Alaska Cruise–Cruising Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay Nat’l Park is one of the premier destinations on an Alaskan Cruise (imho).

However, the Nat’l Park System limits the number of cruise ships admitted to the Park to TWO per day and the only lines currently allowed admittance are Princess, Holland America, Norwegian and Crystal. (and Carnival though they only cruise Alaska in shoulder season – May and Sept)

This was the primary reason we chose THIS itinerary…with Princess!


The alarm went off at 5 am this morning and we popped out of bed. Today was the ‘gem’ of the cruise (imho). Our cruise schedule (and Princess Patters) said that we would enter Glacier Bay at 6:15…but the ship’s Naturalist told us yesterday that the time was closer to 5:15…  We would, at the very least, be out on our balcony by then.

We anticipated today being cold, windy, etc…so dressed in wicking layers, long underwear, long sleeve t’s, hoodies, and had our winter coats/gear and rain jackets  in my tote to carry around the ship that day. The forecasted 45 F didn’t sound miserably cold…but you can’t ignore the fact that Glacier Bay is an ‘ice box’…

After watching the pilot boat bring the Park Rangers aboard at 6am (..always interesting to watch as they board from their small craft onto the platform on the side of the ship…) we headed to the back of Horizon Court (our spot) for some views of the sunrise and a bit of breakfast.  I brought along the Nat’l Park brochure placed in our mailbox the night before (the same type of brochure distributed in all Nat’l Parks) AND my Alaska Cruise Companion, though we only had time for a quick skim of these over breakfast. We had ‘places to go’ and ‘things to see’.

By the time we finished breakfast, we were roasting in those long underwear  🙂  so promptly returned to the room to change!

We were back on Lido deck by 8am – at the make-shift Ranger station set up above the mid-ship pool.  The Rangers were giving an introductory talk there – something that had NOT been mentioned in the Patters.  We just ‘happened’ upon it and only caught the last half.  (would have been there for ALL of it if we’d known…) There, they had displays, books, information et al as well as an enlarged copy of the Nat’l Park map with additional information.

The “approximate” schedule printed in the Patters:

8:30:  Park Ranger Commentary begins
9:20:  Lamplugh Glacier
10:40 Marjerie Glacier & Grand Pacific

 

From the time the Park Rangers came on board at Bartlett Cove (6am)  until we reached Lamplugh Glacier (and before that, Reid Glacier…)  was about 3 hrs….sailing through Glacier Bay.   Of course, during some of this time, we were eating breakfast, changing clothes, etc…but ALSO viewing the incredible scenery of Glacier Bay from wherever we happened to be.  Sometimes the views were clear…other times there was fog,..but even the fog created some beautiful views and photos.

I know some choose to stay on their balcony this entire day…and the ship DOES turn so you could theoretically see everything from one vantage point. However, MY way of doing things is to go to port side when port is facing the glacier…and starboard side when starboard is facing the glacier…and see glaciers ALL DAY LONG!   – and move from side to side to see whales, otters, bears, etc…  We migrated all day…enjoying a spot until it stopped being enjoyable, then moving somewhere else -Terrace Pool deck (aft), Deck 15 indoor pool area, outer decks on 14/15/16,  Deck 7 (Promenade), Deck 5 inside at the windows (to warm up a bit), and of course OUR Balcony too…All of these afforded excellent views.  I highly recommend ‘moving around’ in order to see all there is to see.

Just a Little Tidbit of Info:  The public areas of the ship (Deck 5/6/7 and 14/15/16) gave us the most access to viewing wildlife as we could easily move about when the Park Ranger giving commentary from the Bridge  spotted whales, otters, etc…

 

The Park Ranger commentary was broadcast on the ship PA system AND our stateroom television.  That made our own balcony a nice place to be sometimes.  (though it wasn’t always easy to hear when out on the balcony…)

At 9am we got our first views of Reid Glacier from port side…then a few minutes later,  Lamplugh.    Our spot for this, Deck 14/15 mid-ship around the indoor pool was nice because we had easy access to outer decks for photos…AND were able to duck inside when the wind got too cold…or to get coffee refills.  🙂  The disadvantage of that spot was that the PA system echoed so much from the indoor pool acoustics that we couldn’t really understand anything the Ranger was saying.

As the ship rotated, we ‘rotated’ as well….to the Terrace Aft pool area for views and photos aft…then to Horizon Court for views from that side (and of course, to warm up and get a fresh cup of coffee)   We could hear the commentary very well from INSIDE the Horizon Court….not so much when we were outside.

Next to Lamplugh is the inlet for Johns Hopkins Glacier.  Ships aren’t permitted to enter that area until Sept 1 (it disrupts the baby harbor seals).  Today was Aug. 31…  ugh!!!  so without sailing up the inlet, we headed to Margerie Glacier.

We arrived at Margerie/Grand Pacific Glacier around 10:30am.  By this time we had moved to the ship’s lower decks (5-6-7).  The deck around Promenade (Deck 7) is covered offering a little protection from the wind – and making it easier to hear the commentary WHEN OUTSIDE.  Coffee was also readily available at carts there. 🙂 The area was VERY crowded though…sometimes challenging to get a spot on the railing for that perfect photo.

IMG_6909

Margerie Glacier

Grand Pacific Glacier is very ‘dirty’…lots of rocks in it as it has moved down the mountain. The name indicates that it’s something ‘grand’…and in the whole scheme of things, it IS pretty Grand…but not very picturesque…  therefore, no photos.  🙂  When the ship turned to allow port side to view it, we went back to our stateroom balcony…we had grown tired of the crowds on Promenade.  The commentary was broadcast over the stateroom television (Princess ship channel)  This was a pleasant viewing experience…but required us to go back and forth from inside to outside – to hear or view.  We couldn’t do both at the same time.

I will say though….overall, the best place for information about today and the glaciers came from Alaska Cruise Companion….not because the Ranger commentary was lacking in any way…but rather because it was at times very challenging to hear it.  The book filled in any ‘gaps’ we had when we missed commentary from the Bridge.

 

SHOPPING ON GLACIER BAY DAY?  Nope!  We didn’t take time to do this…but….On Lido deck they set up a make-shift store with coats, hats, gloves, binoculars, etc… for those who needed to purchase them (yes, you need them!!! at least in Aug./Sept)  They bring the shops to the cruiser so the cruiser doesn’t have to go down to Deck 6 to the shops.  Marketing strategy?  Smart?  Meeting the needs of the consumer?  Who knows…  haha!  I just include this info for the reader…  🙂

 

After all the glacier viewing, we got our Nat’l Park Passports stamped, then headed to the Theater for the Presentation by the Park Rangers – at 1:00… – The Patters said that this was simulcast in Explorers Lounge…which told me we needed to be at the theater EARLY to get a seat.  I didn’t WANT to be sent to Explorers… We got there about 12:30 and though there were people there, we found a seat easily.  We just spent that time reading and purging more photos from the camera.  🙂

Park Rangers disembarked and we left Glacier Bay at 3:15.   I knew that the sail OUT of Glacier Bay was not be missed. We sailed IN to the Park at 5 am so couldn’t see much…This was the time to see this amazing beauty!  We were on deck or our balcony until 4:30 or 5.

Tonight was the final formal night so about 5:00, we began to get ready ….

However…before long, we realized the huge mistake we had made… not putting on our Transderm Scop patches this morning.  On the Inside Passage and Glacier Bay, the waters were calm…like ‘glass’ in Glacier Bay – so we never needed them.  But when we  headed into the Gulf of Alaska – known for rough seas… We DID!!!

To make a long story short, we never made it to Formal Night that night.  We were sea sick.  Of course, we put on the patches as soon as we realized what was happening, but by then it was TOO LATE. They aren’t as effective after you’re sick…. ugh!

Much later that evening, we awoke and headed to the buffet for a bite to eat (the patches had begun to work).

It’s certainly NOT the best way to spend a formal night on a cruise ship (We really enjoy Formal nights with their enhanced menus, photo opportunities, et al…) but…that was not our experience tonight.

While we were sleeping away our nausea, things were going on on the ship. …not only the typical entertainment, productions and activities but also Alaskan themed presentations/lectures that we CERTAINLY would have attended if we’d felt like it.  The Captains Circle Party happened tonight…as well as the Balloon Drop (something we kind of enjoy doing from time to time…)  We missed them all…  *sigh*

Though we felt somewhat better after eating, we still felt a need to ‘take it easy’…so no ship board activities for us tonight….  *sigh*  Tomorrow would be a sea day – until we arrived in College Fjord at 6pm.  We would also have to pack….so a ‘full’ day.  It was ‘good night’ for us for now….  🙂

My BEST Glacier Bay TIPS:

  • Don’t be dedicated to one spot in Glacier Bay.  Move Around.  The public decks will offer the most opportunity to see wildlife as you can easily move from port to starboard as warranted.  Stateroom balconies are great for a portion of the day…but if you ‘plant yourself’ there, you’ll miss a great deal of what there is to see.
  • Bring that long underwear (for Aug./Sept cruises)  Maybe you’ll need it, maybe you won’t.  But if you don’t have it….
  • Take motion sickness remedies IN ANTICIPATION of the Gulf of Alaska.  Taking it after you’re sick doesn’t work nearly as well….
  • Stay out on deck as the ship sails out of Glacier Bay Nat’l Park.  (especially on NB cruises where you came IN to the park before daylight…)  The views are STILL incredible…even if the Rangers aren’t on board.
  • There are no paper goods (cups, lids, straws, etc…) available around the ship on this day (regulation from the Park Service).  That means if you want a cup with a lid, you have to bring your own… We brought Yeti knock-offs. (NOT real ones as we thought there was too much chance for misplacing it…) I’m still trying to decide if it was worth the space and weight in the suitcase for 1 day….but it WAS nice to have today.
  • Alaska Cruise Companion (the book written by a former Princess naturalist and sold on all Princess Alaska sailings) filled in the gaps of information we missed from the Park Ranger commentary (cause we either couldn’t hear it while ‘out’ viewing’…or it was too noisy to hear on Lido/indoor pool area).

 

Advertisements

Security and Anti-Theft Bags

I heard recently that it’s NOT a question of IF your identity will be stolen….it’s a question of WHEN….  I find that fact a little unsettling.  😦

However, my hope is to do all I can to make that ‘when’ NOT when I’m on vacation (i.e.  ‘out of touch’ and difficult to be notified or to take care of it)

I learned of these anti-theft/security bags while planning an upcoming trip out of the country complete with red-eye flights and overnights in busy airports.  I wanted more security than our current bags/backpacks offered.

So….here’s what I’ve learned…and what I purchased.

In shopping, I concentrated on the Travelon and PacSafe brands.  Reviews of both of these companies give them HIGH MARKS – similar in their anti-theft properties.

Anti-theft Technology 

in both of these brands…  🙂

  • Cut Resistant Technology
    • Shoulder straps have cable inside to stop strap slashers.
    • Side and bottom panels have wire mesh inside to stop bag slashers

Travelon LTD Tote   (on my wish list)  🙂

  • Lockdown Hardware
    • Straps can be attached to poles, posts, chairs, etc….
    • Locking zippers prevent pickpockets
  • RFID Blocking Technology:  pockets for credit cards and passports with RFID blocking materials to block ID Thieves.  Thieves can easily purchase chip readers that enable them to simply walk past you… and scan personal information from credit cards/passports INSIDE your purse/wallet…without ever making contact with you or your bag.  Men’s wallets in back hip pockets are especially susceptible.  The RFID blocking material protects your personal information.

And….these bags are actually quite ‘travel’ stylish.  There is a line of leather products, though that was more than I wanted to spend so I opted for the less expensive lines…but that IS available if that’s your preference.   🙂

**Read below for other options on RFID blocking materials (even a way to MAKE YOUR OWN) if these bags, wallets, etc… are not in your budget.  These aren’t necessarily the ‘best’ option….but they will work – if that’s what you need to do. 

 

These two brands  (Travelon and PacSafe )  are comparable in price and security features. Beyond that, our decisions came down to design and usability…I preferred the Travelon bags for myself.  My husband, who prefers to travel with a backpack, chose the PacSafe. Now….neither of these brands are ‘cheap’….However, some small discounts are out there if you are willing to jump through the necessary hoops.

I began my research on the company websites (my recommendation…).   That’s where I found accurate information on dimensions, etc…. (As you may know, info on Amazon may or may not be correct) and which bags had the features we each wanted.  Once I knew what bags I was interested in, I compared prices on other sites – Amazon, eBags….and strangely enough, Kohl’s which carries a SMALL inventory of these bags. (Target sells a FEW of their wallets).  Prices really don’t vary much among these sources, but with Kohls coupons/Kohl’s Dollars or discounts with Amazon, there may be some savings.  TJ Maxx and Marshalls occasionally has a small inventory of Travelon items though I’ve rarely found the bags…and of course, their inventory is constantly changing….

For myself, I was looking at TWO bags – a cross body purse for traveling days or days touring crowded public places  AND a carry on for the flights.  My husband was in the market for a backpack.

Purse:  I wanted something cross body, small and lightweight but still large enough to carry wallet, passport, cell phone/cord, and a few personal items.  I found what I wanted in the Travelon Anti-theft Classic Essential Messenger Bag on Amazon.  With discounts/reward points I ended up paying around $25 for it.

 

 

Carry On:  My carry on was a tough decision –

East West Weekender

because I had so many ‘requirements’.  It had to accommodate my laptop and a binder notebook.  I wanted a secured front pocket (locking zipper) for smaller items and an easy access slip pocket for boarding passes, luggage tickets, etc…   I also needed a sleeve on the back to slip over luggage handles once we picked up our checked bags. Finding all of those features – in a bag that was just the right size….took some time…. but I finally found it.  I got the Travelon  Anti-Theft East/West Weekender Tote.  I purchased it from eBags using reward point earned from buying my husband’s back pack the month before. I think this particular bag has been discontinued as they constantly update their inventory, however, with every bag they discontinue, they introduce another ‘better’ one to take it’s place.  ha!!

 

NOTE:  When buying multiple things from eBags, buy the most expensive item first. When the reward points for that purchase post, (30 days later) buy the next most expensive item on your wish list applying that credit…and so on and so on…down your list. Their reward point system is VERY NICE!!!  🙂

BackPack: My husband chose a backpack from PacSafe. In addition to all the security features, he wanted good back structure/support. It also had to accommodate his DSLR camera and all it’s ‘toys’….  He found what he wanted in the Venturesafe X30 Anti-Theft Adventure Backpack.  This now has a rain cover which wasn’t available when we purchased…and would have really come in handy in Alaska.  :/

 

These bags held up very well on our trip. They were really nice to have on our red-eye flights and long layovers where we definitely snoozed a bit.  Being able to lock pockets and secure our bags to chairs or posts gave us a little more security…and more ability to relax a bit.

I expect these bags to be around for years to come.

TESTING RFID

There are multiple YouTube videos  on testing RFID blocking properties.  Here’s what I found on a quick search:  RFID Blocking Testing   When watching these, confirm you’re watching from independent sources and not from a company that’s just promoting their own brand while discrediting their competitors.  Travelon and PacSafe (and a few others) produced successful test results.

 

Now….What if These Products are OUT of Your Budget:

Well, you may not be able to get the ‘slash-proof’ features, but you CAN address the RFID issue less expensively.

  1. RFID blocking wallets –  Travelon, PacSafe or ID Stronghold brands tested well.
  2. RFID Blocking Sleeves:  These can be purchased from Amazon. (and possibly Marshalls or TJMaxx if you happen to catch it just right)  They are sleeves to slide credit cards and/or passports into.  Buyer Beware:  Not all sleeves are the same. Read reviews carefully…with special attention to reviewers who have actually ‘tested them’.  There are sleeves that ‘work’…then there are sleeves that are ‘pretty’….and some reviewers leave you scratching your head when they write reviews saying: “I LOVE my RFID sleeves.  They’re so pretty…all my friends commented that they wanted some too.”    Go figure!!!  *sigh*

 

DIY Test for RFID Blocking:

How can you be SURE these really work?  Insert a work badge…door badge…or any card that is scanned into the sleeve/wallet/pocket and try to use it.  If you can’t use it, then you know it’s adequately blocking.   OR….you can just trust the reviews on Amazon….just look for MULITPLE people saying the same thing.  Of course, Travelon, PacSafe or Identity Stronghold are reputable companies that bring with their name a sense of ‘trust’….  🙂

I purchased a pack of sleeves (12 credit card; 4 passport) from Amazon.  They’re nothing fancy…nothing pretty, but they do the job.  I was pleased with them and we are still using them.

Make Your Own

You CAN make your own RFID blocking sleeves using aluminum foil.  These homemade varieties passed the testing when made with THREE sheets of Heavy Duty aluminum foil. Check out YouTube videos for instructions on how to do this (and watch several videos/techniques to gather the best ideas from everyone).

As you might imagine, these homemade sleeves are only a TEMPORARY fix…as they  will require care when inserting or removing the credit card to keep them from tearing…but if an RFID blocking wallet or bag is not in your budget, this CAN work…

Helpful Links:

Alaska Cruise – Skagway AK

We were up early this morning too…to catch yet another sunrise.  Those are addictive!!

However….The fog rolled in earlier today…then turned into rain – so photos were limited.

Today we were in Skagway….the jumping off point for the Klondike Highway.  The town itself is part of the Klondike Nat’l Historical Park – complete with a Visitor Center, museum, and Ranger-led tours/activities, etc….

Our plan for today would include driving (I’ll explain why we chose rental car over train in a bit…) the Klondike Hwy… stopping frequently –  going as far as Emerald Lake, then returning to Skagway to explore the Nat’l Park.  As is our custom, we would cram as much as we possibly could into our 13 hrs in port… (we arrived in port 5:30am, but that was a mite TOO early to get off the ship…especially with the rain. …and we were enjoying sunrises anyway. )  We got off the ship about 7:45.    It was raining…but we would not let that stop us!   

Donned in our down coats, hats, AND a raincoat over everything we walked the 6 blocks (actually, we ran…) to Avis where our rental car was.

Here we go…odometer is set to ‘zero’ to match up with my Murray’s Guide and we’re heading out of town.

Murray’s Guide is a mile-marker guide of the Klondike Highway.   It can be purchased online (download) for $5 and with that purchase, you get a discount at Yukon Suspension Bridge and Tutshi Sled Dog Tours.  If those are part of your plan, it’s DEFINTELY worth $5 for the Guide.  HOWEVER, the author has also put on the website a FREE version.  It’s more compact, but we didn’t think we’d have time to tour those discounted locations so this ‘free’ version was enough for us.  As with the Treadwell Mine guide yesterday, I copy/pasted this to a document and edited it down to manageable size – from 8 pages down to 4.  Avis also sent me an abbreviated mile-by-mile guide several weeks before our trip and I added parts of that to my ‘edited’ version as well… I ended up with a pretty comprehensive guide….   That, along with a simple 1 page map from a brochure I received in the mail was all we needed for our day. (There’s not much chance of getting ‘lost’ on the Klondike Hwy as there’s really only 1 highway with a few spur roads…but  don’t expect to rely on GPS…   There’s very little if any data connection a few miles out of Skagway)

Driving the Klondike Highway:

The first stop I had ‘planned’ was Gold Rush Cemetary and the trail head to Lower Reid Falls.  It was still raining pretty heavily as we drove by that pull off so we decided to catch that on our way BACK…

From there, we just kept an eye on the odometer and constantly referred to my printed guide.  There were many pullouts –  everything from waterfalls to rivers to lakes to the William Moore asymmetrical bridge…and multiple historic sites about the Klondike gold rush and trails or Venus Mine.  The views were spectacular and the Murray’s Guide gave us information about what we were seeing.

We crossed into Canada around M15….which means the “Welcome to Alaska” sign was on the opposite side of the road.  I knew we needed to get our photo THEN….and I was right.  When we came back that way, there were buses, shuttles and cars lined up with many people waiting for their chance at a photo with the sign. 

We didn’t actually go through Canadian Customs until M22.  This was a pretty painless stop…they asked us why we were there, and when we told them we were cruise ship passengers, they waved us through…  I guess there’s not much chance of cruise passengers over-staying their welcome.  NOTE:  YOU MUST HAVE PASSPORTS FOR THIS DAY’S DRIVE….TO GET INTO CANADA!!!!  (This is one worth writing down – IN RED…to make sure you remember!! haha) 

This is the Thompson River  (approx M20) and the WP&YR Railroad.  I had hoped to be here when the train crossed, but didn’t know exactly HOW to ‘plan’ for that.  How lucky were we??    🙂  

Many recommend the WP&YR  as a “Must Do” activity in Skagway. It sounds wonderful in all the descriptions…and everyone who does it raves about it.  However, that was not what we chose to do.  In our ‘shopping’ for a way to see the Klondike, we realized that our desire was to be able to stop, see, gaze,  all on our own ‘schedule’.  The only way to do that is with a rental car.  

All the ‘train excursions’ (there are several ways to do it…train round trip…train/bus combination, shuttles or vans, etc…) don’t stop at all…no time for ‘gazing’ or ‘enjoying’.    That…plus the fact that our rental car for the day driving all the way to Emerald Lake was the cost of ONE train ticket to ONLY go to Carcross, was enough for us to know that car rental was the best choice for us.

The road follows the Tutshi River then Tutshi Lake for 10 miles.  The fireweed (that we learned about a couple of days ago from the Naturalist on board) is showing the ending of summer…

Tutshi Lake

 

The “Welcome to the Yukon” sign is at M50.  We took THAT picture on the route TO Carcross as well.  – All the pullouts were much busier in the afternoon so I advise to take any photos you want in the morning!!  

 

Bove Island and Tagish Lake….one of the highlights of the drive… 

Bove Island & Tagish Lake M59

 

When we arrived at Carcross, we decided to go on past it…to our furthest point, Emerald Lake…and work our way back.  That turned out to be a good decision because not more than 20 min. after we got back to Carcross and parked, the train arrived.  Seeing it steam into town was quite exciting!  🙂 🙂

Carcross Desert - Klondike Hwy

 

Carcross Desert 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emerald Lake  

Emerald Lake M 73

 

Carcross:

Carcross is 66 miles from Skagway.  Going on to Emerald Lake made our drive 75 miles (one way) that day.  We really didn’t want to go any further than that as there is a potential for fog….dense enough to limit visibility to 5 ft.  That could make the drive back to Skagway long and dangerous.  We didn’t want to risk that happening….  Also, the ‘word on the street’ is that there’s really nothing past Emerald Lake spectacular enough to warrant the extra time, drive and ‘risk’.

Carcross is a small town on the Klondike Highway.  It has built up to accommodate the tourists coming to town by the droves.  There is a school, Post Office,  General Store, etc…and even a Hotel  and city pool.    The place we HAD to find was the Sourdough Bakery. She was selling her cinnamon rolls for half price by the time we arrived…Thankfully, she accepted USD as that was all we had (This IS Canada…)  

We watched the train come into the station…stepped into a few shops and had a bite of lunch…followed of course, by that delectable  cinnamon roll.  🙂

After that, it was time to head back to Skagway….the Nat’l Park museum, Vis. Center et al would close at 5:30.  🙂

We got some pretty good photos on our drive back…with better light, less fog.  In fact….several of the photos I’ve posted above were actually taken on this drive back to Skagway.

We got back to town about 4 pm and headed straight to the Visitor Center.

Klondike Gold Rush Nat’l Historic Park:

The entire town of Skagway is part of the Nat’l Park system.  In addition to the Visitor Center/museum, etc…there are several houses and historical buildings open for tours.  Unfortunately, they closed at 5:30 and we ran out of time so didn’t get to go in them.   We started at the Visitor Center…then went into the museum next door.   It was very small…but gave a pretty good overview of the gold rush, miners and the Chilkoot Trail.  After watching the film, the Nat’l Park service buildings were closing so we just walked around town a little bit…darted into the Red Onion Saloon for a quick look, then decided to drive over to Dyea and walk a bit of the Chilkoot Trail before re-boarding the ship.

The Chilkoot Trail is the trail the minors took to get to the gold fields – it’s 33 miles long, but we like to walk trails like this…for just a little way to say we’ve ‘done it’.   🙂  Dyea was about 6-7 miles east of Skagway but not long after we turned onto Dyea Road, it turned to gravel.  Gravel roads were forbidden by Avis Car Rental.  We debated what to do, (hmm….)  but finally decided we’d better just turn around.  On the way back we stopped at a scenic pullout – for views of Skagway and the harbor….and of course, our ship.    IMG_6853The Star Princess was at Railroad Dock Forward.  That’s the furthest dock in this photo.

After returning to town and returning the rental car, we got back on the ship.  It had been a wonderful day…but very full and we were exhausted!!!!

We had not planned to eat in the Dining Room that night  as we didn’t ‘plan’ to be back on the ship that early.  But since we’d missed a night there when we stayed out to see whales on Ketchikan day, we decided to make up for it tonight.  🙂

What a GOOD decision this was!!!  Crab legs and Crème Brule were on the menu!!

After dinner, we just relaxed, unpacked our day packs, etc…and turned our sites on tomorrow.  Tomorrow we’d be in Glacier Bay.  We were due to pick up the Nat’l Park Rangers at 6:15…but the Naturalist had told us to be out by 5:30am…It would be ANOTHER very early day as we saw “All Things Alaska”.

Nope….no time for entertainment…or art sales…or MUTS (Movies Under the Stars).  The Finale for the Voice of the Ocean was tonight….we missed that one too….  We were busy every minute with “Alaska”…and if we weren’t ‘busy’, we were exhausted from all the ‘busy-ness’.  It was time for bed!   🙂

 

Budget:

The cruise lines and tour companies offer as many options for going up the Klondike Hwy as there are people to buy them. There are tours that take the train round trip, bus one way and train the other.  Shuttles…vans…either with or without a train trip one way.  They have tours that include gold panning…or lunch….stops at dog sledding, Fraser or Bennett….and on and on.  The options are somewhat overwhelming.

Prices for these range from $45pp for the basics of a trip to M14…. to $229pp  (2017)   for round trip train to Carcross.  However…NONE of them go all the way to Emerald Lake that I could tell.

We rented a car for $125 + fuel for the day…   We were able to go not only PAST Carcross to Emerald Lake and Carcross Desert, but stop as we wished throughout the day…and before returning the car, drive up to that scenic overlook for views of Skagway.

Yeah…I’m a huge cheerleader for the “renting a car” option.  🙂

Alaska Cruise: Juneau AK

This is Terrace Deck on Caribbean Princess, but it’s basically the same on all Grand Class ships

 

We were up early and out at the Terrace Pool (aft) to see the sunrise again this morning.  At 6 am it was beautiful…by 7:30 the fog had rolled in and you couldn’t see 5 ft off the side of the ship.  Have I said it before??  At this time of year, the fog MAY roll in around 7-7:30am…to see the ‘beautiful stuff’, you have to be up before the fog.

 

 

 

 

Juneau:  Juneau is the capital of Alaska…and one of the things that makes it so unique is that it is ONLY accessible via air…or water.  There is a highway going through Juneau…it goes 37 miles, then ends. There’s an airport…with LOTS of floatplanes…and of course, the Alaska Ferry provides transportation for many…but you can’t drive TO Juneau.

We docked at Franklin St. Dock. (where Princess docks most frequently)  It’s not the ‘closest’ one to town but is still  within walking distance (if not mobility challenged).  We disembarked at 8 and walked to Mt Roberts Tramway…about 6-7 blocks??  We had purchased our Tramway tickets through Princess with our On Board Credit (part of the 3-For-Free from Princess when we booked).

Mt Robert’s Tramway:  The “official word” from many tourists about the tramway is to not go up if it’s cloudy or foggy…however, because the ticket would allow us unlimited trips all day long, we decided to go ahead and purchase it.  Once at the top we were ABOVE the fog…and had a rather nice view.

Many say to not go up Mt Roberts if isn’t foggy. This was our view on our ‘foggy’ day… Not Bad!!

By arriving there early, we avoided many of the crowds that LINED UP later in the day – and we didn’t have to vie for window space for photos (the windows ‘swing’ open btw…)  There is an extensive trail system at the top and we walked a small bit of it…far enough to got some great views of Juneau and the harbor (with our ship in it) below but then came down off the mountain…we had many things to see and do – No time to waste!

photo taken from the trail – Mt Roberts Tramway

 

This is Juneau (on the left),  the Douglas Island Bridge crossing the Gastineau Channel…and Douglas on the right…  (location of Treadwell Mine where we’ll head later today)

 

 

 

When we got off the mountain, we transported to AJ Dock and Juneau Rental Cars.  Juneau Rental Cars rents older model, higher mileage cars…for FAR less than the name brand companies in town.  An additional benefit to renting from them was ‘location’.  This summer, the hotel that housed the downtown offices for  ‘another namebrand company’  was closed for remodel.  All reservations defaulted to the airport.  Getting there would involve either a city bus ride (time consuming BOTH ways) or taxi (quite expensive…) That’s when I found Juneau Rental Cars. Once I solved the problem of how to get to them (if there’s a ship at AJ Dock, there will be a shuttle from the Vis. Ctr ) our decision was made. From AJ Dock, it’s a 1 block walk to the office. We had no trouble with our ‘older model, higher mileage’ car.  It got us where we needed to go…and did so at a very good rate.

First Stop:  Mendenhall Glacier – about 12 miles out of town. The Visitor Center had large viewing windows…exhibits and a film.  There are several hikes, but the two we took were Photo Point Trail and Nugget Falls Trail.

 

Photo Point Trail (.3 mi one way) gave us a straight on view of both Falls and Glacier.

 

 

 

Nugget Falls Trail  (1 mi  one way) is a spur off of the Photo Point Trail- and provided an  ‘up close and personal ‘ view of the falls with the glacier behind.  It’s possible to get all the way UP to the water (if you choose???)  We didn’t get quite that close….  🙂

 

On the drive back to town on Egan Hwy, we stopped for lunch.  We passed several local diners, but were a little apprehensive about stopping someplace without knowing anything about it…so we just opted for  McDonalds.   That was fine though…fast food and wi-fi. 🙂

Then, it was on to DIPAC McCauley Salmon Hatchery.  (DIPAC)  A tour had just begun as we arrived and we were instructed to join them in process.  I wish we had waited for the next tour as we missed some good information joining that way…

The guide took us through the life cycle of the salmon from hatching to release, showing us all the tanks and describing how the salmon are cared for at each stage.  There are self-explanatory exhibits along the way as well…and viewing from above the tanks and ladder – or viewing windows to see below the water.  Quite a bit of what we learned today ‘explained’ what we saw yesterday in Ketchikan.   It was a good stop…

Inside the building, there were a few exhibits – and a touch tank.  Though the touch tank was more geared to kids, the guide invited us all over to ‘touch’.  🙂  I found out that the ‘spikes’ on these creatures are actually all for ‘show’….they’re soft even though quite ominous ‘looking’.

 

Next Stop:  Crossing Douglas Island Bridge (10th Street)  to Douglas Island..and the Treadwell Mine.

Treadwell Mine is (was) the largest gold mine of all time – producing $70 million in gold 1883-1917.  Then in 1917 after a particularly high tide, within 3 1/2 hrs, the sides caved in and approx. 3 million tons of seawater filled the mines…all but destroying the operation there.  (a few mines further away stayed open until 1922 but it was never the operation it had been)   There is now a Historical trail – with numbered markers denoting point of interest,  foundations, stamp mills, vaults, and even a few shells of buildings through the area.  Full descriptions of the markers can be found at:  http://www.juneau.org/parkrec/facilities/documents/TreadBroch1.pdf    Not knowing if I’d be able to access info on my phone, I copied/pasted this info into a document then edited it down to a manageable size (it was 11 pages when I started…3 pgs when I finished)…and brought it.  I was SO glad I had done that as there were no brochures/pamphlets to explain anything we were seeing.  NOTE: The one thing I failed to keep in my edited version was the map of the area.  I assumed the path and markers would be self-explanatory. The paths intertwined and the map would have been helpful.

