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Travel news, consumer advice and trip reports for the Northwest and beyond.

Category: Brian hates cruising
May 20, 2013 at 1:44 PM

Alaska cruise: Do I still hate cruising? Let’s go out for a beer

Homeward bound: Tatoosh Island, with lighthouse, and Cape Flattery pass to starboard as Star Princess returns to Washington waters. (photo by Brian J. Cantwell / The Seattle Times)

Homeward bound: Tatoosh Island, with lighthouse, and Cape Flattery pass to starboard as Star Princess returns to Washington waters. (photo by Brian J. Cantwell / The Seattle Times)

So, do I still hate cruising?

If I were sitting with you in a favorite watering hole over beers, the answer might be easier, though probably not shorter. (Some people tend toward glib in the influence of alcohol; I tend to wax philosophical.)

I might do that anyway, but for the record I’m drinking coffee as I write this. Decaf, even.

Also for the record: One cruise does not an expert make. And all my real-life experience with cruise ships has been gained in one week aboard one vessel run by one cruise line, namely Princess.

Cutting to the chase:

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Comments | More in Brian hates cruising, Cruises, Trip reports | Topics: Alaska cruise, Cruise, cruise critique

May 18, 2013 at 11:55 AM

Alaska cruise FAQs: Internet, seasickness, tipping and smoking

How do wheelchair-bound passengers fare on a cruise? A fellow diner at my table gave the ship a positive review overall. (photo by Brian J. Cantwell / The Seattle Times)

How do wheelchair users fare on a cruise? A fellow diner at my table gave the ship a positive review overall. (photo by Brian J. Cantwell/The Seattle Times)

Here’s a roundup of cruise FAQs, with my answers alongside some of the standard info from Princess:

Q: How does Internet work onboard?

A: Pretty badly, in my experience. Princess clearly cautions that the ship’s satellite internet is slower than what you’re accustomed to in the city, with pauses akin to the delays you get in satellite phone conversations. My experience was much worse than that. Links could take five or 10 minutes at times – meaning five minutes per click before a Website opened or a link worked. Many times the log-on was unsuccessful. Disconnections were frequent. At sea, some problems are sure forgivable, but for such service passengers were paying through the nose. Princess’s standard price to use the ship’s computers in the Internet café or for wi-fi elsewhere is

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Comments | More in Brian hates cruising, Cruises, Trip reports | Topics: Alaska cruise, cruises, Internet on cruises

May 18, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Alaska cruise: If sourdough country isn’t entertaining enough, here’s what’s onboard

The Star Princess Singers & Dancers groove out on British Invasion night. (photo by Brian J. Cantwell / The Seattle Times)

The Star Princess Singers & Dancers groove out on British Invasion night. (photo by Brian J. Cantwell / The Seattle Times)

Onboard entertainment varies from cruise to cruise, ranging from Vegas-style shows in a large theater to piano-bar crooners, comedians and all the way down to passenger talent shows. On the booking circuit, this looks to be about the next notch down from tribal casinos, but hey, it’s all included in the price of your floating hotel.

Here’s a sampling of entertainment this week on Star Princess:

Stage shows: The ship has its own “Star Princess Singers & Dancers” selected in a cattle call from around the world, and some are very good, by an off-off-off Broadway measure. Stage shows have included a “production spectacular” called “Destination Anywhere” with a travel theme; aerial ballet artists Alexander and Evgenia; and an international crew talent show.

Thursday night, I caught  the “British Invasion” musical show, elaborately staged with pyrotechnics, an oversize red phone booth, a London bus replica and a real Mini Cooper painted with a Union Jack. Highlights included a rousing

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Comments | Topics: Alaska cruise, cruise entertainment, cruise ship

May 17, 2013 at 9:00 PM

Alaska cruise: Shore excursions are key (and they can cost you)

If, like me, you’re a cruising skeptic, time on shore in Alaska will be an important component of any cruise you might end up taking (to please your significant other, or because you have no other way to see Glacier Bay, or whatever).

The White Pass & Yukon Route historic railway is a popular shore excursion for cruise passengers visiting Skagway. (photo by Brian J. Cantwell / The Seattle Times)

The White Pass & Yukon Route historic railway is a popular shore excursion for cruise passengers visiting Skagway. (photo by Brian J. Cantwell / The Seattle Times)

Shore excursions are also a major moneymaker for cruise lines, and this cruise had more than 100 offerings from which to choose along the way. Often, you can arrange shore trips at considerably less expense once you get on shore, but the cruise director on Star Princess offered these arguments for booking with the ship’s excursion office:

  • You won’t have to wait in line onshore, where there might be up to five other shiploads of people competing to book tours and trips at private booths. (I didn’t see such lines on our trip, but this was early in the season. Or it might just be that the argument is winning, so most cruisers book outings while on board.)
  • You won’t get left behind if you’re on a Princess tour. The ship will wait for its own groups if there’s an unforeseen delay. Depending on
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Comments | Topics: Alaska cruise, cruise excursions, cruises

May 17, 2013 at 4:41 PM

Alaska cruise: I lost ounces on the Cruise Ship Diet

OK, I’m eating crow now, which will probably just make me lose even more weight. Turns out I’ve lost a pound this week while cruising to Alaska on the Star Princess. My final weigh-in, Friday afternoon: 197, down from 198 last Saturday when we left Seattle. We’re home at 7 in the morning Saturday. What can I…

