May 20, 2011 - We slipped under the Lions Gate Bridge very early in the morning and were tied up along side Canada Place by 7:00am. The weather was gorgeous with clear skies and the promise of warm temperatures. It is amazing how quickly seven days pass on a cruise ship. We had great weather, wonderful workshop participants and a crew that really looked after all of our needs. While Jan and I took no ship excursions and simply prowled around our own, we came back to land feeling refreshed and relaxed. We are now looking into a northbound cruise sometime in 2012.
May 18, 2011 - Our stop in Ketchikan was the only day we really saw any rain on our entire cruise. We had anticipated cold, wet weather this early in the year but were treated to warm and sunny instead. It was heavily overcast with light rain as we docked but the rain ended and we remained dry during our entire visit. Once again, having taken in many of the sights in Ketchikan previously, Jan and I explored on our own.
We walked through Tongass Trading Post right on the pier. This is one of three stores, all located in downtown Ketchikan, with the whimsical names of "Tongass 1", "Tongass 2" and "Tongass 3". The store on the pier is filled with souvenirs, hardware goods and a small confectionery. Many cruise passengers make this their last stop on the way back to the ship as the souvenirs are reasonably priced, an extra suitcase can be bought cheap and the bottled water, pop and snacks are better priced than on board.
Downtown Ketchikan is compact enough that it is very easy to walk around. There are probably more jewellery stores per city block here than in any other Alaskan port, but if you manage to walk through town without being distracted, you will soon come to Creek Street, the former red light district built on pilings above the water. This is now the location of restaurants and boutiques in probably one of the prettiest settings in Alaska. The green house to the right is Dolly's House Museum, a throwback to the time when there were numerous "establishments of negotiable affection" along the boardwalk.
It's funny that in a town of only 15 000 residents there are crossing guards at many downtown crosswalks. I'm still not certain if this casts aspersions on local drivers or visiting cruise ship passengers, but the help was always appreciated!
May 17, 2011 - Juneau is the capital of Alaska and the only American capital city that you can't actually drive in or out of. The city has a municipal area larger than the entire state of Rhode Island with its eastern edge being the border between Canada and the U.S. It's the only American capital bordering another country and the only US city to have a glacier within its city limits.
There is much to do and see in Juneau, some of which we discussed in an earlier posting. As this was our sixth time in Juneau, we decided to take it easy and do our own walking tour of downtown Juneau. We spent a great deal of time in a little art gallery called Annie Kaill's on Front Street that specialized in local Alaskan artists. They not only had some very unique pieces but they took extra care to wrap and protect our purchases for our trip home. We also discovered the downtown postal outlet on Franklin Street not far from the cruise ship that had boxes and packing supplies for any size item you might want to send home rather than carry with you. We just mailed off a post card (which took about 10 days to reach Vancouver) as we didn't have that much "stuff" to carry home.
Shopping for Shore Excursions
We noticed that a number of our fellow passengers eschewed cruise ship excursions and instead used the dock side kiosks to book their tours. Prices were reasonable and the selection was good. In spite of dire warnings from the cruise industry that the quality of the tours would not be very good or that passengers would not be returned in time for sail away, everyone was on board and happy at the end of the day.
We chose to spend the afternoon on board Millennium to see what it was like to experience the ship while in port. We didn't have to share the ship with many other passengers, so it was a great time to visit the spa or the pools as there was little competition on a port day like this. As we were also teaching our photography workshop on this trip, our stop in Juneau proved to be one of the few days we weren't teaching, but we still needed time to look over our notes and adjust our slide shows based on what we still needed to cover.
We sailed at dusk after a beautiful, sunny day in Juneau - port days don't come much better than this!
