Thursday, August 31, 2023

Glacier Bay, Alaska

Hello from Glacier Bay!
John Hopkins Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park Alaska
John Hopkins Glacier
Some guests found today a little disappointing and I would agree. Usually the highlight of Glacier Bay day is our trip up to Margerie Glacier. That's where the ship hangs out for an hour so we get a good chance to see glaciers calving. But we didn't even get in sight of the glacier, with the reason having to do with seals on the ice. We only went as far as John Hopkins Glacier and spent our hour there and, while it's pretty, it's certainly not worth an hour visit. Gotta keep a schedule, though.

While the weather wasn't the best, I still was able to get some photos of our day. And yes, the water is that color from the glacial silt.
View from cruise ship of Glacier Bay AlaskaView from cruise ship of Glacier Bay AlaskaView from cruise ship of Glacier Bay AlaskaView from cruise ship of Glacier Bay AlaskaView from cruise ship of Glacier Bay Alaska
View from cruise ship of foggy Glacier Bay Alaska
View from cruise ship of  foggy Glacier Bay Alaska

I've taken much better photos in some of our past visits. You can check them out here:

At one point in listening to the naturalist today I realized I'm not the target demographic for cruisers to Alaska these days. It happened when he said something like, If we were Game of Thrones we'd be north of the wall. Uh, what? I had to text my millennial daughter to find out what he meant. If you didn't have a clue like me, here was her response:
So why not just say that for the rest of us? Or just say we're in a land with few people? Oh, well. I still enjoyed the day, tucked out of the wind on my balcony.

Tomorrow we're cruising College Fjord. I won't be back to post pictures because I have plenty of them already, but I will be back on Saturday for my turnaround day in Whittier, Alaska. See you then!

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Skagway, Alaska

Hello from Skagway!

Skagway from Railroad Forward cruise ship dock
Today we were docked at the forward Railroad Dock, right alongside the slide area. Before our trip to Skagway last year the hillside gave way and tore up part of the dock. Some of the debris even hit one of the Princess cruise ships. They are still working on the situation and have two different plans for the ships docked along the hillside. For those ships docked aft (at the back of the dock) they are running shuttles back and forth for the passengers to get past the danger zone. For ships docked forward (like us today), they have to run their tenders (water shuttles) to get passengers to and from shore. No walking off the ship like the good old days.
Slide area in Skagway Alaska in August 2023
See the steep blue ramp? Gotta take a tender over there and use that coming and going if you want to go to Skagway when you're docked in RRF (Railroad Forward).
Tender line in Skagway Alaska
So I stayed onboard today. I had several reasons:
The thought of the long, long tender lines
Knowing I will be here next week when we'll be docked in the prime spot, the Broadway Dock
A cool and breezy day making a rougher tender ride
And...I'm not as strong as I thought I was.

Here I was all bragging yesterday about being stronger, but two miles scootering on the wooden walkways didn't do my body good. As I found out in the middle of the night, a Charlie horse in my left calf combined with a sciatic nerve that all of a sudden decided to make an appearance on my right side made for a rough go of it. Dealing with both at the same time while sleeping on a twin bed? It was not pretty. There were a few moans and groans and maybe even some whimpering as I tried to find a less painful way to sleep. As I was mostly unsuccessful during the night time hours I decided to spend the daytime hours keeping a low profile in the cabin. 

I did make my way to Crown Grill for dinner and had a filet mignon, the first red meat I've had in months. As I made my way out, the Puppies in the Piazza was starting up. I watched and listened a bit. I'm still not sure about the whole the puppies need socialization thing. These guys were 15 weeks old and pretty hyper, with one tearing up a stuffed animal before greeting the first passengers. I watched the handlers give them handfuls of ice cubes to chew. It wasn't warm at all, so does it maybe calm them down?
Princess Cruises Puppies in the Piazza
On my way back to the cabin I heard Steve Hites' voice coming from the Explorers Lounge so I stopped in and listened to his show. He's a storyteller who adds song with his presentation about Alaska. It was interesting watching and listening to him (and the audience reaction) as I think storytelling now isn't appreciated as much as it was when we first saw him almost 20 years ago.

Tomorrow we're in Glacier Bay. It'll be an early morning and a long day. I wonder how I'll feel about it now that I've been to Norway and Prince Christian Sound in Greenland. See you then!

