Bear with me as this is a long review. It was our first cruise and I hope to help provide answers to other first time cruisers. I still had some questions about how it all worked before we left. Once I found CC the info it provided was invaluable. It helped with many of our decisions with restaurants and excursions.
We decided to take a Princess Cruisetour to Alaska to celebrate our 30th anniversary. We are both in our early 50's.
We did the land tour first, followed by the cruise SB from Whittier to Vancouver June 6 – June 18. We added an extra day to the land portion by flying into Anchorage a day early. Our flight from Houston to Seattle to Anchorage was uneventful. Because we had decided to pay for transfers, Princess reps met us at the airport.
They were easily recognized as they were standing in the luggage area with a sign reading “Princess”. They sent us over to a Princess desk where we were checked off the list. They handled our luggage and sent us off to the Captain Cook hotel in a motorcoach. Our driver was very friendly and knowledgeable and gave us lots of information about Anchorage. He dropped us off at the Captain Cook where we were met by another Princess rep who handed us a package that had our room key and information about what time we would be leaving for the Mt. McKinley lodge on Wednesday. It also contained information about what time to have our luggage ready to be picked up on Wednesday morning.
I had read some questionable reviews about the Captain Cook hotel on CC, so I was very happy to find it was a fine hotel. There is a lot of wood paneling, but it reminded me of a traditional golf club decor. The room was a reasonable size and the bed was fine. There was a fan in the room to help move the air as there is not any AC. The luggage was delivered to our room about 40 minutes after we arrived.
Although it was 5:30 PM Anchorage time, our stomachs were still on Houston time – 8:30 PM. We walked over to the Glacier Brewhouse – a restaurant we had read about on CC – thanks! Because we were a little early we were able to be seated at a table right away. DH had the parmesan herb crusted halibut and I had the mixed seafood grill (salmon, cod, halibut). Both were delicious including all the sides. We also tried their beers, which were good too. By the time we left a long line had formed to be seated. We were tired so we went back to the hotel and admired our view of Cook’s Inlet and tried to sleep with the sun still high.
On our second day we ate breakfast at Snow City Café just a short walk away from the hotel – another great CC recommendation. The portions were large and very good. I had reindeer sausage for the first time! It decided to rain that day. We knew we would be on a motorcoach for about 4 hours the next day and wanted to stretch our legs after being on the plane the day before. So, we put on our rain jackets and I added my rain hat and off we went to Downtown Bike Rentals located on 4th Ave. Mike fixed us up with 2 nice bikes, gloves and rain boots. He then handed us a map and highlighted several different bike trails for us. We decided to try the Tony Knowles Coastal Bike Trail. It’s paved and runs along Cook’s Inlet. It was easy bike riding for 2 people who haven’t ridden in years. For the most part the trail was pretty flat and very smooth. The scenery was spectacular! Towards the end of the trail we saw a moose sitting in the forest .There were a couple of hills where I had to get off and push my bike, but we made it to mile 8.5 out of 9. (The last ½ mile is all up-hill). We turned around and went back the same way. Even though it rained most of the day, this was lots of fun. It took us about 6 hrs.
That evening we walked over to Humpy’s for dinner. I had halibut fish & chips. DH had a halibut hamburger. Again, both were very good. We then walked over to the Visitors Center and admired all the beautiful flowers and hanging baskets that were everywhere. That night even though the sun was still shining we were physically tired enough to sleep.
We were up early our 3rd day in Anchorage. Luggage was suppose to be picked up at 6 AM inside our room.
We had decided to bring 2 large pieces of luggage and each had a small carry-on. Before leaving Houston we had dedicated 1 suitcase to our cruise clothes and 1 suitcase to our land clothes. We put the appropriate tags on the suitcases and they were taken away. Our motorcoach ride to the McKinley Lodge was interesting. We had another knowledgeable and interesting driver who helped to make the time fly by.
We loved the Princess Mt. McKinley Lodge! The setting is spectacular! The lodge is rustic and it seemed not very crowded. We live in a large metropolitan area and it was nice to get away from it all and into nature. We had promised ourselves some downtime so we did not plan any excursions at the lodge.
For an unknown reason the Princess rep did not have our packet of information (room key etc.) when we departed the motorcoach. She directed us to the Tour Desk and we were quickly and courteously taken care of and our packet was delivered to us. We were in a cabin close to the main lodge. Our room had 2 double beds and rustic looking furniture. I believe that‘s the norm. Again, no AC, but a ceiling fan and room fan were available. The room was fine and the beds comfortable. As we were hungry we ate at the Grizzly Bar Club in the main lodge. The food was good and we split a large hamburger platter. Afterwards we hiked the three hiking trails that surround the lodge and took some great photos. The Hilltop Trail was our favorite. The desk clerk had given us a great suggestion of beginning that trail at its end and ending at the beginning because of the initial steepness. We were glad we took her suggestion. The beginning of the trail is very steep and rugged. However you walk it - the views are worth all the effort. We returned to our room just as our luggage was being delivered – we had been there about 4 hours.
We returned to the main lodge to sit on the deck and see if “the mountain” would peek out of the clouds surrounding it. We did see various parts of it clear over the next several hours. One of our favorite memories is realizing we were totally alone on the deck because it was dinner time and everyone had gone to the various restaurants. We went inside to the Grizzly Bar and asked if we could have beer, wine and an appetizer brought to the side deck where we were sitting. They were delighted to accommodate us. So, for about an hour we had the side deck to ourselves while we drank beer & wine and ate a delicious crab & artichoke dip. It was so beautiful and quiet!
Our 4th day we left beautiful Mt. McKinley lodge and motorcoached to the Denali Princess lodge. The luggage was picked up outside our room at 7 AM and we left the lodge about 2 PM. Again the ride was enjoyable and the driver gave some great information about the area we were driving through. We arrived at the Denali lodge about 4:15 PM – were met by a rep who gave us our packet of information and room key. We hurried to our room where our luggage was already waiting for us. We had signed up for the Black Diamond ATV excursion that left at 5:30 PM. They pulled up in a bus at the lodge’s main entrance exactly on time. The bus ride took about 20 minutes to the ATV place. We watched a safety video, put on rain suits, goggles & helmets, got on our ATV’s and took off. Neither one of us had ever ridden an ATV before. It was so much fun! We had about 10 people and 2 guides in our group. Great excursion in another beautiful location. It was about 9 PM when we returned to the lodge. We were hungry so we ate at the Base Camp Bistro located on the Princess Denali Lodge. We ordered the Alaskan crabburger platter. Again, the food was delicious and the service was fast and friendly.
The next day was our Tundra Wilderness Tour into Denali National Park. We were picked up at 6 AM in front of the main lodge. The bus is more a school bus than a motorcoach. Our driver was an Alaskan who used to commercial fish and was now a dog musher. She brought her team to Denali Natl. Park during the winter and very extremely knowledgeable. We drove to mile 53 in the park and saw lots of wildlife – bear, caribou, rabbit, coyote, moose, dall sheep etc. The park is starkly beautiful. Once we reached the tundra I felt like we were on another planet. I’ve never seen scenery like that before. We are glad we did the tour, but would not do it a second time. Nine hours was too long and it was too cramped even with the stops to shake your legs out. My husband is tall and he was very uncomfortable. The drive left us exhausted and we were ready to get away from all the people. However, as the Denali lodge is so big and there are so many people it’s impossible to do. We did walk across the highway over to the Salmon Bake for dinner. I had halibut fish & chips and DH had halibut tacos. Again good, but I thought the Base Camp Bistro was better and cleaner.
Our 5th day was the train day and we loved it. First we were motorcoached from the lodge to the train station that is near the entrance to Denali National Park. We were in Railcar 2 and everyone had assigned seats. There are 4 people to a table, 2 on both sides (2 facing forward and 2 facing backwards with the table in the middle) As our tablemates arrived first we ended up sitting in the backwards seats, but it didn’t make a difference. The view was great. We spent 9 hours on the train and enjoyed every minute of it. Made several trips to the viewing platform and walked our way to the back of the train and stood on the caboose for a long time. We ate in the dining cars and enjoyed the food. We thought the scenery was great, saw lots of bever dams (which is new to us) and it was interesting going through the various cities. Towards the end of the trip a Princess representative walked through each railcar and checked everyone onto the ship. When we arrived in Whittier, we waited our turn to disembark from the train, walked into the terminal, went through the security line and then we were on the Coral Princess.Once on board, we received our ship card and were on our way to our suite. It was all handled very quickly and smoothly.
The Coral Princess is a beautiful ship and it is very easy to find your way around – even for first-timers. Our suite was beautiful and our luggage was already waiting for us. Two weeks before the cruise we were upgraded from our AA minisuite to a premium suite. We were booked in the Bali Suite, C628. It was lovely and very spacious. It was 2 rooms, the living area and the bedroom. It had a spacious bathroom with a full size glassed in shower and a full size whirlpool bathtub. The balcony ran the length of the suite and had lots of room. Lots of perks come with a suite and we enjoyed as many as possible. ?
We met our steward, Ricky, and he informed us that the muster drill would begin shortly and how to find our way to our appointed lounge. Muster sounded and the whole process ran very smoothly and was over in ½ hr. Supper was being served in the Main Dining Room for anyone interested, but we went up to the Horizon Court hoping to beat the crowds. Again, the food was fine and I was delighted to find a small salad bar and some fresh fruit.
