cruise

Alaska Adventures: A quick stop in Victoria

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Our last day on the cruise ship started off as another Sea Day, making our way back down towards Seattle – for the most part.  At 7pm we made an evening stop in Victoria, British Columbia in Canada.  We actually only had less than 5 hours to spend on land, and because our time was so brief, we decided to do the cruise-sanctioned excursion to guarantee we’d get back in time. The trip we took was to Butchart Gardens (pronounced “Butch-art”), which was a botanical garden that featured fireworks.  This 100-year-old gardens used to be a limestone quarry that was running dry, when the owner’s wife started planting flowers to make it look better. The gardens came about from this.

There were a lot of beautiful flowers on display, and while these can be seen in other places, there were a few of note that caught my eye.

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While the flowers were all really beautiful, the special attraction was the fireworks that they feature on Saturday nights.  From what we were told, the pyro-technicians at Disney consulted on the design of this fireworks show.  These fireworks were not only impressive, but arguably bests any that I’ve ever seen – including those at Disney World.  Have you ever seen the fountains at Bellagio in Las Vegas?  Imagine that water show, but instead of water, they used fireworks – this is what was featured at Butchart Gardens. The opening scene hit a little close to home for those of us in Colorado:

 

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While the photos depict this show as a normal fireworks exhibition, check out these videos below to see how they used pyro-technics to accomplish what Bellagio does with the fountains.

My personal favorite was during “Begin the Beguine” (a song I play in jazz band, which I didn’t realize had words), and how they used fireworks to depict a waterfall.

After a the fireworks, we were taken on a brief tour of downtown Victoria, before heading back to our cruise ship. We stood on this balcony to watch the ship leave port at midnight.

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From the brief time we spent in Victoria, I loved our time there – so much that I wish we would have spent the day there and done a four-hour stop in Skagway.  I’m sure this wouldn’t be practical, being only 80 miles from Seattle.  However, I’d definitely like to spend a long weekend in Victoria sometime in the future.

We went to bed right after the ship left port, awakening to our arrival in Seattle.  I’m currently writing this last post from our trip as we wait to board our plane to Denver.  After being on the road for three weeks, along with the tragic news regarding Bethany’s brother, we are definitely ready to be home.

Alaska Adventure: Day At Sea

After our three stops in Alaska, we set sail for our voyage home.  We are now spending the next 1 & 1/2 days at sea, stopping in Victoria, B.C. before we arrive back in Seattle on Sunday.  Most of our day on Friday was spent relaxing, but there were a few highlights to share: the first of which being the Galley tour.  The show started in the theater with the Executive Chef and the Maître d’, who hosted a cooking show where they prepared four different dishes.  Normally I’m not a big fan of cooking shows, but these guys had a great chemistry and kept us entertained. I now have some culinary tricks that I’ll be trying at home.

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After the show we were taken on a tour of one of the ship’s seven Galleys.  With food being such a paramount part of the cruise experience, it was impressive to see how vast these kitchens are, and just how much work goes onto cook all of our meals.  There were some interesting figures that we were given on the tour:

Each Day:

  • 1,700 amount of fish are cooked
  • 1,400lbs. of chicken are used
  • 1,600 salads are made
  • 13 gallons of mayonnaise are used
  • 1,500lbs of flour are used in the bakery
  • 470 gallons of coffee are consumed
  • 70,000 dishes are washed

It’s crazy to see just how much effort goes behind feeding everybody on the ship – then to think how much of that is wasted when people send stuff back.

Afterward they took us through one of their seven Galleys for a walk through tour.  It was amazing seeing the vastness of the kitchen and all of the prep stations.  I found the stove range most intriguing.

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Throughout the Galley tour they had various fruit carvings and ice an ice sculpture that we going to be on display during dinner, which also made for some interesting pictures.

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The rest of the day was spent resting and relaxing, which included eating more meals, working out, and some time in the hot tub.  We also managed to catch an impressive “British Invasion” show, a musical act paying tribute to all of the British artists over the last 60 years.  We ended the night with a New Years-style balloon drop in the atrium.

