The thought of traveling somewhere unfamiliar can be unsettling to some. People on this earth have their comfort zones and habits. They like to eat at a certain time everyday, watch the news the same time everyday. For my dad, he was used to carrying around his box cutter, paint can opener, huge wads of keys and change. I recently told him we were going to break all his rules, and he was coming with me on a cruise through the Inside Passage of Alaska.
It started with a 3-hour journey from Portland to Seattle, where we stayed at the Homewood Suites in Tukwila, just southeast of Seattle. This property has the largest suites in western Washington. Our suite was complete with king size bed, a sleeper sofa in an extra room, two large televisions, a full kitchen, free in suite internet, and full breakfast buffet. We found some time to enjoy the hot tub too, as the front desk agent opened it for us after hours.
Then came Saturday, July 19th. It was a clear sunny day in Seattle. As we approached the port terminal, we saw the huge logo of the Golden Princess ship in the distance. We were somewhat in awe at this point. We knew it was for real now. We were getting ever closer to our dream vacation. Neither of us had ever gone on a cruise before. I had traveled internationally before, so I was prepared for customs and a few extra steps beyond. My dad was another story.
The Golden Princess is 950 feet long, over 200 feet high, and 150 feet wide. It weighs 180,000 tons. Now that’s a big ship. It holds 2600 passengers, and 1100 crew members. It has various restaurants, and 14 bars. Within those lounges, there are stages for various performances in addition to the main theatre, where there was some amazing Vegas and Broadway style shows. How those ladies stayed on their feet in those heels while the ship was moving I’d never know. We were also treated to the humor of a former Beach Boy, and a former writer of the Cosby show. A cruise ship isn’t complete without a casino, fitness center, spa, formal nights, and art auctions.
After a day at sea to get to know our way around the ship, our first port of call was the state capital of Juneau. Approximately 30,000 people live in Juneau, with an additional 5,000 during the summer. For a great view of the entire area, take the Mt. Roberts Tramway up 1800 feet. You’ll be sitting amongst the clouds… literally. There is an informative presentation on the Clickit Indian Tribe. There they also house an injured bald eagle that you can see up close. We saw various squirrels, as well as a marmot. They are about the size of a porcupine, but with soft fur.
The evening brought a whale watching tour owned by a local family. We sailed out of nearby Auk Bay on a large, high-speed catamaran. They had great ordure’s to enjoy during our journey. We spotted killer whales along the way. There was also a baby humpback whale that wanted to show us some of its tricks. It repeatedly breached the surface, sending splash everywhere. I couldn’t capture it on camera for the life of me. Digital cameras delay way too long. Our naturalist on board was very informative in regards to whales behavior and habitat. It was all around a great 10 hours in Alaska’s state capitol.
The following day brought a full day in Skagway. The whole city is 5 blocks by 20 blocks. The total population is about 850 people. The houses don’t have addresses. Everyone has a post office box. If you live in a blue house on the corner of 5th & Broadway, everyone would know it as just that. So you’d mess everything up if you painted your house a different color. There is also two months out of the year where arctic winds howl through the valley, sending the temperature to 50 below zero. Everyone stocks up and stays inside for that time, or they leave for that time.
If I did it again, I would take the White Pass Railway in Skagway instead of looking for gold. I was just being budget conscious. I have heard form numerous sources that the train ride shows a great look at the Gold Rush trail of 1898. Many men and their horses perished while trying to make it over the pass. They named an area after it, called Dead Horse Gulch.
We started out by riding the restored 1920’s streetcar for a tour of this unique city. We stopped out at a great lookout point of Skagway valley for picture time. There was a short presentation on the Artic Brotherhood that formed during the Gold Rush of 1898. Our driver was very informative and entertaining. At the very end we stopped at the Cemetery, where Soapy Smith is buried. He was a leader of a mob during the great days of ’98. Soapy and hero Mr. Johnson got into a famous firefight. Soapy died instantly. Mr. Johnson suffered for 12 days before passing. The people of Skagway didn’t want Soapy Smith buried with others. They decided to bury him a whole six feet from the main cemetery.
The highlight of my week was scenic glacier viewing in Tracy Arm Fjord. Many waterfalls and icebergs could be seen along the way. The icebergs were able to show off their vibrant blue colors under the clouded skies. Plenty of bald eagles could be seen. We even spotted two harbor seals lying on icebergs. We passed the sister ship Star Princess, as well as other small cruise ships during our final approach to the glacier. It was awesome to look at an entire wall of ice. The reflection on the water made for great pictures, even if we were half frozen while taking them.
My favorite port of call was in Ketchikan. It is Alaska’s fourth-largest city. The downtown area features Creek Street; an entire boardwalk surrounding Ketchikan Creek that is lined with all locally owned shops. I was able to attend the lumberjack show and see a park full of totem poles and longhouses before returning to the ship. The only disadvantage of our very large ship was we could not safely pull into the small harbor of Victoria, B.C. on the way back to Seattle. We anchored two miles offshore for the last night.
The staff took good care of everyone. There was always something to do, whether on or off the
ship. The locals in at port were very interesting to meet as well.
Overall, I say it was a great experience. If you ever get the chance to go on a cruise, I would do so. It’s a great way to get an introduction to multiple areas of a particular region. You don’t have to re-pack and move to different hotels. Just leave your things in your cabin, where it will be waiting, along with a very comfortable bed and the end of the day.