Our first Alaska cruise….Royal Caribbean_Radiance Of The Seas…southbound….Seward to Vancouver(July 21, 2017) with a 5 night pre-cruise land tour (5B_Mountain Panorama Adventure) (July 16, 2017):
( I apologize for spelling/formatting issues. It won't seem to "transfer" over without messing up formatting!)
We have cruised for a number of years but we are creatures of habit. We primarily cruise the southern Caribbean out of San Juan and have done a few Panama Canal cruises. My husband had never been interested in an Alaskan cruise. His idea of a cruise is “shorts” and “hot weather”. Well, two years ago his best friend since kindergarten talked him in to doing an Alaskan cruise. As soon as bookings opened for the summer 2017 season, we booked. I think we actually booked the first cabin on our sailing. Our TA knew we were looking to book so she called me the second she saw bookings open. So we booked on February 24, 2016 for a July 21, 2017 sailing with 5 night pre-cruise land tour.
We couldn’t book air until mid-Sept 2016! Because of the long flights and nothing direct, we chose to do a double-connect and have 3 shorter segments rather than 2 longer segments.
I spent hours, days, weeks, months reading threads on CC,TA, and talking to anyone I could that had done an Alaskan cruise/landtour. I tried gathering all of the info I could to make this trip special. As mentioned earlier, my husband had no interest in Alaska. Since he had agreed to go….he suggested I should “make it great because we will be One and Done”.
The day finally arrived for us to go. Of course, the airline had changed our flight time so we had to fly out earlier than we had originally booked. We ended up with a 17- hour travel time from the door of our house to the door of the hotel! Luckily, everything went smoothly.
Transportation from the Anchorage airport to the hotel was included in our pre-cruise land tour. Our flight arrived about 20 minutes early so there was no one in baggage claim to greet us. However, we decided rather than grabbing a cab we would wait until the scheduled arrival time to see if the Meet & Greet team showed up. So glad we waited as we were the only 2 pax arriving at that time. Two Meet & Greet staff arrived in baggage claim and radioed for the transportation. They escorted us to the pick-up point. Since it was just the two of us we were expecting a mini-van, etc. Nope….it was the full-size bus just for the two of us! Friendly driver loaded our luggage and shared info with us as he drove us to the downtown Marriott. (Hotel assigned by RC/cruisetour company.)
We arrived at the hotel and the driver called over the Bell Staff to take our luggage. He then directed us into the lobby to meet the cruisetour staff. We were greeted by one lady who escorted us to another room to meet our tour guide for the week. In addition to our room keys for that night,we were given the “itinerary” detailing times of departures at each of the stops during the week. We were also given the “optional excursion” offerings sheet and asked to have it completed when we met the next morning. We were excited to see what was on the“optional excursion” list. We had read the RC info that indicated what “might” be available. We are “planners” and were very “bothered”that we couldn’t “pre-book” the “optional excursions” in advance. (We later learned that a few people on our tour had actually pre-booked excursions through independent vendors. We had not done this as most everything we looked at required prepayment/deposit and since we weren’t sure on the timing of “transfers” from location to location we weren’t comfortable pre-booking and paying.) The tour guide gave us two different colors of bag tags. We were given a tag (yellow) for each bag that we would want at each hotel. We received a different color (white) bag tag for each bag that could be loaded on the bus and remain on the bus until the last night of the land tour.
After visiting with the tour guide and getting our “details”for the cruisetour, we were on our own for the evening. We were to be in the lobby at 7:25 the next morning to head to the train.
Even though we had “munched” at each airport, we wanted to get something to eat before we went to bed. Although it was 10:30 pm body time it was only 7:30 in Anchorage and the sun was out in full force. So we walked a few blocks to Orso. DH had a Caesar salad and then we shared several appetizers (deviled eggs, crispy ravioli,flatbread). Food was tasty and service was great. All of the food looked great. I wish we had been hungrier so we could have enjoyed entrees and dessert.
Then we decided even though the sun was still up we were exhausted and the 6:00 am “Bag Pickup” was going to come early…so off to sleep we went. The black-out curtains at the hotel worked well at blocking the sun.
Morning came early with a 5:00 am wake-up so we could shower and get the bags out at 6:00. We then had 1.5 hours until the departure time so we had a light breakfast snack and coffee. We had been warned that the breakfast on the train was a “must do”.
At 7:25 the tour director met us in the lobby and off to the bus we went. We met our driver for the land tour. She had a beautiful smile on her face (and always had that smile the whole week). It was about a 10-minute bus ride to the train. You were to only take with you what you might need on the train. Other items (including backpacks, etc.) could remain on the bus with the driver. We were instructed to get on the train in the order we wanted to sit. If you wanted to sit up front you needed to get on first and if you wanted to sit in the back you needed to get on last. Coffee/drinks would be sold starting at the front of the train car (working back) but breakfast would be “seated” (taken from upstairs down to dining car) from the back of the train (working forward). Once onboard the train, we were told the exception to this was that the families that had children would be seated first in the dining car and then the other parties would be seated after the families. The train car had a “host” that narrated and sold a “Ride Guide”. There also was a “bartender” that prepared/sold coffee, hot chocolate, Bloody Mary’s,etc. The dining car had 2 servers and 2 cooks. Everything was put on a “tab”and paid by credit card (including optional gratuity) at the end of the train ride. The train car we rode in was the “Wilderness Express”. It is a 2-story with the glass dome “riding” car on top and the “dining car” on the lower level. There were 14 “independent” travelers on the car with us that had boarded before we arrived. The rest of the “car” was just our cruise-tour group. There were a good number of empty seats. Your food/beverage/souvenir purchases are“tabbed” to your seat number so if you move around you need to be sure to alert the train staff. The seats on the train were very comfortable. The dining car seating was a little cramped but no big deal for the short amount of time you are there. Also, two very nice “unisex”restrooms on the lower level of the train car.
