Island Princess
Alaska 7 Day Gulf of Alaska Southbound
May 14 - 21 2005
By PhilatSea

Island Princess
Island Princess passing under Lions Gate bridge in Vancouver

 

I received a email from Princess with a Price I really couldn't pass up of $399 PP from Whittier Alaska to Vancouver. I was able to find good priced one way Air from Vancouver to Anchorage. I took a inside cabin and was upgraded the day after I booked and again to a outside obstructed view cabin a few days before the cruise. I also took cruise transfers at first because Princess had cancelled their train to the ship. Upon further research I found Alaska Railroad still ran at train to Whittier leaving at 10:00 AM arriving Whittier at 12:15 PM. I also found the first transfers were not even due to leave Anchorage till 1:00 PM. Taking the train would mean we would beat the rush. I booked directly with Alaska Railroad.
 
I booked the air to arrive in Anchorage the day before the cruise to let me see some of Anchorage. I booked the Westmark Hotel online through their site for $68 a night. Even though this is a Holland America company and Princess used the Captain Cook a block away. The Captain Cook was $149 a night. I couldn't see why I would pay more.
    We arrived in Anchorage on time and took a taxi ($16) to the Westmark. Upon arriving at the Westmark the Doorman/bellhop met us and took our luggage. The front desk staff were very quick and very good. They asked how they could help us.    
    It turns out that the Westmark had been presented that morning with top hotel in Anchorage.
    The room was clean and had a king size bed. There was a small balcony and we enjoyed it very much.
    We walked around Anchorage the rest of the day. We ate at the Glacier Brewhouse that night and had a excellent meal. The meal consisted of Crab cakes, Amber Ale Battered Halibut then Whiskey Ribs, Mixed Grill. I tried the Raspberry Wheat Ale and the Brewhouse Blonde beers and found them very nice and smooth.
 
We woke early and went downstairs and ate at the hotel restaurant. When we arrived at the door we were told that they were serving a buffet breakfast and was asked if we could get Coffee/Tea and Toast. We were able to do that.
 
After breakfast we checked out and took a taxi to the train station, a few blocks away. The taxi stopped in front of the baggage drop off where Alaska Railroad employee's met us and told us to tag our baggage for the ship as that was where we would next see them. This was great because I had been led to believe I would have to take my luggage from the train to the ship.
 
Train to Whittier The train was a great choice as we enjoyed fantastic weather. The were some minor problems on the way south as this was the first train of the season and such things as the PA system didn't work.
    I would take this option as it cost less than the bus transfers and got us to the ship earlier than the bus.
    We did run into one couple who took a taxi and they said the cost was about $125.00.
    I would like to add that you have to travel through the Anton Anderson tunnel just prior to Whittier that is open in alternating directions. There is a delay here if you miss your opening. The train has priority.
 
The train arrived in Whittier as scheduled and we disembarked the train and made the walk across the street to the new cruise ship terminal. The line was rather long for check-in but I was a Platinum passenger and joined that line to be the 2nd person in that line.
Princess now gives out colour room key cards depended on first cruise or Gold Captains Circle, Platinum or Elite.
    In this line-up we were handed a card saying everyone was eating at 5:30 PM open seating in either dinning room or Horizon court so all could be done dinner for the 8:00 PM lifeboat drill. This didn't go over well for most checking in.
    We had to wait about 10 minutes before they began check-in and were on board about 15 minutes later.
 

