Monday, July 25, 2016

Sail Away with Us to Alaska... But first, Vancouver!

Gosh... Where to begin! In just two days we will have been back from our
Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska two months and I am still thinking about
the incredible people we met and the amazing things we did and got to see!
Of course, this is not what a nervous flier like me wanted to see as we
boarded the plane from Dallas to Vancouver! Fortunately, it was just a
minor fix to a jammed toilet paper roll (yes, I asked!) but still; for months
leading up to our trip I worried about flying. I just cannot help it. I know
we cannot quit living our lives and thereby allow the terrorists to win. But
I also don't believe we should throw ourselves in their path either. So... To
make sure everyone I love would know how just how deeply I love them,
and to ensure my parents and our sons would be able to access all of our
bank accounts, investments and have the combination to my safe, I wrote
everything down. I even wrote checks out to my mom so that she would
be able to clean out our bank accounts and avoid any delays in getting to
everything I have. Then, I gave everything to my boss for safe keeping!
I even had my letter to my mom and dad and our boys notarized to make
sure there could be no misunderstandings about what I wanted them to
have. I may have even willed my Le Creuset collection to my favorite
reader-turned dear friend that I cannot live without! Speaking of which, I
just found that she became a grandmother ten days ago. How sweet is that?
God is Good! Good for delivering babies safely into the arms of healthy
mommies and for delivering us safely to Vancouver and home! Now, before
I tell you all about Vancouver, let me say a few things that I know will help
you or others that stumble onto this post via a search engine because you
or they are looking for information about the best itinerary or cruise line to
choose for your/their own Alaskan cruise vacation. Because frankly, I did the
same thing and there truly is not a lot of good information out there. Especially
where shore excursions are concerned... It's almost like it's a secret! So, I did
the work to build what I believe was the best possible experience for us and I am
happy to share it. First, I would say not to believe anything you have heard or
have been told about Royal Caribbean being any better than Carnival Cruise line!
We have cruised with Carnival twice and both times I was asked by
my best friend, "Why would you do that to yourself when Royal is soooo
much better?" So, when it came time to plan our 30th wedding anniversary
cruise trip to Alaska, I ignored Carnival and booked with Royal Caribbean;
eagerly anticipating the upgrades we were told to expect with regard to the
ship, stateroom amenities, linens, food, entertainment and the service!
And you know what? There was not one of those things that was any
better! We waited an hour and a half for breakfast on the first (and last)
day we tried restaurant dining for breakfast. Fortunately, we were seated
with a woman who told us she is a Diamond Plus member and she was
not having it! First, she took our waiter down, then she started in on the
dining room manager, telling him she had seven cabins booked on that
cruise and brought nine of her family members and friends... And, just
like that, we had our breakfast and she had her third bloody Mary!
In terms of our stateroom, the bed was no better than those we slept in
on Carnival. However, as you can see, RCCL towels were worse. These
towels stopped being absorbent a few cruises ago and were raggedy...
There were also housekeeping issues with hair found in the bathroom that
belonged to previous guests - And, maintenance issues, such as broken lights...
Gross and unsightly shower fixtures too!
Even cancelled shore excursions... With formal notice of such arriving to us
after the fact! Also, the fact that we were without a toilet in our cabin for 15
hours following a vacuum system failure kinda stunk. And, despite being
told that our ship, Radiance of the Seas had just come out of dry dock
for repairs and upgrades, we were constantly tripping over maintenance
workers who were crawling around on the floors to repair tile and carpet
issues. We even saw broken panes of glass, buttons missing from elevator
panels and had to be careful not to brush up against doors that were still
wet after being painted! Of course, there was not much we could do about
any of this... But it did factor into our decision to skip a lot of the extra
purchasing we usually do onboard - Such as spa treatments and specialty
dining. Given what we experienced with things included with our cruise,
there was no guarantee that paid experiences would be any better, so why
bother? Also, since the ATM's on the floor of the casino were out of
order on the last night of our cruise, we saved money there too!
All this being said and shared... In the end, we did the only smart thing
you do in situations like this - We remembered that we were finally taking
the trip we had waited our entire married life to take and refused to allow
any of these relatively minor frustrations get in the way of enjoying it!
Our itinerary was the 7-night, Northbound Alaska and Hubbard
Glacier cruise. At the time of booking (June 2015) RCCL offered a
buy-one-get-one-50%-off special, so for the two of us in an ocean
view stateroom, the cost was $1,965.00. The excursions we chose
one for each of the five ports of call cost an additional $2,225.00
Hotels in Charlotte the night before our 6AM flight and in Vancouver the day
before we sailed were also extra. I also purchased an Internet and 1 beverage (soda
and juice only) package for our cruise; but honestly, RCCL's WiFi, (called VOOM)
was nearly non-existent during the whole cruise and since I am a Pepsi-girl but
only coke products are served aboard RCCL, I really should have skipped it!
The good news is that it only took one call to RCCL upon our return to have
the $117 WiFi charge refunded because they immediately admitted there
was an issue with it during our cruise. The other good news is that I hit a
home-run with regard to the hotel I chose for our overnight in Vancouver!
I'm sorry, did I say home-run? I meant GRAND-SLAM! Because after a full day at
work on Wednesday, a long drive to Charlotte, no sleep at the crappy Clarion by the
airport, a 2:30AM wake up call and our 8-hour flight adventure to Vancouver... The
Pan Pacific at Canada Place and especially this bed was a much-welcomed sight!
When we initially decided to fly in the day before our cruise to see a bit
of Vancouver, the two things high on my list of must-haves were, a great
bed and close proximity to the cruise port since we would have a fair
amount of luggage with us... And, the Pan Pacific delivered on both in
a very big way! Not only were these sheets and pillow cases the same
ones we have at home, the mattress was heaven! I mean, I don't quite
remember being cradled in my mother's arms as a baby but I am sure it
felt like that to sleep in this bed! Before I go into any more detail, let me
tell you that the fastest, easiest and least expensive way to get from the
airport to downtown Vancouver is by train using the Canada Line. For
less than $10 per person, it took us less than 30 minutes to get from the
airport to Canada Place/Pan Pacific where you catch cruise ships! Now,
you will have to consider the effort of transporting your own luggage and
it is about a block between where you leave the train and Canada Place...
However, we found it was a very easy walk and it sure beat the 2 hours we
were told it could take us to get from the airport to the hotel via taxi due to
the Los Angeles-style traffic in Vancouver. Yes, Two for the train, please!
The room I chose was the Pan Pacific Deluxe Harbor-view room and as
you can see, it did not disappoint! And, neither did the hotel staff, because
upon checking in, we were immediately offered a complimentary upgrade
to a suite. However, since the suite was not ready, like we were ready to
drop our bags, shower and get on with seeing Vancouver, we declined
their generous offer to upgrade us and stuck with our original room!
As soon as we got out of the shower, we ran across the street to the food
court, which we learned is also attached to the hotel via underground tunnel!
In my research for our stop to Vancouver, I spoke with my Canadian friend
who manages the Hanes Canada team at work and she told me not to miss
two things, Stanley Park and Capilano Suspension Bridge. Sadly,
we had less than 18-hours in Vancouver, so a choice had to be made...
And, we chose the Bridge! Buying tickets and getting there could not have
been easier. Tickets for this very popular attraction are sold at the hotel at
the same cost they charge at the park - Plus, the free shuttle stops right in
front of Canada Place and the Pan Pacific so it worked out beautifully!
By the way... Cliffwalk is included in the price of
admission to the suspension bridge. And, it was our first stop!
I won't lie... It is a little spooky hanging up there!
However, there was this to reassure me that we were okay!
The cliff view is incredible!
And, fortunately, it was not cracking on the day of our visit!
Although, I have to tell you... It was only 43 degrees; so if you go,
do not forget to bring a jacket! It was quite the adjustment from
home in North Carolina and our 80+ degree late-May days!
Nevertheless, being up here in the trees reminded me just how much I
the Pacific (everything) Northwest! One of the things we tossed around was the
idea of driving down to Seattle. We have never been but have always wanted to
to visit Seattle. From Vancouver it is less than a three hour drive, so we were in!
However, after hearing from the hotel concierge that it could take three hours or
more to get through the boarder and back into Canada, we scrapped the idea
entirely. After all, the last thing we needed to do was to come this far and
miss the boat! After all, if you're late, cruise ships will not wait for you!
After shuffling gently around this cliff, we hiked up and around and
through the informative nature trail where we saw huge trees...
Beautiful plants and shrubs and... Where we even learned a thing or two!
Things that happen in nature whether we are paying attention to them or not!
My friend at work was right, this was a must-see!
At the end of the nature trail we hopped back over to cross the bridge!
If you follow me on Facebook, you may have seen the video I posted as we
walked across and already know... There was a lot of swaying going on!
Once we crossed, we landed in what is called the Rainforest Canopy!
Where you can spend hours getting your Tarzan on!
In fact, there is my Tarzan now!
He loved it and so did I. In fact, this was our favorite part of the park...
These trees are truly alive with all kinds of critters!
Of course, these squirrels we saw were my favorite!

