This was our first cruise ever, and we were generally pleased with it. We knew several other couples who had done the Princess cruise to Alaska, and none had complaints, so we never even considered another cruise line. Our total vacation ... Read More
This was our first cruise ever, and we were generally pleased with it. We knew several other couples who had done the Princess cruise to Alaska, and none had complaints, so we never even considered another cruise line. Our total vacation was 3 days in Vancouver before the cruise, 7 days on the ship, 5 days of Princess cruisetour on land, and then 3 days, mostly in Seward.
The 3 days in Vancouver before embarkation was just about the right amount of time. We stayed at the Landis, a suite hotel, and there are many small restaurants within walking distance. We rented bikes to go around Stanley Park,and also went to the Aquarium, the Capilano suspension bridge and the Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden. We went to Vancouver Island and Butchart Gardens on a previous trip, so skipped it this time.
Cruise embarkation was as slow as other reviewers have reported, but we finally made it on. The weather was warm and sunny as we sailed from Vancouver, and after exploring the ship a little, we settled on our balcony with the wine we had brought on board and watched the city slip away.
Our cabin was spic and span and, although small, there is adequate storage space for everything. Our steward came in at least twice a day to clean and replace any used towels.
We were very satisfied with the food in general. We ate almost all breakfasts and lunches in the Horizon Court (buffet). On the first at-sea morning, we tried the Da Vinci dining room to order breakfast off the menu. That was a mistake, as the service was extremely slow, and the food was no better than in the Horizon Court. There is a large selection of food at all meals in the HC. The only problem is it can be difficult to find an open table, as people tend to sit at the window tables for a long time to just enjoy the passing scenery, but staff are helpful in getting you a table. We ate most dinners in the Michelangelo dining room, as we wanted any-time dining. The food was generally very good there, although sauces tend to be heavily salted. The service is slow there, and it was usually 9-9:30 by the time we were done, so not being night people, we did not go to any evening entertainment, except once for the 50's and 60's music night. We did not purchase any beverage cards as we are not soda drinkers and I couldn't see spending an additional $49/day for alcoholic beverages, so we just ordered them a la carte, and remained well below the $49/day .
As first-time cruisers, we found the Princess Patter daily newsletter very helpful in notifying us of the day's events, port info, etc.
The weather in Alaska in August was not as rainy as I had feared, but at sea it was quite cold, as were some of the days during the land portion (the second half of August is already Fall season in Alaska). Going out on the outside decks meant dressing in warm jacket, hat and gloves most of the time, but in the ports it was warmer. Many days were cloudy with occasional drizzle, but there were periods of sun, especially in Skagway, where it was warm and delightful.
We did shore excursions at every port. In Ketchikan we did a Misty Fjords float plane sight seeing flight; well worth it; in Juneau the rain forest garden, Mendenhall glacier, Mt. Roberts Tram-- warm and sunny at the top so we hiked around a bit. We saw bald eagles, Dall sheep and a marmot. We had booked the Yukon train from Skagway, which it turned out was a bus ride up, and then train back (the train actually is slower than the bus, so you wouldn't want to take it both ways anyway). It was very scenic but Caribou Crossing (not to be confused with the nearby town of Carcross) is a tourist trap and the barbecue lunch there is mediocre, although it was fun to see the sled dogs.
Glacier bay and College Fjord were stunning, for the last 2 at-sea days. On one of the at-sea days we attended a presentation by Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the Iditarod race. Her story was fascinating. We also attended a naturalist presentation, which was informative, but not as riveting.
After disembarkation in Whittier we got right on the train up to Denali. We were lucky to get views of Mt. McKinley from the train as we approached--everyone tells you that only 30% of visitors get to see it as it's usually in clouds. The room in the Denali Princess lodge was a let down after our nice cabin on the Crown--dark and musty smelling but at least the window opened to air it out. We went to the Music of Denali dinner theater which is a very silly retelling of the first climbers to summit the mountain. Food is served family-style at long tables, and is plentiful and adequate. It did seem ironic, however, after all of the sanitary precautions on the ship buffet (hand sanitizer at entrances, staff wiping up spills quickly, clearing dishes quickly, etc.), that you would have perfect strangers serving themselves seconds onto their used plates as was done at the dinner theater-- always a no-no at buffets.
We did the park bus shuttle tour into Denali the next day, instead of the included Natural History tour and got a refund from Princess for it. We took the shuttle all the way to the Eielson visitor center, which is farther than either the Tundra tour or NH tours go. We were very lucky that the mountain was "out" again that day and got some great pictures of the sun glowing on its white peaks. We were also lucky in seeing lots of wildlife--about a dozen grizzly bears, moose, caribou, and Dall sheep.
The next day we took the bus down to the McKinley Princess lodge, which was, surprisingly, a 3 hour trip. No more views of the mountain, though, as it was foggy and drizzly. That afternoon we did the Byers Lake nature walk and the weather cleared up a bit. I was surprised that we didn't encounter any mosquitoes, since I'd heard they are really bad in Alaska--maybe too cold already? The following day in Talkeetna we did the Mahay jet boat adventure which was a blast as you go through rapids before the turn around point. Saw a black bear and more bald eagles. Back to Anchorage the next day; Captain Cook hotel was very nice--meals a bit pricey but there are also many restaurants within walking distance.
After our cruisetour ended we rented a car and drove down to Seward on the Kenai peninsula to extend our Alaska vacation a few more days. We took the Kenai Fjords Tours National Park boat tour-- it was fantastic, in part due to great weather, and the park is gorgeous. We saw glaciers and lots of wildlife-- whales, sea otters, sea lions, seals, puffins, cormorants and more. In Seward we also hiked to Exit Glacier--an easy hike, and did the Ididaride sled dog ride. On the way back to Anchorage we stopped in at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage. We did the behind-the-scenes tour which was well worth the money as we got to go in the pens of the more docile animals.
The weather our last 3 days in Alaska was mild and sunny (upper 60's), so a great ending to our trip. Read Less