Following 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!”
Once 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 as 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.
The 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!
On 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 those 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!
Once 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.
After 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!