Craig and Ross in Alaska

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June 19th 2016
Published: June 19th 2016
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Episode 2: The “Alaskan Panhandle”

June 16, 2016.

Dear all,

I hope all is well there in the Antipodes. Very happy we are not still being ear-bashing by Australian election crap. Mind you, it is not much better here in the USA.

We are now half way through our Alaskan cruise (a seven-day trip). We are having a great time and the scenery here is superb. Before boarding, I made a quick trip to Vancouver Aquarium, with the prime aim of seeing their captive beluga whales (unlikely that I’d ever see them in the wild). Bryan will recall that we also saw orcas there at the aquarium in 1988, but they have since conceded that keeping orcas in captivity is not right and killer whales no longer feature here. Yet somehow this sentiment does not extend to the belugas. Anyway, they were wonderful to watch - ghostly white rubbery-looking things gliding about. (picture opposite.)

Our Alaska cruise is on the Norwegian Sun, a 78,000 tonne, 850 foot behemoth that we are sharing with some 1,940 others. Yet it has never felt too crowded, with heaps of bars, eateries, spas, a pool, presentations, movies, music and shows spread about the ship to occupy everyone. A major issue of deep concern for an Australian, however, is the alcohol ! They do not allow you to bring any alcohol at all when embarking….because they charge a fortune when you want to buy it on board (endless food is covered as part of the cruise, but not booze). Now, Ross had placed a full bottle of duty free Frangelico in his checked luggage. (As many of you know, we love Frangelico nightcaps when when travel). I told Ross that, according to my extensive reading, checked luggage is scanned and they will detect and confiscate the bottle of grog, returning it to him at the end of the cruise………..Well, when the steward delivered ours checked luggage to our cabin, imagine our delight to find the Frangelico still present in Ross’s case ! ! We hypothesise that its unusually shaped bottle may have gone unnoticed, or mistaken for something else. So, as I type this blog in our cabin, I’m sipping on some Frangelico on ice !

A variety of things on the cruise attract an “18% services and convenience charge” (that’s beyond gratuities).

Ross said to me over dinner on our first night:

“The cost of beer and wine on this ship is criminal. Look at this wine list, two glasses of white wine – plus their 18% service and convenience charge– comes to $21 USD, so about $28 Aussie dollars.” He contemplated that and then said.

“Oh damn, we should have raffled off that Frangelico.”

“Why?” I said.

“Because it would have covered the cost of the entire cruise for the two of us !” So, we aren’t drinking much at all on the ship (given the cost of everything else that we have planned after the cruise). Anyway, the food and everything else has been fine and we were on the cruise for the sights, not the cruising experience per se.

We have overheard several inane conversations on board, such as this one:

Wife to husband, as we left Vancouver for Alaska: “Which way are we traveling.”

Husband: “Well, North obviously.”

Wife: “ But it is dark outside, there is no sun, so how can you tell which direction?”

Husband: “Well, if we were going South, we’d hit California, West and we’d hit, I dunno, Japan, and East, well, we’d run aground in Canada.”

Wife: “All right, all right, Mr. Smarty. I didn’t do Geology at College.”

We left Vancouver on a lovely summer’s day, the music on the ship was pumping, people were in the pool and there was a buoyant party atmosphere. The further North we traveled, the cooler but more mountainous and spectacular the scenery became, until snow-capped mountains became, well, the norm. First stop in Alaska was charming Ketchikan, which has a historic area of old wooden houses on stilts along the creek, and we also saw numerous Tlingit (local native) Totem poles. Next day, we pulled into Juneau to glorious sunny weather. Went whale watching and saw a pod of orcas all around the place, a species I had long hoped to see in the wild. Many of you have seen the Facebook picture I posted, but here it is again (see opposite). We also went to our first glacier, Mendenhall Glacier, a vast river of ice wedged down the valley, shedding small icebergs into a river, and with a thundering adjacent waterfall for good measure (see pic). We learned that the glacier is retreating fast, thanks to global warming. After Juneau, the ship pulled into Skagway, a lovely old historic city (town?) still retaining the old wooden buildings of the Klondike Gold rush era. Now, in Skagway, most tourists from the ships go on a train trip for the day -it goes up through the snow-capped mountains (then everyone returns by bus). This was about $300 AUD each, which we had no intention of paying. So, instead we hired a car for the day for $130 and drove ourselves on the road that runs roughly parallel to the train line. So, so glad we did. We stopped at many incredibly beautiful spots at our own pace for photos of jagged snow-capped peaks, coniferous forest, aquamarine lakes, etc. (rather like the Canadian Rockies - See pics opposite). The trip took us over the Canadian border into the Yukon and it was there that we came upon a female black bear with two cubs, feeding on dandelions. The bears were a few metres from the road and I was thrilled. (Debbie, I highly recommend you hire a car in Skagway and do this – you cannot stop when you are on the train, which is bloody expensive anyway. Indeed, all of the Ship’s organised “shore excursions” are expensive and we didn’t do any of them, but did our own thing at each port).

Last night, as the ship glided along, we viewed an awesome sunset over snow-capped peaks and a dead calm ocean. Everyone was out on deck, taking in the views. The air was crisp and clear. Then we all noticed a dense line of fog on the water ahead of us. Soon, the ship was completely enveloped in the fog. It was very eerie – we could see nothing at all outside, and we knew there various small islands everywhere. Periodically, the captain would sound the foghorn, a low mournful sound, alerting anything in our path. Anything else would be pulverized by our massive vessel, except another ship - or any land. We were sitting at a window and I could just make out the black ocean swirling way below. I said to Ross,

“Imagine if we hit something in this dense fog and started sinking. If we fell into that freezing ocean, we would not last more than 10 minutes due to hypothermia.”

“Weren’t you listening during the safety briefing?” he said. “That’s what the life boats are for. You get in them….. But note that there is an 18% services and convenience charge per life boat.”

Tomorrow we head through World Heritage-listed Glacier Bay and on to Seward, where the cruise ends and we pick up a hire car, bound for Anchorage. (More pictures below).

Love to all,


Additional photos below
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20th June 2016

Hi Craig, loving your blog and tips especially skipping the train and hiring a car instead in Skagway as we were considering doing the train trip and yes "expensive". Safe travels cheers Debbie

Tot: 3.53s; Tpl: 0.05s; cc: 12; qc: 83; dbt: 0.0593s; 3; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 3; ; mem: 1.5mb