North to Alaska! Postcards from Star Princess

Our Journey With Princess Cruises Is One For the Books

Welcome to Alaska! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Welcome to Alaska! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

Today, Princess Cruises’ Star Princess is docked in Ketchikan, Alaska. As you might expect, the city’s famous “liquid sunshine” is living up to its name. But almost incredibly, today is the first day of rain we’ve had here after nine stunning days in Alaska on our Princess Denali Explorer cruisetour that began last Tuesday in Anchorage.

There's nothing quite like enjoying Princess' Ultimate Balcony Breakfast in Glacier Bay! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
There’s nothing quite like enjoying Princess’ Ultimate Balcony Breakfast in Glacier Bay! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Princess offers 18 different land-and-crise tour options in Alaska, with another multitude of possible combinations, including having the land-tour portion happen before or after your cruise. You can also choose your level of guiding, from fully-escorted “Connoisseur” cruisetours to more self-guided options that merely include transportation and accommodations, but leave it up to guests as to what – and how much – they’d like to do.

Our journey began with an overland tour of Alaska, starting in Anchorage and continuing on to Mt. McKinley and Denali National Park. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Our journey began with an overland tour of Alaska, starting in Anchorage and continuing on to Mt. McKinley and Denali National Park. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Our itinerary has taken us from Anchorage to the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge and then on to the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge located in the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is Denali National Park for a two-night stay. Following that, we rode the rails aboard Princess Cruises’ exclusive domed rail cars south to Whittier, where the 2002-built, 2600-guest Star Princess was waiting for us.

Say hello to the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Say hello to the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
We didn't need the fire pits at the Mt. McKinley lodge - temperatures pushed 90 F. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
We didn’t need the fire pits at the Mt. McKinley lodge – temperatures pushed 90 F. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
At the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, we indulged in the beauty of Denali National Park...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
At the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, we indulged in the beauty of Denali National Park…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...and even took a fixed-wing airplane excursion to land on a glacier near Mt. McKinley! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…and even took a fixed-wing airplane excursion to land on a glacier near Mt. McKinley! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Glacial Landing. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Glacial Landing. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Once onboard Star Princess, we set sail for College Fjord, Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park, Skagway, Juneau, and now Ketchikan. In two days’ time, we’ll dock in Vancouver, and our Voyage of the Glaciers will come to a close.

To reach the Star Princess in Whittier, we took one of Princess's exclusive rail cars on a fabulous nine-hour train trip straight to the ship. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
To reach the Star Princess in Whittier, we took one of Princess’s exclusive rail cars on a fabulous nine-hour train trip straight to the ship. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Surrounded by comfort and scenery on the Alaskan Railroad. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Surrounded by comfort and scenery on the Alaskan Railroad. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

It’s been a heck of a journey. The continuity between ship and shore has been better than I expected. If you’ve sailed with Princess in the past to Alaska – as I have – you’ll no doubt be interested in the line’s new North to Alaska partnerships. There’s a renewed focus on locally-sourced food onboard, and locally-inspired spirits, cocktails and beers. There are Klondike Festivals and Midnight Sun parties out on deck. Real Alaskans – from Iditarod Musher Libby Riddles to storyteller Steve Hites – come onboard to entertain and enrich guests. You can even participate in a Deadliest Catch-style crab sorting tournament in the atrium!

Onboard Star Princess. The 2,600-guest ship launched in 2003 looks spectacular. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Onboard Star Princess. The 2,600-guest ship launched in 2003 looks spectacular. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Speaking of the famous reality TV show, Princess’s new Discovery at Sea partnership plays a huge part in the new Princess experience in Alaska. There’s Discovery Channel-themed shore excursions, recommended for their historical or local interest potential.

But Princess is also pulling out all the stops for another reason: they’re celebrating their 50th Anniversary this year. Fifty years is a long time in the cruise industry, and Princess has been sailing to Alaska right from the start.

