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"Back to Back Alaska 2004 <br />Author: Paul Bjorlin"


Sail Date:05/10/2004
Departed From:
# of Nights: 
Cabin Type: 
Sailed As: 


Overall Value:
Overall Rating: 


I will give a little background information of myself for those who may not know me. I hope this will help in understanding some of my review. Even though I have cruised in the Caribbean, Hawaii and the Panama Canal, Alaska is my favorite place to cruise and I do keep returning. I am not a person who is looking for a shopping destination or a good beach to lie on. I do not spend my time looking for stains on the carpets and drapes or looking for rust and dirty windows on a cruise. I am an easygoing type person who just loves to cruise and meet new people while onboard a cruise. I will also say that I do sell cruises but I am making my review on my own personal time spent on a cruise and I am NOT making the review to try to sell anyone a cruise. This is just my own personal honest opinion and nothing more.

First off we booked this cruise at this time based on the price that Princess was offering at the time. Princess does happen to be our favorite cruise line but we were looking to cruise with some other people on a Celebrity ship. We just could NOT pass up the price they had for the sailings we took. We booked back to back because we only had so many vacation days to use and seeing we had been in Alaska several times before we decided to not do any land portion and just cruise back and save on airfare.

We did book our own airfare from our hometown and we flew into Vancouver a couple days early so we could meet up with our tablemates that we had during our Panama Canal cruise in 2001. They live in Vancouver and gave us a great tour of the city while we were there and had us over for a nice barbecue at their home.

While in Vancouver we stayed at the Blue Horizon Hotel on Robson Street. Someone from the cruise boards recommended this to us. This turned out to be a wise choice. It is not far from Canada Place and there is a lot of activity in the area. The hotel is very nice, however it does have very narrow hallways. We would stay there again without hesitation.

It was finally time to board the Dawn Princess. We left the hotel for Canada Place at 11:00 a.m. It was a short ride from the hotel. When we got there they were not ready to board anyone because the Dawn Princess had arrived in port late due to mechanical problems. They were still getting the other passengers off of the ship. We finally were allowed to start the boarding process about 12:45 p.m. and we were in our room by 1:10 p.m. We had booked an inside room D179. This is on the 8th deck in the aft section of the ship. It is directly over the Vista Lounge and showroom. For those wondering no you could not hear the noise in the showroom from our cabin.

We had been on the Dawn Princess twice before and we had been on the Sun Princess, her sister ship, once before so we were very familiar with the layout of the ship. This was nice because we did not have to stumble around lost and do our little tour of the ship.

When we got to the cabin we started to unload our carryon luggage. As we finished this our first big piece of luggage arrived so we unpacked it and just as we finished our next piece of luggage arrived. This worked out real well because we never had luggage in our way to unpack. It was almost as if they were watching and waiting to give us the luggage at the right time, yes I do know they were not doing that and it was just pure luck.

When we boarded our sign and sail card said we would have the late seating in the Venetian dining room. We prefer early seating but seeing we had been on a wait list for traditional seating we decided to stick with late seating. I know many people like late seating but it does not work well for us. Due to medical reasons we try to stick to specific dining times and late seating caused us some problems with that. We were seated at a table for six however we were the only ones that showed up. The next couple nights were the same. A table next to us was for eight people but only four showed up at that table so we asked to be moved to that table and were told we could do so. We also did ask the people at that table if it was all right if we joined them and they said it was. The people at that table were a family from St. Croix Virgin Islands. We enjoyed their company and did exchange address and phone information to stay in touch. Our waiters for this week were Miguel and Ricardo from Mexico. They did and excellent job and were very friendly and liked to joke around with us. This is something we enjoy. Our headwaiter was Catalan.

The first day out of Vancouver is a sea day. The weather was in the upper 60?s and the seas were fairly calm. We of course got use to the ship again and searched out our favorite lounges and of course my wife searched out bingo and the casino. I spent much of my time meeting new people and the crew. I did find the waiter from the last time we were on the Dawn Princess. It took him a minute to remember us but it did finally click in with him. It was good to see him again.

