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rlse9

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About rlse9

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    Mediterranean
  1. rlse9

    Hiking in Skagway

    We went out to Yakutania Point early in the morning during our day in Skagway before our White Pass railway excursion. It was nice to see town while it was empty and the view out on the point was nice but I would call it more of a walk than a hike. Later in the day we did Devil's Punchbowl, which has stunning views but is the definition of a strenuous hike, so not what you are looking for. We had the problem as you, too many great looking hiking options in the area and not enough time to do them all.
  2. The open area on deck 11 in the front of the ship (which is where the naturalist narrates from) is a great place to go if you want to look for wildlife and obviously, the times when he is up there are the times it is likely that you may see animals. You have to walk down a hallway with nothing but cabins until you reach a door that leads outside. There is a similar area one deck below on deck 10. Also great for enjoying sailing into College Fjord for itineraries that include it and through Glacier Bay. I was a little worried that it might be too crowded on the outside decks when we got to Margerie Glacier but it wasn't bad and we had no problems going from one side of the ship to the other or from one of the upper decks to one of the lower decks to see the glacier, so I definitely recommend viewing it from different viewpoints because the perspective is different from different heights. Other than that, nothing really specific about the ship, it's a perfectly fine ship but the cruises to Alaska, at least to me, are much more about Alaska than the ship.
  3. We ate lunch at the market on Granville Island, my wife got a coffee at a different restaurant in the market, and we got dessert from the bakery in the market and all 3 places accepted credit cards. So, it depends on where in the market.
  4. According to the timestamps on my photos, it was about 110 minutes from when we left Juneau until we made our first stop at an iceberg just outside Tracy Arm. The last photo I took was as we were exiting Tracy Arm at around 3:50 pm. I'm not sure exactly what time we got back to Juneau but I think it was just before 6 pm. The time at the glacier is amazing, the glacier itself is beautiful, watching it calving is awesome, and watching all of the seals relaxing on the icebergs near the glacier was fun. The stops at the icebergs going to and coming from the glacier are also amazing. Those are the reasons to go on the tour. The views in Tracy Arm are really nice. The waterfalls are nice but not spectacular. We did not see whales, apparently for some reason the whales stayed further south last summer. It's definitely a very good tour and I'm happy we did it but I'm not quite as positive about it as others are, mostly due to the approximately 4 hours of going to/from Tracy Arm.
  5. We did this excursion last summer on a ship scheduled to arrive at 8 am and made it in time, if you're there at 7:30 am I would imagine that you'll be fine. The excursion through Adventure Bound is good, they spend more than an hour at the glacier, though the ride to and from Tracy Arm does take a long time.
  6. We used a credit card only during our two days in Vancouver and had no problem with not having cash.
  7. Post-cruise: Day 10 – Whittier to Anchorage We finished off our cruise with breakfast in the dining room. This was by far the best breakfast I had all week, always nice to go out on a high note. After breakfast, we gathered out things from the room and made our way off the ship. Disembarkation was incredibly smooth, perhaps a little too smooth as we ended up having to wait a little while for our bus to take us to Anchorage. We booked through Anchorage Tours and Transfers. The bus was nice, the driver was friendly and narrated along the drive to Anchorage, and when we saw beluga whales in the Turnagain Arm, we stopped at a scenic viewpoint to take photos. We arrived at the airport, picked up our rental car, and headed for Fred Meyer to pick up some lunch for our hike. Today we were hiking Wolverine Peak, another strenuous hike that starts right on the eastern edge of Anchorage. The hike starts out relatively easy for the first few miles, some elevation gain but not that steep. The day was clear and sunny, with Denali visible off in the distance. The first part of the hike is through trees and shrubs but once getting up to the tundra, the views become quite incredible, both of Anchorage down below and of the surrounding mountains. It was also at this point that the trail transitioned from a moderate hike to a quite steep trail that switchbacked up the mountain. This section of the hike wasn’t horribly long luckily and the views once we reached the peak were well worth it. The surrounding mountain peaks were impressive and the valley below had a river, lakes, and dall sheep wandering through. The hike down wasn’t too bad, most of it being downhill without being steep enough to be hard on the knees. We checked into our bed and breakfast, the Alaska House of Jade Bed and Breakfast. There’s not much that needs to be said about it, there’s a reason it’s the top ranked B &B in Anchorage. The hosts are very friendly, the house is beautiful, breakfast was great, there were treats and drinks available at night, and our room was nice. After checking in we headed to Moose’s Tooth for pizza, having eaten here during