Homeward Bound

Thursday September 19 – Saturday 21, 2019

Thursday – We had to get from Canada to the US so we could rent a car to drive one-way to California. I found a bus called Bolt that offered service to Bellingham, the first stop inside Washington. It was about a two-hour trip from Vancouver. I booked four tickets for 11:30 Thursday morning. We had breakfast at the hotel, checked out, called a taxi to take us to the terminal.

When I booked the tickets, I requested “Special assistance,” for Mom and Dad, since there was no option for wheelchairs. We got to the terminal in plenty of time. It also serves trains and Greyhound. We found some seats, bought water, waited. Dave found where our bus was going to load, and saw the driver. The driver … hmmm … how to describe the driver?? Driver/standup-comedian? Driver/self-appointed tour guide? Driver/Immigration consultant? Driver/snack taster?

First Dave was watched as the driver wandered through the lineup area and said he’d soon be there to board the passengers, so he and I got in line. Our tickets said we were in Boarding Group “S.” We were scheduled to leave at 11:30, boarding at 11:15. Unlike an airline, although we had a “boarding group,” we didn’t have assigned seats. So we did want to be in line so we could sit together. Mom and Dad came and joined us in line about 11:20. At 11:35, the driver still hadn’t returned and the passengers were looking all around, exchanging glances. Were we in the right area? There were Greyhound buses around, but only one Bolt bus and we were by it. So we had to be in the right place. But where was our driver? Finally, I saw him coming into the terminal from across the street. He’d been buying his lunch.

He came and opened the luggage bays, instructed everyone how he wanted us to stow our luggage, and put his lunch into the bus. We loaded our bags and got back into line. Then the driver announced how we’d be boarding: “In alphabetical order! Beginning with …??” He waited for us to answer. Finally someone said, “Ummm … A?” “Yes! Everyone in Boarding Group A, come on down!”

Dave and I looked at each other. What the heck? We were Group S! And I’d asked for special assistance!! Mom and Dad had been standing for fifteen minutes, at least, by that time. Then he called for … “Group B! Come on down!”

After a few more minutes, he motioned to the rest of us to go ahead, like we were waiting for an invitation. We said, “We’re Group S.” He said, “Oh. Then you were first. S is for Special Assistance. Why didn’t you say something?”

AAARRGH. We smiled. Through bared teeth. “Because you said it was alphabetical order. And S is after A, B, C.”

Mom and Dad were able to sit in the “Special” reserved seats right behind the driver. Dave and I were able to sit together, but in the back of the bus. It was a fairly peaceful drive for the first hour or so. We filled out a US Customs form. I was being super conscientious, listing everything we bought on the cruise, which was mostly shirts and various souvenirs. As we stood in line, it occurred to me: technically we bought those in Alaska, in the US. Not in Canada, so they weren’t foreign purchases after all. Duh. But I’d already filled out the forms. Oh well. And it really was a non-issue. They’re not worried about a couple hundred dollars worth of T-shirts, ball caps, salmon jerky, and a Christmas ornament.

We arrived at the border. The driver pulled into the bus lanes. Because we were in the back, we didn’t hear his instructions clearly, but gathered that we had to all get off, take all our belongings and luggage into the building, go through Customs, then we’d reboard, and continue on into Washington.

As we got off, Mom and Dad were still on the bus, in their seat behind the driver. We told them they had to get off, but they said the driver told them they didn’t have to get off unless they wanted to stretch their legs. We shrugged and said, “Okay.” We went ahead and disembarked, pulled all our bags from the luggage bays, and stood and waited. Apparently the driver did tell the people up front that there was no rush to go inside the Border Protection Building. That they could walk around, stretch their legs, then come and get in line when the line wasn’t so long. Wrong. Because when people disappeared around the corner, agents came out of the building to round them up and get us all in line. The rule is On the Bus or In the Building. There is no Stretch Your Legs. Or Take Your Time.

So we ended up being the very last people in the line. Because of this doofus driver. Obviously it was his first trip across the border. If he’d known what he was doing, because we were Group S with “Special Assistance,” we should have been first in line, instead of last. My folks had to stand in line for an hour. It was so frustrating.

