Unalaska is the main population center in the Aleutian Island chain of Alaska. Better known as Dutch Harbor, it is the largest commercial fishery in the United States. But that, as they say, is not important right now. Unalaska……..Un Alaska is a fitting title for our twelfth Alaskan cruise. Sick of the nickel and diming of Royal Caribbean, we chose Celebrity Solstice for this voyage. Typically, the first cruise of the season to Alaska offers slightly different and unique itineraries as the ship arrives from either Hawaii or Southern California. All summer, Solstice does seven day sailings, round trip from Seattle. Ours, however, offered a nine night sailing from Vancouver, BC, ending in Seattle, WA. Ours was the only voyage that also visited Hubbard Glacier, near Yakutat, Alaska with its awesome views.
Our rig parked in Kennewick, Bella at the Kitty Kat Hilton we set off on our vacation. While many of you may think our nomadic life IS vacation, no. We still crave a getaway from low pressure showers, dumping tanks, and all else associated with living in 400 square feet. Lynn ordered an Uber and as he pulled up to our pick up spot, so did a campground worker, properly scolding him for driving probably 25 mph through the 7 mph posted campground. Like too many ride share drivers, his POS car was filled with personal crap, taking up half of the trunk. So, we crammed some in the back, some in the front passenger seat and a carryon on Lynn’s lap. Wait, did I mention that he was connected by a rubber hose from his nose to an oxygen tank? I’m no Washington State commercial driving regulation expert, but needing to be on oxygen while driving my wife and I to the airport seemed pretty damn sketchy. Off to the airport we went.
I’ve always liked Alaskan Airlines, but not so much today. We redeemed miles for these two 30 minute flights and chose First Class. Only costing 5,000 points more it was a no-brainer as we received free checked bags and we were told when redeeming over the phone that we’d have access to the airline club in Seattle which was handy for our 2.5 hour layover. The first flight was uneventful. Although, no pre-departure drink always pisses me off. We chose the left side of the EMB-175 to see Mount Rainier, but before the landing gear was retracted, we were in the clouds until the landing gear came down. Once in Seattle, we strutted to the Alaska Club, where we were promptly told that they changed their policy on club access and now only First Class International passengers flying more than 2,100 miles gained access. The rep smiled and said for $60 we could come in, and after considering that our 2.5 hour layover was now 4.5 hours due to delays, it was still cheaper to pay and relax outside of the main terminal. After some soup, salad and stouts, we went to our next gate and made it to Vancouver, one of our favorite cities.
Normally we stay at the Hampton Inn on Robson Street and I’ve always managed to talk my way into an upgrade, top floor, corner suite. This year, we decided to try the “new” Hilton, which was The Westin for many years. Beautiful room, stellar views, but still a hotel with an older feel. We had an expectedly-overpriced dinner at the Hilton and then just chilled out in the room. The next day, we did the usual for us. We took a water taxi to Granville Island, shared a latte and wandered the luscious sights that are the Granville Island Market. From the freshest seafood, meats, flowers, bagels, pot pies, teas, soups, macaroons, pastries and veggies, I’ve never seen anything like Granville Island Market. For snacks, Lynn had a pain au chocolat and I had a cookie and we sat outside, remembering prior memories here with our friends Greg and Denise. We visited Granville Island Brewing where we got to see a mouse running through the kitchen. That was appetizing. Then we found a beautiful hat shop where I purchased my first Tilly hat as well as a panama style hat made by Wallaroo. One company Canadian, the other Australian – both hats made in China. Almost declined to make that purchase out of principle, but pulled the trigger anyway.
We took the water taxi to Olympic Village and stopped at Craft, a taproom with over 100 draft beer choices. We made the obligatory poutine consumption along with a few local beers. Back on the water taxi to our hotel where we dropped off our new hats and took an Uber to MoMo, our favorite sushi spot in the Gastown district. Let’s just say that MoMo has slipped in its experience and we left full but knowing it was not the quality we have experienced there over many visits. Bummer.
