ALASKA CRUISE September 2008 This was a special holiday for me; I was travelling alone from Scotland, doing the Rocky Mountaineer trip by coach and train from Calgary to Vancouver where I first saw my beautiful ship, Serenade of the Seas for my seven night Alaskan cruise. Many people along the way said how brave I was travelling from Scotland alone to undertake a holiday such as this. May I say that the Rocky Mountaineer team and everyone at Royal Caribbean made it a wonderful holiday and one I would recommend to anyone. Here is my diary of my first cruise, but certainly not my last.
08SEP08 10.30 am. Taxi booked for 11.00 to take me to Glasgow airport for my flight via Heathrow in London to Calgary. I’m all organised. I can’t believe I am finally on my way after a year of anticipation. 12.00 midday. In Departure Lounge at Glasgow Airport. Luggage checked in to Calgary – fingers crossed.
15.30 At Heathrow having Nachos and wine and waiting for my gate to be called. Plane on time. Really nice lady beside me visiting her sister in Calgary. Watched ‘Forgetting Sarah Armstrong’ (Russell Brand) and ‘Summer’ (Robert Carlyle) on the flight.
Arrived in Calgary a few minutes ahead of schedule at about 19.05. Cleared immigration, picked up luggage – so heavy!!! And my limousine was waiting for me. In was in my hotel by 20.00 – amazing!
When I checked in they handed me a Rocky Mountaineer Vacations Pack. My room is huge – two double beds, it’s really a suite.
Dumped everything and I’m now in the bar having a Stella and Duck Spring Rolls and reading over my itinerary. It’s so detailed and organised. This is going to be an amazing trip. The Bar is quite old-world, high ceilings, big leather chairs and lots of dark wood. Staff very attentive as you would imagine.
There’s a Death by Chocolate evening here every Monday night – a long buffet full of all things chocolate. It looks amazing but I haven’t got a sweet tooth tonight. I should have mentioned I’m in the Fairmont Palliser.
Tues 9th September. Had breakfast in the hotel – Continental – absolutely loads of fresh fruit, juices, cold meat, cheese etc, lovely. Caught the coach at 08.20. Lovely guide/driver called Chris, full of loads of information. Drove towards Banff and the Rockies, snow on them. So beautiful. Stopped a couple of times for photos. Weather beautiful leaving Calgary but started to rain as we got higher. Went on the Gondola at Banff to the top of Sulphur Mountain. Snowstorm at the top. Had a hot chocolate. We then went looking for Elk but couldn’t find any. Did see White-tail deer, big horn sheep, hawks and cormorants. I’m now in Banff for lunch and a 1 ½ hour stop. Having soup (Hearty Chicken Tortellini with a warm roll – delicious) and a beer $10.50 in the Elk and Oarsman overlooking Banff Avenue.
Another 50 minutes in coach before arriving at Lake Louise. I can’t believe how beautiful the hotel is, I’ve never seen anything like it. My room (suite!!) is bigger than my flat; I could have a party for 10 easily. There’s also a little seating area with a massive picture window overlooking the lake and mountains it’s absolutely stunning, if I ever have the chance to come back here I would love to spend a couple of days in this hotel.
Went for a swim, whirlpool and steam in the spa and then watched the Canadian Country Music Awards on TV before going down to dinner.
Had dinner with a lady from Australia but is Scottish who is doing the Rocky Mountaineer trip after her cruise. I had considered this but I thought doing the tour first then the cruise would be more relaxing.
I had bison, veal,pork and beef meatloaf with mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables – delicious! Washed it down with a glass of merlot.
Came up to have a nap before going down for a drink but was so tired I stayed in my room watching TV and reading.
Wednesday 10th September Very misty morning but mountain tops are sunny, the sun burned through as I was having breakfast in Poppy’s Brasserie – Paradise Valley Benedict – delicious.
Bright sunshine now, very, very beautiful. Went for a ten minute stroll then back to my room to make the most of my amazing window before my guided walk around the lake which I had booked on to.
Joe the Ranger took our walk round part of the Lake and told us its history and the history of the area. It was really interesting.
Had a walk around the Lake on my own after the guided talk. I can’t think of a more beautiful place. How lovely it would be to spend a honeymoon here – it’s so majestic and romantic.
