Princess reflections.... (June 2-June 15) 2011

6/27/11 -- It's taken me this long to catch up on posting our shipboard Alaska experiences, as I thought 75 cents a minute for Internet access aboard the ship was steep, esp for a slow connection, so I didn't buy in (too cheap). I think Princess could do better than this. Our stateroom on the Aloha deck aft was very nice, the balcony exactly what we wanted ... till the people in the cabin forward of us lit a cigarette on their balcony.  Bleah! We lost some quality balcony time because of that, but there's good news on the horizon. Princess announced that smoking in staterooms and on balconies would be prohibited effective Jan 1st, 2012. Yay!

Alaska is just about beyond description. Everything is bigger, the landscape more vast, the water swift and crystal clear or opaque from glacial runoff, and blue-iced glaciers so huge our cameras wouldn't come close to capturing their volume. Conversely, tiny alpine or subalpine flowers all over bloomed in impossible crevices, on rocky outcrops, or carpeted whole acres. Imagine sweet-smelling wild roses everywhere, with heavenly-scented lilacs blooming in the towns and lodges we visited. I loved seeing so many wildflowers ... lupines, and the Alaska state flower (I just remembered): Forget-me-knots. The season is short and every growing thing makes hay while the sun shines, and summertime in the northern latitudes ye ole sun shines all day and most of the night!

There are no snakes in Alaska, and only one amphibian. Didn't know that. We wished we'd had more time on land to explore, but I think the time we had was well used. Miles and miles and miles lay between one place and another. We experienced Fairbanks when it has over 21 hours of daylight and, in fact, the night we arrived, we saw construction workers on the job at 11 pm. Wow! We were blessed to be at the right place and time to see Mt McKinley (Denali), all 20,320' in full and glorious view. The High One likes to hide its face most of the time, but not the day we visited. Wow!

On land we saw moose, lots of bald eagles and horseshoe hares (in summer camouflage), and while on the boat, the list increased -- humpback whales, sea lions, sea otters, porpoises, and puffins, cormorants, gulls, etc., etc. It was commonplace for the ship to tilt, either to starboard or port depending on what side of the ship spouting whales were spotted, as everybody would rush to that side. Just kidding about the ship tilting. But, for what it's worth, I didn't leave the cabin w/o my binoculars or the camera, even to the fancy dinners. Didn't want to miss anything!

We ate well, and often. Hard to stick to your usual cereal for breakfast when a feast is before your eyes. Dinners were the best. We met some nice people, exchanged names and email addresses, talked about hooking up again on other cruises. Also, we learned a lot about cruising, in case we do take that next one... and we just might!

We did leave a deposit with Princess, like I said, just in case ....


Aboard ship and Vancouver 6/14 and 6/15, 2011

On our last full day at sea (Tuesday), we watched a live cooking show presented by the Island Princess Executive Chef, Klaus Baumgarten, and the Maitre d’Hotel, Jacques Ghennai, given tongue-in-cheek and pretty funny. Following their presentation, we were given a tour of the galley. Lots of stainless steel and huge refrigeration units, ovens, and large work areas – no easy task feeding 1900 +/- people three meals a day in several different restaurants. Lotsa work! Interesting to see the scope of the operation. The ship has a grand total of 515 crew members involved in the galley and dining rooms, even one guy whose sole job is as an ice carver!

Kitchen workers ... photo op!

We ate very well… maybe too well.

Next came packing. If it came out of suitcases, it had to be shoved back in. We did all right. Every deck has a laundromat and we washed two loads, which isn't too bad for nearly two weeks living out of those suitcases!  All our bags had to be in the hallway by 7 pm, except for any carry-on.

After dinner we went to our final evening show – three talented men provided a combination of comedy, song, and magic. Most enjoyable. This time we did NOT sit in the front row – we arrived early enough to get a good seat, far removed from the stage!

