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508 Whittier to Alaska Cruise Reviews

Embarkation was pretty seamless. We had about 400 people on our train, so we were all in line to get through security and embark on the ship. We were the second to last train to embark, but the only line we really had to wait in was to ... Read More
Embarkation was pretty seamless. We had about 400 people on our train, so we were all in line to get through security and embark on the ship. We were the second to last train to embark, but the only line we really had to wait in was to get through security. Once we got on the ship, the crew had it down to a science, getting pictures taken for cruise card, getting embarkation pictures, and herding everyone to the appropriate elevators. The funniest thing was that there was a crewmember manning the elevator to help us get to the right decks. We were all crammed in there and another couple got on and the woman went to press the button for their deck and the crewmember snarkily replied "Please do not touch my buttons!" I wondered if this was her job every day and she was just protective of her turf, but of course, I never saw another elevator attendant again! I had to laugh that she was taking her job so seriously. Stateroom We were on the Caribe Deck in a Oceanside Balcony. We were starboard in the last room of the foreward bumpout. The room was what we expected and we enjoyed the balcony very much. Although, being the last room on the foreward bumpout, we could pretty much look back and see every balcony behind us. No one could see into our room, but we could see others on their balconies. However, during the glacier days, everyone was nice and it was fun to join into different conversations. Although, I sometimes felt like by us standing at the railing of our balcony, we were blocking the view for the people not on the bumpout. Our room steward, Nelson, was super nice and was easy to track down. We did have problems with our room key, but he was able to open the door with no problem. There were no towel animals each night, but I was prepared for that from CC. We did get chocolate on our pillows every evening, so I was pleasantly surprised since I had read on CC that some cruisers did not get them. Dining We were scheduled for the 5:30 dinner seating in the Main Dining Room (MDR). I really don't like eating dinner really late, but still wanted to sit with the same tablemates each night. Since this was an Alaska cruise, we missed a lot of scenery by going to dinner each night so early. When we do it again, we will either pick Anytime dining or the later sitting. The food was good, but not always spectacular. I tried not to get the items that were offered every day, but sometimes nothing else on the menu appealed to me. The desserts were all delicious, but not very big portions. The other issue we had with the MDR was that it seemed that they had overbooked our table with an extra couple. Fortunately, not all 10 people showed up each night, so there were no confrontations, but it was most awkward for us each night wondering what would transpire. The Horizon Court is where we had breakfast every morning. We tried to get there before 8 and it did seem to be less crowded then, even on port days. I did partake on the dessert buffet the one afternoon and it was amazing! The pizza bar and ice cream bar were good for quick meals/snacks, but sometimes had long lines, so we had to plan out those stops carefully. General Ship Comments The MUTS was awesome, but some of the listed movies were not played and I missed a couple of movies that I wanted to see, since it was not listed accurately in the daily Patter. For the most part, it was not crowded, but that also meant that there were no attendants around. I did not see the cookie/milk cart until the last day of the cruise. I was able to bundle up and enjoy this perk when others did not want to brave the chilly weather. I did use the pool and hot tub outside, but just on the last day of the cruise. We only went to see the comedian for the evening entertainment. I believe it was Mike Wilson. He replaced Sarge on the ship, who I only heard rave reviews about. Mike was funny, but it was short and a lot of his jokes did not make it to the older generation for some reason. I did utilize the laundromat on the ship on the first full day and then another day. I brought the Purell 3 in 1 sheets and was very glad that I had read that tip on CC. They were very convenient and much better than using the soap machine on the ship. We also got up to the "hidden" viewing deck on the Caribe deck, but by the time we had gotten up there to see the Hubbard glacier, there were already a lot of people up there. Since I am short and there was no one willing to let me get some pictures, we decided to go back to our balcony. We did get up there at other points during the cruise and there was hardly anyone there at all. I missed the walking deck completely until the last day on the ship. On our previous cruise, it was up top, so I never thought that it would be on one of the lower decks. I wish I would have found that deck earlier! The fitness center was nice, but there were a few treadmills that were broken down the entire trip and were not marked as broken. I got in there early and it seemed to fill up fast throughout the week. As soon as I would get off a machine, someone was taking it without me even having time to wipe it down. Yakutat Bay and Glacier Bay National Park These two days on the ship have merged together at this point. We saw all the major glaciers and, according to the naturalist on board, were able to get the closest to the Hubbard Glacier that the Coral Princess had ever gotten to it in its history in Alaska! These two days were one of the big highlights of our trip, but it was hard to know where the best place on the ship to be was. I was kind of surprised that they had opened the ceiling over the indoor pool for the Glacier Bay day, since there was no good enclosed place to easily view both sides of the ship and it was chilly. I was prepared for this, but I still could not get warm up there and we ended up moving around the ship a lot. Disembarkation After previously having trouble with another cruise line, disembarkation, and missing our flight home, I was very apprehensive about the whole process. I considered self-disembarking, but I knew we would not be able to handle all of our luggage on our own. However, all of my worries were for naught. We got off the ship easily, found our luggage, and got on the bus. They tried to fill our bus with just domestic flights, but ended up with some International flights, so we had to make an extra stop at the airport. The bus driver was jokingly rude at the beginning, which I thought was going to make it a long ride to the airport, but it turns out that he was a really good tour guide through Vancouver. He definitely planted the seed for us to want to come back and spend more time in Vancouver! Read Less
Sail Date July 2012
First Princess & Alaskan cruise for me & wife. Wife's sister also joined us, her second, for a flight into Anchorage and five days of self-touring the area before a bus transfer to Whitter and boarding. Were dropped off right ... Read More
First Princess & Alaskan cruise for me & wife. Wife's sister also joined us, her second, for a flight into Anchorage and five days of self-touring the area before a bus transfer to Whitter and boarding. Were dropped off right at the dock and was on ship within the hour with no problems. Stayed on Dolphin deck in a mini-suite which was plenty of space for the three of us. Outside balcony was great for viewing wildlife and snow covered mountains sailing through the passages. Had early seating in the dinning room which worked good for attending shows and early too bed for busy days. Food in the dining room was OK, but I would only give it average at best. The buffet was just as good and sometimes better for dinner as we ate there for breakfast and lunch with snacks throughout the day & evening. Skagway we rented a car for a drive up to Canada which went really well. There are limited amount of cars available and would plan ahead if this is for you. Juneau we did whale watching with a private company on a small boat, there were five of us, which was the high-lite of the trip. Self guided tour in Ketchikan which was also easy as they have a free bus that loops around the tourist area. Disembarkation was easy in Vancouver as we carried our luggage off for a transfer to the rental car agency and drive down to Seattle. A few pointers, rental car rates in Anchorage are cheaper downtown versus airport due to taxes. Our first time with Princess and missed the 24 hour ice cream that we had on Carnival. Scenic trip on The Alaskan Railroad down to Seward was great for viewing wildlife and snow covered mountains. Overall "Great" time as we had very little rain and can't wait to go back. Read Less
Sail Date July 2012
My wife and I have a number of friends or acquaintances we have met over the years in awe regarding the Alaskan cruise they took. This is a "big" destination for us, as we live in Atlanta and it is a long trip and major ... Read More
My wife and I have a number of friends or acquaintances we have met over the years in awe regarding the Alaskan cruise they took. This is a "big" destination for us, as we live in Atlanta and it is a long trip and major "investment" to take a trip like this. After reading the reviews from other cruisers and critics, we decided on a few "major" criteria items: 1) A balcony is a must, because of the spectacular views it was well worth the money to get the balcony for Glacier Bay National Park as well as each of the ports and while cruising at sea. It is far better than viewing through a window; 2) Start north, and cruise south - a read a critic review that the beauty is so incredible that if you start south and cruise north you end up having a let down as the beauty of the mountain / glacier landscapes is stunning and you have to "stop" and get off the ship. Cruising north to south (starting in Whittier, AK and cruising south to Vancouver (with a cruise day in Glacier Bay National Park) starts you off with spectacular views and then as you near civilization e.g. Vancouver, you are able to transition more easily; 3) select a cruise window of mid-July to mid-August since the cost of this trip was going to be high, we wanted to minimize the risk of "colder" weather as well as biting insects. Our itinerary was fly into Anchorage and do a 3 day land package first. We stayed at the Captain Cook hotel for one night, we continued our land tour to overnight at the Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge and one night at Denali Princess Lodge in Denali via motor coach "bus". We then boarded a train from Denali National Park to Whittier, AK where our ship was a short walk away. The land tour went very smoothly and I would encourage anyone that has the time to take advantage of it. We did not take the extra day or two to go further to Fairbanks, and I'm glad we did not. We met several people on the cruise and I asked them the tell all question, "would you return to Fairbanks if given the opportunity?" Everyone we met that went to Fairbanks said "no", not worth the trip. Very small, not much going on, VERY rustic (more than Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge and Denali Princess Lodge. I would spend the time to go deep into Denali National Park on tours to see the wildlife vs. traveling to Fairbanks. The train from Denali to Whittier was about 8.5 hours, yep - 8.5 hours! From Fairbanks, I believe someone stated it was closer to 12 hours. The train is very comfortable, you are assigned a train car and a table so no need to rush to get a seat as one will be assigned to you/your party and you are seated at table that has a bench seat on each side to accommodate 2 people each. The one thing I would suggest to you is to be sure you are seated in the direction the train is moving vs. watching the landscape pass you facing the back of the train. This is ESPECIALLY critical for anyone who suffers from motion sickness who must face forward when they travel. Thus, if this is important you'll want to board the train as soon as possible and claim your seat at the assigned table first. Keep your eyes open for moose, we say about 6 of them and you are more likely to see them within the first 2 hours of the train ride. The train has a dining car and the food was very good, it was not "fast food" quality at all. You are able to freely move from car to car on the train if you would like. With a train ride that long, you'll want to stretch your legs for sure and want to be sure you bring a camera, reading material, cards, or other games especially if you have children. The storage you have on the train for carry-on's is one small bag that you can store under each of your bench seats. One of the benefits of booking the tour with the land package through Princess was that they actually check you in for the ship on the train. In Wasilla (en route to Whittier), the train boards several Princess cruise line staff who will spend the next hour or so checking in each passenger for the ship. You'll want to have your passports and cruise itinerary with the booking code available for them to reference. Once they are done your cruise "credit card" for each passenger, cruise packet will be waiting for you the minute you arrive in Whittier. When the train stops in Whittier, another Princess Cruise Line employee will board each train car and begin handing each person their cruise credit card and packet. Once you receive that you can immediately leave the train while others are receiving theirs --- so you walk steps away to the canopy and follow the directional signs onto the ship. You'll pass through 2 security checkpoints, two before you are physically on the ship which includes a cruise credit card check, security scan of bags / metal objects, and then once you are on the ship you'll show your cruise credit card again where the security officer will then take a photo of you to associate with your personalized cruise card. All of this happened in less than 3 minutes, as there was NO line for my wife and I since we were the first ones off the train (luckily we were assigned to sit at the first table so were given our packets first). When planning our trip, my wife and I could not decide on Anytime Dining or Traditional Dining. Originally we booked Traditional, 2nd seating but then decided to do Anytime Dining since we were on vacation and did not want to have a rigid time for dinner every night. Additionally, we enjoy meeting people and wanted to mix it up so we could meet new couples, etc. This worked out well, we met so many couples and made numerous new friends throughout the trip. Each evening, we would see what the ship's itinerary was for the next day and then pick a time to have dinner and made a reservation via the cabin phone. We never had a problem and ate dinner at a different restaurant every night, including The Pacific Moon, The Santa Fe, The Savoy, The Vivaldi, Sterling Steakhouse and Sabatini's. The Sterling Steakhouse and Sabatini's was FANTASTIC (both require a $20 per person cover charge). The other 4 restaurants had terrific service (no issues at all), the food in those restaurants on a scale of 1 to 10 has about an 7/8 which works for us. Sabatini's and the Sterling Steakhouse was a 9/10. We also had lunch at Alfredo's Pizzeria --- it was fabulous, do not miss out on that! For breakfast, we ordered room service a few times where you can order cereal, pastries, coffee, juice, fruit, yogurt, and an egg/bacon breakfast sandwich. This worked out well when we had early starts for shore tours, the rest of the time we ate breakfast in the Horizon Court buffet where you could custom order your own omelet if desired. **Navigating on the ship** One tip I would have is to figure out how far down the hallway from your cabin you need to walk until you can go directly up to the restaurants, clubs, etc. It took a few days to learn this, but the ship has areas where you can not just walk end-to-end on each deck. Some decks require you to go up one deck, down, then back up again to get to your destination depending on what you are looking for if you try to go end to end. Thus, my wife and i learned it was best for us to always walk to the start of the last third of the ship and then take the stairs (assuming the venue we were seeking was toward the back of the ship which most are). We almost always landed exactly where we wanted to. We also ALWAYS took the stairs, there are plenty of calorie opportunities on the ship so the last thing we needed to use was an elevator. That was part of our daily exercise regiment if you are well enough to do so you might wish to do the same. **Exercise on the ship** I learned this on the next to last day, so here is a heads up for you joggers / walkers that like to start you day with exercise. The ship has an exercise facility in the front of the ship near Lotus Spa with a wide assortment of weight machines, treadmills, etc. However, if you are a power walker or jogger the place you want to go to is Deck 7 and Deck 8. Deck 7 allows you to powerwalk around 3/4's of the ship and from Deck 7 as you near the front of the ship has steps to allow you to go up and walk the front 1/4 of the ship then back down the steps again to Deck 7. It is posted if walk around decks 7/8 3 times this = 1 mile. My wife and I LOVED this track, we both wore sweatshirts and my wife wore sweatpants, hat and gloves whereas I wore shorts and the nippy air doesn't bother me as much. We found this to be much more enjoyable and we had the best view in the world as it was covered and we could enjoy sights, see an occasional whale, sea lions, etc. as we were walking. I ended up power walking 5 miles, and could have gone 10 more since you enjoy the sights so much and the cool air keeps you from overheating while power walking. I used the exercise equipment also, but would take the Deck 7/8 power walking route exclusively next time. We did the White Pass rail trip which was very nice in Skagway, we did the Whale Watching and Salmon Bake in Juneau which was excellent - the whale watching is a must! We also did the float plane mountain tour and crabfeast which was very enjoyable in Ketchikan. On this, I wish we did the float plane bear tour vs. the floatplane mountain tour as you really don't get to see anything much different from what you have already seen when touring the mountains except you are in a small plane. Go for the bears! Also, while in Ketchikan walk down to the city centre where the water ladder is and the salmon swim upstream, it is fantastic and free. Ask a local, it is about 2 blocks from where the ship docks. Look up at the top of the trees above the waterfall and you will likely see bald eagles ready to fly down and scoop up one of the salmon. Ports I would go back and visit if I had the opportunity were Juneau and Ketchikan. We felt both of these ports had much more going on, more to do and atmosphere. Did I mention Jewelry stores? Get ready, there are a TON OF THEM! We understood that the jewelers are predominately from the Caribbean and come up during the hurricane season to operate these satellite stores. They are EVERYWHERE! We attend several of the shows and enjoyed each of them. There were just right, long enough but not too long where you start to wondering when the show will end so you can do other things that evening. *** High Tea *** We became fast fans of high tea as we met a number of very interesting people and enjoyed fantastic small pastries, cookies, and club sandwiches . Try this at least one afternoon, don't get off the cruise until you give this one a try. It is very UNDER-RATED and easily missed. That was our experience, I hope you enjoy yours as much as we did ours! Read Less
Sail Date July 2012
ANCHORAGE: First, please be there a day early if you are just doing the cruise. The ship leaves at 8pm, but you have to land at the airport by 4pm to make it thru the (one way every 30 minutes) tunnel. My sister was supposed to land at ... Read More
ANCHORAGE: First, please be there a day early if you are just doing the cruise. The ship leaves at 8pm, but you have to land at the airport by 4pm to make it thru the (one way every 30 minutes) tunnel. My sister was supposed to land at 1 pm, got delayed and landed at 6pm. She missed the ship and had to meet us 3 days later in Skagway. Now, Princess was wonderful. Helped her every step of the way and refunded her ship days, but plane hopping and hotels were absolutely not in the budget. We had trip insurance, but it doesn't cover mechanical problems with the plane, and the airlines have a 6 hr window before they comp you a hotel. Since she was only 5 hrs late, she had to do everything out of pocket. We are still irked at United for not putting her on a different airline which would have had her in Anchorage in time. We were able to get there a day early. Stayed at the Captain Cook Hotel and had no complaints. In fact the beds were amazing! The black out shades were sufficient and we didn't need the sleep masks we brought. Dinner was at the Glacier Brewhouse. Highly recommend it! The food was perfect and I fell in love with the Denali Red microbrew. Drank it everyday of the land tour. All the Princess Lodges carry their beer. We also visited the Alaska Museum and enjoyed it very much. FOOD: not that impressed with the sit down dinner. In fact, our last night we sent the steak back... It was tough, overcooked and had no flavor. The salmon was always good. My favorite was the pizza. In fact I ate it every lunch. The buffet had a good selection, but it was no better than other buffets I've eaten at. Not that impressed with the drink of the day either. Gave up after the second day. I purchased the kids soda card. Best thing ever. Now, I had to drink out of fish themed cup, but it was a double walled tumbler and came in handy. All you can drink soda, all you can drink milkshakes and malts, and all you can drink virgin cocktails which I enjoyed :). My sister purchased a coffee card. Not worth it. You basically got 1 drink free, but you had to drink 2 coffees a day and being in the ports all day, she just didn't drink that. She had 3 coffees left so she actually lost money.ENTERTAINMENT: we enjoyed the shows. Not the best singers, but the dancing was very good. There was a presentation by Shelley Gill on Iditarod dogs, Denali and other stuff. She was hysterical and very informative. Rangers came on board for Glacier Bay, and again.... Very informative. ROOM: We were in B603. Covered balcony and great views. The beds were decent, but the comforters need to be replaced. We used the 3rd bed that pulls down from the ceiling. It was just as comfortable as the others. Getting up was no problem, getting down the ladder took a while, but by day 3, I had it perfected. Tons of closet space and hangers. The bathroom had 3 shelves so our toiletries fit just fine. The shower is small, and it's tricky keeping the curtain inside. We flooded the bathroom more than once. There is a small shelf that holds 1 body wash and the ships shampoo and conditioner. That's it. The best tip I found on these boards was to bring the shower caddies that suctions to the wall. We needed that! Shaving your legs is tricky, but doable if you turn off the water. We also brought the over the door shoe hanger. We put our gloves and misc. in there, but honestly.... We didn't need it. There were plenty of drawers and desk space. It's mid ship, so we didn't have traffic noise and it was very smooth. We took Dramimine the first day just in case, but didn't need it at all.DISEMBRKMENT: actually, very smooth. Make sure you check your luggage tags the day before. They had us in the wrong group, but it was fixed quickly. Princess people direct you the whole way. We left at 7:30 for an 11am flight and had plenty of time. Picking up your luggage at Vancouver Airport is mass chaos. People directed you every step of the way, but it's just so much luggage and only one way in and out of the room. For the whole cruise, there's no crowds or lines, then boom..... Back to reality. Also make sure you call your credit card company before you travel. Canada is on the list of blocked countries for my Credit Union and I couldn't use that card to pay for my checked bags or anything else at the airports! If you are connecting thru Toronto, you pick up your luggage on the 3rd floor area G. It's right next to customs, which was smooth, but going thru security again took forever. EXCURSIONS: My only complaint is you don't know your excursion is cancelled till you go to check in. We had a 10 am tour that was cancelled, so we didn't have enough time to do another before our 1 pm tour. The tour director was there where you meet and was very helpful in getting us situated. We were never charged for the tours that were cancelled or the ones we cancelled so we could do the main one we wanted. So, have a back up plan :) Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
Despite some issues and glitches along the way, we had a wonderful experience. Our group consisted of 9 Family and friends (2 children and 7 adults)who ranged in age from 9 to 59....We also had 2 balcony suites and 2 inside cabins. Our ... Read More
