Alaska Cruise day 7 (Skagway)

Day 7: We slept in as long as possible before our 8 am tour. Skagway was once a gold rush town, where prospectors came hoping to strike it rich! Unfortunately, nothing more than gold flakes were ever found here. It is now a virtual ghost town, with a population hovering around 300 most of the year, but it picks up in the summer for tourists. It only gets 20” of rain a year, so Canadians use it as a spring break hotspot! It was really beautiful, with the most authentic old west charm I have ever encountered!

Our tour group was so small it was just us and a family of four! A mom and three young kids turned out to be from La Jolla, living very close to my university! Our bus dropped us off at a small center where we met a man who raced in the Iditarod sled dog race 7 times! This happens to be the national sport of Alaska! Anyone see Balto? Matt showed us his gear and how modern sleds look, describing how he manages 16 dogs racing non-stop for two weeks in -40 Fahrenheit! We then went out and met the huskies! It turns out that ‘husky’ is not a real breed but more like the ‘mustang’ of the horse world. The Siberian Huskies of the AKC are bred for looks anymore and are no good for a real race! They hooked the dogs up and took them out on gravel for us to see! This is how they train in the summer. Finally, we got to play with the husky puppies! They were so cute! Mine was named Jab, but there was Uppercut, Sucker Punch, and another I forget. When we finally put the puppies away, we headed for the cold chamber!

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The grounds had an ice room maintained at 40-below-freezing. They gave us heavy winter coats to put on and we tested how long we could stay before getting uncomfortable. Even the little kids had a blast! I stayed the longest and got some fun pictures! Last, we learned about gold panning from a man dressed as a prospector, and got to try our hands panning for gold! We were guaranteed to find gold, and they helped us get the most out of our pans. Then they took us in to measure and weigh it, while telling us how much it was worth! We both made around $17 each, even though it was just a tiny sprinkling of gold leafing. I can imagine why people get gold fever!

The experience really made our trip! I highly recommend it for anyone heading to Skagway. They have a cute café there as well, with delicious homemade root beer! Their gift shop is interesting. They even sold sled-dog champion dog poop fertilizer! I had fun showing that to the San Diegan kids. When we finished our tour, the bus driver went out of her way to drop the two of us off at the 19th century cemetery! We took a little walk to see their 7-tier waterfall before reading the names and ages of the old-west grave markers!

Apparently, back in the day, ‘Soapy Smith’ was a notorious conman. He built a telegram machine, charging homesick residents $5 per message out and $5 per message received. The problem was that his telegram wire went up the mountain, but no further! Every return message was fake, and no message was ever sent! His life ended in a bloody shoot-out, where the US Marshall died only hours after his only child was born. Soapy was killed by the same man who founded Skagway, but he was also killed by one of Soapy’s men. There were many markers that showed this same death date.

Downtown Skagway, which is really the only part of Skagway that there is, looked like an actual step back in time! Even the sidewalks were wood planks! This was one of my favorite ports! Most of the shops were for jewelry, since most of the visitors are from cruise ships. Even Starbucks is actually in a jewelry shop! I visited a Russian shop where most of their goods are handmade in St. Petersburg! I bought some small souvenirs there, since Alaska was once Russia, so I thought it was fitting. I remembered to turn on roaming again, which gave me extended 3g, allowing Beau to order transcripts for his grad school and me to update Facebook. I have some amazing pictures from Skagway!

After sailing away, we were still on the inside passage. The howling wind through the fjords was enough to take my breath away! This is the Alaska I expected! How does one fully appreciate snow-capped mountains while on a cruise ship? From the hot tub of course! We met another couple from San Diego and spent about 3 hours in the hot tub. We watched the most amazing pink sunset over the mountains I had ever seen! Was it cold outside of the hot tub? It was freezing. Were we comfortable? O yes! Still, it was an adventure to run back to our towels while wearing wet swimsuits! Fortunately, the tub was so hot it took a long time to get to where we were in pain.

