Alaska stay & cruise days 10-12
The largest port on our itinerary so far - although most shops seem to be tourist jewellery traps! I did manage to find a nice T-shirt though!
Perfect port if you’re a cruise ship geek - apart from us there was also Golden Princess & Star Princess (both Princess Cruises) & MS Noordam (Holland America Line).
Today I did another ship’s excursion called “Mendenhall Glacier & Whale watching photo safari”. This was a great tour led by a professional photographer with a very small group (only 9 of us), so he could take us to the best places for photographs and help with settings and composition etc. The first part of the tour was a hike in the Tongass National Forest. Most tourists don’t go here as you have to have a permit so it was beautifully peaceful. A great place for photographing nature, and then at the end the view to the glacier and lake. Following this we went on a fast boat out to the main area the humpback whales congregate and had some wonderful viewings of well-known whales of the area, such as Flame and her calf Bunsen.
After the tour I took the Tramway to the top of Mt Roberts for an amazing view, short walk around one of the trails and lunch of their famous crab nachos. Despite ordering the half size portion the serving was ridiculously huge (but delicious!), so no I didn’t manage it! The Alaska Amber beer was also worth a go.
Then in the evening I booked to take part in the French Chefs Table - a highlight for foodies of a 7 course food & wine pairing menu, which was gorgeous. There were also Alaskan and Japanese themed Chefs Tables on this cruise.
Day 11: Skagway (My birthday!)
Another glorious day in Alaska - in fact positively roasting. (All the locals were complaining it was too hot!)
Walked ashore and went for a quick explore of this old Klondike Gold Rush town. It really isn’t very big but has some interesting history and several of the buildings hold museums or replica interiors of the times. I particularly liked the Corrington Museum which holds a lot of indigenous artefacts as well as the Gold Rush information. And of course I had to have a drink in the infamous Red Onion Saloon - formerly a bar/brothel, where the girls still dress a little like those of the day (maybe a few more clothes!)
My booked excursion was a round trip ride on the White Pass railroad, which was originally built to help get gold miners over the mountains to the gold - however by the time it was completed the Gold Rush had ended! The journey is so scenic and you travel in restored vintage carriages. As my birthday treat I’d booked the Legacy Club car which was exceptionally swish, with comfy leather swivel chairs, food & drink on demand, a very friendly & informative attendant and a great view from the viewing platform overlooking the back of the train. A must do experience if you ever go to Skagway.
In the evening I was treated like a princess being hosted on the top officers table for dinner, with a surprise birthday cake and great company.
Day 12: Sitka
By now you might think I’d have had enough of boat cruises and wildlife - but no, today I did the excursion called “Sea otters, raptors & bears”. This started off with a boat cruise to find wildlife. Sitka is known for its sea otter population, after being hunted to near extinction by the Russians in the past and now they’re back. We found a raft of females with their pups tied up in the kelp - pictures will follow as my iPhone couldn’t pick them up from a distance! We then proceeded to find sea lions, harbour seals, male sea otters, bald eagles (now got to the point of being blasé about seeing them) and a humpback whale. On returning to land we went to the Raptor rehabilitation centre, which was fascinating, including seeing several bald eagles being prepared for release plus a partially blind juvenile who can never be released but is used for education - amazing how big these birds are. As an adult (at about 5, when they gain their distinctive plumage) they can have a 7 foot wingspan. And then finally to the Fortress of the Bear - a bear sanctuary that takes in orphaned cubs. Unfortunately due to Alaskan regulations they can’t be released back into the wild. I could have stayed there for hours watching the cubs and young adults at play. It was an especially hot day so most of the bears were in the water! Loved watching the 2 x 1 year old sisters playing and the older bears lazing in the heat. After the tour there was just enough time to run up to the famous Russian church, St Michael’s Orthodox Cathedral, for a quick look around at the artefacts and learn the history of the church and the Russian influence on Sitka.
In the evening I ate in my favourite specialty restaurant, Prime C, the steakhouse with my friend Ngawhira (isn’t it great that senior crew on Azamara are encouraged to mix and find with the guests? You don’t find that on many cruise ships.) Beef carpaccio, lobster salad, chateaubriand with jacket potato, spinach & bearnaise sauce, chocolate fondant. Sounds yum? It was!