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Alaska Cruise

Original Article and Photographs by Kenneth A. Larson © 2007 - 2017


I never wanted to take a cruise. Living in Los Angeles, most cruises head south to Mexico which I wasn't in a hurry to see. I'm too interested in sight seeing to want to sit on a boat out at sea or sit on a beach in Mexico, or shopping for souvenirs. Then my brother-in-law, who worked of Princess Cruises, signed us up for a discount as a wedding gift. It took a few years before we got around to scheduling a cruise and there was only one cruise I interested in, Alaska. Many parts of this huge state are hard to see any other way. This would be my second trip to the largest of the United States and my wife's first visit.

We were still trying to complete a complicated move as the time arrived to start planning the trip. I was relieved to learn that Princess is expert and arranging all connecting flights, ground transportation, and tours. I kept asking, "So all we need to worry about is showing up at the airport on time?" My wife, Joy, is more expert at using the Internet, so I assigned her the job of planning this trip - since I was still busy moving my stuff to the new house. Most of the decisions centered on which day to depart, round tip cruise from Vancouver to Vancouver going half way up or Vancouver to Whittier including the glaciers to the north, motor coach or railway connection, non-stop or stop-over in Seattle on the way back, and which to take of the dozens of land excursions offered. There were the minor decisions, do we want fruit delivered to our cabin, classes on board ship, ketchup or mayo. Slowly it all came together. We bought one large piece of luggage, some new clothes, a large cat feeder and waterer, and tried to clean up the house we had just finished moving into.

It may be a bit of a misnomer to call this a road trip, since it was 70% by air, 25% by sea, 3% by rail, and only 2% by road, but I don't have a series called "Air Trip" and most of the words and pictures are about that 5% by road and railroad, so I'm still calling it a "Road Trip."

Day One - Getting There

The big day arrived and we determined to get to the airport early. I got 45 minutes sleep and my lovely wife insisted that she could get ready in an hour so we got off 45 minutes late. With the added confusion that now accompanies airline security, the 737-600 jet was almost finished boarding when we arrived at the gate. I noticed that the fifty year old Theme Building at Los Angels International Airport was covered with scaffolding receiving some overdue repairs.

The plane took off on time and within minutes, we were soaring over the San Joaquine Valley, roughly parallel to Route 99 which we had driven only about six weeks earlier. We cruised over California, Oregon, and Washington at about 38,000 feet, looking down at fields, forests with patches of clear cutting, snow covered dormant volcanoes, Klamath Falls and Lake Klamath, Crater Lake, and mostly clouds over Washington. We filled out our Canadian Customs forms and began our decent into Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, right on time. Vancouver International Airport is a very contemporary building with lots of glass and steel. We passed a display to the local native people and wildlife. Of curse, in Los Angels, wild life has a different meaning. Crater Lake
Crater Lake

We had the wisdom to sign up for "US Direct" which made the ground transportation from the airport to the cruise ship terminal a lot less painful. In short, we attached special tags to our luggage before leaving home and our bags were taken directly to the ship. But this isn't the good part. We were met by Princess Cruise personal who sped us through a modest customs since the cruise company ensured that we were bussed directly to the ship without any real contact with Canada and didn't buy, sell, give, or acquire anything during the half hour bus ride from the airport to the cruise ship terminal.

Although US Direct saved us a lot of hassle with customs, it did prevent us from seeing much of Vancouver. Still I made the best of it from my window seat on the bus. First, the bus followed a path through a support area of the airport and a seal was placed on the outside of the bus to ensure that no one got on or off. Then we drove a short distance to reach Granville Street, a major traffic artery through town. Vancouver is experiencing a building boom. Construction is evident everywhere and construction cranes outnumber avian cranes. The bus driver told of the many condominium projects, new highway construction, plans for getting ready for the Winter Olympics in 2010, and the need to import construction workers from as a far as Mexico. The driver informed us that this was the weekend to celebrate Queen Victoria's birthday (traditional May 24, celebrated closest Monday) so the downtown was quieter than usual. The building style looked a lot like adjacent Washington State with an Asian immigrant influence. I observed some graffiti, but no Canadian Mounties. Vancouver was originally named Gas Town after a man named Gassy Jack Dayton and there is still a historical section named Gas Town. Vancouver has the second largest China Town, and Stanley Park, at 1000 acres, is the largest natural park in North America. The bus driver said that on the weekend, there are as many as five cruise ships docking, but Princess is usually the only line on Monday. When we reached the cruise ship terminal, the path we followed seemed convoluted and looked more like the back way. It reminded me of one of the those sci-fi flicks where the bus arrives and it ends up being where space aliens bring their victims. But it all turned out OK, the seal was removed from the bus door, and we were escorted through the cruise ship's security screening and check in. The cruise line does have check in well organized and all was in order. We received our electronic room keys which also act as on-board credit cards, and keep tabs on who is on the ship, and were directed to the loading ramp. Once on board, we were directed to the buffet, but chose to first stop at our cabin to unload our carry-ons and get organized.