We finally got to Bellingham at about 2:15, only 45 minutes late. We got an Uber to the Bellingham airport, where I’d reserved a car. It didn’t take too long and we were on our way in a Dodge Journey. Except we hadn’t had any lunch. So we found a Subway, grabbed a bite, and headed south.

We had reservations for the night in Tacoma. Which put us in Seattle commute traffic. It took us probably an extra forty-five minutes to an hour to get to Tacoma. But we finally made it. We normally stay in IHG properties. Holiday Inns. Holiday Inn Expresses. Staybridge Suites, etc. In Tacoma, it was a Holiday Inn, with a restaurant so we had a quick dinner and went to our rooms.

Friday – We had breakfast and hit the road. Since we’d be in Oregon at lunchtime, I looked for a McMenamins that wouldn’t be too far off the road at the appropriate time and found one in Eugene. It was ten minutes off I-5, near the University of Oregon. You would have thought it was in China, from all the griping from the driver’s seat. But once we got there, ordered, and ate, everyone was happy. And we got to see the Duck’s stadium being refurbished.

Dave and I had driven to Portland in 2013 and stopped at an amazing rest stop on the Klamath River, just inside the northern border of California, so we wanted to stop there again. Except we weren’t sure if it was in California or Oregon. Okay. I thought it was in Oregon, he was sure it was in California, and he was right. We found it and it was as beautiful as we remembered. We had a nice break, then continued to Yreka, our next stop.

After checking into our Holiday Inn Express, we asked for restaurant recommendations. The clerk gave us a couple of choices. We had seen one of them as we got off the freeway, a Mexican place, so we headed there. It was great! We could see stadium lights across the freeway, so after dinner, Dave decided to go watch the local high school football team play. He enjoyed watching the Yreka High Miners lose to Klamath Falls High.

Saturday – Breakfast in the hotel and we were back on the road. We had a fairly uneventful drive south. We stopped for lunch in Stockton at a Denny’s that must have been uncharacteristically busy, because after we were seated we were ignored, so after ten minutes we left and went to the Jack-in-the-Box next door.

We got to our house in Madera at about 3:00-ish. Moved Mom and Dad’s luggage to my car, and I drove them home. Dave drove the rental car to the Fresno airport and I picked him up there.

Lee and Karie had been able to keep our original reservations so they’d been home since Sunday, almost a week. They’d been busy helping friends with a move, painting, scrapping popcorn ceilings, preparing to host a birthday party, but they’d dropped off some welcome home snacks for us.

So once we were back from returning the rental car, we started a load of laundry, I did a quick shuffle through the mail, and we pretty much collapsed. Which means, we took the Harjo snacks to the back patio along with the cribbage board and a deck of cards. And life was good.

 

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Canada, O Canada!

Saturday, September 14–Wednesday, September 18, 2019,

SPOILER ALERT: EVERYONE IS FINE!

Our last morning on the ship. We woke early and had a quick breakfast at the buffet. We had requested the latest disembarkation time possible and had also requested wheelchair assistance for our folks. The wait for available wheelchairs was only slightly shorter than when we boarded, but we did eventually disembark, get our luggage, and find our way to the taxi line. This time we did have curb service, unlike when Sayeed dropped us off.

We had a flight out of Vancouver for the next afternoon, so we checked into our hotel near the airport. We had another “learning” experience courtesy of our taxi driver. The fare from the port to the hotel was $37 and change, Canadian dollars. I handed the driver my credit card. He asked for cash. Dad pulled out his wallet and offered a large US bill. The driver said he only had Canadian bills for change. I gave him $45 US for the fare, which included a (I thought a nice) tip, since he’d been helpful with our luggage and had asked questions about the cruise and seemed interested. It only occurred to me later … the fare in US dollars was less than $28. So I gave him a $17 USD tip, equal to $22 in Canadian dollars. Lesson learned.

