We sailed on the Sea Princess 19 – 26 May 2001 on the Northbound Voyage of the Glaciers cruise. During this review (or novella), I'll try to accomplish two things. First is to relate our experiences on the cruise, and secondly to relate our personal experiences regarding the many questions that we, and many others, have had on the cruise forums. I'll summarize these at the end of the review.
Without the great folks who participate in these forums, the planning and the actual cruise would have been less than what we joyfully experienced.
ABOUT USWe are a 50 and 55-year-old couple living in Riverside, CA. I'm a program manager for US Navy contracts, and my wife, Judy, is a manager for a federal service agency. This was our second cruise. The first was a west coast cruise on Royal Caribbean to Mexico.
We had talked for several years about going on an Alaska cruise. I reckon timing is everything. In mid-April I completed a contract commuting from Riverside, CA to Panama City, FL. Judy was having a birthday on 21 May. Downtime and celebration were certainly in order. My task, if I chose to do so (SHE SAID I CHOSE TO DO SO) was to research on the Web somewhere to go to rest and celebrate.
PLANNING AND SELECTIONThe first part was easy. It would be Alaska since we had talked so much about it. Since Alaska cruises are famous for the scenery, we thought a balcony cabin was important (you can read "it's cold outside.") Lastly, my wife loves ports and I love sea days, so the search was based on these ideas.
I spent the next couple of days doing web searches on these criteria. Princess Cruises kept coming up over and over again. After deciding on Princess, I searched for balcony rates since we didn't have a TA that we use all the time. Here, luck was really with us. We found a special on balcony cabins and booked the cruise. For Judy's birthday, I also booked the "Special Occasions" package. A strange thing here is that after searching all over the country on the web, we found Elaine in an office in Pomona, CA. This is very close to our place. Go figure. Elaine did a fantastic job for us. Phone calls and e-mails were always promptly returned. This seems to be something that several people on the cruise forums didn't experience with the TA's they found on the web.
The northbound itinerary was the last, perfect match. Travel and check on-board Saturday followed by a sea day. Then 3 port days, followed by two sea days cruising Glacier Bay and College Fjord. Finally fly back home the following Saturday. Another way to say this is travel/boat, rest, run – run – run, rest, rest, and travel. Yep, that makes seven days! This really met both our ideas of a perfect cruise.
We also booked air and transfers with Princess. We booked too late for air deviations, so I was concerned about that part. More on this later.
I put together a computer spreadsheet that outlined the itinerary day by day. It included where we were each day, arrival/departure times, and the evening dress code. Room was available to identify clothes wanted for each day, and all the other stuff we wanted to take without forgetting something. It also contained the TA, Princess, and family emergency numbers we thought we needed. This worked out great. We just left a copy with our house sitter and family so that they had it available.
All this planning was based on our previous cruise experience. I found that being waited on "hand and foot" made it almost impossible to generate an original thought during the cruise. For the most part, this proved once again to be true.
Finally, a little info about the forums. During my research for this trip, I came across the cruise forums. These interchanges between cruisers covered virtually every question and answer you could imagine. Getting answers from folks who have "been there" was absolutely invaluable in the planning and pre-cruise portion of this adventure. They are also a heck of a fun way to spend your time prior to departure. I suspect most of us become consumed with the trip prior to leaving, and the forums are a way to begin the fun before you sail.
TICKETING, TRAVEL, AND EMBARKATIONTwo days after I booked the cruise by phone we received our pre-cruise package from our TA. (Just a note, we booked a specific cabin instead of run of the ship, or category guarantee.) This included the Princess pre-cruise information form; the Princess survey form, the Princess Alaska brochure, a cruise answer book, an excursion booklet, formal wear rental information, and the cruise cost verification form from our TA. The cover letter explained everything.
That day I filled out the forms, made copies, and mailed them out. I also filled out the forms on-line at www.princess.com. The next day I was able to access our booking on-line at the Princess web site. I checked every day hoping the upgrade fairy was around. I think he/she died since wishing and prayer didn't do any good. We didn't book excursions on-line since we planned on booking direct with the tour operator. Those that did had their tickets in their cabin when they arrived.
