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Copyright 1995-2004 
Linda Coffman

 

Coral Princess
May 8-22, 2004
Vancouver to Whittier Alaska & back to Vancouver

By Patrick & Harriette Regan

We have cruised 3 times on Celebrity, 3 times on Princess, once each on Crystal, HAL and Royal Caribbean in the last 2 1/2 years.

We have been trying to select a "home" cruise line where we could begin to take advantage of frequent cruiser perks that increase after the 5th cruise. We hope this 14 day cruise on the Coral Princess can help us decide between Princess and Celebrity for our "home" cruise line. We needed a cruise and the last 2 Alaska cruises were too short at 7 days each. We didn't want to fly anywhere, so 2 weeks on the Coral Princess at the beginning of the Alaska cruising season seemed just right. It certainly was.

Summer began in mid spring this year here in Vancouver and we looked forward to the warm weather in Alaska.  Thirteen of the 14 days were full of sunshine. We spoke to the Park Rangers during the Glacier Bay day and they said they had never seen that much sun in Alaska for a whole week. College Fjord & Glacier Bay on light filled days are incredibly beautiful. 

Cruising is becoming even more expensive. Crystal is our favorite, but at their prices we could do more premium cruising on cruise lines that come very close in quality for less money. We are comparing certain kinds of cruise value. There are things that the cruise lines are charging for now that used to be complementary in the dining room such as cappuccino and charging for regular ice cream (not just the Hagen Daz) and soft serve at the snack bars around the pool areas that didn't cost before. Cruise lines now are enforcing rules that keep you from boarding the ship with a couple of bottles of wine in your carry on bags. 

VANCOUVER is a beautiful place with clean crisp air, great food, quality shopping and breathtaking vistas. It's full of friendly Canadians and has a favorable exchange rate against the US dollar. Come a day or two early and check it out.

We arrived at the Canada Place cruise terminal and got into the lines for security. Everything is well marked and easy to find. There were 2 other ships departing the same afternoon and after you clear security you head for the Princess check in line. There are uniformed Princess reps in the area if you have any questions. We got through security and onto the ship in 30 minutes. Excellent. There was no welcome aboard Champagne as on Celebrity. 

Sailing out of Vancouver in the twilight is spectacular with the glittering city on one side and the beautiful North Shore on the other as the ship glides under Lion's Gate bridge. Wonderfully cruise-y. We brought along a 15x to 60x spotting telescope instead of our binoculars. It requires the use of a tripod. We mounted a quick release plate to the bottom of the scope to avoid having to thread mount the scope each time we used it. We'll never cruise again without it. It helped us see everything with much better eyes.

We love the cruising part of cruising; watching the ship's wake or the view and feeling the breeze through our balcony door as we photograph the sun drenched glaciers, or relaxing in a hot tub on the highest deck with a 360 degree view of the world. We particularly enjoy the wraparound promenade decks that Princess and Crystal have. We love the small deck areas aft on some decks on the Coral Princess. There are a dozen deck chairs with a nice view of the ship's wake. There is peace and quiet in these out of the way areas of the Coral Princess. Very cruise-y.

THE CABIN -- We had a balcony cabin on deck 11, the Baja Deck. Baja means lower in Spanish yet this is a cabin on an upper deck. We were almost all the way aft on the port side of the ship. Nice and clean. Nothing worn yet. We unpacked into built in dressers in the closets and next to the bed. Nice drawers. Nary a hook anywhere. Celebrity puts hooks everywhere in their newer M class ships. We need hooks, especially cruising Alaska and wearing so many layers of clothing to be truly comfortable. It's nice to grab your stuff off the hook and get going. Hooks are also handy for your gym clothes and drying bathing suits away from the fresh clothes in the closet. Next time we cruise Princess we will bring a couple of over-the-door portable plastic hooks to hold our stuff.

The bathroom is adequate comfort wise but there is not much storage. Two woefully inadequate glass shelves with a chrome railing on one side of the sink barely big enough to hold 2 small bathroom sized water glasses. The sink itself has very little counter space. The one hook to be found in this cabin is on the back of the bathroom door. It's a double prong robe hook and isn't long enough to hold a shaving or bathroom bag and the robes as well. Celebrity M class ships have rows of shelves and a much larger countertop. 

