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Princess Cruise Tour - Aug 2016


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First time cruiser. First time to Alaska. Will try adding photos where I can, but.....here goes...

 

We left a day early. Land portion starts in Fairbanks on Aug 4th. We arrived August 3rd and just added a night at the beginning of our trip at the Princes Lodge in Fairbanks. This turned out to be a VERY good decision as it's a long travel day. Left Buffalo, NY on a 5:40am flight to Chicago, 3 hour layover, then a bit over 6 hours Chicago to Anchorage. Another couple hours layover, then Anchorage to Fairbanks ....hour and a half maybe.... maybe a bit less. Arrived Fairbanks around 4:30pm (so about 8:30pm (home time) if I remember my timezone changes correctly).

We were glad to be able to just relax and sleep in the next morning, which was basically a check-in day for anyone else arriving "on time".

We used our "day at leisure" to explore Fairbanks a little. Cultural center, river walk, generally stomped around that section of the city. Wife found a fudge shop (naturally).

When we got back to the lodge we had a Chef's Tour where Chef Steven Frazer showed us around the chef's garden on property and...I think since we were the only 2 in the tour, showed us the kitchens and talked about how much food they prepare, etc. He's really big on using local produce as much as possible and is involved in several programs locally to promote and foster the concept.

He later came out to our table while we were having dinner to chat a bit and see how we liked one of his signature dishes. Food was... awesome and he really does some interesting things (uses things like spruce tips, fireweed, etc)

 

Next day: Riverboat, Gold Dredge 8 (included as part of our package)

Short bus ride to Riverboat landing ...relaxing ride on a stern wheeler (actually driven by the paddle and not propeller driven with a dummy paddle), with a stop at a husky kennel (boat does not dock...it just kinda stops there on the river and a narration and demonstration is piped through the boats speakers. It was cool). Lots of narration and history of the river's importance in developing Fairbanks early on, then a stop at an Athabaskan village. Get off the boat and see various demonstrations, exhibits, etc. We enjoyed this. Wife bought autographed copies of the story of Granite, a sled dog... I'm leaving out a famous musher's name because I'm gonna get it wrong... I'll try to edit this later...heheh.

Then after another boat ride back to the landing, a float plane landing and takeoff and conversation with the pilot, and lunch, we boarded a bus to Gold Dredge 8.

Arriving there we got to stand under the actual Alaska Pipeline as it goes through the area and learned things about it that we didn't know. Then a little train into the Dredge area. The machines are huge! And we learned why they were used and how, panned for gold (we got $27 worth between us and my wife got a little pendant with our combined haul ....heheh)

 

Back to the Lodge

We saw a moose at the edge of the property.... cow and calf apparently. And a really large beaver who, it seems, sometimes raids the chef's garden. We liked the Alaskan beers, did NOT like that the only coffee we could get was Starbucks (I hate Starbucks coffee). Why not local Alaskan coffee? (Because Starbucks is Seattle-based?). The food was very good. We had no food plan for the land portion so we kind of tried everything. Buffet, regular dining. It was all fine.

OH! And my wife bought a jacket here at the lodge (just says Alaska on the front) for $30. Warm and (nearly) water repellant. I say that because later in the trip she did get some leakage at the hood zipper in a downpour.

 

On to Denali Lodge

Get up at stupid o'clock so you can have your bags in the hall by 6:30 or 7am. Bus to Denali Princess Lodge. We actually saw Denali on the bus ride and the driver pulled over for an unscheduled stop so we could get pictures. It was pretty far off but still very cool.

Denali Lodge is a largish property. Awesome scenery all around you. And where Fairbanks was warm and sunny, Denali Lodge was cooler with occasional light showers. Do yourself a favor here and go across the road if you want some off-property food. There are a ton of gift shops, a couple restaurants, a market....

Not that the food at Denali Lodge wasn't good. We just wanted to do something else and it was fun.

Next day we did the wilderness tour (the long one). DO THIS!

