Our Northwest Adventure Part 2 – Alaskan Cruise

Their faces when they saw how huge the ship was were priceless – I think up until this point, Ethan had been nervously anticipating some sort of large canoe.

The Seattle skyline as we sailed away.

Anna right after she spotted a whale!

Our first glimpse of Alaska – Ketchikan.

Creek Street in Ketchikan.

Three very different boats.

Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau behind Mendenhall Lake which didn’t exist 30 years ago.

The ice is really that blue.

Toby standing in front of Nugget Falls at Mendenhall Glacier.

Our family posing as superheros by Mendenhall Lake – that’s how we roll.

Our first bear sighting in the Yukon.

One of many, many eagles we saw – so majestic!

Carcross in the Yukon – this is most of it.

Ethan (and the rest of us!) was in love with these puppies at the Iditerod camp.

Getting a ride on an ATV pulled by mushing dogs – this is their summer training.

By the end of the day, these puppies were worn out!

Our guide in Skagway and the Yukon, Tom, showing the kids how to pan for gold – miraculously, every last child found some (clever, Tom)!

Stunning Tutshi Lake.

Downtown Skagway.

Rinnah and Anna posing by all the ice in Glacier Bay – there was so much in the water, we eventually had to turn back for safety.

Leaving gorgeous Glacier Bay.

The shoreline in Victoria, BC.

The tallest free standing totem pole in the world in Beacon Hill Park, BC.

Beacon Hill Park with a peacock!

Stunning Beacon Hill Park went on and on.

We saw this man playing his erhu so beautifully next to the Empress Hotel.

Fisherman’s Wharf, Victoria, BC.

Victoria Harbor.

We headed back to Seattle and met up with Nathan’s family who had all traveled in from Michigan, and then went to the ship on Saturday morning.

It was really fun to show the kids the ship. They were having the hardest time picturing what it must be like – I think they were all thinking we’d be on some kind of large canoe. Ethan was really worried that we were going on it for a week because in his mind that meant we couldn’t eat for a week! I told him there was a restaurant, that actually there were several restaurants, and he was floored. Their faces were priceless when they saw it down on the docks! It’s a huge ship, 19 floors, and has a capacity over 5000 people with crew. They were just stunned staring up at it!

I’m not actually a huge fan of cruising. I don’t like being with so many people, and I feel like you only get to see the surface of the places you’re going, but even I admit this was a very practical way to both vacation with 23 people, and to see these ports in AK because some of them are only accessibly by boat or plane. We had two rooms next door to each other, four in each room, and they were actually really nice – small of course, but much more comfortable than I expected. Again, the kids’ faces when the top bunk came out of the ceiling and the couch turned into the bottom bunk were priceless! They just thought it was all so cool.

Our first day was at sea, so we just hung around with our cousins and checked out the ship. All the kids went swimming even though it was absolutely freezing. All the adults huddled under blankets and gave them the thumbs up. 🙂

Our first stop was Ketchikan. We had checked the prices on the excursions from the cruise ship, and let’s just say that anything at all times 8 was out of our price range, so I had researched everything pretty thoroughly and this port we decided just to do a walking tour. We went through the main downtown area, and also to Creek Street and up the incline to the top of the mountain – all so pretty. We had amazing weather almost the entire trip which was astonishing since the weather is usually very rainy. We also stopped at the Heritage Totem Center, and that was so interesting for us and for our kiddos. We learned a lot about native culture in this part of the world. Walking back along the pier, all of us were looking over the edges of the floating dock because it was just covered with anemones and sea stars! We all thought it was a great first look at Alaska.

Our second stop the following day was in Juneau. Again, we didn’t sign up for any tours, but I had figured out how to take the bus to the Mendenhall Glacier. When we got off the ship, though, they were booking tours and since it was them trying to fill their last seats (on the exact tour we would have taken through the cruise line) we got on it for about 20% of what we would have paid. Score! We decided to go for it as it was a tour of Juneau in addition to Mendenhall. Our tour was lovely and the driver was born and raised in Juneau, so she knew her stuff. She also went on a mini-rant about classes of salmon and what people “down south” try to serve as salmon which everyone up there knows is just the worst type of salmon that they use for dog food in Alaska! There’s something I never even knew I should be offended by.

Then we went to Mendenhall, and it was just stunning, and also sad. There’s a beautiful lake right in front of it that didn’t exist 30 years ago. The visitor center was built right at the foot of the glacier at that time, but now because of melting, there’s a huge lake and it’s receded more than a mile. Nathan and Toby decided to speed hike to Nugget Falls (the rest of us explored the paths nearer by since we knew they could move really fast but we thought the Littles might not make it back in time for the bus trip back and we weren’t too psyched about missing the ship). It was over a mile there, and they still weren’t near the glacier – Nugget Falls used to run through and out of the glacier. I’m so glad we got to see it, but it’s tough to see environmental changes right in front of you that are that dramatic.

