Thursday, July 28, 2016

Alaska Cruise Vacation - Second Port of Call, Icy Strait Point

I hope you enjoyed our tour of Ketchikan in my last post - Because,
today, I want to welcome you to day four of our Alaska cruise vacation
and to our second port of call, Icy Strait Point - Hoonah, Alaska!
Before I share this tour with you, I have to confess that I am addicted to
all those Alaska-reality shows on television. And, before Billy Brown and
one of his sons were sentenced to jail for fraud, I used to watch every
episode of their show, Alaskan Bush People on Discovery. So, when
we learned that our cruise would take us to Hoonah, one of the places
mentioned by the Browns as being where they often go for supplies and
to work odd jobs, I was curious what the locals might be able to tell us
about this big family that lives off the grid, in the rough and dangerous
Alaskan wilderness. Well, let me tell you, as soon as some of us from the
ship inquired about those people, we got an ear-load full! Because, as it
turned out, locals are extremely quick to call the Brown family's claim
that they live in the bush a hoax; one perpetrated entirely for television!
In fact, the Browns are a sore subject with locals that say they live
in Hoonah, at the Icy Strait Lodge! Shortly after we returned home,
stories confirming what we heard about the Brown's began surfacing!
So no more talk about the Brown family at Icy Strait Point!
For our excursion to Icy Strait Point, we decided
to go on a whale watching cruise because, we heard
the whale-watching is so good, it's actually guaranteed!
The tour provider advertises that if they don't spot a whale
on your tour, they will refund $100 of your ticket price!
So whale-watching it was! Since we had about an hour and a half to
kill before our excursion, we decided to take the $5 shuttle into town...
But, even the shuttle driver admitted...
There ain't nothing there!
Poo! I was really hoping for a post office because, I had about 300 post
cards to mail... However, as we rode further down the one main road,
we quickly figured out that this port is basically just an excursion stop
and nothing more. So... On the advice of our shuttle driver, we stayed
on and got off back at the pick-up point. There, we walked back to the
dock for the only real dining places and shops at Icy Strait Point!
Since it was too early for crab, we popped into the building they have set up
for people waiting on excursions and grabbed a couple of cookies and some
hot chocolate. Then, I paid $10 for an all-day WiFi pass, which no one there
could get to work... Still, just outside of that building, there is what they refer
to as the Warehouse, which houses a huge gift shop, as well as a pretty decent
exhibit, featuring information and displays relative to life at Icy Strait Point!
The main excursion tours include, whale-watching, fishing, kayaking, nature trail
walks, a tribal dance show and they also have the largest ziprider in the world!
However, since the weather for Icy Strait during the time of our cruise
tends to be cold and rainy, I didn't see us zipping down a mountain!

I believe the fact that Icy Strait Point is fairly remote and
does not have a lot going on in terms of a town or city is why
this port stop was the shortest of our cruise. Nevertheless...
We were headed for Juneau next, which made up for
the lull in excitement at Icy Strait Point in a huge way...
Just you wait and see!
Although, I have to take some responsibility for the lack
of excitement we had here. But more on that in a moment...
This feature of the exhibit reminded me a lot of Cannery Row back
home in Monterey, where they processed and canned sardines very
similarly to the way salmon was packed at Icy Strait Point/Hoonah!
All the little kids around us wanted to know if this was real!
Thankfully, not! Could you imagine the smell?
I don't even want to think about it!
Once the salmon had their heads lopped off...
Were cleaned and their meat was processed, it
was canned, pressure cooked and sent off to market!
After a quick spin through the gift shop, it was time to
head toward the boat for our whale-watching cruise!
Okay... So about my admission that I am partly to blame for the lack
of excursion excitement here at Icy Strait Point - What I mean is that
when I initially chose our excursion, I booked us into the first tour of
of the day. However, as our cruise got closer, someone told me about
how cold, overcast and rainy it is here, especially in the early part of
the day. So, I switched our time for the cruise to a later one; hoping
all the clouds would burn off and the whales would be more active!
Big mistake! Because, while we did see a lot of whale breath coming from
blowholes, (see why it's not water hereand had a few arched backs and
a fluke or two pass by our boat... There was a lot of talk by the staff about
the full humpback whale breech that occurred during their previous tour!
The tour WE were supposed to be on! I am not going to lie... Hearing
that we missed a full breech, especially when the weather wasn't any better
for our tour than it had been a couple of hours earlier, really bummed me out!

