ALASKA Family CRUISE JuL-Aug 2019
Dates: July 23 - August 1, 2019
People: Mark, Luke, Jonah, Seth and many more...
- 7-23 (Travel Day)
- 7-24 (Cruise - Departs Vancouver)
- 7-25 (Cruise - At Sea)
- 7-26 (Cruise - Ketchikan)
- 7-27 (Cruise - Juneau)
- 7-28 (Cruise - Skagway)
- 7-29 (Cruise - Glacier Bay)
- 7-30 (Cruise - Bay of Alaska / College Fjord)
- 7-31 (Cruise - Whittier / Anchorage)
- 8-1 (Travel Day)
TUESDAY JULY 23
Our day began at 3:35am with an early wakeup to get everyone moving and bags loaded in the car. Everything was packed and so this was merely a matter of getting everyone and everything into the car. It was about 4:10am when we left the house. For breakfast we brought some snacks along in our bags with plans to eat when we reached Denver.
Sarah and Anya dropped us off at the airport about 4:40am and we headed in. We were surprised how crowded things were in DTW. The north security line was quite lengthy so we headed down to the south side which was a little better. Jonah and Seth each had their bags pulled at security as they had forgotten to take their Nintendo 3DS and Tablets out. Luke had his bag pulled as he had forgotten a big bottle of mouthwash. We got to our gate by 5:05a with 55 minutes to spare. Our flight boarded early and it wasn't a full flight. We sat Seth (window), Luke, Jonah in a row and I sat across the aisle. We left Detroit on time.
We all slept on the flight after our early wakeup. We got into denver pretty much on time. We hopped off the plane and saw we had about 3 hours to spare. We rode the train to B concourse to get Chick-fil-A for breakfast. It had a pretty long line. I tried their egg white grill for the first time and it was pretty decent. After breakfast we all headed back to C concourse to settle in by our gate. Mom and Dad finally joined us about 9am, about 55 minutes before flight time.
Mom and Dad boarded first and saved two rows of seats for everyone just behind the wing. We left Denver on time. I think we all caught a little more sleep again on this leg. Dad had two drink coupons left and gave me one and so I tried some Lagunitas Ale. We sat on the right side of the plane but probably should have sat on the left. As we neared Seattle Mt. Rainier was beautifully visible from the left side. It had an amazing cloud cap over its summit area today.
We arrived 20 mins early, but ended up sitting on the tarmac near the gate as another plane was still at our gate. We deplaned and tried to figure out lunch. David's family was at the USO outside security. We also needed to get Mom/Dad's two bags at baggage claim. However, the best food choices were in the main terminal. So we settled on a solution to have David get the bags and we ended up grabbing food. SeaTac is a horribly crowded airport with narrow hallways and too many people. We waited in long lines for McDonald's, Qdoba, and Lucky Louie's Fish Shack to get lunch. Then it was difficult to find seats and tables to sit down. We finally ate and then headed out of security to meet up with David's family. With them we hopped in line for Alaska Airlines to get our international check-in done. This took almost 45 minutes as the line creeped along. And then we had another long line with security. It was finally about 3pm when we made it to our gate, which par for the course, was also small and jam packed with people.
After a long wait in Seattle we got to board our flight for Vancouver on Alaska Airlines. This was a small propeller jet with only 19 rows of seating. We actually walked down a ramp and out a covered walkway and then onto the tarmac to board the plane directly. We "checked" our carryons out there at the plane. This flight pushed back on time and it was interesting taking in the sights over Puget Sound as we flew this short 33 minute flight. The prop engines definitely had a different sound than the usual jet engines. Only 2 seats on each side of the row. We could see Mount Baker off to the east as we flew north.
Upon arriving in Vancouver we stood on the tarmac near the plane waiting for them to bring a cart with the carry-on bags. Checked bags were still brought into the terminal like usual. We walked long hallways into the airport until reaching international customs. They had some 100 individual use kiosks where you would scan your passport, take photos and enter declarations. This would give a print out which we took to customs officers to look over and then proceed forward. We then moved on to baggage claim and out of the airport as usual.
In Vancouver we headed for the public transit train line and rode the Canada Line all the way to the Waterfront stop downtown. Here we had a 6 block walk to the hotel. We stopped along the way at a food court to grab supper. At the hotel we ran into Calvin and Chris in the lobby and they gave us the updates on how everyone was doing. We went up to our room. Luke wasn't feeling well so he mostly settled in for the night. Jonah and Seth went swimming for awhile. After a long day's travel we didn't stay up too late.
