Number of Cruises: n/a
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Sea Princess
Sailing Date: June 2000
This review concerns the Sea Princess Alaska northbound cruise tour 1C with a three-day pre-cruise visit to Vancouver and Victoria. This was our first cruise, but it certainly won’t be our last, as the ship and Princess personnel (on land and at sea) totally exceeded our expectations. Everyone we encountered was personable, courteous, and helpful. Kudos to Princess for this exceptional group of employees.
We booked the entire trip and all our shore excursions through Princess and were very pleased with the way Princess handled luggage, hotel check-in, and transportation. We chose to handle our own air arrangements so that we could use frequent flyer miles. This worked well for us, since we could choose our airline and flight times.
Day 1 – Vancouver
We arrived in Vancouver on June 15th at about 1:30 in the afternoon following a long flight from Houston with a layover in Minneapolis. The Vancouver airport is beautiful, but be prepared for a LONG walk from your plane to immigration. Surprisingly, immigration was very slow, even with every line open. Several international flights arrived at the same time, and it took us 45 minutes to creep through the line. We then had a scare at baggage claim when NONE of our four suitcases showed up on the designated carousel. As we were in the process of filing our claim, another passenger suggested we check in a different location, and sure enough, our luggage was waiting for us. Seems that they had this problem several times on the day we arrived.
Once we had our bags, we walked right through customs with no delay, and met the Princess representative. She escorted us out to the passenger pick-up area, and within five minutes we were in a taxi on our way to the Westin Bayshore.
The Westin Bayshore is a newly renovated resort hotel in the West End of downtown Vancouver, adjacent to Stanley Park. It is modern and beautifully decorated, with a large spacious lobby. The main public areas include two restaurants, a Starbucks coffee shop, and several boutiques. The hotel has a small indoor pool, a hot tub, and a sauna in the athletic facility (free to guests), and a large heated pool outdoors overlooking the marina. Guestrooms are not large, but are very comfortable with brand new furniture and fabrics. Sliding glass doors and a wall of windows let in lots of fresh air and a great view!
We freshened up from the long trip, and walked over to Canada Place to watch the Nieuw Amsterdam sail for Alaska. Vancouver is a beautiful city, and the weather was perfect – about 70 degrees with not a cloud in the sky and no humidity. The weather was a real treat for us, since Houston has been scorchingly hot since the beginning of May.
After leaving Canada Place, we walked around Gastown, saw the famous steam clock, smelled food cooking, and hunger pains set in. Since we weren’t able to find a restaurant without a long wait, we walked back to the Westin and ate at the Seawall Bistro. The food was surprisingly good, and we ate outside on the deck where we could watch the boats come and go in the marina. Very relaxing after a long, tiring travel day!
Day 2 – Victoria
We boarded a Gray Line bus for our day trip to Victoria at 8:45 a.m. After picking up passengers from other cruise lines, we headed for the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. Our bus driver was very entertaining, and he pointed out sights throughout the ride. I was surprised that our whole bus went on the ferry, but it was a very efficient way to make the crossing to Vancouver Island. We remained with our bus and driver throughout the day. The British Columbia Ferries are a great operation! There is a cafeteria and buffet restaurant on board. We ate lunch on the ferry so we wouldn't have to take time out from touring Butchart Gardens to eat. There is plenty of indoor and outdoor seating on the ferry – a real plus when the weather cooperates! We were able to sit outside and enjoy the scenery on both crossings. The ferry route is dotted with islands, and we had a sensational view of Mount Baker in Washington State throughout the trip.
Our first stop in Victoria was Butchart Gardens. They are spectacular and immaculate. I took a ton of pictures of every kind of flower and tree imaginable. Our group then drove to downtown Victoria. It is a beautiful city with a definite British "feel" to it. Flowers were in bloom everywhere you looked, including the lawn in front of the Parliament Buildings where red blooms spelled out "Welcome to Victoria".
At the recommendation of our driver, we purchased sandwiches at Sam’s Deli for the trip back to Vancouver. We weren’t disappointed; the sandwiches were huge and delicious! We arrived back at the Westin about 9:30 p.m. It was a thoroughly enjoyable but exhausting day.
