Alaska the Final Frontier, Land of Bears, Whales, Eagles and Individuality

Day 1 Sept 4, 2013 Our trip begins

We no longer own an RV since we sold it in March of this year. We came to a decision that we wanted to do some cruises and other trips but weren’t going to be able to take the time to drive to where we wanted to be in the time frame we needed to be there. Coupled with the fact that Teen Curb Crusher (now referred to as TCC) is starting college courses through AP work and next year will be dual enrolled our pickup up and go lifestyle will have to change a little.

I will introduce each of us: there is CurbCrusher (now referred to as CC) who turned 50 this year. He is a partner in a software development firm and business is picking up for him which is another reason to stop RVing for now. He just can’t be away for long periods from his work and the kinds of trips we want to take would take too long. Oh and about his name-when we first got our 5th wheel he hit every curb learning to drive it and back it, hence the name.

There’s me: LadyCurbCrusher (now referred to as LCC) I’m 48, and a stay at home mom who use to home school our daughter. She really doesn’t need me to oversee her work as much since most of it now is through FLVS (FL virtual school) so I have time to plan these awesome vacations we’ll be taking.

Then there’s TeenCurbCrusher: she is 15 and knows everything but still needs her parents guidance. She’ll probably be going away to college in a couple of years so family trips will start going away soon. We’re trying to get as much in as we can before that happens.

So on to our trip. We started planning to go to Alaska in March of this year. We wanted to see Denali as well as take a cruise so originally we booked a cruise tour with Princess. Then we crunched some numbers and decided we could do it ourselves cheaper so we did. We looked at all the activities that were included and really didn’t like all of them and wanted to do some things differently. Then I read a few reports on Cruise Critic and decided I didn’t want someone else managing my time for me. Then we went to dinner with our friends and they liked the idea of going to Alaska so they decided to join us for the cruise portion of the trip.

Our journey starts with CC’s partner dropping us off at the airport where we will board our United flight to HOU then on to ANC. (Sorry about the city codes I use to work for airlines so I use them a lot). I worked for PEOPLExpress back in college and I remember all the “major” airlines sneering at us saying customers wouldn’t go for paying for luggage and food onboard and being herded onboard like cattle. Well, I guess they are wrong and PEOPLExpress could see the future because that’s exactly what travel is these days.

We each took only 1 carryon bag and a backpack for the entire trip of 13 days because the airlines we were flying charged to check bags. And we were fine with what we brought and had no problems, in fact I know I didn’t wear everything I brought with me. I would also like to add make sure you eat before you board because United will NOT feed you anything. Not even peanuts/pretzels. The guy sitting across the aisle from me ordered a granola bar and a candy bar and the charge came to over $5. I guess I should be glad they gave me water. (our tickets cost over $900 for this portion of the trip).

Our first flight was only 2+ hours and then we flew from HOU to ANC it was 6.5 hours. We landed a little after 7 pm AK time (which was 4 hours difference for us from the East coast). We made our way over to the Budget Rental Car counter and picked up a Dodge Journey. We ended up really liking this car. It was comfortable for the 3 of us with our stuff and easy to drive.

Now we leave the airport to find the Embassy Suites (we stayed here both nights on points). Of course, it started to rain so our first look at AK was kind of dreary except for a magnificent rainbow (#1 of our journey) that stretched across the entire road. We checked into the hotel and put our luggage in the room and went to eat at Denny’s. Came back and took showers and went to bed.

Day 2 Sept 5, 2013 Thursday Denali here we come

Got up really early (East coasters) and went down to breakfast that was provided. Ate well and then packed up. We decided to stop in Wasilla on our way to Denali National Park to stock up on supplies. The weather was still dreary and we couldn’t see any mountains as the clouds were too low. We got to Wasilla and stopped at the Walmart there and grabbed some snacks for our drive. While in town we stopped at the Iditarod Headquarters to check it out. We watched a movie about Lance Mackey who has won the race 4 times back to back. We checked out the displays but didn’t get to see any dogs since they were later in the day and we needed to get to Denali.

Our temperature today was 44 degrees (we came from 94 in FL). I think normally this would have been a beautiful drive but today itwas very overcast and rainy most of the way. I had bought a book called the Milepost which told us of everything there is at each mile marker on the way. RVers have something similar called The Next Exit. It was nice to know when the next gas/food/bathroom would be. It also mentioned viewpoints to stop at and look at the scenery, but it always said weather permitting and our weather was NOT permitting on this drive.

We did stop at the Alaskan Medal of Honor War Memorial for a quick look. Didn’t stay too long because it was very cold and rainy. At every rest stop we encountered a composting toilet but they were all clean and most didn’t smell too bad.

When we were about an hour south of the Denali area we ran into road construction on the Parks Highway. We had to be guided through and had about 4 stops to wait enroute as they smoothed the road and loaded more asphalt. It took us about 45 minutes to get clear of it. Also, it stopped raining near here and we could see the mountains in the distance. Until now we couldn’t see 25 feet off the side of the road.

Finally made it to the Denali Grizzly Bear Resort and campground. Checked in and dumped our stuff in the room and went to the Wilderness Access Center (WAC) to pick up our bus tickets for the shuttle ride to Eielson the next day. These were $67 for 2 of us since TCC is 15 she doesn’t have to pay. Lucky her-like she paid for anything. We got the tickets and then our tradition is at a National or State park that CC buys a pin for a souvenir, I get a park stamp in my Passport book, and TCC gets to do the Jr Ranger book if there is one. So we got all those and made our way to see the movie in the WAC about how Denali came to be a National Park. Then we looked in the gift shop where I bought a watercolor of Denali. We then walked over to the book store and visitor center to check out the displays of the animals/flora/fauna and history of Denali. We also stopped at the train station since the Alaskan RR was in with the Princess and HAL cars attached. We had tried to get a photo in Wasilla but it was moving and so were we.

