Sept 12 - Sep 24, 2010
We booked four back to back cruises over 28 days at sea on NCL's Pearl. The first leg was for five days from Vancouver, BC to Los Angeles, CA. Our pre cruise touring included a 3 night stay in Seattle, WA and a 4 night stay in Vancouver.
On Sunday, Sep 12, we flew from Chicago to Seattle on American Airlines, departing at 8:30 am and arriving about noon. We were booked at our favorite Seattle hotel, the Inn at the Harbor Steps which is directly across from the Art Museum on 1st Avenue. It's a lovely boutique B & B hotel housed in the lower three floors of a high rise condominium. The prices are reasonable and offer a myriad of discounts for seniors, military, government and motor club. The rooms are spacious and include a magnificent, cooked to order, breakfast and complimentary high tea with wine every afternoon.
That evening, we took the hotel elevator down 6 floors from the ground level to an exit at Seattle's Pier level and walked 2 blocks to our favorite restaurant, the Crab Pot. Their specialty is various steamed sea food dinners dumped on butcher block paper table covering. Devouring the feast with mallets, bibs and fingers is messy but great and tasty fun.
The following day, we booked a 3 hour city tour with "Show Me Seattle Tours Seattle." They limit the number to 12 guests and have knowledgeable guides. It's a great way to see an overview of Seattle for first timers or a quick memory recall device for returning visitors.
The next day, we booked a 3 hour taste tour of restaurants around Pikes Market with "Savor Seattle Food Tours." The tour was a walking tour that visited 10 local restaurants and sampled bites of their house specialties.
On Sep 15, we boarded the Amtrak train, departing Seattle at 7:40 am, and arriving in Vancouver 4 hours later. The scenery was magnificent and the ride was relaxing. Upon arrival in Vancouver, we checked into the Cascadia Suites Hotel (formerly a Marriott Residence Inn). The rooms were large and comfy and the full kitchen could be a money saver. But, we found a superb Tapas Bar and Restaurant, (La Bodega) two blocks from the hotel and sampled several of their "little plates" washed down with a pitcher of sangria.
The hotel is one of the stops of Vancouver's hop on hop off tour bus. If you buy your tickets in the hotel, you get a 2 day pass for the price of one. Since the tour bus operates two separate loops, we split their itineraries over two days. On the third day we went back to see things we discovered in our overviews. One special find was lunch at the Pacific Culinary Institute's Bistro101, located on Granville Island. We had a magnificent 3 course meal, with an entrEe choice of salmon or rack of lamb, for $18. It was a delight to watch the culinary students prepare our meal in their glass enclosed open kitchen.
On Sunday, Sep. 19 we headed for Vancouver's "old" pier instead of the new "Canada Place" pier. This was necessitated by the fact that there were 6 ships in port and the new pier could only accommodate 4 of them. Using the old pier and the large number of ships taxed the boarding procedures to the limit. Everything from directing vehicle traffic to baggage drop off to organizing boarding lines looked like an expressway at rush hour on Friday. But, once everything got organized and NCLs people took over from the Terminal staff, things moved quickly, especially for suite holders with VIP boarding. We were quickly escorted to our forward Penthouse Suite under the Captain's bridge where a bottle of chilled bubbly awaited our cork popping.
Along with NCL's usual "Freestyle Daily" bulletin, we found a new and inventive NCL brochure which had the photo, bio, and phone number of the top 8 guest service directors, including: Hotel Director, Kaj (pronounced Kigh) Turunen, Cruise Director, Ray Carr, Food & Beverage Dir., Tony Lockett, along with the Guest Service Manager, Exec Chef, Restaurant Manager, Bar Manager, and Exec Housekeeper.
After a glass (or two) of bubbly, we joined our fellow Cruise Critics at a sail away party at the Sky High Bar which had been organized by fellow CCer, Dave (Inuvikcouple). For dinner we chose the La Cucina restaurant and ordered our favorite Italian meal, Osso Buco with Risotto. After dinner, we enjoyed the Jean Ryan Dance Company's "South Beach Rave."
As suite guests, we received VIP debarkation to join our NCL shore excursion of Astoria and Fort Clatsop (the recreation of the winter quarters for the Lewis & Clark Expedition before they began their return journey to the east). The tour then stopped at the Columbia River Museum which was absolutely fascinating with models, depictions and full size originals of the ships of the Northwest. We dined that evening "en suite" and enjoyed the comedy-juggling show of "Sharkbait" at the late show.
The next morning, we breakfasted early in the VIP dining room in Cagney's, since we were helping Cecilia (Admin) the Meet & Greet Coordinator. We started checking in the 50 + attendees about 10:45.
The ship's "top brass" arrived around 11 am. Cecilia did a super job of welcoming the assembled CCers and introducing Hotel Director Kaj, who gave us a warm welcome and introduced the other management staff, including Food & Beverage Director, Tony Lockett. Tony could be a stand up comedian, in Vegas, along with his efficient running of 20 on board bars and restaurants.
That afternoon, we enjoyed the Latitudes reception hosted by Janet, the on board Cruise Consultant. The event was festive and fun and was a great prelude for our "dress up or not" gala evening. We donned our black tie attire and attended the Captain's VIP reception in deck 14 courtyard, enjoying the warmth and companionship of Hotel Director Kaj. We then dined at Le Bistro French Restaurant before attending the 2nd performance of "Oh What a Night", a bravo musical tribute to Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons.
The ship docked in San Francisco about 8 am. We ate a leisurely breakfast before disembarking about 10 am to meet our nephew, a Bay area resident. We enjoyed San Francisco's outdoor and operating public transportation museum by spending 3 hours riding the "Muni" modern tram along the Embarcadaro, several of old time street cars from around the world, and the required cable car ride. After a lovely lunch, our nephew returned us to the ship.
The ship sailed at 6 pm and we were delighted to host an "Under the Golden Gate Bridge Sail Away Party" (on the large balcony of our forward Penthouse Suite) for about 25 fellow CCers. Our Butler, Charlie Cuevas, did a wonderful job of laying our refreshments for our guests, who began arriving about 5:30. We enjoyed a fantastic sun set as we slid beneath the Golden Gate.
For dinner, we finished off the mini buffet of finger sandwiches provided by our butler and fortified with a bottle of bubbly, we headed off to the "Second City" comedy improv in the theater. Being from "The Second City" (Chicago) we have enjoyed the works of the Improv Grand Daddy many times, including the early halcyon days of the 60s. Unfortunately, the traveling troupe was either having an "off" night or is in need of a vacation. It wasn't bad but it wasn't up to the high standards set by the fore bearers of their name.
The next day was "at sea" and we spent a leisurely day getting to know our suite neighbors and new found friends, Kenny & Janica from Huston TX. We dined together in the Le Bistro restaurant followed by the Jean Ryan Dancers' production of "Sea Legs" a modern Showgirl Review that harkened back to the Ziegfield Follies of the 1930s. After the theater, we headed for the Chocoholic Buffet "left overs" with Kenny and me still talking about "Sea Legs".
We docked in Los Angeles the next morning at 8 am. I pitied our fellow cruisers as I watched them debarking the ship for the last time. For them, the cruise was over. For us, and a few of our new found friends, the cruise was just beginning. The only thing we had planned was to meet another nephew, residing in LA, ashore for lunch before continuing our 28 day voyage.