The highs and lows of an Alaskan cruise
I still have a ways to go before I reach all 50 (for the record, I’m currently at 27), but I have now visited the two non-contiguous United States. Considering how geographically far removed they are from the “lower 48” (this is a phrase I heard used quite often by locals in Alaska), I’m pretty proud of myself.
As is my custom, I’ll be sharing countless in-depth write-ups on the excursions I went on and other posts related to cruising to Alaska in general in the coming weeks and months, but for now I thought I’d share the highs and lows of my week at sea cruising what’s known as the Inside Passage.
Well, this is obviously a given considering which state we’re talking about. In many ways the landscapes reminded me of Norway (gorgeous vistas, breathtaking bodies of water…endless gray skies), but then you come to a place like Endicott Arm and you’re staring at the massive Dawes Glacier and you think to yourself, “can this be real?” This feeling is reaffirmed when you hear a “piece” of ice breaking off from the glacier (otherwise known as an iceberg) and it literally sounds like thunder as it crashes down into the water. Cities are fabulous but the older I get the more I relish the trips that are solely nature and outdoors themed.
Visiting the Yukon
When researching possible things to do in the “city” of Skagway (its population is less than 1,000 people but balloons during the summer i.e. cruise season months), I came across tours that led you across the border into Canada, specifically into the heart of the Yukon Territory. While the Klondike Gold Rush is perhaps not as well known as the California Gold Rush (fewer people pursued it, and it only lasted a few years in the late 1890s), there were still around 100,000 men AND women who ventured to the Klondike region of the Yukon of northwestern Canada in search of gold. The landscapes here were obviously quite untouched and learning about the harrowing conditions they endured was fascinating. It really pleases me that I’m seeing much more of Canada, considering for the longest time I had only ever been to Toronto. My day in the Yukon also has me immensely interested in checking out the book The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush.
Okay, so I didn’t see as much wildlife as I would have liked (I’m not counting the quasi-cute but also quasi-gross slug I saw at Totem Bight State Park in Ketchikan), but the black bear we saw along the side of the road happily munching away on dandelions on our way back to Skagway more than made up for the scarcity considering how near we were to him. Overall, I did see (if from a distance), another black bear, a brown bear, a sea lion, seals lounging on a patch of ice in Endicott Arm, and numerous eagles (they’re as prolific as pigeons on the East Coast), and humpback whales. But the majority of them were too far away to capture any good photos.
Dining service onboard the Disney Wonder
This was my seventh time sailing onboard a Disney cruise ship (yes, Disney sails to other destinations besides the Caribbean), and this was the first time ever where I was left feeling quite unhappy with the dining service. Our server and assistant server were both friendly, but service was often lacking (on the Disney ships, when you rotate through the restaurants, your dining waitstaff goes with you so you have the same waiters the whole cruise). Dinners seemed to take forever even though on this cruise it was just D and me at the table and we would ask for items but then never get them. The worst was me asking to substitute one vegetable for another. Somehow this “translated” to only getting the chicken and said vegetable; the two sides I was looking forward to trying were missing entirely. It also didn’t help that the server was constantly “reminding” us (i.e. nagging ) to fill out the comment card and that he expected nothing less than excellent. We’ve always had great dining service on Disney cruises so I’m hoping this was a one time thing.
Alaska is $$$$
I had always known cruises to Alaska were pricey compared to those in the Caribbean but I think the shock was felt most in the port excursions. You’re in Alaska so you obviously want to see and do as much as you can but booking tours can definitely add up costs fast. My chief advice is whenever possible, book an excursion on your own since they will undoubtedly be cheaper than going through the cruise line. However, I also discovered that many tour outfitters automatically contract out directly with the cruise line so sometimes you don’t even have a choice to book on your own (this was a first for me).
Not having enough time in the ports
As much as I enjoy cruises, they do come with some negatives, the biggest one being you don’t ever have enough time in the ports you visit. It typically boils down to you having time for one excursion and if that excursion is five hours or more, that’s typically the bulk of your stay. Our day trip to the Yukon was around seven hours and so we didn’t really have much time in Skagway save for doing a little shopping and D grabbing at beer at Skagway Brewing Company. But Skagway was a starting off point for prospectors during the Klondike Gold Rush and so it’s incredibly rich in this period of history. I would have loved to visit the Goldrush Cemetery but it was on the outskirts of town (we drove by it when starting our tour).
Overall, I had a wonderful time on my Alaska cruise and am thankful I got to see such a unique and breathtaking area of my country. And I definitely wouldn’t be opposed one day to returning, specifically to see more of the upper part of the state and especially a moose or two.