Alaska Cruise on the Celebrity Solstice &
Post Cruise Visit to Alberta, Canada

6/16/17 to 6/28/17

Due to the length of the review, it is in 4 parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top of each page.

Page 1 – Embarkation, Ship, Dining
Page 2 -  Entertainment; Activities; Ports of Call: Ketchikan, AK; Tracy Arm Fjord; Juneau, AK
Page 3 - Ports of Call: Skagway, AK; Victoria, Canada; Post Cruise Land Tour:  Banff, Canada
Page 4 - Post Cruise Land Tour:  Banff to Jasper; Jasper; Jasper to Calgary, Canada
   


Skagway, Alaska

As we arrived in Skagway, we saw that three other ships were already there and that we would once again have the furthest away docking location.  It was about a half mile walk to town, but it sure looked longer.  We could see the White Pass Train on the other side of the dock that several of our friends would be taking in the afternoon.

   

   

Having been in Skagway only once before, I was looking forward to exploring the cute old west looking town.  When we were in Skagway 3 years ago, we took a full day tour to the Yukon, so we didn’t have any time after the tour to check out the town.  I had gone in early before the tour to get a preview of what was there.  I was so disappointed that Carol didn’t get to see it, so I was looking forward to showing it off to her.

When we left the ship, I was so glad that Carol had her scooter.  It was a long way to the end of the dock, and then on to town.  When I got to the end of the ship in front of the Solstice, I took the below photo looking back.  I then realized that the people walking toward us were our friends Paul and Gail.  They joined us on the walk into town.

   

I was surprised once again that there was so much graffiti on the rocks along the dock.  At least some of it is done by the various ship’s crews recognizing their ships.  Some of the rocks still had advertisements for the original stores that advertised on them that started the tradition.

I took a photo of the welcome sign.

As we got into the edge of town, I wanted to show everyone the large rail snowplow close to the rail station.  They had added a new train in front of it since 2014.  It was an old model White Pass train.

As we got around to the front, we could see the large 10-foot-wide blades that cut through the snow.  A very impressive vehicle.

Next to the trains is the Skagway Centennial Statue that was erected in 1997, 100 years after Skagway’s founding.  Flowers were blooming nearby.

   

We walked further into town enjoying the unique atmosphere.  It is fascinating and makes one feel like they are walking through an old west town.  Paul and Gail wanted to shop, so we went our separate ways.

   

   

I liked the statue of an old miner and his dog near the edge of town.

The one place I wanted to show Carol the interior of was the Mascot Saloon Museum.   It is interesting with the life-sized mannequins.  

The Red Onion Saloon, seemed to be the most popular place in town, with a line waiting outside for them to open.   When they opened, I went inside to take a few photos; but it filled up quickly.  The upstairs area was originally a brothel; which has now been made into a museum.  I got a kick out of the paintings hanging behind the bar.

   

   

   

After we had seen everything we wanted to, we headed back to the ship.  It was nice to look out on our veranda and see that it was going to be another beautiful day.  The Cruise Director said it was the best weather they had seen on an Alaska cruise.

Before the cruise, we had been invited to go on a free tour of the area through a company called Distinctive Voyages.  It is a benefit of using our travel agent.  We had been offered one before on another cruise; but we already had a more comprehensive private tour planned.  Since we didn’t have anything planned for Skagway, this would be a great way to spend the afternoon.

We met our group on the ship and headed for the bus.  Our bus driver/tour guide, Jaren, was a most entertaining fellow.  He threw in a lot of funny stuff along with good information about what we were seeing.

He first drove us around town, telling us about the various buildings and businesses there.

We then headed to the Gold Rush Cemetery to see the graves of some famous and infamous local people.  Miss Amanda had told us all about them in one of her talks.  Her descriptions were much more complete and flowery than Jaren’s; but he did a good job.  When we got to the cemetery, there were two of the bright yellow Skagway Alaska Street Car Tour busses in the parking lot.  This was the tour I would have taken, if we hadn’t received the free tour.  I had heard from several sources that those tours were a lot of fun.

As I walked into the cemetery, I saw lots of old small headstones and lots of people looking around at them.  It was an interesting place.

