Thursday, August 15, 2019

PB&J Travels: Alaskan Cruise

Setting sail through Alaska
Majestic glaciers, food feasts, historic ports... this can only mean one thing, it's time for our Alaskan cruise recap!

Your voyage awaits
We set sail on a 7 night Alaskan cruise via Princess Cruise Line. Our voyage began off the Alaskan coast starting in Whittier. We headed southbound spending two breathtaking scenic sail days to Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay National Park. Our sail then continued to the historic ports of Skagway, the capital of Alaska, Juneau, and finally to the salmon capital of the world, Ketchikan! All of this Alaskan wonder until one full day at sea before docking in Vancouver, Canada as our disembarkation point.

You can read all about each of these Alaskan destinations we visited HERE in my previous blog post about our travels.

And now, my full recap of our cruise experience and more!

A (non Disney) Princess Cruise for the family
The top question I received from people was "why not a Disney cruise?". As much as I love my Disney and it was/would usually be my top choice, this was one situation out of my control. We went on this Alaskan adventure at the request of my mom as it was her birthday trip wish. She wanted her entire family to be together for this adventure, so we all decided to let her take the helm and plan out her dream Alaskan vacation.
Out of all the cruise options she looked at, Disney was actually one of them. Unfortunately, Disney didn't offer the exact itinerary she was interested in, whereas Princess cruises did. Princess is one of the few cruise lines that has a permit to sail Glacier Bay National Park, which was somewhere she really wanted to see. She also wanted to explore inland Alaska with Denali National Park and Princess also included that land tour as an add on. So in the end, after weighing all her options, Disney and not... Princess was the clear winner for our travels!

And even though we weren't onboard a Disney cruise, I still managed to bring a little Disney flair on the ship. I'm pretty sure everyone on board knew me as that "Disney girl" with all our crazy get ups and style.

The ship basics: Island Princess
Our Alaskan cruise home away from home was the Island Princess ship. We were on board with about 2,000 other passengers, but never did it feel overly crowded or cramped. It was a good sized ship and definitely felt like a little floating home by the end of our trip!
As for ship set up, the main decks feature all the usual cruise ship basics, a main lobby, dining rooms, multiple bars, a small casino, several boutiques, a theater and a library. On the upper decks were several quick service food spots, the buffet, pools (both indoor and outdoor), activity areas for mini golf and basketball and a salon/spa.

Cabins
Since my family was traveling together we all booked balcony staterooms right next to each other. What was great about being ship neighbors was that we were able to have the dividers between our balconies opened up and ended up with a massive shared outdoor balcony! It was the best and made for my favorite part of our room.
Lunch, with an epic view from your own balcony!
The rest of the cabin was pretty straightforward, a tv, desk, side tables and tiny bar area. Cruise cabins are notorious for not being the most spacious, but our stateroom was decent in size. Even the closet was pretty roomy. What was minuscule was the bathroom set up. One of the only other cruises I've been on was on the Disney Cruise Line and we were spoiled by their bath and a half set up they offer in their rooms. There is also NO bathtub in the regular cruise cabin bathroom. This may be key for families traveling with children and bath time. We didn't have too many issues with Ben and it worked out, but for reference, it's basically tiny little half stall shower and if the curtain doesn't close all the way.... FLOOD CITY! I can definitely say we're happy to be home and be able to stretch out in our normal tubs/shower.

