5 days land tour from Anchorage, Mt McKinley, Mt Denali, ending in Whittier.
7 days cruise through the Inside Passage, visiting Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay, Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan, arriving Vancouver on July 16.
We flew Air Canada from Toronto to Anchorage, with a 2 hour lay-over in Vancouver. We arrived in Anchorage around 1:30pm. I was expecting someone from Princess Guest Service to meet us. No one came so we took a cab to Hotel Captain Cook ($25). Once we got there, we were sent from Guest Registration to other part of the hotel, where a Princess Guest Service table was set up. A Princess tour bus soon arrived. I am almost certain that we should have been picked up by the same tour bus, because our room keys and our tour tickets were on that bus.
We found out later that the Princess Guest Service desk was set up in Baggage Claim area 3, and our Baggage came out in area 5. So if you book a Princess Land Tour in Alaska, look beyond your area for their Guest Service desk. They won't look for you, and they won't meet you at the point where you get off the plane.
We were on our own that afternoon. We visited the Anchorage Museum and took a Trolley Tour around town. The museum is on C Street, within walking distance of the hotel which is on K Street (0.6 mile from hotel, 11-12 minutes walk). The Trolley Tour started on F Street, next to the Visitors Centre (look for a log cabin). Admission to the Museum costs $12/pp, while the Trolley Tour costs $15/pp. The Museum is open from 9am to 6pm every day and until 9pm on Thursdays. Being 4th of July, it closed at 5pm that day. You don't need to rent a car for most out-of-downtown attractions because so many places run free shuttle, including Alaska Wild Berry Park, the Ulu Factory, and the Alaska Zoo. You don't need to sign up for any Princess Excursion for this first day. There is much to do in downtown Anchorage.
We had dinner in Simon & Seaforts on L Street, which is expensive but very close to the hotel. We had Alaskan king crab, which was very good but the Salmon Chowder was very salty.
On the second day, we boarded the Princess Coach to Mt. McKinley Lodge. We love the Lodge. It is comfortable, with lots of place to sit and lots of great lookout points. We stayed in Building 20 and our room was very spacious and clean. It seems recently renovated. We booked two excursions: Devil's Canyon Adventure on a jet boat where we went right up to the rapids, and Sun Dog Kennels where we rode a dog-sled through the woods. Both excursions were a lot of fun.
On the fourth day, we traveled to Princess Wilderness Lodge in Denali State Park. This Lodge looks like a university campus. We stayed in Building 10. Although the room is also clean and roomy, the whole Lodge doesn't compare to Mt. McKinley. It is much commercialized. Across the street, there are lots of shops and some restaurants including Subway and a restaurant called Salmon Baked. We had lunch at Subway but did not try Salmon Baked. This restaurant was built on permafrost. Over the years, due to lack of repair and maintenance, it is now all crooked and tilted to one side. We checked out the menu and decided not to spend over $100 for dinner in a shabby and noisy restaurant like that. We ended up dining in King Salmon, inside the Princess Lodge. Prices were reasonable but portion was small. Ambience was great with good view of the mountains.
We did not see much wild life inside the Denali Park, just a porcupine and the backside of a moose. The Denali Natural History Tour, included in the Cruise Tour package, was unimpressive. Bring a jacket with you. It gets cold up there. We were also not impressed with the Music of Denali Dinner Theatre. The show was sub-standard, and the food was average. We shared our table with 2 other families, and they did not pass down the food for the first half hour of the dinner. The waiters and waitresses doubled as the entertainers. So they were in a hurry to clear the table. We felt very rushed. We could have better dinner somewhere else for $110, with a lot less stress.
The most memorable part of this tour was the Denali Express train ride from Denali to Whittier. Don't bother taking a book with you. Have a good night sleep and enjoy the ride. We were on the "Goldstar" car with the famous dome-ceiling. Dining room was right below and their price was very reasonable. There was an observation deck at the back. We had a fantastic tour guide called Lane and he was very articulate and knowledgeable.
Bring extra key and luggage tag with you. On this land tour, you'll be asked to send your luggage ahead of you to the ship. On the final trip to Whittier, there is very limited space on board of the train to store your luggage. We sent our 1st luggage to the ship from Mt. McKinley, and our 2nd luggage from Mt. Denali. When we reunited with our luggage on the ship, someone has stolen one of our luggage tags. The plastic tie was still intact, just the tag was missing. Remember that your luggage was left unattended, outside your room for an extended period of time. Don't leave anything in the outside pockets of your luggage unless they are secured with locks.
We boarded the ship around 6:30pm. The emergency drill was scheduled at 8pm, and first seating dinner was rescheduled to the time right after the drill. We did not go to the dining room that night. We just went to the Horizon Court.
The water was very still, very cold here, with lots of floating icebergs. The ship could not get very close to the glacier. We stayed in our balcony and experienced total serenity and solitude. The scenery was unbelievable.
Fun and excitement happened in Glacier Bay. We saw humpback whales, breaching and diving. We also saw calving of the whole ice shelf. We got there around 3pm. So make sure you are on deck around that time.
Don't miss the White Pass Scenic Railway tour. The train actually came right to the pier. Sit on the left side of the train; you'll be rewarded with wonderful scenery on the way up the mountain.
