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October 23 – Depart Seattle

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Had great fun at today’s sail away party! It’s going to be a great trip with this many people participating in events. Here’s the photo dump, what there is of it (having too much fun).

Tonight we enjoyed planning our next two cruises and took in the comic set at Social. Sorry to say, Tracy wasn’t worth the time to watch his show.

Turnaround Day – Seattle

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So how does a back-to-back work? I would expect what I describe to be accurate for any ship docked in Seattle, and about 95% certain it’ll be like this at other US ports.

We have about 150 people back-to-back today. We are waiting in Cagney’s at the moment, have been here for about 90 minutes.

There have been a couple delays. First, customs did not clear the ship for disembarking on time. That delayed the start of the process about 20 minutes.

Now the crew is having difficulty accounting for one general passenger and five back-to-backers. I remember what it was like a week ago today, sitting in that waiting room by the doors to nowhere, so close to this ship I felt I could touch it. I’d be even more frustrated if I knew it was due to one person who slipped the security net.

10:20 – now we’re moving from Cagney’s to Manhattan.

Of course one part of this needs to resemble onshore security theater… We’re visually corralled off from the rest of the restaurant and now just have rows of seats, no tables.

I won’t describe the exact security procedure. But it’s pretty simple.

Just waiting for clearance to scan “onto” the ship and we’ll be underway on the second leg! šŸŽ‰šŸŽ‰

October 22 – Victoria, BC, Canada

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Today has been a day of rest and recharge for us. Been dealing with an urgent family situation that had the potential to cut the trip short — while it’s not as likely for this outcome as it looked yesterday morning, there is still a possibilty at any point in the trip that we could need to find a flight home.

The highlight of today as Choir of Man, the show this afternoon in the theater. We’d heard it was good….and it did not disappoint! Here is a video of the final number of the show (actually the first of the curtain call).

Otherwise today has been one of hanging out in our room and napping. I’ve been in the Obeservation Lounge the last hour or two, as it is easier to post when I ave a table to type on.

We aren’t going into Victoria tonight. Instead, I want to dediate the rest of this post to my “Vacation Heroes” — the crew members who have done soemthing that’s helped make this trip memorable.

Vacation Hero 1: Surina Taljaard, GM Secretary

We had no idea that being the organizer of the Crusie Critic Meet and Mingle came with quite a number of unadvertised benefits! I’m going to do my part and keep the benefits unadvertised šŸ™‚

Having Surina as a contact has made this leg of the trip spectacular! She’s helped arrange numerous things over the past week, including the internet ccess that’s allowed me to keep posting to the blog daily and has been a lifesaver in dealing with the family health situation from a distance. She finishes her contract as GM Secretary tomorrow, but will be staying aboard and working in the photo department until Miami.

Vacation Hero 2: Rowena, bar waiter, Obeservation Lounge

Rowena has been a true joy to interact with. Every NCL employe is nice to a fault. But Rowena takes it beyond the job requirements, Her friendliness is quite obviously genuine, even in interactions that sometimes are no more than five seconds long. She is a happy, friendly person who is working in a customer service role, rather than a customer service person who is required to be happy and friendly as part of their role.

Honorable Mention: Kim Bolivar, assistant waiter

Kim noticed that I was blogging and we had a nice conversation lasting about 5 minutes about my blog, how I was doing it, and about her desire to start her own blog/vlog. I wish her best of success in her effort!

Our Room Steward, Julius, is also a Vaation Hero, but IĀ  will call him out in a separate post during the next leg of the trip.

On the next leg of the trip, I’ll do a better job of getting photos of these special people!

October 21 – Ketchikan

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Bottom line up front: This day was the weakest day of the entire Alaska portion of the trip. While the meal and atmosphere which was the focus of our excursion was excelent, the rest of the day underperformed in pretty much every way.