WEDNESDAY JULy 24
After such a long day yesterday we all tried to sleep in today. That sorta worked. It was 7:40am local time when I got up which would be 10:40 at home, so that was pretty good. The hotel didn't offer breakfast but Mom and Dad needed to hit a pharmacy and so they stopped at McDonald's along the way and grabbed some sandwiches for our group. We had most of the morning free. David brought Milo, Ames, and Etta down for a while to our room for the kids to play together. I watched some old classic Chip and Dale off my phone on the TV. Our room had a view of the harbor which was absolutely beautiful and so we became the primary hangout room. We watched several float planes come in and out on the water. Someone had told us you could get more views from the 19th floor of the hotel so we went up there with Avery and Addie also in tow, but we found that info incorrect.
At 10:30am our big group of 50+ with luggage stated the relatively short walk over to Canada Place to begin boarding for the cruise. At CP they directed us down a ramp underground thru a dropoff area with buses and into a lower level parking garage where they were gathering everyone's luggage. Three different ships were heading out that day so we had to find the signage for the Coral Princess. After bag drop we took an elevator upstairs and then headed into Hall C where we presented passports and they gave us our room cards with names and stateroom info on them. From there they sent us through a security and customs area where they did another basic passport check. The fourth step they walked us to a holding area with a ton of seating. We probably sat here 25 minutes and from there they were taking maybe 50 people at a time to start boarding.
When our turn came they walked us by a pair of photographers taking pictures, then checked our room key/ID cards and then we boarded. Once onboard we heard an attendant say rooms were already available to enter (it was around noon I believe) and so we went to our room and dropped off our bags. We then proceeded to Horizon Court (the main buffet) for lunch. After lunch we waked around starting to get to know the upper levels of the ship. Around 1:45p I took Jonah and Seth swimming. Luke still wasn't feeling too well. Many of the other cousins joined in.
All afternoon on the boat everyone in our big anniversary group were wearing blue shirts and with 50+ of us we became a little bit famous. 2 or 3 times we had people asking us "What's with all the blue shirts" and we were explaining the Anniversary Celebration and all.
We spent the afternoon either at the pool or just getting into the groove of all the things that could be done on the cruise ship. They had ping pong tables, indoor and outdoor pools, and a sports area with soccer and basketball possibilities.
Our set dinner time was 7:30pm in the Provence Dining Hall. We wore khakis and polo shirts all week which were just enough for dress code. Luke and I tried the Alaskan salmon with rice. Jonah tried the country chicken, Seth had prime rib. They had a three melon with lime drizzle starter which was very tasty. We found for meals in the dining room they had a nice selection of entrees you could choose from, and for those particularly hungry you could order more than one. On later days they also had an insert menu with a few extra fancy selections for like $29. For dessert I tried a flourless chocolate cake. Luke did cheesecake. Seth had a sundae. Jonah tried their "love boat cake".
After supper we walked around awhile with Milo, Ike, and Ames. At the ourdoor pool they were doing "movie under the stars" and were showing the new live action Dumbo movie. It was slightly chilly out there and people had blankets on their beach chairs. We went back to our room finally and watched the end of Mrs. Doubtfire on TV.
THURSDAY JULY 25
Today was our "At Sea" day and so the schedule was pretty much entirely free. I slept in til 7:35am but I did still run first thing. I got in 5 miles on the Promenade Deck. Then hit breakfast in the Horizon Court. After breakfast we took the boys swimming for awhile.
For lunch I had my boys as well as Ike and Milo and we hit the grill. I had their salmon fish tacos special and it was fantastic. I also tried a piece of lumberjack pizza (also a daily special). It had thin bits of smoked provolone, canadian bacon, and virgin olive oil drizzle. The rest of the group hit Sabbatini's which was offering pizza for free. We spent some time wandering around after lunch eventually trying to find the others. We ended up finding them at a Family Feud show in the Universe Lounge.
Afternoon we tried out shuffleboard and deck chess with the boys. We also did more swimming. At 4:15p we did the afternoon trivia in the Explorer's Lounge. Then more pool time and ping pong time.
The weather was pleasant at see this morning with temps in the upper 50s but a bit overcast. The afternoon had some light rain showers with temps steady in the upper 50s. If you were moving about short sleeves and long pants were good.
Tonight was the first of the formal nights for the cruise. Those attending dinner in the formal dining rooms were requested to dress up. Ideally men would have suits and tuxes, women in nice dresses. We had been given the impression we could scoot by in khakis and polo shirts. The upper level formal dress code was not wholly enforced but encouraged for the "enjoyment of all". They would enforce if someone showed up in sandles or swimwear.
