Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Alaska Cruise Redux - Part 3

Ready? Here we goooooo.....

Saturday: Ketchikan
We got into Ketchikan late morning, which was actually nice... we had a relaxing morning and enjoyed watching the scenery go by as we approached Ketchikan.

panorama from the balcony - before reaching Ketchikan

fishing boat

amazing clouds
Today the whole group did the same excursion! A boat trip to Misty Fjords.
It was done by the same company as the whale watching tour I did the day before. But whales would not be in this area, so it was other wildlife and amazing views.

Another great excursion 
Volcano Plug - outside Misty Fjords
Sea plane

Beautiful day in Misty Fjords

And not that Misty today... Hmmm? 

Easier to see with binoculars

leaving Misty Fjords

What a beautiful place. 
Sunday: Day at Sea (Last day on the ship - sad)
We took no pictures today... I know, worst bloggers ever. But we had a wonderful day despite that.
Everyone had things they wanted to do... movies, spa, kids clubs, variety shows, shopping etc. and we all hit the evening show together to wrap up the trip.

A word about our serving team.... Awesome!  Anthony and Ratina, did an amazing job with our crazy group of 11.  To start they noticed the small stuff - example: hubby doesn't use a straw... small little thing. He never mentions it, just takes out the straw and drinks away. [Editor's Note: Because straws are horrible, I mean, sure if you want your drink to simply go past your senses of taste and smell, use a straw, but I'm not sure why you would otherwise...] From the second dinner on, they brought all the drinks except his with a straw. We have a funny group food wise.. with more than half the group vegetarians and 3 (maybe more) allergic to onions. Some of those have strong aversions to mushrooms and one with a sodium restriction - but the team was great. Finding us all good food each night - tracking down favorite soups etc from previous meals - just taking really really good care of us. I should have taken pictures of the food... but I was too busy oooh-ing and ahhh-ing....and eating ;)

Last night onboard.... Love my balcony!

Monday - Bye Disney Wonder :(

I got up and got ready in time to watch us pull into port. I love sailing out of (and into) Vancouver. I have only sailed from Port Canaveral, Seattle and Vancouver... but Vancouver is my favorite.

We ate breakfast at Triton's and said our final goodbye to our team. Then we headed to Azure to wait for our time to disembark.
It took longer last time, I wasn't eager to leave, but once you have packed and left your room.... it's time to go.
Finding all our bags at once we were off the ship was a bit nutty.  The space is cramped and everyone is coming through the area.... but before too long we had all gathered back at the cars.
Packing up the cars isn't nearly as fun as unpacking. And before long we hugged everyone goodbye and headed home. The in-laws and outlaws had a longer drive than we did, so we all headed out.
Another WONDERFUL Disney Cruise to Alaska. Seriously love this itinerary.

Coming home

Friday, July 7, 2017

Alaska Cruise Redux - Part 2

Welcome Back... Let's get back to our trip ;)

Thursday:  Skagway!
It's our first port day. And we have a busy day planned. Bro in-law and his oldest went on a kayak/train excursion. The rest of us did a gold panning/dog sled camp/train excursion that is listed as 7 hours. SEVEN HOURS.
Is it just me, or does that seem like ALL DAY? But despite my yelling, I was actually excited about it. Everyone but the young man was excited about the sled dogs, but he was VERY excited about the train ride, so it evened out.
As the day progressed the excursion was great.. each section better than the last. We all got gold! And the set up was nice, with lots of help, if you wanted it. The dog sled portion was great... wonderful job by the people and the dogs were outstanding! Plus puppies... who doesn't love a puppy?

boarding the bus for our excursion

meeting the sled dog team

The sled dog host (who has done the Iditarod) with a new pup

more puppy cuteness
From here we got back on the buses and went to the train. The train ride was supposed to be the same as the one we took on our last visit to Skagway. But..... Well, I will tell you in a minute ;)

Time for the train! 

According to the young man, this is a shovel nose diesel engine... he says they are only on the White Pass. 

Relaxed on the train.

View of the engines from our coach car.
Skagway had four cruise ships in port this day and the White Pass was running a number of excursions. We were not the first, or even the second or third train up the mountain that day.
About 2/3 of the way up the mountain, we stopped.
We were told that two trains ahead of us the engine was having trouble.
After a few minutes, and probably a number of conversations between all the trains in play and the base of operations, it was determined the safe thing to do was to bring all the trains behind the stuck train back down. And send up another engine to pull down the passengers on the stuck train.
So - our trip was cut short.

