Thursday 12th September 2019

After waiting our turn for a taxi and using the small amount of cash to get to the hotel (we had like $15 in CAD but they took credit card so we weren’t worried) we dropped off our stuff because we knew the room wouldn’t be ready at check out time (sold out hotel & early arrivals don’t always help). That was fine with us as we had plans for what to do.

Change out our jackets and off we went to get some money exchanged. See every year my folks keep sending me Australian cash for things like birthdays etc and if I convert in the USA I get horrible rates. But if I keep it for the times we visit Canada, the rates are usually almost even. Today it was a little bit of a loss but the rates were good in comparison to the USD. It meant that for the next few days in Vancouver everything would be at the thanks to my folks.

We had lunch at one of our favorite little sushi places (Rue 909) in the middle of the city. It isn’t fancy but its quick, cheap and delicious. It is a working mans place right in the middle of all the office blocks, downstairs below street level, but they pump out some tasty eats. It was a good fortification before heading over to grab my free attraction pass (the benefit of being a travel agent) and heading out to Capilano.

The moment we got on that bus to capilano though, the heavens opened and the rain started pouring, and I mean pouring. It was coming down solidly. This meant a soggy time at Capilano but it was ok. Here is the thing though. I was fully in to going to out to the park and checking it out. But the moment I stepped onto that bridge, i REALLY started to panic. I have never had a problem with heights before, but the height of that bridge, the movement, the amount of people bouncing around on it and the slipperiness from the rain and I was freaking out. I tried twice to cross that bridge and I just couldn’t do it. The afternoon was a wash because I was too afraid to do it. It meant I was fully chicken to do anything but it didn’t stop Heidi from enjoying herself (thankfully).

We came back to the city on the free shuttle and walked back to the hotel and headed up to our room. I was now soaked and Heidi was pretty wet as well. But we dried off and went off to dinner downtown at a place called Mooses Down Under. It was recommended to me by a friend and it was an Aussie Pub in the middle of Vancouver. Sold! The menu looked great and they had lots of true aussie foods, including Chicken Salt and Bundy Rum. Dinner was delicious and most of the staff were either Aussies or Kiwis. It was funny to find so many aussie accents in Canada.

We strolled back to our hotel and passed out early after a long day.

Friday 13th September 2019

Woke up early as we had an early meeting and went out for a walk. We walked down to a bakery in the West End area of Vancouver that was an outpost from a chain back in Australia. Bakers Delight in Australia is called COBS in Canada. We got there right as they opened and everything was warm and fresh! We stepped into the Safeway next door to check the price on a few items before we walked back to the hotel to clean up etc.

Our meeting got moved to a different time but that was ok, it allowed us to run a few errands (picking up stuff for the cruise) and then we headed over to Waterfront Station to meet up with our tour guide. We were scheduled to do a movie tour throughout Vancouver looking at some of the locations that the “Hollywood of the North” has provided to tv shows and movies. There was a few spots I immediately recognised but then others I had never even noticed before. The sillyness of some of the places not even changing items in the production (such as street signs etc) or the downright crazy of adding buildings that don’t exist while keeping others that do.

After the tour we had a Japadog for lunch and walked back to the hotel for a quick rest before the meeting. The meeting went well and we rested a bit before walking up to Canada Place and doing the Flyover Canada. Think of Soaring California at Disneyland but all about Canada. This place was a shit show and although we got in, it was not easy having to deal with the people who were waiting (or running the show).

After finishing Flyover the two of us were pretty tired. We stopped off for some Nice Cream (non dairy banana ice cream) and grabbed a sandwich or two for dinner. It had been a long day and we were both pretty tired and had an early night. Tomorrow would be stressful as it was technically a travel day. Back to the USA tomorrow without even leaving the city.

Thursday 12th September 2019

This morning was an early wake up (but thank god not too early) to get ourselves downtown to King Street Station. The ride down in the Lyft was good as the driver had spent some time in Australia and was also a substitute teacher. That dude got a good tip. He dropped us off right in front of a seemingly empty station.

The station was indeed quite empty at this time as it was just over an hour to departure. That meant no real lines to drop off bags etc. But sadly within moments of finding somewhere to sit, it seemed even the train station could not avoid Gate Lice. The lines began! Around an hour prior to departure they started checking passports (mainly that you had one) and assigning seats for the train (a pink ticket with a sticky label on it). We were close to the front, but not that close to the front unfortunately. It felt like a morning on lines was going to be upon us.

Before we could do much we were in line for passport check, then in line for ticket check, then we could rest a few minutes until they started boarding the train. The train was smaller carriages then I remember the last time I was onboard (2011), but I know it hasn’t changed other than getting older (even the train car signs were broken and replaced with taped pieces of paper). The seats were still comfortable though and there was enough space to ensure you didn’t smash into too many people (didnt stop the guy in front of me from trying to recline into me though, but i put a stop to that 😉 ).

