FLIGHT TO PORT OF EMBARKATION AND EMBARKATION
All was well at the start of our adventure except that to avoid any potential problems, after departing Redlands, CA at 2:15 a.m. and dropping off our car at Wally Park and taking its tram to Terminal 2, we arrived at LAX at 3:30 a.m., and the flight was not scheduled to leave until 8:40 a.m. Better early than late! But the wait was compounded by a broken water main at the terminal that caused all water to be shut off the entire morning. No potable water was available except at Starbucks, and no restroom facilities were open at two terminals except for 2 portable toilets that had been placed on the street outside Terminal 2. That was fine prior to going through security screening, but once at the boarding gate it was a five-hour wait to board the plane, and 2 more after that before any further relief could be obtained. Until then, we focused on other things.
The direct flight from Los Angeles to Vancouver on Alaska Airlines, arranged by Royal Caribbean departed on time, was smooth throughout, and arrived in Vancouver a few minutes early. At the airport, our checked baggage went one way, and we another. We were told that cruise line representatives would pick up our luggage and put our checked bags on the ship. But there was no way of verifying that they had arrived with us. "But what if they never got on the airplane at all?" I asked a young Canadian customs agent, who quickly replied, "Oh, the cruise line is very good at tracking bags!" We were led to a large elevator that deposited us in a large room where cruise line representatives were present to herd us on waiting buses. But first we had to fill out a surprise public health sheet vouching that we had not coughed or vomited within the past 7 days. This was not an impediment for us, but I shudder to think about those passengers who have been recently ill, get to this point, admit to a recent poor physical condition, are sent for an examination by a cruise doctor, and can then be blocked from entry to the ship. It would seem a better and more economical time to deal with this issue would be prior to boarding a plane for passage to another country! It seems that swine flu currently looms large in the eyes of cruise line and public health administrators.
Embarkation was ultra smooth and efficient. we were dropped off by the ship and quickly channeled onto winding ramps, at the top of which we went through a metal detector, handed in our public health form, were photographed, and were handed a plastic seapass, which would be our room key and boarding pass for the duration of the cruise. The only difficulty was ascending with two stuffed carry-ons apiece up three ascending ramps to the ship. But, exiting the cruise line bus to boarding the ship took only a matter of about 15 minutes. Very impressive!
We dropped off our carry-ons in our assigned stateroom (where we had been upgraded from a deluxe outside cabin to a balcony stateroom to our great pleasure) without incident, and moved to the Windjammer Cafe for an eagerly anticipated lunch. I had only been mildly reassured by the customs agent about our luggage, and was even less assured 6 hours later aboard ship when only 1 of our 3 checked bags had reached our stateroom. But our room steward Xavier saved the day after he introduced himself and I reported this problem to him. He said that he knew some undelivered bags were still in the hold below, and he would check on this right away. Thirty minutes later, I heard a knock on the door, opened it, and Xavier was standing there, smiling, with our two missing bags in tow. He said that something about one of the bags raised concern (probably a chain-metal suitbag hanger), and the two suitcases had not been opened aboard ship but had been x-rayed by ship's security before being released. At this point I felt like Xavier had already earned the cruise line's recommended gratuity even if he did nothing further for us the rest of the cruise!
DAY 1 CRUISING OUT OF VANCOUVER
Dining at Windjammer Cafe presented us with a fine array of dishes, including spaghetti Bolognese, pepperoni pizza, potato leek soup, chicken and golden syrup soup, components for a complex salad, and excellent french fries. Passed by this day were penne pasta and Arrabatta sauce, grilled Nathan's hot dogs and cooked sauerkraut on buns, cheeseburgers on buns cooked medium well with a slice of not very well melted American cheese, tasty-looking deli sandwiches, a vegetarian and Indian cuisine section, and carved beef and pork. A strawberry-topped moist brownie topped off the excellent repast.