Despite some issues and glitches along the way, we had a wonderful experience. Our group consisted of 9 Family and friends (2 children and 7 adults)who ranged in age from 9 to 59....We also had 2 balcony suites and 2 inside cabins. Our trip began with a very long flight into Anchorage and we were met at the airport by a Princess Rep. Because of such a late arrival, which was not planned (notorious flight delays and plane problems) we were unable to do much touring or site seeing in Anchorage. We did not purchase the land portion of the princess cruise package because of the length of the entire trip. The adults in our group are all professionals and working, so the "extra" land days were not convenient for us. Hopefully we will do that at another juncture. In talking with others on the ship who had been on the "land" portion of the trip, we made the right decision. Our trip from Anchorage to Whittier was aboard a train and it was very enjoyable. It was not crowded and we could move about very easily, constantly looking for wildlife along the tracks. We spotted several Moose crossings. the rail transfer to the ship was part of the "Hotel Captain Cook & Rail" package. I found it to be a bit expensive, but considering it was rather effortless in the transfer for all of us, I guess you get what you paid for. When we departed the Hotel Captain Cook, the lobby was full of confused and anxious cruise passengers, not really sure who to look for or where to go next. Luckily, our experience was organized and went very smoothly. Upon arriving in Whittier, we off-loaded the train and walked almost immediately into a "check-in" line. There were no lines since our train group was the first to arrive, and the walk through Security and on to the boat took less than 30 minutes in total. Later in the afternoon we overheard other passengers talking about the long check-in lines and subsequent long waits to get through security. So in essence, the higher priced "Hotel/Rail" package was worth it.....enjoyable train ride and early boarding. We were in our staterooms by 12:45 p.m. and at 7:00 we witnessed some passengers still boarding. The food was "ok" for the most part. Nothing spectacular, with the exception of the Sterling Steak House and any and all of the desserts. The breakfast buffet was ok, but there is not really a great way to jazz up breakfast for the masses. The fruit was great! It was consistent and always fresh. We are "southerners" and we like our "down home" breakfasts...and the omelets were made to order and very good. Lunch was a challenge most days. The International Dining Room was open at lunch for everyone, including those who had selected "Anytime Dining"(which meant us). The menu selection was ok, and the hamburger was very good, but ordering a hamburger on a cruise just doesn't seem right. The evening meals were again...ok. There was a "theme" each evening, and the menu was basically the same in each dining room. The most outstanding meal, outside of the Sterling Steak House, would have to have been the Italian Night in the Vavalde Dining Room. The Waitstaff in that room is EXCEPTIONAL. There were some attitude issues with the waitstaff in the Savoy Dining Room and I would not recommended dining there. The Santa Fe was very nice and cordial, but the staff in the Vavalde went beyond what was required to make you feel welcomed and happy. We did not eat in the Pacific Moon, as it was also criticized for waitstaff problems. There are several short order areas around the ship and our kids loved the pizza and ice cream. The ship staff was very annoying on the first day in their attempts to sell "soda cards" to each and every passenger. At our first meal on the ship shortly after we boarded, we were asked 4 times during the course of the meal to purchase this soda card. We were asked by 4 different waiters. I finally told them to please allow me to finish my meal and not to ask again. I found that very unpleasant made a comment on my comment card. It is so amazing that a ship can serve you such expensive foods, with no regard to the cost or quantity, especially since your meals are inclusive, and charge you for fountain drinks! I can't quite understand the reasoning. Also, if you enjoy a nice cocktail or a nice glass of wine, also be prepared to pay a rather steep price. Your cost has an automatic 15% gratuity added to your bill. I also found that the prices for cocktails varied from bar to bar, which according to the cruise information, should not have been the case. The wine list in each restaurant was consistent, as was the pricing. The wine list was nice. The "Wine Bar" staff manager was great. He obviously enjoyed his job and found pleasure in helping you choose a nice wine. Their tastings were very nice as well, whether a seasoned wine drinker or a novice. Ship activities were OK, but nothing exceptional. I was not impressed with the live shows, but they were entertaining. The best entertainment on the ship was a band called "Indigo" which was leaving the ship at the end of our cruise. That is a shame that future passengers will not get the opportunity to hear their talents. The spa services were also very nice. We had several spa services during our cruise. The casino is nothing out of the ordinary, but did provide some "down time" entertainment. Our group did a variety of excursions from zip lining, hiking, sea plane rides, riding to the summit, and partaking in outdoor shows and salmon bakes. They were all entertaining and fun, with the BEST being the Sea Plane ride over the glaciers and landing in the Takut (spelling ?)River at a lodge at the base of the "hole in the wall" glacier. We dined on BBQ'd "fresh" salmon (just caught that morning and some still in ice chests yet to be cleaned)and some of the best side dishes we ate during our entire trip! We had a very close encounter with a black bear, about 10 feet from us, who was being kept at bay by one of the employees while another was cooking our lunch...grilled salmon. We were told that the bear was not interested in us, only the fish, but the experience of being so close to such a magnificent creature was very surreal. After the salmon was removed from the grill and we went into the lodge to eat, we all witnessed his determination...he went to the grill and proceeded to "lick up" the salmon drippings. It looked like something from a movie. Our excursion ended with another 30 minute plane ride back to Juneau. The plan trip was narrated and we flew over several glaciers that looked incredibly close. Wonderful experience and I would HIGHLY recommend it. All of our rooms were adequate, with nothing outstanding. The beds were a little hard, but we had ample space to move about in the cabin. We have cruised the Caribbean and the boat was larger, but accommodations were basically the same. We did not take this cruise with expectations of staying in our stateroom all of the time, so bigger and better staterooms were not an issue. A balcony room IS the way to go. We enjoyed our balcony and I would HIGHLY recommend paying more for it. The vistas are breathtaking. We had our cabin steward open the balcony door between our staterooms so that we could sit on our balconies together, since two of our staterooms were side by side. It worked out great. The children didn't mind the inside cabins and they were across the hall and were able to enjoy our balcony as well. Our Princess experience was great. I did not go into our glitches, but every trip has them. We travel extensively and this trip was well worth the money spent. Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
We flew to Fairbanks 2 days ahead of the start of our tour. We stayed at teh Alpine Lodge near the airport. Since most of what we wanted to do was in town, this wasn't the best choice for us - we ended up spending a lot on taxis. ... Read More
We flew to Fairbanks 2 days ahead of the start of our tour. We stayed at teh Alpine Lodge near the airport. Since most of what we wanted to do was in town, this wasn't the best choice for us - we ended up spending a lot on taxis. if we had a car it would have been a great location though. (see all my hotel reviews on tripadvisordotcom) Tour: Our tour started from Fairbanks. There were some logistics issues with the buses and we ended up waiting for longer in town for the bus. But the bus did eventually come get us and we were on our way (the literature says be at the airport by 2 for a 3 pm departure. but if you arrive by 11 or so they will take you downtown and pick you up later, 2:15ish. it's nice if you don't want to spend your day at the airport). The buses we perfectly comfortable and were clean. When we boarded the bus we were given our first information packet. It included info about the Denali Princess Wilderness lodge, our room info & room keys, map, and already booked tour info. we had 2 nights there which is necessary to do the longer tours of Denali. **** I highly suggest upgrading from the Natural History tour to the Denali Wilderness Explorer tour. the NHT only goes to mile 13 and lots of people did not see any wildlife. We took the longer tour, which goes to mile ~52, and saw a lot of animals. We had a great tour.*** The front of the lodge is a mad house in the mornings with all the tour buses, buses to trains, etc. But they handle it well. There is also a TV that shows what tour is boarding and what tours leave when. They also come through an announce what is boarding. The morning before departing we did the Black Diamond ATV adventure - it was lots of fun. They put us into wind/waterproof pants, coats, gloves & even covered our shoes. We were worries about getting dirty before getting on the train - but it was not an issue. The train had assigned rows or tables (depending on kind of car). It was inconvenient in our car to go for lunch seating in waves, but they did get through everyone at a reasonable pace. Again on the train (I think) we received our next info packet (again w/ room info, tour info, keys, etc). When we arrived at Talkeetna, part of our group stayed in town for dinner while I went directly on the (1 hr) bus ride to the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness lodge. I did go to the tour desk to get a duplicate print out of the itinerary info as there were 3 of us traveling together and were going in different directions at any time. We had 2 nights here, but I could have done everything I wanted in 1 night. The town was cute, but if you are not really up for shopping it could be done in an hour or 2. We did do the excursion to Sun Dog Kennels - really worth it! Very fun - and we got to hold 3 week old dogs that may race in the Iditarod some day. There is a General's Store in town with a surprising amount of over the counter drugs/medications. I was surprised that the food & souvenirs at the Princess lodges didn't have a huge mark-up. Alaskan prices are higher than at home. But the prices were very reasonable (mostly for warm clothes, fleece, jackets, etc) especially at the McKinley lodge. This is true especially considering we were a captive audience since it's a 1hr bus ride to town. I saw many people wearing the jackets or fleece sold at the lodges (men & women colors up to XXL). The train from McKinley to Whittier again had assigned tables. this time they brought the food to us. The trip was nice, but our guide would not stop talking. it made it difficult to appreciate the beautiful scenery. Once the train arrived it took a good 45 minutes to get through security & on board (had received all our keys etc at the end of the train ride). We did the evac drill and then went to dinner. I had managed to catch the flu during the tour (remember to use purell after touching bus rails!) so after a trip to the Medical Center I had drugs in hand, but was also on quarantine. Good news is we had a balcony room so I could see all the glaciers (they spin the ship so both sides can see). Since I was on quarantine room service allowed me to order off the dining room menus as well (as long as I called while the dining rooms were still open). They visited me in my cabin the next day to check on me, and I was given the all clear in the afternoon. this was my first experience using a ship medical center and was impressed. They had up to date drugs, good staff, and it looks like they were decked out with equipment. Skagway - we did the Kroschell Films Wildlife Park tour and it was great. The guys are a little goofy, but it was neat to see the animals up close (got to touch caribou antlers, get kissed by a moose, etc). town was cute and had lots of shopping. Juneau - Glacier & Whale watching Photo safari - good tour. really nice to be in a small group and on a small boat. Saw orcas, humpbacks & seals. A humpback came right up to the boat, dove under and came up the other side - it was bigger than the boat, but it was really neat! Lots of shopping close to the boat dock. Ketchican - Misty Fjords & Wilderness Explorer tour was disappointing. It was a long boring boat ride out and back for 1/2 hr of semi-interesting scenery. Not worth the time and $$. There were a couple of shops near the boat, which was nice since the tour took up most the day. My friend took the float plane and loved it. Ship & cruise: Our room C702 was supposed to be able to accommodate a roll-away bed - it does if you push the other 2 beds together and push the roll-away against the others (3 mattresses making 1 solid bed). And it didn't allow for any maneuvering around the room. Luckily there was also an overhead bunk, so we used that instead of the roll-away. It was a challenge to have 3 adults & our stuff in 1 room, but we seemed to manage okay. Closet had lots of space & lots of hangars. I did bring an "over the door pocket shoe holder" which was nice for lots of odds & ends. Also a couple of clothes pins helped keep the shower curtain where it belongs & kept the bathroom floor dry. I loved anytime dining. Whenever we were ready for dinner we went & ate. We had no problems getting a table to ourselves right away. Longest wait was about 3 minutes. Food in general is a little disappointing over Carnival or Royal Caribbean (same as prior Princess experience), but acceptable. Formal night was much less formal than in the warmer climates. Nice slacks & blouse was fine for ladies (on up to nicer dresses, and men were in nice slacks & shirt on up. Regular nights it was okay to be in jeans as long as they were in good shape. The ship is heated, so jeans and cute shirt were fine for most of the ship (always has a light sweater with me though). Sitting in the sun on our balcony was really warn, but if not int he sun it was cold. Staff was great, especially the room service people - they seemed to go the extra mile (one offered to go up to the buffet to get me hot cocoa). I didn't meet any staff that were anything less than exceptionally pleasant. Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
Incredible Alaskan Adventure with an Island Princess "letdown" My wife and I just returned from our 19 day "bucket list" trip to Alaska that was more than 18 months in the planning. We traveled with two other ... Read More
Incredible Alaskan Adventure with an Island Princess "letdown" My wife and I just returned from our 19 day "bucket list" trip to Alaska that was more than 18 months in the planning. We traveled with two other couples and truly had a great adventure despite our disappointment in the Island Princess. Our vacation was a combined "on our own" for 3 days in Fairbanks, the Princess Landcruise Experience for 6 days and a cruise from Whittier on Island Princess for 7 days. To say that Alaska is "INCREDIBLE" is the epitome of an understatement. My wife describes Alaska as "Colorado on steroids" and that is truly an appropriate description. While in Fairbanks, we traveled to Coldfoot, AK and Dalton Highway (Ice Road Truckers) with the great folks who run Northern Alaska Tour Company (they earn 5+ stars). Our trip was 12 hours long and included a 1 hour plane ride to the dirt landing strip (think Flying Wild Alaska) in Coldfoot and nearly 9 hour return trip on the Dalton Highway. We also visited 4 of the 6 restaurants featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (highly recommend the Cookie Jar and Silver Gulch Brewing Company-again both earn 5+ stars for superb service and superb food.) By the way, kudos to the staff of the Alpine Inn located in Fairbanks near the airport—those folks could not have been friendlier and genuinely happy to see us. Joining the Landcruise portion of the trip included visits to the Riverboat Discovery and Gold Mine Dredge #8 (another great set of tours and more 5+ stars awarded). The accommodations (Bear Lodge) provided by the landtour in Fairbanks was clean, comfortable and again staffed with friendly folks. Our next stop was by bus to Denali and the Princess Lodge. Please plan on the Tundra Wilderness Tour instead of the shorter 3 hour trip into Denali—worth the time and extra money. Did manage to see the Park's notable three-legged bear-"Tripod"—he is known throughout Alaska. The dinner theater production was loads of fun and really great food. Accommodations were again clean and comfortable and my wife and I truly enjoyed walking around the hotel grounds. We did manage to eat at a couple of local places just across the highway from the Lodge-nice people and great service. Then, it was on to Talkeetna on the Princess private railcars. Again, I have nothing but accolades for the Alaska Railroad and the folks who staff the Princess cars-great ride and spectacular scenery. To describe Talkeetna as quirky is again an understatement but loads of fun—great people, great drink and food (make sure you visit the West Rib Pub and Talkeetna Roadhouse). Next up was a jet boat ride up the Talkeetna River into Class 6 rapids at Devil's Canyon—the folks at Mahay Tours (Capt Izzy) really know how to give you a great show in a truly amazing boat. After nearly 12 days on land it was time to get back on the train to Whittier and head for our cruise portion with Island Princess. But, first, I must again offer kudos and a 5+ star rating to the folks on the McKinley Express. It is one of America's great train rides particularly as it hugs the coast on the run from Anchorage to Whittier. Coming out of the tunnel into Whittier seeing the Island Princess was indeed impressive. As we were the last train into Whittier, our embarkation went very smooth. In fact, I was the very last guest to board Princess. We barely had time to drop stuff off to the stateroom and head out to the muster drill. I was surprised to find that Princess keeps track of folks at the muster drill using your boarding card—not something I have experience in three previous cruises. Is this post-Costa Concordia reaction? I am not sure but I liked it. Our stops in Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan were every thing we had hoped for and we booked each shore excursion independent of Princess—high praise goes to the folks at Chilkoot Tours (White Pass train ride to Carcross and our tour guide Lorie), Harv and Marv's Whaling Watching in Juneau (thank Capt. Jayleen—you were just plan super-hope you reach your goal to serve in the US Coast Guard) and the Island Wings (Ketchikan). Michelle-your excursion in a float plane to Misty Fjords will serve as the true highlight on our bucket list. I am a firm believe that if you have the time to research and study the shore excursions that you can save a huge amount of money by booking the excursions on your own. I will also add that the bus drivers, tour guides and staff members that we encountered at nearly every stop were truly superb—we met a great bunch of young American kids who are working their tails off to make sure that the Alaska Experience is everything we expected and more. They work long hours, are always smiling and were exceedingly grateful for the gratuities given for their efforts. If you are still with me, please understand that my wife and I truly enjoyed nearly every phase of our Alaska Adventure and that we are not overly critical folks—we have been on 3 other cruises that exceeded our expectations and we had very high expectations from our friends who had sailed with the folks at Princess (we have traveled on NCL and Carnival). But, I must regrettably report that the hotel and dining room staffs on the Island Princess were a disappointment. I must single out the head waiter in the Anytime Dining venue as being surly, rude, condescending and sarcastic towards his staff and guests. I personally witnessed him yelling at an older gentleman whose pager was flashing that the table was ready. The head waiter just yelled at him and told him that the pager must stop flashing before he could approach the dining room. My group was so upset we walked out of the venue and headed for the Horizon Court buffet rather than sit in his dining room. Speaking of Anytime Dining, the reservation system in place on Island Princess is not my idea of Anytime Dining—guess that I just missed that part of previous reviews. The head waiter was also uncompromising in trying to seat our party of 6—what part of the Princess Service Points about 'not saying no to a guest" did he not read. When I managed to get a reservation at table with our preferred waiter (Jason—BTW, thank you Jason for truly caring and attentive service), the head waiter turned to me and sarcastically comment that "you managed to beat me and get your table with Jason. (We had to agree to a table of 10 that others might join us.) The Horizon Court food was average but what really surprised my traveling companions and me was the lack of attentive service (plates were removed from table before we finished, no offers for water, ice tea or coffee refills), bickering among the staff and lack of staff monitoring use of the hand sanitizer by guests serving themselves in the food court.. In fact, except for the Horizon Court, we never saw one hand sanitizer anywhere on the entire Island Princess. (I watched from the dock in Ketchikan as the NCL staff sprayed hand sanitizer on every passenger who reboarded their ship.) Our stateroom steward was punctual and kept our stateroom clean and comfortable but no towel animal each night was a let down. Our stateroom was what we have come to expect and our steward did open up the balcony partitions so that we could visit with our traveling companions in the adjoining staterooms. A balcony cabin in Alaska is a must!! Disembarkation in Vancouver was a piece of cake—best disembarkation I have experienced. So in closing, Alaska is truly stunning and needs to be on every "bucket list". Princess Landcruise exceeded our expectations in every way but the Island Princess was "underwhelming" and I am not really sure that Princess will get a chance to earn my cruise dollars in the future. Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
Our Alaska Adventure was a wonderful experience. I highly recommend this vacation to Cruise Critic readers. We vacationed for 2 1/2 weeks in Alaska consisting of traveling by train (Alaska Railroad) and Cruise ship (Diamond Princess). ... Read More
Our Alaska Adventure was a wonderful experience. I highly recommend this vacation to Cruise Critic readers. We vacationed for 2 1/2 weeks in Alaska consisting of traveling by train (Alaska Railroad) and Cruise ship (Diamond Princess). I have been on over 25 cruises with well over 12 cruises on Royal Caribbean. We decided to devote future trips on Princess in light of (in our opinion) a slippage of quality in Royal Caribbean Cruise lines. A summary of key points follows: The service on the Diamond Princess was very good. The entertainment was exceptional. During the day dance lessons were given by the staff which my Wife really enjoyed. I must admit, I had a good time as well. The staff was very friendly and made sure everyone was at ease learning new dance steps. The food was very good. We felt secure with the professionalism of the Captain and crew (we were in Alaska waters). The guests on board were of a mature age which should be expected based on the expense of the trip. However, I am of a mature age (60). The ship was very clean and well maintained which is expected of Princess. The British Officers commanding the Diamond Princess are very disciplined and demand quality. This is very reassuring to passengers in light of recent cruise ship incidents at sea. The ship also has a Laundry Station with ironing boards on each deck which is very convenient especially during formal night. I recommend this cruise and ship to readers. Thank you CPAMAN. Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
Alaska Coral Princess CruiseTour June 13 25, 2012. This trip was a celebration of our 40th anniversary and a trip of a lifetime. Our flights in and back home were nightmares because of delays, but we did not let that mar our trip. ... Read More
Alaska Coral Princess CruiseTour June 13 25, 2012. This trip was a celebration of our 40th anniversary and a trip of a lifetime. Our flights in and back home were nightmares because of delays, but we did not let that mar our trip. We liked the size of the Coral Princess. We had been on a large Carnival ship for our first cruise and we seemed to spend a great deal of time walking from one place to another. Not so much unnecessary walking on the Coral. We stayed so busy with excursions we did not see any of the shows. We had a balcony stateroom and even though the weather was a bit cold we enjoyed being on the balcony looking at scenery and scanning for wildlife. Even standing inside looking out was nice. Our stateroom was quiet and peaceful. I missed having a couch to sit on during the times we needed to be in the cabin. Like many others, I really disliked the small shower stall and the curtain. I kept hitting my elbows on the grab bar. I managed to keep the curtain fairly under control by clipping clothes pins to the bottom. Thanks to all cruise critic members who made that recommendation. Our stateroom steward was very friendly and kept everything spotless. We had adequate storage space. I wanted to sit in one of the hot tubs and was disappointed to find none of them were running, however, I did enjoy a dip in the covered pool. We had Anytime Dining and the only evening we would have had to wait for a table for two was the Captains Gala. We decided to sit with others rather than wait. Land Tour Princess took care of all the logistics for getting our luggage from one hotel/lodge to the other. That was a great relief for us. However, initially, I did not know that all of our luggage would not travel with us on the land part and we had to re-pack, almost at the last minute. Be prepared for this from the start and packing will be much easier. We loved being able to dress casually in Alaska for dinner. We flew into Fairbanks one day early to participate in the Journey Above the Arctic Circle. The excursion time was 6:15 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. and I was concerned about being tired and sleepy, but I should not have worried. The sun was still visible at 11:00 p.m. and helped keep me wakeful and alert. The pilot was very knowledgeable and narrated the entire flight. The bus tour guide on the ground was surprisingly negative and did not say nice things about the military that were at Fort Yukon at one time. While I rested, DH went on an excursion in a Hummer that went to the oil pipeline. He enjoyed photographing wildlife while on the same excursion. Our room at The Fairbanks Princess Lodge was adequate. At dinner in their restaurant the waitress was very friendly and explained to us the different types of salmon. We tried the white salmon and it was very good. DH was disappointed they did not have his favorite brand of beer, Miller Light. The next day we were on the Chena Riverboat Discovery Cruise. We saw lots of beautiful scenery and homes. At the end of that cruise, we boarded the coach for a three-hour ride to Denali. The ride was fairly comfortable even though the seats were very close together. That evening, we had dinner at the Music of Denali Dinner Theatre. The entertainment was a lot of fun. Prior to the show, they served a family-style meal that was good. Once again, DH disappointed about his brand of beer. We were in room 185. It was adequate, though bare bones. I did not like the sink being in the room instead of the bathroom. The scenery was awesome. Seeing the huge mountain ranges and the snow-capped tops was breathtaking. I felt like I walked out of the room into a postcard. The next day we went on the eight-hour Tundra Wilderness Tour. We paid extra to go on this tour in place of the Natural History Tour. It was worth every extra penny. We were fortunate to be on a new, comfortable tour bus and to have a great driver. She was very knowledgeable of the history, the Tundra, the animals everything. She watched for wildlife and stopped to point out animals she spotted that passengers did not see. We saw moose, caribou, grizzly bear, Dall sheep, and a lynx. We did not see any wolves. Thanks to her we have great photographs. The driver even stopped for us to see and photograph Mt. McKinley, because she was concerned we might not be able to see it later. We had an adequate boxed lunch and bottles of water. Food at the other restaurants at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge was pretty good. Breakfast before the Tundra Wilderness Tour was a buffet at the Music of Denali Dinner Theatre. We had dinner at the King Salmon restaurant after the tour. My prime rib was very good, but part of DH s steak was gristly and not as good. Breakfast at the King Salmon restaurant, before leaving for the two-hour and 15-minute trip to Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge, was decent. We had to be up early to put out our luggage for pick up to transport to Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge. Our coach overheated and we had to pull off the road. Fortunately, there was an empty coach right behind us that stopped and we were able to get on that one and continue our transfer. Our room at the Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge was in Building 11. I liked this room better than the one at