GETTING TO THE SHIP & BOARDING PROCESS:
This cruise departs from San Francisco, which makes it very easy for those of us
who live in the Bay Area. It was wonderful to avoid all headaches that seem to
come along with airline travel these days. There were seven of us in the group so
it made more economical sense to have a Luxury Van. I have used
ABC Chauffered Limousines before for Napa Wine Tasting and Concerts, so we
used them for our transit to and from the Pier. They arrived 10 minutes early,
which was fabulous, nothing worse that worrying that your ride will be late. We
had 3 stops for picking up passengers in our group ~ we left our house in Redwood
City at 1215pm and arrived at Pier 35 just about 1:30pm.
The porters were right there to greet us and cart away our luggage (he earned his tip). Once we got past Pier security, we had one quick
form to complete confirming that nobody had been sick in the previous two days (this is a precautionary measure to avoid Norovirus
outbreaks), then we were whisked through check-in. We walked right up to an agent who retrieved our boarding passes, checked our
passports, gave us our keys/ship card/ship ID and then we were on our way through the x-ray machines, group photo then up the
gangway and soon after we were on Deck 5 of the Dawn Princess. We dropped off our carry-on bags in our cabins and then headed up to
Deck 14 for hamburgers and hot dogs from the grill. Our Muster Drill was at 3:30pm and then we set sail at 4:00pm.
DINING AND LOUNGES:
This was my second Princess Cruise, although my first was also on the Dawn Princess last year for a 2 day Coastal Cruise. I wasn't very
impressed last year with service but figured it was a 2 day cruise and the crew had 3 turnarounds in one week (new passengers every
few days makes for more work on their part). We had "Anytime Dining" for our group, which meant we could eat at the main dining
room Florentine, the Italian/Pizza restaurant La Scala, the Horizon Court which is the 24 hour buffet, The Grill (poolside) or the Sterling
Steakhouse. Once we boarded I made reservations for our group in the Florentine Dining room for our first two nights. We really were
not very impressed with the service, the menu choices or the quality of food served in Florentine. I tend to be a picky eater as are some
of my family members that were travelling with us; however, my husband who "eats to live" (I "live to eat") said that the food wasn't
that great and although he has only experienced two other cruise lines- he said by far he thought the food was better on Carnival and
We did dine at La Scala twice for dinner and once for lunch. Food there was always good and I think between everyone in our group we
did try just about everything on their menu, all with positive feedback. The service in this venue was a bit lacking at first. Our first night
there they pointed to the table in the back of the restaurant and said "party of seven you can take that table", it was another 10-15
minutes before we had menus. Horizon Court was just fine for breakfast ~ in my opinion you can't go wrong with a breakfast buffet on a
cruise ship. You have all choices: cereals, yogurts, danishes, eggs, bacon, sausages, potatoes, pancakes, made to order eggs and/or
omelettes and usually a few specialty items for the day. It is a nice, quick place to have breakfast and always something there for
everyone. We did eat lunch and a late night dinner/snack in Horizon Court once and the food choices late night were very limited, the
lunch choices were good, but food just "o.k." ~ nothing to brag about. Our BEST dining service and food was found at Sterling Steak House.
This is the $15 service charge per person restaurant and worth every penny!!! You are clearly a different passenger when you walk into
this place. Our waiter Jose (pronounced 'Jo-zay') was fabulous. Very friendly, always accommodating, humerous and entertaining!!
Initially, since I knew that this would be a special dining venue, I had made reservations for Father's Day ~ after our experience here
with exquisite service and steaks that clearly came from another family of cattle than the steaks served elsewhere on the ship, my
family agreed that this is where we were dining the remainder of the cruise ~ so we did for 3 nights in a row! Their menu consists of
just about every cut of steak you can imagine (Filet Mignon, NY, Porterhouse, Rib Eye), a wonderful BBQ Chicken and a Fish Entree which
varied day to day. Also, if there was something special being served in the main dining room that night, the Steak house would bring an
appetizer plate of that special for the entire table. This meant crab legs one night and lobster tails the other (in addition to the steak
or chicken you had ordered). My nephews are somewhat limited in their dining choices and Jose was wonderful to bring Hot Dogs to
my one nephew each night. My nephew even said that those Hot Dogs were better and different from the ones you have poolside from
The Grill! When we ordered dessert and wanted chocolate sauce and caramel sauce for our ice-cream, Jose had no problem bringing it
to us. It is just unfortunate that you have to pay a good amount of money for the cruise and then you end up paying additionally
$15/night for the best dining. If our other options had been somewhat decent, we might not have eaten at the Steakhouse like that. I
will also note that on the last night, our waiter Jose did not collect the $15 cover charge on my two nephews since we had been coming
regularly and they had been ordering Hot Dogs! That was classy and it was his suggestion to his boss and his boss gave him the green
light to do it ~ he felt it was the right thing to do. After dinner each night, Jose had jokes to share, tricks to show us and our own
personalized napkin folding lesson. He saw one of my nephews playing with is napkin trying to fold it a certain way and he just started
to show us all types of ways to make neat napkins! I think he enjoyed us as much as we enjoyed him!! Below is Jose with my nephew
the Hot Dog eater- Rob, Jose demonstrating napkin folding and then Jose with his toothpick/fork balancing trick!
