Month

May 2017

Overview of Skagway and Ketchikan

Our final stops on our Alaskan cruise were Skagway and Ketchikan. Both are small Alaskan cities, but they support an incredible tourism business. With combined populations of less than 8,000 people, these two town’s populations double during the summer to handle the more than one million cruise ship visitors! Needless to say, they are incredibly welcoming and appreciative of tourists.

Skagway is known for gold! The gold rush hit Skagway in the late 1800’s, but it lasted just a few short years. Now tourists can participate in gold panning excursions or in the popular White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad train ride. We purchased an excursion through Princess Cruises that combined these two popular attractions and provided lunch.

The White Pass and Yukon Rout Railroad is a 40 mile round trip train ride up to the White Pass Summit, and it’s by far the best thing to do in Skagway. The scenery is breathtaking as you pass over waterfalls, gulches, tunnels, and mountains.

For time’s sake, we chose to take a charter bus ride to the summit, followed by the train ride back down. I’m glad we did that because the train ride is long and would have gotten a little redundant if we had ridden it to the summit and also back down. We were able to see an angle from the bus that isn’t viewable from the train, and our driver stopped to let us take pictures. The train was narrated and incredibly informative. The narrator pointed out wildlife, answered questions, and named landmarks as we rode by.

Type A Tidbit:

Don’t forget your passport!!! You briefly cross the border into Canada to board the train, and a passport is necessary.

For the best views: If you’re riding to the summit, sit on the left side of the train (if you’re facing the engine). If you’re riding the train down the mountain, then sit on the right side (if you’re facing towards the engine).

If you’re brave, sneak out the back door of your railcar and ride on the walkway in between the two cars. If you’re really brave, hang over the side to get amazing pictures!

White Pass Yukon Railroad Alaska

After the train, we ate a barbecue lunch and then went straight to our gold panning location. The gold panning was so fun! First, they taught us how to do it properly, and then we were each given our own pan of gold. Whatever gold we found was ours to keep! We took our gold inside to get weighed, and I found the most gold!

When we got back to town, we briefly visited the Red Onion Saloon for a quick drink. It was a brothel during the gold rush, and they very much keep this atmosphere alive. If you’re easily embarrassed or you’re with parents, grandparents, or kids, then I’m not sure this is a place I would recommend visiting. The waitresses are dressed in their brothel costumes (corsets complete with dollar bills), and their comments can be pretty sarcastic and feisty. It was a fun place to grab a drink though!

Ketchikan is known for Native American totem poles, lumberjacks, and souvenir shopping! I know it’s hard, but wait to buy your souvenirs until Ketchikan. Prices here are cheaper and there are more options. If you see something at a different port that is unique or made by a local vendor, then by all means buy it! But t-shirts, coffee mugs, key chains, etc. are best to be bought in Ketchikan. There is a huge souvenir shop right at the end of the pier when you get off the boat, but resist this place! Walk just one or two blocks down, and you’ll find the same products for even cheaper. Ketchikan also has a lot of great local shops. We found some unique carvings, and Matt purchased his Ulu knife here.

Type A Tidbit:

Ketchikan is a rainforest so be prepared for rain! I purchased some ponchos at Wal-Mart before the cruise so we would be prepared. Luckily, we had great weather!

Creek Street is a fun place to walk in Ketchikan. Totem Bight State Park is also located here so if you have any desire to see authentic totem poles, then this is the place to see them.

Creek Street Ketchikan Alaska Ketchikan Alaska Totem Pole Ketchikan Alaska

However, the main thing to do in Ketchikan is the Great American Lumberjack Show! I purchased tickets online (for a cheaper price) before we left so we could avoid the lines. The show is located within walking distance of the cruise ship. The show is cheesy, but we had a lot of fun cheering for our lumberjack!

Great American Lumberjack Show Ketchikan Alaska Great American Lumberjack Show Ketchikan Alaska

Skagway and Ketchikan had so much to offer for being such small towns! Make sure these two are on your Alaskan itinerary!

For more cruise tips look HERE. If you’re headed on an Alaskan cruise and plan to stop at Juneau, then don’t miss THIS POST.  Glacier Bay info is HERE. Many of these cruises leave out of Seattle, so give yourself an extra day or so and see what Seattle has to offer!

Glacier Bay, Alaska

If your Alaskan cruise doesn’t include Glacier Bay, then you need to cancel your cruise and book a different one. Seriously. Glacier Bay is exactly what you think of when you think of an Alaskan cruise: glaciers, icebergs, wildlife, and breathtaking scenery everywhere you look.

Only a few cruise lines are able to obtain the difficult permits needed to enter Glacier Bay. Even with a permit, the National Park Service only allows three large vessels into the bay per day. Once they are granted access, they have to abide by very strict regulations in order to protect the environment. Needless to say, this is not the easiest place to gain access to. All of that trouble is so worth it though.