We walked back to the car and drove over to the park’s dog kennels. We weren’t going to be able to see a demonstration since they were at 10 am and 2 pm and no longer at 4 pm (after Labor Day) and we would be on a bus all day the next day. I had been checking out the puppies since spring on the park’s webcam so I was excited to see them in person. They were all very cute but I know that is not their purpose. During winter they deliver all the visiting scientists and supplies out in the backcounty since it is hard to get there in a vehicle. We went into the sled shed where they store the harnesses and sleds and then next door to the office where all the retired dog’s plaques are lining the walls. After that we drove back into the town area and had a great pizza at Prospector’s Pizza. Next we went down to Subway to get our lunches for the bus trip the next day.

We then called it a day and went back to the Grizzly Bear. Our room was nice with 2 double beds that were quite comfortable, and overlooked the Nenana Rver. We thought it was all forest until the Alaska RR train came through at 430 am on Saturday morning…

Day 3 Sept 6, 2013 Friday The wheels on the bus go round and round

Got up early since we’re still on FL time and had coffee and pop tarts in our room and packed our backpacks with snacks, Subway sandwiches, rain gear, and cameras. This morning the temperature was 38 degrees. You might ask how I would know this? I didn’t watch the news. I packed a digital thermometer that we use at home to tell us what the temperature was each day. At hotels we set it inside next to the windshield of our car and on the cruise we set it on our balcony. So knowing how cold it was helped us to adjust how many layers we would need for the day. Arrived at the WAC and parked, went inside to wait for the call to board our bus to Eielson. Our bus driver was Craig Lewis who has been working as a bus driver for 6 years. He told us he liked to talk as he drove so we were glad he wanted to narrate our trip. The green bus drivers don’t have to talk at all, just drive the bus but most do. We were told it would get very boring for them. Before we even went a mile we saw a male and female moose right on the park road.

We then encountered a small herd of caribou up on the mountainside before we left the public area (1st 15 miles). A red car actually hit and broke their mirror on the back side of the bus because they were trying to watch the animals as well as pass the bus. I don’t even think they noticed it though,

Before we got to our first bathroom break at Teklanika we spotted a male brown bear and then close by a female with 2 cubs. We stopped for about 10 minutes so we could get pictures. Our next stop was at Polychrome Overlook(no stop on the return). We got out and climbed a hill to see far into the distance. We saw Dall Sheep before the next stop at Tolkat River which was a bathroom stop. Craig told us we would make only a short stop there to use the facilities and for us NOT to go into the store since the stop on the way out would be longer. Before we reach Eielson we also saw more brown bears and Ptmarigans right on the road.

We arrived at Eielson around 1130 am. Craig had entertained us the whole way with stories of each animal we had seen. At Eielson I got my park stamp, CC got his pin, and TCC finished her Jr Ranger book and was awarded her Jr Ranger badge. I think she has almost 100 by now.

We looked at the displays and listened to a ranger talk about the trails and what hikers would see. CC took one for the team and went outside to get pictures of the mountain range only it wasn’t cooperating. He told us it was too cold and windy to stay outside for long. We used the bathrooms and got back on the bus ready to leave with Craig at 12 pm. You don’t have to stick with the same driver on the green buses but we liked him and he was keeping us entertained with stories so we didn’t jump ship. We ate our lunch right on the bus after we started back up.

We didn’t see as many animals on the return trip, though we did see another bear and more sheep. No moose were on the return trip. The drive back had less stops but a longer one at Tolkat for shopping at the bookstore. I was able to get another Passport stamp here. We picked up a few hikers on the way back and let some off. CC seemed to always have the open seat and he struck up several conversations with each new arrival. One was a man who was in charge of Aramark (who runs the bus concession) who seemed upset Criag was talking so much. He told CC that was what the tan buses were for, since they have a naturalist/narrator on board each one. Another seatmate was a scientist who was studying some of the plant life in the park and was hiking on her days off.

When we got back we thanked Craig (with a good tip!) and went inside. TCC saw they had coffee so she wanted one to warm up after the cold day we had. The buses are somewhat comfortable and there is a rack to put your stuff up but by no means were they luxurious.

We decided to eat at Prospector Pizza again and gassed up the rental car and hit Sled Dog liquor for our 2 bottles of wine that we were allowed to bring onboard. When we had our RV I would scope out if there were any local wineries in the areas that we camped in and would visit them. I usually would buy a bottle or two if I liked them. My supply of local wines is getting low and I haven’t developed a taste for any widely known brands so I was happy to see that Alaska had a winery in Homer that was stocked in the store. I ended up buying a bottle of Bear Creek Winery’s Peach Apricot wine and I loved it. I just need to figure out how to get more!

After dinner we walked down the boardwalk to Husky Homestead’s office and talked to girl inside since we would be going there the next morning. She gave us the lowdown on everything with the tour.

Then we went back to the room and got ready for bed, to be woken up at 430 am by the train across the river. Good thing I was already awake!

