Star Princess Denali Explorer, Day 7: Glacier Bay

Magnificent Glacier Bay National Park

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Guests aboard Princess Cruises’ Star Princes line the rails above the port side bridge wing to get a glimpse of Margerie Glacier. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Monday, June 22, 2015

Today, Princess Cruises’ Star Princess is sailing the surrealistic waters of Glacier Bay National Park – my de-facto favorite stop on every single Alaskan cruise I’ve ever taken. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Glacier Bay will inspire and astound you. It’s breathtaking, beautiful, and oddly romantic.

Speaking of, romance is actually an integral part of the Princess Cruises experience. Let’s be honest: they don’t call it The Love Boat for nothing!

One of the interesting romantic indulgences Princess offers to all guests is their Deluxe Breakfast. Served in the Portofino Dining Room with a guaranteed table for two by the window, this $45 package for two includes a chilled half bottle of sparkling wine, along with a unique menu:

Sparkling Wine

Chilled Half Bottle

Oven Fresh Breakfast Pastries

Cold Smoked Salmon

Dill Cream Cheese and Toasted Lemon Brioche

Medley of Fresh Fruits and Forest Berries

Clover Honey Chantilly Crème

Quiche Lorraine

Bacon, Shallot, Tomato and Fontina Cheese Gratin

You can also order this to be enjoyed on your veranda, as a Deluxe Balcony Breakfast – which is exactly what I did this morning. With the sun shining brightly and temperatures unusually warm outside, it made for the perfect prelude to the day.

It's the Glacier Bay Ultimate Balcony Breakfast! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
It’s the Glacier Bay Ultimate Balcony Breakfast! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
It's tough to beat scenery like this...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
It’s tough to beat scenery like this…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...with a breakfast like this! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…with a breakfast like this! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
A toast to the day. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
A toast to the day. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Well-worth the money. At $45 per couple, it's a steal. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Well-worth the money. At $45 per couple, it’s a steal. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Now, obviously if it had been raining out, it would have been a much different story; mini-suite balconies on Dolphin Deck lack any sort of overhang to protect them from the elements above. The flip-side to that, however, is that when it’s nice out, these balconies are bathed in unfettered sunlight. And if you love the idea of a mini-suite but would prefer a private balcony, fear not: there are a handful of mini-suites with covered balconies one deck lower on Emerald Deck.

Feeling very relaxed from my private champagne balcony breakfast, I decided to continue the theme by securing a pass for The SanctuaryStar Princess’ private enclave located all the way forward on Deck 16.

Located one deck up from the Lotus Spa, The Sanctuary is the perfect private enclave on a day like today. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Located one deck up from the Lotus Spa, The Sanctuary is the perfect private enclave on a day like today. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Coming at a cost of $60 per person, guests who purchase the Glacier Bay Day Pass to The Sanctuary are treated to comfortable loungers draped with warm wool blankets, ear muffs to keep their ears warm, hot chowder, fresh pastries, and full bar service – though bar charges are extra.

Head warmers and fluffy towels welcome guests to The Santuary. Heavy blankets were also available. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Head warmers and fluffy towels welcome guests to The Sanctuary. Heavy blankets were also available. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The best part is that you’re free to come and go as you please if you purchase the full day pass (a half-day pass is sometimes available at a slightly-reduced rate). But take my advice: you want the day pass. With no crowds, great service, hot food and drinks at the ready, it’s like having your very own outdoor lounge on the ship. Best of all, you can come and go as you please any time between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.

I had the chowder as a snack (delicious), but I had to follow it up with a pint of Princess’s very own IPA:

Sea Witch IPA, anyone? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Sea Witch IPA, anyone? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
With in-and-out priviledges between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., a day pass at The Sanctuary gives guests maximum flexibility to enjoy their day of scenic cruising as they choose to. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
With in-and-out priviledges between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., a day pass at The Sanctuary gives guests maximum flexibility to enjoy their day of scenic cruising as they choose to. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Glacier Bay is one of the few places on earth that I feel is better viewed from a big ship like the Star Princess. Consider this: Star Princess is 952 feet long. She stands nearly 200 feet above the waterline. Her bridge wings are so wide that Officers on the starboard wing have to phone across to the port side wing; you can’t physically shout across the bridge.

In port, she is massive. But here in Glacier Bay, she is but a spec, dwarfed by the imposing hulk of our first stop: Margerie Glacier.