We were basically alone on this peaceful trail….other than locals walking their dogs.  This isn’t a top tourist attraction like Mendenhall….which is part of the reason we enjoyed it so.  🙂

Our original plan for the evening was to go BACK up Mt Robert’s Tramway (the ticket offers unlimited rides that day) to photograph the area in the evening light.  However, we decided we’d rather get back on the ship to see/hear Libby Riddles (first female Iditarod Champion…).  We returned the rental, transported back to the main square…walked the 6 blocks to the ship and got on board.

Libby Riddles Presentation was at 7 pm that evening.   I was a little surprised to see how many were there considering that “All Aboard” wasn’t until 8:45.

She is quite an interesting lady…left home at 16 to come to Alaska…got her GED (she hadn’t yet graduated high school), lived among the natives for 6 yrs, and learned how to breed  and train her own dogs.  She went on to win the Iditarod (first female to do so)  in 1985.  She is a primary presenter for Princess cruises – boards all of their ships in Juneau to meet and talk with passengers about mushing, the dogs, the Iditarod…and to autograph her books.  It’s truly a ‘must see’ on any Princess cruise (imho)

The remainder of our evening was getting a bite to eat…and winding down the day -and preparing for tomorrow.  We went back to our stateroom, unpacked and repacked our day bag for tomorrow, watched sail away and read about sites and wonders tomorrow in Skagway in our Alaska Cruise Companion

Budget:  Princess Excursions to do what we did today:

  • Mendenhall Glacier  – $45 pp.
  • Mendenhall WITH the Hatchery and Glacier Gardens (a botanical garden) was $85pp.
  • There were a few private excursion companies offering shuttles to Mendenhall for $30pp.  The best I can tell, those can change year to year as companies ‘come and go’….  Prices seem to stay pretty consistent.
  • Mt Roberts Tramway tickets were the same price either from the cruise line or at the Tramway gate….   We purchased ours from PCL and used our OBC (On Board Credit) so for us, they were ‘basically free’ …

There are no excursions to Treadwell Mine.

Transportation Costs: (for Do It Yourself tours):

  • Taxi to Mendenhall:  $35 each way
  • Public Transit $2pp each trip:  This past season, Capital Transit (Blue/White Bus)  dropped visitors off 1.5 mi from the Mendenhall Vis. Ctr and you had to walk that distance there and back.  (I have not been able to find that information recently- perhaps because tourist season is over and there’s no info for next year yet ??)  Public Transit goes to Douglas Island and ‘close’ to Treadwell Mine – drops off .5 mi from the Mine/Trail area.

Our rental car FOR THE DAY was $60 + fuel.  We could go anywhere or to as many places as we chose.  (and it was nice to have a place to stash day bag, coats/jackets, etc…and not have to carry them everywhere we went).  Transportation to pick up and drop off the car was free.

Next:  Alaska Cruise – Skagway AK

More:

 

Alaskan Cruise: Ketchikan, AK

Today started very early….out on our balcony watching the ship come into port.

The sail into Ketchikan is something to see…We were scheduled to arrive at 6:30 but the Naturalist told us yesterday it would actually be 5:30.  We were out by 5:29  🙂   The lights of the sleepy little town against the backdrop of the mountains created quite a picturesque scene!!

IMG_6532

After breakfast (at the back of Horizon Court of course)  we gathered our things and got off the ship – as soon as they opened up the gangway!

Ketchikan gets on average 340 day of rain/year. Our forecast today according to the Princess Patters was sunny with light clouds, high of 66.  Yes…we were there on one of the 25 ‘dry days’.  🙂

Ketchikan has TWO Claims to Fame:  Salmon Capital of the World…and  World’s Largest Collection of Totem Poles.  There’s also the Tongass Trading Company with it’s FABULOUS jackets, raincoats, & hoodies at incredible prices…if there’s time…

Our plans today would encompass BOTH of Ketchikan’s highlights.  We would take the city bus to Totem Bight State Park to see the totem poles, then come back to town to walk Creek Street and see the salmon.  (hopefully leaving just enough time for a quick run into Tongass Trading Co…)

Finding the ‘right’ place to catch the ‘right’ bus to go north of town proved to be somewhat challenging…but with a few questions (and a few wrong answers… haha) we finally found it.   When the bus driver let us off, he told us when to be back to catch the returning bus (buses only run every hour so catching that returning bus would be QUITE IMPORTANT!!!)

There were 3 options for seeing totem poles that day;  we chose Totem Bight because of their authentic restored poles…and their scenic location on the waterfront. At the entrance, we received a brochure with a map and descriptions/story behind each pole.  Then…there’s the Clan House – Now…everything I’d read previously said that only those on official tours were allowed into the Clan House.IMG_6555 However, the woman at the gate told us that if there was a tour inside there, to just go in.  If anyone said anything to us, to reply “The lady at the gate said it was ok if we enter…”  When we got to the Clan House, there was a IMG_6560tour group there.  We went in quietly and no one said anything to us.

I liked being on our own, though.  We went at our own pace, read the brochure for information, and only joined a group when we wanted to. (Within half an hour there were 5-6 tour groups there)  It DID seem that  a lot of the guides were telling little stories or antidotes…which was usually when we’d leave the group.  🙂

 

We kept an eye on the time and were  back at the bus stop 10 min. before the bus was due to arrive  (we couldn’t take any chances on missing the bus).

 

 

Back in Ketchikan, the driver dropped us off near Creek Street and we headed to  “Married Man’s Trail”…

Creek Street is on the National Register of Historic Places….and it is teeming with salmon from late summer through Sept. (different varieties).  We not only saw the salmon…but had a ‘chance’ of seeing other wildlife that might come to see the salmon as well – bears, eagles, etc…  We walked up the stairstep trail –  “Married Man’s Trail” all the way to the top – where the salmon ladder was.  This trail was a back-path through the trees…used by married men in the days of the Gold Rush to  visit “ladies of the evening”…Yeah, the history of the gold rush towns could be a little ‘sorted’.  Walking the trail now is just a picturesque way to see the town and salmon… (In case you don’t really want to share all the ‘other’ details about the trail with the children…hehe!)

IMG_6565

 

 

This DID involve a lot of stairs (fyi for those with mobility issues) …

But we saw the salmon…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and the ladder…

Salmon Ladder – Ketchikan AK

 

 

 

 

 

unfortunately, no bears or eagles….

 

 

At the final portion…quite steep and swift,  we actually found ourselves watching their struggle and ‘rooting’ for them…cheering them on.  🙂 🙂  They’re such determined and resilient little guys!!!

Before getting back on the ship, we made a quick stop at one of the Tongass Trading Company  stores. There are actually FIVE of these – each a little different catering to different shoppers/preferences.  Even though I THOUGHT we’d get jackets or raincoats, we ended up both opting for ‘Alaska’ hoodies….thick, good quality…for $20 each!!

Boarding the ship today was a longer line than I’ve ever experienced in port before.

Now…this WAS a very short port day (6:30-2)…so everyone (3000+) were trying to get back on the ship at basically the same time.   The process took 45min-1hr.

Once we were finally back on board, we grabbed a bite to eat and headed to the 3rd naturalist presentation:  “Experiencing Alaska’s Awe Inspiring Flora”.  This was one title we were a little unsure of…so we sat on the end of a row in case we wanted to make a quiet exit.

CC license – as they were not this fully in bloom in late Aug…  🙂

Well…wouldn’t you know it.  It was just as interesting as the last 2.  🙂  We stayed the entire time!

 

Of particular interest to us was the information about the Fireweed.  This flower begins to bloom in the Spring ..and blooms from the bottom up.  At the height of summer, the blooms have reached the top.  Then…as summer wanes, the blooms begin to die from the top down. When all the blooms are gone, Summer is over…  You can ‘read’ the season in the Fireweed.


 

 

After this information, we were much more attuned to the Fireweed – especially as we drove the Klondike Highway from Skagway in a few days.

CC license

The OTHER news we got from the Naturalist this afternoon was:  We were sailing through prime humpback whale territory – starting at 5:30 today.  She would be on the bridge offering commentary….and we were invited to be out on Deck 15 forward (directly below the Bridge) to (hopefully) see whales.

We had originally planned to eat in the MDR that evening…but those plans were immediately changed. We were going to see WHALES!!!

Here’s the Most Amazing Part!  While we were out there…we heard a lady squeal…and  turned around just in time to see a whale breech!!  YES!!!  REALLY!!!  Sandra Schempp (our Naturalist) said that was really unusual for this time of year.  The whales were still feeding and they usually practice their ‘breeching’ AFTER that (when they’re full and ready to start the ‘flirting’ process…. 🙂    Of course, it all happened too quick to get a photo…I don’t know that anyone got one…but I promise!!  It happened!!!!  🙂

TidBit of Info:  A whale’s tail is how he is identified.  Each one is different and unique…much like our fingerprints…

We stayed out on the deck until probably 7:30…then got a bit of dinner in the buffet and went back to the cabin to prepare for tomorrow.  It would be a LONG port day and we wanted to get off the ship as soon as we could.

There WERE many activities happening on the ship this evening.  I’m sure there were many passengers who were enjoying those things…Princess wouldn’t continue to plan them if someone wasn’t attending…but we were kept SO busy learning about Alaska…and seeing Alaska…and spotting whales (and seeing them breech) in Alaska.  We just didn’t have time for anything else.

 

Budget (and Savings) Today:  Ketchikan CAN be a rather inexpensive place to visit as it lends itself very easily to exploration on your own…

Cruise ship Excursions vs. Doing It On Your Own:

  • Totem Bight:  Princess charges $47 pp for their excursion;  We got there and back on the city bus for a total of $4 pp…plus the $5pp admission to the park.
  • Princess offered Whale Watching excursions out of Juneau for $160-$190 per person…  We saw whales…even one BREECHING out on Deck 15 forward of the ship this evening…for FREE
  • Princess included Creek Street in several of their excursions, but there’s no way to put a price on that portion as it was ‘included’ with other things… But this is just a stair step path….there’s no charge for walking it.   Just find it and start climbing.  🙂

Next:  Alaska Cruise:  Juneau

Alaska Cruise: Our 1st Sea Day -and Sea Days in Alaska with PrincessCruises

We chose Princess BECAUSE of the Alaska related programs they  offer….  and the main time frame for most of those programs/activities is………

SEA DAYS!!!

There is a naturalist on board all Alaskan sailings…and coupled with the book Alaska Cruise Companion, written by a former Princess Naturalist, Rachel Cartwright, makes for a VERY informative cruise experience.

