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Old July 26th, 2014, 09:14 PM
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Default Off-the Beaten Path - Cruise Tour

This is a review of the Princess CruiseTour we took May 31 – June 14, 2014. The selected tour was a 7-day “Off The Beaten Path” land tour followed by a southbound “Voyage of the Glaciers” on Coral Princess. The selected tour punched our three buttons; Denali National Park, Alaska Railroad and Kenai Peninsula. A similar tour was offered as a Connoisseur tour. We decided the amenities offered were not worth the additional expense.

The travelers were my wife and I (mid 50s) and two friends (mid 60s.) This would our first CruiseTour experience. My wife and I were embarking on our fourth Princess cruise, eleventh overall. Our friends were experiencing their first cruise.

Overall impressions:
Four thumbs up. I am so glad we went to Alaska and spent the time we did on land. Of the land based lodges our favorite was Keani. The best overall experience was at Denali lodge and then the train trip between Denali and Talkeetna. Wish we had given ourselves a little more time to go into Fairbanks. Seemed like there was much to see there and we were too tired to take advantage of it. They told us there were such things as “sunset” and “sunrise” which may be true but it never really got dark, even when overcast, while with we in the Alaskan mainland. We did see dark again while cruising the inside passage.

This is going to get wordy so I am going to break things up a little. Feel free to skip ahead.
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Old July 26th, 2014, 09:20 PM
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Default Day 1 - Fairbanks

Our package included the Riverboat Discovery / Gold Dredge 8 excursion and believe me I was not enthused. However, the excursion far exceeded my admittedly low expectations. We had a beautiful morning on the Chena River on the sternwheeler Discovery 3. The narrator was both informative and engaging. On board there was adequate indoor and outdoor seating for our group so you could sit pretty much anywhere you liked. Shortly after leaving the dock we had a bush pilot demonstrate a water take off and landing. A little further down the river we stopped mid-river at the dog camp started by late Iditarod champion Susan Butcher. One of the dog handlers, who will be competing next year, gave us demonstrations of how they begin training the pups and then took a more mature team for a short run around the property. It was amazing to see how those huskies took to the harness. We cruised almost to the confluence of the Chena and Tanana rivers. Our one stop was at a recreated fishing camp. Young Athabaskan Indians provided interpretive lessons on camp and village life. I had to laugh a little, apparently learning about creating house and a village from white man is considered an improvement and the young people had no problems with the terms Indian or Eskimo. So much for my PC fretting. Those interested could also visit with our trainer from the dog camp.


After a family style lunch and shopping time at the “Discovery Center” we were bussed up to the Gold Dredge 8. We began with a discussion of the Alaska Pipeline as we had to pass under it to begin our tour. Portions of this “train” trip were informative and others were cheesy. We rode by live demonstrations of early prospecting techniques. Finally as we approached the area of the dredge we began to learn about the hydraulic methods used in and around that area. Very destructive but pretty effective. I’m not sure if the land will ever recover. After an explanation of how the dredge operated we disembarked our train and tried our hand at panning for gold. The place was swarming with helpers and everyone seemed to find a few flakes of gold. I know at least one person who didn’t find any and was given more pay dirt until they struck it rich. Well not very rich. My wife and I had a combined $11 worth of gold. They would have been glad to sell us a $29 trinket to display our gold flecks.
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Old July 26th, 2014, 09:22 PM
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Default Day 2 - Fairbanks to Denali

We took a bus ride from Fairbanks to Denali. The ride is about 4 hours with a snack/potty stop about half way down. You should arrive in Denali by lunch – or at least a late lunch. We stopped in Nenana, home of the Nenana Ice Classic where folks wage when the ice will break up each winter. It is a big fund raiser for the area. Our driver pointed out some white dots on the hill that he said were Dahl Sheep. That seemed to be a trend in Alaska, Dahl Sheep are white dots on the mountain.

