Return to Land – 9/23

As promised, we docked precisely at 7:00 am. Our luggage had to be left outside of the door at midnight, so we both showered the night before in order to minimize the amount of toiletries we needed to cram into our carry-on bags. The group had decided to stay on the ship as long as possible, since we would likely not be able to get into our hotel rooms until early afternoon. All passengers were given luggage tags with a color and a number, based on their disembarkation plans. I had a moment of panic when they called our group (Black #1) just after 8:00 am, but confirmed with the concierge that we would be allowed to stay until 9:50. Whew!

They immediately got to work cleaning the ship for the next round of passengers. Someone came to hose down our veranda while we were still in the cabin. I had to hunt down our cabin steward (Bangbang) to give him his tip. By the time we left the ship and went to collect the luggage, our bags were easy to find, as most of Black #1 left as soon as the group was called. We passed through customs without anyone checking our passports or asking any questions. There was a long line for taxis, but it went relatively quickly.

We arrived at our hotel at 11:00 and were lucky to have one of the three rooms (not ours) ready, so we could at least stow our bags. Then we had brunch and walked down to the harbor in search of a playground to burn off some of Nola’s excess energy. We walked along the waterfront and came across a children’s waterpark. It was on the cool side, but that didn’t stop Nola from stripping down to her t-shirt and underwear and running through the jets.

The sisters needed to do laundry in preparation for our upcoming train journey, so we spent the late afternoon at a local laundromat. Then everyone separated for dinner plans. Mine ended up being a salad and watery cider in the hotel restaurant. Not the best meal, but convenient. I was in bed by 9:30. Tomorrow would be a long day.

Back at Sea – 9/22

Today was our final full day at sea, making the slow journey back to Vancouver. I later found out that part of the reason the ships travel so slowly is that they incur stiff fees if they return to port before 7:00 am on their scheduled day of arrival. We had to give back that hour we gained on the trip out, so we slept “later” than usual. Consequently, we were finally able to have breakfast in the Pinnacle dining room, one of the privileges of occupying a suite. Same menu as the main dining room, just quieter and better service, although shorter hours. No asking if we wanted to share a table, either.

We spent most of the day watching movies in our room, packing and enjoying a couple of whale sightings. Unfortunately, the movie kept getting interrupted by drills for the crew. Every time they announced a drill, the movie would pause. Nola enjoyed more time in the pool with her dad, while my sisters-in-law both treated themselves to another round at the spa. They came by our cabin in the afternoon and dropped off a bunch of snacks in preparation for our upcoming family game night. We had packed Cards Against Humanity and we planned to play a few rounds later.

The game night turned out to be epic. With Nola protected by headphones and safely absorbed watching a movie on her iPad, the grownups plowed their way through snacks and alcohol and several filthy rounds of Cards Against Humanity. We ended up ordering room service and making several more liquor runs. After a week of keeping our cabin pristine we (almost) trashed the place. A great ending to a great week. We set a high bar for next week.

Ketchikan – 9/21

Today’s tours were split between the men and the women. The women went on a bear walk, which had a minimum age requirement of 12, so the men got to herd Nola for the day. The bear walk started later, so we did a little wandering around Ketchikan and, after seemingly running out of town, stopped at a local bar for a quick cider. We later found out that if we had walked in the opposite direction, we would have encountered a lot more town. Oh well.

We took a short bus ride to the bear walk. Ironically, there wasn’t a whole lot of walking involved in the bear walk. Essentially, you traverse a boardwalk at a safe distance above the area where the bears hang out. The guides warned us that any items dropped over the side would be considered a “donation” to the bears, including people. I hope they were kidding about that part. Also ironically, the name of the location is Herring Cove. It’s a salmon hatchery, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to see bears when the salmon are spawning.

The bears did not disappoint us. We saw two walking through the brush almost immediately and then a third one napping under the boardwalk, right at our feet. We might have seen a fourth one later on, but it could have been a reappearance of one of the first two. Not that it matters. Bears were seen lumbering about and everyone was happy. The salmon were so plentiful, they were “boiling” the water. The bears all looked pretty stuffed. The air was heavy with the stench of dead salmon.

In addition to the bears, we saw a number of harbor seal feasting on the salmon in the bay, as well as a great blue heron and a pair of eagles at the top of a tree. The tour ended with a visit to a totem pole maker and a wildlife foundation that rescues and rehabilitates raptors. The finale was an obligatory stop at a gift shop. I bought a t-shirt and a a bag of popcorn, as it was late into the afternoon and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. They also provided free hot chocolate, which goes surprisingly well with cheese popcorn.

After our tour ended, we met up with the men and Nola at a tavern in town, where my husband was consuming a giant crab leg, thus achieving his goal of having an authentic crab meal in an Alaskan restaurant. We had a round a drinks and then headed back to the ship for cocktails and trivia in the forward lounge followed by dinner in the dining room. Unfortunately the dinner was no match for the previous night and the service was positively abysmal. Not that it stopped us from having a good time.

