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Trip report: Majestic Princess Whittier to Vancouver July 9-16th (LONG!)


DevilsFan38
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I've appreciated the time others have taken to report back on their trips, so here's my trip report. It's VERY LONG! I'll first comment on general things Princess cruises and about the ship in particular, then move on to a day by day description of activities and ports. I'm also cross-posting this on the Princess forum as well as the Alaska forum, since I wasn't sure of the best place to put it. For some background there were four of us on this trip, myself and my brother (mid 30's) and our mom and aunt (late 60's). Planning was a bit challenging since all four of us have somewhat different interests and levels of activity.

 
First, my thoughts on Princess and the ship. We don't cruise a ton (my last cruise was on Celebrity about 3 years ago, pre COVID), but have been on I think about 8 cruises in the past. We had done one prior Princess cruise, but that was over 15 years ago so not much for comparison. This ship (Majestic Princess) was the biggest any of us had been on, so we were hoping for some good entertainment.
 
Overall, I can't say I'd rush back to do a Princess cruise. We certainly enjoyed ourselves, but that was more a function of the ports/scenery, rather than the ship and amenities. We picked Princess because my mom wanted a cruise that did Hubbard glacier and Glacier Bay, so that limited our options significantly. The crew on the ship was great, all very helpful and our room steward (Emerson) was especially great. But all of us felt the food was mediocre, entertainment was lacking, and I personally did not like the layout of the ship itself.
 
Firstly, the food. The buffet was fine, no complaints there. Pizza from Alfredo's was good (and we're from NJ, so picky about pizza!). We ate in one of the main dining rooms (Allegro) 5 out of the 7 nights - the other two were Alfredo's and Harmony. None of us were overwhelmed with the main dining room food. The last night everyone said the food was quite good (trying to leave us with a good last impression?) but we mostly felt it was just okay. I'm a vegetarian, and I was especially underwhelmed. Once or twice I ended up in the buffet after dinner because I really hadn't liked my main (the night of vegetarian Turkish meatballs with grilled vegetables comes to mind). Mostly, the food seemed to lack flavor. There was generally one vegetarian dish of the night (and about half of them were fairly heavy on cheese, which I'm not a huge fan of), so if you're vegan I'm not sure what they'd do. Food in Harmony was also mediocre, and certainly not worth the upcharge, though I will say that my Mai Tai was quite good.
 
Other than food, for most of us the nightly entertainment is probably the other big thing we looked for, and that was even less impressive than the food. Of the 7 nights, 4 were comedians (2 comedians, each doing 2 shows), then there were 2 production shows, and one night a solo singer with the orchestra. One comedian was not funny at all (my mom and I slept through the first show, and none of us went back for his second show). The other comedian was quite good, his 2 shows were probably the best entertainment of the week. The two production shows were mixed. The first one (Sweet Soul Music) was enjoyable, nothing amazing but lots of good songs. The second one (Encore) was rather odd. They had added a soprano for that show (and she had an amazing voice), but the show didn't flow. At all. It started with a few songs in English, which were okay. Then it switched to Italian opera (at least, that's what it sounded like, I only speak English so couldn't really say). The soprano's voice was amazing but you had no idea what was going on. There were some songs in Italian, then it kind of switched back and forth between some English and more Italian for the rest of the show, with no songs seeming to relate or flow together at all. Other than the one singer's voice it was rather boring. The other night's entertainment (solo singer) could have been good. He'd been on Broadway, and also had a great voice. But I didn't think the song choices were great - lots of slower songs, and not much excitement (for example, one song I recall was Bring Him Home from Les Miserables - a beautiful song but not very exciting/uplifting). So overall, definitely not impressed with the entertainment. 
 
Lastly, the ship itself. It's very pretty, and I had no complaints about cleanliness. However, it was not one of my favorite ships I've been on. On sea days I enjoy finding a comfy chair (ideally not just a pool lounger, something with some actual cushion) with a view of the water going by, and relaxing with a good book. That was something I struggled with on this ship. We had what I'm told was typical Alaska weather that week (50's and rainy) so you didn't want to be out on the open deck. They allowed kids into the Hollywood conservatory area, so that pool space had screaming children in it, not what I wanted for peaceful reading. The actual conservatory space at the front of the ship could have been perfect, except that for some reason they felt the need to do obnoxiously loud activities there. Two mornings I tried to sit there and read (along with other like minded people, or some people quietly playing cards), only to be interrupted by loud cruise staff hosting line dancing. There were also some potential reading areas in the Piazza, except that area is also quite loud, usually with cruise staff games going on or loud music playing. My other complaints about the ship is that there is no jogging track, and gym had no ceiling fans, and no fans built into the treadmills/bikes/etc, like many brands do. On the plus side I did appreciate that they have laundry rooms! (bring a few detergent pods and dryer sheets to save a few bucks).
 