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While these days at sea don’t make for interesting blogging material, we definitely have appreciated the forced relaxation that these days offer.  Sometimes it’s nice to not have things to go explore, having nothing better to do than take a nap!

Next Up: A brief stop in Victoria, B.C.

Alaska Adventures: Skagway

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Our third stop and last Alaskan stop on this cruise is Skagway: an old mining town that was prevalent during the Gold Rush days. Today it’s a very quant small town with a year-round population of less than 1,000.  It’s an interesting place that tries to balance trying to preserve it’s history but also trying to make money on the travelers that pass by during the summer months.  The town itself has been well-preserved, with most of the wood buildings and sidewalks still standing today and are protected by the National Parks Service.  The main drag, Broadway, is filled with various shops that feature historical artifacts, Alaskan heritage goods, as well as the common tourist gifts we’ve found in the other port cities.

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We managed to cover the shops in about two hours and got a few things along the way.  There were a few buildings of interest, including the Red Onion Saloon, which used to be – you guessed it – a brothel.  Today it’s part museum, part bar and part mock-brothel with the waitresses all wearing outfits from that area.  We took a shuttle to the Gold Rush Brewery, which featured Alaskan beer and these awesome Salmon Sliders.  Like the Red Dog, you could break out a Sharpie and leave your mark on the restaurant, which we did to honor Bethany’s brother Rocky.

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I’m going to be honest here: as quant and historical as this town was, it’s really no different than the historical mountain towns that are near us in Colorado.  We may be taking history for granted, and if I had a bigger appreciation for historical architecture I may say differently, but I’m not sure if we appreciated Skagway as much as people who don’t live in Colorado. We really only snapped a dozen pictures or so, and two of them were of the Disney cruise boat that sailed in next to us.

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One thing that was really cool: the area where the cruise ship docks.  Over the years, each one of the different ships that docked in Skagway left their mark on the nearby rocks, painting the rocks with their ships name, logo, the year they first arrived, as well as who their captain was at the time.  This extended hundreds of feet down the pier and was fascinating to see.  You have the wonder how the different artists made it to those points on the rocks to make their mark – some of those paintings were pretty high up.

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We set sail from Skagway at 5pm and enjoyed a very good dinner before turning in early. I think we were still recovering a bit from our early morning watching Tracy Arm.  We are scheduled to spend the next two days at sea before reaching Victoria, BC on Saturday night.

Alaska Adventure: Capitals & Glaciers, oh my!

Our Wednesday started extremely early when our alarm went off at 5:45am to go see Tracy Arm. Tracy Arm is a passage located about 50 miles south of Juneau, and our ship was scheduled to go in and out of it at 6am.  This passage was extremely thin and featured some rather striking views of coastal mountains, waterfalls, floating ice and the biggest treat at the end: Sawyer’s Glacier.

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It was crazy seeing the chunks of ice that sailed by the ship, and just how close some of these came.

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We finally got in sight of Sawyer’s Glacier, but due to the level of ice that blocked the passage, our ship was forced to stop with the glacier still a ways away.  To give everyone a view, the ship did a full spin, then made it’s way back out of the passage.

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Once we turned around at the glacier it was about 8:30am, so we headed back to bed for a few hours before we would arrive in Juneau at noon.

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We were the fourth ship to pull into Juneau at noon. The year-round population of the capital is at about 35,000, so with 4 cruise ships in that day, we increased the population by at least 25%.   Juneau is also the only state capital that cannot be reached by car.  Apparently every road in Juneau eventually has an end, and as a result virtually every good that has reached the city has been barged in.

After arriving, Bethany and I took the walk into town and boarded the shuttle to the Mendenhall Glacier, which is the most-visited glacier in the world.  The glacier observatory had a trail that brought us within a 1/2 mile of the glacier, right next to a beautiful waterfall pouring into Mendenhall Lake.

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This was definitely worth the trip. The hike to the falls was only a mile and pretty easy, with the visual payoff being huge.  It’s crazy to think that the Glacier is still so far away, as you can see in the picture, the magnitude of the glacier made it feel a lot closer.