A fine rock band outside by the main pool near the ship's bow provided a fitting sendoff as Radiance of the Seas left Vancouver Harbour and narrowly slid under Harbour Bridge. The ship left just a few minutes later than scheduled (about 5:00 p.m.), which was about 3 hours after we had boarded it. The weather was fair and the clouds clear. Much promise was in the air.
Our initial dinner in Cascades Dining Room was very good, beginning with an interesting hot and sour soup, salad with choice of dressings, and a moist and tasty salmon filet resting on a bed of high-quality Chinese peapods, and served with a perfectly baked potato. Initially, special requests like chives met with some resistance from our server Norbert. But he said he would try, and always came through in the end. The only food items I didn't get that I would have liked were lobster tail with drawn butter and King crab legs with the same. Occasionally, a lack of knowledge of use of some food ingredients was revealed, as when our assistant server Leticia asked whether I wanted the chives ladled onto my salmon. After declining this offer, I opened my baked potato with a knife and asked her to spoon the chives there instead. I then added butter and declined sour cream. The food was very hot, and portions were generous. An unusual blueberry and peach cobbler completed a nice evening repast. I began this cruise hoping for a fine dining experience but having some trepidation based on the amount of cost-cutting complaints on food I had read about in recent Cruise Critic reviews regarding almost all ships. In retrospect, I have to say that there was nothing I ate aboard ship that I didn't like. Of the many items I sampled, the cuisine was uniformly excellent and tasty. And, a few unique items were extremely memorable (more on this later).
The Welcome Aboard Show was very good, with a superb performance by Los Diablos Gauchos, who sometimes perform in Las Vegas. Here again, I hoped for excellent entertainment but feared the worst, based on other reviews I had read about the level of entertainment on Royal Caribbean cruises. Perhaps Royal Caribbean has raised the bar since reading complaints about the quality of entertainment aboard ship. All I can say is that the entertainment was first-rate at every level; the singers had great voices; dancers were impressive; musicians were great; David Curtis was the best pianist and singer I have heard at a piano bar; and the entertainment was the best overall that I have experienced in six cruising experiences. I live in Las Vegas, and the sets for some of the shows like "Piano Man" equaled sets found in major Vegas showrooms. Entertainment was 5+, and the word got out. For, later shows were standing room only in the Aurora Theatre.
DAY 2 AT SEA
Today featured a Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle with good company and good appetizers sponsored by RCCL. The event had to be held in the Schooner Bar because the Odyssey Room and Centrum staircase had been flooded by a broken pipe that burst just a few hours before the ship sailed out of Vancouver. Because of this and a closed staircase, it was difficult to navigate around the ship by foot. Exacerbating this problem were elevators that seemed to have a mind of their own. They would miss floors calling for them, go to unsought destinations, or let passengers inside and then refuse to move.
Lunch today at the Seaview Cafe consisted of good New England clam chowder soup, a fairly good cabbage soup (I often opted to eat multiple offerings that showed promise), and very good chunks of fish and chips. The portions were ample, and the food very hot. And, here, cheeseburgers had really melted American cheese. Tartar sauce was excellent but the only vinegar on hand was balsamic vinegar. A request for malt vinegar was met with an expression of puzzlement and a proffered bottle of balsamic vinegar. Drizzled over the chunks of cod it tasted better than no vinegar at all. But it does not seem unreasonable to expect malt vinegar to be available with fish and chips.
The solarium and its Thermal Suiteobtained on a special couple's plan offering for unlimited use for the duration of the cruise for $159were great, and well worth the extra expense. Included were a robe, locker key, and unlimited use of sea-view thermal lounges, a sea-view steam room, dry sauna, sea-view aromatic room, nearby spas, refreshing warm tropical showers, and icy drench showers that ejected thin crystals of ice and were fun to experience. Only the aromatic room was not very aromatic at the time of my visits, which turned out to be every day but one of the cruise. Ceramic benches in the coed steam room were even more palliative to sore muscles than the thermal lounges just outside. The solarium spa was rejuvenating although often overcrowded. The saltwater pool was refreshing, and warm showers nearby were a nice touch. The solarium's retractable roof kept the light rain of the day at bay.
