I should start by pointing out that my wife and I love to travel and see new places. Its a big world out there and there are lots of foreign countries with many historic places and things to see. But the USA has plenty to offer as well, and if I'm going to visit other countries I want to also visit my own and see all 50 states. Now, I have been to 41 and Alaska was one of the last 10 I had left to see. Down to 9 left.
Alaska had been on my list of places to see for quite a while. And as I knocked off the places ahead of Alaska, one by one, it slowly kept moving up to the top of the list. Then one day my wife announced that there was going to be a family wedding in southern Oregon in May and she wanted us to go. That started the wheels turning and I figured if I was going to be right down the street, so to speak, that it was the perfect time to ease on up the road a bit to Alaska, being so close. My bad......Portland is only about half-way and its just as far from Atlanta to Portland (2,718 mi.) as it is from Portland to Anchorage (2,644 mi.). But it was too late. I had my excuse and I began my search for the perfect cruise/tour to Alaska.
The first thing I had to do was find a way to work around the wedding date and it was clear early on that the trip had to come after the May 10th wedding date. It was almost too early for a trip to Alaska and the earliest date I could find was May 12th, but that left no time to visit family and my wife has never been to Portland or Seattle, Washington so I wanted to work in some time to show her Portland and Seattle. There was a trip leaving on May 15th and that gave me just enough time to squeeze in everything.
So, our trip begins with a wedding in Grants Pass, Oregon, followed by a 101-mile drive up the Oregon coast to Portland and a day in Seattle before we fly to Anchorage. The 12-day cruise/tour makes it an 18-day trip ending on Memorial Day, 2008.
My wife and I have never been on any cruise. In our 31 years of marriage, she has always said "NO" because she is afraid of getting sea sick with no way to get out. I have respected that, but today's modern cruise ships have the technology, using stabilizers, to keep the ship steady and everyone says its not a problem. But I had also heard that if you ever want to take a smooth cruise, an Alaskan cruise was perfect, especially for your first one. Thats because you sail the protected waters of the Inland Passage, not out in the open sea, and there is no rough water. After looking at tons of pictures from Alaskan cruises, the only ripples I've seen were from the ships wake so I figure it will be OK and my wife, still reluctantly, has agreed to finally give it a try.
Now, I have to be honest. The Inland Passage cruises are in Alaska, but to me Alaska is not along the coastline of Canada! So this had to include the "heart of Alaska" and Denali, for sure. So in my research I found trips that included both, and it worked out best with our schedule to visit the interior first (land portion) and cruise second. It's a package deal on Princess and gives you the best of both in one trip with all the details worked out for you. We'll get to see as much as we can (Alaska is way to big to see it all at one time) and feel like we got to see the real Alaska, including Anchorage, Mt. McKinley, Denali Park and we might just sneek up to Fairbanks. On the cruise portion we'll visit several ports of call including Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan while sailing through Prince William Sound and see glaciers and fjords. This trip alo includes riding the train for 5 hours through some of the best scenery in Alaska and we'll also take shore excursions to see the culture and history in gold mining towns and fishing villiages along the way.
Looks to be a great trip and we'll take lots of pictures and video too!
After doing advance research on the excursions available, I was ready to pre-reserve our excursions when the Cruise Line opened up booking. In fact, I pre-reserved a day early because booking became available the day before I got the e-mail from Princess. I was able to book everything I wanted at the ship's ports of call, but not the open afternoons on the land portion of the trip. That will have to wait until I get the detailed travel package information after final payment is made or do it on the ship.
I also decided it was a good idea to get the travel insurance and I'm already glad I did because the airlines have been changing the flight times. If we miss a connection due to schedule changes, its covered so whatever it takes to get home will not cost me more. But I did have to buy the insurance (4.2% of the total trip cost) and I hope it is cheaper then the cost of buying last minute plane tickets. If we can't make it from the port to the airport on time and miss the flight home, because they moved it up 2 hours earlier, it won't cost us anything. I think it was a good investment to protect us and now I really don't have to worry about these problems.
Well, we got our cruise package and got all the information on the trip, including the land excursions, several weeks ago. I reserved our land excursions, except for the last one, and that's the last loose end to tie everything up.
