July 2020 Alaska Group Cruise

Here are the details on a very special trip to Alaska we're planning.
The best part is that you're invited to come along with us!

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You probably know that my wife and I love to cruise, and in July 2020 we'll be doing our most amazing cruise yet!  We'll be leading a group cruise and land tour in Alaska and Canada, open to anyone that would like to join us.

Jim and Kellyn Zimmerlin in Alaska

Kelly and I will be leading the tour along with our travel agent, Caitlin Gallagher.  Caitlin's husband and kids will also be coming along for the whole adventure.

Caitlin Gallagher and her family

This Alaska trip will be comprised of three segments:  A 5-day land tour of Alaska, a 7-day cruise, and a 5-day land tour of western Canada.  You can do all three segments, or just the one or two that interest you.  The dates of each segment will be:

Alaska land and rail tour:  Tuesday, July 14, 2020 through Saturday, July 18th
7-day Alaska cruise:  Saturday, July 18, 2020 through Saturday, July 25th
Canada land and rail tour:  Saturday, July 25, 2020 through Thursday, July 30th

The plan looks something like this:  We'll fly to Anchorage, Alaska and start the adventure there.  We'll spend one night at a hotel in Anchorage, and then the next morning we'll hop on a bus for a three and a half hour ride to the Mt McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge in Talkeetna.

Tour bus for Princess Alaska cruisetour guests

 

During an Alaska trip with my siblings in 2014, I stayed at the Mt McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge... and it was really great!  Here's a photo I took of the exterior of the building which contains the reception desk, gift shop, and great room...

Mt McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge
The Mt McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge

The lodge is very close to Denali (a.k.a. Mt McKinley) so if the weather is clear, you have a heck of a view of the highest mountain peak in North America.  Here's what it looked like, from the Princess Wilderness Lodge, when we were there in 2014...

Denali Mt McKinley

 

Here's a video I put together back in 2014 that gives you an overview of the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge...

I totally enjoyed our stay at the lodge in 2014, and am looking forward to being back there again!  They have a really nice sun deck where we can all hang out and chat while enjoying the beautiful views of Denali.  Or, if the weather isn't cooperating, there's a big "great room" indoors where our group can socialize, too.  I was surprised at how great the weather was on the land portion of our 2014 trip.  While there were quite a few times on the cruise ship that we had to really bundle up Alaska-style before going outdoors, there was none of that on the land portion of our trip.  July is a very warm time of the year in Alaska, and because it's so far north the days are VERY long!  In July, the sun sets around 11:30 PM and rises again at about 4:30 AM!  If you have trouble sleeping when it's light outside, consider bringing a sleep mask.

The lodge has two restaurants on site, and I enjoyed the food we had there in 2014.  Be aware that the cost of meals at the Princess lodges is not included in the overall cost of our land tour.   If you want to find out more about the Mt McKinley Princess Lodge, please visit their web site.

We'll stay at the Mt McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge until 2 o'clock the next afternoon.  During the day, there are a number of optional excursions in the Talkeetna area that you can participate in, for an extra fee.  During our 2014 visit to Talkeetna, we visited Sun Dog Kennels, where they raise and train sled dogs for the Idatarod.

Sun Dog Kennel tour Alaska Iditarod sled dogs

At 2 PM on the second day, we'll board a bus for a slightly more than two hour ride to another Princess Wilderness Lodge...  the one at Denali National Park, where we'll stay for two nights.

During our visit to Denali National Park, there will be a bus tour of a portion of the park, known as the natural history tour...  and it's included at no extra charge for our group.  You don't have to go if you don't want to, but it's a good basic introduction to Denali National Park and the history of the area.  It's about a five hour tour, and about four hours of that will be spent on the bus.

Denali Natural History Tour

There will also be a number of optional excursions in to Denali National Park that you can choose from, for an extra charge.  In 2014, I signed up for a helicopter sightseeing excursion of Denali.

Jim Zimmerlin helicopter Alaska Denali

A helicopter tour of the highest peak in North America is a pretty cool experience, but not something I would need to do twice...  so I won't be doing that again this time, but if it sounds like a fun experience to you, it will be one of your options if you come on this trip with us.  Each day you will be welcome to tag along with us on whatever adventure we end up going on, or you'll be free to go your own way.

Following our two nights at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, we'll do what I consider the highlight of the land tour...  a 295 mile ride on the Alaska railroad in an amazing glass-domed rail car with incredible views!

