inside passage

Glacier Bay, Alaska

One of my travel goals is to visit as many national parks in the United States as possible. The National Park Service offers a lifetime Golden Eagle Passport to seniors at age 62 for just $10. The pass admits the holder and all passengers in the vehicle to all national parks and monuments for the lifetime of the owner. Expect to show ID so the ranger can confirm the identity of the cardholder. I repeat, it’s a one-time $10 fee. I recently saw a website that said it was $10 per year which is incorrect. That’s why I linked to the national park website above. Click on Golden Eagle Passport above to check it out for yourself.

Another travel goal of mine is to visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites whenever possible. “The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.” ( There are currently 1031 properties on the worldwide list, 23 of which are in the United States. The overwhelming majority (75-80%) are cultural sites with the rest made up of natural sites and some that are a combination.

These two goals coincided in a rare opportunity on our visit to Glacier Bay, Alaska, both a U.S. national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can get there only by air or sea so a cruise is the perfect way to see this spectacular natural site.

It’s difficult to capture and convey the immensity of the experience but the photo below of a cruise ship ahead of us in the inside passage helps. The ship looks like a small dot compared to the surrounding landscape.


A cruise ship in the inside passage of Alaska heading toward Glacier Bay

We entered Glacier Bay at 6:45 a.m. and the park rangers embarked at 7 a.m.


Glacier Bay National Park rangers arriving at the Oosterdam (photo by Sheryl)

We spent the entire day in Glacier Bay with park rangers narrating throughout the tour. Cruise ships don’t dock anywhere in Glacier Bay but the slow leisurely passage allowed ample time to appreciate the spectacular and inspirational scenery.



Entering Glacier Bay



Entering Glacier Bay



Glacier Bay


Glacier Bay is all about nature. There’s not a lot of history here; in fact, in geological terms, Glacier Bay is very young. A product of the Little Ice Age, just 250 years ago the bay didn’t exist at all. One enormous glacier filled the area, reaching it’s maximum size around the year 1750. When Captain George Vancouver surveyed the area in 1794, the glacier had retreated just 5 miles but by the time John Muir came in 1879 the retreat had reached 40 miles more leaving the bay in its wake. Today, that glacier has retreated further north leaving behind around a dozen smaller tidewater glaciers some of which are visible from the bay (Glacier Bay National Park brochure).

The first glacier we saw was Rendu Glacier.


Rendu Glacier

The Grand Pacific Glacier wouldn’t have been recognizable as a glacier at all to me without ranger narration. It looks gray or black rather than the distinctive blue ice because of the amount of moraine debris it has gathered.


Grand Pacific Glacier

Nearby Margerie Glacier, on the other hand, displays the distinctive blue ice that we expected. Unfortunately, we missed a picture of calving on Margerie Glacier. Calving is when chunks of ice break off the glacier and crash into the water.


Margerie Glacier


Margerie Glacier


Jim and I at Margerie Glacier

Before leaving Tarr Inlet where Grand Pacific and Margerie Glaciers were located, the captain turned the ship a full 360 degrees and then another 180 degrees so that everyone could get enough of the beautiful views. We spent enough time in the area that we even had lunch with the view.


Lunch with a view of Margerie Glacier

Then, as we proceeded back down Glacier Bay, we also saw Johns Hopkins Glacier, Lamplugh Glacier, and Reid Glacier.


Johns Hopkins Glacier


Lamplugh Glacier


Reid Glacier

We didn’t see a lot of wildlife but I read that humpback whales are often seen in Glacier Bay. We were excited to see some seals which Sheryl captured and allowed me to share.


Seals covering small islands in Glacier Bay (photo by Sheryl)


Seal resting on ice (photo by Sheryl)

Every day on this cruise exceeded the previous day in amazing scenery. Glacier Bay was both inspirational and unforgettable. Whether Glacier Bay was created by God or by chance, it was an experience of the highest spiritual nature.

Based on events of June 2015.


Glacier Bay (brochure). National Park Service. U.S. Department of the Interior.

World Heritage. UNESCO, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.



Categories: cruise, inside passage, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

Alaskan Cruise: Juneau, Alaska

Juneau, Alaska, population 32,660, is reachable only by air or sea. While that limits a road trip to visit Alaska’s capital city to a ferry crossing, cruise passengers visit by the boatload. Thank goodness we chose a cruise because it would be a shame to miss this city.

