This trip is part of a larger quest or journey through history which will also include cruises in the Mediterranean and the Panama Canal, all to be completed within a 4 month time-frame.
The Alaska leg will represent our look into the deep past. Animal and plant life of all kinds and how they adapt and thrive in their environments. A look at early man's culture that was established here as he crossed over from Russia during the last ice age thousands of years ago on his way to the new world. The Mediterranean portion will represent our look at ancient Egypt and Rome. Also the birth of western civilization in Greece and Turkey. In the Panama Canal cruise, we will explore one of the crowning technological achievements of man. After these trips are over, I hope to have a better understanding of where we came from and maybe where we might be going in the future.
In terms of Alaska, we took four guided tours all provided by princess. I will provide detailed reviews of these as well as descriptions of what we did at each port. If you don't know already, this cruise visits several ports that cannot be done on the 7 day Alaska cruises. This gave us a chance to really slow down and take in as much as possible...food that is.
Day 1 - VANCOUVER(clouds and some rain): We flew in a day early from LAX and stayed overnight at the Four Seasons. By the way, at this time, Vancouver airport makes LAX look like a slum. It is a good looking airport. The Four Seasons is a very nice hotel and is anchored to a shopping mall (Pacific Center Mall) which we enjoyed. There is a food court in the mall and it had some pretty good food. If you like a good salad bar, the food court has one that was great. I spent some time just people watching at the mall and was struck by how the people here look pretty much like what I would expect in an American mall, but something seemed different. After further review I determined that these people behave much different than what I am used to. They are much more quiet as they go about their business. We also took a walk around town and felt very safe even at night.
Well, despite all this, at this time I cannot recommend this hotel. The problem is not the hotel itself but the construction noise that is going on outside of it. You see, Vancouver is going "condo crazy" right now. There are building projects going on almost everywhere in the city and two big projects are going on right across the street from the Four Seasons. The noise does stop at night, but picks up again fairly early in the morning. I also noticed that the room did not have a sprinkler system in case fire broke out. It did have an alarm and an escape route, but being on the top floor made me a little nervous about this.
Day 2 - EMBARKATION(mostly sunny): We were the only cruise ship at the pier and getting on-board was very easy. Dropped by the room to check it out and then went to the Panorama Buffet for lunch. Food was superb. Lamb Shanks, rice, small salad bar and a great fruit bar. The fruit was consistently good for the entire cruise. The salad bar was ok. It lacked some things that I am used to seeing at a salad bar such as broccoli and cauliflower. The people working the buffet are very helpful and will go out of their way to help you.
After lunch we walked around to get a feel for the ship. It takes about an hour to figure out where everything is. Every time we passed by a crew member we were greeted with a smile and a hello.
SHIP, SHOPPING, PEOPLE, ETC:
Cabin: Typical cabin configuration. Perfect for two people. Shower was quite small. Worlds thinnest toilet paper. I have not used a hair dryer since the disco era, but my wife says the blow dryer in the bathroom worked fine.
Balcony was just the right size although the dividers between balconies need to be replaced. These balconies are NOT private. There are large gaps on the edges of the dividers. For the Alaska cruise it was not a big issue because it was too cold most of the time to be out on it.
Nickel and Dime: I found no reason to purchase the Coffee or Soda card for this trip. They offer all the free regular coffee, tea you can drink. I also found it a benefit that the soda was not free. I drank water during meals which is much healthier. Don't bother with the free orange juice. It tastes like bad water.
The shopping lectures are used to try to get you to purchase some kind of VIP Referral Card. Go to the lectures to get the shopping maps, but don't fall for anything else unless you are here to spend big bucks on diamonds etc.
Beware of the "free seminars" that are put on by the Lotus Spa. They use them to sell and up-sell you on their products and services. I listened to a couple of their "detox" seminars as I was working out and it is a lot of nonsense. Let me give you advice on how to stay fit- Eat right, exercise and drink plenty of water. That's all you need to know. You cannot "pay" your way to a healthy lifestyle. It takes work on your part.
The ship photos they take of you while you are on-board are so overpriced that it will make you laugh. Just bring your own camera.
People: I would guess that the average passenger age on this trip was at least 65, and I would not have it any other way. We met the most interesting people who all had a great story to tell. I am a younger baby-boomer and it was an honor and privilege to be seen with so many people who, by the way, saved the world from tyranny. I would also have to say that most of the passengers on-board probably did not lack for money.
Day 3 - AT SEA(cloudy, some rain, rough sea): Buffet breakfast(stay away from the scrambled eggs, the omelet station should be used instead), Ping Pong after breakfast, first formal night. Lunch buffet was excellent - roast beef and mashed potatoes.
