Thursday, August 21, 2014

Alaska and the Yukon - Final Thoughts

This turned out to be a great trip. Not that we didn't expect it to be, but we had never done a multi-day guided tour before and we had some reservations.  There are certainly limitations when you are part of a tour group, but it worked out just fine, and there were many pluses that we wouldn't have had if we had been on our own.  Having a "Journey Host" with us to worry about the details was a big plus, all we had to do was show up where we were supposed to be and everything else was taken care of (thanks again Anita).  The separate tours we booked through Holland America turned out to be great and the ones that came as part of the group tour also turned out to be fun even though we might not have chosen them if we were on our own.  Overall a great experience.

In the course of our journey we traveled by car, plane, bus, train, boat, ship and rafts and saw beautiful scenery and interesting sites wherever we went.  We saw bison, bear, moose, caribou, eagles and many more animals and birds and learned about the history of the Yukon and Alaska as we traveled.  I think my favorite places on the trip were Dawson City and the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage, but everywhere we went was wonderful.

The cruise was great too although it seemed a little anticlimactic after the land tour.  Glacier Bay was spectacular and Haines, Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan in their wilderness settings were also picturesque and interesting.  Probably the main reason we were a little let down by the cruise portion of the trip was because we both had colds during it, so that affected our attitudes.  We will do another cruise of Alaska, but probably a little longer one without a land tour.

Having an extra day in Vancouver at the beginning of the trip was also wonderful.  We have driven through Vancouver several times, but never really spent any time there, but after seeing some of the sights of the city, we will return for a longer stay.

One of the things I have really wanted to do throughout my adult life was to drive the Alcan Highway to Alaska and when I retired that was one of my high priority travel goals.  We have ended up doing other things and the priority has slipped a bit, but this trip has inspired us to put this back near the top of our list again.  It was fun being on the tour, but now we're ready to do some exploring on our.  It's a long trip with a lot of miles, but I'm hoping we find the time to do it this time, I've already got my Milepost out and am looking at possible routes to take.

What's Next

It's been good to be home after being gone almost all of June and July, but we do have some new trips coming up in the next couple of months.  We will be taking another short trip to Lake Tahoe (we have tickets to the Eagles concert) and then towards the end of September we'll be going to our annual "Geezer Gathering".  This year the "geezers" have rented a house for five days in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico, which is just a little ways from Taos.  On our way to New Mexico Val and I will be stopping at Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons and Flaming Gorge.  We planned on doing this last year, but due to Val's knee and the government shutdown, we had to cancel.  So that's it for now, we'll see you on down the road.

Alaska and the Yukon - The Drive Home

July 28
Vancouver, BC to Wilsonville, OR

Today we start the trip home.  We didn’t get up real early, but were checked out and on our way by 9:30.  We made good time driving out of Vancouver, but we had to wait for more than an hour at the border so we weren’t making very good progress.  

We slowly got closer to the customs checkpoint.
And finally we made it.
As we drove south traffic seemed pretty heavy for a Monday.  It was slow going and we drove through Seattle and Everett.  We hoped to make it to Central Oregon today, but it became obvious that wasn’t going to happen. After getting into more traffic going through Portland we called it a day around 6:00 at a La Quinta Hotel just south of Portland in Wilsonville.  Two more days on the road and our trip is over, it seems like a long time since we’ve been home.

Not a great picture through the car window, but that's Mt. Ranier taken just north of Seattle.

July 28
Wilsonville, OR to Corning, CA

We were on the road heading south a little before 9:00 AM  By the time we stopped in Grants Pass for lunch the temperature was in the 90's, which seemed pretty warm from what we’ve been used to lately.  As we crossed into California there were ominous clouds ahead and soon we were passing through some rain showers, which was another surprise.  As we passed through Redding and descended into the San Joaquin Valley the temperature topped the 100 degree mark.  We decided to stay in Corning tonight and arrived around 5:30.  It was 106 in Corning and I remembered saying in Alaska it would feel good to get back into some heat – I was wrong.  The hotel we stayed at was attached to a casino so of course that’s where we spent the evening.  Val had a good evening and ended up $200 ahead; I ended up $100 ahead, but it took a $320 win on a dollar machine at the end of the evening to save me.  We had a late dinner and then called it a day.  Tomorrow will be our last day on the road and we’ll be sleeping in our own bed tomorrow night.

