This is the second installment of our recent 7-day Alaskan cruise on the Norwegian Pearl. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.
Despite being on the Alaskan mainland, the capital city of Alaska could only be accessed by plane or boat. Between the months of May and September, Juneau receives several thousands daily visitors who, like us, arrive in cruise ships. We were greeted with a nice afternoon weather. When we came off the ship, the cruise terminal was crowded with people waiting for shuttle buses to town. So instead of getting on the shuttle bus, we opted to walk to the town.
After a quick stop at a visitor center, we bought tickets for the shuttle to visit the Mendenhall Glacier. Less than 30 minutes of a bus ride accompanying by snippets of stories about Juneau and native Alaskan from our driver brought us to our destination.
The Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area is located in the Tongass National Forest. Only a short walk from the shuttle stop, the Mendenhall Glacier came into view. Having only about a couple of hours to spend, we decided to walk to the Glacier viewpoint and continued to the base of Nugget Falls.
Nugget Falls is a little less than 400 feet tall. However, the volume of water and the fact that you could get to the very base of the fall where it drops into Mendenhall Lake made this fall very impressive-looking. The view of the fall and Mendenhall Glacier from a sandbar on the lake shore was a great payoff. A very beautiful sunset wrapped up our day in this capital city.
There are many choices of what to do in Skagway. If you have to choose one shore excursion, taking a helicopter ride and walking on a glacier is the one. It’s not cheap but well worth the money. A 20-minute helicopter ride (each way) took us above snow-capped mountains and a vibrant turquoise fjord. We were in a caravan of 4 or 5 helicopters. Our pilot took us over snowy mountain passes and into valleys. Despite feeling like we were so close to some mountain sides, pine trees on the mountain still looked very small, a welcoming indicator that we were well above and away from them. We went up a valley through which a muddy-looking braided river flew and finally approached a brown-colored lake filled with lots of large icebergs. In the distance, the first sight of Meade Glacier. Wow. I was blown away.
Meade Glacier flows from the Juneau Icefield. Meltwater from Meade Glacier forms the Katzehin River, which flows into the Chilkoot Inlet. It’s rapidly retreating since 1986. For perspective, the brown-colored proglacial lake in the picture above didn’t exist in 1986. It’s about 3.5 km long in 2014. More information about the changing Meade Glacier is here.
We flew over the glacier terminus and soon landed on the glacier. The helicopters picked up groups of earlier tour who were there before us and left. Here we were on the glacier surrounded by mountains. It was quiet with almost no wind. Our tour guide told us that it was quite unusual to have such a calm weather. On the Alaskan coastal glaciers, it’s common to encounter a Williwaw, a catabatic wind that descends from ice fields of coastal mountains. Guess we were lucky.
We had about 40 minutes on the glacier before the helicopters were back to pick us up. Our tour guide did a good job at providing information about the glacier and answering everyone’s questions. Our time on the glacier seemed to have passed by so quickly. Before we knew it, it’s time to get back to Skagway. Although it was a short excursion, the experience left a significant and lasting impression in our memories.
Back in Skagway, we walked around in town and stopped at a visitor center. The visitor center had a short movie of the history of Skagway during the Klondike Gold Rush, a must-see when you visit the town.
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska
In all of the places we visited in Alaska during this trip, Glacier Bay was the place I’ve heard about the most but didn’t have much expectation. I was so wrong.
It was cloudy and cold all day. We couldn’t see what might be lurking behind those clouds. The presence of the clouds enhanced the atmosphere of Glacier Bay. The landscapes of Glacier Bay were not easy to capture on photographs. Everything was large when seen in person. But using a wide angle lens to try to capture what we saw, the mountains and glaciers in the distance became too small to be appreciated. So you will have to believe me on this. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve was stunning. If you decide to take Alaskan cruise, choose the itinerary that include Glacier Bay. Not all of them do.
We saw several tidewater glaciers that day, different from other types of glaciers, like cirque and valley glaciers, that we will soon be seeing in the Canadian Rockies. Enjoy some pictures below.
Ketchikan receives a high amount of annual rainfall. For comparison, the average annual precipitation in Seattle, Washington is 37.5 inches. Ketchikan receives 153 inches. Yet, it was sunny when we were there. Aren’t we lucky? Perhaps. Although most rain in Ketchikan falls in the autumn and winter, it still rains quite a bit in spring and summer. We somehow got away with it.
Inspite of being in the Salmon Capital of the World, we saw no salmon in the creek. We were there a few weeks too early for the salmon run, it appeared.
We explored Ketchikan on foot. We walked through the old town, Creek Street, the Park District, visited Totem Heritage Center. I took an anti-histamine for my allergy due to a small breakout on my skin before getting off the ship, so I was a bit low energy. By the time we got back to the ship, I was ready to rest and had coffee. Or the other way around…
Victoria, British Columbia
We arrived in Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, at 6 pm the next day. Since we had the rest of the evening on shore, we didn’t hurry off the boat. We had dinner and watched docking process of Princess Cruise that just arrived. It was interesting to see skills and coordination of onboard and shore staff working to get a gigantic ship docked and secured. I probably butchered many nautical terms in previous sentences, but you know what I meant, right?
After getting off the ship, we worked our way to Beacon Hill Park and looped back to the Inner Habour area. We strolled on a neat David Foster Way along the habour back to the cruise terminal at Ogden Point.
Victoria is very pedestrian-friendly and had such a good vibe. During our walk through the neighborhood, we stopped by a local grocery to pick up some chewing gum. A cashier girl was checking out a customer in front of us. There was a complication with the transaction and she was clearly overwhelmed by the situation. The store supervisor came to help but initially misunderstood what the customer wanted. Things could have turned badly, but nobody seemed to make a big deal out of the situation. Everyone was getting through it the best they could. It’s such a refreshing experience.
We are pleased with Norwegian Pearl during our Alaskan cruise. We know that as soon as the last cruise passenger from the last cruise disembarks, the next one arrives. It’s constantly on for the ship’s staff. Nevertheless, we felt that everyone was genuinely happy to provide services and liked what they do. We also appreciated the effort to proactively prevent the spread of germs by making every opportunity to get passengers to use hand-sanitizing stations and sanitize their hands before entering eating facilities (We still saw many people declined sanitizing their hands). I’m sure most of us have heard about outbreaks of gastrointestinal infection in several cruises in the past. What we experienced in Hawaii made us not want to think about what if it happened on a cruise ship.
Have you taken Alaskan cruises before? What were your favorite ports and shore excursions?