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  • Brian Johnson

Alaska Cruise - Part 1

Updated: May 14

July 4-8, 2024


As I may have mentioned previously, this is a milestone year for Lynn and I, as we both turn 60. We celebrated my birthday in February with a trip to Egypt and a Nile River cruise, and we are celebrating Lynn’s birthday, this coming Monday, with a cruise to Alaska with my mom and stepfather.  We flew into Seattle yesterday and spent the afternoon at Pikes Market, but our cruise actually departed from Vancouver this afternoon. We were up at the butt crack of dawn, for the second day in a row, and took the Amtrak Cascades train to Vancouver in time for the afternoon departure. You all know by now that I always try to kick things up a notch when I can, because that’s how we Johnsons roll.

We were blessed, again, with ideal travel circumstances. The plane was on time, even a little early, luggage was waiting for us when we got to baggage claim, our driver was outside waiting for us, the weather was a pleasant and sunny 75 degrees when we arrived, our ride this morning to the train station was right on time, our ride from the train to the cruise terminal was waiting for us when left the train station, and we got to the cruise ship and sailed through the boarding process. I’m not generally a lucky person, except in travel and love. I’ll take it.

The train ride from Seattle to Vancouver was moderately scenic and pleasant, and we saw a couple of bald eagles along the way. There was a nice little snack bar at the back of the train where we got some breakfast and coffee, and a bit later on, a beer for me and wine for Lynn and Bob, my stepfather. On board ship we settled in to our lovely cabins with big picture windows, which I have to mention because I had been getting some low key grief about my cabin selection. By the time I booked our cruise all the cabins with balconies had been taken, so I chose the best available. In the ensuing months I’ve had to endure “I talked to so and so at work who went to Alaska, and she said whatever you do be sure to get a cabin with a balcony”, and the “I watched a YouTube video about Alaska cruise tips, and their number one tip was to get a cabin with a balcony”. That was from Lynn. Nothing overly harsh or direct, just occasional little twists of the knife. Then a couple weeks before the trip Mom joined in, asking if we couldn’t upgrade to a cabin with a balcony, because her friends who went said you have to get a cabin with a balcony. To add insult to injury, I had put my name on a wait list to upgrade to a balcony and got an email later saying that we could upgrade. Except for some reason the email went to my spam folder, and by the time I saw it it was too late. But everyone enjoyed the nice large cabins with big window, and the deal I ended up getting included a free (“free”) alcohol and wifi package, so I didn’t get dinged too bad.

After settling into our cabins we enjoyed happy hour by the pool as we glided out of Vancouver harbor, before eventually heading off for dinner. Dinner was pretty good, made great by watching a whale breaching a couple of hundred yards away from the ship. Later we headed back to the pool area and enjoyed the hot tub in the seemingly endless Canadian twilight before they eventually kicked us out at 10 pm. All in all not a bad day.

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Today was a cruising day with no port stops, so we had to amuse ourselves on board the ship. They had an Alaska beer tasting that was in my wheelhouse so Bob and I signed up for that. It was right next to the casino and we were a few minutes early so to kill a few minutes I stuck a couple of bucks in some kind of fancy slot machine and started pushing buttons, not really knowing what I was doing. It kept dinging at me until it showed I won $52, and since it was time for the beer tasting I didn’t have time to lose it all back, so I cashed out and drank some beer. Win win.

In the afternoon we sunned ourselves on deck and I even went full on tourist and had a frozen pina colada. For dinner we went to the very nice Italian restaurant on board and gorged ourselves, even indulging in pistachio gelato for dessert. We finished the evening with a nightcap in the lounge listening to the Motown band. Mom and Bob even cut a rug on the dance floor. A nice relaxing day before our big excursion into Tracy Arm Fiord tomorrow.

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Today was our first excursion day. A smaller boat picked us up from our cruise ship at noon and we set off down the Tracy Arm Fiord for an up close view of glaciers. On board our excursion boat the first thing the crew did was welcome us on board for “a very inauthentic southeast Alaska day. We get over 200 inches of rain a year and it has rained every day for the last month.” Our day was warm and sunny. I bring sunshine and warmth everywhere I go.

