The scenery is unlike anywhere else we’ve been and we just can’t seem to get enough of it. Our second cruise to Alaska was a cruise tour with my parents in September of 2006. We began our adventure by flying from San Diego to Fairbanks, Alaska. This is the farthest north in Alaska that I’ve been. Flying north over the ice fields and across Canada into Alaska was breathtaking. From San Diego we flew to Seattle – then Seattle to Anchorage and then Anchorage to Fairbanks. It is alongside the Chena River and has a gorgeous outside deck with huge pots of flowers making it very colorful.
While in Fairbanks, part of our tour was The Riverboat Discovery Cruise. We boarded a paddlewheel boat on the Chena River and took a leisurely trip along the Chena and Tanana Rivers. We cruised alongside the house of the famous winner of the Iditarod Susan Butcher and watched her family explain about the sled dogs and their training. As we continued on down the river a bush pilot demonstrated take offs and landings from shore next to where we were cruising. We visited an Athabascan Indian Village and saw examples of their beautiful and intricate bead work and hand made parkas.
Another day we took a tour of the El Dorado Gold Mine and got to pan our own gold! We all did quite well and both Mom and I now have a beautiful gold necklace with a small cylinder holding “our” gold flakes. We enjoyed the train ride through the actual mine and the explanations of how life was working in the mines. We also enjoyed some delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies while we were waiting for our necklaces to be finished. As we left the mine and headed back down towards Fairbanks, we drove along the Alaska Pipeline.
The next morning we boarded a motor coach and headed south out of Fairbanks through some of the most beautiful and picturesque country I’ve seen. It was September when we visited Alaska this time, and so we were treated to some beautiful fall colors. As you looked out the window of the bus, you could not help but enjoy the scenery. There were rivers around every curve with rolling hills full of low green bushes and flowers. The Alaska fireweed, which blooms at the end of summer indicating that winter will be coming soon, was ending its blooming season; but there was enough left that we could still see and enjoy the bright magenta colored flowers.
As we drove south and got close to Denali National Park, we looked up on the side of the cliff wherewe saw herd of Dahl Sheep. The bus stopped on the road so that everyone could get pictures if they wanted.
The Princess Denali Lodge is also constructed out of logs and is an absolutely beautiful complex of buildings along the river in Denali National Park. Though you cannot see Mt. McKinley from this particular lodge, the views are stunning. The deck of the lodge overlooks the river below where you can go white water rafting if you care to.
We enjoyed a plentiful dinner and a lot of fun at the Musical Dinner Theater at the resort. While we were dining family style on barbecued ribs, salmon, corn, potatoes and coleslaw, the waiters and waitresses began to entertain us with the story about the first men to conquer Mt. McKinley. It was quite entertaining and fun and the food was very good.
We took a wagon train ride into Denali Park the next day. Again, we traveled through some beautiful areas and were able to see what autumn is like in Denali. Though we could not see Mt. McKinley, we could see far back into the mountain range across beautiful meadows full of colors of yellow, green and rusty orange with the skies above us dotted with puffy white clouds. As we reached the end of the road, so-to-speak, we found ourselves at a small gathering house where we could smell the barbecue. Unbeknownst to us, we were about to receive a delicious lunch prepared by the tour directors. We had chicken and salmon along with baked beans and corn and a delicious apple crisp for dessert.
From the Princess Lodge in Denali, we also took a ride into the park to the Visitor’s Center, where we listened to the park rangers talk about the wildlife in the park. Though we did not take the full day bus tour into the park, it is something we have put on our “Bucket List”. After visiting the Visitor’s Center, we started on a part of our tour that all of us felt was probably one of the best things we’ve ever done in Alaska. We boarded the Alaska Railroad and headed south to Whittier where we would board our ship and continue on the cruise portion of our trip.
We were lucky the day we traveled on the railroad, because it was a perfect day. There was not a cloud in the sky, and Mt. McKinley was there for us to see in all of her glory. As we looked out the windows of the domed cars on the railroad, enjoying our reindeer chili and other fun goodies to eat, you could not help but be in awe of this beautiful wilderness – so pristine and untouched. It was spectacular in every sense of the word – and then some. Our train ride was eight hours long and took us down through Wasilla and Anchorage, south through Girdwood and then on to Whittier where we boarded our ship for a 7-day southbound cruise on the same itinerary that Jim and I had taken on our first Alaska cruise in 2003. You know the end of your train ride is coming when you enter the long 2 ½ mile tunnel that lets you out in the town of Whittier. There was our ship just waiting for us! We traveled across very tall bridges and over rivers. Our trip on the train ended far too soon; and we cannot wait to be able to do that again.
