Map of tripOur Alaska Cruise/Tour
May/June, 1999

By Jack Welsch

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In the spring of 1999, my wife, Linda, and I took an Alaska cruise and inland tour. Linda's been eager to do the Alaska Cruise for years. I've resisted because I associate cruises with warm weather and piña coladas. Naturally, she prevailed. Alaska cruises tend to be expensive, at least from the East Coast so, as long as we were doing it, we figured we'd do it right and add a trip to the interior as well. We'd gone on a Princess cruise in 1990 and been less than happy with the line. However, since they have what appear to be the best Alaska itineraries and so many people told us they'd been happy with Princess, we figured we'd give them another shot. As it happened, the trip was one of the best we've ever taken. Having said that, I'm still not as high on Princess Cruises as some people are; I prefer Royal Caribbean. Princess did, however, do a stupendous job of logistics. Alaska, as I'd seen during two business trips in the 70's is a magnificent place. Neither words nor pictures can convey the grandeur of the place. As a bonus, the people are probably the nicest on earth.

This year, we were on the Sun Princess. It's 856 feet long and has a gross tonnage of 77,000 tons. Passenger capacity is 1,950. It's a very nice ship but certainly not as opulent as what we enjoyed on last year's cruise on the Enchantment of the Seas. Here are a few of the more interesting areas and some general information

Our Cabin

Our cabin, on the Aloha deck (A.K.A. deck 11), was higher in the ship than we've ever been before. This was a mixed blessing; it was closer to the pool and the top deck but a lot further from most of the ship's activities. One of the great things about the newer Princess ships is that they have a LOT of staterooms with balconies. In our previous experience, only those who shell out the big bucks for a suite get their own outside space. It was really nice to be able to get fresh air and be outside without braving the crowds on deck. Nice early in the AM and late in the PM, too. The down side of that is that the space comes at the expense of stateroom size; this stateroom (excluding balcony) was a lot smaller than last year's. I'd guess the total space was about a wash. Our steward was not nearly as attentive as those on previous cruises. Lots of tiny omissions like neglecting to bring a laundry bag to replace a used one, shortages of towels, etc. No big deal; just little annoyances. The problem might have been that our steward was sick most of the week and we had a substitute who was probably stretched pretty thin.

The Atrium

The AtriumThe Atrium is the central core of the ship and stretches from the 5th to the 8th decks. It's very impressive but not up to the Centrum on the Enchantment. (I hate to keep making the comparisons but can't help myself.) Having said that, it's really quite nice. Lots of brass and winding staircases. It gives the interior of the ship a nice open feeling. It seemed there was almost always some kind of entertainment somewhere in the Atrium.

Dining Rooms

Marquis Dining RoomThere are two main dining rooms, each a copy of the other. The Marquis (where we ate) is on deck 5 and the Regency is on deck 6. OK, I'm going to do it again. There's NO comparing these to the dining room on the Enchantment. Sorry; no contest. These were nice but didn't have the grandeur of the other. Scheduled seatings were only for dinner. Breakfast and lunch were open seating. Actually, I think I like the concept; you get to spend some extended time with a few people and still have lots of opportunities to meet others. Nice balance.

Horizon CourtThe Horizon Court, on the Lido Deck (A.K.A. 14 (there's no 13!)) is open 24 hours a day with foods suitable for the time of day. Apparently they have fine dining in the evening but we always ate dinner in the dining room. I did walk through around dinner time one evening and see the tables made up with linen. The best thing about the Horizon is its location forward and high. The glass sweeps from one side to the other so the view is great. They have a bar there, too, and sometimes had entertainment at night.

There's a pizzeria at the atrium, deck 8, that's open in the afternoons and evening and the pizza is free; you just pay for the drinks. Nice idea and a nice alternative. There's also a patisserie on deck 5 at the Atrium that has, obviously, pastries suitable for the time of day and an ice cream bar by the pool. What I couldn't figure was what ice cream was free and what wasn't. We had cones and had to pay. Weird.

Bars, Lounges, etc.

Wheelhouse LoungeThere are lots of bars but our favorite was the Wheelhouse Lounge. It has a men's club feel with lots of wood, models of ships, etc. There were two nice bands that played there and a lot of the music was nice to dance to. There was a disco but we only walked in there one evening. That's not our music so we didn't stay. Not many other folks in there, either. There were two show venues; the Vista Lounge and the Princess Theater. As you'd gather from the names, the first is a cabaret setting while the second has theater seats. This nice thing is that most nights, there were a total of four shows; two for each seating. The shows were repeated so one dining room would go the the Vista while the second went to the theater. Next night, it was reversed. The effect was the shows were never crowded. We've been on some cruises where it was tough to get a seat.

Other Attractions

The Main PoolCasino looked OK but I only walked through twice and never dropped so much as a quarter. Some people set up camp there! There are three pools, one covered but still open to the elements.The water was heated well into the 80's so some people went swimming but we didn't. Small PoolThere are four hot tubs and they were great. Getting there and back in the cold was rather interesting, though! (Actually, there were another pool and hot tub on the bow... for the crew only.) There was what appeared to be a nice spa and exercise room. I've spent a lot of time and money destroying this body, though, and I'm not about to let it go to waste by building it back up!


Gathered around the Atrium, the shops were all the standard fare. Good place to go if you need something but, of course, no bargains.

Inside Passage

OK, it's not a port but we spent several days and nights cruising through it so it's worth a few words. It's really quite beautiful! While it varied quite a bit, for the most part it's quite narrow. As a result, the water is calm. There were a few times we were outside in the Pacific and the Gulf of Alaska and then the water kicked up a bit but most of the time there was little or no perceivable motion to the ship. The shoreline was primarily wooded and snow-covered mountains were always in view.


Really a nice little town. It's built in an island so, while there are roads there, they don't go very far! The town itself is relatively small and very quaint. The people are very friendly. Perhaps the most famous area is Creek Street. This was until the 1950's a red light district but now it hosts a lot of nice shops, restaurants, etc. The Big Dolly Museum was a brothel and, for a small fee, you can legitimately see the inside of one! As mentioned in the diary, the weather is typically damp. A bus driver said those rubber shoe/boots are referred to as "Ketchikan sneakers". There are zillions of bald eagles there, too.


As the capital of Alaska, Juneau is a business city as well a tourist destination. There's a gondola that goes from one of the piers to a mountain top but, because visibility was limited and time short, we skipped it so I can't comment. There's lots of shopping and, while some are pretty tacky, there are some very nice shops. St. Nicholas Church is a tiny wooded structure which, according to the priest we spoke with, hosts 70 people for Sunday worship. In my mind the fact that they stand for the entire 90 minute service is the only way 70 people will fit in the building. It's really quaint. Juneau's weather is about like Ketchikan's.


This was my favorite town of the whole trip and I'd have liked to have spent more time here. We were told by the young lady who drove us in a carriage into town that the summer population is about 1500 but that it drops to 800 in the winter. While there are a lot of stores and bars for tourists, she told us only one store and one bar are open in the winter; the store only 4 hours a WEEK! This town looks rather like it was the soundstage for an old movie about the gold rush. It sits at the foot of a steep valley and a narrow-gauge railroad, the historic White Pass and Yukon RR, leads out of town. These days, a road connects Skagway to the interior so there were quite a few campers in the campgrounds. The people here were great but, as we learned, that's pretty typical of Alaska.


Not very impressive from what we saw. As I mentioned in the diary, some who visited the aquarium said it was nice. Other than that, I miss the point of going into town.

Overall Impression

Excellent. With only a couple of exceptions, Princess did an amazing job of keeping things straight considering the number of people they handle and the variety of itineraries. Take a look at a Princess catalog and you'll see how people are criss-crossing all over the state. In spite of this, by the time we got to a hotel, we already had our keys and our bags were already in the room. No small feat!

I'm very happy we decided to take it a little easy and spend two nights in each place; those who spent only one were too rushed and missed a lot.


Anchorage is a pretty big town and quite modern. I'd been there twice while the Trans-Alaska pipeline was under construction in the early 70's but nothing but the container docks looked familiar to me; the town has grown a lot. Except for a quick city tour and some shopping, we really didn't see an awful lot of the city. What we saw was pleasant and here, like everyplace else we visited, the people were very friendly.

Midnight Sun Express

This was a real kick. We spent a total of about 8 hours on the train, spread over two days. I was actually sorry when we arrived in Fairbanks. The Princess cars are delightful. I did hear that on some cars they were having trouble with the air-conditioning and that the temperature was over 100 but we didn't have any trouble in that regard. The sightseeing on the trip from Anchorage to Talkeetna was pretty limited because there were trees lining much of the route; the second leg was much more scenic. The people working on the train were attentive and friendly. This was one of the high points of the trip.

Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge

This place is delightful. The mixed blessing is that it's in the middle of nowhere. The positive of that is that it's relaxing. The down side is, if you want to go into town (Talkeetna), it's a 2 hour round trip on the shuttle bus. Yuck! The biggest attraction, of course is "The Mountain", A.K.A. Mt. McKinley or Denali. It's the focal point of the whole place and people are content to stare at it for hours. There's a main lodge where all the public rooms are and then a lot of out buildings, each like a small motel. The place looks new and is in excellent condition. There's a main dining room and an informal café and a bar. The bar also serves food and both the bar and the café have outside decks so you can stare at the mountain as you eat and drink. There are nice trails for walking and a ranger leads structured nature walks. Overall, it's a nice place to kick back. I was more relaxed there than I've been in a long time. This place was infinitely nicer than the Denali Princess.

Denali National Park

To me, this was a disappointment. I'd heard stories of wildlife galore and bears coming right up to the bus. Not so on our trip. Three hours on a school bus and we saw virtually nothing. I suspect it was because we had gloriously bright and warm weather and any self-respecting wildlife was laying down taking it easy. Still, it was disappointing. Because of the clarity, we were treated to a nice view of The Mountain but it was 90 miles away. At the Mt. McKinley Princess, we'd been only about 40 miles away so this view, while nice, was a little anti-climactic.


Honestly, we didn't see much of it but what we saw wasn't impressive. This is a boom and bust town and this is definitely not a boom time. I did recognize a few spots from my visits in the 70's during the construction of the pipeline. In our quick tour through town, we didn't see anything to inspire us to come back on the shuttle to look closer

Sunday, May 30: - Moscow (PA, that is) to Vancouver

Our plane left our local airport of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, PA at 7:10 so we up very early. I'd been concerned about Memorial Day weekend crowds but the plane was only 1/2 full. We had about 2 hours to kill at Pittsburgh, then took another US Airways flight to Seattle/Tacoma. We had good seats and, again, lots of extra room but, as always, the trip was too long. At Seattle, things were pretty confusing. Air Canada was handled by United and the girl at the United counter was really incompetent. She asked if we'd be willing to go on an earlier flight since ours was overbooked and she assured us our bags would make it. She failed to give us a landing card and to ask us to fill out some needed info on the back of the boarding pass. As a result, we were delayed in boarding. The flight to Vancouver, BC was only about 1/2 hour. Naturally, the bags didn't make it! We had to wait an hour for the next plane but all the bags came through. The pre-cruise info from Princess was really sketchy about whether all of the bags would come through or the ones with the Princess tags would go to the ship. All came out on the belt so we schlepped them through customs and out to a Princess rep who put us in a cab, giving the driver a chit for the fare.

