Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Days 16 & 17 – Last Sea Day and Seattle

All good things must come to an end…  and I’m actually ready.  Did I just say I was ready for a cruise to end???  OMG.  What is wrong with me??!!  It’s not the cruise, the ship, the food, or the people that I’m tired of, it’s the weather.  We definitely prefer warm, sunny beaches and time up on deck.  I detest being bundled up and having to wear long sleeves (because my short arms allow sleeves to dangle down to my fingers, which drives me crazy).  We usually cruise to escape cold, snow, and yuck.  This was just too far out of our comfort zone.

We enjoyed our last day on board.  I took some pictures of the new features on the ship.  She underwent a complete facelift recently and she looks mah-va-lous.  The new aerial show in the Centrum area is pretty spectacular.  Here are a few shots of a rehearsal.  We never seemed to catch the real performance.

Yes, honey, it’s a looooooong way down!  One of the aerialists getting ready…

Some perspective of the height…

I don’t care how secure that harness is, you won’t catch me doing this…

There’s live entertainment going on somewhere on the ship all the time… 
The ballroom…
The casino…

The pool we hardly saw now has a big screen TV.  They show movies under the stars each night.  I doubt anyone used it on this trip, but maybe there were a few Eskimos…

The dining room…

And here’s the theater, where Captain Rob and the cruise director were doing their “Captain’s Corner” talk.  It’s a chance to hear about life on the ship and to ask questions.

For the first time in our cruising history, I actually packed our bags in the afternoon.   Wow – I was getting excited about the warm, sunny skies of home.  Colorado is a great place to be in the summer time.

Just before Happy Hour, we had our tour of the navigational bridge.  Captain Rob was waiting for the four of us who attended.  We had all been on lots of bridge tours before, so he dispensed with the usual show-and-tell about the operations and just visited with us.  It was casual and candid, allowing his very dry sense of humor to entertain us.  He’s hands-down our favorite of all the captains.

We said our good-byes to all our friends, had a nice sleep, and woke up in Seattle – in the rain.   

Our flight home was bumpy (from wind) but we arrived to glorious, wonderful SUNSHINE!!  I won’t mention that it was cool and rainy the next day, but that was short-lived.  

Alaska is beautiful and I’m so grateful that I got to see all the sights that we did.  I will cherish the memory of the Hubbard Glacier calving and all the sea life we enjoyed:  whales, sea lions, seals, and even the eagles soaring above.  We’ll probably visit again someday – but definitely not in May.  I’m thinking late July or early August would have been more pleasant and we probably would’ve seen more whale and bear activity.  There are so many other places we want to go, which returns Alaska to the back-burner where it had been for a long time. 

Where will we go next?  We’re booked on the Jewel of the Seas out of Boston on Oct 21 for a Fall colors tour north to Maine and Nova Scotia for a week followed by 2 weeks of repositioning the ship to Tampa via the Eastern and Southern Caribbean.  Then we’re also booked on Adventure of the Seas on Jan 20 for 2 weeks with my sister and niece for more Southern Caribbean.  It’ll be my sister’s first cruise, so it’s always exciting to teach a newbie the ropes.  And you never know about us – if I see a sale, we sail!

I hope you enjoyed traveling with us.  I’ll close with one last photo of us at the Sawyer Glacier…
 Stay tuned…

Day 15 - (Catching Up with) Ketchikan Again

Sorry for the long delay.  Several of you pointed out that you "stayed tuned", but I didn't.  It was for a variety of reasons, the first of which was the spotty internet service we had.  I kept falling behind and then trying to play catch-up every few days.  It was seriously difficult to get photos to upload with the slowness of satellite internet - so it would take me about 90 minutes or more to create each posting.  Then once we got home it was hectic catching up here as well.  Back to the mountains - of mail, email, laundry, etc.  But here I am finally finishing the last few days of the trip for you.   So pretend we're back on May 16... 

Day 15 – Ketchikan Again

We had a rough ride into Ketchikan and arrived to a cold, drizzly day.  I had decided to make a few purchases, so we bundled up and braved the weather for a stroll around town.  I didn’t take any new photos, so I’ll show you a few from last week.

This is a statue in the “town square” next to the pier called “The Rock”.

