Alaska Cruise

On board the Celebrity Solstice

May - June, 2015

The Set-up

This was definitely a different kind of trip for us. Our only previous cruise experience was over 30 years ago on a short (3 day) cruise to the Bahamas, so for all practical purposes, this was our first real cruise experience.
We had both said that if there was any cruise we would want to take, it would be an Alaska cruise as that is about the only way to get to some of the Alaska sights. We quizzed some friends who had much more cruising and Alaska experience than us and decided to go ahead and take the trip.
The choice of the exact cruise (cruise line, starting and ending ports, and dates) were affected by a number of "external factors", such as a free companion ticket that was only good for a round-trip to a city in the US and also by the desire to stop and visit our younger son and family in the Seattle area as part of the trip. We found a Celebrity cruise that left from and returned to Seattle and it seemed to offer a good combination of features and sightseeing opportunities. We made the reservations through "Vacations to Go" as they offered some very good discounts and package deals. The rep we talked to at Vacations to Go was James Bingley and he was very friendly and helpful whenever I had questions. He was very helpful when picking out a cabin for us. I would not hesitate to use Vacations to Go and James Bingley to arrange another trip in the future.

Day 1: Atlanta to Seattle and getting on board

We left Atlanta Friday morning, May 22 on a Delta flight. It was on time and we had exit row seats so it was about as comfortable as coach class seats can be these days.

We had clouds most of the way to Seattle, but some were pretty.

Description: Underlying clouds on flight to Seattle.

Upon arriving in Seattle we claimed our luggage and headed to the area where the cruise ship companies gather the people and transport them to the ship terminal. Our impression of the process and procedures for this was one of "organized confusion": there was minimal signage and instructions to the passengers were rather sparse but we eventually got on a bus.

Susan waiting to board the bus at the airport.

Description: Susann at bus in airport

Our luggage traveled via a different truck and we were told that we might not see our bags again until they were delivered to our cabin about 5:00 (It was now about 12:30). The ride to our cruise ship terminal (there are several in Seattle) was about 30 minutes, some of it right along the Seattle waterfront. When we got to the terminal we experienced another case of "organized confusion", only on a larger scale. Again, the few signs were unclear or confusing for someone going through the process for the first time.

The Solstice is a large ship at 122,000 tons and 2800 passengers. Our cabin was about behind the black part of the crane, fourth deck visible from the bottom.

Description: The Soltice at the dock

Our first order of business was to find our cabin on deck 8, check it out a little, drop off our carry-on bags, and then find something to eat. (It was now 5:00 Atlanta time and we had not had much to eat during the trip.)

Our Cabin from the inside. The bed was just a little short for me.

Description: The inside of our cabin

We found our way to the Seaview restaurant at the stern on deck 14. As we found out on the cruise, this is the place to go to get something to eat at almost any time of day or night. It was all buffet service (waiters did take drink orders) with lots of different kinds of food. (I'll have more comments about food in general later.)

Inside the Seaview restaurant: It got rather busy at times.

Description: Inside the Seaview restaurant

After filling the void in our stomachs, we explored the ship a bit, locating key items like the main restaurant, the theater, and areas to relax both inside and on the exterior upper decks.

On our tour of the Solstice, we found the pool deck. This exterior pool did not get used much.

Description: Pool and hottubs on the upper exterion deck

Our next scheduled activity was the practice "mustering" drill in which everyone reported to their potential lifeboat stations at 4:15. Our cabin was on the dock side of the ship and we could watch the load process, including loading all the luggage. The luggage had been stacked onto pallets which were then hoisted aboard the ship via a crane. At one point I was pretty sure I saw our bags on top of a pallet being hoisted but they were not delivered to our cabin until quite a bit later.

Watching the luggage being loaded as seen from the veranda of our cabin.

Description: luggage being loaded onto the ship

Knowing that we would want to stay up to a reasonable hour, we found a coffee shop on board and enjoyed some good coffee (double espresso) for a while. We made several trips to this cafe during the cruise.

After the mustering drill was over, we did not have any other scheduled activity until we decided it was time to eat supper. We had chosen to go with open seating in the dining room, rather than have a fixed dinner time and table each night, so we could eat whenever we wanted to. We soon wandered up to one of the forward upper decks where we could watch the departure.

