Russ & Mary’s Alaskan Cruise | August 2018
Wednesday August 8th thru Wednesday August 15, 2018
On the Island Princess
Wednesday – August 8, 2018 (in the air to Vancouver, CN then at Sea)
I’m up at 5:30 AM (as usual) following my usual routine.
(Yesterday I left work early (at 4 PM) to bring Bubba home with me and begin the packing process. All went well.)
I’m about ready. Just finalizing my carry-on before heading out. Mary is up as well getting ready to head out as soon as Beth arrives.
Beth showed up just before 8:30 AM so we loaded up her car and headed for the airport. It was dead compared to most other times. We said our goodbyes and headed to the Delta counter to drop our bags before running the usual TSA gauntlet. All went extremely fast. No lines and everything moving efficiently. What a pleasant surprise. Of course, I was stopped to check for drugs or explosives on my laptop but that’s just par for the course. We headed to Gate C5 to await departure.
Spending too much with Delta means we have “Sky” Priority in Delta Comfort which seems to me a lot like the old “Economy.” Still 3 seats and no food. The only “extras” for the cost are boarding early and an entertainment screen in the seatback in front of us. Oh well. I shouldn’t bitch. There were 150 people behind us in the same situation only worse…
The flight was smooth and uneventful. We got off the plane and took a nice long walk to Canadian Customs which wasn’t too painful then off we went to retrieve our luggage. The whole process was long, but my legs needed the movement and it felt good to not be in the middle seat… We dropped our main luggage at the Princess baggage area for the trip to the ship then off we went to the shuttle area for the ride to the pier to board the Princess Lines “Island Princess.” The bus was large with comfortable seats and a little legroom. We rode for about 45 minutes to the waterfront and the whole process started over again. We had to exit Canada, walk to the pier, then go thru US Customs in order to board the ship. What a fiasco. We went thru at least three scans and showed our passports to what felt like one hundred security personnel and finally got close enough to the ship to hand in our boarding passes and receive our cabin key/card which it turns out is also our credit card on board…
As soon as we arrived at our cabin (#C324 on the “Caribe” Deck 10) our Cabin Steward “Luney” (from the Philippines) greeted us and showed us our cabin for the trip as well as brief us on the next steps in the boarding process which included “Mustering” (going thru a fire drill) then finding the welcoming deck for a free drink to get us started. We did our muster then headed up to the Horizon Deck (deck 14) to find lots of fellow passengers all vying for drinks and appetizers. We ordered a martini and sat near the pool looking out at the pier. It felt good to relax and have a drink although other than a cookie and some tomato juice neither of us had anything to eat since breakfast at 6AM. Oh well…
We walked around a bit to get familiarized with the ship. As we walked along the hall near the outer deck Mary made a noise then pointed. Look, I see a whale! As I turned I could see from the blowhole to the “hump” of the humpback breaching the surface and then it was gone. We headed up to deck 15 to find another group of passengers celebrating finally getting on the ship. A couple of people at the bar had champagne and that looked good so we ordered a round and sat at the bar for a while until we felt the ship getting underway. We headed to the edge of the boat and watched as the ship left the port and headed away from Vancouver on the way to our first stop at Icy Strait Point.
We headed down to our assigned restaurant (Bordeaux Dining Room) for dinner. The host asked if we wanted to dine alone or with others and we requested a shared table. The choice was a good one as we had a great time, met new people and ate too much as usual. After dinner we headed up to Crooner’s Bar for some music and an after-dinner drink (mine was a Rusty Nail). After a LONG travel day filled with too much of everything we headed to our cabin for the night. A great first day…
Thursday – August 9, 2018 (1st Day at Sea)
I was up way too early again, but I blame that on the fact that we are two hours earlier here and headed for three as we approach Alaska. I grabbed my tablet and headed down to the new found coffee shop for a cup only to find I was a bit early. They open at 6am… I sat down and opened my tablet to get internet access to start this log and found there were some “glitches.” First, the internet connection on Deck 5 is non-existent. Next, an account needed to be created and my secret cheat-sheet isn’t accessible without the internet at this point and I hadn’t brought my backup with me so the whole exercise became futile and frustrating. I couldn’t go back up to the cabin and risk waking Mary and I couldn’t access the internet, so I put everything away and enjoyed my coffee while I “people” watched. We early risers are a different breed. OK, different yes, but seem to have some similarities. One for instance is, we need our coffee! Although some of the “coffee” orders I listened to were NOT coffee… Oh well, I’ll go back to, we are different. Enough of that, I ordered another cup for Mary and headed back up to the cabin once I felt safe waking her up.
