AUNT RUTH AND HER FRIENDS CRUISE TO ALASKA
This was our 28th cruise, our 6th on HAL, and our second in a suite on the Zuiderdam. This time, my dear Aunt Ruth at the age of 92 years young invited a group of her family and friends to cruise with her. We had a wonderful time. Aunt Ruth reserved two suites on the Rotterdam deck, and others of our group had balcony cabins elsewhere on the ship. The suites are beautiful and make a wonderful place for the group to meet. For our previous Zuiderdam cruise to the Caribbean, CLICK HERE

We traveled in July 2006. We flew into Seattle the day before, and rented a car to drive to Vancouver. Although this worked OK, it is really not what I would recommend. There is about an hour wait at the Peace Arch International Border, and the parking at Canada Place is confusing. We had to search for the cruise parking attendant, and although it is only a small delay it was frustrating when we were ready to board! Probably it would have been more efficient to take the HAL transfers.

However, as soon as we boarded everything was wonderful and we had that feeling of being back where we belong! We soon met the concierges in the Neptune Lounge and they were very good to us all week. We ordered up a tray of hors d'oeuvres and had a sailaway party on the verandahs of the suites, which we had opened up to connect.

It was beautiful sunny weather as we sailed North through the Inside Passage. We had breakfast on our balcony under the bright blue skies. The first day of leisure aboard the ship was delightful. Our cabin steward Yadi was very efficient and the rooms were always nicely made up. During the week we tried both the dining room and the buffet for breakfast and lunch and both were very good. I do think that HAL's menus are some of the very best afloat. Here is a sample dinner menu. Our dining steward Gani was very attentive and helpful and took it all in stride as our group of eleven changed side dishes, shared plates, passed food around and swapped seats

The first big production show was "Under the Boardwalk," clearly a nostalgia trip for Baby Boomers. The entertainment was good, but it does not seem to be the high point for HAL.

The next day was cruising Tracy Arm in the morning. This was truly beautiful scenery and we loved sitting on the balcony and watching it pass by. The day was misty all along the Arm and the clouds floating along the walls of the fjord were fascinating. Chunks of bright blue glacier ice were frequently floating by. All of us, especially Aunt Ruth, really enjoyed being out on the balcony watching the water and scenery all through the week. Although the weather clouded over after the first day, it was never bitterly cold and usually the ship was sailing slowly enough that there was not much wind.

As noon approached, we left Tracy Arm and set sail for Juneau. So far all our sailing had been in the protected Inside Passage and the sea was extremely calm. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the dining room as we headed for the capital of Alaska.


