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Sapphire Princess Review

4.5 / 5.0
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Sapphire Princess - Alaska

Review for Sapphire Princess to Alaska
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caneable
First Time Cruiser • Age 70s

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Sail Date: Aug 2007
Cabin: Balcony

Friday 24th / Saturday 25th August.After something like 25 hours travelling and hanging around time we finally found ourselves in The Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver. The original room at the top with a great view across the harbor to the mountains, with clear blue skies all around. After a brief look around we plumped for a meal at a Greek restaurant on Robson St.  Bad move. Please note that we have spent more holiday time in Greece or Cyprus than any other country and this was far and away the worst Greek fare we have ever had! The error of our ways was compounded at breakfast next morning in the hotel where we enjoyed an excellent buffet that made us wonder what we might have missed the night before.Our first encounter with Princess was very favorable. A group of ladies armed with laptops appeared in the hotel around 8:30 am to check us in for the cruise. As we were due to transfer at noon that gave us just over three hours to ourselves. We decided to take a hop on- hop off trolley tour. Mostly we stayed on, but did get off to have a look around Stanley Park. We weren't able to finish the full loop but thoroughly enjoyed the trip as an introduction to the city and would recommend it as a great way to start the cruise experience.  Certainly it left us vowing to return and give ourselves plenty of time to view this lively city.Now you would guess that the check in at the hotel would make embarkation a breeze, right? Wrong!!!!! US security saw to that. Now I won't get into a big whine here because I haven't a clue what it's like for foreign nationals to get into the UK, but if it's anything like we experienced here then you have my deepest apology on behalf of my fellow Brits! Suffice to say that it took almost two hours to get through the line, which wasn't aided by the lady who told us that they couldn't get us through any faster but at least gave us all chairs to sit on - as if that was a big deal!!Once we had scaled that obstacle, embarkation was a breeze. In fact it was very slick and in no time we'd been directed to our cabins where our luggage began to join us very quickly.  Our first impressions of our Baja Deck cabin were most favorable. The proportions, layout and storage space were all far better than our previous experience and we were very pleased.Having settled in we made our way up to Horizon Court for our buffet lunch. I tend to agree with previous posters that the layout of this area is not clever. They seem to have concentrated on plan rather than function so space is at a premium at busy times. That said we never had a problem inevitably sharing, as we did with a group of Aussies this day. They had just come off a Rockies tour and were doing a land tour when we got up north.  Incidentally, we find this by far the best way to address the issue of crowded buffets, ask to share!  It's only the boring ones who won't!!!The muster drill was well organized and I was impressed by the logic of not putting everyone out on Promenade deck, but explaining the process in large gathering areas around the ship. After this we decided to try to get our bearings, something we still seemed to be doing at the end of the week! Eventually we found ourselves at the Lotus Spa where my wife convinced me that we would benefit from enrolling for the Spa. Not really my thing, but I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the use of the facilities throughout the week!As I mentioned, we had had a great view of the harbor the day before, so it was a pity to set sail under cloudy skies. In fact, jetlag was beginning to set in so we opted for a short nap rather than joining the Cruise Critic Sail Away.  Sorry everybody, I guess the matchsticks just weren't strong enough!Later that night we dined at the Pacific Moon. This and Vivaldi's were to become our favorite haunts. We did try Savoy one night but our service was not as good.  We never bothered with the Special restaurants, feeling that neither of us really eats as much as other posters seem to suggest they serve!Sunday, August 26 and for once I was happy to be all at sea. We really needed to just relax before we got too far into what promised to be a hectic schedule. Thankfully, we slept on well and were awake at 6:40 am in time to catch the most glorious sunrise over the Inside Passage. We wandered up to breakfast and shared a table with a couple from Nebraska. They'd had the misfortune to be parted from their luggage on the way and weren't going to see fresh clothes until Ketchikan.  Given that that night was to be the first formal evening they were a bit concerned about how they might be viewed.  I recalled a recent thread about formal night dress code, where someone alluded to just this kind of situation.  I just hoped that they would be able to enjoy a comfortable night.An early breakfast meant a long morning and as my breakfast had settled well by 10 am I decided to put in a few laps. I don't know who designs these ships but the idea of a running track around what amounts to the front quarter of the ship is ludicrous. Now I'm not the fastest by any means but I do like to make an effort.  I was so concerned about the tightness of the track that I decided to do 10 laps of the Promenade deck. That meant a lot of dodges and excuse me's, but I think I got round without irritating people too much.The previous evening I had picked up the Alaska Cruise Companion, which is an excellent book by the way and does exactly what it says on the ... cover (sorry, Brits will understand the punchline). As the captain was signing copies in the Atrium I thought that it would be a good memento to join the queue. After that I joined Joan in the Lotus Spa for a serious bit of lying around being lazy.Following buffet lunch we went along to the Princess Theatre for a whale lecture by our naturalist Sabin. As a National Geographic subscriber I was pleased to hear a former editor speak, although at times I did find the lecture a little ponderous. Mind you, that could have been the Atlantic Crossing catching up on me again!It was obvious that I wasn't sufficiently chilled out so we went back to the Lotus for seconds! The only problem about being in the Spa is that you've no idea what it's like outside so we were delighted that the good morning weather had held right through and that there were people strolling about in shorts. We held a deep breath to hope that this all augured well for the week ahead, but we had read up well and knew what Alaska had available!At the end of the evening we went along to the late showing of Piano Man, after spending a friendly evening meal with a couple from Atlanta.  As Georgia is one of our most favorite states visited so far we had plenty to share and passed a very interesting evening. As for the show, I should begin by saying that it had all the makings of a disaster for me. I'm a big Elton John fan but there are very few other piano performers that I have much time for. However, this show was dynamite! The cast performed with great energy and enthusiasm and the singers showed great talent singing solo or in group. The choreography was excellent and the costumes stunning. Who came up with that piano themed costume? Indeed, who came up with the whole concept for the show? I'm not the first to write in glowing terms about this aspect of the entertainment, but I would like to put a word in for the people behind the scenes whose work is so often ignored. Whoever conceived these shows deserves great credit. If they can devise a show on this content to satisfy me, they must be good.That brought the day to a great finale and really set us up for our first port of call on Monday.Monday, August 27 6am to 9:30amGreat news, the clocks were put back an hour the previous evening so there was no need for any big effort to get out of bed in the morning! At 6am we were stood on our balcony under a clear sky watching as we slipped slowly into Ketchikan port. Just watching the waterfront shops getting busier and busier brought home how important the cruise trade is to these towns, and by the time we had breakfast it was evident that Ketchikan was ready for us. We made our way down to dockside, through the camera station, to join the increasing throng on dockside heading towards the excursion coaches and sellers.Incidentally, it may be corny to have two crewmembers dressed up as a moose and a bear, but we went for it. A couple of evenings later we found the photo and were quite pleased with it until we asked the price! $19.99! I mean I can get 130 photos processed at my local chemist for that. After all, these photos aren't exactly what you'd put on your mantelpiece are they, but they'd be fun in the holiday album. I can accept a stiffer price for formal night photos where you've got lighting, backgrounds and other bits of photographic paraphernalia to add into the price, but I felt that this was a bit steep. We'd have bought it for $10... but this wasn't a day for griping about. On the other hand, read on and you could take me for a right cheapskate.As we had an hour to spare before our morning excursion we decided to stroll along to Creek St. It was still quiet but there was enough going on. I got propositioned my Dolly; well I did! Well the lady said something and I was just overcome anyway... A bit further up we came across Ray Croll's place. It wasn't open yet but at least we'd got it marked for later. Needless to say we were merrily snapping away. At this point the tide was out so you got all of the boardwalk construction in the photos. When we returned later the tide was in and the photos were less impressive.While we were there I noticed a guy setting up a serious camera and wandered over. He was on the bridge focussing on the Salmon run. He hadn't seen anything at that point but was hoping to catch photos of leaping salmon later that morning. Judging by the huge number of salmon "parked " under or near the bridge, the odds seemed to be in his favor, unless the salmon had seen the tide timetable and were waiting for the creek to fill in!We found the funicular at the end of the street. When we had originally started planning the day we had thought to ride the funicular so that we could make our way up to the Hatchery and Totem Pole center. Then Joan had a different idea that came as a surprise to say the least. Anyway, we decided that it would be a good idea to ride the funicular to the top, enjoy the view and then do the Married Man's Trail in reverse (sorry Dolly). However, there was nobody around, except a lady from New Zealand who wanted to do a similar trip. We decided that there would be no harm in climbing aboard and seeing if that was how the lift worked. And it did. So we ascended the slope, walked out and expected to hand over our money, but there was nobody around. I asked at the hotel, but nobody seemed in the slightest bit bothered. So there you have it, get to the funicular before 9am and you ride for free! I know, I should be ashamed.The payback was that there wasn't much of a view in any direction, so after a look at the totem poles on the island outside the hotel we set off back down the Married Man's Trail. There's a deck on a cut off about half way down the trail that offers a bit of a view of the marina down below so Joan got the photo anyway. Carrying on down we realized that we'd got about 30 mins before our excursion so time to get back to ship, sort out a few bits and pieces and meet our contacts. Back at the dock we searched out the greeter for our excursion and headed off to the coach to take us to Promech Air.  