This was my second time to Alaska but the first time doing a Land Tour. My friend Jan had never been to Alaska before and wanted to see everything. We booked this DIY land/cruise tour in July, 2012 for May, 2013 and decided to fly info Anchorage a day early on Wednesday to maximize our time. Our TA chose Alaska Airlines because it flew directly into Anchorage from Chicago-O'Hare. Unfortunately it did not have a direct flight from Vancouver. More on that later. At our gate we met 3 ladies from Philly who were all retired teachers and were on the same tour as us. They had booked the extra day with Princess so had a Princess transfer waiting for them. We ran into them several times on land and the ship.
Arrived on time about 1:00 PM in Anchorage on Alaska time which was 3 hours behind Chicago. Lucky for us, it wasn't so late that we felt we had wasted the day. Caught a cab ($22 including tip) to the Captain Cook Hotel where our room was ready for us. Because we had booked this extra day independent from Princess we were informed that we had to re-check in the next morning to start our Princess tour package. Our "meal" options on the plane had been a selection of snack boxes which we skipped in favor of our own food.
Given a map of Anchorage at the front desk, we explored our options for late lunch/early dinner. The Glacier Brewhouse was a mere block from the hotel (depending which door you exited). The menu had several good choices. We were prepared for the prices and the food was good too! The ladies from Philly were in there also taking their time as their rooms hadn't been ready yet. Jan and I started wandering down the street to check the out different stores before we retired back to our room which had a great view of the Chugach mountains. I forgot to take a picture of them and was sorry as the next 2 mornings were overcast. We were settled in for the night after trying to decide if 9:30 was too early to go to sleep! But with a 4 AM alarm that day, exhaustion won out and we slept in pretty well to the next morning.
On Thursday, after checking our map for breakfast options, we elected to try the Snow City Cafe which was 2 blocks from the hotel. A great breakfast place but we never had a chance to check it out for lunch also. It was much colder with intermittent rain that day and we ran back to the hotel to grab our umbrellas. First on the agenda was the Anchorage City Trolley Tour. It was $20 and worth every cent. Our driver was a teacher and she was a natural story teller and guide. She started with the 1964 earthquake and the changes that affected the downtown and surrounding areas.
The Captain Cook was a perfect location as it was central to the downtown area and convenient to everything we wanted to see. The hotel had a vintage feel but with all modern amenities. It was a lovely property. We didn't book any excursions for that day as we weren't sure if we would have a travel delay. Took our time and checked out the local shops. I did not want anything made in China! The Anchorage Museum was a close walk so we spent a few hours in there being educated about the area. Asked a local man to recommend a place for a late lunch and he suggested the F Avenue pub and grill which was just down the street from the trolley. Excellent food in a casual atmosphere.
When we returned to the Captain Cook we "checked out" of our room and paid for the night $160+tax. The desk clerk asked how I had gotten this rate and I told her our TA had reserved it for us. She told me that summer rates had started on 5/13 and the rate should have been $260/night! Checked back in for the start of our Princess Tour. There was a desk set up in another area of the hotel for the Princess Tour passengers so we checked in with them and picked up our packet for the next day. There were luggage tags and instructions for our transfer to McKinley Lodge the next day. Our bus was #3. The tags were designated as "Join me on board ship" and "Join me Tonight". There was also one with MPL on it for McKinley Princess. I knew about this from cruise critic and Jan and I were prepared with 1 bag packed for each destination.
Decided about 7 PM to go for dinner and we picked Sack's. Unfortunately, we found out we were still full from lunch. Sack's was a fine dining place and the menu looked scrumptious but alas, we settled for soup and an appetizer. I actually filled up on the soup and just picked at the baked brie. Took it with me for a snack on the bus the next day.
