As soon as Jake became a travel agent, he discovered an opportunity we just couldn’t pass up. After passing a training course with Princess Cruises, he was able to get a very good deal on one of their cruises, and we chose the 7 day Alaskan cruise. We thought this was something we would do when we were older, but when opportunity knocks, we answer! We used reward points to book our flights to Vancouver, Canada, where our adventure began.
The Island Princess
This was our first cruise, and it was pretty much what we expected. Jake chose a midsized ship, with only about 2,000 guests and 900 crew. It seemed absolutely enormous to us, but some ships have as many as 6,000 passengers! We enjoyed our time aboard overall, although we were one of about five couples under the age of 55.
Below are photos of our cabin (the bed was actually really comfortable) and the atrium in the middle of the ship.
Here are photos of the library (with a take one, leave one section) and theater (plays, movies, nature talks, and other presentations were shown here).
And here is the anytime dining lounge, which was basically the best all-you-can-eat buffet you’ve ever had, available 7 days straight. Let’s just say it was equally amazing and dangerous.
Our interior cabin actually seemed pretty spacious, although we are more accustomed to making do with tiny hostel rooms and train compartments than the average traveler. I’m glad Jake’s parents booked an outside cabin, so we could enjoy the view from their balcony on days at sea. It was light until about 10pm when we got past Juneau, so there was lots of time to appreciate the scenery.
We boarded around noon and set sail that evening, exploring the many decks of the ship while we sailed through the Inside Passage. The ship had large outdoor swimming pools, hot tubs, a mini golf course, a small casino, a cafe, a library, and a gym. Needless to say, there was plenty to keep us entertained.
Our first stop was Ketchikan. We disembarked the ship in a drizzling rain and wandered a few blocks inland to The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. One of two excursions we’d booked through our cruise, this epic display of strength and skill didn’t disappoint. It was Spruce Mill (Alaska) vs. Dawson Creek (Canada) as these men chopped, sawed, climbed, and balanced to the finish. Spruce Mill won, of course!
Look, I match the lumberjacks!
We had a few more hours to explore town before returning to the ship. We took a stroll along Creek Street, “Where both men and salmon came upstream to spawn”. Dolly’s House was the most infamous brothel, and we walked past it along Married Man’s Trail.
There wasn’t much else to see in town. If we’d had more time, there are a few parks worth seeing, but they do require a short bus ride.
In Juneau, we decided to visit Mendenhall Glacier. To do this, you can pay $60/person to take a bus tour, or if you’re willing to walk a little, you can take the city bus for $5. We put on our rain gear and hit the trail. The bus dropped us off a mile from the visitor’s center, and we walked a lush, green trail through time. There are markers and signage from when the glacier extended much further into the valley.
The visitor’s center was worth a stop, and the trail out to the glacier was fairly short and easy. We hiked back to the bus stop, and stopped at the Red Dog Saloon for a bite to eat before heading back to the ship.
Skagway was by far my favorite port town. Perhaps it was because we spent a little more time here, but I think it was mostly that the town seemed more authentic.
Here we began with our second cruise excursion. We boarded a bus headed for the Yukon! Our tour bus crept along a steep, narrow road up to White Pass, while our driver told us the history of the Yukon (or Chilkoot) Trail. When gold was discovered, people traveled from all over the world for a chance at fame and fortune. Unfortunately for them, news didn’t travel as quickly as it does today. By the time most of them got to Alaska (not an easy feat in those days), bought supplies, and hiked a literal ton of food up the deadly Chilkoot or White Pass Trail (deemed enough for one year and required by law), most of the gold was already gone, or buried so deep in the mountains that no one will ever find it. Many died in the attempt.
“‘There ain’t no choice,’ said an old-timer of choosing between the Chilkoot and the White Pass. ‘One’s hell. The other’s damnation.'”
We passed the border into Canada, where we observed alpine tundra, and were more than a little surprised to see some hummingbirds flitting around the border station. We crossed the Yukon Suspension Bridge, and read a little more about the history of the area. Below might be my favorite photo of the trip…
On our way back to town, we stopped at an old mining camp for a salmon bake. Not a great photo, but this is the natural color of salmon up here. We could tell it was the real deal, because it just tasted so darn good. I had salmon at least once a day on the ship.
After eating and listening to some live music, we wandered around the camp. Jake wanted to wander more than the rest of us… Bad Jake!
After returning to town, we visited the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Museum, which had some great information about the Gold Rush and the town. We completed our visit to Skagway with a trip to the Red Onion Saloon for some Duck Farts (don’t worry, it’s just a shot!) and a brothel tour, before heading back to the ship for a few days at sea.
Glacier Bay National Park
Early in the morning, 2 park rangers boarded the ship to provide commentary and answer questions about the glaciers, wildlife, and history of Glacier Bay. Crowds of people gathered on the top deck. After days of rain, it was finally sunny, although the wind was still bitterly cold.
As we sailed past glaciers and mountains, the rangers described the geologic and climate changes that create glaciers. Glaciers are formed when snow is covered with more snow, and the weight pushes out the air, eventually compressing the snow into glacial ice. That is why snow reflects white (lots of air), and ice reflects blue (no air).
Many of the glaciers we passed were covered in glacial silt, which makes them look dirty. This is a tidewater glacier, or a glacier that ends in a body of water influenced by tides. For scale, find the ship on the bottom right, and remember that if we were to see this glacier from above, it would extend for many miles.
The rangers also announced wildlife, such as these curious harbor seals.
View from an outside cabin!
It’s pretty incredible to watch icebergs float past your window… And as we sailed, the view kept getting better and better.
The ship idled near Margerie Glacier, where we watched the glacier for signs of calving. We often missed the actual event, only to hear the gunshot-like sound as the ice hit the water. It’s hard to show scale in these photos, but Margerie towers 300 feet above the water, and some of the chunks we saw calving were the size of a house! All of the icebergs floating in the water in the photo below are pieces of the glacier that have calved off.
Just walking along deck on this day was an absolutely stunning experience.
After departing from Glacier Bay, we cruised through College Fjord, passing 5 more tidewater glaciers. Each stripe is a flow of ice coming from a different peak, forming into one large river of ice.
After more time at sea, we disembarked in Whittier for our transfer to Anchorage. I was really impressed at how smoothly everything went with so many people on one ship, and so much luggage to handle. The crew did a fantastic job of keeping everything running smoothly for the entire journey.
Our first ever cruise was overall a great experience. We did get a bit restless with 2 days at sea, but with a full gym, hot tubs and swimming pools, a mini golf course, multiple presentations and live entertainment, I really can’t complain too much. The food was incredible, the service unsurpassed, and the amenities and activities were varied enough for people of all interests and ages. My favorite days were our stop in Skagway, and our cruise through Glacier National Park and College Fjords.
Check out Jake’s blog to read more about our post-cruise adventure, Kayaking in the Kenai Peninsula.