This year Ivy and I did a big trip to Alaska on a cruise from Seattle. We had always wanted to see Alaska and decided on a cruise as it was the most cost effective and easiest way to see different parts of the state. The cruise was a week and visited major sites along the inside passage, a coastal route between islands along the Pacific Northwest. We also spent some time in Seattle and had enough time to visit Mt. Rainier National Park.
In total we spent four days in Seattle and one day at Mt. Rainier National Park, dividing our time before and after the cruise. Being a major city on the west coast, Seattle had plenty to entertain us. For our first leg we stayed in the Capital Hill district to the northeast of downtown, a very nice and easily walkable area with amble transportation to all the major sites. While in Seattle, we did not rent a car as we decided to walk most of the time or use the link rail system, occasionally taking the bus. For our first day fresh off a plane we took it easy and spent some time in Seattle center, visiting the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum as well as browsing the sites in the area. We did not scale the Space Needle as it was a very cloudy day. Seattle is of course known for lots of rain and lots of clouds. The Chihuly museum was beautiful and very cool, although if you have seen the travelling exhibit before (and we did in Boston once), you might want to skip it as it's not very big and does not have many exhibits that are different from the travelling exhibit. Nonetheless the outside park is wonderful and the centerpiece display in the glass house is stunning.
During our next day we focused on downtown, spending most of the day in Pike's Market, our favorite part in all of Seattle. Pike's Market is a fantastic outdoor and indoor street market with food, goods, a variety of vendors and stores and excellent florists. The raw seafood and meat is particular good and the florists make beautiful arrangements with a variety of flowers. The original Starbucks is also here, with a long line, as well as a cheesemaker, a soda maker and dozens of other food vendors. We ate fish and chips for lunch and it was delicious. It is very crowded, as it's one of the most popular areas, but it's worth it.
During the afternoon, we went on Ride the Ducks of Seattle, which was also really fun and enjoyable. Aside from touring the city, we went into the harbor and saw many areas of Seattle we otherwise would never have seen. The harbor is especially neat as you get up close and personal with the many houseboats along the shores, houses that literally sit on a barge and can be driven out on the water. They've very expensive, and only deep pockets can afford them!
After the cruise we stayed in a hostel downtown. Seattle is expensive and hotels can go for three hundred a night or more. The hostel was a short walk from Pike's Market and Pioneer Square, the latter being our focus for the second leg. Pioneer Square is in Seattle's old town, the place where Seattle started, and so that means lots of history. After walking the area a bit we hopped on a tour of the underground where you go beneath the streets and learn how Seattle has evolved over time. Like many big cities Seattle is built on top of itself, and with the underground comes a fascinating account of Seattle's history.
For our last day in downtown, we ate lunch in Chinatown and went to the Seattle Pinball Museum, a really cool place that houses pinballs machines from current day to years past. You can play them still, and as opposed to paying per game, you pay a flat fee for the day and play as long as you want. Definitely fun and recommended. More so, the Klondike Gold Rush Museum in Seattle, part of the National Park encompassing the gold rush, was very well done and probably our favorite part of the second leg. They have a movie, various artifacts and an exhibit that takes you through the entire history of the golf rush. It's also a free exhibit, so it's definitely worth checking out.
the cruise and Juneau
For our cruise, we decided on Princess Cruises, not only because it was one of the less expensive options but also because the itinerary included a visit to Glacier Bay National Park, something you need a special permit from the National Park Service for. We boarded from a port northwest of Seattle which was very easy. I think we were on the ship in fifteen minutes after getting off our Uber ride. Once onboard, we ate lunch, checked into our room and enjoyed dinner and entertainment that evening. The cruise itself was very nice, although neither one of us are big cruisers so days at sea were a challenge! The first day of the cruise was very warm and so we were able to swim in the pools. Once on route to Alaska however, it got chilly quickly.
After a day at sea (we celebrated our anniversary that evening with dinner at Share, their specialty restaurant, which was very nice), we arrived in Juneau early morning for a full day. We left the boat after it docked and proceeded to take a city bus to Mendenhall Glacier, one of Juneau's best attractions, about a thirty minute drive from the docks. Once we arrived, our bus driver told us to take a separate trail away from the glacier as we might see bears, and boy did we ever. We turned a corner to the local mom Nikki with her two cubs, no more than 15 feet away from us beyond the railing. Being early morning, it was not too crowded, and we even saw Nikki catch a salmon and feed it to her cubs!
After that amazing experience, we continued on to the glacier, which was beautiful amongst the surrounding landscape. Although retreating, it's a wonderful site to behold. There's a waterfall nearby as well that is equally as magnificent. You can view both a short walk from the visitor center, or you can take an easy hike that is about an hour round trip. We did both and the hike is definitely worth it, especially for the waterfall. Don't pass up the visitor center. They have an actual block of ice from the glacier you can feel!
