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Should I cruise on Princess to Alaska? I booked a sailing to see for myself

split image of a cruise ship and a girl taking a selfie

Princess Cruises markets itself as a leader in the Alaska cruise market, so I booked a sailing to see for myself whether or not it was worth the hype.

Despite cruising to Alaska every summer, I had never cruised with Princess Cruises before, but I had heard amazing things about the cruise line’s Alaska itineraries.

Princess Cruises puts a bigger focus on the Alaska cruise experience compared to other mainstream cruise lines, offering Alaska-specific programming, guest lecturers, and cuisine.

Even though I read great reviews about Princess Cruises to Alaska, I was not convinced it would be the best cruise line to book for an Alaska cruise. After all, I loved my previous Alaska cruises on Royal Caribbean, and I didn’t know how visiting the 49th state could get any better.

Royal Princess cruise ship

Nonetheless, I was curious about Princess Cruises, and the final impetus to book was realizing I could visit Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve. This was one of the final ports I had yet to visit in Alaska, and it’s a destination served by only a few cruise lines, including Princess Cruises.

I booked a 7-night cruise on the Royal Princess, a ship built in 2013 with a passenger capacity of around 3,500 guests.

Throughout the week I was determined to find out whether or not Princess Cruises’ Alaska itineraries lived up to the hype, and whether the cruise line was truly the best to book for an Alaska cruise.

After my week onboard, here are my thoughts on the good and bad of cruising to Alaska with Princess.

The good: Princess Cruises goes above and beyond with Alaska-focused programming on its Alaska itineraries.

event happening in cruise ship atrium

Most cruise lines offer the same onboard experience whether in the tropical Caribbean or chilly Alaska. Programming, guest speakers, and food remains the same regardless of the destination.

With the Alaska itineraries offered by Princess, though, this is not the case. The cruise line’s signature Alaska program, North to Alaska, allows guests to immerse themselves in the state’s culture and history more than they could on most other cruise lines.

Throughout my Princess cruise, I was impressed with the amount of Alaska-themed programming offered onboard. I enjoyed trying Alaskan cuisine at the buffet, listening to lectures on Alaska’s geology, and meeting adorable sled dog puppies who boarded the ship for a brief visit.

Related: Alaska cruise guide: Planning tips and best itineraries

I was surprised to see kid-focused Alaska programming as well, including a story time session with the Stanley the Bear mascot and a Junior Ranger program during our visit to Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve.

Compared to my previous Alaska cruises on other cruise lines, I enjoyed the more thoughtful approach to programming on the itinerary.

The bad: Despite enjoying the North to Alaska programming, I couldn’t help but be disappointed in my cruise ship’s lackluster design.

cruise ship pool deck

After hearing so many positive reviews about Princess Cruises’ Alaska itineraries, I was shocked to find out how poorly their cruise ships are designed for cold weather.

When cruise lines send ships to Alaska, they typically send ships designed for cold weather. On these ships you’ll typically find at least one indoor pool area and a variety of indoor lounges with panoramic ocean views.

Staying warm is essential when cruising to Alaska, and cruise lines often build ships with cold weather in mind, ensuring guests can be happy regardless of the weather conditions outside.

Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas, for example, has an indoor pool, an adults-only indoor Solarium with a pool and hot tubs, and the Two70 lounge, a spacious lounge with 270 degrees of the outdoors through floor-to-ceiling windows.

Related: 11 things I loved and hated about my first Princess cruise

Needless to say, when I boarded the Royal Princess, I was disappointed in the lackluster design of the ship. While the ship would be perfect for a climate like the South Pacific or the Caribbean, it was, to be blunt, terribly designed for Alaska.

pool deck cruise ship

There were no indoor pool areas, rendering the pool deck useless during the cruise. Not only that, but most indoor lounges and bars had few windows, and when there were windows, the view was almost always blocked by lifeboats.

I found it challenging to find an indoor space to stay warm while still enjoying the views outdoors. I ended up spending the majority of the cruise sitting in the buffet, as this was one of the only places I could watch the scenery with an unobstructed view.

For being the “best cruise line” for an Alaska cruise, I was not expecting such a poorly designed ship. I later found out the Majestic Princess, which also sails to Alaska, has an indoor pool, so perhaps I should have booked that ship instead.

The good: Princess Cruises is one of the few cruise lines that visits Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve, and it was a major highlight.

Glacier Bay national park

The main draw that led me to book a Princess cruise was the opportunity to visit Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve. Only a few cruise lines, including Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, and Norwegian Cruise Line, have permits to visit the national park.

Having access to Glacier Bay is one of the reasons Princess markets itself as a leader in Alaska cruises, as this 3.3 million acre-park is simply outstanding. With over 50 glaciers, 700 miles of shoreline, and 600 species of wildlife, visiting the park is a major highlight of any Alaska cruise.

Because Princess Cruises has access to Glacier Bay, it wins points in the “best cruise line for Alaska” category. Despite this, however, it’s important to realize that not all Princess cruise ships visit Glacier Bay while sailing to Alaska.

I was originally going to book my cruise on the Discovery Princess, a newer ship, but I realized the ship did not include Glacier Bay in the itinerary. Therefore, if you’re planning a Princess cruise to Alaska, make sure your itinerary includes a visit to Glacier Bay.

The bad: If you are cruising to Alaska with kids, there are more kid-friendly cruise lines out there.

sports court on a cruise ship

If you are bringing kids on an Alaska cruise, I wouldn’t recommend Princess over more family-friendly cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Carnival.

