Great Alaskan Explorer Cruise
June 4 – 18, 2018
Embarkation Day started early for me on June 4, 2018, rising at 4 am for my SuperShuttle pickup at 4:45 am. I was collected right on time and soon was transferred to the Orange County Airport for the 6:50 am Alaska Airlines flight #519 for Seattle.
Time was sufficient for a quick McDonald’s Egg McMuffin with sausage before boarding my flight which departed right on time. Of course, at John Wayne Airport, no flights are permitted to take off before 7 am, so there is always a long line of aircraft waiting their turn.
The flight to Seattle took a little over a couple of hours and was quite smooth. My “Premium Seat” 7D worked out very well and I enjoyed a couple of Bloody Mary’s in route. Landing in Seattle and disembarking at Gate N12 the North Terminal required using the underground train to get to the main terminal and to Baggage Claim where, after retrieving my suitcase, I found several Holland America personnel directing me to their waiting bus for my prepaid transfer to the pier.
First I had to open my suitcase to move the bottle of wine I had brought to my carry-on Princess bag and to put my headphones and Miralax back inside the suitcase, also attaching the Holland America baggage tag. Then it was off to Pier 91 and the ms Zaandam, about an hour’s ride, due to Interstate 5 construction, arriving about 11 am.
Check in went very quickly and then there was a wait for boarding. I had been informed that for my cabin 2565 on Main Deck, boarding would not occur until 2 pm. Fortunately, this was not the case as my boarding group “E” was allowed to board around noontime; I quickly found my stateroom, just forward of amidships, a very good location as it is turning out to be.
Of course, my suitcase would not be delivered for a while so I chose to have lunch in the Main Dining Room on Decks 4 and 5, at the rear of the ship. Only the bottom level of the dining room was open and I was seated at a table for two, enjoying a nice lunch.
My suitcase was delivered shortly after returning to my cabin and I spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing until the mandatory safety drill at 3:30 pm, a real confusing mish-mash. Holland America has EVERYONE locate at his or her safety muster site outside on the Lower Promenade Deck 3 (mine was “5”), and stand quietly while listening to the Captain’s safety lecture. Princess Cruises does this procedure in a much more acceptable fashion, gathering everyone into one of their several large lounges with comfortable seats while listening to the safety lecture. Oh, well...
Dinner was scheduled - for me on Late Dining, at 7:45pm at Table 37 on the second level of the Main Dining Room. But first, the ship departed Seattle for our 14-day Alaskan cruise at 4 pm and most passengers chose to appear on one of the outer decks for sail away. Dinner went well, joining my tablemates Gwen and Jerry from Clovis, CA.
So went Embarkation Day for my wonderful cruise again to Alaska!
~~~Day 2 – At Sea Cruising Vancouver Island~~~
Today is an “at sea day” and we are cruising along in the Pacific Ocean just off shore of Vancouver Island. The seas have been a bit choppy today with rain on and off. Most probably tomorrow when we are in Ketchikan it will also be raining. You know the weather forecast for Ketchikan: it is either raining, has been raining, or is going to rain!
With my suitcase finally unpacked and things put away, I am spending the day relaxing from my very full day yesterday, traveling to Seattle from Orange County. Tonight is the first of three formal nights or, as HAL says, “Gala Nights”, so I will have to drag out my coat and tie; the tuxedo was left at home!
Television in my stateroom is on most of the time; besides the HAL channels, there are MSNBC, ESPN, CNBC, BBC and, of course, FOX (not my choice!) There will be a time change tonight to Alaska Time, one hour earlier than Pacific Time. Although “refurbished” earlier this year, the TV sets are still the older flat panel ones. The carpet all looks quite new and fresh, however,
Many of Holland America’s old favorites are now long gone: the guy with the pillbox hat, ringing chimes to announce dinner; (others escape me right now.) The ship itself, built in 2000, is still in pristine condition with lots of beautiful public rooms, two-level dining room, and theatre... Clientele remains on the older side with very few children present, and the entertainment is definitely chosen with the more mature customer in mind. I feel right at home!
At 7:45 pm, my dining time, the Captain was also hosting his welcome toast, so I was a few minutes late arriving at my Table 37, only to find that two other couples had taken my seat! When I demanded an explanation from the Maitre ‘d, I received an apology and seated at a nearby table for two. I was furious! Evidently my tardiness in arrival had been the reason the four other people being seated at MY table. I was assured that that would not happen again, and the Maitre ‘d knew that otherwise I would complain bitterly to Seattle, the head office for HAL!
At 10 pm, the ship singers and dancers presented their first performance, and it was quite good. Most of the music was unfamiliar to me but the four singers - two guys and two gals, in addition to three male and two female dancers, gave us all a very entertaining show.
Then it was off to bed; tomorrow will be in Ketchikan.
~~~Day 3 – Ketchikan~~~
As expected, our arrival in Ketchikan this morning at 8 am was greeted with scattered showers that persisted throughout the day, requiring my trusty umbrella to shield against the light rain.
My plans were simple for the day: take the funicular up to the Cape Fox Lodge, which overlooks the city and harbor, and to dine at the restaurant there, enjoying their excellent halibut along with a pint of Alaskan Amber beer.
