A Travellerspoint blog

Day 25 - Saturday 23rd may 2015

Whittier and Anchorage

rain 14 °C

Alarm woke us at 5am today as we had to disembark the cruise ship early. We had docked in Whittier sometime after midnight, so we got ourselves ready and grabbed a quick coffee and breakfast and by 6:45am we were heading off the ship. The wonderful cruise was over, it was an amazing experience and some of the sights can never be seen again. Thoroughly recommend everyone does an Alaskan cruise at least once in their lifetime.

I had arranged to hire a car at the dock although it didn't open until 8am so we had a little time to wait. We finally got the car and quickly packed it and headed off, as the only way out to drive is through a single lane tunnel under a mountain. The tunnel only allows cars to travel north to Anchorage to enter within a fifteen minute window each hour, luckily we made it just after 8am. The tunnel is a straight line road and rail track that seems to stretch about 2-3kms in a dead straight lane, quite an interesting drive.

Once we exited the tunnel we had a short drive to our first planned stop, the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Centre. This is a non profit refuge were they find injured wildlife and care for them until ready to be released back into the wild. As such it was only $12.50 to enter, and you can drive around the circuit to each of the viewing areas. Just as well, as it was cold and the wind was blowing a gale, dust flying everywhere.

At the centre we saw Elk, Deer, a fox, a bald eagle that had been there 20 years coz it had its wing amputated, bison and musk ox, but only saw one black bear and he was hiding in his cave but you could still see it. Probably hoped to have seen more animals here but that was all they had.

We drove nearly 100 kms from there to Anchorage where we were staying the night. We stopped at the 5th St Mall for lunch, found a local supermarket to buy a couple of things then headed to our hotel after that. Given we'd had a late night and little sleep, we decided to catch a quick nap as we were going out tonight. We both fell asleep easily and I got a full hour sleep and let Vicky sleep a little longer.

We woke and got ready for our night out. I had organised a WIFOMN (my Facebook group "What's In Front Of Me Now") dinner here in Anchorage as there were a few residents here in the group. Two of the members Tim and Julie (who I have been friends with in Facebook for a little while) offered to host it at their house. We got their early, as I had a few gifts for them and also gave us a chance to prepare Vegemite on bread and fairy bread. Most Americans haven't tried either so we had to give them a taste.

Soon the others started to arrive, Tim's sister Lisa and husband Wayne who live in Maine were holidaying in Anchorage visiting their sons Aaron and Zack, who had also brought their girlfriends Bree and Tammy. Tim n Julie's son TJ was there with his wife Kaylee and twin daughters November and Elicia. A little while later Laura arrived with her husband Marvin, and towards the end Julie's sister Stephanie also came.

We were treated to a range of bbq sausage foremost reindeer sausage which neither of us had tried before, it certainly was very spicy. They also had bratwurst, Italian and chicken, pineapples, bacon ones too. Tim and Julie are home beer brewers and collectors, their beer cellar under their house is amazing, hundreds of bottles of beers, some so unique they are worth $1,000, it was all very cool to see.

We got the whole WIFOMN group to pose for pics as I had given them all a WIFOMN tee shirt I had brought from home. The night was a blast, so many laughs and the whole crowd were so nice and friendly that we all clicked instantly. As with all things that are fun, the hours just flew by and soon it was time to go.

We had no plans for an early start tomorrow. We got back to our hotel and Vicky hit the sack while I stayed up until 2am checking emails, Facebook etc before hitting the pillow.

Posted by Ace from Oz 18:18 Archived in USA Tagged alaska anchorage whittier Comments (0)

Day 24 - Friday 22nd May 2015

College Fjord, Alaska

sunny 18 °C

Today was the last full day of our cruise, it was spent aboard the ship. We both slept in a little and woke up feeling a little unwell, grabbed our usual breakfast and headed to the main theatre. The head chef was doing a cooking demonstration, but the main reason we went was after the demonstration we could tour through one of the ship's galleys. I guess you can never appreciate the enormity of the kitchens and the planning that must go into feeding about 2,700 people on a cruise ship. We only got to walk through part of the galley but you could see the size of it and only wonder how hectic it would be around dinner time.

