Alaska Cruise 2015 – Trip Report Introduction

This entry is part 1 of 12 in the series Alaska Cruise 2015

 

I’m starting a new trip report today all about our June 2015 Alaskan cruise.  Our trip also included a day in Vancouver and two days in Seattle, which I’ll cover in the trip report as well.  Our out-of-pocket costs on this trip were limited to paying for the cruise.  Our hotels in Seattle and Vancouver, our flights, and a train ride were all covered by points.  Man I love this hobby!

Booking the Cruise

This part didn’t require much work on my part.  We’d be cruising with my sister and her family (her husband, her 9-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter), as well as my dad.  My sister, a VERY avid cruiser with probably 25+ cruises under her belt, had identified a cruise line and itinerary that offered a fairly decent deal.  The cruise would depart in early June, meaning that prices were a less expensive than what they would have been in mid-summer.  The cruise was scheduled to depart just two days after her son’s last day of school, so it really worked out!

We booked a 7-day roundtrip Alaskan cruise on the Ruby Princess.  The cruise would include stops in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Victoria, British Columbia.  On the day we would arrive in Juneau, the cruise would transit the Tracy Arm Fjord area, which, although not a “stop,” is definitely worthy of viewing from the ship!

alaska cruise itinerary

 

We opted for a mini-suite with balcony onboard the Princess Ruby.  Our Caribbean cruise in 2007 had a balcony, which we loved, but on our Mediterranean cruise in 2010, we opted for no balcony in order to save some money on the cruise.  We regretted our decision to not have a balcony on that cruise, so we definitely wanted our own balcony for this Alaskan cruise.  My sister booked the same type of cabin.  She and I booked cabins on the same deck, but on different sides of the ship.  That way if we were passing beautiful scenery on one side of the ship only, we could all pile onto one balcony inside one of our cabins!  For our dad, we booked a handicapped-accessible room on the same deck.  It didn’t have a balcony, but it was an “obstructed view outside cabin.”  I’ll be doing reviews of both the mini-suite with balcony, as well as my dad’s accessible room, in future posts.

We booked the cruise in November 2014, about 7 months prior to the sailing, but then it became a little worrisome about whether my dad would be able to go.  Luckily we had all added cancellation insurance to our cruise, but obviously the point was that we all wanted to go on vacation!  My dad broke his hip in February, but doctors were optimistic that he’d be healed enough by June to go on the cruise.  Then, just a few weeks after getting out of rehab from his broken hip, he ended up hospitalized for a month in April with pneumonia.  He was put on a ventilator because he was unable to breathe on his own.  (After my dad was better, doctors told us just how close to death my dad really was.)  He had to go back into rehab at the end of April after his hospital stay, and it was really uncertain whether he’d be better in six weeks to depart on a cruise.  All that previous physical therapy on his repaired hip had been undone by a month-long stay in a hospital bed.  So, he not only had to recover from the pneumonia, he had to work that hip all over again.  And luckily he recovered beautifully just in time!  In fact, staff at the rehab facility said that the cruise was probably a good thing, because it gave my dad a goal to work toward.  “I have to be healthier and stronger by June to go on that cruise with my family!’

 

Getting to the West Coast

Our cruise was departing Seattle, so first I needed to figure out the best way to get us from Washington, DC to the Seattle area.  Flights from here to Seattle are nearly as long as getting to some European destinations (about six hours), but the flight options aren’t nearly as fancy.  I explored both coach and first class options.  Alaska Airlines offered nonstops from DC to Seattle, but holy crap the flights were expensive.  I can’t recall exactly, but I think they were in the ballpark of $600 roundtrip for one coach seat!  Ouch.  There were some frequent flyer options available for both coach and first class, but they included some annoying and ill-timed connections.  (A six hour layover at DFW anybody?  No thanks!)

