Alaskan Whale Watching

DSC_0947 DSC_0950 Bubble Netting…from far awayWe took a shore excursion in Juneau after docking with our Holland America cruise line.  There were many Whale Watching excursions to choose from.

I turned to TripAdvisor.com to help me research the reviews other people had left for various options of shore excursions for each port of call.

About 2 months ahead, I booked with “Harv & Marv’s Outback Alaska” .  Book early.

There are 2 camps: Pro or Anti “Cruise Ship Shore Excursions”, or the excursions that are offered through the same company you are cruising with.

There is a large consensus that “Cruise Ship Shore Excursions” were NOT to be done.  Why?

  • Too many people
  • Too expensive
  • Not as “intuitive” because it’s not a “Local” company
  • There are less options on time, where to go, when to come back

There were also some good reasons IN FAVOR of “Cruise Ship Shore Excursions”:

  • If the boat is late, you don’t loose your money
  • If for any other reason that the excursion doesn’t happen, you are also protected and don’t loose your money
  • You can make your plans all in one place, all at one time
  • It’s simple to check on your excursion as you are arriving…because the leaders are on the ship and know what the plans or changes in plans are. (keep in mind that  there is no cell phone or internet access…so you have to go “Old School”, trusting that your excursion people are waiting for you if you pay a local company)

I decided to go with a local company because I wanted a smaller boat that would help my husband want to come:  less people, less boat motion, more freedom of where to go, and less restriction on what time to leave and/or come back.

Harv & Marv’s had great reviews and they answered my questions quickly.  Making a reservation was easy, and I decided to go for it.  I chartered a boat that could carry 12 people, but we only had 8 go with us. The price was still comparable to the Cruise Ship options. They met us at the port and our round trip van ride included some sight seeing and a stop at Mendenhall Glacier, which is a great perk.

Here is my review of Harv & Marv’s from TripAdvisor:

“Worth Extra to Have Private Tour!”
5 of 5 starsReviewed June 30, 2013

Captain Sean took us out on the Alaskan, with hydraulic seats & big windows. Great ride! FYI, even though it was a heatwave of 78 degrees on land, we needed jackets to stay warm on the water. We were thankful that we brought them along.
Snacks & water/soda is provided if you are interested, but most of our time was spent watching the Humpback Whales bubble net feed over and over.
Thanks, Sean & Jaqulin for making it possible to witness up close such a wondrous show of these graceful animals. You are truly lucky to see this over and over.
As we watched in peace from our boat, asking questions of Captain Sean & learning oodles, the packed cruise boat next to us was tipping from side to side as groups of people rushed to one side of the boat for a glimpse of the whales. Lines of people were jumping up and down in the back, trying their best to see something. Then, they would rush to the next sighting, rocking the boat again. This is exactly why we were happy to be on our own boat.
Video taping will get more out of your time than still pictures, in my opinion. I took 2000 pictures, yet the video taken by my 8 year old caught the moments better than the still pics.

Visited June 2013

Is the Suite Worth It On a Cruise to Alaska?

DSC_0004It’s roughly $2000 extra for a suite… added to the regular price of the 7 day cruise. This was on Holland America, but I think roughly the same amount would apply on most cruise ships for 7 days.

What does that include? Obviously more space, but is the extra space worth it?

Here was my thinking:

This is a “once-in-a-lifetime” type of trip.  I’m going ALL IN!

My husband does not enjoy traveling as much as the kids & I do, and this upgrade was mainly for him to feel more comfortable.  He is claustrophobic, needs alone time & quiet time, and he doesn’t like crowds.  Sometimes he doesn’t even like people.

The suite turned out to be the perfect amount of room for him to feel relaxed and comfy.  Not only was the room spacey enough to sit & read or lay down, but also the private verandah was large and lovely.  He spent hours and hours on the verandah, staring at the beautiful sites.  Just for this reason, the suite was worth the extra massage hours I put in to pay for it. To watch him leaning on the verandah rail, calm, relaxed and happy was great and a small price to pay for him to enjoy the time.