As I wasn't feeling the best I took some medication and had a nap back in our cabin. Given we woke late and ate breakfast late, by the time I got up from my nap we went to the buffet for lunch late also. We didn't eat a lot but still we finished up there around 3:30pm. We ran into Tracy, who we had dinner with two nights earlier and so we arranged to dine together for our last dinner.

I made it down to afternoon trivia but it was a waste of time as all the questions were about Alaska so had little chance especially playing on my own. We weren't meeting for dinner until 8pm, but being our last night we had to pack our suitcases and have them outside our cabin by 6pm for collection. The ship is due to dock at 12:30am, and we were rostered to meet for disembarkation at 6:40am so all bags had to be outside our cabin tonight.

The ship cruised up to our final scenic viewing point, College Fjord. The fjord is home to over 20 glaciers, and they are all named after American colleges - hence the name of the fjord. Similar to yesterday, the ship stopped at the far end of the fjord and rotated around so we caught a sight of the glaciers from our cabin balcony. Unfortunately none were calving so we saw no ice chunks breaking off today. After about an hour there, the ship turned and headed off to our final destination.

We met up with Tracy for dinner just after 8pm, it was the latest dinner we'd had all cruise. Naturally by the time we'd finished and were chatting it was after 9:30pm and think we were the last ones left in the restaurant. We'd missed all the shows on tonight unfortunately, so we went back to the cabin and finished packing. Despite being nearly 11pm, we still had remnants of daylight and we sat on the balcony for a while admiring the serenity of the water and the surrounding snow capped mountains. We even saw dolphins beside our ship as we cruised slowly towards our final stop at Whittier. By 11pm we could see the lights of Whittier ahead but decided we should get some sleep as we were waking at 5am to get ready for disembarking.

Posted by Ace from Oz 02:16 Archived in USA Tagged college_fjord Comments (0)

Day 23 - Thursday 21st May 2015

Scenic Cruising in Glacier Bay National Park

sunny 20 °C

The second last full day of our cruise, we had sailed through the night and by early morning had entered the Glacier Bay National Park. The ship had picked up a Park Ranger at 6:15am while we slept and by the time we got up and showered we were well within the park. As the name suggests the bay is home to many inlets and glaciers and today we stopped in front of two specific glaciers to observe and admire them.

We grabbed a quick breakfast from the international cafe again - we seem to enjoy that rather than lining up with the masses at the buffet - and ate it in our room as the ship had stopped at the first glacier, the Lamplugh Glacier. Hoping to see some "calving" - where the ice breaks of the glacier and fall into to the water - but not really evident on this glacier, we watched it from our balcony. The boat hovered in front of the glacier for about an hour, even rotating around 180 degrees so all passengers could get a glimpse.

From this point we headed deeper into the bay, to the furthest point where two glaciers were visible. The Grand Pacific glacier in front of the ship had already carved its way into the mountain so the tail of the glacier was now several hundred metres up land. To the side of the side was the Margerie Glacier and we spent about an hour staring at it as the glacier tail touched water. The entire ship sat there mesmerised staring at this giant piece of ice as every so often a chunk would break off and fall into the water. This only happened randomly so all camera and videos were poised to catch the action. With no other noise around us, you could actually hear the thunderous cracking of the ice from beyond our view. Although you couldn't see the ice cracking inland you could certainly hear it, it was definitely another amazing experience. The noise of the ice crashing into the water echoed around us also.

The ship stayed about an hour at this glacier before turning and heading back out of the bay. We had over a full day of sailing before our next destination, which was the College Fjord. We were not expected to arrive until 6pm tomorrow.

We both had a nap in our cabin - despite it being a day where we slept in a little and had no itinerary, we still seemed tired. Whilst Vicky slept I went to the afternoon trivia. We weren't starving for dinner so decided to head down at 7pm to get a table, tonight was the second of the formal nights for dinner. Unlike the last time we chose to eat at 7pm, tonight we got a table straight away. The theme for dinner was Alaskan cuisine, rather than the normal amount of dishes I'd been having I was happy with just 2, and dessert of course!

Our entertainment after dinner was a marriage style game show where they got three married couples on stage and proceeded to ask them questions. They took the women out of the room so the men could answer the questions, the women then came back in and had to answer the same questions. Lots of laughs and definitely a mature audience experience given the contents of the questions and answers! They then took the men out of the room to ask the women more questions. All good fun and entertaining.

