Pre-trip: Our excellent journey actually began 2 days before our departure when we received an e-mail from Princess advising us that we had been upgraded to a full suite! We then departed from the east coast to Anchorage on June 17,2010 for our 12 night cruisetour. We'd booked our own air travel on Alaska Airlines, taking advantage of the Alaska Airlines credit card $99 companion ticket to travel first class for 2 for just over the price we would have paid for 2 coach fares. It was well worth the extra money to fly first class on such a long trip. Alaska Airlines was an outstanding flight experience.
Land Tour: We arrived in Anchorage and found our Princess transfer to our lodging at the Hotel Captain Cook. We found this hotel to be adequate with a smallish room in the original hotel tower. We found it odd that the common areas of the hotel had air conditioning, but our room did not (even inquired about it at the front desk and they confirmed no AC in guest rooms). It was a bit warm, but we made it work by opening the window. Even though the time difference made it a very long day for us, we decided to venture out to see some of Anchorage. We found ourselves at Glacier Brewhouse, enjoying some snacks and beer brewed on-site, which was all very enjoyable. The weather was warm, so we walked around the city a bit from there, marveling at all of the beautiful snow-topped mountains that seemed to surround the city. We browsed in the local shops and found a souvenir shop that seemed to have everything, Trader Jacks (I think), with some items made locally and some overseas. We were generally pleased with the prices. We then found another spot, Rumrunners, to have another local brew and watch a basketball game. We enjoyed our low key afternoon/evening in Anchorage.
The next morning we arose early to have our bags out in order for them to be picked up for transit to the Princess MT. McKinley Lodge. We boarded a coach for a very short trip to the train station, where we boarded our Princess railcars to travel to the lodge. The railcars were very nice, with the seating on the second level in domed cars. Shortly after we set out, we saw a moose just off the tracks and then we were treated to an airshow by the fighter jets stationed at the airbase just outside of Anchorage. The train ride was pretty, taking us through wooded areas and over streams. The guide did a nice job narrating and pointing out items of interest as we went. We enjoyed a nice breakfast in the dining car below. We pulled in to the Talkeetna station shortly after noon. We decided to stay in Talkeetna and explore rather than immediately heading out to the lodge. Talkeetna is a tiny little town with essentially one main street. We explored some of the local shops, most of which appeared to have locally-made items. We also found another brewhouse, The Denali Brewing Company. We had lunch at one of the local cafes. We then caught one of the regularly-scheduled coaches heading back to the Lodge, which took approximately one hour travel time. We'd already received our keys, so went directly to our room in one of the small buildings that surround the main lodge. We found our room basic and clean, with 2 double beds. No cause for complaint, but certainly not a well-appointed room. The main lodge was spectacular, with a huge central stone fireplace and a big porch off the Mckinley-facing side that was lined with benches and adirondack chairs perfect for mountain viewing. When we arrived, part of the mountain was visible and we enjoyed just taking in the view and the wilderness. One of the walking paths below the lodge was closed in the evening due to the presence of a mother moose and her baby who were munching on leaves near the path. It was a neat sight through the binoculars. We had dinner one of the on-site restaurants and found the food to be good.
The next morning we had a good breakfast in the lodge's main dining room and then explored the various walking paths on the property. All were a very easy walk. We chose not to do any optional excursions while at the McKinley lodge and elected to just sit on the porch enjoying the views. In the afternoon, we boarded a coach for the trip to Denali Princess lodge. Upon arrival, we were given our keys and found our room to be in one of the new buildings on property. Again, we found the room to be basic and clean, but nothing special. It would have been nice to have the opportunity to elect (and pay for) upgraded room accommodations. We explored the many souvenir shops that are across from the lodge, most of which seemed to be selling items made overseas rather than in Alaska, and all seemed to be of the "tourist trap" type. However we did buy a few decent t-shirts and other trinkets. We returned to the lodge and had a wonderful dinner at the main restaurant.
The next morning we arose early and had breakfast at the buffet on-site. It took quite awhile to get served drinks and the buffet food was just fair. We then embarked on our Tundra Wilderness Tour into Denali. The buses are operated by Aramark and are school buses rather than nice coaches. Overall, they were fairly comfortable. We had a knowledgeable tour guide who had been doing tours in the park for several summer seasons. The ride in the park was beautiful, with so many different types of scenery, from dense woods to tundra grasslands to rocky mountains. We got to see quite a bit of wildlife once we got further into the park, including lots of caribou and Dahl sheep, a fox and her baby right near the bus, a golden eagle soaring near a mountain peak, a wolf sleeping near the entrance to its den and a mother bear and her 2 young cubs off on the side of slope. It was a terrific trip into the park and well worth the full day on a school bus. That evening we had pizza at the on-site pizza place, which was not great pizza. We then ventured off-property to the outlook, which is across the street and up a very steep incline from the lodge property (you can call for a pick-up). We enjoyed a beautiful view of the park while sipping some of the local Alaskan beers.