Our train ride was approximately 3 hours. We traveled from Anchorage to Talkeetna.(Talkeetna is the town that the TV series “Northern Exposure” was based.) We did enjoy yummy hot chocolate before breakfast. We were in the last group taken down for breakfast. We had the blueberry pancakes that were yummy. We also had the eggs, biscuit, and reindeer sausage. I wasn’t sure I wanted to try reindeer sausage but decided “why not” so gave it a try. It was actually pretty tasty. The pancakes were much better than the eggs & biscuit though. The pancakes are served with “Alaskan Birch”(not maple) syrup. The bus was there waiting for us when we arrived at the Talkeetna train station. You have the same bus for the whole land tour. It was very nice Prevost coach with comfy seats and enclosed overhead bins for small items (backpacks, etc.). There was a restroom onboard. The buses have “names”printed on the front and back so you can make sure you are getting on the correct bus. The buses are named after Alaskan mountains (Alpenglow, Lincoln, Dall, etc).
Our hotel for the night would be the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge. Rooms wouldn’t be ready until later that afternoon. The driver &guide drove us through the Lodge property so we could see the layout and see where our rooms would be. They then took us into “town”. Talkeetna is a cute little town. Several shops and restaurants. Several ice cream “stands”including “Fireweed” ice cream. I had not read anything about “Fireweed” so was not familiar with it. I soon learned it is the pretty purplish flower that we were seeing everywhere. It blooms from the bottom. The locals get “sad” when the bloom reaches the top as that means they only have 6 more weeks of summer. I also learned in addition to ice cream there also is Fireweed jam, jelly, and caramels (yummy!). We ate lunch at Denali Brewing. We had one fish sandwich with potato chips and one pulled pork sandwich with French fries. Food was good and service was friendly and efficient. While it wasn’t raining, we had low clouds so most of the excursions were cancelled. (Most excursions in Talkeetna are airplane/floatplane/helicopter related.) The evening jet-boat excursion did go though. Around 3:00 we were picked up by the driver & tour guide and taken to the Lodge. The tour guide obtained and distributed the room keys. We were all in buildings that were not in the main lodge building. The rooms were fine. No air conditioning but did have an “oscillating fan” if needed. We just opened the window and were fine. The room did include a “mini-fridge”. No safe in the room though so you couldn’t lock up passports or other valuables. It was just a short walk to get back to the lodge to the restaurants, bar, gift shop. While in town I bought a few “local foods” and had them shipped home.(Talkeetna hot sauce, salmon caper sauce, fireweed jelly, birch syrup, etc.)
We had dinner in the Lodge. Prices were slightly higher than home but fairly typical for hotel food. We had friendly, efficient service. Again, DH had a salad. I think it was “the Lodge salad”. He said it was yummy. We then shared an order of chicken wings, crab dip, and a French Dip type sandwich. Way too much food but it was all tasty! It was cloudy the whole time we were at Talkeetna so we did not get to see Denali/Mt McKinley from there. However, the grass was so very green and the flowers were beautiful vibrant colors so it was still beautiful scenery/location. There are “trails” at the lodge that a few people walked and saw a moose in the distance.
Breakfast was on our own. There is a restaurant in Talkeetna that gets great reviews for breakfast. We wanted to give it a try but the hotel shuttle doesn’t start running until 10:00 am or such so we did not have time to go into town. We had breakfast at the Lodge. It was very tasty and again, friendly, efficient service. There was an “all you can eat” buffet for $21 pp. Since we weren’t super hungry we just ordered off of the menu. DH had the breakfast burrito that was large and he said very yummy. I had the breakfast sandwich that was amazing! I am still dreaming of the sauce that was on it. Back to the room for 10:00 am bag pull and then just to hang out for an hour until time to load up and head to Denali!
It was about a 3.5 hour drive to Denali. We stopped along the way at the Alaska Veteran’s Memorial. It was nice to see a tribute to all of the branches of service. (This also was a restroom break.) Once we arrived in the Denali area, the driver & tour guide showed us the hotel property. They then dropped us off in the “shopping area” for about an hour so they could go drop bags and get our room keys. There is a Subway, a hot dog shop, a coffee shop, ice cream store, convenience store, and several shops in this area. We were still full from breakfast so did not get anything to eat. We just purchased a few souvenirs, walked over to the river, and then bought a few drinks at the convenience store. We were then picked up and taken to the hotel. (Denali Park Village). DH had signed up for the white-water (class III & IV rapids). We thought it would be this afternoon. Turned out the vendors were booked so he would have to do it the next day. We walked down to the river. DH picked up some of the “glacial silt” to feel. It was so very soft. It felt like a cross between very fine beach sand and baby powder. However, one thing that did surprise us (as first timers!) was that most of the water is “gray”rather than “clear”. This is due to the glacial silt in all of the water!
For dinner there is a restaurant in the lodge and also a “Burger Shack”. Several of our group did the “Cabin Nite”dinner theatre. We did not do this though. We walked across the street to the “taco truck”. There are two food trucks….a Mexican food truck (“Mariachi Moose”) and a Thai food truck (“Denali Thai Food”). I also read that a 3rd food truck was to be added this month but not sure what type food. Again, we were in “outbuildings” rather than the main lodge. It was about a 5-8 minute walk to get to the main lodge.
After dinner we went back to the “common area”near the General Store/Cabin Nite, etc and sat at the fire pits for awhile chatting with other cruisers! We ended up going to bed earlier than expected as the tv in our room was not working (the channel DH wanted). Maintenance checked it out and said it was a cable company issue. The room was small but was fine for the most part. It was very dark with poor lighting and no fan at all. Again, we slept with the window open. Again, no safe so you had to leave your passport/valuables out or carry them with you.
For those interested in the Cabin Nite dinner theatre….there are 2 seatings….5:00 PM and 7:30 PM. If you book with your tour guide you will all go as a group and will be assigned a dinner time. (Our group had the 5:00 pm seating.) Menu is listed as Alaskan Salmon, BBQ Pork Ribs, Baked Beans, Herb Potatoes, Corn, Salad, Biscuits, and Mixed Berry Cobbler.
We walked over to the lodge for breakfast and our 8:30 tour into the Park. The breakfast buffet was$21 pp. I don’t recall a menu option. I think it was just the $21 buffet or the “coffee stand” next door had breakfast sandwiches. We thought the $21 was reasonable since it included an omelet station and beverages. Biscuits and gravy were on the buffet and they were fairly tasty! Everything I had read said to make sure you“upgraded” to the Tundra Wilderness Tour. (The “Denali Natural History Tour” is included in the pre-cruise tour land package.) (“DNH” is a 4-5 tour and only takes you about 14 miles into the park. The “TWT” is a 6-9 hour tour and takes you much further into the park.) (It was $70 pp to upgrade to the “TWT”. Definitely worth the extra money.) Our driver was great. Very knowledgeable and recited about 5 very long poems to us….very impressive. As we started into the Park he was showing us all of the various trees and “warned” us that there was no “guarantee” of seeing wildlife. He indicated it might be a 9-hour “TREE”tour. Well after about an hour, I was wishing we were on the shorter tour!!! Shortly after that another bus indicated there was a bear to our right. We could not see it. The driver “zoomed in” and put the bear on the monitor. I told DH it was a video and that there really wasn’t a bear out there!!! We continued driving and to my excitement…..I spotted a bear crossing the road! The bus stopped and we were able to get great views of the bear wandering through the field! I was now so very glad we were on this tour! This was just the beginning of the “wildlife” we were to see during the day. The folks on our cruise-tour that did not upgrade and only did the shorter tour were very disappointed that they saw basically no wildlife while we saw numerous caribou, sheep, owl, eagle, and about 9 bears plus other animals that I can’t pronounce/spell. There is nothing luxurious about the bus that you will ride into the Park. NO restroom on the bus. However, you do stop approximately every 1.5 hours at very nice “outhouse” facilities. (Most restrooms are “unisex” so you can head to the shortest line!) The buses do have“monitors” though so when wildlife is spotted the driver can focus the camera and zoom in so it shows up on the monitor for you to see. There is also a very nice “snack pack”provided and a bottle of water. Snack pack includes a “slim jim”, veggie chips, cookies, parmesan crisps, sunflower kernels, and trail mix. Also, if you have kids with you….the driver will get “junior ranger kits” from the first ranger station. The kids then answer the questions and fill in the “form”. On the way out of the park, a ranger will then get on and give the kids a “badge” and “swear them in”as Junior Ranger. The “highlight” for our bus on this tour was when we saw a female bear and 2 cubs at a caribou“kill site” chowing down. Then a male bear approached and wanted the “kill site”. So he chased the female and cubs off. When they took off running, they ran right in front of our bus. (Luckily we were parked to watch them.) The folks in the front seat had a spectacular view and got awesome photos! We then saw a bicyclist about 1/16 of a mile down the road and the bus driver warned him of the bears because they were still sitting on the edge of the road when we had left. One thing to mention….all of the buses sort of “signal” each other as they see wildlife. The drivers have “hand signs” to signal what animal they are seeing. Also, the driver asks you to be very quiet while you are at stops for animal viewing. Since some people open the window to get a better view/picture, they don’t want the sound from the bus scaring the animal. You are also told to keep all food on the bus. Eat anything you want on the bus but do not take any food off of the bus at any stop. Close to the end of the tour the driver will pull over and pass back“bags”. There is a recycling bag for the plastics. Another recycling bag for the paper,etc. There is also a collection for“uneaten/unopened” snacks that will then be donated. Finally, there is a sack for “trash”(anything that can’t be recycled).
