EMPRESS OF THE NORTH
Cruise Review
< GUIDED TOUR >
Boat:
Empress of the North
Cruise Line:
American West Steamboat Company
Date:
09/03/2005 - 09/10/2005
Cruise Length:
7 nights
Theme:
-
Cabin:
324 Category CC (First Class Stateroom), Discovery Deck (outside, balcony, triple occupancy)
Itinerary:
Juneau roundtrip (Skagway, Sitka, St. Petersburg, Wrangell, Ketchikan)
River
Alaska Inside Passage
Review by:
Carmen Winkler
Overall Cruise Experience
The breathtaking Alaskan scenery and wildlife speaks for itself and you will see lots of it during the cruise. The included shore tours cover the main interests on an Alaska cruise for which you have to pay extra on all large cruise ships. Optional shore tours cover special interests like fishing, sports (cayaking) or specialties like helicopter flights. But you really won´t miss anything if you stay on the included tours. We were told that American West Steamboat Company tries to get a permit for Glacier Bay National Park and hope to do so for the 2006 season. The Empress is capable to do the same tour as we did on the catamaran boat. The crew is very friendly and helpful.

river cruises: Alaska Impressions
»pictures
The crew is spending their free time in the public areas which is a great chance for some nice talks. Although there are no special family or kids´ activities our 5 year old daughter had much fun aboard. Most of the shore tours are interesting for children too. Lots of Disney movies were available on DVD if she got bored. The crew was never hesitating to make some extra jokes (we had a birthday party each night at dinner for one of her stuffed animals and an extra plate and drink for the pet). She was welcome and kept busy at all places on the boat (unfortunately she didn´t clear our onboard account while playing in the Pursers Office :-) especially during dinner time. I enjoyed the pilot house camera and the GPS chart on the in-room TV. The pilot house camera was also shown in the Calliope Bar & Grill and the Paddlewheel Lounge on large Plasma TVs. The Paddlewheel Lounge has a nice view on the paddlewheel and features some comfy leather rocking chairs. Some tables are game tables (like one for Scrabble). The Calliope Bar & Grill seems to be the main meeting area throughout the day. On the outside area next to the Calliope Bar & Grill you will find some tables and chairs and some sunbeds. In the bow area there are rocking chairs on all outer decks. It was a great cruise and I can´t say enough about the excellent food aboard!

The Boat
The Empress of the North is a paddlewheel riverboat reassembling the Mississippi River steamboats with a big red paddlewheel at the stern and nice and fancy gingerbread decorations on the outside. The boat is built for cruising the Alaska Inside Passage and the needed adjustments for this kind of cruise are made (V-shaped hull, no flat bottom hull). The 32 ft. / 9.75 m wide and 42 ft. / 12.80 m of diameter paddlewheel is hydraulic with the main propulsion coming from the two Z-drives. All cabins are outside and have a private balcony except those on the Explorer Deck (first deck). The wide hallways are decorated nicely to remember the Russian heritage of Alaska. Strolling along the hallways you will find lots of photographs and artefacts covering the steamboat era, the Russian heritage (look for the beautiful Fabergé eggs), the Alaskan Native Americans and the Alaskan wildlife. A booklet with a self guided gallery walk is available in your stateroom. Public spaces feature the Romanov Dining Room, the Golden Nugget Showroom, the Paddlewheel Lounge and the Calliope Bar & Grill. A small gift shop is located next to the Pursers Office.

Food and Beverages
The elegant and richly decorated Romanov Dining Room features breakfast off the menue with pancakes, waffles, lox and bagels, omelet, eggs and more. A daily special is available. The lunch menue is featuring a choice of two soups, one salad, three entrées and two desserts. For the five course dinner you have a choice of two appetizers, two soups, two salads (one is the daily house salad called Romanov salad), 4 entrées (one vegetarian) and two desserts. Half portions of the entrées are available. The cuisine is Pacific Northwest with a lot of fish and seafood dishes and some Asian influences (have a look on the sample menues www.empressofthenorth.com/lifeOnboard/lifeOnboardDiningMenu.php). Food is really excellent. Most of the products used are local especially the meats and fish. The executive chef prefers to make all by himself and doesn´t use any prepared products. He prefers trot catched fish to net catched fish. He uses a lot of fresh herbs. All pastries (for breakfast) and rolls / bread (for lunch and dinner) are prepared aboard. So are all desserts. All meals in the Romanov Dining Room are open seating (also dinner). There are tables seating 4, 6 or 8 people. There wasn´t a special printed kid´s menue but the galley had hamburgers with fries, maccaroni cheese, chicken fingers with fries and more available for our 5 year old daughter.

