Thursday, August 13, 2015

Fabulous 50 in Alaska

I can't believe I have been blogging for over ten years. Although I certainly post far left often than I did at the beginning, it's great to be able to go back and remember where and when we did what. I couldn't remember what I did for my 40th birthday so I checked the blog and saw that we really didn't do much except go out for drinks and dinner. I wanted to make 50 memorable so we decided to go to Alaska.

We booked an Alaskan cruise that left out of Vancouver. I didn't want to risk missing the boat by flying in the same day, so we flew in the night before and stayed at this delightful little hotel. It was rainy and gloomy in the morning.

We took the Skytrain down to the port to meet the ship.

We were among the first batch of people to board the ship. We had purchased the Signature Drink Package for this trip which entitled us to 15 drinks a day of our choice. As usual, we had a champagne toast to kick off the cruise.

By the afternoon the rain had stopped and the sun came out just in time for the deck party sail away. We knew we wouldn't be able to drink 15 drinks the first day, but the next day was an "at sea" day so we thought we could manage that.

The second day was formal night so we suited up. This was our 8th cruise in 10 years. I seriously don't know how we afford it. Although we thought we could do 15 drinks, we were thwarted again.

This bar team really made our vacation special. The reason we couldn't do the 15 drinks is because of them. They routinely poured doubles and triples for us and we learned to only go to this bar. We tipped them handsomely at the end.

First stop was Ketchikan. We didn't plan any excursions for this town and it took us a couple hours to walk around. We bought some smoked salmon and walked down the street eating it. Fishy, oily goodness.

These signs were all over and creeping me out. Before we got back on the ship, we stopped at  a little bar for a beer and free wi-fi. It took us about 15 minutes before we realized there were ashtrays on the bar and that people were smoking! I didn't know that existed anywhere in the states, but Alaska is still a bit wild west.

This became our favorite beer on the ship.

The next day we landed in Juneau. It was my 50th birthday and we had bought a helicopter ride and glacier walk excursion to celebrate. I was quite disappointed when they cancelled our morning departure due to inclement weather on the glacier. We hoped to join the afternoon departure.

With a couple of hours to kill, we walked around town, found an internet cafe and went back onto the ship for lunch. The grey drizzly weather persisted and we were convinced the afternoon departure would be cancelled.

Birthday lunch was hot dogs and fries! We had been doing the fit for life diet before the cruise and lost several pounds. By the time we finished this trip we had gained it all back and then some. This pic pretty much explains why.

When we met the guide for the afternoon departure, we learned that it was a go. Yay! So we took a bus to the heliport and watched a safety video and suited up. We had to wear a life preserver thing in case we went down in water.

It was my first time in a helicopter. They took us up and down the Mendenhall glacier and the pilot pointed out features before landing and meeting the glacier guides. It felt so alien, like we were landing on the moon.

We learned all about the glacier and even drank some ten thousand year old meltwater. Pretty nifty. In fact, probably the niftiest thing I've ever done. So glad we sprang for it. 

I was high all afternoon from that excursion. We reserved dinner in the special dining room where the food is even better but you have to pay extra. I was thrilled to see Ossetra caviar on the menu for an extra $45. I know caviar and I knew the ship wasn't making any money off it so I ordered it. SO GOOD. 

We were so stuffed at the end of the meal, I couldn't even order the souffle I wanted. The staff knew it was my birthday somehow and when we got back to the room, this cake was waiting for me sent by the waiter who had waited on us. Nice touch.

The next day we had an excursion into the Yukon. Although the weather had been gloomy for three days, once we got up and over the pass, the skies cleared nicely and there was stunning beauty everywhere. Pictures cannot do it justice and I kept telling Serge to remember this, remember that, because I know pics don't convey the spectacularity of nature easily. 

It was so beautiful and yet so sparsely populated. This is the area where the Klondike gold rush happened in the late 1800's. We learned a lot about it. 

In fact, the gold rush prompted the construction of this narrow gauge railway which we took for the return trip to port. It was an amazing feat of engineering as we came down the mountain hugging cliffs that dropped off hundreds of feet below. 

Serge didn't really like the train ride because he is afraid of heights. Once we got back down we headed back to the ship instead of walking around the town of Skagway. Just a bunch of tourist shops and we had some drinking to do. We had been gone all day on the excursion. 

The next day we cruised Glacier Bay National Park. There was a park ranger on board narrating for us. We got to see a big chunk calve off of the glacier in the background. I wish it had been sunnier so you could see the blueness of the glaciers. 

The next day was an at sea day again, the last of the cruise. We made good friends on board and took group pictures for souvenirs. Of course we are now all friends on Facebook. I wish my brother had been with us but something terrible happened a week before the cruise and he didn't make it. We never were able to consume the 15 drinks allotted. Well played Holland-America.

For the transfer back to Anchorage from the port of Seward, we stopped at the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation center where they rescue injured wildlife or abandoned babies. They try to rehabilitate them and release them back to the wild. We got to see bears, moose and reindeer (which I learned is simply another word for Caribou) which was a nice treat.

We have some camper friends who live in Anchorage so the first night we met up for dinner. It was cool that we learned that like us, they like to share an assortment of appetizers instead of having a main course. We stuffed ourselves silly.

We stayed with our friend Jim who took us on a day trip to Talkeetna. It's hard to see in the pic, but that is Mt. McKinley in the background, tallest mountain in North America. Jim taught us about Geocaching and we had lots of fun finding treasures on the drive up. 

It was a beautiful drive. I just couldn't get over how beautiful it was up there. Also, the days are so long! It was still light out at 11pm. I learned that this is why you don't see the northern lights in the summer - it doesn't really get completely dark. 

The next day Chuck took us out on a couple of hikes. We had bison and caribou burgers for lunch. 

We were lucky enough on the way back to see the bore tide come in. Hard to see but there are surfers riding that wave. It really did fill the bay like a tsunami which is probably why they are also referred to as tidal waves. 

Did I mention how stunningly beautiful it was?

The final full day of our trip we bought a day cruise around Prince William Sound to see the glaciers. The sun was out so we got much better pictures than at Glacier Bay.

See? I was just blown away by the glaciers and their blue color. We also got to see a raft of otters, bald eagles, sea lions and puffins. 

It was simply a magnificent day and I am so glad we decided to do it. I met the forest ranger on board and she told me I should apply to be a guide too. Best job she's ever had. 

Finally it was time to go home. Red-eye flight to Chicago was made very nice since Jim knew the crew working on board. Oh how they plied us with drinks until we fell asleep. Only the second time I have slept on a plane. 

Now we are home sweet home and I would be in a post-vacation funk if it weren't for the fact that we leave for Campcamp next week. Thanks y'all for stopping by.