Day 4 Sept 7, 2013 Saturday Dogs and Talkeetna

Everyone was awake by 7 am and we had our pop tarts and coffee again. Packed our stuff to check out since we were going on a tour and wouldn’t be back in time for official check out. We put it all in the car and walked down to the office to wait for the Husky Homestead bus to pick us up. Soon Ellen, Jeff’ King’s partner, picked us up and we were on our way. Cost for this tour was $177 for the 3 of us, and I felt it was well worth it. As we arrived we were each handed a puppy to hold and cuddle. This was definitely TCC’s favorite of the trip. The puppies were adorable! We had our pictures taken with them and watched more puppies play in their training pen. After everyone arrived from their various locations we were invited to sit on benches in front of the older dogs houses and Ellen told us about some of the dogs training. Then she left to hook up dogs to the ATV for their morning workout. All of the them were barking and straining at their leashes wanting to go. She said throughout the day each would get to go on a long run with the ATV. It was kind of sad to see their faces when they weren’t picked to go. Then Trent continued the demonstration while Ellen ran a short lap which we could see and then a longer track through the woods that we couldn’t. He then showed us how they use the huge hamster wheels to let the dogs run and exercise. He also told us they are only chained to their houses when tours are given, otherwise they are free to roam around. After September they go into full training mode. The Iditarod is run the 1st weekend in March lasting from 9-14 days.

Then we moved inside where Jeff King spoke to the group. He was very funny and personable. He told us how he made sure the dogs were taken care of during the race and that they had to provide everything themselves during the whole race with no outside help. He averages only about 90 minutes of sleep a day during the race, since during a 6 hour stop he would be still working at caring for his dogs for 4.5 hours more making sure they were fed and watered (melting it from snow) before he could rest or eat.. He is a 4 time champion, and 57 years old. He told us the oldest person in the race was 87 years old and that he expected to still be racing when he’s that age as well. Also he talked about his 3 kids, all girls, who didn’t understand when their cousins in northern CA would tell them they got a snow day off from school when they only get them in AK when it’s 50 below zero.

After Ellen returned us to the Denali Grizzly Bear we set out for Talkeetna. The weather wasn’t nearly as bad as when we were coming up on Thursday. We were able to stop at quite a few overlooks and see the mountain ranges. We took lots of pictures and I spotted a brown bear way up high on the mountain and we stopped to take his picture. I thought it might have been a black bear since it’s coat was so dark but a park ranger looked at my pictures and saw the shoulder hump of a brown bear. Oh well. It was probably only a year or two old though. I was really happy that I spotted it.

We finally got to Talkeetna around 230 pm and drove into downtown (all 3 blocks) and bought tickets to the Talkeetna Historical Museum and toured their 1 room school house, trapper cabin, RR depot, and Mount McKinley mountaineering exhibit. This had a local ranger named Jay Katzen giving a talk about climbing equipment and what it is like to climb Mt. McKinley. He had pictures of people climbing and stations they stop at to pass around to us. When he was at the 2nd to last station TCC passed out on the floor. She was out for about 30 seconds and then opened her eyes, jumped up and shouted “Basin Camp!”. We all laughed and she was OK after that and he finished his speech. When he came to talk to us we showed him the pictures of the bear I spotted and he identified it as a brown bear and told me what some of the plants were that we had seen on the way to Eielson since our bus driver, Craig, was not as familiar with plants. He told us that the short red plants are burberry and the trees are spruce and willows. The mushrooms we took pictures of at the Denali overlook wayside are poisonous, but really pretty.

We talked with Jay for awhile and he offered to send me a National Park stamp from Talkeetna (it was waiting for us when we arrived home!-Thanks Jay) and then left and got in the car to go to the Flying Squirrel Cafe. It was highly rated, but to us it seemed like a hip, vegan kind of place. We don’t usually hang out in those. We did enjoy our meals, TCC and I had a Mediterranean pizza with spanikopita, and CC had a bowl of wild rice chicken soupand a grilled cheese panini. All of it was very good.

Then we drove a little further until we got to a seaplane base and stopped to take pictures and continued on to the Denali Overlook Bed and Breakfast run by Ron and Mable. CC was fascinated with their dumbwaiter that moves the luggage upstairs. We are staying in their Summer Solstice room with a queen bed and a twin bed, with the bathroom next door. We put our stuff down and then walked around outside. The rain had finally stopped and the mountain range was very clear in the distance but not enough to see Mt. Denali yet.

TCC has started a puzzle downstairs and played Boggle with her dad while I catch up on my journal. I think I can see a faint outline of Denali in the distance looking through the big picture window. But I was wrong and it wasn’t when I compared it to the labeled picture in the living room. I was told later that Denali was still behind the other mountains and hidden from us. The setting sun on the range was very picturesque but the clouds were starting to come down instead of going away and we never had a complete view of Denali.

We all filled out our breakfast orders for the next morning. It looks like blueberry pancakes are on the menu. Yum! After doing that and me finishing up my journal we all played Alaskan Monopoly. CC ended up winning even though I owned all the expensive properties.

We settled into bed after showers and unfortunately this bed was so soft and smelled of laundry detergent so strong it was not restful for me. Once again at 430 am a train went by, but this time we couldn’t see it because the tree line was so thick.

Day 5 Sept 8, 2013 Back to Anchorage

We all got up and had a great breakfast at the B&B. Blueberry pancakes were great but the weather was not. After breakfast Ron and Mable showed us a video some of their guests had taken during a stay a few weeks ago. It showed 3 small brown bears popping up near the edge of their property and playing on their yard swing and walking all over the front lawn. Then all of a sudden a huge mama bear pops up as well and rounds them up and shoos them off. The B&B had had a wedding outside the night before and someone had left a paper plate on the swing with food scraps on it so they were attracted to it. Kind of scary since we were sitting on that swing just the night before enjoying the views. I think I would have died if 4 bears would have popped up in front of me!