Luggage had to be ready at 6:30 AM on Friday for pickup so it was another early alarm. Thought we would check out the hotel restaurant for breakfast. Turned out to be a great choice as we were seated immediately. About 20 minutes later the place was full and we could see a long line of people waiting. Went back up to the room for some last minute clean up and since our bags were still there, we could put our toiletries in the case for McKinley lodge. The instructions were to meet in the lobby at 7:45 so we strolled down there at 7:40 to find the place packed and a lady calling for bus M-3. We weren't sure this was us and said something to some people who said they were looking for us and our bus was ready to leave! Needless to say, we hustled outside and announced our arrival. As the last ones on board they were ready to depart immediately.
Our arrival at McKinley Princess Lodge was scheduled for noon. There were no stops. Our driver was also our guide and he kept up a nice patter of information on everything we passed. The weather had turned colder and it was rain mixed with snow when we arrived. An envelope with our room info and our transfer materials for the next day was handed to us as we exited the bus.
We were in building #2, Room 110 which was close to the lodge. There was a shuttle for the more distant buildings and people with ambulatory issues. I was astonished at the slush on the stairs as the roads were clear. We stayed only long enough to dump our stuff and went back to the lodge for lunch. Jan and I had originally wanted to schedule a flight-seeing tour at this location but changed our minds when we found out the cost. It turned out all flights were cancelled due to weather.
On the whole land portion of this trip, we did not see one deciduous tree with leaves. The news was telling us this was the longest snow season in history and we were in it. When I had done the cruise in 2003, we had temps from 50-70's with sunny skies the whole week. I guess I was hoping for the same thing but Jan had brought her down coat and boots. I did make use of my silk long underwear and the wonderful heavy sweatshirt with hood my daughter had given to me for Mother's Day. I glad I had brought along gloves and earmuffs too. The Lodge had several racks of lightweight parkas with a fleece lining for sale in the gift shop and they sold out several times! Jan bought one since she didn't have a lighter jacket with her. We saw those parkas on people throughout the entire trip.
We ate lunch in one of the lodge restaurants and were not impressed with the menu or the food. I should mention that this was only the second week the lodge was open and they seemed to be having some trouble with their Coke dispenser. I kept getting my Diet Coke flat without the bubbles. The servers were all college students who had mostly just arrived the week before from all over the USA, mostly Florida, Hawaii and Arizona! They all said they had never seen snow and wanted a summer away from the heat at home. All were personable and did a good job.
Jan wanted to see Talkeetna so we found the shuttle for the hour ride into town. The shuttle ran every hour from the same location. Outside was still a rain/snow mix and I had packed my umbrella in my suitcase. Luckily, my raincoat had a hood and I was dressed warm enough with my earmuffs and gloves. To say Talkeetna was a disappointment is an understatement. I was picturing a quaint little town with wooden sidewalks and was shocked to find a bunch of run-down log cabins with a mostly motley collection of souvenirs. One shop had some quality items. The best was the cafe were we had hot chocolate and homemade cookies. Their menu looked really good and our bus driver said that a lot of the staff from the lodge ate there frequently. Had we known, we could have skipped the mediocre and pricey lunch at the lodge. We were definitely back on the bus for the next shuttle.
Back at the lodge, we went downstairs for the Ranger's talk on bears which was very interesting. The weather was still miserable so we were not able to enjoy the beautiful deck and mountain view. Went back to our room to find the luggage waiting for us. Cleaned up a bit and decided that dinner was a good option at this point so headed back to the Lodge. Another so-so dinner and we went back to the room to prepare for another early morning call to put our bags out for the transfer to Denali Princess Lodge.
Breakfast on Saturday morning was quite bad. My scrambled eggs were dried out and cold. I ate the biscuit and bacon with my tea and figured just accept it since I am not one to make a fuss. But the restaurant manager happened by and asked if everything was ok so I told him I was unhappy with my food. He wanted to replace the meal but we had to meet our bus. He comped my meal and apologized. I did tip the server since it wasn't his fault and we left with a better feeling about the place.
