Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Diamond Princess
Sailing Date: July 31st, 2004
We (my husband, 9 year old son and I) just got back yesterday from a 7 day Inside Passage Cruise. I have become addicted to Cruise-Chat and other forums in the six months between booking and sailing, so I had plenty of help from all of you preparing for our first cruise. While on the cruise I often thought “I have to tell them about this!” so the first thing I am doing is writing this review while I still remember it all.
First, you should know a little about my family. We are from the Houston area, and chose the Alaskan itinerary for several reasons:
1. My husband is originally from the New England area and by August is fed up with the heat.
2. My son is really into wildlife and is a Cub Scout, so he was dying to see the Indians, bears, whales, etc.
3. I figured in Alaska I wouldn’t have to get in a bathing suit!
Also, we are not gamblers at all, but love the theatre. We used to be competition swing dancers, and looked forward to taking ballroom classes. (Unfortunately, there were none. The teacher was on vacation.) All three of us are very social, and really enjoy meeting people.
We arrived the Friday noon the day before and took the Shuttle Express from the airport to the Ramada Inn Downtown. The Shuttle was pre-reserved for $22 for all 3 of us. Pre-reserving saved us maybe 20 minutes waiting in the airport parking structure. The van driver was dropping us and 2 other groups off in various locations in downtown. The driver was quite a talker and gave us a great tour of the city on the way to our hotel, including fun facts. My son kept asking questions, and he gladly answered them and provided more info than Grayline Tours!
Our hotel was well placed, halfway between the Space Needle and Pioneer Square, but dated. We really only had the afternoon and evening to walk around, so we walked to the Space Needle, (did not go up) had some lunch and then did some souvenir shopping. The Sci-Fi Museum just opened in mid July (right next to Experience Music Project) and we were really disappointed that we couldn’t spend the 3 hours it takes to go through it. Instead we went to our prepaid reservations for the Ride the Duck tour. The WW2 amphibious tour through downtown Seattle and then around the bay was a unique experience and my son loved it. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I weren’t so tired from traveling, and we had a more energetic driver.
All we did the rest of the evening was go to a fabulous restaurant on 5th called Icon. Great food, great atmosphere, and fairly reasonable pricing for a downtown, nice restaurant. People from the LA or NYC areas will think it a bargain. No kid menu, however.
Saturday morning, all we did was eat breakfast in the hotel, walked 3 blocks to Bartell's Pharmacy for a few things we forgot (great store near Nordstroms) and then headed for the port terminal. Based on other reviews, we decided to beat the rush from noon to 2 and arrived at 10:45 am. There were still a lot of passengers from the week before just getting taxis to the airport. We made our way inside and found that we were in a very short queue to check in. About 50 people were waiting who had already been processed. We were in our stateroom by 11:30am! Luggage arrived around 3.
(To skip ahead briefly, when we arrived back in Seattle, we docked at 7 am and were off the ship by 9:30. We took the ship’s bus back to the airport for $18 each with a million other people, and I wished we had booked Shuttle Express for this as well. They have a tent between the buses and the terminal building. Very easy, and would have saved us $25!)
Once onboard, first we made dinner reservations, then we did set out to explore this beautiful, emaculate ship. In doing so, we took a tour of the spa. First class spa, exercise room and gym. My husband ended up booking 2 massages. I signed up for a free 20-minute hair evaluation that evening. At the evaluation, the hairdresser said all the right things and I booked an appointment for the next morning, even though I had had my hair cut only 2 days before! I wish I had saved my money in my hometown. The haircut (long hair) was $70 and the 3-color highlight for long hair was $99. She did a fabulous job and both my husband and I love my hair.
My husband’s seaweed wrap/massage was 90 minutes at $158; the deep tissue was 60 minutes at $99. He got a lot out of the deep tissue massage by the sports masseur, but wished that he had listened and gotten the hot stone massage for his bad back instead of the seaweed wrap.
Note: the spa and salon book quickly, so I would recommend visiting the spa right after you make dinner reservations once you get on board.
Based on everyone’s advice, the first thing I did once onboard was to call the reservation desk for dinner reservations in the anytime dining rooms, especially Sterling Steak House. The reservations aren’t open until noon on the first day, and they have a new policy: you can only make reservations up to 48 hours in advance, so no making reservations for every night, as others have suggested. The new policy seems to work well and it gets the kinks out of the Anytime Dining situation.
