I took a land/sea (cruisetour, as described by Princess) cruise from Alaska with my parents, brother and fiancE. This was a 11 day trip with some fantastic scenery. We spent 3 days staying at Princess Lodges in the interior of Alaska, ... Read More
I took a land/sea (cruisetour, as described by Princess) cruise from Alaska with my parents, brother and fiancE. This was a 11 day trip with some fantastic scenery. We spent 3 days staying at Princess Lodges in the interior of Alaska, before cruising 7 days from Whittier to Vancouver via the inside passage. I have been on 2 other cruises before but only to the Caribbean, so I had a good idea of what to expect. I had cruised with Carnival and Royal Caribbean previously and was hoping Princess was more like the latter than the former even though Carnival owns Princess.
We left Baltimore on 7/23, with a quick stopover in Minneapolis before we landed in Fairbanks. We landed in Fairbanks around 5-6 p.m., which felt like 9-10 p.m. due to the time difference. Upon our arrival, we were told not to worry about our baggage and go to the Princess desk. We were given some colored stickers and our room keys for the hotel and waited for 10-15 minutes. The director then rounded us up and took us to the baggage area where all the bags were neatly organized and we were to "tag" our baggage so it could be transported to the hotel. Around this time, I looked around and noticed that most people were not my age. In fact, they were not my parent's age. There was quite an abundance of grey and blue hair in fact. Now my parents are not young; they are mid 50's. The remainder of the group appeared to be at least 10 years older than them. This was not a big issue for me, but just something that may be of note to younger people thinking about taking this cruise. We were bussed about 5 minutes away to our hotel on the Chena River. The grounds were nice but not overly impressive. There was a wonderful display of flowers but overall just satisfactory. Truthfully, due to jet lag, we ate and went to bed fairly early but I don't feel I missed much.
The next day we boarded the train from Fairbanks to Denali Princess Lodge. The train was probably the best experience on the trip and was a great way to see the land. You are seated at a table on the upper level of the train and have some terrific views. The Denali Lodge was probably the best lodge we stayed at. The lodge rests on a hill above the river (forgot the name) surrounded by mountains. Gorgeous views! There are a even a few buildings across the street with a coffee house, gift shop and a Subway (sandwich shop). My brother and I did an ATV excursion here which was disappointing. We got a few nice views but no wildlife spotting and very few stops to admire the views. I would not recommend it unless you are just interested in riding around on an ATV. You are also booked automatically on a Natural History tour that the park service hosts that is highly recommended. We had a few wildlife spottings and were able to get some breathtaking views of Mt. McKinley (Denali, to the locals) and the park in general. Several reviews advise to book the Tundra Wilderness Tour. The tour is longer but honestly, 4 hours on a school bus was enough for me. I don't think I would have liked to spend 8 hours on the bus. We saw enough wildlife to keep us happy without getting cranky on a not so comfortable bus.
Next day, 7/25, we took another leg of the train to Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge. Again some great views from the train, especially at Hurricane Gulch. The last half of this leg got tiresome as most of the scenery began to look the same (river, forest, river, forest). The lodge is about an hour drive away from the train depot. The views from the lodge of McKinley, weather permitting, are the best around. The lodge is only 40 miles away and gives you some great views of Denali towering over the other piddly 10K foot mountains. There are a few trails to walk, but nothing strenuous.
