Cruise to Alaska, 2008

To Vancouver to Board Ship Ryndam


July 28- August 6, 2008


IAlaska08: Flight to Vancouver

VAlaska08: Skagway & Train Ride

IIAlaska08: Visit to Butchart Gardens

VIAlaska08: Glacier Bay

IIIAlaska08: Ship M/S Ryndam

VII: Shopping in Ketchikan

IVAlaska08: Juneau for Whale Watch

VIII: Flight Home to Memphis




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To View Photo Album of 298 Pictures mainly taken by Betty Nolan, Go to, sign in and look for lewis_nolan/ photos. Or, email so he can send you a link to the website.  (Page updated Aug. 30, 2008)


Monday, July 28, 2008 – Flights to Denver and Vancouver, Canada


Betty and I arose in our Memphis home shortly after 6 a.m., had a quick breakfast and attended to last-minute arrangements to clear our decks for pick-up by our good friend and my former Administrative Assistant, Nancy Russell, who once again provided us with transportation to the Memphis airport. We had taken our pet greyhound, Fiona, to the Southland Dog Track in West Memphis, AR so she could board with her buddies during our 10-day trip to Canada and week-long cruise of Alaska’s coastal waters.


All in all, we enjoyed a fabulous trip that included a seven-day cruise on Alaska’s Inland Passage; a visit to what must be one of the top flower gardens in the world at Victoria, Canada; whale watching boat ride off the Alaskan coast near Juneau; a fun ride on an antique train through snow-capped mountains on the way to the gold fields near Skagway; and poking around what is billed as the salmon capital of the world, the bustling souvenir town of Ketchikan, Alaska.


The trip got off to a poor start in part because we were not well rested. We had attended a family reception the previous night to pay our respects and mourn the passing of Irwin Leatherman. She was the elder sister of our dear friend of many years, Will Leatherman. Will  and his immediate family traveled to Memphis from their home in Greenville, NC. Ironically, Irwin had died shortly after suffering a cerebral aneurysm at the age of 66 while in her family’s second home in Vail, Colorado. I was extremely fortunate to have survived a somewhat similar brain stroke nearly three years ago and was especially empathetic and sympathetic to the Leatherman family’s grief.


Despite the sadness of the occasion, it was a treat seeing Will, who had come to visit me at my home in Memphis during my prolonged recuperation and struggle back to health in 2006-2007. Will looked great, but like me got a little emotional during our reunion at the same St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Downtown Memphis where his mother’s funeral had been held in 1983.


The Leatherman family, whose huge cotton plantation south of Memphis on land near the Mississippi River where casinos now stand, has been a bright light of the Catholic church and much of the history of Memphis and environs for generations. Will and I had become friends when we both lived in the same fraternity house at Ole Miss in the 1960s. We had stayed in touch while our careers went their separate ways. He was a cotton merchant who worked in Memphis, Texas and Australia. I was a newspaperman in Memphis who changed strides at age 40 to work in corporate communications for a big pharmaceutical company.


Others Betty and I saw at the beautiful St. Peter’s church included Will’s wife, Carol, whom we hadn’t seen in several years; Philip Zanone, Irwin’s husband who greeted us warmly; Molly of Atlanta, beautiful and elegant daughter of Will and Carol and a graduate of the University of the South at Sewanee, TN; Shea, son of Will and Carol who carries the name of Will’s younger brother which is also the maiden name of Will’s late mother, Jeanne Shea Leatherman; Andy Hill, longtime friend of Will  we used to see fairly regularly until she moved to St. Louis; Jim Harwood, a retired, senior executive at Schering-Plough from which I also retired; and several luminaries of the Memphis business community and society including B. Lee Mallory and Mike Pleasants.


Coincidentally, The Commercial Appeal happened to have a news story the day Irwin’s obituary ran in the paper about the Leatherman family selling 250 acres of their land at Robinsonville, MS to developers. The developers announced plans to spend $1.3 billion on building an elaborate casino-resort near Tunica, MS. The irony of the huge cash and stock windfall from the sale coming at the exact time of the death of the Leatherman’s oldest child was doubtlessly noticed by some of the dozens of friends who attended the family reception and funeral mass for Irwin. Irwin, Will and others were the children of planter William Abbey Leatherman and Jeanne Shea Leatherman, a highly regarded couple with deep roots in these parts.


