Our clients Michele and Paul from Illinois on their Disney Wonder Alaska cruise in August 2011. We had booked them at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver for a pre-cruise stay, followed by a 7 night Alaska cruise.
The Pan Pacific was a beautiful hotel and very conveniently located to the sights of Vancouver. I’m a huge fan of the Winter Olympics so it was so nice to be in close proximity to the Olympic Cauldron and went to see it several times during our stay. We did use the Big Red Bus hop-on and hop-off service for two days, which was a great way to get some perspective of Vancouver. On Sunday we went to the Capilano Suspension bridge and Cliffwalk, which was a very nice way to spend the day. It was a little on the warm side for my tastes but enjoyable none-the-less. On Monday, Paul and I spent a cold and rainy day at Granville Island, taking a tour of the Granville Island Brewery (where you can get a 2-for-1 tour coupon by signing up at their website) and eating our way through the Public Market. We wanted to spend some time in Stanley Park, but the rain was just relentless and agreed that we would return some time in the future to hit the things we didn’t see.
Our stateroom was just perfect and even Paul commented at the end of the trip that the size was just right for the two of us. We weren’t tripping over one another and had plenty of room and storage for all that we brought. My only comment/complaint was that it was somewhat noisy. I don’t know where the heavy footsteps were coming from above us, whether they were from the footsteps in the hallway or we just had noisy upstairs neighbors, but I was able to tune it out and still continue to enjoy the trip.
In Skagway we did the Takshanuk Mountain Trail 4X4 excursion which took us 1,400 feet up into the Tongass National Forest. It was a little rainy, overcast, and chilly but absolutely beautiful. We started out the trip by taking our 4X4 mules up through one mile of switchback turns to the lodge where we had time to take a “biological break” and where they had freshly baked cookies as well as warm drinks. Then it was back out to take an additional nine switchback turns up into the forest. We stopped at two viewing areas and the clouds parted long enough for us to see Chilkoot River and Chilkoot Lake as well as the bridge that spans the river. Afterwards we headed back down to the lodge where they served us lunch consisting of fruit salad, a tossed green salad, roasted potatoes, BBQd chicken, and fried halibut. Lunch was DELICIOUS! There was a black bear that came out of the woods in front of the lodge but I was not quick enough to see it before it was scared back to whence it came. Both Paul and I considered it well worth the price we paid, which was $198/per person, and had no complaints.
In Juneau we took the Exclusive Whale Encounter and Mendenhall Glacier excursion. Of the three excursions we booked, this was the most disappointing. They do have a 100% money back guarantee if they are unable to locate any whales but I was really disappointed that by the time we found the Humpback whales we were able to observe them for 60-90 seconds and then they said the tour was over and we were heading back. Now, we did see Orca whales which is very rare and was a beautiful sight. At one time I was a marine science/marine biology/biology major and I was “in my element” riding on the bow of the boat with the wind, rain, and spray hitting me and possibly because of my previous experiences I was left feeling a little empty. They had some smoked salmon, chocolate, fudge, and drinks onboard for the guests to sample and let us know where we can purchase more in town. From there we headed over to the Mendenhall Glacier where I was excited to possibly see some bears. As luck would have it, we were always either too early or too late for a bear encounter, but we certainly were able to smell them! Several people in our group were walking on the beach and had a bear walking along behind them or they managed to see them at the entrance to the elevated walkways. We got to see a …. porcupine. We also did see an eagle but we had seen several eagles during our travels and were really looking for something new. I was quite impressed with the chunk of glacier ice they had in the visitor’s center and could have looked into that crystal clear ice for hours, but time was a wasting and we had to head on back to town. Both Paul and I agreed that this excursion was a little overpriced … it was $139/per person.
Ketchikan was where we experienced our favorite excursion … the Bear Creek Zipline Adventures tour. When we first pulled into Ketchikan it was rainy and cool, several excursions were being canceled but we knew that our excursion would go on rain or shine. While we were on the bus to the zipline park the rain stopped, the sky cleared, and we had bright sunshine. There are two different experiences you can have at this zipline park and the one we chose included seven ziplines, a sky bridge, a 40-foot rappel, and a 250-foot mountain slide. The guides were patient, informative, and funny which made for a very positive experience. We also enjoyed the fact that there were only four people and two guides on the excursion so we never felt rushed. Upon completion of the course all participants on both courses received a medal to commemorate their accomplishment. Our particular excursion was priced at $178/person and both of us felt we got our money’s worth. We were torn with this town as our other favorite excursion, the Bering Sea Crab Fisherman’s Tour, was offered through Disney and had the additional option of dining with the crew. While it was very, very tempting we thought we would try something new. We were also very, very excited to see the Cornelia Marie docked in Ketchikan as well. I’m a huge fan of the show “The Deadliest Catch” and it is one of the crab boats featured on the show so it was nice to see it in person, even if it was from our verandah.
Looking back at our Alaskan cruise on NCL and comparing it to this one there really is no comparison. We chose NCL because we thought we would enjoy the relaxed dress code and flexible dining schedule however we felt we didn’t get the personal service that we did on Disney. It is really nice having someone know what you like to drink, what you’re allergic to, and what you like/dislike. Upon speaking with our dining room servers about the dress code they assured us that we could come to dinner dressed as we wished, even on formal and semi-formal night. While we did not do this, it was nice to know we had the option and actually did show up in blue jeans one evening. We booked all excursions with Disney whereas on NCL we only booked one because it was so hard to get the excursions you wanted and the size of the tour groups were very large. I believe the largest group size we had was 36 and we didn’t feel crowded, rushed, or neglected.
I don’t know that I would do anything differently the next time that we take this trip other than to go earlier in the season. We planned well in advance, did our research, and booked our excursions as soon as we were permitted. We also prepared for the weather as well. There were so many people who were walking around in summer clothing … shorts, t-shirts, etc. but we were prepared for the rain and cold and therefore able to stay out in the elements longer than others. I’m kind of disappointed that the ship will be repositioned to Seattle for subsequent sailings as I would like to return to Vancouver to do some more touring, but we’ve only spent one evening in Seattle so far and look forward to spending some time there when we sail to Alaska again.
Thanks again for all of your help with booking this trip, and we look forward to working with you on the next!
Here’s a great video slideshow Paul and Michele shared with us of their vacation: