Connoisseur Escorted Cruise Tour
My wife and I traveled from San Antonio to Vancouver the day before our cruise started. No hitches or glitches during travel to Vancouver, other than the amount of time it took to get there from San Antonio. I don’t travel as well as my wife and the extended time in the airplane kind of got to me. I am very glad we decided to arrive a day ahead of our departure.
We stayed at the St. Regis Hotel in downtown Vancouver. We took the train from the airport to the city center station and walked to the hotel, a very nice short walk. The downtown was busy and full of life. The city itself seemed clean and cared for, quite beautiful.
I cannot say enough about the hotel staff at the St. Regis, they had answers to questions we didn’t know we would ask and we asked a lot of them. The front desk staff was the best we had the experience of dealing with at any hotel we have every stayed at. To say the least we were very impressed with the front desk staff. The service staff was also excellent and available to ask extras of anything, or help with whatever. Breakfast the next morning was free, and good, and the waitresses were way above average.
After we checked into our room we decided to go to the Vancouver Aquarium, located near the entrance to Stanley Park. And after talking with the front desk staff we decided it was too far to walk, and I didn’t feel like riding a bus that didn’t get us all the way to our destination, so we took a taxi. It didn’t take long and the cost was minimal, to us, that is.
We wondered about the displays, watched a show of a whale species I was unfamiliar with, ate lunch and wondered about some more until about 4 PM.
We had reservations at “The Teahouse,” a restaurant also located in Stanley Park, but all the way across from where we were, near the entrance. Since our reservations were for 6 PM we decided to walk across this large wonderful park. We were very glad we did. We met some of the most wonderful people of Vancouver. They helped us with directions, took our picture standing under a tree, so enormous it made me look thin. We took our time and still we arrived a bit early at the restaurant. Since there was an open table near the windows looking out over the water, they seated us right away.
The restaurant is mainly a seafood restaurant and our choices were very good. After our meal we decided we didn’t want to walk all the way back across the park, so called for a taxi from the restaurant.
When we got back to the hotel we were really tired, I was actually falling asleep. We got to the room, readied for bed and I think I fell asleep while lying down, what a comfortable bed. I did wake once for about three seconds due to some siren noise in the street.
We got up on time the next morning got ready and went downstairs for the free breakfast. It was a real breakfast that one orders from a menu. Then went back to our room packed up. I noticed I had forgotten some toiletries. We asked at the front desk and were told that a drug store was right across the street. So we went shopping. Then checked out, caught a taxi to the cruise ship terminal.
It was bad, very bad. There were four cruise ships in port, all unloading and loading passengers, traffic to the cruise terminal and within the cruise terminal was awful. There were people everywhere trying to get into the cruise terminal and processed onto their cruise ship. Once we turned our baggage over to a porter, tipped him, and made our way into the cruise terminal things went a bit smoother. We actually missed our call as it took a bit extra time for people to process their passports. So we didn’t sit and wait at all. We went from one room to the other processing whatever we had to process there and onto the ship. I don’t think the whole thing took a half hour, even with the large crowds.
When we boarded we went to eat lunch at Horizon Court. Horizon Court was really nice, crowded but nice. They had a good selection of foods, hot and cold. I ate more than I should have. I didn’t notice that they had regular sized plates, as well as the platters at the entrance to the food lines.
At about 3 PM it was announced that we could go to our cabins. When we entered we were surprised by the size. We had previously gone on a river cruise and that cabin was almost half the size. Our luggage had not been delivered yet, nor had the bottled water I ordered. We checked with the purser and he said he would get right on it. Then we went wondering a bit. When the announcement was made for the muster drill we went to our cabin to get our life jackets and the water was there, the luggage arrived within minutes.
Muster drill had some start and stop fits. It seems our departure time was delayed, so they delayed our muster drill for a half hour or so. But it finally got done. We put up our life jackets and went wandering again, to find our any time dining restaurant. We also found that taking the stairs, if one is able, is a lot faster than the elevators.
All I can say about dining is that it was wonderful. Everything I ordered was excellent, done the way I wanted and time between courses was rather quick, not fast, but quick.
We ate breakfast in Horizon Court, usually lunch also. There was a blueberry desert they had for lunch that was the best I have ever had. I cannot remember the name of it. I am sort of glad I can’t, or I would be making it at home and weigh about a hundred more pounds. All the food was, as far as I can tell, and what the chefs told us, from scratch, all of it. And you could taste it, you really could. I started taking pictures of what we ordered but after a day or so was so impatient I couldn’t wait to start eating it. The picture taking went by the wayside. Except for the Chocolate covered Pistachio Pudding, International Café, and our meals at Sabatini’s. Nope I didn’t take a picture of the blueberry desert I talked about. I didn’t have my camera and I wasn’t going to go get it. I even ate two of the blueberry deserts, the only one that I did, promise.
The service everywhere was excellent, even getting off and on the ship, I didn’t keep a list of the names of all the people that helped us, gave us information, or gave directions, but I should have. No matter what the question, or how many times it was asked the people at the cruise service desk always smiled and were pleasant, every time, really.
The entertainment was usually good. There was one show that my wife said was loud to the extreme, I didn’t go. It didn’t seem, from the write up that I would like it. I am glad I stayed away, and napped. The rest of the shows were very good to excellent. Even the ones that were just advertisements for shore excursions.
