At Sea in Alaska – Part II 6/11/17

We moored in Juneau Harbour at 6:30 in the morning on Sunday, May 21.

Each day we received a copy of the ship’s newsletter, the Princess Patter, with detailed itineraries and facts about where we were and what there was to see.  Ted nor I realized (until we read it in the Patter) that Juneau, the capital of Alaska and the state’s second most populous city, is only accessible by boat or plane.  We both found it really amazing that a state capital had no roads connecting it to the rest of the state nor to the rest of America (although ferry service is available for cars). Only one other state capital (Honolulu, Hawaii) can also make that claim. The absence of a road network is due to the extremely rugged terrain surrounding the city, and this makes Juneau an island city in terms of transportation, since all goods coming in and out must go by plane or boat.

Juneau sits at sea level and is surrounded by steep mountains up to 4,000 feet high.  Atop these mountains is the Juneau Icefield, a large ice mass from which about 30 glaciers flow.  We would be traveling to one of those glaciers (Mendenhall) later in the day.

But first . . .

. . . we were off early that Sunday morning on the “Whale Watching & Wildlife Quest” excursion. We traveled by bus from the Juneau harbor and were soon aboard . . .

. . .an Allen Marine tour boat, searching for Alaska’s amazing sea life!

The day was wet, cold, and very windy, but inside the cabin it was very comfortable.  The captain thought we might have to go out pretty far to spot whales, but within 15 minutes a humpback was sighted, and we spent the next two hours trying to get decent photographs of huge mammals.

Ted was much better at this than I was because he went outside on that rolling deck and stood for long stretches of time in the wind and rain, snapping one pic after another and hoping just one would be good enough to use.  This is a humpback whale, which can consume as much as a ton of krill and small fish per day in the summer.  They spend their summers in Alaska after having fasted all winter.  During the summer they build a thick layer of fat called blubber which stores the nourishment the whales will need in autumn when they return to the warm waters of Hawaii and Mexico to breed.  They don’t feed again until they return to Alaska in the spring.

The best shot of whales for the whole morning – this pod of Orcas (killer whales). They were chasing sea lions, but are capable of successfully attacking whales much larger in size than themselves, including the humpbacks. Hunting in groups gives them an advantage over their larger prey.

Several sea lions were escapting the Orcas by jumping onto this buoy!

We saw a lot of whale tail  flukes because by the time someone shouted, “There’s a whale”, it would be diving, and only the tail would be visible!

Note to self:  If there is another trip to Alaska, just sit back and enjoy what your eyes see and forget about looking through the eyes of a camera lens or at the screen of a cell phone!

After lunch we boarded another bus and headed for the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.

The center rises out of the landscape like it was formed there along with the mountains and trees.

We left the center and walked down one of the trails to get this view, which includes the glacier and Nugget Falls . . .

. . . and after we snapped a photo of a sweet young couple who spoke no English, they kindly returned the favor.  Once again, in this vast land that is Alaska, we were awed by our surroundings.

To say we were tired when we got back to the ship that day is an understatement, and we slept very well that night.

We arrived in Ketchikan on Monday, May 22 – the last stop on our journey before our cruise would end in Vancouver on Wednesday.

Of all the Alaskan villages we visited on the cruise, this beautiful little spot was definitely our favorite. We had no excursions planned that day, so we were free to just walk around and wander in and out of the many shops. It was here we bought souvenirs for the first time and took this photoof historic Creek Street, said to be on the Top Ten List of Most Photographed Streets in the U.S.

Ketchikan is the Salmon Capital of the World, and inside this cozy little restaurant right on the water I had the best seafood chowder I’ve ever eaten. It was made with fresh salmon and served with made-from-scratch cornbread. Oh. My. Goodness!

We bought sweatshirts and had this art piece of a humpback whale shipped home to serve as a reminder of our wonderful trip.

We have it displayed on our dining room sideboard.

Ketchikan’s harbor from the ship, as we left late Monday afternoon.

We spent Tuesday at sea, moving on a southeasterly course across Queen Charlotte Sound with winds southwesterly near gale force.  At 2 p.m. two British Columbia Pilots boarded Island Princess at Pine Island pilot station.  They assisted the Bridge Team as we traveled the inland waterways north of Vancouver Island.

We passed under the Lions Gate Bridge at 6 a.m. on Wednesday morning . . .

. . .and by 7:30 we were at our berth at Canada Place.

Because our flight out of Vancouver was before noon we were with the group who left the ship first. We boarded a bus, arrived at the airport, were whisked through security and customs, and still had plenty of time to eat brunch at the airport before our flight left.

Heading home from the trip of a lifetime.

We’ve been home almost three weeks now, and I’ve had time to reflect back over the many memories we made.  Several people have asked if we’d do anything different, and here are my thoughts:

  • I might go a couple of weeks later.  There were a couple of things we wanted to see that weren’t open yet.
  • I’d love to see Alaska in the full summer with everything green and blooming. But – we’ve heard it can be almost hot AND buggy in the summer months, so I think late May and early June would be good times.
  • I’d love to fly back up, rent a car, and just explore.  Friends of ours here in Florida, Jack & Carolyn, have done that three different times.  They loved the freedom of no schedules, and now that I’ve been, there are a few more places I’d like to go – like the Arctic Circle.  But I say that because I’ve already been on the Alaska cruise – the cruise, the majestic beauty of the mountains from the sea, the icy force and strength of glaciers – all of that was phenomenal.  If you’re first-time Alaska travelers, I’d also recommend you do both the land and sea tour.  If you don’t, you’re going to always wonder what you missed.
  • The 22 hours of daylight didn’t bother either of us.  All the places we stayed had blackout curtains, and we were so tired by the end of the day we had no trouble sleeping – at least not because of the light.  The 4-hour time difference took a couple of days to adjust to as far as sleeping, but it was a minor thing.
  • The Alaskan people were amazing – friendly, eager to talk about their state, helpful in directing us not only to places we wanted to visit, but also offering suggestions about other scenic spots.
  • A silly thing – I had two weeks of good hair days!  Alaska has almost no humidity (at least not while we were there).  It was the strangest thing – even on the days it rained, my hair stayed straight.  Weird, huh? And something only a woman would find gratifying.

Would I want to live there?  No.  But I say that as a senior citizen. I loved the vastness, the rugged beauty, the miles and miles of untouched wilderness, and I loved the people. So . . . twenty years ago my answer may have been different.  Well, maybe thirty years ago.

We’ve never talked to a single person who has gone to Alaska and came back and said, “I didn’t like it, and I never want to go back.”  Not one single person. If Alaska isn’t on your bucket list, it needs to be.  It truly does.

See you back here in a few days.  We’ll get back on track with news about that magical island that we all love.  In five weeks we’ll be there!  I think I’ll start packing now!

 

God bless.