Food
Now let's get to the GOOD cruise stuff... I'm taking FOOD. Overindulgence and cruises are synonomous with each other. There's just food EVERYWHERE on this ship. And not just any regular  food, good food... all day, everyday, multiple times a day.
Right after a full dinner, the buffet (& all the desserts) are a must to complete the ultimate "Cruise Life GOALS".
I think where Princess hits it out of the park; their food. Everything is pretty much included with your cruise with exception of specialty dining (restaurants with an extra fee). We found that we were happy with our included food options, so we never needed to book an extra specialty dining reservation. Our cruise routine definitely had us making the most of the cruise food offerings like always ordering a round of continental room service each morning as "pre breakfast" and then hit the buffet breakfast right after for something more hearty, lol. There's also traditional dining, where you eat at one main dining room each night, same servers, same table, with a rotating menu that is always more than stellar. And since it's a cruise, if you spot something on the menu that you want more of? They let you have it. Heck, you could order the entire menu and they'd bring it to you. There's also a 24 hour in room dining, just in case you happen to get hungry for something at 3am. They offer pretty standard dishes like chicken nuggets, burgers, chili, sandwiches as well. On our particular ship we also had smaller food stops like a pizzeria that PB grew to be obsessed with, a burger and hot dog place, as well as a soft serve location.

But the main star of cruise dining? The buffet! Each day, lunch, dinner, breakfast there's always a whole lot of something being served up! Each night the dinner menus would feature a different theme, too. It was so YUM.
All of our meals were amazing on board!
A hidden gem of the Princess cruise we were on though? Afternoon tea! Held in the main dining room, you're seated and given a selection of small sandwiches, sweets and tea. An elegant and fun way to relax at sea!
Ben loved the afternoon tea experience!
The one surprising thing we found with this cruise that could be a little confusing thought is when it comes to drinks. Whereas pretty much all your food is included from the get go (with exception of specialty dining), any drinks besides milk, water, coffee and tea are not included in your cruise package. This means any sodas, juices, alcoholic beverages and extras are available for an extra charge. It can definitely catch a cruiser off guard if you don't realize it, but there are add on options. Your best bang for your buck, especially if you drink anything other than milk, tea or coffee? Look into a soda or premium package. We all had the premium package included so it meant we were allowed up to 15 drinks (alcoholic and non) per day, I don't drink alcohol, but definitely got my money's worth in specialty coffee (mochas, cappuccinos), soda, mocktails and juices.

Entertainment and activities on board
At the start of our cruise we had two full days onboard without leaving the ship. For some that may cause some panic being trapped on a boat without anywhere to go. But there was a ton of activities and offerings on board to help the time tick away.
The Alaskan scenery is a highlight attraction on board in itself!
From movies being played outdoors on the big screen, to organized group events there was little something for everyone on board. We didn't get to make use of the mini golf or outdoor activity areas since Ben was always napping during our free time. But we did manage to sneak away to the spa which was relaxing, as well as run into some characters roaming around the ship.
Such a joy meeting "Mac" the Moose!
By the time the evenings would roll around, Ben would be pretty tuckered out, so PB and I would switch off in "going out" with my family after dinners. PB spent time hitting up the small onboard casino with some of my relatives and I spent a night hanging with my sister and brother in law listening to live music in the bar.

I didn't get to check out any of the shows offered, but the feedback we got from other guests and family was that they were a little over the top and cheesy, but all in good fun and entertaining all around.

The highlight of the Alaskan cruise onboard fun though was the nature aspects. There was an onboard naturalist who narrated our days at sea. He helped give us insight into the beautiful surroundings we were sailing past, along with point out all the amazing sea and wildlife surrounding our path. The day we sailed to Glacier Bay, a few National Park Rangers came aboard and held presentations, along with fun programs for us while we did our scenic "cruise" through the park. The main star was definitely the scenery though. There's just something so magical in the air and right in front of your eyes during an Alaskan cruise. There's beauty around ever corner!

**Staying connected at sea** A cruise is someplace where you're encouraged to "disconnect" and relax, but for others (like me) you might want to stay connected to what's happening on the interwebs... Wifi isn't free on board, but there are available plans for purchase prior to setting sail or once on board. I will say that the internet worked pretty well. It was enough to check emails, post on instagram and even FaceTime with loved ones back home. 

Another helpful tip if you're cruising with family or friends: set up the ship's messenger system to stay connected with those who might not have internet on board. Most of my family didn't realize they wouldn't have connection to text or call once at sea, so we were at a loss at finding each other the first few hours on board. 