The Pittmans and Padgetts walked to the nearby McDonalds for lunch while the Harjos went a bit farther away and also did some shopping. After lunch, we relaxed for a while, then walked the opposite direction to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. The hotel was in a very Chinese neighborhood and we passed at least four other restaurants, but hotel staff had suggested this one. It was quite authentic and very good. Dad asked for coffee. The waitress asked if he wanted, “Hot or cold?” He said, “Hot.” She then asked, “Hong Kong or American?” He responded, “Never mind, I’ll have a beer.” We didn’t know coffee could be so fraught with choices outside of Starbucks.

The food was very good. We ordered an assortment of dishes to share. A chow mein, a fried rice, some shrimp and vegetables. We started with three dishes and the waitress said we needed a fourth. So we added something else and, of course (because we didn’t learn our lesson from the taxi driver) we ended up leaving the equivalent of one full order of food as leftovers behind.

Back at the hotel, we turned on the television and some of us watched, some of us read, some of us dozed. Dad still hadn’t been feeling well, but hadn’t said much.

At about 4:20 Sunday morning, he woke us up and said he wanted to go the hospital. David and I jumped out of bed. David got dressed while I (tried) to call the front desk to ask for an ambulance. The phone in our room wouldn’t work. I finally just went downstairs and asked the desk clerk to call an ambulance. He did. He asked what room number. I told him, “823.” He looked at me a moment then said, “We don’t have 8 floors.” Duh. I don’t know where that came from. “Right. 423.”

I hurried back upstairs and got dressed. I could hear the phone in the room ringing, and Mom trying to answer it, but not connecting because the ringing didn’t stop. We decided that I would go to the hospital with Mom and Dad while David would stay at the hotel to tell the Harjos what was going on, contact the airline if we needed to cancel/change flights. Again: Duh.

The fire truck EMTs were first to arrive, but the ambulance/paramedics were right behind them. They took Dad’s vitals and info, loaded him on a gurney and out of the room. Downstairs, I asked the front desk clerk to call a cab for me (knowing I would pay with a credit card, because … NO MORE CASH PAYMENTS FOR TAXIS!!) The fireman in the elevator told me Dad would probably be taken to Vancouver General because they had the cardiac unit and Dad was a cardiac patient.

Dad was loaded into the ambulance. Mom got into the front to ride with him. David and I conferred quickly. I forwarded him the info about our flights and our trip insurance information, so he could cancel our flights. My taxi arrived, and I asked him to wait because I needed to confirm we were going to Vancouver General. After about five to seven minutes, the ambulance pulled away, but I hadn’t been told where to go. The fire truck fired up their engine to pull out. I waved and hollered, “Vancouver General?” The same fireman from the elevator nodded and hollered back, “Yes, Vancouver General.”

I got in the cab, told the driver, “Vancouver General,” and we took off. As we left, I saw that the ambulance had not actually left after all. They were still in the parking lot. But … maybe it was a second ambulance? That I hadn’t seen? I decided to go ahead to Vancouver General. It was early enough that there was very little traffic. So little that at one intersection, the lights wouldn’t change for us to make a left turn. We had a red light. We waited. And waited. There was no traffic coming from either direction. The driver backed up and pulled forward again to try and trip any sensors. Then we waited some more. And waited. He reversed and drove forward. And we waited. He finally put the cab into Park, opened his door, and ran to the curb, pressed the button for the pedestrian crosswalk. The cross traffic green light immediately turned yellow. And also immediately, a car appeared coming from the opposite direction. So even though we finally had a green light for a left turn, we still had to wait. Sigh.

He eventually delivered me to Vancouver General and took my credit card without a murmur. I found my way to the ER, asked for Dad, but they had no record of him. Of course. So he hadn’t arrived yet. Which was odd. But that just meant he probably was in the ambulance I passed in the hotel parking lot. So I sat and waited.

Vancouver General is a typical urban hospital. I saw … patients from all walks of life there while I waited.

After about ten minutes, an officer asked for names, did some radio chatting and told me Dad had been taken to Richmond General. She directed me where to call for another taxi, which I did. The new cab arrived very quickly and took me to the new hospital and that driver also accepted my credit card without asking for cash. I guess it’s just drivers at the docks who use the cash scam. 

