Trip Of A Lifetime – With Added Romance!

We all love a bit of romance don’t we?  My 2 fab clients have just come back from the Rocky Mountaineer in Canada followed by a wonderful Alaskan cruise and guess what, they got engaged on the shores of Lake Louise!  How wonderful. They had such a fab holiday (apart from the romance bit!) and have allowed me to post their blog on the holiday of a lifetime, hope you enjoy!

For about 10 years now, I have really fancied the idea of an Alaska cruise, combined with a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer through the Rocky Mountains.  We flew from Gatwick using Air Transat as the carrier. I hadn’t heard of them before but they were fine.  We arrived in Calgary some 9 long hours later. Our pre-arranged transport to our hotel was waiting for us and after a 30 minute drive, we arrived at our hotel.   We had the next  day to ourselves before starting the actual tour, so we started by walking 3 blocks to the Calgary Tower.. Next we took a walk to Prince’s Island Park, which was very pleasant in the warm sunshine. Loads of Canada Geese along the river, the other side of which is Eau Claire, where we had some lunch. Our next point was Fort Calgary but as it was now quite hot, rather than walk, we got a Uber taxi which was quite convenient.

Bright and early, we got on the coach to begin the trip through the Rockies. First off, we drove for an hour or so out of Calgary to go on a helicopter ride over the start of the mountains. Vanessa’s turn for apprehension as it was her first time in one. It lasted about 15 minutes and was very enjoyable. Back on the coach, we stopped for a while in Banff with time for some lunch. A very attractive town surrounded by mountains. After a tour around the town, we arrived at the Gondola ( cable car ) to go up Sulphur Mountain. Suffice to say that whilst I love the views, I was glad to get back to ground level pretty quickly. We then drove to Lake Louise for our overnight accommodation, and oh, what accommodation. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise was fabulous, probably the best hotel I have ever stayed in. We had a suite which was just great.  I had seen pictures of Lake Louise so I knew it was picturesque, but we were so lucky to have the weather. Clear blue sky, warm, mountains on all sides and a beautiful turquoise lake fed by the melting snow, of which there was plenty of at the end of June. Magical. After breakfast, as we weren’t leaving until 2 pm,  we went for a walk alongside the lake and back for a bit of lunch. Now, I had intended proposing to Vanessa whilst on the cruise in Alaska as I wanted it to be special, but this place was so special, sitting by the lake and taking in the fantastic view, I proposed there and she happily said yes. I had a fiancée ! Very happy.

Back on the coach and we drove to the Yoho National Park, viewing the Spiral Tunnels ( cut into the mountains for trains to pass through ), Emerald Lake which was as the name suggests and a natural rock bridge. All very pleasant but my mind was still on Lake Louise. We finished in a nice hotel in Banff taking a walk and dinner. An early start when we were taken to board the Rocky Mountaineer train in Banff. We had booked silver service as I didn’t think the additional money for gold service was particularly worth the extra. As it turned out, I feel I was right, as did Vanessa. We were in the last carriage of 22 which didn’t seem to matter. Reasonably soon after leaving we saw 2 bears, and actually, we didn’t see any more. If you think about it, it is hardly reasonable to expect bears to be sitting by the railway waiting to be seen by train passengers. So while it was nice to see them, any wildlife sighting, at least to me, would be considered a bonus. My main reason for going was to see the scenery and that didn’t disappoint. There was snow on the tops and the view was always worth looking at.  After roughly a couple of hours, having gone downhill, there was some smoke and/or brake dust entering our carriage. As a precaution, we were all taken through the train to another carriage, which as it happened was the gold service carriage. Our thoughts were that the seats weren’t quite so comfortable, you had to go down some narrow stairs to use the toilet and that the windows at the side were actually smaller. That seems rather odd to me as you pay extra in gold. I was glad to not have paid for gold in the first place. Day two we were back in our silver carriage.  During the course of the day, there were snacks aplenty plus breakfast and lunch, and any amendments needed for fussy eaters like me were accommodated. The hosts and hostesses in our carriage were really very good, attentive, patient and kept smiling all day long. Couldn’t have been better. 13 hours sitting was on the train could be a daunting thought but there was never a moment when I thought I would be pleased to get off.

We arrived at Kamloops around 6.30 and were taken to our hotel. There’s little to be said for  Kamloops as it is just a functional place and not scenic. However, it is a natural stopping point for the train. We found a restaurant nearby and had dinner before heading back to the hotel.  Up early again next morning and back on the train for the 2nd day. Having travelled through the Rockies on day 1, I didn’t know what to expect for day 2 scenery wise. However, it didn’t disappoint and there was a different mountain range, although not so tall but we followed the Fraser river all the way to Vancouver. Still very picturesque and as the ground flattened out on our approach, there was a bit more wildlife, especially Bald Eagles. At the Vancouver station, we were each taken to our hotels around 6.30. The last day of our Rocky Mountaineer tour saw us set off for a visit to Vancouver Island. This entails an one and a half hour ferry ride, which was pleasant. We visited Butchart Gardens, which again is quite pleasant. . We had 2 hours there. Then we drove to Victoria, the capital. By this time, we only had just over an hour to look around so really, we didn’t see too much, nor was their time to go on any tours from the harbour. It was reasonably attractive but we couldn’t make the most of it. Then it was time to get back to Vancouver. All in all, out of a 13 hour tour, we were travelling for 9 hours; a bit excessive really.