Island Princess in Whittier
Island Princess comes into view

 
We went to our cabin and checked things out and then proceeded to check the ship out and find Horizon Court for some lunch.
Upon arrival at Horizon Court we were met by a crew member that requested we sanitize our hands with the gel dispenser on the wall.
    The major difference we found is Princess no longer has trays in Horizon court or no one to help you your table. This made it difficult to get your food and then a drink to your table. This was normally a 2 step process.
    The thing that bothered people who wanted to eat outside by the pool, the doors were not automatic. The left door was of a fire exit push the bar variety and the right door was turn a handle to open. If you had your plate in one hand and a glass in another you had to hope someone would open the door for you. This is just poor design of the door. I did wonder though that in warmer climate if they just hooked the door open.
    The food in Horizon Court was good and plentiful.
    The one thing I will add is that this was the 2nd leg of this cruise, meaning that the ship was stocked in Vancouver with food and that things like fruit got very low or scarce the last 2 days of the cruise.
    We went back to our cabin after lunch and was met by our cabin steward. He introduced himself to us and I asked if the beds could be placed together. The steward said it may not be able to be done till either tomorrow or the day after. I was rather annoyed at this as I had made this request online prior to boarding the ship. I made it clear to him that I would like it done today. I asked for robes as they are no longer provided I am told and a "request" on board item. I also had requested fruit online and it wasn't there and once again requested it.
    The cabin steward left and I began to talk to my traveling partner and she was not happy with his attitude about the whole thing, nor was I.
 
We explored the ship for the rest of the afternoon and proceeded to the Provence dinning room for dinner. We sat at a table for 8 and their were 7 of us seated there. The meal went off well. 
    During our explorations we went into Sabatini's Alterative Restaurant where Maro gave us a tour and showed us the menu. We made reservations for the night we were in Skagway for 9:00 PM.
    The only annoyance was we found out dinner times had been changed for all Alaska cruises for those on fixed dinning. We were scheduled for 8:30 and now we would eat at 7:45 PM. This would have been a problem for us in Skagway as we had a late shore excursion that wasn't due back till then but we were now eating in Sabatini's
 
Muster Drill went off at 8:00 PM and our muster station was Bayou Cafe. This lasted for about 20 minutes.
 
Island Princess set sail at 9:30 PM for College Fjord. The weather was clear and cool as the sun was now behind the mountains.
 
After having a few drinks in Crooners Bar (one of the few bars where one can smoke) we went to bed after midnight. Upon arrival back at the room we found the beds put together and the robes in the room. We began to think maybe our Steward wasn't so bad after all. There was no fruit basket but a card we could fill out to request fruit left on the bed along with the room service request for coffee in the morning. We filled the fruit one out and left it on the door.
 
I should add that Princess sells a book on board on Alaska describing each port, history and things to do. It isn't a shopping book. It also includes a large Map of the cruise from Seattle to Whittier printed on good paper. It cost $20 and was well worth it. 
 
Day 1 College Fjord
 
It was now Sunday and we were in College Fjord early. 6:30 - 9:30 AM. I didn't wake till after 7 and got dressed and went top side while my traveling partner slept in. The weather was overcast with drizzle. This provided some spectacular viewing.
 

College Fjord
College Fjord, low overcast and drizzle

 
I went back down to the Cabin around 9 and went back to bed to wake shortly before 11. We got up and showered and proceed to late breakfast in Horizon Court.
 
The rest of the day we spent playing cards and just lazing around and relaxing.
 
Dinner was 7:45 and we proceeded to the dinning room which was running 15-20 minutes late. We were seated in Crooners and could see the entrance from the deck above to the dinning room to see when we could leave for dinner. We sat at a table for 8 and one other couple joined us. We introduced ourselves to each other and it looked like we would have good table mates for the cruise. Our waitress came over and introduced herself to us along with the asst. waiter.
    As it turned out our waitress had 2 tables of 8 and no one at the other table. The dining room was only half full at best.
    The first night went smoothly for the most part except one annoying problem. Our waitress took to talking to another couple several tables down and across the walkway that were from her country. My travel partner drinks water and doesn't drink wine so she would run out of water for long periods of time. The rest of us were drinking wine, so when wine got low we could drink water as our back-up.
 
The evening went very well and we left feeling the food was good and the company was good.
 
We walked around the ship that night several laps and retired to upstairs on Lido deck to play cards till about midnight. There is one part of Lido deck port side where one can smoke.
 
We retired again around midnight to our room. Our beds had been turned down and still no fruit. There was another card placed on the bed for fruit and we filled it out again and left it on the door along with a request for room service for coffee and Tea for 9:30 AM.