We received our final ticket package about 9 days prior to departure. Our ticket packages were a clear plastic envelope containing our airline tickets; six color coded luggage tags each, and our cruise ticket book. There was a separate ticket package for each of us since the forms and tickets are for each traveler.
Our packages had an orange sticker on the outside indicating, "express check-in". This program started on our 19 May cruise according to Princess. Princess says that this means that they have received and processed all the required information early enough to have it all pre-printed in the ticket book.
As I said earlier, Princess made our air reservations. They had us flying direct to Seattle, WA, and then the motor coach to Ballentyne Pier in Vancouver. On the big day, we caught an Alaska Airline flight at 6:30 AM from Ontario, CA direct to Seattle, WA. We arrived in Seattle at about 9:00 AM. We immediately went to the announced baggage claim area. No Princess rep was there, but no big deal. By the time the luggage came down, several reps where there. I claimed our bags and took them to the rep. It was the last time we saw them until our cabin that night. If I hadn't been in such a hurry, Princess would have gathered them up off of the carousel (make sure you have the Princess tags filled out and on your bags before you check them) and transferred them without my needing to do anything. The Princess rep then gathered all of us up and escorted us to the Princess motor coach gate. Our ticket books had a transfer ticket in them. We tore those out and exchanged them for a color-coded pass for our bus. At 10:00 AM our color was called and we were escorted to the bus.
This was our least favorite part of the trip. It was a two-hour flight of 1000 miles followed by a four and a half hour trip of 120 miles. The bus was slow, and the scenery not all that great. I really feel that paying for an air deviation for a direct flight to Vancouver would have been well worth the $35. Better yet if you can, book your own air, and arrive a day early. This really would leave you well rested and prepared for the first day.
Now the fun part! When we arrived at Ballentyne Pier in Vancouver at about 2:30 PM, we went into the clearly marked express check-in line for our deck (Aloha 620). Because of the postings on the forums prior to our cruise I decided to time it just for fun. The only thing you need to fill out is the on-board charge/credit card coupons (located in each traveler's ticket package) and sign the cards. We did this before we left home. We walked to the desk, showed the Princess rep our express check-in sticker, and handed her the completed credit card coupon (nothing else!). She smiled, welcomed us aboard, and handed us our cruise cards. Then she pointed us in the direction of our loading gangway. The whole embarkation thing took about 45 seconds. FANTASTIC !!!
We walked through a display for our obligatory boarding picture in the terminal area, and then went aboard the Sea Princess. There is security set up as you enter the ship. We passed our bags through a magnetic airport style detector prior to crossing the gangway. Once you board, just follow the roped in area to the interior entrance. At the door is a small computer check-in station. You slide your cruise card in it, the machine beeps, and you're logged on-board. This happens every time you depart or arrive on the ship. It gives the ship an exact list by name, and head count of who's there, or who's not.
The Cruise - FINALLY
The easiest way to say it is that this is one big and beautiful ship. It's 857 feet long with passenger areas from Deck 5 up to deck 15. (You get to walk up from 14 to 15.) By the way, there is no Deck 13. As big as the ship is, everything is close and convenient. We never had the feeling of being swallowed up by the size. She is maintained immaculately -- pristine everywhere you go. Some folks we talked to said they actually saw people cleaning. We must have gone to bed 'way too early and slept 'way too late to see any of that.
Getting around is very easy if you remember a couple of things. Even-number cabins are on the port (left) side of the ship. Odd-number cabins are on the starboard (right) side. The glass in the center elevators in the atrium always faces forward (thank God they stay that way) and go from Decks 5 through 8. The rear and forward elevators go from Deck 7 to Deck 14. Simple, isn't it? It really is simple once you've been there. By the way, the elevators talk to you, telling you which deck you're stopping at. The stairways are easy to walk up and down.