Saturday, and the day we board the ship,  Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam. Our hotel was very close to the terminal but as it was Canada Day, there were many people about and it took half an hour to go about a quarter of a mile. No problem, I was looking forward to our cruise. We had to go through U S immigration so the embarking took a bit longer than normal. We were soon onboard and it was pretty warm by now so we lay in the sun on deck for a while and settled in to life at sea. We ate in the buffet , did a quiz or 2, and watched a show. All very amenable.  Day 2 was a sea day, spent looking for whales, sea lions, dolphins etc. We saw a few but not many. It really does seem to be pot luck as to whether you see much or not. You just have to be lucky and be in the right place at the right time. You can stare at the sea for an hour or more and see nothing. I really just wanted to see some Orcas. Dress up evening entailed which was mostly acknowledged although I don’t remember any gent wearing a tuxedo which I’ve seen on every other cruise. Day 3 and we had booked a tour to Mendenhall Glacier. We arrived in Juneau to be greeted by rain and quite a lot of it. However, soon after leaving town, it stopped. We arrived at the park and there is a visitors centre with exhibits and a short film. Note – there is no café at all as it is deemed to encourage wildlife. There is a choice of 3 walking routes, to get closer to the glacier. I guess we took the easiest and shortest route but we got to take some good photos.  The glacier was good and there was also  a waterfall which added to the experience. You can get right up to the waterfall but you would also get very wet. Back to Juneau and it was still raining so we were lucky to have avoided that. Day 4 and we had a port of call in Skagway. A very small town and our tour really didn’t take long ! Probably about 6 blocks long so we wandered along slowly looking in several shops and had a hot chocolate. It was raining again but it was Independence Day so there was a parade. Again, not very big so they went round twice. Quite cute really and they had lots of small time activities going on.

Wednesday, and in hindsight, this is really why I wanted to cruise Alaska. The scenery was lovely on the way to Glacier Bay and it almost seems pointless to say that we were there to see glaciers. We went to two and the second one, we stayed for an hour. There were a lot of very small icebergs floating around, it was a bit chilly but was lovely being out on deck just taking so many photographs, seeing otters and being with my fiancée in beautiful surroundings. Whilst I heard some calving sounds, I didn’t actually see any though some people apparently did. So scenic, a very good day. The following day was our last port of call; Ketchikan. The weather was good again so t shirt and shorts was all that was needed. For something to do, we booked to go to The Lumberjack Show. Now this isn’t something I would normally do but it was ok. You pretty much get what you pay for – sawing logs, chopping logs, climbing logs etc but it was fun enough. Whilst we were looking around town, I noticed a Duck Tour. I’d never done one before so we gave it a go. 45 minutes on land and 45 minutes out in the water. Quite enjoyed it, again in a limited way as it was another reasonably small town. A final bit of shopping for souvenirs and back to the ship. Friday, our last day, and as well as the usual scenery watching and looking for whales, we had to fit in the packing at some point. However, we got a reward for our patience and saw a couple of Humpback whales, some dolphins and then 3 Orcas. Admittedly they were some distance away, but I loved seeing them in the wild, as opposed to in Sea World.

The second week of our holiday was just about over and it seemed to have flown by. We had been given a very early disembarkation but didn’t have a flight time until 3.35 pm, so we booked a 3 hour tour of Vancouver and then a transfer to the airport. It still left us 3 and a half hours at the airport but it was a good decision. Vancouver is very much a skyscraper’s paradise but there are some nice parts as well. I thought Stanley Park was really nice with plenty of things to do and part of it was right on the beach.

Finally, some general observations. For reasons I don’t understand Holland America initially take $450 from your card when you check in. At the end of the cruise, they then take whatever your onboard account is, and it seems that over a week later, they then repay the $450. I can see no sense or reason to do this and have not experienced this on any other cruise line. It’s enough for me personally not to recommend them to anyone thinking of cruising. I find 18% gratuity on drinks very excessive, especially as mostly I go to the bar rather than being waited on. Also it’s the only cruise line that isn’t a self service buffet. Not a major problem but it does take longer to get your food. Which very probably was of a good quality, but as I can only eat plain food, it was a bit of a struggle to find what I like. I managed well enough, and that is true of all cruise lines I’ve been on so it is not aimed only at HAL. I would have liked a few more daytime activities but to be fair, you go to Alaska to see the scenery and maybe wildlife, so maybe that is deliberate. Therefore, there were only 2 entertainment staff which is far less than normal, so they did everything between them. The band were very probably the best I have seen on any cruise. Whilst there choice of music wasn’t exactly my taste, I give them credit for being good at what they did. The singer had a very good voice. Similarly, the Showtime singers were better than many I have seen/heard. Not so good was a mime artist and we didn’t see very much of the violinists.

The ship was ok tho a little dull in colour scheme for my taste. I suppose a brown décor gives an impression of class but I prefer a bit more colour, and also I think white ships look so much nicer than those few with black hulls. Strangely, I never saw our cabin steward. Not that that mattered, he did his job but didn’t attend the cabins as early as most.

All that being said, we had a wonderful 2 weeks away, and a very different type of holiday for Vanessa. I have no doubt that she loved it, and getting engaged in such a beautiful place made it more memorable.  I would thoroughly recommend this trip to anyone.

Was it a trip of a lifetime ?


Many congratulations again Andy & Vanessa.

Till next time x