We are an Australian couple, me 40 and my partner Paul, 38. This was our first cruise and my first overseas holiday so I really had no idea what to expect; the wait was almost too much, I was so excited.
We booked our cruise about 2-1/2 months in advance after not being able to go to Hong Kong and Singapore because of the SARS epidemic. We had never had the urge to cruise before, but the Alaskan scenery in the brochures we got from our travel agent changed our minds.
We boarded our Air Canada flight Sydney to Vancouver via Honolulu at 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning and got into Vancouver at 9:35 a.m. Saturday morning... a long flight but we lost no time at all. We then took another flight to Anchorage and met some very friendly Canadians on board also going on a cruise. I think most people on this flight were cruising!
Anchorage: The downtown area is for tourists -- lots of souvenir shops, galleries and restaurants. Saturday afternoon we walked to the markets. They were great, lots of little stalls. I tried, for the first time, some deep fried halibut, which was good but not a fish I would regularly eat. The weather changed and it rained, so we wandered around the shops looking for knitted hats to buy, and we really did need them, too. We took a trolley tour Sunday morning for $10 each; it was one hour and quite fun, well worth the money. We rented bikes in the afternoon and rode the coastal trail; it was a very warm afternoon and we had a great time. We saw some birds doing a mating dance (they were like egrets), a fox and a tiny squirrel. Had a great pizza for dinner at a little pizza parlor in the downtown area.
Monday morning we went to the convention center to await our bus down to Seward. We were asked if we wanted to upgrade to the train for an extra $35 apiece, but we declined. At 1:30 p.m. we left Anchorage and took a very pleasant bus ride stopping at Explorer's Glacier on the way to Seward. We boarded the ship about 5 p.m. after waiting in a steadily moving line of other passengers; it took about 30 minutes.
Recommendations: Rent a car if you're staying in Anchorage for more than one day, and to transfer to Seward or Whittier, as you can stop whenever you want and go to the places you want to. Otherwise take the very early morning train to Seward so you can spend some time looking around, which we wanted to do but did not get time to.
The ship: Very easy to navigate around, looks great, very clean and the staffers were all friendly. The atrium is lovely to look at and the glass elevators were the quickest to use for us, as we were on level 8 at the top of the atrium. There was always something happening -- bingo, trivia games, wine tasting, art auctions (I considered the art auctions a joke and waste of time). The library was well stocked, there were lots of games in the game room, and surprisingly both rooms were always occupied. I only used the casino once, but Paul played the slots a few times and won $100 one time, which more than paid for all the money we spent there. The pool areas were nice; we used the spa/hot tubs more than once. The small pool at the aft end of the ship was very warm... it was like a bath.
We never saw kids anywhere they weren't supposed to be and only saw some small groups of them on our last sea day, when it was warm enough to sun-bake and swim in the pool. There was a group of about four 10 year old boys running amok during the week, and their parents did get called to the Purser's desk because of complaints by some older passengers. (I found all this out from a friend of one of the complainers.)
Our Cabin: We had an inside cabin, as our travel agent told us there were only four cabins still available when we booked, and they were all inside. We didn't have a problem with it, though; it was warm and quiet and had plenty of closet/drawer space for us and surprisingly was never totally dark at night.
The bathroom was small but I was expecting this. Our room steward did his job well, always had our room looking neat and tidy. I did have to remind him on day three to get the robes that I had asked for on day one, we used them for the hot tubs. Our luggage did not arrive straight away, and one bag did not arrive at all. We had to put in a lost luggage claim after our dinner on the first night. It turned up at midnight with a broken runner, so we then had to fill out a claim for damaged luggage. Not a good start! We did have travel insurance and the bag has since been fixed and we are not out of pocket for the repair cost.
Dining: The Horizon Court was good for lunch, but we preferred to eat in the dining room for breakfast and dinner. We had Personal Cruising dining, and we liked this because we could just go to the dining room any time we wanted. The waiters were efficient but not terribly friendly; I think this is because they were so busy and never saw the same face twice at each meal. Next time we cruise we will try traditional dining just to see the difference.
Formal dining dress seems to be the cause of much debate. We did dress up for our first formal night and shared a table for 10. Most people were in suits and dresses, but I only saw a few tuxedos. I would say the dress sense was similar to what you would wear to a wedding, but not as dressy as you would wear to a ball, i.e. long ball gowns. On the second formal night, I dressed up but Paul didn't want to bother so I went alone. It was less formal than the first; most men had a shirt and tie, some with jackets, but I did not see any black suits except on the waiters!