We went to the midship plaza, Princess Cruises is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, so at 11pm they had a balloon drop from overheard. Some balloons had prizes in them. We weren't close enough to even get a balloon. Still it was a crowd gathering and they had music and singing. By the time we headed to our cabin it was around 11:30pm, we got to bed knowing we could sleep in tomorrow as it was a sailing day.

Posted by Ace from Oz 02:14 Archived in USA Tagged glacier_bay Comments (0)

Day 22 - Wednesday 20th May

Skagway, Alaska - White Pass Summit, Yukon River Suspension Bridge and Jewell Gardens

sunny 20 °C

An early rise today, up by 5:30am as we had to be on the pier by 7:20am. Rather than get breakfast from the buffet we instead went to the international cafe, which is where we've been buying our barista style coffees. They have all types of pastries but also do a hot food snack. So for a quick breakfast today we had a toasted bacon, egg, cheese muffin, a coffee and a pastry.

We disembarked quickly as most people were still sleeping, and boarded our motor coach who ferried us down to the the rail depot. We boarded the White Pass and Yukon Railroad train for what turned out to be an absolutely spectacular train ride. The train leaves Skagway, at sea level, and makes it way up to the White Pass Summit over 3,000 feet above sea level. The first half of the trip is through the trees, and you get see lot of small waterfalls from the melting snow above, and the raging river these falls turn into.

The railroad was built in just two years, and was started in 1898. It is an amazing piece of work, to wind its way through the rugged terrain and across bridges and through tunnels. Whilst we had large windows for viewing the scenery, we were also allowed to stand outside at the end of the carriages. Once the train started hitting the higher snow filled mountains I was so captivated by what I was seeing that I stayed outside for the remainder of the trip. Despite the cold wind caused by the moving train, it was just breathtaking to see all the mountains, frozen lakes and rivers on both sides of you as your train moved through the rugged terrain. Another experience where words simply cannot describe what the eyes saw. But I will say if you're reading this and get to go on an Alaskan cruise and it stops in Skagway, then this rail trip is an absolute must.

The train ride was just under 28 miles but our arrival point was actually back across the Canadian border so we had to show passports to the customs officers who boarded the train. Once we were all clear we jumped off at a place called Fraser to take a few pics and then got on board our motor coach, who had driven up to this meeting point whilst we were on the train. We were driven to the Yukon River Suspension Bridge, we got to walk around the cliff edge and then crossed over the river on the steel cabled bridge, whilst looking at the raging river below. We had an hour there to look around before again boarding our motor coach.

Our driver then proceeded to take us down the steep road towards Skagway, also offering a photo stop to take some more pics. We were driven to Jewell Gardens close to town where we had a light lunch and were given a tour of the gardens. Everything grown there is organic, no chemicals or other agents used. It was a small place compared to Butchart Gardens but well maintained. Apparently Skagway is known as the rhubarb capital due to the abundance of the vegetable there.

After the gardens we were dropped backed at our ship. Both of us were tired as we'd done a lot from an early start. We just chilled out on our balcony, something we really hadn't done yet, and caught up on our travel blogs and diaries. Last night we'd arranged to have dinner today with one of the couples we met on the first night who we keep running into. They wanted to meet at 6pm so we had a couple of hours to relax before then.

Our dinner friends were Bob and Freda, a retired couple that live in Arizona. Bob is a Vietnam Vet, so through the cruise has told us a few stories which were quite amazing. They seem to travel a bit, and from their lifestyle don't seem to struggle with money. Bob wakes up early each morning back home and day trades on the stock market, so he must do ok there also.

After dinner we headed to the theatre to watch an entertainer called Jessie Hamilton. He was a young singer who got his first big break playing Simba in the theatre production of The Lion King, both in USA and Germany. Full of energy and a good singer, he also involved the audience in his show. After the show Vicky retired to bed, I wandered over to one of the lounges to watch one of the game shows the cruise staff had arranged. I also tried my hand at the roulette table in the casino, unsuccessfully of course. In all the times I've played roulette not once have I ever come out even or in front, there must be a lesson there somewhere I guess. With my tail between my legs I headed off to bed as it was now midnight.

