August 2009

It cost more than a night’s hotel stay to fly back on Monday so we stayed a night in Vancouver and returned home on Tuesday.  Most hotels were all the same price so we picked what seemed like the nicest of the bunch.  When we asked someone in the cruise ship terminal where the hotel was located, they said "you’re here- just take the elevator upstairs".  We couldn’t have done better if we actually tried and it couldn’t have been easier.

Unfortunately, the weather was not as well planned and it was raining.  We left the bags at the hotel and started walking along the waterfront towards Stanley Park.  We get to the park and there is a good view of the city.  We wait too long for the "every fifteen minutes" shuttle bus and ride it to the totem poles.  We take in the poles for a little bit, but it’s raining rather nicely at this point.

We’re getting hungry and waterlogged so we board the next shuttle and ride it as it loops around the park.  We get off at the entrance and start walking back towards the hotel.  We aim to walk through a portion of town that the concierge  recommended as a shopping area.  We find a  sushi place.  Lunch takes way too long (I know my chicken teriyaki needs to be cooked, but are they out fishing for L”s tuna roll?).  We go back to the hotel and get our room.  I watch a little tv and nap.  L’ gets bored after the first hour of my nap and goes exploring.  She returns after my 2nd napping hour and my shower.

We get an Italian restaurant recommendation in the gastown area.  Food was good and we wander around afterwards.  We run into the steam clock which was something I had wanted to see.  It was then back to the hotel for final packing.  We ran into a few people from our first night on the cruise in the hotel bar and chatted for a bit.  Finally, it was off to sleep. 

Of course on Tuesday it stopped raining.  We had breakfast and went to the airport.  Our honeymoon vacation was over and we returned to life in California as a married couple.

With our last day at sea, we relax while amusing ourselves with onboard activities.  In the mid morning there is a cooking demonstration and galley tour.   The tour was interesting.  It’s an amazing operation storing food for 3000 people for two weeks.  The ship loads up nearly all of the food in Vancouver and then just picks up some fish in Alaska.  At home, we can’t even make it a couple days without stopping at a grocery store.

In the early afternoon, there was a talk by the navigator about navigation in general and specifics to our ship.  It was okay, but not that informative.

The rest of the day was filled with eating (both of us), exercising at the gym (L’) ,and napping (me).  We packed up our luggage in time for pickup and then slept our final night at sea.  We would wake up in port and in another country.

There was one unusual thing today and that was the Alert Bay Trumpeter.  The captain of our ship announced we would be entering Alert Bay (surely you’ve heard of it) and would be serenaded by the Alert Bay Trumpeter.  Not sure what to expect, I grabbed my jacket and camera and made my way to the top deck.  A small motor boat appeared alongside our ship and one of the two people on it began playing on a trumpet.  The ship would pass him and then he would head to the front of our ship as we sailed by him again.  Each time he played a different song.  It was corny and partly off key, but amusing in its absurdity.  He got a nice cheer from those on deck.

Our good fortune on the weather finally ran out- today it rained.   This isn’t surprising because Ketchikan gets 170 inches of rain per year (about ten times what we get back home). 
We get a map of town and head towards the Totem Heritage Center.  Native Alaskans carved enormous totems out of whole trees.  The climate and abandonment of native towns lead to totems throughout the state needing a place to be preserved.  As part of a public works project of the Great Depression, many totems were moved to Ketchikan and are at the museum.  Only a few are on display, but they are neat to see.  We see and learn about the different animals and symbols used from the museum’s well done displays.

The Totem center is small and we then proceed to the bald eagle center and salmon hatchery next door.  The short guided tour is mediocre, but we do get to see a couple eagles up close.  While fun, it doesn’t compare to when we saw them in the wild a couple days ago.  It is, however, very nice to be out of the pouring rain.

We consult Lonely Planet and find a Mexican restaurant for lunch.  I’m not normally a fan of Mexican food, but L.P. says they have good fried chicken and their sign claims the town’s best pizza.  Our waiter from the cruise is coincidentally already eating at the place.  Since he hails from Mexico, we figure it will be good.  The food is good and by the end of lunch the rain has nearly stopped. 

We wander down Creek Street, the city’s old red light district.  As they like to say, it’s where men and salmon go upstream to spawn.  When Ketchikan boomed for mining and fishing, it was male dominated so brothels did big business.  The town now survives on fishing and tourism.