We returned to the hotel around 5:00 pm just in time for DH to run to room to change clothes and head back to the Lodge to be picked up for his white-water rafting trip. He loved it. They provided a “dry suit” and“booties” to wear. He had ordered some“dry” gloves and had taken those. He was glad he had them. The white-water rafting was one of the major highlights of his trip. He got in around 10:30 pm and was starving. Luckily I had picked up a pre-packaged ham sandwich a little earlier from the General Store and had chips, cookies,etc. for him. I had eaten at the “Burger Shack”. It was “ok” but not spectacular. Choice of cheeseburger, turkey burger, salmon burger, or veggie burger with fries or fruit for $13 (or something like that). Not much of a selection there and service was acceptable but not overly friendly. I wasn’t sure what time he would get in but knew since the Burger Shack closed at 9:00 I couldn’t get him anything there that wouldn’t be too cold when he got back. The ham sandwich worked out fine since he was starving! It was along day for him but he loved it all!
We had 6:30 AM bag pull and then 1.5 hours until time to get on the bus. We put our bags out and then walked over to the Lodge for breakfast. We again had the $21 pp buffet but felt it was worth the money and not totally outrageous considering it is a hotel in a resort area.
We loaded up on the bus and headed to Anchorage. As we were driving along, the clouds cleared and we were able to get our first “clear” views of Denali/Mt. McKinley. It only lasted about 15 minutes or so. By the time we made it to a rest stop (at Mary Carey’s), the clouds had moved back in over the top.
We made it to Anchorage at around 1:00 pm. The driver/guide showed us the various shops/restaurants in the downtown area and then let us off. We had approx. 1.75 hours to have lunch,shop, etc. I had read several recommendations for Simon & Seaforts as one of the best restaurants in Anchorage so that is where we went to lunch. It was ok but I would not recommend it. The food and service were acceptable and the view was nice but I would have rather eaten at other places that were more “local” and more in the area that the bus had dropped us off.(Up by the Federal building.) Other folks on our bus raved about places they ate so wish I had made a better choice.
After we were picked up in downtown Anchorage, we headed onto Alyeska for the last night of our land tour. This is a very posh hotel. Air conditioning and a safe! Several restaurants at the hotel including a5-star restaurant at the top of the tram. (Seven Glaciers restaurant.) From what I understand, you must make reservations weeks/months in advance to get in here. I had dinner in the bar area (without reservations). It was very tasty and decent prices. Food,drinks, and service were good. The cost of the tram ticket was included in our pre-cruise land tour but was only valid for that night (so not the next morning). (I believe tram tickets are complimentary if you are dining in the restaurant portion of Seven Glaciers.) There also is a shuttle that will take you in to the town of Girdwood where there are several restaurants. We did not go but others said they did and that there are some yummy restaurants in Girdwood. DH did a kayak excursion. He was picked up at the hotel and taken over to Whittier. He was told the saying is “The weather is always Sh!tt!er in Whittier”. He was told they get very few sunny days and very few “glassy sea” days and very rarely both in the same day but that he had“lucked in” and got both. He loved it. It was “the” highlight of his trip. DH had dinner at one of the restaurants in the hotel after he returned. I went to sit with him while he ate. He had spaghetti that looked and smelled nice. Since this was our last night, all luggage(the “every night” and the “stored” bags) were brought to the room.
Cruisetour Day 6 /Cruise Day 1:
On the last day of the cruisetour/first day of cruise, the bags were to be pulled at 8:30. The bags will NOT go on the bus with us. They will be transported to the ship on a separate truck. So we had to make sure we had“valuables” (passport, cruise docs, medications, etc.) with us and not in the bags to be sent separately. We showered and prepared the bags to go into the hallway. Then we went to breakfast. There was a breakfast buffet or order off of the menu. I don’t remember the exact price of the buffet but I believe it was in the $20-22 pp range. We looked it over and decided to order fromt he menu. The food was very good. The restaurant was packed and we had to wait about 10 minutes for a table.
Just after breakfast I checked my email. I had one from RC labeled “We have upgraded you!”. Uh oh….I had specifically had our record indicated not to upgrade. We like the location of our cabin for“glacier viewing”. Well….the email stated they had upgraded us to “XYZ category”. Well….that is the category we had booked! So a frantic call to the TA to ask what was going on. She called RC and they stated that there was no upgrade. They confirmed we were still in the cabin we had booked. Whew!!!!
We left around 10:15 for the 2 hour drive to Seward. We stopped at an “outhouse” to use the restroom and take pictures at a nice “scenic spot”. We were then dropped off at the SeaLife center for about an hour. It was an interesting stop and the fee was included in our land tour price. An hour is about all of the time you need there but it was fun to see the animals. There is a snack bar inside if you need something to eat. There are also restaurants down the street but tour guide recommended the SeaLife Center overtaking time to eat and I would agree. You are about to get on the ship with plenty of food availability! We loaded back on the bus and headed to the ship!
We arrived at the cruise terminal around 2:00 pm for our check-in. Since the bags had been transported by truck separately, we did not have to deal with any luggage. We took our carry-on and headed to the check-in desk. No line at all. One of the quickest check-ins that we have ever had! (Our tour guide stated that the land tour company/guides coordinate arrivals so that all of the buses don’t show up all at once.) We then headed off to the ship. It was a short walk to the ship but once you got there you had to walk “up” the ramp for boarding (deck 5). We saw folks with scooters/electric wheelchairs able to go up the ramp but sometimes needed a little assistance. Once on the ship you again must show your passport and get your seapass photo taken at the security checkpoint. Just past that as you are about to enter the interior….of course….the photographers are there to get your“boarding” photo! Normally we skip these but decided to get it done today. So glad we did as it actually turned out to be one of the better photos of the week with snow-capped mountains in the background and has “printed” the ship name, date, etc so that will be a good memory of our “One and Done” Alaska trip.
