MS Sapphire Princess

Background

Cruiser: David Presley, age 50. I've been on several other cruises: Holland America's Zuiderdam on a 7-day Eastern Caribbean route in May, 2005; Premier's Seabreeze on a 7-day Western Caribbean route in February 2000; the Big Red Boat on a short jaunt over to Nassau in October 1999; the Dawn Princess on a 7-day Southern Caribbean route in November 1998; Carnival’s Jubilee on the 7-day Pacific coast swing in April 1997; Carnival’s Ecstasy on a 3-night New Year’s Bahamas cruise in December 1995; the Big Red Boat again in August 1994 (in conjunction with a Walt Disney World vacation); and a 4-night Bahamas cruise as a High School Graduation present back in May 1974.  On this cruise I was accompanied by my 20 year old daughter Jordan.

Original discussions had us going to Africa and Egypt for two weeks - but in light of the Middle East coming-apart at the seams (at least as of the time we were discussing such a trip) we opted for something a bit more tame (albeit a trip I had always wanted to make).  Additionally, my daughter convinced both her Mom and I that the vacation would be all the more special if we both would accompany her.  We agreed, but when it came time to pony-up the balances due her Mom needed to bow-out at that point - hence why it ended-up as just the two of us.

Since Alaska is VERY far from my home in southwest Florida (e.g., at one point in Juneau we saw a sign that said we were closer - distance-wise - to Tokyo than we were to New York City!), I figured if I was going to spend both the time and money getting all of the way there it made no sense to just do a seven day cruise then return home - so, for the first time in my professional life, I opted for two contiguous weeks of vacation and booked a land extension both before and after the cruise.

 

Thursday, May 31, 2007 - En Route to Vancouver, British Columbia

My travels began with an 8am flight from Fort Myers to Atlanta, where I connected around noon on another flight to Salt Lake City; then, after about an hour's layover, I boarded my last flight to Vancouver.  In contrast, Jordan just got on a three-hour non-stop from San Diego to Vancouver that saw her arriving about an hour before me (big "kid" that she is she was fine - meeting me at exactly where I'd requested once we cleared immigration & customs).  We quickly grabbed a cab for the 20min-or-so ride to our hotel - the Pacific Palisades, on Robson Street (we soon found-out we couldn't have picked a better location if we'd tried!).  

The Pacific Pallisades Hotel, in Vancouver B.C.

After settling-in, then touring the property, we decided to go for a walk.  Robson Street is really incredible - they call it the "Rodeo Drive of Vancouver"... and, having stayed there for a couple of days I wouldn't disagree.  Besides the vibrancy, one of the things I most enjoyed was that everything you'd want or need is within easy walking distance.  Once we'd walked several blocks to the north we agreed that an early-ish dinner might be in order, so we picked a spot that came highly recommended: Imperial Chinese Seafood on Burrard Street.  And the recommendations were no joke - this was, without question, the best Oriental food I've had anywhere, anytime.  We both had no idea Chinese could taste like this... incredibly delicate, flavorful... really indescribable - something you need to experience for yourself (mind you, it's pricey - we spent (including tip) about $120 Canadian - but, honestly, it was worth it)!

Taking a slow walk back to the hotel along a different route we marveled at how bright it was for almost 9pm (admittedly, we were a LOT further north than I am in Florida)... but upon returning to the hotel jet-lag got the better of me and I crashed around 10 o'clock.  Of course, this meant that I was up by about 4 (which was MUCH better than I'd expected - I'd planned for my body awakening between 2 and 3) - so as to not disturb sleeping beauty in the adjacent bed I surfed the net for a little while, then got dressed and wandered in the direction of Stanley Park in the early morning hours.

 

Friday, June 1, 2007 - Touring Vancouver, British Columbia

The coolish morning air was SUCH a pleasant change of pace from my normally humid 80-degree Florida mornings...and since it was a workday for the locals I wasn't too surprised at how many people were up and at 'em so early.  My food orgasms continued in the most unlikely of places: I stopped in for breakfast at a McDonald's.  I don't understand it - maybe it's the food quality they have, maybe it's the way they prepare it - but even lowly McD's breakfast food was of restaurant quality.  The bagel tasted freshly baked.  The meat was flavorful.  The coffee was top notch.  Between the scenery, food, and nightlife it was about then I vowed to come back to Vancouver on a dedicated vacation.  I loved the place!

Returning to the room 8-ish da kid was beginning to stir - but we really didn't get going until about 9.  We walked about a block north and bought two tickets from The Vancouver Trolley Company - they run narrated loops around the city throughout the day, so you can hop-on and hop-off as your desire.  We began by stopping in Stanley Park to see the Totems and lovely views of both the city and of the Lion's Gate Bridge.

Vancouver, as seen from Stanley Park
The Stanley Park Totems Jordan, at Stanley Park BC, with the Lion's Gate Bridge in the distance

From there we decided to hop-back-on and do an entire loop (mainly to orient ourselves as to how we wanted to spend the rest of our day).  Having done the once-around, we came back to Stanley Park and stopped for a couple of hours at their renowned Aquarium:

20070601-012_Aquarium.jpg (150862 bytes) 20070601-015_BelugaWhale.jpg (129599 bytes)

I've got so very many more pics of the Beluga Whales - but a man (and his website) has to know his limitations! ;-)  Jordan and I had wonderful turkey & spinach wraps while watching the whales outside... we then hopped back onto the bus... and while it was somewhat excruciating for me to pass on the MacMillan Space Centre & Planetarium, we did - stopping next at Granville Island...

The entrance to Granville Island, Vancouver, B.C.

...where we enjoyed not only the interesting collection of shops - but I was able to partake of a cigar from an "island south of Miami" while Jordan wrote her first batch (for the trip) of postcards for folks back home.  We wandered back to the trolley stop, then meandered past Yaletown over to Gastown - named after saloon-owner "Gassy Jack" Deighton.  By then the end of the day's trolley tours grew late - our last driver was an interesting chap about my age who regaled us with stories of Rock Stars who'd visit the area(Jordan was particularly thrilled to hear of his encounter with Robert Plant last year).  Returning to the hotel she decided to go for a workout and swim at the on-site gym; I decided to go buy a couple of last minute items from the local pharmacy then couch potato it for a little while.  She returned, we both cleaned-up, and decided to leave planning behind and just stop-in at the first restaurant that caught our interest.  Maybe it was the stellar nature of our previous night's dinner, or maybe this place just wasn't that good - but we stopped in a Robson Street sushi restaurant that was mediocre at best (no, I won't name it).  Quite a disappointment - and, I suppose, a lesson that if I'm going to do the research it's frequently best to follow the advice of those who've preceded you.  We wandered a bit more, but the full day had both of us ready to crash by about 11pm.

