Sunday, August 23, 2015

What is Better Than Coffee? Cruise With Them

Our friends Dolores and Laura had told us they would be in Vancouver before getting on the Grand Princess for a three day cruise to San Francisco.

We really wanted to see them and knew whatever time we had with them it would be very limited before they had to get on the ship.

Well.... why not join them I suggested to Bernie.  The price sure was right $188 for an inside, and $218 for a balcony.  

Then Bernie suggested why not take some time and visit his niece who recently moved with her husband and two young boys to just outside of San Francisco.  

Even better, I have never met her boys and would love to see Erin again.

So we booked a BD balcony guarantee and then went and used our points to secure tickets for a flight home.

The next day we were assigned a cabin.  A BC category A617 and I was happy.  Bernie was a little concerned about the possible noise from the Horizon Court just above us.  He suggested I contact Connie our travel agent to see what she could do.

My suggestion to her was if they could move us to any BC of BD category that was not below public space.  I already knew that space was limited and there were no cabins in either of those categories left.  I did see some B2 categories left - those are the ones on Caribe Deck with the big balconies. But the cost was $35 more per person.  

When I got an email back from her about an hour later I was tickled pink to see that not only did Princess assign us a new cabin, they assigned us a Caribe Balcony Cabin at no added costs.  So it pays to have a good travel agent that will go to bat for you.

We are very excited to see Dolores and Laura again and spend a few days with them.  We are also going to be able to see some friends in Victoria for brunch too.  

Of course Bernie is excited to eat at Alfredos on the Grand.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Seattle - Disembarkation

Another cruise is done.  We wake and know it is time to get back to reality.

We shower and pack up the last of the items.  

We have chosen to do the earliest walk off and were assigned the first group at 7:30.  

I shower while Bernie heads upstairs to get a small bite to eat and bring back some fruit for me to have in the cabin.

We leave the cabin at 7:30 and thank Enrique for all his hard work this week.  We always leave the auto tips in place and we have tipped him extra three times this week.

The Platinum/Elite Lounge is Da Vinci Dining room.  We figure it will be rather quiet since there are not many that fall into that category.  In fact we are first to arrive.  But a couple who walk in behind us grab a paper and head to a table.  Only to come back a minute later and wonder about breakfast. Seems they think they are serving breakfast here this morning.  Riz (Captain Circle Host) directs them to the Botticelli Dining room, which can be confusing for some.

We chat with Riz for a minute when she asks us which group we are and we say Walkoff 1 and she says "oh you are clear to go, we are already on Walkoff 3".

Bernie heads up one floor with the suitcases in the elevator and I take the stairs up to the Promenade where we are binged out and off the ship.

We already have our customs form filled out and our passports in hand.  It is about a minute to see a customs agent and we are out the door.  In all it took maybe 5 minutes to get off the ship and get out of the port building - a record for us I think.

Prior to today we sent an email to Jan and Michael who we stayed with the night before the cruise that we would be off around 8. Well it is about 7:40 and we make our way to the end of the island where pick ups are.

Jan and Michael show up right at 8 and a quick drive to their place and we are in our car and heading North at 8;15.  We are home at 10:40 and the bags are emptied and the wash is in.

On reflection this was a great trip.  I loved being able to spend my birthday at sea.  I was spoiled and very moved by how many people helped me celebrate.

The weather was the best too.

The ship is looking great, the crew are still amazing, the passenger I really enjoyed.  I did have reservations at first about all the kids and families but in the end they were very polite and excited to just be on a cruise.

Overall this cruise was smoother than the one we did in May that was a reposistioning from LA to Vancouver.  Maybe because we are mid season in Alaska with repeated itinerary.  The crew know how it flows and many of the passengers are new it made us remember why we love to cruise.

Thank you Crown Princess for another wonderful trip.  Till we meet again.  Stay tuned, we have seven booked.

