June 18, 2024

Cruising South to Vancouver

A morning view of College Fjord.

Our Alaska road trip was over all too soon. After a week spent driving the scenic highways of Alaska, it was time to board our cruise ship. She was waiting for us in Whittier, a small port on the shores of Prince William Sound. First we returned our rental car to the Anchorage airport, then headed by taxi to the downtown convention centre to catch a motorcoach transfer (pre-booked with Princess Cruises) to Whittier.

The drive from Anchorage to Whittier, about 65 miles, entails traversing a tunnel blasted through the base of a mountain. When you emerge on the other side, you’re in Whittier. The town, with a year-round population of less than 300 people, was built during WWII by the U.S. Army. In summer, boat tours operate from the local marina, but we headed straight to our ship, the Coral Princess, and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon relaxing in our stateroom. From our balcony we could watch the trains and buses emerging from the tunnel at the head of the inlet as they made their way to our docked ship. It’s always a wonderful feeling to be checked on board your ship, settled into your stateroom and anticipating the days of relaxing ship travel ahead, while the remaining passengers embark and the corridors bustle with stewards readying for departure.

The central atrium area of the Coral Princess is warm and inviting.

Our luggage arrived before dinner and we changed into some fresh clothes before heading to the Bordeaux Dining Room to enjoy the first of many delicious meals we would be served in the course of our one-week cruise to Vancouver. Dining venues on the Coral Princess include an Italian trattoria, a New Orleans-style restaurant serving Cajun dishes, a 24-hour bistro and an elegant two-level main dining room offering flexible open-seating dining on one level and the traditional two dinner sittings on the other.

After dinner we strolled around the ship, acquainting ourselves with its many amenities, including a spacious youth centre with supervised activities geared to each age group. The attractions for adults include a gym, Lotus Spa, Broadway-style theatre, show lounges and a teak wrap-around promenade deck for walking off some of the calories consumed on board. The ship’s spacious layout, with three major stair towers and a dozen elevators, makes it easy to get around, and the majority of cabins have a private balcony – a great feature for viewing the scenery on Alaska cruises, especially the region’s famous tidewater glaciers.

Our first morning at sea dawned clear and cool as we steamed to the head of College Fjord, a glacier-lined inlet of Prince William Sound. The Coral Princess then slowed to a crawl to provide passengers with a lingering look at the fjord’s ice-capped peaks and rugged slopes blanketed with glaciers, their mirror images reflected on the glassy surface of the deep turquoise water.

The ship then headed into the Gulf of Alaska, its bow pointed south toward the Alaska Panhandle. The towering mountains of the magnificent Fairweather Range were looming off our port side the next morning as an early dawn cast a pink glow over their snow-clad slopes. By breakfast we were entering famous Glacier Bay to view its numerous tidewater glaciers. These rivers of ice flow slowly seaward from the mountains surrounding the bay and their snouts – walls of ice that stand several hundred feet high – rest partially submerged at the heads of inlets. The Coral Princess lingered near the snout of rumbling Marjerie Glacier where huge chunks of ice occasionally drop with a thunderous crash into the water.

Enjoying a balcony view of Glacier Bay.

Glacier Bay was a highlight of our cruise, but the ports of call were also exciting. In Juneau, Alaska’s capital, we booked a whale watching boat excursion and saw the wondrous sight of humpback whales surfacing and deep diving. At the historic Gold Rush town of Skagway we rode the White Pass railway, its vintage cars ascending to the Summit where exhausted stampeders arrived in 1898 after making the steep climb with tents and pack horses. And in Ketchikan we took a floatplane to Neets Bay and watched black bears feeding in a salmon creek.

Upon leaving Ketchikan, the Coral Princess soon entered Canadian waters. As our ship weaved past the evergreen islands and winding fjords of British Columbia’s Inside Passage, we spent our last day at sea relaxing and enjoying the passing scenery. When our ship pulled into Vancouver Harbour at dawn the next day, we were happy to be home but a bit sad that our Alaska trip was over.

Avatar photo About Anne Vipond

Anne Vipond is the author of several guidebooks to cruising destinations around the world. She draws on an extensive sailing background to impart her enthusiasm for cruise travel. From her home port of Vancouver, she travels by cruise ship to a wide range of destinations to keep her books current and useful for her cruise readers. Her cruising articles have been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and over seas.