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carefreevoyager

Alaska Excursions - White Pass Railway

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We have just booked our first cruise to Alaska, the first with RSS and only our second ever cruise!

Having learned that excursion bookings open in just one week's time, I have been struggling to select our preferred ones and find that the details on the main RSSC website and on the pdf file they send out (my thanks for your correspondents who told us about the availability of these) are thin on detail of the itineraries. Other excursion enquiries with the UK RSS team have resulted in rather vague responses. 

In this case considering the White Pass trips out of Skagway, there look to be at least three candidates - The White Pass Railway and City Tour (mostly on the Canadian side back from Fraser to the summit of the pass) - the White Pass Scenic Railroad (which appears to be all on the US side, there bering no mention of passports) or the Scenic Rail and Yukon Suspension Bridge (also Canada side as well) but is fee paying. Does anybody out there have experience of any or all of these and can recommend which offers the best scenery and value?

 

On a different issue - we have chosen to take an extra day in Vancouver to take in the sights, and possibly Vancouver Island. How much we get to see will depend on the amount of time we get there on the day of boarding the ship. I realise it is perhaps a bit early to question this but the website appears to nominate boarding commencing from noon, however there is no mention of sailing time or of how much we could delay boarding that afternoon in order to make the most of the city. I am sure that many of your correspondents will know all about this, so would welcome any advice.

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On the The White Pass Tour, when we took the trip they had a short 3 hour trip which you didn't need your passports, you do go into Canada for a short time but the train doesn't stop.  The longer trip you needed to take your passports as the train does have a stop.  Not sure but I think you need to be on the ship 2 or 3 hours before sailing time.

 

 

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Just be careful and think of traffic, etc.  You would not want to cut it too close and miss ship. We also did a 3 or 4 hour railway trip that did go into Canada...obvious border marking..but no passport needed.  We didn’t get off train. 

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We did White-Pass Railway two different times on Regent Alaska cruises.    First time we did Scenic Rail and Yukon Suspension Bridge (I don't think there was an up-charge back then  — was a number of years ago).   We enjoyed it very much.   I wouldn't say that the Bridge (short) and the area around it are a "Do Not Miss" destination, but area (the gorge, etc.) was handsome.    Second time we did the train up and the bus back down to Skagway: enjoyed it very much as well (different perspective from bus, and we stopped at a look-out).     In any case, dandy scenery all around.   (Our first trip up was fairly foggy, so didn't see all that much; 2nd time was gloriously clear.)

 

Curious that there's no mention of sailing time; usually there is (or I could be misremembering).    I'd think that so long as you're on board an hour or two before ship sails, all should be well.     No need to board as soon as boarding commences.

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Trying to do much touring on your embarkation day is pretty much hopeless.  You can't get to Vancouver Island and back.  The ferry is almost 2 hours each way plus driving time to see anything.  Believe the ships usually leave around 5 PM with muster around 4 PM  so probably have to be on board by 4.  You could see gastown and the park but, suggest you spend several days there before cruising.

 

You are flying a long way and spending a lot so use your time wisely.  Just like when we fly overseas we never do short cruises or fail to spend several days before and after our cruise.  Don't forget you probably have to check out of your hotel by noon so where will you srore your luggage before boarding.  Make a great trip with several extra days at both ends of your cruise.

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Two hours before sail time is the ideal time to arrive at Canada Place - the 'hard cut off' is 90minutes, by which point CBP demand the full passenger manifest so if you haven't been arrived by then you could be denied boarding. As long as you're sensible and choose something close to the pier for your last sightseeing activity you're at no risk from traffic etc. delaying you. The FlyOverCanada ride for example, which is located inside the pier, or just walking around Gastown (<15mins on foot at a leisurely pace from the Steam Clock back to the pier).

 

Virtually all sensible sized ships depart Vancouver between 4:30 and 5:30pm on embarkation day - it's only the handful of ludicrously oversized beasts who have to go under the bridge at the lowest of low tides that regularly have other departure times. With Regent, the only way you're likely to be outside that range is if your cruise goes to Victoria or Nanaimo first (many luxury lines on longer cruises add in a nearby port on >7 day itineraries) where the sail time is short and no preclearance needs done, so they may choose to stay in port until late evening in order to let pax enjoy dinner and a show in the city before sailing. For most itineraries though, the need for Preclearance and the fact that CBP stop working by 5pm and do not like doing overtime, ships heading to the US still need to aim to get their pax all onboard by about 4:30pm at the latest - and once you're onboard there's not much point in just sitting at the pier for a few hours paying for shoreside services so they all sail away then...