Day 2 Glacier Bay
 

Glacier Bay National park
Arrival in Glacier Bay

   
There was a knock at the Door at 8:30 am and I got up and answered the door to find room service standing there. The  room service steward came in and sat the tray down. I looked at the time and thought this is an hour early. Upon further looking we had things on the tray we didn't order. Had this come to the wrong cabin? The coffee and the water for the tea was luke warm at best. There was no milk for the coffee. One has to remember to order milk if they are having coffee.
    We got up showered and proceeded to Horizon Court for breakfast.
    Today was Glacier Bay, the day was clear and cool but warmed up later in the day.
    The National Park Rangers boarded the ship about 10:00 AM and would leave us at about 8:00 PM that night. Look here for a map on Glacier Bay.
 
The day provided some great viewing of whales, birds, seals, bears and last but not least some glaciers. We were taken up and close to Grand Pacific and Margerie Glacier's. 
    I had the chance to ask the Ranger why we didn't get to see John's Hopkins Glacier as cruises in the past have done. I was told Seals have dropped 70% in population there and there is no reason why. The inlet into Johns Hopkins has been closed to all to try and help the seal population recover. There is currently a study going on to try and find the reason(s) why this decline might have happened. 
We had finished seeing the glaciers so my partner and I decide to hit the hot tub as we sailed slowly out of Glacier Bay in the sun. While in the hot tub a grizzly bear was spotted with 2 cubs on shore and the Captain took the ship in very close to shore for viewing. There we were in the hot tub, no camera.
    The Rangers bring on board several boxes of material including books, DVD's that you can buy on board. In the past one had to have cash to purchase these things but now you can charge it to your shipboard account. 
 
Tonight was Captains Welcome aboard dinner (1st formal night). We dressed and went to Crooners again where we stood when the Captain gave his welcome aboard speech in the Atrium beside us.
 
Dinner went off well except again the waitress went of to talk to her friends and leave all the service to the assistant waiter. Tonight brought some lags in clearing plates and lack of water.
 
We went upstairs to the Lido so my partner could smoke to find lack of ash trays. What was up with this? Upon asking crew we found none were available. Back to Crooners. The problem is at midnight most bars that allow smoking close and remove their ash trays at night. The exception is the Explorers lounge where the disco is and the Casio bar.
 
Day 3 Skagway
 
Today we slept in till about 8:30 AM to find us docked in Skagway. We didn't have to be anywhere till 12:40 PM to board the White Pass Railroad train.
    We got showered and dressed and went to eat and proceeded off the ship. The plan was to walk to the cemetery and then back to town to catch the train. The problem was the weather was clear and warm and under estimated the time needed to do this. We got as far as the entrance to the train yard and had 1/2 mile to go according to the sign but we had only just over an hour to do this and be back. We didn't take any chances and turned back.
    We arrived back at the pier where we were to catch the train and had about a 15 minute wait. The train left a little later than planned due to a small problem that the train had to leave and return to get us.  
    The White Pass trip was great with no cloud cover and rather warm weather. Since this was very early in the season there was still snow on the ground in places and at the top. We couldn't see the Chilkoot Trail as it was covered in snow.
    We arrived back at the pier and disembarked the train and headed for the ship to go to the bathroom and drop a few things off in our cabin. The line was slow due to security check. I am told the main items they are looking for are Ulu knives and booze. I don't understand the taking of Ulu knives as one can get a steak knife on board at anytime. The booze issue is a whole other story. With the price of drinks on board I can see why people want to buy and bring a bottle on board.
 
The next tour was the Red Light District tour. This tour was booked prior to us leaving for the cruise and we got the last 2 seats on this tour.
    The tour left a little late due to one person not showing for the tour.
    The tour went to Liarsville where we walked around and then watched a short show and then panned for gold. We were told there were a flakes of gold in each pan.
   Sure enough I did find flakes of gold and placed them in the small plastic bag they provided us.
    Upon returning to the bus I heard people discussing how they got ripped off because they expected to get a nugget they could make something out of. This tour was only $36 per person and they expected a nugget?
    We then went to the lookout on the west side of town over looking Skagway. This was a great spot to see the town of Skagway and the ships.
   Red Onion Saloon upstairs We then proceeded to the Red Onion and went to tour the upstairs bordello. This was a interesting tour as we first were treated to Champagne and pastries. We then toured the upstairs and given a full explanation of the going on's and how things worked. This isn't the original location of the Red Onion and it was moved here in the 1940's but placed backwards on the lot. They chopped a few feet off the front and back and swapped sides. One can see the cut marks upstairs.
    After we toured upstairs one could went downstairs where one could walk back to the ship or take the bus. Since time was tight we took the bus.
    This tour was fun and gave us a insight of what the early gold miners went through.
 