Monday, 7/26, is sailing day! We took a bus from McKinley Lodge to Whittier, about a 5 hour drive. There were a few stops on the way, one at a farm that nurses back injured wildlife. Although not truly a wildlife sighting, it was our best opportunity to take a picture of bears, moose, caribou and ox. The rain began as we arrived at the wildlife park and became unrelenting. We arrived at the port in Whittier at around 1-2 p.m. The check in was fairly well organized as we stood in line to check in for approximately 30 minutes, where they took your credit card and gave you your cruise card which was your boarding pass, room key and charge card for the rest of the week. It took another 10-15 minutes to get through security and it was a quick dash through the pouring rain to get on the ship. There were attendants directing you to elevators that were strictly reserved for embarkation. We stopped to drop our carried on baggage in the room, which was on the Aloha deck, aft, starboard side. My fiancE, brother and I were crammed into this room, which was fairly small and had four twin beds that dropped down from the walls. The bathroom seemed bigger than it actually was. The shower appeared to have plenty of room but the placement of the showerhead required you to fit in a smaller area. It's hard to explain but be advised that the shower is actually smaller than it appears. We had lunch at the Horizon Court, which was serviceable but there was nothing outstanding. We purchased a fountain fun sticker, which gave us unlimited soft drinks for the sailing for $22.50. This was a good deal as the drinks normally cost a dollar a piece which really only required you to drink more than 3 sodas a day to make it worth while. The sodas were small so this was easy to do. We had dinner at the Florentine dining room, as we were set up for Personal Choice dining. The service that night was not exemplary and food was above average. We left early to try and catch the welcome aboard show but showed up a few minutes after start and the Princess Theatre was packed. We ended up wandering the ship until bed. My parents found their haunting grounds for the trip; dancing the night away to the band in the Wheelhouse Lounge. Sailing was delayed due to the high winds and heavy rain and we did not leave until early Tuesday morning.
Tuesday. 7/27, College Fjord - We missed the actual cruising through the fjord due to oversleeping. I thought since we left so late that we would not be cruising through the fjord at the time initially given. Most of the day was spent checking out the ship and eating. The breakfast at the Horizon Court was decent but greasy. The standard fare of eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, French toast was served. There was an omelet chef as well. We spent a good portion of the day in the Deck to Deck game room with a rousing game of Monopoly...I lost. This was the first formal night so we got all dressed up in our dresses and suits. There are several locations where professional pictures are taken, with simulated or actual Atrium backdrops. Our pictures turned out great and ended up spending almost $100 on reprints. The food in the dining room was excellent and the service was much better. There was a French menu which included frog legs and escargot. The escargot was delicious. We went to the song and dance show after dinner. It was barely tolerable. The main singers had good voices despite the bad song selection. The tackiest part was that there were props on the stage that doubled as wardrobe. In between numbers, the cast would open the wardrobes and change costumes on stage! It really made the whole production seem tacky and cheap. The dancers were fundamentally sound but the choreography was uninspired. It was also on this day that we began to realize our room steward was irritating. He knocked on our door at 8 a.m. to make it up and was a stickler about us using the "do not disturb" sign. If it wasn't up, he would knock briefly and walk in. He would call us if we had the "do not disturb" sign out too long to see "if we wanted service today since we was off in an hour." The other cruise ships would leave cute towel animals and the like, but there was nothing of the sort. He did a decent job of keeping the room clean but we seemed to be working around his schedule instead of vice versa. Royal Caribbean's steward was seamless. He seemed to know exactly when we were gone, making up the room without disturbing us. I expected similar service but got the opposite.
Wednesday, 7/28 Glacier Bay - I believe some of the best scenery on the trip was seen here. Cruising right through Glacier Bay and getting up close to several glaciers was truly amazing. At one point, the ship was stopped no more than 100 yards from the glacier. When the glacier would calve (ice dropping off), it would sound like a shotgun blast as the ice tumbled into the water. Unbelievable! We were up on the bow of the ship for a while until it got too cold to be up there. Princess did hand out wool blankets to wrap around yourself, which was a nice touch. This was the day of the Foods of Alaska lunch which was surprisingly bland. The salmon was out of this world, but the other items (shrimp, crabcakes) were nothing notable...and no reindeer! I was disappointed. Dinner was again in the dining room, which was good. For the most part the dining room dinners were all well prepared but the dessert choices were lacking. There was a comedian tonight who was relatively good.
