Juneau - it's now Skagway instead (plus bonus track!!)

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North America » United States » Alaska » Skagway
September 10th 2018
Published: September 12th 2018
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Seattle to Skagway

Check out of our accommodation was at 11am. Google maps told me that pier 91 was just under five miles from our current destination. It is one thing we forgot to ask Jess, the owner, about regarding our departure – the phone number of a decent taxi firm. I was in the process of searching for a local cab firm when, at this point Roisin had a brain storm.

‘Have you ever used Uber?’ she asked

‘No, I replied. ‘I downloaded the App but never been in a position to request a cab from them but I suppose there’s no time like the present’

I opened up the app and hey presto, a map of the area appeared in front of me. I typed in where we wanted to go and selected Uber X. This indicated a standard cab. We could have opted for a pool or even express pool meaning the cab would be shared with another passenger. Of course, this would be at a much cheaper tariff. The cost showed as $13.49. I pressed confirm and voila, a message popped up advising me the cab would be two minutes, and our driver’s name was Perry. It even gave me the vehicle make, model and registration number. Using Uber, no cash changes hands. The cost is automatically debited to a card of your choice. We found Perry to be very professional and courteous throughout the twenty-five minute journey. So, it came as no surprise that he wasn’t expecting the $5 I shoved in to his hand as he unloaded our cases from his trunk. Within five minutes of waving Perry off to his next fare, I received an email from Uber with a summary of the journey; cost, time and mileage. I was also asked if I would like to leave Perry a tip. So, that’s why he seemed surprised, I thought!! From this pleasant experience of using a taxi (a fine example of the use of an Oxymoron?!), I don’t think it will be the last time we’ll be using Uber!

Our cabin, on deck 15 was a forward-facing ocean view. This means that there is a window looking out toward to bow of the ship. We were a couple of decks up from the bridge so our view is pretty much what the Captain sees!! There is a passage way immediately outside our cabin door that leads to a viewing platform in front of our window. We have been reliably informed by our cabin steward that the window is one way so while we can look out, no one can see in to our home for the next seven days.

Being at the front of the ship, the pitching was very noticeable during the first night. This didn’t bother Roisin or myself. We survived much worse weather in the middle of the Southern Ocean. Despite the heavy pitching and occasional rolling, the weather during the first night wasn’t rough. It was clear skies yet the swell was between 3-5 metres.

Our first full day aboard. The clocks went back another hour. We were now nine hours behind UK time and today is a day at sea. For some, being the first day out of port, can be such a long day. For others (i.e. Roisin and I) the day was even longer as jetlag was still coursing through our veins - we were both wide awake and fully dressed by 05:00am.

Mid-morning and I had just finished one of my walks around the promenade deck of the ship. I had just pressed for the elevator when an elderly lady and her husband rounded the corner. As soon as I pressed the button, she tapped me on the top of the shoulder and gently pulled on my lanyard that held my cruise card around my neck. I thought she was alerting me that the elevator had arrived already. At the same time, she mouthed something to me but due to my head phones blaring out the Beatles With a Little help from my Friends, I had no idea what she had said. I think it was something to do with my LFC lanyard. On removing one of my ear buds I just muttered a ‘Sorry?’ but it was too late. She was already on her way with the husband in tow. I heard her mutter to her companion, ‘Oh, he doesn’t speak English!’ As a reflex reaction, I shouted out ‘I probably speak better English than what you do!!’ before immediately realising my outburst didn’t do anything to support my claim!! Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds had just begun as I returned to my music. A surreal song for a surreal situation!!

Then the rain came – no not another Beatles song!! The rain actually came. It was lashing down. The promenade deck was immediately closed off to passengers due to the amount of water on the open deck. When passengers are confined to indoors, this is when the ship feels full. However, Princess ships are renowned for having plenty of spacious lounges so we managed to find a quiet corner in Club Fusion, at the aft of the ship. The heavy rain continued well in to the evening. Get it out of the way now, I say. Hopefully, the rest of the cruise will be plain sailing, so to speak!!

