Alaska Travelog, 2007Author: California Dreamer (More Trip Reviews by California Dreamer)
Date of Trip: July 2007
Travelog, Alaska, July 2007 by Jo Powers
Have you ever dreamed of reindeer on your rooftop? Have you yearned to see them up close and personally? Ever thought you'd feed them? With my love of animals, this was an unfathomable dream! This dream came true for me in July in Alaska, while hiking through the rainforest of Ketchikan on our 7-day cruise on Celebrity's ship, "Infinity."
We flew from San Diego to Vancouver, arriving at the ship under a drizzling sky. This didn't dampen our enthusiasm; we San Diegans had not seen rain in six months. We were greeted by a staff member who handled just my luggage from this point forward at the ship's lobby introducing me to the feeling of being a celebrity. My husband, Bob, and I cruised ten times prior, and this was a first! Cabin 8004, seemed a bit tight with my tall, handsome bear of a husband, but our veranda improved its adequacy. We managed nicely over time. The staff was top-notch demonstrating outstanding customer service, going the extra mile on each and every request.
Our first stop, after a day of cruising and acquainting ourselves with our four Canadian dinner mates, was Ketchikan. We took a shore excursion of a one-hour hike through the rainforest learning about all the various plant life, banana slugs. Halfway through the hike, much to my delight, we encountered the "reindeer reserve," where 6-8 deer endowed with lovely velvet antlers were waiting by the fence for my lunch of lettuce, broccoli, and leaves from the tree branches. I regressed immediately to six years of age, talking to these magnificent creatures, looking into their big dark eyes, and going back for more greens to feed them. Bob got such a kick out of me; he couldn't stop snapping his digital camera. Reindeer are unique in that both sexes have branch-like antlers. In reality, they are native to Europe but recently Alaska and Canada started importing them for petty zoos.
Further on into the forest, we encountered dozens of mature and immature eagles. Mature eagles have the white heads and tails, while the immature eagles do not. Later, at another newly opened reserve for an old and injured eagle and owl, we zoomed in with full-frame view, and witnessed a 270 degree turn of the owl's head. It seemed so unreal it appeared to me to be a mechanical imitation—absolutely fascinating!
Our last stop on this hike was to meet and witness a native's three-month carving of a totem pole, which featured an eagle with a beak very similar to mine—my nose, that is! Bob and I always said we would have handsome kits, but they'd have big aquinine noses. Anyway, our host explained the legend of the tide lady and the raven which was delightful and inspirational. We headed back to the ship for dining, dancing and exercising to work off the calories ingested during this journey thus far. Interestingly enough, this is the first cruise that I returned from at my same weight--an incredible accomplishment, and more than likely due to added hiking and deck walking.
Wednesday turned very rocky, which explains the theme of the evening entertainment of "Rock and Roll." We twisted and jitterbugged, while two of our tablemates struggled with motion sickness so I loaned Jean, our new friend, my pressure point motion sickness prevention wristbands to prevent more complicated effects. Ed reminded me so much of Walter Matthau that one night we called "Walter Matthau" when he was trying to locate us in the entertainment lounge. Everyone joined in and we all had a good laugh. This tag continued throughout the remainder of the cruise. By the way, the entertainment on Infinity was far superior to other cruise lines in our recent experiences.
Our next stop was Juneau, where we signed up for a "Bike and Brew" bicycle trip of 9.5 miles to the Mendenhall Glacier and Alaskan Brewery. Much to my disillusionment, they had difficulty fitting me to a bicycle with a seat that wouldn't "de-virginize" any woman, and which had right brakes which worked properly.
As a result, I rode in the van while Bob biked with eight other cruisers to the magnificent Mendenhall Glacier. Though scary as those logging roads seemed, and as steep as the hills were for the bikers, the reward of proximity to the glacier and being able to put a foot or hand into the glacial lake took our breath away! We stopped for hot chocolate and snacks, as well as at a small church with windows reflecting this picturesque view. We then headed onward to the bumpy, rocky path through the trees to the Alaskan Ale brewery. We imbibed a sampling of six different blends as we listened to the tour guide describe the history of this small business venture which has flourished over the last decade. We especially liked the full-bodied Alaskan Ale, and this is available at your local grocery stores.. We drove back to the ship where once again we sailed through the quiet inside passage, resembling a river cruise through quiet waters and vast scenic land on both sides of the ship, searching for bear, moose, whale and more. I was so glad that Bob remembered our binoculars on this second cruise of Alaska, though we did see more Orcas on our May 2005 cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines.
