We had been to Alaska before but it was still very cold, when we went in May, so this time we made sure to go in the summer time.
The trip started from Seattle (another city I need to go back to and explore more!) and went along the Alaskan and Canadian coast for a week with multiple stops.
Our cruiseline of choice was Holland America, the “Amsterdam”. She was a beautiful ship, not very flashy but with a quiet, understated elegance to it.
Photo courtesy of my husband
We booked shore excursions with the ship to maximize our time and it was not a whole lot more expensive than booking it with local companies or viator. I found the prices quite comparable.
Already the very first morning we could check one wish off my wish list. While we were having breakfast in the dining room we heard an announcement of the captain…”whales ahead!”
Everybody charged to the large windows and even though we only saw flippers and water sprouting – they were there! A whole school of them, just hanging out.
In the capital of Alaska, Juneau, we first looked at a salmon hatchery and continued to its natural treasure, the mighty Mendenhall glacier.
We got some freetime to roam around and explore on our own but had to meet back at the bus at a certain time.
Our bus driver was very specific about the meet up time since there is nobody at the park at night and you don’t want to be left behind when the bears come out, otherwise you don’t only “stay for dinner” – you become dinner!
The view of the glacier was pretty scenic from far away and if you were a good walker, you could even get a closer look of it, with a nice waterfall next to it as a bonus.
Next up was Glacier Bay National Park, scenic wise probably the highlight of the trip.
The ship went very slowly through the Stephens passage, not to hit icebergs. They started off as tiny little icebergs, but got bigger and more frequent in time, the closer you got. (I am sure a lot of people looked at them and had “Titanic” related thoughts. I know I did.)
Our destiny was the Hubbard glacier.
The ship stayed a good distance away from it, just in case some piece caves in, and hovered there for approximately two hours. It was plenty of time to admire the sheer size of it and to get all the pictures your heart desired.
TIP : Use a polarizer and/ or underexpose with your camera. If the sunlight hits the glacier it will be very, very glary and it will throw off your light metering in your camera.
TIP: If you are on a cruise ship, go to a lower deck, like 5 or 6. You will see the sheer height of the glacier better than standing on the top deck.
What I really wanted was a whale jump out of the water, right in front of it but I guess that’s too cliche.
To give this day the finishing touch we got a fantastic sunset as well and to my big surprise only me and about 12 others on the ship saw it. Everybody else missed it.
I think the pictures speak for themselves.
The last rays of light hit the top of the mountain range.
In Sitka we took a wildlife tour with a small ship. It took about three hours but it was THE coolest experience. Also, rated as the most popular excursion.
TIP: Dress warm. Wear a windproof jacket and possibly even a hat and scarf. Once the boat picks up speed, it gets chilly.
We saw dozens of otters, floating belly up and holding paws; bald eagles nesting and different kind of birds and even though that was neat, nothing came close to seeing about 50 whales out in the ocean! How special is that??
The captain kept his distance to them but they kept coming closer and circling the boat.
(Is anybody else hearing a certain kind of soundtrack, just looking at this flipper coming towards you?)
Some even had their calfs with them and others tried to show off their jumping skills. We were told it is pretty rare for them to jump but we got to see it. What a treat!
TIP: Increase the shutter speed on your camera and go in rapid mode to make sure you freeze the motion.
One of my favourites was “Mommy” diving with her baby by her side.
The viewing of the whales made my day. I always wanted to see free, happy whales out in the ocean, just living in peace.
We had tried many times before, in New Foundland, Nova Scotia and even in Iceland where the tour had a “99% guarantee to spot a whale”. We beat the odds and did not see one single one; but now I am good, I saw whales and not just one or two – about 50 in our week there.
Everything is so scenic in Alaska, even if it’s just the parking spot for our ship.
Sitka itself was very, very small to walk. A “blink and you miss it” kind of town. It did have a cute Russian orthodox church though that I could not resist.
Ketchikan was our last stop in Alaska. Our ship docked right next to the town and even though it is super commercialized, it still had a charm to it.
You could buy virtually everything there, any kind of salmon, for some reason a lot of fur, indian art and jewelery, the usual souvenirs and a lot of carved wood.
In Ketchikan we did not take a tour, we took the time to explore the town by foot. You can take wonderful pictures of your harbor, with or without your big cruiseship in the background, go window shopping or even visit the tiny old town.
It’s very close to the harbor and quite picturesque. Made me think of old western movies and trying your luck with digging for gold.
We finished our cruise with a quick stop in Victoria, B.C. but did not really have more time than just a stroll through the close by harbor. Victoria is very pretty though and I would love to make a trip there, just discover British Colombia some times.
I thought it was quite appropiate for our ship to look real stunning on her last evening with us. Like a last good impression she wanted to make.
We were very lucky with the weather and had perfect conditions for visiting Alaska. I guess it’s a hit or miss. We get rained out quite a bit on vacations, so this was a nice treat for a change.
The cruise was very well organized and the destination was a dream. Definitely a good way to see Alaska for a week. It invites for going back and seeing more.