Recently, my wife and I joined three other couple friends for an Alaskan cruise.
We assembled at the Vancouver Canadian Palace Harbour to board our cruise ship. A uniformed porter immediately took care of our tagged luggage. We went through the US immigration and custom checks in a tent-like “building” rather speedily, in spite of the long queues as there were some 1,000 cruise passengers.
The cruise began meandering through what is called the Alaska Inner Passage, a complex labyrinth of fyords and bays. The cruising was smooth and steady; an earlier concern of seasickness quickly evaporated.
We went on the uppermost deck to soak in the beauties of nature unfolding before our eyes – snow-capped mountains, azure sky above us, the chilly breeze blowing gently at our faces and calm seawater streaming through below. It was soul soothing!
The cruise ship made calls at three ports. First was Ketchikan, a small scenic town with many colourfully painted houses on stilts facing the sea. The town is known for having the world’s oldest collection of totem poles and tribal heritage.
We eagerly joined an offshore excursion to the Totem Bight State Park and Heritage Centre where we got to see many totem poles of the tribes of Tinggit, Haida and Tsimshian and given a brief history of the culture.
Later, we were entertained to a “lumberjacks life show” where former lumberjacks demonstrated their skills in springboard chopping, buck sawing, axe throwing, log rolling and tree climbing.
The second port of call was Juneau, the capital of Alaska. Here we took a tramcar that was adorned with traditional Tinggit artwork up to Mount Roberts. The ride took five minutes; a native sang along while beating a tribal drum. The ride up was simply exhilarating. We had a panoramic view of the many mountains, water passages, islands and downtown Juneau.
Once at the top we were welcomed to the Mountain House. We watched an 18-minute award-winning film called Seeing Daylight, shown in the Chilkat Theater. There were impressive displays at Raven Eagle Gifts & Gallery, which included native art, hand-engraved silver jewellery and more. We also saw a native artist carving a totem pole.
Unfortunately, the Juneau Raptor Center was closed that day. We were told that we had therefore missed “meeting” a non-releasable American bald eagle. Well, in all tours, you tend to gain some and lose some!
Our next port of call was Skagway, a town of fewer than 1,000 residents, that still retains the flavour of the good old gold rush era.
For our offshore excursion, we opted for the “White Pass Scenic Railway Ride”, the most popular attraction in Skagway. It is a rail line that goes through rugged mountainous terrains and was built in the 19th century to ferry gold miners to their mine fields.
The fully restored railcars, pulled by vintage diesel locomotives, climbed nearly 914m over 32km of steep grades and around cliff hanging turns. The railcar driver-cum-narrator dutifully informed us and pointed out the key landmarks as the faithfull train puffed toward the White Pass Summit.
The panorama of mountains, glaciers, gorges, waterfalls, tunnels, trestles and historic sites viewed through our rail windows was simply breathtaking. Meanwhile, the driver enthuasistically recounted fascinating tales of the Gold Rush history.
Later, our ship was at the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve and was heading towards the College Fyord. For the next two days the ship cruised at a leisurely pace. It was an amazing part of our cruise as we saw snowcapped mountains and peaks, tidewater glaciers, valley glaciers, floating ice blocks, icebergs and ice pillars. It was almost like a trip into the ice ages.
We were all excited and many were seen going from one deck level to another to get a better view. Needless to say, cameras and phones were clicking away overtime.
No account on cruise is complete without a mention of the food on board. There was a lot of food for us to choose from and served all day long, too. We did not opt for the buffet option; instead we booked to have proper sit-down meals. We were served each dinner with different menu of appetiser, entree and desert. There were lobsters, Alakan crab legs, chicken and pork chops mutton and steak, fish and chips and plenty more. Simply sumptious and mouth watering.
On board the ship were also theatres, open-air hcinema, library, photo gallery, card room, casino, a Sudoku corner, gyms and spas, free ice cream and pizza outlet and of course the many duty-free shopping galleries.
Finally, we arrived at Whitier, our port to disembark. A coach took us to Anchorage International Airport where we flew Seattle, then onward home via Taipei in Taiwan.