Dinner this evening in the Cascades Dining Room was delightful, a half notch above the previous day's tasty offerings. A bed of escargot with 6 snails covered by a tasty coating in sunken recesses of a plate began the repast. Lobster bisque was very good but pureed so that no chunks of lobster were present. Caesar salad was good. And, filet of beef with peppercorn sauce was medium rare as ordered, and well sauced with just a hint of pepper. Garlic mashed potatoes were very pleasing to the palate. Accompanying asparagus and mushrooms enhanced the dining experience. A little resistance at first a day before to providing Bearnaise sauce for my wife Diane's slices of beef this time gave way to production of the classic enhancer of meat's flavoring upon request, without protest. And, the sauce was very good indeed. After initially seeking classical sauces myself, I decided to instead take a new tack and try the offerings of the day without alteration, and was not disappointed with the tasty peppercorn sauce. I learned that it is good to sometimes take a chance and savor new, less traditional offerings of a ship's cuisine. Where better to experiment with food than on a cruise? It soon also became clear that if a food item was not liked, the head waiter stood ready to replace it with another selection. Delicious hot chocolate was secured from the other end of the ship in a glass for my wife, and additional desserts were offered for the second straight day. Decaf was strong and good, and Grand Marnier souffle and Cherries Jubilee with vanilla ice cream were both very tasty.
A note on our table-mates: It was the most harmonious table I have experienced at sea thus far. Retired police detective Ron and teacher Linda were from Illinois, and dental school administrator Steve and accountant Sheila hailed from California. Steve and Sheila had requested a new table after being initially placed with a large family that spoke no English at the table. Steve and Sheila did not know what language was being spokenjust that it was not English. So, they wound up with us only because we were an English-speaking foursome. I have preferred tables of 6 to tables of 4, because by the law of averages there is a greater chance of getting along well with at least one couple, and I imagine that just 2 couples at a table of 4 who find they have nothing in common could make for an unpleasant experience.
This day ended with a superb show in the Aurora Theatre called "Piano Man" that was presented with three fine piano players, four excellent lead singers, good dancers, luxurious and colorful costumes, and eye-popping sets with very innovative lighting effects.
DAY 3 Ketchikan
In Ketchikan, we left the ship early to go on the Duck Tour, followed by The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. On our return, we tried lunch in the Cascades Dining Room, and were not disappointed. I probably ate more than I should have. A salad with a choice of about 20 ingredients, including shrimp and grilled eggplant, and about six dressings, made by a dining room food service worker, could easily have been an entree. But I pressed on. Vegetable broth was tasty, followed by ziti tossed in a tomato-based sauce with tomatoes, ham, and peppers, and B-29, a muffin-like confection with a chocolate center. Banter at our table with four members of the Widows Club of Augusta, Georgia and a few other fellow passengers was very convivial and enjoyable. More steam rooming, spaing, and reclining on a thermal lounge inside the ship's Thermal Suite ensued to knock off water weight before dinner. This time neither the aromatherapy room or the dry sauna was "on".
