For our thirteenth cruise, my lovely wife Renée recommended that we return to a voyage she took the year before on a Travel Agent familiarization trip. She had loved her cruise on the "Sun Princess" so she decided to take me along this trip, as well as inviting our daughter Andréa to go with us.

We elected to fly from Sacramento to Seattle the day before. We stayed in an airport hotel, and after a nice complimentary breakfast took the shuttle to the airport, where we received boarding passes for the Princess bus to Vancouver. Boarding proceeded rapidly and smoothly and we had a scenic 3 hour bus ride to the port in Vancouver. Embarkation was easy, but involved standing in two rather long lines which were not moving very quickly. It took the best part of an hour to get through the two lines, get our picture taken and get on board.

Our cabin was a standard inside cabin on Riviera deck, Category II. It was about as small as any cabin we have ever had, but was nicely laid out and well equipped. The beds were made up as a queen, which was kind of awkward getting around, so we asked the cabin stewardess to make them as twins and were promptly accommodated.

We then proceeded up to the embarkation buffet, which was the beginning of many wonderful meals! The buffet is lavish, beautifully laid out, and has almost everything anyone could want from cold cuts and cheese to various imaginative salads to hot dishes. Water, juice, ice tea and coffee are free.

Shortly before embarkation we went and sat in the Wheelhouse Lounge in our life jackets and watched a demonstration of how to put them on. This "casual" sort of boat drill, without ever going near a boat, seems to be the way of doing it on many lines these days but is still a bit of a surprise to us.

We found an excellent spot in the Atrium bar, looking out over the four story open Atrium. We were to inhabit this favorite spot quite a bit for the whole trip, and the waitress quickly learned our names and preferences.

After cocktails the dinner chimes rang. We were on first seating and found it to be very convenient and never rushed for the trip. Our waiter Carlo was excellent, and our assistant waiter Moses was even better than excellent. I like lemon in my tea, and after the first night we always found a little bowl of lemon slices on the table. What can I say about the food? It was universally wonderful. I like seafood and had many treats, from crayfish tails to crab legs. One night I had two lobster tails, and Carlo kept offering more lobster! When does that happen in a shoreside restaurant? Renée likes red meat and she got lots of rare beef with some veal and lamb now and then. There was always a low-cal menu, as well as a vegetarian menu available.

The next day was a day at sea, so we slept late-ish and went up to the buffet breakfast. Again we found the breakfast lavish and well done. There were all the standard breakfast dishes including omelettes and eggs done to order, as well as toast, muffins and bagels toasted on demand. In fact after trying the dining room on later days, we decided that for breakfast we preferred the buffet.

Then we tried the ship's Trivia contest but alas did not win this day! There were many other activities, and we sort of split up and went from place to place trying all the interesting activities. I particularly enjoyed the presentation on salmon, run jointly by the naturalist and the executive chef! First we had the life history of salmon and then we had salmon croquettes to sample!!

Lunch in the dining room was very good. There was almost always a salad, a pasta dish, a sandwich and two or three other interesting things on the dining room lunch menu. In general we like to sit down and be served so we were very pleased with lunch.

Tonight was the Captain's Cocktail Party and the first formal night. The party is held on all four stories of the Atrium and are quite a glitzy affair, with everybody in their best clothes. Almost all the gentlemen were in dark suits, those of us in tuxedos were probably only about 10%. Quite a few of the ladies were all gussied up in nice long formal gowns, though.

There was entertainment every evening. In fact there were two shows every evening, which were supposedly divided according to which dining room you were in, but I never saw anybody check tickets. The large theater style showroom was for the big glitzy shows, including the famous Pirates show. They were universally very good of their kind and featured some very active young folks singing and dancing! The smaller lounge style showroom was for the individual entertainers and was more cozy. They had a comedian, a pianist and a violinist in there. Also, the night in Skagway they picked up a local entertainer who sang local Alaskan songs (he said "We are not being Politically Correct tonight, we are going to honor miners, fishermen and railroads!")