We saw caribou, moose, bears, eagles, ptarmigan, and truly some of the most spectacular scenery.... pay attention when you hear you'll be traversing Polychrome Pass. Long day, but fun with enough stops to be comfortable. Lotta pictures.

FAILS: getting onto the bus for this was chaotic and that's being nice. In fairness to Princess, even the driver said she'd never seen that many busses there at once, but we basically ended up having to find our own bus among the many there to start this tour.

 

On to McKinley Princess Lodge

Up at stupid o'clock again to put our bags out by 7am to board a bus at nearly 11am.

Nice lodge, decent food, no options nearby for off-property dining.

Next day we did our own thing and took the shuttle to Talkeetna. I know some have panned this as an hour and a half town, but we really had a good time and spent the day there. Hagley's Store, Aurora Dora's (bought some of her work... it's beautiful! Do THIS if you visit Talkeetna!), went to the pub and ate and had an Alaskan beer called "Panty Peeler" (yes, they have some weird names) only available in 22oz bottles...hehehe.... we split one so we could still walk. Stopped in a little coffee shop and relaxed, had fireweed ice cream at Shirley's. Never did see the mayor (Mr Stubbs... is a cat who was elected mayor)

 

NOTE WELL!!!! BAD INFORMATION being given by shuttle drivers.

They tell you that if you want to come to Talkeetna early on the day you're leaving the lodge.....that you can just walk "right there" to the train station.

THIS IS INCORRECT if you're going to the ship the next day! You don't board at the train station. You board at a siding about 5 miles away. You'll miss your ship if you follow their instruction.

 

On to the ship (Island Princess)

Next day, up at stupid o'clock again to get our bags out early to get them to the train.....we had breakfast, got on a bus, taken to a siding where the train pulls onto and then a really nice train ride to the ship. You sit at tables on the train. very comfy. Photo ops on train are really only through the glass. Ours had no outdoor platform from which to take pictures.

 

Boarding the ship

Easy! The train pulls right to the dock! Off train, onto ship! Spent most of this evening just trying to explore and find out where stuff was. We had Anytime dining so we ate in Bordeaux dining room. Our steward, Chet, was attentive without being intrusive and took very good care of us. We had a balcony room (Caribe 515) and I have to say I loved the balcony. We used it all the time.

 

When touring Hubbard Glacier, the ship was stationary with the port side facing the glacier for half an hour. Then the captain spun the ship around so starboard was facing the glacier for half an hour. From our balcony I got some shots of calving events. My wife got a great shot of people dressed up warm at the rail looking at the glacier, and on the deck below you can see people in the pool and hot tub (the outdoor pool...not the indoor one)

The blue ice is amazing and we never knew that glaciers make NOISE! I'm not talking about cracking sounds before calving... I mean like thunder as they creep.

 

Glacier Bay was pretty breathtaking as well. I'm not going to go on and on about the glaciers because I couldn't do them justice. This really has to be seen and experienced. Actually... a lot of our Alaska tour leaves us with that thought. Pictures are just pictures. Meaningful to us to stir the memory, but SO much better in person. The ENORMITY of the scenery is awe inspiring.

 

Skagway

We did the White Pass Scenic Railroad to Frazer, then bussed to Caribou Crossing, wife held a 9 week old sled dog puppy and people went for rides in a cart pulled by the dogs. Those dogs WANT to pull! All the teams got excited as a cart was brought into view..... and when it left full of people the remaining teams howled like they were sad it wasn't their turn. The train ride takes you though some pretty amazing country and you get to see some remaining parts of the original White Pass Trail, waterfalls, tunnels, bridges, as you snake up to Frazer. The bus brought us back to the ship with several stops for photos (and to eat wild blueberries). We were on the earliest train so had the option to be dropped off in Skagway instead of the ship. We did that and stomped around on our own a bit. The ship was a 10 minute walk or so from town.

