A Princess land tour sept 2011
Sept 5-Independently booked flight to Anchorage, and after renting a car spent the night at the Microtel Motel. This is a budget type facility but very clean and comfortable. Good for short stay but not for long term.
Daniel, the very pleasant desk clerk, sent us to Gwennie's Restaurant for supper but we got lost and ate at the Longbranch Saloon instead.
September 6 - We did find Gwennie's the next day for breakfast, and Bob had steak and eggs, and I had spectacular crab benedict. We then headed down to Kenai Princess. Nice room with sitting area, wood stove, but needed to drive for everything we needed, including getting a cup of tea, which was only available at the lodge.
\September 7 - drive down to Homer for a little tour and lunch at the Boardwalk fish and chips. Very nice. Then a drive around town, and up to the skyline for the great view, and back to Cooper Landing.
September 8 - back to Anchorage to turn in the rental and meet the Princess group. Why did no one in the reservation process, including us and our TA, not notice that we didn't purchase transfers? BTW, are those folks deliberately obtuse, or actually as dense as they appear? Oh, well, taxi to Captain Cook hotel and saved a couple of bucks. As far as the Captain Cook Hotel, a room is a room, and we had a delightful view of the building that blocked our view of the bay. We took a walk and found Resolution Memorial, with statue of Captain Cook himself, then a walk around the area. Found a snack at the F street station, a nice local bar with good folks. Had dinner at Fletcher's in the hotel. Overpriced like everything else, but adequate. At least we could make a cup of tea while preparing for the super early baggage call. Early morning out for cattle call to the rail.
September 9 - rail to Talkeetna, with overpriced, but adequate breakfast and drinks. Alcohol was frequently encouraged by the incessantly chattering guide, who may be the queen of bad jokes, and proud of that. Not much scenery on this leg. We did get a good view of Mt McKinley.
Motor coach to McKinley Princess, and rooms out in the boondocks. Likely, none of the accommodations is intended to have a view here, so that the captives are in the lodge as much as possible, hopefully spending. Room reminiscent of Super 8 : cheap plastic furniture, poorly decorated, no amenities, bad sound insulation. Remember this description for further stops. Prepare for frequent long walks or wait for the shuttle every time you need something. Also, with regard to the shuttle drivers, they are uniformly polite and accommodating. The weather was damp and cloudy.
September 10 - early up for early luggage call, then figure out what to do with your homeless self while waiting for the 2:30 motor coach. The management is most accommodating as long as one wishes to avail oneself of the opportunities to eat, drink and shop, which are available in the restaurant and lodge buildings. Restaurant 20320, the separate freestanding restaurant, had abominable service last year, but they appear to have rectified that this year.
The bus ride to the Denali Princess was mercefully short. Upon arrival we were immediately deposited in Siberia, also known as buildings 10 and 11. Super 8 once again, although they had enough sympathy for those of us in the Twilight Zone to provide a satellite snack and bar location in the lobby. Also, we were treated to an unsurpassable view of the highway.
Please note that this is the one location that has shopping, restaurants, a liquor store and a grocery off-site. Pizzas, subs, fish dinners, hamburgers, etc. are right across the highway at somewhat better prices.
September 11 - the Tundra Wilderness Tour. Take it! Enough said!!
Special note about Nicole, trolley driver, who consistently displayed exceptional service, especially to several guests with mobility impairments.
September 12 - early luggage call, but the ride was scheduled to depart within two hours, so we had just enough time for breakfast, then on the road for a long day. The driver's incessant chatter tended to distract our attention from the great scenery. There were several photo opportunity stops but no facilities.
Lunch stop offered chili that strongly resembled spaghetti sauce with beans and thin,but tasty beef noodle soup, or a very limited selection of sandwiches to order,with incredibly high prices, but the bread was tasty. There was no where else to go.
Mid afternoon arrival at Copper River Lodge, with still another super 8 room, poor noise abatement, and another opportunity to be a captive client. We had a lovely view of the driveway. Bob's frustration with the accomodations was only increased by the rude treatment at the check-in counter. Bar and restaurant service did help to reduce some of the disappointment with the low end room.
September 13. Spent a quiet day catching up on our reading, taking a little walk, and napping. Very pleasant. There is a ride to the town of Copper River available, at an extra cost, but except for a couple of bar/restaurants there wasn't much there we were told. Some folks took the raft ride on the river and enjoyed it.
September 14. Off we go on another long bus ride to Whittier. Again, the scenery was great, and the driver a chatterbox. There was a nice stop at a good view of a glacier. There are "long drop" toilet facilities available here. After a couple more hours of riding with the scenery becoming less interesting, we made a lunch stop in Anchorage. We were dropped off outside the Captain Cook Hotel and told we were on our own for lunch. It would have been nice to have stopped at some other location to see some other part of the city. After lunch it was back on the bus for a ride along Turnagain Bay, very scenic, to the ship.
In conclusion for the land tour portion of this review, I would say that the Alaskan scenery is great; Denali National Park especially beautiful; the service people we met, mostly college age summer help, friendly and efficient. The overriding problem for us was Princess's seeming disregard for the client. The "luxurious lodges" were anything but. As noted above, the rooms were spartan, the funishing cheap, and the ammenities non-existant. Would we do this again?? Simply, the answer is no. Would we recommend this type of tour? Only to the most hesitant or inexperienced traveler. If you have the slightest sense of adventure do your homework and do it yourself.
