Showing posts with label Alaska. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alaska. Show all posts

Thursday, September 19, 2019

5 Weeks of Cruising Alaska on the Royal Princess: Trip Wrap-Up

5 weeks cruising Alaska on the Royal Princess cruise ship

Today I'm sharing the summary of the five weeks I spent this summer cruising the Royal Princess in Alaska. I made a video of the wrap-up right here:

I started writing a blog post for those who prefer reading about it, but I realized it was going to be A LOT of text with no visuals. So to get the complete picture (literally!) of the experience, a video it will have to be.

I do have some links of things mentioned in the video.:

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Royal Princess at Hubbard Glacier

Hello from Yakutat Bay!

We've had a great day today. I told hubby that something about this cruise just feels different but I'm not sure what it is. Maybe because we embarked in Whittier instead of Vancouver for a change? Maybe because we are so very comfortable on this ship? Because we have so many crew members working here who are near and dear to our hearts? Knowing these will be our last trips to Alaska? Perhaps because I have a huge filming schedule ahead of me and I feel confident I can share things first-hand others are asking about? Whatever the reason, it just feels good. I don't even have to rub my I choose joy tattoo to get myself in a positive mood.

Even though it was light out early and we have a balcony cabin, we both woke up later than usual. Moseyed on up to the buffet, grabbed some breakfast, and ate outside on the back of the ship at the Horizon Terrace without another soul to be seen. (But inside? Man, it was crowded.)

I had my Encouraging Words Project pocket with my dollar bill in it, waiting to put in the Wake Show box. Along with leaving my encouraging words pockets around the ship, I've been dropping them in the Wake Show boxes for the last few years. Over the course of those years, the cruise director here (Cruise Director Extraordinaire Matt O', that is) has been the only one consistently reading them - and believing in the power of them. I stopped by several times to see if the box had been put out so I could get those positive vibes into the world. Only when I ran into him did I find out they aren't doing the Wake Show Box during the seven day Alaska cruises anymore. So I gave the Encouraging Words Project money pocket to Matt O' personally.

Then later as I was headed to the crafting class, I saw the Princess Live doors open and CDEMO (Cruise Director Extraordinaire Matt O') was filming tomorrow's Wake Show. I popped in a bit to watch. I even made it in time to watch him as he read my Encouraging Words aloud. I almost taped it live right then and there (I decided against it), but when the Wake Show is on the TV I'll tape it and add it to tomorrow's post. I have to say, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that they've opened the taping up for people to watch. It was interesting to see and I definitely will attend again.

After the Wake Show taping I barely made it in time to the crafts class. I did get to meet a blog reader and her daughter in there. (Hi Chelsea and Emily!) Then I met up with hubby at Crooners where he was already chatting with crew member friends. I so love the connections we've made with the crew members. I do believe it's the best part of cruising for us.

We headed back to our cabin in time for the narration during our approach to Hubbard Glacier. Did I mention how much I love our cabin? Like I said in yesterday's post, we had booked a last minute BW obstructed balcony cabin and were upgraded to free to a special BB balcony cabin. It's actually a handicapped accessible cabin and it is huge.
The bathroom is great for hubby and the shower is easy for him to use since it is walk it (actually roll-in) with a bench to sit on.
While we could probably always request a handicapped cabin, we never do. But this week they've put us in one. In fact, we are on this ship for three weeks and have to change cabins three times. Two of those cabins are handicapped accessible ones. I guess that's a benefit to booking super late - they stick you wherever they can. We are so good with it! I think I'll do a cabin tour video sometime this week as I know there are folks asking about what handicapped accessible cabins are like.

We watched as the Hubbard Glacier excursion boat loaded passengers to give them a closer look. I can't remember the cost of the excursion, but I know it was more than I was willing to pay.
After the excursion left, the Royal Princess moved even closer to the glacier. The Captain turned the ship so both the port and starboard sides got to see the glacier. The naturalist also does some narration during the time. You can hear it from the balconies, open decks, and on the bridge cam station on the TV.

Tonight is formal night and we're skipping it. We'll probably make our way to the buffet where I'm sure we'll find some great choices.

Tomorrow we're off to the best day of any Alaskan cruise - Glacier Bay.

