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  • Brian Johnson

Alaska Cruise - Part 2

July 9-12, 2023


We were up by 7 am, perched in our big window sipping coffee in our robes and watching as the ship entered the waters of Glacier Bay National Park. The morning was heavily overcast and the views were limited, but the coffee was good and we tracked the progress of the ship as it showed on the in room TV. We began to approach the narrow part of the bay about 8:30 am so we got dressed and went up on deck. As we stood outside the clouds began to clear and blue skies began to peak through, and before too long we had another warm and sunny day, almost as if by magic. But no, just me doing my thing, spreading warmth and sunshine.

As we proceeded up the narrow end of the bay and the sun chased the rest of the gray clouds away we were treated to magnificent views of snow capped mountains on both sides. National Park Service rangers had come on board to speak to passengers and answer questions. A naturalist was providing narration over the ship’s loudspeakers about geographic features and glacier facts, and also looking out for wildlife, which included sea otters, bald eagles, and seals. There was also an orca spotting, which we missed, although I did manage to see a pair together later. There was a palpable energy throughout the boat as the journey progressed, with passengers constantly flowing from viewpoint to viewpoint. The narrator emphasized several times throughout her presentation how extremely fortunate we were in the weather we were having. Normally in the 40s and overcast, but about 60 and sunny for us. Another incredible Johnson experience.

At the risk of undermining my protestations yesterday, around 10:30 am we migrated to the Crow’s Nest, an indoor lounge and viewing area at the top and front of the ship. They also have a bar.  In case you’re ever there, they make a pretty good Bloody Mary.  Let me tell you, it feels pretty decadent to sip on a Bloody Mary while you’re watching glaciers. Fortunately I don’t mind feeling decadent. There was also a National Park ranger stationed there who we chatted with for a while and he let us have our picture taken with him. No, I was not holding my Bloody Mary for the picture. Shame on you all for thinking that. By the way, this is national park number 33 for me, so I’m halfway there (there are currently 63 national parks). Now I just need to live to 120 to get them all in. Check back here some time in 2083 to see my wrap up.

After an hour at anchor by the glacier the ship finally reversed course and headed back down the bay and out to sea, passing the straits and the national park boundary at about 3 pm. There are only two or three cruise ship lines allowed to enter Glacier Bay, Holland America being one of them. It’s an experience not to be missed and something to keep in mind if any of you take an Alaskan cruise.

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Today was Lynn’s birthday, 60 years young, but unfortunately I can’t really say I gave her a special experience. The fates were not kind. Lynn does not much care for fish. It’s the smell that really gets her. Our port stop today was Ketchikan. The Salmon Capital of the World. Pick a street and walk down it, and you’ll soon come to a store selling salmon. Smoked salmon, fresh salmon, grilled salmon, poached salmon, salmon cakes, salmon salad, even frozen salmon that you can ship home. Not the kind of placed that called to her. We skipped on by it all and headed to Creek Street, the historic red light district from gold rush days, now filled with little shops and tourist attractions, including an old brothel converted to a museum and offering $10 tours. A costumed employee stood out front soliciting business. For the tour, not for her. Getting into the spirit of the thing I asked her if they were giving out free samples inside. She laughed heartily and said mischievously, “tomorrow”. If I had a dollar for every time I heard that.

After browsing the shops for a while we left Creek Street and came across the local museum. It had surprisingly wide ranging exhibits, including historical articles and photos, local wildlife, native American culture, local art, and even an exhibit about Alaskan dinosaurs. Well done Ketchikan. Continuing on we wandered vaguely back toward the dock, searching for a place to have lunch along the way. I managed to pop into the Bawden Street Brewery for a quick taste of their Baltic Porter before catching up with the group. Mom and Bob are not exactly big walkers, but they’d been real troopers so far, so we wanted to get them a rest and some lunch. We found a place close to the dock where we had chowder and chicken and fries, topped off with local huckleberry ice cream. We picked up a few trinkets at the gift shop before heading back to the ship a little early, as we had a big evening planned.

We gathered for happy hour at the Ocean Bar and enjoyed the pianist before heading to the Pinnacle Grill for a special meal in celebration of Lynn’s birthday. It was a veritable feast. Shrimp cocktail, forest mushroom soup, and candied bacon for appetizers, followed by steak and lobster and asparagus with hollandaise and topped off with crème brûlée and baked Alaska for dessert. And then the staff brought out a little chocolate mousse cake for Lynn’s birthday. I hope it made up a little for making her spend the day in the Salmon Capital of the World.

