Viewing entries tagged Juneau
We were in the sky when I had my first shock and awe moment, flying over a glacier in route from Juneau to Taku Lodge. It was a small, 12-seater seaplane and from the window I could see the pools of blue water on top of the white snow. It relaxed my lower jaw and forced me to push my sunglasses to the top of my head - the color I was seeing couldn't possibly exist.
Glacier blue water near Taku, Alaska.
You'll see it in the photos below - that ridiculous blue - so unlike any other shade of my favorite color. Don't think sky blue or Caribbean blue, this is glacier blue, a category of its own. It symbolizes such a fresh and pure quality - I think that's what draws me to the color blue in the first place. It is an instigator of deep breaths, for sure, and I looked over at my friends in disbelief.
It certainly didn't take long to be blown away in Alaska. An hour earlier our ship (Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas) had docked in Juneau, one of only two ways to access the state's capitol. It's either by boat or by plane - there are no roads into or out of the city - it's located in a channel and surrounded by mountains. Later in the day we would take in the city and go for a local hike, but first a prearranged excursion to Taku Glacier Lodge to have a look at the wilderness and sample some Alaskan salmon.
Upon landing on the Taku river (which feels about the same as landing on concrete, although the view out the window is much better) and arriving at the lodge, I sat on a swinging bench on the front porch, looking out over the water, the glacier coming down the mountain to my left. I could see the blue tint in the glacier - the frozen block of ice clearly could not be described as being plain white. Readers in the northern part of America should not picture the snow in their backyards - this was different (the ice is frozen so solid that it pushes out all the oxygen. When light enters it creates a prism, producing the blue hue).
Taku Glacier Lodge near Juneau, Alaska
Because of the grilling of the salmon, the lodge is known to attract bears - apparently they are routinely spotted at the nearby edge of the woods, curiously smelling the air. We were not so lucky as to have a sighting that day, although I would get my wish the following day in Skagway (see photo on Facebook).
I can now see why the bears come calling: Not only was the salmon delicious (along with the baked beans, herb biscuits, apple compote, and ginger cookies), but could you ask for a better setting? Sitting in a lodge in the Alaskan wilderness beside a glacier, eating grilled salmon that was caught from local waters, looking out the window and seeing the seaplanes land on the river, the lower green vegetation leading up to the snow-capped peaks of the mountains. Throw in an Alaskan Amber and check back on me in a couple hours, please.
While at first I pondered whether the idea of an organized seaplane excursion to a salmon feast alongside a glacier was too touristy of an activity, just writing the first part of this sentence makes me laugh. Really? That scene described above seems "too touristy," Will?
Yikes. This is what happens when you start getting a little travel under your belt: The jaded perceptions try to sneak into your brain. I think it's important to catch yourself in those moments and realize how incredibly crazy that notion is. When I was boarding the Rhapsody of the Seas a few days earlier, a couple told me they had waited 35 years to take this trip. And meanwhile I was wondering if such an opportunity was too touristy? Good lord.
Not everything has to be rocket science - sometimes the masses lead you in the proper direction. Take this Feast and Flight journey with confidence. For those on a tighter budget, you can take the Glacier Express Blue Bus to Mendenhall Glacier ($16 round trip). When you tire of the jewelry and novelty shops that are abundant in downtown Juneau, walk up to the top of Franklin Street and take a hike through parts of Tongass National Forest (they have built a nice "boardwalk" through the forest and there are plenty of waterfalls. Ask a local for directions as you must wind your way through a neighborhood to access it... 15-20 minute walk from downtown).
Alaskan King salmon.
Glacier as viewed from seaplane.
Seaplane outside of Taku Glacier Lodge.
View of a glacier from the seaplane.
Taku Glacier as seen from seaplane.
Yours truly standing alongside our seaplane.
This morning when I woke up and looked out the porthole, the first thing I saw was a waterfall streaming down a slate rockface. It was speckled with patches of small brush and pine trees, some only two or three feet tall.
I’m starting to feel relaxed and at home on the ship now – I will admit that the first day or two was a bit of a struggle for me. It had nothing to do with anything other than the fact that I’m always anxious to tackle a destination, and there was nothing to do but wait. The days are longer up here – the sun rises between four and five and doesn’t set until after ten (last night’s sunset was at 10:44 p.m.). The waiter was pouring the table an after-dinner glass of champagne at around ten, and when I looked out the window I could still see the snow on the tops of the mountains.
The anticipation that had built up during the days at sea was finally fulfilled when we arrived in Juneau on Sunday and then Skagway on Monday. We had two jam-packed days – a seaplane ride in Juneau and a scenic train ride in Skagway. I'd recommend both, stories to come shortly.