Before I go, here's today's quick video of Skagway taken from Deck 15.
If you're interested, I've written about Skagway several times before:

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Juneau, Alaska

Hello from Juneau!
Downtown Juneau from Franklin cruise ship dock
Today was a day where I did have a definite plan. Of course, it started with the up and attem early morning sunrise picture. No injured bird scaring me today, thank goodness.
Orange sunset at sea in Juneau Alaska
It continued with my early morning breakfast view.
Grand Princess Terrace pool
Then a little nap back in the cabin. (Shh...don't tell anyone.) But before noon I was headed off the ship for my planned lunch. 

I remember very vividly being here in Juneau last summer. It was our first cruise after Covid, the first cruise using my scooter in many, many years, and was the first port where I left the ship. My anxiety level was high, not knowing how far my battery was going to last or if the old drive belt would break. I didn't know how long my body (mostly my bum) could last on the wooden walkways or even if I could manage being around crowds once again. I did sort of okay that day but not as well as I hoped. I got at the end of the pier and felt like I needed to get back to the ship. It was on that day in that place where I smelled BBQ and saw a whole bunch of crew members lined up at a Filipino BBQ cart. I told myself if I ever came back I was going to be bold, stay a little longer in port, and eat BBQ. 

Today was the day, and boy do I feel stronger (physically and mentally) than I did back then. I made my way all the way down the wooden walkways until the pier almost ends. The cement ramp on the right takes you to the Marine Park where you find a couple of different BBQ carts.
Marine Park in Juneau Alaska
I picked the one with the Filipino crew members crowding around it. In my experience if it's full of crew members it's the place to go.
Filipino food cart in Marine Park in Juneau Alaska
I sat there on the pier while the rain sprinkled down and munched on my pork on a stick and chicken on a stick. Can you say leftovers?
Pork and chicken on a stick with rice in Juneau Alaska
Unlike last year when I was done by the time I reached the end of the pier, today I had plenty of energy left. I studied totem poles, wondering what each level was meant to represent.
Totem pole  in Juneau Alaska
I checked out the flower pots and barrels. So many different colors and varieties. Some made it through the summer better than others.
Small pink chrysanthemum flowers in bloom
And because I haven't been in forever, I made my way to Juneau Drug. The best reason to go to Juneau Drug? The 25 cent popcorn! Fresh and hot with plenty of salt. I still might not be able to taste much but I could taste the buttery salt. Oh. My. Goodness.
Juneau Drug popcorn in Juneau Alaska

One of my favorite things I ever did in Juneau was when we walked the Nugget Falls Trail. You can read about my visit here. 

By the time I finished my rounds several other cruise ships had made their way into port. The Ruby Princess even left their dock, went out and anchored, and started running their tenders for passengers. Looks like Royal Caribbean's Odyssey of the Seas with their 5,000+ passengers needed the space more. 
Royal Caribbean's Odyssey of the Seas cruise ship in Juneau Alaska
Can't even fit the whole ship in the picture
With almost 25,000 cruise ship passengers expected to be in port by the time the day is done, I'm glad I had a plan, stuck to it, and got in and out while I could. 

Here's a quick video of Juneau as seen from the Grand Princess. Before the town got all cluttered up with other ships, that is.
Tomorrow we're in Skagway, Alaska. See you there!

Monday, August 28, 2023

Ketchikan, Alaska

Hello from Ketchikan, Alaska!

View of Ketchinkan Alaska from cruise ship Berth 4
View from my balcony
I was up early this morning but not by choice. With a 9+ hour time different between Alaska and the European countries where I spent my whole summer my body doesn't know if it's daytime, nighttime, or somewhere in between. But a benefit of waking at weird hours is I get to see things I probably would have slept through like the hint of sunrise at 4:59 AM.
Alaskan sunrise at sea
Good thing I was wide awake at that 4:59 AM because when I went onto the balcony to take the picture I had quite a scare as a bird flew off my footstool and onto the railing. I say flew but I really mean broken wing, flying sideways and falling (and repeat again and again), and then barely making it to the railing kind of flying. I left the poor fella alone and he stayed in that same spot until we arrived in port. I didn't see him leave but I'm guessing it was a free fall on the way down. TMI - I know he had been on the footstool for a long time because it's covered with a LOT of bird poo.
Pigeon on cruise ship balcony rail
Poor lonely guy
Ketchinkan Alaska Marina
Getting close to town!
Once 8 AM hit and the laundry room opened I washed some clothes.
Grand Princess cruise ship laundry room
No one there but me
With one token left over from the Island Princess I decided to dry them in the cabin instead of buying a second token for the dryer. Clothes are everywhere in here right now, balcony included. Anyway, I had plenty of time to hang them and dry them since I didn't have any big plans for Ketchikan. This is the 25th(!) time I've been here and have done all I care to do.