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Alaska Cruise day 6 (Juneau)

Day 6: Juneau is a cute city. Much larger than Ketchikan, but certainly would not constitute a ‘large city’. Our tour didn’t leave until 1:30 so we were able to sleep in, have a nice breakfast in the dining room, and take a stroll over to the Mount Robert Tram. This was the traditional cable car taking you up a sheer evergreen mountain up to a nature center. We got amazing views of the city. The tram was $29 per adult, but I still highly recommend it. Unfortunately, the day before had so much snow that most of the trails were still closed. We took a nice hike around the mountain, got some amazing pictures of waterfalls, and had a section of the trail that we had to hike through the snow. We were not dressed for the weather. My tennis shoes were not designed for ice. Even still, it was 85 degrees out, which made it too hot to wear my long-sleeved shirt. Some guys from the Philippines took their shirts off and wrestled in the snow! Back at the nature center, they had a rescued bald eagle, Lady Baltimore, who was available for pictures. It was a great site, and should not be missed!

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We headed back to the cruise ship for lunch (why pay for extra meals when we are on a budget?) before meeting our guide on the dock. He happened to be from Murrieta, which is 45 minutes from my hometown! We went to a rainforest garden, privately maintained by a local landscaping family, which allowed for even more amazing pictures! From there, he took us to a salmon hatchery where we sampled caviar and smoked salmon while learning about rehabilitation efforts (ironic, I know!) but had to leave early due to a special event. Apparently, someone decided to actually get married at the salmon hatchery! I suppose that could be romantic…

Finally, we were dropped off and Mendehall State Park, which offered a nice 15 minute hike to a glacier and waterfall! This was incredible! We stood on the beach in 80-degree weather, with little kids swimming around us, while we listened to a 200’ waterfall blowing out pure white water and watched icebergs float by! We listened to the famed ‘white thunder’, which is the sound a glacier makes when chunks break off. It really sounds like thunder! No National Geographic special could ever compare!

On our way back to the bus, we stopped by the visitor’s center where we could touch a 200-year-old block of ice, learn about how glaciers were formed, and admire local taxidermists (hehe). Beau used their telescopes (free to use!) and found a mother and baby mountain goat running down the mcliff above the waterfall! We did not get enough time to spend there. If a family had kids, I might recommend taking a shuttle straight to the glacier park and spend most of the day on the beach and at the visitor’s center!

Making it back to Juneau, I forgot that I had turned off my phone’s roaming, so I couldn’t figure out why I had no service! We found a place with free Wi-Fi in downtown Juneau at a local bar. We were kicked out of the downstairs part, because it was apparently reserved for betting on the fight. Upstairs was more like a pool hall with bar service and had free Wi-Fi, which allowed me to update Facebook.

By the end of the day, we were too tired to move. We ate at the buffet and retired early.

Alaska Cruise day 5 (Ketchikan)

Day 5: Time change! New time zone allowed us to sleep in one extra hour! Still, up at the new 5:30 for breakfast buffet and out to meet our guide! We had a lovely local woman take us to Potlatch Park, a native village with totem pole carvings. We met an expert carver, saw replicas of native housing, saw an antique car collection, and even saw a wild bald eagle! He is an adolescent who hasn’t ‘balded’ yet. We picked up a few touristy things in their gift shop.

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Next, we went to a salmon hatchery that also had a bald eagle rescue! We saw a lovely couple of rescued ladies who can’t be returned to the wild. One was taken down after flying into electric wire, the other broke her wing in a fishing net. They started yelling at each other, which looked pretty cool. We learned about the different species of salmon, and what they were doing to help restore the wild salmon population.

Ketchikan is an adorable little town of about 14,000 residents. The average July temperature is 58 degrees F, with annual rainfall of about 13 feet. We happened to make it on the hottest and sunniest day of the year for them! We walked all around the downtown area, checking out many of their (mostly touristy) shops. Next time we visit, we will have to check out their world-famous lumberjack show, but we didn’t have time for that today. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had ‘extended service’ for Verizon! Even limited 3G! Unfortunately, cruises have not yet jumped on the bandwagon of free Wi-Fi. It costs about $0.79/minute at either their Internet café or on our laptops in our rooms.

Later, we enjoyed a late afternoon tea and a dance show before enjoying a late dinner in the restaurant. We ended up sitting at 9:30 and served about 10, but there was still full sun with a perfect view of the nearby islands floating in the Pacific. It was Italian night, so we enjoyed an assortment of Italian dishes and many courses. For dessert, I got a delicious almond-honey gelato. They had a special tonight of $5 for a Limóncello shot with a free souvenir Princess shot glass! We also decided to purchase some of their candid photo prints. They were expensive, about $20 per page, but they looked so good, it would cost much more than that for a comparable sitting fee. Who knows when I will look that nice again!

Overall, it was a great day, and I look forward to our adventures tomorrow in Juneau.