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Alaska 2019: On the Hunt for Unicorns

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Seventeen hours, three flights, four airports, and six movies after having left our house, we arrived in sunny Alaska. The view from the plane of the snow-capped mountains was worth the crick in the neck… when will I learn to stop looking out the window so much? The Anchorage airport, what little we saw of it en route to getting our luggage, was really nice. Maybe 20 minutes to our hotel (Westmark Anchorage) in the heart of downtown. A quick change of clothes (it was nearly 30C!!) and off we went to explore… and to try and stay awake, since it was already about 9pm for us with the five hour time change.

I’m sure this will come as a huge shock to all of you, but we may have found beer. Our hotel was conveniently located just a few minutes away from 49th State Brewing… coincidence? (It wasn’t.) This place is HUGE! The beer was good (great sour), the food was good (including options I could eat without any special requests), and the place was packed at 4 in the afternoon. After we ate and drank a bit, it was definitely time to walk around (with a hefty goal of trying to stay awake past 7pm local time). We stumbled across a line for ice cream outside Wild Scoops, so we figured we might as well try it (because there was a vegan one). We walked around, found some parks (and flowers… flowers everywhere!), admired some art, basked in the sun, and made it to about 8pm local time… overachievers!


And then because we went to bed early, we may have been up early… I woke up at midnight and it was still completely light out (hooray for blackout curtains… I love being in places where it doesn’t get dark… though I wouldn’t be crazy about the reverse)… forced a few more hours of sleep, and then we went off exploring again around 6am. Breakfast is important, so we hit up an already packed Snow City Cafe, just in time to beat the long line of hungry patrons. Great food, so many coffee options, and lots of personality. Highly recommend (vegan friends – best vegan breakfast I’ve ever had at a restaurant!). They even had homemade jam on the table! More exploring, found the Anchorage Market (they have farmers markets as well, but we happened across this market), found coffee (a few times), admired more art, and walked around. We might have found beer again… and we took in the Anchorage Pride Parade (love is love!).


I’d totally go back to Anchorage again – it’s quirky and cool. That’s the highlights of the 20 hours we spent there. Then we were off to Whittier to catch up with the Royal Princess. Our ship wasn’t sailing until mid evening, so we opted for transportation (Whittier is about 90 minutes away from Anchorage) that made some stops. First up, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center… I’m not normally down for anything where animals are held in pens (like zoos), but I do admire people who step up and create these kind of wildlife sanctuaries. This not-for-profit has done a lot of work helping to save animals who wouldn’t survive in the wild, and to rehabilitate them so they could return to the wild.


We made some scenic stops here and there (though with the wildfires burning in Alaska, a lot of the views were quite hazy), had a bit of a wait at the tunnel (cars go through what used to be a railway tunnel to Whittier, but traffic only runs in one direction, so you sometimes have to wait), before arriving at the cruise ship terminal around 5. There’s not much going on in Whittier… you can also get there by train (many cruise ship passengers do this), and pretty much all of the residents live in one apartment complex. There’s an abandoned military complex there as well… and lots of boats this time of year.


And then it was time for our cruise on the Royal Princess… we had an inside cabin (perfectly fine for us, we don’t spend much time in there) on deck 15. We never stay that high up in the ship and never forward… so it was a bit weird for the first day or two… but we booked this one on short notice and Alaska itineraries sell out somewhat quickly. It’s a newer ship (2012) and the biggest Princess one we have sailed on. Princess even decorated our door for our anniversary!


Our first two days on the ship were sea days, but of the scenic variety. We didn’t get into much the first day… did some work, checked out a few things around the ship, ate, found some tasty beverages (they had Alaskan Brewing Company options on the ship), watched the world as we sailed by… I even did some crocheting. There’s a great spot at the back of deck 16 (near a bar) for watching and hanging out. In the afternoon of the first day, we were supposed to sail to Hubbard Glacier, but unfortunately it was really foggy and it was too dangerous to sail such a big ship in there without some visibility.