And then it dawned on me!  JFK to Vancouver!  The famed Cathay Pacific flight that continues onto Hong Kong after its stop in Vancouver.  Beautiful business and first class options.  I searched on British Airways for availability, and there were plenty of business class seats!  No first class, but that was just fine.  I had read previously that seats on Cathay First tended to become available as the flight date approached, so I’d just keep checking back.  (Spoiler alert … read the full review post later on to see if First Class seats ever became available!)  I booked two seats in Cathay Business Class for me and Ken using British Airways Avios points.  We redeemed 50,000 Avios (25,000 points each) plus $55.40 total.  Now that sounds like a great way to get to the west coast.  Cheap and comfortable!

british airways flight

british airways redemption

 

To get to New York for our Cathay Pacific flight, I used more British Airways Avios points to book a short-hop flight from DC to New York.  Unfortunately the Avios options were all for Laguardia Airport, and the Cathay Pacific flight was departing New York JFK airport.  However, a $40 taxi ride from LGA to JFK would be far cheaper than paying out-of-pocket for two tickets from DC to JFK.  9000 Avios and $11.20 for two coach seats from DCA to LGA.  Can’t beat that!

dc to lga redemption avios dc to lga avios redemption

For our return flight, we redeemed American Airlines AAdvantage miles for two first class seats from Seattle to DCA (Certainly not the best use of miles, value wise, but it was worth it to us, especially since we didn’t have any other near term plans for AAdvantage miles).  It included a connection in Dallas, which was definitely not ideal, but it was the best we could do without being out-of-pocket a ridiculous amount of money.

Aadvantage redemption

 

Getting from Vancouver to Seattle

So, we were ending up in Vancouver, and our flight was leaving from Seattle.  A small inconvenience for experiencing Cathay Pacific!  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!

For just 4000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points (which I transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards), we were able to get two business class seats on the Amtrak Cascades line.  (I should point out that Amtrak Guest Rewards has since altered their redemption chart, so the points needed for the Amtrak Cascades line has likely changed).

amtrak redemption

I am SO thankful that the rental cars were expensive, otherwise I probably would’ve never done additional research to find out about this option.  I can’t wait to give the full review, but it was so gorgeous!

t t t

Of course, I’ll have more pictures (LOTS more pictures) in the full review post.

 

Hotel in Vancouver and Hotel in Seattle

The hotels were the most straightforward part of our booking!  I booked the Westin Grand Vancouver on a cash rate.  (I’d later redeem Barclays Arrival Plus points as a “rebate” for the expense).  Since our train wouldn’t be leaving until the evening, we’d have some time to spend in Vancouver, so I wanted to stay in the city instead of our original plan of staying near the Vancouver Airport.

For our Seattle hotel, I chose a Hyatt property. I had two free nights from my sign-up bonus for the Chase Hyatt Credit Card the previous year.  Since those would be expiring within a few months, we went ahead and used them for our two nights at the Grand Hyatt Seattle.

 

Whew!  It was a lot of fun booking this trip.  Stay tuned for all the individual posts!

Nice, France – Europe 2010 and Mediterranean Cruise (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 8 of 12 in the series Europe 2010 (Spain and Mediterranean Cruise)

This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.

The first stop on our cruise was Villefranche, France, which is in the French Riveria. It’s a short hop to Nice.

The day started out with lots and lots of coughing. Ken could not stop coughing. To the point that he was almost throwing up a bit. Gross, I know. Ken just said that his stomach was upset and he still wanted to go see the city.

Well, his cough was apparently a nervous cough. And he was nervous for good reason, because, unbeknownst to me, he was planning on proposing to me that day! After the proposal, there was no more coughing!

The ship did not have a dock in Villefranche, so we had to board a smaller boat (called a tender) to get to shore. The scenery was stunning, and we had a stranger take our photo on the tender:

Ken and I on in Villefranche

And we had a pretty good view of our ship, the Celebrity Constellation:

Celebrity Constellation in Villefranche

Villefranche was so picturesque. The charming buildings and homes built on the hillsides next to the Mediterranean Sea were so colorful. And wow was the weather stunning. The blue skies were gorgeous!