I had an almond Danish and Mocha coffee before boarding the coach, bang goes any hope of weight maintenance. Oh well, never mind, what are holidays for?
Spent the afternoon touring round YoHo National Park, stopped at the Spiral Tunnels where a figure of eight has been bored through the mountain to allow trains to climb or descend the steep gradient. Swiss engineers were brought over to help with construction.
We then went to the Emerald Lake – so beautiful. The colours are so vivid in the water because of the deposits suspended in the water and it’s something to do with the wavelength of the colour blue. I’ll find out more in Alaska as the glaciers are blue.
Didn’t see much wildlife, no bears. Saw Big-Horn Sheep, some saw a Coyote, also a brilliant blue bird. On top of a metal bridge there was a huge bird’s nest with a bird on it. It eats fish and apparently the vibration of traffic on the bridge shakes the bugs off into the river below and the fish come up to eat and voila! Ready made Sushi – intelligent birds!
Arrived in Banff around 17.30. Didn’t go into town, stayed in the hotel, had a bite to eat, a beer, and finished my book. Got a really early start in the morning.
Thursday 11th September Up at 5.00am. Read for a couple of hours then got taken to the train station. Boarded the Rocky Mountaineer train and left around 09.00am. Really comfortable compartments, huge. I have a window seat with no-one beside me so loads of room. Stunning scenery! Had a really nice ‘airline’ style breakfast. Our Steward is Rob. We just passed a freight train with 108 carriages all with double deck containers, two engines at front and one at the rear. Such a relaxing day and so much beautiful scenery.
Breakfast and lunch were served on the train. Both were delicious. Also, snacks and unlimited teas, coffees and soft drinks. I hadn’t paid the extra to be in a coach with the glass roof but to be honest I don’t think I missed much, my view was really amazing.
Delayed a few times on the way, once waiting for an ambulance for someone in another carriage who fell ill, which meant we arrived in Kamloops very late. But they were really organised. Gave us luggage tags so they could deliver our bags to the correct hotel and take all the guests straight to the lumberjack show.
The meal was lovely at the show, a buffet with loads of different things in it and the show was really entertaining and informative. It explained about lumberjacking in a short film then a sort of comedy about two lumberjacks in competition. It included sawing, throwing axes, climbing trees using springboards (I’d never heard of them before) and log balancing on water. It was great fun. Coaches took us back to the hotel, the whole evening was so well organised. Got back to hotel about 23.00 – long day – really tired!
Friday 12th September Coach due to leave at 07.10 which it did but the train wasn’t ready for us so we got a tour of downtown by the lovely driver called Doug. Nothing seems to be a problem for anyone, they really like being of help and service to people.
Scenery completely different today, arid, dry and like tumbleweed. Nothing like the dramatic greens of the Rockies.
We’ve just stopped for an Eastbound freight train to pass the other way. It took 2 mins and 50 secs for it to pass and it was going fast. Can you imagine how long it was!!
Saw an Osprey with a fish in its mouth.
Got into Vancouver around 17.00. Staying at the Sheraton Vancouver. Lovely room on the 29th floor. Amazing views!
Went for a walk and had dinner in a Thai restaurant ‘Salathai’ – very good. Sat at next table to a really friendly couple from Vancouver who chatted to me and invited my to join them – so kind. Bought a Johnny Reid CD on the way back to hotel – I had heard him sing in the country music awards on TV the other night.
Had a last drink in the bar with a lovely couple from Devon – not sure of their names. Slept on the 29th floor with the curtains open – beautiful.
Next day – CRUISE!!!!!!!
Saturday 13th September Had a muffin and coffee from the 7/11 for breakfast, I didn’t want to have much. Took my own luggage down – slight confusion but OK, apparently I should have notified reception which cruise I was on and left my luggage outside my door for collection but I hadn’t read the instructions correctly.
Boarded coach for Vancouver city tour. Good tour. Went to Stanley Park, Granville Island (fab) and Downtown Vancouver. The tour was included in the cost of the holiday.