Being that this cruise was later in the year than our last cruise, the sunlight in our days was a bit shorter than last time and more “normal”. It only stayed light until about 10:00 this time. Unfortunately, there was a storm in the Gulf of Alaska, and the Captain said it was not safe for us to try to navigate into College Fjord. So, we did not get to visit College Fjord on this cruise but instead enjoyed a day aboard the ship, relaxing and sailing slowly down to Glacier Bay.
As we entered Glacier Bay, the ship slowed down and the National Park Ranger boarded the ship as they had done on our previous cruise. Again, we passed tidewater glacier after glacier until we reached our ultimate destination of Marjorie Glacier. This time, there was a bald eagle perched on top of one of the spires of the glacier who seemed to entertain everyone for quite awhile. The crew served us warm soup on deck. We did not see as much calving of the glaciers this time, but you could definitely hear the moans and groans of the massive ice fields as they moved closer to the waters’ edge.
Because we had already been on this cruise itinerary before, we did not take many shore excursions but instead enjoyed walking around the towns and looking in museums and enjoying the ambience of Alaska. We enjoyed a few meals in small cafés in Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan. In Ketchikan, we have become “regulars” at Steamers Restaurant which is directly across the street from the cruise ship dock. Sitting at a window table enjoying a big plate of Alaska king crab legs and an “adult” beverage and people watching is one of our favorite things to do.
THE TRAVELOGUES BEGIN
Since then, when we travel, I started writing Travelogues and sending them home to family and friends because everyone wanted to know what we were doing and seeing on our trips. We took a 14 day cruise from San Francisco to Alaska visiting many places that neither of us had ever been to before. The 14 days went by far too fast for both of us.
Below are some excerpts from those Travelogues:
Golden Gate to Alaska Cruise – May 2008
We just wanted to let you know that all’s well so far on our cruise. We arrived in San Francisco relatively early but it ended up being a good thing because they said the lines getting on the ship later in the day were awful. So we lucked out. We explored the ship, had a little lunch and took a little nap before we got underway. San Francisco was clear and warm – about 80 degrees – so sailing out of the Bay was gorgeous. Passing by so closely to Alcatraz we could see all the buildings and then sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge was quite exciting. We took LOTS of pictures, hoping to get a few good ones. There was a couple who had just gotten married, so they were all around the decks taking advantage of the beautiful photo ops.
Monday we were in Monterey. The ship was anchored out in Monterey Bay – local regulations because of the marine preserve and all, we could not drop anchor nor could they sound the horn when we left – so it was a little unexciting. We visited family during the day and enjoyed our time with them. It was a great day – but as always – too short.
We are having a really relaxing and wonderful cruise so far! After being in Monterey on Monday and having a great day with family, we had a relaxing day at sea on Tuesday. We didn’t do much of anything except what grown ups are supposed to do on vacation – nap!
Wednesday found us in Astoria, Oregon on a partly cloudy, brisk day. It was gorgeous. We took off out towards the city of Seaside and Cannon Beach which is about 30-45 minutes from Astoria. Of course, everything along the side of the road was plush and green – so unlike where we live. We got out to Cannon Beach and parked the car and walked up and down the street – all of about 2-3 blocks long, but went through the boutiques and shops along the way. Then we headed a little farther south to Tollavana where we had lunch at Mo’s – right on the beach. It was very good food. Then we decided to go for a walk on the beach. Something we have never done up here. The sand was so firm it was like walking on pavement. And, there were sand dollars – mostly broken ones – but we were lucky enough to find three whole ones! That was really beautiful down there. The monolith was to the north of us with Tillamook Lighthouse in the far distance. We took some pictures and just had a nice, relaxing walk. After all of that, we went back to the ship and eventually sailed out of Astoria.
