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Old 06-12-2013, 10:37 PM   #1
OrcaPotter
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A Floridian in Alaska--June 3rd-10th, 2013 (COMPLETE)

Greetings from the sweltering south! This is the tale of my first voyage to America's Last Frontier aboard the Disney Wonder. Coming from flat land and palm trees to the towering Lord-of-the-Rings vistas in the Pacific Northwest was truly the adventure of a lifetime. It is my hope that my report will help you make the most of this truly once-in-a-lifetime trip.


The trip to Vancouver was not unlike the trip to Mordor, actually.

When I booked this cruise last fall, I was at the start of my first year as a middle school teacher. Unless you're an educator yourself, no one can really understand the sheer amount of stress, work, and tears that goes into this profession. Without going into a soapbox rant about the perception of teachers and the reality of the job, I'll just say that I needed to give myself a light at the end of the tunnel to help me survive this first traumatic year. Without much hesitation, I contacted Dreams Unlimited and booked the Disney Wonder to Alaska on the June 3-10, 2013 sailing.


Oh yes. There were plenty of those. A good reason to wear lots of layers in Alaska--to hide all the teacher stress around my middle.

My family sails in nothing less than verandah level rooms, so I booked my parents and I in a 5B midship. Stateroom 6078.

Yup, I treated my parents to this trip. It was just me and them on our first really big family vacation. Ever. Prior to this, our only major vacations were cruises to the Caribbean. This would be our 3rd Disney cruise and 5th cruise overall. We were on the Dream in January 2012, then on a whim, booked a FL resident deal back on the Dream last January (2013). We have always wanted to go on an Alaskan cruise, but budget has always been an issue. With my new job and very few bills, I had the fortunate opportunity at this time to afford it all. My parents are getting much older and I'm afraid that this would be the last time they could handle such a big trip. It was now or never; the cost was never too much of an issue for me. However, I did my best to stick to a budget. It can be done, people!

So if you're looking for details about traveling with kids, sorry. I'm the "kid" in the equation and I declared myself as the head of the household on all the customs forms! I will say this: I would not do this trip with young kids. Going through customs and immigration for Canada and the U.S., while not necessarily stressful for an adult-only party, would be terrible if you're juggling babies/toddlers/young kids and all of the gear such creatures require. I saw a lot of families with babies and toddlers on this trip and they were constantly all over the place. Everything about Alaska is the scenery and the experiences; I would not waste the time and effort with such young children when they won't remember it at all but rather cause you all sorts of exhaustion, headache, and distraction. HOWEVER, if you don't have too much of a choice (such as a wide age range of progeny), Disney would be the only way to do it. I'll go into more detail later, but this sailing was packed with huge family reunions and parties. A humongous Asian family was seated near us at dinner and they took up two 12-top tables, one of which seated nothing but children!


Herding cats would be easier than traveling with small kids.

Here is the lo-down on this adventure:

The travelers: Myself (30) and my parents (older-than-30)

Itinerary: Leave Orlando on Saturday, June 1st and arrive in Vancouver around 4:30 PM PST. Spend full day in Vancouver on Sunday, June 2nd. Board the Wonder on June 3rd. Disembark June 10th. Spend an extra night at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel and leave for Orlando on June 11th.

Cruise itinerary:
Monday--Embark
Tuesday--Day at sea and not winning at trivia but winning a raffle
Wednesday--Tracy Arm and staying outside despite the freezing rain
Thursday--Skagway and the Rail & Bus Excursion with Chillkoot Charters & Tours
Friday--Juneau and the 2.5 hour Private Whale Watching Charter with Rum Runner Charters
Saturday--Ketchikan and the free excursion of walking in the freezing rain while shopping and not eating crab
Sunday--Day at sea and not winning at trivia again
Monday--Disembark, otherwise known as the Most Depressing Day Ever

I promise you, there will be ...
BEARS (spoken in a South African accent)
WHALES
EEEEAGLES
MOUNTAINS
MORE MOUNTAINS
MOUNTAINS ON MOUNTAINS
SNOW
COLD
WET
ABNORMAL SUN
PEOPLE SO EXCITED(?) THEY'RE SICK DURING AN ENTIRE 8 HOUR EXCURSION
DOG SLEDDING!
DOGS WHO CHASE BEARS!
PUPPIES!
... and all sorts of incredible stuff! And I promise you, this will all be coming at ya not only in text form, but with actual photographs!

