Summary: Glad I went. Had a good time. Like HAL
This was a two week cruise out of Seattle, which I booked one day before the final payment. When they finally gave me my cabin it was an ocean view on the Lower Promenade Deck in a good location - except it was under the kitchen. Having been in that location before, I was aware of that and the people who were originally next door (from Cruise Critics) confirmed that they were awakened each morning at 4 am with metal wheeled carts rolling around overhead.
Therefore when I was given an opportunity to upgrade to a Veranda by paying extra, I decided that if I was ever going to do a Veranda, Alaska was the place to do it. We were on the port side just a few cabins behind the wing bridge. I would rather have been on the starboard side, but this cabin was very good. I have no complaints about the cabin.
I rented a scooter for this trip. I rented it before I made the cruise booking. It was quite reasonable to rent, and it really helped because we were pretty far forward and the dining areas are all aft. Also I rarely had a problem getting an elevator with the scooter which I think is somewhat astonishing.
The only problem I had was that there was some kind of sculpture cum chair thing opposite the elevators on our deck and I could not back the scooter out of the aft elevators without running into it. I tried backing into the elevator, but I can't turn my head to look behind me without a lot of pain, so backing in was not a good option. Even my husband agreed after I tried it once. Once was enough. Bob would tell me when I could back out and which way to turn.
We flew into Seattle on Thursday - got a non-stop Southwest flight from BWI to SEATAC. Arranged for a limo transfer for us and our luggage to the Mayflower Park hotel. Walked over to the monorail and went to the Space Needle for dinner. Then the next morning borrowed a wheelchair from the hotel and Bob pushed me down to Pike Street Market and back. The hotel gave us an embarkation package which included breakfast and a shuttle to the port. At noon took a shuttle from the hotel to the terminal.
Embarkation was a breeze. Gave our luggage to the luggage people and picked up the scooter at the dock kiosk so I could use it for the embarkation process and we were waved right through and even missed the photographers (a good thing). Our rooms were ready immediately when we boarded - that's the first time that ever happened.
So we went to the room first. See the room comments for how we did it with a scooter - it was not a handicapped room.
We had to eat in the Lido on embarkation, and it is not possible to eat in the Lido when you are using a scooter. There are no longer trays and the scooter basket is not equipped for food. This was exacerbated by the fact that they were having people serve you everything instead of allowing you to take it. They told us the reason for that was for two days in case people got on with colds or other illness to keep them from passing it around. That seemed to be
a good idea, but it did make things slow with long lines to be served as people did not understand that they could go to the next station. Bob went and got us something - he came back with spaghetti which was the only place that had no line.
I never found a good way to eat in the Lido with either my cane or the scooter. There were no helpful people to carry your food. The service was really slow which made it was painful for me stand and wait for other people to be served. We only ate in the Lido if forced. We never ate in the Italian restaurant - I wasn't sure if it was extra price or not and you had to make a reservation.
The food was reasonably good in the main dining room, but due to the fact that almost all the crew were new, the service was VERY VERY slow at first and we did not always get what we ordered. Bob ordered sugar free ice cream for dessert and got a sundae (which is what he really wanted anyway). Once he did not get a second soup (he will have three soups and no entree sometimes), and once a lady and I got each other's omelets and didn't realize it until she got to the goat cheese in the middle of mine.
After the first couple of days, many people defaulted to the Lido and ironically the service also improved. We talked to some people who were on the previous cruise which was from Ft. Lauderdale through the canal and around the Pacific (a long cruise) and they told us that the ship's people were hand picked for that cruise and most of them got off in Vancouver where the cruise ended. Then 70 absolutely new staff, and some that were returning from leave and others that were transferred from other ships got on along with 1000 people who took the one day cruise from Victoria to Seattle. So the servers were finding their way around for those first days.
Some people complained that they did not like the coffee, but we don't drink coffee so don't care about the coffee. The same person said her hot soups were not hot enough, but I found them perfectly fine. They no longer have breakfast specials, but the menu is expanded (they now have Eggs Florentine and not just Eggs Benedict), and I could always get
The choices were particularly good on the four formal nights. When they gave you lobster there was a container of melted butter to go with it instead of the steward drizzling some over it. They also no longer take your lobster tail out of the shell for you. I had trouble deciding on formal nights, but even on regular nights, I always had something I liked to eat. Bob lost some weight - he said when he got back that he was down to his target weight. I didn't lose, but I didn't gain either.
The ship was noisy and had some vibration and creaking all the time even though I did not consider that there was particularly bad or rough weather. Sometimes some loud starling banging.
