Alaska!

Monday, September 9 – Tuesday, September 10, 2019

We woke to beautiful views as we pulled in to the dock in Juneau, Alaska, Monday, September 9th.

We stood on our balcony a few minutes and saw a bald eagle perched on a walkway as we were pulling into the docks.

We used to see bald eagles in Madera County, up by Hensley Dam/Hidden Lake, but not in a few years. (Side note: I’m writing and posting this while we’re on the road with the Code 3/RALI drug education trailer in the Chicago area. Yesterday, we saw a bald eagle circling above us in suburban Chicago. No. Big. Deal. Like, we didn’t travel 1600+ miles to see this one bald eagle in Alaska. Although, I did see one more later, sticking its bald head up from a tree, but this is definitely the best view of the one we both saw.)

Our excursion was to a salmon hatchery, Mendenhall Glacier National Park, and a salmon bake (“all you can eat”). We also had reservations for dinner with my folks for dinner at one of the ships specialty restaurants, one of our perks from our awesome travel agent, Cheryl at Hey Wanna Go. (Thanks, Cheryl!)

All of the “older” generation had decided this excursion involved too much walking, so it was just the four of us. Lee and Karie disembarked a little early to see some of Juneau. Dave and I took our time, then met up with Lee and Karie, boarded a bus and headed to the salmon hatchery.

It was very interesting to learn about the salmon industry in Alaska. We’ve watched Deadliest Catch about crab and some of the other reality fishing shows about tuna and salmon, etc. The salmon industry in Alaska makes sure that it is sustainable for future generations. David bought some salmon jerky to enjoy later.

After the hatchery, we loaded back onto the bus, and headed to Mendenhall Glacier National Park. It’s very well organized, as far as letting off bus passengers. We walked a fair amount (good thing the parents decided to cancel this excursion since it did entail some walking–much of it uphill, too). From the Visitor’s Center, we had a great view of the glacier itself, as well as displays to read. There was a film to watch, also. I was trying to record a wolf’s cry for a certain grand-daughter who is currently enamored with wolves, and I missed the film. Dave, Lee, and Karie were able to see the film though.

We then walked down one of the trails for a slightly closer view of the glacier.

When we hear that the glaciers are receding at so many feet per year, I, absolutely, feel a responsibility about global warming. But then I read a bit more. The glaciers have been receding for hundreds of years. Since long before humankind had anything to do with air pollution, emissions, and so on. Because let’s be real. The Grand Canyon was cut by glaciers. There were very few humans around then. Their effect on the glaciers receding through the Grand Canyon was negligible, at best. The Alaska glaciers have been receding for several hundred years. Since long before we arrived. I don’t minimize the effect we have on our environment, but I also don’t think we humans are to blame for everything the natural world is experiencing. Some of it is just a natural cycle of events.

After Mendenhall Glacier, our bus took us to a salmon feed. But we had dinner reservations at a restaurant on the ship. I had made them for later in the evening, to allow for extra time if we were late returning. Good thing! We got to the salmon bake and were told we could take as long as we wanted there. And there were buses ready to take us back to the docks whenever we were ready.

We stood in line for a portion of salmon each, but we knew we had a full dinner waiting for us back on the ship. ** The salmon at the salmon bake was … mmmm … how to put this?? Ah. May. Zing!! Fresh. Tender. Succulent. There was a buffet with salads and scalloped potatoes, then you went to the grill where the chef gave you a piece of salmon and offered you some glaze. I accepted a small piece of fish and the glaze, which they were selling (of course 😉 ) in their gift shop. But it was delicious! As it cooled, it started to congeal and harden a bit, but it really was amazing. Sweet, but not overpowering. I would have bought some, but I knew we were going to be bumping up against space and weight limits for the flights home. Of course, I didn’t know what awaited us as far as “flights” home. Stay tuned for more about that.

After David and gobbled down a few bites of salmon, we said bye to Lee and Karie and jumped on a bus back to the dock, and got ready for our dinner at the Pinnacle Grill restaurant with my folks.