A dinner at the ship's specialty restaurant Portofino was memorable and worthy of praise. Service by lead waiter Oscar Perez of Peru was impeccable, and most dishes sampled, like starter Risotto al Gamberetti, large tiger shrimps sauteed with fresh herbs, on a bed of creamy and satiny saffron risotto, were delectable. Zuppa Gran Farro, traditional Tuscan bean soup with barley pearls and garlic, was very good and a different take on traditional pasta fagioli. Insalata Alla Cesare, romaine lettuce with herb croutons, shaved Parmesan, and traditional dressing, prepared a la minute, was also very good. Pappardelle Mante Cate con Crema al Mascarpone, Funghi Arrosto E Timo, ribbon pasta with roasted mushrooms and fresh thyme lightly tossed in a mascarpone cream sauce, was heavenly. Saltimbocca Alla Romana, thinly sliced veal wrapped with fresh sage and proscuitto, pan fried with porcini mushroom risotto and Marsala jus was excellent, with the mushroom flavoring clearly evident but subtle. Slices of veal were tender and devoid of fat. Marsala jus was a bit thin but tasty. We ordered and received more. The only downside was a crotini that was a bit burned. Dinner at Portofino in every way supported its admiring reviewsand was worth every penny of the $20 per-person surcharge. Risotto al Gamberetti and Pappardelle Mante Cate con Crema al Mascarpone, Funghi Arrosto E Timo were two of the finest dishes I have had the pleasure of eating. Dinner was advertised as a 2-hour affair but it took 2-1/2 hours for us. So, we missed half of the excellent live tribute to the Beatles by Revolution. But, the half we saw, too, was well worth our time.
The only discordant note regarding the evening entertainment was Casino Royale's electronic money counter short-changing me 75 cents. I had just stacked into dollar amounts and hand-counted the coins in my tray prior to leaving for the cashier, and they were 24 quarters. Then, after handing my small bucket of coins to the casino cashier, and watching her toss the money into a bin for counting, the machine registered only 21 quarters. I was too shocked to point out the discrepancy, and couldn't figure out how to prove it anyway, since all evidence had gone down a metal drain into a bag to mix with other coins. So, I accepted the $5.25 without comment. The amount of difference was small, but I lost confidence in the ship's casino and did not play slots there again.
DAY 4 JUNEAU
Breakfast today was a fine repast of scrambled eggs with ham, hash browns, fried potatoes, sausage, bacon, and OJ at Windjammer Cafe. Much of the day was spent in pouring rain on the float trip excursion in Juneau. Upon our return, the solarium's Thermal Suite was running both steam room and sauna today, and in addition to reclining on a thermal lounge and soaking in a spa outside, this was a good way to relax and ease sore muscles after a rugged excursion (or sustained shopping).
Dinner tonight at the Cascades Dining Room consisted of a robust tomato and beef ragu soup, a tasty Asian salad, moist planked salmon with baked potato, butter, and chives, and a delicious rhubarb pie ala mode. The Variety Show in the Aurora Theatre this evening starring singer Matt Clark and comedian Steve Smith was excellent as usual, and entertaining. Afterwards, pianist David Curtis's Billy Joel and Elton John tribute at the piano bar inside the Schooner Bar was first-rate and standing room only. The only discordant note was ordering a Coca-Cola from a waiter who set down a napkin but never returned with the ordered drink.
DAY 5 SKAGWAY
Today I gobbled down a lunch of a grilled Nathan's hot dog and sauerkraut on a bun, french fries, spaghetti Bolognese, and a slice of cheesy pepperoni pizza in Windjammer Cafe. For, we had a train ride to catch.
Dinner this evening was a tomato-based minestrone soup, Caesar salad, vegetarian chili, chicken Marsala with asparagus spears, and chocolate cake ala mode. The chicken Marsala and the chili were very good, although I decided after this filling meal that from now on just one entree would suffice; all else was excellent. Judy Kolba put on a funny and entertaining show in the Aurora Theatre, which is large and comfortable with good sight lines except for those who are seated behind pillars. Someone unknown ripped off my Cruise Critic magnet on my stateroom door, which had held. With good foresight, I had ordered two identical magnets and left one at home, so the loss was minimal although a bit aggravating at the time. On future cruises I no longer plan to so mark my room.
DAY 6 ICY STRAIT POINT
This was a memorable day. We left the ship by tender to Icy Strait Point and had very good halibut fish and chips at Cook House Restaurant on the dock before we left by bus on a wildlife and bear search excursion. Coming back by tender at least four whales breached, waved their tails, and frolicked around us, and I took some memorable photos with my telephoto lens. The antics of the whales went on for over an hour, and became the focus of most aboard.