We were going to Neets Bay bear watching we hoped. That was what shocked me, Joan isn't a bad flier, she's just very nervous about small planes and I really didn't imagine that she'd go for this. Then one day she casually suggested that it might be a good one to do and I'd booked it in a blink! So how was it?Well, we flew off from the dock and were very surprised at how gentle take-off was. We were very comfortably strapped in with 5 fellow travellers listening to a commentary and gazing down at the land below. It was great to fly so low over Revillagegedo Island. So much to see in such an empty landscape, and no turbulence or anything else to disturb us. After about 20 mins the pilot banked to the right gently and brought us in to land on Neets Bay as light as a feather, brilliant! Having climbed aboard Joan was a bit concerned about disembarkation but there was a ramp to hand for us all so she didn't need to worry about her knee replacement. We were met by our guide David and followed him ashore so that he could give us instructions. He also had bottled water available for us all which was very sensible I thought.Once he had set up the rules we followed across a wide-open path towards a creek running into the Bay. Along the way he stopped a couple of times to show us a tree marked for a bear's territory which was a good foot above my 6ft 2 head, and then took us to the Salmon Hatchery that they have there. Then it was off to the viewing platform.Now I knew that we shouldn't have our hopes too high, and had even resigned myself to the thought that maybe the bear we had seen walking away about 400 yards away could be all we would get. So we were delighted when we came to the stream and found a Black Bear sitting at the foot of the weir munching on a salmon. By now we had become three planeloads so it wasn't exactly a muted OOOH! But we kept it down as we all watched this big beast, not more than 10 yards away, munch at his breakfast with scarcely any interest in us. Just as well as there was no fence!Joan was already into her 200th photo so I decided to wander down to the viewing platform about 25 yards along the shore. Here I was pleased to discover another bear fishing for his breakfast, and began compiling yards of video tape! As I stood there marvelling at this sight I became aware of a disturbance somewhere to my right. Casually, I glanced across to my right in time to catch another Black Bear strolling out of the wood literally FIVE YARDS AWAY! Wow! Again, no interest in me, I always knew being skinny would come in handy one day; he headed for the stream and set about his meal at a rock for one. And so it continued. A feast of entertainment for all concerned as no fewer than 6 bears turned up to get their fill, and we got ours. It was hard to pull your eyes away but I did just long enough to spot my first Bald Eagle perched at the top of a nearby tree. I even ran out of video tape and discovered that the fresh spool I had put in was the empty for the one in my camera, but heck, it was just one of those days.David, our guide, was very amiable and was happy to answer our questions, although trust yours truly to drop a clanger. We were discussing winter snowfall at Neets Bay and I was surprised to learn that they didn't get much and it rarely hung around. So I said"How about ice, does that lake ever freeze up?"And he replies, "That would be Lake Pacific my friend."  David told us a bundle of interesting things and even introduced us to some of the bears. One is always busy seeing what's going on ashore and around the Hatchery and they call him Nosey. The real star of our show was a male bear with two white patches on his chest christened Two Hearts, a perfect opportunity to get a Springsteen track into my video when we get back home. Two Hearts gave us the full rundown on how to find (look hard), catch (belly flop on it), prepare (filleting is for wimps) and eating (just get it down man, there's loads we could be missing) a salmon! I can't wait to see the pictures, but preferably after dinner.What a morning, it was hard to wipe the silly grin off my face. If someone had come along then and said "Sorry Steve, but they've cancelled the rest of the cruise", I would have gone home happily. I'd do this again anytime.Many of you will be aware that one of the floatplane companies recently lost a pilot and passengers. As we got off the plane I stayed back to thank the pilot, explained that I was aware of their recent tragedy, because it is tragic for the whole local community, and to express what I hoped would be the view of all of us who take float trip or heli tours. That is that we all really appreciate what they do to take us to places that make us so much richer, and I expressed the view that he and his colleagues would remain in our thoughts. I then went to catch Joan up.  Given her reluctance about small planes I had decided not to say anything about the crash before we left, so now I was to tell her for the first time that which I had known for several weeks."It's as well you didn't tell me," she said.Didn't I know it!By the time we got back to Ketchikan we still had plenty of time before setting off for Juneau so we decided to go back to Creek St. The tide had come in and the creek looked completely different with the water high (not as photogenic IMO). We found Roy Troll's shop open and had a look around. Joan quite liked some of the scarves and I enjoyed looking at the t-shirt designs. Great if you're a fisherman, but I just couldn't see myself getting away with walking down the local high street wearing a shirt proclaiming "Spawn 'til you die" somehow!  In other shops you could certainly tell that the season was coming to a close as some serious discounting was going on.Once back at the ship we took our lunch and then treated ourselves to our daily visit to the Spa, before Joan went back to the cabin for a nap, and I went up on deck to watch the world go by. We sailed through some lovely countryside and the Alaska Cruise Companion was helpful in trying to identify our surroundings. After the immediate landscape of salmon industry, float planes, a timber site and a quarry we were into more remote terrain, but it was great just leaning against the rails watching the channel go by and reflecting on our fantastic morning at Neets Bay. If the rest of the trip could get anywhere close to that I knew I would live on these memories for years.Later in the afternoon, Sabin the naturalist announced that we would be passing through two sites that had been regular whale watching sites over the season. I went back down to the cabin to let Joan know and, after a quick nip to the Horizon Court for afternoon refreshment, we went back on deck.Incidentally, we had learnt very early that proper tea was a near impossibility on the ship and so, although it is often praised on these boards, we were never inclined to take of the afternoon tea on offer. Eventually, we came to the opinion that the problem was as much in the water as the making of the tea, as many Americans found it hard to say a good word about the coffee!The first whale site came and went but at Snow Passage, Sabin's tip came up. We had three separate points at which we had humpbacks. The first two restricted themselves to blowing and diving, but the last show included diving, tail slapping and breaching, and I was pleased to get quite a bit of it on video! Of course, after that we got greedy and kept scanning the surrounding seas for more, but nothing was forthcoming. Well the water wasn't forthcoming anyway, but the sky was another story. Slowly it transformed from blue, through peach to the most vivid orange over the space of about half an hour. So many pictures!Needless to say time sailed by and, before we noticed it, was heading towards 8:30 and we realized that that strange scratching around our midriffs was our stomachs desperately seeking food!  So after a quick shower and change we presented ourselves at the Pacific Moon where we sat with a couple from Denver and passed a very enjoyable time. Why even the tea was better!Our meal finished and we realized that we were tired so decided to give the show a miss. That said, after a day like that, who needs a show!Tuesday, August 28Isn't it amazing that you can travel the world and run into the most unexpected coincidences. We sat down to breakfast with an Indian couple based in Montreal and began chatting about UK. When we say that we live near Manchester, it turns out that the lady's sister lives in Cheadle and that they are regular visitors to the area. Of course, I should explain that Cheadle is only about 8 miles from our town. We don't know the people, but it does amaze me the number of times this sort of thing happens on cruises. A couple of years ago I spent breakfast discussing the merits of Knutsford restaurants with a guy from Ohio who had lived in our town for a few years. All that took place on the approach to St. Lucia!Once again the skies were clear and we were delighted as we had a busy day planned. After enjoying views over Douglas and the bald eagles perched on the harbor posts, we disembarked and headed for the base of the Mount Roberts Tram where most of the touring action seems to start.We decided that we would try to make our way to Mendenhall Glacier first while the weather remained so favorable. I had already established that the Glacier Express, a bright blue school bus, would serve our purposes best as it drove right up to the visitor center and ran every half hour so giving us the flexibility to do as much or as little as we wished. Our driver Dave kept up a constant commentary all the way there, of which I understood not one word! However, I didn't feel so bad when an American guy behind me leaned forward and asked if I had understood what he had just said!We had decided that we would like to follow the Steep Creek trail initially as there was a suggestion that this was the best route for bear sightings, and how right that proved to be. So right that the path was sealed off with the ominous notice "Closed due to Bear Activity!" A couple of photographers were in situ at a bridge leading to the path, overlooking a stream, and they told me that one of the rangers had informed them that a mother black bear and her cubs had passed that way about an hour ago, so they were perched waiting for photo opportunities. I just hadn't the patience to join them.We climbed back up the path and wandered over towards the photo point below the visitor center. The glacier looked great under the early sunlight and, over the next hour as the sun rose, the shadows receded to give some great views. We wondered whether to walk over to look more closely at the waterfall cascading down to the right of the glacier. However, when we looked closely at the height of the people already there we realized that it was possibly further away than we thought, so we chose to go back to the visitors center. Unfortunately that was heaving with people and just felt too busy. We probably slipped up by not heading there first, as I believe there is a good film preceding the visit and there are interesting exhibits too. Nevertheless, it did afford us another viewpoint of the glacier and the elevated position allowed some tremendous reflections of the glacier and surrounding mountains in the lake.We were disappointed that the glacier hadn't calved while we were there. This was the first time either of us had been close to a glacier and so we had thoroughly enjoyed just being in its presence with the interesting moraine patterns, the intense blue that you see in photos and never believe and the interesting shapes of the icebergs floating in the lake.On our return to Juneau we climbed aboard the Mount Roberts Tramway. We fancied that it would give us a number of interesting views of the dock, the town and surrounding area. It did that and much more. After a coffee in the restaurant we wandered across to the Raptor center where they have a Bald Eagle, which had been damaged by a gunshot to the eye and beak - some people do the craziest things. It will never be able to return to the wild but they are trying to give it as good a life as they can. They shut the cage up from time to time so it doesn't spend all day as a zoo exhibit. We were keen to look at the Nature center but this turned out to be more a shop with a bit of info rather than the other way round.There