Aboard the Ms Zaandam, a mid-sized cruise ship of Holland America we took a little time to get to know the vessel. It featured three restaurants, a theater, a tennis and a basketball court, a gym, a spa area, two outdoor pools and even a casino along several shops, an art gallery and a library. Even without the stops along the way it wouldn’t have become boring. Our cabin in the darkest inside of the ship was small but comfortable and had no window. A room with a small round window would have cost around triple of what we paid; no window it is!
Leaving Canada Place, Vancouver’s cruise ship terminal, was an event to be comemorated:
The next days would take us to several Alaskan towns and cities including the former gold rush capital Skagway and Alaska’s actual capital Juneau. Final destination: Seward, about a two and a half hour ride from Anchorage. It’s a long post and if you get tired of reading, at least check out Day #3 and the pictures of Glacier Bay (Day #5).
Day #1: Scenic cruising through the inside passage towards Ketchikan. “Scenic cruising” means that after about ten minutes you are bored on deck and you start running around the ship trying to find some other activity. If Bingo is not your thing, maybe a quick introduction to Salsa Dancing will do the trick…or you just hit the gym and wait for the bar’s Happy Hour to begin. Already four o’clock? – Hurraaayyy!!
That was also the day of the first Gala night. I am on a world trip, so my Converse and chinos with a collared shirt were the best I could do. Barbara somehow managed to do a much better job:
Day #2 Ketchikan: We tried our best to discover the town. Eventhough we hated the idea of cramming ourselves in a bus with a bunch of other cruise passengers to be moved around from one site to the next, we didn’t find a real alternative. So there we sat…in a bus. But it turned out to be a pleasant drive around and we got to see some wildlife, a little of Ketchikans beautiful surroundings and even a little cultural input and insights into the tradition of erecting totems and their meaning. On Ketchikan’s historical Riverwalk, called Creek Street, we visited Dolly’s house, a well preserved former brothel which had his golden days during the Prohibition due to Dolly’s knack for creative cross-selling.
Day #3 Juneau: Alaska’s capital can only be reached by sea or air. Getting to Mendenhall Glacier, one starts to understand why that is; the Juneau Ice Field which lies behind it cuts it off the rest of Alaska. There is no way around or across the ice.
One option for the day was Kayaking right in front of the glacier. But that’s a rather pricy activity and honestly, it wouldn’t have been worth it. Instead we decided to do a hike along the East Glacier Trail (approx. 2 hours). Eventhough we were aware that there were bears in the area, we were more than surprised to see this right in front of us after turning a corner: a bear mamma with her three cubs.
You might have noticed that the picture of the cubs isn’t 100% focused. Well, I was kinda busy backing away as bear mammas are known to be rather protective of their kids. That encounter was undoubtedly the most fantastic, scary and exciting moment of our trip so far. Very different from looking at them behind bars in a zoo!
Day #4 Skagway: when they found gold in Skagway in 1896 the Klondike Goldrush started and the town grew from a few hundred people to over 30’000 within months. Besides all the gold diggers, it also attracted some shady characters. The most famous of which was called Soapy Smith. Read up on this icy wild western style story here.
Another reminder that this was once a place of some importance is the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad, a scenic train ride that is partly in Alaska, Canada and the Yukon Territory. The three hour roundtrip would have been a cool thing to do but the sky was covered in thick clouds and $130 per person seemed a lot for limited views. Instead we discovered the town and its surroundings on foot. They say that the look and feel of Skagway has hardly changed since the gold rush, only the streets have been paved in the meantime. And yeah, it got slightly more touristic I reckon.
Day #5 Glacier Bay: That was another special experience. Just a few decades ago the 3’500 square kilometers of water surface were covered by ice and glaciers. But the ice has been receding quickly. Nevertheless, glaciers are everywhere and wildlife can be seen in the water and on land (that is if you have binoculars or a telephoto lens on your camera). But the unchallenged highlight of this expedition into Glacier Bay was to come up close to Margerie Glacier which ends right in the ocean. We spent around an hour or two in front of it and were lucky enough to see it calve. Almost more impressive than the visuals was to hear the shattering thunder sound that huge block of ice made as it got separated from the mother ship and fell into the water. I tried to take a few pictures that illustrate the majesty and strength of Margerie Glacier but I guess nothing comes close to a real life face-off. But be quick, who knows how long it’s going to last…
Day #6 Seward: With the arrival in Seward the cruise is coming to an end. We had an arranged transportation to Anchorage. On the way we stopped a few times for Beluga whales and also for the Wildlife Conservation Center where they bring in animals that were injured or lost their parents to take care of them and prepare them to be released into nature again. Our driver Jake turned out to be a real cool guy and we quickly became friends. He had loads of good suggestions for our upcoming motorhome adventure. More on that soon…