We relished one last wonderful sleep in the half light of the northern night sky in our very comfy bed. I always took pleasure in opening an eye to look out that glass balcony door at mountains or the sea. Sometimes I’d rise up on my elbow to watch the play of light on the waves. My dearest Jimmy just slept, so peacefully. This night the ship rocked in strong southwest winds as we made our way southeast toward Vancouver, and lulled us to sleep.

Our Princess logged 1445 nautical miles from Whittier to Vancouver in a week.

The next morning – June 15th – was a different story. All was hustle/bustle. The ship passed under the Lions Gate Bridge, with joggers at Stanley Park in view, around 6:15 am. We docked in Vancouver about 7:30. Passengers queued up as to where they were going. Jimmy and I were to take a motor coach to Seattle Airport, where a shuttle would pick us up and return us to our parked Tergel. Due to inattention, I almost missed the bus, which began a kind of nightmare-ish day. Aboard this bus, the driver blathered incessantly and loudly the whole time – four solid hours worth. We just about kissed the ground when we got off the bus. After a short wait for the shuttle, the driver deposited us at our door. 

We were glad to see Tergel, tho mighty unhappy to say the least when we discovered that our fridge had not automatically shifted from electric to gas ... so, it had NOT been on for the entire two weeks!  Yikes!  We had to pitch out most of both fridge and freezer contents – and then there was a leaky toilet that had to be fixed.  It's tough to come off such an exquisite trip to a day such as this. We pouted all day and then got over it.  Heck, we're intrepid travelers and we know STUFF happens. The fridge wasn’t ruined and Jimmy fixed the toilet, so no more problem. And around the corner is a new adventure!

We loved our two-week Alaska cruise – both the one week by land and one at sea, and we’d do it again in a heartbeat.


We like Ketchican! 6/13/11

Ketchikan was our last port of call and probably the most interesting of the Inside Passage cities we visited. Ketchikan is the (self-described) "Salmon Capital of the World." We didn't get any, darn it (never enough time on these short city visits). Jimmy and I were both surprised to learn that Ketchikan is actually located on an island: Revillagigedo Island (go ahead, try to pronounce it).  The city itself is just three miles long and three blocks wide, but there's plenty to do. 

We commenced a historic walking tour that started with St John's Episcopal Church, built almost entirely of native red cedar in 1903.  We continued (in our usual roundabout route) past totem poles and City Park, Deer Mtn Tribal Hatchery, to Creek Street (a former red-light district, but now a respectable part of town). 

At Creek Street, we discovered a $2 funicular tram (70% incline, rising 130 feet - takes 60 seconds for the 211 foot journey!) that transports folks to the top of Cape Fox Hill and a circle of fascinating totem poles. It was fun riding the funicular, and the view as we ascended was spectacular!  At the top, we milled around at the lodge there and then walked down the hill on Married Man's Trail (?) to the wonderful Totem Heritage Center.

Weather was on/off drizzly, but a drizzle doesn't importune us! When we finally got hungry, we stopped to eat nachos (YUM) at a coffee shop near the ship. 

We had to be back aboard ship by 3:30 and the ship left shortly thereafter. We disembarked our South East Alaska Pilots at 7:30-ish after nearly four days and made our way towards the US/Canadian border, which the Log reports we crossed at around 9:30 ... back in Pacific Time Zone! Now we sail for the City of Vancouver - our final stop! What a great trip this has been so far!!!

Juneau AK - Sunday, June 12th

Juneau is Alaska’s state capital and it is the ONLY state capital that cannot be reached by road. You either boat in or fly in. Interesting fact, eh?  We arrived by ship early in the morning and joined the hordes exiting the ship for their shore tours or to engage in SHOPPING. The sky was overcast with hardly any wind, and a forecast high of around 56°. 

In the early dawn light, one cruise ship departs Juneau as another (us) sails in.

Jimmy and I decided to take the Mt Roberts Tramway, tho it looked terrifyingly steep. Of course, we discovered it IS terrifyingly steep! Dang thing whisks people straight up the mtn 2,000’ above the harbor (where our ship looked like a toy) to an observatory with panoramic views of Juneau and area. We did it, w/o too much fear! On our ascent, we spied a bald eagle below our tram car… perched high in a tree, and later we watched it soaring over the harbor. The views really were stupendous. From the observatory, we set out on a one-mile alpine loop, which brought us smack into snow again… not too far from the tree line.