was however, a comprehensive map of walking trails from the head of the tramway and we decided to follow the Alpine Lop Trail. It's about a mile long and several of the inclines have been made easier by the insertion of steps. Nevertheless, there were one or two steep gradients. We were surprised half way round to see the tramway head below us and to realize how much height we had gained. As expected the views in every direction were many and varied. Douglas, Auke Bay and the distant mountains were all in clear view, and we had our first sighting of mountain goats. We were a little dubious about this at first as the gentleman who had located them pointed us in the direction of a series of white dots on a ridge across a deep valley and well above us. We weren't convinced that they weren't rocks until they started to "roll" uphill!In addition to the many views there are interpretive boards along the path which help you to make more sense of what you are seeing, and we enjoyed sighting wild flowers, meadow reclamation areas and "snow crook" trees. That is the term they give to the oddly distorted trees that cling to the hillsides. Apparently they are weighed down as saplings by the first snowfall and so are unable to grow straight, hence the intriguing curved trunks.It had been our intention to scrape together some sandwiches from the buffet after breakfast, but having heeded the problems arising from bears becoming familiar with the taste of human food, we chose to wait until we returned to the ship for lunch. Whilst queuing for the tram I noticed that the photographer at the top of the tramway had a series of shots of the Northern Lights from the previous evening. they looked great and we wondered whether we might be lucky enough to see them, but he suggested that this was very unlikely as people rarely saw them down in the valley. He was lucky because his house is high on the slopes and he often gets clear views.We all have our own little holiday quirks, and one of ours is riding local bus services. You just seem to see more local life on them, and that was as true as ever in Juneau. Interesting to see that they attract a broader clientele than back home, with a full range of ages and professions. Equally, how else would we have got to see the local schools, hospital and correctional center all in one trip?  In this instance we had found the bus by carrying straight along the dock road and then following the bend to the left where the road forks. There's a car park about 200 yards further on where the bus services terminate. I got my timetable by looking up Capital Transit on the net. The driver was extremely patient with the several tourists making the ride, carefully noting down their required destinations and calling them out well in advance so that we could be ready to alight at our desired stop.In our instance this was Glacier Gardens, a garden center which is very much a work in progress and may always be so due to the creativity of its designer and owner, Steve Bowhay. It's a fifty-acre parcel of rain forest once devastated by a landslide. The owner purchased part of the land and then bought the rest from the local council. He has established pools, streams and waterfalls down a 600ft slope by diverting original streams in order to create a fascinating garden experience. A path winds its way through the trees and the Gardens provide transport by the means of golf buggies to transport you right to the top of the site where an excellent viewing platform has been constructed, giving fine views across the Juneau area.One novel feature of the Gardens is a series of upturned tree trunks serving as flower baskets and festooned with masses of bushy and trailing plants. Apparently Steve got so tired of removing stump after stump that he dug one up with an earth remover and threw it away. It landed in the mud upside down and just stuck there... and he saw the potential in it! We'd certainly never seen anything like it before. Much more familiar were the hanging baskets in the shop/cafe area. These blossomed with huge begonia collections, and there was a huge floral heart shape at the end of the area.Clearly, Steve's enthusiasm for the unusual hasn't dimmed yet and he's established a heart-shaped pool amid ferns in a cool spot in the forest and other plans are afoot. I feel he deserves every support in his venture as he's taken an area truly devastated and is committed to establishing something of beauty in its place. It's certainly appreciated by visitors, and by the presence of a wedding ceremony ongoing during our visit, it's clear that it's valued locally too! The staff are extremely enthusiastic in their helpfulness and I'd say that this place is worth a visit if it comes close to your areas of interest. Like each trip we did during this day it is available through the ships, Princess call it Rainforest Gardens or something like that. We just did it by ourselves because we're cheap skates! NOOOOO, we wouldn't have met the locals on a Princess bus, and as I said, that's half the fun!Incidentally as we waited for the buggy to transport us through the garden our guide was explaining that they often saw Eagles perched on the trees. As luck would have it I gazed up and saw one perched on the edge of a nest way up above us. Close inspection showed it to be a juvenile Bald Eagle that had been there and thereabouts for a few days now and was expected to fly the nest at any time. Needless to say, at that point it flew straight onto my videotape!Before we went back to the shop we decided to divert into town to follow part of the Historic Walking Trail but the center just seemed to be a big collection of tourist shops. It left me with rather mixed feelings about Juneau as a town. That may be unfair for we were quite tired now, and maybe we just needed to rest up for Skagway tomorrow. So it was back to the ship for the Spa, which perked us up for our meal.Vivaldi's tonight and what turned out to be our best dining experience of the trip! Full marks to Madalena our waitress from Romania, she was a gem! Patience personified as we struggled with the decision making process of the menu, cheerful and amusing in her conversation and very astute with her suggestions right down to bringing us three desserts when a certain member of our party couldn't make up her mind which to have (oops too much information!) Incidentally ladies, my wife agrees with that, it wasn't just some sorry old fellow taken in by a young lady with a continental accent! She certainly raised the bar for future servers that night.This evening's show featured a former Broadway singer, Michelle Murlin. Not familiar to us but she presented a very entertaining 45 minute set of songs from the musicals and 40s/50s. She kept the act lively and entertained us with impersonations of Judy Garland, Bette Midler, Marilyn Monroe and Liza Minelli. The audience was a little thin for the late show but maybe that was the problem as a 10:15pm start makes it late for some.So that was another fine day in every sense of the meaning. Surely it couldn't keep up like this, what would Skagway bring?Wednesday, August 29So why was Skagway our favorite port of call? I suppose it was just that it seemed to feel so right. There's a feel for where the town has come from which cuts past all of the usual port of call paraphernalia of jewelry and souvenir shops, and I suspect that we came closer to the local folks here than in other ports. However, we did like the pedestrianised feel to the town, and the lack of street crossing patrols, giving the sense that here traffic can come second. The buildings seemed to be more in keeping with the town's heritage. The constant sounding of train horns, albeit not the steam of a bygone age, lent something to the ambience. So we felt that we were in a frontier Klondike town.Nevertheless, this was the day when the cruise changed. No clear blue skies today, only a leaden grey cloud cover with some low hanging cloud as we sat down to breakfast with a couple from the Florida panhandle. We were in no rush as our excursion to the White Pass Summit wasn't until later in the morning. That said I wasn't exactly sure when and was pleased that the tour people down at dockside were able to put me in touch with Gwen at Discover Skagway so that we could clarify a 10:30 am start.This meant that we had over an hour for an initial foray into town to get our bearings and look at one or two of the various sites for later reference. Initially we tagged along with a ranger tour but found that progress was rather slow and so decided to peel off and do our own thing. We wandered up Broadway and across 7th Ave to Main St. We were just enjoying taking in the town, its facilities and its atmosphere. It was surprising how quickly the atmosphere changed once you wandered off Broadway. Main St seemed very empty, but we were able to look at the houses and homes, to get a snapshot of everyday Skagway life.Crossing back over Broadway we found the Historic Moore Homestead. It wasn't due to open until later in the morning but we did a bit of peering and I was especially interested in the construction of the original cabin. From there we discovered a small stream full of salmon all intent on the big swim upstream. Some of them were having the mightiest difficulty traversing jammed branches and it made us wonder how others manage these springing leaps up waterfalls that you see so often on TV and in magazines. Clearly, the spawning season places a big effort on the fish and some were clearly spent. Mind you, I think I'd be tired if I had to cover their mileage under my own steam!Back on Broadway the "broads" were in full swing hanging out of the windows of the Hall of 78 Show. They broke out into a hearty rendition of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game", merrily swinging one leg across the windowsill. Another couple of feet of video was quickly used up and it seemed only right that I should break into a round of applause for this free performance at its conclusion. Discovery Skagway is linked to the Hall of 78 Show and as their offices are towards the rear of the theatre we went in and met up with Gwen who was to start off our tour. In fact, for the first few minutes, Gwen had severe competition from the noisiest and brightest Stellar Jay, who obviously figured he knew a good tipper when he saw one! However, he soon lost out, as Gwen was completely in her element in the fascinating setting of Jewell Gardens.Because the gardens are set immediately beneath the runway, the owner has set the display beds out in a floral design shape. It is a blaze of color and the flowers grow so incredibly high (sorry John Lennon)! Many of the plants were quite familiar but on a scale that we couldn't have imagined, and with colors that were quite unfamiliar to us. It's amazing what those extra daylight hours do! It's a quite interactive garden and we were free to taste various herbs and vegetables around the garden. Mentioning vegetables we were amazed by the size of the cabbages. You'd feed half a street with one of those! Interesting too that they are used in floral beds. We have some of the more colorful ones used the same way here, but they have hearts the size of baseballs rather than these huge medicine balls courtesy of Alaskan daylight.On leaving Jewell Garden we teamed up with another guide Tynan to ascend the White Pass just beyond the Summit. He was our first permanent Alaskan. He's not born and raised there, he's a native New Yorker, but he's lived in the state for some time now. During the winter he works construction and is concentrating on writing a book. He has a wealth of knowledge about the pass, including its history, geography and wildlife. He proved to be an excellent guide. In telling us about the Pass he constantly weaved references to Jack London, Colonel Moore and other old time pioneers into the commentary to paint an excellent illustration of the challenges of White Pass. Stops were made at many landmarks and we took loads of photographs of the valleys and falls such as Bridal Falls, Pitchfork Falls, Cammack and International Falls. I asked him about the claims of the strength against earthquakes for the Moore Creek Bridge and let's say that his answer was duly sceptical! He would stop and point out wildlife such as mountain sheep, and we were fascinated to learn of the frogs that live up in the frozen waters of the summit lakes.On the return journey, he told us a little more about his personal experience of life in Skagway.  