Alaskan Cruise, June 2010

During the first week of June, David and I had an amazing vacation on an Alaskan cruise. It was our first vacation together ever, and since we never had a proper honeymoon, we decided the cruise counted as such.

The ship started in Vancouver, and first traveled to Icy Strait Point, a charming little town that many describe for cruise patrons as a taste of “real” Alaska, as opposed to the more touristy cities of Juneau and Ketchikan. Having visited all three cities, I believe this is an accurate description.

Icy Strait Point has a population of around 800 residents, and we were informed that our ship was bringing over double the number of people to this lovely town. They allow only one ship per day to visit, and I really hope they keep this rule firmly in place, because it would be a true shame to turn such a genuine, ruggedly natural place into a slick, tacky tourist trap.

Cruise ships are not allowed to dock directly, so a smaller boat took people off the cruise ship to shore 25 or so at a time. From this little boat, we saw a bald eagle casually sitting on a post that reached out of the water near shore. Wow.

When we got off the little boat and walked onto the pier toward land, I was absolutely elated by what I saw. It was such an adventure, being able to explore a beautiful new place like this one. I haven’t had a lot of adventures lately that don’t involve childcare, or more specifically poop, so I was understandably in heaven.

I dreamed of seeing whales on this trip, as I have wanted this most of my adult life, and David and I immediately checked out the excursions counter. We were told that all of the whale sighting trips were full.

As much as I wanted to see whales, David and I both loathe the idea of structured, busy vacations full of places to be and appointments, so despite the warnings of many that the excursions fill up quickly, we refused to pre-book activities for this vacation. Upon realizing that I might miss my potentially once-in-a-lifetime chance to see real live whales, however, I started to doubt my “keep the relaxation in a vacation” philosophy.

We still had Juneau and Ketchikan ahead of us, however, so I brushed aside my crestfallen whale-missing thoughts, as we decided to take a walk.

Walking along the shore a few minutes later, we noticed people excitedly pointing out across the bay at something moving.

Whales! There were two whale spouts blowing water into the sky and two humpbacks skimming the top of the water! I couldn’t believe we were just standing on the edge of the ocean, watching whales swim by. It was surreal.

This happened multiple times as we walked along the shore. Whales were popping up all over, no excursion needed. I don’t know if it is always like this at Icy Strait Point, or if we just accidentally had perfect timing, but it was absolutely magical. I can’t believe people actually get to live in a beautiful wild place where they see whales every day. Incredible.

As the edge of the shore turned into forest, David and I found a nearly deserted nature trail that we wanted to hike, so off we went. The idea of stretching our legs after a first day spent mincing about a crowded ship was irresistible.

The trees and plants were big and tall, and the dark forest made us feel like we were on another planet, or a vampire-filled tween movie set. Everything was shady and cool because the trees formed a canopy overhead that blocked out the sun. Green, mossy fallen logs and enormously twisted tree roots mixed with prehistorically-proportioned ferns to give everything a lush, exotic feeling. The forest felt like a secret.

The path was covered with gravel, edges delineated by weathered railroad ties. It was very rustic and not even a bit touristy. I think everybody else must have been out on excursions because we only saw 4 people along the entire trail. If you ever go to Icy Strait Point, skip the World’s Longest Zip Line and head straight for the nature trail. I think I stored up a reserve of inner peace while walking along that trail that will last me for years.

After our hike, we decided to have lunch at one of the two restaurants, going for the one advertising fresh fish and local beer. We had fish and chips in mind, and fish and chips we got. The food tasted so much better than usual because the fish was fresh. A brazen crow begged among the wooden picnic tables for scraps as we ate outside on the patio, watching people walking along the pier, and whales swimming past our anchored cruise ship in the harbor.

Icy Strait Point remains a happy snapshot frozen forever in my mind. Of all the places we visited, it was far and above my favorite place.

We spent the rest of the cruise drinking in the cruise ship martini bar, dancing in the club with friends, watching movies in our room every day simply because we never have time to watch a movie uninterrupted at home, watching Dall’s porpoises looking like like miniature orcas as they swam in groups along with the ship, eating like little piggies at the assorted free buffets and restaurants, and just relaxing.

There were two formal dinners, so we got to play dress up in cocktail dresses and suits (I wore the cocktail dresses). The food in the formal dining room was okay, but the highlight of my dining experience, and possibly the entire cruise, happened one night while I was sitting at our table, facing the back window of the ship.

Our nightly seating arrangement placed our group (i.e. all of the lovely people from David’s work) at the back of the ship, near a floor-to-ceiling window. This meant that as we dined every night, we could look out over the water and watch the sun setting. I don’t know if David’s company paid extra for this seating, or if it was just a happy accident, but I sure did appreciate it. Best seat in the house.