College Fjord and Glacier Bay: Awesome! The glaciers were what we came to see and they were breathtaking; the weather was cloudy and the main deck was quite cool, especially while cruising. The naturalist on board was very good, it made our experience that much better for having her there. We saw some whales, puffins and sea otters while in Glacier Bay. After visiting Majorie Glacier, Paul and I went down to our cabin to change and spent the journey out of Glacier Bay in the hot tub at the aft end of the ship. We have some fantastic pics from this spot, with both of us in the tub and the glaciers and mountains as a backdrop. It was our best day by far.
Skagway: We took Skagway's Original Street Car tour and I thought it did not live up to what the Princess brochure said about it. I would not recommend this tour unless it is the only one you do there. We also did the Yukon Photo Safari, which we booked ourselves with Southeast Tours, and we had a great time. Nigel gave us all the info of the morning tour as well as extra stuff on the Yukon (this is also another reason why I felt the earlier excursion was a bit of a waste of money). Our day in Skagway was quite chilly, cloudy and foggy, and it rained after lunch. They canceled all water excursions for the day so we had another couple with us on this tour, as they couldn't do their fishing excursion. We saw bears on the side of the road and got to see some beautiful scenery. We could stop whenever we wanted for photos and got a train stamp in our passports... very cute. It was a great day made very special because of the bear sightings and our new friends Leon and Renee.
Juneau: Paul had arranged with an Internet friend to pick us up at the dock and drive us around for the morning. They were a very nice father and son and we were taken to Mendenhall Glacier, and to their house, which was right on the water with great views; we were very envious. We also went over the bridge and to many other places to view eagles and sea otters, to the fish hatchery and then back into town. We bought them lunch to say thank you for spending the time with us; it was a restaurant on the water and the food was excellent, I had clam chowder...yum. After lunch, Paul and I went on the tram, which gave us great photos of our ship and the port of Juneau. Overall we had a wonderful day made even better because we got to meet Paul's Internet friends.
Ketchikan: It was a sunny day, no rain in sight, just a few clouds and we took the Land and Sea Excursion, which we both enjoyed, but I didn't think it was worth the money we paid ($95 each). I think the money would have been better spent on a Misty Fjords flight-seeing tour. This is mainly because half our tour was on the water and we really didn't see much out there. When we came back from the tour we walked over to Creek St. We got some really good photos and used the Funicular which is about half way down Creek St., saw some totem poles at the top and then walked back down to the creek. We bought some candy from the Ketchikandy shop and then used the Internet for about an hour at a place at the dock. Another great day.
Last sea day, Sunday: We had a relaxing day out on deck; I read about half of one chapter of my book, there was too much to see to bother reading. We also got all our photos burned onto a CD in the photography studio. Luckily Paul asked them to check the CD – a good thing, because they had burned someone else's pics onto it, and we had to get a new one done. While we were there we bought some of the pictures the ships photographers had taken. Hint: Every time you see one of your photos on the boards, take it and put it on the very bottom of the rack, and keep putting all your photos there together. The staff does not move them, and it saves you having to look for them all later on as they take them off the racks to put new ones up. We packed late and left our luggage out in the hall after dinner.
Debarking: Princess would not give us transfers from the ship to Seattle prior to departure from Australia, so we bought them on the ship... with no problems at all, so I'm not sure why they wouldn't give us the transfers beforehand. We got new color tags and had no hassles getting to the buses and on our way to Seattle.
We spent two days in Seattle and then went back to Vancouver and flew to Honolulu for another couple of days before going home -- a long journey but one that gave us a taste of different cultures and experiences that we will never forget.
Overall: I would recommend that any first-time cruiser find a travel agent that has cruised before. Ours had not, and I felt we could have been given more information and recommendations from someone who had. I also thought Anchorage, Skagway and Ketchikan were all way too touristy for my liking (there is no need to have THAT many jewelry shops in those towns). I have found out since this trip that the cruise lines own many of the shops, buses and tour companies, so this is why there are so many of them. Apart from that, we thoroughly enjoyed our cruise and the experience of going to Alaska, and would highly recommend it to everyone, and we do on a regular basis!