Disclaimer up front - this was not just a cruise but a cruisetour. We had 12 days (5 land, 7 sea) with Princess, with the land portion first. We chose to sail with Princess solely because they had such an extensive network of land lodges, ... Read More
Disclaimer up front - this was not just a cruise but a cruisetour. We had 12 days (5 land, 7 sea) with Princess, with the land portion first. We chose to sail with Princess solely because they had such an extensive network of land lodges, excursions and itineraries. Knowing what we now know, we would have done everything on land on our own instead of through Princess and explored the interior of Alaska independently instead of doing a cruisetour. That would have made our cruise options much more open. The cruise itself was fine but will get to that later. Would not discourage anybody from sailing with Princess but also will not purposefully seek out a Princess cruise or tell anybody "you just HAVE to cruise with Princess". I would strongly encourage anybody to do your own thing on land and NOT use a Princess cruisetour, though.
Flew to Fairbanks a couple days before the land portion of our Princess cruisetour began. Got a car and went to a lot of places. Had a great time and did things on our schedule. Turned in the car and picked up the bus transfer to Fairbanks Princess Lodge. Lodge was fine but thankfully the Pikes Landing was a short walk away. Had a great dinner and view of the Chena River from there. Had to get up super early just to put luggage outside the door. That is a recurring theme and a huge irritant for us. I get why this is necessary in some circumstances but the times given to us were ridiculous. Anyways, took the morning cruise on the Riverboat Discovery and had a great time. Got on the bus to transfer to Denali Lodge and had a pleasant ride down.
Got to our room and discovered that only one of our two bags had made it to the room. Not cool. Please understand that we are VERY independent travelers and never use bell hops, porters, luggage handling services, etc, and have never done organized bus tours or the like. It's nice to know where your stuff is and to always have access to it. After numerous inquiries and a great deal of nervousness and trepidation, and also many promises to contact me with updates as to what had been done to find it, we went on our rafting trip thinking that my luggage had been lost on the very first opportunity for Princess to lose it. Got back from rafting, all the while thinking that the clothes I was wearing while in a drysuit for 3+ hours were the only clothes I would have, and wouldn't you know it, my luggage magically appeared in our room. Mind you that both bags were tagged identically, both bags retained their luggage tags, and there was no good reason for these bags to be separated. I get that human beings were the ones delivering the luggage and that things happen, but what ticked me off was absolutely no explanation or apology was offered, even after asking for both.
Moving on... the scenery and excursions were great while we were on land. The Princess lodges and food were good. Nothing special, nothing horrible or bad... just good. We went to a grocery store while we had our rental car and stocked up on breakfast items to eat in our room. Very good move on our part, and saved a lot on overpriced breakfasts at the lodges. Also saved a lot of time.
Took the train from Talkeetna to Whittier. Very nice ride, but was really surprised to find the state of the infrastructure at the Talkeetna train station. For those who haven't left from this station, it isn't the one in Talkeetna. It is an unmarked gravel lot with sufficient room for buses to pull in and for the train to be able to stop and deboard and board passengers. There is nothing there other than the gravel parking lot! Very surprising considering how many people come through there that there is no shelter or any other structures there.
Embarkation was very smooth and quick since they process boarding passes and passports on the train before we get to Whittier. Stateroom was very nice, luggage arrived shortly after we got to our room, and our overall experience on the ship was really nice. I was assuming (perhaps unfairly) that a Princess ship would be a step up from Carnival ship. Other than the lack of drink servers constantly asking if you wanted a drink, I was not able to discern any difference between this ship and the two Carnival ships we were on as far as amenities, service, food, stateroom etc. Everything was fine with all of those items, but nothing really stood out as way above Carnival. I understand that Princess and Carnival are owned by CCL, but am now wondering why this is the case since they are so very similar.
The scenery and excursions while cruising were SPECTACULAR!!! Our only true disappointment was with Juneau. Our whale watching/Mendenhall glacier excursion was great, but the city of Juneau itself? Complete bust. State capitol? Closed and under construction. City museum? Closed and under construction. Governor's residence? Don't know if it is ever open to the public, but it was under construction as well. No interesting architecture or other sites in the city, and we did walk around a LOT. Did discover Cope Park and found a really pretty creek that is fed from glacial runoff. Super clear and deep water there. The lesson learned is that when 70% of a city's economy is government, and many of the interesting government sites are closed or unavailable, there is nothing to do.
We had rain in Ketchikan that cancelled our flightseeing trip, but Ketchikan is in a rain forest. We expected to have rain. The clouds were really low that morning and it was raining pretty heavy, and the flight company (Seawind Aviation) canceled early. The reason given was that we would have been safe to fly but would have been very disappointed in what we saw. I appreciated their honesty. Not true disappointment that the flight was canceled because I completely understood why, but that did leave us with nothing to do and rain all day. We did make it to the Forest Service and totem museums, and rode the funicular to Cape Fox Lodge (free WiFi there if you need it) and made the best of the day.
We did the Chef's Table and it was fantastic!! Many people have a really hard time justifying the cost ($95/person), and apparently there were a lot of penny-pinchers on our cruise because we barely had enough participants to even have that dinner. However, if you put the Chef's Table in the context of an excursion, all of a sudden it makes perfect sense and it is one of the cheapest and most enjoyable excursions you will take. We did Chef's Table on our last Carnival cruise and this was every bit as good if not better. We will always try to do Chef's Table on every cruise we do from now on. Money and time well spent.
This trip was a 25th anniversary present we gave ourselves, and had been planned and dreamed about since before we got married. Seriously. The build-up and expectations and anticipation for this vacation had been building up for 26+ years, so the chances for a let down and disappointment were higher than for any other trip we have ever taken. Am happy to say that our expectations were not just met but far exceeded. This was by far due solely to the sights, the wildlife, the whole Alaska experience and seeing the vastness for ourselves. The fact that we were with Princess didn't enhance the experience at all, and in some small ways it detracted from it.
Bottom line - we would do this exact same trip again in a heartbeat, other than we would do the land portion completely on our own and meet the ship in Whittier on our own. Great trip and would highly recommend an Alaskan cruise and spending a lot of time on land in Alaska to anybody. I won't discourage anybody from using Princess, but frankly the scenery and the environment are why you are going to Alaska. The cruise ship itself and the cruise line are pretty far down the list unless you have zero interest in experiencing that scenery and all that Alaska has to offer. I'd then have to ask why you were there in the first place? Read Less