My husband, Gerald and I are fortysomethings. This was the longest holiday we have had for years because of business commitments, but with our Silver Wedding coming up next year and meeting people on another cruise who had cruised Alaska we decided to have a go.
We flew to Calgary on August 20 for a pre cruise tour of the Rockies which ended in Vancouver on 26 August. On the night before sailing we stayed overnight at the fabulous Pan Pacific Hotel, Canada Place room 2001 with a fantastic view of the pier which would be occupied by Regal Princess the next day. All night long I kept getting up, as you do, and just looking down from my 20th floor vantage point to see if she was in yet. My husband saw her first around 6.45 am. We looked down over the ship and could see activity as disembarkation took place during the morning. One word about Princess luggage handling EXCELLENT. On sail away day our luggage was collected around 9.30 am and taken to the ship. The luggage handling during our tour of the Rockies was wonderful, we reclaimed our luggage at Calgary airport after that we did not need to touch it again as it was delivered and collected from each hotel room as we toured.
Sail Away Day We had breakfast (included) and afterwards went to the IMAX cinema to catch the 12 noon showing of 'Alaska' to get us in the mood. The film was great and after this we went straight to the ship at 1.00 pm.
We boarded from the hotel pressing 'S' button on the lift selector for Ship and we walked through the terminal to the check in desks. No queue, we signed for our cruise card and proceeded through passport control on to ship. As we are from UK there was a little more immigration paperwork but we had completed the forms which were sent to us by Princess earlier and this sped up the process, but US citizens were waved straight through onto ship with just a glance at passports.
We were shown to our cabin Aloha 181. The balcony was larger than the handkerchief size I had expected but still cosy for two and the cabin was made up as double with plenty of storage space for our two week's worth of luggage. Our luggage had not yet arrived and as it was still quite early we decided to disembark to spend a little more time in Vancouver before sailing. We returned to the ship around 3.15 pm and it was about fully boarded we just walked straight back on, presenting our cruise cards to the entry processor which really made the embarkation/disembarkation process in ports much quicker than we have previously experienced.
We explored the ship finding the hot tubs at the back of Aloha deck not far from our cabin and which we used plenty during the voyage. Meeting up with newly made friends from the Rockies Tour we sailed under the Lion Gate (did not look as if we were going to make it) out towards Alaska.
This cruise had three ports of call at Juneau; Skagway and Sitka, there was also a day cruise at Yakutat Bay to see the Hubbard Glacier. Our first port was Juneau and we pulled alongside the Sun Princess which had left Vancouver the day before Regal.
Excursions We had booked four excursions through Princess for Juneau and Skagway and one independently in Skagway with Temsco Helicopters.
In Juneau we did the Mendenhall Float Trip. This was really good fun. Bus to the raft departure point. We sat at the front of the raft but as it seated three across and I was in the middle I did not have to row and just enjoyed the view! We got a little wet but it was hardly white water rafting but we travelled around five miles to a meeting point where snacks and a hot drink were served. The water, all coming from glaciers is very very very cold! We returned to ship and had a pizza in the Pizzeria, which was excellent, before venturing forth for our helicopter glacier landing trip. This was organised through Princess using Era. They were excellent we had never flown in helicopter before and it was a great introduction. Our guide Chuck obviously had great pride in his job and through our headsets he had introduced music which swelled in time to the sights we were seeing. At one point we hovered while the music caught up then we rose to the magnificent panorama before us. Wonderful. We landed on the Norris Glacier and saw the bluest of blue ice cave. This was something I thought I would never see it defied description it seemed to go down into the glacier forever but the toothpaste blue colour which is a completely natural phenomenon defies description. I will try and scan the photo in but it does not do it justice. It was very cold on the glacier, this was the last trip of the day around 4.30 pm and we could not bear it for our full glacier visit time so Chuck got us back into the 'copter (see how used to these terms I am) and we flew over the most amazing landscape The whole experience reminded me of the Superman Fortress of Solitude. Forbidding landscape but awesome in the extreme. When we returned to the ship I was beat but Gerald went up the tramway. This was right by where the Regal docked and so he stepped right on it. He said if anyone did not do any excursions in Juneau they would still have seen everything by going on the tramway. He did not have much time to explore but there were plenty of walking trails up there and he was pleased that he went up even after our full day.
The next day was Skagway. Our first trip here was the best of all the trips we did, The Glacier Wilderness Safari which involved a flight on five seater Piper to Glacier Point. It was raining when we left Skagway but the sun shone over Haines. When we arrived at Glacier point we landed on a dirt strip and were met by two of the ten inhabitants of the area. The ten stay there for the season, this area is so remote it was a ten minute flight from Haines but around 5 hours by road. Jeremiah and Orianna were our hosts for this trip and they collected us from the plane by coach and took us to a change area. Tip if you do this trip use the facilities at the airport before you leave the portaloo is primitive in every sense of the word! We put on wellies and there was option wet proof jackets and trousers if you needed them. Although it was quite early in the morning we were dressed adequately and the sun was just about coming through. We walked through rainforest for about 1/4 mile, I wish it had been longer as it was a great experience with sun coming through the trees and the vegetation had just grown as it naturally would without man's interference. We arrived at the canoe departure point, again into life jackets (although my husband, Gerald, kept saying what was the point as the water was so cold that would get you first!). There were two canoes and around 15 of us on the trip we split up and rowed up on to Henderson Lake. There were outboard motors on the canoes and it was a combination of motor and rowing but at least the rowing kept you warm. This was very very very cold indeed. A chill wind came when we were on the lake blowing cold from the glacier and I really needed something on my head, which I did have fortunately as well as a spare for Gerald. He was very glad of my little woolly hat in the circumstances but would not let me take a photo! We rowed across Henderson Lake saw quite a few icebergs, and right up to the glacier. We landed on the small beach to the side of the glacier and brought back a couple of stones from the area as a souvenir. Then we returned the way we had come. This trip had everything, the flight, the rain forest, the canoe, the beach and something good to eat! They gave us bagels with freshly smoked salmon and cream cheese and hot drinks very welcome.
