This cruise was for our 25th anniversary so we splurged a little more than we normally would have. We booked almost a year early to make sure we got the room we wanted (B416 mini-suite on the port forward facing bump-out). That may have led to the only "negative" we had on this cruise. When we booked there was no such thing as "Club Class" so when Club Class was announced I pretty much ignored it and what it might add. It turns out our booking was Club Class but that was never really conveyed to us. That led to some confusion at times. There was champagne in our room that we didn't expect and the first night we skipped right past the club class dining room line since we didn't think we were and got into the anytime dining line instead. The next evening the dining room hostess pointed out that our cards said "Club Class" and got us straightened out...though our waiter seemed upset we weren't there the previous evening. Not bad problems to have and really was the worst thing that happened the entire trip :D
We arrived in Anchorage 2 days early so we could sight see a bit. Princess put us up in the Captain Cook. Hotels are just places to sleep for us. We don't make much use of amenities and don't care much for the door holding and button pushing that swankier hotels do. That said, our room was very nice and the staff was courteous. We were quite happy with our stay.
Transfer to the Coral Princess:
This was one of two points in our trip that we self imposed some anxiety. This trip was part 25th anniversary cruise and part "pick up another state marathon" for my wife. The marathon was the morning of the 17th...same day as ship departure. Princess had scheduled us an 11AM transfer direct from the hotel to the ship. We talked with one of the Princess representatives in the lobby and explained that my wife would likely not finish her race until 11:30AM and was there another option. They were incredibly understanding! 11AM was the last direct bus from our hotel, but they worked out a solution where we could just walk a few blocks down the the Egan center and take a Princess shuttle over to the airport and from their grab a later shuttle to the ship. They suggested to send our bags on ahead form the hotel so we wouldn't have to drag them all over. This worked out great for us! The hotel allowed us to check out at 12:45 instead of the normal 12:00 which was enough time for my wife to finish her race and get a shower. A short walk to the Egan center and we were on our way to the airport by 1:00. We caught a 2:00 shuttle from he airport to the ship which was well narrated and hit the tunnel just early enough to let us out for 5 minutes to get some stunning glacier photos before ducking through the tunnel and to the ship. By the time we got on board, our luggage was already in our room. Perfect!
Deluxe Balcony Breakfast:
We wound up with 2 of these! We got ourselves one for Glacier Bay day and our son got us one for our anniversary. Glacier Bay day was too cold to eat outside so we had them set up inside for us. This was fine with the mini-suite but not sure how it would work in a normal balcony room. The food was very good and perhaps a bit excessive! The second breakfast we did have on our balcony. It was on the last sea day. The weather was absolutely beautiful. The ship must have been matching the speed of a tail wind perfectly because it was perfectly still on the balcony. The balcony is a bit small for all the food they bring but we suffered through :)
Ultimate Balcony Dinner:
Too cold for outside so we had them set up inside again. For dinner they set up a fold up table for the meal. Really not sure how that would have fit on the smaller mini-suite balcony or in one of the smaller balcony rooms without the extra seating area the mini-suite has. I felt bad that the servers stand outside the room while you finish each course so they can bring the next course in at the right time. The food was very good...we both had surf-n-turf. The photographer took us out on the balcony for photos where it was cold and windy and my poor wife had a shelterless/backless evening gown on...she looks cold in every picture they took :(
We loved our room for Yakutat and Glacier bay cruising! I would sit on the balcony with my long camera lens and my wife would sit just inside the door where she was warmer and could hear the naturalist over the TV. In glacier bay, the naturalist announced a whale siting at 1:00 off the starboard bow. Sigh...our room is port side. But wait! The friendly people here on CC had mentioned the Coral has aft public decks! We quickly walked from our room to the aft deck on our floor and got there just in time to see a humpback waving at us just off the starboard side. There were only 2 other people on the entire deck! We got to watch him wave for a good long time as the ship slowly cruised deeper into the bay. Shortly after we returned to our room we got another wildlife announcement. Bear at 3:00...starboard...sigh. We figured the bear was more likely to vanish into the trees so we quickly hopped up to Lido deck and across to starboard. The bear was still at our 3:00. My wife and I walked aft along the deck to keep even with him until we realized we didn't have to walk any more. The Captain stopped the ship! This was amazing! The bear was only a hundred or so yards away on shore and we could easily watch him root under rocks looking for food. I got some great pictures :D After about 10 minutes, the ship started moving slowly deeper into the bay and we watched as the bear continued to walk along the beach until it was out of sight. Many kudos to Captain Michelle Tuvo for this experience!
We're not sure why but we got invited to visit the bridge on our last sea day. We met Captain Tuvo several times out and about...he's a very personable and entertaining individual! We didn't ask why we got invited (Maybe Club Class? Maybe because we renewed our vows on board?) we just went. We spent almost an hour on the bridge and Captain Tuvo was remarkably entertaining :)
We booked all our excursions through Princess...this was a splurge trip :) We ended up with 2 excursions and both Skagway and Katchikan and one at Juneau (because we couldn't fit in a second one!) Plus we also booked the city/park tour from the ship to the airport on disembarkation.
Skagway White Pass Railway:
Listen to the nice people here on CC. Do NOT get onto the first car you come to. The nice people helping board the train even suggest there's better seating to be had if you continue walking. We got onto the second to last car they were boarding. It turned out to be the car the tour guide sits in. It also turned out to only have 3 other couples seated in it. I was the only one standing on the outside platform :) Everyone inside got to switch side to side as they pleased :) It didn't hurt that the weather was fabulous and the scenery gorgeous! A very nice trip.
