Cruising Alaska - 2019
Updated: Aug 27, 2019
Cruising Alaska May 2019
We have avoided “cruises” for all these years mainly because they are counter to the type of traveling we do. We could not imagine being on a boat with 2,000-5,000 other passengers, being herded to destinations with significantly smaller permanent residents than most of the ships, and in most cases docking in these small towns with multiple Mega ships dropping off thousands of passengers. We ran across a similar situation several years ago while traveling in the VI. We took a day trip to St Thomas and encountered three massive cruise ships docked there and thousands of their passengers completely overwhelming the tiny town.
Alaska has always been on our list of must do travel destinations, but we just haven’t taken the time to put a non-cruise itinerary together to see this beautiful part of our country, not an easy task since most towns are only accessible by boat or plane. I had been looking at Nat Geo excursions for travel ideas and took a close look at their small ship cruise offerings including Alaska, then received an email from one of the travel sites promoting Windstar cruises in Alaska, a good friend had spoken highly of her Mediterranean cruise aboard one of their ships, so we looked further into what they offered. The Windstar Legend is a smaller ship holding approx. 200 passengers with a James Beard food service partnership and access to areas where the larger boats simply cannot maneuver. The experience was highly spoken of by previous travelers, so we decided to pull the trigger. Nervously we had booked our very first cruise.
I’ll share more later in this post about the ship, amenities and services but first here’s what our journey was like.
Day 1 May 21
Travel day today, departing Santa Barbara flying to Seattle then on to Anchorage. About 5.5 hours of uneventful flight time we arrived in Anchorage at about 9:30 pm. Anchorage is one hour behind pacific time, so we gained an hour of time in our life. This time of year, the sun is out most of the day in Anchorage with sunset at 10:57 pm and sunrise at 4:50 am. We took a quick Uber to our hotel, slumming a bit we stayed at the Comfort Inn ship creek mainly due to its close proximity to the Alaska Railroad station where we have a very early departure in the morning and a very brief night’s stay. The hotel wasn’t bad, and location was perfect.
After settling in, we walked up to the F street station on a recommend from our Uber driver for a quick bite. Our driver said it’s a place where locals go, and we needed to try the basket of fried Halibut. It was definitely a local’s place, packed and loud with food and drink being consumed in large quantities. Inside there is a bar on one side of the moderate space and an open kitchen bar on the other end. We sat at the kitchen bar/counter and watched the cook at work preparing hearty Alaskan dishes in large portions. The special of the day was a double pork chop with mashed potatoes and corn. We watched the cooks fry up the chops on the open grill and pour frozen corn right from the food service sized bag into the boiling water to cook. This dish seemed to be a favorite of the patrons as we saw many orders going out. A younger, rugged appearing gal plopped into the seat next to us, ordered the special and consumed the entire plate in minutes utilizing her own hunting knife she brought along to cut bite sized portions of the meat. We ordered the halibut and chips basket, Texas size instead of Alaska size as the latter was a huge portion. I think there is a statement here that the restaurant was making the Alaska is much greater than even Texas! The fish was very fresh and the fries fresh cut, quality was unexpected from this place.
After a few drinks and our Halibut & Shrimp basket, we walked back down to the hotel. Mind you that its now 12:30am and there is still enough light that we could easily navigate the long set of outdoor stairs down to ship creek where the hotel was located.
Day 2 May 22
Up at 5:00am this morning for our train trip to Seward where we were to board the ship for our 12 day cruise. Left the hotel at 5:45 for a dreary eyed short 5-minute walk to the station. Brisk and a bit overcast outside this morning the walk was a refreshing wake up. All checked in we awaited boarding
We boarded the Alaska Railroad for a 4-hour trip from Anchorage to Seward. We booked the Gold class ticket since these rail cars are domed with glass overhead down to the sides allowing for unobstructed views. There is also a small open aired deck out the back where you could hang out and take photos along the journey and most importantly our own bar and bartender for the entire trip. There is also a private dining area below where we were served a complimentary breakfast.