We arrived at the Denali lodge in the early afternoon. Our buildings were at the south end so we shuttled down there. We found our rooms and then headed out for lunch. The grill was not yet open so we ate in the King Salmon restaurant. In retrospect we should have gone across the street and had a less expensive lunch. I guess that was our splurge here. It was a little drizzly and we had nothing scheduled so we just nosed about the compound, enjoyed some wine while watching the scenery and eventually got some pizza later in the evening.
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Old July 26th, 2014, 09:23 PM
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Default Day 3 - Denali

We awoke this morning to a phone call from the upgrade fairy. Our balcony cabins had just been turned into mini-suites. A nice way to start the day. After a little more sleep we embarked on our Natural History tour in Denali National Park. This five hour tour included a film at the DNP visitors center, a ranger interpretation at a cabin and a talk by an older Athabaskan Indian at Primrose Point. We saw many caribou and moose and we travel. Some folks said they saw a bear way up the hill, though I didn’t see it, I think they skipped the talk, and more dots on the hill. As we didn’t see any sheep up close, and I doubt many do without climbing the mountain, our driver stopped at a point and walked around the bus with a sheep skull complete with horns. It was a bit weird . When at the further point into the park, Primrose, we saw a sliver of white above the closer mountains and below the clouds. We were told we were in the lucky 3 in 10 and that sliver was Denali. I was never quite sure what I was seeing or whether I could count myself lucky. Looking back at photos I can tell where that sliver is and identify it.

We had the option of upgrading to the Tundra Tour which is a couple hours longer and goes deeper in the park. After taking to other passengers I would recommend this upgrade. If we make it back to DNP that is the path we will certainly take.
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Old July 26th, 2014, 09:25 PM
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Default Day 4 - Denali to McKinley

Today’s itinerary was; bus, train, bus and the sun was shining. After a short bus ride we arrived at the Denali train station. There we were assigned a car and table number. Each train car was two levels where passengers were assigned a table in the upper domed level. Our car was the caboose which provided some great photos ops off the rear platform. It was sunny so instead of the little sliver we saw in DNP we have clear views from the north, east and south sides of the mountain. It couldn’t be much better without climbing the beast. Each train car had a host letting us know what we were seeing and a steward keeping beverages filled. Of course, Princess had souvenirs to sell. Those who wanted to have lunch in the lower dining car section were assigned a time. After the first couple of groups went they encouraged us to head downstairs. The food was good and actually fairly priced.

The train arrived in Talkeetna. Those with prescheduled excursions left there. We were offered the chance to look around town and then take the hourly Princess shuttle later. If you want to do anything in the area take this option. It is almost an hour and ten bucks to come back. Folks disembarking in Talkeetna were able to take the shuttle up to the lodge without additional cost.

With a mid-afternoon arrival and early morning departure we did not do much here. We took a short walk on the Hill Trail and attended the show on the Aurora. The view of Denali from the south was breathtaking and I think I would have been happy to sit out on the patio grill with an adult beverage and maybe a s’more to enjoy the evening.
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Old July 26th, 2014, 09:29 PM
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Default Day 5 - McKinley to Kenai

We were up and out quickly with a juice and muffin and on the long bus ride to Kenai. We made a short stop somewhere about halfway to Anchorage. We made a short lunch stop in Anchorage. We were pretty much downtown so there were several dining options though not much time to look around. Back on the bus we made the final two hours down to Cooper Landing. We spent quite a bit of time driving past Turnagin Arm and heard about Captain Cook’s failed attempts and finding the elusive Northwest Passage.

Our bus driver was pretty entertaining. He was a student at Utah Valley and didn’t get my joke when I asked if they were the UV Rays, oh well maybe I’m the only one who gets it.

On arrival at the lodge we learned they did have plenty openings for the cruise through a portion of Kenai Fjords National Park. We were waitlisted for this excursion on the Princess website for months. Ultimately we decided against it. We had enough bus time behind us. We learned this might have been a good choice the waters were pretty rough the next day and many folks got a little green around the gills.

