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
   

 

Day 3 – Banff to Jasper

In the hotel lobby is a TV showing videos taken from a wildlife camera installed near Sulphur Mountain.  There were so many different species of animals in the videos, including deer, cougars and bears.  When we were leaving, we asked the desk attendant about bear sightings.  She said that there had been one at the hotel the previous day while we were out touring.  Paul and Gail were disappointed that they still hadn’t seen a bear while in Alaska or Canada.  The attendant told us that we should see some on the Icefields Parkway that we would be driving on from Lake Louise to Jasper.  She says that people tell her that they see two or three bears some days.  We were all ready to watch for them.

A friend of Paul and Gail’s had told them that they had to try the Wildflower Bakery in Banff for breakfast, www.wildflourbakery.ca.  We had found out where it was located the previous day, so we would be able to get there easily, have breakfast and be on our way.  It was a good choice.  Once we were full of coffee and yummies, we loaded into the van for a day of touring on the trip to Jasper.

Our first destination was to Moraine Lake, just south of Lake Louise.  I have seen so many photos of Moraine Lake and Lake Louise on my Bing home page and from @Earth_Pics on Twitter.  I couldn’t wait to see these beautiful places in person.   The drive there was just amazing with all of the beautiful snowcapped mountains.  

   

   

   

   

Paul pointed out the animal crossing bridges that we had been going under.  I was impressed that Canada had invested in so many of these for the wildlife.

As we approached Moraine Lake, once again the cars were parked along the road, well before we even saw the parking lot entrance.  We were sure that it would be very popular on a Sunday with the gorgeous weather we were experiencing.  We were able to park very close to the main reception building.

   

It was a short walk to the lake.  The front of the lake had many tree trunks that have floated there.  There was a crowd of people trying to get photos of the beautiful scenery.  A couple of guys were having fun on the logs maneuvering for position to take photos, when one of them fell down into the water on his rear end.  It was quite funny and everyone was laughing including the wet one.

I had been waiting for someone who had been taking photos from a rock to finish.  When they did, I walked over to the rocks and started to take a photo.  I looked down and saw that there was a gravel area in front of the rock that I could step down to that would be more stable.  As soon as I stepped down, I realized that I had just stepped into the water.  It had been so clear that I couldn’t see the water.  I felt so silly; but I pulled my foot out quickly enough where it didn’t get very wet.  The below photo shows where I stepped to show what it looked like.  It was even clearer before I stepped in it, and there was no reflection.

We moved around to get different angles of the beautiful lake.  It was just so gorgeous.  It would have been even better had we been there later in the day with the sun shining directly down onto the water.

   

We headed back to the van for the short ride to Lake Louise.  When we got there, the parking lots were very full and people were again parked on the roads leading to the lots.  We were so fortunate to be able to use the handicap parking.  It made it so much easier for all of us.  When we were able to get our first view of Lake Louise, we could see that it was much larger than Moraine Lake.  It was also another gorgeous place that I will never forget.

   

   

Lake Louise is set up to handle lots of tourists.  Most people stopped to take photos when they first entered the lake area.  There is a paved walking path that goes all around the lake, which has much better photo opps with lots less people around.

   

Right next to the Lake is the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.  Unlike the Banff Fairmont, this one is a relatively new modern building without the Banff Springs elegant appearance.  However, it is located in a great location beside the lake.

I had to take many photos of this beautiful place to remember as much of it as I could.  This area is a place I could see us coming back to.  There is just so much beauty there.

   

   

Unfortunately, we did have to leave.  We wanted to get to Jasper early enough to check out the city.  As we continued the drive we saw more beautiful vistas in the distance.  We were so enjoying this drive.  Since we were now on the Icefields Parkway, we paid particular attention to the sides of the road for bears.

When looking at the map, I saw that Bow Lake was next to the highway.  Since we had seen Bow Springs next to the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel and Bow River everywhere we had been driving during the day, we thought it would be nice to see the lake where it all originated.   When we got there, we couldn’t believe our eyes.  OMG!! It was an incredible sight with the reflections in the water.

