Sunday, June 21, 2015
It’s our first full day aboard Princess Cruises’ Star Princess as we enter the second half of our Denali Wilderness CruiseTour, and I’m already enjoying my ninth cruise outing in Alaska.
From my experiences today, it’s clear that Princess loves Alaska. The line has been operating here since 1969, and their onboard offerings in this great state –already good – have improved dramatically since I last sailed to Alaska with Princess in 2013 aboard Coral Princess.
Redesigned menus offer locally-inspired food choices along with a selection of beverages that either feature local Alaskan beers and spirits, or that are created with the region in mind. To that end, may I present Princess’s new Flavours of Alaska bar menu. Cocktails are priced at a reasonable $8.95, with beers at $4.95.
Ultimate Alaskan Coffee
Bacardi oakheart, brown sugar and maple syrup layered with heavy cream
Hot chocolate, laced with Irish cream, crème de cacao layered with cream, marshmallow and chocolate syrup
Frozen Grizzly Bear
Mint liqueur, chocolate liqueur, chocolate chips, cream blended to perfection
Alaskan Chocolate Mudslide
Kahlua, Irish cream, skyy vodka, cream, blended together with Hershey’s chocolate syrup
Ultimate Bloody Mary
Grey Goose with our unique spice mix, order with your choice of tomato or clamato juice
Skagway Spiced Apple
Bacardi Oakheart, hot apple cider, lemon juice
Rich, malty and long on the palate, with just enough hops to make this beautiful amber-coloured “malt” style beer notably well balanced
Alaskan Summer Ale
Alaskan summer ale balances a softly malted palate with the clean freshness of hops
Alaskan Amber is my de-facto favorite beer of all time. Seriously. I can’t get enough of the stuff despite being able to pass up most beers. I almost don’t even want to try the “Skagway Spiced Apple.” I think I’ll enjoy it – too much!
One thing I always buy on Princess is their Coffee Card. Available for $29, this card entitles the bearer to 15 specialty coffees in the International Café on Deck 5. Princess makes a mean cappuccino, and for me this is an expense that is well-worth it, particularly if (like me) you don’t really enjoy the coffee served in the Horizon Court buffet.
But I’m also trying to do things that I don’t normally do on a cruise – or that I haven’t done in years. The problem when you write about cruises is that you tend to get into the habit of constantly running around with a camera, or spending all your time in a lounge writing about the experience. Not only am I trying to spend more time actually enjoying this cruise, I’m trying to do different things as well.
In that vein, I sat and read in Crooner’s – one of my favourite bars – on Deck 7 this afternoon. I took a stroll around the Promenade Deck. I enjoyed a cocktail in my absolute favorite public room, the Wheelhouse Bar. And I made time to watch some of the numerous live musical acts that were playing throughout the ship.
This afternoon, we arrived at Hubbard Glacier. At 122km – or 76 miles – in length, this is one serious glacier. It’s also one that cruise ships can’t get terribly close to: constantly advancing, the glacier has surged dangerously forward several times in the past. In 1986, it advanced so far that it dammed Russell Fjord for five months. When that dam failed, it released a catastrophic amount of water into the ocean, creating the second-largest glacial flood in recorded history.
In the spring of 2002, a similar circumstance occurred that saw a dam formed 59 feet above sea level. So it makes perfect sense that Star Princess, like all other cruise ships, kept her distance.
Still, Star Princess is perfectly suited to scenic cruising and glacial viewing. There’s plenty of open deck space on this ship, including the entire expanse of Deck 15 and raised platforms on Decks 16 and 17.
On Deck 7, a wraparound Promenade Deck boasts a feature that is entirely unique to Princess Cruises: the ability to walk straight to the very tip of the bow of the ship for fully unobstructed, forward-facing vistas. This is where I stood to watch our progress as we sailed up to Hubbard Glacier, and it turned out to be a lovely vantage point.
This evening kicked off with drinks at Skywalkers on Deck 17. Regardless of what you think of this so-called “shopping cart handle” that towers above the stern of the Star Princess, there’s no arguing about the views, which are nothing short of stunning. Skywalkers allows guests to look out over the entire length of the ship with 360-degree panoramic views. Access is provided by a futuristic catwalk attached to the aft stair tower that even boasts a moving airport-style escalator. Try not to hum the Darth Vader theme from Star Wars as you ascend into Skywalkers – we dare you!
Dinner tonight was in one of my favorite Princess specialty dining venues: the Italian-themed Sabatini’s.
Available for a modest cover charge of $25 per person, this is the restaurant you’re going to want to skip lunch to dine at. The food here is so good that you won’t want to say ‘no’ to anything.
Patterned after an Italian trattoria, guests can choose from a series of delectable appetizers, soups, salads, pasta dishes and main courses – not to mention desserts, wines, and after-dinner drinks. For a couple, it’s an intimate and romantic experience. For a group, it’s a great chance to order a bunch of different dishes and share them amongst yourselves.
The verdict on the food: Sabatini’s approaches a level I’d expect from venues like La Terrazza aboard ultra-luxury line Silversea. For a $25 cover charge, you’re getting one heck of a great meal – and a memorable experience, to boot.
Princess’s tag line at the moment is “Come Back New.” After a meal like the one I just had tonight, I do feel like a new person. A very full person, but a new person nonetheless. There’s nothing like good food, great wine and excellent conversation, all wrapped up in the magic of being at sea.
|Day 1 & 2||Anchorage & Mt. McKinley|
|Day 3||Denali National Park|
|Day 4||Double Denali|
|Day 5||Boarding the Star Princess|
|Day 6||Hubbard Glacier|
|Day 7||Glacier Bay|