small bug icon  Alaska 2016 - Part 1: Cruise

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We’ve had Alaska on our ‘bucket list’ for a number of years and finally got around to planning and taking that much anticipated vacation. Unfortunately, Alaska has not been completely checked off our ‘bucket list’. Having been there, we are considering going back to see some of the parts that we missed on this trip. Alaska is so big and there is so much to see. We both agreed that our Alaska trip was one of the most exhausting we’ve taken — maybe we’re just getting old!

Our vacation consisted of a northbound “Voyage of the Glaciers” 7-day cruise followed by an additional week touring on land. We opted to do both portions [sea & land] with Princess, since they are the ‘biggest player’ for Alaska touring. This was definitely a splurge vacation for us, especially after figuring in the cost of the various additional excursions. But, all in all, we feel it was well worth it for the things we saw and learned.

This page contains narrative and pictures from the cruise portion of our trip. Be sure to see the pictures from the land portion of our trip to Alaska.

hiking on meade glacier

  1. Vancouver, B.C.
  2. Ketchikan & Juneau
  3. Skagway
  4. Glacier Bay National Park
  5. College Fjord & Whittier
  6. Links

Vancouver, B.C.

Vancouver, BC was a great starting point for our cruise. We arrived a day early and had a chance to explore a little of the town, have a fine meal, and get a good night’s rest before boarding the ship. Vancouver is a very tourist friendly town. We particularly enjoyed our visit to Stanley Park and certainly got in our exercise walking around it.

Having cruised a number of times before, we had no trouble getting thru the boarding process and shortly after noon, were sitting in the main dining room enjoying our first meal on-board.

Our first full day on the Island Princess was a day at sea, which was great because it gave us plenty of time to get acquainted with the ship and have a day to ‘rest up’ for the busy schedule ahead. It was most relaxing day of our vacation, as it turned out. With the excursions we had booked, the rest of our trip was very busy. That evening was the first formal night on the ship.

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Ketchikan & Juneau

We learned a lot of things during our trip. One of them was realizing that neither Ketchikan nor Juneau have ‘road’ access to them. The only way to get to them is by boat or plane! The American Indian tribes that settled these lands used the extensive waterways to get around.

Ketchikan was a short stop. We opted to take the Misty Fjords boat excursions, which, at 3.5 hours, consumed the majority of our time ashore. However, we didn’t regret the decision. The fjords, from water level, seemed like much better excursion than viewing them from the air on a cloudy day.

It rains a lot in Juneau — almost everyday — as we found out. Our float plane excursion got cancelled due to weather, but we still made it to the top of Mount Roberts [twice, in fact] as well as out to Mendenhall Glacier, where Catherine & Brian got engaged. We were well prepared for wet weather. It was more of a heavy drizzle than a downpour while we were out in it. In addition to the sightseeing, we did some shopping and patronized one of the local bars — sightseeing creates a powerful thirst, even on a rainy day!

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Our stop in Skagway was a full day and we took advantage of it by spending most of it off the ship. We started the day with a 3.5 hour ride on the White Pass railroad, climbing to the Canadian border on the narrow gauge tracks before turning around and heading back. The scenery was spectacular!

Our afternoon adventure was a helicopter ride and landing on the Meade Glacier. We had hiked to a glacier year ago in Glacier National park, but this experience was completely different. We took a 20 minutes helicopter ride to get to the glacier. Once on the glacier, we had a 40 minute guided tour — the time went very fast. This was one of the highlights of our trip and one that we’d recommend for everyone. We learned so much about glaciers and we thought we already knew plenty!

The town of Skagway itself is very walkable, i.e. small, but interesting. Discounting the typical ‘jewelry store outlets’, the town seemed to have preserved much of its historical past. Due to the pressing thirst from our morning train ride and early afternoon helicopter/glacier excursion, we found it necessary to check out BOTH local saloons and sample their beers before heading back to the ship.

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Glacier Bay National Park

We arrived at Glacier Bay around 6:00 in the morning and spent most of the day there. We spent a lot of time out on deck and were glad that we had brought multiple layers. Especially on the front deck, it got pretty windy when the ship was underway. As big as the cruise ship seemed when we boarded, it was easily dwarfed by the glaciers and surrounding mountains. It was bit cloudy the day we were there, so we only saw a few ice calvings when we were ‘parked’ at the Margerie Glacier. We heard the glacier rumble as the ice mass slowly pushed forward.

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College Fjord & Whittier

College Fjord had the highest concentration of glaciers on the stops we made. The initial exploration of the fjord occurred in the summer of 1899. The main fjord was carved by the Harvard Glacier. The glaciers on the fork and southeast side are named for men’s colleges, while those on the northwest are named after women’s colleges. The explorers, including John Muir, a glacial expert, chose names of their alma maters and sister schools, and delighted in ignoring Princeton!

We arrived in Whittier around midnight, but didn’t need to leave the ship until after breakfast the next morning. Our Denali Express train left at 8:00 AM for its 9.5 hour trip to Denali.

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Be sure to see the pictures from the land portion of our trip to Alaska.

We did a lot of research on the Internet for this trip. As is usually the case, we learned a lot more from our actual visit. So if you considering a trip to Alaska, we're more than happy to share what we learned about travelling in Alaska. Below are a few links we found particularly helpful.

  1. Join Cruise Critic and sign up for the RollCall for your specific cruise. Also check the generic 'Alaska' forum for other Q&A and discussion.
  2. Check what other ships will be in port the same day. This can affect your experience. note: Dockings always subject to change [and weather]. See Northbound June 22, 2016 for a sample and detailed links.
  3. Glacier Bay National Park brochure
  4. Typical Glacier Bay ship route map
  5. Denali National Park map
  6. Earthquake Park
  7. Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
  8. Anchorage Museum

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Copyright © 2016 Michael Botos. revised: 09/07/2016

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