Published: November 27th 2005August 18th 2005
Largest tidewater glacier in North America
ALASKA CRUISE August 5 - 12, 2005
Bill, Linda, Ed, Charlotte
Day 1, Friday
The four of us left early in the morning for the airport, arriving in plenty of time to enjoy an hour or so in the President’s Club before boarding our Continental flight to Seattle. Unfortunately, when we got to Seattle, we discovered that our connecting flight to Anchorage on Air Alaska had been cancelled and that the airline was trying to book the passengers on other flights. We were lucky to get on a flight that left two hours later and would just barely allow us to catch the ship before it sailed. They assured us that our baggage would be put on the same plane, and in fact, we were 45 minutes late in departing, ostensibly because they were still loading baggage onto the plane.
The comedy of errors continued when we landed in Anchorage and discovered that our luggage had not come with us. In fact, it looked as though the wrong luggage had been loaded because there were dozens of suitcases on the belt that were not claimed and probably belonged to passengers on some other plane. After about 15 of us
The four of us in our "borrowed" formal attire
waited in line at the lost baggage counter, we boarded the bus that would take us on the 3-hour drive to the port of Seward.
The drive was a scenic one with the sparkling waters of Cook Inlet on the right and the Chugach Mountains and several glaciers on the left. We even spotted a moose swimming in a lake.
Finally, the bus pulled into the dock, and we raced onto our ship, the Celebrity Summit, about 15 minutes before it sailed at 9 p.m. The concierge desk was most helpful and courteous and gave us tee shirts and toiletries as well as loaned us sweaters, jackets, and socks to use until our bags arrived, probably in two days.
Day 2, Saturday
En route to Juneau, we were at sea this morning, so we had breakfast in the main dining room and then attended a lecture by the ship’s naturalist about glaciers. A tour of the ship, the mandatory lifeboat drill, and a port/shopping talk took us to lunch, for which we chose the Healthy Choice dining at the AquaSpa Café.
The highlight of today’s itinerary was when we cruised into Yakutat Bay to spend an
View from the chopper
Scenery en route to the Juneau Icefield via helicopter
hour viewing the magnificent Hubbard Glacier. The sail in the bay was both leisurely and beautiful, and the glacier itself is absolutely magnificent. The largest tidewater glacier in North America, Hubbard is 75 miles long and 6 miles wide at the face (where we were), with a 300-foot wall of ice rising sheer and jagged from the ocean. The weather cooperated beautifully, with clear skies and mild temperatures, so all we needed were light jackets on the open decks, although there was plenty of split-pea soup, hot chocolate, and other warm beverages available for us. We were also fortunate to hear the rumbling sound (called “white thunder” by the Tlingit native Alaskans) and see the monumental splash of calving (when a chunk of the glacier breaks off and crashes into the bay, forming a floating iceberg) about 4 or 5 times.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent at another talk by the naturalist, this time about humpback whales, and at mass. At some point in the afternoon, our evening attire was delivered to us in our staterooms. Since we would not be receiving our luggage until our stop in Juneau the next day, the ship loaned us tuxedoes,
Sled dog camp
Approaching the sled dog camp on a snow-covered glacier
gowns, and shoes to wear during the formal dinner/evening and the captain’s gala toast. We were amazed that almost everything fit perfectly, and we even had formal portraits taken.
Day 3, Sunday
This was a busy day in one of the most visually pleasing small cities anywhere and certainly the prettiest capital city in America, Juneau. We began with a Tram and Trek tour, where we took the Mt. Roberts Tramway to the top of the majestic mountain overlooking Juneau. A 1 ½ hour hike through the natural beauty of Alaska’s wilderness gave us panoramic views of mountains, fiords, colorful harbors, and the bay, as well as close-up views of native Alaskan flora such as Western hemlock, Sitka spruce, devil’s club, salmonberries, elderberries, blueberries, and watermelon berries that taste like celery.
After a couple of hours of shopping, we embarked on what was to be the unanimous favorite activity of all four of us, the helicopter flightseeing tour to the Juneau Icefield for the glacier dogsled adventure! A bus took us to the heliport outside of Juneau, where we were issued life jackets and glacier boots and were briefed on safety procedures before boarding an Era helicopter with
Linda prepares to mush her team across the glacier. That's Dave Dalton, pro dogsled racer in the front sled.
Mike as our capable pilot. (He said the chopper cost about 1.2 million, and the company had 6 of them).
After about 30-35 minutes of flightseeing over the incredible visual beauty of glaciers, mountains, and fiords, we landed on a glacier and spent approximately one hour at a dog sled camp where 240 race veterans of the grueling Yukon Quest and Iditarod Sled Dog Races waited anxiously to take tourists on rides. They were all enthusiastic and showed it by barking vigorously and lunging in their harnesses. We divided into teams of three, and with a professional dog musher in each group, took off across the snow-capped glacier. We took turns riding in the basket and driving the dog team for about 25 minutes. I didn’t realize that the musher stands on the runners of the sled—I don’t know how he or she does it for 1,000 miles in a race.
