My husband and I traveled with another couple. We are all in our 60's. We have cruised many times, mostly with Celebrity and Royal Caribbean although with have been on Norwegian, Carnival and this was our 3rd cruise with Princess.
We took the land tour first. We arrived in Anchorage around 8:30pm a day early, since we wanted to spend a day there and get acclimated to the time change. (We're from Florida, so it was a 4 hour difference). My tip is DO NOT opt for the Princess transfers from the airport to the ship. We arrived a bit tired and hungry.We ended up having to wait 2 hours for all the flights to come in before we could board the bus to the hotel. Of course that means there were about 4 or 5 different hotels to drop people off at. At least ours the Captain Cook, was the first drop off point. The young bus driver was so chipper and happy to show off Alaska, but no one on the bus cared about her cheery comments and jokes. We all were very weary travelers and just wanted to get to our hotels. We could have easily grabbed a cab at our convenience and got to our hotel at least an hour and a half earlier if we had not opted for the transfers.
The check in was smooth and we got to our room and crashed. We just ended up breaking into our stash of snacks we brought on the plane again because no one was in the mood to go to a restaurant or even grab any food.
We slept in, and went to the Snow City Cafe for breakfast. It was just ok. We had been there 10 years ago and a lot has changed. They're still busy, but they've enlarged the restaurant. There was still a bit of a wait, so prepare for that if you go there.
We went to the Anchorage Market on 3rd Avenue and E Street. It's an easy walk from the hotel and a fun way to spend some time if you're there on Saturday or Sunday. They play the Star Spangled Banner to kick off the day at 10am. It was a nice touch. We walked around Anchorage a bit more and had a lunch at Glacier Brewhouse good. We were seated quickly and the service and food was great. We realized we needed to make reservations for dinner because we wanted to go to Simon and Seafort's for dinner so I made an online reservation. We ended up sitting in the bar area near the windows, at Simon and Seafort's which was fine with us. They had an early bird menu (not available for holidays) but they have a nice selection of appetizers and lighter choices as well as their dinner menu. Two of us got appetizers and 2 of us got dinners. Everyone enjoyed their meal, the atmosphere and the drinks.
The next day we started our land tour and were off to Princess Mt McKinley Lodge. Now on our previous Royal Caribbean Land tour, we had a tour guide for our tour. This time there was just the bus driver. She was very informative and all, but it still felt like something was missing. We had several questions about the tour in general, but there was no one to answer them. We made about a 45 minute stop were we could grab some food/snacks for our room and we took advantage of that.
I had read some poor reviews about the lodge, so I wasn't expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised. We were in Bldg 18 at the end of the building on the 2nd floor--I think the room was 225. I would compare it to La Quinta. Our room was clean and the bed and pillows were comfortable. We walked around through the trails and then went to the lodge to play cards and grab some food. The food and drinks were just ok. We had a table with nice views of Mt McKinley. The bar staff was not great, but the front desk people were awesome.
The next morning we ate breakfast at 20320 Alaskan Grill which was very good. Then we played cards at the lodge to kill time before we boarded the bus to Denali. We had a different bus driver this time, who again pointed things out along the way and was informative. At both lodges, you don't even need to check in--you just get off the bus and they ask your name and give you an envelope with the next day's instructions (meeting time, place), info about the lodge and your room keys. Very efficient and convenient. Our friends were only across the hall the first time but ended up on the other side of the building at Denali even though our room were only 1 number apart. This time we were in the Wolf Den, Building D room 225 again (I think). Again the room was fine. Clean and comfortable, but nothing spectacular. We grabbed lunch at the Grizzly Burger and the food was very good. Fast foodish, but tasty.
We had booked the Tundra Wilderness Tour, which is the 7-8 hour tour of Denali National Park and Preserve for that afternoon. Our travel agent recommended we upgrade to the longer tour and we were (half) glad we did. We saw a mother bear and her cub at mile 61 of the 62 mile tour. We did see several caribou, Dall sheep, rabbits, Bald Eagles as well. The tour takes place on a school bus, so it's not a very comfortable ride for 7-8 hours. But the driver stopped as we spotted animals and zoomed in with a camera and displayed it on the screens on the bus so everyone could get a look even if you didn't use the binoculars or your own equipment. This was a long day.