Before we left Talkeetna we went back into the town to do the historic tour since I had picked up a brochure with every location listed. Since it was raining we ended up just driving it because there was no one out this early on a Sunday morning. We saw the Ole Dahl cabin we missed the day before on the museum’s property. Tried to find the other sites and photograph them but not all are well marked. We also wanted to stop at the birch syrup factory that Ron and Mable told us about but they opened after 11 am and we needed to get back to ANC. It rained the entire way back on us.

We didn’t stop as much because the weather was bad the clouds were overcast and we couldn’t see anything again.Stopped in Wasilla at the Walmart for a bathroom break and to pick up more chocolate covered macadamia nuts.

We made it back to the Embassy Suites. They had a room ready for us so we checked in and then called our friends S & B. She and I have been friends for over 20 years and S was in our wedding as a bridesmaid and B filmed it for us. They had arrived the night before and checked into the hotel. We asked if they wanted to go sightsee in ANC with us but they just wanted to rest. So we gathered our cameras and maps and set out for Earthquake Park, Sleeping Lady Park, and Resurrection Park. We saw the official start location of the Iditarod race marked by a dog statue, there were some cool murals painted on the sides of the buildings commemorating the race. We also went to to Log Cabin visitors center with the grass roof and walked through the Sunday market next to the Alaska Railroad building where we leave from tomorrow. We ended up eating at Mexican restaurant similar to a Tijuana Flats and then went back to the hotel. CC and TCC went to return the car at the airport and ride the shuttle back.

CC wanted to go for a run of 5 miles and TCC and I went down for the Happy Hour drinks and appetizers. We were down for about an hour people watching and watching football on TV before we called it a night. CC had come back from his run, showered and went downstairs. We repacked for the train and went to bed.

Day 6 Sept 9, 2013 We’re a train ride away from our cruise

Got up early and had breakfast at the Embassy Suites, finished packing and went downstairs for the shuttle to take us to the train station. Saw S&B at breakfast. They look real tired, probably like we did when we arrived last week. The shuttle came and we had a full van to the station. We arrived about 830am and checked in. The agent said we could take all of our luggage onboard the train since it was carryon bags. We were put in the B car which was a regular train car the A car was a glass domed car (those people could not do carryons since there was no overhead space). Our car had lots of room and the seats were comfy. The domed car was completely full for the trip. We could move onto the platform to take pictures from outside whenever we wanted. They had made announcements that the weather was so bad in Whittier that any harbor cruises people had booked were cancelled. We had thought about doing one but now I was glad we hadn’t. The weather was clear in ANC but I guess further South it was very foggy and raining.

We finally boarded the train and pulled out on time at 945 am. We had very large windows so it was easy to see the scenery outside. CC spent most of the time outside on the viewing platform. I went back often but it was very cold out there to stay too long. They gave us a Railroad Milepost when we checked in so we could track our journey. We went by areas called Potters Marsh, and Beluga Point, where we had one quick sighting of 2 beluga whale tails but no time for a picture because of the trees. It seemed every time I wanted to take a picture the trees would pop up out of nowhere.

We did a quick stop in Girdwood to pick up about a dozen people and then went through the Chugach National Forest and Turnagain Arm in Cook Inlet. On through Old Portage station and we saw Spence Glacier. We saw several beautiful rainbows and lots of waterfalls. Then we passed by the earthquake area where there were lots of dead trees because when the earthquake happened the land caved in and salt water from the inlet covered the area killing and preserving the trees ever since. We went through 2 tunnels and saw several more glaciers before getting to Whittier.

Check in was pretty smooth,but where the train trip was dry and it only started raining about 30 minutes before our arrival in Whittier, the area we had to check in was soaked, windy and cold. We could hardly see the harbor or the mountains.

Our cabin (C226) was ready on arrival and we unpacked and got settled in. Then we went up to the Bordeaux dining room for lunch. All the crew members try to get everyone to eat in the Horizon Court at the buffet, but I had read on Cruise Critic that one of the dining rooms was open so we checked it out and it was. We had stopped and bought our coffee cards when we got on the ship so TCC and I made use of those after lunch and started on the scavenger hunt around the ship to collect stamps. We didn’t win anything there. Around 4 pm TCC was able to go check out the Teen Club and a parent had to go with her to register her in so I was nominated. We met Zhanna, who was in charge, there were only 2 teens on the cruise this week. Then we went back to dress for dinner. Went to the Provence dining room and it was open seating so we didn’t meet our tablemates tonight. We ended up sitting by ourselves because we thought S&B would be joining us but they didn’t. At 745 pm we had our muster drill and went to the Princess Theater with our life vests. After that TCC went to the Teen Club to watch a movie and stayed until CC went to find her around 11 pm. We got our Princess Patter which we would call the Pitter Patter and planned out our next day activities.

