Dawn Princess
Alaska 7 day Cruise - Seattle return
June 17 -24 2006
By Tucker

Background

This cruise was a family affair with husband’s two sisters and brother and spouses ranging in age in the 50’s and 60’s. Originally I booked the Vision of the Sea in October 2005. However, they cancelled the Tracy Arms portion of the cruise so I felt it to our benefit to find another cruise as they others had never been to Alaska (we did a one-way cruise in 1997) and glacier viewing is a must. We ended up on the Dawn even though their itinerary was the same as the Princess Sun. The reason being that we cruised Tracy Arms a little later in the day than the Sun did. O.K., I’m not an early riser (lol). Husband and I have been on 20 plus cruises but this was our first time on Princess. One had never cruised, three had cruised once before back in the 80’s, and the other couple maybe four times.

Pre-cruise

We all arrived in Seattle a day early. Good thing as one of my suitcases went astray on the way up. Since I am careful to pack half and half of husband’s and my clothes in each suitcase, this was not a problem. The other suitcase had all we needed. Essentials were in our carry-on. They were very impressed at the lost luggage desk when we had make, measurements, color, and a picture along with our itinerary. The luggage arrived at the hotel the following day. Another good reason to go in early, it had time to catch up with us.

Embarkation

A piece of cake. We walked on about 1:00 p.m. We had Express Check-in having filled out the paperwork on-line. The line for those that didn’t was a bit lengthy but I don’t know how long it took them.

Good news! We were upgraded from steerage inside to an outside on Deck 7 with a huge picture window. One other in our party was also. However, the third couple got what they paid for. The fourth couple had booked a balcony.

Cabin

At first, I thought our cabin was in the far end of nowhere. But I wasn’t complaining since it was an upgrade. However, as the week progressed, it really wasn’t that far once you knew where you were going. Hint: follow the muster signs to avoid going astray or the “printed” carpet. Once I eliminated “wrong turns” it was easy. Our cabin was below the Wheelhouse Bar and the first night we could very faintly hear the bass from the band but it went away quickly and never bothered us at all. We heard it again one other night.

The cabin was a little smaller than others we have had but still very nice. Only six desk type drawers in the vanity plus bedside table drawer but shelves and two swing-out bins in the closet was more than adequate. Plenty of hangers for a change. A safe. Another pleasant surprise was the refrigerator was empty of everything but a small ice bucket. They had four cans of soda and a bottle of water to sell on the vanity but that was it. The bathroom was a little smaller than those I have had recently but it worked. Three of those triangular shelves and a shelf under the sink but they had the bath towels and extra Kleenex on it. We had the bed made up as a queen and there was one bedside table with a couple of shelves. The greatest thing about the cabin was the huge picture window! If you plan to cruise on this ship to Alaska, I will save you some bucks. Book a Cat. D outside cabin instead of a balcony. Not an EE which looks like it is right next door because those windows are smaller. The balcony cabin was the same size as our cabin. I sat inside on the Tracy Arms cruising day, nice and warm, narration going on from the TV. During the day (which lasts a long time in Alaska) I opened the curtains and had beautiful scenery passing by the whole cruise. The balcony was very small. Two chairs and a low table filled it up. You would be hard put to have four people on it.

The Ship

The ship is smaller than ones we have recently cruised on. I really liked being able to get from one end to the other without having to pack a lunch. The biggest drawback was the theater was very small. However, they compensated for it by having a repeat of the show in the afternoon or evening the next day. We found we needed to be at the show 20 minutes ahead of time to get a seat. I didn’t see a lot of seat saving except one night some guy was hogging up eight seats. If I had wanted one, I would have taken one and pointed out the paragraph in the daily bulletin that said no saving of seats. He finally gave them up when the show was starting but one couple had already marched by him and took two. The shops were also limited. While the ones selling cosmetics/perfume, clothes, jewelry seemed adequate (I don’t buy those things so I can’t give an accurate comparison), there was only one small one that sold liquor, cigarettes, el cheapo souvenirs, paperbacks, and sundries and was very limited. Husband needed disposable razors and they were not stocked. I wanted a thermo mug and it was not stocked. But, if you want Pringles and candy bars, they had those. Who would buy snack foods on a cruise ship?

