It goes without saying – Cruising is fun! While talking to our daughter, Elisabeth, She suggested that we do a cruise to Alaska while we were in Washington. “Sure,” we said and we began to plan. After searching multiple websites we decided on a 7-Day cruise on the Norwegian Joy. While we were still in the Great Lakes area and on the drive west to Washington we spent a lot of time researching and on the phone to agree upon and reserve shore excursions. As with most cruises, we had a mix of ship-based shore excursions and touring on our own.
Sailing out of Seattle made the beginning and end very simple. We packed everything in Elisabeth’s car and her brother, Scott, drove us to the Bell Cruise Ship Terminal and picked us up at the end. We had a relatively short wait to board the ship. We had to wait for our cabin to be ready and our luggage to be delivered, but there was plenty to do. We had lunch in one of the ship’s dining rooms, toured the ship, and relaxed on the pool deck. Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) has an app for your smart phone that keeps you up to date on all of the activities on board and your selected shore excursions. This app became our “go to” source for ship board information. There are also touch screens near every staircase with more information and where you can make reservations for shows.
As we set sail from the Port of Seattle we viewed the Seattle skyline.
Our first day was at sea as we sailed north up the Inside Passage of southeastern Alaska. We relaxed, checked the ship, made plans and spent time in the Observation Lounge.
Our first port of call was Alaska’s First City – Ketchikan. While we were at sea on the first day Pat and Elisabeth attended some presentations on shopping opportunities and had their stores all picked out. Consequently we descended on the jewelry shops. Actually all three of us had a lot of fun and the ladies walked away with all kinds of freebies for their charm bracelets.
While they were returning their purchases to the ship I walked to Creek Street to the original business district of Ketchikan. This is along the Ketchikan Creek. Here there was a ready source of fresh water and a good current to operate the mills. There is little flat land here and the shops were built on platforms extending over the river. While walking through the shops I discovered that the early city leadership had rounded up all of the prostitutes that were operating in the residential areas and consolidated them in the business district. One of these “houses of ill repute,” Dolly’s House, is available to tour. As the sign says, ”Dolly’s House – Where both men and salmon came upstream to spawn.”
Our big excursion was the Alaska Lodge Adventure & Seafeast. We took a boat cruise around the Grant Island State Marine Park. We were only a short distance from the dock when we saw an eagle’s nest that had a couple of eaglets. Our guide tossed a fish into the water and we watched as the eagle swooped down on the water to grab it. My finger was quick on the shutter and I got the perfect shot.
As we continued on we saw where the U.S. Navy does underwater sound tests on its nuclear submarines. There was a submarine in port for testing but we never saw it. As we cruised we saw sea lions and seals sunning themselves, and Sitka black-tailed deer. At the end of our boat tour we arrived at the Silver King Lodge. There we were guided on a short tour of the rain forest. The moist conditions of temperate rain forests generally support an understory of mosses, ferns and some shrubs. This rain forest was a mix of coniferous and broadleaf forest. The finale was a fish boil that included Dungeness crab. There were seven of us at our table. The server dumped a big pot of food (crab, shrimp, clams, mussels, potatoes, onions, garlic, corn and sausage) in the middle of our table that was covered in newspaper and we all dug in. It was delicious! Being a meat and potatoes guy I had never eaten crab before and now I think it will be one of my seafood favorites.
We returned to the port and did some final souvenir shopping near the pier. We boarded in time to get cleaned up and enjoy another dinner. After dinner we enjoyed a presentation of the musical Footloose in the Deck 7 theater.
Our next port of call was Juneau, the capital of Alaska. As many of the cities in southeastern Alaska it is only accessible by plane or boat. We opted to not sign up for any of the cruise excursions, but to tour on our own. We took a cab to the Mendenhall Glacier. Our driver, Mac, had lived in Juneau his whole life and was a good tour guide. He kept a running commentary on sites that we passed and what it was like to live there as a native.
The Mendenhall Glacier extends from the Juneau Icefield and is about 13.6 miles long and hundreds of feet deep. Even though we viewed it from across Mendenhall Lake it is huge. The catabatic wind coming off the glacier is definitely chilling, it felt about ten degrees cooler that at the Visitor Center. In the Visitor Center we saw time-lapsed photos of the glacier showing how it extends and retreats due to the amount of snow that falls on it every winter. Mac came back to pick us up and dropped us off at the Mount Roberts Tramway. We had purchased tickets through the ship and rode the tram to the top of the mountain. Unfortunately it was a very cloudy day (Welcome to the temperate rain forest!) and our view was not very good. We took the opportunity to hike on some trails near the mountain top and we were not able to see much below, even as we descended on the tram.
