I love Alaska. I’ve been several times for business trips – which I always extend so that I can spend some time enjoying the scenery and wildlife. The first time I went to Alaska I was extremely lucky and got to see the Northern Lights. It was such a magical experience and great way to start a trip to Alaska. On my first trip, I got to experience Alaska like a local since I spent 3 weeks working in Anchorage. Then, with all the great tips I gathered from the people I worked with, I ventured out for a weeks long vacation. During the week, I saw whales, grizzly bears, sea lions and much more. The amazing experience convinced me that I had to head back for a proper vacation. And so that is exactly what I did, I went on an Alaskan cruise.
My Alaskan Cruise Diary – (this is actually a diary I kept each day and I’m sharing with you all now)
Day 1 – Vancouver
I’m trying to forget about work and getting ready to depart on my 7 day cruise to Alaska. We departed from the port of Vancouver with a beautiful sunset in the background and the Olympic venues getting smaller and smaller on the horizon. My first impression is that a stateroom is definitely the way to go…but three girls in a room will definitely be a challenge! I’m not sure everyone will be alive (or speaking) by the end of the trip.
The room is a bit old and in need of renovation. We upgraded to the “Concierge Class” and the room was a bit smaller than I expected, the decor is a little tacky but it is very nice to have a balcony . The service is great. Everyone is attentive and willing to provide anything we need. Room service is no additional fee for concierge class passengers – kinda nice, but we never ended up using it.
Day 2 – At Sea
I’m getting used to the ship rocking and swaying it’s a new feeling. It’s a quite large ship with many things to see and do. It’s much, much colder than I expected. Summer in Alaska can be cold. I bought a hat and gloves onboard today and I’m very happy spending most of the day on deck 11 watching for whales. It is so beautiful. The scenery is amazing and I can’t put down my camera. The average age of the people on the cruise is about….70, so when we arrive at dinner and find everyone at our table between the ages of 30 and 45 we’re very happy. There’s a very nice couple from Toronto, two women from Greenville, SC (no kidding) a couple from St. Petersburg (she works for the same hospital system i used to work for) a single guy from Australia (he’s a long, long way from home…and a bit odd) and the three of us ladies.
As expected, the close quarters in the cabin are going to make for an interesting trip.
Day 3 – Ketchikan
Two words – tourist trap. I found the shops to be cheesy and filled with magnets, key chains, and t-shirts. A quick walk through town, a few phone calls (I’ve got 3G, woohoo!) and back to the ship for a spa day. My friends went on the Lumberjack show excursion, but I couldn’t force myself to go see lumberjacks. The spa is very nice and offering specials on excursion days. Fabulous pedicure, mini-facial, hot stone massage and reflexology. Sweet! From the treatment rooms, I have a great view of the mountains. So glad I skipped the lumberjacks, this is the way to go. It is very, very cold and only a few whale spotting’s today.
The Spa – on a normal “at sea” day, the prices are extremely high, but luckily during excursions they offer great specials. Some specials are too good to pass up! One tip, make sure you’re not in a treatment room that shares a wall with the gym. During one of my treatments all I could hear was the sound of machines clanking and a really loud spin class going on.
Day 4 – Icy Point Straits
This is interesting, no port, just a dock that we take small tender boats to. Whale watching today. I am so obsessed with seeing whales again that I have book two excursions today, yup, two! We take the tender to the dock and meet at the fish house in Icy Point Straits.
The town, if you can call it that, is run by the Hoonah Indian Tribe. The docks opened up in 1994 after the salmon cannery closed. Until then, it was only used by fisherman. I just can’t contain my excitement as I board the catamaran and head out to sea in search of whales. 15 humpback whales spotted on the trip. Success! It was awesome. The whales are beautiful, graceful and majestic giants. Before I even know it, the first whale watching trip of the day is over.
With nothing to do in Icy Straits and the rain coming down, it’s back to the ship to wait for the second excursion. The girls and I head out for Whales and Wine (or in my case, Sprite) and anticipate even more whale sightings. The trip turns out to be stellar. There are two whales doing what whales almost never do in Alaska. They were breaching! Bodies fully out of the water splashing down on the surface. (For the record, humpback whales reserve this behavior for mating season and so you usually only see this in Hawaii. The naturalist onboard speculates that the whales are young males practicing this behavior.) The second whale excursion is way better than the first one of the day. Back to ship for dinner.
Food: The dinners in the main dining room were good, they exceeded my expectations for a cruise dining room. We were very pleased to learn that they matched us up at our table with people our age and it was fun to catch up with everyone and see what the other had done. Drinks were very, very expensive. Drink packages are worth it if you drink a lot… alcohol or soft drinks alike. Only water and black drip coffee were free. Specialty coffee drinks were quite expensive too – they gave Starbucks a run for their money!
Lunches were not so good. The main buffet got boring very quickly. The grill was okay, but you can’t eat burgers and hotdogs every day! Breakfast was the best meal of the day in my opinion. They had a ton of choices and even though it was “buffet” there were serves dishing out the food (seemed more hygenic that way).
The best meal we had was in the specialty dining room, The Olympic. It was fabulous! I would eat there again! Service was spectacular and the meal was one to remember. Such a treat!
Day 5 – Juneau
Guess what I’m doing today? Whale watching. I wanted to be sure I saw whales on this trip. Boy, did I get lucky. The day started with a trip to Mendenhall Glacier. We were on our own to hike and explore. I saw a black bear from the distance, it looked like a fuzzy spot, but the park ranger said it was a bear. Then I explored the glacier. Got some great photos.
Next, off for 3 hours of whale watching. At first, I was a little underwhelmed but then, the boat sped up and the captain said hold on. There were Orca whales in the distance and she was going to try to get us there to see them. Only 10% of visitors to Alaska are lucky enough to see Orca – Killer Whales. And today, I found out why they have their name. There was a family of 4 Orcas that had come across a sea lion and were hunting it down. Meanwhile, two humpbacks had come to the aid of the sea lion. The sea lion was on the back of the humpback trying to escape the jaws of the Killer Whales. The Killer Whales thrashed and dove trying to get the sea lion and the humpbacks used their massive dorsal fin to defend it. After about 30 minutes, the sea lion was in the water (Auke Bay to be exact) and would eventually fall pray to the killer whales. The tour guides, naturalist and captain were in awe and so were we. We had witnessed (and photographed) what people from national geographic spend an entire career trying to catch on film. By the time the spectacle was over, there were 5 whale watching vessels, 3 humpbacks, 4 Killer whales and one very dead sea lion. It was a once in a lifetime experience. If i didn’t have the pictures, I might have thought I was dreaming.
Day 6 – Skagway
Yet another very rainy day. It’s cold, very cold again..and i really didn’t pack well (go figure) but I am so glad I went to Eddie Bauer before i left and got a fleece vest, a fleece and a waterproof jacket, they have saved me! Today my excursion is a train ride to the White Pass Trail – otherwise known as the Dead Horse Trail. Beautiful scenery and majestic views, but a little on the boring side. However, quite peaceful and relaxing. Skagway is also one of those tourist trap towns. I stuck to the scenery and avoided all the shops.
Excursions – Boy, are they EXPENSIVE! I learned a tip from the more experienced cruisers…book on your own. Don’t book through the cruise line. The whale watching was great, I would do that over and over….but I wouldn’t pay the high prices the cruise lines offered. In almost every port, there were tour vendors set up offereing the same tours at lower prices and all of them had online sites to pre-book.
Day 7 – At Sea and Cruising the Hubbard Glacier/ Glacier Bay
I get a 6:45 am wakeup call to be on deck by 7:15 when we enter Glacier Bay. WOW! What an amazing sight. It is magnificent. The glacier is huge, there is just no other way to describe it. There are harbor seals everywhere, and they’re playing on the icebergs that have broken away from the glacier.
The glacier calves and the ice comes tumbling down and splashes in the water. Just amazing. I took about 1000 pictures until my fingers and ears were frozen. It’s about 35 degrees out….high today of about 50. Now, I’m sitting here typing this diary from the deck of a cruise ship on my iPad. Dolphins darting here and there on the side of the ship, an occasional whale spotting and the most amazing view of the mountains. This is glorious. This is why I love Alaska so much. Tomorrow we end up in Seward and take a little land tour before heading back to Anchorage.
Entertainment – I didn’t go to any of the “shows” they all sounded a bit silly – nothing like what you’d find in Vegas. My friends who did go confirmed my suspicions. They didn’t go back to see any other shows. The other onboard entertainers were okay. Some much better than others. There was a guitar player who was good, but we went back a few times and he played the exact same songs, in the same order, with the same jokes every night. There was trivia, which was fun when we weren’t the only ones who showed up. I don’t want to brag or anything, but I think people were scared they couldn’t beat me Overall, entertainment was average. Nothing to write home about. However, all the staff members were great and really did do their best to make sure we had fun.
Day 8 – Back to Anchorage
As I suspected, 7 days in a cabin with three girls took its toll. The 2 1/2 hour ride back to Anchorage was painful. We had all had it. It rained almost the entire way back, but we did manage to stop for lunch at really bad diner and we spent about an hour at the Alaska Wildlife rescue center. Once back in Alaska, we all went on our own way – me to the airport and the girls – well, I’m not sure where they went actually. I was just happy to be alone for a while.
What I learned from the trip?
1) A cruise is a great way to see Alaska
2) Three adults in a cruise ship cabin is a great way to destroy friendships
3) I wouldn’t cruise again, unless it was to Alaska. I found that while it’s the perfect way to see Alaska, I wouldn’t be happy cruising elsewhere.
4) Get a balcony, it’s worth the extra money!
5) Pack warm and layer!
Here a few more photos from my first trip to Alaska – All of these animals were seen from the safety of a tour-bus. If you ever have the chance, I would highly recommend a trip to Alaska. I will be back for another visit soon!