Staff and service
We were so happy with the amazing staff and onboard service we had our entire trip. Since we opted for traditional dining, we always had the same servers and staff during our dinners. By the end of our trip, they had our drink orders, Ben's favorite meals and every down down 100%. Most employees in the shops, front desks, patio areas, etc are all staffed by the same people each day, so you really got to know and befriend them onboard. We can honestly say that during the duration of our stay we met some truly kind, hardworking, and amazing crew and staff on the ship. Some even became like our extended cruise family. Everyone on board made you feel so welcome part of the cruise family. We truly appreciated the hospilatly of the Princess staff!

Family Friendly?
I've only been on two other cruises in my lifetime, one on Princess way back in 1991 and another more current cruise in 2015 with the Disney Cruise Line, both cruises were located within the Caribbean. From what I can recall from the previous Princess cruise I've sailed on was that my cousins and I were pretty much the only children on board, as most cruise guests were a much older set. The Disney cruise we sailed on was 100% more family friendly, but on that particular trip we were actually sans children at the time and cruised with 4 other adults.

Flash forward to our current Alaskan cruise now sailing with a child, but onboard a cruise that was, from prior memory, not as family friendly. So how would Princess cruises fare against my beloved Disney?

Well that was actually my top concern when we found out the cruise my mom wanted us to take was on Princess. I was only going off of what I've experienced before, along with what I've read online/been told my friends. Princess is known to cater to an older set of cruisers (50+) and not widely known to be the most family friendly. But I'm so happy to report that all of my initial worries about traveling with a young child on a more mature cruise line were WRONG! Princess actually ended up being a great cruise line for us as a family.
Yes, a majority of passengers are older and most offerings on board aren't aimed directly for kids, but overall it wasn't too bad. Since most guests were also grandparents, it actually created a wholesome family environment. We never had to worry about drunken or rowdy fellow cruise mates. The ship always felt safe, it was never too noisy, it was actually the perfect family friendly scenario on board.

There were a few family friendly options that would pop up onboard our cruise, like meet and greets with their mascots Stanley the Bear and McKinley the Moose. They offered the sweetest "Stanley Bear" turndown service (for a fee) that our little Ben loved! We unfortunately missed it, but there was also a time when they did a special story time with Stanley Bear in the lobby area. Another fun thing that was offered was a Stanley Bear character breakfast. There was to be a bear themed breakfast, they advertised bear pancakes, music and a little meet and greet with the main bear himself. We had signed up for it, but the breakfast was canceled last minute. We were looking forward to it, so it was definitely a bummer, but hopefully something to look forward to the next time we might cruise with them.
Ben had such a blast on board!
Onboard there's also a kids and teen center, but unfortunately Ben was too little to experience. The minimum age to use the facilities was 3 years. Something to also note is that Ben wasn't allowed in the pools on board since he's not potty trained. Most cruise lines, with exception of Disney and one other that I can't recall at the moment... won't allow children under a certain age and who are not potty trained into the pools for health reasonings. Another bummer, but not a total disappointment since most of our days it was too chilly to be poolside.

When it came to food on board, we never found any trouble finding something for Ben to eat. Like I mentioned above, Milk is one of the free included drinks overall on board so that was never a worry for us. At every food location there was always a kid friendly menu or options on hand. For the youngest little cruisers, we even heard that you can ask the kitchen to whip up some fresh veggie or fruit purees for your littlest babes. How awesome is that?
Our little guy ate like a cruise king on board. The kid's menu was full of yummy options that he loved. His favorites were the chicken noodle soup and mac and cheese!
When it came down to amenities for kids, tots and infants, we didn't see too much onboard in regards to the boutiques, so be sure that if you cruise with Princess to pack up all the necessities you may need (diapers, medications, bath items, etc). A cruise is the one time we definitely overpacked, but since you're on ship with no Target nearby for supplies, we made sure to bring lots of extras and items we don't usually bring with us for those "just in case" scenarios. Just a brief rundown on what we packed for Ben.
Ben's Cruise Pack list

