End of July, my wife (DW) and I took our 10 year old granddaughter (DGD) to Alaska. The trip had two phases. The first was a cruise on the Island Princess, 7 days sailing from Vancouver to Whittier, with stops in Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway. The second phase was land based, traveling independently by rental car from Whittier up to Denali, then Talkeetna, then over to Matanuska Glacier area on the Glen Hiway, where our son, (her uncle) works as a guide with Mica Guides, Exposure Alaska. This report will cover the cruise portion.
When DGD arrived at our house from her home in Las Vegas, we took her to REI for outfitting, as her wardrobe needed upgrading in order to travel in the places we intended to go. We bought her hiking boots and non-cotton pants and shirts in order to deal with hiking in wet conditions, which normally exist in Alaska. She already had warm clothing, and other layers.
There were several good looking cruises, with Princess and others, but this one fit our short window of time the best. I used a travel agent to book the cruise, and booked the air myself, along with all the other lodging and excursion activities. We did not use any of the ship's excursions.
I have never trusted airlines to get me to a midday embarkation on time, so we flew a day early to Vancouver. We arrived early afternoon and grabbed some lunch at the airport. We saw a Princess representative standing around and got some embarkation information from her. She advised us to not show up at the dock until about 2 in order to miss the crowds. We ignored that.
We took a cab to our hotel (Marriott) in downtown Vancouver and after check-in, wandered their beautiful waterfront area. Looks like a lot of work has been done here. We watched the float planes come and go for a while, talked with some others we met who would be on the cruise, and found a great little ice cream store.
We had dinner at the hotel and had an early evening.
Wed, Embarkation Day. 1 Aug
We checked out of the hotel at the mandated 11 AM, and got a cab for the short ride to the dock. Could have walked, but we had a lot of luggage. There was absolutely no crowd, hardly anyone, but they were ready to board us. All personnel were smiling and happy, and oh so helpful. I had all the docs from pre check in, and the process went very smooth. DGD was delighted with the id card, when I told her this would let you into everything on the ship. We were in our room by noon. She was jumping with glee. We had a veranda, Room B223, starboard side, up near the front of the boat, deck 11.
We explored the boat, and went to the buffet for lunch. She was ecstatic. She loves buffets (she lives in Vegas).
Checked out kids program, "The FunZone," she will be with the "Shockwaves," ages 8 -12. There are two other age groups; 6 to 10, and 13 to 17. Since she is 10, I gave her authority to sign herself in and out (except while in port, when adult has to sign). We got her a neck strap to hold the card; she carried it around her neck constantly.
Our first dinner in main dining room was "smart casual." We had the early seating; 5:30. Two other couples. Luis was our waiter (from Mexico). He was hilarious and DGD loved him from the start. I didn't think she would want to go to the formal dining room often, but it became very important to her to dress up and go to dinner, especially to see Luis and Christina, his assistant.
After dinner, went to "Fun Zone" and signed her up for chef's visit ($25) on wait list, later got a call she was on the list, and would go on Monday. We left her there, and went to the room in case she came back early, perhaps not happy with "FunZone." Not to worry. Turned out she was there constantly, and loved it. She came back about 930pm.
The top sheet of the fold out sofa bed was a bit dirty, so I called for a new one. Didn't get one for about an hour after a couple of calls. Only time Princess service came into question. In all the rest of the cruise, they were fabulous. Our cabin guy didn't do the towel animal thing, but he was very attentive to our room. No complaints there whatsoever.
Thur, Day 1. At sea
DGD sleeps about 10 hours, waking at about 9. Upset cause Shockwave ("FunZone") starts at 9. Dressed quickly, and without breakfast, set out for Fun Zone on her own. After breakfast, DW went to a fruit carving exhibition, and I went to lounge area of Wheelhouse Bar to work on computer. Didn't buy wifi, $60 for 100 minutes, plus fee for emails, and $4 activation fee. Users were telling me it was slow, typical of satellite type service; not unexpected. I knew that phone service would be good at our three stops, so didn't worry about it. We warned DGD's parents the problems of contact, and they were ok with it.
DW runs into DGD as her group were coming back from Chef's tour. Seems some one didn't show up so DGD got to go today, not next Monday. They had on chef's hats and aprons, which they kept. Later we learn they decorated a cake, which we can have tonight for desert if we remember to ask Luis. Finally got together for buffet lunch at about 1230.