 

I'd have to disagree with Rallydave about embarkation day - by boarding at 2-3pm but getting going early, you have time to do virtually ANYTHING in Vancouver & surrounds before embarking, even the really big attractions just outside the city with lots to see and do like Grouse Mountain. You'd even have time for a whalewatching trip - really, heading over to the Island is the only popular tour that isn't possible at all, you could even drive up to Whistler and back if you really wanted to (4 hours total driving) though it would have to be a really short visit. I do agree that more days locally makes a lot of sense though - when you consider that Vancouver is bigger than every AK port combined, we have more museums/galleries/restos/shops etc., and then on top of that are surrounded by mountains and ocean and other enticing towns logically the rational thing to do is book more time here than you are spending on your cruise!!!

 

The only thing to be wary of on embarkation day is your arrival time back downtown from further-away attractions, especially if they involve a bridge or other bottleneck. Do Grouse, Capilano, Lynn Canyon, Steveston etc. first thing in the morning so you get back in time for lunch, then head to the pier for check-in. That way if the proverbial brown stuff hits the fan, your worst case (e.g. a traffic accident on the Lions Gate Bridge) that incurs an hour of unexpected traffic delays you only sacrifice a nice lunch ashore rather than jeopardizing the cruise.

 

As to bags - you can drop your bags at the pier early then walk away to go sightseeing. Luggage drop is the first step, before any security/check-in etc. and depending how many other ships are in port you can drop bags quite a bit earlier than the official start time of 10am.

 

If you have a downtown hotel the night before you can just leave your bags with them and get going as soon as the sun's up, then return for your bags and head to check-in mid-afternoon. If you're in the Pan Pacific you don't even have to do that - the bellhops will take your bags right from your room at any time then hold them until they're allowed to bring them to the ship for you (booking this cruise package does cost extra - it's cheaper to just bribe the bellhops instead...)

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We did the White Pass Scenic Railway, on which you do pass into the Yukon briefly, but don't stop, so you're not officially in Canada.  Loved it.  It was included at that time, not sure it is now.

 

As for spending a day in Vancouver, unless it's really important to you, don't even think about trying to go to Vancouver Island for the day.  It's either a ferry ride (not from downtown Vancouver), or a plane flight (ditto.)  Plenty to see in Vancouver itself.

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17 hours ago, martincath said:

Two hours before sail time is the ideal time to arrive at Canada Place - the 'hard cut off' is 90minutes, by which point CBP demand the full passenger manifest so if you haven't been arrived by then you could be denied boarding. As long as you're sensible and choose something close to the pier for your last sightseeing activity you're at no risk from traffic etc. delaying you. The FlyOverCanada ride for example, which is located inside the pier, or just walking around Gastown (<15mins on foot at a leisurely pace from the Steam Clock back to the pier).

 

Virtually all sensible sized ships depart Vancouver between 4:30 and 5:30pm on embarkation day - it's only the handful of ludicrously oversized beasts who have to go under the bridge at the lowest of low tides that regularly have other departure times. With Regent, the only way you're likely to be outside that range is if your cruise goes to Victoria or Nanaimo first (many luxury lines on longer cruises add in a nearby port on >7 day itineraries) where the sail time is short and no preclearance needs done, so they may choose to stay in port until late evening in order to let pax enjoy dinner and a show in the city before sailing. For most itineraries though, the need for Preclearance and the fact that CBP stop working by 5pm and do not like doing overtime, ships heading to the US still need to aim to get their pax all onboard by about 4:30pm at the latest - and once you're onboard there's not much point in just sitting at the pier for a few hours paying for shoreside services so they all sail away then...

 

I'd have to disagree with Rallydave about embarkation day - by boarding at 2-3pm but getting going early, you have time to do virtually ANYTHING in Vancouver & surrounds before embarking, even the really big attractions just outside the city with lots to see and do like Grouse Mountain. You'd even have time for a whalewatching trip - really, heading over to the Island is the only popular tour that isn't possible at all, you could even drive up to Whistler and back if you really wanted to (4 hours total driving) though it would have to be a really short visit. I do agree that more days locally makes a lot of sense though - when you consider that Vancouver is bigger than every AK port combined, we have more museums/galleries/restos/shops etc., and then on top of that are surrounded by mountains and ocean and other enticing towns logically the rational thing to do is book more time here than you are spending on your cruise!!!

 

The only thing to be wary of on embarkation day is your arrival time back downtown from further-away attractions, especially if they involve a bridge or other bottleneck. Do Grouse, Capilano, Lynn Canyon, Steveston etc. first thing in the morning so you get back in time for lunch, then head to the pier for check-in. That way if the proverbial brown stuff hits the fan, your worst case (e.g. a traffic accident on the Lions Gate Bridge) that incurs an hour of unexpected traffic delays you only sacrifice a nice lunch ashore rather than jeopardizing the cruise.

