Our Alaskan Adventure!

Marjorie Glacier

We knew it would be the trip of a lifetime and it certainly was! There is truly no way to adequately capture the grandeur and majesty of the Alaskan wilderness… from the magnificent glaciers to the numerous waterfalls, from the lush greenery to the snow capped mountains, from the breathtaking sunsets to the abundant wildlife. Everywhere we turned we were met with a postcard photo view. The panoramic photo above is of the Marjorie Glacier which was spectacular. Those directly below are just some random shots along the way to set the mood for this blog! There are slide shows and links to Flickr at the end of the blog, and there are several links to video playlists from YouTube sprinkled throughout as well.

Note: all pictures and videos were shot just with my iPhone 5,
so be gentle with your criticism
🙂

This is a long read… I know… sorry about that!
tl;dr – we had a great time on our Alaskan cruise!

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Day 1
We got up bright and early on Saturday morning to begin our trip, and as usual, I had us at the airport way early! That’s just how I roll.

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The first leg of our trip took us from Atlanta to Toronto on Air Canada (I know, I know, I should have booked Delta to Seattle, but I booked through Princess to get a deal that turned out to be not a deal). We arrived in Toronto and you guessed it… our bags did not make the flight. We flew an RJ (Regional Jet) and there were too many heavy bags originating in Atlanta (passengers with carts and carts of huge heavy bags traveling back to Nigeria by way of Toronto and London). Not only did we not get our bags, but it caused us to miss our connecting flight to Vancouver. 🙁

Not the best way to begin a vacation! We rebooked on a later flight… one that would not get us to Vancouver in time to make the cruise 🙁 Fortunately, we were able to get on an earlier flight on stand by… and barely made the boat… but without bags. Vacations are supposed to relieve your stress, not add to it! It was a long, brutal and hectic day, but we finally made it on board the Diamond Princess late that afternoon. Whew! Unfortunately, we had no information about our bags and would not see them until Monday afternoon in Ketchikan. 🙁 All we had was the clothes on our back… no carry on luggage (you would think I would know better, right?). But we were truly grateful when they showed up!

Day 2
In spite of our misfortune, we woke on Sunday morning to beautiful sunrise!

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We spent Day 2 cruising up the Inside Passage to some breathtaking scenery. We traveled on the Diamond Princess (Princess Cruise Line). I have to say, we loved Alaska, but overall we weren’t that thrilled with Princess. I am sure our experience wasn’t normal, and your mileage may vary, but we had a few bumps and bruises along the way we didn’t really expect. Some was not entirely the responsibility of Princess, but some was. We realize this was only the second cruise of the season, but honestly, we expected more.

  • The service surrounding our lost bags was less than stellar. Yes, the airline lost our bag, but on the boat we had to jump through hoops, fill out forms and make 3 trips to the front desk just to get a complimentary amenity bag  so we could shower and shave.
  • I was a little confused about the inconsistencies… this was my first cruise. The communication wasn’t very good IMO, but we managed our way through it. For instance: buffet meals, coffee, tea, etc. were all included of course, but if you got a soft drink (not alcohol, but a Diet Coke) there was a charge. Hmmm. You could get all the soft serve ice cream you wanted, but if you got it in a milkshake, there was a charge. Huh? All the pizza you wanted was included from the pizza bar, but… if you ordered it for room service there was a charge. Really? Why? Everything else for room service was included for free, just not pizza.
  • There were four “any time” dining restaurants, each with a different motif and style. However, they had the same menu! Huh? The exact same menu in all four restaurants? I expected the Mexican style restaurant to have mexican style food. Silly me. I guess that is typical, but it was a surprise to me. We chose the buffet for all meals, and while it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t what I expected from all of the stories about cruise buffets.
  • Not really Princess’ fault, but about 60-70% of our crowded boat was Chinese. We rarely heard English at all, and honestly it was a little disorienting. The talking, the yelling, the playing in the pool, all in a language you don’t understand. Did I mention it was crowded? Everywhere we went it was crowded on the boat, and people really should learn some manners.
  • About 90% of the Princess staff had English as their second or third language. That made their accent very difficult to understand at times, and their customer service skills were dictated by their home culture, not good old fashioned southern hospitality.

