Skagway

Sunday, 12 August:

Skagway marks the most northern point of Alaska’s Inside Passage and we arrived at Railroad Dock early this morning looking forward to seeing the birthplace of the Klondike gold rush. There was no shortage of jewellery shops with staff just waiting for us to arrive in town, all of them trying to entice us in with “special deals” on tanzanite. I resisted!

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I was more interested in looking at the restored storefronts and wooden sidewalks, which makes you feel that you’re stepping back in time. Skagway is now a restored gold rush town and the headquarters of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.

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We started off the day experiencing the legendary White Pass Trail of ’98 from a different perspective; travelling the Klondike Highway by coach over the White Pass Summit, into Canada’s Yukon and ending with a ride on board a vintage car of the historic White Pass & Yukon Railroad while our train agent recounted fascinating local legends.

The weather is noticeably cooler at 17 deg (c).  Also cloudy, so hope it doesn’t rain!

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While on board we had the opportunity to meet Aliy Zirkle who, together with her husband Allen Moore, has been involved with sled dogs in Alaska for over 20 years. She has raced the Iditarod every year since 2001 and is the first, and only woman to have won the Yukon Quest. We had lots of questions about long distance sled dog racing and she gave a very interesting and informative talk and took the time to walk through the train to talk to everyone individually.

The White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad is one of the precious few places in the world where you can take an authentic journey back in time, witnessing the engineering wonders of this railway and the same breathtaking scenery and rugged terrain that the gold seekers experienced during their race north to the gold fields over a century ago.

After our train trip, we jumped on the coach for the trip to Liarsville Gold Rush Trail Camp. Liarsville got its name when journalists, dispatched to the gold rush, went no further than this location and invented tall tales about how easy it was to find gold. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

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We had a delicious baked salmon lunch, all you could eat, a walk around the recreated tent city then moved on to the show tent with some very talented performers, singing and entertaining in a funny melodrama, not to be taken seriously! Then a lesson in gold panning, where everyone found a few flakes of gold in their pan if they did it right, and even a little baggie provided to take it home in. Our little bits of gold looked very small indeed by the time we bagged them. But it was fun, and we enjoyed it immensely.

To end our tour, we were dropped off in town at the famous (infamous, maybe?) Red Onion Saloon. This used to be a dance hall, saloon and bordello. We went upstairs for a champagne tour of the Brothel Museum conducted by one of the “madams” dressed in brothel attire, complete with money tucked into her dress.

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She was very entertaining, practically everything she said was a play on words, but all in (reasonably) good taste and she had us laughing as she explained the workings of the brothel.  It was fun, we learnt some history and saw two of the 10 small cribs (rooms) with the period furniture just as it might have been in the day.  Also a beautiful dress that was discovered under the floorboards.

Interesting to note that as a customer chose a girl, the bartender would take one of 10 dolls from behind the bar and lay it down.  Once the customer came downstairs, the bartender would sit the doll up and then everyone would know she was available again.

We didn’t have to be back onboard until 8.00pm, so there was plenty of time to explore the town and the ship was very conveniently located within walking distance.

Juneau

Saturday, 11 August:

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Island Princess

This morning by 8.00am we had moored at Juneau’s Franklin Dock.  Interesting to note that Juneau is the only state capital in the USA which has no road access.

 

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It was only a few minutes’ walk to the town, which made it very convenient to come and go from the ship during the day. One of Juneau’s top attraction is the Mount Roberts Tramway, conveniently situated right near the ship. Stunning views of the Chilkat Mountains, Douglas Island and downtown Juneau as we glided 1,800 feet up the side to the top of Mt Roberts.  So lucky with the weather once again, blue skies with temps in the low 20’s (c).

 

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After re grouping, we set out on an alpine nature trek which was a little precarious to negotiate, having a few areas of mud and large rocks on the trail and some parts were quite steep. Luckily, we were with a tour guide who did a good job guiding those of us (most of us) not used to hiking trails like this. Lots of fun though, we enjoyed every minute.

Back at the tramway entrance, we took the opportunity to relax at the Alpine Tea House and sample some Alaskan made products from the rainforest. Other attractions were the Mountain House, which displayed many fine crafts and artefacts and a continuous free movie on the history of the indigenous people.

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Bronze, weight 13,000 lbs (5,896kg), height 25 feet.

On our way back to town we stopped at a fountain featuring a humpback whale. I was in awe of its size considering that we had watched 12 of them bubble-hunting in a pod the day before.  When you see them from a distance in open water, you don’t fully appreciate how magnificent they truly are.

The rest of the morning was spent exploring the downtown area and, in the afternoon, I ventured out on my own to spend some money in the local quilt store!

