Cruising Alaska on the Island Princess (Sept 7-14)

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Island Princess – Princess Cruises

On our most recent trip we went on a cruise to Alaska, and then spent a few days in Vancouver.

I must say that this trip was one of the best holidays in my life (it didn’t beat my 30th birthday extravaganza or honeymoon, but I’d say it would make my top 3).

Below was our 7 night Princess Island cruise itinerary.

09-07-2016
Departs 08:30PM
ANCHORAGE (WHITTIER), ALASKA

09-08-2016
03:00PM-08:00PM
HUBBARD GLACIER, ALASKA

09-09-2016
09:15AM-07:30PM
GLACIER BAY NATIONAL PARK, ALASKA

09-10-2016
07:00AM-08:30PM
SKAGWAY, ALASKA

09-11-2016
06:30AM-04:00PM
JUNEAU, ALASKA

09-12-2016
10:00AM-06:00PM
KETCHIKAN, ALASKA

09-13-2016
AT SEA

09-14-2016
Arrive 07:30AM
VANCOUVER, B.C. CANADA.

Tuesday – 6 September
After I organized a live-in nanny for Ava (well… it was actually my neighbor’s nanny – I just asked if she could sleep at our place for the 11 nights), we set off on our flight from JFK to Seattle, connecting to Anchorage, Alaska.

Our Delta flight was on time leaving JFK but we were delayed for three hours in Seattle because there was a beeping sound on the plane that they couldn’t stop beeping.  We were treated to snacks in the airport while Delta figured out what to do with us. In the end, they found another plane to pop us onto and we continued our way to Anchorage.

We landed approx. 8:30PM. It wasn’t until 9:30PM that we got to our motel and headed out for dinner. I had made a reservation for the Glacier Brew House but due to our delayed flight, we missed the 7:00PM booking. We still went there and ate at the bar. Gambit was on meds to overcome his cold so wasn’t able to have any alcohol. It was a sad day.

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Glacier Brewhouse

It was a long day for all of us because by the time we laid our heads down, we’d been up for almost 20 hours.

Accommodation: Anchorage Lofts Hotel which changed over to the Aviator Hotel Anchorage by the time we stayed.  It cost $65 for the night which was perfect for us as we just needed a place to rest our heads and have a shower. However, if we had stayed any longer I would’ve preferred a place that wasn’t so eerie.

Wednesday – 7 September

This was another travel day for us as we had to get from Anchorage to Whittier port to embark our cruise.

We had breakfast at Biscuit Betties. The American biscuit is a rude surprise for any Brit or Aussie because it actually is more like a scone. But having lived in the US for 18 months, we knew what we were in for.

The biscuits (aka scones) were soft, fluffy and a bit soggy. This may sound disgusting but it wasn’t! I had my biscuit with egg and cheese. Gambit had his with egg, cheese, and bacon.

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Inside of Biscuit Betties
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Our breakfast biscuits

I had booked us on the Princess transfer only a week before departure because I couldn’t figure out an affordable and non-complicated way to get from Anchorage to Whittier.  The alternative trips I could find was to either catch the train (which provided a beautiful scenic route but was slower and more expensive than the transfer), or hire a car.

The transfer cost $54, took under 2 hours and included the trip from Anchorage to Whittier, and having our luggage delivered to our cabin room.  The latter was great – we said goodbye to our luggage in Anchorage and didn’t see it until late that evening in our cabin!

The transfer departed from the Egan Convention center which in Downtown Anchorage, and about a 10 min walk from our motel, and left at 1PM.

Our transfer was running ahead of schedule so the driver stopped by a salmon hatchery for us to see all the salmon that have returned to lay eggs and, well.. to die. We learnt that the life span of a salmon is approx. 4-5 years and that they return to the place they were born to lay their eggs, and to die. We saw many dead salmon and to be honest, if I didn’t know the lifecycle of the salmon, I would’ve been very hesitant to drink any tap water. My favorite salmon was one that had died, but its body was stuck on a branch so its carcass was decaying while looped around a branch.

The coach also went through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel (often referred to simply as the Whittier Tunnel), which is a multi-use highway and railroad tunnel that passes under Maynard Mountain. At 13,300 ft (4,100 m), it is the second-longest highway tunnel and longest combined rail and highway tunnel in North America.

