Alaska & Canada
Sunday, Sept. 14
For my college graduation this past June, I was lucky enough to celebrate by going on a cruise to Alaska with my family and Kevin. My dad had promised to take me to Alaska after he went when I was probably 11 years old. So we finally did it. Me, my sister, my parents, my grandparents, and my boyfriend were all able to go on a Holland America cruise for a week in September. That being said...I am writing this blog 3 months late and I have a horrible memory. So this is my pieced together memories of what my trip to Alaska, quite scatterbrained but finished nonetheless.
Early in the morning, we caught a shuttle out to the docks where all the cruises leave from. It was so cool driving through the city looking for the Space Needle and Pike Place market, knowing that I used to live here when I was a baby. We got on the ship and decided to explore a little bit. This wasn't anything like I expected, or remembered from the cruises I have been on to Mexico. We walked past the pool on the top deck, through a little cafe/library, around the viewing deck, and everywhere in between. We went to check out our accommodations before heading up to watch the city as we departed...us and the rest of the world. Our ship was following in the path of two others and we sailed into the sunset (how cheesy is that). Kevin and I went off to explore the ship by ourself and watched the beautiful sunset from an upper deck. When we were all settled in, we all went to dinner, which was AMAZING and got me so excited for the food for the rest of the trip. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a dessert girl at heart, and they had the most delicious white chocolate mousse with balsamic strawberries. They were so good I ordered a second one and enjoyed everyyyy bite.
The next two days we spent at sea. I was so thankful for some relaxing time with my family in such a breathtaking setting. I was also really enjoying the cold weather. What a lucky girl I am. We grabbed some breakfast and then mapped out our activities for the day. I went with the cooking class demonstrations, my grandpa, mom, and sister chose to enter the slots tournament in the casino, we spent some time relaxing and eating (always eating) on the pool deck, went to an Indonesian tea ceremony, worked on puzzles (which we did every day), and played some bingo before getting ready for the fancy dress night at the dining room. I may or may not have ordered two entrees that night.
The next day was another relaxing one with some more activities. I watched another cooking class, my grandpa got into the final round at the slots tournament, a few of us took an arts and crafts class and learned how to make paper butterflies.
I ventured off on my own for a while walking around the ship. I was on the back deck when I saw a couple people pointing and looking off in one direction. Being the Curious George that I am, I went over and asked what they were all ogling at. They told me they had seen a whale, so I whipped out my camera and started looking in the direction they had said. I did see a little speck of a whale in the distance and was so excited. Then some commotion came from the other side of the deck where they said THEY had just seen a whale, so I meandered over there to try to get photos of that one. Pretty soon there where whales popping up all around the ship. Left and right, near and far, whales were poking their fins out all around me. The captain comes on the speaker and announces that we are now sailing directly through a suit pod of whales and that we will be slowing our speed to get a good look at them. This was by far my favorite part of the trip and gives me warm fuzzier just thinking about it now. I'm not sure why, but it was so comforting being alone and experiencing this. But I was also very happy to see Kevin and my sister when they came to see the whales and found me. Bummer that they had just missed a little baby orca swim right up to the ship and jump out of the water. I didn't get a GREAT photo, but this one is just for the memory, not to show off the photography skills that I clearly lack haha. We spent a few hours watching the whales an a few bald eagles, too, until it was time to say goodbye to them and sail into the fjord.
This was our scenic day where we would be sailing through the Tracey Arm to look at a glacier up close. We went up to the bar at the front of the ship to get a good view, but it was so crowded, so we headed out onto the deck at the front of the ship that they had just opened up. We stood up there watching icebergs start to float by...which made me a tad bit nervous to be honest. I had never seen anything like them. Instead of being white, they were bright blue! I didn't understand why, but later someone told me it has to do with how much oxygen is trapped in the ice. You learn something new everyday I guess. We went farther and farther into this narrow passage with mountains on either side of us, and more and more icebergs floated by until we were sitting there surrounded by them, some of them loudly scraping against the boat. I'll spare you the hundreds of photos I took of them. I just found them so amusing that I couldn't help but photograph them with my new DSLR that I got especially for this trip. The ship went right up to the glacier, closer than I thought it would be able to go, and did a complete 180° to start making our way back out of the fjord. We spotted a few white specks in the mountains on our way out which turned out to be little goats on the hillside. My dads nifty binoculars helped us get a better look.
And to top off the most amazing day, we got to have dinner at the "fancy" restaurant on board. We started out with a tiny little espresso cup filled with mushroom soup, which they called a mushroom cappuccino. Then I had a delicious squash soup, some salmon, and of course dessert. I think I had a chocolate cake that night, which wasn't my best choice, so I took the liberty of eating a little of everyone else's desserts too.