They had a special check-in at the Pan Pacific Hotel for cruise ship passengers so we were in quickly and had the bags promptly. The Pacpac is located right at the cruise pier, there is a berth on each side of the hotel and boarding is done from below the hotel. We decided to look at the ships docked on either side of the hotel and get lunch. Holland America's Statendam was on one side of the hotel and the Regal Princess on the other. The Regal looks like it was build for Cape Horn; not a lot of open deck and virtually none looking forward. We had a very expensive lunch in the hotel atrium and went up to the room for a nap, then woke and walked to Vancouver's "Gas Town" for dinner. It wasn't the nicest place and we walked many blocks, turned around and walked back on the other side. There were lots pretty scary people down there. It seemed we were accosted for handouts every 20 feet. We were almost through Gas Town without finding a place we liked when Linda discovered Rossini's Pasta Palazzo where there was live jazz. Dinner was great and the jazz, by the Hans Staymer Blues Band, was fantastic. Hans is from Germany but sounds like a black man when he sings. Prices were good, too; only about $CN 60 for everything. Good restaurant aside, we were happy to get back to the hotel and went straight to bed. Neither of us slept very well.

Monday, May 31 - Leaving on the Sun Princess

Sun Princess in VancouverWe both finally gave up trying to sleep at 6:00 AM. Our ship, the Sun Princess, which we expected to dock right below our window was still not in but it arrived about 6:30. It's a great looking ship with a lot of open deck. We ate breakfast in the atrium, then walked on the pier in light rain. We went back and hung around the room 'til 11:30, checked out and boarded quickly from the bottom of the hotel. They started boarding at noon and we stepped aboard at 12:10. One thing I'll say about Princess; they handle crowds well. Our cabin was A421, Aloha deck, starboard side, amidships. After dropping the carry-on in the room, we ate lunch in the Horizons Court on Lido deck and explored the ship. I got back off and took pictures of the ship and, since our side faced the pier and there was a walkway at about the same level as our deck, of Linda on our balcony. We'd met Ken and Carmen when we were standing in line to board and I mentioned to Lin that, based on the last cruise, we'd never see them again. I was wrong; we met them twice more while waiting to sail. We stood with them as we sailed at about 5:50, 20 minutes late. Once under way, we came down and got ready for dinner, then sat in the Wheelhouse Lounge, swapping jokes with the waiter, Robbie, from England. Our table, #61, in the Marquis Dining Room was in a good spot in the center at the far end. It was a table for 6 and all of us were from PA now or originally! Paul and Ann live in Lansdale; Frank and Pat live in Memphis but grew up in PA, Frank in Wilkes-Barre, the town where I work! (BTW, Frank has a webpage, too!) After dinner we went to the show in the theater but it was only so-so. The comedian told mostly old jokes. After the show, we went straight to bed at 11:30. Given a 3 hour loss due to time zones, it was a long day!

Tuesday, June 1 - Inside Passage

Inside PassageProbably due to the time change; we woke around 5:00 and got up around 6:00 to a nice but cold day. There's a forward open area on our deck (Aloha) so I checked it out; it's windy as hell! I got coffee for me and tea for Linda from the Lido deck and sat on the balcony as Linda dressed. We saw our first whale, probably an Orca. After hours in the inside passage, we broke out into the Pacific and it was quite rough so the captain went back to the inside passage; they normally do that second stretch inside only southbound. As a result of this detour, we went through a narrow passage just south of Bella-Bella, BC with many bald eagles on both banks. I just loafed around on deck all day; Lin took a nap in the cabin. We dressed (black tie) for dinner, skipped the Captain's reception and sat in the Wheelhouse lounge. We did, however, get our portrait taken. While many on the ship did not dress black tie, all at our table did. The show was a musical called "Pirates" that was shallow in plot but well done, including dancing and acrobatics. Pat, Frank, Lin and I sat in front row center. We went straight to bed afterward.

Wednesday, June 2 - Ketchican

Creek StreetI set the alarm for 7:00 but woke up at 6:30 to find the ship docked at Ketchican. We again had breakfast in the Horizon Court and walked in town for about 1/2 hour. I'd felt bad when we got up because of the low clouds. The locals in Ketchican thought it was great weather since this was the second day without rain! They get ~265 days of rain a year! From time to time, we had a few patches of blue sky and they were ecstatic!!

Misty Fjords FlightAs a shore excursion, we'd signed up for the Misty Fjords trip run by Seaborne Adventures. We met the tour on the dock at 8:50. They picked us up in a bus and took us to the dock where we loaded into a couple of Twin Otters for a flight over the Misty Fjords National Monument. Each seat had a headset through which they played great music. Really moving! Landed on a fjord and got out onto the floats. Magnificent. The low clouds and mist in the air actually enhanced the experience. This was worth every penny! Back at the dock, we decided to walk the mile to town. On the way, we saw many bald eagles perched in trees along the road. We did some shopping and walked down Creek Street where we visited the Big Dolly Museum. Dolly was a "lady of negotiated affection" and her house was one of many that flourished on Creek Street until it was "cleaned up" in the 50's. Due to a 2:00 sailing, we were back aboard at 1:30 and had lunch in the dinning room. I signed up for tomorrow's trip and Lin went to the room while I sat on deck and into the hot tub.

We moved from lounge to lounge before dinner and did a little dancing in the Wheelhouse afterwards. Dinner was OK at best. They supposedly had Bananas Foster flambéed by the Maitre d'. We never saw the Maitre d' nor any flames! The banana wasn't sliced and they had chocolate syrup on the ice cream!!! Princess is definitely not a place to find gourmet food. Another little irritation; I wanted to send my shirt to the laundry but had used the bag yesterday for my formal shirt and it hadn't been replaced. Some service!