I am always interested in the breakdown of nationalities aboard. We have yet to hear another English accent. I am also intrigued to know the breakdown of loyalty status. There seems to be many passengers carrying blue cruise cards indicating their first cruise with Princess. I approached the Captains circle hostess and asked her the breakdown of loyalty status.

‘We are not allowed to provide that information at the moment Sir. I will, however, let everyone know the breakdown during the Captain’s cocktail party on Thursday.’

Next, I paid a visit to the Customer Service desk. ‘Are you able to provide me with a breakdown of nationalities of the passengers?’ I enquired.

‘We are not allowed to provide that information at the moment Sir. This information will, however, be available on the final day of the cruise when every guest will receive a copy of the Captain’s log’. This has never happened before. Usually, the cruise lines are only too willing to provide this sort of information. Perhaps this is all part of the build up to the eager anticipation experience!!

We had a much sounder sleep that evening until we were woken up at 06:30 by the cabin next door having their TV on full blast.

‘That’s not coming from next door. That’s coming from outside, on the deck,’ said Roisin.

We had entered Alaska’s passage!! The inside Passage to be precise and were currently transiting Frederick Sound. The Ranger, who had just boarded the Ruby had thought it was time to start the knowledge transfer at first light! Roisin and I headed outside to the front of the ship. We had been told that Alaska is like Norway but on steroids. What greeted us was anything but. Either the mountains weren’t very high or Frederick Sound was wider than it looked and the mountains were far away!! Norway on steroids it was not. At best it was like the Lake District on Paracetamol!! I’m sure that I’m judging a book by its cover and to be honest, two days in and I doubt if we have even got past the Preface page yet!!! We have every confidence the scenery will become more stunning as we progress further in to the inside passage. (and not the back passage as I have heard some passengers refer to it!!)

The Ranger then got a little excited over an iceberg that had been spotted off the starboard bow. ‘Admittedly, not a very big iceberg…’ he added. There is always a disclaimer in these instances. However, on this occasion I have to admit, the announcer did not try to ‘big it up’. He was correct and accurate in every aspect…it wasn’t a very big iceberg!! The other main attraction on the route in to Juneau was the hanging glacier. Now this was very clear. At this time of year there is no snow on these mountains but glacial ice remains all year round and this particular glacier falls between two peaks as if it is hanging down the side of the mountains. Very clever!!

The commentary stopped at 07:45 as suddenly as it began. He knew that everyone was probably awake and up so his job was done!!

At 09:05 there came a big bong in to all cabins. You know it must be important as not all announcements are piped in to cabins so as to respect passenger’s privacy. This particular message started with ‘Good morning, this is your Captain calling from the bridge’. You know it must be important and usually (if it’s the captain) not good news!! ‘Juneau is currently experiencing high winds and strong current. It is not safe to dock; therefore, I have taken the decision to head straight for our next port of call, Skagway where we will arrive today at 2pm and stay until 21:30. We will therefore be calling in to Juneau tomorrow arriving at 07:30 until 22:00. That is a whole 4 ½ hours longer in Juneau. Please listen out for further announcements regarding the rearranging of excursions. I wouldn’t like to be employed on the Customer Service desk or the Shorex department as for many passengers, the ‘please await further announcements...’ will have fallen on deaf ears. As if to confirm my prediction, ½ hour later an announcement was made: ‘The Shorex Department are closely working with excursion operators…no need to visit Shorex desk..further announcements will be made…This message will now be repeated in Chinese…!!’

Despite the high winds that were troubling the decks, the passage past Juneau and up towards Skagway was incredibly smooth. Skagway is located in a narrow glaciated valley at the head of the Taiya Inlet. It is situated at the top of the Alaskan pan handle. This is the small strip of Alaska that inconspicuously slithers down the Pacific side of Canada. We set foot, for the first time in Alaska at 14: 30. Before we started this trip, Roisin and I researched Alaska to ensure we got the best out of the trip. If we decide to take a flight over Skagway, Juneau or Ketchikan, for example, and a moose happened to be waiting for the same flight, we should not give the moose alcohol whilst we’re in the airport lounge (even if the moose was travelling business class!!) If the moose misses the flight, we should not look at the moose as we fly overhead and finally if the moose catches the same flight as us we should most definitely NOT throw the moose from the plane…AT ANY ALTITUDE. All these are against Alaskan federal law and carry a hefty prison sentence!!!

