We just got back from our Alaskan adventure. It was an amazing trip to say the least. We did a 4-day land tour and then 7-day cruise from Whittier aboard the Coral Princess. For the land tour portion, we flew into Anchorage, spent one night at McKinley Lodge, & 2 nights at Denali Lodge. Try and provide some highlights.
We flew Chicago to Dallas, Dallas to Anchorage (I know, South to go North, go figure) We got into Anchorage about 7:30. Princess rep was at baggage claim told us where to put our luggage and what bus to get on. Stay the night at the Captain Hook hotel in Anchorage. We did not have to touch our luggage from the time we claimed it at the airport till we got into our hotel room that was nice. We did not do much in Anchorage given our arrival time. We did try and stay up to help adjust to the time difference. Walked around a little the next morning and had breakfast at a place called the Sandwich deck across from the hotel. Good breakfast.
Boarded the bus for the ride to McKinley. Long bus ride, but we knew that. Got to the McKinley lodge, Princess rep met us and gave us our packet with keys and itinerary. We were booked for the Denali Wilderness hike in the afternoon through Princess. There were only 4 of us on the tour and it was great. Had 2 guides who were outstanding. It was about a 5-6 mile hike and we climbed 1500 ft. Definitely a workout, but it felt great after flying the day before and the bus ride. Our hike was rewarded with a clear view of Mt. McKinley when we reached the highest point on our hike. Back to the lodge and we had dinner at the 20300 cafe. Decent food. Service was a little slow as I think most of the staff had not been at it that long.
Woke up the next morning and went to get coffee. Look out the window and see Mt. McKinley in all her glory and no clouds. The heck with the coffee, where is the camera. Amazing view. Before the bus to Denali the next day we opted for a morning hike at Byers Lake. It was the same outfit that did our tour the day before and they did not disappoint. Guide was very knowledgeable. Only about 2 miles and no changes in elevation. Had more people on this tour with us. Good way to start the day.
Took the bus to Denali lodge, got our packet, luggage was already in the room. We had a glacier landing set of for the late afternoon through Princess. Flight and landing was awesome. Pricey, yes. Worth it, I would say so. How often do you get to land on a glacier. Got back to the lodge and went to dinner at the King Salmon restaurant. Food was good. Seafood was very good, especially the king salmon.
The next day we were supposed to go whitewater rafting on the morning through Denali Outdoor Center. Princess offered a similar trip, but it was on oar tour and we wanted to paddle. The called late the day before saying that they had to cancel since we were the only ones, they had to cancel the morning one, but said we could go on the 11am trip. We were fine with that and basically reversed our day and spend the morning hiking in Denali on the trails near the visitor center. Rafting was fun, wet, and cold. We had dry suits on which kept us dry, but when the 36-degree water crashed over the raft you certainly felt it. The guide was really good. Never had one concern about the boat flipping or falling out. The canyon run has some pretty good rapids. Got back, ate at the King Salmon restaurant again and had the steak which was very good.
Next morning was our train trip to the ship. We ended up in a non-Princess car due to number of people on the train. At first I was disappointed because our car did not have the tables for 4 like the Princess cars do and we all faced forward. Actually turned out to be pretty good. Had more legroom. Ate on the train. Eggs Benedict with reindeer sausage was great as was the reindeer chili (for some reason they just do not serve reindeer meet here in IL....) Train trip was 9 1/2 hours. Very long. I really enjoyed it. Some did not and felt coped up for a long time. I had purposely book the tour with the train ride because I had wanted to do it, so I think it would have taken a lot for me to say it was not fun. Saw bear and moose as we traveled.
Arrived in Whittier (which was sunny and nice, a good omen for the rest of the trip) at 5:30. Princess reps had checked us in and given us our cabin cards on the train. Off the train, through security, and onto the ship. We were on Caribe in C531. Some luggage was there when we arrived, others we waited for. We had to go meet with one of the passenger service reps since my DW decided to surprise me with renewing our vows (this was our 10th anniversary cruise) We like wine so we sought out the wine table near the Horizon Court to get our sommelier's wine package and ordered another bottle all sent to our cabin and had a nice chat with the waiter selling it. We ended up sitting at his table most of the cruise. Had our muster drill at 7:30 and then we sailed away. There was open seating in both dinning rooms and dress was more relax since most folks were still trying to get settled.