Alaska Cruise Companion is available from Amazon, but we chose to purchase ours on board.  While it WOULD have been nice to have had it while planning, one of the great gems of the book is the removable map in the back.  I didn’t want to risk getting a used copy that was missing that map…  We also had On Board Credit to pay for it…which was nice…

I brought magnets for posting my map, etc… on the stateroom wall…and here’s what my ‘display’ looked like.  (Did you know walls in cruise cabins are metal?)   On the left is our schedule for the entire trip – flights, port times, rental car & shuttle reservation times,  evening meal plans  (helpful when planning what clothes to bring) ~All things Schedule Related

The clip below that was for tickets, on board event invitations, etc…  On the right side, I clipped a card with medical information in case of emergencies. (easy access)   The clear plastic bag came from the dentist (haha) and contained pens, pencil & sharpener, highlighters, my giant paper clip, etc….  Below that is a little find I made at the Dollar Tree.  It’s a magnetic box.  I brought my magnets, magnetic clips, paperclips etc… in that.  It was easily accessible there on the wall.  I LOVED this display…    I mean seriously…I took a picture of it!!!  haha!  

One More Thing:

They DO have entertainment on Alaskan cruises (actually ALL cruises)detailed in Princess Patters.  20171003_120436.jpgThey DO have trivia and game shows.  They have seminars on acupuncture…or reducing wrinkles…or flattening your stomach or shopping in port.  They even have golf challenges, table tennis tournaments, been bag toss challenges.  As far as the ‘regular cruise ship sea day activites’, this Alaskan cruise had them all.

BUT….

BUT…..

There’s SO much to see and do and learn about Alaska, that we just didn’t have time for those sorts of things.  So as you read about what we did, you won’t find any of those things listed.  I just don’t want anyone to think it’s because we didn’t have those choices.  It’s because we didn’t MAKE those choices.

We stayed busy….EVERY MINUTE…..but our busy-ness centered around “All Things Alaska”: Naturalist presentations, wildlife sessions out on deck with the naturalist, photo seminars to learn the complexities of glacier photography, Iditarod champions and Nat’l Park Ranger talks.

Our First Sea Day:

Our first morning started VERY early as we entered the Inside Passage…I was awake by 4:30 or 5 am.  We were out on the back deck by 5:30am…and caught  this beautiful sunrise.

I DID notice an interesting phenomenon about the sunrises though.  We were up at the back of the ship every morning by 5:30-6 am and saw not only THIS sunrise but others just as spectacular. However…by 7:30 each morning, the fog had rolled in…and totally engulfed the ship.  At that point, we couldn’t see more than 5 ft. off the side.  Usually, that was about the time many others were just stirring.  I couldn’t help but wonder…did my fellow cruisers think that Alaska was just ‘foggy’?  If they didn’t see anything until post-7:30…all they saw was fog in the mornings!

Before I leave the subject of “sunrises”, it must be noted that the reason we were able to see sunrises at 6 am was because we were cruising in late Aug.  In July, that sunrise may happen as early as 4 am…  Further north, the sun may never actually ‘set’…so therefore, can’t officially ‘rise’.  Some of what we experienced in sunrises/sunsets was totally because of the time of year.

After breakfast, it was time for the first of five Naturalist Lectures by the Naturalist on board.  (Princess cruises have a naturalist on board all of their Alaskan sailings)  This lecture was titled “Discovering the Inhabitants of Alaska’s Coastal Waters”.    In this first lecture, she talked about the wildlife we could expect to see in the waters of the Inside Passage – whales, sea lions, porpoises, and of course, the sea otter.  When this lecture ended, my husband and I looked at each other and said (almost simultaneously….) “We shouldn’t miss another lecture this woman gives!!”  There was SO MUCH information packed into those 45 min…in such an interesting way – with slides and illustrations…We were hooked!!!

After the presentation, she was outside the Theater to answer questions and explain the many displays she had out there…one of which was the same map we had…only with HER extra markings based on recent siting’s.  This woman truly went ‘above and beyond’ in our opinion!!

We DID spend a little time out there with her…but not long – because at 10:15 was ‘Coffee with the Captain’.  Now…this is not something I would normally EVER consider doing.  On most cruises we’ve been on, we never even learned the Captain’s name…much less considered devoting any of our time to meeting him.  But this cruise was different. The captain on our ship is well known throughout the Princess family…among frequent Princess cruisers.  He is dearly loved by all…and we were actually LOOKING FORWARD to meeting him.  Strange…I KNOW!!  🙂  We got down to the Piazza in time to get a fairly decent seat for this wildly popular event.  (I TOLD you this was a dearly loved Captain in the Princess fleet!!!)

The format for this session was an interview by the Cruise Director…  They discussed his career, his years with Princess, the ‘steps’ to becoming a Cruise ship Captain, how things run on the bridge – who does what, etc…   At the end was a time for Q&A…..it was a VERY enjoyable 45 min.   (Our photos of this didn’t turn out or I’d share them here….Ugh!)

Afterwards, we lined up for photos (taken by the ship…so I CANT share here…)  with him…and to get an autograph.  Of course, because I carried my copy of  Alaska Cruise Companion everywhere I went on ship, he autographed THAT for me!!   🙂 🙂

We probably would never do ‘Coffee with the Captain’ again on any other ship…but on THIS cruise…with THIS Captain, we did..and I’m so glad!!

After all of that excitement, it was time for lunch…

Pub Lunch:  Princess offers a rather unique experience on some Sea Days.  They open up the Crown Grill (a specialty restaurant) for a complementary Pub Lunch.  (We don’t choose to eat in the specialty restaurants on a cruise…With so many ‘included’ dining venues, we just don’t feel the need to spend extra to eat somewhere else)  We’ve known about this Pub Lunch for some time, but have never been able to fit it into our schedule.  Today we did.

The menu is very limited…only 5 entrees.  Today, we ordered 3 of them (on the encouragement of our waiter)  two that we knew we’d like…then a 3rd – Bangers and Mash just to ‘try’.  It wasn’t bad…My husband actually ended up ‘trading in’ his meal for that and eating it all.  🙂  But…the ‘winner’ on this lunch was the bread pudding!!  DIVINE!!!!

Our first activity of the afternoon was a Walk Around Photo Seminar dealing with ‘light’ and the challenges involved in photographing the WHITE glaciers…and the blue ice we would find in College Fjord.  My husband has recently taken an interest in photography so while I found a comfy spot to spend some quality time with my Alaska book, he went to this Walk Around.  He came back very excited about what he had learned…but we only had a few minutes to talk – as it was almost time for the next Naturalist Presentation

“Enjoying the Wonders of the Alaskan Wildlife” was the topic of this lecture – at 3:15 in the Theater.  This, too, did not disappoint.  In this session, she concentrated on wildlife on land – bears, moose, eagles…and of course, the ever elusive puffin.  By this time, I knew to take pen and paper to these presentations.  She gave times to be out on deck or in your balcony to see certain wildlife…hints and tips for viewing/finding in addition to the map I had on my stateroom wall.  Her slides of these animals were QUITE amazing as well.  We could hardly wait to get out of there to begin looking….

Tonight was the first of two formal nights on this cruise….and we found a way to not only be out on the balcony scouting out some of the wildlife the Naturalist told us to look for, but also get dressed for formal night…and formal night photos…

The photos began at 5:30 on Decks 5, 6 & 7…   Princess does a VERY GOOD job with their photo backgrounds – classy and not cheezy.  🙂 🙂    The Amethyst Trio (violins and piano) accompanied us as we walked around posing for our photos – created a very pleasant atmosphere.

After sitting for quite a few photos, we headed to the dining room.  Tonight, our orders were the Shrimp Danielle and Cornish Hen.  Being formal night, they had the bananas foster and one of MY FAVORITES, the gourmandises!!!

sunrise on the Inside Passage

There were a lot of activities going on around the ship that night…and had it not been for our very early morning this morning…and our very early morning tomorrow (and a short port time necessitating a quick exit off the ship)    we might have checked out some of those things.  But there really wasn’t time for that. (and I REALLY needed to get those heels OFF ha!! ) We just went back to our stateroom and watched an INCREDIBLE sunset from our balcony…then set the alarm for 5am (to catch another sunrise) and went to bed.

Next: Alaska Cruise: Ketchikan

Alaska Cruise on Star Princess

I’ve never written a ‘trip diary’ on my blog before…but with our recent Alaskan Adventure, I’ve decided to try that.

I won’t forget my ‘roots’ in Budget in Travel Planning though.  I’m still ALL about budgeting…that didn’t change with this cruise/trip.  I’ll throw in bits and pieces of my discoveries about budget here in the diary…then write a FULL set of posts concentrating on the aspects of planning and budgeting later….because there ARE ways to save money (and I have a few planning tips to throw in along the way as well) for cruising or vacationing in Alaska.

Stay tuned…

 

Alaska Or Bust!

We booked the Voyage of the Glaciers-NB on the Star Princess. (Princess Cruise Line)  We booked it about 11 months in advance so had a good selection of cabins.  Our choice was an interior cabin because Alaskan cruises can be a little pricey.  HOWEVER…..about 2 months before our cruise, we got that exciting little email…the UPSELL offer.  That’s where the cruise line offers their more expensive cabin categories to those who have already booked the cruise… (the ‘up’sell) to open up their lower priced inventory in hopes of attracting NEW bookings from NEW customers.  It worked.. both for them…and for us.  We got a Balcony cabin for just a few hundred dollars more…and our price was still $600 LESS than balconies booked from the website that day.

So….we had a balcony cabin for Alaska!!!   AT a discount!!

Now to my Diary  🙂

First Day:

Our flight left at 7 am – went through DFW and arrived in Vancouver BC around noon – this was, of course, after a 4 1/2 hr flight from DFW,  so our ‘body clocks’ felt like it was later than that.

We found Vancouver to be a very tourist friendly city.  They HAVE to be as they get an influx of THOUSANDS of cruise passengers on a daily basis…not to mention the ‘non’ cruise passengers…..  🙂  Their customs process at the airport runs very smoothly…as long as there are only 1 or 2 ships in port (Three-ship days are a LOT more chaotic….)  Ours was a 2-ship day.  Customs at the airport is in a HUGE area – rows of self-serve kiosks – and room to accomodate HUNDREDS at a time!!  We were run through there a little like cattle, but there were many people to direct us where to go, what to do next, etc…  The process ran a little like ‘organized’ chaos….   I don’t mean that to be a negative comment at all.  It ran smoothly (‘organized’)  to be so crowded, busy, noisy….with so many intersecting lines of tourists (the ‘chaos’ part).  Yep…”organized chaos”!  haha!!

