I just returned from a 10 day Alaska cruise on the Sea Princess (Princess Cruises) out of San Francisco. It stopped in Ketchikan, Juneau, Icy Strait Point, and Victoria (Canada). There was also a half day of cruising in a fjord. Ketchikan was probably the best stop. Juneau had the worst weather (a bit of rain) and felt the most touristy. Icy Strait Point was a long day on a 'semiprivate' island (only one ship at a time). Just about everything there needs a tour which were all pretty expensive. I didn't go ashore that day. The most disappointing was Victoria. We arrived there at 6 AM and had to be back aboard around 1 PM. Since most things don't open until 9 AM, that precluded doing very much. We had wanted to go to Butchart Gardens, but they're out of town and would either have cost $50 to travel there or 2 hours by public transportation. Instead we went to the Royal BC Museum which was very nice. It has a lot of historical artifacts both from the First Nation peoples in the area and from most recent history. Both included reproductions of buildings, original clothing, tools, and so on.
Juneau and Icy Strait Point were both by tender (small boat) which is a hassle. Interestingly enough, both days a tender which broke down. In Juneau, we had already gone back on board. I was on deck and saw black smoke poring from the back of a tender headed to shore. I thought, "That engine's toast." The crew tried for a while to get it working, but it never quite did. They had to send another tender to transfer the passengers, then after more time, tied on another tender and towed it back to the ship. They worked on the engine the entire next day. I didn't see it, but heard another tender broke down later.
The Sea Princess is Italian-built in 1998. It underwent renovation in 2008, but I still felt that there was some sloppy (or slovenly) areas. There were broken push buttons on some of the public restrooms, along with peeling or chipped fixtures. Some infrastructures were visibly rusty. It just felt to me like there could be better care--or the renovations were done a bit too much on the cheap.
A touch I liked in the dining room was twinkling lights in the dark ceiling--starlit skies! We went with anytime dining. Princess still does a formal night or two depending on the length of the cruise. We had two, but I didn't bother to go. One night I went to the 'feeding trough' as we called it: Horizon Court (24 hour buffet) and room service (free!) on the other. The Horizon Court was quite good with a wide choice of food. There was usually some type of Chinese appetizer like fried wonton or spring rolls. Fruit, salad, various vegetables, 'homestyle' dishes, cookies plus nicer desserts. We usually ate lunch there, but went to the dining room for dinner/supper. It had 3-4 appetizers, 3 starters (soups or salads), 5-6 main courses, and a whole dessert menu. Every meal had certain items so for instance, I had shrimp cocktail most nights.
Strangely enough (I hear this is typical on all cruise lines), only water, lemonade, and regular coffee/tea, plus juice at breakfast are free. Sodas (pop) were $1.75 or so each, so I bought a 'sticker' that went on my cruise card so I could get free sodas. The sticker cost $51.75 so we worked out that you needed to get around 3 drinks a day to make it pay. I don't think I quite made it, because I'd brought on board an 8pack of 12 oz bottles as well. There's also an extra drink sticker which includes special mocktails and milk shakes. It's around $80.
We didn't pack enough clothes for the entire journey. We had 3 nights in San Francisco in addition and I'm willing to do laundry if machines are available. There are self-service laundries on board, but only 2 washers/2 dryers per deck. They also closed the facility for about two and a half days due to environmental regulations. The machines were free, as it turned out, but you had to pay $1 (4 quarters) for detergent. We brought our own. When I planned to do laundry, I staked out the room (3/4s deck away from our cabin) before it opened so I could grab both washers and get done sooner. It was a good idea, as up to 10 people would come in to check on them while I was waiting for them to finish. The washers, set for cottons, take close to 50 minutes, and the dryers, also set on the hottest settings, take forever. I ran the dryers until the washers finished for the person after me, then I hung up whatever was still damp back in the room.
I wish this information was available before the cruise.
I thought we had a good room position, it was an interior double (beds shoved together to make a nearly king size bed), on deck 10 (top deck was 15), aft. The hall takes a turn, so our door faced the rear of the ship. We didn't have any exterior rooms across from us. There was a door to crew space next to us, but it wasn't used that much and didn't disturb us. One long wall had two neighbors, but we never heard any noise from them. Some friends also sailed but their room was on the other side of the deck (port; we were starboard). Our room was narrow and deep. The shower was probably the hardest to deal with as it was tiny. Suitcases fit under the bed, and there was plenty of drawers and closet space for our stuff. Our friends' room was more square and felt bigger, partially because the beds were set against the walls so there was more floor space. They said there was less closet space though.
We seem to have had an outbreak of some sort of virus. It might have been Norovirus, which was mentioned in a message from the captain, but it was never stated outright. One friend definitely caught whatever it was and was down for part of a day (and quarantined for 24 hours). The other came down with something about a day or so later, but didn't have quite the same symptoms and never contacted the ship's doctors. Within a few days of the start of the trip, I heard the captain's message--which I'm sure was recorded because I heard the same message several days later--only because I happened to be in the cabin at the time. I think that was very poorly handled. It was midafternoon when most people wouldn't be in their cabins. There was nothing in the daily newsletter beyond some statements about instituting stricter hygiene regulations. The Horizon Court which had been serve yourself became only served-by-crew and you had to use alcohol-based hand wash to enter any restaurant.
Somehow I and my boyfriend missed it, although 3 of us used my generic Imodium at various times (I tend to have problems anyway, so it wasn't unusual that I brought some).
Crew was always very friendly and helpful.
The biggest issue I had was the continual push to buy stuff and the nickel-and-diming. There's the casino, the drinks, the wildly overpriced 'boutiques' including jewelry, the photos, and art. Ugh. I found the art to be the most troubling. It's all prints and most is hardly worth the paper it's printed on or the frame it's in. There are three art auctions where they sell this stuff. There's also an art channel on the room tv, that mostly shows 'documentaries' that are thinly veiled sales marketing shows about some of the featured artists. In the auction, a few popular pieces would be bid up. Once someone 'won' it, the art director would offer copies at the same price to the losing bidders.
We did partake of a spa treatment the first day aboard. I thought it would be a nice transition to vacation mode. It was nice, but time was spent discussing what your medical problems and stress are, and then discussing a treatment plan afterwards. Our treatment plans entailed buying stuff for $100+. Um, no.
The casino was smoke-free on two or three evenings. Unfortunately, I didn't visit those nights. In total, I lost $4 on the penny slot machines. There was black jack, poker, and roulette.
There's a small library, with books you can check out and some that people have left. The selection is decent.
The ship does have a satellite-based internet/wifi service, but reports said that it was quite slow and quite expensive. It took a day or two for me to adjust to being internet-free.
Weather was surprisingly good for this time of year. Even in Ketchikan which is almost always rainy, we had perfect weather. We decided it was my mutant power. The previous trip by this boat never saw the sun. We also had sunny weather in San Francisco. I've never had any problem with weather in the City.
We didn't do any onshore excursions because we thought they were all too expensive.
I put some postcards in the ship's mail slot while in Juneau. It was around 3:30pm and we weren't leaving until 6pm, so I assumed they would go out. No. I finally saw one and it was postmarked 1 June in San Francisco! (We arrived 30 May, a holiday)
In summary, I would not be averse to cruising again, but would look into other lines. I would want to try to get an exterior cabin next time.
In San Francisco, we went to MOMA for a special exhibit, "The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde". The exhibition had lots of material, although contained a lot of lesser works, I would say. We then visited Chinatown and got some bits and pieces.