I’d heard a cruise is the best way to see the beauty and glory of Alaska, a true adventure in this rugged and often frozen land. From Talkeetna, just outside Denali, we took the Alaska railroad directly to our ship waiting near Anchorage. Our history filled ride included fun facts, games, cocktails, lunch and a spontaneous cigarette break with the train conductor on the side of the tracks. We were waiting for the ship’s customs crew to board, so my husband and I disembarked with him for a quick smoke. The ride looked pretty, but not breathtaking like I expected.
The first two days at sea we enjoyed a scenic cruise across the Gulf of Alaska to Yakutat Bay and the famed Hubbard Glacier. From a distance the massive Glacier emitted vivid shades of turquoise, but I didn’t feel up close and personal with my first glacier experience. After admiring the outside beauty we explored our ship, the Star Princess. The outside decks were windy, cold and drizzly while the inside bars were toasty, lively and jovial. We found our preferred drinking spot with music and a view. Spiked apple cider became my Alaska cruise ship drink.
The following day we cruised Glacier Bay National Park with its scenic natural beauty. Unlike the previous day, Lamplugh Glacier took my breath away. Awe inspiring off our stern I could see its height, depth and complexity. We watched glacier calving several times where chunks of ice plunged into the sea, hearing it splash minutes after. The glacier’s height towered above our fourteen-floored ship. The captain performed a slow 360 degree turn as I admired it from the bow, the starboard side and our port side balcony.
The next morning our captain announced. “Attention ladies and gentlemen. I regret to tell you we are unable to port in Skagway. Winds are exceeding 50 miles an hour and we made three attempts. We are now heading to Juneau for a late afternoon arrival.”
Ugh. I was eager to disembark the ship and explore Skagway. I even planned an early run in the quaint town. I later learned from another passenger who was awake at 5:00 am, that the ship was leaning to one side. Later in the afternoon I met a crew member who was aboard the Costa Concordia when it sank.
“At the captain’s last attempt, the boat was listing.” He said, taking a long draw from his cigarette. “I was on the Concordia when it ran aground.”
“Oh, better safe than sorry.” I said.
“It’s the first time in two years we’ve missed port. Very unusual.” His eyes appeared full of grief and regret.
Late afternoon I watched an eagle soar off the stern as we pulled into Juneau. Our unexpected arrival left us without a dock, so we anchored using tenders to shuffle passengers to port.
Tourist shops littered main street, so my husband and I explored side streets to get away from Princess owned shops. I try to find beauty in everything but the capital had little to offer. We stumbled upon a historic bar resembling a brothel. It had character so we had a few beers prior to returning to our ship.
The next day they canceled our anticipated helicopter sled dog expedition , leaving us to scramble for an excursion. We quickly booked a whale sightseeing tour. We watched humpbacks play and breach in the Pacific Ocean, majestically waving a fin or flipping a tail. They were simply amazing, making our stop in Juneau worthwhile.
Ketchikan was the cutest town we visited, but then again we only had two ports in Alaska. The town had a nice layout, totem poles decorated the town and it had plenty of excursions. It seemed like the seaplane capital of the world, so we choose a floatplane, bear sightseeing air adventure. A true bush pilot, our captain flew just above the tree tops, dipped into valleys and avoided fishing nets while landing on a lake where we quietly waited for a bear sighting. Standing alongside the pilot on one of the floats, I watched an eagle perched in a tree. We waited as dead salmon floated by, the other four passengers still sitting in the plane. A mother and cub black bear came to the water’s edge and then quickly disappeared.
“We’re stuck on the rocks.” The pilot said attempting to take off. “We need to wait for the tide to come in.”
“What? That could take a while.” My husband said. “Let’s get out and push, it will also lighten the load.”
The two of them pushed us away from shore and within no time we were airborne, soaring above trees with steep turns and an open window allowing cold air to fill the cockpit.
That evening my husband’s forehead radiated extreme heat, so I called the ship’s doctor. His temperature read 102 degrees and they tested him for flu.
“You have type A influenza, and we need to quarantine you for 24 hours. That means you can’t leave you’re room and nobody can enter your room.”
At that moment he was so ill he didn’t seem to care. But he asked, “How many people are quarantined?
“Over a hundred.”
They gave both of us medicine. Since I was exposed, but not sick I had to take medicine although I was free to come and go. I’d be his slave for the next 24 hours.
“It was the cold air that did me in.” He said, referring to the open cockpit window.
His quarantine lasted until the night before disembarkation in Vancouver. By that time he was feeling better and had cabin fever while I made friends with the bartenders. I checked his progress regularly, bringing him drinks and room service. It’s no fun being sick on a cruise, unable to leave your room. Equally as frustrated, I quickly became bored without a partner.
Vancouver was simply amazing and my favorite city along our cruise. We stayed three extra days, a welcomed and lovely part of our adventure. We rode bikes, visited farmer’s markets, strolled the park and enjoyed our rooftop view of the city.
Would I recommend visiting Alaska?
Absolutely. It has so much natural beauty and plenty to see, but I think it’s a matter a travel style. I’m a land lover and I don’t like days at sea without a port on someone else’s agenda. If you like the cruising lifestyle then it’s a great way to experience Alaska. I’d prefer to travel this great state by RV or small airplane adventure with plenty of time.
Leaving Vancouver we were singled out for extra inspection in U.S. customs and immigration. After an hour of waiting and watching the clock in a separate room they called us for questioning. I realized our plane had left.
“Why do you have so many stamps to the Bahamas?”
“We own a place in Bimini, and as pilots it’s a quick 20 minute flight.”
It was a long two-day flight home due to our flight rescheduling. Once home, I had a comfortable and peaceful night, but knew the hassles of travel would not stop me from planning our next adventure.