Most of the time if there was rain it was at night. We did have rain one day in Kodiak for part of the day, but all the other days were at worst overcast. Spectacularly good weather for Alaska with blue skies.
The people were nice - some of them had been on as many as 14 Alaska cruises and had a lot of information and anecdotes. We had a Cruise Critics meeting on the second morning.
The tides are pretty steep in that area of the world so the ramps were also steep and some of them had steps, so I could not take the scooter off the ship. Some of the tours were on regular buses where wheelchairs could be stowed, but some were in school buses with no luggage capability. The tour tickets were not always informatory about this.
The port maps were EXCELLENT and had a lot of information about the ports - more than just shopping things. I do not see why cruisers need to have tanzanite and Diamonds International in all the ports anyway. It is stupid. And my opinion of people who shop in those places in Alaska is not complimentary.
Bob went to some of the shows and enjoyed them, but of course the theatre is the usual HAL theatre where you can't see on the ground floor unless you are in the front row. The theatre was right under us so he usually went down one flight of stairs and sat in the balcony where he could see. I was too busy editing photos to go.
We went to trivia once but for some reason it was just not fun the way they did it. I don't know why - we've always really enjoyed trivia. I went to a HAL ports trivia on the last day, not realizing that they meant just Alaskan ports, and sat with a man who knew all the answers and we won some coasters.
I was completely unable to use my own computer to do emails because it would not allow me to use a shifting IP address or something like that. The computer lady and I tried everything and nothing worked. I got emails sent once, but other than that I had no success. So she lent me a laptop. That worked fine and I could use the internet while sitting in my own cabin. Bob walked out to the business center in Ketchikan and bought a thumb drive for me (and he also got some fudge for himself at the candy store) and I just transferred my Favorites and photos to the other laptop and did the internet that way.
One thing I could not do on either computer though was Facebook. The page would load and then I would get a message that the page couldn't be loaded and it would vanish. I only managed it at the end for a little bit.
Dis-embarkation was semi-bad. I had thought we would take a taxi to the airport, but when Bob turned the form in he paid for bus tickets. DO NOT take the bus unless you are flying Delta or American. Those are the only airlines where you can check the bags at the location where the bus delivers you. Also you stand in a long line to get on the bus after you get through immigration.
They did not give us any information at all about what places were open for breakfast or the hours, so we got room service. They gave us Black 1 as our disembarkation color and said it would be 8-8:15, but there was no information about what the sequence would be.
When we got to the airport, I could not get a wheelchair as Southwest had no presence at the bus dock, so we had to drag ourselves and our luggage all the way through the airport and up an escalator (there was a LONG line for the elevator) to get to the Southwest counter. Once we got there we got our luggage checked and a wheelchair and the only problem was flight delays because of weather.
The beds were fore and aft rather than athwart, but that's fine with me. There was room in the bathroom to put things and we had a good big shower - room for two in there should we have desired that. The steward gave us fresh flowers, and ice and fruit and we had a small refrigerator. I am not sure, because we didn't drink anything in there, whether HAL would have charged for the stuff in the fridge or not. There were plenty of drawers and more than enough closet space. We were just forward of the forward elevators.
I could get the scooter through the door, but not past the bed as the turns were too tight. So we moved the outboard nightstand and put it under the kneehole of the desk and push/pulled the bed over. That made enough room for me to scooter down the hall, and made a quick left turn and park the scooter by the bathroom wall. I still had room to get out of bed and even (if I did it right) to open the nightstand drawers.
Bob (knowing the lack of outlets) brought a 25 foot extension cord which he ran behind the TV and under the bed and I plugged my power strip into it, and could then charge the scooter, the phone, the computer and the camera batteries.
The steward and his assistant had 29 rooms to do and I think this is more than it used to be. Sometimes they didn't get to us right away, but I don't fault them for that. We tipped them extra.
Ketchikan - we took the duck at 8:30 and I am satisfied with that choice. The early duck was better as the later ones were crowded.
There was a plastic overlay with round portholes in it that we could open or close. But it was still very hard to take pictures as the holes were up above head level so I either had to hold the camera over my head, or stand up. It was a bright sunny day and was soon quite warm in the Duck. We could take off our coats that we had put on in anticipation of it being cold. We only had 11 passengers so we were able to spread out and even change seats. Our guide was Lily and she was really amusing. First we had a tour through town, looked at the salmon ladder, went by Dolly's House (whorehouse), Gas was only $3.959 - Lily said that was because they got it from Canada.