The journey up the fiord was incredible. We were surrounded on both sides by the 16 million acre Tonga National Forest, the largest carbon sequestration area in the world, and some of the cleanest air on earth. As we journeyed up the fiord the walls narrowed and the heavily forested slopes gave way to sheer stone cliffs that came down to water’s edge. The captain maneuvered the boat close enough to a waterfall to feel the spray on our faces. Further into the fiord ice chunks broken from the glacier floated by, some large enough to be classified as icebergs. Fifteen meters in diameter, in case you’re wondering. Harbor seals could be seen occupying some of the ice chunks, and snow capped mountains rose on both sides of us. Eventually we came to the closed end of the fiord, and the glacier. As we approached I saw the glacier calve and a large chunk fell into the water, although I was not quick enough with the camera to capture it. We were all astounded by the blue colors of the ice. The boat lingered for a while to let us savor the scene.

As we turned around and headed back, a crew member started scooping large chunks of ice out of the water and let the passengers hold them so they could have their pictures taken with 400 year old glacier ice. Pretty cool, but what came next may have topped it. They started chipping off chunks of the glacier ice and used them to make “glacieritas”. Talk about your wise use of natural resources.

Alas all in life can’t be perfect, as the boat had a mechanical issue which limited our speed, and by the time we caught up with our cruise ship in Juneau harbor it was just after 8 pm, two and a half hours behind schedule. There was limited food on board the excursion boat, and I think all the passengers were getting a little hangry. Unfortunately we barely had enough time in Juneau to walk a short way into town, to say we had been there, take my picture under the sign for the just closed Alaskan Brewing Company, and get back on board ship. Still, it was an amazing experience and I’m glad we did it.

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Skagway was on our agenda today. What a fun town! After a bit of a lay in and a pot of coffee and some eggs and bacon on board ship, we strolled down the gangplank and walked a few yards to the waiting White Pass scenic railroad train. The train follows the route of the famous White Pass Trail, once blazed by foolhardy would be gold miners on their way to find fortune in the Yukon during the gold rush in the 1890s. The train route, built in 1898 by some 35,000 workers, climbs over 2,000 feet from Skagway up through the mountains to White Pass, through tunnels and over bridges, affording incredible views of mountain valleys and snow capped peaks. At White Pass the rail line continues on down the other side into Canada, but our train followed a loop that turned us around for the return to Skagway. At either end of the cars were open air platforms where we could take some pictures and savor the views. At times I just hung my head over the side to feel the wind in my face. As Lynn commented, the things our dogs teach us. The day was sunny and warm and bright, again. Look at me spreading more sunshine and warmth.

Back in Skagway we made a quick stop at the Klondike brewery so I could have a small glass of Spruce Tip Ale, a local specialty. Not bad, but not a new favorite. My Mom and Lynn wanted to stroll the quaint downtown shops, so I took Bob to see if we could find the local distillery, Skagway Spirits Distillery, half a mile or so away from the downtown area. It turns out, we could. We were treated to small samples of their vodka and gin by the friendly staff and started chatting with a couple next to us, the only other people in the place. We progressed to specialty cocktails, gin and tonic for me and a lemon drop for Bob, and as strangers are wont to do when meeting in faraway places, each asked the other where they were from. I volunteered that I hailed from Grove City, Ohio. Then Gary and Christine shared that they were from…Grove City, Ohio! What are the odds?? We chatted amiably for a bit before my cell phone tinged and Lynn reeled me back in.

We met them for dinner at Skagway Brewing and had great burgers in the upstairs restaurant. The Blue Top Porter was excellent too. I realize I may be starting to cast myself in a bad light here. I know I often mention having a beer now and then, or other tasty adult beverage. And today, in a town with 850 year round residents and two breweries and a distillery, I somehow managed to hit them all in an afternoon. I worry people may start to think I drink all the time, but I don’t. I really, really don’t. Moderation is the key to a happy life. Mr. Moderation. That’s me. I’m on vacation. Don’t judge me.

Back on ship we relaxed for a bit before catching a comedy show to end our day. Jon Stringer was excellent. He talked about men letting themselves go and opined that it was a good thing, as most women really preferred a fixer upper. Made me laugh, even though I was only drinking ginger ale. Truly. Moderation, remember? be continued in Part 2

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