And this is the only bear we saw…

It was pretty cold so we didn’t waste any time getting back to the ship.  The internet was blocked by the mountains again, so we just relaxed and enjoyed the time on board. 

There’s just one more sea day left as we sail toward Seattle.  Usually when a cruise is winding down I feel very sad to see it end.  I’m not feeling that way at all this time.  Hmmmm, I wonder why?

Stay tuned…

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Day 14 – Tracy Arm Fjord and Sawyer Glacier

The good news is that we had a beautiful sunny day.  The bad news is that the sun comes up at 4:30 AM.  While we’re happy for the sunshine, it’s kinda rude at such an early hour, especially considering we’re night owls.  We were up early and ready for the approach to the glacier through the gorgeous fjord.
It’s a twisty route and we wondered how Captain Rob could maneuver this 915 foot long ship around these tight turns.  But the glacier has cut a deep swag through the mountains and he was able to easily make each turn.

The amount of floating ice increased…

And then suddenly, there it was!

There was no calving, which made it somewhat boring compared to all the action we had at the Hubbard Glacier.  Yet it’s still beautiful and an impressive sight.  The texture of the ice is interesting.

Now look back at the first picture.  In the lower center of the shot, see those black things that look like little rocks?  Those are actually sunbathing SEALS!!  I almost overlooked it until someone showed me a zoom of their picture.  I looked at mine, and sure enough, there they are.  Here’s a cropped, zoomed shot to prove it.

I also found one swimming near the ship…

The scenery going out was equally as beautiful as going in.

 On our way to Ketchikan we got into a nasty storm that had the ship pitching from a side wind.  That’s the sort of thing that gets to me.  High swells are okay, until the side wind factor comes in.  It was Bonine and a green apple for dinner, yum.  By bedtime the storm had passed and I felt better.

Stay tuned…

Day 13 – Skagway

Today we visited Skagway.  What a cute little town!  They’ve done a great job to make it look like early 1900’s, complete with a boardwalk and all.  We walked around for a bit and did our necessary shopping for a magnet.  One building that fascinated me was this one.  The front is covered with over 7,000 pieces of drift wood. 

Then we boarded the White Pass and Yukon train for a ride up the mountain.  Each tour group was assigned to a specific car.  Here’s Bruce with our car.

The weather was not on our side for this.  We didn’t go far before we ran into snow.  Normally we cruise to escape this kind of weather.  It was just wrong to trade our 80 degree record-setting spring for all this snow!  I can assure you we won’t visit Alaska in May again.  Brrrr, it was really cold up there.

Once we reached the summit, which was in Canada, we took the bus back.  I’m sure this part of the tour would be gorgeous in the summer when you could see all the lakes.  All we saw was a whole lotta snow instead.  When we got down the mountain further, we came to the sway bridge which spans a fault line.  They’ve had to add 10 feet to it because the abyss has expanded that much.

We stopped at an overlook for a chance to take a picture of the ship.  Here she is in all her glory…

Back on board, a nice hot shower was a great way to warm up again. 

Stay tuned…

Day 12 – Juneau & the Whales

OMG – what fun we had!!  We got so much tail!!  They were all humpbacks.  The orcas are migratory and sadly we didn’t see any.

We arrived to a semi-sunny day in Juneau.  Captain Jack met us at the pier and drove us to the other side of town where his boat was waiting.  Joey and Ryan are the crew on the M/V Scania.  As it turned out, we were the only guests for the day.  It’s very early in the season.  Later on, his boat will be filled with whale seekers every day.

We took off and didn’t have to go far before we encountered the first one.  I missed the best photo op of the day when he flashed us a huge tail right beside the boat.  What was I doing?  Climbing the ladder to the top level of the boat – which required both hands on the railing because the boat was rocking about.   And with that flash he was gone.  Oh well.  We saw plenty more, just not as close as that first one.

How does one find a whale, anyway?  You definitely increase your chances when you have lots of help.  Joey and Ryan were our spotters, and they were really good.  They continually scanned the area for the “blow”, or the exhalation of the whales.  It looks like the smoke from a campfire.  And if you’re close enough you can smell it – it reeks like rotten fish. 

