Port of Call: Ketchikan, Alaska

After leaving Sitka, we traveled through the night down the coast until we docked at the town of Ketchikan bright and early in the morning. We decided to traipse around the town and see what it was like. There were several funny stories my sister told me about her first trip to the seaside town. There was a bar with a risque picture that we just had to get a shot  with us standing in front. There is nothing funnier than two women of a certain age trying to stand in front of a couple of mating bears.  I will spare you the picture because this is a family-friendly blog, but if you are curious you can look up the Artic Bar in Ketchikan where you can see their happy bears.

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Pay attention to this pier, it will become a main player in the story in a moment.

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My sister and I spent the morning walking through the last stores available in Alaska thus, the last chance for souvenirs. How can anyone resist gathering up shopping bags full of trinkets all labeled Alaska before leaving the great state? We were unable to resist. Needless to say, the kids all had a very Alaskan Christmas. With tired feet that were only rushing to get back on the ship we turned around and headed back to the dock. Once on board, we went to the Lido deck. I mean it was lunch time, and there is all that food.  What’s a girl to do?

 

This is where the activity started. The time to be back on the ship was getting close and as you can see, people were scurrying to get back on the ship. They make the return time very clear at each dock. In our comfy window seats, we watched the passengers lining up and returning to the ship. The Westerdam was about to head out to Victoria British Columbia for its last stop of the trip. We see the line thinning.  The last passengers trickling up the gangplank.

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Once the dock was empty, the overhead speaker starts paging two passengers.  Asking them to make their presence know. The page is repeated several times, imploring the two people to make contact.  After a few moments, we begin the sideways trip away from the pier. Now, until this trip, I did not know that a ship could go sideways, but when it leaves port, it slides into position then moves forward. It is an incredible process to watch. Still at our window seats we see two shoppers loaded down with bags come running across the street straight for the now folded away gangplank.

The couple is immediately approached by an official looking man who confers with them and begins to walk them over to two little white vans. He loads them up and they drive off the pier. The Westerdam continues to pull away from the dock and we all look at each other and grimace.  People start talking about the great fines and fees for remaining over your allotted time at the pier. The ship had no recourse but to leave at its scheduled time. The captain did wait on them almost fifteen minutes. Who knows how much that cost the Holland America cruise line.  There were titters of nervous laughter and great sighs of relief that it had not been us that had been carted away in that little white van. A few moments later a seaplane takes off. Was that our mystery couple? I am not positive, but in my mind it was.

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The green-roofed building is the most astounding and reasonably priced souvenir shop ever. Plus they give you these amazing totes for your purchases. It was lovely! I still have my tote, it is red and it screams Alaska in bold print.  I love it just as much today as the day I got it.

Several hours later we attend the Captain’s get to know more about me event in the showroom. We were excited to be going and seeing that sweet Captain again. Once he gets comfortable in his chair and begins to tell us about the wonderful ship that we are sailing on, it gets time for the questions and answers.

The first question. What happened to that couple that missed the ship?

Captain assured us that they had been whisked away to Victoria British Columbia where they could meet up with the ship or go on to Seattle.  All their belongings would be safe and secure.  This would, however, be on their own dime.  They would be put up in a hotel by the cruise line, but the other expenses like the flight home, they would have to pay.  Ouch what an expensive  lesson to learn, never miss your ship’s scheduled departure time.  They must keep to their schedules.

Next port of call, Victoria, British Columbia

 

 

Alaskan Cruise Port of Call: Sitka

Leaving the Glacier Bay national Park we watched our Tlingit Guide hop off the ship and speed off in a park ranger boat. That was an exciting time. The ship’s guests were all lining the edge of the ship watching this woman hop off. I blinked, and there she was in the little boat. Nothing for me to see, I didn’t even get a picture of her jumping ship. Darn it!  We were finished with the day’s activities, the native made souvenirs had been removed from the Lido deck and we were once again free to move about the boat.

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Continue reading “Alaskan Cruise Port of Call: Sitka”

Alaskan Cruise: Glacier Bay

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Glacier Bay is a step back into complete solitude ready for viewing the untouched nature.  As you cruise into the bay area, one of the first things you see are the hanging glaciers. These are the round areas up in the mountains. They hang over the sides of the mountain with no hopes of reaching the shore.  The trip into the bay is silent. On occasion, you hear a bird fly overhead, or the splash of a bird landing on the sea to feed, but for the most part, it is gliding silently, surrounded by the most amazingly large snow capped mountains. The water changes as you approach the glaciers, it becomes a gray blue and you can tell that it is absolutely freezing below the surface.

Continue reading “Alaskan Cruise: Glacier Bay”

First Port of Call, Juneau​ Alaska

After a day at sea, we docked bright and early on Sunday morning in Juneau, Alaska and here I was about to step foot on my most distant destination to date. I had been to the shore of Washington before, as a small child, but this, this was a huge step.

