Our trip was wonderful. It was so helpful to find information on how to plan our trip on the bulletin boards prior to our trip, so I want to return the favor to others. I hope the following information will be helpful as you plan your trip. Our cruise was on the Inside Passage, we visited Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan.
My Dad and son flew into Vancouver and my Mom and I took the train from Texas to Vancouver. If you are going on Amtrack, e-mail me and ask me specific questions, I will be glad to answer them. The flight into Vancouver was wonderful for my Dad and son. Customs was quick entering Canada. Be sure to have all of your documents in order, it makes the process very quick. We had purchased document holders that had a belt loop, so you could hook the document holder onto your belt. Very easy to use!
We stayed overnight in Vancouver prior to our cruise. We did a pre-cruise tour the morning of our cruise of Vancouver through Land/Sea Tours. We saw Stanley Park, Granville Island, Chinatown, both cruise piers, went to the top of a Skywalk, and much more. This was a quick overview of the island - you don't have much time to get out and explore, but we knew that when we decided to take it. We just didn't have much time. We felt like we got our moneys worth. The tour bus picked us and our luggage up at our hotel at 8:15 AM, toured the city, and then dropped us and our luggage off at our pier for the cruise. We didn't have to get a taxi.
Getting on the boat was longer than it usually is for us. Royal Caribbean did a good job in the areas that they had control over, but US Customs were on some kind of strike and were delaying passengers in getting through customs. We got tired waiting and a little frustrated, but there wasn't anything that could be done. It took us close to two hours just to get up to the US customs desk.
If you have someone that is traveling with you that has difficulty with walking up hills, take into account the fact that sometimes the gangplanks on the boats are steep depending on tides, etc. My mother has difficulty with hills, etc. and we didn't realize that this could be a problem for her. We had planned all easy walking tours, but we encountered walking problems that we didn't expect. Royal Caribbean was wonderful and always got wheelchairs for us when we needed them. If you have someone going with you that has any difficulty with endurance and hills when walking, I would suggest bringing a wheelchair (electric if possible). It just makes the trip easier.
We loved the Vision of the Seas. Every boat has a personality. We loved all of the windows on Vision of the Seas. The boat was sold out but we never felt crowded. There was plenty of room in the lounges, theater and pools. The only time that we had to wait for anything was in the line for the first bingo! We had four people in our cabin. We were in a Category D cabin - 7600 which was mid-ship, close to the library. We had plenty of space to store our clothes. We put our empty luggage under the bed. Our balcony was wonderful. I highly recommend having one when you go to Alaska. We spent hours on the balcony just watching the beautiful scenery. I loved the location of our room - we rarely felt the motion of the sea, it was three rooms down from the elevator and stairs - so it was quick to get anywhere that we wanted to go.
We paid attention to the boards and packed as lightly as we could. There is an excellent packing list on geocites. We had one suitcase for each person and one suitcase that carried all of our toiletries and our first aid kit. We did not want to carry two sets of clothes. So, we did jeans and short sleeve shirts. We brought a rain jacket for each person and one heavy shirt that we could wear over our short sleeve shirts if we needed it. We were very fortunate - we only had 1 hour of rain while we were in Ketchikan. The rest of the trip we had sunshine, this is very unusual for Alaska. We had also bought some pull on rain boots for our tennis shoes at our camping store, we didn't need them, but they would have been perfect if we had. They didn't take much space. We had two formal outfits - we made sure we could wear the same shoes for both. Organization was important and really paid off. It took us three weekends to pack! But, it was so organized that during the trip it was simple and we never felt crowed in our cabin. We bought two large mesh laundry bags and hung them in our closets for dirty clothes - worked great.
Tours: We did a variety of tours. Some all of us went on, some my Dad and son went on and some my Mom and I went on. There are so many to pick from that you need to research before you go. I highly recommend you book your tours before you leave. There is so much to do once you get on the boat that you don't want to waste time in the shore excursion lines booking tours. We booked some tours with Royal Caribbean and some through the companies themselves. When you are booking with the company directly, you want to be sure and book early tours so that you are book in plenty of time to get back on the boat. So, we booked our independent tours first thing in the morning and booked tours with the boat later in the day. We considered cost, time and product in choosing tours.
