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  1. Skagway – July 2, 2019 – 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM (Part 2) Ok, pause here for a few comments before more pictures of our lunch excursion. As we're approaching Caribou Crossing for lunch our tourguide asks who is doing the Dogcart experience. It turns out only our little group of 6 had signed up for that. Unfortunately, there was no extra time allotted for the Dogcart experience, so as we pulled up and were given tickets for our lunch we had about 15 minutes to eat and get to the Dogcart part of the day. The fortunate part is they really have serving a crowd down to an art – you walk through a chow wagon lineup basically and get a bbq chicken quarter, a half a roasted potato, and coleslaw spooned onto your plate in about 30 seconds. You then enter into a giant dining hall to get silverware, rolls, butter, etc. There's tea and water available for free and soft drinks for purchase. We didn't have time for soft drinks. I beelined to grab a table and I've never tried to eat so fast in my life! It was super warm in the dining hall (no a/c, lots of people, hot day), so it wasn't all bad to get in and out of there fast. Most of us were pretty happy with the lunch, just not the short time to eat. They also had great cake doughnuts for dessert. We took those on the go! No pictures of lunch because it was such a rushed affair. I would have liked to have had a little more time allotted here, especially since we paid significantly more ($40/person) for the dog part of the day. The little touristy area of Caribou Crossing is very cute in a planned old-timey way. Here's where we went for the Dogcarting (it's sort of in/past the petting zoo area): As mentioned, it was super hot this day, so we ended up getting an electric cart tour of the dog sled training route with no dogs hooked up/running. It was too hot for them to run which we completely understood, though we were a little bummed about this change due to the weather. We knew it was a possibility going in though and of course we want the dogs to be healthy! We did get one dog on our run! Here's our sled dog guide and her non-sled dog puppy, Forrest, who pretty much got carried everywhere! Along the dog sled training route there are some random surprises to get the dogs accustomed to seeing different things along the way and not getting spooked by them: After the dogcart ride we spent some time meeting the actual sled dogs and hearing about how the Iditarod and Yukon Quest dog sled races work. It was really fascinating to learn more about the sled teams and the mechanics of how the check in points work and how the dog teams work. We had been under the impression that the same dog was always the lead dog, but it's actually the opposite – they want a lot of dogs who are able to be lead dog to spread the harder work around and also to have contingency options in case the one lead dog has any injuries or problems. It was also interesting to hear them talk about the psychology of an active team and sort of managing the dogs' morale. We also got to meet some of the new puppies who were old enough to socialize (omg puppies, so irresistible) and see the ones who were just whelped in the whelping box (they were kept far enough back that noone was able to bother them). There's actually a decent amount more to see/do here – including a small petting zoo, gold panning (very touristy version), a taxidermy museum (surprisingly impressive), and a Mountie museum. There are also a couple of stores including an ice cream shop, but Anne told us to wait til later for our ice cream fix! Fake Dall's sheep up the mountain! Real Alpaca (looked pretty fake til it moved though!): Real Horse (also friendly): And then some not so lively examples of animals (but honestly a very cool taxidermy museum to stroll through – words I never thought I'd type). Pretty sure the woolly mammoth is a best guess! After leaving Caribou Crossing we headed back on the Klondike Highway, making many scenic stops along the way. Here's my obligatory shot of Emerald Lake (truly gorgeous colors, but we didn't get any closer than the highway running alongside/above it basically): And the Carcross Desert (actually an old lake bed!): And following the Desert, we had dessert at Carcross (not confusing at all, I swear): Carcross Station, where we stopped for the recommended ice cream and a few minutes of shopping. I could have spent more time in this little town if we'd had the time available, but we did not. This was a pretty packed tour with lots of very short scenic stops. Sorry for the weirdly cropped photo, but there were a bunch of people in front of the station that I was trying to cut out. Shopping just across the street from the station (waffle cones recommended!) We were also happy to finally be able to pick up a cold beverage: After our refreshing stop we re-boarded the bus and headed down the Klondike Highway: We made many stops along the way, including a brief one at US Border Patrol re-entering Alaska. Our tour guide did a fantastic job of narrating the trip, telling stories of the founding of Skagway and the history of the Goldrushers. She also didn't push it too hard and knew people would be lulled to sleep by the ride (I managed to stay awake and watch the scenery, but a lot of people nap at this point!). She put on some nice music for this part of the ride. We pulled back into Skagway around 4 PM and had the option to get off the bus in town and wander around before heading back to the ship or be dropped back closer to the dock. Since our all aboard was 5:30 and the dock itself was a long walk, we opted to skip the town. Also by that time ALL the ships' tourist loads were out and about and it was wall to wall tourists along the sidewalks. If I ever manage to get back I'd like to spend a little time in Skagway itself! It was a very charming looking town. As we walked back to the ship we had a little more time than we had in our mad rush in the morning. We got to admire all of the ship's signs painted on the rocks along the dock area. Apparently the ship's crews paint these themselves and the higher up/more difficult it was to paint your sign the more prestigious it is. Unfortunately for our ship, we only found a non-painted sign down in the rocks for Solstice! Hopefully there was a painted one we missed somewhere. Here are some of the collages of rock artwork: These were so far up we had no idea how the crew even got up to paint these ones! Clearly it's been awhile since they're all wearing away: And here's the sad metal Solstice sign on the rocks! I think I was persuaded to just go to the buffet for dinner (I hate buffets in general, but accept them as a necessity on a ship; my DH hates long waits for dinner). Having had a very long day and knowing that I was going to force DH into a long dinner for the final formal night the next evening, I gave in. The buffet was actually pretty good, to be honest, especially the freshly prepared stations. There was a Thai streetfood wrap that was freshly prepared and grilled that was very tasty. I just dislike the mish-mash of food you end up with and far prefer waiter service to buffet jockeying. All personal preference. We did have a big delay in leaving Skagway. At first we were told we were waiting for a late ship's excursion to return and we'd be leaving about 45 min late. It was pretty funny, when the excursion came back to the ship the captain made an announcement and people were cheering for the late-arrivers as they trundled down the dock to reboard! However, by the time those folks arrived, apparently there was also a medical emergency. As part of our tour in Skagway we found out even though there are the “H” hospital signs in town, they take you to a clinic staffed by 2 Physician's Assistants. Apparently a doctor, dentist, and vet visit about once a month (I checked, not the same person!). There's not normally a doctor even in Skagway! So for our poor medical emergency, they had to wait for a plane to fly in from Juneau and pick them up. The ship was not allowed to leave until I believe either the person was in the air headed to Juneau or until they landed in Juneau (we heard both versions). We did not end up leaving Skagway until after 8 PM, but since we had more than a day and a half at sea coming up, the Captain had no problem making up the time. We also attended the comedy show at 9 PM - “Celebrity Showtime: Daran Howard”. This was the only show DH attended with me (we both enjoy standup), but unfortunately this show was kind of a dud for us. I am not trying to end on a down note, but it felt like the comedian only had half an act of material and spent the rest of the time with “warm up” type stuff, trying to get the audience involved based on what geographical areas they were from and things like that. It didn't do it for me, but maybe it did for someone else! After that we headed to bed, since we'd been up super early for the second day in a row. We were most definitely looking forward to a relaxing day at sea the next day!
