Monday, September 20, 2010

Glacier Bay and College Fjord

The last two days of the cruise found us gazing at the these spectacular glaciers.  We were so fortunate with the weather - it was the best week of 2010 and apparently for College Fjord - the best in 4 years.

Glacier Bay

We cruised down Glacier Bay and then the ship creeped up, ever so softly, towards John Hopkins Glacier.  She floated there for at least an hour.  The captain turned her starboard for 1/2 hour and then port.  And then we steamed away.

The first time in 4 years that anyone has seen all the glaciers at the same time.  There are over 150,000 glaciers in Alaska and many of them are along College Fjord.  All the glaciers in this fjord are named after colleges, except for Princeton (they didn't like that college when naming went on).  The biggest glacier - Hubbard  - biggest glacier (I thought they said Harvard) are seen here.

Sea Lions, Eagles, Martinis - Oh My!

Rather than do a day by day of my cruise (since I am now boring myself), I'll just do the highlights.

Darlene went ziplining and since I am afraid of heights, I booked a whale watching tour with Harve and Marve. It was a 3-hour tour (shades of Gilligan's Island here). The pilot of my boat was Captain Shawn and there was just 5 passengers. I rode shot-gun (since I have experience with piloting my rowboat in my pond). We saw at least 8 whales that day - so many, in fact, that I did not know where to point my camera. I do not have any good photos of my whale watching (I have some great video that I will upload later). Shawn said that this was one of the BEST days he'd ever had for whale watching. In addition to the whale watching, we were privileged to take in the sea lions (they only hang around this rock for about a month for breeding).  Sea lions are not shy, and they readily came towards the boat and waved their flippers - but, man-oh-man do they STINK!

After whale watching I explored the Mendenhall Glacier.  This is a tongue glacier. Breathtaking!

View from Sky Tram - Top of Juneau.  I had a few hours to kill before heading back to the ship so took the Sky Tram.  A couple of shots of Juneau and my ship The Coral Princess.


Third and last port of call on our cruise.  We decided to take in the Chilkat Eagle Preserve River Rafting Float.   This was the highlight of our cruise in terms of excursions.  It started off with a ferry ride down the fjord to Haines, so we were able to see where the ship cruised into port (in the middle of the night).  Then a white knuckle bus ride to the embarkment point of the rafts.  Our guide on the bus was Karl (with a K). Karl - well, just imagine some guy jacked up on speed who knows ALL the history of the surrounding area but also wants to tell you ALL ABOUT HIMSELF (because he was an only child).  We did not take Karl's (with a K) raft - we decided to take Paul's raft. - I almost didn't see any eagles.  Anyway - this float down the braided river was wonderful.  If we saw 1 eagle we saw 30.  And we also saw a brown bear with her two cubs strolling along a beach flat.    After disembarking, we were provided with one of the best shore lunches of the entire cruise - gourmet sandwiches.  I remark on this because all of the excursions we participated all they offered was a stupid cookie and a cup of hot beverage - however, this excursion was a real lunch.  Big sandwiches, fruit, chips and homemade cookies and all sorts of beverages.   The ferry ride back was exciting too because we crossed the wake of a cruise ship leaving port...WOW - that was quite the WAVE!

Oh I almost forgot - the martinis...CHEERS!

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Just yesterday I was walking out in this field with Sparkle and wondering whether the tracks I was seeing was what I thought it was. Then just 10 minutes ago, I was walking from the garage around the house to the patio and happened to glance out into the field and thought..."why does that cow have a branch on its head?" I am so glad I didn't meet this big fellow yesterday!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Cruising on the High Seas

Cruising - First Day at Sea
Our first day on the cruise we are at sea the entire day and heading towards Ketchikan, Alaska. The day is a bit overcast and the seas (at least to my limited experience) are fairly smooth. There are some rolling waves, but, I don't really think they are considered rough. We can certainly feel the sway of the ship and do loll from side to side as we walk down the halls, but, we're not being flung around. It's kind of a neat feeling - we can stagger down the hallways without being accused of drinking!

Darlene says something like - I am really sore this morning and now she's not running up and down the stairs anymore. I finally realize the way to deal with my overactive sister is to let her play herself out the first day (she was like a kid after eating all the Hallow e'en candy). So - the NO ELEVATORS of hers is over.

We had breakfast in the dining room and shared a table with two people from New York - The Bronx. We saw several dolphins swimming beside the ship - wow, are they fast! They were zipping along and diving in and out of the water. They could keep up with the ship.

We discovered the Deck 7 - Promenade Deck and walked the outside of the ship. Three times around equals one mile. This appealed to my fitness freak sister and it was much easier than doing stairs.

I guess we spent most of the day just wandering around the ship and exploring all she had to offer.

The evening was the first formal night and the Captain's Champagne party starting at 5 pm in midship around the winding spiral staircase on Decks 5 and 6. We got dressed in our finest clothes and wandered over to Deck 5 to watch all the other formally dressed people. It was sure nice to see all the ladies dressed up and the men in their tuxes. We got several pictures taken and enjoyed endless glasses of champagne.

At 7:45 pm we headed off to our dining room and enjoyed a wonderful evening in the company of our table mates. Once again, we closed the dining room.

I decided that I was not quite ready to go sleep after dinner and we headed to the Explorer's Lounge were there was karaoke going on. I mustered up enough nerve, bolstered by a vodka martini and got on stage and sang The Eagles, "Take It Easy". My heart was just pounding! I was a bit too fast at the beginning - way ahead of the music, but I finally managed to get into the groove. I figured I'd never see any of these people again - so why not just have fun.

Finally off to bed where we found that our cabin steward, Romil, had turned down our covers, arranged our pajama's and put chocolates on our pillows. What luxury!

We wake up to find ourselves in port at Ketchikan. We have booked a tour through the cruiseline to go kayaking around the Tatoosh Islands. We are to meet our tour guide at 9 a.m. The tour is 4.5 hours long, and our ship leaves port at 1:30 pm.

We shower. I have to mention here that I just LOVE the shower. While it is about half the size of a telephone booth, the water pressure and spray is just wonderful. One of the best showers I've ever encountered. I do wonder though how "people of size" manage to use these showers?

We have breakfast at the buffet in Horizon Court (Deck 14) and all I can say is WOW - food is abundant.

We disembark the ship around 8 am and head into the small shopping centre. The night before we were tricked into attending the shopping show onboard. We thought it was going to be about where to shop, and they lured us in with promises of a free bracelet. Well, the show is a high pressure sales pitch to buy diamonds. Yep - that's the reason I went on an Alaskan cruise - to buy diamonds. In order to get the bracelets and charms, we had to go to the diamond stores in port and collect them. Now, one doesn't think that jewelry stores would be the most ubiquitous store in Alaska, but, there must have been about 15 in every port. We collected the "junk" at the first port and never bothered in the other ports. It is absolute junk.

We find our tour and around 9 am get on the bus that will take us to the dock. Once at this dock, we are given life jackets and heavier jackets to wear. We get in this inflatable zip boat and are off to the Tatoosh Islands, but, the boat operators suddenly turns around and heads back to the pier because he'd forgotten the smaller life jackets we need for kayaking. On our way to the the kayak start point we see several eagles.

We arrive at the kayaking station and don our smaller life jackets and are given a brief lesson in how to kayak. They are two man kayaks and Darlene takes the stern and she is responsible for steering as she will be using the rudders to turn right or left (the bossy one is supposed to go into the stern). We are a small group - 6 kayakers plus our guide Mark. It was a gorgeous day - a bit overcast, but in the lee of the islands there was hardly any wind or chop and we had a great time marveling at the beautiful scenery. We saw a few more eagles. Coming back we had to cross a small channel where the current was stronger and we were paddling against the tide - so, we had to do a bit of work. The entire kayaking trip was 1.5 hours. Once back at shore we had our "snack", which was a cup of hot chocolate and a chocolate chip cookie.
Back into the zip boat and a quick trip back to the dock. I was looking at my watch at it was around 1 pm and we had to be in port at 1:30 because that is when the cruise ship leaves port. Well, two people on this trip wanted to souvenir shop and I guess the tour operator wanted to make more money so he opened up the shop. 15 minutes later these two come back out. I have no idea what they bought except for pepsi. We kept reminding the bus driver that we had to get back to port and she was like..."oh, don't worry there are always lineups to get back on the ship, we have plenty of time." Finally, around 1:15 the bus starts back to port. And you guessed it! We were late and the ship was waiting for us. Talk about embarrassing knowing that all the people peering over the railings are wondering why these bozos cannot make it back to port in time. We were no sooner on the ship and the doors closed behind our butts.

After having a lunch at the buffet, we went to the Crooner's Lounge (which became our favourite lounge) I think this is the afternoon I discovered I liked traditional martini's and also olives. The waiters were wonderful there and when they brought the martini's they'd do a dance while shaking the brew. They also put down bowls of big olives to eat.

And then it was time for dinner again and this time both Darlene and I are very played out. We didn't do anything that night and went straight to our stateroom after dinner. There we discovered that Romil had arranged Darlene's pajamas in a lovely pattern on the bed. Mine were simply folded because I didn't have nice pjs like Darlene's. She was so impressed.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Anchors Aweigh

My sweet sister gifted me with an Alaskan cruise (inside passage) and we embarked on September 4 from Vancouver harbour.

Prior to leaving (she asked me in June), I spent much time planning my outfits and just obtaining all the little things (according to Cruise Critic) that I would require to make my cruise enjoyable. Poor Peter, every time I would come home I would have some item and all he could see was a debit in our bank account. Of course, now I know what one really needs and I will make some post about what is absolutely necessary and what is just fluff.

Anyway - after much research about Alaska, reading forums, blogs, etc. the day finally arrives and I am on my way to the airport in Saskatoon to start my journey.

