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.

Mid-Size Newbuildings Take On New Importance – Small Ship Fleets Continue To Evolve – Carnival To Charge For Live Concerts

THE CRUISE EXAMINER at Cybercruises.com by Kevin Griffin

The Cruise Examiner for 27th January 2014..

 

Seabourn Quest AerialRecent deliveries and orders for several new midsize ships in the 40,000- to 60,000-ton range signify a change in cruise ship development. The recent arrivals of Marina, Riviera, Europa 2 and orders for Viking Star, Seven Seas Explorer and a new 40,350-tonner for Seabourn, modelled on the smaller 32,000-ton Seabourn Quest (left), are beginning to hark back to the traditional days of cruising, making the big new ships look like circuses by comparison. The new midsize ships will become the First Class of 21st Century cruising while the megaships are quickly becoming the Tourist Class. At the same time, the small ship market continues to evolve, with the smallest Seabourn ships soon to go to Windstar Cruises. Meanwhile, Carnival Cruise Lines continues the trend of adding extra charges to mainline cruises, with the addition of live concerts at a charge on board eight of its ships in the Caribbean and Mexico.

FOR THIS WEEK’S STORY                                                                  (See previous columns)

Traditional Cruising To Return – Oceania’s Riviera at Reviewed.com – Veteran Cruise Ship Retired – Heritage Sailing Goes Ahead

THE CRUISE EXAMINER at Cybercruises.com by Kevin Griffin

The Cruise Examiner for 13th January 2014..

Viking Star stern view

Viking Cruises has begun its advertising for the 2015-16 maiden season of its 930-guest 47,800-ton Viking Star, a ship that promises to move in a new direction in the contemporary world of cruising. Viking promises to steer away from mega ships and the superficial glitz that has become too common, and back traditional cruising. At the same time, another of the new wave of more traditional cruise ships, Oceania Cruises’ 1,258-berth 66,048-ton Riviera, has been attracting attention at Reviewed.com and at USA Today, which wrote up the review. Meanwhile, last week saw one of the last of the traditional ships, the Saga Ruby, complete her last cruise after a career of forty-one years. Finally, the Akademik Shokalskiy, now freed from the ice of the Ross Sea, will be able to take up this Friday’s expedition voyage from Bluff after all.

FOR THIS WEEK’S STORY                                                                         (See previous columns)

Azamara Club Cruises and Celebrity Cruises Win Hands Down In Cruise Critic Readers’ Awards, With Oceania Cruises Next In Line

Azamara QuestSister lines Celebrity and Azamara walked away with the top positions in the Cruise Critic Cruisers’ Choice awards last week. Looking at the top five ships in three categories in the US and UK polls, Celebrity scored nine firsts and Azamara eight, followed by Oceania and Thomson with six each in the categories we chose.

For purposes of its polls, Cruise Critic defined a medium-sized ship as carrying between 1,200 and 1,999 passengers, with anything above that being defined as large and anything below as small. The results are laid out below for the best five ships in each category for each of the UK and US, as well as the best ship in each category for dining, entertainment and service for the UK and US. The actual ships’ scores are given in brackets. Some of the surprising results: are given below.

Cruise Critic Cruisers Choice awards 2013 - Scores courtesy of Cruise Critic

       Cruise Critic Cruisers Choice awards 2013 – Courtesy of Cruise Critic

Celebrity EclipseThe most interesting outcome was that of the forty-eight results laid out above, Royal Caribbean brands collected eighteen of the top spots, compared to only four for Carnival brands, despite being severely outnumbered. Proof of a good design and concept, Celebrity’s nine wins were all by 2,850-berth Solstice class ships (Celebrity Eclipse pictured above) except for 1,814-berth Celebrity Century positioning third in the UK medium ships category. Celebrity also took the UK’s top three large ship positions.

Azamara did proportionally even better in that with only two 684-berth ships, it managed to pick up eight of these awards. The other Royal Caribbean win was the 5,408-berth Allure of the Seas, which took third-best large ship in the US results.

oceania_marinaOceania managed six wins in the categories we have chosen, all by its two newest ships, the 1,258-berth Marina and Riviera. But the real surprise was Thomson Cruises walking away with six awards, not only from their own market in the UK but also from US voters. We can think of only one reason for that and that is that the UK results must be included in the US ones, but the website is not clear as to the methodology.