Juneau was founded as the result of gold strikes by Richard T. Harris and Joseph Juneau in 1880. The town was first named Harrisburg but later changed to Rockwell and finally to Juneau when Joe garnered enough support. It has been the capital since 1959 when Alaska was granted statehood but controversy continues as to whether the capital should be moved to a more populated and accessible location.

Welcome to Juneau, Alaska

Welcome to Juneau, Alaska

We planned to take the tram up 3819 foot Mt. Roberts to enjoy the view but  the weather changed our plans. Overcast skies and impending rain weren’t very conducive to viewing Juneau from the mountain top.

Approaching Juneau, Alaska

Approaching Juneau, Alaska

We rethought our plan and decided instead to take a glacier shuttle out to Mendenhall Glacier. Bus tickets were conveniently available from Juneau Tours directly adjacent to the cruise port for just $20 roundtrip with buses leaving every 30 minutes. City buses go that direction, too, but you have to walk a mile and a half at the terminus. The glacier shuttle, on the other hand, dropped us right at the entrance.

Bus to Mendenhall Glacier on Juneau Tours

Bus to Mendenhall Glacier on Juneau Tours

The bus ride was fairly short since the glacier is just 12 miles away and the bus driver provided a lively commentary throughout the drive.

Our first view of the glacier and Mendenhall Lake was, in a word, breathtaking. The ice appears blue because it transmits the blue color in the  light spectrum while it absorbs all the other colors.


Our first view of Mendenhall Glacier behind Mendenhall Lake


Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau

We opted to hike the trails first while it wasn’t raining and save the visitor’s center for later. It turned out to be a good plan and the rain held off for virtually all of our hike. After seeing the sign below, I talked or hummed most of the time to prevent an up close personal encounter with a black bear. I have no idea whether it was due to my strategy (or my humming), but bear encounters were zero.


The trails were well marked with lots of scenic beauty along the way. The trail out to Nugget Falls and back was just 2 miles and an additional photo loop added another half mile.


Nugget Falls Trail

Nugget Falls Trail

Nugget Falls Trail


Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls

To see the falls on video, click below.



Mendenhall Glacier behind Mendenhall Lake


Mendenhall Glacier


Icebergs on Mendenhall Lake that have calved from the glacier


Panorama of Mendenhall Lake with the glacier and falls


Sheryl, Jim, and I at Mendenhall Glacier

Following our trip to Mendenhall Glacier, we explored downtown Juneau a bit. Frankly, the rain limited our explorations somewhat but we definitely wanted to see the oldest Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska, St. Nicholas,  built in 1894.


St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church


Interior of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church

We also stopped by Starbucks to warm up with a coffee and “get connected” for awhile. Travel tip: Starbucks is the one place in any country where I have always found the Wifi adequate for my needs. Then it was back to the ship in plenty of time for our departure.


Street view of downtown Juneau, Alaska


Based on events of June 2015.


Categories: cruise, inside passage, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

The Inside Passage to Ketchikan, Alaska

On the second day of our Alaskan cruise, we enjoyed a full day “at sea” sailing up the inside passage from Vancouver, B.C., to Ketchikan, Alaska. We were hoping to see wildlife along the way but with such dense woods, that was probably an unrealistic expectation. There were wildlife sightings in the water such as humpback whales and the captain would announce sightings from the bridge but it always seemed we were in the wrong place at the time. So we focused instead on the breathtaking scenery all around us that we would later learn was nothing compared to what was ahead.

Cruising the Inside Passage

Cruising the Inside Passage

View from our ship along the inside passage

View from our ship along the inside passage

Inside Passage View

Inside Passage View

Sunset along the Inside Passage

Sunset along the Inside Passage

Cruise Day 2 ends beautifully

Cruise Day 2 ended beautifully

The next morning (day 3) we arrived in Ketchikan, Alaska. Jim had arranged a private fishing charter with The Alaska Catch, so he was up and off the ship early to meet Captain Mike. Be sure to read Fishing for the Halibut in Ketchikan next Tuesday featuring Jim’s guest blog post about his experience.

