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Trip Report 4 Aussies on Sapphire Princess to Alaska

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I hope this is helpful to anyone planning an Alaskan cruise, we followed this by a driving tour for nearly 2 1/2 weeks from Anchorage and a similar time in the Canadian Rockies. I will post a link to these later. Let's go:

We left Perth at 7am on Friday August 9 on Cathay Pacific headed for Hong Kong. We met J & G as planned at 5 am at the check in. Sure was an early morning. Out flight was smooth, I think we all dozed on and off. As we had window seats we had a great view of all the huge skyscrapers as we landed. By the time we got off and found our gate the 1 1/2 hours went quickly, we were soon back on another plane on our way to Vancouver, about 12 hours away!

We only encountered a few small areas of light turbulence, apart from feeling cramped and tired again it was a basic economy flight. Cathay isn't quite up there with Singapore airlines, we missed the hot towels, no overnight packs (missed having a toothbrush) and they only offered water once or twice otherwise we had to ask. Meal of choice was unavailable to me, DH received the same thing from the steward on his side. Seemed to sum up the entire flight two flights. It sure was a bit of a comedown from the upstairs economy we have had on the Singapore A380 for our last few holidays but the price we paid was very good so we can't complain.

Having been to Vancouver before, we made it easily onto the Canada Line train into the Downtown area that we were staying in. Our hotel, The St Regis, was only 1 block from the station as well as a downhill walk to Canada Place were our ship will be berthed. We checked in and were shown to a nice room, so far so good. All gone as planned and a very helpful friendly staff.

The day was pretty warm at 30 degrees, much warmer we than we were expecting. We wandered down to the harbour front and saw the Radiance of the Seas and the Rotterdam ships docked. A cold drink was needed so we found a bar with a great view of the float plane dock, beers for the guys and a Fuzzy Mango (frozen mango and Vodka) for the girls, it was pretty darn good.

J and I walked along the sea wall towards Stanley Park for some way then turned back to meet the guys. We were starting to feel pretty weary; it had been a long time since we left home!!!!

We headed back towards the hotel in search of food, had a few false starts then finally decided to eat at the bar attached to our hotel, turned out to be a great choice. We ordered 4 mini smoked pulled pork sliders to start with, we have had these before and they were delicious. The guys ordered New York Reuben's, the girls had Halibut, chips and salad. First time for Halibut and it was yummy, we hope to have more of this up in Alaska. We staggered up to our rooms and hit the sack, so glad to be lying flat on a comfy bed at last, we were tucked in and lights out by 8.45.

Sat Aug 10 - we woke around 5am which wasn't too bad seeing as we went to bed so early. I was having trouble with sending an email to the kids but with J's help we managed to sort it out, just a setting on my new iPad mini that I am test driving and getting used too. Next was to try and download my photo's with the gadget that we purchased with the iPad, idea was to stick the gizmo into the iPad, the camera SD in the other end and voila - photos. Do you think I could get it to work!!!! We decided a visit to the Apple shop was on the cards before we boarded the ship. G had forgotten his thongs or flip flops as they call them here so we had a plan for after breakfast.

Breakfast was downstairs in the hotel and included in the price, plenty of choices too. I had fresh fruit, Blueberry yoghurt and toast which was marbled rye, DH had an omelette with the works. We checked out and left our bags in the hotel then went to the shopping centre but had to wait until 10 for everything to open. G was looking at some thongs when another couple came in, turns out he had left his thongs home too, in Fremantle!!!!! Which is very close to where we live. And they were also going on the same cruise, talk about a small world, the lady had grown up in the same suburb as DH!

We left J & G to their shopping while we headed to the Apple store, after walking around the block it ended up being inside the centre we had just left!!!!! They were very helpful, though it had them stumped for a while. We were watching the clock, we had to meet J & G down at the waterfront at 10.50. Turns out the problem was the card reader, it was a dud. They gave me a new one and it worked perfectly, there were all my photos just as they should have been. We power walked the 3 blocks or so and just made it in time. Thanks to my sister and brother in law, who had just returned from Vancouver and told us about a brand new attraction, we had tickets for Fly Over Canada.