   

The grave of Jefferson R. Smith or Soapy Smith, as he was known, was a popular photo opp.  He was the most infamous crook/conman in Skagway’s past.  He was so unpopular, he was buried a few yards outside the official cemetery grounds.

I walked over to the other celebrity’s grave, Frank H. Reid.  He is the man who killed Soapy; but he also died from a wound received in the duel.  He has the largest headstone in the cemetery.  The tour guides from the Street Car Tour busses were standing at his grave telling the story of the two men.  Since we came in at the end, we didn’t hear much; but it was obvious that that tour would have been a hoot to be on.  Our friends Jim, Kathleen, Steve and Jamie were on that tour and said that they thoroughly enjoyed it.

   

The view from the cemetery was quite nice.

The main part of the tour was along the Klondike Highway to the White Pass summit.  The views along the highway were just gorgeous.  It is such a lovely place.  

   

   

But the markers along the highway are a reminder that the drive can be quite treacherous in the winter.  The poles along the side of the road are there to show drivers where the edge of the road is, since the snow can get quite deep.

We reached the summit at 3,292 feet and then headed down toward Canada.  We went into Canada and turned around before having to go through immigration a few miles down the road.  This allowed us to come back to stop at the Welcome to Alaska sign for photos.  Everyone wanted a photo there.

   

Our last stop was at the Gold Rush Brewery.   This place was much more than just a brewery.  It was set up like a little mining town along the Skagway River.  They had a large dredging machine there and they apparently allow people to do gold panning on tables set up in a building.  We did this when in Fairbanks on our land tour after our last Alaska cruise.  It is much more difficult to do than we thought it would be.

   

   

We went into the main brewery/restaurant area.  Although, only root beer is made at this facility, they serve several different beers made by the Alaskan Brewing Company.  Since I had been enjoying the Alaskan Amber beer on the ship, I was pleased that the tour included a large glass of beer or root beer.  After we got our drinks, they served us a large portion of chicken fingers and tater tots.  It was close to dinner time; but we had to have some.  They were so good, especially with the beer. 

   

   

The representative of the brewing company explained the beer making process.  He was quite loud and kept going on and on.  He was also discussing subjects unrelated to beer making.  One of those was about the fact that marijuana use was allowed on private property in Alaska.  Based on his conversation, I think that he had been enjoying some weed on this private property.  He was something else.  I don’t care if he was using marijuana; but he took away from what would have been an even more enjoyable visit.

Jaren took us back to the ship and we rushed up to change for dinner.  It had been a nice day and another day with no rain.  We were on a streak.

 

Victoria, Canada

After a relaxing day and a half at sea (we needed it after 3 port days in a row) we finally got to Victoria.  It was a shame that we weren’t going to dock until 5:30 PM, since Victoria is such a gorgeous city. Our group would have loved to have been able to spend some time there.  We had been to world famous Butchart Gardens back in 2005 on the cruise that started the Martini Mate’s friendship.  On that visit, we had some rain, so we had been looking forward to returning to see the amazing gardens, hopefully in sunlight and no rain. This day looked much better. 

   

We had booked a ship tour with Paul, Gail, Danny and Carole.  As we left the ship to find the tour bus, we saw Cruise Director, Damien, dressed in a festive Caribbean outfit greeting everyone.  He was quite a site. 

The Welcome to Victoria sign was a popular photo opp.  I got a kick out of the painted bus stating “We have been expecting you.”

   

It turned out to be a most enjoyable tour, in part due to the excellent driver/guide Peter.  He was such a pleasant and knowledgeable guide.  He was very proud of his country and enjoyed sharing it with us. 

On our way to Butchart, we could see Mount Baker in the distance, 72 miles away.

After arriving at the parking lot, we headed toward the gardens.  Even before we entered it, there was pretty scenery.

   

We took the opportunity to take a photo of the girls in front of the official sign.

Rather than trying to describe the gardens, I will just put in my favorite photos I took in the gardens that represent the various gardens we went into that day.  They speak for themselves; but they don’t compare to the real thing.

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

On the way back to the ship, Peter pointed out important places in Victoria and told us about them.  With 2017 being Canada’s 150th anniversary, there was a floral decoration in one of the parks.  We also drove through Victoria's China Town

   

We also got to have a bit of an illumination tour, even though it wasn’t completely dark. 