Victoria - Last Day - AKA Sad Day

After the Most Travelled Luncheon we return to the cabin to change.  It is around 2 pm and we are full and all I want to do is just crawl into bed and have a nap.  But I won't, it is the last day and I want to enjoy it to the fullest.

The Cabin Steward - Enrique - has put the bed protector on the bed so we can start packing.  But we are doing early walk off so we will just pack late today or early tomorrow.  One nice thing about not having to fly home is that we can just throw the things in the bag and close it and go.

I head up to the top deck to catch a bit of the Deadliest Catch - Crab Sort Gameshow. It was quite fun to watch.

Oh did I tell you what a squirrely day it has been weather wise.  We keep entering these fog banks and the fog horn sounds periodically.   Then we come into beautiful sunshine.   It is warm enough that people are out on the pool decks and in the pool.  It is amazing how cool it can be when you are out in open waters.  There was also more movement last night as we are now sailing in the Pacific and we are not shielded by land on both sides anymore.

Events happening this afternoon:

  • Navigational Chart Auction - Art Auction
  • Line Dancing
  • Veterans Get Together
  • Golf Putting
  • Ballroom Blitz Dance Class - Salsa
  • Ice Carving Demo
  • Naturalist Presentation:  Native People of the North West Coast
  • The Great Egg Drop Challenge
  • Arts and Crafts: Box Making
  • Princess Cruises 50th Anniversary Trivia
  • MUTS Iron Man
  • Carpet Bowls Challenge
  • Penny Whistle Class
  • Deadliest Catch Gameshow 
  • Great Alaskan Trivia
  • Production Show Motor City (remember the days of the production show are different this voyage due to the new singers/dancers just coming on).
We sort of do our own thing this afternoon.  I head to the Princess Cruises 50th Anniversary Trivia but got there late so just watched from the back.  

Watched the egg drop contest and loved how many families worked together with their kids to come up with something.

I sit in Crooners and chat with Red for awhile.  We stop into the stores to say goodbye to a few friends.  The stores will close when we get into Victoria and will not reopen so this is our last chance to see some of the crew there.

We are coming into Victoria.  It is sure nice to be back in Canada (even if it is for a few hours). We head up to Skywalkers for our last night in the Elite Lounge with Rock and the allstars yeah that is a great name for them.  It is quiet up here and with so many people itching to get off as soon as possible that they are all hanging out in the Atrium and the hallways/stairways near the gangways.  A few times we hear Nelson the Customers Services Director come on the intercom to announce that it is important for guest to clear the aisles/stairs and to head to a public area to wait till we tie up and clear the ship.  

We are good though, hardly no one is in Skywalkers.  We enjoy a few drinks up here and say a fond farewell to Rock.

After the drinks we head out to the open decks to walk around and take some pictures and enjoy the fresh air.  We run into a couple - the husband is NOT happy and he sure lets his wife know how he feels.  I felt bad for her, but hey she married him.  But in the end I am not sure how you can't be happy.  And if you are not happy, don't take it out on your loved one, head back to the cabin and chill.

We decide not to go ashore today again.  I know I know but hey we live an hour and a half ferry ride from Victoria.  We were just here in May and we will be back here in September (more on that in a later blog).

You can read more about visiting Victoria here on a previous stop here.  

It is lovely tonight, the sun is starting to set, you can see the Legislature in the distance all lit up.  The sea air and the birds are tickling our senses.  

The Holland America ship is right next to us again.  Also a Norwegian Ship too. 

We head to the buffet for a light dinner tonight.  We get ice cream for dessert.  

Tonight we partake in the Multimedia Trivia where a we join up with a fellow passenger.  We do okay but not close enough.

And finally we are back at Crooners for a last goodbye to Red.  

Back in the cabin we pack up most of the bag and get things settled.  

Tomorrow it is back to normal.  Sad face.