Alaska Princess rail car train dome

The train ride will last a little more than nine hours.  Riding the Alaska railroad was the highlight of our 2014 land tour, so I am really excited about this part of our 2020 journey!

Sally Smith and Judy Klaustermeyer Princess Alaska train
My two sisters were feeling quite relaxed and happy after our 2014 ride on the Alaska railroad!

In that last photo, notice the two-level rail car on the right side of the photo.  You spend most of the journey on the top level, with the big glass windows that give you an amazing view of the Alaskan scenery.  But when it's time for lunch, you head downstairs to the dining area.  So, it's not like eating a meal in an airplane, where you pull down a tray from the seat in front of you at meal time and just eat at your seat.  The dining area downstairs is nice and comfy and you will enjoy your meal much more than you would on an airplane!  Be aware that the cost of lunch is not included in your fare...  but don't worry, it's not outrageously expensive.

I really enjoyed our train ride on the Alaska railroad in 2014, and I want to make sure you get the full picture of what a great ride it was, and how amazing the views were.  So, I'd like you to take a look at a video I made in 2014 about the train ride.  Just be aware that in 2014 we did the whole thing in the reverse direction of what we'll be doing in 2020!  So, in this video about the train ride, you'll see us traveling eastbound from where the cruise ship docks in Whittier...  but in our 2020 trip we'll be taking the train westbound TO the cruise ship in Whittier.

The train will take us all the way to the coast to meet up with our cruise ship, with a scheduled arrival time at the cruise ship dock of 5:30 PM.  The train actually docks very close to the cruise ship, and it will just be a matter of walking from the train over to the cruise terminal to go through security and check in for the cruise.  Once onboard the ship, dinner will be served.

Anyone that only wants to join us for the cruise portion and not the inland land tour is welcome to just fly in to Anchorage and meet us on the ship.

The cruise portion of the vacation will be a 7-day cruise southbound from Whittier, Alaska to Vancouver on Princess Cruise Line.  We'll be on one of their newest ships, Royal Princess. 

Royal Princess

I'm really excited to be cruising on Royal Princess because the ship will have the new medallion technology that Princess has been spending a ton of money on developing over the last few years.  At some point, I'm going to do an entire video explaining how the medallion technology will improve many aspects of a cruise, but for now, let me offer just a few bullet points:

The first day of the cruise will be embarkation in Whittier.  On the second day, we'll do "scenic cruising" at Hubbard Glacier.  That means that you don't get off the ship, and there are no excursions...  you'll have a great view of Hubbard Glacier right from the ship, which will linger there from 3 PM until 8 PM.  As I mentioned earlier, the days are VERY long in Alaska in July and sun sets very late.  So, even at 8 PM there will be plenty of light to see all the beautiful scenery.

Hubbard Glacier
Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard Glacier is very active and it's quite likely that while we're there we'll see large pieces of the glacier break off and fall in to the water.  This is known as "calving".  The glacier makes a lot of creaking noises as the ice fractures, and then a loud noise and a big splash when it finally calves.  This is immediately followed by a lot of cheering from all the excited cruise ship passengers who just got to see it!

On the third day of the cruise, we'll do "scenic cruising" within Glacier Bay National Park.  This was the highlight of our 2014 cruise, with absolutely incredible views.  I made a video of it, which I happen to think is one of the most beautiful videos I've ever made.  It frustrates me that only about 15,000 people have ever watched this video!  I wish it had found a larger audience like some of my other videos have, because  I think it's one of my all-time best.  I hope you'll take the time to watch it now:

On a trip like this, you'll need to come prepared for all kinds of weather... but you might be surprised at how nice it can get on the upper decks of the ship on a day when the ship is just lingering in one spot for "scenic cruising".  Here's a photo from a very warm day on our 2014 Alaska cruise, where it was so warm that many of the kids on the cruise were swimming in the outdoor pool...

Coral Princess Lido deck pool during an Alaska cruise

So, come prepared for very chilly weather on days when the ship is moving along at normal speeds, but do also bring along clothes that will be appropriate for those afternoons when it does warm up nicely.

On day #4 of the cruise, the ship will dock in Skagway...  and this is going to be a big day for any train lovers that are with us!  It's an opportunity to ride the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway, if you'd like to...  and I can tell you based on our 2014 excursion on the White Pass railway that this is going to be a lot of fun!

The White Pass & Yukon Route railroad

The trip on the WP&YR railroad is absolutely the most popular excursion for cruise ship tourists in Skagway.  Not only is it fun, gorgeous, and historic...  but it's ultra convenient, too!  The train is waiting for you just a few feet away from your cruise ship...