Our hotel for the evening, Accent Inn, had an airport shuttle…and across the street from the ‘loading and unloading’ zone and taxis was an area set up for calling and waiting for those shuttle pick ups…..under the green awning.  There was a courtesy phone  programmed with hotel numbers and codes so we didn’t have to bring/look up hotel numbers (Nice!!).  We made our call and our shuttle arrived within 10 min.

We were on our way!!

IMG_6327

Accent Inn – Richmond BC

Accent Inn was an older property but very well maintained…fresh paint, remodeled kitchen and bathroom (did I mention that each room had a full kitchen?)  I had booked it about 8-9 months before.  In checking the prices a month before we arrived, I found prices had risen 30%. Booking early saved us about $50USD that night.

 

 

First Bit of Budget Advice:  Book hotels and rental cars early.  I found that very few prices went down…most went UP the closer we got to our travel date…

In addition to that airport shuttle, our hotel also provided shuttle service to Bridgeport Station (SkyTrain).  That opened up many possibilities for sightseeing without having to get a taxi (which would run about $35 CAD from our hotel to downtown)  as well as answered the question of  How do we get to the Pier for our cruise?  Richmond is quite a distance from downtown and the sightseeing that many people want to do. With free transport to a SkyTrain station, we could go anywhere we wanted to go…just for the price of SkyTrain fare.  SkyTrain offers a single fare ticket (best choice for us on this trip) OR a DayPass (would be great for spending several days in town)

What Can You Do with 24 Hrs. in Vancouver?

We didn’t have time (or the energy)  to do nearly all we would have liked to do… But here’s just a few things to get someone started with their own research.  So much depends on what a person LIKES to do so just take this list as a springboard to find what YOU want to do with your time in Vancouver.

  • Stanley Park :  1000 acres – In Stanley park there’s an Aquarium, totem poles, horse drawn carriages hiking trails, scenic views of the inlet, beaches, gardens, a train…and more
  • Seawall Walk:  This is a paved trail between Stanley Park and Canada Place (the pier) with wonderful views of the inlet, marina, et al .
  • Granville Island:  Farmers Market/Public market; shopping
  • False Creek Ferry:  transport between Granville Island, Yaletown, Science World and the Maritime Museum to name just a few….
  • Capilano Suspension Bridge
    IMG_6365

    Gastown Steam Clock

    capbridge.com

  • Vancouver Lookout Tower at Harbour Center
  • Gastown Steam Clock:  goes off every 15 min.
  • Neighborhoods/shopping districts to explore – Gastown, Robson Street, Chinatown
  • Olympic Cauldron from the  2010 Olympics  (kind of interesting for those of us old enough to have watched the 2010 Olympics  )
  • There are several tours, trolleys, buses etc…that will whisk visitors off to many sites around the city.  The one I considered (though we didn’t do) was the HoHoTrolley (Hop On Hop Off Trolley)  If we return for another cruise someday, this will probably be on ‘our list’.

 

Embarkation Day is Finally Here!!!

The next morning, after a 5 am breakfast at the IHop next door, (our bodies hadn’t totally adjusted to Vancouver time yet…) we caught the hotel shuttle to Bridgeport station, took SkyTrain to Waterfront Station, then walked the few blocks to the pier.  We dropped off our luggage at the terminal and went back out into Vancouver.  We weren’t sailing until 4:30…I wanted to be heading to the terminal by 1:00 or so…which gave us several hours to sightsee in Vancouver.

Our sightseeing choices for this morning were the Vancouver Lookout Tower, Gastown and the Gastown Steam clock, the Waterfront station area, and possibly the Olympic Cauldron before boarding the Star Princess.

When we came out of the terminal after dropping off luggage, we headed in the direction of the Vancouver Lookout Tower.  En route, we met up with one of the many Tourist guides in town…standing on the street corners, identified by their shirts and hats and ready to assist tourists as needed.  This gentleman told us that if we went back to the Visitor Center, we could buy our Lookout Tower ticket for $4 less.  It was only about 2 blocks so we decided to do that.  In actuality, the discount was $5 pp CAD which translates into about $6 USD…  x 2 – Totally worth the 2 block walk.  While down in that area, we were very close to the Olympic Cauldron.

IMG_6352

Olympic Cauldron – 2010 Olympics Vancouver BC

This was just on our “might if we have time” list, but since we were right there, we walked over.

IMG_6402

The Lookout Tower is just behind the building…it’s just impossible to get a pic of it ‘alone’ on city streets 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

After that, we headed to the Lookout Tower.

The view atop this Tower was quite impressive.  Not only did we get some great views of the city, the inlet, Stanley Park and Lion’s Gate Bridge but some GREAT photos of our ship, Star Princess waiting for us at Canada Place!!!  🙂

Now the date was Aug. 26….and as luck would have it, Vancouver was unseasonably HOT that day…temps near 90.  The Lookout Tower either didn’t have a/c…or it wasn’t able to handle the load of the temps because it got VERY uncomfotable up there very quickly.  I would have liked to have spent a little longer, but we reached the point where the heat was a little much…so we went back down.  If I’m ever back in Vancouver I would like to go up the Tower again and spend more leisurely time there.

Our next stop took us to Gastown – and the Gastown Steam clock.  It was 11:50 am when we arrived, so a crowd was already beginning to gather.  The crowd grew VERY FAST over the next 10 minutes and at noon, the clock went off for a rather LARGE group.  This video is from 2016 – and not mine…  but the clock (and the tune) are the same….  🙂

Credit:  Ken Lane: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVKyiOGmHZHXI6EvQLzbY1A/featured

After this ‘performance’, it was time to head back toward Canada Place.  We wanted to get something to drink, possibly spend a little bit of time at Waterfront Center and walking around/through Canada place before we boarded the ship.

Boarding the Star Princess went very smoothly.  Our luggage was already taken care of…quite possibly already aboard by now.  We just had to go through Princess check in, Customs, all the necessary photo stops and ID photo stops and we’d be on board.

That whole process only took a little over an hour!!!  We were ON THE SHIP!!!

Princess always has cabins ready when you board (not the case with all cruise lines) so we were able to drop off our carry on bags which we had been carrying around Vancouver all morning.  We walked around the ship a bit, grabbed a bite to eat, got Muster Drill over with….then finally staked out our vantage point for Sail Away.  Within a few minutes of Sail Away we’d be going under Lions Gate Bridge, and we wanted to be as high up on the ship as possible. That was Deck 15 Forward…and that’s where we headed.

 

 

IMG_6415

Sail Away was indeed marvelous.  The Star Princess BACKED out of the pier at Canada Place.  We waved good-bye to all those who had come to see us off (more than I expected, actually) and set our sites forward… Lion’s Gate Bridge!!

HAL’s Niuew Amsterdam left the pier first. We followed them under the bridge and for the rest of the evening

 

going under Lion’s Gate Bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And….there’s a guy who films ships leaving Vancouver ….and posts them on YouTube…This is our ship…our sailing….leaving Vancouver.  I’m on Deck 15…above the Bridge…but you can’t really see me  🙂 🙂


20171003_120436.jpg

After Sail away, it was time to see what the Princess Patters had to say (Patters is the Daily Schedule that Princess gives each passenger outlining all that is going on on the ship.)

 

The first thing we KNEW we wanted to do was purchase our copy of Alaska Cruise Companionwp-1506452154430.jpgThis was written by a former Princess Cruises Naturalist, Rachel Cartwright,  who sailed Alaska 1998-2005 on PCL ships.  Her book has become the guidebook for all PCL cruises to Alaska.  The Patters refers to it every day.  The Captain refers to it in his PA announcements. The naturalist refers to it in her presentations…and any passenger who wants to learn…and see as much as possible on their Alaskan Cruise refers to it often during the cruise.  Yes…we fell among that number.  🙂 An Added Bonus in the Book was the pullout fold out map of our route – with labels of where to see certain wildlife – whales, sea lions, bears, moose, etc…  I put it on the wall with magnets – and we referred to it OFTEN throughout our cruise.

After spending about an hour out on Deck 15 watching Vancouver Island go by…it was time to dress for dinner.  We had chosen Anytime Dining for this cruise (Meaning, we could go anytime during the regular dining room hours)  This worked best for this Alaskan cruise as we had several late port days or evening scenic cruising…and a lot of shipboard activities (Naturalist lectures or Alaskan programs).  We didn’t want to be tied down to a specific dining room schedule.

Dining in the Main Dining rooms is always a wonderful experience.  Menus on Princess have more of a European influence to them… We enjoy this ‘change’ from our regular cuisine 🙂  I’ve only had one item in my cruises with Princess that I actually sent back…and that was due to personal preference…not because the food was ‘bad’.   Tonight, we ordered the Hazelnut Crusted Salmon with Maple Syrup Glaze and the Prime Rib… with of course, the shrimp cocktail  and a salad as appetizers. (I don’t know that I’ve EVER had a Dining Room meal on any cruise when I DIDN’T order the shrimp….)

Our Favorite Viewing Area…and the ‘Secret Door’:

Our Favorite place to view sunrises…and have solitude in the early mornings was Deck 12 Aft.  There’s actually a door (affectionately referred to by many as the ‘secret door’) at the back of Deck 12 Port Side….  it goes out to the Terrace Pool on Deck 12.  This is just one deck below the Horizon Court buffet…so used this door for our sunrise viewing every morning…and could grab a cup of coffee while never being far away from the next changing light over the water…  🙂

 

 

The Budget:  These 2 days were fairly budget minded  (as long as you don’t count the over-all cost of the cruise…haha)  but with that, I HAVE to mention our balcony upsell at a $600 savings….    Then…We booked early and got a good price on the hotel, utilized discounts in Vancouver…or saw things that were totally free.  We transported downtown via the hotel shuttle to Bridgeport and the SkyTrain rather than a $35 taxi…and we had On Board Credit (a credit put on our account by Princess when we booked our cruise)  to purchase our Alaska Cruise Companion book…    The budget was looking good!  🙂

Next: Our First SeaDay

13 Questions First Time Cruisers Ask

Beach

What Type(s) of Documentation Do I Need?

The basics are Passport and ID (Driv. lic).  Some itineraries require a VISA and your cruise line will let you know if you need one.  Check with them EARLY in your booking process so you have time to gather/apply for what you’ll need….then re-check several weeks before you sail as these things sometimes change.  Children traveling without BOTH parents (i.e. traveling with one parent…or with grandparents, friends, cousins, et al) will need permission from the ‘non-traveling’ parent(s) to board the ship.  This is a rule that is NON-negotiable…the child will NOT be allowed to board without proper documentation, so make sure all your ducks are in a row on this one.

