I would like to start by extending my utmost appreciation to all of the members of CruiseCritic who post reviews and advise on everything from ships to excursions. Without you I would have not know anything about my trip in advance.
I called a TA that advertises in the newspaper to which I subscribe out of Jackson, MS to ask about an Alaskan cruisetour in May 2010. She sent me a quote on both Princess and Holland America. After opening the quote I had to look twice at the numbers, WOW. I just wanted to go on vacation during the summer of 2011, not buy a car. After some research on CruiseCritic and the Princess website I decided to change the ship from the Diamond to the Island. This decision saved some $$$, and after reading the reviews I felt the Island Princess would be a better fit. I decided not to tell DW and surprise her with the trip at Christmas. After much research I changed my booking to the EB4 CruiseTour starting in Fairbanks on July 2 and sailing from Whittier on the Island Princess on July 6.
Several months before the cruise I finally was assigned my stateroom which was what I booked an AF minisuite. I booked this because it was the lowest category with a full size bathtub. I was pleased when I found out it had a fully covered balcony.
On Christmas Eve you can imagine my excitement to watch as DW unwrapped the camera and binoculars that I bought to sort of help announce the trip. The first words from her mouth after seeing the binoculars were "I'm going to Alaska".
Closer to the beginning of the trip I received and upgrade to an AA minisuite. I was pleased but wanted to make sure I still had a covered balcony, a must for me in Alaska. I was assigned stateroom B227. Immediately I checked and yes it had a covered balcony. The only difference between the AF and AA rooms was location that I could tell, so the upgrade was great but would have not been an upgrade if I had lost my covered balcony.
During the next several months I researched almost every day on CruiseCritic about shore excursions and everything I could find about the ship. Thanks everyone!!!
On June 27, the Monday before our journey that we had both been preparing for such a long time, DW had a one car accident and totaled her car. She felt fine after the accident so the trip was still on.
On June 30 we finally leave on the one and a half hour trip to Jackson, MS to spend the night before our flight the next day. The SleepInn near the airport allowed us to park our vehicle there for the duration of our trip for free.
Once arriving in Jackson I realized that I left our camera on the counter at home. Since it was already 12:30am I decided not to make the three hour round trip home to get the camera but to find another one. I am now going from Wal-Mart to Wal-Mart at 1:00am trying to find the camera that I would want to take to Alaska. I was not going to go to Alaska without a camera. I finally found a Nikon Coolpix L120.
The next morning we flew to Seattle and Princess had made arrangements for us at the Doubletree near SeaTac airport. The hotel was very nice. We ordered room service that evening and it was to be one of the best meals of our trip. We ordered a salmon and lobster chowder that was wonderful.
Later that evening I noticed that I had a voicemail from my TA. She informed me that she had received a fax from Princess and they had upgraded us to a premium suite. A PS suite number C701. I again was grateful but immediately looked to see if the balcony was covered. It was partially covered so I was happy. This cabin amounted to a seven category upgrade from what I originally booked and paid for. THANKS PRINCESS!!
The next morning we flew to Fairbanks to start our journey. It was raining which is what we were prepared for. We received our first envelope from the Princess personnel which included our itinerary and our room key for the next two nights. After waiting and waiting we noticed that we were still one bag short. The makeup bag!! Alaska Airlines told us that the bag should be on the next flight and they would get it to us as soon as possible.
The Fairbanks Princess Lodge was very nice and our room was large with plenty of room. That evening we had dinner at the Edgewater Dining Room. We found this meal to not be up to the standards that we expected from Princess. The crab legs were very good, but the rest was not so good.
The next morning we start early with a gold mine tour. This was a unique experience and one that we were glad we did but would not do again. After that DW was in a good bit of pain from her accident and went back to the lodge. I continued to the riverboat cruise which was quite nice. We enjoyed a husky dog sled talk from the husband of the late Susan Butcher which was very nice and we had time to explore the Chena Indian Village.
After returning to the lodge DW was feeling a bit worse and in a lot of pain.
We took a cab to tour the Fairbanks Hospital Emergency Room. The staff there was very friendly and helped her very much. We found out that she had mussel tears in her chest. She felt better and so we continued with our journey.
I phoned the airlines to check on our lost bag since we were leaving in the morning for Denali. Still no luck but they said they would reimburse us for anything that we had to purchase because of the delay. We then went to Fred Meyers to purchase makeup and some other missing things.