If you could see behind us you would see the skyline of Seattle.

Description:Mike & Susan on deck before departure

Finally the ship started to move, almost imperceptibly, and it backed out of the dock.

You can see the effect of the bow thrusters turning us as we backed away from the dock.

Description: Leving the dock in Seattle

It turned and put the city of Seattle off the stern and headed out Puget Sound toward the ocean.

The Seattle skyline is over a hill as we head into Puget Sound.

Description: Seattle is ogver the hill behind us

We watched some of the other boats in the sound for a while and finally headed to the cabin to change for dinner. Thankfully, our luggage had finally arrived about 5:30.

One boat looked like a Chinese junk
Chinese Junk
And another had a rather colorful design on the spiniker Colorful sail

There were also some real work boats, like the "Harvestor".

Description: fishing boat

Part of the cruise deal we got included a drink package that allowed us to order drinks that would normally be extra cost, up to a maximum of $8 for most drinks and $9 for glasses of wine. Since we had eaten a late lunch, we made use of the drink package by stopping at one of the bars to have a glass of wine before dinner.

Susan enjoying one of our pre-dinner glasses of wine.

Description: Susan and wine glasses

We got seats close to some windows and could watch as the shoreline passed by in the distance. After relaxing for a while we headed to find out what dinner was all about. The open seating worked out well for us as on several days the excursions returned us to the ship rather late and the open seating enabled more flexibility. This first night we were seated at a group table with four other couples and it turned out to be a very good and fun group so we enjoyed the social aspect of the dinner as much as the meal itself.

Some comments about the Food

This is probably a good time to talk about the food in general. Considering the number of guests the food service people have to serve and the schedules involved, they do a great job. However, from our point of view, almost all of the food is prepared with relatively mild or bland taste. I suspect they are afraid to make food very spicy because some guests might not eat that. The food was not really bad, just "blah". Breakfast was primarily in the Seaview restaurant on deck 14. There were many options for breakfast, from prepared omelets to English style bacon, fresh and frozen fruit and oatmeal. I did not notice much variation from day to day but there were enough choices that you should not get bored on a one week cruise. We usually ate lunch in the Seaview also, although there were several small "snack bars" serving burgers and such around the pool area. Lunch in Seaview offered a large selection, some of which changed daily. There were prepared and DIY salads, freshly carved meat, pasta and pizza, lots of fresh fruits, Asian style food, breads and sandwich materials. The desert area even included a selection of gluten-free items. As I was eating one of the prepared salads, I noticed something "extra crunchy" in my mouth and soon pulled out two pieces of broken glass. We called it to the attention of one of the managers and they quickly removed the salad tray and I later received a visit and apology from the executive chef.

Coffee in the coffee shop was some of the best "food" we had.

Description: Susan and coffee

Dinner offered a number of choices. Besides the main restaurant there were three "extra cost" restaurants available (the additional cost ranged from $35 to $50 per person). There was an "Italian Steakhouse", a French/Continental restaurant and an Asian restaurant. By the time we thought about trying one of these restaurants, we could not get a reservation that did not conflict with an excursion, so I cannot report on the food and service at these. At the main restaurant each evening there were effectively two menus: the "nightly special" menu and the "same every night" menu. The combination typically allowed a choice of 10 or 12 appetizers, soups, and salads, about 10 entrees and 5 or 6 deserts. The meals were obviously prepared in large numbers and then served as ordered; sometimes the food seemed freshly prepared and sometimes it had apparently been sitting for a while. It was never bad, but it obviously had not just been prepared and then served as soon as ready. The service was generally good but we sometimes had to wait to place our order for initial glasses of wine or for refills. Service seemed a bit better when we were at a group table than the couple of times we were seated by ourselves at a table for two.

It had been a long day, so retired to our cabin relatively early.

Day 2: At Sea

The second day, Saturday, we were at sea all day with no port to visit or excursions. I was beginning to worry about the weather as most of the day was very cloudy with occasional light rain and, of course, fairly cool. Between the poor visibility and our location/course we were out of sight of land most of the day. We were a bit surprised by the amount we could feel the motion of the ship. About all day and night we were heading into about a 5 - 6 foot sea and if you were seated or laying down you could feel the ship slightly slowing when hit by the waves. It was sort of like a very minor "lurching" effect. It was certainly not enough to cause any discomfort or bother us, but it was more noticeable than I expected.

The view over the stern as we headed north through the Inside Passage.

Description: View of the stern wake

We spent the day exploring the ship, doing some reading and attending some of the planned entertainment. One of the highlights of the day, and the trip in general, was the presentations by the on-board naturalist, Brent Nixon. His presentations (I think there were four during the week) conveyed his unusual combination of knowledge and passion for his subject. His presentations were about the geography of the area and the various forms of wildlife, especially the whales and Orcas. Another very interesting presenter was "Miss Amanda" who would generally tell you about the town and area you would be visiting the next day. She would dress in period outfits and made the history and background of the cities very interesting. We found out toward the end of the cruise that Miss Amanda and Brent Nixon are married and they made for a very interesting couple.

We had breakfast and lunch in the Seaview Cafe and then dinner in the main dining room again. This was a "formal" evening so I had to remember how to tie my tie and wear a coat to dinner. We sat at a different dinner table with a different group of people who were not as sociable and pleasant as the first evening, so we didn't linger over dinner quite as long.

Day 3: Ketchikan

They wanted to make sure you know where you are.

Description: Ketchikan welcome sign

On Sunday we awoke and looked out our balcony to see we were already docked at the port in Ketchikan, along with two other large cruise ships. We had several hours before we were to begin an excursion, so after breakfast we took a walk around town. We walked north along the docks for a ways, then circled back around the marina to the south end of the town. We noticed an area that was named "Creek Street" with souvenir shops along a creek. We later learned that this was a rather (in)famous section of town where early miners and fishermen went for "negotiable affection"

Creek Street where men used to enjoy "negotiable affection".

Description: Creek Street entrance

We noticed that most of the town consisted of jewelry stores, souvenir shops (with lots of T-shirts) and small restaurants/bars. It, and the other towns we visited, are definitely based on the tourist trade today. The weather was still cloudy and cool with a bit of a threat of rain.

We thought this piece of Ketchikan artwork was interesting.

Description: octopus sculpture made of small tiles

After a good walk we headed back to the ship until time to depart for our first excursion.

After an early lunch, we left the ship to go find our excursion group. We were to go kayaking around the Tatoosh Islands, a little north of Ketchikan. We ended up with about 18 people on the tour and we got loaded up on a bus for the 30 minute ride to the dock where the excursion really starts. The bus driver did give a good description of the local area as we passed through it, even pointing out the local WalMart. At the launching point we all signed waivers and got life jackets for the trip. We loaded into two Zodiac type boats which would take us to the island where we would get in the kayaks.

Getting ready to load up the Zodiacs

Description: Empty zodiacs at dock

The zodiac ride took about 20 minutes and included a short pause at an eagle's nest at the water's edge. The kayaking trips apparently work in shifts as another group was just getting back in the kayaks as we arrived at the beach.

At the beach with the kayaks lined up and ready for us. .

Description: Colorful kayaks on the beach

We got the standard "how-to" briefing and soon loaded into the two-person kayaks and pushed off the beach. Despite the excursion brochure mentioning the possibility of seeing seals, Orcas and even whales, the most interesting things we saw were some unusual looking starfish. Most of them were colored purple with a few yellow/pink ones and seemed to live in the rocks in the tidal zone (between the high and low tides).

Some of the strange looking but colorful starfish we saw while kayaking.

Description: Colorful starfish

We did have a nice paddle that lasted about 90 minutes by which time I was ready to get out and stretch my legs.

It was a relatively easy paddle with no waves and not far to go. .

Description: Some of the other kayaks

After some hot chocolate we loaded back into the Zodiacs and headed back to the dock and waited for the arrival of the bus. It was a nice little trip and a relaxing paddle, but certainly not exciting or especially interesting.

We got back to the ship in time to clean up a little and have our normal glasses of wine before heading to dinner. During one of Brent Nixon's presentations that evening they explained a little about the trip up the Tracey Arm Fiord the next morning. It was to be an early morning as we were to enter the fiord about 6:00 AM.

Leaving Ketchikan: the weather had cleared during the day and was very nice.

Description: Water and mountains leaving Ketchikan

Day 4: Tracy Arm Fiord and Sawyer Glacier

We woke up shortly after 6 and looked out the window and could quickly see that we were headed up the fiord.

There was also a small excursion ship heading into the fiord.

Description: In the fiord and small excursion vessel

We put on some of our warmest clothes and went up to one of the forward decks to get a better view. It was cold but it was also a beautiful view going up the relatively narrow waterway. We passed waterfalls, snowcapped mountains, and a couple of eagles in their nest.

These eagles were in a tree on the shore about a half mile from the ship.

Description: Teo eagles in a tree

We even saw a small (about 35') sailboat anchored in a small cove; it had apparently spent the night there. As we moved further up the fiord the chunks of ice got bigger and more numerous. At one point the fiord split in two at an island (Sawyer Island). We could look down the southern arm of the fiord and see the Southern Sawyer Glacier in the distance.

Looking past Sawyer Island you can see the southern glacier in the distance.

Description: Sawyer island and southern glacier

Even from this distance it looked huge. We continued up the eastern arm of the fiord and soon saw the eastern Sawyer glacier. The ship slowly continued up to within about a half mile of the glacier.

We wondered how this size ship could get through some of the passages, but it did.

Description: Narrow opening in fiord

Brent Nixon was on the PA system giving occasional comments about what we were seeing and he said this was the furthest the ship had ever been able to go this early in the season.

Up close and personal with the Sawyer Glacier.

Description: Close approach to the glacier

The ship rotated using its bow and stern thrusters so everyone could good a good view. There were lots of chunks of ice close to the base of the glacier and I didn't realize until later that the black spots on the ice were seals.

Look closely; the black spots on the floating ice are seals.

Description: Seals on th efloating ice

One block of ice had a mother seal and her pup. After about 15 minutes close to the glacier, the ship pivoted around and headed back toward open water. It was our first"up-close" look at a glacier, but it would not be the last and not the closest.

Leaving the fiord the scenery continued to be beautiful.

Description: Water and mountains leaving Ketchikan

The ship took a couple of hours to get to Juneau so we had a leisurely lunch watching the boats and some interesting birds along the way. We were surprised to see a number of sailboats in the area south of Juneau and one even got a bit close as it cut across directly in front of our ship.

One of the sailboats we saw as we approached Juneau. Look closely and you can see the Taku Glacier in the distance.

Description: Sailboat in bay, mountains in distance

On the way into Juneau harbor we went up to one of the forward decks to watch the approach and docking.

Approaching the port at Juneau. Three other cruise ships were already there.

Description: Port of Juneau

Our excursion was not scheduled to leave until 4:30 so we got a mid-afternoon snack to hold us over until our scheduled return at 8:30. At the appointed time about 12 of us loaded up into a van and headed to Lake Mendenhall. Once on the beach we saw the 12 person "native style" (made of fiberglass, of course) canoes we would be paddling.

Looking out at Lake Mendenhall, Glacier in the distance to the left. Note the small waterfall on the right.

Description: Mendahall lake and glacier

We got our life preservers, waterproof boots, and paddles and loaded up. The two people who got in front (a mother and daughter) had never paddled before and they set too fast a pace for effective paddling: you just didn't have time to get in a good pull. They didn't realize it because they weren't really doing any paddling: the mother, especially, was just dipping her paddle in the water. Based on what I could see (and feel) of the others behind us, I'd guess that Susan and I were providing at least half of the motive power in the canoe. On this leg we were paddling pretty well into about a 10 mph wind, so it was tough going until we got close to a outcropping of the shore that blocked some wind. .

There were two canoes. The other one had guests from a different cruise ship.

Description: The other canoe

We paddled around this little outcropping of land and there was the Mendenhall Glacier right in front of us.

About 200 yards from the Mendenhall Glacier.

Description: Up close to the glacier

The guide in the boat directed us to within about 200 yards of the face of the glacier and there were a number of good size chunks of ice all around.

Another view of the Mendenhall Glacier,

Description: Mendenhall glacier

We paddled around there for a little while and then headed over to a beach alongside a waterfall that emptied into the lake. Everyone got out and stretched their legs and had some light refreshments while looking around.

Remember that small waterfall? That is it behind us. Not so small after all.

