We were up early the next morning. My parents were scheduled for the Husky Homestead excursion. They loved this tour. They visited Jeff King (1996 Iditarod Champion) and his dogs. They took pictures with Jeff and his Huskies. They had a ball.
Traci and I did the float trip down the Nenana River. This trip was a guided rafting trip. There were rapids but the guide avoided most of them. We got splashed a little near the end, though. We also saw a moose grazing at the bank of the river. The tour company supplied us with dry suits to keep us from getting wet. Even though the supplied footwear kept my feet dry, the cold water that sometimes splashed into the raft made my toes numb by the end of the trip. The river is glacier fed and thus, very cold! All in all, this was a nice relaxing excursion.
Nenana River float trip
Nenana River float trip
Traci and I met up with my parents at the Princess Denali Lodge so that we could board the bus to the train station. I enjoyed the 4 hour train ride on the Princess Midnight Sun Express to Talkeetna. All the Princess cars had a glass dome that allows you to maximize your view of the Alaskan landscape. We were once again blessed with a clear, sunny day. The scenery was like an endless postcard. There were snow-capped mountains, miles of spruce trees, lakes, and rivers. There were some areas where the ground was still snow-covered. As the train approached Talkeetna, the landscape looked more like the woodlands of the east coast of the US. We were fed a nice lunch on the train in the downstairs dining area about half way through the trip.
Princess Midnight Sun Express train ride
In Talkeetna, we immediately boarded a Princess bus for a two and a half hour ride to Anchorage. Once again, we had a very informative bus driver that gave us commentary for pretty much the whole ride. I was very impressed with every tour guide and bus driver we had the whole time we were in Alaska except for the tour guide in Ketchikan (more about him later).
The city of Anchorage looks just like many other US cities. However, it is pretty much surrounded by mountains and it overlooks Cook Inlet. We stayed at the Marriott in downtown Anchorage. This is a very nice hotel with large rooms and a view of the city and Cook Inlet (on the higher floors). When Traci and I entered our room we found that our luggage that we tagged in Fairbanks was already in the room.
I had read many trip reports on the Internet before going on this cruisetour and there were many people who recommended eating at Simon and Seafort's. If any of you are reading this trip report - "Thanks for the recommendation!" The food was out of this world! The restaurant was only five or six blocks from the hotel so we were able to walk. We headed back to the hotel after dinner and chilled out for the rest of the evening.
The next day, we boarded the Princess bus headed for Seward where we would embark on the Sun Princess for the cruise portion of our trip. On the way to Seward, we made a 2 hour stop at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. This museum consists of exhibits showcasing the culture of the native Alaskans. I was particularly impressed with the outdoor exhibits. There are replicas of a typical dwelling for each of the native cultures. We were allowed to walk through the various houses and ask questions of the guides. The Alaska Native Heritage Center was an enjoyable stop.
Native American show
Alaska Native Heritage Center exhibit
After picking up our box lunches that Princess provided, we boarded the bus and began our 3 hour ride to Seward to board the Sun Princess. Along the way we saw glaciers, huge mud flats, and breath-taking scenery. Our bus driver was an excellent narrator. She gave us a sense of what it's like to live in Anchorage.
Well, at last, we arrived at our ship, the Sun Princess. This would be the first time cruising for Traci and me, so we were very excited as the bus pulled up to this big beautiful ship. My parents, veteran cruisers, were also looking forward to spending the next seven days aboard the Sun Princess. We had pre-registered for embarkation a few weeks before via the Princess website, so the Princess rep directed us to the Express Check-in booth. There was no line. We walked up showed our ids, required documentation for entering Vancouver, Canada at the end of the cruise (passport, birth certificate, etc..), and received our ship credit card. Within 10 minutes we were on the ship.
We had inside cabins. We had heard that the inside cabins were small. They turned out to be even smaller than expected; therefore, Traci and my parents sent me to ask for upgrade. We got a letter from the ship registration desk the next day informing us that there were no more rooms available.