Wednesday, Sept. 17
The day had come for us to make our first stop! We had sailed all the way up to Juneau. We had scheduled a helicopter ride to a glacier for our first big adventure, so we hopped into a van with one other family and drove out to the airport. We went into the little office and started filling out the paperwork when they told us "hey sorry guys, but the fog just rolled in and nobody is flying today. Sorry". I was pretty bummed at first, but we headed back into town and decided to make the most of it. Of course as soon as we got into town, the sun was shining and there wasn't a cloud in sight, but hey it wasn't meant to be I guess. We ended up instead taking a bus out to the Mendenhall Glacier. The driver told us some interesting family stories on our way out to the glacier. The bus dropped us off and we headed towards the visitor center. Inside was a fantastic view of the glacier and trails around it, as well as some educational videos, displays, and speakers of course. They also had a bear skin and a chunk of ice that had fallen from the glacier which were pretty fun to look at. After listening to a talk about global warming and the receding glaciers, we went outside to get a closer look. We started off taking the shorter route to a viewing area where we snapped a couple photos and listened to a park ranger talk about the glaciers. Afterwards, a few of us decided to walk the longer path out to a waterfall while my mom and grandpa hung back. It was a beautiful view, and the waterfall was huge! It was much bigger than I expected it to be.
The group of us headed back after going to see a porcupine sleeping in a tree and hopped on the bus back into town. We meandered around town a little and checked out a few shops before sitting down and Tracy's crab shack. This was a little shack on the boardwalk just outside our ship. Never did I think that this little shack is where I would eat the biggest crab I've ever eaten. I didn't even think it was possible to get full on crab, but I did and I'm definitely not complaining. Best crab of my life, no question.
Thursday, Sept. 18
Our stop in Sitka was quite an interesting one. I don't have too much photographic proof of this day, because I didn't want to ruin my nice camera in the rain. A friend who had taken a cruise to Alaska had recommended kayaking because she said it was her favorite part of her trip, so I suggested it to my family and we scheduled it for this stop. My mom, Donna, and my grandpa went off to do a different excursion while my dad, Julie, Kevin, and I went to get ready for our little adventure. We found a big school bus with a whale painted on it, which was where we were going to get all dressed up for a trip. We got fully decked out in plastic rain gear and splash guards. I must have been wearing at least 10 different layers of clothing at that point. The weather had been quite poor that day, having rained all morning, so I thought kayaking would be cancelled, but oooooooooh boy was I wrong. It had been raining the entire morning and very windy, so our kayak crew decided to boat us out to some secluded islands which were more protected from the weather. On our boat ride we sailed past some seals, so we stopped to get a closer look. There was so much wildlife on this day that I can't even remember it all. We saw seals, sea lions, otters, bald eagles, jellyfish, starfish and no one believed me at first, but I saw the splash of a whale blowhole fairly close to where we were in the boat. We arrived at our quiet little island and the weather decided to give us a break while we loaded into our kayaks and started on our trek. Things started off really well. Everything was so peaceful and beautiful. I could have floated along all day and been so content, but we were paddling from island to island checking out the animals and scenery. We would see little glimpses of animals and wander after them for a bit before getting back on track to where we were headed. We had to squeeze our kayaks through some really narrow rocks, and Julie took this opportunity to take a quick photo.
We had paddled and paddled and paddled and had only done half of our day of kayaking so far. Everyone seemed a little tired, so we took a cookie break in a little bay, where our guide grabbed some starfish and let us hold them while we ate our homemade cookies. I definitely could have called it a day at that point, but I have no regrets about how the rest of the kayak trip went. A storm started to pick up while we were having our cookies, and the waves started to push us into the rocks. This got a bit difficult to maneuver, so we headed back out to the open water where we would have more room. There was a large gap of open water between where we were and the next island we were headed to. We all started paddling hard as the storm picked up, the waves crashed harder, and the rain poured down on us. The four of us fought to get across the open water as fast as we could out of fear of tipping over or not being able to make it, but the mother and daughter who had come with us were really struggling, and we lost them for a while. Our guide went back for them and ended up towing them the whole way across...poor girl. We were all dead tired when we had finally regrouped. We were very thankful to hear that the guide was ending our trip early due to the weather, and that our boat friend was on his way to pick us up. We were sheltered by a little peninsula and were so thankful to be paddling towards the beach when out of nowhere something starts strolling across the sand...something we did not want to make friends with. The huge bear walking across the beach forced us back out into the open water and once again we were paddle, paddle, paddling. This bear was huge, but in the photos, he is the little black speck on the left side of the beach. We finally made it to a bear-free island where we could stop and get out of the kayaks. My legs were practically numb from sitting in there for so long trying not to fall out with the rocking of the waves. Our lovely guide found a little gap under the trees that were surrounding us and laid out some food for us as we stood in the rain waiting for the boat to come pick us up. Once he arrived, we loaded our kayaks quickly onto his boat and headed back to Sitka. Along the way, we spotted a little sea otter (my favorite animal!) and he let us get so close to him that I could see his little whiskers. I was thankful to get back on land and take off all my wet, heavy kayaking gear. Of course once we got back, the rain had stopped. We had a little time to explore some shops in town while two huge rainbows spread across the sky. I think everyone was thankful to get back to the boat that day after all the craziness and excitement we had had. Thank you Sitka for one of the most beautiful yet scariest experiences of my life. As insane as it was, I couldn't have imagined a better way to spend that day.