We enjoyed the deck and views from the main lodge much of the evening.
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Old July 26th, 2014, 09:30 PM
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Default Day 6 - Kenai (Cooper Landing)

Instead of the fjords tour we booked a rafting trip. We spent an nice couple of hours on the Kenai River with someone else doing all the work. The wildlife view was excellent though the salmon were about a week away from beginning their run. I suppose this created a calmer river though it would have been fun to have seen the salmon doing their thing. Rapids were categorized up to Cat 3 though I think that might have been pushing it. We had some rushing water. No one should shy away from this trip for fear of the water. Now if you are looking for a little more action that could be another story.
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Old July 26th, 2014, 09:33 PM
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Default Day 7 - Kenai to Whittier

A largely uneventful bus ride. Your departure time will be designated by an assigned time to pass through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel aka Whittier Tunnel. This could the highlight of the trip. The tunnel is a single lane highway where the road bed is shared by the railroad tracks. The tunnel is over two miles long and connects Whittier with the larger peninsula. When you pass through the tunnel your ship will be in view. Our driver entertained us with the Indiana Jones overture followed by the Love Boat theme as we can to the end of the tunnel and saw the ship.

The Cruise begins: Embarkation went smoothly, at least for us. Somehow we got separated from our travel companions. After waiting a while on the other side of security we went ahead and boarded Coral Princess. We had time to enjoy a tasty adult beverage while we waited for our friends to board. Because of the late sailing time and subsequent late muster drill we were assigned an early dining time. Because of our late arrival and lunch buffet we passed on that assigned time and ate dinner for the first time ever on the Horizon Court after we set out. One slight hiccup, our friends “Meet Me Onboard” bag was delivered to our old cabins and I had one that was completely AWOL.


Coral Princess, general impressions: Coral Princess is one of two ships built for Princess expressly to be used to transit the Panama Canal. As such she has a narrower beam than other ships we have sailed. For the most part this difference was not noticeable. You could tell the dining rooms, atrium, and big show lounge were a little narrower than the larger Princess ships. This lead to a few interesting navigation challenges. The forward elevator only goes down to deck 7 (to the main theatre) to go down to the promenade you need to go back to the atrium. Likewise, glass elevators in the atrium only go between decks 5 and 8. Our staterooms were aft. The aft elevators go to the Lido deck, but you must either go through the spa or outside to move forward. A nice matter of flow was decks 6 and 7 both went fully fore to aft meaning all passengers weren’t trooping across the same passage.


This was the first time we had stayed in a mini-suite. We enjoyed the extra space and the tub. The extra seating was especially nice. I find standard Princess staterooms a little snug. There are two TVs almost back to back. If you are not careful with the remote you might find yourself operating both sets inadvertently. (One TV is angled at the bed, the other towards the couch.)


We ate in both the Bayou Café & Steakhouse and Sabatini’s. The service at both restaurants. We all ordered steaks at the Bayou, all were a little overdone. We were offered new steaks but none of us wanted to wait for a new steak. There is a small lounge next to the Bayou that had a really good jazz singer. That made the experience very pleasant. Sabatini’s was excellent all around.


Unfortunately, on this trip I became “that guy” who had to make multiple trips to Passenger Services. I won’t go in to the details here. While all associates were pleasant their abilities were certainly varied. They were not very good at following through. There were some items that they were not able to resolve while I was at the desk, no problem there. The problem is they did not reach out to me to let me know the resolution of any issue. I had to return to the desk to follow up.


Princess had a naturalist on board throughout the cruise. She did a couple of presentations in the theatre, later shown on TV and provided narration throughout many key portions of the cruise providing insight both the natural beauty that surrounded us as well as life in Alaska.


While on board we bought the Alaska Cruise Companion for about $20. This is written very much to go along with a Princess Alaska cruise. There were times it was very helpful and other time it seems to lack the information I was looking for. It is not a very good port guide, it is much better at sea. The book came with a route make with a few insets. The clerk provided us with a second map so we didn’t fight over the map. We gave the second map to our companion and slipped ours into the picture frame nearest the balcony.

