We felt that in order to really see
Alaska we had to fly to Anchorage for a geographically lengthier
cruise. The Vancouver to Vancouver round trip we took last year doesn’t
go far enough north, and the one-glacier cruising day was marred by a
We were mesmerized the first time we
watched the Island Princess sail into Vancouver and dock at Canada
Place this summer. She’s a beautiful ship. They had a christening
ceremony one night with searchlights and an overnight VIP cruise,
complete with a guest appearance by Gavin McLeod, the captain of the
television series “Loveboat”. The ship returned at dawn the next
day, and she left at sundown for her first Alaska cruise. We wanted to
cruise on this ship.
We started haunting the cruise boards
looking for an attractive price. We booked the cruise and our travel
agent sold us a motorcoach transfer through Princess from Anchorage to
Seward, where the dock is. We found out later that it was a 3 1/2 hour
bus trip. When we booked the cruise we had no idea that we had to
travel that far from Anchorage to Seward in order to get to the ship.
We examined a map and decided we didn’t
want to ride a crowded bus down that twisty highway, and we considered
a one way rental car. We did some checking and found that Princess
also offers a scenic 5 hour train trip on the Alaska railroad’s “Grand
View Train” to the ship. It’s a little more money, but it sounded
great. It offers the adventure of an excursion on our way to the ship.
Princess arranges a train car exclusively for their passengers, and a
dining car is available. We’re not comfortable on day excursions
from a cruise ship because there’s always the feeling of rushing and
a lot of riding around in packed to the gills 15 passenger maxi vans.
No thank you.
This will be our fifth cruise since Sept. 02. We like the
food on Celebrity, but there is always a new-to-us cruise line
beckoning. We’re going to compare the value and amenities of the
Island Princess to those of Celebrity Millennium class during this
cruise and in this review. We want to take advantage of the frequent
cruiser programs by cruising mostly on one cruise line. We are looking
for our home cruise line.
Air Canada, Vancouver non-stop to Anchorage. Full Airbus
320, courteous cabin crew, decent snack & free headphones. Flying
is the hardest part of cruising. The “Airbus” is aptly named. This
flight required obtaining an air deviation. Princess put us on Alaska
Airlines first but we didn’t want to fly from Vancouver to Seattle
and then change planes. Taking the train to the ship meant we had to
overnight in Anchorage. Princess offered a hotel downtown with a $200
plus overnight rate. We searched the internet and read some guide
books and settled on the Voyager
Hotel located downtown across the street from the hotel that
We paid $125. per night and had a nice top floor, corner
room in the 38 room Voyager hotel, free broadband internet and free
local calls. There was a long bedroom with a big window and an
anteroom or foyer where we left our bags. Showtime and HBO were free,
and there was an in-room mini kitchen with a microwave, coffee setup,
etc. Complimentary pastry and coffee were served in the lobby in the
morning. Comfortable place.
A block away was the Sandwich Deck,
which served a hearty breakfast and tasty burgers. We wanted to have
dinner downtown at Orso but the town was jammed with cruisers coming
and going to their ships/tours plus it was Friday night and the locals
were off for the weekend. The restaurants were jammed and well dressed
obviously cruising couples wandered the streets packed with other
cruising couples in the long Alaskan twilight; it was as surreal as a
We found a micro brewery off the
tourist path called The Snowgoose and had sandwiches and beer. They
also brew a strong but not hard root beer. Very good and reasonably
priced. The music is incredibly loud upstairs and on the patio to the
point of being hurtful. It’s more peaceful in the dining room
(It certainly is!)
We took a cab a few blocks to the Egan Center on 5th St, which
is the in-town check in and luggage drop for the cruise lines. You do
need to check in early but it’s merely a check in. The buses to the
train station start boarding at 12:30PM and the train leaves at 1PM.
If one is staying in a downtown hotel then it’s wise to taxi your
hold bags to the Egan center between 9 and 10AM and then go back to
your hotel and relax until the departure time for the busses to the
train station. Much better keeping your hotel room than sitting at the
Egan Center for 2 to 3 hours in an oversized, crowded & windowless
It would be helpful if Princess would
list a suggested check in time as well as the scheduled time for the
bus to the train station and the actual train departure time. A 5
minute bus ride to the station, and we board the train to Seward.
Lovely dome car. The train crew told us that sometimes the train car
taking cruisers to the ship isn’t a dome car, depending on whether
the dome cars might have been shipped off to another job. Recently 3
of the 4 dome cars were taken by Congressman Don Young of Alaska for
the annual Congressional convention at the Alaska Sea Life Center. The
train crew also mentioned that hundreds of gallons of alcohol were
donated to the Congressional convention by various companies. It’s a
3 day annual blast for congresspersons and senators to wine, dine,
fish, drink free booze and recreate themselves. Does the U.S. taxpayer
pay for the congressional travel to this soiree?