All I wanted was to see what those lucky people saw... But when
a handful of us asked, we were told no one on staff took pictures!
The pouting and kicking myself in the butt lasted for days... Until this amazing
couple sat down next to us on the boat at Prince William Sound, that is. Because,
when I call Christina and her husband, Marcus amazing, I am not kidding! Get
this; not only are they from Texas and have a friend that knows our Ranger...
No, really! They sent this man a text and he responded, saying he knows our
son - But, they were also on that earlier tour. And, even more astounding...
Christina received photos from another passenger and was willing to share
them! Proving once again that Walt was right... It truly is a Small, small world!
But before I share those pictures, let me tell you about our experience with these
incredibly majestic creatures... It's one thing to see humpback whales on television
and in pictures; however, until you're standing just a few yards away from them in
the water, you could never know what an incredible feeling it is. They make the
sweetest little, Pluffffffffff sound as they exhale through their blowhole. Also,
there is just this eerie, but cool feeling knowing these huge creatures are so close!
All in all, I am thrilled we had the chance to go whale-watching at Icy Strait
Point. As you can see from my photos, it did not rain; however, the weather
was not ideal for kayaking or cruising the zipline... Again, I cannot lie and
say a lot of my happiness with this excursion isn't tied to the fact that...
We met Christina and Marcus and got to finally see the incredible
breech this beautiful humpback whale put on for their tour!
No sir! I am not too proud to admit that they saved me...
From a lifetime of wondering what we may have seen...
Had I not second-guessed myself and changed our tour time!
This picture I took during our tour is my favorite so I immediately sent it
out as a digital postcard soon after returning to the ship! The more I compare
my fluke shot to the white flipper shown by the humpback that breeched
for Christina and Marcus, the more I wonder if it's not the same whale!
Anyway, I do hope you have enjoyed our time together at Icy Strait Point!
Also, I welcome you to stick with me because, our next stop is Juneau!
Believe me... You're not going to want to miss this one!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Alaska Cruise Vacation - First Port of Call, Ketchikan!

Admit it, you're in shock, aren't you? You read yesterday's post about our
day in Vancouver before our cruise to Alaska and laughed out loud when you
read that I would be back today to continue and share with you our departure
and day three visit to Ketchikan. Hey! I get it... I know it will take a while for
you to trust that I will update more than once every few months... However,
since my blog serves as a personal photo album as well as a way for my family
and friends to see what we're up to, I am committed to posting all of our trip!
So, after our visit to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, we crashed! No dinner,
no television... Only showers and sleep. The next morning, I got up early
to watch our cruise ship, The Radiance of the Seas pull up to the hotel!
Then, I tagged all of our luggage and we made our way down to the port!

Just to the right of our ship was check-in. We made sure to get there
early so that we could have time to get settled and explore the ship before
leaving Vancouver. We were given a number and assigned a queue...
Where we stood alone for about a half hour before other passengers
began filing in behind us. This guy and his family, all twelve of them
had on these cute shirts. Which I thought were cute until the little
peeps began to get restless... Then I hoped the ship would be big
enough so that we would never bump into each other again!
Being first in line, we cruised (pardon the pun) right
through check-in, customs and right onto the ship!
Where each day, Royal Caribbean reminded us what day of the week it was!
By the way... Canada Place on Vancouver's waterfront was designed to
look like a ship. And, from this ship, you can see by those sails that it does!
It was a beautiful day in Vancouver for a cruise!
Since staterooms did not open to guests
until 1 o'clock, we had plenty of time to explore...
Compared to the other cruise ships we have been on, this
was a very small boat. But I'm guessing it kinda has to be
to navigate around the waters of where we were headed!
After exploring for a while, we made our way to the buffet for lunch!
Where sadly, most of this stuff had very little taste!
It really was a shame too, considering how much effort it must
have taken to create these desserts and the amount of money
that went into the ingredients. After sampling a few things, I
decided none of it was worth the calories or hours it would
cost in the gym. So, to satisfy what little sweet tooth I have, I
stuck with the low-fat soft serve - Which was available 24/7!
Nope! Not even remotely worth it!
Fortunately, there was no shortage of salad!
I could have eaten this salad for every meal, on every day. However,
as luck would have it, it was offered once and then never again!
After our lunch, someone decided it was time for a nap...
But not me... I continued to explore and get those steps in!
As you will see from my photos throughout
this cruise, I spent a lot of time on this deck!
Finally, our stateroom was ready!
Spacious, with a nice large window and semi-clean!
Almost exactly the same configuration of the staterooms on Carnival
Bathroom was the same too...
Pretty basic...
Only what you need... Except for outlets. All hairdryers, flat irons
or anything else you need to plug in has to be used at the vanity,
which only has two outlets! Which is why I never leave home
without my trusty powerstrip. With my powerstrip, I can blow dry
my hair while also charging my camera battery, phone and laptop!
It's the little things, kittens! 
After we unpacked, it was time to exercise that extra beverage
package I purchased, which included any non-alcoholic drink I wanted!
So I ordered a virgin margarita and we headed
back outside to say our farewells to beautiful Vancouver!
On what turned out to be the most beautiful day!
It's not the Golden Gate, but Lions Gate Bridge sure looks like it!
Pretty, isn't it?
The day before, we crossed over the bridge in a bus...
Now, we were crossing under the bridge in a big boat!
Although we did not have the time to explore Stanley Park, we did
sail by. One day I hope we can come back to bike the seawall trail!
It didn't take long to get out of Vancouver and out to sea!
Although I didn't realize it at the time, this would be our last sunset for a while!
But I did take full advantage of it by having my own little Kate Winslet moment!
Once the sun went down it was time to get ready for dinner...
Unfortunately, I had to send my steak back three times; therefore,
dinner for me ended up being a few bites of my hubby's dessert!
After dinner, we went back out on deck for a walk... Which lasted less
than five minutes because I realized I did not pack a coat heavy enough
to keep me from freezing to death on this cruise. So I hit the gift shop!
Thank goodness I found something because day two of our cruise was a
day at sea and without a warm coat, I would have been confined to the ship!
And this girl has to be outside to be happy!
Somewhere along the Inside Passage, we lost an hour!
Which was important to know if we
wanted to make our excursion time in Ketchikan!
Since there is a lot more to do and see in Ketchikan, (as compared to
other ports on our itinerary) we decided that we would stay in town
and therefore, limit our excursion choice to something that wouldn't
take very long. Something that gave us a little tour and history of the
area but wouldn't munch up the entire day. So we took a Duck Tour!
I liked Ketchikan immediately!