Another amazing experience! The service was awesome! It was like they wanted to find a reason to shower us with love and attention. They kept asking if there was an occasion to celebrate. A birthday? Anniversary? It finally occurred to me–we had our 42nd anniversary a few days after the end of the cruise. I mentioned that and the staff exhaled a collective sigh of relief. Whew! They had a reason to be extra attentive, I guess?

I ordered the “Clothesline” appetizer. Candied bacon hanging from a line. Mom and I had a tenderloin steak that was wonderful. Even though we said we were too full for dessert, because we were celebrating an “occasion,” we were brought a dessert. It was delicious, but we were truly full, so we asked that it be packaged up and we took it back to our room’s mini-fridge for later.

Tuesday, Sept. 10.

Skagway, Alaska

We had booked an excursion from the docks in Skagway, taking a train into the Yukon, then a bus back into Alaska. Or it might be the opposite. You don’t know until you’re there. It’s at the tour’s discretion which way you go. Up by train and back by bus, or up by bus and back by train. But this was one tour we were assured was very easy and suitable for all ages and abilities.

Lee and Karie disembarked a little early to explore Skagway, then texted me. They heard that a train had broken down on the tracks and all tours for the day were canceled. Could we find out if that included ours?? We zipped up to the Excursions desk, but no one was there. Apparently, on shore days, they’re all on shore, booking tours, guiding people, etc.

As David and I disembarked, we ran into a woman he’d chatted with in his cigar smoking area. She had been in the train that had broken down. Yep. It was our train.

We continued on to where we were supposed to board and got the scoop. Yes. A train had broken an axle on the tracks. We had a couple of options. We could take a bus up and back. And possibly get a partial refund. We decided to go ahead and do that. We waited a little bit and boarded a bus for the ride up to the boarding point for the White Pass Yukon Rail. The driver takes his time. We stop many times for photo ops of glaciers and rugged mountainsides.

As we’re on the bus, we get word that the broken train had been moved off the track and we would be able to ride the train back to Skagway.

Because part of the bus and train route moved from Alaska into the Yukon (Canada), we were required to bring our passports. We had to show them twice. Once in the bus, on the way up. We had to get out the passport, hold it near our face, look straight ahead, “don’t make a joke,” etc. The Canadian Immigration official who boarded the bus to inspect us made a joke about how serious we all were. We had no response. “Ummm … we were told to be boring?”

The train followed a route built in 1898 for the Yukon Gold Rush. I really wanted to see several things while in Alaska. A bear. The Northern Lights. A moose. During the ride, our guide announced that a bear was on the right side of train. We were on the right side of the train and I was on window side, so I leaned over to look and there s/he was! It was very quick, but I saw a brown bear in Alaska! I didn’t see the Northern Lights since it was still bit early. And no moose. But I saw a bear! I think I’m the only one of our group of eight who saw the bear.

Coming back to the US, the immigration process was about the same as going into Canada. “Hold your passport in your left hand, near your face, don’t make jokes.” We were in the train at this point, with a few passengers from other buses, so it took a little bit longer. But we got the same response from the U.S. Customs & Border Protection officer. “Hey, did you all have a good time in the Yukon?” Ummm … no!! We were told we have to tell you we had a horrible time. We hate Canada! We want to come home to the US!! (Which is not true. Canada is lovely.)

Our excursion included a trip to a gold camp with a snack and gold panning. But because of the delays, after we arrived back in Skagway, (after passing through Customs & Immigration twice–once into Canada and once out) we decided to skip the gold camp and head back to the ship for dinner.

IMG_4323One of the fun elements of the cruise was during dinner, our stewards, Hri and/or Sri, would come in and turn down the bed and leave information about the next day’s stops. And there was always a cute towel sculpture on the bed.

We all made it back to the ship and had a lovely dinner in the dining room.

Then we ended the evening in the BB King lounge, listening to some great music, watching passenger’s dancing, talking with friends, and even (a little) dancing.

 

 

 

 

 

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Alaska, Ho!