Totem Poles? Been to both Totem Bight Saxman Native Village.
Visit Creek Street? Yep. Totem Bight Park and Creek Street photos are here.
Salmon fishing? Yep. Salmon fishing photos can be found here.
See the salmon run? Yep. You can see the salmon run photos here.
Duck tour? Yep.
Take a photo of the rain gauge? Yep.
Take the Deadliest Catch tour? Yep.
Watch bald eagles at work and at rest? Yep.
Misty Fjords flight? That would be a hard no. After our passengers were killed on their excursion in 2019 I swore never to get on a float plane.
Lumberjack Show and sightseeing? Yep. You can see some of those photos here.
And even more views of the area can be found here.

So I did what I would do if Ed was here with me, go to the Arctic Bar and order a Long Island Iced Tea. 
Long Island iced tea from Arctic Bar in Ketchikan Alaska
Even though we were in Alaska for a month last summer, we haven't been back to the bar since Covid. So when I sat down and saw this sign I knew it was meant for me.
Cheeky sign at Arctic Bar at Ketchikan Alaska
The Arctic Bar is a unique place on the waterfront where about every third word from the staff's mouths begins with the letter F. Here's what I wrote about our visit to the Arctic Bar a few years ago. 

I was going to order from Burger Queen (need food to soak up the alcohol) but I forgot it was Monday and they're closed. That meant lady on a scooter who just consumed a strong alcoholic beverage would be driving her scooter back to the ship. Not one to be irresponsible, I stopped off at the store and bought a bag of cheese puffs (sounded like a good alcohol-soaker-upper) and sat on a bench in the sun and watched the going ons around the area. 

The Ruby Princess was in port with us and the Crab Boat tour was on its way back.
Ruby Princess and Bering Sea crab boat in Ketchikan Alaska
I saw my cabin.
Grand Princess D733 view from outside
Hey, that's mine
Spotted some bright flowers. Nasturtiums?
Orange Nasturtiums
And as the cheese puffs soaked up the alcohol I soaked up the rays. The weather was simply perfect. I then remembered about a popular donut place across the street so I wandered over there and found an animal cookie one. It was pretty dense, and doggone it, I couldn't taste it. For the record that makes three donuts for me this summer, three times more than I've consumed in the last three years.
Animal Cookie donut from JellyFish Donuts in Ketchikan Alaska
As you'd expect with a combination of Long Island Iced Tea, cheese puffs, and a part of a donut I had to take a little nap. I didn't sleep long because crew members from the Island were sending me videos of today's port for them, Holyhead, Wales. They were a bit bummed because it was a national holiday and everything was closed, but their short videos gave me the idea to do a quick one, too. Just a view from my balcony, but if you haven't been to Ketchikan it gives you an idea of what you might see when you visit.
I think when we're back here next week we dock somewhere different. If so, I'll give you a quick video overlook of that area.

Tomorrow we're in Juneau, Alaska. See you there!

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Grand Princess Embarkation Day

Hello from the Grand Princess!

front of Grand Princess Cruise Ship
My home for the next two weeks

Before I start with today I must go back to yesterday. Really, it’s a must. While my flight was late getting into Vancouver last night, the excitement of what I saw during the flight made up for any delay. 

How would you feel if you saw this on your plane’s map?
Map of plane flying over Greenland
Being I just came back from Greenland you can imagine how I was feeling. When I looked out the window and found the cloudy skies had cleared and started snapping photos I may have even quoted a Macklemore song and whispered to myself, “This is f***ing awesome.” 

I found Greenland is just like you see on the maps - green and brown on the edges, more glacier-y a little farther in, and then it’s nothing but ice and snow. You can see exactly what I mean by following the progression of photos from the east coast towards the middle.
Southeast coast of Greenland from airSoutheast coast of Greenland from airGlaciers in Greenland from airGlaciers in Greenland from airGreenland from the airGreenland from the air
It was nothing short of spectacular being able to experience Greenland by way of cruising Prince Christian Sound, visiting two coastal villages, and seeing it from above, all in one week. Wow. Just wow.