I am discouraged, though, because we will NOT be able to get to Fairbanks, and that's why I have one more excursion to book in its place. To get to Fairbanks for an afternoon on our own is pretty much impossable. There are no car rental places nearby (closest is 87 miles south in Walissa). They don't call it a "Wilderness Lodge" for nothing! There is a train, but it leaves at 4 PM daily and takes twice as long as driving. You get to Fairbanks at 8:30 PM and can't get back until the next morning and therefore you have to spend the night in Fairbanks. That doesn't work, since our hotel is in Denali and is already included in the tour. There is a new bus service, but it doesn't start up until September and it is really expensive for a round trip 2 hr. ride. Its also too far to walk, so Fairbanks is out. If you want to see Fairbanks, you need to schedule an extra day or two and include it in the tour trip. Otherwise, forget it!
So now its time to get out the suitcases and start laying out clothes and stuff for packing. Made a list and checking it twice........getting excited now. I even have a new computer wallpaper---a big moose standing in the wilderness in Alaska!! I'm ready!!
We were up at 4 AM so we could be at the airport for our 6:30 AM flight to Denver. Ticketing was hassle-free and we made it to Denver without any problems. Off to a good start. We had a meal and then boarded our next flight to Portland and it was also uneventfull, however we left late and arrived in Portland unsure if there was time to get to our next flight to Medford. We ran, but it was gone when we got to the gate -10 minutes too late. The good news was our luggage was still in Portland too. Fortunately, there was another flight to Medford in an hour and a half so we called to let the family know we missed the flight and would be arriving a bit later than planned. We also called Alamo about the car and it was no problem that we were going to arrive late.
Before we left, we verified that they had our luggage and it would be on our flight to Medford so everything worked out OK and we had time to get someting to eat and relax. I wanted to eat with the family in Grants Pass, but it was nice to catch our breath and have some quiet time between flights since this is a long travel day.
Good thing we called everyone, because they surprised us at the airport and met our flight when we arrived. That was unexpected and very nice. It was good to see familiar faces when we looked up. We picked up our car and followed our family to Grants Pass and had a nice cook out that evening at the house.
The wedding day began with making signs so everyone could find Cherie's River Rendezvous-site of the event. It was very nice and on the Rouge River. Since nobody is really interested in this, I just wanted to post a picture of the venue in Grants Pass to show how green it is there and the mountains.
Grants Pass is small and very nice. We got to see more of it the next day when we went to ride the Hellgate jetboat and tour downtown.
Today we had to get up early for our Jetboat Brunch at Hellgate. We dressed warm and for getting wet because we were warned about the spins the jetboat does on the river. It was great advice because we got a hell of a ride. It started out as a nice river cruise and we got to ride some white water through the canyon.
Then we stopped for a champagne breakfast at a really nice outdoor pavillion. It had a great view of the river, the food was good and we enjoyed the beautiful landscaping and took lots of family pictures.
Then the REAL fun started when the driver asked if we wanted to do some spins. And spin we did! Lots of water, lots of laughing and plenty of fun.
After the jetboat ride we did a downtown tour of Grants Pass and saw the caveman pictured here. He is the local mascot, I guess you could say. Since it was Sunday (and Mother's Day) just about everything was closed in the downtown area. We thought we would have fun walking around but with all the stores and everything closed we just went to a few places to look for souveniers and headed back to the house to spend a quiet afternoon looking at the wedding pictures and video.
After our goodbyes, we drove to the coast for a nice scenic drive up to Portland. We had breakfast at a hot-rod diner recommended at the gas station and it was pretty good.
The 107 miles of coastline was interesting, a bit cloudy, but we got to see the roughness of the Pacific and all the rocks in the water. Not a place we would go for a summer vacation to go to the beach. The water is always cold and it is not the nice resort kind of place we enjoy in the southeast.
But we did enjoy the ride and saw plenty of Oregon and how beautiful it is. Part of the drive went through the logging areas you see on "Ax Men" on T.V. and areas where the trees were harvested right off the side of the mountain.
We always seemed to be riding along a river too and that was nice. We also crossed over the Rogue River at the ocean and that was neat, knowing that yesterday we were riding on that same water in Grants Pass that was now flowing into the Pacific Ocean.
We got to Portland and met up with our friends from home that are taking the trip with us to Alaska. We wanted to see Portland and found a really cool place of meditation and prayer called The Grotto right in the middle of Portland. It was pretty amazing and we wandered all over the beautifully landscaped property taking pictures. Above the grotto itself is an overlook and Portland was nice to see from up there.
After our tour of Portland, we had dinner at Pimbache--a Cuban restaurant that was very authentic and very good. A colorful place with great atmosphere and wonderful food. I recommend it for an inexpensive meal.
This morning it rained during our ride from Portland to Seattle--only fitting--but it was a good time for it to rain while we were in the car driving for 2 hours. When we got to Seattle we checked into the hotel and headed to Pikes Place Market for some fun. We ate fish and chips in the restaurant used by Tom Hanks during filming of Sleepless in Seattle and wandered through the market looking for flying fish. We found plenty of fish, none flying because it wasn't the right time, but it was fun anyway.
Then we had coffee at one of the millions of Starbucks in Seattle and decided to take a Grayline city tour. It was very nice and we learned all about the city's history and saw all of downtown and the buildings and historic areas. Then we headed for the Washington State Ferry to take a ride out to Bainbridge Island and back. The purpose of this was just to do it and see Seattle's skyline from out in the water and it was well worth it. What a hoot! It was beautiful and fun and we took lots of pictures and had a really good time. Careful--this is a commuter ferry, not a tourist ferry.
When we returned to the dock, we walked back and ended up on the 1,000 steps back uphill to the market. It was a challenge and we did it! Then we went to our dinner reservations at "Matt's in the Market" and had a great meal. Kind of expensive, but it was our celebration dinner on the eve of our Alaskan Adventure and worth it.
We had a good nights rest because tomorrow is another big day and its going to be a long one too!
After breakfast this morning, we checked out of the hotel and headed to the Space Needle. We rode to the top and took plenty of pictures of Seattle from up there. It was nice and cool and after we had seen enough we went to the gift shop for our souveniers.
Then we went to Ride the Ducks of Seattle, a land and sea tour in an old World War II amphibious landing craft with a driver who should be on a better stage. This was a very entertaining tour with plenty of history, information, music and gags and it was great fun. This is a must for families or anyone who just wants to have a good time, especially if you have kids. It begins with a tour of the city and passed the same places we had been yesterday, but then we drove into the lake for a different view.
On the lake, we had more great views of Seattle and saw a sea plane take off right next to us. We drove around a bit and then saw the houseboat from "Sleepless in Seattle" that Tom Hanks lived in, in the movie. It is currently for sale for $2.2M if you're interested.
Then we had a nice early dinner at the Claim Jumper and it was as good as everyone said it was. We dropped off the rental car and sat in the airport until it was time for our flight to Anchorage. This begins the next phase of our adventure!
We took pictures from the 15th floor of the hotel after midnight and it was still light enough for pictures. We went right to bed, about 1 AM, but I woke up at 4:30 AM and the sun had already risen and it was again light outside. So I took some pictures again and it was amazing. This is a photo of downtown taken at 4:30 AM. The mountain range in the background look painted on a fake backdrop, but this is an untouched photo. We had a corner room and the other view was of Cook's Inlet. I went back to bed, but was up and ready to go again at 7:30 AM!
We were up early and walked around downtown for a while and talked to a couple of nice policemen. Everyone is very nice and the city is very quaint and easygoing. I decided pretty quickly that I could actually enjoy living here because it was really a very nice place. And it is in Alaska! I'm here at last!!
After a nice walk around downtown, we had breakfast at a restaurant recommended by the Princess staff we talked to in the hotel. Their office is right in the hotel so we walked right past it on our way to the lobby and this was very convienient. The Hotel Captain Cook is first class and very big and beautiful. I recommend this hotel if you ever stay in Anchorage. They have nice restaurants and shops and displays like these bears in the lobby. They also have interesting information on Cook and the history of his travels in Alaska. We were also able to stay in the same room after check-in with Princess since they use this hotel for the first night before the cruise/tour begins. This was a big bonus.
Breakfast was great and then we walked a couple of blocks to the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.
