Alaska: The Last Frontier

Warning to Readers: This is a fairly long post about our 8-day cruise through Alaska, so I would recommend setting aside a full 20 minutes of time to read through this journey, only if you have the time to experience it with us…

Day 1: Embarkation

We started boarding Holland America’s ms. Zuiderdam ship around 11:30am on Saturday, September 20th from Vancouver’s Canada Place port. Check in took a bit as we had to wait in several different lines to get aboard. There were so many people guiding us from one location to another, and after we went through customs, it was a faster process. They were tantalizing us with the buffet as we waited in line. We did have our satisfying lunch around 2pm. It was Michael’s first cruise experience, so he had no expectations whatsoever.

Even though I had been a few different ones I knew this one was going to be a bit different. We both looked at the ongoing daily events that were printed up an delivered to our room each day called our ON Location guides, selecting different events to attend. Michael and I walked around the cruise ship to familiarize ourselves with the areas of interest for the week. We came across a nice observation deck on the 9th and 10th floors leading up to an outdoor basketball court.  It was a beautiful day out in Vancouver so we took advantage and walked around a bit outside the ship. We spent our first afternoon and evening reading up on the events we wanted to check out the next day, which was at sea all day.

We were assigned to the 7:45pm seating at the Vista Lounge where we were paired with two other people: John and Paul, brothers. Boy, were they fun to chat with at dinner! We were happy to have been assigned to table #42 for our nightly dinners with these two gentlemen.

 

Day 2: Spending at Sea

Michael really wanted to check out the art auction on board the ship that was taking place at the Art Gallery that afternoon, so we made it a point to attend, with no expectations whatsoever. We received a few raffle tickets and entered into the drawing to win a few different prizes. They served champagne, which was a nice touch. We got our very own number, 106, and were allowed to bid on art work. The team, Michael, Wendy, and Dylan, were all very enthusiastic individuals and gave us a presentation about art, including the different levels of collecting prior to the start of the auction.

We ended up really falling in love with a few of the works on board, and when they came up in auction could not resist getting them! They were beautifully detailed paintings of New York City in the wintertime. There was really some excitement that was built up when we bid on them, and we are very much looking forward to welcoming those pieces into our future house. They are going to look spectacular, and now we can say we have officially started our own art collection. These were my wedding gifts to Michael, since he already got me some gorgeous jewelry for our big day.

Our next stop was to scope out the Signature Shops on Level 3 (down the hall from the Art Gallery). We could not help but notice they were having a 35% off sale on all Citizen Eco-Drive watches! Michael’s birthday is coming up, and he had wanted a specific brown watch by Citizen. Sure enough they had only one in the case. I was either going to get him the watch or a fly-fishing guide at Yosemite for an entire day, but he really wanted the watch, so I got that for him.

Phew, after a full day of spending at sea, we were exhausted and ate dinner with our friends at table #42 who shared a lot about their lives and told lots of jokes. What a great way to end our night!

 

Day 3: Juneau, You Know

We docked at Juneau, Alaska’s capital on Monday, September 22nd. It was a very cold and rainy day, but Michael and I, prepped with our hiking pants and shoes, decided to make the 1 mile walk to the downtown area from where we docked, with our umbrella handy. We walked up a hill and down it to get to town where we checked out a few of the different stores and purchased our magnet, spending the majority of our time trying to find service to locate a nearby cache so we could place our mini Frisbee somewhere in Alaska. Immediately after heading into town, we noticed many small booths set up with people trying to get us to sign up for excursions outside of our cruise. They were really hooting and hollering at us! We resisted the temptation to do so because we were on a mission: to find Wi-Fi! We were successful in locating a place called the Lunch Box which served sandwiches and snacks and offered the internet access. We got the access code after picking up on mango-flavored licorice, and pre-loaded some maps of the area with the caches.

The first place we found was actually a pretty neat little area, on the boardwalk of the city. It pointed us to a statue of a dog, Patty-Ann. It was a neat little story about her and how she would predict the exact dock cruise ships in the past would dock at, even though she was born blind. Unfortunately we were unable to locate the mini cache at that location, so we decided to check out the town a bit, and then head to find the other one, which was literally next to the ship!