July 30
Corning, CA to Home

Not too much to say about today.  Since we spent time in the casino and had a late dinner we didn't get to bed too early so we slept in this morning.  We were surprised at the amount of traffic on Interstate 5 for a Wednesday, but I guess in the summer there are a lot more people traveling and of course there is always the trucks.  We were home by late afternoon and it felt good to be home after being gone for almost a month, but it was also kind of a letdown knowing that when we got up the next morning we wouldn't be heading off to an adventure.

Alaska and the Yukon - Vancouver, BC

July 27
Vancouver, BC

I woke up early this morning as I wanted to view our arrival in Vancouver, but not early enough.  I wanted to watch us sail under the Lions Gate Bridge that we had driven over on our first day in Vancouver, but I was too late for that.  I did get to see the Vancouver skyline and Stanley Park as we sailed toward Canada Place which is the cruise terminal.  It was a beautiful morning with mild temperatures and clear blue skies.  We were docked by 7:30 and Val and I had our last breakfast in the Neptune Lounge where we said our goodbyes to Diana, the very helpful concierge.  All that was left to do was to wait for our number to be called so we could exit the ship.

The Vancouver skyline as we sail into the harbor.
Looking back at Stanley Park and the Lions Gate Bridge.

The Vancouver skyline and marina.
Another view of Stanley Park and the Lions Gate Bridge.

Straight ahead is Canada Place where we'll be docking.
The Celebrity ship that was ahead of us is already docked.

Now it's our turn.
Since we were in a suite we had priority debarking so our number was soon called and we were on our way off the ship.  The Vancouver cruise terminal is incredibly efficient with someone at every turn directing you, the luggage claim was well organized so it was easy to find our luggage, and customs was quick and easy to get through; we were very impressed.  We were staying in the Fairmont Hotel at the airport again so we just thought we would grab a cab, but we saw there were airport shuttles available at a much cheaper cost so we grabbed one of those.  Again, the signage and helpful people made finding the shuttles very easy. We were off the ship and on the shuttle in less the fifteen minutes.

It was about a half hour trip through downtown Vancouver to the hotel and much to our surprise and delight, our room was ready.  We thought we would have to be sitting around waiting for a while, but we were in our room by 9:30, not bad.  We settled in and after a while decided to check on our car that had been in long term parking for three weeks to make sure it was still there and would still start – the answer was yes to both questions.  We had lunch at one of the numerous places to eat at the airport and then settled in for the afternoon.  If it wasn’t a Sunday, we would have driven back to the Market on Granville Island, but we thought there would be just too many people, especially on such a beautiful day.  Our room looks down at one of the terminal areas and  out to the runways so it’s interesting to watch the planes come and go and all the operations that take place to get the planes loaded, unloaded, and in and out.

I spent part of my day watching the planes arrive and depart and all of the associated activities.
After hanging out in the room most of the afternoon, we went back down into the terminal and had some pretty good Chinese food for dinner and bought some banana bread for tomorrow’s breakfast.  There wasn’t much else to do so we spent the rest of the evening reading and watching TV and then called it a night.  It felt good to just rest for a day. Tomorrow we head for home.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Alaska and the Yukon - Sailing the Inside Passage

July 26
Sailing the Inside Passage

Today is the last day of our cruise and we will be sailing the Inside Passage as we head south to Vancouver.  We lost an hour last night as we went from Alaska time to Pacific time so we slept a little later this morning.  We skipped breakfast, but did go to the Main Dining Room for a Mariners’ Brunch.  The Mariners is the Holland America loyalty program where you are awarded points for cruise days and money spent on a cruise and get certain perks for each level you attain.  We had a good lunch and then went to the casino for our last hurrah there and then back to the cabin to begin packing.  The last day of a cruise is always kind of a lost day as things wind down and you have to pack up everything for an early debarkation tomorrow.  We have mixed feelings as we will be glad to get home after being gone nearly a month plus being sick the last few days, but we will also miss the sights we have seen in Canada and Alaska.