One note about Anytime Dining: Anytime Dining is just like eating at a restaurant at home: making dinner reservations a few hours to 48 hours in advance. You eat at a table with just your family. There is no intermingling of passengers. We chose Anytime Dining based on a recommendation of the travel agent. Frankly, there wasn’t that much variety in the food between the different restaurants. Certain items were available in all 4 restaurants every day, and the Chef’s choice for each night was also available in all (lobster was in all restaurants on the second formal night, for instance.) Each theme restaurant had maybe 2 appetizers, 2-3 entrees and 1 dessert that were special to it. We only went to 3 of the 4, since we knew the Santa Fe restaurant couldn’t compare to our hometown Mexican restaurants. Our favorite was Pacific Moon. My husband especially liked the sushi that could have been never-ending!
We felt that we were missing something not having dinner companions that we could talk to and compare daily experiences with. The next time we sail, we will choose Traditional Dining. On Princess, if you have chosen Traditional Dining and want to eat in a different restaurant, all you have to do is make a reservation, but the International (traditional) Dining Room is always available. (We ate in the International Room once for breakfast and for lunch. The service is very good in this room.)
The following is an evaluation of the quality of the food. First you should know, both my husband and I eat lunch out almost every day of the workweek, and as a family, we eat out at nice restaurants at least 3-4 times per week. Therefore, we are fairly particular about food. The week started out about average, then by Wednesday, the food got very good:
The Trident Grill around the Pools: the grilled chicken sandwich was surprisingly good, and the pizza was respectable. We only ate there once since my family doesn’t really care for fast food. We heard other people swear the pizza was the best they had ever eaten.
The breads on the ship (all made on board) are worthy of the best bakeries in any city and are fabulous. If you are on Atkins, I feel sorry for you. You are really missing out. (PS: the restaurant menus pointed out all the low-carb items to help you stay on plan.)
The desserts varied. Some of the desserts were the best I have ever eaten, especially if they had fruit in them. The chocolate desserts were disappointing, except for the always available “Make your own Sundae”. After my son discovered this option, he had chocolate ice cream (Hagen Dazs), dark chocolate sauce, and whip cream for dessert every night.
Caesar salad was available in every restaurant every night, and wasn’t the best I’ve eaten, but my son had it 5 nights in a row. He did comment that it needed more garlic, but he thinks if it won’t scare off a vampire, it doesn’t have enough garlic.
Prime rib was available at least 2 nights, and was very good. On Wednesday there was all you can eat King Crab. Simply incredible. Thursday was lobster tail, as many as you wanted, with or without Beef Wellington on the side. Friday my husband had tiger shrimp and seared scallops and they were excellent. This dish was always available in the Pacific Moon.
Beverages: I can’t comment on the alcoholic beverages because we really don’t drink much. But as for the other beverages on board, I was shocked to find that they didn’t serve lemonade. It wasn’t even on the ship! There was no point buying my son a soda card since he just started drinking soda, Dr. Pepper almost exclusively, and there is no Dr. P or Mr. Pibb on the ship. The service for getting sodas was ridiculously slow. This is really the only complaint that we had and we told them on the ship and plan to tell the corporate office as well.
There were 6 different performances in the main theatre on board and my husband and I saw 5. Each lasted about an hour and we saw the first performance of the night in each case. To do this, we had to get to the theatre at least 20-30 minutes before curtain to get a seat fairly close. The theatre holds 500, and with a ship of 2700 passengers, we were rightly concerned. We gave the Welcome Aboard performance, followed by a comedian/classical guitarist Duncan Tuck, a grade of B. (Actually, the crew performance was a C but Duncan Tuck easily got an A. He is incredibly talented. The show we missed was an hour just for him, and we were disappointed that we didn’t go, but it conflicted with an excursion and our energy levels.)
The next show was Piano Man. It was a medley of Elton John, Billy Joel, Barry Manilow, Liberace, and Neil Sedaka. I would also give this one a B. My 9 year old said that it was okay.
The next two performances were a Comedian/Juggler and a Comedian/Magician. Although he was a little rusty just coming off a month vacation, the Juggler was very entertaining and funny. My son missed it, but he would have loved it. I’m glad he was busy in the Kid's Room because he would be stuffing ping-pong balls in his mouth too! We dragged him to the Magician and he was mesmerized. The man was both talented and very funny.
The last performance we saw was called Curtain Up and was outstanding. It deserved the thunderous applause it received.
I also saw the cooking demonstration put on by the Head Chef and the Maitre d’Hotel. It was very entertaining and funny. It was followed by a tour of one of the 7 galleys on board, but there was a line of about 400 in front of me and there was so much other stuff to do.
We were very lucky and had beautiful weather in Juneau. We booked the combination Mendenhall Glacier and Whale watching excursion thru the ship. Even though we had plenty of time in Juneau and were not concerned with missing the ship, I decided on this one because no other tour operator combines these two excursions in one. We thoroughly enjoyed both parts and saw some amazing sights with 8 humpbacks bubble feeding! We went up Mt. Roberts Tram before the excursion but didn’t have enough time for anything up there before we had to leave. We thought we would return after the excursion, but other than a little shopping, we just didn’t have the energy for anything.