Glacier Bay is unique as a port of call because you never actually get off the boat. You’re basically just along for the ride on this day. It’s all about observing from one of the ship’s many decks or, if you’re lucky, from your balcony.

We attended a lecture the night before and were informed that the best time to see whales would be when our ship first entered the bay early that morning. So Matt and I set our alarm for 3 AM so we could be out on deck at 4 AM ready to see whales! I’m so glad we listened to that advice because about 15 minutes after we got on deck, we saw two whales breach extremely close to the ship. And then… we didn’t see any more whales the entire trip. So if one of the wildlife experts tells you when to see whales, you better listen!

Whale in Glacier Bay Alaska

Type A Tidbit:

Because of all the environmental regulations, on the day the ship is in Glacier Bay no plastic cups, lids, or straws are available. They’re very strict about littering, and they don’t want any of these items being blown (or thrown) overboard. We wanted to drink coffee and hot chocolate on deck while we watched for whales. We were able to, but we had to use their real coffee mugs with no lids available. Bring your own thermos or insulated travel mug so you can enjoy your coffee on deck!

As our ship entered the bay, we slowed down just enough for a speedboat to pull up alongside us and drop off some passengers. These people turned out to be our National Park Service Rangers and wildlife experts for the day. They took turns answering questions, giving lectures, and observing from the Captain’s deck. If they saw any whales, bears, or other animals, then they would make an announcement over the loudspeaker. My parents chose to stay in their room and enjoy the peace and quiet from their balcony. They did have the option of turning their television to a channel that was broadcasting the ranger’s announcements and lectures so they never missed anything.

Glacier Bay Alaska

Type A Tidbit:

Dress warm!!! It’s very cold in Glacier Bay, and the wind whips off the water to add an extra chill.

Most of the day is spent just getting to Margerie Glacier, one of the most active glaciers in Glacier Bay. You know you’re getting closer when you start to see small icebergs in the water.

Glacier Bay Alaska Glacier Bay Alaska

Once arriving at Margerie Glacier, the ship will do a complete 360 degree circle. Don’t worry, it’s a very slow rotation that happens over an hour or so. No matter where you are on the boat, you’ll get a good view. Make sure you’re on deck or on a balcony at Margerie Glacier so you can hear when the ice calves. It sounds like thunder! If you’re watching through a window from inside, then you’ll miss this once in a lifetime opportunity. There’s no other experience like it.

Margerie Glacier might not look like much in pictures, but it’s a mile wide and the height of a football field!

Margerie Glacier Alaska

Glacier Bay is my favorite memory from this trip, and the photos don’t do it justice. I almost felt like an invader into this peacefully calm world. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to see God’s creation and be reminded to sometimes just be still.

For more cruise tips look HERE. If you’re headed on an Alaskan cruise and plan to stop at Juneau, then don’t miss THIS POST. Many of these cruises leave out of Seattle, so give yourself an extra day or so and see what Seattle has to offer!

 

An Afternoon in Juneau, Alaska

Juneau Alaska

Juneau, Alaska was our first port on our Alaskan cruise, and we couldn’t wait to explore the town! Princess Cruise allowed us half a day to experience Juneau and while it would have been nice to have more time, it was enough for us to visit Mendenhall Glacier.

Type A Tidbit:

Juneau is the best place to go whale watching! (Matt and I had just done a whale watching tour in California so we opted to explore the glacier instead). But if you’ve never seen whales, then make this a priority! I’ve found that Harv and Marv’s Whale Watching is one of the best tours in Juneau. Book online before your trip!

Don’t forget seasickness medicine for your whale watching tour. If the cruise ship doesn’t make you sick, keep in mind that being on a smaller boat will be a much different experience!

Before our cruise, I researched all of the different excursions offered by the cruise line, and I noted that many involved whales or the glacier in some capacity. Knowing that we wanted to visit Mendenhall Glacier, I started pricing an excursion through the ship versus getting to the visitor’s center on our own. Not surprisingly, the excursion through the ship was much more expensive. So now our dilemma was how to get ourselves to the visitor’s center!

Juneau does have taxi cabs so that was an option, but we needed to get all six of us there the cheapest way possible. To get all six of us to the visitor’s center, we would have to take two different cabs. We weren’t real big on the idea of splitting up, plus it wasn’t very cost-effective.

Type A Tidbit:

At the time of our cruise, Uber was not available in Alaska. Check Uber’s website for availability before you go!

Since a taxi wasn’t ideal, I started to look into alternative shuttle ideas. Purchasing shuttle bus tickets to Mendenhall Glacier turned out to be way easier than I thought it would be. Juneau Tours offers a Mendenhall Glacier Shuttle package for $35 a person. The shuttle ticket included our $5 entry into the visitor’s center. I booked this a month or two before we left on our cruise, and I made sure to print out the tickets/vouchers and have them with us that day.

The shuttle itself was incredibly convenient. I thought it would be hard to find, but it wasn’t at all. The bus picked us up right at the end of the pier, and our driver gave us a narrated tour on our 30 minute ride to the glacier. Plus our driver made sure to point out any bald eagles he saw! That alone was worth the money!

