We have been back from our Alaska cruise for 2 weeks and it is all I can think about. This was our 5th cruise, 2nd on Princess, and it was the best vacation we have ever been on.
Some basic information. There were 10 of us. 6 adults, 4 children, ranging in age from 2 to 11. We had about 8% of the kids on the boat in our party, and the crew was very friendly to them, and went out of their way to make them feel comfortable.
We took the northbound Coral Princess from Vancouver to Whitter.
We flew across the country to Vancouver, and spent 3.5 days in a very wonderful city. If you are considering this cruise, it is well worth the money to get a hotel in the downtown area and make the most of Vancouver.
Boarding at Canada Place took 30 minutes.
We departed and headed North.
Ketchican was the first stop on day 3. Great little city, and a lot of fun to visit. We booked a tour at a shop right off the boat, and for very little, we got a great 2 hour tour of the area with a stop at the Saxman's village. We got to see over a dozen bald eagles, totem poles and learn about Alaska. One note, we only got to stay in town for about 5 hours with the boat. The southbound cruise spends the whole day there.
Juneau was the second stop. We took a taxi out to Mendenhall Glacier. It is the one thing you have to see in this town. It cost $40 for the ride out, which we found out was less expensive than the $8 per person we paid for a very uninspiring bus ride back into town. Do yourself a favor, take a taxi in Alaska. The four or five times we had occasion to take a taxi, they were like guided tours of the country. I have never met a population base that is more proud or more knowledgeable of the state they live in.
After returning we walked around town shopping, went to the Red Dog saloon for drinks and did all the things you are supposed to do when you are in port.
Our third stop was Skagway. My wife, my daughter and my personal favorite on the trip. We got a bus tour off the boat that includes Liarsville for panning for gold, a trip up to the Canadian border, a tour of the town and a visit to the cemetery to visit Soapy Smith's grave. Well worth it. The other 7 in our party did the train trip, and they reported that it was well worth the money they spent. We would have done the train, but we were already booked on a 9 hour train ride to Denali later that week. We were happy with our decision, since we got off the bus about 15 times to take pictures.
Glacier bay and College Fjord were the highlight of the trip. We had a mini suite with a balcony, and it was worth the money. Normally we do an interior and are happy, but with this cruise, I bet we sat up on the balcony till midnight every night watching the mountains pass us by.
We disembarked without issue at 8:15 am (I might add that I was on the balcony watching whales as we came into port and ended up going to bed after we docked. It is that light at night with the longest day of summer only 5 days away.
The train trip to Denali was great! I heard a bunch of people complaining about the length, but we considered it a 9 hour excursion and enjoyed the view. I would highly recommend it.
Denali was wonderful. Wish we spend 2 days there, so we could do a longer trip into the park. McKinley was wonderful too. We did horseback riding and got to see a moose and her calf's up close.
We spent 1 day in Anchorage and that was enough. We were tired, and 14 days was plenty for us.
Now, I read the reviews before every cruise, and always wonder why people don't give me notes and hints of things, so here I go.
1) Try to book on the right side of the ship. The view going north is better, and you get to see the second highest mountain in North America on your side of the ship (if it is not clouded in).
2) Go to the late show. The early shows were packed and filled early. The late shows were always 50% empty. I think it was because the average age of a person on our boat was 57.
3) With 43 kids on the boat, our kids got kids camp to themselves. The 5 year old had 2 kids in camp. The 9 year old had 7. The 11 year old had 10. They had a lot of fun and even though it was Alaska and the passengers were older, that portion of the cruise was designed towards them.
4) Spend at least 2 days in Vancouver
5) When in McKinley, take 4 hours to go to Tellkenta (including the 2 hour bus trip). It is worth it. Also, try the Man vs Food Challenge while you are there. 2 lbs of salmon burger and 6 lbs of fries!
6) Bring Binoculars! We had 3 pair for our cabin and they were 10x. If I had to do it again, I would buy one really nice pair.
7) GO IN EARLY JUNE! Less kids, since the northern schools are still in session. At one point, our guide told us that in 3 weeks, the spotted snow would melt in the mountains around us. The most beautiful time is in early June while the mountains are dotted with snow. Also, the bugs are a lot less. It got to 75 one day and the 27 varieties of mosquitos came out and I swear some of them are as big as flies.
8) Do not pack shorts. On the balcony at night I needed a sweater, jacket and gloves. It gets windy and our North Face's and Helly Hanson jackets cut it very well. Also, every store in Alaska sells fleece sweaters at $15 each. Pack light and get them there for next to nothing. You will need layers.
9) Get a whale watching cruise out of Anchorage. They know what they are doing. They found humpbacks, killer whales, seals, eagles, and otters. Very worth the money.
10) Go ahead and buy the Ulu knife. It is the fishing knife of Alaska, and I wondered what to do with it when I got home. I use quite a bit. Thanks Rachel Ray!
11) Get the balcony for this one. Worth the money.
12) Bring a bathing suit. The pools are heated inside and out and the hot tubs at night are perfect for Movie under the Stars (which you need to bundle up for if you lay outside - not to say that they are really under the stars, since it is light the entire time the movie is on. Seriously, it never gets truly dark).
13) Get a video camera. I wish I had packed one for the glaciers. When they crack and fall, it is loud and spectacular.
14) Do not book the roundtrip out of Seattle. You miss the best parts of the trip - Glacier bay and College Fjord.
15) Sail north - The trip builds everyday you go more north. The days get a little longer, and the sights get a little more fantastic. I think a sailing south to Vancouver would have been a let down.
Ok, I hope these help.
Now for the things I did not like about this cruise. The service is mediocre in everywhere except for the main dining room, and our ship steward. it was especially bad at the Lido deck buffet. The food was good, but some of it was seriously overcooked - everything tended to be dry. Not nearly as good as the Crown Princess. I might add that this was is in sharp contrast to the food in the lodges which was perfect. The boat pulled into College Fjord at 5:30 pm. It was still very light out, but we were at the early seating. So we had to skip dinner with our family to watch the glaciers. This should have been planned better. 12 hours in port at Juneau and Skagway? Come on, everyone was on board after 6 hours. There is only so much you can do in a town that is 5 blocks wide by 10 blocks deep (that is including the non-tourist areas in Skagway). Take the boat out earlier and cruise the inside passage - it is what we came to see.
As I said in the beginning, this was the best vacation I have ever been on. It is truly that unique and that breathe taking.