At 6:45pm we had decided upon skipping dinner and the formal night tonight and so we went to the Atrium for the Captain's Party. They had an amazing tower of champagne glasses upon which they were of course allowing people to pour down champagne. Then of course all the adults got glasses of champagne to drink. That's probably why I was there. You don't pass up free drinks. Everyone else was headed to dinner after this and we headed up to the Horizon Court instead. After dinner, knowing that David's boys would be headed to bed we decided to hit the room and watch a movie. I had just obtained How to Train Your Dragon 3 and so we watched that from my phone on the TV.
After the movie it was 9:30p and Jonah was wanting to try out the "High Seas Heist" game that was starting up in the Explorer's Lounge. So we went. This was going to be an ongoing activity throughout the week where they would reveal clues and eventually see if anyone would solve the heist (a jewel thief) by the end of the week. Jonah wanted to try it but he did eventually lose interest.
Just after 10 we decided upon playing some games. We grabbed bananagrams from the room and headed down to the Card Room on deck 6 to find a nice flat table upon which to play. We ran into Mom along the way who joined us.
FRIDAY JULY 26
We had a 6:30am arrival in Ketchikan today so I decided to be up at 5:30 to be out running as we made it into port. This was mostly successful. I was out running as we rolled in, but the weather wasn't great. This whole day we would be socked in with clouds and even have occasional drizzle. So this was a normal Ketchikan day.
When I finished my run I found David and Milo at breakfast and joined them. Eventually everyone else made it up and joined us. I was leaving the boys in the room themselves in the morning's as I ran. Usually I would head back there to start waking them. This morning I found out Horizon Court had made-to-order omelettes and so I tried one with salmon, bacon, onion and cheese. They were fairly good though the cheese and a bit of grease (butter?) started to overwhelm.
We left the ship at 9am with no particular hurry. We didn't have any excursions today and planned on simply walking the town and enjoying what we found. We left the group as a whole immediate family, my four, David's six, and Mom and Dad. We would mostly stick together separating just a bit here and there. We started off hitting several shops to walk around and see souvenirs. After a handful of shops we hit a store with plenty of smoked salmon and I picked out a package to try. Luke and Seth, as well as Papa joined me and liked it. Jonah was a no-go on seafood.
After some more walking we found the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, they were hosted by the National Forest service. David's group eventually joined us there. His military pass and Mom and Dad's NPS senior pass got us in for free. Otherwise it would be like $5 for adults. It was a nice basic museum with a good walk through highlighting Southeast Alaska history and culture.
After the Discovery Center we hit the south edge of town, looked over the port a bit and then started heading back. We did a bit more shopping along the way. I took Jonah into a candy shop and he picked out an assortment of things while I grabbed a bunch of chocolate covered nuts, which would be ever so tasty the rest of the week.
We were back on the ship around 12:30p. We wanted to do lunch on the ship so that was the one thing driving our time. We did lunch at Horizon and the grill. I tried the chicken breast sandwich at the grill. It was a bit thin and dry. I was in most cases trying to eat reasonably this week, though I was far from being a perfect success. We did some swimming after lunch in the indoor pool as the outdoors was in the mid 50s and drizzly. At 3:30 I took Jonah to get the next clue for the Heist activity.
When we left port just after 3pm we went to Deck 7 to take in some of the scenery. Later we did some afternoon trivia with Brady, Bailey and our group. We did enjoy hitting that whenever we could. We finished the afternoon out watching Black Panther on the TV in our room.
Just before dinner we were heading into the Snow Pass area where whales were common. Sure enough we got a few distant looks at some humpbacks. We would have stayed up longer but our 7:30 dinner time took us away. Somehow it seemed this to be an every night occurrence where scenery would be about right at 7:30p but the dinner call would get us. At dinner, I tried the salmon again tonight. For a starter I had a salad and for dessert I tried an ice cream trio. After dinner we hit the room to relax and watched Captain America 1.
SATURDAY JULY 27
We arrived at 8am in Juneau this morning. Weather wasn't great. Temps in mid 50s and completely clouded in. A light drizzle. I didn't run this morning as we wanted to get breakfast and be on to our excursion. We had breakfast together around 7:30am. We disembarked the ship at 8:30am. At 8:45am we had a meetup with Alaska Tales near the Mt Roberts Tramway building. A gal showed up a few minutes late to meet us, not a good first impression. Thankfully she was the only let down of the morning. We boarded a school bus and the driver talked to us of Juneau past and present. He droves us to the Mendenhall Glacier area and dropped us off near the visitor center to remain for an hour.
Our bus driver picked us up and then drove us down to the piers at Auke Bay where we unloaded and met our guides who would join us on the whale watching boat. They led us down to the docks and out to our boat.
