Northbound Alaska: Vancouver to Whittier + Land-Based: Norwegian Sun Cruise Review by Fear-the-turtle

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Northbound Alaska: Vancouver to Whittier + Land-Based

Sail Date: July 2013
Destination: Alaska
Embarkation: Vancouver
This is a lengthy review. Skip what you're not interested in!!

We left Maryland Sunday, 7/14, for Vancouver and met our traveling companions: DH's brother, his wife, and the wife's brother. We are all in our low to mid-60s. DH and I have cruised many times, the others twice. We spent the night at the Quality Hotel Vancouver, which was a good choice and while not close to the pier, it was not a very expensive cab ride there. We were just a few blocks from the AquaBus and a very enjoyable few hours at Granville Island and just 3 blocks from Nando's with the Best. Chicken. Anywhere! It was a pleasant walk to Gastown that evening.

On Monday, we walked the waterfront to Stanley Park, enjoying the sea views. Back to the hotel where we took cabs to the pier and dropped off luggage. We walked around Canada Place and the waterfront toward Stanley Park but gave up after an hour. We boarded the ship about 2, went to our balcony room, and met everyone for lunch in the buffet. More Our immediate room impressions: narrow doorway, smallish room, tiny (even by cruise ship standards) shower and small bathroom with old hair dryer (no controls at all), nice balcony & robes. No lotion or conditioner!! Steward Rene immediately greeted us by name, and as we unpacked, we realized we had plenty of storage space after all, and Rene brought extra hangers. Lunch in the buffet was always adequate. I suggest finding the dining room on the opposite side of the main buffet; it's where the pasta station and pizza are. That room was rarely crowded. Don't neglect the back of that same floor - The Great Outdoors. There are food lines there as well. That night was our first time for FreeStyle dining - yuck! It was very slow. Our waitress had no help, and the food was so-so. We attended a singing/dancing show, which was average, and throughout the week we would see a comedian, husband/wife acrobats (best act by far), a magician, and a crew talent show. Activities during the week included short dance lessons, a cooking demo, vegetable/fruit carving, trivia, captain Q&A, DWTS, newlywed game, etc. We never tried a specialty (fee) restaurant, but other free food options included Las Ramblas bar with complimentary tapas, another bar with "comfort food" like chicken winds, and the coffee bar with sweet breads/pastries. Pretzel rolls and sticks on the lunch buffet quickly became my favorite food!

Tuesday, 7/16  Cruising the Inside Passage, this is a sea day. We exercised (there's a decent gym and a running track on the top outside deck if you want to run before 8am; otherwise, you can run on the promenade deck), ate, and participated in various activities, some with everyone, some just us. Dinner service was even worse and slower. 2.5 hours!! Food continued to be average.

Wed., 7/17 - Ketchikan. Two in our party took the duck tour and learned quite a bit about the town. Another went fishing, and while he caught several fish, his excitement was landing two large halibut. We took the 8am public bus to Totem Bight Pk/Potlach Pk where we saw our first eagle. We made the big loop of totems - saw it all (including Potlach Park where totems are being carved), reading a totem guide I printed from the internet, in an hour, making the next bus. We had lunch on the ship and then walked around Creek Street, Married Man's Trail, and the Staircase Streets (nice workout!). We finally got good wait staff, and Sushma would prove to be very kind to us. She brought a cheese plate for the table and strawberries after the meal. We asked if we could request her; we could; and we did.

Thurs . 7/18 - Juneau. 10am arrival, so we exercised, had breakfast and went into town to look at shops and find wifi (we went to a federal building about 10 minutes away - their upper balcony has great views of the harbor!). Three in our group took the ships excursion to the Mendenhall Visitor Center. After lunch on ship, we took the bus for our Mendenhall canoe excursion. We booked this through the ship, as they were the only providers of this trip. 12 people paddled the canoe, and our guide was informative. This was an impressive outing; so amazing to be 100 yards from an immense glacier. We paddled across the lake, toward the glacier, spent time there, paddled in front of the waterfall, beached the canoe where Visitor Center visitors walk. After some snacks, we paddled near icebergs in the lake and back to shore. This was one of our favorite outings. After our return to the ship to get snacks and hiking poles, we walked 2 miles through town(a lot up steep hills!) to Perseverance Trail. This is a beautiful trail, once you get there!!

Friday 7/19 - Skagway. Three in our group took the White Pass train. We rented a car (Avis, $122) for the trip to Emerald Lake and were on the road by 8:15. We spent 5.5 hours, driving and stopping for views and photos. The summit was completely fogged in going, partially on return, but we enjoyed beautiful vistas everywhere else. We bought a loaf of sourdough bread in Carcross, and with some fruit, we made a lunch of it as we walked toward the train station (train was in) and waters edge. We drove some more and turned the car around at Emerald Lake. Back in Skagway, we drove to the gold rush cemetery, parked, wandered the site, and hiked to the waterfall. After turning in the car, we went to the public library for a wifi catchup with family. After a late lunch on the ship, we took a 2-hour hike around Lower Dewey Lake. Skagway has an impressive system of hiking trails; stop by a visitor center in town and ask for a map.