The focal point of the passenger area is the Atrium. This is an absolutely beautiful area rising four decks, from Deck 5 through 8. To give this some kind of scale, there were over 2000 passengers (from 32 countries) and 850 crew (from 30 countries) onboard for our cruise. For us, English is our only language. We didn't encounter any problems with this. The only time we ever experienced anything like a crowd was leaving the Princess Theatre one night after a show.
Once we got into the ship, crew members directed us to the proper elevators for our cabin deck. Crew members also operated the elevators during the embarkation phase of the trip -- after that, you get to drive them yourself. If you are in a suite or mini-suite, or handicapped, you are personally escorted to your stateroom. This would be unrealistic for over 2000 passengers. Of special note: I heard a gentleman in a wheelchair say how handicapped-friendly the Sea Princess was for him.
Our cabin was a category BB balcony stateroom on the portside, Aloha deck (A620). After reading reviews and comments of how small these cabins are, we were very surprised at how well they worked out for us on the cruise. While they are not "suite-size," they are very comfortable -- and we spent a lot of time in the cabin during the cruise.
The cabin is about 9 feet wide by about 15 feet long, with a balcony 9 feet wide by 3 foot deep. If you're traveling with a group, your stateroom steward can unlock the balcony divider for a longer balcony deck. We had our stateroom configured for a queen-size bed, so there was plenty of walk-around-the-bed space. The bed was very firm, just as we like it. The whole balcony end is glass, with the sliding door; this really gave the impression of space. Heavy curtains did block out the light, which is important in Alaska. On our final night at sea, it was broad daylight until 11:00 PM and the sun was up at about 3:45 AM.
The balcony had two plastic chairs and a round plastic table. There was plenty of room for the two of us. We even brought the table into the cabin, covered it with a blue and white Princess pool towel, and had our champagne breakfast on it. The balcony railings on the Aloha and Baja decks are solid steel for a foot-and-a-half up, then small bars up another two feet, capped with a wooden rail. It did not obstruct our view while sitting in the cabin. This might be different on lower deck balconies.
On the balcony end of the cabin is a small stand with shelves. It surrounds a small refrigerator and holds the television. Our refrigerator held at one time a six-pack of soda, a twelve pack of beer, the ice container, and a small box of milk. This might give you an idea of size. Across from that was a small desk with six drawers. There is also a small stool and trash can. There is one chair at that end of the cabin. The blow dryer is built in above the desk.
IMPORTANT - The only plug in the main area of the cabin is above the desk. Also, there is only one hanging hook on the opposite side of the bed from the desk. We brought a suction cup hook to put on the door if we had to remove clothing wrinkles with the steamer. Fortunately we didn't need it.
Storage was just fine. There are three closets inside the cabin door with lots of hangers. One is full length; a bar in the center divides another one; and the third is shelving and pullout baskets. The safe is in this closet. It's a small safe, but I was able to get a 4" x 8" jewelry folder in it. The lifejackets were also stored there, but there was plenty of room for everything we brought. Our large suitcases, folding bag, and shoes fit easily under the bed.
The bathroom is definitely a one-person affair. There are three small shelves by the sink, and an outlet labeled "shavers only." I've never figured that label out in all my travels. The shower was small but adequate, with fantastic water pressure and temperature control. There was soap, shampoo, conditioner, and facial tissue in the bathroom.
The two pool towels in the room are assigned to your steward. If you use them, you need to bring them back to your cabin and exchange them. On the inside of the cabin door are the instructions for your lifejacket, and the assigned muster station.
Believe me, it took a lot longer to describe it than it did to become familiar with the cabin. I ranted on because I have seen so many questions about the balcony staterooms. Outside our room was a plastic holder that was used like a mailbox. This is where the Princess Patter and the New York Times excerpt pages where delivered. Your names are located under your mailbox. Because I had notified Princess of Judy's birthday during the pre-cruise registration, they had balloons and a "Happy Birthday" sign on the door. This stayed up from her birthday throughout the entire cruise. She also received a birthday card signed by the captain. If you didn't plan for the balloons during your registration, just tell your steward and he'll take care of it. WARNING GUYS: Nothing could ruin the cruise faster than NOT having the balloons for your anniversary or her birthday, especially since everyone else has them.