Today we were in Victoria. Again, partly cloudy and quite brisk. We took the shuttle bus into town and then walked along Government Street walking through the shops. We went into the Christmas store looking for the glasses that I lost last year, but didn’t find them. Oh well…Then we went into a nice restaurant right on Government Street and had a wonderful lunch overlooking all the people passing by. We both had French Dip Sandwiches. Yummy. The bread was wonderful – crunchy on the outside and soft and warm on the inside. The meat was thinly sliced and just melted in your mouth. From there we walked over to the British Columbia Natural History Museum where we walked through there for a couple of hours. From there we look over to the Parliament Bldgs. and there was a huge Harley Davidson gathering of motorcycles out front. Nothing more than that. Just lots of Harleys and people. We walked back to the shuttle bus stop and were in a line of over 100 people waiting to get a bus ride back to the ship. There are two ships in port now and when we leave, there is another coming in tonight. The weather forecast was for rain from Astoria north, so we have REALLY been lucky. We saw another whale spout off the starboard side of the ship last night as we were leaving Astoria.
Our table is the farthest back aft that you can be. We have a great view but lots of vibration. And, now we will be in protected waters of the Inside Passage from here for awhile – so that will be nice.
Today we have a day at sea. BINGO is at 11:15. Whew hew! We are enjoying our table mates at dinner. A mother/daughter couple originally from England now living in San Francisco and another man and woman who are both widowed but found each other and have a long distance relationship right now. Other than that, there are about 500 Europeans on board so when we get into an elevator and we say something, most times the other people just stare back. Kind of funny. We will be in Astoria tomorrow and looking forward to seeing Jennifer and spending some time with her.
~ Email Travelogue – Saturday, May 3rd, 2008 ~
Well – we got up EARLY this morning and had breakfast delivered to our room as we had to be off the ship and on short at 7:50 a.m. to catch our shore excursion of the day – which was a float plane trip. Initially, the gal had said that the clouds were low and that if anyone wanted to cancel their trip because they could not guarantee us going to a glacier, then they would give us a full refund. We decided to go for it and hope that the clouds would lift – and that is exactly what they did. There were 8 of us on the plane plus the pilot ~ Francois ~ We took off and it was smooth flying all the way. We flew over the beautiful valleys and rivers and lakes all doted with snow capped mountains and many waterfalls along the way. They have a very diversing tide here in Prince Rupert and it changes up to 24 ft. – much like the reversible rapids in St. Johns New Brunswick. As we flew over a large lake there was a beautiful, huge waterfall off to one side, so we landed the plane on the water and we were able to take some pictures. Personally, it was too close for me to get any really good pictures as we had to deal with the wings of the plane and all as well. A little farther out would have been nicer. Then the clouds began to lift and up the mountain we flew – up above snow-capped mountains, way above the tree-line up to Glacier #1 and Glacier #2. Simply breathtaking views anyway you looked. Deep valleys and gulleys with rivers, jagged mountains jutting out of the earth and then capped with pure white snow. The clouds doted the sky and we had a few spotted raindrops here and there. We lucked out and got the whole tour. We were up in the air about 1 1/2 hours all total. It was really something else and we are both so glad that we did it.
Because that tour was so early in the day, we came back to the little wharf area and walked around a bit then came back onto the ship and got some lunch. The ship itself does not offer a whole lot of activities unless you want to pay $30 per person for 4 games of BINGO or to go to the spa for some pretty pricey treatments. We have played a lot of cribbage and made our “donations” to the casino. Yesterday, though, I played a penny slot machine for 2 1/2 hours – so that was a really good run and fun! We leave here at 5:00 today in hopes of seeing some humpback whales as this is one of the greatest concentration of the whales here near Prince Rupert. It could still be too early in the season as they all migrated up to Alaska for feeding first and then are headed down this way. We’re keeping our fingers crossed. As we came back into town today from our float plane trip, there was a HUGE deer right along the side of the road. The taxi driver told us they are so tame that they will take an apple out of your hand and eat it. And, up in the tall pine tree on the corner across from where the ship is docked were two bald eagles perched up high and cleaning their feathers. I tried to get some good pictures. As usual, I have taken a lot of pictures in hopes of getting a few good ones. Tonight we leave Prince Rupert and will arrive in Ketchikan tomorrow morning.