Okay, back to today. I stayed at the Fairmont Waterfront, a new hotel for me. It’s right across from the cruise port and was arranged by Princess. We always book our own hotel but since I was coming in late and I’m only paying for a solo, it was a better deal to book through them this time. And clearly they get some nice rooms because when I went to look out my window this morning I found I had a little terrace. What a nice surprise. So I went next door to Tim Horton’s, bought a donut, and brought it back and spent my morning outside. Such a nice way to start the day.
Fairmont Waterfront terrace room in Vancouver Canada
I went across the street about 11 and rolled around outside for a while before I decided to go inside the terminal. It’s so nice finally being somewhere I’ve been dozens of times, but in my exploration I discovered something new today. I found an entrance up top where I could avoid all the initial craziness of downstairs. If you’ve been to the port before you’ll recognize the area as the out/back in/escalator area. Being on a scooter I was able to use the door to cut across into the main hallway instead. I’ll be using this entrance from now on, if possible.
Vancouver Canada Place outdoor entrance
You can tell it’s near the end of the season because they have the process down, although being on the scooter saved me a bunch of time and steps. I was onboard with a glass of water sitting in the sun at the back of the ship by 12:03.
Grand Princess Terrace pool
My happy place 
Even though I never went to the dining room on the Island Princess I went for lunch today for old times sake on the Grand. The place was empty (yay) and I quickly had my old standby in front of me, the salmon and orange soufflé. Sorry, I wolfed down the soufflé and completely forgot the picture!
Princess Cruises salmon with dill lunch
My cabin on this ship is a weird one. It’s in the mini suite category - and is considered accessible - but it’s the smallest accessible mini suite I’ve ever been in. Oh, yeah…and it’s only a twin bed set up. No spreading out on an empty bed for me on this ship.
Grand Princess accessible Mini Suite D733
On the plus side, what I lose in cabin space I gain in balcony space. It doesn’t completely wrap around the back but it gets close. It’s totally uncovered which means I’ll either get wet from the rain or people looking down on me. Can’t have it all!
Grand Princess accessible mini suite D733 balcony
Oops, finger in the way
Our departure time has been delayed to a bunkering (fuel) barge issue but we’ll be off to Alaska with our first port being Ketchikan on Monday. See you then!
Smoky sunset at sea
Smoky sail away

Friday, August 25, 2023

My 106th Day on the Island Princess

Goodbye to the Island Princess. Today, my 106th day on the ship, was my last. 

Island Princess arriving in San Pedro California
May 11 view of the ship from my hotel room
Island Princess docked in Southampton
August 25 view of the ship from the airport transfer

What an amazing solo-on-a-scooter adventure it has been. While it's not over yet (Alaska, I'm coming for you tomorrow!) I thought I should do a wrap up of my time on the Island before I join my next ship. 

The Itinerary
It's why I chose this ship for the summer. What an amazing combinations of places I've been to! Over the last 3½ months I've visited:
  • Mexico - Huatulco and Puerto Vallarta
  • Puntarenas, Costa Rica
  • Panama - Panama City and the Panama Canal
  • Cartagena, Columbia
  • Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • Iceland - Akureyri x3, Grundarfjördur, Isafjordur x2, Reykjavik x3, Seydisfjordur
  • Greenland - Nanortalik, Prince Christian Sound, Qaqortoq
  • Norway - Ålesund, Åndalsnes x2, Haugesund x3, Honningsvag x2, Lofoten Islands x2, Olden, Skjolden, Tromso x2, Trondheim x2
  • Denmark - Bornholm, Copenhagen, Skagen
  • Sweden - Stockholm
  • England - Falmouth x2, Newcastle
  • Scotland - Edinburgh, Greenock, Shetland Islands
  • Cobh, Ireland
  • Tallin, Estonia
  • Riga, Latvia
  • Klaipėda, Lithuania
  • Gdynia, Poland
I even crossed above the Arctic Circle five times.
Grand Princess Arctic Circle crossing certificates

I'd love to pick a favorite port or experience but I can't as there were just too many. I do have to say I believe Prince Christian Sound in Greenland is probably the most beautiful place on Earth. Then there was the stuff my husband and daughter like so much. I learned so much about past history and current events, geography, and geology again and again and again. They both would be proud. 

The Food (and a bit about crew members)
I never went to the dining room, but I did order dinner from the dining room menu quite frequently. Once the ship's home port became Southampton the menu changed and included more local flavors. It was a welcome change from those Caribbean and Mexico 7 day cruise menus.
Princess Cruises UK local flavor menu
I ordered from the regular room service menu, too. It was consistently inconsistent. And sometimes downright terrible. Just check what the app shows the item should look like compared to what arrived.
Princess Cruises app grilled cheese pictureUnmelted grilled cheese on Princess cruises
Princess cruises app chili picturePrincess Cruises chili from room service
Beginning today the ship will start charging $5 for each room service order placed by phone. If you want to use the app you'll pay a one time $14.99 charge. I know if I had to pay anything for some of the items I ordered I'd be asking for my money back. They're going to have to step it up or there will be lots of unhappy guests.

