A Travellerspoint blog

May 2013

Canada: Sea Day to Vancouver!

May 31-June 1 2013

overcast 65 °F

If you've never been on a cruise you're probably wondering what do I do on a sea day?

Well, there's lots to do on the ship including explore the art galleries, drink champagne, eat delicious desserts, hit the spa or gym, play boards games, read, gamble, swim, shop, get dolled up for a formal night or just veg out for a day with nowhere to go and nothing you have to do. Cruiseships always try to make sea days fun by adding extra activities like an ice sculpting demos or serving moose chilli (yes, moose) on the deck to draw people out. . . and yes Bullwinkle was delicious! :)

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We love sea days so that we can take a break between port days (which we always fill with a hectic schedule hoping to explore every inch of whatever port we visit)! We save exploring the ship for the sea days.

On this last sea day we saw lots of wildlife as we made our way down to Vancouver, including a whale waving hello with his pectoral fin and more whale tails but most of all we just used it as a chance to slow down and enjoy the day for ourselves. . .the vistas weren't too bad either!

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The ship dropped us off in Vancouver, BC, and even though we've both been there before we couldn't resist a little visit to Stanley Park. We took a local bus to the park and walked around practicing taking photos of everyday things like a log, Canadian geese, a waterfall.

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At the end we just sat and listened to a woman play her (what-we-think was) a guqin or other asian string instrument before lugging our bags to the airport and heading on to our 2nd home--the SF Bay Area.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 15:09 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

USA: Alaska: Low wo-Man on the Ketchikan Totem Pole

May 30, 2013

rain 50 °F

Ketchikan was one of our absolute favorite stops on the cruise; it is the southernmost city in Alaska and unfortunately our last stop before entering Canada tomorrow. Oooooh how we hate the feeling of a vacation coming to an end :( This is a picturesque town with its main street practically built on stilts overlooking the Ketchikan River.

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Meandering through the city we saw a variety of tall totem poles and in fact it has the world's largest collection of standing totem poles. It all sounds pretty great but it’s also one of the rainiest places in Alaska. This place makes Seattle look like sunny LA! I would really like to see this place during the salmon run!

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To stay dry we stepped into the Fish House and had. . You guessed it! Crab for lunch : )

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No trip to Ketchikan would be complete without a ride up the funicular (a hillside elevator/train going up to the Cape Fox Lodge above Ketchikan)-- great views from up there, weather permitting of course! A city bus trip (about 30 min south of Ketchikan) to the Totem Heritage Center is also a must. We had so much fun practicing our photography up there! Ruby really was the low wo-man on the totem pole as you can tell by the pics.

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Of course Ruby couldn’t leave what is known as the "Salmon Capital of the World" without buying a box of Alaskan Salmon for Dr. Shalita.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 15:12 Archived in USA Comments (0)

USA: Juneau we’re going to see some bald eagles! --- FOODIE

May 29, 2013

semi-overcast 68 °F

We arrived in Alaska’s capital and were ready for some action today. . .while walking off the ship we immediately spotted a bald eagle perched on a branch with another one flying overhead. It’s amazing what you can see just sitting on the ship—maybe a bald eagle soaring by or a whale coming up for air.
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You gotta take a boat or a plane because downtown Juneau is nestled at the base of Mount Juneau and is not accessible by roads because of the Juneau ice field. This huge ice mass is the source of about 30 glaciers including the famous Mendenhall Glacier and Lemon Creek Glacier we would get to see today.

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When you get off the boat in Juneau you can see the famous Mount Roberts Tramway and there are stands set up selling everything from helicopter rides to walking tours around town. We decided to go on a whale watching tour and do our own hike around the Mendenhall Glacier admiring it from afar. Don’t do the tour to Mendenhall unless you actually want to put on some crampons and walk on the glacier itself because there’s a cheap bus going from town every hour.

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After a short drive on a city bus we arrived at the Mendenhall glacier visitors center. This place is amazing and a must see if you're in Juneau. We decided to hike over and get a better view of the glacier but before we could even start our hike we spotted a porcupine just hanging-out next to the trail. After I took a few hundred photos of the little guy sleeping we started on our way.