As I mentioned previously Tynan is originally from New York, but has lived in Skagway for some time. On arrival in Skagway he first worked construction and was involved in the development of the hydroelectric system at Pitchfork Falls. Apparently they would be helicoptered out to work each day and he was telling us the initiation ceremony for all the new guys. The journey to work involved skimming over the tree tops up the side of the mountains to the construction site. However, if they had a newbie on board the pilot would take the copter into a more open route and then when they reached a deeper part of the valley, he'd flip the helicopter vertically and drop it a couple of hundred feet. Just left me wondering what color uniform the guys wore?He also told us about the difficulties of coming to terms with Skagway after a life in New York. Apparently when he fixed up his first lodgings he didn't get a door key. So he asked the landlord if he could have one and the landlord replied no. When Tynan asked why he couldn't have a key the landlord replied that there wasn't a lock on it! Tynan asked what am I going to do with my stuff? The landlord said just put it in your apartment. Tynan decided that was much too much of a risk and locked it all up in his car. As a result he didn't sleep all night for watching his car. When he related this to someone the next day they told him they'd never heard of a car theft in Skagway. Don't you just wish you could live in a place like that? (Steve, at -50?)Lastly, he told us of a day he went mountain climbing above AB Mountain and had a really bad fall down one of the upper slopes. He felt sore all over and, unbeknown at the time, had broken his jaw. He struggled back down to Skagway over a long time, reckoning that he passed out a couple of times. Half way down he became aware that he was being tracked by a bear that stayed with him for some time before disappearing.It's all stirring stuff isn't it? And even if it is stuff for the tourists and sounds right for a place where men were... well I'm not really sure to tell the truth.Back down in Skagway Tynan took us to the overlook where we got a grandstand view of Skagway Airport complete with no control tower. Apparently you check right, left and land!!! That's just wrecked a few plans for flyover trips from Skagway, hasn't it! That left time to call in on the Klondike Cemetery and tales of the demise of Soapy Smith. It was quite sobering to read the headboards declaring the deaths of prospectors, few of whom got out of their forties, their wives and, in some instances, their infant children. We were surprised to read on the grave of a priest that he had originated from Invernesshire in Scotland, and had survived in Skagway to his 70s. The cemetery is nothing grand, why would it be given the privations of the time, but it was another aspect of a Skagway proud to live with its past.A fantastic trip on which we learned so much. It left me with no regrets about not doing the Railway trip as I'm not sure I would have heard and seen so much, and I doubt if my own questions would have been answered as readily as they were by our excellent guide. I'd recommend Discover Skagway any time - great job done!We'd expected to be back at the ship a little sooner, but weren't complaining as we piled into fish and chips at Horizon Court before venturing back into town.You remember all of those places that we'd earmarked for a trip back in the afternoon? Didn't make one! I got waylaid in the White Pass Shop buying presents for the grandsons. Joan went in hot pursuit of an Ulu knife. We both felt that there was a better range of clothing stores and so set off to buy sweatshirts. Joan found a fudge shop (yes it was her, just me that suggested we should buy!) And then it rained!It did! 5 days into an Alaskan cruise and we finally got to see Alaskan rain. My there was a run on emergency ponchos then, but we come from Manchester, up north, where if it isn't raining it soon will be, and anyway there's always room for some growth! So we didn't need no ponchos! At one point I'm stood in the middle of the street proudly snapping Skagway in the rain to show all the gang back home! Won't they be proud of me! So with an old restored homestead, a great museum and various other locations to search out while we escaped the showers, what did we do? Went into a quilting shop. Is that where you guys say go figure?I don't know when we returned to the ship. It was a meandering route from place to place (not shop to shop) and somehow we ended up by the White Pass Railway snow-clearing machine. One last photo and home. Needless to say we hit the Spa again and sometime after made it to Pacific Moon for our evening meal. Here we met up with a couple from Washington state, one of whom turned out to be a fellow teacher. Poor Alan, he ended up on the side of an ongoing discussion of the merits (or otherwise) of UK and US education systems. No matter how hard we tried to steer the conversation away from schools, something would set one of the three of us off and away we would go again! Thankfully, he was a game soul and explained that he was well used to it. I've always felt that there should be a special room at all vacation venues where teachers' spouses could withdraw. I can just see it, Hello I'm Fred and I'm married to a teacher... If you're there Alan, just kidding, it was great meeting you.There were shows that night, but it took about two and a half hours to rewrite respective education policies so, no show.Thursday, August 30How do you write this day up? When you've spent an adult life in which everything you have achieved in work has been down to a fascination for a subject that unfolds on a blackboard, or a text book, or a film strip or through your imagination at sites long since evacuated by ice sheets, how do you convey the day that makes it all come real?It started with FOG. I nipped up to Horizon Court to pick up a couple of warm drinks and passed the rangers on the way. On my return we went out to the balcony and peered through the mist. An island was coming into view though we could not discern its size as only the lower 150 feet or so were visible. However, as 7 'o' clock loomed, the sun began to break through the clouds and mountain tops started to come into view. The mist was to disperse over the next few hours, but only slowly at first and it departed as a sheet drawn across the landscape.But more of that later, for there was a knock at the door and our Champagne Breakfast had arrived! Talk about indulgence it contained; a warm basket of French Pastries, smoked Copper River Salmon, Fresh Fruit and Alaskan King Crab Quiche all washed down with a half bottle of champagne. Ahhhhh! It was gorgeous, but you didn't need telling that did you? We sat and ate and shivered as the shores of Glacier Bay slid by. In truth there was far too much for one breakfast and I think it took us another three days to finish off the pastries, which meant they came on the land tour with us!We started looking for images in the snow on the slopes and Joan spotted a reindeer. The way the snow lay in the stream beds and on the slope looked just like a reindeer's head, and then the real show began.Although the balcony had been the place to be early on, once we passed the entry to Queen Inlet we wrapped up and went up to main deck as most of the glaciers were best viewed from the opposite side of the ship. We would see them on the way out but the commentary was all done on the entrance.Passing Russell Island we could see Reid Glacier sweeping in towards the sea, and then Lamplugh Glacier began to appear beyond a rocky headland. Slowly we edged forward and the ship held its position briefly in front of the glacier. We were amazed to learn that it is nearly 3/4 mile wide, and quickly took stock that distances were going to be a quite different business today. The folds and arches in the glacier face were quite intriguing and that was multiplied at our next stop ahead of John Hopkins Glacier. Here the moraines swirled along the surface of the glacier telling the story of numerous valleys that they had carved on their journey. We would loved to have moved closer but it was explained that the ship was prohibited from getting closer in this inlet.On turning to leave the inlet our attention was drawn to a smaller cruise ship stopped nearer to the shore to view a mother grizzly and her cub foraging for food. The naked eye saw little more than another moving rock but the zoom on the video camera looked to have picked things up so I'll just have to wait until I've processed the video to check out (the video picked them out brilliantly!)Gently we drifted down to the extreme of the bay to Marjorie Glacier. Possibly it's a shame that we could not see a fuller run of the glacier due to the shrouding mist, but then again it made us concentrate on the face, and what rewards. From time to time a wrenching crack would be heard and, almost as if in slow motion, a piece of the face would fall off. In all we saw 6 or 7 small calvings and we all held a collective breath for one big show. I stood there with my video held high above my head just scanning the face. My arm began to ache after about twenty minutes and it seemed like a good idea to rest it. And as I stood, as I looked, I heard the most unusual sound, followed by a muffled roar and stood in awe as a huge chunk of the face wrenched itself off and dropped into the bay. And that was the thing, it must have been considerably bigger than a house but it dropped, it didn't crash. It was like watching an Olympic high dive champion cutting the water with the smallest of plops off the high board. The surface was hardly disturbed.For a second I cursed, I bemoaned my luck that I had chosen that moment to divert my camera away, but then I realized, that image was etched in my mind and it would never leave meFollowing a lazy lunch we went to listen to the Park Ranger's talk in the Princess Theatre. I hadn't known what to expect and at first I wasn't sure where Elise, the Ranger, was headed. However, as the talk progressed I became fascinated by her very personal tale of a New Yorker arriving to live and work in Glacier Bay and in some small way her sentiments began to resonate with my own thoughts of the Alaska experience I was undergoing. Joan felt the same way too, and I think that the talk opened up space for a more emotional response to what was around us. Generally her talk was a series of slides about daily life in her first year in the Bay, weaved into the recollections of some of the early pioneers and explorers. It was a talk that seemed to challenge you to sit down and think about your sense of place in the world. On reflection, I feel that Elise's talk raised our visit and expectations to a new plane and I will always be grateful to her for that.Back at our balcony we fetched out the map given to us from the Dept of the Interior and identified that we were just passing Geikie Inlet. The map indicated that in 1860 this had been the extent of the glacial field and it was sobering to think that less than 150 years ago, none of that which we had just found so fascinating would have been accessible to man. The sun had begun to come out now, although individual bays still retained the mist that had obscured the full view for much of the day. We just sat at the balcony edge and watched the scenery as we passed by. All of the time we kept our TV tuned in to the running commentary and learned that the Rangers would shortly be leaving the ship.I must say that I found the ranger team, together with Karen from the Alaska Nature Society very valuable additions to the ship that day. Apart from their public commentaries, they were very helpful on a one to one basis at their information / bookstall. We took the opportunity