As long as I am talking about the sea day and checking out the ship I will now try to answer a few questions about the ship that people have.

1. Is the ship in good shape? Yes absolutely it is in good shape. The crew is cleaning and working on the ship all the time.

2. Can you find worn spots on the ship? Yes if you want to spend your time looking for it you can find some chairs and carpet that needs to be replaced but overall everything was in good shape and working order.

3. Are the pools, even though they are outdoors, open on an Alaskan cruise? Yes the pools are open 24 hours a day just like in the Caribbean. Of course they shut a pool down now and than for cleaning. Yes there were people using the pools even in Alaska.

4. How is the food onboard? This is a personal preference I enjoyed the food, however you must keep in mind that I have a special diet and have them change the way they make things for me. All the people we did eat with for the two weeks onboard told me they enjoyed the food. The only complaint I heard was that the food in the buffet was not hot enough for one person.

5. How was the crew? The crew did a great job. The DJ in the disco lacked some personality but other than that I had nothing but a positive experience dealing with the crew.

6. How was the entertainment? This again is personal preference, however I will say they need a new trumpet and trombone player. I will also say they had one magician who was not very good and an impersonator who was terrible. All the other comedians and entertainers did a great job and I would go see them again. They did change magicians and comedians in Skagway.

7. Do they have a laundry to use while onboard? Yes they do. You can have them do your laundry for a charge or there is a laundry for your use on every passenger deck. The washer, dryer and irons do not have a charge for their use. You can buy detergent but I am not sure of the price because my wife took care of that.

8. Is there a lively nightlife on Princess in Alaska? There will be a nightlife but due to the fact that most people who cruise Alaska are there to see Alaska and can tend to be a little older the nightlife will end earlier than in the Caribbean.

9. What are some of the better lounges on the Dawn Princess? The Wheelhouse lounge will have music and easy dancing in the evenings. Jammers will have the disco music and the karaoke as well as the younger crowd.

10. Do they have alternative dining onboard the Dawn Princess? Yes they do have the steakhouse, which sets up in the Horizon Court in the evenings, and there is a charge for this. They also have the pizza parlor available. The Horizon Court buffet is open 24 hours a day.

11. Were there long lines for the Personal Choice dining room? I did notice lines on a couple nights starting around 5:30 p.m. but I never paid a lot of attention to the Personal Choice dining room.

12. Do they have a soda card? Yes they do. The charge was $22.50 for the 7 night cruise. You are given a thermal cup to keep and they will put a sticker on your sail and sign card. You only need to show the sticker to get more soda you do NOT need the cup.

13. Does the soda card work in all the lounges and at dinner? Yes the card works in every lounge and in the dining rooms. The soda card does NOT work for room service.

14. Did they have outdoor activities while in Alaska on sea days? Yes they did have basketball, table tennis and a few other outdoor activities outside onboard during sea days.

The second day we hit Ketchikan. The skies were clear and the temperature got into the mid 70?s. We spent the day getting our gifts that we would be buying and bringing home to the kids and grandkids. We than just took it easy onboard the ship and enjoyed the beautiful weather. The one thing we did notice, and this would be in all the ports, is that many of the shops from the Caribbean are buying up storefronts and setting up shop in Alaska. Now this may be nice for the hard-core shopper but for me it took away from the experience of a small Alaskan town. I personally do not want to see a store sign that says Caribbean Jewelry or Caribbean t-shirts when I am in Alaska. I also do not care to see a Diamonds International on every block. This is just my opinion.

Our next stop was Juneau. The skies are still clear and the temps are still in the 70?s. There is a slight breeze but it just keeps you comfortable. In Juneau we had already booked a tour with Orca Enterprises and Capt. Larry. Orca Enterprises has also bought out its former competitor and has expanded. Our whale watch was at 12:30 p.m. Due to the breeze there was a little chop on the ocean but very little. Capt. Larry took us out to where he had seen a pod of Orca on his earlier tour. The Orca?s were gone but there were 7 or 8 humpbacks feeding in the area as well as a large group of sea lions. Capt. Larry had to shut down the boat because the humpbacks just kept moving in close around us. We did get some great pictures as well as video. A mother and her calf came within 20 feet of our boat. They were so close that when they dove there was no way we could get a complete picture of the tale. The tale filled up the camera lens. We did have the Dawn Princess ship naturalist onboard with us while with Capt. Larry. After our tour it was time to head back to the ship and get ready for dinner and to head to the next port.

Our next stop was in Skagway. The weather is still warm and very clear. We were the only ship in town this day and it was nice to be able to walk around without the large crowds from an overload of cruise ships. Skagway happens to be one of my favorite stops on an Alaskan cruise. In the past I have always taken different tours that took up most of the day and only spent a short time within the town. This time we decided to just check out the town itself, especially seeing there was only our ship in port. Skagway is also being taken over by the Caribbean stores. They are trying to keep the same historic look of buildings, even the newer buildings that are being built, however you are seeing the Caribbean store influence. We did talk to one local shop owner who told us the population of Skagway is going down because the out of town business people are buying up the property and chasing out the locals. Another thing I noticed that was different from our last trip is that they now use replicas of the old tour buses instead of the old original tour buses. I love older things and a replica does not cut it for me. Skagway does have a very nice museum and still pushes the gold rush heritage that built the city.

Our next day was spent in Glacier Bay. This day started out with fog in the early morning but the fog burnt off by 9:30 a.m. or so. The fjords were like glass. There was very little ice in the fjord on this day and the glaciers were not really doing any calving while we were here. Without cloud cover Marjorie Glacier is not quite as blue looking as we like to see, however the Glacier is still extremely impressive. The various shapes of the face of the glacier are awe-inspiring. The ship spent quite a bit of time in the bay and with no wind and such calm water you could hear every sound. You could hear the birds flying around the bay as well as the cracking from the ice. You could hear the water wash up on the little ice that was in the bay as it floated around and moved to the motion of the ship. You could clearly hear the cracking of large pieces of the glacier farther inland. It was an amazing day and with the weather so warm everyone was able to stay outside and enjoy the beauty of Glacier Bay.

Our next area to visit was College Fjord. We again have some fog in the early morning but it burns off quickly. The fog in the morning adds to some very interesting views of the area near the fjord. We have another warm day and again the seas are very calm. College Fjord is very interesting in history and in the number and types of glaciers that are available. Even though it is impressive it does not come close to the beauty of Glacier Bay, at least in my opinion. More major universities than any other glacier fields study College Fjord. The glaciers down one side of the fjord are named after male colleges and the glaciers down the other side of the fjord are named after female colleges. The one main interesting point about College Fjord is you can see the three main types of glaciers in Alaska. It has the hanging glacier, the tidewater glacier and the receding glaciers all in one area. The glaciers are much smaller than many other glaciers but are still quite impressive.

We stay in College Fjord for quite a while and when we leave it is hard to tell we are moving at all. The reason for the extremely slow exit is because we truly are only a few hours away from Whittier, the final stop on the first section of our back-to-back cruise. The ship will hardly move for the rest of the trip so that the shops and casino can stay open for a while. We finally do dock about 1:00 a.m. in the morning of May 17, 2004.

Now we are in Whittier where the majority of the passenger will leave the ship and either go home or head for land tours. This trip we have met many people who are doing back-to-back just like us. It is the most I have ever seen staying on for the return cruise. For those who may do a back-to-back with Princess sometime I will now tell you what the procedure was for us.

1. Anytime during the first cruise you turn your tickets for the next cruise into the purser?s desk.

2. A couple nights before the first cruise is over you will receive a letter in your room explaining the procedure for the change over.

3. The final night of the first cruise you will receive your new sign and sail card for the next cruise. This card will only be good starting after 10:00 a.m. the next day. There will also be a paper claiming you are a passenger in transit to show if the ships personnel about ask you whether you should be getting off the ship.

4. The final morning of the first cruise there will be a copy of your bill for the first cruise you can close it out or have it continue for the next cruise.

5. If you are staying in the same room you can sleep in or do as you wish. If you are moving to another room leave as much as possible on hangers and just pack the loose articles. Talk with the room steward and they will move your things to the next room. They will coordinate it with your next room steward. You can book a tour for this day if you wish or come and go on the ship as you wish.

Keep in mind to check when the dining rooms will be open seeing they are not normal dining times on this change over day.

The weather was a light rain while we were in Whittier. If you do not book a tour in Whittier there is absolutely nothing to do. There is not even shopping there just a couple caf??s and tour offices. We had also booked our own tour out of Whittier for this day. We booked with Phillips 26 Glacier Tour. This was a 4 hour tour that was onboard a high-speed catamaran. This tour would take us back into College Fjord as well as to quite a few other very beautiful and active glaciers. This catamaran would cruise along at 55mph on the way to the glaciers and due to how high it sat above water could get in much closer to the glaciers than the cruise ships could. You could hear the ice bouncing off the pontoons as you went into the glacial areas. I truly cannot remember all the names of all the glaciers we saw. We got some fantastic pictures of some of the glaciers as well as some extremely large icebergs and on this day with the rain and clouds the glaciers and the icebergs were extremely blue, which made this tour well worth taking. We also had to do a little rescue of a U.S. Forestry Service boat shortly before our tour ended. They were having some engine trouble.

If you do go to Whittier and have the time I would highly recommend the 26-glacier tour with Phillips. The crew onboard did an excellent job. There were a total of 10 crewmembers onboard to take care of things. You are also provided a small meal. They have a fully equipped bar, snack bar and gift shop onboard. The ride is very smooth and the seating is very comfortable. There is deck space for standing outside but some is limited to after you slow down. This is due to safety reasons because the boat is so fast. This tour leaves only about a quarter mile away from where the ship docks.

Now we are onboard and headed southbound. First up is the College Fjord. The weather is again sunshine and very warm. Now we had just taken two trips into College Fjord so I will admit we slept in this time. When we did get up we decided it was time to do some laundry. The rest of the day was spent meeting some of the new passengers and spending time with a few that were doing the back-to-back like us. We would be given early seating this time and at the same table we had for the first cruise. This time we had Cesar and Alexandro from Mexico for our waiters. We again had Catalan for our headwaiter. This worked out well because we did not have to explain our diet again. We also had people at our table all week long on this sailing. We did see several humpbacks on our way out of College Fjord on this day.

Glacier Bay was our next place to go. The weather is still very warm with clear skies. Today Marjorie Glacier is very active with calving. They call the loud cracking when calving the White Thunder and today it was really loud. We caught on video and on the 35mm camera some exceptional shots of the calving. We saw walls of ice around 200 feet tall break off and crash into the water on several occasions. We have one series of shots from the 35mm camera where you can see the birds trying to fly out of the way of the splash from the wall falling. We also saw quite a few sea lions lying on icebergs floating around in the fjord. After dinner on this night I was walking around the deck for exercise. As I was headed aft I saw a pod of Orca along side the ship. There were 6 Orca together. Fortunately I had my digital camera with me. It is hard to take a picture of a moving target with a digital camera but I had to give it a try. I was very fortunate in the fact that I caught one of the Orca in mid air as it leaped from the water. I surprised myself with how well it turned out. I had taken it back to the room and piped it onto the television to see how it looked. For me it was pure luck and a once in a lifetime picture.

It is another hot and sunny day when we arrive in Skagway. There are a few special items we saw on the way up that we decide to go and purchase while in port this time. We also decide to walk a little farther out of the main town just to see what is there and enjoy the beautiful weather. There are three ships in port on this day so the main part of town is a little more crowded. I never get tired of walking off into the countryside. I am not much of a city person even in a town as small as Skagway.

We arrive back in Juneau today. It is very warm but a little windy. Yes we do take another whale watch with Orca Enterprises and Capt. Larry. The ships naturalist is with us again. There are only 16 of us onboard for this tour. There is a little more chop in the water due to the wind today. This trip we have to head a little farther out but than we see the blow from the humpbacks. There are 7 or 8 humpbacks feeding as well as a large group of sea lions. As soon as we see a couple whales dive another one or two pop up on a different side of the boat. The video camera and the 35mm are going pretty steady. With the waves it is a little harder to focus on the pictures. With quite a few pictures taken it is time to just sit and use your eyes and just take in the beauty of these amazing animals. To see how graceful an animal of that size can move through the water tends to just have you stop and stare. To see a mother whale guiding and protecting her calf and move in unison through the water makes you forget about all the other little things that can tend to bother you. To hear the loud blow than see a 45-foot whale roll out of the water makes you realize how small you really are. It has been a great whale watch and a great day. Once we get back to town we do a little more looking around to see if we can find some different types of shops to look through.

It is time for Ketchikan and our final stop. We have done many tours in Ketchikan from kayaking to totem parks, however in all our trips we have never seen the lumberjack show. That is right we head to the lumberjack show. If you live in Northern Minnesota you know about lumberjacks. We also live only a short ride from Hayward Wisconsin where they hold big lumberjack competitions. In other words this is not new to us but the show is fun to watch. This show cost $29 whether you buy it from the ship or at the show and the show is only a couple blocks from the ship. The lumberjacks do a real good show and they do have some fun with the audience. It is not a show I would go to time and time again but it is well worth seeing once. The gift shop at the show also has a few different and interesting items to buy compared to some of the other shops in town.

At this point the trip is really all over except getting the boot off the ship. We have the last sea day but that is spent packing and saying goodbye to our new friends. This trip we did not do a lot of tours but for this trip I needed more rest and relaxation than I needed to go on tours. We did get off the ship in Vancouver and stayed one night before flying home. We stayed at a Ramada in the 3400 block of Kingsway. A person from the web boards met up with us and took us down to see the Dawn Princess leave port and than we went to dinner. It is always nice to meet people from the various cruise boards and we truly appreciate that they take the time out of their day to spend a little time with us.

Final comments.

It may not seem like it from my review and from the few things we did; however this was the best cruise we have ever taken. I say for the following reasons.

1. We got some well-needed relaxation.

2. We got to go on one of our favorite ships.

3. We cruised in our favorite place to cruise.

4. We met some fantastic people and some great new friends as well as a few old friends.

5. We saw so much wildlife all the way from birds to bears, both black and brown bears, and saw many whales both from the ship and on tours.

6. We saw many more glaciers than we have ever seen, due to the extra tours, and we saw much larger chunks of the glaciers breaking off.

The Dawn Princess is still in great shape and the crew did an exceptional job. Every time I go to Alaska I am more and more amazed. I truly cannot find the words needed to describe the beauty of Alaska and even though I have some great pictures of Alaska they do not do the area justice.

If you are a person who must have shopping, beaches or the bar scene an Alaskan cruise is NOT for you. If you are a person who wants to see some of the most beautiful countryside you will ever see or a person who can appreciate the beauty of nature and would enjoy seeing the beauty of a blue glacier, Alaska is a must cruise. Alaska is not a cruise where the ship is main reason for the cruise. Every ship will fall short of the beauty of Alaska and the wonders it holds. Alaska is NEVER the same twice. With the changing of the glaciers and the fact that you never know when or where you will see wildlife of many different types, Alaska will always keep you in awe.

The people that know me the best know that I can be a nice guy or I can be the meanest SOB on the face of the earth, however these same people will tell you that the beauty of Alaska always puts a small on my face. They will also tell you that when in Alaska the beauty and wonder of Alaska always puts me at peace and makes me forget about any problem I may have.

Put the fact that Alaska is far north and that there is snow on many of the mountains year round. Cruise Alaska at least once and you will probably find that you will have some memories that will stick with you the rest of your life. You may not love cruising Alaska as much as I do but I believe you will not regret cruising Alaska at least once.

If you wish to contact me about anything in the review feel free to email me at peb@######.c

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