Rusty Pickett, MCC
Occupation:Travel Agent, SE Region Rep NACTA
Number of Cruises: 12+
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Island Princess
Sailing Date: July 12th, 2003
Getting to the ship: Because I had not been to Vancouver before, I arrived in Vancouver the day before the scheduled departure of the maiden voyage of Island Princess. The entry process into Canada was flawless, and the international customs/baggage claim area was well organized and efficient. I would have like to have found a luggage cart, but was unable to find one and there were no signs directing me to the storage area. I was meeting my cruise partner and couldn’t leave the area, so my search for a cart went unrewarded. Our hotel (Days Inn Vancouver) was only several blocks from the convention center/cruise terminal, and after checking in we headed to the piers to see who was in. Unlike most US ports, the ships in Vancouver tie up literally next to the convention center and there is a great walkway allowing an up-close and personal look at the vessels that are in. As the Island Princess was being ‘commissioned’ later that afternoon, it had the berth of choice on the west side of the convention center.
The Ship: Island Princess is the sister ship of the Coral Princess and is basically the Sun Princess design with the same number of passengers, and more public space and balcony cabins. We had booked in inside cabin on deck 12, but were upgraded to an ocean view cabin on deck 9 which was wonderful for our Alaskan adventure. Included on this ship is a dedicated internet café, golf simulator and miniature golf course, an elaborate children’s area and a pottery boutique introduced as part of their new ‘scholarship at sea’ program. In addition to their two main dining rooms, one for traditional dining and one for Personal Choice dining, Island had two alternative dining options: a New Orleans style Cajun restaurant that doubled as a jazz café, and an expanded Sabatini’s Northern Italian restaurant somewhat larger than the same restaurant on the Grand class ships! The ship has a complete promenade deck, 2.8 laps to the mile, which was well used for both exercise, a nap in the deck chair, and for gazing at the spectacular glaciers. The internet café was functional and comfortable at $0.50 per minute and $1.00 per printed page. There were about 24 hours where there was no satellite internet coverage around Glacier Bay. The passenger mix was typical for a one week cruise on Princess, and there were slightly more than 200 kids on board, all of whom were very well behaved!
The cruise: As I stated earlier, this northbound Alaska inside passage voyage was the ship’s maiden trip since it was delayed from leaving the shipyard. While some of the service crew had made the journey from France, most of the ship’s company arrived during a brief stop in Los Angeles. We were very interested to see how they would perform giving the limited on board time. The crew was not new, and most had come from other Princess ships. Our cabin steward was a veteran of 14 years with Princess, and the Cruise Director and Assistant Cruise director were the team that were put on all their new builds – I had seen them on Grand Princess, and knew their experience would pay off, and it did! The itinerary was the standard Northbound with stops in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and cruising in Glacier Bay and College Fjord. The shore excursions went off without a hitch from what I could tell showing the results of putting experienced people on staff. Literally everyone who took a flight seeing or hello trip thought it was fantastic and worth every penny. Our highlight was the White Pass and Yukon Railroad trip in Skagway, which boards right at the pier, and is also worth every penny. The only shore excursion complaint that I heard was those that took a ‘Wildlife Jet boat Trip’. No one that I talked to liked it in any way shape or form. There was no wildlife, and it was cold. None would do it again. Following debarkation which went very smoothly, we chose to take the Alaska Railroad transfer to Anchorage for an extra few dollars. We left the Seward station at 7:15am and arrived at the Anchorage airport at 11:30am for those passengers who had flights before 3:00pm and at the Anchorage Rail Station at 12:00 noon where we were shuttled efficiently to the welcome center at the Anchorage convention center. Our large bags were there, and there was secure storage for our carry-on bags (I had no problem checking my laptop computer) so that you could walk around Anchorage unencumbered by baggage. I would highly recommend the r
ail transfer, as it is an exceptionally picturesque way to get to Anchorage.