Dad had apparently “crashed,” in the ambulance and they spent some time in the hotel parking lot working on him before transporting him to the hospital. I don’t know if his crisis event made the paramedics decide to take him to the closer hospital (Richmond General) instead of Vancouver, or if the fireman gave me wrong info accidentally.

Mom and I spent Sunday at the hospital, most of it in the ER. We finally went to the cafeteria to get something to eat around 10 am. David was at the hotel dealing with the airline, telling the Harjos what was going on, helping them get off okay to the airport for their flight home, asking the hotel for another night or two for us, or at least getting a late check out while he found somewhere else. I called the travel insurance company and was reassured that everything would be taken care of. In the meantime, David texted to say our hotel was booked and couldn’t give us anymore nights. But–they found us a room at a hotel near the hospital! David transferred all our luggage by himself to the new hotel. 

The new place turned out to be perfect. It was expensive, but we shared a large double room with Mom. It was literally next door to the hospital. We could walk there in three minutes. And a huge, gorgeous park was nearby so we’d see rabbits as we walked.

                      

 

It was still near the airport, so there were lots of hotels around. Which helped with finding dinner places when we were dependent on our feet or taxis or DoorDash for meals.

After several hours in Richmond General ER, Dad was transferred to a room. He ended up spending several days there.

In the ER, a fireman sidled up to me. “Please tell me you have insurance,” he said. I nodded. “Yes, we do. They have excellent insurance.” “Good. You wouldn’t believe the number of Americans who say, ‘But it’s Canada, the health care is free.'” He shook his head. “It doesn’t work that way.” He went on to say Dad was really sick when they picked him up. The fireman also questioned me about the cruise, said they were essentially, “petri dishes,” of germs and gave me the impression that Dad’s issues weren’t related to his heart, that he’d picked up a flu bug or something else on the ship. He was wrong.

Dad had another crisis event Monday morning. He had an angiogram Monday, and an  echocardiogram Tuesday.  

Tuesday was our 42nd anniversary. We went to a nearby hotel for dinner. It was lovely, even though it was not how we’d planned to spend our anniversary. Wednesday was David’s birthday, another day spent not as we’d planned. Dad was released Wednesday, but without clearance to fly. 

Overall, Dad got excellent care. We had opportunities to chat with Canadians about their health care system and we got to observe it up close. It some ways it seemed 20 years behind the US. Supply carts were in the halls, unsecured. The rooms were wards, 4 beds to a room.Patients could watch television on a 1990s blocky computer monitor for $7 CAD 😉 a day. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that. It’s just different. The people we talked to admitted they had to wait months for procedures, but you could buy additional insurance that would speed up the process.

Anyway, once Dad was well enough to be discharged, we discussed our options. Wait a week until he could fly. Take a train home. Rent a car and drive. But you can’t rent a car in Canada to drive one-way to the US. We ended up taking a bus to Bellingham, WA (hoo boy–this post is already too long but that bus trip deserves its own post. Customs … !!), then renting a car, and driving the 1000 miles home.

We left Vancouver around 11:30 AM Thursday morning, September 19, and arrived in Bellingham around 2:15 PM.

Next up: The journey home

Alaska, continued.

Thursday, Sept. 12 – Friday, Sept. 13, 2019

Thursday was our last port day, in Ketchikan. We had booked a crab feed and the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show.

This time, Dave and I got off the ship a little early with Lee and Karie, to explore Ketchikan a little bit. It’s a fun and rustic town. We visited some souvenir shops and just wandered the downtown area. At the appointed time, we met up with our folks and got on the bus for the half hour ride to the George Inlet Lodge for our crab feast. I do like crab, but the last few years the crab we’ve gotten in California has not been great. Well. The Alaska crab was phenomenal. Sweet and tender and delicious. I ate most of it plain, with very little butter. It was perfect just like that. The crab feast included a salad and cheesecake.

After lunch, we got back on the bus and returned to Skagway where we had a short walk to the lumberjack show. It was a little corny, but very entertaining and those guys are definitely athletes as well as entertainers.