We spent the first evening exploring the ship. The Sun Princess is a beautiful ship and it was always spotless during our stay. We attended the lifeboat drill and then went to dinner. Our luggage was in our cabins by the time we returned from dinner.
There was always something going on on the Sun Princess. During our week on the ship, we attended the shows; played games such as Passenger Feud, Trivia Challenge, and Bingo; watched movies; listened to live music; and sometimes just stood out on the deck to watch the magnificent Alaskan scenery. There was a passenger talent show, a "Not So Newlywed Game" (very funny but the questions were too revealing for me to participate), a Passenger Survivor game, art auctions, ping pong tables, a casino, and many other activities to make sure you were never bored. Traci won a Bingo game which entitled her to $100 and a $50 gift certificate to a jewelry store in Skagway. (She ended up not using the gift certificate because everything in the store was a lot more than we wanted to spend - even with the certificate.) Each of us had our favorite activities on the ship. Traci enjoyed working out in the exercise room and having afternoon tea. My mother enjoyed the Bert Stratton piano act in the Atrium. I enjoyed the live music and nature talks while my father just enjoyed being on vacation and strolling the ship.
There were also photographers all over the place asking to take your picture. You could see the picture the next day hanging in the area just before the Vista Lounge. You could purchase the photos if you liked them. We ended up buying some.
Overall, the food on the ship was good. There are several places to eat on the ship; however, we only ate in the main dining room (1st seating) for dinner and the Horizon Court Buffet for breakfast and lunch. We rarely ate lunch on the ship, however.
The four of us were assigned to a table for six with another couple at dinner. We dined with the couple the first evening, but that was the last we saw of them. There were two formal nights during the cruise. Our waiters, Octavian and Claire were cordial and made every effort to please us. One thing to note about drinks (alcohol or soft drinks) is that they are not included in the price of your cruise. You must pay for them separately. None of us drink alcohol so I can't comment on the price; however, soda was $1.50 per can. You do not need to pay for unsweetened ice tea.
We were at sea for two days before our first port of call. During that time, the ship paused at two observation sites: College Fjord and Glacier Bay.
We arrived at College Fjord early (around 6 a.m.) the first morning on the ship. It was an overcast morning. We were able to see the seven glaciers of the fjord. The naturalist on board the ship gave explanations of the ship's PA system of what we were seeing. She also pointed out some otters swimming on there backs along side the ship. Binoculars were helpful for seeing the otters. There was no calving (large chunks of ice breaking off into the water and forming icebergs) by the glaciers that morning. There were icebergs all around us though. The captain turned the ship a few times to give everyone an opportunity to see the glaciers. After approximately 3 hours in the fjord, the ship was on the go again.
The next day, the ship cruised Glacier Bay. It was fascinating to enter the bay because little by little you begin to see icebergs in the water. I was on the lookout for whales and harbor seals because we were told there is a good chance of spotting them while in Glacier Bay. Unfortunately, I didn't see any whales or harbor seals that day. At one point, someone said they saw a whale in the distance, so we all went running to that side of the ship. However, I couldn't tell if I saw a spouting whale or if it was the spray from the sea crashing against the rocks.
The captain sailed the ship to an area where we had fantastic views of Margerie Glacier and Pacific Glacier. The two glaciers look very different. Margerie Glacier is mostly white with blue hues while Pacific Glacier appears black from all the debris it has accumulated as it has been retreating over past thousands of years. We had heard that Margerie Glacier has a tendency to be relatively active as far as calving is concerned. Well, Margerie wasn't very active that day. However, I wasn't discouraged. I was fascinated by just the sounds that I heard while we were there. Every now and then you would hear a loud cracking or popping sound that would echo all through the bay. This was the sound of compressed air being released from the glacial ice. Finally, after almost an hour and a half of standing on the deck looking at the glaciers, I finally caught some video of Margerie calving. Yeah! Continue...
Margerie Glacier calving
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