Truth be told, I was secretly dreading this upcoming 10 day cruise to Alaska, even though I knew once we embarked I’d enjoy it. I don’t take long vacations, I was worried about being away for so long from work, I didn’t do any research ahead of time AND I didn’t look at the available excursions. At first glance some may think I was procrastinating … dragging my feet, if you will. Those who know me well will understand there’s more to the story.
The simple purpose of visiting Alaska was to spend time with my parents. That’s it. No intensive planning required to enjoy each others’ company and soak in a vast, breathtaking surrounding. To enjoy something that felt bigger than us, together.
Our starting point was Seattle, and like any good Seattle tourist, we walked down to the fish market pier where they throw fish—which the guys happily did. I gave them a tip and was promptly rewarded with a “Thank you!” chant from the guys. So fun!
The flowers were beautiful and the produce looked so wonderful … it was a shame I wasn’t able to buy any. My sister and I made sure to have our coffee from one of the many Starbucks (as one does while visiting Seattle), and by “many” I mean: We could see another Starbucks from the one where we were standing.
Soon it was time to board the cruise ship—a cozy, smaller vessel that held less than 700 passengers (no waiting for elevators!). The ship’s service and food was excellent, and I joked to many that I ate my way through Alaska … returning feeling as though I was the size of one of the whales we we spotted at sea.
We visited six ports during our stretch at sea: Ketchikan; Wrangell; Juneau; Skagway; Sitka; and Victoria, British Columbia. I was surprised to find that the portion of Alaska we’d be cruising was along the Tongass National Forest. I think of Alaska; I picture snow. Not the case here! Some areas have 300 days of rain and rarely see snow.
The ports varied in size from very small (800 year round residents) to large (over 12,000 year round residents). The personality of each stop was so different. We saw totem pole parks and clan houses, learned about the Tlingit natives, went whale watching, got up close to the glaciers (magnificent), and visited The Butchart Gardens — all the while seeing breathtaking mountains and scenery.
I loved seeing the art from Alaskan natives. Through many of the ports we heard about the Tlingit tribe, and it was sad to hear that as proud as they are of their culture, many of their stories are lost due because they didn’t record their history. Tribe history had been passed on by word of mouth from one generation to the next, and many of those stories were lost to the white man’s disease that killed their elders and young.
Skagway, the town of 800, was a lot of fun. Alaska is very patriotic, and we happened to be there on July 4. The whole town came out for their Independence Day parade, including a float with Canadian Mounties and the entire high school graduating class … of two teens.
We followed the parade with a tour of Skagway and the entire town knew our tour guide! Their tourism season lasts for five months and most of the residents work two to three jobs in-season, then take off during the winter. It’s clear that they very much appreciate the tourists.
Another fun excursion was going to the raptor sanctuary and seeing the bald eagles up close. The sanctuary helps eagles recover from injuries, most of which are caused by highway accidents.
My favorite part of the trip was seeing the glaciers.
The water around a glacier is kind of a light turquoise because of the silt the glacier drops off. Since glaciers are always moving, you can hear them cracking—it sounds like thunder and gunshots—and we watched pieces break, falling into the ocean. It was truly awe-inspiring.
As beautiful as it is to visit in the summer, it sounds like rough living during the winter:
- They get down to two or three hours of daylight in the winter.
- Many of these ports were on islands, where they are accessible only by sea or air.
- Some towns only get food shipments once a week.
- They don’t see fresh food and pay $5.00 for a gallon of milk if they can get it.
- Some towns don’t have doctors or hospitals, so they have to go to a bigger city a month in advance to have a baby.
Alaska has done a terrific job in regards to their conservation efforts. They care for the wildlife (bears, salmon, whales, sea lions, and eagles), help to sustain and protect the natives’ culture, and preserve the land for all who come to enjoy.
But, back to why I took the trip.
My main goal for visiting Alaska was to spend time with my parents. I told them I wanted to hear stories from them during the trip, much like the Tlingit tribe and their generations of stories passed down from one family member to the next.
Thank you to my parents for the trip of a lifetime and for the stories they passed on. I will treasure it all forever.