The train left on time but sadly it was a very slow journey. Getting about 2 miles out of the station took 10 minutes and to get up to Everett, an hour. It was a very pretty journey though so I can’t complain all that much. The trip was all together a little boring. I ate the breakfast we brought with us. I drank a cup of coffee I purchased for an ok price. By the time we reached Bellingham we were about 2 hours into the journey. They did another Passport check to make sure everyone could get in and handed out customs forms. From there the journey took another 2 hours to wind its way into Vancouver. That drive would normally be about an hour or so plus wait time at the border. We didn’t wait at the border so that was a little annoying.

Once we pulled into the station, we had to wait onboard until we were allowed to go into Customs and immigration but, they did it car by car. It took a while to allow us to move (pretty much right after I used the restroom) and then it was more waiting in line (about 20 minutes). Our luggage made it safe and sound and by the time we got to the CBSA it was a few questions and “Have a nice stay!”. Off to the taxi line (did I mention it was a day of lines) and off to the hotel by cab (because Rideshare is illegal here at the moment).

I know it has been a while since I last posted (really only when we are going on our yearly vacation) but it is time to talk. This year Heidi and I are off on one of those “Bucket List” adventures. This year we are taking an Alaska Cruise. But a lot went into this decision so I figured a good blog post about some of those decisions would be a good idea.

Going on an Alaska cruise is something that neither Heidi or I thought we would ever do. You have me, the man who has a fear of boats on the ocean. Then you have Heidi who hates the thought of a cruise ship and its big bad, waste of things like the environment and food waste etc etc. Well that changed a couple of years ago when a friend suggested we head up to Vancouver on one of the repositioning cruises for the night and see how it goes. So that is what we did. We had a blast and loved every minute. I think we ended up spoiling ourselves on this cruise as we took one of the larger rooms and then decided we couldn’t do anything smaller for a week, so that meant it was not going to be a cheap trip to Alaska,

The next part of the trip was selecting which Alaska cruise to take. This is the real problem because there are hundreds of options. First you have to decide are you going to do a one way or a round trip cruise? Round trip out of Seattle or Vancouver? One Way Northbound or Southbound? Then which cruise company? Small ship, Large Ship? Luxury or Budget? The options are just confusing. In the end we decided on a round trip cruise (because we didn’t necessarily need to go all the way to Anchorage). We chose to go out of Vancouver for our cruise rather than out of Seattle because it would not require a token stop in Victoria B.C. Those stops are just for a few hours to get around some US laws. Not worth it! For cruise line we went with Holland America for a few reasons I will get into below.

So now that we had our idea of what we wanted to do, figuring out specifics took some time. A lot of back and forth between me and Heidi going over a lot of items. Choosing which cruise line is one thing. Picking the itinerary and the ship itself is another! You have to decide do you want a new more modern ship that might be bigger, or an older ship that might be smaller. Bigger ship, more people. The bigger ship being more modern means better and more facilities onboard. Older ships would mean less people but also not as many or new facilities. We found our perfect match in this itinerary with Holland America. So there are a few reasons we picked this one:
1. The cruise visited Glacier Bay something we had been told on numerous occasions we needed to visit.
2. The ship was the Nieuw Amsterdam. While not the newest ship in the fleet, it was at the time we booked, the 2nd newest (now the 3rd). It was also very similar to the one we took on the repositioning.
3. The itinerary departed from Vancouver on a weekend which meant better timing for Heidi’s work (no matter what I chose it was going to be difficult thanks to work).
4. Holland America although normally catering to old people, attracts a very wide range of people to Alaska but the vibe felt fine to us on our overnight.

So with the cruise chosen and the date set (based on price and our schedules) we had it all sorted. We shopped around the different agencies vs direct to see who gave us the best deal. Why would we do this? Well sometimes Travel Agents get extra benefits for the cruise vs booking direct. Sure there are specials including things like drink packages or gratuities when you book direct, but travel agents can get those too. What extras you can get are things like beverage cards, extra dining packages or even just cruise credit. We went with AAA because the extras were good value and we know the agent. So everything is booked and now it is time to wait and occasionally check on price.

Glad we did that because one weekend we noticed that the price dropped considerably on our cruise, but what we noticed was that for a small extra payment we could go up to a larger room category. What room is that? Well we could get an Aft Wrap Suite. A room at the back of the ship that has a balcony that wraps around and you can see two sides of the ship. This would come in handy with so much scenery in Alaska. It ended up only $18pp more than when we booked so now we were truly set for an amazing journey to Alaska, A true once in a lifetime.

Getting to and from Vancouver was fairly easy. We booked the train up on Amtrak and rented a car (thanks to a free day) on the way back. Hotel was handled through work for a few days of free accomodation at a hotel that we wouldn’t normally be able to afford (not that Vancouver is easy to afford on a good day). It was all working out awesomely. I will post more about the hotels etc and the other bits and pieces during each piece of the trip. But suffice it to say, this will be a true trip of a lifetime.