Our Experience Shipping Luggage Ahead

This entry is part 12 of 12 in the series Alaska Cruise 2015

As you can probably tell from the first several posts in our Alaska Cruise trip report, we took quite a roundabout way to Seattle!  To recap:

Why did we ship our luggage? 

As I’ve mentioned before, I have completely given up on carry-on only packing for long trips. I pack lots of camera equipment (including a tripod), and a lot of international airlines go by WEIGHT of carry-on bags instead of dimensions. So, although I can generally FIT all my items into carry-on bags, it always exceeds the airline’s allowable weight for a carry-on bag. Plus, for a cruise, I generally pack a bigger selection of clothes compared to other trips. Dressy clothes for dinner, casual clothes for the ship, and for this Alaska cruise, cold weather clothes and things like hiking boots. So, a checked back was definitely a necessity for us.

But yikes, the idea of lugging a big suitcase on all those different modes of transportation was kind of daunting. Plus, having to pick up our bag at LaGuardia then re-check it at JFK seemed unnecessarily time consuming.  So, we did something that we’ve never done before for a trip!  We shipped most of our luggage!

Looking for an easier way to pack and avoid lugging your suitcases to and from the airport? This was our experience shipping our luggage!

We briefly considered luggage shipping services like Luggage Free and Luggage Forward, but those companies just seemed like an unnecessary middleman, adding lots of cost without much additional service. So, I measured the suitcase we would normally use as checked luggage, and entered the dimensions into FedEx’s and UPS’s website, estimating about 50 pounds for our suitcase.  I also sent a quick email to our hotel in Seattle, the Grand Hyatt, to make sure that they would accept a suitcase FedEx delivery. They responded promptly that they could certainly accept the FedEx’ed suitcase. *   

The process for shipping our suitcase (and packing the bag)

The estimated price for FedEx’ing our suitcase would be about $60.00.  Considering we would’ve had to pay $35 to check our bag on our DCA-LGA flight (since we weren’t flying first class or anything on that leg), it seemed well worth an extra $25 to avoid the hassle of lugging our suitcase in and out of planes, trains, and automobiles.  We also signed up for a FedEx account, which was totally free, and that gave us an additional discount on the shipping. The only downside was that the cheapest option was FedEx ground, and that was a five-day transit time from our home to Seattle. Since we’d want to build in a little “cushion” to account for transit delays, that means we’d have to ship our suitcases a full week in advance. I don’t know about you, but, despite multitudes of detailed packing lists, I often think of so many things to pack at the LAST POSSIBLE MINUTE. Or, similarly, needing to rearrange items between checked bags and carry-on bags thanks to space or weight considerations. But, with no LAST POSSIBLE MINUTE available if we shipped our big bag far in advance, we’d have to plan our suitcase packing very methodically!  

Luckily, our planning went smoothly. We packed everything that we wouldn’t need for the first few days of our trip in the shipped suitcase. Those included things like our tripod, hiking boots, swimsuits, dress shoes, cold-weather items like long pants and sweaters, (Vancouver and Seattle would be quite warm .. the Alaska portion however was forecasted to be much colder, even in June), and frankly, the vast majority of our clothes we’d need for the trip.

We shipped our bag a week prior to our departure. I was a little nervous about how FedEx would label a suitcase (compared to like a box). I feared that their normal sticker labels would fall off the suitcase material.  But they actually have special luggage tags, not that different than what you’d get at the airport. (Just a quite a bit larger).  Those shipping labels attached to the suitcase handles.

For the next several days, I obsessively checked FedEx’s website for updated tracking information. Once I saw that the bag was delivered to our hotel in Seattle (which was actually the day we were departing JFK for Vancouver), I called the hotel to confirm receipt of the luggage. They had it, and I also confirmed my reservation and arrival date.

Once we arrived at the Grand Hyatt, we checked in, and the reception staff told us that they would get the suitcase out of storage and have it sent up to our room. That part actually took quite a while! We waited for more than 40 minutes for our suitcase to get delivered, despite one or two calls to the front desk to make sure they didn’t forget about us. At that point I was starting to get worried that our suitcase had been misplaced at the hotel.  

