On one late summer’s day, my journey took me from Valdez to Seaward, Alaska. While traveling I could see the fire weed, bright red and in full bloom along the highway’s edge. According to the locals, winter would be coming soon, ending the short summer Alaska enjoys. My morning had begun in the Port of Valdez and I was preparing to meet Princess Cruise Line’s brand new ship, Island Princess.
As the Princess coach pulled into the Port of Seaward I could see the Island Princess standing tall and sleek. I couldn’t help but think about how incredible this ultra-modern cruise ship is. She is powered by a gas turbine and has a passenger capacity of 1,970. This ship stands tall at 204 feet and is 964 feet in length. She is the new sister of Princess Cruise Lines’ Coral Princess. This 92,000-ton sister is no follower as she has many traits of her very own. I would be onboard for a southbound cruise from Seward to Vancouver, B. C.
As I boarded the ship and began to explore, I was overwhelmed with this ship’s space and layout. In what’s been described as a “design twist", the Island Princess features two full decks of public spaces, versus the traditional single Promenade Deck. I found the ship’s four-storey atrium to be alive with sophisticated colors and lighting. One visit you’d find a string quartet playing “Yesterday" by the Beatles, and next you’d be entertained by piano music coming from the Crooners Lounge.
If the space in the ship’s public spaces were not large enough, my cabin was in a class of its own as well. I had a mini-suite with a private balcony. This was a treat like none other. The mini-suites with private balcony come with twin beds that convert into a queen sized bed. The private balcony was so large you wanted to invite everyone from home over. It also has two TV’s incase you wanted to watch both the baseball and football game while cruising Glacier Bay. Let us not forget the refrigerator, bath with tub and shower, all wrapped up in 323 square feet including balcony. To say this was wonderful would be a huge understatement.
Our ship was scheduled to depart from the Port of Seward at 10 pm, much later than I had done before. However, I was getting used to the very long days of sunlight Alaska’s summer provided. While in Fairbanks days before, the sun would set around 11:30 pm and rise around 3:30 am. Now as we were farther south in Seward it would be dark for sailing, but still a much longer day than I was used to on the West coast of Florida.
It was dinnertime onboard and we had chosen Traditional Dining for our weeklong cruise. One thing I learned was Princess Cruises views dining as a form of entertainment. Food preparation and presentation is taken very serious. You will find only the best quality food items. Furthermore, the men and women who oversee the ballet of buffets, afternoon teas and formal dining, direct it like a Broadway show.
We chose Traditional Dining but Princess Cruises has what they call Personal Choice Dining. Only Princess offers this innovative approach to dining, enabling guests to dine how, when and with whom they want. Passengers may choose either a restaurant style option that allows them the same flexibility found in shore side establishments, or the traditional cruise dining experience with an assigned dining time, tablemates and wait staff – no other cruise line offers both of these options.
Personal Choice dining also means it is your choice to eat anytime you’d like. This means you have the option to eat in a 24-hour restaurant. This is no “Denny’s of the Sea", this is great food choices cooked “A la’ Minuet" to provide only the freshest food to its guests onboard. You will also find freshly made pizza served by the slice served poolside at Princess Pizza pizzeria. Many cruise lines have added specialty restaurants onboard. Princess, keeping with their food-loving philosophy, offers more options than any other cruise line. The Island Princess offers two such specialty restaurants. The first being the Bayou Cafe’ where passengers can enjoy traditional Cajun and Creole influenced food and live jazz in the first New Orleans-themed restaurant at sea, with a look and feel straight out of the French Quarter. You’ll find a menu with dining choices such as peel-and-eat shrimp, alligator ribs, gumbos and jambalaya, not to mention the obligatory bevy of exotic cocktails. Cover charge ($8) includes complimentary Hurricane Cocktail. Next, you’ll find Sabatini’s, offering Italian dining and featuring seafood specialties and other traditional favorites served with flair in an authentic trattoria-like setting. Some cruisers feel that the specialty restaurants are not worth the additional fee, or do not want to pay anything “extra" while on a cruise. It’s been my experience that the price is well worth it and most of the fee goes directly to the staff in tips. So please do not pass up on these specialty restaurants, as they are indeed special.
As my first sea day came up, I was really impressed with all the activities to be experienced onboard. The Lotus Spa offered a vast array of treatments and massages at some great rates. The spa was very beautifully decorated, and had a caring staff. My companion, who has cruised many times said the staff was first class and the treatment wonderful. As I further explored the ship I found that the internet café, which is located off the atrium, was great. They even had a table setup with coffee and cream for you to enjoy nearby. I really enjoyed this touch very much. The café has wonderful leather chairs, and flat panel monitors that made reading email or surfing the net enjoyable. The only downside is connections do go down from time to time due to being in Alaska.
One program I found onboard that was most surprising was Princess’ new Scholarship@Sea enrichment programs. The program was started in early 2003 and the Island Princess is only the second ship to offer the program. She follows her sister ship Coral Princess in offering classes in its state-the-art, multi-purpose Universe Lounge. During my cruise I went to a cooking demonstration given by the cruise line’s corporate executive chef Alfredo Marzi. It was just like watching ‘Emeril Live’ or other great cooking shows. This included smell-a-vision since you’re right there in the audience to smell the fresh garlic, wine and spices. I really enjoyed it and have never seen a cooking demonstration like it before. It was both educational and entertaining with a state-of- the- art presentation. Everyone had a perfect view, due to large screen TV’s and the great layout of the Universe Lounge. Later in the week I had the pleasure of attending a lecture given by Princess Cruise Lines’ Fleet Commodore Moulin (ret). I was able to learn about his life at sea, from how it began until his retirement. It was fascinating and I quickly was convinced that I really preferred these types of programs on a cruise. I’ve not been a big gambler, so did not attend Bingo or even the art auction onboard. So having these offerings is wonderful. I was even more surprised when I found out how much more was available. You can choose from approximately 20 courses per voyage (six per sea day) from four core subject areas – Culinary Arts, Visual/Creative Arts, Photography, and Computer Technology. Italian cooking, hand-built pottery, digital travel photography, web page design, estate planning and water color techniques are just a few of the courses offered. All courses are free of charge and passengers can enjoy as many as they wish. If you want to continue your onboard education you can take smaller classes onboard for a $10 fee.
As you may have guessed with all of this entertainment, enrichment and food onboard you might not want to get off the ship. Being onboard the Island Princess was like staying at a luxurious resort. I know many other cruise lines are striving for this but Princess cruises offers it today in the Island Princess. Your days are filled with food, entertainment, ports of call and personal choices.
As the Island Princess ship pulled into Vancouver and under the Lion’s Gate Bridge, I looked back and knew I had experienced something special. Since I had never been to Alaska, this trip was a journey like no other. I found Alaska to truly be a “Wilderness Wonderland" and having a ship like the Island Princess as your platform for discovery is a must do for this cruise addict.
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Explore, Dream, Discover
By John Shallo
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