 

Juneau

Best of Juneau - Whale watching, salmon bake on Orca Point Island, then up to Mendenhall Glacier.

Awesome! We got to see the whales bubble-net feeding. Stellar seals, otters, and more whales.

Yummy! The salmon bake was very nicely done and the food was good.

Awesome again! Mendenhall Glacier, the lake, the waterfall (Nugget Falls?) were beautiful. It started raining pretty heavy but we kept walking around (REMEMBER YOUR RAIN COAT! A good one. Not an uncomfortable rubber or plastic one!). We walked Steep Creek trail and saw salmon spawning, a porcupine in a tree.... no bears, but we'd seen bears before so not disappointed.

 

Ketchikan

Another "no planned excursion" day. We went into Ketchikan (when you get off the ship, go RIGHT, not left where the tunnel is.) We went to the Lumberjack show. It was kinda cheesy, touristy fun. And "Lumberjacks" is apparently more of a Canadian term. In Ketchikan they're called "loggers" heheh. Then we walked the historic district. Interesting. Lots of brothels back in the day.

ALSO! Remember that jacket my wife bought in Fairbanks Princess Lodge for $30? I was wishing I'd bought one the whole rest of the trip. Well.... found one in Ketchikan... for $20.

 

Day At Sea

Basically you're getting your act together and preparing to disembark. That means figuring out how you're going to fit all the stuff you BOUGHT into the luggage you BROUGHT! In case you can't, you can buy an expandable "carry-on" aboard ship in one of the shops. Throughout the trip we took advantage of having stuff shipped home instead of carrying it all with us.

 

Disembark - Vancouver

We did a walk-off in Vancouver as we decided to stay the night and relax a little. we stayed at Granville Island Hotel in an executive suite (it was ONE NIGHT and in the overall scheme of things.... not a huge expense). Very nice hotel right on Granville Island. Obviously we were way too early to check in but they gave us a place to change if needed and they stored our luggage while we went and explored the island, had crepes for breakfast at the public market and walked through a few small parks. We didn't "tour Vancouver" because #1 we were tired, and #2 we plan to return for a Vancouver and Seattle combination trip at some point. there is more than one microbrewery on this little island and food selection was varied and everything we tried was good! Granville Island is a happening little place!

Our flight was the next day so.....

 

Leaving Vancouver

We read in MANY places that we should leave 3 hours to get through this airport. Our fight was just before 2pm so I figured 11am should be plenty. A lot of research suggested it would take an hour to get to the airport. So I planned a 10am taxi from the hotel.

Taxi arrives, gets us to airport, we are greeted by a uniformed gentlemen who said, "Would you like the services of a porter? I can make your life very easy."

We were AT OUR GATE by 11am!!!! The porter got a nice tip. We got a longer than expected wait at the gate, but at that point....didn't care.

 

Air Canada flight delayed leaving Vancouver waiting for passengers from an inbound flight from China. That put us landing in Chicago as our connection was supposed to be boarding. RAN from terminal 1 to Terminal 2 and discovered our connecting flight had no airplane yet. So we sat..... couple hours later, we have a plane, they give us free satellite TV for the ride home (hour and half-ish) and we slept so.....meh. Got home at about 3:30am.

 

I LOVED this trip and so did my wife, BUT..... getting up at stupid o'clock to put bags out made you REALLY tired by the end of the day. The land portion was tiring. Follow the advice of so many others and do it FIRST as you'll have more time to relax on the ship. I think because it was our first time we made a lot of "safe" decisions in terms of excursions and I don't regret the choices one bit. You can't possibly do everything there is to do in one trip. And the days we chose to strike out on our own were perfectly timed for us and we had a ball.

The food was good (some was great!), the beds comfortable, the service outstanding. The staff at every place we went were like.... perfect! I'd hire them!

 

Things we didn't care for, weren't thrilled with, or just plain didn't like....

- Getting up at stupid o'clock

- The chaotic scene trying to get off to our Denali Tundra Wilderness Tour. It was just poorly managed/scheduled

 

Hmmm.... I think that's it....

