***Cruising Alaska’s Inside Passage

An Alaska cruise is a wonderful way to enjoy wildlife, glaciers, and beautiful scenery. The following is my friend (and client!) Dennis’ journal describing his trip to Alaska with his family. Enjoy the article!

Sunday.On June 29 we (9 of us)boarded the Norwegian Pearl ,a large cruise ship (~3000 passengers and ~1000 crew!) for an 8-day cruise up the Inland Passage. Lots of time to explore the many decks, outdoor pool and recreation area, several different restaurants, library & game room, and the longest corridor I’ve ever seen off which our three adjoining staterooms were located. It had outdoor balconies, and a divider that could be adjusted so we could go back and forth without going into the corridor. We luxuriated in the ship’s departure from the harbor where the weather was sunny and around 80 degrees – a nice send off before going north and getting cooler. Our Filipino steward, Alfred was great and extremely nice– knew all our names by the next day, and always ready to help us. Every night when we got back to the cabins he had constructed a different animal out of towels – delightfully raffish beasts including a lobster and elephant. He was really an expert – participated in a panel showing “how to do it”. One particular pleasure was pulling the curtain open from the bed to see the waves and views and skies. There was the fascination of watching the ship’s wake, and the sound of the waves.

The meals were plentiful and delicious. The large dining room was like a food court, with many nationalities represented. The Indian food was particularly good. Wonderful fresh breads, all kinds of salads and fruits, and big specials every day– including (in a German festival) roast suckling pig! It was open all day and most of the night, so there was no lack of sustenance. We were greeted at each entrance by a smiling young lady chanting “Washee, washee; Happy, happy!” as she squirted disinfectant on our hands. (It worked: no known illnesses on board.) There were at least two theaters, one seating 1500, with different shows every day (the Second City troupe was particularly good), and lots of watering holes where one could sit and sip and enjoy different pianists or, for instance, a magic show. We also had fun bowling now and again. My daughter was fairly contemptuous of the many organized kid’s activities (of the Disney variety, but not really well suited for her age – from her perspective), so she was often with her two older cousins. Some of us took in the spa, and could retire to beautiful hot tubs and lounge chairs with a fantastic view out the bow of the ship. The other boys were often at the stern, where there was an outdoor bar and cafe.The outdoor pool-with-slide was a big hit, and all the games available. A few final memories of the ship –the decor was decidedly 60s Miami Beach – ridiculously overdone. And there were sales going on all the time – lots of jewelry shops and hokey tourist items – even an art gallery with auctions. (Nothing we would have looked at twice.) On the other hand, there was a fine pianist in one of the bars – could play almost any song on record, and enjoyed our crew singing along on many of them. And I recall the many families from all over the globe, from babies to wheelchairs. It was fun to see how solicitous the fathers were with the kids.

Monday.The views on both sides were just incredible. After one day ‘at sea’ sailing to Juneau, we were always surrounded by mountains – continually changing silhouettes with little bays and islands for variety, and every now and then another ship passing by. We were blessed with wonderful weather with only one partly rainy day. It could be cold – we had on all the layers as we walked around the deck, with a strong wind buffeting us, but the ship was always steady as a rock. We were at sea all day, with only ocean to look at, so it was a good time to explore the ship and try out many of the different offerings.

By Tuesday afternoon we were docked in Juneau, where we split up for different onshore excursions. We were fortunate for the entire trip on being on the port (left) side since when docking or viewing Glaciers, we could be in our cabins without having to move. Some of us went on a whale watching trip on a roomy vessel with lots of glass for indoor viewing (really cold on deck!), and a pilot who took us from place to place in Lynn Canal until he found several humpback whales for us to exclaim over, as well as sea lions crowded together on a buoy. Others went on the Bike and Brew Glacier View – not as strenuous as initially feared. And good exercise for all. I visited the State Capitol building–my 50th State Capitol building! Very non-descript architecture, but had a great tour guide. We celebrated the accomplishment with a special toast at dinner.

Wednesday.The ship cast off exactly at 10 pm, and by the next morning we were in Skagway. This was the gateway to the interior for all the Klondike gold chasers who flocked to Alaska in the 1850s. We split up again, with some taking the White Pass Scenic Railway on a wonderful 4-hour trip up the mountains actually into Canada. I saw a bear in a meadow, which retreated to the woods as we neared. There was no town or anything at the top – the nearest town was miles away: White Horse, capital of the Yukon region where the gold was. The engine chugged around from the front to the back of the train, and we re-embarked, switching over the seat backs, and changing sides. There were streams everywhere, rushing down to the river far below; unbelievably steep hills (how they managed to build it is a mystery), one or two bridges over steep canyons. A good commentary by the driver gave us lots of history as we rode along. Others went on the Musher’s Camp & Sled Dog Discovery and loved it. They rode over the rough track on a wheeled sled used for training the dogs – “Fast!”Most of us gathered for supper at the Liarsville Salmon Bake, which took us outside the town for several miles back to a camp in the woods, where grilled salmon and other fixings were served. Lots of tall tales told on the way, told by the very garrulous bus driver. (The salmon on the ship was better!)

