Friday, August 24, 2007

2007 Alaska Cruise--Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas, Aug. 24-31 (7 nt): Juneau, Skagway, Prince Rupert, Tracy Arm

For as long as I can remember, Dad had 2 dream vacations that he wanted to take---one was to go on an Alaska cruise and the other was to go to Ireland. Unfortunately, he never got to do the Ireland trip, but after his first set of chemo, I immediately booked him and me an Alaska cruise. By then he was fighting metastatic prostate cancer and recovered from colon cancer surgery and chemo for colon cancer. By the looks of him, he appeared to be doing well. If he wasn't, he never let on. But within a week of our return, he was in the hospital fighting for his life and on dialysis for blocked kidney tubes due to his prostate cancer. Stints were able to be put into his kidney tubes and he did recover from that, but the cancer treatments were beginning to stop working now. My best friend and great traveling buddy was on his last great vacation with me, but I didn't know it at the time. But this was a fantastic cruise---so much so, that I now have another Alaska cruise booked for my husband and me (his first cruise), as well as first cruise for my brother, his wife, aunt and uncle (my dad's brother) whom will also be joining us. I will cherish this dream vacation with my Dad always.
Here's my Dad dressed up for one of the formal dinners. He enjoyed having a chance to try weird stuff like escargo and foie Gras at these dinners.
Since Dad lived in Oregon and it was a fairly easy trip to Seattle from where he lived, I chose a RT out of Seattle for our cruise. I really had no idea what ports to look for or what we would see, but I ended up settling on Royal Caribbean for a couple reasons--the RT out of Seattle, the supposed grandeur of all the windows, and the advertising that there was an adult indoor pool and jacuzzi area. Unfortunately the pool area was not just for adults on Alaska cruises, as we found out when a bunch of noisy splashing kids showed up all the time and I inquired about it to some employees. I also didn't find the selection of food all that great, or the crew exceptionally friendly. The ship also became a ghost ship shortly after 11ish at night. Not sure if it's a Royal Caribbean thing or an Alaska cruise thing, but it was eerie wandering around the ship late at night. But the weather was outstanding and the scenery was gorgeous!

Our cabin was typically small. Nothing fancy, but adequate.
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Although the weather was great for the most part, it did get somewhat chilly on deck. Not many people hung out on the lounge chairs!
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The shows were ok. I would say they were aimed more to an older generation (my Dad's generation).

