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Alaska Inside Passage & Cruise, August 2015 Part 6 - Victoria, Seattle and final thoughts

For more on our Alaska adventure see part one, two, three, four, and five.

We docked at Victoria, BC around 6pm. We had decided on the spur of the moment to book an excursion through the cruise line. This time we want to see orcas.

We had filled out Canadian customs forms, and we were met by our tour excursion representative. Our boat had the capacity for 50, but we had about 30 or so folks.


Our vendor was "Orca Spirit Adventures."  We boarded and soon we were off.


It was absolutely perfect on the ocean.


The lighthouse was particularly photogenic.


With seals basking in the foreground.



But not too long we headed out in search of Victoria's resident orcas. Apparently the resident pods do not eat these fat seals, but confine their diet to salmon. These fatties apparently know which orca is which - when a transient comes in from the wild, they know they are in danger.


And then we saw our first fin... beautiful and mysterious.






We even saw mating orcas.


We had a wonderful time. And soon it was time to return to our ship.

We returned to our ship. Our ship departed Victoria around midnight. Our trip was almost at an end. I couldn't believe how fast such a wonderful week had simply flown by. We arrived Seattle early in the morning.

We had a leisurely breakfast, and then decided to disembark and catch our transfer to the airport. Our plan? We left all our baggage at Ken's - the baggage storage facility at the airport. We then caught the train back to downtown, and the monorail to the Space Needle. We had no intention of going into the Space Needle, but we thought we would use the park as a nice place to hang out for the day. We also were interested in the Chihuly Gardens.


The Chihuly Museum is well worth the entrance fee.


Crystal boats...


Crystal and the Space Needle...


 After spending a wonderful day at the Space Needle park and viewing the amazing Chihuly art, it was soon time to catch our train back to the airport. We flew back to Denver on Air Alaska. Our flight arrived late - around midnight. We caught our shuttle back home. By the time we got home it was around 3am.

Final thoughts?

All in all we had a fantastic trip.

I can see why people love cruising. The facilities are luxurious and comfortable. There is more than enough food. There are so many activities for different tastes. The cruise lines are also very clever at devising ways to part people with their money. I don't mean that they are predatory - just that they have figured out a way to make it very easy to pay for all those extras - all it takes is a swipe of one's room key.

I do believe that a first trip to Alaska on a cruise is a good way to see Alaska for the first time.

I loved our trip, and we loved our first cruise.

Final takeaways?

It pays to research. I highly recommend Skyscanner, Tripadvisor and Cruisecritic.

For shore excursions - I don't believe it makes one jot of difference to book the shore excursions through the cruise line, or independently. If you decide to book independently research the vendor and the vendor reviews online. And no, I don't believe for a minute that to book the shore excursions through the cruise line automatically guarantees that you won't miss your ship. Read the fine print. That's right. Read your cruise line contract - nowhere does the cruise line guarantee any such thing.

Packing list - There are a number of packing lists for cruising in Alaska available online. I found them very useful. Both Kevin and I are quite light packers. The advice to bring lots of layers for all climates is spot on. And I found my waterproof layers, as well as a polypro base shirt very useful. I found that some of the onshore weather can actually be surprisingly warm, so don't forget the short sleeve t-shirts.

There are a number of discussions of the forums on all the extra things you should bring to make your cruise more enjoyable. I found that one can go quite crazy trying to follow all the advice out there.

A number of things I did find useful - binoculars. Do not leave your binoculars behind. And try to be on deck gazing at the ocean as much as possible. We did, and were glad as we didn't miss out on humpback whales, dolphins, and manta rays. We even spotted a bright orange life raft bobbing in the ocean. Our ship circled back to check it, and we were relieved to find out that the raft was unoccupied.

Also - the stateroom walls are metal so they respond well to fridge magnets. This is great to use to stick up newsletters, and other important documents. A cheap night light was also useful, as it can be quite dark in one's stateroom.

