Age: 41 to 50
Number of Cruises: First Cruise
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Sun Princess
Sailing Date: May 15th, 2000
Itinerary: Alaska, Vancouver - Anchorage
Sun Princess, Voyage of the Glaciers (Vancouver – Seward/Anchorage), May 15, 2000.
As first time cruisers we arrived at Canada Place (embarkation terminal in Vancouver) not knowing what to expect or do. Arriving on our own, we had been dropped off outside the terminal, and carried our luggage down from the street and into the terminal where we could find Princess embarkation booths for some of the ship’s lower decks, but none which corresponded to ours. Princess staff were very harried, and while not rude, weren’t much help when approached. We finally figured out that we should give our luggage to the longshoremen out in the parkade area, and found a counter with a sign that indicated Caribe-Aloha decks, pointing to a door marked NO ENTRY. Many (aprox. 100) people were milling around and none knew what to do. Finally, a Princess staff member came to ‘man’ the counter and said we should check there before going through. We stood in line for 20 min. watching one group of morons hold everything up because they had not filled out their embarkation forms. I couldn’t see how they could possibly get everyone onboard before sailing-time when another staff member came by and said we should ‘Just go ahead’. Once through, we were in another large area with many booths for specific decks and staterooms; embarkation was a breeze! The whole process would have only taken 10 min. if we knew, or had been told what to do in the first place. Customs clearance consisted of being asked ‘Are you American or Canadian?’ If one answered ‘Yes’ one was waived through – that’s it!
Once onboard we proceeded to our stateroom (C711) inside, dead center, aft. I had done a lot of research on different cruise lines and ships in the preceding months, and knew that these staterooms were on the small side, but was pleasantly surprised to find it was larger than I had envisioned. For a seven-day cruise we found it to be perfectly adequate, however, on a longer cruise I can understand how some people may find it to be too small, especially if they have packed many clothes. The stateroom very nicely appointed and had twin beds. We had asked for a ‘queen size’ configuration when we booked the cruise, and again when our documents arrived and I noticed the beds were listed as ‘twin’. However, after seeing the stateroom we decided it would be better to leave the beds separate. There was a night table, desk/vanity and chair, hair drier, refrigerator with ice bucket and glasses, TV, 3 closets with lots of space (for us), programmable safe, and a small but beautifully functional bathroom with shower. There was plenty of drawer space in the desk and the night table. It was immaculate and tastefully decorated. Large mirrors and smaller than normal furniture give the illusion of more space than there actually is, but for two of us for a week it was great. Our steward (Arnold) introduced himself and wanted to know what dinner sitting we had (so he would know when to turn down the beds). The service was excellent, he was cheerful and promptly attended to any requests - terrycloth robes and pool towels etc. - he kept the stateroom immaculate the whole week. The ice bucket was always full, there were always clean glasses, and we always had a plentitude of fresh towels etc. in the bathroom. The soundproofing was excellent and there was no vibration, which I have read can be a problem with aft staterooms on other ships.
We left to explore the ship. It truly is beautiful, spotlessly maintained and looks brand new – not five years old. When we returned to our stateroom about an hour later, the luggage had arrived along with two surprises: a bottle of champagne from our travel agent, and a bouquet of roses from the steward! He explained that they were from a stateroom on the previous cruise and would just be thrown out. They lasted five days – nice touch.
After unpacking we had a bite in the Horizon Court buffet and went on deck to watch our departure. I couldn’t believe it, but they played the ‘70s Love Boat TV theme over the loudspeakers as we pulled away. Really kitschy – I wanted to shoot the speakers.
Food in the Horizon Court varied from excellent to awful. Just remember it’s a 24 hr buffet and some dishes do not lend themselves well to sitting on a steam table for any length of time. The selection is huge so this is not a problem, if fact we ate most of our breakfasts and lunches there. One thing I must get across is - the Horizon Court coffee is awful!!! If anyone from Princess reads this, please take note and do something about it.
Verdi’s pizzeria was not very good. We tried it only once. Not many toppings on a thin cardboard crust. I can’t understand all the rave reviews.
