Seattle, WA - September 7th - 9th and 17th/18th, 2011
Alaska Cruise on the Golden Princess - Inside Passage - Seattle Return Trip
Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, Victoria, Canada - September 10 - 17, 2011
Background: DH (56), Myself (43), My Mother (73) and her Husband (80). We booked this cruise through my TA back in November, 2010. I had wanted to take this cruise since 2005, but it was so expensive it took awhile to get the funds together. This is my 4th cruise. 2 Caribbean Cruises on Carnival, which I hated and 1 on Princess that was OK, but not really my cup of tea. Personally, cruising is not my favorite way to vacation and feel for some destinations it is a necessary evil. If anyone has ever read anything I ever written, you will know I don’t like cruises and don’t tend to recommend. I have stated more than once I would never do another cruise vacation unless it was going to Alaska and I meant it. But, don’t stop reading now. This is not a cruise bashing review. On the contrary, this cruise was the exception to any others I have taken. I actually enjoyed it and would cruise to Alaska again in a heartbeat. I might even consider other destinations as well. I think the main difference was the overall atmosphere. I enjoyed the laid back vibe with the much more mature crowd with no party, party, party mentality and only a handful of children that were not obtrusive. I also didn’t think that the Golden Princess felt as crowded as prior cruises.
Seattle: We spent 3 days in Settle before the cruise and then DH and I spent all day Saturday and Sunday morning/afternoon in Seattle after the cruise. I used Southwest Rewards tickets and couldn’t get a flight out after the cruise until Sunday at 3pm.
We arrived at Sea Tac around 10am. My parents flew American so we had to wait about an hour for them to arrive. (they got a free upgrade to 1st class) We headed to the baggage claim, got our bags and then sat in a coffee shop and munched on blueberry muffins and milk until they arrived. I decided beforehand that we would take the LINK to the Westlake Station and then cab it to our hotel. From research, the walk really wasn’t as far as I have read, and we had no problems getting there with 4 bags per couple. The Link was $5.50 for 2 ($1.50 for 2 seniors) A really great alternative instead of a $45 cab ride if you have the time and patience to do it, which we did. Once we got to the Westlake Station, we grabbed a cab, which was $10, and headed to our hotel; Best Western Loyal Inn.
Best Western Loyal Inn: We did not have any issues with this hotel. It was decent for the price and the rooms were clean. The neighborhood was a little on the iffy side, but we walked to and from even at night with no issues. There were many cruisers staying at the hotel. I paid $107 internet rate for a king standard room. The room had a fridge and microwave.
Loved the soap/lotion/shampoo/conditioner/body wash dispensers in the bathroom and shower. I have the same in my baths at home. Wish every hotel would use those instead of the tiny bottles. I have to comment on the mattress. It was great. We have stayed at a many of hotels in which the mattress was too firm with no give, which hurts the bones, but these were very comfortable.
The hotel offered an extensive free continental breakfast, which was decent. The breakfast room is way too small for all the guests, so we never found a place to sit, so we would gather our plates and take back to our room to eat. They also offer free internet services with 2 computers. No issues getting to use them. They also had a small gym area and a cute indoor whirlpool. For our after cruise stay for one night, they put us in a deluxe King room for $147. I would have preferred just the stand room instead of paying the higher price. The room was much bigger though and the bathroom had 2 sinks with a wide closet area. There was also a wet bar with the frig.
From research, I do not agree that the location of this hotel is the best place to be for first time visitors that really want to enjoy everything Seattle has to offer. It was a 10 block (long) walk to Pike Place Market. We walked the first day to get lunch and to look around. My parents decided they would not be doing that again. For them, trying to figure out and use the bus system or metro was not to their interest, so we took turns paying for taxis to/from where we needed to be. At least that keep our individual costs down. Additionally, there are no restaurants or bars in close vicinity to this hotel. And, by close vicinity, I mean within a couple of blocks. So in the future, I would next time pay a little more and get a hotel closer to the Market area. There is a Walgreens about 4 blocks down and the Space Needle is about 6 blocks from the hotel.
Steelhead Diner - We ate lunch here on our first day. Walked from the hotel to the Diner. Very long 10 block walk. The food was really good, but on the pricey side. DH and my mom’s husband had the cobb salad. My mom and I shared the quiche and I had a cup of clam chowder. Never seen clam chowder that was broth based instead of cream based. It was good, just different. They had the pecan pie which they enjoyed and we had the blueberry cheesecake and it was pretty bad. We took about 2 bites and was done. We don’t like hard cheesecake that tasted like it just came out of the freezer. We each paid for our own and my mom and split the price of the quiche. We all just had water to drink after that long walk and our bill was $51. A little ridiculous for what we ordered. After lunch we looked around the Market and then took a cab back to the hotel
Sky City at the Space Needle - We had 6pm reservations. We walked the distance to/from the hotel. The place was packed. Was hoping that we could enjoy the view before being seated, but they prefer we eat first and view after. Dinner was really good and again pricey, but we excepted it here. Our waiter was snotty and acted disinterested like he wished he was anywhere else but there. I had this really neat smoking martini made with dry ice. After dinner, we went out on deck, took pictures and then headed back to the hotel.
