Alaska

Day 3 – Bye-Bye Juneau

MS Nieuw Amsterdam as dusk settles on Juneau’s cruise terminal

After spending a wonderful day in Juneau, Alaska it was time to head back to our ship and say goodbye to this beautiful town. I wish we could have had more time here as we didn’t get a chance to take the gondola up to Mt Roberts. I would have also loved to go to Mendenhall Glacier and explore that area again, but with 9 hours in port there is only so much you can fit in.

Juneau definitively deserves more than just 9 hours!!

The Ruby Princess in port in Juneau, Alaska

 

Leaving Juneau, Alaska

 

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Day 3 – Whale watching tour

Auke Bay harbour in Juneau, Alaska

Day 3 started with us docking at Juneau’s cruise terminal at around 1300hrs. I had pre-booked a whale watching tour with Harv’s & Marv’s prior to setting sail, which turns out cheaper than booking through the cruise line. Additionally, Harv’s & Marv’s only use small boats that take no more than 6 people (unless conditions aren’t favourable, and then they will switch to a slightly larger boat of up to 18 people), whereas the majority of cruise line tours are using boats that take masses of people. I had used the same company on my previous Alaska trip, so knew that we would have a great time.

Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacier

After being picked up by a mini bus we were shuttled to Auke Bay Harbour, which is just on the outskirts of Juneau. We met our skipper Christine, who has been with Harv’s & Marv’s in that area for the past four years. Thankfully the weather was just beautiful and whales had already been spotted in the area, so she was very hopeful that we would see some. Before making our way out into the waters around Juneau we stopped to admire Mendenhall Glacier. I must say, I noticed a big difference in the size of the glacier to when I last saw it 5 years ago. Very sad to see.

A bald eagle on our way to spot whales

On our way out we spotted this bald eagle sitting in a tree on a small island. Thanks to being on a small boat we were able to get fairly close.

Aside from eagles we also saw a number of sea lions, and these were playing just to the side of our boat. I was very lucky that a humpback whale came along in the background as I was taking photos of the sea lions.

Just very lucky to get sea lions and a humpback whale in one photo

These sea lions were embracing the sunshine

We were really lucky throughout our trip with Christine; we not only saw humpback whales diving, we were lucky enough to find a pair of them surface feeding.

Surface feeding humpback whales

All in all, it was a wonderful trip out, as we saw around 7 or 8 different humpback whales, sea lions, eagles, and some seals. To say that it made our cruise would be an understatement and not doing the experience any justice. Even Mr. T, who previously seemed rather aloof about a whale watching tour, was totally mesmerized by these gargantuan leviathans and was as excited as a little kid whenever he spotted a whale!

If ever you find yourself in Juneau, a whale watching tour is a must, and do it with Harv’s & Marv’s, they provide a great tour with knowledgeable skippers who do their best to get you to see the whales all while staying within the legal limits. The following are some of the photos I took during our tour with them.

 

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Day 3 – Juneau, Alaska’s state capital

Approaching Juneau, Alaska

Day 3 provided us with wonderful views in the morning as we were making our way to Juneau. It was hard not to stare out, soak in the landscapes and hope for wildlife sightings.

Bald Eagle on the way to Juneau’s cruise terminal

I’ll be honest, I was giddy with excitement as we were approaching Juneau’s cruise terminal; finally I was able to show Mr. T the sights I had experienced 5 years ago.  I had booked a whale watching trip with Harv’s & Marv’s, who I had used on my previous Alaska trip. Thankfully they pick you up at the cruise terminal and then take you to their base in Auke Bay harbour (more of that experience in the next post).

View from the balcony as we approach

We arrived in Juneau around 1300hrs and got back from the whale watching trip around 1700hrs, plenty of time for us to walk around and take in some sights and sounds, given that we did not set sail again until 2200hrs. The driver dropped us off in town, so I took the opportunity to introduce Mr. T to Patsy Ann, who he believed was some female celebrity. Alas, Patsy Ann is a statue of this wonderful bull terrier who in the 1930s would greet every ship that docked in Juneau, and in 1934 was declared Juneau’s official greeter. I love her story and you can read more about this deaf dog on this website.

