This cruise was my first cruise with Princess and to Alaska. Our itinerary began in Whittier and ended in Vancouver, with stops at College Fjord, Glacier Bay, Skagway, Juneau & Ketchikan. I've sailed previously on Carnival, Royal Caribbean & Celebrity. My husband and I are in our early 40's and are both fairly well traveled. We flew from Minneapolis to Anchorage the day prior to the cruise. . We picked up a Toyota Highlander through Avis at the airport with the intention of dropping it the next day in Whittier. We stayed at the Hampton Inn on Credit Union Drive which is just a few short miles from the airport. I really liked this hotel because Hampton Inn's have nice pillow top mattresses and are generally clean and comfortable. I would highly recommend this property for many reasons. They have a complimentary shuttle system that will take you wherever you wish to go; airport, downtown, etc. It's also right next door to several chain restaurants such as Applebees, Cattle Company, etc. Their staff are friendly and willing to share all sorts of travel advice with you. They also have a complimentary continental breakfast in the mornings. We spent a comfortable night in Anchorage exploring downtown and Ship Creek. We only saw one lone salmon in the creek since it was a bit early for the salmon run. Downtown was rather boring and I noticed that what Anchorage lacks in architectural beauty is make up by the surrounding natural beauty. We ate a restaurant called the Snow Goose Restaurant and Brewery on 3rd Ave. We had incredible seafood that was very spicy and just how we like it! Ran about $60 including tip for dinner for two. We also paid a visit to the Alaska Wild Berry Company and really enjoyed shopping there.
The next morning we hopped into our SUV and hit the road to Whittier. It's an easy and incredibly beautiful drive. We stretched it out over several hours and made many stops along the way. We stopped to hike a while at Potter's Marsh, Turnagain Arm Trail and McHugh Creek. I thought McHugh Creek was by far the nicest place to stop. Beluga Point didn't have any whales and we also took the tram to the top of Mt. Alyeska in Girdwood. I thought that the tram was overpriced and overrated. Our final stop was at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. The entrance fee is only $7.50 and by far worth your time to stop. It's not a very glamorous place, but you have the opportunity to view close up brown bear, bison, elk, musk ox and more. The gift shop there is reasonably priced and well maintained. We finally arrived at the tunnel and waited about a half hour before the next opening. Once you drive into Whittier it's easy to find the cruise terminal, but not so easy to find the only gas station in town prior to returning the rental car to Avis.
Check in was fairly quick, but I thought it humorous that you had to fill out a statement declaring yourself healthy before boarding the ship. Those unfortunate enough to say anything about not feeling so well were sent to a waiting area indefinitely. Upon check in, I discovered that I had grabbed my son's passport upon departure from my home instead of my own! Because I happened to have a copy of my passport with my other travel documents, they allowed me to board the ship after signing a statement declaring that I was a US citizen. So much for post 9/11 security. After getting on board, I stopped by the purser's desk to get the address of the port agent in Ketchikan so that I could have my passport sent to me. I knew that I would have a difficult time without it once I arrived in Vancouver. I made several stops at the purser's desk that week to follow up on my passport and it was so difficult to understand the foreign accents of the pursers and nobody really knew what I was talking about in most cases. There was one supervisor named Nina that seemed to have it together and I made a point to only talk to her about the situation for the remainder of the week. I have to say that while I found the crew to be polite on board this ship, I wonder is some of them were new since beginning the Alaska season. Many just didn't know much of anything and there seemed to be a lack of energy and vitality amongst them all. We booked cabin 310 on Aloha Deck. I had faxed Princess over a month ago to request egg crate mattress pads to be placed on our bed, but they weren't there when we arrived. Our stateroom attendant, Irma from Mexico, graciously found some for us and put them on right away. Irma was probably the best stateroom attendant I have ever had. Every request was accommodated with a huge smile. She seemed genuinely happy with her job and she was wonderful. The inside cabin was well laid out and had plenty of storage. Once we had the mattress pads on the bed, I found the bed to be quite comfortable. I wouldn't recommend this cabin though because the deck diagram shows this cabin at the end of a row, but it's really next to two empty cabins used for storage and access to a stairway. This means lots of noise from the other stateroom attendants who are going in and out of the rooms to get supplies. The cabin is also directly below the Mermaid's Tail bar and we could hear the ice machine quite frequently. I also really disliked having an inside cabin on such a scenic voyage. I would have rather paid more for a balcony cabin and enjoyed the views more frequently. Live and learn, I guess. I really couldn't see much advantage to having a port side balcony vs. a starboard balcony for those that are curious about this. There was scenery on both sides and it always was equally beautiful.