The following morning we had our bags out early for pick-up and then boarded buses to the train station. We boarded the train for a very long ride to Whitier to meet the ship. We were paired up at our table with a very nice older couple from north of Chicago and really enjoyed talking with them throughout the trip. We had a gloriously sunny day for the trip and as the train wound down on its travels, there were a number of beautiful vantage points from which we could see Mt. McKinley (Denali as the locals call the mountain) in all its full, uncovered beauty. It was one of the most spectacular sights that either of us had ever seen and the train slowed a number of times for passengers to be able to take pictures. Even some of the guides and staff on the train were taking pictures and telling us it was one of the most clear shots they'd seen while working on the train. It was a long train ride, but manageable with the dining car for a nice lunch and the bar for some tasty drinks.
Embarkation: All of the pre-boarding was actually done on the train when we picked up several princess employees in Anchorage who handled all of the pre-board paperwork, checked our passports and handed out our cruise cards. We pulled into Whitier, went through security and were on the ship within 15 or 20 minutes.
Cruising: Suite: Upon entering the ship, we were directed to our suite, D701, the Seychelles Suite. It was absolutely beautiful and very spacious. It had a nice marble-tiled entryway which then entered into the living room, which had a roomy desk area across from the wet bar and refrigerator, which had been stocked with complimentary beverages. The living room had a TV, nice sized sofa and armchair and a cocktail table and side table that held a beautiful arrangement of flowers. The living room had a set of balcony doors leading out to our double balcony, set with a table and chairs as well as lounge chairs. Back in the suite the living room was separated from the bedroom by a set of heavy draperies that could be pulled at night to accommodate different sleeping patterns. The bedroom was roomy with a large queen-sized bed and two side tables, another TV, a big mirrored dressing table with a lighted make-up mirror and plenty of storage for all of our clothes and belongings. There was a huge walk-in closet for all of our hanging clothes as well. The bathroom was huge, actually separated into two sections, one for the sink and toilet, separated by a door from the area for the jetted jacuzzi tub and large glass-walled shower. The extra bathroom space was very nice. We met our cabin steward, Chet, who brought us a glass of champagne to celebrate our arrival. We watched from our balcony as the ship pulled off from the dock. Shortly after we did the obligatory muster drill, then began exploring the ship. We had a cocktail up on the lido deck at the pool area. The dining had been changed since it was the first night on board, so we decided to have a late dinner at the buffet rather than the main dining room. We did not find the buffet food to be very good. We're used to buffets in Vegas where there are many more selections and both the selection and quality were lacking in the buffet. We discovered Crooners martini bar and enjoyed a wonderful late-night cocktail.
Our second day on board was a sea day and the first of our formal nights. We started the day by having breakfast at Sabatini's, a perk for Suite guests. We enjoyed this immensely. The food was excellent and the service, by our waiter Sebastian, was outstanding. We did breakfast at Sabatini's most days when we didn't have an early port excursion. We were surprised that there were not many others who took advantage of this wonderful experience. We spent the day exploring the ship and finding all of the main entertainment areas, dining areas, lounges and pool areas. We found the ship very easy to navigate and get around. We spent the day leisurely napping and also had a very good lunch in the main dining room. We dressed early for dinner and took part in the evening cocktail hour that is held for elite and suite guests. We were surprised to find that very few people attended this cocktail reception, which was surprising given that they put out some very nice hors d'oeuvres. We enjoyed the service from the Italian chef, Eduardo, who oversaw the event. We took part in this several evenings during the cruise. We decided to have formal portraits taken by the ships photography staff. That evening they were having a contest. If you had your picture taken at all of the photography stations, you could enter a drawing to win a $300 photo package. We had our picture taken at all of the stations and turned in our prize card and the next morning, when selecting some pictures, learned that we had been drawn for the prize. We received a CD of our selection of formal portraits and 5 8x10 prints. We were thrilled. We also attended the Captain's Champagne Reception that evening which was nicely done with a Champagne waterfall. We had a very nice dinner at the main dining room. We had elected the anytime dining room and had not problem getting a table at approximately 8:00, even requesting a table for two. After dinner we went over to the bar at the Bayou Cafe to listen to Jean Mac sing songs from the American Songbook. We danced and really enjoyed the music. Later we found the casino and found the gaming to be adequate, with roulette for me and video poker for my husband. The dealers were very nice, although throughout the cruise I didn't find that many other players at the roulette table. Over the course of the cruise, between the 2 of us, we actually walked away from the casino with an extra $500 or so over what we'd started with, which was nice. We also did check out the Wheelhouse Bar, which was nearly deserted most of our voyage. There was a band called Nova, and they were just okay. I don't think we ever saw more than one or two couples dancing. We ended our evening at Crooners with the terrific entertainment by Dan Oliver who was great on the piano and had a wonderful singing voice. We met our favorite cocktail waiter Enrique, who provided us excellent service throughout the cruise. The cosmos made by the Crooners bar staff were excellent.