Denali. There were two full beds, the sink was near the closet, instead of in the room, and the room was bigger and nicer. We ate at several of the restaurants and, once again, the food was decent. I had baked French Toast the morning we left and it was gooey on the bottom. After we arrived at the Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge, we went on the Byers Lake Nature Walk and I wish we had not. I used one of their mosquito net hats and mosquitos were all over it. You had to look at the ground to be sure not to trip over a root. I would not do this excursion in June again. Maybe at another time of the year it would be more fun. Mt. McKinley came out and we were able to take more beautiful photos. We felt so fortunate, since we had been told many people do not get to see the mountain. Even late at night and early morning we took photos, since the sun never completely went down. It was amazing. Before leaving the next morning we shot really good photos of the top of the mountain. The scenery and mountain ranges were magnificent here, just as they were at Denali Lodge. We had an hour-long ride on a coach to Talkeetna where we boarded the domed train for a five-hour journey to Anchorage/Whittier and the Coral Princess. There was a lot of pretty scenery along the way. We had a table seat which was nice, but I really would have liked to have been able to recline in a chair for part of the trip. Embarkation was late in the day but it went smoothly and quickly. CRUISE We slept in the next day to rest up and had breakfast in the Horizon Court. The food was OK. We saw the Hubbard Glacier, which was really quite nice. Something different to see. Lunch in the Horizon Court had a big sushi bar. Since DH I are not sushi fans, there really was not anything we wanted. Dinner was a formal night in the main dining room and the food was really good. I had miniature filet mignons and DH had a baked or fried halibut that was really good, so we really enjoyed our meal. The weather was rainy, drizzly and foggy. Cleared some in the afternoon but was still cold and nasty. The next day we got up early enough to have breakfast in the main dining room and it was nice to be able to go in there and just sit down and have someone wait on you. The food was good. After breakfast, we were cruising Glacier Bay National park which was a lot of fun because there are a lot of different glaciers. The weather started out a little foggy but cleared up into a beautiful day. We located lounge chairs on a small deck on the back of the ship and watched as we left the bay and the glaciers and we even took a little nap. Today was our 40th anniversary celebration day and our door was decorated nicely. We chose the specialty restaurant Bayou Caf and Steakhouse for our anniversary dinner. There was a $20 upcharge for each and extra $5 for lobster. I asked for the lobster to have regular melted butter instead of Cajun and it was very good. Unfortunately, DHs porterhouse steak had a lot of gristle, but he did not say anything until the end of the meal. After we mentioned it, many people were trying to do many things to make up for it. My husband was too full for another steak. They brought him some jambalaya and a delicious lemony, citrusy after dinner liqueur for both of us. I had ordered a second glass of white wine which did not come until the meal was over and the waiter said he could take it back. On the way back to our cabin I ordered a strawberry daiquiri and they asked if I wanted a small or a medium and I asked for a medium and it was in one of the big hurricane glasses. Thursday morning we were in Skagway and the weather was beautiful. We rode the White Pass Railway train in the morning. The Railway is an engineering marvel and it was an interesting ride. We had breakfast and lunch in the Horizon Court and I found that they had more food there than I realized. We had signed up to do a helicopter ride after lunch and when we got down there, the wind was just suddenly horrific. They put it on hold for two hours but when we went back, rain had started so the flight was cancelled. What a sudden turn in the weather. Juneau was our port on Friday. We had to get up early, 5:00 a.m., and had breakfast in the Horizon Court with eggs, bacon, little waffles, etc. We met the tour guide for the Whales, Bears, and Glaciers excursion. The whales portion was really good. We saw a lot of humpback whales and snapped photos of the tails. I had never seen a sea otter, let alone know they live their lives swimming on their backs. We were able to get photos of that as well. We also saw porpoises and bald eagles. After two hours, we loaded into a van to look for Grizzly bears along a road that led to a waste disposal site. I really did not think we were going to see anything and was really surprised to see one along the road. Then we saw an evasive mother with a cub. After a while, we got out of the van and walked to an open field where there was a grizzly off in the distance. Glad I had my boots on. I was astounded that the bear could hear us whisper that far away and went off into the woods. One of the guides had a very large gun and we were told to stay close to the group. We took lots of good photos. The third part of the excursion I could have done without. We boarded a very small one engine Cessna airplane and it rocked and rolled and dropped and I just could not enjoy seeing the glaciers. All I could do was clutch the back of the seat in front of me. There was no method for the pilot to communicate what we were seeing. The Captains Gala Dinner was pretty good. DH and I enjoyed the lobster, even though we were really tired from the earlier excursion. Since we did not have an early excursion in Ketchikan, on Saturday, we slept in and rested. We went on a Mystic Fjords Float Plane Trip. The plane was a single engine plane but it was a larger plane than the one at the end of yesterdays excursion. I think it was a DeHavilland. The pilot had headphones to communicate with us and describe what we were flying over. I had much more confidence in this flight. We saw many trees, tree growth, dead trees and lakes, and she gave a thorough explanation about the rivers, the fjords and the glaciers creating them. We set down on the water on Punch Bowl Crater or Beach. We were on shore for a while and took photos and had photos of us taken. It was really hot that morning and seemed crazy hot for Alaska. It was somewhere around 86 degrees that morning. By the time we returned to where the float plane docked, that temperature had dropped around 20 degrees and the wind had picked up. So they do have wildly fluctuating weather. We walked around town a little bit and then went back to the ship. We had lunch in the Horizon Court and since DH was feeling a little poorly we napped and rested for a while. We had dinner in the Horizon Court. Sunday was a sea day and DH was still feeling pretty badly. It was not noro I am glad to say, but still no fun. We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner in the Horizon Court. Our server went to the Bordeaux dining room and brought the rest of my bottle of red wine to the Horizon Court. The turkey and roast beef were pretty good. I was very happy that the Horizon Court had a large variety of salad items and I was able to eat sensibly most of the time. If you want a really good Irish Coffee go to the Explorer Lounge. The MDR did not make a good one. Disembarkation in Vancouver went smoothly and we were transferred to the airport by Princess transportation. All staff members we interacted with were friendly, professional and gracious. We had a more wonderful experience than we thought possible. Thank you Princess. Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
Like all things in like, there is generally some good parts and some bad parts. The overall experience is which side outweighed the other. I will start with the good points. The scenic cruising through Hubbard Glacier and Glacier ... Read More
Like all things in like, there is generally some good parts and some bad parts. The overall experience is which side outweighed the other. I will start with the good points. The scenic cruising through Hubbard Glacier and Glacier National Park was simply breathtaking. Because the Margerie Glacier was extremely active the captain allows us to stay in front of it longer. That was definitely the highlight of the trip. The housekeeping staff was impeccable. They were in and out of the room quickly and rarely noticeable. Only one small negative, they need to learn to make towel animals. The casino staff was very friendly and made it a joy to play at the tables and in their tournaments. Now, I will go over the bad points. These overwhelmed the good and made this an experience one I would like to forget. The food was on the level of a Furr's Cafeteria. It was very bland and borderline tasteless. If you like full flavored food, you'll hate the food on any Princess cruise. None of the steaks that I ordered were cooked as I ordered it. They refused to cook my salmon to temperature. Their presentation was lacking and in some cases very unappetizing, especially with their pureed vegetables in a gelatin mold. The food service was slow, inattentive, disorganized, and at some points rude. There were several meals that I thought about walked over to the wait station to fill the water glasses on the table. There were times we sat for a half hour or more with empty plates waiting for the next course to be served. Rarely did they come over to see how we were doing or if we need anything else. At one point, the waiter asked me if I was done with my plate, I say yes, and he left without taking my plate. This happened 2 more times, with the same waiter, before they removed my plate and I nearly bused the table myself. There were also a couple of occasions that they got my order incorrect and it was painful getting their attention to correct it. The cruise staff was not as friendly as previous cruises. On most of my cruises, the thing I remember most is the cruise staff because they go out of their way to make my cruise memorable. On this cruise, my most memorable cruise staff is Casper because I showed up to several events that no cruise staff showed up to organize. At a minimum, they should have sent someone to say that it was canceled. We didn't even get greeted by the cruise staff as we entered the ship. The customer service has been abysmal and it started with booking the trip. I was on the phone for over 3 hours just to book my trip. The Princess representative was very friendly but was severally under-trained. I was constantly put on mute so she could talk to someone else to find out how to do something. During my land excursion, I asked a representative which bus I needed to get on. They sent me to the wrong bus. The organization was horrible and the Princess personnel seemed lost. When to Denali, they got my rooms incorrect. First off, they game me two adjoining rooms when I only needed one. Secondly, it was a room that was already occupied. During the tour from Denali to Whittier, I was told that the bus was better than the train because it'll stop so you can take picture. We sped by a moose on the side of the road, even with the entire bus yelling "MOOSE." We didn't even slow down. We also saw a bear and several other scenic spots. All of which are blurs as we zoomed by them. When my cruise ended, the customer service was still bad. They neglected to send me a survey for feedback on the cruise. I asked customer service to resend it and I still have not received it. I contacted customer service to tell them that I still have not received it, and their response was terse; "Sorry for your disappointment, the survey's were sent on {Date} and resent on {Date} to email address {Email Address}." With this response, they gave no options in remedying the situation. Throughout the cruise there were tons of minor glitches that all add up to making the experience miserable. Little things like not getting your coffee order correct or giving you a look of disgust when you ask them to rinse your refillable cup out before the refill it. I purchased the cruise video. It has a lot of stock video that was not part of the cruise so it probably not truly worth it price. However, regardless of the price, I received a bad copy. It has been over a month now and I still have not gotten a working copy. This cruise was my second with Princess. I would not recommend Princess to anyone. Neither of the Princess cruises were extraordinary. In fact I would not place them in the good category. I know I can generally get a Princess cruise for a cheaper price, especially to Alaska, but you definitely get what you pay for. Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
This and a short trip on the Golden Princess a month earlier were an introduction to the newer Princess ships. These are nice ships, and the visits to the glaciers and the scenery in the inland passage are the highlights of this particular ... Read More
This and a short trip on the Golden Princess a month earlier were an introduction to the newer Princess ships. These are nice ships, and the visits to the glaciers and the scenery in the inland passage are the highlights of this particular voyage. This is especially true with the number of cruise ships overpowering Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan these days. We had been on an inland passage cruise on the old Regal Princess in 1993, so the ports were familiar. We were blessed with beautiful weather for this trip, which came on the end of a tour also blessed with seeing Mt. McKinley for at least some portion of the day all four days. FOOD We do traditional late seating dining and the service was spectacular, really made the evening meal a treat. Menu variety was good, and the only thing that would have made it better would have been a nice lamb chop or leg of lamb one night. We also generally have breakfast and lunch in the dining rooms and these were very enjoyable. The breakfast menu could be better with additions such as corned beef hash, and beans. We also tried the pizza available on deck and it was very nicely done. A couple times we tried the buffet and were not impressed. Breakfast lacked fish dishes. Usually you expect to see at least salmon available, and the size of the buffet itself seems cramped, too crowded to be a pleasant experience. We had taken a trip recently on the Golden Princess and it had the same "too small" feeling. ROOM The rooms are configured with what is essentially a dressing area between the bathroom door and the closet space. This appears a little strange at first, but it works well in practice and it is an improvement over the "in-line" configuration on ENTERTAINMENT The shows were very good. They also had an excellent presentation by Libby Riddles who won the Iditarod in Juneau. It would be nice to see Princess provide more educational opportunities. The one Cunard cruise we were on had daily educational lectures and it was very enjoyable. PORTS Since we had been to the ports and taken the excursions previously, we spent our time in Skagway and Juneau exploring the towns, and found that worthwhile. Good museums and Capital tour in Juneau. In Ketchikan we rented a car from First City Car Rental. They delivered to the dock, let us return it to the parking space there and mailed us the receipt, great service. We visited the Totem Bight Park, hiked the Ward Lake and Lunch Falls Loops and had a nice picnic lunch watching the activity on the fishing boats at the Clover Pass Resort.. EMBARCATION DEBARKCATION These were both well done. We had an assigned dining room debarkation which was equipped with juice, coffee and tea and a representative who kept you appraised of progress, made this hurry up and wait experience passable. Much better done than we've seen on other ships. Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
We have just returned from a southbound Alaskan cruise on Coral Princess from Whittier to Vancouver from June 18 -- 25. This was our 12th cruise, and the fourth one with Princess. We live in Vancouver, and have been to Alaska 2 times ... Read More
We have just returned from a southbound Alaskan cruise on Coral Princess from Whittier to Vancouver from June 18 -- 25. This was our 12th cruise, and the fourth one with Princess. We live in Vancouver, and have been to Alaska 2 times before, but never been to Glacier Bay. We picked Coral Princess because of its itinerary and timing. Turned out to be a good decision. The following is a brief review of Coral Princess: Embarkation/Disembarkation Very easy and efficient. We arrived at the Whittier pier at 3:30 p.m., and was on board in half an hour. I saw many Princess buses arriving later in the day -- must be other passengers arriving from other part of the country. In Vancouver our disembarkation time was 8:25 a.m. We arrived at the designated area at the time indicated, and was told to follow everybody else to leave the ship. Went through customs and picked up our baggage, and was outside Canada Place at 9 a.m. waiting for our ride. Cabin We had an inside cabin on the Plaza deck. The size was more than enough for 2 people, with plenty of storage space. The shower was a little small, but you get used to it. I wore ear plugs every night, so I had no idea whether it was noisy or not. Of course it would be nice to have a window and balcony, but I found it was a much better experience to be on the open deck while cruising Glacier Bay because you can absorb scenery on both sides of the ship. Food We opted for any time dining. With the exception of first night where we ate at the Provence dining room, we always ate at the Bordeaux dining room for dinner. Normally we went to dinner around 5:45 p.m., and requested a table for two. There was no problem every night, but beware sometimes they have 2 tables adjacent to one another with only a small gap in the middle. Effectively that is a shared table if that is what you want to avoid. We ate all our breakfast and lunch at Horizon Court Buffet. In general the food was good, but not exceptional. No comment on specialty restaurant as we did not go to any. There were always food at the horizon court, so you would never be hungry. The soft ice cream tasted artificial, but was refreshing. The pizza was ok. My wife said the coffee tasted watery, so you may have to purchase the specialty coffee. Entertainment At the Princess Theatre there were 2 production shows, one magic/illusion show, one comedy show, and one hypnotist show. We went to every show with the exception of the last one, but saw the re-run on the following night in another venue. There was no show on the last sea day. There are always seats available inside the theatre, as opposed to the Caribbean Princess when we cruised last Sep that you have to arrive half an hour early to get a decent seat. We also went to the production show "On the Bayou" at Universe Lounge. Not sure why it wasn't held at the Princess Theatre. These were all typical cruise ship shows. Cannot be compared to Las Vegas, but good enough to keep you entertained. Fitness Center It has about 10 treadmills, 5-6 elliptical machine, 3 stationery bikes, and weight lifting equipment. All are in good condition. With the exception of the first sea day, the center was never very crowded. We spent more than an hour everyday there (to burn off the calories). I did not gain any weight after the cruise! Miscellaneous I would guess the average passenger age was over 60, with a small number of children. There were also a handful of younger people. I was told the ship was full, but I never felt too crowded. The TV channels were limited, and I was disappointed I missed the NBA finals. But you are not on a cruise ship to watch TV, no big deal. There is coin laundry facility: $2 for either washing/drying. I did check out the secret public aft decks (Emerald/Dolphin/Caribe/Baja) just in case it was raining and windy, but it was not necessary. Couldn't find the public forward decks. Final Thought In conclusion it was a enjoyable trip, and I would not hesitate to recommend Coral Princess if your expectation is not too high. In the future I would like to try a bigger and newer ship as I imagine it will have more facility and better entertainment. See http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1659614 for the trip review and pictures. Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
We just got back from our Alaskan adventure. It was an amazing trip to say the least. We did a 4-day land tour and then 7-day cruise from Whittier aboard the Coral Princess. For the land tour portion, we flew into Anchorage, spent one ... Read More
We just got back from our Alaskan adventure. It was an amazing trip to say the least. We did a 4-day land tour and then 7-day cruise from Whittier aboard the Coral Princess. For the land tour portion, we flew into Anchorage, spent one night at McKinley Lodge, & 2 nights at Denali Lodge. Try and provide some highlights. We flew Chicago to Dallas, Dallas to Anchorage (I know, South to go North, go figure) We got into Anchorage about 7:30. Princess rep was at baggage claim told us where to put our luggage and what bus to get on. Stay the night at the Captain Hook hotel in Anchorage. We did not have to touch our luggage from the time we claimed it at the airport till we got into our hotel room that was nice. We did not do much in Anchorage given our arrival time. We did try and stay up to help adjust to the time difference. Walked around a little the next morning and had breakfast at a place called the Sandwich deck across from the hotel. Good breakfast. Boarded the bus for the ride to McKinley. Long bus ride, but we knew that. Got to the McKinley lodge, Princess rep met us and gave us our packet with keys and itinerary. We were booked for the Denali Wilderness hike in the afternoon through Princess. There were only 4 of us on the tour and it was great. Had 2 guides who were outstanding. It was about a 5-6 mile hike and we climbed 1500 ft. Definitely a workout, but it felt great after flying the day before and the bus ride. Our hike was rewarded with a clear view of Mt. McKinley when we reached the highest point on our hike. Back to the lodge and we had dinner at the 20300 cafe. Decent food. Service was a little slow as I think most of the staff had not been at it that long. Woke up the next morning and went to get coffee. Look out the window and see Mt. McKinley in all her glory and no clouds. The heck with the coffee, where is the camera. Amazing view. Before the bus to Denali the next day we opted for a morning hike at Byers Lake. It was the same outfit that did our tour the day before and they did not disappoint. Guide was very knowledgeable. Only about 2 miles and no changes in elevation. Had more people on this tour with us. Good way to start the day. Took the bus to Denali lodge, got our packet, luggage was already in the room. We had a glacier landing set of for the late afternoon through Princess. Flight and landing was awesome. Pricey, yes. Worth it, I would say so. How often do you get to land on a glacier. Got back to the lodge and went to dinner at the King Salmon restaurant. Food was good. Seafood was very good, especially the king salmon. The next day we were supposed to go whitewater rafting on the morning through Denali Outdoor Center. Princess offered a similar trip, but it was on oar tour and we wanted to paddle. The called late the day before saying that they had to cancel since we were the only ones, they had to cancel the morning one, but said we could go on the 11am trip. We were fine with that and basically reversed our day and spend the morning hiking in Denali on the trails near the visitor center. Rafting was fun, wet, and cold. We had dry suits on which kept us dry, but when the 36-degree water crashed over the raft you certainly felt it. The guide was really good. Never had one concern about the boat flipping or falling out. The canyon run has some pretty good rapids. Got back, ate at the King Salmon restaurant again and had the steak which was very good. Next morning was our train trip to the ship. We ended up in a non-Princess car due to number of people on the train. At first I was disappointed because our car did not have the tables for 4 like the Princess cars do and we all faced forward. Actually turned out to be pretty good. Had more legroom. Ate on the train. Eggs Benedict with reindeer sausage was great as was the reindeer chili (for some reason they just do not serve reindeer meet here in IL....) Train trip was 9 1/2 hours. Very long. I really enjoyed it. Some did not and felt coped up for a long time. I had purposely book the tour with the train ride because I had wanted to do it, so I think it would have taken a lot for me to say it was not fun. Saw bear and moose as we traveled. Arrived in Whittier (which was sunny and nice, a good omen for the rest of the trip) at 5:30. Princess reps had checked us in and given us our cabin cards on the train. Off the train, through security, and onto the ship. We were on Caribe in C531. Some luggage was there when we arrived, others we waited for. We had to go meet with one of the passenger service reps since my DW decided to surprise me with renewing our vows (this was our 10th anniversary cruise) We like wine so we sought out the wine table near the Horizon Court to get our sommelier's wine package and ordered another bottle all sent to our cabin and had a nice chat with the waiter selling it. We ended up sitting at his table most of the cruise. Had our muster drill at 7:30 and then we sailed away. There was open seating in both dinning rooms and dress was more relax since most folks were still trying to get settled. Cabin was fine. C531 was a balcony cabin with a bigger balcony. Had worried (so worried that I back a portable camping table, which actually was real handy) that we would find the "new" furniture with the small table, but we did not. We had the old furniture and you could tell it was old. Paint chipped and worn. I half wonder if they had put this furniture back on to replace the "new" stuff. Cabin was fine. Rommel, our stateroom steward was outstanding. Always got what we needed and was very chatty and friendly. The ship was not full at all. Many cabins with no names on them and no one ever one some of the balconies below us. Maybe 75% full. DW had surprised me with a renewal of our vows (since this was our 10th anniversary cruise). That was nice and well handled by Princess. We ate at Sabatini's the night we renewed our vows. First time with the new menu and I liked it. Definitely less food. It was enjoyable. The next night we had the ultimately balcony dinner (I know what you are thinking, really in Alaska....) the night we sailed out of Glacier Bay. We were incredible lucky that day as we had perfect weather for Glacier Bay. Sunny, clear, and in the 50-60 as we left (also helped that we had the sun on our balcony) It really worked out well. Dinner was great (wish they had told us it came with champagne so we would have not gotten the other bottle earlier as we marveled at the Margerie Glacier) Server was very attentive and not intrusive at all. I had the steak and lobster. Huge steak. Was awesome to eat on the balcony and what the scenery goes by. The rest of the meals we ate in the dinning room. We had anytime dining. Became friendly with one of the headwaiters, another waiter we had meet when getting wine, and the sommelier (get the idea we like our wine) and ended up sitting at the same table each night. Sometimes by ourselves, other times with people we meet. Food was pretty good and no complaints. We had anytime dinning and never had a problem getting a table. We did ask the headwaiter for a few special dishes and he went