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The hike is flat, smooth and easy with a few good photo spots along the way. If you have time you can take several longer hikes up and around the waterfall. There’s plenty of signs warning you about the bears on the trail but luckily we didn’t encounter any. We did however spot a few mountain goats up high on a cliff! After shooting photos and hiking around this gorgeous location we were ready for some whale watching.

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After boarding a small whale watching boat that would take us through Stephens Passage . We rode around searching for whale spouts in the water and luckily photographed several whales! These creatures are so peaceful despite their immense size. We learned that humpbacks typically take 3-5 breaths before diving down and showing off their tail fluke. We even had a curious sea lion came stick his head out of the water to check us out. Even if you don't see whales; this boat ride would be worth the stunning views with snow topped mountains and Lemon Creek Glacier in the distance.
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  • ***As a tip, we would definitely recommend taking a smaller boat with as few people as possible. You never know where the whales will be or what side of the boat they will appear on so the more room you have to move around—the better! :)

We arrived back to town with a little bit of time to sneak in a FOODIE ALERT. Last season’s Top Chef was filmed in Alaska and the chefs had to cook a crab dish at Tracy’s Crab Shack. Luckily, it was right on the dock and if you are a foodie or just like crab than this is a must stop! After a great lunch with “crab three ways” and a cool beer we were back to our usual dip in the jacuzzi before an amazing crab dinner—and NO, we were not all crabbed out! Lol
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Posted by Tony.Ruby 00:36 Archived in USA Comments (0)

USA: Skagway, Alaska: Mini Bus Gold Rush

May 28, 2013

sunny 68 °F

One of the great things about cruising is while you’re sleeping the boat is on its way to the next destination. When we opened the curtains today we were greeted with the sight of a large rock wall directly outside our window-- not very glamorous but we had arrived in the sleepy small town of Skagway. It is located in a steep valley and is one of the main cruise ports in Alaska. There’s amazing history and hiking but not really a lot going on in this town with a year round population of 620 residents. They did have some shall we say. . . "interesting" t-shirts and bumper stickers though...
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Apparently this is a good place to see bears during peak salmon season but this wasn't peak season so our plan was to take a trip over to Haines for sea kayaking but after a short walk around town we decided on a Mini Bus Yukon Discovery tour following the White Pass Summit and just across the border into Canada. Skagway is at the start of the Klondike Highway and the main starting point of the Yukon Gold Rush of the 1890s. An estimated 100,000 prospectors migrated up to the Klondike region of the Yukon in north-western Canada between 1896 and 1899 in search of gold.
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On the drive we could see why the journey proved too hard for most and only between 30,000 and 40,000 managed to arrive. Beautiful scenery surrounded us on the drive but we would NOT have wanted to be out there hiking, mining or any other outdoor activity without all the high tech cold weather gear that exist today! You know we took waaaaaay too may photos of nothing…(nothing to us after a few days in Alaska= amazing snow-covered mountains).
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After several stops along the way we arrived at what looked like a tourist filled old western settlement called Caribou Crossing. It was a little cheesy and touristy but the BBQ was nice and the blue-eyed husky puppies made the trip worthwhile. In the summer they operate as a tourist destination but it’s really a dog sledding training center and what better training for dogs than pulling fat tourists up and down a dirt road! :)
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The drive back was fairly uneventful except for a stop at the Carcross Desert—a literal desert in Alaska! Unfortunately we didn’t see any large animals on the way-- the dandelions were still intact on the grass which means most bears were still hibernating (it's a favorite snack when they wake up from their long slumbers).
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When we arrived back in town we took a short walk around thinking about what to do with the next few hours before boarding the boat…I have an idea, let’s drink! I don’t know how Ruby does it but she managed to find a place to have a margarita and some chips and salsa…just about as far from Mexico as we could possible get. We then boarded our ship and immediately jumped into the jacuzzi to watch the town fade away as we slowly floated off into the sunset… romantic.
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Posted by Tony.Ruby 00:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

USA: Amazing Day in Glacier Bay with Ruby the Otter Spotter!

