My husband and I have always been reluctant to cruise but decided to try an Alaskan cruise with friends. We tend to be independent travelers and like to wander through towns taking in the sights in a leisurely fashion. We always thought that cruises would be too restrictive and that we would feel captive to a boat, surrounded by thousands of fellow travelers. However, we loved the cruise and will cruise again.
The Sapphire Princess is designed in such a way that we never felt overwhelmed with other passengers. In fact, the settings feel intimate, particularly in the dining areas. We booked a mini suite, which was on the Dolphin deck. We were surprised at the spaciousness of the room. The sitting area had a couch that was a large as a king-sized bed and an additional chair. Our friends booked rooms with balconies which only had one chair and were cramped. Our deck was twice the size of theirs. While the dolphin deck has no cover and is open to all the above decks, passengers above are looking at the scenery and not the lower desk, so that did not bother us.
Princess is a model of efficiency with respect to luggage transport, embarkation and disembarkation. All the Princess staff were friendly and helpful. We discovered that you can get a cooked to order omelet in the buffet for breakfast. We had fresh salmon omelettes every day that were superb. I thought the food on the ship was good but not great. The buffet gives you healthy dining options, like fresh fruit and veggies. The Park Service Rangers were on board during the Glacier Bay cruise and were very willing to answer questions and were informative.
The three stops in the towns of Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway were ok but the towns are full of junky shops. We tried to get off the beaten track in each. We took a taxi to Bight State Totem Park in Ketchikan and that was fun. We booked a tour through the ship in Juneau to go whale watching and to see the Mendenhall Glacier. We booked a private tour in Skagway with Beyond Skagway Tours and drove into the Yukon Territory, taking the White Pass and Yukon railroad back into town. I would highly recommend Beyond Skagway Tours.
We also took the land tour through Princess up to Denali and Mt. McKinley. That was an additional 4 nights. We did not care for the Princess Denali Lodge but loved the Princess Mt. McKinley Lodge. If we had it to do over, we would rent a car in Whittier at the end of the cruise and drive to Denali and Mt. McKinley. We wasted a lot of time riding a train for 9.5 hrs from Whittier to Denali (broken bathroom which smelled!) and couldn't stop to enjoy the scenery like we could have with a car. We rode a bus from Denali to McKinley and from McKinley to Anchorage. We could have travelled more economically on our own and stopped to enjoy Alaska.
If you go to Anchorage, be sure to see the Aurora borealis show at the Performing Arts Center. It is worth the price of admission. Also, if you are in Denali, the Jeff King Husky Homestead tour was fun. What could be better than cuddling a Husky puppy that's handed to you when you get off the bus. The town of Talkeetna, about 45-60 min from the Princess McKinley lodge is not worth the bus trip. It is full of junky shops, most of which are probably owned or subsidized by the cruise lines, with a few authentic places tucked in here and there. There was a nice microbrewery in town. The walk to the river through town was short and we had a nice view of Mt. McKinley.
All in all, it was a great cruise and trip!
The best thing about this tour is that it is limited to about 14 people. The whale watching was excellent. The side trip to Mendenhall Glacier was a disappointment. It is labelled as a photo tour but we took a forced march through the woods where the guide pointed out flowers and gave the general canned glacier talk. We were given little time to take photos, which was a primary reason for choosing this tour. We thought the photographer guide would give us insight into interesting photo opportunities but that did not occur. A few of us located our own photo opportunities but felt rushed. If you are a photographer this is not the tour for you. Take a taxi to the glacier and explore on your own.
We tried to take the local bus to Bight totem park but it was 20 min late and our schedule was tight, so we hopped in a taxi for $33. The driver gave us good information about the area. We were able to take the city bus back for a dollar but had to stand the entire way, so it is not a good option for people with mobility impairments. Shockingly, there were lots of families on the bus and the parents did not have their kids offer seats to the elderly who were standing for the entire 30 min trip.
We booked a 7 hr independent tour with Beyond Skagway Tours. Our guide Brian was excellent, driving us to Emerald Lake in the Yukon Territory, with many stops along the way to view and photograph the diverse scenery. We ate lunch at a local bakery in Carcross, Yukon Territory, which was fun. We were also able to get our passports stamped with a Yukon Territory stamp in town. Brian dropped us off at the white Pass Yukon railway stop so we could take the train back to Skagway. Our friends wanted to do the train trip and it gave us a different perspective on the scenery. It was a great tour and got us totally away from the crowds on the shop tours.