Finishing up our Alaskan cruise

Finishing a series of posts, especially when returning from vacation, can be a challenge and this one is no different. So, in the interest of getting this done, I’m going to combine our last three days into one blog post. 

Thursday, May 18

Sitka, AK

Sitka, Alaska, Greek Orthodox Church

There isn’t much to Sitka. We took a school bus (free) from the dock to “downtown” Sitka. Downtown consisted of two streets, about three blocks long with tourist shops lining them. There is a Russian Orthodox church in Sitka. It had a traditional “onion” dome and another, elongated dome. That was the most interesting thing about downtown. I heard someone say it had 23 miles of streets but I’m not sure where they are or where they go. Sitka hugs a mountain with the water lapping at its shores. It was overcast and cold but didn’t rain.

In 1799, the Russian territorial governor, Alexander Baranof, had a wooden fort and trading post in Sitka. Then he moved Russian and Aleut fur hunters there from Kodiak Island. The natives objected to these people infringing on their hunting grounds and burned many of the buildings and murdering the settlers. Baranof returned in 1804 with a large group of people and fought the natives, driving them to the other side of the island.

In 1867, Russia sold Alaska to the US for $7,200,000. The deal was brokered by William Seward, the headSitka Alaskas island of the Department of the Interior. The price of the land was $7 million, the $200,000 purchased an ice factory. At the time, Americans were not pleased with the expenditure and Alaska was referred to as “Seward’s Folly.” 

We walked around awhile and then got back on the ship. One of the problems on this ship is maintaining an even temperature. Even though very, very few people have gone out on the deck – which always lets cold air inside the ship, some of the lounges are warmish and a lot of them are downright cold, so cold we can’t sit there. Our cabin is much the same. When we come in, it’s very cold. We turn up the thermostat and it gets a little warmer, but it’s never hot.

 

Friday, May 19

Ketchikan, AK

ketchikan, AlaskaKetchikan is known as the rainiest city in all of Alaska. They get over 200 inches of rain a year. The city was built around a salmon cannery located at the mouth of Ketchikan Creek. Ketchikan was also known for its red light district that, at one point, had 30 “sporting houses.”

We were pleasantly surprised to find blue skies and warm temperatures when we disembarked. Ketchikan is similar to all the other cruise ports we have sailed into. It consists of a few streets with what I refer to as “Cruise Shops.” Diamonds International can be found in all of the ports we’ve visited in Mexico, the Caribbean islands, and all the stops we made on our Panama cruise which was two weeks long. We stopped in Columbia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Panama City and more.

We spent an hour or so walking around and then went back to the ship. We’ve found a favorite lounge by a large window so we can see the ocean, clouds, and fog.

 

Saturday, May 20

Victoria, British Columbia

We had to turn our clocks forward an hour so now we are on Seattle time again. It means an hour less sleep

victoria, british columbia, Canada

but I haven’t felt it. We arrived in Victoria, British Columbia at 6:30 pm and planned to get off the ship for awhile. It stays light until a There is a law governing cruise ships with a United States itinerary. If you are on a cruise like this one where you leave and return to an American city – in our case Seattle, the ship has to make a stop in a foreign port before returning to the US. That’s why we are stopping in Victoria, British Columbia. If you take a cruise from Los Angeles to Hawaii, the ship stops in a city in Mexico, often Puerto Vallarta, before returning to Los Angeles.

So we got off the ship and were standing in a long line to get a taxi. There was a young woman in her twenties standing behind us with her parents. She spoke English just fine but her parents were from China and had a very limited English vocabulary. I think they understood more than they could speak. Either way, the three of them were very funny, exceptionally nice and a lot of fun. We agreed to share a taxi since we all wanted to visit the same place. When we got to the taxi stand, we ended up with a very funny, nice man. We talked it over and the place we wanted to see was already closed. He offered to take us around the island and show us the sights. And he did an exceptional job! I can’t remember laughing that much. It was the most fun I had on the entire cruise.

victoria, British Columbia, peacockWe agreed to share a taxi since we all wanted to visit the same place. When we got to the taxi stand, we ended up with a very funny, nice man. We talked it over and found out the place we wanted to see was already closed. He offered to take us around the island and show us the sights. The price was reasonable and we all climbed in. One of the places we stopped was a large park where we found this peacock. It must have been mating season because he was really strutting his stuff. Our driver did an exceptional job! I can’t remember laughing that much. It was the most fun I had on the entire cruise.