Dining

We chose “Personal Choice” over traditional. It was done in one dining room while the traditional in another one. The first two times we went, the service was very slow in comparison to what I have had in the past. My definition of “slow” is that I have to wait many minutes between courses, not the total time. It was probably not more than an hour and 45 minutes total. However, it could have been just as slow in traditional. The third and fifth time, we had to wait about 20 minutes for a table which was at a very popular time due to shore time and show time constraints. They give you one of those beeper thingees that flash lights when they are ready. You have 15 minutes to pick up your reservation so you can wander around the ship if you want while waiting. We were served very quickly and very efficiently both times.—maybe an hour or so. The fourth time I don’t think we had a wait and the service was “normal”. We ate in the Lido/Grill two nights. We never ate in the Pizzeria but others in our party did and said it was very nice. There is no separate dining area for the “pay to eat” Steakhouse. They partition off part of the Lido for it. None of us ate there so I have no comment on it. The only “problem” I had with the grill was there was no deli place for a sandwich. However, you could get cold cuts, cheese and bread (which was very good) and make your own. I found the soups a little weak in comparison to other cruises but then I am a soup person so I am picky. Put it this way, I never went hungry (lol). As per other cruises, the desserts in the grill were more “store bought” than in the dining room.

Another thing I thought about after I got home (shows how important it is to me) is that there was no midnight gala buffet. They had a champagne waterfall one night (photographers available to take your picture). Not that you would go hungry, there was food available 24 hours a day somewhere.

Service

The service personnel were incredible. Probably in all my cruises, the best. Everyone greeted you with acknowledgement from the grunts to the officers. They always asked what they could do for you. When we embarked, I asked our room steward for two pillows (not knowing that our bed had three on it so one would have been enough), to fill my six-pack cooler every day with ice and to give us two of the daily bulletins. Usually I throw in empty out the refrigerator but didn’t have to do it this time. He greeted us by name every time he saw us (first name, but that doesn’t bother me even though he was half my age), He opened our door when he saw us fumbling for our card. My only complaint is that I left our towel over the rack to not replace and he did not refold it. Picky, picky, picky.

The Cruise

Because we were doing a round trip rather than one way up the Inside Passage, the ship was out in the Pacific for the first day and a half. It was quite rough. The Captain advised taking a Bonine if you were prone to motion sickness and I saw a few barf bags discreetly placed around. I personally did not have a problem but there were many green around the gills. Some newbies were saying they would NEVER cruise again. I assured them once we got into the inside passage all would be calm which it was. When I saw them later, they agreed I had told them the truth and weren’t quite as down on cruising as they were that first day.

We landed in Juneau a little later than scheduled at about 1:15. Of course, people were lined up and anxious to get off the ship so it was a little hectic the first half hour or so. We had booked an independent tour for the City and Mendenhall Glacier. We had a good driver with a lot of knowledge about the area which he dispensed along with some humor. We had about 45 minutes to spend at the Glacier. We saw a mama bear and her cub in a tree through a telescope at the visitor’s center. It misted a little on and off but nothing serious enough to interfere with the program.

The next port was Skagway. Two couples took the train to the summit while we opted for the bus. We had done the train before and thought this might give us a different prospective. We arrived in port at 6:00 a.m. so there was not the mad dash to get off the ship. We stayed on board until our tour at 1:30. The bus was a 26 seater. Going up, it was half full as they were picking up people at the top who had bought a combo package to come back down. The driver told us to sit on the right side of the bus as that was the best viewing. Again, a very good guide. I had to laugh because when we got to the top, we got off the bus to use the restroom and stretch our legs while waiting for the return passengers. Going up on the train, the best side is the left side as it is the open side of the “Pass.” Then at the summit, they disconnect the engine and run it around to what was the back of the train and hook it up making it the front of the train to pull it back down the mountain rather than turn the entire train around. That makes the same side of the train going up the “best” side going back down. For that reason they have the passengers switch sides so that everyone will have an equal opportunity for the “best” side. Anyway, all the new people hopped on the bus and immediately took up all the seats on the right side leaving coats, hats, etc. to hold them while they used the facilities thinking that was the best side on the return trip because they were making people switch sides on the train on the return trip. What they didn’t think out was he train goes up one side of the pass, the bus other side. So while left is best on the train, right is best on the bus. The bus turns around at the top. So now the right side is up against the mountains rather than overlooking the pass. So us returning passengers just quietly got into the open seats on the left side and enjoyed the best view on the way back too.

