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My (Somewhat) Disappointing Alaska Cruise on the Grand Princess

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Katie Seemann

Katie Seemann

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Katie has been in the points and miles game since 2015 and started her own blog in 2016. She’s been freelance writing since then and her work has been featured in publications like Travel + Leisure an...
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I recently returned from an Alaska cruise with my family where we sailed the Inside Passage from Anchorage, Alaska, (via Whittier, Alaska) to Vancouver, Canada.

Overall I enjoyed the trip, especially since I was traveling with family and I always have a good time when they’re around, but it wasn’t quite what I expected.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say the whole trip was a disappointment. I really enjoyed traveling to a new area (this was my first time in Alaska) and spending time with my family. Plus, the port stops were really fun. However, it wasn’t all great. There were some aspects of my Alaska cruise (the scenic cruising days and the ship’s food and entertainment, in particular) that left me feeling let down.

In this post, I’ll give you a look at what it’s like to cruise to Alaska, including what I liked and didn’t like about the Grand Princess, and I’ll share some tips to make your Alaska cruise the best it can be.

An Alaska Cruise on Grand Princess

I was excited to sail on Princess Cruises for this Alaska trip. I’ve been on 3 Princess voyages (in 2005, 2007, and 2008) and loved each of them, so I was eager to see if Princess was as good as I remembered it to be. I had even been on this ship, the Grand Princess, before.

The 2,600-passenger Grand Princess debuted in 1998 and was refurbished in 2019. It’s not a modern mega-ship; instead, it’s a mid-sized traditional cruise ship that’s been refreshed to appeal to today’s travelers.

Grand Princess at the cruise port in Whittier.

How I Booked an Alaska Cruise

While it’s possible to book cruises using miles and points, I opted to pay cash for this trip since it wasn’t too expensive and I prefer to save my miles for luxury hotels and business class flights.

We got a great deal through my father-in-law’s travel agent and ended up paying just about $3,550 for 3 people in a mini-suite for 7 nights. I would normally book a cruise through an online travel agency (they often offer extras like shipboard credit), but this method offered significant savings over the prices we found elsewhere.

Hot Tip:

If you happen to be traveling with a group of 3 and a single traveler, it’s usually much cheaper to book 2 people in each room. My family of 3 was traveling with my mom who was staying in her own room. Since the price difference between having 1 or 2 people in a room is negligible, we booked my daughter in my mom’s room, but she slept in our room once we were on the ship. This trick saved us almost $1,000 when compared to booking my daughter as a third person in our room.

I paid for the whole trip using my Chase Sapphire Reserve® to earn 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar.

If you don’t have a Chase Sapphire Reserve card, another card that is good for booking cruises is the the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card, which earns 3x points per dollar spent on all travel purchases, including cruises.

Alaska Itinerary: Inside Passage

We booked the 7-day Voyage of the Glaciers with Glacier Bay (Southbound) on the Grand Princess. This cruise started in Anchorage (Whittier) and sailed south to Vancouver.

Our Alaska cruise itinerary on the Grand Princess. Image Credit: Princess Cruises
  • Day 1: Depart Anchorage, Alaska
  • Day 2: Hubbard Glacier scenic cruising
  • Day 3: Glacier Bay scenic cruising
  • Day 4: Skagway, Alaska
  • Day 5: Juneau, Alaska
  • Day 6: Ketchikan, Alaska
  • Day 7: At sea
  • Day 8: Arrive in Vancouver, Canada

Day 1: Anchorage

We flew into Anchorage on the night before our cruise. I booked a 1-night stay at the Hyatt Place Ancohrage-Midtown, about a 10-minute drive from the airport. Cash rates at the time were over $500 per night (!) so I used a Hyatt Category 1-4 free night certificate instead of cash.

Alternatively, I could have paid 15,000 World of Hyatt points for this Category 4 property which would have resulted in a 3.46 cents per point value (which is awesome, considering we value World of Hyatt points at 1.5 cents each).

On top of the incredible value I got by using my free night certificate, the staff at Hyatt Place Anchorage-Midtown were wonderful and they had one of the best Hyatt Place breakfasts I have ever had.

