Alaskan Cruise: Ketchikan, AK

Today started very early….out on our balcony as the ship came into port.

Ketchikan is quite a picturesque port to sail in to.  We were scheduled to arrive at 6:30 but learned from the Naturalist yesterday that it would actually be 5:30.  We were on our balcony by 5:29  🙂  (Last night, we entered Alaskan waters and Alaskan Time Zone moving our  clocks BACK an hour.  Purposely keeping our bodies on C.S.T. made this change and all our early mornings easy….)   The lights of the sleepy little town against the backdrop of the mountains was worth getting up early to see!IMG_6532

 

After a scenic breakfast (window table at the back of Horizon Court)  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…

Our plans today would encompass ALL of these.  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. to make our purchases)

Finding the ‘right’ place to catch the ‘right’ bus to go north of town proved to be somewhat challenging… We were actually sent to the wrong place twice…but we DID finally get to the right intersection.  🙂  When the bus driver let us off, he told us when to be back to catch the returning bus (buses on this loop only run every hour so catching that returning bus would be QUITE IMPORTANT with our short port time!!!)

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 Inside Passage. 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 tour group there.  We went in quietly and no one said anything to us.IMG_6560

 

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… 🙂 )

IMG_6565  Ketchikan  Creek Street

 

 

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

But we saw the salmon…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and the ladder…

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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.

I came to realize that it was because of the very short port time (6:30-2)… everyone (3000+ passengers and crew) were trying to board 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 how interested we would be… 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.

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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.  Every port day required packing of a day pack – to fit what we were doing/where we were going.  We packed that the night before to make the next morning easier….and tomorrow we had FULL schedule so wanted to get off the ship as soon as possible.

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

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Alaska Cruise: Our 1st Sea Day -and Sea Days in Alaska on Princess Cruises

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?) IMG_6855 - Copy  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… whatever we received that we wanted to ‘keep in a safe place’.  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 the 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 activities’, 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.  (our bodies were still on Central Standard Time…)  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!! She encouraged everyone to take a picture of her map and transfer the additional information to their own maps.  We just took the picture and referred to it throughout our cruise…without marking up our map.

We DID spend a little time with her after her presentation…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 on our balcony to see certain wildlife…hints and tips for viewing/finding wildlife.  Her slides of these animals were QUITE amazing as well.  We could hardly wait to get out of there to begin spotting wildlife….

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 wildlife, but also getting 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.

Tomorrow we were in Ketchikan!!   Alaska Cruise: Ketchikan

OTHER ALASKAN DAYS:

Alaska Cruise: Vancouver and boarding 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 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 Cruises)  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 to attract 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.  It ran smoothly (‘organized’)  to be so crowded, busy, noisy and with so many intersecting lines (the ‘chaos’ part).  Yep…”organized chaos”!  haha!!

Our hotel for the evening, Accent Inn, had an airport shuttle…boarding across the street from the ‘loading and unloading’ zone (along with taxis) under a long green awning.  There was a courtesy phone there 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!!

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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 the airport shuttle, Accent Inn 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 EACH WAY from our hotel to downtown)  as well as answered the question of  How do we get to the Pier?  Richmond is quite a distance from downtown and the sightseeing that many people want to do. With easy and 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
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    Gastown Steam Clock

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  • 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…Our plan was to head 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 stopped to talk with one of the many “hosts” stationed throughout the tourist/cruise terminal area, (identified by their green shirts and hats) about maps/locations/directions, etc…  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.

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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.

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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/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 staked out our vantage point for Sail Away.  Within a few minutes of Sail Away we’d be going under Lion’s 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.

 

 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now…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.  You can’t see me in this video, but I’m there!!  🙂


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After Sail away, it was time to check out Princess Patters had to say (Patters is the Daily Schedule outlining all that is going on on the ship that day.)  We got out our highlighter and began highlighting!

 

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 with PCL 1998-2005.  Her book has become the guidebook for all Princess 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.  🙂 img_6855-copy1.jpg

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.

More information:

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 PA 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.   (i.e.  We experienced our first bout with seasickness on the LAST day of our FOURTH 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’ 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 Guest Services 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 security/safety reasons – just fyi)  Second, if you DO decide to purchase an excursion, purchasing from the cruise line will probably be more expensive than purchasing directly from vendors but 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…   ADVICE: 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.  Some cruise lines apply a ‘service charge’ to room service orders late at night. (daytime orders are still ‘free’)  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…if you wish!!  🙂

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 when staff is cleaning/moving tables or chairs, etc… (think wee hours of the morning…)   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!!

 

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