Muster: Muster was the quickest, most efficient we have ever experienced!
We had pre-booked the First Night Done Right Dinner for $15 pp. They assign the restaurant but you get to pick the time. We did not have any notification in our room as to which restaurant so I had to contact Guest Services to find out we were going to Giovanni’s. (After we returned from dinner we had the printed notification along with the next day’s Compass, etc.) Giovanni’s is the “old” menu. There are things on it we like and things we don’t. Oh well….we didn’t leave hungry and the service was terrific! After dinner I went to the room to work on unpacking while DH went to the casino. He wasn’t there long as the craps table is a “pit” (short) type table rather than the usual table (less dealers required) and no Ultimate Texas Hold’em table.
Day 2: HubbardGlacier
The day was great. We could sleep in a little and then find brunch! Nice leisurely morning until arrival time at Hubbard Glacier! It was a marvelous afternoon! We spent the afternoon on the balcony. We had an aft stateroom so were basically able to see the glacier all afternoon since we could see it no matter which side of the ship was facing the glacier. It was sunny and warm at Hubbard Glacier which we thought was spectacular. We had prepared with warm jackets, hats, gloves, etc but quickly shed those and actually ended up in just short-sleeved shirts and even considered shorts but didn’t change. We were actually told several days later that the scenery is even more spectacular on cloudy days as the “colors” are more“brilliant” in the clouds. Our only regret was not going out to the public areas where the photographers weretaking “professional” photos of pax with the glacier in the background. We didnot know this was happening as it was not advertised (or we missed reading it).(Should have thought about it but didn’t!) We did still get some good shots of us though with our own camera. The view (and sounds!) of the glacier were indeed the highlight of the cruise. The ship did offer an “excursion” for Hubbard Glacier. It was a small 2-deck boat that would get you“closer” to the glacier. It had to be booked on day 1. We were told it was an“experiment” to see if it would be a good excursion to add for next year. Cost was $239 pp. We opted not to do this and thought our view of the glacier from the ship was just fine. However, we did talk to a couple of people that did it and they said they saw a whale up close and that they thought it was worth their money. It was the first formal night. Although we usually “doll up” in tux/cocktail or long dress, etc for formal nights we decided to forego the formal clothes for this trip for packing purposes. We still wore “nicer” clothes but most definitely not formal. We dined in Chops for dinner. Service was excellent. Food was good. (Although we all agreed the filet in Giovanni’s was better the previous night.)
Day 3: Juneau
We had reserved a car at Avis on Mill Street. I had read that it was about a mile away. While still standing on the ship,my “phone map app” indicated it was 2.0 miles away. We departed the ship just as the ship was cleared. There were a few people on shore ex off in front of us. We were looking for a taxi to take us to the Avis office. We did not see any so DH walked over to the visitor’s booth to inquire about a taxi. They were not aware that the Avis office had relocated. About that time we saw a taxi mini-van drive toward us so we flagged her down. She didn’t appear too happy to stop and was even less happy when she found out we were only going 2 miles. She did take us though and we gave her a generous tip for her troubles. The Avis staff was great. Auto was ready and they actually “upgraded” us as the vehicle size we had reserved was not available. They provided us with driving directions to various sites. They also provided us with a phone number fora taxi service in case we came back after the office was closed. (Technically we had reserved the car for 24-hours so could have kept it past closing hours if we wanted.) We had a great day just driving around. We headed out to Mendenhall Glacier first thing. We did get there before the buses, etc. DH went on a short hike. I just walked out to the “viewing”platform and then went back to the visitor’s center. Inside the visitor’s center there is a 15-minute video that is nice. The Rangers did several short “presentations” while I was sitting in there waiting. The buses were pulling in as we were leaving. The glacier was nice to see but it was not as spectacular as Hubbard. If we had seen Mendenhall first we probably would have been more impressed but since we had just seen Hubbard the previous day, Mendenhall wasn’t quite as spectacular. As we were leaving we saw folks kayaking toward the glacier and DH thought that would have been a really cool thing to do! We then drove out to the Shrine of St Therese. It was very quaint. Not sure I would spend time going out there again but it was very neat to see. We then stopped for what I thought was going to be a “light” lunch. I had read ahead of time about a restaurant named Gonzoak. I had listed it in my notes for the day but had not listed what type food. Walking in the door the smell of fresh yeast was amazing. They make cinnamon rolls,croissants, etc. The menu was basically breakfast with a couple of sandwich options. One person had fresh corned beef hash, eggs, and biscuit. One person had a BLT on homemade hoagie type bun. Two others had waffles loaded with various items both inside the waffle batter and on top. Everything was amazing!!! (One unisex restroom in the restaurant.) After that we went to Glacier Gardens. The guys decided they didn’t want to pay the $25 pp fee so they just sat in the car for the hour or so we were there. I thought the $25 was fairly reasonable for what we saw. The staff explains the history of the property to you. You are taken to the top (and back down) on a tram. The flowers and “gardens” are really amazing to see. There is a very nice snack bar and gift shop at the entrance. Very nice, clean,multi-stall gender specific restrooms. Our next stop was MacAulay Salmon Hatchery. We did the 15 minute tour and saw the salmon“ladder”. There was a seal finding his dinner amongst the salmon. Very cool! After that we drove across the bridge to “Douglas