We entered into a small theatre to watch a film, sort of a collage of places, people and scenery. Next up we went into another area were we sat in seats and put seat belts on, facing a large screen. When the show started we moved forward with our feet dangling, it was a helicopter ride from the east to the west across Canada! The film was amazing as we flew across the ever changing landscape, beautiful autumn trees, massively deep canyons with rivers and people kayaking, farming land, soaring up to the highest snow covered peaks of the Rockies then descending down the other side. We had the wind in our face and a couple of times sprayed with mist, even had the smells. We were laughing and at times we lifted our feet as it seemed like we were going to hit something, it ended as we flew over Vancouver then up high into the air the to see the Northern Lights. Great experience and a nice taste of things to come.

We walked over to our ship the Sapphire Princess for a good look then wandered down to Gastown and fluked the steam clock play its tune at midday then headed back up to the hotel to collect our gear then down to Canada Place again to start the boarding process. We dropped our bags then went through security, then USA border control and finally to the Princess check in to get our cruise card/room key. We booked a partly obscured window cabin because of the price (these cruises to Alaska aren't cheap on top of a flight from Perth) but we had a great view never the less thanks to the power of googling and doing our homework on cabin selection.

We quickly unpacked and headed up to find something for lunch then spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the ship. As the Sapphire is a sister ship to the Ruby we felt at home straight away having done a TA some 9 months earlier on her. Sailing out of the harbour was beautiful on a clear sunny day, in the distance the mountains were topped with snow. Many small islands covered in pine trees right down to the water’s edge, beautiful houses nestled in little coves, yachts sailing by, perfect, this is the life. We celebrated with a cocktail then headed inside to get ready for dinner. We had a nice dinner of spring rolls, roast prime rib and flour less chocolate cake for dessert. We were sailing between the mainland and Vancouver Island, beautiful scenery. The sun went down around 9pm with an orange sunset, then a skinny orange moon came up. What a great way to end our first proper day of the trip.
FOGGY DAY AT SEA

Early, very early this morning we were still between the mainland and Vancouver Island, hundreds of little islands with thin lines of low cloud hovering over them. We were so close we could see the trees, rocks etc. It was pretty chilly outside at 13 degrees, soon the cloud became fog and we couldn't see a thing so we headed indoors for breakfast in the dining room. We had fresh fruit, yoghurt and an Alaskan scramble, eggs with fresh asparagus and smoked salmon - yum!!!

We spent the day mainly inside with brisk walks around deck every so often to get some fresh air.
We did find a protected warm spot for a while and watched a short film on tropical fish. Then went into the theatre for a talk by a naturalist on the sea creatures of the Alaskan waters and what animals we can hope to see. Tomorrow evening around 6.30 we are going to a humpback whale area so we have our fingers crossed that the weather is clearer. Tonight was "formal" so we had drinks in one of the bars and watched all the people in their evening gear - there sure were some sites to see!!!! There were also a number like us who made the decision not to carry formal gear around for 5 weeks for only 2 dinners. We ate dinner in the buffet then headed down to the International Cafe in the Piazza for coffee before another short walk out in the cold. We had purchased coffee cards which are a good deal and the baristas actually know how to make a flat white. The fog had lifted a little during the day but came back again this evening, we even had the fog horn sounding - we wondered what it was like on the Titanic!!!! We couldn't see anything passed the rail of the ship. Our newsletter this evening says partly cloudy with the chance of a rain shower, 20 degrees.

Our first stop tomorrow is in Ketchikan at 6am, but the good news is we gain an hour overnight. We have a float plane booked for a flight to Traitors Cove were we will be met by a Ranger then walk to an area where we hope to see bears catching salmon, then a flight up Misty Fiord and a landing on a lake. If the weather isn't suitable we get our money back but we have fingers and toes crossed as we really want to do this excursion.

Now it's time to get some sleep after a nice relaxing day on the ship.

Monday Aug 12 - KETCHIKAN
Alarm set for 5am but neither of us had slept well, must be jet lag. A quick look out of the window - our fears had turned into reality as the fog was still hanging around not as bad but still there. We heard the fog horn going most of the night, hate to be in the cabins near the front!!!! Once the pilot came aboard they stopped. We were gliding into the port of Ketchikan which was waking up to cater for the tourists, 4 ships were due in today.

