Almost to Juneau

Happy New Year! I realized that from this past summer, I did a day-by-day account of our Alaskan cruise, but I never wrapped it up with a trip review. Since this was our first cruise and first time to Alaska, I thought I’d write a little bit about the experience.

I’ll be honest, up until now, I never had a strong desire to go on a cruise. Some of it was bad PR (like the Carnival Triumph “poop cruise”), some of it was outdated thinking on my part (like doing “forced” activities–hey, no one is actually forcing you to do anything!).

But Alaska was on the travel bucket list and we thought doing a cruise sounded like a good way to go!

Selecting our cruise
We ended up choosing Princess Cruises’ round trip from Seattle, primarily for their expertise in Alaska–and Glacier Bay National Park was on the itinerary we selected. I would have loved to have done a land tour too (like Denali) but we couldn’t spare the extra time (hey that gives me an excuse to go again!). Plus, I’d rather do Denali on my own and really spend some time there.

So we opted for the round trip so we could fly into and out of the same place. We chose Seattle as opposed to Vancouver for cheaper air fares. It’s easier for us to get to and we have family in the area.

We booked last Fall and then I spent the rest of the time eagerly reading the Cruise Critic forums and Alaska travel books. It seemed such a long stretch until June. But then, it was time to sail!

Crown Princess itinerary, R/T to Alaska from Seattle

Crown Princess itinerary, R/T to Alaska from Seattle

Cruise Ship Experience

We were on the Crown Princess, round-trip from Seattle from June 4-11, 2016. The itinerary included Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, Victoria BC, plus scenic cruising through Glacier Bay. We spent 3 nights pre-cruise in the Seattle area exploring around.

Embarkation: Pier 91 at Seattle (Smith Cove Cruise Terminal). A smooth experience! Arrived around 12:30pm. Line always kept moving–no more than 30 minutes to get from drop-off to on board the ship. Our room was ready when we got there.

Leaving Seattle on the Crown Princess

Leaving Seattle on the Crown Princess

Stateroom: Inside cabin, Riviera 724. We saved money by booking an inside cabin and have no regrets–we spent most of our time exploring the ship anyway! Great location — aft of the ship. Just a few steps and we were at the Terrace pool and bar which was rarely crowded. The room was situated immediately below the buffet—only the occasional minor noise, but nothing that ever caused us to lose sleep. The room itself was more than adequate for the two of us. I thought I might feel claustrophobic, but no worries.

Service: Exceptional. I’m not one who usually goes for being “pampered,” but I felt like a king (or a prince since this is Princess Cruises?). Our steward was helpful and always seemed to be around…but never hovered. Wait staff was amiable and professional. Top notch all around.

Food: Ranged from average to excellent. Two great meals in the Crown Grill (loved the filet mignon!) and had good food in the MDR (hello salmon! And I’m still having dreams about you, Fettuccine Alfredo!). The buffet was fairly standard and what I expect when you try to institutionally service food to 3,000 people. We did Anytime Dining because we didn’t want to stick to a rigid schedule. Well, we learned it really should be called “Anytime Dining but reservations highly encouraged!” So, we decided what time we wanted eat dinner in the morning and made a quick call to the Dine line for reservations.

Dessert in the Crown Grill

Dessert in the Crown Grill

Facilities: Loved all the open areas, walking around the Promenade Deck, Skywalkers Lounge, Terrace pool area. The piazza (central atrium) is beautiful. Most of the time, the ship never felt crowded (and that’s good because I’m not a “crowds” person). Some issues finding seating in buffet at peak times (mainly from people taking up tables who weren’t actually eating).

Crown Princess piazza

Crown Princess piazza

Onboard Activities: Alaska is so port-intensive, we were sometimes too tired. But we did go to several performances (“Magic to Do” musical and 70’s music show) and liked them. Tried our hand at trivia…fun, but wow we felt dumb! Did the “treasure hunt” as a first timer…I won something! Went to one of the naturalist presentations about Alaska and a photo presentation on Alaska…both good!Attended the culinary demo and galley tour…fascinating. Watched the finale of “Voice of the Ocean”—some talented passengers on board!

Disembarkation: A bit of zoo, but I guess that’s usual? We did Express Walk Off and would do it again.

Ports

Juneau: Ate at Tracy’s King Crab Shack…loved it! Did Harv & Marv’s whale watching…good time. Went to Mendenhall Glacier: Would have liked to have spent more time there.

Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier

Skagway: Walked around town. Did Frontier Excursion’s Yukon Discovery Tour (about 6.5 hrs)—awesome scenery and didn’t have to do any of the driving!

Yukon - Large than Life

Yukon – Large than Life

Glacier Bay scenic cruising: One word: AMAZING! Remember to get a good spot out on one the high decks then go down to the Promenade Deck to get a change in perspective.

Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay scenic cruising

Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay scenic cruising

Ketchikan: Wish we had more time here. Did Island Wings floatplane sightseeing over Misty Fjords—an experience I’ll never forget.

Nooya Lake. Misty Fjords

Nooya Lake. Misty Fjords

Victoria BC: Again, wish we had more time here. Lovely city. Walked around downtown. Great meal and friendly service at a restaurant called The Docks.

BC Parliament Buildings

BC Parliament Buildings

Post-Cruise Thoughts

What I learned as a first-time cruiser is that it’s all about options. Don’t like formal night? Don’t have to do it (just stay out of the main dining room). Hungry at 11pm? No problem: Go to the 24 hour cafe. Want to learn something?: Go listen to the naturalist talk. Want to party? Go to the late night DJ. There really is something for everyone!

So, we’re hooked! Doesn’t mean we’ll be cruising multiple times a year, but as soon as we got off the ship, we both agreed: Let’s go somewhere warm next! So, if you have suggestions, let me know!

If you have questions about my trip, don’t hesitate to ask!

Crown Princess

Crown Princess

 

Brett Amory, FWMoA

Back in Indiana over the holidays visiting my mom. I grew up in the Fort Wayne area, but had never been to the local art museum. I decided to rectify that and visit the Fort Wayne Museum of Art.

Located downtown, the FWMoA features several nice galleries. When I visited, they were showcasing two exhibitions that I really found interesting.

The first was by Oakland-based artist Brett Amory entitled “Fort Wayne, American Monologue.” Growing up in the midwest, I’m always attuned to people that make simplistic assumptions about the midwest (aka “flyover country”), so I was interested in seeing this artist’s perspective. The story told about Fort Wayne was realistic: its successes and failures, the good and bad, the past and future. I appreciated this multi-dimensional perspective.

My favorite piece was a worked titled “Internet Archive.” As a librarian, I noticed the information and literary component to the piece. I also spotted the old library catalog cards decorating the frame.

Brett Amory, FWMoA

Brett Amory, FWMoA

The second exhibit was by artist and printmaker Robert Kipniss. His works featured many tree scenes in dark greens, grays, and almost black. A quote from the artist struck me:

No matter what you do some people will like it, some people will hate it, and most people won’t care. Do the work you believe in, the work you have to do, and let that be enough.

Robert Kipniss, FWMoA

Robert Kipniss, FWMoA

I also enjoyed a third gallery: various pieces acquired by the museum in 2016.

FWMoA

FWMoA

Because the museum is small, they rotate artwork for display. So I’ll definitely be stopping in the next time I’m in Fort Wayne. You’ll see something new!

 

Orlando: Trip in Review

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Ahh, the beautiful sunshine and warm weather of Florida was a brief respite from December in Wisconsin.

We stayed four nights in Orlando at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. Below are some notes on our trip:

Hogsmeade, Wizarding World of Harry Potter

It was time to switch it up after two days doing the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. From our base at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, we arranged for a Mears Shuttle to pick us up and take us to Universal Studios Orlando.

We had been to Universal Studios Hollywood back in 2012, and although there is a bit of crossover, the big draw to Orlando is, of course, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

It is, in one word, amazing! The attention to detail is spot on. The shops and restaurants have a great atmosphere and the workers are wonderfully in character.

London, Wizarding World of Harry Potter

London, Wizarding World of Harry Potter

We started with the London street facade with Kings Cross station, the Leicester Square tube stop, 12 Grimmauld Place, and the Knight Bus.

Then we entered Diagon Alley, got some butterbeer, and visited the Leaky Cauldron, Knockturn Alley, and did the exciting Escape from Gringotts ride.

Diagon Alley, Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Diagon Alley, Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Following that, it was time for the train journey: Hogwarts Express! Having been to the actual Kings Cross in London, it was amazing to get the same type of vibe! The train journey was fun and full of special effects. Movie magic!