It was the perfect ending for the cruise. Overall, when I go on vacation, I want to be somewhere warm. I want to be able to get off the ship and sit on a beach. So, if you love wildlife, beautiful scenery (it is a very beautiful state) and don’t mind wearing long pants, warm shoes and hoodies or parkas, Alaska is the cruise destination for you. My one word of caution is to make sure you read reviews of the cruise line and the specific cruise ship before booking. 

I’m looking forward to the next cruise already!

Sailing Hubbard Glacier on the Oosterdam

Wednesday, May 17, 

Getting close to the glacier

The Oosterdam entered the strait that leads to Hubbard Glacier about 1:30 this afternoon. It’s impossible to gauge how large it is from the ship but Heather reported it as 35 stories high above the water and 25 stories beneath the water.

Parts of the glacier, especially the parts in the front edge and in the water are this marvelous shade of blue. It’s unique and hard to describe. The water in the bay was a beautiful milky, gray-turquoise because the water is made up, in large part, of melting ice that has broken off of the main glacier. The temperature of the water is 43 degrees and the ice is 32 degrees. This water is this odd color because so much of it is made of the ice crystals that have broken off of the glacier. The water further away from the glacier is the bright blue that you would expect.

They did not allow anyone to get off the ship; it would have been very dangerous, so we stood outside

Hubbard Glacier, a beautiful and impressive sight

while I took a lot of photos and Tom looked for wildlife with his binoculars. He didn’t see any.

Even though we didn’t do anything in particular, we’re both tired. I sleep really well on a cruise ship. Maybe it’s the gentle rocking back and forth. The beds are so comfortable.

The weather on the cruise has been mixed. Our day in Juneau was perfect! But our two days at sea have been rocky and has made it difficult to walk on the ship. Last evening we were returning from dinner and a young man was vomiting in the corner of a turn in the hallway. Thankfully, our room steward, Ollie, was right there. He brought a wheelchair out of a storage room and took him to his cabin. Tom and I went back to the restaurant to try to find his parents. The man handling reservations found them quickly and I was able to speak to his mother to tell her what had happened. I don’t know where they were from, but the women at the table were wearing head scarves and speaking a language I knew nothing about. We were able to communicate anyway.

Tomorrow we get off at Sitka. We arrive at 8:00 am and leave at 3:30 p.m., so it’s a quick port of call.

Juneau & the Mendenhall Glacier

Tuesday, May 16 

Juneau Mountain

Juneau is the only US state capitol city that cannot be reached by land. It’s an island and you have to take a boat/ferry or seaplane to get there. The buildings and houses are right up against towering mountains.

Our ship arrived in port in Juneau at 1:00 pm and we got off about 2:00. Getting in later gave us an opportunity to sleep and have breakfast. When I’m on a cruise, I sometimes don’t want to get off the ship. It almost feels like we’ve paid for the cruise including the room, food, and entertainment, and I want to get as much out of it as possible.

It was a beautiful, warm day with a few clouds and little wind. 

Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau AK

The temperature was nearly 70 degrees and we didn’t need to wear jackets. I was concerned about the weather since it is so early in the season. We were told that the first cruise ships of the season left the week before we did. But, except for Sitka, we had nice weather the whole way.

We hadn’t made plans to participate in an excursion in Juneau. We were just going to go ashore and look around. I don’t recommend this strategy when you’re on a cruise. You end up walking around a bunch of tourist’s shops looking at junk, and never getting to experience the place you’re visiting.