Glacier Bay – 9/20

Glacier Bay is a unique part of the cruise experience. It’s not considered “at sea,” but it’s not in port either. It’s a day spent slowing cruising through the bay, enjoying the scenery from the the comfort of your cabin. Once again, the day did not get off to an auspicious start. When I woke up, the only thing visible from our window was a solid bank of fog. But by the time we entered Glacier Bay, the skies were blue. Once again, we beat the odds for Alaska in September.

The rest of the family hung out in our cabin for most of the morning, having breakfast on the veranda and watching the stunning scenery drift by. We ran to the hotdog/burger restaurant next to the pool for lunch and then returned for more in-cabin sightseeing. We saw a number of otters and watched a couple of dramatic glacier calving episodes. The slow pace allowed us to watch a couple of movies in our cabin, after the rest of the family moved on to other activities.

Tonight was another gala night on the ship, so we decided to “dress up” and eat in the dining room. My husband broke out his travel day uniform of button down shirt and jacket and I threw a fancy little silk shawl (purchased on Granville Island) over my t-shirt and flowy black pants. Not exactly black tie, but enough to pass muster for gala night in the dining room.

We arrived minutes after the dinner service started and this time we made sure to request a table by ourselves. They seated us at a table next to a window at the very back of the ship. It’s a good thing neither one of us suffers from motion sickness. The food was spectacular, possibly even surpassing our meal at Tamarind.

We returned to find an adorable little towel dog on our bed as part of our turn down service. The animals get more elaborate every day. We topped off our evening with another movie in our cabin.

Skagway – 9/19

Our second port of call on the cruise was Skagway. The day did not get off to an auspicious start. We decided to have an early breakfast in the dining room and when they asked if we would be okay sharing a table with others, we said yes, thinking we would eat quickly and get out before anyone else was seated at our table. Instead, we were treated to an awkward meal with three other couples who, despite not knowing each other, talked as if they were old friends and completed ignored us. We couldn’t finish eating and get out fast enough.

Going ashore was complicated by the need to use a “tender,” which is a fancy word for a small boat. There had been a rockslide at the pier where the ship was moored and foot traffic was not allowed. Skagway is really just a tourist town, so after a few minutes of walking around and shopping, we returned to the ship to eat and gear up for our tour. We actually shed a layer, as the weather was much warmer than we expected, a situation that would follow us for most of the trip.

The tour du jour was eagle watching, for which my husband and I were joined by one brother-in-law. The ferry taking us to our starting point was late in arriving and then – not kidding – experienced a stick in the engine, slowing it down for about fifteen minutes. When we disembarked, I ended up at the back of a huge line for the ladies room. An old blue school bus, smelling strongly of BO, transported us to our start point for a float down a river through an eagle preserve.

We were treated to lunch before starting – some extremely dry sandwiches and bags of chips. The river was so shallow we got hung up on the bottom a few times and all of the eagles we spotted were high in the trees, making for limited photo ops. Not that shooting from a moving raft was a great idea to begin with. The unbelievably gorgeous weather and scenery more than made up for that.

The late ferry and its slow starting speed meant we returned to the ship later than expected, only about thirty minutes prior to the “all aboard” call. We later found out that my sister-in-law received a call about her husband not being back yet. Don’t you people keep track of your tours? Our return was so late, the buffet was pretty much done for the night and we had to settle for dried out chicken for dinner. A nice topper to our dry sandwich lunch. Later on, I went for a pizza run with the rest of the family and we put two more bottles of wine down the hatch. Our supply is starting to dwindle.

Juneau – 9/18

Our second night on the ship was marked by some pretty rough seas. Enough to make me stagger when I made a trip to the bathroom. We also changed time zones and set the clocks back an hour. The day started gloomy and raining, but we saw dolphins and a whale on our way into port. We also saw a pair of eagles just before we docked and another pair just after. Not a bad start to the day.

Finally, our first day in port! For Juneau, the “guys,” meaning the three men plus myself, had booked a helicopter ride. The girls went on a whale watching tour and nature walk. With seven people, it’s hard to find an activity that interests everyone, so every shore excursion ended up being a 3/4 split. We had a pretty heavy overcast, but it didn’t detract from our experience.

The helicopter tour was a “Pilot’s Choice” that included two glacier landings. Both were spectacular. The first was on the Herbert Glacier, where the two helicoptors from our tour company were the only ones that landed. The second was the Mendenhall, which is probably the most famous and most popular glacier near Juneau. It was helicopter rush hour. Still totally worth it.

Our helicopter tour was relatively short, so we spent some time in a local bar post tour. Then we reconnected with the rest of the family before returning to the ship. Tonight was not a gala night, so the whole family met for dinner in the dining room. The food was great and we went through three bottles of wine. A nice intro to Alaska.

Day at Sea – 9/17

Our first full day on the ship was spent at sea, enroute to Juneau. We took advantage of our access to the Neptune lounge and went for coffee and food soon after waking up. They only have tiny coffee cups and the machine fills them so full it’s hard to add cream without overflowing, not to mention trying to carry one without spilling. So we followed that up by filling our travel mugs at the buffet.

