Leaving Home—On Foot
We left home at 4:30 a.m. on Friday, carrying all our luggage, and walked to the bus stop near our home. I was a bit worried because I had somehow strained my lower back the Monday before and it had gotten worse, not better so any time standing or sitting my back tightened up and I walked all bent over. On the move it wasn’t too bad.
We rode the bus to the Clinton ferry terminal, took the ferry to Mulkiteo and walked to the train station. The train dropped us at King Station in Seattle at about 7:30 a.m. We killed about an hour there, then took light rail to down town. Total cost for the trip: $6.00 a person.
Alice had packed a light breakfast for us which we ate on the train. Once downtown, we went to the indoor mall and looked around for a while. Then we retired to the food court as Sean was hungry. McDonald’s was still selling breakfast, so we waited a while and Sean got his quarter pounder meal. Alice and I had more sensible lunches (noodles for Alice and a caesar salad for me).
Checking In—Line Up!
It had started raining as we began our final trek to the cruise terminal, a couple of blocks north of Pike Place Market. When we arrived at Pier 66, the check-in process had already begun and we joined the line. We got our luggage checked and got ourselves checked in and on the boat (Celebrity Infinity) by 2:30 p.m. Check-in involves the typical metal-detector (place your hand-carried luggage and everything in your pockets on the conveyer and step through here), but what I didn’t realize was that we would repeat the procedure aboard ship every time we returned from going ashore.
We had an inside stateroom which was (barely) large enough for the three of us. A queen-size bed for Alice and me, and a small loveseat/sofabed for Sean. His legs kind of hung off the edge if he stretched out. Our room had a modern television, an adequate bathroom, and sufficient storage.
After getting stowed away, and attending the mandatory “what to do if the boat sinks” lecture, we went exploring. The only place open for food at the time was the hamburger/hotdog place near the pool. Since our dinner seating was 8:30 p.m., we decided to have a tide-me-over, which for Sean meant a hamburger and a hotdog with fries.
The boat was scheduled to depart at 4 p.m. but we didn’t actually leave the dock until 5 p.m. because one of the supply trucks broke down. The rain continued and a fog moved in, so we were unable to see Whidbey Island as we passed. That set kind of a pattern for much of the trip; morning and evening fog with some rain during the day. Sunshine was very rare.
“Poke me, my back hurts!”
Our first full day (Saturday) was at sea. After breakfast, we looked around the ship and attended a program by the on-board naturalist. We tried to catch as many of his programs as possible because he was excellent. Afterwards Alice and I attended an acupuncture talk that focused on, guess what? Lower back pain. Since pain killers weren’t helping and my back wasn’t getting any better, we decided to sign up for an appointment that afternoon. I had never had acupuncture before and was skeptical and kind of nervous. But, while expensive, it did work and I was able to stand upright and move without much pain. While my back still hurt, it no longer limited my range of movement and I no longer yelled when turning over in bed.
We tried to make most of the entertainment, all of which as far as I could see, was family friendly. The comedian was super funny, the magician excellent, and the Broadway-type shows very good.
Our first stop was Ketchikan, one of the few places we actually had some sunshine, fleeting though it was. We hadn’t signed up for any excursions there so we got off the boat and just looked around the tourist shops near the port. There were two other cruise ships docked there as well (they can handle four), so the town was rather full.
After buying some souvenirs—fudge and Sean bought two giant-sized jaw breakers—we walked around town until it started to rain.
A View of downtown Ketchikan from the top deck of our ship.
A couple of images of downtown Ketchikan, our first stop.
Ketchikan Banner Sign.
Up Early for Icebergs!
We were up early the next morning as we were entering the Tracy Arm Fjord and the Sawyer Glacier. We were actually able to get relatively close to the glacier, we were told, which was unusual. The scenery was awesome, which icebergs in the water all around us (some with harbor seals), imposing mountains wrapped in fog, with dozens of waterfalls. One or two of the icebergs were the rare iridescent blue color.
While it was a bit cold, we got no rain. After we left Tracy Arm, Alice and I took advantage of the mineral pool and hot tub and soaked ourselves for a while. Due to the weather, few people other than a few brave kids used the outdoor pool.
Entering Tracy Arm. Note the bright blue iceberg.
Foggy, but no rain.
The Sawyer Glacier.
This is a narrow passage for a cruise ship. Someone said we even scraped bottom at one point, getting close to the glacier.
A small boat joins us in the Tracy Arm.
There were literally hundreds of small waterfalls descending from these magnificent mountains.
We saw dozens of these small waterfalls.
The scenery was awesome!
A small stand of trees shrouded in fog.
Take a look at these stunning icebergs, art in motion.
Yes, it was really this blue. Something about old, compressed ice losing oxygen turns the ice blue. Just like us, I guess.
Some of the icebergs even had harbor seals on them.
Juneau We Are Almost Late?
That afternoon we pulled into Juneau. We were the fourth ship and had no place to dock. We got to shore on the ship’s tenders. Our arrival time was scheduled for 2:30 and we had an excursion scheduled for 3:30 which would have worked fine if we had been able to simply walk off the ship. Luckily we actually got there about 1:30. We had gotten our excursion through the web site were we purchased the cruise. The excursions purchased from the ship were more expensive but had an added bonus: If the ship was late, the tour would wait, and if the tour was late getting back, the ship would wait. There was some problem with the tenders and we didn’t get on one until 3:15. By the time we got to the pier and off the tender it was just 3:30 and we had quite a walk to meet our bus. We made it, barely, the last three on the bus.