I also want to give a shout out to Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL.) Through the Cruise critic roll call, we had a meet and greet arranged where we got to meet the NCL staff. The Captain also graciously allowed us to have a bridge tour. We were also invited to a recap meeting at the end of the cruise. Kevin and I went to that because we wanted to thank the Norwegian Pearl crew for the wonderful time we had. Apart from us there was one other person from the forum who attended. I thought it was a shame that so few folks from the initial roll call attended the recap meeting. 

The crew on Norwegian Pearl were fantastic. They were friendly and professional. Our steward Jahvi, was attentive and unobtrusive. We even enjoyed the entertainment - "Swing" and "Legends" and the various live music acts.

All in all this was a great trip. I highly recommend NCL, and Alaska. I can't wait to return.



Alaska Inside Passage & Cruise, August 2015 Part 5 - Ketchikan

For more on our Alaska adventure see part one, two, three and four.

We arrived Friday at our next port of call - Ketchikan.


At this port we had pre booked an excursion privately for a float plane excursion - to Misty Fiords. Based on great reviews on Trip Advisor and Cruise Critic I booked this excursion with Island Wings. We ended flying with Randy from Mountain Air, but the booking was with Island Wings.

We set our alarm early and breakfasted at our favorite place - outside on the 12th Deck, Great Outdoors. As we ate our breakfast we took in the views of our port of call. Ketchikan is quaint and touristy.

We disembarked without much trouble and found our pickup spot as instructed in our booking instructions.


"No Puffin"



Our driver, Chris took us to the Island Wings office.


After using the facilities we met our pilot Randy, boarded our float plane and we were off.

I thought it would be bumpy landing and taking off from water. It wasn't. In fact I found it smoother than the traditional take off and landing on terra firma.


 This was a photo of the pilot's controls. Each passenger wore headphones with a mike. We were able to communicate with each other through the headphones.


 Our float plane dock was quite close to where all the cruise ships docked. We felt completely dwarfed by these giants.


But soon we were taking off.


That circular thing in the window controlled the amount of air that we could let in from the outside.


We had such amazing views.


Breathtaking. We landed at a dock in one of the fjords in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. We had perfect weather.


 We had a moment to get off the float plane and stretch our legs on the dock. We couldn't get to the shore at all.


We had time for some photos.

Kevin noticed some seals sunning themselves on the shore. I was convinced that they were cleverly painted logs, until one of them moved.


We watched as another float plane landed and approached our dock, as well as fishing boat.


Then our companion float plane took off.


And then it was time for us to take off again.


I loved the views we got from the air.



I couldn't get enough of this incredibly photogenic island.


Our tour was over too soon. Soon we had to return.


After we returned, we decided to explore Ketchikan a little more.


And soon we found the picturesque Creek Street.


It started raining. No surprise, this was Ketchikan. But that meant we hurried back to our ship. Unfortunately, so did everyone else. We ended up in one enormous slow moving line, just to board the ship.

By the time we got on board, I need that hot chocolate, and a hot shower!



Alaska Inside Passage & Cruise, August 2015 Part 4 - Glacier Bay

For more on our Alaska cruise see part one, two and three.

We had our alarm set early - for 5:30am. We wanted to get an early morning peek at Glacier Bay. But when we woke we looked outside and it was misty and overcast. We did get up around 6am and made our way to our favorite spot - the Great Outdoors. It was chilly so we layered up. Because it was chilly we did end up having breakfast inside, and then made our way to the Spinnaker lounge to get some warm views of Glacier Bay.


Our ship had entered Glacier Bay around 5:30am, and had picked up some of the park rangers who had set up in the Spinnaker Lounge. The Spinnaker lounge acted as the Ranger Visitor Center for the duration of our visit in Glacier Bay. The ship did not dock anywhere in Glacier Bay. We found a spot in the Lounge, close to one of the windows and waited for us to get close to our first glacier - Margerie Glacier.