The next day was the trip into Glacier Bay. We had our morning breakfast at Sabatinis and then attended the Glacier Bay Park Ranger presentation in the Princess Theater. It was a very interesting presentation about the glaciers and history of glacier bay. The day was rainy, but we braved the elements and went up on the open deck. It was well worth the cold and rain. The captain was able to pull in quite close to the Margerie clagier and we were able to hear and see it calve off ice several times. We saw a seal pull out on a small iceberg. The glacier was simply awe-inspiring. The captain then spun the ship around, so we retreated to our cabin where we could continue to see the glacier from our covered balcony while enjoying a yummy hot tody. We were also visited by a gull who decided that he like the railing of our covered balcony as well. Glacier bay was a wonderful day. That night we enjoyed a good dinner in the main dining room as well as the entertainment and cocktails at crooners.
Our next day was in the port of Skagway. We had an early breakfast at the buffet, which we found to be quite good, with made to order eggs and omelettes and a good selection of fresh pastries. The coffee however, was awful. We were scheduled to go on the very first helicopter glacier landing flight of the day. However, with significant fog, the first trip was cancelled. They were able to book us on an 11:00 flight with the hopes that he fog would lift. Until the flight, we walked around town a bit. Skagway is a fun little town, with one main street full of small shops. We then presented back for our excursion and luckily it was able to fly. We hopped aboard a helicopter and took a 20 to 25 minute flight out to the glacier. We landed on the glacier and did a 20 minute trek around the glacier looking at the different melt formations, the running water, which appears a beautiful blue and the rocks and other items that get picked up and dragged around by the moving glacier. It was a very cool experience. We then re-boarded the helicopters and flew back to the base. The helicopter flight in both directions covered some very beautiful scenery. We were transported back to town just in time for our next excursion out to a summer sled dog camp. We were met by our nice guide Tini (Christine) and took a bit of a drive up out of town to Dyea where the sled dog camp is located. We then broke up into groups and boarded small wheeled carts, holding about 6 people each. The musher gave the command and were were off, pulled by a pack of 18 dogs. The dogs were absolutely amazing. All slight in build and clearly very athletic. They just couldn't wait to run. There was one who would bark like mad and jump up and down in line while waiting, clearly ready to do his job. We learned that the dogs were owned by our musher on board who had run the iditarod race several times, placing well with some of the very same dogs pulling our cart. We then returned to the musher's center for a brief history of dog sledding. Then we got to spend time with a group of young husky pups. They were absolutely beautiful and so much fun. Then it was back to town. We really enjoyed both excursions in Skagway. We finished up our day in Skagway with a pizza and beer at the Red Onion, a former brothel turned bar that maintains its original brothel theme. The pizza was good and the atmosphere very fun and light. The it was back to the ship. We finished off our day on ship with a nice dinner, some casino play and drinks at Crooners.
