Our Alaska Cruise

September 2006

The Cruise

Special Pages

Cruise to
Glacier Bay

We left Seattle on Sunday night at 16:00. After cruising all night, and all the next day, we still had one more night of cruising before we reached Glacier Bay, 979 nautical miles (1126 miles) away.

The trip was about the same distance by ship as it would have been to drive by car down I-5 from Seattle, Washington to Los Angeles, California.

We averaged 21.7 knots (25 mph), which, considering the rough seas we hit, was a pretty good pace.

Glacier Bay

When we entered Glacier Bay, it was cold. It was September 19, and technically still summer, but it was heavy coat weather for us.

The conditions in Glacier Bay produced some interesting results. This mountain is completely enshrouded in a cloud blanket. It is as if a giant octopus had landed on top of the mountain, and is attempting to crack its rocky shell.

Clouds ride in layers, the noble higher strata riding high above the lower earthy layers, and providing an umbrella to keep the warming rays of the sun from off the cold ground hugging sheet of fog. However, in between the two layers, visibility is actually quite good.

In the meantime, the water looks dark, with ripples reminiscent of the irregularities found in the surface of a stucco wall.

A Change in Plan

It was 10:50 on the ship's clock, and we were stopping at the mouth of Glacier Bay (see the red circle marking ship's position on the map) to pick up the park rangers who would be riding with us during our visit to the National Park.

The planned ship's route was marked out on this map, taking up into the Tarr Inlet, almost to the Canadian border. The Margerie Glacier is labeled, but the big hurrah in that inlet is the Grand Pacific Glacier. (It is located right under the final 'A' of the word CANADA.)

It seems incredible that the entire Glacier Bay (everything in it that is shown in blue or green) was under a thick sheet of ice in the 1700's. It has melted back an amazing 65 miles since then. Most of that happened before 1900.

As it turned out, this plan was destined for the circular folder, the place so many of our plans end up.

This is what the map should have looked like.

We did not go into the Tarr Inlet, though we did go right past its mouth; apparently the ice was too bad to allow entry.

So, we took a turn hard to port into the John Hopkins Inlet and saw a wonderful display put on the by the John Hopkins Glacier.


September 19, 2006

Well, this was it. We were finally going to come face to face with a glacier. What is a glacier? I knew it was a big chunk of ice, I wasn't really prepared for how much ice a glacier really had in it, nor how active a glacier is.

A tidewater glacier is a huge "river" that flows in very slow motion; but it flows nonetheless. The frozen water slides along its base, where pressure, friction and other factors have converted a portion of the ice to water.

What was it going to be like? I didn't know. I had seen pictures and television shows, but I had learned long ago that such things do not convey the reality of being there yourself. The Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, and even seeing my old heroes like Ron Fairly, Don Drysdale, and Frank Howard in Dodger Stadium in the 1960s, all were radically different in person than they were on television or in photos. The richness of personal experience is always infinitely more profound and so I wondered, what was it going to be like coming face to face with a glacier? I didn't have long now to wait!

Tapping. Huh? Tapping. I heard tapping! It was not loud, but it was insistent. What could it be?

Ah, it was the door! Who could be knocking at the door at this hour? What hour? I had no idea what time it was. I got up, threw on my bath robe and went to check who was trying to get our attention.

It was our steward with our breakfast. I quickly looked down at my watch and it said 8:30 a.m.! No way! I almost never sleep past 6 a.m. and we had set our clocks back overnight because we had entered Alaska time. It was 9:30 at home. The bed, the dark room, and the exercise I was getting on the ship apparently were good for me, because I was sleeping better than I had slept in a very long time!

I asked for the steward's patience as I quickly made ready: lights on; Dotti tucked in; room at the end of the bed for the tray. I returned and thanked him for his patience.

Turning the tray sideways, he was just able to squeeze through the little hallway and move past the end of the bed sufficiently to reach the end on my side of the bed, which was newly unoccupied. I thanked him once again and he made his departure.

At this point you might be picturing one of the bellboy types that you see in movies standing there with his hand out expectantly: not so! Tipping was handled up front. It made things much easier. The ship added in all the tips into a daily charge that came on the bill before you even set foot onboard. So, there was no tipping by event, and it sure made things simpler. The staff didn't get stiffed by the misers and you weren't left trying to figure what is the right amount to tip for any particular service.

Dotti woke up as the tray was being delivered and soon we were enjoying breakfast, with both of us marveling at how late it had become while we were sleeping.

My breakfast was quite similar to the previous day, but this time I had bacon, and a cup of hot cocoa added to the meal. The hot cocoa seemed like a good idea because the temperature was dropping, and we would be visiting a glacier in the afternoon! The food was excellent, and that was the standard for all our meals onboard.

As the meal was nearing the end, our phone rang. It was Jim calling to let me know that there was a veteran's get-together that was about to start in the Crow's Nest up on the Observation Deck (deck 10). I looked down at my remaining breakfast and my pajamas that I was still wearing and shook my head. I would be late at best if I were going to make it at all. So, I told him to head on up without me. If I had woke up early like I normally do, or they had announced it earlier, I would have liked to make it. (When Jim got back he said he met a number of interesting characters, including an octogenarian World War II vet, who still looked fit enough to physically defend himself quite well.)

After breakfast, I got dressed and wandered around the ship, taking the stairs through decks 1 to 11, with my camera snapping pictures of the ship, the artwork and the scenery. I rode the exterior elevator from the 9th deck down to the first deck and then back up again, just to get some pictures. It was really a beautiful ship.

I enjoyed walking through the ship because passing from one area to the next moved me into something completely different. Each spot is unique. You can see many of the pictures I took in my Ship's Tour section.

