Post Vacation Update #12

(The Final One!)

This final update covers the last stop on the cruise in Sitka, Alaska, the day and a half sail to Vancouver, and the disembarkation and flight home from there.

The sail from Glacier Bay is a short one and when most people woke up on Thursday morning, May 8th the ship was anchored in the only spot in Sitka harbor that could handle a ship of the Statendams size. This meant that this was the second of the two tender ports on this cruise. There had not been any tender ports on the first cruise.

Things happened quite quickly here as there really were not any immigration procedures here as the ships last stop had been in Homer, Alaska. Sitka is a small town by population but it is apparently the largest town/city in the USA by area. The City and Borough of Sitka covers an area of 2,874 square miles which is bigger than the entire state of Delaware. Interestingly, the second biggest is Juneau at 2,117 square miles. (For you metric measurement types, that is 7444 and 5483 square kilometers respectively.) When you see the pictures you will realize that most of it has very little, if any, population. The city has less than 10,000 people in it.

The shore excursion I chose here was called the Sitka Photography Tour. There were ten people in a small airport transfer bus along with a local photographer who knew where most of the good places were to take pictures. He also knew enough of the history to give us the details of each place we saw.

The images below follow the tour as we move through and around the Sitka area.

The first place we stopped was a different section of Sitka’s small boat harbor than the section the ship was anchored near. The water is called the Sitka Channel.

This picture was taken from the same spot as the previous one but looking the opposite direction and into the sun. The ship is anchored just behind the land in the middle.

This spot was a PVY (floatplane) base during WW2 and these buildings were the hangers. They are now part of the University of Alaska. The paved section you can see in the foreground of the two pictures above is where the planes entered and left the water.

By now you have likely come to the conclusion that I like Bald Eagles. Here are a few more. These were near where the last three pictures were taken.

This is the same harbor as the other pictures but from the other side and farther down. The tide was very low this day which is the reason for the land in the foreground.

Same spot but composed slightly differently. This was the local seaplane airport until recently. It is not easy to see in these pictures but there is a runway out there

While we were there this Coast Guard helicopter flew by either on an exercise or on its way out to rescue someone

This shows the helicopter (upper part just right of centre) and you can see what is left of the runway in the lower centre.

Here is the last of the Bald Eagle pictures for the trip. This one was by itself in a tree near where the last group of pictures was taken.

The group then traveled south out of the immediate city and into the surrounding country side. There was some marine life in this area but none of it cooperated for a picture.

This is the same spot showing the small bus we were in and some of the other people in the small group.

The next stop was at a lookout and this was about all you could see in this somewhat artsy crafty image. 

This is a view down the road we were traveling along. It is 17 miles (approximately 27 kilometers) long and is the only one that goes outside of the city.

The next stop required a short 5 minute hike into this lake. The locals skate here in the winter. The sun was in the wrong place for the best colour to show.

This was a 150 year old Sitka Spruce tree. It was cut down many years ago. If I remember right the guide said it was used for the mast of a ship. These trees are good for this use because they are very straight and have few or no knots.

I got a chuckle out of this.

That is a satellite dish with the happy face on it.

Our last stop on this trip was back in Sitka at Swan Lake. The house with the happy face satellite dish was just behind me when I took this picture. Apparently this is used a lot in movies to simulate winter skating in rural cities.

The tour ended back where it began at Crescent Harbor. The next few pictures show the area around the harbor and the ship.

Beautiful downtown Sitka. This is most of it.

This picture was actually taken earlier but is shows the ship anchored at the only spot it could anchor.

The Sitka pleasure craft harbor (Crescent Harbor).

Here, from Crescent Harbor, is one of the tenders with the ship in the distance.

After having a quick look around the downtown, I took a tender, like the one above, back to the ship. I took some pictures off the ship but most were similar so I picked this one.

This shows the town to the right, the airport on Japonski Island in the middle, and Mt. Edgecumbe off in the distance. This mountain is on an island by itself. It is 3,200 feet or 975 meters high.

At approximately 1:30 P.M. the ship sailed for Vancouver. I should have been 1:00 but they lost some people who were apparently on the ship all the time but they could not find them.

The single picture above is the last one that I have included here that was taken with the big camera. There were about two more and then all the memory cards were full. This is 14 GB of images and something just under 2800 pictures. All the remaining pictures (about 150) from here on were taken on a Nikon P1 point and shoot camera. I could have deleted the images from the cards but I decided to keep them all until I got them home safely.