For us it was worth it for several other surprising reasons:  The daily laundry service! OMG, I’ll take it! Pick up, wash, dry, fold & deliver?? Are you kidding? Awesome!

The breakfast delivered in bed…yes please!  We really enjoyed this feature and took our food out on the verandah to have breakfast with the ocean.  So lovely to drink tea out there!

The concierge!  She helped us with dinner reservations, any questions we had about the trip, our room, etc.  She checked on our shore excursions even when they weren’t booked through the ship!  And she was in the Neptune Lounge which had snacks, drinks, movies, computer access, magazines, etc, right across the hall from our room.

The daily High Tea delivered to our room!  Yummy!  Can you say “weight gain”? I felt like we never stopped eating!  But the food was delicious.

Is the suite worth it for you?  It really depends on:

  • How much time you want to spend in your room…some people are only in their rooms to sleep
  • How comfortable you are in public spaces…because there are some LOVELY public places all over the ship, so staying in your room is not really needed.
  • Is a verandah important to you?  Again, there are many places to sit and watch the views/water NOT in your room.
  • If the verandah is important to you, do you need a big one?  Because you could get the smaller verandah for much less.

 

Cons:

  • The price

Pros:

  • More space
  • Large verandah
  • Extras that come with the suite: laundry service, food delivery, concierge, luggage delivered first in/out, and list of more.

Alaskan Cruise was Exceptional

Our 7-day cruise to Alaska on Holland America was fabulous.  The ship, Ms. Volendam started in Vancouver; ports of call were Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay & Ketchikan.  We paid extra for a suite which had a nice verandah on which we spent much of our time.  I will blog about the pros/cons of the suite and paying more for that option and family packing in separate blogs… As far as our vacation, here are my opinions in these areas:

  • Motion sickness
  • The boat
  • Room size
  • Kid’s activities
  • The food
  • Shore excursions
  • Cherish your time on board

Motion Sickness…or lack of Motion Sickness!

This was our first cruise and since my husband tends to get motion sickness, we weren’t sure what to expect:  would this be fun & relaxing trip or stressful & agony.  He was a trooper to even try, and I’m so happy he did. It turned out to be fun & relaxing. Phew!

As we went through security to get onto the dock, several other passengers of other ships were wearing the small “patch” behind their ear for motion sickness.  My hubby put his on just as we boarded, and it was like a miracle!  Even through the more movement of the week he was fine.  Thank goodness for this patch!

The first & last nights of this particular cruise have the most motion as it’s on more open ocean between Vancouver and the inner passage into Alaska. This was also fine for him. The boat vibrates a bit, which you get used to. The first night around midnight, my daughter shot up in bed asking firmly that her brother STOP shaking her!! It was cute.

On the last night, we could barley tell nor care that it was vibrating again.

As far as the Whale Watching boat and motion sickness, he was fine.  It was a smaller boat and there was choppy waters with lots of jumping up and down with the waves and he was fine.

The Boat

When you first get on, its fun to look around and get acclimated with all the different areas.  Plus, your bags aren’t in the room to unpack yet, and there are many people in the lunch areas, so this is a good time to discover all the cubbies and areas offered.

For the Ms. Volendam, there is a nice walking track with wooden floors on the third deck which was 1 mile per 3 laps.  No running is allowed as the corners are a bit sharp and a runner could possibly harm those walking.  There is a kids area called “Club HAL” which seemed fun but small, a nice theater, 2 small pools, several restaurants, a shopping area and small casino, lounge areas with different styles of music, a library, a cafe and the decks.

Though there is so much to offer with many planned activities, like Dancing with the Stars, nightly movies in the theater, and shows, we ended up spending most of our time on the pool deck playing ping-pong or in our room on the verandah.  Either way, it’s hard to get bored.