Dinner this evening was at Radiance of the Seas' other signature restaurant, Chops Grille. I dined on a great Beef Tenderloin and Eggplant Tower, crab cake, shrimp cocktail, great Onion Soup Gratinee w/ Gruyere cheese, Chops' Signature Cobb salad, a 10-oz. filet with excellent Bearnaise sauce and both a good baked potato with drawn butter and chives, outstanding rosti potatoes, and excellent crimini mushrooms and asparagus. In this dinner shared with two friends we met on the Cruise Critic message boards before the cruise, Craig (Sinbad) and Denise, we pulled no punches, and savored as much food as we could handle. We ended with a large slice of a great chocolate mud pie and a very good apple pie with caramel sauce. Renato was a fine waiter. We each enjoyed this meal enormously. I only regret that we could not get surf and turf at such a fine steakhouse. Renato opined that Chops' shrimp was better than the lobster tail served one time in Cascades Dining Room (which we missed), and, from what we later heard by our main table mates, I dare say he was probably correct. Once all cruise food was of the greatest quality and size, but now it is clear that the best and biggest cuts are reserved for the specialty restaurants where a premium is paid to savor them. As with our experience at Portofino, dining at Chops was also well worth the $25 per-person premium. But the food of Radiance of the Seas was still excellent everywhere else I sampled it, too.
Because our expansive dinner at Chops also took 2-1/2 hours to complete, we only saw one-half of this night's "City of Dreams" production. What we saw was very lavish and entertaining. We would have liked to have seen the remainder of the show. This became a constant refrain. We would have liked to do many things offered aboard that we never got around to try. For, there was only so much time. We heard a shopping presentation that seemed more aimed at getting people to frequent certain shops ashore who had paid a promotional fee to the cruise line for the endorsement, but missed several interesting sounding lectures and culinary demonstrations. We visited various musical venues late at night but three musical events commonly occurred simultaneously. So, one could not be everywhere. We never played pool or miniature golf aboard ship, and my wife never tried to climb the rock wall she had planned to ascend prior to our departure. But, I'd rather have too much of a good thing available than not enough. So, this is not a complaintjust an observation.
DAY 7 CRUISING BY HUBBARD GLACIER
This day began very earlyin front of the eerily beautiful Hubbard Glacier. Our captain, Claus Andersen, outdid himself, bringing the ship within 35 yards of the glacier. This is where our balcony really paid off. We jumped out of bed, quickly clothed ourselves, donned sweaters, and with long camera lenses and binoculars enjoyed and memorialized our views of the majestic, icy blue, calving glacier.
We ate lunch in the Seaview Cafe again today, this time for me a bowl of clam chowder, a generous-sized tuna melt, fries, a moist brownie, and Coca-Cola. This was followed by a lengthy stay in the Thermal Suite and the Solarium spa. Heavier seas than usual caused water to come flying out of the swimming pool. Aiming spouts of water at my shoulders, I turned the saltwater pool into a makeshift hydrotherapy aquaspa.
Dinner in the Cascades Dining Room included shrimp cocktail with good Royal cocktail sauce, Caesar salad served family style, turkey and mashed potatoes with fine brown gravy, tender brussels sprouts, cranberries, and key lime pie.
The Farewell Variety Show in the Aurora Theatre starring comedian Steve Smith and singer Melissa McLaughlin was again excellent. Nostalgia gripped the audience, for we would all soon be leaving our comfortable sea lodgings. The officers walking on stage and the captain personally wishing each of us safe passage back as we left the theatre were nice touches. We hung on to the night as long as possible, going to the Colony Club to enjoy a Jazz Cabaret and further song stylings by Melissa McLaughlin and Matt Clark backed by the Radiance of the Seas Orchestra. It was a nice ending to a great cruise.