our last trip to Alaska. The line was long, as expected, but the pizza was worth the wait. We returned to the B&B to get a good night’s sleep because we had yet another early morning planned the following day. Day 11 – Hatcher’s Pass We woke up in the morning to pretty miserable weather, heavy cloud cover and a steady rain. After a delicious breakfast, we hit the road, heading north of Anchorage to hike in the Hatcher Pass area. The weather did not look promising and south of Anchorage looked clearer, so I considered making a last minute audible to head back towards Whittier and hike the Portage Pass trail but decided to stick with our original plan. On our way towards Hatcher Pass we stopped off at Thunderbird Falls which was alright but not one of the nicer waterfalls we’ve seen. We also stopped in Eklutna. It was interesting to hear the history of the church and see the cemetery. Not something I would go out of my way to see, but not a bad way to spend a little time if you’re in the area anyway. We continued the drive towards Hatcher’s Pass and the rain continued pouring down. Our original plan was to hike to Reed Lakes but with the weather conditions not looking promising, a 9-mile hike potentially in constant rain didn’t seem like the most fun way to spend a day. Instead, we drove up to Independence Mine. We went inside and asked the park ranger where the Gold Cord Lake trail started. He was a little surprised that anyone would want to hike in the cold heavy rain but gave us directions to where the trail started. Armed with rain gear and an umbrella we made our way towards the trail. The visibility of the surrounding mountains was poor, but the valley was pretty nonetheless. The hike isn’t very long, about 2 miles round trip including some exploring around the lake but does include a fair amount of elevation gain for such a short hike. About half way up, the rain transitioned to a mix of rain and ice which was not too pleasant, but we pushed on. By the time we reached the lake, the rain was letting up but the visibility was still limited, the buildings of the mine hidden by the clouds. We explored around the lake for a while, even with the cloudy conditions the views were nice, the tops of the mountains surrounding the lake already covered in snow. As we began walking back around the lake to get to the trail leading back down to the mine, the low clouds rolled out and all of a sudden, the valley and the surrounding mountains appeared. We took some photos and just as quickly as the clouds had disappeared, new clouds rolled in and within minutes everything more than about 20 feet away disappeared. While the views were gone, at least the rain stayed away. We hiked back down relatively quickly (no need to stop to take photos when you can’t see anything…), grabbed our lunch and ate inside the visitor’s center of the mine, then explored the mine. The self-guided tour was interesting, and the remains of the mine buildings made for some interesting photos. Since it was still early and we had hiked less than we had planned on, we drove down a ways then stopped at the Gold Mint trail to do some more hiking. The trail is relatively narrow with brush and trees on either side and follows a river with a fair amount of noise from the water, so we were a little worried about bears but luckily we didn’t see any. We only hiked a couple miles of the trail, it was relatively easy and the views were decent but from what I’ve read the glacier rimmed valley at the end of the trail is the highlight, which we didn’t see. By the time we returned to the car it was raining again. As we made our way down the winding road towards Palmer, the rain turned into a heavy downpour. We ate our dinner at the Noise Goose Café. The food was just as good as would be expected given the good reviews and the pie for dessert was delicious. We returned to the B&B to pack our things up and get to bed as we had one last day of adventure planned before our flight home. Day 12 – Anchorage We awoke to much better weather than the previous day. After another delicious breakfast, we packed up the car and again headed north of Anchorage, this time on our way to hike the Eagle & Symphony Lakes trail. There had been a couple bear attacks in the area earlier in the summer and there were not many other people around as we were hiking out towards the lakes, so we made sure to make lots of noise so that we didn’t surprise any bears. The trail is relatively flat as it follows the valley out to the lakes. The only part of the hike that is challenging is navigating the boulder field surrounding the lakes. The views were nice but not quite as good as the hikes during the previous days. The lakes themselves were a bit of a disappointment, we had seen much more impressive lakes during our previous hikes. There were far more people hiking as we made our way back towards the trailhead. However, during one stretch where no one else was around, we noticed quite a few small broken branches, leaves, and berries on the trail which we were concerned was a sign that a bear had been in the area recently. Fortunately, as we realized shortly after, this was the result of a young child who was out hiking with his parents. After completing our hike, we drove back into Anchorage to do some last-minute souvenir shopping and have a late lunch/early dinner. We ate at Lucky Wishbone and the food was good, I think it was the first time either of us had eaten fried chicken in about a decade. We drove back to the airport, dropped off the rental car, and caught our overnight flight back home.