Still in Skagway we went to the Temsco office to check in for our prebooked dog sledding trip. Unfortunately, this is the most cancelled excursion and we were cancelled out. It is worth noting that we did have good weather most of the way round and the previous day dog sledding organised by Princess in Juneau did go ahead. This gave us time to explore Skagway before we embarked for the White Pass rail tour. We did enjoy the train. Gerald had not been too keen before departing and took a book with him but hardly picked it up as the scenery was breathtaking and the story behind our route so absorbing. On return the train came right up to the ship and we were quick off and back to have a rest after our day's exertions.
In Sitka we did not book any excursions. Again, it was a lovely day tshirt and shorts weather and we left on about the first tender of the morning for Sitka. All of the ship excursions which involved bikes were fully booked but we were able to book them privately and take our own tour for about an hour. We were very impressed with Sitka. A very pretty little place with better, although rather more expensive, shops than we had seen previously. There was a small penguin made from semi precious stones I saw in Juneau which I thought I would purchase in Skagway after comparing prices but I never saw the same thing again. If you are looking for Ulu knives or babooshka dolls you will see them everywhere but if something different takes your eye you might not see it again. I bought some bits of fools gold which were really cheap and everyone I gave them to loved them!
Yakutat Bay We spend several hours cruising the bay. The weather was beautiful full sunshine. Very cold by rails of ship but hot sunbathing weather just a few steps back. We sipped Baileys and hot chocolate as we observed the Hubbard Glacier. Our guide who came on board for our tour of Yakutat Bay was excellent, I believe Princess particularly excel in this area. The commentary was clear and could be heard all over the outside deck areas. We spent the time aft as the ship turned so you could see all of the glacier. We heard plenty of calving and saw some of it but it was too far for really good shots of plunges into the sea. Binoculars are a must, we had a good pair which we have had for some years and they really enhanced the whole experience.
Regal Princess After a week's touring I was glad of the full laundry facilities on board. However, there were a few drawbacks to this ship itself , mainly access to deck from interior areas. I did not mind not having a wrap around promenade deck but the bars were all set in the centre of the ship and exits to the outside were at either end of the corridors. I like a close link between sea and interior when on a ship and I felt this was not really part of the experience. This was particularly a shame for the lounge at the top of the ship which should have been one of the most popular places on the ship for dancing and observation but housed the casino so you were always aware of the sound of slots.
The staff however, were excellent always courteous polite and helpful. Special mention of Slavko the maitre d'hotel. He was excellent. His operational running of the restaurant and accommodating people's requirements was second to none. The champagne waterfall evening, which I had no expectation of turned out to be one of the real highlights of the entertainment partly because of his showmanship.
We have no real complaints about the food, although the dining room was not 5* it was not bad, we have had better. The pizzeria was particularly good. Real Italian thin crust pizza. The burger bar was very popular although we did not try it, there were long lines there at lunchtime. The Bistro which offered good alternative dining was very well done and managed to create an intimate atmosphere although it was situated at the end of the buffet, the area was carpeted and separated with dividers, with a pianist in residence during dining times.
Entertainment Unfortunately, the evening shows were a real disappointment. We have seen some wonderful shows at sea and none of them were reflected in the Regal's repertoire. There were two singers, one male (who had seen better days) and one female and a team of dancers who were very good but it was such a skeleton troupe there was no opportunity for variation. All songs were sung by him to her or her to him or him to the audience or her to the audience, I think you get the picture! There was a terrible comedian/guitarist who told the most unfunny jokes but who could actually play the guitar, I cannot recall his name, I have pushed it back to the recesses of my mind. However, the music entertainment on other parts of the ship were excellent. The entertainment in the Bengal Bar was normally a duo they were very popular, as were the evening quizzes in fact this was standing room only most evenings. The pianist in the piano bar was also very popular and again standing room only some of the time. We sat one afternoon in by the Patisserie (best coffee on the ship) and were entertained by a guitarist who again, was excellent.
Our Thoughts All in all we had a wonderful time. Because of the week touring and all the trips we did in Alaska we were quite tired so the lack of good shows did not spoil any of the experience of that. However, if we were cruising elsewhere this would certainly detract from our enjoyment. We had second sitting in the dining room as we prefer longer days and we still prefer this. On formal nights everyone dressed up to a degree, there was a mix of OTT beaded numbers and understated dressing for others and most of the men wore bow ties either with dark lounge suits or full dinner suit. For touring we had taken advice to dress in layers as the differences in temperature swung from hour to hour. For the tours I took a thermal vest and two other layers plus a lined jacket.
We would return to Alaska for the longer trip north and tour of interior Alaska in a few years time. Anyone visiting Alaska will not be disappointed by the experience for that is just what it is. To call it scenery is doing a disservice, this land is so much more than that. I sat in the hot tub aft watching dolphins, against a woody amd mountainous backdrop, what can beat that. We have never had a balcony before but for this particular trip it really enhanced the experience, one afternoon we were whale watching on the balcony. We left the curtains open at night and woke to the beautiful landscape next morning. One evening Gerald even saw the northern lights, unfortunately I was asleep.
This trip does attract an older crowd and when we first arrived at Calgary airport and sat on the coach watching our new companions arrived our hearts did sink a little we were the youngest, but we had such a great time on the tour and everyone was determined to enjoy themselves. I don't think there was one person there who did not enter into holiday spirit.
Sorry this is such a long review but I was not sure what to leave out. Please email me for any other information.