way beyond what we asked him. Basically had a special meal made for us one night. Service was good. Veronica, the sommelier was excellent. One of the most outgoing I have ever met on a ship. As for other stuff on the ship, cannot comment much. We saw 0 shows and did not participate in many activities. We were having way too much fun explore Alaska. Oh, DW did sign us up for a few messages, which after all the hiking we had been doing was very welcome. Spa folks did fine. A little selling, but nothing over the line. It was like here are some product recommendations (see my mouth drop at the prices..) and we said not thanks and that was it. As for the glacier "stops" Hubbard Glacier was nice. We got to see lots of whales as we approached. Got somewhat close to the Hubbard Glacier, but still several miles away (thank goodness for a really long zoom lens) Captain rotated the ship so each side could see. Hubbard Glacier was nice. I think I would have enjoyed it more if we had not had our day at Glacier Bay Glacier Bay.....All I can say is amazing. Our weather was perfect. Sunny, clear, and by the afternoon we were in short sleeves and had sunscreen on. The ranger on the ship had said they get 1-2 days like we had per season (sorry everyone else who is going, we already took one of the days....) Loved every minute of Glacier Bay. Seeing the Margerie Glacier up close, hearing the glacier thunder, and watching it calf was great. We were about 1 mile from the Margerie glacier, which looked stunning in the sunlight. Also so the Grand Pacific Glacier, which looked more like dry land than a glacier. Very dark color. The Hopkins Glacier and inlet was closed to everything (including kayakers) due to ice and wildlife matting season. We did stop at the Lamplugh Glacier as well and then sail passed the Reed Glacier. Sailing out of Glacier Bay and eating our dinner out on the balcony capped off the day in style. I think we got a little spoiled in Glacier Bay with the outstanding weather, but if you go to Alaska on a cruise, it is not to be missed. Glacier Bay is a treasure that everyone should see. As for the ports, in Skagway we did Heli-Hike-Train through Princess. Basically, flew into the Tongass National Forest, did some hiking, and caught the White Pass Railroad back down. Was definitely a different way to get to and from a hike, but we enjoyed it. Hike was not too strenuous, but not an easy hike. Taking the White Pass Railroad back was nice although I think we missed some of the better parts of the railroad trip which were before they picked us up at Glacier Station. Back into town and off to the Skagway Brewing Co. for Spruce Tip Ale before getting back on the ship. In Juneau, (which it rained most of the day and we had weather like I expected to have most of the time) we did whale watching and Mendenhall Glacier hike/photo safari. Trip was great. We got to see a double breech about 500m from our boat. Incredible. We did see plenty of whales on the trip and spent more time on the water than I think was allowed. Time at Mendenhall Glacier was short and not really a hike. It was cut short since we spent more time with the whales. As for the photo part, okay. The guide knew stuff about cameras, but what he presented was geared towards people with very basic knowledge of cameras (I brought my dSLR and 2 high end lens which I rented and took over 2300 pictures if that puts it into perspective for you) After we got back we stopped at the Red Dog Saloon. Very entertaining. Not someplace to bring the kids who would repeat some of what the guy singing said.... In Ketchikan, we did a flight seeing tour to the Misty Fjords after wandering around town a bit. The weather was excellent. Ketchikan is known for being rainy, we had a clear and sunny day (anyone see a theme for the weather on our cruise...NICE). We booked with Island Wings, not Princess. Highly recommend Island Wings and Michelle. One plane outfit and Michelle (owner and pilot) does a great tour. Worth every penny. Only 6 of us in the plane plus Michelle. Scenery was beautiful. Got to land on a lake, get off and walk around on short. Michelle also took our pictures with our cameras and she certainly knew what she was doing then too. I also had a small "helmet mounted" video camera that they were able to attach to the outside of the plane and I videoed the whole flight. Was a great way to end our ports. Had our day at sea before arriving in Vancouver. Was nice to have the sea day to rest, pack, and take it all in. Disembarkation was easy. We had a transfer direct to the airport. Funny part is that we essentially got "herded" to the buses (heaven forbid we got loss in Canada.....) Interesting part about disembarkation was that we picked up our luggage at the airport rather than the pier. Something different. Overall, LOVED Alaska!!! Pricey.....yes, but.....worth ever penny. Combination of the land tour first and then the cruise was perfect. It was definitely more exhausting than a Caribbean cruise, but you are here to see Alaska and not sun yourself on the pool deck. The cruise seemed to us to be more of a way to get around and see certain parts of Alaska. The entertainment for me was watching everything from the balcony. Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
If you plan to drive in Alaska on your own, I strongly recommend getting the Milepost. It provides info on lodging, food, fuel, and items of interest for all of the major Alaskan roads. Also, reviews of the lodging and tours in the land ... Read More
If you plan to drive in Alaska on your own, I strongly recommend getting the Milepost. It provides info on lodging, food, fuel, and items of interest for all of the major Alaskan roads. Also, reviews of the lodging and tours in the land portion of the trip can be found in the Review section of Tripadvisor. I especially want to thank all of folks that post in the Alaska section of the Tripadvisor forum. Without the forum, I would have had a very difficult task to determine an itinerary (special thanks to Manitoba Maple for the itinerary suggestions) and decide on attractions, restaurants, and lodging. The search engine on works great and helped me locate past posts that provided a wealth of information and answered my questions. I also wanted to thank the posters at Cruisecritic. I wanted to especially thank Budget Queen for her suggestions on the Denali summit flightseeing tour and using the shuttle bus in Denali NP. I also wanted to thank Cruising Goddess for her Alaska website. Her packing list was invaluable to developing our Alaskan wardrobe. We loved the convertible pants! The posters at Cruisecritic also provided good info on Alaska, as well as, helping with cruise and cabin selection. I fall in the category of a severe planner and try to tie down as many loose ends as possible, so the information on both sites is a valuable resource. Day 1- Travel day We landed in Anchorage in late afternoon. We pickup our rental car from Alamo. It was a Nissan Altima which is considered full size. We were able to stow our three pieces of luggage and the two day packs in the trunk. (Following advice on the TA forum, we booked a rental car through Alamo about a year earlier for eight days for a total cost of $366.) It was raining when we left the airport, but that ended quickly. The sun came out, and we got our first views of the mountains surrounding Anchorage. After a full day of flying, we had enough energy to shop for groceries, deet, the Milepost, and sundries at the Wal-Mart on Dimond Blvd and get sandwiches from the nearby Subway. We headed to our lodging at the Girdwood Guest House. It was still a sunny day, and the heavily snow-covered mountains along the Turnagain Arm were an unexpected surprise. Pat and Judy at GGH were great hosts. They told us there was more snow on the mountains this late in the year due to the heavy and prolonged winter and spring snow falls. We were able to sleep well because our bedroom at GGH has no windows. Day 2-Girdwood to Homer Day 2 starts with our first wildlife sighting. While fixing breakfast, my wife spotted a black bear across the street. He was about 20 feet away. He moved away before we could get to a camera. We did the Glacier Dog sledding tour with Seavey Iditarod/Alpine Air. Alpine Air runs the airport location and operates the helicopters, and Seavey runs the dog camp. The day was overcast, but no rain, so we were good to fly. They fitted us with fleece gloves and waterproof jackets and pants in addition to the glacier boots. Since I saw glacier dog sledding on an RCL commercial in the early 2000's, I had always wanted to do this tour, and I was not disappointed. They land you onto Punchbowl glacier. During the helicopter trip, we saw blue ice pools. While we were on the glacier, I noticed all the footsteps made in the ice reflect a slight blue tint. The dogs are only 30 to 40 lbs, but they are incredibly strong. I did not realize how eager they are to pull the sled, and they will do it with or without a musher aboard. We got to hold the 8 week old puppies who were so cute. The view of the surrounding mountains around the glacier was spectacular (sorry if I overuse this word in my report, but this vacation was incredible). I got to ride in the co-pilot seat on the way back. Because of my height and weight, this was an unexpected thrill. The scenery in the mountain valleys was beautiful. We wish the helicopter ride could have been longer than 10 minutes each way. After the helicopter trip, we decided that the Alyeska tram would be a letdown, so it was on to Homer. We made several photo stops along the Turnagain Arm and Portage area. We took several minutes at each stop just to admire the incredible views of these snow and ice covered mountains. Along the drive to Cooper Landing, we noticed the beautiful green colored water in the streams. The scenery after Cooper Landing to Soldotna is not as spectacular since it is mostly trees, but we were rewarded with great pastries at The Moose is Loose bakery in Soldotna. After Soldotna, the scenery improved. We had views of the Cooke Inlet. Along the Sterling Highway between Ninilchik and Anchor Point, we made several stops to admire the mountains across the Cook Inlet. I read reviews talking about an impressive view as you enter Homer; they were right. That view of the town, the bay, and the mountains was awesome. We stayed in the Compass Rose Quarters at the Alaska Beach House. Doug and Sue were great hosts and provided good information. The cottage is a stand-alone building which has a balcony overlooking Kachemak Bay. There was an amazing view of the ice-covered mountains across the bay. Upon our arrival, there was a bald eagle perched in a nearby tree. Apparently, there was a bird turf battle for the tree. The eagle was being strafed by 3 crows. I expected the eagle to strike back, but I guess it figured it wouldn't be worth the effort with so many surrounding trees. It flew off and yielded the tree to my least favorite birds. We spent the evening admiring the view from our balcony and the comfortable recliners inside the cottage. Even with overcast skies, the views of the mountains are so striking. Day 3 - Homer Originally, we planned to go to Seldovia on the Kachemak Bay ferry since this would only take about half a day. This would have still allowed about a half day to explore Homer. However, the ferry company changed the schedule, and we would have spent an entire day in Seldovia. We wanted to see Homer as well, so we opted to spend the day in Homer and were rewarded for that decision. The day started out overcast with a low cloud deck. We decided to start with a visit to the Island and Oceans museum. This museum has pretty cool exhibits on the people, history, geography and fishing of the area. While in the museum, blue skies and the sun appeared. We walked the museum trail through Beluga Slough to Bishop's beach. The view from the beach was gorgeous. The beach consists of a dark grey colored sand from the granite mountains which I had never seen. There were posted alerts about a moose being spotted near the trail, but we did see any moose. We then decided to drive along East End Road. We found out that buildings and trees block the view across the bay. To view the beautiful scenery, you need to travel on the interconnecting Old East End Road and the small public gravel roads. We couldn't get enough of staring at the scenery on both sides of the bay. At the end of the paved portion of East End Road, a young woman in a colorful long Russian dress and bonnet was caring for her two children in the front yard of their house. We turned around and headed back to Homer. Since we're fans of the Deadliest Catch, we had to go to the Time Bandit store. We found out the Time Bandit was in port at the Spit, so we rushed to go there. We found the TB. In real life, the ship looks small. I know it is only 109 feet long, but on TV it appears to be larger. It really takes a special kind of courage to take a ship this size into the Bering Sea during winter. We went to the Land's End which has a lounge that has an outdoor area with nice views of the mountains. We ended the day by driving to Skyline Drive. This required driving on East and West Hill Roads. These roads had some turns with steep drop offs that were sort of challenging to this flatlander. On Skyline Drive, there is a pullout that provides a fantastic view of Homer, the Spit, and Kachemak bay especially on this sunny day. Day 4- Homer to Girdwood It was a cold, overcast day, but I wished we could have stayed another day in Homer. I really recommend spending two full days in Homer. We really enjoyed the views from balcony. During our stay at the cottage, we had numerous eagles fly over us. On our way out of Homer, a moose cow and calf were grazing about 20 to 30 feet off the highway. The moose is an unusual looking animal. It looks like it has parts from other animals and was obviously the product of a design by committee. Even though it was overcast and occasionally rainy over the Kenai peninsula, it was sunny across the Cook Inlet, and we were treated to outstanding views of Mts. Redoubt and Iliamna. At one pullout, there were roadside signs describing the volcanoes. Mt Redoubt last erupted in 2009, but it was quiet today. We also saw eagles. While driving down the gravel road to the Russian Orthodox church in Ninilchik, a moose cow crossed the road. The moose walked to our right side, and we saw that the calf had preceded her. We watched them feed on the trees. We proceeded to the church. The inside of the church was closed for the day, but it was a treat to see the outside of the little church. We stopped to see the Princess Wilderness Lodge at Cooper Landing. That area has great scenery especially with the green colored streams. Though it was raining, there were quite a people fishing in the river. We arrived at Girdwood where we again stayed at the Girdwood Guest House. Soon after we arrived, the bear we saw on Day 2 came back to tell us hello. We ate at the Silvertip Grill. I had the reindeer lasagna which was delicious. They also had great beer from an Alaskan microbrewery. The grill is frequented mostly by locals, and they made us feel at home. Girdwood is a cool little town. We were again able to take refuge from the white nights in our totally dark bedroom. Day 5 - Homer to Matanuska It was overcast, windy, and cold as we toured the Turnagain Arm area toward Anchorage. The weather did not detract from the spectacular scenery along the arm. We stopped at Windy Point (it earned its name that day), Bird Point, Beluga Point (did not see any whales), and Potter Marsh. We saw lots of birds at Potter March. We even saw Canadian geese with gosling. Some birds like the songbird were at the railings of the boardwalk, but for most, it helps to have binoculars. During our travels along the Turnagain Arm, we did not try to view the bore tides since they were predicted to be very low height or non-occurring. Due to the low cloud deck, we scrubbed going to Independence Pass and Hatcher Mine, and we opted for the Musk Ox Farm. This is a good side tour especially if you have children. The tour guide was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. The musk ox which is actually a goat looks like a throwback to the Wooly Mammoth days. They even let the children feed wild dandelions to the young musk ox. We continued our drive on the Glenn Highway. I found out the hard way that the road to Matanuska was in the mountains (probably foothills, but to this flatlander they seemed like mountains). We got a good view of the Matanuska glacier. At 26 miles long, it is impressive. We stayed at the Majestic Valley lodge and ate at the restaurant at the Sheep Mountain lodge which had good food. Day 6 - Matanuska to Talkeetna It started out as a foggy morning, but the clouds began to lift. It was a sunny day as we did our 3 hour walk on the Matanuska Glacier with MICA tours which we booked the previous day. I really enjoyed the glacier walk, and hopefully I will be able to do at least another one in the future . We got to see the deep crevices and holes in the glacier. We saw the small greenish blue kettle ponds. The snow-capped, surrounding mountains and glacier were absolutely gorgeous. The trip was harder on my wife who has a bad knee. We mistakenly thought that glaciers were relatively flat with some gradual changes in elevation. Wrong, silly flatlanders. There is a somewhat steep change in elevation. We wished we brought her knee brace (which she has not had to wear in over ten years). It would have also helped if she had a hiking pole. The MICA guides were absolutely fantastic about assisting her. We felt bad that we held back the two much younger people in our tour. Needless to say, this was her first and last glacier walk. We drove to Talkeetna. On this sunny day, the scenery along the Glenn Highway was beautiful. Mountains are on both sides of the Matanuska river with the road cut into one of the mountain (yeah I know, foothills). We spent a lot of time stopping and viewing the scenery. After Glenn Highway, the drive from Wasilla to Talkeetna is a bit of a letdown. To quote a line I previously read on Tripadvisor, it was trees, trees, and more trees. When we got to Talkeetna, we spotted Denali (McKinley) from a pullout on the Talkeetna Spur road. The mountain was in a full view! We tried to get a summit flightseeing tour for that evening, but were not successful. We stayed in the downstairs lodge room at the Susitna River Lodging which has a good view of the adjacent Susitna River. From the lodge grounds, you can see some of the Alaskan Range, but not Denali. Later that evening, a couple of large raft tours on the river passed by the lodge. We really enjoyed our short stay at the lodge and at Talkeetna. We ate at Twisted Creek; great service and beer (brewed onsite) and good food. On this Alaskan trip, I verified that halibut is not my favorite fish, but I like how it is prepared at Twisted Creek. Day 7 - Talkeetna to Healy It was an overcast day at Talkeetna, but the skies were clearing over the Alaskan Range. We booked a mid-morning summit flightseeing tour with K2 Aviation. There were some low clouds on the west side of Denali, but were able to get full views of the mountain on the east, south, and north sides. The skies continued to clear as the flight progressed, and we got beautiful views of Denali, Foraker, Hunter, and the surrounding areas. This area had gotten a fresh dusting of snow the previous night. As with other areas of central Alaska, the mountains had much more snow than usual due to the heavy winter and spring snow falls. On a clear day, I highly recommend this tour. It was exhilarating. I was also fortunate to sit in the co-pilot's seat. Ed was our pilot who provided great narration. We did a final drive around Talkeetna (such a cool little town), and it was on to Healy. The scenery improved as the Alaskan Range began to poke above the trees. We also had a black bear cross the highway about 50 to 100 feet in front of us. I was getting sleepy during the drive, so my wife took over the driving. While I was napping, she said she saw a bull moose on the side of the road (I snooze, I lose). We stopped at the Wilderness Access Center in Denali National Park to pick up our prepaid tickets for the 6:15AM shuttle to Wonder Lake. We also watched the short film which was about the early history of the park and construction of the park road. We then headed to our lodging at the Denali Lakeview Inn which is on the shores of Lake Otto. We stayed in the Alaska Room which has large vertical windows providing spectacular views of the mountains and lake. We also had a shared balcony with two other units. We ate at the nearby Black Diamond Grill. The food was very good. I had an Alaskan King Crab leg and salmon. The beer was from the Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage. We went back to the inn and stared at the scenery from the comfort of the wrap around couch. The white nights are tough on sleeping, but great for viewing scenery. Day 8 - Denali NP We woke up at 5AM to another sunny day! We drove to the WAC and boarded the shuttle bus. The seats on the bus were surprisingly comfortable, and there was an overhead storage rack with ample room for our day packs. Our shuttle bus driver was Wendy who was fantastic. She gave a great commentary on the history, wildlife, and geology, and geography of the park. She also had fantastic vision at detecting wildlife. Because of Wendy, we saw moose, brown bears and cubs, loons, willow ptarmigan (Alaska state bird), dall sheep, and caribou. She stopped for all wildlife sightings. For some of the bears and caribou, Wendy stopped the bus and waited patiently. She said the animals would get nearer to the bus, and she was right. The caribou crossed the road in front of us, and the bears approached close enough that they could be easily seen without binoculars. We also saw a red fox walking along the road. At the Eielson VC, we ate the sack lunches that were prepared by the folks at the Lakeview inn. The lunches were good and must have smelled good because it interested a ground squirrel who we thought was going to leap onto the bench. I told him know "no" repeatedly, and he kept faking a leap. Apparently, the back and forth between the squirrel and I must have been entertaining enough to draw a crowd snapping photos. Eventually, he got bored and left. He must have put the word out on me to his other squirrel buddies because they scurried when they saw me. From the park entrance to one of the stops, we got full views of Denali! By the time, we got to Eielson, some clouds were at the base of the mountain, but you could still see about 80 to 90% of the mountain. We rode the bus to Wonder Lake, but could only see the top of the mountain at that point; we did see the red fox during this trip. The bus ahead of us saw a wolf pack, but we did not. The mosquitoes at Wonder Lake were numerous but not swarming, but we were glad we had head nets and Deet. 100% deet works great at repelling mosquitoes, but it takes quite a few hand washes with lots of soap to later get rid of the smell. We considered ourselves lucky to get a great bus driver/tour guide, plenty of wildlife sightings, numerous Denali sightings, and a sunny day. We ate at the 49th State Brewery in Healy. The food was OK, but the beer was good. They only brew one beer, a golden ale. The other draft beers are from breweries in Alaska and Washington. Day 9 - Healy to Anchorage It was a fairly uneventful trip to Anchorage. The day started out overcast, but became sunny by afternoon. We did see the top of Denali at a road side pullout. We stayed at the Ship Creek Comfort Inn. We chose this location because it was within walking distance from the train station. We had reserved tickets to Whittier on the Alaskan Railroad for our cruise tomorrow. The inn borders the Tony Knowles trail and Ship Creek. At the creek, there were a lot of people fishing for salmon. We stayed a while, but no one hooked a fish while we were there. Our room was on the creek side of the building, so it was not directly facing the train tracks. We heard, but were not bothered or awakened by train whistles during the night. Day 10 - Anchorage to Whittier Comfort Inn had a great breakfast which we needed since we wound up having a full day. We checked our bags except our daypacks with the railroad employees at the large white tent that is adjacent to the railroad terminal. They had a special section for Princess Cruise luggage. We were told that the bags would be checked all the way to our stateroom on the ship. We then got our ticket from the counter inside the building. We were told that boarding would begin about 20 minutes prior to departure, so we were able to go back to our room at the Comfort Inn for about an hour. The train has very comfortable seats with a lot of legroom. There was ample space in the overhead storage rack for our day packs. We had another sunny day. This afforded great views of the Turnagain Arm and Portage Glacier. After we came out of the second tunnel, we saw Whittier, the Coral Princess, and sunny skies! When we departed the train, I immediately called Major Marine and was told they had about 100 available seats for the 4-1/2 hour tour to Blackstone Bay. We did not opt for the salmon and prime rib buffet. We were still full from breakfast and knew we would eat on the ship that evening. We got an assigned table to ourselves on the first level. We spent most of our time on the open decks on the first and second level. The views of the snow capped mountains and waterfalls were spectacular on this sunny day. The tour has a Park ranger on board who provided great commentary. We saw otters and harbor seals in the bay. We stayed at the Blackstone and Beloit glaciers for about 20 to 30 minutes each. We were within 1/4 mile of each glacier. There was quite a bit of cracking and some large chunks of ice fall from the glacier. I don't know if they would count as calving. One piece seemed small, but sound like a gunshot when it hit the water. We saw quite a few waterfalls, and stopped close to a large one for pictures. We enjoyed the boat ride to and from Whittier. This was a great tour especially with the great weather. We returned to Whittier and boarded the Coral Princess. On our past Caribbean cruises, we had booked inside cabins. For this cruise, we splurged and booked a mini suite, and we are glad we did. When we opened the door, great views and our luggage were awaiting us! We loved this stateroom. We spent a lot of time on this cruise looking at scenery from the balcony or the full size sofa in the stateroom. Day 11 - Hubbard Glacier It was an overcast day with a very low cloud deck when we got to Yakutat Bay. The onboard Princess naturalist said not worry. She said there was a 90% chance of seeing the glacier, and she was correct. We were only able to get within 8 miles of the glacier because of the floating ice. The glacier is the largest in the world and it was impressive. En route to the glacier, we did see the tail of a humpback whale. Day 12- Glacier Bay National Park A sunny day in Glacier Bay! We viewed Reid, Lamplugh, and Margerie glaciers. In addition to the onboard naturalist, we had Park rangers on board to provide commentary and respond to questions. One of the rangers told me that there was more snow on the mountains than in past years. We were about a mile from Margerie glacier. We saw quite a bit of ice fall from the glacier. We saw an eagle floating on an iceberg close to the ship. Day 13- Skagway It was a sunny day in Skagway! Not all was perfect, I started with a head cold. We went on the Emerald Lake-Carcross tour with Dyea Dave. We also had reservations for the WP&YR train from