Beautiful scenery along the way from open flat tidal marsh and small towns to mountain peaks, glaciers and alpine lakes. As we passed through one small town, we saw one of the only small airstrips that ran adjacent to the track and right in the backyard of homes on the other side. The airstrip was grass not asphalt with many of the homes having their planes parked in their backyard ready to transport the homeowner. This takes waterfront or golf course homes to another level. Apparently, Alaska is home to the most licensed pilots which makes sense as most areas are only accessible by air or by sea. We saw Eagles, a black bear on a distant hillside and a moose running along the gravel bar of a river running through marshlands. This route followed the main road through most of the journey but eventually cut over the pass-through spectacular mountains, glaciers and lakes that would have been unseen if traveling the route by car. As we approached Seward, we once again rejoined the adjacent road into town and the station.
Once in Seward we dropped our bags with Windstar and took the shuttle to the small downtown to explore as boarding wouldn’t be available until after 1:00pm. Our smaller ship was the only one in port today which left the town very uncrowded. The town is very small and quaint. we walked around and had lunch at Seward brewing company. Not a lot to see here in town so we headed to board the ship around 3pm.
Our room was very nice and larger than expected although still a smaller cruise ship room.
Day 23 May 23
Rough seas overnight as we cruised west through open ocean north to the Kenai Fjords. Our first destination not visited by most other cruise lines we were all alone. We anchored right in front of a spectacular tide water glacier flowing from the massive Harding ice field early this morning with mesmerizing vistas in every direction from the ship. For our maiden excursion, an early morning zodiac ride is on tap, out to the face of the glacier. We dawned our rain pants and life vest provided by the ship, boarded our trusty boat and headed into the drizzly cool waters toward the spectacular scenery with our guide Alberto. As we approached the face of the glacier, we watched several “calving’s” of the ice and snow as they broke away from the glaciers face with loud cracking and a thunderous boom, ending with a huge splash as they met the sea waters below. We saw several sea otters and sea lions around the floating ice, mountain goats on the cliffs above, blue ice in the glacier and the floating chunks of ice. A wet zodiac ride in the light rain with a bulky, uncomfortable but necessary life jacket couldn’t overshadow the experience.
Back on the ship we soon disembarked on to our next destination
Day 4 May 24
At sea all day today, very rough, side to side motion from the large 10-12 ft swells. I got a little motion sick last night after going to the upper deck and seeing the horizon pitching side to side against the flat horizon of the sea. Kept my head low, in our room for most of the day today, fortunately no hurling just a little vertigo. Ended up being a great day overall to catch up on sleep. Poor Mary had to entertain herself, but I think she did ok exploring the ship and meeting some of the other interesting passengers.
Day 5 May 25
We arrived in Sitka this morning to sunny clear skies in the mid sixty’s, docking alongside a single smaller ship from National Geographic (about 50 passengers). Sitka was once the hub of the west coast. When San Francisco had fewer than 10 residents, Sitka was home to 800 Russians, Europeans, Tlingit’s, and Aleut’s.
Very happy to see land today, I was ready to get out and move following a full 24+ hrs. of pitch and yaw motion aboard the boat. Sitka is a very small town of approximately 9,000 full time resident and the location where the Alaska purchase was signed with Russia. For a mere $7.2 million, the US purchased the land from Russia who needed money to fund their Crimean war efforts against Britain, France and Turkey. Russia also feared that the Alaskan territory might easily be seized by the UK in case of war due to their proximity in Canada. Many US Citizens thought we were crazy to buy it because Russia had depleted almost to extinction what was thought to be the main resource at the time, Otters. Little did they know that shorty after the purchase gold would become the new economic driver of the state.
Once on land we walked along a beach front pathway that led us to the Sitka National Historical park where we hiked along the shore of the ocean and Indian river while viewing the totems that were placed there for preservation. We Visited the Sitka Historical Society museum to learn about the Alaska purchase and the native life here. Next, we stopped into historic St. Michael’s Cathedral the first Russian orthodox church in North America, which is the centerpiece of the town, since mom spent some time here a few years ago she had asked one of the parishioners to meet us there and show us around. Marina showed us around the small church and explained a few of the icons including the work that Father Sturgious and Gary did to hang the numerous icons in the building like museum pieces. We strolled down toward the fishing harbor passing the few shops in the town until we found our destination for lunch. Beak is a small restaurant/café in an old home with a small outdoor patio which was perfect for today’s weather. After lunch we spent a little more time walking the town and viewing the pretty bay and small boats entering and exiting the harbor
Back on the we departed around 6pm for our next destination, Inian Island and Icy Straight Point/Hoona
Day 6 May 26, 2019
Anchored as the solo ship this morning in an inlet near Inian Island. Fog rolling in and out today one-minute low visibility the next clear blue skies. We were wait listed for an island Zodiac tour, but it ended up being cancelled due to low visibility.