to pick up a range of books from them. As well as a general Glacier Bay book, I picked up a book about the action of ice on the landscape to satisfy the re-awakened geographer in me, and we picked up books on whales and bears for the grandsons.As Sapphire Princess began to pull hard to starboard to approach the final stretch out of the Bay we said farewell to our ranger and nature party, and then made our way to the front viewing terrace of the ship. A lot of people were there already with a lot of pointing and gesticulating going on. Following the general direction of the arms we realized that there were humpbacks at play in the far distance. As we moved into Icy Strait, another group entertained from slightly closer quarters and then in Inian Strait we got a first class show from another humpback who breached about 1/4 mile off. WOW! That was very clear. Further towards the shore we could make out moving rocks, or was it whales, maybe even Orcas. I managed to catch something of their movement on video so I'll have to see what transpires. Won't it be great if it's moving rocks??? (Editor's note - it was still rocks....what was he on?) The whole early evening sail was a great display of sea life as lots of seals and porpoises seemed to want to move alongside us.After another indulgence of relaxation in the Spa, Irish coffees (well we sort of cobbled together whisky, orange and half and half), we set off for what proved to be a spectacular evening. Our evening meal consisted of soups, I had the cold strawberry, duck and pheasant (never had that before and thoroughly enjoyed it, not as strong as I had expected) and Baked Alaska. For the first time we found ourselves all alone at our meal. That was nice because we had lots to talk over from the day and just to share our thoughts and realize how special a place Glacier Bay had been for both of us was so pleasing.From our meal we went on to the late showing of "Do You Wanna Dance?" What a show! The company move with such dynamic energy and convey their enthusiasm to the audience so naturally. Once again the producer had put together a soundtrack to suit most tastes and ages. It was great to see them include "Saturday Night's Alright etc" as it's part of my all time favorite up tempo album section from the excellent "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" album. However they were able to move right through the rock and roll era and way on back (?) to the era of waltz. I was a little uncertain about the Asian element, perhaps a bit tokenist, but then they set into Riverdance. I've never seen the show, or any other of Michael Flatley's creations, but I strongly remember my first encounter with it. It was screened live on TV as a filler during a Euro wide show and it brought the house down. Well I'm here to tell you it did it again! The co-ordination of steps is so fast and furious, it must take hours to rehearse to get it so right, and the dancers pulled it off superbly. There were folk on their feet at the end and rightly so! It's a pity to think that this troupe may be reaching the end of their season and may even break up in the next few weeks. If that's so I do hope that they meet up with further excellent dancers who allow them to continue to the heights that they captured here. As I've stated previously, song and dance shows are not my most favorite entertainment by a long way. The best complement I can pay them is that they kept this old bloke more than happy; I could have watched them every night!Friday, August 31stTime to pack, time to laze in the Spa, time for a three mile run on the treadmill, time for coffee, time for just about anything as we drift along through a flat sea bound for College Fjord. This is a query for me, because no matter how hard I have tried, I haven't found anything in any of the guidebooks about this place. The cynic in me has decided it's just a filler to stop us arriving early at Whittier to make it a 6-day cruise. But like I say there's a ship to explore.About the Lotus Spa. I won't attempt a step-by-step outline to being lazy... its just too much trouble! However, I've got to say that it's been a nice little treat for ourselves. Joan was most put out when I explained that this wasn't the kind of thing that you could roll up tight and sneak into your luggage to take home! It's also worked out to be excellent value. Just do the math, we paid $135 for the 2 of us and visited on 7 occasions in all, that's less than $10 dollars a time or less than $5 per person per visit. You can't even get a pint for that back home! I suppose it's like all those subscriptions that we take up that seem a good idea at the time, it's up to you to use it or lose it. The Spa is a good buy. Perhaps a slight drawback is that because we chose to use it so much we didn't avail ourselves of as many activities as we might have done. But we'd no regrets.So back to College Fjord, was it a filler? Well you judge for yourself how I responded. I was keeping a notebook of our trip all the way through this cruise, and I've used it as an aide memoir for all of these pages but filled it out with my memories. I'll not do that here, I'll just copy out what I wrote as we departed the fjord.I'm writing this looking back down the fjord and there's nothing really left to see. Just fingers of ice coming to abrupt edges up high or slithering down as simple ribbons to the water. It doesn't tell the story and it didn't on the way in either. The end of the fjord is clear from the start but it's nowhere near the story. Page by page the tale unfolds. First high waterfalls cascade, then steps of ice appear, before the full majesty of this ancient frozen world imposes its will on your memory. Steps of ice range down to the floor one by one and you know - oh what a lucky man you are. As I've written this Sapphire Princess has pulled hard and one by one the last few glaciers have fallen from view. All but the last few glaciers remain to tell me this was a great day!Toss up between Pacific Moon and Vivaldi's and Pacific Moon won, just! It turned out to be a good choice too as Chino and Chiviat were a really good team. Chino seemed to be completely aware of where his diners were with their respective dinners and he kept the courses coming at a steady but unhurried rate, and Chiviat was very polite and helpful too. He's from Bangkok, and as we had visited Thailand last autumn we were able to chat with him about our experiences there. He was very pleased that we had liked our trip to his country and came over with a fresh question each time he topped up our water. He's keen to improve his English as he sees it as a way to advance in the future, and we encouraged him to keep talking to the cruisers. After our meal we stopped by the Maitre d' Mario and complemented him and his staff for the excellent service we had received. He hoped that we would put a card in to that effect and we assured him that we had already done so. There was time to make the evening show, but we didn't. The week ahead on land could be hectic and we decided we needed all the rest we could get. Land ahoy!

Saturday, September 1Disembarkation is always rather weird and this time even more so as it seemed that most of the passengers were gone by the time we got off, though I don't think that was so. After breakfast and a swift walk round the deck, we spent a few minutes playing table tennis before we decided to take a lounger down by the "inside" pool. I went off to get some coffee and ran into Sabin the former National Geographic guy who had been our commentator the day before. I took the opportunity to thank him for his work and for bringing the names of Harriman, Muir and others to my attention. We spoke about Bentley, the snowflake photographer who opened up so much knowledge about these tiny wonders and agreed that the true heroes of the piece were his parents, prepared to back their son in the idea of taking photos of snowflakes. His story should be told to parents EVERYWHERE, because I'm sure that the world would be a better place if all parents truly supported their kids in the way that reallyy mattered and didn't just show up when they were upset (bit of soapbox there Steve, climb down).Off the shop and almost seamlessly onto the motor coach to meet our driver, Mary. Well she's an ex-teacher from Houston so I'm bound to like her aren't I? But she was a breath of fresh air. Knowledgeable, friendly, patient, she made sure that nothing was missed from the bus. However, before we got started we had to wait for the 10am green light on the tunnel. That gave Mary the chance to run through the airline safety talk for the bus. We were all suitably attentive, especially when she pointed out that her bus was equipped with an International toilet. Puzzled looks around so she explained, when you're on your way there your a Russian, while your in there European and when you come out you be Finnish!There's not much to tell about Whittier. I mean what do you say about a place that has one big building housing school, city hall, police department, prison, housing and all the rest? Can't be a one-horse town unless it's the wooden horse of Troy!After our wait we got through the tunnel and headed over to the Begich Boggs Visitor center. Here I picked up a cracking little booklet for free which I would thoroughly recommend to all travellers on the Seward Highway. The road is its title and, among other things, it gives double page spreads of the road route together with excellent information about campgrounds, fishing sites, viewpoints and hiking trails. Later on we were to meet a seasoned guide to the area who had never seen it before but vowed that he would get some for his future passengers as soon as possible.At the center they have a wealth of information, some interesting displays and a small souvenir shop. There's a snack cafe nearby and some easy, pleasant strolls along the lakeside with good views to Burns and Portage glacier. Although it was an early stop straight after the tunnel, I was delighted that Mary had chosen to give us an hour here and would have happily stayed longer.Heading out for the Kenai Princess Lodge we drove down the Seward Highway, onto Stirling Highway towards the township of Coopers Landing. The scenery was delightful and the sun had now come out to leave clear skies. The valleys were crisscrossed by numerous creeks and streams, interspersed with pine forest and marshland plants. The red fringe of Fireweed, which we know as Rose Bay Willow Herb (or a pest) looked especially attractive in the sunlight. Occasionally the trees would be broken as we flashed by a lake and, because the day was so still, they all looked like glass mirroring the reflections of the surrounding slopes and peaks.On arrival at the Lodge we were delighted. Four parties each assigned to a log cabin divided into four generously proportioned apartments with 2 big double beds, a log burning fire (and logs/firelighters supplied) and TEA MAKING FACILITIES. Okay so it's coffee usually and the water still won't boil but at least it's to hand and we're in charge.The afternoon didn't start well as we discovered that Princess Head Office at Seattle had ignored our bookings for land tours, but as I've posted a separate thread about it I'll leave it at that. Besides, bad news is only as bad as you want it to be on holiday. Suffice to say that Robert at Kenai Lodge Tour Outfitters desk was a real star and helped us to contact the other lodges where we hoped to undertake excursions and by mid afternoon everything was back on track.We decided to walk the nature trail at the back of the property. Its a simple little stroll made the more interesting by a series of informative boards and the early warning that this is bear and moose territory! There are two options. The basic walk is about 1/2 mile, while there is a longer loop which extends it to 1 mile. With danger afoot we decided to go for it and did the long version. It's a very untouched forest area with ample signs of previous weather damage, animal visits to trees and any number of fungi. There are glimpses of the Kenai river some way below, but not clear enough to form a memorable