The new docking facility for Ketchikan is impressive. Modern, easy to use, a developing destination of its own within the old cannery building…

I understand there are good reasons for developing the docking facility at Ward Cove:

  • Capacity: only one of the largest ships (NCL’s Breakaway Plus class, along with the largest of other lines’ ships) can dock at the downtown docks at a time. As the lines shift to the more-profitable mega-ships, this problem will worsen. The new facility can dock two Breakaway Plus-class ships at the same time.
  • Economic Development: downtown is the only part of Ketchikan to directly benefit from tourism income. All of the city and bourough feel the indeirect impacts, both positive and negative, and adding the Ward Cove develpment will allow a whole new center of tourism to benefit the local economy.
  • “Build it and they will come:” A new docking facility like this is like a new interchange on the highway. It may not be immediate, but the new business demand (tourism in this case) will eventually have supply to meet it.

But to have a facility seven miles north of town and then have ships stopping for only 6 hours (the first two of which nothing is yet open in town, and the last 1.5 of which are useless because of the shuttle logistics getting back to the ship, leaving just 2.5 productive hours in Ketchikan) borders on senseless.

In our case, the excursion was a 20-minute drive south of Ketchikan in George Inlet. So we had a 45-minute bus ride, a little under 90 minutes at the venue, and a 45-minute bus ride back…no chance to stop in downtown, enjoy any other aspects of Ketchikan, etc.

Again I understand the constrictions of needing to make the legally-required stop in Victoria by 8pm this evening, making it difficult to lengthen the stop. But maybe the Ketchikan stop could be on the way north instead of on the way south? I don’t know, but I do know Bliss made a Ketchikan stop downtown pre-COVID and I don’t remember seeing complaints about it being a whistle stop.

Bottom line, this will be enough that I will likely not do another Encore sailing to Alaksa. I’ll spend my money on the one-way smaller ships, probably the Jewel, which have the better itinerary IMO.

So how about the excursion?

George Inlet Crab Feast gets my highest recommendation, in spite of the long bus rides piloted by Mario Andretti (yes, it felt like we were competitiors in the MCI Bus Grand Prix at times).

When you step off the bus to this, the jostling and frustration fade quickly:

The crab feast is excellent, too, with generous portions of Dungeness crab, salad and crab dip, and a cheesecake dessert. And I finally learned the right way to eat crab legs!

A Specialty Dinner that Failed to Meet the Hype

We received a complimentary specialty dinner courtesy of the General Manager, and chose to have it last night at Onda by Scarpetta. We’d heard how great the restaurant was and how difficult to get into.

The good: some of the food was great!

This margherita pizza, for instance, was excellent. Rich flavor, crisp crust, and pleasing presentation. I’d come to regret not eating it all, but I wanted to leave room for the main course and dessert.

Roxan had a great appetizer as well, a trufffled mushroom dish.

The bad: pretty muh everything else.

My entree was the same as rOXAN HAD had a couple of nights ago at Ocean Blue: the 8 oz filet mignon.

The best thing about the entree was the side…steamed potatoes. The cut of meat I got was of lesser quality than she’d gotten previously, and it was slightly underdone. There just wasn’t any flavor and the texture was not at all enjoyable. The potatoes were also slightly underdone — something we’re realizing seems to happen with starchy foods on Encore.

Roxan had Scottish Salmon. She found the filet fairly tasteless, and it looked overdone to me. It was served skin-on, not that it makes a lot of difference but it would have been nice to know before ordering as it would have changed the entree choice.

The highlight of the night was the desserts! We both had a dessert with sorbet or ice cream, unfortunately I didn’t remember the name of them and the menu I have from Prima does not list either.

This is the first time in *any* restaurant on NCL I’ve had generalized service issues. It seemed like the pacing of the meal was all wrong, from the start. Our waiter would bring out a single item at a time, take off one of several plates we were finished with, this kind of thing. At one point it seemed like the restaurant had only one water pitcher and each waiter had to go to the back room and get it, then return it before they could do anything else. The pizza stayed on the stand until after we’d finished our entrees, even though we clearly told the waiter he could take it away. We sat 10 minutes after finishing entree before he inquired whether we wanted dessert. The overall meal took 1 hour 45 minutes…which is at least 50% longer than I would expect for two people. I’m glad we had a 5pm reservation since we needed to make a 7pm comedy club reservation.