They have a lot more color and are much smaller than the squirrels
at home that scratch on my kitchen window, begging for crackers!
Sadly, we did not see a lot of birds and we did
not see any owls, but we know they inhabit these trees!
Honestly, these trees are a treasure!
Every single one of them!
You could easily spend all day exploring at Capilano Suspension
Bridge Park. There are snack bars, a restaurant and a gift shop too!
But for us, two hours was about our limit...
Mostly because of the long trip we had just to get to Vancouver...
And, to be completely honest with you...
That big, comfortable bed at the Pan Pacific was calling our names!
So we hopped back on the shuttle and asked the driver to step on it!
When we got back to the hotel, I asked about what time the
cruise ships begin arriving and was told I could expect to see our
ship from our window around 6:30AM. And, just like clockwork...
Exactly at 6:30, the Radiance of the Seas began to pull into view!
Although rain was predicted for nearly every day of our trip...
We had the most incredible weather you can imagine!
By the way - If you are looking for a hotel to stay in prior to your
cruise out of Vancouver and want to be close to the cruise ship port...
The Pan Pacific is the place to be since you could literally roll out of bed and
onto your ship. But don't worry, there are elevators to get you there too!
So that's all for now. Join me back here tomorrow evening...
When we sail out of Vancouver for Alaska!

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