Cruising Alaska: Part 1

JUNEAU, ALASKA

Beauty sleeps on the calm dreamy bosom of the ocean, or lives in the dance of its wild waves. ~T.C. Henley

One of my favourite ways to travel is by cruising.  I originally was planning on staying local for my vacation but decided I liked travelling too much.  It was a bit late to book something overly exotic and I really didn’t want to spend hours looking into transportation, accommodations, things to see, etc.  That’s when my Mom reminded me that there were cruises to Alaska leaving from Vancouver.  It made for an easy decision.  All my food and accommodations would be taken care of.  There was very little planning involved, and the port was close to home.

Vancouver, British Columbia

Canada Place

The Holland America cruise itself was wonderful.  Three meals a day with the option for a buffet or a sit-down dining experience.  Room service was also an option.  When dining was not available there was always a condensed version of the previous meal.  At 3:00 each day, we were offered classic tea time.  The majority of the time we were eating, which was fine by me.

Activities included art shows, a live kitchen, tours around the ship, and nature viewing.  We had a park ranger come on board and talk about Alaska as well.  In the evening there were movies playing and a variety of shows in the show room.  My favourite was a mini broadway performance.  Also onboard was a full service spa.  We purchased a thermal package and spent a good 2-4 hours a day enjoying the hot tubs, thermal beds, and steam rooms.

Being my first cruise to Alaska, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Thinking back, Alaska was a more grand and wild version of British Columbia.  More untouched.  The towns we docked at had a lot of personality despite their smaller populations and each city offered a piece of wild Alaska.  On the ship I saw a total of 3 orcas, 2 humpback whales, sea otters, a pod of porpoises, and dozens of jumping salmon (as it was salmon season).  Needless to say, the upgrade to the balcony on this cruise was worthwhile.

Juneau, Alaska

Our first stop was Juneau, the capital but not the most populated city in Alaska.  Alaska has a big gold rush history and Juneau is named after Joe Juneau who arrived from Quebec and helped establish Juneau in the 1800’s.  Of course he did not do this alone.  He got help from the people of the area, the Tlingit, who helped him map the area, and survive the new landscape.

Upon arrival in Juneau, we chose to do a tour to the Mendenhall Glacier National Park.  This massive glacier has been retreating.  The quick changes, compression, and cold give it a beautiful blue hue.

The Mendenhall Glacier extends from the Juneau Icefields and is considered part of the Tongass National Forest.

To get to and from the glacier you actually need to pass through part of the forest which is just as amazing as the glacier itself.  August is salmon season and the salmon run wild.

The bears thoroughly enjoy their meals.  Brown, or Grizzly bears are not common but Black bears are everywhere.  If you are lucky you will see one but they are timid and, of course, it is important to remember that they are wild animals and to keep a respectful distance.  They are smart animals and enjoy the fatty parts of the salmon that contain the most nutrients so they are ready for the winter.  The rest is tossed aside to be enjoyed by other animals.  Eagles, in particular, love the leftovers.

Sadly, we did not see any bears here but we did see blue herons and a porcupine!

One thing that the Tongass forest really provides is plenty of lush, green forests and flora such as elderberry and ferns.

Other wildflowers and plants cover the forest as well.

Walking through the forest is also a bit like travelling through time.  There are dates posted throughout the forest.  They indicate where the Mendenhall Glacier reached that year.  It allows you to visualize just how huge the glacier was.  It also makes you realize how far it has retreated.

On the way back to the ship we enjoyed a whale watching tour.  Unlike orcas, which are common in British Columbia, Alaska is known for their humpback whales.  Because they are slow-moving, they are easier to spot.  In August they come to Alaska to feed so they will not be breaching.  However, if you are lucky, you will see their humps and maybe even flukes (the proper name for a whale tail).

There is a pattern to their behaviour.  They will blow and several minutes later they will emerge slightly on the surface to breath after eating krill.  The humpback’s mouth lining looks like a series of gills and as they swim, they open their mouths and the krill get trapped.  Dinner is served.

Finally, as we headed back to our cruise ship, we were lucky to see Steller sea lions enjoying the beautiful day.

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