Description: Mike & Susan in front of Waterfall

After 20 or 30 minutes we loaded up and headed back to the departure beach. This time Susan and I got up front so we could set a more reasonable and effective paddling cadence. The return paddle was easier although the wind was dropping (by now it was about 7:30) and didn't help us much. By the time we got back to the beach Susan and I had had some pretty good upper-body exercise. Everyone loaded back into the van for the 20 minute ride back to the ship where we headed to our cabin, cleaned up a bit and went to the Seaview Cafe for a late (9:00) dinner.

Day 5: Skagway

Tuesday morning in Skagway I woke up and looked out the window to see a wooded hillside seemingly just outside the window. It was actually probably a couple of hundred feet away, but it seemed so out of place that it looked much closer. We were scheduled to begin a fairly early excursion today, so we ate an early breakfast, got our stuff together and headed out. On this excursion we were to take the White Pass and Yukon narrow gauge railroad a ways, then hike to a glacier, hike back, and catch the train for the return trip to Skagway.

At the dock in Skagway. You can see one of the 5 trains that run, but it was not ours.

Description: At the dock in Skagway

There was a train on a siding alongside the dock, so I thought this would be an easy start, but it turned out that our train departed from a new "train depot" on the other side of town. The (temporary, it turned out) excursion leader said that there was a bus for us, but we had plenty of time and it was a pleasant walk through town if we preferred that, which we all (about 14 on the trip) agreed to. It was a nice little (.75 mile) walk and the guide did point out some of the historical areas and buildings on the way.

The Skagway Museum used to be the city jail.

Description: Skagway Museum

For the most part though, Skagway appeared to be similar to Ketchikan and Juneau, with lots of souvenir shops, jewelry stores, and small bars. We got to the train and boarded our car, the one immediately behind the locomotives. At this point we met the guides for the rest of the trip, one young man (the most experienced), and two young women, one of whom was in training and this was her first trip. We had the normal waivers to sign and then, a little unusual, we made our own lunches.

On board the train. You can see the lunch materials in the bottom right.

Description: On board the train

They provided bread, luncheon meats, and the other sandwich materials and we made whatever we wanted, put them in plastic bags, and we carried them and the bottles of water they provided. The train out of Skagway was scenic and interesting and reminded me of our trip on the Durango - Silverton narrow gauge railroad last year.

At one point on the train ride you could see Skagway and the ships in port..

Description: Skagway and ships in port

The track did curve a little. Note that you can see the train around two curves here..

Description: Curving train on the track

It is amazing that the railroad was able to be built at all given the technology and equipment available in 1898. Most of the passengers on the train were going to further destinations, 25 or 30 miles from Skagway but we were getting off early: at about mile 14 the train stopped and we got off.

We got off the train and waved good-by to the other passengers.

Description: The train as it pulls away from us

We gathered our stuff, got a very brief introduction from the guide (they had covered most details on the train) and headed out.
The distance was about right, the times not so much.
trail sign

The first part of the hike would be about 2.5 miles along a prepared path that was pretty easy hiking. The views of the mountains in the distance were also great.

This was typical of the prepared part of the trail. Mostly easy hiking.

Description: Prepared trail

The path went alongside a stream for most of the distance and, with the spring thaws, it was full of fast moving water. There were interesting trees and plants and the guides did point our several of them, including some poisonous ones, probably as a warning not to touch anything we were not familiar with. We stopped at a rock outcropping into the stream for some pictures and occasional other places.

We stopped for pictures on a boulder sticking out into the stream.

Description: Mike & Susan in the stream

About 2 miles into the hike we passed a Forest Service cabin and at the 2.5 mile point we got to the end of the official trail. At the end of the trail was also the last (and only) restroom facilities on the hike, a true outhouse (a single holer).

Besides the outhouse, this was a place to rest and view the scenery.

Description: The outhouse and surrounding mountains

Besides the outhouse, the views from this area were great, with snow- capped mountains above green valleys in all directions.

And the scenery was quite good. This mountain was actually in Canada.

Description: Snow covered mountain in Canada

After a short "rest stop" (in both senses of the phrase) we headed out, changing direction toward the Laughton glacier and initially following a much less prepared trail. The lightly prepared trail soon gave out completely and we were making our way over a rock/boulder field most of the rest of the way. We could soon see the glacier from a distance and it didn't look that impressive at first.

Our first good look at the Laughton Glacier was not that impressive.

Description: Laughton Glacier from a distance

There appeared to be some snow and ice on both sides of a mound of dirt and rocks in the middle. As we got closer though, that mound of dirt and rocks started looking a bit strange; it was really just a section of the glacier that had been covered by dirt and rocks coming down from the sides.

As we got closer the glacier looked more impressive. What I thought was dirt and rocks was actually ice.

Description: Closer view of glacier

It was obvious from the shape of the valley we were in that the glacier had long ago carved out a wide "U-shaped" cut in the mountains and then receded back to its current position, leaving the valley littered with boulders. As we got closer, the glacier was a bit more impressive and about a mile after leaving the outhouse, we arrived at the base of the glacier.

We were close to the glacier: literally a stone's throw away. At one point I picked up a rock and threw it at the glacier's face to see what it would do when the rock hit it. In a bit of a disappointment, the rock just bounced off, leaving a very small "nick" in the glacier where the cleaner ice showed through.

A closer view of the glacier ice and snow from only a "stone's throw" away.

Description: Glacier snow and packed ice

We found places to sit and broke out our lunches to eat here at the base of the glacier. During and after lunch most of the hikers explored around the glacier and some of them got a bit closer to the front edge than I would have done myself.

Since this glacier did not empty into a lake or ocean, we could get up close to it.

Description: Another close view of the glacier

The guides had some hot chocolate, which was good because it was cold where we were standing and sitting. The wind was coming off the frozen mountain, over the icy glacier and blowing onto us so after 30 or 40 minutes we were starting to get cold, so we packed up and headed back down the trail.

The clouds had come in to cover the sky making it even cooler. Time to head back.

Description: Departing view of the glacier

On the way back we made another stop at the outhouse to make use of its facilities and then headed back down the trail toward the railroad pickup point. We were going mostly downhill, so we made good time, despite a couple of stops for sightseeing.

Everyone (except the guides) were expecting the train to pick us up at 3:20.

Description: Around the train pick-up point

The sign at the railroad had said the pickup time was 3:20 so when we arrived at a couple of minutes after 3, we figured we had timed it just right. The guides retrieved some snacks they had stored in a bear-proof metal storage container and we passed them around and we had some water while we awaited the train. Sure enough, about 3:20, here comes a train. It blew its horn and then kept right on going without stopping. Seems that was not our train. The same thing happened for the second, the third, and the fourth train.

The first 4 trains slowed down but did not stop. We were beginning to wonder.

Description: Train passing us by

Turns out that our train was the fifth of the five trains that make that run and it arrived about 4:00. We all climbed aboard and enjoyed the seats, even if they were not especially comfortable. Several people managed to take naps during the return trip. After all, seven miles, some of it through pretty rough terrain, makes for a pretty good hike.

From the last car of the train, we could see the first part crossing a bridge.

Description: Train crossing bridge over stream.

We got back to the Train Station we had departed from and again had a choice of a bus or walking and, despite the walking we had already done that day, I don't think anyone took the bus.

We got back to the ship a little after 5:00 and decided to rest and relax for a while before cleaning up and heading to dinner in the main restaurant after our usual glass of wine in the bar. I had woken up that morning with a cough and not feeling real good, so I was ready to relax that evening. Susan came down with the same respiratory ailment a couple of days later and it ended up staying with us for several weeks.

Day 6: At Sea

This was to be a day totally at sea, heading back toward Seattle. It was broken up by a couple of items of "entertainment". The best offering was a presentation by "Miss Amanda" (Mary Amanda Fairchild) about "The last Song on the Titanic". It turns out that, in addition to being a good speaker, she is also a harpist, and a music researcher/historian who has done a lot of research into the subject and presented a paper at a major conference. Suffice it to say that she pretty well proved that the movies and most literature have always used the wrong song, although it is similar and related to the song she believes is really the last song played on the Titanic. (This did seem like a strange topic to present on a large cruise ship while at sea.) This show is definitely worth seeing.

The intro slide for Mary Amanda Fairchild's "Last Song" presentation in the theater.

