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Alaskan Cruise HAL or Princess


sbukha01
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Hello fellow Cruisers,

Me (33M) and my wife (30F) are planning a last minute cruise to Alaska (first time to Alaska) in August as there are no Canadian stops this year (Yay!! as we do not have a Canadian Visa). This would be our second cruise we have done one previously to Hawaii (Pride of America), so we are familiar with NCL but completely unaware of what to expect or how different the other cruise lines are going to be. 

As we are planning last minute we would really appreciate any and all advise from people who have cruised before. We are mainly looking for 1. Glaciers, 2. Wildlife, 3. Sightseeing and the onboard activities do come secondary. So after much deliberation we have narrowed down two itineraries.

 

1. HAL - Seattle->Stephens Passage->Juneau->Glacier Bay National Park->Icy Strait Point (Hoonah 4 hour stop)->Sitka->Ketchikan->Inside Passage->Seattle

2. Princess - Seattle->Juneau->Skagway->Glacier Bay National Park->Ketchikan->Inside Passage->Seattle

 

So after scouring for hours on the board I have come to the conclusion that HAL is more suited for seniors and has some formal nights (not for us) and a more uptight feel to the cruise whereas princess would be more in line with NCL and has a lot more activities on board (even though that is our secondary concern). So if the ports were the same the choice would be hands down Princess. 

 

Now I know I am going to ask the age old question of Sitka v/s Skagway but there is a twist. I have read through why one would pick one over the other and we really want to do Skagway as we get to see incredible views from the white pass rail road. We also did not feel that we were interested in the excursions at Sitka except the Sea otter and wild life watching tour. But would it be worth trading Skagway for Stephens Passage + Sitka + Icy Strait Point (only 4 hours) on HAL (which would be our second preferred pick). 

 

My pick for the cruise line is definitely going to be depending on the itinerary and not the amenities on board and I feel that HAL is giving us more ports and more picturesque travel compared to the route from Princess, but what do I know, I could be completely wrong and the path through Stephens passage might be pretty similar to the Glacier Bay National Park, so would love all the insights you guys can provide. 

 

Currently I am tilting towards HAL for Sitka+ Icy Point Strait+ Stephens Passage(just feel its more bang for our buck even though we might miss out on the WhitePass Railroad).

 

Also if anyone can tell us any other differences between Princess and HAL (any recent travelers). 

 

Thanks in advance!!

 

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Certainly for a first visit, I would pick the Skagway itinerary.  I have done it four times, always on Princess (because that’s where the bargains were).  EM

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4 hours ago, sbukha01 said:

HAL is more suited for seniors and has some formal nights (not for us)

On HAL the dress code for GALA nights is collared shirt and no jeans for men. On the Alaskan cruises you won't see many if any in tuxes or even suits. Maybe a sport jacket and/or tie.

 

Also for Alaskan cruises there are many 3 generations doing a family cruise.

 

That said, for a first cruise Skagway is probably the favorable deciding factor even if the rail tour doesn't go into Canada.

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I know most ships go through Stephen's Passage when sailing one ways. It is possible with roundtrip also. I think HAL just uses this as a marketing tool. I would not use this term to influence your decision.

 

They are both good itineraries. Look at the times in port - this is very important. I hate when cruise ships arrive in Juneau at 2 pm to 10 pm. Next - research the difference in ports and see which ones interest you most. Let that drive your decision.

 

Alaska by Cruise ship by Anne Vipond is a great book.

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I was making the same decision this year and went with HAL. I sailed Princess in Alaska in 2019 and Skagway is really really cool, but the Majestic Princess has no business in Alaska. I sailed on her sister ship, the Royal Princess, and they're lovely, new ships that for some reason lack azipods and turn into giant unmaneuverable sails in some weather, and so my sailing was one of the ones that missed Juneau. It really sucked. I wished Princess had picked the Coral or one of their other smaller ships for their one Alaska ship this year. And Princess is the only line going to both Skagway and Glacier Bay on the same itineraries this year. So if you really want to see Skagway and are okay rolling the dice, Princess does a fantastic job with programming, otherwise I'd pick another line. 

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22 hours ago, sbukha01 said:

Seattle->Stephens Passage->Juneau-

 

HAL is making this sounds like something that is worth experiencing.  Stephens Passage is nothing more than the name of the channel of water leading to/from Juneau.  There is really nothing remarkable about that stretch of water.

 

It sounds to me that Skagway is a priority for you.  Princess is then your choice.  Except, as has been pointed out by another poster, Majestic Princess, is really too large of a ship for Alaska itineraries.  This year, I am sure that it will be sailing at a reduced capacity which might make a difference when time to go ashore or return to the ship.  

 

Princess' Alaska oriented on board programming does offer a wider variety than HAL's.  2019, when I last cruised to Alaska, I sailed one way on Westerdam and the other way on Coral Princess.  Interesting to compare/contrast my experiences.  Both met my expectations.  Therefore, either Princess or HAL will provide you with a quality cruise experience, I think.  

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 Sitka is the most beautiful port I have visited in Alaska.  There is a lot to do there with the Raptor Center, Fortress of the Bears, the Totem park which is an amazing walk from the waterfront through the totems among the trees, along the ocean and over a bridge (Salmon in season) to the Raptor Center.  Sitka was the Russian capitol of Alaska and there is the Russian Cathedral right in the center of town and the cemetery nearby.   Shops in Sitka are not tourist traps.  

 

Icy Strait is a created Alaska port area near the village of Hoonah.   Icy Strait has a great zipline and plenty of education in relation to the fishing industry and the local cannery.  Hoonah is a genuine Alaska village.

 

Neither of these ports is “touristy”.

 

Skagway is a national park and has some great hiking opportunities and park exhibits. Part of its charm is the history and the connection to the Yukon Gold Rush.  

 

For 2021 I would choose Sitka and Icy Strait and HAL.  

 

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As a hobby photographer, the Skagway train ride has amazing scenery and Sitka has lots of wildlife. 

The HAL otters, raptors, and bears excursion puts lots of wildlife in front of your camera lens.  I have photos from one excursion of both humpback and gray whales, Sitka deer, otters, sea lions, eagles (wild and in the raptor center), both grizzly and black bears at the Fortress of the Bears (in a wild environment), and harbor seals.

 

https://rogerjett-photography.com/wp-content/gallery/white-pass-yukon-railroad/P6060236.jpg

 

https://rogerjett-photography.com/wp-content/gallery/otters/P5298798-2.jpg

 

https://rogerjett-photography.com/wp-content/gallery/humpback-whales/P7140092.jpg

 

https://rogerjett-photography.com/wp-content/gallery/brown-bears/P7090172.jpg

 

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Many cruise passengers get a taste of Alaska and return to see more of what they missed on their first visit.  On subsequent visits, Denali National Park needs to be on your to-do list. 

 

My favorite Skagway excursion is the dog sledding via helicopter flight and seeing 124 dogs barking to be chosen for a sled run:

 

https://rogerjett-photography.com/wp-content/gallery/skagway-dogsledding/P5120105-1.jpg

 

https://rogerjett-photography.com/wp-content/gallery/skagway-dogsledding/P5120106-1.jpg

 

https://rogerjett-photography.com/wp-content/gallery/skagway-dogsledding/P5120136-1.jpg

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On 7/2/2021 at 2:45 PM, rkacruiser said:

 

HAL is making this sounds like something that is worth experiencing.  Stephens Passage is nothing more than the name of the channel of water leading to/from Juneau.  There is really nothing remarkable about that stretch of water.

 

It sounds to me that Skagway is a priority for you.  Princess is then your choice.  Except, as has been pointed out by another poster, Majestic Princess, is really too large of a ship for Alaska itineraries.  This year, I am sure that it will be sailing at a reduced capacity which might make a difference when time to go ashore or return to the ship.  

 

Princess' Alaska oriented on board programming does offer a wider variety than HAL's.  2019, when I last cruised to Alaska, I sailed one way on Westerdam and the other way on Coral Princess.  Interesting to compare/contrast my experiences.  Both met my expectations.  Therefore, either Princess or HAL will provide you with a quality cruise experience, I think.  