The rest of this day and the next one were taken up sailing south towards Vancouver in the Pacific Ocean. One of the traditions on these ships, at least until now, was on the last formal night there would be the Baked Alaska Parade. I do not know the origin of this but our cruise was the last parade for the Statendam as they were being cancelled after this cruise. I suspect that the cancellation was caused by the new “As You Like Dining” that was implemented on the two cruises I was on, on this ship. This lets people choose their dining times and since it can be anywhere over a four hour period the Parade no longer works. Since this was the last one I took a picture to remember it by.

Our waiter with his last Baked Alaska on Parade.

Our table that night taken by our Bar Steward.

The group at the table above represented, Florida (2, center rear and left), Winnipeg (2, front left and right) the interior of B.C. (1, far right, related to the Winnipegites) and me.

Much later this evening, 10:30 to be exact, was the Statendam’s Dessert Extravaganza. So in the mean time I went for a walk around the Promenade Deck many times. During this walk I noticed the sun setting off the stern slightly to starboard. It looked like it may be interesting so I took a number of pictures of it. I do not think that it is anything particularly extraordinary but it was pretty so here are a series of images as it set on May 8th, 2008 off the west coast of the Alaskan panhandle. The sequence starts at 8:23 P.M. and ends at 8:46 P.M. Alaska time which is 4 hours behind us.

8:23 P.M.

8:30 P.M.

8:34 P.M.

8:37 P.M.

8:40 P.M.

8:42 P.M.

8:42 P.M. again

8:46 P.M.

There were many more than these but these ones seemed to show the most change as the sun set.

There was still over an hour and a half to go to the Dessert Extravaganza so I went back to my stateroom and took some pictures of the towel animal menagerie I had been collecting since the first cruise. Here are some pictures of the ones that remained on the last night.

This fellow stood here for most of the second cruise.

A close up. I am not sure exact what this was intended to be but I thought a Penguin.

This was another long lasting one. This is a monkey.

These two changed frequently. I think the left one was a sitting elephant and the right one, well, I am not sure.

After doing an initial packing of one of the two suitcases the time finally came for the Dessert Extravaganza. This is an event held late in the cruise to show off the talents of the chefs that create the desserts on the ship. There was one on the previous cruise as well but I was not feeling too well the night that one was on. It is held late at night. I do not know how some people could eat this type of thing at this hour (10:30 P.M. to Midnight) and still sleep that night. I did not have anything. It was nice to look at and hard for most people (except me of course) to resist. The event was set up around the indoor swimming pool. Here are the pictures, no salivating allowed….


Ice sculpture on the end.

All kinds of goodies.

The mermaid is white chocolate.

The pink coloured items were usually strawberry or raspberry.

This is the centre piece of the table with a fountain lit multicoloured lights at the back.

Another white chocolate person. Take note of the orange coloured cake on the far left for later on.

Growl!!!

Yum, Yum, Yum….

The ice sculpture at the other end of the table.

A view back along the table. There were two tables like this one on each side of the swimming pool.

This is what fascinated me the most. The tall brown tiered thing in the rear of the image that looks like a fountain actually is a fountain only it is warm chocolate that is flowing. The chef in front was taking the strawberries (or other fruits) in the foreground and dunking them in the warm flowing chocolate in the fountain and serving them to the people in the line two to a plate. 

People were lined up to get these. Strangely enough chocolate covered strawberries, or any other fruit for that matter, did not appeal to me.

After having a good look and not eating anything I walked down the six decks to my stateroom and went to bed.

Just before going to bed the clocks were set forward one more hour, for the last time on this cruise. On this cruise the time had be set ahead eight hours, seven of them over seven consecutive days and there were two Friday, May 2nd’s.

This day was Friday, May 9th, my 56th birthday. Most of the day was spent packing the two suitcases. This was caused by the weight problems that I started with even before I left home on the trip and the additional items I wanted to bring back. There were many variations.

There was an interruption midmorning for the Disembarkation Talk and Crew Farewell. This has the cruise director telling you how the process works to get you off the ship tomorrow morning. I had heard most of this before and it never seems to change much but I listened to it anyway. It was a break from the ongoing packing and weighing and repacking and weighing of the suitcases.

After the talk there is the crew farewell where they sing a well known song with a title I should be able to remember but cannot seem to at present. It is a bit moving the way they do it. Here is a single picture of this.

Just after lunch I logged onto the internet from the ships Explorations Café and did an online check in. It took a couple of tries but I finally got it (minus the Aeroplan number apparently) and printed 2 copies of the boarding pass.

The dinner on the last night is called the Chefs dinner. It has a bit of pomp to it and the menu is basically set with only minimal choice. This was also my birthday dinner. They just barely started and the ships fire alarm signals went off. They tried again but it turned out that the alarm was real and half the people involved in the meal presentation had to go to their fire stations. The problem was on deck 5 (where my stateroom was) near the stern, (well away from my stateroom) several decks directly below where I was in the dinning room. Many announcements were made to keep the passengers (us) informed and in a very quick period of time (about 5 minutes) they determined that a fan had seized in one of the staterooms affected and caused a motor (and possibly a rubber fan belt) to overheat.