We returned to the ship’s dock @ 11:30 for a motor coach ride to the Mendenhall Glacier. Oh my. It is not possible to become blasé about seeing a glacier, and this one we could almost touch! Here’s the stats: Mendenhall Glacier stretches 13 miles from the Icefield in the mtns to its terminus at Mendenhall Lake, with a glacial face that’s half a mile wide, 100’ thick, and electric-blue in color. Like all of Juneau Icefield glaciers, it’s receding – about 25 to 30 feet per year since 1750, so there’s a half mile of lake water now between the Visitor Center and the glacial front. As soon as we got off the bus, we took off along the iceberg-strewn lake toward the glacier and a wide waterfall near it. All of it is really something to see. We did NOT walk on the glacier, but we were close, and spent nearly an hour walking around, viewing the pristine beauty before us.

This was a true highlight of our Juneau stop.

We enjoyed a “formal” lobster dinner this evening (got all gussied up) – lots of formal pictures were taken, but we opted out. Instead, we changed to informal clothes after eating and went aft to see a magic/comedy show in the Princess Theater. At a show like this, NEVER sit in the front row … repeat, never!  I had my 15 minutes of fame (in front of several hundred people!)  The show was hilarious!

OMG, too funny!  This guy had me AND the audience in stitches!

As we exited the show, we spied this beautiful sliver of sunset, complete with a humpback whale surfacing (right side of photo). What a marvelous day this has been! 

Skagway & White Pass/Yukon RR -- 6/11/11

The Lynn Canal is 90+ miles long and dead-ends at Skagway, and it’s deep – more than 2,000’ in some places. Also, the canal isn’t much more than a mile wide in some areas, with boundary cliffs rising a couple thousand feet ... quite awesome to see... it’s North America’s longest fjord. We leave our drapes open all night on our balcony doors, which means with sunset at 10:17 and sunrise at 3:46 here in Skagway, we don’t sleep much in the dark. The sky appears vaguely light all night. Easy to wake up very early, as we did today; our ship docked approx 6:15 am. 

According to our Officer’s Daily Log, Skagway gets its name from the Tlingit people: “A windy place with white caps on the water.” A neat segue into the following: When we first looked at Skagway shore excursions in a brochure, one of the tours available was riding the train up to White Pass and riding a bike down to Skagway. This sounded great, very exciting even, but this deal is no longer offered. Now that we're here, and realizing how windy (Force 5) and chilly (High: 51°) it is today, NOT pedaling down the mountain didn't break our hearts. Fact is, we might have frozen to death!  Instead, we hopped aboard the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway for the 20-mile trip to the summit (2,865’) … and its return!

Completed in two years, two months and two days (1898-1900), this narrow gauge railroad was built during the Klondike Gold Rush. It’s called the “Scenic Railway of the World,” for good reason – it is a breathtaking ride. We sat in vintage parlor cars with wide windows; an oil stove warmed each car. The tracks rose quickly from sea level into the snowcapped peaks and blue-white glaciers of the mtns, and with every mile, the temperature dropped. The train snaked, climbing and grinding toward the Pass, looping across cliffhanging cuts, over scary-looking trestles, and thru two tunnels. Countless waterfalls careened down toward the river hundreds of feet below. At the summit, the thermometer read 32°. The train didn’t tarry. Our return to town was just as fascinating as our assent. The Railway is recognized as an international Historic Civil Engineering Landmark (along with the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, and the Panama Canal). We thoroughly enjoyed our train excursion!

Back in town, we joined a ranger-led four-block tour of the town, learned a lot about that bad ol’ con man, Soapy Smith, more than we ever thought we’d know, and spent the better part of an hour in the City Museum, which is housed in a beautiful building. We returned to our ship and she pulled out of Skagway around 8 pm.