We had much better luck on Monday as we celebrated Canada Day in Glacier Bay. It was quite overcast in the morning, but we were sailing into and out of there across the span of most of the day, and the weather turned beautiful later in the day. At the entrance to the bay, we brought on some park rangers who did a bit of commentary throughout the day and who were available on the open decks to answer questions. We spent some time at Margerie Glacier (complete with calving – it sounds like thunder!), Lamplugh Glacier (it’s very blue), Grand Pacific Glacier (it’s mostly black and nearly back up to Canada), and Johns Hopkins Glacier. We spent nearly the entire day outside on different decks watching… deck 7 has some great outdoor spaces. Enough text… check it out! These pictures don’t come close to doing Glacier Bay justice!


Some creatures we saw from the ship… a lot of whales (humpbacks) and some seals and sea lions and birds. They are a bit far away, but it was fun spending the day outside watching for them.


Tuesday brought us to our first port stop of the cruise – Skagway. We split all our days with doing a bit of organized touring and then some eating/drinking and exploring the town ourselves. In Skagway, we joined in on a jeep caravan with Alaska Green Jeep Tours up to the Yukon (we figured why not… it’s a province we haven’t been to yet) and while we didn’t spend much time there, the scenery on the drive was beautiful! It was just a small group and we had our own jeep to drive (a brand new lime green one!), which was fantastic. We essentially drove up to the Yukon Suspension Bridge and stopped a few times coming and going.


What’s interesting about Skagway is the population… in the winter, the population is only about 1000 people. But, when it’s cruise season, and they are getting multiple ships a day (there was four the day we were in), loads more people from the lower 48 come in to work for the summer… in fact, this is so common in Alaska that we’re pretty sure we didn’t meet a person from Alaska the entire time we were there… though I only started asking people a few days in… they are unicorns!! Only a few of the businesses even stay open in the winter. For the rest of our day in Skagway, we checked out Klondike Brewing Company, Skagway Brewing Company (best vegan burger I’ve ever had!), and did some walking around the town. If you’re in Skagway, be sure to check out the spruce tip beer at either brewery – it’s good! The locally made root beer is also very good. There’s plenty of shopping in Skagway, if that’s your thing.


As part of their Alaska program (which also included guest lecturers and entertainers), Princess brought some sled dock puppies on board for a couple of hours before we left Skagway.


Next up, Juneau! This was my favourite stop on this voyage (though I quite liked them all). We docked earlier than we had to meet our tour, so we did a bit of exploring first. Our tour with Dolphin Jet Boat Tour lasted around 5 hours. First off, we went out to Mendenhall Glacier, where we had time to walk around, take some pictures, and walk out to Nugget Falls. It’s a really nice place to visit… lots of nice trails, and most people didn’t seem to go far past the photo stops or center, so it wasn’t very crowded.


Then it was off in search of whales! I chose this company because I wanted to test out a new supplier and I liked the idea of a boat that maxed out at 40 passengers. When we arrived, I was a bit concerned because there was very little outside space on the boat, and I when I’m out on the ocean, I don’t want to sit and watch through a window. So we did have to spend some time inside – heading out to and coming back into the port area, but otherwise we could go outside as we pleased mostly. Had everyone on the boat (about 30 passengers) wanted to go outside all the time, it would have been a disaster. But there was an upper area many people didn’t want to climb up to, and that was the perfect viewing area. Thankfully, there was only a couple of really irritating passengers (mostly just a bitchy lady who actually elbowed me and kicked me because she wanted the space I was standing in… but don’t worry, she was promptly put in her place)… I’m a pretty chill tourist, unless you’re a dick to me.

The two previous days, the tours had seen some orcas, but we did not… but we did see some humpbacks, including a mother and calf goofing around (AMAZING!), and spent a beautiful couple of hours on the water. I love that Alaska has rules in place to not let you get too close to the whales or stay with them too long if you find them. I wouldn’t not recommended this tour, but if you want to spend all the time outside with some personal space, this isn’t the tour for you.


