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Explorer Alaska 6/22/18 - 7 Nights RCLBlog Group Cruise!

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On 6/28/2018 at 8:13 AM, twangster said:

There were more 'growlers' as the senior officer on the helipad called them when the chucks of ice (glacier) are a certain size.


With the sun now coming and going it dramatically changed the colors of the glacier, growlers and cliff walls of Endicott Arm.  Here two different arms of this glacier meet.  Where the glacier has been rubbing down the wall of the rock face it grinds off pieces of rock that form the dark strips that can be seen on top of the glacier.




As someone who was born in a (mostly) desert continent, this amount of ice, let alone water, absolutely astonishes me.

Thank you for these incredible photos. Alaska is now firmly on my bucket list! (Super stretch cruising goal - fly to Seattle. Cruise to Alaska and back. Then jump aboard a repositioning cruise from Seattle back to Sydney!)

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Where was i?

Oh yeah... Day 6 Afternoon.

Group Cruise trivia in the Star Lounge

I missed the start of the event because I was off doing something and forgot.


I did get to hear the answers though.  Followed by a give away.


After this we did a small cabin crawl.

That panoramic ocean view cabin was still looking pretty suite.


Annette's aft balcony was too.  Funny how the travel agent gets the bast cabin...


After this was dinner followed by some walking around the ship taking random photos.






Nice sunset tonight, just had to wait for it to pop through the break in the clouds.



Later I found the piano player in the Schooner Bar.


Then to the pub...


Dining Room picture


With the light fading after 10pm I headed aft for just one more photo.


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Day 7 - Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

With an 9:30am expected clearance and a 5:30 all on board time we had a good amount of time in Victoria. 


Many Seattle based cruises have limited time in port, arriving in Victoria around dinner time and leaving around 10pm.  The stop here is a 'technical' stop, required by a law that at a high level makes it necessary to have at least one foreign country on the itinerary.  Since Alaska is part of the US, stopping in Canada satisfies the foreign port requirement. 

I'd highly recommend every one pay attention when booking an Alaskan cruise to the arrival and departure time in Victoria.  So many bad reviews of this port are centered around a late arrival (right at dinner time) when local stores are closing and it's getting darker.  Like it's Victoria's fault people didn't read what they booked and then complain when the cruise lines do exactly what they said they would do.  Not so on this itinerary which is one reason I booked it. 

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Our excursion today is The Butchart Gardens. 

The tour is marked as 3 1/2 hours but the gardens are 45 minutes from the port so we would only have ~2 hours in the gardens. 

Our bus driver took us through a public city park on the way out of town.  Here we saw many wild Peacocks walking around.  


More on this park later.

The bus ride is about 45 minutes to The Butchart Gardens.  Our driver provided some history and facts about the area and Butchart Gardens.  The original owners purchased the land for a limestone quarry as part of the family business to make portland cement.  While traveling in Europe an eagle broke into a bird enclosure and killed all the song birds.  Word made it to the Butcharts while in England so they diverted and went to Germany to acquire some unique small birds only available in Germany.  Arriving back into England a day late from this diversion they missed their ship back to America.  They would have to take the next ship a week later.  The ship they missed was the Titanic. 



There are seven gardens within the overall facility.  This is called the sunken gardens and it was the old Limestone quarry from the business.




The Ross fountains were added later by a grandson who assumed the gardens as the Butcharts grew older.





There is a merry go round for the kiddies. 














This Sequoia seedling was planted in 1934.



The rose garden has a seemingly endless variation of roses.



















This brings us back to the start with the same picture but with a spin.


With that our time was up and we headed back out to the bus parking lot.

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The ride back down to Victoria was another 45 minutes and the driver gave us the option of being dropped off in town or taking us back to the port.  We chose to get off in town.  Victoria itself is quite beautiful. 


It's also the provincial capital.






The harbor is home to one of the busiest seaplane bases in the world (according to our bus driver).