Skagway train and cruise ship

So, as you can see, the train ride begins at the cruise ship dock in Skagway.  After a little bit more than a hour and a half ride up the mountain, you're actually in Canadian territory.  Up until a few years ago, you actually had to show a passport to get on and off the train!  That caused a few headaches for tourists and the train operator because a lot of folks wouldn't remember to bring their passport with them when they got off the ship.  So the WP&YR railroad got smart and began a policy of not letting anyone off the train at the top of the mountain...  thus eliminating any need for passports.  What happens at the top of the mountain now is that all passengers stay onboard while the locomotive uncouples from the train cars, moves down to the other end of the train and couples up to the last car so that the train can proceed in the opposite direction, back down the mountain.  In other words, if you're in the last train car on the way up the mountain, it becomes the first train car on the way down the mountain.

White Pass railroad trestle and train
The views start to get really interesting as the train gets in to the mountains

 

White Pass railway tracks through the mountains
The further up the mountain you go, the more beautiful it gets!

Regarding the White Pass railroad...  this is one part of our trip where we haven't firmed up the details quite yet, because the White Pass railroad only operates from May through October and we simply have not been able to reach the right folks there yet...  since the railway hasn't started operations for this season quite yet.  We are hoping to be able to make some kind of special arrangement with the White Pass railway for our group.  Either a special rail car for our group, or perhaps some kind of tour of their maintenance facility, or something like that.  We're going to ask if there's any possibility of getting a look at their steam locomotive, but this might not be possible because they don't operate it every single day, only on some days...  and if the steam engine's schedule is the same in 2020 as they've published for 2019, we're going to be there on a day it is not scheduled to operate.

Here's a time lapse video I made of our ride up the mountain on the White Pass railway back in 2014...

On day #5 of the cruise, the ship will dock in Juneau, the capital of Alaska...  and there will be numerous optional shore excursions for you to choose from, at an additional cost.  The way it's going to work is that Caitlin will let the group know what excursion she and her family will be doing that day...  I will let the group know what excursion Kellyn and I will be doing that day (which may or may not be different from what Caitlin and her family does)...  and you will be free to choose the same shore excursion, some other shore excursion, or no shore excursion at all.  It will be totally up to you.

It's quite likely that you'll see whales and dolphins and a lot of other wildlife on this cruise...  as well as LOTS of glaciers, snow-capped mountains, and other scenes of incredible beauty.  Here's a video I put together back in 2014 of some of the incredible sights I saw when I had my camera with me.  There were several wildlife sightings that I didn't catch on video because I didn't have a camera with me at that particular moment!

On day #6 we'll be docked in Ketchikan.  Again, there will be all sorts of shore excursions that you can book.  Come along with us on whatever ones we end up choosing, or go your own way...  your choice!  On our 2014 trip, we chose to go on an excursion to a place called Misty Fjords.  Here's a video I shot of it:

The cruise will end in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  After the cruise, people are free to fly home from Vancouver...  or stick with us for a few more days and join us for one more leg of the adventure!  We're going to spend two nights at a hotel in Vancouver, so that we have some time to have some fun exploring the area...  the third largest metropolitan area in all of Canada, and consistently ranked as one of the top five cities in the world for livability and quality of life.

On our first day in Vancouver, we'll take a very extensive tour that will include the Gastown area, Chinatown, and the world-famous 1000 acre Stanley Park.  We'll also visit Granville Island and you'll have time to enjoy the public market there as well as numerous shops and restaurants.  The cost of lunch and dinner in Vancouver will be up to you.

On our second day, breakfast at the hotel is included at no additional charge...  and then we'll board a motorcoach for a full-day sightseeing trip to Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia.  We'll take a 90 minute ferry boat ride across the strait of Georgia and through the picturesque Gulf Islands...  ending up in Swartz Bay, where we'll spend some time at the world-renowned Butchart Gardens, which covers 50 acres!  You'll have plenty of time to walk around and explore it.

Butchart Gardens in Victoria

After that, we'll board a bus for the tour of Victoria, and we'll have some free time for people to explore Victoria's inner harbor before finally getting back on the bus for the trip back to our hotel in Vancouver.

After our two nights in Vancouver, we're going to get aboard a very famous train, the Rocky Mountaineer, for an amazing trip through some of the most scenic parts of western Canada!

Once again, we'll be in rail cars with big windows that are perfect for a scenic journey like this.  We'll have incredible views, and a host in each car will offer fun and educational commentary along the way.