The Underground Tour - The next morning we took a cab to the Underground Tour. It was a very nice tour and they provided a lot of history of Seattle. There is a lot of walking and lots of stairs. I have grave issues with going up and downs stairs due to my knee, but was able to handle. Afterward, we had reservations for the Seattle Savor Gourmet Food Tour, so we took a cab to the Mayflower hotel where we were supposed to meet up. Very nice hotel. We were early, so we walked over the Westlake Mall and got a small bite to eat and looked around.
Savor Gourmet Food Tour - We went to Andaluca in the Mayflower Hotel. They served Sangria and Duke Cake. We didn’t like the Sangria. Not sweet enough and missing the citrus flavors we are accustomed to. The duck cake was interesting. Not something I would order.
Serious Pie - We tried 2 different gourmet pizzas. Good, but again not something I would order. DH really wanted just a traditional pizza with tomato sauce. Maybe if we had gotten to see the entire menu and pick something more to our taste we would have liked it better.
La Buona Tavola - The gave us a cup of yummy potato soup and then added some truffle oil. My mom and I loved the truffles, but the guys weren’t too impressed. The truffle salt was awesome and my mom bought a bottle. They also let us taste several different variety of truffles and oils. I would have bought some, but since DH was so against the flavor I decided I better not.
Il Bistro - They gave us risotto and a glass of red wine. I personally do not like rice in general. I did taste it and the sauce was OK, but not my cup of tea. DH loved it. We are not red wine drinkers either, so didn’t care for their selection. Very dry and non-sweet.
Pike Brewing Company - We tasted 2 types of Seattle beer with cheese and bread. One beer we really liked and the other a little to dark for our taste. I really liked the cheese, but DH didn’t. I’ll eat any type of cheese though. The restaurant is really cute and I would have loved to gone back to just have lunch.
Thoa’s Vietnamese Restaurant - I’m not big on this type of food, but was very impressed. They gave us noodles with vegetables with fish sauce. Yeah, no rice! Very good. The best fish sauce I have tasted.
Gelatiamo - The last stop. They gave us strawberry and chocolate chip gelato. I don’t like strawberry flavored anything, so gave to DH and he gave me his chocolate chip. It was OK. Tasted a little freezer burned. Have had better gelato elsewhere.
This was a very good tour and we enjoyed tasting things that we normally wouldn’t order on our own at restaurants we would probably not go to otherwise. Our tour guide was very nice, knowledgeable of all the restaurants/area and we appreciated his vigor for this tour . In hindsight, I wished we had also taken the Pike Place Market food tour also.
Mama’s Mexican Kitchen - Later that evening, DH and I decided to walk from the hotel to this restaurant for a late dinner after the food tour. We are such Mexican food snobs, I don’t know why we keep venturing to Mexican restaurants in other areas knowing they will never live up to our expectations except we have to have some kind of Mexican food fix. The salsa and guacamole were good. The waitress failed to advised us that they use shredded beef and not hamburger meat in their tacos and enchiladas. Imagine our horror. J So we just ate around it. The sauce could have been a little more spicy, but we appreciated that they use refried beans and not those yucky black beans. We had enough to get our “fix”. For dessert, we have the coconut flan, which tasted like a cheese cake, but was very good.
Upon return from the cruise, DH wanted to eat here again because he needed another “fix” and it was reasonably close to the hotel. I wanted to go down to the waterfront and eat seafood, but after all they food we had on the ship, he wanted Mexican. I wasn’t going to win, so we went back. He ordered chicken enchiladas. He wanted green/verde sauce, but the waiter said they didn’t have any. I think there was a failure in communication because we had seen people eating food with green sauce, but he had the red instead. I ordered the huevos rancheros. These meals were much better than our prior visit. Had another slice of the coconut flan. Afterward, we walked to an outdoor coffee shop ( can’t remember the name) and had coffee. I would have liked to try this restaurant for dinner.
3 Hour City Tour with Northwest - The next day we took the 3 hour City Tour. It was good overview of Seattle. We hit a lot of tourist areas and attractions. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and had a good sense of humor. I really wished there had been more stops, but with 3 hours you really just get a running view of most areas.