There were many lounges around the ship, you were never without a place to get a drink and I know that we did not sit in each and
everyone. My mother usually had her evening pre-dinner drink in the Atrium Bar where she made great friends with Katy the bartender.
She would usually visit Katy one last time for her night-cap drink before heading to her cabin for the night. We spent most of our time in
the Wheelhouse Bar or Jammers Disco. Bar service in both places was very good and both had musical entertainment, so we were able to
dance in both venues, which is a very important part of any vacation that my husband and I take. You are also able to get bar service in
the Vista Lounge and Princess Theatre when shows are taking place. Service in both venues were also very good.
This cruise did have very good entertainment. We did miss both of the big production shows, in part because they cancelled them one
night because the seas were a bit rocky and it would have been unsafe for the performers ~ and then when they rescheduled it, we tried
to get in, but the theatre was full. I never really heard any comments from other passengers, so I don't know how those shows were.
We did see an "Extreme Country" show that they did in the Vista Lounge that was about a 45 minute production of song and dance to
country music. Being country music fans, we really did enjoy it. The male vocalists were a bit weak, but the females had tremendous
voices. They had 3 different comedians on board, an illusionist and a variety act (comedy and juggling) and all of those shows were
Of course, no cruise would be complete without the Karaoke shows, Talent Shows, Newlywed Game and other simulations of TV Games
Shows done "cruise-style". We did try to get into the Newlywed Game since it was our one year anniversary cruise, but it was a random
draw and we just didn't get picked. I dragged my family to the "Pyramid" game one night, but I think my girlfriend and I were the only
ones playing- our team did awful!!! But then again, we really didn't want to win the cheap bottle of champagne they were giving the
During the day, the choices seemed a bit limited on our sea days- or rather they just seemed to be the same day in and day out. Each
day at sea had two bingo sessions- 11am and 3pm, the fitness center always had Yoga at 830am, Spin at 3pm and Pilates at 4pm. They
had the ice sculpting demo one day, fruit carving demo another, art auctions each day at sea, trivia get togethers, line dancing lessons ~
but that was really about all. Then again, I am used to warm weather cruising and I am happy as a clam to sun bath for 4 hours each day
The "country night" in the disco was pathetic ~ nothing was organized. You would think that since they had taught 4 line dances
throughout the cruise that they would try to lead those at the Country Night Disco Party. They didn't even have enough Country Music CD's
to support a country night. Never fear- Pam is here with her IPOD!! Yes, I went to my cabin and retrieved both our iPod's so that we could
listen to lots of country music that night ~ we stayed until about 1:30am that night dancing every song and I could tell the cruise director
was happy when we left so he could play non-country music the rest of the night for the crew, who were the only other people in the
disco at that point. The Disco was dead most nights, but that just gave us the whole dance floor to use ~ so no worries. I did actually
teach the Cruise Director two line dances!
The Casino was always ready and able to take donations! All kidding aside, they had several black jack tables, three card poker, let it
ride and Caribbean stud poker tables. Roulette, craps and "real poker" along with many different slot machines. We did go in the
casino more often than most cruises, I did fairly well the first two days but then ended up giving it all back! My mom did pretty well, or
so she says ~ we'll never know for sure!
HEALTH CLUB & SPA:
As most of you know, I teach classes at the gym so I am always very interested in seeing the gym programs on cruise ships. Usually, I am
disappointed. This time around, I decided that I have been getting a little burned out at home with my regular routine of spinning 5
times a week, so I decided to NOT attend any of the classes. I really did want to do the Yoga classes, but not enough to get up at 8am
for them- although I tried, it was easier to roll over and go back to sleep on those days. Then I found out the Yoga classes were only 30
minutes anyway. My friend who was with us did do a good majority of the classes and she said that they were overall pretty decent. Bill
and I did work out in the gym one day at sea, but then the remaining days at sea we took Power Walks around the Promenade Deck- 3
times around equals a mile and we did 4 miles each time. It was very refreshing to be outside and we even caught the sight of some
whales heading north as we were on our way back to S.F. Between the change in my workout regime, the fact that the food on this
cruise wasn't that great, I actually only gained 1 pound in 10 days on a cruise!! I was very pleased!!! Can't say the same for my hubby,
but he losses it quicker than I do! The health club was equipped with tread mills, ellyptical trainers, stationary bikes, weight lifting
equipment, dumbbells, stability balls, bands and mats. There were also two semi-enclosed hot tubs and small pool near the health
club that you could get to from inside the locker room.
