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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Adventuring Alaska: Part 2

When we left off last Wednesday the Bloughs and the Benders ("The Blenders" as we like to call ourselves) had just boarded the Island Princess and set sail southbound down the coast of Alaska. 

We quickly got acclimated to the ship and it's amenities.  And like any vibrant 20 somethings, we knew just what we needed in order to unwind...

Shuffleboard and chess.  Like a bunch of cruise ship gangstas!
(Not to mention the time I straddled the chess knight and reenacted Ron's chess scene from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  "Knight to H3."  Nailed it.)

The first two days were scenic cruising days - as we sailed, we got to see gorgeous views of the Alaskan coast line.  None stop beauty.

The first day we cruised through Yakatut Bay toward Hubbard Glacier.
The color of the water was so beautiful!

 As were the mountains.
And the glacier too, of course.

Sailing through Yakatut Bay was definitely an appi-teaser while we made our way toward Glacier Bay. 

Glacier bay was certainly a highlight of our Alaskan vacation and something that should not be missed if you go.

On Travel Alaska's website, Glacier Bay is described as follows: "Lofty mountain peaks, ice-sculptured fjords, an abundance of marine wildlife and, most of all, massive tidewater glaciers, have made Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve one of Alaska's most spectacular settings and a must-stop for every cruise ship sailing through Southeast Alaska."

Yeah, what they said.

And also what these pictures say...

So you can see, you don't want to miss it.  They also brought a park ranger on the ship for a presentation about Glacier Bay which was super interesting.  The rangers also narrated on overhead speakers as we sailed through Glacier Bay, pointing out mountain peaks, glacier names, and wild life.  It really enhanced the overall experience for nerdy science lovers like us.  

So. Long story short about Glacier Bay: When you cruise, make sure your cruise ship includes Glacier Bay in the itinerary.  It's a must see.

The next day we came to port at Skagway.  And 8am meant that it was time for our helicopter excursion.

 All geared up ready to go!

 And we're off!

The destination? Chilkat Glacier!

 We landed right on top of it!

And explored all around it!

We even got to drink the water flowing through it!

It. Was. Amazing.

Back in the helicopter, we flew over glacial waterfalls,

beds of snow - hundreds of feet deep,

and zoomed through towering mountain peaks.

What an experience!! You gotta climb a mountain to have these kind of views!

Off cloud 9, literally, we landing back in Skagway which meant it was time to explore the town!
We easily had the most time in Skagway compared to the rest of the ports.  Skagway is such a quirky and and interesting place.
Even  after exploring town, lunching at the local brewery, we also had enough time to hike up to a lake.
Which served as the perfect place to cool off after our hike. 

Skagway Review:

Great for:
  • Helicopter rides! It was easily our favorite excursion, a bit expensive, but well worth the money!
  • Hiking, the great thing about hiking in Skagway is that you can get to the trails right from town - we did the one to Lower Dewey Lake.
  • Photo adventuring - I went crazy. 

Great Eats: We ate at the Skagway Brewery Co. Highly recommend the burger and fries.  The fries rocked my world- but don't forget the malt vinegar!  We drank their signature Spruce Tip Blonde which was featured in Draft Magazine.  However, if you are tempted by the soft pretzel - we were - don't be. It wasn't like the delicious homemade ones we get around home.

Great Shops:  Many of the shops are touristy but there are a few that are worth a second look, like The Loom which had eye candy left and right, or the Back Alley Rock Shop - weird, quirky, random and I LOVED it! Others in my party didn't get it but I was all over it with camera in hand.  A bunch the pictures in the collage above were taken there. 

 The next day we made it to Juneau.
If you are looking for bald eagles, they are everywhere in Juneau!

Juneau is also the place for whales!

We went whale watching through Orca Enterprises.  This was the only excursion we did not book through Princess.  Captain Larry and his crew were enthusiastic and super knowledgeable.

 Everyone, Captain Larry.  Captain Larry, Everyone.

It was a great experience.  The weather was fair, but the whales were everywhere! And so were the sea lions!

Juneau Review:

Great For:
  • Whale watching!  It's the place to do it!
  • Shopping! More on that in a sec. 

Great Eats:  Well I'm sorry to say, I cannot list the Red Dog Saloon as a "Good Eats" place.  It just wasn't.  The atmosphere was interesting with the sawdust floors, so if that's all you want, take a stroll around.  But the food was mediocre, and the prices were outrageous for the amount of food you got.  On the other hand, I would highly recommend Heritage Coffee!  Best Chai OF MY LIFE! So good!