After the show, we wandered back to the ship. I detoured into a Christmas shop and bought an ornament, then it was time for dinner. It was also “Orange Night.” Passengers were encouraged to wear orange and come to a party in the BBKing Lounge. The orange was to celebrate the ship’s Norwegian “heritage,” and Norwegian treats would be served.

Karie and Lee were stunning. I had an orange top and Dave had an orange shirt, but he was tired and opted to go back to our cabin after dinner. Lee, Karie, and I went to the Orange party for a while and had a great time.

Friday

Our last day at sea we cruised the inland passage on our way back to Vancouver. Dad wasn’t feeling well and spent most of the day resting in their cabin. The seas were pretty rough all night. We had a time change, from Alaska time back to Pacific time. David and I slept in and skipped our regular breakfast in the dining room and went to the buffet.

We enjoyed the day, relaxing some more. I did some reading while David had a cigar and watched the scenery. Then we made plans to meet up again where he introduced me to a woman he’d met in one of the observation decks, Edith Wallace. She’s a musician and songwriter and we had a delightful conversation about life and goals and second chances and art and writing and spirituality and trusting.

Then we went to high tea. It’s served every day in the dining room, but this was the only day we made it there. It was very fun to enjoy the tradition. I don’t think I’ve taken tea since our trip to Ireland and the UK in 2017.

 

We had an appointment to look at some photos we’d had taken Wednesday evening. We only bought a couple because they were expensive, but they were also really, really good and we haven’t had pictures taken in a long time.

We ended the day with dinner and some time in the Billboard lounge and BBKing, then we had to pack since our luggage had to be out in the hallway by midnight.

Tomorrow, we disembark and say goodbye. It’s going to be a sad day …

More Alaska

Wednesday Sep. 11 – Thursday Sep. 12, 2019

Wednesday we had an excursion planned for our day in Skagway. We got up, had breakfast, and prepared to disembark around noon, or just after. We were supposed to meet the tour at the dock and then either ride a bus or a train to the White Pass summit and then ride the opposite mode of transportation back.

Lee and Karie disembarked before us, to explore Skagway a bit. I got a text from Karie that they heard a rumor that a train had broken down and tours were canceled. So we zipped up to the excursions desk to get the scoop, but it was shut down so all the employees could be on the docks, helping passengers.

We went ahead and disembarked, hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

Sure enough. A morning train had broken an axle and was blocking the tracks. Our tracks. We had the choice of skipping the excursion or taking the bus up and back and getting a partial refund. We decided to go ahead and take the bus.

It was a beautiful trip, full of amazing and rugged scenery. We saw more glaciers and glacial lakes and made plenty of stops for pictures. And, to top it off, we got word that the broken train had been moved and we’d be able to ride the train back to Skagway after all!

So it worked out perfectly. And we had a small refund on our cruise tab at the end, too.

Anyway, this trip does go into the Yukon territory (in other words–Canada) so we had to bring passports and Canada Immigration officers boarded our bus to check everyone’s passports and paperwork.

The train ride down was spectacular. There was a narrator/guide who told us over a sound system what to be looking for and historical facts about the railroad. It was built to carry Gold Rush miners into the Yukon. It was built very rapidly, for the time, but even so, the Gold Rush was over by the time it was completed. The engineer behind it had a high regard for the safety of the employees and they had a much smaller loss of life than other railroads constructed during the same time period.

At one point, the guide announced we were coming up on a bear on the right side of the train. Everyone leaned over to look out and I saw it! It was small and standing right next to the tracks. I think I was the only one in our party to see it.

By the time we pulled into the Skagway station, it was nearly dinnertime. Our excursion included a stop at the Liarsville Gold Mine camp, but because of our delays, we decided to skip that portion and head back to the ship for dinner. After dinner, we visited the BBKing Lounge again, then off to bed.

Thursday was cruising Glacier Bay. Talk about amazing views! We spent time in front of Margerie Glacier and saw a couple of calvings. That when chunks of ice break off. We could hear the cracks and pops before the ice fell, as well as the splash when it hit the water.

We spent the day relaxing, watching the scenery, and enjoying the peace.