Then we went into the water, and motored out of the marina. We saw some bald eagles on the breakwater, but I didn't get a photo. When we got back to land, they had to clean the Duck off and they got some bull kelp out from the wheels and showed it to us.
We could also have taken the trolley and would have seen more of Creek Street (former red light district), and we could probably have bought a ticket for that on the docks too. All the docks seem to have people selling non-ship-excursion tours which I did not know before I went. I don't know if Bob would have done a float plane trip or not. I know I went on a sea plane from Key West to the Dry Tortugas, and he refused to go.
Juneau - we had the Grand Tour of Juneau with the Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau Gardens and the salmon hatchery.
Just like in Ketchikan on the dock there were all kinds of booths for various tours - whale watching, zip lining, fishing, and glacier and city tours. As soon as the bus came, we got on - we were the first ones on and got the front seats. The driver gave us all a wrist band so we could get into the Mendenhall Glacier visitor's center.
The bus driver was a cute little girl named Camille. She told us about various points of interest in the town, including the capitol which she said was one of 11 without a dome. Of course, you can't drive to Juneau - they have roads but they don't go anywhere except in the area. You either have to come by boat or by air so a dome would have been too expensive to ship. She pointed out the governor's house, and it seems like every tour driver said that they saved money on the initials because the current governor's initials were also S.P. like Sara Palin's.
The weather was really good and we could see the range of mountains in the distance which are usually snow covered. We got to the Mendenhall Glacier, and had some time to go to the museum and walk around and take photos. They had an elevator and I took that and Bob walked up the steps. We could have walked out to the waterfall if we did it quickly, but neither of us tried it. At the visitor's center, we saw the film, and it explained that the glacier ice is blue because it is so dense that it absorbs all but the blue light spectrum.
After the glacier we went to Juneau Gardens, which had upside down trees - due to a landslide that blocked the road, all the debris and logs were pushed onto this property and the man (Steve) who owned the property conceived the idea of sticking the top down in the ground and using the roots that were in the air as a kind of planter. They took us on a tram ride up the hill and then we walked up to a platform to see out over the Juneau.
Then we went back to the garden center. There I saw that I could have had a wheelchair and not had to walk up the hill. They had a little cafe there and Bob and I got some chili (came out of a can and was heated up in the microwave) as we weren't getting back to the ship until afternoon. They also had a web cam of their eagles nest.
Next we went to the salmon hatchery and they explained how they raised salmon. They collect the eggs and milt and then raise the small salmon to a certain size and let them go out to the ocean and swim around for a couple of years and then they come back to the hatchery to spawn. They had a little aquarium there.
Camille was a wonderful guide and it was a good tour, but we probably would have been better to do the City, Glacier and Salmon Hatchery which was half the price and leave out the Gardens and gotten lunch somewhere else than the Garden Cafe.
Camille dropped us off at the Tramway which we had tickets for. After I had signed up for the tickets someone said that we shouldn't go in bad weather - fortunately we had really good weather. You can buy the tickets there on the dock - we wouldn't need to get them in advance.
We also did the Salmon Bake in the evening, and I did not think it was as good as the one I had in Seattle 20 years ago, but the salmon was good and they had very good cornbread.
We took the Whale watching, but we saw whales everywhere and closer, so I might have opted for the Forest and Nature Tram at about 1/3rd the price. We didn't need tender tickets since we went early. The very hardest part of this excursion was going down the steps to the tender and climbing the ramp to the dock.
Since I don't have room to do Tracy Arm as it isn't a port I will say that I enjoyed it. I was out on the verandah and a hummingbird flashed by. We didn't get to the glacier which was a disappointment, and also I wished that we had gone to Glacier Bay
We did the train and I enjoyed it. The train was supposed to go up to Grandview but because of avalanche danger we only went to Whittier and had some money refunded. We had a very short bus ride out of the port (including passing Elmendorft AFB) to the Anchorage depot which is on the National Register of Historic Places where we picked up our box lunches and got on the train.
Our seats were on the left side and I felt that most wildlife sightings were on the right side. They saw moose and Beluga whales. We saw Dall sheep up high on a crag, and a bald eagle on a nest. But we stopped for the eagle, and all the people on the right got a chance to take photos, which we didn't get for the moose. It was difficult to take photos anyway because of the reflections in the windows, although the windows were clean.
We could go into the bumper section between the trains to take a picture if we wanted it to be without glass, and there was a food car which had a double decker area, but I didn't go up there.
They announced that they would sell a book for $5.00 which had a mile by mile list of what there was to see, but they didn't get to car C to sell it to us before we left at 10:00 am. They did give us a free brochure which had some information on it.