The museum recommended that we purchase a "Combo" ticket for the museum and the Cultural Heritage Center we also planned to visit because it included both admissions, AND transportation to the other one--eight miles away. I figured we would have to take a public bus or a taxi so this solved the problem. After a nice guided free tour, we took the free shuttle to the Cultural Center so we could see it and come back on the last shuttle at 2 PM. That gave us time to come back and see more of the museum before it closed for the day.
Then we checked out and back in again with Princess and got our welcome packages, had dinner and re-packed for the start of our cruise/tour because you can only take one bag on the 4-day land portion. The other luggage has to go to the ship and you get it back when you arrive in Whittier. You have to plan ahead for this and take the right stuff with you, including travel documents, toiletries, medications, proper clothing, binoculars, cameras, etc. Plan to spend the day in Anchorage before the tour so you get to see it!! Anchorage is really cool to visit.
We had to have our bags ready early for pick-up and then had breakfast before waiting around for the busses to take us to the train station. It was a very short ride to the edge of town and we got a quick tour of Anchorage on the way, but we had already seen everything the day before on our own free day. It was really smart to arrive a day early because that gave us a free day to see Anchorage, otherwise we would have missed seeing it entirely and that would have been dumb. It also gave us a travel cushion, in case we had any problems getting to Anchorage, so we didn't miss the start of the trip. I recommend this.
The train ride to Talkeetna was really fun and beautiful. It took about 2.5 hours and they have food and drinks, but nothing is free and you get a bill before the train arrives and pay in cash or credit card so be prepared for this.
We walked through town, which is about 4 streets total, and had lunch at the Roadhouse. It was fun and we enjoyed talking to the locals and other travelers, like us, who shared our table. Then we checked in at the fishing vendor's building and bought our 1-day fishing licenses ($20 each) We had already paid for the excursion at the time of booking. We left to go fishing at about 3 PM and while my wife spent the afternoon untangeling her line, I caught 3 fish: 2 Dolly Varden and an 18" Rainbow trout. It was too early in the season for salmon and this is what was running in the river besides Grayling. It was pretty cold, we had to stand in 35 degree water in waders, but it was beautiful and we were fishing in Alaska!! We fished several spots and had a great afternoon in beautiful country.
We got back to town at 9 PM and took a 1 hour bus ride to the lodge and had dinner from 10 to 11 PM! Long day, but it was still light out and we had a great view of Mt. McKinley from our dinner table and took pictures up to 11 PM when we finished eating. The salmon I ordered was to die for and although this was an expensive meal we really enjoyed the wine and desert after our first long day on the tour. We received our welcome packages, found our room and just went to bed. The luggage was waiting in the room and we were ready for a good nights rest and to seeing our friends in the morning!
We had our luggage out the door in the morning and had a nice breakfast in the lodge before boarding the bus to Denali. It was a nice two and a half hour bus ride with great scenery and we got to the lodge and checked in. Our luggage was in the room and we got welcome packages with our excursion tickets and the bad news that our rafting trip got cancelled due to poor conditions. We checked out our room and then went exploring along the river and found out why we couldn't go rafting--not enough water and plenty of rocks exposed. Anyway, while exploring we discovered lots of shops and places to eat.
We met up with our friends for lunch, had pizza, ice cream and did some shopping and found the hot tubs for later. Really nice!
We did some more exploring and spent the rest of the afternoon just relaxing until it was time to get ready for our horse drawn wagon ride and dinner excursion.
The ride was pretty cold, but they had heavy blankets for our legs and gave a lot of information about the area.
The dinner was family style and the food was really great. Plenty of bar-b-que ribs, chicken, steak, salmon, beans, corn on the cob, cornbread and desert. When we got back to the lodge we did go to the hot tubs and enjoyed the cold night air overlooking the river. Then we got a good nights sleep because we had to be up extra early to have breakfast before our 5-hour Wilderness Tour in Denali.