Other things happening tonight:  
  • Rolla Bolla Balancing of Krill
  • Jewish Sabbath Service
  • MUTS Stevie Wonder 
  • LGBT Get Together
  • Karaoke Power Hour
  • 60 Second Frenzy 
  • Farewell Multimedia Trivia
  • Stateroom Movie:  The Longest Ride
  • Indoor Goofy Golf

Most Travelled Luncheon - Last Day

We are honoured to be invited to the Most Travelled Luncheon.  A few years ago Princess introduced this luncheon (sometimes a cocktail party) to the top 40 most travelled passengers on any given cruise.  Lately we always make the cut off but sometimes it is close.  This sailing we are the fourth most travelled on this sailing.

Riz Sirilan is the Captain Circle Host and she sent out the invited on the first day for the luncheon.

Today it is held in Sabatinis and it is a sit down meal.

Normally you are sat according to where you fall on the list.  Top three couples sit at the Captains Table.  Next three are at the Hotel General Manager's Table (but today it is both Customer Services Directors - Stefano and Nelson), etc etc.

Bernie, Stefano, and Nelson

But I should back track.  When the open the doors to the restaurant you hand in your invite and Riz will introduce you to the Captain.  They will then take your picture - and you get a copy of it at the end of the meal.

You are then led to your table.  We are sitting with Stefano on my right and Nelson on Bernie's left, along with three others.  There are place settings and a personalize menu for each of us.

For today's menu we are served Alaskan King Crab Cake Drunken Prawns, Cilantro Caper Dip and Wasabi Lime Foam.  Then we have the choice of Red Beet Risotto, Fried Pumpkin and EVO Oil or Steamed Halibut Poached in Green Tea with Galangal, served on Pea and Sweet Potato Mousse and Asparagus Foam or Grilled Fillet of Beef Tenderloin, filled with Boursin Cheese, Carrots, Rutabaga Pont Neuf Truffle Potatoes Pancetta with Shiraz Glaze.  For Dessert it is a Champagne Mouse and Marinated Berries served in a chocolate cup.  Home Made Macaroons.

Mark (our favorite waiter) and Riza are up here serving us.  Mark right away serves me sparkling water - he knows we often prefer that.

We have a choice of red or white wine.

Both Bernie and I had the exact same meals. We started with the Alaskan King Crab Cake and Drunken Prawns

Oh my this is so darn good.  I loved it, and everyone at our table who had it loved it! Would love to see this on the menu.

My entree was the steamed halibut in green tea with galangal.

Again it was so good, perfectly cooked.

Now the big treat was dessert.  And all I can say is WOW.  

At first when they put it down I thought the cup was just a real cup and saucer covered in chocolate. No!  The whole thing is made of chocolate, the cup and the saucer and even the "steam" is white chocolate.  Sure the mousse and berries were very good but we were all having fun with this chocolate cup.  People were breaking it apart and savouring it.  Lots of laughs heard throughout the room.  Felt like when you devour your Chocolate Easter Bunny.  

I wish I could of eaten more of it but I just couldn't.  Darn should of brought the rest back to the cabin to munch on with some wine later.

Riz thanks us all and we all acknowledge the officers who have taken time out of their day to attend. We show our thanks to the hard working crew that helped put it together - way to GO!

The Captain thanked us all too and said a few words.  Our photos were handed out and we waddled out of another great luncheon. Again how lucky are we.

Last Day - Why We Stop in Victoria - Passengers Vessels Services Act

Well one thing I know for sure - Seven Day Cruises go way too fast.  It is already the last day of the cruise!  Seems like we just got on.

It feels like a sea day though because we don't dock in Victoria until 7 pm.

Now I heard a lot of people commenting about why such a short time in Victoria.  Why are we stopping there at all?  Let me try and answer this.

It all has to do with the Passengers Vessels Services Act - PVSA of 1920 for more info click here.

This law was brought in to build up the maritime industry.  In order for ships to transport passengers from one US port to another US port and NOT stopping at a foreign port they had to have a few things.  

