Cruise Alaska from the Bee & Thistle

by admin - December 2nd, 2010.
Filed under: Explore Vancouver. Tagged as: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

A cruise to Alaska is one of the many adventures that draws travelers to Vancouver, Canada and to the Bee & Thistle Guest House Bed & Breakfast. We love Vancouver and our Canadian wilderness, so we very much appreciate it when guests share wonderful stories of their travel in our area! Thank you, Richard and Barbara, for taking the time to write of your experiences in planning and living your own journey to beautiful Vancouver, up the coast through some stunning scenery to Alaska and through our spectacular Rocky Mountains to Calgary, Alberta! As the cruise season is fast approaching, this seems like a good time to share your knowledge with those planning their trip to our area in 2011. For anyone considering a cruise to Alaska and/or driving through the Canadian Rockies this coming spring or summer, the following story is a must read! Check out the amazing photos below, then pack your bags!

Float Plane Ride over Misty Fjords

Cruise Ship from the Float Plane

Richard’s Story: “So where’s it to be this year?” asked my wife Barbara sometime around the beginning of the year. Last year we’d thoroughly enjoyed a holiday sailing up the coast of Norway and around the North Cape on the Hurtigruten line’s cruise cum supply ship and so we looked around for something similar elsewhere in the world.

An inside passage cruise to Alaska soon came up during our research so we trawled the brochures and finally identified Holland America line’s Volendam ship sailing from Vancouver. The advantage of this over other similar inside passage cruises was that Holland America have permits to enter Glacier Bay. These are restricted and Holland America is one of the few cruise lines which are able to enter the bay.

We wanted to combine the cruise with a motoring tour taking in the Canadian Rockies, so having identified the ship we set about the rest of the logistical planning. We live in North West England and long international flights from our local airport at Manchester usually involve a change of aircraft at either London Heathrow or a European hub terminal. However on this occasion we were delighted to find that Thomas Cook operates a direct service from Manchester to Vancouver and a return from Calgary to Manchester was also available. Since air travel these days is sometimes something of a lottery with industrial disputes and ash clouds we decided to stay in Vancouver for four nights prior to the cruise.

The Thomas Cook Manchester – Vancouver service is operated in conjunction with the travel operator Canadian Affair and so we booked the flights. We had tentatively reserved an option on the cruise with another travel agency so we then turned to researching the car hire options. We checked out all the regular brand names like Hertz, Avis, and Alamo etc and found them all quite expensive. Eventually we found a more reasonable offer from one of the second tier rental companies. In conversation with Canadian Affair about the flights, I happened to mention in passing that we were looking for car hire. The representative said they could arrange that too with Hertz, and I said that I’d already priced that and they seemed expensive. However she said Canadian Affair have special deals with Hertz and sure enough when I gave her the details she came up with a price nearly half that I had been quoted. Not only that but there was no one way drop off charge between Vancouver and Calgary, and to cap it all there was an upgrade to the next size car on offer. Never one to pass up a bargain I booked our 12 days car hire there and then.

Emboldened by this good fortune I asked Canadian Affair what their prices were for the Volendam Cruise and I was delighted to find again that they could save us about £80 each on the rates I’d found elsewhere with other agents, so I released the tentative reservation we already had and booked the cruise too with Canadian Affair.

In the past we’ve always treated holiday planning a bit like buying hi-fi where generally separate systems are to be preferred to everything from the same manufacturer. In this case however clearly Canadian affair had the whole thing sewn up and I’d certainly make them our first choice of enquiry for any future Canadian related holidays.

All that was left now was to decide on accommodation. We needed four nights prior to the cruise in Vancouver and afterwards twelve nights at various locations between Vancouver and Calgary including several nights in both Banff and Jasper. For Vancouver we’d originally thought that a city centre location would offer a greater flexibility but then Barbara came across the Bee & Thistle B&B. At this point I can do no better than refer any readers to the reviews on Trip Advisor… After reading those reviews if you don’t immediately make a reservation you will be forgoing one of life’s rewarding experiences.

In Vancouver use the Sky train to get around and assuming the weather is fine a five to six mile stroll around Stanley Park has much to recommend it. Our particular favourite was Granville Island with its rich mixture of markets and restaurants.

The Volendam was only our second experience of cruising. Being an inside passage cruise the chance of rough seas is much reduced and on our cruise the water was rarely anything but calm. Two restaurants and a cafeteria style restaurant provide something for everyone. Dress in the two main restaurants is described as smart casual with two evenings being formal dress.

As usual with cruise ships there is an on-board booking service for excursions. We had expected these to be at somewhat of a premium but were pleased to find that prices were more or less those to be found off the ship at the various ports of call. We booked a whale watch tour and were very lucky to see several pods of Orcas, some of them diving right under our boat, and humpbacks. The most spectacular excursion was by float plane. If you take only one excursion then put the Misty Fjords tour from Ketchikan at the top of your list. This two hour tour rarely rises above the mountain tops. In the past I’ve flown light aircraft but always been used to seeing the ground below me. This tour follows the fjords and valleys, bending around magnificent mountain tops and culminates in a landing on a small uninhabited lake high up in the mountains. The pilot even encouraged the 10 passengers to disembark and stand on the aircraft floats to take in the majesty of the scenery which was a magical experience. Glaciers abound at the northern end of the cruise and it was instructive to be able to put long forgotten geography lessons about terminal moraines in context.

Returning to Vancouver disembarkation was superbly efficient and we were in the Hertz rental office to pick up the car within 30 minutes of our walking off the ship. We had done lots of internet research and had pre-booked accommodation in both Banff and Jasper since we had read vacancies were limited. I think this may be true of Jasper but suspect mid June in Banff was less so and we could probably have just turned up and booked in. From Vancouver we drove to Banff breaking our journey at Kelowna and then Revelstoke. After three days in Banff, with a day out at Lake Louise, we drove the Icelands Parkway to Jasper stopping several times to admire the lakes and scenery and, of course, the wildlife. Jasper is a fairly small town and restaurants seem to close by mid-evening so don’t delay. After three days in and around Jasper we became quite blasé about seeing brown bears which seemed to abound everywhere. We returned from Jasper via the Icelands Parkway first to Canmore and then to High River, south of Calgary, where we spent the last two nights. Whilst there we took in a rodeo and chuck wagon racing. On the penultimate day went to the National Historic Bar-U ranch site to become acquainted with how life was in the early days of the West.

In twenty three days we had packed in 1400 miles of cruising and over 1200 miles of motoring in an unforgettable experience.