After the morning routine we headed back down to the restaurant for breakfast. Again, we were seated at a “shared” table and enjoyed breakfast while exchanging our travel experiences and mishaps.
Once finished we took a quick tour of the ship again just to get the lay of the land. We’d been in the calm waters of the intercoastal islands until we headed out into open waters on the way to Icy Strait Point, Alaska, our first port on this trip. As you can see, the water got a bit rougher but the ship handled it very well.
We did some shopping and signed up for the Wine Tasting event at 3PM. But mainly stayed in the common areas around the atrium before heading back to the cabin to get ready for our “Couples Massage” at the Lido Spa.
First, we headed back down to our favorite coffee shop to order a Latte Mary had promised one of the spa receptionists we checked in with yesterday. Then we headed back up to Deck 15 and the Lido Spa and thoroughly enjoyed the massage. It wasn’t long enough but very nice just the same. After that we went back up to C324 to relax before heading to our next event.
We stood with others in the Atrium area and watched the antics of the crew making different “themed” martinis then recruiting passengers to taste (gulp) the martinis. It was fun to watch. Luckily neither of us were recruited for two reasons. First, because we had a wine-tasting event to attend next and secondly because all of the martinis were “phu-phu” martinis. Not my cup of tea… Enjoyable in any event…
Just before 3PM we headed to the wine tasting event and to my mild surprise really enjoyed the tasting.
The wine tasting began with an Italian Maitre’ D & Head Sommelier with “personality.” He was great to watch and listen to. His humor along with the presentation to kick things off was perfect. We were all in a great mood and ready to get started. He handed the show off to his second in command (who we met later at Sabatini’s) and the tasting began. We had six different wines along with a small plate of hors d’oeuvres to sample as we went from one wine to the next. We started with the Champagne then moved to a Ruffino Orvieto Classico (a lighter citrus white wine. Very nice…) then on to the Chardonnay by Hartford Court (USA). Next came the Pinot Noir from Wild Horse (still not a big fan but drinkable). Then came the good stuff… A Malbec by Caro (Argentina) and then to top it off we finished with the Cabernet by Caymus (Napa Valley). WOW what a great cab. We all wanted more… Excellent and informative…
Once finished we headed for C324 to relax and get ready for the next event (more eating) … We got dressed up as this is a “formal” night, so we looked the part. We headed down to the Bordeaux Dining Room to find many of us all wanted to eat at the same time. So we got our beeper and headed to Crooners for a drink. We ordered a bottle of wine, had a glass and brought the rest of the bottle to dinner. We tried to eat light but… that tends to be a challenge. We finished and headed back over to our “soon to be” favorite night spot, Crooners Lounge, where we each had an after-dinner drink then called it a night… except… Mary was ready but I was not. I wanted to see the comedy show in the theater, so I changed, left Mary in the cabin to get ready for bed while I went back down just in time to find a front row seat for the show. “Noodles” was OK. Not great, just good. Entertaining and he gave me a few laughs… The show lasted just under an hour after which I headed up to #C324 for the night…
Friday – August 10, 2018 (Icy Strait Point, AK)
Today is our big “planned” excursion for the week, our whale-watching tour. It started out very cloudy and foggy.
Heavier, waterproof clothing and shoes were in order, so I dressed for the occasion and we headed for the Provence Dining Room to meet up with the rest of the tourists going on this trek. There were a lot of people. Hundreds… As we entered they assigned us a group number from 1 thru 6 with an alpha behind designating something I never figured out. They gave each of us a sticker tag for our jackets. Once most of us were assembled and ready they called everyone from groups 1 thru 5 to leave the ship all at once. Strange, only group 6 remained. I still don’t understand their system at all, but we were directed to exit next so all of us in group 6 followed the “yellow brick road” to the pier and right there was our whale-watching boat. It was a double decker and held a bunch of people, we estimated about 100 souls…
Once we all found an open seat we took off for the tour. A three-hour tour…
About 15 minutes into the ride the boat slowed, and the naturist onboard excitedly told us that we’d found our first whale sighting. A pod of Orcas, four in all just off the boat a couple hundred yards to our 11 o’clock. We sat and watched until they opened up both decks, so we could get outside and take pictures/videos.
We stayed there and slowly followed them for a good half-hour watching them frolic around and search for food. They’d come up, take a breath and submerge for several minutes then surface in a different location. The boat did a pretty good job of anticipating their movements, but they seemed to keep getting a little farther away from us each time until the captain decided it was time to move on.
So, we came back in to the covered portion of the boat and headed back out to find some humpbacks…
About 15-20 minutes later we slowed once again. The naturist began explaining what we’d come across. A big pod of Humpback whales in a feeding mode. There were between nine and eleven in the pod. There were conflicting reports so I just rounded it to ten whales… They called it a bubble-net feeding pod.
They’d come up for air, blow their blowholes and submerge all together. Well almost all together. Some stragglers didn’t quite follow the “rules.” They stayed under for three to five minutes apparently blowing bubbles under their prey then surfaced together feasting on the poor confused critters caught up in the “bubble-net.” Quite the site to see all of the Humpbacks surface together and use their blowholes all at once. Again, we followed the Humpbacks for over an hour until the captain had to call it quits because some of the passengers had other tours booked so we all had to return to get them to their next excursion. This was a lot of fun to experience and according to many we talked to, a rare good whale-hunting day. The Orcas were a bonus not normally seen very often. They estimated Orcas are found only 10% of the time on these excursions.
We returned to the shore and offloaded onto a dock near a touristy nick-knack general store that many of us walked through on the way back to the ship. The ship was on a pier on the other side of this island connected by a long bridge built just for this occasion. I’m sure it helps fund the locals and kept them busy and happy. Whoever paid for the pier, bridge and store spent a ton of money, but it looks like it pays for itself. This isn’t the only ship to come here so I’m guessing several ships per week make this stop so 6,000 to maybe 10,000 tourists visit this little gold mine each week.
We made our way back to the ship after perusing the knick-knack store and freshened up before our next activity. Which was the Lido Deck again for a burger for Mary and pizza for me. We ordered Alaskan Amber and relaxed while doing a little “people-watching” waiting for our next event (more eating), dinner at Sabatini’s Italian Restaurant, a “specialty” dining experience not included in the regular meal service. For a small extra fee we can enjoy a special experience and we did… We dressed for the occasion and headed down to find out where the restaurant was. We were about a half hour early. We intended to stop by just to know where the restaurant was located and if they had a bar we’d sit at the bar and enjoy a cocktail while waiting for our reservation. We stopped by and looked in, no bar, so we started to turn around when the Maitre’ D called to us and wondered where we were going. When we explained our intentions he invited us in (early) and sat us at a very nice table with a very nice view. Then he proceeded to treat us like royalty, suggesting wines and giving us a rundown of the menu and what he recommended. The experience was fabulous and the food commensurate to the service. In other word, we had a wonderful evening and, once again, ate way too much…
Saturday – August 11, 2018 (Juneau, AK)
First, we were awakened at 2 AM by a sound I couldn’t figure out till I turned on a light. Turns out the sprinkler head above the bed was leaking and dipping on my side at the foot of the bed. A steady “drip-drip-drip” that wasn’t thru to the sheet yet but getting there. I got up and retrieved a bath towel to soak up the water wondering what to do next. At 2 AM there usually aren’t too many people (including crew) running around. As I contemplated my next move there was an announcement on some distant speaker announcing something I couldn’t make out, so Mary got up and opened the door to see if she could hear/understand better. She couldn’t either. It was from another deck (we think Deck 6 and we’re on 10) so we came back in to find the leak subsiding. So, with towel in place we turned off the lights wondering if this was all there was to it. Hopefully we’ll figure out what happened in the morning. Good Night???
I awoke to the ship’s foghorn blaring (surprisingly muted in the cabin) about once per minute. I got up and opened the curtains to find a thick blanket of fog (duh…) so I turned on the TV to see our location and as I sat down at the desk to start this log Mary said “LOOK!” so I turned around to find houses a short distance away from us. It looks like we’re in a canal or something. It’s narrower on this side of the ship but I don’t know what the other side looks like so we could just be near shore at this point.