Villefranche, France Villefranche, France Villefranche, France

We boarded a train that took us about 20 minutes away to Nice, France. As we got off the train, Ken’s coughing got REALLY bad. I was getting worried!

We walked around Nice for a while. Unfortunately I don’t know the names of any of these sites or buildings really. We were just enjoying some independent, non-tour operated travel and walking around on our own!

Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France

After walking around for quite a bit, we found a central square area and Ken suggested that we sit down to rest for a little while.

Square in Nice, France

Then he told me to go stand near the fountain so that he could take my picture. On my way back, after he took my picture, he was getting something out of his bag and getting down on one knee. I was shocked!

The ring After getting engaged

After I said yes, Ken was so much more relaxed for the rest of the day! He told me all about how he had been carrying that ring around with him in his camera bag for the past 8 days all around Europe. Five hotels, seven cities, planes, trains, automobiles, and ships. He told me the story about how I almost signed for the package at home that contained my engagement ring. And we just walked all around Nice. It was great. I truly was surprised.

Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France

We ended up walking so far that we weren’t sure whether we’d get back to the train in time to get to Villefranche, since it only ran once an hour (I think). So, we found a hotel, and from the hotel we requested a taxi. We took the taxi back to the ship and we started making phone calls to tell our families the news. The call to my grandmother was especially funny. She is incredibly hard-of-hearing.

“Grammy, I got engaged!”
“You got a what?”
“Engaged! Ken asked me to marry him!”
“What honey?”
“ENGAGED! TO BE MARRIED!”
(My grandmother, who still clearly couldn’t hear me but just started pretending) “Oh, that sounds nice, I’m glad to hear your having a good time on your trip.

After a few more shouts, she finally heard me.

My sister and her family were still off the ship touring, so we waited for her to come back to tell her the news in person. When she got back onboard, we went to her cabin, and I kept my hands in my pockets so as not to reveal the ring. Then we told her the news, and my 4-year-old nephew thought the whole marriage idea sounded pretty cool. He already adored Ken, so explaining that Ken would be his uncle now sounded like a fun idea to him!

And, wouldn’t you know it, there was no more nervous coughing the entire rest of the day! He still gets that nervous cough, and I can always tell when something is up with him!

Celebrity Constellation Cruise Ship Review (Mediterranean Cruise) – Europe 2010

This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series Europe 2010 (Spain and Mediterranean Cruise)

This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.

After spending a week in Spain, it was time to depart on our cruise out of Barcelona on the Celebrity Constellation, which would take us to Nice, France, as well as Portofino, Florence, Rome, and Pompei in Italy, and then back to Barcelona.

This trip was definitely pre-blogging (for instance, we didn’t take any pictures of our cabin), but hopefully you still find the review helpful! I believe we had a Deluxe Ocean View Stateroom (with no balcony / veranda). It was that trip that convinced us that staying in cabins with a balcony are really the only way to go. We had opted out of a balcony simply to save the two hundred bucks or so, but we definitely missed having a balcony, especially after our previous cruise cabin had a HUGE balcony.

Grand Foyer

The kind of “main” area of the cruise ship is a three-story foyer with a large staircase in the middle.

Grand Foyer on Celebrity Constellation Grand Foyer on Celebrity Constellation

There were tables near the railings and other options to view all the activity in the Grand Foyer.

Grand Foyer on Celebrity Constellation Cruise Grand Foyer on Celebrity Constellation Cruise Staircase on cruise ship

Shopping Area

There is a small strip of shops on the Celebrity Constellation, called “The Emporium,” selling everything from souvenirs to jewelry and clothes.

The Emporium on Celebrity Constellation The Emporium on Celebrity Constellation The Emporium on Celebrity Constellation The Emporium on Celebrity Constellation

Swimming and Sunbathing

The swimming and sunbathing area of the Constellation was really fantastic. In fact, I’ve been on many cruises, and this has been one of my favorites. It had a fantastic layout, good size pools flanked by several hot tubs, and an amazing adult only pool area that was covered, but had a glass roof to allow the sun to shine in.