DEBARKATION DAY 8
We arose very early, had no time for breakfast, and met at the Aurora Theatre as directed before 6:15 a.m. Less than 15 minutes later we were ushered with our carry-ons off the ship, down ramps, and into a waiting coach for our 3-day Cruisetour #5 to Denali and Fairbanks. No customs formalities to surmount, and no hassles. The efficiency of the operations of this cruisetour was just as impressive as that of embarkation and debarkation. Porters moved luggage in the night, and it was in our rooms when we arrived by coach. Our lodge room keys were handed to us by the cruise tour operator as we dismounted the bus at a new lodge.
We were let off in Anchorage for 1-1/2 hours to explore the city a bit and have lunch on our own. We ate in Rumrunners Olde Towne Bar & Grill, where we enjoyed excellent potato skins, and a good french dip sandwith with excellent au jus and french fries. This $70 meal was gobbled down in less than 30 minutes so we could meet our bus at the appointed time. Then we passed through Wasilla, where Sarah Palin was once mayor, and moved on to Miller's ice cream emporium. From here we continued on to Denali, and by early evening reached McKinley Village Lodge. Here we dined at the lodge's Gold Dust Room, where I ate an excellent Caesar salad with a very good Gold Nugget Meatloaf and mashed potatoes and gravy. Following this, we were picked up at the lodge at 9:00 p.m. for an optional excursion, the best of our trip, hosted by Denali ATV. From 9:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., in complete daylight in Alaska's midnight sun, my wife and I, led only by our private excursion guide, rode up and down rock-strewn ravines, washes, and hills, and ran into a towering female moose and her two calves leaving a forested area to enter a clearing. I was a little recklessly wearing my camera with standard lens around my neck as I drove. But, it paid off. We dismounted our ATVs, and I took some memorable photographs of wildlife in their natural habitat. A few times it felt like my 4-wheeled ATV might overturn, but it never happened. And, the close calls just made the experience more thrilling. It was my first time on an ATV, but it will not be my last! At the conclusion of our excursion we were driven home by van, and then quickly packed our bags and went to bed to be ready for the next day to be primarily spent inside Denali National Park and Preserve.
DAY 9 DENALI NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE/FAIRBANKS
The Denali National History Tour was excellent. We had a Ph.D. biologist as our guide, and I am pleased to report that the cramped school buses have been replaced by slightly larger buses that have comfortable seats and whose upper windows can be lowered to take photographs without having to shoot through glass. Although we were told that a bear has only been sighted during this abbreviated tour about every 65 days and the clouds surrounding Mt. McKinley (Denali) only part about every 30 days, my tour group had the luck of having both events occur at the same time. On one side of the bus a 400-pound grizzly bear suddenly appeared and stayed for about 5 minutes foraging for berries, and at the same time the sky cleared on the other side of our bus, and Mr. McKinley was revealed in all of its over 20,000-foot white-peaked majesty. Camera shutters briskly captured both phenomena. And, later we stopped at a clearing and were able to see and photograph Mt. McKinley from outside the bus. We also saw a snowshoe hare, a squirrel, seagulls, ptarmigans, and other creatures. The historic movie presentation about Denali at the visitor's center was excellent, guides' narrations were interesting, and the ham and cheese sandwich and chips box lunch supplied by the McKinley Village Lodge for the bus tour was a very welcome carry-on as serious hunger quickly arrived.