But, not to worry, our suitcase finally arrived in our room. We took a quick glance inside and everything looked in order.  And that was it! Now the only transporting of that suitcase we’d be responsible for is getting it from the hotel to the ship check-in!  Much easier than lugging it around on all those transportation modes!

Anyway, we’d definitely call the luggage shipping experiment a success and we’d definitely try it again for future trips. One thing I might try in the future though is packing a duffel bag instead of a suitcase. Even though we have lightweight luggage, the suitcase alone is still about 11 pounds. Since most of the shipping cost is based on weight, we could’ve saved a decent amount by shipping something that was 11 pounds lighter!  But, of course that sets up the potential for damage to the items or the bag ripping.  Pros and cons to both options I suppose.  

Have any readers ever shipped luggage ahead?  How did it work out for you?  

* We did consider shipping services directly to the cruise port also. However, I really wanted to make sure that my bag was IN MY POSSESSION prior to boarding the ship. I wanted to be able to shop for last minute items in case my bag got lost or didn’t arrive as planned.

 

Looking for an easier way to pack and avoid lugging your suitcases to and from the airport? This was our experience shipping our luggage!

Ruby Princess – Ship Amenities Review

This entry is part 11 of 12 in the series Alaska Cruise 2015


In my previous post in this series, I reviewed our cabin, a mini suite, as well as my dad’s accessible stateroom. This post will give an overview of the ship and ship’s amenities!

Let’s start with the outdoors!

Outdoor Activities and Pools

The rear of the ship (aft, yes, I know), was home to a small pool and some hot tubs:

Pools and Hot Tubs on Ruby Princess (aft) Pools and Hot Tubs on Ruby Princess (aft)

There were also two larger pools, as well as some hot tubs, in the middle of the ship.

Pools and Hot Tubs on Ruby Princess Pools and Hot Tubs on Ruby Princess

One of the pool areas in the middle had a huge TV screen above the pool. Movies played at scheduled times. Since it was chilly at times even in June, (we were, after all, heading to ALASKA!) cruise staff passed out blankets during the movies so you could stay warm!

Pools and Hot Tubs on Ruby Princess Pools and Hot Tubs on Ruby Princess TV screen in pool area on Ruby Princess

There was also an adults-only pool area, called “The Sanctuary.” Entrance to The Sanctuary was an additional fee, and every time I saw that area it was almost completely empty.

Entrance sign for The Sanctuary, the adult only pool on Ruby Princess The Sanctuary Adult Only Pool area The Sanctuary Adult Only Pool area

The Sanctuary had plusher chaise lounge chairs and regular seating as well.

The Sanctuary Adult Only Pool area The Sanctuary Adult Only Pool area The Sanctuary Adult Only Pool area

As I mentioned, my 2-year-old niece and 9-year-old nephew were on this trip. During one of their drop-offs at the kids areas, one of the cruise staff said that there were only 40 kids onboard under the age of 12. That’s MUCH different than like a Caribbean cruise! So, there probably isn’t much need to escape kids on an Alaskan cruise.

There was a mini-golf course on the ship:

Miniature golf course on Ruby Princess Ken playing mini golf on cruise ship

And my nephew was a big fan of this sports area, which had basketball hoops:

Basketball and soccer area on Ruby Princess.

And here are just a few other random photos of outdoor spaces on the Ruby Princess:

Ruby Princess | Ship tour photos (exterior) Ruby Princess | Ship tour photos (exterior) Ruby Princess | Ship tour photos (exterior) Ruby Princess | Ship tour photos (exterior) Ruby Princess | Ship tour photos (exterior) Ruby Princess | Ship tour photos (exterior) Ruby Princess | Ship tour photos (exterior)

Bars, Restaurants, and Casino

In no particular order, here are some of the onboard restaurants and bars, as well as the casino!