While we were there, some jerk blocked the spoons by standing right in front of them and then proceeded to put his dirty spoon down on top of the clean ones. He then turned to me and asked about where to find the silverware. Dude, do I look like I work here? Find one of the many people in uniform to help you.

My husband’s sisters bought him a massage, so while he was doing that, I spent some time wandering the ship. They had art for sale. Mostly the kind I wouldn’t put in our house if you paid me. While I waited outside of the spa for my husband to finish his massage, a shirtless man who looked about 10 months pregnant walked by and let out a huge burp. So, on our first day I realized the reason I’ve avoided cruises – other passengers.

Lunch at the buffet was utter chaos. They closed the roof over the pool area, so it was warm enough for Nola to go swimming again, which of course she did, both before and after lunch. By dinner time we didn’t feel like facing the buffet again and since it was “gala night,” no one else in our group wanted to dress up enough for the dining room. So my husband and I decided to eat at Tamarind, which is one of the upscale (read extra charge) restaurants on the ship.

The food was fantastic, but they managed to seat us at the only table where the setting sun was a problem. It hit my husband right in the eyes. We kept asking them to close the drapes and other patrons kept asking them to be opened again. It was comical and annoying at the same time. They finally realized just how annoying and took 25% off our dinner bill. We returned to our cabin to find the evening’s towel animal was a seal, a considerable improvement from the previous night’s lobster. All part of the charm of cruising.

Embarkation – 9/16

Since our cruise was not scheduled to start boarding until noon, we waited as long as possible to check out of our hotel. It took three taxis to transport all of us to the cruise terminal. I was pretty impressed with the logistics. They collect your luggage as soon as you exit the taxi and then you are seated in rows to await check-in. We waited as a group, but since my husband and I were staying in a larger cabin, we got expedited treatment once our group was called.

Since the cruise originated from Canada, we had to clear US Customs to board. Because we have Global Entry, my husband and I were able to bypass most of the line and were actually in our cabin around 1:00, with our bags delivered soon afterward. We were greeted by a complimentary bottle of champagne, which we drank while unpacking. Once we were all onboard, we met for cocktails by the pool. There were very few children on the ship, so Nola was a big hit with the crew, especially in her mermaid dress.

Even though it was a little chilly, Nola couldn’t wait to hit the pool. She is a true water baby at heart. Hence, the mermaid dress.Seriously, how can anyone possibly resist this charming face?

Vancouver – 9/15

We arrived at MSP four hours early for our flight to Vancouver on 9/14. Not because we’re super paranoid (although we kind of are) but because my husband’s sister and her husband were due to arrive on their flight from Memphis. Of course, since they had a long connection, their flight was early. Figures. We hung out in the Delta lounge until it was time to board our flight to Vancouver.

By the time we arrived at our hotel it was after 8:00 pm and we expected Nola to be in bed. Nope. She was much too excited about the arrival of her aunts and uncles. She had donned a festive mermaid dress for the occasion. We didn’t have any plans for our first full day in Vancouver, so we kept things pretty low key with a trip to Granville Island via water taxi. Island is a bit of a misnomer here, as it’s actually a peninsula in False Creek, which is an inlet that separates downtown from the rest of Vancouver.

Granville Island is mostly a big market, so naturally we shopped. And we ate. It’s hard to keep a group of seven together, so we relied on texting to keep reconnecting. Then we took another water taxi and walked through a section of downtown Vancouver to Gastown, the oldest neighborhood. The most notable sighting was a large, middle-aged woman wearing outrageous hooker garb. Gastown is an odd combination of tourists, homeless people and colorful characters. We stopped for a round of drinks, mostly because we all needed to get off our feet and use the toilet.

We walked to the port to check out where we would be boarding our cruise ship the next day. Then we hopped in a couple of taxis and made our way back to the hotel. The evening’s activities consisted of doing a mutual load of laundry and purchasing wine to bring on the cruise ship. (You are allowed one bottle per person) Since we had a big, late lunch, our dinner ended up being snacks shared in one of the hotel suites. Overall, a beautiful day reconnecting with family and seeing a bit of the city, but pretty light on photo ops.

It’s a Really Big Number

My images from our trip have now been uploaded and tallied. The final total was a whopping 6180, or just over 440 per day. I’m pretty sure that’s a personal record for me. I topped 1000 on our second day on the train. Of course, 80% of those were blurry trees. My husband joked that Canada is a native word meaning “land of blurry trees.”

To be fair, they were taken from a moving vehicle. In addition to the blurry trees, I’m pretty sure I have a large number of blurry animal images as well. I haven’t had time to actually review many of the images, just organize them by date. Which was trickier than it sounds, because somehow the timestamp on one of my cameras was off by 12 hours. I was sure I fixed that before we left. Ugh.

It’s an overwhelming task, but I’m anxious to start going through them. In theory, I should have enough time before we leave for Phoenix/San Diego in two weeks (!). Of course house stuff has to take priority and Ripley is being particularly needy since we returned. He has a tendency to sit and cry at the gate when he sees me at the computer. Still, I will do my best to start posting asap.