Monday, August 6: I traveled from NY to Seattle for an overnight there - I used frequent flyer miles to try and keep costs down. I traveled with my mom and we spent the day seeing the touristy stuff in Seattle - Pike's Place Market, Space Needle, etc. I cannot remember what restaurant we had dinner in, but I had some fabulous lamb ravioli.
Tuesday, August 7: We booked air from Seattle to Anchorage via Alaska Air. We chose the 1:15pm flight so we wouldn't have to rush in the morning. What we forgot was the effect of changing time zones. We were awake and ready to go by 6am. So we went to the airport and got onto the 10am flight instead. If you go standby at the airport, rather than changing your reservation, the change is free. Our original flight was sold-out and possibly oversold, so I'm sure they were happy to reroute us. The flight was great and being able to rent their video player ($5 on that trip for 3+ hours) made the time fly by.
We stayed at a B&B in Anchorage - Susitna Place. The room was less than half the cost of the hotels downtown and we were only 2 blocks from the downtown area, plus their elevated porch overlooked a lake and we could see Mt. McKinley. The bed was comfy and the continental breakfast was tasty. Almost all of the guests were getting on the Pacific Princess the next day with us, so it was nice to chat with fellow travelers. We were also allowed to drop bags off early or keep them there after check out time.
As we gained a whole afternoon in Anchorage, we went out exploring. The museum was small, but nice. I'd recommend it if you have an hour or so. The whole downtown area is compact and easy to navigate. It's set up in a grid, so almost impossible to get lost in. Dinner was at the touristy brew house, but the food was surprisingly tasty and the beer was also quite good.
It was very disorienting for the sun to be up so late at night. I was physically exhausted, but my mind was trying to say it wasn't time for bed yet, even though I could have really used the sleep. Once again, I was up WAY too early, and couldn't get back to sleep with the sun already up.
Wednesday, August 8: Our transportation to the cruise ship was not picking us up until 1:30, so after breakfast, we set out to finish exploring Anchorage. At the federal building, there is a smallish museum area and films about Alaska. It is free to the public - funding comes from your tax dollars. We watched the movie about the 1964 earthquake, which was quite interesting, and took silly photos of taxidermied animals. (is that a word?) Lunch was at the Snow City cafe, supposedly a popular place among the locals. We enjoyed it.
We'd arranged for transportation between Anchorage and Whittier through Alaska Leopard. (http://www.alaskanleopard.com/Tours/whittier.htm) We got a call on Tuesday saying that a large group had cancelled and that we would be the only passengers. They offered to take us at the same price in an SUV rather than in the 18 passenger bus. We were fine with that. I hadn't paid much attention to the "comedy" part of the tour, just the itinerary, when we booked it. The B&B owner said that the last time guests were dropped off by them, two clowns came out of the bus first. I got worried. I didn't really want to be two adults traveling with a clown. Thankfully, our guide was dressed normally. He did tell corny jokes, but that I can handle.
Along the way, we stopped to look at some Dahl sheep on the mountainside and we just happened to catch the bore tide in Turnagain Arm. (http://alaska.org/bore-tides.jsp) It was only a few inches high, but still fascinating to see. The tunnel to Whittier was also interesting - vehicles are let in so there is enough space in the emergency shelters for everyone in case of emergency.
After emerging from the tunnel, you see the very small village of Whittier and the ship. The Pacific Princess is small to begin with, and the enormity of the scenery made it look even smaller. After having been on many Caribbean cruises, I couldn't get over the scenery - mountains, glaciers, and snow.
Dinner was open seating that night as many passengers did not arrive until just before the 7:30 lifeboat drill. We met some interesting people and because the ship is so small, we saw everyone many times throughout the week. The ship set sail in the middle of the 2nd dinner seating - there was no sailaway party like on many ships leaving at 5pm.
The show that night was a production number or two by the performance group and vocals by a guest performer. We left after the spiel by the cruise director as we were tired and we'd be arriving at College Fjord around 6am the next morning.
Our cruise director was Sammy Baker. She's originally from Juneau and did a great job. She was the first cruise director that didn't annoy me. She was excited and funny, but didn't cross the line into "would you please just stop".
Thursday, August 9 - College Fjord
Thank goodness for jetlag, because that's the only reason I was able to be up and wide awake for our 6am arrival in the area. We cruised by the various glaciers from 6-8am. I watched from the 5th floor deck area as the chairs there we much nicer than the deck chairs upstairs - they were wooden and padded, as opposed to plastic. As the ship is small, it was easy to scoot across to the other side if there was something to see there. There was a bear sighting on the shore, but without binoculars, I couldn't see it.
I went to the aerobics class offered that day at 8:15. It was a decent class, but the space is quite small. If we'd had much more than the 5 participants that were there, it would have been a tight squeeze. After that, I used the treadmills (4 available) and elliptical (2 available, but one was broken) for my cardio. There are also a handful of nautilus machines, handweights, and a couple bikes in the small gym area. Strangely, there was never a wait to get on a machine (though it may not be the one you want), whereas on the Star Princess, with way more in their fitness center, had waiting lists. I think part of that was the older demographic on this cruise.
Naturalist - Bruce Bauerle He narrated the time at the glaciers, talking about watermelon ice, ice worms, and trying to spot wildlife. He also talked about the movement of the glaciers through time and their effect on the mountains when they recede.
I went to see his talk on whales after we left College Fjord and it was quite funny. He said that he often travels with an inflatable whale on a stick so that people can get a photo with a whale.
I then grudgingly agreed to stay for the shopping presentation, though I read a book throughout most of it. My mom won a pair of sunglasses and I won a stuffed dog. It was really by virtue of sitting in the front. They have a lot of stuff to give away at those things and almost everyone there went home with something free.
My jet lag caught up with me after lunch and what I'd intended to be a quick nap turned into four hours of sleep.
The Pacific Princess has only one main dining room, so they still have assigned seating. We were part of the late seating. This was the first formal night. We found out that our assigned table was for 4. I was a bit disappointed as I'd requested the largest size table available. I enjoy meeting people and the more people at your dinner table, the more likely that it will be a pleasant dining experience. That said, no one came to join us and I was even more disappointed that we wouldn't be meeting anyone. Bruce (the naturalist) was also at a table by himself, so we invited him to join us. That was fun, as we got the inside scoop about the role of the naturalist and their contract with the cruise line.
The show that night was Words & Music - it was a Broadway revue. Of the four singers, the lead female was quite good, the other female and the lead male were OK, and the other male was often singing out of his range. I had to laugh out loud during the Les Mis section, though, as here we are, people with decent incomes, in Alaska, watching young Australians sing about the French Revolution.
Friday August 10 - Glacier Bay Day
Let me begin by saying that Glacier Bay is a must do for an Alaskan cruise. It was a day of absolutely amazing scenery.
I started the observation at the front of the ship on the top deck - 11. We snagged the last 2 deck chairs and started to whale watch. Luckily, we saw one breach. As time wore on, there started to be some adolescent jockeying for position and I had to relocate. I spent some time on the treadmill just watching the world (and the glaciers) go by.
The best place for sightseeing, if you don't have a balcony, was off the back end outside the buffet. Water, iced tea, coffee, and cookies were within easy reach, too. People sat at the tables and took pictures of each other, let others in to get the perfect shot, and were much more genial than those from the morning. There was also virtually no wind back there.
Once we got to the glaciers, the Captain simply circled the ship for awhile - 30 min? 60 min? I wasn't wearing a watch, so I really don't know. But it was several slow revolutions.
Once I had enough sun (I got a bit burned), I discovered the Pacific Lounge. Indoors, glass walls, comfy chairs, and a bar. Picture taking wasn't the best, but if I turned the flash off and set my camera on landscape, I got a few decent shots.