New carpeting and colour schemes in the forward stairwell and elevator lobby. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
New carpeting and colour schemes in the forward stairwell and elevator lobby. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Even the Star Princess is in tip-top shape. There are a lot of things onboard that impress me, from the newly-laid carpeting in the stairwells and atrium that sports a brand-new colour scheme that gives the ship a younger and more modern appearance; to the redesigned Princess Patter daily programs; the installation of do-it-yourself onboard account kiosks; and the gorgeous refit work conducted a few years ago that saw the addition of Vines Wine Bar, the International Café, and the reconfigured Piazza Atrium.

A Princess Favorite: the Champagne Waterfall is held in the Piazza Atrium on the first formal night. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
A Princess Favorite: the Champagne Waterfall is held in the Piazza Atrium on the first formal night. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

There’s been a lot to see and do over the course of the last week and a half- and the honest truth is we just can’t seem to find the time to sit down and post it all! But our regular day-by-day posts will begin this coming Monday, June 29, where they will run continuously for 12 days. And there’s a world of adventure out there to share with you.

It’s my ninth voyage to Alaska – and I’m continually finding new places and experiences that move me in this great state. If you’ve never been to Alaska before, stay tuned. If you have – well, chances are good that I’ll be preaching to the choir.

Crooners, located on Deck 7, is one of my favorite watering holes. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Crooners, located on Deck 7, is one of my favorite watering holes. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

I know Princess doesn’t use the old “Escape Completely” tag line anymore, but that is exactly what these past few days have been: a complete departure from anything even remotely normal.

Because there’s nothing quite like a cruise to Alaska:

Star Princess at her berth at Skagway's Ore Dock on June 23, 2015. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Star Princess at her berth at Skagway’s Ore Dock on June 23, 2015. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
In Skagway, I set out on a five-mile cycling excursion...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
In Skagway, I set out on a five-mile cycling excursion…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...to the abandoned Gold Rush town of Dyea. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…to the abandoned Gold Rush town of Dyea. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
In Juneau, I tried the mother of all excursions: dog sledding on Taku Glacier. One of the best experiences I have ever had in my life. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
In Juneau, I tried the mother of all excursions: dog sledding on Taku Glacier. One of the best experiences I have ever had in my life. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The dog camp on Taku Glacier. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The dog camp on Taku Glacier. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
These fantastic creatures love to run, run...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
These fantastic creatures love to run, run…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...and run! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…and run! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The view from my balcony as we enter...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The view from my balcony as we enter…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...picturesque Glacier Bay National Park. Margerie Glacier is shown here. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…picturesque Glacier Bay National Park. Margerie Glacier is shown here. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Margerie Glacier - up-close and personal. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Margerie Glacier – up-close and personal. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Of course, you can also view Glacier Bay from the intimate and soothing enclosure that is The Sanctuary. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Of course, you can also view Glacier Bay from the intimate and soothing enclosure that is The Sanctuary. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Why not enjoy a cold pint of Princess' own SeaWitch IPA? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Why not enjoy a cold pint of Princess’ own SeaWitch IPA? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Star Princess underway in College Fjord. Skywalker's Nightclub - one of the ship's most distinctive features and a staple of the early Grand Class ships - towers 18 decks above the sea. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Star Princess underway in College Fjord. Skywalker’s Nightclub – one of the ship’s most distinctive features and a staple of the early Grand Class ships – towers 18 decks above the sea. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The futuristic entrance to Skywalker's. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The futuristic entrance to Skywalker’s. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Martini tasting in Crooners on Deck 7. Who's thirsty?! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Martini tasting in Crooners on Deck 7. Who’s thirsty?! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
My favorite enclave: The Wheelhouse Bar. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
My favorite enclave: The Wheelhouse Bar. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Another Beautiful Princess: Crown Princess (2006) departs Ketchikan on June 25, 2015. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Another Beautiful Princess: Crown Princess (2006) departs Ketchikan on June 25, 2015. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Today, I took in a classic excursion in Ketchikan: the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show! Always fun! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Today, I took in a classic excursion in Ketchikan: the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show! Always fun! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
To be continued! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
To be continued! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Star Princess, Denali Explorer

Day 1 & 2Anchorage & Mt. McKinley
Day 3Denali National Park
Day 4Double Denali
Day 5Boarding the Star Princess
Day 6Hubbard Glacier
Day 7Glacier Bay
Day 8Skagway
Day 9Juneau
Day 10Ketchikan
Postcards from Star Princess

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