Vancouver, British Columbia

 Vancouver

Vancouver

We entered Canada at Vancouver, British Columbia at the Canada Pier and debarked in the first group off of the ship. This early departure option was available for passengers who were willing and able to carry all luggage with them on departure.  Headed over to the bus terminal. We were really impressed with the clean terminal station and the friendly staff guiding us to the bus area. We checked in early for our Quick Shuttle and were soon on our way to Seattle. Note that Quick Coach and Quick Shuttle are the same company. The bus driver gave us a bit of tourist information as we drove, and we quickly determined that  Vancouver is certainly a city worth another visit!

About an hour into our trip, we reached a US Customs station.  Every one departed from the bus with carry-on belongings  and passports (or other paperwork) in hand, walked through a line and through security similar to airports, and then out the door on the opposite side of the building and back to the bus.  We continued the journey by bus through the rural lands and had a very pleasant trip.

We arrived in Seattle at SEATAC airport and picked up the rental car for the weekend with friends.

Alaska’s Inside Passage Cruising; Sunset photos

 

Slow day at sea…cruising the inside passage…I will let the photos tell the story.

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chasing after another cruise ship

chasing after another cruise ship

Inside Passage Islands

Inside Passage Islands

Sunset view through port hole - Alaska's Inside Passage

Sunset view through port hole – Alaska’s Inside Passage

Alaska’s Inside passage is a labrynth of islands and waterways that form a coastal path for a variety of water vessels to travel.  The route extends from the state of Washington, along Canadian shores and into the state of Alaska.  These combinations of water and land create a haven for wildlife and a bounty of nature’s beauty for the rest of us.

As an avid reader, I seek books that tell stories about the destinations that I want to see. Perhaps it is the other way around, that through my reading, the destination finds me. Who Knows?  Reading, however, is crucial to our immersion experiences and are the core of  the travel experience. Before heading to Alaska, I read the James Michener novel “Alaska”  for a broad understanding of the history and culture of the region.  We also watched the movie “Into the Wild” that tells the story of Christopher McCandless’ life in the wilderness of Alaska with few resources for survival.

A book that I want to read is “Passage to Juneau:  A Sea and Its Meanings”.  This is the story of Jonathan Raban and his journey in a 35-foot sailboat from Seattle to Juneau, through these very waters of the inside passage.  As a parallel journey, Captain George Vancouver made his mark on history in his coastal voyages and mapping of the region during the 1790’s, which is memorialized in the book “Madness, Betrayal and the Lash: The Epic Voyage of Captain George Vancouver” by Stephen R. Brown. The historical perspective is interesting to me, although the MIchener book included a lot of history in the fictional story of the region.

And once again, the list of books I want to read grows longer…

Ketchikan Alaska

Creek Street - Shopping and Salmon watching

Creek Street – Shopping and Salmon watching

Day 8 of our Alaska journey starts with a dose of reality in the port of Ketchikan, Alaska.

A cruise ship has been stranded in Ketchikan for several days, and as a result, we will be tendering to shore. There have been several cruise ship mechanical issues in recent months, and this is another on the growing list. However, we tendered to shore, located the visitor center, and completed a walking tour which included three excellent museums and some salmon-watching.

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The first museum had a focus on the development by settlers who came to the area in the early 1900’s.

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The second museum was more historical and explained the totem pole messages and cultural significance.

The third museum was the National Park Service museum. The telescope view into creek street waters was a different perspective than at street level. There were interactive displays throughout the exhibit, for about 45 minutes of educational activities. Our visit to this museum ended with a 20 minute video in a theater setting which was at the high standard of the US Park Service videos. Very educational and incredible scenery throughout the video. Excellent!

The Ketchikan walking tour is one of the most ambitious tours we encountered on this vacation trip.  After a couple of mis-steps at the beginning, we gained our bearings and decided to do about half of the walk and then re-assess after lunch.  That was a good call because the 1/2 walk was plenty for us, especially with the three museums included.  When we tired of our walking, we made a stop at the local grocery store and then walked towards the main pier area, seeking some wi-fi.  We found internet access at a coffee shop that was adjacent to Yukon Heath’s Popcorn Emporium. The title does not reveal all, because the emporium also has hand-made chocolate fudge, which was delicious!

The Planes, Trains and Automobiles status: Plane trips = 3; train trips = 3, ships/boats = 4, bus/shuttle trips = 8, taxi/car= 2, golf cart = 3

Icy Strait Point, Alaska

Icy Strait Point, Alaska is under development as a cruise ship destination. At present, the main attraction is a large cannery building that includes an interesting museum about the salmon industry in Alaska, and some small shops in the same building.