Day 7 Sept 10,2013 Hubbard Glacier

We didn’t get up until 630 am and then showered and got all our dirty clothes together and went to the laundry. We got them started in the washing machine and then went up to eat breakfast in the Horizon Court. It soon became our go to spot for food for our entire cruise. We had picked a table right at the front of the ship with big picture windows and were soon joined by a man who was doing a back to back cruise for his and his wife’s 50th wedding anniversary. He told us it was his favorite spot to sit at. We had a good conversation with him. His wife was sick since it was so choppy but none of us were bothered by it. I know my friend S gets really motion sick so I hoped she was doing OK. B stopped by our table to tell us S was sick and staying in the room today. We left breakfast and moved our clothes to the dryer. Then went to pick up a Brain Waves quiz from the library. This would soon become TCC’s favorite place on ship. Not sure if it was reading, or the big windows or the cute Australian crewman who worked there. After stopping in the library we went to the internet cafe and sent a few ship postcards. TCC and CC went to the Explore Ashore port talk with B. Later we checked out the $10 sale with B but didn’t see anything we couldn’t live without. We also have to be careful how much and what we buy since we are only doing carryons. So no extra stuff for us.

Grabbed a coffee and went back to the laundry to get our clothes. This was a busy room this morning, you wouldn’t think that on the 1st full day on the ship.

Went back to the library to look at the scavenger hunt list but it was too involved with buying things so we opted not to do it. TCC picked up the egg drop rules sheet and is thinking she might do it. She would have to build a contraption to put an egg in and hope it doesn’t break when thrown over the atrium area on the last day of the cruise. I encouraged her to do it.

We all went to the 1115 am shopping talk because TCC wanted the free bracelet you get when you visit Diamonds International stores in the 3 ports. Then TCC went back to nap and CC and I went to Sabitini’s for pizza. He had an Island and I had a Caparesses?. It was very good pizza. After eating we went to the scavenger hunt drawing but we were losers.

Came back to the room to watch Alaska documentaries and catch up on the journal. CC went to read his Tablet in the library. I’m going later to hear Doug Capra, who is the Naturalist on board, talk about the glaciers, and then I’m going to the gemstone talk with TCC.

While in the Wheelhouse Bar I was seeing land in the windows so we had entered Yakutat Bay and Hubbard Glacier was ahead. I left TCC in the room and went forward to the “secret” deck on Caribe where I saw ice floating around the ship. Then I went as far up as I could and I found B and CC on the 15th deck taking pictures. I had the binoculars so I was looking through those while CC was taking pictures.

We had decided not to go to formal night since Hubbard cruising was from 5-6 pm and dinner was at 515 pm. The glacier was not to be missed, that’s why we did this so we could see things we normally don’t see everyday. I wasn’t able to see any calving myself but CC said he saw a few small ones and B saw a larger one. We stayed outside while the Island turned all the way around to let everyone have a great view and then we went out on our balcony for the sail out.

Later we went to the HC for dinner and then to the hot tub. We looked in the Patter and chose to do the Miracle Lyrical, which was something like Don’t Forget the Lyrics instead of seeing Motor City. We also took a “formal” night picture and got a coffee and hot chocolate. Tomorrow is Glacier Bay.

Day 8 Sept 11, 2013 Glacier Bay

The day starts with no sleep on my part. We are going to see glaciers, lots and lots of them today!

We start with the National Park Service rangers boarding the ship near Bartlett Cove about 9 am.

TCC has a JR Ranger session in the kids area at 10am where she earns her Glacier Bay badge and book. While she does that I get coffee with my card and CC buys his Glacier Bay pin. I also received my stamp for my Passport book.

Our first glacier is Grand Pacific and then the Marjerie glacier. A HAL ship is in front of us. Only 2 ships per day are allowed in Glacier Bay. We go around Russell Island and see Muir Glacier, John Hopkins Glacier, and then Lamplugh and Reid Glaciers. I finally saw some calving happening. I also saw a quick peek at a seal and some birds but that was it for me for animal sightings. Others told me they saw a couple humpbacks and seals but there wasn’t a lot of animals out today. Lots of waterfalls and silty glacier rock as well as ice floating in the bay. The birds were mostly kittywakes. CC was starting to have trouble with the lens on our new Canon T5i camera. It would take a picture and then stop and say something about not being able to communicate with the camera. It’s a good thing I did bring another lens. It’s not as great because the zoom isn’t as powerful. I’m bummed that it is not working properly.

We all had lunch at Sabitini’s with S & B today at a table near a window so we could still see everything. This became the only meal we ever ate with them on the ship.

At about 4 pm both TCC and I took naps, and then I caught up on my journal. There wasn’t a lot going on entertainment wise on the ship today except Doug Capra giving commentary about the glaciers. Princess figures this is what you are here to see so they don’t do any games or entertainment while in Glacier Bay.

This is the only night we ate with our tablemates in the main dining room. They are from Indiana, a couple, and her sister. S & B did not show up for dinner tonight, but they had eaten with them for formal night last night. We talked about our excursions we had planned and what was coming up. The food is better in the HC and TCC said it didn’t take as long to fill your plate and eat there either.

We all headed back to change for the hot tub and CC and TCC got ice cream. Talked to a couple of guys in the hot tub for awhile, then went back and took our showers and called it a night. None of the venues have been crowded. All the shows have seats available and the hot tubs are almost empty on this ship.

The dining room was only about 40% full when we ate there tonight, and the buffet always seems to have seats or you just invite yourself to someone’s table. It is very different from a Caribbean cruise.

Day 9 Sept 12, 2013 Skagway

Got up early and saw the Grand Princess coming into the harbor. She looked just like a ghost ship coming through the fog. We then went to eat in the HC and get ready for our day in Skagway hiking and floating on the Chilkoot Trail. First we exited the ship and had our pictures made with a polar bear and orca. Really it’s just 2 crew members wearing costumes. TCC was upset because we come from Theme Park land in Orlando she was commenting that they shouldn’t have the heads off the costume so people could see the person inside. That’s a theme park no no. And they were talking to each other, also another no, no. So we were laughing and joking how they wouldn’t last long at a theme park when it was our turn to have our pictures taken. CC later went back and got that one with our free coupon for being returning Princess cruisers.

