We arrived in Vancouver the afternoon before our cruise and stayed in the Hotel Le Soleil, a boutique hotel just 3 blocks to Canada Place. Getting to the hotel from the airport is a breeze now that the Sky Train is operating. It delivers you right to downtown/Canada Place. The fare in Canadian Dollars is $2.50 per person. Our hotel was comfortable, and the staff very attentive. For dinner, the concierge booked a table for us at Cardero's, which serves excellent seafood at their charming waterfront location. If you like beer, try the Russel Cream Ale.
The next day, after touring the Gaslight District and North Vancouver by ferry, we headed to the ship and began embarkation around 1:10pm. It was a snap. We were on the ship in minutes. We found our stateroom easily, and were pleased with the amenities and layout. Compared to other ships, we found that the shower on the Island is so teeny tiny that if you drop the soap, you would bend over out in to the bath area. It wasn't More
a problem for us, and made for some good jokes. We did ask for, and receive, an eggcrate. The mattress was not only firm, but had obviously seen some (ahem) heavy use.
We found our stateroom attendant to be one of the best we've had in years. After requesting ice from room service the first evening, we found fresh ice replaced in our refrigerator automatically every day. In the last few years, we've had to go out of our way to remind our room attendants to refresh the ice, so we were very happy to have this done for us without asking.
Food in the main dining was very good. We chose anytime dining and never had to wait for a table. The first formal night, we ate at the Bayou Restaurant and it was worth every dime. In the Bordeaux Room, we always asked for a table for two, and except for two nights, it worked out. On the second formal night, they "only had tables for large groups" so we agreed to sit at a table for ten. We were the only two people at the table in formal attire. While the others were not exactly dressed in blue jeans, they certainly weren't dressed up either. We felt kind of silly sitting there all dressed up, but we did enjoy the evening and our companions. The last night of the cruise (baked alaska night), we were again told there were no tables for two, so we agreed to share a table. Big mistake. We soon learned we were seated with the tablemate from hell. I realize now we should have asked to be reseated before the appetizer arrived, but as the dining room was packed, we tried to brave it out. Have you ever had to dine with a person who just will not shut up, monopolizes the "conversation", interrupts everyone, talks, at high decibels, with their mouths full, and if that isn't bad enough, as a grande finale, launches into a high volume 10 minute political tirade, complete with random quotes from Limbaugh and O'Reilly? By now of course, everyone else at the table was reduced to a mute numbness, so in a sense, you could say it was riveting, kind of like watching a slow train wreck or a cobra winding up. However, after a couple of minutes, for the sake of our peace of mind and sanity, we began quietly talking between ourselves as if this person did not exist. I do acknowledge this is bad table manners, but we thought under the circumstances it was more dignified than jumping up from the table and asking to be reseated in the middle of a meal. When she finally figured out we were not attending to her disquisition, dinner was over and we quickly high tailed it to the show. I do think this person was the exception rather than the rule, and we just had the bad luck to be seated there. We really enjoyed the passengers we met on this cruise, and had lots of good times both in the Horizon Court dining, the excellent excursions, topside with everyone looking at the grandeur of an Alaskan sky, and all of us laughing and marveling at the antics of the whales, otters, and birds we saw everywhere. It was a remarkably peaceful cruise, with very few children on board. The few kids we saw behaved like angels.
Entertainment was OK. Our favorite was the jazz band in the Bayou. The atrium was packed every night on every level with people having a blast with the piano bar guy. He was very popular. We usually turned in early since we were up at dawn every morning for wildlife viewing. I did enjoy the cruise directors. They were funnier than the hired comedians. They do an early riser show every morning on the TV complete with puppets....
Lots of excellent wildlife viewing, plenty of scenery, and a very lucky break with the weather. All the mountains stood out in perfect clarity behind the glaciers. It was breathtaking, and people were out on deck until quite late, taking in every last moment of daylight.
Disembarkation in Whittier was also a breeze. They have this thing very well organized. We were off the ship by 8am, and found our luggage without a hitch.
We are very pleased with Princess, as this was our 12th cruise, but our first time on Princess. I would describe this cruise as the best value for our money in a long time. Service was attentive, food was quite good, staterooms were great, ship was just beautiful and well designed and easy to navigate.
We took a float plane out to the Taku Lodge, flying over the ice fields. Amazing. The lodge is only accessible by plane, and is surrounded by wilderness. We enjoyed the food and good stories. In the morning, we floated down the Mendenhall River on a raft. Lots of fun, and be prepared to get wet.
We took a tour called the wilderness crab feast. Very entertaining. I donated at least a pint of blood to the local mosquitos there. Bring repellent! We did see a little bear with a fish in his mouth right by the shore of George Inlet. Then, we headed to a lodge and gorged ourselves on fresh crab.
Just get off the ship and climb aboard the train that takes you up the White Pass. It was spectacular. In the afternoon, we took a ferry to Haines, and traveled up the river to take a jet boat up in to the Eagle Wilderness Preserve. We thought that was a great excursion. We did see lots of Bald Eagles. Another group went to a different river to watch the bears eating the migrating salmon and saw all the bear you could ask for. They even have one bear who has to wear a radio collar because he's been a bad boy. He was there, but too busy gobbling down fish to bother with pesky people.
We rented a car in Whittier (Avis only) and drove down to Seward where we got on a cruise around the Kenai Peninsula. We got up close to a large pod of Killer Whales, lots of puffins, otters, kittiwakes, and finally, right up under this huge glacier. When you see the icebergs up close and personal, you sure get a good idea why the captain wants to avoid bumping in to them. The glacier calved many times when we were there, and the waves made this boat rock. We saved our best excursion for last. We spent the night at the Princess Kenai Lodge, then headed for Anchorage the next day. We spotted Beluga whales in Turnabout Sound, and some swans that were swimming around in a marsh.