 

The clouds lay on the tops of the mountains winding down to the shore. The waterfalls streaming down the mountainside. The vividly painted buildings that lined the dock. It was a spectacular welcome to the 49th state. The last 24 hours had been filled with one new experience after another. Whale spouts, spinner dolphins, endless sea, dinner at the Captain’s table, and now, the historic dock of Juneau. I watched the machinery on the  dock preparing the gangplank for the cruisers to disembark and wander into the town. My sister and I ran up to the Lido Deck and chose a few muffins to tide us over while we spent the day sightseeing and exploring. I actually think my sister had a nice healthy breakfast, I was into carbs like there was no tomorrow during this cruise. I tend to limit them every day as a rule, but I refused to resist them while on vacation.

We had two expeditions planned for the day and we watched as the buses pulled up to take us away.  today, we were taking one of those buses to the whale watching excursion and afterward we were heading to Mendenhall glacier.  The announcement came that it was time to head out. we were so excited.  We grabbed our camera’s raincoats and got in line to leave the Westerdam.

Getting neighboring seats we started off on the wet, twisting roads out of town and along the shoreline before heading into the dense treeline on our way to a bay where the whale watching touring company was located. While heading out of town, we were given interesting and in-depth information about the first settlers of this historic town. The tour guide on the bus regaled us with the difficulties of getting products into this isolated area. The prices were amazing to hear and the fact that everything had to be brought in on ships, was hard to imagine. I found there are only three ways to enter Juneau, by ship, by plane, and by the birth canal.  🙂  Now you have heard the best joke of the day.

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Once we boarded the double decker boat we were offered refreshments as we quickly sped across the bay and out into the open sea once again.  The captain and crew kept us informed about whale activity and assured us that the whales were out there and we would make some memories today. It was such an exciting time. The large boat slowed and we began to see the little black dots that were in fact whale backs silently breaking the surface of the choppy water. The  IMG_1915

And then, they showed up, close! A mother and her baby. Swimming close to the boat so that we could make a memory that would never leave us.  We watched the mother and calf as they bobbed up and over then back down into the water.  Graceful and magical, I had seen something so wonderous on my first day in Alaska. We were fortunate as the migration to Hawaii had begun and the mothers and calves left first. Over the moon, just doesn’t capture my emotion.

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The boat left this area once the two slowed their surfacing and the captain got notification of another sighting. Again we zoomed across the churning water. Once again we were rewarded by a brave and daring whale that was curious enough to come close.

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One of my most prized possessions, this cameo of a killer whale.  The captain believed this to be a male that had not yet begun his migration. He slipped into the water easily yet, there was no breaching. That would have been amazing, but I was thrilled with the contact I had been given.  After several hours seeking and viewing killer whales, we returned to the dock and began the second leg of our excursion.

Back on the bus, we headed deeper into the woods, winding our way to the Mendenhall Glacier.

 

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Nearing the Glacier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mendenhall glacier was a chance to get closer to a glacier than I would have believed.  As we pulled into the parking area, we  left the bus and were able to walk down to the lake that was right in front of the glacier.  12132379_10208078479699000_5911783375735850511_o

Above on the right, the observation area and museum sat towering over us. First, we went to the edge of the lake and took a few special pictures.  There is a man standing closer than we were. He is wearing a blue shirt. I never figured out how he got there. There is a waterfall hidden off to one side. The size and beauty of this glacier, simply overwhelming. That is a constant theme in Alaska, everything is larger than anything I have ever seen before.

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After spending the hours on shore, we were exhilarated and exhausted at the same time. It was the most amazing feeling. We still had dinner before we would call the evening done.  That was where I saw the most amazing and unique sight.

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This is the yacht, My Sky. It has been traveling all around the northern hemisphere since I saw it one year ago in Juneau. I keep up with it on MarineTraffic.com. I shared this picture last year on the MarineTraffic website, so others could see what a beautiful ship she is.  We were dining when I saw this outside the dining room window. I raced to get a picture of it. It was massive and beautiful. It touched me with its starkness and modernness. This ship was impeccable. I am in love. My Sky is now on the Eastern Shore of America, slowly moving up and down the coast, from New York to Baltimore.

Next stop, Glacier Bay!

 

 

Memories​ of August 2015: A Surprise Vacation

August 1st is tomorrow, and that brings back memories of last August. The week in my life, I will never forget. My sister, my wonderful, loving , sweet, and giving sister, provided me a vacation I will never stop thinking about. I remember the details as if they occurred last week. It was a surprise, she did not mention the gift she planned to celebrate our birthdays. Her birthday is  in September, mine,  in November.

She planned a cruise to Alaska. My first cruise, my first trip out of the country and my first time being able to view the magnificence of Alaska.IMG_2087

She flew me into Seattle and we spent a whirlwind day sightseeing that beautiful city. I visited the Fish Market, yes, I saw them throw fish. It was an adventure, and we had not even left dry land. I saw where Harry met Sally, I stood right against the needle tower. No way was I zooming to the top of that tower. It was gigantic. I rode on a tram. Viewing the sculptures of the Weiss Manfredi , Olympic Sculpture was breathtaking. We skimmed the edges and saw towering sculptured trees in vibrant color and unique textures. It was outstanding. My visit to Seattle was a whirlwind, moreover, it was spectacular. IMG_1875

My cheeks ached from smiling.  We ate at a restaurant right where the fishing boats dock. It was so nice to walk the pier seeing the larger ships as they came in from a day out at sea. I am a homebody. I rarely leave my own driveway. I was now on the West coast about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime. After walking all over Seattle and returning to the Executive suite, I slept well even though I knew I had to get up early and begin the embarkation process. My first cruise meant, of course,  I  packed too much. Only one bag as suggested, but I packed one bulging suitcase to the brim. My sister, a frequent cruiser, and frequent world traveler packed much smarter and lighter than I.

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Don’t tell my sister I posted her picture.

 

The MS Westerdam, a Holland America ship was a dream. I am a lover of all things transportation. This ship was gleaming, sparkling and enormous. Even though it is considered a mid-sized cruise ship. As it was my first ship of any kind up close and personal, I was in love.

Getting aboard  the ship was an exciting event in itself. Having official pictures made for the ship’s records and ID tag, showing my brand new passport to customs. For a large number of people, we IMG_1938moved quickly through the various stations, providing tickets, Itineraries,Excited, smiling and calm, surprisingly calm, I passed through all the checkpoints and began climbing the winding gangplank up to the third floor.

The luggage  placed  just as it should be, outside our cabin, and all is right with the world. We rushed up to the tenth floor to watch the Seattle cityscape disappear. Slowly creeping out of sight. My Brother-in-Law and Nephew, followed the ship along the shoreline until we passed the lighthouse. It was surreal to wave to people on shore that you know! I made an extremely special memory for me.lTxNosL - Imgur

After leaving Seattle we spent most of the afternoon in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, beautiful water that is a wide path with islands along either side. A beautiful way to start a cruise. The international border is along the center of the strait. We passed ferries and smaller ships along that  body of water.

I brought my seasick pills, but only took one. That was  the one night we dined at the Captain’s table and I overindulged in the constant stream of champagne, wine and, more champagne, I might not have been seasick as much as tipsy. I am just skipping ahead a bit and talk about the Captain’s dinner. Oh my gosh, I had beef Wellington and it was delicious. The most outstanding creation was the dessert. It was in a sugar cage. It was beautiful, it felt like a shame to break it. It shimmered in the light and you had to break it with your fork before you could eat the chocolate cake inside. It was a delightfully, sinfully, decadent, dessert. After dinner, we had a few more sips of Champagne before relocating for the  group picture, and it was time to stumble our way back to the cabin.

I laughed all the way to the cabin because the sway of the ship was making me bounce from one side of the narrow hallway to the otCaptain's Dinnerher. I am sure the sailors in the cabins I bumped against appreciated me suppressed giggles afterward. I was not the only one bouncing down that hallway, my sister had been sipping the same concoctions all through cocktails, dinner, and dessert. I can only say, she is the professional travel writer, I am the new sailor. I was following her lead. I was fortunate to be invited to his table, because of my sister, yet, I enjoyed it as if I was invited because it was my first cruise.  Captain Vaartjes said during dinner, “We set a pretty high bar for your first cruise” I had to agree.

I might have developed a wee crush on aforementioned Captain. His name was fantastic. Captain Bart Vaartjes. He is charismatic and genuinely kind to  IMG_2074people.  Later in the week we attended a get to know the captain presentation and he shared slides, statistics, and even participated in a question and answer session. He is adorable. I kept getting caught snapping pictures of him in passing.  A girl can make herself feel better any way she wishes, while on the open seas.

On the first day and night, we cruised up the coast of Canada and up the inside Passage. With views of the ocean and the untouched shoreline of Canada, it made me feel minute, tiny in comparison. We skimmed the shore all day and to the left, nothing but water and little puffs of spray that announced a whale in the vicinity. When in the observation room, the cry  “spout” would send the entire room skittering from one side of the ship to the other. The observation deck had glass on three sides, there was not a bad seat in the room. h5GZeY6 - Imgur

It was along that Canadian shoreline that we came across our first Spinner dolphins. My first encounter with a dolphin. These streamlined dolphins swim in a pack of approximately forty bodies. They  dart directly into the path of the ship, jump, dive, return, cross, and repeat. These acrobats were so entertaining to watch. To see such a great number cavorting in the wake of the ship. Before this cruise,  I never realized there were such a variety of whales, dolphins, and seals. More about those as we move closer to Alaska.

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Spinner dolphin

 

I intend on sharing my adventure with you over the month of August. I have pictures my family might be tired of admiring. Therefore, I want to share them with you. I hope you enjoy this little travel tour reliving the best week of my life.