After walking around a little we found a pub.  This is Garrison's Pub.




Fish and chips were in order.  The chips are beer battered and very good.


Finally I saw a bear.


From the look on his face he was quite surprised by the unnexpected Twangster sighting.

Here are some floral Orcas.


This is a public school but it has an eight year wait list.  People are known to pick a name of a future child, submit it and hope for the best once they eventually actually have a child. (according to our bus driver when we drove past earlier).


From here we walked over to the park I mentioned earlier, Beacon Hill Park.


This is a free city park open to the public. What caught our eye when the bus drove through here in the morning were the wild Peacocks that roam freely.




Above us we could hear dozens of birds nesting in the trees.  Turns out they were Great Blue Herons.  Standing on white washed pavement it dawned on us we were in the landing zone so we quickly moved on.


While not as over-the-top as Butchart Gardens, the grounds of the park are very nice and well kept.


Within the park is a children's petting zoo.  The suggested donation is $4 per adult.


The peacocks are free to roam in or out of the petting zoo but the theory is they know they are safe so they tend to hang out here.  They were on top of the buildings, on fences and walking around on the ground.




Our bus driver claimed this was the 2nd largest watering can in North America.


Victoria marks the start of the TransCanada highway.  At 7,821 kilometers or 4,860 miles it crosses Canada and goes from coast to coast.


Here there is also a statute in memory of Terry Fox.  I remember Terry from my youth growing up.  He lost a leg to cancer and sought to run the entire length of the trans Canada highway.   Our bus driver explained earlier there are still charity events in his name around the world and at over one billion dollars raised since it is the single largest fund raising charity ever.


At this point we were right on the water so we chose to follow it back to the ship.  There was a path and stairs leading somewhere so we thought it might be a photo opportunity.


You can't quite see them on this day but on the horizon are the Olympic mountains of Washington state.


Walking towards the ship the pier is just around the corner.


It was a very easy and pleasant walk along the shore on a paved trail.


Every so often there was an opportunity to make it down to the shore.



In this photo you can see some people hanging out on their balcony in the upper left most aft balcony cabin by the left flag pole.


It's the @cookingyos (fellow Royal Caribbean Blog Group Cruisers).  cookingyo.com - It's a real website. 



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Back on board we made our way to deck 12 to exercise the drink package and take in the last sights of Victoria.


I spotted a Celebrity.


It's the Soltice who we started this cruise experience with.




Well past our departure we had some pier runners.  Okay, maybe they were more pier sauntering.   With Seattle so close the Captain was able to wait for everyone. 


After this off to our last dinner in the MTD dining room.

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The dreaded day has arrived. 

Self assist time was stated to be 6:30am to 7:15am.  We had mostly packed the night before.  I hear Matt and Matt, Cookingyo and Earl closed both the R Bar and the Casino Bar but I wouldn't know anything about that.   I set my alarm for 6am and we were on our way down at 6:45am.  It was easy to get an elevator that wasn't packed and we immediately were directed outside on deck 4.  Disembarking has already started and we had a short queue to be scanned off the ship. 

Customs was a breeze.  One officer was looking at passports opened to the photo page as we walked past him, moving all the time.  That's it?  Yes!  Super easy. 

I quickly looked in the Lyft app and saw the airport ride would be $41.  The cab area was close to where we left the terminal and seeing my phone open they offered a $40 rate to SeaTac airport. 


The ride share area is a bit of a walk from the terminal so taking a cab was a lot easier as they are right there.


Minimal traffic before rush hour at 7am and we were at the airport by 7:45am.  The meter read $48 so the driver over-rode it and entered a flat rate $40 on the credit card terminal in the cab.

Overall a very easy disembarkation and transfer to the airport.

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Cruise Summary and Random Thoughts

Alaska is an amazing cruise destination that is very different compared to a Caribbean cruise.  Coastal Alaska along the Southeast region is a collection of small towns that have no roads between them.  That makes cruising an ideal way to explore them.

