Last July my wife and I took our first cruise on a cruise tour to Alaska with Princess. This was our first cruise. We are glad that we started with the land portion of the trip and followed that with the cruise portion on the Diamond Princess. We enjoyed our cruise very much. Things went very well with our trip. Our flights from CMH to ORD and from ORD to ANC went very well (we had quite a hike at ORD from the United flight to the Alaska Air flight, but we made it in plenty of time). We were met by the Princess folks at the airport in Anchorage. Things went smoothly on our trip into Anchorage to the Captain Cook Hotel in downtown Anchorage. Our bus driver on the way into Juneau told us about free films that are shown all day long at the Federal Building in Anchorage. The building was only a few blocks from our hotel some did catch the end of the film presentations that day. We enjoyed the hotel, and our brief stay in Anchorage. We ate at the fine roof top restaurant at the hotel, and we enjoyed our meal there very much.
On Tuesday we began the land portion of our trip with a coach ride to the McKinley Princess Lodge. We spent two nights there. The lodge was very nice. The rooms were basic -- more like a Comfort Inn. We did enjoy good views of the mountain both days while we were there. I discovered as we were leaving on the second day that some of the best views of Denali were available from the road that leads up to the lodge. There is a marked trail for walking along the road.
On the day we arrived at the McKinley Lodge, we had scheduled a float trip on the Chulitna River. The trip took about four hours. Unfortunately it was a cloudy day so we did not enjoy much of the scenery in the area. The young woman who was our guide did a good job navigating our raft down the river to Talkeenta.
We enjoyed the little village that evening. We ate at a local pizza place (Mountain High Pizza), and then we finished our evening there with a cinnamon bun that we purchased at the Road House.
The highlight of our trip there was the flight seeing trip that we booked to the Alaska Range from Talkeentna. We landed on the Kahiltna Glacier at the 7000 foot level, and then we were able to get out of the plane and walk around in the snow (the flight service provided us with snow boots). This is the base camp for the climbers on Mt. McKinley. It was a great trip. When we arrived back in Talkeenta, we took some time to explore the village. We visited some of the shops, and we were able to have lunch outside one the deck of one of the Wild Flower Cafe.
After our second night we headed for the Princess Denali Lodge on the Princess dome cars on the Alaska RR. The three-hour trip was very scenic. The domed cars are very comfortable. Princess has a narrator on each car who describes points of interest and history along the way. I had reindeer chili for lunch in the dining section of our car along the way.
We enjoyed our stay at Denali. It had a different feel with all the shops and restaurants across the road from the lodge. After arriving at the lodge, I went on a two hour nature hike that I had scheduled. The trail took us above the on a mountain side above the lodge area. I think the guide adjusts the hike according to the folks who have signed up so it was not a strenuous trip. He did point out several nature and geological features along the way. My wife enjoyed an excursion to one of the sled dog camps. She said it was informative and entertaining.
On our full day in Denali, we opted for the all day school bus ride in the park to Kantishna. We only saw glimpses of the mountain, but we saw a lot of wildlife. We also enjoyed the park ranger interpretation from Wonder Lake to Kantishna. The lodge was nicely appointed at Denali, but again the rooms were more like what I would expect at a Comfort Inn.
The all day train ride from Denali to Whittier went well. Checking onto the ship and boarding went well. It was nice that they're able to do some processing of our passports and our room keys on board the train.
We really enjoyed the cruise portion of the trip. Of course this was our first cruise, but we enjoyed the Diamond Princess very much. The crew and staff were friendly and helpful. I was not impressed by the efforts to get us to buy diamonds, watches, and art, but I understand that is part of the deal.
We enjoyed our mini suite with the veranda very much. I'm glad we chose the balcony room, and I am glad we paid a little more for the mini suite. It was nice to have the sofa and the extra room. Travel on the ship was very smooth. Most of the time I could not tell when we were moving and when we were in port. We never experienced any motion sickness on the ship or on any of our excursions.
We had selected the any time dining option so we could choose from several restaurants each evening. All the restaurants have the same menu, but each may include a specialty item. We did try out the two dining rooms that an extra cover charge. I found those meals to be very enjoyable. The only nights that I made reservations were the nights that we dined in those restaurants. Usually we would strike up a conversation with folks who were seated at tables near us. We enjoyed our service and the meals. Everything was well prepared and nicely presented. We were glad that we chose the anytime dining. It gave us flexibility around when and where we wanted to eat. There was only one time for dinner that we were told that no seating was available so we just went to another restaurant.
On three mornings we had continental breakfast in our room. Those meals were ok, but convenient especially when we had an early excursion scheduled in one of the ports. We went to the buffet the other days for breakfast. We went there for lunch when we were not in port. The buffet is kind of hectic because it is rather crowded and busy. The food was ok there, too. We also tried out the grill and the pizza place when we didn't want to go to the buffet. I appreciate the fact that the ship monitors persons coming into the buffet and requires everyone to use the hand cleanser before selecting their food items.
Most evenings we took in the live entertainment in the theater. The shows were nicely done, and we enjoyed the shows. We also watched some of the movies in our room. We didn't do the "Movies under the Stars" because it was just too chilly for us. On days we were at sea, I enjoyed walking laps around the Promenade Deck. I also did lap swimming two days in the adults only pool. The "current" pool feature was not working, but the pool and hot tub were nice.
On the last full day of our southbound trip, we enjoyed a presentation on board by the head chef of the ship and the matrie d. The chef did a cooking demonstration, and then everyone had a tour of the galley.
During the cruise, we enjoyed the day in Glacier Bay. We got to see some nice calving of the glacier. We had a nice day in Juneau (we has some sunshine). We selected a combo of the whale watching (we saw humpbacks), a salmon bake (nice meal at a nice lodge with a nice view), and a trip to the Mendenhall Glacier.
We also enjoyed our trip on the Yukon RR. We had an extension to Frasier, BC with a coach ride to Caribou Crossing in the Yukon. We saw a lot of pretty scenery. We went to a little tourist place for lunch.
We enjoyed our float plane trip over the Misty Fjord. I wish I would have chosen the round trip float plane trip. The return jet catamaran was not very exciting. I thought we would cruise more in the narrower fjords than we did.
We did most of our shopping on Creek Street in Ketchikan. I liked several of the shops in that area. Again I didn't care for the all the diamond and watch shops. Of course there are the other typical souvenir shops along the streets. I found more variety and more seemingly Alaskan artist and artisan items on Creek Street in Ketchikan.
We did not care much for the shops in Skagway although we did enjoy the interpretive museum that is run by the National Park Service there about the gold rush. We did not have time to visit the shops in Juneau because of our excursion schedule and the ship's departure time.
We were amazed on both the land and sea portions of the trip how well Princess kept everything organized and kept folks (and our luggage) going where they needed to be. The only small glitch we had concerned disembarkation. Princess had us scheduled to depart to the Vancouver airport. We saw the notice about selecting the self-disembarkation option. Before I was able to sign up, we received information about our transfer to the airport. I went to the passenger service desk, and they helped change my status.
When it came time to disembark on Saturday morning, we were scheduled to be in a group that was to meet in a lounge. When we took the elevator down to that floor, they were letting the folks in our group off so we just joined the line and got off the ship. We were through customs by 8:00 am. Thanks for the heads up about the self-disembarking option. We basically had no lines when we got through customs in Vancouver. We got a taxi, and by 8:30 we were having breakfast in our hotel.
All in all it was a great trip. It was a once and life time experience for us.