Alaska Cruise 2023 Trip re-cap

Let’s see if I can publish this while still mildly feeling mal de desembarquement. It’s still going almost three days after disembarking: at first when walking, overcompensating for anticipating the ground to shift; feeling a push to sway when I’m sitting; and when lying down, feeling my whole body surge or tilt as if still on the ship.

Below, I have highlighted & underlined those activities that were on my “cruise vacation checklist”.

Day 1 – Depart Vancouver

I only started physically packing for the trip the night before but had been maintaining a packing list for weeks, adding suggestions garnered and items I thought of or purchased. I use Google Sheets/Drive and the colourful column headers are new but I’ve generally maintained the same format for years and years now.

It was a busy day at the Vancouver port on Friday, May 5. Three cruise ships had docked in the morning (presumably) and were set to sail out that afternoon/evening. There is one drop-off point in the parking lot below the port and my very filial BIL was running around after his dental procedure chauffeuring MIL, FIL, BIL, and all their luggage in one journey and the four of us and our luggage in a later run. It meant that I was under pressure to get our luggage packed for 11:30 when I thought he would pick it up ahead of us, but we ended up waiting until 1:30 when he got back to pick us (and our luggage) up.

After picking up our medallions in the exhibition hall, we were instructed to return at 3:30 pm for security and customs. They were running late because of delays and needing to board the Crown Princess which was departing earlier than the Majestic. The third cruise ship in the mix was the Norwegian Encore. We went to Waterfront Centre for some food hall food and back for what MIL and FIL say was the worst security and customs line they’ve ever encountered for a cruise.

To top it off, after we used the customs kiosk, after queuing some 45 minutes to an hour, the printouts for me and Baby had an X through it and we had to see the CBSA officer rather than be done with customs. In that queue – another 20 minutes – Baby fell asleep as I was holding her and it was nearly 5 pm and I chat with two men also in line. The chatty one said it might be best not to ask why we were flagged and let them do the asking. He also said that it could happen that they scanned something in our checked luggage that was flagged. Like the power bar I packed for our convenience that might be deemed a fire hazard? I did not ask but later on-board, I ran into one of the men and he told me the customs officer said that his birth day and month were flipped in the system causing inconsistency across his documentation. Ah…. that explains why so many people were flagged because that could happen to so many birth day and months. And given my and Baby’s birth day (number) below 13 and that FIL and BIL also have the same and were flagged to see a CBSA officer, there was nothing more to it than that!

When we did board, we located our stateroom E601 on Emerald Deck (Deck 8) that is a partially obscured balcony room in the mid-aft section of the ship. After Covid, the in-laws will never book an inside room again!! And although they and we are not the sort to lounge on the balcony, it is worth it to have the window, the ability to open the door. NPY requested two beds and was dismayed to see two twin beds. I requested that they are put together into a king and the inside bunk opened. Our stewart (Jason from the Philippines) suggested that we leave a gap under the bunk against the wall so he could make the bed without being on the bed.

Kids loved the bunk bed where it is advised to not be used for kids under 9. They loved the ladder too. Kiddo slept on top about half the days.

Our 7:00 pm reservation every night in the dining room seemed too late and especially with the weird day the kids had so we had buffet dinner and were asleep before the ship undocked and was on its way. It departed so late (compared to the other two cruise ships departing at 4 pm) because it is larger and needed higher tide (later) to leave dock.

Day 2 – At sea

We woke up and the ship was in motion! We knew it was going to happen but the evening before, the activities made it feel like we were in Vegas, in a hotel, at a waterfront restaurant for dinner. And then the whole hotel was moving!

It would be the first of three At Sea days so there was no pressure to rush to disembark and we explored. The evening before, Baby and I checked out Camp Discovery for kids and the fitness center (I wouldn’t get a chance to work out and that was on my checklist). We played some table tennis even though the table was slick from rain.

After breakfast and for way too late making for a late lunch, we checked out Center Court where I played pickleball for the first time, Kiddo played basketball and yearned to play soccer, they played mini golf and Baby treated the outdoors gym equipment like a playground. I did a lot of lateral pull-ups with her sitting on the chair being my resistance.

We also found the indoor pool (Hollywood Club) and the beautiful and serene conservatory which has a giant chess set that Kiddo insisted that we play a game.

The queue for Chopsticks for noodles was long so we were at the buffet for lunch and for the second day in a row, I held Baby to sleep.