The Calliope Bar & Grill is open 24 hours, 7 days a week for sandwiches, cookies, yoghurt, soft serve ice cream (vanilla, chocolate, swirl, chocolate and fruit sauces available), sodas (Coca Cola brand), ice tea, lemonade, hot cider, coffee (and decaf), hot tea, hot chocolate, café latte, cappuchino, americano and espresso. Flavoured coffee syrups are available too. For breakfast you will find an extended continental breakfast with fresh fruit, oatmeal, cereals, juices, fresh pastries, eggs, bacon and sausage, bagels, toast. For lunch you´ll find hot dogs, hamburgers, cheese burgers, chicken burgers, chili, a soup, salad and chips. Fresh popcorn is available throughout the day. The Calliope Bar & Grill is also featuring a full service bar. Constructed as an outside area the Calliope Bar & Grill is covered and can be enclosed with plastic covers. Heating for colder days is available.

The Paddlewheel Lounge and the Golden Nugget Showroom both have a full bar service. Hors d´oeuvres are served in both rooms during cocktail entertainment or the shows.

The Cocktail of the day was available for $4.50, beer for $3 or $4, featured spirits for $3.75. Wines by glass ranged from $4.25 to $6.25. Wines were mainly from Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California. The in-room mini bar (a request form will be sent out with your documents and can be send in before the cruise) features sodas for $1, bottled water for $1.50, juices for $1.50, beers for $2.25 - $3.50, spirits for $3.50 - $4, wines half bottle for $7.50 and snacks ranging from $1 - $1.25.

Entertainment
The daily activity bulletin "Sternwheeler Journal" features all daily activities including all times for shore tours and all aboard. The cover gives informations about the areas cruised or the shore stop towns. An onboard historian is giving several talks throughout the cruise mainly in the mornings. A duo is entertaining in the Paddlewheel Lounge starting in the afternoon til late night. The Paddlewheel Lounge also features the library, board and card games and DVD´s for your in-room DVD player. A wide variety of current movies and also children´s movies was available. The Golden Nugget Showroom is featuring a four piece band for dance music in the evening and the nightly shows. An outstanding local guest entertainer is starring in Skagway. A country music duo was featured another night. All other shows are provided by the onboard entertainers (Cruise Director and assistants). All shows were very good to excellent.

Room
We stayed in stateroom No. 324 (Category CC First Class Stateroom) on the Discovery Deck featuring a private veranda. The room is available for triple occupancy with one bed, one convertible sofa, one upper bunk bed folding out of the wall with ladder. Other amenities were a writing desk with two chairs, a TV set with DVD player (channel 25 movies, channel 26 pilot house camera, channel 39 GPS chart and info, app. 9 TV channels depending on satellite availability), a mini bar refrigerator, an ice bucket, glasses, note cards & envelopes, information folder, a self-guided gallery walk brochure, a facts sheet, a telephone, a clock radio / CD player, two closets (one with long hanging space, one with short hanging space plus drawers), facial tissue, one pair of binoculars, a cork screw. The small bathroom featured a partly enclosed shower with hand held shower, a clothes line in the shower, a wall to wall mirror with a small medicine cabinet, facial tissue, soap, shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, a shower cap, cotton, Q-tips and a shoe mitt. The private veranda had two plastic chairs and small table. Individual controls for air condition / heating and an in-room-information system (two channels, channel A music and announcements, channel B announcements only with a separate control for the veranda) were explained by the stateroom attendant shortly after arrival.

Day 1 Juneau
Empress´ representatives were available next to the Alaska Airlines check-in area at Seatac airport, Seattle, WA.We just handed over our vouchers to receive our boarding passes for the American West Steamboat Company charter flight to Juneau, AK, and checked-in our luggage. We arrived in Juneau at about 2 pm. Empress´ representatives were waiting for us at the baggage claim to direct us to the busses. Bags were directly brought to the boat and into the cabin. We were bussed to the Juneau Convention & Visitors Bureau in the Centennial Hall Visitors Center (www.traveljuneau.com, app. 15 min bus ride, narrated by the bus driver) for embarkation. Numbers were handed out to each party and were called out for the embarkation process. The embarkation process was smooth, just let your credit card slide for your onboard account, a photo was taken and the boarding passes which also serve as room key were handed out. The cruise director gave informations about the following day and we signed up for the early White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad excursion. Informations about the additional tours were handed out. The Maitre D´ was available to check with your dinner assignment. The wine list and today´s dinner menue were available. Also introduced were the assistant cruise directors, the onboard historian and the gift shop purser (who is also booking the optional tours). Additional important informations about the boat and the cruise were provided. Refreshments were available (coffee, hot tea, water). At 4 pm busses departed for the boat (according to your check in number). Only two big cruise ships were in port (Seven Seas Mariner and Carnival Spirit). The Empress of the North was docked south of the Mt. Roberts Tramway and a bit outside the main shopping area of Juneau. Upon arrival we were greeted with a glass of champagne (or apple cider) by the Captain and the crew (Captain´s Welcome Aboard Reception). The fire drill was held at 5 pm. Simply put on your life vests, step out of your room and get checked by the crew. We opted for the 2nd seating. The Cocktail Hour started at 6:15 pm with hors d´oeuvres and live music in the Paddlewheel Lounge (4:30 pm 1st seating) followed by the show in the Golden Nugget Room called "Showboat´s A Comin´" (8:30 pm 1st seating). Dinner started at 7:45 pm (5:30 pm 1st seating). Cocktail Music was provided in the Paddlewheel Lounge from 4:30 pm to 11 pm (with pauses) by the "Pacific Breeze" duo. The Empress left Juneau for Skagway at 6:20 pm.

Day 2 Skagway
We docked in Skagway (www.skagway.com) at about 7 am together with the Carnival Spirit and the Seven Seas Mariner. Our White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad trip (www.wpyr.com) started at 7:45 am (the second trip started at 8:15 am with a bus ride up to Fraser,BC, and the train ride down to Skagway). Busses took us to the main station (3 min.) where we boarded our train cars. The "All Aboard!" magazine contained a detailed map of the route with explanations. It also featured the history of this railroad. The trip was also narrated. Bottled water was provided on the train in commemorative bottles featuring train cars. A small restroom is available in each car and at the terminal station in Fraser. Make sure you sit on the left side on the train if you´re going up to get the best view (sit on the right side if you´ve choosen the downhill trip). You will get some breathtaking views down on Skagway, into deep canyons and some bridges. The trip went up to Fraser, BC, where a Canadian Customs Officer checked our passports (or birth certificate and photo ID for U.S. citizens). We stepped off the train and boarded our bus back down on the scenic South Klondike Highway to Skagway. On our way back the bus stopped at several scenic places for photos including the "Welcome in Alaska" sign. Reentry into the U.S. was smooth as the bus driver counts all passengers and asks for their nationality and just hands out a form to the officer (so make sure you´re on the same bus as you´ve been for the short ride to the train station, busses are marked). We´ve been back on the boat at about 11:30 am. We headed for lunch in the Calliope Bar & Grill and took some rest until the 1:30 pm pilot house tour (a second tour was available at 2:30 pm). Several optional tours were offered (Skagway Street Car, 1:15 pm - 3:15 pm, $ 39 / Pilot´s Choice Flightseeing, 3:15 pm - 5:15 pm, $299 / Days of 98 & Soapy Smith, 2:15 pm - 4 pm, $26 / Klondike Experience, 2:15 pm - 4 pm, $35 / Klondike Gold Dredge, 2:15 pm - 5 pm, $37 / Jewell Garden Experience, 2:15 pm - 5 pm, $49 / due to the late season the Icefield Helicopter Flightseeing & Dog Mushing Adventure wasn´t available). We opted to stroll around the town and do some shopping as many shops had the end of the season sale going on. By the way the National Park Service rangers are offering free guided walking tours of the Historic District (the National Parks Visitor Center is located on 2nd & Broadway close to the docks / next to the train station, (www.nps.gov/klgo/index.htm). The "Pacific Breeze" duo started entertainment at 4:30 pm in the Paddlewheel Lounge. Tonight´s show was named "North to Alaska" was performed by the local guest entertainer Steve Hites. This is a show you really don´t want to miss. 3 movies were shown on channel 25 of the in-room TV. The Empress left Skagway at 9:30 pm.

Day 3 Glacier Bay National Park
The Empress picked up two Park Rangers at Gustavus. As the entry to the Glacier Bay National Park (www.nps.gov/glba) is limited and all boats need a permit we had to board a catamaran (Spirit of Adventure of Four Seasons Tours, www.4seasonsmarine.com) at 7:45 am for our full day tour into the park (up to now the Empress doesn´t have a permit for the park). The fully enclosed first deck has plane like seats. A bar (complimentary coffee, hot tea, hot chocolate, ice water, lemonade, sodas) and restrooms are located on this deck. The second deck has benches and tables and is also fully enclosed. The third deck is open. Lunch was provided aboard the catamaran (tomato based vegetable soup with noodles and crackers, bagel with cream cheese and smoked Alaskan salmon). Although the weather was really nasty with heavy rain and winds we saw quite a lot wildlife. We had two whale sightings and saw one sea otter. On South Marble Island we saw lots of birds and Steller sea lions. Near a creek we watched an Alaskan coastal brown bear (belonging to the grizzly family) for a couple of minutes. We proceeded to Johns Hopkins Inlet and watched the seals on the floating ice. Some curiously came quite close to the boat. When we left John Hopkins Inlet we passed the Island Princess. We were also lucky seeing the Johns Hopkins Glacier calving. On our way back we saw a couple of bald eagles sitting in the trees. On this tour most activity was on the starboard side and because of the rain the view was better on the second deck as the windows on the first deck soon fogged. As our daughter was the only kid aboard the Park Ranger came over and made some activities of the Junior Park Ranger Program with her and awarded her with a Junior Park Ranger Badge. We returned at about 10 min to 5 pm after we set off the two Park Rangers. The Empress left shortly after we reboarded. The "Pacific Breeze" duo started their entertainmet in the Paddlewheel Lounge at 4:40 pm (til 11 pm). Tonight´s show featured our cruise director Thesa Loving and her assistant Jeffrey Siri in "Best of Broadway". Again 3 movies were shown on channel 25.

Day 4 Sitka
We came to Sitka through Peril Strait early but unfortunately the dock was blocked by a Coast Guard cutter and we had to wait. As we weren´t able to dock before 10:35 am all optional tours had to be cancelled (optional tours offered were Sitka Sea Kayaking Adventure, $92, 10 am - 1 pm / Totem Park & St. Micheal´s Cathedral, $17, 10:30 am - noon / Sitka Sportsfishing, $179, 1 pm - 5 pm). The Empress docked right at foot of Lincoln Street in Sitka (www.sitka.org) and just steps away from the main shopping area. We spend about an hour strolling around before we returned for dinner. The included tour was scheduled for 12:30 pm. Busses brought us to the Alaska Raptor Center ( www.alaskaraptor.org) where we were welcomed by a guide showing us the facilities. After a 3 min. movie a bald eagle (named Sitka) was brought into the presentation room and another guide was available for questions. We proceeded to the gift shop and the outdoor exhibits. We were bussed to the Sheldon Jackson Museum (www.museums.state.ak.us) which is featuring artefacts of the four major Native groups in Alaska. The tiny gift shop has a variety of Alaska Native handcrafted goods, publications, postcards and artwork. After a short Sitka sightseeing tour we were brought to the Harrigan Centennial Hall and Visitor Center to watch the Russian dance group New Archangel Dancers (www.newarchangeldancers.com), a volunteer group of about 30 women founded more than 30 years ago. The show took about 30 min. and the busses brought us to the Sheet´ka Kwaán Naa Kahidi Community House for a Native dance performance (45 min., www.sitkatribal.com). As the community house was next to the boat we decided to walk back where we arrived at about 4:45 pm. We met Captain Rob who quickly sent us up to the Vista View Deck as there was a couple of orcas right behind the boat. We saw at least 4 orcas which obviously chased a seal. They swam around a the little Aleutski Island and we watched them leave into the Sitka Sound. The Empress left Sitka at about 5:45 pm. The daily entertainment in the Paddlewheel Lounge started at 4:30 pm. Tonight´s show was called "Up Country - Great Country and Western Music" starring guest entertainers Ray and Kevin. Channel 25 featured 3 movies throughout the day.

