A Travellerspoint blog

3 PORTS OF CALL - KETCHIKAN, JUNEAU, SKAGWAY

rain 7 °C

Since my first attempt at this entry was lost this is going to be a very bridged entry as time is getting short and I’ll be home before I’ve finished. I had put in heaps of detail about our sailing paths and weather conditions but now you’ll just be getting the bare essentials.

KETCHIKAN
We awoke in the port of Ketchikan on day 3 of the cruise and it was just as I imagined, grey skies, rain and lines of quaint wooden houses lining the mountains. Thankfully we had booked the Lumberjack Show for our morning activity and not the bike riding or hiking like some others. The show was a short walk from the pier and we were greeted by being placed in either the Canadian team of Spruce Mill or the US team of Dawson Creek. We were on the side of the Canadians and there was lots of humour and heckling with the opposite team. Very talented lumberjacks entertained us with many of their skills with probably the most entertaining the log rolling in the water. I felt for the poor men as they stood afterwards posing for photos in temperatures of about 7 degrees.
kids_and_lumberjacks.jpg
One of our Canadian team members attempted to make a rabbit from the trunk of a tree using a chainsaw. Very cute work until he “slipped” and chopped its ears off. Anyway to cut a long story short , he turned the rabbit upside down and turned it into a mini chair. He then needed someone small enough to fit the little chair. Of course it was the perfect fit for Mackenzie who was chosen to come onto the stage and see how it fit for size. We chose to leave it behind rather than try to get it through customs. As cute as it was, a photo memory will have to do.
M_and_her_chair_2.jpgM_and_her_chair.jpglog_rolling.jpg
Ketchikan was only a short stay and we were required to embark by 2pm so this really only gave us time to have a wander through the streets and discover what Alaska is famous for- diamonds and other precious gems are all duty free and nearly wholesale prices. There are as many jewellery stores as souvenir shops and that’s saying something!! For example a diamond I tried on that was tagged at $9990 was available to buy for around $2500. Definitely the place to go for beautiful quality jewellery but unfortunately not on our shopping list this trip!!

We returned to the ship and were quickly left behind as the kids darted off to the kids club as if they were already suffering withdrawal symptoms. This left us to disappear to the dining room to enjoy a very pleasant high tea in peace and partake in some more adult conversation.

We set sail for Juneau about 2.30pm and enjoyed calm seas through Snow Passage and Sumner Strait. The scenery was amazing from both sides of the ship as we sailed between islands and mountains, mostly snow capped and incredibly close, it was so relaxing to sit back and watch such pristine wilderness pass by.

Juneau
During the night we sailed through Frederick Sound and along the Stephens Passage to dock in Juneau at 8am. Juneau is the capital of Alaska however is totally inaccessible by road. The only way in is by plane or boat due to the glaciers that block all other access. Quite a unique place with an amazing history the town is spread out along the waterways and up the steep mountain side.
rear_of_bo.._Juneau.jpg
We had pre-purchased a whale watching tour over the I’net with Captain Larry and Orca Enterprises with his purple jet boat. We were taken by bus out to the marina in Akuke Bay where we boarded along with about a dozen others onto his purple jet boat.
Apparently whales like purple and the jet engines are quieter than other options. With over 40 years experience in Alaska as a skipper and naturalist we were in for a real treat. Capt Larry used only sight and knowledge to locate the whales, no electronic devices. We were instructed on how to look for their exhalation that lingers just above the water and told that it was easier to see on grey, cloudy and cool days, even better if it’s drizzly rain. Well we were happy with the cloudy, cool day, there was no wind and no rain and everyone was thankful for the calm waters of the bay.

Within a few minutes of being told what to look for there was a sighting, everyone rushed to the side of the boat to see but thankfully there was also open deck viewing from the back and on top. It was great to be out with a smaller crowd and not the 100 that some of the tours take. Capt Larry and his mate Sean, our guide, were both a wealth of knowledge about these amazing animals, the area and other wildlife we managed to see which included Arctic seals, bald eagles, many sea birds and of course the mighty humpback whale. We were informed it was unlikely to see orca’s as they move through the waters so quickly you have to be lucky to get a look. The kids did manage to see a pod of orcas from the ship on their first day at sea while they were in the kids club but I’m afraid the only ones I have seen were at Sea World back in San Diego.
We got to see many whales and also some great tail shots. The best was the time we had spotted a humpback and she had started to come closer to the boat so Capt had just cut the engines. The rule is that boats cannot approach the whales closer than 100metres but the whales don’t understand how far that is so at times they decide they want a closer look. All was quiet and everyone had their eyes peeled ready to see where she would surface, I was looking over port side of the boat when suddenly a burst of air shot within a few metres of me and there she was, so close I felt I could almost touch her. She did a slow swim by then dived beneath to swim away and was gone. Such a privileged moment, it was incredible to be so close to this enormous and beautiful animal of the sea.