 
 
Here is a photo of a Bear along the side of the road on bus tour up to Carcross Yukon that our table mates Bruce and Mary Ann took.
 

Photos Courtesy of Mary Ann

Bear along road - Photo courtesy of Mary Ann

Emerald Lake Photo courtesy of Mary Ann
Emerald Lake, Yukon


Desperation Pass

 
Tonight was our night a Sabatini's Italian Restaurant.
    We were able to have sufficient time to shower and change after a busy day.
    We arrived to Sabatini's and were shown to a table right away. To say this restaurant was under capacity is a understatement. There were only 3 other tables that had people at them. This was like this for all the cruise.  
    Sabatini's does something different, they serve a 16-17 course dinner. Yes that is what you read correctly, 16-17 courses. One gets to sample some of everything on the menu, the only thing you do is pick a main course. That night we choose the Chefs sampler plate. To say this is to much food is a understatement.
    If one decides to return for a 2nd night then they can just choose items on the menu or ask for something to be custom made.
    The service here was excellent.
    The fun for the evening was watching all the silver ware changes that took place.
    There is a $20.00 per person charge for this restaurant. Would I do it again, likely not as I found the food almost as good as this in the main dinning room. It was fun and we did enjoy the experience but in the end just found it to much food.
 
The night finished with us heading up to the Lido for a smoke but found all the ash trays removed. We ended up at Crooners bar.
 
Day 4 Juneau
 
Today we were docked at Juneau and the plan was to take the MGT shuttle bus to Mendenhall Glacier and do a hike. The problem was Juneau has a new dock beside the fuel tank farm which is about a 2 mile walk to the main bus area. Princess had a shuttle lined up at a cost of $2.00 a person round trip.
    We left the ship with sweaters and Jackets headed for the Glacier even though it was a sunny day. We felt it was better to go this way than get to glacier and find a cold wind coming down the glacier.
    We bought our tickets on the pier for $10 each round trip.
   Mendenhall Glacier We arrived at Mendenhall at 11 and proceeded to the visitor center. One has to buy a 1 day pass at $3.00 each now.
    We watched a short movie on Mendenhall and proceeded out the door to do our hike to the glacier. We had decided on East Glacier hike number 4 on the map. It is described as a 3.5 mile loop with a 400 foot elevation gain.  
    We started out on this hike an soon found it very warm and the jackets and sweater came off very quickly. We also found that this wasn't no 400 foot altitude gain as stated on the map. We climbed at a good rate but found conflicting mileage markers on the trail. When we reached the top of the falls we found we had hiked 3 miles with the return trip still to go. When I read 3.5 mile loop that usually means total distance not one way as in this case.
    We stopped at several places along the way to take photos. The problem was there were several places along the way we would have liked to stop and spend some time but because of the inaccurate description of the trail we had no idea of what to expect. No where does it say either that one either climbs or descends about several hundred wooden stairs. We decided on the clockwise route and thus descended the stairs.
    The weather was warm in the mid 70's for this hike and was well worth the effort.
    We arrived back with about 10 minutes till the bus returned us to Juneau. While we stood there we heard of people saying they saw grey whales breaching in Mendenhall Lake. Hmm this is a lake and a small creek flows from the lake to the ocean, so my question is how did they get there and how do they survive in a lake?
    We did complete the hike in the suggested 2 hours but there wasn't that many points we stopped to rest. It would be safe to say we had no idea of exactly how long this trail was.
 