Spectacular Margerie Glacier...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Spectacular Margerie Glacier…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...as seen from the decks of the Star Princess. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…as seen from the decks of the Star Princess. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

One mile wide and standing 250 feet above the surface of the sea (with another 100 feet below), Margerie Glacier makes the Star Princess look like a bath toy. The most visited of all the glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park, Margerie Glacier is but one of the stunning ice faces we’d see today.

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The end of Tarr Inlet, with sailboat. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Looking down the length of Star Princess from the starboard bridge wing. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Looking down the length of Star Princess from the starboard bridge wing. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

After two hours spent alongside Margerie, Star Princess relocated to nearby Lamplugh Glacier. That in itself is unusual; with the exception of Holland America Line, no other big-ship cruise line seems to take the time to stop at Lamplugh. But Princess did us one better today, sailing into spectacular Johns Hopkins Inlet, where we made it closer to the elusive Johns Hopkins Glacier than I ever have before.

Some photos from our day today:

Even when not next to a glacier, Glacier Bay is still striking in appearance. You won't want to be inside for a second! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Even when not next to a glacier, Glacier Bay is still striking in appearance. You won’t want to be inside for a second! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Well, maybe one second... Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Well, maybe one second… Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Anyone fancy a swim? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Anyone fancy a swim? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
This was how the atrium aboard Star Princess looked in the middle of the afternoon: quiet. Everyone was up on deck admiring the view! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
This was how the atrium aboard Star Princess looked in the middle of the afternoon: quiet. Everyone was up on deck admiring the view! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

So how do you top a day like today? You sign up for Princess Cruises’ exclusive Chef’s Table dining experience.

The Chef’s Table concept has been around for a number of years. At a cost of $95 per person (or $115 per person for guests aboard the new Regal Princess), this private dining experience only accommodates 10 guests on select nights during the voyage.

Our Chef's Table experience begins in the galley aboard Star Princess...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Our Chef’s Table experience begins in the galley aboard Star Princess…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...where we're shown how to sanitize our hands properly...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…where we’re shown how to sanitize our hands properly…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...and are outfitted with the proper galley gear. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…and are outfitted with the proper galley gear. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Appetizers are explained...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Appetizers are explained…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...and presented (and enjoyed!) in the galley...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…and presented (and enjoyed!) in the galley…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...before the party moves to the dining room. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…before the party moves to the dining room. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

It starts by offering guests a tour of the galley (after a very thorough hand-washing demonstration and instruction) during dinner hour, followed by pre-dinner cocktails and hors d’oeuvres served up right in the galley itself.

The Executive Chef of the vessel then explains the group’s specially-designed menu for the evening. This is not a standard set menu thing; this is a completely different concept from anything the other guests in the dining room will be eating that evening. And yes, you will be the object of much attention and speculation during dinner – particularly when they trot out and prepare courses tableside.

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Just one of many, many, many courses we’d enjoy over the course of one culinary marathon evening. Skip breakfast and lunch!! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Guests are personally escorted from the galley back into the dining room, where they’re seated at an intimate table. Pairing suggestions are made spectacularly. I don’t think we had a bad wine all night; everything, right down to the custom menus presented with a copy of Princess’s Courses, A Culinary Journey cookbook, was exquisite. Guests are also given a complimentary photograph of the evening with their tablemates as a souvenir keepsake, annotated with the date and the ship. In typical Aaron fashion, I look like I’ve been hit by a truck. But it’s still a nice memento.

My very own nuts-free dessert still had all the flourish of the ones everyone else was enjoying. Nice touch! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
My very own nuts-free dessert still had all the flourish of the ones everyone else was enjoying. Nice touch! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

A lot of people will say that small ship cruising is better than big ship cruising, and I’d agree that it has its advantages. But so do big ships like Star Princess, which is rapidly proving herself to be an elegant, graceful and most importantly enjoyable ship to sail aboard.

So, as I do each evening, I took another stroll around the wide open promenade deck that wraps completely around the bow. I’ll need to do a few dozen more: the Chef’s Table is a veritable feast. Skip breakfast and lunch if you’re going to do this.

Then again, maybe just eat normal meals. The late-night stroll along the decks, under the last embers of the setting sun, is more than worth it.

Oh, dessert. Why are you so delicious? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Oh, dessert. Why are you so delicious? 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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