We didn’t stay in town but returned to the ship. It appeared to be very touristy, certainly more than the three blocks it was when we were there 35 years ago (lol).

The last stop, for all practical purposes, was Ketchikan. This is a very short port call commencing at 6:00 a.m. with the ship leaving at 12:30 p.m. in order to make Victoria (see paragraph below for that explanation). To make it worse, you had to tender. While tendering tickets were not a problem, it still took up valuable time going back and forth on the tender. There really wasn’t time to do much of anything unless you took a ship’s excursion which started early in the morning to get you back in time. There were some short city tours you could get on shore but that was about it. We walked around and tire kicked in some stores and then went back to the ship around 11:00 a.m. as it started to rain. I understand the lines were very long at the tender when it got close to return time and I don’t think the ship left Ketchikan until about 1:30 or so to accommodate the tours and people trying to tender back.

Victoria was our last port of call. Arrival time is 7:30 p.m., departure midnight—pretty worthless for a stop. The port is on the itinerary solely to comply with the Passenger Service Act. Back in the early 1900’s the Act was enacted to protect the US Maritime Industry. Basically it says that a foreign flagged ship cannot embark and disembark passengers within the United States without going to a foreign port in between. So to get around this, those cruises which leave from Seattle and return to Seattle must go to a foreign port—in this case, Victoria. Others go to Prince Rupert. Ships leaving from Vancouver or Whittier don’t have this problem as they are embarking from a foreign port and not subject to this Act if they don’t pick up passengers say in Juneau and drop them off in Ketchikan without a foreign port in between. That is why it is only recently ships have been leaving from and returning to Seattle because working that foreign port in is a problem. I understand, though, that if for safety reasons (like the water is too rough) and the ship cannot get into the foreign port, then that requirement can be waived. Maybe they anchor out in “safe” water and send an employee into the foreign port with some paper work to be signed off on, I don’t know. I do know that the ship lines will seize on any opportunity to skip the port if they possibly can and about a third of the time it works out. Even if they skip it, it won’t change the short the port time in Ketchikan. I don’t know if they don’t dock if they can keep the shops on the ship open, the casino and avoid paying port charges which would be a nice revenue enhancer.

It is a shame because Victoria is really a neat little place. The Vision of the Seas skips Ketchikan and spends a whole day in Victoria which attracted me to the cruise in the first place. I felt Victoria had more to offer our group interests than Ketchikan. They do run some tours, particularly out to Buchart Gardens, but I think most were cancelled due to lack of participation. People were facing a long day the next day getting home and really didn’t want to have a late night. We were late getting in there so it was 8:30 or so before people could disembark. Earlier they offered one of our group a $5 discount or they could cancel their tour of Buchart Gardens because of the shorten time they would be able to spend there. They opted to go and said they got back to the ship around 12:15 a.m. They have shuttle busses that will take you to town for $5 rt. In town there were a few shops open and some street musicians but not much else.

The best part of the cruise was Tracy Arms. Even though it was still too early in the season to go all the way in, what we did see was awesome. My group said it was the highlight of the cruise. They had a naturalist on board to point out wildlife and tell you about what you were seeing along with history. The weather was picture perfect. A little breezy on deck but with a long-sleeved shirt, jacket and hat to cover your ears, it was fine. I enjoyed sitting in my cabin looking out my big window, drinking my hot chocolate I bought from home (they charge $1.50 a cup of it on the ship) and listening to the naturalist on the television.

Activities on Board

There was plenty to keep you busy even when the ship was in port. Two or three trivia games a day (our favorite), plus other games like Scattergories. They had ACBL sanctioned bridge games which really surprised me as I have only seen those once before and that was on a two-week Panama Canal cruise. The usual Art Auctions, bingo, and horse racing. Speaking of art auctions, in our daily bulletin on Wednesday it said: Final Art Auction Today! Last chance to acquire the piece you want at the ABSOLUTELY BEST PRICE! Thursday: Enjoy the Dawn Princess Fine Art Auction Collection. Meet the art director from 7:30 to 8:15 p.m. to preview art for tomorrow’s auction. Friday: Sequel Auction. Last chance to acquire the piece of fine art you want. Don’t miss out. By request! Unscheduled Final Auction by request only. Not to be missed. 1-2:00 p.m..

They had an area where art was set up but they also cluttered up other areas with it.

