The 2nd half of the Alaska cruise

February 11, 2017

Picking up where I left off last week.  We’re 3 days into the cruise, and the port is Skagway Alaska.  There weren’t many options for excursions for me, but I was excited about what I had chosen, it was a group of experiences that included a gold panning trip, and a chance to see some sled dogs.  Unfortunately, this was cancelled the night before we arrived.  I found out that we were the only ship in port that day, which likely meant that there weren’t enough people confirmed do they cancelled.  The other options were a train trip into the Whitehorse, Yukon Territories, and since I had a big train excursion after the cruise that really didn’t appeal to me (it was also rather expensive).  I opted for a trolley tour of the town.  It lasted 90 minutes or so, and well, it wasn’t that interesting.  I got a couple of nice photos of the cruise ship though.   I enjoyed some quiet time on the ship, and did het some reading done that day.

Next up was an early morning arrival in Glacier Bay.  We arrived  before dawn and a member of the National Parks service boarded the ship to server as a guide.  Since we had a very early start, I was particularly happy to have a verandah, all I had to do was step  outside to take in the sights.  The other great perk I enjoyed that day was room service breakfast.  I believe this was the 2nd time in my life I’d ever had room service, and well, when you want to be outside looking at glaciers, there was nothing more convenient than requesting breakfast at 6:15, and having it arrive at 6:15.  I’m convinced that the steward delivering the food was outside at 6:14, and waiting until precisely 6:15 to knock on my door.  As I mentioned before about staying at the kick-ass hotels, I adapted very quickly.  J

The only time I was ever cold in Alaska was that morning in Glacier Bay.  I was outside at first light, with my camera, and some coffee, dressed as I had been nearly every day.  I was outside for 5 minutes, trying to tough it out, but I couldn’t make it.  I had to go back in the cabin, and re-order the dress for the morning, adding 2 more layers.  Maybe 3.  This was before the sun was up, really, and we were surrounded by ice.  It was cold.  Glacier Bay is stunning.  I knew that Alaska would be beautiful, but it really is better than advertised.  When we left the Tracy Arm fjord a few days earlier, I was convinced I would never see more amazingly beautiful things in my life.  Then I went to Glacier Bay.  There were a couple of local photographers and naturalists on board and they were in one of the lounges on the ship.  Another perk of having a verandah is that they were playing over the loudspeakers outside the ship, so I was able to hear them as I sat outside.  It was tremendous fun as we were navigating the bay, watching the sea ice increase, and watching the rocks and vegetation.  If I peered forward, I could see the glacier in the distance too.  I was all just terribly exciting.

The colors of the rock formations, the minerals left behind by the glaciers contrasting with the turquoise color of the water were spectacular.  There were many waterfalls that were tucked into the mountains as well.  It seemed everywhere you looked there was something amazing.  Here’s a quick aside…I purchased my first camera for this trip.  I knew that there would be things that I wanted to take photos of, but never having owned a camera before, I was telling myself, and others, that I probably wouldn’t take that many photos on this trip.  I had planned to purchase photo books along the way, and leave the photography to the professionals.  Well, I took over 1200 photos on the trip.  🙂  Alaska make photography easy.  Turn your camera on, point it in any direction, and shoot.  There were many many “money shots” that everyone was after on the excursions, and in Glacier Bay too,  but I often found myself, when everyone else was looking right, I was looking left, if they were looking up, I looked down.  You get the idea.  There was amazing sights wherever you looked.  I sometimes felt like some of my fellow travelers missed some things because they didn’t look around.  I took 1200 photos, I looked everywhere!

At some point while in Glacier Bay, the naturalists were selling photo books they had taken in the park.  This was good for me for 2 reasons.  I bought a book, and a USB drive of photos, and it forced me to find my way up the Crow’s Nest lounge on the ship.  It was on the 9th or 10th deck, I can’t recall which, but I hadn’t been able to figure out how to get there yet.  It was at the front of the ship, and my cabin was in the middle of the ship.  You had to walk forward from where I was to get to a elevator to get up there.  The views from there were amazing.  There was an outer deck up there, it’s where the sport courts were, and I spent a lot of time out there as we were sailing out of the bay.  It had warmed up considerably as the sun was up and out.  There was this majestic shot of the glaciers, the mountains, it was an amazing vista.  I spent maybe 30 minute outside marveling at it, and I kept taking photos of it.  It seemed every few minutes it looked more and more amazing as we got farther away.   It was a great way to end an amazing day.

