Alaskan Wonderland

For many years, I have wanted to visit Alaska. Finally, I was able to make that trip a reality via a recent seven day cruise.

In August 2012, I was spending time with my best friend on one of our many visits over the years. Our father’s had worked at the same company, so Karen and I have been friends since the tender age of three! Thankfully, we have made the effort to spend time together whenever possible despite only living in the same state for the first few years of our friendship.

I happened to receive a solicitation phone call regarding a vacation deal. Normally, I dismiss those type of calls right away, but Karen and I were having such an enjoyable time at that VERY moment, we made the salesperson happy when we each purchased a package. A few months later we booked the Alaskan cruise. So, the anticipation had been building for quite awhile. Karen, Johnny (her son), Rick and I, just spent a week aboard the Norwegian Jewel cruise liner.

It might sound cliché, but to summarize the trip up in one word, it would have to be—Wow! The scenery was absolutely spectacular.

First off, the ship was one massive floating resort with tons of restaurants, bars, activities, and entertainment. Yes, it is true what they say about eating too much on a cruise! It was a good decision to have upgraded our food package enabling us to dine in the “speciality” restaurants. The food was better and there were less people. You can imagine with over two thousand people on board, the main dining rooms and buffets became over-crowded at times. In my opinion, our best meal was the teppanyaki grill where they cooked everything right in front of us. Our chef was very entertaining and funny. The food was excellent.

Those that have cruised before know of the traditional dress-up evening. This itinerary also included a White Hot Night when everyone was encouraged to wear white. Rick and I actually made it onto the ship’s final highlight video being recognized as a “dressed to impress” couple and I was awarded a free, fruity cocktail!

The most surprising part of the trip was the weather. It did get windy and chilly at times while at sea or on the gangplank, but we couldn’t have asked for nicer weather. More than one person told us we hit the jackpot as normally it rains 300 days annually in much of Alaska. We did not experience even one drop! Even the arrival and departure days in Seattle were dry.

There were four ports to explore. The first in Ketchikan. Rick, Johnny and I donned rain gear and boots if only to keep us dry from our own spray as we zipped around the bay onboard our own sturdy rubber power boat. Our tour guide, Vee with Ketchikan Outdoors, led our small group sharing history and legends from the area as well as explaining about the wildlife. She even tossed a fish to one of the several bald eagles flying overhead. He swooped down right in front of us to scoop up that tasty morsel.

The scenery was breathtaking and thrilling to view from up close while hanging on for dear life! The excursion ended with hot chocolate, spiced cider, and crackers with the most delicious salmon-spread ever. From there we found ourselves at a local fish joint savoring a pound of fresh Alaskan King Crab.

Next it was on to Juneau where we climbed aboard a ten passenger sea-plane run by Wings Airways. Taking off and landing on the water was pretty cool in itself. Seeing the tree covered mountains, water-ways, and glaciers from the air was no short of amazing. What a way to view the beauty of Alaska.

We flew up to the secluded Taku Glacier Lodge where they smoked and served us—yup, you guessed it, fresh salmon! Yum! The grounds surrounding the lodge provided stunning views, a cool damp nature walk, and some gigantic mosquitos. We were happy to see they provided plenty of bug repellant.

Then it was on to Skagway. There we hung out in town to do some shopping. I’ve never seen so many jewelry stores in one place! At that point, there were four cruise ships docked at one time. Needless to say, the little town was over loaded with tourists. 

To relax and ditch the crowds for a while, we ducked into the Historic Skagway Inn for some snacks and drinks. The rhubarb wine was refreshing and the bread pudding sweet.  Janet, our friendly waitress and the current Innkeeper, shared stories of her interesting past jobs. She was one of those people to whom you instantly felt rapport. 

Our last port was Victoria, British Columbia in Canada where we visited Butchart Gardens. For over two solid hours we took in the most brilliant and vibrant colors. The flowers were beautiful and the gardens meticulously maintained. Again, the place had a few too many patrons for my liking, but still it was an enjoyable afternoon.

One of my favorite afternoons/evenings was spent on the back deck watching in awe as our huge cruise ship made its way up a fiord to within a few miles of Sawyer Glacier. We knew it was getting close as we passed larger and larger chunks of ice floating in the water. Several long skinny streams flowed down from the tall peaks creating cascading waterfalls into the ocean. The aqua water color was something more expected to be seen in the Caribbean. 

As we approached the huge glacier, our captain turned our vessel completely around. The view was mesmerizing. As we moved away from the glacier, a few of us actually saw a huge part of the ice break off and crash down into the ocean below. Even from a distance it was an incredible and rare sight to behold.

During our Alaskan adventure, we didn’t come across any bears, which might have been a good thing! However, we did watch several whales from the ship and also saw some seals.

Overall, the entire cruise experience was fantastic. After waiting and anticipating for such a long time, I was not disappointed in the least. It truly had to be one of my best vacations, yet. And, I highly recommend it should anyone have the opportunity to go.

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