So why didn’t I/we complain at the time? First, it would have just caused additional delay. Second, this meal was complementary. If we had been paying for it (even on the dining package) I would have expressed my displeasure. We are grateful for the complimentary meal, and have good feelings toward the ship and NCL because of it. It’s all on us that we chose the wrong restaurant.

As we look forward to the 3-week portion of the trip, I will be re-evaluating the restuarant reservations, dropping repeats at Ocean Blue and Onda. We have a consistently good experience at Cagneys, and plan to give Q Texas Barbecue a try in spite of the general consensus we’ve seen that it misses the mark on BBQ.

Fortunately the MDRs are appearing to have high quality….we’ll be choosing them more often, I suspect.

October 20 – Cruising Glacier Bay

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Panographic image of Johns Hopkins Glacier, Glacier National Park, AK. Click or tap to view and pan.

Today was a cold, damp day, but for the most part I didn’t feel as uncomfortable as yesterday in spite of the colder temperature. The main attraction of the trip for many is the glaciers, and I did enjoy Glacier Bay National Park. But I think I like Hubbard Glagier better than Johns Hopkins. This post is mostly a photo dump from the day, without much in the way of commentary. I’ll separate the Johns Hopkins photos from the other glacier and random stuff photos from the park.

Here was the highlight of my day: seeing a humpback blow. The ranger aboard said it looked like an adult and a child humpback near the beach I missed the shot, but I did see the double blow a couple of times

These photos are before we parked next to the face of the glacier.

…and here are the shots from the glacier. If they look like black and white photos (they did to me when I pulled them from the camera) it’s because we had a limited color palate to work with. On some you can detect the varying blue hues of the ice, and occasionaly the rock on either side will show its brown. But I actually kind of like the neary black and white look — it seems more dramatic in a way.

The afternoon consisted of some down time, some reading, and dinner at the Garden Cafe (buffet). I promised a separate look/review of the buffet, and I’l post that shortly.

October 19 – Icy Strait Point

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OctoBRRRRR…oh, my. Steady light rain, gale force wind, temperatures in the upper 40’s…what’s not to like about Alaska in October, right? But we knew this was what we were getting ourselves into, and we didn’t let it spoil the day.

Panorama of the Juneau waterfront

Deaprting Juneau last night was neat, it’s the first nighttime Juneau dearture we’ve done. The visibiity improved greatly a couple of hours before departure, allowing for some nice photos of the lights on the mountain side homes.

Taken from deck 17, near the outdoor video screen.

Our alarm clock was apparently attached to a bed shaker — or we were awakened by the rumble and shake of the bow thrusters as we maneuvered into the dock at Icy Straight Point. (I’m leaning toward the second explanation.)

Our tickets said the meeting point for our excursion to Alaska’s Wildest Kitchen was Departure Den. But where is that? Turns out it’s a building onshore. I heard several people ask where it was, and we’d gotten the location info from Guest Services, so I decieded to post a quick guide in a couple of places to help future vacationers.

This is the base of the green tramway to the main ISP attractions. It’s the first thing you see when you come ashore into the clearing. In fact, you can see the ship through the trees in the photo. I was standing just outside Departure Den.

This is the base of the red tramway to the top of the mountain for the zip rider and some other attractions. Departure Den is right by this lift.

Alaska’s Wildest Kitchen is an educational and food tasting excursion. Our guide today was entertaining and informative, and a bit of a unique personality. I fact, I don’t remember her real name,only that she’s known around Hoonah as “Rainbow.” I wonder why?

A closeup of the board behind her displaying the five types of salmon found in Alaskan waters.