There is a stainless steel trash basket but no plastic bag for the bathroom trash. In these troubled times of Norwalk and SARS viruses one should put a plastic bag in the trash can. Celebrity does. I asked Victoria, our helpful cabin attendant for a bag and she had to use a paper laundry bag; no plastic one around. It's a foolish economy not to use these in the bathroom. I spoke to Hotel management about this and they feel it's enough to sterilize the trash can between sailings and the bag is no longer necessary. With the real threat of the Norwalk virus this seems foolish.

Princess provides separate shampoo, conditioner and hand lotion in a bathroom basket instead of body shampoo and hair dispensers built into the shower. The packaging carries the imprint of the onboard Lotus Spa and are made out of some sort of fancy glazed cardboard. They look upscale and are of good quality, but they look exactly alike in the shower and if you wear glasses you can't tell them apart. They also are impossible to open if your hands are wet, so it must be done before you enter the shower and before you take off your glasses.  

Cabin stewards(esses) seem paranoid about replacing a bedspread by passenger request so we like to get rid of the bedspread immediately and put it under the bed.
Who knows what stories these spreads could tell! We know it's not cost effective for cruise lines to change them often. This way we can sit or lie on the bed and not have to always pull the spread out of the way. Comedian Howie Mandel has a funny routine involving hotel bedspreads and black light. 'Nuff said. We also miss the stainless steel water carafe that Celebrity provides. Celebrity cabin attendants keep it filled twice daily. The water tastes better on Celebrity too.

Princess and HAL seem to have the same bed manufacturer length wise. I'm 6'2" and I have to back my head up all the way to the wall to keep my feet from extending off the edge of the bed. The lashed together twin beds aren't as comfortable as on Celebrity either. They need to put a thin pillow-top mattress down to eliminate falling into the crack that separates the beds. We do like the height of the bed. It is high enough to store our empty suitcases and carry-ons underneath. Room, bath & bed are superior on Celebrity. 

The balcony has a big sliding door with a secure latch and a couple of chairs and a small table. The partition under the balcony railing is plexiglas so you can see through. The balconies here on deck 11 are more private than the lower ones. There is a stair step effect as the decks get lower, and they are uncovered and out in the open for the decks above them to see -- something akin to amphitheater seating in a theater or stadium.

DINING -- The dining rooms under the watchful eye of Maitre'd Generoso Mazzone are very well run. The service was excellent; never obsequious and very thoughtful. The wait staff is helpful and courteous. We recognize the extra work involved with implementing personal choice dining and we salute Generoso and his fine staff. We tried personal choice dining and we liked it. We didn't mind waiting a bit, and we loved the flexibility. 

We found a waiter team we liked a lot, Tamas from Hungary and his assistant Marjun, from the Philippines, and we were always able to get one of their tables. If you have to wait for a table, a beeper is provided so you can wander while waiting. 

FOOD QUALITY-- We notice the lobster tail is shrinking on Princess. The ones they serve in the dining room on lobster night are thumb sized, similar to what the Sizzler Buffet Chain has for lobster. The ones at the alternative extra charge venues are bigger and juicier. Our waiters went out of their way to make sure we got what we wanted and had some great suggestions. Sometimes we would request an appetizer order of another one of the entrees. 

The beef on Princess is of much higher quality than on Celebrity. The chicken and fish are comparable with the lobster tail exception noted above. The sauces are better on Celebrity and the desserts are a toss up. 

We miss having the Spa type of cafe that Celebrity has in its Spa. We don't gain as much weight on Celebrity cruises. The Princess pizza place is located nearby in the Lido Pool area. Nice thin crust pizza. Yum. We vow not to eat too much of it. The grill for hamburgers and sausages is one deck up on the very top of the ship, deck 15. The grill is manned most of the time by a very grumpy individual. We decide to stay away from there. There's more than enough caloric temptation everywhere on the ship.

ALTERNATIVE DINING -- We applaud Princess leading the way in this. We decide to have our first night's dinner at Sabatini's, the Italian alternate dining venue. There's a $20.00 per person charge. They tell us to order our entree, and they will take care of the rest. We put ourselves in the hands of Emil, the manager of Sabatini's, and have a lovely dining experience. We are offered a taste of all the appetizers, salads, soup and pasta by Remus from Romania who is our server. Whew! The food keeps coming. Delicious. Dessert and cappuccino finish our meal. The cappuccino is free at this alternative venue, but Princess passengers have to pay for it if they want it in the regular dining venues. It's still free on Celebrity. I don't know how long that will be because all the cruise lines are merging in so many configurations. There is less competition and the passenger will continue to pay for more things that used to be included. 