Day One -The Night Before

I have carefully packed all my luggage and make sure that I have the essentials in my carry-on and that my checked bag does not exceed 50 pounds. It weighs in at 45 pounds. I go through security and I don't know what it is about the Saskatoon airport but they must be VERY BORED or I have some kind of sign on me that says..."I should be strip searched". Well, I go through when there is absolutely no one else in security, and of course, Saskatoon has just received all those lovely toys for scanning people and I am chosen out of a line up of ZERO. I have a choice - either be searched by hand, or I can go into the new fangled body scanner. I chose the body scanner - only takes 3 seconds. I did want to ask for a picture, but I thought that would probably not go over well. And then they had to go through every item in my carry-on.

Since the only thing I was packing was shampoo, body lotions and a sparkly belt, I was allowed to proceed.

The flight to Vancouver was wonderful - clear, blue skies and wonderful views of the Rockies.

I found my sister at the baggage claim area and we saw people at a Princess Cruise kiosk and stopped to talk with them. Since we were not sailing until the following day, we were simply stopping to ask them what we should expect for tomorrow. Well, since we had booked our hotel through the cruise lines, they were waiting for us and after we collected our baggage, they whisked us off in a taxi to our hotel..://">The Westin Bayshore. Talk about being pampered -and this was just the beginning.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon walking the harbour - absolutely gorgeous. Saw the 2010 Olympic Torch sculpture and did the obligatory pictures. We had a wonderful dinner at a restaurant that was perched over the waters. We also found the most important thing...a liquor store and bought 8 bottles of wine to take onto the cruise (this is important as you will read further on). I have no idea what time we finally went to bed, but tomorrow would be THE DAY to board.

Day Two - Boarding the Ship and Setting Sail

We wake up around 6 a.m. and it is shaping up to be a glorious day. I peak outside the curtains and see our ship, The Coral Princess, sailing into port. What a fantastic sight. We are supposed to have our BIG luggage ready and waiting at the hotel door so it can be transported to the ship. This is an important thing to note - you want to keep and have your most valuable items in your carry-on since you have no idea when you may see your main luggage on the ship. This means, have your toothbrush, a change of clothes, make-up, contact lens stuff, any medications and anything you do not want to lose (such as jewelry) in your carry-on. We packed all that important stuff, plus...the 8 bottles of wine - precious stuff, sure didn't want it to be broken in our checked luggage.

We were transported to the ship on a bus. Our bus driver was hilarious - he was German and it was like Arnold was driving and commentating. We get to the port and have to go through US Customs and Ship Security. Well, once again that target is gleaming on my back and the Ship Security were quite concerned about the corkscrew I had in my carry-on. They asked me why I had it...well, as I pointed to the 8 bottles of wine I had in my carry-on, it was so I could open them. They scrutinized my corkscrew and determine that the blade was only to open the packaging surrounding the cork (and not to commit mutiny on the high seas). After tossing my underwear and bras about the security area, I was allowed to continue.

At US Customs - all they did was scan my passport and say Welcome. And then we were on board the Coral Princess!

Once aboard we found our stateroom P615 - on the Plaza Deck 5 about midship. It was a really cute room. We had an oceanview and there was plenty of room and storage space for all our stuff. All we had was our carry-on, so we quickly dumped that in the room and set about exploring the ship. Darlene, of course said we were not allowed to take the elevators...EVER! and she like a fitness freak started running up the decks. We explored the Plaza deck first - that had the pursers counter and some shops. Decks 5, 6, 7 and 8 - amidship around the lovely winding staircase had all the shops and bars. Then we walked up another 5 decks to find the Lido Deck (Deck 14) and came upon this amazing buffet in the Horizon Court. So we did what comes naturally...loaded a dish with food (that is one of the main themes aboard a cruise ship - eat the amount you paid for your ticket in food).

After stuffing ourselves, we found the doors to outside and came across the outside pool and hot tub and more bars and a grand view of the Vancouver Harbour. Here we settled into deck chairs and next thing we know we have a Ceasar in hand and are now officially "crusin'"!

Our checked luggage arrives around 4 or 5 pm and we unpack. We ready for our first dinner. We chose late seating the formal dining room at a table of 10. We met our dinner mates - Ron and Diane from Southern California and Helen and Matt, Bruce and Glenda all from Perth, Australia. The other 2 never showed up.

During the course of the conversation that evening Ron was telling us that if we order 3 bottles of wine it's cheaper over the cruise. I said, we don't need any more wine as I brought on 8 bottles. He was stunned and said what? You can't bring wine on board. I said the only thing you can't bring on board is hard liquor. Well, Ron was just so upset with this revelation and spent the remainder of the cruise hunting down wine stores in ports so he could bring onboard extra bottles!

We were having so much fun at dinner that we closed down the dining room - the waiters standng there and staring daggers at us to vacate the premises. We finally left and went up to the Princess Theatre and took in one of the shows. And finally back to our stateroom and into bed.

The end of a great day and only the beginning of a great cruise.

Fantastic Voyage!

I'm back from my cruise up the Alaskan coastline (inside passage). I have lots of stories to tell and pictures to share. Stay tuned!