  8. Cruise: Day 3 – Vancouver We were up bright and early because my wife wanted to do a 5-mile run through Stanley Park before we went for breakfast. The visibility had gotten even worse than the previous days, but the park was still really nice and much more peaceful early in the morning when it’s mostly empty. We went to Jam Café for breakfast, the food was delicious but came with a 45-minute wait which is the norm. Since we had time, we did a little souvenir shopping in Gastown before checking out of the hotel and walking to the ship. The check-in process was incredibly smooth. There were two other small ships in port that day, but things went quickly. It was maybe an hour from when we got to the cruise terminal until we were on the ship. We dropped off our bags in the room then went to the dining room for lunch. It was nice to have a relaxing lunch after going non-stop for the previous 2 ½ days but the food was not very good. I had the ravioli and it was a couple steps below the Buitoni pasta that we occasionally buy at the grocery store, and that is by no means fancy. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the ship, playing mini golf (having the course in an interior area that’s protected from the wind is a great idea but the course itself needs a refresh), and playing ping pong. Sail away was a little bit of a disappointment given the poor visibility. The comedian that night was very good. Day 4 – At Sea By the time we woke up in the morning we had sailed far enough to get away from the smoke and the visibility was good. We started our morning with breakfast in the dining room, which was not great, I had a rather disappointing omelet and the service was incredibly slow. We barely made it to the first talk by the naturalist on time, very happy we did because he was excellent. He did 4 different talks throughout the cruise and each was both informative and entertaining. I played in the ping pong tournament later in the morning, I was impressed that they actually had decent ping pong paddles (the cruise line we previously worked for bought really cheap paddles that made it impossible to put any spin on the ball). We had pizza in Sabatini’s for lunch and it was very good. Also, I was quite surprised that it wasn’t at all busy when we went. In the afternoon, we went to the gym, which was nicer than I was expecting it to be, I thought it might seem small, especially with it having no windows, but it was fine and all of the equipment seemed to be in good condition. We also went to the naturalist’s second talk and spent some time up in the solarium. This was the first of two formal nights. Since we so rarely dress up for anything, I convinced my wife to bring nice clothes with for the formal nights, which is the complete opposite of what we usually do on vacation. We went to watch the champagne waterfall, which is pretty cool and a clever way on their part to sell photos, then went to a late dinner followed by the late production show. The show was rather forgettable in my opinion, it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t good either. Day 5 – Icy Strait Point We had breakfast in the Horizon Court this morning, and every morning until the final morning of the cruise. It was fine, nothing special, but fine. The naturalist had his third talk this morning and again it was excellent. He also narrated as we sailed through the waters approaching Icy Strait. I wish we had gotten up to the open deck a little earlier, we missed some whales that other people saw but we did see porpoises. The sail into Icy Strait is quite nice. We had a quick snack in the Horizon Court right after the ship docked since we weren’t in a rush to get off the ship. We started our day by walking the path along the shoreline into Hoonah. It was cloudy and threatening to rain most of the day but for the most part the rain held off. The walk to town is quite pleasant and we saw a couple bald eagles. We followed the main road until we got to the building where they are carving a totem pole to be put up down by the water once it is finished. My wife sat and watched them carving while I took a few pictures. She asked one of the men carving the totem pole what the story of the totem pole was, and he stopped what he was doing and spent about 10 minutes describing the story of the totem pole, which tells the history of the Hoonah people. He even pulled out the sketch of what the pole is going to look like to describe parts they haven’t finished yet. It was fascinating, and it was really interesting how he combined the history as told by the Hoonah with what we have learned about history of the area from modern science. If you visit Icy Strait, I highly recommend making the walk to town to see the totem pole carvers, and if you do, ask them about the totem pole they’re working on. We walked around the town a little more but there isn’t much to see so we started our walk back towards the port. We had lunch at the Cookhouse which was excellent, we shared an Alaska blue burger and a reindeer sausage, and both were delicious. After lunch we walked the nature trail loop, it’s nice but way too short. With the entire island basically being national forest, it’s a shame that they didn’t create a longer trail system. We also walked along the beach going away from town, very rocky but nice views of the coastline and looking back at the ship. We returned to the port area for the tribal dance show, stopping to get mini doughnuts along the way. The mini doughnuts were ok, not bad but nothing special, in my opinion. The show was a disappointment. It was far shorter than the advertised one hour in length, was overpriced at $25, and while a couple parts of it were interesting, as a whole the performance was a little lacking. If you’re interested in something like this, I recommend going to the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage instead, the show we saw there a few years ago was better, cheaper, and the museum portion of the heritage center is also quite good. After the show we walked through the museum