Discovering Alaska

By Rob Warner, Clean Cruising

I had booked a Princess transfer from Vancouver Airport to the port where the beautiful Island Princess awaited me and this went well, with a desk near baggage claim giving directions on pick up in arrivals area, it went very smoothly.

I boarded the Island Princess and went straight to my inside cabin, which was well appointed with separate walk-in robe area opposite bathroom. Queen size luxury Princess bed (guaranteed a great nights sleep) and fridge, good size cabin, compared to other ships I have sailed on. Island Princess is one of the two Princess Panamax ships built specifically to be able to sail through the Panama Canal.

Island Princess 400x267

Although the Island Princess had a capacity for just under 2000 passengers, she felt a lot bigger. She has a range of entertainment areas, so you are not restricted to just the Main Theatre. During the cruise, we had a comedian, A piano playing contortionist/comedian, as well as the usual Princess dancers/entertainers and a Country and Western singer.

The Crooners bar provided a great evening spot with a regular pianist, Brian Johnson, playing a range of musical numbers, combined with some great one liners. Occasionally a female artist performed here, but mostly in the Wheelhouse Bar, who was also excellent.

crooners bar 400x267

There was a range of entertainment onboard, ranging from the ever popular Trivia sessions, bingo, dance lessons and craft/painting workshops, to making cocktails and deck sports.

There were some very informative presenters during the cruise, including Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the Iditarod dog sled race, Jack Molan, skipper from the “World’s Deadliest Catch” series. He had some amazing slides from his time at sea, including an array of fantastic Eagle photo collection. We also had an onboard naturalist who also narrated from just below the bridge on the passing sights, scenery and wildlife.

Our ports of call were Icy Straight Point (inaugural year for this port for Princess, Junea and Skagway. We arrived around lunch time at Icy Straight Point, where I had booked a shore excursion for a walking trail. I was lucky enough to see a Humpback whale breaching in the bay and took a tour around the old cannery, which in its heyday processed 2.5 million Salmon into cans a year. My hike was well run and were shown some great scenery, with a fantastic flyby about 10-15 metres from us by an Eagle.

whale-watching-at-icy-strait-point-alaska 400x267

At Juneau I paid the US$34 to go on the Mt Roberts tram, which is a Gondola that rises 200 ft up the mountainside. There is a walking trail here, plus you can hike to Gastineau Peak and Mt Roberts Peak, about 3,500 – 4,00 ft up respectively. I met a fellow passenger and got up to just below the first peak before the snow covered trail presented  an end to my climb. Had beautiful views over the Gastineau Channel we had sailed up that morning and the city of Juneau. I was too late to go the the Mendenhal Glacier, which is recommended and the only walk up Glacier in the US, but went to town and had a beer at the Red Dog Saloon, the original saloon from the Goldrush days with heaps of atmosphere and cheeky wait/bar staff, a must do when here.

In Skagway I had booked another excursion which was a hike on the original Yukon trail. Had a 2 tour hour hike up the trail, followed by a raft ride back down the river, where we had hot Chocolate and cookies, before returning to town. A quick brew from the Skagway brewery of a Spruce Tip Blonde (made from the Spruce tip buds that flower this time of year) which was very tasty. That afternoon was one of the Princess highlights in Alaska aboard – “Puppies in the Piazza” . They bring 4 dog sled puppies aboard that you can cuddle and have your photo taken with. Very Cute and very popular.

burgers-and-beer-straight 400x267

The next day was sailing the beautiful Glacier Bay. It was about 2 degrees with a slight drizzle as we sailed up to the Majourie Glacier and watched the amazing sight and sounds of the Glacier calving. Great sheets of ice breaking off into the bay. You really have to see and hear it to really experience it.  Our last day at sea was spent sailing up Prince William Sound, into College Fjord and view the 18 or so glaciers all named after American Universities, culminating in the Harvard Glacier, one of only 800 advancing glaciers from the 10,000 glaciers in Alaska.

Major Marine Tours photo shoot - orca pod

We ended the cruise by sailing into Whittier that night, a beautiful little township at night, with it 800+ residents, who all live in the same building, which also houses the school, fire dept and police station. Originally a US Navy base, where access was either by sea or through a pass in the mountains. This can now be reached by a tunnel put through the mountain, which has a one lane road, combined with a rail line for access on a set timetable for heading north or south.

Whittier 400x267

I ended my trip with 2 days in Anchorage, having booked a post cruise package through Princess, which included ship to hotel transfer (about 2 hours from Whittier) and a night at the James Cook 4* hotel. A good addition if you do not have time to add on a Denali or Mt Mckinley land tour, which I would recommend if you can.

anchorage 400x267

Whilst onboard I booked dinner at Sabatini’s and the Bayou Café and Steakhouse. Sabatini’s is an Italian inspired menus with a fantastic selection of courses to choose from. A crumbed squid starter, followed by a seafood Pasta, with a Large Veal Cutlet for a main, were all delicious and had to be complimented by a Tiramasu for dessert! What more can one say!

Rob 400x267

The Bayou Café is a New Orleans inspired restaurant, with great Cajun food. Alligator Ribs, Jambalya or Gumbo, with Blackened Chicken brouchette. Accompanying side dishes of Succatash, Southern Slaw, corn bread Fried green tomatoes and vegetables were just some of the selections. A from a great selection of desserts I had the bread and butter pudding, yum. (Just as well I did a lot of hikes in this trip).

dessert 400x267

Service in both restaurants was of a high standard and meals served in a timely fashion.

In the main restaurant I had a table for 10, providing good company. Service was very good and I could not fault the menu selections each night or the quality of the food. The one exception was the addition on the first night of a main course from Cutis Stone’s Share menu (This restaurant is not in the ship) which was very disappointing.

During the day I usually had lunch or a snack at the Grill on deck, where there is either a Pizzeria or burger selection to choose from, as wel as daily specials such as Taco’s or Nacho’s. The Buffet selection in Horizon Court was very good and included an Italian Dessert area towards the rear. Large glass areas provided views out to the passing  snow capped peaks and passing Sea otters, dolphins, flora and fauna.

Princess pool 400x267

My cabin was kept clean and each night had my bed turn down, with accompanying Princess chocolates, by my very efficient Cabin Steward, Vinton.

Evenings spent around Crooners bar, with a great selection of cocktails and again, friendly and efficient bar staff.

By Rob Warner, Clean Cruising

For further information, please contact Clean Cruising on 1800 121 187.