Thursday, June 3 - Juneau

St. Nicholas ChurchWe docked in Juneau in low overcast and light rain. We ate breakfast in the dining room and walked into town. The ship was docked about 1/2 mile out even though the information we'd been given indicated we'd be right at the aerial tramway station. After a fair bit of shopping, we visited the St. Nicholas Russian church . On the way to the church, I happened to say "hello" to a security guard who was standing in front of an office building. The next 10-15 minutes were spent chatting with him about life in Juneau. This, we would soon learn, was pretty typical; people would act as they'd known you for years. At the recommendation of some locals, we had lunch at "The Hanger" on the wharf. This place is frequented by locals and people working on the ships, not tourists. At the recommendation of some guys I talked to at the bar, I had an Alaskan Amber Beer, brewed in Juneau. It was fantastic and the halibut and chips were the best we've ever had.

Float TripAfter lunch, we returned to the ship and got ready for the Mendenhall River Float Trip. They took us on a bus from the ship to Mendenhall Lake, right below the glacier of the same name. There were small 'bergs floating in the water. We got all done up in boots, pants, parka and life preserver & loaded into a raft with 4 other folks plus the guide, Brian Donovan. There were about 7 rafts from our bus. We first crossed the lake, then entered the Mendenhall River and followed it for about 4-1/2 miles including through several rapids, some of which were class 2 & 3. Lots of fun and Lin enjoyed it, too. The only real problem was cold feet (literally, not figuratively). The only thing between our feet and 36º water was a pair of socks, thin rubber boots and the rubber bottom of the raft. In fact, there was some water in the boat so our feet were like ice! The trip down the river took about an hour, most of which was very gentle. Unfortunately, it rained on and off the whole time. They had hot chocolate, reindeer sausage (delicious!) and salmon spread at the take-out. Afterward, they bussed us back to the ship.

We went into the hot tub to warm up before getting dressed for dinner. We had drinks in the Atrium. Dinner was Italian and actually quite good. I had shrimp Fra Diavlo. We went with Frank and Pat to an "America's Music" review in the theater. Again, we sat front row center. After dancing in the Wheelhouse for a while, we got to bed around 12:00. The view from our balcony as prepared for bed was breathtaking. All shades of blue and gray with snow-capped mountains for accent. Even the patterns on the water were enticing. I didn't even try to capture it on film. I could have watched that all night.

Friday, June 4 - Skagway

SkagwayI'd left the drapes open because of the view, so the sun woke me around 4:00. We were still moving so I closed the drapes, went back to sleep, and woke about 7:00 at the dock in Skagway. We ate in the Horizon and left the ship. We were a little way from town so we took a horse-drawn carriage; Lin loves those things and it gave us a nice ride into town plus a guided tour. Wildlife AdventureThe young lady driving the rig suggested we visit the "Alaska Wildlife Adventure" so we did that, even though the front was so tacky we would never have entered otherwise. This is a collection put together by a guy named Bob Groff and his wife, Anna. Bob himself led the tour for just Lin and me! At $9.95 per person, he spent well over an hour with us! There are two parts to the collection. The first consists of a bunch of glass-fronted cases filled with "stuff" the Groffs have collected over the years. Much of it, such as Eskimo artifacts he collected while living in the Arctic, was related to Alaska. However, much, such as as some ceramic items his wife had made, were apropos of nothing! It was fun, however, and Bob went into much detail on the history of many of the things. He's led an interesting life! The second part is made up of 40-some stuffed animals that had been shot by Bob, Ann and some friends. They are displayed in natural settings so it's something like a flash-frozen wilderness. Pretty neat and a great experience. We were given chits for free coffee in the Chinese restaurant at the back of the place. Quite an experience and we recommended it to many during the day.

White Pass & Yukon RRWe shopped, had a hot dog from a stand (mine was reindeer, of course) and returned to the ship to catch our tour, a ride on the White Pass and Yukon Railroad. The train stops right across the dock from the ship We were with Ken and Carmen in a car that had room for handicapped people but there were no handicapped aboard so there was a lot of extra room, even though the 15-car train was full. Surprisingly to me, it was permitted to ride on the platform so I rode most of the way out there in order to take pictures.White Pass & Yukon RR I'd left my parka inside so, in sweatshirt alone, I was pretty cool as we rode through the snow and ice over the summit. The ride was great and the scenery beautiful. The clear skies that had appeared in the morning began to fade but it was still a beautiful trip. This was the shore excursion I'd been most interested in and I loved it!

The train dropped us off in town but Ken & Carmen rode it back to the ship while Lin and I walked a bit. This is a GREAT little town and I didn't want to give it up! Had a nice "Red Star Amber" beer, brewed in Skagway in a sidewalk terrace. I wouldn't mind spending a few days here.

Went directly to bed after dinner to rest for an early arrival in Glacier Bay.

Saturday, June 5 - Glacier Bay

Glacier BayWe left the drapes open again and it was pretty bright when we fell asleep around 11:30. I woke around 4:00 and got up about 4:30; Lin was still fast asleep. I ate breakfast absolutely alone except for staff in the Horizon Court at 5:00 just as we were entering Glacier Bay and was on deck by about 5:15, virtually alone. I know this certifies me as crazy but we'd been told this was a good place to see humpback whales and I wanted to see one. It was COLD as well as rainy. After a bit, I went down to put more clothes on. I ended up in shirt, sweatshirt, bomber jacket, parka (with hood pulled up over my cap), heavy pants, rain pants, two pairs of socks and shoes and I was STILL a bit cold! There was a single chaise lounge that someone had earlier dragged onto the foredeck and abandoned so I sat in that for a long time. After waiting for hours and seeing no whales, I'd just decided to give up and go down to warm up when someone said there was a whale on the port side. It was a humpback only about 1/4 mile away. I grabbed the binoculars rather than the camera so have to rely on my memory of the sight of that fluke rising and dripping water. What a sight! Would have been a great picture! Shortly thereafter, three naturalists from the National Park Service came on board to narrate our tour.