Ruby Princess Restaurants and Bars Ruby Princess Restaurants and Bars Ruby Princess Restaurants and Bars Ruby Princess Restaurants and Bars Ruby Princess Restaurants and Bars Ruby Princess Restaurants and Bars Ruby Princess Restaurants and Bars Ruby Princess Restaurants and Bars Ruby Princess Restaurants and Bars Ruby Princess Restaurants and Bars Ruby Princess Restaurants and Bars Ruby Princess Restaurants and Bars Ruby Princess Restaurants and Bars Ruby Princess Restaurants and Bars Ruby Princess Restaurants and Bars Ruby Princess Restaurants and Bars Ruby Princess Restaurants and Bars Ruby Princess Restaurants and Bars Ruby Princess Restaurants and Bars

This was the “Da Vinci” dining room, where we ate all our sit-down (non-buffet) meals:

Da Vinci Dining Room Da Vinci Dining Room Da Vinci Dining Room

The menu was posted for each meal outside of the restaurant.

Da Vinci Dining Room

 

Atrium and Grand Staircase Area

This was always a fairly crowded area. There was usually piano music playing on the bottom floor of the atrium, there was a guest services counter in the area, and several shops and bars!

Atrium on the Ruby Princess Atrium on the Ruby Princess Atrium on the Ruby Princess Atrium on the Ruby Princess Atrium on the Ruby Princess Atrium on the Ruby Princess Atrium on the Ruby Princess

The Theater

Princess Theater Princess Theater Princess Theater Sign XX

The Library and Internet Cafe

I never priced out how much it would be to use the internet onboard the ship. Mostly I just relied on my phone when we were in port. In between ports, there was no cell service or data, so the internet cafe could be an option for those that really need it.

The Ruby Princess Library The Ruby Princess Library The Ruby Princess Library Internet Cafe Sign Internet Cafe

Kids Play Area

This was a play area for younger kids. There was also an area for older kids, with like some big couches and TVs and video games, but I didn’t get photos of that area.

Kids Play Area on Ruby Princess Kids Play Area on Ruby Princess Kids Play Area on Ruby Princess

You could drop off kids that were potty trained. Non-potty trained kids (like my niece) had to be accompanied by an adult.

Kids Play Area on Ruby Princess Kids Play Area on Ruby Princess Kids Play Area on Ruby Princess Kids Play Area on Ruby Princess

There was also a little outdoor area of the kids play area as well:

Kids Play Area on Ruby Princess

Overall, the ship was great. The service was mostly good. I was getting annoyed with a near constant “upselling” of things like soda passes and alcoholic beverages. I even noticed that I got significantly better and faster service when I ordered beer or wine with my meals. When I went without alcohol, our service suffered. My sister had talked to a staff member in port, and he mentioned that employees get “time off” bonuses for selling certain numbers of soda passes or drinks. He was off the ship because he had achieved a certain amount sold. I understand Princess’s desire to incentivize, but the upselling really did leave a sour taste about the entire shipboard experience.

I still don’t think I have a “favorite” cruise line just yet. In the past 10 years, we’ve been on Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and now Princess. I have always liked Carnival, but it’s been 15 years since I’ve been on a Carnival Cruise, so I’m guessing they could’ve changed as well.

Have you been on a Princess cruise? What did you think? What is your favorite cruise line?

Amtrak Cascades Line Vancouver to Seattle (Review)

This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series Alaska Cruise 2015

After our quick stay in Vancouver, it was time to make our way to Seattle, the embarkation city for our Alaskan cruise. And what a scenic journey it was!

View from Amtrak Cascades Line

As I mentioned in the introduction for this trip report, I kinda tripped upon the Amtrak Cascades Line as our method of transportation from Vancouver to Seattle. To recap:

My original plan was to just stay at an inexpensive hotel near Vancouver Airport, and then drive the following morning to Seattle. (Our flight wasn’t arriving in Vancouver until like 12:45AM, so I didn’t want to start driving so late at night. But there was one issue. Rental cars were INSANELY EXPENSIVE. A ONE DAY rental from Vancouver to Seattle was going to be $199 CAD (About $150 USD.) I swallowed my pride and made a reservation, but I couldn’t help but think that there had to be a better, and cheaper, way.