The ship departed around noon for scenic touring through the fjords and straights where we had many humpback siting’s along with sea lions and eagles.
Docked this afternoon along with the Queen Elizabeth (about 2,00 passenger’s) at Icy Straight Point/Hoonah to a beautiful sunny day. Icy Straight Point is a Cruise ship destination developed by the Huna towns people in order to generate revenue for the small population. The activity center provides numerous tours, hikes and the world’s largest ziprider. There are two large restaurants and numerous gift shops housed in an old cannery building re-purposed for tourism. Fortunately the QE II was boarding about an hour after our arrival so we didn’t feel the impact of their masses.
We walked through the facilities killing time before our bear search excursion later in the afternoon. We took the local shuttle over to the small village where the locals lived, not much to see here other than the weathered homes and small fishing harbor. Nearing time for our bear search excursion, we headed back the shuttle stop and waited with a few others from the QE II. We started to get a bit nervous as the shuttle hasn’t arrived yet after a long wait, we were approaching the departure time for our excursion and the QE II passengers were fast approaching their on-board time. One of the QE II passengers walked over to a small store to inquire about the shuttle and a friendly local volunteered to take them back to the dock area. We asked if we too could hitch a ride and jumped in the back of her pickup truck along with a few others that were waiting for the shuttle too. Once back at the main area we moved quickly to the activity center where the tours departed from. Our tour had already loaded the bus but had not left yet so we were able to get on. Very grateful to the friendly native who without hesitation allowed us to load up in her truck to get us all where we needed to go.
On the bus for the bear search tour we headed into the forest along logging roads toward our short hike along the Spasski River and Valley. Nearing the trail-head, we spotted a majestic large brown bear on the road in front of the bus. The large bear meandered slowly up the road, seemingly in no hurry to get to any specific destination, blocking our path causing us to move forward trailing him at his pace. Seeming annoyed with our presence, he kept looking back at us as in disgust that we were in his territory. Along his journey he dropped a large pile of bear scat almost as a message to us and scientific evidence that bears do Shit in the woods. There were 2 native safety scouts walking near and alongside the bear and our bus equipped with long wooden sticks and high-powered rifles should the bear get aggressive. They seemed to have a connection with the bear gently coaxing it to move forward. On a few occasions he meandered to the shoulder and grazed in the deep green growth along the road looking for a snack of his favorite Skunk Cabbage. Soon he disappeared into the forest, still tracked closely by one of the natives to ensure he didn’t back track in our direction. We off loaded from the bus and headed out on the boardwalk path into the forest through the muddy bog and into mature trees and the Spasski river. Arriving at the riverbank there were two decks built for observation where we were afforded a clear view of the river and meadows beyond. Looked like prime bear territory but no one in site today. Perhaps the absence of salmon this early in the year was an excuse for the bears to continue hibernation or to stay in the hills above to feast on the spring growth. After our short hike we re-boarded the bus and headed back to port and boarded our ship.
Soon after boarding we left Icy Straight Point for our next destination of Haines
Day 7 May 27, 2019
Smooth sailing overnight we anchored as the solo ship early this morning just off the town of Haines. We are getting spoiled by quiet ports and Solo destinations; this is not how we expected cruising to be. in unexpected sunny weather nearing a warm 70 degrees today, we boarded the ships tender from the sports deck for q quick ride to shore. Dubbed “The adventure capital of Alaska” due to it’s access to year around adventure and the gateway to the Yukon. A casual and quirky town filled with history, nature and native culture. Fort William H. Seward, a US army fort built in 1902 still stands proudly at watch just above the port.
We were the only ship in Haines today which makes for a more realistic experience of the towns everyday charm considering we are only about 200 on-board. Haines is one of the only towns in the area that is accessible by road, most are only accessible by air or sea. The road leading out of town connects to civilization near the Canadian BC border.
Our excursion this morning is a raft float down the Chilkat river and the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve where in season is host to the words largest gathering of Bald Eagles (3,000+ from Oct-Feb). On the shuttle ride to our departure point we saw a small brown bear cub running in the brush alongside of the road. Once in the raft we floated down river steered by our skilled guide who maneuvered the inflatable raft by oars through the river avoiding rocks, trees and shallow gravel bars along the way. The currents were strong but not enough to encounter significant white water. We viewed many bald eagles and large nests along the way, when the salmon are running this area becomes home for hundreds of bald eagles gorging themselves on the bounty of fresh salmon.