Pool area on Celebrity Constellation Celebrity Constellation Celebrity Constellation

Here is the indoor, adults-only pool area. I spent a lot of time here!

Adults only pool area on cruise Adults only pool area on cruise Adults only pool area on cruise Adults only pool area on cruise

And, there was a great kids area that included some smaller baby pools and a some water slides. My four-year-old nephew thoroughly enjoyed that area!

Kids pool area on Celebrity Constellation Kids pool area on Celebrity Constellation Kids pool area on Celebrity Constellation

Standard Restaurants and Buffets

We did all of our onboard dining at either the buffet or the “standard” dining room, called the San Marco Dining Room.

This was the first cruise we ever opted to do “anytime dining.” It sounded like a good idea. More flexibility in the evenings of eating when you wanted. However, we pretty much hated it. There was almost always a consistent wait of 20+ minutes for a table, and they didn’t take reservations. Annoying, especially when you’re starving after a long day of touring. It was because of the wait that we ended up going to the buffet for dinner more often than the sit-down dining!

Either way, here was the San Marco dining room:

San Marco Dining on Celebrity Constellation San Marco Dining Room San Marco Dining Room San Marco Dining Room San Marco Dining Room San Marco Dining Room

And here was the buffet area, which had plenty of indoor and outdoor seating options.

Buffet on Celebrity Constellation Buffet on Celebrity Constellation Buffet on Celebrity Constellation Buffet on Celebrity Constellation Buffet on Celebrity Constellation

There was even a spot in the buffet with a glass floor!

Small glass floor on Celebrity Constellation

“Extra” Bars and Restaurants

There are lots of bars, lounges, and restaurants on the Celebrity Constellation. We stuck to the normal dining area and buffets (which are included in the price of the cruise), and didn’t opt for any of the dining options that are an additional cost, so we can’t really speak to how they are.

Bars and Restaurants on Celebrity Constellation Bars and Restaurants on Celebrity Constellation Bars and Restaurants on Celebrity Constellation Bars and Restaurants on Celebrity Constellation Bars and Restaurants on Celebrity Constellation Bars and Restaurants on Celebrity Constellation Bars and Restaurants on Celebrity Constellation Bars and Restaurants on Celebrity Constellation Bars and Restaurants on Celebrity Constellation Bars and Restaurants on Celebrity Constellation

The Casino

Ken and I aren’t into gambling, but we managed to take some photos inside.

Casino on Celebrity Constellation Casino on Celebrity Constellation

Miscellaneous Pictures around the Ship

And here are a few photos that don’t really fit into any particular category! One of the things I found interesting on the ship was the interesting art and sculpture pieces onboard!

Sculpture and Art on Celebrity Constellation Sculpture and Art on Celebrity Constellation Sculpture and Art on Celebrity Constellation Sculpture and Art on Celebrity Constellation Sculpture and Art on Celebrity Constellation

The ship was also home to a walking and running track, as well as a basketball court (which also had some hockey nets).

Walking track on cruise ship Basketball court on Celebrity Constellation Basketball and hockey nets

And, of course, shuffleboard. (They also had ping pong tables, but somehow we didn’t get a picture! Probably because my nephew always wanted to play ping pong every time we walked past it!)

Shuffleboard

There was even a pool table

Pool table on Celebrity Constellation

Overall, we had a great experience on the Celebrity Constellation. Except for the long waits for Anytime Dining, we didn’t really have any complaints. We do wish we had sprung for the room with a balcony, but that was our fault! The food was great, the midnight buffets were stellar, and they even had a grand “brunch” buffet one morning that was spectacular. The ship didn’t have quite the same “wow factor” as our previous cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas, but that’s just a product of the Mediterranean Cruise market. Smaller ships for smaller crowds!

I’d definitely go back on a Celebrity Cruise.