So, now for a day by day summary, with more commentary on the ports:
 
Day 1 (flight into Anchorage).
We flew into Anchorage (2 from Florida, 2 from NJ) and our flights landed between 7 and 8pm, so it was a long day. We got the shuttle to our hotel (Comfort Inn Ship Creek) and dropped our bags, then got a taxi and went straight to dinner (for three of us we could have walked from the hotel to downtown, probably taking about 10 mins at an easy pace, but one member of the group can't walk distances and it was uphill as well). We had dinner at Glacier Brewhouse, which overall was very good. The other three in the party were very happy with their dishes (2 had fish and 1 had chicken). I had a pizza which was not great (Alfredo's on the ship was definitely better). Drinks were excellent and we were happy with our meal. You can make reservations online and they're open late, which is nice for those coming in on late flights. Then 2 of us walked back to the hotel (just to see the town a little) and 2 took a taxi, and it was time for bed.
 
Day 2 (Anchorage to Whittier, boarding the ship).
The other 3 slept in, but I got up early. I'm generally very active (I'm a triathlete) and in looking up Anchorage prior to the trip I read about the Anchorage Coastal Trail, an 11 mile (one way) trail along the coast. It looked beautiful and had great reviews, so I decided to bike it. I used Downtown Bicycle Rentals (they opened at 8am, which gave me enough time to do the ride). I tried a few bikes, we found one that fit, they gave me a few directions and a map and I was on my way. I biked the whole trail and it was gorgeous, probably actually one of my favorite activities from the whole trip. Sometimes it's nice to get away from crowds and tours. There were certainly other bikers and walkers/runners, and it did seem to get busier as I was heading back, so I'd recommend going early. It took me about 2.5 hours to do the 22 miles, with some stops for pictures and to watch the planes take off overhead. I also saw a black bear crossing the trail (thankfully just ambling along, with no interest in us cyclists), so that was a great way to start the trip.
 
Got back to the hotel and showered, then it was time to check out and get our transportation to Whittier. We used ACT (Alaska Cruise Transportation), and they were solid. Bus pickup was on time, then on the way we stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Refuge. We all enjoyed seeing that, could have used a little more time (though we were meant to have more time, there was road construction which delayed us). Driving through the tunnel was interesting as well. We arrived in plenty of time in Whittier and boarded the ship.
 
Day 3 (At sea/Hubbard glacier).
Had a relaxing morning, since we didn't arrive at the glacier until mid afternoon. Hubbard glacier is absolutely stunning. Glacier Bay National Park the next day was gorgeous, but if you could only pick one I'd pick Hubbard, because the glacier itself is massive and gorgeous. I'm not sure how close we got, but I certainly didn't feel like we didn't get close enough. It was beautiful and we did see some calving. There was plenty of time for everyone to view the glacier and get all the photos they wanted, as the captain slowly spun the ship. It definitely gets much colder on deck when you're near the glacier - was very glad I brought ear warmers and gloves!
 
Day 4 (Glacier Bay National Park).
Beautiful scenery, all day long. When we got close to the glaciers we spent a lot of time  up on deck. Otherwise if it's cold and rainy (like it was much of the morning for us) a good place to be was actually a window seat in the buffet - get there very early for lunch and you can spend an hour or two watching the gorgeous scenery while you slowly munch your way through lunch. Disappointingly none of us were impressed with the park rangers we had on board or the talk they gave in the morning - the talk seemed more designed to sell us on the idea that conservation is important, rather than talking in specifics about the National Park, it's history, features, wildlife, etc.
 
