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Cruise to Alaska

14 °C
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Saturday 25 September - Join the Cruise
Temperature 25 °C & Partly Cloudy

After another excellent breakfast we sadly say farewell to the Homewood Suites, our 10 am shuttle arrived early and we were ready so we left at 9:45. Lloyd followed us out to the Lincoln Town-car to bid us goodbye, it has been a truly pleasant experience in Seattle.

The cruise terminal was total chaos with inbound passengers, stacks of luggage and cars, vans and buses picking up the inbound and dropping off the outbound. We dropped off out check through cases and waited at Security. The scan and check was less arduous than the airport check but required the unpacking of the computer and emptying of the pockets, at least we didn't have to take our shoes off.

The check-in was largely painless but there was some delay whilst the clerk took our passports to be checked. No idea what the issue was. Check-in done we sat and waited for boarding to commence, there was a fair crowd of us early birds and a staff member commented that it would be a “mad-house” later in the afternoon. The Norwegian Star is a BIG ship !! Displacement 91,740 tons, Length 965 feet, Width 105 feet, Guests 2,240 and Crew 1063.

We were ushered to deck 12 for Lunch at the Market Cafe which was all but deserted when we arrived but soon became well patronised and quite crowded. It would have been more crowded if the many who were wandering around had been able to find their way there. The afternoon was interrupted by the mandatory Emergency Drill and we pushed off precisely at 4 pm. Seattle was bathed in brilliant sunshine and even Mt Rainier put in an eerie appearance.

We checked with the Cruise Consultant regarding our Mediterranean cruise documentation which had not been available when we left Australia. She assured us that they'd be printed and delivered to our suite before we reached Vancouver.

Decided to dine in the Versailles Main Restaurant, a very elegant room with prompt and efficient service. The menu choices were quite comprehensive and the food quality was great. After dinner we engaged in some retail therapy, as this was the last of her Alaska cruises for the season, all Alaska themed items were marked down by 50%.

Sunday 26 September – Cruise Day 1
Temperature 12 °C & Cloudy with Showers

Sailing along what could almost be a wide river, land on both sides with an occasional bay or lake. At times visibility is almost zero and at other times we can see where we are. A pod of dolphins joined us briefly while we were having breakfast. Yes I had a camera with me and NO!! I didn't get a photo. The camera continually focused on the rain drops on the window. At noon we were about half way to Ketchikan where we are due at 7 am tomorrow. The documents for our Mediterranean cruises were delivered to our suite this morning along with membership pins for the loyalty program called “Latitudes”.

After an early lunch we joined many of the 600 Latitudes passengers for a drink and a canape in the Spinnaker Lounge. We were introduced to the Captain and the heads of departments and told how important the repeat customers were to the industry generally and the Line in particular. It is claimed there are over 8 million Latitudes members world wide. The sea is a little rougher and the weather continues to be overcast and therefore limiting any photographic opportunities.

Dined in the Aqua Restaurant, very quiet and not as elegant as the Versailles but the menu is the same and there are no queues to get a table. T 7:30 we joined hundreds of others in the Stardust Theatre for the “Oh What A Night Tribute to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons”. Four young men with great voices presented a most professional show. Even I remember many of the songs. Clocks back one hour and off to bed.

Monday 27 September – Cruise Day 2
Temperature 12 °C & Cloudy with Showers

The overnight run was so quiet and smooth I had to look out the window to be sure we were moving. Arrived in Ketchikan at about 7 am, it is raining !! Walked through some of the many retail outlets and bought some of their fantastic bargains which we decided to send home as parcel post. First we had to buy a box, tape and marker pen as the Post Office didn't have a big enough box. Packed our gear and paid the US$52.25 to send it home. Still a bargain, as long as it eventually arrives.

Back to the ship at about 11 am and looking for a hot brew. The ship set off at 3 pm and we cruised Northward under a low cloud bank and a slight sea. Whether due to our location, just forward of the forward elevators, or the ship's design the ride is so smooth we continually have to look outside to be sure we are still moving. Outside temperature is in the low teens but inside it is warm to hot, I've had to set our suite thermostat below the normal to be comfortable.

