We flew to Fairbanks 2 days ahead of the start of our tour. We stayed at teh Alpine Lodge near the airport. Since most of what we wanted to do was in town, this wasn't the best choice for us - we ended up spending a lot on taxis. if we had a car it would have been a great location though. (see all my hotel reviews on tripadvisordotcom)
Tour: Our tour started from Fairbanks. There were some logistics issues with the buses and we ended up waiting for longer in town for the bus. But the bus did eventually come get us and we were on our way (the literature says be at the airport by 2 for a 3 pm departure. but if you arrive by 11 or so they will take you downtown and pick you up later, 2:15ish. it's nice if you don't want to spend your day at the airport). The buses we perfectly comfortable and were clean. When we boarded the bus we were given our first information packet. It included info about the Denali Princess Wilderness lodge, our room info & room keys, map, and already booked tour info. we had 2 nights there which is necessary to do the longer tours of Denali.
**** I highly suggest upgrading from the Natural History tour to the Denali Wilderness Explorer tour. the NHT only goes to mile 13 and lots of people did not see any wildlife. We took the longer tour, which goes to mile ~52, and saw a lot of animals. We had a great tour.***
The front of the lodge is a mad house in the mornings with all the tour buses, buses to trains, etc. But they handle it well. There is also a TV that shows what tour is boarding and what tours leave when. They also come through an announce what is boarding.
The morning before departing we did the Black Diamond ATV adventure - it was lots of fun. They put us into wind/waterproof pants, coats, gloves & even covered our shoes. We were worries about getting dirty before getting on the train - but it was not an issue.
The train had assigned rows or tables (depending on kind of car). It was inconvenient in our car to go for lunch seating in waves, but they did get through everyone at a reasonable pace. Again on the train (I think) we received our next info packet (again w/ room info, tour info, keys, etc).
When we arrived at Talkeetna, part of our group stayed in town for dinner while I went directly on the (1 hr) bus ride to the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness lodge. I did go to the tour desk to get a duplicate print out of the itinerary info as there were 3 of us traveling together and were going in different directions at any time. We had 2 nights here, but I could have done everything I wanted in 1 night. The town was cute, but if you are not really up for shopping it could be done in an hour or 2. We did do the excursion to Sun Dog Kennels - really worth it! Very fun - and we got to hold 3 week old dogs that may race in the Iditarod some day. There is a General's Store in town with a surprising amount of over the counter drugs/medications.
I was surprised that the food & souvenirs at the Princess lodges didn't have a huge mark-up. Alaskan prices are higher than at home. But the prices were very reasonable (mostly for warm clothes, fleece, jackets, etc) especially at the McKinley lodge. This is true especially considering we were a captive audience since it's a 1hr bus ride to town. I saw many people wearing the jackets or fleece sold at the lodges (men & women colors up to XXL).
The train from McKinley to Whittier again had assigned tables. this time they brought the food to us. The trip was nice, but our guide would not stop talking. it made it difficult to appreciate the beautiful scenery.
Once the train arrived it took a good 45 minutes to get through security & on board (had received all our keys etc at the end of the train ride). We did the evac drill and then went to dinner.
I had managed to catch the flu during the tour (remember to use purell after touching bus rails!) so after a trip to the Medical Center I had drugs in hand, but was also on quarantine. Good news is we had a balcony room so I could see all the glaciers (they spin the ship so both sides can see). Since I was on quarantine room service allowed me to order off the dining room menus as well (as long as I called while the dining rooms were still open). They visited me in my cabin the next day to check on me, and I was given the all clear in the afternoon. this was my first experience using a ship medical center and was impressed. They had up to date drugs, good staff, and it looks like they were decked out with equipment.
Skagway - we did the Kroschell Films Wildlife Park tour and it was great. The guys are a little goofy, but it was neat to see the animals up close (got to touch caribou antlers, get kissed by a moose, etc). town was cute and had lots of shopping.
Juneau - Glacier & Whale watching Photo safari - good tour. really nice to be in a small group and on a small boat. Saw orcas, humpbacks & seals. A humpback came right up to the boat, dove under and came up the other side - it was bigger than the boat, but it was really neat! Lots of shopping close to the boat dock.
Ketchican - Misty Fjords & Wilderness Explorer tour was disappointing. It was a long boring boat ride out and back for 1/2 hr of semi-interesting scenery. Not worth the time and $$. There were a couple of shops near the boat, which was nice since the tour took up most the day. My friend took the float plane and loved it.
Ship & cruise: Our room C702 was supposed to be able to accommodate a roll-away bed - it does if you push the other 2 beds together and push the roll-away against the others (3 mattresses making 1 solid bed). And it didn't allow for any maneuvering around the room. Luckily there was also an overhead bunk, so we used that instead of the roll-away. It was a challenge to have 3 adults & our stuff in 1 room, but we seemed to manage okay. Closet had lots of space & lots of hangars. I did bring an "over the door pocket shoe holder" which was nice for lots of odds & ends. Also a couple of clothes pins helped keep the shower curtain where it belongs & kept the bathroom floor dry.
I loved anytime dining. Whenever we were ready for dinner we went & ate. We had no problems getting a table to ourselves right away. Longest wait was about 3 minutes. Food in general is a little disappointing over Carnival or Royal Caribbean (same as prior Princess experience), but acceptable.
Formal night was much less formal than in the warmer climates. Nice slacks & blouse was fine for ladies (on up to nicer dresses, and men were in nice slacks & shirt on up. Regular nights it was okay to be in jeans as long as they were in good shape.
The ship is heated, so jeans and cute shirt were fine for most of the ship (always has a light sweater with me though). Sitting in the sun on our balcony was really warn, but if not int he sun it was cold.
Staff was great, especially the room service people - they seemed to go the extra mile (one offered to go up to the buffet to get me hot cocoa). I didn't meet any staff that were anything less than exceptionally pleasant.