Once we arrived, we hiked two different trails. The trails were well maintained, clearly marked, and easy to navigate. This “hike” was easily accessible for all ages and on level terrain. The first trail we hiked was only 0.25 miles from the visitor’s center, and it was paved. It led to a lookout point that was perfect for pictures. The second trail we hiked was a bit longer (2 miles roundtrip), and it took us down to a beautiful waterfall called Nugget Falls.

Type A Tidbit:

Some trails may be temporarily closed if any bear are spotted nearby. This is for visitor’s safety so always be on the lookout!

Nugget Falls Juneau

Mendenhall Glacier Juneau

Juneau Alaska

After looking around the visitor’s center, we caught our shuttle back to town. The shuttle ran conveniently every 30 minutes.

After we got back into town, we walked down their main street and did some shopping. We stopped at a crepe booth and had a snack. Before heading back to the ship, we stopped at Tracy’s King Crab Shack for some hot chowder and local beer.

Juneau Alaska

Type A Tidbit:

The weather can be unpredictable. Be prepared for it to be cold or rainy, and be sure to wear good walking shoes.

Looking back, I’m glad we purchased a shuttle from a tour company instead of trying to take a taxi. It was cheaper than purchasing the excursion through the ship, and we weren’t on anybody else’s time frame. That means we could have stayed as long or as little as we wanted to at the glacier.

If you’re in Juneau don’t miss the whales, the glacier, or the bald eagles! For tips on your next cruise check out this post HERE.

5 Things to do in Seattle

Before leaving on our Alaskan cruise last May, we had the opportunity to spend just a few days in Seattle, Washington. We were short on time, but we still managed to pack in a lot of fun attractions! Here are my top 5 things not to miss in Seattle.

Space Needle

You probably know by now that I can’t pass up a good view of a new city. The Space Needle lives up to all of the hype. Ride the elevator 520 feet up for a fantastic skyline photo opportunity. Seattle is notoriously cloudy, but we caught a break in the clouds and were able to get some pictures of the skyscrapers at the water’s edge.

Type A Tidbit: Make a reservation for the revolving restaurant at the top of the Space Needle!

Space Needle Seattle Space Needle Seattle

Chihuly Garden and Glass

This was my favorite thing we did in Seattle! I had previously been impressed by some of Chihuly’s work at the Bellagio in Las Vegas so I was really looking forward to this. Dale Chihuly is a world famous glass sculptor who specializes in the area of blown glass. The Chihuly Garden and Glass showcases some of his priceless large scale sculptures. It’s amazing how much work goes into each piece and that these installations are so fragile.

Type A Tidbit: Chihuly Garden and Glass is located right beside the Space Needle. Purchase the combo ticket to both sites to save a little money.

Chihuly Seattle Chihuly Seattle Chihuly Seattle Chihuly Seattle Chihuly Seattle

The Museum of Flight

The Museum of Flight is the largest air and space museum in the world. Don’t expect to see everything here in just a few hours! There are over 150 different aircraft on display including the first jet Air Force One.

Type A Tidbit: The Museum of Flight is located about 20 minutes from downtown Seattle so plan accordingly.

Safeco Field/CenturyLink Field

We’re still on our quest to see every major league ballpark in the country, so we couldn’t miss an opportunity to see the Mariners at Safeco Field. The field is in a great location and they offer daily tours for only $12. If you’re a football fan, then consider a tour at CenturyLink Field. Home to the Seattle Seahawks, CenturyLink Field has some of the best views of Pugent Sound and downtown Seattle. Tour tickets are $14, but check the schedule. Tours are only offered on weekends from October to May.

Type A Tidbit: Safeco Field has a retractable roof so you can enjoy the game rain or shine!

Safeco Field Seattle

Pike Place Market

One of the iconic landmarks in Seattle, Pike Place Market is a great place to explore. There are so many great vendors! From fresh flowers to homemade greek yogurt there’s something in Pike Place Market for everyone. Don’t miss the fresh seafood stall so you can watch the fishmongers tossing the daily catch around. Other things in the market not to miss: Buy a coffee mug at the original Starbucks. Try a cup of Ellenos Real Greek Yogurt (try the caramel!). Watch cheese being made at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese (Bonus: they give out samples!). Enjoy dessert at The Confectional (the Quadruple Chocolate Cheesecake was featured on Food Network’s Top 5 Chocolate Desserts).

Type A Tidbit: The market is very popular, and therefore, very crowded. Avoid going during peak hours or be ready to battle the crowds. Catching an uber or cab from here can be pretty tricky so walk just a block or two away to make it easier.

Pike Place Market Seattle Pike Place Market Seattle Pike Place Market Seattle Pike Place Market Seattle The Confectional Seattle First Starbucks Seattle

I’m hoping one day we’ll make it back to Seattle for longer than just a day or two. There are so many other great areas to explore… these were just the highlights!