Gold leaf rail car on the Rocky Mountaineer

 


Silver leaf rail car on the Rocky Mountaineer
(More about Gold Leaf service versus Silver Leaf service, a little further down the page)

Our Western Canada rail tour will take us from Vancouver to Banff, but it's such a long distance that it can't be done in just one day.  So, the train will stop and let us off in the town of Kamloops, where we'll spend the night in a nice hotel and then get back on the train the next day for the rest of the ride to Banff.  We'll then spend two nights in Banff so that we have time to explore it, and on July 30th there will be bus transportation for us from Banff to the airport in Calgary.  If there's anyone that wants to spend even longer in Banff than two nights, Caitlin can easily arrange that, too.

Join us for all three legs of the trip...  the Alaska railtour, the Princess cruise, and the Canada railtour...  or join us for only the parts that interest you.  It will be totally up to you.  Spend as little or as much time with the group as you want...  and feel free to head off in your own direction and do your own thing at any point you'd like to.

So, if you have any interest in a Alaska adventure with me and Kellyn, plus our travel agent, Caitlin, and her family...  pencil in July 2020 on your calendar!  You can contact Caitlin and book it right away, if you already know you want to join us... or get in touch with her to get some more information about it.  Scroll down the page just a little further to find her business card and contact information.

If you'll be joining us for the land tour of Alaska, the day we'll all be meeting at the hotel in Anchorage will be Tuesday, July 14, 2020.  If you'll only be joining us for the cruise, embarkation day is Saturday, July 18, 2020, in Whittier, Alaska.  (Fly in to Anchorage, and Caitlin will arrange for a transfer from the airport.)  Disembarkation in Vancouver will be on Saturday, July 25, 2020...  and if you will be joining us for the Rocky Mountaineer rail tour of Western Canada, that will finish up on July 30th.

You're probably wondering what all this will cost.  That's something you'll want to talk to Caitlin about, as there will be some options for you to choose from which will have a big effect on how expensive of an adventure this ends up being for you!  Besides the choice of whether to join us just for the cruise, or for either of the optional rail tours, there will also be choices regarding what kind of stateroom you want on the cruise ship.

If you need to keep the cost of the trip as low as possible, just book an inside cabin on the cruise ship.  That's a cabin with no windows, since it is located in the interior of the ship.  Inside cabins are the least expensive cabins on the ship.

An inside cabin on Royal Princess
An "inside" cabin on Royal Princess

If it's not just two of you coming along, that's OK, too.  There are cabins that can accommodate as many as four people in them, although it will certainly be tight!

An inside cabin for four people on Royal Princess

If you choose to cruise in a cabin with four people, just remember that there's only one bathroom!  A better option for a family of four, if you can afford it, would be to get two cabins...  and a lot of times what people do is get one nice balcony cabin, plus a cheap inside cabin across the hallway.  Here's what a basic balcony cabin looks like:

A standard balcony cabin on Royal Princess

Note that there are balcony cabins that have additional beds that drop down from the ceiling, for accommodating up to four people in the cabin.  A basic balcony cabin like you see in that last photo is the most common type of cabin on the ship, and I suspect it's what many of our group members will book.  However, you might also want to consider the next step up...  which is known as a mini-suite.  Here's a look at one...

A mini suite on Royal Princess

You can see in the photo that a mini suite is larger than a balcony cabin, and features a couch.  There are curtains so that you can provide separation between the bed area and the couch/desk/balcony area.  This is handy if you get a mini suite where the couch can become a bed at night.  There are even mini suites that can sleep four people.  There are also a few features of the mini suite that you can't see in the photo!  For example, there are actually two televisions.  In the photo, you can't see the one above the desk, because it's hidden from the camera's view by those curtains.  Why would you need two televisions?  So you could watch TV from either the couch or the bed, or so two people could watch different things on the TVs at the same time.  Personally, I like to put the TV above the desk on the channel that displays the ship's current position and the outside temperature, and then use the TV by the bed for viewing other things like movies and TV shows.

Another important feature of a mini suite which is not visible in that photo is a combination bathtub/shower in the bathroom.  This is especially handy for people traveling with children.  Less expensive cabins just have a shower, but no bath tub.

The ultimate way to cruise on Royal Princess is in a suite.  These are mostly located in the corners of the ship, with views out two different directions from the very large wrap-around balconies.  Suites are quite a bit larger than regular cabins, and have a living area that is separate from the sleeping area.

A suite on Royal Princess

There are also some perks that come with staying in suites, such as priority boarding times, and special dining options.  Take a look at this flyer that lists the suite perks.