This next part of our trip was by train. We had to be in the lodge by 9:15 to board the bus for a 9:30 departure which we almost missed again! (Foolish us, we expected someone to announce it.) Since 9:30 came and went, I thought something was off so I went up to the desk and asked about it. The young lady looked panicked and called the driver on her device so they could come back for us. As it happened, they were still waiting since there were supposed to be 24 of us and some were missing. As we ran out, we told the Princess rep who was boarding people that we expected some kind of announcement. She went into the lodge and called out the info about the bus to Talkeetna depot and picked up another couple who was also waiting.
Finally we were off on a sunny day back to Talkeetna Depot and were surprised by all the new snow that we saw. The train wasn't due for about 1/2 hour so we stayed on the bus as it was quite chilly outside. The Alaska Railroad train arrived pulling cars for Holland America, Royal Caribbean and Princess. I wasn't prepared for the train seating arrangement. The dining car was on the first level and the passengers sat upstairs sharing a table for four. I was expecting standard seating next to the panoramic windows. Jan and I were seated with a couple from Florida who were also going to be on the ship. We had a great time visiting with them and went down to lunch together so the time passed quickly.
Arriving at Denali there were the requisite large coaches waiting for us. It was a short ride to the Denali Wilderness Lodge where we found bedlam in the lobby. Because of the cold weather, the pipes in the original lodge which was now Building A were frozen and a large number of people had to be moved. Our room info was given to us on the train so we knew our room number in building J. It was pretty cold to wander about and the last thing I wanted to do was shop but Jan wanted to check out the area.
We had reserved the 8 PM dinner show for Music of Denali. The building was directly kitty-corner from ours so it was definitely a short walk. Since we had 4 hours until then, we elected to have a light snack at the Base Camp Bistro which was open for late lunch and dinner only. My train lunch had been light so I was ready for something else. The place was packed but service was good and so was the food. Back to the room and we had turned up the heat as far as it would go since the place was really cold. It didn't help that the room opened directly to the outside like an old-fashioned motel. (At the McKinley lodge which is newer, the buildings had a central, heated corridor for the rooms. This also made it more secure, a plus for two ladies traveling alone.)
Strolled across the lane to the "theater". I think this cost us $89 each. Your servers are the actors. I would never recommend this activity to anyone. The show was beyond corny and the food just average. Giving the actors their due, they put their hearts into it but nothing could save this show. I could write a better show. There was plenty of food and it was served family style. If you wanted more of anything, they brought it out. The menu consisted of salad, very tender BBQ brisket, creamed salmon, garlic mashed potatoes and succotash. Dessert was a fruit cobbler.
Leaving the theater we were surprised by how light it was outside. I had made sure I dressed much warmer for this day since I didn't know when the luggage would arrive. A smart move on my part since it was 10:45 PM before the bags finally made it. No idea what held them up but the front desk was deluged with complaints. We wanted to go to bed but had to wait for the luggage with our nightclothes. Since we didn't have to be up at 5 AM, we finally crashed about 11:30 and had to pull the drapes to shut out the light.
Got up Sunday morning and went for breakfast at the Salmon Bake restaurant. I finally tried the reindeer sausage This was quite good with a great view. We were already comparing the difference in food quality to McKinley Lodge. It was another sunny, cold day with a brilliant blue sky. We had booked the Husky Homestead Tour through Princess and the bus for that was about 9:45 AM. It took about 15 minutes to get to the dog farm on their bus. This was the establishment of Jeff King who has won the Iditarod race 7 times. First off, we got to hold the puppies! Took lots of pictures and then the talk started. Jeff was very informative and down to earth. He is obviously devoted to his dogs and they to him. We were surprised that the dogs did not look like the usual Siberian Huskies that they always show on TV. All are bred for different traits and are quite lean. It was a great tour and I highly recommend it.