Hogwarts Express, Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Hogwarts Express, Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The train deposits you at Hogsmeade Village where you’ll find snow on the rooftops. We had lunch at the Three Broomsticks, watched the quick wand show at Ollivanders, and the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride at Hogwarts Castle.

Hogwarts Castle, Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Hogwarts Castle, Wizarding World of Harry Potter

After getting our fill of Harry Potter, we toured around the Islands of Adventure and then took the Hogwarts Express back to tour more of Universal Studios Florida.

Keep in mind, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is divided between the two Universal parks (Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure). You will need park-to-park admission to visit both Harry Potter sites. It’s well worth it! We did both parks in one day. The weekday hours in winter when we were there were shorter. We could have used a couple more hours to do more, but were happy with what we saw. We exited when the park closed at 7pm.

Maybe because this was a new experience for me, seeing the Wizarding World was my favorite theme park experience for Orlando. Definitely a must do!

Below are a few photos, for the full set, check out my Flickr album.

Epcot

After our day at the Magic Kingdom, it was time to explore Epcot. Same plan: breakfast at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort and then hop on a shuttle to spend the day at Epcot.

I loved Epcot as a kid. Visiting the world showcase made me want to travel and explore these places in person.

It was Sunday and not too crowded. After entering the park, we decided to line up and wait at Spaceship Earth–not too bad, only about 20 minutes. The ride was pretty much as I remembered, but with the voice of Judi Dench in place of Walter Cronkite (circa 1992!).

Then we explored more of Future World, including the Test Track which reminded me of the Radiator Springs ride at Disney’s California Adventure.

After that, it was off to tackle the World Showcase. We started at Mexico and worked our way around. In Mexico, we sampled some churros and a margarita. We also did the boat ride inside – the Gran Fiesta Tour. I also purchased a Dia de los Muertos skull.

Mexico, Epcot

Mexico, Epcot

Then in Norway, I picked up some Frozen plush toys for a co-worker’s kid and then in China, we had a quick counter service lunch at the Lotus Blossom Cafe. It’s reminiscent of a Panda Express, but since we were splurging for dinner, we decided to go cheap for lunch (at least Disney “cheap”).

Next it was Germany, and then Italy where we treated ourselves to some gelato. We bypassed the United States pavilion for the most part — we can have hot dogs and hamburgers anytime!

Italy, Epcot

Italy, Epcot

The Japan pavilion was interesting and I was surprised by the large Mitsukoshi department store…definitely some good buys there! Morocco was up next and I think its architecture is my favorite. I love the little alleyways inside.

Morocco, Epcot

Morocco, Epcot

We had a quick look at France–we would be coming back here for dinner, and then exited the park at the International Gateway to meet some friends that live in the area for some drinks along the Boardwalk.

After returning to the park, we continued with the World Showcase and started back at the United Kingdom, followed by Canada. Then it was time to return to France.

I had made a reservation for Monsieur Paul and we were not disappointed! Service was excellent and the food was playful, creative, and delicious. I had the red snapper with “potato” scales. Wonderful…a truly gourmet meal!

Red snapper with potato "scales," Monsieur Paul, France, Epcot

Red snapper with potato “scales,” Monsieur Paul, France, Epcot

We loved chatting with the employees representing their countries, getting to browse the imported goods, and learning a little bit about each culture.

Below are a few photos, for the full set, check out my Flickr album.

Disney World Magic Kingdom

OK, I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of theme parks. But we were in Orlando to escape some Wisconsin winter weather, so I put myself in the mood!

I had been to Disneyland in California about four years prior. The last time I was at Disney World in Florida was 1991.

We hopped on the shuttle from Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort and were dropped off at the Magic Kingdom. The shuttle was full, but not uncomfortably so.

I know there a lot of people who get into Disney planning mode, but we walked into the Magic Kingdom without a major plan…just planning to amble from one section to another until closing time.

After walking down Main Street USA and past Cinderella Castle, we began in Tomorrowland and did Space Mountain, then over to Fantasyland and the Mad Tea Party teacups, and through Liberty Square and the Hall of Presidents.

Teacups

Teacups

We had la surprisingly good lunch in Adventureland at Jungle Skipper Canteen — a table service restaurant that’s a fusion of South African, Asian, and South American dishes. We also got our Dole Whip at Aloha Isle!

While waiting for lunch, we toured the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse and after lunch did the “jungle cruise” and the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Then it was over to the Haunted Mansion and It’s a Small World. Dinner was disappointing: a quick counter-service meal from The Friar’s Nook.