The monitor on channel 37 shows us approaching the Cruise Ship area of the Port in Juneau, AK and doing a “U Turn” to approach the pier. As we continued to watch the canal turned into a bay area where we could see the whole Juneau waterfront from the bridge on the left to the terminal on the right.
Mary jumped in the shower as I ran down to Deck 5 and retrieved some good hot coffee. We’re enjoying our first stable data connection for the first time in two days. Being at sea does put a cramp on your “connected” style. Satellite internet is still very slow, expensive and spotty at best. I purchased two hours of internet for the trip and used a half hour’s worth just trying to get connected. Very frustrating. Well, it’s time for breakfast so we’re off to eat… again… Bye!
After a very “controlled” breakfast at the buffet on Deck 14 (Horizon) we headed back to the cabin so I could take a shower and get ready for our day in Juneau.
We headed toward downtown Juneau stopping along the way at some of the tourist trap stores along the route.
This felt a little like when the cruise ships are in on Cozumel as many of the stores probably survive because of the cruise ship passengers…
Oh well, we need to get some trinkets for the family so this is a good time for that…
After stopping at “several” shops we decided on some trinkets and figured we’d pick up some others on the way back so we wouldn’t have to carry them all day.
It was about a mile’s walk and we made it on time.
After we finished we headed back a different route via a new attraction we were told of, a whale sculpture fountain along the waterfront that celebrated the return of the humpback whale population.
A beautiful fountain that has a full scale humpback seemingly jumping out of the water. It’s quite impressive. We walked around the fountain then headed back to the downtown area via the waterway. A beautiful walk.
Back in town we headed toward the Alaska Brewing Company’s in town store to find out that we just missed the Brewery Tour we wanted to go to by about 5 minutes which means an hour’s wait till the next one so we kept walking through shops just browsing for whatever looked interesting. Mary was interested in a few items but most were “above our pay grade” so we moved on. After a while we gave up with the shopping and headed back to the store to wait the next tour.
Around 4:30 PM a white van arrived to pick the next group (of 4) up for the tour. It was a small group (a couple of guys behind us and Mary & I in the middle seat with the driver upfront. Ed, the driver, was very friendly answering all of our questions and giving us a history lesson on the area as well as his experiences and what he’d done before his current gig. Partially retired and about our age (maybe a bit older) he loved sharing information. We arrived at the brewery a bit early for the next tour to begin so we took pictures and wondered around a bit to get the lay of the land.
Our “tour guide” greeted us a few minutes later and escorted us to the brew house. It turns out there really is no tour. We sat in a room at a raised wooden table and matching stools and tasted three different styles of Alaskan Beer. Refer: https://alaskanbeer.com/our-beer/ First was my favorite (and still is), the Alaskan Amber. This is their flagship beer garnering over 50% of total sales. Next was the Alaskan White, their wheat version which wasn’t bad. And finally we tasted their IPA again drinkable but not my cup of tea… After discussing their many beers and the history of the brewery with the two guys (one of which was in the industry from Florida where Alaskan isn’t distributed yet) asking many business-related questions which actually made the conversation very interesting.
It turns out Alaskan isn’t in many states yet. They started out on the west coast and hopped over to the Midwest (hence Minnesota) and are working their way east but only as far as Ohio to date… We finished the “tour (discussion) and headed back to the main tasting room with four bottle caps each to try any others we were interested in. Mary had the Baltic Porter and was finished (too full). I tried the “Big Mountain” Pale Ale which was good and then the “Freeride” APA which was a lighter version of their IPA. Both Mary and I gave our remaining bottle caps to our two “tourees” so they could enjoy even more choices and they were in hog heaven. Apparently, they liked the beer way more than we did. I was enjoying my tastings but way too full at this point… We said our goodbyes, left our two happy cohorts sitting at the bar and hopped back on the van for the ride back to town where Ed dropped us off near the port so we could head back to our final stop to pick up the items we looked at but didn’t want to carry all day.
We finished shopping then back to the ship, just a short walk away. We were both still too full but needed more than beer in our bellies, so we headed up to Deck 14 and the Horizon Cafe for the buffet. We both took it easy choosing salads and other light items just enough to soak up the beer. Once finished we decided to walk around for a few minutes before returning to our cabin. Both of us were tired after a full day of walking, shopping and beer drinking…