I’m now sufficiently water logged and return to the ship to dry off, while L’ wanders to the town library for a quick internet check.  Soon we will depart on our day and a half trip to Vancouver.

The ship docked in Juneau in the early morning.  We were surprised to learn that we would be leaving port  by mid afternoon.  We bit the bullet and set the alarm for 6:30am so we’d have time to squeeze everything in. 

The main attraction in town is the Mendenhall Glacier.  There’s an express bus from the cruise terminal to the glacier, but it doesn’t start until later in the morning.  We take the city bus instead.  It’s longer, cheaper, and let us off about one mile from the visitor center.  As we’re walking towards the visitor center, the express bus passes us.   Oh well, at least we’ve been moving and got a tour of Juneau.  On the walk, an older guy walked with us and told us about his journeys to all the counties in the U.S. and how he has less than twenty to go.

From the visitor center, we can see the Mendenhall Glacier.  It’s neat and there are icebergs floating around in the water in front of the glacier.  We don’t see it calve like we did in Glacier Bay, but it was neat anyway.  With limited time, we go on the 3.5 mile loop trail.  This doesn’t get us on the glacier, but we have some views, get some exercise, and hunt for bears (didn’t see any)

We’re back at the visitor center around noon and catch the express bus back to town.  Since we do have to rush, we just get a snack at McDonald’s (man, their fries are good) and then press on to the sights of Juneau. 

Juneau is the state capital.  We see various government buildings- the capitol, governor’s mansion (former home of Sarah Palin), and the Assembly.  We also walk to the old octagonal shaped Russian Orthodox church.  All of these sights are unspectacular.  The city hall building, like many buildings. are drab and uninteresting.   Alaska is not memorable for its architecture.

Our time is running out so we get back on the ship before the mid-afternoon departure.   After showers and naps, we get dressed for the final formal night on the ship.  Dinner is good and we swing by to hear our favorite onboard crooner.  After a few songs, some of which we’ve already heard, we retire to our stateroom.

I also need to mention that L’ lived up to her other nickname (trouble) at dinner.  She reminded our waiters that my birthday was approaching.  To honor the occasion, they returned to sing me a song  and to sing both of us a song to celebrate our honeymoon.  It was, uh, cute.

We docked in Skagway early in the morning.  After breakfast, we got off the ship.  There is a bald eagle preserve in the area that we wanted to check out.  After comparing the cost to get there as estimated in Lonely Planet, for a slight premium, we booked a raft float tour through Princess.   This started in the late morning which gave us a little time to wander around Skagway.

As we walked into town, I commented that I bet a place like this has a fudge store.  It just had that look to it.  When we got into town there were friendly folks on the corner to help you find things in town.  I asked the nice woman if there was a fudge store.  I was in luck- there were two!  We wandered around the town and made sure to stop for some fudge (which turned out to be disappointing).  Skagway felt like just a tourist shopping trip and was not particularly interesting.  Our main adventure was the bald eagles and that was up next.

There was a lot of overhead to get to the bald eagle preserve, but it was worth it.   Once we made it there and had lunch, for about an hour and a half, we floated in a large raft down the Chilkat River.  The guide does all the rowing and steering- we are just passengers.  There were six of us in the raft.  We saw 10-20 bald eagles, including one take off from its nest.  It was very neat.  Seeing all these birds in the wild was spectacular. 

The weather was cool and mostly overcast, but with all my laers on, I was comfortable.   We were not getting in the water since it’s a chilly 40F.  We didn’t even get wet.
At the end of the float, they had hot chocolate and cookies waiting for the group (about 40 of us total).  My kind of rafting.
On the ferry back from Hanes, we had another run in with wildlife.  There was a humpback whale that was using its tail to confuse fish.  It does this by crashing its tail into the water surface.  We watched this for several minutes before it was out of view.  Soon we departed the ferry and returned to the ship.  We showered, went for dinner, caught some music onboard, and went to sleep.


Today was another day at sea, but more scenery was on the agenda than yesterday.  We would be cruising in Glacier Bay National Park.  The bay formed as the glacier receded.  It’s been doing that for at least 100 years.  I was surprised to learn that John Muir of Yosemite fame came to Glacier Bay in the late 1800s.  

Visibility today was mediocre because of the fires in Alaska and the Yukon (otherwise known as Canada).  We would be within a quarter mile of the Margerie Glacier so we’d still be able to see it.  The surrounding mountains were pretty and we can only imagine how spectacular it would be on a clear day.