We returned to Juneau, buzzing with excitement, especially since the kids were told not to tell anyone else on the jetty that the “whale kissed our boat”, it was too much to bear.

hump_back_2.jpgkids_with_capt_Larry.jpg
We caught a glimpse of the Mendenhall Glacier from the bus as we travelled along the highway and couldn’t believe how close it was to the town so later in the afternoon we caught the shuttle out for a brief look and hold some glacial ice and walk in glacial silt. Quite different to the glacier in the Canadian Rockies as the ice in front of the glacier had melted so there were chunks of ice floating in the lake.

5_of_us_at..glacier.jpgM_with_glacier_ice.jpgkids_and_snow_dog.jpg

We returned later to the ship and decided to take the opportunity for all of us to go out together for a nice meal in one of the 4 special themed dining rooms. The ship was not departing Juneau until about 9pm so things were a bit quieter and we were able to get a table at our choice of time. We had chosen to do anytime dining while on the cruise to offer us more flexibility rather than in the same table at the same time each night. Obviously this option suits many people but definitely not us We had bought the girls a nice outfit each so thought they should get the chance to wear it, plus they were very keen to try out the 5 course meals we had been telling them about.
kids_dressed_up.jpgK_W_dressed_up.jpg

Skagway

Our arrival in Skagway was at 6am and interestingly the view from the balcony was a steep rock face covered in graffiti of various ships’ and countries’ flags. I never did find out the significance of these but later in the day I noticed some advertising painted on a rock face and when I asked a guide about it she said it was there from the gold rush days.

Skagway was an amazing little town with a population of only about 800 people. On a busy summer’s day this population can expand to well over 10 000 as 3 or 4 ships fill the dock. This place definitely survives on its summer season tourism population and it made us very happy to be here at the beginning of the season before the crowds. Apparently Juneau will often have 7 cruise ships in port on the one day. The days we were in port there were generally 2 others not creating too many crowds.
Skagway_buildings.jpg
Obviously being such a small place there is not too much to do in Skagway so we decided to have a sleep in and a slower start to the day after the last two early mornings and late nights. The sun isn’t setting now until about 9.30pm so the days are getting a lot longer the further we travel north, sunrise is at 4.30am but I haven’t managed to see any of them yet!

We decided after checking out what to do, that Skagway was famous for its gold rush history and the Yukon, White Pass Railway. With the history surrounding it we decided to step back in time and ride the rail road for a couple of hours and supposedly see some amazing scenery. The kids were very happy as we discovered quite coincidentally, their friends they had met from Bombay were also booked for the train and in the same car.

As it turned out we didn’t get to see too much of the pas at all. After about an hour out of Skagway the snow started to fall in the biggest snowflakes I had ever seen. We thought we had seen snow in Canada but this was amazing! The tracks and ground were covered in no time and it just kept on coming so thick it was incredible. The biggest treat for me was to see out new friends from Bombay, who only yesterday had seen snow on the ground for the first time, get to see snow falling all around them. It was a very special moment and a great to be able to share their elation.
back_door_of_rail.jpg5_of_us_on_rail_car.jpg5_kids_on_rail_car.jpgsnow_on_tracks.jpg
The return bus trip was a little slow and cautious as the roads were also covered in snow, quite unexpectedly, so none of the vehicles or drivers were prepared for the conditions. We all returned quite safely with lots of stories to share.
snow_falli..oarding.jpg
Interestingly, when you take this tour you actually cross the Canadian border and enter the Yukon. At this point, the train stops and customs board the train to check everyone’s passports. It’s not a simple walk through either as I expected, a very serious affair with some people singled out and questioned in more detail. Crazy enough, on our return down the mountain, crossing back into Alaska, the bus stops and on get customs to check you back into the states!! Go figure??

Posted by fiveofus 05:46 Archived in USA Tagged cruises Comments (1)

ALL AT SEA

8 °C

We awoke after sleeping very soundly on our first night in our new rooms. Waking up and looking out the window onto our balcony was well worth the extra money. Couldn’t imagine waking in the morning and not being able to see where you were. Eventhough we had been sailing all night towards Skagway we were surrounded by mountains and islands in the morning. Skies were grey but seas were mostly calm giving us the chance to get our sea legs. So far so good, I was concerned we may have encountered issues with Jaimie and her motion sickness.

