Our Alaska Cruise

September 2006

The Cruise

Special Pages


The distance from the John Hopkins Glacier to Juneau, as the seagull flies, is about 91 nautical miles. However, the trip for us was not so direct. We had to travel around 56 nautical miles to get to the mouth of Glacier Bay and then another 105 nautical miles to reach Juneau. It took us about 13 hours from the time we left the glacier, until we tied up at Juneau. We averaged 14 knots after leaving Glacier Bay, as we made our way through the straits of the Inner Passage to Juneau.

This area was all under a heavy sheet of ice during the last Ice Age and the valleys and channels show the telltale scaring and U-shape that glaciers leave behind. Juneau is located mainly on the eastern mainland side of the little channel that runs between it and Douglas Island, where West Juneau is situated. A single bridge connects the Island with the mainland. The Mendenhall Glacier, one of the major tourist attractions of the area lies up the valley from Auke Bay, north of Juneau.

The Mendenhall Glacier is melting and the run off from that has created the lake that you see located to the northeast of Auke Bay, the town where my Cousin Shirley used to live with her family. Our ship was tied up to a pier just down and to the right of the dot marking the City of Juneau. Since the bow was aimed away from downtown, the side of the ship that our verandah was on was facing Douglas Island across the Gastineau Channel.

The only ways to get to Juneau are to fly and to float in by boat. As strange as it may seem, there are no roads from the outside world into the Capitol of Alaska. Being so isolated, even the local Tlingit tribes never settled here before the white man came, and it took a gold strike in the 1880s to finally bring them in. In 1906 the government was moved from Sitka to Juneau, and then in 1959 Alaska became a state, followed later the same year by Hawaii. I turned 8 that year, and I can still remember seeing a picture of President Eisenhower holding the new flag with 50 stars on it, in My Weekly Reader magazine. There is talk of creating a road to Skagway, north of Juneau, which is connected by road to the outside world through Canada, but that is in the "maybe future."

Looking down on where we spent our day. The ms Westerdam was tied up in the little depression cut into the lower section of shoreline, that pushes in towards Franklin Street, with the bow aimed southeast.

We started there with Caribou Crossing, and remained on Franklin St, making it nearly up to Front Street by the time we stopped for lunch. Jim and I continued up the hill to Sixth Street, while the ladies continued shopping. Later we moved over to Marine Way and walked the area along the shore and the Marine Park, northwest of the ship. That is where we saw the statues.

From this angle the city of Juneau looks like the dried up mouth of an old river. And in a sense that is just what it is: the mouth of an old tidewater glacier, long since melted away, along with the ice that once filled the Gastineau Channel. The city felt hilly, but it seems relatively flat when you compare its terrain with the lofty mountains jumping sharply up around it. It is a beautiful, isolated setting for a city, and we wondered how it would be to live here. Who knows? Maybe one day.

Port Call: Juneau!

September 20, 2006

I woke up on Wednesday around 6 a.m., about 40 minutes before sunrise, and I looked out the window and the ship was slowing down, and I could see some city lights, and they were close! We had last viewed signs of a city up close in Seattle on Sunday night. So, it was definitely pleasing to my eyes to see us so close to shore!

I stepped out on the veranda deck and it was a bit cool at 48°, but not really that bad. After our encounter with Glacier Bay, this felt like a reasonably nice day. As it turned out the temperature hardly changed at all throughout the entire day: the high was 50°; and the low was 47°.

As I stepped out our door, I held it as it closed. We had found that if we just let go of the door, it would return to its closed position rather smartly, causing noise and vibration that Jim and Tammy in the next cabin could fully share with us; and that was not always a good thing, especially like now, when they were sound asleep.

The ship was maneuvering into the dock where it was about to tie up. In fact it cast its first line ashore officially at 6:32 a.m. Alaska Time. I thought Dotti might enjoy seeing this too, so I went back inside and woke her up.

"Hey Dotti, wake up! We are pulling into Juneau."

"Huh?" came the mumbled reply. She rolled over with blurry eyes opening to look at me.

"The ship is pulling in, and we must be getting close."