The lobby lounge at Hyatt Place Anchorage-Midtown.

Our cruise left out of Whittier, which is about an 80-minute drive from Anchorage. We booked a private transfer to pick us up at the hotel and drop us off at the cruise terminal. Since we were traveling as a group of 7, the private transfer wasn’t much more than the cost of booking a train or bus and it was so much more convenient.

We arrived at the Whittier cruise terminal in a large, but run-down, limo.

Days 2 and 3: Scenic Cruising at Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay National Park

The first 2 days on Grand Princess were dedicated to scenic cruising. Unfortunately, the fog and ice were so bad on the day we were supposed to be at Hubbard Glacier that we had to skip the stop entirely.

The weather didn’t cooperate during our day at Hubbard Glacier.

The next scenic cruising day was spent in Glacier Bay National Park.

I was really looking forward to these scenic cruising days to get up close to some glaciers. However, in my opinion, I found the glaciers in the Alaskan summer to be disappointing. I had visions in my head that didn’t quite jive with reality, so I was underwhelmed by the experience.

The scenery was definitely beautiful, but the glaciers themselves weren’t what I was expecting.

The glaciers I saw in Alaska were much smaller than I was expecting.
Hot Tip:

One of the most important Alaska cruise tips I can offer is to manage your expectations. Weather can be a factor that may cause you to miss a scenic cruising day entirely. Plus, Alaska glaciers may be less dramatic than you’d imagine.

Day 4: Skagway

Our first port was in Skagway. This quaint gold-rush-era town is a common stop on many Alaska cruises.

We booked one of the most popular excursions at this port — a trip on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad. A ride on this vintage train takes you up the mountain and actually crosses the Canadian border. One of the cool things about this ride is that you’re able to stand outside while the train is moving — a feature that will make the ride much more exciting for older kids who may be bored while sitting on a train looking at the scenery.

Riding on the outside train platform on the White Pass railroad is fun for kids and adults alike.
Hot Tip:

If you’re taking a ride on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad, sit on the left-hand side of the train (looking forward). While both sides will eventually see the same thing (the train turns around at the top of the mountain) all of the narration happens as you’re going up, when the people on the left side have better views.

Day 5: Juneau

I was looking forward to our day in Juneau because we booked an excursion to visit Dog Sled Summer Camp. We chose this activity because my daughter studied the Iditarod (a yearly long-distance dogsled race in Alaska) in school last year and this was an opportunity to bring all of that to life.

We had a blast at Dog Sled Summer Camp in Juneau.

We loved learning all about these incredible dogs and the mushers who train them for races like the Iditarod. Our fantastic guide, Shaynee Traska, who owns about 50 of the dogs at the camp, competed in and finished the Iditarod herself — an incredible achievement. Her dedication and love for her dogs and the sport of dog sledding (Alaska’s state sport) was evident from the moment we met her.

Our Dog Sled Summer Camp guide, Shaynee Traska.

Back on the ship, our day continued with a presentation by Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the Iditarod. She gave a great talk about her experience and then signed books and took pictures afterward. My daughter read her book in school last year so it was a cool experience to meet her in person. This day ended up being the highlight of my trip.

We met Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the Iditarod.
Hot Tip:

Day 6: Ketchikan

Ketchikan is the quintessential Alaskan town. It has wildlife, a rich native Alaskan history, totem poles, lumberjack shows, and of course, beautiful scenery.

It’s a very walkable town so it’s easy to just hop off the ship to explore on foot. Our boat docked just steps from downtown, but there’s a second docking area for cruise ships that’s about a 15-minute drive from downtown. You’ll want to double-check your ship’s docking location before assuming you can just walk off the ship straight into downtown Ketchikan.

My view of Ketchikan from the Grand Princess.

We walked through downtown Ketchikan and over to historic Creek Street. Since we visited in July, just at the beginning of the prime salmon-spawning season, we missed the bulk of it. But, we were still able to see some brave salmon struggling to swim upstream.

There are plenty of spots to watch this phenomenon along Ketchikan Creek and there’s even a salmon ladder, which helps the fish get to their destination.