The next day was in Ketchikan. We tried breakfast in the dining room, which offered some more complete menus such as Eggs Benedict, but as noted above we really decided the buffet was just as good for breakfast.

We were on the Heritage and Totem tour from the ship. The weather was drizzly and gray, but the bus driver provided umbrellas when needed. We went to the Totem Heritage Center, which is very interesting. My wife had to be dragged out of the gift shop. Then we went to the spot we consider the highlight of Ketchikan, the Totem Bight State Park. Besides a dozen or more totems this site contains a reconstructed longhouse of the Tlingit people. It is a very interesting thing to see.

In Ketchikan Andréa took the Saxman Native Village tour from the ship and said that it was also very interesting.

On returning to the ship we tried another Trivia contest and this time we won! We make a good team for trivia! We all got Princess key chains.

The next day was in Juneau. Renée met these characters on the dock as she disembarked!

Renée took the ship's Rain Forest Hike tour, which she enjoyed very much and shot up an entire roll of film on interesting plants. Andréa caught the city bus to Mendenhall and had a good time.

Then in the afternoon we went on the Wildlife Cruise. Unfortunately we got on a different bus from Andréa and wound up on different boats, but that was OK ... we got to see slightly different sights. The tour was the ship's shore excursion, and the operator was Allen Marine. The weather was gray and rainy, which was good because the animals seem to like it.

First we cruised among the small islands which teemed with eagles. We saw many eagles sitting in the trees, and quite a few on the wing. The boat swung in very close to a big nest, and we spotted both parents sitting nearby, and with a little more looking saw the almost grown juvenile near them.

Then we stopped near an island which harbored a whole herd of Stellar Sea Lions. There were females with young, and patrolling the beach in the nearby water were the big males. This is the species which earned the name Sea Lion by its roars and the prominent mane of the male. The California Sea Lion male does not have nearly such a mane. This was a high point of the tour.

Then we went into the pass where the whales often feed. Even the Naturalist was impressed that we wound up seeing EIGHT humpback whales in four different groups. We got very close to one group ... the rule is that the boat has to stay 100 yards away, but if the whales come close to the boat the boat can stay still and let them. So we sat in the water while a group of three whales came quite close.

We also saw a Dall's porpoise, and some folks saw a harbor seal. Andréa said on her boat they saw three harbor seals quite close, which was a treat for her since she is a seal lover! All in all we were thoroughly pleased with this shore excursion!

The next day was Skagway. Following advice on AOL's cruising board, we had reserved a Rental Car with Avis. We found that it was very easy to get to the rental car office ... there is a small shuttle that runs from the dock to town for a buck, and it drops you off half a block from the Westmark hotel where the cars are. A Buick Century cost us $60 a day and easily held all of us, thus being quite a savings over the cost of the ship's shore trips!!

First we went to the Gold Rush Cemetery, where Soapy Smith and his killer are both buried. We saw the shops and yards of the Railroad near there. Then we started up the pass, paralleling the White Pass Railroad on the opposite side of the valley. The scenery is beautiful and there are many, many stops for photographs ... including a great shot of the Railroad going up the other side. We took our time and stopped a great deal at our whims, a big advantage over the train or bus trips. We had considered just going up to the summit and turning around, but when we got there we were enjoying the scenery so much that we decided to go on into Carcross.

About the time we crossed into the Yukon the weather began to brighten up and by the time we got to Carcross it was showing a lot of blue sky and sunshine between the clouds. We drove around the little town of Carcross (didn't take long) and then went on out to Frontierland where we found the tourist busses had all left already so we had the place to ourselves. We had sandwiches and home made soup in the little restaurant, and of course visited the gift shop.

Then we went on a few miles past Carcross to the Carcross Desert (the world's smallest desert) and Emerald Lake. Then we turned around and drove back to Skagway. Driving straight without photo stops it is only 1 hour 20 minutes Carcross to Skagway, but the whole trip took us almost 7 hours with stopping for photos and sightseeing. We turned the car in, spent about an hour wandering around downtown Skagway (all eight blocks of it) and got back to the ship in time to win another round of Trivia! We got Princess luggage tags this time.