Kids were keen to get off to kids club to meet some others and they were all given a free souvenir T shirt to decorate with fabric pens.
kids_club_t_shirts.jpg
Wayne and I were also keen to relax and check out some of the other features on the ship and especially enjoy not having to be anywhere at any time.

We did however manage to sneak off to attend a wine tasting session which featured 5 different wines including the cab sav from Wolf Blass and a Nobillo Sauv Blanc from NZ which was a very pleasant way to pass the afternoon and share some adult company time. We figured it was the first hour we had shared with out children in tow for 7 weeks so you can imagine how much we enjoyed it!!

The kids club operated for 3 sessions a day which was perfect. They could go off for a couple of hours after breakfast until 12pm then return at 2pm for the afternoon until 5pm. They even operated an evening program from 7pm until 10pm and on a couple of the nights the kids were all able to eat dinner together. On the “at sea” days there were different activities organised during these times. The kids all sat down with their daily programs and noted down all the activities they definitely wanted to attend which included an icecream party, disco, pyjama party, guitar hero competitions and some craft and games.

We had set each of the kids a quest for their first day on the ship to find a friend of similar age to them and make friends. Mackenzie had spotted a Phillipino girl while we were in line at customs in Vancouver and almost stalked the poor girl in order to meet her. She finally met her at kids club and found her name was Sophia and the two of them really enjoyed each others’ company. The other 2 had a tougher time finding a mate until we bumped into a family from Bombay on the deck and it was like their kids were just as excited to see other children. Their son, Raoul was also 9 and the daughter Meher was a young 13. Anyway the kids hit it off and arranged to meet up at the club later in the day.

Later in the day, the swell picked up enough to notice we were on a ship and Jaimie and Denver both turned unusual shades of grey and green. I had decided to be optimistic and not pre- purchase any sea sick medication, knowing I could always get some on board if need be. Jaimie has just about worn her pressure bands on her wrists constantly over the holiday and in most cases they help but they both needed a bit more attention this time. Thankfully the pull of the kids club helped them keep their minds off their rolling stomachs and a dose of Dramamine settled them enough to get through the night. The other magic remedy we were told about was eating a green apple and it will help ease the queasy tummy! Seemed to work a treat. From then on a green apple was always available, even on the bus.

Posted by fiveofus 11:05 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

GOODBYE VANCOUVER!!

overcast 14 °C

Yippee the day was finally here. Saturday 10th May was our departure date and after watching so many cruise ships come and go it was finally our turn to embark. We were able to check in any time from 12pm and had heard the lines can be rather lengthy so wandered down to Canada Place just after 11am and started the wait. Because you are leaving Canada and literally entering US as you board the ship everyone must go through immigration before boarding. This was a lengthy process as 2 ships were departing from Vancouver and many passengers are neither US nor Canadian citizens. Anyway we were finally on board by about 2 pm and immediately checked out our staterooms.

Woohoo, Deck 12 (top deck for staterooms), called the Aloha Deck with covered balconies on the starboard side, aft of ship. For all you land lovers that meant on the right facing the pointy end, towards the back. Great location for us, up one deck to food and pool deck and up one more to the kids club.
our_room.jpgkids_room.jpg

We were all starving so we thought we had better get into what everyone seems to get excited about on cruises and that’s the food. The Horizon Court was the only food available at the moment which was the ship’s 24 hour buffet!!! Here goes all the kilo’s!
A fabulous selection of all types of food we settled into the style of this cruise ship very quickly. All the staff were incredibly friendly and welcoming and considering the ship had only disembarked its last passengers that morning, everything was fresh and ready to roll! This was the service I had been missing over the last few weeks!!

Our departure from Vancouver was delayed by about an hour due to waiting for people whose connections were late but it gave us the opportunity to phone both the mums for Mother’s Day without having to get them out of bed. We toasted Vancouver and ourselves with champagne on our balconies and waved goodbye to the many people standing on the wharf. Finally we were the ones on the deck waving back. We had been told previously on a harbour cruise in San Francisco to always wave to the people standing back on land and if they wave back they are jealous of you on the ship. Hence, the kids had great pleasure counting off the waves to see how many jealous people we were leaving behind in Vancouver!
K_W_on_balcony_depart.jpgkids_on_ba.._depart.jpgkids_on_balcony.jpg
P1020846.jpgP1020838.jpgP1020847.jpgP1020844.jpg
Time to explore, we checked out what was on each deck and the kids were anxious to meet the kids club staff and check out what was on offer. Mackenzie’s group was called Pelican Press in the 3-7 age group and Jaimie and Denver were in Shockwaves ages 8-12. With only 27 children on board and probably half too young to join the club, these kids were in for some attention. I thought Mackenzie wouldn’t be too keen to go off on her own in a separate group but either she has grown up more than I thought or just happy to have some time away from the other two, maybe a bit of both because she was only too keen to go off and play. It made me realise how much they have missed just having time to do their own thing, those moments have been rather limited over the last 7 weeks. We are all looking forward to enjoying some extra space and making some individual choices over the next week. The cruise has come at a perfect time in the 10 week, kids are keen to meet some other kids and we are ready to let them enjoy some kid time while we relax and have some much needed adult time. 7 weeks of 24 x 7 and we are ready to have a few hours off and enjoy a few meals on our own. The kids also need some time to relax and experience some freedom, it’s not like they can go anywhere!!
life_jackets.jpgatrium_of_ship.jpg

Posted by fiveofus 22:34 Archived in Canada Tagged cruises Comments (1)

EXCITEMENT BUILDING!!

overcast 12 °C

We planned to have a few days in Vancouver prior to boarding the ship mainly to ensure we were there and prepared. I had heard some horror stories about delayed flights and rushed connections on departure days that I was adamant that was not going to happen to us. We had a room booked at the Ramada in downtown Vancouver for its walking distance to Canada Place where the ships depart from. As mentioned earlier there are no cabs in Vancouver that carry more than 4 passengers so once again we had to hire a limo from the airport and thought it would be much easier and a whole lot cheaper to use our legs to get to Canada Place. Seemed a lot of others thought the same as most of the guests were either on their way to get on a ship or just getting off.
Limo.jpg]
We spent the few days we had in Vancouver picking up a nice outfit for both the girls to wear on the ship plus an extra 2 back packs. Alaska Air and United airlines have very stringent weight restrictions allowing only 50lbs per case and our big body bags weigh well over that when fully packed. With the kids smaller case packed to the limits with all the heavy gear we needed to distribute some more items so decided to get the girls new back packs rather than pay for checking an extra case.

Denver had also been promised a bike ride around Stanley Park when we returned to Vancouver as we had such average weather previously in April. The weather was noticeably better in May so we went ahead and hired some bikes for a couple of hours and cycled the perimeter of Stanley Park and along English Bay. Mackenzie jumped on a trailer behind Wayne’s bike and successfully powered him around the park with the biggest smile! Denver thoroughly enjoyed being a typical boy finding every opportunity to cut it sick - while Jaimie and I cruised along enjoying the sights and sounds of the park. Our excitement rose as we watched one of the Holland America chips head out to sea under the Lion’s gate bridge – tomorrow it will be us!!

bike_stanley_park.jpg
Chatting to others in the breakfast room was very useful as we had received our passenger contract over the I’net advising that no alcohol could be taken on board. As we had only just bought 2 more litres of duty free we were a bit annoyed at the prospect of paying cruise ship bar prices onboard. Anyway the more people we spoke to the more mixed messages we got until one guy that had just got off the Diamond Princess that morning said that he had managed to get 2 litres on board without a problem. That gave us enough incentive to try our luck and thought at worst we would have to pick it up at the end of the cruise. So with a bottle of Baileys stashed in Mackenzie’s backpack and a bottle of Bombay Sapphire in Jaimie’s we successfully embarked our ship.
about_to_board.jpg

Posted by fiveofus 22:21 Archived in Canada Tagged cruises Comments (1)

SAN FRANCISCO , CABLE CARS AND CITY FUN

semi-overcast 12 °C

Once out of Yosemite National Park we headed northwest to San Francisco. A fairly easy drive with lots of farming areas, big blocks and big houses looked like a nice place to live.

Our San Francisco accommodation was in Nob Hill, nice area between downtown and Fisherman’s Wharf. Fortunately we were very accessible to all the transport options around the city. SF is a very easy city to get about on public transport with cable cars, street cars, city transit buses and the rail system. Without a car now we were once again relying on public transport to get around places so purchased a City Pass giving us entry into a few places around town plus unlimited travel on all the transport.