After paying our respects, Betty and I extracted a pledge from Will to come by our home for a visit when in the area on a future trip for family and personal business. We then went home to complete our trip packing and plans.


Betty put us in the mood for our big excursion to Alaska by preparing some delicious salmon and Tilapia fish for dinner that evening.


We had made arrangements for the retired custodian of our church, Arthur Marion, to check our home every few days to add water to the pool if needed, water plants and cut the grass. We had invited our next-door neighbors Kate and Chris Morse and Bert and Marty Dargie (and also our friend Tim Parks) to use our swimming pool during our absence to give the appearance of activity at our home. Betty added some extra chlorine to the pool and I hosed the deck to ensure that the property didn’t look abandoned.


Nancy picked us up as promised at 11:15 a.m. and got us to the airport without delay. Our United Airlines flight departed Memphis just before 1 p.m. Due to the new cost structure of major airlines that charges for extra baggage, we confined our stuff to two, large suitcases, one carryon bag for me to handle and an oversize purse-shoulder bag for Betty. I’m wearing-stowing in overhead bins my fairly new sport coat and golf visor. Despite the predictions of cold and rainy weather in Alaska (with forecast rain every day and highs in the 60s), we’re taking swimsuits in case we want to swim in the boat pool. We also packed paperback books to read and winter coats, caps and gloves to wear when exposed to the wintry glaciers of Alaska.


We both wore jeans, running shoes and casual, pullover shirts for the trip. The United plane was a commuter model – small with tightly packed seats for the four-hour flight from Memphis to Denver. No food was served, only tiny bags of peanuts and choice of soft drinks. I learned the airline is now charging $7 for a can of beer or small glass of wine.


At Denver, we ate ham and cheese sandwiches Betty had made at home rather than spend $7 or $8 for a bread sandwich at airport concessions. We took solace in what we believed would be the coming comfort of a bigger plane with roomier seats for the Denver to Vancouver flight.


After waiting for two hours, we finally boarded a big United jet for the flight, with six seats across in the Tourist Section. We ate 1 ½ of Betty’s sandwiches on the plane and enjoyed a Diet Coke and tiny bag of pretzels on the flight. We happened to meet a nice woman who said she was  from our destination of Victoria as was her athletic, 16-year-old daughter who was being recruited by Stanford and other universities for the college rowing (crew) team for women. They had come from a meet in Oklahoma City, where she won two gold medals. It turned out the family has a 45-foot cruising sailboat for use on the beautiful Pacific Ocean waters around Victoria.


On the plane, I sat next to a civil engineer from England who lives in Denver but is working on a hydroelectric dam near Victoria. I had to think of our son Casey’s long hours as the young engineer next to me spent most of the three-hour flight working on his laptop Dell computer.


Like that of Denver, the airport at Vancouver was a huge beauty. It required a long walk from the flight gate to the Customs area.


Unfortunately, things really fell apart once we painlessly cleared Canada’s customs and found a pleasant young man wearing a bright red blazer and holding a sign saying “Holland America.” That is the name of the cruise company that owns and operates our ship, the M/S Ryndam. He escorted Betty and me to the terminal pick-up point for the “Transporter Bus,” one of the cruise line’s vendors. Once there, he checked a posted sign and told us the green bus to our hotel was due in 10 minutes. He then wished us a good trip and disappeared.


He wore a tiny, metal cello on his blazer lapel and told us he was a musician. So we figured that due to the lateness of the hour – just after 8 p.m. local time – he probably had a gig or social commitment. It turned out to be an irritant that he ditched us since the bus failed to arrive in the 10 minutes he had promised.


Thirty minutes later, still no bus. We talked to an “airport cop” in the pick-up area jammed with waiting taxicabs and other buses. It was outside, in a covered area but still cold and noisy from all the traffic. The cop advised us to be patient.


After an hour, we started talking to taxicab drivers and were told the fare from the airport to the hotel would be $30-to-$40 and the drive would take about an hour. We were about to bite the bullet and ignore our pre-paid bus fare when a Transporter bus finally arrived. The driver rather lamely told us and others similarly stranded that the earlier bus had “car trouble.” After stopping to drop off passengers at various Vancouver hotels and hostels, he finally delivered us to the five-star Pan Pacific Hotel just after 10 p.m.