  1. His favorite toys/blankie/anything else to help our cabin feel like "home" for him. 
  2. Diapers and wipes (enough for the entire cruise length + a few more days
  3. Medications (children's Tylenol, Benadryl, mix in pedialyte, thermometer, first aid supplies)yes this may seem extreme, but we heard that if you encounter a medical issue at sea and that the onboard doctor and medical services can get pricey, so its better to be safe than sorry in this case!
**Motion sickness** I tend to get seasick so we were worried that Ben might experience it too on his first cruise. A quick call to our pediatrician and we found out that babies and tots don't tend to get sea sick! Crazy, right? It's something about their center of gravity so young and how the motion doesn't truly affect them until they're a lot older.

What to bring
On that note on a packing list for younger children, here's a brief rundown on what I ended up bringing on board. This was actually a topic I looked up a ton pre-cruise since packing for a cruise is hard enough since you have to deal with formal nights, on shore excursions, on board activities and more. On top of that, we were on an Alaskan voyage, which meant factoring in the ever changing weather day to day.

One tip is to keep track of the weather beforehand. Alaska is notorious for fluctuating temperatures and weather in the summer. The week before we arrived there was an insane heat wave soaring temperatures into the 90's. While we were there though, the temperatures were much more average. We found some days to be sunny and warm, others cold and rainy, some days windy, others gloomy.

My best tip though is dress in layers! You'll hear so many others who've travelled to Alaska on a cruise tell you the same thing. A tee underneath a warmer jacket, a comfy pair of leggings and flats or sneakers will definitely get you through your days on board.
I lived in these comfy leggings, shoes & a comfy jacket on board!
Princess Cruises is definitely a little more "fancy" in terms of dress around the ship compared to our former Disney cruise. We had two designated "formal" nights and it felt like everyone was dressed to the 9's. If you're looking for a place to wear your sparkly, floor length gown or tuxedo... this is the place to do it! It's actually quite fun to get dressed up and feel like you're going to the fanciest party at sea. It's pretty special.

Here's a sample list of my essentials:
  1. leggings! I LIVED in a cozy pair of black leggings most of the cruise. 
  2. a warm fleece jacket or sweater
  3. a warm beanie or hat for the extra windy days on the top decks
  4. comfy shoes, I bought a pair of Adidas sneakers and flats. I also brought a pair of lightweight rain/hiking boots that helped on the numerous hikes we took. 
  5. one formal outfit plus a pair of dress shoes (go all out, it's a fun experience!)
  6. a few sweater dresses and dresses for dinner
  7. a raincoat
  8. sunglasses! (I lost the only pair I brought with me on the first day of our trip but thankfully the cruise gift shop had great pairs for purchase on board!(
  9. cozy items! It's Alaska and the perfect destination to bring that cozy pair of socks or onesie you've been dying to wear. It's the perfect setting to do that. It's definitely *extra* but I just had to!
  10. again, I stress that it's OKAY to overpack on a cruise since there's limited supplies of general items on board. That's just my personal opinion though. I'm more of the "be safe than sorry" type travel packer.
Cruise VIP: All Day Dramamine! I get sea sick, so taking one of these all day non drowsy pills at the start of each day helped IMMENSELY! I was never sick at all and enjoyed the cruise to the fullest!


Overall thoughts
So what are my overall thoughts on this Alaskan cruise with Princess? I loved it! All of my worries about the level of family friendly fun washed away once we were on board. The cruise itself was amazing, the ports were fun, the onboard staff were stellar, the food was incredible. All in all it was a memorable cruise. I highly recommend considering an Alaskan cruise for anyone out there looking for some relaxation, gorgeous scenery, and just all around good fun in the most dreamiest of places.

Thank you for reading along! You can catch up on our favorite Alaskan cruise highlights and more on my instagram highlight over at pbandjellyjenn. Until next time, take care! 💜






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