Day 5 Petersburg / Wrangell
We arrived in Petersburg ( www.petersburg.org) at about 8 am. "Build your own Bloody Mary" for $3.75 at 8 am next to the Golden Nugget Showroom. At 9 am the Leikarring Folk Dancers, six girls and their leader Heidi, entertained with Norwegian folk dances in beautiful costumes with embroidered local flowers (about 15 min.). Delicious Norwegian pastries were available after the dance presentation. A free shuttle bus was going to the Clausen Memorial Museum on Second and Fram Street, two blocks away from the main shopping area on Nordic Drive (the shuttle is not allowed to drop off or pick up people on Nordic Drive). As it was really pouring ("liquid sunshine") we decided to take the shuttle to the museum (very nice arts and crafts in the gift shop) and walked along Nordic Drive and back to the boat. Two optional tours were offered (Petersburg Walking Tour, 10:30 am - noon, $39 / Stikine River Jet Boat Experience, 11 am - 4 pm, $209). The Empress left at about 11:45 am. Historian John Borneman talked about the wildlife in Alaska at 2 pm in the Golden Nugget Showroom. After cruising through the Wrangell Narrows we arrived at about 4 pm at Wrangell (www.wrangell.com). Busses brought us to Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park where we walked around having a look on the engraved stones. Those engraveings made by the Stikine Tlingits are at least 1.000 years old. The busses took us over to the Chief Shakes House, a replica of a Tlingit community house built in 1940 where we were told a brief history of this community house. We proceeded by bus to the James and Elsie Nolan Center, which houses the beautifully made Wrangell Museum, the Visitor Center and the Convention Center. A salmon bake dinner (cesars salad, salmon, dessert with complimentary French wine; pasta and beef were also available) was served in the Convention Center. By the way the bus tour was narrated and the bus driver is also the reacher of the Wrangell Community Church of God. We´ve been lucky this afternoon as the sun came out (for the first time during this cruise) and Wrangell (the city where the sun always is shining - above the clouds) showed itself from its best side. The Empress left at about 8 pm. Due to the dinner in Wrangell there was only one show at 8:30 pm called "Music of a Century - I´ve heard that song before!" starring Thesa and Jeffrey. Entertainment in the Paddlewheel Lounge started at 9:15 pm. 3 movies were shown on Channel 25.

Day 6 Misty Fjords / Ketchikan
We entered Misty Fjords through Behm Canal early in the morning and cruised from about 6:30 am to 8:15 am. The Disembarkation Talk was held at 9 am and passenger surveys, tipping envelopes and luggage tags were delivered to the stateroom. Historian John held another talk about the history of the discovery of Alaska in the Golden Nugget Showroom at 9:30 am (by the way, the Disembarkation Talks and all Historian Talks are also broadcasted on channel B in your stateroom). We arrived at Ketchikan (www.visit-ketchikan.com) at about noon. We squeezed in between the Oosterdam and the Diamond Princess and docked right in the main shopping area. And believe it or not, in a city with an average of 13 feet of rain we had a sunny day! The Island Princess was tendering. The Diamond Princess left shortly after we docked and was replaced by the Radiance of the Seas, the Oosterdam by the Zaandam. We were told that up to seven big cruise ships can be in port on one day. The included tour started boarding the busses to Saxman Native Village (www.capefoxtours.com) at 12:45 pm which is 3 miles from the port. We enjoyed a dance show by the Cape Fox Dancers in the community house. After the show our bus driver gave us some explanations about the totem poles. We proceeded to the wood carving shop and spent some time in the gift shop. The busses brought us back to Ketchikan for the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show (www.lumberjacksports.com or www.lumberjackshows.com/alaska/index.html) which was great fun. Optional tours offered in Ketchikan were Salmon Fishing (1 - 6 pm, $179 + $10 Alaskan fishing license + $10 state stamp to keep salmon), Amphibious Tour (2 - 3 pm, $34), Misty Fjords Flightseeing (2:15 pm - 4:15 pm, $199) and Whiskey Cove Kayaking (2:30 pm - 5 pm, $75). All optional tours on´t allow you to attend the included tour. My husband and my daughter (5 years) went on the kayaking tour and it was really great. I guess if anyone had choosen the salmon fishing he wouldn´t have any problem to fish lots of them as the season just started and the river was full of them (you can see them from the bridge in Ketchikan where they also fish some just for show). As the Empress left at about 6:15 pm we spent some time shopping. Entertainment in the Paddlewheel Lounge started at 4:30 pm to 11 pm. Tonight´s show was titled " Banjorama!" starring Assistant Cruise Director Will Kiefer. 4 movies were shown on channel 25 throughout the day.

