For cruise packing list and Vancouver experience, click on the link below. (Part 1)
III. On Cruise Experience:
On Board Experience: Upon boarding we were greeted by the wonderful staff of Princess Cruise. After we completed screening and registration process, we received our state room keys. The process was simple, although it felt like it lasted forever as we were so excited to aboard our first cruise!
We directly went to our stateroom and the first thing that brought a big smile on my face was the personalized name plate outside our stateroom. These little personal touches really go a long way in making our vacation even more special.
Later on, our stateroom steward came and introduced himself. He was very courteous, pleasant and paid attention to details. Let me mention that Princess Cruises’ staff was one of the best in the cruise business. We quickly freshened up and meanwhile our checked in luggage arrived to our stateroom. Soon after everyone was on board, we heard the announcement to go to emergency drill session in the main theatre. The purpose of this mock drill session was to prepare all cruise passengers for emergencies and hazards on cruise. Attending drill session is mandatory for all the passengers.
The next seven days on Sapphire Princess cruise ship were amazing, with two formal nights, entertainment shows, various dine in opportunities, sight-seeing and excursions at various Alaskan ports, and of course the scenic cruising.
On-cruise Food/Drinks Experience: Definitely food/drinks offered on-board is an important element for all the cruisers. Honestly, we were not too expressed with the food choices offered especially if you are a vegetarian. I would rate them average or just above average for the vegetarian food (fewer varieties) on Princess Cruises. Moreover, there were days when we had to choose same breakfast options repeatedly in their buffet restaurant.
IV. Port Cities and Scenic Cruising:
1. Ketchikan, Alaska –
In the early morning on day 3 we reached Ketchikan, which is one of Alaska’s southernmost cities and is known as “The Yosemite of the North”. The weather was very tricky as it rained frequently throughout the day with some cold winds.
You will find diamond and precious jewelry stores lined up in the main city area forming a chaotic bazaar. There were few unique artifacts I found in one of the souvenir stores. Here are the pictures:
Shopping Recommendations: If you are intending to buy precious stones like diamonds and other precious jewelry Alaska is the place for you. Although, I would suggest people to be careful with their purchases, as you can bargain a lot. Make sure you acquire keen knowledge on precious stones, especially diamonds. If you need any advice then your cruise shopping consultants will be able to help, although don’t get too influenced by them. It is very important to be sensible and not get carried away!! Be sure to do your homework.
I discovered a rare deep blue colored tanzanite ring at Diamond’s International, which I absolutely loved. All the collection was drop dead gorgeous! In fact, I learned a lot about diamonds’ cuts, purity, and grade etc. and other precious stones.
Excursion Booking: You can book all your excursions online before your cruise vacation. If you plan to book excursions from your cruise ship then book everything on the day 1, as popular excursions get booked really fast. To do your desired excursions within the time you have at each port requires early booking and some planning beforehand. We booked most of our excursions on the first day of our cruise.
Excursion 1 – Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show:
Our last pit stop in Ketchikan was the Great Alaskan Lumberjack show, which is rated as one of the best shows in Alaska.
The theme of the show is lumber skill demonstration of Alaskan natives. There is an announcer and two teams consisting two lumberjacks in each of them. Both teams perform stunts and compete against each-other. The competitive spirit of the show is entertaining and the stunts were really amazing. They kept the audience involved through the entire show. I would rate it 8 out of 10.
2. Juneau, Alaska –
On Day 4, our cruise stopped at the port city of Juneau. Juneau is the capital city of Alaska and this is the only capital city in the US without road connectivity to the rest of Alaska or North America. Just like every other Alaskan city, Juneau has a very rich cultural heritage. In downtown Juneau you will again find diamond and jewelry bazaars. At this point, it got repetitive and frustrating at times as the sales associates grab you inside the store and insist you to look at the jewelry. It can become really annoying especially when you have other plans and excursions waiting for you. Unless you are planning to shop, I would recommend saying a firm ‘no’ so that you can enjoy abundance of scenic beauty Juneau has to offer!
Juneau offers a lot of outdoor activities such as glacier flightseeing, sight-seeing tours, whale-watching, historic museums, cultural sites, local handy-craft stores, breweries, and local cafes.
Excursion 2 – Flightseeing for Mendenhall Glacier
I have no words to describe how excited we were for this excursion. We went with Temsco Helicopters, Inc. which is one of the most experienced touring companies in Alaska for such trips. The pilot and tour guides on our trip seemed highly skilled, professional, and knowledgeable.