 Do I need a passport?passports

The official answer from the cruise lines used to be ‘Maybe, depending on itinerary’, but now, is almost unilaterally, “Yes”.  My answer is YES! YES! YES!!!  Especially with the way things are in our world today, I wouldn’t venture out of the country without a passport!  Next point:  Take steps to secure it…keep it safe.  Passports now have a HIGH VALUE on the black market.  Carry it in a safe place (preferably close to your body…),  place it in an RFID blocking sleeve or pocket/bag –  and ALWAYS be alert to your surroundings.

Can I miss the boat?

Yes…Though I don’t recommend it.  🙂 🙂   Seriously though, set your WATCH by ship time….because ships leave by ship time, NOT port time.  These two MAY or MAY NOT be the same.  Do NOT rely on cell phones as they will re-set themselves in port. Use  your cell phone for calls, texts, etc…  and a watch as your timepiece.  Don’t follow the clocks in port either (refer to explanation above) Most cruise lines want passengers back on board 30 min. before sail away time. If you aren’t there, they will begin announcing your name over the ship’s intercom system….over and over and over.  You really DON’T want to be that person.  🙂  Last note, write down and bring with you into port the contact info for the ships liaison on shore.  This should be listed on the brochure placed in your stateroom the night before. This person is your point of contact if you have any problems while in port…or if you miss the ship.

Will I get sea sick?

There’s no way of knowing the answer to that.  Some do; others don’t.  Some get sick on one cruise and don’t on another cruise.  Come prepared with multiple remedies as you never know what will work for you. There’s Bonine/Dramamine (tablets), Transderm Scop Patches (my favorite), Ginger, Sea Bands (pressure point bracelets) and most ships carry a large supply of green apples which are known to ‘help’. Ships provide Bonine (typically free of charge), but you have to go to the medical center to get it.  I prefer to bring my own to AVOID the Medical Center which may be a ‘bay of germs’.  Generics cost about $3-4 a box. Your pharmacist is your best source of information on this.

Do I HAVE to Dress Up for the Dining Room?

In part, this depends on your cruiseline.  More relaxed lines such as Norwegian with it’s FreeStyle Cruising and Carnival will allow passengers into the dining rooms dressed fairly casually (though some things are just NOT acceptable – swimwear, t-shirts, ballcaps, etc…)  Other lines such as Princess, Royal Caribbean, Holland America MAY turn passengers away if they aren’t dressed according to dress code.  Having said that, sometimes it depends on the maître d’ and how much a stipler for rules he/she is.  Bottom line…Your best bet is to just follow the guidelines set up by your cruise line. (on their website)  If they say there’s a dress code, rather than being the ‘problem-passenger’, just follow it…or eat somewhere on the ship where there is no dress code.  Honestly, dressing up for dinner is kind of ‘part of the cruise experience’.  Put on your ‘best duds’ and have a nice evening!  🙂  At the very least, give it a try for ONE NIGHT!

Do I Need to Pack the ‘Kitchen Sink’ for My Cruise?

No….you also don’t need to bring decorations, blenders, irons  or coffee pots.  (believe it or not, some try to…)…and PLEASE don’t bring candles or matches! Open flames don’t mix well with ships in the middle of the ocean.  Here’s another thing.  You don’t need to bring a beach towel.  Most cruise lines provide them for both ship AND port use.  Just don’t forget to return it…the charges for that are pretty hefty.  But no…don’t use valuable suitcase space for your beach towel…OR the kitchen sink.

Why Do They Automatically Charge Gratuities to my Account?

Because it would be very difficult for you to locate and tip every single crew member who worked to make your cruise enjoyable.  You don’t even see many of them.  The auto-gratuities are collected according to a pre-determined  ‘formula’ from the cruiseline and distributed FOR you to EVERYONE who played a role in your cruise experience. This saves you the trouble of trying to locate the person who washed your towels….or cooked your steak…or cleaned up your dirty dishes. There are a LOT of ‘behind the scenes’ people whoUS dollar work very hard to make your cruise all that it is. Enjoy your cruise and relax knowing that every one of those individuals are being compensated. Of course, if you WISH to ‘extra-tip’ a particular person, you can do that individually.

Can I Remove the Auto Gratuities?

Yes….but please don’t.  If you’re unhappy with something on board, stop by Customer Service and address the problem early in the cruise so it can be corrected rather than being unhappy for your entire cruise.  (THAT’S no way to cruise!!!)  When you remove those tips, you not only ‘hurt’ the person you’re unhappy with, but you also hurt kitchen staff, laundry staff, pool staff…etc…  most of whom you never saw, but who served you well.

Do I Have to Purchase Shore Excursions Through the Cruise Line?

Short answer is ‘no’.

Now…here’s the long answer….    First, know that you don’t HAVE to have an official excursion at all. Some ports lend themselves more easily to ‘DIY exploring’ than others and you’ll find that out through research.  (there are some ports I would NEVER explore beyond the cruise line owned port area without an “official” excursion – for safety reasons – just fyi)  Second, if you DO decide to purchase an excursion, be aware that purchasing it from your cruise line will be more expensive than purchasing directly from vendors.  It also brings with it some extra safe-guards.

Advantages to purchasing from the Cruise Line:

  1. Earlier debarkation – These are the passengers who are at the FRONT of the line at debarkation. The cruise line will give them preferential treatment.  Sorry…true….
  2. Assurance that the ship will EITHER wait on you if there’s any delay in getting back to the ship OR get you back to the ship at their expense.
  3. You’re giving your credit card number to the cruise line….rather than a random person you found online or met on the pier…   NOTE: Use cash if purchasing from a vendor at the pier.

Disadvantages to purchasing from the Cruise Line:

  1. Cost – it typically costs more to purchase from the cruise line because they take their ‘cut’ before paying the vendor
  2. Crowds…you’re with a few hundred other cruisers from your ship…

 

In Alaska, we did everything on our own.  I felt very confident there.  However, in some foreign ports, I will ONLY purchase excursions from the cruise line or just stay in the port area shopping/going to beaches etc….   Security is an important factor in these decisions for us….

What’s Free and What Costs?

Meals are free as long as you eat in the venues included in your cruise fare. This includes the Dining Room, buffet, grill or pizzeria (Cruise line websites list these)  Meals at the Specialty restaurants will incur either a Cover Charge or a per item charge. Room service is free though some cruise lines are experimenting with putting a few select items on the room service menu for an upcharge. (they’ll be listed WITH their costs…no surprises)   It is customary to tip the person who delivers room service as that is not included in the auto-gratuities.  Tea, plain ole coffee, lemonade as well as juice and milk in the morning are free.  Alcohol, carbonated drinks, specialty coffees and possibly ice cream shakes/malts, etc… have a charge.  We have been on many cruises and never paid a cent for food or drink…you just have to eat/drink the free stuff and avoid the things with extra charges.  It’s not hard to do… but may require some self-restraint 🙂

Entertainment on most ships is free, though Royal Caribbean requires reservations.  Pools and hottubs are free.  Carnival’s “No Kids Allowed” deck is free.  Princess charges for their adult only Serenity Deck.  Water slides are free.  Some extras  on Royal Caribbean cruises have a charge associated with them and those will be clearly marked/advertised. It’s just not necessary on most cruises to spend a lot of money to have a good time.  There’s SO MUCH available that is free. You can choose to FIND your fun there!!  🙂

Does it Matter Which Stateroom I Choose?

That depends on YOU….When will you want to be sleeping?  If you’re a night owl, you probably won’t notice noise late into the night from decks above or below you.  If you plan to turn in early to get an early start on tomorrow’s port day, you WILL notice.  Typically, areas like bars, lounges, etc…are noisy until 3 am.  Areas like the buffet, pool decks may be noisy early in the morning as staff moves chairs/tables, etc…  A cabin on a deck sandwiched between other cabin decks will typically be a quieter location.

When it comes to motion of the ship, the front of the ship experiences the most movement.  The aft (back) comes in 2nd with the middle having the least amount. (This is why mid-ship cabins are the most expensive)

Some people like to be near the elevators so they don’t have to walk as far.  I consider walking to be a necessity on a cruise with the added ‘food intake’.

Bottom Line:  It really DOES depend on YOU and what you want. Think about your needs, then check the deck plans, paying special attention to what is around, above and below your cabin.  If you suspect an area will be noisy, it probably will.

Do I really NEED Travel Insurance?

YES!!  A cruise puts you at the mercy of things you can’t control or change (airline schedules, weather….luggage handlers….weather….and of course, the WEATHER….) You can modify your schedule when on a road trip. On a cruise you can’t do anything about most decisions…They are not made by you….  Good travel insurance will take care of you (financially) if your travel plans go awry.  NOTE: It is rare for medical insurance policies to cover policy holders outside the country.  Medicare does NOT…. Travel insurance makes sure you don’t take a financial ‘hit’ if the unexpected happens.

Will I be bored on the ship?

That’s a tough one to answer…I’ve known people who were in the most interesting places in the world and were ‘bored’…and I’ve known people who could have the time of their lives just walking around the block with someone they enjoy being with.  It often has less to do with what’s on the outside of a person and more to do with what’s on the inside of a person. That being said, the ships have many things to keep your interest…entertainment/shows, movies, seminars, special speakers, informational programs, karaoke, contests, classes, libraries, games and gameshows, cruise directors who plan constant activities and of course pools, pool decks, hot tubs, saunas, spas, salons,  – and who can ignore the constant changing supply of food. 🙂  You can bring your favorite book or your favorite person.  DECIDE to be ‘interested’ and you’ll probably not be bored.  🙂

13 Prom. Deck 7 115

Happy Cruising!!

10 Things To Do Before Leaving Your Home for Vacation

https://www.flickr.com/photos/96363003@N08/8936742327/sizes/z/

Photo Credit: Estelle Page on Flickr CC Lic

In the middle of vacation excitement, planning, packing etc….  taking a few minutes to run through a few quick checks can relieve a little of your ‘worry’ about your home in your absence.

1  Tell a TRUSTED Neighbor You’ll Be Out of Town.  Someone in the neighborhood should know that your house is empty should there be any emergency or suspicious activity. Give them a way to contact you in addition to your cell phone (hotel phone number??). Your neighbors are your ‘eyes and ears’ while you’re gone.

2.  Suspend Mail and/or Newspaper Delivery:  The US Postal Service will hold mail for up to a month.  We schedule delivery the day AFTER we return so we’ll BE THERE when it arrives. If you take a newspaper, cancel that as well.  Not only does it eliminate the piles of papers in your yard, but it MAY extend your subscription by the number of cancelled days.

Photo Credit: vijairaj           CC Lic.