Patsy Ann, still greeting ships to this day

After a stop with Patsy Ann we took a walk to St. Nicholas Orthodox Church and passed the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, which documents the culture and history of Juneau and the Douglas area. We didn’t visit the museum itself, but I really liked the totem pole that stands just outside of the building.

The Juneau-Douglas City Museum

A short, but steep walk up Main Street and round onto 5th Street, and we arrived at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, which has served Juneau’s community for over 120 years. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived the church was closed, so another visit without being able to take a peek inside (perhaps enough reason to go back?). It was nice to see the church still standing and being taken care off.

St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Juneau

We then ambled back towards the waterfront and eventually arrived at the famous Tracy’s King Crab Shack. The place was very busy and a queue was forming; I am not a fan of shellfish, but I couldn’t resist watching them prepare the king crab legs. Tracy’s has been serving king crab for the past 12 years and is a must for all those who visit Juneau and enjoy king crab.

Juneau’s famous Tracy’s King Crab Shack

Juneau is a fabulous little town and I really enjoyed being back. Next post I’ll share our whale watching trip with you.

 

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Day 2 – Whale sightings!

Day 2 on our Alaskan cruise saw us cruising along the Inside Passage on our way to Juneau and we had our first whale sightings.

We were pretty lucky with this one, as there was a small pod of them just some distance out.

Needless to say, that after this I spent pretty much all day looking out for more. We did see quite a few whales, porpoise, and dolphins. The latter two were impossible to photograph, as they were so quick. Overall, we saw whales every day other than on our first and last day, so there will be more photos coming.

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Day 1 on the Inside Passage

Travelling along Vancouver Island

Technically Day 1, but I call it Embarkation Day given that more than half the day is taken up with getting onto the ship.

After having left Vancouver at 1630hrs on the Saturday, the ship made its way north along the British Columbian coastline and past Vancouver Island.

The landscapes on show were breath-taking and I could have spent the whole afternoon just sitting on the balcony and watch the world go by. However, the suitcases needed to be unpacked and then there was the small matter of our first evening meal in the main dining room. Thankfully we had pre-booked the first sitting at 1730hrs, which meant that we got back to our cabin in time for our first sunset onboard ship, and we were not disappointed.

The ship must not have gone very fast during the evening, as we were still passing Vancouver Island long after the sun went down. Thankfully the Inside Passage protects you from rough seas, so everything was smooth sailing and we soon adjusted to the slight swaying of the ship.

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Leaving Vancouver

Leaving Vancouver

We left Vancouver’s cruise ship terminal, Canada Place, on a Saturday at 1630hrs on the dot, but before we set sail, I thought I would just give a quick overview of our embarkation process.

In our case, it was easy peasy, our hotel was within walking distance of Canada Place, so we made our way down for 1000hrs, official boarding, we were told prior to this, was 1100hrs. We got to the terminal, walked down a ramp (rather than queue inside the building for the lift) to the luggage drop off. Top tip: print your luggage tags at home and if you want, order some protective luggage tags specifically for cruise ship tags. In our case I just handed our printed tags to an attendant who stapled them around our luggage handles for us; your luggage will then be delivered and placed outside your cabin. After that we followed the signs to get us to the check-in desks. As we had booked a suite we were lucky to bypass the queue, although, there really wasn’t much of a queue at that point. We got our cabin cards, info sheet for the days’ activities, and were sent on our way to the US immigration area. As British Citizens we joined a throng of others waiting their turn; this was the longest we queued for during the whole process; it took about an hour, and warning, it was quite hot in there with all those people waiting, oh, and you are not allowed to use your cell phone! After that it was a quick walk down to the ship and onto the embarkation ramp we went! We were advised that our room should be ready by 1130hrs and until then we were invited to explore the ship. Note that the buffet restaurant on the Lido Deck is the only place open for food and drink at this point and will get very busy.