May 16, 2011 - This is one of the coldest places in Alaska. The Hubbard Glacier is over 13 km wide and terminates directly into Disenchantment Bay, not far from the small community of Yakutat. Think of Hubbard as one of the world's largest refrigerators, with winds constantly blowing off the face of the glacier out into the bay and directly into oncoming cruise ships. Bring a hat, bring gloves, bring a blanket..... you will get cold out on the open decks - for a while. Something magical happens the closer you get to the face of the glacier (and how close you get depends on the weather and the amount of ice in the water). You will reach a place where the winds pass over the top of the ship and you are left standing on deck in very calm - and if the sun is out - much warmer conditions.
On this voyage we were in for a treat as the Captain opened the forward helipad for us to scamper out on to for our viewing pleasure. It was a bit of a climb up and down steep stairs and through the narrow passageways but the view was well worth it and we shared this space with several hundred of our fellow passengers. Hot chocolate and other libations were available to ensure that no one became too cold and it was a great place to watch our final approach to Hubbard. While we did not get as close as some of our other trips, given how early in the year it was and how much ice was in the water, we still got a great view on a beautiful sunny day.
The Captain brought us in as close as he could, spun the ship around so that port and starboard both had great views and then we eased ourselves back through the ice the same way we approached the glacier in the first place.
May 15, 2011 - We made landfall for the first time on this cruise in Icy Strait Point, just west of the Tlingit community of Hoonah on Chichagof Island. Ship tenders dock here rather than in the town itself and it is a beautiful location that feels like "the real Alaska" that it is marketed to be. There are several buildings near the dock, including an excursion lounge and cafe, a cannery museum, gift shop, restaurant, and native theatre. From here buses take guests on shore excursions or into town to explore. Walking trails follow the ocean shore and meander through the old growth forest.
Last time we were in Icy Strait we went on a bear watching excursion that took us into the muskeg and forest looking for bears. Unfortunately the closest we came to seeing bear was spotting Sitka deer, but the landscape was beautiful and we still enjoyed ourselves immensely. This time we opted to hang out in Icy Strait Point itself and walk the Beach Trail the leads west from the Cannery Museum, along the ocean shore, through forest and under the screaming guests riding the longest zip chair in the world before circling back to where we began.
On the whole, a relaxing way to spend a day exploring Alaska up close and personal!
May 14, 2011 - The first day at sea on an Alaskan cruise offers the possibly of encountering choppy water in places like Hecate Strait. This trip proved to be smooth sailing through these waters and it was a special treat to enter one of the gems of the Canadian Inside Passage in the early afternoon. Grenveille Channel is a 90km long narrow fjord north of Princess Royal Island, home of the famous Kermode (Moksgm'ol) Bear. The channel takes a little over three hours to navigate and brings the ship within meters of the steep edges of this spectacular fjord. This is the kind of breathtaking wilderness that everyone hopes to experience during their cruise and this one was off to a great start.
May 13, 2011 - We boarded Celebrity Millennium shortly after 1:00pm on Friday after spending an hour in the cattle chutes leading up to security and immigration. As this was the first Alaska sailing of the season, we'll cut the port authority and the cruise line some slack but it was a long haul to get on the ship (some passengers waited three hours to board later in the afternoon), but it was not up to the usual efficiency we have come to expect from this port.
Most cruise ships sail from Canada Place in downtown Vancouver and this is where we boarded Millennium. The real advantage of this mooring is the view of the heritage buildings in east Vancouver. This is the Dominion Building, a 13-storey "sky scraper" built in 1910 in the "Second Empire" architectural style. More modern, and far taller, sky scrappers can been seen in the background while shorter buildings contemporary to the Dominion Building are visible in the foreground. A number of Hollywood movies and TV shows have been filmed in and around this Vancouver landmark.
May 12, 2011 - out first ever spring cruise to Alaska began with a day in Vancouver to explore the downtown core. We decided to stay at the Pan Pacific Hotel as this is where Celebrity Millennium was sailing from. From our hotel room on the 23rd floor we had a great view of the heritage buildings and rail yard in Vancouver's east end. This is the transportation hub of downtown with commuter trains, the Sea Bus, Light Rail Transit, float plane and helicopter terminals all within a few blocks of the hotel.