Leaving the ship (which was docked conveniently directly at the center dock) at about 11 am, I used my umbrella and found my way to the entrance to the funicular, at the very end of Creek Street, another favorite tourist attraction of Ketchikan. Paying my $3 to the attendant, I had no wait at all for the next funicular and was soon on my way up the short distance to the Lodge, retaining my ticket stub for the return trip down.
I was again in luck that the restaurant had just started their lunch service at 11:30 am and was seated at a choice window table overlooking the downtown and harbor where the ms Zaandam was docked. My menu selection was, of course, their three-piece halibut and chips for $21, and my Amber beer for $7. Happiness is knowing - and getting - what you want!
After lunch - including a second Amber, I returned back down the funicular, again using my umbrella against the light rain. At the base of the funicular is one of the entrances to Creek Street and I decided to walk along. It was at this very location in 2009 while visiting on the Pacific Princess that I encountered - by chance - Bruce and Joy Winston, friends I had made on a Viking river cruise in 2007; they were on a Holland America ship docked in Ketchikan. What a coincidence!
With my belly full of Alaskan halibut, the rest of the afternoon was spent napping and watching MSNBC. The day before I had changed my reservations at the Pinnacle Grill, a specialty restaurant aboard, so that tonight I would dine for the first of two times there. Patric, my good friend and travel agent, also sent me a reservation to the Pinnacle Grill which I will use on June 11th; thank you, Patric!
My dinner at the Pinnacle Grill, which charges $35 surcharge, was at 7:30 pm and was superb! The shrimp cocktail I had to start with had huge shrimp the size of small lobsters! And the 10-ounce filet mignon was THE VERY BEST steak I have ever tasted! Cooked to perfection and absolutely tender! Yum yum! I slept very well!
~~~Day 4 – Cruising the Endicott Arm~~~
According to our published itinerary, today we were scheduled to cruise the Tracy Arm, viewing the Sawyer Glaciers at the far end of this lengthy fjord. However, the Captain announced that due to the over abundance and density of ice flows in the Tracy Arm, making navigation impossible, we would instead cruise up the nearby Endicott Arm, another lengthy fjord at the head of which was yet another sizable glacier, the Dawes Glacier.
Traveling up the Endicott Arm, at first chunks of floating ice were infrequent but gradually increasing in both size and number as we approached the end of the Arm and the Dawes Glacier residing there. I watched from the rail on Deck 3 just above my cabin as we made the approach.
The weather, unlike the previous day, was spectacularly clear with much sunshine. The ship’s staff had arranged for the ship’s bow to be open for all passengers as a viewing sight, so as we got closer to the Dawes Glacier, I decided to leave my perch on the rail of Deck 3 and proceed to the bow.
With my earmuffs securely in place and wearing my warm leather jacket, I joined the throng on the bow fully expecting to be greeted with a cup of steaming hot pea soup, long a HAL tradition. NOT to be! I was informed that Holland America no longer does this - another thing to add to my previous list of things no longer done by HAL.
Another thing to add to this list: the recent absence of self-service launderettes, one on each passenger deck. Now ALL GONE! Thanks to the last refurbishment. Things are NOT getting better with Holland America! Perhaps further negative influence by Carnival, HAL’s parent company?
Watching the Dawes Glacier for quite a while and seeing no “calving” taking place, and with the ship rotating about to give good views from all sides, I decided to take my leave and return to my cozy stateroom for a nap.
As has now become my routine, this morning I again ordered room service for my breakfast: ham and cheddar cheese omelet, coffee, English muffin, juices - cranberry and orange, along with a bowl of mixed fruit: watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple, grapes... I now do this each morning as it is a free service - save the $3 tip for the server. Much better than fighting the rude mob at the buffet upstairs, the “trough” as I call it! I am becoming very spoiled!
Tonight I returned to the Main Dining Room, not knowing what to expect or where I would be seated. The Maitre ‘d directed me to my table #37 where I found ... NO ONE! I dined alone. Gwen and Jerry, as it turned out, had chosen to eat at the Canaletto Italian specialty restaurant. I will also be dining there on June 15, a Friday on which their featured menu item is Osso Bucco, which I dearly love.
So ended Day 4.
~~~Day 5 –Juneau~~~
Having been to Juneau on numerous previous trips, there were really only two things on my agenda for the day.
First, a ride up to the top of Mount Roberts on the gondola, an increase of 1800 feet above sea level, where I immediately went to the Timberline Restaurant, securing a table by the window overlooking Juneau and the harbor. My menu choice - of course - was halibut and chips with a pint of Alaskan Amber beer. Their halibut - all three pieces - was exceptionally good, better even than that which I had had in Ketchikan! All for $21.95 plus $7 for the beer.
That done, it was back on the gondola and down to base. The gondola ride is spectacular, especially on such a perfect day with bright sunshine and puffy white clouds.
Next on my list was a visit to the Red Dog Saloon, a very famous tourist landmark in Alaska. Being only early afternoon, I was able to find a seat at the otherwise crowded bar. A visit to Juneau would not be complete without a stop at the Red Dog Saloon.
Finishing my second Amber beer, I was feeling quite happy - and ready for a nap! Fortunately, it was only a short walk back to the ship, again docked in the very center of town. Holland America must exert special privilege to secure such ideal docking locations.