When our run was done, we were able to meet the dogs, pet them, and interact with them. Some were shy, but others, especially the lead dog Nicole, relished attention. We then climbed back into the chopper, flew back to the heliport, and bussed back to the
White Pass/Yukon Railway
Entering a tunnel on a panoramic excursion on the 100-year-old railway to the Yukon
ship. What an experience! It was so much fun and absolutely thrilling—the highlight of our entire trip!
Day 4, Monday
We docked around 7 a.m. in Skagway, a historically significant town with perfect old buildings that make you think it is a Disney gold-rush town. We took a 4-hour panoramic excursion on the White Pass/Yukon Railway, which was built between 1898 and 1900 as a way through the mountains to the rich Klondike gold that had been discovered in the Yukon in 1896. Called The Railway Built of Gold, the journey was both beautiful and nostalgic. We traveled past the Gold Rush Cemetery where bad guys and heroes of the time were laid to rest, through Slippery Rock, the Tongass National Forest (largest in the nation with 17 million acres), Tunnel Mountain, Bridal Veil Falls, and Dead Horse Gulch. The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful as we climbed 3000 feet in just 20 miles.
A narrator made the route come alive with his stories of the outlaw Soapy Smith, the challenges of building the railroad over cliff-hanging turns of 16 degrees and temperatures as low as 60 below, and the tens of thousands who died in the Klondike Gold
Alaskan Brown Bear
We were fortunate to watch this brown bear have lunch and frolic in the Icy Strait area
Rush. Statistics: One hundred thousand men and women headed north but only 35,000 actually reached the gold fields of the Klondike. Of these, four thousand or so prospectors actually found gold, but only a few hundred became rich.
The afternoon was spent shopping and sightseeing in historic Skagway, population 850, and watching the struggling spawning salmon in a stream near the ship.
Day 5, Tuesday
A relatively new Alaskan experience that Celebrity Cruises provides is a visit to the only wilderness port in Alaska, Icy Strait Point, a uniquely Alaskan place where the grandeur and majesty of nature are still untamed. Only one ship at a time is allowed in this scenic and pristine wilderness, which has been home to the Hoonah Tlingit natives for thousands of years. Our adventure began as the ship anchored in the strait, and we tendered to the village of Hoonah on Icy Strait Point to meet our guide for a “remote bush exploration and brown bear search.” We felt that our chances for seeing bears were good because the salmon were spawning and the creeks were literally jumping with them.
After a drive by bus into the wilderness on
Totem Pole in Ketchikan
Totem poles are a unique art form used to tell stories; they are not worshipped.
a very rough dirt road, we hiked about half a mile to a viewing point above a stream. Already at the stream about 200 yards away and happily eating his salmon lunch was a large Alaskan brown bear, estimated to be about 4 or 5 years old. We were told that bears are picky eaters, only eating the eggs and brains (highest protein parts) of the plentiful fish. We watched him (or her) for about 20 minutes before moving downstream, and he seemed to follow us, moving downstream as well, cavorting in the water and occasionally standing up on his hind legs as if to show us how tough he was. We also saw a lot of deer and some bald eagles in the area.
When we returned to the village, we almost immediately boarded “The Spirit of Adventure,” a whale-watching vessel for a seventeen-mile cruise to the Point Adolphus area, one of Alaska’s premier whale watching sites. As we enjoyed the rugged Alaskan scenery in the glacier-carved fiords, an onboard naturalist described the diversity of marine life that migrates to this location each summer to feed. We were lucky enough to see about 20 of the spectacular humpback
Le Grand Buffet
Some of the many incredible, artistic presentations at the Grand Buffet
whales, grouped into about 5 different pods, during the hour we spent observing and photographing. Aside from being visually remarkable, we particularly enjoyed listening to their communication among one another. There was a high-pitched whistling and also a type of moaning, almost like a cow or elephant, but much lower-pitched. We were told they form these sounds in their blowholes and use them for echolocation as well as communication.
Day 6, Wednesday
Our final port was picturesque and rustic Ketchikan, which is surrounded by a vast wilderness and impassable mountains. Just like Juneau, there are no road or rail connections to the rest of North America, so everything must come by air or sea, and the waterfront is bustling with floatplanes and boats. Short side streets and steep wooden stairways lead to residential areas on the bluff above the long main street that skirts the waterfront.
Since we were in the Salmon Capital of the World, Ed and Charlotte elected to go salmon fishing and were quite successful, bringing in 13 “keepers” for over 25 pounds of filets that would be shipped home. While they were sportfishing, Bill and I went on a hike in the Rainforest Wildlife Sanctuary located in the forested mountains at rustic Herring Cove. We didn’t see any bears, but we saw many bear paths, dens, and claw scratches on trees. We had a knowledgeable guide and learned much about the flora and fauna of this temperate rainforest region. At the end of the trail, we fed some reindeer, were guided through the Herring Bay Lumber Company sawmill, observed a master native totem-pole carver at work, and enjoyed complimentary salmon snacks in the general store.