Posted by Ace from Oz 02:09 Archived in USA Tagged skagway white_pass Comments (0)

Day 21 - Tuesday 19th May 2015

Juneau, Alaska - Medenhall Glacier, a salmon bake and a Duck Fart

sunny 24 °C

We woke early at 6am in order to get ready and have our breakfast before disembarking from our ship. We had two tours arranged, so we ate and were downstairs to line up to get off the ship. As we had only docked a short while earlier it felt like half the ship was lined up, the queue to get off snaked to the other side of the floor and all the way back to the rear of the ship. Despite this, it moved quickly and we were on land in 10-15mins.

Our first tour was something highly recommended to us and something we were definitely looking forward to. We were driven out to the airport where we were given a safety demonstration and given ice walking boots that fitted over our regular shoes. We were ushered outside and into a helicopter for the flight to Medenhall glacier. We were treated to an amazing flight, we soared up over the trees of the city side of the mountains and once we flew over the ridge we were bedazzled by the mountains and snow all around. The helicopter flew close so we could see everything so clearly. We flew towards the centre of the glacier for viewing then banked around and landed on the glacier itself. The weather at ground level before taking off was a very balmy 20 degrees Celsius, but when we stepped out onto the glacier there was an icy wind that was very cold.

We spent about 25 minutes walking around on the glacier, following a tour guide who was showing and explaining the glacier itself. We saw a river of melting ice flowing through a crevasse, a smaller crevasse where we could stand over and peer down at the transparent ice. The surrounding terrain was beautiful, truly a fantastic experience to be standing there. I believe the glacier itself is about 12 miles long, and melting rapidly at a rate that can fill an Olympic pool every few seconds.

When our time on the glacier was up, we caught the helicopter back down to sea level at the airport. There was a bus there waiting for us that took us to a salmon bake, next to Gold Creek. We weren't hungry as yet so walked up the track to see the waterfall and take pics. Lunch consisted of seafood chowder, various salads and of course the famous salmon bake. Fillets of sockeye salmon are cooked en masse over an open fire of alderwood which apparently gives the salmon its smoky flavour. It was very tender and nice to eat although filling.

We caught a bus back to the ship, we basically just went to our room and dumped our heavy clothing as the weather had warmed up even more, it felt almost like summer despite our location. We disembarked once again and we walked towards the heart of town to browse at shops and we spent time in the library as it had free wifi and it was the first time we had internet since we set sail on Saturday from Vancouver.

We wandered over to probably the most famous saloon in Juneau - The Red Dog Saloon. Another icon that I was told we had to visit. It's a replica of the same named saloon from the gold rush years. You walk in the swinging red saloon doors onto a wooden floor covered in sawdust, there's the 75yo piano player entertaining the crowd with bawdy songs and keeping everyone laughing. We sat at the bar more so to soak in the atmosphere, but you can't visit a famous drinking hole and not partake! Vicky ordered her standard vodka, lime and soda but something behind the bar caught my eye, it was Fireball whisky. Had never tried one before, never even heard of it until a few weeks ago but I tried a shot. It was cinnamon flavoured whisky, and the cinnamon was certainly overpowering - you could barely taste the whisky! So of course I ordered a second one! Vicky got her second drink and I had my arm twisted to try their own created shot - the "Duck Fart". Interesting name, it was made of a shot each of baileys, kahlua and whisky, each one layered. Down in one gulp it went! Great fun place for a drink and atmosphere.

We wandered around town a bit more but by now had had enough of souvenir shopping so we headed back to the a ship again. The drinks at the saloon had filled us up so we didn't head down to dinner until 7pm. As the ship wasn't sailing until 9pm, there was no queue for dinner so we got a table straight away as people were still on land. We overheard the waiter talking to the lady at the next table as she was dining alone. Vicky then asked her to join us for dinner, rather than eat alone. So we made a new friend, Tracy who lives in Vancouver joined us. Dinner was Italian themed, so it was nice to have some old favourites like rockmelon and prosciutto, minestrone, pasta with meatballs and veal scalloppini. All the dishes were very nice and mixed with two shots of limoncello where I got to keep the shot glasses after drinking.

After dinner we went to the Princess Theatre to watch comedian Steve Bruner. We had seen him two nights earlier and he was funny yet again. It was a late showing, by the time it finished and we got back to the room it was after 11pm. We had a early start the next morning so within a few minutes we'd both hit the sack and were asleep.

Posted by Ace from Oz 02:06 Archived in USA Tagged salmon glacier medenhall Comments (0)

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