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Review of Star Princess to Alaska, June 11-18, 2016: Even better than I expected!


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Along with another couple (good friends and bridge partners) my husband (DH) and I boarded the Star Princess on June 11, 2016 after a 5-day DIY tour of the Denali National Park area. We considered a Princess cruise tour, but decided against it because we wanted the flexibility of having a rental car. My husband and I have been on a number of cruises before, but this was our first Princess cruise. I LOVE cruising. My husband enjoys it too, but not as much as I do. This was our friends’ first Princess cruise as well.

 

This is not going to be a day-by-day review, just general impressions and things we did. Our very fine travel agent helped us plan this trip, and all our arrangements worked out perfectly. Overall, we had pretty darn good weather, too. I’m not tech savvy enough to add the Patters, but if you have questions, I’ll try to answer them

 

Precruise: If you just want to hear about the cruise, skip this part. We flew into Anchorage from the midwest on Sunday, June 5. Our friends drove to Seattle to see their son and his family, then drove to Vancouver, left their car at the airport, and flew to Anchorage to join us. Our flights actually arrived less than twenty minutes apart! We picked up our rental car and drove to the Microtel Inn and Suites where we had a reservation. It was fine; nothing fancy of course, but okay for one night. We were all hungry so we drove downtown and ate at the F Street Station, recommended by the car rental agent. It was busy, which we took as a good sign, and the food was good.

 

On Monday we drove to the Denali National Park area; it rained the whole way. We stopped in Talkeetna for a snack at the Talkeetna Roadhouse, where I had a fantastic raspberry cinnamon roll - one of the best things I ate in Alaska. We stayed at the Denali Lakeview Inn for four nights, which was perfect for us; it was quiet, situated on beautiful Lake Otto, and only fifteen minutes from the national park entrance. We saw a moose swimming in the lake and grazing nearby. We took the shuttle bus into the park twice -- the first time to the Eielson Visitor Center, the second time to Toklat. On the first trip we saw Denali (so exciting), numerous caribou, Dall sheep, and a magpie pestering a ptarmigan, but no bears.

 

We had originally only reserved the shuttle for one trip to Eielson, but since we didn’t see any bears, we decided to book another trip to Toklat. On that trip we saw a grizzly sow with two cubs not too far from the road and quite a few more sheep, but only a few caribou. Denali was hidden from our view that day. On our first shuttle ride the bus driver talked nonstop, which we enjoyed but irritated some of our fellow passengers. The driver the day we went to Toklat was cheerful and would answer questions if asked, but didn’t offer a running commentary. They were both good.

 

We enjoyed the sled dog demo so much we saw it twice, watched the magnificent Hearbeats of Denali movie, and went on a ranger-led hike as we badly needed some exercise. We saw a cow moose with two calves grazing along the road near the Wilderness Access Center. When planning the trip we wondered if four days was too long to spend at the park, but it wasn’t. We easily filled four days with activities without doing any ATV tours, rafting, or helicopter/airplane trips.

 

We ate at the 49th State Brewery twice (great yak burgers and good food in general) and also enjoyed dinner at The Diamond Grill, which was only a short distance from the Denali Lakeview Inn.

 

On Friday we drove back to Anchorage. We had enjoyed the Talkeetna Roadhouse so much on the way to Denali we decided to return there for lunch. It was a sunny, clear day and we saw Denali in multiple spots on our way to Talkeetna. By lunch time however, the mountain was hidden in clouds. After a stop at the Kahiltna Birchworks for some Birch syrup, we had a delicious lunch at the Roadhouse (to-die-for blueberry scone amongst other goodies) and made it back to Anchorage by 4:00. We had reservations at the Anchorage Grand Hotel, chosen because of its proximity to the Alaska Railroad station, our transportation to Whittier. The Grand is an older property, but the room was huge and it was clean and comfortable. After we checked in, the men returned our rental car to the airport and got a taxi back to the Grand. A continental breakfast of packaged blueberry muffins, packets of oatmeal, granola bars, coffee, and juice was provided.