Skagway We all went on a land based dog sledding tour with an independent company. It was worth every penny. This was a very unique tour and something that you won't do anywhere else. The company picked us up at the boat, took us to the dog kennels (about 30 minutes from the boat), introduced us to all the dogs and puppies, carried us up a mountain and from there we took a dog sled ride over hills and rocks in beautiful Alaska. The dogs were beautiful. There were around 16 dogs on a team and they pulled a sled with 6 people in it. The sled is on wheels - this tour was not on snow. But, we got the feeling of what it would be like to ride on a real dog sled. We learned a lot about the history of dogsledding, Iditarod, etc. We got to hold 8 day old puppies! It was something we all enjoyed.
My Dad and son went on the Pilot's Choice glacier helicopter ride with Temsco. We also booked this tour directly with Temsco. It saved us about $40 per person to do this. They were gone for two hours. They still haven't stopped talking about this. They went up 5000 feet and walked on a glacier. The weather on that day was one of the best days of the summer. There were clear skies and it was about 64 degrees. The pilot said it was one of 5 days that summer that he could go to the spot that they got to go to. My Dad said that it took their breath away and he would highly recommend it. He is very frugal and said it was worth every penny.
Yellow Bus Tour - while my dad and son were flying in helicopters, my mom and I took the Yellow Skagway Bus Tour. We booked this through the boat. This was a very calm, easy-going tour. We learned a lot of the history of Skagway. The tour guides were dressed in costume and were extremely knowledgeable and a lot of fun. They took us to a sight high above Skagway so that we could take pictures of the city and our cruise ship at the pier. It was beautiful. Skagway only has a population of 800. When the cruise boats come in they have at times 8000 visitors in one day. They were very accommodating - we felt very welcomed.
Juneau - We did the whale watching and wildlife quest through the boat. We left early in the morning and the tour was about 4 hours. We saw around 12 humpback whales, stellar sea lions, harbour seals, eagles, a variety of birds. We took a lot of pictures and video. We had another beautiful day and the wildlife was enjoying it. On our boat we had refreshments, salmon pate, binoculars and great tour guides. The boat was large with panoramic windows. Seating was very comfortable.
After we finished the whale watching tour, we decided to go to the Salmon Hatchery on our own. We took a city bus - I wouldn't recommend that, it took a while to get to the hatchery, a taxi would be better. The nice thing about the bus, the driver dropped us off near a creek in the city and we got to see the salmon spawning - thousands of them. What a cool thing to see!!!! Bears come to that creek in the late afternoon to eat, but we were there earlier in the day - so we missed them. After looking at the salmon in the creek, we walked 3 blocks to the hatchery and salmon ladder. If you have kids or are interested in seeing something that you don't see at home, this was great. We loved it. There is a glass window built into the bottom of the salmon ladder so you can see how they struggle against the current and each other to get up the ladder. Close to the hatchery is a fishing area and you can rent fishing poles to fish. Needless to say, we saw a lot of people catching big salmon. But, it isn't good to eat the salmon that are getting ready to spawn - they don't taste good. Because this isn't a big tourist area, there aren't taxis's readily available, so we had to call for a taxi. It took about 15 minutes for the taxi to get there. After we left the hatchery, we ate in a small restaurant near the pier and did a little bit of fishing.
Ketchikan My dad and son went salmon fishing with two other men. We booked this independently with Ken at Northern Lights. My dad and son loved the tour and Ken. They caught approximately 22 salmon and had them packaged and sent home. My son caught the biggest fish, a 15 pound Koho. The trip was five hours long.