Back in downtown Juneau, we still had some time before we had to be on the ship… so, you guessed it, we found some beer. First stop, Barnaby Brewing Co (I actually had some delicious root beer here as well… and some cayenne kombucha… it burns!! Greg actually drank most of it). Alaska has some interesting laws, which as best we can tell, only apply to craft brewery tap rooms. You can only consume 36oz on site, no live music, no sitting at the bar, no dancing, no board games, and no serving past 8pm. Then we found some eats… there’s an area near the brewery with some food shacks and trucks… and then we found the other brewery, Devil’s Club Brewing. Great beer. Alaska can hang when it comes to craft brewing. Sadly, it was then time to head back to the ship. Still no unicorn encounters!


Next stop, Ketchikan. We had a tour mix-up here (things can and do go wrong in travel, even when you work in the industry and have mad planning skills), so we started later than we planned to and didn’t get the entire tour we booked. It’s all been sorted, but it left us with extra time for wandering around Ketchikan… so we did. We found beer (Bawden Street Brewery) and explored Creek Street (the salmon were just barely starting to run). Ketchikan reminded me the most of any random cruise port, except that it was in Alaska. There’s definitely lots of shopping here. Shopping is not my thing. You can go to a lumberjack show here. We also went out to George Inlet Lodge for a crab feast – this is something I knew Greg would love (and there are options there for those who don’t eat crab). It was also Independence Day while we were there, so there was a little parade, but we only caught a few floats at the end of it. There’s a fireworks ban because of the forest fires, but I think they lose a little something when it doesn’t get dark anyway. We closed the day off with a drink at the Asylum on the way back to the ship. No unicorns were met during our day in Ketchikan.


We had one last sea day as we made our way to Vancouver. After a few port days in a row, a sea day is always nice. We did the usual… watched the world float by (saw a bunch of whales and porpoises), relaxed, took in a few on-board activities, and called it a cruise.

Random stuff, as per usual. The service on this ship was outstanding. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always good, but this was better than normal. In the dining room, our team bent over backwards to accommodate my dietary restrictions (they even made a special vegan anniversary cake for us). I’ll be honest, not all of their vegan dishes were wins… but the effort they made was very much appreciated. The ship is lovely, and there’s some great places to just chill out. We went to some of the “game shows” and trivia – the entertainment team is pretty funny, but the bigger shows aren’t to our taste. I love that they have modern (and free) movies in your cabin… sometimes I am all peopled out. Great running/walking track on this ship – we went every morning and it was especially nice with the views of the mountains most days. Princess has been doing Alaska for a long time (50 years this year) and they are really good at it. They have a lot of nice add-ons – guest speakers and entertainers, the sled dog puppies I mentioned, activities for kids, and more. You really can’t go wrong with them.


The last full day of our adventure found us arriving in Vancouver early on Saturday morning. Vancouver is the best debarkation port ever. Customs took 2 seconds and the taxi line is absolutely brilliant. There’s a ton of spaces to wait and they send you to a specific one – which means the assholes who think they are more important than everyone else can’t skip the queue. We were from the ship to our hotel in Richmond near the airport in 30 minutes. Brilliant.

We were meeting with some family (thanks Roger and Mary for coming into the city to meet us for lunch and play tour guide for a few hours) later in the day, so we explored the area around our hotel and found some drinks (just coffee and tea for now). We wandered around the beautiful Minoru park – complete with random bunnies.


And then it was time to head into Vancouver… we went to the Red Racer Taproom (we can get one of their beer here at home and we both quite like it) – good food. We did a bit of a tour around Stanley Park as well – what a great spot to have in a big city. Then we released Roger and Mary from their tour guide duties (thanks again) and did some wandering around the downtown area… a random festival, Canada Place, and then we found some more beer and food (Steamworks – really great!) to wrap up the trip. We took the Sky Train back out to the hotel and called it a night.


Travel home was uneventful… two flights, a few movies, and the universe trying to starve us (we don’t buy plane food… cause it tries to kill you)… and the Ottawa airport section where flights to the Maritimes leave from is not somewhere you want to be at night when you are hungry (everything was closed). Got home, found some food, and that’s a wrap. We had a blast.

You should go to Alaska. Let me know if you meet any unicorns.

Ange out.

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