So ends our actual last long distance trip for what’s sure to be a while. Coming home this time, unlike the end of our New Zealand trip, is much more sweet than bitter. For starters, we were both pretty much done with the whole cruise experience this time. Unlike the last time we went cruising (over five years ago!) this was much less of a relaxation tour.
Rather than spending our days relaxing on the sundeck of the ship or some tropical island, this trip involved bear run-ins, frozen glacier viewings and being jolted out of bed at 1 am to see the Northern Lights. Amazing experiences to be sure – but not quite the relaxing time I was expecting.
The other part of it is that we’re looking forward to going home for once. First of all, we have Sammy, our newest member of our family to come home to. For the first time on a trip, we left someone behind. That meant that it was impossible to completely disconnect and well…
…we missed this guy!
We also have the baby on the way – which means we still have a lot of preparations to make. Unlike when we were in New Zealand (and every other trip before that), having one of us be pregnant meant the future baby was always on our minds. Between that and Sammy, we’re both looking forward to coming home.
Finally, our ship, the Radiance of the Seas, just wasn’t quite up to par with the last ship we took, the Norwegian Gem. I’m planning to do a full review later of the experience, but for now suffice it to say that despite being about the same size, there was a marked difference between the two.
With regards to Alaska though… Wow. Just what an amazing state. The incredible landscapes. The wildlife. And the food. Specifically, the salmon and the halibut.
We ate some form of fish literally every day on this trip, sometimes two or even all three meals had fish in them. It was really delicious everywhere we went. We’ve always been of the opinion the Pacific fish far outrank their Atlantic cousins. Alaska proved to us that it doesn’t matter if you’re out in Tahiti, back stateside in San Francisco, or all the way up in the Arctic north outside Denali National Park. It’s. Just. Better.
In the coming days, I’m planning to do a full round up on my general thoughts on Alaska including the highlights of our trip, lowlights, some recommendations on some must-see things as well as items to avoid.
After a last-minute sidequest adventure, on top of a more aggressive/eventful couple of days than expected, we finally made it to our cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas.
Unlike a Bahamas cruise, Alaska cruises are a bit more demanding. For example, on our first day out, we sailed out to the Hubbard Glacier.
And – much as you might expect – it’s pretty cold. So that means no lounging around on the deck like you would do on a tropical voyage. It also means you’re going to be dealing with pretty unpredictable weather. Like when you go to a warm destination and it rains, it’s a nuisance, but not a day killer. 45 degree rain really takes the energy out of you. Same for standing in the wind and staring at a giant block of ice for an hour.
In addition, unpredictable weather can cancel planned excursions or – as was the case for another cruise ship – shut down the port completely with a rock slide forcing you to go to a completely different place than you thought you were going. In our case, 80 mile per hour winds kept us from getting up close and personal with Hubbard.
The flip side of this though, is that you’re going to see some astonishing things.
Over the past three days we’ve come face to face with 19,000 foot coastal mountains, bald eagles, humpback whales and more glaciers than we’ve seen over the course of the rest of our lives combined.
I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re looking to just relax and lay out in a pool, stick to the Bahamas. If you’re in search of something more adventurous, an Alaska cruise is right for you.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a purely relaxing vacation – sometimes you just want to recharge the batteries. But if you’re coming on an Alaska cruise (really anywhere in Alaska), expect to be adventurous both off the boat and on it.
After our first day at sea, we landed in Juneau. We rented a car for the same price it would have cost to just take a shuttle to Mendenhall Glacier and drove out to the further point we could. Juneau is not connected by road to…anywhere. So 40 miles from town, the road basically just ends.
We saw a creek where salmon come to spawn and then…die. It’s actually pretty brutal/disgusting. There are literally dozens of salmon carcasses just lying around in the water.
This effectively makes it a sashimi bar for bears and eagles. We didn’t see bears, but we did see multiple bald eagles flying around, which was awesome.
From there we continued on to the Shrine of St. Therese, which was pretty cool. Best part was the “labyrinth” which you could walk through. Quick and easy little diversion.
After that it was time for Mendenhall Glacier.
We spent some time driving around Juneau too, stopping by the governor’s mansion and the state Capitol building. Cool I guess, but whatever.
Our cruise then departed Juneau for Skagway. And well…it was pretty rainy and miserable. Our helicopter trip was cancelled for safety reasons, so instead we just walked around town. We learned from pretty cool stuff during an excellent Ranger talk at the National Historic Park there. Skagway, you see, was the jumping off point for tens of thousands of people “stampeding” to the Klondike Gold Rush. Best fact – Klondike Bars are named for bars of Klondike gold that apparently less than 1% were able to get their hands on.
This morning we arrived in Icy Strait Point. When we arrived the whole place was covered in a dense fog.
This made our little forest hike really cool.
Pretty much the whole day after that was spent on a humpback whale watching tour with Glacier Wind Charters. They were awesome. I mean really awesome. Just check out this video.
Hopefully I’ll have some time later to do a full write-up on the whale tour. But the views were really amazing once the fog lifted and we saw easily over a dozen humpback whales on our trip out.
This time of year, Humpbacks do a whole complicated technique calling bubble net feeding. Basically they circle around a school of herring to get them bunched up together and then all breach the surface together to eat them. Just an incredible sight to behold. I mean we saw this event play out like 10 times and I would have watched it another 100 times. If you have the opportunity to witness this first hand you must do it.
As we headed back to the ship, the fog really lifted and we got a view of an awesome bald eagle in a tree, as well some truly incredible views of the bay.
Now we are back on the ship and cruising to our last destination before heading down to Vancouver and eventually…home.