Weekly Sailings From Vancouver To Alaska With The Pacific Princess

Pacific Princess at SkagwayOne of our good clients has sent us this review of their late May Alaska cruise on board Princess Cruises’ 30,277-ton Pacific Princess (left):
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If you’re going to sail from Vancouver on an Alaska cruise then by all means stay at the Rosewood Georgia Hotel before sailing. This art deco hotel, completed in 1927, has a complimentary classic Bentley limousine that can deliver you in great style to Canada Place to catch your ship.
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Because the Pacific Princess carries only 680 passengers, the boarding process is more relaxed than for one of those behemoths with between 2,000 and 4,000 passengers. There are eight of this smaller class of ship in service, all having been built between 1999 and 2001 for the defunct Renaissance Cruises. Three operate for Oceania Cruises, two for Azamara Club Cruises, one for P&O Cruises and two, the Pacific Princess and the Ocean Princess, for Princess. Having travelled on sister ships with three other lines, we quickly found our way to our balcony stateroom. What better way to see Alaska than this, on a small ship with no crowds and a private balcony for whale watching?
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The standard balcony cabins are slightly short on space at 173 square feet (216 including the balcony) compared to some other ships, but quite suitable for a 7-night cruise. The closets feature real wooden coat hangers but this class of ship has never overcome the colliding doors of its closets and the en suite shower directly opposite. Princess’s bathrobes, meanwhile, leave a little to be desired, all seeming to have shrunk from too much washing. They could hardly stretch around a standard-sized person, let alone someone who might be fond of eating. The balconies on the Princess ships are finished in blue plastic marine decking rather than the teak found on Oceania.
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But other than such small quibbles, this is a great little ship and the service is enthusiastic. Getting to know the crew later, we found that the Pacific Princess’s officers are mostly Italian and the crew International. Assigned to the same table for dinner each evening, we got to know our fellow passengers, but also our waiter and station captain who thrived on coming up with special requests such as the Indonesian hot chili sauce Sambal Oelek we requested to go with our lobster the next night. Duly consulting the Indonesian sous-chef, they came up with a gravy boat full of this specialty sauce that our whole table enjoyed. I doubt we would have got the same service on the larger ships in the Princess fleet.
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Pacific Princess Club-Like Interiors
Pacific Princess’s public areas have been well maintained and live up to their original reputation as country houses at sea (left), the grand staircase still being at the centre of the ship. There is a modest cabaret lounge for this number of passengers, a great view forward from the Pacific Lounge atop the ship, main dining room in the stern and two alternative restaurants above, as well as the buffet restaurant on the pool deck that features an open air area overlooking the stern, not to mention the very classy library at the top of the main stairwell overlooking the pool from its aft perch. And on the main passenger deck, in addition to the photo gallery and two shops, there is a casino with its attached but separate Casino Bar with nightly entertainment as well as the Club Bar next to the main restaurant.
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Once aboard, there is quite a lot of pressure to buy a wine package as well as a ticket for the next day’s wine tasting session, but there is no drinks package on Princess’s two small ships. Nevertheless, compared to some other lines it is possible to get a drink for between $5.75 and $7.50 plus 15% gratuity, and a bottle of Chianti for $30 (plus 15%) for dinner. The drinks bill for two for our cruise was $305 and the wine package $185 for 7 nights, totalling $490, or $35 per person per day including gratuities. By comparison, the drinks package on Oceania Cruises runs to $50 per person per day.
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More quibbles: Internet on Pacific Princess ran to $204 for a week for their most extensive package. The extra tariff restaurants now charge $25 per person. The public washrooms could use more frequent service. And the music could be updated by three decades from 1950s-70s to 1980s-2000s.
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Overall, however, with the passengers she attracts, the Pacific Princess is a pleasing ship. The crew is solicitous and friendly and, with no crowds, the passengers are interesting and not loud. Many had actually booked this cruise because they had tired of larger ships. Canadians (182 passengers or 27.8% of the ship) formed the largest group on board and Americans (157 and 24%) came second, while there were many Brits (113 and 17.3%) and Australians (117 and 17.9%), making it a sort of Commonwealth at sea. The Americans were mostly Californians and Midwesterners plus some Texans and there were also 85 (13.0%) of other nationalities (of which there were 29) with quite a few Chinese. Total passengers: 654.
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White Pass steam train on Skagway dock
The ports of call on our cruise were Juneau, Skagway, cruising Glacier Bay and Ketchikan. While there are plenty of helicopter, float plane and glacier tours available, by far the most interesting for us was the White Pass & Yukon Route narrow gauge railway excursion (left at Skagway, dockside), which runs from Skagway through the White Pass into Canada before returning to Alaska. Built at the time of the Klondike gold rush, the railway reopened in 1988 as a seasonal tourist attraction and now serves about 370,000 passengers a year between May and September.
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The White Pass, which operates on the first 67½ miles (Skagway to Carcross, Yukon) of the original 110-mile line to Whitehorse, is today Alaska’s most popular shore excursion. The line rises 2,865 feet in 26 miles of steep grades and cliff-hanging curves on the way up from Skagway to the summit and passengers experience a breathtaking panorama of mountains, glaciers, gorges, waterfalls, tunnels, trestles and maybe even the odd bear. All this while riding in the comfort of vintage parlour cars equipped with open platforms at each end.
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The White Pass rail fleet includes twenty diesel-electric locomotives, seventy open-deck parlour cars and two steam locomotives. The steam train excursion takes four hours and when purchased ashore costs $159, the diesel-electric ones three to three-and-a-half hours and $119. Trains come right alongside the ship at Skagway docks.
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Aside from the White Pass, there was Glacier Bay and its many different glaciers, Orcas and humpback whales aplenty and seals and eagles, and in Ketchikan, Annabelle’s on Front Street cannot be missed for its fine seafood chowder! Among the four ports and points of interest this makes for an excellent cruise with lots of variety (apart from the ubiquitous jewellery shops at all the ports of call). And the air is very fresh.
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On our return to Vancouver we were followed into port by sister ship Regatta, one of the three of this class of ship owned by Oceania, which after disembarking her San Francisco passengers moved over to Seaspan’s Vancouver Drydock Co Ltd for an 11-day upgrading to bring her to the same standards as that line’s newer ships, the 1,250-berth Riviera and Marina. Nautica and Insignia have undergone the same refit.
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The Pacific Princess offers eighteen 7-night cruises from Vancouver to Alaska this summer, every Tuesday until September 9, the first time Princess Cruises has offered round trip Vancouver-Alaska sailings for about a decade. On September 16, she sails for Hawaii on her way to the South Pacific. Oceania Cruises’ Regatta offers six 7- to 10-night Alaska cruises from Seattle, one 10-night Alaska cruise from Seattle to Vancouver, one 9-night Alaska round trip from Vancouver and a 10-night Alaska cruise from Vancouver finishing in San Francisco.

For futher details or bookings please call The Cruise People Ltd in London on 020 7723 2450 or e-mail cruise@cruisepeople.co.uk or in North America 1-800-961-5536 or e-mail cruise@thecruisepeople.ca.

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About thecruisepeople
Specialists in sea travel - ultra-luxury cruising, freighter travel, small ships and expedition voyages.

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