I am aboard Discovery Princess in Alaska. As I chat with fellow passengers, I quickly realise the reason why we are all here. It’s because this place is on everyone’s bucket list. One after another, I hear that the passengers have either always wanted to come, or come before and wanted a similar experience. Whatever it’s got, other tourism bodies would love to bottle it.
It represents one of the last frontiers, rugged, pristine and bursting with local culture and wildlife. And with cruising now back in full swing, people across the globe are pouncing on their dream holidays like never before.
Princess is known as the No.1 cruise line for Alaska. Princess has invested half of the fleet – seven ships – in these waters during the season. It also owns lodges.
Princess has provided a series of itineraries throughout Alaska that allow guests to explore, climb, sail, dine and fish their way throughout the region, offering 150 different tour excursions that cater for every possible whim. You’re guaranteed to experience an abundance of true Alaskan life whichever way you turn. And, more than likely, you’ll want to re-book time and time again as so many return passengers do.
Lucy, Discovery Princess’s shore tour manager in Alaska, chaperones guests into Endicott Arm and Dawe’s Glacier, helping passengers to experience as many as possible.
“Alaska is definitely the last frontier for the US and we want to make the most of our guest’s time here. For the Alaskan itineraries, the tours are the biggest thing. In Juneau, it’s all about the glacier and whale watching. In Skagway, it’s the train. Ketchikan is about fishing and seafood.
“I feel very lucky to be witnessing how excited the guests are when they come back from their tours.”
The tip of the iceberg!
There’s dog sledding, heli-tours, totem pole tours, salmon fishing, nature hiking, the list is impressive. We choose the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show followed by an all-you-can-eat Crab Feast. I almost lost my voice from cheering the handsome lumberjacks hack, slice and saw their way across the stage in an athletic feat to rival gladiators. Thankfully, the hot-buttered Alaskan Crab lunch that followed soothed my throat and sent me into a deep food coma for the remainder of the sun-filled afternoon.
I barely managed to squeeze through the many doorways of the quaint little souvenir stores dotted along the waterfront township of Ketchikan before slumping myself back onboard for an afternoon siesta in my cabin. And this was just day one!
Do you want ice with that?
On day two we disembarked directly onto our warm catamaran bound for Dawes Glacierwithin Endicott Arm. We were joined by orca, sea lions, bears, mountain goats, seals, dolphins and anything else you could point your camera at. It is literally impossible to take a bad photo in Alaska. This destination is a champagne bucket list!
Mother nature got the brief we were coming and right on cue an enormous chunk of the glacier (the size of shopping centre) cracked and collapsed into the water right before our eyes.
Our on-board naturalist, Thomas, captivated us with details about the local wildlife and a geological knowledge of every iceberg on the way as we relaxed with complimentary hot chocolate and canapes for the journey home to Discovery.
Exploring the Yukon and Klondike
Next on the list is the historic Yukon Expedition & White Pass Rail Journey in Skagway to explore the stunning cliff-hanging views of waterfalls and glaciers from our vintage carriages before enjoying a hearty salmon bake on the Gold Rush Trail past the Klondike Highway.
While it all sounds incredibly active, the majority of Princess guests in Alaska are 55-plus, seeking soft adventure, and so are given ample time to relax while the tour operators do all the hard work. Even the coach rides are informative with charming and bubbly drivers like Sharyn and DJ pointing out fun facts, such as the population of Ketchikan which comprises 14,000 people and 20,000 bears. That’s some good odds for a photo opportunity if ever I’ve heard them!
From the moment I embarked I could tell this was next-level cruising. The best thing Princess have done is to bring the essence of Alaska onboard their ships, making a cruise in this region feel immersive from start to finish. Discovery is just one year old and has nestled herself beautifully into the waters from Seattle up to the Alaskan ports of Ketchikan, Juneau, Endicott Arm, Skagway and into Victoria, British Columbia. She still has all the familiar Princess charm, but with a bunch of new additions that feel like gamechangers in the world of cruising. Many also have nods to the cultures and traditions of native Alaskans.
My stateroom has a sleek and understated design, with a large private balcony, ample wardrobe space (with multiple hangers), muted colours and abstract art. This calm, modern aesthetic is carried throughout the ship. There is less brass and dark wood and more white and soft blues.
There also seems to be more natural light (brightened further by the glaciers and snow-capped mountains outside the windows) within the ship than Princess has done before, with new alfresco dining spaces, and floor-to-ceiling windows in the main piazza areas. The main dining rooms onboard – Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan – feature menus designed around the local produce. If you don’t like lobster, crab or salmon, you soon will! There’s not only a resident lumberjack on the ship for talks and interacting with curious guests, but husky puppies to cuddle and pat in the main piazza.
Princess has also created Festival of the Worlds, a program celebrating the region you’re sailing in, with visiting lecturers and cultural shows that give passengers a taste of what they’ll discover on their shore excursions.
Discovery Princess gets my tick of approval
The ship is at 80 per cent capacity for our sailing but still feels spacious. And there’s a reason for it. If Princess were placed upright, she’d be neck and neck with the Eiffel Tower. This is the direction Princess is going, larger ships with a never-crowded sensation. There are no long lines for anything, partly due to the smooth operation of the MedallionClass App.
There’s zero need for a credit card, cabin key or even a map of the ship. The Medallion does everything for you. Your cabin door senses your approach and automatically unlocks. You can track your kids or in-laws around the ship (and either locate or lose them as you wish). And the crew know your name and personal preferences without you saying a word. The big game changer is that when you board the ship, there’s no mucking about with a giant safety muster. Simply scan in, then watch the safety video in the comfort of your cabin. Sweet!
Additions raise the bar
For me, it’s the additions on Discovery that give Princess its well-deserved title of number one choice. First is the new luxurious Enclave within the Lotus Spa. When you enter Enclave, it’s the equivalent of walking into an exclusive five-star hammam or bathhouse. A giant whirlpool with several bubble massage areas and a rain shower takes centre stage, surrounded by heated ceramic daybeds. There are three themed shower zones, from tropical rainforest to Arctic Siberian jets. Meanwhile, the steam rooms range from hot to steam and dry. I could go on, but you get the mist… I mean gist.
Even Enclave isn’t a patch on 360, Discovery’s new dining experience. It’s an exclusive and immersive dining experience, strictly limited to 20 guests. And it’s only available to Suite passengers – free of charge. Serenaded to our seats by a brass band, we are cared for by one waiter per guest throughout the 10-course degustation. It showcases the best cuisine of Greece, France, Italy and Spain. Oh and it’s not just the dishes. The projected imagery on the walls also changes along with your interactive place settings. Added to that is commentary that guides you through each dish that matches every destination. If you’re lucky enough to try it, you’ll be bragging about it for years to come.
I could easily forget why I’ve travelled so far and could continue splashing my way around Enclave all day. But it only takes a glance outside my cabin to see icebergs and ice-capped peaks to remind me that I’m ticking off a bucket list item! I chat with my fellow passengers, comparing notes and whale-spotting videos, sipping my salted caramel latte (staff already knowing my favourite choice before I say a word). Then I settle back into my cosy Princess slippers to plan my next tour excursion.
The whole journey turns out to be the perfect combination of pampering and luxury, combined with relaxed adventure and expedition. I can see exactly why Alaska entices so many visitors from across the globe. Once you arrive, it’s hard to leave no iceberg unturned.