My husband and I decided to take a cruise tour to Alaska for our 30th wedding anniversary. I'd been squirreling money away for this for several years, and I didn't want to be disappointed. I saw an advertisement for Holland America, but when I started to do some research and found out that Princess has five lodges around Alaska, I looked into that.
My husband was not interested in a cruise, and I wasn't really, either. We usually go to national parks to camp and hike for our vacations. However, I really wanted to go to Denali, ride a glass-domed train and see nature. It turned out the best way to do this is through a cruise tour. We saw Denali and so much more!
We arrived in Anchorage the day before our tour was to begin and stayed at the Comfort Inn Ship Creek. It was tourist season, and there were some grumpy travelers, but I guess that is to be expected. The warm chocolate chip cookies soothed some nerves. We got in late and asked our shuttle driver where to go for a bite to eat. He suggested the Snow Goose which is the home of Sleeping Lady Brewery. The appetizers were quite good, but the beer was amazing! I had a delicious porter, and my husband had what he said was the best I.P.A. he's ever had. A group of German tourists at the next table each had Alaska-sized slices of New York Style cheesecake. When in Rome!
The next day, we walked through town, had lunch and another amazing beer at the Snow Goose and bought an Ulu knife at the Ulu Knife Factory close to our hotel. We then took the shuttle back to the airport to start our excellent adventure, although it actually started in Anchorage.
At the airport baggage claim area, we found a Princess Cruise kiosk and they directed us to the area where our cruise tour kiosk was. A suggestion I have is to thoroughly research the Princess cruise tour site on the Princess Homepage. They cover everything you need to know. If you are computer shy, ask your travel agent to help you find out as much as possible, or call the toll free number for Princess. These people are there to make our trip as pain-free as possible.
We had an enjoyable motor coach ride up to the Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge. Our driver was entertaining and knowledgeable. The lodge was gorgeous! We are officially members of the 30% club because we actually saw the mountain. It was breathtaking! We made reservations for the Mountain View Restaurant and then took a quick hike around the lodge after settling into our room. The room is like what you would find in a good motel, but we didn't expect luxury. We weren't there to spend our time in the room. The food at the Mountain View Restaurant was quite good. My husband had the Alaskan snow crab and I had salmon. My highlight was the Alaska Gin martini. Wonderful! If I had room in my suitcase, and I was sure it wouldn't break, I would have taken home a bottle of Alaska Gin.
The next day, we went on a wilderness hike. Our guide, Freddy, said that the destination is the hike. So true. The views were beautiful. The hike was a little challenging: 2.25 miles up and 2.25 miles down. But once we got up to the top we had a jaw dropping experience: the vast mountain range, including Denali (Mt. McKinley), with not a cloud in the sky. We became members of the 10% club!
The food is quite good at the lodge. We had sourdough pancakes (with or without wild blueberries) for breakfast and more casual food at the 20,320 restaurant. The prices were reasonable. My husband was pleased to find his cognac wasn't priced the same as what he paid at a fine hotel in Chicago.
The next day we boarded a coach for Denali Princess Lodge. It was interesting to see the change in the topography: fewer and more stunted trees and softer ground. This lodge is nestled in a canyon. The buildings are closer together and there are other restaurants across the street. After settling in, we had lunch at the King Salmon Restaurant. It had charming ambiance and the food was good. We went on the 17 mile Denali National Park tour since we were there for one night only. We saw two caribou up close and some astounding views. People we met later who were at Denali for longer went on the 53 or 92 mile trips and saw much more wildlife: wolves devouring a caribou and grizzly bears. When we returned, we went to a pizza place at the lodge which sold pizza by the slice. Great pizza and beer.
The next day was our nine hour train ride to Whittier. It was long, but I couldn't take my eyes off the scenery. We saw a trumpet swan family, a black bear, and the changing landscape. The lunch on board was quite good, and the guide was entertaining and informative. In Wasilla, they let on Princess representatives who checked our passports and took our boarding passes. We were checked in and would receive our room cards as we left the train. Very efficient!
As we walked to the ship from the train, I turned to take one last look and saw a bald eagle fly over the train. Good tidings! The first evening we explored the ship, practiced the safety drill and had a late dinner in the Bordeaux dining room. A very charming woman from Birmingham showed us the finer points in ordering from the menu. We could have as many or as few servings of any course as we wanted. Fortunately, the portions are very sensible so we felt fine having an appetizer, soup or salad, entrEe, and dessert. They also have spa cuisine which is lower in calories, fat and sodium. I found myself choosing those items often because they just looked more interesting. My husband and I are adventurous eaters, and we had a wonderful time trying things we've never had before. We thought the food was excellent, but it's important to know that they cook for all types of eaters. We had elderly sisters-in-law as table mates. One who would eat anything new and the other who would rather stick close to what she knew. One of them related a story worth sharing: she was having breakfast in Horizon Court, the buffet with the glorious view, and wanted salsa to go with her eggs. There wasn't any. She asked, and someone in the kitchen immediate made a batch of fresh salsa which they brought to her. She was flabbergasted and impressed. So were we. We had dinner at Sabatini's one evening which was excellent. The waiter was charming and very attentive, but our waiters in the Provence dining room were equally charming and attentive.
Our visit to Glacier Bay National Park was a highlight. I never knew glaciers were blue! We saw a glacier calve and seals resting on icebergs as they floated past the ship. In Skagway, we hiked two miles up in a national forest then took a float trip down the river. We saw more eagles just sitting in the trees high above us. Our guide, Jessie, was great and knew how to manipulate the raft so we could see everything around us. Go to the Skagway Brewing Co. Great I.P.A. and halibut fish and chips! In Juneau, we hiked four miles round trip at Mendenhall Glacier. It was beautiful and later at the visitor center we saw a female black bear who has been hanging around that area for a few years. The salmon were spawning, and she was getting ready for winter. They had a steel reinforced boardwalk where we could view safely. Our guide, Robina, wore Wellington boots because it does rain a lot. Be prepared and bring a rain jacket. We wore ours every day we were in port. In Ketchikan, we went sea kayaking. Loads of fun, and something we've never done before. At one point, a bald eagle dove down to grab a fish right next to another couple's kayak. It was fun for all!
I slept extremely well. It was nice not to feel pressured. Our room was always tidy when we returned. Thank you Eugene! They had afternoon tea from 3:30 to 4:30 everyday which we appreciated since that is important to us. We went light on the scones, though, since our dinner was scheduled for 5:30. We went to a cooking demonstration, a tour of one of the galleys, and a wine tasting. Great fun! They had entertainment every night, but we would sit in the Crooners Martini bar, have a cocktail and people watch. One evening we stopped in the library to watch the ocean and were delighted to see whales breaching. I usually pooped out early after all the excursions, but my husband would go to the Churchill Lounge, have a cigar and cognac and visit with others.
There was so much to see and do. My husband can't believe how much he enjoyed the cruise portion, and I've started squirreling money away for the next one!