People went whale-watching in this port. We did the same thing and witnessed one of nature's greatest spectacles: bubble-net feeding. This is a feeding technique used by humpback whales. There were at least 15 - 20 humpback whales that day. They dived below a school of herrings. Then one blew a ring of bubbles while another whale released a deafening "feeding call" which apparently confused the fish and caused them to school tightly and flee upwards in the water column. The whales followed with their mouths wide opened, engulfing the now concentrated prey. This happened over and over again, well over 30 minutes. We were totally absorbed.
We spent more time than we expected in the whale-watching segment so the time allotted to the Mendenhall Glacier was very short. This Glacier is huge. Someone spotted a bear cub up a tree but the mother bear was nowhere insight. I was told that in August, there'll be a lot of bears in this area when the Salmon arrives.
This town is known as the Salmon Capital of the World. We bought our smoked salmon from a place called Salmon etc. Their salmon is the cheapest around the pier. The Alaskans smoke their salmon till it's cooked, then canned them or packed them in foil pouches. They are flaky but not as salty. They are different from the salmon slices sold in Costco.
About Coral Princess
This ship is still in good shape, very spacious, with lots of place to sit and people watch. It has gross tonnage of 92,000 tons but 1970 passenger capacity only. I did notice the difference. There were always seats available in the Princess Theatre. We didn't need to go there 30 minutes ahead of the show. Food on board was OK, not great. Soups were always too salty. Steak ordered medium rare always came out well-done. If you have high blood pressure, stay away from the soup and order salad. Caesar Salad was available every night in the Dining Room. Some people told me they found better food in the Horizon court. Out of the 7 days, we tried the Specialty Restaurant (Sabatini's) once. It did not disappoint. I ordered the Chilean Sea Bass and my husband ordered the Lobster. The Sea Bass was light, fresh and cooked just right. The pasta was great as well. There is a $20/pp surcharge for this restaurant.
The Bayou Cafe and Steakhouse was hard to find. It is actually located right besides Sabatini's but somehow we missed it all the time. So we did not try it.
Breakfast in Horizon Court was boring and repetitive. Fruits served were mostly watermelon, honeydew melon and cantaloupe. Sometimes there were oranges, apples and banana. Diced strawberries could be found next to the waffles, in the morning only. This is the area Princess cut back the most. It is just not the way it used to be.
Entertainment was sub-standard, except for the Magic show by illusionist Gaetano, with his beautiful assistant Heidi from Victoria B.C. The Princess Singers and Dancers were particularly bad. We found better singers in American Idols.
I highly recommended the sea-weed wrap on the waterbed, followed by a deep tissue massage. It completely rejuvenated me. I did not try their Thermal Suite since this is a very short cruise.
This was the easiest ever. We were given our cabin card on board of the train which took us right to the pier. Half an hour later, we were in our cabin.
Disembarkation was also very well organized. People no longer congregated in the Atrium. Each group was given a different public room to wait in. Since we are Platinum members, we were given a special lounge to wait in, with tea, coffee and pastries on the side. We were instructed to get there before 8:30am. At 8:45am, we were off the ship!
We stayed in the Pan Pacific for two nights after the cruise. The porter at the pier helped us with our luggage and took them all the way to the hotel (3-5 minutes walk). The bell boy there checked in our luggage, gave us a claim check, and we went up to the Lobby to register without our luggage. Since it was only 9am in the morning, our room was not ready. So we just pre-registered and went on to tour the city. The hotel called us around 3:15pm to let us know that our room was ready for us. When we got back to our hotel, our luggage was in our room. It was a smooth and stress free experience. I only experienced the same service before in Tokyo. Skytrain (Waterfront station) is 3 minutes walking distance from the hotel.
There is a Airline check-in kiosk in the Internet Centre located in the lobby. We checked in the night before our trip and printed our boarding pass. There is no complimentary shuttle to the airport. Cab fare costs $30-35 one way. The Skytrain will take you to the Airport as well. One zone fare is $2.50/pp but it is not available until 7:30am on the weekend.
In summary, we had a wonderful time. We enjoyed the ship even though some area was hard to get to. Our mini-suite seems a little bigger judging by the size of the couch. Bed was comfortable but not the pillows. They were either too high or too low. Shower curtain stuck to our bodies when we showered and was most annoying. The closet was adequate; and there were enough drawers and shelves to accommodate all our stuff.
Our cabin steward was efficient but cold. Headwaiter Ronard was exceptional. He must be the hardest working Headwaiter we had ever met. Our table waiters were friendly and efficient, and never mixed up our order. Future Cruise Sales Consultant on board (Aska) was friendly, helpful and knowledgeable.
If you have never done the Alaskan cruise, you owe it to yourself to do it at least once. We did not want to give up two weeks of Ontario summer to go to a place where we would need to put our jackets on. But God blessed us with wonderful weather. We only had two rainy days out of 15 days, one in Ketchikan, and one in Vancouver. If you can afford the Land Tour, do book it with the cruise. You will not be disappointed. Although the food was not as good as it used to be (except on Chef's night), we found the services on Princess have improved significantly.