It’s fun to watch the salmon ladder in Ketchikan.

Day 8: Vancouver

Our cruise ended in Vancouver, and we decided to stay a couple of days to explore before heading home.

I booked 2 nights at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver and it was my first experience as a Hyatt Globalist (hello, free breakfast!). At the time, this hotel was a Category 3 property, so I was able to book 2 nights for just 30,000 World of Hyatt points total at peak pricing. The cash cost would have been $846, resulting in a 2.8 cents per point in value (a great redemption in my book).

Hot Tip:

Hyatt Regency Vancouver is now a Category 4 hotel requiring 12,000 (off-peak), 15,000 (standard), or 18,000 (peak) World of Hyatt points per night.

On our first day in Vancouver, we visited the Vancouver Aquarium and Stanley Park. Then we did a day trip to nearby Grouse Mountain and the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. It was a fantastic way to end the trip.

We were treated to some spectacular views while ascending Grouse Mountain in Vancouver.

My Alaska Cruise Experience on Grand Princess

Let’s get to some details about my experience with Grand Princess on a 7-night Alaska cruise.

Princess Cruises’ MedallionClass

Grand Princess is a MedallionClass ship. Each passenger gets a small Medallion to wear on the cruise. This Medallion does everything from unlocking your stateroom door to identifying you each time you get on or off the ship.

This wearable Medallion acts as a room key, and onboard credit card, and can even locate your shipmates. Image Credit: Princess Cruises

It also allows you to track everyone in your party (either through the mobile app or via interactive boards on the ship), a huge benefit when you’re traveling with a group as I was. This feature is also fantastic when you’re cruising with kids. I felt comfortable letting my daughter roam the ship on her own (mostly back and forth to the kids’ club) since I knew I could pinpoint her location at any time.

You can track your shipmates or explore the daily schedule on the ship’s interactive boards.
Bottom Line:

One of the best things about sailing with Princess Cruises is the Medallion system. Each guest gets a quarter-sized Medallion to wear throughout their cruise. It acts as a room key, an ID when getting on and off the ship, and it can even pinpoint the location of your travel companions.

Mini-Suite With Balcony Stateroom

For this Alaska cruise, I booked a mini-suite with a balcony (stateroom D210, to be exact). At 323 square feet, the mini-suite offered about 100 square feet more space compared to the regular balcony stateroom.

A mini-suite on the Grand Princess offers plenty of space. Image Credit: Princess Cruises

The decor was a bit dated, but the room was very comfortable and had plenty of space.

There was a sitting area with a couch that could be converted to a bed, which is what we used for my daughter. Our stateroom attendant converted the couch to a bed and back again each day so it was very convenient.

Our mini-suite had tons of storage space and a full-sized shower/tub in the bathroom (which you know is a big deal if you’ve ever experienced a typical tiny cruise ship shower).

While not luxurious, the bathroom was clean and spacious for a cruise ship, which was exactly what we needed for this trip.

I loved that our mini-suite had a full-sized shower and tub.

The balcony had a small table and 2 chairs. We were traveling with family so we booked 3 rooms next to each other with connecting balconies. Our stateroom attendant opened up the doors between our balconies so we could move freely between them. If you’re cruising with family, it’s worth it to book adjacent rooms with connecting balconies.

I loved being able to open up our balcony doors to the adjacent rooms.

While our room’s decor wasn’t what I’d call contemporary or luxurious, the room itself was clean, spacious, and comfortable. For us, it was 100% worth it to book the mini-suite over the standard balcony stateroom.

Bottom Line:

Whether you decide to go for a standard room, a mini-suite, or a suite, be sure to book a stateroom with a balcony. So much of an Alaska cruise is about the scenery and you’ll be thrilled to be able to enjoy it from the comfort and privacy of your own balcony.

Food

My first 3 cruises ever were on Princess and I remember the food being excellent. On this cruise, the food was fine. Not bad, not amazing, just fine. Don’t get me wrong — there were a few things that were fantastic, but overall it wasn’t as good as I had remembered.