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There is so much to do in Juneau; I counted over 50 ship excursions, surely a record number! Everything from private tours, to helicopter rides, dog sledding, whale watching, glacier viewing, zipline and much more.  Something for everyone.  Very nice town and lovely, friendly people.

Icy Strait Point

Friday, 10 August:

Yesterday, Thursday, was a relaxing sea day, as we cruised the waters of British Columbia and Queen Charlotte Sound, making our way into the open waters of the Gulf of Alaska.

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Today we arrived at Icy Strait Point located on Chichagof Island and headed out to search for brown bears and to do some whale watching.  We drove for about 30 minutes through the interior forests to the Spasski River, where we hoped to see some bears out feeding.  We walked the trails to three viewing platforms, but not a bear in sight.

We had better luck on the next part of our day out when we boarded a catamaran for Port Adolphus, which is one of Alaska’s premier whale-watching sites.

We found a pod of twelve whales “bubble net feeding” and we watched them do this for a long time.  It is a feeding method unique to humpback whales where one whale will dive beneath a school of fish and begin to exhale out of its blowhole to create bubbles.  More whales will start to blow bubbles while circling their prey.  They corral the fish into a tight circle by creating a net of bubbles which will surround the fish and stop them from escaping.  One whale will sound the call and then all the whales will swim to the surface with their mouths open to feed on the trapped fish.

 

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Seagulls take advantage of the abundance of fish coming up to the surface and we saw a large flock of gulls waiting for the bubbles to appear.  They would float on the water and suddenly take to the sky and circle over the area where the whales would appear.  Food for all!

We had a naturalist on board who was a fund of information about the whales behaviour, and she said it was the first time she had seen so many whales bubble net feeding at one time.  The whales completely ignored our boat, even swimming across the bow a couple of times as they searched for fish.

Before we left, the crew lowered  a hydrophone (an underwater microphone) into the water and we could clearly hear the whales communicating with each other.  How lucky we were to be able to see and hear these amazing and majestic creatures.  It was an experience we will never forget.

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Heading back to the ship at the end of the day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

North to Alaska

Wednesday, 8 August:

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Departing from Vancouver

After arriving back in Vancouver we were dropped off at the Terminal where we said goodbye to a few of our group.  Some were boarding a Holland America ship for a 7 day cruise, disembarking back in Vancouver and flying home.

The rest of us were boarding the Island Princess for a 7 day Voyage of the Glaciers cruise disembarking in Whittier, where we would fly back to Vancouver and then home.

The Island Princess is the smallest ship we have been on, with a maximum capacity of 2390 passengers and 810 crew.  Very nice ship and we were looking forward to getting on board.

Lucky for us, most of the passengers were new to cruising, so our Elite level enabled us to have priority boarding which made the process of getting on board very quick indeed.  We had all been booked into rooms with balconies, which we were looking forward to, however a surprise awaited us – Princess had upgraded us to a mini suite!  It was lovely having the extra space – and the bathroom even had a bath!

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Then we discovered that having the mini suite included “Club Class Dining” which entitled us to the use of a separate dining room –  or in this case, a separate entrance to the dining room for all meals and our own waiters for the entire cruise with no fixed dining times.

Normally, there wouldn’t be any delays for dining but being a smaller ship with fewer choices people were lining up, especially for dinner.  However, no queues for us – fantastic!

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons from Geese

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Canadian geese at Jasper Park Lodge

Here is a nice little story that our Canadian tour guide passed around to us during our tour.  She didn’t know where it came from, but after doing a bit of research since I came home, I discovered that the author’s name is Milton Olson.

It’s a charming life lesson which I enjoyed reading and I hope you do too…..

Next fall when you see geese heading south for the winter, flying along in “V” formation, think about what science has learned about why they fly that way.  As each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the bird immediately following it.  By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock can fly at least 72 percent further than if each bird flew on its own. 

Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it feels the resistance of trying to do it alone, and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of flying with the flock.  When the lead goose gets tired, he rotates back in the wing and another goose flies on the point.  The geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

Finally, when a goose weakens or is wounded and falls out of formation, two geese fall out and follow him down to help protect him.  They stay with him until he is either able to fly or until he is dead, and then they set out on their own or with another formation until they catch up with the group.

If we had the sense of a goose, we would stand by each other like that!!

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When I was walking around the lake, I came to the edge of the golf course and there was a flock of geese on the green.  The golfers were trying to gently herd them into the water, but every time they picked up their clubs, the very determined geese were already back standing on the grass.  After several unsuccessful attempts the amused golfers gave up and just had to move on!

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