A seven-day Alaska voyage aboard the 3,560-passenger Majestic Princess in August marked an encouraging post-Covid welcome back for Princess Cruises, which has been cruising in the region more than 50 years.
The sailing, one of what the line called its "Return to Alaska Inaugural Season," was a roundtrip Seattle departure, calling at the familiar haunts of Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan and Glacier Bay.
Although the 143,700-gross-ton Majestic Princess is one of the largest ships ever to sail Alaskan waters, it provided plenty of chances to get up close to the Last Frontier's pristine natural element through a wide variety of excursions.
The Majestic Princess calling in Skagway. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Peter Knego
In Juneau, we opted for a kayaking adventure on Mendenhall Lake, which took us close to its namesake glacier. In Skagway, we followed in the footsteps of the Klondike gold rush prospectors on the Discovery Exclusive Chilkoot Trail Hike and Float Adventure. After a 2-mile hike through densely forested terrain, we were rewarded with a downstream float on the Taiya River in the company of more bald eagles than we could count.
Our third excursion, the Animal Planet-sponsored Black Bear, Wildlife and Nature Walk, provided several black bear sightings from the safety of an elevated platform, followed by a quick visit to a raptor center.
Among the other tours Princess offered were guided walks, whale-watching cruises, helicopter glacier landings, dog-sledding, ziplines, rock climbing and the famed White Pass and Yukon Railway, which on a clear day offers a breathtakingly scenic panorama through the mountains above Skagway.
The view of Margerie Glacier from the Majestic Princess during a Champagne Balcony Breakfast. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Peter Knego
In Glacier Bay, just as a stubborn morning fog lifted and the spectacular Margerie Glacier came into view, we indulged in the Champagne Balcony Breakfast, a multicourse extravaganza with Champagne, coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice and seemingly endless trays of pastries, fresh fruit and crab quiche, that also included two servings of smoked salmon sculpted into large roses.
For a mere $45, it was an experience we will forever cherish, and despite the Champagne, it was sobering to see how much the landmark glacier has receded in just a few short years.
For the entire day in Glacier Bay, guest naturalists talked about Alaska's fauna, geologic history and the regional effects of climate change. In that way, the megaship experience in Alaska can be good for boosting environmental awareness, since so many guests return home to share their first-hand observations.
Guests aboard the Norwegian Encore last month were the line's first passengers to visit the destination in nearly 700 days.
Two speakers, Rachel Moreno, an ambassador of the Huna Tlingit people who have lived in southeast Alaska for hundreds of years, talked about the native culture, and the charismatic Michael Modzelewski, author of "Inside Passage," offered numerous talks throughout the cruise, often to capacity crowds in the 1,000-seat Princess Theater. The ship also hosted large-scale productions and guest singers in the theater and smaller venues as well as game shows, cooking demos, quizzes and movies under the stars on the ship's poolside LED screen.
Having been on Medallion-enabled Princess ships twice before, on this cruise I finally found myself appreciating the technology and app for its convenience in embarking and disembarking and the nice way it unlocks the stateroom door upon approach. I even used it one evening to locate my traveling companion after we got lost in the crowds exiting the Princess Theater.
In a class of her own
The Majestic Princess is the fourth ship in the Royal Class and has many of the same features its sisters do, such as the glass-bottom Sea Walk platform. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Peter Knego
The Majestic Princess is the fourth ship in the Royal Class and has many of the features its sisters do, such as the glass-bottom Sea Walk platform and Sea View Bar that project over the ocean and the colorful fountain pool feature that offers water and light spectacles on most nights.
Since the ship was built for the Chinese market, it also features a few unique features within the Princess fold. In lieu of the extra-charge Sanctuary retreat affiliated with the Lotus Spa, there is the free-to-access Hollywood Conservatory, an observation lounge with cabana seating. Directly aft, the enclosed, adults-only Hollywood Pool Club has a fixed glass dome versus a sliding one on the other ships.
The Majestic Princess also has a Chinese specialty restaurant called Harmony, in lieu of the Sabatini's Italian trattoria found on the rest of the fleet. We dined there twice and felt it was well worth the $29 surcharge for delicious courses like shrimp spring rolls, lemon chicken and Sichuan green beans.
Also unique to the Majestic Princess are the poolside Chopsticks Noodle Bar, which offers Asian noodle dishes and soups, and the Burger and Lobster Grill.
The ship's other specialty dining venues, the Crown Grill steakhouse and the French Bistro Sur La Mer, can also be found on Royal Class ships.
Included dining options range from the traditional restaurants Allegro, Concerto and Symphony to Alfredo's Pizzeria, the casual World Fresh Marketplace and the International Cafe, which serves up round-the-clock snacks and specialty coffees.
As a longtime Princess fan who has always enjoyed the line's attention to detail and efficient, friendly service, I found that on this cruise, those aspects were even better, with the staff and the guests grateful to be cruising again.