Our stateroom was small, but not unexpectedly so. Joy had said she thought it had a window so I was disappointed to find an inner cabin. Our cabin steward, Arnel, introduced himself and took good care of us the next week. Our luggage had not yet been delivered, but the room was full of literature about classes and other activities offered on the ship, the tickets for our planned shore excursions were on the built-in desk, and the TV was turned on and turned to a ship information channel. The small refrigerator was stocked with beverages with a list of prices to restock what we used. A quart of bottled water cost more than gallon of gasoline, and people complain of gas prices. I set up my new notebook computer and started downloading my digital photographs and we went on to the buffet.
Note the TV. In this photo, the TV shows the bow web-cam, in this case, (shot on the last day) Whittier.

Our cabin was near the stern on deck 10 and the buffet was near the bow on deck 14 so we did some exploring on our way to lunch. The buffet was about what you might expect, salads, pasta, fruit, meat, soup, and a variety of deserts. People take cruises to be catered to, pampered, and spoiled, but it almost seems the crew was too helpful offering to carry our plates and such and I do like to be self-sufficient.

I wanted some photographs of Vancouver from the ship before we sailed, so we found the stairs and climbed up one deck to the Sun Deck. Here I was able to find railing without glass to obstruct my camera. We wandered the deck for a half hour or so exploring and photographing. We were on the Coral Princess, built in 2002, 964 feet long, 16 numbered decks, with a cruising speed of 21.5 knots, Captained by Nicoló Binetti of Italy. This is about when I became aware that my wife had brought her new digital camera, but forgot the battery charger and the battery was almost dead on the first day of an eight day trip. We explored some more and returned to our cabin to find two of our three suite cases had arrived and the announcements came over the audio system to prepare for our emergency drill. Maritime law requires a safely drill and instruction in the use of the life vest before the ship can sail. The passengers returned to our cabins to collect the life vests, then gathered in the various "muster stations" to practice how to use the life vest. From here, we were dismissed to the "Sail-a-Bration" the departure party. There was dancing and music on the Lido deck and people at the rails waving to anyone on the dock. We wandered the ship for about two hours photographing both the ship and the shore passing away behind us, exploring the ship, and inquiring about things. We found the gym and I reminded my wife of the unused treadmill at home. There was excitement from the passengers as we sailed under Lionsgate Bridge but we didn't reach open water until the next day. The ship sailed west and then north-west through the Strait of Georgia toward Discovery Passage. Vancouver Skyline
Vancouver from the Ship

Reflection of Vancouver skyline in a ship window.

When we returned to our cabin, the last suite case had arrived and the bed had been prepared for us and two chocolates on the bed - again, I'd prefer to turn my own covers down. I tuned the TV to the channel that described the shore excursions offered, began backing up my digital photos, Joy fell asleep even though it was early, and a half hour later, so did I. I awoke about nine and went aft to a small outdoor area only accessible from that deck. There was still land barley visible on either side and lights. I was wishing for a map to know where we were, but couldn't find one and hadn't thought to get one before leaving home. I returned to my computer and about midnight, I noticed a small amount of a gentile rocking movement of the ship for the first time. I went aft and could some nothing but some distant lights. Were we finally out to sea, I couldn't tell. I returned to my cabin and got ready for bed.

Day two - At Sea

We awoke about 6:30, well rested and slowly got ready for breakfast. When I peeked out earlier, there was still land on both sides of the ship, but by the time we got to breakfast, there was no land to be seen as we continued northwest. I read in "Princess Patter," the daily news letter, that during the night, we passed through Seymour Narrows, a stretch of sea with a tidal stream funneled through a half mile wide gap with currents running at 16 knots, We continued west through Johnstone Strait and Queen Charlotte Strait.

We had two options for meals and today opted for the "anytime dining" in the Bordeaux Dining Room. After a wonderful breakfast, we wandered some more, asking more questions. We found the corridor where photos taken on board can be purchased. I don't photograph well, so decided to think about it. There are any number of computer, digital camera, and health care classes offered on board, but as an intermediate Photoshop user and experienced photographer, and knowledgeable in health, I decided to skip them. There is a spa and I noticed a passenger getting his teeth whitened.

A sign said that 2.8 trips around Deck 5 is a mile, so we decided to get some exercise. Three laps went quickly. There was little scenery except the details of the ship. Deck 5 is just below the life boats so we passed under two long rows of these orange and white vessels with each lap. We had lunch in the buffet and sat with an interesting couple from Phoenix, a city we hope to visit next year.

There were a number of activities, but we somehow managed to learn of each after it was over, so we spent much of the day resting. It was one of the two formal nights, so we got dressed and went to dinner, again in the Bordeaux Dining Room. We were seated with two other groups, a man and woman from Ireland with their two sons, one from Vancouver and one from San Diego, and a couple from Chicago. He had been a nuclear plant electrician close to retirement who's job had been eliminated, she was his new supervisor charged with retraining him in data entry. My wife ordered caviar thinking she was ordering calamari, so I unexpectedly had caviar with my salmon. I'm not sure where the day went, but it was now 10:00 pm and we retired to our cabin. Today was quiet, tomorrow we would have two shore excursions scheduled and it would not be so relaxed. We ordered our wake-up call and reset our watches for a new time zone tomorrow and drifted off to sleep, rocked by the gentle rolling of the open ocean.