Links to report entries!
Day 0 - How NOT To Start Your Vacation
Day 1 - Adventures in Vancouver, Part 2
Day 2 - Boarding the Wonder to Alaska!, Part 2, Part 3
Day 3 - Day at Sea (with bonus what to pack list)
Day 4 - Tracy Arm, Part 2, Part 3
Day 5 - Skagway, Part 2, Part 3
Day 6 - Juneau, Part 2
Days 7-10 - Catching Up

Last edited by OrcaPotter; 01-03-2014 at 12:06 AM.
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Old 06-12-2013, 10:46 PM   #2
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Teacher here too- I'm in! Can't wait to read more!
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Old 06-13-2013, 06:57 AM   #3
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Looking forward to hearing more, loving the witty gifs
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Old 06-13-2013, 10:37 AM   #4
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I can't wait to read your report and see some pics

We are on the 7/1 sailing in a few weeks. Quick question...we are doing the same tour in Skagway with Chilkoot Tours. Can you tell me...were you back by 3pm? I'm thinking of surprising my family with a helicopter tour and wanted to make sure they were sticking somewhat close to the arrival back to Skagway.

Thank you.
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Old 06-13-2013, 11:53 AM   #5
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I'm here!! I can't wait to hear all about it!
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Old 06-13-2013, 01:10 PM   #6
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I'm interested... thanks for sharing!
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Old 06-13-2013, 01:29 PM   #7
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Quote:
Without going into a soapbox rant about the perception of teachers and the reality of the job, I'll just say that I needed to give myself a light at the end of the tunnel to help me survive
I'm a teacher as well and I totally understand this. Our Fantasy Cruise this summer has been my light at the end of the tunnel as well. Two more days until we leave! :-)
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Old 06-13-2013, 02:05 PM   #8
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Already loved the beginning of your report, so am very much looking forward to actually read about your travels!!
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Old 06-13-2013, 03:36 PM   #9
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I'm in! As the child of 2 teachers, I understand.

Jill in CO
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Old 06-13-2013, 04:30 PM   #10
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Loving the gifs too - especially the desserts one!

My DM is a teacher, so I also understand the delight at the end of the summer term.

I'm looking forward to your TR - but especially the Chilkoot and Rum Runner reviews as we're doing excursions with them too.
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Old 06-13-2013, 04:35 PM   #11
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So following along, we will be an adult only group as well, so I won't miss the kid stuff. Looking forward to more, and more and then more. Thanks for sharing your trip with us.
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Old 06-13-2013, 05:25 PM   #12
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Woohoo you started!! No pressure to get as much in 24 hours before I leave for our trip!! Just kidding of course but I'm really excited to read more!

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Old 06-13-2013, 11:38 PM   #13
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DAY 0--How NOT To Start Your Vacation

Thanks for subbing! A warning ahead of time: I get into a lot of detail. But then, prior to this trip, I was craving for detail and many of the few Alaskan TR's were not too detailed. So here ya go!

Before we begin, some mug shots:


2013 June Alaska Cruise-Kim (323) by orcapotter, on Flickr
The parental units


2013 June Alaska Cruise-Kim (324) by orcapotter, on Flickr
Yours truly

Of course, those smiles were after we had finally boarded the ship. Our experiences leading up to that moment, however, were something else entirely.

