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Alaska Cruise TourAuthor: forte88
Date of Trip: July 2006
Around 2:00 the ship began making it's approach to Hubbard Glacier. It was rainy and cold again. Everyone was expecting the worst. When we got closer to the glacier, it seemed as tho' it had it's own weather. Although it was still cloudy, the rain had gone. It was cold until you buy a hot chocolate with your favorite booze inside. Another advantage of having a small ship, the captain was able to menuever in close to the glacier. Although we were still probably three quarters of a mile away, it seemed like we were pretty close. Lots of pictures to take here. Many people chose to just stay inside the crow's nest to look at the glacier. I don't suggest people do this. Get outside. To experience a glacier of this size you really need to hear it, feel it, and see it. The glacier crackles, pops, and thunders. When you hear it calving, it usually already happened on the glacier. The sound comes after the fact, so you have to keep your eyes peeled and be quick on the draw to get that picture or video of the ice falling. I really liked this spot. I wish we could have just dropped anchor there and had our dinner with the glacier in view. However, they only spend about 45 to 50 minutes there and then they pull away ever so slowly through the little icebergs that pepper the waters.
Dinner was a formal night. There were lots of men in tuxedos and many women in long gowns. Our table was next to the stairs and we watched quite a few women fall trying to negotiate the stairs and their gowns. There was a trio consisting of violin, stand up bass, and piano supplying live dinner music. The food was delicious. With a late dinner we just went to bed afterward. My wife and I didn't attend a single show on board and cannot be any critic of the entertainment. Many guests we spoke with gave good reviews of the entertainment.
Day 9: Port of call is Icy Straight Point. We arrived at Icy Straight point early in the morning. This port of call uses tenders to get to the harbor. This always creates a line on board and some confusion, but it was much less problematic than on the bigger cruise ships. Icy Straight point is probably the least of the commercial ports. They only allow one cruise ship in port per day. Icy Straight Point only recently started tourism. There was a great debate in the village as to whether or not to allow tourism. You do get the impression that they really don't want us there, but they do want our money so they put up with the tourists. Currently it was said that tourism makes up most of the income on the villiage of Icy Straight Point. Our excursion at this port of call was a bear search adventure. On this excursion they take you by an old school bus to a remote rain forest part of the island where you hike back about 600 yards to a stream to look for bears. The hiking trail is all made from wood. It's a very easy hike. The rainforest was beautiful and we saw a couple of eagles wrestling in the sky, but no bears. We stood on some overlooks over some salmon streams hoping to see a bear, but none arrived. Eventually we had to leave. We got back on the bus where they gave us some more history of the town and a sales pitch to make sure to pay and see the show where you can watch the natives do a dance. We passed.
After getting off the bus back by the harbor I couldn't remember how much we paid to do this excursion, but I hardly doubt it was worth what we paid. Maybe I would of thought different if we actually saw some bears. I try to remind myself that we weren't going to a zoo and wildlife isn't guaranteed. But even if we did see bears, I'm not sure it was the price of admission on this one.
To get into downtown Icy Straight Point, you need buy a bus pass for $10.00 for an all day pass. The bus stops only in 3 places. They stop at the port, in front of a woman selling some kind of home made arthritis medicine under a tent, and one in front of a small store downtown. They won't drop you off where you would like. We wanted to get a drink and some lunch at a small pub that was a few blocks down. The driver wouldn't stop there for us. We walked over there. During our excursion with the bears, the bus driver told us that this particular pub was noted in Enquirer magazine as one of the 10 best bars in the United States. So my wife and I decided to try it. Besides, they had fresh crab being steamed right outside the bar for lunch. I'm not sure why it was voted one of the 10 best bars. There was trash on the floor, and the place was pretty much a just a regular bar that you could find in any small town. The crab for lunch was good. It was 15.00 for one Dungeness crab, and it was enough for lunch for my wife and I. We also had a couple more Alaskan Summer Ales here. If you find yourself in Icy Straight Point on a Sunday, be ready to find just about everything closed except that one pub and the bus doesn't stop there. We had to walk again a few blocks back to the bus stop, pick up the bus, get back to port, take the tender, get on board and eat dinner. That night right before we went to bed, we ran into hundreds of humpbacks swimming along the ship. The captain announced it over the intercom and we stood on our balcony for about an hour watching the spouts. The captain slowed down the ship so the guests could view. This was special moment. One whale came up right beside the ship under our room.