DH and I are not picky eaters and thoroughly enjoyed all the food the entire trip. We had selected the first dining time at Traditional Dining. Our tablemates were great and everyone enjoyed meeting each other and discussing what we had already seen and what excursions we were going to do and then we discussed how much fun we had on our excursions. Our waiters were great and always gave suggestions as to what they thought were the best selections of the day. Also, a large majority of the ship dressed up for both formal nights. Probably more cocktail dressing than “formal”, but it was fun to see everyone looking so nice. In fact, in the Traditional Dining Room everyone dressed very nice each evening. I never saw anyone wearing blue jeans/t-shirts to dinner. Maybe that happens more in the Anytime Dining Room. One night we were tired after returning from our excursion so we got pizza/hamburgers from the Pizzeria/Grill on the Lido deck and then took them back to our room. That pizza was delicious! One night we ate at Sabatini’s. That was a real treat – so many courses and so delicious! We really enjoyed it, but probably wouldn’t do it again because it was way too much food for us and we were so uncomfortable afterwards. Friends gifted us with a champagne breakfast and that was fun to eat in our room one morning. We also enjoyed the shows every evening. Get there early, the seats fill up quickly.
On the day we cruised Glacier Bay we spent a lot of time on the “secret” deck on the Caribe deck – thanks CC!. Very few people were out there. It was cold and we were glad we had brought gloves, hats, and layers! We got very close to some of the glaciers, but there was little calving going on that day. Being from southeast Texas it was thrilling to see ice floating in the water. Saw lots of birds, bald eagles, seals, otters and a couple of whale tails. We spent most of the day with friends we had made on the land portion of the cruise. In fact, we found it very easy to talk to people on the cruise. Everyone was happy and on vacation.
Skagway was our first port. All of our excursions were made through Princess and my favorite was our Skagway excursion. We did a heli-hike-train adventure by Packer Expeditions. Our guides met us on the dock holding up signs that read “Heli-hike-train”. There were 12 in our group plus 2 guides. First, we took about a 20 minute helicopter ride (6 per helicopter) above the Skagway valley and mountains. We got a close up look at the Laughton glacier. Wow! It was great! They landed up the valley on helicopter pads beside the train tracks and next to the Tongass National Forest. The guides gave us some bottled water and trail snacks. We hiked into the forest for about 3 miles in and then back. It was a pretty smooth trail and easy to moderate hike. There were plenty of stops as the guides explained the plants in the forest. For most of the way we hiked beside a glacier fed river. Got some absolutely beautiful photos. There was a bathroom at the half way point in the hike. We hiked back out the same way and ended up beside the train tracks. We waited about 15 minutes before the train stopped for us on their way back down the mountain to Skagway. Packer has reserved the last railcar – so we had it all to ourselves. We were on the train for about 25 minutes and the guides fed us some salmon pate they had made. Delicious! The whole excursion took about 4 hours. When we reached Skagway we made our way into town. However, 3 other cruise ships had docked while we were on our excursion and the town was extremely crowded. Too much for us, so we went back to the ship for a nice nap!
The next day we docked at Juneau. We had decided to tour ourselves and not take any excursions. Thanks to CC we knew to take the MGT bus out to Mendenhall Glacier. We walked off the ship and a short way down the dock found a vendor selling MGT tickets. Very easy! A 20 minute bus drive left us off at Mendenhall. We walked down to Nugget Falls and got a close-up view of the falls and the glacier. It took about 10 – 15 minutes to walk to the Falls and the trail was smooth and easy. Again, Wow! Afterwards, we caught the bus back to Juneau. I was looking for a famous organ for a music friend. We found it in the Juneau State Building. If you are there on a Friday during the summer, they give free organ performances. After taking photos for my friend, we wandered out onto the huge observation deck adjacent to the building. We had a great view of the harbor, the ship, and the mountains. We got to watch a seaplane coming in for a landing. Then it was off for some souvenir shopping. Thanks to CC, we found the best shopping in Juneau.
Ketchikan was our last port. Our excursion took the entire time, so we did not get to tour the city. This was DH’s favorite excursion. I liked it too. It was the “Alaskan Wilderness Fishing & Dining Adventure”. We were met at the dock by our guide and walked over to the docks. There we bought fishing licenses and were outfitted in rubber rain suits and boots. If you take this excursion make sure you wear plenty of warm clothing/hat/gloves and a rain jacket of some type! It’s cold when your boat is skimming across the Inlet. There were 4 guests and a guide per boat. We fished for about 2 ½ hrs. and everyone in the boat caught fish. We caught rockfish, cod and a halibut. We also saw whales in the water. After catching the fish, our guide took us to an island where an outdoor kitchen was set up. There was also a campfire with coffee, hot chocolate or tea. A bathroom (sorta) is also available. We met up with some other cruisers also on the excursion. We all had stories to tell. There were 4 other women – one in her late 60’s. Our guide filleted our fish which were then made into a delicious fish stew. For dessert we had a blueberry bread pudding. When we left the island to head back to the dock our guide brought the fish carcasses. At a certain point he threw the carcasses into the water and a bald eagle launched out of a tree and swooped down and caught it in his talons. Wow!
We enjoyed our last day at sea - spending lots of time on our balcony relaxing. Disembarkation in Vancouver the next day went very smoothly. We were called to our lounge and then escorted off the ship. We had a transfer to the airport and were put on a motorcoach and driven there. No hiccups! The longest line we had to wait in was to pick up our luggage in the airport. We went through customs and then waited for our plane to take us back to Texas. We had a most wonderful vacation and can’t wait to do it again.