Thank you so much for this insight…I also checked that whale watching tours go through Stephens passage from Juneau so I think I m more inclined towards Princess

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On 7/2/2021 at 9:26 AM, NinatheGreat said:

I was making the same decision this year and went with HAL. I sailed Princess in Alaska in 2019 and Skagway is really really cool, but the Majestic Princess has no business in Alaska. I sailed on her sister ship, the Royal Princess, and they're lovely, new ships that for some reason lack azipods and turn into giant unmaneuverable sails in some weather, and so my sailing was one of the ones that missed Juneau. It really sucked. I wished Princess had picked the Coral or one of their other smaller ships for their one Alaska ship this year. And Princess is the only line going to both Skagway and Glacier Bay on the same itineraries this year. So if you really want to see Skagway and are okay rolling the dice, Princess does a fantastic job with programming, otherwise I'd pick another line. 

Thanks for the valuable information I think I am going to roll the dice and go with Princess for Skagway….wish they could always just have the itinerary we wanted/wished….

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On 7/2/2021 at 7:55 PM, oaktreerb said:

 Sitka is the most beautiful port I have visited in Alaska.  There is a lot to do there with the Raptor Center, Fortress of the Bears, the Totem park which is an amazing walk from the waterfront through the totems among the trees, along the ocean and over a bridge (Salmon in season) to the Raptor Center.  Sitka was the Russian capitol of Alaska and there is the Russian Cathedral right in the center of town and the cemetery nearby.   Shops in Sitka are not tourist traps.  

 

Icy Strait is a created Alaska port area near the village of Hoonah.   Icy Strait has a great zipline and plenty of education in relation to the fishing industry and the local cannery.  Hoonah is a genuine Alaska village.

 

Neither of these ports is “touristy”.

 

Skagway is a national park and has some great hiking opportunities and park exhibits. Part of its charm is the history and the connection to the Yukon Gold Rush.  

 

For 2021 I would choose Sitka and Icy Strait and HAL.  

 

I wished they just stopped at both Sitka and Skagway….

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On 7/2/2021 at 8:42 PM, Crew News said:

Many cruise passengers get a taste of Alaska and return to see more of what they missed on their first visit.  On subsequent visits, Denali National Park needs to be on your to-do list. 

 

My favorite Skagway excursion is the dog sledding via helicopter flight and seeing 124 dogs barking to be chosen for a sled run:

 

https://rogerjett-photography.com/wp-content/gallery/skagway-dogsledding/P5120105-1.jpg

 

https://rogerjett-photography.com/wp-content/gallery/skagway-dogsledding/P5120106-1.jpg

 

https://rogerjett-photography.com/wp-content/gallery/skagway-dogsledding/P5120136-1.jpg

 

On 7/2/2021 at 8:29 PM, Crew News said:

As a hobby photographer, the Skagway train ride has amazing scenery and Sitka has lots of wildlife. 

The HAL otters, raptors, and bears excursion puts lots of wildlife in front of your camera lens.  I have photos from one excursion of both humpback and gray whales, Sitka deer, otters, sea lions, eagles (wild and in the raptor center), both grizzly and black bears at the Fortress of the Bears (in a wild environment), and harbor seals.

 

https://rogerjett-photography.com/wp-content/gallery/white-pass-yukon-railroad/P6060236.jpg

 

https://rogerjett-photography.com/wp-content/gallery/otters/P5298798-2.jpg

 

https://rogerjett-photography.com/wp-content/gallery/humpback-whales/P7140092.jpg

 

https://rogerjett-photography.com/wp-content/gallery/brown-bears/P7090172.jpg

 

Thanks for sharing these amazing pictures and providing valuable info….we are going to do the land portion of Alaska and will be visiting Denali National Park….for now I think we have decided to do Princess with Skagway….

 

thanks for all the help everyone….

Happy cruising!!

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Posted (edited)
On 7/1/2021 at 2:29 PM, sbukha01 said:

 

 

1. HAL - Seattle->Stephens Passage->Juneau->Glacier Bay National Park->Icy Strait Point (Hoonah 4 hour stop)->Sitka->Ketchikan->Inside Passage->Seattle

2. Princess - Seattle->Juneau->Skagway->Glacier Bay National Park->Ketchikan->Inside Passage->Seattle

 

 

 

Currently I am tilting towards HAL for Sitka+ Icy Point Strait+ Stephens Passage(just feel its more bang for our buck even though we might miss out on the WhitePass Railroad).

 

Also if anyone can tell us any other differences between Princess and HAL (any recent travelers). 

 

Thanks in advance!!

 

 

Interesting problem.  First of all, AK is all about the ports (which ports, time in port and arrival/departure times) and not about the ship. To me, the ship is just a big bus that gets me from place to place.

 

The basic difference is that HAL takes you to Icy Strait and Sitka while Princess takes you Skagway.   Icy Strait is neat because it is a real town while Skagway is a town that would dry up and blow away if the tourists stopped coming.  The problem is that you are only at Icy Strait for four hours and I feel that any 4 hour port stop is hardly worth getting off a ship for.

 

So in the end it comes down to Skagway versus Sitka.  I have made my feeling about the two towns in the previous paragraph.  Skagway is basically an overcrowded tourist trap stuck on top of some really fantastic scenery.  However, you will see fantastic scenery all over AK.  Sitka will be much less crowded because fewer ships visit and it is a real town with real people doing what real people do.  If the ships stopped visiting Sitka, the town would still be there.   Look up the history of Sitka in Wikipedia.  

 

I would pick the HAL cruise although it appears that you have picked Princess.

 

DON

Edited by donaldsc
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You mentioned you cannot enter Canada so keep in mind many of the excursion on the White Pass railroad in Skagway require a Passport (or Visa) for Canada as it enters their territory. 

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Caution about the expectations of that "INSIDE PASSAGE" - - -

 

The one between the B C mainland and Vancouver Island - Seymour Narrows - Johnstone Strait -

Campbell River - Strait of Georgia is in Canadian waters and is no doubt ? closed to US cruise

traffic until February 2022.

 

So Seattle cruise traffic to Alaska will be on the rough waters Pacific Ocean side of Vancouver

Island until reaching US waters in the SE panhandle of Alaska and that other Inside Passage.

 

The Inside Passage in Alaska is no where the remarkable up close scenic one that the Canadian

one is next to Vancouver Island.

 

But I could be wrong in that no one gets off while transiting either Inside Passages ?

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Unfortunately the mega ships all miss the best of the BC Inside Passage. While Johnstone Strait is impressive, the best parts of the BC Coast are Lama Passage, Princess Royal Channel and Grenville Channel - between Queen Charlotte Sound & Dixon Entrance.

 

Sadly, I believe only the smaller luxury/premium lines transit this part of the coast, these days. Other option is the local ferry which sails daily, alternating N'bd & S'bd between Prince Rupert & Port Hardy. The mega ships all use Hecate Strait to save on pilotage fees.

 

Except for the really small expedition size ships, the BC Coast really doesn't have many berths for cruise ships between Prince Rupert & Campbell River. Ships of about 400' LOA could dock at Bella Bella Govt Dock in Lama Passage.

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25 minutes ago, Heidi13 said:

Unfortunately the mega ships all miss the best of the BC Inside Passage. While Johnstone Strait is impressive, the best parts of the BC Coast are Lama Passage, Princess Royal Channel and Grenville Channel - between Queen Charlotte Sound & Dixon Entrance.

 

Sadly, I believe only the smaller luxury/premium lines transit this part of the coast, these days. Other option is the local ferry which sails daily, alternating N'bd & S'bd between Prince Rupert & Port Hardy. The mega ships all use Hecate Strait to save on pilotage fees.

 

Except for the really small expedition size ships, the BC Coast really doesn't have many berths for cruise ships between Prince Rupert & Campbell River. Ships of about 400' LOA could dock at Bella Bella Govt Dock in Lama Passage.

I have heard of ships making a port call at Nanaimo -

I don't know if this is a PVSA alternative to Victoria ?

What is there to see is a Wikipaedia venture ? 

