Category Archives: Alaska Cruise 2019

Alaska Cruise: Day 5 (Sitka)

Today we arrived in Sitka. We were suppose to get into port around 8:00am and I was planning a long hike so I didn’t bother walking the deck this morning. Also, I didn’t want to wait for breakfast in the dining hall so I braved the buffet instead. Given I was planning a reasonably ambitious hike and wasn’t sure I would get lunch, I ate a fairly large breakfast. After breakfast I had just enough time to go downstairs and double check my plans before it was time to disembark.

Sitka islands.

Oosterdam docked at the Old Sitka Dock at Halibut Point Marine which is about 5 miles away from downtown Sitka. Fortunately, they had shuttle buses to get us downtown. Once the bus arrived I double checked all my time assumptions and then headed off on my hike.

My plan was to hike the Indian River Trail and hope I had enough time to get to the falls before coming back. First, I had to get the the trailhead which was about a mile away from where the shuttle bus dropped us off. There was a city bus, which would have gotten me very close, but I suspected that it would be faster to walk. I think this assumption was correct as the bus did not pass me on the way. It rained but I had my wool socks, raincoat, and a cover for my backpack1. On the way I passed a cemetery which looked more like a park than a cemetery. The graves were nestled in between trees. It looked really nice. I’d definitely like being buried in a setting like that.

I did take a little, slightly unintentional, detour on a trail along Yaw Dr. It was pouring so I was amused to see a bench with the sign “Here comes the sun”.

Bench with plaque saying Here Comes the Sun

While cutting over to the official Indian River Trail I passed a couple who pointed out blueberry bushes. Once I was on the Indian River Trail I continued to see masses of blueberries as well as huckleberries and salmon berries.

Blueberry bushes

Huckleberry bushes.

Salmon berry bushes.

I don’t think I’ve seen so many (non-blackberry) berries in the wild before. The hike was gorgeous.

Trees.

Indian River.

Devil's Club

I was fascinated by the bridges they built for the trail. They took what I assume was original trees and augmented them with supplies brought in. The bridges were very sturdy.

Bridge.

Tree sections cut as stepping stones.

The path was very clear until it wasn’t. I was probably about a mile away from the falls when the path disappeared into a thicket of salmon berry bushes.

Trail disappears into Salmon Berry Bushes.

I could see that the path continued under the bushes but it looked more like a deer path rather than a path made for humans. I double checked the way I had come and confirmed I was definitely on a human path which appeared to continue through the bushes. So, I went through the bushes. I mentioned it was raining? The bushes got me sopping wet. From that point on I went through multiple salmon berry thickets while staying on the trail and it was the wettest I remember getting in recent memory. The water soaked my hiking pants and then ran down into my socks so I started squishing as I walked.

At one point the path was what looked like a seasonal creek bed and I missed the turnoff for the real trail and ended up off the trail facing the remnants of a rock slide. For a while I couldn’t figure out if the rock slide was the trail or if I had made a wrong turn. Eventually, I figured out the wrong turn and got back on the correct trail.

Because I needed to make sure I was back on the cruise ship before it left, I had set myself a soft deadline of 11:00. Soft in that if I thought I was close and heard the waterfall I’d continue up to another 15 min but would turn around right at 11:00 if I thought I wasn’t close. I was starting to get nervous because it was almost 11:00 and I hadn’t heard any obvious waterfalls yet. However, I ran into two Forest Service people, the first people I had seen on the trail, and asked them if the waterfall was close. They told me it was right around the corner. Right as my 11:00 alarm went off I arrived at the waterfall.

Indian River Falls

I rested briefly at the waterfalls and drank most of my remaining water. I thought about eating some snacks but at Mendenhall Glacier that were very adamant that one not have food because of the bears. So, I decided to play it safe and not open up my snacks at Indian Falls either.

Nurse log between two trees.

Walking back was a lot quicker. Both because I didn’t have to wonder if the path really went through various salmon berry thickets, it did, and also because it was a slight slope downhill rather than up. From the trailhead, it took me about 2 hours to hike to the falls but only about 1 1/2 hours going back. On the way out I ran into a random gnome village in a tree. It was not what I expected to see in the forest but it did add interest.

