My husband and I (in our mid 60's) just got back from our Alaska Princess cruise tour, 12 night Denali Explorer, leaving from Vancouver and returning from Fairbanks. It was the most wonderful vacation!! We both highly recommend it! Note: It never got dark! I brought with a black eye cover for sleeping. Lots of mosquitoes on land - bring repellent!
First, The CRUISE itself: We were on the Coral Princess. Our stateroom with a balcony was plenty big and comfortable. The small bathroom was very adequate with a small shower which I was surprised to have strong water pressure, which was great! It was fun to have the balcony with which to look outside and occasionally go outside. We finally had time to go into the outdoor pool and hot tub on the last day of sailing, which was great! while watching “Back to the Future” on the big outdoor screen. What fun!
DINING: We did ANYTIME dining and loved it! We tried to get to dinner between 5:30 and 6:30 because it ended up being about a two hour meal! But...it was so enjoyable and relaxing! Pampered to the max! EVERYBODY that worked on the ship was so nice and friendly and wanting to please. The meals were excellent as were the choices on the menus. (I usually got more than one dessert!) We met people that tried some of the other restaurants for dinner where you pay, but we couldn’t understand why anyone would want to pay extra when there were such great choices and such good food in the dining room. We always requested to be seated with others. It was so much fun to meet people from all over! Couples from Australia, England, Wyoming, Denver, Nashville, Boston, Texas, Virginia, Kentucky, etc. We would see some of these folks throughout the cruise and it started feeling like a community of sorts. I exchanged e-mails with about a dozen people!
BREAKFASTS and LUNCHES we always went to the buffet in Horizon lounge on the 14th floor, opposite the outdoor pool area. LOVED all the choices. Everything was delicious! And the wait staff couldn’t do enough for you!
FITNESS: I actually worked out at the fitness center 3 mornings and it was great! I was impressed with the quality of the gym and that so many others made use of it. All the aerobic machines (ellipticals, treadmills, etc.) faced the ocean and mountains and was beautiful! Also went to a couple talks there, which were very good, but didn’t buy anything. I managed to get to a Zumba class and it was great!! SO MUCH FUN!!!
SHOWS: The shows we saw were pretty good. Two theaters - one with plenty of seating, the second had all comfortable lounge chairs and small tables, so you had to get there early to find a seat. I especially loved the comedian, Steve Moris, they had one night. He was awesome!! A magician who was a comic too, was entertaining and the big production numbers (esp. “The Bayou”) were terrific! Don’t miss the kitchen galley talk - where you watch the chefs prepare a meal. They were hysterical! and then you go for a tour of the kitchen which is very interesting.
NATURALIST: There was a naturalist who gave informative talks about the wild life - whales, otters, sea lions, etc. And also gave a running commentary which you could hear all over the ship and also on your state room TV, while going through Glacier Bay and the College Fjords, and telling you where you should look for whales and other wild life.
EXCURSIONS: KETCHIKAN - we didn’t sign up for anything. It was the only place it rained. We took a local bus for $1 to Totem Bight State Park - 1/2 hour ride, and enjoyed talking to other visitors on the bus. We met someone who paid for a tour there and it sounded like they might have learned a lot more from the guide. It was okay - more like something to do. When we caught the bus back after an hour, we walked on the Creek St. boardwalk in and out of the shops, which was fun - in the rain.
JUNEAU - We did a whale watch with Captain Larry and ORCA Enterprise, which Trip Advisor folks recommended. We called them from home to make the reservation. It ended up being only 6 of us on board. We immediately saw whales, breaching, which was cool! Then we went to an area where we saw lots of sea lions. but after that, no more whale sightings. The scenery was gorgeous though. But it was disappointing not to see any more whales. Especially since when we got back to the ship, many on other boats (including Princess excursions) saw many more whales than we did. Afterwards, we were dropped off at The Mendenhall Glacier, which is truly spectacular and definitely worth the visit! Walked to Nugget Falls, which is so neat! We were getting picked up in an hour so I felt a bit pressured to rush, but we took some great photos. The town of Juneau was fun to walk through and we ended up at the Red Dog Saloon for a beer and listened to fun live music.
