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Rhonda Tallant

Age: 41

Occupation:Customer Service Manager

Number of Cruises: 4

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Sapphire Princess

Sailing Date: September 12, 2004

Itinerary: Alaska

This was my 4th cruise overall and 3rd cruise to Alaska. I previously sailed on both Princess and Holland America to Alaska as well as Royal Caribbean to the Caribbean. Out of the 3 cruise lines I have sailed on, Princess is by far my favorite.

Pre-Cruise:
I have relatives in Seattle so my husband & I flew into Seattle a couple days prior to the cruise. We rented a car at the airport and drove to the Homewood Suites in Tukwila. Very nice rooms and a GREAT rate. On the morning of the cruise, we drove the rental car back to the airport and had arranged for a town car to pick us up and drive us to the cruise terminal. We decided to splurge and get the town car this one time.but it's cheaper and just as easy to take a taxi. ($30 versus $70).

Embarkation:
Had a minor problem right off. We arranged for the town car to pick us up at the airport at 10am. This put us at the cruise terminal at about 10:30am. We had been told that boarding would normally begin around 10am so thought this would work out good. Unfortunately, the previous cruise had hit some very rough weather the evening before and therefore was late arriving in Seattle. As our town car pulled into the pier, he was not allowed to get in the lane for drop offs. He rolled down the window and asked what the problem was and was told there were still over 1000 people left on the ship and they couldn't begin check-in until the ship was empty. Well, our town car driver (bless his heart) wasn't having any of that and just moved up a little in the line and then pulled right over the curb. He then got out, flagged down a baggage handler, told them he (like the taxis were allowed to do) needed to drop us off and our bags needed to be handled. The baggage handler didn't have a choice, he took our bags and we proceeded to the terminal. The poor baggage handler was telling the Princess folks in the luggage area that our driver didn't give him any choice and they replied it was fine. Poor guy was just distraught!! We gave him a good tip!

We were then directed to the check-in area. Because we had a suite, we were directed to the platinum check-in area and there we sat for about 30 minutes before official check-in began. Be sure you fill out your Passenger Information forms on-line..it truly will save you a lot of time during the check-in. Once we checked in, we then stood in-line about 30 minutes before they opened the door. Then we stood in line another 15 minutes before we could actually go down the walkway to the ship. All in all, check-in took about an hour and half. I don't think it would have been that long had the previous ship not been late..but I don't really know. It is a long walk (uphill) from the terminal area to the ship. I was out of breath (but then I'm not in the best of shape either!) We were supposed to depart at 5pm, however didn't leave until almost 6pm. From our balcony we could see a couple running from the terminal to the ship and people out on their balconies cheering. We left shortly after so I assume we had to wait for them.

Our Cabin:
I booked our cabin about 5 months in advance and I must have booked at the right time. I was able to get a balcony mini-suite for $1300 per person. My mother and my aunt also took this cruise with us, but they booked their room a month later and paid the same price for just a balcony room (not a suite). So we definitely lucked out! Comparatively, this suite was pretty much the same layout and size as the Veranda suite on Holland America and the mini-suite on Royal Caribbean. You can see pictures of the layout by going to the Princess web-site so I won't go into a lot of detail except to say if you can swing a suite..I definitely recommend it. Just the fact that you have a couch to sit on is ideal. Having to sit on the bed or in a straight back chair to watch TV can be a pain after a while. Speaking of TV's, the mini-suites have 2 TV's, so my husband could lay in bed and watch what he wanted while I could sit on the couch and watch something different. That was nice!

As far as amenities, the cabin has several, including a small refrigerator. Unlike other cruise lines, the refrigerator is left empty so you can put what YOU want in it, instead of them putting can drinks they will charge you for. We picked up water and soda's in the ports and kept this refrigerator stocked. The charge for a can coke purchased on board was $1.50 compared to $3.00-$3.50 I have been charged on other cruise lines. There are two electrical outlets on the vanity/desk area and two located along the base board right inside the door. My husband said there are also two more in the TV area but I don't recall seeing those. We brought an extension cord with extra plugs..but never needed it. There is a wall mounted hair dryer which I found to work great on my hair. It doesn't blow real hard which I prefer. But you might want to bring one if you have long or thick hair..it could take a while otherwise. Light switches are conveniently located by the bed, by the front door and by the couch.