And lo and behold, there was! I came across the Amtrak Cascades option! I had read that it was a very picturesque way to get from Vancouver to Seattle, and much more relaxing than a drive. Even though we have Global Entry these days, the line at the Canadian-US border crossing can get very long, so the train seemed like a good option to minimize the delay as well!

Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station

We arrived at Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station about an hour before the train departure.

Outside Vancouver’s Pacific Central Train Station

We weren’t sure what kind of Canada customs or exit processing there would be. There was a dedicated line for the Cascades line, since it was crossing into the United States. There was also a dedicated line for business class passengers.

We walked around the station for a little bit.

Inside Vancouver’s Pacific Central Train Station Inside Vancouver’s Pacific Central Train Station Inside Vancouver’s Pacific Central Train Station

After a short while, they started processing the passengers, including checking our passports and providing seat assignments.

Amtrak Cascades Line Business Class Review

Amtrak Cascade Line’s business class consists of seats in a 2–1 configuration, which I had learned long before our departure. However, I wanted to make sure that we were on the “coast” side of the train. Since the train was heading south to Seattle, that meant we wanted to sit on the right side of the train to have the best views of the coastline. But, I was never able to figure it out in advance if the coast side was the “2 seat” side or the “1 seat” side.

Amtrak Cascades Line Business Class configuration Amtrak Cascades Line Business Class

At the check-in, we were assigned seats in the “2 seats” side of the train. I asked the agent if that was the “coast” side, and she said no. That traveling south, that’s the “1 seat” side. Even though it meant not sitting next to each other, we opted for the “1” side. But, as a bonus, she was able to give us two single facing seats, instead of sitting one in front of the other.

Seats facing each other on Amtrak Cascades Line | Business Class Seats facing each other on Amtrak Cascades Line | Business Class

Since we still had quite a while before the train departure time, I went outside and took some photos of the exterior of the train.

Exterior of Amtrak Cascades Line from Vancouver to Seattle Exterior of Amtrak Cascades Line from Vancouver to Seattle

Views from Amtrak Cascades Line, Vancouver to Seattle

This train route has been touted to be one of the most scenic in the world, and I dare say that I have to agree! [Photo overload to commence] View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle

It’s worth pointing out that since we were traveling south, and seated on the west side of the train nearing sunset, it was incredibly sunny! Ken wore his hat and sunglasses even on the train!

Sunny side of Amtrak Cascades Line View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle

Seriously, SO scenic. I couldn’t take my eyes off the outdoors.

View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle

At the Canada-US border crossing, everyone had to stay in their seats while US Customs and Border Patrol officials boarded the train and checked passports. We were stopped for about 20 minutes or so at the border, and then the train continued on.

View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle

Photo Tip: The glare from the windows of the train really could have affected our photos if we had not had our polarizer filters on our SLRs! Seriously, if you do this train ride, be sure to have a polarizer filter, otherwise your photos will be filled with glares!

I walked around to some of the different cars and took some additional photos.

Menu on Amtrak Cascades Line Dining car on Amtrak Cascades Line Snack bar on Amtrak Cascades line Snack bar on Amtrak Cascades line Advertisements for Amtrak Cascades

As we got closer to Seattle, farmland started to mix in with the coastal views (which were still scenic!)

View from Amtrak Cascades Line

And then, the sun started setting farther below the horizon.

Sunset from Amtrak Cascades line Sunset from Amtrak Cascades line Sunset from Amtrak Cascades line

We arrived in Seattle, disembarked, and took a taxi to our hotel, the Grant Hyatt Seattle. Highly recommend Amtrak Cascades!