View along our train route... before we had to turn around. 

This was unfortunate for all of us, but our young rail fan took it really hard. By the time we were rolling again (in the wrong direction, according to him) he had calmed down. We were able to see our two locomotives run around at Clifton so they could pull us down, instead of pushing us down. This was cool.
The tour guide told us we would get some sort of discount or refund as the trip wasn't completed. [Editor's note: In the end we ended up getting a refund for 1/2 of the cost of the entire 7 hour excursion.]

Once back at the station in Skagway, we did some shopping. We didn't spend a huge amount of time in town.. really two shops and then back to the ship.

Walking back to the ship.

Pluto on deck

The kayak people had a great time, they didn't get to do the train part of their excursion either - bummer. But still enjoyed the day.

The evening show was Cars 3, and we all decided to see it in the smaller venue.
Then all the sane people went to bed... hubby stayed up for a midnight premier of the new Spider-Man movie... silly guy! [Editor's note: It was worth it.]
(No sunset picture tonight... sad.)

Friday: Juneau

We went three different ways today - In laws rented a car and explored town. Hubby, and daughter joined the outlaws on a canoe trip to the glacier. [Editor's note: aka the Wonder Woman group] And the young man and I went whale watching.
I can't speak to the other two excursions - but our whale watching trip.... was the best ever. EVER! So, awesome, I don't think I can ever go whale watching again.

Did you want details? OK.. I guess I will share ;) But it will be long... are you ready?

The basic info is that this excursion guarantees you see a whale - or you get $100 back. So, I had every expectation we would see a whale. But beyond that... I was hoping for a couple whales.
Was I wrong! And to note... our experience was not usual - the crew and the naturalist on board were jumping up and down... we had a very unusual tour.
Once the whale watching boat got underway, we cruised out for 30 minutes or so. The naturalist told us about the area, what wildlife we could see along the shore and some basic humpback whale information. Then they mentioned we are traveling out further than usual, because they heard some "other" whales were in this area.
OTHER whales? The whole boat was buzzing.. could they mean killer whales?
The naturalist then shared that on any given Whale watching cruise in that area there is only an 8% chance we would see a killer whale. They are in the area, but not common.
And then... (be honest, you saw this coming.)

A pod of Killer Whales!

After we first saw the Orcas we followed them for a bit. The captain commented that they were following something. At first it was just turning the boat around to follow them... then things got really interesting.
I was soo taken in by the whales, I didn't have my camera (phone) orientated correctly (ie. landscape) and was on video when I wanted a picture and picture when I wanted a video. So, you get what you get - sorry folks.
We looked up to see two animals jumping out of the water right by our boat... the naturalist knew immediately what was going on, the rest of us were just in awe - and shocked we were seeing this in person.
This turns out to be a Dall's porpoise.

The animal in front was a Dall's porpoise, and (sad, but law of nature) it was being hunted by the killer whales. The two creatures have similar markings so our initial sighting we thought it was two orcas.
The killer whale was actually flipping the porpoise out of the water. In the moment we weren't thinking about the inevitable outcome for that porpoise, and we were lucky enough not to see anything that made that outcome painfully clear to us. The water was deep and the captain knew when we should move on.

(Video is the last we saw of the Orcas before we left the area. Forgive the vertical video - I know... its not good. But it shows how close to the boat they were) 

As we left the area, the naturalist caught his breath and told us he had never seen anything like that before.  They so rarely see Orcas, and then to see this behavior so close to the boat was amazing.  He had heard of this pod, they are a transient pod of all female killer whales, nicknamed "The LadyKillers".
As we left the area, everyone was showing the pictures they took and the videos... it was definitely a once in a lifetime experience.

So, at this point of the tour, I was pretty certain it couldn't get any better. To see Orcas in the wild - amazing. We had definitely gotten our money's worth. But we had another hour plus of the tour, so we cruised on.
Not long later we are told to look to the right side of the boat... some humpback whales were in the area. AMAZING!

Whale Tale
As we approached, we discover not only is there a humpback... but a number of humpback whales, bubble feeding. Humpbacks don't usually stick together like Orcas, and seeing bubble feeding is not common on these tours.