We found the cabin to have more than enough storage space. (Trick-put your empty suitcases under the bed). There are two bedside tables with good lamps. The tables have 2 drawers each. Then the vanity/desk has 3 more smaller drawers. The closet was plenty roomy for our hanging clothes and then there is a separate shelf closet with 5 shelves and a wall safe. The bathroom is tiny, but more than adequate. I also loved the Lotus Spa soaps and shampoos they leave in the bathroom. They only left two sets of towels so we did have to ask our cabin steward to leave a couple extra as I like to lay one on the bathroom floor and I normally use two when showering. After the first day, he always left 4 towels for us. I do want to point out that the bath/shower combination in the bathroom was nice & roomy compared to the single shower stalls in the other rooms. However, getting out of the tub was sometimes a little scary as it is quite a step down to the floor. There are grip bars which I used religiously! If you have mobility problems, you might consider a different room that only has the shower stall.

Our cabin steward was excellent. On the 2nd day of the cruise, we passed him in the hall and he called us by our names (how do they remember??!!). Each day, all the mail (Daily newsletter, shopping specials etc.) was left in a little mailbox outside your door. I like this better than them shoving everything under the door as was done on all my previous cruises.

Food
We all chose the personal choice dining and found we do prefer this to the traditional seating. There are 4 alternative restaurants with no cover charge and one alternative (Sabatini's) with a cover charge. Each alternative restaurant has a fixed themed menu but you can also order off the traditional seating menu. We made our first reservation right after we boarded with no problems. A couple nights later I called to make reservations for 7pm or 7:30 and found the first available time wasn't until 8pm. We don't mind eating this late so it wasn't a problem, but keep this in mind and make your reservations early if you prefer earlier dining. Also, one night we didn't make reservations at all and only had to wait 15 minutes for a table.

We didn't make it to all of the restaurants, but let me describe the ones we did visit.

First night on the ship (after embarkation) my husband and I elected to do room service as we were wiped out. I ordered the grilled ham & cheese and my husband ordered the club sandwich. I don't know if we were just starving or what but we both ate every bite and it was delicious. Also, they will leave you cards each evening if you want to order a continental breakfast for the next morning. The choices on the card include fruit, breads, juices and cereal. We both prefer a larger breakfast so almost always went to the buffet. However one morning we were just lazy and called room service to see if we could get a more substantial breakfast delivered. They said no problem and we were able to get a cheese omelet, bacon, toast, hashbrowns and juice. Nice to know since it isn't advertised anywhere!

Vivaldi- Right after boarding, my mom made reservations for all 4 of us for the next night (first formal night) at Vivaldi. This is the Italian themed restaurant. I ordered the Beef Tenderloin Filet off the main menu and it was exceptional. It was so tender and juicy I could cut it with a fork. I order my beef well done, so getting a steak that is both well done AND juicy is extraordinary! Hat's off to the chef on that one! My mother ordered the shrimp pasta dish off the Vivaldi menu and said it was excellent as well. All 4 of us totally enjoyed the meals we had in Vivaldi. We had the souffle for dessert and it was okay. I remembered the souffles from a previous Princess cruise being much better.

Sante Fe- This is the Mexican themed restaurant. 3 of us ordered the chicken fajitas and I must say there were very good. I was surprised as I am a big Mexican food lover (being from Texas and all) and wasn't expecting them to be that good. They were spiced just right and it was a huge portion. My mom ordered another shrimp dish which was a pretty small portion, but just right for her appetite. She said it was very good as well. We skipped dessert as we wanted to make it to the hypnotist show on time (more on that later).

Pacific Moon- This is the oriental themed restaurant. This was crab leg night (off the traditional menu) so 3 of us chose that. Unfortunately, the crab legs were slightly overcooked. One good thing was that you could order more..and more. I asked for a 2nd helping because my first was overcooked and the 2nd batch was better. Dessert this night was the baked Alaska.wonderful! Remember, you can order more than one entree anytime you want (my husband did on several nights) and can order additional servings as well. Many times they expect it and/or will ask if you want more..so take advantage if you want!

Sterlings- This is the Steak House. Unfortunately, I came down with a cold on the night we planned to go to Sterlings so my husband and I didn't make it. My mother and aunt went and both ordered the lobster off the traditional menu. Both said it was 'okay' but not great. They did comment that it was plentiful in that before they had even finished the first lobster tail, the waiter was placing a 2nd one on their plates.

Horizon Court Buffet- We had breakfast here several times, as well as lunch and even dinner one night. The food ranged from good to excellent. The layout was confusing as you could enter from both ends and that led to people trying to go down the lines from both directions. It worked out though and we rarely had to stand in line for very long to get through. Finding a table could sometimes prove challenging, but we often just asked strangers if we could join them and everyone was always friendly about sharing their tables. Standard breakfast fare included scrambled eggs, over easy eggs (which were surprisingly perfectly cooked with runny yolks), bacon, sausage links, pancakes and/or french toast (didn't care for either of these), breakfast potatoes, rolls, fruit, juices etc.. There were also specialty dishes like eggs scrambled with salmon. Standard buffet fare, but it was almost always hot. Desserts weren't always the best, but a couple times they did have some excellent ones!