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Comments | More in Brian hates cruising, Cruises, Trip reports | Topics: Alaska cruise, cruise diet, cruise food

May 17, 2013 at 11:55 AM

Alaska cruise: A refreshing walk in the woods (away from Ketchikan’s tourist traps)

Ketchikan's Creek Street is a boardwalk that was formerly home to "Houses of Horizontal Affection," as they're often called here. (photo by Brian J. Cantwell / The Seattle Times)

Ketchikan’s Creek Street is a boardwalk that was formerly home to “Houses of Horizontal Affection,” as they’re often called here. (photo by Brian J. Cantwell / The Seattle Times)

KETCHIKAN – We had only a morning in port at Alaska’s self-described “First City.” It isn’t called that because it’s largest; with just about 8,000 population in its city limits it is actually the fourth-largest city in Alaska, which says something about the emptiness of this huge state. Ketchikan gets the designation because it’s the first Alaska city you come to as you travel north from the Lower 48.

The name comes from the Tlingit kitcxan, meaning “where the eagle’s wings are.”

Ketchikan is as good an example as any of how the influx of cruise ships has transformed these small Alaskan towns from quiet backwaters defined by their sourdough heritage and native cultural roots to towns defined by the almost 1 million cruise-ship passengers that visit every May to September.

I stepped off the gangplank of Star Princess onto Front Street and joined the parade of thousands of others past endless souvenir shops selling doggie mittens made in China (for your sled-dog back home), along with items such as Husky Poop candy (do you really want to know what’s in it?), all the ulu blades you will never need, and so on. A popcorn emporium also carried those tourist mainstays, fudge and taffy (though I recoiled when I first read the sign as “fudge taffy”).

My Moon guidebook saved me the trouble of counting: The author found 63 jewelry shops in Ketchikan. They cater to cruise passengers from

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Comments | More in Brian hates cruising, Cruises, Trip reports | Topics: Alaska cruise, Alaska tourism, Creek Street

May 17, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Alaska cruise: You’re on vacation, is alcohol on your mind?

You’re on vacation. You’re ready to let down your hair, kick up your heels, even do the funky chicken if the spirit moves you. The cruise ship’s alcohol policy matters to you.

A Mucho Mango will cost you $7.95, plus extra for tip and the souvenir glass if you want it. (photo by Brian J. Cantwell / The Seattle Times)

A Mucho Mango will cost you $7.95, plus extra for tip and the souvenir glass if you want it. (photo by Brian J. Cantwell / The Seattle Times)

On my Princess cruise to Alaska, while food of all types is included in the cruise ticket, alcoholic beverages (as well as soda pop and specialty coffee drinks) are extra. Here’s a quick look at the policies and costs on board the Star Princess if you choose to indulge in the nectar of the grape, ho-ho juice from hops, gin from juniper berries or any other alcoholic beverage:

  • Did you plan to save on bar costs by bringing along a case of microbrews? Out of luck. Each voyage, adults of legal drinking age may each bring aboard one bottle of wine (regular or sparkling) no larger than 750 ml, the size of an average wine bottle. No liquor or beer. Each time you board the boat, including ports along the way, your luggage and/or carry-ons will be put through a scanner as it is at airports, and they do look for bottles. (I brought a bottle of wine in my suitcase and they sent me over to a special table where they made a note of it.)
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Comments | More in Brian hates cruising, Cruises, Trip reports | Topics: Alaska cruise, alcohol on a cruise, cruising

May 16, 2013 at 11:58 AM

Alaska cruise: Glacier Bay is like a religious experience

From the rail of Star Princess, passengers watch for calving chunks of ice from 250-foot-high Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park. (photo by Brian J. Cantwell / The Seattle Times)

From the rail of Star Princess, passengers watch for calving chunks of ice from 250-foot-high Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park. (photo by Brian J. Cantwell / The Seattle Times)

I walked out on deck from my windowless cabin Wednesday morning to spirit-soaring sunshine glinting off jagged, snowy mountains that seemed to be reaching for the North Pole.

This day, the Star Princess would be the first cruise ship of the season into famed Glacier Bay.

The snowy Fairweather Range shields Glacier Bay National Park from Pacific weather. (photo by Brian J. Cantwell / The Seattle Times)

The snowy Fairweather Range shields Glacier Bay National Park from Pacific weather. (photo by Brian J. Cantwell / The Seattle Times)

The weather was a huge gift. But a half-hour later as we chugged past Russell Island, where John Muir camped in 1879 because that’s where the glacier reached then — more than 10 miles further south than today — a little black cloud sneaked in past 15,300-foot Mount Fairweather, which usually catches all the weather. Everybody crowded out on the bow was suddenly pummeled by an icy wind that blew off hats and knocked over empty chairs.

“We get the fog, but we’re not used to THIS,” shouted Vicki Sullivan, from Santa Rosa, Calif., as she huddled in the lee of her big husband, Steve Sullivan. All over the Star Princess, passengers were wrapping their heads in the plaid blankets handed out by deck stewards.

But when we reached the head of Tarr Inlet, where chunks of ice and larger bergs dotted the water like salt covers a pretzel,

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Comments | Topics: Alaska cruise, Glacier Bay, Glacier Bay cruise

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