The report from the navigator told us that we had continued northwesterly through the Hecate Strait and Dixon Entrance.

Day Three - Ketchikan

I awoke about 2:30 am, too excited to sleep. I got ready and managed to drag myself out to the stern balcony by about 4:30 to watch the sunrise over snow capped mountains. The pilot boat was running parallel to us a few hundred feet to the starboard. We sailed through Revillegigedo Channel and Tongass Narrows. I observed the crew preparing the four tenders, the ship to shore transfer vessels. We, along with everyone else, got an early breakfast and then prepared for our two shore excursions for today. Most of the people going ashore met in the ship's theater and then in groups were escorted to the loading area for the tenders.

The docks were being rebuilt and enlarged and there wasn't space for Coral Princess so the ship stopped several hundred feet off shore. It only took a few minutes to transport to us to shore by tender where we met up with our tour, the Potlatch Heritage Tour. Amanda, our bus driver and guide, first drove us through the downtown section of Ketchikan, often referred to as the First City of Alaska since it is usually the first stop for cruise ships. Ketchikan is the forth largest city in Alaska with a population of about 13,000 and is about a half mile wide and seven miles long, wedged between the sea and hillsides of solid rock. There is little top soil, it is difficult to build, and the athletic field has no grass. We were told that most of downtown Ketchikan, the several blocks near the docks, is built on pilings. Only one of the once many all wooden streets remain and there are still many streets that are actually wooden stairs. They are considered to be streets and are the only access to the houses built beside them. This makes for rough work for movers and the fire department. Ketchikan is on Revillagigedo Island, called Revilla Island by the locals, with no bridges to the mainland and a total length of the main road of about 35 miles. Most goods are brought in by barge and when the Wal*Mart opened, it sold out in two days and it was several weeks before it could reopen. Ketchikan International Airport is actually on another island a boat ride away. The climate is characterized by mild winters (30-45 degrees), cool summers, and high precipitation (168 inches). Ketchikan was originally settled by the Tlingit people and began its growth as a major settlement in the early 1900 when gold was discovered nearby.

Ketchikan is also called the "salmon capital of the world" because of the five species of salmon (chum, sockeye, king, silver, pink) common here. The first stop was Dear Mountain Tribal Hatchery and Eagle Center where we saw two female bald eagles, Cha-ak and Dot, both were injured and are unable to fly. Adjacent to the eagles was the hatchery where 156,000 salmon are raised each year. A gate can be placed across the adjacent Ketchikan Creek to guide newly released fish down stream and returning fish back to the hatchery. There are a number of tanks for different sizes and species of salmon.

It was a short walk across a bridge to Totem Heritage Center with its displays of ancient totem poles. These nineteenth Century totem poles and other artifacts were relocated here in the 1970s after several villages were abandoned years earler when the inhabitants moved to Ketchikan. We reboarded our bus for a quick drive through Saxman, not a reservation, but still a community of native Tlingit people. We drove past another collection of totem poles, then back through town to stop at Potlatch Park, a recreated Native village. A Potlatch is the raising of a totem pole and the accompanying celebration. Those in attendance are expected to return the favor and if not a shaming totem was erected for them. The park is a collection of totem poles, recreated buildings, carvers studio, gift shop, and to round out the eclectic collection, a number of vintage automobiles. Our driver informed us that we can buy our own custom made totem pole for about $4,000.00 per foot. We returned to the dock area to prepare for our next tour.

While waiting for our next tour, we explored Creek Street, the former red light district. Unmarried men would come here looking for wives and married men would come, walking along Married Man's Trail, looking for entertainment, carrying back evidence of their visit in the form of muddy shoes. Creek Street is now lined with shops and boutiques and with Dolly's House / Museum. Dolly was a successful "business woman" in the red light district.

We finished our day in Ketchikan with a tour of the downtown by horse drawn trolley. We retraced some of our earlier tour, but at a slower pace behind two Belgian draft horses. Brian, our guide, informed us that after working a five month season, these horses are placed in a truck and the truck on a barge, and the horses spend the next seven months vacationing in eastern Washington. Transportation costs to the island are so high, these horses are among the only livestock on the island. Brian pointed out the Lumberjack show, Southwest Alaska Discovery Center, and Library Museum, all of which we would have like to have seen, but were out of time. We were dropped off a short distance from the loading area and got in line for the return tender. We were the last official tour to return, but there was a long line of stragglers in line behind us.

We dropped off our things and headed for Horizon Court for lunch where we shared a table with a couple from Fairbanks. This was their tenth cruise to various places. While eating lunch, I stopped to rush outside to photograph the Empress of the North, a stern wheel paddle river boat. Later I learned that this is the boat that made the news only a week or so earlier when it ran aground and caused great last minute apprehension for my wife. We returned to our cabin for some rest and were awakened by a public address announcement that were approaching a narrows where whales could often be seen. By the time I gathered myself and my camera, I was in time to see a whale just disappearing beneath the waves a few hundred feet off and behind the starboard stern. This was my first glimpse of a whale on this trip. We enjoyed a late night dinner in the most forward and centered table in Horizon Court and watched the horizon as we slowly glided north through the growing darkness. We returned to our cabin to be lulled to sleep by the hum and gentle vibration of the engines and the rocking of the ship. After leaving Ketchikan, the ship sailed through Clarence Strait, Snow Pass, and into Sumner Straight, then southwest to Cape Decision and north through Chatham Strait and Stephens Passage.