Fraser Meadows to Skagway. Shelby was our tour guide. Our experience with her was the opposite of Wendy with the Wonder Lake shuttle. The tour seemed rushed, and compared to other tours, we got minimal informative narration. That day, she seemed to view herself more a bus driver than tour guide. I had read great review about Dyea Dave, but it seems if you don't get Dave then the quality of your tour may be luck of the draw. With that said, the scenery to Carcross is pretty. We saw a group of vehicles stopped on the side of the road. Most on our bus saw a bear. We saw a lake that was so still that it mirrored the surrounding land. When we encountered that lake, I thought it was part of the land. We also saw Emerald Lake which gets its color and name from the algae growing in it. We visited the Carcross Desert which is the world's smallest desert. Carcross is a quaint, tiny town, and the water around Carcross also appeared to have an emerald color. The train ride from Fraser to Skagway was great. The allure of the train is not so much the scenery which is pretty, but that the tracks are cut into the side of a mountain. One thing we would have done differently was to not bring both daypacks on the Skagway bus trip. We typically carried the small camera, water, some snacks, and the rain jackets and rain packs in the day packs. Since we had room, we probably included other stuff that I can't recall now. The small bus used by Dyea Dave did not have an overhead storage rack. (I had previously asked them if it was OK to bring day packs which they said would be OK, but neglected to ask if there was storage for the packs.) There is very little room under the seats for day packs. (This was also true of the shuttle bus used by Orca Enterprises.). The smaller day pack was able to be put on the floor and shoved a little under the seats in from of us. We had to carry the 20 inch long day pack on our lap for the duration of the bus ride. For the Orca trip, we learned our lesson and crammed the above items into the smaller day pack. That worked well for the shuttle bus ride and most importantly, the boat trip. On the WP&YP train ride, there are overhead storage racks. Looking back, the only bus or boat trip where we needed 2 day packs was on the 11 hour Wonder Lake shuttle bus where we also had to carry lunches, snacks, and additional water. Another thing that surprised me was that there was more leg room between the seats on the old passenger cars on the train than there was on the small bus. Even with the limited legroom, I would still use one of the tour companies to travel to Emerald Lake and back to Fraser since the bus does stop for photo ops along the way. Day 14- Juneau Another sunny day! We did the whale watching tour with Orca Enterprises. The entire experience was great. The driver who drove us to and from the docks provided a lot of information on the sights we saw on the way. On the boat, Jeff was the tour guide, and Josh was the captain. They were great. Jeff gave an informative talk about the humpback whale especially their feeding habits and behavior. Josh was adept at finding whales. We saw plenty of backs and tails. Josh also told us to watch the eagles. He pointed out how one would scoop the fish out the water, and another eagle would try to steal it. The fish was usually the winner because it would fall back into the water during the aerial scuffle. It was fascinating to watch the eagle acrobatics. We had about 15 passengers on the boat, so everyone got ample time to go up on the upper deck for whale watching. You can only be up on the upper deck when the boat is stopped, and they limit 6 passengers at a time. We got to see Mendenhall glacier from the boat. We were a bit tired from our travels and decided not to visit the glacier. Since it was a sunny, cloudless day, we took the tram up to Mt. Roberts. We had great views of the surrounding area from the top. We saw an interesting short movie about the Tlingit people. There are quite a few walking trails and one that goes down the mountain. There were still mounds of snow on the mountain. The tram was a good alternative to the glacier. Day 15 - Ketchikan This was a sunny day in normally rainy Ketchikan. We were scheduled for the Misty Fjords/Glacier flightseeing tour with Family Air. Gretchen picked us up on the street in front of our cruise ship. We chose Family Air because they were the only company that would do the glacier tour without having at least four people booked. I guess this is because Dave's plane is a Cessna bush plane and normally seats four. The other companies used a slightly larger DeHavilland and seat six. Dave is the owner and the pilot. He told us that the great weather had some drawbacks. On an earlier flight, there was quite a bit of turbulence. He said that the glacier portion may be too rough, but it would be our choice whether to proceed. This was our first flight on a seaplane, and I really enjoyed the experience of taking off and intentionally landing on water. As we had seen elsewhere in Alaska, there was more snow on the mountains than normal. We enjoyed flying through the fjords. Dave is very personable and gave a good description of the area. There was quite a bit of turbulence. We heard other pilots saying they were turning back because their passengers were getting queasy. The turbulence prevented us from landing in the lake and getting off the plane onto land. We did land in the water near a boat owned by a friend of Dave's. They had just caught a 50 lb fish. We were able to stand on the pontoons which was still a cool experience. Because of the turbulence, we decided not to proceed with the glacier tour. After the flight, Gretchen dropped us off at the Creek Street area at our request. She directed us to the salmon ladder, but said it might be too early to view salmon. She was right. The salmon ladder is pretty neat to see, and it would be great to visit it in July and August during the salmon runs. We walked down Married Man's trail which is what men used to sneak down to the brothels on Creek St. It is a scenic walk down the trail. We took the funicular from Creek St up to the Cape Fox Lodge. Going up the hill gave us a nice view of the area. We had lunch at the Heen Kahidi Dining Room which has nice views of the dock area. We enjoyed the open face sandwiches. I had the Bear lunch which consisted of salmon and cream cheese on flat bread and a yogurt topped with raspberries. My wife had chicken, green onions, and havarti cheese on flat bread. Just outside of the inn was a collection of totem poles. After enjoying the view from atop the hill, we took the funicular back to Creek St. Ordinarily, you would pay the attendant $2.00 pp at the lower level. For this trip, there was no one there. I had read that this does occur frequently during the summer, and you just operate the funicular yourself by pressing the up/down button. We walked along Creek Street to Steadman's bridge. Creek St now contains shops and restaurants. The buildings are on the water and supported by pilings. There are informative signs on the buildings that were brothels. At Dolly's house, a young woman in 20's garb appeared at the door and gave us a funny double entendre sales pitch for the tour. She had a lot of enthusiasm. At this point, it was late afternoon, and I was getting tired from the head cold. We passed on the tour, but in hindsight, wished we had taken the tour. Days 16 and 17 - Sea Day and Vancouver It was an overcast day and visibility was limited. The sea day allowed us the opportunity to crash. We slept most of the day. We disembarked in Vancouver, we took the City HIghlights/Stanley Park tour through Princess. This was the only tour we booked through Princess since it included a transfer to the Vancouver airport. The tour guide was very good. The bus was very comfortable with overhead storage for the day packs. We had a 3:14 PM flight, so this tour was a great alternative to sitting in the airport. The tour included a 20 minute stop at Stanley Park. They have a very impressive display of totem poles. From the park, there is a scenic view of downtown Vancouver and a final view of the cruise ship. Thankfully, the trip home was uneventful. Misc. Lessons Learned and Conclusion: Food: Someone in a recent trip report stated that they found the fish to be overcooked. With exception to the Twisted Creek restaurant in Talkeetna, I would agree. I did enjoy items such as the reindeer lasagna at Silvertip Grill. This is something that I cannot get back home. Customer Service: I had read posts in Tripadvisor that gave the impression that personnel at the lodging and restaurants might be apathetic regarding the patrons. We were fortunate. All of the hospitality personnel that we encountered were very friendly and accommodating. Sleep: I wish I had worn the sleep masks at home well before the trip to get used it. During the trip, it made it a challenge to get used to sleeping in near daylight conditions with a mask. Energy: I was surprised how taxing this trip could be at times. Even though I'm nearly 58 years old, I had a lot of energy during our trip last year to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. Quite a few times during the land portion of the trip, I found myself tired around 6 or 7PM at night. Conclusion: This trip had been my dream vacation for a while, and it met my expectations which were high. We enjoyed our stays at the various accommodations and would do so again. With exception of Dyea Dave, all of our excursions were a lot of fun. Hopefully, my first trip to Alaska will not be my last. Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
We decided to start our trip out with a land tour and finish with an Glacier Bay Inside Passage southbound cruise that would end at Vancouver. We chose Princess Cruises because we had read many good reviews of their Alaska tours. Also ... Read More
We decided to start our trip out with a land tour and finish with an Glacier Bay Inside Passage southbound cruise that would end at Vancouver. We chose Princess Cruises because we had read many good reviews of their Alaska tours. Also after reading many reviews we were encouraged to book the land tour and ship and excursions ourselves. This saved some money and we were also able to customize our trip to our personal tastes. It was also a more intimate time for us, going out and discovering this beautiful place on our own. Our planning began over a year in advance which gave us a lot of time to read and research our trip. We found driving the roads to be very easy (be sure to check Alaska driving sites for their particular driving laws. Our land tour started in Anchorage. We picked up a rental car closer to the hotel and away from the airport to save money (also saved money going through my employee discount site several months ahead). On our way to our hotel we saw that the Saturday Market was still going and stopped in. We enjoyed speaking to the locals and seeing their handiwork. We bought some items and went to check in at the Comfort Inn Ship Creek. We chose this hotel because of its proximity to the train station as well as reviews. We found the hotel comfortable and clean and liked having breakfast provided as this saved more money and time (the breakfast was more than ample and tasty). The staff was nice and accommodating, helping us locate a convenient pack-and-ship place and giving us directions as well as directions to some local restaurants, and we loved smelling the complimentary fresh baked cookies each evening when we returned to the hotel. Although salmon season was just starting when we were there, the hotel provides fishing poles to try your hand just outside in Ship Creek. We ate at Orso Restaurant that night, nice atmosphere, good food (I enjoyed the Cashew Crusted Halibut!) and good service. The close parking is scarce unless you want to pay a good bit for the private parking-$10-$12. There is a public parking garage but you have to walk a little farther. The first morning we ate breakfast and checked out and headed on our driving tour of the Mat-Su Valley. We stopped at Eagle River Nature Center-a pretty place where you can walk out over the water on boardwalks and see the fish and get great views of mountains. There are some walking trails as well. Then we headed to Thunderbird Falls, an enjoyable and easy hike (about 30 min) led us to the falls. Beautiful and so peaceful. We continued from there on the Glenn Highway toward the Matanuska Glacier. I recommend a travel guide to fill you in on some of the things you will see on your road trips-my favorite-The Rough Guide to Alaska 2007 version. The scenery along the way was amazing, the glacier, although disappearing fast, was still impressive and there is a little park where you can get out and walk closer to it and get some good pictures. It was suggested by a CC reviewer to drive about 15 minutes after the glacier and we couldn't believe our eyes! We saw some of the most awesome views of our trip-beautiful snow capped mountains, pretty rivers and lakes. Breathtaking! We headed back the way we came and saw our first moose crossing the road in front of us. (Drive safely, a lot of moose get run over in the Mat-Su Valley). We had no problems, however and got onto the Parks Highway headed toward Healy where we would stay for the next 3 nights. We took a side trip into Talkeetna because we had read that some of the best views of Mt. McKinley and the Alaska Range could be seen there. Coming over the hill we saw an amazing view of the range. We couldn't tell which one was McKinley at that time (little did we know that it was covered by clouds then). We drove into a little pullout on the side of the road and took pictures and then continued on our way. Not too long after we spotted the range again and pulled over at a mountain view inn and cafe to get a better look. There we saw McKinley in all of its glory, the clouds had moved away and the sun was shining on the range. There was no mistaking which on was "The High One" this time-it was the most incredible thing I think I had ever seen-we were in awe. We became members of the 30% club (only about 30% of visitors ever get to see McKinley because it is so massive that it makes it own weather system and is often covered by clouds) so glad we did-I will never forget it! That is also a good reason to plan to spend about 3 days there-it will give you better odds of seeing it. We spoke to the owner of the inn-a very pleasant lady-and shopped in her little gift shop. She said that her grandmother had chosen that site to homestead because she thought it was the best view of the mountains. We continued on past Denali National Park and about 10 minutes farther to Healy and Denali Lakeview Inn where we stayed, eating some dinner at Black Diamond Grill on the way in - good variety on the menu, decent food and plenty of it, and nice folks there. We arrived and went up to the Moon Dream room and after unpacking and settling in, opened the curtains to our private balcony that overlooked a lake with the mountains behind it-so tranquil and beautiful. We kept our curtains open all the time so that would be the last view we saw at bedtime and the first when we awoke. The room was clean and very comfortable for 2 people. The next morning we were up bright and early, ate the breakfast that was left in our rooms and headed to Denali National Park for our Tundra Wilderness Tour (the shuttles do not pick up in Healy). This was my husbands favorite activity of the whole trip! Our bus driver gave us instructions about alerting him that we had spotted some wildlife so he could stop and we were on our way. Right away we saw a porcupine, snow-shoe hares, ptarmigans, some moose and baby, caribou, then a little later some Dall sheep right by the park road, a lynx, a grizzly bear and more! We stopped and got out for scenic views as well and bathroom breaks and at the park center where we ate our boxed lunch that was provided as well as water. We headed back an saw some more things although not as much since half of the bus was napping and I think the animals were, too! We both highly recommend this as a must do! We went from our tour to the visitors center near the front of the park and attended the free sled dog demonstration. It was fun seeing how excited the dogs got to pull the sled! The visitor center was worth checking out, too, if you have time. Back to Black Diamond Grill for dinner and to bed (we slept like babies, dreaming of all the things we had seen that day). Up again the next morning, a little more leisurely, eating the breakfast that the breakfast fairies had left in our little frig (micro in room, too). There was fresh fruits, toast and jam, cereal, oatmeal, milk, juice, hot chocolate and coffee and fixings of course and muffins which we took with us sometimes for a snack. Plenty to choose from. Then we headed on our drive to Fairbanks (about 2 hours from Healy and a very easy drive) stopping at the little Healy post office to mail post cards. There was much more gorgeous scenery and enjoyed reading our Rough Guide about different interesting things we would see along the way. When we arrived in Fairbanks we went straight to the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center and got some information on a local camera repair shop-DH had found a spot on his pictures and was very distressed! Fix Camera took good care of him! The visitor center was where we would also meet for our segway tour of downtown with EcoSeg Tours. We decided this was a good way to tour and learn and see some of the highlights of the Fairbanks downtown area. We had never ridden a segway before and after a 15 minute training session, we were off! We had so much fun riding the segways and Peggy gave a very interesting and informative tour. We highly recommend it! We got to free ride in a large grassy area afterward and zip around and just have fun. Katie with EcoSeg took pictures of us on our tour and emailed them to us. Afterward, we dropped off DH's camera and headed to the North Pole. We had a whirlwind tour and wish we could have had longer but enjoyed seeing the Santa Claus House and shopping for a bit. Then back to Fairbanks, picked up the camera (no more spot!) and on to Pioneer Park. There weren't a lot of shops open yet but we enjoyed seeing the old historic cabins that had been relocated there as well as the old Nenana Sternwheeler that was being refurbished. We visited the Alaska Aviation Museum (very interesting) and then went to the all-you-can-eat salmon and prime rib bake there. It was good (wish I could've gotten my prime done a little more) and filling but not great. Back to Healy we headed, enjoying the scenes along the way and another pleasant night's sleep. The next morning we ate breakfast and checked out and headed to Talkeetna where we would ride in a flightplane around Mt. McKinley. We saw caribou alongside the road and more magnificent views of McKinley along the way. In Talkeetna we chose Talkeetna Air Taxi after reading reviews and because they offered the glacier landing and would work with you to reschedule or cancel with refund if the weather was bad. We were blessed to have perfect weather and off we went. The staff at TAT was so friendly and accommodating and our pilot, Tyler took very good care of us pointing out many points of interest and giving some facts and history of the range and area as well. This was my hands down highlight of the trip!! You finally get an idea of the massiveness of the mountain range when you are up in the air and so close! I was awestruck and have never seen such beauty! We flew over a base camp, around McKinley and landed on our glacier (you have to add this to your flight!). We got out and got pictures and just breathed in the air and the views and threw some snowballs. INCREDIBLE! You must save up and splurge on this flight! After we landed we ate at the Talkeetna Roadhouse-interesting menu, good food and yummy cinnamon rolls (try the Razzy)! Then we shopped at some nice shops and headed back to Anchorage and the Comfort Inn Ship Creek. The next morning back we drove down the Turnagain Arm to Seward for our Kenai Fjords boat tour with Major Marine Tours. Another easy and very beautiful drive! Major Marine was first class and took good care of us. Right away we saw Dall porpoises, Orcas (two of them breached the water), otters and bald eagles. We went to a glacier and stayed for a little while and watched it calve. We also saw humpback whales, sea lions, mountain goats, seals, a bird rookery and more! It was awesome! The park ranger was very informative and helped us spot the wildlife and Captain Nicole invited us up to visit with her. We had the prime rib and salmon buffet and really enjoyed it with dessert a little later on the tour. (All-you-can-eat). Another great outing and highly recommend! Back to Anchorage and bedtime - slept great and didn't hear the trains any of the time we were sleeping. The next day was a relaxing day in Anchorage, visiting the Anchorage Museum of History and Art at the Rasmusson Center. We especially enjoyed the Native Alaskan and historical exhibits but everything was interesting. We missed the Northern Lights show at the planetarium (check the show times when you get your ticket because you have to purchase it up front) and we ate at the Muse cafe - good lunch menu and we enjoyed it. Then we did some souvenir shopping around town and headed back to repack and get ready for dinner at Simon and Seafort's Saloon. Very tasty, nice atmosphere and view and great service. The restaurant will validate your parking ticket if you park at the public garage about a block and a half over. The next morning we checked out and walked over to the train for Whittier. We reserved this independently (contrary to what the Princess customer service rep tells you, you can book independently on any travel means you wish and get on the boat. For the train, just drop your bags off with the porter and tell him your going on the cruise and next time you see your bags will be at your cabin door! And you will get off the train at the same place with everyone else, right in front of the dock. The train ride was fun although a little squished if you have any bags with you (there is not much room to store bags on the train). We chose not to do any excursions there as we wanted to get on board the ship and explore and do our first weeks worth of laundry. Embarkation was easy and we picked up a soda pass for the week (yes, they are around every corner asking if you want a pass but unintrusive - just get your cup right away and carry it around and they will see it and not ask!). We found that we didn't really save money for ourselves with the soda pass-we only filled it up about once or twice a day and got the extra milkshake pass but only got a few milkshakes but if you are going to use it and be on the ship a lot it would be worthwhile. There are some cans of soda and water in your fridge that you can purchase if you like. We would have probably been better off doing that. We explored while we waited for our luggage to arrive and got familiar with the ship - we thought it was a beautiful ship and never felt crowded. Then we did our laundry which was just down from our room on Caribe deck aft and port side (the best side for the southbound cruise). We had a balcony that was half covered and half open (we could stay under when it was rainy or misty and move out to get better pictures when it wasn't). We are so glad that we splurged for the balcony because you could look out and step out whenever you were in the room and it was awesome for Glacier Bay day. Everyone was out on their balconies and it was like a glacier and wildlife viewing party! We saw (and heard) a lot of calving at the glaciers as well as bald eagles and sea lions. Wonderful! I recommend making reservations that first day for the specialty restaurants if you are interested as they book up later on in the cruise. We ate traditional dining which was good but recommend anytime dining because it gives you more flexibility and you can make reservations and it is basically the same menu. All the waitstaff was awesome even in the Horizon Court buffet, clearing plates, bringing you drinks,etc. Our favorite things we did on the ship was the Lotus Spa Thermal Spa Pass - you can use the thermal grotto steam rooms and fog and rainshower showers and the wonderful heated loungers (we bought our pass at the beginning and did this every night before bed and slept like babies),DH and I would often take my showers here because the showers were larger and they had the shampoo, conditioner and shower gel dispensers in there as well as towels and the spa personnel gives you a robe when you check in, and a nice changing area with lockers. The women's dressing room also had its own steam room and sauna that you could use. We also enjoyed the afternoon teas (the scones are to die for!)and participated every day that we could. DH liked the photography Scholarship at Sea and was able to ask the photographers some questions he had. I got the Sole Delight Pedicure at the spa and it was great and my toenails were beautiful! We enjoyed the ventriloquist, the illusionist and the comedian shows. It was nice having different styles of music all around the ship. And we also enjoyed whale watching on the deck (bundle up! very cold!) when we went in and out of the Glacier Bay area. It was fun dressing up for formal nights and getting pictures taken (most do dress up, although some eat at the buffet and do not). There were some really good movies playing at the Movies Under the Stars but too cold (although some brave souls bundled up and got the provided blankets and watched them, the ship pops popcorn for you!). The nice thing is most of those movies played in your room later on that night and different times of the day so you could watch in comfort if you wanted. Our ship excursions we also booked ourselves because we wanted to go in smaller groups and pick what we wanted. Skagway-Yukon and Emerald Lake tour with Dyea Dave-they pick you up at the dock, a tour through the town and then on into the Yukon on a small van. Dave gave a lot of interesting and comical facts and history on the area and stayed ahead of the big buses. We stopped at many scenic sites such as Bridal Falls and a short shopping trip in Carcross and to get our passports stamped, and had lunch at a nice little resort along the way (get the specials-good soup!