Following our morning excursion, we walked the small town, stopping into a few of the area highlights along the way. We found the Haines Brewing Company and stopped in expecting to have lunch, but they were a brewery only. We sampled a few of their creations including Spruce tip Ale which is a popular recipe among Alaskan brewers. The spruce tips are the spring buds from the Sitka Spruce. Said to be higher in vitamin C than oranges, the natives and early settlers consumed them to ward off scurvy. It’s also said that consuming the brew will help you with any digestive issues and cure any back up you may be experiencing. Didn’t experience this first hand, probably because I only had a sample portion. We stopped into Sarah J’s, a small coffee and sandwich shop near the visitors center for lunch then headed to the American Bald Eagle Foundation for a little enlightenment on the local wildlife and the Bald Eagle rescue program. They had a few wild eagles, an owl and two hawks in large enclosures while they recuperated from various trauma. Beautiful creatures to see up close but difficult to see them caged in and not out in their natural environment.
Next we ran across a local Port Chilkoot Distillery near the pier and tender back to our ship. The distillery was located a short walk up the hill in the old Seward fort buildings that they had lovingly restored. Small production samples and a great location to relax and enjoy their efforts. I bought a small bottle of their Whiskey to sneak on board.
Back on board were headed through the straights to our next destination Juneau
Day 8 May 28
Bucking the trend of sunny weather, we arrived in Juneau via the Gastineau channel this morning to mostly cloudy weather with a few light showers, but the sun made a few welcomed appearances on occasions. Still a gorgeous day but more typical of the weather we expected for the trip. Juneau, the state capital is a lush temperate rain forest and the most popular cruise port of call in Alaska and the only US capital that isn’t accessible by road.
Varying from our solitude of docking nearly solo, today we were joined by 6 Large cruise ships! We were forced to anchor just off the docks to allow room for the mega ships to utilize the docking facilities. They said the town would have over 10,000 passengers visit throughout the day. Exactly what we intended to avoid while cruising.
Fortunately, we had an excursion this morning that took us away from the bustle of the crowd in the small town that is equipped with plenty of jewelry stores and shops touting “authentic” Alaskan creations. Our expedition today was a photography tour including whale watching, a walk through the Trail of Time in the Mendenhall glacier rain forest and a view of the base of the glacier from the visitor’s center. Our guide for the day, Cheffy is a photographer (not a Chef) and very knowledgeable about the local environment. Following a short shuttle ride we boarded our well-equipped boat for the whale watching portion of today's expedition. The boat was perfect, small holding up to 25 passengers (we were only 10 today) with viewing platforms forward and aft and windows that opened like garage doors allowing the inside covered seating uninterrupted views. Great weather and calm waters while on board we quickly came across several siting’s including a long show put on by a mother and her calf frolicking, breaching, flippers in the air and overall tom foolery. It was beautiful to see them.
Next, we disembarked the boat and shuttled to the very crowded parking lot of the Mendenhall glacier counting more then 50 buses and shuttles ferrying the numerous cruise ship passengers to the glacier. Fortunately, our Trail of Time rain forest walk was not part of their schedule leaving the paths mostly clear for our viewing pleasure. Along the trail there were several markers placed over the years marking the location of the base of the glacier which has retreated greatly over time. At the end of the trail we stopped at a viewpoint where we could see the base of the glacier today and cascading Nugget falls. A short distance further we arrived at the not so serene visitors center, where we rejoined the throngs of fellow tourists. We quickly departed back to our shuttle.
Following the excursion, we were back in town and headed up Franklin street on a recommendation from our guide Cheffy for lunch. Arriving just outside of the main tourist zone we found a small food truck haven where Deck Hand Dave’s produces some great fish tacos. Cheffy said they had some of the best fish tacos living up to those he had experienced in LA.
Walking around the town a bit more we stopped into Hangar on the wharf a restaurant on the pier for an adult beverage and watched the seaplanes arrive and depart from the dock just below us. Five modern small planes that seat approx. 10 passengers were busy with tours today most likely due to the thousands of cruisers descending upon the small town.