Island”. We were able to get some good pix of all of the ships in port from there. After that we crossed back across the bridge and put fuel in the auto. We then returned to the Avis office around 5:30 (before the 6:00 pm closing). DH called a taxi company and they told him they would get there “as soon as they could” but would not give him any time frame. The Avis clerk called another company and was told the same. DH then pulled up his Uber app and it showed no cars available. Luckily, the taxi driver called within just a couple of minutes and said he would be there in 5 minutes. He arrived quickly and was very polite. He understood our short ride and received a generous tip for his trouble. He dropped us back at the pier near Tracy’s Crab Shack. I was determined to eat at Tracy’s since i had read so much about it. Even thought hey are at a new location this year….it is still very crowded. It was probably close to 6:00 then and the line was out the door. There were probably 10 people in front of us and it probably took 15 minutes to get to the front of the line. The menu is limited and the prices a little on the high side. The biggest issue is no seating. Even though they have signs asking you not to save seats….there were people saving seats. When we pressed them about having their bags in the chairs they searched for their “party” to only find out that everyone they were saving the seats for were already seated in other chairs!!!! The staff should not have allowed the seat-saving! We had the crab bisque, crab-cake, and king crab leg combo with the additional king crableg. The bisque was good. The crab-cake was only so-so. I would not order it again. However, the king crab leg was amazing!!!! I would definitely go there again for the king crab legs! We had planned to do a little shopping afterwards but the “dinner struggle” wore everyone out so we just headed back to the ship for the evening.
Day 4: Skagway
We had pre-booked the bus/train/dog-sled ride independently with Chilkoot Charters via the internet. A friend we had met on a previous cruise had recommended them. We booked the “Bus Then Train With DogsledRide”. We were met by the CC Greeter and directed to our mini-bus and driver. We had Jennie for a driver/guide.
Pros: Loved, loved,loved our driver/guide Jennie. She was awesome. She was very knowledgeable,friendly, efficient, and humorous. One of the best guides we have ever had on any excursion. The mini-bus was very comfy. The lunch provided was tasty. (BBQ dark meat chicken, ½ baked potato, yummy coleslaw, rolls, butter, donuts, coffee, tea) The taxidermy museum at the lunch stop was very, very cool! The stops were timed very well. Jennie helped us beat “the tourists” to each of the destinations. The bus ride up was nice. We did have one bathroom break. She stopped several times and took pictures of each party at the “welcome” signs. We had about 45 minutes to shop in Carcross after lunch. It had some neat little shops. We bought maple syrup and some yummy maple “cones” at a little shop called Maple Rush. The little cones were baby ice cream cones with maple syrup in the bottom and topped with maple fudge! Yummmmmmyyy! The train ride back down the mountain was really fun. I was out on the platform when we went through the tunnel. It was really awesome although eery at the same time! The smell of diesel was a little strong though while in the tunnel. Everyone enjoyed the train ride. The narrator does walk through at the end(for gratuities). There also is a “host”that sells “memorabilia” during the train ride. There is nothing fancy about these train cars but they are fine for this short ride. Lots of windows to lookout. You can go out on the platform at the front or back of the car but you are not allowed to cross to another car. Each car does have one unisex restroom. The scenery is awesome and the history in interesting. The train stops a couple of places to pick up hikers/campers. There are bottles of water at the front or back of each car that are complimentary. A Chilkoot bus will meet you at the train stop back in Skagway. Apparently it mayor may not be your same driver so you need to extend your gratuity to the bus driver before you get on the train. (If you are doing the bus first, train last order of the tour.)(The tour is also offered as train first, bus last.) We did get the same driver/bus when we arrived back in Skagway. You have the option of getting back on the bus and being dropped back at the ship or if you prefer you may just walk 3 blocks into town and shop. If you choose to walk in to town to shop, you then can walk back to the ship or take a shuttle. Apparently, it is about ½ mile walk back to the ship from downtown or we heard there is a shuttle for $2. We chose just to take the CC bus back to the ship.
Cons: The only con I can come up with on this tour was the dogsled ride was overpriced for what yougot. It was advertised as a 15-minute dogsled ride but we were only gone about 8 minutes. Three sleds left one right after the other. We were the third one to leave and the first one back. I doubt the others got much more than 9.5 minutes each. For $36 pp I would have expected the full 15-minutes. Also, those not purchasing the ride could get into the “ride loading area” so other than actually sitting on the sled they got to see as much as those that paid the additional $36 for the ride. (Note: The dog-sled ride was an option to the tour. Some people on the bus had not purchased that option.)
I had planned on us having an early dinner at Skagway Fish Company as it had been recommended by friends and everything I read sounded awesome. However, DH and friends decided they wanted to go the MDR for dinner since we hadn’t been there yet. So back on the ship for a little relaxation and then we went to MDR for 8:00 pm dinner. We met our dining team and they were both excellent (and cute!!!!).
Day 5: IcyStraight Point
There was a bald eagle in a tree straight across from theship so everyone had a great view of it.
The pier here is new….apparently less than a year old. The deck you depart on may not be the de****u return to depending on the tide. There is some “incline” to the ramp/dock but I did see a “golf cart”type tram that appeared to be transporting some of the mobility challenged pax. I did not see how far it took them though.