After the bus ride back into town, we stopped back into the Red Dog Saloon, an intricate watering hole that has sawdust all over the floor and one of Wyatt Earp’s guns on the wall.

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There was live music, even on a Wednesday afternoon.  Our first singer was a 74-year-old piano player who played a trumpet solo with his right hand while his left hand stayed on the keyboards.  He also was dishing up crude jokes and sharp-witted insults.  Somehow the guitar player following him up also kept up and offered a very entertaining atmosphere.  After knocking back a few drinks at Red Dog, we worked up the courage to try a “Dark Fart”, an incredibly awesome shot that is one part Crown, one part Bailey’s, one part Kailua.

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You could spend hours just looking at all the stuff they had on the walls and ceilings, along with an awesome sign that reads: “If our food, drinks and service aren’t up to your standards, please lower your standards!”

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Our short time in Juneau came to an end as we walked back to our ship and departed later that evening. Despite only having time to do two things, Juneau definitely showed us a great time!

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As we previously mentioned, the death of Bethany’s brother Rocky has been weighing heavily on our hearts.  During our travels we have been looking for opportunities to honor him and reflect on his life.  Our two stops in Juneau gave us two opportunities to do so.

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Next Up: Skagway.

Alaska Adventures: Ketchikan and Whale Watching

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After a 1 & 1/2 days at sea, we arrived at our first stop: Ketchikan. Ketchikan calls itself “Alaska’s First City” – not because it’s the first city established in Alaska, but because it’s the first stop for many cruise ships along the Inside Passage.  This is a quant town with a population of 14,000, so on a day like ours where there are three ships in port, the population can double.  We were greeted with weather that was overcast, but nice and cool with no rain.  For the two of us who have experienced a hot summer in Colorado, this was a welcome change.  This was the view that greeted us from Jim & Pam’s balcony window:

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Like many of these port cities, a significant part of Ketchikan’s history includes their Red Light District.  In this case, it was Creek Street, a boardwalk passage by the river that contained many brothels.  What is surprising is that the district wasn’t shut down until 1954, and according to the signs along the street, many of the Madame’s lived in those houses until the 90’s.  Many of those houses are now shops and museums.

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Further up the boardwalk was the Salmon Ladder.  As the “Welcome” sign reads, Ketchikan is considered the Salmon capital of the world.  One of the coolest attractions is this ladder, which the salmon swim upward to lay their eggs before they die.  It was incredible watching these salmon fight their way up these rapids.  We staked out on the observation deck, with my finger on the camera, trying to capture the moment when the salmon would jump in the air.  Giving up, I decided to take a video to show off the rapids the salmon were trying to climb, when I was rewarded – keep you eyes peeled the last few seconds of this video.

Further up from this rapid, we saw the calmer waters where the salmon were either resting, spawning or dying. The cluster of dark in this photo before was a large group of salmon.

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At the top of the hill was the Totem Heritage Center, which houses various totem poles from the 19th century, retrieved from Indian villages.  As you may know, Totem Poles were used to convey stories or share family history. We were awe-struck with the level of craftsmanship used to carve these poles.

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They also had other artifacts from the Tsmishians as well, including these intricate masks.  We found the one with hair to be a little scary.

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Also as we were walking around town, we found supposedly the best pizza in town… at a Mexican restaurant??  We didn’t stop for lunch, but instead headed back to the ship.

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We departed Ketchikan in the mid-afternoon and made our way up to Juneau.  We had an early dinner that night so that we could get on the observation deck to go through Snow Pass, an area known to have waters favorable for whale-watching.  We were in luck and did encounter a few whale sightings, but only was able to catch quick glimpses of their fins while they came up for air.  The reason we didn’t see tail sightings is because the whales are essentially walking to their next destination, so they only have a need to briefly come up for air.  Those big tail sightings occur when they need to come up for a large breath, usually when they are going to feed or rushing to get something.  I’m still glad we got to see what we saw.

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The scenery was still breathtaking. In the second picture below you can see just how calm the water was by these islands.

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We spent the rest of the evening down in the Wheelhouse bar, a lounge with live music, taking in the breathtaking scenery from the warmth of indoors.

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Next Up: Glacier-watching and Juneau!