The weather was nice and sunny when we started out from Anchorage. As we left the city was passed (on the right side) and air strip which went between houses in a community. People had their planes parked by their houses.
We passed Potter Marsh which is officially called the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge. Apparently the city wanted to make it a dump, but the school kids saved it. We saw lots of ducks and geese but didn't get photos of them. We went past Beluga Point (where the whales were sighted in the river) and then arrived at Girdwood. I didn't see anything there so it must have been on the other side of the train.
We entered the Chugach National Forest which was where we saw the Dall sheep, and the track ran along Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet which has 40 foot tides. There is a bore tide every day. After that was Portage. I didn't see anything there either. The guides told us that during the 1964 Good Friday earthquake, this area registered 9.2 on the Richter scale - it shook for 12 minutes and dropped 12 feet.
We went through two fairly substantial tunnels and got to Whittier where it was cold and rainy. The guide said they got an average of 1.25 inches per day of rain and 20 feet of snow. They have tunnels between buildings.
We started eating lunch before we got there - it was a good lunch with a turkey sub, chips, and apple and a cookie. We did not get off in Whittier although we could have done.
The tunnels are also for car traffic and are one way so we had to wait to go back. We left Whittier going backwards (and the seats did not switch) and went back to Portage at which point we switched ends again and went forwards to Spencer to see the glacier there. The only way to get to this glacier is on this train. I did get some pictures. Then we went back to Portage (backwards), and got on buses to take us back to Anchorage.
Bob didn't care for the train. He would probably have liked the Anchorage highlights and Aviation Heritage Museum better.
Sitka - they charged us an additional $25.00 to go to the Raptor Center, but I was glad I went as I missed all the other rehab centers on the tours.
At the Raptor Center, we saw the flight cage where the birds that they are preparing to release are housed. We were not to use cell phones or flash because we were behind one way glass. It was hard to take photos because of the reflections on the glass from the sunlight in the flight cage.
Then we went into a demonstration room and saw a short video, and then they brought in an immature eagle to show us. This eagle was dropped off when she was about 2 months old. She was starving because she had a malformed beak and couldn't tear her food into small enough bites to eat. So she can never be released. I bought a shirt in the shop (an eagle with the caption "I AM smiling"). Bob meanwhile was walking around the outside cages where the birds that can't be released are kept. I went out and sat on a bench in the sun to wait for the bus to come back. I saw a truck come with a travel container (like a big cat carrier) and one of the workers said that they had gotten an eagle from Juneau.
The bus came back and delivered us to the docks where we boarded a catamaran with about 80 other people who had just signed up for the Sea Otter part of the tour. They would have had a chance to eat lunch before they came, which we did not. Bob had a couple of chocolate chip cookies that he saved from his box lunch in Anchorage so we each ate one of them.
The catamaran had a naturalist on board and he kept us entertained with narrative between sightings. It was cooler, so I put my coat back on. We saw humpback whales really really close, and I actually got some pictures of them. We also saw some sea otters, a bald eagle nest with two chicks in it, and even some starfish (which I didn't get any pictures of as my camera was too slow to focus). They served us a sample of smoked salmon, a scone and hot chocolate.
He brought us right back to the ship tender boarding area, which was good as we didn't have to go up the ramp from the excursion dock and down the ramp to the tender dock and then ride the last tender back to the ship. Also one tender wouldn't have held all of us. The last tender was waiting for us to leave the tender dock so it could unload the last group of people.
I had been to Butchart Gardens previously and didn't think I wanted to do it again. My previous visit to Victoria was on Victoria Day and I tried to have tea at the Empress but it was too expensive. So that's what we did this time -
Tour of Victoria (I had only seen the area around the harbor before) and tea at the Empress.
The city tour was a pretty extensive tour but mostly of residential areas which somehow I didn't expect. We went to the top of Mt. Tolmie which according to the driver was not really on the tour. We stopped there, and then she drove really slowly over the top. She showed us some churches and a cathedral, and spent a lot of time describing the neighborhoods and how much homes there would cost.
Since we started the tour at about noon, we didn't get lunch. We made up for it at the Empress tea. They seated us at a table with four others. On the table were strawberries and whipped cream and cups for tea which the lady kept filled up. They put two big stands with three tiers at each end of the table. The bottom had sandwiches (and the lady told us which were which - I only remember that there was an egg salad croissant. There were no cucumber sandwiches though. The second tier was scones with jam and clotted cream, and the top layer had little cheesecakes and tarts and petit fours. Afterwards they
gave us a box with tea.
We did some more touring after the tea and got back a little before dinner.