A Day in Juneau

Juneau may be the capital of Alaska, but it is definitely not Alaska’s largest nor most accessible city. Let me clarify this, Juneau is actually the second largest city by area in the USA. That includes both land and water area, but definitely don’t expect a large developed downtown area, nor large metropolis. Inaccessible by land, Juneau sits on the Gastineau Canal with Mt. Roberts and Mt. Juneau in the background.

 

Docks
There are several different docks in Juneau. The closest to town make exploration easy. The Norwegian Jewel docked at the farthest dock, the AJ Dock, but that proved to be perfect. Having discovered that the usual bus to Mendenhall Glacier had jumped in price from $20 per person to $30 per person. It was a no-brainer to rent a car from Juneau Car Rentals, which is just a few hundred feet from AJ Dock. The freedom of having a car and seeing the sites on my schedule made it worth it.

 

Mendenhall

Bear at Mendenhall
Tough to get a photo from inside the car.

First stop for the day was this amazing glacier that shows a different and smaller face every time that I visit. There are options there for short hikes and longer hikes, including one to Nugget Falls. Another advantage of renting a car was that we beat the tour buses to the glacier.
Remember this was a late-season cruise, so there were not many ships in port, so that did make a different, but it was nice to have the site to ourselves until the buses arrived an hour or so after we did.

On the way into the park, I told my companions that a certain area was a place that I had always seen bears. I swear that I did not push a button, but just a few seconds after I said this, a bear appeared on the road! After trying to shoot some photos, we headed to the Visitor Center and explored the area admiring the lake, glacier and falls. Due to our limited time until darkness and physical challenges of some of the group, we did not hike all the way to the falls, something that I highly recommend. One real drawback of arriving at 1 PM is that light is limited and even more so when it is raining and cloudy as happened shortly after our arrival.

 

Shrine of Saint Thérèse
We really had hoped to make it to the End of the Road at Auke Bay, but the weather made for poor views and darkness approached. We did want to make it up to Mt. Roberts as well, so we opted to drive only to The Shrine of Saint ThérèseIt’s setting in the forest and overlooking the Lynn Canal makes this a special place. Of course, since it’s my name as well, I just had to visit again.

 

Mt. Roberts
It’s always exciting to get to the top of Mt. Roberts and enjoy the view below. At the top is an eagle rescue display and of course, a short film about the Tlingit who reside in the area and who have for centuries. The movie tells the story of these indigenous people and life in Southeast Alaska. A restaurant serves both food and Alaskan beer – that was a real bonus when we hiked to the top one time – just for fun!  As darkness had approached, the view from the top was a different one for me. I had worried that we might not make it to the top as it was both windy and foggy. The attendant told us that as long as the light at the top of the tram was visible that we could still get to the top. There were few people there, but it was nice to have a private movie viewing and speak with the local Tlingit woman who told us a bit about her life and taught us a few Tlingit words. After a short visit, we headed back down to the Norwegian Jewel.

A view of Norwegian Jewel for the tramway
A view of Norwegian Jewel for the tramway

I admit that I do not like arriving so late into Juneau. Of course, that isn’t as important in the summer when daylight hours extend late into the evening. On this late September visit, darkness came by much earlier and the rainy weather didn’t help with the lighting, so the lack of light really cut into our plans. Keep this in mind if you are planning a cruise either early or late in the season and opt for a cruise that arrives earlier. This itinerary was so spectacular and really the only option this late in the season that it was still worth it. Just plan accordingly. Just for fun, here is a video I made several years ago about Juneau. Enjoy!


Sail Away!

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North to Alaska

A recent report from Cruise Industry News suggests that 2018 is predicted to set a record for the cruise season. In light of that news, I will continue my Alaska series. It’s definitely not too soon to book your Alaska cruise for 2018. Typically, there are two options for cruising Alaska – a roundtrip sailing or a one-way sailing that connects one of the ports near Anchorage with Vancouver. The one-way cruise is the one that you must select if you plan on seeing any of the interior parts of Alaska, like Denali, in conjunction with your cruise.

