Cruises and Sailing

7 Things I Loved, Plus 4 Things I Didn’t During Princess’s Alaska Cruisetour

cruises and sailing, types of travel, 7 things i loved, plus 4 things i didn’t during princess’s alaska cruisetour

The Royal Princess docks in Vancouver before sailing through Alaska.Photo credit: Steven Berrebi

On my first morning after embarking on the Royal Princess Hamilton Cruise ship on a sea and land cruise from Vancouver through the Inside Passage of Alaska and up to Fairbanks, I sat on my portside balcony and watched the gray seas as the pale morning sun rose.

A sudden movement caught my eye, and the head of a humpback whale rose directly out of the water, suspended for a brief moment before it disappeared under the sea.

“Did I just see that?” I muttered sleepily to myself. As if to answer me, the telltale poof of water shot out of the sea, followed by the dark, subtle hump of the whale as he followed alongside our massive 1,083-foot long ship.

Instantly, I ran inside to wake my travel buddy, but by the time he got to the balcony, the whale was long gone. However, that whale sighting was a premonition of extraordinary adventures to come on the Princess Cruises’ 12-17 day Connoisseur Alaska Cruisetour.

From luscious food choices and all-day entertainment to excursions and off-shore adventures through Alaska’s small coastal communities, the Alaska Cruisetour was probably one of the most fun trips I had taken all year. While I had my first cruise in January on a small excursion ship, I was invited and hosted by Princess Cruises to experience my first “big” cruise ship. For some reason, I had poo-pooed the idea of the big “floating city” cruise ships in the past, but the 12 days of sailing and traveling with Princess changed my mind.

I get it now. I get why people dream of cruises and just how easy it is to relax and just enjoy when you are being pampered, cared for, and catered to by a cruise ship company. Coming from the eyes of a brand-new cruiser (this won’t be my last cruise, I guarantee you), here are the seven things I loved — plus the four things I didn’t — during the Princess Alaska Cruisetour.

cruises and sailing, types of travel, 7 things i loved, plus 4 things i didn’t during princess’s alaska cruisetour

Travel Blogger Erin Cohen uses her Medallion to order food, drink and more through the user-friendly app.Photo credit: Steven Berrebi

7 Things I Loved

1. Medallion Magnificant and the Staff

The Royal Princess is a Princess MedallionClass™ ship with a capacity of 3,560 guests. The MedallionClass ships use touchless technologies in the form of a small, quarter-sized customizable Medallion and an app to enhance and personalize individual experiences and health protocols.

This thing is so cool. I had my Medallion customized with an astrological symbol and ordered the rubber wristband. While wearing it, the Medallion automatically unlocks and locks my stateroom door as I enter it, allows staff to find me anywhere on the ship to deliver my daily Bloody Mary, allows for touch-free boarding and purchases, let me find my travel companion on the ship, and more.

“So let’s say you’re out tanning by the pool and you want to get some extra sunscreen, you can go on the app on your phone and order sunscreen which will be purchased through the app and delivered to you where you are anywhere on the ship,” said Briana Latner, public relations and marketing for Princess Cruises. “We’ve also introduced ‘Dine My Way,’ which helps you make reservations in the main dining rooms and the specialty dining, helps get rid of wait times and helps you with your special preferences.”

Another feature of the Princess Medallion is the Ocean Compass, which allows you to locate and message your travel companions. Whomever you are traveling with is automatically named as travel companions in the app, but you can remove each other if you choose to.

“Sometimes there are kids who are teenagers. They can go off on their own, but you want to make sure you know where they are and they’re safe,” Latner said. “Many people who are traveling with parents or the elderly who may get disoriented find it’s been really helpful  to be able to find each other too.”

cruises and sailing, types of travel, 7 things i loved, plus 4 things i didn’t during princess’s alaska cruisetour

The Princess Cruises’ MedallionClass ships use touchless technologies in the form of a small, quarter-sized customizable Medallion and an app to enhance experiences.Photo credit: Steven Berrebi

Travel blogger Erin Cohen said the Medallion created a level of ease on her trip that shocked her.

“It makes you eat too much,” she laughed. “Everything comes to you at the snap of a finger or the touch of a button. The Medallion makes life almost too easy, but it’s great.”

Combined with the Princess Medallion, the staff on the boat is top-notch. Our stateroom was cleaned twice a day at least (the Medallion lets staff know when you are out of your room so they don’t disturb you), the bartenders all know your name and preferred drink, and every crewmember greets you with a cheerful hello.

Using the app and the Medallion was super convenient when it came to purchases, ordering, getting around, and more.

Pro Tip: Download the app before you embark on the cruise to upload safety and health documents, pre-book activities and dining, and get used to all the features. It’s a lot to learn. You can order the Medallion ahead of time and either have it sent to you prior to the cruise or you can pick it up upon embarkation.

