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!