Dined in the Versailles Main Restaurant again, food, service and surrounds are the best we've found. The speciality restaurants appear to be only sparsely patronised. After dinner another show in the Stardust. Very colourful and energetic but we found it a little difficult to relate to most of the music.

Tuesday 28 September – Cruise Day 3
Temperature 10 °C & Cloudy, Windy with Showers

We're up before dawn and plan an early breakfast in preparation for our arrival at the Sawyer Glacier at about 8 am.

The journey up Tracy Arm is quite spectacular with many ice floes and numerous water-falls discharging tons of water. At precisely 8 am the Sawyer Glacier comes into view as a pale blue line across the width of the fiord. The Captain takes us to within a mile of the face and then pivots the ship to port leaving the whole length of the starboard side looking at the 750 metre width of the glacier. The water is quite turbid from all the debris being pushed in by the retreating glacier.

Just after 1:30 we are tied up at Juneau and we head off in the rain. Number one priority is the Mt Roberts Tramway a cable gondola that rises 1800 ft from the pier to the mountain top. On a fine day it would be a pleasant ride, with the wind blowing at about 40 knots and the rain belting at us it got a bit exciting as well. The car rocked quite a bit and we were happy that the wind had abated somewhat when we made the decent. Today was its last day of operation until next May.

Wandered around the town and were back on board the ship just after 4 pm. Had an early dinner in the Versailles and retired to the suite to relax and doze. The entertainment isn't until late tonight and we don't intend to stay up for it.

Wednesday 29 September – Cruise Day 4
Temperature 9 °C & Cloudy, Windy & Light Showers

Another almost motionless night and we dock at Skagway at about 7 am. We have a lesurly breakfast and set off for town. The shuttle costs just $5 each for an all day ticket – great value. The town has a population of only 800 and services up to 20 cruise ships per week during the summer, ours is the last one for the season.

Scagway differs from the other two towns we've visited in that they have road access to the outside world, 100 miles to Whitehorse in the Yukon then there is a highway to the “lower 48”. Many of the workers in town work here for the summer then spend the winter in Hawaii. The architecture is turn of the century western with timber board-walks and many buildings restored. Certainly the nicest town so far.

Back to the ship and lunch then relax for a while and possibly venture forth later or perhaps not. We didn't do a whole lot in the afternoon. One amusing event was the farewel from some of the citizens of Skagway. The 'tradition' is that the list ship of the season is seen off with a group mooning. Twenty or thirty of the local youth assembeled on the dock and showed us their bare backsides. Quite funny in some way.

Dinner again in the Versailles Restaurant, the main attraction was lobster, half a tail each. I found mine to be dried out and quite tough, happy I hadn't paid real money for it. We planned to attend the show in the Stardust at 9:15 but dozed off and woke up too late, perhaps tomorrow.

Thursday 30 September – Cruise Day 5
Temperature 13 °C & Cloudy, Windy

We awake to some motion aboard as we've sailed out into the Pacific and there is a swell running. Our destination today is Prince Rupert in British Columbia where we'll arrive about 4 pm and depart again at 9:30 pm.

Breakfast of cereals, fruit and smoked salmon on dark bread, yummy. Sat around in the atrium for a while and then retired to our state-room. Found my Netbook sitting safely on the bed, our very obliging Cabin Stewart had obviously been concerned that it may slide off the desk. Lunch in the Versailles Restaurant was very pleasant and the severe rolling of the ship had abated somewhat.

During lunch we spotted numerous whale spouts a good way out from the ship but it caused quite a bit of excitement. The sun has broken through and I thought I should record it. While on deck the Pilot boat came alongside and transferred the Canadian Pilot to take us into Prince Rupert. That is another activity that will be placed on hold for the next six months or so.

The sun is out and it is delightfully warm when we berth at Prince Rupert right on time. We hurry ashore to find a bank and exchange some of our US$ to CA$. The first bank we tried had already closed, we had better luck with the second one. Called into a Safeway supermarket and were most impressed with the automatic coin dispenser at the check-out. We strolled back to the ship and sorted out our new currency. The bank notes are quite colourful and the coins up to 25¢ are almost identical to the US version. The Canadians do have a $1 and a $2 coin.

Dined in the Versailles Restaurant again and afterwards went on deck to take some photos of the sun-set, a spectacle we haven't seen in a while. At this latitude it takes an age for the sun to set, very impressive.

The show in the Stardust Theatre featured members of the crew. Best show of the cruise. Great voices, bodies made of rubber and some of the funniest skits I've seen. Picture seven people draped in bed sheets and carrying stainless steel pitchers on their shoulders, they enter from stage left and when all are in place they take a drink from the pitcher. Number seven then squirts water onto the back of number six who squirts number five and so on. Towards the end of the routine some of them can't hold the mouthful of water for laughing. The finale has all seven on the edge of the stage ready to spray the front rows. Great applause and yells of “Do it”, but they don't. The routine was aptly named “Fountains”.

Friday 1 October – Cruise Day 6
Temperature 12 °C & Some Cloud

Our last day at sea, lots to do today. We collected our disembarkation luggage tags from the service desk, we're due to leave at 9:30. Breakfast at the Market Cafe, smoked salmon and some fruit. Long chat with the Executive Sous Chef, he's been working on cruise ships for over 40 years. His routine now is four months at sea, then two months ashore, he says his wife has his bag packed about two weeks before he's due to return.

Attended a presentation on their newest ship the Epic. What a monster, she carries up to 4,500 passengers and is 153,000 tons, the Star is only just short of 92,000 tons. We then had a Q&A session with the senior Hotel staff and the numbers regarding food, rooms, linnen and maintenance were quite staggering. When the cruise ends, they have to prepare all 1120 suites for their new occupants and they do that within three hours. They contrasted this with a land-based hotel where guests leave and arrive throughout the week.

After the briefings we joined six other people on a tour of the main galley conducted by the Executive Sous Chef for the main dining rooms. What a tour, we covered every aspect of the main kitchen functions and even shown the dishwasher – it is the size of a small bus. He then took us down to the central storage rooms and where the bulk preparation occurred, the butchers and the bakers and the soup makers. There's a separate room where the chickens are portioned, two cooks in there bone out and portion over 300 chickens every day. Throughout the tour he stressed and demonstrated how the quality is monitored and how the accounting for every ounce of food is controlled. All food scraps are ground down to a porridge consistency and are discharged when they are more than 12 miles off shore. Jenny remarked that it would be one hell of a burly trail.

After this most impressive tour we had 'Fish & Chips' in the Blue Lagoon – simple menu 23 hours a day. Then to the Market Cafe for fruit and jelly. While we were there there was another whale sighting that quickly resulted in 100 cameras trying to focus through wet glass.

The Stardust Theatre Show was most impressive with many changes of costume and feats of acrobatic excellence from the two Chinese Acrobats. It appeared to me to be of world class standard. We were then treated to the crew farewell, the captain and all his senior officers were on stage as well as representatives from the kitchen, the dining staff, the cleaners and the room stewards. Quite a sceptical and well received by the capacity crowd.

Back to the cabin to pack and have our baggage outside the cabin by 2 am. I'm running a bit of a fever and have picked up a throat infection but I'm sure a packet of 'Fisherman’s Friends' will fix that.

Saturday 2 October – Last Cruise Day
Temperature 14 °C & Some Cloud

We arrived in Vancouver about 7:20 this morning and joined two other cruise ships docked at the terminal called 'Canada Place'. After breakfast we sat around in the Atrium awaiting our disembarkation time of 9:30. Right on time we joined the queue, left the ship and proceeded through immigration and customs and were directed to the Taxi rank. All very well organised despite the fact that two ships were disembarking at the same time.

Cab fare was CAN$ 15 to cross town from North to South. Checked into the hotel and were advised there would be a one hour delay, not bad at all – we were in our room by 11:30. Free high speed wireless internet, a fridge, coffee maker and a balcony on the top floor with a view of English Bay.

Will try to provide shorter and more frequent updates for at least the next few weeks.

Posted by greynomadm 14:04 Archived in Canada

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