portion of the port and did some souvenir shopping. The museum is fairly interesting but the shopping was a bit of a disappointment. There are only a handful of shops and while a couple of them had unique locally made items, a couple of the shops were a generic souvenir shop and a cruise ship port jewelry store without the typical name attached. Also, the prices were higher than the other places we shopped. On our way back to the ship, we stopped and sat by the fire for a while and used the free wifi to catch up with what was going on in the world. Back on the ship we had dinner and called it a night. Day 6 – Juneau Early breakfast in Juneau this morning so that we could be off the ship by 8am. We had a tour booked with Adventure Bound Alaska to Tracy Arm Fjord. I had called before booking to confirm that we would be fine booking the excursion and were told it would be fine as long as we got off the ship right at 8am and that they had people on the tour from ships arriving at 8am all the time. We walked to the office as instructed in the email they sent and arrived a couple minutes before 8:15. The woman in the office acted as though we were late and like the boat might leave without us, which was a little unsettling, but she drove us to where the boat was departing from and we got on board and it was at least another 10 minutes before we departed. The annoying thing was that we had to walk past the boat to get to their office from the ship. It would have been easier for us and for them if they just gave us directions to the boat instead of having to go the office first. The weather was again cloudy and visibility wasn’t great but the views as the boat headed south from Juneau were still nice. After we got outside of Juneau there wasn’t a whole lot to see for the next hour and a half until icebergs started appearing in the water. We got close to a couple beautiful icebergs and stopped for a little while, the blue color was just amazing. Heading into the fjord it was still cloudy but the views were still great and glaciers occasionally appeared between gaps in the clouds. We stopped very close to a really nice waterfall before continuing on towards Sawyer Glacier. It was without a doubt my favorite glacier of all of the glaciers we saw during our vacation. There were a lot of seals relaxing on the icebergs in front of the glacier and the glacier was very active the day we were there. We were at the glacier for about an hour and 15 minutes. We were lucky that the weather improved a little while we were there because the better light really made the color of the ice shine. The ride back towards Juneau was pretty uneventful, we made one stop by an iceberg and waterfall to take pictures but other than that it was just a regular, rather long boat ride. It rained pretty hard for a good portion of the ride but at least it was during a time when there wasn’t much to see anyway. I’m a little torn on how I feel about this tour, on one hand the glacier is amazing and seeing the icebergs up close was really cool but on the other hand the tour includes a lot of time just sitting in the boat with ok but not great views. I think you could make the argument that doing either Tracy Arm or Glacier Bay is enough for most people but I’m not sure which one I would pick because they’re both impressive in their own way. Back in Juneau we put on our rain gear and headed to the Perseverance Trail. The weather still wasn’t great but the rain had slowed some and we needed to stretch our legs after sitting all day. We hiked as far as the main waterfall. It’s a nice trail for being so close to town, a little elevation gain but not too difficult with nice views of the valley you’re hiking through. On our way back through town we stopped at a couple souvenir shops that were still open, then returned to the ship a little before all aboard. On board we had a quick dinner in the Horizon Court before going to see the comedian. The show was good but not as good as the first show. Afterwards, we headed back to our room as we had another long day planned for Skagway. Day 7 – Skagway We were up bright and early, too much we wanted to see in Skagway and not enough time. We had a quick breakfast and were off the ship by 7am. We walked through town, which was nice early in the morning since it was completely empty, then past the airport and over to Yakutania Point. Easy walk, beautiful scenery, and the mix of blue skies and low clouds made for interesting views. We walked back through town for our 8:30am White Pass Summit Rail & Bus Excursion with Chilkoot Tours. We started with the bus portion and our guide James was excellent. My only complaint was that I wish we made a couple more photos stops, there is so much wonderful scenery to capture. We arrived in Fraser a while before the train, so I walked down the lake to take a few photos, then got a couple shots of the train pulling in. The train ride was one of the highlights of our vacation, the views were incredible, the train itself is great, and the narration during the trip was very good. The train is a little pricy compared to taking a bus only tour or renting a car but it’s well worth it. After the completion of the tour we returned to the ship for lunch. I was hoping to have pizza at Sabatini’s but unfortunately that wasn’t an option on this day. So, instead it was a quick lunch in Horizon Court, then changing into our hiking gear before getting off the ship again. Our plan was to hike up to Upper Dewey Lake and possibly continue on to Devil’s Punch Bowl if time/energy permitted. We had a little over 6 ½ from when we got off the ship until when we needed to be back on board so I knew we might be pushing it to make it all the way as the NPS lists Upper Dewey Lake as a 5-6 hour hike plus a couple more hours for Devil’s Punch Bowl. It is a short walk from the cruise ship dock to the trailhead. The hike up to Lower Dewey Lake has some elevation gain but isn’t that steep and most people in reasonable shape could do the hike without much of a problem. We didn’t go around the