Travelogue Email – Sunday, May 4th, 2008 – leaving Ketchikan ~
It is 6:00 p.m. and we are underway to Juneau. Our time in Ketchikan was rainy and wet but enjoyable. We got off the ship relatively early and did a little shopping. We got on our “Duck Tour” at 10:30 this morning. It was nothing spectacular until we got onto the water and as we were passing by some of the boats in the small harbor, the captain said there was an eagle on top of the of the masts. I was lucky enough to be able to get up and lean out one of the windows with another woman and I got some FABULOUS shots of this majestic bird perched on the wharf. Then, he began to take flight and I was lucky once again to get some pictures of him/her just as it took off from the wharf. The pictures show his feather colors and are just wonderful.
After leaving Ketchikan we headed north into stormy weather. The clouds are low, but we still have relatively good visibility as we can see land on both sides of the ship as she heads up this passage. We passed an almost Thomas Kinkade like lighthouse on a little island after leaving Ketchikan.
Tomorrow we will be in Juneau and have a whale watching excursion scheduled. There have been many sightings of whales thus far in our travels – in fact, some whales were performing off the port side at dinner last night, but because of the location of our table, we did not see them.
Travelogue – Juneau and Hubbard Glacier
What a spectacular last two days we have had! Yesterday, we were in Juneau. There was a cool, misty rain when we arrived in town, but that did not stop our whale watching excursion. We took a motorcoach about 5 or so miles our of town to where we caught our whale watching vessel. It was a double decker totally enclosed catamaran with outside areas for viewing and picture taking as well. We took off going north into Stevens Passage. We saw some bald eagles at first and a couple of sea lions playing in the water.
The water was like glass, so it was very easy to spot anything in the water. There was the mainlain on the right side and Admiralty Island on our left side with many tiny islands dotting the landscape in between. About an hour away, the captain spotted one humpback whale on our right side. He was the only humpback we saw but I managed to get some good pictures of one of his dives and a great picture of his tail dripping with water as he dove back down again to feed. He would stay down about five minutes because he was feeding. After that, we continued north along Admiralty Island and actually got into the Lynn Canal where the crew spotted a pod of orcas! They kept telling us how lucky we were, because this was not the norm. Actually, this was their first whale watching excursion for the season, so the crew was quite excited as well as all of us! On our return back to Juneau, we passed a small island full of huge sea lions – some laying and basking in the sun and others quite playful jumping off the rocks and splashing in the water. When we got back into Juneau after 3 hours, it began to rain again – oh well – and we were dropped off in town where we walked through a few of the shops and had fish and chips for lunch on the water at the Twisted Fish. It was after 3:00 by then and we were tired – so we walked back to the ship. The casino was VERY nice to me last night as I hit a jackpot on one of the machines! Whew hew! That was fun! We took the money and ran.
Today was our day for cruising in Hubbard Glacier. The skies were dotted with clouds, it was quite brisk outside with a minimal amount of wind if the ship was still. We slowly glided into Yakutat Bay and it took about an hour to get back to within about two miles of Hubbard Glacier. The ocean water was full of ice and icebergs, some larger than others and some quite a beautiful deep blue color and others just white. As we got closer to the glacier, the ice in the water became thicker and thicker and the captain chose not to go any further, which was a shame. Jim did not think it was dangerous enough for him to have stopped so far away from the glacier. We could not hear any cracking or moaning of the ice as it moved and saw no calving from so far away at all. But, the ocean waters were as calm and still as they could be and the reflections from the snow capped mountains was spectacular in the water with the icebergs.
We are ahead of schedule today and were not supposed to be in Hubbard Glacier until 11:00 a.m. We arrived there at 9:00 a.m. and left by about noon. On the upper pool deck, the crew was serving hot seafood soup in bread bowls to everyone and that was quite a nice warmer upper around noon. Inside, there were demonstrations by the kitchen staff on fruit art, napkin folding and a few other things – nothing real impressive. Jim is going to go to another geological lecture this afternoon. I don’t know what I’m going to do – maybe nap! Tomorrow we will be in Skagway and will have our mushers camp/sled dog experience. We’re looking forward to that. We feel very lucky to have had the weather that we have had on this trip. Although it has been quite cool, the rain has not kept us from doing anything. The rain has been misty for the most part. It is absolutely beautiful up here and we can’t wait to share our pictures with you – of which we have many.