The “kitchen” is part of a recently-consructed theater building that’s in an alcove at the “far” end of the main attraction area (the former cannery).

We were able to enjoy a wine spritzer, taste smoked salmon dip, and eat salmon burgers and halibut breakfast sausage. You honestly can’t tell the meat in the sausage is fish. The experience ended with us cooking our own salmon filets. We each seasoned our own.

The beach view was, like the rest of the day — misty, foggy, and chilly šŸ™‚

A quick ride back on the green tram and we were walking back to the ship…

Dinner: Ocean Blue

I setup today as a seafood theme, so dinner at Ocean Blue was a great way to end it.

Roxan chose a filet mignon

I chose a seafood linguine

I also had Black Tiger shrimp as an appetizer

Dessert: I had Key Lime pie, Roxan had Vanilla Cheesecake in a Jar.

Our service team was stellar tonight. Thank you to Kadek and all of the team!

While the service was stellar, I’d have to say the food was…okay. Nothing wrong with it in any way, but there was nothing flavor or texture wise that stood out in any way…except the Key Lime pie. Wow, that was sharp in flavor! Just as one would expect…I’d rate that dish a 10 šŸ™‚

As I write this we’re entering Glacier Bay and just finished the first ranger talk. I expect I’ll have a lot of photos from today — actually got out the camera instead of relying on my phone.

October 18 – Juneau, Alaska

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Checklist

Arrival: scheduled at 2:30pm AKDT, actual 1:08pm AKDT

Departure: scheduled at 11:00 (actual unknown, I plan to be asleep).

Even though the thermometer read 57-60 degrees, it was a pretty raw day in Juneau today. We’d originally planned to stay aboard, but after I had a massage to loosen up my tight neck, we decided to go ashore. The rain had stopped for a while.

Let’s back up to earlier in the day and take it in order, though. It wasn’t long after I came up to the Observation Lounge after breakfast that the boat bringing the harbor pilot for the Juneau arrival came out to drop off the pilot.

I stayed resident in the Observation Lounge reading and hassling with the Internet for the whole morning. I was joined for a while by Roxan, who got started on the crochet blanket project she brought for the cruise, and a couple of people from the Facebook roll call group.

Breakfast today was my first exposure to the Garden Cafe aboard Encore. I’ll get some phontos and do a full review of the breakfast buffet Thursday or Friday — won’t be eating breakfast aboard tomorrow morning due to a food-related excursion planned at Icy Strait Point. I will probably do breakfast buffet in the Obeservation Lounge Thursday, when I plan to sit and listen to the ranger presentaiton as we enter Glacier Bay. I hope to be able to setup my camera on our baclony for the passess near the glaciers.

As I mentioned earlier, grey was the theme for today, with mist, rain, low couds and fog prevalent. I think our best ceillings all day were about 300-500 feet. Here’s 9am, when we got the first decent glimpses of land:

Just before noon

Rain was falling as we arrived at Juneau and I went for my massage. Photo here is from the pool deck, port side.

I was a little disappointed in the spa experience. Even with the shore day discount, adding taxes back in pushed the total above $250.00 for what I would call a “froo-froo” massage, at least at the time. It was supposed to be 75-minute deep tissue. I did get a little relief from the sore, tight neck, and am glad I did it, but I don’t think the value was there for the price.

Mandara Spa on Encore is also a bit less “spa-ike” than we experieenced on Sun or Jewel. It was more, I don’t know, clincial I guess. It’s not ok to take photos in the spa, so the only example I can show is the lobby:

The rain had stopped when I was done, and we decided on a whim to go ahead and go ashore and do some shopping/eating.

We were docked at Steamboat Dock instead of the AJ Dock where NCL usually docks. That meant we were abe to walk to most things easily.

Afternoon/Evening Meal: Tracy’s Crab Shack

Right on the dock, Tracys’ is convenient and has a good reputation. I think it’s an earned reputaiton. I had the crab bowl, which is about 6oz of crab, rice and coleslaw for $28.

