Sunday, June 24, 2018

Better Late Than Never

It's always the intent to post blogs every day on our trip but sometimes late days or bad connections mean we have a couple of delays. On this trip, I think most of the internet was satellite based and we couldn't upload pictures at all. Since the pictures really tell the story, we decided to write the blogs as we went along but wait until we were home to post them.With getting sick and being lazy, it took two weeks but at least they're up there now...

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Bye Bye!

We were up early and took the bus back to the airport in Vancouver.  Because we went from the cruise directly to the airport, we didn't have to go through Canadian customs and they had our bags waiting for us right inside the terminal. Unfortunately, our flight to Chicago was already delayed twice when we got there so when we went to check in, we could change our flight (at a cost to us, of course) but it did leave about 2 hours earlier. We only had about an hour and a half before the flight left at that point but I figured with a tight layover, if the flight was delayed once more we'd be in trouble. I decided to go for it and we rushed to go through security and US customs. We did make it in time but there were two problems: first, we didn't have time to eat so all I could get were some snacks and some Timnits from Tim Hortons. Second, we weren't sitting together.

One last look at the webcam from the front of the ship...

When the plane boarded, I was hoping the guy in the aisle next to my middle seat would be sitting alone and therefore wouldn't mind trading for the aisle seat Jess had a few rows back. When I got there, he had actually moved to the middle seat to sit next to his wife so that didn't work. Thankfully the guy across from me was traveling alone so he agreed to move so at least Jess and I were near each other. The flight wasn't bad except it was storming in DC so we were late to land and they forgot to load the snacks on the plane so it was a good thing I bought a couple things beforehand.

The trip from DC to Raleigh was quick and uneventful and even though we didn't get home until about 1:45 AM, it could have been worse. It turns out our flight to Chicago got there after our flight to Raleigh left so there's a good chance we would have been stuck there overnight.

After a long 2+ weeks, it was nice to get back to Raleigh. It did seem extra warm considering it's been pretty cool for us since we left. In fact, even in the middle of the night it was about 10 degrees warmer than at any point in our trip. After talking about this trip for years, it lived up to our expectations and I have a feeling we'll be back at some point.

As our captain Michele Tuvo said after each announcement, "Bye Bye!" Note: He really did sign off that way, but just imagine it in a cheery Italian accent.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Star Princess

Last night, the sea were angry, my friends. It has been a pretty smooth trip so far and for most of the time, you could barely feel that you were on the ocean. That changed last night as the winds picked up along with the rain and the ship was moving side to side more than we had felt the entire time. Even though there were visible swells, it still wasn't too bad and that's with neither of us taking any kind of motion sickness medicine. I've never really had motion sickness and with all of the boats we took this trip, I'm not really worried about it as long as the seas aren't too rough. We also saw darkness for the first time in 2 weeks. We either had gone to bed early because of an early morning or it stayed light out so late that we hadn't seen actual darkness for the entire time we've been here. With us approaching PDT and moving south, it got dark around 10 PM so by the time we went to bed, it was actually pitch black out there.

We crossed over into Canadian waters and changed time zones overnight. It was just an "At Sea" day as we approached Vancouver so we only did a few things on the ship. We started out by packing up because our luggage has to be out the door this evening since they are taking our bags on a bus with us to the airport. There was then an ocean-themed watercolor class that we went down for and it turned out it was a team painting. I even got in on it because one of the teams was down a few people; if I do say so, we won the competition. We happened to see Pat and Eileen out and about and set up plans for dinner with a bunch of folks from our tour. As Jess did a card-making class, I walked around and took some pictures of the ship so that we could remember it years from now:

I lost money here.

To combat our overeating, we took the stairs all the time

We ended up eating mostly at the buffet place.

On the way we passed an area where there is more marine wildlife and we did see more Dall porpoises swimming right near the ship. After cashing out at the casino (Jess was even and I...was not), we were going to have dinner with everyone but with Jess's cold getting worse, we decided to not get everyone else sick and so we went back to our room, got our bags out to the hallway and then went to bed before a somewhat-early rise to go to the airport.

I found that the cruise was ok but it's not really my thing as I like to be out at parks and even if we're in touristy areas, we can get some alone time in the car or out in nature. There's so many people always around and most people were rude (cutting in front when in line for no real reason, not saying "Thank You" when holding doors for people. etc.). It also seemed like everything was about gift shops and shopping in general with overpriced crap. The other thing is that everything with the cruise is so cheesy...sure, be a little lame with some bad jokes once in a while but the constant cheese was a bit much after a few days. Case in point: the video that plays on one of the channels was a "Love Boat" spoof with the original actors. But it wasn't even clever! Just like "Love Boat", I guess. I would do one again in warmer weather but it wouldn't be my first choice in the future.

Overall it was a great trip that we'll never forget but I'm ready to be home.

