We were on the Sun’s first Alaska cruise this year, a round-trip out of Vancouver. The ship is now doing one-way cruises between Vancouver and Whittier; however, most of the ports are the same.
We decided to take the train from Northern California instead of flying this time, but we won’t be doing that again. The latest connecting bus from our town arrived in Martinez at 6:30 p.m. Friday, and the train was late so we didn’t get on it until after midnight. The service ranged from pretty good (roomette attendant) to downright surly (dining room staff). We arrived in Seattle at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and had enough time before boarding the connecting bus to Vancouver to walk around the beautifully renovated King Street Station.
We boarded the Amtrak bus to Vancouver at 9:30 p.m., and spent over an hour at the Canadian border because one of the passengers did not have the proper documentation to re-enter Canada. Because of this, we arrived in Vancouver around 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning to a closed station, no taxis, and pouring rain. We finally flagged down a cab a block from the station. He insisted we pay an extra $10 “cargo fee” because he said we had too much luggage. To top it off, he had no idea where our hotel was! But, we were finally in Vancouver.
We stayed two nights at the Blue Horizon Hotel on Robson Street, and I highly recommend this hotel and its location. The following morning we walked to Scoozis (a favorite of ours), located a block south of Canada Place, for brunch. Afterwards we walked around Canada Place to see the three ships that were there that day. We then took the SeaBus to North Vancouver so we could take photos of Vancouver from across the Burrard Inlet. After returning to Vancouver, we met a friend of ours for dinner at Cardero’s (great food, a fun vibe and a great location on the Seawall).
The morning of the cruise, we ate breakfast at the hotel and took a cab to Canada Place around 11:30 a.m. There weren’t many people in line when we arrived, and the line consisted of both Princess and Norwegian cruisers, who all went through the scanner and U.S. Customs together. Once we passed through the Customs area, we were directed to separate rooms for checking in. We were in a suite, and check-in was a breeze. We waited until a couple of other suite couples arrived, and we were then walked aboard the ship and taken directly to Il Adagio for lunch as our cabins weren’t quite ready. Just inside the restaurant, I realized that one of the couples was a member of our Cruise Critic roll call. We sat together in one of the big banquettes and got acquainted. Afterwards, we walked ourselves to our cabins, as we knew where they were -- opposite sides of the ship at the aft on Deck 9. We were in 9076, an SE Penthouse Suite.
We stayed on our balcony for sailaway, since it was raining. And, because it was raining, there was no outside sailaway barbeque. We ate dinner at Four Seasons, and dinner was perfectly prepared and looked wonderful. Things were looking good. Afterwards, we attended the first-night show to find out about the entertainment during the week.
Our Meet and Greet was held in Las Ramblas on the second day of the cruise, and many of the Command Staff were present, including the incredible Captain Tommy Stensrud; Hotel Director Steven Jacobsen; and Food and Beverage Director Ludwig Lozano. Also attending were the Executive Chef, Restaurant Manager, Executive Housekeeper, Cruise Director, Guest Services Manager, Beverage Manager and Group Service Coordinator. All of them spoke to us. After the Meet and Greet, we held a cabin crawl, and we were able to see almost all levels of cabins aboard. The Latitudes cocktail party was also held that first sea day and was very well attended. These cocktail parties are starting to seem like an excuse for a sales pitch.
Our first port was Juneau, where it was overcast when we docked at 2:00 p.m. We had a good laugh at the prior night’s Freestyle Daily that had predicted it would be 29 degrees when we arrived. I think it was in the 40s, and it may have been even warmer than that. There were four ships in port, and the Sun was assigned the AJ Dock, which is farthest from town. There was bus transit available to take cruisers into town. We had booked an excursion through the cruise line called “Photo Safari by Land and Sea,” offered by Gastineau Guiding. Fourteen of us boarded a small van, where we met our guide, David, who is a professional photographer in Juneau. Along the way, David gave us a PowerPoint presentation about the best way to film wildlife and glaciers. We then boarded what appeared to be a brand new boat with windows that opened and padding that could be folded over the window ledges so we could hang out of the windows to take photos. We didn’t see any whales breach, but we did see several whales’ backs as they moved through the water. We saw sea lions lounging on a buoy and a couple more playing in the water around it.