A few hours in Vancouver, B.C. (Alaska 2015 Trip Report)

This entry is part 6 of 12 in the series Alaska Cruise 2015

Arriving in Vancouver in the wee hours of the morning and then having a train to catch to Seattle at about 6PM, we certainly didn’t have much time do see even a sliver of the sites that Vancouver has to offer. But, since our transportation option to the Pacific Northwest took us to Vancouver, we decided to make the most of the short time we did have in Vancouver. We spent all that time at Stanley Park. And holy smokes, we probably could’ve spent another full day or two JUST seeing that park.

Well, first, we started off with breakfast at Le Petit Belge, just a block from the hotel. They offered some amazing Belgian Waffles, both sweet and savory! (I got savory, and Ken got sweet!)

Exterior of Le Petit Belge Sign for Le Petit Belge Savory waffle with prosciutto, asparagus, and egg salad Large waffle with maple syrup

It was fantastic, and we definitely recommend it!

Since we were so short on time, we took a taxi to Stanley Park. From some of the first sites in the park, we were enthralled. Take a look at that skyline!

Skyline view of Vancouver from Stanley Park Sailboats and Skylines at Stanley Park in Vancouver

As we walked along the path in the park, we came across the First nations art and totem poles exhibit.

Totem poles in Stanley Park in Vancouver

According to the City of Vancouver’s website, “Three beautifully carved, red cedar portals welcome visitors to the Brockton Point Visitor Centre and to the traditional lands of the Coast Salish people. Their form represents the traditional slant-roof style of Coast Salish architecture. The gateways show the history and thriving modern culture of Coast Salish people.” They were installed in 2008.

Brockton point totem poles Totem poles in Vancouver

As we walked around, we saw a seaplane taking off! We were watching it closely because we would be going on a seaplane in just a few days time on a cruise excursion in Ketchikan, Alaska!

Seaplane taking off near Stanley Park in Vancouver

The paths were well marked with lanes for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Paved paths in Stanley Park Bike and pedestrian lanes in Stanley park

And again, the views of Vancouver! Stunning!

View of Vancouver skyline from Stanley park

As we continued our walk around the paths in Stanley Park, we came across the Brockton Point Lighthouse.

Brockton Point Lighthouse in Stanley Park Lighthouse in Stanley Park | Brockton Point

Just past the lighthouse, we saw a lovely sculpture, which we later learned was called “Girl in a Wetsuit.”

Girl in a Wetsuit Sculpture in Stanley Park | Vancouver Statues Sculpture that looks like Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid Statue | Girl in a Wetsuit

And right near the statue was a replica of the S.S. Empress.

Replica of SS Empress in Vancouver’s Stanley Park Description of the SS Empress Replica of SS Empress in Vancouver’s Stanley Park

And a few more fun finds in Stanley Park:

You are here sign in Stanley Park

A sign that I thought was most stereotypically polite Canadian: “Water not suitable for swimming.”

Funny signs in Vancouver | Water not suitable for swimming

And of course, those views!

Water views from Stanley Park

We reached a shadier area with lots of trees, and we even spotted a splash park for kids.

Stanley park trees Splash pad in Stanley Park

It was at this point we had burned off all our Le Petit Belge breakfast calories, and we were getting crazy hungry! And we had no idea where to pick up a taxi. (At the time, Uber was not operational in Vancouver. Not sure if that’s still the case.)

But, we actually located a bus stop and waited there for a bus. Only one problem. When the bus arrived, we realized we had ZERO Canadian money. Since we had verified that taxis took credit cards, we just assumed that we wouldn’t need any cash during our VERY short time in Canada! The bus driver still let us board, and we were apologizing profusely. We were mortified.

We were going to take the bus all the way back to the hotel, but we were driving past a strip downtown that looked like it had a good concentration of restaurants. So we got off the bus, and headed to a pizza place. Except the pizza place was open air and didn’t have A/C. And we were pretty sweltering at that point (it was pretty hot weather for Vancouver. Seattle was the same way, pretty unusual). So, we opted for a pub-like place right across the street called Malone’s.