As part of our Cruise/Tour we went on a long bus ride into Denali Park to see wildlife and great scenery. This tour leaves pretty early in the morning because it takes 6 hours and I guess they want to allow folks to spend more money on afternoon excursions and you need to be back in time to do that. We were up early, had breakfast and headed to the busses. This trip goes deeper into the park than any private car can go by 10 to 15 miles. To preserve the wilderness, you can't go past mile 15 or so in a private car. These bus tours go out to mile 30 and when weather conditions permit they go even further. The deeper in you go the more likely you'll see wildlife and we certainly saw plenty. To list them, we saw several moose, carabou, great horned owl, porcupines, ptarmigans (state bird), Spruce Hen, moutain goats, Dall sheep and the real treat was 3 grizzly bears (a mom and 2- 2-year old cubs) that we observed in the open for over 15 minutes. The bus driver was excellent in finding wildlife and stopping so we could all see and take pictures. Just about the only thing we did not see were red fox-(we waited near their den but no fox showed up)-and wolves. It was a great tour and we really enjoyed it. This is one of those "don't miss" events and is a real highlight of the trip. Take binoculars and film!! This afternoon we were supposed to take a river rafting trip but due to the low water levels in the river it got cancelled. So our friends went on an ATV excursion and we decided to check out Denali park.
After lunch we took a free shuttle to Denali National Park and went to the Visitor's Center. They have some nice displays there and a hugh stuffed moose among other things. But we really went to see the dog sledding presentation. To get there we had to take another park bus to the venue a short ride away. When we got there for the 2:00 PM show we had time to first look at all the dogs in their pens/cages. Some were just tethered to posts and would let you pet them and take pictures. Others were in dog houses or fenced in, and we were told that the dog decides what he or she likes and that is what they get.
The sledding demonstration was preceeded by a short lecture by a ranger who explained what they do with the dogs and all about sledding in the park. Then they got 5 dogs out and got them harnessed to a sled and took off on a short run on a dirt path for us to watch. It was pretty cool and interesting to hear the dogs going crazy to work and then get very quiet after it was over. We wandered around a bit more until we got tired and headed back to the lodge on the shuttle. They run about every half hour so it was just a short wait.
Back at the lodge, we did some shopping and waited for our friends to return from their ATV excursion and to go to dinner together.
We had a really good meal in the Salmon King restaurant on the Princess property with our friends, shared the events of the day and then retired for the night. In the morning we were scheduled to be up early once again to take the Denali Express train ride to Whittier to begin the next phase of our trip on the Coral Princess ship. Our first cruise ever....
I suppose it is only fair to say that 9 hours on a train ride can seem a bit much, but when you are traveling through the "Heart of Alaska" on the Denali Express I have to also say it was AWESOME. Not only is the scenery spectacular, you are also treated to more wildlife, the new experience of eating in a dining car with big windows and the best views Alaska can offer (especially with great weather) of Denali, tasty drinks, dominoes or cards and plenty of relaxation. They always told us in advance when we were passing Hurricane Gultch, small towns, homesteads and told stories all along the way.
When we passed near Anchorage, we had great views of Cook's Inlet, which is really huge, and we saw folks lining up to catch fish in nets as the tide came in on a big wave you can also surf on. We also saw the remains of recent avalanches and at the bottom, near the tracks, were large trees and debris carried down the mountain slopes in the snow. That was pretty cool. We also saw the broken sheets of ice downstream of the once frozen rivers where it all piles up after it breaks up in the spring thaw. Stuff you never even think about back home. Alaska is certainly a very different world then where we live.
We finally went through the longest train tunnel in the USA and saw our ship waiting for us. We were quickly taken through a security line and boarded ship to start our cruise. We went directly to our cabin and found all of our luggage waiting and unpacked before heading out to dinner. Everything was organized, we were given our port of call excursion tickets, ships events and dinner instructions. We did have to take a safety course before dinner, but that was also planned and organized.
Early on the first morning, about 6:30 AM, we entered College Fjiord to see our first glaciers. I was up and ready to go, since this is what you go to Alaska for, but many folks were still in bed or watching from thier balconies. It was very quiet and still and the ship spent about 3 hours going into the fjiord (a trough carved out by glaciers later filled in with sea water after the glacier receedes or melts) and by 9:30 AM we were on our way to Glacier Bay. This was all-day cruising and we had time to enjoy the ship: eating, using the gym, looking at our boarding photos, wandering all over the ship, swimming and using the hot tub and seeing the scenery as we sailed. There were whales and sea lions in the water, dolphins and birds and it was a relaxing day with lots to see as Alaska passed by.
