Port and Shore Excursions
We had intended taking the MGT bus to the Mendenhall Glacier $16 each roundtrip and doing the Mt. Robert's Tram ourselves. We stopped at one of the tour vendors just off the ship and she convinced us to take a full city tour which would include the glacier for $25 each. That seemed like a better idea so we did that. Our driver was a long time city resident and ex-coast guard member, so he was very well versed in the city and provided good commentary. He took us out to Douglas Island which is really just across a channel from the mainland and you can look back at the harbor. Then we went all around the main city and he gave us some of its history, but when all is said and done there is very little of real interest to see in places like Juneau
This was not a separate excursion but rather part of our cruise. We only had half a day in Juneau and this took up the second half. It was a very enjoyable part as the scenery was spectacular. The surrounding mountains are huge and you are so close to them. The gouges in the surfaces from prior passages of glaciers were amazing. We couldn't get as close to the Sawyer glacier as the captain wanted because of ice in the water just ahead of the ship, but we still got a good view. I wanted to mention here an interesting incident that happened on the way as it also makes a point. On the way we came across an excursion boat which had broken down. As it turned out, it was actually an excursion of about 100 passengers from the Jewel, and the arrangement had been that they would tour the glacier separately ahead of us and we would pick them up when we got there. Well they all transferred back safely as their boat, although largely out of action, was at least able to make its way over to the Jewel. However, this definitely gave me pause regarding booking excursions from private vendors, of which I have always been a strong proponent. What would have happened if these had been passengers from another vessel? Or if they had broken down in an area where we weren't going! Hmmm!
The city tour included the trip to Mendenhall where our guide dropped us at the visitor's center parking lot which is as close as traffic can get to the glacier. On the way he also stopped for us to take photos at an area where the glacier was in the background and the area in front was full of wild flowers, which was nice of him. He gave us the option of returning to town with him in about 45 minutes or taking any MGT bus back into town either before or after his return (the tour operator had told us that our tour ticket gave us the option of using the MGT bus for travel back from the glacier if we preferred). We were able to walk forward to view the glacier which was quite impressive even from a distance. We then began to walk one of the trails that would bring us even closer to Mendenhall and got some good views. We didn't go quite as close as we could as we figured that we needed to return with our Regrettably when we got back to town we only had about 45 minutes left before we had to be back on board the ship and that seemed a little too short in which to attempt the tram ride, so we had to pass which was a pity since it was such a beautiful day.driver if we were to have any chance of going up on the Mt. Robert's Tramway. In retrospect I think I should have chosen an excursion which accessed the glacier by canoe.
This port should be dropped from cruise itineraries. We are not shoppers and essentially there is nothing else here to do. The excursiions offerred were very limited and did not appeal to us, I am amused at travel books I read which referred to the fact that the salmon would be running since it was mid-summer. Maybe my expectations were too high but all we saw was a few sitting very still on a river bottom. I've seen many more salmon with just about as much life in the grocery store - frozen section. The infamous salmon ladder and the rapids/falls which some writers say they love to stand and watch the salmon trying to leap over, were completely vacant. It didn't start raining until we got off the ship but then it rained almost until we left - not unexpected. I would try and avoid any cruise that offers this as a stop.
White Pass Scenic Railway
Our driver, Bruce, picked us up in his van at the dock and took us to the train station where he got us our tickets and our train left at 8:15 for Fraser. He said he would meet us up there for the continuation of our trip and return by van. As advised by everyone we chose our seats on the left side of the train to take advantage of the scenery which was spectacular. One thing that struck me in Alaska is that nature is supersized, the mountains are huge and even the trees can be enormous. As with yesterday's boat breakdown, wouldn't you know it, our train broke down!! However we were lucky too in that there was another train right behind us and amazingly that train had the power to pull its own load as well as push us up the slope ahead of it! Fortunately we did not have far to go to get to a double track section where they were able to bring in new engines to complete our trip. I was amazed at the speed with which they were able to get us going again, considering we were miles up the side of a huge mountain. The tour was very scenic and Bruce met us as planned and we continued on to the Yukon, Caribou Crossing and Emerald Lake which was lovely. On the way we stopped for an included lunch which gets just an OK. That stop also included a dog sled ride which was optional for either 15 or 30 minutes. We hadn't bought it and watching them hitch the dogs and take off, we didn't want to add it either. They say the dogs love to run and pull and indeed some seemed to be that way inclined, but others were much less enthusiastic and we really did not like the way they were handled or the conditions in which they were kept. I think a visit from the Canadian equivalent of the ASPCA was long overdue. On the way down Bruce made as many stops as were warranted for photo ops. Unfortunately we never did see any wild life that wanted to be photographed although he did tell us they were out there. It was 4 pm when we returned to the ship so we really didn't have time to make a stop in town which was now up and running (unlike the way it was at 8 am), which was unfortunate as, on our drive through town it looked cute and interesting. Regarding this excursion I had read in a couple of places, that it is best to take the train up and the can down as quite often the trains tend to run late. That could well have been our situation of course, though it turned out that we weren't delayed that much, but on the way back through Fraser, Bruce noted that the train which should have been in the station at that time had not yet arrived! A word to the wise.
The rating says it all. 5+! These gardens are absolutely fabulous and should not be missed. Whatever else you do in Victoria which is a lovely city, you have to get to these gardens.
High Tea at the Empress Hotel
We didn't have High Tea, but we had Afternoon Tea at the Empress. Before we went, I asked on the Boards for some advice as to whether we should do this or the Butchart Gardens since we could not get an excursion to do both. The votes were probably pretty evenly split. However, those who favored the afternoon tea were pretty adamant about it. Now having done both, and I can explain how we eventually managed to do it, I would vote for the gardens. People advised that afternoon tea at the Empress was a once in a lifetime experience and in that regard they were correct -- I will never again in my lifetime pay $160 (tip incl.) for two people for afternoon tea anywhere.But was it worth it -- hell no! Yes it is one of the grand old hotels from the days when the gentry did this sort of thing and there is a degree of ambience there. But no way can this possibly carry a value of $160. The sandwiches, scones, pastries etc. were all typical of what I have had at teas elsewhere for significantly less money. There are many places in Victoria that do this just as well for a lot less, including Butchart Gardens. While we could not get an excursion to do both the gardens and the tea while we were there with the ship, we had planned to rent a car and drive to Vancouver for a few days. We decided to take one of those days and go back to Victoria to see the gardens and we were so happy that we did.