Anyway, very shortly after arriving in the cabin, our stateroom steward came by and introduced himself. Rod was from the Philippines and was our primary source of getting anything that we wanted. He did a fantastic job. Rod showed us how everything worked in the cabin and showed us how to get hold of him at anytime. Each steward has a pager number to call; we did that twice, and he got back to us in less than five minutes.
During his cabin overview, we finalized the dates and times for the items in the "special occasions" package for Judy's birthday. We requested our robes, and informed Rod of our dining schedule. This was important so that Rod knew when to turn down the beds and put out the Princess chocolates on the pillow. For Personal Choice Dining, all we had to do was put out the sign saying "Please Make Up Stateroom." when we left the cabin. The room was always done when we returned. There are also slips in the cabin daily to order fruit plates, and continental breakfast the next morning. My personal favorite was Room Service. We used this all the time for coffee and snacks. Again, it never took longer than five minutes.
The soundproofing in the cabin was excellent. You could hear loud, happy people right outside the cabin, but that was about it. We never heard noise from the cabins on either side of us, or from the pool deck above us.
Drills and Announcements
After finding the cabin and doing the stateroom review, we set out to explore the ship. Again, I can't express how beautiful and well laid out the Sea Princess is. We had plenty of time before the lifeboat muster drill to explore most of the ship.
The lifeboat muster drill was scheduled for 4:45 PM. Several announcements were made regarding the pending drill. All muster stations were in large rooms inside the ship on Deck 7. Our station was the Vista Lounge. Most passengers were at the muster stations with their lifejackets prior to the drill. Crewmembers were located throughout the ship to guide you to the muster station. They wore yellow ball caps with the word "Guide" on the hat, DUH!
An assistant cruise director from London named Gavin conducted our muster. Gavin was very entertaining and informative during the drill. Attendance was done by counting empty seats rather than calling names. Gavin then demonstrated how to don the life jacket, and explained the safety features contained on them. The whole thing took 20 minutes, and then we were back on vacation. This was the only drill all week.
Here's the word on intercom announcements: they were held to an absolute minimum. The captain gave an update everyday. The Cruise Director outlined daily activities, and announced changes in activity schedules. While in Glacier Bay and College Fiord, park rangers and a naturalist gave a running commentary of what to see and general info on the area. To hear them from your stateroom, you had to turn on your TV to the Princess channels. The exception would have been emergency announcements: these would have been broadcast to all areas of the ship.
First Dinner and Sailing Away
Dinner that night was casual, and yes, we saw a lot of blue jeans. Dockers style pants for the guys were the norm. We had requested First Seating, but we were waitlisted for it. The place on our cruise card for seating and table was blank. I asked at the Information Desk about this, and was told it would be taken care of the next day, so if we didn't mind, we should try 'Personal Choice' dining in the Neapolitan dining room. We were seated with four ladies, and had a great time. 'Having a great time' proved to be true throughout the cruise. The first night was prime rib night, and it was excellent. Portions were large, but if we wanted more, all we had to do was ask. The waiters and servers were very attentive and entertaining, so we never thought we were missing something.
After dinner, we went to the Patisserie lounge to have a couple of toddys and watch the ship get underway. This became our lounge of choice for the entire cruise. We were a little late getting underway while waiting for luggage and a load of supplies. This was Captain David Christie's problem, not ours. WE WERE ON VACATION! And yes, they do play the "Love Boat" theme while getting underway.
At 8:00 PM we went to the Princess Theatre for the "Grand Adventure Variety Showtime." The host was our Cruise Director, Billy Hygate. There was a dance number by the Sea Princess Dancers, then a comedian, Adam Leslie, who was a riot. I thought Judy was going to hurt herself from laughing so hard. The very talented Billy came out and kept the show going. He introduced all of his assistant cruise directors, and they explained their role on the ship in a very entertaining way. What a great show.