Back to the Lodge for a light lunch before our Tundra Wilderness Tour at 1:30. I had booked this through reservedenali.com as the Princess tours were sold out. Originally we were told we had to walk to the McKinley Chalet resort up the road at 5:30 AM to be picked up for the tour. This had caused some anxiety in us as we had no idea where or how far away it was. Checking all my info before we left, I realized I had booked it for the wrong date! Called them and they were very accommodating to change it for me and we ended up with the 1:30 time on 5/19. The website advised that they would pick us up at the Lodge. One bad piece of info was that we had to go into the park to the Wilderness Center to pick up our tickets the day before. Since Princess had a free shuttle, we thought we could do this. I had mentioned this on the train and a lady sitting near us overheard me and said that she had also booked this tour and was told the tickets would be at the tour desk at the lodge. Sure enough, that is exactly what happened. Another problem worked out in our favor!
The TWT was scheduled for 5 hours. Our driver/guide Jen was very good and only one of several people who we met who lived in basic cabins for the summer just to spend the season in Alaska. It was quite enlightening. Since the weather was outstanding with sunshine and bright blue sky we anticipated seeing Mt. McKinley. Alas, the only clouds we saw were covering the mountain. We saw some wildlife but mostly it was boring. Some people would say we didn't go far enough into the park but we were limited by the snowfall and the fact the roads still weren't fully cleared. But our guide informed us of the number of moose, caribou, wolves and bears in the park and they are quite small for the amount of territory. It is so barren that there just isn't a lot of food available to support large herds. It was our last night in Denali and we decided to get pizza and salad for dinner at the Lynx Creek Pizza restaurant at the Lodge. It was time to pack the bags and have them out for 7 AM pickup.
It was a clear, sunny Monday and the temps were up to the 50's. The Salmon Bake was our choice for breakfast which we again enjoyed with the spectacular view. We went up to the lodge to wait for our bus for the 8 hour drive to Whittier and the ship. We were once again on bus #3 with a very good driver/guide.
On the road our driver pointed out that you could see Mt. McKinley very well. Sure enough, we were able to see both peaks clearly. Finally I was able to get some great pictures even if we were moving. The driver apologized that he could not safely pull over so we could get some pictures. We did have a rest stop where we could see the North Peak clearly. The park tour had informed us that only 30% of people see some of the mountain and only 10% actually see both peaks. We were batting 1.000.
A one hour lunch stop in Anchorage gave us the opportunity to try Humpy's. As much publicity as this place gets I expected a lot more. Half the menu was mostly salmon (as was every other restaurant we tried) and we had a salad which was tasteless. This was a glorified tavern and not worth the stop. The Glacier Brewhouse was 100% better. We made it to Whittier and went through the famous tunnel to emerge and see our ship! Walked into the terminal and got into line which moved quickly to check in at 5 PM.
I told Jan that I felt we were finally on vacation! I didn't realize how much I disliked moving from place to place every day and living out of a suitcase. Deciding to do the land tour first was the best idea we had. I felt like I took a big breath when I got onboard the Island Princess.
Our room was E-726, near the aft elevators with a nice sized balcony. There were 2 reclining loungers, 2 regular chairs and a nice size table. It was still the new, uncomfortable furniture but better than what we had on the Grand last year. Our luggage was outside the room when we arrived so we unpacked quickly. Our big bags, which we last saw in Anchorage, were there to Jan's relief. She was worried that they would not make it. I was glad to see that my bottle of wine which I had double-wrapped in bubble wrap and 2 plastic bags had survived the trip. There was a message on our phone from someone (couldn't make it out) about a bottle of liquid in my suitcase and please come down to deck 4 about it. Well, since my bag was delivered, I couldn't understand why they considered this a problem. But, I schlepped the wine, still all wrapped up downstairs to Security where they said ok and marked it off on a list.
Jan wanted to do the Scavenger Hunt again so we set off to visit the different areas on the ship. I was pleased to see that the Island was identical to the Coral in layout and decor. This is such a nice ship with a good passenger to space ratio. The decor is pleasing and comfortable. I had forgotten how long it was!
Stopped in Sabatini's to get our cards stamped and to make a reservation for Wednesday dinner. We could have eaten there that night as the place was empty but I wanted to be more relaxed so we could enjoy it. Jan was a bit hesitant to do this but I wanted it to be my treat. Last year we had booked a bungalow on Princess Cays and she was talked into purchasing the special lunch without realizing the BBQ was included.