 

Saturday, June 2, 2007 - Embarkation & Sailing

This was to be kind of a "sleep-in" day for Jordan - I awoke about 5:30am (hey, that's better than I would've expected!) and set about a longish walk towards Canada Place Pier.  Before leaving the room I'd seen on the Princess BridgeCam that the ship was at dock - but I was taken aback (somewhat) when I walked towards what I thought was it and discovered that the HAL Zuiderdam was also in port(small world, since that's the last ship I'd cruised-on!).  ASIDE: Interestingly, as I type this on Saturday morning, 6/30, in pulling the link for the Princess BridgeCam I note exactly one month has elapsed since our departure - the ship is again berthed exactly as I saw it four weeks ago... right about now (allowing for the four hour time difference)... amazing how quickly time passes!  Nevertheless, I wandered the streets, shooting "artsy" landscape photos and just generally enjoying the clean, quiet (people do NOT honk horns in downtown Vancouver... it made for the most wonderful ambiance), beautiful city that I would be leaving in a few more hours.

The Sapphire Princess berthed at the Canada Place Pier The Sapphire Princess berthed at the Canada Place Pier

Returning to the room a bit after ten I was pleasantly surprised to find Jordan up and already in the shower.  Hotel check-out was 12noon - we intentionally paced ourselves so that this was about the time we were leaving (since you couldn't check-in on the ship until that same time), then grabbed a cab for the 10min ride to the Pier (distance-wise it should only be 4-5min, but it doubles with all of the hubub surrounding the morning's remaining disembarking passengers and those who're arriving).  Check-in, even at "prime time" was relatively painless - taking only about 30-40min (the only snag was a Canada-required health document that you were supposed to fill-out while the line moved towards customs... dunno why that couldn't have been included in our pre-cruise packet or done online like the rest of our documentation).  But, having cleared all of the hurdles, we got the obligatory "Welcome Aboard" portrait then easily found our mini-suite - Emerald 725.

Welcome Aboard the Sapphire Princess!
Entering Emerald 725 on the Sapphire Princess The closet and storage areas immediately to the left E725's spacious (eh, for a cruise ship) bathroom We even had a usable bathtub (tho neither of us used it in that capacity)!
The sleeping area with the entertaining area and balcony beyond A closer look at the additional room afforded by a Mini-Suite Looking back at Emerald 725 Jordan, finishing lunch up on the Lido Deck

Dropping-off our carry-ons, we made way to the Lido Deck for a bite of lunch (I could already tell I was back aboard a quality cruise line... even the buffet food was top notch... quite different from my prior experience!) - afterwards, we did the usual wandering of the ship to try to get our bearings.  We went back to the cabin 3-ish, and were pleased to find both of Jordan's bags and one of mine - letting her unpack and really settle-in for the week (me, I continued sweating it until my main bag arrived just before we set sail - the following day only to hear that there were dozens of passengers for whom their luggage never arrived!).  The required Muster Drill commenced just before 4pm; then, enjoying my complimentary glass of champagne and canapes, for the first time in my cruising life we watched our slow pushaway from the pier from the privacy of our balcony - shortly thereafter heading-up on-deck to get the complete experience!

Departing Canada Place Pier, Vancouver, B.C.
Downtown Vancouver on a Saturday afternoon in early June Following the Zuiderdam out to sea, under the Lion's Gate Bridge A view of Stanley Park, where we took photos just the day before
Jordan on deck as we leave Vancouver, B.C. Leaving Vancouver and the Lion's Gate Bridge behind... Fond memories of our 48 hours in the lovely city of Vancouver
This is terrain you just don't see back home in Florida! Not as many people cloistered around the pool as you see on your average Caribbean cruise! I could live there... spectacular!
A view from our balcony, as we follow the Zuiderdam out to sea...

Canada Place sports the five "sails" - designed to represent the five Canadian Provinces - and the berth, itself, is supposed to look like a ship (what do you think from the photo above?).  As we motored-away I was struck by the calm waters - a portent of things to come - having sailed more chop in catamarans on Lake Lanier (as it is, with a ship this size you only hear the vibrations of the engines... otherwise, there's no perceptible motion).  Before returning to the cabin to finish unpacking my remaining bag, we stopped by the Lotus Spa to set a hair appointment for Jordan the following day - an "up-do" for our first formal night".  I also stopped by the Golf Simulator - and after hitting a couple dozen balls scheduled a 30min time slot about the time she'd be getting her hair done.  We then just sorta chilled until it was time to begin our "Anytime Dining" - tonight in the Pacific Moon (Princess has several restaurants aboard so you can pick where and when you want to eat - each has a signature dish along with the normal menu being enjoyed by those who opt for traditional dining).  The Pacific Moon's special dish was a mild scallops and shrimp dish served over noodles - really quite good - led-up-to by the expected assortment of appetizers, soups, salads... and finished-off with really tasty desserts!  I ordered a glass of wine - but was immediately told by the waiter that if I wanted a bottle and didn't finish it that I could have it sent to tomorrow night's restaurant... sounded like a deal to me, so I got a bottle instead.

We kept a very relaxed pace, and to our surprise took almost two hours to finish - no biggie since the night's main show (their singer/dancers + a magician) didn't appeal.  We meandered about and quickly discovered the answer to one of Jordan's initial questions: "Do you think there'll be any cute guys my age on the ship?"  In a word, no - this itinerary definitely attracts the more geriatric set!  Heck, for that matter, this was the first cruise I've taken where I didn't get "fixated" on a beautiful woman (of any age)... I never saw any, which is pretty sad given a full complement of almost 2,700 pax!  At any rate, most of the tunes are geared to my parent's generation (this was especially true in the Wheelhouse Bar and the Crooner's Lounge (Piano Bar) - so we found ourselves enjoying a rock band called Luna in the Explorer's Lounge on Deck 7 (an exception is their disco - Club Fusion - but neither Jordan nor I like disco-type music).  We also noticed that even though the entertainment continues, the crowds really REALLY thin by about midnight... so we decided to call it a night about then, and let Jordan sleep-in for our "At Sea" day.

 

Sunday, June 3, 2007 - A Day at Sea

I awoke about 7 (marveling at how well I was adjusting to the three - soon to be four - hour time difference), quietly dressed, and wandered up on deck for breakfast on the Lido and to snap some morning pics of the ship.  It was a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning, in the upper 60's / low 70's, with just a light breeze... I found myself thinking that we were going to luck-out with the weather (never NEVER think that - it's akin to standing on a golf tee and thinking "don't hit in the water"... invariably, you WILL! lol).  I kept myself busy until about 11 - and knowing the room steward Gerald would want to tidy-up our cabin before commencing his midday break - went to awaken Jordan... only to discover a grumpy kid complaining that "11 is NOT sleeping late!"  (Huh?  It is in MY book!)  Turned-out she was abnormally grumpy for a reason: the beds were quite soft, and it seems she not only can't sleep on a soft mattress but that it also gave her quite a backache (so I gave her permission to set a massage appointment for Monday afternoon).  At any rate, she quietly dressed and we went on deck - to grab some food, then so she could sit and relax with a book for a few hours.