All at once she was up and looking out the window. Soon we were both outside, I with my camera, and she with our binoculars. It was too dark at first for my Olympus camera as you can see here. I set it for "available light" and it did its best, but I don't do a great simulation of a tripod. Also, on this one, I thought it was finished and I moved to a new position for another shot while it was still working on this one. So, the lights managed to move up in a colorful light show.

I tried another setting on the camera that was intended for a night background with a person in the foreground. I got my favorite person to stand in front of the camera and gave it a shot. Poor Dotti was just pulled out of bed, and thrust into the dark cool morning air, and she is still smiling beautifully! I am a lucky guy!

However, the background is still a blur. It was just too dark for this camera. So, Dotti crawled back into bed, and I waited for some more light.

I didn't have too long to wait. Sunrise was due at 06:40 but twilight precedes it by 30 minutes and from then on things just get better and better for taking pictures.

In dawn's early light to the northwest Juneau, Alaska's State Capitol was starting to take shape. This is the downtown area, and where we were going to be spending our day. I have tried to match up the topographical map as closely as I could with this photo so you can see the lay of the land that we would be walking on. (Also see side bar.)

The hills and mountains surrounding us had their heads tucked up safely inside the clouds all day, as though they were frightened and were acting like upside down ostriches. However, those heavily overcast, we didn't have a problem with rain on this happy Wednesday.

In the light the city is looking more and more inviting. Its beautiful setting, surrounded by mountains and trees, and set on the Gastineau Channel of Alaska's Inside Passage, is ideal. And we were about go exploring!

Backing up to a full wide angle, the physical relationship between Juneau and Douglas Island becomes clearer. Douglas Island is only 77 square miles in area, but it has a public library in its downtown area and that makes it a real town in my book. The entire island has just over 5,000 people living on it. The only bridge that goes over to Douglas Island is the "Juneau-Douglas Bridge" (I am not sure but I don't believe they ran a contest on picking the name for this one) and you can see it on left of this photo.

This is Douglas Island, as we look southwest, straight across the Gastineau Channel at West Juneau. The giant trees stand proudly behind the buildings, as the pines ascend the tremendous slope that rises a couple of thousand feet into the clouds.

Looking forward; this is what the bow of our ship is aimed at: a few lights and some storage tanks. The rolling hills of Douglas Island make an interesting backdrop, even thought they are draped in gray clouds and obscured by the low light.

Later in the day, we were joined by the Sun Princess. The gray was growing less dominant as the blue of the sky was peeking through, but the hills are still hiding their heads in them.

About the time that Dotti got up for the day, we had a knock on our veranda door. That could only be Jim or Tammy! It was Tammy bringing over my black dress shirt. When she and Dotti had gotten our laundry back and sorted through it, my shirt had ended up in their "pile." When they were checking it out, Jim had one more black shirt than he was expecting. So, Tammy brought it over, and we had a chance to make some plans. Today, Dotti and I hadn't ordered in breakfast for the room, so we were all going down to the Lido Restaurant for breakfast together. Then we were going to be off to see Juneau!

Here are my cruisemates on the Lido Deck as we were heading for breakfast at 07:36. Dotti and I were walking along by the food service counter and we saw something that reached out and grabbed us: someone was walking by with waffles. But they weren't just waffles. They were waffles that were covered in strawberries, and chocolate. We immediately made a beeline for that counter and placed our orders.

I am sorry that I don’t have a picture to share with you of these treats, but they were delicious. Dotti was able to place her order and her waffles were instantly ready, however, they ran out of waffles when I ordered, and so we had an opportunity to visit with the chef as he ran his machine and gave us an update on how many minutes and seconds I still had to wait before they were done.

The chef was from Edmonton Canada, where Dotti's Conference number Four was held in 2004, that we sadly had to miss.

We talked about the huge mall there, and he said it was somehow sad that his town was only remembered for a mall by so many. I replied that it could be worse, and you have to be remembered for something. He laughed and agreed. We told him that we hope that we are one day going to make it up there to see that mall (along with some very special people we want to see who live there). We really enjoyed talking with the chef as we waited and the time passed by very quickly.

The waffles were as good as we had hoped, and better! The waffles themselves were perfectly cooked, light, hot, and delicious. The strawberries were exquisite and the chocolate syrup was just sweet enough. Perfect! They hire the most talented people in the world to do their food preparation on these ships. I am a fairly picky eater normally and I always found something great to eat at every meal!

