Nancy & Joe Binder
Number of Cruises: n/a
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Dawn Princess
Sailing Date: n/a
Itinerary: Alaska/Candian Rockies
This review will tell you everything you need to know about our Alaskan cruise taken July/August 1997, and which included a pre-cruise land tour of the Canadian Rockies and a post-cruise land tour of Alaska. This cruise was to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary and it was perfect in every way. We are "hooked" now and have already booked a Panama Canal cruise aboard the brand new Sea Princess (which will debut in October 1998) in Spring 1999.
Since this is after all a cruise review site, I will begin with the cruise itself and then backtrack to tell you a little about the two land tour packages we took.
The embarkation process was very smooth. We boarded in Vancouver, British Columbia, and in a matter of minutes we were photographed, whisked to our cabin, where we spent a few minutes and then went to explore the ship. This was our first cruise, so we were very anxious to look around, and I must say, there were no disappointments!
Yes, I did say suite! We were very fortunate in that we had booked a mini-suite (a real splurge) and 3 weeks before the cruise, our travel agent called to say that we had been upgraded to a full suite! There was a nice-sized living room separated by a bar/wall-divider and a queen sized bed in the bedroom. Our veranda had 4 lounge chairs as well as a large round table with 4 chairs. And the best part was a palatial marble bathroom with a Jacuzzi, stall shower and the toilet area housed in a small adjoining bath!
We were even able to comfortably host a cocktail party for the couples we met on our pre-tour of the Canadian Rockies! The only downside with taking your first cruise in a suite, is that it is impossible to even consider a cabin without a veranda, let alone an inside one. (But then, how much time do you spend in the cabin anyway?) As for movement, because we were in an aft cabin, we felt more vibration than some of the people who were more centrally located. At times it seemed that we were right over the motors! But, it never presented any type of seasickness problem, but of course the waters near Alaska tend to be quite calm.
What can I say! This is one gorgeous ship. The main atrium is just beautiful. The glass elevators are nice, but I enjoyed taking the stairs between floors. The dining rooms are lovely, and we thought the food was excellent. We had dinner in the dining room, but breakfast and lunch in the Horizon Court food buffet (we found there were more choices there). Service was outstanding! Our waiter Antonio and our busboy Octavio made sure our every wish was granted. Our cabin steward, Gerardo, couldn't do enough for us. He even gave us his beeper number so that we could beep him during his break time in the afternoon! In fact, just about every person who worked on the ship was exceptionally friendly and eager to please. As you left your cabin each morning and passed the stewards in the hallway, every one would smile and say "Good Morning!" The entertainment was very good for the most part. A few evenings were a little weak, but we were having so much fun, so who cared?
How to Dress
The best way to dress during the day for changeable weather is jeans, a t-shirt, a long sleeve shirt on top of that and a light jacket (waterproof would be ideal!). This way you can peel off layers, or put them back on if the weather changes during the day. You will also need a heavier jacket or polar-fleece top for Glacier Bay or Athabasca Glacier. For you 1st timers, be assured that dress during the day is very casual. In the evening I saw a wide variety in people's choices--on the formal nights, men in tuxes, dark suits, and even some casual suits. Women in evening gowns, cocktail dresses, and "church" dresses. But no one seemed out of place or uncomfortable. One piece of advice Joe got from his cousin--buy a black double-breasted suit with a tux shirt and bow tie. It looks like a tux but you get a lot more mileage out of a black suit than a tuxedo.
This was a 7-day Voyage of the Glaciers cruise.
Day 1 was spent at sea, and it was nice to relax and have a chance to further explore the ship.
Day 2 our port was Ketchikan. We opted to just explore the town on our own and pick up a few souvenirs for relatives. This was our warmest day and we took advantage of it by using the swimming pool in the afternoon. Since many people were still on shore, we had a small pool all to ourselves. Very nice if a bit chilly getting out! After dinner we hosted the cocktail party for our friends from the land tour and then we all trooped down to the English Pub Show which was great fun.
Day 3 we docked in Juneau and had selected the Wildlife Cruise. They guarantee that you will see a certain amount of different kinds of wildlife or they refund a portion of your money. This was very worthwhile and we saw a mother and baby humpback whale, harbour and stellar seals and a few eagles.
On Day 4 our stop was Skagway and we opted for the White Pass Railroad trip. It was very expensive though, kind of long, but great scenery.