Day 3 – Vancouver and Aboard the Sea Princess
Woke up early and grabbed my camera to get my first glimpse of the Sea Princess. At about 6:15 a.m., she sailed silently into the harbor, followed by the Rhapsody of the Seas and the Westerdam. What a sight…a parade of three huge cruise ships!
We tagged all our luggage (including carry on bags) for a 9:00 pick up, and headed off to Stanley Park. The park has a seawall path that runs around the entire perimeter along the water. We walked as far as the Lion’s Gate Bridge; then backtracked to the aquarium. We didn’t have time to go in, but there are large windows along a path in the park overlooking a tank where we were able to view the seals and see the Beluga Whales performing. We stopped on the way back to the hotel to purchase Cokes and water for the ship, which cleaned out every last penny of our Canadian currency. We couldn’t have done better if we’d tried!
Our Princess transfer to the ship left the Westin about 1:15. At 1:30, we arrived at Ballantyne Pier. The Sea Princess looked huge to us! If you’ve never cruised before, it’s hard to envision the ship ahead of time. Embarkation was a snap. Princess had registration desks set up by deck and cabin number. Our credit card information was taken and we immediately received our shipboard cards. These are neat cards with a picture of the ship, your dining room assignment, and your cabin number imprinted on them. The card is used for shipboard credit, as a room key, and to get on and off the ship while you’re in port. Up an escalator, smile for the photographers, and we were on board within 10 minutes of our arrival at the pier! Our cabin steward, Eddie introduced himself, and we were off to explore the ship.
The Sea Princess is a wonderful ship! It is elegantly and tastefully decorated, with ample use of wood, brass, and glass throughout. The ship was spotlessly clean, and crewmembers were constantly cleaning or painting something throughout the voyage.
The centerpiece of the Sea Princess is the atrium, which spans four decks and features a double spiral staircase and two panoramic elevators. The lower two levels of the atrium are floored in beautiful polished marble with inlaid designs. The ship’s boutiques are on Emerald Deck 6 in the atrium. Deck 7 was the location of one of our favorite places, the Atrium Lounge, where you could sit in a love seat nestled in a bay window and watch the scenery pass by outside or the people pass by inside. Dolphin Deck 8 of the atrium held the Pizzeria, which was decorated to look like a southern Italian villa and was furnished with checkerboard tables for four.
Sea Princess has two theatres, one at either end of Promenade Deck 7. The Princess Theatre is upholstered and carpeted in dark burgundy with traditional tiered seating for 500. The décor is somewhat art deco. At the aft end of deck 7, the Vista Lounge is more of a "Vegas" showroom with bar service. It is furnished with round glass tables, swivel chairs, and couches. A "starlit" ceiling, walls of picture windows, and light colored upholstery and carpet give this room an airy, open feeling.
The ship also has two dining rooms, each capable of seating 500 passengers in dining alcoves. The Sicilian Dining Room on deck 6 and the Neapolitan Dining Room on deck 5 are identically furnished with comfortable upholstered armchairs. Curved half-walls of wood and etched glass divide the room into groups of 18 diners at tables for 2, 4, 6, or 8. The dining rooms span the width of the ship and are lined with large windows on each side. Both rooms have the same "starlit" ceiling found in the Vista Lounge.
The Promenade Deck on the Sea Princess encircles the entire ship, although it is closed in at the bow. The teak deck is lined with old-fashioned steamer chairs topped with thick blue cushions. A great place to sit and relax!
Another beautiful room is the Wheelhouse Bar. The Wheelhouse looks like an exclusive country club, with dark wood and lots of leather. Decorations in the lounge and the adjacent passageway are nautical memorabilia from old P&O ships and some personal items of famous former passengers.
The casino was reached using a spiral staircase from the Promenade Deck. The casino held several gaming tables, and slot machines and video poker lined both sides of the room. Rocky’s Disco is also located on the Promenade Deck. This is a unique room, with a glass block dance floor and a video wall. More rooms found on Promenade Deck are the photo shop, library, and a small card room.
The exercise facilities on Riviera Deck 12 are spectacular. Walls of windows overlook the back and sides of the ship in the fitness area. A curved wall gives you a peek at passengers lounging in hot tubs…a bit different than the view in most gyms! Also on Riviera Deck are three heated freshwater pools, five hot tubs, the beauty parlor and spa, children’s facilities, virtual golf, and a poolside bar.