Talking about food was making us hungry since it was now over 6 hours since our salads in Anchorage. We had Anytime Dining which had worked pretty well the last year. I have never walked into the MDR wearing jeans but figured it might be ok since people were still boarding. No problem at all. The dining room was not very busy as they offered us a table for 2 but we asked to join a group. I knew Prime Rib was on the menu and wanted to get a non-salmon meal after 5 previous days of it.
Met some nice people and while we were chatting, I looked out the window and saw the train disembarking passengers. These were the same people who had left Denali when we did and they were just arriving! It seems there was a danger of avalanches and the train could only travel at 35 mph. Our bus trip was about 7-8 hrs and this was 10.5 hours. It was now only 1/2 hour until the Safety Drill and one couple at our table left without dessert so they could be on time. We figured we could sneak it in under the wire and lo and behold, an announcement was made that the Safety Drill and Sailing were to be postponed due to the late arrival of the last passengers. So we had our dessert and the drill too.
Off to the first show, a taste of singers and dancers and the comedian. After that we realized we were sailing and the casino was open for business. Jan tried some slots and I sat down to chase my money playing 3 card Poker. Neither lasted very long and we decided to call it a day. For the first time, we could sleep in without any plans for the next day. It was heaven!
Tuesday was cruising the Hubbard glacier and lots of activities around the ship. After breakfast we tried our luck at Bingo and I won the first pot for $100 which I had to split. (Little did I know that was the last money I would win while gambling.) We spent some time on our balcony admiring the scenery and then went down for the Naturalist's talk on Glacier Bay. The theater was packed but seats kept opening up as he wasn't a very dynamic speaker. I heard a few snores around me and we left early to play Bingo again.
Back in our room, we started watching a movie and fell asleep. Awakened by someone knocking on the door, it was our cabin steward looking to make up the room for the evening! We had a good laugh about this and got ready for formal night. This was our night to eat in Sabatini's and it was money well spent. Jan was a little skittish thinking perhaps she would not like the menu since she is very picky. However, every course was delicious. Jan had the chicken and I opted for the lobster trilogy. What a nice surprise as the lobster was a perfect size and delicious. The only thing I didn't like was their version of a Napoleon for dessert. The creme brÃ»lÃ©e was in a large shot glass and Jan said it was perfect.
Dinner was about an hour and we had time to make the late show "Shall We Dance?" which was very good. After that we headed to the Universe Lounge for the comedian who was pretty funny. Can't remember his name. I really should bring my Princess Patters home with me so I can reference them for these reviews! Off to the Casino again for some "fun" and crashed around midnight.
Wednesday was cruising Glacier Bay. The only things in the Patter where the times we were arriving at different glaciers. The Naturalist was on the bow cam station and he discussed what we were seeing. Our cabin on the port side was really perfect for this trip. We had breakfast in the MDR that morning for a change of pace. Much more civilized than the buffet but I do like to graze the choices. They didn't have Jan's favorite chocolate croissants so we actually headed up to the Horizon Court in search of them. Alas, they did not make an appearance until Sunday.
That afternoon we stood on our balcony as we came up to Margerie (the blue one) glacier right off our port (cabin) side. Weather was sunny and no breeze so we were comfortable being out there, albeit in heavy clothing. But no need for gloves or earmuffs this time. Saw some "calving" but no Titanic-proportion icebergs out there. Just a lot of small ice pieces breaking away with lots of noise that sounded like thunder. The glacier was actually very noisy with pops and cracks. I was glad that I could get some of this on video.
Before we left, my SIL had recommended getting bigger memory card for my camera. I went to the local camera store and the clerk informed me that I had room for 800 photos or 23 minutes of video. That seemed like a huge amount of space so I decided against upgrading. I was sorry later when we went on our 2 amazing excursions that I will discuss later.