Day 5 was spent cruising Glacier Bay. Here's where it helps to have a veranda. The day was cold and rainy (pretty typical I think), so lots of people had staked out window-side tables in the food court and were planted there for the entire day. But that meant that others who came in to have breakfast walked in with full trays and nowhere to sit. So I would suggest either the dining room and room service for this day and for the next.
Day 6 is another day at sea cruising College Fjord. This was a beautiful day and the scenery is spectacular. Another note on the benefits of having an aft suite with a veranda--while the people who were on the observation deck were braving cold and windy weather (since they were facing into the wind), we were on our veranda experiencing a lovely sunny afternoon in short sleeves! We were totally shielded from the wind! There was a passenger Talent Show at night that gave us a lot of laughs.
On Day 7 we awoke at dawn so that we could say our last good-byes to our new friends. I must admit I spent the morning crying my eyes out--for two reasons--leaving our friends (who all lived so far away) AND leaving the ship. If someone had said we could stay another two weeks, I would have called work and said EXTEND MY VACATION!!
The Canadian Rockies
This was the Princess land tour we took prior to boarding the ship. If you can possibly afford the time and the money--this was a spectacular trip which was every bit as enjoyable as the cruise! The added benefit was that after spending 5 days on a motorcoach together, the 14 couples aboard formed friendships which lasted aboard the cruise and even after the trip in our case!
Our tour group was composed of couples ranging in age from mid-30's to late-60's. (Joe is 52, I am 48) There were people from the U.S., Japan, Cyprus and the majority from the United Kingdom, namely Scotland, England and Wales. Our tour guide and bus driver were knowledgeable, helpful and pleasant. AND we didn't touch our luggage from the time we joined the tour! We would arrive at our destination for the evening and would be told that we would find our bags in the room, we were already checked in, we'd be handed our key and asked what time we would like dinner reservations!
We flew into Calgary and spent the night (from Philadelphia, PA) because I always worry about missed flights, etc. This turned out to be especially fortuitous because it allowed us to arrive in Banff before lunch and have a whole day to explore the quaint town there. (The people who arrived in Calgary that day didn't arrive in Banff until dinner time, and only had an hour or so to walk through the town of Banff.) The hotel was the Banff Springs Hotel which looks like a castle sitting in the middle of a mountain! It was the most magnificent hotel I have ever seen. The bellboys wear kilts and there is a Scottish influence. The first time I saw a photograph of this hotel in the Princess brochure, I knew I had to stay there.
The next stop was Lake Louise and Chateau Lake Louise,voted the most romantic spot in the WORLD by the New York Times in the Valentine's Day article a few years ago! On the way to Lake Louise, we stopped for a ski-lift ride for magnificent views of the lake and chateau. It was very cold but there were millions of mosquitos!! (But, not to worry, this was the ONLY place we ran into mosquitos. But take your repellent just in case.)
The next stop was Jasper and the Jasper Park Lodge. Here we had our own 2 room cabins (luxurious cabins!) with down comforters on the bed and an idyllic setting. The views from each of our hotel rooms were jaw-dropping! I should mention that each of these hotels are owned by the Canadian-Pacific chain, and I have never experienced such service in my life--it rivaled that on the cruise ship! Prior to our arrival in Jasper we visited Athabasca Glacier and took a snowcoach ride onto the glacier itself. If you do this, do bring a heavy jacket. And this was very exciting and memorable.
The next stop was Kamloops but this is just a stop-over Holiday Inn type place because the trip to Vancouver would be too long otherwise. However on the way we stopped for diner at Hacienda Caballo, where we had a wonderful barbecue dinner, open bar, paddle boat rides, etc. This might have been my favorite day of the whole vacation. Mere words can't do it justice--the way Princess knows how to pamper her travelers with roadside picnics, barbecue dinners and unexpected daily delights.
The next day we headed to Vancouver and enjoyed a morning tour of Minter Gardens and the city of Vancouver. But, frankly we were too excited about boarding the ship to pay much attention to Vancouver.
Let me first start by saying that I never expected to meet ANYONE on this cruise. To be honest I would have preferred a table for two so that we didn't get stuck with people who we had nothing in common with. So it was much to my surprise and delight to meet so many lovely people on our tour bus. The most interesting couple on the cruise were also the oldest on the bus. Peter was English and a world traveler and adventurer (he had climbed to the Base Camp of Mt. Everest at age 65 and had to be rescued due to altitude sickness!). His wife Morag was a proud Scot--they live near Glasgow--and by the end of the trip her love and enthusiasm for her country rubbed off on me. We just happened to sit next to them on the first day of the trip (although I believe that it was meant to be) and "clicked" from the very beginning. After that Peter saved the seats next to them every day for us. By the end of the bus trip we were fast friends and by the end of the cruise, it was heartbreaking to say goodbye!!
