by Onemantax and wIFE
May 16, 2009
This cruise was a special occasion, as we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary on May 23rd.
We left Fort Lauderdale very early Friday morning headed for Seattle (through Nashville) on Southwest Airlines. The weather was good and the flight smooth. We arrived at our hotel, the Westin downtown Seattle, around 4 pm Pacific time. The sun was shining and it was cool about in the 60's. There was a Princess desk set up in the lobby and we introduced ourselves to the representative, who gave us information about the next morning. We then visited with the concierge, who made reservations for us for Saturday May 23rd at Daniel's Broiler Restaurant on Union Lake. More about that later.
We toured Seattle by foot -- walked to Pike Place Market and wished there was something like it in Fort Lauderdale! The Westin Hotel is in a great location. You can walk or take the monorail or trolley just about anywhere you want to go. Service at the hotel was A+.
THE GOLDEN PRINCESS
Boarding around 11:30, we went straight to our cabin (D-602 mini-suite), which was ready for us. We have had mini-suites before on Princess and always found them to be very spacious. The bathroom had a tub-shower and plenty of room to move around. The closet space was more than we needed and we were able to stow our large suitcases under our bed. The two flat screen televisions were a nice addition. We had four chairs and a table on the balcony. Two of the chairs fully reclined so that you could position them with the other chairs and have a makeshift chaise lounge.
The constuction on Deck 6 was still not finished so there was no steak house option (it was an option in the corner of the Hoirizon Court but not the option that it will be when completed). The wedding chapel was also under construction and there are several luxury suites being built on deck 6. There was a Sabatini's on board but we had eaten there several times on other ships and enjoyed it --- no need to indulge this time. The spa was nice and I availed myself of it several times and was happy with it although the dressing room and shower area was a little tight on space.
The Sanctuary is beautiful. I can see using it on a Caribbean cruise; however, it was cold in Alaska so we opted out especially since we also had a balcony cabin and we were able to enjoy the sights from it without much restriction.
The mid-ship was redone and the Piazza is very pretty. "Vines" is the name of the new wine bar. More than a wine bar, it also had a wide and good selection of wine from which to choose to purchase for enjoyment at the wine bar, take back to your room, or enjoy with dinner. The prices were only a little higher than what we pay on land in Fort Lauderdale. Also at Vines is a cheese and sushi bar. You can select cheeses to taste and/or add them to a "wine flight", which is a selection of 3 wines for tasting. There are many combos of wine and cheese available. Also in Vines is a wine accessory store that sells things like coasters, corkscrews, napkins, etc. It is very nice but it needs more seating and it seems like the wine store part is wasted space. Bistro tables would work well in the wine store space, I think. The only complaint I have is that during the week the staff at Vines was so enamoured with a particular Swiss cheese that they brought it out every day. The odor from it was so strong and pungent -- it smelled like a wet dog in a boys' middle school gym locker room. Whew! You could smell it all over the Piazza. Not good.
The movies under the stars ("MUTS") was nice but it was too cold for us to indulge. Still, they offered comfy padded lounge chairs, red plaid wool blankets and popcorn. We will definitely use MUTS on our next Caribbean cruise as it is a nice idea.
The sun comes up early here in the Spring and Summer so by 4:30 a.m. it was like 8:30 a.m. back home. The sun did not set until after 9:00 pm so we had a lot of daylight. Our first day was spent cruising from Seattle to Juneau. It was sunny but cold on deck. The ship was moving quickly so we could feel the rocking back and forth; however, except for losing our balance a few times, the movement did not bother us.
Our first port was Juneau. The weather was sunny and cold (mid 40's) and windy but it warmed up into the high 50's later on. Dressing in layers was key. There were plenty of shops in town. We took the Mendenhall Glacier tour. It was a beautiful day and the glacier was impressive, even though it has receded considerably in the past several years. We saw a porcupine in the wild. The rangers said a black bear had crossed the highway we had just driven on but we did not see it.
Next stop was Skagway, a small town of about 850 people. It was very cute and in excellent condition -- you can really see the pride of the community. Lots of shops were open; one very beautiful glass shop caught our eye. We took a bus tour up the mountains to the summit, crossed into British Columbia, where we boarded the White Pass & Yukon Railway for the ride down the mountain. It was very cold at the summit but sunny. Really refreshingly cold, though. Snow everywhere. Some of the lakes were starting to thaw and the ice was blue in places. Very pretty. We also panned for gold in one of those touristy stops!