I was out taking pictures at 10:45 Alaska Time (11:45 PDT), when we left Icy Strait, and entered the wonderful world of Glacier Bay.

Enter Our Glacier Bay Page

For a view of what life in an ice age is like, come and take a look. There aren't a lot of pictures of the four of us here, but there are a lot of pictures of the scenery contained in one of the most fascinating places on earth, where glaciers still drop icebergs into the water, and crack with the sound of a cannon shot. Glacier Bay, which was completely filled with ice in the 18th century, and which had ironically mostly melted away, with global warming that was well on its way long before the first automobile ever hit the road. But all the ice isn't gone yet, and the John Hopkins Glacier is actually advancing farther out into the water right now. Come and see; it is a very interesting place to visit—however, unless you are a sea lion, a seagull, or a whale, you probably wouldn't want to live here.

Once we returned to the main part of Glacier Bay, the ship had cranked up our speed to over 20 knots and it was time to get back inside and warm up. We dropped off the Rangers around 19:15, and then left Glacier Bay, on our way to Juneau.

Once we returned to the warm indoors, all finished with glaciers and sightseeing for today; we found ourselves back in regular shipboard life. It's funny how a couple of days can make something feel regular, but it did.

Dinner was served at 18:00 as usual. It was a "casual dress" night. Dotti and I were very casual in our blue jeans. Jim and Tammy were attired a level up from us. However, not having a snobbish bone in their bodies, they ate with us in spite of that.

Jim has that look on his face that means he has something mischievous on his mind. Usually that look is followed by a zinger that gets us all laughing.

The windows all the way aft are showing the gray of Glacier Bay. But they wouldn't be for long. It was 19:03 when I snapped this picture, and we were just about to the exit to the bay. And of course, the sun was nearly down, since it would be setting at 19:10.

It was nice to be indoors, while leaving the cold temperature, sitting in the 40's, outside where it belongs, and sharing warm company, in a warm room.

If our ship would have magically disappeared, we would have been swimming in 46°F water, which was pretty close to the air temperature. Even most trained cold water swimmers would be running into hyperthermia in less than an hour in that water, and the average guy would run into it much quicker. But here we were, as comfortable as if it were a mild summer's day, enjoying a delicious meal, without even considering the weather outside.

Tammy was very good this cruise for putting up with my camera. I have always been a picture-taker, and most of the time it is a love-hate relationship that she has with my picture-taking.

She really does like having pictures of all of the events and people we share in our lives, but the picture-taking itself is an irritant to her. It is a terrible shame, because she is a very attractive woman, and when she looks into the camera instead of dodging it, the results are aesthetically marvelous. I have years of examples, like this one, to prove my case!

Oh, what a beautiful smile! It lights up the entire room. I am incredibly lucky that Dotti is my wife!

I am still feeling the effects of the afternoon with the glacier, so I am wearing my flannel shirt to make me feel extra warm. However, I am already feeling better, as the meal is on its way.

And nothing can warm me up faster than a hug from my Dotti!

It looks like Jim feels the same way about his Tammy. The waiting was over, dinner had arrived!

Our dinner was good! I had a couple of rolls, and a fruit cup for an appetizer. The fruit was placed in a tall silver dish, and it had watermelon in it, with some kind of sauce poured over the top of it. It was actually quite tasty.

Then I had something called "Grandma's Chicken Soup." It was a lot like standard chicken soup, but it had really skinny round noodles, almost like spaghetti, but even thinner.

Next came a salad, which was fairly standard. There were some tangy ingredients that I don't usually have in a salad, but it was pretty tasty.

Then I had something called a broccoli fran. (Tammy helped me with the menu on that one. She told me what fran was, otherwise I would have had no clue.) It looked sort of like a custard, but it was not sweet, and had broccoli surrounded by something that I couldn't identify, but it all tasted very good.

I had a cup of coffee after that, and then I had another Baked Alaska. I have had that every night, for three nights in a row so far. It's pretty good! But I was up to 199.5 pounds on the scale this morning.

After dinner Jim and Tammy went to watch a comedian in the Vista Lounge. They told us that he was really good, and he had mixed in juggling into his act as well. They said that they also walked around the deck a little bit in the evening. That is something that I want to do with Dotti too, the first chance that we get.

In the meantime, Dotti and I went to the Internet Café and got onto the Internet.

The ship had a satellite link to the Internet. It was pretty slow, but it was the only game in town. There weren't too many WI-FI connection options available in the Icy Strait.

We checked on Dotti's message board to make sure everything was okay. Everything seemed to be going smoothly and no emergencies needed our attention.

From Sunday morning until Tuesday night we had been completely disconnected. That doesn't happen very often. So, we were relieved to see that all was well. We were hopeful that everything would continue that way for the rest of the week.

After logging off—at $45 per hour, we were not going to camp out there—Dotti and I took a stroll around the interior of the ship, and finally returned to our room about 21:00.

When we got back, we found this little friend waiting for us. These first two photos were taken by Tammy of their elephant, but as you can see they are identical. (Someone was probably pretty sick of making these things by the end of the evening, but we really did enjoy them!)

This one is the one in our room. Also on the bed we found a mint for each of us, and a little card that said, "The ship's captain and crew wish you a restful sleep tonight as we look to tomorrow's horizons."

Lastly, there was the Plan of the Day for tomorrow. It included information on our first port of call: Juneau, Alaska. I also had a list of shipboard activities that would be going on all day long. It looked like things would be jumping tomorrow.

We carefully set our elephant aside so we could continue to enjoy him on the upcoming days.

Before going to sleep, Dotti and I looked through some of our tour books to see what Juneau had to offer. So, we picked out a few things that we might want to do, and then we went to sleep, because we were pretty tired. It had been a long fun day. It was probably 10 p.m. or so when we went to sleep.

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