After a wonderful week aboard of the Norwegian Sun we arrive in Whittier and the second part of our Alaska cruise begins. Our route back to Vancouver takes us past the Hubbard Glacier, to Icy Strait Point, Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan.
For Whittier, we have already booked a rental car via Avis. At $140, not a cheap pleasure, but we want to drive a route that we have planned out in advance.
To leave Whittier we have to go through a 4 km long tunnel, which is opened only once every hour, per side. The exact opening hours can be found here: http://dot.alaska.gov/creg/whittiertunnel/index.shtml
Shortly after the tunnel we turn left into a rest stop to enjoy the view of the Portage Glacier in the background of Portage Lake.
After a short stop at Boggs Visitor Centre, we head to Williwaw salmon lookout platform. You can find it on the Seward Highway, which leads along Turnagain Arm to Anchorage.
As good weather prevails, we turn off to Girdwood. There we take the Alyeska Tramway to Mount Alyeska. For $ 25 per person, we can admire Alaska, in this case the Chugach State Park, and also the Turnagain Arm from above. On our descent with the mountain railway we see a wild bear strolling in the forest. 🙂
Back on the Seward Highway we stop at a fresh water source. Attention, it is easy to overlook. It is only a small pipe coming out of the rock. Here, locals have just filled bottles with the water and praise the quality. We also try of course.
We also stop at Beluga Point lookout, but we don’t see any Beluga whales. There are many other viewing points along the route, a gold mine and also the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre.
Our goal is Anchorage, Alaska’s only really big city. The travel guide already warned us that Anchorage is a bit “bland”. This is also unfortunately true. We stroll from the visitor centre through the streets and souvenir shops, but after a week of great nature and small harbours, Anchorage cannot really satisfy us.
After an hour and a half, we head back to Whittier.
In Whittier itself, there isn’t much to see. We walk back along the harbour to the Norwegian Sun.
On the first evening of the second cruise not everything runs smoothly on board, which is probably due to the fact that a large part of the crew has changed. But we are now also really spoiled. 😉 The next day, everything is already back on track.
Two new artists have come on board, so that the program is not an exact repeat. Only the three shows of the Norwegian Sun singers and dancers remain the same. But we are happy to watch them again.
We also look forward to seeing the Hubbard Glacier again, which is on the program again the next day. This time, at a more humane hour. 😉 In the afternoon, we head into Yakutat Bay and there is so little ice that we can approach much closer than we did the first time. These ice masses are really powerful and noisy. They are constantly thundering and then, with a crack, ice falls into the water. A great natural spectacle! The captain makes several rounds so we have sufficient time to take in the glacier. On the way back we see sea lions on a small island.
The following day, tender boats take us to Icy Strait Point.
Icy Strait Point and the town of Hoonah are located on Chichagof Island, one of the ABC islands, known for their high brown bear population. So what do we do? A Bear Watching Tour! Through TECKK Outfitters,we booked a 3 hour tour for $130 per person. We, along with 6 other people, are picked up by our Tour guide, Keith, at Icy Strait Point. He is really original. On the way to the forest, Keith shows us where he and all his relatives live. He also has a lot of interesting – funny as well as serious – stories to tell, this alone makes the tour worth it. Armed with revolver and gun, Keith drives us with his truck deep into the forest. The streets are getting narrower and the abyss deeper and deeper. We make an intermediate stop to enjoy a great view of Hoonah and try freshly picked blueberries. Bears do not show themselves yet!
We drive across the whole northern peninsula to Freshwater Bay. In between, we stop again and again, and Keith searches strenuously for the furry forest inhabitants. We see a deer and find bear prints in the sand – but no bears. 🙁
Slowly, time is running out, but Keith remains optimistic: “It’s not over till it’s over.” And he’s right, because after 2 hours, we see a brown bear in the wild. Amazing!
Just a small river separates us from the bear, but if he were to decide to attack?! But the bear makes no such effort; he has just eaten and is looking for the perfect place to take a nap. This gives us the opportunity to marvel and photograph him for a long time. Keith seems relieved, for he slaps me on the shoulder and says, “I promised I’d find a bear for you.” Ouch!
