Thanks to Princess Cruises, cruising to Alaska, Hawaii and Mexico is about to get simpler, more convenient and a lot cheaper for Northern Californians.
Next year Princess will bring an expanded program of round-trip cruises from San Francisco. We can bypass expensive, hassle-loaded flights and their strict baggage rules. We can take public transport or park the car in San Francisco and head for the ship in a short taxi ride.
The Alaska cruise season is over until next May. Watching glaciers, humpbacks, wildlife and some of the most spectacular coastlines to be seen anywhere in the world has to be put on hold for cruisers. But next year Mexico and Hawaii sailings will be added with all the same convenience benefits. Princess has scheduled seven 15-day San Francisco round-trips to Hawaii and one 10-day Mexico cruise. Add to that a dozen 10-day Alaska trips. That’s 20 cruises beginning and ending in San Francisco.
On our recently concluded Alaska voyage, Sea Princess Captain Martin Stenzel explained the logic. “Demographics were closely examined by Princess and the future looks good. About 75 percent of the passengers on this cruise are from Northern California. We keep seeing more and more people who just don’t like to fly. We cover 3,400 nautical miles between San Francisco and Juneau, where some 12 cruise lines dock. But Princess is the only one from San Francisco.”
Alaska cruising starts in May and runs through September. It’s a trip loaded with whale watching. Alan Cortash the ship’s lecturing naturalist quipped, “Watching the humpbacks is a major reason for some of you to take this trip. For others, it’s the only reason. We also have plenty of killer whales coming in and out of Glacier Bay. Bay currents clash with Pacific currents, whipping up a fish feeding frenzy for the whales, porpoises and otters. We see an average of 20 whales in the Inside Passage and maybe six at sea.”
A day of leisurely looking at massive glaciers close up is a sight remembered for a lifetime. The endless photo ops ensure that. Sure, it can be a bit cold standing on the open decks, but smart cruisers know the value of dressing in layers to take advantage of Alaska in and out “sunshine.”
Glacier Bay Park rangers board the ship to do a daylong commentary. They explain the crystal cathedrals rising from the glaciers, which they describe as rivers of ice on ball bearings.
At each port visit there are endless outdoor activities for both the laid-back and the hearty. In addition to sightseeing, there are fishing trips, rafting, walking trails, hiking in wilderness, plus many others. But you get only a taste. Alaska is BIG. It’s two and a half times the size of Texas with 47,000 miles of coastline, 100,000 glaciers, 70 volcanoes, multiple earthquakes, but only 700,000 people.
Cruising Alaska has some other important advantages. Passengers never really are out of access to U.S. medical coverage and U.S. cell phones work on almost every port stop. And, it’s still the love boat. Some make it a romantic marriage at sea, combined with an exciting honeymoon. Capt. Stenzel, who has skippered this cruise for more than five years, has performed an estimated 50 marriages at sea.
There’s plenty to do on the four sea days. Food is available 24/7 in the dining rooms, cafes, grill and the self-service Horizon Court. Production shows are staged nightly and there are music, comedy, games and lectures on tap most of the time. Princess’ Anytime Dining makes it easy to enjoy a restaurant dinner when you’re ready and that goes for partying too. The ship’s upscale Sterling Steakhouse is available for a dinner reservation. It’s the only pay-to-dine restaurant aboard.