Rain tapping on the sliding glass door woke me at 5 a.m. on day 6 of our Alaskan cruise. The ship felt stationary in calm waters. Fog and low clouds swirled around tall mountains rising from the surface of the water. It was time to grab the camera and see the sights.
Glacier runoff and snowmelt rushed down the mountains in waterfalls entering the sea in a splash. Scarred mountain faces wore the signs of a glacier movement from years past.
Draped in green, hanging valleys appeared midway down from the peaks.
The ship sailed through mini icebergs floating in the water, their white and blue colors sparkling under the cloudy skies.
Years of compression forcing out tiny air pockets between the crystals creates denser glacial ice over time. The dense ice absorbs a small amount of red leaving the bluish tint in the reflected light that we see. Tiny air bubbles are still encased in the ice that we see as white.
Shorebirds hitched rides on the icebergs. An eagle even gave us an aerial show. Unfortunately, bears, goats, deer, or harbor seals did not appear for a sighting.
As we navigated toward the Sawyer glacier, the overcast skies, occasional rains, and stately mountains on either side of the ship created a spiritual atmosphere that was humbling given the forces of nature that created this magnificent environment.
We weren’t the only tourists to experience the scenery. We shared the splendor with a smaller cruise ship and a private yacht.
The triangular shape of the North Sawyer Glacier came into view. Although the ship had to keep its distance due to the ice floating in the water, it was a sight to behold. The rubber boat, filled with passengers from the smaller ship, gave the massive cliffs perspective.
Obligatory selfies, of course, were required to document our presence near the glacier.
After seeing the Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm from a distance, we wondered what a trip to Glacier Bay might reveal. Hmm, perhaps another cruise is in our future.
Puffy clouds and blue skies in Juneau gave way to cloudy, rainy, and windy weather in Skagway. An early morning walk along the promenade deck revealed majestic mountains rising from the bay.
We weren’t the only ship in port. In the foreground is where the ferry docks. Note the tube that passengers walk through on their way to shore.
Our excursion for the day was a ride on the White Pass Yukon Railroad, an International Historic Engineering Landmark. We arrived about 30 minutes before the departure time and joined the queue. The best thing to do when waiting in line is to pull out the camera and find things to photograph. Geometric shapes will do.
Thank goodness the crew allowed us to board early when the drizzle turned into a full-on rain. Many of the passengers carried umbrellas to ward off the drops. While waiting for the all aboard, I spied this pair walking beside the train.
Built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, the narrow gauge train climbed 2,865 feet in elevation from the port to White Pass Summit. Crewmembers pointed out mountains, glaciers, gorges, waterfalls, and historic sites as the train traversed the rails through tunnels and atop trestles during the 40-mile round trip tour. It wasn’t the best day for seeing all the sites as clouds shrouded many of them.
We shared a train car with other tourists and a triplet of older couples from Germany. One woman in the group from Germany was so excited she reminded me of a hyperactive child who forgot to take her Ritalin. In and out the door she came and went, hogging the space on the platform, snapping photos on her mobile phone, humming, and chit-chatting with her family members, all the while with a big smile on her face. I doubt she sat down for more than five minutes.
After the woman shoved me aside a couple of times while I attempted to take my photos, I gave up. Perhaps she would cede possession of the platform and let the rest of us take photos on the way back down the mountain.
During the Gold Rush, mounted police stationed at the cabin shown in the photo below checked the provisions carried by people wishing to enter the territory to ensure their supplies were sufficient to sustain every man, woman, and child for at least one year. If provisions were not sufficient, entry into Canada was denied. The flags of the United States, Alaska, Yukon Territory, British Columbia, and Canada fly next to the cabin.
The train switched direction at Summit Lake. We all stood up, moved the backs of our seats from rear to front, and changed seats from one side of the train to the other. This allowed everyone the opportunity to have views from the windows, either going up the mountain or down.
Yes, my turn to take photos. I hurried out the door to claim my space on the platform, snapped a few shots and let a couple take my place. I was shocked when the woman barged out the door and muscled her way between the couple so she could click away with her phone.
I must admit I may have been a bit rude myself on the way back to the dock in order to capture the photos I did. The woman just would not budge otherwise. This was my last opportunity to capture the Ghost Trestle and I wasn’t going to miss out.
Isn’t Bridal Veil Falls beautiful? I wondered how many falls are called bridal veil falls. Wikipedia lists 24 in the United States, 5 in New Zealand, 4 in Chile, 3 in Canada, and 8 in other countries.
We looked forward to exploring the little town of Skagway when we returned to the station, except the rain and cold pushed us toward the ship instead. We were sorry to miss out on the Klondike Gold Rush National Park and the seven blocks of shops and restaurants that line the colorful Victorian storefronts along Broadway. Another time perhaps.
Back on the ship, Jon and I opted for a two-top table that night. We needed quiet time to ourselves after a day spent with annoying strangers. Then we posed for a photo, watched comedian Russ Nagel perform his act in the Princess Theater, and ended the night with a stroll around the Promenade deck.
We hope to return someday to the town incorporated as a city on June 28, 1900, and as a borough on June 5, 2007. I’d like to see how the 750 Skagway residents accommodate up to 8,000 visitors when 5 ships dock for the day.
Next up on the itinerary was a cruise up and down Tracy Arm Fjord to see icebergs and glaciers.
On the fourth day, let there be land. Islands popped up out of the ocean, and long stretches of hills and mountains took shape under puffy white clouds and blue sky. Spouts of water shot up from the surface of the water and dark shapes rolled out of and back into the water. Although they weren’t close enough to get a good shot, we enjoyed watching for the puffs of water that signaled whales were near.