Near the location of the Princess BridgeCam
Your typical "Day At Sea" photograph :) The Princess Links (sort of like miniature golf)
Jordan, buying an Alaskan Moose for her Mom Jordan, reading for several hours on deck

I bumbled-up to the Golf Simulator (Deck 16) for my 2:30 "tee time" - the thing is basically a big computer game (there are two of them on board)... you select from a couple dozen courses, then tee-up and hit into a big screen onto which the first hole is projected.  The computer extrapolates your ball flight and distance based on how the ball hit the screen, displays that projection, then advances you to the next hole.  I chose Pebble Beach (having played it just this past October) and was glad that I did: first time I've ever gotten an aerobic workout playing golf!  In short, one person can't play all 18 holes in 30min unless you already have your club selected and hit away as soon as the screen refreshes for your next shot.  Having played Pebble recently-enough so that each hole is still in memory, I had a clue where my ball had landed each time and what shot would next be required.  The staff person running the simulator was stunned when I posted my 18 hole score with one minute left on my time - he said nobody ever does that.  And, how is the simulation?  The ball curves more than my real ball flight (e.g. draws become hooks, fades become slices) and it only gave me about 85%-90% of my normal distance - but on real Pebble I shot an 86; on simulated Pebble I shot an 85.  Pretty good, huh?

I returned probably 15min after Jordan had left for her "up-do"... poured myself a cognac (I sneaked-on a large flask in my checked bag) and just chilled on the balcony watching the ocean slowly move by (we were clearly taking our time, only doing about 16 knots on a ship capable of 22-24).  Da kid returned about 5, complaining that the stylist had no creativity at all - but her hair looked very nice to me.  We dressed in our formalwear in time for Captain Attilio Guerrini's "Welcome Aboard" party in the main lobby; we then had formal portraits made (which, upon seeing them the following day, now has me religiously following the South Beach Diet to peel-back-off at least 20-25lbs!); then made-way to our 7:30pm dinner reservation at Sabbatini's - Princess' upscale (and upcharged) Italian Restaurant.

Jordan doesn't know what to make of the Captain's Party... ...feeling much more at ease contemplating life on deck I'm told my hair looks like the mad conductor/composer!  And, yes, I've already set about losing some weight - ACK!!

I had read countless online kudos for this eatery, and was not disappointed - we both might even go so far as to say that it was the best Italian food we'd ever had.  And you eat differently than in the other "Anytime Dining" restaurants - here, you simply select your entree and dessert - they then bring you samples of every appetizer, soup, and salad.  Bring your appetite - you will regret not trying everything, but it takes a lot of room to fit it all in!

And interesting capper to the wonderful dining experience: I had, perhaps, one small glass of wine remaining in my bottle towards the end of dinner - as the waiter brings our dessert, he proceeds to spill it (amazingly, it avoided my tux, and only splashed two tiny red droplets on my French cuffs).  Of course, that meant that the entire bottle was replaced - this made Jordan uncomfortable, but worked for me - and despite the mishap I left a very nice tip for the otherwise spectacular service and food (yes, onboard you pay a daily gratuity for your steward, waiters, etc. - but you pay a dining surcharge to eat at Sabbatini's, so I figured it also warranted an over-and-above tip).  Dinner took about 2-1/2 hours - by that time, the "Piano Man" production was SRO, so after returning to our suite to change back into casual attire (sorry, you die-hard Formal-Nighters... we both wanted out of that garb as fast as we could manage) we opted to mellow-out back at the Explorer's Lounge with Luna (with Jordan in sufficient back pain as to break-down and order a drink... while she wasn't supposed to drink she looked a lot older than her 20 years - in fact, it troubled her how many staff thought we were husband & wife).  We did stop by Club Fusion at one point - Jordan was contemplating entering the "Princess Pop Star" competition (glorified karaoke) but the combination of not finding a song she was happy-with and a likely schedule conflict with tomorrow night's dinner meant she took a pass.  With tomorrow being an early day (with a relatively early departure) we called it a night about 11:30.

 

Monday, June 4, 2007 - Ketchikan, Alaska (6:30a-2:00p)

In the early hours of the morning, the Southeastern Alaska Pilot boarded our ship to steer us into the Ketchikan's Tongass Narrows.  Jordan and I both awoke at 6:30 - my first thought being that it should be brighter than it was (esp since we'd sailed several hundred miles to the north).  That riddle was solved as soon as I looked outside - it was terribly overcast, and perhaps ten degrees cooler than the previous morning.  To save time (meaning, in Jordan-speak, to sleep as late as possible) we'd ordered breakfast in our cabin - basically cereal, fruit, coffee, juice - then dressed and made way to the Explorer's Lounge (staging area for people who're going ashore that didn't book Princess-arranged tours).  No biggie - we left within 5min of our arrival, and were one of the first off the ship.

Approaching Ketchikan in the early morning hours Getting closer to "downtown" Ketchikan Passing the entrance to Ketchikan's Yacht Harbor The City of Ketchikan, Alaska Our docks in Ketchikan...
...'cept that they're under construction, so we had to tender ashore The first tender making-way ashore Jordan photographing Ketchikan... ...and a look at what she was photographing! Yes, I'm a sucker for cruise portraiture!

We walked a block-or-so to the Visitor's Center, where the agent told us that we were about 20min early for our privately-arranged tour: Misty Fjords Flightseeing.  Why privately arranged?  Past experience has shown me that along with saving a little money you can usually book smaller, more personalized tours on your own... so I researched like crazy nearly a year earlier, and booked everything in the Fall of 2006 (to assure we got to do what we wanted).  The van arrived and took us plus another couple from the ship over to the base for Southeast Aviation - after paying the balance due and petting their black lab, the four of us headed down to our plane and met Kevin (our pilot).  Despite the threatening-looking weather, he said other pilots were reporting nice weather once we got away from Ketchikan... and, with that, we got aboard, "taxied" a few hundred yards, then took-off.  With that, I'll let the pics speak for themselves:

Our floatplane - a de Havilland Beaver (with a glass cockpit!)
Jordan flying in the co-pilot's seat (she LOVED it!) Just after taking off from Ketchikan Misty Fjords Flightseeing Misty Fjords Flightseeing
Misty Fjords Flightseeing Misty Fjords Flightseeing Misty Fjords Flightseeing Misty Fjords Flightseeing
Misty Fjords Flightseeing Misty Fjords Flightseeing Misty Fjords Flightseeing Misty Fjords Flightseeing
Misty Fjords Flightseeing Misty Fjords Flightseeing Misty Fjords Flightseeing Misty Fjords Flightseeing
Yes, we landed on a VERY remote lake Jordan exiting the aircraft onto the right float The grin says it all! The only sound was of distant waterfalls (yes, plural)... incredible tranquility!
Not often something like this is at the end of the runway! Just after taking-off from our 20min lake stop Misty Fjords Flightseeing Misty Fjords Flightseeing
Misty Fjords Flightseeing Misty Fjords Flightseeing... we weren't the only ones! Back into Ketchikan's haze... that's our ship just under the clouds A sharp right turn to final...
...photographing the town as we smoothly set down Me thinks Jordan is hooked on general aviation!