I spoke with the cachier, who said the season ended up being pretty good…though I coud tell from her voice she wasn’t competely sure how it rated agaisnt things pre-COVID. But she had an interesting comment: “I don’t understand why they’re still running ships, the weather is horrible.” And as anyone from these parts will tell you, this is normal weather for time of year.

We came back afterward and relazed in the room, then went for some great chocolate gelato at Coco on desk 6 (midship, across from Social).

I had a scoop of white chocolate raspberry gelato with choocolate shavings. Roxan had milk chocolate with Oreos. I thought $10 was a fair price for this…which is not included in any of the dinign plans to my knowledge.

Tomorrow, Icy Strait Point. For tonight: a cose-up of our cabin as seen fromt he dock in Juneau. We’re the second balcony on the first deck of balcony rooms, two rooms back from the curved edge of the bow.

October 17 – Sailing the Outside Passage

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A lot of rolling, lurching and so forth on this day as seas ran 8 feet or higher and we shifted from westerly to souttheasterly wind. I woudn’t say it was uncomfortable at any point, but my hips and Roxan;s knees are feeling the effects of a day of micro-adjustments to maintain stqnding and walking relatively well.

The day was highlighted by a number of meet and greet style events including the combineed Cruise Ctitic / Facebook group event at noon. We hade over 90 signed up; I estimated 45 or 50 showed up. We got to meet ship’s officers and to laught and tell stories among the group.

We followed that with a Latitudes cocktail party at 1pm, Q Texas Smokehouse was pretty full for that event. Sily me didn’t take photos of either event.

The Facebook group had organized a shot glass exchange and bar crawl for 2pm. We got it going at the Atrium Bar and visisted Sugarcane Mojito Bar, Mixx, and the Observation Lounge bar. At each the goup had a round of shots or samples of the bar’s specialty drinks. The photos below are from the Facebook group page:

Roxan and I went back ot the room after this, as we needed to rest/pass out for a couple hours. The evening included an invitaiton ot a cocktail party with the Captain and seniorofficers in The Haven. First-take feedback on the Haven space: there are some nice things, like the indoor/outdoor pool, but without seeing the rooms themseves, I’m not sure it’s worth the extra charge. That’s a lifestyle we arent used to and aren’t completely sure how to operate in

Dinner was at Savor I had the Roast Beef and a Caesar salad I was impressed with the dish — I’ve not often had the experience of a meal that containerd rich texture changes between the parts of the entree dish, as wel as a variety of tastes. As an example, I’d never eaten wilted Spinach before, and I found I kind of like it

Roxan had shrip fettucini alfredo. It was a perfect portioon size, but she wasn’t able to complete it because she’d been peicing all day.

Our waiter, Kasih, and his team provided great service. We were reflecting during the meal that the continual pacing and removing of dishes and tableware was not something we’re used to, and in our opinion the activity bordered on obtrusive. We realize in a multi-course fine dining experience that’s all part of it…in this way we’re the ones who need to adjust, not the wait staff

As I finish writing this, there is finaly somehting to see outside!

Our harbor guide arriving to pilot the Encore into Juneau
Panoramic view from the Observaiton lounge….mountainous islands and horizion!

Ceiling is running about 300 feet, we have mist and rain off/on. Alaska in October..

Embarkation Day: Seattle

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Check-in Time

9:30am PDT

I was impressed with how well the check-in process went. Even getting a few minutes late start, at 9:37šŸ¤”.

It’s a beautiful day in Seattle, smoke is much less than last night. I hope it remains that way for sail-away!

The baseball game that would not end last night made getting around about sunset and the hour afterward much easier than Terry & Rene anticipated.

From the door opening to sitting in our seats in the boarding lounge…so close we can almost touch the ship…take just over 25 minutes

Lunch – The Local

So, it turns out the warningon the doors is quite serious! Those are actually doors to nowhere…open them, take 1 step and you’re on an express elevator to the ground, three or four stores below!