Lido Deck 14 features the Horizon Court, a 24-hour buffet and restaurant. 270-degree windows overlook the front and sides of the ship, and passengers serve themselves from two separate buffet areas. Each contains a hot food line, a cold food line, and a drink station. The Riviera Grill for hamburgers and hot dogs is located just outside the Horizon Court. Lounge chairs line both sides of the ship on this deck, and plexiglass walls provide some protection from the wind. Aft on Lido Deck is the Seaview Bar and another hot tub with great views off the starboard side and stern of the ship.
Another pool is available forward on the Sun Deck. Topsails Bar is located here, and overlooks the main pool areas below.
We were amazed to discover there were 2,100 passengers on the Sea Princess during our sailing. We never experienced a crowd at any time during the week, and the only time we waited in a line was to have our picture taken on formal nights. The ship is designed with many diversions, and absorbs the people very well. Even the Horizon Court never had a line, and we were always able to get a table right away.
We chose to select our cabin rather than take our chances with a category guarantee. We used a 3 category upgrade coupon when we booked, and chose A-545, an Aloha Deck balcony cabin located midship on the starboard side. We loved our cabin! It was not large, but very adequate for the two of us with plenty of storage space. Three closets (one with shelves, swing out wire baskets, and a safe, one for long hanging garments, and one for shorter hanging clothes) held most of our clothes, and drawer space took care of the rest. All our luggage (4 big suitcases and 2 large carry-ons) fit under the bed. After the lifeboat drill we added the life jackets to our under-the-bed storage and forgot about all of it for the week.
The cabin was nicely appointed, with oak furniture and pastel upholstery and carpet. Amenities included terry cloth robes, a bowl of fruit, a mini refrigerator, the room safe, and a hairdryer. The hairdryer didn’t have much power, so I had to use the travel dryer I brought.
Our bathroom was compact but well designed. Three shelves next to the sink held toiletries, so we didn’t have to live out of our travel bags for a whole week. The shower was one of the best I’ve had anywhere! You could set the water to the exact temperature you wanted, and the water pressure was fantastic. I did notice, however, that the water must have had a lot of chlorine in it, because my skin and hair started to feel very dry by the end of the week.
The balcony was wonderful! Again, it wasn’t big (only about 3 feet deep x the width of the cabin), but we used it constantly and had the door open for most of the trip. There’s nothing like fresh sea air and the sound of the ship cutting through waves to put you right to sleep each night!
Day 3 Continued – Sailing from Vancouver
After we explored the ship and ate lunch in the Horizon Court, we unpacked and went to the lifeboat drill. We actually had quite a bit of time before we sailed, since the ship waited for a late arriving flight with 30 cruisers on it. I would have been having a fit it I was on that flight! I will probably always travel to my departure port a day or two before sailing, unless it’s a lot closer to home than Vancouver is.
We went up on deck for sail away as soon as we saw the last passengers embark. While we were walking forward, we were surprised to look out and discover the ship was moving! The Sea Princess is so smooth and stable you have very little sense of movement unless you look at the horizon. I had been worried about seasickness, and armed myself with Sea Bands, Bonine, and ginger capsules. We took the ginger every morning as a precaution, and never touched the other stuff. I don’t know if the ginger helped or we’re just not prone to seasickness, but it didn’t have any negative side effects so we stuck with the regimen.
Late seating dinner was at 8:00 on this trip. We were assigned to table 165 in the Sicilian Dining Room. We were initially disappointed with our table for 6, which wasn’t near a window, but we ended up with great tablemates and had a fun time all week. Our waiter, Eduardo (from Mexico) and assistant waiter, Witek (from Poland) were both very pleasant young men who took excellent care of our table the entire week.
I thought the food in the dining room was very good to excellent all week. We certainly ate enough of it! The menu for each meal had healthy choice selections, vegetarian selections, an "always available" section (steak, salmon, chicken, and Caesar salad) and the main choices for the evening. There were always three appetizers, three soups, a salad course, a pasta course, and five entrees, which included your choice of beef, poultry, lamb, pork, fish, or seafood. The dessert menu was separate, and had three selections, a variety of ice creams and cheeses, after dinner drinks, and several "always available" items.