We arrived back downtown and boarded the shuttle bus back to the ship. We arrived back on board and went to our cabin. Ah yes we had left the fruit request for the 3rd time and this time we left it on the bed and still no fruit. We wanted to go swimming as the weather was warm but out pool towels had not been replaced from their last use. A call to the steward brought towels a short time later. He appeared rather annoyed that I got him from what he was doing for pool towels.
    After a brief talk with my traveling partner it was decided to go pay a visit to the Captains Circle rep to find out exactly how the online requests and things work.
    I arrived at Bernadette's desk and sat down for a interesting talk with her. I explained things about making requests online and was told that this was for marketing only and nothing you request online makes it to the ship. I pointed out that I made a request for a Birthday and the sign was on the door as requested. I made no further contact on board about this request so I asked how did that occur if the online request is just for marketing? We talked about the fruit and the towels and the placing of the beds together and the general attitude of our cabin steward and the lack of ash trays on lido deck after 7:00 PM. The next thing out of Bernadette's mouth was outright BS to put it mildly. I was told it could take up to 2 days to place beds together as the Steward said because a Carpenter is needed to bolt the beds to the floor. I looked at her in amazement for her answer. Knowing from previous cruises that stewards have done this was a cover the butt of the steward answer. One can only imagine on change over day if they needed a carpenter to unbolt all these beds what it would be like on a ship this size.
    The fruit was another story and she had no answer but did send a email to the Hotel Manager.
    The ash tray answer was as interesting as the beds answer was. I was told that ash trays could not be left unattended on a open deck because they might blow over the side of the ship. I pointed out how this was more or less enclosed and they would have to travel towards the pool then up a deck then jump a 8 foot high glass wall to get over the side of the ship. I also pointed out how the packets of salt and pepper were left on the table but the ash trays were not?
    A call was made to the Food and Beverage Manager and he told Bernadette the same answer as she told me. I thought what a lame answer.
    I further discussed the room stewards general attitude and what just happened about the pool towels. This was included in the email.
    I finished with Bernadette and headed up to the lido to have a snack and meet Sandra.
    We went back to the cabin around 7 to get ready for dinner. I looked at the beds and tried to move them, they moved no problem and they are hooked together, there is no place to bolt them to the floor. We were not there more than a few minutes and a knock at the cabin door. I opened it to find a room service steward with a huge bowl of fruit. There was enough fruit in this bowl for several cabins. We took this to mean you want fruit here is some fruit from Princess. I then put out the do not disturb sign so we could get ready and Sandra headed for the shower while I got my stuff out to wear to dinner. A short time later I heard another knock and it was the Deck Room Steward with a apology for things and bringing me 2 more pool towels. He said the room steward had been talked to. I have to say I was rather annoyed that he ignored the do not disturb sign to tell me this.
 
We went to dinner and the waitress once again decided to talk the evening away while water went empty.
    Tonight was Italian night and the Head Waiter would cook some special pasta for us.
    The Waitress and Asst. Waiter greeted all 4 of us and said since tonight was Italian night there was this special Italian drink they were offering us. They said we could choose our Glasses and take them with us. Next thing the glasses were filled and all 4 of us drank this special drink down.
    At the end of the evening I was presented along with our table mates a bill for those drinks. Huh we all thought what is this. There was no mention of these drinks costing money. At this point I decided enough is enough it was time to talk to the Head Waiter about the waitress. Talking to the Head Waiter he said he had noticed her actions and would talk to her. Further he was rather annoyed that she had not explained to us the cost of those drinks.
    The food itself and the company were fantastic as usual.
 
We went back to room to get the playing cards before heading up to the Lido. Upon arriving back in the cabin be began laughing very hard. There was 2 more pool towels on the bed making 6 the total number we had in just a few hours. I guess this was Princess's way of saying you want pool towels here are pool towels.
    The cabin had been cleaned within a inch of it's life as well. All on the dresser was neatly put away and the pop we had used from the mini bar had now been replaced.
    The bathroom had a complete make over and all towels replaced.
 
Day 5 Ketchikan
 

Oosterdam in port
Oosterdam in Ketchikan

 
We anchored in the outer harbour as the Sapphire Princess and Oosterdam were already in port. The tender process started off with Princess sponsored tours first then report to the Explorers lounge and get a tender ticket.
    We were not in a hurry to go ashore as we didn't really have anything planned and it was raining.
    At about 11 we headed to get a tender ticket and got ours and as soon as we headed for the tender they announced open tendering had started.
    We went a shore and walked down to Creek Street and walked back to the ship, doing some shopping along the way. Didn't really buy anything except a few pins. We had to line up for the tender back and just as we boarded the tender it started to rain again.
    As far as both of us our concerned Ketchikan could be dropped as a port of call and replaced by Sitka or Wrangell.
 