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. 

Friday, August 23, 2019

The School Bus Blues

School is back in session in our neck of the woods. As former teachers, hubby and I have the same reaction to back-to-school time. To seeing a school bus. To even thinking about school supplies in the stores.

Anxiety and stress.
A need to run and hide.
To bury our heads in the sand.
A desire to hide our eyes and cover our ears.
An urge to escape. To get as far away from school as possible.

Between the two of us we have almost 60 years experience working in the public school system. We did our time and we don't want to do it again.

We saw more than one school bus this week. And then we looked at our to-do list from summer and it was complete. Like totally finished.

Summer projects completed:
      Wills revised  
Shrubs removed
Gravel laid down
Grass dug out
Rubber mulch down
Quilts for assisted living made
Hundreds of items discarded or donated
Landscape timbers in place
Bike ride every morning (just me, and almost every morning)
Finish travel agent training
Tree trimmed
Sprinkler valves replaced
Garbage cans cleaned
Shred old documents
Be a foster to a momma cat and her five babies
So we decided it was time to really hide and escape and get away from home. Here are some clues as to where we are at right this moment:
  • It took two flights to get to today's destination.
  • The stopover airport was Seattle.
  • The place we are currently in has been experiencing its hottest temperatures ever.
  • Smoke hangs in the air from the numerous forest fires. Heavy enough you can smell it.
  • We were able to pack lighter because we won't be renting a car this time around so no need for the phone/GPS holder or the handicapped placard.
  • No snorkel equipment was packed.
  • No sandals or swimsuit cover up was packed.
  • We paid all of three dollars ($2 for me, $1 for disabled hubby) to ride the bus from the airport to downtown.
  • From the bus we walked across the street to our hotel.
  • We saw spectacular views from the airplane window before we got into the smoke-filled skies.
Snow? Nope. Something else cold.

We are on the move tomorrow, so stay tuned to find out what's up.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Royal Princess to Alaska Cruise Wrap-Up

Today I'm sharing the summary of my two weeks aboard the Royal Princess in Alaska. If you'd rather read my daily "live from" I wrote during the trip you can find the

I think our two weeks on the Royal Princess's maiden voyage to Alaska can be summed up in a few words:
  • Scenery
  • Long lines
  • Tasty food
  • Messing with Medallion
  • Ketchikan tragedy

Prefer to watch the video version of this post? Find it right here:
Otherwise, read on...

This cruise was actually two back-to-back cruises from Vancouver to Whittier and back to Vancouver.
While we visited all ports as expected, our trip to and from Alaska deviated from the typical route. When we left Vancouver we took the green route instead of the much more scenic red route. It was quite disappointing. The difference between those two routes is huge.
We also had a switch in our Ketchikan approach. Usually when coming into Ketchikan from the south ships take the red route but we came in on the brown route. Another less scenic route.
I had the opportunity to ask the Captain and 3rd Officer several questions about both route deviations. When coming and going in and out of Vancouver there is an issue with the length of the Royal Princess and the British Columbia marine pilot rules. Currently there is a limit on the length a ship can be when passing through the area. While right now the Royal cannot sail those narrower, more scenic waterways outside Vancouver they are working to get clearance at some point during the summer. Sailings later in the season may get the scenic route. An upcoming sailing is planning to head the more scenic way and they've moved up the departure time to account for the tides.

In terms of Ketchikan, Alaska marine pilots had concerns about the maneuverability of the Royal Princess, particularly at lower speeds. So as the ship was needing to slow down to dock in Ketchikan it required a different approach - one that would bring her in from the north. Which now makes sense to why when we left Ketchikan on our way back to Vancouver we we were able to leave from the south. I was told since we weren't trying to slow down the issue wasn't an issue and we could maneuver on out through the scenic south.
But the other scenery along the way made up for it, for sure. 

Long lines:
Lines were long everywhere on this trip. Big ship = lots of passengers = long lines. In Vancouver you are funneled into the same security line and US Customs and Border Protection as the other ships in port. Always long lines here.
Lines coming back on the ship in port, too. This was only the first third of the line. It switched back two more times.
Lines trying to get a taxi in Vancouver.