 

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3 hours ago, don't-use-real-name said:

I have heard of ships making a port call at Nanaimo -

I don't know if this is a PVSA alternative to Victoria ?

What is there to see is a Wikipaedia venture ? 

 

 

Affirmative, some ships late season will do short cruises around Georgia Strait and call into Nanaimo.

 

The other PVSA alternative is Prince Rupert, but not too many ships use Rupert these days. Port Alberni, on the West Coast, has deep sea berths, but not aware of any cruise ship visits.

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Go on HAL if you want to sail on a bucket of bolts and have it quiet as a pin by 7:00 pm

Also, the food is ok

We are partial to Princess and LOVE it! Princess does a great job with nature commentators and the food is really good with LOTS to do!

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3 hours ago, nini said:

Go on HAL if you want to sail on a bucket of bolts and have it quiet as a pin by 7:00 pm

Also, the food is ok

We are partial to Princess and LOVE it! Princess does a great job with nature commentators and the food is really good with LOTS to do!

 

Just compared the HAL & Princess ships in Alaska in 2022. The oldest ship is the Grand Princess at 1997. Since both HAL & Princess are part of Carnival's  Holland America Group they share management in many areas, so I suspect maintenance standards are consistent across both Lines.

 

The newer Princess ship is a Royal Class that is way too big for Alaska and the ship has manoeuvering challenges that limit the operation in winds, in some ports. Other than the Grand Princess, they have 2 Super Grands, where they added another full deck of cabins (500 pax) to the original Grand hull. Therefore they are some of the most crowded ships we have sailed.

 

Food is highly subjective and after a 104-nights on Sea Princess in 2015, the poor quality of victuals and preparation, was one of the primary reasons we will never return to Princess. The ship also resembled a Greek Tramp ship rather than a pax vessel.

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25 minutes ago, Heidi13 said:

 

Just compared the HAL & Princess ships in Alaska in 2022. The oldest ship is the Grand Princess at 1997. Since both HAL & Princess are part of Carnival's  Holland America Group they share management in many areas, so I suspect maintenance standards are consistent across both Lines.

 

The newer Princess ship is a Royal Class that is way too big for Alaska and the ship has manoeuvering challenges that limit the operation in winds, in some ports. Other than the Grand Princess, they have 2 Super Grands, where they added another full deck of cabins (500 pax) to the original Grand hull. Therefore they are some of the most crowded ships we have sailed.

 

Food is highly subjective and after a 104-nights on Sea Princess in 2015, the poor quality of victuals and preparation, was one of the primary reasons we will never return to Princess. The ship also resembled a Greek Tramp ship rather than a pax vessel.

I believe the Sea Princess is ancient history. We love the Grand and other ships in its class. We never feel crowded on any Princess ships. We have been on the Crown and Golden Princess (sisters of the Grand) in Alaska and it was fantastic! The Captain does a 360 in Glacier Bay and the onboard commentators are wonderful.

Perspective is personal. I really do not think we would have enjoyed the Sea Princess either.

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Posted (edited)

I have to say I have felt the Crown (Crown, Ruby, Emerald) on Princess - does feel crowded. I hated my experience on her. It was a cooler environment cruise and the atrium was so packed - it was difficult to walk around. The wait for elevators seemed to take forever (I was traveling with a disabled parent so we had to use elevators). When we did get in one - it was so packed.

 

Princess and HAL are managed by the same group. There is a lot of overlap - especially when it comes to Alaska.

 

I actually fell in love with cruising on the Sea Princess and loved the Sun Class ships but admit that it has been a long time since I have been on these ships and can't comment on fairly recent cruises. They are all gone from Princess now.

 

The food on my last Princess cruise was not that great. It wasn't bad - it just wasn't great. I didn't starve. When I cruise on mass lines - I know this going in.

Edited by Coral
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Hope you have a great cruise.  
 

I’m booked on my fifth AK cruise this September, fingers crossed it happens.  I’m a fan.  
 

Hoping for at least a sixth cruise to visit Sitka.  This year, Icy Strait Point is my new port.  No two cruises have followed the same itinerary.

 

 

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