The show that night was Doug Anderson, a comedy magician. I normally do not enjoy magic. I find that most cruiseline comedy magician do variations on the same act. Doug's tricks were pretty routine, but he was actually funny. Maybe it had something to do with the much more intimate setting of a small ship lounge with ~75 ppl at the show rather than a theater with 2000 people in attendance.
Saturday August 11 - Skagway
Our first time back on land in several days!
Our excursion was in the afternoon, so we spent the morning just walking and exploring the town. Our ship docked at the railroad station, which was convenient for the people taking excursions on it. The walk to the town was about 10-15 minutes, completely flat.
My favorite part of Skagway was the salmon fishery. I heard it was part of the school in town, but I don't know for sure. I spent about an hour just watching the salmon run. I got some great pictures and video. I was close enough that I could have reached out and grabbed a salmon. I was glad that I'd spent the time there in the morning because by afternoon there were about a dozen kids in the river playing and trying to grab the fish. When I was there, it was just me for the majority of the time - very zen.
Skagway is a pretty area. I'm not much for "historical recreation" stuff, so I didn't LOVE the town itself, but it was cute. There is a federally funding tourist building where I watched a movie about how women made money during the gold rush. It was interesting.
Our excursion was a Hike and Float. (http://www.skagwayfloat.com/hike.htm) We were picked up on time by our guide at the pier. There were 6 people on the tour. Two college students who were ending their summer working at the gardens in Skagway by trying to see as much as possible, two 30something backpackers who decided to go on the excursion after they met at the hostel, and us. We hiked the first 2 miles of the Chilkoot Trail. It was one of the best parts of the trip and I was so glad we'd done it. The trail was actually a moderately tough hike. The cruiseship tour groups now hike the trail using poles because, as our guide said, several people had fallen during the summer. There are places where you have to use your hands for balance or else you're going over the side. We saw baby eagles on the float portion of the trip. It's a tour I recommend for people without and physical limitations.
The show that night was comedian Randy Lubas. My mom thought he was funny. I laughed once or twice. It just wasn't my cup of tea. After that, we spent some time playing the penny slot machines and it was off to bed.
Sunday August 12 - Juneau
Once again, we had the morning to explore the city as our excursion was scheduled for 11am. There were many cruise ships in port that day and we were about a mile away from the main shopping area. There are public restrooms available outside the public library, which were convenient after that walk. I'm not so much into shopping for souvenirs, so I bought a few doo-dads for my dad and brothers and that was it.
Our excursion this day was Glacier Kayaking through Alaska Travel Adventures. (http://www.bestofalaskatravel.com/al...a_kayaking.htm) The company sells through the cruiselines and to independent travelers. We were scheduled for 11am - with a large group from another cruise ship. We had to tell ATA which ship we were on, so I was a but surprised they didn't encourage us to travel with the people from our ship, since it would have cut down on the number of stops the bus driver would have had to make. It turns out we knew some people from our ship on the excursion, but they were finishing as we were arriving at the launch site.
The large group was split into 3 smaller groups of 5 kayaks (2 people each) plus a guide. The kayaks were equipped with a rudder and pedals, which made steering much easier, since the lake we paddled across was quite large. We made our way slowly across, with the guide giving us information and helping to spot wildlife. We saw eagles and a couple seals. By the time we paddled all the way back, I will admit that my arms were a bit tired.
Libby Riddles gave a presentation on the ship about her experiences in dogsledding. She was the first woman to win the Iditarod. It was interesting and I was glad to have seen it.
As this was the second formal night, it was the Past Guest party. Unlike the Captain's Cocktail party where it's tough to get more than one drink, the waitstaff was freely handing out non-watered down drinks. I'd say there were maybe 40-50 people there. The Captain and his wife were in attendance and the Pacific Lounge was a nice spot to have it.
