Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Alaska Cruise with Two days in Seattle Trip Report - Sept. 9 - Sept. 18, 2012

So, I'm going to be honest...I had ZERO interest in seeing Alaska.  As it turned out, I cancelled my Paris/Nice trip and instead sent my son on a one month Contiki tour to Europe.  I thought he would enjoy that more, being twenty-two and all...so all of a sudden I was free to go somewhere else, after losing about $300 in pre-paid stuff in France that I had no way to recover...So, I snuck in a great solo trip to Vegas when he left but knew I would still want something more for vacation this year...

A friend had booked an Alaska cruise and her mother cancelled, so she invited me to go.  She had secured an extended AFT balcony room and offered a reasonable price of $800 for me to join so I agreed.  It left from Seattle and arrived back in Vancouver which was really why I agreed to go.  I do like ending up at home without having to fly!  I had been on the Carnival Spirit in April (with her) which took me from San Diego to Vancouver.

I didn't do much research (almost none) and didn't really have any expectations other than trying some good crab.  I just decided to play it by chance and booked no excursions.  I told you...I had zero interest in Alaska!  I only looked at our itinerary ONCE.  I know people have Alaska on their "bucket lists" but I would rather go to Vegas, New York or New Orleans. I'm not really into nature and the outdoors.  I like "City" vacations or umbrella drinks by a beach or pool, like in Waikiki or Key West or something.  Just sayin'...

I decided to travel to Seattle two days early to extend the one week a little and do some dining.  My friend agreed to join me so I researched and compiled a list of Happy Hours in Seattle for us.  I booked our hotel on Hotwire and liked that because I got to select two beds for paying a bit more.  The three star hotel ended up being the Warwick and we paid $116 USD per night pre tax.  If I had held out, I could have got a better hotel/deal with more stars, but I'll be the first to admit that I'm bad at knowing when to buy airfares or anything like that.  I actually called Hotwire and asked why they kept sending emails telling me how much better I COULD have done at booking my hotel if they wouldn't let me switch the booking...They said they realize that it's a problem and I would have to "unsubscribe" immediately so I didn't continue to get "tortured" with the better deals I could have gotten...all a game of chance....SO, it was what it was...  :-)

We used Bolt Bus and got a really good deal on the trip down.  Vancouver to Seattle was only $11 each.  We were both quite happy about that!

Warwick hotel pic from Orbitz website

September 9th:

I met my friend at the train station which is also where the bus station is.  The bus departed on time at 1:30.  Exactly three hours later we were in Seattle.  It was a non-stop ride with only the border and we were all through the border in minutes this trip.  Pretty sweet.  The only draw back of Bolt Bus is you have to load and unload your own luggage so I actually had to climb in the bottom of the bus to get mine out.  Not very glamorous!  But, for $11 I'm not going to complain.  The cab to our hotel was $6 or $10 after tip.

We arrived just in time for Happy Hour at the hotel bar/restaurant Brasserie Margaux and also in time to watch Denver beat Pittsburgh in the NFL Sunday night opener game.  :-)  (I'm betting on Denver this year).  After the game we walked down to Walgreens and bought some wine for the room.  Ralph's Grocery across the street from our hotel was double the normal price of wine - a bottle of Ravenswood Zin was $16 there and $8 at Walgreens!  The happy hour was not bad.  Food was good, but nothing you would remember.  The happy hour deal offered one free tapas when you ordered two so we got Calamari, Maui ribs and Hummus/Pita.  We chatted with four people from Australia who were beginning a very long US journey/vacation and would also be on the cruise too.  It was nice meeting them.

Later in the evening after walking around downtown we went for another Happy Hour by our hotel which was called Palace Kitchen.  It started at 11pm.  My pics didn't turn out too well because it was dark in there but the wings were incredibly smokey delicious!  I just loved them and am still thinking about them!

wood grilled chicken wings~coriander cream  $4.

September 10th:

We woke up and took a wander to Pike's and decided to have lunch at Matt's in the Market.  I would suggest making reservations.  We had to come back in a half hour without them but we just shopped while waiting.  This was a great choice.  We had an awesome meal here and would return again.  The lamb burger was amazing!!!