It was SOOOO much prettier than these photos can convey... all while getting a really top notch narration from our pilot.  About halfway through our flight he picks a lovely (and thoroughly secluded) lake in the middle of nowhere, touches-down (you've never felt a smooth landing until you've done it on floats!), and we spend about 20min standing outside (on the floats) hearing only the distant sounds of waterfalls.  Incredible tranquility!  If you are reading this and contemplating a similar trip, I'd urge you to consider using Southeast Aviation for your flightseeing - everything I read about them online was complimentary, and deservedly so!

The entrance to the famous "Creek Street" Wanna pet a real Alaskan dog? lol In Alaska, your dog IS your best friend! One of the very many Totems scattered-about Ketchikan A satiated Jordan ready to reboard the Sapphire Princess

A short van ride back into town and we did some shopping - tops on our list being a waterproof / lined jacket for da kid (she was already cold, and it wasn't even all that cold yet... best investment we made for the entire trip!).  She also picked-up some bric-a-brac for friends plus somemore postcards - we then toured the town a bit, but since Totems are NOT her thing we decided to tender-back to the ship for lunch and relaxation (which included nappy-nappy for both Dad and da kid!).  The ship began motoring away about 15min late; Jordan's full-body massage was not too long after that, so she awoke and returned feeling better "than she had in years" (the masseuse said she'd never encountered a 20 year old with muscles as tight as hers - something else she gets from her old man!).  While she was away, I went to the International Dining Room to attend a Wine Tasting - which was especially well done (I learned more during this one than in any previous class I'd attended - kudos to Princess for that!)... and at $10, it's very reasonable!

We decided to give the Wheehouse Bar a try before tonight's dinner at the Santa Fe (southwestern) restaurant - but after some fairly-botched Sinatra, Bennett, and Darin we moved-on to look at the formal portraits then eat.  Ship's cuisine continued to be remarkable(the fajitas, specialty at the Santa Fe, were much more authentic than I would've expected) while the entertainment continued to be blah. We had some drinks again in the Explorer's Lounge (by now, the band and crew are getting to know us... or, more specifically, Jordan... I think they liked having somebody not only attractive but closer to their age who could actually hold a conversation with them) before deciding to turn-in a bit after 1 (noticing that it's no longer what I would call "good and dark" outside - instead, the sky stayed bright as though it was a full moon - 'cept we were sailing under a new moon).

 

Tuesday, June 5, 2007 - Juneau, Alaska (8:00am-9:00pm)

Remember what I wrote earlier - about not saying (or even thinking) to yourself that good weather was in the offing?  It came apart for us in Juneau (just check-out the first photo below... it was a cold, miserable day when we arrived at dock).  I immediately became pessimistic about one of our shore excursions - a helicopter ride for a Mendenhall Glacier Walkabout - but since I hadn't heard from them on my cell phone perhaps it was the same story (weatherwise) as in Juneau?  ASIDE: speaking of cell phones, I had a voicemail from one of my business colleagues - Murphy's Law, being what it is, had her computer's hard drive fail four days into my vacation... and she needed guidance as to what to do about it.  I told her how to handle the hardware, but all of the needed software was locked-away in my Florida home.  She ended-up having to work out of the public library for the last week of my vacation! :(  Eh, not so - we got to the proscribed meeting point at 9:30am only to have the van driver say it was canceled and rescheduled for 3:30 that afternoon.

But, wait - we were scheduled to go whale watching with Capt. Larry from 3p-6p.  The driver suggested we go see if there was space available on the noon-3pm boat (there was) - but this now meant that we had a couple of hours to kill before doing anything, so we inverted our original day's plan and toured town at the beginning rather than end of our visit.

A yukky morning (weatherwise) as we arrived in Juneau Arriving in Juneau, Alaska Like I say, I'm a sucker for portraiture! The famed TaKu Smokeries, with the Sapphire Princess in background
Downtown Juneau... with the infamous "Red Dog Saloon" on the left Juneau was NOT what I expected I've never seen hills like this... seems a coronary in the making, if you ask me! The Alaska State Capitol - the only one with no dome!
The view from the front of the Alaska State Capitol Jordan was enthralled with "all things moose" this trip! Dutifully writing postcards to her Mom and friends back home Returning to the office so we can go whale watching!

Returning to Orca Enterprises' office about 11:15, shortly thereafter we hopped aboard a van for the 20-25min ride out to the boat.  The last customers were finishing disembarking (they've got this timed to the minute), and our group of only about twenty boarded and headed-out!

Capt. Larry's custom-designed whale watching jet boat Sea Lions "sunning" themselves as we depart If you're gonna do it right, you get Capt. Larry himself at the helm!
Humpback Whale Yours truly, stalking my next whale photo! Humpback Whale (headed down)
A pod of Orcas - this is apparently fairly rare! A pod of Orcas - this is apparently fairly rare! A pod of Orcas - this is apparently fairly rare!
A pod of Orcas - this is apparently fairly rare! A pod of Orcas - this is apparently fairly rare! A pod of Orcas - this is apparently fairly rare!
A pod of Orcas - this is apparently fairly rare! A pod of Orcas - this is apparently fairly rare! A pod of Orcas - this is apparently fairly rare! Returning after a really first rate trip!

As we were en route back to Juneau the ceiling didn't appear to have improved... and about the time I had that thought, my cell phone rang - it was Northstar Trekking advising that it was still a weather no-go, and that the Glacier Trek was just not going to happen.  So I put-on my thinking cap: what were we going to do with about five unallocated hours in Juneau?  We returned, and after visiting one of the tour desks we had our answer: Canopy Ziplining!  Turns-out this actually is a Princess-sponsored shore excursion that I'd still booked independently... I'm just thankful they had a few spots left for their last run of the day!

We were picked-up about 4:30pm right in front of the ship; after driving about 10min we were dropped for a shuttle boat ride across the inlet.  From there, we met our two guides and were suited-up in the harnesses and given a quick course in how to steer and brake.  Then, we were off - first riding up the steep mountainside in an ATV; then, climbing the remaining couple hundred feet on foot to our "training" station (I realize just how woefully out of shape I am that I was huffing-and-puffing by the time we arrived).  That said, you know Mr. Adventure - when they asked who wanted to go first, my hand was first in the air (and it was a piece of cake).  Jordan, who sports a fear of heights, conquered them by going middle-of-the-pack.  After our training run, each successive run was longer and steeper - finishing the last of the nine runs with nearly 800 feet (mind you, each time you "land" on a platform perched in the top of a big tree... it's a little disconcerting to feel it always swaying underneath you, and reminded me that lumberjacks definitely have a screw loose!).  We finished by rappelling-down about 50', exiting our gear, then waiting for the shuttle boat to return us directly to the docks.  ASIDE: sadly, there was no way to safely bring a camera and do what you need to do... so I have no photos... only these verbal descriptions.

Looking for the perfect skipping rock while waiting to be picked-up Our "chariot" arrives... ...and soon we're motoring back to the ship If you're curious where our balcony was located... Buh-bye, Juneau!

We set foot back on the docks a little after 7:30 - one of the participants was getting a little panicky (because we were supposed to be back aboard by 8pm), so he jogged the rest of the way back.  As it was, we were back in our cabin by a little before 8, and had no problem catching quick showers and changing for tonight's dinner in the Vivaldi Dining Room.  Having had Italian the previous night I didn't try Vivaldi's signature dish - Osso Buco - but the standard fare menu was just fine... actually, more than fine.  Really quite good!  Tonight's celebrity showtime was "Direct From Broadway" - tho having heard really bad comments about the female lead singer onboard we decided to stay in our rut and hang with our new friends in the band... although the day's festivities had us both kinda wiped, so we called it a relatively early evening just after midnight.

 

Wednesday, June 6, 2007 - Skagway, Alaska (7:00am-8:30pm)

Per our Princess Patter, the ship sailed North into the night, through the Lynn Canal and Taiya Inlet towards Skagway.  We could again take our time - despite arriving at 7am, we didn't have to meet our tour company until 9am (in town), so we had our usually leisurely en-suite breakfast before disembarking about 8:30.

Our balcony view in Skagway when looking right... ... and the view looking left (towards town) By now you know the drill (lol)
Skagway - starting point for the Great Gold Rush of 1898! Skagway - starting point for the Great Gold Rush of 1898! Skagway - starting point for the Great Gold Rush of 1898!

Mind you, Skagway (derived from the Native American word "Skaguay" meaning "Windy Place") was a cool little town - Jordan and I had the same thought at almost the same time: "I could live here."  We wandered to the tiny offices of Southeast Tours, paid the balance due, then waited to board our bus for a trip back into Canada (specifically, the Yukon Territory) so Jordan could indulge in a couple of hours of scenic horseback riding.  As our touring van departed - with a naturalized Brit named Barry at the helm - we were happy to see that there were only seven of us (again, this is why I book my own thing rather than use the ship).  As Barry drove-us-up the steep mountain pass - along the only road that connects Skagway to other parts - fog set-in to the point where we could only manage about 10-15mph.  Nevertheless, we soon discovered that talking about the Gold Rush wasn't just Barry's job - it was his passion - and by day's end we learned more about that time than we never wanted to know! ;-)

The last few Alaskan miles before entering British Columbia Bove Island (just after entering the Yukon Province) Jordan Do-Right, of the Yukon Mounted Police!  ;-) Emerald Lake, around which we'd be horseback riding A view towards the Emerald Lake Adventure Ranch
Again, Jordan's expression always tells me when I hit a home run! This was supposed to be MUCH prettier scenery than any other horseback riding that was available... ...would you agree??? Some of the trails were pretty steep - but, as you can see, with amazing scenery! Towards the end of our "adventure" (at least on horses)

It took about 2-1/2 hours to reach the Emerald Lake Adventure Ranch, where the owner (Joni) was there to greet us and already had our horses saddled-up.  As you can see from the pics above, the scenery was amazing... and the amount of riding was plenty for me(Jordan wished for more, but since I don't regularly ride the way she does my body couldn't have handled it).  We finished with some soft drinks and homemade cookies while looking through her photo album - soon thereafter, Barry returned with our chariot for the ride back down to Skagway.

Our intrepid tour guide - Barry Carcross - billed as "The World's Smallest Desert" The Yukon Territory The Yukon Territory The Yukon Territory
The Yukon Territory (amazing what you can do shooting out a window while underway) The Yukon Territory (amazing what you can do shooting out a window while underway) The Yukon Territory (amazing what you can do shooting out a window while underway) The Yukon Territory (amazing what you can do shooting out a window while underway) The Yukon Territory (amazing what you can do shooting out a window while underway)
Canadian Customs (there's about 12 more miles to get to American Customs) We stop for photos right at the Canadian/Alaskan Border We stop for photos right at the Canadian/Alaskan Border We stop for photos right at the Canadian/Alaskan Border Jordan welcomes you to Alaska!
Meanwhile, back "home" in Alaska... ...the beautiful scenery continues Just before taking the last pass to get into Skagway A view of the various ships in port from the Scenic Overlook The "AB Building" - made completely out of antlers!

I had been under the impression that lunch was to be served after riding - but "soft drinks and homemade cookies" don't exactly fill you up - so immediately upon returning to town we stopped-in at a local establishment (the Bonanza Bar & Grill) for a late lunch and some Alaskan beer (we ended-up getting a couple of appetizers, which were mediocre at best... but at least they were filling).  We then toyed with shopping somemore, but neither of us felt like buying anything (and neither of us enjoys "looking" for the fun of it) - so we took a rather roundabout way back to the ship, arriving almost three hours before scheduled departure time.  I felt like I could use a nap, but knew if I succumbed to that feeling I'd completely screw-up what little sleep pattern I possess (plus, tomorrow was going to be an early day).

Just before reboarding the Sapphire Princess - next time we're off the ship, WE'RE OFF THE SHIP! =:-o

Dinner tolled at 8:30pm - tonight at the Savoy Restaurant - and as I write this recap I can't even recall what their signature dish is (which means I didn't order it)... I just remember being very tired and not chatting much while we ate.  We gave the Princess Theatre a look afterwards, but the comedic magic of Jeff Peterson didn't appeal so we left as quickly as we entered.  "The Melodics" were playing nearby in the Wheelhouse Bar - but I could get the same effect by going back to my cabin and taking an Ambien so we passed on that too (I'm not kidding when I say that most of the music is geared to the 70s+ age group). So old habits again interceded - realizing we'd become regulars when the outgoing stage chief and his replacement called-out to Jordan by name.  This evening she spent a good deal of time discussing what it takes to apply and work as an entertainer on the ship (she sings a LOT better than the talent we heard) - interestingly, not quite 24hrs later, that notion had permanently left her brain (keep reading to understand why).  We called it quits before midnight, lulled quickly to sleep by both exhaustion and the glassy waters on which we sailed.

 

Thursday, June 7, 2007 - Cruising Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska (6:00am-3:00pm)

We were in a suite, and Thursday morning found us doing it up right!  This morning began at 7:15am with a Champagne Breakfast for Two, consisting of:

French Champagne (chilled half bottle)
Warm Basket of Homemade Pastries
Delicate Smoked Copper River Salmon (with dill cream cheese and toasted lemon brioche)
Medley of Fresh Fruits and Forest Berries (with clover honey and chantilly creme)
Alaskan King Crab Quiche (with tomato and fontina cheese gratin)

I quickly discovered that Jordan is NOT a champagne person (fine - that much more for me! ;-) - nor is she big on salmon.  So I let her feast on the fruits and pastries while we shared the quiche.  Like the rest of the food on this cruise, it was impeccable - no complaints whatsoever from us.  All this while enjoying the main event for our balcony... cruising through Glacier Bay National Park.  You may read that you need to go on deck to hear the running commentary from Park Rangers who board the ship in the wee morning hours - however, if you just turn-on your television to one of the two in-house channels, you can hear it there as well.