It was quaint and exactly as I imagined it would be from the
research I did prior to our cruise. I knew what I wanted to see and
really wanted to see it all! Oh! And, just wait until I tell you about
what is widely recognized as the best place to eat in Ketchikan!

Again... Can you believe this gorgeous weather we had?!
There's our Duck!
Our duck tour far exceeded our expectations. Mostly because of the two
great guys driving and narrating our tour. They knew everything about
Ketchikan and offered lots of insider-information you only get from
people that live and work here full time. During our tour we hit all the
highlights of Ketchikan on land and then we set out to float for a while!
The scenery around the Marina was lovely!
It was a relaxing cruise and we saw lots of bald eagles too. No whales or
other marine life, but we weren't really expecting any of that so no one was
disappointed. After disembarking the Duck we set off to explore Ketchikan!
And, when in Ketchikan, you must sample and buy the salmon!
Okay, confession time... I had never eaten salmon!
Until we took this cruise to Alaska and I met this guy!
And, it wasn't bad!
After sampling the salmon and picking up a few goodies
to take home with us, we made our way over to one of
the most popular places to go in Ketchikan, Creek Street!
This view immediately reminded me of our visit to Peggy's Cove!
It's a little different...
Totally on opposite sides of the continent... But you see the resemblance, right?
Anyway, Creek Street is also where we met this
young and very enthusiastic entrepreneur!
Who was jumping into 40 degree water for tips!
There he goes! Over and over he jumped into
the chilly creek for whatever you wanted to give him!
One of the things not to miss is the tram up to the top of Creek Street for
the panoramic view of the Tongass Narrows Waterway, Deer Mountain
and the Thomas Basin Marina. Unfortunately, the tram was out of order!
So we hiked up to the top to check out Cape Fox Lodge!
One of us loved this, while one of us wished the tram was working!
Can you guess which was which?
Regardless, once we arrived at the top...
We found the view more than made up for all the effort!
Back down the hill, we continued our walking tour of Ketchikan!
Wandering down the other side of Creek Street...
If you would like to learn more about the
rather colorful history of Creek Street, click here
Or you can just read the plaques on the houses!
We enjoyed our little stroll through and around Creek Street...
We also worked up quite an appetite doing it!
Now, about that place where we had lunch...
There is this place called, Burger Queen... And, if you Google, the best
places to eat in Ketchikan, it always pops up with rave reviews too!
It was a welcomed break from cruise food!
I had read that locals call ahead and get their orders to go, while
tourists are known to line up around the building and down the block! So...
We made sure to get there before anyone else did!
While we stood at the door waiting for them to open, I must have been
asked a hundred times whether or not I was sure I wanted to do this...
After all, it didn't look like much from the outside or the inside!
And, there are only four tables in the whole joint!
However, if you read the reviews like I did and happen to catch
the one written by a food critic who said, "The Best Fish and Chips
money can buy anywhere in the world"... Then you know you gotta try it!
Believe me... This truly was the best fish and
chips money could buy, anywhere in the world!
And, that's not all. My better-half ordered
the Seattle Burger and he is still talking about it!
Incredible Food!
After lunch we did a little more walking...
And, a whole lot more shopping!
After all, my post card list is now somewhere around 300 friends
and family so I had to pick up post cards to send from every port!
After hugging it out with this bear, it was time to wander back to our
ship. The best advice I can give anyone traveling to Ketchikan via cruise is
to skip the more lengthy excursions that take you away from the town. Stick
with the quick and inexpensive ($49 per person) Duck Tour. You'll see and hear
about Ketchikan and have plenty of time left in your day to explore it on your own!
And for goodness sake, whatever you do... Do not miss Burger Queen! We had
a wonderful time in Ketchikan. And, I hope you enjoyed the tour as well!
Stay tuned, because next up, we are cruising to Icy Strait Point...
For a whale watching excursion you won't want to miss!