We walked off the ship and into what looked like a wild west town. The train was loading and getting ready to take people up to the White Pass Trail and Canada. We walked into Diamonds International so TCC could get her charms and then went to the Skagway visitors center for a town walking map. We watched a film in the Klondike Gold Rush National Park visitors center about hiking the Chilkoot Trail and all the hardships endured. TCC started working on her JR Ranger badge. This one is pretty cool since it is made out of wood. I stamped my Passport and CC bought his pin. We then did a short walk and took pictures of the buildings, including the AB Hall, The Golden North Hotel, and the Red Onion Saloon. While TCC was filling out her JR Ranger book CC went outside and took pictures of a giant snow blower that they use on the railroad tracks to clear the snow.

Then it was time to meet our tour guide Bob at the Chilkoot Trail Hikes office. There was 1 other young couple on the trip so just 5 of us for the hike. I kind of breathed a sigh of relief because I’d read where people who were older or out of shape slowed down the hike for everyone else. So I hoped they were fit so it would go well.

Bob drove us out of town and on the way he stopped at a small stream and showed us pink salmon, the color of Pepto-Bismol, swimming up it and the eggs that they laid. There were a lot of dead fish in the water because they die after planting their eggs on the rocks. The eggs hang around from a few days to a couple of weeks and then freeze in the water and thaw in the spring and become adult salmon who do it all over again. With so many dead fish it was kind of smelly there. We also stopped to see a bald eagle near the road and Nahku Bay. We saw many young bald eagles on the way up to the hiking area. We stopped near the top and Bob gave us walking sticks and a last bathroom break until we were done. Then we were on our way. We had been warned that it had rained the night before and the trail was probably inaccessible in areas and we might not do the whole 2 miles that we were supposed to. It was pretty cold, in the 50’s, we could see our breath most of the trip since it got colder the higher we climbed. But at least it wasn’t raining. The clouds were halfway down the mountain and seemed to be clearing away with the sun coming out. The trail seemed rough-wet, with lots of roots, rocks, and ferns everywhere.

There were lots of ups and downs climbing the rocks and then descending again. Some of the steps when there were any were very steep. Bob, and the movie we had seen at the visitors center, told us how the Canadian Mounties made each person going over the pass carry 2000 lbs of supplies to last them an entire year. Most had to take 20-25 trips up and down the pass to accomplish that goal. It was hard enough with a camera and a small daypack with no rain or snow, it must have been awful with all that equipment. In TCC’s JR Ranger book it had a list of everything they had to have. It covered an entire page. They also made the trip (all 20-25 of them) in 4 weeks!.

The plants we saw were beautiful, the Alaskan coastline is mostly rainforest, and here on this hike we could really tell. Lots of mushrooms, ferns and moss on the rocks. We climbed up and down for almost 2 miles. There were plenty of bear tracks that were fresh from just last night or this morning. I was thankful we never ran into one on the hike. There were lots of what Bob called cranberry bushes with fruit on them on the trail and the bears had been eating from them and digging up roots.

We walked until we came to an area that we had to have rubber boots to cross. Bob had a helper that brought boots to us and we changed into them so we could finish the walk and get to the inflatable raft. So we hiked through a huge wet area and a few large puddles before coming up on the raft. Bob dared us to put our hands in the water for 10 seconds. We all did but only me and the guy from the couple could keep them in that long. The water was freezing and I only kept mine in that long because I’m competitive. Bob showed us how to get in the raft without falling on our butts in the water and after feeling that water there was no way I wanted to sit in it! So we all paid close attention. We put on the life jackets and tightened them down and all got in the boat to start our float. Only Bob rowed so we were all able to take pictures and enjoy the trip. Saw bunches of eagles. The water was flowing about 5 mph which seemed quick to me. He showed us how the river had changed course through the years. As we got closer to the end we could see the face of the mountain and a few new glaciers. We floated up to an area where we would get out and had salmon, cheese, crackers and cookies for a snack.

We helped put the raft back on the trailer and Bob drove our family to the Gold Rush Cemetery so we could walk around there. By this time it was actually feeling warm and we started shedding clothes and jackets. The sky was very clear and the clouds had moved off. We started off looking at a big gold nugget next to Lucy and Martin Itjen’s graves. And then we took the path up to all the other graves, most of the headstones were made out of wood. The resting places were for Jefferson “Soapy” Smith, Frank Reid and others. After looking around the cemetery we continued our walk up to Lower Reid Falls. CC loves a good waterfall so I knew he would like this. It reminded us of Ruby Falls in Chattanooga. It was really beautiful and peaceful but very loud. TCC took most of the pictures at the top. There was a cave in the rock wall, maybe it was a bear den. You couldn’t see where the water was coming from it was so steep. It was just as cold as the water form the float trip. We took a self portrait with our DSLR camera here. And it was then we had problems with the camera again. After we had climbed down and walked back on the road to go into town we saw a couple of buildings we wanted to take pictures of but the camera was acting up. It was only 3 weeks old and I was getting upset that we had so many problems with it. Later CC found out that he never took it off self portrait so that why it was delayed when taking a picture. It is a good thing we carry 3 cameras with us.