A trip to the Visitor’s Centre gave us the heads up on getting around and all the must sees. Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 were high on the list and considering the great weather we were having we grabbed a street rail car and took off in that direction. Tourists seem to out number residents in SF, especially when the cruise ships are in port. There can be up to 4 a day. The benefits of riding the public transport is getting to chat with locals and getting all the inside info on restaurants and the area. One family were a wealth of information on the history of SF and the impact the many earth quakes have had on the area, especially the huge one in the early 1900’s when fires destroyed so much of the area and so many lives were lost.
P1020672_1_.jpg
P1020751_2_.jpg

Thankfully we had been told that you needed to book tickets to Alactraz in advance. Alcatraz in now part of the National Park Service so there are limits to the number of people on the island at any time. We booked our tickets for Tuesday, giving us a couple of days either side to take in the sights and enjoy all that SF had to offer.
P1020613_1_.jpgP1020773_1_.jpg

Wandering around the pier areas was really relaxing and great spots for people watching and enjoying the steet entertainment. The days when there were no ships in were definitely quieter and less bustling but the Fisherman's Wharf area is absolutely huge, lots of shops and restaurants. At Pier 39 there are also a permanent group of seals that have moved in and have now been provided some pontoons to hang out on so they don't take over the the wharf. A big attraction for the many tourists and would have to be the most photographed seals in the US.
P1020414_1_.jpg
P1020523_1_.jpg
P1020524_1_.jpg
P1020784_1_.jpg
We all enjoyed riding the cable cars around the city and back and forth to the wharf. It was a real buzz to stand on the running boards and whir up and down the steep streets and catch the amazing views. The kids thought it was very cool to stand on the side and talk about how "freaked out" Nana would be if she could see them! I know we did have a few Nana's on board at times that had that hand ready if need be!! We were all fascinated at the operation of these early design cable cars, they fit so well with the design of the city but are now mainly used by tourists, at $5 each way they are a bit on the expensive side however you can buy a monthly ride ticket that works out a bit more affordable. Luckily our citypass gave us unlimited use so we enjoyed making the most of the opportunity.
P1020700_1_.jpgP1020701_1_.jpgP1020710_1_.jpg

I loved all the quaint Victorian style houses although some look small from the front it's not until you see how far they go back there are some really substantial homes. Alamo Square is the famous postcard sight you recognise when you see photos of San Francisco and is more than just the one strip of famous houses but a whole 4 block area with a big park in the middle on top of the hill where it seemed everyone met in the afternoon to let their dogs play. Definitely seemed to be "the " place to live in SF, a very upmarket suburb.
P1020661_1_.jpg
Lombard Street was another area where the property prices are obviousy 7 figures. Known as the crookedest street, it has more turns in its distance than any other street in the world and considering how steep it is , the entire length of the foot path is steps as it would be too steep to walk otherwise. The length of the one lane road is entirely hedged and the gardens along the length made it incredibly picturesque. A lot of pride and probably employed gardeners take care of this strip of houses.

Our visit to Alcatraz started off a bit stressful and a mad dash up the length of the piers to catch our ferry we were the last people on with seconds to spare. Flopping into a seat to get our breath back we were thankful to be able to cool off on the deck of the boat and enjoy the view. Arriving on the island we were given a brief introduction by the park ranger and the kids picked up their junior ranger booklet once again to work on the activities during the day. The tour included a recorded self guided tour of the cell block with accounts from a number of ex-prisoners and wardens. Very interesting accounts included a review of the only breakout where the prisoners were never found and thought to have perished in the freezing waters of the bay.

The history of the island was incredibly interesting from its military beginnings to the expansion to accommodate prisoners and then after the prison was closed and the native indians moved in and camped on the island in protest to government proclamation. Now it is entirely preserved as a national park and its gardens are looked after by many volunteers. Interestingly, one of the ex convicts by the name of Darwin Coon was at Alcatraz for the day signing his book hew has written about his time spent at Alcatraz after being arrested for bank robbery.
P1020620_1__1_.jpg
P1020732_1_.jpg
P1020741_1_.jpg
P1020550_1_.jpg
P1020560_1_.jpg
P1020571_1_.jpg
Kids once again completed their Junior ranger program and were sworn in by the ranger on the island. They are becoming quite well adorned with their badges and the programs are not only great souvenirs with lots of information, the real content they are picking up along the way and the passion for preserving parks and animals around the world has been a real bonus of this holiday. Our overweight cases are largely due to the huge number of books we have picked up along the way. If only it could have been shoes!!
P1020577_1_.jpg
P1020631_1_.jpg

Posted by fiveofus 15:00 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

(Entries 11 - 15 of 39) « Page 1 2 [3] 4 5 6 7 8 »