We boarded up, perhaps about 30 people or so. The boat had a lower level interior where everyone had basic seating. There was a viewing area out the front of the boat and a small viewing at the back of the boat outside. There was also an upper level where the captain worked and viewing room for about 15-20 of us.
We headed out about 20 miles west and northwest of Juneau to the waters between Lincoln Island and the northern tip of the very large Admiralty Island. Along the way our guide was in constant communication with the captain who was evidently in radio contact with other boats. They came in and said they'd have a surprise for everyone today. Our guide was great at giving info and sharing what to expect about humpbacks and orcas. She said it was likely less than a 1 in 10 shot that we saw orcas.
We finally stopped and shortly after we did indeed have orcas sighted. We spent about 30 minutes in that spot and the orcas ended up coming fairly close to our boat. There was even an infant in the group. It was pretty impressive getting a chance to view them so close. We moved perhaps a couple of miles from the orca spot to a new spot where a small family of humpbacks was swimming. We saw them all do their dives with tails above water and then resurface perhaps 5-10 mins later. We watched three cycles of this with the humpbacks before our time ran short.
We made a line back to Auke Bay from there. Along the way they did provide everyone with a small bottle of water and a granola bar. In all we were very pleased with their services and the care they gave on the boat. Back at the docks we headed back up to their bus and the driver drove us back to where it all started. The driver was really good talking and giving us info the whole way. It was 1:10pm when we got back into town.
Back in town we hit a few shops and bathrooms and then decided we were hungry. We knew a number of others from our group had hit the famous Red Dog Saloon and so we decided to give it a try. It was a tough choice between returning to the ship and eating for free and spending some big money at the Saloon, but we thought well worth it. Red Dog Saloon is famous for having an old gun that Wyatt Earp had to leave there many many years back on a visit. It also had a fun historic atmosphere. A gentleman was performing on mic playing music, telling jokes, and such. The floor of the lower level was covered in sawdust.
I tried a reindeer sausage meal with an Alaska Husky IPA to drink. Food was pretty good and we had a nice time in there. After lunch we shopped a little more and then had a quick debate on how to spend the remainder of our Juneau time. We would have considered the Mount Roberts Tram but we couldn't see Mount Roberts with the clouds and fog settled in. David and I also had considered some hikes up there but the weather just wasn't suitable. So we all headed back to the ship.
We spent the rest of the afternoon swimming and visiting and relaxing. Jonah, Seth and I decided to skip the dinner again tonight. Luke went with Grandma and Papa and the others. Jonah and Seth and I did the Discovery at Sea Space Trivia at 7:15pm. We then did a quick supper at the grill afterwards. Then at 8:15pm we did a Movie Tunes Trivia session. Lots of fun for us tonight. Afterwards at 9p we grabbed a little more food to finish off our lengthy supper. We did some ping pong and joined up with Luke again.
SUNDAY JULY 28
Today was our second straight early morning. We met for breakfast at 6:45am to get ready to get off the ship by 7:15am. We had a tour starting at 7:30am. Our official docking time in Skagway was 7:00am. We disembarked and walked the docks to meet Tom our guide at his van. It was a 15 passenger van but more like a bus with high ceilings. Tom would be our guide the whole day and he was great.
We drove around Skagway just a bit getting some of the history of the town and some of its present workings. The tourism industry mostly runs things right now. We then hit the highway out of town heading up to White Pass. Weather was cloudy with a low cloud deck that was rising. We went up and over the Pass and a mile or two after we arrived at Canadian customs. One of their officers came on the bus and looked at each of our passports asking basic questions about our itinerary for the day. Then let us go. Tom, who does this drive almost daily, seemed to know the routine well.
We passed numerous lakes and beautiful landscape as we went through a brief portion of British Columbia and then into the Yukon Territory. Tom was always on the lookout for wildlife but sadly we wouldn't get many sightings today. He explained how the White Pass railroad worked and we could see it from afar at a number of spots. That's what most of the tourists do as excursion out of Skagway for the cruise.
Just after 10am we made it up to Carcross. It is a narrow passage between lakes that was where the caribou would cross over. It took on the name Caribou Crossing which was eventually shortened to Carcross. We stopped at the Carcross Desert.
The Carcross Desert is locally thought of as the smallest desert in the world. It is only a square mile in size. There is some debate as to whether this qualifies as a desert. We got out of the tour bus and at first appeared we would just take some pictures and move on. But the kids immediately started walking out into the sand and Jonah in particular began exploring the dunes. There was a larger dune a half mile out and our group gravitated towards it and this became a hike for us. Most of the group including all of the kids began walking out that way. The slope was probably a 20-30 degree grade which meant one step up, half step back in the moving sand. It was nice to be out of the bus and move the legs a bit after nearly 2 hours of driving from Skagway.