Thursday, 7/29 Skagway - We pulled into Skagway at around 8 a.m. We didn't have any excursions planned for the day so we slept in until around 10 a.m. and wandered into town. The town itself is very small, essentially consisting of 1 main street with a few cross streets. It was quaint but touristy with gift and jewelry shops lining the streets. We attempted to stop in the Red Onion Saloon for lunch but it was too busy for us to scramble for a table. We ended up having lunch at the Corner Cafe, which was nice but very basic diner menu. The best store for souvenirs was the Alaska Shirt Company, which is the Wal-Mart of touristy shops. There is one in Skagway and another in Juneau, both a short walk from the docks. They have just about any little souvenir you could want at very reasonable prices. There were a couple nice little stores including one that had painted glass bobbles, some of which could fit a candle. It was impressive seeing hundreds of them hanging in this small shop about the size of 2 office cubicles. My parents took the White Pass Rail, which seemed like the thing to do in Skagway. They said the scenery was fantastic and the train drops you off right next to the boat.
We decided to eat dinner at the pizzeria tonight. The pizza there was fantastic. The other ships, Carnival and Royal Caribbean, had pizzerias but they paid lip service to the quality. They essentially had something set up in a corner that served barely edible pizza. It was used mainly as a marketing tool to parents (look! Your kids can eat pizza if they don't like the other stuff!). The pizzeria on the Princess had what tasted like brick oven pizza. They even had foccacia and a couple pasta dishes, as well as probably the best dessert on the ship, tiramisu. The pizza was a little greasy with pepperoni but still good. No show tonight as we decided to lose a few bucks in the casino. The casino was ok. Lots of quarter slots but little variety in terms of types of machines. I did like that the bar had video games (poker, Blackjack, etc) built in so you could a least drink yourself into more debt as you lost money.
Friday, 7/30 Juneau - We arrived in Juneau around 7:30 - 8 a.m. My fiancE, brother and I were booked for two excursions in Juneau so we were up bright and early. Our first excursion was the Horseback and Mendenhall Glacier tour. I was under the impression that the horseback riding was going to be close to the glacier based on the description but it was not. On most days, the horseback riding is first and then the glacier tour but today is was flip flopped. The Mendenhall Glacier is definitely a sight to see. The blues from the glacier were impressive and there was an extensive visitor's center for information. There are a few different view points to see the glacier but they didn't offer large variation in viewpoints. After around 45 minutes at the glacier, we went drove about 10 minutes away to the trail where we rode our horses. The scenery was nice; it was nice leisurely ride along a river in the woods. We did not see any wildlife but we did find evidence. There was a stench of, from what we were told by our guide, bear. They roll around in the skunk cabbage in their territory, which caused the stink we smelled as we rode through. It was a casual, not strenuous, ride that was fairly relaxing. After that we were dropped off at the ship and took off to our next "excursion" to the Salmon Bake. This was probably my favorite part of the trip...just 'cause I'm a pig and I like salmon. The bake itself is nothing particularly special. Kind of like a barbecue with salmon. The grounds are really nice. There is a singer, who was a little too hippy for me (there is wisdom in the trees, flowers blooming free, love the earth and your brother, yadda yadda yadda), but had a good voice. There is a waterfall about 50 yards away from the picnic site. But the salmon...oh the salmon...it's grilled over an open fire and topped with a brown sugar/honey butter glaze. Fantastic!!! The sides are pretty good too. There were baked beans with reindeer sausage (mmm...reindeer), BBQ ribs, salmon salad (essentially Caesar with salmon mixed in), potato salad and chicken as well as a few other things. We stuffed ourselves, wandered the grounds and hopped the shuttle back to town to look around. We stopped in the Red Dog saloon for a few minutes. There was a surly old man at the piano playing (think the guy on the Man Show that used to sing dirty songs and pound beers) and making cracks at various people that walked in. Great old saloon atmosphere. Again there was the usual fair in town, gift and jewelry shops for the most part.
I think you've gotten the gist of food on the ship so I'll stop commenting at this point. I must mention that we attempted to see the dance show on this night and realized that there was no hope. We sat down for about a song and a half and left. There was some nonsensical dance routine that was set in an office with the dancers prancing around the stage while the music consisted of typewriter typing sounds and the "ching" to reset. I can describe how horrible it was. My suggestion to you is to stay away from the show and to Princess, hire a new director/choreographer...something! As I mentioned earlier, the dancers seemed sound but they just had nothing to work with.
Saturday, 7/31 Ketchikan - As we heard from our fishing excursion operator, as usual, we pulled into Ketchikan late around 9:00. Most excursions were planned for 8 a.m. so as we docked there was a line stretching the length of the ship to get off into port. My father, brother and I went on the Sportfishing Excursion. Apparently the Dawn Princess hadn't pulled into Ketchikan on time once this year. We had a bright sunny day which is unusual for Ketchikan. We spent about 4 hours out in the arm trolling for salmon. There were quite a few catches by the 6 of us (we were paired up with another group). No king salmon as it was too late in the year but plenty of pink salmon and a few coho. You can freeze your catch and have it sent home to eat for an extra $100 or so but we just caught and released. After we returned from fishing, we went out to see the town. Creek Street is the place to see in Ketchikan. It's essentially a boardwalk lined with stores over the "creek" that flows through town. Some nice pictures to be taken there. There are also a few totem poles in town that peaked our interest. We wanted to visit Saxman Park, the park with the most totem poles in the area, but fatigue and time restraints prevented us from doing so. I was also told that the Lumberjack show was worth seeing in town. Entertainment on board was excellent as there was a comedian/magician who got the audience involved a few times. Very funny and entertaining. The best the ship had to offer all week.
Sunday, 8/1 Inside Passage (Cruising) - This was a leisurely day spent sucking the last breaths out of the vacation. We didn't do much beside eat, buy last minute gift and duty free items, and lounge in general. We played the jackpot Bingo and saw the "horse racing," which was hilarious - check it out. The scenery was very similar to the rest of the trip but nice nonetheless. The land was greener and there was more civilization. We did see some Orca whales swimming along the ship but you just saw the fins - no Free Willy/Shamu type jumps. We somehow managed to pack our bags despite that fact they were full when we arrived and we purchased additional junk, and left them outside to be sent to the airport.
Monday 8/2 Vancouver - Disembarkation was very well organized. On Sunday you were given a colored and numbered tag which they called over the PA system when it was your turn to disembark. We grabbed a quick last breakfast at the Horizon Court and settled down the Wheelhouse Lounge until we were called. Apparently we missed our tag but still made the shuttle to the airport. Our shuttle driver was extremely nice and well...effeminate. He checked that we all had late flights and asked if we wanted to see some of the town. I wish I had more time to spend in Vancouver as it's always been a town I wanted to visit. We drove through town near the dock area, which was very modern and bustling with activity. It wasn't an extensive tour but it was nice to at least see a little of the sights from the bus window.
Vancouver's airport was a madhouse but fairly well organized. All the bags were set aside at one end of the airport. Once you collected yours, you made your way to your airline's line. We waited in Delta's line for about an hour. Then you cart your bags through Immigration. This line was deceptively long as it stretched probably 5-6 times as long as the airline carrier's longest lines but we got through it in 45 minutes to 1 hour. Finally we get to ditch the bags and you guessed it...wait in another line for security, which was another 20-30 minutes. We arrived at the airport at around 10:30 a.m. for a 1 p.m. flight and we managed to make it to the gate with 10-15 minutes to go before departure.
Overall this was nice trip. The scenery of Alaska is outstanding and it was a very relaxing trip. The only qualms I really had was that there were so few people my age on the ship. I'm not sure if that's because it's Alaska or if it's Princess. Either way, I would sail Royal Caribbean again before Princess. While there was nothing bad about Princess, there was nothing really that great either. The service was better on Royal Caribbean. I will say the food was probably better on Princess. So I will definitely recommend Alaska as a vacation spot, although probably not if you have very young children. They probably would not value what they are seeing, unless it's a moose or animal of some sort, and there isn't that much for them to do. If you do sail Alaska, I would recommend Royal Caribbean over Princess. Read Less