First, the cruise itself was fabulous. Princess, the third largest cruise line in the world, has a fleet of 17 vessels. We sailed on the Golden Princess, which sails round-trip from Settle, WA. The ship sails to Glacier Bay and the following port cities: Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan and Victoria, British Columbia.
You can book shore excursions in advance on the Princess website or in ports. We did both. If exploring on your own, be sure to get walking maps from each city’s visitor center. The weather in early July was comfortable. While hiking we wore T-shirts and jeans. Of course it was chilly in Glacier Bay.
Good to know: Wear layered clothing and good walking shoes; bring light rain jackets, mittens and hats.
Expect superb service from the crew (your cabin steward will be your new best friend). Family amenities include children’s programs for ages 3 – 17, movies under the stars, swimming pools and hot tubs. For adults, there’s The Sanctuary (pool area), fitness center (with ocean views), and the Lotus Spa. The Italian-inspired piazza is a fun place to regroup, listen to live music or compete in a goofy contest (like balloon juggling). For dinner, passengers choose from traditional or anytime dining hours. We chose traditional dining because we like having the same server for dinner. We had a cozy table for three by a window. We usually ate breakfast and lunch buffets at the Crown Grille.
A cruise highlight for me were the thrilling nature presentations about whales, bears and more by renowned naturalist Michael Modzelewski in the Explorers Lounge. My teen daughter and I had Swedish massages at the Lotus Spa.
Good to know: Consider booking a family suite and mini-suites, which have sitting areas, flat-screen TVs, mini fridges, roomy baths and balconies. Also, have camera and binoculars in hand. The onboard naturalist gives excellent advice about when and where to see wildlife.
Juneau (state capital)
From the pier, we bought $20 roundtrip tickets for the Mendenhall Glacier Express (runs every 30 minutes) for direct transport to the top attraction: Mendenhall Glacier. Watch for bald eagles along the way. The glacier is visible from the visitor center but you’ll get much closer by walking the two-mile roundtrip trail to majestic Nugget Falls in the lush Tongass National Forest. Back in town, we perused shops. It drizzled a bit so we passed on riding the tram to Mt. Roberts (a nice outing on a clear day). We enjoyed a casual meal of Have a meal fish and chip at Hangar on the Wharf and watched float planes take off and land. (Next time I'll splurge on a float plane excursion. I regretted not doing it this time)
Good to know: While sailing into Juneau, be out on deck or your balcony for a good chance to see numerous humpback whales and maybe even an orca or two.
In the late 19th century, prospectors made the long trek into Canada’s Yukon Territory seeking Klondike gold. Retrace their steps on foot or by train or van. On the Chilkoot Trail Hike & Float Adventure, hike two miles along the famous path, then pull on boots and life-jackets for rafting on the Taiya River. It misted while rafting but that didn't spoil the gorgeous views.
Exploring on your own? From the ship, it’s about a 10-minute walk to town. Get maps and watch a short video at the visitor center. Notice a huge watch painted on the mountainside above town (an early ad for a long-gone watch-repair shop), visit the small but interesting Skagway Museum & Archives and grab a meal (and yummy chili fries) at the popular Skagway Brewing Company (the signature Spruce Tip Blonde is brewed with spruce tree tips). Although there was a line out the door, we got seated within 10 minutes.
Good to know: Skagway is the most scenic sail-away port. See amazing colossal waterfalls and the town of Haines.
First one ice chunk then another come into view as the ship cruises through bay waters so calm you see the reflection of mountains, glaciers and clouds. Soon, the entire bay is dotted with icebergs and floating ice. Watch for sea otters swimming by as you sail to three tidewater glaciers: Reid, Margerie and Lamplugh. The ship stops at Margerie, where you can hear glacier calving (sounds like gunshots). If you’re lucky, you’ll see sections of glacier splashing into the bay with a boom.
Good to know: Park rangers board the ship for family-friendly nature presentations.
From the picturesque marina, we walked to Creek Street, composed of historic buildings. In the early 1900s, this was Ketchikan’s red light district. Today, it’s filled with shops and cafes. The stroll along Ketchikan Creek through a forest and by a salmon ladder is pleasant. Turn right and walk the short distance to the Totem Heritage Center ($5 admission, cash only), which houses a collection of rare 19th-century totem poles recovered from remote Tlingit and Haida villages. In downtown, try reindeer sausage at Salmon, Etc., a good place to buy packaged salmon.
Good to know: A free, city-operated shuttle bus visits sights around town.
With limited time in this beautiful port city and a mile-plus walk into town, it’s a good idea to buy $10 roundtrip bus tickets from the ship’s tour desk. Top attraction: Butchart Gardens. We opted for pub crawling where we could sample local brews and listen to live music.