Fun Fact: The Pacific Princess was the star ship in the 1977 television series called The Love Boat. That series also made the concept of a sea-going vacation popular with millions of people and has been widely credited with fueling the dramatic expansion of the cruise industry.

cruises and sailing, types of travel, 7 things i loved, plus 4 things i didn’t during princess’s alaska cruisetour

Travel in style on Princess’s own scenic rail car.Photo credit: Steven Berrebi

2. By Land And By Sea

The Royal Princess Alaska Cruisetours are a combo land and sea experience. In addition to a 7-day Voyage of the Glaciers Alaska cruise that includes two glacier-viewing experiences and stops in the small Alaskan communities of Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, and Whittier (Anchorage), you’ll also explore Alaska’s interior with a guided land exploration tour.

Once you’ve disembarked from the ship, you can spend 3 or more nights on land at the various Princess Wilderness Lodges, including the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge, the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, and the Fairbanks Princess Wilderness Lodge.

cruises and sailing, types of travel, 7 things i loved, plus 4 things i didn’t during princess’s alaska cruisetour

The Princess Alaska Cruisetour brings guests to Princess Wilderness Lodges near the famed national parks of Alaska.Photo credit: Heide Brandes

These lodges are situated riverside near the legendary Denali National Park and Preserve, on the stunningly beautiful Kenai Peninsula, and in Fairbanks. Each lodge offers its own unique personality.

You will also travel by rail in a private Princess Cruises scenic railroad car and by tour bus to the various locations.

We were on the Connoisseur Alaska Cruisetour, which offers the highest level of service with a dedicated tour director, the 7-day Voyages of the Glaciers cruise, 5-10 nights on land, travel on the Princess Alaska rail service, stays at Kenai Fjords National Park and Denali National Park, a Tundra Wilderness Tour into Denali National Park (We saw three grizzly bears!), sightseeing opportunities, and most meals included.

What I loved about this option was the ability to see not only the glaciers and wonders of coastal Alaska along the Inside Passage, but a chance to explore the famed national parks of Alaska’s rugged and beautiful interior. It truly was the best of both worlds.

“You see pictures but to see it in person is just like, it’s hard to believe this is even real. The whole time I was in Alaska, I just kept saying it was like a movie set,” said Cohen.

cruises and sailing, types of travel, 7 things i loved, plus 4 things i didn’t during princess’s alaska cruisetour

The Royal Princess boasts of numerous fine dining and casual dining options, so you’ll never go hungry.Photo credit: Heide Brandes

3. All The Choices (And Unlimited Drinks)

So maybe you are craving a pepperoni pizza while you lounge in one of the many hot tubs on the 16th-floor deck. Maybe one night, all you dream of is a big juicy steak with a Maine lobster tail. Maybe you want a lot of choices from the all-day buffet.

On the Royal Princess, the more than a dozen dining choices come in many different flavors, ranging from high-end steakhouse to Italian cuisine to sushi. Like many cruise ships, the Royal Princess has a buffet that features Asian, Indian, American, and Latino cuisine, as well as breakfast items, fresh fruit, a pastry bar, and more. On the fifth floor in the central Vista, a small deli is open 24/7 for the late night/early morning crowd.

The ship also has numerous bars, and because we were given the unlimited drinks option, we put those to good use. From the poolside bars to the cozy Wheelhouse Bar with its live music, you’ll not have to worry about finding the perfect cocktail or Alaska beer to sip on.

Although I dined at the fancy Crown Grill and Sabatini’s, the buffet was our go-to option most days due to the sheer variety of foods to choose from. Be warned, though: It’s easy to let your eyes be bigger than your stomach, and you can end up eating more than you planned because the food is just so tasty.

cruises and sailing, types of travel, 7 things i loved, plus 4 things i didn’t during princess’s alaska cruisetour

The Princess Alaska Cruisetour ventures into Alaska’s Interior to sites like Denali National Park and Preserve.Photo credit: Steven Berrebi

4. Lots Of Viewing Areas

The Alaska Cruisetour I was on started from Vancouver and sailed through Alaska’s Inside Passage through some of the most beautiful scenery I’d ever seen. With glaciers, waterfalls, misty mountains, and otters and whales frolicking in the waves, it would be a crime not to take it all in.

I loved all the decks and viewing areas on the Royal Princess. From our own private balcony to picture windows throughout the ship to expansive decks, the views just kept coming.

Pro Tip: Bring binoculars! I really regretted not bringing the pair I own. Trust me, you won’t regret taking them when the whales and otters make their appearance.

cruises and sailing, types of travel, 7 things i loved, plus 4 things i didn’t during princess’s alaska cruisetour

From big stage productions and performances to daily classes and activities, there’s plenty to do and watch on Royal Princess’s Cruisetour.Photo credit: Steven Berrebi

5. Performances And Special Programs

You’ll never get bored on this Cruisetour. Starting as early as 6 a.m. every day, the Royal Princess has events, special programs, classes, naturalist talks, and fun activities. From morning stretching on the deck to art auctions and contests to game shows and line dancing classes, this ship doesn’t stop!