Cabin was fine. C531 was a balcony cabin with a bigger balcony. Had worried (so worried that I back a portable camping table, which actually was real handy) that we would find the "new" furniture with the small table, but we did not. We had the old furniture and you could tell it was old. Paint chipped and worn. I half wonder if they had put this furniture back on to replace the "new" stuff. Cabin was fine. Rommel, our stateroom steward was outstanding. Always got what we needed and was very chatty and friendly. The ship was not full at all. Many cabins with no names on them and no one ever one some of the balconies below us. Maybe 75% full. DW had surprised me with a renewal of our vows (since this was our 10th anniversary cruise). That was nice and well handled by Princess. We ate at Sabatini's the night we renewed our vows. First time with the new menu and I liked it. Definitely less food. It was enjoyable. The next night we had the ultimately balcony dinner (I know what you are thinking, really in Alaska....) the night we sailed out of Glacier Bay. We were incredible lucky that day as we had perfect weather for Glacier Bay. Sunny, clear, and in the 50-60 as we left (also helped that we had the sun on our balcony) It really worked out well. Dinner was great (wish they had told us it came with champagne so we would have not gotten the other bottle earlier as we marveled at the Margerie Glacier) Server was very attentive and not intrusive at all. I had the steak and lobster. Huge steak. Was awesome to eat on the balcony and what the scenery goes by. The rest of the meals we ate in the dinning room. We had anytime dining. Became friendly with one of the headwaiters, another waiter we had meet when getting wine, and the sommelier (get the idea we like our wine) and ended up sitting at the same table each night. Sometimes by ourselves, other times with people we meet. Food was pretty good and no complaints. We had anytime dinning and never had a problem getting a table. We did ask the headwaiter for a few special dishes and he went way beyond what we asked him. Basically had a special meal made for us one night. Service was good. Veronica, the sommelier was excellent. One of the most outgoing I have ever met on a ship. As for other stuff on the ship, cannot comment much. We saw 0 shows and did not participate in many activities. We were having way too much fun explore Alaska. Oh, DW did sign us up for a few messages, which after all the hiking we had been doing was very welcome. Spa folks did fine. A little selling, but nothing over the line. It was like here are some product recommendations (see my mouth drop at the prices..) and we said not thanks and that was it.
As for the glacier "stops" Hubbard Glacier was nice. We got to see lots of whales as we approached. Got somewhat close to the Hubbard Glacier, but still several miles away (thank goodness for a really long zoom lens) Captain rotated the ship so each side could see. Hubbard Glacier was nice. I think I would have enjoyed it more if we had not had our day at Glacier Bay
Glacier Bay.....All I can say is amazing. Our weather was perfect. Sunny, clear, and by the afternoon we were in short sleeves and had sunscreen on. The ranger on the ship had said they get 1-2 days like we had per season (sorry everyone else who is going, we already took one of the days....) Loved every minute of Glacier Bay. Seeing the Margerie Glacier up close, hearing the glacier thunder, and watching it calf was great. We were about 1 mile from the Margerie glacier, which looked stunning in the sunlight. Also so the Grand Pacific Glacier, which looked more like dry land than a glacier. Very dark color. The Hopkins Glacier and inlet was closed to everything (including kayakers) due to ice and wildlife matting season. We did stop at the Lamplugh Glacier as well and then sail passed the Reed Glacier. Sailing out of Glacier Bay and eating our dinner out on the balcony capped off the day in style. I think we got a little spoiled in Glacier Bay with the outstanding weather, but if you go to Alaska on a cruise, it is not to be missed. Glacier Bay is a treasure that everyone should see.
As for the ports, in Skagway we did Heli-Hike-Train through Princess. Basically, flew into the Tongass National Forest, did some hiking, and caught the White Pass Railroad back down. Was definitely a different way to get to and from a hike, but we enjoyed it. Hike was not too strenuous, but not an easy hike. Taking the White Pass Railroad back was nice although I think we missed some of the better parts of the railroad trip which were before they picked us up at Glacier Station. Back into town and off to the Skagway Brewing Co. for Spruce Tip Ale before getting back on the ship.
In Juneau, (which it rained most of the day and we had weather like I expected to have most of the time) we did whale watching and Mendenhall Glacier hike/photo safari. Trip was great. We got to see a double breech about 500m from our boat. Incredible. We did see plenty of whales on the trip and spent more time on the water than I think was allowed. Time at Mendenhall Glacier was short and not really a hike. It was cut short since we spent more time with the whales. As for the photo part, okay. The guide knew stuff about cameras, but what he presented was geared towards people with very basic knowledge of cameras (I brought my dSLR and 2 high end lens which I rented and took over 2300 pictures if that puts it into perspective for you) After we got back we stopped at the Red Dog Saloon. Very entertaining. Not someplace to bring the kids who would repeat some of what the guy singing said....
In Ketchikan, we did a flight seeing tour to the Misty Fjords after wandering around town a bit. The weather was excellent. Ketchikan is known for being rainy, we had a clear and sunny day (anyone see a theme for the weather on our cruise...NICE). We booked with Island Wings, not Princess. Highly recommend Island Wings and Michelle. One plane outfit and Michelle (owner and pilot) does a great tour. Worth every penny. Only 6 of us in the plane plus Michelle. Scenery was beautiful. Got to land on a lake, get off and walk around on short. Michelle also took our pictures with our cameras and she certainly knew what she was doing then too. I also had a small "helmet mounted" video camera that they were able to attach to the outside of the plane and I videoed the whole flight. Was a great way to end our ports.
Had our day at sea before arriving in Vancouver. Was nice to have the sea day to rest, pack, and take it all in. Disembarkation was easy. We had a transfer direct to the airport. Funny part is that we essentially got "herded" to the buses (heaven forbid we got loss in Canada.....) Interesting part about disembarkation was that we picked up our luggage at the airport rather than the pier. Something different.
Overall, LOVED Alaska!!! Pricey.....yes, but.....worth ever penny. Combination of the land tour first and then the cruise was perfect. It was definitely more exhausting than a Caribbean cruise, but you are here to see Alaska and not sun yourself on the pool deck. The cruise seemed to us to be more of a way to get around and see certain parts of Alaska. The entertainment for me was watching everything from the balcony.