The next morning we awoke very early since we had to have our bags out by 6:00. The bags were to be marked with tags that read follow me or meet onboard. We were allowed one bag each to follow us to the next lodge. While tagging these bags we noticed the missing bag had suddenly appeared. Neither of us had noticed it the night before even though we completely unpacked and repacked to make sure what we needed was following us to Denali.
The trip to Denali on the train was very nice. We had breakfast on the train which was very good. We sat across from a very nice couple who were on the trip celebrating their fiftieth anniversary. The weather was cool and partly cloudy. We had wonderful commentary on the train with the staff pointing out several things of interest.
Once we got closer to Denali we received our next envelope with our room key. Princess has this process worked out very well. Once we arrived at the lodge there was no waiting to check in. We went straight to our room. Our bags arrived within ten minutes.
Late that afternoon we ate across the street at the Salmon Bake which was recommended on CC. It was very good. That evening we booked the Husky Homestead excursion. We rode a bus to the home and dog camp of Jeff King. Jeff has ridden in the Iditarod 22 times and won it 4 times. His presentation was very entertaining.
The next day we left early on the Tundra Wilderness Tour. I highly recommend upgrading to this tour from the Natural History Tour. The weather was spectacular and the scenery was great. We could see Denali (Mt. McKinley) in the distance. Yes, we are now in the 30% club!! During part of the trip the road had a drop off of about seven hundred feet to the valley floor. We saw several caribou, bear, sheep, eagles and several other wildlife. The commentary from our driver Bill was great.
That night we decided to have dinner in the lodge's restaurant King Salmon. The meal was very good.
The next morning we were up early again to catch the train for our nine hour trip to the Island Princess. Again, we had breakfast on the train. The commentary was very good during this long train ride. The weather was great. We had several chances to see Denali in all her glory. The view was spectacular. The commentator even commented that he had never seen the mountain so clear. We were seated with the same couple and enjoyed chatting about what we had done and were planning to do.
We stopped in Talkeetna and picked up a Princess representative who scanned our passports and checked us into the ship. We received our envelopes that had our stateroom keys. About 4:30 we went around our last curve and saw our awaiting ship the Island Princess.
Once arriving we only had to go through security which only took a few minutes. Since we had our room key we went straight to our awaiting suite. The suite Caribe 701 was amazing. It had a separate whirlpool tub and glass shower. The double balcony had two reclining chairs along with two other chairs and two tables. The suite came with flowers, a mini bar setup, free laundry and dry cleaning, and free internet. I had pre ordered internet minutes before we had the upgrade and once I asked I received a full refund in the form of a credit on my shipboard account. Our luggage was waiting on us when we arrived in our room. Soon after we met our cabin steward Andrei. Andrei was very helpful throughout our entire voyage. He would go out of his way to help us "Escape Completely". We immediately took advantage of the free cleaning and pressing service. We used this service several times during the week.
We opted for anytime dining and the first night were seated with a very nice couple and two ladies. There were several complaints from the table about the food. DW and I thought our dishes were good, however, throughout the cruise she commented that the food on Royal Caribbean was better and she was surprised that the food was not better than it was on Princess. We noticed a flyer on the table advertising a wine tasting the next day. Our waiters asked if we wanted to come ($25 fee) which we declined. The gentleman sitting with us was drinking wine so every person who passed our table asked him if he wanted to come to the wine tasting. It was so frequent that it became the joke of the table. Very high pressure sales we thought. I asked the head waiter if I could be put on the list for the chef's table which is something I really wanted to do after reading about it on CC. He told me I would be good to go. Great!!
The next morning we wanted to have breakfast in Sabatini's, a perk for suite guests. We instead slept late and ordered breakfast from the expanded suite menu. We found it to be very good, even the coffee.
We had scheduled a couple's message at 1:00 and DW wanted a manicure and pedicure. The message was great. We both felt relaxed afterward. I tried to get to know the ship while DW was getting her other treatments.
Later that afternoon we arrived at Hubbard Glacier. The glacier was spectacular. Even though it was cold we enjoyed sitting on our balcony enjoying the view. Each time we heard the naturalist speaking on the intercom we turned our TV to channel 41 and raised the volume to be able to hear her on our balcony. Throughout the cruise the naturalist was very good at pointing out whales and other wildlife.
The next morning we were scheduled to enter Glacier Bay at 9:00. We ordered the Champaign Balcony Breakfast to be delivered at 8:00. We enjoyed the breakfast very much. We had mimosas while enjoying the beautiful scenery. We saw several whales while entering Glacier Bay. Again the weather was cold but only partly cloudy. A beautiful day.