Sat 7/20  We got up early for Glacier Bay, spotting whales, dolphins, sea otters, and eagles during the day. Natl Park reps on board discussed the bay and glaciers, and we saw some calving. We watched on deck for several hours, and when the captain turned ship, we watched from our balcony. This was a spectacular day.

Sun 7/21  Our day for viewing Hubbard Glacier was fogged and iced out; the captain turned the ship around. Drat. So after breakfast, we exercised, attended a fruit and veggie carving, wandered the shops, enjoyed a formal dining room lunch, went to a very enjoyable comedy seminar, the crew talent show, and a trivia game. It is sad that the cruise is coming to an end, but we have 9 more days ahead of us!!

Mon 7/22 We were off the ship to meet Renee (PJ's Taxi; $250 for the 5 of us) at 9:45 for the two-hour (once we got through the tunnel) drive to Seward. Renee was accommodating (stopping by Wildlife Conservation Center and, closer to Seward, showing us a salmon stream). We went to the Best Western Edgewater Hotel  our rooms were not ready, so we all walked to a Subway for lunch and then checked into rooms. While the others enjoyed the marina area, DH and I took the Natl Park shuttle to Exit Glacier and walked the trails (not up to the ice fields though; that takes 6 hours!). I recommend the blackened halibut burrito at the Railway Cantina!

Tues 7/23  That morning, we wandered the shops near our hotel for a bit, packed and took our bags to the train depot by 9am, DH and I checked in for the 6 hour Kenai Fjords Natl Park boat trip, then got some food to go for the train later that evening. We could not make the walk to Safeway and get back in time, so we settled on Subway. The weather was sunny and calm for our tour. We saw an otter up close immediately, then birds and puffins, seals, and detoured to watch humpbacks bubble feeding!! The captain said that was an extremely rare occurrence! We could have stayed there twice as long, but we were then off to an actively-calving glacier and watched a lone humpback breaching and slapping the water with his dorsal fin. The lunch on board was more than adequate (leftovers were available, free), and we were served freshly-baked choc chip cookies before disembarking! The captain provided excellent commentary, had great scouting eyes, and graciously lingered at spots. This was a definite highlight of our trip.

We walked to the train, met the others, and boarded at 5:45 for a 4-hour ride to Anchorage in a domed car with seats that swiveled and free juice and soft drinks! We enjoyed gorgeous views (with commentary) from the domed car and in between cars. Once in Anchorage, we called our hotel for a shuttle and checked in.

DH and I rented a car the next day while the others returned home. I will include below an outline of what we did. If you have questions, email me at

Wed 7/24  Anchorage. We spent 2 hours at the excellent Anchorage Museum (and could have spent more), drove to Earthquake Park (an ok visit), wandered around the AK Wildberry Products store, had a delicious lunch at Moose's Tooth Pizza, and walked to Ship Creek to watch non-existing salmon swim upstream, toured the ulu factory, souvenir shopped along the touristy Fourth Ave, and DH tried a reindeer hot dog!

Thurs 7/25  Turnagain Arm drive. Hiked the North Face trail under Alyeska tram in Girdwood. This was a more challenging trail than we expected, taking us 1:45, instead of the 1-1:30 some people on TripAdvisor posted! We fought black flies, too, which seemed undeterred by our Deet. Views are beautiful, and anyone in reasonable shape and who likes to hike can make this. We took the tram down for free, after we enjoyed our lunch up top. We drove to Eagle River and checked into the Microtel Hotel, which I would not recommend, and went to Eagle River Nature Center.

Fri 7/26 - Left Eagle River. Went to Thunderbird Falls (very pretty and fairly short hike), saw Eklutna Village Historical Park from outside the fence (Russian Orthodox Church and graveyard houses), and took a 10 mile detour to Eklutna Lake. While the lake is pretty enough, it is not extraordinary, and unless you want to fish or picnic, I am not sure it's worth a visit.

Palmer Visitor Center is nice. We drove to Glacier View for the Matanuska glacier trek with MICA Guides. This 3-hour adventure was great fun, and the glacier is beautiful (in parts!). Night in Talkeetna.

Sat 7/27  Flight seeing trip over Mt. McKinley - spectacular!! Drove to Denali, and since it stays light so late, we were able to take a couple hikes. I recommend the Savage River Loop for a late arrival. Night in Healy.

Sun 7/28  Shuttle to Eielson Visitor Center. Lots of wildlife, and we had a chatty, informative driver. On our return ride,we got out at Stony Dome and hiked.....with a bear in the distance! Night in Healy.

Mon 7/29  Morning only in Denali; we hiked the 4.5 mile Mt Healy Overlook Trail. Night in Talkeetna.

Tues 7/30  Drove to Anchorage: Still no salmon in Ship Creek. We parked in the downtown district, ate lunch at Midnight Sun Cafe, souvenir shopped on 4th Ave, touched quivet at a musk ox coop, and got smoothies before heading to the airport for our 5:30pm flight, arriving the next morning at 9am. It was a fantastic trip! I am so glad we did the cruise as well as the DIY land-based portion. Less

Published 08/11/13

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