 

We enjoyed riding the Alaska Railroad train ride from Anchorage to Whittier, even though it was a cloudy day with drizzle. By the time we reached Whittier, it was raining steadily. But with the first glimpse of the Star Princess, my excitement rose to a whole new level.

 

The Cruise:

 

We arrived in Whittier a little after noon; embarkation went very quickly! It only took 30 minutes from the time we got off the train until we were on board. Our daughters surprised us with a deluxe anniversary package (our 38th anniversary was June 2), which was so special and included all sorts of goodies. I was so happy at that point I could have cried; I think maybe I did. I love cruises.

 

Accommodations:

 

We booked premium balcony cabins on the port side of Caribe deck on the advice of our travel agent. We had thought long and hard about whether to splurge on the balcony, and in the end I’m glad we did. We had mostly good weather on our cruise and I spent a lot of time on the balcony. The cabin itself was fine, perhaps a little worn, but the bed was comfortable and there was plenty of closet space. We didn’t see our stewardess much and she seemed to have trouble getting the ice we asked for, but she kept the room neat and was pleasant when we saw her. I thought the Star was in pretty good shape for an older ship.

 

Food:

 

It was fine. I am not a foodie, nor is my husband. He would happily eat hamburgers and hot dogs all the time if I would let him Everything we had was reasonably good, some things better than others, of course. We certainly didn’t go hungry. We didn’t find the beef to be very good, but we’re from the midwest and enjoy exceptionally good beef all the time. We had anytime dining and ate in Portofino most nights around 7:45 after the traditional dining seating was over. We never had to wait since we were willing to share a table with others. I thought the service from all the waiters we encountered was good, though somewhat slow at times.

 

I actually thought the food in the Horizon Court was very good for a buffet. We ate in the Crown Grill one evening, another benefit of the anniversary package. Perhaps it was because I wasn't feeling very well that night, or maybe I just ordered the wrong thing, but I didn't think the food there was THAT much better than what we had in the main dining room. The service there was exceptionally good. We all enjoyed the British pub lunch on the last day. We only utilized room service for coffee and orange juice on GLacier Bay day, and for one breakfast.

 

Entertainment: We enjoyed Bert Stratton's piano lounge act and the La Bohemia string trio. Sunday night was the first production show, Destination Anywhere. I was not feeling very well and so tired that I couldn't really enjoy this. The second show, British Invasion, was SRO by the time we got there after Bert Stratton's show, and we didn't feel up to standing through the whole thing. We didn't participate in trivia, dance classes, etc but I thought there was a good variety of things to do in the evenings and on sea days. The naturalists on board did a wonderful job of explaining what we were seeing.

 

Alaska:

 

Spectacular. Magnificent. Splendid. Our day in Glacier Bay was so wonderful! We started the day with massages in the spa, which were part of our anniversary package. It was a sunny, mostly clear day with a high temperature around 59 degrees. We saw whales (some breaching), seals, a bear in the distance, and the glaciers....oh my, the glaciers are a sight to behold. We saw Margerie Glacier calve multiple times (truly awesome.) We spent most of the day on our balcony. At lunch time we went to Lido deck and got food from the "Alaskan picnic" buffet and took it back to our balcony to enjoy. Around 4:00 we had mimosas toasting our fantastic day.

 

Skagway:

 

We booked a tour to the Yukon with Frontier Tours, which proved to be a great decision. We were on a small tour bus with about nine other folks. Our tour guide, a young man from Chicago by the name of Thomas (or Tomás as he pronounced it) was excellent. He was very willing to take photos for everyone and stop in places off the usual route. We saw black bears right by the road in two different spots, which totally made up for seeing so few in Denali NP. Our tour took us to Carcross, where we had a nice lunch at Caribou Crossing. The taxidermy museum there is fantastic, and we enjoyed seeing their sled dogs and puppies. Emerald Lake was so beautiful. After we returned to town we walked to the library to use their WiFi before returning to the ship around 5:15.