We then re-boarded the van for a short ride to a trailhead that led to Mendenhall Glacier. We walked along an easy trail surrounded by luscious forest and streams and were treated to a porcupine up in a tree. At the end of the trail the Glacier appeared. By then it was fairly late in the afternoon, so it was hard to get optimal shots of the Glacier. We really enjoyed this excursion, and I think everyone learned something and got some great photos.
The second port was Skagway, and it was again overcast when we docked around 7:00 a.m. The Freestyle Daily said it would be 43 degrees. We had booked a round-trip van ride to the Yukon Territory with Dyea Dave, and by the time we left Skagway, the skies were clearing. Our guide was a young woman who had been leading excursions for a number of years, first in Costa Rica and then in Skagway, where she had met her husband while leading excursions there one summer. There was only one other couple on the excursion, and they were cruising on the Golden Princess, which was in port with us. We traveled north to Carcross, making numerous stops to photograph the mountains, the snow, which covered almost everything, and the icy lakes.
In Carcross we had lunch at a little café called Chilkoot Trail. Afterward, we continued north to Emerald Lake. Emerald Lake was almost completely frozen over, so its brilliant turquoise/green color was muted.
We returned to Skagway the same route we went up. We chose the round-trip van because we had done the White Pass Railroad the prior year and felt we had seen much more on the van portion.
On our fourth cruise day we visited Glacier Bay. Last year we saw the Hubbard Glacier, which is much larger than the Marjorie Glacier, which we visited this year. However, the cruise into Glacier Bay was far prettier than the short cruise up to the Hubbard Glacier. Unfortunately, the weather was pretty gloomy, and most photos did not turn out that well. We spent most of the time on our balcony, and the Captain turned the ship twice so that everyone could have a great view. The sounds of the Glacier calving was awesome. We really enjoyed hearing the naturalist speak while we were in Glacier Bay; we tuned the TV to the ship channel so we could hear her speak about what we were seeing. The weather, according to the Freestyle Daily, was 43 degrees.
Our last port stop was Ketchikan (weather was 50 degrees), and we had booked a cruise-sponsored catamaran cruise into the Misty Fjords (“Misty Fjords and Wilderness Explorer,” offered by Major Marine). And Misty it was! The day was very overcast, and it was actually raining much of the time we were in the Fjords. Many of our photos have big raindrops all over them, but we also got plenty of wonderful photos of this amazing area. The little catamaran was very comfortable, with two inside areas and an outside upper deck that got quite busy even with the rain. Chili or chowder was served for lunch; we can testify that the chili was very good!
The last day we spent mostly outside on our balcony taking in the magnificent scenery of Canada’s Inside Passage. The weather was supposed to be 48 degrees, but on our aft balcony in the afternoon, it was much warmer than that.
Disembarkation was a snap because we were in a suite. Monica, our concierge, was available in the Windjammer all morning to accompany people off the ship, and there were three exits available on Deck 6 for everyone. Once in the terminal, the only thing we had to do was hand someone our completed Canadian Customs form. We didn’t even have to show passports.
We stored our luggage at Canada Place (far left side of the terminal on the floor where you pick up your luggage) for the day and walked along the Sea Wall to Cardero’s to meet a local friend. We walked from there south across the West End to English Beach, then back to the Granville Bridge, where we caught a mini-ferry to Granville Island. We had lunch at the Public Market at a very popular fish and chips stand. After walking around, we crossed False Creek again by mini-ferry and walked along Howe Street all the way back to Canada Place to pick up our luggage.
We took the evening Cascades train down to Seattle and spent the night at the Roosevelt Hotel (we had stayed there before and loved it again). We took a short walk in the morning and had breakfast in the lobby of a large office building. We then walked downhill to Pike’s Place Market before heading back to the hotel. We retrieved our luggage and walked a block and a half to the Downtown Light Rail station and took the train to the airport.
Crew: The Sun’s crew is first class all the way, from the top down. Captain Tommy Stensrud is the most visible and approachable captain I have ever seen. He addressed our Meet and Greet group, he was at the Suites gathering, and he was at the Platinum/Gold Latitudes wine and cheese event. He was the last officer to leave that event, walking around the Observation Lounge, talking with everyone. His announcements were very informative, and I looked forward to hearing him each day. We went on the Platinum Latitude’s ship’s tour (Ketchikan day) with Paloma, the Future Cruise Consultant. Captain Stensrud was on the Bridge when we arrived, and he spent over 30 minutes talking to us and showing us all around the Bridge. We also visited the galley during the tour, and Edwin Saldana, the Executive Chef, spent a long time speaking with us and showing us all around.