Dining room cuisine was generally fabulous and well presented; our waiter and assistant waiter were wonderful. They quickly learned our preferences/quirks. For example, I like coffee and Mavis likes chamomile tea after desert. We only asked for these on the first night and from then on he would automatically bring them. The dining room coffee is great – no problem there. We had the late sitting (8:15) and really liked it. The ship left ports at 8:00, so we had more time ashore. There are two shows every night in each of the Princess Theatre and the Vista Lounge, so you will not miss anything.
The muster station drill was fairly low key and short.
If you’re on a budget take your own alcohol. Princess currently has no written policy on this matter. I took a bottle of vodka and got OJ for mix from room service or the Horizon Court – saved a fortune. We still bought drinks: a Heineken in the Wheelhouse Bar, wine with dinner, coffee and Irish Cream on deck in Glacier Bay etc., but taking the vodka sure cut down on the onboard expenses. I think the reason they charge $1.50 US for a can of pop is to ‘ding’ you on the mix if you do bring your own booze onboard. Next time I’m going to take Scotch.
The aft elevators do not go to the two lowest (restaurant) decks. Consequently they are nowhere as busy as the forward elevators, where the waits can be interminable. This was one reason we really liked having a stateroom at the aft of the ship. Another reason is the pool and spas (hot tubs) at the aft are also nowhere near as well used as those mid-ship. Our favorite spa was on the top (Lido) deck, 14, aft. It has a great view, and many times there was absolutely no one else around.
We also found it was better to be at the stern when viewing the glaciers in Glacier Bay and College Fjord. Everyone goes forward, and there are huge crowds 2-3 deep elbowing each other along all the rails. You will see just as much from the stern and there are very few people - lots of space and deck chairs and no crowd at the rails. Paradise is having a drink while lounging in a spa with a view on a sunny day right next to a glacier – it just doesn’t get any better!
Be prepared for any weather. You may need anything from shorts to a down parka. On the whole we were very lucky weather-wise.
Day 1, we left Vancouver on a hot sunny day.
Day 2, at sea - Inside Passage - overcast.
Day 3 – Ketchikan - rained all day. I learned quickly that an umbrella is a pain-in-the-butt when taking pictures.
Day 4 – Juneau – started out ‘socked in’ with low clouds and rain with wind - looked like our helicopter Glacier Discovery tour was going to be cancelled. Began to clear a little around noon and we were on one of only two helicopter tours that flew that day. There were many very disappointed people whose flights were cancelled. We were extremely lucky, there were only four of us onboard, and we got to spend almost an hour on the glacier, not 30 min. like planed. I would recommend this excursion to anyone. It’s expensive but worth it, even on a rainy/cloudy day - a once in a lifetime experience. It must be just unbelievable on a sunny day when you can see the whole of the 1500 sq. mi. Juneau Ice Field!
Day 5 – Skagway – started out with light drizzle for our Yukon Territory Adventure tour and cleared up once we were over the White Pass summit and into B.C.. Sunny for lunch at Frontier Heritage Village in the Yukon, Carcross, Tormented Valley, and back down the White Pass – spectacular.
Day 6, at sea – Glacier Bay – started with high overcast that burnt off and turned into a beautiful day – fantastic!
Day 7, at sea – College Fjord - gorgeous sunny day. The kind of day they take brochure pictures on.
Day 8 – Seward – mixed sun and showers. Disembarked 9:30 am. Three-hour bus ride through the spectacular Kenai Peninsula and along Turnagain Arm of Cook inlet to Anchorage. We were dropped off at the airport around 12:30, and as our flight didn’t leave until 5:00, thought we would leave our luggage in a locker while we went downtown for the afternoon. There are no lockers, but the airport does have an expensive baggage storage room where you have to pay for a minimum of 24 hrs., which we decided not to use. Princess has free shuttle busses between downtown and the airport every half hour. Six of us were waiting for the next one, when a Princess employee asked if we wanted to ‘go right now?’ then radioed over to a luxury bus that was waiting to take passengers to Seward, but whose flight was delayed. What great service! We were dropped off at the downtown convention centre, which Princess had taken over as ‘headquarters’. Here we found we could ‘check in’ our luggage with Princess for free while we spent the afternoon exploring Anchorage.
We were very happy with the Sun Princess and the cruise – just change the coffee in the Horizon Court and it would be almost perfect! Princess really does a great job, and we would not hesitate to sail with them again.