Room Size

We paid extra for a suite with a king size & a queen size bed.  This room had a large verandah, with 2 lounge chairs and a “kitchen table” with 4 chairs where we could sit and watch the incredible views and wildlife.  All the verandahs have glass as the wall to the ocean, so you can sit and still see outside.  There is a large bathroom with a jet tub adjoined to a dressing room with a second sink & vanity.  The sitting table was large enough to hold our Room Service Breakfasts in the morning and High Tea in the afternoon.  With the upgrade price, laundry service was included, which was awesome.  We had our laundry done every day. 🙂 We also had a concierge who made appointments and reservations for us, and checked on all of our shore excursions even though they were not with Holland America. We had quicker luggage service (a vey nice feature), plus the use of the Neptune Lounge, right across from our room, with nice snacks, cakes, drinks, tea, candy & sandwiches! That was very helpful…to making this a “weight gain cruise”.

My cousin’s rooms, which were smaller would have been too tight of a squeeze for a family of 4.  There is enough room to sleep, shower & relax without moving around too much, and there is so much going on the boat, that many people don’t spend much time in their rooms anyway.  I could be in one of the smaller rooms with just my hubby, if there was a verandah.  With kids, though, it would be a tight squeeze for us.

Kid’s Activities

I was concerned that there would not be enough for the kids to do, since this is not a “kid’s boat” like a Disney Cruise.  Holland America is geared for older couples, and we were younger than most of the people there.

But, we were happily surprised by the kid’s area, Club HAL.  It was run by a guy who really loves kids and was very playful with them.  The planned activities were something the kids really looked forward to.  They would watch the time to get to Club HAL right when it opened.

On the rest of the boat, for the kids and adults there is ping-pong, large chess, basketball, tennis & movies available.  There is also a library with board games, and plenty of places to sit quietly or with a group.  Plus, there are plenty of places to sit inside and watch the gorgeous landscapes outside.

My daughter and I took a cooking class together which was spectacular.  She really enjoyed it and the food was fabulous.  There were no other kids, but it was ok, and the Chef was great with her.  That was our favorite part of the cruise.

The Food

Breakfast in the “cafeteria” Lido was ok.  We ended up not eating in there very often, instead we had our food delivered for breakfast.  For lunches, we had been snacking most of the day, so we  didn’t have sit down lunches very often.  The sandwich making area is great.

Instead, there were also High Teas!  Wonderful!  We also had some of these delivered to our room.  These were so fun and delicious.

Dinner is very good.  It’s the only time our little group of family was able to meet altogether.  Plus, the boat takes Dinner very seriously.  They are proud of what they serve and how they serve.  I really enjoyed the dinner’s each night.  The menu is different each night and very yummy.  My kids & I tried all types of different appetizers, soups, entrées & desserts each night.  Chef Alberto would walk around and check on everyone, and we really appreciated his attention.

All in all, we loved the food!

Shore Excursions

I researched shore excursions on TripAdvisor.com to use the local tours instead of the boat tours.   Visit my blogs on “Whale Watching in Juneau”, “Private Tour in Skagway” and “Sea Kayaking in Ketchikan” in these separate blogs.

We were happy that we chose private tours instead of the larger boat offered excursions.  I was limited by my husbands motion sickness & he also didn’t want to fly in a helicopter or float plane.  Also, my son was too light to try any zip-lining. Be sure to check on the ages and what is expected of each participant when you are researching.

Cherish Your Time Onboard

The time goes by very quickly, and I wish I had sat on the verandah just a bit more.  My suggestion is to cherish your time onboard and come back to the boat early and leave late.

2013 Summer Bucket List

SumThe kids and I came up with the activities we wanted to add to this summer’s list of how to spend our time…besides relaxing, reading & traveling to Alaska.  We also try to add daily flashcards and writing.  The school work is good to keep track of with stickers for each completion to earn some “Toy store money”.

