July 2006 trip to Vancouver and Alaska
July 7. Ketchikan.
We woke up in Ketchikan.
We went to explore town. Went to Creek street, used t obe a brothel. Took a picture with Brothel owner. There are a lot’s of stores . Unfortunately most shops are commercial jewelry. Just like in Caribbean. Few local art galleries..
After lunch we went for our excursion to Misty Fjords by seaplane. I booked them direct with Southeast Aviation. They took us (6 people) to the dock and then we boarded plane. The plane ride too about 40 mins, then the pilot ended on the shore and we spent about half an hour wondering in wilderness. Air is clear, clean. The views were beautiful from the plane and also from the land. The pilot was interesting to talk to and also gave us some views about politics and local life. Including that famous 50M bridge to “nowhere”. Turned out locals are fine with ferries. Most people use floatplanes and ferries and boats. Not too many roads in Ketcihkan outside of the city.
We came back and had dinner in Lattitudes , that’s Indochina restaurant. The food was excellent, one sampling menu with pairing wines. Unfortunately one family walked in with about 20 people, and majority of them kids from 5 to 16 and it became loud. Although I admit the kids were well behaved, well dressed and adults supervised them however it still created more noise than one expects in this subdued exotic restaurant.
But nothing you can do since kids allowed in all restaurants even cordon bleu. We even seen babies in the restaurant.
There was Broadway performance in the cabaret that evening.
Although forgot to tell, we participated in some trivia games and we did not win . L
Some trivias though were British which Americans did not get.
The weather was changing all day, from cold morning to bright 60-70 on the sun in Ketchikan and then some rain on the way to our floatplane adventure. The pilot navigated between clouds successfully. In the fjords it was sunny. And later on in the evening, it became colder. The northern lights there make days longer with sunset at 10pm or so and it was incredible.
July 8. We were cruising Tracy Arm this morning.
The cruising was followed by commentary of naturalist/storyteller onboard.
We also attended a lecture about Northwest Native American people.
At 11am we arrived Juneau and we went for our excursion to glacier and dog sledding. We were driven to Heliport and given intro to the flight and safety briefing. We also were given glacier boots to wear on top of our shoes.
Helicopter ride was about 15 minutes with some commentary and it awarded beautiful views. We were 4 people and pilot in helicopter. On arrival we were met by dog camp workers and they gave us introduction on life at the camp. They live here 24/7 all summer. We met dogs and petted them. Then we went for a ride in 2 dogs sleds, each dog ride had a musher, and 3 people. I sat half of the ride and then changed with another passenger so I had to stand and “drive” the sled. It was exhilarating.
The visibility got worse and we were lucky that we had that tour since next tour after us was cancelled. We finished our ride, played with puppies and then boarded helicopter. Again we enjoyed the views and came back to Juneau around 4pm. We went to the waterfront store . Most of them were again jewelry stores however we managed find some souvenirs what we liked (Russian nesting dolls, native Alaskan clothes and smoked salmon). We came back to the ship with good memories of day well spent for well deserved rest.
July 9. Skagway.
Skagway is a gold rush town. In 1897, when the SS Portland docked in Seattle with a ton of Klondike gold, about 100,000 men went north for gold . They went through inside passage, landing in tent town of Skagway and Dyea, gateway to Klondike.
So Skagway become a lawless boomtown with saloons, gambling, and bordelles. But when the rush to Klondike declined and stanpeders headed instead to other destinations, the population of Skagwaty declined. Gold production in the Yukon fell and gold mines in Alaska were shut down. There was a railroad built in 1900’s and now tourists take scenic train rides to White Pass and Yukon Route following prospectors trails.
Anyway there are also many wilderness activities around Skagway.
So the options were besides taking trains, some nature exploration.
George told me a long ago that July 9 is the day of soccer game and he will be watching it in the morning. That was a well awaited game discussed on the ship with the crew and European and South American passengers.
So I booked myself for 8am adventure – 5.5 hours Glacier Point wilderness safari. It consisted of catamaran ride with Captain Larry, then they took us to Glacier Point . 12 people live there, small community of naturalist guides. They met us on the beach and we took a walk through the temperate rainforest to the place to get outfitted for canoe trip. It was a beautiful walk with views of flowers – yarrow, fireweed, wild roses, wild strawberries and salmonberries.