Mendenhall Glacier

When we walked to the end of the pier we ran into Heather, the Alaska specialist onboard the cruise ship. She’s really nice and was there to help passengers decide what to do. She gives talks once or twice a day on the various towns we are visiting and the local wildlife. She was born and raised

Sea Plane landing in Juneau

in Juneau. She asked us what we wanted to do during our time in Juneau and we told her we wanted to see the Mendenhall Glacier. So she directed us to one of the tour companies on the dock and we signed up.

We took a school bus up to the glacier. It is beautiful! The leading edge – that runs to the water – is a beautiful shade of blue. The color comes from the complex crystal formations in the new ice. As the ice ages, the crystals change and the ice turns white like we expect to see it. The water along the glacier was also beautiful. The blue shade comes from the new ice with those complex crystals breaking off and falling into the bay.

Tomorrow we are at sea as we pass through the Hubbard glacier. Then we stop in Sitka.

Cruises are a fun vacation!

Sunday, May 14 & Monday, May 15

Cruise begins: Leave Seattle and a day at sea

Entrance to Hubbard Glacier – compare the large fishing boat vs the size of the mountains!

Cruises are a lot of fun and one of my favorite vacations. We’ve cruised the Caribbean on Celebrity and Norwegian and the Panama canal on Princess. This is our first time on a Holland America Line cruise. The Oosterdam is the smallest ship we have ever been on and the size seems to make a difference. The sea is choppy with an occasional whitecap and the boat is rocking significantly.

According to the information I found on Holland America’s website, The Oosterdam was refurbished in 2016, but if it was, it sure doesn’t look like it. The wall in our stateroom at the end of the bed is dented in like someone kicked it. Then last night, when we went to dinner, I noticed a seam in the wall under our table was held together with white tape. Overall, the Oosterdam looks old, a little abused, dirty, and out of date. It’s not “flashy” pretty.

The crew has been wonderful, though, and that more than makes up for the state of the ship. Everyone has a smile on their face and is friendly. They are always looking for ways to help. I’d say this is the friendliest crew we have ever encountered.

By the end of the day, I wasn’t feeling very well and just wanted to sit and rest. I took a nap so we missed our appointed dinner time of 5:15 pm. We arrived for dinner at about 6 pm and were asked if we would like to share a table for four or eight. We chose a table for four. Shortly after, two ladies in their late 60s, early 70s sat down across from us. We tend to avoid communal tables on cruises. Yes, it is possible to meet interesting people, but it is just as likely to have to spend two hours with an obnoxious, completely inappropriate person as well. This time it worked out. The ladies were a lot of fun. One of them, Hope, is a retired rheumatologist. The other lady, Suzanne, has a very strong personality, and was Hope’s office manager. They retired at the same time. It was fun and interesting to talk with new people.


 

Seattle, a great place to start!

Saturday, May 13 

Leaving for Seattle

View from our balcony in Seattle

Our flight to Seattle last night was very late. On one hand, it was good because we didn’t think we could have been ready to leave any earlier. On the other hand, it was very difficult; we didn’t get in until after 9:30 pm and we were exhausted. We stayed at the Hilton, a nice hotel, but nothing special. It was moderately priced and included breakfast on Sunday morning.

We didn’t need to be at the dock until 1:00 p.m. so after breakfast, we decided to walk to Pike Place Market to look around for awhile. However, we had no idea the walk was

Seattle, old and new

straight downhill to the bay. We got to Third and Pike and decided not to walk the last three blocks. It was chilly and would just add three blocks of walking back up the hill on our way back to the hotel. So we took a left onto Third and crossed the street. There was an IGA grocery store on the corner and we went in to buy two bottles of wine. We’re allowed to bring one bottle per adult on board in our luggage to be consumed in our cabin.

