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Our Sun Princess Tour

We flew from Deadhorse to Anchorage on Sunday, 26 August, arriving about 3 PM. After checking in at the Hilton, it was souvenir shopping time. Actually, this was souvenir buying time since the earlier time in Anchorage was spent in finding the items we wanted to purchase. We later discovered that several of the souvenirs were cheaper at the cruise ship ports of call. Our last port, Ketchikan, seemed to have the best prices.

Monday we had breakfast and then boarded a bus at 10 AM for the 3 hour ride to Seward where we would board our cruise ship, the Sun Princess. The bus made one stop on the way to Seward so everyone could see a small glacier in a beautiful mountain setting. We very briefly saw several beluga whales in Turnagain Bay, but the bus driver didn't even slow down for a better look.

Since this was our first cruise, the boarding process was all new to us. The bus let us out at a large tent on the pier. Upon entering we saw a number of people at computer terminals where the check-in process started. Here, we exchanged tickets that we had received as part of the initial package from our travel agent for individual ID cards. These ID cards were used to keep track of when we boarded or left the ship, and were used like a charge card for all purchases on the ship. Money is never used during the cruise on board the ship. All charges to the ID card are charged at the end of the cruise to a credit card number given to Princess before the cruise. The cruise line does not want their employees handling cash. Standard tips for the room steward and dinner waiter and assistant are also charged to the credit card unless different arrangements are made with the purser at the end of the cruise. 

After receiving the ID cards, we proceeded through a pre-boarding x-ray for hand carried items and a metal detector just as is done at airports. I worried that our luggage with lots of film would be x-rayed with the strong machines now used at many airports, but we had no problem with our film. Our luggage, except for hand carried items, had been checked through to the ship before we loaded the bus. Since things may change, I will hand carry all film in the future.

We boarded the ship through the gold entrance way shown above, and were escorted to our room by one of the many Princess employees on board. 

Our room was an inside room with twin beds. A small TV, refrigerator, and safe are between the entrance door and the bathroom as can be seen in the mirror above. A small closet, located just to the left of the entrance door, cannot be seen in this picture shot from the entrance door.

The sun Princess is a very large ship. One deck has a walkway all around the ship. The top deck includes a swimming pool that was never used on this cruise. A hot tub on the same deck was used by a few of the over 2000 passengers. It was cold and wet for our entire cruise.

Food at no additional cost is available at all times. This buffet style eating place was always available. We had breakfast and lunch here daily. We had dinner in the formal dining room every evening for the experience of having a multi-course gourmet meal served to us. Two evening meals were designated as formal, with suits required for the men, tux if available, and long dresses for the women. Other meals in the formal dining room were casual, as was the dress everywhere else on the ship.

Liquor is not included in the no cost food. Neither is hot chocolate. Both are available in several bars, from waiters pushing carts around the ship deck, and from waiters in all the eating places. There are also a couple of places to eat, such as a steak place, where the food does carry additional cost. Smoking is not permitted in any public area of the ship except for the open decks.

The ship got underway late in the evening, and we were cruising in College Fjord the next morning. Several small glaciers, as seen here, terminate in College Fjord, all named after ivy league schools. One large glacier, Harvard, is in the back end of the fjord. The dirty streak in the center of the glacier indicates this glacier was formed from two flowing together becoming one. With the mist and cold wind, glacier viewing did not require a lot of our time. Pictures obtained were few and poor.

Once we left the protected waters of the fjord, wind and waves were a problem. Many passengers became sea sick, and the formal dinner scheduled for the evening was postponed one night. The open decks were off limits for the rest of the day because of the bad conditions. I had thought the ship was too large to be affected by any sea conditions we would encounter. My wife and I both took Bonine to prevent sea sickness, and we had no problem. Some of our friends from the Prudhoe Bay trip did get sick. A visit to the ship's doctor was $250 plus the cost of the medicine.

The following day, we cruised into Yakutat Bay to see Hubbard Glacier, 300 feet tall and six miles wide. The glacier is shown above with a small calving producing a splash about 100 feet tall. This largest glacier in North America advanced so fast in 1986 that it dammed Russell Fjord, forming a lake that rose 90 feet before the dam broke. We spent about an hour or more with the ship near the glacier. The captain turned the ship so good views were available from both sides of the ship. I think the best views were from the top deck bow area.