Day Four - Juneau

I awoke about 4:00 am and the web-cam channel of the ship's TV system showed that we were still heading north toward Juneau. By the time I got outside, we were surrounded by snow capped mountains as we cruised north. We enjoyed our breakfast while watching the ship tie-up. Juneau has a main highway about 44 miles long, but doesn't connect to any other roads, making Juneau the only state capital (other than Hawaii) that you can't drive to. It is only accessible by air or water.

This time we were able to tie up at the dock, so we didn't need to use the tenders. We walked off the ship and within minutes had found the bus and our driver, Dorothy, for our first tour. It took about five minutes to reach the site of the old Gastineau Mill, once the world's largest gold producing mill. On the way, Dorothy informed us of other mines in the area and the history of the Juneau area. The A. J. Mine and Douglas Mine also operated in the area and much of Juneau was built on mine tailings. At its peak, the A. J. Mine was producing 13,000 tones of ore a day, but only getting 1/10 ounce of gold per ton of ore. The slang word 'hooch' was born in the Juneau area as it is derived from the Tlingit word "hoochinoo" for a drink made from molasses and berries.

The mine and mill site are privately owned and the tour rights leased to the family that runs the tour, with two of the daughters giving talks at three of the four stops. The first stop concentrated on the railway and the railway superintendent's house, which is now mostly collapsed and about 30 feet further down the hill than when it was built. The second stop was the course crushing mill building which was several stories high and fed another milling building further down the hill. Mostly concrete and some steel remains of the building that reduced large rocks of ore into gravel for separation. From here we proceeded to the third stop. Here we donned our hard hats and entered into the mine. The horizontal conveyer tunnel runs about 360 feet into the mountain. Our guide, who's name I missed, explained how the shoots worked and explained how the shoot was cleared if rocks got stuck. He explained the ore cars, and demonstrated an air system to blow out the stone dust. Down a side tunnel, he demonstrated the drill that makes deep holes into which the dynamite is inserted. The guide explained how fuses were set with delay loops so that they exploded in the correct sequence to collapse the rock toward the holes that were left empty. This produced straight square tunnels in the rock. The forth stop was the once seven story mill building that further reduced the gravel from stop two into sand for separation. At most of the stops, all sorts of equipment was displayed, including engine No.1, the first locomotive in Alaska. Also at the last stop, we shopped in the gift shop and panned for gold. You are guaranteed to "find pay dirt," and I suspect that the sand we are given has been salted with a small amount of gold. The gold is worth only pennies, but it's still fun and educational and that's all that matters.

The tour bus took us back to town where we headed straight for the Post Office to mail my wife's homework, then to the Alaska State Capitol. The Capitol Building, one of only four state capitol buildings without a dome, was originally the Territorial and Federal Building, built in 1931, and all attempts to agree on a new capitol building have failed. A pamphlet was available for a self guided walking tour of the building and we raced through four floors, as we only had about 45 minutes to get back to the dock for our next tour.

We were just in time for the next tour, the Deluxe Mendenhall and Juneau Highlights tour, with driver/guide Paula. The first stop was the Alaska State Museum for which we were allowed an hour. This museum contains a cross section of Alaska, from modern fine art jewelry to exhibits on Alaska's wild gold mining era, to a diorama of a bald eagle nest, Tlingit culture, and Children's Room. We were all complaining of the heat, so while we were in the museum, our driver returned to the yard and got a different bus with better air conditioning - in Alaska. We had two personal goals for Juneau, we had seen the Capitol building on our own, the bus drove past the Governor's Mansion. I was hoping for a better shot of the mansion, but this drive-by and a few shots from below were the best I could manage on our schedule. The second stop was Macaulay Salmon Hatchery, our second salmon hatchery for this trip. There were so many tours offered for the three towns we visited, we just couldn't coordinate our plans to eliminate all duplications. In addition to the fish pens and 450 foot fish ladder - the longest in Alaska, there was an interpretive center, the Ladd Macaulay Visitor Center, with touch tank and aquariums. There were small (too small) samples of a wonderful salmon dip and we were given a package of salmon jerky on the way out.

Next we headed up Mendenhall Valley where most of the residents of Juneau live because the climate is a bit warmer, there is less rain, and there is more flat land. Downtown Juneau receives 92 inches a year of rain, the Mendenhall Valley receives 52 inches. We were told that we passed through six microclimate in our short journey around Juneau. The valley was a ways off and as we traveled, we were informed of Juneau's 220 days a year of rain and 55 sunny days. Gold was found in Juneau in 1880, and most buildings in Juneau were built before 1914 and eleven are on the National Historic Register. We were traveling on Alaska 7, a 43 mile highway extending in both directions from Juneau, but not connecting to any other highway, isolating Juneau and making it the only state capital not accessible by road. Juneau is one of the largest cities in the country by area, much of it in the Mendenhall Valley, but some of it on Douglas Island, accessible by the Juneau - Douglas Bridge.