So, after having a bite to eat we made our way down to find our cabin ready for us (the interior of which can be seen in my previous post). As per usual cruise etiquette, most people assemble on the top deck for sail away and enjoy a glass of bubbly. We decided to buck that trend and did the same on our balcony. That way we were able to enjoy the views without jostling for a space and I was able to take photos without worrying about accidentally photobombing someone else! We were lucky that our cabin was on the Forward Port side of the ship, so we got wonderful views of Vancouver, Stanley Park, and Lions Gate Bridge.

The weather that morning was not the greatest, very overcast with rain, but as we left the port the clouds broke a little and some sunshine did make it through!

Stanley Park, Vancouver

On our way out we passed Stanley Park, which is Vancouver’s first and largest urban park. It is a 400-hectare green oasis with natural rainforest, wonderful views, and the Seawall which goes all around it. There is a ton to do and see in this park, from walking along the trails inside the park, to renting bikes, or take in a tour via horse-drawn cart.

Brockton Point, Vancouver

The lighthouse stands at Brockton Point in the park and is 100 years old. Nearby are several hand-carved totem poles all made in British Columbia. Originally, Brockton Point was used as a graveyard for the early settlers. There used to also be a lighthouse keeper from 1855 onwards; the gentlemen in question served for 25 years and is credited with having saved 16 people from drowning. The lighthouse you see today was built in 1914 and is outfitted with an automatic light.

Lions Gate Bridge, Vancouver

As we rounded the corner at Brockton Point Lions Gate Bridge came into view. This bridge was opened in 1938 and connects the City of Vancouver with the municipalities of the District of North Vancouver, the City of North Vancouver, and West Vancouver. It’s official name is actually First Narrows Bridge, but has become Lions Gate Bridge named after a pair of mountain peaks north of Vancouver. A pair of cast concrete lions were placed either side of the south approach in 1939. In 2005 the bridge was designated a National Historic Site of Canada.

Lions Gate Bridge with Prospect Point to the right

Under we go

Once we got under the bridge Stanley Park started to fall back a little, but not before we got to enjoy the views of Siwash Rock. The rock is between 15 and 18 meters tall and is the only sea stack in the Vancouver area. The rock is part of a legend among the local Indigenous Squamish people. There are a number of different accounts of this, but one says that the rock is a man who was transformed into the rock as an indestructible monument to Clean Fatherhood.  A plaque nearby states that it is Skalish the unselfish who was so transformed.

Siwash Rock, Stanley Park, Vancouver

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A tour of the MS Nieuw Amsterdam

Before I start sharing photos of the wonderful places we encountered on our cruise to Alaska, I thought I would give you a quick tour of the MS Nieuw Amsterdam.

The Lido Deck (Deck 9) with the Sea View Pool on a rainy afternoon while still docked in Vancouver.

Given that this was our first proper cruise (I am not counting the informal family cruise we did 16 or so years ago) all this was just amazingly new to us. HollandAmerica is known for giving its clients a more traditional cruise experience; if you want water slides and nightclubs, this is not the cruise company for you. It really pays to explore all the different cruise lines out there, as each of them seems to cater to a slightly different crowd. As our clubbing days are over, the HollandAmerica experience suited us down to the ground.

Our Neptune Suite on the Rotterdam Deck (Deck 7)

Our balcony

We were lucky enough to be able to book a Neptune Suite, which, as the photos show, are very spacious suites and come with a number of perks (free laundry, breakfast at the Pinnacle Grill, access to the Neptune lounge, priority embarkation, etc.). I will say that we booked very much last-minute (4 weeks prior to sailing), and booked the lowest available fare for this type of cabin by going with a guaranteed cabin (i.e. you are guaranteed your cabin class, but you cannot choose your specific cabin, and if you are lucky you may get upgraded). Our cabin class was on Deck 6, but they upgraded us to Deck 7 (same cabin, just a better deck number). If you are prepared to take a gamble you can pick up some great deals this way.

As you would expect on a cruise ship there are a number of dining options and bars dotted around, each of them with a different decor and feel. Our favourite was the Gallery Bar with its large number of paintings/photographs. In fact, throughout the ship there was art exhibited everywhere, from the staircases to the corridors and bars; there was something for everyone.