Unlike the cruise-bought tours which used full-size buses, we were able to tour Juneau as well as a small part of Douglas Island and West Juneau. Then it was off to the Mendenhall Glacier. There was a huge waterfall off to one side of the glacier, and a trail to hike out to it, but we weren’t there long enough for that, so we just hiked out to the glacier viewpoint down from the visitor center. After returning to town, we went to the public library and checked e-mail (cost of Internet access on the ship was prohibitively expensive).
It was an interesting day. We heard later that some of the cruise-bought tours had actually been cancelled because they couldn’t get all the people off the boat in time. So we were lucky.
Juneau didn’t impress me as a place I’d like to visit on a regular basis. It has no roads to the outside; the only way in is by boat or plane. It is not a large city, with about 32,000 people very spread out. The “downtown” area is mostly tourism and in the winter it basically shuts down.
View of Juneau with another cruise ship in port. There were actually four cruise ships there that day.
Visiting the Mendenhall Glacier…
This glacier has been receding about 100 feet per year.
Notice the tiny people at the base of this waterfall, located near the Mendenhall Glacier.
Colder Than A Cast-Iron Commode in the Klondike
The next morning we arrived at Skagway, gateway to the Klondike gold rush. Since the gold was in Canada, gold-seeking Americans arriving in Skagway had to haul their stuff up and over White Pass. The Canadian government required they bring one ton of supplies to see them through the winter, which meant the gold prospectors had to make many trips up the pass. Sometimes thieves would steal a stash and sell it to other miners.
We took a bus trip tour of Skagway (which is largely devoted to the tourist trade) and then up to White Pass into the Klondike. On the way up, the driver stopped the bus on the road so we could photograph a bear eating vegetation alongside the road. We actually entered Canada for a short time and got another view of sunshine along with incredible vistas. Sean and I (among a few other people) won a prize for using the very un-serviced outhouses at the top of the pass.
Back in Skagway, we went to the town cemetery and a hike up to a waterfall. After going back to the ship and having lunch, Alice and I walked to town to look in the shops and a museum. The wind started picking up and on our way back, we almost got blown off the pier.
A view of downtown Skagway. Notice our cruise ship in the distance.
We saw a bear!
A stop in the Klondike where people build these good-luck rock people. There are acres of them.
A great view from the Klondike.
Woozy and Gluttony
After leaving Skagway, we had two days at sea. The first one was a little rough and all three of us had some motion sickness. Sean and I got better and went to the buffet brunch where we ate ourselves silly. Alice spent much of the day in bed and ordered room service.
The food was pretty much awesome. There were three restaurants on the ship that charged an additional fee to eat there, a couple of them $40 a person. We weren’t about to do that, so can’t comment on the quality of the food (nor did we eat in any of the towns when we had food we’d already paid for on the ship). The main restaurant was uniformly excellent and most of us, most of the time, ordered multiples of something (soup and salad, two entrees, or two desserts, and sometimes, especially for Sean, all three). I liked the fact that the right side of the menu changed each night, but the left side stayed the same (with staples like chicken, salmon, and steak). So we always had a choice of about six or seven appetizers, six or seven soup/salad, six or seven main courses, and the same for desserts.
The other main restaurant was more of a cafe-style where you got in line to get your food. We mostly ate breakfast and lunch there. Sean used room service a couple of times because he could play games on his iPod, watch TV and stuff himself.
One of the classes we attended was “How to Cook the Perfect Steak” and when we got home Alice tried it and it worked. The steak she cooked was one of the best I’d ever eaten.
Our last stop was Victoria, B.C. but since we’d spent a week there in April, we stayed on the boat. We docked at 6 p.m. so the first dinner seating was moved up an hour to 5 p.m. and our seating a half-hour to 8 p.m. This meant that when we went to dinner, almost everyone else was in Victoria. Including us, there were three groups on our side of the restaurant. We had great service that night!
Fellow shipmates enjoying Tracy Arm.
Home and Final Thoughts
The next morning we were back in Seattle. Getting off the ship was a fairly painless process. Our original plan was to kill time until the 3:30 train left King Station, dropped us at Mukilteo, onto the ferry, then catch a bus home, reversing what we had done the previous Friday. However, we were all anxious to get home so we decided to splurge. With a little help from our daughter in Louisiana, who looked up the phone number for Whidbey-SeaTac Shuttle, we made reservations to be picked up at 11 a.m. (the shuttle makes cruise terminal runs Fri-Sun), so we ended up getting home at 1:30 instead of around 7 p.m.
We had a great time. The service was excellent. I didn’t like the idea of paying almost $50 for a soda package, so twice a day I got my fizz fix from our stateroom fridge at $2.00 a can. Everything you do on the ship that costs money also costs a gratuity (even the cost of the acupuncture treatment). The standard gratuity for your restaurant server (and whoever else gets some of it) and room steward is automatically added to your bill on a daily basis unless you choose to adjust it.
Smoking is allowed on the ship, but only in specific areas. Unfortunately, some of those areas are where everybody else has to walk to get from one end of the boat to the other. Although the ship was (we were told) full, there were only a few times when we felt there were too many people. Usually sufficient activities were available to handle everyone.
Would we go again? Absolutely, although we’d wish for better weather.
A view of cruise ships docked at Skagway.