-then to the beautiful Emerald Lake and then back to Fraser where we got the White Pass and Yukon Railroad train that took us down the mountains and back to Skagway where Dave picked us up and continued the tour or dropped you off wherever you wished. We got dropped off in town and did a little souvenir shopping-cute town. Juneau-whale watching with Harv and Marv's-we were picked up at the docks and our nice driver gave us some interesting information and pointed out things about Juneau on the way to the marina. We boarded our 6 man ship with Captain Liz and she gave us a great whale watching adventure - everyone looks out for the spray coming up from the whale's spout but it was usually Liz who spotted them. We were then able to go out on the deck or stay in the warmer cabin with windows or sit on the bow. We saw many humpbacks (some with babies) and got some great "whale tail" pictures! We also saw bald eagles and sea lions. Drink and snack were provided on board. Then we got picked back up at the marina-one couple was dropped off for a brewery tour and the rest were taken to the Mendenhall glacier-impressive! This was worthwhile as it was one of the rare chances to get really close to a glacier, they had a nice visitor center there but we did not have time to view the film about the glacier that others on the ship said was very good. Then we chose to get dropped off at the Red Dog Saloon with another couple who wanted to eat there but we went shopping for souvenirs for all the grandchildren. Juneau had some good kichy souvenir shops, one store near the docks had a big selection of Tshirts and other things and the best prices on the trip. Ketchikan-After stopping at the visitors center to get a map and information we went to the Ketchikan post office to ship off our souvenirs (2 1/2 weeks later we still haven't received the box) then went on a quick walk through Creek Street and then a floatplane sightseeing trip of Misty Fjords National Monument with Island Wings. We were picked up in close proximity to our dock and met Michelle who took us on a fabulous ride through the monument. Gorgeous and she pointed out different things about the area as we went along and had inspirational music playing on our headphones when she wasn't talking. We could ask her questions along the way, too. We landed in a very picturesque and serene cove surrounded by the mountains and waterfalls and she took the extra time and effort to allow us to get out on a small island in the middle of the cove (this sets her apart from other tours and one of the reasons we chose her company). It was rainy at first but then the rain stopped and Michelle took pictures of us and we took all the beauty and serenity in and then loaded back up for the return trip. This was worth every penny, the flight was smooth and it was amazing scenery! We were driven back to our pick up place although our driver took others that wanted to eat lunch to his favorite eating place. We wanted to catch "The Bus" (the blue one) to Totem Bight State Park to see the totem poles. There are other places to see the totem poles but our timing allowed us to catch this bus and take the ride out. It takes about 30 minutes to get there about 45 minutes to tour the poles with a self guided tour pamphlet that tells about the totem poles and the replica clan house (impressive collection and on a nice setting on the water), and then the bus picks up an hour later and 30 minutes back. Download a schedule or ask at the visitor center right off the ship. $1.00 each way. the buses do tend to run a little bit behind when it is busy so allow time for this. Or you can visit the totem pole park as a ship excursion along with the lumberjack show which others on the ship said they enjoyed. A full and great day! One recommendation on all the small boat and flight tours - if you are prone to motion sickness take some meds about 30 minutes beforehand and if you are real prone, take another one later on. We only took one on the Kenai Fjords boat trip as recommended and we were fine. We are not super sensitive to motion sickness but did not see any others getting sick on this tour either although some teenagers had gotten ill on another whale watching trip and our floatplane trip. The cruise to Vancouver along the inside passage was very picturesque and you could be looking out the windows or from on deck at any time and see whales, sea lions, etc. Then it was time to pack up our suitcases and place them outside our cabin after dinner and sleep. When we woke up we had just gone under the Lion's Gate bridge (wish I had awoken a little earlier to get pictures) and we were getting ready to dock. We had breakfast at Horizon Court and went down to our disembarkation point in the Pacific Moon dining room. It was a little slow but we were comfortable and they provided hot tea and coffee or water while we waited and I got out my Nook and read and DH grabbed a magazine to look at so all was well. Those that booked excursions or had early flights out got off earlier. Then through customs and waiting in a long, but fast line for a taxi to our hotel. The Blue Horizon was a nice hotel in a good location on Robson Street. The staff was nice and helpful and we were able to get an early check-in. (They will store your luggage for you if you can't check in early). The room was very roomy with a nice view of the city off our balcony. The bathroom wasn't real big but very ample for an overnight or two. We were going to the Capilano Suspension Bridge and we bought our tickets right outside the hotel and got picked up there by the free shuttle. This was a lot of fun and a very pretty place to visit (although the bridge is a little scary-it does wobble and sway-if you are afraid of heights like me! But I made it across and back and got a certificate. We went throughout all the treetop walkways and cliffhangers and then had lunch (yummy hot dogs) and headed on the public bus to Grouse Mountain-$2.50 exact Canadian change and your ticket is good for 90 minutes. The customer service center at Capilano made some change for us) We rode the tram up Grouse mountain when we got there, saw the wolves out below us and then went to the bear habitat and saw the end of the lumberjack show there. We watched the bird show - very fun and interesting information about the birds and getting to see them up close. Great views on top! We had a beaver tail and then headed back down the mountain. The ziplining looked fun but didn't have time but we did take the public bus and got off at Stanley Park and walked around a small area of it - beautiful park! Wish we had more time but we caught another bus and got off near our street and walked the rest of the way to the hotel, windowshopping at the stores on Robson St. DH wanted some italian so we looked up and found good reviews for Zefferelli's, just a block and half from the hotel. Yummy, food, plenty of it and great service. We were fortunate to get a booth but you may wish to make reservations as it looked liked it was getting pretty busy (it was a weekend day). Then to bed. Slept well, very comfortable room although a bit dark but you can open your curtains if you wish. Up the next morning for our taxi ride to the airport (they do have a rapid rail system that you can take if you don't have a lot of luggage). Vancouver is a beautiful, clean city and wish we had more than a day to visit. But off we were on our flight back home filled with memories that we will never forget!! And although we planned as if this would be our only time that we would get to go, we now know that there is so much more to do and to do again, and we have to get back to Alaska! Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
Let me start saying Alaska is a wonderful place, truly a must-see for anyone. The scenery is unparalleled, and the entire experience not to be missed in a lifetime. This is also a combo-review. I am reviewing the land tour as well as it ... Read More
Let me start saying Alaska is a wonderful place, truly a must-see for anyone. The scenery is unparalleled, and the entire experience not to be missed in a lifetime. This is also a combo-review. I am reviewing the land tour as well as it was integral to our overall experience. DW and I are seasoned travelers, both in our late-50s. Little bumps in the road are generally part of the fun. We were traveling with a group of nine, who were all family members ranging from mid-twenties to eighty. All have been around, and have cruised happily before. In full disclosure, for most, including myself, this was our first with Princess, and first booked through a major cruise agency. We arranged our travel to Alaska through Princess, staying one night in Seattle prior to flying into Anchorage. We arrived there at 9:30 a.m. Princess agents at the airport check-in desk told us we'd be leaving on our bus soon, and to be back by 11:30. They distributed our boarding passes and then we sat until 2:30. Why? Turns out waiting for more passengers to arrive on later flights. Okay...here's how it works...I'm the customer on a time-limited visit with unlimited curiosity and anticipation. Princess, you're hired to help me use my time efficiently for the purposes of vacationing and sightseeing. Instead of having customers waiting hours (for more passengers), with Princess certainly knowing exactly the passenger transfer demand...ADJUST! A smaller "turtle bus" would have been welcome...or some straight-up information on a departure time so we might grab a cab and see the town a bit instead of cooling heels in the luggage pick-up hall. And, while I'm at it, I'll toss in how someone between our major cruise agent and Princess failed to book certain of our party on any flight...and took days to fix the faux pas once we untangled the documentation sent us between the line and agent. It also helps with security to get the names right. I don't care who shot John. They both do this for a living...I don't...and blaming the other guy doesn't fix this significant problem. After a comfortable coach ride up to the McKinley Princess Lodge, we were treated to a rare, beautiful and ever-changing view of "The Mountain." It is indeed the "Land of the Midnight Sun," and I have pictures to prove it. For those who have never experienced it before, it can play heck with your biological clock, especially after traveling across four time zones. Beware the time! The next day we were bussed early to Talkeetna and boarded the train there to Denali National Park and the Princess Denali Lodge. The train was a fine scenic ride in the dome. Service on board was great, and the running commentary welcome and witty. There are open platforms on each car for window-free photography. At Denali we took the Tundra Wilderness Tour through ARAMark, the National Park concessionaire. First bus out at 0500. Typical overcast day. We were treated to many roadside wildlife viewings, including moose, caribou and Dall's sheep, stopping for close-up pictures through open windows, and to drink in the stunning views...except for the two most came to see - The Mountain, and a grizzly bear. Clouds obscured The Mountain, and the bear eluded our driver despite several reports passed from other buses. Nonetheless, if going to Denali, take this tour. Beware: The roads are sometimes very narrow on high, rail-less cliffsides. Another Denali gem is to meet Alaskan sled dogs...your choice...visit the kennels of a six-time Iditerod champion, or those of the National Park Service. Our party split. The real dog fanciers went to the commercial offering, the others to the free Park show. Both were very happy with their choices. Book the commercial show at their office across from the Denali Lodge and save significant money. The Princess Lodges both were fine facilities that had just opened for the season. Some of the help was new and unseasoned, but all tried hard to make things work. At McKinley you're locked into the lodge restaurants. "Club 20320" offered several excellent and reasonably priced meals in a casual surrounding. OTOH, Denali offers several food alternatives across the road, from roach coach Thai-Chinese to the large "Salmon Bake"establishment. BTW: The Chinese-Thai was excellent! And here was also the first "iceberg." One of our party is gluten-allergic. This isn't skinny Brittany going with the next fad diet, but an adult who reacts to any ingested gluten with severe gastric distress. Princess advertises gluten-free dining. The telephone agents pitch that they take special care of those with dietary allergies. At McKinley Lodge our fellow traveler enjoyed a wonderful meal. At Denali Lodge there must be different standards, or a misunderstanding of gluten free. Despite ordering off the "gluten-free" menu, she suffered an attack...and later was told by kitchen staff that their gluten-free menu really wasn't TOTALLY gluten free. It was also clear the staff had no understanding of the meaning - some confusing it with lactose intolerance. That's bad enough, but when she told them it induced...you know what, the Princess rep told her that symptom may keep her off the ship - and that the agent was obligated report it! That nonsense was fixed by the intervention of a restaurant staff manger, who phoned someone to explain that his food was the cause of her distress, not some contagious virus. However, the induced distress needlessly stole a day from her trip, as one cannot enjoy an excursion with a rumbling stomach and an eye necessarily scanning for a nearby rest room. It also induced great mistrust of Princess' claims for any gluten-free food items. The coach ride down to Whittier to meet the Sapphire was picturesque and we arrived there earlier than scheduled. Boarding was the easiest I've ever experienced. The port staff, especially the security folks, were all on their game, processed us quickly with a smile, and had us standing on-board within minutes. Luggage came to our cabin almost immediately, and our room steward, Mary, introduced herself with a smile that never left her the entire week. She was certainly among our best stewards ever, if not #1. Rooms were nicely designed, the bed easy to navigate around with a good foot-wide margin at its edge. OTOH, the mattresses were described by one as something from a pop-up camper. This was a common comment offered by other passengers. Each of our party suffered various cricks and aches in the mornings. Yes, of course, there are egg crates...but really, everyone? Better to correct the underlying problem. One svelte suite passenger with whom we shared breakfast complained her rump was red in the morning from the lack of padding. Princess provided a "nice cruise." The food was good. The entertainment was good. The staff was unfailingly nice, sometimes the life of the party...especially when people flocked to windows when anyone "spotted" a whale! At each of the fjord cruises up to the Hubbard or Glacier Bay, we witnessed wondrous things, watching glaciers calve, eagles soar, otters swim, seals clown, and the occasional whale blow. The shipboard naturalist was very good, and the National Park Service Rangers were excellent explaining what we saw. The Sapphire offers some excellent viewing spots, both indoors and on deck. A great platform for this adventure. Organized ship activities were afterthoughts (at best) in all the excitement of visiting these sights. The ports were what they were. Skagway is a National Park amid commercial development mining the tourists the way merchants mined sourdoughs 125 years ago. The town is two blocks by seven blocks of the usual jewelry, diamonds and duty-free vendors, as well as local merchants pushing knives, fudge and Russian kitsch. Take the NPS walking tour...take pictures...buy your stuff...you've done it all. Excursions are available. (I did not hear a single rave from anyone about any of them at any port - whether arranged by the excursion desk or privately. They were invariably "okay.") Juneau and Ketchikan were more of the same, without the Klondike gold rush angle. Bigger towns, they offered more eating and drinking establishments...both also offer worthwhile self-guided walking tours. And these places are pretty gritty beyond the tourist streets, as are the year 'round inhabitants. BTW: Most of the folks in the stores are not locals, and leave well before the winter comes as the tourist season ends. Back to the ship... our Southbound cruise was a jumble. Please, someone take a good look at the cruise schedule and adjust things accordingly. Let's start with traditional dinner at 5:30. Let's perhaps delay that, or open all venues as "any time." At least consider not holding formal night the day one is face to face with the intriguing Hubbard Glacier, a trip highlight. Really, the cruise is programmed to showcase the Alaskan natural beauty that is all-enveloping. Okay, my mistake...here's my tip: Go with non-traditional dining on this cruise, period. And this cruise would do well to scrap the formal nights altogether. Few tuxes, mainly coat and tie, and poorly attended overall in the main dining room. Half the tables were empty at the early seating both nights. The food was okay, best described as bland. Nothing stood out particularly for anyone. It was nice. The service was good. I felt rushed nightly...one cup of coffee and the wait staff disappeared to prepare for the next seating. By 7:00 the room was nearly empty, except for the scurrying staff preparing for the 7:30 crowd. Here's your food, here's your hat... After two nights struggling with "gluten free," our dining room headwaiter finally figured out that it was best to simply allow our fellow cruiser to pick and choose items from the menu - served with no additional sauces, seasonings or embellishments. Once that practice was established, it worked perfectly. Before then, food was ordered and returned to the kitchen as the staff there apparently could not allow a dish to go out without a slathering of whatever that invariably contained gluten as a thickener. If you are gluten intolerant or suffer Celiac disease, be on your guard and get the headwaiter squared away from the first day. Other meals were taken in the Lido buffet. The food was good. The service was good. I really liked the meal experience there. Fresh Belgian waffles were available...a plus! One downer, the plates of rubbery fried eggs under heat lamps at breakfast. Big shout out to the pizza and grille for their great fast food. The ice cream corner was another big hit...but let's forget the "cone only" serving rule when someone tells you they are allergic. Must one really beg a plastic tumbler from elsewhere to dump the contents? The nightly entertainment...the hired performers were all good acts. From a comic ventriloquist, an illusionist, to stand-up comic, they were all very amusing. The singers and dancers...they were okay. Their shows were fine. Movies under the stars, despite the "evening" cold and damp, were well-attended. The screen was sharp, even during the odd bright sun moments. Arriving in Vancouver the disorganized bus drill started up again. It took two hours, once we were called to disembark, to actually board a bus and turn a wheel. We cleared customs in minutes before we waited on our feet, getting lame explanations from time to time from the cute, perky young lady (apparently port staff, not Princess) who had no real explanation for the hold-up except "safety." (Princess staff appeared briefly once the bus was boarded.) The eventual result was people stressed and pressed to arrive in time for their flights at SeaTac airport. Another tip: Book a late flight! Nonetheless, the suspense was needless. And note, you will be deposited in a charter parking lot likely a long way from your airline check-in. The good news is you will be on your way quickly. If going again, I would book a Northbound cruise, with the land portion following. Honestly, for us, after Denali it was anti-climatic. Eventually it devolved into just lots of unnamed mountains with snow on them. It was also difficult to reset one's biological clock with the jumbled schedule and long daylight hours. Some found the endless gray days a drag, too. That's the way it is. Everything is a 50/50 chance...to see Mt. McKinley, to see significant wildlife, to see the sun, to avoid the rain and damp, and so on. Temps ranged from near freezing to around 70 degrees. Most of the days were "sweatshirt weather." In conclusion, as the cruise relates to the ship, it was "nice," everything about it was "nice." It was so "nice" it was boringly nice...there just was no WOW to it...shipwise! Perhaps I'm jaded...that can happen to us inside cabin snobs...but I heard the same from so many others, many new to Princess. It was..."nice." Go for the scenery, enjoy the port days for what they are, and treat the ship as your platform...you'll be overwhelmed by the beauty, thrilled by nature, and probably pay little attention to the ship in the overall scheme of things. Writing this review of the Sapphire Princess is a bit like ending a date that just didn't click fully. Princess, dear, I'll call you soon, promise... It was "nice." Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
The DW and I booked a Cruisetour to Alaska with Princess for 5/23/12 to 6/2/12. There were a few glitches, but we enjoyed the adventure all the same. We arrived in Anchorage late on 5/22 and stayed in Anchorage the first night on our ... Read More
The DW and I booked a Cruisetour to Alaska with Princess for 5/23/12 to 6/2/12. There were a few glitches, but we enjoyed the adventure all the same. We arrived in Anchorage late on 5/22 and stayed in Anchorage the first night on our own. Early on the morning of 5/23 we traveled to Fairbanks by Alaska Railroad, Adventure Class. We used the Alaska TourSaver for this and several other Tours along the way which saved us quite a bit of money. We were fortunate enough to be guided and entertained by Conductor Steve who had almost 41 years with the Alaska Railroad. He had many interesting stories and made our trip very enjoyable. Were left Anchorage with partly cloudy skies, but as we approached Mt McKinley we were lucky enough to see it out. They say the weather covers it about 80% of the time. We also got a chance to see a Momma Bear and her Three Cubs as well as lots of Moose along the way. We arrived in Fairbanks about 8pm and made our way to the Hotel. Princess had arranged for the Bear Lodge for our two night stay in Fairbanks. We got our check in packet from the front desk right away. When we took our bags to the room, we quickly discovered there was already someone else occupying that room. It was a little embarrassing, but it was quickly resolved by a very apologetic Manager. The next day we inquired about the complimentary shuttle to the airport, we had reserved a rental car for the day. The front desk staff advised that the shuttle service was only for non-Princess customers. We paid for a Taxi and got our Rental Car. We visited The Santa Claus House in North Pole, Alaska. We later booked a tour on the Riverboat Discovery. That was a very enjoyable and informative tour. Later we visited Pioneer Park and ate at the Salmon Bake. It was good. Most of the vendors at the park had not opened, so I can't comment on the other attractions, but they looked interesting. We made a stop by WalMart and Safeway to pick up some supplies, which were cheaper there than anywhere else along the way. The next day we headed to Denali on the Train. In Denali we had only about a half day to enjoy the park, so we went to the Dog Sled demonstration and then caught to shuttle bus to Savage River. These two activities were free we enjoyed ourselves. Later we attended the "Cabin Nite Dinner Theater" near our lodge, it was entertaining and the food was good. The accommodations at the Denali Princess were very good. The next morning we boarded a Motor coach for Whittier to begin our cruise on the Sapphire Princess. We did have a two hour lunch break in Anchorage and got a chance to walk around downtown. The Sapphire is a beautiful ship and our cabin was nice. Our Room Steward was accommodating and worked very hard to make our vacation a special one. We visited Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay NP on our first two days southbound, both were spectacular and very much highlights of our trip. We visited Skagway next and took the SMART bus out to Jewel Gardens for a visit. That was fun and a nice break from the touristy stuff (shopping) that goes on downtown. Our next stop was Juneau and we booked a private Whale Watch Tour. It was fun, but not too many Whales were out that day. Later we took the Tram to the top of Mt. Roberts. We spent about an hour up there and enjoyed our time. We even got to see a Black Bear on one of the trails on our way back down the mountain. Our third stop was Ketchikan. We made this our shopping stop. We also had Halibut and Fries on the Dock for lunch, that is always a treat. We didn't go on any tours here, just walked and shopped. Our on board experience was generally good except of two incidents. 1) on our last day a sea the DW and I decided to go to the pool forward near the Spa/Salon, before we could get into the pool the DW cut her foot on a piece of glass in the pool area. It wasn't a serious injury, but the was a fair amount of blood on the deck. When assistance was requested from Spa/Salon staff twice) it was ignored. They didn't seem to be interested. 2) there were two changes on out sign and sail that the DW and I could not account for (five day apart). We inquired and the customer service staff acknowledged that we had not made the charges, and said they would make the corrections. The corrections were never made. Disembarkation was not a real smooth process either. We had transfers from Vancouver, BC to SEATAC. That intial process was far too long and disorganized. Even though there were some glitches along the way, we very much enjoyed our Alaskan Adventure. Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
We combined a six day Princess escorted landtour with a seven day cruise. The landtour was before the cruise, which we felt would be more relaxing. The landtour was wonderful, with stays in Fairbanks, Denali, and McKinley. The ... Read More