 

Cruising on the Inside

My last cruise to Alaska started in Seattle and ended in Vancouver. Usually the itineraries leaving from Seattle venture into the Sea of Alaska on their way north. On this particular cruise on Norwegian Jewel, we cruised the Inside Passage both coming and going. The waters are calmer and views of land are almost constant. The calm waters are ideal for those who may have a tendency toward seasickness. Some find that being within view of land makes them less anxious cruisers. The Jewel and other NCL ships depart from Pier 66 in Seattle, the most convenient pier to all of the sites in the city. Boarding was an easy process and our luggage arrived quickly. The pleasant weather in late September made for a very comfortable and scenic sailaway as we headed toward the Inside Passage. The sun put on a great show as it bowed out and seemingly dropped into the sea.  The evening came quickly and suddenly the reality of doing this last-minute late-season cruise to Alaska set in. I was on my way up north and eager to visit one of my favorite destinations once again. The first stop on the itinerary would be Ketchikan, the wettest city in Alaska. Don’t forget that Alaska is in a temperate rainforest and rain happens regularly. I knew this and prepared with waterproof and wicking clothes so that I could enjoy Alaska no matter what the weather was. Remember, there is no such thing as bad weather, just wrong gear. We made our way slowly to Ketchikan with a leisurely day at sea to enjoy the views. We would continue all the way to Ketchikan and the north via the Inside Passage.

 

Ketchikan

 

 

 

Lighthouse on the Inside PassageExcited about seeing Ketchikan again, I got up early to see if I could catch the sunrise. This required great effort on my part as I am not prone to waking in the early hours of the day. But, hey; it’s vacation, so I don’t want to waste one minute of the day sleeping or potentially missing out on something. Other guests had mentioned the wildlife that they had seen in the water and I did see some fish and dolphins. Of course, I was hoping to see a breaching whale or a bear along the shore. Dummy me, I had forgotten to pack my binoculars. Take note of this – if you are cruising to Alaska – or anywhere else for that matter – a decent pair of binoculurs is worth the investment. Fortunately, I met some people who were willing to share theirs and who were also excellent wildlife spotters. One of my fellow cruisers recommended a pair from Cabela’s, which I will try out on my next cruise. Don’t you hate it when you forget something as important as binoculars? Even more embarrassing is looking like you are a first-time traveler with no clue how to pack! I blame that on my age!!! 

 

Waking up early was well worth it. I knew that there was an arch in Ketchikan that greeted visitors and wanted to capture an early morning shot of it. Little did I know that the morning would be foggy with the visibility of pea soup. And as is typical for Ketchikan, not known as the rainiest spot in the US for nothing, rain completed the picture. That, however, was not about to curb my enthusiasm for my visit to Ketchikan and my planned shore excursion for the day with Lighthouse Excursions for their Lighthouse, Totems and Eagles Tour. I had done other tours in Ketchikan in the past, the most recent being a visit to Totem Bight State Historical Park, a spot that I really enjoyed. I remembered seeing an excursion that passed by the park on a boat. Sure enough, I found that excursion.

 

Lighthouse, Totems and Eagles

Oh, what a tour this would be! After a bus trip to the dock, the captain and crew offered to take our photos – with our own cameras- in front of the sign at the entry. They offered multiple times during the trip to take our photos in front of whatever scenery was in the nearby background.

 

Having a dry sense of humor, I started cringing when the captain made some moan-worthy jokes, but I was definitely in the minority. A former teacher and local, the captain knew the area and its wildlife and nature quite well. We immediately saw several eagles as we left the port and then sailed by Totem Bight, which I was glad to have seen on land. Imagining what people thought as they sailed by these majestic totems made this trip worthwhile.  