We walked back into town after the falls and checked out a few stores and a reproduction bar that was part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Park that TCC wanted to see. We bought fudge to eat and went to DeeJon’s where Bob told us we could try some birch syrup. But we can’t carry large amounts of liquids with carryons so we didn’t get any. I found a watercolor postcard of Skagway for a souvenir. By this time it was getting later in the afternoon so we walked back to the ship.

We ate in the HC again and only TCC wanted to go to a show so she went by herself. Tonight was Duncan Tuck, a comedian-musician, and the International crew show. CC and I decided to go to the hot tub. Every night CC transferred pictures from our cameras to USB sticks. That was a big job and it took a long time because we have 3 cameras which we are all taking pictures with as well as videos. We took no less than 300 pictures a day.

Day 10, Sept 13, 2013 Juneau

Today was our Harv and Marv day for watching whales. S & B came with us on a 28 ft boat. S looked a little pale but she was a trooper. Capt Russell was our pilot. The boat was very clean and had a small (and I mean small) marine toilet and 2 benches lining the inside. You could go forward when the boat was stopped or in the back area anytime to take pictures. We had binoculars, blankets and snacks with drinks.

We headed out to find some whales and came upon a few humpbacks. Capt Russell got a call from another boat that they were seeing orcas in a different area so we went there. A large catamaran followed us and an orca kept surfacing next to their boat. This trip was better than Hawaii because Capt Russell positioned himself in front of the whales and let them come to us so we got a better view. Boats are not allowed to get closer than 300 ft. But if the whale swims to you while you’re in neutral it’s good. I was able to get several tail pictures but no breaching. Wrong time of year now I guess. We then went back to our original position and continued to view the humpbacks. There was a mom and baby hanging out near us so we got lots of video and pictures of them. I think Capt Russell said they give birth in Hawaii and then come to Alaskan waters so they can eat since they don’t the whole time their in Hawaii. The males only hang around long enough to impregnate the females and then they head out.

After Capt Russell brought us back to the dock we got a group photo, the only one with all of us. And then we boarded a shuttle to Mendenhall Glacier where we got off to explore. S & B wanted to go shopping so we said goodbye.

We walked up to the Mendenhall Glacier National Park visitor center and did our usual routine, JR Ranger handbook, Passport stamp and a pin. We watched a movie about how the glacier was formed and how it is moving. TCC finished up her book after hearing a ranger talk about salmon and then we walked up the trail to see Nugget Falls and the glacier. There were large icebergs floating in the lake area -the first big ones I had seen so far. We were lucky because everyone was coming back up the trail and when we got to the end there was no one there. So most of our pictures only have nature and us in them. We took our self portraits, and remembered to reset the camera. After hanging around for awhile we headed back to the Island Princess on a tan bus. The driver didn’t charge us for TCC. ($16). We walked around town and found the Capitol building but it was being worked on and was torn up. We bought some fudge but couldn’t find a watercolor anywhere, so none for Juneau. We found the Patsy Ann statue and the lighthouses of Alaska signs (I love lighthouses). Took pictures of the Mt Roberts tram and walked back to the Island Princess. It was a short day for a port day-everyone had to be back on board by 330 pm.

Tonight was a formal night and the only one we got dressed up for. We still didn’t eat in the main dining room though. The goal was to get our pictures at all the photographer booths (there were 7 I think) so we could choose a new family photo. CC had on-board credits to spend and this was what we were buying with some of it. So that’s what we did, we figured at least 1 would look good.. At each booth they gave us a ticket to win some photos. TCC filled them all out and we dropped them in the box. Guess what! The next night they had the big drawing and I finally won the big prize! 4 photos of our choosing for free! Yeah. So we were able to chose more than we thought we could. Christmas gifts for the grandparents!

Later we ate in the HC again because the menus for the main dining rooms aren’t to our liking. CC and I changed into swimsuits and headed you know where. TCC went to the Marriage game show and the “Do you wanna dance” show.

Day 11, Sept 14, 3013 Ketchikan

Today is Ketchikan. As we were arriving we saw several float planes taking off ahead of us. Probably going to Misty Fjords. We sailed past the Ketchikan airport which was interesting to CC and I, since we had both worked at an airport before. We then sailed past the Ketchikan salmon capitol sign. After we docked we took pictures of the “No Puffin” sign, The sculpture “The Rock” and the rain gauge, which this year was near 76 inches but last year was around 150 inches. Today was a no rain day for us which was highly unusual we kept hearing. In fact, it was so nice we were all just wearing our raincoats (just in case) and a regular shirt. No long underwear or layers today!

We don’t really have a lot of plans here. Diamonds International is closed for Yom Kipper so TCC does not get her last charm. We catch the city bus ($2 for all day pass) and go to Totem Bight State Park and Potlatch Park which is next door to the state park. We ended up with a crabby bus driver whom I named Crabby Cathy. CC sat next to a guy who works at a local marine yard and chatted with him until he got off the bus at his workplace. CC always seems to find a bus/boat/plane/train…buddy.

The next stop was for Totem Bight. They had a group tour going on but we avoided that and grabbed a self tour pamphlet and did our own thing. There were about 14 totems and a longhouse to go into. The most important part of the totem is the bottom we overheard the guide say. We were able to stay ahead of the tour group and get a lot of good pictures. It was hard getting the entire totem in a picture because they are so tall.

When we finished with Totem Bight we walked over to Potlatch Park which is privately owned and run by a 3 generation family. The grandson was carving a totem by hand when we showed up. We asked him about his electric tools and he told us they use those to mass produce a small craft for the Disney Cruise kids when they come to visit. But everything he does on the large totems is completely by hand. They are rather large even when laying down.