Great Shops:  We spent close to an hour in a store called Trove because of all the unique home, accessory, and gift options.  We also bought some sweet Alaskan merch at Alaska Shirt Co.  They had tons of attractive options and the prices were pretty reasonable. Then Emily found herself a beautiful pair of lambskin lined slippers at Simply Natural (sorry no link for the store, but here is a link to the brand of slippers they sell). They seem very luxuriously durable

The last port we came to was Ketchikan.

In Ketchikan we did an adventure cart excursion where we got to drive these all terrain vehicles.  

We zoomed up and down trails through the Alaskan rain forest, past gorgeous views - including a waterfall!

 That's one of our guides photobombing a magical moment between Michael and me.  :-) The guides were a bunch of characters and were pretty much half of the experience.  
The adventure cart excursion was fun but was a bit tame for us - it was more driving on trails than it was off-roading.  But we still enjoyed it and it certainly was the most fun way to spend a drizzly day in Ketchikan.

Ketchikan Review: 

Great for: 
  • Salmon
  • Totem polls
  • Lumberjacks
Which is funny because we didn't really do anything that involved any of those things! But supposedly, you can enjoy all them in Ketchikan :-)

Great Eats: The Burger Queen.  A hole in the wall burger joint that locals frequent.  The burger, fries, and shakes are good.  But don't go there expecting a quick meal, we had a 45 minute wait.  But, bonus!, they will deliver for free. 

Great Shops: Ketchikan had a lot of the same touristy shops that the other ports had but we did stumble upon a stand where a water color artist was selling some of her paintings.  So we bought a sweet little painting to take home with us. 

The ports felt like only half of the vacation! We had a wonderful time on the boat as well! 
Here are some of the highlights from sailing on the Island Princess!

On the Boat

  • The constant and beautiful views, every time we looked out the window
  • Being able to eat foods we have never had before but always wanted to try: Escargot, Oysters, Beef Wellington, Scallops, King Crab, Sardines, Lobster etc..
  • Playing Euchre at least once a day, usually more.  For those of you outside of the Midwest, Euchre is a super competitive and popular card game of the Midwest. 
  • The "horse races" in the casino where we cheered on our own wooden horses.  "Go Terri!"
  • The vending machine game that Michael and Cory were convinced they were going to win by the end of the trip... they did not.
  • My absolute all time favorite breakfast ever.  Smoked salmon atop a cream cheese schmeered bagel.  I had it almost every morning.
  • The night we enjoyed all you can eat Alaskan King Crab at the Crab Shack.
  • Participating in the Egg Drop Challenge.  Where we were challenged to build a contraption to prevent an egg from breaking when dropped 4 stories.  Our parachute was floating perfectly, but got caught in the nearby palm tree on the way down.  What are the chances!?  What the heck is a palm tree doing on an Alaskan cruise anyway!?
  • Jules the onboard naturalist. His presentations left some things to be desired. That's all I'm going to say. 
  • The night we ordered room service, grabbed a pizza, and ate it on Cory and Emily's bed.  
  • The time I fell asleep during the comedian/magician's performance.
  • When Emily and I wore sweat pants to the evening show and Michael was mortified.
  • Participating in the Majority Wins game show.
  • The afternoon when the boys brought us nachos from the buffet, we ordered margaritas, and watched Frozen on the outdoor movie screen.  
But one of my favorite memories came from the last day of the cruise.  We were scenic cruising that day, on our way to Vancouver.  While getting ready for dinner that night, the captain made an announcement overhead.  I didn't pay much attention to it but next thing I know I hear a fervent knock at our door.  I open the door and Emily hollers, "Get your camera! There's killer whales on the starboard side!"  

"What?!" I dove back into the room to retrieve my camera, yelled for Michael, who was in the bathroom, and zoomed out the door.  Just in time to see a group of 4 orcas swim past the ship :-D 

It was the one thing that I hadn't gotten to check off my Alaskan bucket list! 

It was a beautiful end to an amazingly blessed vacation. 

Props to you if you got all the way through this post! I apologize for the length of this post but it was mainly pictures right? - and that's the best part anyway!

Next Wednesday I will complete the Adventuring Alaska series with a packing list for an Alaskan cruise - it was undoubtedly the most difficult part of planning our trip.   But before that, Sunday I am planning to post about the exciting changes going on in our bathroom! See you then!

To read Part 1 of Adventuring Alaska, click here.  To read my recommendations on what to pack for your trip, click here.

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