Group of Humpbacks
Bubble Feeding

Then.... we see a second group of humpbacks bubble feeding!
Then... are you ready?... the two groups joined together into a huge group bubble feeding.
Our naturalist was beside himself - in the years he has done this.. he had never had a tour like this. He suggested we all go to Vegas and then also was strongly considering quitting after our tour, as now he had seen it all.

(this is a compilation of the video I took over the roughly 30 mins we watched these whales. You can hear the naturalist talking in several of the clips, and me giggling at the end, is when he was so excited he had to go sit down)

By this point we had only 45 mins left in our tour and we were 45 mins away from the dock, so it was time to head back.
Along the way the naturalist commented that yes, there were other humpbacks in the area, we might see as we traveled back. But, he hoped it would be ok that we don't stop and watch them - one: we don't have time and two: we have seen some amazing whales on this trip.

Looking at the whale tale poster. Tales are like fingerprints.. no two alike.

Saw some seals on our way back to the docks

Had a great tour!

Amazing views all day! 
I had received a few pics from hubby throughout the morning. It sounded like they were having a nice time on the canoe trip. But I wanted to wait until I saw him in person to tell him how AMAZING our tour was.  It almost didn't seem fair that the rest of our group missed this!

[Editor's note: While our trip wasn't quite up to the level of the whale watching trip, we had a pretty amazing trip ourselves. We canoed across Mendenhall lake to the glacier, then stopped by a waterfall on the way back and had a quick snack. A couple of photos below.]

Canoeing across the lake

Mendenhall Glacier

Nugget Falls

Another night I didn't take a sunset pic. But fear not, I did spend time out on the balcony each evening. What was surprising was how late it got dark. I know... Alaska, but it still surprised me.

See next post for more ;)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Alaska Cruise Redux - Part 1

We had the privilege of returning to Alaska on a Disney Cruise. The extended family wanted to all go and how could we say no after such an amazing time in 2014?

Yay! We are going to Alaska again!!!
We couldn’t. So, this is the cast of characters for this trip: myself, my hubby, our son the railfan and our sweet daughter. We are joined by my in-laws (hubby’s folks) and hubby’s sister and her family (this group is affectionately called the outlaws – we are just silly like that) – she and her hubby have three lovely girls. We total 11. Kids ages 15-10. And we don’t need to divulge the adults ages… actually, I can’t believe you would even ask.

The whole gang! Can't wait to get started!
We are going to approach this blog post a little differently than usual. It will be one long trip highlights post with a LOT of pictures. I was so completely immersed in the cruise that I didn’t blog each day. Hubby kept an outline of what we did, and we took a ton of pictures. So we will see how this turns out.

We met up with our family at a Vancouver BC area hotel the night before our cruise. Everyone was ready and looking forward to the adventure. We dined at OSF then part of the group went to see Wonder Woman and some ran some last minute errands and relaxed at the hotel.

A special treat to stop at Dutch Bros on the way to Vancouver.... gotta love the cup lids! 

Our hotel for the night - tomorrow we set sail! 

We loaded the vehicles and caravaned to Canada Place - the cruise terminal in Vancouver. 
Our timing was practically perfect. By the time we gathered our luggage and began the process of checking in: drop off luggage, go to cruise line check-in, get room keys, go through customs, and then all found each other - our boarding group was called. Really amazing timing. 

The Ship! Our view of the Wonder as we went through the check in process.
Pic is self explanatory
What? isn't it? Ok... the guys trying to show where on the ship something would be located.

The kid is ready! Let's board the ship! 

Once on board, we hit the top deck buffet for lunch. Then did a quick tour of the kids clubs. Our young man can go to either the tween or teen club, so we wanted to show him those. [Editor's note: As expected, however, our quick tour was both the first and last time he set foot in those clubs. He's not really a kids club person.] Plus these areas of the ship have had a overhaul since our last time on board, so we wanted to see it all too! 
By the time we finished our kids club tour, our room was ready... so we were able to relax and enjoy the balcony. 
View from our balcony while in port. 
Next up... Lifeboat drill (is it still called a Muster Drill? Anyone know... I called it that, but I seemed to be the only one... so???). After the drill - Time to go! Our sound-sensitive young man agreed to hang out up on the top deck with me while we sailed out, agreeing only to stay until we passed Lions Gate Bridge. So, we found a place far enough forward we couldn't hear too much of the Sail Away Party and enjoyed the view... and the wind! 

Looking back at Canada Place. 

Lions Gate! 

Hubby's view from the Sail Away Party, going under Lions Gate

Taken by a ships Photographer after we went under the Bridge. 

My favorite place to be on this cruise.... balcony at sunset! 

Happy 4th of July! 
We are somewhere off the Canada coast today - enjoying an at sea day. 
We started with a Character breakfast and ended with Formal Night... what a day!

Time for silly hats! 

4th of July Celebration on Deck.
Funnel Vision earlier in the day, before the Celebration

Can all my Coffee drinks look like this? PLEASE!
Enjoying a mocha something on my Balcony

Views today. Love it. 
(Click on pic to really should)
We have three staterooms in a row on this trip. Our stateroom hosts were able to open the balcony wall and we enjoyed the larger balcony space.
Works out great for pictures, so the wall is much further away and was a great back door to see who was around. 

The group got into the groove pretty quickly - with so many things going on onboard, everyone had stuff to do... nature talks, kids clubs, spa time, swimming, variety shows, etc. 
If you are bored on this ship... you may be doing something wrong ;)

We didn't take as many pics on formal night as I expected to. Our young man was struggling this evening and I was highly distracted by that.
But it was a fun evening and I am thankful that several in our group was taking pics or video.

Lovely young ladies, ready for formal night. 

Day 2 sunset from balcony.

Fog. I have mixed feelings about fog on a ship.... I love to hear the fog horn (I am an odd duck, I know) But I LOVE to see the views... so... mixed feelings. Lucky for me, this morning we got fog, and then it burned off. Yay! Fog horn and then Amazing views!!! 

I had to try and catch the fog horn for you....
(forgive the vertical video)
And note how still the water is... well the rest of the water, not what the ship is stirring up ;)

Hubby and I ate at Palo for brunch - we prefer brunch to the dinner at Palo. We were not disappointed.
The fog lifted while we enjoyed our brunch. Wonderful timing.

the fog has lifted

The itinerary says we go to Tracy Arm today. Prior to the start of this season I had assumed that all the cruises that said "Tracy Arm", went to, well, Tracy Arm, with the random exception. Nope... Apparently Disney hasn't made it into Tracy Arm for a few years. Due to ice and water conditions they have continued to try and keep it on the itinerary, but have been going to Endicott for quite some time, including all the previous sailings this year. 
So, today we had been hearing that we will probably end up in Endicott. 
I was fine with that, I have been down Tracy Arm twice and never Endicott - they say Endicott is not as long, but you get a closer view of the glacier... so that doesn't seem bad at all. 
As the day progressed, it became uncertain if Endicott would work... with huge amounts of ice at the entrance to Endicott, the captain had to skip it and keep going. But as we approached Tracy Arm something surprising happened... it was clear enough to travel through. 
The naturalist on-board, and all the crew were surprised and excited. Not only was this the first time the Disney Wonder had made it down Tracy Arm in two years, it was the first time any cruise ship had made it this season. [Editor's Note: Apparently we made it further into Tracy Arm than any ship has in the last 2.5 years or so.] 
And the weather was perfect! 

Beginning our Tracy Arm journey

love how Funnel Vision shows the view from the front

Crew collected a large piece of ice from the passage and brought it up on deck for people to see and touch.


Beautiful Day

Tonight we dined at Tiana's Place, a first for us, as it's new. So, as we headed out of Tracy Arm, we were headed to dinner.
The show tonight was John Charles. Our group split up, which half sitting in the front row and the rest sitting back at a safe distance... I say safe, meaning John didn't single us out and sing a song based on our interaction with him. Safe.
And don't worry... someone in our group got that fun stuff on tape. It won't be posted here, but you can imagine.. it was fun ;) Especially watching from the safe seats... that's how I roll. [Editor's Note: The part of the group that went to the front row is the group that I liked to refer to as the "Wonder Woman group" as it was 7 of us that went to see Wonder Woman on Sunday night.]

Day 3 Sunset from Balcony
Ok... this is getting REALLY long... lets break it up into two or three posts.