I'm back. internet was available on the ship, but was so expensive I would have needed a mortgage to afford it. nevertheless, I continued to record my thoughts daily, and have now copied them to this thread.
I was not looking forward to the cruise boarding process in Seattle, as we have had a few bad experiences with cruises in the past, but this was surprisingly easy. Straight on board and a delightful lunch while we were waiting for our luggage to be sent to the cabin.
The cabin was amidships and with a balcony view - quite small but very comfortable with a king bed, television and a good shower with plenty of hot water!
We left on time at 4pm, and spent the first night having dinner (great food), and then a good night's sleep. The next day was spent at sea on our way to Juneau. Calm seas, although a ship of this size handles most swells with little movement. Luckily we don't get seasick, but we noticed a few people heading for the medical centre almost immediately we hit the open ocean.
Juneau is the capital of Alaska, but is a small town, not very pretty, and as we were going to find out at all our ports of call, full of jewellery shops. There are many on-shore activities, from float planes and helicopters flying over the glaciers, to bus tours to various tourist spots. Depending on how much you want to spend, and for how long, most of these are good, but any flights are upwards of $300 pp, and we decided that was a bit over the top, so elected for a bus tour to visit Mendenhall glacier and Glacier gardens at $49pp. This was very enjoyable, as the glacier was quite spectacular even if a bit smaller at the face than we had envisaged. Plenty of photos taken.
The gardens were also very enjoyable as it entailed a tram tour up an almost sheer mountainside through a temperate rainforest and a wonderfully maintained garden area containing temperate plants and flowers.
The bus driver told us that Alaska has four seasons the same as Australia, but they call theirs Wet, Wetter, Wettest, and Snow. There are only a few days a year when the sunny days prevail, and when it rains, it is normally horizontal from the high winds.
We had a perfectly sunny day with no winds, the first for several months! The bus driver was ecstatic.
We were only in Juneau for the day, and left for Glacier Bay that night.
Well, I have to say that we must be blessed. We have seen some of the most beautiful scenery in the world in Yosemite National Park, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, beautiful cities like San Francisco, and the spectacular Las Vegas, and yet Glacier Bay surpassed them all!
I need to explain further. Glacier Bay (north of Juneau), is only visited by cruise ships in early Spring and late Summer. We did not know this at the time we booked our travels, so this was a bonus. And the weather is usually overcast and rainy - it rains about 280 days a year. Sunny days you can count on one hand. Last year they only 15 days on which they could fly helicopters and small planes for the tourists.
We had a perfectly fine day of Brisbane winter temperatures, and the National Parks Guides (on board for the day) told us it was the best day for a couple of years! They called it a miracle.
Glacier Bay is as described - many glaciers flow into the bay. The fjords are so deep that the cruise ship can get up close and personal on good days, and we were able to get within 150 metres of the largest of the glaciers (Johns Hopkins Glacier). Words are inadequate.
The glacier itself stands about 300-400 feet at its face and about 600 metres across. In bright sunshine, the ship sat for an hour as we watched huge ice falls (called calving) drop into the bay in front of our eyes. The glacier travels many miles to the bay, and is in retreat (as are most glaciers) due to global warming. The constant movement of the ice flow gives rise to noises like thunder as sides of the surrounding mountains are gouged. When the iceflow arrives at the bay, the front just calves off and falls. Mrs El D was lucky enough to have her camera focused on the ice wall when a large part broke away and fell. It was breathtaking! The roar of the fall was amazing, and yet the wave it made was like a ripple as it moved towards the ship. We hardly felt it.
Hundreds of cruise passengers were standing at the bow watching this occur, but we were all so dumbstruck, we must have stood unmoving for the hour or so and almost completely silent as more calving occurred. The ship holds 2000 passengers, so the silence itself was deafening. In fact, so many passengers were watching the amazing spectacle that most of the crew came out to watch too. They are usually working inside and rarely get the opportunity to see the scenery.
The National Park Guides were as excited as us, and kept saying our day was such a rare occurrence, we should be eternally grateful.
And then the ship moved on to another glacier - Margerie Glacier - and the same thing happened. Bright sunshine, blue skies, massive ice flows, and wonderful calving a few metres in front of us.
I have to say we have had the most phenomenal experiences and we all know how lucky we have been to experience something that only occurs very rarely for us tourists.
Because of the weather, the tourist season only lasts from May to September in Alaska, so for us to have perfectly fine days of brilliant sunshine and blue skies is just against all odds. In fact, since we left Australia on 21st August, we have not had a wet day anywhere.
From the glories of Glacier Bay, we travelled overnight to Skagway, a small town of 800 permanent residents. Once again, we had a choice of activities, and chose a train ride to White Pass and return on the White Pass & Yukon Railway. No sunshine, but perfectly clear weather, and once again the best day weather-wise for at least 4 months - can our luck keep holding? This is a small gauge railway that traverses 3000 feet up a valley with spectacular (do I use that word too often?) views. This area of Alaska is where the gold rushes occurred back in the late 1800's, and there is still clear evidence of the toil they went through. The journey took a good 3 hours, and while it seemed a bit expensive, was thoroughly enjoyable, with good commentary from a skilful guide and scenery to die for - even saw mountain goats and marmots!
With all of the things we have seen and done over the last few weeks, our party of four is all a bit exhausted, but willing to fight on for the remaining ten days until return to Australia on 25th September.
From Skagway, we journeyed overnight to Ketchikan, and awoke to very threatening skies. The morning presentation from the guides told us that we should prepare for a wet and cold day. Like clockwork, as we disembarked for the day's outings, the skies cleared to a cloudless day with temperatures once again like the Gold Coast.
We took an amusing hour tour through the town in an amphibious "duck", but then made a last minute decision to take a sea plane flight over the fjords and mountains surrounding Ketchikan. It wasn't cheap, but the cloudless skies made the decision easier, even though one of our foursome was terrified of the small plane - an 8 seater de Havilland Beaver, but it took just the four of us on this journey.
Well, I've run out of superlatives this holiday. We soared and floated between mountains, we flew through valleys where we felt like you could reach out and touch the cliff faces, we landed on a fjord lake in the middle of mountain peaks, and we were able to climb out onto the floats to experience the wilderness. We then took off again through the valleys and returned to our starting point with a feather-like touchdown on the bay near our ship.
Our pilot kept saying this was the best day's flying all Summer, but the clouds that were moving in from the West were going to make tomorrow a totally different and difficult day. How much more luck can we have?
Tonight we start the journey back to Vancouver. It will take us all of tomorrow and the next night and we are due in Vancouver at 7am on Tuesday (today is Sunday).
Off to a nice dinner and a bottle of red tonight, and a lot of conversation on another day where we have just about exhausted our joint bucket lists!