Unfortunately, the weather in Skagway was miserable. It started out overcast and got colder and wetter as the day went on. We went into town first to get our free charm from Diamonds International (see Shopping, below) and then headed for the excursion: fast ferry to Haines then Jet Boat thru the Eagle Preserve. I deliberated for 3 months on what to do in Skagway, and since this tiny town had 8000 people from cruise ships bearing down on it that day, decided to check out the Eagles across the fjord.
The ferry across was pleasant. We saw 2 humpbacks in the distance. The ride to the river in a recycled elementary school bus was uncomfortable but short. The lunch provided was good for all ages. Then we put raincoats over our parkas, wrapped ourselves in rainproof blankets, and boarded an open-air jet boat that sat 32. Unfortunately, the weather had gotten so bad, even the animals were hiding. We saw maybe a dozen eagles, only 1 in flight, and a few big nests. We stayed fairly dry, but I could ring the water out of my gloves, and the rain beat down on your face. Even with this horrible weather (it was maybe 50 degrees, but the jet boat created quite a wind chill) the beauty of the preserve was breathtaking. The mist hovered halfway up the mountains, and the entire landscape looked like an antique black-and-white photograph. You were out in this reserve, miles away from camp and everything but the mountains, the peacefulness and beauty of the landscape was inspiring. I can just imagine how fabulous this trip would be if the weather and nature cooperated even a little.
The jet boat excursion is only available through your ship. Slower rafting excursions that travel a much shorter portion of the river are available thru the ship and independents.
This is a very short port day (6 am to 11:30 am) so we booked the Saxman Native Village and Totem Poles thru the ship. The trip of the tiny native Tlingit Indians village included a very good 13 minute film, a visit to the carvers hut where they tell you how they carve totem poles, stories about the 22 antique poles they have in the park area, and a native dance exhibit in the clan lodge. This trip is also available independently but you can only see the dancing if you book it through your ship. This was mandatory for my cub scout. In fact, when they asked for volunteers to dance, he was appointed the chief! Great photos and memories.
This was our last night on board, and the Diamond is only in port for a few hours in the evening. We decided before we ever sailed that we would not get off in Victoria since we had visited there for several days 3 years ago and there was nothing we really wanted to do. However, if you have never been to Victoria, you must go to Butchart Gardens, at least twice in your life. I have a screen saver on my computer than scrolls through 40 slides of the gardens, so I see it every day. Otherwise, I would have been the first on that bus, for my third trip to the gardens.
There are several stores on the ship that offer specials each day. My husband (the shopper in the family) found several shirts that he had to have. The prices were okay and were very good quality, but I thought the selection was disappointing. He also got me a scrapbook with a 5x7 picture of the Diamond embedded in the cover (for $22). Since a 5x7 alone cost $10 in the photo shop, this wasn’t bad. They had some very nice jewelry on board, but we became uninterested once we hit port.
The shopping consultant, Richie, gave a lecture on every port the day before we got there. It was later repeated on TV that night. I was impressed. Richie told you about all the stores, what you would find in them, where the best deals where, etc. Princess guarantees all the stores on his list for 30 days. Most had free gifts (with and without coupons Richie gave you.)
We had no idea that jewelry had invaded Alaska. It seems that all the Caribbean stores have realized that Alaska has tons of cruisers too, and the entire dockside of Ketchikan is nothing but jewelry stores. Skagway, with only 400 people in the winter, has a dozen jewelry stores with rocks the size Wilma Flintstone would wear! Of course, they have everyday jewelry, and the prices are supposed to comparable to the Caribbean.
Richie’s second lecture was about how to buy diamonds and other gemstones. Not only did he explain about the 4 C’s, but about other stones, where to find them, and how to bargain for them, what percentage discount to strive for, depending on the store. Richie’s lectures are not to be missed. I hate shopping, except on vacation. His lectures make the experience even more enjoyable.
The stores in the ports open when the ship docks. Yes, that means that many are open at 6 am in Ketchikan, and everything is open by 7:15 or so. In Victoria they are supposed to be open late.
Kids on Board:
This is a whole subject in itself, and I will write a separate review for the Kids Program because this review is already out of hand. To summarize, however, Princess does a great job with kids, and even though there were 300 on board, they were always well behaved and well dressed, and you really never saw more than a few at any one time, unless you went to the Horizon Court during the kid’s dinner.
I hope everyone has a chance to cruise to Alaska, and I am sure we will be returning again, on Princess, but probably on one of their Cruise-tours for 10+ days. Based on the comments from the storeowners in port, Princess is the best and most respected cruise line in Alaska, and we have no reason to argue with them!