After the show we stopped by the Wheelhouse Bar for a drink and listened to the music until time to head up to the cabin. With traveling and all, this can be a long day.
This was a sea day steaming through the Inside Passage. We woke up and opened the curtain. WOW! The scenery was magnificent: snow-covered mountains with about a billion trees everywhere you looked. We never tired of this view.
I moved Judy's birthday celebration up one day so that she (we) could enjoy the champagne breakfast on this sea day. I love giving her presents that I get to share. As I previously said, we brought in the balcony table, covered it with a blue and white pool towel, and pigged out. We ordered enough food for the rest of the cruise, and scarily, we ate it all. There was nothing like sitting around in our robes, eating breakfast and watching the scenery go by. It was so relaxing that we even opened up the bottle of wine from our travel agent. And that folks, was our entire morning. Needless to say we didn't need lunch.
We eventually got dressed and went for a walk around the ship. We checked out that night's menu, and sat around the Patisserie lounge, people-watching and talking, until time to get ready for the Captain's Reception in the Atrium. This was also the first of the golf putting tournaments held right in the Grand Atrium. This was a whole lot of fun to watch.
This was the first formal night. Judy brought two evening dresses for these nights, and I rented the combo tuxedo package as my contribution. A NOTE FOR THE GUYS: I ordered the tuxes from the brochure in our pre-cruise package directly on the web. We followed the measuring instructions, then in the note block I put in the sizes that I normally wear. They were in our cabin when we got on-board. I tried them on and they fit perfectly. Make sure you try them on right away. Princess does have extras on-board in limited supplies if the fit is bad. The tuxedos are yours for the entire cruise, and are picked up by your steward the morning after the last formal night.
We enjoy the formal nights and we dress for each other, and also to get into the cruise thing. You forum folks keep duking it out; those posts are fun to read. The mix seemed to be about 25% tuxedos and evening gowns, 74% suits and nice outfits, and 1% jeans. What the heck, it's their vacation too. We don't let small stuff like that bother us.
After Miss Judy and her Ogre got dolled up, we went down to the Atrium for the Captain's Reception, which went from 5:15 to 8:15 PM to accommodate both dinner sittings. We had photographs taken at different spots for the different backgrounds. They had champagne for $2 and waiters strolling with canapés. We weren't sure what the $2 was all about. It appeared to get you the champagne glass which they kept refilling the whole time. Captain Christie addressed the passengers twice, again to accommodate both dinner sittings, and then we strolled around talking to other passengers. I think cruising folks are unique. They leave all their "personal" baggage on the pier and will talk to anyone about anything. This is a fun part of cruising.
After the reception, we did 'Personal Choice' again in the Neapolitan dining room. Without a reservation, we walked right in and got a table for two. I don't remember what we ate, but it must have been good or else I'd still be complaining. After eating, we got up and left the dining room; to our utter surprise, the Maitre d' ran out and caught us. He dragged us back to our table so Judy could have her "Princess Birthday" dessert and have the waiters sing "Happy Birthday" to her. They must have overheard us talking and took their own initiative to recognize her special day. This was way too cool!
After dinner, we hoofed it back to the Vista Lounge to watch "Cabaret Showtime" with singer Mark Donoghue. This was another really good show. Unlike the Princess Theatre, the Vista Lounge serves drinks during their shows. After the show, it was back to the cabin and bed. What a great day, again.
Our first port visit was Ketchikan. We arrived and tied up between 6 and 6:30 AM, right downtown. Ketchikan is a small town, and very easy to walk around. It was 48.2 degrees in port, and drizzly rain. This isn't too big of a shock since Ketchikan measures their annual rainfall in feet rather than inches. We had breakfast in the dining room before heading out. After breakfast, we hit the beach. This was our first real good view of the Sea Princess from the outside. Being an old Navy guy, all I can say once again is that she's one big, beautiful ship. Getting lost in town was not a problem since Sea Princess was by far the biggest building in Ketchikan.