After dinner that night, we went to Karaoke. I have some nice video of the Captain joining in the fun to sing. That's something you probably won't see on the mega-ships.
I popped into the show to see a little of it. It was called Tribute and was a medley of Beach Boys songs, Rat Pack songs, and something else. I was happy to have missed the majority of the beach section and the Rat Pack portion wasn't bad as I really like that type of music.
That was also the night of the Champagne Waterfall. When I was on the Star Princess, they held that event in the atrium and it just seemed like as odd space - too crowded and the acoustics made it quite noisy. On the Pacific Princess, it was in the Pacific Lounge. We enjoyed the silly dances (Electric Slide, conga line, the cruise staples) and watching others do silly dances.
This was also the night of the new moon and the best night for watching the August meteor shower. The Captain arranged to have the deck lights turned off for a few hours to enhance viewing. We were so far north that the view was spectacular. You could see the entire Milky Way and the meteors were easy to spot. I must have seen a dozen or more in less than 30 min. The only other time the sky had been that clear was when I was in the Boundary Water (MN).
Monday August 13 - Ketchikan
Unfortunately, we had to tender this day. Fortunately, the tender service was the best I'd ever experienced. With such a small passenger load, and tenders carrying about 100 people, there was no need for tender tickets and very little wait for the tender to leave.
This was the only day where we ate a meal at the buffet. We had to get off the ship for our excursion before the dining room opened for lunch, so there was no choice. The food was edible, but nothing to write home about.
We were scheduled to go on a canoeing excursion through Alaska Travel Adventures. (http://www.bestofalaskatravel.com/al...rest_canoe.htm) The last tender time was moved up and we were afraid that we wouldn't get back to the ship in time, so we called the company. It turned out that there had been a mistake and the only canoeing excursion scheduled for that day was at 8am, before we'd even arrived in port. They were very accommodating and put us on another excursion - a boat ride and some mild hiking. (http://www.bestofalaskatravel.com/al...ess_cruise.htm) The group was only 10 people, including our ship's fitness instructor and one of the women working in the salon. A small group was nice, and we enjoyed it, but it was an excursion I wouldn't have chosen.
I skipped the show that night. It was a singer - Darren Lynton. We didn't care for him the first night, so didn't want to go through it again. The party for the night as Country & Western, also not my cup of tea. I *did* go up to see what was going on and saw a large group of people learning to line dance who seemed to be having a great time. Instead, we stayed at the casino bar until they closed and then went to watch the meteor shower again. While the deck lights were on this time, we were far enough from any other light pollution that you could still see a lot.
Let me comment on the Pacific Princess margaritas. A standard margarita ($4.95) comes in a glass the size of your head - think the extra large glasses for the froofy cocktails at TGIFridays. I don't think there was an extraordinary about of alcohol in them, so I suspect they were mostly mixer. They were a lot of fun to drink, though.
August 14 - day at sea (and the last installment of this review)
The first thing I remember doing this day was the Culinary Demo at 10am. It was cute - there were cooking and cake decorating demos along with silly jokes. And the tour of the galley is always interesting. It was actually two floor with an escalator on this ship, which was interesting.
I spent most of the rest of the day reading by the pool and lounging in the hot tub. The last day at sea never seems very restful since you have to pack up all your stuff, so I wanted to try and rest as much as a could before heading back into the real world.
The show for late seating was actually before dinner this night. I assume to allow people to pack after dinner and/or go to bed early. Both comedians came back, but this time I though Randy Lubas was funny and Doug Anderson was not.
The farewell Karaoke was a lot of fun. There were an awful lot of people in the casino bar area, but I was lucky enough to get a seat at the bar. After that shut down around 11, I went to check out the disco and it was already completely empty.
August 15 - debarkation
With such a small ship, debarkation was very easy. Very few lines, no gigantic warehouse of luggage to search through. It took us longer to get a cab than it took to get off this ship, get our luggage, and go through customs.