This was really wonderful. Our Captain was fearless. There were huge icebergs all around us but he manuevered the ship brilliantly. We got some great photos of the blue ice. We could hear the icebergs cracking as they melted just like when you put ice into a warm beverage! Again, it was sunny but very cold in the morning. As we entered the last turn before the glacier, we passed the Star Princess going the other direction. It was fun to cheer them on as they did us! We took some pics of their ship. We were on the port side, which faced west, so we did not get the morning sun. The captain turned the ship around at the glacier so that both port and starboad had a good view. We saw black bears on shore (but our camera was too weak to make out what they were -- need a zoom lens). We also saw mountain goats, bald eagles, and seals at Sawyer Glacier. There was a naturalist on board who spoke during the trip along Tracy Arm both on the TV and over the ship's loudspeakers. He was interesting, helpful, yet not intrusive. Very enjoyable. Took lots of photos here.
The shops here open early and we got into port early, so by 6 am we were shopping! We only had a half day here so we had to make some time to visit the town. A very cute town it is -- part of which is built on stilts over the water. Very clean and pleasant. Again, cold but sunny. There was a little drizzle later in the day, which we missed because we were on tour. The tour we took here was the most wonderful one of all! We are hooked on the TV show "The Deadliest Catch" on the Discovery Channel -- about the life of Alaskan King Crab fishermen. We decided to take the tour on the Aleutian Ballad. This ship was in Season 2 of the show and it had sustained a rogue wave on the show that nearly destroyed the ship. After many successful years crab fishing the owner decided to retire the ship and use it for tourists. I was a little hesitant at first because I was afraid of two things: (1) that the boat would be "icky" and (2) that we were going into rough open waters. Neither fear was realized. The boat was totally refurbished since its working days. It was clean, beautiful and in pristine condition. They put in heaters that radiated from the ceiling and had a covered sheltered "stadium seating" area for us. They gave us very long, warm hooded jackets that kept us warm and dry. They had hot coffee, hot tea and hot chocolate as well as a gift shop. They were superb! Really nice people. We sailed into a bay area that is owned by the native tribe -- sovereign land. We were allowed to fish for crab and other fish -- but only catch and release. We saw whales too. We pulled up pots of rock crab, dungeness crab, and king crab. We were able to hold them and take photos with the crab. We also pulled up a 70 pound octopus and observed it for awhile.
We then stopped in the bay and the crew threw halibut over the side and all of a sudden, the shy and hard to photograph American bald eagles came from nowhere and descended upon the halibut in a feeding freny! There were hundreds of eagles. I just held my camera out and kept snapping pictures without regard for whether I got them or not. When it was over, I had taken about 40 photos (some were duds), most of which were amazing shots of eagles in flight, eagles coming straight at the camera lens in mid-flight, eagles descending to the water with their talons down, ready to grab the fish, eagles flying to the tree tops and some tress that had so many eagles in them that it looked like a Christmas tree with white bulbs! That was the best part of the whole tour! The tour was the best one we did. I highly recommend it. The weather was again sunny and cool, but the water was smooth as glass. Even the most fainthearted should not be afraid of taking this tour. It was magnificent.
This was our last port and we only had about 4 hours here from 7-11 pm. We have to visit a foreign port so that is the reason for the stop in Victoria, British Columbia. But, it was too bad we had only 4 hours. We were smitten with this city. It is gorgeous. Again, it was a sunny day and although it was cool, it was a refreshing temperature, not uncomfotable, even for this South Floridian. The tour guide took us through town -- beautiful parks, neatly kept homes (many Victorian style old beauties) and the best part was there were people everywhere enjoying the day. Young families with babies in strollers, people walking their dogs, old folks out for a stroll. The backdrop to the City: the magnificent snow-capped Cascade Mountains. We took the tour to Butchart Gardens and we were glad we did! It was stunning. Even though we only had about 2 hours there and really only 1.5 hours of it was daylight, it was well worth it. I have never seen such gorgeous gardens. The flowers and shrubs were meticulously manicured. We got some fantastic photos. Wish we could have spent more time there. We definitely have to go back to Victoria.
I would be remiss if I failed to tell you that we were so fortunate to have as our Cruise Director, Richard Joseph. We first met him when we took the Coral Princess through the Panama Canal in 2004. We were then with him on the Diamond Princess touring the Mexican Riviera in 2007. We enjoy him so much because he is knowledgeable about the ships and tours, has a pleasant personality and is low-key. Just our style.
The 7 days went by too fast but it was a trip to remember. We could not have asked for better weather.
THE LAST DAY
The last day was our actual anniversary. The restaurant (Daniel's) the hotel concierge selected was just perfect. Located on the shore at Union Lake, it is close to downtown Seattle. We had a beautiful view, excellent service and delicious steaks and seafood. It was a nice way to end a fantastic and memorable cruise.