Waterways Cocktail Cruise - I know that in order for these type of companies to make money they have to get as many people as they can on these cruises, but with it crammed packed full of people, it is not that enjoyable. Standing in line for the bar and buffet for long periods of time is just annoying. Plus they had tables for 4 next to the windows and tables for 2 in the isle. Couples were taking up the tables for 4 because they were by the window leaving people with more than 2 people in there party stuck out. They should really seat people instead of letting us fend for ourselves. They offered chicken fajitas with Mexican fixings, which was OK, but not that great. I felt like that the description of this cruise on their website was a little misleading. The views of Lake Washington was really great and the most enjoyable part of the trip.
Café Campagne - DH and I had Sunday brunch after the cruise. It was very good. I had the basil omelet and DH had the herbed scramble eggs. Both served with pomme frites and mimosas. Afterward, we walked to the Market and went to the original Starbucks for a hot vanilla cream with a touch of chocolate. Yum!
Argosy Tillicum Dinner Cruise - Again, this cruise was packed with people. Around 300-400. At least the meal wasn’t being served on the boat. I didn’t think I would like the clams in nectar, but it was actually tasty. The salmon cooked on planks around the open fire was very good. Actually, the entire buffet meal was quite good compared to many other types of cruises we have done like this. Except the dessert was terrible. As berry crumble cobbler. Tasted like they forget to put the sugar in it in. Unfortunately, our table of 10 people was placed directly in front of a support beam blocking the stage, so we didn’t get to see much of the show.
Pike Place Market - We visited the Market several times. It was crowded and packed with people except early Sunday morning. It really is a nice place. Would love to have a fresh fruit/vegetable/fish/flower market in my area. I would be there shopping all of the time.
Weather - The weather in Seattle was awesome. Sunny skies and mid 60’s. We had packed for fall/winter/rain and ended up very hot and dragging our coats around. When we returned on Saturday, it was cooler, cloudy and drizzling, but not enough to be an issue. Based on my research, couldn’t have gotten better weather.
On our return to the airport on Sunday, we had intended to use the Link again, but meet a couple in the hotel lobby that had basically the same flight time as us, so we shared a cab to the airport and split the difference.
In summary, we had a great time in Seattle. Even with 4 ½ days, we didn’t get to eat/see/do everything we wanted, but made a great dent. Would love to return for a long weekend sometime.
I chose Princess again due to our last cruise with them in 2007. We were on the Star Princess Western Caribbean. We thought the food on the Star was really great and one of the best features of that cruise. We arrived at the Port at 12:00pm and it took about 30 minutes to get on the ship. All of us booked a balcony cabin on the Baja Deck. I know there is a lot of controversy about inside vs. balcony, but personally, I will never cruise anywhere without the balcony. We both have claustrophobia issues and it’s great to just step outside and get some fresh air. Many times, we just left the door open even at night. I liked the Golden Princess better than the Star Princess. It felt like it was bigger and more room to move around. The Golden Princess also has more features than the Star Princess didn’t at that time.
Dining: We enjoyed the dining, but felt that the food on the Star was a little better. The Golden had some really fancy-smancy food that I don’t remember the Star having. Additionally, the desserts as well as the ice cream on the Star was fabulous. Not so much on the Golden. On the Star we did the specialty dining options and the balcony breakfast and dinner. Found those to be a big waste of money and didn’t do this time, and didn’t miss it. We did enjoy the International Café for lunch. The Pizza and hot dogs on the lido deck were very good also. We avoided the crowded buffet like the plague. The first morning DH wouldn’t get up so we missed breakfast in the dining room. After fighting the crowds in the buffet and having to sit outside, he didn’t make that mistake again for the remainder of the trip. He added later that the food in the dining just tasted better anyway. My parents ate at the buffet a lot and liked it just fine. We used the room service continental breakfast several times due to early morning tours. The breakfast sandwiches were actually very tasty. We monitored our ship account closely. Our last cruise we spent more in alcohol, pictures and specialty dining than the cruise fare. We didn’t drink as much this trip. We found several opportunities for free alcohol. Just check the Princess Patters and be in the right place at the right time. We only spent $246 on our account. Princess needs to get on board and offer a pre-pay alcohol plan like some of the other ships are doing. I would gladly spend more upfront than monitor my account and not spend hardly anything. Their loss.
Shows: We made a point to watch the shows this cruise. After 9 trips to Las Vegas and 4 seasons of America Got Talent, we have found a new appreciation for production shows. We saw the following shows ‘Welcome Abroad’ ,’Stardust’, ’Comedy of Carlos Oscar’, ‘Motor City’, ‘Variety Showtime’, and ‘British Invasion’. We missed the Illusionist, but heard it was very good. We really enjoyed all the shows.
Formal Nights: The first formal night was on Sunday. We spent all day Sunday watching the 3 football games that were offered. The Cowboys/Jets game didn’t end until 9pm. We watched the entire game in the Player’s Lounge and then went and changed clothes for dinner, pictures and a show. At that time, we saw people wearing everything from dress clothes to pajamas walking around the Atrium. The second formal night we went to the return passenger cocktail party and then dinner, pictures and a show. When we started the cruise and I was unpacking our clothes, I discovered that my black slacks for formal nights did not make it into the suitcase so I ended up wearing my black jeans. The were brand new and dark and my tops covered the back pockets. They worked fine. I didn’t see anyone really dressed up like our last cruise and didn’t feel uncomfortable in the least.