The Sun’s Hotel Director, Steven Jacobsen, was also at the Meet and Greet, the Suites gathering and the Platinum/Gold Latitudes event, and we saw him everywhere on the ship. What impressed me most about him occurred on the night we were in port in Ketchikan. Everyone seemed to return to the ship at the same time, all hungry. The line at Four Seasons was long but moving very swiftly. Steven Jacobsen was one of the reasons why – he was seating diners! The Food and Beverage Director, Ludwig Lozano, was also assisting that night. To me this is the epitome of an excellent boss, and it is no wonder that the Sun’s staff is so great. Our Butler, Theresa, was also fantastic. She always took time to talk with us, and she just never stopped smiling. Our Concierge was Monica, and we spoke with her at breakfast and lunch each day in Il Adagio. She made all our dinner reservations and helped us with priority disembarkation at each port (another of those wonderful suite amenities). Cruise Director on the Sun is Richard Matic, a bundle of energy. He was everywhere on the ship and never failed to stop and talk, and his jokes are very, very funny.
The crew finale was the night prior to the final night of the cruise. I have always enjoyed seeing so many of the staff parade down the aisles of the theater and onto the stage to sing to us. This time they did something new, and touching. As we exited the theater, the crew was lined up against the walls of the exits on both Decks 6 and 7, clapping for the cruisers. Wow!
Food: We never had a bad meal. In fact, they were all excellent—perfectly prepared, at the right temperature, and they always looked great. We ate at LeBistro (both of us had steaks); Moderno Churascarria (we ate almost everything brought by our table; pace yourself and do not fill up before the roasted pineapple arrives). We ate twice at Four Seasons (service was perfect, as was the food). We ate at Il Adagio for breakfast and lunch most days (one of the best of the suite amenities) and had dinner there one night. We also had perfectly prepared petite fillets from the Steakhouse served in our cabin by Theresa, our butler on the last night of the cruise. My husband enjoyed a couple of pre-dinner dinners in the Buffet, and we visited the ice cream man often. We never made it to the crepe station because of all the wonderful desserts we had with our dinners. The one time we thought about getting them, there were so many people in line that we decided not to wait.
Entertainment: The Shark Bait presentation on the first night was hilarious, and we looked forward to their show. As it turned out, we enjoyed their presentation the first evening more than the full show. We were told that they were retiring from the cruise line performance business following that show and going on land. The only other shows we saw during the week were the acrobat couple (formerly Cirque performers), and they were terrific, and the production show “Encore!” I’m not sure whether this was a Jean Ann Ryan Company production, but it was definitely top notch. I was impressed. We had wanted to see all the production shows, but one night our bed was calling our names, and on the last night, we were still enjoying Canada’s Inside Passage and eating dinner from the Steakhouse in our cabin.
Ship: The last time we were on the Sun was immediately before a renovation, and this time we followed a recent renovation. The ship sparkles everywhere. All carpets looked brand new as did the furniture. Wood everywhere in the ship looked freshly varnished. The furniture in the cabins had been replaced since we were on her last and the beds upgraded (oh, those Bliss beds).
What we wore: Off the ship we both wore LL Bean 3-in-1 waterproof jackets with a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt underneath, and they were perfect everywhere. We also wore low hiking boots everywhere off the ship. I was never cold enough for a jacket or sweater while on the ship. It appeared to me that most people changed for dinner on this cruise. We rarely saw jeans worn at night, and many people were dressed very nicely. For the two dress-up (or not) nights (now called “Norwegians Night Out”), my husband wore long-sleeved shirts with ties, and I wore long slinky pants and fancy tops.
As I mentioned at the outset, this was our favorite cruise, partly due to the itinerary (Vancouver to Vancouver) but mostly due to the absolutely unbelievable crew, from the Captain on down to the crew members everywhere we went who never failed to say “Good morning” or “Good evening.” I want to go back again!