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Alaska Revisited

Written by Joy Thrun.

Why Alaska is the most repeated destination in the world!

On my most recent trip to Alaska, I traveled with 90 people who make their living off the land- people who are very aware of the impact weather can have on your life. As we sailed out of Seattle on a perfect balmy evening with the iconic Space Needle and Mt. Rainier clearly visible, we were hoping for at least one more flagship day during the week. We were in for a pleasant surprise!

The first day at sea was enjoyable and a great way to get to know our ship, the Solstice, but we were all restless with anticipation. The casino wins, glass show, and great wait staff at dinner were a nice distraction, but Alaska was calling.

Even late-nighters got up early to enjoy the stunning scenery from their stateroom balcony or just outside their breakfast table window as we glided into charming Ketchikan. In Alaska’s wettest city, infamous for its 340 days per year of rain, the weather was a perfect 75 degrees with clear blue skies.

Many members of our group took to the air, taking advantage of the stunning Misty Fjords. This is best done on a float plane- a unique flying experience with optimal views.

The salmon were “running”, or migrating upriver to spawn, and it was peak halibut season, so some of our group headed to the Halibut waters. Others rented a pole and cast off bridges like the locals, although “snagging” or “snag fishing” was forbidden.

This was the most anticipated port for many because of the promise of glacier viewing. The decision maker of this group wanted to provide one company shore excursion experience for everyone and asked for a suggestion. At the top of my list was the Tracy Arm Catamaran Shore Excursion- one of the most unique shore excursions I have seen from a large cruise ship. A 120-passenger exploration boat syncs up with the 3,000-passenger cruise ship and affixes a gangway between the two, so guests are able to walk from the large ship directly to the exploration boat. We were 90 of the 120 on this exclusive tour.As we returned to the ship, members of our group gathered to account their tales of incredible fishing and eating, breathtaking scenery, and an appreciation for the once in a lifetime chance (the locals reminded us constantly) to see this beautiful place in the sunlight. From fishing poles (supporting 110-pound halibut catches) to totem poles, we were all on an Alaska high. We said a bittersweet goodbye to Ketchikan as we began to make our way to Juneau.

As we left the large ship, we realized we would be given a chance to go places only a small exploration boat could navigate. However, we could not have anticipated the magnificent sights that were ahead: stunning waterfalls at every turn, a snow-white mountain goat acknowledging us commonly, and hundreds of harbor seals lazily floating on icebergs as we cruised by. We approached South Sawyer glacier in complete awe of the colors and shapes ahead of us- unlike anything most people have the privilege of seeing in a lifetime. A crew of naturalists provided us with binoculars to immerse ourselves in the warm colors, scenery, and atmosphere.

The two hour ride back to Juneau was spent celebrating with Alaskan Amber, great conversation, and more breathtaking scenery. Having started the excursion in the early morning, we pulled into the city with most of the day still ahead of us and plans for the remainder of the day.And then, like the opening scene of a play breaking the silence of a darkened theatre, our anticipatory stares were answered with every Alaska traveler’s dream. As the glaciers began to calve and the first small pieces fell into the sea, we were thrilled and thankful for the experience. Then an encore of large masses danced their way into the sea and the performance was ended with a grand finale: a huge spear imploding into the sea. Fortunately, a few people caught the sights and sounds on video so you can view the experience. For anyone who has ever been a part of a similar occasion, you know how special and unforgettable it is.

Tom and I had heard that the whales were bubble net feeding and set out with the intention to do everything in our power to witness this phenomenon. Whales are solitary animals except once a year when they hunt as a team during a time when herring and krill are plentiful. Bubble net feeding is the term used for a team of whales (usually 5 to 8) making clicking sounds and forming a net of bubbles to entrap their prey. Then, the whales emerge at the water’s surface with their mouths wide open to ingest the large volumes of fish; the sight and sound is astounding.

That night, everyone said if it rained the rest of the week, they would still feel blessed for our two magical days. But our good fortune persisted as we sailed into Skagway greeted with warm and sunny weather. The clear skies were important for those who planned to do the historical and very scenic White Pass Railroad trip. Built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold rush, this narrow gauge railroad is an international historical civil engineering landmark. It climbs 3,000 feet in 20 miles and offers panoramic views that are not to be missed.To add to this great day, Tom and I were able to have a large bucket of king crab at the infamous Tracy’s Crab Shack before and after our whale watch. If you love crab, you will love Tracy’s.

The next full day at sea was a welcomed rest. Many of us had gone from sun up to sun down, about 18 hours at this time of year, taking in the sights and sounds of this wonderful place. Sleeping in and lingering over brunch was great refreshment after all the excitement of the preceding days. We spent the remainder of the day enjoying the Solstice’s casino, spa, and pool and getting to better know our new-found friends and travel companions.

The next morning we arrived on Victoria Island in British Columbia. This very lovely, British-feeling island offers one of the world’s most elaborate gardens: the famous Butchart Gardens. Killer whale-watching, kayaking, and shopping made this the perfect final stop on our Alaskan cruise.

One thing any past Alaskan traveler can tell you is that you need good advice for your travel plans. Classic Travel charges NO FEES for our services and the insights and advice can make a world of difference in your experience.

I love this destination and want to help you have the best once-in-a-lifetime experience Alaska has to offer. Call me at 517-349-6200.

Joy Thrun About the Author: Joy is Classic Travel’s Owner & CEO. She has been working and teaching in the travel industry since 1970. Joy’s travels have taken her around the globe. She has traveled extensively throughout Asia, Europe, Central & South America, Africa, the South Pacific, and the Caribbean. Most recently, she traveled to South Africa, Peru, and cruised the Rhine, Rhône, Danube, Nile, Yangtze, and Amazon rivers. Joy believes that Paris is always a good idea and she knows the boot of Italy like a custom-made Ferragamo. Email Joy: joy@classictravelusa.com