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.



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!


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

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.


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!