Gold Rush railway adds to cruise trip
Travellers love cruising Alaska. (Shutterstock)
The Coral Princess isn't big by current cruise ship standards, but it looked like a giant to us.
The ship my wife and I have taken most often carries a maximum of 350 passengers. The Coral Princess can take 1,970.
So we boarded in Whittier, Alaska, not sure whether we'd enjoy being supersized or not.
We did. In fact the biggest surprise was finding that the ship rarely felt crowded. Perhaps it was only half full. Nope, I asked and was told there were 1,940 on board.
This was a seven-night cruise to Vancouver, starting with a day and a half of what they call glacier cruising, followed by stops at Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan, and ending with a day and night sailing through the Inside Passage.
Here's my assessment.
We ate supper in both main dining rooms, Bordeaux and Provence, and in Sabatini's, an elegant restaurant with a $20-per-person cover charge.
The food was good overall. A couple of dishes were knockouts, notably a calamari risotto appetizer and an entree of beef tenderloin in Bordeaux, and an espresso creme brule dessert in Sabatini's.
Glacier Bay - for glaciers, obviously - and the Inside Passage, the coastal route most vessels take from southern Alaska to Vancouver and Seattle. But both require decent weather. We had fog.
Put a ride on the White Pass and Yukon Railway at the top of your list. There are several options, ranging from the 3 1/2-hour one we did to an eight-hour round trip to Carcross, in the Yukon.
The train leaves the Skagway cruise ship dock and climbs 873 metres in the space of 32 kilometres.
The 180-km line was built in 1898 to serve the Gold Rush in Dawson City. Before then, would-be prospectors had to hike up mountain passes to reach Dawson.
Constructing it was considered such a remarkable feat that it's designated an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, along with the Eiffel Tower and the Panama Canal.
It was a dangerous feat, too. We passed the remains of an old engine lying on its side, and Rocky Point, where one 400-metre stretch had to be blasted through solid rock. Guides pointed out a boulder the size of a house topped with a black cross. It marks the last resting place of the two railway workers crushed when that monster tumbled down the mountain side.
Little things I liked
- A quick and efficient system of boarding at Whittier - including security staff who actually smiled - and of disembarking for excursions.
- Toasters that actually browned bread the first time through, a minor miracle.
- An observant and friendly staff. At breakfast, I was good morning'ed into near-submission by servers from, among other places, Peru, India, Mexico and the Philippines. Chatting with them was a daily pleasure.
- The amount of food made from scratch, such as breads and rolls, and stock for soups. (The executive pastry chef told me it's actually cheaper than buying ready-made ).
- Being served tea in a pot in Provence, rather than being expected to dunk a bag in a cup of hot water.
- Anytime dining - eating when and where you felt like - rather than having to adhere to a fixed time.
Little things I didn't like
- Photographers popping up in the middle of supper or asking you to pose with someone in an animal costume when you were disembarking. Intrusive and annoying.
- Servers pitching unlimited soft drink plans ($7 a day) to children - at breakfast, no less. And wine plans to the grownups.
- The stiff prices for some of the optional extras, such as a champagne breakfast served in your cabin ($32 per person), the Chef's Table dining experience ($95 a head), or the Ultimate Ship's Tour, a cool $150 each.