Since there were so many activities, we made a schedule of events and then invited some friends to have a itty bitty summer camp of fun. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  • Zoo
  • Aquarium
  • Explora
  • Natural History Museum (and Dynamax movies)
  • Romero’s Street Cafe
  • Gravity Park (Trampoline Park)
  • Stone Age Climbing Gym
  • Swimming
  • Xtreme Hangtime (Trampoline Park)
  • A day in the Jemez Mountains
  • Take the Rail Runner to Santa Fe
  • Putt-Putt Golf
  • Hinkle Family Fun Center
  • Cliffs Amusement Park
  • Isotopes Baseball Game
  • Sandia Tram Ride & Picnic
  • Radisson Water Park
  • Make Flubber
  • Gardening at Los Polanos Organic Farm
  • Archery
  • Hiking
  • Roller Skating
  • Ice Skating
  • Bowling
  • Movies
  • Water Fights
  • Water Balloon Tosses
  • Cooking Contests
  • Make Father’s Day gifts
  • Make Silly Putty
  • Have a Backyard Movie
  • Make our own Putt Putt course
  • Make an igloo out of milk cartons
  • Have a “Christmas Week” in July
  • Make tents, forts and swings
  • Plant an Herb Garden
  • Tea Parties outside
  • Learn to make smoothies
  • Learn to make healthy snacks
  • Make homemade “passports” or scrapbooks of the summer
  • Go to some Aquarium Concerts

Phew!  Let’s see if we can include all of these activities in our summer plans for 2013.  I’ll give you weekly updates on the progress. :))

What are you doing for the summer?

Getting to Vancouver: Planes, Trains & Automobiles…& Cruises

Our cruise is set, paid for, and waiting for us.  Now we just need to get to Vancouver.  It’s funny because I almost forgot to make that happen, as if just finishing all the cruise arrangements magically finished everything else.  Though the cruise line will make all the travel arrangements, I decided to finish the rest myself.  Now, after some of the hiccups I ran into, I can see why people have the cruise line make all the travel arrangements.  For me, I can usually find what I need quickly so it makes sense for us to do it ourselves.

We usually use Southwest Airlines to fly to the places we like to visit…but this wasn’t an option since Southwest doesn’t fly to Vancouver. This was the first hiccup, but alas, there are other airlines…aren’t there?

The next option was American Airlines and other airlines similar like Delta, Alaska Air, Canada Air, which all had very high prices that took the round trip fare close to $2800.00.  I started looking for plan B.

There was a special on Southwest to fly to Seattle for $100 per person & then an Amtrak train ride from Seattle to Vancouver for less than $250 round-trip for our entire family!  Phew!  Even with the added overnight needed to make the plane arrival and train departure work out was much less than the flights to Vancouver.

Now, we get to cross “train ride” off our bucket list AND see Seattle as well!

From one of my clients recommendations to stay downtown, I started looking for a hotel near The Pike Place Fish Market”.  She also recommended a Treehouse Motel, but my husband wasn’t game for that adventure.

Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle, WA

Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle, WA

There seems to be much to see from these downtown hotels without renting a car.  My daughter is extra excited because she gets to see the Chihuly blown glass art exhibit in Seattle.  She just finished studying Chihuly in her art class and seeing his art this soon after this class is perfect timing.

This is a great adventure and I’m glad Seattle was added to our summer!  If you have any suggestions for our short stay on the way to Vancouver & the way back, we have a total of 48 hours in Seattle.

And thank you to Amtrak for saving us $1500!!

Holland America Cruise to Alaska

We are planning a trip to Alaska!  I’ve never been on a cruise and never been to Alaska.

  • Passports…Check
  • Shore Excursions…Check
  • Port City Travel…Check

The kids are coming and we are traveling with a large family group.  We are very excited.  My cousin is a costumer and she is bringing 1920 costumes for our entire family to wear to one of the dinners.  For some families, this is not ok.  For, us, we’re ready and excited.

To plan the shore excursions I used Trip advisor.

I will let you know how it goes as soon as we get back.