By Suzi Caffey
My husband and I took our son and daughter in law on a Princess Alaska Inside Passage Cruise this past September. We flew out of Orlando heading for Seattle on Alaska Airlines. We toured the Space Needle had dinner and headed for our hotel. The ship (The Golden Princess) sailed out of Seattle for a 7 day round trip cruise, leaving at 4:00 PM. My husband and I have cruised before so we had the Platinum Princess Cards which gives you extra benefits...like boarding first and welcome drinks to mention a few. We each had mini suites side by side, our balconies were connecting, very convenient. The ship is beautiful and has almost everything you could possibly want or need. Lots to do or nothing, we spent a lot of time on our balcony watching the scenery. That's one of the best parts of the inside passage cruise, you have scenery almost all the time on both sides of the ship. The shows were good, had a good comedian one night, there is the casino, fun and lots of action.
Our first stop was Skagway, Alaska. Skagway's history and spectacular natural setting combine to create unparalleled sightseeing and recreation opportunities.
Movie theaters, night clubs for dancing, simulated golfing, pools, hot tubs and of course the 24 hour buffet! We tried one of their specialty restaurants which was Italian. I am told it was good but we couldn't stop laughing at the plate of langoustine that kept looking at us all through dinner! Every morning they give you a newsletter of all the attractions on the ship, plus the shore excursions you can take.
Poke around on your own, or select from a variety of commercial tours. We headed out on a coach tour with a drive on the scenic Klondike Highway, that took us to the Yukon Suspension Bridge over the Tutshi River. The Yukon Suspension Bridge is relatively new, and we felt quite safe when crossing the raging whitewater river 57-feet below. My son and I don't do heights real well but, we sucked it up and walked across...I think I had my eyes closed most of the time, I hung on to my husbands jacket! On our way back to Skagway, we stopped in Liarsville to enjoy a freshly grilled wild Alaska salmon, baked chicken, a variety of salads, beans, rice pilaf, cornbread and dessert at the Liarsville Cookhouse. After our meal, we walk through the gold rush trail camp. Stop by the general store to pick up a few souvenirs. Then checked out the bordello tents and relics. Boy that was roughing it! Back in Skagway we were ready for a drink so we headed to the Red Onion Saloon, a fun place and interesting history. From there we went down the boardwalk to the Old Timey Photo Shop... we had to be dressed as a lady of the evening, that is as close to it as we would ever get....
Next stop Juneau, Alaska. Juneau is a thriving city offering a great blend of city amenities and small-town hospitality, all in the heart of Alaska's majestic mountains, rivers, glaciers, and forests. We took two excursions on this stop, the first was Mendenhall Glacier. Mendenhall Glacier is a glacier about 12 miles long located in Mendenhall Valley, about 12 miles from downtown Juneau. Its ice can be 400 to 800 feet deep. Hiking trails around the Mendenhall Glacier range from a short, 0.3-mile walk to a 6.8-mile hike with a 1,300-foot elevation gain. These trails will give great views of Mendenhall Glacier, but will not take you onto the ice. Got some good shots of the glacier, but did not do the hike...it was kinda cold that day and we had another excursion planned....so off to the whale watching trip! We took a boat out of Juneau and spent 2 hours watching for and looking at whales!
Had a close encounter with a pod of Orcas...to cool. We did see some humpbacks, but the Orcas stole the show. These Shamu's don't jump through hoops like he does at Sea World. These whales, though much smaller than humpbacks, have been known to pursue seals, moose, and even other whales. Needless to say this was one of our favorite excursions.
The next day we cruise through Tracy Arm Fjord, located 50 miles southeast of Juneau, this spectacular glacier-carved fjord has sheer vertical walls that clearly showcase nature's artistry.We watch blocks of ice calving off the glacier's towering faces. Glaciers are constantly crumbling and yet their powerful effect is never diminished. What a breathtaking sight, you definitely needed your fleece and rain jacket out here! I used my Swarovski binoculars with Swarmovision...what a difference. They take away the halo the regular binoculars have and make everything clear and close like you could reach out and touch the ice. This is a must have for this kind of viewing!
Next stop Ketchikan, Alaska. The beautiful community of Ketchikan is situated along the shores of Alaska's Inside Passage within the heart of the sixteen million acre Tongass National Forest. Here we decided to just walk the town and visited Dolly's House. This place is amazing. It truly gives an inside look on prostitution as it was in the 30's-50's. Ketchikan has one of the world's largest collection of totems. The totem poles are a work of art. It started raining again so back to the ship after we hit a few shops.
Next stop Victoria. Victoria, British Columbia has the mildest climate in Canada with gardens that bloom all year. This was an evening trip into Victoria, we took a motor coach to Butchart Gardens. They did make a quick trip through downtown to see the lights then on to the garden. Benvenuto, Italian for 'welcome', is the name the Butcharts used for their original estate, now a National Historic Site of Canada, and still privately owned by family descendants. The Butchart Gardens offers 55 acres of wonderful floral display. The weather was perfect and the gardens beautiful at night with all the lights and blooms!
That night heading back to Seattle on the ship was a rough trip. Ran into a storm that rocked the ship enough that my daughter in law and I was up all night holding on, scared to death as the men slept like babies.....amazing! The trip was great, we so enjoyed having our children with us, they helped make the trip fun for us. The food plentiful and the ship was beautiful. I have to say the Princess Cruise Lines does treat you like one. Cruise on!!