Description: Intro visual for the Last Song

The other activity we tried was less successful. We signed up for a wine tasting that was to start in the wine bar at 4:00. We showed up a couple of minutes before 4 and it was already under way. It was not very organized and, in my opinion, not very well done. There was no real description or discussion of the various wines or why these wines had been chosen. You just went from pouring station to pouring station getting tastes of the various wines. Considering the cost of the tasting, we were very underwhelmed. (Wine tastings and visiting wineries is one of our hobbies, so we have seen it done right numerous times. See ) The only other noteworthy happening this day was the offloading of a sick passenger. The captain had announced in the morning that we had a sick passenger so we would divert a bit to bring us closer to a harbor with a pilot boat and the pilot boat would take the sick passenger to the harbor where they could be transferred to a major hospital. About 3:00 we saw the pilot boat leaving the ship, heading toward land.

We occasionally got close enough to land to enjoy some nice views.

Description: Views along the inside passage

We again had a table for two in the main restaurant and afterwards discovered a very nice lounge area at the front of the ship, overlooking the bow, with comfortable chairs, huge windows, and decent glasses of wine. We sat here for a while, watching the sun set, probably about 9:30 in the evening.

I wish we had discovered the Sky Lounge sooner. It was a great place to have a glass of wine.

Description: Sunset from the Sky Lounge

Day 7: At Sea and Victoria, BC

. We spent most of day 7 (Thursday) at sea also, arriving in Victoria, Canada about a half hour late, at 6:45. For almost the entire day, we were going through fairly thick fog and the ship's fog horn was well used that day. Occasionally we would hear the foghorns from other ships and as we finally came out of the fog close to Victoria, we were relatively close to a fairly large freighter headed the same direction.

The freighter almost seemed to appear out of the fog when we got into clear air.

Description: Freighter off the starboard side

This was a relatively quiet day with few scheduled activities (well, ones that we were interested in anyway). I was feeling the effects of whatever sickness I had and Susan was starting to show some effects of it also so we mostly relaxed. I tried to take a few laps around the walking track while Susan went to the gym, but after about a half mile we entered an area of rain (or perhaps it was a crew member washing off some of the upper decks) so I retreated to the coffee bar inside.

The arrival in Victoria is normally somewhat late at 6:00 PM but our detour to drop off the sick passenger had put us even later. Another cruise ship was leaving the dock as we were arriving and there were several large outrigger canoes, probably part of some excursion, paddling around in the harbor in front of us.

Approaching Victoria as another cruise ship leaves.

Description: Approaching Victoria Harbor

Since we were running late and the schedule for the excursions was tight, there were lots of people crammed around the exit area awaiting word that the Canadian authorities had cleared the ship and its passengers to enter Canada.

As we approached the dock, the buses were lined up and ready for us.

Description: Approaching the dock in Victoria

Because of the time of day of our arrival, the excursions were limited and most included a tour of the Butchart Gardens, a little north of Victoria. We had chosen a tour that included a stop at a butterfly garden and then the gardens.

When we got the clearance, everyone rushed out of the ship, through the perfunctory Canadian Customs process, and toward the buses. We found our bus and were soon under way with about 14 other people, the driver and a "tour guide" who was really just an administrative person as the bus driver did all the talking, and he was quite talkative. It took about 20 minutes to get to the Butterfly Garden and it was surprisingly interesting.

They used the bananas grown inside the garden to feed the butterflies.

Description: Butterflies and bananas

They had many kinds of butterflies and large moths and a couple of parrots and flamingos for a little added color. Apparently they had stayed open beyond their normal closing time to accommodate our late schedule and the people running it were very helpful and informative.
One butterfly liked to hang around the Pitcher Plant.
Chinese Junk
The parrots added some color also. Colorful sail
We stayed here about 45 minutes and then loaded up for the 5 minute ride to the Butchart Gardens.

By the time we got to the gardens it was about 8:30 and, although still light, things were starting to get dark.

The story behind the Butchart Garden is interesting also.

Description: Entrance to Butchart Gardens

Apparently the gardens had also stayed open for excursions from the ship as our bus and about 5 other buses were the only vehicles in the parking lot and signs said the closing time was 6:00. The gardens were beautiful and everything seemed in full bloom.