Click on the below image to see our trip on the coach that went through the tunnel (in fast forward).

We arrived at the Whittier port around 2:30PM and walked from the coach to the check in counter to onboard the ship, the Island Princess cruise ship.

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View of Whittier port from the Island Princess ship
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View of Whittier port from the Island Princess ship
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View of Whittier port from the Island Princess ship

We didn’t set sail until 8:30PM but by that time Gambit and I had discovered the main dining room, buffet, and other amenities which we didn’t really use (eg spa, pools, and hot tubs).

I did find my favorite slot machine on board, however – Kitty Glitter! I don’t usually play slots but this machine was one I played on the cruise for our honeymoon.

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Kitty Glitter

Thursday – 8 September

The first day was a sea day. We cruised past one of the Big Birds of the glacier world – the Hubbard Glacier.

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Hubbard Glacier

The Hubbard Glacier is North America’s largest tidewater glacier. It’s over 122km long, over 11km wide, and over 180m tall at its terminal face (106m exposed above waterline, and 76m below). The ice at the terminal face is approximately 450 years old. The glacier was named in 1890 for Gardiner Hubbard, the first president of the National Geographic Society.

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Hubbard Glacier

It was an impressive sight to witness and I couldn’t believe how blue parts of the glacier was. It honestly took my breath away.

The highlight of the day was seeing Hubbard Glacier.

Oh, and this rainbow.

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Rainbow time


Friday – 9 September

The second day was another day at sea. We sailed through the Glacier National Park and saw several glaciers including the Margerie Glacier (by far my most favorite glacier out all the ones we saw).  And because we sailed with Princess cruises, they were one of the few cruise lines which have a permit to enter the Glacier National Park.

Click on the below image to see the Margerie Glacier. I was able to record one of the calvings.

We also saw the Lamplugh and Reid Glacier.

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Lamplugh Glacier
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Lamplugh Glacier
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Reid Glacier
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Margarie Glacier
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Margarie Glacier

The highlight of the day was going to Glacier National Park and seeing all the glacier calvings and Margerie Glacier.

Saturday – 10 September

We docked in Skagway, Alaska, at 7AM and were due to depart at 8:30PM.

We booked a tour through Princess to do gold panning, seeing the sled dogs and traveling on the scenic White Pass rail train. We booked online and in advance, so the tour cost about $200 per person. This was one of the more expensive tours we’ve ever booked on a cruise but it was certainly not the most expensive one available, especially on this cruise since you could go bear watching or flying in a scenic plane for over $500 each.

The advantage of sailing at the end of season (Alaska cruise season, that is), is that the cruise was not to full capacity and therefore the tours were not absolutely packed. There were only nice people in our group, and Gambit and I lowered the average age by 10-15 years.

Gold panning: to be honest, this was not the part of the tour I had much interest in but as this was the only tour that included the dogs and the train – we found ourselves standing in the Klondike Gold Fields, watching a guy dressed and acting like a hobo (I think he was the owner) explain to us the history and how to pan for gold. We did find $13.20 USD worth of gold which we now have in a plastic canister.

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Gold Dredge Tour – Skagway

Dogs: The Gold Rush Sled Dogs was joined to the gold fields. We were greeted by a lady who explained the background of mushing. Then we met someone who competed in the Iditarod before seeing an example of dry mushing and cuddling some eight week old puppies.

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Learning about the Iditarod

Apparently husky breed dogs no longer are used for mushing despite what I thought. All the dogs we met were all mixed breed dogs. In addition, the treatment described by the musher on what he did and does for the dogs sounded very caring.

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A sled dog – this one was so placid until it was hooked up to the sled! Watch the video to see how excited it got.

However, I found it difficult to see the similarities between a working dog on a farm to round up cattle, and a working dog that was mushing.

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Sled dogs all set up for a demo

The Iditarod is a dog sled race that takes place every March in Alaska. The race is over 1850km long, starting from Anchorage to Nome. It can take 9-15 days to complete the race and besides the rider, there can be up to 21 dogs but there needs to be 6 on the towline to finish the race.

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Puppy time!!!
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The puppy we held
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Gambit snatching the puppy from me for a cuddle

The race itself sounded very difficult and enduring, the musher and the dogs on the race trail, sleeping and eating out in the cold.  However, I read that at least one dog dies each race. I am still undecided on where I stand with this, and feel I need to do a bit more research on it first.