At some point during a meal, I was seated facing the window, looking out over the wake of the ship at the scenery going by. The person across from me was talking, so I was paying attention, my head focused up in that direction, rather than down on my plate. I saw an entire humpback whale leap out of the water, about 200 feet away! I shouted, “Whale!” and pointed excitedly behind the ship.

Everyone at our table turned in time to see the gigantic splash and the tail of the whale going under. Then we all saw the spout blowing water into the air. So they believed me. But nobody nearby except for me saw the dark blue silhouette of the bumpy, gnarly humpback framed against the dusky-orange evening sky.

Because of this, David and I decided that whale was intended just for me. A little gift from the universe, because seeing a whale was the only thing I truly wanted from this vacation, and I definitely put my request out there. Add that moment to my collection of forever mental snapshots, and thank you for listening!

In Juneau, David’s company bought an excursion for our group that involved riding behind sled dogs through the forest, in a golf cart converted to a land sled for the occasion. It was a blast–what a wild ride–and the puppies were adorable.

The cities of Juneau and Ketchikan are both very tourist-oriented, with shops and restaurants dominating the scenery. I am not much of a shopper, so these didn’t really do it for me. I am pretty sure that people who actually live in these cities probably avoid the tourist area and roll their eyes when they talk about trying to drive through there. I felt like part of an annoying group as I walked along the crowded streets lined with jewelry shops, but despite this, I still really wanted a ring to commemorate the trip. We’ve been married for five years, and I thought it would be nice to get a honeymoon ring as a souvenir.

We found the perfect ring in Ketchikan. It’s silver, and the gemstone is called ammolite, made from a gorgeous multi-colored, iridescent fossil (ammonite) found predominantly in Canada and Alaska, so it seemed appropriate. It reminds me of a primary-colored version of my birthstone, the opal. Plus, you know how I love my happy rainbows. I adore my new ring and it hasn’t left my hand since our vacation. You can read about it here if you’d like:

The Hubbard Glacier was gorgeous and we got a very rare warm day, according to the ship’s captain. I couldn’t believe how aqua and teal-colored some of the ice looked. There were chunks of glacier ice floating all around the ship, and everybody was up on deck for hours while the ship anchored as close to the glacier as we could safely get. It was breathtaking.

The only bummer of the vacation was that David got sick a few days in with a nasty respiratory virus. I managed to catch the bug toward the end of the week, which blossomed for me into something vicious and unshakeable, as is the usual modus operandi of my lungs. I was sick for 3 weeks upon our return home, and it took two sets of x-rays and rounds of different antibiotics to shake it. Stupid lungs.

I don’t know what we would have done without David’s parents, who happily watched our hyperactive, lovable-but-exhausting little boy for a week straight so we could have the first extended break from parenting since his birth four and a half years ago. We are so lucky and blessed to have them in our lives and Miles is so lucky and blessed to have such wonderful grandparents.

I was also relieved that Miles didn’t seem to have too much trouble dealing with our week away. When I talked to him on the phone, I was expecting it to be psychologically brutal, to the point that I wanted to avoid doing it because I knew that if he was crying and begging me to come home on the phone I’d be an emotional wreck the rest of the trip. But when he got on the phone, the first thing he said to me was, “Hi Mommy! Are you having fun?” Whew.

We talked a little, and I made sure to remind him that we were bringing him presents to keep him in a positive place. At the end of the call, we said “I love you! Bye!” in cheerful voices like it was no big deal. See you soon. Nice chatting with you. I had a lot of trouble agreeing to go on this vacation and leaving him for an entire week, so his handling it well was a huge relief for me.

All in all, a great vacation, and I picked out a few pictures for you, below.

Vancouver was the first thing we saw, riding the bus en route to the ship:

Professional shot taken as we boarded the ship, and our first picture on the balcony of our cabin:

Icy Strait Point:

Having goofy fun in the cruise ship dance club:

Juneau dog sledding time:

Gussied up for the first formal dining date:

The Hubbard Glacier, as seen from the top deck of the cruise ship:

Ketchikan, and our ship docked at Ketchikan:

We spent one evening having Dave and Tawni time at the ship’s martini bar, which was creatively named “Martini Bar.” This is where I found my alcoholic holy grail, the drink to end all drinks; the Fresca Martini. It involved vodka, fresh watermelon juice and crushed fresh mint, and if you are ever on a Celebrity cruise and don’t try this drink, you are a damned fool. A fool, I say! Also, what is not to love about a martini glass that stores an extra half martini in the base? Yum:

I will end with a picture that helped us find our room many nights after a few drinks. We deemed this unknown person “Russian Lady Corey Feldman,” and as our cabin was a few doors to the right of this picture, we would say to the other, “Just look for Russian Lady Corey Feldman,” to find our room (Corey Feldman:

I became quite fond of our navigational guiding star, Russian Lady Corey Feldman, and could occasionally be seen kissing my hand and using it to place a gentle kiss lovingly on the forehead of Russian Lady Corey Feldman, much to my husband’s amusement: