An Alaskan Adventure aboard Emerald Princess
An adventure to “The last frontier” Hearing the words “Alaska” conjour’s up so many thoughts, from the scenery, to wildlife and tales of the famous Klondike gold rush. It is a destination that is best seen from a cruise, and with a wealth of options to choose from, there is really something to satisfy all tastes.
See the Emerald Princess Review here.
Having a young family, we were keen to have an experience that we could all enjoy, with our main priorities being the sight of majestic glaciers and wildlife in their natural environment. We opted for a bespoke itinerary with our cruise being with Princess, a Line that we have had many enjoyable cruises on in the past. Our travel agent “Bolsover Cruise Club”, were excellent in catering for this. The bespoke part was an extra night in Seattle followed by a three night stay in Vancouver. Princess Cruises “Plane Sailing” option which meant we could fly into Seattle and out of Vancouver, with the cost all incorporated into the holiday.
Day 1 – Flight from London to Seattle
Day 2 – Embark Emerald Princess
Day 3 – At sea
Day 4 – Ketchikan
Day 5 – Tracy Arm Fjord & Juneau
Day 6 – Skagway
Day 7 – At sea
Day 8 – Victoria BC
Day 9 – Disembark Emerald Princess & stay in Seattle
Day 10 – Amtrak Cascades rail journey to Vancouver
Day 11-12 – Vancouver
Day 13 – Overnight flight from Vancouver to London.
Our flight out was with Virgin Atlantic and the return with British Airways. We elected to pay and choose our seats both ways being a long flight, and our seat options worked really well.
This was our first flight with Virgin Atlantic for a number of years, and we weren’t disappointed. Attentive crew and plenty of entertainment options meant the flight went rather quickly. For me, I was transfixed by the view out of the window as we flew over Greenland and Northern Canada, huge glaciers, icebergs and a rocky wilderness made for an amazing sight.
Once we landed, there was a Princess Cruises representative waiting to guide us to our shuttle bus that took us to our pre cruise stay at the Doubletree Sea-Tac. Having put our clocks back 8 hours, we landed early afternoon. There was a weekend festival in the city, so we headed for the Museum of Flight and enjoyed an afternoon of air displays and the museum itself. The hotel was comfortable, and had a welcoming pool for us to enjoy in the summer sunshine.
The following morning Princess organised for our cases to be sent direct to the ship, and by 10:30, we were heading to the port for our embarkation, which was a slick operation, from getting off the coach to getting onboard took less than 10 minutes! Lunch, followed by both our sons getting straight in the pool with a display by the US Navy “Blue Angels” over the Seattle skyline made for a fantastic start to the cruise.
We opted for freedom dining which worked really well throughout, allowing us to tailor make each day.
Emerald Princess is due to for her major 5 year refit in 2019, but one wouldn’t know, the ship is in superb condition, the only clue as to the refit due is the lack of the iconic logo on the bow which is becoming standard across the fleet. The atrium onboard, being the focal point of the ship was decorated with some Alaskan art hanging from the staircases.
Our first day at sea started with foggy conditions on a very calm sea, then, over breakfast we caught sight of the tail of a humpback whale! One of the chefs gave an ice carving demonstration on deck, to see an ornate fish carved from a block of ice was amazing.
A lumberjack show followed in the theatre, the story of this award winning Alaskan lumberjack was quite moving, he contracted meningitis as a kid, and became totally deaf and had to learn to walk again. His accuracy with an axe on the target was phenomenal. In the atrium a family funfair was organised with activities and competitions, we had all manner of fun, and perhaps a competitive streak between Mum, Dad and our boys came through!
The weather cleared, and by mid afternoon, there was clear blue skies, an azure blue sky and high temperatures meaning we could all go swimming, and spent the rest of the day around the pool where the large screen was located, showing a mixture of movies and music. Our first Alaskan port, Ketchikan, is renowned as being the wettest city in the world, but we struck lucky with a lovely day. A small town, but with friendly locals. The population was increased by us and four other cruise ships in port.
We decided just to have a wander, and made our way to the famous Creek Street. Upon arriving, there, in the trees was a large bald eagle, one of quite a few we saw. In the creek was a shoal of salmon being chased by a seal! This really was a wonderful introduction to Alaska. Creek Street, although full of souvenir shops had a charm. In the harbour, the water and air was filled with seaplanes buzzing around interspersed by the odd airliner landing at the nearby airport.
Back onboard we were treated to a visit from some husky dog puppies in the atrium, this proved very popular. There is a wide selection of food and places to dine, in the atrium, aptly named Piazza, there are light bites and pastries next to a coffee shop and bar, I took advantage of a coffee card which gave me discount on the speciality coffees on offer. Outside by the pools, there are places offering pizza, burgers, ice cream as well as the traditional self service restaurant.
The next day proved to be the highlight of the cruise, even if the famous Alaskan “Liquid sunshine” was in abundance. We all rose early to find Emerald Princess dwarfed by mountains and small icebergs passing by as we made our way into Tracy Arm fjord. With cloud clinging to the mountains, this really was a sight to behold. As if this wasn’t good enough, over breakfast we then caught sight of the Sawyer Glacier. An advantage of the weather being inclement was seeing the vivid blue in the ice. The rest of the morning was spent sailing back down the fjord and to our next port, Juneau.
We opted for a tour, visiting the magnificent Meadenhall Glacier followed by a whale watching boat trip. Our entertaining bus driver filled us with stories and facts, and one could clearly see he loves his job. By the time we boarded the boat, the weather really had closed in with torrential rain. However, once we got underway and saw the first humpback whale, everyone was in superb spirits, albeit soaking wet! We were treated to the sight of many whales along with some sea lions. At one point we had two large whales probably around 20 feet from our boat. It really was an amazing excursion, by the time we returned to Emerald Princess it was late evening, so we all dried out over a bowl of warming soup in the buffet upstairs.
Our next port, Skagway, famous for being at the heart of the gold rush, offers many excursions, including a train trip on the White Horse and Yukon railroad, but due to the low cloud and rain, we opted just to have a wander around the town. Another town reliant on tourism, it has mostly souvenir shops and bars, we opted to go into a bar, soaking up the atmosphere and imagining what it was like back in the gold rush days.
We set sail mid afternoon, sailing past large mountains and waterfalls making our way south. We had an invite to the bridge, so the following morning we spent a nice hour having a tour around the bridge by the Captain and a Cadet. Two dolphins made a brief appearance off the starboard bow. One really appreciates the length of the ship when stood at the bridge wing looking aft.
Emerald Princess is a large ship, an enlarged member of the Grand class, built in 2007, 113500 tonnes, 290 metres long with a crew of 1200. She was built in Monfalcone, Italy by Fincantieri. The weather yet again was superb with the rest of the day enjoying being outside on deck. After dinner that evening, watching a film out on deck in the Princess trademark “Movies under the stars” whilst the sun set over the ship was a treat.
Blankets and popcorn was provided. After another day at sea, we arrived in the Canadian port of Victoria which is located on Vancouver island. A charming city, with many of the buildings lit up in the evening, we all remarked that it is a shame that only an evening is spent in port, as having a whole day there would be really nice.
One nice aspect of Princess is the cocktail of the day and a small buffet that is held in Skywalkers bar at 17:00. This is for Platinum and Elite guests. Normally there is the feeling of anti climax when it comes to disembarking a ship at the end of a cruise, but for us we then had the joy of knowing it was not the case! Being Elite, we were given a lounge to relax in and have a continental breakfast whilst we waited to disembark the ship.
Again, well organised, and after collection our luggage in the terminal, we headed by taxi for our hotel, Lowes 1000 in downtown Seattle. We had a wander, taking in the sights of the Emerald City, Pike Place and the first ever Starbucks, Space Needle, and to end the day, going to the top floor of the Sky view Observatory located in the Columbia centre, the tallest building in the Pacific North West.
Over dinner we saw Emerald Princess set sail and head north for another Alaska cruise. Lowes 1000 was a comfortable hotel with a bizarre feature, a large window with electric blinds in the bedroom that opened up with a view of the bathroom! The bath was located in the centre and the water came out of a hole in the ceiling. An early start with a short taxi ride to King Street station where we were to join the Amtrak Cascades train for our trip back across the border into Canada. Being an international service we had to go through an immigration process, but it was straightforward, and even our luggage was checked in.
The Amtrak Cascades route follows a lot of the coast on the 4 hour journey and was a very enjoyable journey, we booked the extra few dollars for Business class, which, on this fully booked service, gave us that extra room. A restaurant car is offered so we went there for a very reasonably priced breakfast and sat watching the world going by. It is easy to see why Vancouver is so highly rated as a place to live, it is a wonderful cosmopolitan city with a really nice vibe. Our hotel, the Best Western Plus Chateau Granville, was a 20 minute walk from Canada Place. The highlights of our visit were Stanley Park and Grouse Mountain.
Stanley Park is Vancouver’s playground with everything from a sea walk that circumnavigates the park, forest walks, a display of totem poles, and an open air lido. During our stay, the visibility was hazy due to wild fires inland, but the weather remained very sunny. Grouse Mountain I would highly recommend, a free shuttle bus takes visitors from Canada Place across the Lions Gate Bridge to the base of the mountain, where a cable car goes to a plateau near the summit.
There is a plethora of activities and displays on offer, we saw a really entertaining lumberjack show, a falconry display, saw two native bears that were rescued, but have a large area to themselves, and took a chairlift to the summit of the mountain. All good things must come to an end, but there was one surprise left in store…
Knowing we were to be flown home on British Airways flagship, the mighty A380, I chose our seats right at the back of the aircraft in a row where it becomes 2-4-2. Having two rows of two meant we were free to not disturb anyone. The layout meant it felt like we were on a smaller aircraft, not the largest airliner built! I chose our seats on the port side in the vain hope of a possible sighting of the Aurora Borealis, but it seemed that, aside from a gorgeous dusk view of Canada, it wasn’t to be. Just as we settled down to sleep, I opened the blind to have a quick look at the stars, only to be greeted by an Aurora display!
It lasted a mere couple of minutes, but what an end to our holiday. We have been left with some cherished family memories, and have vowed we will return as soon as we can…