San Juan, Puerto Rico – 2007 Caribbean Cruise (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Southern Caribbean Cruise 2007


This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.

Our cruise disembarked where it started – San Juan, Puerto Rico. Because our flight wasn’t leaving until the afternoon, we had a few hours of free time. We opted for a cruise excursion through Royal Caribbean that would do a brief tour of San Juan. This way, Royal Caribbean would also handle our luggage after disembarking the ship. In fact, they actually took our luggage to the airport, and when the tour ended, the tour bus dropped everybody off at the airport, and we met up with our luggage there. It worked out really well!

It was a bus tour with one big stop at Fort San Cristobal. So, most of our photos … actually ALL of our photos … are just from Fort San Cristobal. But it’s okay, because it was beautiful! I love old forts like this.

Fort San Cristobal Fort San Cristobal Fort San Cristobal Fort San Cristobal

There were some fantastic views of San Juan from the fort!

Views of San Juan from Fort San Cristobal Views of San Juan from Fort San Cristobal Views of San Juan from Fort San Cristobal Views of San Juan from Fort San Cristobal Views of San Juan from Fort San Cristobal

We enjoyed exploring all the little rooms and tunnels and iron gate windows!

Fort San Cristobal Fort San Cristobal Fort San Cristobal Fort San Cristobal

Unlike a lot of places you go to when cruise ships are docked, it luckily wasn’t terribly crowded.

Fort San Cristobal Fort San Cristobal Fort San Cristobal Fort San Cristobal Fort San Cristobal

And pretty soon, it was time to go back to the bus and make our way to the airport. We had had a fantastic cruise, and since it was Ken’s first cruise ever, he seemed totally hooked and looked forward to future cruises. And I was right onboard with him! (Pun intended). I’d been cruising since junior high school, and loved it, so I was glad to see that he shared the interest as well!

St. Maarten and St. Thomas – 2007 Caribbean Cruise (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Southern Caribbean Cruise 2007


This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.  

Our fourth and fifth ports of call on our 2007 Southern Caribbean cruise were St. Maarten and St. Thomas.

Unlike the previous two ports, Antigua and St. Lucia, where we took organized shore excursions, we traveled on our own in St. Maarten and St. Thomas (like we did in Barbados, our first port). We like to mix it up!

Our first stop in St. Maarten was the Butterfly Farm.

Butterfly Farm in St. Maarten

Butterfly Farm in St. Maarten

It was really cute, and we may have gone a bit overboard taking photos of the multitudes of butterflies inside! So, I’ll just post a few of the favorites:

Butterflies inside the St. Maarten Butterfly Farm Butterflies inside the St. Maarten Butterfly Farm Butterflies inside the St. Maarten Butterfly Farm

There’s fruit all throughout the farm for the butterflies to eat!

Fruit for butterflies to eat at farm in St. Maarten (Caribbean Cruise) Butterflies inside the St. Maarten Butterfly Farm

Afterwards, we stopped by this nice dock area (sorry, I don’t have specifics beyond that!) before getting in a taxi to go to a beach in St. Maarten.

St. Maarten beautiful skies

Just look at those beautiful puffy white clouds that day!

St. Maarten beautiful skies St. Maarten beautiful skies St. Maarten beautiful skies St. Maarten beautiful skies

Maho Beach in St. Maarten

Next, we stopped by Maho Beach. It just looks like your typical stunning Caribbean Beach, right?

Maho Beach Maho Beach

Well, if by the silly tone of my question (can people hear tones on the internet?) you couldn’t already tell, it’s certainly not a typical beach. The first signal that it’s your normal, everyday beach are the signs like this posted all around:

Danger signs at Maho Beach in St. Maarten Danger signs at Maho Beach in St. Maarten

Literally right as we got out of the taxi at Maho Beach, this jet was coming in for a landing! There was hardly a moment to get the cameras ready to take good photos.