As Jess says after I painted, "That fish was mediocre." Note: She was correct - it was a pretty poorly painted fish.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Gift Shop City

Our last day in Alaska (tomorrow we'll technically be in Candian waters) meant a stop at Ketchkan, Alaska's first city and the salmon capital of the world (it must be true; look at the sign). Normally it rains on 2/3 of the days here and sure enough, it was raining lightly when the ship docked in mid-morning.

Originally we were going to do a walk through the rainforest and do some wildlife viewing on the water but considering we saw a lot of similar stuff in Skagway, we changed it up and did a lumberjack show instead. It was actually very busy and the place was completely full. The whole thing is a "competition" between an American side and Canadian side even though most guys are American. They have a whole show planned out complete with (corny) jokes but they do legitimately show some of the events from the lumberjack competitions you'd see on ESPN2, like pole climbs, sawing logs and chopping pieces of wood. It was entertaining though for something that wasn't terribly expensive and lasted an hour.

After it was over the 8 lumberjacks take pictures so Jess went up there. She wore a plaid shirt for the occassion and when she told the guys, they said they should celebrate and then picked her up for the picture. I think this picture rivals the puppy one for her...I'm not sure how I feel about it though.

Following the show, the rain held off but it was pretty windy so it ended up being chilly. We walked around to see some of the sights on the walking tour but it truthfully wasn't that interesting. Most of the buildings are gift shops or jewelry stores - in fact, we didn't even see many places to get something to east for lunch. After wandering around a bit and shopping - enjoying some brief sunshine along the way - we headed back to the ship. At this point, Jess has a little cold and I had a headache too (and I'm about done with crowds in tourist areas) so we just took it easy the rest of the day. After three straight days of seeing similar towns, I'm kind of glad we're not stopping in one tomorrow.

We left the dock around dinnertime and now the ship will cross over into Canadian water overnight. Tomorrow is a day at sea so maybe we'll find something fun to do during our last full day of the trip.

As the say in the forest, "A chainsaw in the hand is worth two axes in each hand." Note: No one says this.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

On Thick Ice

Today, our ship stopped in the capital of Alaska where the first thing we saw out our window was a few blad eagles sitting in a tree. Juneau is the only capital that is not accessible by road; this city is surrounded by mountains and glaciers, including the one we would be visiting today: Mendenhall Glacier. When looking for excursions, we found one that involves taking a helicopter up to the glacier and then walking around on top of it. That seemed like it would be a great experience so that was how we started our day.

Neither Jess nor I have ever been on a helicopter before and we didn't really know what to expect. We arrived at the airport where the company that runs this has 8 to 10 small helicopters that can fit 5 people plus the pilot. We had a brief safety video that we had to pay attention to if we didn't want to lose our heads and then we had to get our glacier boots on (ice is slippery apparently). We had to list our weights so they could balance who was in each helicopter and then we were assigned positions to sit. We loaded up with Jess in the front and me in the back and then waited to take off.

I let the video run the entire trip out to the glacier...

It was a very different expereince from flying in a plane and I know I certaily felt closer to actually flying since you could see so much around you. We went up through the mountains and over some passes before circling around the glacier and landing in a flat spot near the terminus. There are guides there that take you around to various points of interest and they give some information and history. It's a very dynamic environment - they have to change the landing positions every so often and they said that a bunch of boulders that were near the jagged wall of ice just fell down yesterday. The ice isn't smooth but it still is slick, especially when you're moving up or down in elevation. There are very little streams of clear water running through the ice from the glacial melt and we even took a drink from it (and yes, it did taste pretty clean). The blue colors were even more pronounced on top of the glacier; I'm not sure the pictures do it justice though. It turns out we were lucky and the rain and wind held off so while it was cool, it wasn't too bad for our entire 25 minutes up there.

After the helicopter came back with the next group, we got back on and took the short ride home. This return trip is shorter and this time the wind had changed and it was much bumpier as we made the steep descent back to the airport. As we landed, the rain and wind really began and it got much colder so we got lucky once again with our timing with it being so nice for our entire time up there.

I will admit I didn't love the helicopter ride up - it was definitely more nerve-wracking than I thought it'd be and Jess agreed. That said, this was an awesome trip and we're glad we did it.

Our bus driver took us around town a little bit so we got to see the downtown area but at this point the rain really picked up and neither of us had our raincoats so we just did a little shopping and returned to the boat. The weather did clear up a little but since we only had a short day in Juneau (we had to be back by mid-afternoon), we just stayed on the ship and ate lunch here before relaxing for the afternoon. The long trip is starting to get tiring and while the whole thing has been awesome, I think we're both glad we'll be heading home in a few days.

Our last stop before Vancouver is tomorrow and it's pretty much guaranteed it's going to rain - let's hope our weather luck holds on for one more day and it ends up being pretty light.

As they say in Juneau, "There are only three ways here - air, sea or birth canal." Note: That is an actual joke our bus driver made.