We had to wear rubber boots and rain gear. Our guides were knowledgeable and entertaining. We were led to canoes, 11 people in each one. We were paddling through the lake and river to Davidson glacier. It was incredible beauty. Our guide gave us a lecture about geology, flora and fauna and about glacier. It was very quiet and beautiful, the first hand glimpse of remnants from the last ice age.
We came back to the beach, changed gear and went back to the beach and then boarded catamaran back. It was a good spend another day.
Other passenger we had diner with told us they went to Yukon White Pass on the train , following the trails of prospectors who 100 years ago went to Klondike for gold.
Meanwhile in town George had an adventure on his own. Turned out that TV did not work – bad reception in Skagway. So he had to track 1 mile to Skagway to find a bar to watch soccer. He walked around town looking for a place with TV. Finally he found a bar Bonanza Bar ad Grill and got beer and good spot. Very soon the bar was packed with locals, our crew members (Asian and European) and passengers. They watched the game.
So we exchanged our experiences with newfound friends at dinner – 2 nice couples we met from NC and CT.
We left for Sitka with commentary of naturalist. There was a colony of sea lions on the shore so captain turned around and went closer to the shore and stopped so we could see the animals. Naturalist commented again on sea lions, we observed them and then ship continued to sail. This was a nice feature which probably would not be possible on larger ships.
July 10. Sitka.
Sitka is of interest to us because it has Russian heritage. So we decided forgo all tours and explore this quaint town on our own. Tlingit Indians lived in Sitka centuries before Russians set food on Sitka bay (called by Indians Shee Atika). Russians arrived in 1799 and founded Russian-American trading company under management of Alexander Baranof. Russians were after furs. There were wars between Russians and Tlingits. Finally Russians outnumbered with guns and pushed natives from the land. They renamed Sitka New Archangel. Their clergy took up residency in the houses along the shore hill, now called Castle Hill. The fur trade flourished however later on when sea otters population declined, Russians lost interest in the new world and in 1867 they sold Alaska to Americans for $7.2M with a transfer ceremony which took place in Sitka in Oct 18 , 1867.
So we went to see Sitka. There is a Michael Archangel Orthodox church, wooden structure. We visited Bishop house museum. The park in Sitka had nice collection of totem poles and the trails with tall pine trees were delightful. The weather was perfect and we spent all day in Sitka. Again, good Russian stores including original Russian American company. But now all goods exported from Russia. Good stores.
In the evening, we attended a lecture about Hubbard glacier and what we will be viewing next day at sea. Very interesting.
July 11. Hubbard Glacier.
The Hubbard Glacier was supposed to be a highlight of the trip. The vast Hunnard icefield originated near 15,300 ft Mt. Hubbard and flows 76 miles to the sea at Yakutat and Disenchantment bays. It is a prime point for stop for cruise ships. Nobody gets off the ship since there are no roads to the glacier. We were told that glacier mountains St. Elias and Fairweather are the larges glacier mountains in the world. This glacier is moving forward quickly and in 1986 was advancing 30 meters a day towards the fjord and created a huge lake. So there is some geological activity is going on in Yukutat bay. The glaciers advice and retreat, becoming fjords and lakes and new rivers flow to the sea.
Captain said we will come as close to glacier as we can. In the morning we woke up with a magnificent view of tall glacier mountains. There was a ship Mercury (twice as much size as our Mariner) and it went to the glacier bay close to Hubbard Glacier. However they radioed that ice conditions were changing and the ice started forming around ship and it was difficult for Mercury to get out of the Bay. Therefore our captain announced that due to the changing conditions of ice (glaciers have their own climate around them), he will not take any risks. So we watched glacier from outside.
The ship stopped in Yuakutat bay to pickup a member of Indian community of Yukutat who gave us a lecture about their life. This is a most northern point of surf. Yes sufers come there.. The community has about 600 people, 40% Indian and 60% anglos, with Yakutat culture respected.