After getting all of the sand from our shoes and everything else we boarded the bus for a short drive to Caribou Crossing Trading Post. This would be an exciting stop. Tom had worked out admission for us already and the ability to get in and pet the sled dogs. A definite highlight! We made it there before a number of other tour buses and we immediately went to the two small pens where they had the puppies. We got about 10 minutes to interact with the pups. This worked until the mother started to get a little worked up and they decided it was probably time to call it. The two workers there were very kind in helping us, especially the young boys, to interact with the dogs.
We then got to see one of their sled dog teams get suited up and head out for a pulling session. They would pull an ATV with six seats on it (plus paid passengers). The ATV would drive some but the driver would throttle to control just how much load the dogs would take on. They went out for a mile loop. The dogs were so excited to get started. The second team which didn't go out was barking and you could tell almost sad that they weren't the team chosen to go. We walked through their brief museum in a pole barn with large modeled animals in it, some from the distant past.
From the Trading Post we drove another few miles up the road to Emerald Lake. That was our northern destination for the day. With the weather and lack of sunshine the lake was slightly underwhelming. It didn't have as strong an emerald color as I've seen from pictures on other days. While getting ready to hop back on our bus we saw a jeep pull up and recognized the passengers. Gary & Lynn, as well as Rich and Carol, had rented a jeep to do their own touring and it just so happened they pulled up just as we were leaving. What a surprise!
Leaving Emerald Lake we drove back into Carcross and parked so we could get lunch. Again, Tom was very helpful in telling us about the town and the limited options we would find for food. We all went into Caribou Crossing Coffee and deciphered through their limited options of hot food. They did have pizza but it was a bit of a wait. Look and I tried some of the sandwiches they offered. They also had typical coffee shop danishes and deserts. It worked. We probably spent close to an hour in there waiting on food and then eating, and then we walked around that bit of town for a short while. The weather at this time had seen the clouds lift and let small amounts of blue sky show up here and there. There wasn't any rain today which was a real help.
We headed out of Carcross and across the Yukon border into B.C. We stopped now at the Tutshi Lake Sleddog Puppies location. This was just north of Tutshi Lake. It was run by an avid iditarod athlete and she would showcase her dogs and their pups here. Again we got about 20 minutes to go in and pet the puppies. Tom was great in working this out for us. We could hold the pups and sit with them in our laps. They were a ton of fun. We had about 25 minutes there and then hit the road again.
We went over White Pass, stopping at the Alaska sign for photos, and then several miles back into Alaska we hit the American customs. Here it was evident that Tom knew them well and he talked to them at the window and we passed by. We were back into Skagway at 3:15pm. The guys and the kids wanted to head over to Dyea to hike on the Chilkoot but we had done quite a bit of research trying to figure out just how to do it. We ended up finding a ride out there, after dropping the ladies off in town, and made the 15 minute or so drive along the dirt roads to where we hit the trailhead for the Chilkoot.
Our ride dropped us off at our ship around 6pm. We had had a light lunch and with all of the hiking we were close to famished. We hit a quick supper at the grill grabbing BBQ ribs and jumbo chicken wings. Yum. We also then hit the 7:30 dinner. For starter I tried a soup of granny smith apples, apple cider and yogurt plus more. I tried the king crab legs for the main course. I tried the burnt rhubarb napoleon for desert. We sat at a table with Diane, Aunt Shirley and Uncle Larry tonight.
After supper we did some ping pong and Luke and I hit the gift shop and used up some of our remaining onboard credit to get new sweatshirts.
MONDAY JULY 29
I was up early today even though it was mostly a free schedule day. I had a number of texts that had come through on my phone and they noticed me about a woman named Lucy who had passed away at church back home. I made contact with Sarah as well as with Pastor Bob about next steps.
Throughout the first part of the week we hadn't paid for the onboard internet. However we would hop onto their wifi next and use the "Concierge" service to check onboard account info and get schedule info. We also found that while on this wifi they would give us "tidbits" of data. Texts and certain small notifications would come through. We could only figure this was their way of teasing and enticing you to get the full thing.
I got my morning run in doing 7 miles on the Promenade deck. During this time, starting at about 6:30am, we had entered Glacier Bay National Park. This made the morning running quite scenic. Early on the cloud deck was fairly low but you could see bits of the mountains at the edges of the sea. As we went deeper into Glacier Bay the cloud deck rose and eventually even gave way to pockets of blue sky.