 

NOTES:

- Take rain gear. If you don't....shame on YOU. You can easily do most things in the rain if you're prepared and willing. We wore everything from shorts and sandals and t-shirts in Fairbanks, to layers for warmth at the glaciers, to a hoodie and rain jacket in Ketchikan.

- If your package includes a dinner reservation for a shipboard restaurant and Princess chooses it.....you can CHANGE it once you board. Ours was for Sabatini on a day we'd be ashore and we'd have had to hurry back for it. Instead I changed it to The Bayou restaurant with a more convenient day and time. No problem. And it was an excellent decision for us. Gator ribs, a pretty gigantic porterhouse, jumbolaya ..... yeah

- By the time you know your way around the ship, it's time to go home.

- GO OFF PROPERTY when you can to see the things around you. Princess tries to keep you within 100 yards of a gift shop at all times. Find FOOD and items you won't find in Princess gift shops (and a bunch I suspect are owned by Princess in some way ashore) for more variety.

- We bought a coffee card. We don't drink many "fun coffee" drinks, but we drink a couple cups each in the morning and often one in the evening. The coffee card was worth it for us. And we did have a couple fun coffees where we probably wouldn't have without it.

 

Been at this here and there all day. Will see about adding pictures another time. Gotta get ready to go out to dinner.

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Sounds like you had a great trip! Thanks for taking the time to post such a detailed report, especially on the land tour portion. This will be very helpful for people planning a Princess cruisetour in the future.

Thx again !

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wow thanks so much, this is similar to our tour/Star Princess itinerary starting 9/12/16 so I very much appreciate your recent experiences.

If you don't mind some questions,

1. On the train to the ship did you have to sit backwards?

I might use the patch for motion sickness but need to do that ahead of time, since I am sensitive to that. My itinerary says "Direct to the Wilderness Rail: Talkeetna to Whittier Travel time to Whittier is approximately 5 hours (174 miles). The train is scheduled to depart Talkeetna at 1:30 p.m. arriving in Whittier at 6:30 p.m. Please have your cruise documents and passport in your possession and ready for your arrival in Whittier. Also, please note that luggage storage on the train is limited to the area immediately under your feet. * Lunch is available for purchase aboard the train." Does that seem like the same train you did?

2. Any advise on getting to/on the Tundra Wilderness tour. That sort of chaos puts me in a rank mood and I am looking forward to that day. I don't like bus tours in general because of the chance of being stuck with big groups of pushing shoving people all day, but know that is the way you see Denali.

Thanks again, glad you had a memorable trip!

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wow thanks so much, this is similar to our tour/Star Princess itinerary starting 9/12/16 so I very much appreciate your recent experiences.

If you don't mind some questions,

1. On the train to the ship did you have to sit backwards?

I might use the patch for motion sickness but need to do that ahead of time, since I am sensitive to that. My itinerary says "Direct to the Wilderness Rail: Talkeetna to Whittier Travel time to Whittier is approximately 5 hours (174 miles). The train is scheduled to depart Talkeetna at 1:30 p.m. arriving in Whittier at 6:30 p.m. Please have your cruise documents and passport in your possession and ready for your arrival in Whittier. Also, please note that luggage storage on the train is limited to the area immediately under your feet. * Lunch is available for purchase aboard the train." Does that seem like the same train you did?

2. Any advise on getting to/on the Tundra Wilderness tour. That sort of chaos puts me in a rank mood and I am looking forward to that day. I don't like bus tours in general because of the chance of being stuck with big groups of pushing shoving people all day, but know that is the way you see Denali.

Thanks again, glad you had a memorable trip!

 

#1 Some sit facing backwards, and the people across the table from you would then be facing forward. You get an assigned table, but not assigned which side you're sitting on. so if you get on the train before your table mates, you get your choice. To be honest, with all that glass, neither is "bad". And, yes, that's the same train ride. Seating was quite comfortable (I was a bit surprised actually) and it was a very relaxing trip.

 

#2 I think the chaos we experienced for getting onto our wilderness tour was NOT normal. Even the bus driver commented on how she'd never seen that many busses there at once. So I wouldn't fret over it. The bus will have a big sign in the front window so it will be easy to find if things are busy, but generally all of our other times getting on a bus were well organized and easy.

 

"big groups of pushing shoving people all day"...... just... wasn't the case in my experience. Everyone was quite nice and if something was happening on the other side of the bus they'd get out of the way so others could see and/or take photos.

 

I think you have to approach these things with the knowledge that it's a group activity. Put on your carnival hat and have fun. If you do that going in.... you'll have a great time.

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Thanks for all the info!

Was there coffee available in your lodge rooms? A minor issue I know..but hubby NEEDS to have that just out of bed coffee!

 

yes! :)

 

Every lodge had a coffee maker in the room. My wife is like that as well, but I never used the in-room coffee. I'm kind of an early riser so I'd go out and get coffee.... sit by the river (at lodge) or out on our balcony (on ship) and when she was waking I'd go get her a coffee.

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Having read many reviews, I have found yours most valuable and to the point.

 

Thank you so much for sharing, and, for the time you put in doing so.

 

Thanks!

I got so much help here while planning this. Hope to pay back at least in some small way.

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I have to say we are both extremely happy with our decision to go to Alaska and to use Princess to help us do that. We actually met friends up there who flew to Vancouver, rented a car, an toured Alaska on their own (with 3 youngsters!). They didn't do the cruise. they just toured on land.

 

They did many of the same things we did. But the problems they encountered ...even if we remove the ones about the boys getting rambunctious in the back of the van.... were more stressful, I think, than anything we had to deal with. Unimproved roads through mountain passes where the fog got so thick they could barely see 10 feet.... scheduling and not REALLY knowing how long it would take to get from one place to another, lodging snafus, and more. And it was no small expense to rent a van for 2 weeks and work out food and lodging and entertainment for the family.

 

NOW..... I would fly to Anchorage, rent a car, and see more on our own schedule having been there and seen a bit of how it all works. But this cruise tour was a great way to see Alaska for the first time. Or see things you missed if you've been there before.

 

For first timers (like we were):

You don't NEED to have excursions scheduled in every stop!

In fact I think we'd have been exhausted had we done that.

Our cruise tour included the excursions in Fairbanks (Riverboat, Gold Dredge 8), and Denali (Wilderness Tour...which we upgraded to the long one at minor expense ...I think $69 each)

We added the Yukon Adventure in Skagway (White Pass Scenic RR to Frazer, bus to Caribou Crossing, and bus back to Skagway), and we added Best of Juneau (Whale watching, salmon bake, Mendenhall glacier)

 

We arrived a day early in Fairbanks... ALSO a good decision, as the next day was basically checkin day for everyone else and we had the day to take a shuttle into Fairbanks and see things on our own.

We had no excursions at McKinley Lodge so for $10 round trip we took the shuttle to Talkeetna. Some folks say it's an hour and a half town, but we enjoyed the place a lot. Funky little town. Nagley's store, had lunch at the pub there (had a beer called "Panty Peeler"....only comes in 22oz bottles and I think it was like 8.5% ....we split it so we could still walk), visited little shops, the museum didn't take long, went to Aurora Dora's and bought some of her photographs (they're beautiful! and I don't normally buy photo artwork) and was a real pleasure to chat with, then Shirley's for fireweed ice cream (was still too full from lunch to have a burger), a few more shops...stopped for coffee at a funky little coffee shop next to a yurt where they sell rafting tours. And more. Touristy? Yes, definitely. But there are real gems here as well and we didn't feel like we were in "Princess Land" (more on that later).