We decided to hike up Basin rd. toward the Mt Robert’s Trail head and on to the Last Chance Mining museum. A little over 1.5 miles up hill on a small road leading to the mine we walked through lush forest and steep hillside overlooking the roaring Gold Creek below. The hike was a good stretch and workout for the day after little activity on the ship. We passed several other hikers presumably ship passengers longing for a hike as we were. Once we reached the mine, we saw several preserved pieces of machinery utilized in the process along with the story of the mine’s history. Once back down the hill we headed back to the ship.
Prior to our departure we watched two of the mega ships depart, slowly maneuvering their way out of the tight births clearly designed for smaller, less mega ships.
Weighed anchor and heading to our next destination, Tracy arm.
A little commentary on our journey so far. The ships passengers are mostly adults, early sixties to retired and older make up the majority with our age and younger making up the minority and no children. We have enjoyed meeting people on this trip and hearing their stories. Most are affluent or at least financially independent and well-traveled. Several have taken multiple Windstar trips and are hooked on the brand. One couple with 8 cruises on Windstar ships and the couple with the most 12. Marketta and Peter live in SF/Napa and Marin are in their 70’s Marketta is a wine maker, formerly in Languedoc France and Chateau Potelle on Mt Veeder in Napa but moved on after divorce but now owns her own winery Marketta Vineyards. Peter is an accomplished classical musician and conductor. Ginger and Scott Live in Moraga near the east bay. Carol and Dale are from Dallas in their early 70’s Dale was a former Air Force pilot and retired Pilot for American airlines. Dale has traveled many miles on his Harley. Just a few of the fun couples we have met. Early on I was a bit hesitant due to the age of the crowd, commenting to Mary that it would be nice to have a few more passenger our age and younger to add some energy to the ship but I have been impressed with the vitality and adventuress spirit most of the older passengers have shown.
Day 9 May 29
Awoke to another bright sunny day today, we have been blessed with great unexpected weather so far on this trip. We’re cruising Tracy Arm/Endicott Arm today, two beautifully carved glacial fords with the occasional large and small chunks of ice floating through the channel. Narrow enough that our smaller ship could navigate close in next to the Sawyer glacier but kept the larger ships from reaching this far in so we were Solo with the exception of a mid-sized ship following us in this morning only to turn around and leave before the Fjords narrowed, YEAH! We had the area mostly to ourselves for the day sans a couple of smaller personal boats including a small sailboat registered in Washington state. We awoke early to views that rival Yosemite with steep granite cliffs, snow capped peaks and long flowing waterfalls in nearly every view.
This morning we embarked on a 2 1/2-hour kayaking adventure led by the ship expedition crew. There were 12 of us in six tandem kayaks plus the two expedition leaders in their single crafts. They loaded us into zodiacs from the ship and motored to a small cove nearby where we transferred from zodiac directly into our boat for the paddle. Mary took the front and I took up the rear seat. We paddled slowly toward the face of South Sawyer glacier hugging the eastern coastline passing immense granite cliffs and stunning waterfalls that flowed from more than two thousand vertical feet to the sea below. The water was calm and very few chunks of ice floating on this side of the channel. It took us about 30 minutes of leisurely paddling to reach the front of the glacier where it meets the sea. The ice face here towered above approx. the height of a 20-story building. Immense pockets of blue ice and large fissures that appeared they would crack and release their massive amounts of condensed snow and ice at any moment... and they did! We witnessed a few “calving’s” of the ice which break away with an immense thundering sound, crashing into the water below. On the return paddle, our ship had motored farther into the channel closer to us providing a nice view of the glacier for the passengers remaining on the ship. We paddled along the opposite shore on the way back, this time encountering more floating ice from the glaciers previous calving that were floating out the channel with the tide. The ice moves around during the day due to tides and the currents caused by flow of fresh water into the sea from the numerous snow melt waterfalls cascading down the steep granite walls. The ship’s crew on board a zodiac surprised us with hot chocolate and cookies delivered right to our Kayaks along the journey, Mary properly described this as “luxury Kayaking”.
The ship remained in this position until we sailed away providing a peaceful afternoon to view the surroundings. The ship positioning put our balcony right in front of one of the waterfalls, a perfect view and sound of the cascading water right from our room! For lunch today the ship’s crew set up a nice Alaskan Taco Bar lunch for us on the upper deck so we could enjoy fresh Alaskan Cod tacos out on the upper deck on this beautiful sunny day.
