Cruise West

Day 1, Friday, July 4 Houston - Ketchikan
It's a short trip of only 11 days, so I drive to the airport rather than use the taxi/shuttle routine - the cost is about the same and more convenient.

Continental CO 0422Houston - Seattle12:06 PM - 2:30 PM4:241:16

A roller-coaster decent to the airport. Unfortunately, I again have 2.5 people sitting in the middle seat. At least it's not a 10 hour flight like the last time this happened.

Alaska Airlines AA 0067Seattle - Ketchikan3:46 PM.- 4:45 PM2:007:40

Alaska time is 3 hours earlier than Houston time. Transfer (we have to take a ferry to another island) from the airport across to the Westcoast Cape Fox Hotel. The hotel is perched on a forested hilltop, accessible by tram from historic Creek Street. Dinner on our own in town. There's some extra fun, however. It's the Fourth of July and activities are still going on - there is a lumberjack show and late-late-late-late fireworks (because it's light so late!). Also there are several vendors down on the docks selling the local foods so I don't need to look for the usual junk-fast-food outlets. It's near longest days; sunrise is about 4:30, sunset about 10:15. (air snax)

The map shows going up to Skagway and Glacier Bay, but that was an addition in later years. Stops in Hyder and Metlakatla were dependent on the time of year (bear watching).

Day 2, Saturday, July 5 Misty Fjords
After a great breakfast and a talk by Joe Williams (Tlingit Indian) who gives a fantastic introduction to the Indian culture, we board the Sheltered Seas about 7:30 and sail from Ketchikan south around Revillagigedo Island to Misty Fjords National Monument. As we leave the harbor, there's a very large/long cruise boat in harbor, the "Summit." It's the longest boat that cruises here - 962 feet (almost 11 times as long as our 'little' boat, and carries up to 2026 passengers (our max is 70 but we only have 32 on board.) This is a land of soaring cliffs, often filled with misty clouds trapped by the peaks above. Return to Ketchikan after a day of sightseeing in pristine wilderness such as Rudyerd Bay. Forest rangers come out in their kayaks to join us as on-board specialists for the day. Fantastic wildlife views: humpback whale (broaches about 30 times!!!), brown bear with twin cubs, many Orcas. We're about an hour late getting back. There's still time for an optional side trip. The one I choose is "Carving our Culture" which is a trip out to the Saxman native village and the carving center where master carvers still work to maintain their craft for the next generation. We meet renowned master carver Nathan Jackson. Dinner on our own in town - again (back to the docks!). (B,L)

Day 3, Sunday, July 6 Cruise to Wrangell and Petersburg
Winding wilderness waterways lead north from Ketchikan to the town of Wrangell. The Sheltered Seas is the only Cruise West ship to stop here. I've been looking forward to this - it's a nice little town, and I want to get some more of the garnets the 'children' of the town mine from a nearby ledge. The highlight here is Chief Shakes Island, a traditional Tlingit tribal house surrounded by numerous finely carved totems. Rather than take the rest of the local walk, again an optional local tour. This one is the "Petroglyph Beach Tour" which shows us the largest concentration of petroglyphs on the SE Alaska coast. They are (may be) about 8000 years old. The local Indians don't have any idea as to who carved them or when. Even their oldest legends (oral history) don't refer to them. Continue north to Petersburg via the Wrangell Narrows (where we see lots of sea lions and harbor seals), a passageway totally inaccessible to large cruise ships. Alaska's "Little Norway" is an authentic fishing village with boardwalk streets and bustling marinas. It's been a long day and we are scheduled to have the first of two wonderful dinners on board the boat.

Now it's time to head back to my favorite place: Petersburg. We stay overnight (the first of two) at the Tides Inn in Petersburg, my favorite hotel on the trip! (B L D)

Day 4, Monday, July 7 LeConte Bay
After another of Gloria's great breakfast at the Tides Inn, we board the Sheltered Seas this morning to sail east to LeConte Bay, a notch carved in the rugged coastal mountains by the LeConte Glacier. The ship pushes to the heart of the ice pack fronting the glacier, to give us a magnificent display of Alaska's natural forces at work. Lots of comparatively minor 'calving' but nothing major. Lots of seals (and their pups) sheltering on the ice flows thus avoiding orca predators. We also see a brown bear and her two twin cubs.

This afternoon in Petersburg, the option I chose is "Petersburg through a Local's Eye". Our guide is a misplaced Texan who came up for a summer several years ago, and was optioned (married) by a local fisherman. She (Glenna - another Petersburg resident with a great personality) gives us a wonderful tour and description of the life and hardships (currently major financial due to dropping costs) of the fishing industry. This evening at the Sons of Norway Hall, enjoy another (fabulous!) buffet dinner and a performance by the Norwegian Leikarring Dancers (school age children). As it was last time I was here, it's really great. After that, since it's still light, there's time for about a 4-5 mile walk through the town.