We combined a six day Princess escorted landtour with a seven day cruise. The landtour was before the cruise, which we felt would be more relaxing. The landtour was wonderful, with stays in Fairbanks, Denali, and McKinley. The princess lodges were very comfortable and the food very good. Our tour guide (Liz Bell) was great and I highly recommend booking a landtour with her. The tours included with the package were very interesting (gold dredge; Chena Riverboat tour; Denali National Park). The train rides were very comfortable. We boarded the Sapphire in Whittier, around 7:30 p.m. We stayed in a premium suite, amidship on Deck 10 (Caribe). Beg, borrow, or steal the money because the premium suite is worth every penny! Very large and comfortably appointed. We found the firm mattress very comfortable but several people we befriended found it too hard so I suggested they ask for an egg crate. The bathroom was huge, with a full-size shower and a whirlpool tub, and a second room with a sink, toilet, and large vanity. Soaps, shampoos, etc., were high quality, according to my wife. Bath towels were large but relatively thin and scratchy. Robes were very comfortable. The bedroom closet was good size, plenty large enough for us to hang lots of clothes, with several shelves for shoes. Drawer space in the bedroom was very generous. The bedroom also comes with a desk and chair. The suite portion of the cabin included a desk with chair, sofa, and comfy chair, and a mini-fridge. There were two televisions in the suite, one in each room. The suite has a very large partially covered balcony, with a round table and four chairs, and two thickly padded lounge chairs. Our steward came to the cabin and introduced himself. We didn't see much of him during the cruise but he made up the room several times during the day. We received a bowl of fresh fruit upon our arrival, and a new bowl of fruit twice during the cruise. The fridge was stocked with 6 soft drinks of our choice and an assortment of eight mini-bottles of booze were set up on the bar counter to the left of the television. Fresh flowers were also placed in the suite for our arrival. We didn't have time for a sitdown dinner before muster so we grabbed a slice of pizza on Deck 14. One of the benefits of a premium suite is breakfast in Sabatini's and it was a wonderful way to start the day. Radu, the maitre d', and George and Jane, waiter and waitress, were very friendly. The fresh squeezed OJ was delicious, as was the salmon benedict. We ate two dinners in Sabatini's. The veal chop was fantastic and for the second dinner we split a striped bass cooked in a sea salt crust. Delicious! Desserts...what can I say? Life is uncertain so eat dessert first.... George was our waiter both nights and he did a great job, making recommendations as to wines and desserts. We ate several lunches in the main dining rooms and they were good. We became very friendly with four couples during the landtour so for two dinners the ten of us dined together in Pacific Moon. Service was good and the food the first dinner was very good. For the second dinner I had the 10 oz. strip steak; it was the weakest link of the MDR meals I ate. A cheap cut of beef with little flavor. I tried for three nights to get a reservation at Sterling Steakhouse but they were booked. I overheard several passengers saying the meals there were very good. I was not impressed with the buffet. The flow of diners wasn't bad (contrary to what others have posted) but the food had little flavor. I ate several breakfasts and lunches there and was not impressed. It was less of an issue at breakfast - I mean, what do you expect from scrambled eggs, toast and oatmeal? - but the hot dishes at lunch were lacking flavor. I was not bothered at all by photographers. They stayed out of the dining rooms and set up station in front of the theater, by several elevators on formal nights, and other public areas. They also took pictures upon boarding but I expected that. We attended three shows in the theater. Two were from the singing/dancing troupe and they were fantastic. It's a shame the shows were only 30 minutes long. I was told by a crew member they used to offer two shows per night of 40-45 minutes and recently switched to three shows of 30 minutes. Please, bring back the longer shows! The third show was Dan Horn, a ventriloquist. He's done national TV a number of times but frankly , his show was boring and stale. I left after 15 minutes; my wife stayed for the rest of his show and she said she was sorry she didn't leave with me. Speaking of my DW, she spent a significant amount of cruising at sea time in the spa, getting her hair done and massages. Not cheap but the therapists and stylists did a GREAT job. My wife visited three times and came back to the suite looking like a million bucks and very relaxed. I treated myself to two shaves with scalp/shoulder massages and a facial. Gina did a great job; guys, do yourself a favor a visit her for a relaxing experience. I'd estimate the average passenger age to be the mid- to late-60's. I understand in a few weeks that will drop as more kids come on board. MUTS showed movies in the evenings but it was cold and I never saw more than a few people watching. Had the misfortune to visit sick bay (cotton from a Q-tip came off in my ear!). Very professional staff and I was in and out in under 30 minutes. The doctor said it was not uncommon and they usually treat a half-dozen of these cases every cruise! We didn't visit any of the nightclubs except for Skywalkers for afternoon drinks and canapes, which are available for suite and elite passengers. Very nice selection of canapes and a beautiful view from Deck 18. Left a little money behind in the casino. Nicely set up, with friendly dealers. I spent some time in Churchill's, the cigar bar near the casino and the theater. Overstuffed leather chairs, a full bar, and a gazillion televisions tuned to sports. A nice place to spend an hour enjoying the fragrant leaf and a single malt scotch. Security did a good job getting passengers on and off the ship as fast as possible during port visits. Every staffer we interacted with, from busboys to housekeepers to wait staff to front desk staff, were very cheerful, friendly, and professional. I was very impressed. Debarking can be stressful with close to several thousand passengers are leaving in a short period of time but princess did a good job of herding everyone out in an organized manner. We took a bus back to SeaTac from Vancouver, which took about 3 1/2 hours. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and would do another Princess cruise in a heartbeat! Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
This was my 3rd Princess cruise (sailed on the Grand out of Galveston in 2006 & Emerald out of Ft. Lauderdale in 2010) and it was great! This was my second time to Alaska (sailed on the Carnival Spirit in June 2007). Cabin: My ... Read More
This was my 3rd Princess cruise (sailed on the Grand out of Galveston in 2006 & Emerald out of Ft. Lauderdale in 2010) and it was great! This was my second time to Alaska (sailed on the Carnival Spirit in June 2007). Cabin: My husband and I had a Balcony cabin on the Caribe deck (C612). The room was plenty spacious for us although it was the smallest shower I have ever had on a cruise (17 cruises) but it really wasn't a big deal. The balcony in this room was great!! It was larger the the balconies on the decks above us and was half covered (unlike the balconies on the deck below us). I'm glad we had some covering since we had rain several days. You could still have your balcony door open or sit under the covering to enjoy the scenery. We had friends in the 3 cabins next to us (C614, C616 & C618)and our room steward opened up our balconies so we were able to go back & forth between very easily. Food: I am a very picky eater but was able to find food to my liking every night. There was a lot of seafood but that is probably pretty standard for an Alaskan cruise. The cold soups were really good - they served them in drink glasses! The lunch buffets always had a great salad bar but the main entree always seemed to be Mediterranean/Middle Eastern. Desserts at dinner were wonderful. I thought that they were trying to sell the soda card, specialty restaurants, and wine tasting way too hard on this ship. When eating in the buffet several people would stop at our table and try to sell us something, it was quite irritating. Shows: We only attended the comedian (2 nights) and the Illusionist. We really enjoyed the comedian both nights, he had 2 different shows. The Illusionist was good but I think the show was somewhat racy for the older audience on board. A lot of people got up and left. Anchorage: We spent 2 days in Anchorage before our trip before heading to Whittier. We attended the Anchorage Market & Festival that had a lot of shopping & food vendors...great for locals or tourists. We went to the Earthquake Experience Theater and also watched another film on Alaska there. We rented a car so we went out to the Hotel Alyeska in Girdwood. It's Alaska's most popular ski resort. It was a beautiful hotel and we took the tram ($20) up the mountain and enjoyed the views and watched the skiers. It was also a pretty drive (even though the weather wasn't great). We also went to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Girdwood that you can drive around and view the animals. Ate at some nice restaurants while in Anchorage: Humpy's, Glacier Brewhouse, Snow City Cafe. Whittier: We took the train from Anchorage to Whittier and really enjoyed the ride. It was a really nice day and the train ride was fun. Not much to do/see in Whittier so we got straight on the boat and embarkation was a breeze. We were like the 5th couple in line and it took about 5 minutes to check in and go through security. They took our luggage before we boarded the train and we didn't see it again until they delivered it to our room that night. It was really nice to not have to lug it from the train to check-in. Sea Day: Our first sea day was fairly rough. I anticipated it might be rough because we had some rough cruising on our first Alaska cruise. I took some motion sickness pills and had no problems (other than wanting to sleep even though they were no drowsy). Yakutat Bay (Hubbard Glacier) Scenic Cruising: The weather was rainy but we still enjoyed seeing the Glacier. They were giving facts and talking about the glacier as we were cruising and we could hear from our balconies (they had speakers up on deck). They also had it on the t.v. so if you didn't have a balcony or couldn't hear you could turn it on. Glacier Bay (Scenic Cruising): Pretty much a repeat of the review above. Weather was about the same and the glaciers were very neat. We didn't get to the main 2 glaciers (Margerie & Johns Hopkins) until about 2pm. 6 of us decided to go in the hot tub up on deck after we got all of the glacier pictures we wanted. It was hard getting in and out because it was so cold outside but the hot tub felt great...and we couldn't ask for better views! Vancouver: After our 2nd sea day we arrived in Vancouver. Very rainy and dreary day. We chose to do the latest disembarkation because we were not flying out until the next day and had a private tour booked at 1145. Unfortunately the latest disembarkation time was 9:30 but you had to be out of the staterooms at 8. They seemed to have disembarkation nailed down because there weren't tons of people waiting around everywhere. We waited in the lobby by the coffee bar until we were allowed to go to our designated lounge. Once disembarking, going through customs, and claiming our luggage - we waited in the hotel that is attached to the cruise terminal for our private tour (Shore Trips). There were a total of 16 people on the tour (8 from our group) and it took us to Stanley Park, Capulano Supsension bridge, Granville Island, and Gastown before dropping people off at their hotels or the airport. It was a great tour to get a taste of Vancouver. We had a wonderful time in Alaska, and although I have been twice, I wouldn't hesitate to go back. There are so many different things to do and experience in all of the ports. Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
My husband and I are in our mid-50's and were 1st time cruisers. We decided to take a 4 day land tour prior to our 7 day cruise. Everything we did was booked thru Princess as we felt more secure that way. From the time we landed in ... Read More
My husband and I are in our mid-50's and were 1st time cruisers. We decided to take a 4 day land tour prior to our 7 day cruise. Everything we did was booked thru Princess as we felt more secure that way. From the time we landed in Anchorage until we arrived at the Vancouver airport to depart, Princess handled our luggage and had it at our doorstep at each point along the way. This alone is amazing as they have several land tours that go in different (crossing) directions but all end up on the same cruise! Our first 2 nights were at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage. We are east coast residents and chose to fly in a day early to allow for the 4 hr time difference and to see some of Anchorage. The hotel was as expected from the various reviews I read. There are plenty of those so I won't go any farther with that. We took the Explore Anchorage tour which was $59/ea - not really worth it. I recommend taking the local trolley tour (ask the hotel desk) and also spending 3-4 hrs at the Anchorage Museum. This is a WONDERFUL museum with lots of history on the native people and the city of Anchorage. We ate at the Snow City Cafe and the Sandwich Deck for breakfasts - I would recommend either. Snow City is a bit more trendy while Sandwich Deck is basic breakfast food. OH, and while in Anchorage try the Alaskan Amber Ale - if you are a beer drinker, you'll enjoy this one! Our 1st tour stop was Mt McKinley - very nice lodge, mountain was out in full view and everyone was friendly and helpful. A bonus to traveling in May is that you are the first customers of the season and everyone you meet is eager to please. Although some are new and the resorts just opened for the season so there were a few small hitches. But worth it to be welcome guests. Next on to Denali - a larger property but lovely all the same. The tour of the park that is included was nice and enough. Were lucky enough to see Dall sheep, caribou and moose in the park. We took the ATV excursion which for an additional $10 per person included dinner. You won't find food any cheaper!! The meal was pretty good too. Next day was a 9 hr train trip to the port of Whittier. It was on the double-decker train we've all see in brochures. The dining car was wonderful (if a bit pricey - captive audience!). Coming out of the tunnel and seeing the ship was a lovely site. We were lucky enough to have our cabin upgraded at the last minute so we enjoy the additional space a great deal. We also had a balcony. Many said that would not be worth it in Alaska as it's cold in May. True, it was cold but totally worth it any way. We were able to view the glaciers on our balcony without being crowded and enjoy ALL of the views from inside our cabin thru the full glass door. I would be hard pressed to not have a balcony next time. They keep the ship spotless and the service was excellent. There were plenty of electrical plugs and hangers in our room although that may vary by room size. I did take a couple of those plastic hangers that bras come on and used them to hang a couple of things I hand washed so they were handy and small/light to pack. 1st port: Skagway. We took the White Pass Railroad (all day) trip. The Yukon scenery was worth it all! Lunch was pretty good and the town we stopped in (Carcross) was unique. Didn't get to see much of Skagway itself as the tour took up all of our time there. 2nd port: Juneau. We took the Northstar Trekking helicopter flight/hike to Mendenhall Glacier. WOW!! Very expensive but I would have passed on all other excursions and done this one if cost were a big concern. The young people who worked there were delightful and very helpful/accommodating. The flight was amazing as was the time on the glacier. 3rd port: Ketchikan. We took the Kart Adventure excursion here as my husband loves to drive fast. :) It was a bit scary for me (I just rode) but he loved it. I enjoyed the totems in Ketchikan and heard the trips to see them were good. The weather was mid-50's. We did wear long underwear to the glacier and on the ATV and Kart rides. Otherwise 2 light layers under a coat were more than fine. It was mostly windy which made it feel colder. I had read all of the forums and reviews before so there wasn't anything that I felt surprised me. The formal nights had some in long dresses and tuxes and others in much less formal wear. So don't feel you have to go all out - pack what fits in the suitcase as you will only wear it once or twice. All in all it was just as wonderful as we expected. Princess did a great job of getting us and our luggage where we needed to be. I'm glad we went in May. Many in AK said May was the best time to come - although, they may say that to everyone no matter when they come! HA! We did purchase and take a netbook computer to download our pictures on each day. That was a great decision as we enjoyed doing this and we didn't have to worry about extra digital cards, etc for the cameras. Plus when you are waiting at the airport or on the land tour, you can use the wi-fi. I hope you enjoy your trip to Alaska as much as we did. Bon Voyage!! Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
We boarded Coral Princess by 3:00 p.m. with absolutely no wait!. Went straight to our cabin A302, just below the buffet, to drop off our carry on luggage and headed up stairs one flight for lunch. Our room was a perfect location. We had ... Read More
We boarded Coral Princess by 3:00 p.m. with absolutely no wait!. Went straight to our cabin A302, just below the buffet, to drop off our carry on luggage and headed up stairs one flight for lunch. Our room was a perfect location. We had lunch, then went to explore the beautiful Coral Princess. Everyone we encountered met us with a smile. All on-board were extremely gracious. Our first day at sea was to Hubbard Glacier which was an amazing sight! We watched from our balcony and all the photos we took were from the comfort of our room or balcony. So perfect. Next day was at Glacier Bay. We totally enjoyed this as well. Same thing, all photos were from our balcony. The weather throughout the trip was cold and wet with several days of extremely rough seas. But we purposely booked the last southbound sailing and knew that this is whate we could expect as this was our 4th Alaskan cruise. WE TOTALLY enjoyed the rough seas and "typical" Alaskan weather as all our previous trips were in glorious sunshine! This trip was one of our favorites, specifically due to the cold, wet weather and rough seas. But, then again, how could you not have a wonderful time on this beautiful ship. Our third day was at Skagway, and we did not book an excursion as we had previously done and seen all that we were interested in on previous trips, so we just took advantage of the great "end of season" shopping deals throughout the damp and rainy town. Totally enjoyed this day. Our fourth day was at Juneau. We did a Princess sponsored whale watch excursion with some friends. We were hoping to share a previous experience with our friends where we had witnessed many, many encounters with whales "bubble net feeding" the year before. Although we did she whales, we did not observe the incredible sight of 10 to 13 whales emerging with mouths wide open to capture their life sustaining krill, as in out trip the year before. Regardless, we had a wonderful day!. After we returned to the doc, we did some "we're on a mission" shopping, as I had been craving Alaskan Fudge that we purchase in Juneau from "the Alaskan Fudge Co." ever time we go. Wasn't disappointed, and brought two boxes home as well. Fifth day was at the port of Ketchikan. Ketchikan is such a charming little port as it right against a magnificent mountain. It has retained an old "character" if you can overlook all the commercialization in town. We went out to Potlatch Park and to the Eagle Center. Another incredible day! Read Less
Sail Date September 2011
We booked a 10 day cruise tour through Princess. We flew into Anchorage 2 days ealier to see Anchorage on our own. We loved having a rental car and some time to let our bodies adjust from the time change, before meeting up with our tour ... Read More
We booked a 10 day cruise tour through Princess. We flew into Anchorage 2 days ealier to see Anchorage on our own. We loved having a rental car and some time to let our bodies adjust from the time change, before meeting up with our tour group. We met at the Anchorage airport, and took a bus to McKinley Wilderness Lodge. We were there 2 days,and went flight seeing and visited a dog musher camp. Then we went to Denali Princess Lodge. (very nice) We took the Natural History Tour in Denali, and went to the dinner theater. Then we took the Denali Express railway from Denali to Whittier, where we boarded the Coral Princess. We loved coming into Whittier on the train! The domed train was a wonderful way to spend the day in Alaska! So our land tour was the highlight of our trip! The Coral Princess is pretty, but very hard to navigate. Because of the centrium, you have to learn which elevators take you to the level you are trying to go to. We were on Dolphin Deck 9. Coming to our stateroom, the hall smelt like a nursing home. (urine smell in the carpet) That was not a great first impression! But our mini-suite was very nice and spacious. But be aware that if you get a mini suite on the Dolphin level, your balcony is not covered. It was raining on our embarkation day, so we couldn't get out and enjoy our balcony like others could. Our furniture was wet-and we didn't want to stand out in the rain. I wish the balcony had been covered, as they were on other decks. We signed up for traditional dining-which I though was at 6:00 pm and had requested a table for 2 by the window. We were given a table in the middle of the room and our assigned time was 5:30. We thought that was too early. So we met some couples on our land tour-and went to anytime dining with them. But the Coral Princess is very inflexible about the dining rooms. Traditional seating only in one and anytime dining in the other. We liked the freestyle with NCL better. The food was not as good as NCL or Royal Caribbean. But the service was great on Princess. The front desk was very rude. Someone had entered an incorrect number and our credit card was denied. We kept getting letters in our stateroom, telling us our credit card had been denied. It took us 4 days to get that straightened out-and my husband was the one who discovered that the cruise line had entered the wrong number. They were very indifferent about the fact that they were the cause of the credit card problem. But once the correct number was entered- there were no more problems with our credit card!The entertainment was good. We enjoyed the comedian and the singers and dancers were great! It was too cool to use the pool or hot tub, but the pool deck was very pretty. We got a drink card for $9 a day, and it was well worth the money. I loved the virgin pina coladas and their hot chocolate! We loved the pizza and soft serve ice cream on the pool deck! We often took snacks back to our room. We enjoyed the enclosed area on level 15. That was a good place to enjoy the scenery in the rain and wind. We chose Sept. because of the price, but I wished we had gone in May-for about the same price. I heard there is more snow in May and the weather is better. We had a lot of rain and wind. In fact, when we were out in the Pacific we were in 80-100 mph winds (hurricane force wind). Half of the ship, including me- were sea sick. But when the ship got back in protective waters and the waves calmed down, everyone felt better. Alaska is beautiful! If you haven't been you need to go. June, July, and Aug. are the most crowded and most expensive months. If we ever go again, I would like to go in May. Read Less
Sail Date September 2011
I travelled with a good friend, and did a 6 day independent land tour travelling before boarding the Island Princess on Wednesday, September 14 in Whittier. This entire trip was based on much input from reviews and individual CC members - ... Read More
I travelled with a good friend, and did a 6 day independent land tour travelling before boarding the Island Princess on Wednesday, September 14 in Whittier. This entire trip was based on much input from reviews and individual CC members - and I thank you for all the good info and tips! We flew to Anchorage from NYC on the 8th: Anchorage: We stayed 3 nights at the Historic Anchorage Hotel (great hotel, but ask NOT to be on the street side), visiting the Ulu Factory (a little disappointing since I thought there would be some sort of tour), Anchorage Native Heritage Museum (wonderful experience and knowledge received), the 4th Avenue Open Market (also a disappointment), Anchorage Museum (great experience) and rode the trolley ( a lot of fun). Restaurants: we ate at Orso, Glacier Brewhouse, Sacks (recommended by the hotel receptionist, and our favorite) and Muse at the Anchorage Museum. We enjoyed all of these restaurants, and recommend them all. Be prepared for noise and large crowds at the first two. Sacks was the calmest, and an intriguing mean. If you are into wine, try Crush Wine Bar a store front in the mall - great wine and cheese selection, with a wine shop above where we bought 3 bottles to bring on the rest of the trip. Denali: on Sunday, we rented a car and drove the 225 miles to Denali National Park with a stopover at Talkeetna, where I just had to eat lunch at The Roadhouse since it was shown on The Food Network. Definitely a worthwhile - the lunch was amazing, and met some great soon-to-be-Princess cruisers there as well. It is a very cute town - check out the local cemetery which is dedicated to those who trekked the mountains, including Mt. McKinley. We were also graced with a view of Mt. McKinley for a few minutes during our drive to the park - we thought the mountains were pretty huge, with the layer of clouds above, and then POW - there was McKinley - made the rest of the mountain range look like pimples!! I will never forget that sight! We stayed at the McKinley Creekside Cabins - our arrival date was the last day of the cafe which was closing for the winter (this had not been mentioned when we booked). Our bagged breakfast was stale and without any butter/jam for the croissants. We had dinner at the McKinley Chalet which was very nice, decent pizza. We took the 8am shuttle into Denali the next morning . We did not have a very talkative driver, but the 8 hour trip was well worth it - we saw grizzly bears, bull moose, a lynx, a wolf (trotting right down the road at us without even glancing our way!), dall sheep, and bald eagles. We decided to roam around the Princess Denali Lodge and had dinner at the King Salmon Restaurant - white tablecloths, great service, but very casual, and good food. The next day we went to the Jeff King sled dog tour where we fell in love with the 6 week and 3 month old puppies. My friend (not a dog person) was very glad I insisted on doing this tour - the dogs were amazing. We then headed back to ANC to the Historic Anchorage Hotel again for 1 night before embarkation. Embarkation Day: we took the Alaska Railroad to Whittier - a beautiful trip once we got out of downtown Anchorage - saw Dall sheep, beluga whales and a bald eagle, arriving in Whittier at approximately 12:30. To our surprise, there was no line at Princess and we were immediately allowed on the ship - a very easy and friendly embarkation. We also had no problem bringing on board our 3 bottles of wine - in an obvious wine carton. We went to our cabin, dropped off our carry-on items, called the DINE line to register for the Chef's Table and then headed to the 14th deck for the Horizon Court where we were asked to use the hand sanitizers upon entering, and had a wonderful lunch overlooking the harbor. The only unpleasantness was about 18 different crew approached us about taking the soda and coffee cards. We then went back to the cabin, and to our joy, our luggage was there. Since we were on board so early, and had tons of laundry after our land tour, we grabbed the pre-packed designated rolling bag of luggage and headed to the empty laundry room. We brought the Purex sheets and a roll of quarters with us (thanks to CC) and immediately started 3 loads of laundry. During the various cycles, we explored each deck of the ship to get the lay of the land with the handy map given to us at embarkation. We were done with laundry before most of the other passengers were on board - absolutely the right thing for us to do! In general: we had an absolutely marvelous time on this cruise and I will definitely go with Princess to my next cruise destination. The officers, staff and crew could not have been friendlier and made the cruise an incredible experience for us. As for Alaska - it is the true meaning of the word Awesome! Cabin: we had an unobstructed balcony room on Emerald Deck (E628). Good sized room for 2. But I did feel claustrophobic in the shower. Next cruise, - a mini-suite! Good CC tips I received: clothes pins for shower curtain to prevent clinging, the shower caddy from Serendipity for soap and travel size shampoos etc, magnets for walls to hold itineraries and Patters, highlighter for Patter, disinfecting wipes for cabin, requesting foam top for mattress, top sheet and wine glasses. Items we brought but didn't use: extension cord (just took turns with cameras and cell phone charges), night light (there was enough ambient light). Meals: we chose AnyTime dining, and only on the last night did we have to wait to be seated. I am a very picky eater and don't eat seafood and I was thrilled by the varied selection on the MDR menu that we wound up not even trying the specialty restaurants. We had pizza on the Lido Deck - and the CC rave reviews are accurate. We had room service for breakfast on Glacier Bay day, and it was a good selection with excellent service. We enjoyed Afternoon Tea in the MDR just about every day - we obviously loved it, especially the little pastries - of which there were an amazing variety and continuously offered. Room service for dinner is not the same as the MDR, but the selection was good. Chef's Table - absolutely worth the