Following an afternoon nap, we ventured out on to the upper deck to enjoy the breathtaking views. We departed around 4:30 and embarked on a slow scenic motoring back out of the narrow fjord and towards our next stop tomorrow in Wrangel. Many of the ship’s passengers were commenting about the stunning beauty here that rivals the likes of Yosemite and nearly any other natural setting.
Later tonight we joined out fellow kayak paddlers in the lounge to exchange photos from our earlier excursion
Sailing away toward our next destination in Wrangel this evening, exiting this amazing Fjord with tall, steep granite cliffs with tall Sitka spruce clinging to what appears to be solid rock. Then through a larger open channel the rest of the journey
Day 10 May 30
Docking in Wrangel around 11am to warm sunny skies again we were once again the only ship in port today, yea! Before our excursion we walked through the small town (a bit smaller than Haines) then back to the ship to join our excursion. Our excursion today is a hike up Mt Dewey. A short walk uphill from the dock we found the trail head and hiked up a narrow wooden boardwalk and steps through the rain forest to a viewing platform at the top of the hill. The view encompasses the town, harbor and surrounding waters. Taking the same rout down the hill we encountered a banana slug where Alberto (a devout naturalist) shared everything about banana slugs you would ever want to know
Departing about 5pm were cruising the open channel toward Misty Fjords. We stopped in the Bridge tonight after dinner, the ship has an open bridge policy so you can stop n most anytime and watch the navigation and chat with those at the ships helm. We learned that the ship, although not the most modern has amazing navigational technology far removed from a ships wheel of the past. Tonight, there was an Alaskan licensed pilot working with the ship’s crew that is required to be on board all ships while cruising within Alaskan waters. Interestingly required in most states due to their deep knowledge of the waters and navigational hazards. The ships third officer, a Windstar employee was also at the helm. While on bridge we spotted three humpback whales heading in the opposite direction and a pod of small dolphins.
Day 11 May 31
Early morning turning from the wide-open channel we motored up the narrow Misty Fjord. Living up to it name today was cool and cloudy with intermittent rain. Like the other fjords we’ve seen this one encompassed high steep granite walls but most covered in mature Sitka Spruce clinging to the rock walls. Not as many snow covered peaks visible in the background but a few more beach areas and accessible canyons where you might expect to see wildlife.
Following a full day on board enjoying the surrounding scenery, we motored out at 5pm heading for our next destination Ketchikan. After dinner we were relaxing in our room and heard splashing outside the balcony. I looked to see what it was and saw a small black and white dolphin swimming along side the ship right near our suite. The dolphin followed alongside for a few minutes surfacing occasionally then disappearing into the mist
Day 12 June 1
This morning we docked at Ketchikan; the docks sit right in front of the downtown area of this town of 13,000 permanent residents. With an average rainfall of 130+ inches per year it wasn’t surprising to arrive to showers throughout the day. We were the only ship in port this morning with four other large cruisers scheduled to arrive following our departure today
One of Alaska’s southernmost cities Ketchikan is the Southernmost entrance to Alaska’s famed inside passage a network of waterways that snake though some of the most jaw dropping beautiful wilderness in the world and gateway to Misty Fjords national monument, an area so beautiful its known as “the Yosemite of the North” with steep valleys formed by glaciers and lava flows left by volcanic activity. A Wealth of native culture is colorfully displayed in a collection of totem poles and the history of maritime exploration, fishing, logging and mining is woven into the local seascape and surrounding backdrop of lush rain forest. Creek street boardwalk propped up on wooden pilings with shops, museums, and well-preserved homes.
Our ship departs at 1:00 today leaving a short time to experience the area. Fortunately, we had the town to our selves since the other cruise ships weren’t arriving until after we depart today. We walked through Creek Street, took the funicular up to Cape Fox Lodge then walked down the boardwalk to grab some lunch. We decided to have lunch today on shore and at the advice of Paul one of the ships expedition guides we headed to the Fish House restaurant on the wharf. We were looking for crab and found Alaskan Dungeness by the pound at this casual restaurant, served up with fries and coleslaw it was a nice treat.
Back on board we prepared for the afternoon and following full day at sea.
