Why an Alaskan cruise in September works and why it doesn't: Sapphire Princess Cruise Review by shackpacker

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Why an Alaskan cruise in September works and why it doesn't

Sail Date: September 2013
Destination: Alaska
Embarkation: Whittier
We did a combination land/sea package. We flew from DFW to Seattle, changed planes (a very interesting boarding process with Alaska Air requiring us to go outside, down a long flight of stairs, across the tarmac, and back up the stairs at the rear of the plane. It was dark and we had to lug our carry on items with us. Not favorably impressed with Alaska Air) and flew into Fairbanks. Even though it was the middle of the night, Princess staff was there to meet us, take charge of our luggage, give us our room keys, and speedily get us to the hotel. We stayed at Fairbanks Princess where we had a lovely view of the parking lot. The hotel was okay. The room was small and plain. Our biggest complaint was the lack of dining options. The menu was the same in both restaurants and very pricey. We did a tour of the gold rush area, and even though it was very touristy, we enjoyed it very much. Panning for gold was harder than it looked! That afternoon we did the riverboat cruise and really enjoyed More it. Again, it is very touristy, but we learned a lot and liked the experience.

Then we went by bus to Denali Princess. The grounds are beautiful, the dining choices were varied (even pizza delivery to our room!) The room was small but tastefully decorated. We did have a frustrating experience in the main dining room. Since we didn't make reservations we were told it was a minimum 30 minute wait. After the obligatory wait, we were shown to a table that had been open the entire time we were there. Not impressive. The food at the facility was very good, however. We did the nature tour through Denali and found it to be very well done. Our driver was excellent and the length of the tour was perfect. It was very rainy and cold so there were no views of Denali itself. We saw a couple of moose, but the blueberry bushes were in their fall colors as were the aspens and birches so the drive was beautiful.

The next day we went by train to the Princess lodge in Talkeetna. The train ride was pleasant, and we absolutely loved this facility. It is so remote and quiet. We loved the huge fireplace in the main lodge which burned day and night. Still no view of Denali due to clouds although the other mountains are magnificent. The food here was very good. We took a nature hike with one of the rangers which was fun. We didn't ever cook s'mores at the outside firepit but would if we stayed again. My birthday fell during this portion of the trip. They gave us a view of the mountains and a special dessert. Very nice. We went into Talkeetna and walked around a bit. That is a very unique little place, to say the least. We did an afternoon jetboat tour on the river and saw lots of eagles. Again an excellent guide although I've never done a hike through the woods before with a guide who carried a shotgun

The next morning, it happened. The clouds disappeared, and there was Denali. Oh my gosh! Words would never be adequate. We just gazed in awe for hours. The staff said it was the first sighting of it in more than three weeks, so I bought the 30% magnet since we are now members of the 30% club! Unfortunately all too soon it was time to board the bus to the train station and leave this truly wonderful facility. The train ride was okay. Lots of trees until we did the portion between Anchorage and Whittier which was incredibly beautiful with the sun glinting off the glaciers. Our guide was awful and gave virtually no information during the ride. The Princess rep got on the train, as promised, in Anchorage and checked us in to the ship. It was getting dark as we arrived in Whittier and the line to board the ship was very long. By the time we got to our cabin, it was almost time for the lifeboat drill so between that and unpacking we had virtually no time to explore the ship at all. We ordered room service which came rather piecemeal--no spoon for my husband's soup, and no hamburger for my condiments, so they ended up making three trips to our cabin.

We book A201 which is up high and at the very front of the starboard side of the ship. Although we had been told it would be a long trip to anywhere we wanted to go, it was actually fine and extremely quiet. The officers' quarters were next to us on one side and we could view the bridge from our cabin. It was a nicely appointed room with way more storage space than I would have thought possible.

The first day we cruised to Hubbard Glacier. The crew does a wonderful job of positioning the ship so that everyone could see everything from any side of the ship. We bundled up (and re-bundled up!) and utilized our balcony for incredible pictures. And since we were cruising in September, we also got to cruise up to the Johns Hopkins glacier which is only open to cruise ships during September when the seals have finished mating, bearing, and raising their pups. So it was great to see something that most never get to see.

The next day was Glacier Bay. Again, the crew did a wonderful job of providing visibility to everyone on board. Our other stops were at Skagway (we did a private tour arranged by our travel agent and took a very small van up to Whitehorse Pass. This was great as we got to make some stops when we felt like it and it wasn't crowded). From there we took the train back down to Skagway. Unfortunately, it was very misty and foggy so the views weren't as good as we had hoped. We did some good shopping in Skagway and headed off to Juneau the next day. Again we did a private tour through our travel agent which went to Mendenhall Glacier in the morning and the whale watching in the afternoon. Although rainy, the weather cleared as we got out into the water. The whales were performing well, and we had a great experience.

Our third stop was supposed to be Ketchikan, but a storm blew in with very high waves and winds so we did an extra sailing day. Although we rocked and rolled, we never felt uncomfortable. It was funny watching all of us lurch around the ship as it dipped and dived. We ended up docked in Vancouver where we had decided to stay a couple of extra days. We had a magnificent room at my favorite Vancouver hotel. We had view over the harbor and could watch the ships enter and leave. Being on the 36th floor had its perks. Although again there was rain the first day, we happily got tickets for the tram that circles Vancouver and took off. The weather cleared early in the afternoon, we had lunch outside at Bridges restaurant (no relation to us), and walked and walked. The next day was more of the same although there was heavy rain for part of the day. We found a great little local Italian restaurant down a few blocks from our hotel with some of the best food and live entertainment we have experienced.

On board the ship, we loved our cabin and thought the food on the cruise was pretty good. We had chosen anytime dining but made reservations each night, especially after finding a waiter we really liked in one of the restaurants. The only minuses were 1) a Philly cheese steak sandwich with a cheese whiz like cheese on it (weird!), and 2) the night we went to the steakhouse. The service was poor, the steak not as good as what we had in the regular dining room, and glitches like the sauces for the steaks arriving after we had nearly finished eating them. Not impressed! We loved the small bar in Crooner's lounge where the bartender recommended a wine that was better and cheaper than what we would have picked ourselves. He had chilled glasses, and every night was ready for us with our order instantly appearing without us having to ask. The singer in the Crooner's Lounge was terrible. First of all, his singing style was unimpressive. Second he must have decided that our entire crowd was somewhere in the vicinity of 150 years old since he decided we would love to hear things like "Sixteen Tons" and other up-to-date ditties from the 1950s. He also wanted the audience to sing along, and when people didn't he berated and belittled the audience.

The ship was beautiful, clean, and there was lots to do. It was great fun on the first morning, cruising along, wrapped up in blankets by the pool and watching NFL football on the big screen used for outdoor movies.

So would we cruise again in September? Absolutely! Being there as the seasons changed was beautiful, there are far fewer crowds, and for shopping everything is on year's end close out sales. Also we got to see Johns Hopkins glacier and some other things that we wouldn't have seen earlier in the season. The only time we were really cold was at Hubbard Glacier and in Glacier Bay, but that would be the case anyway. Would we choose Princess again? We'll we're trying them again in February in the Caribbean, and after that we'll see. Less

Published 12/26/13
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