We liked the lumberjack show in Ketchikan. The Best of Juneau was OK, but a bit over priced for what we expected. I was excited and thought we would see whales breaching every five minutes, but it didn’t happen and it was a bit rainy and cold. The water was a bit choppy. We saw lots of eagles, sea lions and a mother whale with baby. Also the lunch was really not great, it was OK, but, like I said, I was excited and expected more. Skagway was very good. We did the sled dog ride, which was a pretty good van ride away from Skagway. We got to pet the lead dogs and then later some of the puppies. Glacier Bay was fantastic. I really envy people that get to go there and stay to fish or do research. The sun was out, it was near 70 degrees Fahrenheit, it was marvelous. I wanted to stay the whole rest of the cruise.
As we crossed the Gulf of Alaska we saw a lot of Orca and other sea life. It was also the only time we walked the promenade, which I really liked. It was cold, windy, and rainy but I didn’t care, I liked it very much.
Disembarkation was a snap, no luggage to handle ourselves, except our carry on. Just walk off the ship and onto the train at Whittier. At Whittier the cruise ended and the tour began. We had to get up early because we were the first group off the ship and onto our train to Talkeetna; and the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge for two nights. The big mountain, Denali, was clouded over for the two days we were there. On the first day you could barely see about two thirds of the mountain through the clouds and mist. Since the weather around the lodge was kind of misty, we decided to go tour Talkeetna. How funny weather can be. It was partly cloudy and the sun shown bright in Talkeetna. We walked about the town, went to a couple of museums, ate lunch; saw a movie about the mountain, Denali. Then caught the buss back to the lodge. During supper the power went out. I am glad we went early; we were supposed to eat later. Some people didn’t get what they wanted because of the power outage.
The next day was cloudy and rainy all day. We stayed about the lodge and walked the trails. We went to a presentation about snowy owls. The man doing the presentation had a live snowy owl with him. The owl had an injured wing that healed badly so it could not be released back into the wild. The presentation was very good and I got a couple of decent pictures of the owl.
The next morning the people that came to pick up the luggage, to transfer it to the Denali Lodge, came a bit early, too early for us. We missed their pick up. It was supposed to be at eight in the morning, but they picked up the luggage about fifteen minutes early. We got our luggage to the front desk and they got it to the Denali Lodge before the other luggage arrived, yea.
I started to get sick from what I thought was the Birch Tree pollen when we were at the McKinley Lodge. I was coughing, sinuses and, ears clogged up. I couldn’t sleep all night and was usually up at about 3:30 AM to cough up blow out, yuck. I went to the emergency medical clinic in Denali and they gave me an anti-biotic, guess they thought it was something more than allergies. Anyway, it didn’t seem to help much.
We went on the bus ride into the Denali Wilderness area and saw Moose, Bears, Dahl Sheep, Caribou, but not one wolf. We also saw many eagles, and birds of relatively hard to find species. Some I have pictures of and some were just blurs. I forgot my tripod at home, ugh. It was hard enough to get pictures on excursions from the ship but now, through an open window on a bus and, no tripod, bad, real bad. I am amazed I have as many decent pictures as I do. It was a long behind weary bus ride for our average age group, which was, I believe, over 60. But I am very glad I went, feeling bad, full of anti-biotic and allergy medicine I am still very glad I went. We also saw some humans hiking the wilderness area, amazing to remember that we were once that young, and had that much energy, I envied them a bit, but not too much; it was cold, and snowy. The naturalist that drove our bus was very good. He usually spotted the animals before we did and put real time videos of them on the buses’ video system.
When we got back to the lodge we rested a bit, got up and ready to go to the dinner theater. It was a good show, better than we expected. The food, however, wasn’t that good. Guess we had gotten used to the food on the ship, because we kept comparing the service and food at the lodges with what we got on the ship. The lodges always came out real bad. The lodges use seasonal contractors and they need a much longer training period before going to their respective hotels. Instead it seems they get to practice on the guests instead. Perhaps Princess could put them on the ships as extra crew for a month or so before the Alaska tourist season starts. That way they could see what real service, and real food is.
Then it was on to Fairbanks by bus. It was still cloudy and rainy, I was feeling a bit worse, but enjoyed the stop, I forget where it was, huh. It was interesting because it was where they have a device that is placed o n the river ice during winter and one buys lottery tickets guessing the day the ice will break. It is worth a good bit of money.
In Fairbanks I was sick and didn’t want to go to dinner. When my wife got back to the room I was laboring a bit to breath. We went to the front desk to ask for a taxi to go to the emergency room. They called our tour escort and he arranged to pay for the taxi to and from the E.R.
At the E.R. they gave me an inhaler, after several tests, which helped a great deal. I was able to go on the last tour to the gold dredge and riverboat, Indian village. To me these were the second best of the whole trip, Vancouver and the ship being tied for first. We did gold panning and got $38.00 in gold. Lunch was included in the riverboat tour but I can’t say too much about it, being kind of under the weather, I didn’t like it.
Over all I would say take the land tour first, then the cruise back to Vancouver. You would have time to build relationships with the other, Connoisseur Escorted Tour, members. And, be able to enjoy a continued camaraderie on the ship and perhaps in Vancouver. If I were to do it all again that is the way I would book it.
It was a wonderful tour, our escort was good to excellent, me being a tad sick, he was probably excellent, I just couldn’t tell, or didn’t care.
We flew out of Fairbanks to Seattle and stayed overnight at the Cedarbrook Lodge, near the airport, but away from the traffic noise. It is a beautiful hotel, and grounds with walking trails. By this time I was feeling a bit better away from all of the Birch Tree Pollen, at least I wasn’t getting worse. We had a great lunch at the hotel, expensive but great. We rested until dinner and decided to walk to a nearby restaurant. It was much like a Denny’s that we have in Texas. It was enjoyable and the walk helped me a great deal.
I am very glad my wife picked this for her 65th birthday present, and let me come with her. Read Less