It was quite misty, and rainy, and a little cold out on deck.


This smaller ship gives a good sense of scale.


Our plan was to use the Spinnaker lounge as our inside staging area - to keep dry and to warm up on hot chocolate and pastries. During our ship's stay in Glacier Bay, one of the rangers ran an unintentionally funny commentary about what we were seeing. He was prone to some purple prose and over dramatic commentary. It was quite amusing.

Once we got close to Margerie Glacier we put on all our layers and went on out to the sundeck. I was glad for my layers - as well as a warm hat.


While I did find the weather chilly we were not disappointed with the misty atmospheric light. I would rather have that that bright sunlight.

Seeing these glaciers were incredibly moving. Most were in retreat. I wonder if we will ever see glaciers advancing? Who can really know for sure?


The ship turned slowly turning a full 360 degrees. We had great views. We went to another glacier - it was quite blue. We saw the John Hopkins glacier from a distance. Margerie Glacier was calving - it was an amazing  sound - like a low thundering rumble.


 What a mysterious place...

Alaska Inside Passage & Cruise, August 2015 Part 3 - Skagway

For more about our Alaska trip so far see Part 1 and Part 2. 

We set our alarm early as we had a big day scheduled at our next port of call in Skagway.


This excursion we booked through the cruise line.


Because we were anticipating a long day we ended up at our most favorite spot - the Great Outdoors for breakfast.


Because this was an excursion booked through the cruise ship we were asked to meet in the Stardust theater. Each tour was called, and we were directed to disembark. We went off the ship, and were escorted to our bus.

We decided for this Skagway port to sign up for an excursion - it included a bus ride into Canada, Emerald Lake, Caribou Crossing, Carcross, and Fraser. And then the bus dropped us off at Fraser and we caught the train back down to Skagway.

On our way up we saw a black bear on the side of the road.


And we saw a raven on a nest.




Tundra ...


We had time to stop and take photos.


We passed by the Carcross Desert - the smallest desert.


We had lunch at the Caribou Crossing...




Emerald Lake...


I really liked Carcross - a very cute tourist town.






Bird totem


 The view from the bus, and the views from the train were very different.


Then we boarded our train to back to Skagway at Fraser.

This is the inside of the train...




Here is a view from the train. Beautiful!


We got back to our ship after a wonderful day.


Alaska Inside Passage & Cruise, August 2015 Part 2 - Juneau

For Part One see here.

After a day of sea we docked at our first port - Juneau.


For each of our ports of call, we booked a shore excursion. We had a total of four shore excursions. We booked 2 of the shore excursions independently of the cruise line, based on reviews we found on Cruise Critic forums, and Trip Advisor. The other 2 shore excursions we booked through the cruise line.

We found Harv & Marv Whale Watching on Trip Advisor. We booked and paid for the trip prior to our arrival. We were met at the dock by Tony, and then escorted to our bus. Our bus driver Jack, gave us some interesting commentary while we drove through Juneau to Auke Bay. We boarded our boat at Auke Bay. We only had 2 other couples on our boat. It was really great having such a small group. Capt. Liz was very informative and professional. Free snacks and sodas were offered.


This is us on Capt Liz' boat with Mendenhall Glacier in the background.




Our boat was spacious, but it was nice just having a small group.


We saw these sleepy seals...


It was beautiful on the ocean.


And we saw Humpback whales surfacing and blowing, and diving. There was a female, with a calf. It was amazing to hear the sound of the whale blowing.

We had this whale surface quite close to our boat. Beautiful!


And we saw tail...


And there is nothing more amazing than the sound of the blow...


Before long we had to go back to the dock, and our wonderful whale watching was at an end.



After a wonderful whale watching, we headed back to Auke Bay. Driver Jack then took us to Mendenhall Glacier for a quick 15 minute stop. We really needed more time there.


Perhaps next time...