I definitely want to come back here and spend some time exploring the town, the local area, and meeting more of the great people! (B L D)

Day 5, Tuesday, July 8 Frederick Sound and Tracy Arm
Gee, do we HAVE to leave? We have another super nice breakfast in the Tides Inn. There is a special "treat" for me: I get to see Vicky again and even get a nice hug from "Miss Alaska." Then it's time to get back on board the Sheltered Seas and head north.

In Frederick Sound, watch for pods of humpback whales feeding in the deep, rich waters. Later, today's star attraction is beautiful Tracy Arm, with its twin Sawyer Glaciers. As we enter this cliff-walled fjord, we watch for black bears (yes) and mountain goats (??, or sheep?). The ship tucks into scenic coves and gorgeous waterfalls along the way, always very up-close to the shore so we miss none of the sights. This time at Sawyer Glacier, we see some fairly major calving, including one really large one. Continue to Juneau, for overnight at the Goldbelt Hotel. Still no rain. I wonder what happened to the usual weather here? Early forecasts by the weather guess-perts had predicted lows in the low 50s, highs in the mid-to-upper 60s. Today it was 78. (B L D)

Day 6, Wednesday, July 9 Juneau to Anchorage to Fairbanks
No breakfast provided - and no time at the hotel even if it were.

Alaska Air AA 0073Juneau - Anchorage8:19 AM - 10 AM1:411:17

We are supposed to have breakfast on board. (Note: Alaska Air advertises flights to the Disney centers in California and Florida - even have some of their planes brightly painted with a Disney theme.) It certainly wasn't an "Alaskan" breakfast; more like a mouse-snack.

Alaska Air AA 0163Anchorage - Fairbanks11:17 - 12:120:553:53

Nothing, not even a snack on the flights - no time (or AA is too cheap!). Transfer from the airport to Pike's Waterfront Lodge - which is way on the edge of town and no way except taxi to get in to see anything even though the sun won't set until 12:20 AM (and rises again about an hour later!). After a wasted afternoon - nothing to do anywhere around here, even if we were closer to town - we (there are 3 of us from the Sheltered Seas and 4 from a different itinerary, total 7) meet our Exploration Leader, who will accompany us through to Anchorage, at dinner (early since the three of us have a flight option booked).

The option is "Arctic Circle and Fort Yukon". We take an 8-passenger twin prop flight (a bit bumpy at times) up across the Tundra to just past the Arctic Circle, then have a tour (bus) with a local native Indian - nice tour. I'm glad I took this. It was #3 of the "big-three" reasons I wanted to take the land part (B) of the tour. We get an "Arctic Circle" certificate and also had a chance to mail a card to friends from above the Arctic Circle. It's been a very hot day so we are all wishing we had air conditioning - even above the Arctic Circle! (D)

"A Journey to Fort Yukon" Departs 7PM. On this evening's tour, enjoy a narrated flight that follows traditional trails north from Fairbanks across the Arctic Circle while we enjoy the spectacular scenery of Alaska's interior. Flying along Beaver Creek and through the White Mountains, we see some of the oldest landscapes in Alaska. These mountains were once part of the ocean floor in the South Pacific and arrived slowly by continental drift over millions of years. Next cross the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge and fly above the Arctic Circle before landing at Fort Yukon on the banks of the Yukon River. In Fort Yukon, native guides escort our tour. The village was established in 1847 by the Hudson's Bay Company and today is the largest village in the interior. Our return flight flies past Birch Creek Village over the unusual Granite Spires of Lime Peak and offers an aerial view of the Fort Knox gold mine, the largest open-pit mine in North America. Back about 11:15.

Day 7, Thursday, July 10 Fairbanks to Denali
We enjoy a rainy day (the only day with rain and it's only light showers and it does cool things off a bit) of sightseeing (driving through) in the city of Fairbanks including an authentic sternwheeler cruise and lunch on board. Unfortunately, we don't do the usual native village and dog-sled-dogs stops. Bummer. In effect, all it was was lunch on a boat. Bah! Humbug! After the previous trip, I was looking forward to a repeat. The buffet lunch was very good, but otherwise, another wasted half-day. At least we do get a short visit to the University of Alaska (Fairbanks) Museum. Again, very nice. This afternoon, travel by motor-coach to Denali National Park arriving about 6:15 so there's a long time until it's dim (never dark!) but not much to do - McKinley Lodge - since it's not in the park, or near the "shopping area.". Snack supper from various scavenged bits-and-pieces. (B,L)

Morning News note: Remember the "Summit"? It seems that while it was cruising in Glacier Bay north of Juneau, the local pilot on board ran it over some rocks putting a fairly large hole into it. No danger to the passengers - the ship made it back to Juneau - but it will be a while to get it repaired. Wonder what they do with up to 2000 passengers?