   

The Parliament Building is probably the most recognizable tourist attraction in the city.

In front of the building is a statue of Queen Victoria, who the city is named for.

He also told us that we could be dropped off in town close to the Parliament and boat docks or at the ship.  I would have loved to walk around the beautiful town, but there just wasn’t enough time.

   

The cruise was almost over.  Seven day cruises are just too short.  But at least we still had a five-night post cruise trip to Alberta, Canada to look forward to.

 

Disembarkation

Since all of our friends were Elite status or above, we were able to meet in the Tuscan Grill while waiting for our disembarkation numbers to be called.  We were able to get the below group photo.

Also, while waiting, we could look out the windows and see Mt. Rainier in the distance, in one of the unusual, very clear days in Seattle.

Getting off the ship, finding our luggage and clearing immigration/customs was a piece of cake.  It couldn’t have been smoother.  Since some of us didn’t have flights until later in the day, we used Seattle Express to transfer us to Jim’s house for a while to kill time in a more comfortable environment; and to spend our last hours with friends.  When it was close to flight time, Airport Express also transferred us to the airport.  It is such a pleasure when a plan comes together and works smoothly.

 

Post-Cruise Land Trip

Day 1 - Seattle to Banff

We were very excited to visit Alberta, Canada.  We had heard so many people rave about how beautiful the Banff area was.  Paul and Gail from England were traveling with us.  They had also wanted to visit the area for a long time, but were first timers like us.  We hated that there were only two flights going from Seattle to Calgary.  We couldn’t safely book the morning flight, since there wasn’t adequate time, so we ended up with a 3:00 PM flight; which was later rescheduled before our trip to 3:30 PM.  Because we had an hour time change, we wouldn’t get into Calgary until 6:19 PM.  With having to get a rental car and driving an hour and a half, we wouldn’t get to the hotel until around 9:00 PM.  Well, it was what it was and we would still get to Banff.

Because we had such clear weather in Seattle, the flight over the Rockies was just spectacular.  I spent most of the flight looking out the windows to see the beautiful mountains and mountain lakes.

   

When Paul and I were discussing where to eat our first night in Banff months before the cruise, he told me that we should make reservations at our hotel.  I normally prefer to not eat at hotel restaurants if possible.  We prefer to find local restaurants if we can.  He pointed out that the hotel’s restaurant was the number one restaurant in Banff on TripAdvisor.  I immediately made an 8:30 PM reservation, since that would give us adequate time to get there.  At least it was until they changed our flight arrival time.  With the restaurant closing at 9:30 PM, I was concerned that we might have a problem.

We were lucky that we arrived a bit early in Calgary, but I was still a bit stressed out about getting to the rental counter as quickly as possible and getting on the road.  The Calgary airport is a very attractive and fairly new facility.  It is also much larger than I expected.  We kept walking and walking until we finally got to the rental facility.  It took almost 20 minutes.  I called the hotel to let them know that we were running late; but had to leave a message on their answering machine.  I had rented a van from Enterprise.  It was very comfortable and easily held all of our luggage and allowed us to load Carol’s TravelScoot without having to collapse it.  This made my job of loading and unloading it during the trip much easier.

I was surprised at how flat the area around Calgary was.  Since Banff was so close, I thought that we would see mountains all around; but not so.  After visiting it later during our trip, I was most impressed with Calgary.  It is a very modern city and looked like a great place to live; other than a very cold winter.

Not long after we left the Calgary area we could see the mountains of Banff National Park up ahead.  For Carol and me, since we live in very flat south Florida, seeing real mountains is a sight to behold. 

Because we were there in June, there was still a lot of snow in the mountains; which really brings out their beauty.  Since I was driving, I couldn’t take any photos of our approach to Banff; but I would make up for it soon enough. We got to the hotel around 8:40 PM.  I guess that I must have been driving above the posted speed limit.  We were staying at the Juniper Hotel, http://thejuniper.com.  The setting was just amazing.  It was outside of town all by itself in the wilderness; but still close to Banff, even if we wanted to walk.

   

When we got to the front desk, a very nice attendant, Kate, put our minds at ease.  She told us that she had gotten my message and that they had moved our reservation to 9:30 PM, in case we had been even later.  We told her that we would be there at 9:00 PM. 

Since Carol uses a scooter and does not like climbing steps, I try to get hotels that have elevators or I request a first floor room.  I screwed up this time.  The hotel only has two floors and no elevator.  Kate looked to see if she could move us to a room that hadn’t been checked into yet.  The only one not occupied was for a guest who had a pet with them.  Their policy requires that guests with pets must be on the first floor.  Since we would be out touring during the days we were in Banff, Carol would only have to use the steps in the morning and when we got back in the evening, so it worked out OK. 

We were surprised that Kate grabbed our 49-pound suitcases and hauled them up to our rooms for us.  She didn’t look big enough to be able to handle them; but she was quite strong.  But more so, she was just a very sweet and helpful person to these old tired travelers.

The rooms were very nice and the bed just perfect.  The highlight was when I opened the curtains and walked out onto our small balcony.  Wow!  What a view.  We couldn’t see Mt. Rundle when we checked in, since the front of the hotel looked the other way.   We were very happy with the Juniper Hotel.

After quickly washing up and getting the luggage in order, we headed down to the Bistro for dinner.  We actually got there around 9:00 PM.  I couldn’t believe that everything was coming together after a stressful time at the airport and rushing to get there.  The Juniper Bistro was a nice looking restaurant with a great view looking out to the mountains.  My first order of business was to have a Canadian beer.  The waitress recommended Steam Whistle.  It really hit the spot!

   

We placed our dinner orders and I walked outside to check out the view from the Bistro patio.  With the sun setting, it looked like the top of Mt. Rundle was on fire.  This was just a gorgeous place.

The menu was very limited; but we all found something to eat.  For dinner, Carol and I got the pork short ribs; and Paul got the duck breast.  I think Gail got a salad; but I didn’t take a photo of it.  All the meals were delicious.

   

Day 2 - Banff  
After a great night’s sleep, I woke up early and got the exterior photos of the hotel I used earlier in the review.  I also took a panorama photo from our balcony.  It does distort the view; but it also shows what a great view it was.

I also took a photo looking to the right side of the view.

We met in the Bistro for breakfast; which was very good.  I got the Juniper Benny, which had braised rabbit rather than ham used in a traditional eggs benedict.  Carol had the Stuffed French Toast, which was really good; and Paul had the Salmon Benny.  I believe that Gail just had some toast, not worth taking photos of.

   

Before the trip, we had decided on the main attractions we wanted to visit during our five days in Alberta.  The major attractions were all run by a company called Brewster, www.brewster.ca/explore-rockies.  They offered various combo tickets that included different attractions.  They also offered a 10% discount if purchased online ahead of time.  Since we didn’t know what the weather would be beforehand, we wanted to keep our schedule very flexible.  With us spending two nights in Banff, two nights in Jasper and one night in Calgary; we could make up anything that we missed in one place on travel days between the various cities.  We had once again received mixed forecasts from our weather apps and it didn’t look promising for some of the days.  We had been very fortunate to have great weather on the cruise, which is unusual for an Alaska cruise; so, it would be what it would be and we would enjoy whatever we could.  For our first full day in Banff, it looked like a marvelous day.   Each day we were in Canada, the temperature would start out in the 40’s and move up quickly to around 70 or above.  We were blessed indeed.

Before starting our tour, we went into town to find a pharmacy to get some medicine.  There was one in their mall, which had an interesting skiing decoration hanging from the top of the mall.

Our first destination was to the Banff Gondola, which climbed up to the top of an 8,041 foot high Sulphur Mountain. The top is 2,900 feet above Banff.

With a beautiful clear Saturday, it was a very popular place.  Since Carol uses a scooter, she has a handicap parking placard to use.  It was a good thing, since every place we would visit on this trip had very full parking spots.  In some places, we wouldn’t have even been able to go, since the cars were parked almost a mile away from the attractions.  We had a line to wait in for tickets.   While waiting in line, we decided to purchase a combo package that included the gondola and Banff lake cruise.  It cost 104 Canadian dollars for each per person, which saved us 18 each.  With the US conversion being about 75%, it would be about $78 per person to do both attractions.  Unfortunately, when approving the charge, I hit “Pay in US$” rather than Canadian to save a conversion fee from the bank.  It was converted to $99, so I lost more than I saved by getting the combo ticket.  I should have known better.

The line to get into the gondolas went pretty fast.  The cars themselves comfortably hold 4 adults.  The loading/unloading process went very smoothly.  From the ground, the top of the mountain didn’t look that far away.  But as they say, looks can be deceiving.  It took a while to reach the summit.  The views were great going up, but the gondola only had one small open window for ventilation.  With the hot sun on Paul and my backs, it was a bit uncomfortable.

   

But once we exited the gondola and walked out onto the viewing area, we were blown away by the gorgeous views from the mountain.  This was a real treat.

   

   

When we bought our tickets, they asked how long we wanted to stay on top, since they scheduled our return time when the tickets were bought.  Apparently, the normal time is 1.5 hours.  This would allow for walking on the many trails.  We decided that 40 minutes would be enough, which it was.  Walking around the different viewing areas close to the main building, we could see some of the paths. 

   

One went over to a different peak, which would involve a lot more climbing than we were interested in.  You can see it in the upper left of the photo below. You can barely see it, since it is quite a walk to it.

Carol spotted a deer walking in the trees.  We kept watching it as it got closer to elevated walking paths.

A chipmunk was walking on the wooden walkways.  It was very cute and kept running from spot to spot.  We saw Paul coming out of the building and told him to get a photo of the chipmunk.  It then ran under his feet. I guess it liked Paul.

We each took photos of ourselves from the peak to prove that we were at this beautiful place in the mountains.

   

After descending from the gondola, we went back to the main building to schedule a time for our Banff Lake cruise.  My iPhone GPS app said that it was only about a 20 minute drive. The time we wanted to book was about 45 minutes from then, so we figured we had plenty of time.  The attendant told us that traffic could make it difficult to get there by our noon ticket time; but we trusted our app.  The app was right and we had plenty of time to spare.  Once again, the parking was horrendous; but we were able to park up close.  Part of the reason that the tourist spots were so busy was that 2017 is the 150th anniversary of Canada as a country.  One of the ways to make 2017 special was to provide free access to all of its national parks during 2017.  We certainly appreciated that; but I believe it also made for larger crowds.  Banff Lake, which has an official name of Lake Minnewanka, looked really nice. 

   

The boats that were used for the tours were mostly enclosed with a small open area in the back.  I was concerned that the back would be very crowded with people taking photos; but since there weren’t many people on the tour, it wasn’t a problem at all.  Plus, we could easily take photos out of the open windows on the sides of the boat. 

   

Our naturalist on the tour was Ash.  She was very friendly and knew everything about the lake.  After her presentation, she walked around the boat answering people’s individual questions.

The ride lasted about an hour and was quite enjoyable.   Below are photos from the tour.  There were just so many beautiful mountains and views around the lake.

   

   

   

   

After the tour, we headed back to Banff for a late lunch.  One of the challenges during the trip was to find restaurants that were handicap accessible.  Most of the restaurants in Banff were on the upper floors with lots of steps.  We found an interesting looking restaurant called the Grizzly House.  Their specialty was steak and cheese fondue.  We all decided to get hamburgers, which were overcooked.  The service was also very slow; but the place looked interesting.

   

Since we were running late, we decided to move some of our planned stops to the next day, when we would be driving to Jasper.  It made a lot more sense, plus it gave us extra time to explore the lovely city of Banff.  Across from the restaurant was a tourist information person in a temporary booth.  We asked her about possible places to visit in the afternoon.  She gave us some excellent recommendations and off we went. 

Our first destination was to see the famous Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.  There are several buildings; but the most eye catching one is the tallest one. 

   

The grounds are just gorgeous with amazing views, flowers and statues.  I understand why it is so popular; and also so expensive to stay at.