Just behind our ship, the ms Zaandam, was another HAL ship, the ms Volendam, which is the sister ship to ours. Jim and I were on the Volendam on a cruise from Auckland, New Zealand to Sydney, Australia back in 2009.
Dinner in the Main Dining Room saw the return of Gwen and Jerry at Table 37 so all was well in the world again. They are from Central California, a town called Clovis! Of course that name is familiar with me having grown up in Clovis, NEW MEXICO.
Our ship did not depart Juneau until 10 pm, although I chose not to go back into town after dinner. Tomorrow we would be in Icy Strait Point, only a short distance from Juneau, so our ship would drop anchor midway before resuming the journey.
~~~Day 6 – Icy Strait Point~~~
After only a short trip from Juneau, including a period of remaining stationery at anchor for a few hours, our arrival in Icy Strait Point was right on schedule at 7 am, at a new dock. Previous visits here had involved ship to shore transfers by tender and this brand new dock was a pleasant surprise for me. It is located a ways down from the older docks, in the vicinity of the zip line terminus.
My tour of the day was a repeat of the famous zip line here that, at over 5300 feet, is claimed to be the longest in the world. My report time was at 8:50 am inside the visitor’s center where I quickly filled out the required release form on a convenient computer screen.
Then promptly at 9 am our group of 30 was called to follow along a path to the awaiting bus for a 45-minute ride to the mountaintop and the staging area for the zip line. The bus was a converted school bus, now painted green, and the trip up the mountain first proceeded through the small Tlingit village of Hoonah.
Driving along the only paved road on the island, we climbed and climbed, soon running out of the paved road for a bumpy gravel one. Our driver spoke to us the entire journey, pointing out things to see and apologizing for the “back massage”. Several places he stopped for us to grasp the stunning views of the surrounding valleys and hillsides.
Soon we reached the top and the end of our bus ride. Then it was a somewhat lengthy walk down a steep path to arrive at the staging area. Portable toilets were in plentiful supply and most people took advantage.
We then lined up to be assigned, in groups of 6, our departure order. As it turned out, I was #1 in the second group of 6 - the number of zip lines. When my time came I was strapped into a harness, seated with my feet firmly planted on the exit gate. Then on the count of three, the gates opened and I began my trip down the 5300 feet of zip line at speeds up to 60 mph! What a rush!
Struggling to keep myself headed straight by holding out my right hand, I partially succeeded, and then the enjoyment of the rest of this 90 second experience continued all the way down from a height of 1300 feet to sea level. Stopping was an experience in itself; giant coils at the end of the zip lines absorb and decelerate your travel - in a very few seconds! And then it is over!
Although this was my third time, the fear and panic all came back anew, once those exit gates snapped open. It is quite an experience! Once unharnessed we entered their shed where, in addition to the many logo-ed merchandise items to be purchased, was displayed on large computer screens were photos taken of each of us on our trip down; I decided to forego the purchase of mine for $15.95!
For the occasion I had worn the ZipRider hoody I had purchased on a previous visit, which drew considerable attention from the staff who had not seen this older version - in orange color - before!
Then it was back to the ship for lunch in the Dining Room, followed by a nap. It had been quite a morning!
Our departure of Icy Strait Point was at 2 pm; next stop, Anchorage - day after tomorrow!
~~~Day 7 – Cruising the Gulf of Alaska~~~
With our route of travel in the open Pacific, crossing the Gulf of Alaska, we have been experiencing considerable sea motion here on the ms Zaandam. Starting early this morning there have been large swells topped with white caps throughout the day. Consequently I have spent most of the day here in my stateroom 2565, catching up on emails and napping.
As per our agreement, I did go up to the Main Dining Room at 12 n to meet Gwen and Jerry for lunch. I got to the Deck 4 entrance to the MDR a little early and there was no line at all, but shortly people began showing up and a lengthy line had developed before Gwen appeared, saying that Jerry was under the weather and would not be joining us.
We soon were seated at a table already occupied by grandparents and their grandson - from Amarillo! Being Sunday morning, the menu was for Sunday Brunch, which probably explained the large lineup at the entrance, usually very scant. My choice was for a berry smoothie and Eggs Benedict that turned out to be quite delicious. Good coffee along with an apple crisp dessert with vanilla ice cream completed my enjoyable Sunday Brunch.
The sea motion is still continuing but I have returned to my stateroom for the remainder of the afternoon. Tonight is our second formal, or “Gala” night so out will come my jacket and tie. According to the dinner menu displayed at the entrance to the MDR, one item of interest for me is Filet Mignon. It will be interesting to see how this steak compares with the magnificent one I had at the Pinnacle Grill! I will let you know later.
So now I am caught up with my emails, the next of which will detail tomorrow’s activities in Anchorage.
~~~Day 8 – Anchorage~~~
Again this morning I enjoyed breakfast delivered to my stateroom promptly at 8am, the time of our arrival in Anchorage. My usual choice is a ham and cheddar omelet served with hash browns along with cranberry and orange juices, coffee and an English muffin. Lately I have also added a fruit cup with watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple, and grapes. I routinely give Harun who delivers all this a $3 tip, which he seems to appreciate. I have become spoiled!
Today’s excursion, “The Big Swig”, a tour of three breweries in Anchorage, wasn’t scheduled until the afternoon at 2:30 pm, so I spent most of the day here in my stateroom, watching TV and napping. I did go up to the Lido Market buffet for a bite of lunch, something I don’t really enjoy very much.
