We've done 3 Caribbean cruises prior to this Alaska cruise, and this was by far the most relaxing cruise we've ever taken. We did a 5 day connoisseur land tour prior to the cruise and highly recommend spending the extra money for this level (friends did the Denali Explorer version and didn't enjoy it nearly as much as we did). But I'm here to talk about the cruise!
Embarkation: By taking the Connoisseur tour, we we're checked in on the train from Denali to Whittier, so we basically just walked right onto the cruise ship. Cabin (Baja 416) was great. Midship, clean, incredibly quiet. One piece of luggage (which we had sent ahead) was already in the cabin; the other two arrived just before dinner (we ate at 8:15 the first night).
Cruising Hubbard Glacier: Words cannot describe how beautiful this is. It ranked right up there with sunrise over the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Sit on the balcony and enjoy a bottle of wine (and take about 500 pictures!). Until you hear a glacier break away, you cannot imagine how incredible it really is. If you weren't already completely relaxed, you will be by this point.
Glacier Bay: Ditto on Hubbard Glacier, although Johns Hopkins Glacier is amazing! NOTE: Folks will tell you "don't sail Alaska on a big ship, only the small ones go all the way into Glacier Bay." NOT TRUE. Access is limited based on the molting of the seals that are in Glacier Bay. Park service lifted the restriction this year on Sept 1. We sailed in on 9/2. The Naturalist from the Park Service who accompanied us from 7:30am until about 6pm was great. Did a fantastic job describing everything (they played the audio via the cabin TV's, so we could stay on our balcony and watch / listen). You could tell he was actually excited by how far in we could go and how close we got (in addition to the volume of calving's taking place).
Skagway/Juneau/Ketchikan described elsewhere
Cruised inside passage: Wine, pictures and complete relaxation. Saw another humpback whale and a ton of dolphins.
Disembarking in Vancouver is painless. Maybe 10 minutes from lounge to curb.
Ship itself: Loved it. We last cruised on the Caribbean Princess, and found Sapphire Princess to be less crowded, a little more "classy" and the staff was flawless. Every meal was delicious. I can't speak for the buffet because we only had 2 breakfasts there. Breakfast in the International Dining Room was quick, comfortable, and always delicious. Never had to wait for a table, and my wife and I ate alone (by choice) about half the time. For dinner, we ate at most of the dining rooms and found anytime dining a breeze. We found Savoy to be the best (that may have just been the two waiters we had we're phenomenal. Overall, the ship is spacious, quiet, does not show any sign of wear and the staff is tops! This is the first time we've ever done the future cruise deposit, which speaks to how much we loved this cruise!
We did the Mendenhall Glacier Photo Safari. WOW! David is great. The boat is very comfortable and very photo friendly (obviously). We saw bald eagles, seals, sea lions, humpback whales and a large, active pod of orca's who put on quite a show. At Mendenhall, we didn't see a bear, but he was nearby (half eatten salmon and plenty of scat). Oh, the glacier is awesome as well! This tour is limited, so it isn't crowded at all.
It's maybe a 4.5 - loved it, view is great, naturalist provides good information, and the boat is very comfortable. By this point in the trip, I think maybe I was a little numb to all the beauty. Still enjoyed it, but very little wildlife.
We did the White Pass / Yukon trip. White Pass railway was great (5). We sat on the left side going up and got the full, breathtaking view. Narration was very good...learned a lot. Princess then bused us up to a First Nation village, about an hour north. The scenery along the way was great, but the village was...OK. I give this part a 3 to 4. Enjoyed the bus ride back with some great views of the railroad as we came back.