For those joining us on the Rocky Mountaineer...  you have a big choice of whether to do it less expensively in their silver leaf class or to step up to the gold leaf class that Kellyn and I will be in.  This page on the Rocky Mountaineer web site explains all the differences between the two classes pretty well.  The big difference is that a silver leaf rail car is a single level car, where meals are served to you at your seat.  The gold leaf cars are two-level cars with the big glass-enclosed observation area up on top and a special dining area down below...  similar to the way it's done on the Alaska railroad.

Gold Leaf Rocky Mountaineer
Gold Leaf rail car (upper level)

 

Silver Leaf Rocky Mountaineer
Silver Leaf rail car

 

Gold Leaf dining on Rocky Mountaineer
Gold Leaf dining in the lower level of the rail car

 

Silver Leaf dining on Rocky Mountaineer
Silver Leaf dining at your seat

By contacting Caitlin, my travel agent, you can get information on the cost difference between Gold Leaf service and Silver Leaf service, as well as the costs for different types of staterooms on the cruise ship.  Information about how to contact Caitlin is a little further down the page.

One last thing, which maybe I should not have saved for the end!  There are some incentives for you to come on this trip with us, rather than just booking an Alaska cruise and/or rail tour on your own!  By booking the cruise with Caitlin and joining our group, you will receive a $50 onboard credit which you can use during the cruise to pay for drinks, specialty dining, gift shop purchases, etc.  Plus...  here's even better news...  if you book the cruisetour, which is the cruise plus the Alaska land tour before the cruise, you'll actually get a $75 onboard credit instead of $50.  Of course, the best incentive of all is that you get to come along with us and have a whole lot of fun!  There will be ample opportunities for us to sit and chat about whatever you want...  or if there's nothing else to talk about, just let me ramble on about cruises, trains, puppies, and YouTube!  If you've ever wanted the inside story on something you saw in one of my YouTube videos, this is your big chance!

After just a few weeks of publicizing this trip, we've already got a total of ten cabins booked on the cruise ship for our group, and we're just getting started.  I have no idea how many people are going to end up joining us, but I bet 10 cabins is just the beginning for this group!  The third segment of the trip...  the Canadian segment from Vancouver to Banff, including two days on the Rocky Mountaineer, is actually the most expensive part of the whole trip and no one but me and Kellyn has committed to that segment of the trip yet.  That actually makes sense to me, because the cruise itself is really the big attraction.  If someone is only going to do one segment, it should probably be the cruise.  Quite a few people have committed to the "cruisetour"...  which is the Alaska land tour plus the cruise.  If you're looking for a lot of one-on-one time with me and Kellyn, book the third leg of the trip, the Canadian land and rail tour, which seems like it will be the smallest group.


Want To Come With Us?

If you're interested in joining us for any or all of the three parts of our Alaska adventure, please contact my travel agent, Caitlin Gallagher.  She's extremely pleasant to deal with, easy to talk to since she lives in the United States and speaks without any kind of an accent, and she's the brains behind the planning of our Alaska trip.  In fact, Caitlin and her family will be right there with us for the whole adventure!

Caitlin is the owner of Ambren Travel.  There are multiple ways to contact her...  pick which ever you're most comfortable with!  Visit her web site, check out the Ambren Travel Facebook page, fill out the form on the Alaska Group Cruise page on her web site, give her a call at the number listed below, or send her an email.

I think it's great that we'll have our travel agent with us on this Alaska adventure, because she has magic powers with the cruise line and can make things happen for us, our fix any snafus!  During my 2018 Panama Canal cruise, I was on a shore excursion that went horribly wrong.  Luckily, there was a travel agent in our group, and by the time that excursion ended and we boarded the cruise ship again, there was a full refund of the cost of the shore excursion in our onboard account...  because that travel agent got in contact with cruise ship management via cell phone as soon as the excursion started to go badly.  If you come on the Alaska cruise, ask me to tell you the full story sometime...  it was pretty funny actually!  Anyway, it left a lasting impression with me about the benefits of having your travel agent with you when you are on vacation!


What You Just Read, But In A Video!

I made a video that contains a lot of the same information you just read on this page.  But due to the nature of videos, the subject comes alive a bit more thanks to a lot of beautiful video clips of some of the things we'll see on our trip!  My apologies for the fact that the introduction to the video, which talks about how it will be our 50th cruise, is now incorrect due to the fact that a few weeks after I made the video, I added one additional cruise to our 2019 vacation schedule.  Here's the video...


 

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