It is indeed a grand view train trip;
glaciers, tunnels, lakes and soaring eagles. It was a magnificent
Alaska day; the kind of day one would hope for when setting off on a
cruise. We got off the train, right at the dock; the Island Princess
loomed large against the ocean, sky, and mountains. What a beautiful
There was a long check in line but since we filled out our
info on the internet we received what is called express check in and
we were quickly given our cruise cards and checked through security.
One negative, Princess has started putting one’s birthdate on the
actual cruise tickets that are handled by many. In today’s world,
security has of course been heightened, but birthdate info shouldn’t
be printed on the tickets. It’s an open invitation to identity
theft. I think it should be left in the Princess computer files.
We started for the ship where we were diverted to be
photographed; not with the ship in the picture but in the warehouse
where we checked in, against a blue background. This was our
embarkation photo. When we saw the finished photo, it had a template
framing it, with the name of the ship and the sailing date, the
picture could have been taken anywhere. No sense of the cruise. The
final irony was that they wanted $19.95 US for the picture. That’s
the highest price we have ever seen for an embarkation photo. If we
are to be hectored into submitting to posing by ship’s
photographers, the photographers should at least stage their pictures
by taking advantage of the majesty of the ship as a background. They
would sell more pictures.
These photographers were more aggressive
than on most ships; they had the advantage of using digital cameras
and checking the pictures so they were confidently lurking, like
Ninjas at every gangway wearing silly animal costumes and trying to
get their arm around you to effect a pose. It was ugly. A simple “no”
would not deter them. It took a higher quality “no” to quell their
This ship was launched just a few weeks ago and everything
is fresh and new. No free glass of Champagne was offered at the top of
the gangway though, ala Celebrity. Geographically, we had the best
cabin location we’ve ever had. Couple of doors from the library on
the Emerald Deck, #8. Just around the corner from the beautiful glass
elevatored atrium. One of us walks with a cane and we prefer the
bathrooms in a handicapped cabin for shower safety purposes even
though it means we will not have a tub and we will have an obstructed
ocean view cabin. We had a lifeboat blocking most of the view.
This will be our first cruise without
a veranda. We love the ocean breezes wafting through the big doorway
but this cabin is bigger than the veranda cabins and centrally
located. Spacious bathroom with the shower grab bars located
perfectly. No storage shelves under the sink though and only 2 little
shelves on each side mounted on the wall. The countertop was very
narrow, almost an afterthought. Celebrity Millennium class bathrooms
are smaller than this one but they have plenty of storage above and
below the sink and deeper countertops, which makes them very usable.
The queen bed on Island Princess is
one of the shorter queen beds, ala Holland America. Celebrity and
Crystal have a tall queen bed that’s an inch or two longer. I’m 6’
2” and my feet hang off the foot of the bed unless I put my head all
the way to the headboard. The bed was comfortable, with a 4-drawer
built-in on each side. Two nice closets with the good hangers that
hook over the bar, not the ones where you have to slip a knob in a
slot as in most hotels and cruise ships. Another closet fully shelved
to serve as a dresser and a nice vanity with a hair dryer built in
next to the vanity mirror. Two plugs in the vanity area but so close
together that you will need a power strip to charge most batteries,
electric razors, or laptops. No wall or cabinet door hooks for
jackets, robes etc. in the bedroom area. Celebrity has plenty of
hooks, not just on the back of the bathroom door.
A nice cabin but not ergonomically
organized and not as good use of colors and mirrors to give a feeling
of more space as on newer Celebrity ships. We ended up with a lot of
our stuff just sitting out on table tops. We much prefer to be able to
easily put it away as with Celebrity. We met our cabin attendant,
Joey, from the Philippines. He was doing 17 cabins this trip. Whew. I
don’t know how they do it. We would be glad to make our own bed one
day a week as long as we could have a few extra towels, and these
stewards could get a day off at least 2 or 3 days a month. The
question of tipping the attendants on their day off would unravel some
The good news is the library is 2 doors from our cabin; the
bad news was that the library had very short hours and was never open
past 6PM in port or at sea. Sometimes the night time is the right time
to check out books. Celebrity and Crystal have late evening hours at
the library ala a video rental store.
