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Client Blog: Paul and Moira’s journey across western Canada and Alaska

Paul and Moira also live in Edinburgh and originally found me online. I have booked several wonderful trips for them before their recent special trip to Canada via an Alaska cruise and a couple of US cities. Here’s Paul’s fantastic review…


I had previously booked our holidays online but felt our 25th wedding anniversary trip to Cuba may be a step too far.

I found Gillian and it was quickly obvious that she was a professional, organising everything for us.

Sadly, Hurricane Irma hit Cuba just before our departure and Gillian successfully managed to move things to the following year with all parties happy apart from KLM, who insisted we needed to fly. We were reluctantly prepared to forfeit the flights, but Gillian didn’t give up and the airline eventually relented.

When we later got to Cuba, the locals advised that delaying had been the right call - the value of a good travel agent! 😊

Her next mission was a North American adventure combining an Alaskan cruise and the iconic train journey, the Rocky Mountaineer. My godmother, whom I had not seen in over 40 years, lives in Vancouver, so we decided to stay there too, along with Victoria.

Although Moira had been with work, I have never visited Chicago and Seattle, so we decided to spend a couple of days in the former and a few in the latter, either side of our cruise, before embarking on ferries, coaches, and the train to cover the Canadian leg of the itinerary.

Gillian kindly gifted us a lounge pass for Edinburgh before the trans-Atlantic flight to the huge O’Hare Airport in Chicago.

The Metro was handy to get around, but most stations don’t have lifts to and from the airport, so hauling luggage up and down stairs can be challenging.

We walked quite a bit in Chicago, going to Lake Michigan on our first afternoon, along the Chicago River and eating in Miller’s, a great pub by our accommodation, Palmer House.

The hotel’s central location was ideal; its public rooms are magnificent although the bedrooms are a little stale.

On our full day in the “Windy City”, we returned to Lake Michigan, before strolling up to Navy Pier, onto the Centennial Wheel and around the buildings north of the river.

In the afternoon, we took a fascinating architectural river cruise, booked via the excellent GetYourGuide app, and ate in another great pub, The Exchequer.

The final morning, we squeezed in visits to the Millenium and Maggie Daley Parks before making our way to the airport for the Seattle flight.

Our pre and post-cruise stay was at the excellent Mayflower Park Hotel, where we ate late upon arrival, leaving by taxi to the cruise terminal the following morning.

My brother had recommended this cruise, and it was fabulous, with a seamless boarding experience, though the service overall was below experiences on other cruise lines.

After thinking we were the token Brits onboard, by day three that extended to token foreigners – it’s all American on Holland America.

Our seven-day itinerary is summarised as follows:

Day 1: Sail out from Seattle was enjoyable with lots to see and interesting views.

Day 2: At sea

Day 3: Juneau. We walked around and took the Mount Roberts Tramway before visiting the famous Red Dog Saloon. Not for everyone but we found it hilarious. Hubbard Glacier was amazing with icebergs calving, creating an incredible noise.

Day 4: Sitka. The excursion took us out to sea by boat, seeing humpback whales and sea otters, before journeying along the river and watching a mother bear grab some salmon from the river for her cub. We also visited a bear and a bird of prey sanctuary.

Day 5: Ketchikan. The Southeastern Discovery Centre was a worthwhile trip.

Day 6: Victoria. With a four-hour stopover, we went on the brilliant Butchart Gardens night tour.

Day 7: Disembark

After dropping our bags back at the hotel, we ventured to Pike Street Market, being amused by people throwing fish at each other, before walking along Puget Sound to the Olympic Sculpture Park.

The Space Needle is a must with the viewing platform “see-through” in places. It was a bit disconcerting having recently come off the ship and the ground feeling like it was still moving.

The Seattle City Pass is good value, providing access to the Needle and five other city attractions, which we enjoyed over the following days.

The Hop-on-Hop-off Bus Tour was ok, but the next day’s highlight was The Aquarium. The fish are amazing, but the sea and freshwater otters steal the show. Though we had seen them on the cruise, getting close to them was special.

We cruised around Puget Sound by boat, which was interesting, though the commentary was a bit stilted.

Our final day in Seattle was the best. After taking the monorail back to the Space Needle, we visited the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibition and were blown away by the experience – an incredible place where the sculptures are beyond words.

The culinary highlight was the cold seafood platter at Elliot’s Oyster House, and we also enjoyed the microbrewery at The Yard House, which had at least 60 draft beers and lagers.

The one downside to Seattle is an increasing homelessness problem. We had noticed it in Chicago, but here it was far worse.

Victoria, British Columbia was magnificent. We arrived by ferry from Seattle and stayed at the outstanding Magnolia Hotel, close to the city centre, which is compact and easily walkable.

The superb receptionist, Spencer, booked us an amazing, guided whale-watching trip, from Fisherman’s Wharf, on which we spotted Humpbacks, Orca and sea lions.

We returned to central Victoria by water taxi, vehicles designed originally to move logs down the rivers.

At 5 foot 11, a trip over Victoria in a small seaplane wasn’t an experience I had expected to enjoy quite so much but it was brilliant and worth every penny.

The coach trip over to Vancouver entailed driving straight onto the boat, cruising through a scenic seascape of islands and crowded dockyards before disembarking on the other side.

Home for three nights was the Sutton Place Hotel, which kindly upgraded us to an apartment, not much bigger than my first flat!

Again, we filled our time with sightseeing on foot and by local transport. The city tour was great with standouts the Vancouver Lookout (another see-through floor!) and the splendid Stanley Park.

We loved Granville Island, a mixture of markets, bars and crafts which we would have stayed at longer but were meeting my godmother that night.

I also got paid out for teasing Moira about being apprehensive of walking across the Capilano Suspension Bridge. She breezed across whilst I hated the motion!

Two stand-out restaurants were the Sala Thai - the best Larb we’ve had - and the Bellagio Café - a fine breakfast and delicious Italian dinner.

The Rocky Mountaineer train was an eagerly anticipated part of the adventure, and we had opted for the Gold Leaf service with two levels, the lower deck for eating and the upper for viewing.

Seating is comfortable, service throughout is first-class and the crew point out anything of interest. We also had an outdoor viewing platform, which, at times was very cold.

The train splits at Kamloops, where you spend the night, with one part going through to Banff and ours going on to Jasper, with the views getting increasingly more spectacular.

The journey is fantastic, the wildlife spectacular but we did find the days long and tiring.

Jasper is quaint with only one main street, and we recharged for a couple of days here before the 9-hour Icefields Parkway Discovery journey to Banff for the trip's final leg.

It’s hard to describe the breathtaking mountain peaks, pristine lakes and spectacular glaciers along the route. I hope some of our pictures do them justice.

We first stopped at the mesmerising Athabasca Falls with massive amounts of water going over the falls, continued to the Glacier Skywalk (a hat-trick of see-through floors) and finally onto the Athabasca Glacier, itself in a machine that looked like it was from Star Wars.

Banff is larger and our hotel provided us with bus tickets, making it easier to get around, including getting to the Banff Gondola that takes you up Sulphur Mountain for the majestic views of the surrounding area.

Our three-and-a-half-week holiday of a lifetime concluded with the return flight from Calgary. It’s the longest and costliest one yet, and the memories of the amazing experiences and fascinating places will stay forever.

Every traveller should have a Gillian. She is so helpful, listens to our ideas, comes back with great options and nothing is too much trouble. Our sincerest thanks to her.

Moira & Paul


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