The tides in Anchorage Harbor are tremendous and when the ship docks, the ramps are placed according to the current level. However, soon the level changes, requiring the ramps to be repositioned. This recurs several times during the day so one can never expect the same ramp arrangement on return to the ship from that when you left the ship.
At 2:20 pm I went down to the dock to meet my excursion, scheduled to depart at 2:30 pm, joining the others in our 12-person group in a small van. We departed the ship and then drove out of the dock area, in which pedestrian traffic is prohibited.
Soon we arrived at our first stop, the new headquarters of the King Street brewery, having passed the older and much smaller location. Although the day had been spectacularly clear with lots of sunshine, storm clouds were forming as we entered the brewery.
Our tour guide turned out to be one of the two owners whose compassion and enthusiasm for his trade was quite evident. We were each given a board with holes holding four small glasses into which we chose which of the several beers available we wanted to taste. I chose an IPA (India Pale Ale), another called an AMA, a stout, and an amber - all very tasty!
We were escorted through this enormous facility, still under development, observing the different stages of beer making accompanied by the owner’s expert and complete explanations, all the time sipping our samples. Lasting almost an hour we were finally called to go, exiting into a slight rainstorm. Fortunately, our van was conveniently located for our dash through the rain.
The next brewery to be visited was the Midnight Sun Brewery, a more established brewery of over 23 years. We were ushered through a back door opening into one of the work rooms where canning was taking place. The noise made it difficult to hear the guide but his voice did carry well. Our first sample came out of a Red Sockeye Salmon figure on the wall; bending a gill produced the flow of beer into our waiting cups. Very ingenious!
Following the guide into another workroom we saw the process of beer making taking place. Then we were lead upstairs into a visitor’s area already crowded with customers. Seated at our own table we were served a second and third sample, this time in larger glasses. A fourth sample was 12.7% alcohol and was VERY good! On the tables were provided different snacks for us: cheeses, ham, crackers, nuts, prosciutto, pepperoni, etc. By the time we departed everyone was beginning to feel really good.
The last brewery visited was called Resolution and was considerably smaller than the first two. Again we were each given a choice of four different beers and these too were quite good! By this time, however, everything was tasting good!
The rain had stopped while we were in the second brewery so our eventual return to the ship - after four hours - was again in sunshine with clear skies. We have been quite lucky so far with weather; only Ketchikan presented us with wet weather.
Then it was time for dinner that was my second evening at the Pinnacle Grill. This time I again enjoyed the enormous shrimp cocktail followed by a huge chunk of delectable halibut - with three more shrimp on top! Dessert was a delicious soufflé to end another memorable dining experience. Sleep came easy and early!
~~~Day 9 – Homer~~~
Today’s stop was at Homer, or more accurately, the Homer Spit, a long peninsula extending several miles out into the Gulf of Alaska where deeper water permits cruise ships to dock. Again, the tide is so substantial that several different exit ramp configurations are required during the day. When we first docked, I looked out of my window and saw the dock about halfway up. A couple of hours later, my window was at dock level, and further on, I was looking down onto the dock. This is the base location for the famous fishing fleet featured in the TV series, “The Deadliest Catch”.
Having been here before, there was only one thing I planned to do, a visit to the eclectic Salty Dawg Saloon. This bar is an institution in Homer and is reachable by a courtesy bus from the end of the pier around the spit to its prime location.
So around 1 pm I left the ship and walked the lengthy distance to the end of the pier where I found a courtesy bus waiting for the short drive past many shops and restaurants to the Salty Dawg Saloon.
This historic bar has been here since the late 1800s and is quite the tourist attraction. http://www.saltydawgsaloon.com/ The place resembles a lighthouse and isn’t that big inside, which is covered completely with dollar bills left by past customers. On my arrival I didn’t find the place as busy as on previous visits. Ordering an Alaska Amber beer I found a place to sit near the back and enjoyed myself observing the stream of tourists making their way through, most not ordering anything, just ogling the cluttered interior.
It was getting more crowded when, after my third Amber, I decided to take my leave. Finding the courtesy bus I soon returned to the pier and the long walk back to the ship. Being another spectacular day with bright sunshine and clear skies, the walk was rather pleasant. Of course, a nap was in order on return to my stateroom!
Dinner is now over and I decided to forego the 10 pm production show in the theatre to finish these two emails. The sun has yet to set and it is almost 11 pm! Tomorrow is their longest day of the year with over 20 hours of sunlight. But for me, it is now bedtime!
~~~Day 10 – Kodiak~~~
Another spectacular day in Alaska! With perfectly clear blue skies and bright warm sunshine, one would question the location where the daylight hours are up to 20 per day. Rather remarkable - even the locals are raving about the excellent weather we have enjoyed the past many days.
Our time in Kodiak today was not that long - only until 2 pm, having arrived at 7 am. My tour for the day, “A Taste of Kodiak”, was scheduled from 10:45 am until 1:15 pm, with back-on-board time at 1:30 pm.
