Posts Tagged With: Alaskan cruise

Leaving Vancouver

Before leaving Vancouver, I’d like to share just a couple more places that we found worthwhile.

We walked through Gastown, which has been restored and today is a popular neighborhood frequented by tourists. You may recall from an earlier post about Vancouver that Gastown was the original town that preceded and was replaced by Vancouver. I read about the Gastown Steam Clock and mistakenly thought it was original to Victorian Gastown. It was actually built and installed in 1977 by Raymond L. Saunders as part of the revival of the neighborhood. In reality, the clock isn’t totally steam-powered; it also employs gravity and electricity to operate the weights. The sign on-site explains that “the live steam winds the weights and blows the whistles.” It is nevertheless, a favorite among tourists and one of those “can’t miss” attractions.

Gastown Steam Clock, Vancouver

Gastown Steam Clock, Vancouver

In nearby Chinatown, we visited the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, a tranquil oasis in the middle of this large, bustling, cosmopolitan city. The garden consists of a free park and the garden that charges admission. We visited the free park.

Chinatown, Vancouver

Chinatown, Vancouver

The entrance to the garden that charges $12 admission is located next to the sign shown in the picture below.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

Entrance to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

Continue past the first entrance to find the entrance to the free park behind the statue of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen in the plaza.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen

The entrance to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park is behind this statue

The park provided us with a lovely serene respite with lots of bamboo plants and ponds with koi and turtles.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

The signs of the Chinese zodiac were embedded in the surface of the plaza and we each found our sign based on our birth year. I was born in the year of the snake. Those born in the year of the snake are (supposedly): intelligent and wise, good communicators, deep thinkers, easily stressed by a noisy environment, needing lots of time and vacation for relaxation. Hmmm, good to know.

Chinese Zodiac at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

Chinese Zodiac at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

Food is such an important and memorable aspect of any trip for me that I have to share our dining experiences and a few food recommendations. First of all, let me say that our breakfasts at the Barclay House were lovely and they were so kind to accommodate my gluten free diet.

Breakfast at Barclay House

Breakfast at Barclay House

While exploring the waterfront near the convention center, we discovered hapa izakaya. (They use lower case letters so I did, too.) The sushi and the torched hamachi and scallops were in a word, outstanding. Our server explained that patrons generally share plates so we followed suit, getting to taste and enjoy more dishes.

Dinner at hapa izakaya

hapa izakaya

Over breakfast at our B&B, one of the other guests told us about a nearby Greek restaurant, Stepho’s Souvlaki Greek Taverna. We thought we’d check it out and, as luck would have it, we happened to spot the restaurant by chance when we were beginning to feel a bit peckish.

Stepho's Souvlaki and Greek Taverna

Stepho’s Souvlaki and Greek Taverna

Restaurants in a city are usually quite expensive, but the prices at Stepho’s were reasonable and the portions were generous. We started with a favorite of mine, saganaki, a Greek appetizer of fried cheese.

Saganaki at Stepho's

Saganaki at Stepho’s

Sheryl and I each ordered the two skewer option of souvlaki so that we could trade and try both the lamb and the prawns.  Jim got the house specialty which was the roast lamb that came with an extra side of vegetables in tomato sauce. We all agreed our food and the house wine were good. When I return to Vancouver, I will definitely return to Stepho’s.

Prawn Souvlaki

Prawn Souvlaki with Greek salad, rice pilaf, and roast potato

Lamb Souvlaki

Lamb Souvlaki with Greek salad, rice pilaf, and roast potato

Roast Lamb

Roast Lamb, Greek salad, rice pilaf, roast potato, vege briami

Japadog is a Vancouver original and an institution in the city. Started by immigrants from Japan, this couple began with an idea for a hotdog stand with a distinctively Japanese flair, hence they named it Japadog. I read about it online and we were determined to find it and give it a try. Although we were looking for a food cart along the street, it turned out they’ve expanded several times and while there are still food carts in various places, there is now an actual storefront at 530 Robson Street.


Jim and Sheryl at Japadog

You can see on the sign below several of the best sellers were sold out so we had fewer choices. At first, I resisted the original best seller, Terimayo, because it contained seaweed but in the end, I wanted an authentic experience so I ordered it. (Well, I requested no bun since I’m gluten free which caused raised eyebrows and may have also affected the “authenticity.”) While I heartily dislike seaweed alone, the taste of the seaweed strips on top of the hotdog combined with the teriyaki mayo was actually very yummy.

Menu at Japadog

Menu at Japadog

Terimayo Japadog, no bun

My Terimayo Japadog, no bun


Japadog combo with fries and drink

I’m sure there are many more interesting places to go, things to see, and food to eat in Vancouver, but I think we covered a good bit of ground in less than two days. It’s a great city.

Based on events of June 2015

Categories: Canada | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

North to Alaska 2015

I’ve known since 2012 it was time to go to Alaska. That was the year Jim and I went to Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine bringing to 49 our total states visited. Prior to that, my state total was 46 and Jim’s was 43. Honestly, Alaska was never really on my short list but when it’s the only state in the U.S. you haven’t visited, it’s time to make a plan.