The buffet on the ship is small but they do have theme nights where they have an extra couple of dishes to choose from. 
Island Princess Buffet themed night list

Princess has hired a large number of crew from African nations who are about the only ones working with the food in the buffet area now, at least on this ship. They are some of the nicest crew members ever. So were the wheelchair assist team who helped me and my scooter up and down every gangway and on and off every tender boat for 106 days.

Which leads me to...

The Least Pleasant Crew on the Ship
The staff working the Guest Services Desk. I had to visit the front desk more than a dozen times over the course of my trip. I was there during quiet times and at busier times and at no point did they ever show a welcoming disposition or even some empathy. In the overall scheme of things my issues were minor but I was there when someone had reported their lost wallet and another time when someone reported their lost phone. The staff showed not one bit of understanding or compassion in either case. And when I went 5 hours without toilet paper when I was sick with Covid there was no apology for twice forgetting to let anyone know about it. I tried used the crew chat on the app several times during my time onboard and they weren't helpful either. They would quickly end the conversation whether it was done or not. Then they would delete the past conversations.
They want to close their end up, but sorry, we aren't finished yet!
MedallionNet Internet
As soon as the ship switched over to Starlink (Elon Musk's satellite internet) the service improved dramatically. I never had a problem with a page not loading or a blog post not posting. While not super fast it's a tremendous improvement over what we've had on the ship in the past. Heck, I was messaging and posting from Greenland and Iceland. 

Places I Never Went
I never watched a production show or watched a comedian or participated in any of the activities. I never ate in the dining room. Didn't have the clothes being I only took one suitcase and a backpack!
Never went to an art auction or played bingo. I had planned on doing a lot of writing but found I preferred sitting on the balcony, listening to and watching the waves. 
Cruise ship balcony view from ocean
All the audiobooks I downloaded never were listened to, either. I stopped swimming after I caught Covid in the pool. (I'm certain I caught it from the lady I wrote about on May 21. She was near me coughing a nasty cough and it aligned with when I got sick on May 26.) I had planned on using the bike in the fitness room but found exploring ports and having to get on and off the scooter and push it (and those cobblestones - oh, those cobblestones) did my joints in enough that I needed more rest instead of more exercise.
Klaipeda, Lithuania cobblestones

Weird Quirks
The ship is old. The rust is there. 
rust on Island cruise ship balcony
The rust would get wet from all the moisture in the air and it would drop orange rust drops onto everything underneath it on my balcony. My cabin was almost at the very back of the ship and occasionally I'd also get soot on my furniture so I learned to put a towel down before I sat anywhere. 
Island Princess soot on furniture in C727
Handicapped cabins aren't truly handicapped because you can't access the balcony in a wheelchair or scooter. I had three different cabins and each one had the regular height threshold that needed to be stepped over. One cabin did have a ramp - but only from the outside. Um, that's not going to work.
Island Princess handicap balcony access on C726
And the safe in these cabins was in the desk cabinet. Even in a wheelchair you practically have to stand on your head to access it. In all three cabins the first row of numbers weren't working either.
safe in desk of Island Princess accessible cabin C726
Being far from the elevator made it difficult to get through the hallways when the cleaning carts were out there. Thankfully this ship has all kinds of little hallways of cabins at the back I could use as a maze to try and avoid them. But what worked one day didn't necessarily work the next. 
If the steward was cleaning the cabin I could get them to move the cart but sometimes they wouldn't be around and I would get stuck. Let's not even talk about when I needed to access the midship elevators. Or talk about how to scooter around room service trays people have left in the hallway.
Island Princess cleaning cart in hallwayRoom service tray in hallway on Island Princess

Anything Else
I'm sure there is something else worth mentioning, but after 106 days things that were important at the beginning became not-so-important by the end. All the negative things combined certainly wouldn’t stop me from traveling another amazing itinerary on the Island Princess. If you have any specific questions on other things I skipped I'd be happy to answer them.

Coming Up Tomorrow
So what's next for me? Well, I’m not flying home - I’m flying from London Heathrow to Vancouver, Canada today and will be joining the Grand Princess tomorrow for two cruises to Alaska. I may be done with the ice and glaciers and fjords in Greenland, Iceland, and Norway but not Alaska. See you tomorrow from Vancouver!