Glacier BayWe did not see nearly as many glaciers in Glacier Bay as I'd expected. After several hours, we reached the northern end of the bay where we found Grand Pacific and Marjorie Glaciers. Grand Pacific is big but not very pretty; lots of terminal moraine (read: dirt) and not much calving. On the other hand, Marjorie Glacier (in the picture) is fascinating. Ice blue (excuse the expression) with a lot of calving. (Calving is when chunks fall off into the sea.) We spent an hour or so hovering about 1/4 mile from it. Most of the time, the ship's port side was to the glacier so we stayed on deck. When the captain turned to put the starboard side to the glacier, we returned to the cabin and our balcony. There, without the crowds and noise, we could better hear all the groaning, popping and cracking. Fantastic! This thing was really calving a lot so there were a zillion small 'bergs in the water. I'm guessing the biggest were maybe 20 feet across. We then sailed to the Johns Hopkins Inlet and saw Lampugh Glacier, which is very blue. We didn't see Johns Hopkins Glacier itself since the ice was too heavy. I got some pictures of a whale spouting as we moved back down the bay and we finally cleared the bay about 3:30. We had a drink in the Atrium, then I took a dip in the hot tub and a much-needed nap.

This was the second formal night. The laundry did a horrible job on my shirt so I had to try to straighten it out. As returning Princess passengers, we were invited to a "Captain's Circle" reception. It ran from 7:00 to 7:45 but, with the shirt and all, we got there about 7:35. Not exactly an exciting event anyway.

Frank and Pat were absent from dinner. We knew Pat had been sick all day so it wasn't a surprise but we missed them. We had a drink and danced a bit in the wheelhouse. I found it interesting how many times we heard the theme song from "Titanic" during the cruise. Here we were on a ship, having spent the day among icebergs, dressed in formal clothes, dancing to this haunting music. Weird!.

They were doing a champagne waterfall in the Atrium so we watched a while before going to bed around 1:00. The sky was still red with the sunset even though sunset was at 10:30. The sky to the north was quite bright but to the south it was pretty dark.

Sunday, June 6 - College Fjord

College FjordI woke around 4:00 'cause it was light outside so I closed the drapes and slept 'til 8:30. While Lin slept, I ate in the Horizon and found a spot on the starboard quarter of Lido Deck. The day was clear, bright and pretty warm. Lin and I mis-communicated about where to meet so she sat on the starboard quarter of Aloha Deck for a couple of hours as I was two decks up, each of us waiting for the other. We ate lunch in the Verdi Pizzeria then went back (together!) to the Lido Deck. The day was absolutely perfect, only a few high cirrus clouds; we both got sunburned on our faces as we cruised through Prince William Sound. After lunch, we entered College Fjord. While not as well known, it's much nicer than Glacier bay. It has 5 tidewater glaciers in a row plus a number of hanging glaciers. I think there are 16 glaciers in all! Lots of sea life, too; otters, seals… The water was as smooth as glass and peppered with icebergs. What a perfect last day of cruising! After we turned to exit the fjord, the best glaciers were on starboard so we went back to our balcony. We could hear the ice fizzing as it released air on melting. This was certainly the nicest day of the cruise. Finally, we left the fjord and turned to the sad job of packing.

Had a drink in the Wheelhouse, dinner, show, then back to the Wheelhouse for one last Remy Martin XO from our friend Richie. Got to the room about 12:30 and it was still light outside. Just for fun, I took a book out onto the balcony, closed the drapes, and was still able to read!

Monday, June 7 - Seward to Anchorage.

Seward HighwayI again slept poorly and got up about 6:30. We'd docked in the wee hours and there was a terrible din on the pier as, with blaring of back-up alarms on the vehicles, they unloaded the ship. We ate in the dining room, stood in line for 30 minutes to check our carry-on bag and took the shuttle to "beautiful" downtown Seward. This place didn't seem worthy of a visit so we rode the shuttle back to some shops closer to the ship. I understand there's a pretty good aquarium in Seward be we weren't up to it. Did a bit of shopping near the ship, re-boarded, picked up the bags (not waiting for the line to re-form!) and sat by the pool 'til about 11:30. We had lunch in the Horizon, then moved to the library to read and wait. It was peaceful 'til several people started talking about how sick they were. We decided to finish our wait outside on the Promenade Deck until they left us off the ship around 2:00. The people not on land packages were long gone but those of us going to Anchorage to start that portion had to wait so the rooms would be ready when we arrived. We boarded a brand-new bus for Anchorage. The 3-hour ride was beautiful, especially the southern half but I kept falling asleep. We saw one moose.

Check-in at the Captain Cook Hotel was a bit of a fiasco. We checked in through Princess but they didn't have enough staff to handle it and weren't totally prepared. One woman kept saying, "This is totally my fault." Certainly made me feel better. We signed up for tomorrow's "DC3 Nostalgic Flight" and walked to the mall to buy more film - I'm going through it like water. Didn't like the price so I bought nothing. We met Frank & Pat for dinner at Simon and Seafort's. I had excellent reindeer medallions. (If there's no Christmas this year, it'll be my fault.) Said goodbye to Frank & Pat since they had booked only one night in Anchorage while we had two. We'll be following a day behind them from now on. We walked a bit before going to bed. I woke during the night around 2:30; it was still pretty bright outside!

Tuesday, June 8 - Anchorage

This was our 31st anniversary. We ate breakfast in the hotel and were picked up at 9:00 for the "City Tour" that was a part of our package. Our driver/guide, Kris, is an elementary teacher working for Princess in the summer. Her husband, also a teacher, does the same. That seems to be a pretty standard combination of careers up here. Kris drove us up and down various streets of the city, then out to the brand new Alaskan Native Heritage Center. It's only a month old. This is a great place with displays and presentations from the various tribes. Some were doing handiwork. They had outside exhibits depicting the way of life for each of the peoples. Great place.

Drove to Lake Spenard and Lake Hood to see a very busy seaplane operation. Lake Hood has a control tower!! We stopped at a place called "the bluff" for some pictures of Anchorage. We were then scheduled to see the Earthquake Park but mosquitoes were reported severe so we skipped it. Having been dropped back at the hotel, we walked up Fourth Avenue where we shopped for the kids and I finally bought the film I needed. Ate in the "Glacier Brewhouse". Good food and great beer!

Douglas DC-3Dropped the stuff in the room, picked up the binoculars, and headed for the lobby to be picked up by ERA Aviation for the "Nostalgic DC-3 Flight". At ERA, the girls were dressed in 40's stewardess garb, including white gloves and seamed stockings. College Fjord from the airCasablanca was playing on the VCR. (OK, they had few TV's and no VCR's in those days, but let's be a little flexible!) There were only 7 passengers on the plane and 28 seats. Lin and I took cross-windows in the last row. Wendy, the stewardess, sat behind me. She was absolutely fantastic. She obviously loves her job and really played it up. We made a left downwind departure from runway 24R and headed down the Turnagain arm for Whittier and Prince William Sound. Flew over College Fjord for a very different perspective that we'd had 2 days earlier. The pilot did a great job, turning the plane so everyone got a good view of the key sights. We were totally free to move around, including into the cockpit so it was a rather unique experience. Wendy served champagne (in stemware), smoked salmon, cheese, crackers, etc. Wendy was very liberal with the champagne and, when she learned it was our anniversary, gave us a bottle to take with us! Wendy passed out original Look and Life magazines from the 40's as "in-flight reading materials"! There was 40's music playing and, as we were leaving and returning to Anchorage, Wendy read us the "news" except it was from the 40's. The flight was about 90 minutes long and was a great experience. Worth every penny.

TiptoesBack at the hotel, I looked for the zillionth time at a bronze sculpture called "Tip Toes" at Boreal Traditions, a shop in the hotel. "Tip Toes" is a limited edition bronze created my the team of Mary and Jacques Regat. I'd fallen in love with this masterpiece at a little shop in Ketchican and saw it again in shops in Juneau and Skagway. To me, it's absolutely magnificent - a dolphin balanced on the tip of a wave. I desperately wanted the piece but walked away again. There's no logical justification for such a purchase. We dropped our stuff in the room, went back and, throwing caution to the wind, bought Tiptoes from Jon Lindsay, proprietor of Boreal. John mentioned that the Regats live in Anchorage and are often in the store. I said it's be a thrill to meet them so he said he'd call and ask them to immediately bring him another Tip Toes and maybe we'd luck out. He suggested we have dinner at the Snowgoose on Third Ave.and check with him later. We had a nice dinner and, when we got back, checked in with Jon. He said he was happy with our timing since Mary would be there in 5 minutes. We hung around, met her and had our pictures taken with her, Jon and Tip Toes. Neat!

Packed (yet again!) and went to bed.

Wednesday, June 9 - Anchorage to Talkeetna

Upper level of trainWe were up and dressed by 6:30 and boarded the bus by 7:15 for the short ride to the train. There were 4 dedicated Princess cars, several Holland America/Westours cars and a number of Alaska RR cars on the train. The Princess cars are magnificent. Each has a panoramic dome on the upper level with seating at tables similar to restaurant booths.Tables were pre-assigned. We were seated with a very pleasant retired couple from Devon, England in the first Princess car.Lower levelOn the lower level of our car and 2 others was a dining area with a full kitchen. The remaining car had a gift shop and outside observation platform. Those who desired breakfast were called down as space was available to eat. The meal itself was typically Princess (read: not great) but the ambiance was fantastic! Upstairs, they had complete bar service plus coffee, tea, etc. As we got upstairs again, one of the waiters, with a nametag of "Elvis", was doing a little impersonation act. Not bad and a lot of fun.

McKinley DiscoveryAfter 4 hours, we arrived in Talkeetna and transferred to a bus. Boarding the bus, we were given our hotel keys. Pretty efficient. Lin stayed with the bus for the one-hour ride to the McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge while I got off in town and walked to the airport. I'd signed up on the train for a "McKinley Discovery" flight with K2 Aviation. The visibility wasn't great but I figured there was no guarantee on tomorrow and I'd rather do it now than ride 2 hours round trip on a bus to do it tomorrow. The plane was a DeHavilland Beaver (N121KT), as in the movie "Six Days, 7 Nights". I eagerly volunteered to sit in the right front seat. The weather was really pretty poor for this with ceiling at about 10,000 feet. With the summit at 20,320, Mt. McKinley (A.K.A. Denali) was left to the imagination. In any case, the pilot, Jim Okonek, flew us over a lot of glaciers and valleys and between granite walls that appeared awfully close! Coming back, we flew at about 800' AGL and saw grizzlies and a moose. Jim did a lot of turns so everyone could see. Flying time was about 90 minutes. Nice landing at about 2:30 but there wasn't a shuttle to the hotel 'til 3:30 so, leaving some things on the bus, I walked into the big town of Talkeetna. While it wasn't filmed there, I'm told this town was the inspiration for the TV show "Northern Exposure". I had a reindeer sausage melt at a small inn and boarded the bus. Slept on and off during the ride and found Lin asleep in the room. This is hard work!

Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness LodgeWe did a little exploring of the lodge, then sat on the deck drinking more Alaskan Amber and listening to a state park ranger give a lecture on the deck. The lodge is quite nice; makes you think you're at a high-end summer camp (I guess we are!) The lodge itself is quite large and has a huge great room with a wall of windows facing Denali (A.K.A. Mt. McKinley) Most of the chairs in the great room and on the huge deck in front of it face the mountain, almost like a theater, It's certainly the best show in town. When we arrived, the mountain was still not visible, being 40 miles away and hidden in clouds.

We got ready for dinner and ate in the "Mountain View" dining room. In making the reservations, Lin had asked for a "good table". They had the request written and put us at a window. That was fortunate since the clouds lifted and the mountain made its appearance during dinner. After dinner, we found Frank and Pat having dinner on the café deck so we joined them for a chat while they finished, then all moved to the main deck to stare at the mountain. This thing is a magnificent piece of rock! We sat there a while, trying to guess exactly where the sun would set since it goes down at an angle to the horizon. With the sun still above the horizon, we moved inside. I looked at my watch and it was 11:30! As we were sitting in the great room, there was a big commotion on deck. We looked and a moose cow and calf were walking right past the hotel!. I took my last picture of the mountain at 12:20; still pretty bright!

Thursday, June 10, Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge

Bill HallWe had a wakeup call for 7:00 and woke to a crystal clear day. When I check in to the office, my assistant told me of a helicopter crash in Juneau. At the lodge, we picked up a copy of the Anchorage Times and read the front page story of an Aerospatiale AStar helicopter that crashed on Herbert Glacier killing the pilot plus 4 from the Ryndam and 2 from the Sea Princess. Had pretty decent eggs benedict in the Mt. View Dining Room, then boarded a van for the Iditarod Kennel Tour. We rode about 45 minutes, (including a stop an the driver's Mom's house to pick up coffee!) to the kennels of Bill Hall, an Iditarod race competitor. As we approached Hall's house, we overtook him on the road. He was on a 3-wheel ATV pulled by a team of 7 dogs. Bill was very personable and seemed to genuinely care for each of the 50 dogs. He gave an interesting and informative presentation for about an hour, then pulled out 5 puppies for people to hold. Of Bill's 50 dogs, 10 are special retired dogs, 10 are too young to race and 30 are his race dogs. Linda's the dog nut in the family so this was her trip but I enjoyed the visit, too.

Denali from the helicopterBack at the lodge, I called my folks and our kids to tell them we were not involved in the disaster in Juneau. Notwithstanding the crash, I signed up for a helicopter tour of Denali. Frank had strongly recommended it last night and I seriously considered it when I saw the clear morning skies but dismissed the idea when I read the paper. I figured Lin would be upset if I even mentioned it but she was OK with it. After a lunch on the deck, I boarded a 2:30 van for the helicopter ride. We only had to ride a few miles to the heliport, a small clearing next to a trailer. This was the local base of operations of ERA Helicopter. The chopper arrived after we did; a beautiful Aerospatiale AStar. This was identical to the one that went down in Juneau and holds a pilot plus 6 passengers. We had an empty seat and I was in the back with two other folks.Grizzlies Each of us was fitted with headsets but there was no vox. We had to press a button in the ceiling to talk. A bit primitive and two of the women could not understand the program! The flight was absolutely perfect in every respect. The weather was still crystal clear with absolutely no turbulence. The pilot, Glen Ballard, started out at about 1000 above ground level over the lowlands giving an almost continuous narrative in a very soft, deep, almost poetic manner. His narrative added a lot to the beauty of the flight. Glen showed a deep love for the environment, not only my his words, but also by actions as he carefully avoided spooking the wildlife. We saw a moose and two trumpeter swans. We went up and down various valleys. At one point, we were facing a huge headwall with higher peaks on each side. He very slowly ascended and suddenly the peak of Denali was in front of us. Spectacular!! (That's the picture I've included here.) We were quite close to the mountains at times and we went so close to one glacier, it seemed as if we could touch it. Then he flew very slowly over the glacier's top so we could get a good look at the huge crevasses. As we approached one ridge, Glen said he'd seen bear tracks an hour earlier. As we crossed it, he saw a new set so we looked for the bear and found a mother grizzly and two cubs on a steep hillside. Too soon (after about 45 minutes of flight time) we returned. Frank was right; it was a fantastic experience.

Denali from lodgeI picked up Lin at the room and we went to the deck for the ranger talk. Then we took a short walk and a nap and dressed for dinner in the Mt. View. This time they hadn't held the requested window table so we waited about 30 minutes in the great room until they buzzed the pager they gave us. Dinner for me was Albacore; for Linda halibut. Not bad. Went to bed around 10:30; we're running out of gas. Woke around 2:30 and, because it was so bright, I considered dressing and taking a picture of the mountain but didn't have the energy.

Friday, June 11 - Denali National Park & Fairbanks

CaribouUp early once again and in the bus by 9:00. The first leg was about 2 hours on a tour bus to Denali National Park and the Denali Princess Lodge. The driver was from New Zealand and was funny as hell; typical dry Kiwi humor. It was a bright day again so, unfortunately, the wildlife was in hiding. We were dropped off at the Denali Princess to pickup the tour of the National Park. It's not nearly as nice as the McKinley Princess. Things here are terribly jammed together and it's crowded as hell. Some rooms overlook the river but many look over the bus staging and loading area. Yuck!! I'd have been very unhappy if we'd stayed here. We walked off the grounds to a pizza place and had a pretty lousy buffet. After checking out the hotel, we boarded a school bus for a 3-hour tour of the National Park. The driver, Taminy, was quite nice. Again, the brightness of the day kept the wildlife down. We did see a caribou and a ptarmigan but that was it! The absence of wildlife was the only true disappointment I had of the entire trip.

After the park tour, Taminy delivered us to the train station. This was one time Princess really blew it logistically. The station was crowded as hell with not only Princess people but also passengers from Holland America and Alaska RR. While there was a special area for Princess passengers, divided by car number, signage was lacking and no one told us to go there until I asked. It was a real zoo and, of course, the train was late. Obviously, the train schedule isn't Princess' issue but a little better instruction would have been good. I will say that, when they finally did begin giving us info, Princess had a PA system and the Holland America people were yelling to the passengers! When it came time to board, the procedure was pretty chaotic; I think they have work to do. I was pretty smoked by the time we got on the train.

We were again in car "A" and, fortunately, it wasn't full. There were a couple of empty tables in our car so the couple seated backwards at our table opted to move to another. That gave us a lot of room to spread out. The British couple who were at our table on the last leg were across the aisle so we continued our dialog. The scenery was beautiful and one guy on the car was great at spotting wildlife; from time to time he'd yell "Moose!" and all heads would turn. Unfortunately, even though we were travelling pretty slowly, I never got a great photo of a moose. We went downstairs for the second seating and a pretty decent prime rib dinner. The Brits were shocked at the size of the portions! At dinner, we ate with Wayne and Mickey from Bucks County.

We got to the hotel, the Bear Lodge at the Wedgwood Resort in Fairbanks, at about 9:30. The hotel isn't bad but is well isolated. We saw Frank and Pat finishing their dinner on the terrace so we at with them 'til about 11:30. We sadly bid them goodbye; they're going home tomorrow.

Saturday, June 12, 1999

Chena Indian VillageUp again at 6:00 to get breakfast and onto a bus by 8:00 for the "Riverboat Discovery" tour included with our package. The Discovery III, moored in the Chena River, is a 4-decked sternwheeler that is quite modern. The paddlewheel is for real but is powered my hydraulic motors. The boat holds about 700 passengers and, predictably, there were zillions of busses there. It was nice in a way but a bit hokey for my taste. We found a spot on the uppermost deck. First item on the agenda as we moved down the Chena was a demo of a short-field takeoff and landing by a Super Cub from a grass strip along the river. We also saw Susan Butcher's Kennels, where a trainer spoke to us via PA system and a talk and demo on Indian fishing and preparation by "Dixie", an Athabaskan. The confluence of the Chena and Tanana is very interesting; the Chena is clear water and the Tanana, being glacier-fed, is fill of silt. Interesting visual. Stopped for an hour at the Chena Indian Village, which was interesting but, again, very touristy. Dixie, who'd given us the fishing demo, had passed us in her aluminum boat and now had a young girl model a coat she had made, starting with tanning the hides.

Trans-Alaska PipelineWe were back at the hotel at 1:00 for a quick lunch prior to being picked up at 2:30 for the included "City of Gold" tour. After a quick drive around Fairbanks, we stopped at the Trans-Alaska pipeline. It was a thrill for me to see it completed since I'd been involved in design of equipment used in its construction and had made two trips to Alaska at the time.

Eldorado Gold MineNext, we visited the Eldorado Gold Mine, owned by the same folks who own the riverboat. Same hokeyness but, again, rather informative. First was a ride on a steam train through a mine tunnel where there was a talk on mining methods. At the end of the ride, we got a demonstration of the placer mining method where the ore is first concentrated through a sluice, then the gold is separated by panning. We were each given a bag of soil and panned it to get our gold. Lin and I together got gold worth a total value of about $16. We then paid another $49 for a locket to put it in! Wayne said, "This guy really has a gold mine here!"

We were back again to the hotel at 6:00, then bought some last-minute gifts, ate on the patio, and headed for bed. There was a shuttle to town but we were too tired. We were in bed by 10:00.

Sunday, June 13, 1999

We had a 3:45 (!!!) wakeup for a 5:00 pickup for the airport. We were the only passengers on a full-sized bus 'til we picked up two more at a hotel near the airport. Our bags, having been picked up in the evening, were waiting at the airport. Princess had a rep and 5 baggage handlers there to help. Since the bags had been out of our possession, we had to open each to assure they hadn't been tampered with. That's the point when the airline discovered that we had no ticket from Fairbanks to Seattle!! It was on our printed itinerary and they had a seat assignment for us but no ticket had been issued. Fortunately, we’d arrived a few minutes before the mob so we had lots of time but there were some anxious moments until the Princess rep bought us new tickets. He said he'd figure it out later. Took off on time for Seattle and all went well 'til we got to Pittsburgh and found our plane to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was still in Philadelphia! We never got home 'til about 1:00. What a long day; The end of a trip always sucks!

This was one of the best trips we've taken. We've concluded that Princess is not the world's greatest cruise line but they do a great job of logistics. The people of Alaska are almost universally delightful. I think as a group they're the friendliest I've ever come across. I don't think I'll repeat the trip per se but, after I retire, we'd like to drive up to Alaska, then work our way back down the inside passage on the ferry. That way, we can spend more time in the towns of the Southeast. One of the unfortunate things about visiting any port by cruise ship is you see the town at its worst; jammed with thousands of tourists. By doing it by ferry, we'll see another aspect. Sure is something to look forward to. Check back in fifteen years or so for the story...