The entire process of getting on the ship was very smooth, and I think the adaptations that were forced by the pandemic (for the most part) are good tings to hold onto. The changes in muster drill/safety training are especially welcome.

We stopped for food and drink at the first place we came to — The Local. First up: the celebratory drink!

Here’s a shot of the Local from our seat:

I don’t seem to find the photos I took of the meals we had. I’m writing this offline, so I think I probably just haven’t located it among my phone and the SSD storage attached to my tablet.

Sail-Away

4:00pm PDT

We sat through sailaway in the Obervation Lounge, with Roxan’s friend Sam and Sam’s friend Roxanne, who are traveling with her/us this week.

I took this photo after the sailaway funny event…it is not of anyone in our party.

A funny event during sailaway: just as we started feeling the thrusters operate, we heard a crash of several glasses breaking in the bar (maybe 20 steps away from us) Snarky me: “C’mon, they did not accelerate THAT hard!!”

Comedy Show

Maybe you’ve seen comedian Tyler Boeh on Dry Bar Comedy — he’s on the ship for an engagement that started last week. I hope to get him aside sometime this week and talk with him about the life of a comic, how it’s different on the ship than doing the normal comedy circuit, etc. I’ll post that if I get it!

Can’t photograph the performance for copyright reasons, but here’s the venue! The Social is a great place for this type of event, and I think we may go to the 80’s music event there tonight.

Dinner – Cagneys

Cagney’s is a must do for me on every sailing. The decore of this one is swanky, mch differnt form the decor on the Sun (almost nautical, as I remember) and on the Jewel (I remember a non-distinctive space taht felt a bit crowded). It’s too cold to enjoy a meal on the Waterfront, and I’m not certain how enjoyable that would be at 20 knots, even in warm weather.

Anyway, since we’d been piecing on stuff all day neither of us felt like having the entire multi-course meal. I chose a ribeye steak as my entree, with baked potato and steamed broccoli.

Ribeye, mediaum — just right! Well-marbled, excellent flavor. I was a bit underwhelmed by the potato, but that comes from eating at places that serve potatoes for 3 as a side, rather than an average size potato.

Roxan chose the Jumbo Shrimp entree, which is served on a bed of mushrooms (variety), along with trufflemashed potatoes and steamed broccoli.

We also had a delicious blueberry crisp dessert. The blueberries were just the right tartness to match well with the crumble crust and dip of vanilla ice cream.

Our service team was supremely attentive — I drink a lot of water and tea at meals, and there was never a time where I had an empty glass. They had just the right amount of entering the conversation to provide the service, wihtout being intrusive. They were led by our waiter, Maye Yasay, who I wanted to be certain to recognize for keeping things moving and for a great, friendly interaction.

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All in all, our first day of the trip was top-level!

Day 1: Getting to Seattle

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I’m not sure what happened the previous times we flew to Seattle to go on to Alaska, but there is so much about this trip that is new to my memory…that’s a really odd sensation for me.

We had a pretty uneventful flight, which is a good thing. I was struck once again at the beauty we’ve been blessed with in our country. Most of these photos were taken over Wyoming and Idaho.

And Mt. Ranier as we passed north of it:

We got to Seattle and checked into the hotel, Hampton Inn, near the airport, where we’ll be napping shortly. šŸ™‚

Superb Lunch

We chose a place about a mile from the hotel for lunch, Sharp’s Roast house.

Sharps RoastHouse Menu

I had the 4-cheese patty melt

And Roxan had fried creamer potatoes.

Both dishes were great! Hers was spicier than she expected but still tasty. Our server, Amy, was one of the better ones we’ve had in a while…the right balance of chatty to unobtrusive, great attention to the table and the kitchen had the entrees out much faster than I expected — even accounting for us being in at the early side of lunch service.

It is smoky around here due to wildfires. Not horrible, but limiting visibility to a bit over 5 miles or so and a hint of smoke smell when you first step outside.

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