Excellent cruise experiences on this 14 day Alaskan Explorer adventure. With my disabilities there had been some physical and logistic concerns prior to the cruise that were totally alleviated throughout this experience.
My husband is a photographer, and even though it rained 12 of the 14 days he managed to take almost 3, 000 pictures. I have some disabilities and was really fortunate to find very attentive and helpful staff when departing and returning to the ship as well as during the dining experiences in Lido or La Fontaine Dining Room.
The cruise critic group on this cruise gathered in the Crow's Nest at the beginning of the cruise and had a group picture near the conclusion of the cruise, arranged by luvteaching. Special thanks to her for making these arrangements. The cruise captain, cruise director, and manager came to both gatherings and willingly answered our many questions.
As expected the travel was a little rough with high wind and waves in the Pacific between Icy Strait Point and Anchorage, Kodiak and Hubbard Glacier, and between Sitka and Victoria. Fortunately I had learned from cruise critic prior to the trip that Ginger Root 550 mg beginning a few days before the cruise and continuing throughout the cruise would help with gastrointestinal symptoms with lasting potential physical problems from other commonly used over the counter or prescribed medications.
From the Indonesian Crew, Elie, Dwi, and Victor were exceptionally helpful in the dining rooms. All crew staff members that I encountered were friendly, courteous, and accommodating.
Our dining experiences were mostly limited to the Lido for breakfast and lunch and the La Fontaine Dining Room for dinner. We enjoyed the breakfast egg choices, and lunchtime individualized sandwich combinations. The appetizer, soup and salad, entrees and dessert choices in were always interesting. I especially enjoyed the chilled mixed berry and strawberry soups, lobster, salmon and baked Alaska choices.
Since food could not be taken off the ship, we had brought a supply of packaged peanut M & Ms that were a big help from my husband's frequent snack habits.
During the Captain's Welcome and the Mariner's Champagne Brunch we met some very interesting travelers, and had good food. The afternoon teas in the La Fontaine Dining Room provided an opportunity to try a variety of teas and foods.
When possible to attend sessions on the ship with the captain, April, Patti, Jeanette or the cruise director they were found to be interesting as well as informative. I really enjoyed learning to make a box, carve veggies into decorative shapes, use Windows 7, the Introduction to the Cloud and Camera Basics. Two of my favorite experiences were learning about Alaska Natives Culture and history, and playing trivia.
The talented and energetic cast of 8 who sang and danced in the Queen's Longue after dinner were very entertaining. Jeff Tracta's impersonations and inspirational life story were amazing and greatly enjoyed.
Libraries in most of the sites visited had computers with free internet access when time allowed visiting.
Even though it rained 11 or our 14 days, we were prepared by using Camp Dry to prepare hats, coats, slacks, shoes, etc. before the trip. With much of our time in the "rain forest" of Alaska, we expected some rain, but not quite as much as occurred. We were not quite prepared for the very cool temperatures but were able to purchase warm clothing.
Shore excursions are the opportunities that really help one experience and remember their time in Alaska. Prior to this cruise we spent a lot of time carefully considering various options for each port and the following are those we selected for this 14 day trip.
In Ketchikan we selected the Ketchikan Taxi Cab Tour with Kat and Dave and found it very interesting and geared toward whatever the passenger (in this case my photographer husband) was most interested in seeing. We saw many eagles and their nests, visited Potlash Park, Rainbow Falls, as well as a popular fishing camp in the area. We saw many interesting totem poles and had an explanation about totem poles. Price of this tour was $74 per hour for the vehicle which could have held up to 6 people who could have then divided that $74 per hour. We could not locate other travelers who were interested, so had the tour to ourselves and all our questions. The tour was well worth its cost.
In Juneau we took the AAA recommended Mendenhall Glacier Transport LTD for $30. We saw much of the Juneau city and local favorite photographic sites. Then were taken to the Mendenhall Glacier and permitted to stay as long as we wanted and return on any of the Blue Glacier Express buses that depart every Â½ hour. Later that afternoon my husband went on the HAL sponsored Photo Safari by Land and Sea which cost $199.95. He had many photographic opportunities on this tour including the glacier, a brown bear with 2 cubs, whales and eagles and thought that experience worthwhile.