The ship was in front of Margerie Glacier for a couple of hours and everyone was watching it and hoping to see it calve.  We lucked out and caught two large ice chunks calve off.  It really does sound like thunder.


By the afternoon, the ship had finished cruising around the glacier and we headed back the way we came.  From Glacier Bay we were on our way to our first port of call, Skagway.


After two full days in Denali, it was time to depart.  After some last minute arrangements so the bus picked us up at our hotel, we were on our way.  It was another clear day and we could see the mountain from the bus.  We stopped at Talkeetna Lodge late in the morning.  It’s not near anything, but we picked up some more passengers and had a short break.  The view out the deck of the lodge was spectacular on such a clear day.

We arrived in Anchorage in time for lunch and then we’re on our way to meet the ship at Whitier.  There is a single tunnel that we need to be at at 4:30.  It reverses direction every half hour so we have no need to rush.  We stop for a couple photo opportunities and then arrive in Whitier.  It’s sunny which we’re told is exceptionally rare.

We board the ship quickly, find our room, and then go for dinner. Following the emergency drill, we go to the room to unpack and sleep.   We sleep in and catch up on sleep. 

It’s fogged in and we’re at sea all day.   This is perfect for us- we sleep in, eat, take a nap, eat, catch the evening show, and go to sleep again.  We’re able to explore the ship and get acclimated to life on the cruise ship.  We’re finally rested and ready for tomorrow’s big day-sailing in Glacier Bay.


We spent a couple days in Denali National Park. 

The park operates on a shuttle bus system that goes down the only real road in the park.  It is closed,  for the most part, to private cars beyond the first few miles so everyone needs to book a bus ride in.    We purchased our bus tickets for both days the night we first arrived, so we just needed to be at the pickup point at the scheduled time.

On our first day, we had a ticket to Toklat River, about 6.5 hours round trip.  We opted for a little bit later start of 9:30am so we could catch up on a little sleep and be able to enjoy our time more.  We were only marginally successful in that endeavor.  For the 9:30 bus, we needed to be at the Wilderness Access Center (WAC) at 9:15am.  Since the buses from our hotel leave at :15 and :45 of the hour, we would need the 8:45 bus.  However, we wanted to stop at the park visitor center to inquire about hikes.  This meant we needed the 8:15 bus from our hotel.  Allowing time for breakfast, getting ready and packing up, we had to get up at 6:15am.  Another early start.

The visitor center was only slightly useful.  We learned that Denali is different from other national parks.  There are almost no official trails, despite the park being the size of the state of Massachusetts. We got a few suggestions, but nothing real clear as far as hiking.Polychrome area

We picked up the bus at the WAC.  After what seemed like just minutes, we saw a moose 10-20ft from the bus off the road.  It was a good start to the day and it would only get better.  We had lots of animal sightings during our two days here- grizzly bears, caribou, Dall sheep, a red fox, golden eagles, snow shoed hares and even a lynx (we’re told very rare).  I got most of the animal photos on day 2 when I brought the telephoto lens (my sherpa continues to insist I carry all my camera gear).

Day one was a good introduction to the park and we did a little hike up near Polychrome Mountain.  This included walking on tundra (which was recommended to us by the park ranger).  It’s spongy and your feet sink in several inches with each step.  Because it was cloudy, Mt. McKinley was not visible.  It’s amazing that a mountain over 20,000 feet tall could be completely obstructed, but it was. 

On our second day, we had the 7am shuttle to the Eilsen Visitor Center (eight hours round trip).  Most importantly, the sky was clear.  Aside from more great animal sightings today (moose, bears, wolf, Dall sheep, red fox) the highlight was Mt. McKinley.  It really is spectacular and  I took tons of photos including a bunch to stitch together for a panorama. 

Since it was such a clear day, we extended our bus trip to Wonder Lake which has a drive along the mountain range.  On the way back, we got off again at Eilsen and checked out the visitor center.  We did one of the two official trails around there.  Anybody who knows L’ knows which one we picked – the steep one.  It rose about 1000 feet in about a mile.  A good workout and we did it in much less time than the sign predicted.

We picked up a bus at the visitor cent and rode back.  We finally got our pizza dinner around 8pm.  Then we went back to our room to shower, pack, and get some sleep after another long day.