This system worked better for me - while we couldn't immediately go to the other side of the ship when something was spotted, remember that I was shooting with two different cameras, one with multiple lenses (that I was constantly changing-out).  Plus, it was damned cold - the water and air temps were about the same (in the low 40s), so it was nice to pop-back-into our cabin every half-hour to warm-up (without doing same to my lenses, which would've fogged upon returning to the cold outside).  Add to this that we were doing laundry - self-serve about 100' towards the bow - and needed to check on feeding more quarters or retrieving and folding.  Then you need to remember that a late teenager has the attention span of a gnat... so asking her to stay glued to the scenery for nine hours just wasn't going to happen - and being close to the cabin made life easier.  

But, hey, rather than prattle - lemme just get to the photos (below is but a brief sampling of the hundreds of photos that I shot... but I have to draw the line SOMEWHERE!).

Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay
Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay
Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay
Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay
Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay
Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay
Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay
Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay
Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay
Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay Cruising Glacier Bay

I was going to enter the 4pm Golf Chipping contest, but completely forgot about it - perhaps the bottle of cognac that I finished-off throughout the day had something to do with that?  As it was, tonight was the second formal night... I had Jordan almost convinced for another portrait sitting, until we saw the lines (seemingly) around the block... so we took a pass (and while my hair looked better than on the first night, Jordan dress was decidedly more understated and her hair less fancy).  This being the other extraordinary night I had made reservations at the other specialty restaurant - the Sterling Steakhouse.  Only one problem... since leaving the Cross Sound and rounding Cape Spencer, the WNW course we were sailing through the Gulf of Alaska brought 6'-8' seas - coming into us directly to port - resulting in some odd rolling motions that left Jordan rather queasy (the Bonine I gave her came too late ).  Turns-out she wasn't the only one - making-way up to the restaurant on Deck 14 Aft we noted airsickness bags every 10' - and the dining room, for a 7:30 reservation, was perhaps only a quarter full.

Poor Jordan finally cried Uncle about midway through dinner, excusing herself to go get sick.  Once her stomach emptied she was at least semi-functional... but it definitely put the kibosh on the rest of the evening.  I enjoyed my petite filet (although despite asking for it rare it came out to the well side of medium), and the view of the rolling seas from our window table was spectacular (I kept telling Jordan to look at the horizon, but she said it didn't help).  She did at least finish with a little bit of sorbet opposite my favorite - Creme Brulee!  We then went back to the cabin, whereupon she fell fast asleep while I sat awake, watching some TV until I grew sleepy.

NOW you know why Jordan's interest in possibly working on a cruise ship came to such a screeching halt! :)

 

Friday, June 8, 2007 - Cruising College Fjord, Alaska (5:30pm-8:30pm)

So Friday was another sleep-in treat for Jordan - this time I let her go until 11:30am, and still didn't hear the end of it (apparently, to her, sleeping late means 1:30 or 2:00... um... I don't think so).  I actually slept a little later than normal myself, showered, dressed, then went to the Lido deck for a big breakfast then just hung-out in the various public areas for much of the morning.  We both did a Lido lunch(which, for some reason, was the worst meal of the week - I guess it was all of the remaining leftovers they were trying to get rid-of, but nothing at all was remarkable... even the grilled burgers stunk!), then came back to the cabin to figure-out how we were going to repack(bags had to be outside of our stateroom door by 9pm).   

 What's to figure out?  On a Princess-booked land extension you can only bring one carry-on with you, and Princess will only porter one bag per person - any remaining luggage goes straight to your last night's hotel, where it's (hopefully) waiting for you when you check-in.  We obviously didn't need formalwear any longer, and a bunch of my lighter stuff I packed as well (which turned-out to be a mistake - the cold we experienced at sea was contrasted by abnormally warm conditions in the interior - go figure!).  So, after about an hour of playing around with it, both of us had separated-out our "Travel With Me" and our "Meet Me In Anchorage" items.

Beyond that, we were basically just lazy arses until the last notable of the day - cruising the College Fjord:

These are the seas - combined with our tack - that were making a lot of people sick! Cruising College Fjord Cruising College Fjord Cruising College Fjord Cruising College Fjord
Cruising College Fjord Cruising College Fjord Cruising College Fjord Cruising College Fjord Cruising College Fjord
Cruising College Fjord Cruising College Fjord Cruising College Fjord Cruising College Fjord Cruising College Fjord
Cruising College Fjord Cruising College Fjord One of College Fjord's few inhabitants Leaving College Fjord Buh-bye College Fjord! :(

We ate late on this last night of our cruise - 9pm in the place where we began: the Pacific Moon.  It was now obvious how far north we'd come - that first night it was twilight when we ate... but, on this night, it appeared to still be about 6:30 or 7:00pm outside.  Our farewell meal was a really good one; afterwards, after peeking-in and seeing the tail end of a ventriloquist at work in the Princess Theatre (seriously, the only glaring weakness on this cruise was the entertainment - everything else was top notch!) we went to hang with our new crew-friends (Kim and Greg) as we watched the lights of Whittier appear shortly after midnight.

Making our final approach into Whittier Jordan was just a tad morose that the cruise was almost over The very last photo I shot from the balcony of our cabin Buh-Bye, Sapphire Princess (photographed on the Denali Express train as it left the station) Leaving the cruise behind, we now embark on the land portion of our Alaska adventure!

As you can clearly see on those first two photos, it's still quite light for our 12:30am arrival (and there's no phototrickery here... it appeared that bright to the naked eye).  When we returned to our cabin about 1:30am our bags were gone - all that remained were our toiletries & carry-on items, plus a change of clothing.  It was about time to give-up our home of the past week so Gerald could make it available for a new tenant.  But between the memories and the photographs we'll relive this cruise for many years to come!

 

Saturday, June 9, 2007 - En Route to Denali National Park, Alaska

Disembarking the Sapphire Princess was about as easy as Embarkation - on Friday afternoon we received colored / numbered tags, along with approximate times they would be called.  Ours were Brown 3... it seemed that all of the Browns were going to be on the Denali Express... and our scheduled departure time was 7:15am.  Consequently, Jordan and I awoke by 6:00am - so we'd have time for a quick shower, dress, final pack into our carry-ons, then go grab a bite of breakfast (our last free meal).  As it turned-out, we were called closer to 7:30 - but no worries: the train is visible from the ship, and certainly no more than a 500' walk.  A quick check of our boarding passes and passport and we were aboard... with the train departing only a minute or two past our scheduled 8:15am departure time.