Glacier Bay is a National Park, and several Park Rangers came aboard to give talks and information to passengers. I happened to be reading in one of the empty bars (empty because it wasn’t open yet) and had a great view of when their boat came to pick them up and return them to shore.

That evening was the second gala evening. We enjoyed lobster for dinner, though I neglected to take a picture.

It was a great day, and one I thoroughly enjoyed!

 

Alaska!

Monday, September 9 – Tuesday, September 10, 2019

We woke to beautiful views as we pulled in to the dock in Juneau, Alaska, Monday, September 9th.

We stood on our balcony a few minutes and saw a bald eagle perched on a walkway as we were pulling into the docks.

We used to see bald eagles in Madera County, up by Hensley Dam/Hidden Lake, but not in a few years. (Side note: I’m writing and posting this while we’re on the road with the Code 3/RALI drug education trailer in the Chicago area. Yesterday, we saw a bald eagle circling above us in suburban Chicago. No. Big. Deal. Like, we didn’t travel 1600+ miles to see this one bald eagle in Alaska. Although, I did see one more later, sticking its bald head up from a tree, but this is definitely the best view of the one we both saw.)

Our excursion was to a salmon hatchery, Mendenhall Glacier National Park, and a salmon bake (“all you can eat”). We also had reservations for dinner with my folks for dinner at one of the ships specialty restaurants, one of our perks from our awesome travel agent, Cheryl at Hey Wanna Go. (Thanks, Cheryl!)

All of the “older” generation had decided this excursion involved too much walking, so it was just the four of us. Lee and Karie disembarked a little early to see some of Juneau. Dave and I took our time, then met up with Lee and Karie, boarded a bus and headed to the salmon hatchery.

It was very interesting to learn about the salmon industry in Alaska. We’ve watched Deadliest Catch about crab and some of the other reality fishing shows about tuna and salmon, etc. The salmon industry in Alaska makes sure that it is sustainable for future generations. David bought some salmon jerky to enjoy later.

After the hatchery, we loaded back onto the bus, and headed to Mendenhall Glacier National Park. It’s very well organized, as far as letting off bus passengers. We walked a fair amount (good thing the parents decided to cancel this excursion since it did entail some walking–much of it uphill, too). From the Visitor’s Center, we had a great view of the glacier itself, as well as displays to read. There was a film to watch, also. I was trying to record a wolf’s cry for a certain grand-daughter who is currently enamored with wolves, and I missed the film. Dave, Lee, and Karie were able to see the film though.

We then walked down one of the trails for a slightly closer view of the glacier.

When we hear that the glaciers are receding at so many feet per year, I, absolutely, feel a responsibility about global warming. But then I read a bit more. The glaciers have been receding for hundreds of years. Since long before humankind had anything to do with air pollution, emissions, and so on. Because let’s be real. The Grand Canyon was cut by glaciers. There were very few humans around then. Their effect on the glaciers receding through the Grand Canyon was negligible, at best. The Alaska glaciers have been receding for several hundred years. Since long before we arrived. I don’t minimize the effect we have on our environment, but I also don’t think we humans are to blame for everything the natural world is experiencing. Some of it is just a natural cycle of events.

After Mendenhall Glacier, our bus took us to a salmon feed. But we had dinner reservations at a restaurant on the ship. I had made them for later in the evening, to allow for extra time if we were late returning. Good thing! We got to the salmon bake and were told we could take as long as we wanted there. And there were buses ready to take us back to the docks whenever we were ready.

We stood in line for a portion of salmon each, but we knew we had a full dinner waiting for us back on the ship. ** The salmon at the salmon bake was … mmmm … how to put this?? Ah. May. Zing!! Fresh. Tender. Succulent. There was a buffet with salads and scalloped potatoes, then you went to the grill where the chef gave you a piece of salmon and offered you some glaze. I accepted a small piece of fish and the glaze, which they were selling (of course 😉 ) in their gift shop. But it was delicious! As it cooled, it started to congeal and harden a bit, but it really was amazing. Sweet, but not overpowering. I would have bought some, but I knew we were going to be bumping up against space and weight limits for the flights home. Of course, I didn’t know what awaited us as far as “flights” home. Stay tuned for more about that.