Gnome, AK sign

Tiny gnomes kissing.

Gnome in jail.

Once I got back to the main road I got out my snacks and started eating “lunch”. I was ahead of schedule and decided I could get in one more attraction so I walked to Sitka National Historical Park and wandered around the totem trails.

Totem Pole.

They were really interesting. I would have liked to have spent more time there and listened to the audio tour but I didn’t feel like I had enough time to listen to them all. Part of the trail was parallel to a river and I glanced out and saw what I assume was salmon spawning. There were just masses of fish. I also got to see several bald eagles hunting the fish (though I was unable to get pictures).

After a quick walk through the totem trails I headed back to the bus. I made it back onto the boat with about a 1/2 hr to spare (before we were due back, not before the boat left). My clothes had mostly dried by the time I made it back to the boat. However, my shoes and socks were still sopping. Plus, it turns out I had somehow collected a huge number of pine needles in my shoes. Not sure how that happened. I had eaten a couple of energy bars for snack but decided to go up to the buffet to see if there was anything else I could eat to tide me over till dinner. I was hoping they had chocolate milk but settled for tomato soup instead.

After the snack I headed up to the therapy pool in hopes of mitigating some of the aches due tomorrow. It was the busiest I’ve seen it. Not sure if everyone else had the same idea or not. (Though, I’m willing to bet I hiked farther than anyone else.)

I came back to the room and read a bit before the dining room opened. I was delighted to sit with the same people I had the previous night. The prior night I had talked about my hiking plans and one of the gentlemen was obviously worried about me going hiking by myself. So, I was happy he could see I made it back on board without any incident.

I’m very tired. I’m contemplating watching a movie for the rest of the evening but I may not have enough energy. Tomorrow we get into Ketchikan around 7:00am and have to be back on board by 12:30pm. I don’t think I’m going to go on any hikes tomorrow (among other things, I doubt my shoes will be dry by then). However, I might try to get up at 6:00 to start getting me back to Pacific time. I have a feeling getting up at 6:00 Pacific next week for work is going to be very hard.

  1. I don’t think my backpack really needs a cover, it’s never gotten wet inside before. However, since I just discovered the hidden pocket that contained a cover for the backpack I decided to use it.

Alaska Cruise: Day 4 (Hubbard Glacier)

Today we visited Hubbard Glacier but we didn’t visit any ports. I had a manicure appointment at 9:00am today which messed up the routine I’ve started following. I figured I’d just skip my deck walk and go straight to the dining room for breakfast. However, I belatedly realized the dining room wasn’t open till 8:00 and expecting to be done in one hour would probably be overly optimistic. So instead I braved the buffet and then used the extra time to walk 1 2/3 miles around the deck.

The manicure was ok. In retrospect I wish I had stuck just to the pedicure which had the very noticeable benefit of getting the calluses off my feet. The manicure wasn’t quite as useful. I had intended to go to another America’s Test Kitchen demo but was sleepy and so went and napped instead.

After waking up I started reading The Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang, and read until it was time for lunch. I went to the dining hall for lunch and met more nice people. I was facing the window and watched us pass chunks of ice all during lunch. After lunch I went back to reading my book until we got close to the glacier.

Ice in water.

There was an excursion to get really close to the glacier. However, I was impressed by how close the cruise ship itself got. I was surprised by how loud the glacier calving was. It was raining so it was hard to get good pictures. I stayed outside and gawked a little bit and then went back inside. I grabbed my book and found a comfortable seat that had both a view of the glacier and was by speakers that were playing dramatic classical music.

Hubbard Glacier

I continued reading until supper and went to the dining room again and met more people. So far, I haven’t sat with any of the same people more than once. We had a nice long conversation about many topics and I also got a chance to do some education about library budgets and electronic resources.

After supper I walked two miles on the deck and then ended by soaking in the thermal pool. Tomorrow we’re suppose to arrive in Sitka at 8:00am so I don’t want to stay up too late.

Overall, this was a really nice relaxing day.

