My Alaskan Cruise, Part 1
Thursday, June 27, 2019

I've been home for nearly two weeks now, but I still haven't managed to sort through all 2,000 pictures I took on my trip up the coast of Alaska. Part of that is because I came home with a massive head cold. Then there's the fact I had to finish the book 2 revisions that I failed to complete before I left. But I wanted to get started on this post while the details were still (somewhat) fresh in my mind. :) Since it was a rather long trip, I've decided to split this post into pieces to make them more manageable chunks, both for me to write and you to read. So, without further ado, I present Part 1:


My husband and I both had "visit Alaska" on our bucket lists, so we agreed years ago to do one of these cruises. It took this long to get the timing and money to line up, but it was worth the wait. Of course, it wasn't just us any more. Our daughter went with us as well -- That was part of the "timing." We wanted to wait till she was old enough both to enjoy it and so we didn't need to worry about her falling off the ship in a burst of toddler rambunctiousness. As it happened, the cruise lined up pretty perfectly with my daughter's birthday, so we headed to Vancouver, our departure city, a few days early so we could celebrate there.

The three of us stayed in the Sylvia Hotel, which is right next to Stanley Park in the West End district of Vancouver on English Bay. If you are ever looking at a visit to Vancouver, I definitely recommend staying in the West End. For being such a big city (and the West End was packed full of apartment/condo complexes) it was surprisingly quiet. Other than Denman St. (the main shopping strip) there was relatively little traffic. People walked or biked along the quiet neighborhood roads and on the path that followed the beach. Each night, the beach right next to our hotel would get pretty crowded, but never overwhelmingly so. All-in-all, I found Vancouver quite relaxing.
Since we'd arranged to have several days of sight-seeing in Vancouver, we pretty much did one activity per day. The first full day we were there, we rented bikes from a local shop to ride around the sea wall that surrounds Stanley Park.
Now, I have to tell you a little bit about these bikes: We'd slept in that morning, and all that was left in the shop was their backroom stock, bikes that needed fixing for one reason or another. The first bike the clerk offered was called the Cinderella bike because they could no longer adjust the height of the seat. It didn't fit me. Then next bike, and the one I ended up with was still a bit too small but doable. It didn't seem to have any major issued... until I left the store with it and discovered the brakes were stripped so it made a terrible metal on metal screech whenever I tapped them at all. The bike my husband rode was even smaller on him than mine was on me and the front gear wouldn't shift, so he ended up spinning his legs double-time the whole ride. My daughter's bike was good, if a little big for her, but the handle brakes were too far and stiff for her little hands, so she had to ride one-handed whenever she wanted to stop. So, not the greatest collection of inventory, but we made do.

The ride along the sea wall that day was BEAUTIFUL! There was a dedicated path for walking, and one for riding, and both were separated from the actual road. The paths ran along the coast on one side, and a lush forest on the other. We passed a marina, a lagoon, a lighthouse, a huge rhododendron garden, several beaches, and the Lions Gate Bridge. We also found a swimming pool and several parks. As we made our way back toward our starting point, we stopped off at Third Beach (I know, they've got really creative names) for a snack and to relax for a bit, but I'll talk more about the beaches in a minute.

Once we'd made it all the way around Stanley Park (actually one and a half times because it turned out you could only do the full circle going counter-clockwise so we had to back-track a bit) we returned our bikes to the shop and went out for dinner at this awesomely yummy restaurant on Denman called Won More Sezchuan. Their garlic black bean chicken was to die for!
The next day was the day we'd designated for swimming. We kicked this off by walking back to the pool we'd discovered on our bike ride. The pool was set right against the bay, separated only by the sea wall walking path and an iron fence. It had slides, which we made good use of, and was, in general, about the same as any other pool I've been in. The biggest difference was that we got quite a breeze off the bay, so it was pretty cold. (By the way, the daytime temperatures while we were there were all in the mid-sixties.) Another strange occurrence was that a Canada goose decided to swim with us. The lifeguard glanced at the bird, but otherwise ignored it. I guess geese land in that pool quite a lot. It paddled around for a bit, then took off when an over-eager girl decided to chase it.
Once we were thoroughly chilled by the cold water and the wind, we got out of the pool and laid on the sun-warmed concrete to dry. Since we were traveling, we didn't have beach towels with us, so we just had to wait to dry naturally. It didn't actually take all that long. After that we grabbed bowls of ramen from the concession stand (you can get Asian food *everywhere* in Vancouver), and ate lunch.

After lunch we headed up to Third Beach to go swimming in the ocean. Oddly enough, the ocean water was warmer than the pool water (that's not to say it was warm). It was also full of floating seaweed. We splashed around a bit and walked out on some barnacle-covered rocks that were exposed by the low tide, but most of our beach time was spent playing in the sand. Arranged along the beach were huge driftwood logs, and I do mean huge. Most were a good three feet in diameter. Apparently a lot of trees wash up on shore. The logs were spaced so that people could use them as seats or backrests, and provided privacy breaks, so even when the beach was crowded it didn't feel so packed as the shoulder-to-shoulder seas of beach-goers I've seen elsewhere. I suppose the light crowds could also be because, like me, many people believe the ocean waters up in Canada would be cold. Whatever the case, I was glad for the relative welcome and comfort of the beach.
We dug a deep, deep hole. Deep enough that I could no longer reach the bottom of it even with my shoulder pressed to the edge. Then my daughter sat in the hole and we buried her up to her chest. She had a bit of trouble climbing free, but thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We stayed at the beach for most of the day, enjoying the sand and the surf, then we got cleaned up and went out for dinner. We went to a nearby poke restaurant (did I mention the Asian influence?) then walked to a Marble Slab ice cream parlor. My daughter got a massive, bright blue, cotton candy flavored scoop of ice cream with crushed Oreos and gummy bears in a chocolate-dipped waffle cone covered in sprinkles (That was her birthday treat since we didn't have a cake). We sat by the beach and munched our ice cream, my daughter getting a very blue and sticky face, and enjoyed some strange bronze sculptures of 8-foot men making funny faces.
We spent our last full day in Vancouver at the Van Dusen botanical garden. I won't go into a lot of detail about the plants, but suffice it to say there were a wide variety and many were blooming, so it was a beautiful walk through the 55 acres of cultivated plants. The garden was split into areas such as the Japanese Maple section, a Chilean garden, a Mediterranean garden, and heritage rose garden (seen below). They also had a junior bird-watcher activity book the clerk gave to my daughter. She got to spot lots of different birds, and learn some interesting facts, and at the end she earned a souvenir pin.
One of the very best parts of our garden tour was the hedge maze! I've always wanted to do one, and this is the first opportunity I've ever gotten. We actually went through the whole maze twice, then my daughter raced through it a third time while we timed her. It took three minutes and ten seconds.
My only complaint is that there wasn't anything cool at the "center" of the maze. I feel like they should put in a fountain or something.
After taking a cab back to the West End, we finished off the day with some truly delicious Persian food and called it a night, and that pretty much wraps up our stay in Vancouver. We re-packed our bags, turned in early, and headed for the cruise terminal the next morning.
Stay tuned for the next thrilling installment of: My Alaskan Cruise.