After coming back to the ship for lunch, we ventured out again in the afternoon to explore. Our ship didn't depart until 9PM, so we had ample time. We roamed the streets, popped into a few shops, and rested at a local dive with great views of the water and the landing sea planes. Early in the evening, I took the local tram up to the top of the mountains in the area, which afforded me incredible views of Juneau and the surrounding landscape. While at the top, you can take a trail that goes even higher, which of course I did. There's visitor centers and gift shops of course, a restaurants, and a bald eagle who can no longer be on its own.
Skagway and the white pass scenic railway
Arriving in Skagway the next morning, we took our first shore excursion from the ship, a glacial lake kayak followed by a train ride along the White Pass Scenic Railway. This was a great excursion and the best one we did out of the three from the ship. We started in a bus and drove to the lake, which was actually on the Canadian border, requiring us to show our passports. Once at the lake, we fitted up and kayaked around the lake, surrounded by mountains, a crisp air and beautiful sunlight. The lake itself was almost a teal blue with greyish undertones, and you could see spots where water from glaciers met water in the lake. We also saw a Caribou up in the mountains.
After kayaking, we ate a snack and boarded the train for the ride back to Skagway. We had the last carriage, and during the whole ride we could stand at the back or off to the sides and view the beautiful scenery. It was incredibly cool, feeling the wind, watching the train tracks go by and listening to the fascinating stories from the tour guides. The ride took an hour and change with a few stops. As with the kayaking, the day was sunny and beautiful, so the views were spectacular.
After a quick run to the ship for lunch, we came back out for a second excursion, a wildlife expedition to Haines, a town about forty-five minutes away by ferry. Unfortunately for this excursion, the weather turned rainy and cold, as it often does in Alaska, so our views of Haines were a bit limited. We did however have a great time exploring the town and searching for wildlife. We saw many bears, eagles and a bald eagle's nest, and we spent time exploring Haines once the weather cleared. Between this excursion and other, we didn't have time to explore Skagway, our only regret from this stop.
Glacier Bay National Park
There were some definite highlights from this trip, and Glacier Bay was one of them. For this day, the cruise ship sailed into Glacier Bay National Park and spent the day exploring, while naturalists onboard provided information over the loudspeakers for various landscapes and glaciers that we saw. It's truly an amazing place, one that is really hard to describe without seeing it in person for yourself. Everything is serene and undisturbed. There is a blue tint to most things, and the glaciers themselves are ragged, sharp and very blue in color. There are various shapes, colors and textures to them, with one being completely brown and another one being blue, just a few feet from each other. There are incredible mountains of course, lush green vegetation and colored rock formations carved over many years from the ice. Most of the glaciers are retreating, but a couple are not. And we even got to see one calve, which is when part of the ice breaks off. It sounds like slow moving thunder, and it's breathtaking.
Ketchikan and Misty Fiords National Monument
Like Skagway, we did not spend much time in the town of Ketchikan, but instead took our final excursion to Misty Fiords National Monument, located in the Tongass National Forest. To get there, we boarded a ferry in port and sailed about an hour to the park, where we were treated with breathtaking views of rock formations carved from glaciers over many years. Some of them almost look like giant skate parks, as the rock is smooth and shaped in a half bowl. A couple have features that look like faces, and some of the rock have distinct colors and textures. We saw seals on this trip and were treated to a local resident on the return trip who discussed the culture and history of the native people in the area.
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Our final stop on the cruise was a short three hour call to Victoria in British Columbia. Cruise ships stop at a foreign port in compliance with the Jones Act, as otherwise they would need to carry only American personnel on the ship, raising their costs substantially. Although we only had a short time, we took a lovely walk from the ship to downtown, which is known for wonderful gardens and flowers handing from the street posts, as well as city hall, an exquisite hotel and numerous lights at nighttime. It's a beautiful city, and one we wish we had more time to spend.
Mt. Rainier National Park
On the day of our flight home (we scheduled a red eye overnight to Boston), we rented a car and drove to Mt. Rainier National Park outside of Seattle. The drive itself was a couple hours from Seattle's international airport, and although the park is huge with many trails to explore, we were able to see the highlights in a day. By far the coolest, and busiest, area of the park is Paradise, an area reached by car on the south slope of Mt. Rainier. Just the drive alone is breathtaking as you weave around mountains going higher and higher in elevation (reminds me of Italy!).
At Paradise, we took the stunning Skyline trail, which gives you incredible views of the mountain and the landscape including the visitor's center and the various other peaks in the area. There's also numerous lookout points that are fantastic in their own right, but the views of the mountain are the main attraction. We were very fortunate to have a beautiful, cloudy free afternoon when we did the hike. The morning and evening were cloudy, as well as the previous few days while we were in Seattle. The hike itself is not too difficult, save for the elevation, and takes about an hour to two hours depending on how long you linger at various stops.
The remainder of the park is amazing as well, and big. It took a few hours once in the park to drive around it, but the drives are gorgeous with many scenic lookouts, cool tunnels and changes in elevation. Definitely plan for a full day at least, and ideally multiple days if you want to traverse the trails and get your full taste. For dinner, we stopped in Enumclaw, WA on the way back to the airport, which we recommend. It's a cute little town with numerous restaurants and a good vibe.