We had lunch in the Horizon Court when I noticed that now you do not serve yourself. I later learned there was a virus outbreak onboard. I spoke to someone in Crooners that evening who knew someone who was quarantined to their room.
The next morning we had scheduled the White Pass Railroad booked through Chilkoot Tours. DW was not feeling very well so I went on this excursion alone. I had booked the 7.5 hour Yukon bus and rail trip. We rode the rail to Fraser BC and then boarded a small bus to Carcross. We had lunch at Caribou Crossing which consisted of BBQ chicken slaw and baked potato. The meal was pretty good. We had about an hour to explore and pet the dogs that were there along with goats and other animals. We then boarded the bus to return to the ship. I recommend booking through Chilkoot instead of the ship mainly because of the size of the bus. We were aboard a bus that only sat 25 people. The driver would turn around anytime someone spotted wildlife. We saw three bears, one that was on the side of the road and actually crossed behind us.
That evening we chose to have dinner at Sabatini's (since it looked like breakfast was not going to happen). At the time they had the old menu which for me was a real treat. I ordered the Sea Bass and DW ordered the Lobster. The waiter suggested that if we could not make it through all the courses we might want to skip the soup and salad which we did. First he served us six cold appetizers followed by six hot appetizers. We were then served two pasta dishes. The main course followed which was wonderful. We did not even want to attempt desert. The meal was very much worth the extra $20, but if you plan on going, GO HUNGRY!!
The next morning we arrived in Juneau. We had a full day planned so we were off the ship by 7:00 and met with our guide from Harv and Marv for our whale watching tour. This tour was great. The weather again was cold but sunny. We were on a small boat with only six people and the guide. Once we saw the huge boat carrying over 100 people that was offered through the ship we were very glad we booked through Harv and Marv. We immediately saw three humpback whales and were about 150 yards away. Later we witnessed about eight humpbacks bubble netting which the guide said was a sure treat. This tour was AWSOME!!
We returned to the ship just in time for our next tour. I had wanted to book a helicopter to Mendenhall Glacier through Temsco but was unable to get the desired time. I booked the trip through Princess. To my amazement once we arrived it turned out that Princess actually uses Temsco for this tour. After watching a safety video and putting on snow boots over our shoes we boarded a helicopter bound for the glacier. The flight was awesome. Once arriving we met with our musher and each person took turns standing in the back. The weather was spectacular. Some of the staff on the glacier were actually wearing shorts and tee shirts. This tour was well worth the hefty price tag!!
Later that afternoon after returning to our cabin I was informed that there would not be a chef's table during this cruise. I was informed that we were the only two people signed up for it.
We had plans to eat breakfast in Sabatini's the next morning before going on our excursion in Ketchikan. Again, sleeping got in the way of our plans. We had scheduled a float plane tour to Misty Fjords with Island Wings. The view was absolutely spectacular. We landed in one of the lakes and got out and walked around on shore and took pictures. This was the only time during our trip that we had a problem with mosquitos. We had brought spray from home but of course left it on the ship that day. They were awful. While we were there another plane landed in the water but only let the passengers walk on the floats and did not come to shore. We were told that was one of the planes booked through the cruise line. I am definitely glad I booked this with Island Wings. The pilot and owner Michelle was great. I definitely highly recommend this tour!!
Once returning to the ship we had our second couple's message scheduled. This message was definitely different than the first. We were both told that we had knots in our mussels. We hurt for several days after this message. After the message we were had to endure high pressure sales from the masseuse for over $300 each of oils that we "needed". After repeated saying no we finally were able to leave.
The next day was a day at sea. We needed this after so many early excursions. Again, we missed Sabatini's for breakfast. Maybe next time if we are upgraded again. We saw our first show that night. It was the comedian and he was very funny. I also caught the adult magician later that night and he was funny also.
The next morning we were able to sit in the Wheelhouse Bar awaiting for our color tags to be called for disembarkation. Disembarkation went very fast. We had our Canadian customs forms filled out and it went very smoothly. We boarded a bus from Vancouver to Seattle. We were waved through at US customs so we did not have to stop. The trip took about four hours and our driver Patty took us direct to the Hilton after dropping passengers off at the airport.
That afternoon we took the light rail and monorail to the Space Needle. Dinner there was very good. You do not have to pay to go to the top if you are having dinner. Reservations are required.
The next morning we flew home. I took a total of 2903 pictures during this trip so I am glad I did not go without a camera. Would I cruise Princess again? ABSOLUTELY!!!!!