Duration: The total hours necessary for this excursion are approximately 4.5 to 5 hours. It includes 20-30 minutes of bus ride (from the downtown to Temsco location), 30-40 minutes of pre boarding /safety instructions, 30 minutes of two-way flight time, and 20-25 minutes of guided walk on Mendenhall Glacier.
Guided Walk on the Glacier:
The entire walk on the Mendenhall glacier was so surreal and breathtaking with the blue and white surroundings. The vistas were magnificent and I really can’t put it in words right now. The pictures below will speak for themselves!
It is the best rated excursion in Alaska, so if you are in the area then please do not miss the opportunity. You can also choose dog sled tour with this company.
3. Skagway, Alaska –
On day 5, our next cruise destination was Skagway, the home of White Pass and Yukon Route railroad. Skagway, just as previous two Alaskan cities, offers multiple options for outdoor activities such as whale watching, zip-lining, scenic trails, dense rainforest, hiking on lush green mountains, waterways, historic museums, city tours, horse carriage rides, handy craft stores, local brewery and unique restaurants, and diamond/jewelry bazaars.
White Pass Summit Excursion: Our cruise ship was docked on the opposite side of the White Pass Railroad. It is a very scenic train ride from Skagway to the summit of the White Pass. We chose scenic Alaska Railroad (from Whittier to Denali) over this excursion. However, this excursion was highly recommended by those who went on it.
Excursion 3 – Zip Lining Adventure:
We decided to go for zip-lining in Skagway. The rainforest here is popular for zip-lining adventure.
Duration: You will require 5-6 hours for this excursion including 2 hours for a two-way bus ride to the Musher’s camp, an hour for a two-way all-terrain vehicle ride to reach at the zip-line camp, and 2 hours for your actual zip-line adventure.
Excursion 4 – Hiking on the Chilkoot Trail Outpost:
After our zip-lining adventure, we decided to go for a hike on the Chilkoot trail. The locals informed us about spotting whales on this site, but we were not so lucky. Anyways, it is a scenic trail for hikers. I recommend wearing comfortable pair of shoes, as the terrain is uneven on the way.
Scenic Cruising: Next two and half days (undoubtedly the highlight of our trip) were on sea; sailing and scenic cruising through the Glacier Bay National Park and College Fjord. It was the best time of our journey and having a stateroom with a balcony came in handy.
4. Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska (Scenic Cruising) –
Glacier Bay is a highlight of Alaska’s Inside Passage and it is the 25 million acres World Heritage Site.
The scenic cruising on day 6 in Glacier Bay National Park was the best day of our entire cruise. Fortunately on that day weather was in mid 60s and this weather is very rare in the month of May. So it was as if god had saved the best for last. Clear sky, wilderness heaven, blue and white vistas, made our trip totally worth it. Everyone on the cruise was on the main deck on that day and the National Park personnel were giving a live commentary through this beautiful journey. The best part was that all the cruisers were spotting wild life together and it was like a one big family on the deck!
5. College Fjord, Alaska (Scenic Cruising) –
College Fjord is located in the northern most part of Prince William Sound and surrounded by a group of large and small glaciers.
Day 7: On the day of scenic cruising in College Fjord, we had a very cold and wet weather. It was a complete turnaround from the previous day at Glacier Bay National Park. If I can remember correctly, the temperature was around 20F and so we decided to watch the glaciers from our balcony.
The weather decreased our visibility on that day. Moreover, after a point the glaciers seemed to be merging with the cloudy sky. The pictures are not as clear as they were in Glacier Bay National Park, but still you will be able to see all the glaciers that form College Fjord.
Our cruise crew got down into the water in the bright orange boat and took pictures of all us standing in the balcony. It was very adventurous!
6. Whittier, Alaska –
The disembarkation process began around 8 am in the morning when we reached Whittier which was the last stop of our cruise journey. As always, it was very emotional to end this cruise trip as we had the best time of our lives. We had experienced the best wilderness life and this is the closest we had ever come to experience nature. Majestic is the word!
Soon after cruise part of our trip we were heading towards land part of our Alaskan trip. We got down of our cruise, and on the other side our train was already there waiting for the cruise passengers.
Land experience will be shared in my next blog post.
To Be Continued (Part 3)….