Malone’s Restaurant in Vancouver

We started out with some poutine (of course, right?)

Poutine

And we both had burgers, albeit with different toppings!

Burgers from Malone’s Burgers from Malone’s

We finished up our late lunch, rested our legs for a little while longer at the restaurant, and then decided to walk back to our hotel, which was about 15 minutes away. We needed to get our things packed up and to get ready for our train ride. Since the train was going to Seattle, we’d have to transit customs at the train station, so we wanted to allow ourselves plenty of time for that.

We definitely need to get back to Vancouver for a more thorough trip! I think I envision a Pacific Northwest road trip sometime in the future!


Westin Grand Vancouver (Hotel Review)

This entry is part 5 of 12 in the series Alaska Cruise 2015

By the time our flight landed in Vancouver, we transited Canadian immigration and customs, and stood in a long taxi line, it was about 3AM when we got to our hotel, the Westin Grand Vancouver. We were only staying for one night, but they had graciously already pre-approved a (very) late checkout for us of 4PM the next day.

I had long lamented what hotel to stay at in Vancouver. Which was silly because we were going to be there for such a short time. Did we want to stay close to the airport? Close to Stanley Park? (since that was going to be our primary place to visit during our short stay?)

I had been ogling the Fairmont Pacific Rim, but alas, couldn’t justify the price. Although the Westin Grand Vancouver was not terribly close to Stanley Park (we took a taxi there), it was centrally located in Downtown Vancouver and was very reasonably priced.

I booked a Deluxe Corner Suite, with view.

Upon entry to the room, there was a bathroom door straight ahead, and a living room to the left.

Deluxe Corner Suite at Westin Grand Vancouver

The living room was nice, but oddly shaped and not as spacious as I expected.

Living room in Deluxe Corner Suite at Westin Grand Vancouver Living room in Deluxe Corner Suite at Westin Grand Vancouver Living room in Deluxe Corner Suite at Westin Grand Vancouver Living room in Deluxe Corner Suite at Westin Grand Vancouver

There was a small nook in the hallway with a closet, coffee supplies, and a small fridge.

Coffee Nook | Westin Grand Vancouver review

The bathroom was spacious and had a separate tub and shower.

Bathroom at Westin Grand Vancouver | Hotel Review Bathroom at Westin Grand Vancouver | Hotel Review Bathroom at Westin Grand Vancouver | Hotel Review

There was also plenty of counter space, which is greatly appreciated.

Bathroom at Westin Grand Vancouver | Hotel Review

The bedroom was a decent size, and had wraparound windows.

Bedroom Deluxe Suite Westin Grand Vancouver

The windows were gorgeous and allowed for great views of the city, but it was summer, just shy of the solstice, so the days were LONG and the sun was up early. And the room darkening curtains had some unfortunate gaps, especially in the corners. Not usually a problem when we travel, but when you’re not getting to bed until after 3AM.

edroom Deluxe Suite Westin Grand Vancouver edroom Deluxe Suite Westin Grand Vancouver

There was a door to a small balcony next to the desk in the living room.

Door to balcony in Deluxe Suite

There were some fantastic views of the Vancouver skyline from the balcony. And if you peak far in the distance, you can even see the coast! (er, the bay?)

Views of Vancouver at Westin Grand from hotel room balcony Views of Vancouver at Westin Grand from hotel room balcony Views of Vancouver at Westin Grand from hotel room balcony

One minor complaint about our stay is that the elevators in this hotel were HORRENDOUSLY SLOW. There were only two, and the hotel had at least 30 floors, if I recall correctly.

But, the hotel location was great, and I was so appreciative of the late checkout that they allowed. Since our train to Seattle wasn’t leaving until 5PM, I didn’t want to have to pack up and put our luggage in storage before heading out sightseeing for the day. I’m never a huge fan of having to put my luggage in storage after checkout and before moving on to our next destination. So, the late checkout gets a big thumbs up from me!

Have you visited Vancouver recently? Where did you stay?