 

Juneau:

 

We enjoyed a sunny, beautiful day in Juneau (high around 75 degrees) but the 10:30 a.m. whale watching tour DH and I had booked with Harv and Marv was canceled due to high winds on Auke Bay. The H&M representative tried to get us on a bigger vessel, but wasn’t able to do so, and the ship’s tour was sold out. I was so disappointed. Instead of whale watching we walked into town (we were at the farthest pier, AJ Dock), did our souvenir shopping for our daughters and grandchildren, and peeked into the Red Dog Saloon. There were vendors in town selling whale watching excursions, but by this time it was 11:30 and we had to be back on board at 3:30, so we knew it would be cutting it too close to do one of those. We actually walked to town twice (once before the scheduled meeting time for our tour and then after the tour was canceled) so we got in a lot of steps that day. My pedometer said I’d walked six miles at the end of the day.

 

Ketchikan: We didn’t have a tour planned in this port. It was a cloudy, cool day so we walked over to Creek Street, then to the Totem Heritage Center to see the totem poles ($5 admission) and went back to the ship around 12:30 for lunch. Our friends went back out after lunch in search of the library and WiFi. They said the library was straight up the side of a mountain and it was quite a workout!

 

Our last day at sea was sunny and nice; there were even some folks in swimsuits as it was warm as long as you were in the sun! My husband and I were invited to a tour of the bridge (another anniversary package goodie) that we enjoyed. We played bridge in Skywalkers Lounge (there was almost never anyone there during the day although we never made it up there at night) and ate several times, of course. We spent quite a bit of time on the balcony; it was quite scenic as we got closer to Vancouver.

 

Debarkation and post cruise:

 

Debarkation was easy! We carried off our own luggage, took a taxi to the Vancouver Airport and were there by 8:05 to retrieve our friends’ car. We took the car ferry to Victoria, went to Butchart Gardens (well worth the time if you love flowers) and spent the night at the Harbour Tower Hotel and Suites (not fancy, but fine). We had a great meal at Belleville’s Watering Hole near our hotel, which included our first ever poutine (so good.) Sunday we took another car ferry to Port Angeles, Washington, then made our way to Seattle for an overnight stay with our friends’ son and family. They had made reservations for an 8:15 dinner at the Space Needle restaurant, which was wonderful as it was a clear evening. We enjoyed beautiful views of Mount Rainier and Seattle before and after dark. The last day of our trip was spent in Seattle seeing Pike Place Market, the original Starbucks, Kerry Park, and GasWorks Park before our friends took us to the airport for a red-eye flight home.

 

It was a marvelous trip. I would go back in a heartbeat if there weren’t so many other places I’d like to visit. Maybe some day we can take our grandchildren. I really liked Princess, too. It’s been five years since my last cruise (Carnival) so I guess it’s not fair to compare the two as the industry has made a lot of cutbacks, but I really couldn’t see that much difference in the two cruise experiences except for the passenger demographic (more children and young folks on Carnival), and the Star Princess is decorated more elegantly. These are just my opinions, of course. And as I said in the beginning, I love cruises. Haven’t been on a ship or cruise line yet that I haven’t enjoyed (Carnival, RCI, NCL, and now Princess).

Edited by newdestination
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Thank you for the great review...Looking forward to our Land/cruise next May on the Star.

Your photos are wonderful! I am going to check out the Yukon tour you all took. I would love to see the Alaskan critters!! :D

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Nice review, thank you.

 

We are also staying at the Anchorage Grand Hotel before catching the train to Whittier. Good to hear it was satisfactory. Is the train station close enough to walk to or did you take a taxi?

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Thanks for posting. So sad about your whale excursion --it was really choppy out there...

 

I only booked this a week prior to the cruise, actually while we were at Denali NP. After I booked the excursion I had a feeling I should have chosen the 7:30 trip instead. Sounds like you had a great time despite the weather. Glad you got to go! Perhaps I will get another chance some day.

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