After Baby’s short nap, she wanted to go swimming. Given dinner was late, there was time and Kiddo want to go too, once Baby and I were changed into our swim gear. I had brought own own hooded towels in order to traverse the ship with a modicum of style and comfort. NPY did not bring a bathing suit and he’s generally loathed to be inconvenienced by swimming so he watched in agitation as we tried to navigate that swim outing. There is a large edge around the Hollywood Club pool and I hadn’t noticed it when we peered in earlier but the water that lapped onto the edge was corresponding to the tilting of the ship. The kids at first were happy to sit on the edge but the way you could visualize the angle of the ship tilting by the speed of the water sloshing, it hardly felt prudent for them to play there without PFDs on. I found a small one that fitted Baby but what I put on Kiddo was a bit big for him, like for 30-60kg, and he’s not even 50 lbs. We got into the pool which is 4’11” at the shallow end and that’s over my head and even more when the boat tilted. So I was back on the stairs where I had more clearance above the water, and hanging on to the stairs railing with one hand and hanging on to Baby with the other. Kiddo was on his own hanging onto the railing and part of me didn’t trust he wouldn’t lose grip. I tried to make light of the fun waves but I couldn’t do it for both kids and we were always thisclose to one of them getting dunked under water and I’d have to toss one kid aside to safety to grab the other one. So NPY stuck around and watched on until we were fairly quickly and safely in the hot tub.

The first full day on the ship and it was formal night at the restaurant. I busted out a dress I last wore to a wedding in 2019 shortly before Baby was born and it was my first time wearing it. Kiddo cleaned up really nicely with khakis and a nautical motif shirt sleeve oxford shirt worn over long sleeves. And Baby was bright and happy twirling in her red tulle dress with a magenta shrug worn over it.

Without 7 p.m. dining room reservation and we were not always seated right away, we would be rushed to be able to make it to the 9:30 pm show at Princess Theater. We did make it that night and watched about 20 minutes of Encore! I would keep scanning the Princess Platter sheet we received daily at turndown to see the headlining performer. Just in case someone I met a long time ago would deign to perform on an Alaska cruise again.

Day 3 – Ketchikan

We woke up and outside was a port! For the tourists, largely from cruise ships, the facades facing the port were cheerful and bright and that is what we opened our curtains to see outside our balcony.

Ketchikan is Alaska’s fourth largest city and it’s the “salmon capital of the world”. I saw a cute doll of an Indigenous child and Kiddo saw some rocks (2 for $12) and I thought we’d see them again at other ports and passed on them and did not get the chance.

In Ketchikan, we walked around and found Creek Street which is a boardwalk lining a creek, all colourful houses and selling something.

Back on board the ship, Baby and I explored some more and visited the art gallery showcasing a lot of Thomas Kinkade (wow, he’s prolific) and ceramics that look like Britto. Get some culture on while on board.

The Princess Medallion that we were supposed to wear at all times is relatively new and it’s the first time that my cruise veteran in-laws have used it. While in the customs line, I learned from one fellow that the colour of the medallion is indicative of your cruise status. NPY and Kiddo had “gold” (chartreuse) medallions because it’s their second cruise while Baby and I had while ones. It’s Baby’s first cruise but my second! I did not fight this one at Guest Services since so far I am not the one who has paid for / booked the cruises I have been on.

Day 4 – Juneau

We were supposed to in the morning cruise by Endicott arm and see icebergs but there was a medical emergency overnight and so that the patient could get a medical evaluation sooner rather than later, the cruise executives decided to skip Endicott and go straight to Juneau some four hours earlier than originally scheduled. “You’d want the same if it were yourself or someone you love,” to paraphrase the announcement.

So we woke up in Juneau or arriving at Juneau. I tried Tai Chi at Sea which is my first time attempting tai chi. It turned out to be led by video – possibly created specifically for Princess Cruises but didn’t see overt branding. It’s new to me and tested my coordination to follow the instructor properly, timely. We were in Vista Lounge which I recall from our cruise nearly seven years ago on the Ruby Princess when we met there the first day because it was our muster station.

I picked up breakfast at International Cafe because I heard there were smoothies and we were trying to get the kids to roll out for the couple of hours we would spend off the ship.

I actually did not know that Juneau is the capital city of Alaska. Now that I’m looking it up, of course I would think that Anchorage with a quarter million people population, is the capital while there is only some 30,000 people in Juneau. It was the biggest port we would visit because it is a whole other, longer trip to Anchorage and only then would we see Denali from afar. We poked into a lot of shops. My small momento of the trip is a small sticker now on my laptop. I also picked up a couple of Northern Lights souvenirs because I so want to see them but it was outside of their season. Baby fell asleep early while we were walking around Juneau so she was very comfortably carried around as we continued walking around.

It was fun to see fellow cruise ships that we would see again again, along the Inside Passage route we were all taking.

