Thursday, July 30, 2009

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

We interrupt the previously scheduled Random Thoughts Thursday for a more pressing post. Random Thoughts Thursday will return at its regularly scheduled time next week. On Thursday, even.

Here it is: The Alaska Cruise Post. I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath. Prepare yourselves. You’ve probably noticed by now that I can be a bit wordy, and the more strongly I feel about something, the worse it is. Between the two of us, Chris and I took over 1100 pictures. Even though close to 500 of them are some variation of this:

that’s still a lot of pictures to choose from. And, like my sis-in-law Emily said, God definitely spent a little more time on Alaska. It is gorgeous.

So bear with me, there's a lot to see here. And sorry, it is kind of a travelogue, but that's just how it turned out. Anyway, this introduction will only make the post longer, so let’s just get on with it (you can click on any of the pictures to enlarge them.)

the last sun we'd see for a week

We departed from Seattle on Friday, July 17 and headed for Juneau. The first day (Saturday) was spent entirely at sea, giving a few of us justification for buying those dorky looking Sea-bands. Now that I’m blogging this, there are a lot of things I wish I had pictures of, and 6 pairs of wrists sporting those stylish bands is one of them. Alas.

Moving right along...

We arrived in Juneau Sunday afternoon, and after a quick half-hour tour of downtown (with a population of around 30,000 people, Juneau is Alaska’s 2nd largest city, making the Portland metro area look like Mexico City) we boarded our boat for our whale watching expedition. Whale sightings were guaranteed, or we got a significant refund on the cost of the tour, so I figured we’d see a whale or two surface and I’d be perfectly happy.

Instead we began the trip by watching a mother and baby humpback whale swim side-by-side for half an hour and ended it in a spectacular sighting of three separate pods of 8-12 whales each taking part in what’s known as bubblenet feeding. It was possibly the most amazing thing I have ever seen, and they just kept doing it over and over. The pictures, of course, don’t do justice to the experience. But it was incredible.

mama and baby

whale breath

I think there are at least six different whales in this shot

bubblenet feeding

more bubblenet (see the open mouth on the left?)

feeding frenzy!

On our way back to the ship our bus driver pulled into a parking lot where we got a great view of Mendenhall Glacier, with a gorgeous field of fireweed in the foreground.

the light blue field almost dead center is Mendenhall Glacier

After a day of amazing wildlife sightings, we were next treated to a day of beautiful scenery in Glacier Bay National Park. My little camera doesn’t take anywhere near the pictures my camera-nerd brothers-in-law captured, but I did get a few fairly decent shots. Once again, though, the pictures really don’t do it justice.

Marjorie Glacier

a bit of perspective (the yellow lines near the bottom are kayaks - that's one BIG glacier!)

Check out all the chunks of ice floating in the water - we saw some like that fall off the glacier while we were there. They were a lot bigger than they look here. Titanic, anyone?

another glacier (can't remember this one's name)

but it has a river flowing underneath it, pouring into the sea

This was also the day that we saw a bear. I didn’t get any pictures, though, because you could only tell it was a bear through the binoculars, and even that was after a lot of eye strain. But at least I can say I went to Alaska and saw a bear!

The next day we stopped in Sitka, which is a cute little town with a harbor too small for cruise ships, so we anchored in the bay and were tendered to the dock using the ship’s larger lifeboats.

Look! It's our ship!

St. Michael's Cathedral

Chris and I opted to simply enjoy the town that day (read: we had no money for excursions in this port), so we walked through town (it took 5 minutes) and shopped for souvenirs for the girls and my mom. In the afternoon we met up with everyone else and walked over to the Sitka National Historic Park, which contains a bunch of Tlingit (roughly pronounced “klin kit”) totem poles.


We discovered that in addition to totem poles, the park is a great place to spot bald eagles. We probably saw at least 15 in the couple of hours we were there. Most of them were too far away for my little point-and-shoot to really get any decent pictures, but this guy was camped out right over a path, and he kindly obliged to turn his head just right while I was shooting.

After Sitka we sailed on to Ketchikan, where Chris and I went separate ways for the morning. He headed off with his dad, Blaine, and Mel to experience fly fishing the Alaskan way. Between the four of them they claim to have caught at least 30 fish, but you know how fishermen are ;)

While they lived the angler’s dream, the rest of us boarded a little yellow floatplane for a tour of the Misty Fjords in Tongass National Park. Absolutely breathtaking. We flew over little lakes and streams accessible only by plane, saw majestic waterfalls and steep basalt cliffs. And then we landed, for “pondering and reflection”, by a tiny island in a mountain lake, from which we could view snow-covered cliffs, waterfalls and even a small (though only compared to what we’d seen before) glacier.

the stylin' headphones totally match my jacket!