With juice, coffee—and dare I admit it...three fruit pastries as well—and our best friends to join us and to complete the perfect breakfast, we set down and discussed our upcoming adventure. Shopping was the keyword, and the ladies were looking for a jewelry store that had a very special offer just for them. (I believe it was Diamonds International, and we had no problems finding it!) It was going to be nice to finally set foot on solid ground, and according to my calculations of my past travels, this was going to be my opportunity to finally set foot in the last of the 50 states, the only one I had missed up until now.

We next went back to our staterooms to get ready for our big day. Here is the outfit that Dotti wore for Juneau. I think she looks great in it, and those pants are really cool. Tammy has the same shirt and pants too. (Sometimes I think those two are twins! ) Tammy wore the same style of pants as Dotti did for Juneau but a different shirt. But since Dotti wore her sweater and Tammy wore her coat, it was sometimes hard to tell they were wearing different shirts underneath.

Then we were all ready to go.

It was just before 9:00 a.m. when we reached the gangway to go ashore. They checked us off the ship by scanning our room cards with a laser scanner, which then presented our photos to the security guards, so they could check to see that we had the right cards. No problem, all our faces matched our pictures and they waved us on.

We walked down the gangway ramp and across the wet floating dock, and then entered a covered walkway that led out onto the street. The first picture that I took ashore was shot at 8:56 a.m. Alaska Time.

This view gives some insight to what the ship size is like. The Promenade Deck (Deck 3) is the one right below the orange life rafts. We left the ship from Deck 2, and that is the same deck where we ate our meals, and did our onboard shopping. Our staterooms were on Deck 5, which is the one right above the life rafts. The Lido Deck is the one right at the top, the black stripe running along just under the large WESTERDAM you see painted on the white background. Just to give it scale, please note the man who is standing on Deck 10, just below the large white ball on the left.

Six minutes to the top! This is the Mount Roberts Tramway, and it, not surprisingly, runs to the side of Mount Roberts. The cable stretches up 2000 feet into the sky. Since the cables run at a 30° angle, that also means that the cables are 4000 feet long! That is a lot of cable: especially when you are suspending a carload of people like this from it. At the top, on a clear day it said that there is great view of the area. There are also hiking trails and a tourist information center with movies being shown. However, we were heading for the shops and Mount Roberts would have to wait for another trip.

And where better to begin than at the beginning? Caribou Crossings was located directly across Franklin Street from where the ship was tied up. It was at the start of the shopping strip, and it looked like a promising store to get started with. It was fairly large and had a lot of tourist type of merchandise for we tourist type of people.

While the streets were wet, and an umbrella was in view here, we really didn't have a lot of rain to contend with. Tammy carried her umbrella, but I don't think she ever had to open it. With a 50° overcast day, with a little drizzle off and on, this was normal Pacific Northwest Weather. We felt right at home here.

Jim had the same idea I did: getting outside after giving the store a once over. Tammy is still inside, and you can just see her behind Jim. Dotti is deep in the store lost in shopping bliss. On the left is a coffee stand that was about to receive some of our attention (and money).

Inside the store, Tammy was about to say, "If you point that camera at me one more time I will have to kill you!" However, I am here to tell you that she didn't. Behind Jim's lovely wife various merchandise can be seen, including a rack labeled, "Made in Alaska." After two and half days cooped up in a ship, these ladies were ready to shop!

Neither Jim nor I wore ball caps when coming off the ship. With the damp weather, it only seemed right that we get some ball caps, and so we did: a set of matching Alaska caps. I am holding mine up for the camera here, on my head. With the name and the map of Alaska, we figured that people would have no doubt about where we got it from.

This is looking southeast. I have my coffee in hand, because I just couldn't wait for the others to finish shopping before a grabbed a cup from the coffee stand. Behind Jim and I there is a slab of gray rock that has been polished by ice. This entire area was glaciated at one time, or many times. The ice moving by left its mark on this stone.

My Bud Jim is a handsome looking young fellow and all, but I have to admit that these two lovelies are much easier on the eye! I put this picture here because it followed naturally from the previous one, but you can tell that the ladies have coffee in hand already.

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