There was no show or entertainment for us tonight – we were too tired! I finished putting things away and fell asleep to the sound and smell of the ocean.
Day 4 – At Sea in the Inside Passage
The weather today is in the 50’s and sunny! We started the day with a nice long workout in the crowded aerobics room. Megan Dickens is the "Cruisercise" Manager on the Sea Princess, and she made the workout enjoyable for people of all ability levels. Lunch was in the dining room with an Australian couple. We like the food and service in the dining room better than the buffet. In the afternoon, we sat in the Vista Lounge and watched Killer Whales surface just off the starboard side of the ship.
The first formal night was tonight. Attire was dressier than I expected from what I had read. At the second seating, almost all the women wore long gowns, and the majority of the men were in tuxes. Very classy! At the Captain’s Cocktail Party, we met a lovely couple from England whose favorite spot in America is Bethel, Maine, where my father went to high school. What a small world! After dinner we attended a comedy and impressions show in the Vista Lounge. I thought the show was average. We saw the Canadian Pilots disembark the Sea Princess at about 12:30 a.m. We’re getting close to Alaska!
Day 5 – Ketchikan
Our luck has run out…today it is misty/rainy, and the temperature is in the low 50’s. We went on a mountain bike tour today from 8:00-11:00. Luckily, the tour operator (Southeast Exposure) provided raingear, because we needed it! We had fun and enjoyed ourselves despite the weather. The shopping was great in Ketchikan, and we returned to the ship at 1:00 somewhat poorer than we were in the morning!
Back on board, we met a couple we’d gotten to know in Vancouver for lunch at the pizzeria. The pizza and calzones were excellent. After lunch, it was back up on deck to watch the Sea Princess leave Ketchikan in the (still) rainy weather. Once we left port, we participated in the perfect rainy day activity – a nap!
Tonight’s dinner was semi-formal, and again dressier than I expected it to be. Most of the ladies were in dressy pants suits or cocktail dresses, and the men wore suits or nice sports coats. The show tonight was a musical, "Rhythms of the City". The performances were good, but the one hour show didn’t have much of a plot.
Day 6 – Juneau
Woke up to rain and fog in Juneau. The temperature was 48 degrees. Not a good start! Surprisingly, our Wildlife Cruise was outstanding. Once we were underway, the skies cleared in Auke Bay and we had an excellent view of the Chilkat Mountains. We saw tons of wildlife on this excursion…Harbor Seals, Steller Sea Lions, Bald Eagles, deer, Dall’s Porpoises, and a playful humpback whale that dove for us three times. Got some great photos!
After a quick lunch in the Horizon Court, our second excursion was the Mendenhall Glacier and Gastineau Hatchery Tour, which included a stop at the Chapel by the Lake. The glacier was great, but there wasn’t anything to see at the hatchery since the salmon aren’t spawning yet. The weather was also good at the glacier, but it was raining in downtown Juneau all day. Apparently, downtown Juneau gets twice as much rain as nearby areas. After our second tour, we walked around town a bit, but we were cold, wet, and miserable so we returned to the ship at 5:00.
We caught Pete Matthews’ comedy juggling show before dinner this evening. This is a don’t miss! Pete was hysterical. We laughed so hard it hurt.
Tonight was Italian night in the dining room, complete with waiter costumes and flags on the tables. The food was terrific, especially the Pasta y Fagoli soup. I asked for the recipe, which the maitre ‘d provided the next day. We caught "Pub Night" after dinner. This show is put on by the cruise staff and there is only one performance. The Cruise Director on the Sea Princess, Alistair Greener and his staff are wonderfully entertaining and humorous. We’re glad we made the effort to see the show because we laughed until we cried.
Day 7 – Skagway
We took a seven-hour excursion by bus to the Yukon Territory of Canada today. The route traced the path taken by the gold seekers on their way to Dawson. The weather in Skagway was overcast and windy, but as we got further inland, the weather improved, and by the time we stopped for lunch it was clear and sunny.
Our bus driver, Clayton, was fantastic. He enlivened the trip by quoting Jack London and Robert Service, as well as playing music that fit the scenery. Quite a character! The scenery on this drive was awesome – totally different than anything we’ve ever seen. It looked like what I imagine the moon to look like…barren and strewn with boulders at the summit. We were lucky with wildlife sightings on this trip, as we saw a cow moose, a mama black bear with her two cubs, a single black bear, and Dall Sheep.
