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:


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.

Remote Locations Yield Poor Access

imagesMuch to no surprise, internet access on a cruise ship in the middle of Alaska is quite limited.  Honestly, what a wonderful perk of this trip as I am truly able to check out of the real world. slow down, breathe, and enjoy the beauty of this place.  There are many experiences to share but will have to wait when I can post my pictures….although here is a quick preview of the highlights of the first few days:

1. The train from Anchorage to our ship was an amazing 4 hour ride through some of the most beautiful scenery; if you can, make the effort to do this ride.

2. I have seen close to twenty whales in the ocean as we were approaching and cruising through Glacier Bay; that does NOT include the whale watching excursion yet to experience later this week

3. Speaking of whales, during breakfast on Tuesday, the ship took a very sudden and severe right turn to the point that many dishes fell from the tables in the main dining room.  The captain eventually let everyone know that he needed to use a lot of rudder to avoid colliding with a whale.  It was a little scary but all good.

4. According to the navigator, the weather during our cruise into Glacier Bay was uncharacteristically sunny, warm and wonderful.  I look at my pictures that I snapped with my iPhone and am amazed and the rich colors of blue.  It was a great day!

5.  So far, I have had fish and seafood at every meal, including breakfast.  My fellow cruise-mates think it is pretty “interesting” (i.e. interpretation “gross”) but as a Lithuanian, I love my herring and/or salmon first thing in the morning.

So, when I am able to get reliable access, I will offer you my daily adventures here in Alaska, leaving you with a quick thought:  if you ever considered doing an Alaskan cruise, I highly recommend it.


Day One Delta Delays Do Not Matter

imageSaturday, June 22  is officially Day One of my Alaska Adventure which involved spending the afternoon afternoon and evening traveling to Anchorage, Alaska. The flight itinerary involved flying from St. Louis to Minneapolis followed by a nearly 6 hour flight from Minneapolis to Anchorage.  Unfortunately, the flight from St. Louis to Minneapolis was delayed by 30 minutes, enough to cause problems in terms of getting to Alaska. Upon boarding the already delayed flight, mechanical issues further delayed the flight.  So, getting to Anchorage involved a lot more effort (and vodka)  than originally anticipated. I  finally made it to Anchorage,  landing at about 11:45 PM.

imageThe time difference between St. Louis and Anchorage is 3 hours with St. Louis 3 hours ahead of Anchorage. So, it was 3 AM in the morning “A.U. Time” when I got off the plane.  Since it is summer, it rarely gets dark.   The picture here is immediately outside of the airport at 12:30 AM.  According to the cab driver, this is about as dark as it gets in Anchorage this time if year.

Okay, so you get off a plane in Anchorage, Alaska at 11:45 pm and what does one do? Certainly there are no shortages of bars here including Tap Root,  Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse, Darwin’s Theory, and The Peanut Farm.  Some of us from this crazy group of nine went for a nightcap.  Some of us went to bed.  I wonder what A.U. did?

My Alaska Adventure

Alaska-Railroad-WebThis Saturday, I will be flying to Anchorage, Alaska to begin yet another chapter of A.U.’s Adventures thanks to my friend David Hoffman and the usual suspects in Kirk and Deb McCullen, and Beth McDonald.  These guys vacation together at least once a year and I was invited to join in on the fun! My Alaska Adventure will officially start Sunday, June 23 as I take a train from Anchorage to Seward via the scenic Alaska Railroad Coastal Classic route. Upon arriving to Seward, I will board Holland America’s ship The Statendam that evening for a 7-day southbound Glacier Discovery Cruise.

SONY DSCThe Alaskan cruise itinerary includes a scheduled visit to beautiful Glacier Bay for about half a day on Tuesday.  From there, the boat will dock in Haines for a full day followed by Juneau where an excursion has been booked for Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest. I guess hanging out with the elephants in Sri Lanka have turned me into a much braver nature/animal soul (although I am sure I will scream like a girl when I see Moby Dick).

Malaspina, traveling north from Auke Bay to HainesAfter hanging out with the whales, the next day will be spent in the city of  Ketchikan. Prior to arriving to the final destination of Vancouver, B.C., the ship will cruise through the Inside Passage all day on Saturday, June 29. Should be amazing. On Sunday, June 30 it will be time to catch a plane from Vancouver to St. Louis where the arrival time is at Zero Dark Thirty.  Hope to have my sea legs back by Monday! Bon Voyage and stay tuned for my updates!