After the Captain started turning the ship around so everyone could see both glaciers, Jan and I went upstairs and out on the deck in the sunshine to continue viewing the glorious scenery. As we walked throughout the ship, we were amazed at how much viewing space there was inside with huge windows. Outside, we joined several people on Deck 10 forward to share the experience. Everyone agreed that this was what we had come to see. It is quintessential Alaska. I had cruised the inside passage 10 years previously but had not seen Glacier Bay. Now I saw what I had missed. Do not take this cruise unless Glacier Bay is on the itinerary. We left Glacier Bay to head to Skagway, our first port.
There wasn't much to do around the ship so Jan & I headed back to our room to watch a movie and fell asleep to be awakened by our cabin steward knocking on the door! By the time we cleaned up and went down to dinner it was almost 8 PM. No problem getting seated for dinner with another group of new friends. It did not feel that late as there was still quite a bit of daylight. Saw the late show "On the Bayou" in the Universe Lounge. They did this show at least 4 times that night and we were so glad we saw it. This has to be the best show I have ever seen on my 11 cruises. If you have the chance to see it, don't miss it. A visit to the casino to chase our money and off to bed.
Thursday was our first stop at Skagway. We had booked the breakfast/tour to the Red Onion "Brothel" and the Canadian suspension bridge. This was the only tour we booked through Princess and we were told to bring our passports. It was quite chilly and a bit damp on the pier where the mountains shaded the area. The Golden Princess was docked in front of us and there was controlled bedlam as all the tour buses arrived. Finally all boarded for the short ride into town where the sun was shining for another glorious day.
First stop, the Red Onion for breakfast and a tour of the "facility". Our hostess was the "Madam", Lacy Knickers. Awaiting us were a choice of beverages: Mimosa, Bloody Mary, plain orange juice, coffee or water. The Bloody Mary was our selection and it was very mild. (Good thing or I would have slept through the rest of the tour!) Lacy and another madam gave a short history of the place and the "workers". Breakfast was served with scrambled eggs, bacon, biscuit and sausage gravy on the side. It was pretty good. A walk upstairs to view the remains of the cribs and the madam's bedroom. Tips were accepted graciously even if you didn't want to place it in Lacy's cleavage. The ladies were very agreeable to pose for pictures.
Back on the bus with our driver who was a young woman (can't remember her name.) who was an Nome, Alaska native who "came South" to Skagway for the season to make money for college. We hit the Alaska highway and headed up to the Continental Divide and Canada. On the way, the driver suddenly slowed down and yelled out "Bears ahead!" Sure enough, there was a black bear momma and her two cubs in the middle of the road. Hearing the bus, they started moving quickly so we had to be fast to get some pictures. At no time was it suggested we get off the bus. On the land tour we had heard over and over about not getting near bears and especially cubs. Safety was paramount.
We had to go through Canadian Customs to enter Canada and a trooper boarded the bus while everyone held up their passports. Arriving at the suspension bridge there was a person there who would stamp our passports for us with a stamp that said "Yukon Suspension Bridge. The area was set up to show the history of gold mining and how it was done. Crossing the bridge we found a facsimile trapper's cabin which was quite compact. There was the usual opportunity to purchase trinkets and snacks then back on the bus for our hour trip back to Skagway.
On the way, our road paralleled the train tracks for the White Pass Railway. Talking to people who had taken this tour we found that they thought it was pretty boring. Our tour took in all the same scenery and was much more interesting. We were dropped in downtown Skagway near the main drag. I had a spa appointment @ 3PM so I wanted to expedite the souvenir shopping time.
Jan & I were in the Christmas shop checking out Made in Alaska ornaments when I heard someone say "OMG!" Turned around to see a former classmate of ours. Cathy had attended one semester of nursing school and we had lost touch with her for 40 years. She had found another of our former classmates on Facebook and re-connected with her in Florida. We saw her at one of our reunions about 5 years ago and had been Facebook friends ever since. Never knew that she was not only was in Alaska but also on the Island Princess with her hubby. We made plans to meet for dinner.