Travelogue from Skagway –
Today we are in Skagway. As luck would have it, I woke up at 4:10 a.m. this morning and looked outside to a beautiful dawn in the Lynn Canal heading towards Skagway. The first thing I saw was a beautiful little lighthouse on it’s own little island in the middle of Lynn Canal. It was still kind of darkish out but definitely getting lighter and as the ship literally glided down the canal on the glassy waters, the snow capped mountains began to brighten up and their reflections in the waters was simply gorgeous. I kept hoping to see a whale put on a show for me – but that didn’t happen. Now THIS would have been a picture to have – picture this – me standing on our balcony in my nightgown, parka with furry hood up, snow boots and legs wrapped in a plaid wool blanket with my camera in hand!! Honestly, I’m glad no one could see me!!! But, it was beautiful and I felt so lucky to have woken up and been able to see the morning come alive. But, what I did experience was the most beautiful Alpenglow sailing down through the Lynn Canal to Skagway. As the sun began to rise, the color on the snow-capped mountains began to turn beautiful colors of pink. It was spectacular and something that I am so blessed to have been awake to see. The pictures truly do not do it justice, but they do serve as a wonderful reminder of a very spectacular morning.
Our excursion today was a mushers camp and sled dog “experience”. It was really nothing exciting and had we had the choice to do it over again, we wouldn’t. It was not what we expected at all. This was a “mushers” camp several miles out of town in the “bush” that was set up with about 300 sled dogs – strictly there for the cruise ship tourists. A large van/bus holding 24 people picked us up at the cruise dock and drove us out to the site. We saw several different sleds and the dogs were all around us. From that point, they put groups of 12 of us at a time into a smaller van and drove us up a steep hill to where they had teams of dogs hoked up to “sleds” which were a six person metal “sleigh” – three rows of two people – on treds that the dogs pulled up a muddy dirt road and back again for about a mile up and a mile back. That was it. We have really been so lucky with our weather. Today it was about 45-50 degrees during the day with spotted clouds. The mountains are so beautiful with all of their snow and so spectacular against the blue sky.
After that we were dropped off in town and we strolled the streets looking in the shops and we stopped for lunch, then walked back to the ship along the small boat harbor (about a mile). We were walked against a very brisk, cold wind on our way back to the ship so getting back on board and into the warmth of the enclosed spaces felt wonderful. We will be here until 8:30 p.m. tonight and then will sail out of Lynn Canal over to Icy Point Strait/Hoonah where we will be tomorrow. It is only about 95 miles from here so will not take us long to get there. We have heard several people talking about seeing lots of whales in Icy Point Strait – so we are keeping our fingers crossed that we get to see some as well.
Travelogue from Hoonah/Icy Point Strait and Sitka
Well – our wonderful vacation is coming to an end… It just seems like yesterday that we were packing and getting ready to start this vacation. Oh well…all good things must come to an end – and so it is with us. We tendered in to the small Indian village of Hoonah which is on Port Frederich and walked out to the tip of the island where there was a fire built and a Hoonah Indian tending to the fire. As we stepped on shore we were each given a cedar chip of wood which had a poem and we were told to put the chip in the fire for good luck and a safe journey home. Then, we walked to the very end of the island where the landing for the zip line adventure was. We could see the people coming down the 5300 foot zip line (longest in the world) and landing on the beach. What a thrill that was for them. But, we saw the older woman who got stuck in the middle – which wasn’t much of the adventure she was actually looking for!
Yesterday, we arrived early in Sitka. It was a beautiful day with gorgeous blue skies and a few clouds hanging around. We were told it was supposed to rain – so we felt really lucky – again. Last night was our last formal night at dinner. They served a choice of lobster, prime rib and cornish game hens. We opted for the lobster – and they were quite nice. Then, the lights turned down and the waiters and staff came out with the Baked Alaska and sang Auld Lang Syne. Jim ate his and the rest of mine. Today we will get back into the Inside Passage at the north tip of Vancouver Island. We have gone to the disembarkation talk this morning and are pretty much all packed. Jim is going to a lecture on Glaciers in the Arctic later this afternoon and I will probably play a little more in the casino. Jim won a jackpot the other night too – so we are holding our own. Win a little, loose a little… We will be home tomorrow late afternoon and are looking forward to looking at our pictures and sharing them with you at some point. We still miss you and REALY wish you could have come along with us as we had such beautiful weather and scenery that we would have loved to share it with you all.