Thursday the 4th was bright and clear. We sailed all morning through narrow channels to get to Glacier Bay, and had the best possible view of that incredible spot. We stopped for over an hour beside the largest one – the Margerie–so everyone could take pictures, and Forest Rangers who had joined the ship from the nearby Yakutat Station gave us a constant commentary on the history and geography of the region. (They had a neat exhibit set up as well toward the after on one of the top enclosed decks, with lots of educational materials.) We paused at two other cliff-like glaciers very different in size, color and shape. The booms of the ice cracking, and the view of several chunks calving into the water with a huge splash, were riveting. The Senior Ranger said she had never seen such a great view of the Bay in her eight years there – often people travel all this distance, and it’s totally fogged in!

We woke up Friday morning in Ketchikan– it was fun to open the curtains by my bed and look out at the town seemingly arms-length away. This town was larger, and very tourist-oriented. It can take two or three of these huge ships at a time,and I’m sure it’s the main business of the town. There can’t be much activity there in the winter! We had all morning for our activities –Some of us got up very early for Guided Fishing – quite a large group went out on small boats, and almost everyone caught (and threw back) something. Others were signed up for the Saxman Native Village. It was excellent –history from the point of view of the Native Americans, well told and wonderfully demonstrated by dancing and singing in the Long House. The swinging Tlingit robes were stunning: black with wide scarlet edges, marked with many white buttons. Some went sea-kayaking,which they loved. Really nice pacing and out for about 2.5 hours. We met up again for a hokey Lumberjack Show with lots of jokes and horseplay surrounding a tank with logs in it, and a couple of poles to climb.

After all this activity, we were glad to be back on board for the trip to Victoria, BC, which took from 1:30pm Friday until 6pm Saturday. It felt good to stay on board for a change and to rest up a bit. This was our closest stretch of open-ocean, with only the sea to look at, and the hypnotizing motion of the waves and the ship. We weren’t in Victoria long enough to do anything but stroll through the waterfront park for a bit, and explore the Museum gift shop – everyone bought some momento. Leaving there at midnight, we were docked in Seattle by 8am, and escorted efficiently off the ship – which was making ready to begin another cruise at 4 that afternoon. Amazing!

Sunday.We had a parting lunch at Pike Place before exploring Chinatown before some having to fly home. The remaining five of us took off in a rental car for Vancouver, BC. It was again a clear day, and we enjoyed the drive, even the easy passage into Canada. We got to the Victoria Hotel in time to settle in before dinner. It’s beautifully restored old brownstones, but in a distinctly seedy (transitional is the polite word) neighborhood. We did find a near-Eastern restaurant for supper, and then early bed.

Monday .The next day was very busy – we started with a drive through Stanley Park,enjoying all the views of the city, the water and the mountains. Then we went to Grenville Island, where there are many crafts shops and restaurants. We had lunch at the enormous farmer’s market where one could buy quantities of almost any food known to man. Across the street was the best musical instrument store I’ve ever seen – folk instruments from all over the world, and a delightful young man who would play any of them. I told him I’d like to move in!

Back into the car for a drive out to the University and its Anthropological Museum. I remembered this vividly from a Chorus America Conference years ago –it has a stunning collection of totem poles and other artifacts from the Coastal Tribes: carved canoes, masks, drums, whole costumes, and drawers full of other exhibits. A centerpiece is the famous huge Bill Reid sculpture of the First Peoples emerging from a clam shell. Lots of human bottoms, which amused my daughter inordinately. (As did her reaction to frequently-crossed Butte Street, on which she and her cousin played all manner of indelicate variations.) We took a tour of the outdoor sculptures, and then explored the inside. My daughter loved the computers in each gallery that allowed her to ask all kinds of questions about the displays. She even found one item from Massachusetts!

Back into town to explore the Old Town, where we found a leafy square with an outdoor beer garden, which seemed just the thing we needed at that point. We were actually quite near our Hotel, so we walked around more in this pleasanter section and found a restaurant for dinner.

Tuesday morning we returned to Stanley Park and the Aquarium, which had both indoor and outdoor exhibits of wondrous variety. Indoors, a special show on floating jellyfish (I forget the right name); outdoors there were all manner of sea creatures – harbor seals etc. demonstrating their tricks with their trainers – mostly young women who had established an amazing rapport with their subjects. The sea-otters were particularly charming in their water games, and the big white whales astonishing in their human-like responsiveness.

We had lunch with my good friend conductor Jon Washburn and enjoyed sharing all our experiences with him, before the sleepy drive back to Seattle, night in an airport motel, and the long flight back home to Massachusetts.

Norwegian_Pearl_Alaska

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