Hoonah Packing Company Museum display

Hoonah Packing Company Museum display

The ship tenders passengers to the pier of Chichagof Island.

Upon arrival, the Hoonah Packing Company building and museum is just steps away from the drop off location.  The museum tells the story of the region, and of the packing industry that developed in the late 1800’s.  As you move deeper into the museum, there are small shops with local artworks and promotional products available for purchase.  It is a good mix of shopping and cultural history.  Plan on spending about an hour in the cannery area.

Wood-burning and totems at Salmon People area

Wood-burning and totems at Salmon People area

Also near the entry, the Tribal Dance and Cultural Legends theater performance is available for seated entertainment.  This performance illustrates the heritage of  the region’s people and the impact of the natural forests and waters of southeast Alaska. The Huna Tlingit performers embrace their historical culture with representations through song and dance and through display of their tribal costumes.

After the theater show, venture to the other side of the island to encounter the wood-burning fire and scenic views from the island.  This trail also leads to the zipline riding areas.

The Planes, Trains and Automobiles status: Plane trips = 3; train trips = 3, ships/boats = 3, bus/shuttle trips = 8, taxi/car= 2, golf cart = 3

Skagway, Alaska – Gold Rush Cemetery and Reid Falls Hiking

 

Raunchy and rowdy in it’s youth, Skagway, Alaska is now a great place to visit and learn about the history of this region of Alaska. We had a golf cart trip down the pier to the town entry.081913 Alaska - Skagway 66

Skagway has a shuttle bus system for $2 per ride or $5 for an all day on/off pass. We chose the all day pass on the SMART bus and our driver announced that there would be no charge for active or retired military personnel!

With our all day pass, we jumped off at the National Park Service office and looked around, but soon decided to go to the city visitors’ center and get a walking tour map. That was a good choice for us and we walked through the city, reading points of interest and talking with local shopkeepers along the route. One interesting stop was the plantation home known as the White House, which was built by Lee Guthrie. As a descendent of a Guthrie family and being from the south, it was interesting to find a plantation home in Skagway. Further research indicates that this was the home of Robert Lee Guthrie, a Texas native, but I have been unable to determine if a relationship exists.

After completing the walking tour, we took the shuttle to a drop point near the Gold Rush Cemetery. The walk to the cemetary was about a mile and then we hiked beyond the gravesites to beautiful Reid Falls. There were tour groups in the cemetary but no one was at the falls when we arrived, so we sat on a park bench and absorbed the moment. The thundering sounds of the rapid water fall added to the majesty of the area. Cold water tumbled over the rocks and was a sight to behold.

During the walk back to the shuttle pick-up location, we saw the steam engine train heading for White Pass. We had about 20 minutes to wait for the shuttle and visited the nearby organic foods market named “You Say Tomato”, which is a catchy store name. We picked up natural cough medicines and some chocolate, which can cure just about anything that ails! Back at the bus stop, a summer resident came over to chat with us while we waited and we really enjoyed the conversation and learning about how the ferry systems work for the Alaska locals. It was a good day!

The Planes, Trains and Automobiles status: Plane trips = 3; train trips = 3, bus/shuttle trips = 8, taxi/car= 2, golf cart = 3

Juneau Alaska and Mendenhall Glacier

Juneau, Alaska was the first port of call for this cruise. We started the morning at the local visitors center and received a good map of the area. We walked to the Juneau city bus depot and paid $2 for a ride to Fred Meyers.

John at bus stop in Juneau Alaska - waiting for driver

John at bus stop in Juneau Alaska – waiting for driver

That was not on our itinerary, but we ended up spending about an hour at the store getting Dayquil, Nyquil, cough drops, snacks and a few clothing items. John was feeling under the weather – specifically the cold, rainy weather of Seward yesterday.

 

 

 

After our shopping, we walked about 3/4 mile to the east on the main road to Juneau’s colorful  Glacier Gardens and uphill to the entry. We had not purchased advance tickets, but bought tickets at the entry with 10% military discount, which included a tour through a portion of the Tongass National Park adjoining the gardens. The tour guide was knowledgeable and presented a lively commentary of the region, the gardens and the national park.

We were the only people on our golf cart tour and were able to really experience the area privately. At one stop on the tour, we were at a scenic viewing area for the entire city of Juneau along with the bay areas. When we returned to the main building, rain was much more than just a light shower so we headed to the cafe. We ate hot dogs, chips and sodas in the dining area. As we were requesting our taxi (gift shop staff called for a local company), we overheard discussion of a cruise ship tour group of 51 heading to the gardens. We were very happy about our choice to travel independent of the cruise excursions and that we had been rewarded with the privacy to enjoy and learn about the gardens.