The ship pulled up to the pier at 1:30 p.m. and the first thing we saw were eagles flying around from tree to tree, gliding on thermals, and landing on buildings and light poles. We had never seen so many eagles in one place before.
I think all the passengers had cabin fever like us because it took us forever to get off the ship. Something must have happened to cause the delay, but we never heard. We selected a guided hike through a rainforest to see Mendenhall Glacier for our excursion.
We couldn’t have asked for a better day to take a rainforest hike. Prepared for showers, we soon stuffed our jackets in our backpacks. The high school student who served as our guide taught us about the different plants in the rainforest and about the glacier. It was interesting to hear her perspective on the receding glacier that differed from that which environmentalists espouse. If it hadn’t been for the melting of the glacier, there would be no rainforest, and some residents in Juneau love their rainforest as much as the glacier. I’m not sure who is right or wrong, but I’m positive time will provide the answer.
We wanted to get a closer look at the lake and the waterfall, but we barely had time to visit the facilities before catching our bus back to town.
We also wanted to take the Mount Roberts Tramway, but it had closed by the time we returned to town after our hike.
We finished off our day in Juneau with a cedar plank salmon dinner with green beans at Twisted Fish Company. They serve up a casual atmosphere and great food. We couldn’t have asked for more, and it was nice to eat something that didn’t come from the ship.
Back on board, we pulled away from the pier at 10:00 p.m. Next stop on the cruise was Skagway.
Leaving the truck and fifth wheel behind, we climbed aboard the Grand Princess in San Francisco on June 5, 2018, for a 10-day round-trip cruise to Alaska.
I was shocked at my first glimpse of the ship as we crossed the Bay Bridge. The San Francisco skyline impresses me every time it comes into view. But to see the ship tower over the embarcadero was something to behold. From the perspective of the ship’s sun deck, the city looks like a Lego set in comparison.
As soon as we entered our stateroom, I was giddy with excitement and wondered about our forthcoming sail on the high seas. Whoopee! A real vacation, I wanted to scream. I managed to contain myself, not wanting to alarm the neighbors.
Wait a minute. Didn’t we just spend almost three months traveling around the southwest in an RV? Isn’t that like a perpetual vacation? Well, sort of. When we’re on the road, we cook our own food (most of the time), wash up the dishes, launder our clothes, make the bed, clean toilets, dust and vacuum, and patronize grocery stores. All this plus Jon keeps busy with all the maintenance and we (mostly me) plan our route for our next stay, make reservations, and arrange sightseeing activities.
No, we’re not tired of our RV trips. We love traveling and driving the highways and byways of these beautiful United States. But ten whole days of doing none of those tasks listed above was going to be heaven.
We left our bags to unpack later and headed to the Horizon Court on the Lido deck for lunch. The pocket-sized map served as our GPS for getting around the ship. So many decks and keeping track of aft, forward, midship, starboard, and port was going to challenge these two novice sailors.
We found our way back to our cabin after lunch, unpacked our bags, and with an hour or so before our departure time, Jon relaxed on the balcony.
Unable to sit still, I spied on the delivery inspections and the U.S. Coast Guard and captured a ton of city skyline photos from the perspective of the ship.
When the captain announced that the ship would soon be on its way, we joined other passengers on the sun deck. As the ship prepared to sail through the San Francisco Bay, servers offered a specialty drink, for an extra fee, of course. Why not? We’re on vacation.
Cruising the bay was nothing new to us, but from the height of the sun deck, it was magical. Especially the way the buildings shifted positions as we made our way toward the Golden Gate Bridge. Notice how Coit Tower (the fire hose looking building on top of a hill), the Transamerica Pyramid (the pointy building), and the new Salesforce building (the tallest of them all) shift positions in the triptych below.
I have driven on the Golden Gate Bridge and admired its beauty from the south, west, and north, but never have I sailed under the rust-colored steel structure. This would probably be my only chance to take a photo from underneath. With continuous shooting on and my eye to the viewfinder, I clicked away while fighting the wind and the movement of the ship.
And so our adventure began as we took one last look at the bridge and skyline and headed for open waters and north to Alaska.
Two Days at Sea
Managing to keep busy for the two days at sea was not an issue on the Grand Princess. Exploring the ship was like a treasure hunt with a lot of climbing up and down stairs multiple times a day. The elevators worked fine, I just prefer not to cram myself in one if I can help it. Then there was the calendar of events that began at 9:00 a.m. and continued into the night for I don’t know how long. I had trouble lasting much past 10:00 p.m.
One afternoon, Kelley White demonstrated totem pole carving. Kelley, a member of the Tlingit tribe, learned his craft from Nathan Jackson, a master carver and famous Alaskan artist. Kelley amazed us with his storytelling and carving skills. He had the audience in his hands as he told stories about the Tlingit tribe, history, and purpose of totems while he wandered around the log, examining his cuts, thinking how he was going to approach a certain section, and chipping away the wood to create the animals that will adorn the totem. I was in awe at the way he kept talking while straddling the tree and digging bits of wood out with a hatchet pointed in his direction. I was so afraid he was going to slip and hit a knee, or worse, his private parts.
We learned the population of the ship included a number of Bay Area folks. On June 8, the ship broadcasted what turned out to be the last playoff game when the Warriors beat the Cavaliers. Passengers filled the room and hallways with their Warriors T-shirts and hats, and high-five slaps and hoots and hollers rang out at the end of the game. If there were any Cavaliers fans about, they must have kept quiet.
Fun Ship Facts
Built in Italy in 1998
24 knots maximum speed
949 ft. length
188 ft. height
Coming up next is the port of Juneau, our first stop on the cruise.