It was just a mind-blowing sight.  From every angle, it was just drop dead gorgeous.  We were so lucky to have been passing by when the water was this calm and the sun’s angle just perfect to provide the reflection.

   

After seeing Bow Lake, the rest of the drive to Jasper was less impressive; although it was still quite pretty.

   

We had one more stop to make before Jasper, the Columbia Icefields Discovery Center.   It is a good thing that it is where it is, since there was only one other place that we saw that had restrooms and/or food on the 147-mile road between Lake Louise and Jasper.  From the Center, the Brewster Company sells tours out onto the Athabasca Glacier and to the Glacier Skywalk.   It is a very nice facility with the glacier in the background.  It was also a very crowded facility, with busloads of people buying food, souvenirs and tickets to the attractions. 

   

Since this was where we planned to have lunch for the day, we headed up to the second-floor restaurant.  There wasn’t a great selection; but the sandwiches were good.   After lunch, I took a few photos of the glacier before we got back on the road.  The photo from the second floor shows a lake in front of the glacier, while the lake can’t even be seen from ground level.  If you go there, be sure to go upstairs for photos.

It was nice to be able to drive by the Jasper Park entrance fee stations that were closed for the year.  We passed by several of them during our journeys.

We arrived at our hotel, Whistler’s Inn, www.whistlersinn.com, at around 3:30 PM.  The hotel is in a great location, right in the center of town.  Jasper is a much smaller town than we were expecting.

   

When I was checking in, the desk attendant asked why I had booked two rooms.  I hadn’t, I thought.  I had originally booked the room through Expedia; but I thought I had cancelled it when I rebooked it through Hotels.com.  Looking through all my emails, I couldn’t find a cancellation notice.  Somehow, I had not done it.  I was not happy; but it was my mistake, not the hotel’s.  I would have to pay the one-day penalty.  As I was trying to figure out what had happened, Paul came down and told the desk attendant that the air conditioning in their room was very noisy.  The maintenance man was not able to fix it.  The attendant told Paul that they were totally sold out and had no other rooms.  I reminded her that she actually did have my second room that she could use.  I was glad that my costly mistake at least had a good outcome for Paul and Gail.

When we got to the room, we were most impressed with the size of it.  It even had a fire place and sitting area.  Looking at the hotel floor plan on the door, it was the largest room on the floor.  We lucked out there.  The room was most comfortable, as was the bed.  The bathroom even had a bathtub and shower.  It was a very nice room.

   

   

   

After getting settled in, we all met downstairs to walk around the town of Jasper.  We wanted to see what there was to do and find places to eat while in town.  They had a large locomotive in front of the train station and a nice totem pole across the street from our hotel.

   

   

   

Well, it doesn’t take too long to cover all of Jasper.  We ended up back at the Whistle Stop Pub in the hotel for a beer.  They had a very nice beer called Kokanee.  I had never heard of it before; but it is one of British Columbia’s most popular.  I had it again the next day it was so good.  Most of the restaurants are on a couple of streets.  I had used Yelp for recommendations; but none of the restaurants had many reviews.   We decided to go to Karouzo’s Steak House, www.karouzossteakhouse.com.  It turned out to be a good choice.  We had a very good meal there.

After a pretty busy day, we were ready to go to bed early.  It had been just an amazing day of touring that we would remember for the rest of our lives. 

Day 4 – Jasper

For breakfast, we went to Lou Lou’s Breakfast and Pizzeria, http://loulous.ca.  We decided on it while walking around town.  We had wanted to try a recommended bakery, but the line was too long to wait in.  We went back to the bakery later in the day; and we were glad we had gone to Lou Lou’s for breakfast instead.  On the way back from the breakfast, we passed by a statue of Jasper the Bear.  It is the town’s mascot.

   

Since there wasn’t that much to see and do around Jasper for those of us that were just sightseeing, it would be a leisurely day.  If we were into hiking, camping, boating or a host of other outdoor activities, Jasper is an outdoorsman’s heaven.  But with just sightseeing as a goal, we didn’t have a lot of options.  Our first stop was to Maligne Canyon.  It is a popular tourist attraction, where we would get to explore the 160-foot-deep canyon.  When we arrived, we looked at the map in front of the trail everyone else was looking at to see where we should go.  There were six bridges mentioned on the map that crossed over different sections of the canyon.  The easy walk, only went across bridges 1 & 2 and was supposed to provide a great view of the canyon.  That sounded perfect for us.  The pathway appeared to be nicely done and an easy walk. The canyon was quite narrow and we could look down to the water running through it below. 

   

   

When we crossed over the first bridge, we assumed that it was bridge 1, so when we continued our walk, we turned right to go to bridge 2.  We were surprised that the easy walk was going downhill.  We continued on it for a while going lower into the canyon.  We saw people coming back up the path that looked quite exhausted and they were quite a bit younger than us, so we asked them how far down was bridge 2.  They said that we were about half way to the next bridge.  Another fellow coming up, who was also breathing hard and half my age let us know that he just came up from bridge 5.  Oh oh, we made a wrong turn.  We had no desire to go further down.  Actually, at that time, I had no desire to even climb back up to bridge 2, much less bridge 1; but we were troopers and climbed back up the hill.  It was worth it, the views from bridge 1 were better than bridge 2.  We could see a waterfall and water in the canyon below. 

   

   

   

Since still photos don't show the true beauty and power of a waterfall, I have put in the two below videos of this lovely waterfall below taken from different positions. With it going around a corner, it couldn't all be captured with just one.

 

 



Above bridge 1, we could see the area above the falls where the water came from.  It was a pretty place to visit; but it would have been much more enjoyable had we taken the correct turn after crossing bridge 2.

   

At the end of the path was the main building and gift shop.

The previous night I had looked on TripAdvisor to find other places to visit around Jasper.  All I found was what I had already planned to visit.  I did see posts that bears had recently been sighted at Medicine lake, which was on the way to our next destination Maligne Lake.  We were so hoping that our British friends would finally get to see the bear they had so hoped to see over the last couple of weeks.  We kept our eyes peeled on the drive.  There were signs warning us that the road was a caribou crossing and then a bear crossing.  We only saw trees.

I had read that there had been a big fire at Medicine Lake a couple of years ago.  As we came close to it, the barren landscape with burnt trunks and dead trees were everywhere.  The lake itself was quite pretty, but the lack of trees around most of it took away from its beauty.  The most obvious thing missing was bears though.  We were just so disappointed that we had not seen any wildlife during our Canadian adventure other than a deer and a chipmunk on the top of Sulphur Mountain.

   

When we arrived at Maligne Lake, we could see that this was a much more developed place.  There was a very nice main building with a restaurant, shops and other vendors for the people using the facilities.  The views were beautiful and the place most peaceful; but after our previous lake experiences at Moraine, Louise and Bow, it was difficult to get too excited.  I hate that we had been so spoiled, since Maligne Lake is a gorgeous place to visit; but we had been spoiled. 

   

We got drinks and sat out on the large patio area at the restaurant building.  Once again, a chipmunk took a shine to Paul.  We got photos of him under Paul’s chair.  They really are such cute creatures.

   

Paul and Gail decided to buy a stuffed toy bear in the gift shop for one of their granddaughters, since they had been unsuccessful in seeing the real thing.  We headed back down the road to Jasper for lunch enjoying the beautiful scenery and looking for bears.  It was a pretty drive.

As we drove past Medicine Lake, we saw lots of cars pulled over to the side of the road and people outside of their cars with cameras.  We knew what that meant – Bears!  Sure enough, Paul and Gail were bear virgins no more, they got to see a bear in its natural habitat.  Although, the bear was pretty faraway. 

   

We immediately declared the toy bear that they had purchased as a lucky bear.  Everyone was now able to relax and stop watching the sides of the road during our drives. 

When we returned to Jasper, we headed out to find a place for lunch.  We decided on the Jasper Pizza Place, www.jasperpizza.ca.  Since we had planned on eating Italian food at the hotel that night, we all got delicious salads for lunch.  Carol and I had outstanding chicken Caesar salads.