They still haven’t figured out with the photographs that one photograph sold for $5 is better than none at $10. I did get my zinger in when they were setting them up for display near us and husband pointed out one of us and said it was “pretty good.” I agreed, and in a loud voice said “but not, $20 worth of good.” I guess they make enough money (it’s the second/third biggest revenue maker after booze and trades off with shore excursions) off those that pay the outrageous prices to not worry about us cheapskates that won’t.

Jason from Vancouver who emceed most of the trivia games is a good candidate for Cruise Director. In fact, I couldn’t point out our Cruise Director on this cruise in a line-up as the only time I saw him was after the production show. We saw the assistant at a show in the secondary lounge—a woman is all I can tell you.

Tipping

They have an automatic tipping option. $10 a day is added to your account. However, you are free to go down and have it taken off and tip the old fashioned way. Since this automatic tipping has gone into place, we have only cruised RCI and Celebrity. On those ships, you “signed” up for it and it was “all or none.” You couldn’t go down and say leave the tip in for my room steward but my waiter stinks so don’t tip him or tip him less. Apparently, on Princess you can although I didn’t know it until after I got home. My sister said when she cruised Princess they took off the tip for the table captain or maitre‘d (I can’t remember which) because he was particularly disagreeable with them over some request or incident. While on board, I got to thinking about the tips and “Anytime” dining. What was to stop me from taking the tips off the account, tip out my room steward with money and just not tip anyone else since I had different waiters/busboys every night? It wasn’t like I was going to face a “person” who had served me faithfully with an empty envelope the last night. So I asked a crew member and he said “nothing” They just hope people realize that the tips are divided equally between all servers whether they served you personally or not. If Princess was smart, they would say if you have “Anytime” dining then the tip is mandatory. That is only fair. We left the tips in place. I also took a stack of $2 bills with me. Each day I would leave one for my room steward with a piece of snack sized candy (can you say ”carrying coals to Newcastle?”) with a note thanking him for something like keeping my six-pack cooler filled with ice, bringing me wine glasses, whatever I could think of. Husband also carried some of the bills to dinner. On the first two nights we didn’t feel the waiter/busboy had really done anything great so we didn’t tip them. On other nights, we did feel they had given us good service so we slipped them $2 bills. We would have at lunch a couple of times but didn’t have any with us. I asked the crew member if that money had to be put in the pool. We had been told if we tipped in cash, they would get our cabin number and check to see if we were in automatic tipping. If we were, they could keep it. If not, they had to turn it in. If they got caught not doing it, they were in big trouble. We were never asked our cabin number. The crew member told me they were not obligated to turn in any tips that were given to them personally whether we opted in or out. What else surprised me was that the bar waiters keep the 15% they are tipped out on each sale. It doesn’t go into a pool to be divided equally. He/she who hustles the most, gets the most (lol). However, they were never pushy. They would ask if you needed anything and when you said “no” they went on their way and didn’t ask you again but were available if you did want something

Smoking

I am a smoker. As a courtesy to my husband (a non-smoker) and to those that have to occupy my cabin in the future, I do not smoke in the cabin. On Caribbean cruises, I stake out a place on deck, take my Altoids box to use as an ashtray, and find an out of the way place to smoke on the side of the ship they allow it. However, on this cruise, outside was cool and breezy. In the Atrium bar, they had a section that you could smoke that was well separated from the non-smoking area so I set up shop there. There was also another well separated area in the Wheelhouse Bar and a bar near the dining room if you had to wait for your table. You could also smoke in the casino. I really never checked out other areas since these were all I needed. This is one place I saw the service personnel shine. You never saw an ashtray with more than one butt in it. As fast as you would put a cigarette out, they were replacing it with a fresh ashtray. Stephen in the Atrium bar was quick to light your cigarette if he was in the area. I really never felt I was imposing on anyone smoking which has not been the case on other ships.

Casino

It was small but that would be a given on a ship that size. They had lots of slots. Some penny and 2 cent ones even. I saw one guy win $60 on the penny slots. I only went to gamble once at a nickel slot machine, doubled my money, and left. One craps table, a couple of black jack tables, maybe a Caribbean Stud table, not sure, and a poker something table. They had $3 minimum on the black jack table the first night but after that it went to $5. They did not have a “bar” on the roulette table that showed what numbers had hit previously so they lost me there. The nicest thing about the casino is that it was a “destination.” You did not have to walk through it to get from Point A to Point B if you wanted to go anywhere on the ship. So for you non-smokers, this is a plus. I did not see any “non-smoking” areas in the casino but there could have been there.