view. We didn't take chances as I carried on inane conversation for minutes at a time in a loud voice, and Joan rattled her specs case with gusto whenever I paused for breath! Needless to say we saw no wildlife.Having completed that trail we then went for the whole hog and did the walk down to the river. The walk follows the river shore and has a series of viewing platforms situated at convenient intervals. We stopped to watch several fishermen out in the stream either wading or fishing from boats. I must confess that fishing has never held any appeal to me, but if I had grown up in Alaska I know full well that it would have been the natural thing to do! In addition to human activity, we were amused by the upstream struggle of three Loons, and watched them for several minutes. It was around then that we discovered the most enormous set of footprints in the gravel at the bank, and they weren't mine. Discretion being the better part of valor, we retreated to the lodge.You can phone for a buggy to give you a lift from the riverside back to the lodge and with the walking done and Joan's replacement knee, I assumed that that was what we would do. However, Joan comes from Manchester, up north, where the men are tough and the women are tougher and she decided that if we took our time she should do just fine. We even beat the bear to the top - just kidding.That evening we ate in the lodge. Surviving just on entrees seemed a real come down though to be honest it was a good job that we had to provide our own meals as we had eaten way too much the previous week. And I have to report that the food was very pleasant. Retired to the cabin where Joan had decreed that we needed a log fire, so who am I to disagree with that?Sunday, September 2Much as though we enjoyed Kenai Lodge and the facilities on offer, we weren't sure that there would be enough to interest us for the full day. However, that brought up an issue. The Lodge is just what it says, a wilderness lodge. You are a long way from anywhere and so finding alternative activities away from the Princess Tour Outfitters Desk is not easy. We're not horse riders and Joan's knee replacement advises against rafting so we plumped for a visit to Seward. Whether this was the best use of the day, I'm not sure, but there were a number of positives.Straight off I have to praise our guide for the day, Bill Fort. He was, without doubt, the best guide we had throughout the whole trip and plied us with lots of interesting and worthwhile information. Apart from an unscheduled loo stop and a stop at Tern Lake for photos against an almost mirror like flat lake surface, it was a pretty straight there trip in the morning. On the way we passed through a place called Moose Pass, and Bill was saying that he'd only ever seen moose there twice when, whoa, there's a moose calf! I was on the wrong side of the mini-bus, but Joan saw it from her side and was pleased to be one up in the wildlife stakes!Once at Seward Bill took us to the Sea Life center, which is included in the excursion price. It proved to be thoroughly interesting. The center was set up in the wake of the Exxon Valdez disaster. Apart from providing a home to damaged animals, they have a breeding programme for creatures at risk following the massive oil spill. Talking to one of the guides there it appears that they've been very successful, except in the case of the Harlequin Duck. Despite their best efforts, the birds returned to the wild have not thrived and still give a cause of concern after all these years.Of course the birds and mammals on display are of great interest, especially the Stellar Sea Lion who is very aware of his audience. As soon as he senses a good crowd he cavorts in front of the viewing windows to coil himself into the most complex shapes before floating back towards us as if to say, can you do that? We were fascinated by a series of discovery trays with sea anemones, urchins and starfish inside. We were encouraged to touch them and it was a fascinating experience as they inevitably felt exactly the opposite to what we imagined. Spikes turned out to have a quite rubbery texture, while seemingly soft shells were quite hard to the touch. Quite simply, this big kid was having such a good time that we ran out of time, and had to rush to catch the bus to go for lunch!Lunch at Ray's waterfront Restaurant was enjoyed by all and we ate quite widely on the menu. I'd certainly recommend it. However, it does detract from the available time. It's not part of the ticket and does take time to get to and from, plus there's service time too. We could have made do with a sandwich when truth be told.On the other hand I'm not sure what we would have done with the extra time if we'd got it. There wasn't time to get to surrounding attractions such as Exit Glacier or the Iditarod center that I had read about pre-cruise. Both are well within reach of Seward. The town itself didn't seem that inspiring. It's our fault that we found the museum too late as that might have given us a heads up about the impact of the 64 Earthquake, but their seemed to be little open information about the town. However, it's clear that Alaskans love the place! There were numerous vans and trailers along the waterfront park areas and lots of people playing in the open areas. Of course, on a good day close to the end of season, that's only to be expected.It fell to Bill to make the tour. He took us to various out of the way places about town, found us the harbor Creamery (where they do great ice cream) and the Billy Benton Memorial, which commemorates the young boy who won a competition to design the flag so proudly flown throughout the state. As we left town Bill stopped so that we could take a look at an eagle's nest. Amazing structures, but I wouldn't want to be underneath if it ever collapsed! Then it was back to the Seward Highway. It was a bright clear day and Bill gave us plenty of stops for vantage photo shots. Additionally, he was very attentive in answering our many and varied questions.If you are doing the Princess Land Tour then this is an option worth considering, especially if Bill is at the wheel. If he is say Hi for me. On the other hand I suspect Seward is best visited independently and tucked into a visit to one of the other attractions in the area. If you are travelling with kids the Sea Life center is a definite, and if you aren't, well go there anyway because these places deserve all our support!Monday, September 3A fond farewell to Kenai Lodge. The manager turned out to say goodbye to us all and several of the staff were at the windows to wave us off. I suppose the fact that there are only 87 rooms at the Lodge means that it's easier to create a homely feel to the place, but we really enjoyed our two nights here. On the northbound land tour the lodge certainly raises the spirits as you contemplate the rest of the journey, and I want to take this opportunity to recognize the great job that this lodge does for Princess tours. Back into the coach, onto the Stirling Highway and up to Seward Highway. Personally I love the fact that all the highways have names not numbers. It's the "Thomas the Tank Engine" fan in me I expect! Mary continued her narration of the route interspersing with amusing little asides. Halfway up Turnagain Arm we saw the bore tide ripping its way up the bay. Not that high, about 2 to 3 feet, but I'm pleased to have seen it as we have a similar phenomenon on the River Severn, except that it only happens once a year. Not long after the bore Mary informed us that we might see Belugas and sure enough, out at ten o clock, there they are! That wasn't something we expected, and although its only a series of white bumps breaking the surface, it's another bragging right with the folks back home and another foot of video tape! Nearby we pass the aptly named Beluga Point where there are several quirky statues representing the varied beluga profiles that you might spot if you're busy lookingg for them. Beyond that we pass Potter Marsh Refuge, a great looking boardwalk out into the marshes which, apparently, is great for bird spotting. Sadly, no time to stop, which is another reason to support the idea of an individual tour.We pass on, and at Anchorage, Mary does a detour from her route to take us downtown. No time to stop but it gives us a chance to see life in Alaska's largest city. Surprised to see a statue of Captain Cook identical to one we saw on Kauai when cruising Hawaii last year. Anchorage succeeds in being a big city without big crowds this day but maybe that's because it's Labor Day. It's certainly the reason why Palmer, our midday stop seemed to be closed!On the way in to town we pass the Alaskan State Fair and make our way to the Palmer Visitor center. We've got an hour for lunch and are given a map complete with restaurants etc. Trouble is nobody's quite sure which ones are open. Fair play to Mary, she had phoned ahead to try to find out, but there were still several mistakes ahead before people could find food. We set off in one direction, found the place closed, turned round and saw nobody had followed us, did a 180-degree turn and headed back into town.Here we found the Vagabond Blues Cafe where they did us an excellent soup and sandwich and we got boiling water for a cup of tea! Definite recommendation! Actually, my tomato and wild rice soup was beautiful, and Joan enjoyed her Chicken Chowder. As we had a few minutes to spare we decided to have a quick browse at the shops. Joan spotted a couple of quilting shops and set off in one direction, I headed off the other way having spied a bookshop. Bookshops are among my favorite wastes of time, I can get lost in them! My favorite is Foyle's on Charing Cross Rd in London. Recently they've tried to straighten it up, but it still rambles a bit and you can be in there for hours. In Palmer I came across Fireside Books, a small emporium but with a number of less obvious titles, and what a gem I discovered.You remember how I commented on the heroic Bentley who photographed all those snowflakes? Well I found a book which is a reprint of a magazine review he wrote. It contained 72 plates of his photos and a brief outline of the photographic process he used. Just over $11 it was a bargain as far as I was concerned, although Joan did a fair bit of eye rolling when she caught up with me!We were near the end of the motor coach section of our land tour, and after a short stop at the Talkeetna spur road to transfer off some people for excursions or a look around Talkeetna itself, we were on our way to the McKinley Wilderness Lodge. We chose not to bother and folks who did get off reckoned we made the best decision. McKinley Lodge is a much bigger place than the Kenai Lodge. It's in the wilderness, well away from anywhere, but it can't avoid the big town center feel. The rooms are little more than motel rooms, but there's a reasonable range of eateries and other public areas. Its shop is probably the biggest of all and it has a small lecture theatre where we heard an interesting Park Ranger talk about dog mushing. Being so much larger it is impersonal and not really in keeping with its surroundings or our expectation of what we were coming to.  