Off to my spa appointment of facial, full body massage, and foot massage. It was a special for people who purchased a Princess excursion. It was Heaven! I was so relaxed at the end the only thing that could have made it more perfect is if they could roll me out of there and dump me in my bed. But we had to meet Cathy & Dick @ 5:30 so more rest was not possible. Good thing as we probably would have fallen asleep again!
Back to the Bordeaux dining room and received a table for 4 and it was Italian night. We had a great time catching up with Cathy & Dick and enjoyed a good dinner at the same time. We wanted to see the show and they were headed elsewhere so we planned to dine together one more time and share some wine. I think this was the night they had the Rock and Roll trivia and dance party which was well attended and a lot of fun.
At this time, I want to comment on the cruise food. Last year, I was disappointed in the quality of the entrees and the sides served, especially the tiny "lobster" and shrimp combo. This year the lobster was actually a lobster and not a prawn. I did try the pasta special as an appetizer a few times and enjoyed it. The sides are still the cheapest veggies you can buy, i.e.; corn and zucchini.
Friday was Juneau and our whale watching trip @ 10:30 with Harv and Marv. Jan and I walked into town early only to find the store she wanted to see was not open yet. The weather was quite pleasant with some clouds. We got separated and I went back on the ship to get my phone so I could call her. I hadn't seen anyone with a sign for Harv and Marv so I was getting concerned. Jan had inadvertently found our ride at the opposite end of the lot where we were looking for them. No one else had booked this trip at this time so we had a private tour! The ride was about 20 minutes to the other side of Juneau to the public dock. Captain Sean was our guide for our 3.5 hour tour. Saw 6 whales and with blows and tails and some sea lions. Alas, no bubble net feeding or breaching. Sean is a certified cetacean behavior specialist so he was very informative about what we were seeing. Jan had forgotten her sea-sickness patch so she took 2 Bonine before we left just in case. The boat was small and could seat 6-8 but it was ours alone.
We could have gone to see Mendenhall glacier on the way back to the ship but Jan wanted to find one store and we were sailing @ 4:30 PM so just decided to skip it. We were hungry but didn't want to eat a lot so we went up to the Grill and had hot dogs.
Saturday we landed in Ketchikan, our last stop. When we were getting off the ship, I spotted Cathy & Dick again and we made a date for the next night to share some wine and have a last dinner together. Here we had booked the Bering Sea Crab Fisherman's tour AKA "Deadliest Catch". I had all my paperwork but forgot to print out the instructions on how to find them. We kept wandering up and down the area by the pier and getting worried. Jan found their info in the Tourist building and I called them. I was told to look for the bright yellow jackets. Sure enough, there he was holding up a Princess tour sign.
We were directed to walk down the pier and look for the Aleutian Ballad. The last ones on board, again, and we were off for the tour. They turned around so we could see a whale. These guys were the real deal and no B.S. Engaging, funny, personable and entertaining, they made this is the most outstanding tour I have ever taken. They demonstrated how they caught a variety of seafood and not just crab. We went to an island where there were numerous bald eagles. Fish were chopped up and thrown in the water where the eagles just swarmed to get it. I wish I had more memory on my camera so I could have recorded it. We all got to hold crabs and pose for lots of pictures. The crew was so amiable and agreeable to take photos with every person.
This port gave us more time to wander around the downtown and do some last minute shopping. I was in search of a way to send my kids some fresh salmon which I had done on my last trip. The cost to ship 1 lb. of salmon by FedEx was $280! No way was I spending that. I settled on 1 lb. of smoked, sealed salmon that I could take in my luggage. (They were happy to get it.)
This was the last formal night and we were invited to the Past Passengers party. We arrived a little early and got into line. Saw a few tuxes and sequins, mostly on older passengers and an assortment of nice dressier clothing on others. No one looked sloppy. The show band played dance tunes and some people danced. I have learned to ask for the type of cocktail I want instead of taking the pre-made ones. It was served with a smile and in a timely manner. The Captain gave the gift to the most travelled passenger. I think it was 600+ days! After that we headed for our formal dinner. Jan doesn't eat fish so the job of checking out the lobster. Last year it was pathetic. This year was a big improvement. The lobster tail was just about the size of the one I paid $25 for in Sabatini's. Crappy sides with zucchini and corn. This is where Princess does not measure up to Celebrity's food. We went to the Universe Lounge for a show by the piano man in the atrium. He did a decent job of entertaining us.