As we moved into Glacier Bay the scenery continuously improved and we caught views of beautiful mountains, a number of them snowcapped. We estimated them to be in the 5000 -6000 feet range. While in the Park a couple of NPS rangers had boarded our ship and setup tables to share information and sell books. One of them would also go on public address and explain info about Glacier Bay and the sights we were seeing. It was fairly well done and interesting.
We headed into the main attraction which would be Margerie Glacier. It was a the northern end of the park. It was about 9:15am when we were in there and spent almost an hour there. Adjacent to the Margerie was the Grand Pacific Glacier which was nicknamed a "Chocolate" glacier due to all the dark dirt, rock and debris covering the glacier and giving it the darker color. One of the highlights in here was the clouds opening and us being able to see Mount Fairweather at 15,325. Its not everyday you see a peak like that, especially when you are down at sea level.
We headed south again to the Johns Hopkins inlet and moved westward into the inlet til we could peer down to the southwest to Johns Hopkins Glacier. Here too we floated for perhaps 20 minutes for everyone to take in the views. To our direct south we could see Mount Cooper. On our way out of the inlet we also passed the Lamplugh Glacier and we saw something interesting here. A smaller ship was present and the Ranger on the PA said this ship was a kayak tour where they would put people out into long tandem sea kayaks to explore the waters near the glacier. Sure enough we spotted perhaps a dozen kayaks out in the water. That looked like bundles of fun and a perfect way to explore Glacier Bay! Given the size of the Park it made sense to have a larger ship ferry people in closer to some of the notable glaciers.
After leaving the inlet we had our last great sights of Glaciers and we settled back into our typical cruise routine for most of the rest of the afternoon. For lunch I tried Alaskan pizza, spare ribs and a spring roll. Around 2pm we passed South Marble Island (still in Glacier Bay) and spotted some rocks completely covered in stellar sea lions. Other than humpbacks, this was one of our better animal sightings of the trip.
During our afternoon swimming today we tried out the outdoor hot tubs finally and had a white russian to drink while out there. The air temps were maybe near 60 and a touch of sun so it was quite relaxing to sit out there. During our swimming my Garmin watch began to fail on me. For a few weeks now I could see the watch cover seemingly start to lift up around the edges creating tiny airpockets. Was hoping this wouldn't amount to much. When I crawled out of the pool today I could see the screen going crazy and knew water had entered. I had swam earlier in the week with no problems. I immediately worked to dry the watch and spent the next day or so working on it. I did get it to improve and the screen to return to about 80% of normal but the GPS wasn't working and the battery would die within 2-3 hours. So it was pretty much a goner.
It was 3pm when we left Glacier Bay and began sailing the straits out to the Gulf of Alaska. We did the afternoon trivia at 4:30p and made ready for the family cocktail party. At 5:45p in the Explorers Lounge we had rented a portion of it for a celebration party for Gary & Lynn's anniversary. For an hour it was free cocktails for the family so we all partook. I tried a Captain's Bounty, a Captain + Coke, a Cephalopunch (kraken rum, pineapple juice, grenadine), and a Georgia Peach drink that Megan ordered. This was all really good. As our time ended the rest of the lounge had a game of karaoke starting. Avery and Addie were the first two volunteers and it was fun watching them sing.
Tonight was the second of the formal nights at dinner and we wore our usual dinner fare and tried to just quietly enter and hit our table. I tried escargot and the lobster tail for supper. After supper we did most of our usual getting some ping pong in.
TUESDAY JULY 30
I was up at 6:50am today and decided on another run. I got in 5 miles on the Promenade Deck enjoying a bit of sun and smooth seas as we cruised through the Gulf of Alaska. When I finished up my run I headed to breakfast in Horizon to see who else I could find. My boys were sleeping in again today. Around 9am I went to wake them up because I noticed there was a ping-pong tournament on the calendar at 9:30am. All 4 of us seemed interested and so we attended.
A cruise assistant showed up to do basic organization of things. We would play games to 6 and he would pair us up as we went for a basic tournament. About 14 people participated. Seth and Jonah unfortunately got paired together first round and Jonah beat him. Luke got paired with a kid (a bit of a hot shot) whom we had seen playing ping pong off and on during the week and beat him 6-5. I was paired up with the kids Dad and beat him 6-0. Luke beat Jonah in the 2nd round while I played another guy and beat him 6-5. He had me down 5-4 on game point but I rallied for a comeback. Luke would lose his next game to the eventual winner, a tall thin kid who played real well. I played the same kid in my next game and lost 6-5. It was so close.