After David and gobbled down a few bites of salmon, we said bye to Lee and Karie and jumped on a bus back to the dock, and got ready for our dinner at the Pinnacle Grill restaurant with my folks.

Another amazing experience! The service was awesome! It was like they wanted to find a reason to shower us with love and attention. They kept asking if there was an occasion to celebrate. A birthday? Anniversary? It finally occurred to me–we had our 42nd anniversary a few days after the end of the cruise. I mentioned that and the staff exhaled a collective sigh of relief. Whew! They had a reason to be extra attentive, I guess?

I ordered the “Clothesline” appetizer. Candied bacon hanging from a line. Mom and I had a tenderloin steak that was wonderful. Even though we said we were too full for dessert, because we were celebrating an “occasion,” we were brought a dessert. It was delicious, but we were truly full, so we asked that it be packaged up and we took it back to our room’s mini-fridge for later.

Tuesday, Sept. 10.

Skagway, Alaska

We had booked an excursion from the docks in Skagway, taking a train into the Yukon, then a bus back into Alaska. Or it might be the opposite. You don’t know until you’re there. It’s at the tour’s discretion which way you go. Up by train and back by bus, or up by bus and back by train. But this was one tour we were assured was very easy and suitable for all ages and abilities.

Lee and Karie disembarked a little early to explore Skagway, then texted me. They heard that a train had broken down on the tracks and all tours for the day were canceled. Could we find out if that included ours?? We zipped up to the Excursions desk, but no one was there. Apparently, on shore days, they’re all on shore, booking tours, guiding people, etc.

As David and I disembarked, we ran into a woman he’d chatted with in his cigar smoking area. She had been in the train that had broken down. Yep. It was our train.

We continued on to where we were supposed to board and got the scoop. Yes. A train had broken an axle on the tracks. We had a couple of options. We could take a bus up and back. And possibly get a partial refund. We decided to go ahead and do that. We waited a little bit and boarded a bus for the ride up to the boarding point for the White Pass Yukon Rail. The driver takes his time. We stop many times for photo ops of glaciers and rugged mountainsides.

As we’re on the bus, we get word that the broken train had been moved off the track and we would be able to ride the train back to Skagway.

Because part of the bus and train route moved from Alaska into the Yukon (Canada), we were required to bring our passports. We had to show them twice. Once in the bus, on the way up. We had to get out the passport, hold it near our face, look straight ahead, “don’t make a joke,” etc. The Canadian Immigration official who boarded the bus to inspect us made a joke about how serious we all were. We had no response. “Ummm … we were told to be boring?”

The train followed a route built in 1898 for the Yukon Gold Rush. I really wanted to see several things while in Alaska. A bear. The Northern Lights. A moose. During the ride, our guide announced that a bear was on the right side of train. We were on the right side of the train and I was on window side, so I leaned over to look and there s/he was! It was very quick, but I saw a brown bear in Alaska! I didn’t see the Northern Lights since it was still bit early. And no moose. But I saw a bear! I think I’m the only one of our group of eight who saw the bear.

Coming back to the US, the immigration process was about the same as going into Canada. “Hold your passport in your left hand, near your face, don’t make jokes.” We were in the train at this point, with a few passengers from other buses, so it took a little bit longer. But we got the same response from the U.S. Customs & Border Protection officer. “Hey, did you all have a good time in the Yukon?” Ummm … no!! We were told we have to tell you we had a horrible time. We hate Canada! We want to come home to the US!! (Which is not true. Canada is lovely.)

Our excursion included a trip to a gold camp with a snack and gold panning. But because of the delays, after we arrived back in Skagway, (after passing through Customs & Immigration twice–once into Canada and once out) we decided to skip the gold camp and head back to the ship for dinner.

IMG_4323One of the fun elements of the cruise was during dinner, our stewards, Hri and/or Sri, would come in and turn down the bed and leave information about the next day’s stops. And there was always a cute towel sculpture on the bed.

We all made it back to the ship and had a lovely dinner in the dining room.

Then we ended the evening in the BB King lounge, listening to some great music, watching passenger’s dancing, talking with friends, and even (a little) dancing.