Jet landing at Maho Beach in St. Maarten

We asked around, and the day we were there was not a big “jumbo jet” day. Apparently jumbo jets frequent the island only on certain days, which sounds pretty likely, since some airlines only operate certain routes on certain days of the week. However, there was an Air France jet scheduled to land later in the afternoon.

In the meantime, we were able to see lots of smaller planes landing at St. Maarten’s airport from Maho Beach! And we also took in the sites at the beach in general, and even took a quick dip.

Planes landing at Maho Beach Planes landing at Maho Beach Planes landing at Maho Beach Maho Beach in St. Maarten Maho Beach in St. Maarten

(That’s not us in the above picture!)

Planes landing at Maho Beach Planes landing at Maho Beach

After a while, we were getting pretty baked by the sun on the beach, so we walked to a neighboring bar and restaurant for some drinks and shade (but were still able to enjoy watching the planes land).

Bar next to Maho beach to watch planes land Watching planes land at St. Maarten airport from nearby bar and restaurant | Maho beach Planes landing on Maho Beach

Then, everybody started taking notice of the Air France plane coming in on approach. I’m not as good of an airplane identifier as many, but with the four engines I was guessing it was either at B–777 or an A340.

Air France Jumbo Jet landing near Maho Beach in St. Maarten Air France Jumbo Jet landing near Maho Beach in St. Maarten Air France Jumbo Jet landing near Maho Beach in St. Maarten

We sat around the bar for a little while longer, then headed back to the ship.

Sailboats near Maho Beach Royal Caribbean Adventure of the Seas docked in St. Maarten Adventure of the Seas docked in St. Maarten

St. Thomas

Our last and final stop on the cruise prior to disembarking in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was St. Thomas. Like St. Maarten, we just traveled on our own instead of taking a shore excursion. Our first stop was the Skyride to Paradise Peak.

Paradise Peak and Skyride in St. Thomas

Skyride in St. Thomas Skyride in St. Thomas Skyride in St. Thomas

We had an amazing view of the ship from the skyride.

Adventure of the Seas in St. Thomas

At the top, there wasn’t much to DO, but the vistas of the water and mountains were stunning!

Views from Paradise Point in St. Thomas | Cruise Destination Views from Paradise Point in St. Thomas Views from Paradise Point in St. Thomas Views from Paradise Point in St. Thomas Ken and I at Paradise Point in St. Thomas

However, there was a short walking path with some beautiful flowers to enjoy.

Paradise Point Nature Trail in St. Thomas Paradise Point Nature Trail in St. Thomas Paradise Point Nature Trail in St. Thomas

And before long, we boarded the skyride back to the bottom.

Skyride in St. Thomas

Coral World and Beach in St. Thomas

Our next stop was Coral World and Beach. This place was decent, but perhaps a bit dated. However, with such stunning scenery around, there really isn’t much to complain about!

Rocky Beaches near Coral World in St. Thomas Rocky Beaches near Coral World in St. Thomas

There was a small aquarium, which gave some good views of fishes! I think I had a screensaver like this in 1998. (And yes, I made that same joke talking about our trip to the Atlanta Aquarium during our 2008 Road Trip).

Fishes in aquarium at Coral World

There was this pod-type structure, which allowed you to go below sea level to see marine life in its natural habitat. At the time, LOST was a popular TV show, so lots of folks were commenting that this looked like something out of LOST.

Coral World Coral World

After descending some steps, there were lots of small windows to observe life under the sea!

Viewing underwater life from Coral World in St. Thomas Viewing underwater life from Coral World in St. Thomas Viewing underwater life from Coral World in St. Thomas Viewing underwater life from Coral World in St. Thomas

Then we walked around for a bit more, finding this lovely covered pavilion.

Covered Pavilion at Coral World Covered Pavilion at Coral World | Views of St. Thomas Covered Pavilion at Coral World | Views of St. Thomas

And there were plenty of animals to see and interact with at Coral World as well!

Iguana Colorful bird Turtles at Coral World in St. Thomas

Afterwards, we headed back to the ship and said so long to St. Thomas!