On the third day, we took an epic trip out of Skagway. Again, since the cruise line excursions were so out of our league, I had looked into a private tour. I found a family-run company with a 24 seat bus. Well, here we are with 23 people! I asked if the other Shaws wanted to be in on it, and we were all in! So the whole family took this private bus with maybe the nicest man ever, Tom, through Skagway, and up the White Pass which is the path the White Pass train follows and also where the Goldrush happened, and up into the Yukon.

Tom was a wonderful guide. He gave us the history of the town and the wild, wild West that was the Goldrush, brought a scope so we could find wildlife (we saw eagles, mountain goats, and even two bears!), and timed our border crossings into Canada so we’d beat the hundreds of people on the train. The scenery was breathtaking and we got to go so much farther than we would have on the train! We went all the way to Carcross, the 8th biggest town in all of the Yukon with 500 people. We went there for lunch because there is a bakery where you can get lunch – there was literally no other place to do that the entire day. He told us they get supplies “pretty close, over in White Horse – it’s only 90 miles.” The bakery looked completely overwhelmed by 23 people for lunch and I think they almost had a panic attack, but it was wonderful. And Tom (did I mention he’s nice??) brought a home-made cake for Mom and Dad Shaw since I’d mentioned it was their 50th!

The highlights of our trip to the Yukon were still coming, though. First, we stopped at dog mushing camp. The owners have both run the Iditarod multiple times, and we got to first play with the new puppies, then hear all about how they do the Iditarod and see their equipment. (Holy smokes, they are crazy people! For example, fun fact, only the brave go to sleep because it is often 60 below and if you sleep, you may not wake up! Haha! So, they average about an hour a night on an 8-14 day, 1000 mile trip, mostly in the dark since there’s only 3 hours of daylight at that time – he told us he routinely has to pour his boiling cooking water into his boots to thaw them enough to get them back on after changing his socks which is necessary to avoid foot rot. Which is apparently a thing. This is a voluntary activity. Just saying.)

After the talk, we got to take a ride! In the summer, the dogs train by pulling an ATV in neutral since there’s no snow. Each family took a turn and I can’t even explain how gorgeous the scenery was and how unreal it felt. What an incredible experience! And our driver, one of the owners, Michelle, guided the dogs with the softest commands, we hardly heard her, and they were just a machine. These are not your average house dogs, they were intimidating, definitely working, and a lot more like wolves than dogs, but she knew all 60 of them, and they loved running. She said they can go through 3000 dog booties on a trip, and she gave one to each of the kids as a souvenir.

Then our last stop was at Tutshi Lake where we let the kids pan for gold. I have a small suspicion that Tom may have come prepared for this, as somehow, magically, every single child found a little gold! They were stunned! And the parents thought Tom was a smart, smart man.

We just had time to walk through some of the main town of Skagway before getting back on the ship. It was one of my favorite days I’ve ever spent anywhere, and that’s saying something!

The next day our ship was supposed to cruise up to Glacier Bay National Park. We started in and saw some incredible scenery, including one large glacier, but there was so much ice in the water, it started getting a little scary. I was wondering if it was normal (and hearing the ice thudding against the sides of the ship is not comforting) when the captain came on and said that there was so much ice, we weren’t going to make it to the main glacier. He didn’t feel it was safe to continue. So we turned around and I felt that was as close to a Titanic story as I’d wanted to come anyway.

The last port was Victoria on Vancouver Island. We had already decided to come back to Vancouver Island after the trip with just our family, so we didn’t feel a lot of pressure here. We did a fairly epic walk up the coast, through Beacon Hill Park (stunning and peacocks everywhere!!), then downtown to the Empress Hotel and Parliament and then onto Fisherman’s Wharf, a totally charming, touristy, floating neighborhood. All the kids were trying to imagine what it would be like to live in a floating house.

We went back to the ship and explained that we were sailing back to Seattle only to get off the ship, rent a car, turn around, and come right back this way!

The next morning was all the craziness of disembarking. I have to say, my least favorite part of this cruise was finding a table for eight people. It was “free style,” so no set times, and no held tables. That is super annoying with a big group, and it was magnified with the insanity on the last day. I really enjoyed the Alaska part, but I was not too sorry to get off the ship after 7 days and so many people!

We tried to walk to our rental car with all our bags, but man, Seattle, you have some hills! So in the end, we left the kids together with all the bags down on the port (our oldest is 20 before you think we’re crazy) and Nathan and I hoofed it practically up a mountain to rent our cars. We hadn’t been able to get an eight-seat vehicle for this portion, unfortunately, so we had to rent two cars which ended up being almost always the boys car and the girls car. Which one talked more, do you think?

We spent the first part of the day in Seattle. We saw the Pacific Science Center since we have a reciprocal membership to one at home, and it was really fun! Right next to the space needle which we looked at and said, “hey, look! The Space Needle!” and then went and got lunch. Lunch was so cool too, because we just wandered into this area and they happened to be having a Native American Festival and it was awesome! We watched the dancing for a few groups while we ate our lunch. Looked around Seattle a bit more and then had to leave so we wouldn’t miss our ferry to Vancouver Island for the last leg of our trip.

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