I need to say a few things about my stateroom, #2565, here on Main Deck 2; the location is just the sixth room back from the outside entrance frequently used on Main Deck, and my window overlooks all of the boarding activity, being on the starboard (right) side of the ship. Normally I keep my curtains fully open, even at night, so I don’t miss anything. This stateroom was a paid upgrade offered for $258 that I have been quite happy to have made. Great location!
At 10:30 am I left the ship to join the large number of passengers, some awaiting a tour, but most awaiting the free shuttle bus (actually a school bus!) into downtown Kodiak, a distance of about 2 miles. Bus after bus carried load after load of passengers continuously into town. Good luck on getting back by 1:30 pm!
A couple of local tour gals announced our tour promptly at 10:40 am and each of the 15 of us were given a numbered tag to clip on for identification, after signing the requisite waiver. Being a walking tour, I was still somewhat dismayed to find out that we would be walking the 2 miles into town.
On our schedule were 6 stops to sample the “Taste of Kodiak” and our first stop was at a busy coffee shop where, in addition to a cup of superb, freshly brewed coffee, we were given slices of bread lathered with a creamed salmon, as many as we wanted! Delectable!
Continuing on, we arrived at a crafts shop where samples of local jams and jellies were presented, served on crackers. One choice of mine was a Strawberry Chipotle that was spicy and delicious; another was a Blueberry Barb, also quite tasty.
Then it was off to our third stop, a restaurant where we were all seated at a long table and served a generous chunk of baked halibut topped with a mayonnaise-cheesy spread: absolutely wonderful! Halibut is my very favorite Alaskan fish and this was a special treat for me!
Next we walked on to another restaurant on a second level where once again we were all seated at a long table and served delicious “Salmon Splash” sandwiches on incredibly good bread, along with a fresh spinach salad garnished with a tasty dressing. Also, very good!
Crossing the street our next stop was a local brewery where we each were given two samples of the myriad of offerings; one of mine was a Hiefkessen, German style, and then a darker one I didn’t particularly care for. We were given a quick but informative tour of the back room that housed the brewing operation, a decided smaller operation than those we had visited in Anchorage.
Our final stop was at the Best Western Hotel upstairs dining room where we were treated to chunks of deep-fried, breaded salmon with a delicious dipping sauce, as well as an amazing crab and artichoke dip, heated with cheese! Yummy!
Then it was the return walk back to the ship that I found to be a real struggle, but I made it by 1:15 pm!
Promptly at 1:30 pm the Captain came on the P.A. announcing that our departure would occur at 2 pm, headed overnight for the Hubbard Glacier tomorrow afternoon. He also said the weather report was continuing to be good, which was a relief to hear since our route back across the Gulf of Alaska can be rather rough riding. Then the gangway was lifted up and we were on our way.
~~~Day 11 – The Hubbard Glacier~~~
The highlight of this cruise, I believe, was our visit today of the Hubbard Glacier. Stretching over 7 miles across the face, this Glacier is immense! Our arrival at this giant chunk of ice was around 2:30 pm, under partially clouded skies, and the views were incredible!
At first I went up to Deck 3, the Lower Promenade, to stand by the railing and await the slowing emerging vista, watching the increasing number of icebergs - big and small - pass by our ship. It was quite cool, standing there, and my earmuffs were a great help to shield from the frigid wind; protection behind one the vertical standards of the ship made my wait tolerable.
As we approached closer and closer to the glacier’s face, the ship’s speed diminished greatly, as well as the wind, and it became very pleasant to view this behemoth in calm circumstances. The Captain slowly rotated the ship, giving excellent observation from all angles; at one point, my view was right on the full entirety of the glacier’s face. Spectacular!
Of course, all viewers were waiting to see any “calving”, large chunks of the Glacier falling free, causing enormous splashes in the water below. And we were not disappointed! I personally saw at least 4 or 5 such calvings, most from areas of the glacial face least suspect to calve.
My misinformation from a crew member on our first glacier viewing the previous week that Holland America no longer served hot Dutch pea soup, was rendered untrue with this viewing which saw crew members serving bowl after bowl of the hot soup to those of us on deck. My dining room waiter, Reza, came up to me and offered a bowl of this excellent pea soup with ham pieces, which certainly hit the spot!
Remaining very near the glacier’s face - perhaps a half mile, the Captain continued moving the ship about, changing the views of all of us on deck. I don’t recall ever having been that close to the Hubbard Glacier! All of this under partly clouded skies - a perfect day!
Finally, after over an hour, the ms Zaandam turned back down the fjord toward the open sea. It had been quite an experience!
~~~Day 12 – Sitka~~~
After a relatively calm night at sea last evening, our arrival this morning in Sitka came at 8 am on the dot. We were docked at a new facility - for me, having had to tender into port on previous visits here. About 5 miles from downtown Sitka, this was a real change from before, requiring a free shuttle bus to reach the city and our tour departure areas, near a large and new visitor’s center.
Not knowing just how long it would take, using the well-used and crowded shuttle buses, I thought it best to leave the ship an hour early to assure my arrival at my tour location by it’s 11 am departure. Even as crowded as the shuttle buses were, I arrived with plenty of time to spare.
I thought that surely there would be a nearby place to get a cup of coffee for my wait but there was none. I walked around to the old Russian Cathedral and to a coffee shop across the street to find my cup of coffee.