In Icy Strait Point (Hoonah) the tender to shore was no problem with my walker, and help from the crew. We took the Town Shuttle into Hoonah and enjoyed talking to the native driver. Whales were swimming near Hoonah near the road, and an eagle next was in a tree across the street from the school with 2 young eagles that were exercising their wings and a parent that came to feed them while we were watching. We had no prior plan but met a local bear hunter who was parked near the town stop for the shuttle. He was talking to another couple and offered to take us to see bears in his 4-wheel drive vehicle for $40 for 2 hours. He seemed to know and respect almost every bear in the area, knew what foods they preferred and where they usually were found. We saw several bears in their natural setting. This was an excellent experience.
In Anchorage we took the AAA recommended Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center and Alaska Native Heritage Museum tour for $28.95 each, and later took a taxi to Potter Marsh (reported to be an excellent birding location). This was the first sunny day of our trip. The Museums were well worth the cost especially the Native Heritage Museum. On the other hand Potter's Marsh had very few birds during the time or our visit, was near a highway, and skeet shooting range. The mountains were lovely from Potters Marsh, but I would not repeat that long taxi ride for the experience.
In Homer we took the HAL Homer Highlights tour for $79.95 a person. The pier was long and steep , but this was an interesting 4 hour tour with a local guide. The 3 level Pratt museum was very interesting and the staff were accommodating to an individual who could not navigate the stairs between levels. Here we saw a live video from a nearby waterfall where a brown bear was fishing. In real-time we watched as the bear caught and consumed a salmon. We also visited the studio of the accomplished artist, Norman Lowell. His work included water color, acrylic, oil, poetry and other art forms. Many of the scenes he had painted of Alaska were breath taking. While we were in his studio, Normal Lowell circulated among us in his electric wheel chair answering questions about his art.
In Kodiak we took the cruise critic recommend MemoryMakers Tour with Dake and Kadie. Both Kadie and Dake have many talents but especially knowledgeable about photography. My husband loved talking with them about various methods of canvas printing and retail opportunities they use. Dake knows secret places were puffins and eagles nest and frequent. We did not stop at the Baranov Museum but drove by it and other landmarks on the island. We visited Abercrombie State Historical Park and the World War II Military Museum. Here an employee was dressed in a uniform typical of our servicemen in WW II. The young man and his assistants posed for pictures and were willing to demonstrate equipment that may have been used at this primarily munitions location during WW II.
Hubbard Glacier calving as seen from the ship was really interesting. There was no room in the Crow's Nest but I easily watched from a window seat in the Lido.
In Sitka we took the HAL Birds, Bears & Barnacles tour for $59.95 each. We visited the Raptor Rehab Center were eagles and other birds of prey were cared for until about to be returned to their native environment. We saw orphan bears at a special farm that cares for them and other animals, and a marine hatchery and sea animal place. These were all animals in artificial settings, but up close and easy to photograph. This was a very nice though not realistic tour.
From the port in Victoria we took the CVS Shuttle from the Cruise Terminal to the Empress Hotel using an all day pass for $8 a person. We had ordered online the AAA recommended CVS Shuttle tour from the empress Hotel to the Butterfly Gardens and Butchart Gardens for $50 a person. The butterflies were lovely but the hot and humid environment was good to visit for only a brief time. On this beautiful, sunny day and the flowers in Butchart Gardens were a photographers dream to behold and we stayed more than 3 hours. In this tour you can spend as much time as you like and then take the next shuttle from either the butterfly garden or Butchart Gardens back to the Empress Hotel.
I would love to repeat this trip when no longer needing a wheelchair or walker and oxygen at night.
Much time has been spent since the cruise completing claim forms for my camera which disappeared from our US Airways checked baggage with TSA locks directly from Seattle to the Charlotte Airport. The camera battery died and I decided that it was not worth carrying the extra almost 1 lb. load in my backpack. We have had up to 6 pages of froms from each of the following: US Airways, TSA, and the travel insurance. In addition we have had to contact and receive information from our home owners insurance. So far no help. Any suggestions would be appreciated.