Day Eight & Home: Great Alaskan Adventure!

last legAfter a great day in Ketchikan, we got back on the boat and basically spent the evening to enjoy our last happy hour with waiter “Johnny-Perfect”, eat yet one more wonderful meal at dinner, and spend time on the deck taking in the beauty of the last of Alaska. Very peaceful, very beautiful and a nice way to end the last evening on the ship.

vancouverThe next morning after breakfast, it was back to the deck to watch as the city of Vancouver, British Columbia was getting closer and closer on the horizon.  What a beautiful city! Most of us had already spend time there and the decision was made to simply leave the boat and go directly to the airport to catch our late morning flight. If, however, you have never experienced this great city, I suggest you spend a few days to explore Vancouver.  Love that city!

chicagoOur flight took us from Vancouver to Chicago and then from Chicago to St. Louis.  We got into Lambert Airport around 9 pm on a Sunday, all the baggage arrived for us to take home, and that was that! I will tell you, this trip was fabulous on many accounts including the fact that despite never previously traveling with any of my friends, we all had a great time and realized we are a good traveling group.  This is a memory I will cherish and an adventure that I hope many of you will be inspired to take! Bon Voyage!

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Day Seven – Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchican-oneAfter an awesome whale-watching day in Juneau, we cruised through the evening and night and ended up docking in Ketchikan, Alaska around 11:00 am on Friday, June 28. Established in 1887 when a salmon cannery was built at the mouth of Ketchican-stained glassKetchikan Creek, this city is by far the most charming of the three ports.  A zigzagging boardwalk leads you to the downtown area that is full of shops and restaurants. The stained-glass decorations along the lamp posts were so cool; I wanted to take one home with me! In terms of the city’s past, you can take a stroll in the Creek Street Historic District, Alaska’s most notorious red-light district from 1902 to 1954.  Ketchikan supported at least 30 “sporting houses” during this time. Today, the old houses have been converted into small shops and business.  Madam Dolly Copeland Arther’s home (aka “Dolly’s House”) is now a museum. Outside of the city limits you may find the Misty Fjords National Monument, a protected wilderness area that houses the largest national forest in the United States, the Tongass National Forest.

ketchican-assylumThe afternoon was spent grabbing lunch at a local restaurant where the crab cakes and the halibut fillet basket was perfect! From there, we all walked around from shop to shop until we reached the ultimate destination in The Asylum, a fun bar located near our ship. Carlos, the owner, was so friendly and funny.  ketchickan-leavingThe service was great.  The weather was perfect. The bar is located right next door to Burger Queen and the smell of grilling hamburgers was simply to die for! They deliver too!  Too bad we already had lunch because I am sure those burgers are very delicious. After a warm, sunny day in Ketchikan, it was back to the ship for the last couple of days of sailing in Alaska. The route from Ketchikan to Vancouver was very pretty; the evening was calm and quiet and the perfect ending to what has been a pretty much perfect vacation.

Ketchkan-goodnight

Day Six – Juneau Alaska & Whale Watching Expedition

juneau-cityFollowing a day in Haines, Alaska, we cruised throughout the night and arrived in Juneau, Alaska early Thursday morning (June 27th). Located in the Panhandle of Southeast Alaska, Juneau is the capital of Alaska, a city that is only accessible via air or ferry/boat as there are no roads beyond those within the city limits.  A proposal has been made to actually build the Juneau Access Road that would connect Juneau to the Alaskan highway network at a cost of about $520 million dollars. Bumper stickers reading “Build The Road” support the proposal; competing bumper stickers against the proposal read “Want More Roads? Move Down South!”

aukebayOnce docked in Juneau, I and my buddies got on a motor coach for a 15 minute ride to Auke Bay for a whale watching and wildlife quest excursion. It was so weird to see signs for “Auke Bay” because Auke is just one letter short of my legal name “Aukse”.  I took it juneau-boatas a sign of good things to come and I could not have been more correct! Upon arriving to the marina, we boarded The St. Nicholas, a waterjet-powered catamaran specifically designed for wildlife viewing, providing huge windows as well as access to two decks outside. This particular excursion guarantees whale sightings and is totally worth the $140 we paid to participate.

au-juneauThe day was cold with a constant drizzle of rain; I suspect this is where I started getting my summer cold that continues to stay with me even a week after coming home! Regardless, I endured the elements and was committed to experiencing this excursion to the max.  Within the first 40 minutes, we approached and area where the captain stopped the catamaran to watch two adult humpback whales glide along the water. I did not expect their movements to be so fluid and graceful. For the next hour or so, we did see a few more whales that were pretty close to our catamaran so mission accomplished, or so we thought!