Lido restaurants- On the Lido desk, outside the buffet area, there are 3 different food areas. One is for hamburgers and hot dogs, one for Pizza and one for Ice Cream. The Hamburgers, hot dogs and Pizza are free, while you have to pay for the ice cream. We tried them all. The Hamburgers were always hot, the hot dogs BIG and juicy. The pizza, well, I could have eaten that pepperoni pizza for every meal and been a happy camper. I loved that pizza. Thin crispy crust and just do die for. I had it 4 times during the cruise. Some people felt that having to pay for the ice cream was a rip-off.and it probably is, but it sure was delicious. I had the hot-fudge, banana sundae 3 times and ate every bite. My husband got the strawberry sundae and said it was one of the best desserts he'd had on the ship. They cost around $3.50 per sundae.

Entertainment
On previous cruises (expect our very first), my husband and I didn't attend many of the shows or acts as we chose to relax in our cabin instead. This cruise was a first cruise for my aunt and we wanted to be sure she got the whole experience so we did attend a few of them. Our absolute favorite was the hypnotist act in the Explorer Lounge. We laughed so hard. There were 10 people on stage and 8 of the 10 were obviously truly hypnotized. He had them speaking in made up foreign languages, the men taking off their shirts and then having the women put them on. When he woke them up and they saw they were either missing a shirt or had on someone else's.the expressions on their faces was priceless. It was so good I was tempted to think the participants were plants..but we saw them frequently throughout the cruise so I think it was all on the up and up. In any case, it was great entertainment.

We also attended 3 nights of 'Princess Idol' which was an 'American Idol' contest for the best singer. We had a lot of talented singers on board and the guy who won was excellent! We attended two shows in the Princess Theatre which were good, not great, but very good. Finally we attended the 'Princess Price is' contest which was a takeoff of the Price is Right show. I actually got called up on stage..but alas..I didn't win. Was still fun.

My husband did the golf simulator and said it was a lot of fun. It does cost $20.00 an hour, but he went on the last day and there were only a few people playing so the guy let him play an hour for free. He then went back later and paid to play another round.

Finally, the casino. First time I've gambled on a cruise ship and actually won money! I went home each night at least $100 richer (my husband on the other hand probably lost that much each night!!).

Ports of Call and Excursions

As this was our 3rd Alaska cruise, we had pretty much done all the excursions on previous cruises and had, of course, visited all the different cities previously. We go to Alaska for the scenery while cruising, but do enjoy the visiting the ports and of course..I enjoy the shopping! We did do one excursion which turned out to be a highlight of the trip!

For the Juneau port, we purchased the Orca Point Lodge and Whale Watching on-line prior to the cruise and it couldn't have turned out any better! Because there were already 3 ships in port, we had to tender to shore. It was raining that morning, so it was a little miserable to start with..however it did clear up. Once on shore, we boarded a comfortable bus and were surprised to see that there were only about 20 people on the bus so we weren't cramped. We took a short bus ride to the boat for the Whale Watching portion of the trip. The boat we were on was huge and because there were only 20 of us, it allowed us to walk around easily & take a whole row of seats all to ourselves. The boat had two levels. The bottom level was enclosed and heated with room for probably 75 people (there were only about 12 that stayed on the first level). The 2nd level was partially enclosed and partially open. There was a small snack bar where you could by snacks and drinks and they provided coffee, cocoa and water free.

So did we see whales? Boy did we ever! We started out seeing a couple from a distance and the boat would move closer. They are restrictions as to how close they can get to the whales.but the captain would get as close as allowed. When that couple went under for a 'terminal dive' (stays under for an extended period), he would move on to look for others. The highlight came when we saw a group of about 4 whales and he pulled as close as he could. The whales were doing dives and I was able to get several pictures of them. The captain shut off the boat once we were as close as we could get and we watch in fascination as the whales began swimming closer and closer to us. At one point, one of the whales was within about 3 feet from the back of the boat. The guide opened the back door so we could see the whale up close and it felt like it was so close I could have touched it. Until you see one that up close, you can't appreciate how massive these creatures truly are.

After looking for whales, we were then taken to a small rock island that is home to 100's of seals and sea lions. Again, there were restrictions on how close the boat could get, but with binoculars we were able to see them very clearly. We also saw several bald eagles. After the wildlife viewing, we were then taken to a gorgeous lodge for lunch. The meal consisted of grilled salmon, grilled chicken, wild rice, corn on cob, rolls and cake for dessert. It was delicious. During the short ride back to the boat dock, we saw 2 gorgeous rainbows and a beautiful view of Mendenhall Glacier. All in all this was an awesome trip. The guide on the trip said it was one of the best she had had in a while. She said they always see whales, but it was the first time in a long time she had seen one that close to the boat. So, while I highly recommend this excursion because of our experience, obviously, I can't guarantee yours would be as good.