Saturday, Sept. 7 & Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019

Saturday

When we’d checked into our Vancouver hotel, the desk staff had recommended a shuttle to take us to the port for boarding the cruise ship. The driver, Sayeed, assured us he could deliver all 8 of us, and our luggage, right to the curb where we could drop off our bags and be met with the requested wheelchairs for the folks. Well. It turned out Sayeed was working a bait and switch.

He did have an 8 passenger van. But counting him, there were 9 of us. So an extra person was scrunched into one bench seat and seatbelt-less. Then, yes, he delivered us to a curb. Just not the curb at the baggage drop. So it was a looooong walk to the actual baggage drop, where the taxis and buses were delivering other passengers. He did help with the bags, but we still had a lot to wrangle through elevators and walkways, while shepherding the folks who’d been told they would have wheelchairs and wouldn’t have to walk far. So we didn’t start off on a happy note.

 

Once we dropped off the bags, it got a little easier, but it was still a fair distance to the check-in. But once there, and checked-in, we could sit while we waited for the wheelchairs that would take us on board. We waited a loooong time. I guess they had about four chairs for the 400 passengers requesting assistance. I probably exaggerated, but not by much. David accompanied Mom and I walked along with Dad. An attendant pushed the chair, Mom or Dad held a carryon bag on their lap and we zipped past some lines at Customs, showed our passports and then scooted up the gangway and onto the ship. We were on the 8th floor, at the front of the ship. Mom and Dad on the port side, David and I on the starboard side. Our friends and their parents were also being accompanied and using a wheelchair, so it didn’t take long and we were all on board.

We met our room stewards, Hru and Sri. They were all smiles and welcomed us with genuine warmth. We then headed to the dining room for lunch. After lunch, Mom and Dad went to rest in their room, while David and I explored the ship. We sat in on an orientation talk for first time cruisers. We also went up to the shore excursions desk. We had booked our excursions ahead of time, but after seeing how much walking there was on the ship, Mom and Dad were rethinking some of our choices. We decided they should cancel Monday’s excursion to Mendenhall Glacier. We also asked the consultant there about the other two excursions we had booked, but she assured us there was very little walking on both of those. That we’d be met by a bus on the dock and taken to the site. So we left those on the schedule and just canceled the glacier trip.

By then it was time for the muster drill. We hurried back to our cabin and waited to be called to the deck near the life boats. All 8 of us made it to the drill. Whew! Then it was time for sailing!

Although the Pittman’s room was on the port side, the other three rooms in our party were on the starboard side, which was the side facing the dock, so we gathered in our room, on the balcony, for a toast and to wave farewell to Vancouver. And … Sri arrived with a lovely gift from our awesome travel agent, Cheryl, at Hey Wanna Go. She sent us an appetizer sampler that we enjoyed while watching Vancouver slip away. Thank you, Cheryl!

 

Then it was time for dinner! Seafood, steak, pasta, so many choices …

After dinner, we were tuckered out. Lee and Karie explored the nightlife and entertainment options, but we called it a night.

Sunday, Sept 8

 

Sunday was a cruising day. We sailed up the Inland Passage and admired the gorgeous scenery. We saw a pod of dolphins and a few whales. Dave found the smoking area where he could enjoy a cigar. One of the “bargain,” offers on ship, was a “free” bracelet and then the opportunity to buy a charm each day. I was able to use my coupon as well as both folks’ and so assembled three bracelets and gave one each to Amber and Taryn when we got home.

 

After breakfast, we were able to take a tour of the kitchen and meet the chef. He talked about how they prepare, assemble, and serve the meals to the 2000+ passengers and crew, how they plan the menus. He also mentioned that on the second gala night, when lobster is offered, that the numbers are very consistent, for every cruise! Nearly every passenger orders the lobster.

Sunday evening was the first of the two Gala Nights where we dressed up for dinner. It was a fun evening. After dinner we enjoyed some music at the Billboard Lounge then at the B.B. King nightclub.

 

Tomorrow, Mendenhall Glacier National Park!