Clothing

I do not cruise to make a fashion statement. I just want to look neat and appropriately dressed. Besides the black slacks and knit top I wore to travel in, I packed three long sleeve turtleneck shirts, three short sleeve knit tops, and two dressy tops to wear with a black knit skirt formal nights. I took three other pairs of slacks, navy, khaki and a silky looking beige pair. For shoes the black flats I wore traveling, ReBoks, black dress, blue and brown casual flats. Hint: you can get your flats inside your husband’s dress shoes to save room. I took pair of shorts just in case we had one of those 80 degree days that had been in Juneau and Skagway the week before. I never wore them. I also took a bathing suit to use in the hot tubs.

On the informal nights dining, I switched out the ReBoks for the flats and wore what I had worn all day. Threw a scarf on or a necklace to “dress” up the top a little. I did not take jeans as I am not a jeans person. Also, I didn’t want to change clothes to go to dinner. That said, there are jeans that cost more than my entire wardrobe and many people wore jeans to dinner in the dining room on the casual nights and a lot were worn during the day around the ship. Husband took a dark suit for formal nights. He took a couple of long sleeve flannel shirts, a couple of t-shirts, two polo shirts and a couple of sports shirts which he wore to dinner the nights he had worn his t-shirt during the day. The first formal night, most of the men had suits or slacks and jackets. A few tuxes. The second formal night, the dress dropped dramatically with maybe only ½ to 2/3 in suits, tuxes, coat and tie. I took a jacket (not parka but a little heavier than a fleece lined windbreaker), rain jacket with hood, and a sweatshirt. Husband took a fleece lined windbreaker, sweatshirt, and rain jacket. I had a woolen hat I could pull over my ears and took gloves but did not wear them. I did wear the hat on deck when we cruised Tracy Arms. Husband had a baseball cap and seemed to be happy with that. By layering, we were never cold.

When I plan my cruise wardrobe, several weeks ahead of time I sit down and write down what I plan to wear each day/night right down to the belt and color of socks. Then I make another list of tops/bottoms/accessories/jewelry, etc. and start mixing and matching making sure tops go with two pairs of slacks and vice-versa as I plan to wear some of the items more than once and want flexibility in case of a disaster with a stain. I don’t take anything that is to be worn once with the exception of the two dressy tops for my dress skirt. Then when I get ready to pack, I know if I have everything on that list, I have everything I need and don’t lard up the suitcase with “what-ifs” or “might needs” you end up throwing in because you don’t have time to stop and think about it. I take the list with me so I can remember my “outfits.” This had an added benefit when the suitcase went astray. As much as I would like to claim it was loaded with designer duds (we had insurance), I still need to look at myself in the mirror and with the list, I could tell them exactly what was in it if I never saw it again. As I mentioned before, I pack half of my stuff and half of husband’s stuff in each suitcase. I pack by “outfits” so I don’t end up with slacks in one suitcase and the top in another one. On Caribbean cruises, I have a long black knit dress I pack in addition to the skirt for formal night, one outfit each suitcase. I put husband’s suit in one suitcase and coat and tie in the other as they have “informal” nights and if push comes to shove, he could wear a coat and tie formal night also. Since this cruise was only smart casual and formal, I figured if the black skirt was lost, I could wear the dressy top with the black slacks and get by. I did pack a second dress shirt and tie (no jacket) in another suitcase in case husband’s suit went lost.

Disembarkation

Since we had late flights, we were given one of the last “colors” to get off. O.K. by me, the luggage has thinned out considerably by then to claim. We ate our last breakfast in the dining room which was quick. The day before, I went down to the excursion desk and asked about transportation to the airport. It was $18 a person on their busses. Since there were four of us going, she told me a cab would be about $30 and said vans were available.

Once off the ship, we found there was an economy shuttle service to the airport. It was $36 for all four of us. Vans so there was no problem with the luggage. They also dropped off at hotels. You just walked over to the “scheduler” gave her your name. The wait was probably less than 15 minutes. We were at the airport by 10:15. Mercifully, SWA let us check or luggage in even though our flight didn’t leave until 3:30 p.m.

In Conclusion

I was very impressed with Princess in general and the ship in particular. I will not hesitate to sail with Princess again if it is going where I want to go. We cruise itineraries more than ships. If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me at whitlock(at)alumni.utexas.net.