This really messed up the fancy presentation they had planned for the first part of the dinner. The dinning room manager came on and explained that dinner would be delayed because at least half of the kitchen staff were on the fire teams involved with the fire response. It probably could not have happened at a much worse time for him. In some ways it was not that bad a time for the passengers in general because at least half of them were in the dinning room at the time and not in their staterooms and just stayed there.

Once everything settled down and the kitchen staff got back, things proceeded as much as possible as originally planned.  They did the best they could with the part of the show that went with the dessert. Here are a couple of pictures that show this.

I am not really sure exactly what this was about to be honest.

These are some of the waiters. There are paper plates on the top of the sticks. They were not actually spinning them, they are glued there.

This was the desert they served that night. The white chocolate chef’s hat had chocolate mousse in it.

 It was fairly rich.

About a week earlier I had a talk with one of the assistant dinning room managers that I got to know during both cruises and mentioned it was my birthday. He said he would look after it. So this is what happened.

This cake appeared along with a group of waiters and the assistant manager himself who all sung happy birthday to me.

Does this cake look familiar? Check the one I suggested you make not of in the Dessert Extravaganza above. I do not think that it is actually the same exact cake but it looks like it sure came from the same mold you might say. 

Everyone at the table had a piece but everybody was already bursting from all the other courses and a previous dessert as well.

I forgot to take a picture before I started to eat the cake so here is one after just a few bites.

This was me during my birthday dinner.

The diner concluded, somewhat late but with everyone very full. This being the last dinner of both cruises I took a picture of the dinning room staff that served me. The only one who is not in these to pictures was the bar steward from the first cruise. These were the only staff that changed between the two cruises.

This is Pippit or as I called Mr. Pippit. He was the assistant dinning room manager who arranged the cake. This is not what they normally wore; it was special for the chef’s dinner.

Here is from left to right, the assistant waiter, the bar steward, and the waiter. You saw the waiter in a picture above dressed more normally with the Baked Alaska.

All that was left for the cruise was to finish packing, put the suitcases out before 1:00 A.M. Saturday and go the bed. After a final battle with the suitcases and the scale, I decided that they were close enough and if they were over weight for the flight home I would just need to pay the price.

The bags were put out and I went to bed. We were about eight hours from Vancouver.

When I awoke the next morning I looked out the window and the ship was just docking at Canada Place in Vancouver. This happened around 6:00 A.M. I watched a bit longer and saw a Princess Cruise Line ship coming to dock on the other side of Canada Place. I took a good look and it turned out to be the ship that a friend of mine, Dave Rickwood would be sailing from Alaska to Vancouver on a week later. It took a poor picture of it through a fairly dirty window. Here that is.

I think this was called the Destiny or similar.

Since they had to get me to the airport for my 12:15 P.M. flight to Toronto I suspected that I would be disembarking early in the process. I spent some time on deck watching the docking process and took these pictures, the last two on of the trip.

This is Vancouver’s new convention centre. It was being built when I was there for the Panama Canal cruise two years ago and it is not done yet. Apparently it is close to a billion dollars over budget.

Canada Place from the ship. This was the very last picture taken on the trip.

Things must have gone well because they started the disembarkation process very quickly. It was even a bit earlier than they predicted. A few of groups (you disembark by colour group and a number within that group) and then mine. I was off the ship by 8:30. I passed through Canada Customs with no problems and even found my suitcases very quickly. I guess it helps to be in one of the early groups off. There is much less baggage to search through. My two were almost side by side with only one of someone else’s in between.

The next step was to get the bus to the airport. This, as it seems to be with all the cruises I have been on, is one of the most confusing parts of the process. They do not seem to handle it well. There was a mixture of Holland America and Princess people there all somewhat confused. After time they sorted things out. The biggest problem was that there was so much baggage from our cruise that they could not fill all the seats on the bus with people because they could not get everyone’s bags in the bus with the people. This also caused some confusion but again they overcame it with reasonable speed and we left for the airport.

The bus driver gave us a narrated drive to the airport and provided us with more information in the 45 minute trip than some tours I have been on. He was quite humorous as well which made it all the more interesting.

I was at the airport by 9:30 and checked in by 10:00. The online check in done on the ship sure sped things up. There was a long line at the main check in’s. Next came the moment of truth. Had I managed to keep the weight below the 23 Kilos that were allowed? In Vancouver they have a single location for bags unlike Toronto where it is done at each location. One was 21.9 and the other was 22.5. I was almost surprised, and definitely very happy.

