Just got back from the Sea Princess cruise of the Inside Passage round trip from Vancouver, May 25-June 1. We went to Juneau, Glacier Bay (cruise only), Skagway, and Sitka, respectively.
I really enjoyed the vacation, but there were some things I wish I had known or thought to ask and am sharing my experience and naiveté in hopes it helps someone. I apologize for what might be a lengthy posting.
I went with my boyfriend and his family. We each bought inside staterooms since we figured we wouldn't be spending that much time in our rooms. My boyfriend's parents' inside stateroom was huge! If you check out the deck plans, my room was B205 (Baja deck room 205) and my boyfriend's parents' room was B312: http://www.princess.com/onboard/flee...eck_baja1.html
. We weren't sure why the room was larger for the same price, but we theorized it was for disability access.
The Sea Princess ship was impressive. I haven't been on any other cruise, so I can't compare. We were happy with the selection of activities and spaces to explore or hang out. One night our Personal Choice dining room, the Neopolitan, was changed to formal dress. We were disappointed since this had not been previously indicated.
We prebooked all of our excursions out of fear they would sell out.
We had booked the following excursions for Juneau:
1) Helicopter excursion with Coastal
2) Mt. Roberts Tramway
3) Historic Juneau Gold Mine Tour
1) Eagle Preserve Wildlife Quest by Jet Boat
1) Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest
In Juneau, my boyfriend and I booked the Icefield Excursion with Coastal Helicopters, $168, and recommend it. This, plus the Sea Otter excursion were the two best. I don't know how this helicopter excursion compares with Temsco, used by Princess and more expensive with a similar excursion at $210.
We were at first disappointed by the damp weather, but we were told the overcast skies bring out the blues of the glacier ice. Point well taken when we landed, the Herbert glacier was quite magnificent with some incredibly vibrant blues. Since it had rained and then frozen a little, the glacier was slippery and we didn't venture far from the helicopter. We sampled some water flowing from the glacier before returning. On the trip back, the pilot flew us over the Juneau Icefield and over the Mendenhall Glacier!
The pilot pointed out that the Mendenhall Glacier is accessible by car, bus, or boat. The Herbert and some other glaciers are only accessible by air. I noticed Princess offered a similar excursion for $210 that lands on the Mendenhall whereas, by booking through Coastal, we paid less and saw a more remote glacier, plus we had a view of the Mendenhall on the way back.
Unfortunately, it was not until we were in Juneau, that we learned the Mt Roberts Tramway is completely enveloped in clouds on most overcast days. We went up there anyway, but didn't see much. If you're interested in taking the tramway to the top, I recommend booking on the cruiseship once the weather is confirmed. It was a waste of $21.95
The trails at the top were also closed at this time of year and I noticed the excursion literature made no mention of this fact under the Tram & Trek listing.
My boyfriend chose the Historic Gold Mine Tour. I wasn't as interested in the history. It was a bit long for me (3 hrs!) but I will say that I feel as though I received my money's worth ($59) and the tourguides were very nice and knowledgeable! My boyfriend also enjoyed the excursion
In Skagway, it was a different story. We took the Eagle Preserve Wildlife Quest by Jet Boat and was quite disappointed. It was a complete waste of $159 and I'm not recommending it unless carefully researched first. I wrote a long piece in my evaluation about this excursion which I felt was a bit misleading in the description and run by an amateur outfit, the Hess Family.
In my evaluation, I said they should clearly state the amount of time actually spent in transportation to and from the excursion. What I didn't know and what wasn't in the literature, is that you take a 30-45 minute catamaran ride to Haines followed by a 20+ minute bus ride to the Hess location at the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. Your "Jet Boat" excursion is only 2 hours out of the 6 hour excursion!
We got in a boat and took off before they realized the PA system did not work. We headed back to the dock where they unloaded us. As we were getting in the second boat, that PA system didn't work either! (You'd think they'd test their systems first!) So, they put us back in the first boat and brought on-board someone who would shout out the tour. Also, what wasn't in the literature and what I didn't know to ask, is that there are no naturalists on board. Most of the information on the tour were family stories or stories of a friend who knew this guy who ... They didn't have any specific places in mind to view wildlife. They also didn't have any strict rules for viewing wildlife. They said if we saw something to point, but other cruise members shouted too, including the guide. He shouted and pointed at one moose who immediately began running and then shouted again, "Oh, that moose is skittish for some reason!" (See Sea Otter excursion below for comparison) He pointed out another moose standing still behind some trees and for some reason, we sped by. The rest of the time, we viewed a few eagles and some hanging glaciers. Not worth the money, time in transit, and little wildlife we saw.
I did like the fact that when we first arrived, they had extra jackets, ear wraps, winter caps, and gloves. The boats are small and exposed and those came in handy. I also suspect this excursion might be better end of June through August when there might be more wildlife.
And I don't count the moose that we saw as real sightings since they were just a couple seconds each. If you hear about wildlife sightings, try to find out more information such as how long they were sighted for (or was it running off into the woods), distance, how many sighted that day, etc.
(We joke about how that moose standing still was fake. We don't understand why they would've pointed it out and sped by ... especially since we weren't seeing anything else.
In Sitka, we were relieved by the Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest. As soon we were onboard, each bench had information on the area with a map of our route and a pair of binoculars. We also had a naturalist who laid down some strict rules for watching wildlife and reminded us of the rules as we approached animals: 1. No loud voices 2. No sudden movement 3. Different levels of viewing on the boat for people of different heights. This cruise was on a catamaran and allowed freedom of movement around the boat to different sides. This excursion also guaranteed wildlife sightings of either a sea otter, whale, or bear, or $50 would be refunded. We saw a "raft" of sea otters, an outcropping with about 30 harbor seals, and three humpbacks!
In addition to the rules and naturalist on-board, this cruise was set apart by a knowledgeable staff who knew where to go. At different places, they would tell us what wildlife is active in that particular area. We weren't wandering around aimlessly like our Eagle Preserve Wildlife Quest by Jet Boat excursion in Skagway. For example, we came upon an area where bears have been seen and our naturalist warned us that not to use loud voices since "human voices will spook the bears". The guide was very knowledgeable and had samples of sea otter fur. Highly recommended, one of the highlights of the trip!
I also felt sorry for all the people who had booked outdoor adventures (bicycling, horseback riding, etc.) only to come ashore in the cold rain. If you book your excursions ahead of time and want to change, we found that you can cancel and buy any excursion up to 24 hours before docking at that port. Deadlines to change excursions are posted in their bulletin, Princess Patter, placed in your mail slot each night.
The last two nights we cruised through a dying depression with very strong winds. I had not experienced motion sickness up until this point and found Dramamine effective. One pill would put me to sleep for 8 hours. Next time, I will book a cabin as close to the center of the ship as possible. When we were sick, my boyfriend and I went to the center of the ship (the "Atrium") and hung out there. Felt much better.
Would also like to say that I wish I had more time in each port. Granted, some towns like Skagway, are completely oriented towards tourists and don't have any other industries the way Sitka has fishing or Juneau has government. However, there's plenty of shops and infinite sky and vistas! Since I really wanted vistas and wildlife, I think I might have preferred flying to Anchorage and touring Denali. Maybe that'll be my next trip to Alaska =)
We had a day before and after in Vancouver. I definitely feel that I didn't see as much: We made our own arrangements and booked at the Fairmount Airport which was 30-45 minutes away from downtown Vancouver, where everything is (granted, it's also half the cost of its sibling hotel in downtown). We either had to take taxis into town, which for 6 people can be expensive, or take a 30-45 minute bus ride. In the end, we just didn't have that much time! I will say that the skinniest building in the world, the Sam Yee Building, needs to be removed from the record books. Another building was built right up against it, so it looks like one complete building. In fact, we couldn't find the Sam Yee because our Chinatown map showed it standing on its own! Next time, I will book a hotel closer to sites I will want to visit, so that when I want to go for a walk, it's not in a deserted airport
Would also like to point out, limos are $30 CAD per limousine, not per person. Makes it an inexpensive way for a group of people to get around.
Feel free to e-mail me with questions.