Sunday was our last day and it was a sea day. Jan & I went to play Bingo in the morning and wandered around the ship checking things out and taking pictures. Unfortunately, I found the Library on this day and was sorry I had missed it earlier. We must have walked by it dozens of times but on the other side of the ship. Did spend a considerable amount of time packing since our luggage was supposed to be out by 10:00. We went down for the last Bingo game which of course we did not win. Since I had casino chips to cash in, I went into the casino for some last minute action. I actually won a few dollars but called it quits to get ready for dinner.
This was the day we had Cathy & Dick over for some wine on our balcony before dinner. We all went down for our last dinner and again shared a large table. Jan & I wanted to see the last show so we said our goodbyes and went to the theater. After that was time to put out the luggage and get to sleep early to make our early alarm.
At the beginning of this review I mentioned that our flight home was not direct from Vancouver. Our TA had booked us on a 10:30 AM flight from Vancouver to Seattle where we would board our flight to O'Hare. She had also gotten us a Princess transfer from the pier to the airport. The early flight cutoff time was 10:15 AM. Posting this info on the cruise boards got me a lot of flak from CC members telling me it would never work even though Princess had given us the transfer. One person suggested we get Global Entry cards from the government to facilitate getting through Customs. Jan and I felt that if spending $100 would help us make our flight, it would be worth it. One person who had worked as a Princess boarding agent, spelled out how the process would work and he was the only one with correct information.
As it happened, Princess has this down to pimple on a gnat's a$$. A few days before we disembarked, we received a letter in our mailbox confirming that we were part of this transfer. The night before there was detailed info with our Red-One luggage tags assuring us we would have expedited passage for Canadian Customs. Our luggage would be trucked ahead of us to the American terminal at YVR.
Jan & I headed to the Buffet for our early breakfast and where she snagged an extra chocolate croissant for the flight. We had to meet in the Universe Lounge at 7:30. At 7:40, someone came to get us and we all trooped up to level 7 and the gangway set up. Everyone was instructed to have their passports, Canadian customs forms and the little tag off the luggage tags open and available. There was some discourse between Canadian Security and our passenger reps to verify that we were all American citizens going to American destinations. Off the ship into the terminal where our passports were scrutinized by Security and the customs forms were collected. Downstairs to the first bus in line where we showed our little Red One tag and could put our passports away.
Even though this was Memorial Day for us, it was a regular Monday morning in Vancouver. The driver said it would be about a 45 minute drive to the airport and he gave us some commentary as we traveled. We arrived in 30 minutes and a Princess rep boarded the bus to tell us how to proceed. Dropped at the American terminal, we were directed to the end of the building where our luggage was being unloaded. Lucky for us, it was right across from the Alaska Airlines desk. Once we got our luggage we got in line to check in. The AA reps came around making the announcement that if you weren't on the 10:30 or 11:15 flights to go to the end of the line. I think the only people in line were the ones on our bus! Paid the fees for the luggage and then headed to Security. Something on my hands lit up the detector and they had to swab my hands for explosive residue. It was only hand lotion. Now to US Customs and used our Global Entry at the kiosk to fly through this station. As it happened there were only 4 people in line! A longish walk to our gate and we arrived 1/2 hour before boarding was called.
Just a half hour to Seattle on a turbo prop where we deplaned on the tarmac in the rain. Trying to check in with Alaska Airlines, we found out our flight was changed to American but at the same time. (Poor DH at home had a heck of a time trying to find out if we were on time since the flight number was changed.) We had a nice lunch at Chili's which was directly across from our gate and took the leftovers with us for "dinner". Landed on time at O'Hare, got the luggage quickly, DH was there to pick us up and our beautiful trip was over.