Nhu and I recently returned from a cruise to Alaska on Norwegian Cruise Lines. Before the cruise, though, we spent a few days in the Seattle area, including two days at Mount Rainier. Afterward, we boarded the ship in downtown Seattle, and arrived in Juneau two days later where we spent the afternoon docked. My main goal in Juneau was to see the Mendenhall Glacier from Brotherhood Park, a spot that frequently appears on many postcards. Unfortunately, a fatal motorcycle accident occurred just as we were supposed to be boarding the city bus which was supposed to take us there. Because Juneau has only one main road to the Mendenhall Valley, not only was our bus very late, but it took us two and a half hours to go the ten miles. We did get to the spot eventually, but we were unable to go up to the glacier as planned. Instead, I took pictures quickly, and we got on the last express bus going back to town. We then had just a short time in downtown Juneau before we had to board the boat again.
Very early the next morning, we arrived in Skagway. This small blip on the map boasts less than a thousand permanent residents, and a stunning fifty two jewelry stores. Apparently the cruise ships have done wonders in shaping the local economy. Here we had an excursion scheduled: a Jeep tour up into the Yukon Territory. After thirty five people crammed into nine Jeeps, we were on our way. We drove up the beautiful, breathtaking Klondike highway, stopping three times for photos, plus a fourth for Canadian customs. I was somewhat disappointed that we didn't get to stop more often though, as the scenery was definitely picturesque. After an hour or so, we eventually reached the sleepy town of Carcross, much smaller even than Skagway with a population of fifty three. Here we had coffee and lunch, and then went up into the mountains for our brief off-road adventure. One of the Jeeps got a flat, but changing the tire took only a few minutes. After making our way back down the mountainside, we rushed back to Skagway, though I suspect the only rush was for the company to pick up a second load of tourists before the ships left that evening.
The following day was spent cruising around the breathtaking Glacier Bay National Park. The ship got fairly close to a few of the glaciers there, and we did see some (very) distant orcas and humpbacks. Later that night though, during a beautiful sunset, an entire pod of humpbacks got much closer to the ship. Nhu was ecstatic, as she had never seen whales before, and wanted the chance to spot them on the trip.
The morning after that, we arrived in Ketchikan. Unfortunately, the entire area was covered in a very, very thick layer of fog, which meant that our scheduled seaplane ride over the Misty Fjords was canceled. Luckily, there were a few spots left on the local boat-based tour, and we jumped on that instead. At first it looked like the fog would not clear at all, but our guide assured us that it would, and indeed it finally did clear up, just in time to see New Eddystone Rock, the iconic rock formation of the park. A few hours later, we were back in Ketchikan, but with even less time than we had in downtown Juneau. We rushed down the streets in an attempt to see as much as we could; we even had time to buy some very tasty smoked salmon before heading back to the boat.
The following evening, we arrived in Victoria, our final port, only to find that our whale watching excursion was also canceled, though I could not say why. It was cloudy, but certainly not foggy; I would have thought it the perfect weather to spot Orcas. Anyway, instead of whale watching, we visited downtown Victoria. We considered going up to Butchart Gardens, but we arrived in Victoria fairly late and I did not think we would have enough time for the trek to be worth it. After some brief exploration, we went back to the boat and headed for Seattle.
The ship itself, the Norwegian Pearl, is really a beautiful boat. It is large enough that we felt no movement at all except for the brief period that we were on open ocean. The staff was very friendly, and the food ranged from excellent to barely passable. The free (or rather, included) buffet was generally decent, and had a very good breakfast. The other included restaurants onboard were also quite good. Interestingly, most of the premium (i.e., cover charge) restaurants we tried, such as Brazilian and Shabu Shabu, were not as good. The exception to this was the French restaurant, which was truly spectacular; I wish we would have eaten there twice.
Overall, the cruise was fun, and I am very glad that I did it, but I don't think I'll be going on another one any time soon. I like planning my own vacations, and I'd rather not be stuck with a ship schedule. The port we spent the most time in, Skagway, was also the least interesting; I would have loved to spend more time in Ketchikan and Juneau. Still, the cruise was probably the cheapest way to see everything that we did, even if I didn't get to see as much as I wanted.