 

 

 

 

 

Alaska, Ho!

Saturday, Sept. 7 & Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019

Saturday

When we’d checked into our Vancouver hotel, the desk staff had recommended a shuttle to take us to the port for boarding the cruise ship. The driver, Sayeed, assured us he could deliver all 8 of us, and our luggage, right to the curb where we could drop off our bags and be met with the requested wheelchairs for the folks. Well. It turned out Sayeed was working a bait and switch.

He did have an 8 passenger van. But counting him, there were 9 of us. So an extra person was scrunched into one bench seat and seatbelt-less. Then, yes, he delivered us to a curb. Just not the curb at the baggage drop. So it was a looooong walk to the actual baggage drop, where the taxis and buses were delivering other passengers. He did help with the bags, but we still had a lot to wrangle through elevators and walkways, while shepherding the folks who’d been told they would have wheelchairs and wouldn’t have to walk far. So we didn’t start off on a happy note.

 

Once we dropped off the bags, it got a little easier, but it was still a fair distance to the check-in. But once there, and checked-in, we could sit while we waited for the wheelchairs that would take us on board. We waited a loooong time. I guess they had about four chairs for the 400 passengers requesting assistance. I probably exaggerated, but not by much. David accompanied Mom and I walked along with Dad. An attendant pushed the chair, Mom or Dad held a carryon bag on their lap and we zipped past some lines at Customs, showed our passports and then scooted up the gangway and onto the ship. We were on the 8th floor, at the front of the ship. Mom and Dad on the port side, David and I on the starboard side. Our friends and their parents were also being accompanied and using a wheelchair, so it didn’t take long and we were all on board.

We met our room stewards, Hru and Sri. They were all smiles and welcomed us with genuine warmth. We then headed to the dining room for lunch. After lunch, Mom and Dad went to rest in their room, while David and I explored the ship. We sat in on an orientation talk for first time cruisers. We also went up to the shore excursions desk. We had booked our excursions ahead of time, but after seeing how much walking there was on the ship, Mom and Dad were rethinking some of our choices. We decided they should cancel Monday’s excursion to Mendenhall Glacier. We also asked the consultant there about the other two excursions we had booked, but she assured us there was very little walking on both of those. That we’d be met by a bus on the dock and taken to the site. So we left those on the schedule and just canceled the glacier trip.

By then it was time for the muster drill. We hurried back to our cabin and waited to be called to the deck near the life boats. All 8 of us made it to the drill. Whew! Then it was time for sailing!

Although the Pittman’s room was on the port side, the other three rooms in our party were on the starboard side, which was the side facing the dock, so we gathered in our room, on the balcony, for a toast and to wave farewell to Vancouver. And … Sri arrived with a lovely gift from our awesome travel agent, Cheryl, at Hey Wanna Go. She sent us an appetizer sampler that we enjoyed while watching Vancouver slip away. Thank you, Cheryl!

 

Then it was time for dinner! Seafood, steak, pasta, so many choices …

After dinner, we were tuckered out. Lee and Karie explored the nightlife and entertainment options, but we called it a night.

Sunday, Sept 8

 

Sunday was a cruising day. We sailed up the Inland Passage and admired the gorgeous scenery. We saw a pod of dolphins and a few whales. Dave found the smoking area where he could enjoy a cigar. One of the “bargain,” offers on ship, was a “free” bracelet and then the opportunity to buy a charm each day. I was able to use my coupon as well as both folks’ and so assembled three bracelets and gave one each to Amber and Taryn when we got home.

 

After breakfast, we were able to take a tour of the kitchen and meet the chef. He talked about how they prepare, assemble, and serve the meals to the 2000+ passengers and crew, how they plan the menus. He also mentioned that on the second gala night, when lobster is offered, that the numbers are very consistent, for every cruise! Nearly every passenger orders the lobster.

Sunday evening was the first of the two Gala Nights where we dressed up for dinner. It was a fun evening. After dinner we enjoyed some music at the Billboard Lounge then at the B.B. King nightclub.

 

Tomorrow, Mendenhall Glacier National Park!