There was a nicer Potlatch (longhouse) and several more totems as well as some carved wolves in the woods. We bought our Christmas ornament here. We got an eagle totem that is hand made by an Alaskan. I wanted a whale but they had sold out as it was the end of their season. But we had seen many eagles so that was a good choice as well.

We then caught the bus back to town and wandered around. We walked up Creek Street and saw the salmon run and ladder. I believe it is sock-eye salmon here. The smell was horrible. There were lots of dead rotting fish. I don’t think it would be pleasant to live near here. Then we walked the boardwalk up to Married Man’s Trail. Saw a few houses of ill repute. We walked through Whale Park with the Knox Brothers clock and replica of Chief Kyam’s totem pole.

We went to Subway for a bathroom break, cookies, and a soda. We shopped at the Tongass Trading Company. I bought an inexpensive earring/necklace set, TCC got an Alaskan sweatshirt, and I talked CC out of a denim shirt. After looking around for watercolors someone told us to go to Scanlon Gallery, so we did. The art there is beautiful. I wish I had more room to get souvenirs but a watercolor will have to do. We found 3 and voted for the best one. It ended up being a mom and baby humpback. Then we headed back to the ship.

I told CC about the SE Alaska Discovery Center that I had read about and I was going back to check it out. He joined me but TCC wanted to read in the library again. We headed out and found it and had a great chat with the employees there. Once again, CC got his pin but he was able to add a Totem Bight pin as well, since they sell their things at the center. I added a stamp to my Passport as well. CC had stamped a piece of paper at Totem Bight so I had that too. They closed the center at 3 pm so we had just made it.

Once back on ship I told CC I wanted to go to afternoon tea, but he didn’t so I went alone. I sat at a large table with people that were all retired from Disney World. It’s a Small World After All. We had seen their door signs and one of the ladies was always wearing mouse ears during the cruise. They all take a vacation together each year. Several lived quite close to us.

We ending up eating dinner in the HC again and went down to the picture area to see our photos and for the drawing at 7 pm. S & B were looking at their photos as well. We gathered them all together to judge which was best and CC went to hear the drawing. As the final prize they called my name so we got 4 of our photos for free. Yeah!

I had heard that tonight’s show “On the Bayou” was supposed to be very good so we made plans to see it. We went to the 8 pm show. All I can say is the scenery/sets were awesome. The actual story and the singing was off.

No hot tub tonight for us. We’re going to sleep in as late as possible tomorrow.

Day 12 Sept 15, 2013 Cruising to Vancouver

Pretty much a lazy day today. We all woke up late. The weather was hazy and overcast. Had a very late breakfast and spent time catching up on my journal. CC and TCC left to put together their egg drop entry. The decks were closed because there was a medical emergency on board and a helicopter was supposed to come. After an hour’s wait they opened the decks back up but announced that a medical boat from the Canadian Coast Guard would be arriving to take the passenger off ship. So I went to Sabitini’s by myself for lunch after being stuck in the Wheelhouse Bar for an hour listening to a crew member talk about detoxifying yourself. There is a reason they don’t give this seminar at the beginning of the cruise: no one would eat, drink alcohol or coffee or soft drinks and have fun. So no profit for Princess.

On the way back to the room it was time for the egg drop contest so I parked myself on the 7th floor in the atrium to watch. Only TCC and CC had entered the contest. Their egg contraption hit the stair handrail so it cracked the egg inside. But since they were the only entry they each got a prize of a gigantic Princess water bottle. They first tried to give CC a bottle of champagne but he turned it down since he doesn’t drink and we can’t take it home with us.

Since they hadn’t eaten they wanted to go to Sabitini’s for lunch so I went with them even though I ‘d just been. The host gave me a double take because I’d just left. We finished in time to go back to our balcony and see the Canadian Coast guard come and get their patient. CC had gone down a few decks and was near a crew member that filled him in. The woman was elderly and traveling with a granddaughter that was handicapped. We had seen them several times but the first time was in Crooner’s Bar where the granddaughter was making a scene because they wouldn’t serve the grandmother coffee, since they have a separate coffee bar on the ship. It took about 45 minutes to transfer her while we were dead in the water. What a way to end a cruise.

I went up to the solarium to finish up my journal and then we’re going to afternoon trivia. We didn’t do too bad got over half right. CC and I played the miniature gold course during the afternoon as well. Hit the hot tub and then went to pack after dinner. It’s been a fun cruise but very different from others I have taken before. People have commented that the age is really old on the Alaskan trips. There were a lot more older people but we saw several 20’s, 30’s 40’s and 50’s as well. There were about 10 kids total on board so not a lot of children. But all the ones I saw were well behaved. We were always able to get an elevator (a first!) when we wanted one. Seating was available at shows. Most of the front rows were empty unlike Caribbean cruises. I guess people weren’t able to walk up and down many stairs so the back was always full. The Horizon Court buffet area was sometimes full but we always found a table or were able to sit with others. There was no rude behavior at the buffet and it was very clean. No food on the floor or dribbles from one food on the buffet into another. The waiters would bring your drinks to you. The halls were quiet, I guess most people went to bed early or were very respectful. People held the elevators for others. Just a different vibe, and I liked it. I wished we would/could have had dinner together with our friends every night but it didn’t seem to work out with our schedules and what we wanted to do. Glad they were able to join us on the whale watch or we might not have ever seen them. I would like to go back one day but I can wait a few years since there are other things on my must see list to see first.

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