All of the above have pros and cons, the cruiseline cars are superior for dome viewing, but you have assigned seats and if a couple, you will be seated at a table with 2 others, 2 always riding backwards, good commentary but usually by seasonal workers that can be kind of "scripted" ?? The Alaska RR offers excellent student guides that are extremely well informed and you have the freedom of seating and ease of moving about. Cheaper too. But with toursaver, a princess package may offer the best deal.
I just got back from a Celebrity cruisetour. They have 2 new $2 million domed rail cars. There were 34 on our tour and we had the whole car to ourselves so we could spread out. All seats were facing the front (but could be turned). Meals were served on the lower level at tables. Food was good and there was a varied menu. RCCL and Celebrity are owned by the same company and use the same cars. All of our guides were very knowledgeable and have been working in AK for quite a few years. Most do not spend their winters in AK, but a few do.
We were on Princess and the cars where Ok. There is a table between all seats. The domes can get pretty hot even with air conditoning. The food was OK. not great. Each car has a tour guide but I did notice some where better than others. They tell you to bring just an overnite bag but I did see them store wheeled bags in the outside viewing area. I would have done that if I had known. It is hard to travel with just overnite bags.
Also definately buy something from the Midnight express store. We got beautiful fleece jackets for 36.00 and used them throughout the trip. Sorry, now that I didn't get more.
Wow, there's always so much great information on these boards, and I'm amazed by the individual experiences that others have. I had to chuckle that someone said they were hot on the train. We were in the Princess ultra-dome cars, and we FROZE!! Everyone had their jackets, scarves, and mittens on. In retrospect, I think the staff thought that the sun would heat us up later in the day so that they should have it very cool, but it was just too much.
Anyway, we were in the Princess cars and the Alaska Railroad cars. The experiences were very similar, but here are the differences we noted. In the Alaska Railroad cars, there is an open observation deck as well as the stairs leading up to the domed cars. I know you'll probably be advised ahead of time that you can only go up in the domed area for a limited amount of time, but our train was not crowded (in July), so we stayed up there as much as we wanted to. Both trains offered very comfortable seating areas with lots of leg room; we were free to roam to different cars more on the Alaska Railroad train. We were lucky on our Princess legs (from Anchorage to Denali and from Denali to Fairbanks) because our cars were set up as previously noted--two benches facing each other that hold two passengers on each side with a table in the middle--but we had the whole section for 4 passengers to ourselves. It was great. I think I would give a bit of an edge to the Alaska Railroad experience.