Our taxi took us to Mendenhall Glacier and the site of the first US Park Service building in Juneau, Alaska. We took the photo shoot walk and explored the area around this glacier. On a better weather day, one could easily spend 2-3 hours in this park area. We walked along the bear watching area, but did not see any bears.

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Juneau’s “Blue Bus/Glacier Express” offers an express ride back to the downtown area or cruise ship area (your choice of drop off location) for $8 pp. The city bus is also available for $2 with stops per their schedule but the pick-up location is about 1 mile walking distance from the National Park Service building.

After returning to the cruise ship, I set out on my own to explore the downtown shopping area. I found a couple of small parks, a quilting shop, and a bookstore. Those were interesting to me. The general tourist shops are plentiful, but I only browsed in a couple of them. My one regret was that when I turned back towards the ship, I was only a few blocks from the Russian Orthodox Church that I had intended to visit. We’ll have to check that out on the next trip to Alaska!

The Planes, Trains and Automobiles status: Plane trips = 3; train trips = 3, bus/shuttle trips = 4, taxi/car= 2, golf cart = 1

Smart Car parking only

Smart Car parking only

Hubbard Glacier Alaska

 

Hubbard Glacier is the largest tidewater glacier on the North American continent, as we learned during the on-board educational lecture.

Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard Glacier

This glacier is unique in that It has been thickening and advancing toward the Gulf of Alaska since it was first mapped in 1895.

Alaska - Hubbard Glacier

Alaska – Hubbard Glacier

 

This is unique in that it is a consistent path forward and secondly, because most glaciers have not advanced and many have become thinner during the last century. The ship entered the glacier area mid afternoon and cruised near (very near) Hubbard Glacier. The beautiful blue striations are due to the density of the compacted glacier ice.  This glacier is HUGE and dwarfed the cruise ship.  With over 350 feet of ice above sea level, it is quite a sight to behold.

The photos do not do justice to the beauty of this area. Sounds similar to thunder or gunshots were constant indications of glacier movement. There was minor calving on this day and that crashing of ice into the water was not captured in the photos but was amazing to watch.  We watched the glacier from our stateroom balcony.  Those who braved the cold and viewed from the outside deck on the 5th level of the ship were treated to hot chocolate during the glacier experience.

Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas

Finally aboard Royal Caribbean’s beautiful Radiance of the Seas and waiting to get underway, we visited the common areas and took care of minor business items regarding our arrangements for the week. The Radiance of the Seas is a well-appointed ship with a lot of quiet areas for relaxation. We toured the spa area, guided by one of the staff members and entered our names for a raffle drawing.  John won a spa visit, which we cashed in later in the week for a hot stone massage in the couples suite – so very romantic!

Movie at upper level pool

Movie at upper level pool

Visiting the common areas, we viewed almost every floor of the ship and got in some good walking exercise.  The upper decks had good views, but there was fog rolling in so we eventually retired to our cabin, opened some wine and settled in until muster call.  This was also a good time to make acquaintance with out cabin steward, who gave wonderful advice throughout the week and left cute towel animals for us during the evenings.

The television was tuned to some relaxing music until we realized that the captain had a channel and was making occassional announcements.  We switched over to that channel to keep up with the happenings at the captain’s wheel and could view the maps of the area on the screen while inside the cabin.

From the 12th level looking down to level 4

From the 12th level looking down to level 4

The first night dinner was very casual with most guests still wearing the days’ travel clothes.  We did not have assigned seating for this meal.  Our table guests were a father and son from Boston, Massachusetts on their first cruise together. along with a couple from Florida who were seasoned cruisers. The menu offered several selections for appetizer, entree and dessert.  The staff was professional and efficient in the dinner service, which was much appreciated after a long days’ journey.

Seward Alaska

Our next day began with a very early morning departure from Anchorage on the Alaska Railway. Sitting on the train, ready for the trip to Seward, sounds of reveille were heard, carried in the crisp morning air from the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The music was unexpected but carried beautifully as the day began. We were in the “D” car, which is similar to first class in commercial airplanes with more comfortable seating, a bit more leg room and fewer assigned seats in the car. The prior day, we were in the “C” car which was comfortable and we had no complaints with either arrangement. The train depot has a white tent for luggage service, and our bags were checked through to the ship for drop-off at our cruise ship’s cabin later in the afternoon.