 Shrimp Tostadas with rock shrimp, cilantro, cucumber, green onion, radishes, lime and guacamole. $14.

Don & Joe's lamb burger (medium rare) - goat cheese, bacon, herb aioli, onion jam on brioche with heirloom tomato, sweet onion soup. $16. 

We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping.  Ross had some good deals and my friend was beside herself happy when she scored some Coach boots for $129.  I did well and also got some boots, a dress and a purse for less than what she paid (Not Coach, of course).  We dumped our stuff off and walked down the block for Happy Hour at Lola.  Nice place, friendly staff.

 Saganaki  Cheese $5

KEBABS WITH CHARRED ONION, OUZO - Washington chicken, yogurt, dill  $7

We walked around a bit more and then chillaxed until our final Happy Hour at 10pm.  We walked down to Boka.  It was a nice bar and lots of seats.

 Ahi Tuna Poke - ahi tuna, spicy ponzu marinade, avocado, taro chips $9

BOKA Jalapeño Poppers - beecher’s cheese curd, buttermilk dressing $6

The poppers were really, really good and that cheese curd made the dish.  This happy hour turned out to be great value.  The short ribs ($6) and mussels ($9)  were excellent and I like any place that serves crispy kale ($4).  And that summed up our culinary adventure in Seattle.

September 11th:

We checked out and got a taxi to take us to the pier at noon.  BUT, I realized as we drove off that I left my laptop in the room so we had to swing back and pick it up.  So, the taxi ended up costing $15, or $20 with tip after the detour.  It was a beautiful day and Seattle looked gorgeous from the ship.

Mount Ranier looked nice too!

We noticed this cruise offered the "all inclusive" package so we decided to partake.  While we were discussing it and mulling it over, we met a couple from Nashville (Hi Scott & Nancy!) who were also doing the same thing.  This ended up meaning we met great new friends and spent all our future evenings with them.  So, we all bought the package, had a drink together and agreed to meet later.  The package worked out to be $50 a day which included gratuities.  We all more than broke even with this.  :-)  This allowed us to drink wines like Kendall Jackson and spirits like Ketel One vodka.  The drinks just had to be priced under $10.  Gratuity did not factor in the $10 limit.  So, for $350 we had unlimited drinks until the bar closed on our final night of the cruise.

We had Steakhouse reservations ($35 each) which included a free bottle of wine this evening.  But, because that no longer mattered since we had the package, they allowed us to take it to the room which was nice.  After dinner we watched the show and comedians which we really enjoyed.  The comedians were great.

How the steakhouse looked from our seats.

The lobster bisque is yummy!!!

This was the surf & turf.  The lobster was a little rubbery.

September 12th (Sea Day):

This was a pretty uneventful sea day.  Just the usual cruise fare - eating, drinking, gambling,... We ate in the main dining room this evening and I had ribs which were not bad...There would be very few good dining room meals this trip.  We met up with Nashville after and ended the day with drinks and laughs with our new bestest friends.

September 13th (Juneau):

We got into Juneau late afternoon.  We decided to take a shuttle to Mendenhall Glacier with another cruiser from Seattle (Hi Deb!).  The shuttle cost $16 round trip.   

It was raining and gloomy.

They warn you about bringing food while on the shuttle ride and even tell a few stories about stupid people that don't listen to the warnings and what happens... like the bears take the food and then they have to shoot them because people brought food that they shouldn't have.  But sure enough there was a couple feeding their little kid food and the ranger had to remove it from them.  They were quite upset about it because their kid started crying... I was actually quite nervous about the bears as we walked around.  We stopped in the visitors centre ($3 - yawn) and then took the return shuttle to town.

We stopped at the touristy Red Dog Saloon for a drink and I had a small bowl of chowder that was good.  

After a couple of drinks, Deb went on her way and we decided to go have some crab at Tracy's.

You order and pay here, then move to the next shack to pick up.  

It was raining hard out so we sat in the tent which had a heater going.  We each ordered a combo.

Garlic rolls (didn't try), crab cakes (OK - weird sweet dipping sauce) and crab bisque (good)

 This completed the combo.  $34.95.  The leg, if ordered alone was $24.95

Crab was delicious when it came out of the shell!