Meanwhile, Sheryl and I explored Ketchikan. Imagine our delight to see blue skies and sunshine when we’d heard it always rains in Ketchikan. After noting that Ketchikan was Alaska’s first city and the salmon capital of the world, according to the welcome sign, we headed to historic Creek Street.

Welcome to Ketchikan, Alaska

Welcome to Ketchikan, Alaska

Creek Street was built literally on Ketchikan Creek.  The wooden boardwalk built on pilings driven into the banks of the creek was home to Ketchikan’s red light district from 1902 until prostitution was outlawed in 1953, and the scene of bootleg liquor sold in speakeasies during Prohibition. Today, there are shops and restaurants lining the boardwalk and Dolly’s House, where the famous madam had her lucrative business, is open for tours.  The tour guide at Dolly’s offered us a rock bottom price of $5 so Sheryl and I did a walk through.

Creek Street

Creek Street

Creek Street on Ketchikan Creek

Creek Street on Ketchikan Creek

Dolly's House on Creek Street

Dolly’s House on Creek Street

After checking out a couple of shops, we headed to the Totem Heritage Center. This museum is the repository of a priceless collection of Tlingit and Haida totem poles. The red cedar poles, carved by local artists in the 19th century, were rescued and salvaged from Tongass Island, Village Island, and Prince of Wales Island with technical assistance from the Smithsonian Institution and U.S. Forest Service.

Totem Heritage Center

Totem Heritage Center

Totem Heritage Center

Totem Heritage Center

Totem Heritage Center

Totem Heritage Center

Totem Heritage Center

Totem Heritage Center

The $5 admission price was well worth it to see these original totems that are so culturally significant to the Northwest Coast Native peoples.

The Totem Heritage Center, located along the Ketchikan Creek, was the starting point for a lovely walk along the creek to Salmon Row where the hatchery is located, and ending at the Salmon Ladder.

Ketchikan Creek

Ketchikan Creek

Ketchikan Creek

Ketchikan Creek

Pacific salmon are anadromous, that is they hatch in fresh water, migrate to the ocean to spend most of their life, then return to the area where they hatched to reproduce and die. When they leave the ocean, they stop feeding and their stomachs disintegrate to provide more room for the developing eggs and sperm. The appearance, flavor, and texture of the flesh isn’t very good for eating at this time so if you want salmon to eat, you fish in the ocean. The rapids in the Ketchikan Creek is an extreme challenge for the salmon to surmount to reach the spawning area upstream. The Salmon Ladder on the creek assists thousands of salmon to reach their spawning area by allowing them to use the ladder which is essentially like stairs in the water rather than face the rapids. Unfortunately, we didn’t see it in action because although we were in Alaska at the beginning of the spawning season, we were a little too early to see any fish in the creek. Read more about the life cycle of Pacific salmon here. 

Ketchikan Creek

Rapids on Ketchikan Creek

Salmon Ladder, Ketchikan

Salmon Ladder next to the rapids on Ketchikan Creek

After a little more shopping and halibut fish tacos at Annabelle’s, it was back to the Oosterdam in plenty of time to set sail. I would call Ketchikan a good cruise port with plenty to keep a cruise ship tourist interested and engaged.

Based on events of June 2015.

Categories: cruise, History, inside passage, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

North to Alaska 2015

I’ve known since 2012 it was time to go to Alaska. That was the year Jim and I went to Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine bringing to 49 our total states visited. Prior to that, my state total was 46 and Jim’s was 43. Honestly, Alaska was never really on my short list but when it’s the only state in the U.S. you haven’t visited, it’s time to make a plan.

I sent for the Alaska Official State Vacation Planner at to begin my research. The sample itineraries in the planner were invaluable for narrowing the options. Many friends cited their Alaskan cruise as their best trip ever so I began exploring cruises. Most itineraries depart from Seattle or Vancouver and typically include the inside passage. A cruise seemed like a pretty efficient way to start to see our largest state but frankly, it looked like we’d barely scratch the surface of this vast area. That realization caused me to look at a combination cruise and land tour. The cruise tour would add a land trip by coach and train to Denali National Park with possible views of Mt. Denali, aka McKinley, the highest peak in North America.

Recommendations and research led me to Holland America, the largest tour operator in Alaska. I knew I wanted to go in June and I wanted to get the best price for a stateroom with a verandah on the starboard side, hoping to spot wildlife as we cruised north. I didn’t have a preference for a particular ship or whether the land portion was before or after the cruise, but I did prefer a cruise starting or ending in Vancouver. We’ve never cruised Holland America before but Norwegian, my usual cruise operator, couldn’t beat their price so I booked with HAL.

Holland America

Holland America Cruise Line Logo

Our original price was just short of $2500 per person but then a friend, Sheryl, decided to go with us so with three in the cabin the price went down to $2035 each.  Then the closer we got to our departure date, the more emails HAL sent us offering upgrades and the lower the cost was for the upgrade. With three in our cabin, we decided to spring for the suite upgrade for an additional $100 each which gave us considerable extra space both in the cabin and on our verandah plus two sinks and a whirlpool tub in the biggest bathroom I’ve ever seen on a cruise ship. The total for the three of us for the 11 Day Double Denali which included the 7 day cruise, coach to Denali, 2 nights lodging in Denali, tour of Denali, domed rail trip to Anchorage, and one night of lodging in Anchorage was $6400 or about $194 per person per day. I tell you this for reference purposes in case you want to go to Alaska. I do believe I got the best deal available at the time.

Here’s our itinerary from HAL’s website:

Day/ Port
1 Vancouver
Sail from Vancouver, glide under Lion’s Gate Bridge, and enter the scenic wonders of the Inside Passage
2 At Sea
Relax and enjoy a full day of scenic Inside Passage cruising and immerse yourself in Holland America Line elegance
3 Ketchikan
Explore this uniquely Alaskan port, famous for its rich native culture, salmon fishing, and scenic Misty Fjords
4 Juneau
Enjoy a full day of exploring Alaska’s capital-choose from exciting shore excursions and still have time to shop
5 Skagway
Step back to the days of the last great gold rush-choose from exciting shore excursions and still have time to shop
6 Glacier Bay
Cruise the ice-studded fjords of this national treasure for a full eight hours as a Park Service Ranger narrates
7 At Sea (Gulf of Alaska)
Enjoy a leisurely day of cruising
8 Denali National Park
Disembark and enjoy deluxe motorcoach sightseeing to Denali National Park for a two-night stay at this majestic national treasure (lunch included)
9 Denali National Park
Venture deep into Denali on the Tundra Wilderness Tour (snack included), the best way to see wildlife and hopefully Mt. McKinley too
10 Anchorage
This morning, board the luxurious domed rail cars of the McKinley Explorer bound for Anchorage
11 Anchorage
Your Land + Sea Journey concludes this morning in Anchorage.

Map View

Itinerary Map View

The cruise began in Vancouver, B.C, and ended in Anchorage, so after booking the cruise, my next goal was to find and book reasonable “open jaw” airfare. (Open jaw means your roundtrip is from different airports, e.g., the departure is DesMoines to Vancouver and the return is Anchorage to DesMoines. I searched on Kayak but I’ve since learned about ITA Matrix and I’ll try that, too, next time. As long as we were going to be in Vancouver, we wanted to explore the city a bit but the less expensive flights were mostly red-eye or arrived late in the day. I found two one-way tickets actually offered the best times and rates in this instance. Orbitz offered a one way from DesMoines to Vancouver on Air Canada for $291.59 and Delta had a return from Anchorage to DesMoines for $404, bringing the roundtrip total to $695.59. It seemed high but summer flights to Alaska are expensive so I booked it.

Finally, we needed two nights accommodations in Vancouver to allow plenty of time before the cruise in case we had flight delays and to properly see the city. Hotels there are very expensive, as I soon found out. I found a Hampton Inn at $260 a night and booked it but canceled it when I found a darling bed and breakfast, the Barclay House, in a great walkable neighborhood for $230. That rate changed when we added Sheryl to our room, but it was still lower than the hotel would have been if we added a third person.

Barclay House

Barclay House

So, with all the arrangements made, we were ready to set sail to visit our 50th state in June 2015.

Next time I’ll show and tell you all about our departure port, Vancouver, B.C.

Based on events from June 2015

Categories: Anchorage, Canada, cruise, Denali, inside passage, open jaw, Travel, USA, Vancouver | Tags: , | 10 Comments

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