After the fishing and hiking, we met up with Charlotte and Ed again to watch the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show, as lumberjacks competed in a variety of events. The rest of the afternoon was spent shopping and visiting the famous (or infamous) Creek Street, a former red-light district whose houses follow a curving plank road built over Ketchikan Creek. We also wandered around the sites dedicated to the important art form of totem poles, for which Ketchikan is noted as having the world’s largest collections.
Day 7, Thursday
We are at sea today on the majestic 1000-mile Inside Passage en route to Vancouver. We spent as much time as possible on deck enjoying the ever-changing panorama of natural beauty, unchanged since Captain Vancouver first viewed it 200 years ago. We also attended another lecture by naturalist Dirk Younkeman on Orca killer whales and then spent the remainder of the afternoon watching for them. We were lucky enough to spot about 7 or 8 in two different pods, as well as 8 or 9 Dall’s porpoises performing synchronized acrobatics just off the ship.
The weather was the main topic of conversation today. Everywhere we went this week, people were talking about the beautiful weather. Although the preliminary forecast had been for rain every day, we never saw a drop. It was clear and sunny the entire week, with temps ranging from mid 50’s in the morning to 80 during the day. In every port the locals were talking about the unusually mild weather. We learned that there are only about ten days a year that Ketchikan has no rain; in fact, they average over 13 feet of rain per year, plus two feet of snow. The cruise director said that in all of his 25 years of cruising, he had never seen an entire week of such beautiful weather in Alaska. People in Skagway said it was the best week in the entire summer. We decided that losing our luggage was small price to pay for perfect cruising!
Day 8, Friday
Disembarkation was unbelievably easy, as we had elected to participate in the Direct to Airport program in which our luggage was taken from the ship directly to the airport and we were given priority disembarkation. The cost was $20 per person and well worth it for the convenience it offered.
Unfortunately, when we arrived at the Vancouver airport, we discovered that our 11 o’clock a.m. flight had been delayed due to mechanical difficulties. It wasn’t until 3 p.m. that we were told that the 40+ of us would be taken to a hotel until a plane and crew could be flown in from Houston. After the mandatory 2-hour rest period, we would depart around 11:30 p.m. and arrive in Houston at 6:30 a.m., 12 hours late. Fortunately, Sue, a teacher from Nederland whom we met at the lost luggage counter in Anchorage a week prior, told us that she was flying United at 4:30 through Denver, getting into Houston at midnight. The Continental gate agents (actually Northwest, a partner) reluctantly and finally arranged that flight for us and had our baggage put on it. We then arrived home around midnight instead of 6:30 a.m.
Bill and I have flown hundreds of times and have been fortunate to have only one other flight cancelled: the one returning from our Santa Fe ski trip with Lisa and Brian when we flew into a goose, which destroyed one engine, resulting in our having to return to the airport and take a different flight. Here we had two cancelled flights on one trip! I guess our luck caught up with us.
Other than the flight and baggage fiascos, the cruise was absolutely perfect. How could it not be? The weather, Charlotte and Ed’s companionship, and the ship were all absolutely fabulous. The week had the best weather in 25 years. Charlotte and Ed are not only wonderful people and dear friends, but they are excellent travel companions. Finally, the Celebrity Cruise Line is definitely the best among mainstream lines. It is classy, tasteful, and luxurious at a moderate price.
We all agreed that our favorite excursion had been the flightseeing/dogsled experience, but after that, our opinions diverged. We all agreed, though, that we hated to place any experience last because they were ALL wonderful. However, if forced to rank, here they are, in order of preference:
2. Whale watch in Icy Strait
3. Bear watch on Icy Strait Point
4. White Pass/Yukon Railway
5. Juneau Tram & Trek on Mt. Roberts
6. Lumberjack show in Ketchikan
7. Hubbard Glacier
8. Ketchikan rainforest hike
2. Salmon fishing in Ketchikan
3. Whale watch in Icy Strait
4. Hubbard Glacier
5. Bear watch on Icy Strait Point
6. Juneau Tram & Trek on Mt. Roberts
7. White Pass/Yukon Railway
8. Lumberjack show in Ketchikan
2. Hubbard Glacier
3. Bear watch on Icy Strait Point
4. Whale watch in Icy Strait
5. White Pass/Yukon Railway
6. Lumberjack show in Ketchikan
7. Juneau Tram & Trek on Mt. Roberts
8. Ketchikan rainforest hike
2. Whale watch in Icy Strait
3. Salmon fishing in Ketchikan
4. Bear watch on Icy Strait Point
5. Hubbard Glacier
6. White Pass/Yukon Railway
7. Lumberjack show in Ketchikan
8. Juneau Tram & Trek on Mt. Roberts