Lunch was provided at a place called Frontierland, which had a taxidermy museum and gift shop. After lunch, we drove to Emerald Lake to view the turquoise water, and to the Carcross Desert. This was a quite a strange sight, a desert in the middle of the Yukon! We also stopped at the town of Carcross at the head of Lake Bennett, which is where the gold rushers launched their boats for the gold fields. On the way back, we again ran into cloudy weather.
While we were in Skagway we used our Sea Princess I.D.’s to walk around the Regal. It was a nice ship, but we didn’t feel like the Regal had the same attention to detail that we liked so much on the Sea Princess. The main public areas were decorated with the same fabrics and woods used on our ship, but the stateroom corridors and staircases were very plain. Also in port today were the Rhapsody of the Seas and the Norwegian Sky – a busy day in Skagway! There were 9 buses at Frontierland (8 Princess, 1 RCI). After we toured the Regal we walked around Skagway and shopped. In my opinion, the shops had nicer stuff than we saw in Juneau, and the prices were
Dinner was French night. The food was excellent. We didn’t attend a show tonight, but Jim did go to the casino and make a donation to Princess Cruises!
Day 8 – At Sea in Glacier Bay National Park
Got up early and did some laundry. Glad I did, since the tiny laundromat was packed all day. There are two washers and two dryers on each cabin deck…$1.00 for the washer, $.50 for the dryer. Detergent and fabric softener are available at an additional cost. The laundry room also has an iron and ironing board.
We sailed into Glacier Bay National Park at 6:00 this morning. A park ranger and a naturalist came on board and explained the important sights. The narration was broadcast on the open decks. You could also hear the narration in your stateroom by setting your T.V. to the "webcam" channel.
The glaciers were awesome! The noise the glaciers make is unbelievable. They make a sound like cracks of thunder as they grind their way towards the ocean. Unfortunately, we saw only minor calving today. The weather has improved…it started out cloudy, but the sunshine increased as the day progressed.
We attended an aerobics class this afternoon after we left the bay. Unfortunately it was hard to concentrate on exercise since the class kept being interrupted by whale sightings!
Late this afternoon we sailed by the Fairweather Range. These mountains are beautiful! Mount Fairweather soars to almost 16,000 feet above sea level. Otters swimming on their backs near the ship completed the picture.
Tonight was formal night. We had lobster and Beef Wellington for dinner. After dinner we attended the magic and illusion show (just O.K.) followed by the champagne waterfall. The waiters set up a pyramid of 13 layers of glasses and then pour champagne from the top to create a "waterfall". When the champagne is poured, everyone throws streamers from the upper decks of the atrium. This event was fun but corny…like something you’d see on The Love Boat!
Tonight is the only night we’ve noticed any rocking of the ship at all. We’re out in the Gulf of Alaska, without the protection we had in the Inside Passage. Still, it’s not uncomfortable at all.
Disembarkation information awaited us when we returned to our stateroom. We’re assigned to the third group and will leave the ship between 7-7:15 Saturday morning.Tipping guidelines are included in the disembarkation information, but no envelopes. Very unobtrusive and low-key.
Day 9 – At Sea and Cruising College Fjord
Today was the kind of day for cruise companies to take brochure pictures! Our trip into College Fjord was perfect. The fjord was choked with ice, and many of the icebergs had seals lounging on them. We saw many otters today…they like to swim on their backs close to the ship. Spent some time in the hot tub soaking up the sunshine with the ice and snow everywhere you looked. It’s really funny to see people sunbathing when you’re surrounded by winter wonders.
We tried our hand at that quintessential cruise activity today…jackpot bingo! Unfortunately, we will be paying for the entire trip, since we were big losers in the luck department.
I attended a fun "ceremony" in the aerobics room this afternoon. There was a contest, but in the end everyone was a winner and received a "gold" medal, a Princess key chain, and a certificate. We also collected extra "Cruisercise" coupons so we could pick up lots of cheap merchandise to add to our suitcases!
Our farewell dinner in the dining room was American night, featuring the traditional Baked Alaska Parade. Since we’d never seen it before, we thought it was fun.
