This post is mostly about the cruise I took at the end of June, but before I get to that there are some things I want to update everyone on. 1) I have a great job now as an RN. I’m working with kids which is what I have always wanted to do and they are chronically ill children so I get to see the same kids a lot and get to know them which is great. 2) I changed my blog name (woo!), now that I have graduated and my school does not give my place of residence away to anyone who may want to find me, I am a little more comfortable sharing some more about myself. Which leads me to 3) hi everyone, I’m Mary! I’m 22 and I am an RN. If you have questions, ask away (be forewarned, if I think that they are too personal or give away too much about where I live, I may not answer them sorry!) Now that we have covered those bases, read on if you want to know about my trip to Alaska.
As a graduation gift to myself, I paid for an Alaskan cruise that my best friend and my two sisters took from Vancouver to Seward. It was incredible. Most anyone who has met me knows that I LOVE the mountains, and the trip had no shortage of them. From the moment we arrived in Vancouver we were surrounded by them constantly. While on the boat much of our time was spent sipping cocktails and taking in the beauty that was all around us. When we were ashore, we had some great adventures and learned about the culture and history of the area.
Before we boarded the ship, we had a little less than a day to explore Vancouver. It is an absolutely stunning place. I do not much care for cities, but this one was different from any city to which I had ever been. Everything was clean, the streets, the sidewalks, the subway tunnels, people were friendly, it was calm and quiet, and the homeless population was minimal. We made use of the minimal amount of time we had in the city by walking along the harbour front and trying out some local restaurants. There was a ride that we splurged to ride on, called Air Canada. It was similar to “Soarin'” at Disney World, but instead of flying over America it makes you feel like you’re cruising through the air over various places in Canada. After a fun ride, that let us see more of Canada then we were going to have the opportunity to see during our short time in the country, we boarded the boat that was to be our home for the next week.
The first port of call was Ketichikan, the salmon capital of the world (according to their town sign)! We got off the boat shortly after they lowered the gangway so that we would have some time in the morning to explore before heading to church. Before catching the vans that were going to take us to the church, high on a hill, we went to check out historic Creek Street. Creek Street is a board walk that runs over a creek and is the town’s historic red light district, housing prostitutes for much of the first half of the 20th century. As many of the signs in this area of town declared, Ketichikan is where “salmon and men came upstream to spawn.” After learning about this more seedy portion of the town’s history, we went to church, which hopefully balanced us out a little bit! Once mass was over we caught the city bus to Totem Bight park. Here we learned about totem poles, clan houses, and bald eagles. There was even a bald eagle who flew about 15 feet above us! Our national bird is even more incredible up close than from a distance. Then we caught the city bus back to the ship. The poor driver was so frustrated the whole time because his horn had a short in it and kept honking randomly, but all the passengers found it hilarious. Unfortunately, we did not have much time to wander around the town as it was a short day in port, but I quite enjoyed the things we got to experience.
The following day, we were in Icy Straight Point also known as Hoonah. Since much of what can be done at this port are scheduled excursions, and our excursion was in the early afternoon, we took our time before disembarking the ship. Right after getting off the ship we went to sign some waivers and meet the bus that was going to take us up to the highest zipline in the world! On the bus ride up the mountain, a native man (whose American name was Glen) told us about the island and different sites we were passing. Sadly, some of the landmarks he was telling us about could not be seen from the bus because Alaska is often dreary so there were lots of clouds blocking our view. Some facts that I found interesting: the K-12 school in the town has a little over 100 students; the bear to people ratio on the island is 4:1; bear hunting is legal, but one may only kill a bear every 4 years and most people don’t out of respect (also the meat is apparently pretty chewy); a gallon of milk on the island is $8; last year the island saw 25 ft of snow at the coastline and even more in the mountains! The bus ride to the top was 45 minutes and the trip down on the zipline was only about 90 seconds. Flying at about 60mph over such stunning and unobstructed views was absolutely incredible. After our quick trip down the mountain, we went to explore the old cannery. In the cannery, they had some old canning equipment on display and information about the canning process. If you didn’t know, canned fish is all chopped up and put into the can and then it is cooked. Now you know. Getting back to the ship we walked along the beach, which, instead of sand, was made up of smooth rocks. There were 100s of undamaged shells in among the stones, because, as Glen put it, “at low tide the table is set” with all the shellfish you could want. It was definitely a fun day, exploring a port that was different from any other port I have been to because it is privately owned (i.e. not by the cruise lines).
Next up was the only American state capital not accessible by roads. You can only get there by air or by sea! Juneau is likely the most quaint state capital I have been to, and I have been to several. I would not say that it is a bad thing that it is quaint though, I think it matches the state in a lot of ways. Though the state itself is massive, the people who there live, for the most part, reside in small towns and villages and the capital reflects that. While in Juneau, we took the tramway to the top of Mt. Roberts. Again, the weather was not really conducive to seeing the views from the tram. While on the mountain, we got to see a bald eagle named Lady Baltimore up close. She lives there as part of a raptor preserve, following having her wing broken, her beak damage, and one of her eyes blinded in a hunting accident. We also took a short hike and saw a cross, for the short time that it was not covered in clouds, that was originally placed prominently on the top of a crest in the early 1900s by a Jesuit priest who loved hiking. Once we were sufficiently chilled from hiking in the rain, we went to check out some programs before we took the tram back down. There was a video about the Tlingit people, the natives of the area, their culture and history. Then there was a string performance by a Alaskan native who told us some different stories that related to the history of the area. Coming down the mountain on the tramway was sadly just as cloudy as the trip up, but once we broke through the cloud cover the views were spectacular. By the time we got down the mountain it was lunch time so we made our way to a restaurant that served local foods. I had some of the most savory crab cakes I have ever had and my best friend was adventurous enough to try a reindeer corn dog which she quite enjoyed. Following lunch was an all uphill trip up to the Alaskan state house. We took a self-guided tour around Sarah Palin’s old stomping grounds and learned about how the state representatives used technology as it advanced in an attempt to best communicate with their constituents. Alaska is a rad state and the same can be said for the capital.