lake, so we didn’t really see it, but from what we did see it didn’t seem that impressive. The trail continued past Lower Dewey Lake and a few minutes later the trail going to Upper Reid Falls split off in one direction and the trail headed towards Upper Dewey Lake split off in the other direction. Almost immediately the trail became incredibly steep and stayed this way almost all the way up to Upper Dewey Lake. The trail followed a river for quite a while and as steep as it is, the river is basically one waterfall after another which looked really pretty. The views down in the forest were nice but nothing special. However, once we got up high enough that the taller trees no longer grow, the views became incredible. Upper Dewey Lake is beautiful, it has a really nice blue color with mountain peaks behind the lake. We made it to Upper Dewey Lake in really good time, so we decided to continue further along the trail. The higher up we got the more spectacular the views became as more and more of the mountains surrounded Skagway came into view, many of them capped with glaciers. There is a small boulder field to navigate but nothing that requires any special skills. We reached the end of the trail and the view down into the Devil’s Punch Bowl. Initially we were a little underwhelmed but a couple minutes later the sun came out and the color of the water became a brilliant color of blue. We enjoyed the views for a few minutes, had a snack, then began our descent. The hike down went much faster but hiking down such a steep slope is also very difficult on the legs, so we were feeling it by the end. We made it back to the ship 6 hours after we had gotten off the ship, much more tired but it was well worth the effort. Back on the ship we had dinner in the dining room and called it an early night since we wanted to be up early for Glacier Bay. Day 8 – Glacier Bay The weather was not looking promising when we woke up in the morning, a mix of clouds and fog. We ate breakfast in the Horizon Court then went to the solarium to see the park service display and pick up a couple souvenirs (we love national parks so we always try to support them). Fortunately, the weather began to improve and it wasn’t long before a rainbow appeared alongside the ship. It remained mostly cloudy as we sailed into Glacier Bay with a strip of low lying clouds cutting across the middle of many of the mountains (very similar to our day in Tracy Arm) but as we approached Margerie Glacier the sun peaked through the clouds and stayed out almost the entire time we were there. The glacier is beautiful and it was nice to be able to see it from different perspectives by seeing it both from the upper deck where you can see back onto the glacier quite a ways and from the below the bridge and the promenade deck, where you only see the wall of ice that forms the end of the glacier as it meets the water. As I said before, Sawyer Glacier was my favorite glacier we saw but Margerie Glacier is excellent, too, and I could see how others would think the opposite. It’s great that the ship spends a full hour at the glacier and we had no problem getting a good spot to view the glacier from, even with moving around from deck to deck. The ship headed back towards Lamplugh Glacier which is not nearly as pretty as Margerie Glacier but at least it’s different, I guess. Sailing up the arm towards John Hopkins Glacier provided more incredible views but many of the alpine glaciers were at least partially obstructed by the clouds. This did make for some interesting photos but I’d like to see Glacier Bay on a sunny day someday. As the ship sailed past Lamplugh Glacier we saw some sea otters playing in the water, which is always entertaining. We went to the park ranger’s presentation in the theater which was decent but not as good as the naturalist’s presentations in my opinion. We went back our room to rest for a while and look out our window for wildlife. We saw quite a few sea otters but nothing else. Just after the park rangers were let off the ship, we headed up to deck 11 to look for wildlife, hoping to see whales as that was the one thing we wanted to see on this trip that we hadn’t so far. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be as we saw a whole lot of nothing and the wind got very strong not long after exiting Glacier Bay. Once the ship reached the point that we definitely weren’t going to see anything, we headed back to our room, got a couple loads of laundry going, then headed up to spend some time in one of the hot tubs in the solarium to soak our aching leg muscles from the hike the day before. A few minutes later the weather went from cloudy to pouring rain and heavy fog, not that we had to worry about getting wet but the ship’s horn sounding every couple minutes made relaxing a little harder. We wrapped up our laundry and got ready for the second formal night. Our plan was to do dinner, the Marriage Match Game Show, then the production show. Dinner, like every night, was good. I haven’t said much about dinner throughout this because the service and quality of the food were consistently good. The Marriage Match Game Show was entertaining, however it lasted about an hour and 10 minutes. The production show was scheduled for an hour after the Marriage Match Game Show, so we and dozens of other people were late getting to the show. I’m very puzzled by that scheduling. Anyway, the production show was a bit of a letdown, so I guess it wasn’t the end of the world that we missed the first 15 minutes. Day 9 – College Fjord We started our day with a trip to the gym, followed by a late breakfast. I should have looked at the schedule more closely because I thought breakfast in the dining room was until 9:30am, not 9am, so we ended up going to the Horizon Court instead. This was the one of the very few times during the cruise that the ship felt crowded as every table was full and there were more than a few people wandering around waiting for tables to open up. It didn’t help that tables weren’t being cleared quite as quickly as they should have been, when we finally got a spot to sit the table next to us sat covered in dirty dishes for basically the entire time it took us to eat. In the late morning, we attended the final talk by the naturalist and again, it did not disappoint. We learned a lot about bears, whales, glaciers, and the ports during his talks and were thoroughly entertained by them all. In the afternoon we went to the Voice of the Ocean which was entertaining. I was impressed by the talent of some of our fellow guests, but I could have used a little less of the cheesy jokes from the judges, they got old rather quickly. After that finished, we headed back up the deck 11 in the front of the ship to watch for wildlife and enjoy the views as we sailed into College Fjord. We had given up hope of seeing whales after not seeing any near Icy Strait, on the trip to Tracy Arm, or sailing out of Glacier Bay and I was starting to regret not booking a whale watching trip. However, today was finally the day as we saw a couple killer whales along the side of the ship. As the ship made the turn to head into College Fjord the skies were about as clear as could be and the views were spectacular. The naturalist had said that one of the advantages of the northbound cruise is that the views get better and better each day. I figured it was a bit of hyperbole, I mean how could the views in College Fjord be better than in Glacier Bay? But they were, at least during our trip. Certainly, it helped that the weather was so good but so many glaciers in a small space with tall snowcapped mountains in the background was so impressive. None of the glaciers has the beauty of Sawyer Glacier or Margerie Glacier but the size of Harvard Glacier and the massive snow-covered mountains feeding it was impressive. We packed up our bags before one last dinner in the dining room, followed by the show. It’s strange to me that they had production shows on back to back nights and also strange that the show has a cold open with no intro by the Cruise Director but the show tonight was quite enjoyable.
  9. Pre-cruise: Day 1 – Vancouver Our flight arrived in Vancouver at around 10am. The line to go through immigration was long but moved quickly. The train to get from the airport to downtown was very convenient and the all-day transit pass is a great deal. We got to our hotel, the Westin Bayshore, before noon and our room was ready so we were able to check in instead of just leaving our bags as we originally planned. The hotel was alright, location is great, pool area looked nice, and the room had a nice view. On the negative side, the fire alarm went off during the night for at least 20 minutes and there was no communication of what was going on and no apology for the inconvenience. Also, the wifi in the lobby was bad and the modern design they went with in the bathroom made it impossible to take a shower without getting water all over the bathroom floor. After checking in we jumped on a bus headed towards Granville Island to have lunch at the market. The market was fine, not super exciting in my opinion, but the dessert we got at one of the bakeries (Terra Breads) was really good. We followed the path from Granville Island along the shoreline to Kitsilano Beach. Unfortunately, the views were largely non-existent due to the forest fires in the area, but it was still a nice walk. We caught a bus going back towards downtown and rented bikes to take around Stanley Park. We followed the seawall all the way around the park, making a few stops along the way. It’s a beautiful park but again the views were limited by the poor visibility. The one upside was that through the smoke there were some cool views of the sun, almost like sunset except with the sun high up in the sky. We returned the bikes and grabbed some poutine for dinner. We had planned to call it a night at this point but it wasn’t that late and we still had the bus pass so we decided to go down to Gastown and walk a little. It turned out to be a good decision, even though we ended up going back there a couple days later, because Gastown looks much nicer at night than during the day. We watched the steam clock tower do its thing on the hour, then caught a bus back towards the hotel, stopping off to pick up a delicious Belgian waffle for dessert on the way. Planned to get to sleep early and get a good night’s rest before another busy day, but the fire alarm going off during the night threw off that plan. Day 2 – Vancouver Up and on our way to Grouse Mountain early in the morning as we had booked Breakfast with the Bears. We had purchased single ride bus tickets the day before, which we learned upon getting on the bus does not work because for some crazy reason single tickets only work the same day they are purchased. Luckily the bus driver was nice and still let us on and gave us transfers for the second bus we needed to take. Visibility was slightly better than the day before but still bad, so we missed out on the views of Vancouver and the surrounding mountains. But Grouse Mountain is still worth a visit if you’re an outdoors person like us. Seeing and learning about the bears was great, breakfast was quite good, the lumberjack show was incredibly entertaining, and the bird show was good as well. From Grouse Mountain, we walked down to Cleveland Dam, then hiked from there along the trails through the forest down to Capilano Bridge. Hiking instead of taking the bus turned it into a bit of a long day but it was a beautiful hike. We arrived at Capilano Bridge around 5:15pm, so we got the 30% discount for getting there after 5pm. We followed the Cliffwalk first since there was a long line to go across the bridge, then circled back to go across the bridge and walk around and do the Treetops Adventure. It was a fun experience and going later not only saved us some money, but it wasn’t very crowded, the last hour or so we were there was much more peaceful than when we arrived. We considered eating dinner there, but the options didn’t look too appetizing so instead we took the shuttle back to the hotel and ate there.