This will remain the only bear we see on this tour. But that’s perfectly fine; We are glad that at least one bear has shown in its natural environment.
On the way back we ask to be dropped off in Hoonah and walk a bit through the small town, which is not very touristy. A nice path along the water leads back to Icy Strait Point, in 20 minutes. On the way we also see a few seals.
Icy Strait Point was redesigned specifically for cruises. There is a museum, souvenir shops, an indigenous dance show and a crab station.
Other than that, we have a great open view of the Norwegian Sun!
The weather in Juneau is once again, or perhaps still bad. 😉 So it is not worthwhile riding up Mount Roberts today. We book a Salmon Bake tour through NCL. In the open, fresh salmon is grilled, there is live music and you can walk to a small waterfall. The area is really very nicely designed and the fresh salmon really tasty. Since everything is covered, the rain does not bother anyone. Unfortunately, the allocated time was a bit short, or perhaps we should have opted for the earlier tour. We could have easily spent 2 hours at this spot.
In the afternoon we travel through the Tracy Arm Fjord past huge rock walls, waterfalls and ice blobs, to take a look at the Sawyer glacier.
Only in comparison with the fishing boat and the ferry do you get an exact idea of just how massive the rock walls are. What a nature giant!
On our second visit to Skagway, we walk to the Gold Rush Cemetery on the outskirts of town. There is a shuttle bus, but we walk, the round 3 km, by foot. The path to the cemetery passes the White Pass Scenic Railway station.
I have not seen a cemetery of this kind before. An information board at the entrance gives explanations of some of the individual graves. You can also walk to a small waterfall. On the way back we stroll a bit through the souvenir shops on State Street – the main street of Skagway. Unfortunately, we feel a bit sick, otherwise we would have also walked to Lower Dewey Lake.
On our second last day we stop once again in Ketchikan. Since we are not feeling too well, we planned nothing further. We walk a bit through the city and discover some nice corners that we did not see on our first visit. At Creek street, two seals are playing in the water.
Back on board, with Crêpes in the Gardens Café, we get to watch whales who swim close by the ship. 🙂 In the evening we watch the “Rock You Tonight” show – my favourite show on board, and it looks like it’s not just mine, as there is a standing ovation. Afterwards the officers and crew members come on stage and of course we stand up again, because they really have done a great job.
The last day is a sea day, where we drive through the Inside Passage to Vancouver. As I sit, thickly wrapped up, reading on the balcony, a few round-headed dolphins jump through the water. The animals we got to see on this cruise is truly unbelievable! In the evening there is the legendary Fountains show. 😉
The next morning, after two fantastic weeks of beautiful nature and wild animals, we leave the Norwegian Sun and for a moment, I consider hiding in a rescue boat. 😉 But there really is no reason to be sad, as our journey continues. Seattle and a Roadtrip over San Francisco and Yosemite National Park to Las Vegas lies ahead of us.
Summary: This cruise was magical. I cannot exactly determine why. It is probably due to the combination of the small ship and the destination. Everything ran smoothly, the crew were super friendly, fellow travellers were considerate and pleasant. The cruise director Richard did a great job and was always present. The ship itself was in good condition for its age. There were many beautiful places – e.g. The Observation Lounge and the Great Outdoors Café – which are no longer found on new ships. The food was excellent. Even though the buffet restaurant was not that big, there was still plenty to choose from, plus a crêpe and pasta station. The evening entertainment was first class! And and and. The bar is now set really high. 😉
Destination: Alaska is perfect for a cruise! Flying with a seaplane from one place to another would not have been my thing; I prefer the swimming hotel. 🙂 I never had the feeling at any harbour that I would have liked to have had more time there. Booking two weeks and visiting some ports twice, made the cruise even more relaxed. The nature – with the imposing glaciers – is unique and the special animal world, which we were able to experience up close, has also made our holiday a small adventure.
These two cups will remind us at home, of our great cruise.
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