As for the cities themselves, we mainly shopped. We were on one of the last cruises of the season so many of the shops had great sales. Real sales..not just sales that are marked up so they can then mark them down to say they are on sale. Having been in these ports before, I was able to tell that the prices were indeed greatly marked down on many items. If you want good shopping deals, take the last cruise of the season!

We did eat breakfast at a little diner in Ketchikan and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. It was a run down little diner. The food was nothing special and the prices were very high. $9.00 for two eggs, bacon and toast. I can't remember the name, but if you walk into a place with about 4-5 booths (torn and ragged red vinyl)..then it's the one!

A couple of disappointments I need to mention. First, the day we cruised through Tracy Arm we were supposed to end up at a Glacier. Due to the fact that there were too many ice bergs floating in the Arm, the ship was unable to navigate to the Glacier so we never got to see one at all from the ship. This was a major disappointment for my aunt. We previously sailed through Glacier Bay and by the Hubbard Glacier on previous cruises and had raved about the beauty of it to my aunt. She didn't get to experience this site and that was a shame. Also, on the last night when we were supposed to stop in Victoria, BC, one of our engines died. The ship stopped completely for about 2 hours while they tried to repair on. Finally the captain came on and advised they had been unable to repair the engine and while we were completely safe, we would be unable to stop in Victoria at all as we would have to begin heading back to Seattle to make it on time on one engine. Sometime during the night, we felt the ship stop moving again and looked out our balcony to see a huge tug-boat looking boat right beneath us. That boat stayed right beside us for 2-3 hours before it took off and we started up again. I'm not sure if someone on that boat boarded and was able to fix the engine or what, but we made it into Seattle on time.

Disembarking
For the most part, this went smoothly and quickly with a few exceptions. We had an 11:00am flight so were assigned one of the earlier groups at 7:45. It ran about 15 minutes late and we disembarked at 8am. One of the negatives is that we shared the terminal with the Holland America Amsterdam so we were all piling into building and going through customs together. There were personnel directing people to which line to get in and it did move quickly. It only took us about 5 minutes to get through customs and then we were on to find our luggage. Again, while it was a mad-house, there was someone to direct us to the exact area our luggage was located in based on our gold disembarking tickets. Here we hit another negative as there was not a luggage handler to be found. They all seemed to be working the front of the building and our luggage was in the back. We ended up having to drag 3 big suitcases, 2 carry-ons and box (with handles), by ourselves out to the line of taxi's waiting. My mom later told me they had the same problem finding someone to help with their luggage and she finally just walked to the front entrance and waited to find a guy who was retuning with an empty cart. He followed her to the back of the building and helped her. So..remember that if you need help with your luggage!

We got in the taxi line. There was a line of probably 30+ taxi's and a group of guys helping everyone get in them. It moved extremely fast and we were loaded and on our way to the airport in minutes. The taxi ride to the airport was a flat $25.00 (all taxi's have to charge the same flat amount). He dropped us right off at curbside checking and we were then on our way home.

Summary
Our first Alaska cruise was 10+ years ago for our honeymoon. At that time, we had an inside cabin on Princesses Regal Princess. Because it was our first and our honeymoon, we will always have very fond memories of it.but this last cruise on Princess was by far our best. Much of that is based on the fact that we had a mini-suite with a balcony. I highly recommend getting at least a balcony room for any Alaska cruise. Being able to get up, in your jammies, and sit on the balcony with a cup of coffee each morning was truly a wonder. The sights are just spectacular. The food in all the restaurants was very good to excellent and the service was excellent through-out the entire cruise.

I will, however, say that if you want to see glaciers, this is probably not the right cruise for you. We didn't see any from the ship itself, although I know previous sailings on this cruise did make it up Tracy Arm. If you really want to see awesome glaciers, then select a cruise that goes through Glacier Bay. Also, there are positives to going in September-mainly the shopping discounts. However, there is a negative also. On our previous 2 cruises, we sailed at the end of May and all the mountains were still snow covered. Going in September meant that the snow had melted. It's still a beautiful site.but I think I will plan on late May sailings from now on. I like the snow capped mountains! We are taking my in-laws next year and I'm looking to book an end of May cruise that includes a day in Glacier Bay. Unfortunately, while I would prefer Princess (by far my favorite so far), I can't find an itinerary that fits my needs so may try Norwegian. If so, I just hope I get the same level of enjoyment as I did on this cruise. We will definitely sail with Princess again!

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