Jan and I had wanted to take a cruise down the Inside Passage for several years. We had heard such great stories about the scenery and the trip that we decided to do it this fall. It started with us driving our 5th Wheel to Seattle and leaving it with Chris and Mark while we spent the summer at the Kasilof RV Park. Our plan was to take the cruise back to Vancouver, have Chris and Mark pick us up, then drive down to California to visit Cody’s family and meet Jan’s daughter and husband and his parents for a tour of the wine country. We would then take our time traveling home visiting some of the National Parks that Jan had never seen. So follows a brief description of our trip with photos.
On September 11th, we finished closing down the park for the winter then drove to Anchorage to leave the pickup for the winter. On the 12th, we took the Alaskan Railroad Cruise train from Anchorage to Seward. I had wanted to take the trip for years as I had heard the scenery was spectacular. I wasn’t disappointed. The cruise train provides viewing cars with huge windows to enjoy the scenery. It travels south from Anchorage at the edge of the Turnagain Arm and we saw whales chasing the salmon. Then we crossed the grassland bogs at the upper end of the Arm and climbed into the Chugach mountains past several glaciers. The trip to Seward was truly a treat and should definitely be the mode of travel for those meeting the cruise ships in Seward.
What a pleasure to arrive in the beautiful port city of Seward. The cruise train pulled right out on the boarding dock at the edge of the Statendam, Holland-America’s ship for our trip down the Inside Passage. Our luggage was taken aboard by the porters and we joined others from the train to obtain our boarding passes in the cruise dock building. Even though there were over a hundred people boarding at the same time, the process was efficient. We quickly boarded and were shown to our stateroom, very nice. The one and only problem with taking the cruise train was it’s arrival time. After the five hour trip from Anchorage, we were too late to enjoy the afternoon boarding and information parties on the ship.
We left port in Seward at 8 pm that evening while we were having our first wonderful dinner in the main dining room of the ship. It was a five course meal with several choices including Prime Rib, Alaska King Crab, Alaskan Salmon bake, plus others – the food was delicious! By the time we got out in the Resurrection Bay, it was dark and from there to Whittier we traveled at night. We missed College Ford due to a heavy fog as well as the trip through Prince William Sound. However, as we passed through the straits at Cape Hinchinbrook and into the Gulf of Alaska, the skies began to clear and we had beautiful crusing through the rest of the afternoon.
Another night traveling along the Glacier Coast between Cape St. Elias and Cape Spencer, so we missed most of the huge glaciers coming out of the St. Elias mountain range although we were well off shore and barely in sight of land. By early morning we had passed Cape Spencer and entered Glacier Bay. We had been given a free lunch at the Pinnacle Grill as part of our ticket purchase and we chose to take advantage of the it during our cruise up Glacier Bay. As good as the food was in the dining room, the Pinnacle Grill was even better plus we had a beautiful view of the Fjord from our window. When Glacier Bay was first discovered by the George Vancouver in the early 1700’s, the bay was covered in a glacier out into the Icy Strait. Now it has receded over 80 miles into the mountains with five major Inlets containing tidewater glaciers.
We proceeded into the John Hopkins Inlet to view the glacier. It is one of the most active glaciers in the bay, calving regularly. The Glacier Bay National Park Ranger that gave us a lecture about the bay and glaciers indicated that we were really lucky to have sunny weather for our trip. Normally it is cloudy and rainy and they had only 12 days all summer with sunny weather. We cruised to within a quarter mile of the face of the glacier and stayed for almost an hour. The Captain moved the boat with the back side thrusters giving each side of the boat ample opportunity to view the glacier. There were a huge number of harbor seals resting on the ice banks in front of the glacier and often we could hear the glacier cracking and popping. Occasionally it would calve a huge of chunk of ice into the inlet.
As we were leaving, Holland-America’s ship, the Osterdam cruised into the inlet to view the glacier. We got a good perspective of the height of the glacier when we could view the Osterdam in front of it. Since it was the same size as the Statendam, it became apparent how high the glacier face actually was.
We traveled again at night and woke dockside at Haines. Haines is different from the other cruise ship stops on the Inside Passage. It is a small town with only one cruise ship dock. The streets are not lined with curio and jewelery shops, just ordinary grocery, clothing and hardware stores. We had decided to take our only prearranged tour here and were happy that we did.
It was a Nature and Wildlife Tour up the Chilcoot river and lake. We were in an old bus with ten couples from the ship and two women guides. The older woman, ex-school teacher, drove the bus and took us on a walking tour through the rain forest above Chilcoot Lake.
The younger one was the narrator for the tour and spotted this brown bear sow and her cub fishing the waters of the Chilcoot river for pink salmon. Soon the sow found a dead one and began eating it. She was a big bear and seemingly unafraid of the numerous people watching her from the other side of the river.