Alaska Cruise: Day 3 (Juneau/Mendenhall Glacier)

Last night we switched to Alaska time. Because my body does not like changing time, I woke up at 6. I got up and walked two miles around the deck. This time I remembered the binoculars and saw multiple whales! After walking I decided to have breakfast in the formal dining hall. It definitely takes longer than the buffet area but my hunch from yesterday was correct, I prefer the mediated seating and formal ordering versus the buffet free-for-all.

(There are no whales in the picture below.)
Water.

After breakfast I went to the thermal pool. I woke up stiff this morning, probably from last night’s ab/core exercises, and I thought the heat might loosen me up a bit. After that I watched another demonstration with America’s Test Kitchen. This time it was do-it-yourself takeout meals (Pad Thai and Scallion Pancakes).

I was feeling really sleepy after the presentation so I headed back to my room and considered napping. However, I decided there wasn’t really enough time until lunch to nap. I wanted to eat lunch on the early side because we were docking at Juneau around 1:30. Like breakfast, I chose the formal dining room for lunch. Unfortunately, the specialty was fish and chips, not exactly vegetarian friendly. However, I did find one dish that worked. I sat with an interesting mix of people, included one guy who is also from Seattle.

Because it was in the formal dining room, lunch took a long time. By the time I got back to my room there was just enough time to remind myself of what I was wanting to do in Juneau before we docked. It turns out that my room is beautifully positioned to get off the ship quickly. I was in the first group off the ship, even though I hadn’t really tried1.

One of the things I really wanted to visit was the Mendenhall Glacier. I had contemplated signing up for one of the cruise excursions. However, the Alaska tour guide indicated that it is really easy to hire a shuttle. I got off the cruise ship and a couple of yards away was about 6 different stands selling various tours and shuttle bus options. I paid $50 for a round trip ride to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor’s Center. The shuttle had drop offs and pickups every 1/2 hr till 7:00 so it provided me with a lot of flexibility.

Mendenhall Glacier (view near visitor's center).

I arrived at the visitor’s center and asked the rangers if there was a map of the trails. However, they requested I take a picture with my phone because their promised maps had not arrived on the barge it was suppose to come on. I contemplated the trail options. I knew I wanted to take the Nugget Falls Trail, because that’s where you go to get the good glacier pictures. However, it was only a 2 mile flat hike which seemed kind of short. After talking to a ranger, I decided to first go on the East Glacier Trail and then follow-up with the Nugget Falls Trail. The East Glacier Trail was really nice. It was a hike, versus a walk, and not many people were on the trail. It was beautiful, relaxing, and had enough uphill hiking I felt like I got some good exercise.

Reflection of trees in a pond.

After East Glacier Trail I walked on the Nugget Falls Trail. It was packed. So many people2.

People around Nugget Falls.

Most of the people were meandering very slowly but spread across the path in ways that made it hard to pass without running into people coming from the opposite direction. Both the glacier and the falls were nice but overall I liked the East Glacier Trail better. I thought the view of the glacier was better farther away but Nugget Falls was nice.

Nugget Falls.

Mendenhall Glacier (view near parking lot).

I got done with both hikes just a smidge after 4:30 and waited at the shuttle stop for the 5:00 shuttle to take me back to downtown Juneau. I had a list of other things I wanted to do but realistically was running out of time. I decided I could probably squeeze one more thing in so I went to the Sealaska Heritage Museum. It was very interesting. The museum also has a shop with Southeast Alaskan Native art and gifts. I was excited to see that there was a picture book about Salmon Boy3 that contained the story and illustrations one of the museum exhibits had featured.

By the time I finished with the museum and store it was after 7:00 and I was hungry (I hadn’t eaten lunch, only snacks). I decided to return to the ship and eat supper at the buffet. It wasn’t as crowded as previous days but still was busier than I preferred. However, fast food was what I needed at the time. After supper I took another dip in the thermal pool. I needed to take a shower to wash off all the sunscreen and bug spray anyway so I figured if I needed to get wet anyway I should relax in the pool some more and hopefully prevent any new aches from appearing tomorrow.

