It’s our fourth try in two years at venturing to Alaska via the inside passage. We were scheduled to go in 2020 (twice!) and 2021 only to continually be delayed by COVID and all of the restrictions for cruises and Canadian entry requirements. As the date got closer and closer with no big health or government interruptions, we realized that this attempt would be the one that worked!
While flight schedules aren’t as convenient as they were in the past, we still were able to get decent flights to Canada out of LAX with WestJet (and use our airline credits from the previous attempts!) and also Alaska Air from Anchorage back to LAX.
We flew into Vancouver a day early and enjoyed a dinner at Cioppino’s and a nice comfy night at the JW Marriott Parq hotel. I’ve never been to a Marriott that included a Casino. The hotel is very nice and service was outstanding. Dinner at Cioppino’s can only be called ‘fantastic.’ The Frois Gras was excellent. We also ordered the gnocchi as part of an appetizer and were delighted that the light fluffy pillows were exactly perfect. For dinner I ordered the lobster/shrimp/scallop dish and Barrett ordered the Duck. Our server was excellent and our experience was a 10.
I’m a sucker for eggs benedict and pretty much try them on every and any menu that offers them. In the morning we tried breakfast at the hotel’s Honey Salt Restaurant. My tea, which I admit, I am a tea snob, was very good as was my eggs benedict.
Checking out of the hotel we took a car to get to the cruise port a few miles away and to check in to board the Grand Princess. Princess has instituted using their Medallion app which was supposed to streamline boarding. Unfortunately, with no back up plan in place when the internet went down, we stood in line for over 2 hours while the admin figured out how to regroup. I had printed out all of our docs as well as having uploaded them because I didn’t trust this whole ‘it’s all electronic’ idea. Yay for that! We reverted to the old fashioned way of handing over the printed docs, showing or vaccine cards and passports.
The mini suites on the Grand Princess seemed smaller than on other ships, though maybe it’s just been so long since we could cruise and I’ve forgotten. We enjoyed sitting out on the balcony in Vancouver while waiting for our tv to be fixed so we could watch the muster video, since we no longer have to do a group muster (yay!) and be able to use our MedallionNet app. The Medallion App allows you to order food or drink from the room or phone and have it delivered to you wherever you are on the ship. Pretty nice!
With capacity of 3100, but only 1450 passengers, it was great not to be crowded or overrun anywhere on the ship. Our first dinner was at the Italian Sabatini’s where we enjoyed calamari, burrata salad, carbonara pasta and chicken scaloppini. It was a perfect start to our cruise.
The first day out is a sea day and though slightly cloudy, the day is beautiful. One of our favorite things to do is attend the art auction and be amazed that people will be expensive art on a cruise ship. We also enjoy watching some of the more ugly art be purchased, always with the question of “WHY would you up that?” To each their own! We enjoyed the specialty restaurant Crown Grill and relaxed while looking for whales and dolphins.
Our first stop is Ketchikan, Alaska. A mostly rainy 3.5 hour tour with Cruin provided a glimpse into the town and the history of totems.
We stopped at AJ’s Gourmet Hamburgers which is a shipping container, no joke, turned into a to-go restaurant. Due to their lack of seating, we sat in Cruin’s car eating our delicious $22 fish and chips. Best ever!
Totem Bight park was my top place that we visited in Ketchikan. In 1938, the US Forest Service created the historical state park. This was a way to preserve original totems that had been abandoned, teach new generations how to carve by duplicating totems that were beyond repair and continue to honor the native Tlingit history and culture. We also made a stop at the Totem Heritage Center as well. Many of the totems are in excellent condition, especially considering they were carved between 1850-1900. The totems in the Heritage Centre are not restored but rather are left exactly as they have been found. To learn more about totems in Alaska, visit https://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/totembgh.htm and http://www.ketchikanmuseums.org/exhibits/totem-heritage-exhibits
The following day we arrived in Juneau where we toured with Alaska Shore Excursions onto Herbert Glacier and also experienced dog sledding! I’ve wanted to do dogsledding for a very long time and was excited at the opportunity. The helicopter ride was easy and our pilot expertly landed us right outside the dog sledding camp. When it was time to hook the dogs to the sleds, they all went crazy with excitement. The ones not getting to go were also barking and jumping as they too wanted in on the fun.
