This was our THIRD cruise to Alaska but our FIRST opportunity to see some of the less-visited Alaskan towns that can be reached by ship.
Our first two cruises were on the big ships--holding 1,800 - 2,600 passengers. But the Pacific Princess was much smaller, holding only 670 of us. She could easily slip into ports that might be a problem for the behemoths.
The itinerary was great. We saw most of the Inside Passage towns (Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, plus a day in lovely Glacier Bay and a visit to a cruise ship "destination port"--Icy Strait.) In addition, the Pacific Princess sailed out into the Gulf of Alaska to see Valdez, Seward and Kodiak Island. The ship took two weeks to cover this huge territory and there were relaxing "at sea" days interspersed with the port visits.
We may have thought that three cruises to Alaska was overkill, but our fellow passengers didn't think so. Smitten with the beauty of the "Great Land" and maybe the chance to go somewhere COOL during the hot summer, we found that for many passengers this was their tenth Alaskan cruise--or more! And many could claim to have taken fifty or more cruises! Made us feel like rank amateurs.
We probably were wise in our choice of dates--we had gorgeous weather for three-fourths of the cruise and calm seas where they counted. The Gulf of Alaska can be rough and nasty, and so can the seas on the Pacific side of Vancouver Island. Our main mistake was to settle for an "ocean view" cabin. On the Pacific Princess our ocean view was out of a glorified porthole which was permanently covered with water drops. The good news was that this probably encouraged us to spend more time on the open, top deck of the ship. Often we were the only people up there, enjoying the long, lovely Alaskan summer twilights. The others missed some beautiful scenery.
Did we take pictures? Are you kidding? We went armed with three digital cameras and lots of "smart cards." Most of the cards came back full. What was left after serious trimming are in photo albums that are just a mouse click away.
Will we make any more trips to Alaska? Probably not, but we are glad we made this cruise and hope you'll have the time to look at some or all of the places we visited.
For the masochists among you, a way too-lengthy daily log of the trip is also posted here.
Day 1, July 9 Seattle. The city sparkled in sunshine.
Day 2, July 10 We sailed through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and up the Pacific side of Vancouver and Queen Charlotte Islands. Foggy all day. No pictures!
Twilight north of Ketchikan
Day 4, July 12 Glacier Bay National Park. We shared this wonderful place with just one other cruise ship. Another sunny day.
Sculptured ice atop Margerie Glacier
Day 5, July 13 Skagway. The entire town is a National Historic Park, preserving the 1897 Yukon Gold Rush structures and history. Sunny and almost hot.
State Street, Skagway
Day 6, July 14 At Sea. The ship spent the day crossing the Gulf of Alaska, heading northwest for our northernmost port, Valdez. At this point, we had over 18 hours of daylight, with the sun setting at 11 p.m.
Setting sun south of Valdez
Day 7, July 15 Valdez. Situated at the top of Prince William Sound, Valdez is the most northern Alaskan port to remain ice-free in winter. That's why the Alaskan oil pipeline terminates at Valdez, and this is where the oil is loaded onto tankers. One of those tankers created Alaska's worst oil spill disaster near the entrance to Prince William Sound. The Pacific Princess was the only cruise ship visiting Valdez this year. Sunny, again!
Prince William Sound, near oil pipeline terminus
Day 8, July 16 Seward. Generally, cruise passengers only board or depart their ships here, but we had the whole day in the port. Seward adjoins Kenai Fjords National Park, and provides the only land or boat access to it. Foggy, except for our time at "Exit Glacier" when the sun emerged.
At the edge of Exit Glacier
Day 9, July 17 Kodiak Island. This is where modern Alaska’s history began. In 1763 a Russian fur trader came to Kodiak and reported that it was prime sea otter country. In 1784 the first European settlement in Alaska was established on the island. Seriously foggy, all day.
Russian Orthodox Church in Kodiak
Day 10, July 18 At Sea. The ship headed almost straight east for over 550 miles, across the Gulf of Alaska. Foggy all day, but that meant CALM seas, so there were no complaints from the passengers. And no pictures!
Day 11, July 19 Icy Strait Point. The Tlingit Indian tribe purchased this defunct fish cannery and have turned it into a really pleasant "destination port" for cruise ships. Only one ship a day is allowed, so we had the property all to ourselves. Actually, there was little incentive to wander off--the island has the highest density of Grizzly Bears in North America.!
The only "bear free" forest trail at Icy Strait
Day 12, July 20 Juneau. Heading south through the Inside Passage, we spent a foggy day in Alaska's capital city. No sightings of soon-to-be-ex-Governor Palin.
The Red Dog Saloon where all tourists end up
Day 13, July 21 At Sea. The ship retraced its path, past the Queen Charlotte Islands and Vancouver Island. Sunshine again.
Baked Alaska parade by the ship's waiters.
Day 14, July 22 Victoria. Capital of British Columbia, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, and everyone's favorite "foreign" city. Sunniest day of all.
Parliament Building, near Inner Harbour, Victoria
Day 15, July 23 Seattle to Salem. We flew out of Seattle's fog and ended up in Salem's sunshine. A few days later, Salem endured several days of 106-degree heat. We shoulda' stayed in Alaska a bit longer!
Unless otherwise noted, text and photos are the property of Glenn and Barbara Halliday, © 2009
Gulf of Alaska map, © GraphicMaps.com, used with permission. Check out their other great maps at: www.worldatlas.com