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Old 11-28-2015, 06:00 PM   #1
erikthewise
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Default Alaska Cruise Done Right: Now Complete!

August 13-25 2015

Sorry it took me so long to get around to this!
The two us, myself (Richard) and DGF (Annie) had a wonderful trip with a 7-night DCL Alaska cruise as the centerpiece. Since it turned out so well I think others planning such a trip may want to do some of the things we did.
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Old 11-28-2015, 06:01 PM   #2
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Default DAY 1: August 13 — Seattle

We flew from Columbus to Seattle on August 13, arriving at 5:30. We needed to get something to eat; we were fortunate to find Anthony’s restaurant and had a wonderful dinner there. After dinner we took the light rail line downtown. This was a bargain at $3 per person. Strangely, at no point were the tickets we purchased before boarding checked or needed. But I was happy to support this inexpensive and convenient mode of transportation.

After a short walk from the end of the line, we arrived at our hotel about 8:30. We stayed at Hotel Five, a boutique hotel I chose for its proximity to the ferry terminal we would head for the next morning. The one thing I wish we had done differently was to spend a couple days in Seattle, but there wasn’t time to do everything and we were both familiar with Seattle. Hotel Five gave us a free upgrade to wonderful suite. Sadly we couldn’t take advantage of it. As it was midnight Eastern time, all we could is crash, and leave early the next morning. I was really impressed with the hotel and recommend it highly.
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Old 11-28-2015, 06:04 PM   #3
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Thank you for posting your TR! My family is headed to Alaska next summer in early August. We are going to go on RCCL, but maybe some of the ports will be same.
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Old 11-28-2015, 06:41 PM   #4
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I don't see too many cruise trip reports on this site. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 11-28-2015, 07:15 PM   #5
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Default DAY 2: August 14 — Victoria

When planning this trip I wanted to include a visit to Victoria. The primary reason is that in the “O Canada” film at the Canada pavilion in Epcot, Butchart Gardens in Victoria are mentioned with several seconds of beautiful photos. I’m a big fan of that film and have wanted to visit Butchart Gardens for some time. The garden at the Canada pavilion is a very small version of them.

I knew that one could catch a ferry from Seattle to Victoria, and suspected there must be some way to get to Vancouver (where the cruise departs) from there. It didn’t take me long to find clippervacations.com. Clipper Vacations operates four passenger ferries between Seattle and Victoria and several smaller destinations in Puget Sound. It turned out they were able to put together a custom package for us that did exactly what we wanted, including
— Victoria Clipper ferry from Seattle to Victoria
— Victoria City/Butchart Gardens combo tour
— Hotel in Victoria
— Bus/Ferry transportation to Vancouver the next day

We got up early on the 14th, left the hotel about 7:00 and walked down to the ferry terminal towing our carry-ons. (That’s right; we each did this 13-day vacation with a single carry-on!) We had some breakfast at the terminal and boarded for the three-hour journey. (That’s right, a “three-hour tour”! But we arrived safely…) We were able to buy a good lunch on the ferry, which was essential as our tour departed from the dock in Victoria shortly after arrival.

The “City Tour” part turned out to be narration by the bus driver on the way to and from the Gardens. But that route took us through most of downtown Victoria so it worked out fine. As for the Butchart Gardens, they are far more beautiful and extensive than I expected, and I had high expectations! I took 200 photos there, and I don’t like taking photos! Somehow I will restrict myself to posting 10.

When we returned we checked into the Empress Hotel. There’s a story behind that…

I lived in Seattle for seven years as a graduate student, and one time I took a ferry to Victoria. I got off, looked around briefly, and got back on for the return trip. The first thing you see from the ferry terminal is the Empress Hotel. It is the centerpiece of Victoria and *the* place to stay. Ever since then I told myself I would stay there if I ever returned. But I balked when seeing rates of $400 US online. When our package was originally booked we were put in a hotel some distance from the port, so I thought “maybe I should give Clipper Vacations a call. It couldn’t hurt…” When I called and asked if there were alternative hotels closer to the port, the first thing she said was “for another $50 a night you can have the Empress”. I didn’t give her a chance to start another sentence. “Are you kidding? Of course we’ll take it!” I don’t know exactly what we paid for the Empress in our package but I suspect it was about $250.

It’s an old hotel and our room was nothing special, but we had a great view out our window, and we were right in the middle of everything. Our bus driver had recommended a restaurant called “Blue Crab”, so we ate dinner there; ironically it was very close to the hotel we dropped to stay at the Empress! But it was a beautiful walk along the harborside there and back.
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Old 11-28-2015, 07:18 PM   #6
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Default DAY 2: August 14 — Victoria

Here are a few photos from Butchart Gardens. These photos were shot by a rank amateur using a $300 Sony point-and-click camera, and the file sizes were reduced by a factor of 10, reformatting them for 640x480 at 144 ppi. It breaks my heart as they are so beautiful in their full original glory, but they still look great! That's how beautiful the Butchart Gardens are.

This first photo is near the entrance. I asked permission from her mom to also take a photo of this Chinese girl with the dragon.



This photo is my favorite, showing an overview of the Sunken Gardens. I made this one 800x600 to maintain as much of the resolution as possible.



This plaque tells the story of the Butchart Gardens, of course in both English and French. This is Canada!



This one shows an overview of another segment of the Sunken Gardens.



There are many paths where you don't know what's around the next curve...



Here is an elevated view of the Sunken Gardens.



It's not entirely about flowers and colors (though it mostly is!). Here it's about trees and shapes.



I took many closeup photos. Here is one of the best.



A long line of hanging baskets.



There are several formal gardens each with their own separate area. Thanks to the sign I'm able to identify this one as the Italian Gardens. There are also Japanese and I think English gardens.