Got to dock around 13.30. The ship, Serenade of the Seas looks amazing. Got through immigration quite quickly. My stateroom is lovely, much bigger than I thought it would be, really comfortable. It has a huge Queen size bed with brilliant little lights at either side, a really comfy two seater couch, TV, vanity unit, load of storage space and a fridge – it’s really perfect. I chose an inside stateroom so it has no window or porthole but it didn’t feel in the slightest claustrophobic.
Went for a walk around as we cast off, the ship really is beautiful with so many different areas, you can be alone or with people quite easily, whatever suits you. . Watched as we sailed away from Vancouver and had a cocktail – Bahama Mama! Went back to my cabin where luggage had been delivered and I unpacked. At 16.15 there was an emergency practice and we had to gather at our muster station in the Tropical Theatre wearing lifejackets, it is maritime law that everyone on board participates in the safety drill, it’s reassuring to see how slick the crew organise everyone.
I went to the newcomers orientation which was really helpful as the ship is so big, a ember of the entertainment staff walked us through most of the public areas explaining about them as we went along, I would recommend this to anyone as you could miss some lovely parts of the ship if you don’t know it. The Spa is amazing, mosaic hot-beds facing wall size picture windows overlooking the ocean.
At 19.45 there was a show in the theatre – Latin dancing and gaucho acts by a couple from Buenos Aires who were great. I loved the Tango – reminded me of when I was in Argentina.
Then dinner which was lovely. There were only four others at my table although it could accommodate eight. A couple from Redding and two ladies from China. After dinner went up to the Vortex nightclub but it was quiet and I was exhausted. Got to bed about 10.30 and slept right through until 06.30 – unheard of!
I forgot to say I’d gone to the Champagne Bar for a Scotch mid afternoon. It’s beautiful and looks over the water with huge windows.
Sunday 11th September Wakened at 06.30, read for a while then had a shower, great shower – unexpected. Went to Reflections for breakfast at about 08.15. Had Fruit (melon, watermelon, grapes, pineapple) Eggs Benedict, a couple of small Danish, Tomato Juice and Earl Grey – delicious! Reflections is the main dining room on board and spans two floors, I chose the fixed seating plan in the evenings but it is free seating for breakfast. There are other places to eat on board, for example, the Windjammer on the 12th deck is great for self service at breakfast or lunch but I find that if I’m on my own I prefer to be served rather than do self service.
At 09.30 went to a Digital Photography seminar which was really helpful especially as I had bought a new camera for the cruise and had little idea how to operate it then at 10.00 went to a lecture on Icy Straits and the Hubbard Glacier. Really interesting, then went to the Schooner Bar for the ‘Ribbon Rose’ workshop. Learnt how to make ribbon roses. It was really good fun and I now have a lovely silk rose! It’s great having the port lectures, it really gives you an insight into the area before you go ashore. There are so many activities it’s difficult to choose but there is no pressure on you to participate, if you just want to chill and read a book by the pool that’s fine.
Booked an excursion for Icy Straits: Hoonah Sightseeing and Tribal Dance.
In the afternoon I went to the Art Seminar which was OK but not really what I like. It was explaining the differences between lithographs etc. I prefer Art Galleries or talks about the Impressionists.
Later in the afternoon I had a swim in the Solarium Pool. It was just lovely, the pool has a glass roof which is closed for Alaskan cruises (understandable!) but opens when she cruises the Caribbean. I don’t know why I was surprised but the pool had salt water which was lovely to swim in! Lounged around there for a while reading.
This evening was the first formal night and started with the Captain’s Champagne reception. It was so elegant. There was a band playing old 50s and 60s tunes. I had my picture taken with the Captain. Don’t know whether I’ll buy it though, depends what I look like in it, I really don’t like being photographed. I wore my black skirt and black beaded top. It did look lovely and a couple of people complimented my dress. Joined my table companions at the reception then we all went down to dinner. It was delicious. I had: Lobster Bisque Fillet Steak, thinly sliced with pepper sauce, mash, asparagus & mushrooms Cherries Jubilee with Vanilla ice cream
There was a show afterwards: ‘Stage to Screen’ which reminisced back to shows like Chicago, Hairspray, and Little Shop of Horrors. Afterwards I went outside to try and see the Northern Lights but it was cloudy and rainy.