The boys went for breakfast after ping pong. At 10am we went to the morning trivia session and had a fun time. We would never come close to winning but it was always entertaining to see how many questions we could get. At 11:10am Jonah and Seth went to the Kids Discovery Center for the Wii Mario Kart Tournament. They'd been looking forward to this all week. It was supposed to start at 11:30am so we arrived early. We come to find they had already started before 11am. They were a bit disappointed but still had some fun there for an hour. While the younger two were doing that Luke and I sat in the pool area while David's kids swam and played Stickman Soccer on my tablet.
We had lunch at the grill doing burger and fries again. These always tasted great and the burgers were fresh. Luke and I went up to the deck 16 sports area to try out some soccer but only last 10 minutes when they closed the area for some maintenance work. In the afternoon Jonah and Seth tried the Discovery area again.
Cruising through Prince William Sound was beautiful. The waters were fairly calm and the mountain views around us were delightful. We had some more great ping pong in the afternoon including David in it this time. He played well and beat me twice.
Starting at 6pm we sailed into College Fjord. It was really quite amazing. As we sailed in we sailed past several small glaciers to our west and eventually arrived at Harvard Glacier which was huge. We sat in there for almost an hour and the top deck was full of people looking for views and pictures.
For supper Jonah and Seth wanted to go to the Kids club for their movie night. I had them grab food from the Horizon court ahead of time. Luke and I would go to dinner in the Dining Room with everyone else. We sat at a table just the two of us. I had a seafood soup for starter. I was expecting more chunks but it was mostly brothy but with good taste. We had the pork belly as the main course. It was juicy and tasteful but a bit fatty. It came with a small bit of really good homemade applesauce and potatoes. For desert I tried the "Baked Alaska" which was a combination of two thin layers of cake with neapolitan ice cream in the middle. Very tasty. I also had a trio of ice cream dish which included rhubarb, rum raisin, and dark cherry sorbet.
We spent the rest of the evening getting our bags packed. Most folks were told to have their bags in the hallway by 6:30pm so that the stewards could get them ready for morning disembarkation. We decided with our carryons to take them off on our own. This was nice in that we could have our bags through the evening and in the morning. If we had had more luggage I could see the real advantage of having the stewards take care of it all.
WEDNESDAY JULY 31
It was an early wakeup today. I was up at 5:30am to start and got the boys going at 5:40. We want to be on time with everything this morning. We did breakfast in the Horizon Court at 6:00am with everyone else. By 6:30 we hit our rooms to get our last items and bags and then were out. We were supposed to meet in the Universe Lounge for disembarking. As we got down to level 6 we were a few minutes late. We ran into other members of our group who said they had already been dismissed from the lounge and were headed off the ship so we followed. They scanned our ID cards one last time to show us off the ship and that was it. We walked a covered tunnel into a large shed where all the luggage was located. This served as a holding area for everyone loading buses to leave Whittier.
We figure in hindsight it appeared relatively unnecessary to actually go to the Universe Lounge. It even appeared unnecessary to actually disembark at 6:40am. We want it early as our bus pickup was 8am, but this ended up too early. We probably could have hung around til 7:30am and been fine. The only catch could have been if the cruise ship was very highly coordinated and had housekeeping already slated to hit our rooms. It seems most all folks bags were ready to roll in that shed so that wouldn't have been an issue.
We waited and waited in the shed. Cell signal was also poor so we had little connection to the world. Come 7:40am Dad and I desperately tried to check-in for our Southwest flights. Time dragged on until 8am arrived with our tour bus. We loaded up out in the parking lot and then hit the road. We quickly found ourselves waiting again. The tunnel out of Whittier is one way and a train was using the tunnel when we arrived. Then it was eastbound traffic for 25 minutes until we finally got our chance around 9am.
The tunnel was quite an experience our Driver was telling us. There isn't much room on either side of a tour bus and you drive with the train tracks embedded in the middle. He said regular bus drivers get annual training on driving here. Not long after the tunnel we made our first stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conversation Center (alaskawildlife.org) at 9:15am. It was in a beautiful location with mountain views for 360 degrees. This place was primarily a rehab center for Alaskan animals found injured or in other compromising positions. In most cases they try to rehab the animals for re-release in the wild. Our driver dropped us by the grizzly bear enclosure first which had a cool walkway over it. The grizzly was in a little cave shelter however, and we really didn't get to see him. The caribou, elk, deer, and moose were all out and available for us to see. We also saw fox, coyote, porcupine in small enclosures. The highlight became a 2-3 year old black bear who came right up close to the fencing where we stood and we were able to enjoy him for 10 minutes. He was rooting around in the ground and we think he caught something like a mouse while we watched. He was pulling apart something fleshy that he had found.
At 10:20 we boarded up in the bus and drove onward. Our driver was interesting telling us about the effects of the 1964 9.2 scale earthquake. He described ghost trees for us and how the town of Girdwood was destroyed and relocated after the quake. The landscape had been lowered 10 feet in this area.