Comfortable, beautiful library with
popular fiction, biography, travel and a bit of art. Pretty pedestrian
stuff. No librarian had a hand in selecting this library. Beautiful,
big leather chairs with built in CD players, but you could only use
the CD player when the library was open. Staffed by various members of
the crew and entertainment staff, not by a person whose only job
is that of librarian.
This is one of the things that makes cruising so special.
An unobstructed teakwood deck that wraps around the whole ship on Deck
7. Lovely teakwood loungers to relax in and watch the ocean slide by
when you are tired of walking. Island Princess gets a gold star. Only
one drawback: there are no drinking fountains along the way, so one
pretty much has to lug water if deck walking for exercise. Celebrity
doesn’t have these wonderful wraparound promenade decks.
& BORDEAUX DINING ROOMS
This is our first experience with personal choice cruising.
You may eat anytime or at a fixed seating time. We opted for the
traditional fixed first seating in the Provence dining room. The
personal choice dining is in the Bordeaux dining room on deck 5 which
is open until late for dinner. Under this system you can opt for
personal choice if you missed your traditional seating time.
Our dining room team consists of
Dante and his asst. Adrian. The headwaiter in our dining area is
Cristian. They are all from Rumania. We notice that the dining staff
on this ship is mostly European. The dining room troops work hard and
have an excellent “can do” attitude. They are in the same
situation as the cabin stewards, they are worn out from little time
off but they do their best to hide it and they never stop smiling and
asking if there is anything more they can do for you. It’s getting
harder to get crepes on cruises anymore but Cristian manages to get us
some for dessert one evening.
The bright spots for us were the
Provence and Bordeaux dining rooms where the Maitre d’, Giorgio
Pisano, is watching over everything. The hotel manager could take
management lessons from the Maitre d’. The food, sauces &
desserts are better on Celebrity except for the beef. Princess has
better beef, grilled properly. The croissants were awful; they tasted
like plain bread and were over baked with no flakiness at all. I was
told they were not prepared by the pastry department. They were made
from pre-mixed dough, sent to the ship to be baked. They tasted like
bread from the supermarket.
The buffet layout is circa 1980s; hard to fathom since this
is a brand new ship. Celebrity has wider aisles and better flowing
buffet lines. There are no trays on Island Princess just huge oval
shaped plates, but it’s hard to balance your drink glass on a
platter and also have room for your napkins etc. without the stuff
running in to the food on the platter.
No separate omelet stations, just the
cook frying eggs with his back to the line so he cannot interact
easily with customers ordering and fry eggs at the same time.
Celebrity’s omelet bar is away from the main buffet line and
relieves the pressure on the main line. The omelet chefs face the line
and things move quickly.
The Island Princess buffet is open 24
hours, which is the one good thing about this buffet, but it’s
cafeteria food. Comparing it with Las Vegas, it’s like the buffet at
Circus Circus. Huge quantities of food but not well prepared, and
presented in an offhand way. Princess needs to fix the buffet food and
organize the lines. Actually, take sections of the lines and make them
into stations that can be approached from various angles. Being at the
Horizon buffet is being in a milling crowd. The servers look a bit
confused and hassled and it’s hard for the waiters to get into the
crowd in order to help people who need it. There are no drink machines
for the orange juice so it has to be pumped out of thermoses that must
constantly be refilled by staff, which slows down the lines on a
regular basis. The lack of management in the buffet area is painfully
At the Island Princess buffet it was
not easy to just grab a cup of coffee; the coffee stations were few
and seemed to be in the middle of a crowd. That’s actually the good
news because the coffee is catering truck level. We mostly resorted to
designer coffee served at a price at La Patisserie, in the world’s
smallest cups. Cappuccino was free with meals taken in the dining room
or the alternative restaurants but word has it that Princess is going
to start charging for it in the dining rooms soon.
Italian at Sabatini’s ($20.00 cover charge per person)
and Cajun at the Bayou Cafe ($10.00 per person, with an additional
$6.00 for each person who orders lobster). We had a couple of
excellent meals at the Bayou Cafe, worth every penny of the extra
charge. Sabatini’s served multiple courses of very good food. They
also had the best coffee on the Island Princess. Worth the extra
money. Make your reservations early in the cruise.
They had an “Alaska Buffet” afternoon on the second day
of the cruise while we cruised College Fjord. All kinds of fish,
sushi, etc. but served outdoors by the pool on an extremely cold and
blustery Alaska day. Celebrity serves their poolside buffets in the
protected pool area where the roof is covered. Princess staff was
wrapped in blankets, jackets, etc. trying to keep up a brave front in
the stinging wind. Chairs and tables were blowing over. It would have
been hilarious if it wasn’t so cold and windy.