Certainly, with Thomson selling off brands, such as its ski operation, Neilson, and contemplating unloading others to pay down £1.6 billion in debt, any aspiring bidder might look at Thomson Cruises as a possible acquisition. That its older ships should have achieved tops in the mid-size awards for entertainment in both polls and also outscored Carnival’s brand-new 3,690-berth Carnival Breeze makes Thomson worth a look.

Actual cruisers were polled here and of the Carnival brands only one ship from each of Carnival, Cunard, Holland America and Seabourn managed to score in this sample, and none from P&O or Princess. What makes it even odder is that Carnival Breeze won her spot in the UK survey and not the US one. In the US, Disney managed to score as many wins as all Carnival brands combined.

Norwegian Cruise Line and Crystal each achieved three places, but Azamara’s two ultra-premium ships taking eight places to only three for Crystal’s two ultra-luxury ships is an interesting surprise.

To book an Azamara or Celebrity cruise and to book an Oceania cruise please call The Cruise People Ltd in London on 020 7723 2450 or e-mail cruise@cruisepeople.co.uk.

Compagnie du Ponant Is Sold To UK-Based Investors – Other Cruise News: Andrea To Reappear As Serenissima in 2013 – Comments On A Review Of Oceania’s Marina – Revised Details For Viking Ocean Ships

          THE CRUISE EXAMINER at Cybercruises.com

          by Kevin Griffin

     The Cruise Examiner for 16th July 2012

With its new Ice Class ships, Compagnie du Ponant has recently also acquired a reputation as a polar operator

Earlier this month, CMA CGM and its parent company Merit Corporation announced the disposal of its former cruise arm, Compagnie du Ponant, to London-based private equity firm Bridgepoint Capital, well-known in the UK for its investment in the Prêt a Manger quality sandwich shops. With three new 10,944-ton 264-berth ships and its original 1,489-ton 60-berth Le Ponant, the sale by the indebted CMA CGM will hopefully free up Compagnie du Ponant to expand its operation further. Meanwhile, still on the small-ship side of things, Finnish-based newcomer Premier Cruises will re-introduce the 2,549-ton Andrea into service next April as the 96-berth Serenissima. We also have a look at a very interesting and enlightening cruise ship review of Oceania’s Marina by Frenchman Jacques Letard in the latest issue of Sea Lines, quarterly journal of the Ocean Liner Society. Finally, Viking Ocean have announced slight changes to their latest order for two new medium size upmarket cruise ships..
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THIS WEEK’S STORY
                                                      (See previous columns)

The Cruise Examiner for 14th November 2011 – Berlitz Guide to Cruising 2012 – Other Cruise News: US Gulf Ports Celebrate New Ships – Vancouver Sees 15% Cruise Passenger Rise

THE CRUISE EXAMINER at Cybercruises.com
by Kevin Griffin

The Cruise Examiner for 14th November 2011

This year’s star cruise ship has got to be Oceania Cruises’ new Marina. By outscoring all three of her stable mates from Regent as well as her three fleetmates at Oceania, she has managed to propel herself into the five-star league to be rated number 18 out of 285 cruise ships worldwide scored in this year’s “Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships.” At the same time, however, we have to wonder why two ships that have changed ownership and operation and a third that has not even changed her name yet end up with identical scores before and after the changes. Elsewhere, the US Gulf ports of New Orleans and Galveston have both greeted big new ships this weekend, with the Voyager of the Seas at New Orleans and the brand-new Carnival Magic greeted by Maroon 5 at Galveston. Meanwhile, as Seattle treads water in 2011, Vancouver has seen a 15% increase in cruise passengers with Oceania’s Regatta, the Disney Wonder and the Crystal Symphony bringing new business. Next year, however, will likely see Vancouver tread water while Seattle makes the gains, most notably with the defection of Disney Wonder from Vancouver to Seattle in 2012.

THIS WEEK’S STORY                                                      (See previous columns)