Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Alaska Princess cruise review, tips

    I just returned from a one week Princess cruise to Alaska. It was a gift from my Dad to my brothers and me, as well as our children. So there were 11 of us in total. It was great to get the entire family together.
    My plan was to blog a little as we went along, but I found that my Verizon wireless card didn’t work at all in Alaska ports. My AT&T cell phone had service at every port, so I guess that’s something to remember when my contract comes up for renewal.
    I won’t bore my few readers with all the details of our trip, but will share a few high points. This was my third cruise on Princess, the first two having been taken some years ago. I’ve also cruised Royal Caribbean once. I think Princess has figured out their target market pretty well, and even though the prices are comparable to the other mass market lines, Princess seems to attract a more upscale crowd. My niece, for example, noticed that everyone dressed much more nicely than on her past Carnival cruises.
    We had the late sitting in the traditional dining room. We felt like it was important to all sit together as a group. But 7:45 is awfully late to eat, and if we were doing it again we would try to go for Anytime dining if it’s possible to get a large table. I found that getting finished with dinner at 9:45 made it too late to do other things – for me at least!
    The dining room food was good and sometimes excellent. The service was only fair. For example, if one ordered a pre-dinner cocktail it was likely to come after the first course. I learned quickly to pour myself a glass of wine in my stateroom before going to dinner. It saved money and I got my pre-dinner drink at the proper time. It did seem that some nights the food choices were really poor, and then on two or three nights every item on the menu was something I wanted. I think this was intentional, in that more money was obviously spent providing dinner on some nights.
    I did not care for the buffet too much, although my brother said the quality was head and shoulders above the quality of the buffet he had on a recent Carnival cruise. He said the Carnival buffet was dreadful. One bright note is that Princess now cooks their bacon. Six years ago bacon was served almost completely raw. The quality of the bacon is poor and in need of a great deal of salt before cooking, but far better than raw. The coffee, which is made from syrup, was drinkable to me, although many hate it.
    The children bought the soda/mocktail card for $7 per day. They got their money’s worth out of it. The kids hated the kid’s club. There weren’t many children on board, and because of their age they were in the 8- to 12-year-old club, which consisted mostly of younger children. My son returned in disgust after his second visit and said he wasn’t going to spend his time around a bunch of “toddlers.” He is a few months shy of his 13th birthday, but was ineligible for the older kid’s club. Perhaps it would have been different on a cruise with more children. But families with 11- or 12-year-olds should be forward that the kids club may not serve their needs very well.
    Ports visited: Seattle, Ketchikan, Juneau, and Scagway.
    Seattle: This is where we began and ended our cruise. Lots to see and do. Don’t miss the Pike Place market!
    Ketchikan: This is a really neat town, and you can have fun here just wandering around. The streets are often built on raised piers as there is so little flat land. We paid $30+ each to attend the “Lumberjack Show,” which I found to be a big waste of money. Better to do something else here or just enjoy walking around. We also found a liquor store next to the IGA grocery which had Kendall Jackson Chardonnay on special for $10.50 per bottle, which is the best price I’ve ever seen it.
    Juneau: We booked a whale-watching boat from Harv & Marv here. We thought the tour operators did a great job, but I’m not sure I would want to go again. We were all glad my 87-year-old father didn’t join us, as it was a choppy ride. We did see a number of whales and sea lions. After the tour they took us by the Mendenhall Glacier for a few minutes. I wish we had had more time here to hike to the waterfall and enjoy the area.
    Skagway: My brother rented a jeep and took a four-hour drive up the summit and into the wilderness area. We didn’t want to go so far, and so just wandered the town area. Unlike Ketchikan, Skagway has little to offer except a bunch of diamond shops in the downtown area. If doing it again I would at least plan to go to the top of the summit, although I simply didn’t want to spend four hours in a jeep. So either plan to do something or stay on the boat, but just wandering around the town is a waste of time.

    My tips for a better Princess cruise:
    1. Take fewer clothes. There is a self-serve laundry on board, as well as reasonably priced laundry service.
    2. Take some of your own alcohol. Princess allows you to bring on your own wine aboard, and you can likely get away with bringing on a small amount of hard liquor. This will not only save money, but allow you to get a pre-dinner drink at the proper time. You can just pour a glass of wine or cocktail and take it to the dining room with you.
    3. If traveling with a large group, one person should consider getting a mini-suite. My dad had one and it served as a great place to visit together.
    4. Don’t forget your power strip if you have phones and other things that need to be plugged up. There is one socket, and the way it is configured only one charger can be plugged in at a time. So you really need a power strip.
    5. We didn’t plan very well, but you should have in mind what you are going to do for each port. Avoid booking through Princess, as they charge three times more for tours than independently booked trips.
    6. Avoid the sales pitches. Princess will offer some things that are good deals, such as the soda card. But when we asked about the wine package we were pressured a bit to buy three bottles of wine for $160. I don’t doubt that they were good bottles of wine, but it was simply more than we wanted to spend. I’m sure these waiters and bartenders get a commission on their sales at the first of the cruise.
    7. The casino has terrible video poker pay tables, and presumably the rest of the payouts are awful as well. They do offer a free, high-quality t-shirt for four-of-a-kind late one night. On a quarter 6-5 jacks or better machine, the house has roughly a 4.5 percent edge against proper play. You should hit four of a kind once every 425 hands. So figuring that you play 500 hands at $1.25 per hand you will have total coin in of $625. Your expected loss is $22.50, and the t-shirt is worth nearly that. So this is the only decent bet in the casino.
    8. The Terrace Bar area at the back of the ship is a nice place to eat or have a drink.

Below is a four-minute video with trip highlights and family photos. Your tolerance for viewing the vacation home movies of others is up to you, so click at your own risk. (The Pike Place fish toss segment is mislabeled. I didn't feel like re-doing it!).

1 comment:

Alaska Fishing Trips said...

Very nice review:-) Don't forget, Alaska will always be the best place on Earth!