We headed down to the International Cafe for a quick breakfast, grabbed our gear and we were off to find the rain gauge to meet Island Wings. Good news and bad news, Traitors Cove bear viewing flight was off as the fog was too low and dense. Good news they were confidant of the Misty Fiord flight going ahead but we had to wait until around 11, it was now only 7am. We grabbed a walking map and headed to Creek Street which was the original area that was set up by prostitutes to cater for the fishermen. It has now been restored and is full of tourist shops below with housing above. The whole area is set over a creek with the buildings up on stilts. We heard some splashing and saw a seal catching salmon, when we looked close there were hundreds of salmons trying to swim up river, no wonder the seal was enjoying his breakfast.

We wandered around for a while before catching a tram to the top of the hill behind Creek St, there was a very nice looking Lodge up there with rooms and a restaurant. Out back was some really good totem poles, we found a walking trail back down through the forest and came across the salmon ladder and watched them trying to get up the rocks with only a few of the smart ones using the manmade ladder. Ketchikan is the salmon capital of the world and here they were swimming along right through the middle of town. We followed the creek to the spawning area, the poor things must be exhausted by the time they reached this calm area.

We were pretty chilly by this stage so headed to a coffee shop to have something warm and use the free WiFi. We managed to fill in the remaining time window shopping - I even found a quilt shop and made a purchase. We also enjoyed the Christmas shop. Back to the meeting point to find Mike from Island Wings and good news the 2nd part of our flight was on!!! He drove us down to the float plane, we got our instructions, loaded up, buckled in, popped on the headphones - set to go. The plane was a vintage de Havilland Beaver which was one of the reasons be chose them. The planes make such a noise, inside and out. Our pilot Shona who owns the company wound the old girl up and we skated down the middle of the harbour right by our ship then up into the air.

We had a 45 minute flight to the fiord but after about 15 minutes we flew out of the fog and into the sunshine and a beautiful blue sky - what a difference!! We soared over lakes, islands, the sea and finally into an awesome fiord. We flew right up the middle then banked over the highest peaks still covered in snow - it was amazing and something to cross off our bucket list. Shona make sure we all got a great view, soon we descended by doing 3 big circles down and landed as smooth as silk on a stunning lake.

This area is usually covered by 50 yards of snow but they have had only 3 days of rain in 3 months, very unusual as it rains 365 days of the year normally. The temp has been sitting around 85 degrees Fahrenheit when it should be 30 degrees cooler, Shona explained this was the reason for the fog. In 29 years of flying into the area she has never seen these high alpine lakes so low in water as the snow has melted away. All too soon it was time to head back to town, our ship was leaving at 2pm. We got our refund but all wished we could have seen the bears. Give me a water landing anytime over a land one, it’s so smooth the only way to tell that you have landed is to see the spray from the floats when the plane lands. What an amazing experience, we are very lucky to have been able to do this, big high light of the trip.

We made it back on board and headed to the buffet for some lunch then sat out the back for sail away - we are sailing into blue skies, let’s hope it continues. We are heading to Snow Passage for whale watching - the wind has come up so we will have to get plenty of warm gear on.

We were in luck with the whales as we were on the right side as they came by, that is the starboard side.
We saw 5 different humpbacks, a couple dives so we saw their tails or "flukes" and saw them all blowing.
Tomorrow we have a small boat whale watching tour so hope to see more. One guy had a huge telephoto lens and promised to send me a couple of his shots, all I have to do is find him again to give him our email address! We also saw a couple of sea lions on a buoy, we were half frozen by then so we changed and went in for dinner - Italian tonight and hopefully we will all sleep!!!

Tues Aug 13 - JUNEAU
Up early to watch us dock in Juneau, the scenery reminds us of the fiords in Norway with the huge towering snow-capped mountains covered in pine and spruce trees. We sail so close to the land you feel like you can touch it. We had a reasonable sleep apart from the awful pillows, they are like a sack full of a hundred hard balls of kapok, sort of like chucking a grenade in the pillowcase and seeing what happens!!!!! I asked Lucilo, our cabin steward, for another one but he said they were all like it, new ones on order and they were waiting for them. Great!!