Day 5 (Skagway).
We docked at the Railroad dock, so they had cleaned it up enough after the rockslide, thankfully. All four of us did the bus tour into the Yukon with Chilkoot Charters, and we would all highly recommend the company. Our guide and driver, Mike, was excellent. They met us close to the cruise ship, then we got on the small bus and drove down the one main street in Skagway, with Mike pointing out a few things along the way, before we headed out of town. This was probably the worst day weather wise (anywhere from drizzling to raining hard and cold), so it was a good day to be on a bus tour. We made numerous very scenic stops on the way up the pass. Getting into Canada was a breeze, no one wanted our arriveCAN, the customs officer just walked up and down the aisle of the bus while we held our passports up by our faces. It took about 30 seconds. Then we arrived at Caribou Crossing. Lunch was solid (my vegetarian option was lentils over rice, which was quite good), the donuts were excellent! The exhibits there were good, I could have used more time (I'm one of those people who like to read everything). The husky puppies were cute, but unfortunately they were all curled up together napping so not very exciting. On the way back we stopped at Carcross by their little general store and had some excellent ice cream, and we also stopped by Emerald lake for some photos. Then they dropped us back in downtown Skagway, and we had some time to wander there (they would also have taken us back to the ship, if we'd wanted). I enjoyed the wander in Skagway, could even have spent a little more time there before we needed to get back. On a side note, our guide told us they only get fresh fruit/vegetables one day a week in Skagway (and even then, it's been on a boat for a few days, no that that fresh), and they're very expensive. I gave him the banana I had brought from the ship's buffet that morning, in case I didn't like the lunch, and he was thrilled! So you may want to nab an apple/orange/etc from the buffet in the morning to give to your guide, if you're going on a tour.
 
Day 6 (Juneau).
Today we split up, My brother and I did a canoe trip and glacier hike, and mom and aunt went whale watching. We did the canoe trip with Above and Beyond Alaska, and they were great. Our guides (Ben and Cash) were fabulous. They picked us up by the cruise ships, then we went back to their headquarters to get kitted out (rainboots, rain jacket/pants, and dry bags for our bags). They we drove out in a small bus and parked close to Mendenhall Lake. It was about a 5-10 minute scenic walk to the canoe site, and then we got a briefing on launching and paddling the canoe (one big canoe, with I think 11 of us tourists and the 2 guides). Paddling out on the lake was amazing, so serene and quiet, and the scenery was gorgeous. First we paddled across the lake to get close to Nugget Falls, and then paddled up to a beach not too far from the glacier. It's sad to hear how much Mendenhall glacier is receding. Because of this we couldn't do any hiking on the glacier itself, or right up to its face, but we got fairly close and again the views were stunning. After an hour or two hiking around the area and having some snacks (provided by the company, they were good) we then got back in the canoes to paddle back. It was I think 5-6 miles of canoeing across the lake, so you need to be semi fit. Then we bused back to headquarters, changed out of our gear, and they dropped us downtown so we had some time to wander again before heading back to the cruise ship. I found some delicious huckleberry ice cream in the town. 
 
Day 7 (Ketchikan).
We split up again today, with my aunt and I doing a floatplane excursion, and my brother and mother doing a rainforest walk. Since our plane was later in the day my aunt and I started with a wander in Ketchikan. We went to the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center downtown, and enjoyed a walk through there and a very good film about salmon. Then we had a wander down Creek Streek, and stopped in a diner for lunch (Pioneer Cafe, we hoped it would be good since it seemed to have lots of locals in it, but food was just okay). Then it was off to meet our bus for a quick transfer to the plane! We did our floatplane excursion with Island Wings, and they were excellent. Our pilot was Adam/Wiley. His commentary was great and I felt completely safe with him at the controls. This was my first time in a floatplane, it was amazing and flying over the Misty Fjords National Monument was beautiful. Then we landed on a lake and pulled up to a tiny island, where we got out for 20 mins or so and took more pictures. Again, very serene and completely stunning. Then the flight back, and they dropped us back by the ship since it was getting fairly close to all aboard time.
 
Day 8 (At sea).
Not too much to say here, it was a nice relaxing day after three days of ports. Scenery isn't as stunning as it is further north, with all the coastal mountains.
 
Day 9 (Vancouver).
Docked in Vancouver. Getting off the ship and into Vancouver was very smooth (no one even looked at passports?). The line for taxis looked long but was extremely organized and moved quite well. We got a taxi to our hotel (Blue Horizon) and of course were too early to check in, but they kept our bags. We then took a taxi to Granville Island. We began by doing a sightseeing cruise on the False Creek Ferries (no need to book in advance, just walk down to the dock), which was a relaxing way to get a look at Vancouver. We were back at Granville Island 40 minutes later and ready for lunch, so we headed into Granville Public Market. I'm pretty sure I could spend days in this place alone quite happily, all the food looked absolutely delicious. Tons of little stands of food to eat right away, or things to take home for later (nuts, chocolate, tea, fresh fruits/veg, etc). I'd kill to have this in my hometown! I got some lentil and bean salads as well as some pierogies for lunch, along with a freshly brewed ice tea. I also picked up some croissants for later. Also, Lee's donuts are fabulous! (the line does move quickly). After that we wandered through many of the shops, before getting a taxi back to the hotel. We then chilled for a little while. We had a tour booked for that evening (Lost Souls of Gastown walking tour, with Forbidden Vancouver). My brother and I went down to Gastown first and had a little wander. Water St is picturesque, but if you wander even a block or two off it you get into areas with a lot of homeless people, one street had dozens of tents. Then we went back and met mother and aunt at Steamworks Brewpub for dinner (would definitely recommend, all food and drinks were good and the fries with parmesan, garlic, and truffle oil were amazing!). After that the walking tour departed right across the street from the brewery. The tour was interesting, talked about Gastown/Vancouver shortly after its founding, and about the great fire. The tour was not scary. Unfortunately my aunt had to bow out quite early as she discovered the walking was a bit too much for her.
 