After lunch, decided she didn't want to go back to fun zone, so we went to 3 Stooges movie. Funny. DW joined us later in the movie, and even she was laughing. DGD is amazed that we don't have to "pay" for things. Just walk into the buffet, restaurants and movie.
Formal night at dinner tonight. I wear tie, DW and DGD dress in basic black. Had a great dinner, then Luis brought out her cake. It was large, 3 tiered, decorated personally by DGD under the supervision of the pastry chef, with chocolate chips and white chocolate chips, and strawberries. It was beautiful, and we share with the others at the table, and left the rest for Luis.
Returned from dinner about 8, still very light outside, saw a large number of Orca blowing and slapping tails off our side of the boat. Boat made a huge circle to starboard. Most were far away, but a few were surprisingly close. We were all very excited. When one slapped his tail repeatedly, there were lots of oh's and ah's coming from our side of the ship. Lots of us were watching from our balconies.
About 8:30, DGD wants to go back to fun zone for "dance" which starts at 9. Got her formal stuff back on and off she went on her own. Promised to be back by 10. I'm a little nervous, I mean a "dance?" What would her parents say? Not to worry. It was a conga line.
While sometimes we have some "issues" to deal with, she is very excited and loves to be on her own. Seems very comfortable on this ship, and says the bed (sofa bed fold out) is the most comfortable she has slept in. Seems traveling with Grandparents isn't so bad. Tonight will set clocks back 1 hour. Tomorrow up early for Ketchikan.
Friday, Ketchikan Day 2
In port 0630 to 1300. Arose early, then up in the buffet, she was a real little jewel. So pleasant. I have a cough, so stayed on the ship. DGD and DW went to Totem Bight State Park. They took the public bus which stops very near the dock. It was cold and rainy. They headed back to town only after an hour, and walked around cute little Ketchikan. That girl loves shopping, and hit most of the stores. After lunch she headed off to Fun Zone for a game of Liar Liar, whatever that was. She bombed into the room about 4:30, grabbed her bathing suit and was off to see "some friends." What fun.
Tonight we decided to eat at Sabbatinni's, the Italian restaurant. Cost an extra $20 pp ($10 for DGD), and the service was slow, and the food about average. Considered it a mistake to eat there, and DGD ended up a little peeved cause she missed Luis and the dining room. After dinner, she went directly to the FunZone.
Saturday, Juneau, Day 3 Aug 4
At breakfast, one of the waiters thanked her for the cake from the other night that he had shared with Luis. (Word gets around.) We left the ship early, and waited for our driver by shopping in the really nice shops there by the dock. She saw some stuff we said we'd get when we returned.
I had booked Alaska Galore by email (reviewed on trip advisor) for a whale watching trip. They picked us up at the dock, along with the rest of their load for the day, a total of 9 persons. We drove about 20 minutes to Auke Bay, where the whale watchers leave from. Their little boat was very comfortable, with nice inside seats, and good outside viewing room both fore and aft.
Boat ride really good, saw some whales and sealions. Sun shining about mid 50's, very calm sea. Beautiful day, and scenery was really good. Got some good pictures of tails and humpbacks blowing. Tour company dropped us at Mendenhall ($5 fee). We are glad we stopped here.
On a catwalk into the forest, we saw a mama bear and two cubs climbing a tree about 20 yards from us. Also a porcupine sleeping in a different tree. Below, a river was full of sockeye salmon swimming upstream. In the Visitor Center, saw a very interesting 20 minute movie, listened to a ranger talk, and tasted from a chunk of ice 400 years old.
We took the shuttle bus back to the center of town ($8), and did some shopping and got a snack from a street vendor. Then walked back to the dock, and bought those few little things at the large dockside giftshop. A night shirt says "Bearly Awake," and a pair of huge slippers the shape of bear feet.
At dinner, found another couple had joined our table the night before. They got on the ship in Ketchikan. Seems their flight connections got all fouled up, and they missed the debarkation. Got a charter flight to Ketchikan, where they spent the night, then boarded when the ship came in. (That's why I don't fly in to port the day of debarkation.) After dinner, off she went to funzone about 7:30 (we had to sign her in, being still in port).