May 27, 2013 Alaska

sunny 65 °F

Another day up bright and early looking for whales, otters and anything else we could see walking around on the mountains. Today we would be entering the beautiful Glacier Bay! There are 8 glaciers in the bay and 11 total in the National Park. We are very lucky to have this opportunity to see this because Glacier Bay is one of the only places in Alaska with healthy and advancing glaciers, a rarity in today's world. In this first photo below you can see a ship next to the Margerie Glacier so you can get an idea of the enormity of this glacier!
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As we entered Glacier Bay Ruby's sharp eyes spotted several otters floating on their backs in the calm waters (even a mama otter with a baby on her belly), a grizzly bear walking along the beach and goats on the cliffs that look like little white dots in the distance…lucky we had the long lens for our camera!
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The highlight of today was definitely huge pieces of the Margerie Glacier calving into the bay!!! In the first photo of this blog entry you can see a ship next to the Margerie Glacier so you can get an idea of the enormity of this glacier and what it means to see huge chunks of it falling into the water. The weather was so perfect that you could even see the Fairweather Mountains in the distance (named because you can only see them in fair weather). It’s hard to explain the sounds that a glacier makes as is cracks, slides and crashes into the water. You can see the sequence of action the photos below! We hope you all have the chance to one day experience it! :)
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We got everything one could ask for in Glacier Bay National Park…clear blue skies, otters & whales in the calm water and yes, they even have Glaciers. We enjoyed the views from the jacuzzi as we left the bay at the end of the day. . .
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Posted by Tony.Ruby 14:03 Archived in USA Comments (0)

USA: Alaska: . . and what will you be having sir? – Hubbard

May 26, 2013

sunny 58 °F

We were up early, excited to be on our ship and officially on our way! When at sea there really isn’t anything to do except relax, eat and repeat. One of the must do things on a cruse is to attend the naturalist talks. Our naturalist guide on this ship is a nice retired teacher named Sandra. She was very knowledgable, had personal experience in the area and would took time to be at the front of the ship when anything important was coming up (whales, porpoises, glaciers, bears and more)! So after listening to a great talk on what we would see today we grabbed a quick bite to eat and made our way to the front of the ship! This morning we saw some humpbacks and porpoises pretty early :)
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Today we got to see the largest glacier in Alaska—the Hubbard glacier which is 76 miles long and extends into Canada. We are really lucky because this location is known for bad weather and if it’s raining or snowing you won't see anything. For us the weather was so nice and the water so calm we could see gorgeous reflections of the mountains off the water. There is little we could say to describe the feeling of seeing such an amazing glacier… and with so many disappearing, this is something our children may not have the chance to see :(
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Since the water was so smooth and calm we were easily able to see that there were harbor seals lazily floating around on some of the ice floes!
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After a long day of shooting photos off the side of the boat we decided to eat dinner. We had a private table in the dining area and a nice waiter from Thailand. Everything looked amazing on the menu and Ruby started by ordering two appetizers, two soups, two entrees, two desserts and a bottle of wine. Without skipping a beat the waiter looks at Tony and asks “...and what will you be having sir?” This is why it’s nice to take a cruise…total indulgence, and by the way Ruby's order was for both of us! :)
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Posted by Tony.Ruby 02:22 Archived in USA Comments (0)

USA: Alaska: 6 Month Wedding Anniversary!