 

As luck would have it, a humpback whale appeared to greet us, but he did keep his distance. We spent additional time trying to track him, but time quickly passed and we had to get back to the ship. As we headed back, we were offered hot chocolate, salmon spread crackers and other snacks. The captain invited us into his cabin for information and for photos with him. Of course, I didn’t pass on that opportunity. Remember those binoculars that I had forgotten? Lighthouse Tours has several pairs scattered throughout the boat exclusively for guests. What a great amenity that was. The three-hour tour, no we did not get stranded on any of the islands, passed by quickly and we found ourselves back at the cruise ship pier. Not wanting to miss anything, I took a quick tour of Creek Street, the scenic area in Ketchikan. The many shops lining the creek took on a different face as many had already closed for the season. Bargain hunters rejoiced at the great deals that they found and the ease of navigating the area. It was another wonderful day in Ketchikan.

 

 

My whirlwind tour of Ketchikan ended with the most surprising of events. As I headed back to the ship, I spotted an officer that I had sailed with several times with Norwegian Cruise Line. I hadn’t seen him for a very long time and he was currently working with another cruise line. If that weren’t enough, I ran into another crew member that I had sailed with in the past. You never know who you might run into, even when you are in Ketchikan, Alaska. After chatting with these folks for a few minutes, I headed back to the comfort of the ship. The rain had returned and it was nice to get back on board. It was especially nice that warm towels and hot chocolate were offered as we boarded. Those little niceties go a long way.

 

Sail Away!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cruising Myths Debunked

I recently discussed cruising with several people who have yet to experience this wonderful type of vacation. Perhaps because I have been on so many cruises, I initially wondered how they could have such misconceptions. Then, I remembered that I myself had a totally inaccurate sense of what cruising was all about. Forced bingo and a rigid schedule had defined cruising for me, even though I had never been on a cruise. These preconceived notions of mine were entirely unfounded and delayed my entry into the world of cruising. It is interesting how we can get certain baseless ideas stuck in our heads. (Hey, my excuse is that the internet was in its infancy then and social media was basically non-existent and I never knew anybody who cruised.)In an attempt to spare potential cruisers from these misgivings, I have compiled a list of some of these misconceptions and have given my take on them. If you have any suggestions or comments, please comment below.

Myth #1 Everybody gets sick while cruising.

My Take

Consider the number of people on a cruise ship at any given time. Combining the number of passengers and crew adds up to thousands of people in a relatively confined space. That does make the possibility of transmission of disease a bit higher, but think of these points first:

Cruise ships are required by the CDC to report any outbreak of Norovirus or any other illness. So, obviously it might sound like everybody gets sick on ships. Schools, hospitals, office buildings or other places where thousands of people gather are not required to report disease outbreaks.

Cruise ships also have inspections by the CDC that check on the cleanliness of the ship. I bet that you rarely see a headline that says that a ship received 100% on that inspection.

When you register at the cruise terminal, you will be given a health form to fill out. One of the questions asks whether you have had diarrhea, fever or vomiting recently. Unscrupulous passengers lie on this form and possibly contaminate other passengers on the ship.

 

What you can do?

Be sure that you are healthy before your cruise. Some people recommend taking acidophilus as a prophylactic before traveling. Wash your hands frequently. Pay attention to other passengers who might not be health conscious and avoid them. Several cruise lines serve from the buffet to reduce the risk of food contamination. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people touch food at the buffet and then toss it back into the food container.

Myth #2 Cruising is for the rich.

My take

This is very true. Cruising is also for those who aren’t rich. In fact, it’s probably one of the best vacation values that there is. It often doesn’t cost much more than what it costs to stay at home for a week. There are all sorts of promotions and types of cabins and strategies for cruising cheaply that make this form of vacation suitable for different budgets.

What you can do?

Find a good travel agent who can give you an idea of costs and can work within your realistic budget. If necessary, plan for a cruise a few years out. Start a cruise fund to save. It’s possible to make regular payments before your cruise date as long as it commences far enough into the future.