Just after they exhale, they will hump their back as they submerge.  They only flash their tail when they dive deep to feed.  If they’re on the move, they will swim just below the surface.  Orcas have a large dorsal fin, which makes them easier to track.  Because the dorsal fin of the humpback is so small, they can play hide-and-seek very well.  They can stay under for up to 45 minutes, but mostly they were on a 10-minute cycle.  You just have to wait, and watch, and have lots of eyes on the water.  By the time you see the blow, aim the camera, and focus – well, it’s really hard to catch the body and tail flash. 

Captain Jack manned the radio and communicated with all the other tour guides in the area.  Any time someone spotted a whale, they shared the location.  We were able to relocate to new positions whenever we got word of a sighting.  I was so lucky to get these pictures!

The calves are born in Hawaii in January.  The mothers stay there with them until they are strong enough to travel the 3,000 miles to Alaska.  They come here for the excellent feeding ground.  We were fortunate to see this baby and mom… 

Captain Jack told us that most literature states the life expectancy of a humpback is 60 years.  Recent research indicates that it’s more like 150-200 years.  They have found whale carcasses with harpoon barbs dating back that long ago.  They aren’t sure if the bubble netting behavior is something learned recently, or if the old-timers are bringing back an old practice.

We took a short detour to see a colony of sea lions.  They like to hang out here and play “king of the buoy”.  These guys just cracked me up.  Aren't they adorable?

Then we went near shore where the moms give birth.  The whole shoreline was packed with them.  They literally crawled over each other.  I noticed one in the water who was leaping and playing.  I happened to catch this picture, and didn’t realize until I saw it on the screen that his mouth was open.  I think he was laughing while he played.  Can you see the pups on shore?

 And we saw the Mendenhall Glacier from the water…

Today was definitely the highlight of the trip.  Nature always entertains me.  Sadly, we didn't see any whales breech this time.  Maybe they'll honor me with that next time.  

 Stay tuned…

Days 10 & 11 - Turnaround and Sea Day

We had a relatively smooth transition to Rhapsody.  We bumped into some friends in the waiting area and had a nice visit.  They were boarding Radiance, however, so we won’t be seeing them on board.

There was actually some sunshine in Vancouver, but we didn’t have the opportunity to do any sightseeing.  We settled in and took a tour of the newly refurbished ship.  She’s absolutely beautiful!!!  What an incredible job they did – at a cost of $52 million.  The Centrum is breathtaking, complete with chandeliers that come down from 7 stories up with aerial artist performances.  The rooms were also redone.  They’re so nice now. 

Then we realized Captain Rob was the new master of the ship.  He’s our all-time favorite captain.  His dry sense of humor is entertaining.  He even recognized us, as he should since we’ve had the pleasure of dining with him several times.  We’ve seen a lot of other staff members who also remembered us from our 39 nights on Rhapsody in Australia.  We were sad to learn that Captain Stein has left the company, however. 

The next day was our sea day, and it was a wild one.  We had a strong side wind which causes the ship to awkwardly pitch.  It turned into a Bonine and green apple day for me.  By afternoon it was all better. 

Next stop – Juneau and the whales.  Stay tuned…

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Day 9 - Sea Day

Wow, our last day on Radiance.  How fast the time flies when you're having fun.  Today was a sea day, cruising through the Inside Passage.  We had incredible scenery all day.  I heard there were 3 whales playing nearby, but I missed them.  I worked on my "secret project" all afternoon and made some fantastic progress. 

This evening was busy saying good-bye to all our friends, both old and new.  Then I had the chore of packing everything for our move tomorrow morning.  We'll be going to Rhapsody, which will be docked right next to Radiance in Vancouver.  We're hoping for a smooth transition.  We had hoped to be able to go to Grouse Mountain tomorrow, but it doesn't look like the timing will work out.  We'll have to save that for another trip.

Some of the ports will be the same next week, but there will be different ones as well.  We'll be doing our whale watching tour in Juneau - I'm super excited about that.  And we'll take a train ride through the mountains and valleys in Skagway..  So that should also be a great photo op.

I'm really hoping the internet service is better next week.  My goodness, it was taking 20+ minutes to load each photo.  That really adds up!  I'll do my best to share my pix with you, tho.

So stay tuned...