ROOM SERVICE -- The second day of the cruise is a sea day. We have room service deliver coffee, fruit, yogurt and croissants. We tip the waiter a dollar. It's not much but since so many do not tip, the dollar is appreciated. These hard working room service waiters need to be tipped too. Room service is available 24 hours a day. The menus are limited in the off hours but there is still a lot to choose from.  The croissants are just plain rolls shaped like croissants. No buttery crunch, there was no egg wash applied to them before baking. We decide to have most breakfasts in the Bordeaux dining room.

COFFEE -- The coffee is not very warm or very good. We are going to have to spend money on designer coffee this trip. We don't mind paying for a few cups of special coffee at the Patisserie coffee bar in the atrium at non meal times but we're grumpy at having to pay for cappuccino with our meals in the dining room. The good news is that the cappuccino is awful on the Coral Princess, made from a push button machine similar to the cheesy old push button coffee machines. Another money saver.

BUFFET -- We don't like the poor layout and the crowds. There are no trays at the Princess buffet, and the lack of trays makes gathering buffet items difficult, and there is no lemonade available. People mill around unsure of which direction to go in. The Horizon buffet is open 24 hours a day all the way forward on deck 14. Celebrity wins this comparison. We find ourselves eating more than we should on cruise buffets. We make another decision. No Horizon buffet. We'll see if we can keep our no buffet resolution. 

BAYOU CAFE -- We have a swell, leisurely lunch at the Bayou Cafe with a $10.00 per person surcharge. Worth it. Manager Sergio and our waiters Demitru and Roger can't do enough to make sure we have a memorable dining experience. We have sausage and cheesy grits for an appetizer, segue to Mudbug (crawfish) bisque, prawns and chicken for the entrees and finish with pound cake and peach pie washed down with our cappuccinos which are included in the alternative restaurant price. We end up dining 4 times at the Bayou Cafe during our 14 days on the Coral Princess. 

THE SHIP -- A few laps around the wraparound promenade deck gives us some needed after lunch exercise. We love this promenade deck. Celebrity doesn't have them on the M class ships we favor. Score one for Princess.

We explore the Coral Princess some more. We were on the Island Princess last September, and they are sister ships. We find we are familiar with the layout and become acclimated quickly. This ship is exceptionally clean. The cleaning staff is really cleaning, not just picking up. The public bathrooms near the dining and showroom areas are immaculate and are kept that way. Very nice. Score one for the Coral Princess.

SHOWS AND ENTERTAINMENT -- We're not big fans of the Broadway show-style of entertainment unless it's near Broadway level. We prefer the comedy venues, but on the Coral Princess nobody is watching the door to the Princess Theater. The cruise staff disappears after the act is introduced and latecomers (as much as 25 minutes late) wander in to the darkened theater, noisily disrupting the flow of the comedy act. We feel sorry for the performers involved. Staff should be watching the door. 

We also enjoy Jazz, and the Coral Princess has a great Jazz group in the Bayou Cafe. Very relaxing. There is also the Crooners piano bar, the Wheelhouse Lounge with a musical act and dancing nightly, the Disco for night owls and 2 theaters plus a movie theater. Something for every taste.

GYM & SPA -- The gym is all the way forward on deck 14 next to the Lotus Spa. Nicely equipped. Beautiful views from the top of the ship. We don't like the fact that there are too many TV's in the gym with the sound on. Passengers and crew using the gym play them loudly on different channels with the cacophony of sound driving me out of the gym. I wear an I-Pod and the gym TVs drown out the music in my ears. I spoke to passenger services director David Stephenson about this but he didn't feel he could do anything about it and he wasn't very concerned about it. Celebrity and Crystal don't let gym TV noise get out of control. They mute the sound and display the captions.

LIBRARY -- Beautiful room, comfortable chairs with built in CD player and a view of the water flowing by. No regularly assigned librarian though. Staffed with uninterested members of the entertainment staff. Closed tight at 6PM. Celebrity has assigned librarians, more books of interest along with popular fiction and longer hours. They stay open until 11PM. Score one for Celebrity.

