In June of 2009, members of my family and I had the privilege of spending ten days on an Alaskan cruise, touring some of the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen. This blog entry recaps the itinerary of our journey, and provides links to my media collection on Flickr. Below, you’ll find links to slide shows for each topic or location, as well as a link to the entire trip collection. While it may be tempting to jump to the entire collection, the slide shows have segments of the trip separated for easier browsing.
My wife Terie, daughter Kelcey and I sailed out of the port of San Francisco on June 22, 2009 on the Princess Line’s Sea Princess. While it’s not the biggest cruise liner in operation, it certainly was big enough for our needs. I would estimate that it is about two-thirds the size of the largest ships out there with possibly about half the passengers (in our case, about 2,000). In my opinion, this ship seemed less crowded than other cruises.
During the 10-day cruise, we enjoyed a mix of dedicated “at sea” days, and four enjoyable ports-of-call. These stops included the Alaskan port towns of Ketchikan and Skagway, as well as the state’s capital Juneau. We also enjoyed spending “Canada Day” in Victoria, British Columbia.
Even though the ship’s schedule included continuous activities while at sea, the three of us preferred to spend quiet days lounging or walking around the promenade deck, sitting in the ship’s library, hanging around up by the pool, sitting up on the 14th floor buffet dining room (yes, the 14th floor…they really stack the decks on cruise liners), or in the case of our daughter, spending time in the teen-oriented areas.
After two full days at Sea, steaming North through turbulent waters with 15-foot swells, our first port of call, Ketchikan, is by no means a small, quiet fishing village. It is in fact one of the state’s five largest cities, and the southern most port along Alaska’s Panhandle. While it may seem like an Alaskan vacation would provide one with quiet solicitude, and peaceful repose, the truth of the matter is that the ports are crowded with cruise line tourists. In Ketchikan and Juneau, the Sea Princess was one of three cruise liners moored at the docks, and in Skagway, a little town on the Northernmost end of our voyage, this little one road town easily absorbed 2,000 of us cruisers! Managing the vital tourist trade for these little communities has been dialed into a fine art. Even the skeptic in me was impressed at the magnitude.
Our Ketchikan experience was two-fold. First, we embarked on a little tour of the outskirts, which included some really picturesque scenic locations, including a spot of nesting bald eagles (dang it, I forgot my long lens on the ship!!!). This included a really cool encounter with a couple of locals who just happened to be slogging up from the shore, with huge loads of freshly caught salmon on their backs. They told us that they caught as much as they could in the Summer and smoked it for the harsh Alaskan Winter.
We also were treated to a tour of the Saxon Native Village Totem Pole Grounds, where the traditions of this art form are passed down. This apparently is the largest collection of totem poles in the state. On one hand, it was pretty touristry, but the history of it all was fascinating. They even had celebrity totems! Yup, Abe Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward (of Seward’s folly fame) each had their own pole.
Well, this has to be the biggest little town in the state of Alaska. You would be correct if you thought that Anchorage was the largest city in the state, but even though there have been numerous attempts to relocate the capital to the larger city, this seaside town remains the seat of power.
Our journey here also included a driving guided tour. This included Sarah Palin’s home (or actually the governor’s residence. But if Sarah ain’t there, who cares!), and other fairly mundane locales. However our really cool excursion was our trip out to Mendenhall Glacier (above)! Since it was the first glacier that I’d ever seen up close, I was particularly impressed. The combination of the glacier, the ‘bergs which have calved off of the front of the glacier (which is now in retreat up the slope), and the huge cascading waterfall—which in itself would have been worth the trek—was also magnificent.
What a cool little town! One road (there are a few others, but none that mattered) and one purpose: a perfect little snapshot of what one would expect from a small Alaskan town with a cruise liner parking space at the end of the main drag! Quite literally, the cruise ship “parks” at the end of “Main Street, Alaska” (actually I think it was called Broadway), and along its 10 or so blocks, you can find quaint shops, a good mix of small eateries, three bars—each with their own distinct local charm, and quite an impressive local museum (and for a town of about 800 residents!). All this under blustery partly cloudy skies in the mid -70’s! An amazing day! On this day we opted not to take any of the pre-packaged tours, and instead enjoyed strolling through this quaint town.
Tracey Arm Fjord
Early the morning of Monday, June 29, we entered Tracey Arm, a Fjord made essentially from centuries of receding glacial melt. It was through the arm that we were bound for the remains of that massive ice shelf: Sawyer Glacier. The pictures speak for themselves.
Victoria, BC, Canada
I’m of mixed feelings about Victoria. An amazing coincidence was that our visit on July 1 was on “Canada Day” (basically like our Fourth of July). Great potential, but our visit was really short—we were only there from about 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. I’m thinking that the real killer goings-on were to happen later in the day. Oh well.
The highlight was that we just happened to see a water taxi ballet choreographed to The Blue Danube. In my jaded opinion, it seemed a little hokey, but the crowd—including one patriotic Canadian who was thrilled with the performance—really was very enthusiastic. That, and some aimless wandering downtown and around the inner harbor pretty much capped off our day in Victoria.
Southward Bound for Home
That afternoon, we “let go ropes” as the captain would say, and began our voyage South to San Francisco. The following day, Thursday, July 2, was a day at sea, which was an excellent opportunity to relax and begin our preparations to disembark on Friday.
All in all, I would say it was a wonderful time, and in my opinion, I hope this will not be my last visit to this terrific state.