One of the highlights was the International Cafe. Open 24 hours a day, this grab-and-go cafe offered pastries, sandwiches, and desserts throughout the day.

I’m a coffee-and-pastry kind of gal when it comes to breakfast, so I loved the selection there. I grabbed incredible pastries (the almond croissant was delicious) along with fruit and chia pudding each morning to bring back to my room. The International Cafe had specialty coffees for an extra charge, so instead I ordered coffee through room service (which was included in the cruise price) each morning.

This is my idea of a great breakfast — coffee and pastries in my room.

The food in the dining rooms was decent, but it was a definite step down from what it used to be years ago.

In addition to the main dining rooms that were included in the cruise price, there were 3 specialty restaurants on Grand Princess that could be booked for an extra charge. I was traveling with my mom and she got a complimentary specialty restaurant dinner as part of a drink package, so we tried out Crown Grill, the only one we could get a reservation for.

The appetizers and desserts were delicious, but the steaks we ordered were totally flavorless (which was surprising considering this was the specialty steakhouse). Had I paid the cover charge, I would have been disappointed.

Bottom Line:

While I didn’t go hungry on this cruise, the food on Grand Princess was mediocre overall. There were some highlights (the pastries at the International Cafe were fantastic), but not much stood out otherwise.

Entertainment

The entertainment on Grand Princess was a letdown. I generally don’t get involved in too many cruise ship activities, however, I do enjoy going to the evening shows and the art auctions. Both were mediocre on my cruise.

The nightly shows in the main theater were OK at best. The production quality was lower than I’ve seen on any other cruise I have been on (across multiple cruise lines) and the hired acts (magician, comedian, etc.) weren’t much better. To be fair, the singers and dancers that performed many of the evening shows in the theater weren’t untalented — the shows themselves and the production quality is what was lacking.

The nightly shows at the Princess Theater were disappointing.

Going to art auctions is one of my favorite things to do on a cruise ship. I’ve always been into art and I’ve enjoyed growing my collection with pieces I’ve purchased on cruise ships.

The art auctions on this cruise were run by Park West Gallery, as they are on just about any cruise ship you’ll find. Unfortunately, the art staff on board was unorganized and 1 member was downright pushy and rude. The art director himself was a nice guy and was able to find a specific piece I wanted (that wasn’t even on the ship) so I ended up buying that one and another from one of my favorite artists, David LeBatard, aka Lebo (sadly, the artist passed away a few days after my cruise).

I was so happy to add 2 works by Lebo to my art collection.

Camp Discovery Kids’ Club

When you’re going on a cruise with kids, having a kids’ club is invaluable. For little ones, it’s basically free babysitting, and for older kids, it offers a chance for them to have fun with other kids their own age while you can enjoy more adult things like going to a show, grabbing a drink, or enjoying a quiet dinner.

The kids’ club on Princess was called Camp Discovery and it was available free of charge for kids ages 3 to 17. There were 3 unique rooms that were divided by age group:

  • The Treehouse: Ages 3 to 7
  • The Lodge: Ages 8 to 12
  • The Beach House: Ages 13 to 17

My 9-year-old was in The Lodge which offered activities like video games, skeeball, foosball, and crafts.

I loved that I was able to give her privileges to sign herself in and out of the kids’ club (available for ages 8 and up on days at sea only — adults need to sign kids in and out while in port). She enjoyed the autonomy of managing her own time and having a place to go to do things she enjoyed with other kids when she wasn’t into what the adults were doing (looking at glaciers, for example).

My 9-year-old enjoyed the kids’ club on board.

As mentioned, since Grand Princess was a MedallionClass ship, I was able to know where my daughter was at all times. This made me feel comfortable allowing her to go back and forth from the kids’ club on her own since I could see exactly where she was on the ship at all times. I even knew where she was when she ditched the kids’ club to go to the buffet with some new friends — ha!

Bottom Line:

Camp Discovery is the kids’ club on Princess Cruises ships. There were 3 separate areas that were divided by age group — The Treehouse was for ages 3 to 7, The Lodge was for ages 8 to 12, and The Beach House was for kids ages 13 to 17. Camp Discovery was included in the cruise price.