June 1, 2013: Traveling
I won't bore you too much with this, other than in saying that when you have a flight that leaves at 8 AM and you need to be at the airport no later than 6 AM, you need to make sure you've taken every precaution to ensure you are up on time. Don't forget Murphy's Law: Be waiting for Murphy with a sandwich and a glass of iced tea. We, on the other hand, didn't think about what could possibly go wrong! Both my mother and I had set our cellphone alarms for 4:45 AM. Naturally, excitement and whatnot had everyone up on the hour every hour. So, you would think that we would have caught any potential problems before they started.

Do you sense the foreshadowing?

Well, all of the sudden, the doorbell goes off and the dogs go wild. That could only mean my brother had already arrived to pick us up. I reached for my iPhone, only to discover the thing was completely shut off and not turning on. Clearly, it crashed and shut down--I couldn't get it back on. It had never done that before, so of course, it chose the one essential morning I needed it to function to crash. My mother's phone, also, for some reason the alarm did not go off at all. It was on and the alarm was set for the right time, but according to her, it did not go off.

Commence a Home Alone panic sequence:
We had less than 30 minutes to get dressed and loaded up. But wait! My father, who ironically had been talking about packing and lecturing about packing for the past 3 weeks, procrastinated on prepping all of his medication. So of course, he was out of an essential medication that he only just discovered about the night before. Fortunately, we have a 24 hour CVS next door to our neighborhood. Which resulted in us having to stop on the way to the airport to pick up those meds --- THEN, my brother discovers he needs gas for the car!

We managed to get to the airport by 6:30, and waited at least 10 minutes to check our bags. Then it was on ... to ... security. Let's just say, at 6:45 in the morning, I have never seen the Orlando security checkpoint as mobbed and backed up as it was. Naturally! It was agonizing watching my watch tick the minutes closer to boarding time, then past boarding time, as we were stuck in the security mire. At 7:30, they flag my mother's carry on bag, and we had to stand to the side and NOT TOUCH ANYTHING while the security woman took her sweet time discovering my father's full-sized shaving cream can.

Needless to say, we were literally the last 3 people on the plane. To add insult to injury, all the overhead space was full, so all of our carry ons that could not fit under the seats had to be checked. There went my father's insulin (without us really realizing it in our panic), my mother's Nook, etc. It felt like it wasn't until we were halfway to San Francisco that we could calm down.

I got to see the Grand Canyon from up in the air, though! That was a first.

We had a 2 hour layover in San Fran, then boarded a puddle jumper for a 2.5 flight to Vancouver. We somehow got stuck with the very last seats in that tiny thing. But in a short time, we were finally touching down to see the tallest mountains I had ever seen up until that point!

Now, my camera was tucked in my carryon, so unfortunately, no photos until we got to our hotel. But just to let you know, we arrived around 4:30 PM PST. The customs/immigration area had to be the size of a football field. And it was empty. We walked right up to the TSA person, wearing huge grins because we're finally there and ready for our cruise to Alaska, and not unlike U.S. TSA, the girl (who looked like she could bench press a walrus) just stamped our passports and waved us on.

Vancouver Airport Tips:
- The trek from the gate to customs took at least 5-7 minutes on an overhead hamster trail above the terminal. If you are in desperate need of a bathroom, you won't find one until you get down the escalator to customs.

- Have your camera out as you walk along. It's a very pretty airport with a lot of native art displays and nature replicas. I regret not being in the right mind to do this.

- The customs area looks like it could hold hundreds of people on line. We had 0 wait, but just be aware of the possibility that if there are a lot of flights in at the same time, you could be in a long line. Bring snacks.

- The porters do not work just for tips. They had a rate of so much money per bag with a minimum bag number. If you bring a lot of luggage, like we did, it's an option. It was another 4 or so minutes to get out to the taxi area.

- Most of the taxis in Vancouver are Toyota Priuses. If you have more than 2 large suitcases, they won't fit and you'll need to wait for a van. This was the shortest wait for a van we had the entire trip. The ride to downtown took about 20-30 minutes and cost around $40.