It really wasn’t as bad as it sounds 🙂 We enjoyed our cruise and Alaska very much! Even our time on the boat wasn’t all bad either. We had a lovely room and a magnificent balcony view of everything. It was certainly worth the money to upgrade to the suite with the balcony. We ordered a pot of decaf from room service most every night and enjoyed the view. We even spent a little time Sunday afternoon in the theater watching one of my favorite movies: Argo 🙂 It was a great distraction from our lost bags! They had outdoor movies on deck, but it was usually too cold to really enjoy them. Some of them were pretty good (Skyfall) while others weren’t 🙂

Here are a few shots of our boat, the Diamond Princess:

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Day 3
We awoke on Day 3 as we were pulling into the Ketchikan harbor. Ketchikan is a delightful little town, and although our time there was limited (we sailed at 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon), it was one of our favorite stops. Of course, we still did not have our bags at this point, and it looked like we were going to have go to the Walmart and buy clothes and essentials. Yes, there is a Walmart in Ketchikan 🙂 They probably do all their business from people who don’t have their bags on cruise boats!

We had a fishing excursion scheduled for this morning, but we had to cancel it because we had no clothes or anything… and if we had gone, we would not have been able to go to Walmart. In the end, we got our bags in Ketchikan just before the boat sailed! Yay! But, because we canceled our fishing trip, we had the morning free so we set out to explore Ketchikan. That is when we learned you can save a lot of money by negotiating your excursion deals once you get off the boat in port. We were able to book a float plan trip to the Misty Fjords at a much reduced rate from the cruise price, and we were able to negotiate not only the price, but the time. This fly in trip to the Misty Fjords proved to be one of our favorite things about the trip! Our pilot told us the weather was unprecedented for the area and time of year. It was a gorgeous day! Here are some of the shots from Ketchikan and that excursion:

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Watch us land on the Misty Fjords

You can watch several videos from the air on our fly in trip to Misty Fjords including the one above in this playlist: [Note: due to updates to WordPress/YouTube the playlists are only available in Chrome or Firefox… they aren’t working with Safari right now, of course it could be my extensions :)]

After we returned from our flight, we did some shopping! Ketchikan had the best prices (we didn’t know that), but we did pick up a few things. Then it was back to the boat for an early departure for the next leg of our journey. Once back on board we welcomed the return of our bags! We changed clothes and finally began to relax a bit more!

Day 4
There is a LOT of daylight in Alaska this time of year 🙂 There was usually still some light when we went to bed and it was already light when we got up! This day brought us to Juneau, the capital of Alaska. We were very excited by now, we had our bags and we were ready to rock and roll. This day would bring us our first glacier and… whales!! “Captain, there be whales down here!!” 🙂

Our excursion was for whale watching, a salmon lunch at Orca Point Lodge and a trip to Mendenhall Glacier. It was another unseasonably beautiful day, and our guides couldn’t stop commenting on how magnificent the weather was! We were fortunate and blessed. Funny thing about the weather on this trip. In places it was very cold, like the morning boat ride to the whale watching. In other places it was very hot! Like our walk out to see the Mendenhall Glacier that afternoon. It was quite an interesting contrast and you certainly had to layer your clothes!

Our guides on the whale watching trip were careful to set our expectations. There were never any guarantees of seeing whales, but there is an abundance of wildlife in Alaska! We saw bald eagles in the trees and a steady stream of stellar sea lions playing in the water. And then, suddenly… humpback whales! Woo Hoo!! The pictures and videos I took don’t really do them justice, but they were awesome and fairly close by. We saw a mother and her baby calf 🙂 We watched them for a while as they would surface and then show us their fluke (tail) and dive for 10 minutes or so and then resurface. It was amazing to watch in person!

Once we left the humpbacks we began traveling back to the Orca Point Lodge for a salmon lunch. I asked the guide about seeing some orcas, or killer whales. She told us the sightings weren’t exactly rare where we were… but they weren’t that frequent either, especially that time of year. We weren’t expected to see them on this trip. 🙁 However, not long after… we did see them! A pod of about 9 killer whales surfaced and frolicked for us!! Adults and babies! 🙂 We were so excited and thrilled. What an awesome trip we had! Humpbacks AND Orcas!!

We had a great lunch at the lodge and then headed on to see the Mendenhall Glacier. What an interesting sight! A beautiful glacier with a huge waterfall right beside it! Icebergs floating in the water from the glacier and people swimming in the water! A strange and bizarre sight for us, but normal for the folks in Juneau! We hiked down from the Visitor’s Center to the glacier and it was a hot walk! Really hot! But it was worth it.

Here are some shots from whale watching and from the Mendenhall Glacier:

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You can watch the humpback whale videos in this playlist:

You can watch the orca killer whale videos in this playlist:

Day 5
Skagway was our next stop and it is quite an interesting place with a tremendous amount of history with the Gold Rush to the Yukon. Our guides were very knowledgeable and filled us in on so many interesting stories. The journey through the White Pass was long and harrowing… all in the search of fortune and glory.