Skagway Chilkoot Kayaking:
Some people missed the tour...we had to catch the fast fairy to Haines and they didn't make it in time. There wound up being only us and one other couple on the tour. Because of the low number we were able to get onto the water much quicker and our guide took the opportunity to take us to some places they don't normally make it to with larger groups. The lake was calm and the kayaking easy...we never felt exerted or rushed. Afterwards they took us on a tour of Haines which was a nice bonus.
Juneau Whale Watching an Mendenhall Glacier:
We were the first boat out for the day. Good for us in that we had a little more time on the water...bad for us in that no one had found the whales yet. We only had 14 out of a max of 20 so the boat wasn't overly crowded. Part of the fun was helping search for the whales. Other boats were starting to call in sightings but they were well south of us. The captain was just about to give up and head south when someone caught site of a plume. We were racing out to the general area of the sighting when not 100 yards in front of us she surfaced heading straight for us! It was a remarkable site seeing a bus sized whale heading right for our 40 foot boat! Captain Annette was amazing. She immediately shut the boat down to protect the whale who submerged again just in front of us...and surfaced not 20 feet off our starboard side! We could hear her blow and then suck in another breath! We were much closer than the allowed range but this was no fault of our captain. The whale came up unexpectedly close to us on first surface and the engines were shut down when she resurfaced the second time. The captain did a remarkable job of keeping us a safe distance from he whale while trying to slowly maneuver around so we could get a good tail shot. We followed this whale for 4-5 dives they high-tailed it to the south side of the channel where orcas were spotted! Unlike for the humpback, we didn't have the orcas to ourselves. Captain Annette expertly pulled us into traffic (conversing with the other captains continuously) so we had a good view. We followed the orcas...a pod of 1 male and 2 female...for about 15 minutes before it was time to head back to shore.
The weather was bright and sunny...yes, in Ketchikan! They bundled us up but good in additional wool socks, heavy rain gear, wool hood and mask and gloves...we didn't need any of it. It was great to know they had the equipment because were it rainy we would have needed it! The boats are very stable and surprisingly comfortable. Our guide was very alert and ensured we were safe at all times as we crossed the channel and cruised along the coast of some of the islands. We didn't see any bear, but our guide did bring a couple of perch to feed the bald eagles. The snatched the fish out of the water not 20 feet in front of us!
Unfortunately we didn't get to see much wildlife this tour. Some eagles of course...they're everywhere! We got close to some seals lounging about. We searched a good long while along the coast for bear but never saw any...the group before us were excitedly chatting about the black bear they saw as they were getting off the boat. We were a little disappointed as we were speeding our way back in. We were chatting with our guide when she suddenly perked up and hurried up to tell the captain she had seen a whale. He swung the boat around and took us back so we could get some great views but we couldn't stay long since we needed to be back for all aboard. The captain and our guide were very knowledgable and it was a very pleasant few hours even if we didn't get to see a bear.
Vancouver City and Stanley Park Tour:
This was the second of our self inflicted points of anxiety. The tour says not to book if your flight is before 2:00PM. When we booked, our flight was 2:45PM. That time change many times before our trip so we just kept the booking thinking we'd cancel onboard if it seemed like a problem. Our final flight time was 1:40PM. We decided to keep the tour anyway. The tour was nice...the guide very nice. We got to stop a couple places in Stanely Park to flex our legs. We lost 2 people at our first stop :( The driver spent almost 20 minutes looking for them and calling the other busses to see if they had gotten on another one by accident. Finally he had to finish the tour for the rest of us. We never did get a satisfying story but the two missing people did make it to the airport before us somehow. Our driver had was constantly checking with other busses and dispatch to try and hunt them down and figure out how to reunite them with their stuff. It was disappointing to know we could have been left behind, but reassuring that he was making an honest effort to fix the situation. We got to the airport just after 12:00. The airport was crowded from ship traffic but we got expedite stickers and were hurried through security and made it to the gate just minutes before they started boarding the plane.
Renewal of Vows:
We did this on sea day...the last day of our cruise. The videographer met with us to try and sell us the video package. It was way too expensive and we didn't care much for the way the sample video they showed us was cut so we declined them even trying to video. The photographer did a decent enough job and we did buy that package. He led us around the ship afterward to get some nice photos at various places. The rest of the experience was exemplary! We went with the standard vows which the captain made us repeat. The flowers we received were very nice. The chapel was done up well. Perhaps the best part was all the oohs and aahs from the other passengers as they congratulated us and commented how pretty my lovely wife was in her dress carrying her flowers! Champagne and strawberries and chocolates appeared in our room and we got to keep the glasses...in the end, well worth the price, I thought.
The reality is it'll likely be years before we make it back to Alaska but we'd leave again tomorrow and not even look at anyone other than Princess given our experience this cruise! Princess will very likely be a first contended for any other itinerary we might decide on in the future as well.
We specifically chose B416 because it was a forward facing mini-suite. We really wanted the bump out view so we could see ahead and to the side easily. This worked out better than expected for Alaska. My wife chills easily :( I don't. I spent a large portion of the trip sitting on the balcony watching for wildlife. Because we had the bump-out view, my wife was able to sit just inside the balcony door where it was warm and still had a nice wide view. She'd often see seals before I did! The bed was comfortable except for the hump where the two beds join but that was easy enough to avoid. The 2 TVs are unnecessary...especially for us in Alaska! We turned one onto the bridge camera channel so we could catch the Captain's wildlife announcements :)