Went to the Midnight Buffet in the Windjammer. I’ve never seen anything like it, it was just beautiful with lots of little canapé things and fruit skewers. The Ice Sculptures were amazing and the fruit sculptures as well. All just beautiful.
Looking forward to Icy Straits tomorrow.
Monday 15th September Another lovely sleep. My alarm woke me at 07.00. Had breakfast in Reflections; melon, smoked salmon, cream cheese and bagels, and a Danish – delicious. Sat with a lovely couple who live in Vancouver and have done 5 cruises. It’s so easy for them, just a hop and a skip to the dock. Must see what ships cruise from Greenock! It’s only about an hour away.
Got the tender at 10.15 as the ship can’t dock at Icy Strait. It’s a tiny place made up of wooden buildings. I went ashore with the two Chinese ladies and we started walking through the fishprocessing museum before catching the coach. We had a 1 ½ hour tour of the Hoonah area with a fab guide. She was really bubbly. The natives of this area are Tlingit and are very proud and have great traditions. They belong to either the Eagle or Raven moieties and they are a matrilineal society so they take their clan from their mother. Also a raven can’t marry an eagle. After the tour we went to the tribal dance show. It was amazing and explained many of the customs and beliefs through song, dance and storytelling. They didn’t have a written language until the 1970s. It was a really good excursion.
After the show I had a bowl of clam chowder which was excellent and a bottle of local beer. Bought a couple of books and a beautiful dreamcatcher.
When I got back to the ship I went to my cabin via the photo gallery. I really liked the photo with the captain so I bought it and a frame with a beautiful picture of the ship.
Had a cocktail, a mojito, before the show. Tonight’s show was a tribute to the Temptations – brilliant (I’m running out of superlatives!).
Dinner was lovely, I had Crab and Prawns to start and Tilapio (fish) to follow (delish) and a chocolate dessert to finish. Later that evening was the ‘Abbalicious’ seventies night in Vortex. Vortex is the nightclub. Good fun.
Tuesday 16th September Day at sea.
Had smoked salmon, cream cheese and toasted bagel for breakfast in Reflections, delicious.
Went to a talk given by a Tlingit native which was really interesting, he wore the most beautiful tribal outfit.
Had corncakes for lunch and a delicious almond sponge dessert with melted chocolate inside – fab!
Today was Hubbard Glacier day. Arrived at the Glacier about 09.15. Strong wind and rain and it was freezing but it looked amazing. It’s bright blue and I really do mean bright blue. I stayed for about 45 minutes until I froze! Some of the crew were selling mugs of hot chocolate laced with brandy which was a great idea, didn’t succumb though. Went downstairs and watched from the Champagne Bar. Brilliant view. The weather cleared up and it was lovely. I went back on deck and took some pictures and a movie. I hope they turn out well. All through it you could hear crashes as huge chunks of ice broke off and crashed into the ocean. It’s called calving and the noise is called white thunder. This was a once in a lifetime experience, especially as the glaciers are melting and receding due (I expect) to global warming.
When I was at the native talk I had a Scotch to warm me up – Chivas Regal.
In the afternoon I went to a talk on the next two ports of call: Skagway and Juneau and booked the ‘Ghosts and Good Time Girls’ tour which is in Skagway and is about the women who were there in the days of the Gold Rush. Looking forward to it. Then I went to the solarium for a swim and hot-tub.
The pool was amazing. Outside the sea was quite rough and the boat was pitching a little. The water in the pool looked as though it had a wave motion motor, with big waves to the front and back – really strange.
Had a lovely Martini with olives before dinner – delish! Dinner was great as usual and afterwards I listened to music in the Lobby Bar for a while.
Wednesday 17th September Today is Skagway. Met our guide at 10.15: Madame Donna, Matrix of the Red Onion Saloon, she was student who did this during her vacation and she was dressed like a good time girl would have been during the Gold Rush. The tour was great fun. She told us all about the history of the Gold Rush, the women involved and the ghosts. We ended up with a tour of the upstairs in the Red Onion Saloon where the girls plied their trade. It was really interesting. Afterwards I wandered about the town and bought a cross stitch kit – a salmon based on a Tlingit design. Afterwards I went back to the Red Onion where I had a bowl of black bean and chilli soup (fab) and a couple of beers (also fab), it wasn’t expensive. Then I looked around some of the shops and found a museum which was interesting, it was all about the Gold Rush. It’s a subject that I’d like to learn more about, they must have been so brave to undertake the hazardous journey in such unwelcoming terrain.