  1. They did expressly forbid people from lining up on the stairs or in the entry ahead of time.
  2. Yes, I realize I’m a tourist complaining about other tourists.
  3. The picture book is in Tlingit and English. The website has an audio reading in Tlingit.

Alaska Cruise: Day 2

I slept really well last night. Except, it turns out that I forgot to bring my nighttime audiobook phone with me. I improvised with the mini iPad but it doesn’t work as well since the sleep timer setting isn’t sticky so it can easily drone on all night unless I wake up enough to turn it off but not enough to need it to go back to sleep. I remembered to turn off my 6:00 AM work alarm. However, I forgot to turn off my 6:55 AM bus warning alarm. So, I woke up at 6:55 AM. However, I already had more than 8 hours of sleep at that point so I decided to get up and walk around the deck for some morning exercise. I walked two miles around the deck again. There were quite a few whales. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to bring the binoculars and they were close enough I could tell they were whales but far enough away I didn’t really see any details.

After showering I went and explored the breakfast buffet. There was a very nice variety of breakfast foods available. However, I wasn’t fond of the seating. It was busy enough that there wasn’t a lot of seating available and there wasn’t any formal seating to introduce seat mates. I ate quickly and then found a nook to read in. I first tried the observation deck, but it was really busy and not really conducive to reading. However, there was an interesting LEGO model of the Oosterdam. Eventually, I discovered some nice seating outside the Lincoln Center room.
Lego model of the Oosterdam.

When booking the cruise I had decided to splurge on a pedicure. I was a little nervous about the whole thing because I’ve never had a pedicure before. However, I had terrible calluses on my feet so I figured this was as good a time as any to try it out. It was . . . fine. The calluses are gone and professionally painted toenails do look a lot better than what I can do. However, there was the whole awkward conversation bit. I think I might find massages more relaxing in the short-run but you can admire painted toenails longer than a massage. The nail technician did talk me into getting a manicure later on.

After the pedicure I came back to my room and read for a bit. Just as I was contemplating lunch, the steward appeared ready to clean my room. So went up to the buffet for lunch. Like breakfast I found the seating situation to be awkward. I decided it might make sense for me to take most of my meals in the formal dining room instead of the buffet. I might try that approach out tomorrow.

After lunch I had just enough time to finish my book before there was a cooking demo by America’s Test Kitchen. This one talked about chilies. Neither of the dishes were vegetarian (though I think one of them could be made vegetarian). However, the cooking techniques and tips were really interesting and I’m definitely glad I went. After that I went to an “Ask the Captain” session where the captain talked about the boat. It was fairly interesting but I was getting sleepy so I slipped away once the captain started taking questions from the audience.

I took a nap and it was glorious. After my nap I briefly caught up on email and then decided to get ready for dinner. Tonight was a “gala” night so guests were expected to dress a little nicer than usual. Though, in practice that appeared to vary a great deal. I was seated at a table with 4 other people, all southerners and a very different demographic than my first group. However, I decided that even if we were polar opposites in many ways 1, it was good to be familiar with other perspectives.

After dinner I decided to go use the Thermal Pool2. It was really nice. In the pool there were metal bars along one side that were shaped similar to a lounge chair. So you could lean back and bubbles floated around. Kind of hard to explain but very relaxing.

I eventually got out and wavered between walking around the deck some more and going to a dance show. I eventually settled on the show. After it started, I decided I had made a good decision. Except, only a couple minutes in they had technical difficulties which they were unable to recover from. So, I ended up walking another two miles on the deck after all. Like the morning, I forgot the binoculars and there were whales. However, this time they were close enough that I could see them pretty well without magnification. Also, my (phone) camera is clearly not designed to take pictures of whales. If you look at the picture below you may see a black blip on the water. That would be a whale.
Tiny whale fin in a large swath of water.

When I got back to my room there was a stingray waiting for me.
Stingray towel.

Tomorrow will be our first port day, in Juneau.

  1. One older gentleman proudly told me he had only read one book in his life: the Bible. I really hope that was an exaggeration. You can’t get through school without reading at least several books, right?? I mean, not everyone has to be a reader but one books ever? I was also really curious if he had actually read the Bible all the way through but decided not to administer a pop quiz on his favorite passages.
  2. An extra charge but I bought a 7-day pass for it.