That night at the dinner table the ones facing the windows suddenly hollered out "There's a whale!" We all turned to look and sure enough there was a humpback whale cruising alongside us right outside the dining room windows.

The next day was Glacier Bay. Having been there twice before, Renée and I were quite prepared for a spectacle, and we were certainly rewarded with the glaciers looking just as magnificent as we remembered. Nothing can quite compare to the glaciers as seen from the deck of a cruise ship! It is a wonderful sight. Many of the glaciers were calving and the great sight of a huge chunk of ice falling into the bay, accompanied by the noise like thunder, is unforgettable.

However, this trip there was an extra surprise. As it was after the first of September, the ship was allowed into the left arm of the bay, where the seals have their pups. The season was almost over, and most of the mothers had gone out to sea, but there were a lot of almost-grown pups still resting on the ice floes! We saw literally hundreds of them, lounging about, occasionally dropping off the ice for a little swim. Our seal-loving daughter was very impressed. In that arm of the bay we also saw the seldom visited Johns Hopkins glacier. Then we went into the right hand arm of the bay to see the more famous Marjorie and Grand Pacific glaciers. It is probably the greatest thing one can do from a cruise ship and has to be experienced to be believed!!

Unfortunately, immediately upon leaving Glacier Bay the wind picked up to force 7 (light gale) and the seas increased to category Rough (8 to 13 feet) which the crew said was the roughest water they had seen all summer in Alaska. Many people including all three of my traveling companions did not make it to dinner that night. In fact there were only three people at our table of eight, and one of those restricted herself to light soup and green apples (supposed to be good for that...?) However by the next morning it had passed and every one was feeling pretty chipper again.

The next day was in College Fjord which I suppose is pretty interesting with a dozen or more glaciers, but frankly I was not impressed and just treated the whole thing as a day at sea. Activities included another cooking demonstration and the galley tour. We took another shot at the Trivia contest and won for the third time!! Keychains again.

Bright and early the next morning we arrived at Seward. The ship actually docked about 4 AM and disembarkation began about 6:30. You had colored luggage tags according to your flight time. Since we were pretty far down the list, we planned to go up to breakfast at the buffet about 7:30 and get off after that. However, listening to the announcements we realized that they were working down the list pretty fast, so we got to breakfast by 7:00 and our group (flights out of Anchorage after 3 PM) was called about 7:30. We gathered up our luggage and got in line for Alaska Airlines (which I felt was a little longer line than it needed to be ... I didn't quite see why we had to hurry off the boat to wait in that line ...) and checked our bags through to our final destination. Then we got on the bus and were off for the 3 hour trip to Anchorage. We took a rest stop half way through at the Alaska Big Game Park, where they had elk, deer, moose (male and female and two calves), musk oxen and a little black bear. When we got to Anchorage about noon, the bus driver asked if we wanted to go to the airport or the Princess hospitality center downtown. We, and several other people on the bus, opted for downtown. Princess had quite a hospitality center set up in the convention center, and we were able to check our carry-ons and explore Anchorage a bit. We had a nice lunch at a Chowder House (I had the Alaskan Salmon Chowder ... it was good ... but the others settled for Boston Clam Chowder!) Then the inevitable gift shops for a bit, back to the hospitality center and on Princess' free shuttle back to the airport.

My final summation: this was absolutely the BEST of all the cruises I have ever been on. Princess is our new favorite cruise line!! I cannot say enough about the food. It was wonderful in every way. Our dining room waiter was great, our assistant waiter was fantastic, and our cabin steward left nothing to be desired. The bar staff was always ready, the cruise staff was always smiling and helpful, the shore excursion staff was friendly and helpful. The entertainment was good of its kind. The shore excursions were everything they were advertised to be. All in all it was absolutely a great trip!

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since September 1999.

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