But it did have one redeeming feature.I have now seen Denali and I know of some of its ways.I'm British. Why should I get worked up about some lump of rock in the USA? I remember from my visit to the Grand Canyon a few years ago seeing a quote by a president, FDR I think, that every American should see the Grand Canyon once in their lifetime. Good morning, America, I'm here to tell you to save up a bit more bread!The trouble is, there's no guarantee, and even if it's there you don't necessarily get it. Too many riddles? OK let's go on.Having settled in our room we made our way through the impressive great hall of the lodge onto the viewing platform. Fantastic view of the Alaskan range but only peaks up to about 5 or 6000 feet in view. The High One, we are told, is in cloud. Or is it? Slowly we get the feel for "Where's Denali?" and it's a fun game. Somebody is saying something about the whitest cloud and you find it out, but there's something odd about it. You wander over to the viewing telescope and take a peek. The white cloud is smack in the middle of the view, but since when did cloud have striations? That's it somebody says, but it's all you can see because it's obscured by cloud. But you're in the game now and your role changes. You can stand there looking on smugly as the newcomers arrive. Then as one comes and asks you where it is you get the satisfaction of pointing it out."You see the second tallest fir tree, behind the fence post? OK look straight up about three feet and then six inches to the right. Can you see the very white cloud with diagonal marks on it? That's Denali!"So they follow this mumbo-jumbo, wondering if this is some kind of emperor's new clothes for a minute or so and then tap you and say, hey, you're right! Now they're in the game and your role changes again. You've got someone to exchange smug looks with. And you get to roll your eyes in unison at the poor guy who just can't see it! You're in front of one of the biggest peep shows in the world, and gagging for more!A letterbox appears in the cloud and a western flank gleams through. You look further west and see the cloud breaking more. You get into "if only" conversations, but nothing seems to shift. But you're hooked as slowly the clouds shift, eastwards and upwards and you all know you're only feet from the summit and you can see the eastern slope now. Suddenly, a point arrives when you know the wait is nearly over, and you know you're not going to have a Marjorie Glacier moment again! That camera will run! And as you look and the last wisp of cloud lifts off the summit like the last wisp of smoke off a volcano... 20-3-20, it's there! And there are cameras clicking and appreciative murmurs all round. And there's this feeling of warmth and wonder around the deck. And you can't help but feel a sting in the eye and a clack in the throat, for you have seen the High One!We don't do stiff upper lip all the time!Tuesday, September 4At 6:16 am we remembered we'd asked to go on the Denali watch phone list yesterday afternoon! And here it is, the mountains out. I'm tempted to say it's OK we saw it yesterday, but Joan's up and out and I'm soon following. This time it's different. This time it's full frontal! Denali in all its majesty. Not so much a game more a visit to an exhibition. Over the next 45 minutes, as the sun rose the shades changed and the river mists floated away we were treated to the most fabulous vista. The full Alaska Range dominated by Foraker, Hunter and Denali. From soft, muted pinks, through pale peach shades we progressed to the full stark whiteness of the full mountain view, and once again I vastly increased my video-editing task!Faced with the minor task of putting luggage out and getting breakfast we tore ourselves away. But we still sneaked a few more pictures afterwards!Have I whined much on this post? I don't think so but you're the judges for that one. But after all that, I got really teed off at McKinley at Breakfast! You will recall my tea issue - I've tried to steer away from it! We'd found salvation by asking our servers for the hottest water possible and we've generally got a decent cup out. So we did the same in the Alaskan Grill at breakfast. Come check out I look at the bill and they've only charged me $1.75 per person for hot water!I mean here we are with the magnificent Princess Cruises, multi national, self-proclaimed market leader, proudly caring for their customers and they have to charge me for hot water! We even brought our own tea bags!I know, it's less than a quid, but why bother. You don't get charged for cold water in the evenings and there's an electricity charge for making the ice...Ah the heck, it's a holiday and we all know that if you look after the pennies the pounds etc etcRight, one whine over, bet I get flamed for it!Down to Talkeetna and onto the train. Did you get a map of the route? You may not have done because there was a run on them at Talkeetna. I'd seen one on the web and was determined to get my hands on one. So I sauntered down to the booking office and asked if they had them in Princess cars. They replied that they didn't but they had some right there and I could have one gladly. Once I got back to the waiting area I unrolled it and started perusing the map. Suddenly I was besieged! Where did you get that! So I told them. And I told them that princess carriages didn't have them. And suddenly there was a stampede!The lady at the kiosk was most obliging but towards the end people were coming back saying that she'd only let them have one! Some guy offered to sell his until I demanded 10% of his profit seeing as I had introduced him to it! There was a run on maps at Talkeetna, and I started it!!!Once on the train we found ourselves sat with a lovely couple from Wyoming. No announcements were made about changing sides but halfway through they (sitting face forward) offered their seats to us (facing backwards) and we were happy to change. There was no general announcement as I had read on the boards, and lots of tables stayed where they were, but we weren't to know the make up of each table group.The journey was very good. Lots of fine scenery, good and less expensive food than we had expected, great conversation (we virtually put the world to right in 4 hours) and all in reasonable comfort. The dome cars give good wide views wherever possible and there weren't many stretches of non-stop tree! Our commentator Michelle was very good and always seemed to get messages across in time so that cameras could be at the ready. In addition she had a good thing going with bar tender Ryan and they kept up an entertaining patter through the journey. I'm not much of a lunchtime drinker, I'm usually still sleeping off the previous evening, but Ryan seemed to keep his customers satisfied, with a good tally on empty vodka bottles! As a result four hours wasn't that long at all and we were soon at Denali Lodge.Denali Lodge - shudder! What a place! It seemed to us that the accommodation was getting worse and worse as we travelled north. There is nothing wilderness about a glorified motel in a strip mall! We even got interconnecting rooms complete with rowdy neighbors at 11:15pm!  Denali Lodge is a good reason not to do the Princess land tour! However, there's plenty of good stuff to do. We heard great tales about McKinley Flyover trips and rafting rides, and we had a great time at Jeff King's Husky Homestead. So that's another reason for promoting the kind of independent land trip that we didn't do!I'm a big sports fan, and have always had huge admiration for the long distance eventer. I'm not talking marathon running, although Paula Radcliffe SHOULD be queen. I'm not talking decathlon, although Daley Thompson is still the greatest living Englishman. I'm talking the events that go on for days. As a kid I loved to see highlights of the Monte Carlo Rally. I have long admired the Tour de France, despite all its recent troubles. I suppose it's the same thing with enjoying 5-day cricket matches. Its just respect for those athletes who can sustain their level of fitness and meet the mental challenge of day after day.I had never heard much about the Iditarod, but I'm a fan now after a steep learning curve. When you meet up with an apparent legend of a sport, see the glint of competitive spirit in his eye and listen to the fervor of his words, you know you are in the presence of greatness. Step forward Jeff King!On arriving at the Homestead we were welcomed by his wife, Donna, and a whole pack of enthusiastic husky pups eager to be petted. Numerous of photo ops later, and a glimpse of some 6 day old melt your heart puppies, and it's on with the show. One of the staff takes us over to the dog kennels to explain how they are trained. The bond of dog and trainer is evident, and as the staff prepare to demonstrate a training technique the dogs are bursting to do show and tell! Once selected they're also up for a quick na-na-na-na-na at their mates! When one of the staff moves over to the quad bike used for training runs the mood is positively deafening with all the dogs yapping and yelping determined to get their chance for a run! But funnily once the buggy sets off all is quiet!Next up Jeff's daughter Cally took us inside to talk to us about her experience growing up in Alaska and you really got a feel for the difference. She also explained that she now has her own dog team and has competed in and completed the Iditarod. Each of the speakers gives 100% credit to the dogs and sees themselves as minimal in the process but you know it can't be like that, but then Jeff comes in.As I commented, you know you're in the presence of greatness. Remember, I don't know this event, this person, this country, but I know what I see. Jeff King comes in as a slight man but he's really a giant of an athlete. He invites our questions and he answers them one by one with patience and politeness. All of the time his energy and enthusiasm burns through, but he never fails to entertain as he gives us an experience that I would heartily endorse to all fellow cruisers. Patiently, he poses for photos and signs books, videos and other mementos acquired by his visitors, but it's all over too soon and all that is left are the memories. But I tell you this, I know whose name I'll be checking out at www.iditarod.com next March!Wednesday, September 5When I first came across these boards I discovered a great review by Larry Feinberg. At the time it was both entertaining and informative and I used many of his tips along the way. I faced this day with trepidation, for it was here that he became "Stuck inside Denali with the Larry Blues Again!" (Sorry Bob). Now he became afflicted because of his lack of awareness of the importance of the left hand seats in the park visit buses, and I determined that that would not happen to me. Sadly I was struck down earlier.Breakfast was a terrible experience. Our fault perhaps, but King Salmon was heaving, the food was stodgy and the service was non-existent. Others in our party stayed up at Kings Canyon and had a passable breakfast snack in the lobby. If our impression of Denali Lodge was bad before, it was sunk without trace now.Onto the buses, ON THE LEFT HAND SIDE, we set off to the Wilderness Visitor center where we watched a very good film about the early establishment of the park. They used lots of archive film and commentary to put together a very enjoyable presentation, but that was pretty much as good as it got. In fairness, wildlife can't be guaranteed, so the fact that we saw virtually none would not be good reason for getting the sulks. It was a collection of things. It was the constant inane drivel from our coach driver. It was the excruciating "in Character" performance by one of the park staff at a wooden hut masquerading as a pioneer cabin. It was the awful stand up routine of the guide supposed to be bringing to life the life of the Athabascan tribe in the park. All of these just added to the sense of "we could be doing something else infinitely more rewarding".In truth I hadn't the patience to stand listening to infant school jokes from the ranger at Primrose Ridge and I wandered away from the crowd. It was the best decision I could have made. There I was above the valley floor looking out over miles of wilderness. Goodness knows how far I could see. Goodness knows what acreage I looked over. I'm sure that it's possible that the entire animal population of Denali Park could have been within the range of my sight just then and it still wouldn't have been possible for me to disturb them. There was just so much! That's when you have to recognize the vision and determination of those pioneers who set about establishing this land as a protected space. It's not words that count, it's just the width of your own eyes, and you can drink it in.On our return to the lodge we saw a moose. It was our second brush with wildlife, the first being a Ptarmigan near the security gate below Primrose Ridge. Our coach driver stopped and we enjoyed a few minutes watching it about 200 yards south. After a while we noted a second and there was some thought that a sparring session