Tuesday, July 04, 2006


At long last, I'm here to continue my vacation story. So, it's Friday, May 26th (pay no attention to the date on this post). We've just shoved off from Pier 66 in Seattle and are bound for Alaska.

It took approximately 40 hours of cruising to reach our first destination -- Juneau. As we approached the dock, we took quite a few pictures of the surrounding mountains. This was the beginning of the realization that no picture could ever do justice to this scenery. Here is one of the many waterfalls along the way.

For some reason, we were a couple hours late getting to port, and so the excursion we'd booked had been cancelled. Luckily, we were able to get onto another one, and as soon as we disembarked, we boarded a tour bus to head for the whale-watching boat. Even though there were cloudy skies and a bit of a Seattle-like mist, we were pleased with the weather. The temperature was in the mid-60s!

Riding through downtown, we learned that Juneau -- like most towns in the Southern part of the state -- is landlocked: you can't drive into (or out of) town. In fact, we saw directional signs along the lines of "End of Road 3 mi." We also learned that, because the town can only be accessed by air or sea, it has the busiest airport in the United States.

We went past Mendhenhall Glacier. A stop at its visitor center was part of our original plan, which I still would have liked to do, but there just wasn't enough time. I actually took this picture from the whale boat.

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The bus driver was quite chatty, reveling in his role as tour guide by imparting trivia and corny jokes along the way. One interesting tale he told (which we heard from several other tour guides throughout the day) was about the airplane that had a mid-air collision with a fish. Apparently, as the plane was taking off, it crossed paths with a bald eagle with a salmon in its talons. The startled eagle released its prey, which then unceremoniously splattered onto the plane's windshield.

We arrived at the dock in Auke Bay to board a much smaller watercraft for whale watching. So certain are they that you'll see a whale, they offer a $100 money back guarantee. And they were right. There were dozens of opportunities to see whale backs, tails, and even a whole body over the course of a couple hours. Contrary to my dark, blurry, and uninspired pictures, it was an amazing ride.

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My camera, resigned to its limitations, sat idle while we watched one whale breach the surface completely. It was breathtaking. We also saw a bald eagle being harassed by a huge crowd of seagulls flying erractically all around him, hoping to annoy him enough to drop his fish (which, thanks to the bus driver, we now know they are wont to do). There were a number of sea lions hanging out on bell buoys and a variety of other wildlife in, above, and at the edges of the water.

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We stopped at Orca Point Lodge for a salmon bake. My Costco radar was in the red, as nearly everything that was served was Kirkland Signature. The grillmaster even had KS vegetable oil, plastic wrap, and foil at his station.

I made it a point to have salmon nearly every day during the trip (c'mon, it's Alaska!), but I must say this was probably the least inspiring version of it I encountered. Teriyaki. Still good, but it couldn't hold a candle to some of the amazing salmon appetizers, entrees, sushi, and even lox aboard the Mercury.

Anyway, it was an interesting place. A day lodge (no overnight accommodations) run by a couple who were two of only eight people who live on this island. Their house is on a ledge near the shore, and they have to climb a 30-foot ladder to get to it.

After dinner and shell-gathering, we headed back to Juneau. With about 90 minutes remaining before we set sail again, I did a burst of shopping while Ted, Sam, Donna, and just about everyone else went back to the ship. I found the Wal*Mart of Alaskan tourist giftware, where I immediately procured t-shirts for every family member (including myself, which is rare). There was a great store that only carried pieces handmade by Alaskan artists, a trinket store that was a mess of high quality and low quality items, and a jewelry store from which I procured a free watercolor painting of the town (part of a shopping guide deal I joined onboard). I also found the first couple items for the kids' Christmas stockings.

There was no time for anything else. I made it back to the gangway at precisely the moment we were told to be back (9:45pm). A few minutes later, I returned to our cabin where Ted had just gotten off the phone with ship security -- they called wondering where I was! At 10:00pm, we were sailing again.

All in all, we spent about seven hours in Juneau -- two fewer than planned and not nearly enough. Although I was very much enjoying my vacation to that point, I decided the future trips to Alaska would not be by cruise.

Next time, Skagway. I wonder if it'll be August by the time I get around to that entry.

An aside. I regularly break out into this song whenever I prepare broccoli for dinner. Been doing it for years since seeing the skit on SNL, I think when I was in college or shortly thereafter. Now, our friends at Cute Overload have nicked it to go with this incredibly cute picture. How funny.

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