   

After lunch, we headed for our last Jasper destination, Athabasca Falls.  This was supposed to be the best tourist attraction in the Jasper area.  When we arrived, our first view was of the lake above the falls.  As we continued down the path, we could see the falls from the side.

   

The park agency has done an outstanding job of providing a path that goes around the complete falls area, so that all sections of the falls can be seen.  It is really a beauty.

   

   

   

The landscape around the falls is also quite nice; but overshadowed by the falls.

While stopping at the various viewing spots, I took a photo of Paul and Gail for their album.  They were much happier now that they had seen their bear.

When we got to the other side of the falls, we could see that there were actually three separate sections of the falls.  Below are videos and a panorama photo of the gorgeous Athabasca falls.  It is definitely a place worth visiting.

The first video was taken from the left side of the falls and shows the view from the lake and the flow.

 

This video shows the falls from the left side, where you can see all three sections of the falls.


We had a much better day than we had originally expected.  After a Kokanee beer, I headed back to our room to rest a bit before dinner in the hotel.  Our last dinner in Jasper was at Cassio’s Italian Restaurant in the hotel, http://www.cassios.ca.  The food was very good and quite rich.  We all had calamari appetizers with pasta dishes as our main course.   We were all very pleased with the great food and atmosphere.   Once again, we had to pack for the drive to another hotel, this time in Calgary before our flight home.

 

Day 5 – Jasper to Calgary
Since we had a long drive ahead of us, 267 miles and just over 5 hours, we wanted to get an early start.  We thought that our best option for breakfast would be to go to the Smitty’s chain restaurant next to the hotel.   It wasn’t a quick meal.  A large group from a different hotel on a bus tour was there when we arrived.  They were capitalizing the waitresses’ time, so the service was very slow.  While we were waiting for our order to be taken, Paul asked if we had any issues from dinner.  We had not; but he had stomach issues during the night.  He assumed that it was caused by the rich chicken Alfredo that he had eaten.  Apparently, Alfredo dishes in the UK are not as rich as in the US or Canada.  Little did we know, it wasn’t the Alfredo causing the problem.

Eventually, we did get to place our order and the food came out.  It was a good breakfast; but nothing special.  The owner told us that they don’t allow groups in the restaurant after 8:30 AM, since it is difficult on the staff.  That policy didn’t help us, since we were trying to eat and leave early.

Not long after we got on the highway heading back to Banff, we saw a couple of cars pulled over on the other side of the highway.  The people were pointing down the embankment, so we pulled over and ran across the road to see what was happening.  Sure enough, a bear was getting breakfast, grazing on the grass.  This one was much closer than the first one.  He was a bit shy and went behind some trees to eat.  The lucky bear Paul and Gail had purchased was working.

We noticed that the ride south on the Icefields Parkway was much prettier than the ride up.  We realized that there was more snow on the north side of the mountains than on the south side.  This made for a much more enjoyable ride.

   

   

Not far down the road, we saw some more cars pulled over to the other side of the highway.  This time we could see the bear eating right next to the pavement even before we stopped.  Now this was a good bear encounter.  This was what I had hoped our British friends would be able to experience.   Two bears in one day, we were on a roll.

Because the bear was so close, we stayed in the car or outside on the opposite side of the car for safety.  One person walked up on the highway with his iPad to take photos of the bear.  He got way too close.  It is amazing how foolish people can be.

The view of the scenery from the van continued to be a real treat. I was especially enjoying it, since Paul was doing the driving in this direction.  I was able to take photos, since I had not been able to when I was driving up to Jasper two days earlier. 

   

   

We were impressed with how much snow was still on the mountains, since the temperatures were nearing 80 degrees during the day.

   

We stopped at a viewing point to take photos of a small waterfall.