Click on the video below to watch the sled dogs getting ready to give us a demonstration.

Lastly, the train trip: White Pass rail train up to the White Pass Summit. I don’t know why I expected to see bountiful of wildlife (eg brown bears trying to climb into our carriage, bald eagles swooping past our windows, or even a pesky squirrel stow away) but I saw some maybe five birds and two butterflies. However, the view going up the summit was beautiful and it was a lovely way to spend a few hours seeing Skagway.  Plus we were blessed with amazing sunny weather.

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White Pass & Yukon Route
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All aboard the White Pass Summit train
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View of a bridge from the train
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White Pass
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View from the train
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The front of our train (we were in the last carriage)

Once we finished the train ride, we were dropped off at the depot which was in Skagway town and we walked around for a little bit.  There is a little bit going on in Skagway but we just headed to the Skagway Brewing Company, the fudge store, the grocery store, and back to the ship. The town is set up old country western style which was quite cute.

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Skagway
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View down the main street of Skagway

Gambit enjoyed the Spruce Tip Blonde Ale at the Skagway Brewing Co. Our tour guide said that the spruce tip provided high amounts of Vit C so Gambit justified that since he was at the back end of a cold, the Vit C boost would be beneficial to him….

The highlight of the day was cuddling the puppy.

Sunday – 11 September

We docked into Juneau, Alaska, at 6:30AM.

We booked another tour through Princess to visit the Mendenhall Glacier. The tour cost $40.46 and included a relatively short coach ride from the port to the Glacier.

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Mendenhall Glacier
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Mendenhall Glacier
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Mendenhall Glacier

I personally think we got our money’s worth on this tour.  I got to see two porcupines, three red squirrels, two bald eagles, and a mother bear walking with her three cubs.

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Black bears in Mendenhall Valley
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Porcupine in the tree
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Mother bear and her cubs
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Mother bear and her cubs

Click the below image to see the bears.

Since we had booked the 9AM tour (luckily we did as the bears apparently weren’t out and about in the afternoon tour) and was back in Juneau town by 11:30AM. There’s not much to say about Juneau. It wasn’t very appealing and we basically just walked up the street, and back down again.

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Juneau Visitor Center

 

The highlight of the day was seeing the bears.

Monday – 12 September

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Eagle wood carving

We docked into Ketchikan, Alaska, at 10AM and because we had not booked a tour we had a late start and planned to go walk around the town for a couple of hours.

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Ketchikan welcome sign

I was quite impressed with Ketchikan – I imagined it to be a smaller Juneau but it was actually quite a developed port, with many many shops, lots of streets to walk along and the beautiful sunny day helped our holiday moods.

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View down the street. To the left was the port, to the right were the shops
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Marina
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Creek Street shops
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An assortment of animal skin rugs you can buy. TR & TL: wolf BR: wolverine BL: bobcat / lynx

 

We walked around Downtown and up to Creek street to see some more dead and dying salmon, and came across some seals/sea lions (I can never really tell them apart from far away).

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Creek Street

Click on the below image to see a salmon we suspect was dying… with a seagull swimming close by.

The highlight of the day was definitely seeing the seal/sea lions.

Tuesday – 13 September

This was our last day at sea and Gambit and I took it easy – very easy. We basically slept in, ate, took in some scenery, ate, watched tv or a movie, ate, napped, ate, went to the show, and slept.

The highlight of the day was seeing some whales from far, far, far, far away from the deck of the ship.

Wednesday – 14 September

We docked into Vancouver at 7:30AM but didn’t get off the ship until 9:30AM since we didn’t have anywhere to rush off to.

The moment I set foot onto land and looked around, I fell in love with Vancouver. I will write about our stay in Vancouver in more details in another post.

In summary, I loved our Alaska cruise (apart from the actual cruise ship we were on – I will post more about that at a later stage) and would recommend it to anyone interested. If you do select a cruise, I would highly recommend that you take one that goes through the Glacier National Park because the main reason for going to Alaska is really to see these natural creations… before they have all retreated.

We were on one of the last Alaska cruises for the season. I think there were benefits of traveling at the end of the season (less crowds, cheaper, different foliage and animals, and the chance to see the Northern Lights – which a few couples on the cruise said they got to see).

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