I sent for the Alaska Official State Vacation Planner at to begin my research. The sample itineraries in the planner were invaluable for narrowing the options. Many friends cited their Alaskan cruise as their best trip ever so I began exploring cruises. Most itineraries depart from Seattle or Vancouver and typically include the inside passage. A cruise seemed like a pretty efficient way to start to see our largest state but frankly, it looked like we’d barely scratch the surface of this vast area. That realization caused me to look at a combination cruise and land tour. The cruise tour would add a land trip by coach and train to Denali National Park with possible views of Mt. Denali, aka McKinley, the highest peak in North America.

Recommendations and research led me to Holland America, the largest tour operator in Alaska. I knew I wanted to go in June and I wanted to get the best price for a stateroom with a verandah on the starboard side, hoping to spot wildlife as we cruised north. I didn’t have a preference for a particular ship or whether the land portion was before or after the cruise, but I did prefer a cruise starting or ending in Vancouver. We’ve never cruised Holland America before but Norwegian, my usual cruise operator, couldn’t beat their price so I booked with HAL.

Holland America

Holland America Cruise Line Logo

Our original price was just short of $2500 per person but then a friend, Sheryl, decided to go with us so with three in the cabin the price went down to $2035 each.  Then the closer we got to our departure date, the more emails HAL sent us offering upgrades and the lower the cost was for the upgrade. With three in our cabin, we decided to spring for the suite upgrade for an additional $100 each which gave us considerable extra space both in the cabin and on our verandah plus two sinks and a whirlpool tub in the biggest bathroom I’ve ever seen on a cruise ship. The total for the three of us for the 11 Day Double Denali which included the 7 day cruise, coach to Denali, 2 nights lodging in Denali, tour of Denali, domed rail trip to Anchorage, and one night of lodging in Anchorage was $6400 or about $194 per person per day. I tell you this for reference purposes in case you want to go to Alaska. I do believe I got the best deal available at the time.

Here’s our itinerary from HAL’s website:

Day/ Port
1 Vancouver
Sail from Vancouver, glide under Lion’s Gate Bridge, and enter the scenic wonders of the Inside Passage
2 At Sea
Relax and enjoy a full day of scenic Inside Passage cruising and immerse yourself in Holland America Line elegance
3 Ketchikan
Explore this uniquely Alaskan port, famous for its rich native culture, salmon fishing, and scenic Misty Fjords
4 Juneau
Enjoy a full day of exploring Alaska’s capital-choose from exciting shore excursions and still have time to shop
5 Skagway
Step back to the days of the last great gold rush-choose from exciting shore excursions and still have time to shop
6 Glacier Bay
Cruise the ice-studded fjords of this national treasure for a full eight hours as a Park Service Ranger narrates
7 At Sea (Gulf of Alaska)
Enjoy a leisurely day of cruising
8 Denali National Park
Disembark and enjoy deluxe motorcoach sightseeing to Denali National Park for a two-night stay at this majestic national treasure (lunch included)
9 Denali National Park
Venture deep into Denali on the Tundra Wilderness Tour (snack included), the best way to see wildlife and hopefully Mt. McKinley too
10 Anchorage
This morning, board the luxurious domed rail cars of the McKinley Explorer bound for Anchorage
11 Anchorage
Your Land + Sea Journey concludes this morning in Anchorage.

Map View

Itinerary Map View

The cruise began in Vancouver, B.C, and ended in Anchorage, so after booking the cruise, my next goal was to find and book reasonable “open jaw” airfare. (Open jaw means your roundtrip is from different airports, e.g., the departure is DesMoines to Vancouver and the return is Anchorage to DesMoines. I searched on Kayak but I’ve since learned about ITA Matrix and I’ll try that, too, next time. As long as we were going to be in Vancouver, we wanted to explore the city a bit but the less expensive flights were mostly red-eye or arrived late in the day. I found two one-way tickets actually offered the best times and rates in this instance. Orbitz offered a one way from DesMoines to Vancouver on Air Canada for $291.59 and Delta had a return from Anchorage to DesMoines for $404, bringing the roundtrip total to $695.59. It seemed high but summer flights to Alaska are expensive so I booked it.

Finally, we needed two nights accommodations in Vancouver to allow plenty of time before the cruise in case we had flight delays and to properly see the city. Hotels there are very expensive, as I soon found out. I found a Hampton Inn at $260 a night and booked it but canceled it when I found a darling bed and breakfast, the Barclay House, in a great walkable neighborhood for $230. That rate changed when we added Sheryl to our room, but it was still lower than the hotel would have been if we added a third person.

Barclay House

Barclay House

So, with all the arrangements made, we were ready to set sail to visit our 50th state in June 2015.

Next time I’ll show and tell you all about our departure port, Vancouver, B.C.

Based on events from June 2015

Categories: Canada, cruise, USA | Tags: , | 10 Comments

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