When we came out of the IGA, we took a right and walked the two blocks to University. Along the way, we heard emergency vehicles approaching. They were loud and obviously headed our way. About a half block later we came upon four or five EMTs working on a man on the ground. It appeared that he was homeless. He was naked from the waist up and it was shocking to see this large, overweight man lying on the cold concrete while an EMT began CPR. It was cold outside and the man was already turning gray-blue – I believe from a lack of oxygen more than the cold. We didn’t stop to gawk at the poor unfortunate.

I think that obsessive need to watch the results of an accident or riot is natural but should be avoided if at all possible. I try not to fill my mind with negative images and attitudes. I get depressed easily and focusing on negativity makes everything worse. So we just walked by. The ambulance went screaming past us a minute or two later.

We got to the ship in plenty of time. Some cruise lines seem to go out of their way to make the embarkation and disembarkation process as miserable as possible. I have to say this was the easiest, most hassle-free embarkation we have ever encountered. It’s been two years since we’ve had a vacation and eight years since we’ve taken a cruise. We are looking forward to getting away!

Susan

Alaska in May on a cruise ship

One of the beautiful mountain peaks we saw on our cruise

I’m not sure about cruising to Alaska in May, but we haven’t taken a vacation since we went to Italy in 2015 so I’m willing to risk it. That’s because 2016 was quite a year! Our daughter had our first grandchild – a boy – in April and in October we moved from our large home we lived in for 22 years and downsized to live just a five-minute walk from said grandchild. Yes, I am one of those photo-carrying crazy grandmothers who thinks her grandson is the cutest one, ever. But then, that’s only because he is!

So, by the end of last year, I was starting to get stir crazy and obsessing about taking a vacation. Now, my husband is the greatest and I love him dearly, but he does not enjoy traveling as much as I do. Maybe that’s because he carries more of the responsibility, and luggage, than I do. I knew I needed to come up with a vacation he could get behind.

We love to cruise and it’s been many years since we’ve taken that kind of vacation, and he has always wanted to see Alaska. So I put the two together and we are off to Alaska in about two weeks. To be perfectly honest, I’m not that thrilled with the idea of cruising to Alaska in the middle of May. My definition of “vacation” definitely includes shorts and sunscreen and May doesn’t fit into that definition. And, we’re going on a cruise line, Holland America, we have never tried before. That makes me nervous, too.

Here’s one of the things you need to know if you are cruising for the first time. Every cruise line: Princess, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian (our favorite), Carnival, etc. caters to a specific demographics. For example, Carnival’s activities, décor, food and suggested dress code is focused on twenty-somethings. Our first cruise was on Carnival, the Love Boat, and we left the main pool area for good the afternoon they were having a wet t-shirt contest and then something where they put a log-like thing across the pool and two people straddled it facing each other and tried to knock each other off with a big stick with a foam rubber end. Even though we were in our early thirties it was a too much for us.

The Disney Cruise Line is all about families as you would expect. It’s not an age group as much as activities mothers and fathers, and grandmothers and grandfathers, can have with the kids. I love Disney, but I would never take a Disney cruise. Nothing spoils my meal more in a restaurant than out-of-control children whose parents have decided the only way they can enjoy their evening is to ignore their children and their disruptive behavior. If you get on a Disney ship, you have been forewarned.

Now that we are in our “senior years,” Norwegian Cruise Line works well for us. The average cruiser is in their mid-50s to mid-70s and up. It’s playing bridge and Solitaire in the afternoons, leisurely meals in elegant surroundings and one formal night where the men wear suits or black tie and the women wear cocktail dresses or ball gowns. Love it!

From what we can tell, Holland America caters to the same demographic so we’ll see. Also the Oosterdam, the ship we will be on, is small comparatively speaking. It holds about 2,000 passengers as opposed to a Royal Carribean big ship that carries 3,500 – 4,000 people.

I’m bringing my laptop and will be blogging and posting photos along the way so you will know how it’s going. Hope you enjoy it and, well . . . I hope we enjoy it too!

Susan