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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Our last day of the cruise was spent in Victoria, British Columbia, one of many beautiful cities we have visited.  The ship docked at the port in late afternoon on Friday.  We had to be aboard by 10 pm or get left behind.

The shuttle bus stop took us on a short ride into Victoria's harbor.  The large building in the first photo (with the dome) is the parliament building for British Columbia.  It has over 3,000 lights that come on after night, seen here.

The weekend in Victoria was the "Duce" convention and "The Busker" fair.  The "Duce" is the duce-coup get-together so the city was filled with more than 200 vintage 30's, 40's and 50's automobiles from all over the world.  A "busker" is another name for street performers: musician, actor, juggler, human statues, etc. There were a lot of them.  Our favorite is Dave Harris, a one-man band.  We've heard him before and he is really fun to watch.  Here is a link to a You Tube video someone made of his performance.

We walked around enjoying various acts and then caught the shuttle bus back. We finished up with our bags and color coded them "purple" for an 8 am disembarkation.  The next morning they'll be waiting dockside in the "purple" section!  Want a suggestion for cruise traveling?  Never use a black suitcase because 85% of the suitcase are black. The "black baggage" section is very big and very busy!

Check out the back seat driver!
We were up early on Saturday morning and off the ship by 8:15.  We found our airport transportation and got there by 10 am. Good thing too! The lines were long.  The flight was uneventful to Houston. That's always a good thing too!
The Empress Hotel, Victoria, BC, built in 1910, is a Victorian landmark.

Home sweet Home! Thank you, Susan Lipkin, for taking such sweet good care of Tanner.  I'm sure he missed sneaking up top on the bed with you!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ketchikan: A Walk around Creek Street

Ketchikan:  A Walk around Creek Street

Mary Alice and I are in Ketchikan, Alaska’s first city.  We had breakfast and walked off the ship.  We had to be back by 12:00 Noon and the ship does not wait for late boarders.  We have been here before and decided to just walk around Creek Street, the historical district for the town.  Creek Street is not really a street.  It is a boardwalk with turn of the century buildings that are mainly tourist shops.  So we wandered over to a coffee shop that offered free Wi-Fi with a purchase.  We got a cup of coffee and the Wi-Fi code and got on line.  I was hoping to upload the video I told you about but even using a commercial Wi-Fi place, I get an error message.  If anyone knows how to upload a video onto a blog I would appreciate some help.  We finished our walking tour and walked back to the ship.  That’s all for Ketchikan.  We’ll see you in Victoria tomorrow.
Here are some photos I took around Ketchikan:

Day 5 Scenic Cruising: Endicott Arm Glacier Calving on Video

Day 5 Scenic Cruising:  Endicott Arm Glacier Calving on Video

The Star Princess left Skagway yesterday sometime after 9pm and sailed southeast along the Inside Passage.  We woke up this morning as the ship entered the waters of what is known as the Tracy Endicott Arm, a large lengthy fjord with two inlets: Tracy and Endicott.  There were four other cruise ships that had sailed up the Tracy Arm so our captain elected to sail up the uncrowded Endicott Arm to view glaciers.
Glaciers were at their peak during the last ice age and have since retreated as the earth warms up.  During their movement toward the ocean they carved huge deep channels called Fjords.  The Endicott and Tracy Arm have peaks as high as 6000 feet and channels more than a 1000 feet deep.   There are mountains on both sides that rise up from the water and are covered with ice-polished granite rock and trees, all part of the Tongass National Forest. You can “google” Endicott Glacier and read all about it.

We were treated to the most gorgeous weather I have ever experienced in Alaska.  The air temperature was about 56 degrees with cloudless blue skies.  The naturalist from the bridge said that the atmosphere here is unpolluted, so pure and so rich in oxygen that you could get an O2 high if you wanted to try it.  He then talked about the rarity of shooting glaciers that rise up suddenly from the sea, kind of like whales do.

We had reserved two chairs for “the Sanctuary”, so after breakfast we toted our stuff up to Deck 15 and checked in with the attendants.  The ship moved slowly up the Endicott Arm barely pushing a wake ahead.  We began to see Harbor seals resting on floating ice along with a bunch of Ring-Billed gulls.

As we neared the end of the Endicott Arm the icebergs already in the water grew more numerous plus we saw a colony of over a hundred Harbor seals sunning on top of some of them.  The glacier looks like a huge blue jagged wave frozen in time.   

Suddenly we heard a loud noise and saw this huge iceberg emerge upward from under the sea, one of those rare events the naturalist had described earlier. Then we heard a huge “crack” and part of the glacier broke off from above (called calving) and fell down into the frigid waters creating a huge splash.