The ship had to be constructed in the US, owned by US citizens and crewed by US citizens.  

Of course most cruise ships don't fall into these categories.  Most are built elsewhere, are registered in Panama/Bahamas/Bermuda etc.  And they are crewed by many different nationalities.  All of these are cost effective for a cruise line.  

If a ship leaves from the US and returns to the US it has to visit a distant foreign port. On this cruise it is Victoria.  On a Hawaiian Cruise it is Ensenada.  In the Caribbean it is one of the many Caribbean Islands.  The Canada New England cruise will stop in Canada, namely Halifax and/or St. Johns. 

Note if the ship does not call at a distant foreign port that can be fined $300 per passenger. 

Now I won't get into politics but seems most large companies are like this nowadays.  It all comes down to money.  And sure as a passenger I may not like that my ship has to visit a distant foreign port, but if it met all the requirements of the rule chances are the ship would cost a lot more money to run and therefore cost more to me the passenger.

Norwegian Cruise Lines has a cruiseship that follows all the rules and it is therefore able to sail around the Hawaiian Islands without visiting a foreign port, cause it meets all the criteria.

Okay, that is a basic explanation of why we stop in Victoria on an Alaskan cruise from Seattle.  Now I am no expert on this but those are the basic rules.

So today we will sail into Victoria for a short stop to meet the requirements of visiting a Distant Foreign Port. 

Okay back to our day!  It feels like a sea day.

We wake and turn on the Wake Show.  I really like Kelvin and Deputy Chris.  They work well together, a little goofy but that is what is required.  One thing I noticed this voyage the Wake Show is shown only in the morning.  For the past few years they start showing the Wake Show at 10 pm the night prior and again all morning.  

Bernie gets the coffee (Bernie if you are reading this I truly appreciate it).  

Today is our Most Travelled Luncheon at noon in Sabatini's.  It is always a big meal and since I feel lazy I tell Bernie to just head up to the Horizon Court for his oatmeal without me.  I sit and relax and enjoy my latte and read.  I take my time to get ready. Pure relaxation.

There are tons of things going on this morning: 

  • Cards and Games available in Crown Grill - note every day there were cards and board games made available here to check out and play - a great family event
  • Charge and Carry Liquor and Tobacco - today you can buy your duty free liquor and tobacco and take it with you.  If you order it early it will be delivered to your cabin some time today.
  • Zumba Fitness 9:30 in Club Fusion
  • Ping Pong Tournament
  • MUTS Movie: Hitch
  • Onboard Outlet Sale 10 - 1 pm
  • On Deck for the Cure 
  • Culinary Demonstration and Galley Tour 10:15 Princess Theater
  • Morning Trivia 10:30
  • Diamonds Seminar 10:30
  • Cruise Long Scavenger Hunt Return 11 Crooners
  • Finding Big Foot Return
  • Discovery at Sea Virtual Stargazing 11:45 - the reason they do it during the day is that the sun doesn't set till very late in Alaska 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Ketchikan and Formal Night

We dock very early in Ketchikan - so early I don't even notice that we docked.  Oh by the way we docked around 6 am.  There are four ships in port today - aka busy day.

The weather is overcast with a chance of showers.  Not cold, just cloudy and damp.  
See picture above it says it all.

Sadly we are not in port for that long.  The Crown comes here late in her itinerary and has to leave early so she can make it to Victoria late tomorrow.  Trust me I heard people grumble about the short stop here but it isn't like this ship is a plane that takes off and lands somewhere in a few hours. Victoria is quite a distance and we have to stop in Victoria by law so because of this we leave at noon.

The ship seems quiet.  Many have gone ashore for the morning.  Bernie and I contemplated going ashore but we are quite happy to stay on board and use the ship as our floating resort.  We have been to Ketchikan a few times and we know we will be back.

Today we are docked all the way in Berth 4 which is the furthest away from town.  There are some shops just outside, but to really see anything you need to walk thru the tunnel and toward the town. There is a free shuttle bus that runs from the pier to the town too.

