Heading north to Alaska – Pt. 1 (June ’19)

Caution: long read ahead!

June 2019, i embarked on my first major overseas cruise. This involved having to do a 14 hour flight to Vancouver. This was also my first long-haul international flight. This trip was going to be a bunch of firsts for me!

I arrived in Vancouver 14 hours after leaving Brisbane at 11am and going back in time, it was about 8am the same day. Pretty much the whole flight was at night, unfortunately i didn’t sleep much though! I can’t fault Air Canada, they were especially friendly when it came to me wanting bulk coca-cola for breakfast! Once i made my way out of the airport and onto Canada soil without finding myself on border security, i managed to get myself a cab (as they call it over there!) to my hotel. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t check in until 3pm. It was currently 8.30am at this point, so i stored my luggage and despite being incredibly tired as i’d been awake for over, i dont even know how long at this point, i went off on adventure. I wasn’t staying in the city, it was about a 15minute train ride to downtown vancouver, with an added 15minute walk to the train station from my hotel. So i set off…and realised i had no map, or wifi to connect to google maps, and i had no bloody idea where I was going. Oh well. Luckily for me, i came across a McDonalds not too far down the road. Hooray for a maccas breakfast and free wifi. I LOVE McDonalds. However i learned that as cheap as it is it over in Canada (roughly $2.50 for a sausage mcmuffin $1.00 for a large coke) it is absolutely disgusting. Perhaps that’s why it’s so cheap! Anyway the positive in this story since i threw out my breakfast, is that i could get wifi to find out where the hell I was going. 20 minutes later i set off towards the train station.

I love Canada’s transport system. It’s so easy to navigate. One way to the city, one way back. Unlike Australia where you can get lost on multiple lines. Jumped on the train for about $2 and 15 minutes later I was on the middle of Vancouver. If you’ve never been to Vancouver, you should go. I’m not one for history and architecture, but Vancouver is full of it. And it’s amazing. The weather was warmer than it was back home in Australia. I was in shorts and a t-shirt. Granted it was summer over there, but i honestly didn’t expect it to be so warm. There was still snow on the mountain peaks across the harbour. By about midday I was struggling with the jetlag and walking around the city so i headed back to the hotel about 1.30pm in hopes that I could check in early. Fortunately, I could. I made a rookie error of falling asleep almost straight away. I woke up about 10pm feeling like i’d been hit by a truck. Sore throat, headache, achy. So I wasn’t just jet-jagged, i was also sick. Great. And I couldn’t sleep because i’d slept all afternoon. I ended up falling asleep at about 3am. The next day I had planned on exploring the city and going to Stanley Park….but it didn’t happen because i slept until 1pm! Oops. I still wasn’t feeling great anyway, but i forced myself to make the 15minute walk to the train station, and the 15minute trip into the city so I could find a drug store to get some cold and flu tablets. I then encountered the problem of everything being written in french! Everything in Canada has english, with a french translation on it. You’d think my french would have improved, but i can still only say ‘yes’ in french!

I was embarking on the cruise the next day, so as well as the cold and flu tablets, i also found a juice bar. So i ordered the healthiest juice I could find on the menu in hopes that it would help. Carrot smoothies actually dont taste that bad! I went for a walk down to the harbour and watched all the sea planes take off, almost colliding with cruise ships leaving the port. I finally headed off back to my hotel, slightly disappointed that I didn’t get to do much exploring.

The next day I woke up at a normal time, still feeling under the weather but super excited. Cruise day! Let me tell you, Canadian taxi drivers are crazy. I mean, i didn’t die, but i felt a bit like I was in a grand theft auto video game. Regardless i made it to the ship in one piece and boarding was hassle free and quick. Given that we were going to America, i was expecting it to be a lot more crazy regarding customs, but I was onboard within about 30minutes of getting to the terminal.

I was cruising on the Coral Princess, which is a lot bigger than the Sun Princess and Sea Princess which is what i’m used to sailing on. So, I got lost. A lot! My cabin never seemed to be in the same place. Different bars. More bars. More restaurants. But i liked the ship. I definitely prefer the bigger ships over the smaller ones now! They’re more spacious, and even though they take a lot more passengers (she takes about 2,000 people) you wouldn’t know it!

For the first time in my cruising history, I had bought a drinks package for the first half of my cruise. An Alaskan cruise is only 7 days, and goes one way. Vancouver to Anchorage, and Anchorage to Vancouver. So because i had wanted to do a round trip back to Vancouver, i had to book 2 cruises. Because I had the drinks package, i wanted to make the most of it. So straight to the bar I went when i boarded. Unfortunately for me, I had developed a finger infection about 2 days before i left, and i was on antibiotics for that. I was still also taking cold and flu tablets so I was on a cocktail of meds for the first two days of the cruise. Just my luck when I also have a drinks package and want to make the most of drinking! The vibe of cruising going to somewhere other than a tropical destination is something completely different. Here I was thinking i’d still be listening to typical reggae music, but (unsurprisingly) they dont play that type of music when going somewhere cold and icy!

Two days later we reached our first destination of Ketchikan, Alaska. Ketchikan is the salmon capital of the world. And after tasting some authentic Alaskan salmon, i can see why! I’ve never been a huge salmon lover, but it’s actually amazingly tasty. the weather was unbelievable. It had been quite cold on the first sea day (before arriving in Ketchikan), but it was sunny skies all around and i was quite comfortable in jeans,t-shirt and thongs. I even got a bit of sun-baking by the pool in once i came back on-board the ship. I had gotten off and explored the town, which was very quaint. They also love popcorn there! Lots of salmon and Alaskan chocolate is pretty much the extent of what I ate on this day. I also got to see my first wild bald eagles, which i was way too excited to see! It wasn’t until i was back on the ship sun-baking when one flew over me so low i could see all the feather details. I was like a kid at Christmas and the American people next to me were definitely wondering why I was so excited. Ketchikan is the kind of place that you look at from a distance and it looks exactly what you think America ‘looks like’. All the pine trees, old houses…you just imagine bears running around in the forests.

The next day we arrived in Juneau. What a complete contrast to the day before. It was freezing! (well, about 13 degree’s celsius, but compared to the day before, it was COLD!) It was also rainy and grey and miserable, but it didn’t stop me from exploring. Juneau is home to Mt Roberts, which is known as bear territory. So naturally, this is what I wanted to do. Go find a bear! To get to the top of Mt Roberts which is where the trail starts, you have to take a cable car up to the top. And it’s a steep, almost vertical ride up. Over the tree tops on the side of the mountain.My fear of heights did not like this, however i must admit that the view is breathtaking. Even in all the rain, and we even spotted a bald eagle nest as we glided over the tree tops.

Once at the top I started my hike. It wasn’t until I read the information sign at the beginning of the trail, and it said what to do if you encountered a bear, that I realized I was in bear country. Walking along the trail….it was a very rugged, rocky, single person path surrounded by long grass, trees and bushes, or forestry trees. The higher up I went, closer to the top, there was a steep drop off. I wondered what I’d do if I ran into a bear at that point as there wasn’t really anywhere to go…but the thought didn’t last long as I kept getting taken aback by the scenery. It was cold and rainy still so the clouds were low, and there was still heaps of snow and ice over the mountain. Pictures or this blog won’t do it justice! A couple of hours later I was back at the beginning of the trail, and no bears were sighted unfortunately. But it was an amazing trek none the less!

I headed back down the mountain on the tramway for a bit of lunch, and I’d had a recommendation to visit a place called Tracey’s crab shack. So off I went, where I had the most expensive crab legs I’ve ever eaten! However, it was also the best, so I was happy. It was also super busy with lines out the door…if that’s any indication to go by of how good  of a place it is! Juneau is Alaska’s capital city, and what a cute little town it is! A small main street or two at the base of the huge mountains on the river that cruise ships dock at. Across the river are snowcapped mountains…actually everywhere you look you can see mountains. Given that it was June, so the beginning of their summer, there was still a fair bit of snow on all the mountains.