Day 8, Friday, July 11 Denali Park Wildlife Search.
Unfortunately our "Leader" oversleeps and so we don't have tickets in hand to board the bus at 6:35. We have to wait until everyone else is one board then convince the driver that we are the missing 7 persons (she has a passenger total count). However this means that we get the wheel-well seats that nobody else would dream of taking. After over 8 hours of sitting with my knees almost up to my chin it's awful! "Denali's wild landscape is the natural habitat of bears, Dall sheep, moose and many other mammals. Watch for views of Mt. McKinley, the highest mountain on the North American continent." We do get some wonderful sightings: Moose (by binoculars), Caribou (many, some quite close), Dall Sheep (close), Bear (not too far), Foxes!! (collared Alpha-male and -female), and some nice views of Denali (which I didn't see last time!) Tonight, "the rollicking Cabin Night dinner theater features family-style dining and songs from the Gold Rush era" but I skip this due to what my back and feet feel like after that (#@$)#*$) bus ride. At least the EL gets me a substitute voucher for dinner in the Lodge. Afterwards there's a park orientation talk by a local naturalist. Overnight Denali. (B S D)

News note: Tropical storm reported in the Gulf of Mexico headed towards Houston. Which of 'us' will get there first?

Day 9, Saturday, July 12 Denali to Anchorage via Rail and Motorcoach.
The morning is free for optionals. I had booked a flightseeing trip around Denali and adjacent peaks and glaciers, but have to cancel this after yesterday's bus jolting. This was supposed to be #2 of my 'big three' on this part of the trip. (Many words censored!) This afternoon board a deluxe (Hah! No running ventilation or a/c. They have to take out some of the windows!) domed (doomed?) railcar for a boring journey to Talkeetna. For me, lunch is leftovers scavenged from yesterday's boxed lunches - as the driver suggested we do! Now if only we had taken the (airconditioned) bus (which also traveled from Denali to Anchorage) we would have had a couple of hours for visiting the annual "Moose Droppings Festival" in Talkeetna. It definitely would have been a better choice in my opinion. In Talkeetna, board that motor-coach for the drive to Anchorage. We swing by the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge to drop off some passengers with a different trip option (says numerous wilderness options are available, including river rafting, jetboating and hiking) and since it's clear, have a nice view of Denali. In anchorage, hotel problem: Even though there are only 7 (yes, just 7 on the big bus) of us on that bus, after over an hour, the hotel staff still hasn't delivered our luggage to our rooms. After the disaster in Glascow Scotland, I'm a bit 'gun shy' about (not) getting my luggage, so skip the group dinner (not a tour inclusion, but we (all 7 of us) had planned to go out to a nice restaurant in Anchoarage). Overnight at the Sheraton Hotel. (B)

Day 10, Sunday, July 13 Anchorage Sightseeing, Alyeska
Breakfast was supposed to be at 6:30, but the hotel doesn't get the restaurant opened until almost 7. Then it's almost time for the 3 (original 3) of us to board the bus for the Anchorage sightseeing First is a visit to a local salmon ladder, then out to explore the exhibits at the outstanding Alaska Native Heritage Center (my #1 reason for this visit rather than just the original Ketchikan-Juneau trip) and we even manage to get a bit over two hours here instead of the less-than 1.25 hours last time. That's much better, but still not enough. The original schedule would have given me a full afternoon/early evening here. Now I'll have to come back again. Next travel down beautiful Turnagain Arm to take an aerial tram ride high into the Chugach Mountains above Alyeska Resort. Lunch is included in this trip. Then a short stop up by the Portage Glacier. There's a nice video and also time for a Ranger-led "Moraine Walk." This evening it's time to enjoy a special Alaskan seafood/prime rib buffet at the hotel. Repack my bags, and go to bed early (bright daylight) for tomorrow's very early rise. (B L D)

News update: Tropical Storm Claudette is getting close to Houston. Tomorrow evening I might be flying right into the storm! Texas weather in Alaska, and Alaska rain in Houston!

Day 11, Monday, July 14 Return Home
Up at 3:15 AM (but it's light already) for a 3:45 transfer to the Anchorage Airport. No breakfast at the hotel but another mouse-sized break-snack-fast on board

Alaska Air AA 0126Anchorage - Seattle6:39 AM - 10:593:202:30
Continental CO 0385Seattle - Houston1:30 PM - 7:43 PM4:1318:32

Home about 9:00 just ahead of the storm. No rain until just after midnight.

News update: they got the "Summit" fixed and it's ready to sail again.

1Continental CO 0422Houston - Seattle12:06 PM - 2:30 PM4:241:16
2Alaska Airlines AA 0067Seattle - Ketchikan3:46 PM.- 4:45 PM2:008:40
3Alaska Air AA 0073Juneau - Anchorage8:19 AM - 10 AM1:411:17
4Alaska Air AA 0163Anchorage - Fairbanks11:17 - 12:120:553:53
5Alaska Air AA 0126Anchorage - Seattle6:39 AM- 10:593:202:30
6Continental CO 0385Seattle - Houston1:30 PM - 7:434:1318:32

1) Native Heritage Center - better than last time but I'll have to come back again.
2) Denali Flight-seeing - Cancel out (censored)
3) Arctic Circle flight - great; next time I'll do Nome-Kotzebue overnighter.
4) Sheltered Seas - great, as expected
5) Petersburg - my favorite town in Alaska. Super, and I get to see friends from last time.
6) Wrangell - got my garnet shopping done.

Selected pictures
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