But when the ship was sailing we found plenty of empty spots to sit. There are somewhat hidden doors taking you outside of deck 7. Seats were usually available on both sides.

Our other go-to spot was Horizon Terrace, back behind the buffet. Sometimes it was completely empty. Shh..don't tell.

The ship was also very empty on port days.

Tasty food:
We usually ate at the buffet. I've said this before, but the buffet is just plain amazing. Multiple lines, multiple choices, good food and plenty of space to move about.
Hubby was partial to the daily grilled veggies and I liked my daily taco fix.
The buffet is where he also got his free fresh ground coffee every day. Hot chocolate is there, too.
Both Splenda and the fake
stuff can be found onboard.
We had Alfredo's a couple times. Tasty as usual! Remember, you don't have to just choose what is on the menu. As long as they have the ingredients they can make you the pizza you want.
Pepperoni, garlic, red onion, extra cheese.
Not on the menu.
We ate at Sabatini's on the Whittier turnaround day. We had a 5:30 dinner and pretty much had the place to ourselves. Food was delicious and we'd absolutely go again. Here's my separate post all about Sabatini's. 

Messing with the Medallion:
We were so very excited we would get to use our Medallions to check in. We had filled out our order and had them mailed to the house ahead of time, took our pictures, uploaded the other pictures required, and scanned our passports into their system. We had the Medallion boarding pass ready on our phone. We also printed off the new Medallion boarding passes just in case, and also printed the old-type boarding passing as a double just in case. It was a good thing we did the extra printing because they only would take the old-type boarding pass. Bummer.

We've used the Medallion before on our month-long stay on the Caribbean Princess when they were still working on rolling out all the components. Here on the Royal they are a bit further along so we got to use some of the apps I had downloaded before leaving home.

We ordered food and drinks through the OceanNow app. Room service? Yep. Fries at the pool? Yep.

I used OceanCompass a lot to try and find where hubby was at. He's a hard man to track down but no more.

As we found after using the apps, they still need some work as there are some bugs here and there. I'll detail some of the specifics in another post. I'm also working on new Medallion videos and will post them later, too.

MedallionNet wasn't the greatest on this trip. Alaska and those dang mountains, I guess. We had traded in hubby's Elite minutes to get a discount on an unlimited package. I just kept my Elite minutes but wound up just using hubby's unlimited. (Only one device at a time but it was super easy to switch back and forth.)

Ketchikan tragedy:
*Our first visit to Ketchikan was tragic as several of our passengers were killed in a floatplane accident. I documented the happenings on board here and here and here. The first few days after the accident the mood on the ship was somber but as we visited more ports folks got back to enjoying their vacation.

Other things:
We had two different cabins this trip. Our first was an inside cabin at the very front of the ship on Marina deck. We expected it to be the quietest of the cabins but we had some very noisy neighbors in the two suites across and forward of us. Our second cabin was assigned just a couple days before sailing. It was an inside cabin mid-ship on Emerald deck and was super-quiet. The only hang-up was it a was a quad cabin so bunk protrusions got in our way. We had the steward switch us to twins.
On the Royal, the lights have a slot to place your cruise card so when you're in the cabin lights are on. When out of the cabin, lights are off. But since the Royal doesn't issue cruise cards anymore, they have left a dummy card for passengers to use. We just angled it a bit and left it in the slot and it shut off the lights just fine.
Our second cabin had a new shower curtain. This one had a weight at the bottom to keep that curtain in check. Yay!
While we spent our time onboard watching the world go by, catching up with the on-demand movies, and visiting with crew member friends, the ship had cruise director extraordinaire Matt O' running things. When you have him, you know the ship is teaming with activities. 

Encouraging Words Project:
I left notes and money all around the ship and in the ports. One also went into the Wake Show box each day and Matt O' made sure they were read every single day. Here's a snippet of the Wake Show. A big thank you to Matt for helping spread those positive vibes out into the world.

Would I sail the Royal to Alaska again? Absolutely!
If you want to know anything else about cruising Alaska or have any questions about cruising or Princess Cruises, just ask. A

Want to know more about cruising Alaska? You can search using key words and come up with a slew of posts, but you can also check out my Cruising Alaska resources section here where you'll find the most recent posts.