Northbound, aboard the Denali Express Northbound, aboard the Denali Express This train is INCREDIBLE for sightseeing! Northbound, aboard the Denali Express Northbound, aboard the Denali Express
Northbound, aboard the Denali Express How's THIS for a beaver dam?!! Northbound, aboard the Denali Express Northbound, aboard the Denali Express Northbound, aboard the Denali Express
Northbound, aboard the Denali Express Northbound, aboard the Denali Express Jordan, sightweeing aboard the Denali Express Northbound, aboard the Denali Express Northbound, aboard the Denali Express
Northbound, aboard the Denali Express Northbound, aboard the Denali Express Northbound, aboard the Denali Express Northbound, aboard the Denali Express Northbound, aboard the Denali Express

The scenery was something that simply had to be experienced (again, these photos - taken through the glass - really aren't doing it justice)... but the train ride is simply too long - not because of distance, but because the train is so slow.  The cautioned us early-on that it would reach speeds of 60mph... in their dreams!  We came to a complete stop at least a half dozen times, and I'd venture that a majority of the time we weren't doing more than 25-30mph.  By mid-afternoon everyone was either grumpy or had imbibed-away their grumpiness... suffice to say that whatever could be done to speed this up by a couple of hours would be BEYOND appreciated!

At any rate, we finally got to the Denali National Park train station (about 80% the way north to Fairbanks) at a bit after 5:30pm - whereupon numbered shuttle buses were waiting for us.  How do you know what number bus to get on?  A couple of hours before arrival our "host" went from table-to-table delivering your room keys, property map, and land-based Princess Patter, and other pertinent information.  It's all of just a couple of miles to the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge - we easily found our building, but a greeter pulled us aside and changed us to Room 1022 (we never heard a reason why).  No worries... upon entering, our "Travel With Me" luggage was right there!

The Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge Room 1022 at The Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge Room 1022 at The Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge Room 1022 at The Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge Room 1022 at The Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge

A little while elapsed and we realized that the wraps we'd eaten on the train many hours ago were no longer tiding-us-over... so we opted for outdoor dining at the Base Camp Bistro & Lounge.  We had wonderful views of the adjacent Nenana River, and the temperature was quite comfortable (I'm guessing around 70 - I was fast realizing I'd packed incorrectly for this leg of our vacation).  The food was excellent, but it was a bit jarring to actually have to pay for it at the end of the meal! :p  We were also pestered by what for all the world looked like seagulls - 'cept we were WAY too far inland for that to be true (we came to discover they're kissing cousins to seagulls called meegulls... okie... lol).  We walked the property a bit, marveling at "The Land of the Midnight Sun" (that night, sunset was at 12:08am, with sunrise at 3:41am).  But the train trip - combined with the early wakeup call - had us prematurely worn out, and so we crashed just before sunset (btw, that last photo below? It was shot at a touch after 11:30pm!).

Looking southeasterly down the Nenana River Dining at the Base Camp Bistro & Lounge - with Jordan growing weary of my constant photography! A view of the Nenana River from our dinner table The Lodge's two mascots, near the front entrance The "big city"... believe it or not, I took this photo at about 11:30pm!
 

Sunday, June 10, 2007 - Touring Denali National Park, Alaska

With a five hour Natural History Tour ahead, we decided to cheap-skate breakfast and lunch on this day... in the early morning I walked across the highway to a local convenience store for a couple of bagels and Diet Cokes (for breakfast) and then to Subway for a couple of sandwiches, bag of chips, and two more Diet Cokes (for lunch).  Shortly thereafter we boarded a glorified school bus that first stopped for a short film (at the Visitor's Center) then drove about 20 miles into the Park.

The Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge Canyon Station The Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, as seen from the Subway across the street Touring Denali National Park Touring Denali National Park Touring Denali National Park
Touring Denali National Park Touring Denali National Park Touring Denali National Park - Mt Denali (McKinley) in the distance Touring Denali National Park Touring Denali National Park
Touring Denali National Park Touring Denali National Park - Mt Denali (McKinley) in the distance Touring Denali National Park Touring Denali National Park - Mt Denali (McKinley) in the distance Touring Denali National Park
Touring Denali National Park - The Savage Cabin Touring Denali National Park - The Savage Cabin Touring Denali National Park - The Savage Cabin Touring Denali National Park - The Savage Cabin Touring Denali National Park
Touring Denali National Park Touring Denali National Park Bill Stevens, Tribal Elder, welcomes us to the land Touring Denali National Park Touring Denali National Park
Jordan enjoying the tour of Denali National Park Touring Denali National Park Touring Denali National Park - one more view of Mt. Denali Touring Denali National Park Wild-hair David in a rare photograph! at Denali National Park
Touring Denali National Park Touring Denali National Park Jordan contemplating what she sees... Touring Denali National Park Our Tourguide - Matt - from Athens, GA

Besides getting a rare good look at the northern side of Mt. Denali (McKinley to the Imperial Federal Government), the most meaningful part of the tour (at least for me) was a brief talk by Bill Stevens (aka Ch'adzah Aghwaa - "He Carries Dances").  Bill is one of the most recognized elders of the Athabascan tribe, and is on a crusade to ensure that the music of his culture is not lost.  His words were a perfect complement to the unbelievable scenery we were privileged to view.

Returning to our room a bit before 2pm, we had about 45min to kill before being picked-up for our afternoon's excursion: White Water Rafting on the Canyon Run of the Nenana River.  Hosted by Denali Raft, this was Jordan's first experience with whitewater - and to say that she was apprehensive (esp as our guide was running through the list of contingency scenarios - and having to wear dry suits to protect us from the 36-degree glacial water also didn't seem all that appealing)... but once we got past our first rapid (purportedly a Class IV, but it seemed no more than a mid-III to me) she had a big grin and couldn't get enough!

Whitewater Rafting on the Nenana River Whitewater Rafting on the Nenana River Whitewater Rafting on the Nenana River Whitewater Rafting on the Nenana River
Whitewater Rafting on the Nenana River Whitewater Rafting on the Nenana River Whitewater Rafting on the Nenana River Whitewater Rafting on the Nenana River
Whitewater Rafting on the Nenana River Whitewater Rafting on the Nenana River Whitewater Rafting on the Nenana River Whitewater Rafting on the Nenana River
Whitewater Rafting on the Nenana River Whitewater Rafting on the Nenana River Whitewater Rafting on the Nenana River Whitewater Rafting on the Nenana River

It turned-out that the raft company was all of a 10min walk from the Lodge - so we eschewed the bus ride back, instead stopping by this little coffee shop (near the Subway) for a couple of Chai Teas.  We got back to the room, showered & changed, then decided to have some pepperoni pizza for dinner... at the on-site Lynx Creek Pizza & Pub.  After more than a week of lavish culinary creations, basic pizza and cold beer REALLY hit the spot!