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Old 11-28-2015, 07:19 PM   #7
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Default DAY 2: August 14 — Victoria

It's not just in the Butchart Gardens that one sees beautiful plants and flowers; you see them throughout the city, at least in the summer. This is the view from our room at the Empress Hotel.



I neglected to take a good photo of the Empress Hotel, but these days it's easy to make up for such an oversight. Check out their photos. And here's one I did take from the harbour. The Empress is on the far right of the line of buildings, pretty much in the center of the photo.

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Old 11-28-2015, 08:04 PM   #8
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Default DAY 3: August 15 — Travels

Our bus for Vancouver left at 1:45 the next day, so we had some time to relax. Although there are several restaurants in the Empress we didn’t dine there. I’m sure they’re fine but even more sure that they are horribly overpriced. Fortunately there are places very close by if you look for them. We found a small cafe on the street behind the Empress where we could grab some breakfast. We stayed in our room until checkout time at 11, then rolled our suitcases down to an Old Spaghetti Factory that was also right behind the Empress, and right next to the bus station. Unfortunately it didn’t open until 11:30, so we sat down at an outdoor table to wait for lunchtime. A waiter stopped by to tell us they weren’t open yet, but when we explained our situation he brought us some water.

Our bus trip was fine, though there was a surprise, for me anyway. I assumed we’d get off the bus to board the ferry, then board another bus on the mainland. But of course what actually happened was the bus just rolled onto the ferry, and rolled off at the other end. During the ferry trip we went upstairs to enjoy the BC ferry, which was even larger and nicer than the Victoria Clipper. The bus delivered us to downtown Vancouver. I had studied Vancouver maps carefully before leaving, so was able to navigate us to our hotel in spite of never having been to Vancouver before. We had a two-night stay at the Moda hotel, recommended by the Passporter’s Disney Cruise Line guidebook (which *I* recommend for anyone planning a DCL cruise). It is centrally located and about a mile from the cruise port at Canada Place. Yes there are hotels close to the port but they are expensive ($250-$300). The Moda is small, reasonably priced ($145) and just fine for our needs. We had lunch at Subway shortly after arriving but soon discovered an IGA grocery just a couple blocks away, which we visited several times. We didn’t eat another restaurant meal in Vancouver! Our room was average-sized but it had both a room safe and a small refrigerator, both very welcome.
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Old 11-28-2015, 08:31 PM   #9
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Default DAY 4: August 16 — Vancouver

I booked us for two nights in Vancouver so we could explore the city. Today we walked down to Canada Place to see what the port looked like. When we arrived there was some sort of costume contest or event going on, and there were people all around us in costumes. There’s a lot going on at Canada Place, including FlyOver Canada, which apparently is similar to Soarin’, though we didn’t do it. There is a convention center and an adjacent underground mall which we explored a little. It wasn’t until we got back to our room that I realized we never did find where we had to go to board the cruise!

That evening we walked down to the south end of downtown and through a couple small parks there. I originally had grandiose plans to walk through Stanley Park, but that is quite a long walk.
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Old 11-28-2015, 09:26 PM   #10
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Default DAY 5: August 17 — Boarding

When we did online checkin for the cruise (a story in itself) we were assigned an arrival time of 12:30-1:00. I was not happy with this as I am used to showing up as early as possible at Port Canaveral. It had been five years since my last DCL cruise so apparently procedures have changed. But when departure day came I said “screw it” and we got into a cab at 11:00; as it turned out that worked fine. It takes the cab virtually no time to get to the port, but we had to wait in line for about 15 minutes behind other arriving cars and cabs also dropping off cruisers. Taking a cab also had the advantage that the cab driver knew where to go; due to neglecting to check the previous day I had no idea.

We first had to check in for the cruise. Due to online checkin that went very smoothly. We were given our room cards and I was given a Gold Castaway Club lanyard as this was my 6th DCL cruise, but Annie didn’t get a lanyard as this was her first DCL cruise. (See next post!) Then we proceeded into another large room where we went through US customs. There was a moment of panic when Annie left her passport in the automatic passport verification machine — an easy thing to do as you are juggling luggage, ID, passport, and purse/wallet/attache. Of course the next person to use that machine discovered it and quickly returned it to her.

Based on my experiences at Port Canaveral 2001-2010, I was expecting the next step would be to get a boarding number and sit in a waiting room until our number was called. But after leaving the customs area we walked down several corridors until we reached the boarding ramp, and directly boarded the ship! I was ecstatic! Of course we were on the Wonder, which is the only cruise ship I’ve been on. It was good to be “home” again after 5 years absence.

Because we hadn’t known each other very long, we didn’t actually decide to do this cruise until May, and the early dining slots were gone so we had to take late dining, which I was very unhappy about. I am used to an early dinner and I knew late dinner wasn’t going to work well for me. Our TA put us on a waiting list but I knew it wouldn’t come through. Fortunately I knew what to do. As soon as we boarded we headed for Triton’s where they took requests for changes in dining assignments and Palo reservations. As it happened they didn’t open for that until 12:30; we got there about 5 minutes early and were one of the first few people in line. I asked to be changed to early dining and they did so!! It was a very happy coincidence of timing as I’m sure they didn’t have a lot of openings for early dining.

We had lunch at Parrot Cay, which I prefer to the upstairs buffet. We then went to our cabin, 7620. This is a special cabin — it is category 7 but has what is for all practical purposes a full balcony, with just a very minor obstruction. (I will post a photo.) So it’s really a category 6 cabin at a category 7 price. For the mandatory lifeboat drill our meeting station was actually in Animator’s Palate (on deck 4). It was a surprise, and actually a bit of a disappointment, that we don’t have to wear our life jackets anymore. And since our station was indoors we didn’t even see a lifeboat!
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