It was a short ten-minute walk in to down town Skagway, passing the railway siding where the two locomotives were ready to pull the ten carriage train up around the surrounding mountains to the summit of White Pass for the forty one mile round trip to Yukon in Canada. This was an organised excursion but also it was possible to purchase tickets shoreside from a local tour operator for a third of the price. For this reason, the tour was proving very popular and the queue was a few hundred yards down the side of the quay. Looking at the length of time it was taking to board the train then, if not successful having to wait for the next one, most of the day would be wasted in standing anticipation than actually enjoying, what supposed to be, stunning scenery. Our special day will come tomorrow. For now, we were happy just to wander this one street town. One street is not strictly true. Skagway has a central main thoroughfare called Broadway. Here is where you can find a variety of craft and souvenir stores, restaurants and bars. The ambience is very much as it was 100 years ago; a gold rush town and then later, a mining community comprised of wooded structures connected by a boardwalk painting a colourful picture of Skagway’s illustrious past. There is a series of parallel streets running across Broadway in a typical U.S grid pattern (1st Street; 2nd Street; etc…) This was more residential and non-touristy type of businesses so we stuck to the Central hub of the town.

We passed a tour bus. This was an official ships tour and was marketed as city highlights. It must have been one of the shortest excursions in the history of ship’s tours. Likewise, we passed a walking tour. We managed to walk around the town in ten minutes so the walking tour must have been padded out with lots of information and stories, a case of less walkie, more talkie!!!

We got the feeling that Skagway is somewhat of an open air museum anyway. In the railway siding open to anyone to wander round, stood a 19th century steam train and more modern locomotive with a huge cutting tool at the head of the engine for boring tunnels through solid rock. On the corner of Broadway and 1st, was the Red Onion Saloon which started life as the towns first bordello. Midway up Broadway we found the unusual building with an extraordinary façade constructed from driftwood and sticks with the words: Camp Skagway spelt out. This was a typical western boom-town architecture of the period. Here we were looking at the headquarters of the Arctic brotherhood, a secret organisation that was founded during the early days of the Klondike Gold rush. There were strong objections to a secret organisation until those sceptics were silenced when it came to pass that the society looked after it’s members in sickness and in health improving welfare and education within the small mining communities. The membership began to swelled from 11 to well over 300 and soon there was an Arctic Brotherhood Lodge in every northern city, town or settlement.

If this trip were a CD, this evening could be classed as the secret bonus track. No sooner had we left Explorers lounge after the end of the evenings entertainment than the bridge announced the Northern Lights had come out to play and were clearly visible from the aft deck. The time was 22:50. We rushed up to the pool deck 16 and although the Captain had not dimmed the deck lighting, they were a clear as those we saw seven months ago in the North Cape of Norway. The greens danced across the skies, faded then expanded shooting off in a different direction. At one point the green slowly morphed in to a vivid shade of pink with a tinge of yellow but no sooner had it shown its rarer side of its mesmerising beauty than it faded to starry blackness again. I happened to be messing around with my camera and tripod and therefore missed this infrequent occurrence!! The show lasted for about forty minutes. We were told by Natalie, one of the Entertainment team and later, I learned, a keen astrophysical photographer, that this is the first time the Northern Lights have graced the Ruby Princess with their presence since the ship began its season long trips to and from Alaska. She had been up on deck every evening for the past few months in the hope to see some activity. Tonight was the night and she forgot her camera!!!

Some people are lucky to see the full glory or Aurora Borealis once in their life time. We have been blessed with seeing this magnificent phenomenon twice in once calendar year.

Additional photos below
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13th September 2018

A Whole New World
Oh dear Chris - Roison has just learnt two new rude four letter words - 'Uber' and 'Taxi' - your travels and cruises will never be the same again ! My life changed for the more expensive, after my daughter taught my wife the words 'Taxi' and 'Room Service'.

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