Friday, September 7, 2018

Alaska Cruise!!


 This was the Alaska of my dreams...
 
Glacier Bay National Park

About two weeks ago, my husband I embarked on an Alaskan Cruise!  This is something we have been semi-seriously talking about for over three years.  It might never have happened, but for a chance conversation with some friends who also happened to have been thinking of an Alaskan cruise...and it turned out each of us were just the encouragement the other needed!  From a beginning of two couples, the trip grew to four couples, including another couple from Washington and my sister and brother-in-law from Utah.  

If you've ever thought of a couples' cruise--it is the ideal kind of vacation to share with friends!  You help each other pass the time on the boat together, have supper together, but there is also plenty to do on your own.  We didn't all do the same excursions or go to the same shows, but there was usually a buddy around if you wanted one.  It was awesome that way!

Getting ready to board!

The trip had some great moments and some not-so-great moments.  Sunday we were at sea all day, and the water was pretty rough!  Even the crew commented on it.  Our group made good use of Dramamine, prescription motion sickness patches, and sea-bands--and we still felt a little yishy at times.  Thankfully that was the worst we had, and by morning we were in calmer waters.

Our first stop was Juneau, and unfortunately--this was kind of a bummer day for us.  It was also my birthday, and so we decided to make a big SPLURGE for an excursion--taking a helicopter ride to land on Mendenhall Glacier, where we would be able to get out and walk around, and then having a "traditional" salmon lunch!  Unfortunately...the weather was drizzly and the cloud cover was low, and so they cancelled our excursion.  They didn't tell us this until we got off the boat and were all set to meet up with our guide, so that was a HUGE let-down.  I just don't think we were mentally prepared for that possibility!

So our immediate next stop was with the excursion coordinator, and with all these excursions leaving IMMEDIATELY, we felt we got shuffled off to a substitute excursion in a pretty big hurry.  Partly this was our fault, but maybe a little bit theirs--anyway, we wished we had some more time and someone who'd talk over the options with us a bit more.

Our priority was to get to see the glacier, so we got put on a bus to go there as well as to "Glacier Gardens"...oh, and to a FISH HATCHERY first!  Somehow we missed that fine print.  Let's just say visiting a fish hatchery has never appeared on either or our bucket lists!  The most fun part of that was catching glimpses of seal heads popping out of the water.

Cold and wet...but we smiled!
Next, the glacier!  Well, it was still drizzling and the fog/clouds kept getting thicker.  From the visitors center, we could barely make out the glacier, so we walked a mile or so to a viewpoint by a waterfall to get a better look. Did I mention that this tour only took you TO the visitor's center??  No getting on the glacier like we had originally planned.  Anyway, by the time we got to the waterfall, it was even foggier and I swear our view of the glacier was even LESS than it had been.  And by the time we got there--it was time to turn around and come back to catch the bus.  It was very anti-climatic!


As I mentioned, we were supposed to get lunch with our original excursion.  On the substitute one--not so much!  My dear husband was getting HANGRY, but we had another stop to make!  Next we went to Glacier Gardens.  This was probably the best stop of the day, although the weather still wasn't very cooperative.  We took a little jeep ride up the side of the mountain while learning about the temperate rain forest, and my favorite thing to see were these awesome Flower Towers:  upside-down trees planted upside-down in the dirt, with a whole garden planted in and on their exposed root structure.  They were really cool!


When we got to the top of the mountain, we were supposed to have "stunning panoramic views" of Juneau...hmmm, not so much.  Again, it was the weather's fault!!  We got a small glimpse of the Juneau airport...it wasn't very impressive.

After riding back down the mountain, we were wet and cold.  We were grateful to a snack bar with hot chocolate for both of us and a hot dog for Mike.  Then a bus ride back into town...


Where, in our cold and wet short-sidedness, we just decided to go back to the boat.  In hind sight--I think we should have wandered the town, but we were pretty blue and miserable.  But our traveling partners were still out on their excursions, so we ended up at a table for 8 for dinner by ourselves.  Trust me...it you want to really wreck your birthday, sit at a table for 8 with only two people!  Mike was going to tell our waiter it was my birthday, and I told him DON'T YOU DARE!  I didn't much feel like celebrating.  I'm not proud of my attitude that night!  But it did get better, I promise!!


