Thursday, June 21, 2012

Day 6: Skagway

Today was our only non-cruise ship excursion. We booked the train and bus trip through Chilkoot Charters. We originally wanted to do the longer 7 hour tour, but were not in port long enough. Instead we did the train ride up with the van ride back. Some people added on gold panning, but it seemed to contrived for us.

We got up early and were off the ship by 7am. It was quite a long walk to the meeting point outside the security gates. There were shuttles available for passengers that couldn't make the walk. We were driven to the train depot (you can walk if you are doing it on your own) and our group was placed in the last train car. It was reserved for all those that were on a chilkoot charter tour. If you ask them which is the better side to sit on they will say that the train company doesn't want them saying. But if they were to get on the train they would sit on the left side. If you are going northbound....SIT ON THE LEFT!!! Left is the left side when facing forward. Port side if the train were a ship.

When you get on board there will be a train magazine (3 or 4 pages) on your seat. It will have a map of where you are headed and how far the notable points are from each other. As you travel the conductor or some other appointee will tell you as you approach these sites. There are also guides that walk through the train and can answer questions and sell you a cd/hat. The ride up took about 2 or 2.5 hours, not really sure. We started out in greenery and as we climbed we got to total snow. It was very foggy and it felt like we were in the clouds at parts. Along the ride they tell you historical stories about the gold rush trek. Very interesting stuff.

On the bus/van ride back we made a stop at the welcome to alaska sign and had the option of being dropped off at the ship or downtown. We opted for downtown so we could see the red onion saloon. We didn't spend much time shopping here as we were shopped out. Most ports are selling the same Alaska goodies so we had seen the stuff before. We were also cold as we didn't layer as much as we usually do.

We stopped in the saloon for a beer (sit at the bar its faster) They sell a tour of the upstairs $5 for 15 minutes (just like the old days). After a drink we headed back to the ship. At this point it was about 2pm and we had to be back on at 3:30.
Instead of an afternoon of trivia like we usually do, we put on bathing suits and headed to the hot tub in the solarium. We spent some time in there and the peaceful solarium lulled us to sleep.

We got ready for dinner a little early tonight as it was formal night and we wanted to take pictures. We spent a few minutes and peaked in on the show (piano player) tried a few songs of name that tune trivia (50s and 60s tongiht) and then waited on line for pictures and watched the if you know it dance it game show.

Dinner tonight was lobster night. Jason had soup (broccoli?), fishermans plate . Lindsay had a cesar salad and a fishermans plate. Ivoan offered us more lobster but one was enough for us. We shared the trio dessert and headed off to quest!!

I will not spoil quest for those that have not been on a royal cruise before however, i will say this....the elderly lady standing next to me decided to participate in the teeth portion of the game. Meaning, as I stood next to her, she pulled out her false teeth and put them in a strangers hand. I want to barf while writing this. More power to her.

After quest we went up to the midnight buffet to take a look at the carvings and then went to the solarium to read our books and play some skip bo. The ship was rocking a little bit tongiht and that would be the theme for the rest of the cruise (except while at the glacier).

Tip of the day: Sit on the left!!!!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Day 5: Juneau

This morning we had room service delivered because it was going to be a very long day in por.t Yet, again everything came perfect as ordered. After a quick breakfast we decided to get off the ship early to go to Mt Roberts tram and hike the trails at the top of the peak. We had done our research and were told  a lot of wildlife could be seen from this area so we were planning on spending a few hours up there. As we were about to purchasre the tickets we asked the guy at the counter how long of a trail it was and that’s when we found out we wouldn’t be going up Mt Roberts tram. Apparently the trails were still covered with snow and were not open to the public this early in the season. He told us we could still ride the tram and there was a restaurant and gift shop at the top that we could see. Well, for 30 dollars a person to ride up it didn’t seem worth it. Especially since we were going on a helicopter in a few hours. So, plans changed.

We decided to walk around town so we quickly stopped back on the ship to grab some extra layers and walked down south franklin street. We stopped in a bunch of shops and started souvenier shopping. (again get the coupon book in Vancouver!) The shops were willing to bargan with you over prices. In a matter of 10 minutes we got one shop clerk almost 50% of his original price on a necklace, he was going to throw the chain in for free. We went to a second store and saw an almost identical piece only a few karats bigger, and was able to pit them against each other to get the price down. Ultimately we opted to not get the piece of jewelry- but its good to know they will negotiate with you. We kept walking to the left and ended up at the Alaska State capitol building as well as the governors mansion. We took some photos and headed back to town.

At noon we met our excursion outside the ship. We were scheduled for the helicopter tour and glacier walk through the cruise ship. They use temsco as their tour operator. It was about a 10 minute drive from town to the office building/airport. Our driver was a college student from BYU. He made a comment that Alaska bus companies like to higher from his school as it is hard to find drivers in Alaska that will stay sober.

Once we got to the Temsco building we were shown a brief safety video and given ice boats and a safety pack. At this point they have already asked for our weight on a card. Note: the weight they used for us on the helicopter was about 20 pounds heavier than the weight we listed on our cards. You are assigned the group you will be in the helicopter with- and in our case a girl and her friend (not affiliated with the cruise ship) were placed in different helicopters. Once all the helicopters land the whole group is back together for the glacier walk.

The helicopter ride was pretty smooth. At one point he warned us it was windy going over the mountain and it would be a little bumpy. It was less bumpy than our plane rides out west. When you land on the glacier you walk out to the Alaskan flag and wait for the other helicopters to land. Once everyone is there the guides lead you to three or four different places to see unique parts of the glacier. We saw deep cravaces, a running water stream which we drank out of, and an underice/underground stream. In total it was about 20 minutes of glacier walk time and they are willing to take photos of you and your family. There were about 5 guides with our group and they were very observant to make sure no one got too close to edges/cracks.

It was then a 20 minute helicopter ride back to the airport, and you went with the same group you came in with. Groups were 5 or 6 in size.

After the excursion ended we went back into town to the Red Dog Saloon- one of Juneaus oldest establishments. It was crowded but we were able to get a table. The story is that they covered the ground with sawdust so that when the miners would pay their bills, if the gold fell out of their pockets it would be harder to see on the floor so they would get extra tips. There was an old man singing bar songs to entertain the crowd- he was hysterical. We stayed for his set and then went back to the ship to get ready for dinner.

Dinner tonight was the Alaskan themed menu. We hadn't seen this menu on other royal cruises before. We had: halibut chower, bay scallop and crab meat gratin, chicken schnitzel, alaskan catch of the day (fresh salmon) and we tried the venison. For dessert: stone fruit something and some kind of pie. (sorry dont remember)

We skipped the production show this everning (it was before dinner) it was some piano playing singer- we caught one or two songs while we were at the champagne gallery event (free drinks). After dinner was the love and marriage game show. It amazes me people still don't know what they are in for when they sign up for this. They did it a little different than we have seen in the past- they aked people to come up and get a raffle ticket if they wanted to be in the show. The groups ranged from 0-5 years of marriage, 5-25 and more than 25 years. Only 3 couples volunteered for the 0-5 years of marrige group. We like it better when its the newest and longest marriage and someone in the middle.

We left the show early and walked around the ship for a bit before heading to bed early. We had an early day in skagway up next.