How Princess turned me into a cruise person
As someone who travels frequently, it often surprises people that I have never been on a cruise. So when the opportunity came to cruise Alaska — one of my favorite places — I figured it was time to discover for myself.
Alaska is a cruise hot-spot so there are an overwhelming number of options. I ultimately decided to travel with Princess Cruises — and it just might have turned me into a so-called cruise person.
Alaska is massive. It dwarfs larger mainland American states like Texas — and the locals, along with most of the souvenir T-shirts, are quick to point that out. While most cruises cover the glaciers in the south and some go up to Anchorage, there is so much to see in the interior and beyond that it’s truly a shame to stick to the southern regions. And that's where Princess Cruises stands out.
Princess offers land options that transport passengers by bus and rail through Denali National Park all the way up to Fairbanks. Excursions are available at every stop, along with a Princess Lodge at each destination. I not only got to experience a Denali Wilderness Tour — where we spotted grizzly bears, moose, and caribou — but I was also lucky enough to fly over Denali on a flight-seeing excursion. There’s also the freedom to explore the local towns like the charmingly hippy town of Talkeetna.
But the real shock came when I got on board. One of the first things I noticed was the level of amenities and service on board. I imagine most ships have gyms and spas, but the quality of everything on board was quite impressive. The gym, for example, is large for an on-board gym with practically new equipment. There are also group classes like yoga and the cruise line is incorporating more variety like cycling.
The spa is luxurious with an enclave featuring hydrotherapy stations. I also received a surprisingly high-end facial, where I noticed benefits immediately and only got better in the following weeks. The Medallion-level internet package was pretty strong, even at sea. I was able to take Zoom meetings and even stream a movie at sea.
I was also floored by the level of service from the staff. Our steward was incredibly attentive and quick with any requests and cleanings, but the on-board staff on board impressed as well. Bartenders would remember our names and chefs from restaurants would greet us and remember our orders. Everyone on board seemed to make a special effort to build connections with guests.
The feature that makes Princess Cruises truly special is its Medallion (a coin-sized wearable device) and accompanying smartphone app. The Medallion serves as your key on and off the ship, as well as your room key. There are sensors all over the ship that track the location of the medallion and this is useful in a multitude of ways. For starters, having your hands full is no longer an issue. There is a sensor in your room and it unlocks the door for you when you approach.
You can also have just about anything delivered to you anywhere on board. (Say you order a coffee while you’re in the room but there is a whale spotting on the other side of the ship. The waiter checks your medallion location and brings your coffee to you.) In fact, all purchases are also made through the medallion — no cash is used on the ship. Whatever you are purchasing the person serving you can see who is closest to them based on medallion distance and they are able to charge based on that alone. It makes lines quick and easy.
You can also track your travel companions in the app based on their medallion location. (Don’t worry, access has to be granted from both parties for this to work.) This came in handy when finding people in a large crowd during events.
The app in general was pretty useful. I had access to the full cruise platter for every day I was on board, I managed all my reservations through the app, and I definitely indulged in the midnight roof service once or twice. The Medallion and its app just made everything about the cruise seamless.
The Dining Experience
Cruise food is notorious and you’ll often hear jokes about people gaining weight on a cruise. However, this is usually due to quantity and not quality. Don’t get me wrong: The Princess Buffet, also known as the World Fresh Market, is well worth it — and has some of the best samosas I’ve had. However, it’s the sheer amount of options, as well as the quality, that really impressed me. The variety that was included in the normal dining package was impressive, from ramen and burger stands to the main dining room that featured a different menu every night. (I’d also be remiss to not shout out Alfredo’s Pizza, which is widely considered some of the best pizza on any cruise line.)
Where Princess truly shines is its specialty dining. Crown Grill features top-of-the-line surf and turf. The Black and Blue Onion Soup is a standout starter and the 22-ounce Porterhouse will impress in size and taste.
Harmony was built with chef Richard Chen, who had previously opened the first Chinese restaurant in North America to receive a Michelin star. The attention to detail and quality continues at Harmony with traditional Chinese dishes alongside modern takes on old favorites. (The steamed bass was a standout for me personally but it was hard to find a dish I didn’t like.)
The newest addition to the Princess ships is The Catch by Rudi. Currently, it is available on select ships, but it's set to open on more throughout the year. The menu takes the freshest seafood from Alaska and creates incredible dishes and a raw seafood bar. Every dish was inventive and incredible. By far my favorite dining experience on the ship. It was not just a good cruise ship restaurant, it is a great restaurant, period. The Smoked Salmon Sensation starter was so good we ordered two more for the table and everyone passed around their individual entrees saying, “You gotta try this!”
The beverage program was equally as impressive. There were several standard bars across the ship but there was a specialty cocktail bar called Good Spirits at Sea with an exclusive cocktail menu developed by mixologist Roby Floyd. Each drink is based on one of Princess’ cruise destinations and takes traditional ingredients from that location and combines them with an innovative twist. (A personal favorite of mine was the Starry Night in Oslo, which featured charcoal tea and gold dust that together mimicked the Northern Lights.) While these drinks are only available at the specific bar, the menu has become so popular that Princess has plans to move it to a large more main stage location on board.
It's safe to say I was never hungry or bored while on the ship — everything was well-organized and engaging. The quality and care that the team took with everything really sold me on cruising again. Now it's just about deciding my next destination!
Read the original article on TripSavvy.