2013 June Alaska Cruise-Kim (5) by orcapotter, on Flickr
The view from our room of downtown Vancouver

We stayed at The Sutton Place Hotel. Now, our pre-cruise hotel was a subject of a lot of scrutiny on my part. Ideally, I wanted to stay at the Pan Pacific--which is directly connected to the cruise terminal. However, a month prior to the trip, rates were still well above $350/night for the Pan and I just couldn't swallow another grand just for 2 nights in a hotel room, no matter how nice or convenient it was. The Sutton was listed on most sites as a 5 star and was located about 4 blocks away at the heart of downtown from Canada Place (the cruise terminal). I paid, after taxes, about $240 a night. Finding anything close to the terminal for under $200 was very difficult, and since this was a huge special vacation, I wanted to stay someplace very nice. The Sutton had a lot of good reviews.

It's a smallish hotel and very, very posh looking once you're in the lobby. Like, I felt grubby when I was walking around there. But they were friendly and the concierge staff was what made this hotel so wonderful. Because I booked through Kayak, naturally I got a bargain room. We ended up in an oddly laid out king room with a rollaway bed squeezed in:


2013 June Alaska Cruise-Kim (2) by orcapotter, on Flickr
You walked in to face a sitting area, which is where I was seated and looking to my right to face the rest of the room. The bathroom was around that corner and nicely sized.


2013 June Alaska Cruise-Kim (3) by orcapotter, on Flickr
Looking left toward the door.

We were strangely alert for having been awake for over 12 hours, so we refrained from getting too comfortable and decided to go look for dinner. At first, we were ready to eat in the hotel. However, the prices were crazy, and we were not dressed to fit the atmosphere. Cue the awesome concierge staff! The lady not only grabbed a free package of shaving cream to replace the can TSA confiscated from Dad, but recommended a restaurant directly across the street for dinner.

It was Joey Berrard--which is kinda like a chic Ruby Tuesday's and it would appear to be a chain, as when we walked down Berrard toward the water (later), there was another Joey's a few blocks down. We had no wait to be seated, and I was fascinated by their life-sized horse lamp:


2013 June Alaska Cruise-Kim (4) by orcapotter, on Flickr
"I have brilliant ideas, but no one pays attention."

One thing from me: Unless my plate of food is utterly fascinating or special in some way, I don't take food pictures. You'll have to take my word for it on what I ate and what it looked like.

My mother had a steak, which she thought was fantastic, along with mashed potatoes which were wrapped in an egg roll. It was really interesting but tasted great. I had fish tacos; I had to be careful with what I ate because I have a very sensitive stomach and when I went to Disneyland in 2011 and had their more traditional Mexican food the night I arrived--the results weren't pretty right after. Dad had salmon and thought it was great, too.

I highly recommend the place! Just make sure you're in your right mind when you go to pour salt in your hand ... when in reality it's soy sauce and you just sit there looking at the dark viscous liquid running down your arm as if you just had a sci-fi movie experience. (::cough cough:: MOM)

We went right back across the street intending to go straight to the hotel because we were beyond exhausted. However, we wandered up the cross street for a few stores before spotting a Canada souvenir shop. We spent a good while in there checking out all the mostly-made-in-China goodies and spent a goodly amount on t-shirts, keychains, etc. Then finally we made our way back to the hotel, but not before I spotted the Japadog stand right there on the corner to the left of the hotel. (Unfortunately, despite all my intentions of trying out their cuisine, I never did )

Tomorrow: DAY 1: ADVENTURES IN VANCOUVER!
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Old 06-14-2013, 08:33 AM   #14
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oooh, looking forward to reading more of this! You did my magnet DIS-igns for my upcoming cruise, so I already feel like we "know" each other! Enjoying getting to read all about your cruise experience! We are doing Bahamas this time, but I think I want to try Alaska in 2015! Keep the details coming!
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Old 06-14-2013, 08:58 AM   #15
Chilly
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All holidays seem to start out with some sort of panic, I think it helps you appreciate the holiday part afterwards even more!
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