Bedtime she wore her new "bearly awake" nightgown and was wearing her "bear" feet.
Sunday, Skagway, Day 4
No activities scheduled today, in Skagway, and it is cold, cloudy and raining off and on. Couldn't find any that we thought would hold her, including the train ride up the mountain. Woke after 8. DW an I went up to buffet, she came up a little later with boots on and ready for shore. After breakfast she went off to funzone, we decided to do laundry. Got DGD from funzone before noon, finished laundry 1245. Shuttle to town, Red Onion Saloon for lunch. Had our sandwiches and really good root beer on draught, then left. Went into all the stores, found internet cafe, had some great ice cream sitting on a bench watching the world go by, back on ship 4:30, just as it started to rain. The dining room, dressing up, and Luis and Christina have become very important.
Monday, At sea Glacier Bay, Day 5
Nothing planned today due to "cruising Glacier Bay.' Very foggy, can't see horizon. DGD is off to funzone with many activities planned. About 0930, got close to one of the glaciers. Narration over ships intercom from ranger. View glacier from top of ship, in rain and fog, but can see glacier pretty well, and it calves off several chunks of ice. Later, down below in our room, ship turns so starboard side is to glacier. We can hear it and watch more calving from our veranda protected from elements.
Meantime, DGD has been painting totems and working on beaded key rings. Afternoon, we went to kids talent show, put on by FunZone in the Explorer Lounge.
Sailing away from Glaciers, see hundreds of otters lying on their backs in the seaweed.
Last "formal" dinner was a good one. Luis in fine form. Baked Alaska.
DGD went with a new found friend and family to show in theater singing old songs. Later, won a necklace with auction chips she won playing 21. "What?" Never got a good explanation of that one.
I won some $$ playing 21 myself. Tomorrow, DGD says don't wake her, and ok if we go to buffet without her.
At bedtime, in open ocean, and ship is bouncing a little bit, but nothing serious. Seas are calm. Rain continues. Can't see any shore line. DGD has never once indicated any touch of sea-sicknes.
Tuesday, At sea College Fjord, Day 6
Today "cruising" College fjord, but not til 5 pm, our dinner starts at 5:30pm. DGD in funzone most of day, except for an afternoon appointment at the hairdresser. Yeah, that was a treat for her. DW and I packed, getting ready for debarkation tomorrow. At dinner, Luis was the star attraction. DW and I would sneak away from dinner and see College Fjord for a few minutes between courses. Very beautiful. DGD seems uninterested in glaciers, did not want to leave table.
After dinner, DGD back to funzone, DW and I loitered around on deck looking at the beautiful scenery of College Fjord. Very remindful of Doubtful Sound in New Zealand. College Fjord is indeed a very beautiful and peaceful place. Almost spiritual. It is too bad we were cruising it at the same time as our dinner. If DGD had not been along, we would have stayed out on deck much longer absorbing the beauty, and eaten later at the buffet.
Wednesday, debarkation, Day 7
With great protestations from DGD, got up early and debarked in Whittier on time 0845. Debarkation was incredibly smooth. Whittier was cold and windy and grey. I walked quarter mile to the Avis office (also, hardware, fishing tackle and bait, and some grocery items) and retrieved a Toyota RAV4 and returned to the dock. Loaded the girls and luggage, and proceeded to a hotel/restaurant next to the dock for breakfast. When I booked the car on the internet, Avis system indicated only full sized car was biggest available. But upon arrival, I asked and was pleased to be offered the RAV4, with 4wd. That car served us well for the next 2 weeks up country (which will be reported on the Alaska board of Fodor's forums under the user name BillJ, if you are interested).
I rate the cruise in general very good. Certainly, DGD was really excited most of the time. The kids program seems well organized and keeps kids very active. We were very glad for her to have this activity each day. The dinners were very good, though not quite the quality of some other higher priced lines. But that is to be expected and DGD thought they were "the best." If you haven't figured it out by now, this cruise was all about DGD. We would have had a completely different experience if she had not been along. Not complaining, mind you. The experience was......."priceless," as they say. The buffets were also very good, and the one day desert extravaganza was over the top. We found service in all catagories very good to excellent, and universally friendly and smiling people. All in all, a very good way to see that part of Alaska.