On the pier, we booked our first tour of the trip. It was the horse-drawn trolley tour of Ketchikan run by Seahorse tours. Their ticket office is right on the pier and the cost was only $20 apiece. Our tour guide was a young lady named Dani, our driver was Fred, and our companion was a husky named "Nook." This two-horsepower tour lasted a little over an hour. It went all over Ketchikan at a very tranquil pace. Dani did a fantastic job explaining the past and present of this part of Alaska and the town. We stopped at various totem poles while she explained the story behind them. She also gave a mini-biology lesson on the habits of the salmon.
Besides the locals, we saw our first Alaskan wildlife right after starting the tour. On top of the climbing pole at the lumberjack show sight was a bald eagle. We figured he had to be the dumbest eagle in the world, since he was sitting in the only spot those really big guys with sharp stuff went up to do their job.
After the tour, we stopped by the liquor store on the pier and bought beer and soda and ran it back to our cabin. Princess has no problem bringing refreshments on board for use in the cabin.
We then went back in town for some heavy shopping and a walkabout tour of the town. In the cabin, by the way, had been a coupon book for the shops in each of the ports visited. There are some pretty good deals in this book, and I know we hit every shop listed. Plus, I'm sure we also hit every shop with a door. Judy will probably disagree with that statement, but I'll stand by it to my grave. A "don't miss" is a walk down Creek Street. It's a boardwalk and buildings on stilts over the creek. I've seen hundreds of pictures of it whenever Alaska is shown, but never knew where it was. In the early years it was the "red-light" district. Another don't-miss on Creek Street is "Dolly's House." I'm not going to say anymore except this was one hard working lady.
The weather was bad enough that the helicopter tours were cancelled. Princess refunded the money immediately to those who had booked. Other tours we heard about from other passengers were the salmon hatchery, kayaking, and salmon fishing. Everyone seemed to enjoy them. We got underway at 3:00 PM. That night was the semi-formal night in the dining room. There were a lot of suits and sports jackets among the guys, with a few blue jeans to keep the forum folks happy. Again, we didn't care.
I tried the slots in the casino, but it would have been almost as fast, and just as lucrative to throw the cash over the side so the whales could have some pocket money.
By this time we had decided that 'Personal Choice' dining was for us. I'll digress, regress, or talk out of order here. Traditionalists like their sittings because they get to become very friendly with their tablemates and wait staff throughout the cruise. We agree with that, but we never did get our seating straightened out. We stayed Personal Choice Dining throughout the cruise, and we really enjoyed it. We ate at different times, with different folks, and enjoyed excellent service. Without exception, our tablemates were very enjoyable. Maybe we were lucky, but we got to meet a lot more folks that way. We certainly haven't made a solid opinion of which way is better or worse -- they are just different. A word on automatic tipping: we also didn't have a problem here since the service we received was well worth the $6.50 a day per person. This is the same either in traditional seating or personal choice. It didn't appear to affect the service. If you don't like this form of tipping, just tell them at the Information (Purser's) Desk, and they'll stop it.
We went back to Patisserie's for an after dinner cocktail while waiting for the evenings show in the Princess Theatre. The show that night was "Rhythms of the City." It was a musical production show that Judy loved, and I was ambivalent about. I'll sure give them an A+ for energy though. After the show, it was back to our favorite lounge for some final scenery and a nightcap before bed.
Today we pulled into Juneau at about 7:30 AM. We were up early, so we called room service for a pot of coffee and some danishes and toast. We did this most mornings. We were tied up .2 miles from the towns' information center. The weather was 48.2 degrees (Alaska was definitely in a temperature rut). It rained off and on with gusty winds all day.
Princess ran shuttle buses the .2-mile for $1 each all day with unlimited trips. Most of the tours had buses and shuttles to pick up their passengers right on the pier. We decided that we wanted to take the Mt Roberts Tram to the top of the peak and then just walk around town all day. Princess had a ticket booth on the pier that sold the shuttle tickets, and all day passes for the Mt Roberts Tram. The shuttle took cash, but we put the $20 per person tram tickets on our cruise card.