After dinner we headed back toward the Ocean Bar area for the big party. Apparently on Holland America cruises there is always an Orange Night party. Everyone wears orange, it’s a Dutch thing, and parties it up. We were also decked out in our orange finery, right down to a molting orange feather boa. Live entertainment was provided at a couple of the bars on that deck, including a rocking little band and a singer/pianist with an amazing repertoire who had the crowd singing along to Janice Joplin, Taylor Swift, and Aretha Franklin songs. The little casino area was attached and Lynn felt birthday lucky and wanted to splurge $20 on the slot machines, so we spent a few minutes there, long enough for her to lose it all. Bastards. Didn’t they know it was her birthday? Before heading back to the bar area I stuck in $6. Don’t ask me why 6, just a whim. As she left to rejoin Mom and Bob I lingered behind long enough to collect my hundred dollar winnings.

The singer finished her next to last set at 11 pm, which was our signal to call it a night. Lynn and I, that is. We’re just not party animals anymore. It’s a rare occasion if we make it to midnight. Mom and Bob partied on though. It’s embarrassing to be out partied by your mother, but there it is.


Our last full day of the cruise was spent entirely at sea, which means a fun and relaxation day. Well, it’s all been fun, but you know what I mean. No port calls. We started with fancy brunch in the dining room, featuring Alaskan ingredients. Pancakes with fresh blueberries and biscuits and gravy with reindeer sausage, which was surprisingly good. After brunch I felt a need to burn a few calories off and I think Lynn felt the same, because she grabbed Mom and Bob and headed for the fitness center. For my part I headed for the lower promenade deck, where a wide outdoor wooden plank deck circles the entire ship, providing something of a walking track with views to the heavily forested shoreline on both sides as we made our way down the inside passage toward Vancouver. For some reason this deck of the ship is lightly trafficked compared to the other public areas, making it seem like a hidden gem. There was even a convenient sign posted advertising that 3 1/2 laps equals 1 mile. I did 14 laps around the ship at a pretty good pace, only stopping briefly a couple of times to watch the humpbacks breeching off the port side of the ship. It was another lovely, sunny day, and I was warm enough in just a t-shirt. After finishing I was feeling pretty good, so I met Lynn for a cocktail at the outside bar on the Lido deck, in order to add a few calories back in, because life’s about balance. Balance and moderation.

Eventually Bob and Mom joined us and we migrated to the hot tub for a while before our last dinner on board. We had dinner in the Lido restaurant, which is the “casual” dining restaurant, with multiple food stations. Apparently the crew wanted to send us off in sty, because they even had a carved prime rib station. Yeah, it was that kind of day. I wish every day could be like this. From reading these posts you might get the idea that our lives are one grand adventure after another. And you’d be right. But what is left out are the many, many hard days in between. I wish we could skip those, but in life you have to take things as they come, which means when you get the chance to have a new adventure and live a little you should do it.

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It’s a wrap. We disembarked at 8:30 this morning and our wonderful Alaska cruise was at an end. I’ve wanted to go to Alaska for a very long time, but I never imagined it would be on a cruise ship. I was always sure it would be on a backpacking trip to Denali National Park, but this wasn’t a bad way to go. Not that the backpacking trip to Denali is off the table. I’m thinking August of 2024 would be a good time to go. Kim Thomson, are you listening? I knew you are, so don’t act like you’re not.

After departing the ship we had one of those hop on, hop off bus tours booked to take us around Vancouver. Unfortunately there was some kind of festival going on and today’s activities included a bike rally somewhere, which resulted in Vancouver’s normally bad traffic being even worse. The circuit which normally takes an hour was running about double that, and the waits at the stops were longer too, with the result being that we didn’t do a whole lot of hopping. We did spend a couple of pleasant hours wandering the public market on Granville Island and enjoying a couple of tacos while sitting in an outdoor patio where we were able to hear the live music playing in the nearby plaza. Vancouver is a gorgeously situated city, surrounded on three sides by water with mountains visible close by. We really liked Vancouver and would have enjoyed spending a couple of days exploring, although I think we would have soon run out of money. Vancouver is really expensive. Like, one of the five most expensive cities in the world supposedly. But it’s also consistently ranked as one of the most livable cities in the world, and I can see why. There’s lots to do, the climate is moderate, it’s a very diverse and vibrant city, with half the population speaking a native language other than English, and every kind of cuisine imaginable is available. Earl’s Kitchen, our dinner destination, was a good example of the diversity on offer, as they served steaks, fresh seafood, what appeared to be wood fired pizza, a couple of Japanese dishes, and one of the best Chinese meals I’ve ever had. Mom’s birthday is next week so we took the opportunity to celebrate a little early. On the walk back to the hotel we couldn’t resist a stop at the gelato shop across the street. I love me my gelato and rarely resist temptation when it’s available.

Tomorrow it’s back home to resume the daily grind, until our next great adventure, coming March 2024. We had a great trip and were blessed to be able to vacation with my Mom and Bob for the first time in a while. I think they had a great time too, although I think we wore them out a little and they are looking to get home to rest up. We were all very fortunate to be able to experience something very, very few people manage to experience, besides all the awesome scenery and lovely cruise. We were able to spend a day in Seattle, a week in Alaska, and a day in Vancouver, and during that entire time we never saw so much as a drop of rain. Warm and sunny Brian they call me.

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