Top of White Pass--getting ready to ride down.
Next day...Skagway!  When my parents took an Alaskan cruise 15-20 years ago, this was their favorite stop, and the train ride was their favorite excursion.  So this was the one thing we KNEW we wanted to do!  We shared our excursion this day with our Washington friends.  We rode a bus up to the top of White Pass, and our driver was entertaining and informative.  At the top of the pass (officially in Canada), we got on the White Pass Railway and rode the train back down.   Our weather this day wasn't great either.  The cloud cover was pretty low, and so we didn't have "stunning panoramic views" here either.  But what we did see was beautiful, and I especially loved the Alpine meadows we went through, and hearing the history of the Klondike Gold Rush--definitely a harder and less lucrative venture than I ever knew!

 Next stop was Dredgetown, a re-creation of a Klondike-era Alaskan mining town.  We got to experience panning for gold, which was fun to do--once (I wouldn't need to do it again).  Mike and I together got about $19 worth of gold--which I know I brought home in a small film canister, but haven't located since!!  Then we were provided with a BBQ lunch before being dropped off in town.  I will say this--while the BBQ lunch was just fine, based on my experience with it, we would NOT choose to pay money for food included with an excursion again.  I think we'd have better luck finding our  own food in whatever town we were in.  That made me feel a little better about missing our meal in Juneau!
Arctic Brotherhood Hall, Skagway

Skagway is very, very small!  Of course it is mostly tourist-trap shops, but we enjoyed looking through them!  They didn't get much of our money--just some fudge Mike though he should have, and not much else.  We had a good time wandering before returning to the ship.  I did do my touristy-duty in photographing what is touted as "the MOST photographed building in Alaska"--the Arctic Brotherhood Hall!  The facade is made of thousands of pieces of driftwood, and it really was spectacular.



That brings us to Wednesday!  Wednesday was the best day of the trip! This was the day we sailed into Glacier Bay National Park.  

In the morning, the fog was so thick I don't think you could see 15 feet away from the boat.  But by mid-morning, the fog lifted and we were blessed with a gorgeous blue sky with lots of puffy clouds!  It was utterly and completely spectacular.

Marjorie Glacier

Marjorie Glacier

 Of course we only saw a small portion of the 3.3 MILLION acre park!  But it was the Alaska of my dreams--the way I have always imagined it to be. Marjorie Glacier (a tidewater glacier) was the one we were able to get closest to.  It was awesome to hear it crack and pop and see pieces of it drop into the water.

Imagine 2300 passengers all wanting to get a close look at the glacier.  The ship turned oh-so-slowly around right in front of it, so everyone would get a chance to see it. I think I pretty much stayed outside and watched the whole time.

On the way out of the bay, we passed an island loaded with sea lions--I really wished I had had binoculars then, as we weren't all that close!  We did see a couple of otters swimming next to the boat, and later in the afternoon we passed a couple of pods of whales.  They were too far away to see clearly, but I saw lots of spouts, a couple of flashes of some backs, and a few tails.  It definitely wasn't a trip to see lots of wildlife--but the scenery was amazing!

More pictures of Glacier Bay...just because!




 
The two pictures above are my two very most favorite pictures from the entire trip!  I now see them every time I look at my iPhone or Apple Watch!  I love that I can take them with me wherever I go.




 I could have looked at the sky and the water for ages!  Some people might have thought a clear blue sky would  have been better--but I wouldn't trade these gorgeous racing clouds for anything.




Red Hen Home: Ketchikan Thursday morning our port was in Ketchikan.  This was the most fun port for us, and we wished we had had more time there!  First we took a trolley tour up to see the totem pole park, as it is a little ways out of the city.  We had a good guide again, so it was entertaining and informative.  This was our favorite totem pole--one we really felt we could be a part of!

Next was the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show.  We had heard it was not to be missed--and we were not misled!  It was a TON of fun.  The audience was divided into two "camps": U.S. and Canada (we were Canada).  Then you cheered your team through about 10 competitions of strength, agility, and skill, all wrapped up in a hilarious package.  The log rolling in particular--so cool!!  Normally I don't consider myself a very loud or enthusiastic fan--but this particular competition really got it out of me!!  So much so that I (ahem!) won a signed postcard from the show for my enthusiasm!  I'm sure that was why Canada won ;-)  For reals--if you go to Alaska, put this on your "must do" list!

One other thing we got a glimpse of was the salmon running.  Sadly, it was a really bad year for salmon.  Apparently the streams should have been so full of fish you could almost walk across on them--this year, there were many, but you certainly would have gotten very wet!