Returning to our tour site I was greeted by our guide for the tour I had selected for the day, “A Pedal Pub Crawl”. Consisting of a bicycle “built for 15” there were 11 of us on this day, and we were on our way promptly at 11 am. Fortunately - for me - the seat I chose had in-operational pedals, so I had a free ride! A partial relief from my “walking tour” in Kodiak.
We presented quite the sight, pedaling along the streets of Sitka, on our bicycle built for 15! Greeting the onlookers with waves and shouts, we proceeded to our first stop, Ernie’s Old Pub, where we were first treated to a complimentary shot consisting of Baileys, Kahlua, and Crown Royal whiskey; delicious! Their name for this special shot is a “Duck’s Fart”. Strong but good!
We were then given the opportunity to order another drink; mine was an Alaskan Amber beer. A great start to an enjoyable, unique tour!
Our next stop, after wowing everyone on the streets, was another bar called the Pioneer, a place popular with fishermen from the nearby docks. Again, my choice was an Amber, consumed while observing the myriad of fishing photos lining the walls. I struck up a conversation with two girls, Patty and Karen, also from Southern California, who were traveling together. People on this cruise have really been friendly, I think; I have become acquainted with many during our two-week time together.
The last place to visit was a brewery, local in Sitka, where we were given three samples of Alaskan beers. The first was a Red Sockeye that I had had at the brewery in Anchorage and the second was a “Blonde” - both quite good. The third sample was from the Midnight Sun Brewery, also visited in Anchorage, a darker beer that I found tasty.
Food was also available for order although I chose not to partake. By this time I was feeling no pain! This concluded our “Pedal Pub Crawl”, a unique and enjoyable tour to say the least!
Then it was back to the long line of passengers, cued up for the shuttle bus back to the ship. The wait was not too long and the 15 minute ride back around to the new dock and our ship soon brought us back to the ms Zaandam, our floating home for only two more days.
Tonight I am dining at the specialty restaurant, Canaletto, this evening chosen because of their daily special for Friday being Osso Bucco. I am looking forward to this my favorite dish with anticipation.
~~~Day 13 - At Sea~~~
Now on our last leg of travel to Victoria, Canada, and then Seattle on Monday morning, the day was quite relaxing and restful after our busy day in Sitka, and the main thing to do was the Mariner’s Lunch to which I was invited at 1 pm. An earlier Lunch was also held at 11:30 am and if the number of attendees at ours was any clue, it is evident that a great majority of the ship’s passengers are “Mariners”, previous cruisers on Holland America.
After entering the lower level of the Main Dining Room on Deck 4, along with the throng of others, I found a table for two that already had glasses of champagne poured. As it turned out I enjoyed my own glass and the other glass on my table, plus a glass from the lady at the next table! The Captain spoke briefly, offering a toast to all of us in celebration of a great cruise.
My menu choice was Yankee Pot Roast, preceded by a delicious salad dressed with balsamic vinegar. The pot roast was tasty although a bit over cooked. Dessert was a chocolate tart of some kind.
As we departed the Dining Room we were given one of Holland America’s famous Delft tiles, this one with a photo of our ship, the ms Zaandam. I have quite a collection of these!
The remainder of the afternoon was spent relaxing and watching TV with nothing more to do until it was time to get ready for our final Gala Dinner, requiring coat and tie.
We were FINALLY given the choice of LOBSTER and filet mignon, preceded by a Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail, and it was delicious! The lobster tail was of a good size and the steak in our “Surf and Turf” was very tender and cooked to desired specification of medium-rare. Dessert was a delectable tiramisu.
After dinner I stopped by the Ocean Bar, my favorite watering hole, where I finished off the last bottle of wine I had purchased, and waited until a few minutes before 10 pm before going to the theater for the final performance of the ship’s singers and dancers. An earlier performance at 8 pm usually gets the majority of attendees and I easily found a good seat on the first row of the balcony on Deck 5.
The theme for the show was that of a Western Saloon and the performance was the best I think of the four for this cruise. Afterwards members of the cast were located at the exits to greet the customers.
Then it was time for bed; tomorrow we will be arriving in Victoria at 1 pm. Our Great Alaskan Explorer Cruise is near its end!
~~~Day 14 – Victoria, Canada~~~
Our last day of cruising between Sitka and the last port of call, Victoria, Canada, has been unbelievably smooth! With absolutely clear blue skies the weather has been remarkably good and it is a pleasure looking out of my stateroom window at the passing calm seas.
Arrival at Victoria today was not until 1 pm and I was concerned that the long line of passengers disembarking might delay my meeting my tour at 1:50 pm for a 2 pm departure to the Butchart Gardens and the Butterfly Garden. So I guessed where on the ship that disembarkation would most probably take place, on Deck A, forward, and went down to Deck 1 from which stairs lead down to Deck A shortly before 1 pm.
I was right, of course, although the door down to Deck A was not yet open, so I waited. Soon other early-bird passengers began showing up with the same intention as mine, until there was a crowd gathered awaiting our docking and the placement of the gangway.
Due to the tide level at Ogden Point Dock in Victoria, there was a delay placing the correct gangway to the ship but soon it was done and we were permitted to depart the ship. Walking down the lengthy distance down the pier to the visitor’s center, it was evident that the day would be warm with temperatures in the 70s.
