It was our first cruise and to be honest, we joined it because it was the only remotely affordable way of seeing Alaskan coastal scenery. We’d scoffed at the cruise scene in the past – we weren’t going to share a ship with a multitude of people and all that tacky glitz and tantara.
Our ship, the Coral Princess, waiting for us at Whittier, near Alaska’s biggest city, Anchorage.
The coastal scenery was as fantastic as we’d imagined. And it turned out that the cruise experience was pretty damn good too. We’d do it again, though the cruise location would have to appeal in its own right. We wouldn’t cruise just for the sake of cruising. Many people do, though.
It was really relaxing on board – there’s a lot to be said for a week of zero responsibility or pressure.
Well yes, there was some pressure – to be up-sold on goods and services that weren’t included in the basic cruise charge. But it was easy to ignore such blandishments, because what came with our basic cruise fee was fine by us. There were ample opportunities to hugely increase our overall cost but we refused to play the game. Bad cruisers!
We didn’t pay extra to eat in specialty restaurants. We didn’t buy concession tickets for drinks and espresso coffee. We didn’t get spa treatments, turn up for expensive wine tastings, throw our money away in the casino, have our photos taken by the ship’s photographer, go to lectures about tanzanite jewels (buy! buy!), or put Tag Heuer watches on our wrists. Nor did we participate in an art auction for tacky paintings (we walked out of a ridiculous session early in the week, explaining the auction).
We didn’t even bother with our allocated ‘free’ waiter-service restaurant. We started at the buffet restaurant and stayed there because the food was excellent and there was no waiting for waiters or food delivery.
There were plenty of very expensive shore tours we could have taken. We went on only one special tour – to the mushers’ sled dog camp near Skagway (loved it). We didn’t book it through Princess Lines, which charged more for the same thing. The rest of our shore time was spent doing long walks, some on routes we’d already researched. We enjoyed these very non-Kiwi towns.
Sled dogs relaxing after hauling us around the Mushers’ Camp. This team and its owner (the woman in green) are working their way through the qualifying stages for the famous Iditarod Trail race
We shared the Coral Princess with 2000 fellow-passengers, but rarely felt crowded. The ship was big enough to lose them. There were lots of different bars, restaurants, shops and sanctuaries such a card room, casino and library. We enjoyed quiet times in the library, sitting in comfortable chairs reading our Kindles while alpine scenery passed by the window. In the evenings we we enjoyed some quite classy stage shows.
Most of the passengers would have been aged 55+, but there were younger people, including children and teenagers. There was an exclusive kids’ area in the stern of the ship, which we stumbled into when exploring the ship. We were promptly thrown out.
Overwhelmingly the passengers were white Americans, but there were quite a few south and east Asians, especially Chinese. There was a smattering of Latinos. Afro-Americans were conspicuous by their absence and I don’t remember seeing more than about half a dozen of them.
We were in a cheaper ‘Oceanview’ cabin*, rather than a cabin with an outside balcony. But it was good – one of a handful in this cabin class that were as big as balcony cabins and had the ocean view on the wall rather than above the bedhead. There was extra seating, including a sofa, and we watched the scenery in some comfort.
*I can’t bring myself to use the inflated cruise industry term, ‘stateroom’. A cabin is a cabin, even when it’s a flash one.
Having no personal outside balcony was no problem to us – it wasn’t tropical lounging weather and there were plenty of other places we could get outside views.
A potential downside of our cabin location was that it was well forward on the ship, so we would have been thrown around in rough weather. We took the risk and were rewarded with a millpond.
Below are some of the mountains and glaciers included in a a video slideshow I’ve uploaded to YouTube – click here.
Or click here to take a look inside the Coral Princess.
Not bad to wake up to on our first morning on board. On our way to the Hubbard Glacier.
Hubbard Glacier. Fortunately a nice day, though it was chilly close to the glacier.
Some hardy souls just wore t-shirts.
Further south we entered the spectacular Bay of Glaciers National Park. We spent most of the time here, at Margerie Glacier. Park rangers boarded the ship and described the sights in the theatre and out on the deck. The weather was drizzly and cold, but not bad enough to keep us indoors.
Margerie Glacier. From time to time we saw and heard chunks of ice ‘calving’ off the face of the glacier and splashing into the bay.
As well as enjoying the mountain and glacier scenery, we called into three very isolated towns with colourful histories. They included two small towns – Skagway and Ketchikan – and the larger Juneau, which has 33,000 people. Juneau is the capital of Alaska. None of these towns can be reached by road.
The Coral Princess tied up at Skagway. Click here for a video slide show of our visit to this town.
Ravens welcoming us at the Juneau dock. These birds were huge and they were everywhere. Ravens are big in Native mythology (though the appellation ‘native’, for indigenous populations is no longer considered PC in New Zealand, in Alaska it’s still what it is). Click here to see the Juneau video slideshow.
Parked in Ketchikan, right on the main street. Fortunately our cabin was on the port side of the ship, which on a southward cruise gives the best views. Binoculars are a must for this cruise. Click here to view the Ketchikan video slideshow.