At 11:20 we were dropped off at the Alyeska Ski Resort and we all had tram and meal tickets. We rode the tramway 2000 feet up the mountain and marveled in the beautiful views. There was the Bore Tide Deli open in the slopeside building at the top of the tram. The meal vouchers we had for $20 basically worked like cash. The food was expensive enough to make the $20 just barely enough for a meal. We each made orders, I tried a bison burger with grilled onions. And then we waited almost 45 minutes for our food to come up. It was unfortunate as it began to limit our plans for how to enjoy Alyeska. I had hoped to do some hiking up above the building on the basic trails but no time for that. We did at least settle on hiking the north face trail down. But even the time for that was limited and Dad was unable to join us given the constraints.
Leaving the resort on the tour bus we headed into Anchorage. The driver was pretty good at continuing to explain some history and sights along the way. We were supposed to watch the rising tide in Turnagain Arm and possibly even see belugas riding some of the ride into the Arm. When we made it into Anchorage it was 2:40 and we were dropped off on the street near the Anchorage Museum. We were given til 5p to walk around, shop, and grab food if we wanted. Our group hit Polar Bear gifts store, and Trapper Jacks. We also walked through 5th Avenue Mall a bit to find a bathroom. We got some souvenir t-shirts. We spent the last 30 minutes relaxing in the beautiful grass in the park near our dropoff/pickup.
Back on the bus we toured the city learning more history. About 5:30p the driver let us out at Earthquake Park with beautiful views and time for a few more pictures. From there we headed to the airport and arrived just after 6p. Things were pretty crowded in the terminal with very long lines for some of the airlines. We were flying out on Delta in 6 hours. Thankfully they let us check Mom/Dad's bags right away so we could move into the concourses with the whole group.
The gates where our flight and the rest of the group's flight were very crowded. Almost everyone in our group was on an American Airlines flight out to Dallas, while we had the Delta flight. Their flight was leaving just after 8p while ours left just after midnight, so we had the more unfortunate scheduling.
A lot of our group hit the Silver Gulch Brewing (to go) place to get some pizza. I didn't get to try any of their beer. They called themselves the Northernmost Brewery in America as they are based out of Fairbanks. At 8:15p we stood by as the rest of the group boarded and we said our good byes. When they had left this left us with four more hours to kill in the airport.
THURSDAY AUGUST 1
Today continued right on from yesterday. Our hotel was the airplane and it would be a night of short sleep. At 12:05am Delta started boarding for our flight which was a lengthy process. They had several specialty boarding groups until our group "Main 2" was boarded. We sat in rows 23-24 towards the back, but we were all together.
Our flight left mostly on time at 12:45am. The flight attendants did have to move a group of idiots from one of the exit rows who were too drunk to be useful. I was hoping to sleep most of this flight to Seattle using the new neck pillow we got on the cruise. The sleep plan was mostly successfully, didn't get a straight up 3 hour nap but I think I was in and out most of the way.
We got into Seattle about 12 minutes early at 4:45am. We had gate checked our carry-ons in Seattle for free when Delta offered and recommended it with the full flight. So we all hit baggage claim in Seattle to get bags, and then turned around to re-check them with Southwest. We then went right back in through security. A roundabout process to get us pretty much back to where we started, but then, we had plenty of time to kill. It was still about 3 1/2 hours til our flight. We all did some semblance of breakfast from McDonald's while we waited. The boys were all really tired and napped while we waited. Actually, we were all still really tired.
It was 9:05am when we finally left Seattle. We board with B40-45 and were concerned about getting seats together. It worked out, the flight wasn't full and we sat near the back in rows opposite each other. Our plane coming in was running a bit late and that made us 25 minutes late leaving Seattle.
Leaving Seattle was amazing as I had perfect views of Rainier from the right side of the plane. I was taking pictures for almost 10 minutes straight. We all mostly slept on this leg of travel. I did watch Shazam! for the first hour until I couldn't keep my eyes open. We got into Denver 12:40p, about 20 minutes late.
In Denver we went down to the trains with Mom and Dad and then we got off at B Concourse to hit Chick-fil-A for lunch and so that is where we said our good byes. We grabbed lunch and then hit our gate. Thankfully being late to Denver worked in our favor, and by the time we had grabbed lunch our wait at the gate was only about 50 minutes. For some reason we ended up being about 20 minutes late getting out of Denver. On this 3rd flying leg of the day I didn't sleep but a few minutes. Instead was reading and watching shows. We finally got into Detroit about 5 minutes late with Sarah there to pick us up. Home sweet home.