Finding the departure area for shore excursions with the assistance of a ship’s crew, I was one of the first on our bus to the Butchart Gardens. The coolness of the bus was welcome to me, dressed in my one and only short-sleeve shirt, an unanticipated good move with my packing that generally included only cold weather clothes. There were several other tours that also included the Butchart Gardens but the one I had chosen also included a visit to the Victoria Butterfly Gardens.
Our first stop after traveling from Ogden Point Dock through the center of Victoria and out through the suburbs was to the Butterfly Gardens where were given 45 minutes to enjoy this climate controlled enclosure of a tropical paradise where butterflies flew freely amid the lush vegetation. Also present were exotic birds including parrots and flamingos right at home around a pool filled with beautiful koi fish. Two large iguanas were also in residence, the larger one high in the trees and the smaller one down where it could be petted. Turtles had their special enclosure, and the entire setting was warm and moist, just like the tropical environment it replicated. A wonderful experience to say the least!
The guide was an older gentleman, well versed in absolutely everything of importance and interest concerning Victoria, its history, culture and life. His narration continued non-stop throughout our time on the bus and his stories of different local personalities were uniquely interesting.
The next stop was the nearby Butchart Gardens where we were allowed over an hour and a half. Entering at the Waterwheel Plaza, we were advised to first visit the Sunken Gardens, the highlight. I took the steps down to the bottom level where the path was surrounded by beautiful flowers in full bloom, and the centerpiece pool with its fountain of dancing waters. Breathtaking!
A curving path lead the way up out of the Sunken Gardens and my next stop was at a snack stand next to the carrousel where I enjoyed a lemonade. Next was on into the Rose Garden, filled with thousands of stunning beds of numerous varieties of roses in full bloom; the aroma was intoxicating!
Having visited the Japanese Gardens on a previous visit, I chose not to repeat this attraction, due to limited time given to us. Instead I stopped at the Blue Poppy Restaurant, on the way back towards the entrance, for a glass of wine - of course!
Back on the bus with only a few minutes to spare until our departure, the coolness and comfort of my seat was a welcome relief from the extensive walk through the Gardens. On the way back to the ship we were again treated to stories from our knowledgeable guide about the original construction of the British Columbia Parliament Building as well as the Empress Hotel, designed by a non-architect (as it turned out), Francis Rattenbury, whose personal life was quite scandalous. Our guide knew all of the raunchy details!
Our return to the ms Zaandam was right at 6 pm, giving me only a short rest before dressing for dinner at 7:45 pm. We would not be leaving Victoria until 11 pm, the distance to our final destination of Seattle not being very long, but I had to pack my luggage to be placed in the hallway before midnight.
A free option was given, “Port Valet”, in which one’s airline check in was performed in conjunction with the airline by the ship’s crew, including tagging and transfer of luggage to the airport, which I accepted - new to me.
The day before our last we were given a Disembarkation Package including our airline-boarding pass with seat assignment and airline luggage tag to put on luggage to be placed in the hallway before midnight. The next time we would see our luggage was on arrival at one’s destination airport.
Luggage charges were added to our shipboard account, mine $25 to Alaska Airlines. At first somewhat skeptical, I was pleased with the result; everything went exactly according to plan!
At 11:30 pm I was all packed with my luggage placed outside my stateroom door, so it was only left to go to bed for the final night aboard the ms Zaandam.
~~~Day 15 – Seattle~~~
As mentioned before, the distance between Victoria and Seattle is not that far, so our remaining cruise before disembarkation in Seattle took only a few hours, arriving right on schedule at Pier 91 at 7 am. Since my departure from the ship was to be at 8 am, there was little time for any breakfast, certainly not my usual in-cabin ham and cheddar omelet!
My flight back to Orange County from Seattle on Alaska Airlines was not until 4:50 pm, so I had chosen a shore excursion, ”Best of Seattle”, which left the ship at 8:30 am, lasting until 12:30 pm, ending with transfer to the Sea-Tac Airport. Included were to be a visit to the Space Needle as well as one to Pike’s Place Market, as well as a tour around other sights of interest in downtown such as the two huge sports stadiums and Pioneer Plaza.
About a quarter till 8 am I left my stateroom #2565 for the last time and went to Deck 5 where I encountered a huge crowd awaiting the beginning of our disembarkation, delayed for some reason until well after 8 am. After asking a crewmember about meeting my shore excursion that was scheduled to leave at 8:30 am, I was told to go ahead and join the exiting passengers, which had already begun.
Without any luggage to worry about I quickly passed through passport control and was outside the terminal and in my tour bus by 8:30 am, ready to go. Unfortunately, there were passengers not as prompt as myself so our departure was delayed until almost 9 am; in fact, the bus had to return to its parking space to collect the final two passengers! THEN we were on our way, first stop - the Space Needle. Of course, the late start didn’t concern me since my flight wasn’t until 4:50 pm and the later we finished the tour and got to the airport, the better - less waiting time there.
Parking on a street next to the Seattle Science Park in which the Space Needle is located, our bus let us out with instructions to be picked up there after an hour and a half, and we all walked up towards the entrance only to find out that it was not yet open! Back on the bus, our driver/guide, Lisa, was told by phone that the Needle wouldn’t be open for another hour or so.
Lisa then decided that we would tour downtown Seattle and go to the Pike’s Place Market. However, there were two ladies that hadn’t returned to the bus so after our tour of downtown Seattle, we had to return back to the parking place near the Needle where they were found, waiting. The Space Needle still had not opened!
THEN we were off to Pike’s Place where we were given an hour and forty-five minutes to tour the Market and choose among the many eating establishments for lunch. A short walk from where we were let off the bus, we arrived at this large complex on several levels hosted a myriad of shops selling any and everything, as well as many restaurants. The famous fish market is here where the fishermen toss the fish back and forth to each other. Fun to watch!
The Place was SO crowded one could hardly walk and I quickly tired of all the people, so I chose one of the restaurants, Lowell’s, where I just ordered breakfast, “Joe’s Egg and Sausage Scramble”, with coffee, for $20! Not cheap, here! It was a huge dish, however, loaded with sausage and mushrooms as well as spinach, with a side of hash brown potatoes. I found an open table near a window overlooking Seattle’s Harbor and thoroughly enjoyed my very large breakfast and wonderful coffee.
Then it was time to fight my way back through the crowds towards where our bus pickup would occur. I had changed levels at one point so I wasn’t exactly sure where that would be, but my instincts were correct and I was soon back to the required spot with only a few minutes to spare before our bus arrived and collected us - all of us, this time!
Next we were finally informed that the Space Needle had opened so, back to the parking space to which we had now been twice! While those of us with flights after 3 pm were allowed an hour and a half at the Needle, Lisa took those with earlier flights to the airport so they would not miss their flights. She would be back for us later.
Approaching the entrance to the Space Needle is confusing to say the least; the possibilities are complicated by the fact that all sides of the circular base are available for entrance. Once this was figured out, we were directed to a waiting line which wound around and up inside the structure, finally arriving at yet another waiting line for entrance to one of the several elevators to the visitor level, a speedy ride of 49 seconds.
The view is incredible, especially on such a bright sunny day! The Needle is undergoing renovations, the first in over 60 years - not quite complete, and it was not possible to walk all the way around the visitor level. New thick glass panels now form the walls of the visitor level with thick glass benches scattered around. It was possible to get a great view of downtown Seattle and of the Harbor, but I could not see Mount Rainier - possibly on the inaccessible side. I found a bar where I purchased a Sauvignon Blanc wine - for $10. Couldn’t be atop the Space Needle without having a glass of wine! So I continued to view while I sipped!
Then it was back in a long line awaiting an elevator down. If Seattle is this busy on a Monday, I can’t imagine how crowded it must be on a weekend! Shortly we were ushered into a downward elevator, about a dozen at a time, and soon returned to a level requiring two long stairways to get back on ground level. It had been quite warm on top and it was a relief to return to the bus pickup area and sit down on a bench in the shade of a tree.
Lisa and her bus arrived right on schedule and, with the remainder of us back aboard, comfortable in the coolness and soft seats, it was finally time to depart to the airport. Our travel time would be about 30 minutes, arriving at about 2 pm; the lateness of our start and the confusion of opening time for the Needle had reduced our wait time at the airport about an hour and a half. It had been a good day despite the complications.
Arrival at the Sea-Tac Airport was in the bus loading zone, a short walk into the parking structure, an elevator ride to level 4, and another walk across the pedestrian bridge into the terminal, and then an escalator ride down to departure level. Since we were already checked in, there was only the security checkpoint to face. Having a TSA Pre-check on my boarding pass, the trip through security was rather routine with only my carry-on to be X-rayed; no need to unpackage my laptop or remove shoes.
Then it was down two levels to the train to transfer to the N Gates in the North Terminal; mine was Gate N4, contrary to the N3 printed on my boarding pass. Finding my gate and a place to sit, I finally relaxed and worked on my iPad while waiting the remaining hour until aircraft loading at 4:10 pm; free Wi-Fi was available in Sea-Tac Airport so I did some updating and played a few games of Solitaire.
When pre-loading was called, without hesitation I went forward as a person needing additional time; being 80 has its advantages! My Premium Economy seat 8C was quickly found and I was somewhat amazed at how quickly and methodically the plane loaded to its full capacity; we were fully loaded by 4:40 pm. Of course, there were a few stragglers but several minutes early, the door was closed and we were off to Orange County.
The two hour, 10 minute flight was a little bumpy to start but eventually smoothed out for an enjoyable trip, further enhanced by a couple glasses of white wine - complimentary for Premium Economy. The arrival at John Wayne Airport was right on schedule at 7:08 pm and, being near the front of the plane, I was soon off and on my way to baggage claim, with a side trip to the bathroom.
It was a short wait until luggage began appearing on the carrousel and I was really nervous whether my luggage had made the trip from outside my stateroom door and onto the aircraft safely. It HAD, as mine was soon making the round on the carrousel, and retrieved with a struggle - it was heavy!
Then out of the terminal, across the street and on to the SuperShuttle dispatcher I went, dragging my luggage. The dispatcher only needed my name to identify me as a paid passenger and he said there would be about a 5-minute wait for my van to arrive. As it turned out, I was put on an ExpressCar van, part of SuperShuttle and ExecuCar, and my ride home was direct with only me as a customer.
Upon arrival, my driver even rolled my heavy luggage up the driveway; he received a good tip from me!
So, home at last! It has been a wonderful trip but it is good to be home!
~Ron Read Less