Saturday, August 24, 2019

Royal Princess Embarkation Day: Whittier, Alaska

For those who guessed I was in Alaska, you were right!

We spent the night in downtown Anchorage. It's been a while since we've had Anchorage as our only stop. Usually we are off to the Kenai Peninsula, or Denali, or Talkeetna, or even one time I made a day trip from the ship on turnaround to just run quilts I had made to Air Force base. But we wanted to see Anchorage again, and I'm glad we did.

We flew in yesterday and arrived in the early afternoon. We took the city bus (called the People Mover) from the airport to downtown. It only cost $2 for me and $1 for hubby as he's disabled. Made us feel like a local. It was so easy as the bus was right outside terminal and the downtown stop was right across the street from our hotel. While the hotel wasn't anything great, it was much cheaper than the price all the Holland America cruise passengers staying there had paid. It was in a great location, though.

We ate dinner across the street at the Glacier Brewhouse. It was so delicious. Amazing. Tasty. Great vibe. It was so good I'll actually be doing a separate blog post about it. Yes, it was that good. And good enough that we decided to go back for their weekend brunch on embarkation day. They open at 10 on the weekends so it gave us time to relax in the hotel before heading out.

We had the hotel hold our luggage and had a tasty breakfast at the Brewhouse and then wound up with more time to explore Anchorage. We walked the couple blocks down to the Egan Convention Center.
Egan Convention Center
Egan is the staging area for Princess and Holland America and where the shuttles to the ship and the airport pick up and drop off. As I get lots of questions about how that process works, I took plenty of photos so I can do a separate post about that, too. We wandered around the shops in the area a bit, but since we're about collecting moments, not things, we decided to sit outside the visitor's center in the warm Alaskan sunshine and do some people watching.
Visitor's Information Center
As some of the smoke from the wildfires had cleared out overnight, the weather was just spectacular and the sun felt oh-so-good. We then headed back to the hotel to pick up our transportation to the ship. We used A.C.T. (Alaska Cruise Transportation) They do the ship runs but also do one that adds a stop at the Wildlife Conservation Center. In all these trips to Alaska we never have been there so we chose that option. Even with the extra stop, it was still cheaper than if we took the direct-to-the-ship Princess bus transfer. The bus made a couple different stops at downtown hotels and made the final pickup at the airport. By then every single seat but one was full.

We had beautiful views of Turnagain Arm as we made our way down to the Wildlife Center. This is the same route the trains take on their way to the ship, too. 
See the train tracks?
As I had a window seat on the bus I got to see all those views I've missed out on all these years when I was driving. It was high tide this time around too, and that changes things. Why? Because the chances of seeing Beluga whales were higher. And we saw them!!! (Can you tell I'm excited?) It's the first time I've ever seen a Beluga in the wild. They were all throughout the waters, several times over. Unfortunately, the glare of the glass combine with my less-than-powerful camera didn't get any good photos. But they were there. I saw them. And I was pleased.

At the Wildlife center everything is all gravel, rocks (small and large), and uneven ground. With hubby's mobility and balance issues it was impossible for us to really get anywhere. We carefully walked to the bathrooms, gingerly made our way to the gift shop for a quick looksie, and cautiously made our way to the little food truck. As we knew we were having a big dinner later, we shared a Twix, small can of Pringles, and a Diet Coke. We made our way back to a bench outside the gift shop and sat in the sun. We snacked, watched the Lynx in the enclosure right next to us, and people watched. And boy, was there some interesting people-watching to be had! Might have even been more interesting than the animals, actually. We had about an hour at the Wildlife People-Watching Center before heading back to the bus. 

We arrived at the ship just a little after 5 and here's where my biggest disappointment came in. There were three lines at embarkation. One was for people who had their Medallions who were already Ocean Ready. (That was a long line). One was for priority boarding. (Which is the line we should have been directed to. It was completely empty.) And one line for everyone else. (Another very long line.) Typically, as Elites we are ushered to the shorter priority line. But here they made us go to the long Medallion line. I asked if we could use our shorter (actually in this case no-one-in-line) priority line and was told no. We had to use the long Medallion line. Now I'm not sure how or why they've decided Elite passengers aren't allowed to use the Elite line anymore, but it was a bit frustrating. Even when we finally got to someone to check us in, they still had to take our passports and head over to another computer to scan them. Definitely not efficient. Next time around I'm thinking to avoid the long lines just to skip getting our Medallions ahead of time. 

But we did make it in time to use our B1G1 free specialty dining coupon that is only valid on embarkation day. As soon as we got on the ship we headed right to Sabatini's. It was pretty much empty, but the gal at the front was not budging about letting us get in for dinner. She wanted us to make reservations and come back after muster drill. (Even though it was 5:15 and muster wasn't until 7:45 pm.) Lucky for us, dear Franco saw us (we've come to know him from previous cruises) and made sure we got in right away and got a table by the window. It's always great to see crew members we know who take such good care of us!

Dinner, as usual, was delicious. I did a separate write up and posted the menu back in May (you can find it here), but we did try a couple different items this time.

Fagioli Bianchi e Cozze - white bean & black mussel soup 

Petto di Pollo con Asiago e Pomodorini, Salsa al Marsala - chicken supreme stuffed with eggplant, Asiago and sun-dried tomatoes, Marsala sauce

 Zabaglione - whisked Marsala foam with ladyfingers
Both the service and food were outstanding, as usual. As long as we keep getting these coupons we'll keep eating at Sabatini's. Our plan is to work our way through the menu!

After dinner we headed to the cabin to drop off the backpack. We LOVE our cabin. Since we booked last minute we had a guarantee balcony in the BW category. (That's an obstructed view balcony.) But we were upgraded for free to a BB. I'll post pictures later this week but it's not a standard BB. It is awesome! So was the view from the balcony.

Such a beautiful day in Whittier, Alaska.
We should have had muster at about that time, but some of the trains were delayed and so was muster. It wound up being at 8:45 pm instead. Whew, that's late! But it gave us time between dinner and muster to spend in Crooners. We have crew member friends working there so we visited and visited and visited. Then after muster we headed back to the cabin, got in our pajamas, and were under the covers before 10 pm.

A long day, but a great one. Sunday is Yakutat Bay and Hubbard Glacier.