Because it was December, everything was decked out in Christmas decorations–the highlight being Cinderella’s Castle draped in dreamy icicle lights. We crammed into the plaza around the castle for the fireworks show…spectacular!

Cinderella's Castle

Cinderella’s Castle

We visited on a Saturday, so it was quite crowded…especially since it was close to the holidays. However, we had a great time and enjoyed the sunshine!

Below are a few photos, for the full set, check out my Flickr album.

Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort

I think we could get into the habit of taking a winter vacation to a warmer locale! Earlier in December, we spent four nights at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort–one of the “moderately” priced Disney properties.

In September I found a good vacation package deal through Southwest Airlines (flight + Disney hotel), so I booked it.

The advantage of staying at a Disney hotel is that round trip transportation from/to the airport is included, courtesy of Disney’s Magical Express. No waiting at the rental car counter. No managing the busy highways. A nice coach bus does that all for you. You can even choose to have your luggage automatically picked up at baggage claim and delivered straight to your hotel room. The big plus for us was when leaving: We were able to check in for our return flight at the hotel and leave our luggage there to be automatically transported for us. Then we hopped on Disney’s Magical Express bus to the airport and proceeded directly through TSA.

Owing to its name, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort is decorated in tropical colors – lots of pink, purple, and aqua hues. The various buildings are centered around a lake. Check in is at the Custom House and a food court is located at Old Port Royale. Some visitors complain of the property being too spread out, but we found it easily walkable. Lots of good exercise.

Most mornings, we started with breakfast at the food court for a quick bite. We did one dinner at the table service restaurant, Shutters, and had an excellent meal of red snapper with jicama salsa and fried green tomatoes, and a perfectly cooked strip steak.

Meal at Shutters

Meal at Shutters

The Disney parks shuttle were quick and convenient and we used it to get to Disney Springs, the Magic Kingdom, and Epcot. I don’t think we waited over 10 minutes at our stop near our hotel room.

The weather cooperated and we were in shorts and t-shirts for all but our first day. We even managed to escape the first major winter storm of the season in Wisconsin.

In short: The convenience of Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort is a big draw. Easy access to the parks and airport transportation helped to make this vacation go smoothly.

Below are a few photos, for the full set, check out my Flickr album.

BC Parliament Buildings

All aboard time from Ketchikan was 12:45pm. We wouldn’t dock at our next port, Victoria BC, until around 7:15pm the next day. So, it felt like an extra “sea day.”

Again, we were itching to get off the ship as soon as Victoria came into view. Canadian immigration authorities slightly delayed our docking. We were off the ship just after 7:30pm and we had to be back on at 11:30pm. Another short port. Too bad, because Victoria was lovely!

Welcome to Canada

Welcome to Canada

This was the only port where we didn’t have a set excursion. We only had plans to walk around and eat at a restaurant. We did book a shuttle through Princess Cruises to take us downtown and back. You can also walk, but it’s about 20 minutes and we didn’t want to spare the time.

The shuttle dropped us off at The Empress Hotel.

The Empress Hotel

The Empress Hotel

Then we made our way over to the British Columbia parliament buildings.

BC Parliament Buildings

BC Parliament Buildings

After that, we walked along the Inner Harbour.

Inner Harbour

Inner Harbour

Feeling hungry, we took the shuttle driver’s advice and headed down Government Street, passing lots of charming pubs. They say Victoria is the most “English” city in Canada and it definitely feels like it.

At Bastion Square, we walked down the pedestrian alley to Wharf Street. There we found The Docks restaurant. The menu looked good, so we went in and had dinner–a lovely piece of fresh wild-caught salmon along with lobster mashed potatoes. Yum!

Following dinner, we retraced our steps along Government Street, did some souvenir shopping, and went back over to the BC parliament buildings to see them all lit up at night.

BC Parliament Buildings

BC Parliament Buildings

We made our way to the shuttle bus and back on board the ship at just after 11pm.

Our visit to Victoria BC was much too short. A lot of people on the ship booked the Butchart Gardens excursion. I’m glad we did not since we were short on time. Victoria is a lovely city and we plan on returning someday to do some more exploring.