1st Calf of the Glacier
I quickly realized that a still photo would not do so I switched to video.  I had the camera pointed at the glacier and up rose a second iceberg from under the sea followed by more pieces of the glacier breaking off down into the water.  As you look at the video you’ll probably see that these pieces of ice are as big as a 5 story building.

The blogmaster would not upload our video so we posted it on YOUTUBE.  Here's the link:

I'll have to upload this video after we get home as the ship's computer equipment will not allow me to do it.
One of the shooter glaciers

The naturalist on the bridge was dumbfounded and excited.  He had been in Alaska for 15 years and had never seen something like this. The Captain said he has sailed here for years and never seen anything like this! I think we set some sort of record today. It was very exciting. The ship later made a complete 180 degree turn giving everyone a look at all this splendor.  We then slowly made our way out of Endicott Arm and back to the Inside Passage and continued to Thursday’s destination, Ketchikan.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Day 4: Skagway Our Way

Day 4:  Skagway Our Way

Dan Horn and Gladys....very funny
Last night we went back to see the second act of Dan Horn, the ventriloquist.  He had two new puppets, Gladys the old lady and a dog puppet named Fido.  I laughed so hard it made my eyes water.  He was very funny.

Having visited Skagway on two prior occasions we elected not to do any of the shore excursions but rather go into town on the ship’s shuttle and just be a tourist and gawk at everything.  Our first stop was the tourist information office, operated by the Klondike Gold Rush National Park rangers.  I didn’t know we had that park!  Well, they were urging everyone to go inside the theater for the presentation.  I had a feeling we were not going to see the advertised historical film on the 1897 Gold Rush because the caption on the screen read, “Flower Gardening on the Edge.”  A lady Park Ranger started her 45 minute lecture and I nudged MA, “Let’s go.”  MA said it would be impolite so she sat there. I stayed for about 3 more minutes and excused myself.  I had a ball in the book store looking at all the books on Alaska.  MA said she enjoyed the lecture and if she’s happy, I’m happy.

We walked down the main street of Skagway (population 853) which is lined with wooden sidewalks and lots of shops selling jewelry, t-shirts, caps, souvenirs, etc.  The weather could not have been more pleasant, 70 degrees with a bright blue sky.  We thought about going on a short train ride but there’s no such thing. The only train goes to the White Pass in Canada (3 hours) and we’ve done that one.  MA wanted to go again but I didn’t.  I won this one, although with us, it’s not really a “contest”.  We found the shuttle bus stop and went back to the ship.  The afternoon was filled with lunch, reading, swimming and the hot tub, this time with tourist helicopters landing and taking off, flying right over us.  We didn’t do any of those @ $219 a person for their tours but it would have been fun!

Railroad Engine used to clear snow from the track
We had a great dinner, by the window, joining another couple from Texas – San Antonio to be exact. We also took in the comedy show, as always sitting on the end of the aisle in case it’s not our kind of humor and we want to leave.  But this guy was really funny and laughing is good for all of us! We stayed!


Monday, July 15, 2013

Day 3: Juneau and Watching Bald Eagles Sail over our Hot Tub

Day 3:  Juneau and Watching Bald Eagles Sail over our Hot Tub

I had to ask someone what day of the week it is. Wasn’t sure if it was Monday or Tuesday! Then I realized it couldn’t be Tuesday because the All Star Game is tomorrow night! Anyway, we’re in Juneau, our first port of call.  Juneau is the State Capital and the interesting thing for State legislators is that to get here, they either have to fly in or come by boat.  Can’t get here by car!

The morning began early, sunrise was at 4am. The ship had entered the Inside Passage with mountains on both sides.  The water was relatively calm, almost like a lake.  It was quite cool and the sky was a deep blue. From our cabin window we saw several whales breaking the surface. Wow, who needs to spend big bucks for a shore excursion? This was free! In addition to the whales we saw several Bald Eagles.

We’ve been to Juneau before and had taken shore excursions with the exception of the Tramway to the top of Mt. Roberts.  So off we went on our own and were soon on the tram going up the 1800 feet to the top.  Our first stop there was a visit to the captured Bald eagle. She was found injured and nursed back to life.  She is unable to fly and is cared for by the personnel at the Mt. Roberts Nature Center. 

From there we started out on a nature walk.  I’ve been looking for a “Varied Thrush” ever since I started keeping a record of the birds I’ve seen.  I’m still looking because I didn’t find it.  We did see several Bald Eagles and some Ravens.  Our hike up the nature trail was shortened when we came upon some “fresh” bear droppings.  Fresh is the operative word.  I didn’t feel like walking into one of these animal so we decided to turn around and check out the café instead.  We selected a nice table on the deck and I had a hot chocolate and MA had a cup of coffee. For some reason the waitress said it was “on the house”!  We left a nice tip for her.