Alaska Cruise: Day 1

Many months ago Jaeger’s mom offered to take the kids for two weeks in July. I had the foresight to request a week of vacation off. I had no plan, it just seemed like I should take advantage of the kids being gone.

Toward the beginning of July I started trying to figure out what I wanted to do on vacation. Part of the problem was I wanted a very relaxing vacation and Jaeger, I believe, wanted an interesting vacation. This disconnect in what we wanted in a vacation proved to be a problem until I stumbled across some last-minute cruise fares and came up with the brilliant idea of going on a cruise. I’ve never been on a cruise before but it seemed like it could work. I could lounge around in the cruise ship and Jaeger could go off on daring expeditions. Jaeger was not excited with this plan. However, I had sold myself on the concept of lounging on a cruise ship with no responsibilities. So, after some back and forth discussion with Jaeger, I decided to go on my own and booked a cruise on Holland America’s Oosterdam ship to Alaska1. The ship both departed and returned to Seattle so it avoided the complication of having to fly or drive to another location.

While going on a cruise sounded like a grand adventure, it also was intimidating because I’ve never done anything like it before. I approached departure day with a mixture of glee and trepidation. As instructed, I checked-in online more than 72 hours before the trip. Naturally, there were issues retrieving my booking because of my hyphenated last name. Turns out I needed to leave the hyphen out of my name and replace it with a space. However, once I figured out the hyphen issue the rest was pretty easy. Having only done flight luggage tags before, I wasn’t sure how printing luggage tags at home would work. For the cruise I printed out the luggage tags on a standard piece of paper, followed the folding directions, and then stapled it around my suitcase handle.


Sunday morning Jaeger and I slept in and then had brunch. I puttered around the house doing last minute packing and a couple small chores such as watering the front yard and the edibles on the living room deck2. Finally, it was time for me to leave.

Saturday I had looked up Port 91 and determined that I should be able to get there via city bus. Jaeger thought it was bizarre I would take a bus to a cruise ship. However, I had time and it avoided the awkwardness of talking to a Lyft driver. While waiting at my bus stop I ran into a woman who looked at my suitcase tag and said, “Oh! you’re going on a cruise!” Which provided a conversation topic while we waited for the bus. She had been on a cruise once before and said she was glad she had the experience but probably wouldn’t do it again. However, she did really enjoy Sitka, also a place my cruise stops at. Among other things, she mentioned it has a really nice thrift store which was not mentioned in the tour book I had gotten.

I had virtually run through the walking route on Google Maps and it looked very feasible. I was a little worried about the overpass, because my suitcase was very heavy 3 and I wasn’t looking forward to hauling it up stairs. However, I lucked out and it was a ramp up to the overpass instead of stairs.

I followed the signs to the passenger terminal and entered the building. I had to show my passport, mainly to prove I had one, and then was waived through to drop off my luggage. I had been emailed instructions saying that people with staterooms on the first floor should checkin at 2:30. I had budgeted to arrive a bit early, in case the bus was late, and was surprised to see there was no line. 2:30 was the very last slot so I don’t know if everyone else ignored the instructions and came early or if it was just spaced apart really well. Regardless, after I dropped off my luggage I went through the check-in process where they confirmed my passport, boarding pass, and took a picture to give me my room key. That done, I boarded the ship.

Have I mentioned I’ve never been on a cruise before? I entered the ship but wasn’t quite sure what I should do next. I just kind of milled around the entry for a bit while I tried to come up with a plan. Everyone had been very clear that my luggage was going to take a while to get to my room so I should put anything I might want for the next couple of hours in my carry-on bag. My bag was fairly heavy so I decided to find my stateroom and then go on a self-guided ship tour4. I got to my room and was surprised to see a completely unobstructed view, I’m sure the booking said I was getting an obstructed view. Unobstructed view in stateroom.The room wasn’t large but more than adequate for one to two people. I think this particular room is suppose to be able to handle up to 4 people and that might be a bit cozy.
Sofa and desk of stateroom.