The next day included a full-day of naturalist's education on the Hubbard glacier, while they served Hungarian goulash on three viewing decks, and we experienced the crackling sound of lightning and booms of thunder. We were informed it was "white lightning," as named by the Alaskan natives to describe the ice masses separating from the glacier itself and falling into the waterways as blue ice.
Our final Alaskan destination was Icy Strait Point, a remote part of Alaska, where only one cruise ship is allowed per day, and only five days per week. We arrived by tender (small boats from the ship) to be greeted by Native Americans who gave us a cedar chip to place in the burning firepot for blessings and good luck. We chatted with one of them, John, who was dressed in his native costume, and exchanged a few sentences about the clan's approval of the limited ship arrivals. I gathered they were attempting to strike a balance between progress, prosperity, and maintaining their native values. However, this was difficult for me to believe when we walked a few yards further, and there it was! The largest, newest Zip line stretching across the Alaskan forest enticing tourists for a 1-1/2 hour encounter for $85. Once you buy your ticket, they bus you to the top of the mountain where they release you to the skies. Briefly, you sit in this canvas basket seat, keep your legs out perpendicular to the earth, and hold on for the ride of your life, along steel cables cascading over breathtaking views of Mother Nature. Bob toyed with this adventure, but decided against it after seeing one lady's sunglasses pop off as her seat snapped off the line! We interviewed the cruise ship staff who claimed this was the best zip line based on a sampling of his experienced fellow crew members. We tasted the locally caught halibut and chips and then hastened to our shore excursion in search of bear. Much to our dismay we didn't encounter any bear sightings, though the guide confirmed earlier excursions had several. Unfortunately, our tour began at noon; and like most animal encounters, they are best in early morning or late afternoon. However, we did see live deer close by the roadside.
Returning once again to the Infinity, we indulged in the wonderful healthy food at the Spa Bar. Most dining room meals were good but not as impressive as I thought they would be considering Celebrity's reputation. Most ships encourage a night at their "specialty restaurant," where you can enjoy a longer, more intimate dinner for an additional fee of $30 per person. We especially enjoyed the Saturday evening meal far outdoing the previous evenings, which is a smart strategy on the part of the cruise line since this is when you're planning your tips!
Seven days rushed by quickly, and it was time to disembark. This procedure was handled in a very timely fashion. I don't know why, but the cruise lines booked us on a flight so late in the day that they expected us to wait almost eight hours in the Vancouver airport for our departure. We attempted to get an earlier flight on standby which ended in disaster with broken promises and finally waiting another three hours for our luggage in the San Diego airport. On our last two journeys, we chose to check our bags to give ourselves a break; however, if I had it to do over again, I would not have checked them. We always use our 19" to 22" roller bags so we have options. Amazingly, we had no mechanical or weather delays—only poor planning on the part of the cruise lines, broken promises on part of Alaska Airlines Seattle Customer Service, and broken carousels with reduced late evening staff at the San Diego Airport. What a shock; a reality check! This unnecessary, extremely long, traveling day did partially override our immediate wonderful memories initially. However, no imperfections and bad service can ever extinguish the wonderful, childlike, dream come-true memories I experienced feeding the velvety-antlered reindeer in the Ketchikan rainforest, not to mention getting so close to the glacier and its sparkling lake.
Our 49th state is truly one of our most wondrous, scenic, gargantuan states, and certainly worth several visits to embrace it. Upon our return, we wrote letters to Celebrity Cruise Lines, Alaska Airlines, our travel agent, Travel of America, and Horizon Air complaining about the horrendous return flight and luggage problems. Celebrity Cruise Lines claimed no responsibility for this inconvenience and pointed the finger at the airlines and us. They advised us that it is our responsibility to thoroughly checkout the docking times, disembarkation procedure, and departure times and if we don't like it, pay more for Custom Air. I made a suggestion to them on their improving communication about Custom Air and they took note of my suggestion but never compensated us for any delays, added costs, etc. To help you prevent this when you cruise, check your times very carefully and if you see yourself waiting long periods of time, check with your travel agent and make an adjustment you won't regret. On the other hand, Alaska Air commiserated with us and offered us a $75 discount each on future flights. Thank you, Alaska Airlines; however, I think if we ever go to Alaska again, we'll cruise Norwegian Cruise Lines, a more environmentally conscious and passenger-sensitive cruise line, in my opinion, and more accepted by John, our Alaskan native friend in Icy Point. Happy Cruising!
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