SKAGWAY - We booked bus tour with DYEA DAVE to Emerald Lake, all through the Yukon Pass. Same as the train, but less expensive and more personalized, I think. There were six of us. Dave was TERRIFIC!! He stopped at all the best scenic places so we could get out and take pics. And he stopped when we saw a black bear on the side of the road, and also a lynx, on the way back. He gave a running commentary and was so funny! A real character! When we didn’t have enough cash to pay him at the end, he was, like, “no problem”. We went back on ship, got the money, and met him outside, where he was “off duty”. He gave us a ride in his antique convertible Metropolitan sports car to town. Wanted us to see the museum and film about the gold rush, which we did and liked very much. He actually picked us up afterwards and drove us back to the ship!!! Everybody seemed to know him and was taking photos of the car and waving, etc.
LAND PORTION - Princess Cruise is amazing for their organization. They totally took care of our suitcases and we only had to carry a tote bag with whatever we needed for the day. The trains and coaches were comfortable and the drivers always gave commentary. Of course you have to tip them at the end of the ride.
WE WERE SO LUCKY - the weather was really warm, clear, and sunny! A heat wave! 70’s and even 80’s in Fairbanks!!!
ANCHORAGE - A Beautiful city with lots of flowers and a beautiful park across from the hospitality center. Great shops and galleries. We had lunch at the Snow Goose - the upstairs, outdoor deck at the Brewery part. The salmon fish and chips were good. We could see Denali, 250 miles away! Dinner at a pizza shop.
TALKEETNA / McKINLEY PRINCESS LODGE - You get dropped off from the train in the little town of Talkeetna, before going to the McKinley Princess Lodge, an hour away. There are shuttles that leave every hour. So we walked around the little town - very little! We spontaneously decided to do a Flightseeing Tour, because it was such a gorgeous, clear day. Went to the visitor’s center and the enthusiastic woman behind the counter got us on a plane that was leaving in 20 minutes! for the discounted price of $199 each. It was an amazing adventure!! I’m afraid of flying usually, but HAD to try this. I mean, these pilots do this several times every day, right?? Not to worry, it was an awesome flight that I’m SO GLAD we took! There were 7 of us in the plane and Andre, our pilot, took us right over Mt. McKinley!! The north face, the east face, etc. etc. Thought we might bump the mountain, we were so close!!! It was about 1 1/2 hours or so. Very exhilarating!
Note: The Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage and all the Princess Lodges were exceptionally beautiful and comfortable!!! And in very scenic locations.
DENALI - We took the included “natural history” 5 hour bus tour, which started at 6:20 am. UGH! This was the only disappointing thing on the trip. No animal sightings, not too interesting, and MANY MOSQUITOS!!!! Why did we have to get up SO EARLY for this???
On our free day, we took a shuttle to the Visitor’s Center, which is definitely worth a visit, and saw a beautiful film about Denali and wonderful exhibits. We also took a short hike to Horseshoe Lake. Found out we just missed some moose at the lake.
Ate at the Salmon Bake restaurant across from the Lodge and we really liked it! Also the fun ice cream shop across from the Lodge is a must!
FAIRBANKS - I think this was one of our most FUN excursion days and it was included in our tour! The Paddle Wheel Riverboat Cruise (including a hearty lunch at the end) and then the Gold Dredge 8. Definitely DO THIS TRIP!!! We saw so much! From the boat we saw a bush pilot take off and land his sea plane, sled dogs doing their thing, salmon skinning demo, and got out at an Athabascan Village, with various demonstrations and talks. LOVED IT!! Afterwards we were all treated to a hearty beef stew lunch, family style - all you could eat! Then we went to the Alaskan Pipeline and learned about it’s history. An open tram ride was next, with demos along the way all about gold mining and it’s history. At the end we all got to try panning for gold! So much fun! My husband and I combined our gold (worth about $30) and purchased a pretty locket that they put the gold into and now I can wear it!
An AWESOME trip!! To top it off, one of our flights home was overbooked. We opted to get ‘bumped’ and was given $400 flight credit each! And took another flight only 1/2 later!