The Pinnacle Grill

The Gallery Bar on the Lower Promenade Deck (Deck 2)

One of the many bars on the Nieuw Amsterdam

Looking down into the Atrium

Outside the Pinnacle Grill

One of many pieces of art

 

Another favourite of ours was the hydro pool in the spa; you can get a spa pass for the duration of your cruise and have access to the hydro pool, sauna and heated loungers with the best view on the ship while on sea!

Hydro pool in the spa

 

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A few night-time impressions of Vancouver

Prior to our Alaskan cruise we stayed overnight in Vancouver. As we stayed not too far away from the cruise terminal we decided to take a walk around that area and explore.

Our first stop (more by accident then design I have to admit) was the Olympic cauldron from the 2010 Winter Games. It stands on the Jack Poole Plaza between the Vancouver Convention Centre and Harbour Green Park right at the waterfront. The cauldron is 10 meters tall and is lit only for special occasions. For more Olympic history you can visit the Olympic Legacy Display in the convention center; it showcases a full set of Olympic and Paralympic medals, torches, interpretive panels, and a medal podium for those all important photo opportunities.

Vancouver’s Olympic cauldron

After some great food at the nearby Cactus Club we strolled along the waterfront and saw the iconic sails of Canada Place all lit up. Canada Place is not just home to the convention center, hotels and the FlyOver Canada attraction; it is also home to the cruise ship terminal. Additionally, Canada Place hosts the largest Canada Day celebration outside of Ottawa. It was nice to see it lit up and empty of people, as the following morning it would be busy with two cruise ships taking on its passengers (us included).

Canada Place, Vancouver

And finally, on our way back to our hotel I saw this in the lobby of an office building. Not sure why it was there, but I thought it was quite striking.

Somewhere in a Vancouver office building

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A catch-up and news of another trip

Well, after some time off from blogging since the end of August I thought it was time to return. Summer is at an end, our daughter has started her last year in college, we celebrated Thanksgiving (which is in October in Canada), and we have had some snow (thankfully, for the time being it has melted again).

During the past month and a half we managed to fit another holiday in. This one was rather a last-minute booking, as we had originally planned to do this trip next year. However, last-minute pricing was just too good to miss, so we pulled it forward.

We went to Alaska, on a cruise. If you have followed my blog for the past 5 years, you may remember that I did a solo car trip to Alaska in the summer of 2013. I really wanted Mr T to see this beautiful part of the world, but the only way that was going to happen was by cruise. I am really glad we took the opportunity, as we had a fabulous time.

HollandAmerica’s MS Nieuw Amsterdam, our home for 7 days

We travelled out of Vancouver with HollandAmerica’s MS Nieuw Amsterdam on a 7 day round trip with stops in Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, and Ketchikan. We saw some wonderful wildlife, great landscapes and scenery, interesting towns, and met some great people. We also took the chance to stay in Vancouver a night prior and post the cruise to explore this city.

Vancouver’s skyline

I hope you will enjoy the upcoming posts about our trip and hopefully I will be able to convey the beauty that surrounded us everywhere we went.

 

 

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Alaska Road Trip – how to be bear smart and other useful advice

My guest blog post on TravelBloggers.
Some great travel posts and photos – so don’t be shy, go and check them out!

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Driving to or in Alaska is not as scary as some people would have you believe. Yes, you need to be mindful of certain things, but it’s not scary, honestly!

Last year I drove on my own from our home here in Southern Alberta, Canada to Alaska,  a total round trip of just under 7,000 km, and I would do it all again, and again, and again (although I think my family would not be best pleased!).

The start of the Alaskan Highway The start of the Alaskan Highway

The first thing I would advise anybody wanting to do a road trip to Alaska, is to go and buy the latest edition of ‘The Milepost’.
This fantastic guide has every mile in Alaska and parts of Canada logged. It has information on roads, towns, accommodation, shops, attractions, dangers you could face, and every natural beauty spot you could imagine. This book became my bible…

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