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.
Excited 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.