Myth #3 – Cruise lines nickel and dime you to death.

My take

It’s true that there are some things that will cost you extra on your cruise, but even without spending an extra nickel or dime, you will still have food,accommodations and entertainment included. Cruise lines do charge gratuities for their crew and that fee should be considered part of the cost of vacation. When you eat out at home, don’t you leave a tip or buy drinks in addition to ordering a meal? Iced tea, water, tea and coffee are included beverages. Alcoholic beverages, carbonated beverages, specialty coffees and some juices are not always included. (This varies by ship and luxury level of ship. If you are on a luxury ship or have a special beverage or dining package or are sailing on a special promotion, you may have everything included) It’s possible to have a bill with a $0 balance after just the gratuities are paid. Some promotions even cover your gratuities. Sorting it all out is most efficient with a good travel agent.

What you can do?

Educate yourself and be sure that you understand what is included and what is not included. Watch for packages that include beverages, specialty restaurants or onboard credit.

Myth #4 I will feel trapped.

My take

 

This totally depends on your personality. Do you suffer from Cleithrophobia or Agoraphobia? Do you prefer being alone? Even if you do, there are solutions that will help. Be assured that ships offer plenty of space to get away from the hustle and bustle of the ship if you find that necessary. Personally, I have always found a quiet place to read a book or enjoy the view. You aren’t required to engage in group parties, demonstrations, bingo or other activities. For Cleithrophobia, engaging with other passengers in the aforementioned activities might take your mind off your aversion to enclosed spaces. Open decks might become your favorite place on the ship. If you suffer from both phobias, a cruise might not be for you.

What you can do?

Find a smaller, more intimate ship. Book a cruise that has fewer sea days so that you can get off the ship more frequently. Avoid long and portless repositioning cruising.

Myth #5 I will get sea sick.

My take

Don’t assume that if you get seasick on a small fishing boat or even if you get car sick, that you will get seasick. Ships are more stable than ever now, but that is not to say that you won’t get sick or that you shouldn’t take the possibility of seasickness into account. Some people do get seasick, but take prophylactic measures to prevent motion sickness. A river cruise might be a good option.

 

 

What you can do?

Speak to your doctor about prevention. Some people take pills or use a patch, while others use ginger, acupressure or acupuncture. If you do tend to get seasick, choose a cabin on a lower deck and in the middle of the ship. Less motion is felt there.

Myth #6 Pirates will attack the ship.

My take

Anything is possible, including aliens attacking the ship. And it is true that pirates did attack a cruise ship. Remember that everything comes with a bit of risk. Do you drive a car? Check out that risk compared to other types of transportation.

What you can do?

Evaluate your risks, in the end, if you are not comfortable or will constantly worry, you may be better off staying at home. Do your research and see how many cruise ships have actually been attacked by pirates.

 

I hope that I have dispelled some of the myths that might have prevented you from trying cruising and that your fears have been allayed.

 

Sail Away

 

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Port of Seattle

Seattle from the Space Needle

Seattle is one of the main embarkation and debarkation ports for cruises to Alaska – the other is Vancouver. I always recommend arriving to the port city at least the day before your cruise to explore some of the port city. Seattle has so many attractions, that even a day before does not seem enough, but if you are game, you can definitely see many of the attractions there. It was tough deciding which to do this time and which to save for my next visit to this wonderful cruise port.

Arrival

Coming from the eastern part of the US meant that I could arrive relatively early in the morning and have an entire afternoon and evening to explore. Something to consider is the time change – yes, there are more hours in the day, but staying awake for those extra hours could be a challenge. I sucked it up and stayed up late and resisted the urge to take a nap, which I thought would be a recipe for disaster. From the airport there are many options, but since both of us had large luggage we decided that a shuttle into town would be the best option for us. We used  Speedi Shuttle and found them reasonably priced and efficient. Our driver pointed out the highlights along the way to our hotel, The Edgewater.