And now for the better part of the cruise tour;
September 14, evening. Upon arrival in Whittier on the bus, we were deposited directly in front of the door to embarcation. Because all our paperwork was pre-done on the computer, time for check-in was minimal. We were on the ship and in our cabin within thirty minutes. There were no guides, but there were plenty of helpful agents to direct us to the correct elevator. We found our cabin, C719, with no problem and were delighted to find our luggage waiting for us. Our steward, Andree, was right behind us. After introductions and a description of services he delivered two glasses of champagne. That was a nice touch. After a quick trip to the Lido deck for lunch we unpacked and settled in. Since we had sailed on this ship proviously, there was no need to make an orientation tour. The ship was apparently in good shape. Carpets, painted surfaces, windows, etc all in good condition. The emergency drill was delayed due to the late arrival of a train. This exercise which used to be such a pain is accomplished now in a much more relaxed and efficient manner. It took no more than twenty minutes. Sail away was on time.
Some general comments about the food and service in the traditional dining room and the buffet. The quality of the food was not great, but not bad either. The menu in the sit-down dining room was not as varied as it was several years ago, but still there was something for most tastes. Service seemed to be spotty. Some tables seemed to like their servers, ours were only competent. The specialty rooms were very good with great service and better food. Both were worth the extra cost. Sabitini's no longer overwhelms the diner with appetizers. This is a great improvement since one's appetite tended to be satisfied before the entree was served. There have been some improvements in the buffet. The traffic pattern has been slightly revised so there is less backtracking and doubling back. The selection of food is somewhat larger I think. The greatest improvement is in the service. There are now staff to assist diners to tables and to provide delivery of drinks, hot and cold. We did eat several breakfasts and lunches in the buffet and enjoyed it each time.
September 15 and 16. These days were spent cruising to Hubbard Glacier and in Glacier Bay National Park. Park rangers and ship personnel provide plenty of information on what you are seeing. The weather was not great these days but still the viewing was impressive. Cabin balconies are great places to watch the scenery go by. It does not matter which side of the ship you are on since the ship comes out the same way it went in. If a balcony is not available, there are plenty of places on deck to provide shelter while taking a load of great photos.
September 17, Skagway, the gateway to the goldfields of the Yukon. Any one of the railroad/bus trips up through the trail of the Klondike is worthwhile. The scenery is great and the history impressive. Since we had done that before, we opted for a helicopter ride to Mead Glacier. We puchased independently in town from Temsco. The price is the same as through Princess. A little expensive, but certainly worthwhile. We were fortunate to have good weather and clear skies so the photography was memorable. For those not queasy about flying this is an excursion of a lifetime. Shopping in Skagway was pretty good because it was so late in the season and stores were preparing to shut down for the winter. There were a lot of "bargains" for those willing to work for them. Lunch at the Skagway Brewing Co. was good, albeit the service a bit slow.
September 18. Juneau. We chose to again go whale watching with Captain Larry of Orca Enterprises. This was ur third trip with this company and again, the captain found the whales. Unfortunately, they were a bit far off so it was difficult to get good pictures, but the ride on the purple boat was worth it. We ate at Traci's Crab Shack, an open air, no frills serve yourself restaurant. No matter, the crab legs were huge and tasty as were the crab cakes and halibut. If high style isn't your thing, give this place a try. Again, shopping was very good. The tourist oriented stores are convenient to the docks and season end prices discounted.
September 19. Kitchikan. We again chose to take zip line tour. This time we went on the Bear Creek Zip Line Adventure. This features a fifty foot rappel and 250 foot slide to complete the day. This company provides excellent equipment, training, and exposures. The guides are competent and fun. If you have no fear of heights give it a try. (even if you do, do it anyway). Again, there appeared to be abundant shopping arount the pier.
As we cleared the Kitchikan area the captain warned that we would encounter some heavy storms and high seas. He wasn't kidding. By the middle of the night the ship was rocking and rolling pretty good. This is fairly normal at this time of year as the ship crosses open water prior to entering the protected inland waterway. By morning there were plenty of queasy folks looking for some sort of relief. The store was doing a great business in Dramamine. (yours truly included, for the first time in twenty five cruises). Once into protected waters things settled down to a pleasant ride.
Arrival at Vancouver was on time. Disembarcation was well organized and competently run. Those of us taking a transfer to Seattle were off the boat and on a bus quickly. Disembarcation was by specific designation. We were Gold 2. The entire Gold Two group was carefully kept together throughout this exercise. We would be collected, lined up and then moved forward. During this we passed Canadien customs without incident. There was no need to collect our luggage since it had already been loaded onto the bus. When all were on board, the bus was sealed by customs and we were on our way. Very impressive. Because of all above, passing US customs was quick and easy. We left the bus, showed our passports and returned to our seats in less than ten minutes.
In Seattle, we chose to spend a night at the Crestbrook Resort. This facilty is a five minute shuttle ride from the airport. The facilty is self describe as a hidden gem. It was a great way to finish our vacation.