We generally do not attend the big production shows though we did see Dancing and On the Bayou. Both were very well done and entertaining. One of the singers was particularly excellent and expressive. There was excellent music throughout the ship. It was a bit chilly or Movies Under the Stars though they were shown. I just didn’t think they would have enough blankets up there.
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Carnival: Glory 2004, Destiny 2008, Splendor 2009, Freedom 2011, Valor 2012, Dream 2013
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Old July 26th, 2014, 09:35 PM
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Default Day 8 - Yakutat Bay (Hubbard Glacier)

The day began as a typical day at sea, lots of activities scheduled. We entered Yakutat Bay in mid-afternoon. The sky was misty giving the bay an ethereal feel. Soon we were sailing through lots of little ice chunks. Our naturalist was on the loudspeakers and TVs providing commentary as we sailed to the back of the bay to see the Hubbard Glacier. The sun came out as we came to the Hubbard Glacier. Hubbard is rather rare as it is still advancing. It stretches about 76 miles back to its main source and is joined by other smaller glaciers on its way to bay, some of this can be seen from the ship. Its face is several miles wide. The glacier was fabulous. The captain brought the ship parallel to the glacier for about half an hour and then brought her around so the other side of the ship sat parallel to the glacier for the same period of time.
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Old July 26th, 2014, 09:37 PM
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Default Day 9 - Glacier Bay National Park

Glacier Bay was a good day to have breakfast on the balcony. We pulled into the bay around 7:30 and our naturalist began her commentary as we looked for whales (didn’t see any) and other wildlife. About 9:30 we were boarded by two park ranges and a representative of Alaska Geographic. They did presentations for adults and children and then took over commentary duties from the bridge. They also set up an information station in the covered pool area. We received a map of the park in our rooms with the Princess Patter. We spread ours out on the table on the balcony. We sailed past the Reid and Lamplugh Glaciers, were we saw the only other cruise ship in the bay (the Park Service only allows two cruise ships in the bay at a time) as we sailed back to the face of the Grand Pacific Glacier and neighboring Margerie Glacier. The Grand Pacific is the marvelous beast that created Glacier Bay – its face is not very pretty but it is magnificent. Margerie was the star of the show. It is an absolutely beautiful glacier and it put on a show for both sides of the ship calving several times. From our aft balcony we and several others camped out while the captain faced the port side of the ship towards the glacier and returned to our cabin when we were starboard facing. Next we sailed back to Lamplugh to spend a little more time in from of it. Lamplugh had receded a little more and we didn’t seem much in terms of calving. We did see several kayakers in and among the ice floes. We had a bear sighting down on the shore line when transiting between glaciers. Later we sailed back past Reid, returned our rangers and headed off to Skagway.

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Old July 26th, 2014, 09:40 PM
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Default Day 10 - Skagway

It is a short hop from Glacier Bay to Skagway so we were docked by 7AM. We found ourselves looking at the graffiti on the side of a mountain as we began to stir to life. We had no specific plans in port so we took our time this morning. Many of our fellow passengers headed out for a variety of excursions, we heard a lot of positive feedback for the Yukon Railroad trips. After a leisurely breakfast we ambled out to nose around town, basically acting like cruise ship passengers. We watched a short film on the gold rush at the visitors center run by the park service and poked our heads in to the restored saloon, but skipped the Red Onion.