Day 4 - KETCHIKAN(drizzle, overcast): We did not have any tour scheduled here so we went into town for some shopping and a kind store-owner told us how close creek street was and how to get there. He also told us that if you just keep walking you will reach a park and trails leading up to a hatchery and waterfalls in the hills. We did not make it that far, but totally enjoyed our walk which went along side a creek with running salmon. This free self-guided tour is all you need here if you please.
DINING: Early seating is 5:45 and late is 8 pm. We had early and it was great from a "people we met" perspective, but not from a timing one. Many times we were full when we went to dinner. To tell you the truth, I am beginning to think that fixed dining times should be done away with all together. Did I start a controversy?? LOL! Oh BTW, make sure to try the hot dogs that are prepared at the grill outside near the pool. They are very good.
Day 5 - GLACIER BAY(cloudy, some clear skies as day went on): Most people would probably find this a satisfying day, but not me. I was left a little disappointed. The most likely reason for this is that I was on an Alaskan cruise some 13 years ago and had a much different Glacier Bay experience. Back then, we got into Glacier Bay much earlier in the day, stayed longer, and got up close and personal with more glaciers. On this cruise, you get up close for an extended period of time with only one glacier. The rest of this day seemed rushed. They bring a naturalist on board who talks over the speakers about what we are seeing. They had to drop him off at the end of the day and maybe this is one of the reasons things seemed rushed. It also could have something to do with new regulations in Glacier Bay regarding how much time a cruise ship can spend there. I am really not sure.
The main point I want to tell you is that if you come on a cruise to Alaska, don't expect to get your fill of glaciers on this day. You might want to think about booking some tours that visit some of the glaciers to make up for it. One last note - on this day it would have been better to have had a port-side balcony.
Day 6- SKAGWAY(clouds, some wind and rain): We took the Princess tour called Glacier Point Wilderness Safari. This is the most expensive tour we took and it turned out to be the best. We were also lucky in that there were only 8 people on this tour. You get in a high-speed catamaran boat for a 45 minute ride to Glacier Point. As you get off the boat, you feel like you are really in an unspoiled Alaskan environment. The tour guides live here during the summer in a small encampment. We board a bus for a short ride to the staging area where we suit up in their boots and raingear. We then proceed on a hike through the rainforest and make our way down to the canoes...... I am going to stop there so I don't spoil it for you. If you have physical limitations then this tour may not be for you.
Day 7 - AT SEA(partial clouds, calm seas): A day to relax and reflect on the amazing tour from the previous day.
TYPICAL MORNINGS: Most days start out quite early for me. I make the 30 second trek up to the Buffet area for heavy doses of coffee. As one eye starts to open, I make contact with my fellow early-birds. Sometimes we nod to each other and sometimes a conversation takes place. Most people I met on this trip were part of the WWII war effort. A nuclear scientist, a missile engineer, a navy gunner who's mothers advice to him before he went over there was to "always stand sideways". As I reflect on these meetings, I feel slightly ashamed at the fact that I spent most of my youth having a good time while they spent them fighting and dying so I could have that good time.
Day 8 - VALDEZ(partial clouds): We took the Princess tour called Columbia Glacier Cruise. This is a fairly long tour and should have been named something else. We only got within 10 miles of the Columbia Glacier due to a massive ice field that got in the way. After going to this area, we spent a lot of time going around looking for whales and other wildlife. The trip was just ok until we found a pod of Orcas. The captain got us real close and this made the trip worth it.
Back in port we noticed Salmon everywhere. People where fishing off a very short pier and pulling in some massive ones.
On this night, one of the options at dinner is the Texas Prime Rib. For you meat lovers, I highly recommend it.
Day 9 - SEWARD(clouds, cool): We took a Princess tour called Best Of Seward. I don't know why it's called this because this tour has one purpose and that is to get you up to Exit Glacier. It is well worth it for that aspect. If you can make it all the way up the path, you will get very close to a glacier that is receding at an alarming rate. The tour guides are a married couple who also drive the bus. The lady who was our driver talked more about her personal life than she did about Seward. You will not learn much about the city on this tour, but you will love getting so close to a glacier. One note about the staging area where the bus drops you off - there are a lot of little flying bugs that bothered some people. You might want to try some of that bug repellent on this tour. Also, if you have physical limitations, you will have a very hard time getting all the way to the glacier.
Day 10 - Kodiak(sunny, perfect weather): We took a Princess tour called Best Of Kodiak. This tour mostly went to very small, somewhat uninteresting museums. The real highlight of this tour is when we all go to the local high school and are treated to a show by a local boys and girls club. All in all I would say that this tour is probably worth it. There is a bus driver and a guide who gives you tons of info about Kodiak.