OK, cruise time. We took an Uber to the port and embarkation was literally the simplest and quickest that we have ever experienced. We were on the ship at 11:07AM. Aside from Celebrity’s two new ships, Beyond and Apex, I always considered Solstice my favorite ship. Due to, what else, COVID, Celebrity has pushed back dry dock and refreshing most of their ships and Solstice is one example. While I can assure you that my observations and grumblings about the ship would make a fun read for you, it’ll just piss me off. So, I’m going to largely refrain. I did have a conversation with a ships’ officer – the Loyalty Ambassador. She, quite frankly, welcomed and acknowledged my critique and said that every comment I made she agreed with. She said that since COVID, the cruise line has had difficulty securing workers, inventories, and resources to keep the ship up to date. She shared that the officer and crew experience is nowhere the same as it used to be, which is sad in its own regard.
Oh, did I mention that by this point, Lynn had COVID? Did anyone wonder about the absence of Facebook photos of Alaska? So, as I’d lie in bed next to Lynn, I’d wonder….was I going to get sick today? Tomorrow? Lynn tested negative on Day 3 and then a faint positive line on Day 4. I tested negative the first day I was not feeling well Day 5, then immediately a bold positive line on Day 6. While we did not quarantine in our cabin, we wore masks, took empty elevators and stayed away from older passengers. Lynn probably got sick on our flights to Vancouver and as she was feeling better, I was feeling worse. She had much less severe symptoms – mainly a sore throat and head congestion. I got hit hard and spent a few afternoons in bed. One of the reasons we picked this voyage was a stop in Hoonah, Alaska. Our first Alaskan cruise was in 2009 and it was then that we wandered a mile from the ship and into the village of Hoonah. There we found a local bar, owned by Tlinglit natives, Mary and Jim Erickson. To me, Hoonah is the real Alaska available by cruise ships. Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway all have their charm, but I see the same watch sales reps in Cozumel, Jamaica and St. Thomas. In Hoonah, I know which tree always has the eagle. Where to look for Mr. Humpback Whale. My favorite nature walk. Hugs and sometimes fresh – no, not fresh but FRESH halibut cooked lovingly by Miss Mary! When I sit at my favorite table at The Office Bar and look out my favorite window over the harbor, truly ALL IS RIGHT with me. But, the night before we arrived in Hoonah, I had to tell Mary on Facebook Messenger that I was sick and that of all the stupid things which I might do, infecting the native village was not one of them. So, we got off the ship, stayed by ourselves, took an empty gondola over the forest and I felt profoundly upset that I could not hug the hell out of Mary and Jim, my Hoonah friends.
We also missed the opportunity to meet up with Eric & Sandra in Victoria, BC. We met them in Indio, CA at our Winter lot and they are Victoria residents. They were gonna show us around the town and we were so looking forward to it. They contacted us a few days before we arrived to say that they had COVID. So, for our day in beautiful Victoria, what, you ask, did I do? Well, I slept for 5 hours throughout the day while Lynn sat and crocheted by herself, texting her mom and friends. So, enjoy the photos. Last year, we got COVID on the way home from Alaska. This year, we got COVID on the way up to Alaska. UnAlaska 2023.
Tomorrow, we cross the border into Canada. This afternoon in Oroville, WA a quick hail storm scared us and then the rig got power washed by driving rain, the intensity we have not seen in perhaps more than a year. Stay tuned.
Lynn’s Two Cents – Well, Alaska wasn’t quite what we had hoped for. Luckily the weather and views were amazing as usual. Now it is time for our BIG adventure. See ya soon Alaska!
Good luck with the border patrol! Have a SUPER adventure.
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I had been meaning to Message Lynn and ask oh where oh where are Lynn and Jim, are you in Alaska after not seeing any posts! I guess I got my answer!
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