Updated: Sep 28
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While my husband and I continue to say we are not "cruise people,"we have taken and enjoyed a wide-variety of cruises and delighted in every one. The Alaska cruise was definitely one of our favorites. To expand on our experience we added three days onto the beginning of our trip, by flying into Anchorage, then traveling to Mt. McKinley, Denali and then taking the train from Denali to Whittier where we boarded our Princess Cruise. We took the second to the last cruise of the season, knowing that it could be rainy and colder, but also less expensive and, more importantly, a few less tourists. We flew to Anchorage from Seattle, avoiding the overseas crossing, and arrived into Anchorage about noon. We were met by the Princess representative and shuttled by bus to our hotel. We took advantage of our short time in Anchorage by taking a one-hour city tour ($10), put on by the local visitor's bureau, then had dinner at a local favorite, Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse. The food was very good!
Photos: Anchorage City Tour, Anchorage Visitor Center, Ship Creek, local transportation, Humpy's, Moose Souvenir.
Bags out 6:00 am! This is typical of land tours so be prepared to keep an extra carry-on with you for items you can't part with. We had an early breakfast at the Snow City Cafe where we had our first taste of Reindeer sausage. Bleh. (Tasted a lot like baloney). We boarded our bus at 9:15 am for the 2 1/2 hour drive to McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. The buses are comfortable and our guide narrated part of the way. Weather in September; rainy and windy. We arrived at McKinley Lodge and ate at the 23,350° Restaurant (the height of Mt. McKinley), then took a short hike near the lodge.
Photos: Fall weather out of Anchorage, McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, Susitna River behind McKinley Lodge
Tip: The Susitna River is 313 Miles long, the 15th longest river in the US.
Bags out 7:30am! Not one to waste a single minute, my husband and I decided to take the one hour transit to Talkeetna ($10), departing at 8:00 am. Unfortunately, nothing opened until 10:00 am and we had to be back on board by 10:15 am to be sure to be back in time for our departure. However, we did get to see Talkeetna, which is a quaint little town.
Photos: Downtown Talkeetna, only store open before 10:00am, railroad trestle bridge across the Susitna river, river walk, didn't see any (!)
We departed McKinley Lodge for Denali at 1:00pm. Time to Denali - 1 hour and 45 minutes with great views along the way. We decided to eat across the street at the Salmon Bake Restaurant. Pricey and the food was just 'ok', but the interior was rustic and charming.
Our included Princess tour to the Tundra was just a half-day, so we upgraded to the full-day tour. Highly recommend! It says lunch is included but we were warned that 'lunch' was water, crackers, processed cheese and a reindeer sausage, so we bought sandwiches to take along. I could do an entire website on this tour alone, but will leave it with just "this is a must-see". It didn't hurt that we were there just in time for the fall colors. Truly spectacular. There is no guarantee you will see wildlife, but we did see moose and caribou, plus Grizzley bears and Big Horned Sheep from a great distance away. Our naturalist guide, Lisa Frederica, was excellent as well.
Photos: Truly spectacular scenery on the Tundra Tour. I couldn't take enough pictures of the fall colors! Dall Sheep and Grizzley Bears were spotted at a distance. Caribou have a hard time hiding!
Bags out 6:30 am. Shuttled to the train station at 8:00am and boarded the Princess Rail with its car-length, domed glass windows for a nine-hour sightseeing excursion that was unbelievably beautiful. I'll let pictures do the talking. How I narrowed down 300+ pictures to nine, I'll never know. We arrived in Whittier about 5:30pm and boarded the Island Princess for our seven day Alaskan Cruise adventure.
Photos: The Princess Denali Express and the unforgettable vistas along the way.
Our cruise stopped in Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan and Vancouver, plus two days at sea for glacier viewing at Glacier Bay (Margerie and Lamplugh Glaciers). The only off-site excursion we took was in Juneau to see the Mendenhall Glacier, as we were traveling with friends with limited mobility. Each of the towns have their own charm but if you have the means, I would recommend taking one or more of the excursions offered by Princess Cruises.
Photos: Island Princess, Marjorie Glacier, Mendenhall Glacier - Juneau, Red Onion Saloon - Skagway, Ketchikan and Creek Street, Red Dog Saloon - Juneau, sunshine and sea planes Juneau, gorgeous vistas.
Princess did a great job. Food, staff, meals, plus naturalist talks and evening shows were all top quality. Upon arrival in Vancouver, we opted for a city tour enroute to the airport. Another good choice if you haven't been to Vancouver before. I felt that Princess was extremely efficient in handling all the departure arrangements for everyone on the ship, especially considering the different packages that that had been prearranged for some 2000 guests.
Photos: Early morning arrival into Vancouver and a pretty drive through Stanley Park.
Last thoughts: We loved Alaska and think it should be on everyone's bucket list. The grandeur and the vastness of the landscape is a sight to behold. Even though some of our excursions were in cold or rainy weather, it didn't dampen our enjoyment or our enthusiasm.
Tip: Get up early on arrival into Vancouver. It was worth it to see the lights as we entered the harbor to dock. With an afternoon flight home, it was a great value to do the city tour of Vancouver instead of sitting at an airport for four hours. It gives you just enough taste to want to return for a longer stay.
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