Alaska had been on our bucket list for years, but we were always overloaded with information when trying to decide the best way to see this vast state. Fortunately, our travel agent recommended a Cruisetour and since she had been on several Alaska cruises, I took her advice to book Princess without question. First, a bit about the Cruisetour, because I know most people making the trek to Alaska will at least look at this option. We did a 3 day land tour prior to the cruise, again at our agent's recommendation, and I'm so glad we did. The land tour requires lots of activity - on and off buses, hiking through parks, and early mornings. I'm so glad we did this part of the trip first so that we could relax on the cruise! Our tour started in Anchorage overnight with an early morning bus ride to the Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge the next morning. The next day, we boarded another bus to the Denali Princess Lodge and a day in Denali National Park. The next day, and a highlight of the trip, a 9-hour train ride through the wilderness and on to the ship. I won't go into detail on the lodges and excursions we did there - you can find those reviews on Trip Advisor. Also, while Princess does all that they can to make travel easier for the mobility impaired, this part of the trip did require lots of walking and stair-climbing.
A must for an Alaska cruise is a balcony. Fortunately, the Island Princess has a lot of balcony rooms. As a matter of fact, it looked to us like Princess in general had more balcony rooms than any other ship we saw in port. We chose a mini-suite and were so glad we did. The room was spacious, and the bathroom was huge by cruise ship standards, with a full bathtub/shower combination. Our room was C722, port side aft. There is very little motion felt on an Alaska cruise since the waters are calm and we could barely tell we were moving.
The food was fantastic. We decided on the "Dine Any Time" option. This is a little deceiving - you can't usually just walk in like any restaurant and expect to be seated. You really should make reservations as soon as you get on the ship if possible. Make them for every night! We had two upgraded meals, one in Sabatini's (fantastic!!), and one in Bayou (not worth the upgrade). I enjoy sharing tables with other people and met so many nice people on the ship. However, you can request a table for just your party if you wish. Our dining room was Bordeaux (the one for Dine Any Time) but because we couldn't always get in there for dinner, we were sometimes sent to Provence (the one for timed dining). They have identical menus so that was fine. The meals in the sit-down restaurants were infinitely better than the buffet. It did in a pinch when we wanted to sleep in on sea days.
The excursions were great. We did the sled dog tour in Skagway (puppies!!), the glacier tour with whale watching in Juneau (didn't disappoint!), and the lumberjack show in Ketchikan. Our fellow passengers raved about the flight tours and zip lining. Word of warning: while people will tell you to book excursions on land to save money, we did not see any place where excursions were any cheaper than they were on the ship. Also, the ship will leave you in port if you are not on one of their excursions and you don't make it back to the ship in time to sail! We sailed on 6/11 and while the prices were better than July, we missed the salmon run and, therefore, the bears who often hang out at the rivers and streams to catch them. However, I understand that with July comes mosquitos the size of birds so I considered it an ok tradeoff!
The service was exceptional. Our cabin steward knew our names before we introduced ourselves and he seemed to read our minds when it came to our needs.
The most amazing thing about the entire Cruisetour was how incredibly well Princess handled the logistics of moving people and luggage around the state. Nearly everyone we spoke with was on a different tour before the cruise (and some were touring after) so it's not like everyone's going the same place every day while on land. The first night in Anchorage we were given several sets of luggage tags. One tag went on each bag that was just for the cruise. You say goodbye to that bag until you board the ship, which is a little disconcerting! You're pretty sure you'll never see it again! Then you have tags for the bags that will stay on land with you for the next lodge and you leave them all outside of your door early in the morning. When we arrived at our first lodge, we were given a packet with the next day's tags and again, our bags were picked up early morning and were waiting on us in our next lodge. When we boarded the ship, all of our luggage was already in the stateroom! I've always had to wait hours to get my bags, so to get them early AND to see them all there --- magic.
The only complaint I have - and this applies to every cruise I've ever been on - you begin to feel that the ship is a place where you are a captive audience to the cruise line so that they can continue to make money off of you! I became so weary of all of the sales tactics, the hawkers, and the attempts to push you into stores on land that share a cut with the cruise line. Again, this will most likely happen on any ship!
I highly recommend Princess, Alaska, the Island Princess, and the Cruisetour!