Alaska Inside Passage & Cruise, August 2015 Part 1

We have just gotten back from the most amazing Alaska Inside Passage cruise.

This is the first time for us - first time to Alaska, and first time on a cruise ship. I've always wanted to go to Alaska- it is one of those destinations on my list, before there was such a thing as a bucket list. Thanks to the availability of resources available on Trip Advisor, and Cruise Critic, we figured that a cruise to Alaska would be a perfect way to see Alaska for the first time.

Through Cruise Critic I found a plethora of information, including how to travel on a budget, and how to find a good deal. Approximately 2 months prior to a sail date, I found the deal that I was looking for - Seattle round trip, including one night in a hotel prior to departure, and transfers from airport to hotel, hotel to port, and port to airport.

I used Sky Scanner to keep track of the best deals for flights, and found one - flights from Denver to Seattle on Delta, and the return on Alaska Airlines.

We flew to Seattle the night (Saturday) before our ship was due to sail. Our cruise itinerary:- Seattle, day at sea, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, Victoria BC, and back to Seattle. Our flight back was in the evening... so we had a day in Seattle on our return.

Our hotel was the Radisson at the airport. We didn't realize how close the hotel was from the airport. It is walking distance from the airport. You just have to know which way to walk. In fact, the wait for our complimentary hotel shuttle was longer than the actual shuttle ride.

The next morning (Sunday) we waited as instructed in the lobby for our transfer to the port. The lobby teamed with passengers waiting for their transfers to their ports. I saw luggage tags for the Norwegian Pearl (our ship) and Holland America.

We boarded without too much trouble, and made our way on board.


Our boarding time was between noon and 12:30pm.


Our staterooms were not quite ready (scheduled to be ready by 2pm) so we decided to make our way to the aft (back) of the ship to sit outside on Deck 12, at the Great Outdoors. So we sat with the most amazing view of Seattle, and ate a light lunch.


We could look down and watch the bustling activity as the ship prepared to set sail.


 We could watch our baggage being loaded on board.

 And then promptly around 4-ish we started to leave Seattle.


 Goodbye Seattle.


Time for our cruise.

As I've said before this was the first time aboard a cruise ship. We took some time to explore, and soon found our favorite spots, away from the hordes.

We found that the Great Outdoors - an outdoors buffet- located aft on deck 12. This is where we had breakfast each morning. It was also our default spot - I just loved being outdoors. Our other favorite spot was Deck 7 promenade deck. This deck was the spot for the smokers (nasty habit) but it was also a good spot to walk around outside, enjoying the sea air. Shuffleboard was located on this deck. And lastly our other favorite spot was the Spinnaker lounge - on Deck 13 located forward. It had gorgeous sloping windows to give the most amazing sea views.

Our stateroom was 8060 - located on Deck 8. I had been expecting a closet, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well designed & surprisingly spacious our cabin was. Another surprise - we had a window or a porthole. Not a great view, we got to see the life boat. But since we were expecting a windowless closet our stateroom was a nice surprise.

 For our first dinner we tried one of the complimentary dining establishments - the Lotus Garden. It was not very good - tasteless to our palates. We did not return.

Monday was our at sea day. We ate breakfast outside at the Great Outdoors. This was our view...


We had a great day exploring. The highlight of the day was a special bridge tour. We decided to eat lunch at the Summer Palace, one of the complimentary main dining rooms. We liked this. It was nice and quiet away from the hordes. We sat at one of the windows and ate our lunch, and watched the sea.

The bridge tour was arranged specially for the Cruise Critic Roll Call forum. We all met at the bridge viewing room, and then were escorted to the bridge. We had a very nice tour, and were shown how the ship is operated. It is quite the ship... and for something of its size it can turn on a dime. I was very impressed. One thing that was very disappointed with the size of the steering wheel... I was expecting something a little bit more ... substantial.


 I think they need a bigger joy stick.