We had breakfast out on the back deck then walked into Juneau, the state capital of Alaska. It was very similar to Ketchikan, lots and lots of jewellery stores, they must do a big trade otherwise they wouldn't exist but it would be the last place I would be buying diamonds and gold. If you do your homework most of the diamonds these days come from South Africa and a lot of the gold from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, our home state. I believe there isn't much left in Alaska unlike the old days.

We spent an hour or two seeing the town then met our guide at the famous Red Dog Saloon, pity it was way too early to sample a beer. The Saloon has been kept in its original state, it states outside "gents check your side arms". Our driver from Harv and Marv Outdoor Adventures took us down to the small boat harbour where we picked up another couple for our whale watching tour. We had booked this tour months in advance as they only take 6 people, we didn't want to go out on a big boat. Captain Liz was brilliant, extremely knowledgeable regarding the marine animals and her love of whales made for a great 3 hours.

We headed out into Auke Bay, first stop was a bald eagle and her baby in the nest. Liz thought the baby had flown as she hadn't seen it for a few days but it popped its head out of the nest with mum standing guard. We all had binoculars and got a good view. Out further into the bay we found Dall Porpoises, Liz turned the boat around and around so they would play with us, jumping through our wake.

We now were on whale watch and before long we saw blows in the distance, Liz gunned the motors and we spent about 2 hours watching humpback whales floating, blowing and diving. It was so good to be on a small boat as we could all get a spot and see clearly, we sat right on the front nose. It was pretty hard trying
to get a good photo as the whales would dive then we weren't sure where they would come up.
This was another tick off the bucket list, we had a fabulous time.

The driver then dropped us off at the Mendenhall Glacier; we had a surprise waiting for us!! We walked to the viewing area to see the Glacier, it was huge with a massive waterfall on the side. There were even a couple of small icebergs floating on the lake. We walked to a raised boardwalk, supposedly a bear viewing area, we were still to tick bears off our list. A lady walking out showed me her photo and said there are bears there NOW!

We saw a cub up in a tree then all of a sudden mum walked right underneath us, we were gobsmacked that we had seen a black bear up so close. We spent ages watching for more bears then walked to the end of the boardwalk and saw a porcupine; it was just toddling around feeding and enjoying itself. Everyone walked back to the mum and cub while we enjoyed watching the porcupine then another bear walked out of the bushes. We were so close, I had to zip my lips together to stop from calling out to our friends. Mr Bear stayed for about 10 minutes then walked off up the track. WOW did I get some great photos. We watched the sockeye salmon in the stream for a while then across the waterway we saw another mummy bear with twin cubs playing in the water. I managed to get them on video on my camera, one of the cubs stood up with a fish and wrestled with it before they too wandered off.

We decided to hike to the waterfall, roughly a two mile round hike. The noise was deafening and it was good to stretch our legs. We had one more look for bears but they had moved on so we grabbed a shuttle back to town, no one asked for the fare so we got a freebie but did tip the driver. Once back in town we tried to get into the Red Dog Saloon but it was full, we were parched and needed a cold drink. The weather had been just perfect today, sunny and warm, very unusual for Juneau. We tried to find WiFi to send our emails but had no luck, walked back to the ship for a well-deserved drink. Dinner was smoked haddock chowder followed by surf and turf! Perfect end to a perfect day. We are having a brilliant time!!!!


Aug 14 -SKAGWAY
Today was the final day of our 3 ports of call, the next 2 are sea days. Breakfast at 6 so we could watch the Sapphire dock in Skagway, we had to meet our tour guide at 7.20 so no sleep in today. Again we did our research and booked early to get the tour we wanted, Chilkoot Tours to Carcross. Our driver took us to the station, one lot got left behind as they didn't bring their passports even though it was written very clearly in big letters on the emails we received. We boarded the White Pass & Yukon Rail train and sat on the left as we had read this offered the best views. It was cloudy when we left the station but still ok to see. We were following the historic trails of the miners that headed into the interior in search of gold.