3.  Make Arrangements For: 

  • Pets. Reserve time at the kennel or secure a pet-sitter. The best kennels fill up quickly during the Summer so begin researching these early. NOTE:  Drop by for an unannounced VISIT to check them out before reserving.
  • Plants:  For just a few houseplants, it may be easier to transport the plants to the friend rather than ask the friend to come to your house. For plants in your yard, find a neighbor child who is either trustworthy…or whose parents are diligent about teaching/requiring responsibility –as they will be the ones ultimately responsible for follow-through. 🙂  I always liked for my adolescent kids to take on tasks like this…  They made a few dollars and it taught important lessons (Yes, we understood OUR {the parents’}  role in it all.  I was ‘ok’ with that as I thought it was good for my kids.)  Another option would be to get an automatic water-er.

4.  Put Lamps and/or TV on a Timer.  This gives the appearance that the house is occupied. If you have two timers, set them at slightly different schedules.  Set family room lights/sound to be on in the early evening and bedroom lights /sound coming on at bedtime to mimic real life patterns.

5. Check Thermostat Settings.  If you have a programmable thermostat, all the better!  Without one, find the happy medium between conserving energy but not going overboard -. Having it too warm in the house is hard on the refrigerator and electronics. Turning it too low in the winter can lead to burst plumbing pipes.

6.  Check:  

  • Faucets, Toilets:  Make sure they aren’t ‘running’ or dripping
  • Electrical and Electronics:  Unplug electrical items that can be unplugged.  Make sure that all electronics are either on a power surge protector or unplugged.
  • Windows. Re-check all the windows…even if you ‘remember’ locking them last week.

7.  Clean out the Refrigerator.  Our last night before vacation is always “leftover night”. Not only does this help with the ‘clean out the refrigerator’ but it’s an easy meal/prep.  After that meal, anything perishable is thrown away or put in the freezer.

8.  Wash all dishes and put them away….Run the dishwasher and unload it.  Even the smallest crumb or food residue on a plate in the dishwasher can attract bugs or ants when your kitchen is uninhabited for a period of time.

9.  Clean out your purse/wallet. We do not travel with ALL of our credit cards or keys. We only take the ones we will need. Not only do I want to lighten the weight of what I’m carrying, but if a wallet/purse were stolen, I don’t want to have to cancel 15 credit cards or replace a Keychain FULL of keys (Car keys are not only a hassle, but VERY expensive to replace).

10.  SOCIAL MEDIA:  

Photo Credit:  CC Lic.  [[File:Socialmedia-pm.png|Socialmedia-pm]]

With social media such an important part of our lives, it’s tempting to begin to feel ‘over-confident’… and advertise an empty home without thinking about it.  It’s BEST to NOT post travel plans to those outside your REAL friend circle.  If you DO choose to share these plans on social media/Facebook, check your privacy settings to confirm that information is ONLY going out to TRUE friends…not a wide array of acquaintances or business contacts.   This becomes even ‘trickier’ if you have kids on these sites…..who have a tendency to think the whole world is their BFF.  A ‘conversation’ may be necessary….  I’m not totally convinced the privacy settings on Facebook are as ‘trustworthy’ as they seem and of course, some social media outlets don’t have any privacy guards at all…..

 

These are all things we know….but I find that when getting ready to leave, things are so busy…hectic…’full’, that it’s easy to forget something.    Having a list to check off takes the pressure off of me to ‘remember’ everything.

Happy Travels!  

Galveston, Texas

We’ve been ‘through’ Galveston several times to embark on cruises, but our stays were only 1 night pre-cruise. Every time, we would say “We need to plan a STAY here….”

Now, South Texas Gulf Coast in the heat of the summer is only enjoyable if you’re in the water, (imho) however, early Fall can be quite pleasant. That’s when we made our visit.  🙂

Accommodations:  Travel in Sept enabled us to avoid the congestion of ‘vacation season’ and find some good rates. A kitchen was a necessity (I need to cook the majority of our meals).  Galveston has a few hotels with kitchenettes but they were pricey.  On my  favorite condo site(s) – VRBO and Home Away I found a HUGE inventory from which to choose.

Our Condo complex – right across the street from the beach

There are no truly ‘beachfront’ condos or hotels in Galveston (the actual town) as Seawall Blvd runs along the beach.  Hotels, et al are across the street from the beach.  That’s really not a problem…just be aware.  Now, there are REAL beachfront homes (no condos/hotels)  further down the island outside of town.  On our trip, we preferred to stay in town.

We ended up in a unit that was ‘self-clean’ (No cleaning fee if WE clean kitchen & bathroom and sweep/mop/vacuum before checking out.  That’s it! )  If our cleaning met with their approval, there were no charges.  If it did not, we would be charged the $75 cleaning fee. I’m pretty picky about cleaning so this was not a problem.  (ok…I’m pretty sure it was cleaner when we left than when we arrived) Because the unit was very small, this took my husband and I about 30 min. Not only did I save about $200 on the rent (Many units in Galveston rent for MUCH MORE) but I saved the $75 cleaning fee.  The way I look at it, we got ‘paid’ $275 for 30 min. of work.  – not bad wages at all!!!

 

Beaches abound on Galveston Island and I’ll get to those in a minute.    First thing I suggest is a brief stop at the Galveston Visitor Center:  Here you’ll find not only information about what’s in the area, but also coupons for several attractions in town.  (and a few restaurants)

Parking:  Parking is always an issue on ‘islands’……and in Galveston, it’s NOT Cheap!!  The ONLY place you’ll find free parking is at the Visitor Center….and a TWO block section downtown with 2 hr parking. Those spots will be virtually impossible to get….  The remaining parking spots are part of the “Pay by Phone” system via an app  (PayByPhone.com  a secure site so I can’t link to it….)  Create an account, then input location from signs on each block and how much time you wish to ‘purchase’.  The app allows you to add time remotely, get online receipts and sends a text reminder when your time is almost expired.

Cash Parking Locations –  VERY limited

  • Downtown by The Strand, though these are a bit pricey,
  • In front of the Ocean Star Drilling museum – $1/half hour with a maximum of $5.

 

Bolivar Ferry:  This FREE ferry runs to Port Bolivar from the East end of the island every 20 minutes.  Because it’s an excellent place to see dolphins, many tourists just walk on and take the ferry over and back. We, however, took our car and spent the day in Port Bolivar.  The ferry was a pleasant experience  (air conditioned, restrooms, etc….).  Going in the off-season was great, though some report  wait times of up to 90 min. in the busy summer tourist season. If there in July, I suggest an EARLY start to the day.  🙂 Our wait (Sept) was about 20 min to board at the Galveston terminal…and no wait at all for the return trip.  It seems to be handled very well.

Bolivar Peninsula: Once over to Bolivar, we went to Ft Travis State Historic Park. I found the beach here nicer than what was available in Galveston – Not only was there no ‘fees’….but there are picnic areas with grills. We had just brought sandwiches for lunch, but I could envision a very nice beach day…with grilled hotdogs, sand, ocean….  It was almost deserted in Sept, but probably a pretty busy place in the summer.

While on the island, we found a shaved ice stand that had sugar-free syrups…and not just a limited number of flavors….   This lady offered to mix any flavor on her menu with Splenda.  We had to wait, but it was SO worth it to be able to choose from the FULL menu!!!  That NEVER happens!!!  🙂  She earned a ‘shout out’ from me.  🙂   J-Bird’s Shaved Ice.

169

Sunset over the SeaWall – Galveston, TX

Now…..to the

Beaches:  Since Galveston Island is an ‘island’, it’s surrounded by beaches…  🙂  (on the Gulf side….inlet side is industry…) Most of the public beaches have a user fee and/or parking charge.  Even at the State Park south of town,  entrance is free….after you pay to park. 🙂  However, driving out of Galveston, you will find signs marking “Beach Access”.  These are roads behind vacation homes where the public can access the beach for free. (yes, it’s public access unless otherwise posted)   Now, there are no facilities, no running water (other than ocean 🙂 ) or restrooms in these areas.  It’s just sand, ocean and flying insects (LOTS of those so bring repellant),  but it IS possible to get to the water without paying. You just ‘lose’ facilities.  Those areas would be crowded during tourist season (inhabitants from beach homes, et al) but in Sept. the homes were mostly empty as were the beaches in front of them…  We had a few hours on a secluded beach…well….except for the insects….  It was a nice afternoon.


OK….I know that most people don’t consider antebellum homes or museums when visiting Galveston Island, but…….  There is some INCREDIBLE history associated with the area.  For instance, did you know that Galveston was the “Wall Street of the U.S.” in the late 1800’s?  Did you know that some of the wealthiest families of that time lived here?  Did you know that after the hurricane of 1900 (which is to this day the deadliest disaster event in US history) they not only rebuilt the city…but RAISED it 17 feet (!!!!) and built the sea wall still there today.  This was an INCREDIBLE engineering feat for the early 1900’s.  Spending at least a portion of your time in the area exploring these homes…this history…is worth consideration.

078.jpgBishop’s Palace:  This is the home of Colonel Walter Gresham and is listed by the American Institute of Architects as one of the 100 most important buildings in America.  I have to say, I’ve been to a lot of homes – antebellum homes in Virginia and the Carolinas, The Biltmore (NC), Plantations in Mississippi and Alabama, etc…but this may possibly be the most beautiful home I’ve ever toured.  Admission is pricey, but the architecture and woodwork as well as the history made it WORTH the cost to us.   Coupon for $1 pp off admission (from the Visitor Center)  helps a little with the cost.

 

 

Museums:

  • 125.jpgRosenburg Musuem   This is a small and free museum on the 4th floor of the Rosenburg City Library.  It’s size makes it easily visited in 1-2 hrs. and actually  ‘manageable’ for children. It covers the history of the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and the rebuilding of the city and SeaWall.  The Rosenburg Library is right across the street from the Visitor center so you can park there for free. (if you get there early enough to find a space)  We DID ask permission before leaving our car – just fyi. 

 

  • Ocean Star:  When oil prices plummeted and off-shore drilling became UNprofitable, Exxon-Mobile brought one of their rigs to shore to turn it into a museum.  This was such a treat as this is something we would NEVER normally be able to see.  We spent 2-3 hrs here and only left because we had tickets at Pier 21 and HAD to leave.

 

I could have stayed longer.  The website: Ocean Star Off-Shore Drilling Museum has a virtual tour for more information.

 

 

  • Pier 21 Films:  This theatre shows 3 different films about the area – It’s located about a block from Ocean Star Museum.  We chose “The Great Storm”  about the 1900 Hurricane – using a $1 coupon we picked up from one of the many brochure racks located around town.   They also validate parking for 2 hrs – allowing for time at the museum if you plan it just right.

 

There’s so much to do in the Galveston area – in ADDITION to “Fun in the Sun” – not to mention that Houston with all it has to offer (NASA Spaceport is in Webster….Great place!!) is just a little over an hour away…

Enjoy the beach and water in this Gulf Coast area…but don’t think that’s all there is.  🙂