Captain’s Circle Loyalty Program

I love a good loyalty program and having elite status can really enhance a trip in my opinion. Status within the Princess Captain’s Circle program is earned either by the number of cruises you take or the number of cruise days.

I have Captain’s Circle Platinum status with Princess Cruises and this was my first cruise at that level so I was excited to see what perks I’d be able to take advantage of.

There are 4 levels of membership in Princess Cruises’ Captain’s Club. Image Credit: Princess Cruises

The answer, I discovered, was basically none.

The list of benefits offered To Captain’s Circle members was full of things that weren’t really benefits, like “Circle Center Online” (I still have no idea what this is) and “Circle Savings Account” (again, no clue what this is). As a Platinum member, I was able to save 50% on a Wi-Fi package, which was great until I realized that these packages used to be free for Platinum members.

I was very disappointed in Princess Cruises’ loyalty program, Captain’s Circle, as it offered no real tangible benefits on my Alaska cruise.

Final Thoughts

Perceptions of trips can change with time. While I did feel some disappointment during my cruise — specifically with the scenic cruising days and the food and entertainment on Grand Princess — I still look back on the trip with fond memories.

This was a family vacation and I got to spend over a week exploring new places with the people I love, which is what it’s all about. So, no, my Alaska cruise wasn’t exactly what I expected — but it was an incredible and memorable vacation nevertheless.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, the Grand Princess was refurbished in 2019.

The Grand Princess can hold 2,600 passengers and 1,150 crew members.

Yes, Grand Princess operates multiple 7- to 14-night itineraries in Alaska including Inside Passage cruises between Anchorage (Whittier) and Vancouver, round-trips from Vancouver, Seattle, and Los Angeles, and a 4-day cruise from Seattle to Vancouver.

The summer months of June, July, and August are generally the best times to cruise to Alaska. However, they are also the most popular (and most expensive) times. If you’d like to avoid crowds and save some money on your cruise, look to travel during the shoulder seasons of late spring and early fall — April, May, and September can be great months to go to Alaska.

When you book a mini-suite on Princess Cruises you’ll get a lot more space than you would with a balcony room — about 100 extra square feet. Plus, mini-suites have a separate sitting area, 2 TVs, lots of storage space, and a full-sized shower/tub combo.

About Katie Seemann

Katie has been in the points and miles game since 2015 and started her own blog in 2016. She’s been freelance writing since then and her work has been featured in publications like Travel + Leisure and Forbes Advisor.

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10 comments

Ron

September 06, 2023

Platinum used to have free internet, but the speed and minutes were extremely limited. The newer 50% off internet is much, much faster on the ships I’ve been on, and it’s unlimited. No more worrying and rushing to disconnect from the internet to not use up all the minutes. With the old free plan for platinum members, we had 10 to a maximum of 20 minutes of internet a day, and with the speed this was really difficult to get through email.

Katie Seemann

September 06, 2023

Hi Ron,
That’s a good point and I can definitely see how the 50% off deal would be better for many cruisers. I hadn’t been on a Princess cruise in a long time so I don’t really remember how slow it used to be, but, as you said, it’s pretty solid now. Thanks for reading!

Jenna Ingram

September 12, 2023

I just got back from The Princess Cruise I was on the sapphire princess. The food was horrible as compared to a cruise I took in 2012. The process up to the time of the cruise was so frustrating. No one knew anything and answered calls from international places. Misinformation like…there are no free food options on the ship to one guy not even knowing where Alaska was.
I totally agree with all your observations. I won’t be taking another princess cruise.

Carl

September 13, 2023

I took my first and probably last cruise. I always wanted to do the Alaska Cruise and glad I did. I was told the food was excellent and probably would gain 5 pounds. With a few exceptions, thought most of it was mediocre. The International Cafe was one of the better places. They could warm your food up and the coffee selection was good. Good thing is I didn’t gain the 5 pounds. I very much enjoyed the excursions. The shows were okay. The ship while clean, seemed dated.