We stopped at Green Angel Gardens, a 1000 foot long handicap accessible trail through native vegetation with interpretive signs. My wife and I wanted seconds of the muffins they had waiting for us at the end of the trail, but there weren't enough. Back on the bus, it was a short drive to the Visitor Center for Mendenhall Glacier. When the Visitor Center was built in 1962, it was at the base of the glacier, but now the glacier has retreated about a mile up the valley with a glacial lake before it with small floating icebergs. We followed the Photo Point Trail a short distance to the viewing site from which we took photos and listened to the interpretations of a ranger. There are several other trails, one listed at two hours, but we simply didn't have time for them. We made a quick stop at the Visitor Center and then met the bus. As we got off the bus at Mendenhall Glacier, the driver asked us, "What's the difference between a tourist and a hitchhiker?" Answer, "Five minutes." She then explained that she was not allowed to wait more than five minutes and we must return on time. When it was time to leave, two people were still not back. She waited ten minutes and then radioed for permission to leave them behind, which we did. I don't know how or if they made it back to the ship before sailing. We had about an hour on our own in Juneau before returning to our ship and photographed a few buildings and shopped a little.

We shared a dinner table with two couples, one from Los Angeles like us, and the other from near Chicago. We generally like to eat by ourselves, but it was nice to visit with other passengers from all parts of the country. Horizon Court was quiet and we weren't sure why. Maybe passengers stayed to eat in town or were just tired out, but we watched a slow trickle of passengers coming down the dock as we enjoyed our quiet dinner.

The Gastinneau Channel which separates Douglas Island from the mainland is slowly silting up and at low tide can't be navigated. If left alone, the channel may eventually fill up and Douglas Island will become Douglas Peninsula. For now, the channel isn't deep enough for large ships, so we sailed back south, down the Gastinneau Channel and turned left and headed north into the Lynn Canal. By morning, we had entered Chilkoot Inlet, passed the town of Haines, and sailed up Taiya Inlet to arrive in Skagway by morning.

Day Five - Skagway

I awoke about 4:00 am and the web-cam channel of the ship's TV system showed that we were sailing up the channel toward Skagway, the Garden City, population 850. We rushed through breakfast at Horizon Court which seems the fastest when you're on a schedule. We were just barely on time for our land excursion, Yukon Expedition & White Pass Rail, when I remembered we needed our passports today and I had to run back, through security, to our cabin to get them. The bus was waiting for us and we departed. Our entertaining driver/guide introduced himself as Andy, then drove us about a quarter mile to the train. We were all confused as the book said we were being bussed to the end and taking the train back, but these tours are subject to adjustments. Andy ushered us to the correct railroad car and reminded us what bus number to look for at the end of the train trip.

There had been another train loading on the dock, but we departed about 10 minutes ahead of it, first traveling a few miles along the east edge of Skagway, which is a long narrow town. Within minutes, we were slowly climbing out of the valley past trees and waterfalls. While the locomotives were diesels, they were older models and the passenger cars were of 19th century design. As the train slowly crawled up the valley, there were many opportunities to see the front and back of the train as we took curves, crossed bridges, saw the remains of a disused trestle as the track now curves back a few hundred feet further up the canyon, and plunged into two tunnels. While within city limits, we were required to sit in the cars, once outside of town, we were allowed to take photos from the platforms at both ends of the cars. This allowed many opportunities to take photos. As we neared White Pass, there was a clear climate change. There was a blanket of snow covering the landscape, frozen lakes, we observed two hundred year old trees no more than four to six feet tall. The contrast between the white snow and dark rocks was striking and my color photos look like black and white.

We crossed the US/Canada border in the middle of White Pass Summit, far from anywhere. It was in the middle of this "nowhere" that the train stopped to drop off a small group of hikers who we were told, would be picked up a week later. The rest of us were happy to ride through this bleak wonderland in the comfort of a rail car. It was not until Fraser, British Columbia where we got off the train, that Canadian Customs came to check our passports. We were strictly warned not to photograph them. All was in order and we got off the train and back onto the bus.

We had come 28 miles by rail to Fraser and were next driven by motorcoach the remaining 40 miles to the turn-around point and all the way back to Skagway traveling along the South Klondike Highway.

We stopped on the shore of Tutshi Lake where some of the passengers skipped stones on the lake and some of us just threw rocks at the water. It was simply beautiful. We got back on the bus and continued north to another stop at Bove Lake, an ice covered lake with a little island in the middle. We drove past Lake Nares and Lake Bennet. The drainage runs from Lake Bennet through the worlds shortest river to Lake Nares, then on to Tutshi. Another lake drains both to the Pacific and the Arctic Oceans.