In Glacier Bay, we got really close up looks at the larger glaciers and the best part was hearing the really loud cracking and thunder made by the moving ice on the active ones. I was very lucky to capture calving on video and it was a great big chunk of ice that broke off the "terminal moraine" and created excitement and a small tsunami wave and small iceburgs in the water.
Seeing the glaciers in Glacier Bay was very cool, although a lot of people may not get too excited by seeing a frozen river entering the sea. But understanding the geology of it all and how the features of land are created by these 4,000 foot thick moving sheets of ice is pretty amazing. On board there are frequent public addresses by the naturalists who explain all of this while you are seeing it and there are also lectures if you are really interested in the science.
But seeing iceburgs in the water and understanding that they just fell off the glaciers into the water was a sight to see. The scale of these glaciers is also hard to see, but some are a mile wide and 17 miles long and make large ships like the one here look pretty small by comparison. One interesting thing to know is that ships have to show up on schedule to enter the bay for their turn to cruise here. There are many ships doing this and they have time slots arranged for all. Another item was that a local pilot was brought to the ship by a small boat that pulled alongside our ship to board. He has to navigate the ship through the glaciers and then gets off when we sail on to our next port of call--Skagway.
We spent 2 hours in the clinic late this afternoon because my wife hadn't been feeling well for the past 4 days and it was time to see if we could do something about it. They gave her a pill and she went to bed and I went to see one of the really good shows they have every night on the ship.
Skagway is not much of a place: only about 800 perople live there, except on cruise ship days. Today there were 4 ships at the dock at the end of Main Street and the population swelled to about 8,800. Since there isn't too much there, except for 26 jewerly stores and other tourist shops, we scheduled two excursions for the day. The first was a Gold Fever Adventure with panning for gold and then an afternoon river float through a bald eagle preserve near Haines, Alaska.
The Gold Adventure took us to the last existing dredge on the river and we got to see life the way it was back in the days of the gold rush. We got instructions on how to pan for gold and then they turned us loose with our pans of gold (the gold we "found" was already in the pans.) It wasn't great but it was not too bad either for the low cost. Great store though.
After a quick lunch we took an afternoon river float excursion out of Haines, Alaska through a bald eagle preserve. Our guide was an outstanding naturalist and author, Tom Wolf, and we were really lucky to get him. Due to a schedule mix up, our guide didn't show and Tom was coming off an earlier trip and they grabbed him to do ours. Since we had a perfect afternoon of weather he was really grateful to go back out with us. You float on a raft, and the guide uses oars to steer down the river with the current. We had to be bussed up river, had sandwiches at the launch point on the river and put on boots and life vests. Then we saw some of the best scenery in Alaska and tons of eagles in trees, near their nests, and sitting on logs on the river looking for fish. This excursion was one of the very best and the pictures and video are some of the best we took. It did get pretty chilly at times so be sure to pack scarves, gloves, hats and whatever to keep warm if you go in May like we did. Its probably a lot warmer in the summer, and you might get some bugs to come along too. This is a really peaceful, quiet and relaxing trip and you are fully into the nature of Alaska.
On the way back to the lodge, they stopped so we could look back at the town of Haines, which was really beautiful to see, as you can see in this picture. We had been to the clinic the day before and this morning for a followup because my wife had been feeling the effects of wearing the patch for motion. Read on if you want to know what happened...
What I haven't told you yet is that my wife got motion sick on the train ride to Talkeetna five days earlier and made the mistake of putting on "the patch", which turned out to be a disaster for us. It was too much for her system and she was fighting dry mouth, dizziness, blurry vision and motion for the entire week. She was a real trouper though, and didn't want to spoil the fun so she put up with it for as long as she could. But after we got to Juneau she had enough.
These pictures are whales and a bald eagle on a bouey with 3 sea lions sunning themselves on the bottom on another beautiful day in Alaska. After our whale watching excursion, which was awesome, we were starting our walk through downtown Juneau and my wife announced that she could not get back on the ship!! We were stunned, but not surprised. Not being sure what to do, we left our friends in the street and headed to the ship for help--and we got it "big time". They arranged for us to pay our bill, made a flight reservation to Vancouver, cancelled our remaining excursion in Ketchikan and spa treatment, helped us pack, got our medical records from the clinic and took us to the airport--all in an hour! There was a flight out to Seattle and we needed to be on it.