My real boss decided that the .2-mile walk to the information center/tram house wasn't too far to walk, so I agreed and off we went. I'm glad we did because just off the pointy end off the ship there were 8 – 10 bald eagles flying around and landing in the trees right by our walkway.
Mt. Roberts Tramway
The Mt Roberts Tram was fantastic. It's a 2000-foot ride straight up the mountain to the upper station. What a fantastic view. I'm sure I'll say that more than once. When you get off the tram, you are in an enclosed walkway into the gift shop and restaurant. There are windows in the walkway giving more spectacular views. After walking around the gift shop (of course), we went outside. There was snow all over the place. We hiked around the trails and took pictures of each other with the mountains and valleys as backdrops. Golf shoes would have been better than our tennis shoes for snow hiking, but with a little slipping and sliding we made it. There are also observation decks overhanging the side of the mountain. From these we got phenomenal aerial views of the Sea Princess, Juneau, and a long view of the waterway leading into the city. It was breathtaking in the beauty of it all.
Once down from the mountain, we walked back to the ship for lunch. After lunch, it was back to town for power shopping with "Superwoman." It was really getting cold and windy, so we were glad we had gotten the shuttle tickets. The ship got underway at about 8:00 PM.
It was casual night for dinner. Afterwards, we walked around the ship and stopped by the photo gallery to look at our pictures up to this time. From there it was back to Patisserie for drinks until show time, again. The show that night was the "Pub Night Comedy Show" in the Vista Lounge. Since this was our first Princess cruise, we had not seen it. The cruise director, Billy Hygate, and his staff did routines and audience participation skits that were absolutely hilarious.
We pulled into Skagway at 6:30 this morning. Yep, it was 48.2 degrees. We were already up having our room service coffee, danish, and toast. The ship was moored a good hike from town, but right alongside a siding for the White Pass & Yukon Railway. Those that took that tour went off the boat right onto the train. We didn't take any tours in Skagway, so can't comment on how they were. It must have been a good flying day because there were more helicopters and planes flying around than I had seen since I left Vietnam.
Skagway doesn't look a whole lot different than it did during the gold rush. I believe "quaint" is the word. It only has 700 permanent residents. There were four cruise ships in that day, so we certainly could have conducted a successful coup if we had wanted to. In town, all we did was walk around and shop. No offense to Princess, but we had the best meal of the cruise in Skagway. We stopped in the Northern Lights Pizzeria, specializing in Italian and Mexican food. My burrito platter and her enchilada platter were to die for, and we live in southern California!
After seeing my 12 millionth Ulu knife, and wooden train whistles, we headed back to the ship.
Dinner was casual that night. The show in the Princess Theatre was "Words and Music." It was a production song and dance show of Broadway tunes. This was another really good show. It was back for a nightcap, and off to bed.
This was a sea day, sailing in Glacier Bay. The ship stopped at about 6:00 AM to pick up park rangers who would narrate during our day in this stunning area. I can't do justice with words to the beauty of this place, so I won't even try. (And no, you don't get off that easy; I still have some things to say.)
We had our room service stuff, and then bundled up and went on deck. Here is where you want to have your camera and binoculars ready. About three hours up Glacier Bay, we came upon two huge brown bears at the side of the bay. The captain slowed way down for about a half an hour so everyone could watch these magnificent animals. They were too far away to see well without binoculars, but there was sharing among some of the passengers. Again, what great folks cruisers are.
After the bears, we steamed on up to Marjorie Glacier. The captain stopped the ship very close, port (left) side to the glacier. We sat there a long time with the rangers telling us all about glaciers. You could hear the glacier snapping and popping all the time, and dropping off small pieces. It sounds like a summer thunderstorm. Then we got really lucky. With a massive roar of that thunder sound, a large side of the glacier calved into the bay. Absolutely unbelievable! A huge cheer and applause went up all over the ship. It goes to show that we never get too old to be awed by something that spectacular.