In Juneau all the members of our party went different directions. Renée's anticipated helicopter fight and dog sled ride was canceled due to weather, which is known to be a fairly common occurrence. She was disappointed. Andréa took the Gold Mine tour and enjoyed it. Aunt Ruth and I left the ship and right at the dock got tickets on a shuttle to Mendenhall Glacier at a rate of $6 each way. We had a nice scenic ride to the glacier, and there we ran into Donna and Jim and their granddaughters just leaving! So we had a chance for a nice picture. When we returned to the ship they reported they also took the tram to the top of Mt. Roberts and enjoyed it a great deal.
This is a beautiful ship and has all the wonderful facilities. We loved the Thermal Suite in the spa, and enjoyed several of the lounges. The internet room is vastly improved from our last trip and provided a very fast and stable connection most of the time, and also wireless connections for your own laptop, at 40 cents a minute. The Neptune Lounge for suite passengers was wonderful and the espresso machine provided free coffees so we didn't need to visit the coffee lounge on the main lounge deck, but for those interested here is the Windstar menu.
Skagway was the next port of call. Here we had made independent arrangements to rent a van from Avis, which easily held seven of us. We drove out to the Gold Rush cemetery, to see the graves of Soapy Smith, the scourge of Skagway, and Frank Reid, the hero who saved the town from Soapy but lost his own life in the gun battle. Then we drove out of town on the only road there is, past the yards of the White Pass Railway.
A short side trip on the spur road to Dyea leads to a wonderful viewpoint that overlooks the Lynn Canal, and the Skagway dock and all the cruise ships in port. It was nice to be able to spend as much time as we wanted instead of being hustled up by one of the many tour directors there with a group! Then we headed back to the main road and out over the White Pass, paralleling the route taken by the railroad.
We climbed into fog at the top of the pass, which gave everything an eerily beautiful appearance. However, if we had just been going to the top and turning back, it would have been disappointing. At Fraser we saw the end of the train route, and the buses heading back down, but here we passed through Canadian customs and continued on down the pass. We broke out of the fog into beautiful scenery and soon entered the Yukon.
We drove along through one stunning view after another, many small and large lakes, snow capped mountains, forested hillsides, and even passed an old silver mine. We stopped at almost every pull out to view the magnificent scenery and take pictures. We drove on to the town of Carcross, and stopped to see the "World's Smallest Desert." A bit further along we came to Emerald Lake, truly a little jewel. Turning back at that point we stopped at Spirit Lake for a good lunch of sandwiches, homemade soup and wonderful fresh blueberry pie from local berries.
Then we went to Caribou Crossing (formerly known as Frontierland.) Here we visited the camp of famous dog mushers Ed and Michelle Phillips of Pristine Wilderness Tours. Michelle and her dogs finished 8th in the tough Yukon Quest last year. The highlight of the camp for Aunt Ruth was the chance to cuddle the friendly husky puppies, the result of a careful breeding program for speed and endurance.
Michelle gave us an interesting introduction to dog mushing, showing us the actual sled that has made three Yukon Quest runs, demonstrating the different kinds of runners, showing how to zip an injured dog into the sled, covering the feeding of the dogs and the amount of food burned during a run as each dog eats 10,000 calories a day! Then, as Suzie and Renée had another adventure booked, they took first turn on riding the dog sled. (That's them in the back seat.) The dogs are very excited as the harness is filled, each one jumping and barking for a chance to get in harness and pull! These dogs are bred to pull and it is what they love to do!
After Suzie and Renée finished their ride, they went on and the rest of us boarded the sled for our turn. Ten dogs were hitched to the sled, and when the musher released the brake they were off! We followed beautiful trails through the woods, with the lead dogs following the soft spoken commands of the musher to "gee" or "haw" at the turns. The rapid pace of the sled made it a real challenge to get pictures of the dogs as they ran!
Here you can see Bill, Aunt Ruth, Mike and Andréa in the sled. When we finished our ride, the dogs went right into the sprinkler hose to cool off, as those who were left behind began barking and jumping around for their turn to run next! This was truly a highlight of our trip and a great deal of fun!
Meanwhile, Suzie and Renée had been off on their ATV adventure. Led by a First Nations guide, who said she was a real princess as her father had been elected the high chief, they mounted their ATV and followed her through the woods, past the beaver dam, over the sand dunes and up and down hill! They came back thoroughly exhilarated from the ride! We highly recommend this as an alternative to the railroad excursion in Skagway, especially if you have several people of varied interests in your party.
While they rode the ATVs, the rest of us had the chance to visit the wildlife museum. This wonderful museum has over 200 mounted animals, ranging from squirrels to the world's largest polar bear and even a wooly mammoth. This musk ox seemed to capture the spirit of the tundra for us.
The next morning we took advantage of a privilege of suite passengers and breakfasted at the Pinnacle Grill. This is a delightfully beautiful restaurant. We did not choose to pay the additional fee for lunch or dinner there, but we did enjoy the breakfasts in this elegant atmosphere.
And then -- GLACIER BAY! This is a World Heritage Site and a National Park, and truly deserving of protection for all generations. To see it from the deck of a cruise ship is truly amazing. First we ventured into the left arm of the Bay to view Johns Hopkins glacier, but could not get very close because the seals are nursing their pups on the ice.
Then we turned into the more usual right arm of the Bay. As we sailed down the arm, the beautiful Margerie glacier was in position to be viewed from the port side cabins. Then the Captain swung the ship, and from our starboard side balcony we could view first the dirty Grand Pacific glacier, and then the magnificent and famous blue white Margerie Glacier. The Captain stayed in that position for about an hour, and we had lots of time to admire the glacier, listen for the cracks that portended an imminent calving and look for the splash as the ice tumbled into the bay in front of the glacier. During all this time we had commentary from the ship's naturalist and a Park Ranger.
That night was the second formal night. All eleven of us loved the chance to dress up and get a nice picture taken by the ship's photographer. The dining room food was delectable as always, and four lobster tails managed to find their way onto my plate! Our waiter Gani took great care of us and always saw to it that we had everything we wanted. Frequently he brought an extra plate of pasta, Bami Goreng, or some other side dish for us to share and sample all around.
We arrived in our final port of Ketchikan in the afternoon. Here all eleven of us were booked on the Alaskan Ducks. We met our guide Kristen (that's her on the left), who furnished us with quackers, and boarded the amphibious vehicle. The first part of the tour was on the streets of Ketchikan, where we all quacked back at locals who waved as we passed.
The land portion of the tour visited all the sights of Ketchikan, including the Totem Heritage center where Kristen recounted the tale of Raven and Fog Woman as recorded on a totem pole. We also saw the salmon ladder, and the notorious Creek Street which housed the brothels of Ketchikan until 1960. Behind the hill we saw the "Married Man's Trail" which provided a back way into Creek Street. Ketchikan is a lot of fun and our guide did a wonderful job of making it come alive!
After the shore tour, it was down the boat ramp and into Ketchikan harbor as the Duck earned its name! We cruised past the fishing boats as Kristen described the various means of earning a living on the sea ( and waved to a lot of her fisherman friends!).
Then we visited the eagle's nest on the opposite shore and saw the majestic birds standing guard. We thoroughly enjoyed this way of visiting Ketchikan. We returned with plenty of time to spend in the many shops near the dock.

So our Inside Passage cruise drew to a close, with a final wonderful day at sea. It was time for one last breakfast on the verandah, and then we watched the water go by and kept an eye out for wildlife. We saw spouting whales, orcas and seals as we cruised down the coast, with the ship's naturalist on the bow keeping up a running commentary, which was available on the cabin TV. The teens in our group had great fun in The Loft, HAL's special area reserved just for teens.
The special brunch for suite passengers was today and our wonderful concierge January from the Neptune Lounge took great care of us. Then we enjoyed one last sunset at sea to end a wonderful cruise!

Disembarkation in Vancouver was very easy and a great porter gathered up all our bags and took us right to our cars in the parking lot. We headed south, spent about an hour in line at the Peace Arch border crossing, and then turned off in Bellingham to drive the scenic Chuckanut Trail and stop for lunch at a local oyster house.

This was a wonderful cruise, and being accompanied by family and friends made it all the more beautiful. We wish all those of you who visit our page a GREAT cruise wherever you may go!

We like to discuss our travels. Email us at thehalls@bully4.us

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