whaletailOn our way back to the marina, we were cruising pretty briskly when the captain slowed down and suddenly, a humpback whale completely breached the surface, jumping into the air and exposing his entire body so you could see from nose to tail (the picture does not do justice to the experience). It was such a quick, unexpected and unbelievable sight! If you were not looking up at the right time, you basically missed most of the event.  For whale-2those that missed it, either the same or another whale followed with another full breach. That would have been plenty to satisfy anybody but these guys simply were not done performing. We were able to see these whales breach the surface of the water within another 20 minute period five more times! The tour guide mentioned never seeing this before in her life so we were so, so, so lucky!  I choose to believe that the whales knew that Aukse was in the house at Auke Bay and felt that they needed to make a good impression!

reddogOnce we returned to Juneau, we decided to have lunch at the famous Red Dog Saloon, the oldest man-made tourist attraction in Juneau. The place is usually packed and that was the case when we walked in although we were able to get seated pretty quickly. When in doubt, I always rely on the expertise of the wait-staff to recommend what to eat and they made fantastic choices for me! The Yakobi Smoked Chowder (clam chowder with smoked salmon) was so good as were the Cold Bay Crab Cakes.  I traded some of my Crab Cakes for beer battered Alaskan Rockfish which was equally good.

vikingAfter lunch, we did some window shopping in search for another bar recommended by the locals called The Viking.  The Viking is NOT a tourist-trap bar; actually, I don’t think they like when people other than locals come in for a beer but we went in and had a few.  Personally, I liked The Viking a lot more than the Red Dog Saloon although the lady behind the bar wasn’t really friendly….she wasn’t mean but she didn’t make you feel like she was happy to serve you.  Whatever! Totally cool bar and if you are in Juneau, look for it!  Worth a stop!

The day in Juneau, despite not having a perfectly sunny day, was fabulous and so much fun! Around 6:00 pm, it was all aboard and time to start cruising to the next port and destination!

juneau-bye

Day Five – Haines, Alaska

haines-hainesEarly morning Wednesday, Captain Sijbe de Boer cruised the ship to the port of Haines, Alaska, a small town located in the northernmost portion of the Alaska Panhandle on the Chilkat Peninsula near the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. The morning was initially pretty foggy as indicated in the picture to the left.  Although the city resides near a glacier, it has an uncommonly warm climate and there were some beautiful flowers already in bloom.  One of the haines-flowersmost popular attractions in Haines is the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve; during the months of October through February, the sanctuary houses the largest number of bald eagles in the world. There were several different excursions that I could have booked and, in retrospect, wish I would have because the down really doesn’t offer too much excitement and entertainment (sorry Haines!).  The Takshanuk Mountains are not that far off where one can hike or do some off-road vehicle adventures. A visit to the Davidson Glacier offers breathtaking scenery from what I hear.  O well!  Next time.

hained-hammer museumI did take a walk into Haines after breakfast to take a look and see what the town was all about.  Of course, there were shops to buy souvenirs and trinkets. Haines is home to the Hammer Museum, a small little house dedicated to, uhm, the hammer.  You can’t miss it….it is the house with the big Hammer in the front yard.  I was curious to go in and look at the 1,000 different hammers housed in the small building but for some reason the three dollar cover charge annoyed me so I decided to walk on by. Other than haines-fog cuttershops, there are a few bars including The Fogcutter.  Took a quick look inside, looked pretty cool but 10:00 am was just to early to belly up so I continued along my walk around town.  Other than seeing a guy start carving a totem pole and noticing the Harbor Bar and Liquor Store/Lighthouse Restaurant, it was back to the boat to go work out and chill-out in the awesome hot tub!  From there, it will be time for the daily Happy Hour at the Ocean Bar with Mr. Johnny Perfect!

hained-liquor store

Day Four – Missed a Whale but hit the Bay

view from afarTuesday (day four of my Alaska Adventure) started out like a typical day on the cruise ship; got up early to walk up eight flights of stairs to work out on the Lido Deck. After a nice work out, showered and met my buddies for breakfast where I ordered my usual Scandinavian Breakfast and coffee, coffee, coffee.  As I was sitting my a huge window enjoying the view and talking to my friend Debbie (who was sitting across from me), it seemed that the ship was turning but not in a normal, gentle fashion. Some of our drinks spilled a little and as I glanced to look at the expressions on the faces of our waiters (who looked equally startled), it seemed that the boat was turning even harder to the right.  As we were tilting more and more, a bunch (not a few) of dishes fell off the tables, crashing and breaking on the floor.  This lasted about 10 seconds and then it seemed we returned back to a normal position.  After a few minutes, the Captain got on and quickly said something that resembled the following:

“Hello, this is your Captain, A few moments ago, as you all experienced, we took a hard right turn.  I had to use a lot of rudder to avoid collision with a whale.  Thank you”.