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The public areas around the ship were tasteful. IMG_0536 015
We found many places to hang out and play cribbage.
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There were also several informative talks of Alaska (glaciers, fiords, etc.) done by a naturalist. I don't remember the guy's name on this ship, but he was very interesting and funny. We attended as many of his lectures as we were around for. This is the lounge he gave his lectures and slide presentations in.
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This is the main theatre where the nightly shows were. There were also a couple movies played here, although they weren't what I would consider good ones (Will Farrell was in one they showed a couple times--not exactly my type of humor). I don't remember the other movie we saw but neither was bad enough to walk out of. Just wish they had different movies all the time instead of replaying the same ones.
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After 2 days at sea, we finally came to our first port---Juneau. It is the capital of Alaska and is only accessible by air or sea. The mountains around the town rise to about 4000 feet. It was a really neat city and is almost as large as Rhode Island and Delaware combined. This is a view of from atop Mt Roberts from where the tram lets you off.
Juneau Mt. Robert's skytram (3)
We did a ship sponsored photo excursion in Juneau. It was expensive (something like $175@), but was really great. We had a small group of about 10 people (a couple people didn't even have cameras which I found pretty amusing! The tour guide did give them a disposable camera to use,though, which I thought was nice of her). Our first stop on the excursion was to Auke Bay where we boarded a relatively small boat and went out in search of wildlife. I was thrilled that we encountered a couple large pods of Orcas. There must have been at least 60 killer whales in the bay.
Juneau photo excursions to Auke Bay and Mendenhall Glacier (25)
I even inadvertantly caught one breaching off in the distance. I was amazed at how tall some of their dorsal fins are. We were told that the male Orcas can have dorsal fins as tall as 6'. We were told some of the Orcas here are resident ones and others are transient ones.
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We even saw some resident seals hanging out here.
Juneau photo excursions to Auke Bay and Mendenhall Glacier (33) copy
Coming back into the harbor gave us these puzzle perfect views.
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The next part of our excursion took us to the popular Mendenhall Glacier. I was surprised how blue the glacier really is! Apparently that from the ice being compacted so much that only the blue light rays are getting in. Our guide took us on a hike through the wooded area in the park, too. We had the opportunity to take pictures of lots of wild flora on our hike. This excursion was about 5 hours long and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
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Back by the cruise ship port, we did the Mt. Roberts tram on our own. I believe the cost was about $27@, but it was well worth it, too. At the top was a little restaurant where we had a very good fish and chips lunch and then we hiked a bit on some of the paths up there.
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I was really impressed with Juneau and didn't think it could be beat. Then we got to Skagway the next day and I was even more impressed! The port of Skagway is a popular stop for cruise ships, and the tourist trade is a big part of the business of Skagway. As of the 2000 census, the population of the city was 862. However, the population doubles in the summer tourist season in order to deal with more than 900,000 visitors. In 1896, the Klondike gold rush started and Skagway was a stepping stone into the Yukon Territory.
This is a view of the port at Skagway from the Lido deck of our cruise ship.
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We did another expensive cruise ship sponsored tour in Skagway. This one was a 7 hour one that went up into the Yukon.
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We rode past many lakes and rivers. The scenery was unbelievable beautiful!
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The scenery from the bus was ever changing. As soon as we would pass one amazing view, we were treated to another.
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Just another view of the Yukon Territory.
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And another!
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Until we finally reached Cariboo Crossing trading post where there was a bar b q lunch set up for us. The bar b q was ok, but the fried doughnuts were the best! Also in this trading post were activities such as dog sled rides (for a fee). I thought these were some pretty skinny looking sled dogs.
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There was also a little museum there with lots of stuffed animals of the Yukon.
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After lunch, our tour bus took us a little further into the Yukon to Emerald Lake. The colors of this lake were stunning. I sure wouldn't mind having that log house to the right of the picture (at least during the summer months!)
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Another stop on our tour was Carcross. This was a short stop where we visited an icecream parlor and walked around the streets a bit.
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Loved this view of this church in Carcross.
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Coming back down the Alaskan highway to Skagway we stopped at the train station for the White Pass Railroad. This is from the parking lot there. We took the train back down to Skagway.
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Built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, this narrow gauge railroad is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. From sea level it climbs nearly 3000 feet in just 20 miles and features steep grades of up to 3.9%. Again the views were unbelievable!
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Back in Skagway, we still had time to check out the town a bit. We saw there was a brewery there and went and tried their beer and spiced nut snacks. Both were excellent. We were able to catch the local bus there. On the way back, we stopped in town and shopped some of the gift shops. I even bought myself a set of tlingit indians matryoshka dolls.

From town, we walked back to the ship. The mountains made the ships look small in comparison!

While in Skagway, some locals had mentioned that it was suppose to be a perfect night for catching the northern lights. I had read that we weren't going far enough north to see them, so was excited about having the chance to witness them. So about midnight, we wandered through the deserted ship to the lido deck and watched and waited. There was also a total eclipse of the moon going on that night. About 1 am, we and about 3 other people were on the deck and watching the northern lights dance accross the sky. It was definately a highlight of the trip. It only lasted about 20 all too short minutes. The next night I had asked some of the ship employees if they'ld ever seen them and they didn't even know what I was talking about.
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The next morning we awoke to a cruise through the Tracy Arm Fjord. We were told that a fjord is a long, narrow inlet with steep sides, created in a valley carved out by a glacial.
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At the end of Tracy Arm are 2 glaciers. We were able to get fairly close to one of the Sawyer Glaciers.
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The icebergs in the water were colorful.
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The water was a really milky colored blue green---from the melting of the icebergs.
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Next port of call was Prince Rupert, Canada. I thought it odd that an Alaska cruise went to a Canada port, but later found out if a foreign owned cruise starts in the USA, it has to port in a foreign country. I don't think I would take another cruise that ports in Prince Rupert. It was struggling to make it as a cruise port, but really didn't have much to offer us. There were lots of excursions that offered fish bar b qs or lumber jack competitions, but we didn't want to go to either.

We did walk to the nearby Safeway (had a Frito craving) and toured a little museum (I think it was $5@ admitance fee). It was ok, but small. Did love the paintings in the back of the museum.

After checking out the museum, we headed back to the ship. This statue helped us find it.

The rest of the cruise back to Seattle was through the "inside passage". Lots of mystical views of the mountains along the way.
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We were even treated to a brilliant sunset on our last night.
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We woke up back in Seattle and joined the crowds waiting to debark. The parking garage across the street from the port was convenient. We were on the road within an hour and heading back to Oregon. It truely was a spectacular trip.

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