We ran into Nashville while eating so we joined them while they dined.  They scored an extra half leg and rice with their combo!  In hindsight, I should have just got the crab as it was more than enough for a meal.  After dinner, my friend went to shop and the three of us made our way back to the ship.  The rain was torrential, it was pouring buckets and windy.  There was a long, long line to board too.  We all enjoyed our drinks back on the ship that night!  Nashville had new names for us.  Scott said I sounded like a "hoser" when I asked them if they thought we had accents....So that became my name and Miss Nancy named my friend Pia "Clickety Clack".  (There's a train story in there somewhere?).

September 14th (Glacier Bay):

So today was another sea day but was narrated by a ranger as we cruised through Glacier Bay.  We sat on the balcony for this, ordered room service and watched the scenery go by.  We got to go through John Hopkins Inlet and saw Margerie Glacier.  We saw some Glacier calving as well.  I enjoyed it.  I did get tired of listening to the ranger after awhile.  He was becoming annoying  like our cruise director Stu.  I got very sick of hearing him talk on the speakers of the ship each day.  

There was almost no activities on the ship this day and the daily program said they wanted everyone to enjoy the scenery.  They even closed the casino.  It didn't open til 6:30 that night.

We had our Chef's Table dinner tonight.  This was $75 per person (we tipped $25 pp on top of that) and we were really looking forward to it. We met in the Atrium bar and were greeted by Chef Daniel Arulraj, then escorted to the Galley (no pictures allowed) for a few amuse-bouche(s).  We got a galley tour and then a demo of how to make their most popular dish which is "chocolate melting cake".  Our reception included:
  • Parmesan Core & Olive
  • Chorizo & Dates, Piquillo Sofrito
  • Focaccia, Mascarpone Cream & Prosciutto Crudo
  • Langoustine & Sundried Tomato Jam Fritters
From there we were escorted to the Disco where a table of twelve setting awaited us.  Service was top-notch and you were even escorted to the restroom!  The chef explained each dish in detail.  Everything was delivered at once for the entire table.  Sparkling or bottled water was offered.  They gave you a white and a red wine though I can't remember what they were.  They were both very good though and they re-filled either glass any time you got low.

I'm going to post a couple of pictures of some courses because they were so very beautiful!

Chef Arulraj

Our dining table

Brioche baked in Terracotta with roasted garlic

Tomatoes Our Way! :  Aerated Tomato Juice, Cocoa Butter Coated, Chardonnay Poached

Tuna Banh Mi : Lemon Bread, Sesame Crisp, Miso Cream Avocado gel (This was my fave dish)

Cornish Hen : Caramelized Butternut Squash, Sofrito

Bavarois : Spinach, Green Peas, Warm Turnip & Apple Juice (Surprisingly delicious!)

At this point, a Magician came in and performed some sleight of hand magic with the table.  I had coins showing up on different parts of limbs when he got to me.  :-)

Salmon (farmed) :  Herb Pesto, Cured Tomatoes, Carrots, Fava, Mushroom Earth, Condensed Beets

Wagyu : Slow Stewed short ribs, Potato Pebbles, Pumpkin Fudge, Tomato Dust (2nd fave course)

Dessert : Chef in Candy Shop (Very rich!)

We really, really enjoyed this dinner and found it worth the money.  We were at the end of the table and we really enjoyed the company of the other two couples beside us.  They also felt the same way as us about the dinner.  This was an excellent way to spend an evening and I am so glad we did this.  We received a group photo with the chef and he signed it.  We also received a personalized menu of the evening.

Then we went off to meet Nashville for drinks in the piano bar.  They went to order and only came back with one drink.  Scott said they ordered a Pinot Noir but the bartender gave them a Pinot Gris and then he wouldn't exchange it for what they ordered.  He told them they had to wait five minutes to be able to use their card again and then he'd give them a new one.  

So, I thought that was wrong and said I'd go order Nancy one on my card since I already had a drink.  When I got there another bartender started to pour the wine I ordered,  but I noticed the first one was now pouring the same wine in a glass.  I asked him if that was hers and he said yes and started to walk away.  I asked the other one to cancel my order then and and we all started into a "discussion" about this event again.   Why was I ordering for her?  I went back to, why wouldn't they give her the wine she ordered in the first place? The first bartender finally left and brought the wine over to Nancy.