  2. Skagway – July 2, 2019 – 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM (Part 1) This one is pretty long with a lot of pictures, so breaking it into 2 Parts. Hi loyal readers, sorry for the long gap between posts. This is the first weekend I've been home in a month! Anyhow, looking back to our lovely day in Skagway. First, it was shockingly warm, especially as we went inland to the Yukon and higher in elevation. It had to be close to 90F in the heat of the day. We were very glad we'd packed some lighter clothes for sure. We heard it was over 90 in Fairbanks, though obviously we were a considerably distance away. Excursion planning notes – we knew we wanted to do an excursion that incorporated the White Pass and Yukon Railroad (WPYR) and sled dogs, if we could manage that in one trip. My BIL and SIL said they'd done an excursion in Skagway on WPYR through their ship and were really glad they did as when they went there was an avalanche and the tracks were blocked! They were VERY late getting back as a result, but because it was a ship excursion they were not stranded. We were not able to find an excursion through the ship that incorporated the sled dogs and the railroad so we went ahead and took the risk and booked independently through Chilkoot Charters. This worked out for us, but to be honest, there were some moments at the start of the day when rushing to make our meetup that I was definitely wondering if I was going to regret that choice. We booked the “Yukon Rail & Bus Excursion With Dogcart Experience” for $235/person. The price was pretty comparable to the ship excursions, but the important point for us was the Dogcart/Husky Puppies portion was part of the day. We knew this was going to be a long day – since our ship departed at 6 PM, we had to do the 7:30 AM train-first departure. Booking details aside, on we go to the day! Here's the daily: As you can see, we were supposed to dock at 7 AM. We had the RRA (Railroad Aft) docking assignment, which we knew from researching was going to be a bit of a walk to get to the excursion departure areas, but we were prepared for that. Unfortunately, Ruby Princess (I think) had the docking assignment in front of us and she was a little late getting in/getting docked, which pushed us back even further. People were getting very tense (including us) about making their departures on time and the threat of missing the morning train was very real. I figured since there was a whole ship of us all getting off at the same time (and Ruby Princess passengers also disembarking at the same time), with all the passengers including those on the ship's excursions being delayed, they might have to hold the trains a bit so it would all work out. I'm not sure how realistic my stance on that was! We heard in multiple times and places that day that Celebrity Solstice is apparently well known for being late into Skagway – apparently especially on Tuesdays?!? This was a Tuesday of course. I don't know if that's because of the docking position or what, but it's definitely something you should keep in mind if you're booking an early morning excursion, especially independently. Once we were cleared to disembark those in the party who were the fastest literally jogged up the dock and to the departure areas to let our excursion people know what the situation was and that the rest of the party was getting to them as fast as we could. One last note, if you're at all mobility challenged, make plans for how to deal with the ramp up from the dock to the main harbor area. At low tide the ramp is insanely steep. I didn't have time to take pictures since we were in such a rush, but it was an ascent that was certainly steeper than an ordinary staircase. Having made it to the excursion meetup, we met our very charming driver/tour guide for the day, Anne Early (she's never late) who loaded us on a bus to get to our train. I didn't realize there were multiple trains departing and from different areas of town! We had a short drive through town with some brief narration from Anne before we arrived at our train and boarded. The train cars themselves were very historic with lovely details. Ours was very crowded so hard to get many pictures. IMPORTANT advice I picked up here – if you take the train first out of Skagway sit on the LEFT side for the best views. If you take the road (van or bus) first, it's on the opposite side of the gorge, so sit on the right side. Obviously, this reverses for the trip back down to Skagway! I was glad I remembered to snag a seat on the left for the scenic views from the train. The outside viewing platforms were very popular and I didn't feel like fighting for a spot out there since I had a nice window. Without drowning us all in too many words, here are some pics from the beautiful trip up the White Pass and Yukon Railway – incredibly scenic and we really enjoyed the live narration as we went along: The detailing of the interior top of our train car: Rushing water next to the tracks as we departed Skagway: On old train car beside the tracks (the one thing you have a better view of from the right side of the car!): The US Customs Station at Clifton, with the slogan “On to Alaska with Buchanan” painted below it. Buchanan was a businessman in the 1920s who would bring groups of youth (originally only boys, but later boys and girls) to Alaska each summer. He would donate some of the money to finance the trips as well as the parents of the children and the children themselves had to earn the remaining portion. I thought this was an interesting touch of the modern on this very historic route – solar array powered stop where hikers can pick up or depart the train: And look, on our trip there were indeed some passengers looking to catch the train midway (or departing for a trip, I'm not sure)! A river that rushes right under the tracks here! It's hard to tell, but this picture is taken looking nearly straight down from the window, it's quite a steep descent right there. Ah, the scenic old (emphasis on old) trestle bridge, with a newer