The town itself, we felt, was a bit rundown. It really might have been the weather that was dragging the place down, but it did not feel welcoming and vibrant because everywhere we turned there was a saloon, bar, or individuals on the street who were smoking cigarettes. There were certain places in town better than the others, but overall it wasn’t too pleasant. We walked back towards the ship, debating whether or not to take the tram up to see the scenery from the mountain, but the rain really started coming down hard. It was also really cloudy, so we figured we would not be able to see too much in the distance. We made the executive decision to simply turn back and have some lunch aboard the ship after our cache, which was successfully found.

Day 4: Skagway

We docked at 10am. Summer was winding down in Alaska and the days were getting a bit shorter. We were very fortunate to have extremely nice weather while we were in Skagway and took advantage of it by heading to town to inquire about the various hiking trails in town. The ranger at the Visitors Center was extremely helpful as she handed us three different maps with 5 different types of trails available in the area. We decided to do the more picturesque one because we wanted to get some neat shots of the area. She also had recommended for us to not go to some the areas higher up because it had been raining for the past two weeks or so, so it was quite muddy.

We had a great little hike and were happy to have brought our new tripod to test it out.

Afterwards we headed to the ship for a quick lunch before we decided to sign up for an excursion to see the sled dogs at their summer training camp! We were really excited to experience this because Alaska is known for its mushers racing its dogs in the snow. The summer season was winding down so there were only a few, but plenty of dogs training at the camp for us to see.

Our tour bus, covered in tiny paws, brought us up to Mushers Camp, which was about a half an hour ride outside town. Once we arrived, all 22 of us passengers boarded another truck, called a Unimog. It’s a heavy duty open-air truck! The reason we had to board this was due to the fact that we had to travel up the mountains to get to the dog-sledding location, and those were steep hills!

As soon as we drove up to the dogs, it was such an experience as they were all barking so loudly out of sheer excitement. We unloaded and were each assigned to 15 dogs that were all ready to run so fast! Michael and I were fortunate enough to get front row seats. The dogs that pulled us around were called sprint dogs, and most of the Alaskan sled dogs were not purebred Huskies. Because they all have to endure very strenuous miles, and also be quick on their feet, mushers and breeders have attempted to make them quicker over the years by mixing their breeds.

Here’s a glimpse of our pack pulling us through the woods:

After the one-mile sled ride, we had the chance to see some new pups playing around in their pen. There were so many little ones running around, and they were so excited to see more people! We even had a chance to hold some pups, and learn more about mushing and the different types of dog-sledding races are out there. Overall, we really enjoyed our excursion to see, experience, and play with the sled dogs at Musher’s Camp.

Day 5: Glacier Bay National Park

After a half day with the dogs the day before, it was nice to get a chance to really soak in the beauty of the mountains and glaciers as we were on board the ship. In the wee hours of the day, a few rangers boarded the ship and gave us an audio tour of the park. They gave us an in-depth explanation of the glaciers and also pointed out where there were eagles, mountain goats, and more wild-life wherever present and visible either with the naked eye or through binoculars.

Unfortunately, this was the day of the demise of our beloved first DSLR camera. We were using our tripod, and it was unusually windy out on the observation towards the stern of the ship. As we were posing for a picture, our camera slowly started falling over, and it hit the ground with a thump. We quickly assessed the situation, and it was broken.

We didn’t know what to do, but soon realized that we needed to act quickly. Michael and I went down to the shops to see if they sold any cameras. Then we went to the photo gallery area, but no luck. We resorted to using our cell phones for some photos and videos of the pretty scenery. It was actually a really good opportunity for us to simply experience the national park first-hand and not “through a lens”.

In the afternoon, we were a bit tired, so we decided to just lie down on the benches on the observation deck. Soon enough we were out cold, and before we knew it an hour had passed, and there were some beautiful blue glaciers right in front of us! We shot up from our comfy benches to catch a glimpse of them.

 

Day 6: Ketchikan

Our primary objective in town was to get a camera, or locate a shop where we could potentially trade in our camera, get it fixed, or purchase a new one. Once we got to town, our first stop was the Visitors Center, where we got some information about where we could get one. To our dismay, none of the stores in the downtown area carried professional DSLR or even digital cameras; they only carried disposable ones. However the lady at the counter recommended we head to Walmart, which was about 15 minutes out of town. She pointed us in the direction of the free Walmart shuttle (yes, I did actually say that). This town has a free round-trip shuttle to Walmart from the town’s discovery center. This was so awesome!