We decide to head down to the dining room for breakfast.  We are sat in the same section we have sat at numerous times.  It is a good section but that constant banging of the waiters station's doors/drawers is a real annoyance.

They have the eggs benedict as the feature item and I decide to give it a try.  But sadly it had been sitting for a bit I guess cause the hollandaise was a little caked on.  I ate one of them and left the other.

I head outside to take a few pictures.  

We take a seat in the International Cafe and do some reading and drink our coffees.

A few things are going on this morning.  

Today they have the Tongass Rangers Information Station all about Skins and Skulls.  They actually have these in most ports where they have a table with displays and posters and someone there to answer you questions.

Bernie went to the Trivia and they won.

Just before noon I take notice of the long queues to get back on board.  This is bound to happen when we sail so early so just be prepared and no worries you will all get on.

When I was back in the cabin sitting on the balcony ready I noticed these things in the water.  At first I thought they were plastic bags, but no they are jelly fish.  I zoomed in to take this shot.  Pretty cool.

They are doing another pub lunch today in Wheelhouse bar.  Which is a great idea cause so many coming back on can easily get a quick bite to eat.  

Tons of things going on this afternoon:  Speedy Sudoku, croquet play, Ballroom class: The Samba, Penny Whistle Class, Service Club Get Together, Art Auction, Napkin Folding, Moose Racing (like the horse racing but these horses have antlers screwed into them), Grapevine Wine tasting Afternoon tea, MUTS has the movie Skyfall, 50th Anniversary Trivia: The Sound of Music.

We get a free invite to the wine tasting as an elite member.  We haven't been in a very long time.  We found that the wines were repeated all the time and we were a little tired of them.  But today we said lets go.  

I am so glad we did.  We were sat at a table of six and the two other couples were from California.  It was quite nice to get to know them.  Also the wines were all new.  I really enjoyed these new wines. They no longer give out the souvenir shot glass (that is okay we have enough of them).  They no longer serve the dessert wine or champagne.  This wine tasting included a rose wine, which I really enjoyed.  

Tonight is a Formal Night and it is also the Captain Circle Party.  There is only one party this voyage. Since there are so many new cruisers they have decided to have everyone who is Gold and up to attend the cocktail party.  Normally the Gold/Ruby have a separate event held near the beginning of the cruise.  

The party is held in Club Fusion and we take a seat near the back.  We catch up with our friends and enjoy two cocktails.  

The most travelled has 832 days - so we aren't too far away.  We are the fourth most travelled couple this trip.  There are only 49 elites!

After the cocktail party we head up to Adagio for drinks with Stefano and Adir.  This is a lovely lounge and it is a great place to come for a cocktail.  The Captain and his wife come in and they join us.  This is a nice treat and it is lovely to catch up with the Captain.  We sailed with him last Fall.  His wife Olga is lovely too with a wonderful laugh and such an easy person to chat with.

We decide to just head to the buffet for a small bite to eat.  It is the Captain's Gala Buffet and it was lovely.  We see Ashwin and Alexia from the shops and they join us for dinner.  

The buffet at night has been quite busy.  I am thinking this has to do with the itinerary and the long days.

After a late dinner we head to Crooners to catch up with Red and to chat with others at the bar.  Isn't it fun sailing and getting to meet new people.  The Balloon drop is happening and the band is playing. Great vibe overall.

Other events going on around the ship:

  • LGBT Get Together
  • Spotlight Showcase With Vocal Impressionist Karen Graingers (we caught a bit of her performance and she was very good). 7 and 10
  • The Movie at Muts is the Rewrite
  • Balancing Act of Krill in Atrium
  • Production Show Blame it on the Boogie 8:15 and 10
  • The Marriage Match Game Show 9 pm
  • Karaoke
  • The 50th Anniversary Gold Balloon Drop Party 10:30

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tracey Arm

Today is the WOW day - it is the day we sail up Tracey Arm.