I asked a management person why the
buffet wasn’t moved to the covered pool area and was told that
management didn’t feel it was a big enough area to accommodate the
buffet crowd. It would have been big enough because when all the
tables were taken outside people would have naturally moved into the
Horizon Court to eat the buffet food from outside.
On the 5th day of the cruise they had
the “Fish” buffet and they wisely decided to have it in the
covered pool area. The staff and cruisers were much happier.
We were awakened at 6:30 AM the first morning of the cruise
by the loudspeaker system on the Promenade Deck below us. It was the
Ranger doing a program on College Fjord, which we were cruising by at
the moment. We were on an Alaska cruise last year at this time and
they restricted the loudspeaker commentary to the upper decks where
every one was having their coffee and mulled cider and watching the
glaciers. I felt it was thoughtless of Princess to broadcast over the
loud speakers on the lower decks while people were still sleeping.
Compounding the noise, the ranger giving the talk had poor microphone
technique and was speaking too loudly, causing the sound to break up
and the speakers on the Promenade deck, near us, to vibrate. I took a
look out at the promenade deck and it was pretty much deserted. The
glacier watchers were indeed on the upper decks.
I made an inquiry about this and
received a letter from Alastair Greener, the cruise director, offering
an apology for any inconvenience and saying that it was impossible to
adjust the volume on the open decks as they were using the
loudspeakers that are part of the emergency system and the volume is
fixed. The commentary is also on the ship’s TV for anyone who wants
to listen while they watch from their cabin or veranda. Celebrity
would never broadcast through the open deck speakers at 6:30 in the
The last three days of the cruise
there were extended loudspeaker announcements again, throughout the
ship, in the mid-afternoon from Cruise Director Greener (the man who
wrote me the loudspeaker letter) about the evening’s activities and
the final, close out art auction. They had this so called “final”
art auction over 2 successive afternoons near the end of the cruise
complete with nap-ruining announcements.
The usual daily ship’s newspaper with events, schedules,
news, ads etc. The most poorly laid out paper we’ve seen on any
cruise line. No separate box listing the dining and snack venues and
special buffets. No orderly listing of events. Most of the
entertainment offered that day is featured in boxes on a facing page
but they don’t always list all of the entertainment on that page.
The variety of typefaces chosen and herky jerky layout meant that if
you didn’t really study it, you could easily miss something you
would have wanted to do.
Most cruise lines list the ship’s
officers as well as the hotel management staff and key troops in an
early edition of the paper. Only the Captain’s staff was listed. I
still don’t know who the hotel manager/director or chief purser is
on the Island Princess. He was indeed the invisible man.
All the latest equipment, big view and a separate room for
special classes, spinning etc. There were television sets everywhere
and people would watch different channels with the sound on. The sound
should be disabled and set on captions like they do in regular fitness
clubs. We missed having a spa cafe with healthier, lighter meals,
available ala Celebrity.
We never tried the pizza or went to the grill above the
pool area. It was too Alaska cold this time of year and we mostly
spent time outside on the promenade deck. There was an enclosed
jacuzzi and smaller pool area with a sliding roof, decorated in an
Asian theme with Buddha and lions done in red and dark tones.
We tried to attend one of the Broadway type shows in the
main, 2 level, Universe Lounge. We arrived prior to the show, but the
only seats available were upstairs in the back. We usually favor these
seats because you can leave quietly if you wish. The sightlines are
poor from these seats; they are not staggered or elevated enough,
neither are the taller tables with bar stools against the back wall. I
suspect no theater designers collaborated with the naval architect who
designed this mess. The decor and furnishing were beautiful but the
place was not audience friendly. Celebrity wins this comparison
Get there a half an hour early to get
good seats. There are hordes of seat saving weasels to contend with,
saving multiple seats for those who choose to arrive later. Shame on
them. The comedian wasn’t very funny but we waited to walk since so
many people left early in his show.
The best. Jazz stylings from the Perry Phillips trio with
Efacho Okeke on piano, David Colding, stand up bass and Perry Phillips
on drums and vocals. Very pleasant renditions of standards and jazz
classics, every night in the Bayou Cafe for listening and dancing. We
like jazz and it’s rarely to be found on a cruise ship. There was a
jam session one night with the horns, reeds & guitar from the ship’s
orchestra playing with the trio, they played some great west coast
jazz from the Shorty Rogers, Stan Kenton, Gerry Mulligan era. Great
Campbell Simson played solo jazz
piano during the brunches at the Bayou Cafe and evenings from 6 to 8
PM. His material ran from Ragtime, New Orleans barrel house piano with
a heavy left hand to lovely renditions of the standards.