might begin, but no animation was forthcoming.Once back we wandered around the shops for a while and ran into our Wyoming friends from the previous day. They had skipped the Nature trip and had done a flight around the summit of Denali instead. Clearly, they had had a good time! Soon we boarded the train and were heading for Fairbanks. The journey was dull. After a promising start the scenery died away and all we had was mile after mile of trees. Occasionally we would pass signs of life but all too often our commentator, who seemed as lifeless as us, missed it. We had declined the chance to eat initially because they wanted to take us down to the restaurant car at 5pm - way too early! However, not long after 6 they came back up to say that they had finished serving everyone who had wanted so if anyone else was interested they would be happy to find them a seat. We figured that they would be pushed to serve before 6:30 and since we wouldn't get to Fairbanks until 8, now was as good a time as any! That was a good decision. Both food and service were excellent and I must say that the restaurant car quite impressed us both days.On returning to the dome car we swapped places with our table companions, a friendly couple from Idaho, and completed the journey facing backwards. I was only sorry that we hadn't told them to move before we went down. Towards the end of the journey everyone was starting to flag, but we were all animated when one of the guys yelled "COWS!" It was the first life we'd seen since a Dall Sheep just outside Denali. Shortly afterwards the cry was "Moose!" and we were all up again. Sadly this meant that Joan didn't see a thing as she was on the wrong side of the carriage. Shortly afterwards we pulled into Fairbanks a little later than expected and transferred to the Fairbanks Lodge.At the lodge I met someone who had travelled from Denali by motor coach. It had taken them two hours. I went to bed!Thursday, September 6Last morning and breakfast in the Englewood Dining Room. I had slept well the night before and felt very much more rested. The room was standard layout but a little better proportioned than the previous lodges had appeared. The breakfast was again buffet style and similar fare but not as overdone as at Denali. Simple reason, fewer people. And the service was very good. The young lady in question turned out to be a self-confessed football nut (world style!!!). She supports Arsenal (which is OK), mentions Manchester City before Manchester United (very astute) and knows that Aston Villa has defeated Chelsea the previous weekend (big tip coming up!!). Sorry USA, I know this is inane to you but as a famous English Football team manager once said, "Football's not a matter of life and death, it's much more important than that." Once fed it's out to the coaches for our trip to the Riverboat Discovery Paddle Steamer.I sniffed tourist trap a mile off and was all set for a second day's grousing, but none of it. This was great fun. The boat is comfortable, the events relevant and interesting and all of the commentary is first rate. They've even got strategically placed video screens so that you can get a good focus on things happening. The whole thing is pulled together by the narrator, whose name I never noted and would love to get from someone if anybody out there knows it. I had the good fortune to spend a few minutes with him. He's a very keen inland waterways man and told me of his hope to come to sail some of the UK canals one day.The Discovery plies along the Chena River passing some prime Fairbanks real estate encountering some excellent demonstrations reflecting life inland in Alaska. First up it's a pilot who takes us through his repertoire taking off and landing on the river beside us. A little later he swaps his floatplane for a bush plane and shows us his skill in landing his plane on a sandbank.Next up we pull alongside the home of Dave Monson and the late Susan Butcher, 4 times Iditarod winner, where he puts the current pack though their paces for us. However, it's the small pups straggling over logs that seem to steal a lot of people's hearts. Dave's talk was very interesting and adds to the knowledge we had gained from Jeff King a few nights before.A little further we come to the Chena Indian Village. From the water we see their collection of reindeer and a reconstructed Athabascan Village masterminded by Dixie Alexander, a lady of no small talent. As we watch she fillets a salmon in about 15 seconds running a commentary all the time! After this we pull into shore and enter the village. We are divided into four parties and slickly move our way around several exhibit areas.Firstly, one of Dave's staff introduces us to her Husky pack and tells of her Iditarod experience. Next we are taken to a hut surrounded by animal skins. We are told of Dixie's decorative skills with these pelts and see some of her fantastic handiwork. Lastly, we go into an area with several different house constructions each representative of the different types of dwelling the Athabascans might use in different circumstances. In addition there is a canoe and there are a group of reindeer to pet if you can get near enough. I've got long arms! There's just time to pick up a copy of "Granite" by Susan Butcher and Dave Monson, which he gladly signs for our grandsons and then we're back on the steamboat.On arriving back to the Riverboat Discovery there's a huge shop with all manner of souvenirs. However, there's no pressure to buy and if you just want to walk through to a bus that's just fine. We take a moment to view the exhibit at the back of the store commemorating Susan Butcher's life and achievements, and then it's back to the lodge.Another trip is planned for the afternoon but we're shattered and feel that this one will be a tourist trap and so decide to spend some time getting our luggage prepared for the route home. During the afternoon we walk round to Fred Meyers, described as an upscale Walmart, and do a bit of grandad shopping for the grandkids. Usual thing, last thing bought is an extra bag to fetch it all home!When we get back we run in to some people who have done the El Dorado Gold Mine trip that we skipped and they confirm what we suspected. The evening is spent at Pike's Landing for our last Alaskan fish meal (absolutely fabulous) and then it's back to bed. We've got a 3am call and it will be well over 30 hours before we get back to Manchester, but you don't want me to post that now do you?Next morning we met up with our colleagues from the past week and discover that two of the party went on a flight to The Arctic Circle late yesterday and had a total blast! For a minute I'm regretful but no..To travel is to never regret, for others will never be there.FINAL THOUGHTSThe Sapphire Princess is a gem in more than just name. Yes, this was only our third cruise and there's probably a lot more out there that can raise the bar, but I can hardly think of anything that could have been done to improve our experience.My only gripe would be with the response of the Purser's Office to our decision to pay cash for all services. You would have thought that we had leprosy when we first stated this and then would have assumed that we were public enemy no 1 when you saw the number of request calls and letters we got asking us to ensure that there were sufficient funds in our account. I appreciate that it is just possible that we were going to "do a runner", but I reckon we'd have to be quicker than Asafa Powell to pull that off anyway, and he's not so rapid with 4 cases in tow!!! Are Princess entirely sure that all you guys out there with credit cards are on the level? That's not to suggest that any of you aren't, only good guys read my boards.The restaurants on Anytime were no problem at all. Just tell them that you're willing to share and you'll be sat almost immediately. Equally, if the tables are full in Horizon Court, just look for the empty seats and ask if they are free. In either instance, the people who don't want to share weren't worth sitting with anyway. I'm pleased to say that nobody declined us and everyone we met enhanced our trip with their fun conversation.The ports of call were a good selection with plenty of opportunities to grab your own Alaska experience, and I can't believe that anyone goes home without treasured memories. It serves no purpose to criticize the over commercialization of these towns, as it's inevitable that with all us holidaymakers rolling in daily, they're going to want to get their slice of the pie, and who'd eat plain pizza anyway!We were lucky that the weather was with us 100%. We had better weather than we've experienced for much of the summer up here in the English northwest! The bits of less good weather: the rain in Skagway, mist in College Bay just added to the experience, but I'm sure that it would affect some people badly if bad weather had shut down excursions and limited all the cruise ship passengers to the towns.We didn't do many Princess tours. Neets Bay bear watch was fantastic, the Riverboat Discovery was also very good, but Historic Seward and the Denali Nature Tour left much to be desired. For future cruisers who have followed this post I would say that if you've got an absolute must to do then it's probably worth booking in advance, but if you're not too fussed then take your time, do your homework, contact local providers on the web and do your own thing. It won't cost as much and you certainly won't miss anything. Of course that advice probably holds well for any cruise destination. However, we went to the Caribbean two years ago and tours were easy to pick up on the quayside. Last year in Hawaii, nothing except at Maui.The land transport was mixed. Our motor coach was comfortable enough and the driver great, but the need to be in the right place at the right time just makes for an edge which can spoil the experience. The trains were a similar mix. One day great, one day so so. It was near the end of the season and maybe people's eyes were casting homeward so maybe I'm just a touch harsh on the second day's trip, but it wasn't good. Just for future reference anybody, Princess seem to load up each coach in alphabetical order so you're either right at the start of the queue for food or right at the back. To make matters harder to predict we as Cs had one day last up and one day first. If you're MNOP then it'll probably be mid trip, the rest of you - sorry!My biggest concern would be the land tour. At a combined cost of around $2000 for the two of us, Princess did not give value for money as far as we were concerned. I would not use any of the accommodation or use the restaurants again except for the Kenai Lodge. McKinley, Denali and Fairbanks are just too big to give good service. I appreciate that we weren't there to stay in the lodges, but they don't come anywhere close to the cruise experience, despite being on the same ticket. The service was quite patchy and the front desk approach was off hand to say the least. The need to get up and go every day came as a drag to us and, though we knew beforehand and tried to plan our packing, we still found ourselves scrambling through our case each day a real pain. The one good thing is that it's put us off any idea of doing some kind of extended coach tour.I should confirm that none of these comments are aimed at Kenai. And there's the rub, the small establishment adds to the experience. Frankly, as I read on another board, do it independently, it's not as though it's a foreign country. Well it is for some of us but they do speak the same language, most of the time!But finally, we're there for Alaska, and it doesn't disappoint. Travel with your eyes open and you will not be disappointed, there's always something happening out there. Equally, travel with your mind open and talk with the locals. Even the summer staff get the personality. They want you to have a great time, and they know how to help you. So many native and migrant Alaskans did so much to make this a wonderful trip for us. I'd love to thank them all one by one, and who knows, one day I just might do that.

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