We drove past Carcross and the Carcross Desert, a small area of sand dunes that looks like the ones I've seen in the California deserts. We pulled into Caribou Crossing and our attention was directed to the goats on the side of the hill. Turned out the goats were stuffed. Chuck, one of the owners, is an excellent taxidermist. Caribou Crossing is a private collection of shops, restaurants, museums, and entertainments owned and operated by Chuck and Marilyn Buchanan. There is a small petting zoo, dog sled demonstration, and what looks like it was once a miniature gulf course. The Hitching Post Bar-B-Q includes a large dining room and outside, several covered wagons with a table in each. Besides The Hitching Post Bar-B-Q, other food vendors are Caribou Cafe, Icecream Parlor, and Hatties Bakery. Shops include Museum Gift shop, Antler & Ivory Carving, and Yukon Mineral Gallery. The Wildlife Museum has some excellent pieces of taxidermied animals, including the worlds largest polar bear and a woolly mammoth found in the ice.
Wagon Dining
Covered wagon dining area at Caribou Crossing
Woolly Mammoth
Woolly Mammoth found frozen in ice.

We would have liked to have continued on to Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon, but that was another hour north and the tour didn't allow for it, so we turned back and stopped at Carcross. Carcross is the fourth largest town in the Yukon, with a population of about 450. Yukon has a total population of about 32,000, with Whitehorse and Dawson the first and second largest cities.

We only had about half an hour in Carcross and made the best of it. There is a piece of a boat that was largely destroyed by fire during restoration and the steam engine Duchess on display. We stopped off at the Depot which is also a Visitor Center, we got our passports stamped at the Post Office, watched ice on Lake Bennett breaking up and floating down stream, took a few photos, and reboarded the bus.

The return trip allowed for only two scheduled stops, one at Fraser, the other at the US/Canada border check. There was an unscheduled stop when we passed a black bear wandering on the road and unfortunately the driver didn't hear the passenger who called out when we passed a baby bear, so most of us missed it. The entire trip, Joy had been wanting to see a bear, from a safe distance of course, so she was now happy. We stopped on a bluff overlooking the train depot at Fraser. Looking the other way was yet another breathtaking landscape. We were only allowed five or ten minutes and back in the motorcoach and on to Skagway. We crossed the border, again, far from anywhere. The driver pointed out a pipeline running down the side of the hill which we were told operates a penstock supplying most of Skagways' electrical power. We paused a few minutes to view across the valley as a train approached a bridge and waterfall. We did our best to capture the images on our cameras from inside the bus and on to Skagway. Some time after reentering the US, we stopped at the border check. We were again reminded not to take photos and not to mention bombs or drugs, all of which Andy said has happened before resulting in a bus full of passengers angry at the offender. The border check is close to Skagway and our adventure was almost over.

Back in Skagway, we were dropped off in town and wandered for about two hours. We visited Skagway Museum which occupies the first floor of a former girls school, McCabe College, built in 1899. City Hall occupies the second floor. The facades of the buildings are as they were a hundred years ago and looked as if out of a movie set. We walked through Corrington Museum of Alaskan History which is the back half of one of the stores. Joy bought a little Eskamo doll and I bought two Alaskan jade dice, carved overseas. We visited a couple of Visitor Centers, including one in the Arctic Brotherhood Hall who's facade is covered with 8833 pieces of driftwood placed by Charles O. Walker in 1899 and recently restored. We photographed some of the railroad rolling stock, including Rotary Snowplow Number 1 (built in 1898), and then headed for the ship.

We enjoyed a quiet dinner in the Horizon Court at a table for two at the center front window. We're not sure where everyone else was. We watched the passengers slowly returning to the ship in groups of one, two, or three. Our lives had been so chaotic the previous several months, it was such a change to just sit and watch people walk back to the ship. Skagway was the longest shore leave and the latest return time. We were tired from the long day and drifted off to sleep quickly. The ship pulled away from the dock about nine in the evening and headed back out of Taiyand Chilkoot Inlets and on to tomorrow. The ship sailed on through the night, heading first south, then west toward Glacier Bay.

Day Six - Glacier Bay

I awoke about 5:00 am and prepared for today's scenic cruising of Glacier Bay. The ship passed through Icy Strait and entered the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve about 6:00 am and near Bartlett Cove picked up several park rangers to do presentations and interpret our trip through the park. We squeezed in breakfast at Horizon Court where there was always a mix of basic and unusual fair. About 9:30 we encountered the first of the two glaciers we would see today, Margerie Glacier. The two glaciers we would see today are so active that cruise ships stay a quarter mile away because of the pieces of ice that fall off in a process called caving. These are called tidewater glaciers because the glacier actually extends into the ocean. When Captain George Vancouver sailed by Icy Strait in 1794, the glaciers extended this far, now the ice has retreated as much as 60 miles back up the fjord. The waterways we would be sailing through for the next eight hours was under ice 200 years ago. The ship pulled to within about one quarter mile, then stopped for several minutes before beginning a slow turn We stayed about an hour watching for pieces falling off, which happened several times. Next we sailed on for several hours to our next destination. At lunch we unexpectedly found ourselves at the table of the couple from Chicago we met a few evenings earlier - the ship started feeling like a community. The Lamplough Glacier was a little less impressive than Margerie Glacier, but we enjoyed seeing it all the same. We finally continued on our way, rendezvousing with the ranger boat coming to retrieve the rangers who had been on board with us. About mid-afternoon we cleared Glacier Bay and headed into open ocean across the Gulf of Alaska. This is when we encountered rough water for the first time. This was the second and last formal evening and we had a wonderful dinner in the Bordeaux Dining Room where Joy got a special desert and "happy graduation" song. Earlier, our door had been decorated to celebrate Joy's graduation earning her long delayed BA.

