A Small Taste of Alaska
Our story starts in Anchorage, Alaska where we await our luggage that failed to transfer over in time when we switched from another airline after a brief layover in Chicago. Luckily, everything arrives before the transport to the Star Princess of Princess Cruise Lines departs. The port departure is in Whittier, Alaska, an estimated 45-minute drive away. We feel so beaten after spending 12 hours at the airport, but the drive was a scenic tour in itself.
Passing little beaches and small housing communities that were actual towns was humbling. We are from Nokesville, VA, a quiet and sleepy town in its own right and the rural crescent of Prince William County. These small buildings and sparse houses that were townships put things in perspective as for as country living going.
Along the way, the bus driver pointed out a small cove along the water that people gathered and photographers would travel to in hopes of a majestic shot of a whale. Though a photo destination spot, there are still very few cars parked on the beach.
All along the road, the beautiful water keeps the mountains company. A person could truly live a secluded life, in the real sense of the word, in this, Alaska, the last frontier.
To get to Whittier, where the ship is docked, we go through the tunnel of the Passage Canal which is an a-frame tunnel under a mountain. It’s only one lane through and the cruise line charter buses are allowed through on the half hour of each hour only for 15 minutes.
Whittier is a small town with only a little over 300 population, half of which lived in the same building community. There are tunnels underneath so the kids can walk in their slippers through them to get to school in the winter.
Onboarding was an easier process than I thought. In real-time, it seemed much harder due to the lack of sleep and aches from travel. The crew is exceptional and attentive and everyone comes organized. I could tell we had made the right decision coming to Alaska.
The first full day is spent docked at sea at Yakatut Bay. No words can describe the spectacular sites. It is raining but the sights and smells of the glaciers falling into the water feel amazing. I have never seen such a natural wonder before.
The second day, we dock by Glacier Bay Park, which apparently besides being mostly a wilderness of lush untouched vegetation, home to both the park rangers and the Huna Tlingit. Apparently, we live during the days of healing. At least, that is what the park ranger presenting in the ship theater suggest.
My kids get their own education with a different park ranger. They go do activities which earn them their first merit badge as a junior park ranger. As I wait for their return, I step outside on the 7th deck, while my husband is retrieving the children from the 15th deck. Outside, stands 30-50 people looking at Glacier Bay. The water is still, unlike at Yakatut Bay where the cold and violence of nature complement each other spectacularly. Everyone looks out to the glaciers at the park attached to the green mountains and no one says a word. I join them and all are silent and still together for a long moment. We are strangers feeling the same experience of peace and harmony.
Skagway, the first city that we embark on and the first port after the departure. It is a tiny town that my family and I find easy to walk. Full of little shops and delicious seafood restaurants, we try our boating legs back out on shore. The park rangers have a little place downtown where we more information about activities the kids can do online back home is gathered. Off 3rd street is a legal dispensary.
Not a lot of time is given to see everything but we enjoy the native plant gardens, souvenir stores, and the playground next to the town museum.
We take the tramway in Juneau and walk around the national park. Lady Baltimore, a wounded bald eagle is situated in a large cabin cage. Pictures with flashes are not allowed, which is completely understandable. She has some motor skill issues and partial blindness. She had been shot and so severely wounded, even after her injuries healed she could not be released. She would not survive in the wild on her own and will spend the rest of her days in captivity. Shooting an endangered species is illegal. The perpetrators are receiving two years in prison.
Our last port destination is Ketchikan before we were to depart home. In Ketchikan, we walk the streets to kill time before the show. The village square full of shops on the water are cozy and close together. Some buildings are abandoned and condemned. It’s time for seating at the outdoor theater for a show called Lumberjack, a tourist favorite.
The scenery changes as we sail to Canada. A man in his waterfront house waves the Canadian flag at us as we cross borders. The coastal homes and towns are built up and we notice how much more industrial and city-like it is, nearing our final destination in Vancouver, Canada.
We are all sad to leave the ship but interested in the busy city of Vancouver. There are tons of coffee shops as opposed to the souvenir and jewelry shops in the Alaskan ports. One neat thing – new development is required to plant trees on their buildings. This is a forward-thinking idea, especially since there is nowhere else to plant new trees in the crowded city.
6 nights and 7 days is too short a time to experience Alaska. I definitely recommend going anyway that you can. The trip is a spectacular moment in my life. I hope to return and see more one day.