foggy as we sailed out that evening, so I didn’t even get a good look.

College Fjord and Glacier Bay—These weren’t ports, since we didn’t leave the ship, but I want everyone to know this was the highlight of the destinations. I can’t begin to describe the majestic views we had. We sailed down waterways surrounded on both sides by green mountains with glaciers, which are like rivers of ice, between them. In the distance were more snow covered mountains. We were so fortunate to have beautiful, clear days.

Skagway—I walked the short distance into the little town to use the phone to call my husband. It was quaint and probably what you would expect of a touristy mining town. I didn’t look around in the shops as I needed to get back to the pier to catch the White Pass Train at 12:30. We booked this through Princess ahead of time. I highly recommend taking this excursion. Two trips are offered, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. You have more of a chance of encountering fog with the morning trip. You can go online and read about this train ride that took miners to the Yukon gold fields. A guide speaks through a loud speaker explaining the hardships in building the railroad and the terrible things endured by people trying to get to the gold fields before the railroad was built. The scenery, of course, is fabulous along the way. It took about 3 hours to make the round trip. You do not get off the train, but each car has a nice restroom and they provide bottles of water free.

Juneau—I went to a salmon bake offered as an excursion. Although there was a slight drizzle of rain, it didn’t matter. There was a shelter built over the outdoor tables to keep the rain off the diners. We were taken there by what appeared to be a repainted school bus. The drivers to and from the bake provided interesting information about Juneau. At the bake, we had a buffet of coleslaw, salads, cornbread, ribs, chicken, and, of course, salmon. For dessert there was blueberry cake. I elected to forego the cornbread, ribs, and chicken since I’m from Georgia and can get them anytime. I had two filets of salmon, one with the sweet sauce and one without. While we ate, we were entertained by a woman who sang and played the guitar. She sang folk songs and some she composed. One song I especially remember because it explained the five different kinds of salmon. She had written it as a memory aid for the second graders she teaches as a school teacher. Afterward I walked the short distance on a trail into a lush rain forest next to a salmon stream. It was something to see the salmon dying there at the end of their journey, although a little smelly. At the end of the trail was a beautiful waterfall and old mine entrance. I took some pictures there that look like postcards.

On the way back, I had the bus driver let me out at the Mount Roberts Tram. I decided to go there on my own instead of booking this excursion through the cruise line. It costs the same (around $22) but the weather in the morning was foggy and I didn’t want to go to the top of the mountain and not be able to see anything. It had cleared some so I took the tram and was treated to a beautiful view of Juneau, the inside passage and my cruise ship. At the top, there is a nice gift shop which carries many native Alaskan crafts since the tram is owned and operated by a native Alaskan corporation. You can also go online and read further about all there is to do on this mountain. There is a restaurant, movie theater and hiking trails, for instance. You can ride the tram all day for the ticket price. Although, the ride is a little pricey, I feel the view was well worth it. I was also able to buy a couple of nice items in the gift shop on clearance that probably paid for my ticket.

Ketchikan—We had to take a tender from the ship to town. When we landed, however, we were there. This day it was raining. This is not unusual since Ketchikan gets 200+ inches of rain per year. I had seafood chowder and homemade bread for lunch at a nice little restaurant, Annabelle’s, called my husband, and did some shopping. My brother, his family and my sister went snorkeling. He hired an outfit before the cruise to meet them at the dock. They had to wear wet suits because of the cold water, but said they had a great time in spite of the rain and cold water.

Vancouver—We loved this city. We stayed two nights after the cruise. If you can, arrange to stay on. Try to stay somewhere near Robson Street. We took the trolley tour for $25 Canadian the first day to become acquainted with the city. The next day we went to Granville Island to the farmer’s market and ended the day in Gastown. I want to go back someday with my husband.

Summary: In my opinion, this cruise was perfect. The ship and crew were exceptional. The destinations also were so much better than the Caribbean ports I’ve been to in the past.

It was a dream-come-true for my mother. She had never been on a cruise. She and my father were going to go on a cruise to Alaska for their 50th anniversary since Alaska was the only state she had not visited. He died four months before their anniversary two years ago. I am so glad she decided to treat us all to this vacation. There is only one negative to it all. She is now talking of taking another cruise. It will be hard to duplicate such a wonderful experience.

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