Friday we were at sea most of the day, but in port in Victoria, Canada by about 6:30 p.m.  We really don't live all that far from Victoria, but ferry costs are so high that we have never been there.  I've always wanted to see the Butchart Gardens, so we signed up for that excursion, even knowing it would be dark.

It takes a good 40 minutes to be bussed to the gardens, and this time, unfortunately, we did NOT have an awesome guide...he was pretty dull.  Better luck next time!  The gardens themselves WERE magnificent--what we could see!! The tour was advertised as "being lit up with thousands of lights," but I'm not sure there were that many!  I guess I was expecting trees wrapped in Christmas lights, but what they had were lots of landscaping lights.  Those were nice, for sure, but didn't give quite the fairy-land experience I think I was expecting!  What the tour did, is whet my desire to go back and see it in the daytime someday!  The Japanese Gardens were most enjoyable at night, as those gardens rely more on texture and shape anyway, rather than rioting colors.  But oh--what we could see really was amazing!

After a late night back to the boat, we had to be up early the next morning to disembark in Seattle.  The trip was over all too quickly!  I think Mike would like to take a cruise every year if we could afford it!!

I realize I haven't said much about the cruise ship itself, so here goes.  We sailed on the Ruby Princess out of Seattle, which is convenient since we live just northeast of there!  The ship was lovely and the crew was amazing.  We LOVED our waiter and assistant waiter for each of our dinners together.  We had an excellent room steward--after noticing that we had pushed our two twin beds together, he made them up as a king bed for us for the rest of the trip.  That little touch made a world of difference to us.


Floating Islands
My chocolate mousse birthday box
Chocolate/Pistachio Dessert
Everybody who goes on a cruise talks about the food!  I am widely known as a "food snob," so I have a few things to say ;-)  Yes, it is true that food was available pretty much ALL THE TIME!  However--I didn't think it was so amazing that I HAD to eat it all the time, which was probably a good thing.  I would say the dinners in the main dining room were generally very good.  You generally had about 6-8 choices of an appetizer, 8-10 choices of an entree, and about 8 choices for dessert each night, with at least half of those choices being specific for that night.  The choices were varied, the presentation was beautiful!  We had some very good meals, some good ones, and one that was just bad (and they would have brought me something else if I had asked--which I didn't).    We had about three AMAZING desserts (I still dream of the salted caramel custard...).


The buffet was very good for breakfast, but I wasn't all that impressed with it for lunch/dinner.  But to be honest, I didn't feel very hungry for lunch most days, so most of it just didn't appeal.  The desserts at the buffet were generally quite poor, even though their breakfasts pastries were quite good--go figure.  We  had a couple of meals in the "anytime" dining room, and I didn't think those were as good as in the formal dining room either--but since they are run out of different kitchens, maybe that makes sense.  There was also a pizza bar on board (pretty good), soft ice cream available most of the time (who doesn't like that?), and a burger grill (which my sister said wasn't great).  Then there were at least four specialty dining rooms that cost extra if you wanted to go there.  Our friends did, and based on their description I didn't feel like I had missed out.  I just think going on a cruise is so pricey to begin with, you might as well eat the food you've already paid for ;-)

Entertainment:  there is a lot of it available!  And that is good, because ship time can get to be pretty dull, especially if you neither drink nor gamble!  We went to one musical/magic show which was OK--we liked the magic part a lot, so went to see the magician (in a solo performance) another time and really enjoyed him.  They had a singer/comic perform two different shows, and we went to both of those because he was so good!  Then the crew puts on some different "game shows" which we enjoyed--unless they got too raunchy, in which case we left!

My one real complaint about Princess is that they don't have a good way for traveling companions to get a hold of each other.  Obviously your cell phone doesn't work--but they do have a ship "intranet" which allows you to message other passengers.  But since your phone doesn't alert you to any messages, it's hard to make connections.  Princess needs to write an app!

So, do I want to take another cruise??  Definitely!  Next year, probably not--but maybe in 3-5 years.  I liked Princess a lot, but not enough that I won't consider trying another cruise line.  But I do think it's a good solid choice.

Hope this helps you make a decision if you're considering a cruise!

Have you been on a cruise?  
Where did you go/what did you think?  
Where should we go on our next one??

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wisp said...

Now I want to go on a cruise! How fun and exciting! I've always wanted to try Floating Islands, too. :) I'm so glad you guys got to go do this! <3