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The highs and lows of an Alaskan cruise

The highs and lows of an Alaskan cruise

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.

The highs and lows of an Alaskan cruise

The beautiful and quite accessible Mendenhall Glacier (it’s located just outside of Juneau).

The Highs

The Scenery 

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.

The highs and lows of an Alaskan cruise

A photo that shows you just how large an iceberg is compared to people.

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. 

The highs and lows of an Alaskan cruise

The stunning Emerald Lake located in the Yukon. Western Canada is truly spectacular and now I really want to visit Banff.

Wildlife spotting 

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.

The highs and lows of an Alaskan cruise

The Lows

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.

The highs and lows of an Alaskan cruise

Thankfully the cocktails were always spot on,  like this delicious Singapore Sling.

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).

The highs and lows of an Alaskan cruise

A nature walk in Ketchikan provided the perfect tonic and cost after spending so much on other excursions.

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).

The highs and lows of an Alaskan cruise

The quaint Wild West town of Skagway

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.


The highs and lows of an Alaskan cruise

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  • Reply
    Diane Barrowsmith
    June 12, 2017 at 7:47 am

    We found the food and service to be below par on this one too. From what I’d heard – it was a new team in a lot of instances with the wait staff – not sure how true that was but it would certainly make sense in our instance! Did you guys ask for a table on your own?

    • Reply
      June 18, 2017 at 8:11 pm

      I’m glad to hear it wasn’t just us! I thought in the case of our servers that perhaps they were new. Then I was shocked when our server said that he had been with DCL for four years! As in how do you get away with being so crappy for so long?? I did, I emailed DCL reservations not too long after booking and just requested a table for the two of us (our Caribbean cruise, our table mates were meh, not like when we dined with the Brits and Aussies). I think I may go that route again for next summer and just hope our servers wouldn’t have changed ships by then 🙂

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    Sarah Shumate
    June 27, 2017 at 7:32 pm

    I’m a little behind on my blog reading, but I can’t wait to read this series. My parents took an Alaskan cruise and it’s still one of their very favorite trips. I’m looking forward to your photos! I haven’t yet been on an ocean cruise (only a river cruise), mostly because of the things you mentioned in your “lows” section, but especially the short time in ports issues. I like to take my time and I’m afraid I’d feel this pressure every time we were in a port to rush around and see it all!
    Sarah Shumate recently posted…6 Things To Do At Labrador Nature Reserve In SingaporeMy Profile

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      June 28, 2017 at 9:12 am

      I have yet to meet a person who hasn’t had anything but glowing things to say about an Alaskan cruise 🙂 It really is such an incredible part of the world. I have yet to take a river cruise myself but it’s definitely on the bucket list! As for the limited time in the ports, I really take my pre-trip research seriously to make sure I can maximize it as much as possible. And I also remind myself at the end of the day that one day I’ll be back but in the meantime I got to have a nice travel buffet by “trying a little of everything” in terms of the places I visited.

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