We listed lecture and had opportunity to talk to the Kai (community representative). I asked if Yakutat was owned by Russians and he said yes. We took picture with Kai and then the boat came to pick him up on shore.
The weather was great, with sun and good visibility, but still cool 60’s. Nevertheless, kids were swimming in the pool and people used 3 jacuzzis on the pool deck. We sunbathed Alaska style (dressed and under blanket). But I did get suntan which I usually do not get in warmer climates since I do not sunbathe in hot weather. This sun was very pleasant.
There was a show “Tribute to the beatles” in the theater and then we went for nap in our suite. We missed crew show which other passengers told us was great.
For dinner, we had lovely conversation with 2 couples at nearby tables and finally we moved our tables for 2 together. It was lovely.
So this was the last night of the cruise and everybody went to suites to pack. We used last internet minutes in business center and went to bed since tomorrow was disembarkation at 8am.
July 12. Anchorage
Next morning we disembarked after breakfast. It was organized very well, calling passengers by color tags. There were few choices – to go to Anchorage by scenic train or by bus. Some passengers continued their trip to Denali /Fairbanks.
We chose the train. The luggage does not go with the train so it went separate by truck.
The train has panoramic view and also some commentary so the ride was pleasant.
All luggage was to be picked up in Anchorage Hilton and Regent also had hospitality suite in Hilton so passengers can explore city and leave luggage with Regent. There also was a shuttle which every hour took passengers to airport.
We booked Hotel Anchorage Grand which was a block from Hilton so we walked with our suitcases (again, the advantage of traveling light!) to hotel.
Grand Anchorage hotel is more like a 3* hotel. When we walked in, it was more like it. However once we opened the door it turned out to be not a room but 1 bedroom apartment with kitchenette, hallway, living room and separate bedroom. So it was a surprise. There were not a/c however but a some kind of climate control which did not work. We opened windows. It was OK. The disadvantage is that it faces railroad depot and the noise from train did not let us sleep without interruption. Otherwise, staff is friendly and they also offer included continental breakfast in nearby café. Unless the room was booked with hotels.com – then breakfast is not included.
In Anchorage we went to the stores and explored the city. It has small downtown and very friendly city with many flowers. People are very friendly. The weather was very good. We went to Alaska Experience in downtown. The quality is not that good of the movie and we also saw the movies on cruise so it was not that exciting although the video of glaciers when they flow to fjords is impressive.
We also went to 5th avenue mall but we are not much of a shoppers.
We had lunch in Snow Goose brewery and it was good pub food.
For dinner we went to Marx Brothers café recommended by Fodord, Frommers and our cruise reps in Anchorage. But the restaurant has only 14 tables and it was booked. They recommended Sacks Café and we had nice dinner there. We could not eat much and took leftovers with us for next day lunch in apartment.
We did not have much to see any more so we just walked in the park, went to Ulu factory down by the river and bought Ulu knife. We also walked to the bridge where you can spot salmon however we did not see any. But we had nice walk, pretty flowers everywhere. The weather was still perfect. Hopefully we have it all day before we go to airport in the evening.General Observations of the ship.
We had very high expectations and Mariner fulfilled it. It was just perfect. The crew was terrific, with preemptive service which you would expect from luxury cruise line.
What I liked about ship that it was spacious and you did not see many people. Sometimes you walk in the lounges, hallways, elevators and there were not many people so you wonder “where is everybody?”.
The ship flies under French flag. The crew is British and service people are from Phillipines. I think Philipines are the best for service. Chefs were French.
Passengers were mix of Canadians, Americans and Europeans. Majority (70% ) of Europeans. Since this was summer sailing and Alaska is of interest to families, about 30% were children from as small as babies to teenagers. However kids were well supervised, well behaved and although families do create some noise level, however, it was not a nuisance. Everybody was pleasant and polite. I did not encountered rude people on this ship.
There is a Club Mariner for kids and many passengers checked it for future (to take their grandchildren and children). Unlike large cruise ships, club Mariner had one group, with councellors attending to different age children but kids seemed to be happy. No video arcade, no climbing wall but families seemed to be happy. This is a destination oriented cruise and most families took many excursions in ports.