Day 10: This port of call was Skagway. Again we arrived very early. The ship started letting people on shore around 8:00AM. We slept in to get some more shut eye and miss the onslaught of people trying to get off the ship. Our excursion didn't begin until 1:00 PM. At Skagway, the town has tried to keep the old west gold rush feel to it. The sidewalks are wooden, and the fronts of all the buildings downtown had that old western town look to it. The stores were mostly jewelry stores. My wife loves her jewelry, but even she admitted that the prices on diamonds were unreasonably high. On board ship, they tried sell you on the idea that jewelry is much cheaper than in the lower 48. We didn't see it. They also do the same ol' "tanzanite is an investment because it won't be mined anymore" spiel. We met up with our excursion person and boarded on a boat that would take us into Haines Alaska. By car this trip would be about 350 miles. By boat it was about 40 minutes ride through a fjord with many waterfalls, seals and eagles. This was pleasant. Then we arrived in Haines Alaska. This place is very non-commercial with only a few hundred residents. One of the residents put us on a bus to take us to our excursion which includes a Jet Boat ride through a fjord that is also to an Eagle Preserve. The bus ride was about a half hour and the lady who drove us was quite entertaining and told us a lot what it is like to be a resident in Haines Alaska. When we arrived at the boat dock for the Jet Boat, we were treated to hot dogs on a stick that you cook yourself over a campfire. This was very nice. They also had vegetarian chili that was very tasty. We then got on the boat and went through the fjords looking for wildlife. We saw 3 moose, several eagles, some eagles nests and a porcupine. The ride was fun and very scenic. Our boat driver was a pretty laid back character and was fun to be with. The boat ride lasted at least an hour or more. We returned to our ship the same way we came into Haines. This was an enjoyable excursion and an enjoyable day.
Day 11: This port of call is Juneau. Juneau was probably one of the most commercial areas. There were gift shops a plenty. The excursion we picked for this place was whale watching. We were glad we picked Juneau for this activity. We were able to watch several pods of whales performing "bubble feeding". This is a system where several whales work together as a team to feed. I won't go through the whole process, but it was really special to watch not just one or two whales, but 5 or 6 at a time feeding and showing off a bit. This excursion actually had a guarantee of seeing whales or you get 100.00 off the price per person. During the whale watching they had microphones in the water where you could hear the whales singing. This was very delightful and more great photos were taken on this excursion. After the excursion there wasn't any more time to hit the stores. It was back on ship, eat dinner, and get to bed for our next day in Ketchikan. During the night around 1:30AM the fire alarm went off. The captain came over the PA and announced that there was an alarm coming from the trash room and the alarm had to sound. A few minutes later he said it was a false alarm.
Day 12: My wife enjoyed the town of Ketchikan the most. The scenery was nice here, and the temperature a little more moderate. Although it has rained every day on our entire cruise, the rain didn't bother us that much. Make sure you buy a fleece rain jacket. We did the last of our souvenir and gifts to bring back home shopping here. Then our excursion was the Float Plane Bear Search Adventure. On this excursion we took a float plane into a remote area on a remote island to look for bears. The airplane flight was scenic and we landed next to an island that had a small harbor. We met our guide on the island. Some other tourists were leaving and mentioned that they didn't see any bears. We got in a van and drove a few minutes on the island. We had to walk down a path to get to the stream where they hoped to see some bears feeding on salmon. We did run into one small black bear that was right on our path. The bear ran away after just a few seconds. We continued our walk to the stream. This was a beautiful spot. We could see salmon jumping in the stream. Apparently, the salmon had just started to run, and the bears weren't out in full force yet. So we didn't see any bears feeding. I did catch one more glimpse at the small bear walking through the woods, but that was the last we saw any bears. That was kind of a let down after all the bears we saw in Denali. But, nonetheless, we enjoyed the scenery and enjoyed the solitude and beauty of the spot we were at. We got back on the float plane to fly back. On the way back, our pilot spotted a bear on the shore while we were flying. He made a quick turn to buzz the plane over the bear. That was fun. We then landed and my wife mentioned that she wanted to live here and was even inquiring about job opportunities in her field in Ketchikan. Our excursion ended just in time to get back on ship before it left. While we were on our excursion we learned that the fire alarm went off again on the ship, except this time there really was a fire in the trash room. The captain said it was contained and was probably set by a cigarette butt. This night was another formal night for dining. This time it was considered a farewell dinner. They brought out the cooks and all the help all holding sparklers. It wasn't quite as fun as on Carnival when all the waiters danced to the YMCA, but it was nice.