Drue

September 13, 2023

So you were (Somewhat Disappointed) with an Alaska cruise? Well, that set the tone for your article. Too many people arrive at the cruise terminal with impossible expectations and they whine when (choose one) The weather was bad, we missed a port, the food was ugh, entertainment was lacking, ac wasn’t working, etc, etc. Well, IMHO a day on a cruise ship is way better than a day at work. The cruise is what you make it. And the Grand Princess is a SHIP, not a boat. For the most part, there have been cut backs across cruise lines of the food and entertainment, so for the near future, that is how it will be, unless you cruise on a premium line like Viking.

Sarah

September 13, 2023

Love Princess cruise line. I have cruised with several other lines and there is nothing to compare. I will always choose princess!

Melody Marlatt

September 13, 2023

I just got back from an Alaskan cruise only we started in Vancouver and ended in Anchorage. We had a similar experience—a bit disappointing!! The very word “glacier” invokes visions of massive proportions, blue ice, and huge areas of snow. The reality was a response of “Is that it?” We also encountered fog, rainy days, and cloud cover so our cruising days were a bit boring. Our biggest disappointment was the lack of animals. Except for a few moose in Denali, the only animals we saw were stuffed, caged, or sled dogs. Even the whale watching excursion was not much more than seeing spouts and humps. The excursions are terribly expensive for what they involve. The best thing we did was the riverboat cruise to the native Alaskan village. It was very interesting and informative. I struggled with how to pack for the cruise and thank goodness at the last minute I threw in another jacket. With insulated underwear, a fleece shirt, heavy pants, a sweatshirt, jacket, and raincoat, I was still cold most of the time. Our room was cozy because we controlled the thermostat but everywhere on the ship was so cold that we couldn’t wait to get back to our room. I hated spending so much money to sit in my room most of the time. It was so cold that every meal was cold before I could eat half of it. It didn’t matter because the food was mediocre at best up to including terrible. The evening dining was better food and we had a wonderful waiter and his assistant. The shows were OK but not at the level of expectation. One of our party came down with Covid. She was told over 50 people on the ship also had tested positive. Nothing was told to passengers, there was no push to use hand sanitizer or to wash hands and no masks available in public areas. Our traveling party self-quarantined when we got home. The medical staff did everything possible to care for our sick companion but I think passengers should have been alerted that there was a Covid outbreak onboard.

Lastly, the Princess website and customer service were the worst I’ve ever experienced. I lost track of the number of times I couldn’t login to the website only to get kicked out when I finally got in. The customer service reps I spoke to were surly, couldn’t answer very basic questions, and obviously were not well trained. I’ve cruised with 3 other companies and Princess has a long way to go before reaching the level of service that I have received from every other cruise line.

Kevin. Grand Princess July 2023

September 14, 2023

We did Grand princess Alaska cruise in July and the trip was a let down as well. We had a horrendous sewer smell the entire trip throughout the ship. No one would address it with us and on return no one will return my calls for follow up. We found the same things that the food and entertainment were mediocre. Chefs dinner was amazing. It was our 10th and final cruise with Princess. There are other options to explore.

Benny

September 24, 2023

You didn’t research enough. Glacier melt, fell a lot already at the end of Alaska Cruise season. You should go in June or May. It’s still interesting to cruise at the end of the season. You could see bears feeding on spawning salmon in Ketchikan. You could view Aurora in Fairbanks AK. You didn’t do things right.

Tim

September 28, 2023

I took the same cruise a month ago and I’ll totally agree with pretty much everything you said. Having taken the same trip 14 years ago I was prepared for things that Princess has no control over like the weather, but was frustrated by things they have complete control over like the technology. The website, the mobile app, and even the software that runs the TV in your room are simply bad. All of them crash constantly, have confusing interfaces, and have no interconnectivity. The food was also just meh. A real shame as the service and presentation were both an excellent 5/5, but everything lacked seasoning of any kind. I understand the challenges in cooking large amounts which is why they lean heavily towards sauces for everything, but you do still have to season the sauces. All of that being said, if you want to see Alaska and the glaciers, your choices are limited. I’ve not heard much positive from the other cruise ship options and I’m starting to wonder if all of them are just not bad to top shape after Covid.

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