Anyway, when I got back to the table (irked!) Nashville asked me what was going on and I sat down.  I saw this on the table which I thought the bartender brought over with him.  So, as I was re-capping my discussion, I picked the finger puppet up and threw him across the room.

But when I did that, and I looked at Nashville, my brain, went OOPS.  They looked devastated!  Miss Nancy's mouth dropped wide open and looked stunned.  Scott leaped up and it looked like it was slow motion.  It was like I had thrown their baby out a window or something!  Scott grabbed it and came back to the table and proceeded to tell me the puppet was "Little Dude" and is like the Travelocity Gnome to them.  They take him everywhere on their travels and they wanted to share him with us this night....

Well that broke us up into such laughter!  I laughed so hard I couldn't breathe!  We laughed about this for the rest of the trip. I know this was a "you had to be there" moment but I had to write it down for memory..it still makes me laugh.  You had to see their faces to appreciate it.  They didn't take him out for a couple of days because they said he was traumatized by me....

September 15th (Skagway): 

I was by myself today since my friend had a Steam Train Tour ($200 - ouch!).  Most people took some kind of train tour today.  I just decided to walk around town and souvenir shop.  

Alaska Red Berry Tree

 Chai Martini

Halibut ($19.95)  It was really good!

There wasn't too much going on in town and I covered it pretty quickly and returned to the ship.  I did get my shopping done.  We ate in the dining room and had an almost inedible meal.  I was really unhappy with the service too with the "anytime dining".  It was always bad.  Met up with Nashville and ended the night the usual way.

September 16th (Ketchikan): 

We awoke to a view of this from the balcony on this beautiful day:

We headed out for a walk around town.  I left the tour in my friend's hands since this is her second trip to Alaska, same ship, same itinerary.  We went for a lunch that I would rather not remember at the Fish Pirate's Saloon.  I think we would have had a better one if we ate at the buffet on the ship that day.  For the $28 it cost me, I wish I would have...

The town was a little bigger than Skagway but all the shops looked the same and again, and there wasn't much to see.  It was quaint though.

We had dinner with Seattle Deb in the dining room and I had the best meal of the cruise (besides the pay restaurants) that night.  Really amazing lasagna!  I couldn't finish it but they wouldn't let me take it with me.  :-(  You can take food from the buffet because they don't serve it to you but you can't from the dining room because they do serve it to you and therefore are responsible if you get sick.  Seattle Deb departed for the evening after she finished her appies.

Then it was party time.  This was the night we decided to let it all out!  We started with comedy and had Halifax meet up with us (Hi Steve & Kelly!).  Then we moved to the disco and closed it down.  We all danced and made good use of our all inclusive cards that night.  At 3:30 most went to bed but Scott and I drank wine on our balcony til 5:30 am!  He reported he bounced down all the walls when he left.  I think I was out cold before my head hit the pillow after he made his exit...

September 17th (Inside Passage Seaday):

We all slept in.  I know I woke in time for lunch, ate and then proceeded to go back to bed.  I was drinking Patron Tequila the night before, which is still making me shudder at the thought of it!  This was supposed to be a scenic sea day but it was total fog so there was nothing to see at all.  I think just before sunset, the fog broke briefly.  We all laid pretty low and Nashville met up with us for dinner in the Steakhouse for our final night.

My Australian Lamb Chops

Miss Pia's Lobster Ravioli

The portions were so huge, none of us could come close to finishing.  We all went to the comedy club for the last show with Halifax and then we all said our goodbye's and goodnight's.

September 18th (Vancouver):

Met Seattle Deb for breakfast (the one and only morning meal we did on the ship) and then disembarked.  I was home by 10 am.  Despite not loving Alaska (would never return), I had a good trip and met some fabulous people.  That really made the trip special and I hope we'll remain in touch and stay friends!  This is one of those trips where I now need a vacation from the vacation.  I hardly spent any time in the casino (well besides the casino bar) so that says how much fun I had...I'll be relaxing for the next few days!  Cheers to my fellow cruisers!

I loved this view sitting in the "Atrium Bar" on the Spirit Ship

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