I’m currently sitting in a lounge that’s located on the top deck of the Rhapsody, writing from a table that sits in front of floor-to-ceiling windows. We’re directly in front of Dawes Glacier, slowly spinning in a circle (we’ve been here for about 20 minutes now). This is the second arm, or channel, that we’ve sailed down today. The ship has consistently been about 100 yards from the shore on both the port and starboard sides, and the mountains, glaciers, pines, snow, waterfalls and low-hanging clouds have filled the windows since Sunday morning.
Locations and temperatures aside, one thing that really separates an Alaskan cruise from other popular routes departing from the United States (such as a trek across the Caribbean) is the scenery during the days spent at sea. Aside from the first day when we saw nothing but water, we have always sailed well within sight of land, usually on both sides and always worthy of your attention, constantly changing and evolving (as you’ll see when I tell you about Skagway, the conditions in Alaska can go from whiteout snow to lush spring-like green colors in a matter of miles).
The Internet has been going in and out due to the remote locations of our travels, and uploading photos has been a bit tedious through the blog. I will eventually upload them when I can.
We are currently on our way to Victoria, BC, arriving on Thursday.
Last night, before the formal dinner in the main dining room, my friends invited me up for a drink on the balcony of their Deck 7 suite. We’ll chat about room categories, food, and nightlife in more detail later, but I must say that having a balcony is a huge perk in my opinion – it really extends the room and gives you a little space to breathe – and we hung out and drank wine, the clean air cool on the lungs and the definition of refreshing.
Happy hour/whale watching.
The rooms on the Rhapsody are comfortable, however the reality of the cruise industry is that there’s only so much space to go around on a boat built to accommodate thousands of people (Rhapsody is 915 ft long and can host about 2,400 guests).
I was happy to be in a private setting yet enjoying the scenery, the Chianti warming my chest in the brisk conditions. Turns out luck was on our side: Gray whales breached the surface about fifty yards out, and we could see the water spraying from their spouts, their backs and fins arching out of the water as they dove back under. It’s not at all uncommon to spot whales on cruises to Alaska – I heard other passengers report sightings throughout the day – yet it still felt like a blessing, a private showing, with the water and the wine and the whales.
My room is on the third deck – no balcony – so it was nice to get some perspective of the water and the horizon without entering a public space. I have two portholes and while we’re at sea, all I can see is the water rushing by, the boat giving leeway to one side or the other. It was choppy all day yesterday on the open sea, giving fellow wine drinkers an excuse to miss a step here or there.
Things changed this morning when we entered the channel leading to Juneau – the water became like glass, clear and greenish and calm. Mountains of pine trees rose up on either side of the ship, and we could see the small, remote houses along the shoreline, all boasting personality and bright colors that stood out from the different shades of green in the surrounding wilderness.
It seems to be a completely different way of life up here – I can’t wait to take it in. We are about to disembark and head out on a seaplane and check out a glacier, hopefully see (and eat) some wildlife. Stay tuned.
Yesterday I returned to Philly from New Orleans, arriving long after the sun had set and far after I would have preferred to be in bed. My head was bobbing for most of the second flight out of Atlanta - I don't really even remember the drink cart coming through.
Rhapsody of the Seas, Royal Caribbean
The stories will begin to filter out this week, however I must admit that getting back into gear after a memorable weekend is never easy - I think that concept is universal, even for travel writers. I'm good about having fun anywhere and everywhere I go, but there's a big difference between covering a destination and eating one up, letting it under your skin.
The people you travel with certainly play a large part in determining which way the trip goes, and this morning when I woke up with a stomach that was still full and calves sore to the touch, I knew we had taken the Big Easy head on (cheers guys).
As much rest as I would like to pencil in this week, I truly can't afford to spend too much time horizontal: I confirmed last week that I will fly from Philadelphia to Seattle on Thursday and depart on an Alaskan cruise this Friday. We will be shoving off via the Rhapsody of the Seas (Royal Caribbean) and head for the Inside Passage, making three stops in Alaska (Juneau, Skagway, and Tracy Arm Fjord) and one in Victoria, BC.
In addition to New Orleans coverage, I will also be finishing up a couple stories from the past few weeks: GoNOMAD and Famtripper features on Detroit, Denver, and Nassau are in my queue.
These short breaks in my schedule are typically the hardest part of my job - the lull between two high points - yet the timing on this one is perfect given the packed schedule of late.
With New Orleans in the rear-view mirror and Alaska in the windshield, consider the curtains closed until Thursday morning.
famtripper fun fact
The climb starts with 255 steps up the North Tower. Then cross over to the Galerie des Chimeres, which will give you a bird’s eye view of the amazing carved stone monsters. Kids love this! It’s another 147 steps to the Bourdon, which is a giant bell located on the roof. You'll have a spectacular panoramic view. This is the home of Victor Hugo's famous character "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame".