Discovery Princess Cruises To Alaska

JILL WEINLEIN

After graduating from UCLA, JIll traveled the world looking for unique destinations. She’s been writing about her travels for almost 30 years in various publications.

She writes a weekly restaurant review for the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News. It’s inserted into the Los Angeles Times every Thursday and delivered to subscribers from Hancock Park to Beverly Hills, Hollywood Hills to the Wilshire Corridor.

Discovery Princess Cruises To Alaska

BY JILL WEINLEIN

The first morning when the Discovery Princess arrived in Ketchikan, Alaska, a bald eagle soared over the water near our ship and perched on a tree on a nearby small island. This wasn’t the only time I saw these majestic birds. The next morning when we cruised through fjords to Juneau, a naturalist onboard, enlightened guests outside on the back deck about the bald eagles in the area. I learned that bald eagles mate for life and become adults at 5 years of age. Female eagles are usually larger than males, and stand three feet tall and weigh 12 pounds. They live up to 30 years in the wild.

Once we arrived in Juneau, there were numerous bald eagles on top of light posts, and others soared near the ship while we were docked in Skagway.

The Discovery Princess is the newest ship in the Princess Cruise fleet to travel up to Alaska this summer. She leaves every Sunday from Seattle, WA until mid-September. Princess Cruises brings local Alaskan culture, fresh seafood onboard and a plethora of excursions to immerse guests in all things Alaska.

Not only did we visit four unique and different ports-of-call, we spent a day scenic cruising Endicott Arm. This area was named after William Crowninshield Endicott, (1826-1900), Secretary of War under President Grover Cleveland (1885-1889). When we were supposed to cruise to Dawes Glacier, we learned our Captain John Smith made the commanding decision to bypass the area as he deemed it unsafe for the boat. During the ‘Meet the Captain’ presentation in the Princess Theater, Captain John Smith explained why we didn’t cruise to the glacier. “With a crew of 1300, and 3600 passengers onboard, I think about the ships safety, because if the ship is safe, the passengers and crew are safe too.” Due to his decision making, we were able to safely cruise to every port on our itinerary.

One week after we returned from our memorable cruise, I learned that a different cruise line carrying 2,000 passengers was hit by a “growler” iceberg. The captain of that ship had to change the itinerary and reroute to Juneau so divers could inspect it, according to the Juneau Empire. The divers determined that the damage needed to be repaired, so the ship had to immediately travel to Seattle.

Arriving in Ketchikan, we walked around Alaska’s “First City”. It received this name, because it’s the first major community that travelers come to when they journey north. Located on an island, Ketchikan was once an Indian fishing camp, and the name Ketchikan comes from a Tlingit phrase that means “eagle with spread-out wings.”

Boarding a tour bus for a one hour drive to the shoreline of Lake Harriet Hunt, we stepped into a 37-foot canoe and paddled under the direction of an experienced guide, along the shore to learn about the wildlife and history in this area. Once we got out for a short hike through the forest’s flora and fauna, we learned about the favorite plant that bears like to eat after hibernating all winter, and a carnivorous plant that uses tentacles with an adhesive “dew” to ensnare small insects.

Once we docked in historic Juneau, we took another one hour shuttle to the smaller Statter Harbor for a wildlife cruise on a small boat around the Gulf of Alaska. We learned that in 1880, it was slow going for Joe Juneau and Richard Harris as they searched for gold with the help of local guides. After climbing mountains, forging streams and facing countless difficulties, they found nuggets “as large as beans.” We followed two Humpback whales and their babies for about 30 minutes, and cruised by a noisy seal colony.

These excursions gave us a new appreciation for The Last Frontier, especially when we docked in Skagway, the town where thousands arrived during the gold rush boon in 1898. It was Alaska’s largest town with a population of about 20,000. Hotels, saloons, dance halls and gambling houses prospered until 1900, when the population dropped dramatically as miners quickly shifted to discover new gold in Nome. Today the city of Skagway has less than 1,000 residents, but still retains the flavor of the gold rush era.

While in Skagway, we boarded a shuttle for a 40-minute drive to the Tongass National Forest to learn about Alaska dog sledding. This half-day tour included a visit to Musher’s Camp, the summer home to around 200 dogs, some of which have competed in world-renowned races like the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest. First we boarded a 4×4 Unimog to travel up a rugged mountain road overlooking snow-covered peaks, glacially fed streams and waterfalls. Next we sat in a custom-designed wheeled sled, as the dogs barked with joy and jumped high into the air to take us on a ride around their training track. Part husky, part Boarder Collie, and a mix of other breeds, we learned these strong dogs are bred to run fast, and withstand the frigid winters. Afterwards we were led to a whimsical kennel area for “Kennel Talk” and to meet some of the puppies. There were three litters of pups and we were encouraged to be affectionate when petting these furry pups, as it helps socialize these future athletes, which is essential to their racing success.

Back onboard the Discovery Princess we dined at the Salty Dog Gastropub. This is one of the specialty restaurant options on the ship. The food was excellent in the Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway dining rooms when using ‘Dine My Way’, and we enjoyed all of the casual eateries including the International Cafe, Swirls Ice Cream Bar, and International Marketplace.

For fine dining, we enjoyed surf-and-turf at Crown Grill, and the handmade pasta dishes in Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria. Over at Bistro Sur L Mer, a French bistro-style cafe crafted by Chef of the Year – Le Chef, Chef Emmanuel Renaut, we discovered his restaurant Flocons de Sel has received three Michelin stars.

At our last port visit in Victoria, B.C., we boarded a small whale watching boat near our cruise ship and cruised out to follow a few humpback whales. Then we headed back to experience nightfall where the parliament building and iconic Empress Hotel shine in white lights.

After 7 days, we cruised back to Seattle and spent an extra day exploring the city’s top attractions by purchasing a CityPASS. Saving 46% of the retail price to visit five attractions, we first rode an elevator in the middle of the Space Needle up to the top to step outside and take in the beautiful sights of The Emerald City. We toured the nearby Chihuly Garden and Glass museum, and visited the nearby Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP).

Before the summer ends, now is the time to step into Alaska’s historic ports to visit gold-rush era Skagway, salmon-rich Ketchikan, the capital city of Juneau and the British-flavor of Victoria B.C.

Walking over to Pike Place, we used the CityPASS to gain entrance into the Seattle Aquarium, and took a harbor cruise before dinner on an Argosy boat.

Discovery Princess is offering up to 40% off this 7-day Alaska cruise now through mid-September, starting at $399 per person for an inside cabin. When cruising to and around Alaska, splurge for a cabin with a balcony for fresh air and to step outside to see bald eagles, waterfalls, icebergs and whales each day. Balcony cabins start at $799 per person, which for accommodations, food and non alcoholic beverages, entertainment and shipboard activities is less than $115 a day. Taxes, fees and port expenses are an additional $264. Go to https://www.princess.com to learn more.

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