When we made reservations for the cruise, a trip into Glacier Bay National Park was scheduled instead of the trip into Yakutat Bay. The US National Park Service has stopped many of the large ships from entering the park because of damage caused by the wakes of the ships. Many small ships, and some large ships are still allowed into the park, but the numbers are much less than previously. The park has more glaciers, but none can compare to the size of  Hubbard.

Skagway was our first port of call. We had signed up for one land tour in each of the three ports for our cruise. Our land tour was a sight seeing tour that started with a bus ride to a high point looking down into Skagway. This picture shows most of Skagway, with our ship and a Norwegian Cruise Line ship in port. We visited here in 1997, staying two nights in the brown topped motel visible just to the right of the largest tree. Six cruise ships were in port in1997. That is the airport runway and taxi strip in the foreground. The fog and rain remained with us the entire cruise.

The remaining parts of the land tour included a stage show, above, and a visit to a museum. Other tours included a ride on the White Pass Railroad to the area where the gold seekers of the late 19th century climbed the pass to reach the Yukon River and to then float downstream.

Our tour was over by noon, so we had lunch on the ship and then Betty went shopping, and I took a tour of the ship's bridge. After dinner, we watched a movie in one of the two theaters on the ship.

Next stop was Juneau. Our land tour here included a short visit to a church, and then to Mendenhall Glacier. A short walk took us near the glacier. While small compared to Hubbard, it is still a lot of ice. Helicopter trips that land on the glacier are available. At Mendenhall Glacier, we also visited a stream with salmon visible. Several bear eaten fish remains were at streamside, but we did not see a bear. I would have liked to have spent a longer time at the Mendenhall Glacier, but the bus driver had said that "Hitch Hiker" was the name given to tourists that were late for the bus departure.
    A salmon fish hatchery was the last stop of the land tour. Following the tour, we had lunch on the ship and then did a little shopping. Tram type busses provided low cost transportation from the ship into the shopping area of Juneau.
    After shopping, we went to the card room to play some 3-13. With the bad weather, the card room was a busy place. Looking out the window, I noticed a bald eagle in a tree. I stopped the card game long enough to get my camera with the 600 mm lens for a few pictures.
    After dinner, we enjoyed first a musical show, and then a live comic that was funny with no obscenities. 

Our last port was Ketchikan. The ship docked almost downtown. This picture is from the ship, and those are souvenir shops. Since our tour was not until afternoon, shopping was first on the agenda. We had already bought everything we planned to get, but the short walk and the coupons received when we boarded the ship gave some bargains too good to pass up.

Our four hour tour started with a fish hatchery and an eagle rehab center. Two eagles with wing damage that prevented their ever flying again, above, were the stars of the presentation. I made few pictures because I was afraid of getting the camera wet.

Most of the tour was at the Totem Heritage Center and totem park. Inside the center is a collection of old totems, most in a poor and weathered condition. 

The totem park included the meeting house, above, with a door through the totem at the center.
Our bus driver/tour guide was very much a talker. She talked a lot about every different type of totem in the park. She talked so much that another tour group that started a half hour later caught up with us.

Our tour group from the rear. Did I mention it was wet? This entire tour was under umbrellas when outdoors. The umbrellas were furnished. I was told the annual precipitation  in Ketchikan averages 300 inches.

After the tour, we had the second formal dinner, and then went to another show. There was one or two musical shows every night, along with some other entertainment in the two theaters. The bars had entertainment, and there was a piano and singer in an open area where drinks were available, but most patrons did not obtain them.

This was our last port of call. The next day and night were at sea. It was wet and cold, but in protected waterways so rough seas were not a concern. Many people reported seeing whales, but all were far away from the ship; none close enough to see the body. That last night, Baked Alaska was the only dessert offered at dinner. Serving of it started with a parade of lighted Baked Alaskas in a dark room. There must have been over a hundred. Next morning we were in Vancouver.

Final departure from the ship is not as easy as getting on. First, the bags must be packed and put out for pickup the evening before departure. We were given a colored card with a number on it. We then had to wait until our number and color were called before we could depart. Our departure included a bus ride to the Vancouver airport. Since we did not have an early flight to catch, we were near the last people to be called for departure. We had to walk through several passageways, including one where we turned in our Canadian customs declaration. Since we were not Canadian, and did not intend to leave anything we had with us (except money) in Canada, Canadian customs was no problem. We collected our luggage at the Vancouver airport, caught the van to the Comfort Inn where our van was parked, and headed for Vancouver Island.

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