I believe we had a sea day next, and then we visited Ketchikan.  This was our last port of call before we returned to Vancouver.  I hadn’t booked any excursions in Ketchikan; I didn’t really know what to do.  I had been considering an excursion called Misty Fjords, but didn’t book it before the trip like I had the others.  It was particularly expensive, and frankly I’d never heard of Misty Fjords.  The only other excursions were a trip to look at totem poles, which would have been OK, and the lumberjack show, which while interesting, really didn’t fit the feel for this trip.  I decided the night before we arrived to book the Misty Fjords excursion.  It was the best decision I made, after deciding to take the trip.

I keep mentioning how expensive things were on the trip, and I really shouldn’t.  Yes, they were expensive, but the money was really only a number, and I got over it fairly quickly.  The mid-western conservative upbringing would cause me to have initial sticker-shock, and I know if my father had been with me, he would have been aghast, at best at the cost of the trip, and some of the excursions, and such.  This was a (hopefully not) once in a life time trip, and the incremental cost of the excursion was literally nothing.

We arrived in Ketchikan a couple of hours before the tour left.  I took my time getting off the ship, and spent some time walking around a little bit.  This was the only day that I had rain in my entire time in Alaska which was odd, since it is a rainforest.  It wasn’t raining when I left my cabin, and by the time I made it off of the ship it had started to rain.  Finally the rain slicker I bought was coming into play.   I did my only touristy shopping on this part of the trip.  Because of the rain, I bought an Alaska hat, and if you recall my little airport luggage fiasco I mentioned before, Ketchikan Alaska luggage tags were on deep discount, I think I got 4 of them for $5.00.  A benefit of being there at the end of the season, all the merchandise was on sale.

I still had no idea of Misty Fjords as I boarded the Allen Marine boat for this excursion.  Everyone I met as I boarded the boat was extremely friendly, and that was an excellent precursor for the day ahead.  As the boat left the dock I had such a tremendous excitement and joy.  I knew I was off on another adventure.  I didn’t know what to expect, and that just added to the excitement.  I felt like a kid again.  I was ready!

A similar set up as the previous Allen Marine tour to the Sawyer glacier.  The boat was laid out similarly, if not exactly.  It had a designated Naturalist, who was phenomenal, and a crew of friendly and helpful mates.  I was annoying question guy again on this trip, and they answered all of them with aplombFrom Wikipedia: “Misty Fiords National Monument is a national monument and wilderness area administered by the U.S. Forest Service as part of the Tongass National Forest”  I could write hundred if not thousands of words about Misty Fjords.  I couldn’t possible begin to describe its beauty.  I’m afraid to try.  It was the most amazingly beautiful collection of sights I have ever seen.  I know I said that about the Tracy Arm Fjord, and about Glacier Bay.  Misty Fjords blew them all out of the water.  I was gob smacked.  Still am frankly.  Two quick anecdotes to hopefully summarize this properly.  If I had taken the rail portion of my trip first, and then gone to Alaska, I may not have come home.  I wanted to stay in Ketchikan, and just visit Misty Fjords every day.  Here’s the second, I was chatting with our naturalist as we traveled around one of the bays, we were having a nice conversation and we came upon this 3000 foot waterfall that was rain fed, so if it hadn’t been raining that day, we wouldn’t have seen it.  She was answering one of my many questions, and I just blurted right over her answer “Son of a Bitch!!”  Not a typical reaction, but I spotted this waterfall before anyone else who was around us.  I was embarrassed, certainly not polite language in any situation, and I typically try to control myself, but it was an honest reaction to the most incredible sight.  We saw so many amazing things that day, from glaciers, to mountains, to wildlife to native Alaskan burial markers.  It was an overwhelming day.  I apologized to the young woman I had cursed in front of.  She graciously accepted, and understood that exclamation for what it was.  I guess this is three anecdotes.  I didn’t take many photos in Misty Fjords.  I was focused on just experiencing it.  It was so visually overwhelming that I just didn’t bother to take pictures.  If you are interested, you can google search for images.  Even better, go visits Alaska before all of the glaciers are gone.

Next up is the Rocky Mountaineer portion of the vacation.

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