This afternoon we attended an activity called the Liars club hosted by Gunther the ships Hotel Manager, Paul one of the Expedition team, Nick the future cruise consultant and Felipe the destination manager. Similar to the game Balderdash, the host provided a word and each of the four panelists provided their version of the definition. The audience would then vote who they thought gave the correct definition. Needless to say there were some far-fetched words and creative presentations. Words like Mushfaker, Zamburak, Farding-Bag, and others made for some very colorful truths. Gunther started each of his definitions with “it’s an Austrian word”.
Tonight, the ship’s crew put on a show for the passengers in the show lounge. Over the last few days the servers and staff were all telling us how excited and nervous they were to put on the show and encouraged everyone to attend. We were happy to do so as they had all done so much to make our experience a great one. Only line level employees participated, no managers or leaders were part of the show, everyone from Reception, restaurants, bars, room attendants, engineers and cooks. They were spectacular and a few of them has amazing singing voices! Everything from solos performances, to duo, trio and group performances kept our full attention for the evening. One of the Yacht club attendants belted out a rendition of a Blondie song with amazing range, Mark Anthony from the bar staff sang a tremendous rendition of Sinatra’s My way. A group performed a rendition of a traditional Filipino group dance and several of the male staff performed a hilarious makeshift all male synchronized swimming routine behind a 3’ cloth stretched across the stage to emulate the water. A standing ovation for their efforts.
Day 13 June 2
Cruising the Canadian inside passage today on the way toward our destination Vancouver BC. Through Prince Rupert Sound along the rugged coastline, a sheltered, calm west coast waterway provided beautiful views of coastal rain forests, islands, beaches and mountains. Passing small island towns, first Nation’s long houses fronted with proud totems. The Captain announced that we could see the worlds largest totem, carved from a single tree on the small island of Alert Bay on the port side ahead. Many guests gathered to catch a glimpse expecting to see this site. Turns out that at 173 ft tall it’s difficult to see and gauge its height from the distance we were cruising by. Somewhat of a disappointment but we did see it!
Shortly ahead, just prior to entering Johnstone straight, to the amazement of the crew and passengers a small boat about 14’ in length captained by a single man, chugged from behind us struggling to catch up to our ship. Not knowing what his intention was he finally caught up and motored alongside with us near the bridge, pulled out his bugle and started to play the Canadian National anthem O’Canada. Our Captain stepped out from the bridge to listen along with other passengers to the unexpected, proudly belted out rendering of O’Canada. He said this was definitely a first for him following his many years at sea. As the small boats captain belted out his tune the little boat slipped back even with the rear of our ship. Following his rendition, he throttled full steam ahead to re-position alongside the bridge again and played a second, although abbreviated tune, when the saints go marching in. Both tunes received a roaring applause form the passengers on deck. The small boat turned and the captain waved as he returned to shore. How fun was that.
Smooth sailing overnight in the calm Canadian waters.
Day 14 June 3
Early this morning we arrived in Vancouver slowly motoring to the Cruise ship dock we were able to depart by 8:30am. We dropped our bags at the hotel and ventured out into the city. We walked through Gas Town and China town at about 10:00 so not many businesses were open. Both areas were unexpectedly dirty, smelled of urine, filled with transients asking for hand-outs, homeless make shift living structures and openly visible use of drugs, mostly meth or crack being smoked homemade and glass pipes on the sidewalks. Hardly any police presence or apparent efforts being made to control this made this area uncomfortable for tourists.
We decided to take a hop on hop off bus out of the area and got off on Stanley Park. Much different here we walked along the sea wall and picked up the bus on the other side. Next stop Granville Island, we took a water taxi across False River to Granville Island and the public market for lunch. Took the bus again back to the Hotel for a short rest and cocktail on the patio overlooking the bay.
Dinner tonight at Nicli Antica, nothing like a good Neapolitan pizza and salad!
Day 15 June 4
Before leaving today we decided to take the Canada Rail out to the Botanical Gardens and spent the day walking from the rail throughout the gardens then back to the rail towards downtown. Walked from the rail station to Victoria Chinese for dim Sum then back to the Hotel
Checked out, took the rail to the Airport, cleared security, customs and shortly after boarded our Flight to SFO then home. Got home around 12:30 am to a furry greeting from Barney, Sonny and Billie
About our first Cruise
As I stated before this was our first cruise as we haven’t considered ourselves cruise people. We prefer to plan our own agenda’s and build in flexibility to spend time doing the things we want while travelling. Flexibility to change at a moment’s notice or simply do nothing when we want is appealing to us. This cruise was a leap of faith for us but were very glad we did it. The service and quality of offerings were 5 star. We met several other passengers that have taken multiple cruises to many destinations with Windstar and all spoke highly of the experiences on each ship. It was appealing to us to be on a ship with few passengers and no children. Don’t get me wrong we love kids but appreciate time spent with adults too. We met many fascinating people and appreciated hearing their stories. The days at sea were a little boring but usually included a few opportunities to be entertained or socialize to pass the time. Thankfully all but one day at sea was under good weather conditions allowing outdoor viewing and activities. We will definitely cruise again on a smaller ship with itineraries that fit our travel style like this one did. Windstar will be one of our top choices.