A friend had recommended whale watching at this port but the friends we were travelling with did not want to go whale watching. They wanted to go look for bears. So I had pre-booked an independent bear watching excursion through Hoonah Adventures via the internet. We did the “Wilderness Bear Watching” through Hoonah Adventures.
Pros: Booking was easy. Meet and Greet Staff was friendly,informative, and efficient. The guides from the various companies do share info so if one spots a bear then the other companies also know where to go at that moment. The guides also have a “shotgun” in case a bear gets too close and needs to be scared away.
Cons: The booking confirmation which lists directions to the meeting place (“Excursion Hub”) should indicate distance/estimated time for the walk from the ship. It is labeled well once you are on the pier but doesn’t indicate that it is a little bit of a walk to get there so could cause issues for those with mobility issues not allowing sufficient time for the walk. While bear siting is not“guaranteed”, we did see one bear at the bridge and “bear’s butt” of 2 other bears (as they were running into the woods). It was a cloudy, drizzly day so not sure if that had anything to do with the bear siting s or not. The price seems a little high for what we got. The biggest “con” was the tour guide. I hate saying bad things about people. I am sure he is a nice gentleman but just was not the type guide we enjoy. He spent most of the 3 hour tour talking about himself and his family…although he was relating it to local culture. One lady asked to stop for a bathroom….he told her he would back the van into the woods so she could go…but he never stopped. On top of that…we were 15 minutes late getting back…which then only left 15 minutes for the “1/2 mile+”walk back to the ship. We were only“saved” by a ship’s excursion also running late.
ISP is a privately owned area. We didn’t wander around but it does not appear that there is much there. A couple of restaurants and a few shops. (Although it is “spread out” so creates a “long walk”.) So I would think you definitely would want some type of “excursion” at this port rather than just “wandering around”.
This was the second formal night. Again, we had not brought “formal” clothes so we dressed “nicer” but not formal. We dined in the MDR.
Day 6: Ketchikan
Our only truly all-day rain/drizzle!
DH and friend took the 9:30 am kayak trip through the ship. They were taken by bus to then get on a small“raft type” boat (with motor) that then took them to the kayaks. He said he enjoyed it a lot but not as much as the kayak trip in Whittier on the land portion of the trip. The girls just got off of the ship and shopped around Ketchikan. It was a short walk to the shopping area. After the kayak trip, the guys met us at Chico’s for Mexican and pizza. This restaurant had been recommended by a friend of a friend. Prices were reasonable and food was good. I thought the pizza was better than the Mexican….but we eat Tex-Mex multiple times weekly so probably not good judges. I bought at-shirt at Soho Coho Gallery. Bought salmon(shipped home) at Salmon, Etc. Enjoyed purchasing “lotions”, “food specialties” at Blasphemous Bills. Great pricing on souvenir clothing, etc at Tongass Trading Company. Found some great handmade Christmas ornaments and hand carved train at local “art” type shops.
Top Tier Party in Colony Club for C&A Platinum and above members at 7:30 (between seatings). We were amazed at the lack of participation. DH counted less than 100 pax in the room. Have never seen a Top Tier party with that few folks.
Dined at Giovanni’s again that evening.
Day 7: inside Passage
Another leisurely morning. Slept a little late. Had breakfast. Saw a large group of dolphins jumping alongside the ship while we ate breakfast. Sat on balcony while cabin attendant finished room. Then started packing! Then did MDR for lunch so we could get the great salad bar. Then a little shopping/browsing in the shops. A very short stop in the casino. Then back to the room for more packing. It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon so we were going in/out of the balcony as we were taking pack breaks. I was just about to decide it was time to take an early shower when DH said….”We are slowing down and turning”. We looked out a saw a small boat with 10 people in it. Had we been in the Caribbean we would have thought we were stopping to “rescue” them. Nope….turns out they were on a whale watching boat and had spotted whales. We were able to see 13 whales from the balcony. They were in the water (not “jumping”) so not great views but close enough and good enough to count them. Then within just a few minutes we saw 3 baby whales right next to the ship. So cute!!! I had been so disappointed when our friends had wanted to go “bear watching” rather than “whale watching”. So getting to see these so close to the ship made me happy!!!!
Final dinner in the MDR and say goodbye to the excellent wait team! Then off to bed. I couldn’t sleep so went out to the balcony to enjoy it one last time!
Day 8: Time to go home
We had breakfast and waited on our number to be announced for departure. Once we were called, it was straight off of the ship to baggage claim and off to the taxi line. It was one of the easiest debarkations we have ever experienced. The only issue was that they were still pulling luggage from the ship so there were no porters available. While we were able to manage our own luggage, we would have preferred to use the services of a porter. Oh well! We made it to the taxi stand. Had to wait probably about 15 minutes for our turn in the taxi line. We thought it progressed fine although the folks behind us were grumbling. We had an excellent, friendly taxi driver. Cost from the pier to the airport was 36.50 Canadian. (metered ride) We gave him $40 US. (4 of USplus bags) I didn’t time it but I am guessing about a 30 minute ride.
