Number of Cruises: 14
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Island Princess
Sailing Date: September 11th, 2006
We took The Heart of Alaska Cruise tour 7S, 11 day 10 night, vacation from 9/8/06-9/18/06. We booked everything through Princess via our travel agent, all inclusive.
On the 8th we left from Albany, NY via Detroit, Minneapolis to Fairbanks. Needless to say it was a long day, but a necessary evil, to get to our location. When we arrived at Fairbanks was about the only bad experience we had on the whole trip. After traveling for about 11 hours we had to wait another 45 minutes to an hour to claim our baggage. Understand that Fairbanks is a small airport with only 1 luggage turnstile. Apparently when it comes to picking up luggage Alaskan Airlines has priority and the other lines have to wait to use the accommodations. We flew in on Northwest; we were the first plane there. When exiting the plane I noticed 2 Alaskan Airplanes taxing to the tarmac. Little did I know we would end up waiting for them? It wasn’t just the Princess passengers, (3 bus loads), also Holland cruise had about one bus load. The problem was we had to tag our luggage so Princess could transport them to our Hotel. Finally the Princess outfitters came up with the solution so we could get on our way. At the time it was frustrating, but as I look back on it now it was just a minor bump in the road.
We stayed at the Princess Fairbanks Hotel that evening. Very nice resort, personal very helpful and friendly, as we will say many times in this review. We went and got a bite to eat and returned to our room to find our luggage waiting for us. Here is where you decide what luggage you want where. I still can’t believe how smooth this all worked out. Princess suggests not bringing to much on the land tour, (3 days), because of room on the trains and buses. We took 1 small piece of baggage with us with a carry on for our meds and important papers, and left the large suitcase here to meet us on the ship in Whittier. Didn’t need any fancy clothing on land. To Princess’s credit all worked out very well, I did have my doubts but this isn’t Princess’s first time doing this.
Day 2-9/9/06- This morning we had a bus transfer to a sternwheeler riverboat cruise on the Chena and Tanana Rivers. Once we got on the bus we could leave our carry on bags here as this was the bus taking us to Princess Denali Lodge. The excursion was about 5 hours, very relaxing and educational. From there we went to downtown Fairbanks for sightseeing/lunch on our own. Not much to see but we had a great lunch at an Italian restaurant. From there they bused us to Princess Denali Lodge just outside Denali National Park. It took a little over 2 hours to get there and on the way we saw our first Moose. What a huge animal. The lodge was beautiful with great scenery overlooking the Nenana River. Would have liked to have stayed there a couple of extra days.
Day 3- 9/10/06- Boarded our school bus, (park regulations), at 6 AM for our Natural History Tour in Denali National Park. It was another beautiful day, clear skies and barely a cloud to be found. We started our trip from a taiga forest to the sweeping tundra. Weather was just perfect as we saw beautiful views of the Alaska Range. Then the grand finally, Mt. McKinley. Excellent view of the whole mountain, from what we were told we were some of the lucky few to see this from top to bottom. Total tour took about 5 hours, made many stops along the road for scenic views and animals. We saw caribou, moose, dall sheep and numerous birds. Next we went back to the lodge to board a Princess bus for a short trip to the train station at Denali. We boarded the train about noon for our 5 hour ride to Talkeetna; from there we boarded a bus for about a 1 hour trip to Mt McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. Aboard the train we rode in the special Princess Rail cars with drinks and lunch available at our own cost. Lunch was very good at a reasonable price as well as drinks during the trip. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable with some good tips about the history and scenic views. We also had some amazing views of Mt. McKinley again from top to bottom. The lodge was beautiful. We had a great dinner here that was included with our trip through our travel agent which included everything from soup to nuts.
Day 4- 9/11/06- Bus transfer from lodge to Talkeetna to board the McKinley Express Rail for our 5 hour ride to Whittier to board the Island. Before leaving the lodge we again had magnificent views of Mt. McKinley as it was another gorgeous day. Two days in a row is unheard of for tourists to see this beautiful monster according to the locals. The train ride was nice again with great scenery. We just lucked out weather wise, the leaved trees were turned and the contrast of bright yellows and reds with the green was great. It was this way both days on the train. Our tour guide was not as good as the first day but still helpful. On one of the inlets close to Whittier we saw Beluga Whales feeding as the tide came in. We boarded the ship and set sail.
Day 5- 9/12/06- We cruised through College Fjord. What a sight to see.
Day 6- 9/13/06- We cruised in and out of Glacier Bay. Truly amazing. I still can’t believe how close the Captain got our ship to the Glaciers. Again the weather was gorgeous so we got a treat. We got to go into John Hopkins Inlet all the way to John Hopkins Glacier. The ranger narrating this got real excited about this, obvious this was not an everyday occurrence. Both days cruising in the fjord and the bay the rangers narrating gave excellent insight and observations. I was really impressed with the Captain and his crew the way he maneuvered the ship.
Day 7- 9/14/06- Arrive in Skagway, we went to the summit by bus at a cost of $37 per, took about 1 ½ hour and further up than the train. Train $100+ per and takes over 4 hours. Think we got a better deal besides already been on two trains. Skagway was a really nice little town, got some great sales because that Saturday most stores were closing up, cruise ship season is over.
Day 8- 9/15/06-Arrive in Juneau, nice city didn’t take any excursions. Friends took the Helicopter to the Glaciers, said it was great walking on them and drinking the water.
Day 9- 9/16/06- Arrive in Ketchikan, nice city beautiful tram ride. Nice little downtown.
Day 10- 9/17/06- At Sea, Rough early morning till mid afternoon. Seas were rough but ship was stable.
Day 11- 9/18/06- Arrive Vancouver, fly home.
Synopsis- Overall the trip exceeded our expectations!!!!!!!!! We think partly because of the beautiful weather we were blessed with. The only day of rain was our last day at sea. Alaska is a beautiful place to visit but I don’t think I would like to live there. We definitely will return we know there is so much more to see. They were very nice and we didn’t think the prices were that bad considering we were a captive audience.
We would like to congratulate Princess
Cruises for excellent services rendered. Once we finally arrived at Fairbanks
Lodge everything was smooth as silk for our entire cruise tour, timing was
everything, (including the weather they ordered for us). The only hitch was the
wait staff the first couple of nights aboard the Island. After speaking to the
Maitre’d this problem was solved. The rest of the crew was very courteous and
professional. This my third cruise with Princess and I will definitely travel
with them again and I highly recommend this line to anyone who will listen.