Day 10 – Seward Disembarkation & Fairbanks
We were rudely awoken at 2:30 a.m. by the sound of longshoremen taking luggage off the ship. Closed the sliding door and the curtains and slept until 5:30. TOO EARLY! We grabbed a quick breakfast and said good bye to the beautiful Sea Princess at 7:15.
Our transfer to Anchorage was lovely, with the Alaska Range visible for much of the drive. We stopped at a wildlife preserve and saw moose, reindeer, buffalo, boars, and an eagle. We also stopped at a jade store in Girdwood (good prices), and took a 15-minute break at Lake Hood in Anchorage to watch the seaplanes take off and land.
Our motorcoach delivered us right to the door of our ERA charter flight to Fairbanks. We flew in a Convair 580, which is a twin turbo prop. We had a majestic view of Mount McKinley and the entire Alaska Range for most of the flight. We got lunch on the one-hour flight, which was typical airline food…back to reality!
We stayed at the Bear Lodge (part of the Wedgewood "Resort") in Fairbanks. The hotel was comfortable, but it is not near anything. I heard the same complaint about location from travelers staying at the Fairbanks Princess Hotel and Pike’s Lodge. We took the hotel shuttle ($2.00) to Alaskaland. It’s a definite miss unless you are attending the Salmon Bake. I heard the salmon dinner was very good, but if you weren’t attending that there really wasn’t anything to see.
Back at the hotel, we opted for dinner in the hotel bar. The food was pretty good, and the prices were reasonable, but the service was pathetic. It took our waitress an hour and a half to serve our light meal. The same thing happened at the breakfast buffet the next morning…by the time we were offered coffee, we had finished our meal and were ready to leave.
Day 12 – Fairbanks
We took two tours today. Both were included in the price of our tour. Our bus driver, Bob, was outstanding and informative. Tour #1 was to the El Dorado Gold Mine. We rode a train through a permafrost tunnel and received a demonstration at the sluice box of the process of finding gold in the pay dirt. Then we were each given a "poke" and tried our hand at finding our own gold. We wound up with $24.00 worth of flakes. Then we took our gold to the gift shop and bought a pendant to put the gold in. The pendant cost more than the value of the gold we found! Still, this was a fun trip and something we’ll probably never do again.
On the way back to town, we stopped at the Trans Alaska Pipeline. We received a very interesting explanation of the difficulties of building the line in the permafrost areas.
Tour #2 was on the Riverboat Discovery, which took us down the Chena and Tenana Rivers. We saw a bush plane, Susan Butcher’s Iditarod sled dogs, a fish camp, and spent an hour ashore at a recreated Athabascan Indian village. Even though all the sights we saw were staged, the trip was very enjoyable and informative. One very unique thing about the Tenana River is that it is a braided river, just like the Yukon. The water is all glacial run off, and it is very silty and rapid. The current is so strong in the Tenana that there’s a clear line where the Chena meets the Tenana. The two rivers have two totally different colors of water.
We ate dinner tonight at Geraldo’s Italian Restaurant near the Bear Lodge. The food was very good and reasonably priced. We’re glad to be leaving Fairbanks early tomorrow morning. Although both tours today were very interesting, there isn’t much to see or do in Fairbanks. The town itself looks very run down. We wouldn’t come back to Fairbanks.
Day 13 – Midnight Sun Express & Denali National Park
We boarded the Midnight Sun Express (Princess railcars pulled by the Alaska Railroad) at 7:30 this morning. The train is very comfortable and pleasant. You are assigned to a booth for four people in the upstairs dome. Each dome car has a bartender and a host/hostess during the trip. We took advantage of breakfast on the train. The food was excellent and not too expensive. The train cars also have a gift shop (of course!) and outside viewing platforms. We arrived at Denali National Park around noon.
The Denali Princess Hotel is located on the Nenana River adjacent to the park entrance. Guestrooms are in long buildings that surround the main lodge. Two restaurants and a snack bar are available, but food is expensive. This was the only location where we felt that prices were unreasonably high. With the exception of Denali, we didn’t pay any more for restaurant food in Alaska than you would expect to pay in the lower 48. Guestrooms are typical motel style with a rustic feel. Beware…this is not a quiet location because of the large numbers of guests staying at the lodge. Park tours start early in the morning and end late in the evening, so there are always people moving around.