The cabin: Our ocean view cabin was very comfortable with a twin/king bed and a couch/sitting area. There was plenty of full length hang up area, but the drawer space was pretty limited. This would be a problem for voyages longer than one week. A hair dryer and safe are included as part of the cabin. The restroom was small, but functional. The shower was smaller than others on different ships and was somewhat difficult to maneuver in without getting water outside the shower curtain, but the shower head was great – one of the better I have experienced. The controls were a little confusing at first and there are no readily visible indications of their intended purpose. We figured it out by trial and error. Our cabin steward was exceptional as you would expect after 14 years at sea!
Dining: Buffet dining is in Horizon restaurant on Deck 14. I was impressed that there was no break between breakfast and lunch – a continuous service. The food was fresh and presented tastefully. During breakfast, the ship did not have its juice dispensers operational yet, and relied on thermos type coffee pots to serve three juices. In addition to scrambled eggs, there were several other egg dishes available to choose from. The dessert selection was not as extensive as I have seen on other lines.
Dining Rooms: After several breakfasts and lunches at the Horizon, we opted for the open seating dining room for lunch. The food was a little better, and the presentation was wonderful. This became our lunch venue of choice. For dinner we had asked for late traditional seating, but were not assigned it upon boarding instead being assigned Princess flexible ‘Personal Choice’ Dining. As we were among the first to board, we headed for the Maitre D’ and put in a request for traditional late dining. As an enhancement to Personal Choice, Princess has added the ability to make a dinner reservation for Personal Choice to eliminate the long waits that some of my customers had experienced on other Princess ships. Though it took us 15 minutes to get through on the phone the first night, we were able to walk right in upon arrival at our designate time. By the next afternoon, we were assigned to our traditional late dining and shifted to the other dining room for the remainder of the cruise. We had six at our table for 8. Our Head Waiter was experienced, but I am pretty sure that our assistant waiter was relatively new. Our service, though friendly, was a little slow, due mostly to the fact that the team had one too many tables to serve. There was also a little confusion in the orders because of the number of people that they had to take care of. As this team learns to work together, I think they should improve. The dinner fare was excellent, and multiple choices of several different courses were routinely ordered without problem. We did not try the Cajun Restaurant, but did return to Sabatini’s on the second formal night ($15 per person surcharge). We had made reservations as soon as we boarded, and it was routinely sold out. It was a leisurely (2.5 hour) Northern Italian meal. We had purposely shown up hungry, as my experience was that copious amounts of tasty food were served! I was not disappointed.
Scholarship at Sea: Princess had undertaken a ‘scholarship at sea’ program to
enhance shipboard life. Included in this cruise were pottery demonstrations,
computer application lessons, food preparation, and wine tasting and evaluation
plus more. About half of the offerings were done free of charge, and for those
that wanted more in depth learning and charge of up to $25 was levied. The food
preparation was impressive. We had the Corporate Executive chef on board –
responsible for menu’s fleet wide – and he provided two cooking demonstrations.
They have created a TV level portable kitchen in one of the show lounges that
resembled something for Julia Child! They were still working out the kinks as
some of the equipment was not installed yet, and some did not work, but after a
few cruises when all of the parts are fully operational, it will be an
impressive and tasty hour! In their dedicated pottery studio, you can take
lesson, create a masterpiece, and have it fired and finished on board!
Entertainment: The Island Princess two show lounges are state of the art with revolving and raising/lowering stages and ultra sophisticated sound and lighting systems. Two new shows were debuted which were exceptional – as good as any I have seen. Additionally they had a Hypnotist on board who offered two ‘prime time’ shows and one ‘after hours’ show that were the funniest thing I have seen at sea. After the first show and word got around, the remaining shows were packed! There was a very good Jazz combo in the Cajun restaurant, and two trios that Alternated in the signature Wheelhouse Bar. For whatever reason, the cruisers on this voyage did not stay out late – the ship was pretty dead after about 11:00pm and we managed to close several lounges down at only 1:00am. The casino was typical of most other casinos at sea, offering the usual cruise games.
Summary: This was a fantastic cruise. The ship and crew were ready, and, although there were a few minor ‘first time’ glitches, we left feeling that the crew had been making this ship work for years rather than days! Well done Princess!