  10. I wrote this months ago but never posted it, I tried back in October when the boards were down because they were switching their software or something and forgot to post it until now... My wife and I took our first cruise this summer. We had previously both worked for 4+ years for one of the other cruise lines so we had spent plenty of time on cruise ships, just with a smaller room, worse food, and having to go back to work at the end of each port day. We're in our mid-30s, very active, and our vacations are typically at the other end of the spectrum from cruising: on our own, very independent, adventurous travel. However, after a chaotic first half of summer that caused us to cancel our original vacation plan for the summer, we decided to take a cruise (under the incorrect assumption that it would be more relaxing than our usual vacation) and Alaska seemed like a good choice since moving between towns in SE Alaska requires traveling by boat/ship anyway. We had previously done a land trip on our own to Seward/Denali/Anchorage and really liked what we had seen of Alaska and were excited to see more. Itinerary Day 1: Vancouver: Granville Island/Kitsilano Beach/Stanley Park/Gastown Day 2: Vancouver: Grouse Mountain/Cleveland Dam/Capilano Suspension Bridge Day 3: Vancouver: Breakfast at Jam Café/Board Island Princess Day 4: At sea Day 5: Icy Strait Point: Hoonah/Nature Trail/Cultural Dance Show Day 6: Juneau: Tracy Arm Fjord/Perseverance Trail Day 7: Skagway: White Pass Summit Rail & Bus/Devil’s Punch Bowl Day 8: Glacier Bay Day 9: College Fjord Day 10: Anchorage: Wolverine Peak Day 11: Anchorage: Thunderbird Falls/Eklutna/Hatcher Pass Day 12: Anchorage: Eagle & Symphony Lakes Favorites 1. Watching the totem pole being carved in Hoonah. It was a relatively small thing in a vacation filled with big experiences but listening to the Native Alaskan describe the story behind the totem pole that they are carving was fascinating. 2. The hike to Devil’s Punch Bowl. It is a long, steep challenging hike that’s not for most people but for serious hikers, the reward is well worth the effort. The lakes are beautiful and the views of glacier capped mountains in every direction are incredible. 3. Watching the glacier calving at Sawyer Glacier. The glacier was incredibly active the day we were there, it was my favorite of all the glaciers we saw, and there were lots of seals relaxing on the icebergs in the water. What I would do differently 1. Different hike on our last day in Anchorage. It’s not that the hike to Eagle & Symphony Lakes is bad because the scenery along the way is quite nice but the lakes themselves are rather disappointing. 2. Plan fast, simple meals for our time in Vancouver/Anchorage. We ate some really good meals but also wasted a fair amount of time waiting at restaurants. With how we like to cram so much into each day, a couple nights of Subway or something similar would have probably made sense. 3. Do something different with the itinerary, I’m not sure what, though. Doing whale watching would have been nice given that we didn’t see as much wildlife as we were hoping to during the vacation. But I didn’t want to do whale watching and Tracy Arm Fjord, seemed like too much time on a boat when combined with the 3 days at sea on the ship. But as I said above, Sawyer Glacier was one of the highlights, though the rest of that trip to and from the glacier includes a lot of time that’s ok but not great. So, I’m not exactly sure what I would change if I were going to redo the trip, but I think something would change. Cruise Ship I had read the complaints of previous cruisers of how the changes to the Island Princess had made the ship so bad they would never go back. Having not been on the ship previously, I thought it was fine. I only noticed the ship being crowded twice, on the top deck as we were pulling into Glacier Bay and in the Horizon Court for breakfast around 9:30am on College Fjord day (I guess it isn’t surprising that lots of people slept in that morning). It’s definitely a smaller and not new ship but it worked fine for us. Only real complaints were that the mini golf course and the sports deck were kind of sad but even with us being active people, we really didn’t have time to use them anyway. The rest of the public areas on the ship were all nice, in particular the solarium pool area is nicely done, which is great on an itinerary likely to have at least some bad weather. Food Dinner in the main dining room was consistently very good. Other than that, I found the food to be a little disappointing. Breakfast on the last morning was quite good and the waffles in the Horizon Court were pretty good but other than that breakfast was pretty disappointing. Lunch in the main dining room on embarkation day was not good and lunch in the Horizon Court on most other days was alright but not great. The pizza for lunch in Sabatini’s was quite good the first time we had it and we hoped to return later in the cruise, but it wasn’t an option