 

As to bags - you can drop your bags at the pier early then walk away to go sightseeing. Luggage drop is the first step, before any security/check-in etc. and depending how many other ships are in port you can drop bags quite a bit earlier than the official start time of 10am.

 

If you have a downtown hotel the night before you can just leave your bags with them and get going as soon as the sun's up, then return for your bags and head to check-in mid-afternoon. If you're in the Pan Pacific you don't even have to do that - the bellhops will take your bags right from your room at any time then hold them until they're allowed to bring them to the ship for you (booking this cruise package does cost extra - it's cheaper to just bribe the bellhops instead...)

 

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That's so helpful - I'm very grateful.

Oddly enough, I did call RSS and press them for a departure time. After a time on hold as they presumably consulted someone "upstairs" the consultant told me it was 18.00! That seems surprisingly late particularly in view of your comments about the CBP working hours. I guess it would be wise to check this out closer to the time.

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6pm is not problematic for CBP - remember, if you aren't at the terminal and 'in the system' by 4:30pm you won't be allowed on! This close to sail time the queues are minimal so it's not like arriving at noon when you might have to sit in the holding room for an hour or more before they even let you start heading to Security - you'll basically just keep walking, only stopping when you actually need to interact with a check-in minion, security minion, or CBP agent.

 

It may even simply be a little later just to avoid congestion on a busy day - only one ship can move away from the pier at a time, most of them also have to turn around before sailing out, so exact departure times get staggered over 30-60mins regularly.

 

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“Minion?”  Martincath, hopefully you say this in jest? I don’t believe you need to use such a derogatory term for a fellow human employed to assist in security or to help you board.

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On 1/5/2020 at 8:35 AM, carefreevoyager said:

We have just booked our first cruise to Alaska, the first with RSS and only our second ever cruise!

Having learned that excursion bookings open in just one week's time, I have been struggling to select our preferred ones and find that the details on the main RSSC website and on the pdf file they send out (my thanks for your correspondents who told us about the availability of these) are thin on detail of the itineraries. Other excursion enquiries with the UK RSS team have resulted in rather vague responses. 

In this case considering the White Pass trips out of Skagway, there look to be at least three candidates - The White Pass Railway and City Tour (mostly on the Canadian side back from Fraser to the summit of the pass) - the White Pass Scenic Railroad (which appears to be all on the US side, there bering no mention of passports) or the Scenic Rail and Yukon Suspension Bridge (also Canada side as well) but is fee paying. Does anybody out there have experience of any or all of these and can recommend which offers the best scenery and value?

 

On a different issue - we have chosen to take an extra day in Vancouver to take in the sights, and possibly Vancouver Island. How much we get to see will depend on the amount of time we get there on the day of boarding the ship. I realise it is perhaps a bit early to question this but the website appears to nominate boarding commencing from noon, however there is no mention of sailing time or of how much we could delay boarding that afternoon in order to make the most of the city. I am sure that many of your correspondents will know all about this, so would welcome any advice.

Maybe just me, but the White Pass Railway was boring and LONG.

Vancouver is fabulous.  There are millions of things to do there.  I love the market, but a City Tour is fascinating.

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We spent four days in Vancouver prior to our Alaska cruise. There was so much to do and we loved it. We like to get on the ship midday day, have lunch and explore. I would be a nervous wreck trying to sightsee the morning of embarkation, but I see others say go for it. As far as the train, on our tour the windows were dirty and it was foggy, so it was boring. Enjoy your cruise!

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On 1/6/2020 at 3:25 PM, Pinksunset said:

“Minion?”  Martincath, hopefully you say this in jest? I don’t believe you need to use such a derogatory term for a fellow human employed to assist in security or to help you board.

Derogatory? It's the perfect word to describe the individuals working such jobs as they fall neatly under several dictionary definitions of the term, most of which in my experience are neutral rather than insulting (for example from Merriam-Webster and Cambridge dictionaries : a servile follower or subordinate of a person in power; a minor official; a person who is not important and who has to do what another person of higher rank orders them to do).

 

These folks have very little freedom to do anything other than the rote tasks of their role in the way their superiors demand it be done - hence me not referring to the CBP agents as such in the same sentence, because they do have a lot of discretion in how they make use of their powers. I'm not making any judgment about these people as individuals - but while they are performing these particular jobs they are extremely constrained in what they do, therefore they are textbook minions, just like e.g. call centre employees who must follow scripts rather than responding as they might wish to.

 

If I had intended to insult their competence, intelligence or character I have a plethora of far-more-directly-insulting vocab to choose from and would have used it - any perceived snark this time around is from your inference, not my intention 😉

 

 

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