Crooners lounge has a piano bar and
song stylings from Eric Stone. There was dance music every night too
at the Wheelhouse Lounge with the Kathy Farmer trio and the Tito Cruz
Served in the dining room. The real deal. Warm scones,
great preserves and standing upright whipped cream, not the flat
watery stuff, along with finger sandwiches and mini desserts. Yummy.
On various decks and easy to use. A must for cruisers
trying to eliminate their hold baggage. Celebrity doesn’t have them.
Beautiful with glass elevators, plenty of hotel desk help
but no interactive hotel bill or room service ordering on the
television. There was always a piano player, or a guitar player, or a
string quartet playing. Beautiful staircases. The ship’s newness was
apparent here. A lovely place to hang out.
The ship cruises slowly and then reverses its course in the
narrow fjord. Great seamanship on the part of the invisible sailing
crew. It’s a great experience; what an Alaska cruise is all about.
The weather was clear and the sun was shining but it’s still very
cold up there. The wind cuts across the deck and the partially
protected deck chairs have been swooped by those who leave their gear
on them and disappear somewhere inside. Management requests that
people refrain from doing this but management makes no effort to stop
A 35 cents per minute rip-off; it can cost a great deal if
you get hung up with your email or reading an on line newspaper.
Have been written about ad infinitum so we will keep it
Old west theme, interchangeable with the touristy areas of
the Dakotas or northern Arizona, Colorado etc, wooden sidewalks, lots
of shopping, jumping off place for those who want to take the White
Pass Railroad excursion. When we got off the shuttle bus ($3.00 round
trip) we inadvertently followed some crew members into an internet
cafe, the Seaport Cyber Station, which was right next to a great
Forget the expensive, incredibly short aerial tram ride,
save the 20 plus dollar per person fare. The view is beautiful but the
trip is only 4 or 5 minutes each way. All kinds of shopping in easy
walking distance. It’s the state capitol.
Had to tender in on a cold, rainy day. Brrrrr! Five ships
in town this day; everybody with a dock but us. It’s the first time
we ever had to tender at an Alaskan port. There’s a Wal-Mart free
shuttle for souvenir shopping at low, low prices.
We viewed the daily television show, featuring cruise
director Alastair Greener and his assistant James cackling at their
viewing audience. It was like watching a Saturday morning televised kiddy
show. I wondered which one of them was the puppet. We were being
patronized big time. Had they behaved more like real persons it would
have been watchable. There seems to be no middle ground with cruise
directors and staff. They are either very good or very patronizing.
I had my doubts about the automatic tipping, but it seemed
to eliminate a lot of crew anxiety. We tipped our waiter, his
assistant and our cabin steward extra. They were well worth it.
The Island Princess is beautiful. Personal Choice dining
works. We took the traditional first seating but we sometimes skipped
dinner at our appointed time. If we had too many scones at tea time we
went to the Personal Choice or alternative venues at a later hour. We
would always let our regular waiters know when we were not coming to
dinner and they appreciated it.
The balconies in the veranda cabins
are not very private and are the smallest we’ve seen. We truly
enjoyed the lounge entertainment and the alternative restaurants. The
no omelet station, poorly laid out and managed buffet was the
disappointment of the trip with the lame coffee running a close
We are going back to Celebrity for
our next cruise, but we will try Princess again on the right
itinerary. Celebrity has better food in the buffet and in the dining
rooms and they keep the loudspeakers to a bare minimum and never for
an art auction. We never observed the hotel director walking the ship
or checking anything out, and the lack of management showed in many
Princess’ attitude seems to be, it’s
all there for you the cruiser; find it and make the best of it.
Pottery, golf, spinning class, Rotary Club, Bridge etc., something for
everyone. There are cruisers who want to try and do everything. That’s
a track meet, not a cruise vacation. The Island Princess is a hotel
with a propeller, but not a grand hotel. Grand class cruising on the
Island Princess is a misnomer.
This cruise also made us realize that
for us the 7 day cruise is not enough. It takes 2 days to decompress
and recover from flying to the ship and to get the lay of the ship. We
finally relax a bit and really start cruising by the end of the 2nd
day on board when we have finally figured out where everything is.
Four days later you have to pack and then be thrown off the ship early
the following morning.
We’re looking for that longer
cruise next, with a veranda. This cruise proved there is no going back
once you’ve had a veranda. We are poring over the fall cruise offers
and considering back-to-back eastern and western Caribbean cruises. We’ve
had it with cold weather cruising. Tahiti, the south seas, and
Australia as cruising destinations look good, but the flights are so
unbearably long in order to get there and back.
Happy cruising, Patrick &