We sought out a place known for their “wildlife buffet.” I forget the name but that goes for the meal also, it was largely forgettable. At least it got us away from the crowds for a while. We did see many crewmembers with boxes from Sugar Mama’s. So if you have a sweet tooth you might want to stop there – hopefully security will let you pass with them.
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Old July 26th, 2014, 09:42 PM
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Default Day 11 - Juneau

We had booked a whale watching excursion with a trip to Mendenhall Glacier with Dolphin Jet Boat Tours, through Viator. We were up and out and walked quickly and with purpose to the Roberts Tramway. (If you have not booked a tour in Juneau or want to play it by ear, there are several tour companies with booths either side of the tramway.) From there we bussed up to the bay with an Alaskan version of a “good old boy” providing narration as we went. The whale watching was just what the doctor ordered. We were on a smaller boat with fewer than 40 passengers and three naturalists. We had plenty of time to view the whales, and a group of sea lions hanging around a buoy. We saw several humpbacks showing their flukes as they dove for food. The only disappointing part was none showed off with those spectacular breaching maneuvers.

After another short bus ride we had about an hour at Mendenall Glacier. The Parks Service had a nice setup there. There was just enough time to take a brisk hike out to the falls just next to the glacier. I would have like to have spent a little more time on site to explore but I think the time was just right for our friends.
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Carnival: Glory 2004, Destiny 2008, Splendor 2009, Freedom 2011, Valor 2012, Dream 2013
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Old July 26th, 2014, 09:44 PM
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Default Day 12 - Ketchikan

We had a later arrival in Ketchikan, joining three more ships there. Again, we had nothing scheduled but in retrospect I think I would have liked to have done a flight-seeing trip to Misty Fjord. Ketchikan is a picturesque little town, especially around the old Creek Street area. We were about a week ahead of the salmon so Creek Street was not as lively as it could have been. The only jumping we saw was a local young man who decided it was too warm that day, lower 60s, and he needed to jump into the creek from the top of the bridge. Unlike those who do this for touristic purposes he didn’t try to raise any money or a crowd. He just did it because he was young and he could. His buddy did not join him. Again there were several tour operator booths near port and they were offering some pretty good bargains to fill those last trips of the day.
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Old July 26th, 2014, 09:46 PM
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Default Day 13 - Inside Passage

On sailaway from Ketchikan and the next full day on the ship we saw a variety of sea life and had our on-board naturalist provide narration at several points. We had an enjoyable time on our balcony watching this beautiful world pass. We saw a few more humpbacks and our travel partners saw some orcas but I missed them. It was fascinating to pass the big container ships loaded with not just containers but school buses and RVs.
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Old July 26th, 2014, 09:48 PM
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Default Day 14 - Vancouver

We had booked a post cruise excursion we gathered in the explorers lounge with several other groups. Disembarkation went smoothly, gathering luggage and clearing customs until we reached the next step. We did the hop-on hop-off bus with a transfer to the airport. After we cleared customs we stood in a long disorganized line to turn our luggage over to a local company. It didn’t seem like we had enough tags, though in the end it all worked out. We stayed at an airport hotel so our bags were transferred directly to the hotel, waiting for us when we checked in. After turning over our luggage we took a long hike through the terminal/convention center until we reached the beginning of the bus tour. There was a long line and the weather was rather drizzly. This led to a group of concerned passengers. Ultimately we boarded our bus with the freedom to get off and see what we wanted and enjoy our day. The full route included a separate hour tour of Stanley Park. There was only one real stop on this part of the trip, and if you hop off in the part it might be a little tough to hop back on. One key stop for us was the beautiful Chinese Garden. Completing our tour we took the convenient train transfer out the airport. We were all pretty well at the end of our trip so we ate food court food for dinner and called it a vacation.
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Old July 26th, 2014, 09:51 PM
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Smile The End

Surely you don't want to read any more do you?
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Carnival: Glory 2004, Destiny 2008, Splendor 2009, Freedom 2011, Valor 2012, Dream 2013
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Old July 26th, 2014, 10:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by green_rd View Post
Surely you don't want to read any more do you?



It's been great reading.


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Old July 28th, 2014, 02:12 PM
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Sounds so much like our trip, only in reverse. We did the cruise first. We also did not do the Kenai resort. Your excursions were a bit different. We enjoyed our cruisetour very much!
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