section of wood: Buuuuut, not in use for obvious reasons here! Way down below the train tracks you could glimpse one of the foot trail options the Goldrushers could take, transporting a truly staggering amount of required goods up White Pass: Here's the monument for the US/Canada border when we crossed into the Yukon and the Mounties' cabin: A few more water views as the landscape turned more alpine as we reached the higher altitudes: After 28 miles on the narrow gauge railway we reached the end of the line (for us) at the Fraser stop: At this point we met back up with Anne Early who arrived pretty promptly (as her name promises) with our tour bus. It was a comfortable little bus that seated about 24 max. I think we had 22 in our tour group, so it was a pretty full bus. We had a few stops on our way to lunch at Caribou Crossing. The first were at some facilities for those who couldn't make it til lunch! Just kidding, there were some slightly more modern facilities, though in the interests of time the men were told to go water a tree! Also we had this beautiful lake view a bit further down the highway. The air was pretty hazy from the massive forest fires that were burning in Canada and Alaska, as you'll see in later pictures as well. I loved this perfect, still reflection. Continued in the next post!
  3. My pleasure sharing, thanks for reading along! You are correct, the Celebrity App is not yet up and running for the Solstice, which is a total bummer. My understanding is each ship is added to the app as it goes through a major drydock. Solstice isn't scheduled for drydock until October 2021. Since there was no app (and none of us got the wifi package) we had the following methods (and we used all of them): - If in port, or near it, we could still use cell phones as normal. All the ports except Victoria are US ports, so we didn't even incur international charges. Depending on your service provider and plan, you can add a day of coverage in Canada pretty cheap (or it might already even be included). Since we only had 2 sea days, this was really useful most of the time, but obviously not all of the time! On prior trips with bigger groups we add everyone to a giant group text in WhatsApp which is a lot of fun 🙂 We didn't do that on this trip, but texting in port or calling was still super useful. - The first day I put everyone's room numbers in my notes on my phone. Room phones still work! You can call peoples' rooms and get ahold of them if they're just relaxing or leave messages if they're not in. - Figure out where people will hang out if not doing an activity. For us, our group had 2 smokers (my husband and one of our friends). That means our hangout is almost always a smoking area (true of this trip also). So if I was trying to find someone I'd just make a circuit between Deck 14 (Mast Bar) and Deck 15 Aft (Sunset Bar smoking side) and if that failed, Cafe al Baccio and Deck 5 outside at midships, where you can also smoke. Honestly, that generally turned up someone! - Plan where you'll meet up next each time you're about to wrap up whatever you're doing - either for the next meal, an activity everyone wants to join (or a couple want to join) or when to meet up for a tour/excursion. Hope that helps!
  4. I'll give you the short version, since I can't promise the long version before you leave! We did the Chinese Lantern Walk Tour at Butchart Gardens booked via Celebrity. We didn't want to mess with having to walk out of the port area to get our own transport to Butchart Gardens (it's a long drive from the port), so we found this was one that was just a lot easier to book through the cruise line. It was well worth it. Comfortable bus ride, nice tour info from the bus driver and a wonderful time at the gardens even if we had to rush a little since we were only there in evening hours. The Gardens are gorgeous and I highly recommend going out to see them! The shops we passed were definitely open at the beginning of our port time (we got in at around 5:30). By the time we came back (9ish?) some were definitely shut down. They had some craft/jewelry type vendors with tables set up right where you come back into the port/pass through customs so I had a few minutes of browsing. We didn't really have time to do anything on our own in Victoria because we chose the tour.
  5. Hi Anita - thanks for the confirmation re Mendenhall! It's astonishing seeing the pictures from a couple decades ago v. today as to how far the glacier has retreated in that time. It's honestly kind of depressing but also awe inspiring that change can happen so unnoticeably day to day, but huge change over a relatively short time. When we were on the catamaran excursion in Endicott Arm they told us the very clear angles lines in the rock along the sides of the fjord are where the glacier has retreated just in the last decade. The shear amount of ice loss is just staggering. Seeing it in person really brings it home in a way that pictures don't. As to the Sandbar - yes, I saw those signs! Believe it or not, not the first time I've seen them. I have a friend who is a National Park Ranger who posts a lot of random info about all the stuff they have to deal with. Putting up those signs to help deal with recurring problems caused by tourists who don't speak English and have different bathroom cultural norms was one of them! Seeing them in a restaurant in Alaska was a little unexpected though.
  6. I'm just going on the timestamps on my photos and guesstimating since I wasn't constantly taking pictures - it looks like the excursion got back to the Solstice around 2:15 or 2:30 or so. A little bit behind the listed schedule. I think it's because we spent a little extra time watching the whales on the way back. Enjoy the excursion - I thought it was fantastic, one of my favorite things we booked!
  7. Very nice report so far! I'm enjoying reading along. I'd love to see some of your bear pictures! That's the one thing I was really hoping for on our recent cruise that I missed. Next time bears will have to be a priority!
