This was our first Princess cruise, which we were planning with friends of ours for over a year. We chose Princess specifically due to the recommendations I've read here and its itinerary. We did not regret that decision.
We started by arriving two days early into Anchorage and stayed at a lovely B&B called the Wildflower Inn. I highly recommend it. On Saturday morning, we caught the 9:30 train to Whittier, having booked the 26 Glacier Tour through Phillips Cruises. I was under the wrong impression that we would have to handle our own luggage, since we did not arrange transportation through Princess, but happily discovered I was misinformed. When we arrived at the station, there were tables for Princess and Holland America. A porter from Princess collected our luggage and the next time we saw it was when we arrived on board and went to our stateroom.
A quick aside about the 26 Glacier Tour. Highly recommended. We saw more wildlife in those four hours that we did the rest of the cruise. And that's not a knock on the cruise. The tour boat is right next to the Princess, so once we were finished, we were right there for check in.
This was a little confusing. Because we came from the tour, we went into a side entrance. We accidentally got on the boarding line, not seeing the registration area. We realized our mistake in time and a security guard was very helpful in pointing us in the right direction and allowed us back into line, so we didn't have to start all over again. The line had been long, since we arrived just as the land tour buses arrived.
Since we boarded later in the day, we were able to go up to our room. Luggage was already there. The Sapphire Princess is a beautiful ship. We had a category B2 cabin on Caribe deck. We chose it for the larger veranda which did not disappoint. Our friends were in the cabin next to us, so we were able to open a connecting door between the two verandas. The room was a little smaller than other Deluxe rooms with veranda that we were accustomed to, only having enough room for the bed and a small desk. Storage was in a closet and wardrobe next to the bathroom. The bathroom was adequate, but the shower was tiny. I only had so much room to turn around. The temperature of the water was also a little inconsistent and had to be occasionally adjusted.
This was the first time we experienced Anytime Dining and I am hooked. I loved the flexibility since most cruise lines the 5:30 main seating is a little early for us and the 8:00 late seating too late. Even though reservations are recommended, we never had trouble getting a table without one. We did try to make reservations, but never got that process down right. Either we called outside the reservation window or when we called at the right time, were told they didn't take reservations past 6:30pm. Regardless, it didn't turn out to be much of an issue. By the thrid night, when we realized we were eating about the same time (7:00) each night, the matre d' assured us he would hold our table the following night.
The serving staff was wonderful as was the food. Since three of the four of us are non-meat eaters, there was ample vegetarian choices. Service was prompt and efficient, only once did we have to ask for service to be sped up a little only because some of us participated in the pop choir.
The other dining venues were equally impressive. I visited the International Cafe frequently and invested in the coffee card, which was well worth it. We also had the pizza which was as good as New York pizza (and we should know, since we're from New York)
This was the one negative we encountered. We went to the shows the first two night and never returned. The first night was a production show that we found amateurish and have seen better high school performances. While the dancing was okay, the vocals were off and sometimes out if synch. The following night was a comedian that put me to sleep. Maybe because we cruised Disney so much, we're spoiled, but I don't think it would have made a difference had we never experienced Disney.
The seminars, on the other hand, were excellent. We attended one where an expert on Alaska gave us a presentation on the various forms of wildlife we might experience. The theater was packed and she held us captive. The Park Ranger presentations were equally fascinating.
Which leads us to
The three ports exceeded our expectations. The first two days at Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay had us gazing with dropped jaws and mouths open the whole time we were there. We spent part of the time up in the bow and and some of it on our deck. The captain turned the ship around so guests on both sides of the ship would get their fair chance to see the glacier.
Our visits to Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan were equally amazing. We did the White Pass Railway in Skagway which was wonderful and the Taku Lodge Feast and 5-Glacier Seaplane Discovery, which was the highlight of our trip. My wife is a nervous flyer, only getting back into it three years ago. Our pilot was great and even let her sit in the copilot seat. A recorded explanation of what we were seeing and the history of the area played while we flew to Taku Lodge. Taku Lodge is a rustic and charming place and the salmon bake gave me a whole new appreciation for one of my favorite seafood dishes. We did Ketchikan on our own, taking the shuttle to Saxman Totem Village and then going to the Totem Heritage Center before ending up with some shopping in town.