Day 13: Day at Sea. This is definitely a day to sleep in again. This was a day cruising through the narrows of the straights. It was very scenic. We spent the day relaxing for the most part. My wife saw some whales off of our balcony early in the morning. That evening, the captain announced that there is a section where they usually see Orcas (killer whales) and he will slow down and see if we can see any. This is one thing that really impressed me about this ship. On the Carnival ship, the captain never got on the PA to announce wildlife at sea, let alone slow down for it. This was very special and something I commend HAL for doing during this trip. This was our last night of vacation so we decided to treat ourselves to dinner in the Pinnacle Grill. The cost of eating here is $20.00 per person and is supposed to be a step above the regular dining. The only thing I could find of difference was the steaks. There never was steak in the regular dining room. Here they had very sizable steaks. Both my wife and I ordered the rib eye steak. Mine was very good, however, my wife's steak had a considerable amount of gristle. The rest of the food seemed just like it was from the lido deck, except dressed up a little nicer. My crème brulee for dessert was probably the best crème brulee I have ever eaten. After dinner we had to do the sad task of packing up and getting ready to go home. My wife nor I was able to sleep all night. It seemed the ship was vibrating underneath us for some reason that night. Perhaps it was the shallow waters. At one point, the ship leaned over to the side very far and some plates we had on our table slid off onto the floor and made a horrible crashing noise in the middle of the night.
Day 14: Disembarkation. More horror stories to tell with the flight arrangements. We got a notice in our room that it was felt that there might not be enough time for us to catch our flight in time to go back home so our flight schedule has been changed. They don't say anything in the letter as to when the flight times have been changed to. It said in the letter to check at the airport when you arrive. This angered me because I would have liked to spend some time in Vancouver where we disembark. There were some excursions offered in this port but we weren't going to have time to take any. Now I might end up spending the entire day at the Airport. We also received our final bill. After close investigation we found a charge for 65.00 from the Pinnacle Grill. We ate there the night before but didn't charge anything like this. So I had to go to the front office and wait in a long line where everyone was trying to straighten one thing or another out with their bill. However, I had early disembarkation because of the flight arrangements and was afraid I might miss my turn to leave early because of the long wait in line. Finally my time came and I found out somebody charged 65.00 on our tab for wine tasting which is billed through the Pinnacle Grill. The billing system on this ship is pretty much on an honor system. On Carnival you had to use a Sail and Sign card. On this ship, you basically just told whoever you are purchasing from a room number. Some turkey used our room number and scribbled on a signature. HAL front office said they would remove the charge. For those of you who might be sailing, make sure you check your bill carefully. After I got that straightened out, we had to sit in the theater until they called our name. I was worried about not getting off the ship on time, turns out that people who didn't pay extra for early embarkation was getting off earlier. Well, at least we didn't have to go search for our luggage. It was sent directly to the airport for us. Once we arrived at the airport we showed the letter that we received in our stateroom about the flight changes. The airport officials seemed confused over it. Our original flight that we were scheduled for was delayed about an hour. After asking about 4 or 5 people working for the airport, they finally told us that HAL doesn't know what they are talking about and that we were still scheduled on the original flight. We got on our jet and headed home.
Summary: On the whole, this was a very good vacation although a bit expensive. The whole adventure cost in the neighborhood of 14 thousand if you include tips, souvenirs, tickets and excursions. I would highly suggest that if you take one of these cruises to make sure to take excursions. It's the only way to get away from the commercial ports and see some of the real Alaska. I would rate the food on board ship as very good, but not excellent. The service however, was excellent. The stateroom was wonderful. The ship although not glitzy and ornate, was clean and easy to get around in. There was never a wait for elevators or lines for food. I'm glad we did the land portion first. You must take a southbound trip to do this in that order. The cruise was a wonderful way to relax during the second week and be pampered a bit. Highlights of the land portion were in Denali and Seward. I highly suggest that you take a couple of days to see Denali if you visit Alaska. I don't think you can truly say you saw Alaska if you didn't see some of the inland areas.
If I had the chance to do some things different, I certainly would not let HAL do my flight arrangements. We ran into some people that did the land portion on their own instead of using HAL. They saved literally thousands of dollars by doing this. This might be a good idea. The only problem for this would be having to lug around all your luggage. The Princess cruise lines seemed to have some better places to stay on land, but I can't really judge on the experience on Princess lines at all. I didn't mention anything about the cruise director during all this because we never even saw his face until the last day where he gave us our disembarkation information. We heard him over the PA only a few times. This was completely unlike Carnival where the Cruise Directors were constantly on the PA, cracking jokes, and in the center of most everything. This didn't really bother me much tho'. We were too busy with other things to bother with the Cruise Director anyway. I know this review was quite lengthy, but I hope it can be of some use for others considering taking this trip or a similar one.
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