We did have a couples massage one day ~ it was Bill's first massage ever and he did enjoy it. The quality of the massage was very good
and I think we both had excellent massage therapists. Of course the cost is way out there, but that is typical for a cruise spa- the prices
are always much higher than what you'd expect to pay for your local Day Spa. The good news is that Bill loved getting his massage, so
now we can go get them here together. I also treated my brother to his first massage for a Father's Day gift- he enjoyed it very much
also! I had one other experience in the spa/salon and that was to get a nail repaired, service was good and they did a good job, but
again you pay for it $34 for one nail fix and a re-polish on all ten nails! Just a bit over the top.
PORTS OF CALL:
This was a 10-day cruise with 2 days at sea to start, our first port of call was
Sitka, next day Juneau, then Skagway. The following day we were cruising
Tracy Arm Fjord (which is really another sea day), followed by another sea
day, a Day in Victoria BC, a sea day and then back home again.
SITKA was our first port of call and we did the Sea Otter Quest and Raptor
Center excursion. This particular port of call requires "tendering" to shore,
meaning the ship anchors in the Bay and you are shuttled to land on the
tender boats. Since our excursion was on a boat, that boat just picked us up
right from the ship. That was pretty cool! The excursion itself was very
good, but cold out there on the water. We were able to see Sea Otters,
Whales, Bald Eagles and Sea Lions. We were on the water about 3 hours
and then they took us to shore, where we boarded a bus to go to the Raptor
Center. We spent about 45 minutes at the Raptor Center and were able to
see many Raptors- which my favorite being the Majestic Bald Eagle! We were then taken back to the pier to board tenders back to the
ship. I was very disappointed in the time it took for us to get back to the ship. We were in line to board a tender for over 45 minutes and
then when we got to the ship, it took another 20-25 minutes just to get through all the security screening and merging with other
passengers boarding from the other side. It was just very chaotic and disorganized.
JUNEAU was our second port of call and we had excellent weather- average temperature was about 70 degrees. We did two tours here,
our first was "A Taste of Juneau". On this tour we were taken to the Alaskan Brewing Company for a tour and some tasting, then to a local
cooking school for more demonstrations and tastings and our final stop was Mendenhall Glacier Park. This was an amazing place and the
tour did not allow enough time here. I would have loved to have just taken a tour to this place and eliminated the beer and food! We
didn't even have enough time to visit the Visitor's Center. Our focus was on getting as close to the Glacier for picture taking. We got back
to the ship with enough time to freshen up and head back out for our evening excursion, which was the Canopy and Zipline Tour. THIS WAS
A BLAST!!! I would highly recommend this excursion for the adventure type or those wanting to seek some adventure. We were shuttled
to a pier, then taken across the body of water on a speed boat, suited up with our gear, driven up a windy, rocky hill of a road in a 6 X 6
vehicle that cornered on wheels (that was the scariest part of the trip), then you climbed about 30 stairs (fairly steep) to get to the first
zipline- which is the "practice one". After that there were 9 ziplines with the longest coming in at over 400 feet and 2 suspensions
bridges. Your trip through the trees ends with a final repel down a rope to get to land. It was AWESOME!!! We had great weather
conditions for this adventure and when we were done, the boat picked us up, took us back to the shuttle, then back to the pier. We still
had some time before sailing, so we walked around downtown Juneau a bit and had some ice cream.
SKAGWAY was our next port of call and I think my favorite. It was a very cute town, one that I wish we would have had more time to
explore, very quaint and "gold rush" looking. We took two excursions here as well. Our first tour was a city tour combined with a trip to
the local museum for 20 minutes and then an Old Time Gold Rush type show. The show was a bit corny, but we survived. We had the
choice of going back to the ship or walking around town and getting back to the ship on our own. We went back to the ship to relax a bit
and get ready for our second excursion!! GLACIER FLIGHTSEEING ON HELICOPTER AND DOG SLEDDING! The picture above was taken at the
dog camp, that is one of the future Iditarod dogs that I am holding ~ he was such a cute feisty puppy! This experience was absolutely
wonderful. Again, the weather was made to order, we had on t-shirts and light jackets on top of the mountain!! The helicopter ride was
smooth and we saw such beautiful scenery with the snow and glaciers, along with the green mountains on the other side and lakes in
the distance. Absolutely dreamy! In fact, so many of the pictures we took from the dog camp actually look like back drops, scenery so
beautiful you almost think it is fake!! The Dogs were so cute and so excited to go out for their rides! We were teamed with 8 dogs and a
sled master who took us around. We had a chance to bond with the dogs before hand or "meet the team" they say and then afterwards
we got to meet the puppies and they were just absolutely adorable. Definitely an experience that you walk way from with a life long
memory!!! Holding that puppy did make me miss my kitty at home though!