Once we made it to Walmart, our concern was that they would not have any high-end cameras. The store’s display cameras were all purely digital, mainly Canon PowerShot ones. We were looking for any Canon Eos Rebel cameras. Michael slowly went through the rows, and we came across only one, in the glass display! Yay, it was like the light at the end of the tunnel: jackpot! We found it. It came with a wide lens and the camera itself, but we were happy with it. It was a good deal, and it was exactly what we were looking for.

After our purchase, we went back on the shuttle back to the ship, and as we were on the shuttle we began to explore the equipment we just purchased. The battery was a bit different than our older model, so we had to go back to charge it.

Lunch was next on the agenda as we returned back to the ship to charge the battery. After lunch we walked down to Creek Street, which was about three blocks away from the dock. There was a huge sign in front where there was a neat boardwalk along the water’s edge. We saw salmon everywhere! They were all gathered and flooded the creek. We later realized there were about three to four seals all hanging out in that area searching for the right opportunity to strike for a nice meal in town.

We began our journey down the path, where we started to notice the strong scent of fish. There must have been hundreds of dead salmon that did not make the run on the side of the creek. As we walked further down the creek, we came across a fairly large waterfall where the salmon had to jump up to get to the top to spawn. Every four years they take this journey back to where they were born to spawn and then die.

It was such a sight to see! I mean these little or actually fairly large sockeye salmon were jumping above the water: several attempts were made by these salmon, and we were really amazed by the strength of these creatures paddling through the creek to make it up the falls!

Some kept hitting rocks, and we knew most of them couldn’t all make it. As we traveled further up the creek, we noticed thousands of salmon all gathered together. It was crazy how many actually ended up making it. At the same time there were also hundreds that might have been too tired and exhausted after the journey upwards that gave up.

There was this one section where we saw about 10-15 seagulls hanging out around there. They were only picking at the eyes of the dead salmon, and they left the dead salmon there to rot. We were surprised to see that they didn’t eat the entire fish.

It was definitely worth the trip out there with our new camera: We were happy to have it back, and went camera crazy!

 

Day 7: Last day at sea: Dancing with the Stars!

One of the days prior, I made Michael come with me to a Dancing with the Stars at Sea dance lesson (The Waltz). That was the only one we went to because they hosted three different sessions: The Cha Cha, The Waltz and The Jive. We were getting a bit nervous because we needed to learn to do our first dance, but we are horrible dancers. We figured we would just have some fun and learn a dance. To our surprise, I was actually selected as one of the best four dancers out there! I partnered up with a professional dancer, Vinny, and he was my partner for the dance. The audience ended up voting me and another contestant, Will, through to the final round, which was to take place the evening of the last day at sea.

I was required to show up to the tech rehearsal at 11:30am, to practice, and to be informed about the upcoming show. Shane ended up being my partner that evening. Michael was there to support me that morning, and shot a video of me so I could sort of learn it.

I have no dance coordination, but I tried my best to pull it altogether. I did not feel too nervous, but I was really excited, happy and energetic when it came time to the big show. I really thought I was going to place 6 of our 6, and I wasn’t too far off…but it was such a fun experience! I can officially say that I was on Dancing with the Stars, at Sea!

Day 8: Vancouver

We docked in Vancouver at 7am on Saturday, September 27th, and we were Lime 4, which was the group we were in to leave the ship. Our scheduled time was between 8:30am-8:50am. We just had enough time to grab a bite to eat on the 9th floor: Lido Restaurant, before our luggage tags were called.

It literally took us three hours to get out of Canada and cross the Washington border in the States, mainly because it took us about two hours of waiting in line to go through U.S. Customs. We had no idea why it took so long, but once we crossed in it literally took us less than five minutes of chatting with the Customs Officer before he let us through.

We were off to Bremerton, WA (across from Seattle, WA), to visit Michael’s grandmother for a few days.

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2 thoughts on “Alaska: The Last Frontier

  1. Avis Hallam September 28, 2014 / 6:35 pm

    What a wonderful blog — glad you had such a great time! Your trip really is a once-in-a-life time adventure.

    • falconfamilyblog September 29, 2014 / 2:17 am

      Sorry about the quick fingers. I ended up posting this blog up prematurely at the time, and we did not get a chance to post all of the pictures and videos we wanted to…but, we should have it up properly by tomorrow:)

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