I know this probably isn’t as exciting to any one else as it is to me, but bear with me; we’re almost to the end of the trip. And if you haven’t started booking your own Alaskan cruise yet, based on these pictures, well, what are you waiting for? (I highly recommend Holland America Line, by the way.)

Thursday we spent most of the day cruising (and *sob* packing), but that evening we docked in Victoria, British Columbia, where we managed to finagle stamps in our passports from a grouchy customs official and gave ourselves a whirlwind self-guided tour of the city (or at least a very small part of it.) This tour involved various street performers, including my personal favorite (points awarded for creativity):

"See? The Dark Side has good music, too!"

As well as beautiful architecture and a gorgeous sunset:

Then, alas, it was back aboard the ship and time to bid farewell to our home away from home.

ms Zaandam, Holland America Line

Life on a cruise ship is definitely something I could get used to. Apart from the 24-hour-a-day food, which is to die for (and the reason I will be eating next to nothing for the next few weeks), and the variety of activities – lounges, games, pools, entertainers (some fabulously entertaining, like the comic magician and Dale the piano man, and some cheesily sparkly and way, WAY over the top – picture “On My Own” from Les Mis sung by a girl in a glittery gown with a chorus of back up dancers {on my own, huh?}, also in glittery garb. And waving arms. And feathers. Yeah, it was that bad), gym, and spa (which I unfortunately could not afford to visit) – the crew really know how to make you feel at home. Or not at home, because at my house there is certainly no one else who makes the bed each morning, tidies up my room, seats me at the table each evening and places the napkin on my lap for me, anticipates what beverage I would most enjoy, leaves chocolate on my bed, memorizes the faces and names of my entire party, and, last, but by far not least, leaves these entertaining little guys for me each evening:

my personal favorite

We were blessed with a stateroom steward named Anom, who made our day each time he smiled at one of us, called us by name, and asked how we were doing, and two fabulous servers in the dining room named Shandy and Ariana, who really knew how to make us feel special each and every night. Plus the other fabulous crew members, even including Cruise Director Michael, who we lovingly nicknamed “Guy Smiley”, and whose announcements of “today’s fabulous entertainment aboard the ms Zaandam” always ended with “see you out...and about!”

And did you know cruising is not only a relaxing experience, but also an educational one? For instance, you learn that your loved ones look fabulous in orange:

Also, that you can, in fact, see Russia from your house (or cruise ship):

Okay, not really. We just couldn’t resist. But we did learn that while totem poles may tell a story, some stories might just be better left untold:

Unfortunately, like all good things, the cruise came to an end, and since there was no hope of stowing away unnoticed anywhere aboard the ship, Friday morning we disembarked back in Seattle. After bidding farewell to Chris’s family the two of us took a cab to our hotel near downtown. During our two days in Seattle we must have walked at least 10 miles: through the fascinating SAM Sculpture Garden, across the Seattle Center two or three times, all over Pike Place Market and the surrounding areas, into the heart of downtown and back out, and around the a single block several times in search of a restaurant that appealed to us after walking all that way (note for future reference: the big yellow building with huge letters spelling “Mediterranean” running down the side is not a place to eat, but, in fact, an apartment building. Bummer.) We settled on a yummy Indian restaurant called Roti where we enjoyed a pomegranate chicken curry. Just in case anyone wondered.

"Eagle" and the Space Needle

By the time we were in Seattle, we were tired of taking pictures, so this is pretty much it. And we were ready to see our girls again.

Check out the homecoming they gave us:

do the Hula!

Apparently they had been planning a luau all week long, with decorations, dancing, and a Hawaiian-themed meal. I do have to say, I think their entertainment was far superior to the “Zaandam Singers & Dancers” and all their sparkly smiles.

It’s good to be home.

Only 49 days until our next vacation!


  1. I was totally hoping you would make a Sarah Palin/Russia reference! Gorgeous pictures and wonderful stories!
    Can't wait to see you in ONE WEEK!!!!!!!

  2. Love your Alaskan Cruise blog post & pictures! So glad you could go...and so glad I could have fun with the girls! --Love, Mom/Grandma

  3. Please tell me that Ellie isn't wearing any pants in that picture. I like your summary of the trip. Nice job!

  4. No pants. It's her swimsuit - you know, for that hula girl effect.

    Oh, and Lori, if you read the comments, I forgot to mention that we didn't see Northern Lights. I would have loved to, but it was overcast pretty much the whole time. Maybe next time, because I will go back!

  5. Oh my gosh this looks incredible, and I haven't even read hardly any of it yet. There's a lot to take in here. I had no idea.

  6. Awesome, awesome, awesome!! I'm so jealous. And it did make me want to book a cruise to Alaska.

  7. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous! Jealous, jealous, jealous!


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