Day Seven - Collage Fjord

We got up about 6:00 am and slowly worked our way to breakfast in the Bordeaux Dining Room. From here we rushed to the church service in the Universe Lounge. It was a little odd, as it was lead by the cruise director. We sang a few hymns and he read to us the story of David and Goliath. A quick stop at our room and back to the Universal Lounge for a culinary demonstration and galley tour. There was the same cruise director who had conducted the religious service an hour earlier, this time as MC of the culinary demonstration. We were introduced to the Head Chef, Antonio Cereda, 23 years with Princess. Antonio is responsible for 9,000-10,000 meals per day, supervising a staff of 147 cooks and 52 cleaning crew. Then Maitre d'Hotel Francesco Ciorfito challenged him to a cooking competition. It then broke down to a comedy routine with the Francesco producing the most disgusting concoction. From here, we (several hundred of us) were lead through the galley where meals are prepared for the many restaurants on board. Sparkling stainless steel and foods in preparation were everywhere. I bought a copy of the Princess Cruises Cook Book which head chef Antonio personally autographed.


Cooking Show.

Stainless steel.

Autographing the cook book.

The ship entered Prince William Sound about 11:00 am and we went up to the sun deck for an ice carving demonstration. It took this ice artist only about 20 minutes to make a wolf of ice. We followed the ice wolf into the Horizon Court for lunch and a desert table so wonderful, the line stretched out of sight. We shared a table first with a couple from Florida and then a couple from Wisconsin.

We returned to our cabin and there on the ship's TV channel was that cruise director again, this time dispensing some very important information on disembarkation in the morning. We then began packing for our return. It was an inconvenience that our three checked bags had to be packed and set outside our cabin door before bedtime so they could be collected and sorted by morning. It was hard to divide the items we really needed in the morning from the things we felt we needed. We did this packing between running outside to observe the many glaciers and occasional wildlife of Collage Fjord. This fjord is lined with a number of glaciers, named for men's colleges on the east side and women's colleges on the west. The captain set the ship for one and a half slow rotations so everyone could get a good look, then we sailed out of the fjord which took the rest of the day. I guess in honor of our last night on the ship, most of the passengers dined elsewhere and the Horizon Court was almost empty and quiet and the few of us there enjoyed a relaxing dinner watching the fjord slowly pass by. We returned to our cabin and finished packing. The ship continued through Prince William Sound on its way to Whittier, arriving shortly after midnight.

Day Eight - Anchorage

I got up early and shot a few early morning shots of Whittier. We, like most others on the ship, got up early, got dressed, and headed for one of the various restaurants on board, all or most opened early. We ate again at Horizon Court which just goes faster. We returned to our room and gathered the last of our things and headed to deck 5 to await our turn. It was drizzling in Whittier and Princess has a canvas covering almost all the way to the train. Like everything else in this well planned and coordinated trip, we had been assigned a rail car and seats. The train departed shortly and we were off for Anchorage. Until recently, the railroad tunnel was the only land route into Whittier. About 1990, the highway was extended and now the trains and vehicles share the tunnel, yielding to one another. In the early 1980s I came through this same tunnel, in a rental car sitting atop a railroad flatcar.

Within just a few railroad tunnel minutes, we had crossed into Portage Valley. The train rolled through wetlands with snow and glacier covered mountains above. The road runs parallel to the railroad most of the way as we snaked through the valley. It was only a few minutes before we reached the shores of Turnagain Arm, a finger of sea off of Cook Inlet. For the next hour and a half, we rolled through breathtaking scenery, saw a moose, rumbled through small towns, and learned about the mud flats so sticky that most people who get stuck don't survive. Eventually we rumbled through Anchorage to stop near the downtown area. We had paid a little extra for Princess to arrange all ground transfers and there was a motorcoach to take us to a nearby hotel where we transferred to another coach for the trip to the airport where our luggage was already waiting. We could have signed up for another land trip that would have shown us some sites and ended at the airport, but we had reserved a rental car and for the first time in a week, struck out on our own. We gathered our luggage and passed out of Princess Cruise's care.
Train rumbling north.

First we headed northeast about 25 miles to the town of Eklutna where many years earlier, I had visited a Russian Orthodox cemetery. What was memorable to me was that graves were marked by little house, called spirit houses, different colors for different clans. The site, Eklutna Historical Park / Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church and Cemetery, was established in 1798 and is now operated as a monastery. Joy was a little disappointed as she was expecting something different. Our next stop was more what she had in mind.
Spirit Houses. They are only about two feet high.