As I was acclimating myself to my room a ship-wide announcement went off saying that they were going to perform the mandatory safety drill in 20 minutes. Instead of setting off to tour the ship immediately, I decided I would stay in my room and get settled as much as I could without my luggage. Of course, the first thing I did was activate my internet5. The internet worked fine. Though, I did discover it only allowed one device to be connected at a time. A little awkward for me, having three internet enabled devices, but it wouldn’t have worked with a second person at all. Well, unless we were willing to take turns sharing.

About the time I figured out the internet, they started the emergency drill. The speaker in the room told us what we would normally do if there was an emergency and then made some specific exceptions for the drill (mainly, they didn’t want us to put on the life jackets). We then had to find our muster stations and get checked in to prove we’d been there. We had to wait around for a bit, but less time than I expected, and then got to go back to our rooms.
Life boat on cruise ship.

My luggage had arrived by the time I got back to my room. I started putting clothes away but the ship started moving right at 4 and I decided I should leave unpacking for later and go on my ship tour. I took the stairs6 to the top and started working my way down.

I had worn a skirt today because it was really hot in Seattle and I don’t have enough shorts for hot weather. This was a little awkward with the wind of the deck, which I had been half afraid of. However, the wind did make the temperature a lot more bearable. Deck 10 has the observation deck and what remains of the library. There were quite a few books about Alaska but not much fiction that would interest me. They did have a section for paperback exchange that had some books but not a lot and none that looked interesting to me. I had visions of populating it with my favorite authors. Possibly I’ll visit the Sitka thrift store and see if any of my favorites are available.

I stopped by the dining hall to figure out how that worked since I ended up with open seating instead of a set seating time. They told me I could just show up. I asked about the vegetarian menu, which Jaeger’s mom had told me about, and they said there wasn’t one available for this evening but I could order for tomorrow night if I wished. I was hoping I would be able to order via the app but it turns out one has to call7. So, I’ll probably just end up eating the vegetarian options on the main menu.

When I got back to my room I finished unpacking. I had brought hangers, because I wasn’t sure how many, or what kind, they had. However, their hangers were sufficient. There’s also a clothes line in the bathroom that allows you to hang your bathing suits on. Next to the sink is a medicine cabinet mirror that has a good amount of storage in it. I found a place for all my stuff and then pushed the suitcase under the bed, out of the way.

I was hungry, and it was just a little bit after 5, so I decided to go back to the dining room. I was quite nervous about this part, not sure of what to expect, particularly since I was alone. They asked me if I was fine sitting with other people and I said yes. I ended up sitting with a group of 4 other people: one from Oklahoma, one from Arizona (a mother and her daughter I later learned), and two from Oregon. The conversation went surprisingly well. Not too awkward. For food, I got a quinoa and pomegranate appetizer which was fantastic. The main entry and dessert wasn’t as exciting but still good.

After we finished I decided it was time to get some exercise. I changed into exercise clothes and then walked 2 miles (6 laps around the deck). Then, I finished up with some core exercises in my room. Finally, to end the day, I grabbed This is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, and found a comfy chair next to a window.
Puget Sound with Seattle in the distance.

I’m not sure yet what I’ll try for tomorrow. I’m struggling with finding a balance between everything I could do and making sure I’m actually relaxing. So, we’ll see.

  1. Sadly, I learned when booking as a solo traveler you often end up paying essentially a double fare. Apparently there are some cruise lines that have the concept of a solo cabin but they tend to sell out quickly.
  2. The cherry tomatoes are really starting to produce and I had to harvest a lot of basil to keep it from flowering. Hopefully Jaeger can find a use for it.
  3. I wasn’t sure what kind of clothing I needed, so I did a little bit of everything, and I also packed 9 books because this is suppose to be a relaxing vacation.
  4. One of the first-time cruise tips I had read strongly suggested touring the ship first thing so you knew where everything is.
  5. I had prepaid for the expensive internet.
  6. Another cruise blogger said to always take the stairs because you have to burn off the cruise food somehow.
  7. As you know, I abhor phones. I’m so happy Millennials seems to agree with me.