We went over trestle bridges, through tunnels climbing all the time, following the course of the Skagway River through magnificent scenery. We managed to stand out the back of the carriage on the platform, I must have taken way too many photos, I haven't looked at the count yet but every twist and turn had something better to see. Soon we were up in the clouds and couldn't see a thing, we hit the White Pass Summit at 2865 feet, the conductor kept telling us we would break out into the sunshine soon and sure even we saw little patches of blue, the clouds rolled away and we had the most beautiful clear sky. We had to go through customs into Canada at the border of British Columbia and Alaska.

We had the classic view of clear blue sky, dead calm water which in turn made for the most incredible reflections - WOW. We pulled into Lake Bennett for lunch in the old original dining hall set on a wide section of the river. We had Mulligatawny stew, homemade bread, coleslaw and fresh apple pie, the lady served 4 carriages of people in one sitting and it was pretty darn good!

After lunch we had about half an hour to walk around before re-boarding the train to Carcross, Yukon Territory. We followed the river, it was so beautiful, picture postcard stuff. The conductor told us how lucky we were to see it so flat as it is usually windblown, it was very warm, must have been mid to high 20's (Celsius) of course. We got off in Carcross and stamped our passports with a special Yukon stamp, grabbed a homemade ice cream. Pistachio, chocolate and vanilla ripple, yum. Carcross was known as Caribou Crossing during the gold rush, it's a pretty small place. We found our driver from this morning, boarded the bus and headed out if town to Emerald Lake. As you can imagine it was a spectacular colour of green, we headed back to the smallest desert in the world. This used to be a glacier many many years ago that receded leaving a small area of course grain sand.

We stopped by a lake to have a stone skimming contest before the drive back to the US border station then downhill onto Skagway. We were told there was free WiFi at the library but couldn't get on the net as there too many other people with the same idea. We found a shop and paid $2.50 for 1/2 an hour - it took all that time to send 3 emails. We were ready for a drink and headed to the Red Onion Saloon but again no luck as it was full, the next place was too noisy and smelly so we gave up and wandered slowly back to the ship. We watched some locals catching King Salmon for a while, it was still pretty warm so we enjoyed the walk. The back of the ship was a great place to sit and enjoy a nice cold G&T with a million dollar view.

It was so nice we decided to stay and have the buffet for dinner then watched the sail away at 8.30, about 10 minutes later we spotted a couple of humpbacks - what a bonus and I have a great photo!!! Early morning for our day at Glacier Bay so off to bed.

Thursday Aug 15
Overnight we sailed back down Lynn Canal. Out on deck at 5.30 for whale watching as we headed into Icy Straight, the sun was coming up and turning the huge peak of Mt Fairweather pink. Again we have a fine day, so glad the weather has held as this would be awful in the rain. We spotted whales and otters before heading to breakfast on the back deck. I went back to our cabin to put layer upon layer of clothes on, even though it was fine and clear it was freezing in the wind. We staked our claim on deck 15 for the sail into Glacier Bay, huge mountains, blue sky, beautiful glass like water, snow, ice, glaciers - so much to see.

We sailed into the mouth of Johns Hopkins Inlet to see the Glacier at the end, no big ships are allowed in the inlet to protect it. We did a full circle so everyone could see it - a large bay with icebergs floating in it surrounded by massive mountains and the glacier at the end, it was breathtaking. We also saw Lamplugh glacier which is a blue colour. Next up was the Tarr Inlet, the Grand Pacific Glacier blocks the end of this but is slowly dying however on the left was Marjorie Glacier, she is alive and still moving and we had our fingers crossed for a calving. This was on the bucket list to see.

We were at the front of the ship as we sailed up to it, when a lady next to me starting chatting with an Aussie accent. They the 5th West Aussie couple - wonder if there are anymore? We moved down the port side to get a better view as the ship turned, again we had 1/2 hour each side. We saw small pieces of ice falling, well I guess they weren't all that small but they looked it in comparison to the glacier and the noise was like a really loud crack that echoed around. Everyone was talking, taking photos it was a great atmosphere, then we heard a series of very loud cracks that sounded like thurnder. We scanned the front of the ice then wham! A huge piece cracked off and splashed into the water - we all cheered and clapped. Another tick off the list.
By sheer chance I had my camera pointed at the right spot and got a series of brilliant shots.