Anchorage to Seward

Anchorage to Seward

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Anchorage to Seward

Along Route from Anchorage to Seward

Along Route from Anchorage to Seward

 

 

 

 

 

 

The train route was much more scenic than the prior day’s trip. In this route we encountered fields, streams, lakes, mountains, and glaciers. We saw an eaglet in a nest and a parent eagle in a neighboring tree.

 

 

 

We arrived in Seward around noon and began the search for lunch. Along the main route, the Chilkoot Restaurant was a convenient choice. We arrived before many of the lunch crowd and had window seats overlooking the marina.

Doorways...Chinooks Restaurant in Seward Alaska

Doorways…Chinooks Restaurant in Seward Alaska

For lunch we split an order of Smoked Scallop Mac and Cheese. This was comfort food at an elevated level with abundant cheddar cheese covering pasta, mushrooms, onions, spinich, and pancetta. We watched a slow chilly rain through the window and saw the fog creep down the mountains in the distance while we enjoyed the perfect comfort food for a chilly afternoon.

Venturing back into the streets, our museum for the day was the Kenai Fjords National Park Information Center. This museum has a small gift shop and several video documentaries on continuous run cycles during the day. We watched several of the films and browsed through the museum for awhile before heading towards the cruise ship.

If you were to ask how to get to the cruise ship from the downtown area, the answer is to NOT do what we did! We walked, along the edge of a street with no sidewalk, dodging splatter from the puddles in the roads. There are cruise ship buses in the town for transport along with a free city bus that makes various stops and will also do cruise ship drop-offs. Walking was good exercise, expecially after sitting on the train during the morning, but not the best choice in retrospect.

The cruise ship check-in and embarkation process was about half an hour and well-organized. Our cabin assignment for this leg of the trip was a balcony stateroom, located aft/port (#8164).

Relaxation Time, Winding down as clouds and fog lower into Seward harbor. Photo from cruise ship cabin balcony.

Relaxation Time, Winding down as clouds and fog lower into Seward harbor. Photo from cruise ship cabin balcony.

We toured the ship while cruisers boarded, and were able to get some photos of the ship without the usual extra people mingling in the background or photo-bombing our shots.

Flight Seeing in Talkeetna, Alaska

What an amazing experience. We started the day with a walk from the hotel to the Alaska Railroad Depot, which was about three blocks away. It was a good walk and we saw our first bear! The bear statue was along our path to the depot. In the distance, I saw a building featuring a huge gold monogram of the letter G. Interesting, so we walked closer. It was a hotel and with all of the monogramming in my past, I never considered a monogrammed building.

The small park and statue are to the west of the train depot, but we were well ahead of schedule and took some time to explore the immediate area.

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The Alaska Railroad train depot is small and has limited seating, but the staff was friendly and helpful. The check-in process for boarding passes was fast. The depot does have a coffee kiosk and the line for coffee was much longer than the line for boarding passes! There were pastries and limited fruit available for purchase at the kiosk. One of the travelers for the train was celebrating his fifth birthday, so we sang a celebration song and he was honored as the crier
for “All Aboooaaarrrddd” and the embarkation began! The tickets are clearly numbered with seat assignments. The train cars were clean and well-organized so the preparations for travel were stress-free. The ride to Talkeetna was comfortable. The dome car has open glass and a much broader view, which was pleasant.

Mountain view during flightseeing trip. This is not Mt. McKinley, but another in the same ridge, as seen through the plane window.

Mountain view during flightseeing trip. This is not Mt. McKinley, but another in the same ridge, as seen through the plane window.

Upon arrival in Talkeetna, we walked to the local airport field and checked in at K2 Aviation. We had booked the summit tour for Mount McKinley, but due to clouds shifted to a slightly different flight and were among the clouds in about an hour after our arrival. K2 Aviation was great! The pilot of the 10-seat twin engine plan was our tour guide through the mountains, glaciers and clouds for just over an hour. The tour was educational and entertaining. All passengers were outfitted with microphone headsets so that we could talk as a group. This provided two benefits – reduced engine noise and increased the ability to hear and understand the tour guide. At the conclusion of the flight, K2 took photos of the tour participants and then we retrieved our backpacks and other items from their locked storage units.

Wildwood Cafe, Talkeetna AK

Wildwood Cafe, Talkeetna AK

Walking to and through Talkeetna did not take very long at all. Wildwood Restaurant was our choice for lunch. After lunch, we walked along the Main Street of the small town and then back to the train depot. The train arrived back in Anchorage around 8pm and, although the day was busy and had several strict deadlines, it was the perfect start to our vacation.