Day 7 Captain´s Choice: Frederick Sound / Tracy Arms
Early in the morning we came into Frederick Sound. Shortly after 6 am my husband went out to watch some orcas. Close to Five Finger Island lots of humpbacks appeared and all went out to watch the whales. Some came even close as about 55 yards / 50 m to the boat. There were so many whales that it was really hard to decide in which direction you should look. Blows were like a firework. We saw lots of backs and tails and even two jumps. The boat stopped or proceeded slowly for about 1.5 hours. Poor historian John started his talk at 9 am but I guess there weren´t too many passengers listening to him but still watching the whales. At 10:15 am the galley tour started. The hotel manager was available for questions about the boat and crew before we had a quick look into the galley. After this the executive chef answered questions in the Golden Nugget Showroom. We entered Tracy Arm at about 12:30 pm. As this was our second sunny day most of the passengers went out on deck watching the breathtaking scenery. We at least saw one young bald eagle and my husband spotted three bears in the distance. "Peppermint Patties" were for sale in the Calliope Bar & Grill at 1:30 pm (hot chocolate with some kind of alcohol). At 2 pm pianist Dan Gaynor played the electronic calliope and passed out sing-a-long books. South Sawyer Glacier has been very active this year and the Empress hasn´t been able to go up there since June this year. So we headed for North Sawyer Glacier and stayed there for about 1.5 hours. Unfortunately the glacier didn´t really calf but we saw a couple of smaller pieces falling down. A lonely seal watched us curiously but was so fast that I wasn´t able to get a photo of it. It was Captain´s Dinner tonight. Our 2nd seating started with a Farewell Champagne Reception in the Paddlewheel Lounge at 6:15 pm with champagne and hors d´oeuvres (1st seating at 5 pm in the Golden Nugget Showroom). A commemorative menue is handed out for dinner. " Pacific Breeze" started their entertainment at 6:15 pm unil 11 pm. Tonight´s show was titled "Celebrate America!" starring Thesa and Jeffrey. 4 movies were shown throughout the day on channel 25.

Day 8 Juneau / Disembarkation
This day started quite unusual with an announcement from the pilothouse a minute past midnight: Northern lights on the starboard side! It took me some seconds to realize that our stateroom was on the port side so we jumped into our jeans and put on a jacket to go over to the starboard side. What a view! Bags had to be out by midnight (and I´m still asking myself if that announcement was also to remind us of our bags). A written flight and shuttle schedule was handed out throughout the Disembarkation Talk on Thursday. As we´ve been on the American West Steamboat Company´s charter flight to Seattle our busses left at 8 am. The luggage was taken directly to the airport by truck (pick up was at 4:45 am). On earlier flights the luggage was going with the passengers on the busses. For later flights passengers were brought to the Baranof Hotel so they were able to walk around Juneau (luggage went directly to the airport). A separate shuttle was provided for the transportation from the hotel to the airport. All bags had to be identified at the airport for security reasons. For those who checked in with a credit card the bill for express check out was delivered to the stateroom during the night. The passenger surveys should be handed in on disembarkation day before breakfast (there´s a drawing during breakfast which entitles the winner to a $100 onboard account off his bill; a second drawing is made amongst all passengers at the end of the year for a free cruise). Tipping is easy. There´s no individual tipping but a pooled gratuity where also the staff you usually don´t see (f.e. those who are working in the galley) can participate. Suggested gratuity is $13 - 15 per passenger per night (app. $100 per person per week). Envelopes are handed out which can be turned in at the Pursers Office (there´s a special box for these envelopes). You can also charge your tips to your onboard account or hand in a check. Anyway additional individual tipping can be done if you like (more envelopes are available at the Pursers). Your boaring pass is needed for a last swipe out when you leave the boat. After that you can keep it as souvenir. Our assistant cruise directors were waiting at the dock to say good bye. We waved good bye to the Empress of the North and had a brief look on Celebrety´s Infinity and the Regal Princess before we boarded our bus to the airport. And after seeing all these big cruise ships we´re still convinced that no ten horses can get us aboard such a big ship if we can cruise such a beauty like the Empress!