We have just returned from the Crystal Harmony. We sailed August 1-13, 2001 and hit Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Sitka, Vancouver and Victoria. What an experience. Thank you Cruisemates for giving us great information before our departure, we were well prepared!!!
As far as Ketchikan goes, there were 3+ cruise ships in port when we arrived. As much as we wanted to shop, we took the finicular to the top, by the lodge and wished for hiking shoes. Glorious! Talk about getting away from it all. We spent some time on the trails and still had time for Creek Street and the shopping. The weather was unbelievable, but we were not prepared for the sheer beauty of the snow capped mountains, gentle clouds and flowers everywhere.
In Juneau we thought about renting a car - no need if you are going to Glacier Bay (However, as of this writing Glacier Bay is closed for the season 107 ships were let in compared to 139 in previous years.) Mendenhall Glacier is supposedly spectacular, but if you have seen one Glacier...... We opted for the tram to the top of the mountain. Bring you binoculars, camera, jacket and hiking shoes. We spotted a brown bear, and the scenery is magnificent. Again, the shopping was great, but the scenery, fresh air and exercise was truly the highlight of our trip.
In Skagway, we took to White Pass Railroad. For two adults and two children it was $240.00. For the same price we could have done the same excursion from Crystal and gotten our faces in the video shots of the Cruise Ship. Getting on the train was confusing because of the diffent trains leaving the depot. However, SIT ON THE LEFT GOING UP. You hear about what you are seeing and on the way down, get to take pictures of anything you missed. We debated between the train and renting a car, but the stories on the train and the presentation was worth the extra money. We also had time to shop and these were the best prices of the trip. Nothing in Alaska seems to be a bargain, but these were the most reasonable items we came across.
Sitka was one of our favorite towns. The Rehabilitation Center is not to be missed if only for the walk to the creek in the front of the Center. The salmon were so thick in the water and a bear had been spotted not 5 minutes before we treked on the short loop. The eagles they are taking care of are magnificent and make for great photo opportunities. Our time was short, but this was very high class shopping. Also, the Russian Dancers were a bit touristy, but fun at the same time. It gives you a chance to see what people do for fun in this sleepy town.
On a different note. We thought it would be nice to purchase our own wine/liquor for our pre dinner cocktails. Unfortunately, you need to visit a liquor store, not a grocery store, to acquire such items. Also, in Canada, you need to go to a government licenced liquor store to purchase wine from anywhere other than British Colombia, or any liquor. News to Us!
In Vancouver, let us recommend Stanley Park. The aquarium is well done and worth a bit of time. If your line sets up a tram as ours did to downtown, the Park is a nice walk downhill. To get a taxi back, go to the aquarium where they are plentiful. Our cruisemates rented bicycles and found a market where they bought things for a picnic. They spent 5 hours riding around the park and found everything incredible, FYI. Also, for all you housewares shoppers, Eatons has the best stuff we have seen in a long time. It is worth a visit. We also asked a cab driver for a ride to Gastown for some shopping. He told us it was really tourisy and kind of dirty and suggested Robson Street - Thank You!! We had more fun in the funky, fun shops and were so thankful to have missed yet another t-shirt community!!
Victoria was as lovely as ever. Don't waste your time touring the Empress, it is basically closed to all but registered guests. Examine Government Street instead and knock yourselves out with great shopping and fun outdoor cafes. Chinatown for us was two blocks at the end of Government and we were glad to have made the walk. In total we were there 5 hours. It was a mad rush, but enough of a visit. (Don't forget to pick up some maple sugar candies here, they were the first we had seen on our trip...)
In all, our vacation in Alaska and Canada was incredible. We had perfectly sunny weather (no rain at all despite weather forcasts indicating otherwise) and made great choices as far as excursions. (We did none of the ship's excursions and basically did what looked fun at the time). I stressed about this for a long time, but in the end never took out my notes and played most things by ear, which was perfect!!
On a personal note, if you see the captain of your ship dining alone (and you know for sure he is alone) do not hesitate to invite him to your table. (Always leave him a graceful way out.) Captain Giske honored us with his presence at a casual poolside dinner and it was the best meal of the trip. Between Cruismates and Crystal, this was truly a trip of a lifetime... Thank you and I hope our notes help someone out as everyone elses notes helped us make great decisions!!!
P> In Juneau we thought about renting a car - no need if you are
> going to Glacier Bay (However, as of this writing Glacier Bay
> is closed for the season 107 ships were let in compared to
> 139 in previous
This is not true- will be several sailings to Glacier Bay in September- permits are not required. An added bonus is the full sailing to the Hopkins glacier which is closed 5 miles out due to the seal sanctuary until Sept.