Once at the airport, we had no trouble checking in or getting a porter to assist with the bags. We “whizzed” through customs/immigration as we have Global Entry. Our friends do not have it so it took them about an extra 30 minutes. They said it was very fast and efficient though with self-serve passport scanners, etc. (If you are flying to the US, you process through US Customs in the Vancouver airport.) We were probably at the gate waiting within 1.5-2 hours of getting off the ship. Flights were close to on-time and travel home went smoothly! We were home in our bed around 2:00 am the next morning (11:00 pm ship time!).
Weather: It “felt” warmer than we had anticipated. The temps were around what we had expected (55-65 in late July) but it “felt” warmer than the temps. Everything I had read said that we needed to“layer”. I had taken primarily long-sleeved shirts, a couple of short sleeved shirts, long pants (khaki/denim), leggings,a couple of pairs of shorts just in case it was warm enough, light-weight water-repellant vests, sweater vests, down vests, lightweight windbreaker, heavier fleece jacket, rain ponchos, and rain jackets. We wore long pants/leggings every day….never got quite warm enough for the shorts. However, several days we stripped down to short-sleeve or sleeveless tops! The two best “investments” we made for attire for the trip were: first Merrell Gore-tex mid-height “boots” and second, lightweight water repellant vest with many pockets! We only used the raincoat one day and never had to pull the ponchos out as “backup”. We wore the “fleece type” jacket maybe an hour the whole trip! I never wore the down vest or shorts.
Laundry: We had planned to use the ship’s Wash &Fold Special. It is usually $35 for a full bag of laundry (as much as you can stuff in the bag). (As the name says….it s Wash & Fold….no pressing, etc. but works great for socks, undies, etc.)Many ships will let you use this special on “any day”. Not here. They have a strict policy of only on “the” day. (Day 4 for this voyage) We had not taken this into consideration when packing considering we were doing 5 night pre-cruise! Uh oh! It ended up working out ok….except that…in addition to it only being on“the” day….it also takes 3 days to get back rather than the normal 2 day return! (Returned 6 pm on Day 6 rather than the usual 6 pm on Day 5) Nope…we didn’t wear dirty undies or socks….but we could not have made it one more day!
“Traditional” dining first seating is 5:30 and second seating is 8:00 pm. While the menus arethe same as other ships, the food quality/preparation seemed to be a little better than on the other ships most recently. (The only disappointment was the night that was supposed to be “Prime Rib” was strip steak instead even though the menu still had Prime Rib printed on it.)
Chops and Giovanni’s both had good quality food and excellent service. We did not get to dine at Samba. I had hoped to go but it didn’t work out. We have no interest and have never dined at Izumi on any ship so can’t give any info on it. We saw the Boardwalk Doghouse and small Park Café in the solarium but did not try either .
Casino: Nice that the formal nights were non-smoking in the casino from 6 pm. Although we did not spend nearly as much time in there as we had anticipated. The short craps table and lack of UTH table did not please DH so he didn’t spend as much time (or $) as usual. I was not pleased with the selection of slot machines. There were no “name” type machines. (No Sex and the City, No Wheel of Fortune, no “tv show” type machines, no jackpot party) Therefore, I spent a lot less time (& $) in there than normal also!
Towel animal: Had the best towel animal ever one night. Rushed into the stateroom after dinner/show to use the restroom. Flung open the bathroom door and SCREAMED! There was someone sitting on my toilet! The cabin attendant had made legs out of a towel and hung them over the toilet and then closed the lid. The“legs” then went into my flip-flops. At first glance, looked just like a person. Once I quit screaming (with apologies to my neighbors), I died laughing. I was determined to stay awake until DH came in to see if he screamed too! Nope, he didn’t!
We had not done a pre-cruise tour previously so did not know what to expect or how to compare. As mentioned previously, we would much have preferred the option to pre-book the “optional land excursions”. Apparently, each guide must make their own land tour bookings after they get the forms from their group. It seemed more logical to us that they would call the “office” with the forms and then have the “office” “centralize bookings” since some excursions had minimum number of participants. We thought our guide did “ok”. Since we had not done a pre-cruise tour before we don’t have anyone to compare her to so can’t really say if she was “good”or “bad”. I know other people on the bus were not pleased with her. Apparently she told different parties, different times for the same event, meeting time,etc. On several occasions she did change the “meeting/departure” times 15 minutes either direction from the “printed time schedule”. So there probably are better guides out there but I am certain there are probably worse guides also! Overall, she did an acceptable job and got us where we needed to be when we needed to be and delivered everything “promised”in the cruisetour description.
The cruise/land tour pricing was higher pricing than we typically pay for a cruise. However, Idid a little price comparison of estimating what a DIY land tour would have cost versus what we paid and it seemed to be about the same. With the cruisetour we didn’t have to get a rent car and drive. That way we could both see the “scenery” as we were riding (train/bus) rather than one of us having to keep an eye on the road. (To do the train for each of the travel segments would have cost a lot more.) Also, not having to handle the luggage ourselves was a major plus in our book! We typically would have used “Bell Staff” and tipped them arriving & departing. As it was, we never saw the Bell Staff so were unable to extend gratuities. I had read that all of the prices in Alaska were so much more expensive than home because they have such a shortened season that they must “make their money” in a shorter time frame. We really did not find the prices to be that much more expensive. Considering we were eating/shopping for the most part in “hotel” and “resort towns” we thought the prices were fairly reasonable.
So that is the long story of our “One and Done” Alaskan cruise. Read Less