It was in Juneau where I started to admire how the impressive mountains as every turn. I remarked that it seemed like the summits were higher than the North Shore but NPY thinks it was a perspective issue. I wouldn’t have a clue what anything is called, what the mountain range is called but now I learned that one of the peaks (and not even the highest one) is “Mt Jumbo” (Mount Bradley). At 1,017 m and Mount Juneau with the gondola is 1,090 m, they are indeed not as tall as Grouse Mountain that is 1,231 m tall.

I believe in Baby being empowered and the medallion allows her to do that to beep on and off the ship.

The kids attended Camp Discovery (drop-in Port Day programming) for about 90 minutes while I enjoyed “afternoon tea” with items from International Cafe and my go-to drink which was honey lavender latte with almond milk. FIL/MIL and BIL/SIL each had purchased the wi-fi and drinks package and did not advise that we do it because it’s 15 beverages a day for each of FIL and MIL – 60 beverages a day that could be shared! We used them towards specialty coffees and bottled water and some alcoholic beverages at dinner.

Shortly after reuniting with us, Baby started complaining of an ear ache and other woes. NPY thought she had fallen at the kids zone or picked up a bug from them. Uh, no to the latter. But I saw how she was like trying to expose herself to germs and hand-washing for her was trying because we were not given a step stool (safety reasons) and propping her up against the sink was a contortion effort. The sinks elsewhere on the ship in public bathrooms were a better height for her to use.

Day 5 – Skagway

At dinner each day, I would ask FIL, “So, what’s up for tomorrow?” MIL and FIL were in Alaska for the fifth time and I guess they have only done the Inside Passage as FIL says he’s never been as far as Anchorage. The evening before arriving in Skagway, SIL was telling us about some excursions that caught her eye. One was to go out and see the sled dogs at their training site. It was an all day excursion. BIL graciously said he’d go if she wanted to but then she dropped the bomb about the price. It was I think $220. US. There was just too much of a risk it wasn’t worth it. The other excursion she mentioned was heading towards Yukon (where I’ve never been) and there is the $50 option to go by bus and the $150 option to take the historic Whitepass train. I only felt passing interest in it and hid behind the excuses that I couldn’t leave NPY and Baby when the parent wasn’t feeling well. I’d have to wait until the kids were older and want to spend the whole day at camp!

When we were in town, my initial disparagement (kept to myself), “Why are we even here??” was eradicated when we saw it was a gold rush town and the lovely restored train cut through town and so many people were queued to go on it for some distance. The restored buildings, the welcome to Skagway sign with the black and white photo of prospectors hiking across Chilkoot Pass, the restored train running through town, and the mountains which look beautiful and refreshing now but they are physical barriers especially in the winter. I could imagine the “olden days”.

Baby was not feeling her awesome self and sat down like this at the train station. Gosh but didn’t it look to me like she was a runaway!

We wandered into the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park and SIL saw the activity book that Kiddo could work on and get a Junior Ranger badge. So he sat down to do it and I was happy he was doing something educational. NPY was none too pleased at this turn of events because he didn’t know what to do with himself and he didn’t want to guide Kiddo through the activities he needed to complete. I know that something like gold and maybe the idea of “olden days” would fascinated Kiddo and that kept his motivation up until he completed the activities. SIL completed the activities too and got a badge, too!

I was utterly impressed again as we sailed down Lynn Canal with the gorgeous mountains we would see from our balcony on the starboard (left) side. I might never know the name of that peak that is like a bowl.

The highlight of the day was Puppies in the Piazza. (This was not part of my general cruise checklist but it was a highlight for sure.) Ryan Remington, this year’s Iditarod champion, brought a couple of his sled dog puppies and we could cuddle them and take a picture. I wondered if I could swing it but approach it with a lot of love like a mother to a baby and it was perfectly fine!

Day 6 – Sitka

I was looking forward to Sitka although I didn’t know what it was known for. It’s a spruce tree. It was mentioned in the animated series “Molly of Denali” which Kiddo introduced us to.

Baby was not doing well having picked up a virus on board so she and I sat out while NPY and Kiddo went down. She ended up playing Baby Bus video games on my phone for over two hours and I watched 40 minutes of “Everything Everywhere All At Once” and three or four episode’s of “Carol’s Second Act”. That was enough screen time and then I took Baby out to stretch her legs and get her lunch, finally trying out Chopsticks noodles for ourselves.

According to NPY, I didn’t miss much. There were long queues to get onto the shuttle bus to get into town and no photos they took showed anything that I longed for!