May 25, 2013

sunny 65 °F

It’s a little crazy traveling this far from home and still having cell phone and email access. It’s also a little crazy that the weather is better in Alaska than in New York. We only have a few hours in Anchorage before our bus departs to Whittier (all cruise ships set sail about 2 hours drive or train from town). We were up bright an early today and started with a walk down the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. Not really what we were expecting... it was a nice paved bike trail along the river.
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We walked around practicing taking photos with our new camera until we meandered our way to the Weekend Market. Lunch consisted of something called Halibut Cheeks (we think it was just Halibut parts), an amazing crab soup and some sweet potato fries (you know Ruby can’t pass up on that). We’re starting to notice that Alaska has some interesting people…nice, but interesting. As we were eating a guy sat next to Ruby and hanging over his shoulder was a ferret…yes a ferret on a leash. He was nice enough to tell us all about the little guy and Ruby even got to hold him for a few. Unfortunately we couldn't hangout with rodents looking at arts and crafts all day so off we went to catch our bus out of town.
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There are several ways down to the cruise port but we decided on a small local company for $35 each. This option was much cheaper than going with the ship's Cruise Transport (Around $60 each) or renting a car (one direction $300). There's also a train to Whittier but we’re about to spend a week with these old people and the thought of being stuck on a train for another few hours really wasn’t that appealing. Whatever option you decide there is only one road along Turnagain Arm. If you’re lucky you can see dall sheep and beluga whales but at the very least you're sure to see some amazing vistas. On the way we stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center about 30 minutes outside Anchorage. We would definitely recommend stopping at this location. It's the perfect place for a photo-op of Bears, Moose, Reindeer, Bison, Musk Oxen, Deer, Elk and even a bald eagle. We wish we could have stayed longer but our bus only made a short 45 min stop!
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Fun Fact: Reindeer is the domestic name for Caribou, there is no such thing as domestic Caribou.
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Another highlight of our drive was the short stop at Portage Glacier valley. Our first Alaskan Glacier complete with an iceberg filled lake over 600’ deep. We wanted to stay at this location longer but it was our turn to enter a 2.5 mile-long tunnel (Anton Anderson Memorial) to Whittier. The tunnel was designed for the train and is only about 12’ wide so cars and the train can only go one direction at a time. This is the only way in or out of Whittier. There's not a lot to do in this small town so we just walk around Whittier Harbor looking at fishing boats. If we had more time we would recommend hiking up and getting a good look at a glacier but remember what the locals say “it’s always shittier in Whittier” so Anchorage may be your better bet to stay dry.
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We boarded our ship and started our long boat ride down to Vancouver. What a great way to spend our 6 month wedding anniversary. By the way, you really lose track of time when the sun is up so late. We thought it was only around 7 or 8pm but it was already midnight by the time we walked back to our room.
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Posted by Tony.Ruby 16:30 Archived in USA Comments (0)

USA: Alaska: Talkative New Yorkers in Anchorage

May 24, 2013

rain 65 °F

We are off to Alaska for a cruise on the Princess Sapphire. With all the adventure travel we do one would think we wouldn’t like cruises but we call it “Forced Relaxation”. Once you get on the boat you’re along for the ride. Nothing too crazy to prepare for the trip, just the normal questions: how much should we pack, how many bottles of wine will fit in our bags and how many shoes can Ruby fit in Tony’s bag?

Ruby travel tip: If you don’t have an “always pack” list saved on your phone you should definitely start one (and add to it when you forget something).
Once again it was raining in New York and all flights got delayed out of JFK! We learned that there really aren’t that many flights going to Alaska and spent most of our delay frantically calling Alaska Air asking about their next flight tomorrow and thinking about another long night sleeping at an airport. . . Luck was on our side though and we made it onto our flight to Alaska! At about 3am we woke up to an amazing glowing red sky outside the window (btw the average hours of sunlight up this far North in May is 19:55-24).
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We retrieved our bags and remarkably they didn’t smell like broken bottles of wine so Tony’s packing job must have been good. The Anchorage airport is small but nice and our shuttle soon arrived to pick us up. It was late at night and both of us thought our driver had been up just a little too long today. Tony kept talking to him so he wouldn’t shut his eyes and swerve off the road! He must have thought “man... people from New York are really talkative”. After a long day of travel we arrived to our hotel: The Guest House Inn. It’s nothing fancy but it’s clean, people are nice and it’s located just a short walk from the Weekend Street Market.

Posted by Tony.Ruby 16:28 Archived in USA Comments (0)