TRACY ARM FJORD was not a port of call, but a morning spent cruising at extremely low speeds through the glaciers- wonderful scenery but
you had to make sure you woke up early to see it. We cruised from 5am-10am through the Fjord and it was beautiful! Having a balcony
made this an easy thing to do as we could watch in our bathrobes and then go back to bed afterwards! Many waterfalls, many chunks of
glacier ice floating around the area ~ really beyond what words can explain!
VICTORIA, B.C. CANADA was our final port of call. I have been to Victoria many times in the past but it was new to my husband and my
brother and his kids. So we decided to see the Butchart Gardens and Butterfly Gardens which was a good tour. Again, not enough time
allotted at the Butchart Gardens, there is a lot of ground to cover and we had about 2 hours there. We could easily have used another
hour minimum! Butterfly Gardens is pretty cool, but also a bit freaky to be in a close area like that with Butterflies flying all around you
and in many cases, landing on you. I ran into one gentleman who had a butterfly land on his beard! We made it back to the ship in time
for our 2pm sail-away party and we were on our way back to San Francisco.
Was it my favorite cruise? I think it was the most unique with regards to the ports of call so the answer would be "yes" for favorite itinerary
BUT not my favorite cruise. In fact I'd put this cruise for the "cruise experience" in the bottom two and it shares the bottom two with my 2
day coastal cruise on the same ship last year.
Did I have a good time? Absolutely ~ life is too short and we paid too much money NOT to have a good time! We have certainly come away
with some pretty special memories to carry with us throughout the years from this cruise.
Would I do it again? Yes for both the destination and the cruise line. I do feel that I owe it to Princess to sail on one of their newer
vessels to see if the cruising experience "Princess style" will be different a third time around. I would absolutely go to Alaska again
on a cruise, but would probably opt for a more port intensive cruise and less days at sea.
Food? Sterling Steakhouse was EXCELLENT. La Scala Pizza Place was PRETTY DECENT. The rest of the food was awful to just "o.k."
Service? I thought our cabin steward was wonderful, the bar and lounge staff very attentive and friendly, our wait staff in Sterling
Steakhouse was also Excellent. The rest of the staff was just "ok".
Entertainment/Activities? I thought entertainment with regard to nighttime shows was pretty good, nothing to complain about ~ except you
had to really get to the shows early (20+ minutes prior) to get seats! Ship board activities on sea days could have been better! Live
music was decent, there were two acts that played regularly in the Wheelhouse Bar: Pinnacle was pretty talented and diverse.
International Fox took longer breaks than their played sets! They were very "nightclub-ish", but we managed!
I was a bit disappointed that they do not do Towel Animals on Princess ~ I thought that was very weird. I enjoy coming back to the cabin
each night to see what new creature is waiting for us!
I think that there is a flaw in the Anytime Dining option with regard to tipping. At the end of the cruise, it is custom to tip your cabin
steward and dining room staff a set suggested amount. Now to make things more convenient, the cruise lines automatically charge $10
per passenger, per day to your ship board account. Now if you feel service is not worthy of that, you can have the amount adjusted, but it
takes time and patience to do this as the lines at the Purser Office are long the last day of the cruise. We did adjust our tips since we
thought our dining staff was overall very poor, so we gave $5 per passenger per day to our cabin stewards and then we tipped our waiter
Jose on our last night in Sterling Steakhouse directly.
My suggestion would be for anytime dining that each time you dine in the main dining room or the alternative venues that do not charge
a cover fee that you have to sign to approve a tip. That way your server is accountable for your service that evening. With traditional
dining (which is still an option) you have the same waiter and bus boy each night at the same time in the same dining room, but you
develop a relationship with those people and that helps to build a great service experience. The way things are now with Anytime Dining
is that the tips charged to your account each day $6.50 of that $10 goes to the wait staff to split equally ~ I just don't see that as fair, they
should be earning those tips and the way the system is right now, they still get the money regardless if they are the weakest link in the
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