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At the end of an eight hour air travel day, we arrived at the Anchorage Airport where we were met by our Princess Cruise representative. Shortly thereafter, we boarded a bus for our 1.5 hour drive through Anchorage and along the Alaskan coast to Whittier where our ship was awaiting us. We were in awe of the abundance of spruce forests, snow capped mountain ranges, and the mud flats landscape of the Chickaloon Bay during low tide.
We would get to see our very first glacier and travel through the Portage-Whittier Tunnel to Whittier, population 30. Through the windows of our bus, we would get the first awesome sight of our ship, the Island Princess docked on Prince William Sound.
The Island Princess can accommodate 1,970 passengers with a crew of 1,000. We chose the Island Princess because it is one of the smaller ships of the Princess Line fleet. Our stateroom would be on Caribe Deck 10, room C502, an ocean view double with balcony.
Upon arriving, we were greeted by our Steward, Jason, who would be taking care of our every need for the entire cruise. It would take us a couple of days of exploring to fully appreciate all that the Island Princess offered us: two five star restaurants (one for traditional scheduled dining, and the other for anytime dining), 24 hour room service, a 24 hour buffet, a pizzeria, a Grill and Bar, ice cream bar, and three speciality restaurants - not to mention all the various cocktail lounges and bars in the center of the ship.
For entertainment there were: two theatres, a casino, and four lounges and bars with nightly entertainment. There were two pools, five hot tubs, a spa, gym, tennis and shuffleboard. There were duty free boutiques, a library, 24 hour Internet cafe, and an art gallery. Every night, there was a string quartet to entertain us in the Atrium area of the ship. From early morning to early evening there were scheduled activities throughout the ship for those who wanted to join in. For example, one afternoon, Joe and I decided to give a try at the Jerry Seinfeld trivia. We started as a team of two and later were joined by 3 others. Well, out of 14 teams, we came in FIRST!!!! It was great fun!!!! Each team member received a Princess Cruise travel bag.
We really can't say enough about the crew. At all times, we were treated like "royalty". Our Steward did a fabulous job with our room. When we left for the day, the room was thoroughly cleaned and we would find our clothes that we had left draped over a chair neatly folded for us. There would be clean towels and washcloths in the bathroom. Upon returning to our room after dinner, we would find the bed turned down, chocolate on our pillows and again clean towels and washcloths. WOW!!!!
The Island Princess quickly became our luxurious home for seven glorious days!
We departed Whittier at about 9:00 PM. After cruising through the night, we arrived at College Fjord in Prince William Sound. The Fjord contains 5 Tidewater Glaciers, 5 large Valley Glaciers and dozens of smaller glaciers. Most of the glaciers are named after renowned East Coast Colleges. Unfortunately, we arrived at College Fjord at 6:15AM, an hour before sunrise, so it was still fairly dark. Also, it was very foggy. So, although we would be able to see the glaciers from our balcony, it was not a photo opportunity.
Later that morning, we would be sailing the Gulf of Alaska. This would be our introduction to "rough seas". The ship would be rocking and rolling for the entire day. To our relief, neither of us experienced any kind of seasickness. That night, we would literally be rocked to sleep.
We would arrive at Glacier Bay National Park before 10:00AM. We picked up 3 Park Rangers who stayed the entire day aboard our ship, giving us information about the Park and what we were seeing. Their talk was broadcast on one of the TV channels, so we could hear the descriptions as we viewed the scenery and glaciers from the balcony in our room.
All the sights were on the Port side of the ship. Our stateroom with balcony was on the Port side, so we were able to see all the sights from our private balcony. We would get within just 500 feet from the large and famous Margerie Glacier. Our ship stopped there for at least 30 minutes. We would witness some small calving (ice chunks falling off the glacier into the water). We had lunch on our balcony - with the glacier for a view!
Glacier Bay National Park can only be reached by boat or plane. There are over 3.3 million acres of forest, an inlet and shore, mountain peaks rising up to 15,000 feet, and, of course, the glaciers. Glaciers are actually rivers of ice that stretch over mountain ridges, and many of them meet the green tidewater. Thus, they get their name "Tidewater Glaciers". The Park has 12 Tidewater Glaciers, the most famous is Margerie Glacier which is Alaska's most active glacial face. Margerie Glacier is about one mile wide, with an ice face that is about 250 feet high above the waterline, and a base about 100 feet below sea level.
The ice on the glaciers looks blue but actually is NOT blue. When light hits highly compacted ice, long wavelength colors (reds) are absorbed, while short wavelength colors (blues) reflect back through the ice to your eyes, hence the blue color appearance.
Another large glacier is the Grand Pacific Glacier. This glacier is so dirty that it actually looks like land. This accumulation of dirt and rock is due to avalanches, rock slides and the scouring of the valley by the movement of the glacier.
When gold was discovered in 1896 on the Klondike River, Skagway was the gateway to the Yukon. By 1897, it would be the largest city in Alaska with a population exceeding 20,000. Today, Skagway has a population of 800 people and is approximately a 20 by 5 block area. Tourism is Skagway's main economy. Within Skagway's downtown historical district, there are false-front buildings and boardwalks that date from the gold rush period. The local residents have succeeded in retaining the 1898 Gold Rush atmosphere.
We decided that the best way to see this quaint and historical town would be to take a quaint and historic tour - The Skagway Original Street Car Tour. We would board a yellow 1920s era sightseeing bus with a costumed driver. Our bus would take us from the historic boardwalks of downtown where we would become honorary members of the Arctic Brotherhood at a command performance at the Club House Theatre. Next, we traveled to the panoramic Scenic Overlook, and finally to the town's historic cemetery where we would learn about the famous Skagway gunfight. Join us and take a step back into time.
Juneau, the State Capital of Alaska, has a population of about 30,000 people. You can NOT drive to Juneau. The only ways into Juneau are by boat, plane, or birth canal. The highlight of our visit is seeing the Mendenhall Glacier. This glacier is 1.5 miles wide, hundreds of feet thick and is fed by the 1,500 square mile Juneau ice field.
To our amazement, the coast of Alaska is a rainforest. Therefore, the area gets lots of rain. Juneau has an average rainfall of approximately 74 inches per year. We would take a tour into the rainforest and visit Glacier Gardens. From the viewing platform at the 580 foot level, we would see Gastineau Channel, Douglas Island, and the Chilkat mountains.
The name Ketchikan comes from a Tlingit Indian Tribe phrase that means "Eagle with spread out wings". It is known as Alaska's "first city" because it's the first major community travelers come to as they journey north. It has a population of about 13,000 people. The average yearly rainfall is 162 inches and it rains almost 240 days a year. However, we would be greeted with our first glorious sunny day of the trip!
We just couldn't visit the "Salmon Capital of the World" without getting to see the salmon swimming upstream along Creek Street, the former red-light district, but today a collection of quaint gift shops.
Ketchikan has a rich Native Heritage, which includes the Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian native tribes. We would take a tour to visit the Tlingit Native village of Saxman. Here we would witness tribal members performing traditional dances at a Potlatch Dance in the Beaver Clan House. We would learn the stories behind the ancient Totem Poles outside the House and visit the Village Carving Center where we would meet a Master Totem Pole carver and learn about the craft of carving one of these magnificent works of art, as well as seeing examples of other Tlingit crafts.
Our cruise came to an end at Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. We arrived just before sunrise and the view of the city and its coastline looked like a fairyland. Like everything else on the cruise, disembarkation would be extremely well organized and painless. Princess had a bus ready to drive us through this city of 2.5 million people to the airport. Here we would catch our flight home to Colorado Springs. Our incredible adventure had come to an end.
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