Princess Cruises has a more upscale atmosphere around the ship—you won’t find activities like waterslides, escape rooms, kids splash pools, and indoor sports courts on the cruise line’s ships.

While that’s not to say Princess doesn’t have kid-friendly activities, it isn’t as big of a focus for the cruise line compared to others. You will still find activities like an outdoor sports court, ping pong tables, a mini golf course, and supervised children’s programming on the cruise line’s ships, but the level of kid-focused amenities is not anywhere near more family-centered cruise lines.

Related: Which Cruise Lines Are Kid Friendly?

If you’re planning a cruise to Alaska with kids, I would recommend sailing on a ship like the Norwegian Bliss or Ovation of the Seas. These ships feature activities like a race car track, bumper cars, roller skating, laser tag, surfing simulators, and aqua parks, all of which are sure to be fun for both kids and adults alike.

For those not interested in thrilling activities like waterslides and indoor skydiving simulators, there’s nothing wrong with a Princess Cruise, but I would look elsewhere if cruising with kids.

The bad: The worst part of our itinerary was having only three hours in Victoria, which was a huge letdown.

downtown Victoria British Columbia

Even though I loved visiting Glacier Bay on my Princess cruise, it ultimately meant we had an extremely short amount of time to spend in Victoria, British Columbia.

We left Glacier Bay at 3 PM on the sixth day of our cruise, and the long transit to Vancouver Island meant we did not arrive in Victoria until 9 PM the following evening. All aboard was at 11:30 PM, giving us only 2.5 hours to spend in the city.

While I understood the transit time required to get to Victoria, it was a bummer to only have a short amount of time to spend in the city. On a previous Alaska cruise my ship was docked in the city for 11 hours, and this gave far more time to explore the region’s highlights compared to my Princess cruise.

downtown Victoria British Columbia

Having only 2.5 hours meant I was unable to visit Butchart Gardens, one of the main attractions in Victoria, or the Royal BC Museum, something that had been on my must-do list for a while. Instead, I only had enough time to briefly walk around downtown and grab a drink at a local pub.

Before booking a Princess cruise to Alaska, take a closer look at the amount of hours allocated for each cruise port. If you know you want to do a particular activity, make sure the itinerary provides enough time to do so.

The good: If you’re planning a land-based tour in Alaska’s interior, Princess Cruises offers great options.

Princess cruise tours

When it comes to booking an Alaska cruise, you have two options: a roundtrip or one-way itinerary.

Most passengers select a roundtrip itinerary, meaning you start and end your cruise in the same city. This makes getting to and from the port more convenient, especially if you’re planning on driving.

One-way itineraries on Princess, on the contrary, sail in one direction between Vancouver, Canada and Whittier, Alaska. The benefit of choosing a one-way itinerary is that you have the option to start or end your cruise in Alaska’s interior, bringing you closer to sites like Denali National Park & Preserve.

Not all cruise lines offer one-way itineraries in Alaska, and these itineraries are fantastic for planning a truly once-in-a-lifetime trip. Not only will you see the temperate rainforest of the southeast, but you can lay eyes upon the tallest peak in all of North America.

Related: Best Alaska cruise tips to help make an amazing visit

Before or after a one-way cruise, you can book a cruise tour, which is a multi-day land-based tour bringing you to interior Alaska’s famous attractions. Princess Cruises offers tours ranging from an extra 3-10 nights on land in addition to a 7-night cruise.

hotel in Alaska

What makes Princess Cruises stand out from other cruise lines is that they built their own accommodation in Alaska. These wilderness lodges, as they are called, offer breathtaking views and a welcoming atmosphere. Because they are owned by Princess Cruises, you’re guaranteed to have comfortable, quality accommodation.

Overall, although Princess cruises markets itself as the leader of Alaska cruises, I think you can have an amazing Alaska cruise regardless of the cruise line you choose.

Royal Princess cruise ship

After spending a week on the Royal Princess, I have mixed feelings about whether or not Princess Cruises is the best cruise line for an Alaska sailing.

On one hand, I loved the Alaska-themed programming and being able to visit Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve. These two pluses definitely enhanced my overall cruise experience and helped me learn more about Alaska’s nature and wildlife.

On the other hand, I strongly disliked the ship design of the Royal Princess, and the lack of adequate indoor spaces made a negative impact on my cruise. Having previously sailed to Alaska on cruise ships built for cold weather, the lack of well-designed spaces on my Princess cruise negatively impacted the enjoyment of my vacation.

There’s a cruise line for everyone out there, and while I wouldn’t say my Princess cruise was perfect, it wasn’t a bad experience either. If you’re only visiting Alaska once and want to experience as much as possible, I think Princess Cruises is a nice choice due to its destination-focused programming.

Related: How to pick a cruise line

Royal Princess cruise ship

However, if you’re the type of traveler who prefers lounging in a pool chair with a nice view, you would likely enjoy another cruise line more, unless you sail on the Majestic Princess as it has an indoor pool.

Truthfully, there’s a cruise line for every type of traveler, and when it comes to an Alaska cruise, you’ll still have a wonderful vacation experience regardless of the cruise line you choose.

Visiting Alaska is more about exploring the state’s ports of call rather than choosing a cruise based on the ship, so I’d recommend booking a cruise based on the itinerary rather than the ship or cruise line.

Although I wouldn’t say Princess Cruises is necessarily the best cruise line for Alaska (is there even such a thing?), I am glad I had the chance to sail on the Royal Princess and discover more of what Alaska has to offer.

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