A few miles outside of Anchcorage, on the way back from Eklutna along Glen Highway is the Alaska Native Heritage Center, more like what Joy was looking for. The main building houses exhibits on the different peoples who inhabit Alaska, sales tables for local jewelry and crafts, and a theater area for dance demonstration. A young man was demonstrating his high kicking skills, kicking a ball on a frame taller than we stood. Outside was a lake surrounded with different types of native dwellings. No, there were no igloos. There were a variety of wood and earth structures. One, we were told, is for a windy climate and was dug into the permafrost about eight feet, then a low roof built over. There was a Tlingit house like the ones we saw at Potlatch Park in Ketchikan. The Center was closing early for a special event, but we couldn't stay long anyway, so we returned to Anchorage.
One of the dwellings around the lake.

We considered the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, but there was construction, it was a holiday, and we gave up looking for parking and went on to the Alaska Zoo. This was a loose end from my visit many years earlier when we arrived minutes before closing. This time, we had two hours to see this nice modest size zoo. There were the usual animals like tigers and elephants, but also yaks, polar bear, brown bear, wolf, bald eagles, caribou/reindeer, musk ox, moose, porcupines, wolverines, and other animals associated with Alaska and the Arctic.
Brown bear at the Alaska Zoo.

Next we drove into the hills above Anchorage for a panorama view of the entire area, then to Earthquake Park. Earthquake Park lies just north of the airport beside Cook Arm where in 1964, one of the largest recorded earthquakes in North America caused much death and destruction to Alaska, and because of Tsunamis, the entire Pacific coastline. At Earthquake Park, the land dropped 25 feet swallowing many homes and several lives. We tried to find Resolution Point and Captain Cook Monument and the historic Oscar Anderson House, but only found Resolution Plaza and no parking.

It was now about 6:30 and any museum or visitor center was closed, so we went to dinner. We had learned of a family oriented complex on International Airport Road at Juneau Street and Old Seward Highway. Three independent businesses operated as a team to create a family entertainment site. First is Peanut Farm Sports Bar and Grill at International Airport Road and Old Seward Highway. Behind it, on either side of Juneau Street are Sourdough Mining Company and Alaska Wild Berry Park. Sourdough Mining Company is a
Alaska Wild Berry Park.
family Bar-B-Q restaurant with a rustic decore. Be sure to try the corn fritters. Alaska Wild Berry Park is a candy shop with what is believed to be the largest chocolate fall, a theater showing a 45 minute movie about Alaska, Reindeer feeding photo op, and other attractions. We enjoyed dinner at Sourdough, the chocolate falls wasn't working but expected to be repaired soon, and we were too late for everything else.

It took only a few minutes to drive to the rental car return at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. We checked in and it was almost four hours before our flight so we carved out a space in the waiting area and settled ourselves for a nap.

Day Nine - Homeward Bound

I had dozed off in the airport waiting area and was awakened by the announcement that it was midnight. A quick look outside and it was still dusk, about how Los Angeles looks about 8:00 pm. We started boarding the plane about 12:20, departed on time at 12:55, and most off the passengers quickly fell asleep. When we awoke, it was about 5:30 PDT, the sun was up, and there was little to see out the windows except the Pacific Ocean. The crew passed out refreshments and we prepared for landing. We waited for our luggage, normally we try to go with only carry-on, but this time we had three checked bags, two carry-on (one was my camera bag), and my computer. We waited only a few minutes for the Flyaway bus back to Van Nuys. We walked into the house and my oldest cat greeted me at the door, my wife's cat acted coy, but followed her around closely. The youngest cat ran from us for a few hours, then warmed and was all over me. The shy one took most of the day before she came for attention. We started to unpack and read our mail, return our calls, and generally tried to get back to reality.
Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, a little after 10:00 pm.

The cruise had been fun, some was hectic and some was relaxing. The ship and crew were wonderful and even on the days out at sea, there was more than enough to do. We tried to take the stairs and walk around the decks to work off all the wonderful deserts. If we ever take another cruise, we learned a few things to make the next one better. One thing we decided was next time, to take fewer land excursions. While well organized, we usually felt rushed through something good, or bored with something not. Sometimes it would have been just as easy and less costly to go on our own, like a museum within walking distance of the dock. The state capitol building was only included on the brewery tour and we don't like beer, so we did it on our own, but had to rush through before the next tour, parts of which we would have rather skipped. It was relaxing to rent a car in Anchorage where we had plenty of time before the flight to follow our whims. The Underground Gold in Juneau was a good trip, but it was a single subject tour, no boring side stops. Tours that combined several stops run the risk of feeling rushed and bored. With so many options, we were confused which tour visited what. I think it might have been better to pick one or two must sees for each port, and then find tours that visited only those sites individually. Another thing to keep in mind, while the land excursions can be expensive, you are paying a lot to get there and you may never get there again. So if you really want to take a helicopter to the top of the glacier, spend the money.

So check back in five years, I might be writing another Road Trip on our cruise to the Caribbean.

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This page last updated: Friday, 28-Apr-2017 12:54:11 EDT

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