On this night we stayed-up for awhile - watching TV, and me surfing the net a bit up at the lodge (where wireless high-speed access was complimentary).  I wasn't too sleepy (which is odd considering that the room was hot and too bright on the previous night) so I decided to stay-up for awhile to see what the light did in the wee-hours of the morning.  In short, not much - there were mountains to the southwest, so while the sun vanished from our view by about 9:30, you start to get a nice orangeish-red sunset. about 12:30; by 1:30 the oranges and reds are replaced by a pale blue; then about 3am you start to see the morning hues in the southeastern sky.  I didn't make it all the way to the 3:40 sunrise, but can definitely confirm that it gets nowhere near dark this far north!

Midnight Light at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge
(to give you an idea, here's the light at about midnight)

 

Monday, June 11, 2007 - En Route to the McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge

Jordan never has any difficulty sleeping (neither did I when I was her age) - so when I awoke stupidly early (based on when I'd gone to sleep) I let out a sigh, put on some clothes, grabbed my notebook computer, and headed-up to the Lodge where I got a loaded-up breakfast bagel, a fountain Diet Coke (that I kept refilling), then sat and surfed the net for a couple of hours while she snoozed back in the room.  We did have several hours available in the morning to do something else - but she said she was getting toured-out and just wanted to take it easy... so we did (I did finally wake her at about 11, bringing her the same breakfast treat).

Our southbound bus was to depart at 1pm - but since we both were ready (with our "Travel With Me" luggage already picked-up to be delivered to the next hotel) we just waited up at the Lodge so Jordan could check her email and surf the net a bit.  Good thing - the bus arrived about 10min early, and was gone by 1pm!  The views were pretty much what we'd seen from the train on the way up - nevertheless, here are a few pics:

Southbound to the McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge Southbound to the McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge Southbound to the McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge Southbound to the McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge Do Alaskans live in igloos?  No, they do not (not even in this one)!

BTW, that last picture helps answer the question "Do Alaskans live in igloos?"  Answer: No, they don't.  This place was a curiosity - an enterprising entrepreneur built it as a hotel... but didn't bother to check code, which required more than the one entrance/exit (which you can see).  He finally sold the albatross at fire sale prices to an investor who intended to add the required exits and bring it to life... only to discover that the inside was covered in asbestos, making the renovation cost-prohibitive.  It's been vacant ever since! lol

We arrived a little bit after four, and after being handed the same kind of packets (with keys to Room 2315, a map, a Princess Patter, and a couple of other pieces of info) we got into a room that was a virtual clone of the other Lodge (except this one had the good sense to install ceiling fans... which helped with the upper 70s daytime temperature). With not too much in our systems, we wandered-up to the Alaskan Grill - for a really wonderful early dinner... afterwards we returned to the room for a little while to let a light sprinkling of rain cease... then we headed-back-out about 10pm to go on a hike.

Despite the light, a late-night hike at the McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge Despite the light, a late-night hike at the McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge Despite the light, a late-night hike at the McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge Despite the light, a late-night hike at the McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge
Despite the light, a late-night hike at the McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge Despite the light, a late-night hike at the McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge More of the statuaries... ...and Jordan begging me to please stop photographing her!

That last picture was taken at about 11pm... we both agreed that while "The Midnight Sun" sounds good in theory, in practice it wears you out - fast.  We were both eager to get back to our respective homes (and called each other the first night back joyful to see the darkness of night) - but mindful that we had one more fun day ahead of us before those long trips home!

 

Tuesday, June 12, 2007 - Talkeetna, then Anchorage, Alaska... then the trip home

Morning came - but at least this time we didn't have to pack our "Travel With Me" bags on the previous night (they didn't have to be outside of our rooms until 9am).  Similar to the day before, we snagged a light breakfast at the Lodge before grabbing the 9:30am Talkeetna Shuttle bus for the 75min ride south.  In actuality, the main reason I booked us for one night at the McKinley Lodge was for its proximity to Talkeetna... so we could take the Mt. McKinley Summit Flight Tour.

Upon arrival, we dropped our bags at Mahay's then walked to the airport (it's a very small town)... but, by then, the natives were growing restless (with the five other guests already having checked-in).  But no worries - I paid the balance due, we watched a brief safety video that included how to operate the O2 system, then it was time to board our Piper Navajo for the 1-1/2 hour tour.

Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna's Airport is bigger than the town itself! Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing
Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing
Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing
Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing
Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing
Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing
Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing
Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing
Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing
Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing
Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing Talkeetna Aero Services Mt. McKinley Summit Flightseeing

Pay particular attention to photos 11, 21, 22, and 23 - they show climbers at the 14,000' (photo 11) and the 17,000' base camps.  Conditions on the mountain that day were 20-below with 50+mph wind gusts.  NO THANK YOU!

We landed and took a leisurely stroll through town - before stopping at the Roadhouse Cafe for lunch (I had a really great turkey sandwich followed-up-with a spectacular slice of fresh-baked blackberry pie).  Jordan did a bit of last-minute shopping, then it was time to walk Mahay's to retrieve our carry-on bags then go to the Train Depot for the three-hour trip south to Anchorage.

Touring Talkeetna, Alaska Touring Talkeetna, Alaska Touring Talkeetna, Alaska Touring Talkeetna, Alaska
Touring Talkeetna, Alaska Touring Talkeetna, Alaska Touring Talkeetna, Alaska Touring Talkeetna, Alaska
Touring Talkeetna, Alaska Touring Talkeetna, Alaska Touring Talkeetna, Alaska Buh-bye, Talkeetna

The train departed about 4:45pm, arriving in Anchorage at a bit after 7:30 (thank goodness, after our last train experience, that this one got about business and got us there!).  Same story as with our prior stops - we were given keys to Room 521 at the Captain Cook Hotel, a last Princess Patter, and a thank you note (as this was Princess' last interaction with us).  Both Jordan and I breathed a sigh of relief when not only our "Travel With Me" bags but also our "Meet Me In Anchorage" bags were waiting for us.  We repacked for a last time, showered and changed into our travel clothes, then went downstairs for dinner (the food was overpriced mediocrity with poor service lumped-in for good measure... along with not being overly impressed with our room we would not stay here again).  We checked-out about 11 o'clock (this was by design - our flight arrangements precluded sleeping at the hotel) then took a 15min cab ride to the Anchorage airport.  Ticketing, baggage check, and security were no big deal - and our gates (mine Delta, Jordan's US Air) were in close proximity, so the two of us just sat and chatted until it was time for me to board the aircraft at about 12:30am (and, you guessed it, there was still a good bit of light outside).

I reversed course - landing about 7:30am in Salt Lake City, then connecting an hour later to Atlanta - finally arriving home in Fort Myers about 6:30pm.  Jordan's travel was simpler but definitely longer than her flight to Vancouver: she flew to Phoenix, then after a 2-1/2 hour layover continued home to San Diego.

What more can be said?  This was a vacation for the ages - and I'm so terribly happy that I could share it with my daughter!

   
 

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