Later that evening I went to ‘Name that Tune’ in the Schooner Bar. Two American ladies joined me so we had a team, didn’t win though.
Had venison for dinner, it was really good. Started with halibut chowder and finished with maple syrup pudding with vanilla ice cream.
Had a couple of mojitos in the Lobby Bar and listened to the music.
Thursday 18th September Got up at 03.00am to see if I could see the Northern Lights but no luck as it was overcast. Up again at 06.00am, we had arrived in Juneau. Had breakfast in the Windjammer then went on to the pier at 07.15 to meet the coach for the whale watching excursion I had booked on to. Drove about 20 minutes to Allen Marine at Auke Dock for the boat.
Saw whales very quickly, amazingly graceful. Watched them surface and dive. They did this two or three times then came out a bit further and dived vertically. Their tails came up this time before they disappeared out of sight. Apparently once you see their tails they stay down for 5 – 10 minutes to feed. Also saw Bald Eagles tangling talons and porpoises, stellar sea lions, seals and scooter birds.
Had lunch of salmon at Orca Point Lodge. The salmon was the best I’ve ever tasted, it was wild Coho, or Silver Salmon and was marinated and cooked over a barbecue. Absolutely delicious! Here is the recipe: Orca Point Lodge Sauce Recipe ½ cup butter ½ cup brown sugar ¼ cup soy sauce 1 tblsp lemon juice
Melt butter over low heat, add remaining ingredients and heat slowly to a simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Marinate salmon for ½ to 1 hour. Cook salmon for 4 – 5 minutes each side and baste while cooking. The salmon will flake easily when done. Don’t overcook.
The trip was fantastic. I have never seen such beautiful scenery in my life. It was tranquil and peaceful but so dramatic, majestic and awe inspiring as well. After the trip was over I got dropped off in Juneau to have a look at the shops but I didn’t buy anything. Got back to the ship about 1.30 and the ship sailed at 2.30.
Lazed about in the afternoon. Had a Corn Chips Basket and a beer in the Seaview Café with guacamole, salsa and sour cream. Really nice and light. Spent the afternoon reading. Had a couple of cocktails before dinner in the Atrium Bar; a Martini and a Marguerita. Good band playing. Then went in to dinner, it was lovely – lobster – delicious.
Afterwards I went to the show, it was an impressionist. He was quite good but not the best show on the cruise. Went to bed when it was finished – really tired.
Friday 19th September At Sea. Can’t believe it’s my last day! It’s been amazing. Had breakfast (buttermilk pancakes) with some lovely Americans. Read for a while then went to the Cookery Demo at 11.00. It was great fun and was about creating a Black Forest Gateau. It was an Executive chef, a volunteer from the audience and Carly B, the Cruise Director (who provided the fun).
Also went to a Line Dancing class which was fun. Learnt the Fan-Fan dance and Manhattan Skyline. After that I went to a lecture about the Gold Rush and interesting facts about Alaska. Had lunch at the Seaview Café, a cheeseburger which was good. Lazed about for the rest of the afternoon. Went to the show at 7.00pm, it was a comedian called Tom Bruscoe. He was really good. Then dinner; a lovely Tempura Fish dish of a fish I’ve never heard of called ‘scrob’????
I went to the Safari Bar with my table companions to listen to the jazz for ½ hour before going to bed.
Saturday 20th September Disembarkation day. Didn’t sleep well – too conscious of having to get up early.
Had breakfast in Reflections; French Toast which was delicious. Then we had to wait in the lounges until our luggage tag colour was called, it was all timed perfectly depending on which flight you were on or where you were going next. Everything was so well organised. We got off and through Baggage Pickup and Passport Control really quickly. Coach to Sheraton. Had about 3 ½ hours to wander in Vancouver but weather appalling. Walked down to Gastown and had a delicious Clam Chowder then walked back and got the shuttle bus to the airport. Quick check-in. Have just had a Beefburger and fries and a couple of glasses of wine. Good flight home, can’t believe it’s all over but it was an amazing holiday on an amazing ship.