Being first time travelers, we had chosen 1st seating for dinner. This was a mistake as more elderly passengers choose this seating as well as people with children. Understand, I have nothing against either group (in fact, we were pals with a couple approaching 70!), but it seemed that the more active passengers of ALL ages chose the later sitting. So, anyway we arrive at our table and find a retired couple in their early 60's and a family of four--mom & dad (40's), grandmother, and child (about 10). While they were nice enough people, we had little in common and conversation was work rather than pleasure. By the end of dinner I was almost in tears--this is what I had feared! After having such a great time on the bus tour, I was crushed at facing more dinners like this one. Joe tried to calm me down and we decided to walk around and look for some of our tour friends. We ran into John and Rosemarie (a lovely couple from Wales who we didn't get to know very well on the bus). They also had a bad dining experience. They were at a table with an Italian family who spoke no English and since the waiter was also Italian, virtually all the conversation was incomprehensible to them. We asked if they would like to join us if we were able to switch tables and they were delighted. Another couple, John and Sue, from England (who we met on the ski-lift ride!) had an awful experience. They were seated at a table with 3 elderly American women who REFUSED TO TALK TO THEM AT ALL! After dinner, Sue went back to their cabin and said she would never take another cruise! They also enthusiastically agreed to switch tables. Next we went to Peter and Morag's room. Their experience wasn't quite so extreme, but Peter complained that he hadn't said one word during dinner (and he LOVED to talk!) so they were happy to switch. We went down to the Purser's desk and explained and there was no problem at all! The next night we had 2nd seating and our dream table. Every dinner was memorable and a delight! So don't hesitate to ask for a change, if you run into a compatibility problem. However, I have to tell you that our original table-mates glared at us whenever they ran into us on the ship--Joe was going to approach them to explain that we had hooked up with friends, but they were so nasty he felt it was useless.
A footnote: We have been corresponding regularly with Peter & Morag and Rosemarie & John, surprising them with a phone call on New Year's Day. In August we will visit Scotland, Wales, and England, spending a weekend with Peter & Morag, and having dinner with Rosemarie & John in Cardiff! AND Rosemarie and John are joining us on our next cruise to the Panama Canal in 1999! The biggest plus on this cruise was meeting people who have become life-long friends!
Alaska Land Tour
We disembarked at 1:15 p.m. and slept on the bus ride to Anchorage. Anchorage was a blur because we were exhausted!
The next day we took the Midnight Sun Express rail trip (bubble-top trains) to Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge where we spent two nights. Mt. McKinley Lodge was nice but couldn't hold a candle to Jasper Park Lodge in Canada. One highlight was a gentle float trip down the Talkeetna River where we saw a mother bald eagle and her baby peeping out of their nest. Talkeetna was a quaint little town which is said to be the model for the town in "Northern Exposure". We also were lucky to have a wonderfully crystal clear day and were able to see Denali (Mt. McKinley) perfectly. We were told this happens rarely.
The next day we took a motorcoach to Denali to board our bus to Denali National Park. Didn't see much wildlife in the park but the tour guide/bus driver was terrific and this was also a highlight of this land tour. Then it was a return trip on the Midnight Sun train. (This, which I expected to be a highlight, was long and somewhat boring with just so-so scenery and outrageous prices in the dining car.)
And so we arrived in Fairbanks, again utterly exhausted. We were told that the Riverboat Discovery Cruise would depart at 8:30 a.m. and decided to skip that. We had absolutely no regrets especially when we awoke to pouring rain the next morning We slept late, had a leisurely breakfast and did a little shopping, etc. In the afternoon there was the El Dorado Gold Mine tour which was hokey but fun. And the next day it was time to say good-bye to Alaska and fly home..
We would recommend an Alaskan cruise for just about anyone! We met kids who had fun, an 80-year-old couple who were enjoying themselves and lots of people in between. There are fun things to do for every activity level. Would we recommend Princess?? Wholeheartedly! They are the best!! We overheard one guy say "Princess is more organized than DisneyWorld!" We consider that a great compliment and agree wholeheartedly.
Visit my website The Realm of the Dawn Princess for more photos and information on the cruise.
Also feel free to e-mail me below if you have any specific questions!
Nancy & Joe Binder