Day 11 - AT SEA(perfect weather): Crossing the Gulf Of Alaska on our way to Juneau. This is the second formal night.
SHIP ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT: We did not participate in many of the activities as published in the Princess Patter, but it looked like they had plenty of games and lectures etc. You will not find wild competitions by the pool or many of the things found on the larger ships. We went to three of the shows at night that involved the Tahitian Princess Singers and Dancers. They were quite superb. Near the end of the cruise they will have a Behind The Scenes tour and I really enjoyed this.
Do not take a cruise on this ship, especially to Alaska expecting wild times. You will be disappointed if that's what your looking for. If you like the feeling that you are in a country club with a few friends, then you will love the environment here.
Day 12 - JUNEAU (foggy & clouds early): No tour scheduled today so we went shopping. There is a store across from the port called Alaska Shirt Company or something like that. It is very crowded. The reason why is that they beat everyone else on price for what they sell - mainly Alaska souvenirs. Funny how the shopping guy from our ship missed telling us about this store. I guess he does not have an "agreement" with them.
Day 13 - SITKA (clouds and rain): There is no port here to handle the big ships so they use the lifeboats to bring people to the harbor. You should try it because you get to see just how fancy the lifeboats are.
As soon as we got off the lifeboat, we were greeted by some locals handing out maps etc. Come to find out there is a national park within walking distance. This park is basically a thick rain forest with trails that surrounds a river that Salmon will run in. The trails also contain totem poles. You will eventually reach a point where a bridge crosses over the river. From here you can see the Salmon running up stream. This was quite and experience and we did not make it to all the trails, but if you do not have a tour scheduled in Sitka, than this is the place to go. Cost = 0.
We were going to do some shopping after this but it started raining pretty heavy so we headed back to the boat.
After leaving Sitka, we went out into the open ocean for out trip down to Victoria and the seas got very rough. My wife got sick right before Baked Alaskan at dinner, so I took her back to the room and got some Dramamine for her. She fell asleep and I stayed up most of the night as the room creaked and swayed.
RAIN GEAR: You are more than welcome to spend hundreds of dollars on fancy rain-gear, but all you really need is one of those cheap 6 dollar ponchos in terms of rain protection. It worked perfectly fine for us in rainy Sitka and anywhere else as well.
Day 14 - AT SEA (calm seas): Very nice day at sea and the third and final formal night. It was during this day that I realized that our cruise will soon be over and I wondered where all the days had gone. Not too much time to think about it because we were treated to constant dolphin sightings throughout the day right off our balcony. This transitioned into whale sightings as well and at dinner we all got a whale show as we sat at our tables.
This day also brought out the sunshine and the whole attitude of the ship seemed to changed. Amazing what a little sunshine can do.
Day 15 - VICTORIA (perfect sunny skies): What a perfect day...ooops, wait. The ship got into port about 3 pm and for some very odd and ridiculous reason, many tours were scheduled to start about the same time. Can you figure out what happened next? That's right! Normally calm and peaceful people were quarreling with each other to get off the ship through no fault of their own. I should of known this would happen. Princess did such a good job for too long. Something had to go wrong and today was the day.
There were a lot of frayed nerves and tempers not only trying to get off the boat, but in trying to figure out which tour bus we were suppose to go on. Some buses had the proper sign in front of them which showed the tour name AND number, and some did not. We actually got on the wrong bus and were kicked off. We finally found our bus and were on our way to a tour called Enchanted Butchart Gardens.
The bus driver was really funny I guess, some people were laughing, but I think many of us were still steaming at the mistake that Princess made. I did not calm down until I got a chance to see beauty at its finest. Butchart Gardens is a must see, even for tough guys. As we made our way around the park by ourselves, the stress from what happened earlier faded very quickly. There are so many plants and flowers and the weather was perfect that the air filled with their scent. The way things work is that the bus driver will give us all an entrance ticket and then ask us all to be back at the bus in two hours, so you can explore on your own.
If you take a cruise to Alaska and it includes Victoria then you really need to see this place if you have not already. On the way back to port, the driver gave us a nice tour of the city and he deserved the tip I gave him.
Day 16 - VANCOUVER (fair skies): We made it back into Vancouver port about 7 am and it did not take long to get off the boat. The key to disembarkation is to stay in your room as long as possible. I think maybe some people did have to wait a little longer than expected before getting off the boat. It took some time to get back to the airport because of all the construction going on in the city, so if you make your own flight than you should take that into account.
We had lunch in Vancouver airport and the flight was very nice. Right outside my window I got several pictures of some volcanoes on the way back to LAX.
SUMMARY: This was a great cruise made even better by the people we met. One way you know your having a good cruise is when you go to dinner and then all of a sudden, two hours have passed by and it's time to go. We had wonderful table mates at dinner.