Tonight was Formal night.
    We arrived at the dinning room after having our usual stop at Crooners.
    Shortly after sitting down and with the waitress standing behind me the the Head Waiter came over to explain what took place with the waitress. He told me she had been called before the Maitre'd and given her last warning. The indication from the Head Waiter was this was not the first time she had done this and warned about it in the past but I could be assured it would be her last.
    I did feel this a bit tacky to do this with her behind me.
    The service though for tonight and the rest of the cruise couldn't be better from these two. Why does it take a complaint to get the service?
    Tonight we decided on ordering King Crab for dinner. The meal arrived and our waitress said that she placed 2 orders of King Crab on each plate. This was a huge meal.
    We went to Crooners till closing and then tried to find another Bar afterwards that would be open but the only 2 bars left were Explorers Lounge and the Casino Bar. Explorers was being used as the Disco so it was rather loud and the Casion Bar was next door to this and just as loud.
 
Day 6 Inside Passage
 
Today was foggy, low clouds and rain off and on.
    The naturalist on board came on the PA system to tell us today would afford us a great day for viewing Killer Whales. We should be on deck in the afternoon to view these whales. Well we sat and played cards as we looked up between hands to view the water's for wildlife, no whales spotted all the day. We talked to several people who say they saw nothing as well. 
    It was still a great day.
 
Today was pack-up day and all baggage was to be out by 9:00 PM.
   
Tonight brought the final dinner. Tonight brought Prime Rib which was a good 2 1/2 inches thick and done perfectly.
    The desert brought the Baked Alaska parade in the dinning room. As we were finishing the Baked Alaska the Head Waiter cam along with a Birthday cake for Sandra. It was nice finish to a cruise.
    We said our good bye's to our new friends and went tp Crooners for one last drink.
 
 
Day 7 Vancouver
 

Canada Place

 
We arrived bright and early into Vancouver. I got up and could see Zaandam in formation with us 300 yards off the starboard side. Zaandam soon slipped behind us as we entered English Bay.
    I took several photos of Vancouver including one that I stitched together of the inner harbour.
 
We went to Horizon Court for one last breakfast.
 
Oh yes I would like to say that we ended up with a total of 10 pool towels on the shelf this morning.
 
Since I was a Platinum Member I could wait in the Captain's Circle Lounge in the Wheelhouse Bar. This was a nice touch with Coffee, Tea Juices and pastry's
 
According to the information we received in our Cabin the night before we should leave the ship at 9:15. Disembarkation was slow and we finally got off the ship about 10:15.  The luggage area they were using appeared to be a small and the number of customs agents was 3.
 
Over all the cruise itself was excellent. The weather was good when it needed to be. The Island Princess had a nice layout. Our table mates Bruce and Mary Ann were excellent. Can't wait to hear from them. The food over all was excellent.
    Island Princess appears to have a moral problem and I couldn't pin anyone thing on it. Ask a crew member where something is and we got the standard answer "that isn't my department how would I know"? We only found one person that went above and beyond and that was Florinda in the Horizon Court.
    I am glad I only paid the discounted fare for this cruise. It is also the first cruise I have taken in 15 that I honestly thought of not tipping. I can further say that I am not sure why this cruise had such poor moral between the crew. Several things come to mind, most of the crew are from warmer climates and this ship just finished spending the winter cruising to Hawaii. This was the first southbound cruise of the season so maybe the crew need to get used to the weather. The automatic tipping of $10.00 per person means that crew no longer have "work" for their tips as they will now get tipped no matter what. So many ships are being built that cruise lines can no longer be selective in who they hire?
    Who knows but I can say this, I have thought since coming home have I taken my last cruise? I truly hope not, but if this is the trend on cruises today then maybe I have.
 
More Photos
 
PhilatSea