Ep 6 – 2017 ‘Big Birthday’ World Tour 

Just Cruisin’ like an Alaskan Princess 

We headed out of Vancouver for a 7 day cruise followed by a 3 day land component. I loved Alaska – was surprised and amazed by the diversity. 

Embarkation 

Imagine 4 large cruise ships carrying over 2500 people each. Now picture those 10 000 people all trying to pass through security and customs at a small airport. That was what embarking on our cruise in Vancouver was like. Those with Canadian or US passports were fast tracked through the process, but those of us who were ‘Internationals’ had a different, and longer, experience. After dropping our checked luggage off at 11.30am, we joined a queue where we were divided depending on passport origin. The queue went through into a hall where we were given a group number and told to take a seat.  It was similar to a large auditorium with rows and rows of seats, but no entertainment except for the rousing cheers that erupted when a groups’ number was called.  

North Americans bypassed this process, passing quickly through the hall. When your number was read out you passed through doors at the back, to join another queue. This line wound its way to another space where we were seated again, waiting for our row to be summoned to…..join a queue! We were now in customs where we were fingerprinted and photographed. From here we queued for security checks where alcohol was declared if in your carry on luggage  (ours was in checked luggage). While there were lots of warnings about what would happen if you had too much, in the end it was pretty much an honour system – “Do you have alcohol with you?” “No” “OK, Enjoy your cruise”

Through the alcohol check, we waited to be processed by our cruise line for our particular ship. Given our onboard card that was our roomkey and charge account we proceeded across the gangway, had our security identification photo taken and were finally welcomed aboard.  It was now 4.30pm. 

Goodbye Vancouver

Itinerary 

There were optional land tours/activities at each port of call, but we hadn’t signed up for any,  planning to check out weather etc before making decisions. This turned out to be the best option as I managed to pick up a nasty throat infection that pretty much wiped me out for a lot of the cruise. We decided to disembark and wander the town then head back to the ship. J would then adventure through the ship while I slept the afternoon away in our stateroom. Occasionally he headed back with treats like icecream or chocolate eclairs.  

Food and Dining 

Wow, the food! I had heard all the stories of the food from other cruisers,  but was stunned by the variety, availability and amount offered. We had opted for ‘anytime’ dining which pretty much meant we could eat anything, anytime and anywhere throughout the restaurants on board. It also meant we shared our table with a variety of other diners each time. This gave us the opportunity to talk to many different people from lots of different places. Great conversations and lots of ‘learnin’ and stuff’. One thing I learned was that as much as my colleagues and I like to complain about our jobs, we have it so much better than a lot of our peers from around the world in terms of pay, expectations and conditions. In fact, as a trained ‘Home Ec’ teacher, I wouldn’t be teaching my subject in many of the school districts in the US.

Mmmmmm suckling pig….the same night as chicken wings and pork ribs! How to decide? Easy, have it all!

Baked Alaska for final night dessert

Entertainment 

Despite being ill, I managed to make it to each nights entertainment after resting during the day. The ship’s team of singers and dancers were awesome and put on a variety of great performances.

During the day there were some entertainment I dragged myself along to, especially the food carving. We also had naturalists and sled dog racers give talks.

Scenery 
I don’t want to overuse my adjectives, so I’ll just post photos…..

Ketchikan, our first port, was the most interesting and photogenic. Also, I wasn’t quite as sick as I was to become, which may colour my recollections 😉

Ketchikan

Carved totem, at Ketchikan

Guess where? Old village (original red light district) in Ketchikan

Why would you even? Have they not seen the movie?

I just dont know….

Glacier Bay

Official bird of Alaska – the mosquitoes are HUGE! That’s J’s hand.

College Fjord. Also the view outside our restaurant window for our final on board dinner

Post Cruise Land Tours
As part of the Princess Cruise Tour Package were three extra nights on land with included tours. We started with a 8 hour sloooooow train ride from Whittier to Denali National Park. Along the way we experienced the views through the glass domed  carriages and attempted to spot wildlife. 

Our train heading to Denali

View from train window on the way

The next day in Denali we had a natural history bus tour. The driver pointed out the wildlife, the landforms and other points of interest. We saw ptarmigan  (which look like chickens), hare, lots of caribou (singles and in herds), a stubborn moose that refused to leave the road after wandering behind the bus as we decided to leave 

Stubborn old moose, moved from here to behind our bus where she decided to stand across the dividing line, effectively blocking traffic in BOTH directions

and…..a grizzly bear!

The bear was first spotted in the distance crossing a stream, then became interested in chasing a hare which brought it closer to the roadside. It disappeared for a short while but progress could be tracked by the movement of the flora. Suddenly, it popped up not 30 metres from the bus! Surprised most of us into making stupid scared squeaks before the cameras started clicking.

Not my photo! Credit: google 😉 I was so surprised to see his huge head pop up that I didn’t even try to get a good photo

Following the Denali tour we boarded another coach for Fairbanks. Our last day in Alaska we took a paddle steamer up the river. The guide was very experienced, giving an overview of life in past and present times. Along the way people came out of their homes to wave and be introduced. Some, including a sled dog breeder/racer and a ‘bush pilot’ spoke via headset about their lives and gave a demonstration. We also stopped at a first nations ‘village’ where their lives were on show through displays and talks.

After lunch we went gold panning. We were given a demo, a bag of rocks and a pan. I was hopeless at it, I think I washed all my gold away!  As they guarantee you will find gold, a delightful young man came over with a new bag of rocks and ‘showed’ me how it was done by panning it all for me 😉. J was much better than me, needing little guidance to find his dust. Overall we walked away with what they valued (assayed?) as US $16 worth of gold. Wont be giving up my day job!

Leaving Alaska

Some of the best scenery was seen from the plane window as we flew from Fairbanks to Anchorage (and then south to Seattle) the next day. It was easy to see the glaciers and valleys, but the highlight was the awesome view of Mount Denali rising up through the clouds. 

A glacial valley as seen from plane window.

Beautiful Denali!

Weird moment – because there is always at least one…..

Sat down to dinner with new people and did the introductions and “where are you from?”. We always start with Australia, and get more specific if questions are asked. The lady to J’s left  had an English accent so we were a bit surprised that she too was from Australia, and NSW, and Central Coast. And North Avoca…..in fact she lives in the next street, about 200m from home. Had we ever met her before? Never! But we intend to catch up over a bottle of bubbles when we get home in July 😊  

Another glacial view in College Fjord, and proof we were there!

Until next time ❤ xx

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