The day of the cruise dawned. We were heading off for 2 weeks down the inside passage of Alaska, on a mid size ship carrying about 1300 passengers. We parked Ruby at the car park on the docks and boarded the ship. It was massive compared to the Fram, our wonderful boat that took us to the Antarctic. There were 9 floors for passenger use, which contained a few restaurants,2 swimming pools, bars, lounges, shops, an art gallery, cinema and casino! Our room was lovely and had a big window with a sea view. It also had a comfy seating area and flat screen TV, which we became glued to every night watching American politics! It made us feel slightly better about British politics!
Well this cruise turned into the longest 2 weeks of our trip so far! Whist we loved Alaska and really enjoyed the wonderful staff and food aboard the ship, we soon realised the cruising life is not one for us! There was a huge emphasis on shopping and gambling and much less focus on the places and wildlife we would be seeing. We met a lot of lovely people on the ship and also met quite a lot that were rude and greedy. More of that later!
Gav and I were super excited on the first couple of days on the boat. By 9am on morning 1, we had: been to the gym (at 6am!!!); had breakfast and lost $10 in the casino! This was our first and last time in the casino and we were gobsmacked at people who seemed to be in the casino day and night, feeding the machines and tables. One man told us he would not care if the boat never stopped at ports-so he could play in the casino all the time!
Now to Alaska, the biggest state in the USA although one of the least populous. What a beautiful, wild and remote place. We sailed past miles and miles of rugged, mountainous coastline covered with thousands of fir trees, saw numerous whales blowing in the sea and floated past some spectacular glaciers. wildlife is in abundance here, bears, bald eagles, moose, elks, salmon, and many more. Our first stop was Ketchikan, a small Alaskan town, where we did our own walking tour using a great visitor`s map. The ship docked at the edge of town, so we literally got off and were in the middle of things. We visited the totem heritage centre, which holds a world renowned collection of original, unrestored totem poles from the 19th century. We also visited the very picturesque Creek Street, which was the red light district from 1902. More than 30 "bawdy" houses lined the creek over the years. With prohibition, some became speak easies; rowboats slipped in at night on a high tide and liquor rose through trap doors. Now the houses had been converted to small shops and cafes all built on wooden stilts over the creek.
Our next stop was Juneau, the capital of Alaska, but not possible to reach by road! It was a pretty, small City with the water on one side and mountains behind it. Juneau was originally inhabited by the Tlinglit people who hunted and fished along its shores. It then became known for gold mining, and grew to be one of the most elaborate gold mining operations in the world. We took a tour here to the nearby Mendenhall glacier, Alaska`s most accessible glacier. We took a short walk to Mendenhall lake where a huge waterfall crashed down and we could also view the glacier. Alaska has 100,000 glaciers covering 28,000 square miles, equal to 5% of the state. Mendenhall glacier is one of the 38 large glaciers that flow from the 1,500 square mile expanse of snow and ice known as the Juneau ice field. As the glacial ice accumulates seasonally, gravity pulls the ice down valleys. Slowly and steadily the glacier scours bedrock, grinding everything to powder or transporting huge boulders on its 13 mile path to Mendenhall Lake. Nearby, were short walking trails which led to salmon spawning grounds-a prime place to see bears! We saw none on this day-but did see massive red salmon flipping and jumping out of the water which was an incredible sight! We also saw a porcupine up a tree. We spotted a lot of electric wires and a TV camera. Mum had already told us that the BBC were going to filming wild Alaska live over a few days. We spotted a camera man checking the equipment so we rushed over to him, and told him that we were from England and loved the BBC! We had a little chat about the programme and he told us who the presenters were and where they were filming. It was due to go out from that spot live, the following evening in England. After the glacier, we returned to town and caught a cable car tram up Mount Roberts. The views from the top were great, of Juneau, Douglas island, Gastineau channel and the Chilkat mountains.
