Sunday, June 14, 2015

Alaskan Cruise!

I finally talked Chuck into taking a cruise since I wanted to see Alaska and that is one of the best ways to do that.  So we started our trip by flying to Vancouver, BC.  We got there a day early so we could see the city.  It was every bit as beautiful as we’d heard.  Since we only had one day, we did a “hop-on hop-off” trolley.  It toured the city as well as Stanley Park which is a gorgeous urban park on a peninsula.  We also made a stop at Granville Island to see the shops there.
The next day we boarded the Holland America Zaandam and sailed out to sea that afternoon.  We quickly fell in love with cruising; what’s not to like?  So many food choices from breakfast delivered to your stateroom, buffets at almost any hour, or fine dining with an excellent menu.  During the day there was an assortment of activities, from computer classes to cooking classes, an excellent library and gym, and outstanding scenery at every turn.  The evenings had great entertainment in the showroom which we followed up with relaxing to live music of several varieties in the various lounges, and we even did a little dancing.
Did I mention that we were headed to Alaska?  Our first port was Ketchikan.  There we went to one of the Saxman Totem Pole Park, the largest one in the area.  The rest of the day we spent browsing in the many shops and making a few purchases too.  We found that the shops had lots of reasonably priced stuff, so I was happy about that.  As we sailed out of Ketchikan that evening we passed through a strait that had lots of whales.  Mostly we saw fins and blowing, but it was fun to watch for them.
Vancouver's cruise port (Canada Place)

Saxman Totem Park

Creek Street, Ketchikan

As we slept, the ship took us to the port of Juneau, the state capital.  It is the third biggest city in the state (about 32,000), but is only accessible by plane or boat.  The surroundings are steep mountains, the Tongass National Forest and the Juneau Icefield.  We took a city tour that also went to the Mendenhall Glacier.  This glacier is in retreat (as are about 95% of Alaska’s glaciers), forming Mendenhall Lake at its base, which didn’t exist 100 years ago, at the base of the glacier.  Although the glacier has lost about two miles of length, it is still 12 miles long. 

Floatplanes abound in Juneau

and glacier ice
so do shops
Mendenhall Glacier
leaving Juneau
 Our third port was Skagway.  The town has only about 900 permanent residents, but an interesting history.  It was the beginning point for the Klondike Gold Rush in 1896-98.  We rode on the White Pass and Yukon Railroad, which was built along the route the gold seekers traveled but not completed until 1900, after the short-lived rush ended.  It is a beautiful three hour round trip to the summit and passes briefly across the Canadian border.  At the top we were in snowy surroundings with the bluest ponds of melted snow.
Climbing the mountains

the Canadian border
At the top of the pass

coming down from the pass

the other train along the cliffs

crossing one of the bridges

town of Skagway

railroad station
The day after Skagway we sailed into Glacier Bay National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Two USFS Park Rangers boarded the ship to narrate the day’s travels.  Not all cruise ships get permits to enter the park, that was an advantage of sailing with Holland America since it is one of the cruise lines that has been sailing Alaska for many years.  There are fifteen tidewater glaciers in the park, which is only accessible by ship or plane.  The most exciting part of the visit was stopping by the Margerie Glacier for about an hour.  This glacier is about a mile wide and 21 miles long, and is one of the few glaciers that is not in retreat.  The ship’s captain had told us that if we watched it, we would probably see some calving (when chucks of ice break off).  Well we hit a spectacular day of calving; the best the crew and rangers said they’d ever seen.  We saw and heard (they make a loud crash) many large chunks break off, one that was enormous.  They bay is full of ice chunks, but they are not big enough to be considered icebergs that could endanger ships. 

entering Glacier Bay National Park

approaching Margerie Glacier

splash from calving

calving ice

inside the bay

passengers obsering from the bow

From Glacier Bay National Park we headed out of the inside passage and across the Pacific for a day at sea.  We ended the day with dining on filet minion and lobster, a “Dancing With the Stars” competition of passengers that had taken the offered dance classes, and some music and dancing in the Crow’s Nest.  We arrived in Seward the next morning where we disembarked from the cruise ship to finish week one of our Alaska trip. Next week I’ll write about our land travels into the mainland.