The next day we headed out for the Princess Alaska train to Whittier. We were assigned seats, but rarely sat in them. We went to breakfast which was very good, then sat in the next car that is the "lounge car" which has several booths. These seats might be assigned if the train is full, but ours was not, so we played cards and enjoyed the scenery. You may move from car to car or view the scenery from the trestle outside between cars if you want. It was a pleasant trip and we spotted a moose and Dall sheep along the way. Check in to the ship was again a breeze-- much easier than I thought it would be. Princess sure has all the check ins on the land tour down pat. Very smooth process.
We did the Skagway train which everyone raves about. I was impressed with the story and some of the scenery, but really felt I could have skipped it. Maybe it was because I had been on the train for 8 hours the previous day. We went back to the ship after that as we had toured Skagway previously and didn't need to shop.
In Juneau we did a Whale watching tour which was very good. It was a pretty brisk morning, and I thought we'd be cold on the boat, but it is completely enclosed (unless you want to be on the top deck). We stayed on the bottom deck and had great views. We were served donut holes and coffee or hot cocoa. It was a really nice, fun tour. We saw several whales, Bald Eagles, and sea lions. Again, we went back to the ship.
In Ketchikan we went on the Wildlife Safari and Beach Bonfire tour. We saw a couple humpback whale blows, a few bald eagles and some sea lions but that was about it. The safari part was a bit disappointing to me. I was hoping to see more larger animals around the shores, but it really seemed like the tour was more about the bonfire. That turned out to be much better than I thought. We were met by members of the Metlakatla tribe and they shared their history, songs and stories. It was very interesting and the young people were fun to talk to--very proud of their culture and reviving it within their tribe. I enjoyed them a lot. We had a little tour where a guide pointed out some plants and trees. We had reindeer dogs and s'mores which we cooked ourselves at the bonfire. Chips and drinks were also served. It was a better tour than I was expecting.
I think this may have been the day when we had Puppies in the PIazza. I love puppies but I think I would skip this next time and go straight to the bar for martinis! We got in line at 4:30pm and the "event" started at 5. Lots of people and no real organization to start, so no one really knew were to line up. A passenger (who I guess had done it before and knew what to expect) told us how it would go and we ended up to be in the first group. They brought out 4 puppies for 50+ people to pet. You got about 5 seconds--enough time for them to take a picture they could charge you for later.
Crooners bar was great--see John. He's awesome and will hook you up with martinis that aren't even on the menu. Just ask.
The food in the dining room was just OK. We only ate there 3 times. The pizza and burgers were always good at the pizza and grill areas. Ice cream cones, at the ice cream stations were great, too. One day they had fish tacos, but we didn't go up to the grill that day. The buffet was pretty good.
We didn't take in any shows; they didn't interest us this time. We received a note in our cabin that there was a high rate of illness on this cruise so maybe it's a good thing we weren't in the public areas as much as usual. We did spend a lot of time in the card room and Crooners. The band was great but I forget the name. We could hear it in the card room a few nights.
We had the transfers to the airport and I would definitely do this again. The process was a breeze. We had to have our bags out before we went to dinner the last night. Oh and if you do sign up for the transfers, when you get that disembarkation memo a few days into the cruise, don't ignore it like we did. Luckily, my husband happened to read it and we filled out the customs documentation and turned it in 10 minutes before the deadline. They have to have all that info well ahead of departure time.
All in all it was a great trip. The main objective was to get away and see the beauty of Alaska and we did that. Cruising is not what it used to be, but it's still a very good value.
The cabin was great. We were offered to upgrade to a mini-suite from a balcony and loved it. Plenty of room. The 2nd tv in the cabin was overkill for us, but families or might like it. The bed and pillows were comfy and the shower head was amazing. The bathtub was nice and I did use it, but having to stand up to adjust the water or turn it off was annoying. The bathroom was a good size.
Our cabin steward, Sewell was excellent. He was quick and efficient and there but unobtrusive. Perfect cabin service.