We had planned on stopping at the Columbia Icefields Discovery Center again, for a restroom break.  Paul’s stomach was still giving him some grief, so we were glad it was close by.  Just before getting there, we passed by the Glacier Skywalk that can only be accessed by a bus from the Center.  I had originally wanted to go on the Skywalk; but after driving by it, I was glad that I passed on it.  It didn’t look to be that good of a view from what we could see from the highway.  Hopefully for those that bought tickets for it, it was better than it looked to us.

We pulled into the Discovery Center and were amazed at how few cars and people were there.  I guess that Tuesday is a lot less popular for tourists there than Sunday.  I took another photo of the glacier before heading back to the van.

   

Further down the road, the traffic came to a crawl.  We didn’t know what was causing the slowdown.  When we finally arrived at the cause, we saw a mangy looking goat eating something on the road.  It was rather a strange looking creature; and not a very smart thing for the goat to do, if it wants to have a long life.

We continued to enjoy the beautiful scenery and eventually came to Bow Lake, the one we had seen a couple days earlier with the beautiful reflections.  What a difference!  It didn’t look anything like what we had seen before.  It was still a beautiful scene; but the angle of the sun and the rough water made it look like a totally different place.  We had really lucked out on the way up.

   

   

We continued back toward Banff, where we were planning on stopping for lunch.  We couldn’t believe it when we saw cars stopping on the side of the road again.  This time a bear was on our side of the road.  He was just having a good time nibbling on the grass.  He eventually decided that he wanted to eat in privacy and headed for the woods.

   

We couldn’t believe how much luck the little toy bear had brought us.  One bear yesterday and three today.  We had quit looking for bear after the first one and now they were finding us.  It was a great end to our drive on the Icefields Parkway.

When we arrived in Banff, we took to the streets to find a restaurant for lunch.  We stopped to look at the direction markers on the street corners.  They were quite attractive.

   

We found a place called the Park Distillery Restaurant and Bar, www.parkdistillery.com.  

They had a very nice menu; but we weren’t real hungry after the heavy meals we had been eating.  We had a sandwich and salad that was very good.  I would have liked to try the spirits that they made in the distillery in the back of the restaurant; but I was driving the upcoming leg into Calgary, so liquor was off limits.

   

As we headed back toward Calgary, the mountains quickly got smaller and eventually disappeared entirely.  We wouldn’t see any more mountains until our next vacation.  We had booked a new hotel, Wingate by Wyndham – Calgary Airport,  Link.  It was a very nice bare bones hotel.  It was designed for business travelers and others looking for an inexpensive stay at a decent hotel.  They didn’t have a restaurant or pool; which we didn’t need anyway.  They did have an included breakfast, which we were pleased about.

We checked into our room and were very pleased with the nice size clean room.  Reviews had raved about how comfortable the beds were.  I quickly laid on it to check it out.  I had to agree that it was quite nice. 

   

   

The only problem with the room was the bed frame.  It stuck out from the mattress and was very easy to run into.  Bumper pads had been added to reduce damage to your body when running into it; but they didn’t pad the most dangerous part, the top corner.  I have put a photo below to show what I am talking about.  To help us from running into it at night, we put a white washcloth over it.  It worked great and no injuries were suffered during our stay.

We wanted to go into downtown Calgary; but didn’t know where to go or what to do, so we asked the desk attendant.  He was extremely helpful.  He told us that we should go down to Stephen Avenue, since that is the main tourist area.  He told us that we might want to take a train, since it was rush hour and the traffic could be a problem.  He detailed exactly what we needed to do to get there.  After thinking about it, we just decided to drive.  It was the right decision because we were driving opposite the traffic that was leaving downtown.

When we arrived, our biggest issue was where we could park.  As we drove in, we didn’t see any parking near where we wanted to go.  Paul looked at the map and found a street nearby that had some parking.  We drove into the lot and it was completely full.  That is except for one handicap spot.  We pulled in and were pleased to find out that parking after 6:00 PM was free.  We only had to pay for about an hour’s parking.  While figuring out how to use the pay machine, I turned around and noticed the reflection of a building and the Calgary Tower on the face of a building across from us.  We couldn’t believe how lucky we were to be there at the right time to see it.