The "Sunken Garden" occupies the one time Limestone pit mine.

Description: Lush garden area

We learned that, in the prime season, the gardens kept about 50 gardeners employed as well as about 200 others working in the shops, refreshment stands, administration, etc. Since we are both rather avid gardeners ourselves (Susan is the flower gardener, I stick to the edibles such as vegetables and fruits) we were very interested in how they grew some of the plants, especially the ones we know to be sensitive to cold temperatures.

Walkways were lined with different varieties of colorful flowers.

Description: Flower lined walksay

Later research found that Victoria is on the tip of a peninsular, largely surrounded by water, so the temperature rarely falls below freezing, somewhat like San Francisco in some ways. The gardens were divided into sections such as the Japanese Garden, the Italian Garden, the Sunken Garden with a nice colored water fountain, and several others.

This colorful and dynamic fountain was in a lake in the sunken garden area.

Description: colorful water fountain

We were supposed to meet back at the bus at 10:15 but by about 9:45 it was getting so dark that we decided to head back, as did most of the other members of our excursion group and our bus was the last to leave the gardens just a little after 10:00 PM.

The friendly driver offered to take us back via the scenic route since we did not have to be back on board the ship until 11:00 and everyone said "yes". It was a nice tour, but I was a little concerned. As part of the debarkation process we were supposed to have our luggage outside our cabin by 11:00 and we had not packed or prepared our luggage yet. Plus, getting something to eat was certainly more important than getting our luggage out. We got back to the dock about 10:30 and quickly cleared customs and boarded the ship. First priority was food, so we went to the Seaview Cafe and had a quick and late dinner there. The food selection was a bit limited, but it seemed to taste relatively good despite being rushed. We then headed to the cabin to clean up and pack our bags, leaving out the clothes to wear the next day. We ended up getting the bags out just before midnight, which turned out to be plenty early, of course.

Day 8: Seattle Debarkation

The debarkation process was another example of what I call "organized confusion". I guess it made sense and might be the efficient way to get people off the ship, but there has to be a better way. As on arrival/embarkation day, we thought perhaps we should moo as we felt somewhat like cattle being herded. Different sections of the ship were assigned different group numbers (we were 8) and each group was supposed to go to an area of the ship (ours was the theater) and wait until that group number was called when we could leave the ship. You then went through a warehouse size building where the luggage was lined up in rows, organized by group numbers (which was hard to find/read). We found our luggage, grabbed it, and headed outside to the line of buses and found the one we were supposed to get on to go to the airport. We later found out that, since we only had one medium wheeled suitcase each, we could have kept our luggage in the room then wheeled the suitcases off the ship whenever we wanted to, avoiding the luggage warehouse. Next time we'll know.

The bus delivered us to the airport where we quickly transferred to a rental car bus to the rental car center where I had a car reserved. We hopped in the car and made the now familiar drive to the Bellevue Embassy Suites where we stayed during our visit to our younger son and his family the next four days.

Some General Comments

We were somewhat surprised (Susan more so than I) at the number of shops and selling activities on the ship. There was a jewelry shop, watch store, booze store, souvenir (the expensive kind) shop, art gallery (which always seemed to be having an auction), photography studio, and others. Oh, and of course the casino which never seemed very busy (perhaps we did not stay up late enough). There was a glass blowing facility that offered demonstrations and lessons on board. I guess the ships management figures they have a captive audience, probably with some disposable $$, so the ship might as well get some of those $$ rather than let them all go to the ports we visited.

We didn't spend as much time on our balcony as I expected: too cold!.

Description: View of and from our balcony

The staff were very attentive and friendly, more so than at most resorts and hotels. They always had a smile and were glad to assist with directions or suggestions. They were, of course, from all over the world but all the staff we interacted with seemed to have a good command of English.

There were several other shows that I did not mention, so I'll cover them here. There was a singer (Karen Grainger) who did a good job of sounding and behaving like numerous famous singers, although I though her "native" voice was the best. There was a comedian/illusionist (Adam Trent) but we did not go to his show so I cannot comment on it. We did go to the "Solstice Show" which was their version of a Cirque du Soleil show. It was good, but we have seen better such shows put on by Club Med circus GOs.

And the sun sets on another successful trip.

Description: Sunset in the mountains.

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