Friday, August 5, 2016

Alaska Cruise Vacation - Third Port of Call, Juneau!

I hope you enjoyed our tour of Icy Strait Point/Hoonah
in my last post - Because today, I want to welcome you
to Alaska's remote and beautiful Captial city of Juneau!
We arrived into Juneau being more than a bit miffed with Royal Caribbean
regarding the cancelation of our shore excursion there. First, because when I
booked our shore excursions four months before the cruise, I was told there
were only two spots left on this Taku Glacier Hovercraft adventure. So to find
out that it was cancelled due to low participation seemed a little unbelievable
to us. Secondly, I am a huge chicken, so while I know the most popular thing
they say you must do when a cruise to Alaska is to take a helicopter over to a
glacier, there was no way I was going to get into a helicopter or float plane;
especially since there were several crashes reported around the time I was
booking this cruise. And, since most of the excursions to glaciers involve some
sort of flying, I was really happy to find this hovercraft adventure that would
deliver us to a glacier while keeping us relatively grounded on the way! Lastly,
it really sucked to receive news of our cancelled excursion by voicemail at ten
o'clock in the evening, long after the excursion desk was closed so there was no
one to help us pick something else to do in Juneau. Now, it was nice to get this
written notice below; however, since it was delivered after our day in Juneau,
it seemed rather silly for Royal Caribbean to leave it in our stateroom at all!
Cruise Lines make a ton of money on excursions they sell through your cruise
booking. Tour operators receive a mere fraction of what you pay, even though
they do all the work and assume all the liability associated with the tours they
offer. Cruise Lines also do their best to dissuade passengers from booking their
own shore excursions by telling scary stories about shady tour operators and
passengers who miss the boat because their excursion didn't get them back to
the ship in time for departure. Now, while I don't doubt that there are some
shady tour operators and, we all remember that video of these poor parents...
The fact of the matter is, Royal Caribbean left us no choice! Not only did
they cancel our excursion, they left us without another non-flying option
to visit a glacier, which is what one comes to Alaska to experience! On top
of that, you should also know that if/when Royal Caribbean cancels your
shore excursion, they do not immediately refund your money so that you
can go out and buy another excursion on your own. No... Your refund is
added to your ship-account, which cannot be accessed until the last day
of the cruise. This means, if you do find another excursion you want to
take, you better be prepared to cough up whatever it costs on the spot!