TEA TIME -- Our afternoon favorite. Real scones and cream served with finger sandwiches and mini sweets in the British tradition. Yum yum! Much better than Celebrity or HAL.

POOLS & HOT TUBS -- Plenty of comfortable loungers; blankets available from the attendants if needed. This trip is indeed the sunniest Alaska cruise we've been on.

The hot tubs are not hot enough for us. We like the cruise lines who put a temperature gauge on the end of a line so we can check hot tub temperatures. We spoke to the passenger services desk, and the next day the one we liked in the Lotus indoor area was warmer -- although it did cool off again the next day. 

The Lotus indoor pool and hot tub next to the Lotus spa on deck 14 is a nice place to relax. There is also a pay for it Hagen Daz and soft serve bar along with the Lotus bar in this area, away from the activities and hurly burly of the outdoor Lido pool and bar located next door. 

THE CRUISE DIRECTOR -- is Welshman Brian Price, a dapper man with great stage presence and a droll sense of humor. He is funny and friendly. He can tell a story or build up the excitement for an event without yelling into the microphone. Great technique. I wish I could say the same for his minions. They try a bit too hard and become loud and patronizing rather quickly. Brian has been a cruise director since the 1970's.

We enjoy Brian's informative 'Good Morning Coral Princess' tv show daily. There is some kind of large or small organized activity going on most of the time on this cruise. Those who wish almost constant cruise staff led events will not be disappointed on the Coral Princess. 

FEELING LIKE AN OWNER -- Harriette and I like to use the hot tubs, pools etc. during the 'off times', when most of the passengers are readying themselves for dinner or off the ship or at a special event. These facilities are deserted during these times and no one is around. It makes us feel like the owners of a huge quiet yacht. We love to stroll around the ship when everybody is inside eating or attending some show or event.

LOUDSPEAKER ANNOUNCEMENTS -- We also enjoy the almost total lack of loudspeaker announcements on the Coral Princess courtesy of the ever watchful Cruise Director Brian Price. It is a quiet cruise. The park ranger and naturalist announcements are broadcast on the ship's television channel and the upper deck only allowing those who wish to sleep late the opportunity to do so. Thank you Brian!

PRINCESS PATTER -- is the ships daily newspaper. It is woefully incomplete. They'll do a front page story about a special buffet and then fail to note the time it is taking place. The Patter doesn't list the dining and snacking venue hours daily either or the themes of the evening meal in the dining room. It is mostly full of ads and shopping 'come ons' for the boutiques on board and for affiliated stores in the ports. It does list the entertainment venues.

It would be nice if the paper listed the names of all the department heads involved in passenger service and entertainment in the first newspaper at the very beginning of the cruise to be saved for future reference, as Celebrity does. Crystal goes one step farther; they list the dinner themes for the cruise as well as advance notice of the special buffets, so you can plan your eating schedule in advance and are able to make reservations at the alternative restaurants without missing a special dinner or buffet. This should be a must with the advent of personal choice dining.

CORAL PRINCESS STAFF -- The best attitude and service we have seen at this price level; a can-do attitude equal to Crystal. 

THE PORTS -- We will be visiting each of the Alaskan ports, Skagway, Juneau & Ketchikan, twice. We are not fond of excursions. We thought if we scouted around on shore the first seven days of the trip and found a tour that appealed to us that we could make some reservations on the spot.

Sometimes a tour could involve hidden problems for us e.g. getting jammed into a packed maxi-van for a bone jarring ride to the tour or being stuck at planned 'rest stops' at retail establishments along the highway. We also were considering some sort of aerial tour and I wanted to see the planes and helicopters and how they were loaded with passengers before I decided. 

We end up just relaxing on the ship and shopping a bit in the various ports we visited. Harriette found a pair of pink flamingos in Skagway for our garden. We wore shorts and a Hawaiian shirt to all of the ports, and we marveled at the passengers leaving the ship in parkas in 70+ degree weather. We only had to tender once in 8 ports. It was great being the first ship of the season to visit these ports. No crowds at all the first 7 days and a sea of people the last 7 days. We enjoyed it all. There were 4 or 5 ships in each port the second week of the cruise.