In addition to the hourly activities, excursions, and options during the day, The Royal Princess presents big musical shows, comedians, naturalist talks, and more in its expansive Princess Theatre. The smaller bars and venues feature live musicians and fun, silly game shows while the main Vista area of the fifth floor holds concerts and dance parties. The ship even has a disco, a hopping casino with slots and table games, a very large fitness area on the 17th deck, poolside movies, a pickleball court, a Discovery Camp for kids, and more.

Every day, a daily newsletter listing all the activities on the ship is delivered to your room, so it’s easy to find and choose what performances or classes you’d like to take part in. If you are bored at all on this ship, that’s on you! Seriously, you’ll have a hard time picking which fun activity to do.

6. Being Pampered

After days of hiking, exploring Alaska’s small communities, whale watching, dancing all night, and maybe having one too many cocktails, it’s nice to be pampered. The Royal Princess’ onboard Lotus Spa brings you to a place of peace and Zen with services like traditional massage, acupuncture, facials like the La Therapie HydraLift facial, couples massage, and Aroma Stone Therapy Massage.

After relaxing, cruisers can head to The Enclave, a getaway of thermal suites and a hydro-therapy pool with a cascading rain shower and therapeutic air jets. Sweat out your worries at a Turkish-style steam bath, steam rooms, and dry saunas for purification and detoxification, then doze off on the heated stone beds or relaxing water beds.

Another pampering experience is Royal Princess’ The Sanctuary, an adult-only retreat on the top deck with private cabanas, food and drink, and al fresco massages. The “Serenity Stewards” are quietly efficient in delivering everything you need, from fresh mimosas to towels.

7. All The Excursions

With 12 days of adventure, it would be impossible for me to list all the land and sea excursions available through the Royal Princess Cruisetour. Thankfully, you’ll be able to find all the options through the Medallion app and with the onboard concierges.

For my excursions, I went out on a crab boat in Ketchikan to learn about crab harvesting and to stuff myself silly on Dungeness crab, roared up winding mountain trails on a UTV, spotted whales, climbed glaciers, kayaked pristine mountain glacial lakes, toured and spotted wildlife on a Tundra Wilderness Tour in Denali National Park and so much more.

The excursions range from the sedate and relaxing to the wild and extreme, so there’s a little bit of everything for anyone. You can see the list of available excursions here.

4 Things I Didn’t Love

1. Prices Of Excursions

Alaska is expensive. There’s no getting around that fact. Being able to enjoy the Alaska landscape on a guided excursion is going to cost you. Some of the most expensive excursions include flights on small planes and helicopters, but they tend to be the most popular as well, like the Denali Flightseeing tours and helicopter tours of surrounding glaciers.

You aren’t required to purchase excursions, however. If you’d rather explore the different ports on your own, you can do that too.

cruises and sailing, types of travel, 7 things i loved, plus 4 things i didn’t during princess’s alaska cruisetour

The Royal Princess Alaska Cruisetour offers a variety of excursions, like Travel Blogger Erin Cohen’s scenic ride on the White Pass Rail in Skagway.Photo credit: Steven Berrebi

2. Not Enough Time In Each Port Or Land Lodge

When you are cruising, you have a schedule to keep. You might fall in love with tiny little Skagway, but you only have a day in port. You may want to spend more time at the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge with its cozy rooms and fireplaces, but you only have one night.

The fact that you do not have control over how long you can stay in any one place is certainly not Princess’ fault, but it is a bummer and a fact of life when cruising.

3. No Coffee In The Room

One of my biggest pet peeves in life is not having coffee available in my room when traveling. Yes, ordering coffee to the room was easy and the staff at Princess were on top of my caffeine addiction, but it would have been nice to have one of those little coffee makers tucked away so I could make my own coffee.

One great thing about the Royal Princess is the ability to order coffee and breakfast the night before. Each day, you can fill out a form listing what items you’d like to order and what time they should be delivered, so that’s convenient.

4. Staffing Problems At The Lodges

Like so many other destinations, Alaska has a worker shortage. That desperate need for seasonal and long-term employees has led to some staffing issues at some of the lodges. While the Royal Princess ship boasts 1,346 crew members from more than 30 different countries, some of the lodges had problems filling spots, which led to slowdowns, some maintenance issues, and longer wait times.

My best advice is to stay patient with the destinations and with the staff that is working. Everyone is doing the best they can with less.

All in all, my first “big cruise” experience was stellar and has made me a believer! Hopefully, this won’t be my last cruise, and if you yearn for an easy, well-organized way to experience Alaska, the Royal Princess Alaska Cruisetour is the way to go.

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