alaskanchowderI will be honest….it was a little scary as there was a moment I thought to myself, oh dear, this isn’t going to turn out well.  But, all good and with breakfast finished, it was time to get ready to essentially spend the entire day on deck since today was the day we were going to sail to Glacier Bay National Park. At around 10:30 am, the crew offered everyone on the decks some traditional Alaskan chowder including my friends pictured above  (Kirk, Deb and David). As we entered the Glacier Bay, most of my view in the beginning was from Deck 11 (Lido Deck) as indicated by the picture below:

glacierbayone

Originally recognized as a National Park in 1925, the United States re-designated its standing as a National Park in 1980.  Just 250 years ago, Glacier Bay was all glacier and no bay. A massive river of ice (about 100 miles long and thousands of feet deep) occupied the entire bay. Today, the glacier is gone, having retreated north. Fewer than a dozen smaller tidewater glaciers remain.

glacierbaymainAs we started sailing the inner passage, the weather was jacket-worthy; it was partly cloudy, a little windy, and about 60-65 degrees. The further we sailed into Glacier Bay, not only did it initially get colder, but you could see more ice floating on the ocean as evidenced in the picture above. Interestingly, the weather eventually changed; the sun was out in full force and it felt like 75-80 degrees on board. I was surprised to actually see so much green on the mountain tops.

galcierbayfourThe purpose of sailing into the inner passage was to take the Tarr Inlet to reach the face of Margerie Glacier. The picture on the left shows our initial approach to Margerie Glacier; the cool thing about this part of the trip glacierbaysevenwas that the ship stopped for one hour (30 minutes Port Side and then turned to sit 30 minutes Starboard Side) to allow us to view, in complete amazement, the face of Margerie Glacier. The snow is so compressed in glacierbaysixareas that when the light hits it just so, it illuminates in a beautiful soft blue. During this one hour, you can hear ice cracking; it sounded like cannon balls going off, making a BOOM sound. We were able to see pretty significant amounts of the glacier fall into the ocean, creating a lot of movement that sounded like loud thunder. During this entire viewing, despite a lot of people on deck, everyone was very quiet, just soaking in the view, until a big chunk of ice fell off the glacier and into the ocean.  Then you would hear plenty of “Ohhhhhhh’s” and “Ahhhhh’s” amongst other things. The visit to Margerie Glacier was wonderful with perfect weather!

Day Three – A Day At Sea

roomviewAfter an unbelievable train ride from Anchorage to Seward, I boarded the ship called the Statendam. Since the price of this particular cruise went down a few bucks a few weeks prior to this trip, a room up-grade crowsnestwas offered, providing us a port-hole view of the outside world. As the ship left Seward Port at 8 pm on Sunday, it was time to get comfortable with the ship as all of Sunday night and Monday was spent sailing the high seas.  The top deck of the ship offered the Crow’s Nest, a bar with music that offered 360 views of Alaska 24/7.  There was easy access from the Crow’s Nest to the outside upper deck as well.

view of boat cruiseMonday morning started out with me checking out an using the workout facilities.  Hey, will all the food offered, it wasn’t a difficult decision to make.  Actually, during my early Monday morning run, I spotted my very first whale siting from the corner of my eye.  There were many more to come. From there, the day was spent finding where and when food was being served (and what kind), checking our each deck, and simply soaking up the sun on one of the many outside decks, looking out to the big blue sea at the mountains that were initially so far away.

oceanbarMy friends and I did stumbled upon the Ocean Bar Monday afternoon which offered a daily happy hour from 4-5, something that we took advantage of every day thereafter.  Dinner typically took place shortly after happy hour in the Rottendam Dining room where, as I promised myself, I ordered fish or seafood at every dinner.  By the way, I had fish at every breakfast too (usually herring and/or salmon).  I was in heaven. After a beautiful day at sea, it was necessary to get a good night sleep as Day Four of my Alaska Adventure was to Glacier Bay, one of the most unbelievable sites I have seen!

Day Two – Morning in Anchorage & Train Ride

imageDay two involved spending the morning at a local weekend market and festival in Anchorage.  The locals told us to go to Two Fat Guys to order the Mojo Loco, a scrambled imageegg breakfast with onion and potato that was delicious.  Could not resist trying a sample of salmon quesadilla which sounded gross but was good.  Sampled Chugach Chocolate (jalapeño flavored and habanero flavored, both delicious).  A lot of interesting characters including cute five month old doggie Smokey. We met Shannon who has been selling her ceramic pottery for ten years.  Bought some cute earrings from a guy whose mom makes them for fun.  She should charge more for her work but glad she doesn’t.

From there, caught the train at the Anchorage railroad station to take an amazing four hour ride to Seward vimageia the most scenic Alaskan route.  The train compartment offered comfortable seats and not only windows but essentially a glass ceiling for unrestricted views of mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, and wildlife.  We all had a few rounds of “Mosquitos”, a delicious vodka drink that will come back to bite you if you have too many!  All was good though.  We arrived to Steward and boarded our ship!  Set sail at 8pm.