Saturday, July 6, 2013

North to Alaska! Part 2 - Seattle, Mt. Rainier, and Sailaway

Mt. Rainier, Washington

This is Part 2 of my series on my recent cruise to Alaska.  In this post, I'll cover our time in Seattle on June 21st and 22nd, prior to boarding our cruise on the afternoon of the 23rd.  If you haven't already read Part 1 of the series, which provides background on the trip, you can read it here.

If you'd like to see the complete photo album of our time in Seattle, you can find them on Flickr here.

Please note that this series is a report on the trip in general, and not specifically the cruise.  I'll post a review of the actual cruise separately.  In the meantime, if you can't wait, you can read my review on Cruise Critic here.

Getting to Seattle - Friday, June 21

I really don't like taking chances and trying to fly in the morning the cruise is supposed to depart.  You really don't have a lot of wiggle room in case something goes wrong.  So, we decided to fly up to Seattle the evening of the 21st, so we'd have an entire day on the 22nd free in case of trouble, and to look around.  Sure enough, our decision to go in early was validated on this flight.

The flight itself was uneventful, though we were about an hour late departing.  No big deal, since we had all day the next day to catch up on sleep.  Unfortunately, things clouded up pretty quickly as we approached the Rockies, so we couldn't really see very much.  As we approached Seattle, though, I got a couple of decent shots of Mt. Baker peeking through the clouds in the distance, and the sun setting over the low cloud deck.

We had another problem, though - the airline had somehow misplaced dad's dialysis machine.  I had seen them loading it in to the plane through my window, so knew it was no big deal, but it still begs the question - how the heck do you misplace a huge, 100-pound silver box?  Anyway, it was located, and delivered to the hotel a little after 2 A.M.  The whole thing made us REALLY glad that we came in early.  As it was, an hour delay landing and another 4 1/2 hours to get the box were mildly annoying.  It would have been disastrous if we were trying to fly in the day of the cruise, though.

Saturday, June 22 - In Seattle

Weather report:  sunny skies, mid-70s in Seattle, low-60s in the mountains.

I had originally planned to take mom and dad to Mt. St. Helens, but with a rare, completely clear day awaiting us, we decided to change plans and head to Mt. Rainier instead.  It's unusual to be able to get a clear shot of Mt. Rainier's top, so we had to seize the opportunity, even if it meant missing Mt. St. Helens.  Because of our late arrival the night before, we got a late start, but we were on our way by 10:00, and a couple of hours later, we made it to Mt. Rainier National Park.  This is a quick run-down of what we saw on this day.  Later, I hope to put up an in-depth review of the National Park.

Shortly thereafter, we got our first glimpse of Mt. Rainier.  It didn't disappoint on this beautiful, sunny day.

There's actually a lot to do in Mt. Rainier National Park, besides just stare at the mountain.  I went back in 2005 for 3 1/2 days, and still didn't see everything there is to see.  But we only had a few short hours, so we had to be judicious about what to stop for.  We went straight for Reflection Lakes, which are supposed to reflect a mirror image of the mountain on a clear day.  We had the clear day all right - but unfortunately, the lakes were still frozen!

The frozen lakes still made for a beautiful scene, so I wasn't complaining.  Also, while this scene looks really cold, it wasn't.  The thermometer on the rental car registered 62 degrees.  A perfect day, really.

We had time for one last stop, a waterfall by the side of the road known as Christine Falls.

Brrrr, that water looks cold.

After finishing up with the falls, we stopped to eat at the National Park Inn at Longmire.  It was OK, but in typical National Park fashion, was overpriced for what you get.  Then, we made the trip back to Seattle.  Seattle traffic is notoriously awful, and sure enough, we got stuck in a traffic jam on I-5 as we made our way into Tacoma.  At 6:00 on a Saturday evening.  Seriously.  I found a way around it, though, and we were back at the hotel by 6:30.  Just in time to catch the shuttle to the light rail station, so we could get downtown for dinner.

Dinner was at Ivar's Acres of Clams downtown.  My wife loves seafood, so we wanted to try a good local place, since Seattle is known as a hotspot for seafood and all.  Food was very good, service was a little slow, though I guess what do you expect on a busy Saturday night.  The clam chowder was phenomenal, and we both enjoyed fresh crab.  If you're a wine drinker, there's also a good selection of Washington state wines, along with locally produced whiskey and bourbon if that's your thing.

Now fully stuffed, we walked the 1/2 mile back to the train station and headed back to the hotel.

Sunday, June 23 - Sailaway!

Weather report:  overcast, occasional light rain/drizzle, mid-60s.

The day had finally come - time to sail north to The Last Frontier!  The ship didn't start boarding until noon, so we had a leisurely morning to get ready.  We had booked a shuttle to pick us up at 11:30 through Capital Aeroporter (a good shuttle service, if you need one to the airport or cruise port), and the driver arrived and time and got us to Pier 91 by noon.  Our grand ship, the Golden Princess, was waiting for us.

We were in our cabins by 1:15, got some lunch at the buffet, then headed back to our rooms to relax and watch the ship depart.  Seattle doesn't also music on the docks, so it was a quiet "sailaway" a few minutes after 4:00.

Then, we waived goodbye to Seattle, and headed north through the Puget Sound, then the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and finally the open Pacific for an unforgettable 7-day cruise to Alaska!

Read Part 3 for my report on our first port-of-call, Ketchikan, in the rain forests of southeast Alaska.

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