Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Alaska Trip: Part 8

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This map comes from the US National Parks service: the Volendam sailed all the way from Point Gustavus to just south of the US/Canada border at the top of the map to both Johns Hopkins and Margerie Glaciers. On board we were joined by Park Rangers who gave a commentary on what we were seeing. It is worth pointing out to that they were unequivocal about the retreat of the glaciers and its cause. On the map you can see the lines which show where the ends of the glaciers were in the past.

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These three pictures were taken leaving Skagway – the ones below were posted to flickr once I had access to free wifi ashore

Margerie Glacier panorama

Glacier bay 1 panorama

Margerie Glacier Calving

The last photo shows the Margerie Glacier calving. This glacier flows at the rate of six feet a day and the rumbling and creaking noises are almost continuous. The moments when great lumps of ice fall into the water are entirely unpredictable. The bow of the ship was opened up for the occasion but the press of people trying to get the best shots meant that it was easier to go up to deck 6 where there is a viewing platform under the bridge which is actually available all the time.

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The water was filled with icebergs from the glacier. There were some sightings of wildlife but I did not get any photos: we did see dolphins and sea otters, as well as large numbers of sealions. Others said they had seen humpback whales.

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Frankly the visit next day to Ketchikan was something of an anticlimax. Essentially it is a small town that has sprawled along the coastline – and because it has four cruise ship berths gets four huge ships in port at the same time and is overwhelmed. There are many gift shops and an interesting area that was formerly the red light district. There is also a funicular, out of service at the time of our visit, and many totem poles.

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The weather is Ketchikan is notoriously wet – and it delivered plenty of rain. We had been extremely fortunate with bright sunshine in both Glacier Bay and Dawson. The inside passage back to Vancouver was pretty much invisible in fog, low cloud and rain for much of the time but I did manage some nice rainbow shots while eating dinner on the last evening of the cruise.

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I want to close with some general observations, which I hope might be useful if you decide to make this trip, and I definitely recommend that you do. Understand that if you go early in the season not everything is going to be ready and open, and a lot of the people working for you will be new to the job and still in training mode. Since this is the land of the midnight sun, take a sleep mask or at least a couple of clothes pegs for the curtains to minimize the stray sunshine when you want to sleep. I think an inside cabin on the ship might be a better choice at this time of year. After all you are only going to be in the cabin to sleep.

We had a package deal of fly up, road trip and cruise back: this meant we got to see Glacier Bay. If we had done it the other way around we would have missed that. There are seven day round trip cruises, but they miss out Denali and Dawson, of course. While on board you get pretty much unlimited food, on the land trip only a few meals get included. We did not buy a meal plan and enjoyed some very good experiences: 49th State Brewing and Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage, and Rib & Salmon in Whitehorse were outstanding. Best value for money, without a doubt, was the Salmon Bake in Fairbanks.

On the ship we got a “beverage plan” included, but I would choose otherwise in future. A cabin credit goes further and can be spent on board in the duty free before you arrive in Vancouver if there is any left after gratuities and laundry are taken care of. Laundry is well worthwhile, I think, if you want some nice clean, pressed clothes when you get home. We tend to look after ourselves and not spend a great deal on excursions: the Denali Tundra Wilderness and the Gold Dredge were part of our package. The first I would not miss, the second was better than expected, but there are other dredges and gold panning sites we did not see. We did not do any of the Parks Canada walking tours in Dawson and just got lucky to see the press and the theatre. I am glad we did. The river boat tour was also in the package and could have been better, I think. The salmon bake and stage show in Fairbanks were also a HAL excursion which included transport to and from the hotel by schoolbus.   Definitely rent bikes in Anchorage – great fun and inexpensive. If you just stick to the brochure deals you will not get much time in Anchorage, which is a pity. We paid extra for one night in the Ramada: trust me, its worth paying more for the Captain Cook.

We will definitely go back for the White Pass train ride, and could well be persuaded to do the Inside Passage cruise again if the weather – and a suitably attractive deal – can be relied on.

 

 

Written by Stephen Rees

June 15, 2018 at 10:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. Thanks for posting this series, Stephen. I’ve really enjoyed them. My wife and I drove up the Alaska Highway and the Dempster Highway to Inuvik 14 years ago (“before kids”) and later came back on BC Ferries from Prince Rupert. That gave us a taste of the water route, but given the traffic of Alaska cruises through Vancouver, I’ve always been curious about them. This series of posts has renewed my interest!

    Anthony Floyd

    June 15, 2018 at 11:46 am

  2. My partner, Amanda, has done two trips to Alaska and the Yukon: she actually hiked the Chilkoot trail! We have also used the ferry from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy – at the end of the season in even worse weather than this time. I came back with over 1200 pictures on my camera – not counting those on my phone – and selecting from them and doing some editing has been very interesting. I did not keep a journal this trip, but the photos do help jog the memory. I have been very pleased at the response this series has prompted.

    Stephen Rees

    June 15, 2018 at 11:59 am


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