You need to get up early cause we enter Tracey Arm early - 6:45.  The sights are stunning.  The channel is only 1.5 miles wide so you have views of the mountains on each side.  

Make sure to check out the view and how the ship maneuvers around Big Bend and the "S" Turn.  

If you check along the shore lines around the sandy muddy flats you could spot a bear, but we didn't.

We spot the Star Princess coming out of the channel - boy they were there very early.  As they pass right beside us there is hooting and hollering and lots of waves.

We are sailing towards South Sawyer Glacier but there sure is a lot of ice in the water.

There are some rules that need to be followed and this will effect the passengers. 

They are not allowed to discharge grey water here so laundries could be closed and if you put laundry in for them to do it may take a little longer.

You will not get paper cups while traveling here to ensure that nothing goes over and into the water and pollute the waters.  Sadly I saw a lot of people leaving their cups/plates and even napkins out on the open decks on areas that were not tables. And even left on the Promenade Deck.  

I am out on the Promenade deck walking around.  I run into Edward who has his cart and selling hot drinks.

One tour Princess had today is Tracy Arm Fjord & Glacier Explorer.  One tour leaves at 7 am and rejoins the ship at 9:45.  Second one leaves at 10:15 and rejoins at 1:00 pm. The boat pulls up beside our ship and people get on (kind of like a tender).  The cost of the tour is $219.95  for adults and $169.95 for kids.  

Sure enough Michael the Naturalist tells us that the Captain can't get any closer due to the ice - around 9 am.  The rule is if you see more ice than water you don't go in.  We can see the glacier in the distance but this is probably the furthest we have been from the glacier.  Warm temperatures are causing the glacier to calves and more ice in the water. 

We get as close as we can and the ship sits in the water and then we slowly turn right around.  So don't worry you will all get a great view.

I was up at the aft of the ship at this point and had to giggle when a husband came up with his wife and kids and complained - "See we missed the glacier".  I wanted to say that there are glaciers all around us, but I held my tongue.

The kids club is busy and it is cute to see the staff are doing an game with them where they have to spot things - like: mountain, ice, birds etc, lovely 

It is very very hot out and there are many people in the pool and lounging in the lounge chairs.  

They have an Tracy Arm Outpost for items for sale up on the Lido Deck with all kinds of items - jackets, binoculars, sweaters etc.

They also are serving hot bouillon on the Lido deck while we are here.  And later they are serving reindeer Chili and Fish Chowder.

I have been to Tracey Arm five times now and this has to be the warmest day ever and because of the amazing weather we can see all the mountain tops and all the glaciers around us.  You can see all the amazing rock surfaces and plant life.  

But with this beautiful warm weather comes more ice in the water and we can't get right up to the Sawyer Glacier.  

Lots going on today.  I went to the Sudoku Challenge and again it was quite busy but didn't win.  

I popped into the Sophia Fiori Diamonds and Tanzanite presentation and said hi to Michael and Tammi.  The place was busy.  

Other events today:

  • Afternoon Gameshow Princess Pyramids
  • Charades
  • Acupuncture Demonstration
  • Go North Special Screening - join your video producers for another spectacular documentary about the Klondike Gold Rush 
  • Indoor Goofy Golf
  • Arts and Crafts at Sea Gold Nugget Bracelets 
  • Bingo
  • Movies Under the Stars Ninja Sharks
  • Discovery at Sea Trivia Animal Planets Oceans Edition
  • Golf Putting challenge
  • Champagne Hoopla
  • Veterans Get Together
  • Friends of Bob and Bill Meeting
  • Afternoon Tea
Around 4 pm we are passing Frederick Sound again where we were a few days ago and where we saw all the whales.

Well they are there again and don't disappoint.

Tonight it will be a quiet night for us.  The dining room is featuring the Italian Night Dinner.  

But we head up to the Horizon Court for our meal.