Pictures: We did all the pictures. Formal, casual and disembarkation at the ports. They were really pushing doing all the backgrounds with a card that could be turned in for a drawing for free pictures. I had a major issue with some of the pictures. The disembarkation port pictures were handled very poorly. These were the actual pictures I had planned on buying. While lining up in the hallway to get off the ship they had 2 employees dressed up in costume to take pictures with you. If they really want me to fork over $20 for these pictures I don’t not want other cruise passengers in the photo with me showing the back of their heads or their confused, startled facial expressions. Needless to say I did not buy any of those photos. Same for the Glacier Bay pictures. Luckily, they only got a partial arm/umbrella from the person standing next to us and I will be able to cover with some of my scrap booking materials. Have they ever heard of the crop function before printing? As for the formal/casual shots, if you are going to put us in front of a really nice background I would really like the full background to be in the picture instead of the camera in my face. Back up. I even asked one photographer to please get the entire background and he wouldn’t do it. Fortunately for my pocket book, I didn’t find the need to buy many pictures this trip. Formal prints were $25. All others were $20. The had some pictures buy two different backgrounds with the same picture for $35. They also had a special buy 4 get one free, buy 3 more get one free, etc. I only bought the 4 and got one free. Once thing I noticed is back in 2007 the pictures were 5x7’s and now they are 8x10’s.
Juneau - We did the Princess sponsored Whale Watching Cruise. Nice cruise. Saw tons of humpbacks and orcas. We have done other whale watching cruises in different areas and this one had to be the most active whale sightings. Afterward, we went to the Red Dog Saloon. It was packed. Typical bar food that was very good. Really enjoyed the live music. We then went and did a little bit of souvenir shopping. The weather was awesome. Sunny and in the mid 60’s.
Skagway - We did the 7 ½ train/bus tour with 15mintue dog sled ride with Chilkoot Charters. We did the train up and the shuttle bus back. It was a very long day, but very nice. Got to see many attractions and gorgeous scenery. The weather was cool and drizzling in the morning, but burned off by the afternoon. It actually got hot. The dog sled ride was very neat. On the way back it got cloudy and cool again, but not uncomfortable. Afterward, we went to the Red Onion Saloon. Again it was packed. The bar food was very good. We walked around town for a little bit and looked in some of the stores.
Glacier Bay - No, we did not get up at 6am to watch the ship go into Glacier Bay. It was raining lightly all morning. It was more cool than previous days. We dressed with the full winter gear to the top deck to view the Glacier, but really didn’t need it. If it hadn’t been raining, I don’t think I would have even put a coat on. Saw many people in shorts and flip flops. The Glacier was very pretty, but I guess from research, I just excepted to see more.
Ketchikan - We did the float plane of Misty Fjords with Princess. It was a nice tour with great scenery. Was disappointed when we landed on the water that we didn’t get the great pictures as I have seen on other people’s reviews. Never saw any wildlife. The weather was cool and cloudy. Afterward, we went to the Pirate restaurant for fish and chips. Not great and very expensive. We also walked around town, took pictures and popped into a few stores.
Scra booker’s Alert: Every Alaska port had several scrapbooking supplies and albums. Being the end of the season it was all 50% off. I bought about $25 worth of stuff.
Victoria, Canada - We ate dinner on the ship and then went into Victoria. We looked around, took pictures, bought a couple of souvenirs and then back to the ship. It really looked like a great port and would have loved to have been able to spend more time there and actually see it. The weather was windy when we arrived, but died down. We took our coats and ended up dragging them around.
One of my issues with the Star Princess was getting on and off the ship. Fortunately, there were no tender ports on this cruise. That makes the process a lot faster. Plus they had 2 gangways to get on and off, which the Star didn’t. Much more efficient. The final disembarkation was painless. At times, we did feel lots of movement on the ship. I remember one guy saying that they needed to issue us seat belts for our beds one night. Didn’t get sick though.
Disembarkation: We ate breakfast at the International Café and then went to the Explorers’ lounge for our color to be called. We were off the ship by 9am and grabbed a $10 taxi back to the Best Western Loyal Inn.
In conclusion, this was a great vacation. The weather was perfect for us. So glad we didn’t freeze to death. I would do this trip again and recommend Princess to anyone.
I took around 900 pictures, so broke them all up into separate books by ports. They are located at:
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Seattle/Alaska Trip Report 9-2011 with Pic Link
Seattle, WA - September 7th - 9th and 17th/18th, 2011