First and foremost, we had a wonderful time. Each of you who is planning a cruise is in for an experience you will never forget. If I wrote about the cruise in detail, I would be just plagarizing those who have written before. But I will post a few things that stand out for me and the things I'd do differently.
I would book my own land portion. It sounds a little daunting at first, but with web and good input from fellow travelers on these forums and elsewhere, you can do it yourself. If you are going next year, I'll even hold your hand and guide you through it. I'm not a travel agent, but this is easy to do. Just write me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Juneau: We did a Coastal Helecopter glacier landing (yes, they DO weigh every single person right there in public at the desk, even my 60# granddaughter!) and it was the best of the best of trips.
Ketchikan: The Anan Creek trip was far and away my personal favorite, but only because it was salmon, and therefore, bear season. We saw 4 black bears up close and a Grizzly downriver, about 200'. It was my first time on a float plane and that is like the kind of flying I've always done in my dreams, quiet and close to the ground. If I had ridden one of these in my youth, I'd have learned to fly them! It was almost a spiritual experience for me.
Skagway: We chose to rent a car and PB served us well, though it is really hard to find them. You can keep asking around tho, because everyone knows them. If you write and ask me, I may have by then dug out the actual address...but insist that they give you the address. We loved the people there and it is such a small-town-charming experience. The border guard coming back said, "oh, you must have rented that car from Miles." Yep. The car had over 100k miles but felt safe and trustworthy. The thing about it for us, was that we enjoyed getting out from under the velvet confinement of Princess and being on our own, having autonomy for that short time. We actually followed and alternately led the Princess busses most of the time. BTW...take along plastic bags, order sandwiches for breakfast the night before from room service if you want to save $$$ and TIME on lunch. If you bring along one of those freezer thingies, your steward (I wanted to bring my room steward home!) will pop it in a freezer for you.
Actually, after seeing the shows, I'd have preferred to bring home that dark dancer and I'd have put a mint or two on HIS pillow!!!
From Steward, if we had it to do over, we'd book the train to Anchorage, then rent a car there. We used High Country/Rent Rite. I was quoted about $50/day (mileage included) by phone, but then explored some of the travel sites online and found a $31 quote on one of them for that same company. I called them back and asked if they wanted to meet it. They did. Then I found a 10% discount coupon in the Anchorage Visitors' Guide and they took that too. (Submit coupon before signing contract.) I ended up upgrading for $7 to a compact. The car was fine. Anchorage is worth a couple nights, then I'd drive up to the Denali area (you MUST buy Mileposts--THE travel guide) for a couple nights. Take some time going to Denali. The Iditarod Museum in Wasilla and Talkeetna are must-do's. There are several places to stay up by the Denali National Park (there is also a Denali State Park) and we even saw vacancy signs in mid-August. We just LOVED Denali and Budget Queen is soooooo right...you MUST take the shuttle at least to Eielson Visitors Center. The Denali tours are all too short and you don't see enough on them. The trip to Eielson takes 8 hours and you need reservations. You need a place to stay before and after.
The other thing I'd do differently is that I would cruise back. By the time you pay the premium on the air tickets for having basically 2 one-way flights, you almost pay for your return trip by ship.
Now here is the BIGGEST thing I'd do differently: I will never again cruise with Personal Choice Dining!!!! If you are stuck with it, a couple hints: (If Luigi is your headwaiter, just commit suicide now.) The day you board the ship, call down and make dinner reservations first thing. The line the first night was unreal. If you have reservations, you bypass the line and just go in and show them your cruise card. Make reservations each morning--as early as they will let you. If you have a waiter you like, ask for him when you make your reservations. We didn't like it because of the first-night pandemonium, the inflexibility of Luigi, the headwaiter; we would have enjoyed a waiter who knew us, and it is tiresome to ask the same thing of your dinner companions each night: "what did you do in _____" (the latest port). We'd have liked to get past that and gotten to know our dinner companions better. We asked countless Personal Choice diners what they would choose next time and all but one couple were passionately committed to traditional dining next time. We didn't know, until the third day that we could go to the traditional dining room for breakfast or lunch. That helped. Like I read over and over, the buffet in Horizon Court is not worth the calories.
A note on dining. Because of Rachel's kid activities, early seating worked best for us. We were never ready for dessert at the end of those fabulous meals that early, so we took our dessert menu with us. You can order any dessert on the menu from room service UP TO 10 pm!!! We loved that.
The first time we ordered room service I told my adult daughter to get some cash to tip the waiter. She said, "but Mom, this is 'cashless cruising'". I said, "right, just hold out the money and see how 'cashless' this cruise is!!!" Of course, he happily took the tip.
The kids program was fabulous. There were over 150 kids aboard and you'd never have guessed it. They really kept those kids happy. The literature says the youngest group is 2-12, but they divide that group up. Rachel was in a 10-12 group and just had the most fabulous time. Having her own key and run of the ship was a new experience for her too and she loved it. She got lost once but it worked out. Lessons learned...
Write if you have questions. Griping aside, we loved the cruise and would cruise Princess again...but not exclusively. Anyone going the right way at the right time at the right price...I'm there!
I'm still looking for a cruise buddy to share cost of a cruise to China, transatlantic, or through the Panama Canal...but no Personal Choice!!!
Cheryl Sun Princess 8/6/01