We met a Canadian couple on a Princess cruise in 2008 and became very good friends. Since we live in Florida cruising is a good way for us to get to see each other. They joined us for this cruisetour and this is our 4th cruise together. We are in the 55 to 65 age group. This was our 11th cruise, with it being our 5th Princess cruise. I am giving information on the land portion too, because when we were looking at cruisetours we found very little information that covered the land portion of the cruise which to me was the best part.
We booked the 15 day Princess Escorted Connoisseur Cruisetour with 8 days on land before our Southbound cruise. I am glad we did the land tour first because there was a lot of long days and it gave us time to rest up on the cruise. Booking the connoisseur tour meant our breakfast and dinner (including gratuities) was included in the price at all of the Princess Lodges. It included one beverage, appetizer, entree and a dessert. We didn't have to worry about where we were going to eat or how much is was going to cost. We could order anything on the menu and had king crab 3 times! There were 54 people in our group including our bus driver and our escort. I can't say enough about our Tour Escort Bruce Miller who was with us for the entire land portion of our tour. Not only was he very knowledgeable about Alaska, but he was witty and kept us amused with his jokes, stories and games on the long 9 hour bus rides between lodges. We didn't have to make a single decision our entire tour because he had already taken care of every detail including a wonderful group photo. We were also able to keep our fantastic bus driver Gordon Scott for our entire tour. All of the Princess Lodges were beautiful and comfortable with fantastic views from all of our rooms. At the end of our land tour we were like a big family and had new friends to start our cruise with. All of our excursions were booked through Princess. Some were included in the price, which I will mention.
We flew into Fairbanks a day early to start our land tour at the Fairbanks Riverside Lodge for 3 nights. To our surprise the temperature was in the 80's. Beautiful view of the Chena River right out of our window. Our tour started with a welcome breakfast and then an excursion for an enjoyable trip down the Chena River on the Sternweeler Riverboat, followed by a beef stew lunch and a Gold mine tour, that were all included in the price. The next day we departed the lodge and boarded the train for a scenic ride to Denali National Park and the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge for 2 nights. We had beautiful views of the river with the mountains behind it. Our excursion the next day was to Denali National Park on the Tundra Wilderness Tour. We saw a blonde colored mother grizzly with a jet black cub. Later we were stopped looking at a fox on the hillside when a grizzly came right over the top of the hill the fox was on. Awesome! We also saw moose, caribou and Dall sheep. This excursion and the â(EURO)oeMusic of Denaliâ(EURO) dinner show was included in the price. We departed the next day for a 9 hour bus ride to Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge. We had wonderful views of the mountains of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. The next day we took a scenic excursion to the beautiful town of Valdez where we did the Prince William Sound Glacier boat tour. We saw humpback whales, sea otters, seals, eagles, puffins, numerous other birds and the glacier. Highly recommend this tour! The next day we were off to the Kenai Peninsula and the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge. This was my favorite lodge because it sits over the beautiful blue-green waters of the Kenai River with the mountain behind it. It is absolutely breath taking and there is a trail that goes down and all around by the river. The next day was an excursion to the Kenai Fjords National Park boat tour out of Seward. The water was pretty rough at times and a lot of people got seasick, but we were fortunate and didn't get sick. We saw a pod of Orca whales. They put the hydrophone in the water and we could hear the Orca's calling each to each other. We also saw humpback whales and Dall's Pourpoise which look mini black and white Orca's and more of everything else we saw in the previous boat trip. Highly recommend this awesome tour! We departed the next day for our cruise.Whittier - Embarkation
Whittier is a small port and you have to go through a tunnel to get there. Our bus was the first to go through the tunnel so our group was the first ones on the Sapphire Princess. We walked right on and it was like having the ship to ourselves.
The ship was beautiful and spotless. It was a little confusing to get around, because if you went to the 6th deck aft you couldn't get to the front of the ship without going back up to the 7th deck.
We had an aft port side balcony stateroom on the 12th Aloha Deck. We liked it because it was right under the horizon court which takes less than 5 minutes to get coffee in the morning. Was not noisy at all. The stateroom was nice with adequate storage. Our cabin steward's language was limited so he didn't talk a lot but did a good job of cleaning our room which is all that matters.
We had any time dining and prefer to eat early so we usually eat around 6:00 and never had to wait for a table. With anytime dining you have your choice of 3 dining rooms, which are the Santa Fe, Savoy and Pacific Moon. The menu is the same in each dining room except each one has a specialty dish that is the same every night. We like Princess because the food is consistently good and this was no exception. We tried all of the dining rooms and the food and service was excellent with the exception that one night in the Savoy the service was slow and we were there for 2 hours and missed the 8:00 show and had go to the later show. The food was still good but I think the waiter was overwhelmed with too many tables for his section.
There are 3 show every night at 6:30, 8:00 & 9:45. We attended a show every night and enjoyed all of them. The comedians were good and we thought the singers and dancers were very good.
Skagway: Eagle Preserve Rafting & Wildlife Quest. We boarded a catamaran for a 45 minute ride to Haines which is a beautiful town. The weather was so warm the local people were sunbathing on the beach when we arrived and a few brave enough to swim in the 40 degree water. We then took a bus to our drop off point to where we had sandwiches before boarding our rafts for a leisurely (not white water) hour and a half raft trip. We saw many eagles along the way, some so close you could almost reach out and touch them. We were greeted with fresh cookies at the end of the raft trip. Beautiful scenery and a good tour.
Juneau: Town, Tram & Timberline Trek. This tour was a bit of a disappointment. We went by van for a narrated tour of the city. We were supposed to go up the Mt. Roberts Tram and the take the Timberline Trek walk, but they had the trail closed because they still had snow on the ground. We then did a walk around an old gold mine instead and then took the tram up to the top of the mountain for the view which was spectacular.
Ketchikan : Wilderness Exploration Cruise & Crab Feast. We were taken by bus to the George Inlet Lodge where we boarded as enclosed tour boat and cruised the George Inlet waterway. It was a scenic boat ride that took us to a cove that is a crab estuary to Dungeness crab. They pulled up some crab traps to show how the crabs are caught. There were many eagle seen along the way. We returned back to the lodge where we had all you can eat Dungeness crab, and believe me, it was all you can eat! This was my favorite shore excursion on the cruise portion.
Disembarkation: Was not quite as easy as embarkation. We were to be in the Fusion Bar at 8:05 which was very crowded as everyone had to be out of their staterooms by 8:00. We were only there about 15 minutes when our number was called. We had booked the Princess transfer to the Vancouver airport which was great. They took our bags to the airport, which were there waiting for us when we got there. The Vancouver airport is a whole different story. We went through numerous lines and numerous security checks.
Summary: The Hubbard Glacier was huge but we were not able to get very close due to the amount of ice in the water. This is the only place that was really cold. In Glacier Bay we were able to get very close to a glacier and you could even hear it cracking and popping. We were able to see some calving of smaller pieces, which still sounded like thunder when it hit the water. It was so warm people were sunning on the deck and swimming in the pools. On the last sea day, right before we entered the inside passage we were met by a group of Dall's Pourpoise which were every where you looked. They put on quite a show jumping out of the water. We had absolutely beautiful weather our entire cruisetour with not a drop of rain. Some of the mornings started out cool only to turn into beautiful warm afternoons. All of the locals said how lucky we were to have that kind of weather. Over all we could not have asked for anything to be any better than it was. It was the trip of a lifetime.