In the afternoon while Baby napped, I spent some time with Kiddo, back at Center Court, playing some table tennis, getting my first taste of Swirls ice cream this trip, and taking him to the art auction that promised entry into raffle draws (didn’t win anything), a piece of free art for attending (it was not provided to us when we ducked out before it ended) and a free glass of champagne (well, we got that). It was mildly entertaining to watch, introduced us to a world where people actually buy art. Kiddo was disappointed that I was no loud enough to get their attention to get more raffle ticket entries. I’m not sure they really were giving extra raffle tickets for responding loudly.

By our late dinner, we had left Sitka and we were no longer in the protected inside passage and it was choppy and NPY and Baby felt it first. We got Sea-Band and Gravol into her but it was too late and NPY and I alternated with spending dinner with her in the stateroom.

We were told via PA announcement about the perfectly conical volcano near Sitka and I think it’s Mount Edgecumbe? I looked for it as we left Sitka.

Mountain backdrop continued to be utterly impressive. I took this photo because of the yellow smoke the ship was spewing out at that time, but not most of the time. It was frustrating to try to enjoy active time at Center Court when there was such heavy gasoline or smoke smells there.
The Seawalk is pretty neat. I loved seeing the kids take it in and not be afraid of heights.

Day 7 – At sea

I thought I wanted to do line dancing taking place in the Piazza and was it every confusing because I thought we had gone back to Pacific time overnight and that we had woken up at 10:00 am Pacific (9:00 “old time”) but we were awake early enough to hustle over and not miss a lot of the start. The Piazza was packed with dancers and the surrounding cafe tables were all occupied so we almost gave up when walking around with our International Cafe food. I took the martyr route and prioritized getting food and getting the kids to eat it over line dancing with these cruise veterans who might also be line dancing veterans.

SIL is intrigued and attends some of the trivia contests taking place in the late evening and we tried to go to a lunch-hour one in Vista Lounge. The prize was a piece of jewelry from Effy, one for each winning team member. So there was a lot at stake! It was fun and the questions covered a variety of topics and concerning knowledge of events from the 1950s to present (or general knowledge). We only scored 12 out of 20 and SIL consoled us that the winning team only had 14 or 15 correct answers and that team comprised of some 6 or more adults all older than us. More knowledge and years amongst them!

You could see white caps on the waves as far as the eye can see, it was a rough day and Baby was medicated all day and wearing her Sea Bands. I think we put Sea Bands on Kiddo too and it did the trick until it caught up to him around dinner and he was absent from the beginning of dinner. It was formal night again at dinner, Gala Dinner, and it’s fun to see this giant machinery pull out the stops as we get to the close of the voyage.

Day 8 – At sea

I opened the curtains on the morning of our second day at sea and was beyond relieved to see such calm waters. No white caps! The skies were brilliant and blue. A day earlier NPY told his mom that he didn’t relish going on another cruise. Over the course of our second day at sea, he would say that if these kind of conditions were practically guaranteed, he would do it again.

After breakfast at the buffet which was highly celebratory with extra seafood and cake, we made our way to the conservatory so NPY and the in-laws could continue their mahjong tournament. We got waylaid by Kiddo wanting to play some table tennis and soccer first. I was eager to spend as much time as possible the glorious Hollywood Club side.

The Hollywood Club pool was happening and I wanted to film the sloshing water but it was absent that day. I didn’t get to lounge too much between two kids asking for my attention while NPY played MJ. I was scheming in my head when I was due a break from the kids, if I could go to the gym, use the beautiful Lotus Spa shower facilities and swim in this pseudo Caribbean cruise conditions?

Ultimately, I would only swim and not for too long. The mini pool where I could easily touch the bottom was still cold by dint of it being outdoor pools but with Kiddo and the in-laws and myself enjoying the outdoors, I wasn’t going to move everyone to the indoor pool even if it was next door. We just didn’t do any real swimming and then were in the hot tub. There were a few other people in the hot tub and an old man I kept bumping into his sprawled legs. The worse, however, was how someone (a full-fledged adult) was eating soup noodles in the hot tub. And something was hitting my leg and I plucked it out and it was chopsticks. Omgosh.

After the short stint in the hot tub, I really towelled off Baby who was getting drowsy and I held her to nap yet again while enjoying a glass of Riesling. It wasn’t the lounging of my expectations and hopes, but it was lounging.

Day 9 – Arrive Vancouver

And the next morning, we were pulling into Vancouver at 8 a.m. in the morning. We selected the latest disembarkation time (10:30 am) but had to be out of our room at 8:30 (we took until 9 a.m.). That way we could have one more breakfast meal and did we ever need it because we would still be getting home, settling back in, over lunch hour.