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.
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 🙂
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!!
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
Gastown Steam Clock
- 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 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. 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.
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.
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.
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!! 🙂
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 Companion. This 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. 🙂
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