My mom and I did the horse drawn trolley tour of Ketchikan. It was relaxing and very informative. We had a large Siberian Husky on the tour and he was the star of the trip! We learned a lot about Ketchikan. It is an island of rock and the people have a lot of challenges living in the city. Rain water is used for drinking water - they can't dig wells on the island because of the rock. So, people have to collect rain water in huge containers. Ketchikan gets rain almost everyday of the year - so this isn't a problem for them. They have 20,000 eagles on their island and we saw a lot of them. Their houses are built on hills, so they have stairs that go up to houses (we saw some houses with at least 100 stairs to climb to get to the front door). There are so many stairs on the island that they are considered city streets, actually have street signs and the city maintains them. When you pull into the pier, the first thing you note is how quaint the town is and how neat the streets are around the pier, they are all wood!
We attended the Alaskan Lumberjack show. This was a lot of lighthearted fun. We went to the 1:15 PM show and our boat was booked to leave at 3:00 PM. The show is close to the pier and is a unique event to see.
Cruising back to Vancouver The weather was so nice that we cruised more of the Inside Passage than Vision of the Seas normally does on the return trip. We went through the Misty Fjords - gorgeous! You really get the sense of God's power. It was a very peaceful place. We were there a couple of hours.
Cruising the Hubbard Glacier We spent 4 hours cruising the Hubbard Glacier area. There are no words that can tell you how magnificent this experience was. Our captain pulled our boat up parallel to the glacier and he stopped the boat for 30 minutes so that we could experience the calving of the glacier. We saw many large calvings during our stay. This is when large pieces of the glacier crack and fall off into the water. You hear thundering throughout the process and you are just amazed at the beauty. The glacier had a lot of blue color the day that we were there. After our 30 minutes the captain turned the boat around so that the other side of the boat could see the glacier. Of course we all ran to the other side of the boat. We watched the glacier from our balcony. I could have set there for days. It really was magnificent. Our boat had a native Indian and teacher that shared with us information about the glacier, the history of glaciers and the process of calving while we sat and watched the glacier. You could hear the announcements on your TV. Announcements throughout the boat aren't allowed while you are in Hubbard Glacier Bay, this is to protect the wildlife. As you are cruising into the Hubbard Glacier area, you will see many icebergs floating around your boat.
Other helpful hints:
. We used $2 bills for tips. All of our waiters, waitresses, etc. really liked this. It was helpful because $2 bills don't take as much space in your wallet as $1's! . Write your name on your cameras if you are using disposables! That way if you misplace it, people will return it to you. . Go to the Vancouver airport 2.5 hours early on your way home. US customs took a long time going home. There is also an airport tax of $8 per person. We had two suitcases that were over the weight limit - cost $50. . Get Canadian money at the airport in Dallas or the major city that you go to prior to going to Vancouver. We got enough to cover our taxis, meals, and tours while in Vancouver. . If you use your credit card in Vancouver, your credit care will automatically convert to US dollars for you. We didn't run into any location that wouldn't take American money, but some didn't do accurate conversions. . We went to the flea market in Vancouver when we got back from the cruise. If you are into flea markets, e-mail me and I can give you some hints on that.
Eating on the boat-
We enjoyed the Windjammer. We liked the food and it was informal. We went to one formal night and it was great. The only food that we didn't like was the pizza in the Solarium. This was our only complaint - I just don't see how you can ruin pizza, but we only had it once and it is our favorite food.
Pictures - We took our formal pictures and bought all of them. If you haven't cruised before, the boat takes pictures of you throughout your cruise and you will have the opportunity to buy them. We love them and they are good memories.
The shows were fun. We missed one because we were tired after a full day at port.
Shopping on the boat -
My mom bought quite a bit on the boat. I'm not much of a shopper, but there is a lot of opportunity to spend your money!
If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me. My typing hand is getting tired! It truly was the best vacation that we have ever had. We were in the military and we have traveled a lot, but we had never seen anything as beautiful as Alaska! If you are getting ready to go.....I hope that you enjoy each moment like we did!!!!