We watched for as long as we could until we sailed out then went out the back for lunch and to just enjoy the view and soak it up. We spent most of the afternoon whale and otter spotting until the icy wind sent us inside for a hot drink.

The sun is now behind the clouds as we head out of the protection of the bays and inlets, into the open sea to follow the coast towards College Fiord, our last full day at sea. Time for a pre-dinner drink.......


Friday Aug 16 – Somewhere off Alaska
Today is a sea day so we could have a sleep in and a lazy breakfast out on the back deck but tucked into a back corner - it's rather chilly!!! Can't see much as it is overcast and at times foggy, we know when it's foggy as the horn blasts. DH and I went to the morning trivia and sat with an older couple from Florida - pretty hard questions but we actually ended up 2nd.

Our steward made up our cabin and we now have the luggage mat on the bed, time to think about packing later this afternoon, we wanted to do walk off which means we walk off unassisted with our luggage but it was for 6am!!!! I don't think so!!!! A quick visit to Passenger Services and had our time changed it to 7.45 – a bit more civil. Our shuttle to Anchorage is booked for 9am so that will work out well.

We sat up in Skywalkers nightclub which is a nice quiet place to sit during the day as its up on the highest level and juts out over the sea, perfect for wildlife spotting and reading. There is not a soul up here apart from us. The Officer of the Watch just gave his noon address, it's a max today of 13 BBBBBBRRRRRRR but also said tomorrow it's going to be 9, huh 9? Sheesh, we will be wearing everything we own.

We sailed into Prince William Sound and can see some big islands shrouded in fog. We are on the watch for otters and sea lions. Our waiter at brekky told us how lucky we were to see Glacier Bay in the sunshine yesterday, same cruise last time it was covered in fog and no one saw a thing plus the port days were windy and cold. So we can't complain today.

We have felt pretty much at home on the Sapphire Princess. We are on deck 8 only 2 doors from a bank of lifts and the midship stairs so we can go anywhere easily. All the names of the different areas are the same as the Ruby but there are also some slight differences. The middle pool is enclosed two decks high and is called the Conservatory, but the smell of chlorine is awful. However I guess it makes for a good area for families cruising to Alaska, it's always full. The only complaint I have is the dreadful pillows, one more night to go! After lunch we read and watch the scenery pass by, lots of small islands covered in Sitka Spruce fir trees.

At 5.30pm we sail into College Fiord, not sure how much we will see if this cloud and fog doesn't lift but we still have 4 1/2 hours cruising so fingers crossed. It is also supposed to be a good wildlife viewing area so it will be layers, layers, layers, hats, gloves and anything else we can find to put on.

We went for a hot coffee to fortify ourselves, put on all our warm clothing and headed out to deck 7, which is the promenade deck. It was very very chilly, sure was a big temperature change from the 30 degree day we had when we arrived in Vancouver a week ago. Everyone was chatting and having fun, I even found a man I had been looking for since our first day of whale spotting. He had a camera with a huge lens and had taken a great shot of a whale tail, we were standing next to him and he told me to write down my email address and he would send me the photo. I hadn't seen him since but saw him and we swapped emails so hopefully I will get the photo (which I did, thank you Jim).

We sailed up the fiord, it had 5 tidal glaciers and quite a few hanging ones. Pretty impressive, luckily the fog and low cloud seemed to lift for a while but that all added to the mystery. We managed to stay outside for nearly 2 1/2 hours, no mean feat let me tell you. There were icebergs floating by if that gives you any indication of the temperature. We sat inside for about half an hour before we warmed up but how G and DH managed to do this while drinking Alaska beer beats me!

We had our last dinner in the dining room and our luggage is outside the door, tomorrow another adventure awaits - the hire car and driving on the "wrong" side of the road. Heaven help the other drivers. . . . . .

Aug 17 Saturday
After breakfast we gathered up our luggage and congregated in our assigned meeting place in one of the restaurants. If you can manage your own luggage this is the easiest and quickest option of disembarking. We had to wait a little while as everyone gets off at staggered times to stop congestion. Finally our turn and we walk off into …..rain.

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