The next day was another early port day, this time in Juneau. We had pre-planned excursion called Whales, Bears & Glaciers. We took a short van ride to a small harbor on the outskirts of Juneau where we boarded a small boat. The Captain then headed out in search of whales and other sea life. As we were pulling out of the harbor, we passed a small pebbled beach on which there was what we were told was a "parliament" of eagles. There were approximately a dozen or more eagles all feeding on halibut. The were simply beautiful, some adults with full white-feathered heads, some juveniles who had not yet gotten their white heads. We then moved into the open water and very shortly spotted the plume from a whale's blow hole. We slowed down and were able to see 2 whales off a bit in the distance, with their humped backs occasionally cresting out of the water followed by their big tails. We continued on our way, seeing a few small seals poking their heads out of the water and then a group of sea lions who had pulled themselves out of the water on to a navigational buoy to enjoy the sun while others barked around in the water clamoring for a spot. We then continued on and saw a group of porpoises that came right up to the boat, jumping and playing along beside the boat as we moved through the water. They actually looked like small killer whales, with similar coloring and markings. Last, we saw a humpback whale calf who came very close to our boat and was having a great time just playing. He was rolling around and pulling his fins out of the water. His mother also came fairly close to us and he continued to play. It was a fabulous whale watch. We then landed on a island, which were later told was twice the size of Rhode Island, with a human population of 950 and a bear population of 3500. We then got on a 15 person van with a guide who was a local young man who had grown up on the island. He was very informative about life on the island, wildlife and growing up in Alaska and shared many great stories. We got out at a wooded path where we walked along a raised plank path through dense woods. Our guide showed us some signs indicating bear had been through recently including claw marks on trees and hair left from the bear rubbing its back against a tree as well as bear droppings on the path. He noted that it was not yet salmon season and that the bears were still in mating season, during which they are constantly on the move. As we came out into a clearing at the end of the path at the water, we saw a small deer and an eagle. We returned to the van and shortly after heading out, just ahead on the logging road, was a large brown bear. Our guide pulled up further on the road and stopped where the bear had crossed the road. There right beside us, on a small rise next to the road, was the bear. He was no more than 8 feet from us. He'd climbed the small rise and had turned sideways and was just staring at us. He was so beautiful. He looked at us for about a minute or so, then turned, walked off and disappeared into the woods. Our guide said that the bear looked to be fairly young, maybe 4 years old and that it is likely that the bear had never seen humans before, which is why he turned to look at us. It was such a cool experience. We then continued on our way for another half hour or so, then arrived at a small airfield. We boarded a small plane that took us up for a 25 minute flight over the Juneau icefields. We saw what looks, from the air, like rivers of ice, that surround Juneau. It was absolutely stunning. We landed back at the Juneau airport and boarded a bus that brought us back to the ship. Back on board the ship, we returned to our suite and prepared for our second formal night. We had a lovely dinner in the main dining room with three other couples at our table and then closed our day at our usual crooners.
The next day we awoke to a steady rain in the port of Ketchikan. We had originally planned to do the Great Alaska Lumberjack Show, which we decided to forego due to the rain and wind. Our main goal in town was to finish up our gift shopping, which was easily achieved in Ketchican's many shops. There were many jewelers in town, similar to what one sees when visiting Caribbean ports. We steered clear of those and stayed with the local shops. We found some nice local-made gifts and souvenirs. As soon as we finised shopping, we re-boarded the ship. We dried off and warmed up, then hit the pizza counter by the pool for lunch. We grabbed drinks from the buffet, sat under the covered section near the pool and found the pizza to be very good. We napped and had a leisurely afternoon. We invited in some frineds that we'd met on the land tour into our suite for pre-dinner cocktails, which was very easy to do since we had such a large living room in our suite and also were able to order a tray of canapes every evening as part of the suite perks. For dinner we went to the Bayou Cafe, which we found to be quite good. I had a fabulous spicy grilled shrimp appetizer and we both had steaks as our entree. The food was well done and the service very good. In the eventing, we went to the early Comedy show in the Princess Theater. Kevin Hughes was the comedian and he was pretty funny. Overall we enjoyed the show. We went to the late showing of the International Crew Show in the Princess Theater, which was sort of hokey, but fun too. We finished the night at our usual crooners.
The next day was our final full sea day We had our final breakfast at Sabatini's where we continued to experience great food and outstanding service. We took a long walk around the Promenade deck and spotted whales and porpoises off the ship. We ate lunch from the Grill counter on the pool deck and found the simple burgers and fries to be good. In the afternoon, we packed our bags in preparation for having them out in the hall that evening and shopped a bit in the on-board shops, picking up some Princess-themed souvenirs at sale prices. We had made reservations for dinner at Sabatini's that evening and arranged to be served by our favorite waiter, Sebastian. Sabatini's has a really neat way of doing dinner service, where you choose your entree and then they bring you platters of all of the salads and appetizers with small tastes for you to try. It was wonderful. We really enjoyed the food and the way it was served. That evening we found all of our special crew that we got to know and gave them special tips. It was nice to be able to let them know how special they had made our trip. We then visited the casino, again taking away some winnings and closed out our night at crooners.
The following day we had an early breakfast in the main dining room and then proceeded with our hand-carried luggage to the wheelhouse bar, the designated area for suite guests, where they had good coffee and juice out for us. We heard our designated pick-up color and number and proceeded down the gangway and through the customs area. We then boarded our Princess transfer to the airport. I was glad that we did the Princess tansfers, as we never had to handle our bags until we got to the airport. The whole process was very smooth and quick.
We had a wonderful trip overall and would not hesitate to do the Alaska cruisetour again with Princess. We did purchase future cruise credis and are working on planning our next Priness adventure. Read Less