My family loves to cruise. Ever since our first one on the Mediterranean 7 years ago, we’ve been hooked! Not only is it a great way to travel and to see different places all at once, but because you eliminate the need for making hotel reservations per destination, and are guaranteed food supply 24/7, then it is more bang for your buck as well :).
This year, my dad decided to treat the fam to another cruise. While in the past we’ve always opted for some European itinerary, this year, we decided to do something more nature-y and different. So off to Alaska we went, for a little bit of outdoor adventure :).
Our first stop was a town called Ketchikan. I was amazed at how small and sleepy this place was! My subdivision in Quezon City is not only bigger in size, but in the amount of residents as well! Hahaha!
The main attraction of this town is Creek Street. Formerly home to Ketchikan’s red light district (with over 30 brothels!), today it is basically a row of shops and galleries where tourists can sightsee and do some souvenir shopping. In fact, Creek Street has earned the distinction of being the “Most Photographed Street” in Alaska.
Aside from this, Ketchikan also holds two other noteworthy titles. It is the “Salmon Capital of the World”, as well as “home to the largest collection of totem poles in the world”. Not surprisingly, there are more than 80 kinds of totem poles displayed throughout the city! Not only do they serve as a reminder of the traditions and values of tribal culture, but are also an imposing and awe-inspiring example of Alaskan native art and craftsmanship.
According to our port guide, totem poles are either commemorative, memorial, or lineage poles that celebrate a tribe or family’s unique heritage. I was surprised to discover that the most important figure in the totem pole is the figure at the bottom, and not the one at the top :). I guess you really do learn something new everyday! Hahaha!
Our next port of call was Juneau, Alaska. It was a bit of a shock for me to find out that despite it being the state capital, there are NO access roads leading to Juneau. To get here, one must go via boat or via floatplane! Talk about hard to get to!
The downtown area is again very small, comprised mostly of souvenir shops and restaurants. One of their must-do activities is riding on the Mount Roberts tram. It has the best view of the Gastineau Channel, as well as that of downtown Juneau. At the very top of the mountain is a restaurant, where one is encouraged to have a meal, or to enjoy a steaming cup of coffee (Alaska is proud of their brews :)), while taking in the breathtaking sights.
The most popular natural attraction in Juneau is the Mendenhall Glacier. Nicknamed “the drive-up glacier”, it is about a 20-minute drive from downtown. Once inside the Tongass National Forest, the glacier is easily accessible by foot, allowing one to actually walk up right to it versus viewing it from the air or by sea.
Having never seen a glacier before, I have to admit that for my first sighting, Mendenhall was pretty impressive :). According to my research, it is about 12 miles long, half a mile wide, and about 300-1800 feet deep. But unfortunately, because of global warming, the Mendenhall Glacier is not as massive as it used to be. It has been slowly retreating since the early 1700′s. Size aside however, this glacier has been able to survive much longer than other glaciers in the North American region. The geography and unique climate of Juneau contribute to this.
Though I dislike gloomy weather, glaciers are actually best viewed on overcast days. We were “lucky” that this was the kind of day we had when we visited Mendenhall. I thought that the bright blue glow that the glacier emitted was very pretty and magical-looking :). Apparently, this is caused by the ice’s absorption and reflection of light :).
Our third port on this cruise was Skagway, Alaska. It was actually my favorite among the Alaskan ports. It was also the most modern-looking and the least deserted–the streets were bustling with tourists exploring the town, and scouring the shops for souvenirs.
Interestingly, Skagway is the least populated of the Alaskan cities we visited. Year round, it only has about 750 residents. During cruise season, however, this number swells immensely.
Another interesting fact about Skagway is that it is considered the “Sunshine Capital” of Southeast Alaska. Unfortunately, the morning we landed, the sun was nowhere to be found :(. Hahaha!
As for attractions, Skagway’s must-do for visitors is the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway ride. It is basically a 3-hour scenic ride up to the Canadian border. The railway was built during the era of the Klondike Gold Rush, and took 35,000 men 26 months to finish under extremely treacherous conditions. This engineering landmark climbs up to 3,000 feet, and is held in the same esteem as the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, and the Panama Canal.
Even though the train ride itself costs a pretty penny, I think the experience itself was worth it. I thought it was interesting to hear stories about the railway’s history and to learn more about life during the Gold Rush. It certainly made me appreciate all the modern conveniences I now enjoy. It also made me appreciate the work that went into building the structure, considering the materials and equipment that were available during that time. Factoring in the weather conditions that the men had to endure… *shudder*…definitely this railroad is an amazing feat!
And the views? Ofcourse, they were nothing short of spectacular–nature at its finest! There were parts where we saw lush green forests, flowing streams, snow-capped mountains–a little bit of everything! We even saw a baby brown bear and a mama black bear scrounging around for food! Now that was pretty awesome, especially to see them in the wild :).
Skagway was indeed a wonderful way to end our short tour of Alaska. Our next and last stop was Victoria, British Columbia. While it was the prettiest port in our cruise, sadly, it was where we spent the least amount of time :(. We only had 4 hours!!! Waaah! But I guess cruises are really meant to give tourists just a taste of a particular place–enough to make them want to come back for more. And from what we saw, I definitely want to visit Victoria again someday :).
Victoria holds the distinction of being the most “English” city in British Columbia. Its charm is evident in the architectural landmarks that can be found along the Inner Harbour–both the majestic Fairmont Empress Hotel and the stately Legislative Building are truly a sight to behold.
Considered a National Historic Site in Canada, the Empress is one of Victoria’s oldest and most famous hotels. In fact, it has pretty much become an icon for the city itself. I just love its ivy-covered brick walls and enchanting facade! Had we had more time, it would have been nice to enjoy some high tea at the historic lobby, where it is said that many members of royalty and other dignitaries have had their share of scones and clotted cream :).
Constructed in 1893 in honor of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, the Legislative Building is a must see whether during the day or at night. We were lucky to catch views of this impressive structure during both times, although I must say that it is definitely more wonderful to see at night. There are about 3300 bulbs that illuminate the entire building, making it look even more striking and captivating. I had a field day capturing it all with my camera! Hahaha!
Sadly, all trips must come to an end, but I’m glad we ended this one with such beautiful and extraordinary sights. It made me wistful of what more I could have seen, had we had more time. Oh well…I’m sure there will be a next time :).
As I sit and write this post, it again hits me how lucky I am to able to travel and see different parts of the world. I am so fortunate to be able to have new experiences that enrich me as a person, and that make life interesting for me. Most of all, I am extremely thankful to have such wonderful parents that I can travel with, and who continue to give me these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. I am truly blessed! I only hope that one day I can provide my daughter the same experiences that I have been so generously given :).