I won't lie... We were nervous about taking a non-ship sponsored excursion.
After all, I bought trip insurance... And,  I know that all excursions bought
through the ship guarantee that they will wait for you, should there be any
issues that pop up to make you late. Still, we had finally made it to Juneau
and we really wanted to see a glacier. Not from some far-off visitor's center
or boat; no, we wanted to walk on it and explore what a glacier felt like!
So, I took a deep breath, walked down the dock and over to the row of
booths where guys waiting to reel in vulnerable tourists waited to pitch why
theirs is the best excursion money can buy. Fortunately for us, the first kiosk
I came to was manned by a super-sweet, really chill girl by the name of Jo!
While all the guys down the row did their best carnival-barker routine to
get me to abandon her, I stuck with Jo to ask her just one question: Can
you get us onto a glacier without flying us there? And, when Jo said that
she could, I was sold! As it turns out, Jo works for Liquid Alaska Tours;
and despite what the other guys shouted from their kiosks, only Jo's tour
at Mendenhall Glacier offered us the Glacier excursion of a lifetime!
Because not only were we going to hike on top of Mendenhall Glacier...
We were also going to explore an ice cave under Mendenhall Glacier!
The plan was to travel via van to Mendenhall lake and then row a
canoe approximately two miles out to Mendenhall Glacier. The fact
that the tour was scheduled for five hours and the ship was docked
for nearly twelve helped calm any fears we had that we might miss the
boat if the van broke down or we got stuck in traffic. However, once we
met Adam and got into his van, we knew there was nothing at all to be
nervous about! Everything provided by Liquid Alaska Tours for our Ice
Cave excursion was brand new, including the van and the canoe we were
about to row across Mendenhall lake! When we arrived to the lake, each of us
received a brand new dry bag packed with snacks and a bottle of water - We
were also provided a new coat, pair of new pants to slip on over the ones we
had on, plus a new pair of tall rubber boots, crampons, gloves and a hard hat!
Also, despite the fact that there were only four of us that signed up for this
tour, which might be considered low participation by other tour providers...
This tour was moving forward!
Our tour guide, Christine was incredible! She knew what she was doing,
she knew how to keep us safe and as a bonus, she was kind and funny too!
The only thing that could make this excursion any better would be
to share it with another couple that would appreciate this experience
as much as we knew we would. And, just like that! God gave us Koko
and her boyfriend Steven who were cruising Alaska from Los Angeles!
Oh, my God... We had so much fun together! The four of us, plus
our guide, Christine made quite the team. With the exception of our sons
and my parents, I can't think of anyone else I would rather have shared this
experience with. By the way, see that building on the right side in that picture
below? That's the Mendenhall Glacier visitor's center. There are buses you can
take from the port to the visitor's center and hike out to the glacier; no tour or
guide required. But it's quite a hike so I wouldn't dream of making the trek to
the glacier unassisted. The most interesting fact about the visitor's center is that
when it was built in 1961, Mendenhall glacier was right outside the front door!
Today, the glacier has receded so much that it's a two mile walk or canoe ride away!
As our little canoe team rounded the corner we couldn't believe what we saw!
Mendenhall Glacier is an incredible sight! And once again... The weather
we had was perfect for glacier viewing! If you want to know why glacier ice
looks so blue and how it's different from the ice in your freezer, click here!
Once we reached shore, it was time to leave our canoe behind and hike...
Roughly a mile up, over and into Mendenhall Glacier valley...
I know this is going to sound stupid but I am going to say it any way...
Walking on the surface of this glacier felt like I was walking on the moon!
It was unlike anything I have ever seen before
and, I have been hiking in the German and Swiss alps!
It was exciting, thrilling and scary all at the same time. You have to watch
your step, pay close attention and listen to your guide. Because the truth is,
one false move or badly taken step is all it takes to go sliding off the edge of
a glacier or worse, fall into a bottomless crevasse never to be seen again!
Honestly, being buried alive is one of my worst fears!
Fortunately, Christine knew just where to take us
and knew exactly which steps to tell us to avoid...
To ensure we stayed safe and smiling!
It was about here, as we made our way over to the ice cave that I
began thanking Royal Caribbean for canceling that hovercraft tour!
Because of the only 6,000 visitors the park service for the state
of Alaska allows to tour the Mendenhall Ice Cave each year, we
were about to become part of that very small, select and very...
Lucky group of people!
I still cannot believe how beautiful it was!
The sounds inside the cave were incredible too! There is a stream
flowing through the cave so the sound of rushing water is very loud!
The ice was talking to us too!
It was dripping, popping, cracking and very much alive!
The rocks being released by the melting ice overhead reminded us
why Christine insisted we wear those shiny new hard hats she gave
us! Standing in this ice cave was a thrill! We were looking into
the face of ice that is thousands and thousands of years old!
I was a little afraid to go any deeper... But that didn't
stop my better half from zipping right past me!
When Jo promised we would see exactly what she showed us
on the tour brochure at her kiosk, she really wasn't kidding...
While we were inside the cave, I heard what sounded like shotgun
blasts coming from outside. When I asked Christine if there were
people hunting nearby, she said, "No, that's the glacier moving"
Just then, a huge rock fell out of the ceiling and splashed into the
stream. That's when I decided it was time for me to get moving!
After Koko took a few group shots of us with her
selfie-stick, it was time to hike back down to the canoe!
Needless to say, none of us will every forget our trip to Mendenhall Glacier!
After poking fun at Steven for having to pee during our hike
on top of Mendenhall glacier, it was my turn to pee on the beach!
Who could blame us? It was so cold and we had a long row back to the van!
The row back across Mendenhall Lake was as pretty as it was going!
Back in the van, Adam told us the place to eat
crab in Juneau is Tracy's King Crab Shack!
And, he was right!
It wasn't cheap...
But it was so good that when you finished you wanted more...
And really didn't care if it took maxing out your AmEx to get it!
I was still carrying around those 300+ post cards I didn't get to mail
at Icy Strait Point; so while Koko, Steven and Army dad continued to
crack the crab, I took off running back to where we passed a mailbox
while riding back into Juneau in the van with Adam. I ran about a mile...
Only to have a Post Office bus pass me on the run back!
Along the way, I passed the Red Dog Saloon, which was on our list to visit...
Not for the food...
Or the ambiance...
But because they have one of Wyatt Earp's pistols displayed
behind the bar. Seems that Mr. Earp checked his weapon
there but failed to claim it as he left Juneau for Nome!
After our lunch and my run, we decided to take the Tram up to Mount Roberts!
I mean, we had already risked our lives crawling over and under
a moving, living Glacier... So why not fly up a mountain in a tram?!
The view made it and the hike up to...
Father Brown's Cross so worth it!
Before I go on any further... I have to tell you something about our new
friend, Koko. You see this cruise vacation she was on with Steven was
originally a trip she and her dear mom planned to take together. Sadly
though, her mother got cancer and died a few months before the cruise...
So, Steven stepped in and took this darling girl on her trip. And, they brought
Koko's mother with them, to spread her ashes somewhere and at a time Koko
felt was right. After saying a prayer of thanks to Koko's mom for the sweet
girl she raised, we took our time hiking back down to the tram station...
It was a lovely stroll...
The fresh, cold air and scenery was amazing!
And, we learned a thing or two about this natural landscape too!
So cool!
Back at the tram station there's a gift shop...
And, it's also where the Raptor Center operates a rescue center for
bald eagles. This is Lady Baltimore. She was blinded and suffered
damage to her beak after being shot. She also has damage to her wing...
So now, she's a teaching bird at the center. And, she's a sweetie!
We sure got our exercise and steps in during our port stop in Juneau!
Hands down... This was the best day of our cruise so far!
I mean, can you beat this view?
What an incredible day we had!
It started out a bit bumpy but ended on a very, very high note!
You will want to stay tuned because we're now on our way to Skagway...
For an incredible train ride and visit to an Alaskan sled dog camp!

1 comment:

  1. As usual the posts are incredible and I feel like I was amongst you & Terry having a wonderful time. Thank you for sharing your cruise and ports of call with us readers! And oh darn that hovercraft got cancelled-- you ended up making a breath taking day out of it!! Andrea


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