GLACIER BAY AND COLLEGE FJORD -- The best days of all. Sunny and warm with seals barking, eagles flying by and glaciers calving. When we used our telescope we saw the heart wrenching sight of a young seal mother birthing and then protecting her pup from eagles circling the ice floe she was on.

The park rangers narrating had great microphone technique so the loudspeakers never became annoying and were only broadcasting on the top most decks. The sailing crew got us very close to the glaciers. This is what cruising Alaska is all about. It was our best Alaska cruise.

TIPPING -- The cruise lines are now adding a daily charge covering the dining room and cabin steward tips. With the advent of this policy, passengers seem to believe no one else needs to be tipped. Not so. Carry singles and reward those who remember your preferences and serve you well. Bar waiters get an automatic 15%, but if you purchase a soda card then no tip is added when they bring you a coke or soda. Give these hard working crew members a dollar. If you require some extra service from your cabin attendant, give them 20 dollars the day you board. They will be appreciative and attentive.

CLOSING BILL SHOCK -- We overheard a young husband almost faint trying to understand the size of his bill as he discussed it with passenger services. He was a first time cruiser and he and his wife went on excursions, bought a lot of drinks, used the spa and of course had the automatic tipping charge to pay. It's easy to run up a large bill on a 7 day cruise. See what the drink of the day is, it's always much cheaper; and buy a soda card if you want cokes or soda on a regular basis. It's a big money saver.

STUFF -- Cruising experience has taught us that there are some things we have to bring on a cruise. We bring a power strip and an extension cord. We bring a lap top computer, a small printer for 4 x 6 photos, plug in or battery powered air freshener, i pod w/speakers, and DVD's. We like to view & study great movies again, and a cruise is the perfect place to do this using our i book laptop lounging on a deckchair. The i pod has changed our musical lives and is so portable.

Harriette and I both take vitamins and medication regularly, and it is easy in a new environment to forget to take your pills. We bought an inexpensive see through medication organizer called the Dosett Maxi at Wal-Mart. It has a section with 4 separate compartments for each day of the week. It is easy to see if you have remembered to take your pills on time. It's a must for those taking heart medication. We also carry small bottles of hand sanitizer.

SHAKING HANDS -- The captain on our Crystal cruise had a policy of not shaking hands. Crystal also provided wipes for boarding and reboarding the ship. 

This cruise we are reviewing was in May 04. Later that summer there were Norwalk Virus outbreaks on some Princess & HAL ships summer cruising to Alaska. Princess isn't the only cruise line that has had this problem. Fighting it begins with no shaking hands with Captains, Cruise Directors, Maitre D's, wait staff etc. It's a social thing we are used to doing politely but we have to stop when we are on a ship. Passengers also need to wash their hands often. Every passenger needs to carry and use hand sanitizer and or wash their hands much more often. All cruise lines need to provide hand sanitizer for passengers every time they board the ship. Crystal has been doing this for the last couple of years.

TIRED CREW -- We feel badly for the non-sailing crew. We know they are making good money compared to salaries where they live in the world, but we see their tiredness. Their attitude on the Coral Princess is superb. We would gladly make our bed one day on a seven day cruise and eat in the buffet if they wished to close the dining room for a day but we sense that's not going to happen. We hope someday the cruise lines figure out a way to give the hard working hotel and dining crew a day off at least once a month. The navigation/sailing crew doesn't have this problem, because they are protected by regulation.

SUMMING UP -- We had a great time! A cruise is not a summer camp for us, it's an ocean voyage. The Coral Princess gave us the wonderful cruise vacation we were seeking. The food on Celebrity is a bit better but on balance Princess wins the comparison test for this cruise. Their prize is us; we'll be making our next cruise with Princess Cruises on the Oct 16th sailing of the Diamond Princess round trip from Los Angeles to Mexico. 

We have never cruised on a ship as large as the Diamond Princess and we look forward to even more alternative dining rooms. They have 4 on the Diamond Princess. Based on the performance of the Coral Princess crew they have a lot to live up to. 

We did manage to avoid the buffet and eat in the dining room, and we gained only a couple of pounds each over the 14 day cruise. We promise to let you know after our next cruise if we are going to stay with Princess or return to Celebrity. 

Happy Cruising!

Copyright 2004 by Patrick & Harriette Regan groundcinema@yahoo.com


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