After the dog sledding adventure, the helicopter took off and landed on a different part of the glacier. Surprisingly, we weren’t all that cold.
Back in Juneau for some time before the ship sailed again, we took the funicular up for a nice view and then we had dinner at Tracy’s Crab Shack.
The ship sailed and the following morning we landed in Skagway where we had a 7 hour tour with Thomas. Thomas took us out to the Yukon, Carcross ‘desert’ and along the way we got to stop and change out a flat tire.
It was funny to see ‘old style’ gas pumps and even funnier was how the air hose for filling tires was just a hole in the side of the metal building. Ahhhh… the simple life!
We saw all kinds of wildlife on the drive, including bears, moose, bald eagles, elk, and deer. It was exciting to see all of the wildlife especially as we were so close up!
Covering one square mile, Carcross Desert is often call the smallest desert in the world, but technically it is too moist to be a desert. Rather there are sand dunes that are the result of dried lake from the last Glacial period. When the lakes dried up, the dunes were left. Today it is a recreational area as well as an interesting anomaly in the heart of Alaska.
Later in the afternoon, we wandered around Skagway, which just as the other towns of Juneau and Ketchikan, the buildings take you back to the 1800’s when mining towns sprung up everywhere. A ‘must’ is to stop and sample the yummy Alaskan Fudge at Alaskan Fudge Company. We of course didn’t just sample, we supported the local economy by buying several types!
In Skagway they’ve even preserved the small buildings once used as brothels, or as they so politely put it, ‘Comfort houses.’ Eek.
The following two days were scenic cruising in Glacier bay and College Fjord. Once the ship arrived at the glacier, it stayed in place for more than an hour as we all enjoyed the surrounding beauty. We witnessed a few small ‘calving’s’ of the glacier. A guide from the National Park Service came on board and provided a lot of information regarding the bay and fjord, which was quite interesting.
Our hunt for ocean wildlife continued as we enjoyed our view from our mini-suite balcony. We saw whales and otters which completed the wildlife bucket list but the pictures sure didn’t turn out to be much as tails and heads bobbed in and out of the water.
Arriving in Whittier early in the morning, our guide Greg was kind enough to pick us up at the port and start our tour there, saving us from a bus ride with 40 plus others. Greg and I are ‘friends’ by virtue of neither of us giving up on getting to Anchorage, never mind the fact it took two years and he changed our tour dates every time a cruise was cancelled. And unlike some of the other tour operators on the cruise who had raised their prices significantly – sometimes twice as high as before and that’s long before this inflation issue took hold- Greg didn’t do that. He was gracious in honoring our original tour price.
The drive from Whittier to Anchorage was fantastic. We again were graced with seeing bears in their habitat.
Greg dropped us off at the Sheraton Four Points hotel and we relaxed until dinner time which we planned for Kinley’s Restaurant a short drive from the hotel. Kinley’s was an outstanding dinner and a high recommend when you are in Anchorage.
Blacklane transfers, one of my favorite companies to use for rides to and from, doesn’t operate in Alaska, so we secured a private transfer via Viator. Picked up on time and delivered to the airport, unexpectedly in a limo, was the end of our long awaited Alaskan adventure.
I had visited the other 49 states in the US and all that was missing was the 50th date, Alaska.
While it took a very long time to get there, it was worth the wait. I loved Alaska. I loved the ability to cruise the inside passage and see the coastline of the state, hunting for whales and dolphins. Looking for moose, deer, elk, and bears on land. But mostly, I loved the people who showed us the beauty of our 50th state and am grateful that the world is opening up for us all to enjoy travelling again.