on the two days we wanted to eat there (Skagway and College Fjord). The one day we had pizza up by the pool it was fine, not as good as down in Sabatini’s but still pretty good. Stateroom We had booked an Oceanview (obstructed view) guaranteed room since at the time of booking it was the same price as an inside room. A few days before sailing we were assigned to P611, a regular Oceanview room on Deck 5. The room was great (again, we spent 4 years sharing a room that was half the size with no window, so our expectations were low) for what we needed. Having a window was great, during the couple times at sea that we went back to the room to rest for a while we would watch outside the window instead of watching TV. Didn’t see much wildlife from our room but we did see some sea otters playing. The bed was comfortable, and the large mirror helped the room feel a little bigger. Even with all the stuff we had with us, there was enough storage space to put everything away. Only complaint about the stateroom is that I’m a little surprised that they can’t find a way to make the showers a little bit bigger, I thought that my days with an overly friendly shower curtain were over. Entertainment In my opinion, 3 production shows for a 7-day cruise is one too many. The first two were rather forgettable but the final New Orleans themed show was quite good. The comedian was very good but repeating a handful of jokes during his second show was strange. We skipped the pianist shows because we didn’t have much interest. It was bizarre to me that the production shows had a cold start without the Cruise Director introing the show. Outside of the main theater shows, we took in only a few of the other entertainment options as we were there primarily for Alaska. The Liar’s Club was excellent, the marriage gameshow was as entertaining as would be expected, and The Voice was good, but I could have done with a little less of the cheesy jokes from the judges, that part got old quickly. It seemed like there were some talented musicians on the ship and we intended to spend more time enjoying the music around the ship but just ran out of time. The scheduling of activities wasn’t great, for example having production shows on back to back nights, the marriage gameshow being scheduled to take so long that it wasn’t possible to get to the late production show without being 15 minutes late, etc. North to Alaska I’m not sure how other cruise lines do Alaska but Princess does Alaska right. The naturalist, Mark Harris, was wonderful. All of his talks in the theater were both fascinating and educational. His narrating as we sailed into Icy Strait, out of Glacier Bay, and into College Fjord was also great. Having the park rangers on the ship in Glacier Bay was great. We missed them because we were off the ship the entire time we were in port but having sled dog puppies and Libby Riddles on the ship seemed great for those who didn’t spent every last minute off the ship in Juneau and Skagway like we did. Thoughts on cruising It was a little strange being on a cruise ship again. While we had a good time, this vacation definitely confirmed that we’re not cruise people, at least not at this point in our lives. Having a stateroom attendant that came to clean the room twice a day seemed excessive. The waiters in the dining room are great but the level of service is a little much for me. I’m not a fan of having to worry about being back to the ship on time and having to choose from available itineraries instead of deciding for ourselves where we’ll go and how long we’ll spend there. I’m not saying we didn’t have a good time because we definitely did, and I can see why cruising appeals to so many people but we’re better suited for independent travel. I’m happy we did cruise and see southeast Alaska but it’s unlikely that we’ll take another cruise in the next 20 years.
  11. I called Adventure Bound to ask about this issue. She assured me that they have people on ships arriving at 8am on their tours all the time. Basically, she said to make sure to be ready to get off the ship early and to have the cell phone with that matches the number provided with the reservation. Also, that they will either send us directions on how to get from the ship to where the tour leaves from or have someone meet us outside the ship. So, it doesn't seem like something to be too worried about as long as you make sure you're ready to get off the ship on time.
  12. Great photos. Where did you eat that they had reindeer sausage? My wife had it the last time we were in Alaska and really wants to have it again during our next visit.
  13. Thanks for sharing the info. A couple quick questions. Do you have the details on the photography tour out of Hanes? How was the tour as the non-photographer? I really enjoy photography, my wife not as much, but she likes nice landscapes... And I'm assuming your lens information is based on using a full frame camera, correct?
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