We left at 2:20 for the Tundra Wildlife Search on a school bus. Our driver was very knowledgeable but didn’t have much of a personality, which made this a very long, uncomfortable journey. We saw some breathtaking scenery, and during the second half of the trip three bears very close (one walked right up to the buses!), a caribou just in front of us walking up the road, and finally at about 9:30 we saw the elusive Mt. McKinley. We had to take our pictures from the bus windows because there was a Grizzly Bear on the other side of the street!
The drive through Polychrome Pass was hair-raisingly narrow, with steep cliffs just outside the bus. This is not a ride for the faint of heart! We also saw quite a few Dall Sheep, but they were all at a distance, and alas, no moose on this ride.
Day 14 – Denali, Midnight Sun Express, & Anchorage
We went for a hike this morning over at Horseshoe Lake. Couldn’t stay too long since we had to be ready to transfer to the train at 11:30. We saw a couple of big rabbits, but the moose are still avoiding us.
The train ride to Anchorage was long, but very enjoyable. Our tablemates on the train were very entertaining, and the host and bartender were excellent. They sang and recited poetry during the trip. The scenery on the trip from Denali to Anchorage is beautiful, and I imagine it would be tremendous if it was clear. As it was, we had limited views and Mt. McKinley wasn’t visible. Our best views of the mountain were from the plane on Saturday, so I’m glad we saw it then. Jim finally spotted a bull moose close to the train, which I announced to the whole car. Dinner on the train was great! The Prime Rib was cooked perfectly, and was way too much food.
We arrived in Anchorage on time and transferred to the Captain Cook Hotel, about five minutes from the train station. The Captain Cook is a luxury hotel with many amenities and facilities. I’m glad that Anchorage will be our last impression of Alaska, not Fairbanks.
Day 15 – Anchorage & Home
We took an Anchorage City tour that spent two hours at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. The center was excellent, and we could have spent more time there. The rest of the tour was just so-so; not one of the better ones we had taken. The bus stopped near Earthquake Park before returning to the hotel, where we were able to get some great pictures of the city across Cook Inlet. We’re glad we booked our own air for this trip, since our flight doesn’t leave Anchorage until the evening. The people that had flights booked by Princess left early in the morning, so they didn’t have an opportunity to see Anchorage.
We arrived at the airport at 8:00 for a 9:00 flight. Anchorage Airport is under construction, and was a real mess. Continental check-in took 30 minutes, so don’t cut it close! Our flight was full and uncomfortable, but I was so tired I slept a good part of the trip. It’s hot and humid in Houston…vacation is definitely over!
Some Observations from a "First Timer"
I can’t say enough nice things about Princess Cruises and Princess Tours. The employees were friendly and helpful at every stage of the trip. We didn’t encounter a grouch the whole two weeks! They are also the most organized people I have ever seen! This summer, Princess offered almost 40 tours to all parts of Alaska and Canada.That translates to thousands of people going in every direction, all the time. Princess makes it look easy! Our luggage was taken care of, and we were met at each destination with an envelope containing our hotel key and tour tickets. Those services really eliminate a lot of the "hassle" of travel. Princess is really a top-notch operation.
The Sea Princess is a fabulous ship, and has something for everyone. Don’t try to do everything, because it’s not even remotely possible.
Read the reviews (like this one!) with a grain of salt. I was worried about all kinds of things, and none of them happened! I think a person would have to work hard to have a bad time on the Sea Princess!
Vancouver is a great city. We had perfect weather in Vancouver and Victoria. We would encourage anyone cruising to Alaska to take the time to visit these cities.
I wouldn’t want the stress of being on a late flight the day of my cruise. There were 30 passengers on a flight that was delayed four hours by weather in Dallas. The ship waited for them, but…
Finally, some thoughts about taking the land tour pre- or post-cruise. Many people had said that the land tour was very tiring and should be taken pre-cruise so you can rest on the ship. I didn’t feel that it made a big difference, because we didn’t get much rest on the cruise either, and the port days were very tiring. However, it was a rude awakening to be whisked from my luxury cruise ship to a motel in Fairbanks. I had gotten spoiled, and kind of came back to earth with a thud!