The hotel reception desk checked us into our pre-paid room at the high-rise, five-star luxury hotel. It wasn’t their bus so they couldn’t do anything for us to assuage us from being hungry, cold and tired from the all-day travel except to refer us to a Holland America desk in the lobby that would be open the next morning.


Restaurants in the area had closed, so we had no choice but to use the hotel’s after hours room service for a late meal. We had a club sandwich with salad and French fries and two bottles of beer. With delivery charges and tip, it cost $52.


The next morning, I was at the Holland America desk to bitch and ask for reimbursement of our prepaid bus fare and meal. The middle-aged woman working the desk, name of Joan, was nice enough but all she could do was give me a card with a Holland America guest relations address

and suggest that I write the company with the details of my bad experience.


We later described our bad experiences upon arrival to a pleasant young woman named “Joanna” at the ship’s guest services desk in the main lobby. She seemed to be especially empathetic and sympathetic since she experienced a somewhat similar “no show” while at an airport several years ago. After a brief meeting with her supervisor, she called us a few minutes later to offer the cruise line’s apologies and a cash credit of $100, which we opted to take as a credit against our shipboard account used to purchase drinks and other services. I thought it was a fast and decent response to our complaint.


Upon arriving back home the next week, I wrote a fairly detailed email to Holland America and got a terse reply back the next day. Basically, it was a form response that said their representative would look into the problems we had. The lesson there is it is worth the trouble to deal with somebody on the ship rather than wait to become just another faceless grouch by communicating long-distance with the home office.


The Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel was a gem. It was on the waterfront and adjacent to a big parking dock for the cruise ship. The only complaint we had (other than the price of room service) was that the kingsize bed in our spacious and well-appointed room had a hard mattress. Betty’s back was sore for several days. We would probably want to stay at the hotel again on a future trip provided they could provide a softer bed.


The hotel is in a new, glass-covered building at 300-999 Canada Place, Vancouver, B.C., Canada, V6C 3B5. Its telephone number is 604-662-8111. Fax number is 604-685-8690.


From the large windows of our room overlooking the harbor, we had an excellent view of the seaplanes landing on the water every few minutes. We later learned that the presence of a great many islands not served by bridges in the area has led to a lot of transportation by seaplanes – locally called floatplanes - seating 4-to-8 passengers and huge ferryboats that carry cars and buses and hundreds of passengers. The ferries offer cafeterias, lounges, comfortable inside easy chairs and outside deckchairs, laptop hook-ups, souvenir shops and rooms full of video games.


The largest ferryboats – 560 feet long – are operated by BC Ferries, which boasts 36 vessels serving 47 ports of call on 25 routes throughout coastal British Columbia.


Due to the high cost of Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel room service-delivered food, I had a sparing breakfast the next morning of two pieces of toast and a three pieces of pieces of well-drained ham with a Diet Coke. It was pretty good but cost $22 with delivery charge and tip. I could have gone to the lobby to use a discount coupon and had a full buffet breakfast for $29.50, which is comparable to a Manhattan hotel breakfast price. Vancouver is a city about the size of Memphis, population of under 1 million, but its downtown area is new and shiny and clogged with a lot of walking, well-dressed residents.


Some of the guidebook information given me said Vancouver was “voted the Best City in the Americas” by Conde Nast Traveler magazine, based on the categories of ambience, friendliness, culture and sites, restaurants, lodging and shopping.” While we were only there for parts of two days, I would not argue with the high rating.  


There was a bit of confusion at 9 a.m. when we reported as directed to the Holland America desk in the hotel lobby. We quickly found out that our excursion for the day to Butchart Gardens in the nearby town of Victoria (a charming bit of England that is capital of the Province of British Columbia) had not been booked through the cruise line by our travel agent. Instead, she had used the tour services of another vendor. The vendor was West  Coast City and Nature Sightseeing Ltd., which has a web site at We happily found that their driver and modern bus provides very good service.


However, their driver – a pleasant chap named Jack Kastelein - had been in the parking area of our hotel about the same time in the morning that we were hassling with Holland America in the lobby. The driver later said that he couldn’t locate us so drove on to pick up other passengers. But thanks to a phone call from a Holland America representative, the driver/tour guide doubled back to our hotel with a bus load of passengers and picked us up for the all-day tour of Butchart and other locations. The outing turned into being wonderful excursion and one of the highpoints of our trip.


Continue With Part II of Travelogue  /  Return To Nolan Travels Home Page