Day 10 (Vancouver).
Started the day getting up early, and my brother and I did a tour of Stanley Park on bikes with Cycle City Tours. Our guide was Mark and he was great. It was a very easy bike ride, a few minutes through the city (all on dedicated bike lanes) to get to the park, then around the seawall and through the park. The scenery was beautiful, we made lots of stops to talk and Mark was a very interesting guide. Also stopped for a few minutes to see the totem poles, and we biked out through the rainforest to Beaver Lake. Then it was back to the shop to drop off the bikes and back to the hotel. Then the four of us took a taxi to Cardero's for lunch. That was a recommendation from Mark and it was spot on. It was right on the waterfront and all the food and drinks were absolutely delicious. After that we went back to Stanley Park because mother and aunt hadn't been there yet and wanted to see it. Unfortunately they hadn't really made any plans as to how they wanted to see it or what they really wanted to see (and it's a 1000 acre park, so kind of hard to just wing it). We ended up deciding to go to the aquarium there, which turned out to be great. Arrived in time to see them feeding the sea otters, which was of course adorable, and all the exhibits were good. Then we went back to the hotel and organized a bit before going out to dinner (Earl's Kitchen & Bar, it was good but the other two places in Vancouver were better), then had a relatively early night because we were leaving at 5:30am the next day for our flight home!
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I really appreciate your review and shore excursions experiences. Second one I have read about seeing bear near ANC. I am glad about no mention of C-19. 

sightcrr

 

 

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On 7/24/2022 at 12:08 PM, DevilsFan38 said:

None of us were overwhelmed with the main dining room food. * * * Mostly, the food seemed to lack flavor. * * * Food in Harmony was also mediocre, and certainly not worth the upcharge, though I will say that my Mai Tai was quite good.

I generally find the same to be true on most lines upon which I have traveled. I think it is in large part driven by the need to serve the lowest common denominator, and that means lackluster and lacking in any bold flavors. The main benefit in dining on board is not having to cook, myself, and being served. But for enjoying food it is usually so much more satisfying to eat off the vessel, in the country we are visiting, especially if we're able to get away from all the other passengers. (Alas, that would not be much good on an Alaska cruise as even when ashore you're mostly stuck in small towns within the United States.) The food quality onboard does not greatly for us because, living in New York, we have the finest restaurants and authentic ethnic food available to us at all times. But at the same time we're sometimes we're saddened when we see others in the dining room, from places outside New York City, and the experience they're having onboard may be among their best meals ever (especially if a once-in-a-lifetime cruise). So while I would like food more to my liking, I am resigned to what it is, which is not bad . . . and usually better than what I would be served in Amtrak's dining car!

 

On 7/24/2022 at 12:08 PM, DevilsFan38 said:
On the plus side I did appreciate that they have laundry rooms! (bring a few detergent pods and dryer sheets to save a few bucks).

A big plus for me, especially on longer journeys.

 

On 7/24/2022 at 12:08 PM, DevilsFan38 said:

Got back to the hotel and showered, then it was time to check out and get our transportation to Whittier. We used ACT (Alaska Cruise Transportation), and they were solid. Bus pickup was on time, then on the way we stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Refuge. We all enjoyed seeing that, could have used a little more time (though we were meant to have more time, there was road construction which delayed us). Driving through the tunnel was interesting as well. We arrived in plenty of time in Whittier and boarded the ship.

Excellent to hear that ACT did a good job in providing transportation.

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On 8/1/2022 at 3:24 PM, DGeers said:

What a wonderful review.  Which Company did you use in Ketchikan for the floatplane excursion? I don't see it offered thru Princess. 

 

We used Island Wings.

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