additional $95! The experience alone was worth it. Executive Chef Remo Bolis and Maitre d'Hotel Jacques Ghennai were amazing, and a great comedy team ?. There were 8 of us for this very special night. We met at La Patisserie where we were escorted by Jacques through the Bordeaux dining room to the kitchen where we donned chef's jackets and met with Chef Remo. They both spoke about food service on the ship and answered lots of questions. We had four amuse bouche - delicious! And then were escorted to our specially decorated table in the middle of the room, with all eyes on us. We then had 5 courses with 5 wines (with liberal pours), presented by Chef Remo and served by the amazing staff (headed by Head Waiter, Michael from South Africa and Anna Marie - I did not get her country of origin!) We had our group picture taken, and received this great coffee-table sized book of Princess recipes signed by Chef Remo. The book alone is worth $40-$50. This was an elegant and very special three-hour experience that I will always remember. Shows: we are spoiled being from NY, and I was not overwhelmed with the production shows. I did love Scott Wyler and Dan Horn - they are both a must see. I haven't laughed so hard in a long time! Activities: plenty for whatever your tastes are. Cruise Director Brett Siborne and the Asst. CD, Kerri were a terrific high energy pair - seemingly everywhere at once! Medical Center: I had developed an upper respiratory infection and went to the Med Ctr on Saturday upon re-boarding after our Skagway lunch. I was told that the flu was brought on board by passengers that were on the Denali land tour and who had caught it at the Denali Princess. Fortunately for me, we had not stayed there. Unfortunately for me, I had a slight fever, and they quarantined me that night, telling me to return the next morning for a temperature check - if I was back to normal (after Tylenol ) I would be "released." I was given an antibiotic as well. I felt awful, so I didn't mind the early-to-bed scenario. (No temp the next day, so on to Juneau!) I believe the staff did a fine job controlling the flu outbreak, although many pax were quarantined and I heard their unhappiness while in the Med Center. Very professional and caring doctor (Dr. Nicholas Hoffman) and nurses there. Ports: I was a bit disappointed in the 3 towns of Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan which seemed to be all about shops - souvenirs and jewelry, not my thing. We did find a few "real" stores and bought some good quality and authentic items. I will add that my view could be attributed to the afore-mentioned sickness . What is most important about the ports, however, is the natural beauty, and I was very glad that with CC help, I had chosen some exceptional tours to take on our own (not through Princess): Skagway - Chilkoot Tours for the WP&YR 4 hour tour. I am very interested in history - and actually seeing the 1898 Gold Rush trail and learning about it was very worth while. And of course, the scenery was amazing. We ate lunch at the Red Onion Saloon - touristy, but decent food and interesting dEcor. Juneau - Harv & Marv's whale watching tour. The best! We were 6 people on the 12 person boat with Captain Shawn and Hunter, the college aged local who both told us great stories and had great eyes for spotting the "blow." As they explained, September wasn't the best time to whale watch, and we must have patience, and we were rewarded. And they wouldn't take us back until we saw some "tail"! So we had more than the booked time on water - and I truly thank them for that. We had a very nice lunch at a place that Captain Shawn recommended that most locals go to, Hangers, on the water and we were able to watch all the float planes come and go. During the rest of the week we spoke with some who had taken the Princess whale tour - and did not see anything. They were envious of our small boat. Ketchikan - Island Wings over Misty Fjords National Monument. Michelle is great - she tracked us down on the ship through a fellow pax and moved our scheduled 12:00 tour up to 11 due to an incoming storm. I highly recommend seeing the monument - and with Michelle! Truly amazing sights, and we landed on a tiny island in the middle of this cavernous area for pictures, and what a take-off! Good thing she moved the tour up; as we approached the harbor, clouds and rain were setting in. And she told us that a huge storm was heading for the Gulf of Alaska with 70 mph winds. And she was right - we rocked and rolled all night and the next day through lunch - many seasick pax, luckily we were both OK and it was riotous looking at all of us very "drunk" weavers and bobbers! Weather - could not have been much better after 3 weeks of weather.com reports of rain in Anchorage, Denali, and all of our ports. 60 + degrees in ANC, cold and crisp in Denali, rain in Whittier and Ketchikan (to be expected). Glad I had brought the rain pants and jacket - kept me dry in the last two mentioned. And my lined rain jacket was wind proof - so kept me comfortable on sea days as well as Denali's elevations. Disembarkation: it was a snap. Bags outside the door before dinner the last night, but no later than 10pm. We signed up for the last disembarkation time, met in the Explorer's Lounge and within ½ hour our group was called to disembark. Luggage was waiting and off we went. Post cruise: we stayed for 3 nights at the St. Regis Hotel in Vancouver. Highly recommend this great boutique hotel, central to everything. Excellent room, very attentive staff, good amenities. They allowed us to check in early at 10:30am. During our stay, we took the hop on-hop off trolley - stopping at Stanley Park (lunch at the Teahouse - excellent food, beautiful ambience, friendly service), Granville Island and numerous other places. We took the SeaBus and bus to Grouse Mountain. I enjoyed all of these immensely. We had dinner at Jules French Bistro in Gastown - loved it, food was excellent and decent wine list and CinCin, an amazing Northern Italian- you have to try this place! Saturday, the 24th we headed home to NY after 16 days of the most pleasurable adventure. If you want more info, I'm happy to share! roundpond@optonline.net. Read Less
Sail Date September 2011
Having religiously read cruise critic for the past year preparing for this cruise, my husband and I felt well prepared to face the Alaskan weather in September. We flew to Anchorage and spent the first night in the airport Holiday Inn ... Read More
Having religiously read cruise critic for the past year preparing for this cruise, my husband and I felt well prepared to face the Alaskan weather in September. We flew to Anchorage and spent the first night in the airport Holiday Inn before transferring to the Captain Cook Hotel for the start of our land tour. The Captain Cook Hotel was very nice and we had a room on the 17th floor that overlooked the inlet. It was lovely. After walking around downtown Anchorage that afternoon, we had a lovely dinner at Orzo's, a small restaurant nest to the Glacier Bay Brewing Company. We had the most wonderful pecan crusted Halibut and grilled salmon we had ever tasted. The next morning we ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant and had sourdough pancakes and boarded the coach for the three hour ride to McKinley Princess Lodge. The trip seemed short and we arrived at the lodge and went directly to our rooms.Although small, the rooms were functional and comfortable.There are no elevators or air conditioning. The lodge is set up with a main building and a number of outlying buildings connected by a shuttle that runs about every 20 minutes. It was a bit cloudy when we arrived but it soon cleared and we had a lovely view of Mt. McKinley. I signed us up for a wake up call that is available if the Northern Lights appear and as luck would have it, we got the call at 10:30 that they were visible. Although it was only about a 10 minute show, there are no words to describe their beauty. The next day was warm and sunny and very clear. Once again, Mt.McKinley was visible. We went on the ATV trip which I would highly recommend to everyone. We had so much fun. We ate a late lunch in the Lynx Bar and Grill back at the lodge and to our surprise saw actor Jon Voight at the next table. We would see him several times during our stay. The next morning we left by coach to the Talkeetna train station where we boarded the train for Denali. We sat at table style seating in the upper dome of the rail car and went downstairs for dining. We really enjoyed the meal service. The menu was varied and the desserts were yummy. I had a hamburger and my husband had the seafood sandwich. They were both very nice. Dessert was a flourless chocolate cake with ice cream. Total bill with soda's was around $25 which we thought was reasonable. Arriving at the Denali Princess Lodge we found our room which overlooked the river and settled in. The Denali Princess is like a little village with surrounding buildings with rooms all around it. Once again the room was very small with no air conditioning but there were fans if you needed them. (we did). We had a delicious dinner at the King Salmon restaurant there on-site. You must try the prime rib and crab dip!! It had been another warm, clear day and all the rain gear we had packed was still unused. We took the Tundra Wilderness Tour the next day and saw moose, caribou, bears and eagles. It was well worth the time and money. The weather was again warm and we wore short sleeves. A box lunch was provided which turned out to be a roll, piece of cheese, reindeer sausage, packet of mustard, granola mix and a bottle of water. We brought our own subway sandwich and cokes. The bus stops about every 90 minutes for a restroom break. Although school buses are used, the princess buses have coach type sears which are much more comfortable than the bench style in the regular school buses. The next morning was once again beautiful weather as we boarded the train for the trip to Whittier to catch the ship. This time instead of Princess coaches we were on Holland coaches in which we were once again in the upper level but the seats were coach style without the tables. Although the scenery was beautiful, the ride was very long. There were delays along the way and we ended up getting to the ship at about 6:30 and to our room at about 7:30. Whittier was the first rain we encountered. Our suite was beautiful with its marble floor entry and huge balcony. The bathroom was very large with a jetted tub and large shower. There was a lovely flower arrangement, large bowl of fruit, tray of canapes and two glasses of champagne waiting for us.Almost as we arrived to the room, our steward Brando appeared. He informed us that Muster would be in 15 minutes and where we needed to go.I did a quick wipe down of the cabin with my germicidal wipes. We were exhausted at that point but realized we had no choice. We went down to the lounge and went through the usual drill. This was where the first of two of what I will call "dumbest questions" occurred. As the life vest instructions were given, a lady asked if the whistles attached to the vests were sanitized after each use. The cruise director paused and said "Madam, they have never been used but in the event you are in freezing water who would care"? That was worth a good laugh from all. We then took our vests back to the room and went to the buffet for dinner. We ate at the buffet for several lunches and dinners and found the food to be very nice. The variety was good and the food kept fresh. We then went back to our suite and went to bed. I do not know if the linens and mattress are different in suites but our bed was sooooo comfortable. The sheets were luxurious and the mattress very soft and nice. We had feather pillows (6) and a thick soft comforter. The next morning we were able to look more closely at the suite and found all the promised amenities present...thick terry robes, leather wallets, princess bags, slippers, umbrellas, spa toiletries etc. We had an extended menu for breakfast but we went down to Sabatini's and had the first of six pampered breakfasts. There were only at most 3 other couples in the whole dining room each time we went. We were waited on by at least 3 different staff members who were constantly refilling and refreshing our meal. Although a limited menu, you could request anything you wanted and it would magically appear. I really got used to the Mimosas. We had anytime dining and never had to wait in line as we had preferred dining and were immediately taken to a quiet table by a window. The food was excellent. Most noteworthy was the french onion soup and diver scallops. I have read many times on cruise critic where it has been said that you can order anything off the MDR menu for room service when you have a suite. We found this not to be the case. We were given the "alternatives" or left hand part of the menu and were able to order off of that. We verified this with the Room Service staff as it differed from what I had read. Having just come off the land tour we had a lot of dirty laundry. We immediately sent it to the laundry and it came back beautifully cleaned the next day. Throughout the cruise our laundry bill would have been about $150 had it not been a suite perk. We also had free Internet use and took advantage of this frequently. We encountered no sales pitching throughout the entire cruise. I expected this but was pleased when it did not occur. We also found all the staff to be friendly and outgoing. Our cabin steward was absolutely the best. Brando has been with the ship for 20 years and was wonderful. We has misty mornings that cleared to lovely warm days. We sat on our deck much of the time. Glacier Bay was cold but clear. The port stop days were also nice with the exception of Ketchikan in which there was a bit of drizzle on and off. After leaving Ketchikan we had a night of very rough seas but the closer to Vancouver we got the smoother the seas. We checked our bill several times and found it to be accurate. All in all it was a perfect cruise. Now for the second "dumbest" question. While in Glacier Bay, the man on the next balcony asked " what elevation do you think this is"? We had absolutely no smoke problems except in the casino and we just didn't return there. Things we packed but didn't need included umbrellas, rain gear,thermal shirts, sweaters, gloves and scarves. We kept hearing that this nice weather was not normal for September in Alaska and that the usual was rain every day. We were just lucky I guess. We had a wonderful time and although I expected a few glitches there were none. It was a perfect cruise. Cruise Critic was so helpful with so many details. As for the suite.....we are hooked and will never be able to go without one now. Read Less
Sail Date September 2011
A Princess land tour sept 2011 Sept 5-Independently booked flight to Anchorage, and after renting a car spent the night at the Microtel Motel. This is a budget type facility but very clean and comfortable. Good for short stay but not ... Read More
A Princess land tour sept 2011 Sept 5-Independently booked flight to Anchorage, and after renting a car spent the night at the Microtel Motel. This is a budget type facility but very clean and comfortable. Good for short stay but not for long term. Daniel, the very pleasant desk clerk, sent us to Gwennie's Restaurant for supper but we got lost and ate at the Longbranch Saloon instead. September 6 - We did find Gwennie's the next day for breakfast, and Bob had steak and eggs, and I had spectacular crab benedict. We then headed down to Kenai Princess. Nice room with sitting area, wood stove, but needed to drive for everything we needed, including getting a cup of tea, which was only available at the lodge. \September 7 - drive down to Homer for a little tour and lunch at the Boardwalk fish and chips. Very nice. Then a drive around town, and up to the skyline for the great view, and back to Cooper Landing. September 8 - back to Anchorage to turn in the rental and meet the Princess group. Why did no one in the reservation process, including us and our TA, not notice that we didn't purchase transfers? BTW, are those folks deliberately obtuse, or actually as dense as they appear? Oh, well, taxi to Captain Cook hotel and saved a couple of bucks. As far as the Captain Cook Hotel, a room is a room, and we had a delightful view of the building that blocked our view of the bay. We took a walk and found Resolution Memorial, with statue of Captain Cook himself, then a walk around the area. Found a snack at the F street station, a nice local bar with good folks. Had dinner at Fletcher's in the hotel. Overpriced like everything else, but adequate. At least we could make a cup of tea while preparing for the super early baggage call. Early morning out for cattle call to the rail. September 9 - rail to Talkeetna, with overpriced, but adequate breakfast and drinks. Alcohol was frequently encouraged by the incessantly chattering guide, who may be the queen of bad jokes, and proud of that. Not much scenery on this leg. We did get a good view of Mt McKinley. Motor coach to McKinley Princess, and rooms out in the boondocks. Likely, none of the accommodations is intended to have a view here, so that the captives are in the lodge as much as possible, hopefully spending. Room reminiscent of Super 8 : cheap plastic furniture, poorly decorated, no amenities, bad sound insulation. Remember this description for further stops. Prepare for frequent long walks or wait for the shuttle every time you need something. Also, with regard to the shuttle drivers, they are uniformly polite and accommodating. The weather was damp and cloudy. September 10 - early up for early luggage call, then figure out what to do with your homeless self while waiting for the 2:30 motor coach. The management is most accommodating as long as one wishes to avail oneself of the opportunities to eat, drink and shop, which are available in the restaurant and lodge buildings. Restaurant 20320, the separate freestanding restaurant, had abominable service last year, but they appear to have rectified that this year. The bus ride to the Denali Princess was mercefully short. Upon arrival we were immediately deposited in Siberia, also known as buildings 10 and 11. Super 8 once again, although they had enough sympathy for those of us in the Twilight Zone to provide a satellite snack and bar location in the lobby. Also, we were treated to an unsurpassable view of the highway. Please note that this is the one location that has shopping, restaurants, a liquor store and a grocery off-site. Pizzas, subs, fish dinners, hamburgers, etc. are right across the highway at somewhat better prices. September 11 - the Tundra Wilderness Tour. Take it! Enough said!! Special note about Nicole, trolley driver, who consistently displayed exceptional service, especially to several guests with mobility impairments. September 12 - early luggage call, but the ride was scheduled to depart within two hours, so we had just enough time for breakfast, then on the road for a long day. The driver's incessant chatter tended to distract our attention from the great scenery. There were several photo opportunity stops but no facilities. Lunch stop offered chili that strongly resembled spaghetti sauce with beans and thin,but tasty beef noodle soup, or a very limited selection of sandwiches to order,with incredibly high prices, but the bread was tasty. There was no where else to go. Mid afternoon arrival at Copper River Lodge, with still another super 8 room, poor noise abatement, and another opportunity to be a captive client. We had a lovely view of the driveway. Bob's frustration with the accomodations was only increased by the rude treatment at the check-in counter. Bar and restaurant service did help to reduce some of the disappointment with the low end room. September 13. Spent a quiet day catching up on our reading, taking a little walk, and napping. Very pleasant. There is a ride to the town of Copper River available, at an extra cost, but except for a couple of bar/restaurants there wasn't much there we were told. Some folks took the raft ride on the river and enjoyed it. September 14. Off we go on another long bus ride to Whittier. Again, the scenery was great, and the driver a chatterbox. There was a nice stop at a good view of a glacier. There are "long drop" toilet facilities available here. After a couple more hours of riding with the scenery becoming less interesting, we made a lunch stop in Anchorage. We were dropped off outside the Captain Cook Hotel and told we were on our own for lunch. It would have been nice to have stopped at some other location to see some other part of the city. After lunch it was back on the bus for a ride along Turnagain Bay, very scenic, to the ship. In conclusion for the land tour portion of this review, I would say that the Alaskan scenery is great; Denali National Park especially beautiful; the service people we met, mostly college age summer help, friendly and efficient. The overriding problem for us was Princess's seeming disregard for the client. The "luxurious lodges" were anything but. As noted above, the rooms were spartan, the funishing cheap, and the ammenities non-existant. Would we do this again?? Simply, the answer is no. Would we recommend this type of tour? Only to the most hesitant or inexperienced traveler. If you have the slightest sense of adventure do your homework and do it yourself. And now for the better part of the cruise tour; September 14, evening. Upon arrival in Whittier on the bus, we were deposited directly in front of the door to embarcation. Because all our paperwork was pre-done on the computer, time for check-in was minimal. We were on the ship and in our cabin within thirty minutes. There were no guides, but there were plenty of helpful agents to direct us to the correct elevator. We found our cabin, C719, with no problem and were delighted to find our luggage waiting for us. Our steward, Andree, was right behind us. After introductions and a description of services he delivered two glasses of champagne. That was a nice touch. After a quick trip to the Lido deck for lunch we unpacked and settled in. Since we had sailed on this ship proviously, there was no need to make an orientation tour. The ship was apparently in good shape. Carpets, painted surfaces, windows, etc all in good condition. The emergency drill was delayed due to the late arrival of a train. This exercise which used to be such a pain is accomplished now in a much more relaxed and efficient manner. It took no more than twenty minutes. Sail away was on time. Some general comments about the food and service in the traditional dining room and the buffet. The quality of the food was not great, but not bad either. The menu in the sit-down dining room was not as varied as it was several years ago, but still there was something for most tastes. Service seemed to be spotty. Some tables seemed to like their servers, ours were only competent. The specialty rooms were very good with great service and better food. Both were worth the extra cost. Sabitini's no longer overwhelms the diner with appetizers. This is a great improvement since one's appetite tended to be satisfied before the entree was served. There have been some improvements in the buffet. The traffic pattern has been slightly revised so there is less backtracking and doubling back. The selection of food is somewhat larger I think. The greatest improvement is in the service. There are now staff to assist diners to tables and to provide delivery of drinks, hot and cold. We did eat several breakfasts and lunches in the buffet and enjoyed it each time. September 15 and 16. These days were spent cruising to Hubbard Glacier and in Glacier Bay National Park. Park rangers and ship personnel provide plenty of information on what you are seeing. The weather was not great these days but still the viewing was impressive. Cabin balconies are great places to watch the scenery go by. It does not matter which side of the ship you are on since the ship comes out the same way it went in. If a balcony is not available, there are plenty of places on deck to provide shelter while taking a load of great photos. September 17, Skagway, the gateway to the goldfields of the Yukon. Any one of the railroad/bus trips up through the trail of the Klondike is worthwhile. The scenery is great and the history impressive. Since we had done that before, we opted for a helicopter ride to Mead Glacier. We puchased independently in town from Temsco. The price is the same as through Princess. A little expensive, but certainly worthwhile. We were fortunate to have good weather and clear skies so the photography was memorable. For those not queasy about flying this is an excursion of a lifetime. Shopping in Skagway was pretty good because it was so late in the season and stores were preparing to shut down for the winter. There were a lot of "bargains" for those willing to work for them. Lunch at the Skagway Brewing Co. was good, albeit the service a bit slow. September 18. Juneau. We chose to again go whale watching with Captain Larry of Orca Enterprises. This was ur third trip with this company and again, the captain found the whales. Unfortunately, they were a bit far off so it was difficult to get good pictures, but the ride on the purple boat was worth it. We ate at Traci's Crab Shack, an open air, no frills serve yourself restaurant. No matter, the crab legs were huge and tasty as were the crab cakes and halibut. If high style isn't your thing, give this place a try. Again, shopping was very good. The tourist oriented stores are convenient to the docks and season end prices discounted. September 19. Kitchikan. We again chose to take zip line tour. This time we went on the Bear Creek Zip Line Adventure. This features a fifty foot rappel and 250 foot slide to complete the day. This company provides excellent equipment, training, and exposures. The guides are competent and fun. If you have no fear of heights give it a try. (even if you do, do it anyway). Again, there appeared to be abundant shopping arount the pier. As we cleared the Kitchikan area the captain warned that we would encounter some heavy storms and high seas. He wasn't kidding. By the middle of the night the ship was rocking and rolling pretty good. This is fairly normal at this time of year as the ship crosses open water prior to entering the protected inland waterway. By morning there were plenty of queasy folks looking for some sort of relief. The store was doing a great business in Dramamine. (yours truly included, for the first time in twenty five cruises). Once into protected waters things settled down to a pleasant ride. Arrival at Vancouver was on time. Disembarcation was well organized and competently run. Those of us taking a transfer to Seattle were off the boat and on a bus quickly. Disembarcation was by specific designation. We were Gold 2. The entire Gold Two group was carefully kept together throughout this exercise. We would be collected, lined up and then moved forward. During this we passed Canadien customs without incident. There was no need to collect our luggage since it had already been loaded onto the bus. When all were on board, the bus was sealed by customs and we were on our way. Very impressive. Because of all above, passing US customs was quick and easy. We left the bus, showed our passports and returned to our seats in less than ten minutes. In Seattle, we chose to spend a night at the Crestbrook Resort. This facilty is a five minute shuttle ride from the airport. The facilty is self describe as a hidden gem. It was a great way to finish our vacation. Read Less
Sail Date September 2011

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