We rode the tram back down, stopped in a shop where I got another Alaskan cap.  I need another cap like I need a hole in the head, however, all my caps are back in Texas.  From there we made it back to the Star Princess and had lunch at the buffet on Deck 14. We practically had the place to ourselves, so I took a few pictures of the desserts just for fun.  We later enjoyed the pool, again just the two of us, also the hot tub and took it easy the rest of the day.  I’m guessing that well over half the passengers are here in Alaska for the first time, out there doing all the stuff we did on our first two trips up here.  This time we’re just “cooling it”, pretending to be “natives”. 

2nd Day at Sea

2nd Day at Sea
Our second day at sea started with coffee at 7am in the room and breakfast later at the Amalfi Dining Room.  We’ve met some interesting people so far, one of who was a gentleman from Oregon who is a spitting image of Sam Elliott, the actor. At first we couldn’t remember the name, but then MA came up with “Sam” and later I remembered Elliott.  We ran into the couple later on the Promenade Deck and told him who it was he looked like.  Needless to say, he was flattered.
After breakfast we got dressed for the pool and went up to the “Sanctuary,” a place on the deck 15 that is off limits for kids. I have to tell you it was chilly and I did not bring enough warm clothes with me.  I had almost decided to go back to the room when I saw the hot tub.  The water was warm and that’s where I spent about an hour.  MA got all bundled up in blankets and played Candy Crush Saga and read. 
This was one of the “formal” nights where everyone dresses up and gets a portrait taken.  The “Piazza” on Deck 5 is in the middle of the ship and the place for live music.  The ship has a quartet that plays a mixture of classical and pop songs that we very much enjoy.  They even played some “Paris café” music complete with accordion. 

We chose not to bring our formal wear on this trip but we dressed nicely and found a quiet place at the bow of the ship on deck 15 and had some smoked salmon and crackers while we enjoyed the sea view.  An elderly couple came in really dressed up.  She was in a long formal gown and the gentleman was in a full tuxedo, tails, white bow tie and top hat.  I wish I had asked to take his picture, but thought it too brash.   
Dinner was from 7:30 to 8:30 and MA and I excused ourselves from the table before dessert so we could catch the ventriloquist, Ben Horn, and his trusty side kick.  This was one of the funniest (and cleanest) acts we’ve seen on a cruise. 
BTW – I haven’t described our cabin which was supposed to have a window but with an obstructed view, meaning our view would be an orange life boat.  Somehow we ended up between life boats and from our window we have a full view of the sea, the shore, and we know when it’s day or night!  That’s a good thing as sunrise is at 4am and sunset at 10:30pm!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Saturday in Seattle and All Aboard

Space Needle

Hey friends, here we go again.  Mary Alice and I are about to board aPrincess ship for another Alaskan cruise.  This one is a little different. It's a round trip from Seattle.

Hyatt Place: Our Hotel

Our journey started our differently this time.  Mary Alice (most of us call her “MA”) left last Monday for Los Angeles where she met her youngest sister Nola. They drove up the coast to see middle sister Maureen who is in a long-care private home in Arroyo Grande.  The three sisters had a great visit plus MA got to meet her grand-nephew and grand-niece for the first time (Maureen’s grandchildren). At the end of the week on Friday MA flew from LAX to Seattle while at the same time I flew from Houston to Seattle.  She scheduled things so our flights landed within 45 minutes of each other and we met, as prearranged, in baggage claim.

We quickly located our shuttle van downtown to the Hyatt Place, one of our favorite hotels.  We walked around checking out the Seattle restaurant scene and settled on a place called “5 Point Café”.  They had good hamburgers. MA says they also had lukewarm spaghetti!  No matter, we were both tired so we walked back to the hotel and called it a night.
Monorail and the Space Needle
I was up early this morning and explored some of the neighborhood around the hotel.  There is a REAL monorail that runs through and around downtown.  This is what Houston should have built instead of our choo-choo trains. 

At 11:30 we were downstairs and caught our van ride to the Star Princess.  After we checked in, got our cruise cards and went on board, we decided to go and have lunch.  So did 95% of the other 2500 passengers.  This created a very long line with an hour wait, the first time that has ever happened to us on a cruise ship.

Seattle from the ship:  A Beatiful City

Later we went to the obligatory Life Vest drill, MA watched me doze off but she paid attention and played Candy Crush Saga!  The ship pulled away from the dock at 4:11.  We are on our way to Alaska.  More to follow.

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