In addition to our landings, we had some days spent at sea. On these days, there were activities and talks which you could go to. It became very clear very soon that there was a huge focus on shopping, with a lot of talks about what to buy in various ports and what deals were on at the shops in the ship. I went to some of these talks and experienced some people pushing, in fact one lady pushed me to get to her seat earning a very English " excuse me"! People would also holler for free stuff and almost fight each other to get it as it was thrown into the audience. I also went to the art auctions, which I really enjoyed, as there was also a lot of info given about the art. We also got free champagne. The lovely waiter slipped and knocked a small amount of champagne over a woman sitting waiting for the auction. She jumped up shrieking, (excuse the language) " this is fucking shit" and ran out of the room! She returned a short while later and threw her clothes at one of the staff, demanding that they launder them for her! The other thing we struggled to understand was how much food people would order. We sat with different people every night for dinner and were perplexed when some people would order 2 main meals and 2 starters. People would also tell us that we must send our food back if we did not like it and get something else or order 2 of something if we wanted to. There was a lot of excess and this did not feel right to us, even though we are both very fond of our food!
We did meet 2 wonderful sets of people. Jurgen and Sharon from Florida, and Jurgen told us wonderful stories from when he back packed around the world for a couple of years in his 20s (he is now in his mid 70s with the same sense of fun and adventure as ever!). Also a great family from Oregon, Stacey, Ryun and their 2 great boys-Heath and Payton. We had dinner with them a few times as they were such good company and they were also great dancers-all of them dancing every night in the nightclub!
Other highlights were Anchorage, where we visited the nearby glacier of Portage aboard a small boat and then went to the Alaska wildlife conservation centre, which provided spacious enclosures and care for its injured and orphaned animals including black and brown bears, wolves, moose, elks, etc. In Homer we spotted a wild moose feeding on the wetlands and a pair of bald eagles nesting. In Sitka, we visited a wonderful place for orphaned bears called the Fortress of the Bear. The 8 bears were housed in 2 acres of space and it was possible to view them close up. They were clearly happy, well looked after and stimulated-2 of them were swimming and playing in a large lake in the middle of their enclosure. The mission at the Fortress of the bear is to rescue orphaned bear cubs, bring them back to full health and provide them with a long enriched life. Other than here, Alaska has no bear rehabilitation programme in place so orphaned cubs are routinely shot for lack of an alternative. They would eventually like to see the law in Alaska change, so that the bear cubs can be released back into the wild, where they belong. We also visited the rapture recue centre which cares for injured eagles and other birds, releasing those which have been rehabilitated back into the wild.
Sitka was also interesting for its Russian style buildings-as Alaska was owned by the Russians until 1867 when the USA purchased it for just over 7 million dollars, the transfer taking place in Sitka.
We spent an afternoon scenic cruising on our ship to the Hubbard glacier, which was spectacular. Although we stopped within a mile of it-it felt really close and we could see and hear chunks of ice carving into the sea.
The last day of the cruise was spent in Victoria, on Vancouver island, a place we were familiar with from our 5 weeks on the island. We walked the harbour path and rejoiced that we would be free again the following day! "Get me off this sodding boat" said Jen much to Gav`s amusement!
We were delighted to disembark in Seattle and found a camp site on Bainbridge island, a ferry ride from the city centre. We caught the ferry for 2 days into the centre of town whilst we saw the sights. On day 1, we were hijacked by a couple of young lads who were trying to get people to attend a timeshare presentation. They were offering all sorts of incentives and we managed to get them to offer free tickets to all of the sights we had planned to see over the next few days! For this, we were whisked off by taxi to a posh hotel and introduced to our personal timeshare agent, Matt. Poor Matt. We were both very polite and listened intently to everything he had to say. We also answered his questions very honestly, so when he asked us both what our dream vacation would be, I answered honestly ,that I would love to travel to outer space. Well, he went a shade of grey, as I am not sure they are doing timeshares in space....yet! After 2 hours, the poor lad was sweating and bought in the big gun. He spent abut 2 minutes with us and realised we were not going to buy a time share in their luxury hotel chin, and sent us off with our free tickets!
We visited the Space needle and its superb viewing platform with views across Seattle and beyond, the amazing Chiully glass and gardens and did an underground tour of Seattle. My favourite place was free to enter: the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation which displayed in an interactive and entertaining way, the monumental good work they do around the world. One of their goals is to inspire others to make a difference and it this place really facilitated that. Armed with loads of leaflets, Jen marched off ready to try and change the world again!
We loved Seattle and now plan to head to the national parks of Mount Rainier and St Helens. We are so glad to be back in Ruby!