Friday, Sept. 19
I was very thankful to have a low key day planned it Ketchikan since I was really sore from kayaking the day before. We had chosen to take a cultural tour of the area, including a visit to see some totem poles, which I find fascinating. We hopped off the ship and onto a boat to start our tour. Our first stop was a wildlife area/jam shop. Our tour guide had an interesting story about an angry man and a law that states that we had to stay on a certain path along the road. One step in the wrong place could lead to a fine or ticket. We stood watching some seals and dead fish float around the area for a bit until the rain started again, and people scurried back to the bus.
Our next stop was the place where the totem poles are made by a very famous carver named Nathan Jackson. We watched him work on some pieces in his workshop before walking around to look at the totem poles on Totem Pole Row. Our guide, Justin?, told us about the meanings and stories behind the poles we were looking at. The thing I found most interesting is that some totem poles are erected in order to shame someone...seems like a whole lot of effort and talent to put into shaming someone, but it's certainly a big deal. After hearing all the pole stories, we wandered around admiring all the poles reenacting some old family photos and taking new ones too. This was just a quick stop, so we hopped back on the bus and headed back to town. The bus dropped us off next to an old brothel called Dolly's House, but we passed up on going in to do some shopping instead. We found some very cool stores where I bought some temporary tattoos and of course my usual souvenir travel ring.
We got to celebrate Julie's birthday that night at dinner with our lovely Indonesian waiters. Having visited Indonesia just a few months before, it was so cool to meet so many Indonesian people and talk with them about the places I had been and where they were from. It made me very nostalgic for my trip to Bali. Those guys were the greatest waiters and entertainers and people we could have met. They sang Julie a traditional Indonesian birthday song.
Our last stop of the trip was Victoria, B.C. in Canada. We didn't arrive there until after dark, so we spent the day on the ship doing activities like getting nails done (where I met a very cool South African girl), playing (AND WINNING in my grandpa's case) Bingo, doing pub trivia, and sipping Shirley Temples in the hot tub. Mom, grandpa, and Donna didn't feel like going into the city since we had such little time, so only the four of us went. We grabbed a cab which dropped us off right in front of the Empress Hotel. It was Kevin's first cab ride if you can believe it! Since we didn't really have a plan, we walked through the city all the way to China town, stopping in shops along the way. We just walked all the way down and back the street and around the water a bit before heading back to the ship. I bought a little keychain at the dock which, sadly, has since been lost. We missed our dinner reservation due to the late arrival in Victoria, so we ate in the regular dining room for our last night. Luckily, we were able to see our Indonesian buddies and give them both a bottle of wine as a thank you.
Sunday, Sept. 21
We got off the ship bright and early on our last day so that we could spend as much time in Seattle as possible before we all headed to the airport. We started off at Pike Place market, where we had breakfast at a little cafe overlooking the water. We paroosed through the market a bit, past the famous fish throwers and flower shops and craft shops. I really wanted to visit the first ever Starbucks, so after going into the wrong one, we waited in the long line for the right one. It was just a little shop on the market street that drew many tourists, but I'm glad we did it even though it wasn't anything special.
After exploring the market and getting some munchies, we caught a cab over to the Space Needle. The lines for it were so long, so we opted out of it and went into a stained glass exhibit next door. There were beautiful pieces of stained glass by the artist Chihuly that were completely unique and unexpected. I did not expect to enjoy it so much. After ogling over the glass pieces for as long as possible, we all left to find some lunch. We had some built your own pizzas and discovered a little playground where I actually have one of my earliest childhood memories from. I recognized it before my mom even told me what the place was, which is crazy to me because I haven't been there since I was 4 years old. But hey if some kid tries to push my sister off a rock slide, he better watch out because I will scold him firmly!
So...this was very different than any trip I've ever taken and I'm so thankful for that. I'm thankful for my family and loved ones who have helped me get through college and supported me every step of the way, through good times and bad. I'm thankful that my family was able to give up a week to be with me and make unforgettable memories. I love you guys more than anything.