Our next port of call was Skagway; a very historical town, as it sprung up during the gold rush in southeast Alaska. We learned about the era when Skagway was a boom town with thousands upon thousands of people rushing in and spending all of their money at a chance to get rich. In the old train depot that is now a museum we watched videos about people spending the last of all they had just to not make it all the way or get there just to find out there was no gold left for them. Thousands of people died, turned back, or got there just to maybe work for someone who had already bought a plot of land where there was gold. One of the few people to get rich was Captain William Moore. He settled the inlet long before the gold rush and always imagined people coming and living in the town he wanted to build, only for people to come, push him off his land, and change the name of his town from Mooresville to Skagway. He sued the pants off everyone that took from him and died a rich man. Unfortunately, his descendants were not so lucky with his daughter-in-law taking her own life and several of his grandchildren dying young (one of them under suspicious circumstances). We wandered around and looked at the old timey buildings before heading back to the boat.
Until the end of our cruise, we were out at sea but we did pop into glacier bay for a few hours and had the chance to witness the majesty that is a wall of ice that would dwarf you, were you to stand at the foot of it. There were seals on ice (as our on board naturalist would say “not the latest Disney ploy) and huge pieces of glacier floating past our boat as we got close to the glacier. The less distance between our vessel and the natural wonder the louder the cacophony of thunder like sounds as the glacier broke and dropped car sized chunks of ice into the frigid waters. There really is no experience to compare it to, because it just that unique to be so close to a behemoth of frozen solid water. After spending maybe an hour and a half up on deck, my best friend and I went to change into bathing suits so we could warm up in the hot tub and watch the glacier shrink in the distance as we left the bay.
The next stop our boat made was Seward, Alaska where we had to disembark. Stepping off what was our retreat for seven glorious days was sweet, sorrow. We found our bags and caught the bus over to the train station where we checked our bags for the day, so we could go explore the town until the train was to leave that evening. Starting out we found a wall where people were writing things they wanted to do before they died my favorite of which was “make dank memes.” Truly touching. We made our way down to the Alaska Sealife Center, where we had a blast learning about fish, birds, and all the other fascinating animals that thrive in the freezing waters off the coasts of Alaska. There was a baby walrus that they were nursing back to health after finding it abandoned by his mother and learned that baby walruses love to cuddle which is ridiculously cute even though they are huge even as babies. Upon leaving the sealife center, we had lunch and then went to walk around. We found the Seward library which is beautiful and also has a stunning view of the mountains and the bay, so while I sat upstairs and read alongside my best friend, my sisters went downstairs to watch a video about the Iditarod. After the video ended, we decided to walk back to the train station along the first portion of the Iditarod that is in Seward (this, it turns out is not the trail that the race runs along but is mile zero for the historic Iditarod trail). Before heading to the station to board the train we stopped into the national parks office in Seward and got the stamp for the national park which was pretty sweet.
The train ride took us through some of the most beautiful lands that America gets to claim and we soaked up every minute of it. Also I got to check off “eat dinner on a train” off my bucket list, even if it was not as glamorous as I was hoping. Coming into Anchorage was beautiful and even though it was about 10:30 at night when we arrived at the train station the sun was still high in the sky. We grabbed our bags and tossed them into the back of a taxi van to head for the airport. When we got there, my sisters left to go pick up their rental car since they were staying for a wedding and my best friend and I got in line to go through security so we could board our 1:30 am flight.
We had a connection in Phoenix where I caught about an hour nap on the floor (I am TERRIBLE at sleeping on planes, in cars, etc.) before we boarded our flight to Charlotte. The flight across the country was pretty amazing and it was fun trying to guess where we were based off landmarks when the sky was clear, but as we came into North Carolina there were dark clouds below us and about 10 minutes after we were supposed to land the pilot came on over the PA system to tell us we were being diverted to Charleston, SC due to a storm over the Charlotte metro area. I was so unbearably tired that I wanted to cry. After several offerings of false hope and stupid decisions made by fellow passengers, we finally took off again for Charlotte nearly four hours after we were supposed to land in the first place. We ended up staying the night in a hotel close to the airport because both of us were much too exhausted to drive the hour and half back home. It was late in the morning by the time we rolled out of our cushy hotel beds and went to pick up my car from long term parking, but we were well rested and more prepared to go on and on about what a great time we had exploring the land of the midnight sun.
Friends, if you are thinking about going to Alaska, do not think anymore. Go. The land, the people, the beauty of it all…it pulls you in and makes you never want to leave. I could go for another month and I don’t think I would have my feel of the 50th state. 10 out of 10 would Alaska again.
Please enjoy these pictures from our trip.
Thanks everyone for reading my ramblings even though I don’t post consistently. Y’all rock!