After getting most of our packing done we watched the scenery go by as we reached the northern end of Vancouver Island.  We were particularly interested in Vancouver Island because we have traveled there quite a bit and wanted to look for some familiar landmarks.  

Our first sight of Vancouver Island

 The day had turned warmer with partly sunny skies and some dramatic clouds hanging over the island.   

We had been following a Celebrity ship all day.

We decided to eat in the Lido buffet tonight and went up there around 7:00 and then walked around the ship for a while before returning to the cabin.  It looked like there was going to be a nice sunset tonight so I went back to the stern of the ship by the Seaview Pool and took pictures until there was no more light and then returned to our room.   


A few of us gathered by the Seaview Pool to watch the sunset.

We said our goodbyes to our room attendants, Abdul and Dean, did our final packing, put everything outside our door for pickup and called it a night.  We arrive in Vancouver around 7:00 AM tomorrow so it’s going to be an early morning.

Alaska and the Yukon - Ketchikan, AK

July 25
Ketchikan, AK

I woke up feeling much better today, which was a relief.  We weren’t scheduled to be in Ketchikan until noon so after breakfast we watched the scenery go by as we sailed down the Inside Passage.
The local airport. You can see the special area for seaplanes in the foreground.

As we docked in Ketchikan our weather luck ran out as it was raining outside.  There were three other ships docked including another Holland America ship.  We hadn’t planned any excursions so we decided to just walk around town.  It was a bit of a wet walk, but we came prepared so it turned out OK.  We looked in the various shops and took in the sights.  Ketchikan is another Alaskan town that is only accessible by water or air and surrounded by wilderness.  After a while we tired of the rain and went back to the ship for a late lunch. 

We arrive in Ketchikan.
A few pictures of the town from the ship.

A Norwegian Cruise Lines, Regent and another Holland America ship.
Time to brave the rain and see the town.

Lots of commercial fishing boats.

The Statendam

Time to call it a day and dry off.
One interesting thing we heard was that there had been a derailment on the White Pass train we had been on.  When we got back to the room, I checked it out on the Internet and it turned out the derailment was on the same day we were on the train, just a little later in the afternoon.  Two engines and three cars were derailed, but thankfully there were only twenty-three minor injuries.  The train will be shut down for a few days while they investigate.

We didn’t do much the rest of the afternoon, but did go up to the Crow’s Nest and had drinks and snacks as we left Ketchikan.  Tonight we ate in the dining room and then spent some time in the casino before calling it a night.  We will lose an hours sleep tonight as we switch from Alaskan time to Pacific time.

Seaplanes were everywhere.

The Norwegian Cruise Line ship left before we did.

Alaska and the Yukon - Juneau, AK

July 24
Juneau, AK

Today we are visiting Juneau which is the state capital of Alaska.  The population of Juneau is just over 31,000, but in area it is the second largest city in the United States; it is larger than Rhode Island.  Another unusual thing about Juneau, even though it is the state capital, you can only get there by air or water, there are no direct roads into the city.

I woke up this morning and felt horrible so there was no way we were going on our excursion today, now I know what Val was going through a few days ago.  It was very disappointing as we were going to hike to the Mendenhall Glacier and then go whale watching, but I guess that will have to wait until another trip.  Val canceled the excursion and I stayed in bed most of the morning.  I finally decided to get up and Val wanted to walk around Juneau a bit so I decided I would give it a try.  It was overcast, but not very cold outside and it felt good to get out in the fresh air.  There were two other ships in port, but it wasn’t too crowded as we walked around.  We looked in various shops as we wandered around, but I soon ran out of gas and returned to the ship while Val continued on her own.

Downtown Juneau.
These are some pictures of downtown Juneau I took from the ship.

We were docked next to a Celebrity ship.
There was a Norwegian Cruise Line ship docked across the bay.

The day ends as we leave Juneau.
Val returned shortly and even though I wasn’t really hungry, we went up and got some lunch in the Lido.  We spent the afternoon hanging around the cabin with me mostly sleeping.  I didn’t feel like going to the dining room so we had room service bring us our dinner.  The end to a not so great day.