We had a stop over in Seattle and I called the insurance company (remember that travel insurance I got??) to let them know our trip had been interrupted and they set up a claim for us. We made reservations for the night in Vancouver and had dinner before our next flight. On the way to Vancouver, I decided we didn't need to travel across country with my wife still feeling motion sick and we decided to salvage the weekend by spending Memorial Day weekend in Vancouver. It was someplace we always wanted to go but couldn't fit into this trip until we bailed off the ship. It was a major step to take, but it was the right thing to do. This effectively ended our first and only cruise, but it wasn't because of the ship--it was that patch, which we discovered is banned in the U.K. because of exactly what happened to my wife. She would have been fine if she had never put it on her neck.
We arrived in Vancouver at 11:30 PM and caught the last free shuttle to the hotel, checked in and went to sleep on dry land. We were going to miss seeing Ketchikan, cancelled our Lumberjack Show and Totems Combo excursion and my wife's spa treatment scheduled for our last day at sea. But we were in Vancouver and my wife was much better just knowing she was not on a moving ship anymore.
Today we arranged for a bus tour of Vancouver. We got up late and had something to eat at the hotel and then waited for our pick up bus. They were right on time and we made a few stops to pick up the rest of the group and then got a great tour of downtown Vancouver, learned some history of the city and passed by the ship docks where our Coral Princess would be arriving in the morning without us. We then when to Stanley Park, Prospect Point, Granvelle Island and Queen Elisabeth's Park to see the sunken gardens.
Vancouver is a beautiful city and we were really glad to have the chance to see it, even though it took my wife getting sick to do it. We missed seeing the Totems in Ketchikan, but we saw them in Vancouver instead and that was cool.
Everything worked out for the best and we were able to salvage the end of the trip and make it fun after all. We were dropped off back at the hotel after a really nice afternoon tour and began packing for our return to Atlanta in the morning. We had a nice dinner at the hotel in our room--pizza and salad delivery from a local pizza place and just relaxed.
If you ever get the chance to see Vancouver, don't miss it. Great city. We really enjoyed it.
This morning we didn't mess around--we got our things together and went down to the lobby and the airport shuttle was pulling up. We decided to just go ahead to the airport and get checked in and have breakfast there. It was a good thing to do because we were ahead of all the cruise ship crowd and got through check in quickly and then processed through customs and immigration (since we were on a "pre-cleared" flight) and got rid of our luggage. Then we had a relaxing breakfast and headed to the gate. Since we were pretty early we had time to do some last minute shopping and just relax.
As people began showing up we started to hear stories about having trouble getting luggage off the ship, delays leaving and long lines at customs and immigration. Some people on our flight even left without their luggage or barely made it to the flight on time. We were really glad to have missed all the hassles and called our friends to see how they made out. They said they had a good time in Ketchikan and were glad we were OK and had fun in Vancouver. Their flight out is late in the afternoon so they didn't really have any problems disembarking, but they sat around killing a lot of time before they got out of there and to the airport.
The only one-word description for Alaska is "Spectacular!" We had a great trip and really enjoyed great weather, fun activities, amazing scenery and saw a ton of wildlife. We even got to enjoy a bit of a cruise, some shows and got to see Vancouver in the end and arrived home as planned without any travel problems. All of our luggage was there when we got to bag claim and we got picked up and drove home happy and excited to share our pictures, video and stories about our Great Alaskan Adventure! My wife is finally feeling better but is still seeing doctors and not ready for another cruise----yet.....
Post Script: July 21, 2008.
I submitted a claim for our trip being interrupted about a month ago and this weekend I received reinbursement checks for the airfare from Juneau to Vancouver, hotel & meals, and 3 days lost on the cruise. I will also get reinbursed for the ship's medical costs as soon as I provide a letter of denial from our primary medical health insurance provider. The insurance cost only $253 (4% of the trip) and reimbursed us almost 50% of the original cost!!
Take my advice--buy the trip insurance because you never know what is going to happen...........glad I did!!