We walked a block over to Stephen Avenue to see what it was all about.  It was a nice pedestrian street, with some interesting things to see along it, including a horse sculpture. 

   

   

While crossing a street we got a great view of the real Calgary Tower.  It was better than the reflection.

When we got to the end of the pedestrian area, we saw the official Stephen Avenue signs. 

Just past them was a park.  There were statues of Canadian women who had played a large part in obtaining women’s rights.

   

   

The park itself was a nice place of solitude in the city with skyscrapers all around.

   

I got a kick out of the walls with different colored squirrels looking out.  I didn’t see a plaque telling anything about them; but will have to research it to find out what the idea behind it was.

   

After enjoying the park for a bit, we headed back down Stephen Avenue toward the other end, where we hadn’t been yet.  When we arrived we saw vendors taking down their displays.  We apparently were in between activity hours.  The daytime vendors had left and the nighttime activities had not yet started.   The street itself was most interesting.  There was a statue of what looked like two businessmen that caught our attention.

Near the end of the street were some tall metal sculptures that were most impressive.  This was a very attractive city.  The downtown was very much alive. 

   

After walking around as much as we could, we found a restaurant for the last dinner of our vacation.  It was the James Joyce Irish Pub.  Since the weather was still very nice, as it had been the whole vacation, we sat outside, rather than inside the old bank building they occupied.

We ordered relatively light dinners.  Paul was still not feeling himself and we hoped that he would improve for his long trip home the next day.  We went back to the hotel to complete our packing by making sure that each of the bags were under 50 pounds each.  We had less than a pound to spare for each one; but that was good enough.

Day 6 – Calgary to Home

Since our flights didn’t leave until 2:30 PM and Paul and Gail’s flight didn’t leave until around 8:00 PM, we didn’t need to wake up early.  We probably had the best night’s sleep of the whole vacation.  We enjoyed the hotel’s breakfast and then agreed when to meet to leave the hotel.  Since Paul and Gail had so much time to kill before their flight, they had the hotel keep their room for them for the afternoon.  We then took them to the Calgary Zoo for them to kill a few hours before returning to the hotel and their flight.  We said our good byes and it was a bit sadder this time than the last time we did.  We had seen them four times in the last thirteen months, so we were getting used to seeing each other.  We had been on three cruises together and we had visited them in Yorkshire before our Iceland cruise.  The next time we would see them in person would be in February 2019 when they are sailing on the new Celebrity Edge.  Perhaps we will make our way over to England next year for a visit.  We do enjoy their company so much.

We had an uneventful flight to Dallas; but were stressed out because it was a tight connection and the wheelchair person did not show up for Carol.  Fortunately, one of the fellows who drive the electric carts around the terminals told us that he could get us to our gate with no problem at all.  He was our hero.  We got there very quickly and were able to relax for our trip home that didn’t arrive in Fort Lauderdale until midnight.  We were just glad to finally be home after a wonderful two weeks of fun and adventures with friends.

The day after we got home, we found out that Paul’s stomach problem continued to bother him the night he got home.  He called his doctor and an ambulance rushed him to the hospital.  He had apparently had a minor heart attack the night of the chicken Alfredo; and that is what had been bothering him rather than the rich food.  He was very fortunate that it was minor and did no damage to his heart.  He underwent surgery a few days later.  All went well and he is now as good as new.  He was most fortunate that it wasn’t a more serious heart attack, which could easily be fatal when on a vacation a long way from proper medical care.   We should all pay attention to unusual symptoms, particularly as we get older.  They can be more serious than we expect.

Recap

This vacation was more about sharing experiences with friends than visiting new ports.  We also met some new friends that we will hopefully travel with again.  We couldn’t have been luckier with the great weather we had in Alaska and in Canada.  It is most unusual to not have rain in Alaska ports, and we even had sunshine in all of them.  The Banff/Jasper area turned out to be even more spectacular than the high expectations we had set.  This was just a most enjoyable vacation with a perfect mix of friendship, exploration and shared experiences to remember forever.     

 

 

 

 

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