Skagway was the next days stop. Again, very cold and grey. And again, a completely different scene! Skagway is home to gold rush era type buildings, and the White Pass and Yukon route railroad. It was a bit of a walk from the ship into town, but it’s very scenic so it doesn’t take long. Skagway love their souvenir shops, so if you’re wanting souvenirs, Skagway is the place! There is one main street, so I wandered up and down until I was hungry for lunch. I ended up at Bonza Bar and Grill right in the middle of town. It had free wi-fi, and looked super cozy from the cold, wet grey day it was. The food…was amazing. Crab quesadillas and a cold Alaskan ale to wash it down, all with a view of the snowcapped mountains. I’m not typically a winter/cold type of person…but I was loving Alaska’s scenery by this point!

When I got back to the ship I was excited, because the Skagway port means one special event on the cruise ship. And that is Alaskan husky puppies. Dog mushing (or dog sledding) is the sport of dogs (huskys) pulling a sled. Dog musher Ryan Redington brings his puppies onboard for 45 minutes for people to meet. They are the cutest things ever, and they loved all the attention. Plenty of puppy kisses and cuddles for me, before heading off to get ready for the night ahead!

Next day was an early start!! We were scenic cruising through glaciers all day, and apparently those days have to start early! Now, if I thought Juneau and Skagway were cold, well Glacier Bay National Park was a whole new level of cold. It was about 8am when we started sailing up to them and getting a good spot on top deck and braving the cold was priority! Except for the little fact that there was nothing to see except cloud. And fog. After an hour or so it was starting to look like we would be unlucky with the weather. But, wearing 5 layers of clothing, gloves, a scarf and beanie I braved the cold and stayed up on deck. Fog and clouds aside, it was like being a different world. The water was insanely blue, and completely flat. Like glass. Bits of ice starting floating past us in the water, some with sea otters lying on them. And then, all of a sudden a weird pattern formed in the sky. Like bright white dots and speckles. It took us a while to realize that it was the fog parting in one specific area, and the sun (that we couldn’t see) was shining onto the glaciers that were hidden. It was a sight that I’ve never seen before, and absolutely incredible. As time went on, the fog started to part even more until we could see the glaciers on either side of the ship. As we got further into the National Park, the floating ice got bigger and started to resemble ice bergs, and we could see pieces of glacier breaking off and falling into the water. The sound was crazy. Think of rumbling thunder continuously. You would hear that thunder noise, and know more ice was about to fall somewhere. We saw more sea otters, a few whales, bald eagles, and even a mountain goat. By that time I had been up on deck in the freezing cold for a good 4 hours so decided it was time to go enjoy the warmth of inside the ship and get a drink from the bar.

3pm came around and I ventured back outside to see what the view was. We had sailed into another glacier area, and were surrounded 360 by tall, icy glaciers. I was surprised to discover that it was actually quite warm and sunny. So naturally, I decided it was a great time to grab a cocktail, my bikini and get some vitamin D by the pool. Never would I have ever thought I’d be getting a tan while surrounded by snow and ice!

We visited Mendenhall Glacier the next day as more scenic cruising, and while it was perfectly sunny outside, it was also freezing. So no sunbaking for me, but it was a very busy day at the bar as it was the last day of my drinks package! That night was a fun-filled, busy night as pretty much everyone else was getting off the next day when we arrived in Whittier. I finished up at the bar at about 12.30am and went out on deck before heading back to the cabin. I was shocked to discover that it wasn’t completely dark yet! For people who live in Queensland think about 7pm in summer. Almost dark, but there’s blue sky still. It was crazy. I didn’t get off the ship the next day (later that day?!) in Whitter. It was freezing, and there wasn’t a lot to do near the port…and I might have been a bit hungover. But it was nice having the ship literally to myself. Well until the next lot of passengers starting embarking!

Well, that was the first leg to my cruise to Alaska! 7 days from Vancouver to Whitter. This ended up being long enough, so I’ll put the next 7 days back to Vancouver in the next post! Stay tuned

C.

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