Our Second Trip to Alaska

North to Alaska

Me being retired and MJ’s church being in the summer slump, August is a perfect time for a vacation, and there’s no better vacation for us Old Ones than a cruise. The only problem was, Mid-August is when the garden was just starting to produce, and we waved goodby to half-a-hundred large green tomatoes, hoping they’d be OK two weeks hence.*

Our first trip**, three years ago (see sidebar), was a handbell cruise on the Celebrity line. It was fun, but less than perfect. This time it was just MJ and me and two thousand of our closest friends on Holland America’s Eurodam. Our itinerary was similar to last time, except we topped out at Sitka and Glacier Bay, instead of Icy Strait Point and the Hubbard Glacier. We also ran through the open ocean west of Vancouver Island, instead of through the Inland Passage on the east side.

Where we went

The truth is, there’s not that many places to visit in South Alaska, and only a very few that can take a thousand foot cruise liner. Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Skagway and Icy Strait pretty much wraps it up.

The early forecasts were for mild and rainy — highs in the middle 60’s, lows in the middle 50’s. Seattle was forecast to be in the 90’s, coming and going. The actual weather turned out to be even better, with a day or two of sun and upper 60’s.

Days 0: Precruise activities MJ had a dog show judging assignment — the Cascade Pembroke Corgi Specialty — so we flew over two days early. She did her judgemental things, and I stayed in the motel, reading about the philosophy of systems science. I weigh 243.5lb. We’ll see how that goes.

Corgi ring

Day 1: Departure. The day of the trip we got a limo from Tacoma to north Seattle, then stood around in a shelter while the rain came down from the sky and the previous cruisers came down from the ships. The cruise lines do an amazing job of turning a floating hotel around in something under ten hours.

Day 2: At Sea. Nothing to do but lounge around the cabin, go to entertainments, and eat.

Day 3: Stephens Passage and Juneau. So, after roughly 45hrs at sea, we arrived in Juneau. Excursion was a whale-watching trip. Since the tour company billed itself as a citizen science research group, we first stopped and checked a crab pot for invasive species. MJ helped pull up the pot. That’s her in the blue sweater.

Once that was done, we were off to see the whales.

Day 4: Glacier Bay. Another long run to the north, and we’re at Glacier Bay. Most impressive. Mountain goats on the mountains, and brown bears on the flats — none of them close enough to photograph. The glaciers, however, were close.

Day 5: Sitka. Sitka is the smallest town on our trip, with not much in the way of amenities outside of the Red Dog Saloon, the oldest tourist trap in Alaska. We took another animal-stalking cruise,

…and stopped in at a bear sanctuary

It’s kindof a sad place. They rescue and raise orphaned cubs (mostly brown bears, AKA grizzlies), but the state of Alaska won’t let them re-introduce them into the wild. So, unless a zoo somewhere wants them, they will live out their lives in spacious confinement. Since bears live to be over 45 in captivity, the sanctuary has a long term commitment on their hands, and probably a capacity problem as well.

Day 6: Ketchikan. Only six hours in Ketchikan, because we have a long run south ahead of us. We didn’t do any excursions, just wandered around the town, buying gifts for those back home and looking at the cruise ships.

Day 7: At sea and Victoria. Another day at sea, headed south.

Canada Coastline

and we pulled into Victoria, BC about 6PM.  There’s a reason for stopping here, and it isn’t the Butchart Gardens by night. You see, US law says that, in order to support our declining merchant marine, a non-US registry ship can’t sail direct from one US port to another unless somewhere along the voyage it stops at a foreign port, otherwise it’s engaged in cabotage.*** So, an Alaska cruise that travels from Vancouver, BC is fine, but one that leaves out of Seattle has to find a foreign port to stop at along the way, hence our four hour stopover in Victoria.

We had seen Butchart Gardens before (and August is not the month to view them), so we stayed on board and ate and packed. Good thing we did, because Holland America messed up our boarding passes and it took until 9PM to get things sorted out.

Day 8: Seattle and Home. And so we headed home, chased by one of the Princesses

Azure sea, and Ruby Princess on the horizon (just to the right of the wake)

Off the boat by 9AM, and to SeaTac by 10AM. Then a five hour wait until our plane boarded. Then a 45min wait while they went ’round the bars, trying to round up a crew. Then a 20min wait while the pilot sent back to the plane he’d just left, to get his headset, which he’d forgot.

And I weigh 250.3 pounds. So just about a pound a day. UPDATE: It took 12 days to get back down to my pre-cruise weight.


* They were fine, all seven kilos of them. Plus three kilos of squash.

**Actually, it wasn’t our first first trip. It was the first trip that I blogged about. Our first ever cruise to anywhere was a Royal Caribbean bell cruise to Alaska. But that was back when all my memories were stored in jellied neurons.

***No, that’s not the act of throwing cabbages into the machinery.

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