The young woman said that the sows often bring their young cubs to the river where there are always people along the road. They have learned that the large males, which will kill the young cubs, don’t like to be around people and stay away from the river. The sow feeding in the river below the people on the road had two small cubs hidden in the bushes on the bank.
She had a collar around her neck for tracking purposes by the Fish and Game and has returned t0 fish in the river with her cubs for several years. The river was full of pink salmon swimming up to their spawning grounds and the many dead carcasses that had spawned already were thick in the bushes and rocks. She also took us through a tour of Fort William H. Seward which had been decommissioned after World War II and now is a National Historic Site.
When we got back to the Statendam, I got Jan to pose for a photo of it in port at Haines.
It was a beautiful afternoon when we got back to the ship so we decided to sit in the sun on the upper deck. There was no wind, the scenery was beautiful and the company was great.
That evening as we were enjoying an afternoon Tangueray and Tonic in the Crows Nest on the top front of the Statendam, the Norwegian Star cruise ship came cruising down from Skagway on their way north to Glacier Bay. We would see her sister ship a few days later in Ketchikan.
It was a beautiful scene with the mountains in the background. We left Haines around dusk and sailed down to Juneau for the next day.
We were disappointed in Juneau. Gold was discovered in 1880 above the current town area, however, the initial easy to find gold was quickly gone and hard rock mining became the only way to obtain it. Soon the high grade ore was gone and massive stamp mills had to be used to extract the gold. These mills produced vast amounts of tailings (20 tons of ore for 1 ounce of gold). The tailings dumped along the shoreline provided the flat land for the town. The gold brought the territorial government and then the state government to reside in Juneau after the gold ran out. Beside the state government there is a new gold rush in the town brought by the multitude of cruise ships that stop there every week during the spring, summer and fall. The streets are lined by shop after shop of curio junk occasionally separated by a jewelery store. We had found Skagway to be similar in 2008 when we visited, but at least Skagway had some character. After the stop in beautiful Haines, Juneau was a disappointment.
Again we left after dark and cruised down the Inside Passage during the night. However this time, we were still cruising when we woke in the morning. We passed this pretty light house called ‘Three Island Lighthouse’ out in the bay. Actually there are three islands although the other two are just a few rocks sticking out of the water in line with the light house. There are a lot of lighthouses on the Inside Passage and I enjoy photographing them; however, it is difficult to see them in the middle of the night when you are cruising.
We arrived at the Ketchikan dock around 11 am. Notice that there is a parking place between the first ship, the Celebrity, and the second, the Norwegian Pearl, the Star’s sister ship. The third ship was the Osterdam that we had seen in Glacier Bay.
We were all fascinated to see how the Captain was going to park our ship between the front two. It was fascinating as the Captain slowly pulled the nose of the ship in behind the front ship, then use the rear outside thruster to slowly push the ship sideways into the dock. Of course the entire upper deck of our ship was lined with passengers to watch a lesson in parallel parking a cruise ship.
Ketchikan was a lot more fun than Juneau. Although the boardwalk had it’s share of curio and jewelery shops for the cruise ship passengers, the town was more quaint and interesting. We took a tour bus out to the Totem Museum and the salmon hatchery on the upper creek. Ketchikan was known in the late 1800’s as the Salmon Fishing and Totem Pole Capital of Alaska. Creek Street was the red light district of Ketchikan and the creek itself was a major salmon spawning river for the island. During the early days lumbering and fishing were the primary sources of work and income in the area. Creek street became known as the only place in Alaska where the fish and fishermen both came to spawn. Now Creek Street bordellos cater to the cruise ship passengers selling them curios and clothing, but it was fun.
Again we left Ketchikan at night, there was approximately 650 miles left in the trip. We cruised all night and woke to the ship traveling through Hecate Strait between Queen Charlotte Islands and British Columbia. As we got further into the Queen Charlotte Sound the land became distant in the east and the rain clouds filled the skies, the first time on the trip. That evening, the last of the cruise, we dressed up to celebrate Jan’s 71st birthday with dinner in the Pinnacle Grill. We had another wonderful dinner of gourmet food with good wine.
We arrived in Vancouver the next morning early and our group were told to depart the ship at 8:15 am. The departure procedure was very quick and efficient. We left the convention center at 9:30 and found Mark and Chris waiting for us in our truck.
It was a beautiful trip on a great ship. The food was excellent and anything you could want. The scenery was fabulous although I would prefer to have spent more time cruising through the Inside Passage during the day and less time in the towns, but I realize that the ports need to make their living of the cruise passengers. I would definitely recommend the cruise to anyone interested.