We took the train ride up the through the White Pass and the scenery was breathtaking as we made the winding journey up the mountainside. The guides pointed out areas of interest and gave us the background on everything. The climate change was dramatic on our ascent. We started in a warm/hot environment at the base in Skagway, but by the time we reached the summit at White Pass there was snow everywhere! The train was awesome and very comfortable to ride, unlike the experience the original prospectors had making their way through White Pass. According to the history, nobody was allowed to proceed up the pass from Skagway through White Pass without one ton of supplies, enough for one full year. That meant up to 40 trips to the top of White Pass before you could even proceed. And then… you had to build a boat… yep, build a boat to cross the lake and go on the river another 600 miles! “There’s gold in them thar hills!” Wow!! Prospectors (and families) would winter at White Pass in tent villages at 60 degrees below zero! It is astounding what they endured and how they improvised!

We also visited the suspension bridge that crossed the river. It was only mildly interesting (tourist stop), but it did give a great view of some of the scenery as well. We took a bus ride back down the mountain and it gave us a different perspective. We even saw a double rainbow when we got back on the boat! Here are some of the pictures of the trip up to White Pass and back, the suspension bridge and the rainbow!

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Our guide quotes a Robert Service poem about the Yukon as we drive down from White Pass

You can watch videos from the train ride up to White Pass in this playlist:

You can watch videos from the bus ride down from White Pass in this playlist:

We even celebrated our First Anniversary on the trip!!
Wow, married in Las Vegas
First Anniversary on an Alaskan Cruise
Guess I will have to see about those Moon Excursions that Richard Branson is selling for next year!

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Day 6 and Day 7
We left Skagway and headed out for 2 days of sailing in Glacier Bay! What a beautiful experience! Our first real treat was the Marjorie Glacier. We were so early in the season, there was a lot of ice in the bay, so we weren’t able to get as close as we wanted, but it was still magnificent. There is no way to capture the “calm” of the water and the area… and then the crack of the ice as the glacier calves! The roar of the ice falling into the water is stunning! I was fortunate to capture a few such times on video 🙂

We were blessed to have our balcony and the captain made sure to turn the ship so both sides of the boat could always get a terrific view of everything. Here are a few pictures from Glacier Bay and College Fjords.

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Watch Marjorie Glacier calving!
Around 1:00 / 1:50 / 5:00

If you want to see all of the videos from Glacier Bay including the Marjorie Glacier calving you can watch them in this playlist:

Day 8
After leaving Glacier Bay, we made our way to Whittier, our final stop before heading to Anchorage for the flight home. Due to excessive ice in the bay, we had to trade our final whale watching excursion for one that included a Wildlife Preserve and a trip to the top of a ski lodge. We were disappointed, but the trip had been so awesome we couldn’t really complain at that point. There isn’t much to Whittier itself, but the ride to the Wildlife Preserve was beautiful. At the Wildlife Preserve we saw bears, a one-winged bald eagle that had been rescued, and other wildlife. The trip to the ski lodge was disappointing because the cloud cover was so thick once you got to the top you couldn’t see anything 🙂

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Check out the bear at the Wildlife Preserve!

We made it to the Anchorage airport late that afternoon as we started our journey home. We were sad, but we were soooo tired too! Fortunately we had an uneventful trip back on Alaska Air and Delta and collected a fair share of Skymiles too!

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It was an awesome trip, a once in a lifetime experience. We were blessed to experience it together at a time in our lives where we could truly appreciate it and enjoy it. We would love to go back, but this time we would like to go further into the interior by train to the Denali preserve 🙂 Who knows if we will make it back, but this is one trip we will never forget!

Lessons Learned

  • I would try a different cruise line. Princess was awful, but this was my first cruise and I expected a little more. We have discussed Holland America, Celebrity and probably Disney for any future cruises.
  • I would fly Delta for all legs of the trip next time, either with Skymiles, non-rev or full fare. I realize Delta loses bags too, and they have lost mine before… but the customer service I got from Air Canada was terrible, and the flights were miserable. Plus, I would earn Skymiles from a purchased ticket. (I actually did get Skymiles back on Alaska Air).
  • Pack a carry on bag with everything you need for the trip. If you check a bag, make sure you don’t need the stuff in it… and if you don’t need it, why are you bringing it anyway?
  • If you are unsure about an excursion, don’t book in advance. There are deals to be had once you leave the boat. Some excursions fill up and are unavailable, so if you want to be certain to do something, book in advance. But if you are willing to roll the dice a bit, you can save a lot of money by negotiating a deal when you arrive in port.
  • Prices are cheaper in Ketchikan for most things and get progressively more expensive the further north you go. However, on the boat, things get cheaper every day until they have a big sale at the end of the cruise.

tl;dr – we had a great time on our Alaskan cruise to celebrate our First Anniversary!

I have linked to some slideshows from Flickr below that contain even more pictures if anyone is interested