The Edgewater Hotel

A welcoming bear on a comfy ottoman.

 

As its name suggests, The Edgewater sits directly on the waterfront within walking distance of the pier and many attractions.  A great surprise and the highlight of booking this upscale hotel – well worth the extra expense – would happen the next morning. After check-in, the thought of taking a nap reared its ugly head. After all, a 4 am wake-up call had started this day. The hotel exudes a Pacific Northwest feel with its natural finishes and fireplace in the room and lobby. This really set the tone for the upcoming Alaska cruise and confirmed that the choice of this establishment was a smart one.  A real bonus was watching the Norwegian Jewel come into port and dock early in the morning.

 

Touring Seattle

Underground Tour Bar
Underground Tour Bar

Resisting the temptation to sleep away the entire afternoon, we headed out to our first tour on our agenda. About a mile away from the hotel and an easy walk, the Klondike Gold Rush Museum connected the dots with its sister museum in Skagway. Although small, the exhibits told the story of this historic event and its significance to the importance of Seattle as a developing city in the late 1800s. Following the stories of those involved with the Gold Rush made the story come to life. After that visit, we headed to the Central Saloon, the oldest saloon in Seattle, for lunch. Lunch seemed like dinner, due to the time change.  Following lunch, full tourist mode started. With just a few hours in town, I knew that I wanted to see as much as I could and that was one good reason to have a CityPASS. We went to the Seattle Underground Tour, which did take us through the bowels of the city. Seattle is a city built on top of a city. Who would ever have guessed?

Seattle Space Needle
Seattle Space Needle

 

Chihuly Glass
Chihuly Glass

After a short rest at the hotel, I decided to use my CityPASS for more attractions, while my companion who had seen it all before, opted to stay at the hotel and rest. Rest? What’s that? I am one who is afraid of missing something. I also wanted to get on the ship relatively early the next day and realized that if I didn’t take advantage of the hours left in the day today that I would wear myself out rushing around to fit everything in the morning. I changed my shoes and headed to the Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass. If you go to the Space Needle, you will get a timed ticket. Being there late in the day, I rushed through Chihuly. Had I known better, I would have spent far more time at Chihuly because I found it mesmerizing. I definitely know better for the next time. Unlike my companion who had already done these, I could visit both attractions over and over again. After staying until closing time, I headed back to the hotel and figured out my plans for the next morning.

 

Ship Arrival

Jewel at the Pier 66
Jewel at the Pier 66

It had been far too long since my last cruise and knowing that The Edgewater was so close to the port, I kept checking to see if I could catch a glimpse of the ship arriving into the port. Finally, I saw some lights in the distance that appeared to be those of a ship. I realized at this point that I had forgotten my binoculars – a most important item for an Alaska cruise. One of these days, I will actually pack like somebody who has traveled a few times in her life. I waited a short time and pulled open the drapes and was thrilled to see Norwegian Jewel making her way to the dock. What I hadn’t realized that when they said that the hotel was close to the dock, it really meant that I would have an excellent view of the ship docking. My hours of sleep suffered dearly, but it was definitely worth it for this view.

On Board and One More Attraction

The proximity of the Edgewater to Pier 66 made the embarkation process very convenient and simple. The bellhops from the hotel gladly loaded our luggage onto a cart and rolled it next door to the port. What a great benefit this was! After a quick registration, due to my Latitude status, we boarded and left our carry-on luggage in the room. After a quick lunch in Azura, we left the ship and headed to the Aquarium, one of the attractions on CityPASS. The Aquarium has both indoor and outdoor areas and was quite crowded on this day. Touch tanks kept the children involved and exhibits on the local waters engaged adults. We didn’t want the Jewel to leave without us, so we headed back to the ship in time for the muster drill. And don’t get me started on people not showing up on time for the muster drill!!

The day was perfect for sail away and I could barely make out Mt. Rainier in the distance. My Alaska adventure started on a perfect note.Sail Away!

 

 

 

 

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