After that sight, a large cave in the side of the glacier started spewing broken ice like a huge, out of control slot machine. Each time it did this, you could hear a roar inside the glacier, and then watch the jackpot!
During this time, another large brown bear walked around the right side of the glacier and did whatever bears do. After about 15 minutes, he walked back around the side of the glacier to continue his bear thing out of sight. The captain then turned the right side of the ship to the glacier so everyone got a chance to see it. Those of us on deck just walked to the other side and continued watching this splendor.
After leaving the glacier, we headed back out of Glacier Bay. The captain heard that a whale watching tour boat had spotted a large group of humpback whales. He modified our cruising schedule and headed into the sighting area. We again were lucky. We watched a large number of whales blowing and swimming in the area. The captain stayed in the area for about 45 minutes. He even adjusted the ship's events so that everyone had a chance to see the whales if they so chose to.
Tonight was the last formal night. Even though it was lobster and Beef Wellington night, for some reason we decided to skip dinner. So, Judy sat there looking good with me while we continued to talk and watch the scenery and people.
We tried the show in the Princess Theatre, but it wasn't for us, so we snuck out. We decided to go to Rocky's' Disco for karaoke. This was a whole lot of fun, and we saw the best-dressed good and bad singers we'd ever seen. About 1:00 AM we decided we'd had enough fun and went to bed.
This was our last cruise day, with the afternoon spent steaming around College Fjord. We slept in late, ate in the room, and then got dressed. Judy stayed in the cabin reading while I went to the casino. The disembarkation package was delivered that morning. It contained complete instructions and luggage tags color-coded for our estimated departure time of 6:45 AM. Disembarking is based on your travel arrangements. Our flight was at 12:10 PM out of Anchorage the next day, so we had to catch the bus early in Seward to make it.
The ship started out left side to the glaciers. We stayed on deck until the captain turned the ship around. At that point we went to the cabin for coffee and rolls, and spent the rest of the day in the cabin and on the balcony watching the sites. Because Princess wants the majority of your bags outside the cabin before dinner, we went ahead and packed everything but what we were going to wear, and our overnight necessities. That stuff went into our carry-on. We also filled out the tip envelope for our stateroom steward, Rod. We presented it to him personally so that we could thank him for helping to make this a great vacation.
Dinner that night was obviously casual with everyone's bags packed and gone. It was prime rib night again, and we had two tremendous couples for our table companions that night. What a great night to end the cruise. We made one stop after dinner at the Patisserie for a farewell drink, and to say goodbye to some of the Princess folks we got to know on the cruise. After that, we went back to our cabin, ordered room service coffee one last time, and watched a movie before turning in.
I had ordered a wake-up call using the ship's automated system. It worked just fine. We docked in Seward about 2:30 AM. We didn't hear a thing from our cabin, so that wasn't a problem. We got our wake-up call at 5:00 AM, got up and dressed, and packed our final items. Horizon Court and one of the dining rooms opened at 5:15 AM for breakfast.
Our disembarkation code color was called at 6:30. We grabbed our carry-on and departed the ship. From there, we walked to a metal building on the pier. Inside they had all the luggage sorted by our disembarkation color. We gathered it up with no problem and took it all of 20 feet to the Alaska Airlines counters. Here we checked in for our flights, and checked our bags with the airline. This is a great service.
After that, we gave our transfer coupon to the rep, and were taken to our motor coach for the three-hour ride to Anchorage. Just as we were leaving for the trip, we saw a baby moose running through the yards in town. The Seward Highway is a beautiful trip. We went straight to the airport, boarded the plane, and got home about 9:00 PM.
To sum it up, this was a fantastic cruise, and a fantastic cruise line. It was a 7-day 1801-nautical mile wonder. If there were any problems, they were so small as to be unimportant. Both Judy and I are ready to go again anytime.
Age of Passengers
Photographs by Ship Staff
PHOTOS courtesy of John Mills, Alan Walker & Princess Cruises
For lots more SeaLetter photos and information on Sea Princess, click HERE.
Joe Baumgartner may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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