 

In Ketchikan we had no excursion scheduled. We had a leisurely breakfast aboard ship as many people were already gone on excursions...then went ashore on our own and walked. The historic district is really interesting. the harbor there is busy. People were fishing. Found a shop (Gold Rush) where everything is made by Alaskans, in Alaska, from Alaskan resources and bought my wife some beautiful jade jewelry at a great price. Another coffee shop (see a trend here?), Alaska traders, several other shops.....then back to the ship when we got tired.

 

RELAXING! I just don't feel a need to rush, rush, rush when I'm on a trip.

The ship was explained to me as follows by someone who had cruised before:

 

"On land, you never really get to unpack as you keep moving from place to place. Once you board the ship you can relax and unpack and your hotel follows you from place to place!"

 

I liked that. It made sense. And I may steal it and use it in the future.

 

"Princess Land"

There are several places where we suspect Princess stages things for you. From attractions to gift shops. The buss drivers always joke about Princess wanting to always keep you within a hundred yards of a gift shop. I'm not so sure now that they were joking! heheh. The stuff Princess sets up...maybe they just affiliate with certain places as do other cruise lines... is not bad and gives you a taste of Alaska....but if you want FLAVOR... then by all means get off resort when you can.

 

AND TAKE A RAINCOAT! :)

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We started our land trip in Anchorage. Bus to McKinley Park one nite, two nights Denali then train to Whittier to board the Coral.

 

Yes the land portion was too short and rushed for us. Not enough time to enjoy just some down time and views. We will do it on our own if we return.

 

We didn't run into the Denali bus chaos . And really were glad we upgraded to the longer ride into the park. Our chaos was the Denali Princess Lodge lost water and some elec. power from around 6:30 am until 9 pm that particular day. Luckily we got up extra early that day so we showered and had room coffee before things dried up. And we were gone until 5. But we had to go next door to the McKinley lodge for dinner. There was a bus shuttle offered. Toilets? Nope. Porta potties were placed outside all the buildings. Lucky for all things were up and running by bedtime. And we received a $50 @ obc to use on our cruise.

 

Alaska is memorable for sure!😊

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EANDJ- we are doing the trip your way in June. What time did the train leave Denali? What was the seating like? Was there food available onboard? Did you have time to get dinner on the ship before the lifeboat drill?

We'll be traveling with our 14-year-old granddaughter. Thanks for the info.

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EANDJ- we are doing the trip your way in June. What time did the train leave Denali? What was the seating like? Was there food available onboard? Did you have time to get dinner on the ship before the lifeboat drill?

We'll be traveling with our 14-year-old granddaughter. Thanks for the info.

 

We met in our building's lobby around 8:30. A short bus ride to the train station. You will be assigned a train car. We sat in a car that had assigned tables..Two passengers on each side. We boarded first so chose the seat facing to the front. I get motion sick sitting backwards, so this was a relief. We enjoyed the company of a young couple from New York. Now that being said, dh and I noticed when stretching our legs, that some cars had airplane type seating. I asked a steward who explained that the cars were being changed over to those rather than tables. But..not sure if that info is accurate or a timetable. Or if Princess only uses the table cars:confused: Anyways, we liked the table. Lots of room to spread out books, snacks, cameras etc.

 

You can order food for your table or go to the dining car to eat. Menu is larger there. And we enjoyed the waiter served lunch in the dining car. The food was good and not priced unfairly. Some people picked up subs while at Denali and ate those at their seat. Payment is made by charge card.

 

We were assigned an 8:00 anytime seating for the first night's dinner. Too late for us. I'm pretty sure we went up for the buffet before the muster . I know we didn't use the MDR. We had early traditional the rest of the cruise.

 

If you have any other questions, I can try to help. (The luggage movement and timing doesn't have to be as crazy as directed.)

Edited by eandj
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  • 2 weeks later...

Many thanks for this post; just booked this yesterday for May 24, 2017 7 nights land and 7 nights on the Island Princess, basically what you did. Valuable insights as this is my first and probably last, trip to Alaska.:)

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