I heard the Captain make the comment that every week it's different, something changes.  I've been to Juneau and Skagway yet the inlets to get there appeared completely different to me, like I had never seen them before.  I'm sure someone on the cruise this week or next will see something different as well.  Whales, bears, moose, eagles and seals all move around constantly.  The time of day and angle of the sun or glacier differences make each trip unique.  

Last year I chose a Southbound itinerary so i could see Hubbard Glacier.  While that glacier may be bigger, you can only take so many pictures of a glacier.  The proximity of Endicott Arm and the contrast of the ship juxtaposed against the cliff walls really stood out for me on this cruise.   It was an incredible experience just standing there with the towering cliff walls and waterfalls rising hundreds of feet above me. 

To be honest my previous research led me to think that a one-way North/South Alaska cruise was the "right way" to do Alaska while Seattle round-trip cruises were some kind of a lesser experience.  Having completed this cruise I now know that is not the case.   Different ports are involved and each has a reason to be considered. 

I carefully looked at the times of arrival and departure at each port when considering this cruise.  Who ever secured these ports times for Explorer did a great job.  Watching Solstice arrive into Victoria at 5pm when we had already been there for 8 hours illustrates this point.  We got to see the beautiful Butchart Gardens, walk around town, have a beer and lunch, walk through a city park and then walk along shore to get back to the ship.  What kind of experience will they have with just 4 hours in the evening to explore such a beautiful city?

Seattle hotels are expensive.  However staying downtown within walking distance to so many sights was great.  I had heard the Space Needle was kind of cheesy but with the new glass walls it was pretty cool.  Chihuly Glass and Gardens was amazing.

I haven't had the drink package for a number of cruises now.  I was glad I got it the package on this cruise.  Given the social aspect of the group cruise it was nice being able to have another with friends without having that little machine in your brain trying to keep a running total.  The long port times played into that because we often would do a morning excursion, come back to the ship and have a beer or two then go off again for a few hours in the afternoon.

While the rental ice skates left a lot to be desired it was cool to be able to skate around the little rink. It's amazing what the cast of the ice skating shows are able to accomplish on such a small sheet of ice.

Another rumor I've heard is that Alaskan cruises are a geriatric crowd.    That certainly wasn't the case on either of my Alaska cruises. 

Balcony cabins - I have no regrets choosing an interior cabin.  The savings basically paid for our excursions and the drink package for both of us plus the hotel and transfer costs.  Sure if you have lots of money a balcony is better.  Since that doesn't apply to me I was happy with my choice this year.  Having done a suite with a balcony last year I have direct knowledge of both and when I book my next Alaskan cruise it will most likely be in an interior. 

I heard people foreshadow terrible doom trying to fight for a view of the glacier.  I knew that wasn't going to be the case and neither last year or this year was that the case.  My pictures speak for themselves.  Cabin proximity to get outside is important so choose any cabin location carefully. 

My virtual balcony was a bit of a let down.  It was broken a lot of the time however I now know they use Red Hat Linux having watched it reboot itself every 8-10 minutes.   More often than not it was just the virtual hand rail displayed on a black background.  Maintenance requests took a while and if they got it working it only lasted a few hours.  Leveraging the concierge in the Concierge Lounge seemed to help that effort a bit.  When it worked it was great.  On Anthem I didn't have these problems so maybe it's an Explorer thing and it's running an older gen 1 platform.

Voom - I knew it was going to be bad and my expectations were met.  They really shouldn't market Surf and Stream for Alaska cruises.  They would be better to just offer Surf.  I managed to keep this blog updated so it wasn't the end of the world.  I'm finishing the blog on home internet and I'm amazed how fast it's going!

Overall it was a fantastic cruise experience and when combined with the social aspects of the group cruise that made it even better. 

I can definitely see myself doing another Alaska cruise.  It was nice trying different excursions this year.  The train in Skagway was pretty great last year but having a different experience this year was equally great. 

When is the next one?  🙂

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