Despite all our anxiety about what to pack pre-trip, the weather fooled us and we had three delightful days in ports, with temps in the 70s and bright sun.
This was a little disorganized. We were told not to show up to the Pacific Moon any sooner than 10:10, so we hung out in Horizons until 10:00. But no sooner did we show up in Pacific Moon, than they announced our group. Lucky we were on time. Having to walk the one flight up was also inconvenient for those carrying any bags with them. Finding our luggage was a mess. It was not in the zone it was supposed to be and with people standing around and the exit line snaking into the baggage pick up area, it took us a while to find our bags. But, once found exiting through customs was a breeze as was the organized line up for a taxi.
We stayed in Vancouver for two days and found a great suite hotel called the Rosellen Suites in a residential area of Vancouver right next to Stanley Park and two blocks from Denman St. with plenty of stores and restaurants. Be forewarned, it is not a full-service hotel, but if you don't need 24-hour desk, a pool and in hotel dining, the suites were spacious with a full kitchen, living room and dining room.
We thoroughly enjoyed the Sapphire Princess. Had we been on a different itinerary where you spend more time on the ship, the entertainment might have been a bigger issue, but since we chose her for the itinerary and not the on board services, it more than met our expectations.
We took the Taku Lodge Feast & 5-Glacier Seaplane Discovery tour and this was one of the highlights of our trip. My wife is a very nervous flyer, only getting back into it three years ago, so obviously there was some trepidation about taking a flight in a small plane. Our pilot was the Director of Operations and invited her to sit in the copilot seat, which helped ease any fears she might have. The plane itself was a 10-seater de Haviland and it handled like driving in a car. Every passenger got a window seat and the views were spectacular. You don't really appreciate the expanse of a glacier until you fly over it. We flew twenty minutes to the Taku Lodge, a quaint hunting lodge opposite the Taku Glacier. We were served a feast of wild salmon and other Alaskan delicacies that were just scrumptious. We spent an hour and a half at the lodge, allowing enough time to eat and explore the grounds. The return flight was equally spectacular.
We did Ketchikan on our own using the bus system ($2 all day pass) to travel to the Saxman Totem Park and the Totem Heritage Center before walking back along Creek Street and doing some required shopping.
If you want to see breathtaking scenery, this is the tour to take. We boarded right at the dock and proceeded to climb some 3,000 feet up to the White Pass summit. Along the way we were given an excellent description of what we were seeing by the two tour guides and had plenty of opportunity for pictures. despite the lack of space on the platforms between the cars, the passengers all worked together and shared the time spent there. If I were to make any complaints it would be that while we were provided water, it would have been nice if it was cold. Also, despite some criticism I've read about the bench seats, I found them more not uncomfortable at all.
Vancouver was our final destination and we stayed two days to enjoy the city. We stayed at a wonderful suite hotel called the Roseleen Suites, right next to Stanley Park and within walking distance to Denman Street with all its shops and restaurants. We took a carriage ride in Stanley Park and visited the Vancouver Lookout Tower and Harbour Center and the Suspension Bridge at Capilano. All recommended stops on your visit to Vancouver.
Nothing much to do in the port itself, unless you take an excursion like we did. We book the 26 Glacier Tour with Phillips Cruises. What a great company to deal with and what a wonderful tour. We saw more wildlife in the four hours than we saw on the rest of the cruise. And with the smaller boat, we were able to get very close to the glaciers. Lunch was a part of the deal and it was adequate, but we didn't take the tour for the food. For people worried about motion, let me assure you that this boat was as stable as they come. We never felt any motion. And when the tour ended, the boat docked right next to the Sapphire Princess, so boarding was a snap.