Windstar Legend was a great choice for our first experience and will certainly be a top pick for the future
Although a bit more expensive than some of the larger ships, we appreciated the extra service touches
Rooms were spacious for a Ship, room for a large bed and separate sitting area, bathrooms were spacious, a small walk in closet was perfect.
The size of the ship not too small and not too big
Smaller size allowed for access to areas and ports larger ships don’t go. We loved being the only ship in most of the Fjords and smaller ports. Kenai Fjords, Tracy Arm, Sitka and Haines were favorites.
Efforts made by Windstar to avoid destinations more frequented by cruise ships but when un-avoidable made efforts to avoid peak times at port
High-quality food, beverages and availability to utilize outlets without reservations or waiting. Menu’s change daily to keep things exciting
Staff was very sincere, and service was high quality. 5 star service
Ship offered a laundry package which allowed us to pack light and have our clothes laundered while on the 12-day cruise
Excursions were nice, pricey but well done. All were with small groups, our largest was 10 people on a 25-passenger, high tech whale watching boat. Equipment, boats, vehicles were all top quality and good condition
No aggressive activity coordinator! You could participate in on board activities as you wish. No show room or large casino was great. Plenty of deck space, bars and indoor viewing areas.
Impromptu Deck activities; BBQ, Alaskan Taco Bar, Make your own Bloody Mary Bar. Etc…
Phone and Internet service - I am listing this as a pro because it was great to disconnect a bit from our devices. The ship offers internet data packages that are pricey, slow and unreliable due to satellite connections on a moving ship. We opted not to buy Internet connections and were happy we did so. Phone calls to land are free from the phone in your room and cell service became available in most ports if you needed to catch up with the world.
Ship was very clean but in need of rehab. Its scheduled for a major make over next year and appeared to have many deferred maintenance projects
Overall ship conditions were tired and not at a level expected for the touted "luxury"
Bathroom marble stained, balcony doors very difficult to open, track rusted and parts broken.
Several windows in Yacht Club and Compass Rose were permanently fogged making it difficult to find a place to sit and watch the scenery.
Veranda/Candles restaurant outdoor canopy was missing making it difficult to sit outside and enjoy the view. Also limited seating making it difficult to secure a table for dinner.
Laundry was delayed without communication on several days
I'm sure many of these issues will be addressed following the ships rehab but it was a bit of an issue to us especially since you are paying a premium for this ships luxury
Suggestions for Cruising
Make sure the ship caters to like-minded travelers. Are you looking for a family oriented cruise or one that caters to adults, and adventure oriented cruise or laid back relaxing cruise.
Consider your sea worthiness. Big ships do move with the sea although a lot less than smaller ships. Lower decks experience less motion that upper decks
Read the reviews from multiple online sites and take them for what they are, one person’s experience. If you find multiple comments about the same issue, there might be a trend
Know what’s included and what’s not. What are the mandatory add on fees such as automatic gratuities, etc…
Review the ships specific itinerary before you book.
Know how much time is spent “At Sea (code for you’re stuck on the boat until we dock again)” and which specific ports you will dock.
Research the landing ports to see how many ships are there on any day. This will give you an idea of how many fellow travelers will be in town with you and an idea of what awaits you. More ships=more typical tourist trap type experiences
For the really busy ports, consider excursions that get you away from the crowds. Ask how many people the tour carries, how many people will be at the tour destination, what the equipment/facilities are like. You may want to consider local port tours that cater to small or private tours but make sure that you leave plenty of time to meet the on board time for your ship
For those “Days at Sea” Think about how you will spend your time knowing that you will be competing with ALL of the other passengers for the activities and entertainment available on the ship. Consider off peak times and self entertainment options such as a good book, card and/or board games