Hi, I am Heather and I know that visiting Alaska seems to be on many people's bucket list. I was no exception, until this summer, when I had the opportunity to take a cruise throughout Southeast Alaska and had an up close and personal view of Alaska.
We arrived in Sitka the day before our cruise officially began. What an adorable small town. It's very clean, the houses are modest but well-maintained, and the weather was very pleasant. Soon after we started exploring the town we came across a garage sale at the Sitka Fire Department, which featured, of all things, to-die-for fried bread.
We were also delighted to discover the Totem Loop Trail, a beautifully maintained path through an evergreen forest populated with a rich variety of totem poles. Later, we ate a surprisingly pricey dinner at the Westmark Hotel, where a Manhattan runs a steep $15 and a Cobb salad, $17.
The Alaskan Dream vacation officially started the following day in Sitka when we met our Expedition Leaders David (our naturalist) and Lee (our culturist), as well as our fellow cruise ship passengers - about 40 of us in total.
We spent the morning touring Sitka on foot and learning about the Russian influence on Alaska at the beautiful St. Michael's Cathedral and the surprisingly opulent Russian Bishop's House. We also visited The Sheldon Jackson Museum, where we got an up-close view of artifacts - tools, baskets, masks, clothing, even totem poles - from the Tlingit (pronounced KLINGkit) Indians. Our expedition leader, Lee, is a Tlingit descendant, and there is a photo of his Tlingit grandfather in the museum. What a wonderful connection I felt to Alaska upon meeting him!
Later that same day, we boarded an expedition boat, where we saw an impressive menagerie of wild life: sea lions, otters, herring gulls, and two humpback whales!
After a three-hour tour, the boat delivered us to our cruise ship, the Baranof Dream, which became our home for ten days.
The ship is small and if you are prone to sea sickness like me, I urge you to investigate your options for medicine. My doctor prescribed Transderm Scopolamine, which is a 72 hour patch worn behind your ear. I was surprised at how many passengers I saw wearing the patch. It was fantastic and I never became ill. The prescription is a bit pricey if you pay out of pocket, but well worth it!
Upon boarding, the crew was very friendly and professional and made us feel at home. Our first social hour in the lounge provided a wonderful opportunity to get to know our fellow passengers. It didn't take long to make friends and then we were off to dinner. The ship's chef had prepared a wonderful salmon with fruit salsa. Then we learned about what we would be doing the following day and headed back to our cabins for a well-deserved rest.
The sleeping accommodations varied from cabin to cabin. My cabin had two single beds, a closet, and showlette, which is a toilet-sink-shower all in one. Fine, once you get the hang of it! Twister, anyone? Queen-size beds were available in some cabins. Some cabins even had separate sitting areas. Overall, the cabins were clean and very comfortable. Those passengers over 6 feet were a little scrunched in the single rooms. Just something to keep in mind.
The next day the weather was bad for whale watching, chilly and rainy, so the crew adjusted our itinerary and took us to the town of Hoonah. The main industry of Hoonah is tourism and we were able to watch a dance performance by members of the Tlingit tribe, shop, and visit a cannery museum.
We also went on a "Bear Search" with the rest of our cruise passengers. They took us by bus to a gorgeous bear-viewing platform that looked like something from National Geographic magazine. Unfortunately, we didn't see any bears there. As luck would have it, though, we saw a fantastic silver-back black bear fording a stream. Bears amaze me! And for good measure, a bald eagle flew right over our bus, giving us an unexpected close view of a national treasure.
Glacier Bay and Tracy Arm were two of my favorite stops of the trip! Glacier Bay National Park provided an even more stunning display of wildlife than we'd seen in Sitka. We saw sea otters, a brown bear, mountain goats, a lone grey wolf, humpback whales, harbor seals, tufted puffins, and many other sea birds. One of my favorite stops was the Glacier Bay Lodge, which displayed a reticulated humpback whale skeleton. Seeing a full whale skeleton up close really heightened my awareness of the massiveness of the whales we had been viewing from the safety of the ship. They are so huge!
Tracy Arm was equally amazing for its majestic landscapes! It provided our first glimpse of Alaska's stunning, ice-blue glaciers and yet another glimpse of the abundant wildlife, including harbor seals, pigeon guillemots, Glaucous-winged gulls, and a lot of humpback whales!
By far, the best eating adventure of the entire trip was at the Orca Point Lodge.
What was on the menu? King crab legs! Throw in a little competition and you have a crab eating frenzy. The crew challenged us to eat more pounds of crab legs than the previous cruise ship. Did we take them up on that challenge? You bet your crab leg we did! And guess who won? You betcha, we did! After reveling in our win and tummies full, we participated in a salmon filleting ritual where each person was given the option to kiss a salmon. What a fun way to celebrate food and end the evening!
Not only did we get the opportunity to view spectacular wildlife and landscapes on our cruise, but we also got to experience it through hiking, kayaking, small-boat rides that brought us thrillingly close to waterfalls and glaciers, and diving into the chilly Alaskan waters for a Polar Plunge!
I highly recommend Alaskan Dream Cruises if you want to see amazing landscapes and wildlife, learn about Alaskan culture from Alaskans themselves, and meet fellow passengers that you can forge deep friendships with! This cruise line is unique because it's more intimate than a large cruise line and you have better access to wildlife and nature because its smaller, more-nimble ships can navigate into the narrower canals.
It was truly the trip of a lifetime! And even though I can now check Alaska off my bucket list, this trip made me yearn for more Alaskan adventures.
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