  8. Seconded! Our friends booked through Tours By Locals while we DIY'ed Ketchikan. I ultimately ended up being pretty jealous of their experience. Well worth booking with a guide who knows the area and can create a day that suits your group's interests.
  9. Juneau – July 1, 2019 – 1:30 PM to 10 PM Alright, when last we left off our adventure, our brave party had returned via Catamaran to the Solstice where it was now in port in Juneau. We re-boarded the Solstice ship-to-ship and decided to snag a quick lunch in the buffet before heading out to explore Juneau. It's a good thing we decided fast as the buffet was pretty much closing down around us as we grabbed some food (probably around 2 PM at that point). Early on I had decided Juneau was a good DIY port for us since Mendenhall Glacier seemed to be the big thing to do. With our large-ish party of 6 (at the time of planning, 2 added later) it was much more economical to book a rental car for the day. I had checked back in February and discovered the Solstice was scheduled to dock at AJ Dock which is a bit far from town. However, on the bright side, one of the two rental car companies in town (Juneau Car Rentals) has an office right there at the dock. This made my decision of which company to use really easy, so I'd arranged to rent a minivan through Juneau Car Rentals for our group. It was $126.50 for the day for a minivan (seats up to 7). They also had full-sized vans available but we did not need one. For comparison, a single person's shuttle ticket to the glacier and back was $45. With a group of 6 the minivan was a huge win and also gave us the freedom to explore on our own schedule. As some of the loyal readers may recall, part of our party were 2 old neighbors/family friends of ours. Well, by completed coincidence, one of the kids who ALSO grew up on the street where everyone lived was spending the summer in Juneau as a kayak guide! He had moved up for the summer about a week before we got there. The neighbors got in touch and invited him to join us for our day of being tourists since he wasn't working that day, so once we were ready to go our Juneau native (of one week) joined our little party! Such a small world sometimes. Alright, on to the pictorial part of the review! Here's a shot of the Mt. Roberts tram taken from the Solstice. Check out that angle! It's a steep ascent. The person in our party who is afraid of heights was REAL glad we hadn't booked tickets for that ride. Ready to get our exploration of Juneau started, we disembarked and saw the official greeter for AJ dock: We then started looking around for where Juneau Car Rental might be. Looking at the map I knew it was very close, but I couldn't quite figure out where to go. It was even easier than I thought though! Here are some pics that might be helpful for others using Juneau Rental Cars. Go out from the dock itself to the parking lot where all the excursions are leaving. As you walk out, on the right there are many bus parking spaces with signs numbering them: See that very tiny little trailer at the end of space 15 or so, in front of the huge stack of cargo containers? Yep. That's the rental office in all its unassuming glory! (It's literally about 150 feet from where you get off the ship, I was TOO CLOSE to it on my GPS to figure it out!) There was one nice kid working as fast as he could to get the rental car contracts signed and the cars given out to people. Honestly, the line was not long when we got there, but unfortunately the gentleman before me was running the poor kid around – this guy wanted to look at every van and was wishywashy if he wanted a minivan or a full size van. It was quite the show. Anyhow, once it got to my turn we grabbed the minivan they assigned us, made sure we accounted for the random scratches, dents, and cracks and off we went. The kid working at the rental office was super friendly and helpful. They provided us with a simple road map of the area (it's not a big area you can actually drive) and some helpful suggestions of places to go. They'd also emailed us when we made the reservation with a nice sort of handout/flyer of the various sights you can drive to around Juneau. I was very pleased with our experience with Juneau Car Rental overall. As many people have noted before, these are not new cars. They're not glamorous cars. They are serviceable and convenient cars, which was fine. We did our Girl Scout duty and cleaned out the trash left by the prior renters of the car and figured it was good karma. Now ensconced in our minivan off we went to Mendenhall Glacier Visitors' Center! Having a late docking time and then making ourselves later by having a morning excursion and lunch before we headed out we joined quite a crowd at Mendenhall. The parking lot was full but we lucked into a parking space along the side of the road very close to the parking lot when we doubled back. There were SO MANY tour buses and people, it was quite a zoo. Let's see, some important notes – it's a little confusing, but my understanding is you're only supposed to/have to pay the day pass fee if you're going to certain areas or trails. The Nugget Falls trail is NOT one of the ones you're “supposed” to pay for. Also, unless you want to go to the Visitor's Center (fee, but I don't think it's enforced?) you don't have to climb up the ramp or stairs to the Visitor's Center. You can just walk around the base of the Visitor's Center to the left (from the parking lot) to get to the Nugget Falls trailhead. Not realizing that, we walked up the switchback ramp.... and then down the stairs on the other side of the Visitor's Center entrance, realizing a little too late where the trailhead was actually located! There are some nice plants with signs as to what they are and a bit about each plant along the switchbacks up to the Visitor's Center though. This is a zoomed in view of Mendenhall Glacier from the base of the Visitor's Center, near the Nugget Falls trailhead: We walked the Nugget Falls Trail – it's pretty even and smooth. It's almost dead on a mile each way, it's not a loop so you just go back on the same trail you walk out. I'm a pretty slow walker and based on the time stamps of my pictures we took just about 30 minutes to walk from the Visitor's Center to Nugget Falls (about 1 mile each way, 2 miles round trip). There's a pretty viewpoint right before you go down to the “beach” (gravel/rocks) where Nugget Falls hits Mendenhall Lake. And speaking of Nugget Falls, here's that lovely rush of water: I loved cooling off in the mist flying off the falls. It was an unexpectedly hot day when we were in Juneau – mid to high 80s and sunny! And a view of the glacier across the lake, from the beach at Nugget Falls: We spent about 20 minutes admiring the falls and the lake and then DH and I started back up the trail. We had the rest of our group stay a little longer to give my slow self a head start! It worked out really well as they caught up to us just before the Visitor's Center. At least I didn't feel like I was holding them back this way. Funny enough, as we were getting back to the trail head we passed a group heading out who were commenting on the warning signs that bears were in the area. Having just come up the trail (with a Disneyland-sized crowd of other people) I told those nice folks not to worry, there's NO WAY a bear was coming near there with crowds like that. Such an expert I am! Well, not 15 minutes later as we're waiting out front of the Visitor's Center for everyone to hit the restrooms, several kids (and adults) come flying up to the Park Ranger who was at the parking lot to tell her they just saw a bear on the other side of the Visitor's Center!! Apparently there are 3 female bears who have territories that cover the Visitor's Center and it's not uncommon to see them. The Mendenhall Visitor's Center gets so much consistent traffic and tourists, the noise no longer deters the bears at all, they're totally used to it (for better or worse). One of our party who took an extra little walk along a side trail saw the bear too, but those of us who were just waiting around missed it. I was really surprised the bears came around with such huge crowds of people. Anyway, having finished our walk to the Falls and back, the hangry was striking once again! We decided it was time to head to dinner. Our tour guides on the Catamaran trip that morning had suggested two places – the Sandbar (previously in my notes from reports here) and a place for Russian dumplings called Pel'meni's. Our “native” (of one week) guide had already been to Pel'meni's so we went out to check out the Sandbar, which is a little further north of town: The road out to the Sandbar was under construction, so we turned off the highway onto a dirt/gravel road to get there. It added to the experience. The Sandbar is pretty quirky, it's a bar on one side and a restaurant on the other. We entered on the bar side, not realizing it and went into the restaurant. There was noone there except the waitress who was on break. She directed us back into the bar to eat. We grabbed a big table and the bartender gave us menus and then took our orders – most of us went for the Halibut and Chips (very good) and a few ordered burgers (they also gave good reviews). It's definitely basic food, but it was tasty and hit the spot. Like most places in Alaska, food prices are a bit high for what you get compared to what I'm used to, but not too insane. Full once again, we piled back into the minivan and took a (tiny) road trip across the bridge to Douglas Island! Our (new) native tour guide gave us a little tour up North Douglas Highway to the bay where he was doing the kayak tours. I think, but am not sure, we were at Fritz Cove: Looking across the water, far in the distance, we're pretty sure we were seeing Mendenhall Glacier from another side: We were also visited by a pretty neat visitor swooping into the trees lining the road - can you see him against the greenery? Having walked along the road/beach area a bit we debated if we wanted to try to fit anything else into the day, but everyone was pretty done in by then. We dropped our native guide back at his rental place (conveniently on Douglas Island on our way back to town), filled up with gas, dropped the car back off and headed back to the ship. Best car return policy – fill it up with gas, leave the receipt on the dash so they know you filled it and drop the keys through the slot in the rental car office's door! That was it. Back on the ship well ahead of all aboard I think we threw the towel in early that night. I know that was the first night I didn't make it to the show. Having started the day at about 5 AM, I think we were done in and went to bed pretty early. The next day had Skagway on the schedule with another pretty early start!
  10. I agree 100% - we were SO glad we booked this ship-to-ship morning excursion. I think it really let us maximize the day and enjoy the glacier up close without having all the extra travel time FROM Juneau out to the fjord area as well. I was so pleased with how this excursion turned out. I would recommend it whole-heartedly. Thank you so much for your kind words! Knowing you're reading along and enjoying makes a huge difference, especially since I have so few opportunities to put these posts together and post them up! I'm glad you could see the video! I hope you love your cruise!!
  11. Alright, let's see if my video of the glacier calving will work! If it does, and the sound comes through too, I am already embarrassed at my smugness at having the camera pointed in the right direction and shooting video at the right time! Well, I guess I can't upload it directly to be playable, it just shows as a download for me. It may be I need to host it on Youtube or something first? I don't have it posted anywhere else to share at the moment, so if this doesn't work I'll either abandon the video idea or try to throw it up on Youtube and link that. IMG_0247.MOV
  12. Endicott Arm Scenic Cruising – July 1, 2019 – 6 AM to 2 PM Thanks everyone for coming along on our trip and still following along with my very slow posts! Real life sure has proven how little spare time I generally have when not on vacation! Right up front, here's the daily for July 1: To be honest, this was such a busy day I don't think we did a single shipboard activity. I am going to divide July 1 into two posts, because it was sort of like 2 days worth of stuff! Our morning was “Scenic Cruising” in Endicott Arm. However, after looking at the schedule, between it being Scenic Cruising in the morning and then an afternoon/evening port stop in Juneau, we decided this was Glacier Day for our cruise. I had read here on the forums about booking the catamaran excursion that departed from the ship while in Tracy or Endicott Arm to get closer to the glacier and spend more time there so I started looking into this because I thought that was a great idea (spoilers, it was)! A little of my pre-cruise research info here for you: In the Celebrity Cruise Planner there was an excursion listed for “Juneau” but it was called Endicott Arm Fjord and Glacier Explorer Excursion and if you read the description it indicated it left from the cruise ship. I thought for sure this was the excursion I wanted that left the cruise ship early in the morning and rejoined the cruise ship back in Juneau when it docked, but when I tried to sign up for it initially it listed the departure time as 1:30 PM (when we were scheduled to dock in Juneau). I called Celebrity and their reps were only able to tell me exactly what I could see on the website. They had no further info. Being the person I am, I went back and noticed that there was a mention in the 2018 trip reports about this excursion being operated by Allen Marine. I went on Allen Marine's website and found their one way Tracy Arm Fjord Explorer which matched up with what I wanted, but the website said it had to be booked through the cruise company's website. I reached out to Allen Marine via email to find out if they were the operator for the Celebrity Solstice July 1, 2019 excursion listed as “Endicott Arm Fjord and Glacier Explorer Excursion” and what the time/details THEY had for it were. Huge kudos here to Allen Marine – they replied promptly via email and with thorough information (and accurate information, unlike Celebrity!). They confirmed they were the operator for the Endicott Arm one way tour scheduled for Celebrity Solstice starting at 8 AM (from the cruise ship in Endicott Arm) and ending at 1:30 back at the ship when docked in Juneau! Armed with this information I went ahead and booked the excursion and figured even if Celebrity's 1:30 departure time was true, at least we'd still go out and see the glacier via catamaran. About 2-3 weeks before our cruise I think the Cruise Planner finally updated this excursion to show as being in Endicott Arm and to having the right times. These tickets awaited us in our stateroom when we boarded, with the listed departure time further assuring me we got it right: Alright, with all that background craziness out of the way, the rest of this post should be more picture than me babbling (but we'll see!). So, with our excursion leaving at 7 AM we did room service breakfast to be delivered between 6 and 6:30 AM so we had time to eat and get to our excursion meetup (in Grand Epernay). This worked out super well for us – breakfast arrived just a few minutes after 6 and was nice and hot. My parents did the same thing and unluckily for them, their breakfast arrived much closer to 6:30 and barely more than room temp by the time it got to them. I guess we had the luck of the draw on delivery order. Here are the room service breakfast door hangers (we were Concierge class): Having scarfed down our breakfast off we trooped to meet up with our excursion. We got some nice seats in Grand Epernay near the port side windows to watch the scenery as we sailed into Endicott Arm. Some first glimpses as the “bergy bits” got thicker: And a beautiful waterfall pouring down into Endicott Arm: A few shots as we approached the glacier, with the sun just peeking into the fjord: And then our (new) ride arrives! Here's the Allen Marine catamaran, the St. Phillip, pulling up next to the Solstice (this is the view from the window on Deck 4, to give a sense of scale): We were able to board pretty easily and quickly and cast off from the Solstice. I got a few lovely shots as we pulled around the Solstice's bow to approach the glacier more closely: And then finally we were cruising up closer and closer to the glacier! It was absolutely gorgeous in the early morning sunlight. So many colors of blue and the sounds the glacier makes are amazing, constant crackling and murmuring echoing down the glacial walls as the ice shifts and melts as the sun starts to warm it up. Everyone says it, but it's really true – without anything to show the sheer scale of the glacier it's impossible for pictures to do it justice. I have a ridiculous number of glacier pics, so I'll try to restrain myself on how many I post. We were very lucky and caught some small calving action off the glacier while we were there. I caught some on video which I'll try to post up in the post after this one (not sure how successful I will be in posting video, but we'll see)! Floating in front of the glacier was an absolutely enormous piece of the face that had calved off at some point relatively recently. I was fascinated by the super deep blue colors you could see in that sort of cave on the underside of this ice piece: Having allowed us as much time as they could to oooh and aaah at the glacier, it was time to start back up Endicott Arm and Stephens Passage to rejoin the Solstice in Juneau. Near the end of our trip the staff came around and marked on our maps where we'd stopped to see various wildlife on our trip, which makes an awesome souvenir and visual aid for the rest of this post! Checkout the dramatically clear blue piece of glacial ice floating along the fjord: One of our first stops on the way back was Wedding Cake Falls, named for the tiered waterfalls as it comes down the rock walls – the fjord walls are so steep the Captain was able to practically bring the catamaran in bow first to the waterfall! So cool. We also saw this absolutely enormous iceberg floating quite aways out in the fjord from the face of the glacier. The Captain was able to circle us around it completely, so I have a ridiculous number of pictures of this from all sides. I'm just posting the ones I thought were the best though! Same iceberg from the other side! So dramatic! As we sailed along the fjord the crew were doing a great job of sharing facts about the geology and the wildlife as well as sharing/sampling various native Alaskan food and other products. Of course, they had these items for purchase too, but honestly the prices were pretty fair and it was nice to get to sample things! In addition to free coffee, hot chocolate, and cake doughnut holes (chocolate or glazed!) they sampled out salmonberry jam, kelp pickles, kelp salsa, and smoked salmon. They also made glacieritas made with glacier ice they pulled onboard (or ice water with some glacier ice). There were also locally made chocolate bars available for purchase OR as prizes for trivia. My dad won one for our group, double bonus. When they sampled out the salmonberry jam I appreciated that they put out a lovely book that showed what the salmonberries look like on the bush. I'm pretty sure I'd seen some along the trail in Ketchikan, but I was definitely not brave and/or stupid enough to sample wild berries before being SURE of what they were. Our friend was the guinea pig for the Glacierita. Definitely worth it for the novelty if nothing else. With a glimpse of my glacier themed nails! Perfect for the day. Around Midway Islands there was a nice size colony of sea lions (as well as a few harbor seals closer to the island and a bald eagle and nest!). The harbor seals and eagle were too far away for my camera, but the sea lions were nice and close and then a whole “raft” of them (found out the collective noun for sea lions is a raft) came up to check us out! Man, these guys are SO LOUD, but so fun to watch in the water. I could have stayed here all day. We also stopped when we spotted humpbacks relatively close to the catamaran in two different areas. I took a ton of video and got some nice dives, but no breaches. Because of the size of all the video I'm not going to try to post. I know other posters have said the trip back from the glacier to Juneau on this excursion is really long, so bring cards or take a nap, but I was not bored for a second. I stayed up on the second deck nearly the whole time (except when snagging samples of food downstairs!) and kept popping in and out of the heated seating area and out to the deck to look around and take pictures. There were frequent wildlife spottings and gorgeous scenery. This was one of my favorite things we did on our cruise and I'm so glad we went ahead and booked this excursion. Since this leaves directly from the ship out in the fjord, this is one of the few excursions you absolutely must book through the cruise line and I think it was well worth it. I'll try to post video of the glacier calving in the next post. I'll also try to post the rest of our Juneau day this week (maybe Friday), time allowing. It does take a couple hours to write and resize the pics for each of these posts, so this project is going a lot slower than I intended! Thanks for following along everyone!
  13. Let's see, checking out time stamps on my photos - Got to the area behind the Visitor's Center for the far view to Mendenhall at 4:56 PM Walked the Nugget Falls trail and got to the Falls at 5:30 PM (overlook a few minutes before, actual falls a few minutes after). Spent about 20 minutes taking pictures, chatting with our friends, and looking around at the lake/falls. We headed back a little before our friends because I'm a slow walker and that worked out well - they hung around at the falls a little longer and then caught up to us on the trail back just before the Visitor's Center. I didn't keep track of the time on the way back, but working backward from our next picture I think it took about 30 minutes to walk back to the Visitor's Center as well. And then 30 minutes for people to get to the bathrooms and back (lines!). Sooo, all said - about an hour and a half including time at Nugget Falls. Don't forget to include your transportation time to/from the Visitor's Center area. It's not super close to the docks. It was probably a 20-30 minute drive (and find parking) from AJ Dock/Juneau Rental Cars.
  14. June 30, 2019 – Ketchikan Let's see if we can cover a little more ground! Our port times for Ketchikan were 7 AM to 4 PM so we had a decently full day in port. When we were researching our ports this is the one that we thought we could DIY the most easily. We had debated about the Misty Fjords Boat trip (flightseeing trips were out due to cost and people in the party being very anti-small aircraft). We decided this was our Totem Pole day. My plan HAD been to catch the city bus early to go out to Totem Bight/Potlatch Totem Park and then come back to town to see Creek Street. With 6 adults to herd my plan didn't last very long unfortunately. Count my mistakes along with me! Instead, by the time we all got off the ship we arranged to meet right outside the Visitor's Center (conveniently there was one RIGHT in front of the ship) – we were at Dock 3. I picked us up some walking maps in the Visitor's Center and asked about where to pick up the city bus. People wanted to walk around first, so we did that and then people got worn out so we never made it to the totem parks (Mistake #1). Listen to the advice and go to the totem parks first if you intend to make it there. TLDR: Set a schedule just like an excursion if you want people to follow your plans! Ok, so enough of what I planned to do and on to what we actually did: First, the daily for June 30: Our first views of Ketchikan from our balcony (we had a starboard cabin): Super charming houses built up the hillside: The dock just to the left and below our cabin basically – notice Arctic Bar (we didn't make it in, but I'd seen mention of it in other threads, thought it would be nice to see where it was relative to being tied up at Dock 3): And here's Burger Queen (didn't make it there either), just across the street/behind Arctic Bar: Off we went following the walking tour map (super helpful and free online and printed copies at the Visitor's Center) – we walked own Front Street to Mission and checked out some of the obligatory sights (Ketchikan sign, rain gauge, gold rush statue): Surprisingly, Ketchikan was technically in a drought while we were there. We were lucky to have a rain-free day, but I guess they'd been having too many of those recently. Then we walked up Mission and checked out the little parks and the Chief Kyan Totem Pole: And then a bit further up Mission to the Chief Johnson Totem Pole: Just to the right of the Chief Johnson Pole there are two very cool shops to check out (I forgot to take pics!). There's a great book and gift store there (where Mission intersects with Dock Street/Stedman Street) called Parnassus Books. Also, just behind and to the left side of Parnassus Books there's a great little Yarn/Craft store called Fabulous Fiber Arts and More – gorgeous yarn and fibers, some cute quilting mini-kits and a very few cross-stitch items. I love craft stores though, so this was a nice stop. At that point the group was not interested in the museum, so we checked out the scenic overlook of the creek and saw our only salmon of the trip (besides the ones on our plates)! Unfortunately, our trip was a little early for the salmon run! If the salmon are a big thing for you, go very late in July or in early/mid-August from what we were told. We then took the funnicular up to Cape Fox Lodge (it was running, yay!). Tickets are now $3/person round trip. I asked what the price was for one way and got the feeling the operator was NOT amused by me! I was very firmly told it was still $3 per person. We paid up and up we went! We looked around the lodge and gift store (there was some delicious locally-made kelp salsa they were sampling there – we picked some up later at their sister gift shop in the non-profit shop attached to the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center). Out behind the lodge are some nice Totems: Now here's where I made my second mistake of the day!! At the top of the hill behind Cape Fox Lodge there are two trails marked – one going back down to Creek Street (Married Man's Trail) which I intended to take. And one that went down some metal stairs and was a lesser known quantity (it leads to Park Avenue). According to the map it led down to the other side of Ketchikan Creek (and it did). We ended up exploring the back side of town because one of our group wanted to see if there were salmon in that part of the creek (there were not) – Mistake #2. The bright side was we had a nice, quiet wooded walk along the creek! After going down the several flights of open metalwork stairs (NOT a popular choice with our heights-adverse party member), we followed Park Avenue to a bridge that crossed the creek and had this pretty view: We then followed the paved trail through the woods, basically bordering the creek on its north side. We passed below the Middle School and then rejoined Park Avenue where it meets Schoenbar Road. There's a Little League field here on one corner and a skate park on the other. I took this pic of a shack at the skate park. I thought the artwork was pretty cool: Onward we walked past Deer Mountain Hatchery (not yet open for the season) and over to the City Park. We admired the fountain and met some nice folks playing with their dogs. From the park we then popped over to Totem Heritage Center. By this time people were getting hangry for lunch (it was only 11 and this took me totally by surprise). Mistake #3 – if you have people in your group who have breakfast stupidly early, make sure you bring some snacks or stop for some snacks early. Hangry people are not fun people. Unfortunately, there are no nearby restaurants when you're in that part of town. We started walking with motivation now (and my picture taking took a way back seat!), trying to get back to the more shop-heavy part of town. We headed toward the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show because I remembered good reports about the restaurant right near it (The Alaska Fish House). By the time we got there the line was out the door and into the street. Hangry person was not going to wait, so that was not going to do - onward we quested! Next stop, we looked at the menu at Dwyer's Fish House (WOW pricy). We asked some people who were coming out how it was and they said mediocre and extremely expensive. Ultimately, we ended up getting some chowder and fish n' chips from the green shack on the pier right in front of Dock 4 – Ocean View Fish & Chips. We got their combo – one piece each of halibut, salmon, and cod fish n' chips and one bowl of clam chowder. It was still a bit pricey ($35 or $40 or so for just the fish n chips combo, soup, and 2 sodas in the can), but it was relatively quick and by that time, that's what we needed to avoid complete disaster! The halibut was the best of the fish n' chips in our opinion. The chowder was extremely thick and just 'ok'. Not my best meal, but it worked in a pinch. We did see these streetcars on the dock while we waited for our food. I thought it was kind of funny to see them in Alaska, especially since we lived in San Francisco many years ago! I kind of wonder what the story is with this streetcar ending up in Ketchikan. After lunch we made a few shopping stops. We did walk over to the Southeast Discovery Center to check out the non-profit gift store there and my parents bought the kelp salsa and a few other things. Sadly we didn't go into the Discovery Center! People were being shy about committing to going into museums. After that we walked over to Ketchicandies and got some delicious treats (I highly recommend the little chocolate covered raspberry cordials). By that time people were done with walking around so we headed back to our ship via Tongass Trading Company. My big regret here is that we never made it to Creek Street! We walked around it (thanks to heading the opposite way from Cape Fox Lodge), but never went down to it. Once back on board the ship I caught Brent Nixon's Bear presentation at 4 PM (and missed sailaway as a result). Totally worth it though, I really enjoyed every Brent Nixon presentation I made it to. Afterward I checked out the dinner menu for Grand Epernee (sorry for the glare and the angle, this was the sign outside the restaurant in a glass holder): As I mentioned in my prior post, DH was not thrilled about the idea of going back to the Dining Room after our VERY long dinner the night before. I did manage to talk him and 2 of our friends (the ones who didn't go on the walking tour with us!) to try out Sushi on 5 for dinner. I talked to the folks at the front there and they offered AYCE for $30/each. We ended up not quite hitting that mark so they rang us up a la carte (I think it ended up being about $28.50/each a la carte). We tried a LOT of the menu and everything was good. The standouts were the Gyoza, Lobster & Shrimp Wontons, the Scallop & Shrimp Dynamite (we even re-ordered this it was so good), and the Alaskan California roll (I thought). We had a bunch of the rolls and they were all really tasty. We also had some nigiri and everyone liked what they ordered (I had the eel). The one item I didn't love with the Lobster Ramen, and even that wasn't bad, just not a favorite. Sushi on 5 was BY FAR my favorite meal we ate on Solstice. Good enough that DH and I also popped back in for a pre-dinner snack later in the cruise. Was it the best sushi I've ever had? Not a chance. But it was good and honestly, if it was on land and near my house or work, I'd probably go back! Head and shoulders above our other Solstice dining experiences. Here's a shot of one roll before it was devoured! I'm pretty sure it's the rainbow roll: I also enjoyed one of the signature cocktails – a Nagasaki Batida (really good, sweet without being cloying, loved this): As we were finishing up dinner they were announcing whales were visible off the ship! I caught a signature humpback dive sequence: And, to cap off the night, I caught the Shades of Buble show. These guys were new on board – I think our trip was their first week on board. They were GREAT! They do riffs on Michael Buble songs – lots of harmonies. To be honest, I'm not a huge Buble fan, but these guys put on a fantastic show. It was a bit mellow though due to the style of music, so I was definitely ready to turn in after the late show. A last note about Ketchikan – the 2 friends we were traveling with that didn't do the self-guided walking tour with us booked a tour via “Tours with Locals” and I think they made a good call. They were taken out to a lake (maybe Ward Lake, but I can't swear to it) for a nice walk where it was pretty much only locals walking the trail around it, made it out to Totem Bight for a little while, and then hit up a local brewery and restaurant. Their tour guide was a character – native of Ketchikan, she lost a leg when a boulder broke loose of the hillside (I think where the big tunnel is blasted near the docks?) and rolled through the storefront of the salon where she was having her hair done! Crazy story, but true.
  15. I wasn't super upset about the wine situation, but this was just one of the sort of customer experience hiccups that turned our travel-mates off of Celebrity, so I thought it was important to share. FWIW, our long gaps in service were when seated at the early dining dinner service, so I don't think it can be chalked up to early/late or anytime dining. I think it's just symptomatic of trying to serve that many people at one time. Glad you're coming along! Sadly I went back to work! I'm trying to get more posted here tonight. I hope you enjoy!
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