We eagerly anticipated the arrival of the Wilderness Express. When it arrived at Denali Station, we were escorted onto the train by our Royal Celebrity tour director without needing a ticket, climbed a few spiraling stairs, and sank into our leather seats in our impressive double-decker dome car. From here we had a great panorama below us as the train departed the station northbound for Fairbanks. Soon we were invited to descend to the dining car, where we enjoyed an excellent meal. The advertising literature praised the dining aboard the Wilderness Express, and I can report that these accounts were not exaggerated. Besides being seated in a fine dining car reminiscent of train parlor cars of old in the United States, behind a white-linen tablecloth and china-filled table, the cuisine was of gourmet quality. We enjoyed an ample shrimp cocktail, tasty crab bisque soup, fine chicken breast stuffed with ham and cheese, rice pilaf and green beans, and a fancy and delicious strawberry treat with vanilla ice cream for dessert. The dinner for two cost $75 but was worth the price. We were probably in the dining room for 1-1/2 hours, and then went back upstairs. The train moved along at a moderate rate of speed. The only blight on the skies was smoke from two nearby wildland fires that had erupted a day before and together had already charred thousands of acres.
We arrived in Fairbanks in the early evening, were met at the train station by our coach, and entered it for a short ride for our new accommodations at Pike's Waterfront Lodge. The name was not a misnomer. We were generously assigned a deluxe room with a king bed and a balcony overlooking the Chena River where the sun still shined until at least 2:00 a.m. Diane and I enjoyed just standing on the balcony for a few minutes and viewing waterfowl on the reflecting water below.
DAY 10 FAIRBANKS
The last full day of our cruisetour was jam-packed with activities. We were first bused to the El Dorado Gold Mine where we boarded the El Dorado Express and were serenaded by a Johnny Cash impressionist as the train moved deeper into the mine property. While I was not really looking forward to panning for gold, and did a lousy job at it, the activity was much more interesting and enjoyable than I anticipated. With help Diane retrieved $12 worth of gold, while on my own I recovered a whopping 30 cents worthprobably a record low!
We then reboarded the bus and were dropped off in downtown Fairbanks for lunch. We had good potstickers and an undistinguished individual pepperoni pizza and root beer at a hotel restaurant but were able to view a Duct Tape Boat Parade wending its way down the river as part of Gold Rush Days Festival activities. It was fun to watch and photograph the colorfully decorated watercraft and their occupants engage with each other.
The bus arrived and took our group to a segment of the Alaska Pipeline, where we were allowed to get off for a much closer view. I considered this diversion a welcome bonus, because it was not listed as part of our scheduled cruisetour activities. Then we continued on to a pier, where we soon boarded the sternwheeler steamboat Riverboat Discovery III. Here again, we were treated to a variety of experiences. Besides enjoying the sights ashorechiefly interesting custom homesa bush plane took off and flew right next to the boat; we saw a team of sled dogs quickly haul an ATV with driver aboard on dry land; and we disembarked at the Chena Indian Village where we were able to view wood and sod-covered cabins and hear historic information about the Athabascan Indian culture, before boarding again for more sightseeing and free samples of salmon. Bused back to the lodge, we freshened up and returned to the lobby for our planned excursion to the Alaska Salmon Bake in Fairbanks. The salmon, halibut, and other edibles were all moist and excellent, and it was "all you care to eat." So, we had a veritable feast at the Salmon Bake. Bees hovered near us but did no damage, yet after seeing some large pieces of ash from the still raging wildfires fall from the sky, and considering our impending 3:00 a.m. departure from the lodge, we decided to go back to the lodge at about 8:00 p.m. Here we packed, weighed bags on the lodge's scale (a helpful touch), threw out a few items like aloe vera, and repacked until we made the airline's weight limit for checked luggage. I put the luggage out at 12:30 a.m., and we retrieved it at the airport after our bus transfer there less than 3 hours later.
DAY 11 HOMEWARD BOUND TO LAX
Our plane left for Seattle at 6:00 a.m. as scheduled and arrived about 15 minutes early. So, we had sufficient time to make our connection, and our second flight also departed on time for Los Angeles, and we were happy to see that all three of our checked bags were there to greet us at baggage claim. We lugged (mostly kicked) them and our carry-ons to the curb just outside, and soon hailed a Wally Park van. By 4:00 p.m. we were outside the environs of LA, headed for home after the conclusion of a great and seamless cruise and cruisetour. Read Less