I had a Tim Horton’s hot chocolate with some people that had been at my dinning room table on the first cruise who were from Calgary. They were leaving about half an hour after me on another Air Canada flight. We said our good bye and I went through security with no problems.

Vancouver Airport is undergoing renovations at present (no doubt something to do with the upcoming Olympics) and it was a bit tricky finding my way around. I arrived at the gate with an hour and a half to spare and called and said hello to my mother.

The plane boarded on time. They must have changed the type of plane as the seat I was in turned out to be directly over the left wing and had an emergency exit to boot. I ended up having to put my large camera bag in the overhead compartment on the other side of the plane. There seemed to be an over abundance of carry on luggage on this flight. I was shown how to open the exit if necessary and then we had a live safety demo instead of the normal recorded one you see most of the time these days.

The captain came on and said we were taking the US route and that things may be a bit bumpy until the plane got to altitude which was to be 37,000 feet. This 4.5 hour flight had more bumps and jolts during it than the entire 15.5 hour flight to Hong Kong had.

As it turned out the weather was such along the way that there was little to see outside, so being over the wing turned out to not be that big an issue. As the plane started down, somewhere over western Ohio or eastern Michigan we were bouncing around pretty good. When the plane broke through the clouds we were over western Lake Erie. I could not see from where I was but I think the plane flew almost directly over or just north of Brantford on its approach to Pearson Airport. After virtually a straight in approach, the plane landed 30 minutes early on the back runway by Derry road. We actually paralleled the 407 for a few minutes. 

It took 10 minutes to get to Terminal One from there so the arrival time was 20 minutes early. Along with many other people from the flight I made use of the washrooms and then headed the long walk to baggage claim. The way the baggage carousels were labeled was strange but I picked the right one and did not need to wait very long for the bags. I went outside, called my transportation home who was waiting in the cell phone lot and came home arriving here at about 9:15 P.M. May 10th. On the table was a birthday cake which was enjoyed for the next several days.

With this, the trip concluded, just over 35 days after leaving home and 34 days after leaving Toronto.


Concluding Thoughts

Since I have come home, just over four weeks ago as I write this, I have been asked by many what was the best part or place I liked the best of this trip.  

It is a hard question to answer.

I found the entire trip interesting. I got to see Japan which I have always wanted to see. I was impressed with some parts of China and less so with others parts. Having the Olympics in Beijing should prove interesting. It is still very much polluted.

What or where did I like the best? I am leaning towards Alaska first with Japan second. I still want to think on this more before I make a final decision.

In Appreciation

For those of you who have seen the web sites I have done for other trips, the pattern that I usually followed was to thank those I need or want to on the very first page. Here I am doing it on the very last page. That does not mean that I think any less of any of those listed. I just wanted to be different this time.

First and foremost, as always seems to be the case, I must thank Colleen Renton of Goligers Travel. She did a fair amount of work on this and I suspect that that is the reason it went so well with so little problem. Her suggestion of proposing an air deviation t o Holland America was the best piece of advice she offered. It worked perfectly. The extra $170 or so was worth every cent. Thanks again!!!!

As a result of that air deviation I ended up on Air Canada for both flights and I cannot find any fault with the service they provided. I never liked them much but they sure have changed over the last number of years and I would have no qualms in recommending them now. Also thanks to Scott McKellar for the transportation to and from the airport.

The people that I spent 31 of the 35 of those days with were Holland America and the crew of the MS Statendam. Things did not start well in Hong Kong but they made up for it.  I am sure that doing shore excursions on cruises like these must be quite a challenge and the shore excursions staff handled a couple of strange situations very well. The dinning room staff, the Lido Restaurant staff, the Front Office staff and the cabin steward all met my expectations of them. Everything was handled efficiently and well. The captain, who retired when the ship arrived in Vancouver, was a bit unusual in that when there were problems he would make sure the passengers knew that there were problems and usually told us exactly what the problem was.

The Statendam is Holland America’s oldest ship. It is showing it. I was constantly hearing about power problems, ventilation problems, toilet problems and others. Virtually none of these affected me directly but the ship either needs some major renovations or should be considered for retirement soon.  

Many thanks to all of the above!!!!!

So, this concludes the final of the Vacation Updates. There were 12 full ones plus the Vacation Update Update. I do them so I have some hope of remembering some of what happened on a trip this long. Even now I am having a tough time remembering things that happened early in this trip. I will likely need to go back and read the early ones to refresh my memory.

If you have any questions about anything in any of these let me know and I will try to answer them for you. Thanks for taking the time to read them. I hope that you have enjoyed them.