   

   

We wanted to see the waterfall below the hotel.  There was a path from downtown that could be walked; but it seemed like it would be easier from the hotel.  We started to walk down the hill and through part of the golf course, before we came to our senses.  It was a very long way down to the water.  So, we trudged back up the hill to the van to find a way to drive there.  Looking at the map, it was just a short drive.  I can’t believe we even attempted to walk down the hill, with such an easy drive to get there.  Cars were parked all the way up the road and the lot itself was full except for a couple of handicap spots, thank goodness.  The area was just so lovely with the waterfall and snowcapped mountains in the distance across the lake.

   

I had to take a panorama shot to show the entire view.

Our next stop was to the Cave and Basin Historic site.  It is located on the side of Sulphur Mountain that we had gone up on the gondola in the morning.  The reason it is called Sulphur Mountain is because of the sulfur smell of the natural thermal springs in the side of the mountain, that were at this location.  This one is the lowest of the nine springs on the mountain.  When I originally read about this site, I put it low on the must-see list, since we have seen many hot springs in our travels and it didn’t look like there was much to do there.  I was partially right, since there wasn’t that much to see there; but it was more interesting than I expected.  We arrived there at around 4:00 PM.  With it closing at 5:00 PM, it didn’t leave us much time to see what was there.  The main entrance, which had a Model T Ford parked in front of it, was quite a walk from the parking lot.  The handicap spots were full. 

It had turned into quite a warm day.  With most of the exhibits being outside, I was getting a good tan.  With it being close to closing time the exhibits had mostly closed down, so there wasn’t much to see. 

I walked into the main exhibit building to see what was there.  There wasn’t much I was interested in, so I went back outside. 

At the back end of the exterior area was a large sulfur pool called the Basin.  People used to swim in it to soothe their aches and pains.  It was so popular that it was enlarged and deepened to three times its original size.  People can no longer use it due to the high bacteria levels in the pool.  Now it is just interesting to look at; and is home to the endangered Banff Springs Snail.   

We went up to the second level of the building to get views from above.  From above, we could see how much smaller the original Basin was.

 

The entire time we had been there, I kept wondering where in the world is the cave that is in the name of this site.  I asked someone that was working there for directions; but I still couldn’t find it.  As we were getting ready to leave, we saw the entrance to the Cave.  I guess that if we had come in the right entrance to begin with, we would have seen it.

Paul and I walked into what was a very dark tunnel.  At the end was a natural grotto, that is a replica of the original 1887 bath house.  I am surprised that I could get any photos of this area, since I could barely see it in the dark with my eyes.

   

As we were leaving, I asked the attendant if there was a way I could pick up our group from where we were, rather than having to have everyone go back down to the far end of the parking lot.  He told me to just drive up to the gate and push the button, he would let me where they had other handicap spots or I could just drive up and pick everyone up.  That sounded great.  To make it easier on me, I rode Carol’s scooter down to the van; and then drove it back.  It worked out very well for all.

We headed back into town.  Since we had eaten a late lunch, we had time to walk around Banff and look for a place for dinner later.  It was such a pleasure walking around the lovely town.   I can understand why so many people consider Banff a must visit place.  I know that we certainly feel that way now.

   

   

We found a nice restaurant that had an elevator for Carol, the Saltlik. www.saltlik.com/banff.  Because it was a pretty warm day for Banff, the first table they put us in was too hot for us to eat at.  The hostess then moved us to a table on the outdoor patio, which was perfect.  Saltlik is known for their Certified Angus Beef steaks, so we all had one.  It was a most enjoyable meal

When we got back to the hotel, I went out on our balcony to take in the lovely view.  I realized that I was able to see the Banff Springs Hotel between Mt. Rundle and Sulphur Mountain.  I put on my telephoto lens to get a better photo of it.

   

I then realized that I could also see the building on top of Sulphur Mountain where the gondola had taken us earlier in the day.  It was much smaller and further away.  It was a great way to end a most enjoyable day.  I took the below photo of the building the next morning

We had a minor problem regarding the air conditioning the previous night.  It worked very well; but it blew down toward the beds.  I didn’t worry about it the first night, but wanted to see if I could adjust it for our second night.  The louvers on the vent were not adjustable, so I came up with an idea.  I hung one of the washcloths on the vent, which diverted the airflow away from the bed.  It worked perfectly and we had a great night’s sleep.



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