Here is the Princess Patter for the day:

Princess Patter, p. 1 of 4

Princess Patter, p. 1 of 4

Princess Patter, p. 2 of 4

Princess Patter, p. 2 of 4

Princess Patter, p. 3 of 4

Princess Patter, p. 3 of 4

Princess Patter, p. 4 of 4

Princess Patter, p. 4 of 4

Below are some more photos. For the full set, check out my Flickr album.

Island Wings De Havilland Beaver floatplane

After getting off the ship in Ketchikan, we made our way to the pier where a van was waiting to take us to our shore excursion.

Several months back I had booked a floatplane sightseeing tour over Misty Fjords National Monument through Island Wings Air Service based off of good reviews from CruiseCritic and TripAdvisor. Quick review: It was awesome!

Island Wings, Ketchikan

Island Wings, Ketchikan

Arriving at the Island Wings office, we walked down a plank and there was the floatplane. She was a beauty! – A de Havilland Beaver.

After some quick paperwork in the office, Michelle, the pilot/owner, introduced herself and it was time to board. We took off right next to the Crown Princess.

Next to the Crown Princess: Island Wings De Havilland Beaver floatplane

Next to the Crown Princess: Island Wings De Havilland Beaver floatplane

Taking off next to the Crown Princess

Taking off next to the Crown Princess

Then it was up and away! I thought the journey might be bumpy, but with good weather and Michelle’s steady hands at the controls, I need not worry!

Michelle took us through some gorgeous scenery – open water, mountains, lakes, and forests.

Misty Fjords flightseeing tour

Misty Fjords flightseeing tour

Misty Fjords flightseeing tour

Misty Fjords flightseeing tour

We landed on Nooya Lake and Michelle let us get out, take photos, and stretch our legs for a bit. The lake was so quiet…we were the only noise!

Landing on Nooya Lake. Misty Fjords

Landing on Nooya Lake. Misty Fjords

Nooya Lake. Misty Fjords

Nooya Lake. Misty Fjords

Island Wings De Havilland Beaver floatplane with Michelle, the pilot

Island Wings De Havilland Beaver floatplane with Michelle, the pilot

Nooya Lake. Misty Fjords

Nooya Lake. Misty Fjords

Then we took off again. The fjords are amazing. At one point, it felt like I could reach out and touch them!

Misty Fjords flightseeing tour

Misty Fjords flightseeing tour

Misty Fjords flightseeing tour

Misty Fjords flightseeing tour

Misty Fjords flightseeing tour

Misty Fjords flightseeing tour

Misty Fjords flightseeing tour

Misty Fjords flightseeing tour

We landed back at Ketchikan and all agreed that this was one of our favorite travel experiences…ever! Michelle’s a pro at what she does and the scenery is breathtaking. Total time from pick-up to drop-off was about 2.5 hours.

Below are some more photos. For the full set, check out my Flickr album.

 

Alaskan Cruise: Ketchikan

Ketchikan

Sailing overnight from Glacier Bay, the Crown Princess docked in Ketchikan at around 7am.

It was a short port day. All aboard was 12:45pm. We made the most of it though! We had booked a floatplane sightseeing excursion over Misty Fjords National Monument through Island Wings Air Service–a fantastic experience that I’ll blog more about in my next post.

Ketchikan

Ketchikan

After returning from the Misty Fjords excursion, we had around two hours to walk through town–so really only just time to scratch the surface. Ketchikan is a cute place and I wish we had more time explore.

It’s also the first time we got wet…really wet. Like pouring down rain. Up to that point we had lucked out with just the occasional drizzle here and there. The upside? All that rain brings pretty flowers!

flowers in Ketchikan

flowers in Ketchikan

We headed over to historic Creek Street to do some souvenir shopping and take in the sites.

Creek Street, Ketchikan

Creek Street, Ketchikan

Then we walked through downtown and the port area. Saw a couple of totems and then toured around the dock area before heading back onto the ship.

Totem. Ketchikan

Totem. Ketchikan

Liquid Sunshine gauge, Ketchikan

Liquid Sunshine gauge, Ketchikan

Ketchikan

Ketchikan

Here is the Princess Patter for the day:

Princess Patter, p. 1 of 4

Princess Patter, p. 1 of 4

Princess Patter, p. 2 of 4

Princess Patter, p. 2 of 4

Princess Patter, p. 3 of 4

Princess Patter, p. 3 of 4

Princess Patter, p. 4 of 4

Princess Patter, p. 4 of 4

Below are some more photos. For the full set, check out my Flickr album.