The last part of the day was to cruise in the Endicott Arm and view the Dawes Glacier. The Captain allowed passengers to go onto the forward part of the ship that was normally off limits. We were there, with our binoculars and cameras, but the fog was too thick and the Captain, citing safety concerns, choose not to risk the ship under such poor visibility and we headed back to the main channel.
Our third port of call was Icy Strait Point on Chichagof Island. This was originally the site of the Hoonah Packing Company, a salmon packing cannery that was established in 1912. In 1953 the cannery operations ended and the facility was converted into a maintenance facility for the Hoonah fishing fleet in 1954. The facility was converted into a tourism center and welcomed its first cruise ship as Icy Strait Point in 2004.
We chose to do the combination of the Whale Watching & Zip Rider excursion. The Zip Rider is a pure adrenalin rush. We took a 45-minute bus ride to get to the top of the mountain. Here we were briefed on the ride and climbed into our harnesses. The Zip Rider descends 1300 feet and lasts about 90 seconds. What a ride!
After the wild ride we walked to the cannery docks and boarded our boat for the whale watching. Needless to say, everyone was dressed in layers for a chilly afternoon. We spend the whole time on the exposed upper deck to insure we had a good view. As we headed out our captain got a radio call advising him that a pod of Orca whales had been spotted. Orcas are not seen here on a regular basis, so he altered course to check it out. We were not disappointed. We circled this pod for quite awhile until we had to move on to other sites.
About halfway back to the port we came upon several humpback whales. Unlike Orcas, humpbacks do not jump out of the water. However, they will raise their huge tails out of the water and use that weight to drive them deep in the water as they dive. This “tail flip” is the hole in one of whale watching. One after another the whales would come up to “sound,” blowing water out of their air hole and breathing before diving again. At one point we spotted three of them traveling as a group. We watched and I took pictures for so long that I had filled my camera’s memory card and had to resort to my cell phone camera for the remainder of my shots.
All good things must come to an end and we headed back to board the Norwegian Joy for our next leg.
Our next day was spent at sea. We took advantage of this by sleeping in and relaxing. There are always things to do on board – musical performers, workshops, gambling, or just practicing the fine art of doing nothing. That evening we enjoyed watching Elements – a dazzling show incorporating the four elements of earth, air, water and fire. This was an incredible show. It was dynamic and I never knew what was going to come next.
Our final port of call was Victoria, BC on Vancouver Island. We took advantage of the shore excursion – Victoria by Bike to see Victoria up close and personal. We met our guides and picked up our bikes and helmets near the ship and rode out of the port.
Victoria is known as the cycling capital of Canada and offers great cycling routes throughout the city. Our guide led us on a leisurely circular route through quiet neighborhoods, tree-lined streets to see some of the highlights of the city. Our first stop was Beacon Hill Park where we saw the World’s Largest Totem Pole made from a single tree. We made several other stops along the way – Chinatown, the Royal Parliament Buildings, and Fisherman’s Wharf. From Fisherman’s Wharf we made the short ride to the bike shop. Some of our group turned in their bikes and headed back to the ship, but we rented ours for a while longer and rode to some more attractions. One point we felt was a “must see” was the Mile Zero marker for the TransCanada Highway. Now we have pictures of us at Mile Zero in Key West and Mile Zero in Canada.
We dropped off the bikes at The Peddler bike shop and started to walk back to the ship. On the way we stopped at Fisherman’s Wharf to get a better look at the floating houses and enjoy an ice cream cone. Enroute to the ship I was able to pick up two more geocaches. That was the icing on the cake.
Back onboard we began organizing our stuff and packing. We hit one of our favorite restaurants for dinner and, after dinner, listened to the great piano player who entertained in the Atrium.
Because we didn’t have to connect with an airline flight we were able to have a relaxing breakfast before they called for our group to disembark. We had no problems with our luggage or U.S. Customs, Scott was waiting for us where we had agreed to meet, and we were on our way home.
It was a great trip. We were able to see parts of Alaska that we had not seen before. We are looking forward to possibly revisiting Vancouver Island on another trip in the future.