Category: Cruise Page 2 of 6
Our Alaska cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas was unlike anything else I have ever done before. The scenery was unmatched and the service was spectacular. This trip was full of once-in-a-lifetime experiences!
While we had beautiful weather on our port days, every sea day was cold and rainy. We had hoped to play Pickleball as we did on our Caribbean Cruise, but because of the weather, it was never open. We tried to enjoy our balcony, if you wanted to be out there for an extended period of time, you needed to seriously bundle up. On our way back from Alaska, we had the roughest seas I have ever encountered on a cruise. Seriously, they had barf bags placed around the ship for those prone to seasickness. I have to say, I had never seen that before.
The Serenade of the Seas is the smallest ship I’ve ever sailed on. Having sailed on the Explorer of the Seas almost exactly three months prior, I was doing a lot of comparing in my head while onboard. Small ships like the Serenade have their pros and cons, the pros being that they can get into ports where the larger ships don’t fit. The Serenade is actually the ship Royal is using for their World Cruise in 2023. The biggest con, of course, is that there is less to do on board. I don’t know if it was because we were usually the smallest ship in port, but we always ended up at the dock farthest away from town (left).
Since our cruise on the Explorer was when Royal Caribbean was getting back into sailing at almost full capacity, a lot of my complaints from our spring cruise had been resolved. Crew members were no longer serving everything in the buffet and service in the dining room was much smoother. With my time dining, they didn’t try to seat you in the same table every day like they did on the Explorer so we didn’t have to wait as long to eat.
From the sail-away show, I knew the entertainment on this ship was not going to be for me. John, the cruise director came on stage singing Sweet Caroline and had everyone play Simon Says. I felt like I was in the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel when she goes to her camp in the Catskills (for those of you who aren’t familiar with this show, it takes place in the 1950s. That’s really all you need to know for this reference). Shortly after that, the assistant cruise director came out to sell you Bingo cards. I felt like the youngest person on board by at least 40 years. Royal Caribbean is known for being a family cruise line so I was not expecting this at all.
In my review of the Explorer of the Seas, I was blown away by how many activities were going on around the ship when we were in port each day. That was not the case on the Serenade. We had three sea days on this cruise and I felt like there was nothing to do. Because of the weather, everyone was indoors. There was trivia twice a day that was standing-room only. There was a small movie theater where you wouldn’t get a seat if you didn’t show up half an hour early. There was an enrichment lecture by Canadian Mountie that we went to because…what else was there to do? We did enjoy the production shows and the comedian made us laugh. We kept running into him in port, which was funny.
While this review may seem like it’s full of complaints, I really did enjoy this cruise. I think if I were to sail to Alaska again, I would choose a ship that was purpose-built for Alaska, like the Norwegian Bliss. It has many more indoor areas to get out of the cold, rainy Alaska weather at sea. After this cruise, we are taking a break from Royal Caribbean. We have another cruise booked, this time on Celebrity, which will be interesting.
Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check back next week as we begin our journey from Vancouver to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula! To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.
When planning our Alaska cruise, one of the excursions I knew I wanted to do was dogsledding. The cruise lines offer amazing dogsledding excursions at most of the ports, some of them even involving flying a helicopter to a glacier to have a more “authentic” experience on a dog sled. I really wanted to do one of those helicopter/dogsled excursions but it was really hard to justify a single excursion that cost more than the whole cruise fare. So, I went for the compromise called dogsled and musher’s camp in Skagway.
When we docked in Skagway (at the pier that has been closed since it had a landslide just a few weeks after we docked at it) and took a bus to the Musher’s Camp. Like a lot of Skagway, this felt very cheesy and like it was built for cruise ship tourists. From the base camp, we loaded onto this giant all-terrain vehicle to get to the dogs. We were the first group of the day and the dogs were excited to get going! They were yipping, howling, and pulling at their leads. We divided up into several groups, six people to a cart, and finally got to be pulled around by a group of canines.
On the drive up, our tour guide Laryn, explained the dogs we were about to meet are professional athletes. And once we got loaded onto our cart, our musher explained that the dogs that were pulling us are her team and they actually race the Iditarod together. She explained the commands she uses (“gee” and “haw”) to tell the dogs which way to go. She also explained how important camps like this one are for the dogs. Not only do they work on strength training during the summer, but being around the all the tourists prepares them for all the people the dogs will encounter at the checkpoints along the Iditarod. So, while we were in a cart, not a sled and going over a dirt path, not snow, this time is important for these dogs. So, yes dog sledding in Alaska is a tourist activity, it has its benefits for the dogs and the musher as well.
After we got done with our ride, we went back down to “basecamp” where we met another musher who told us the history of the Iditarod and showed us some of the gear they carry on the race. She explained that the “Alaska Husky” is actually a mix of breeds that they breed for their racing ability.
From there, we got to go to my favorite part where we cuddled the puppies (above)! Mine fell asleep in my arms. My husband didn’t get to hold one because I wouldn’t let him go. I really wish we had more time with the puppies before we were pushed to look at “teenage” dogs sleeping.
If you are planning an Alaska cruise and want to do a dogsledding excursion, I highly recommend it! We had a great time in Skagway with Alaska X excursions! While I’m sure the helicopter/dog sled excursions are amazing, once-in-a-lifetime kinds of experiences, the dog-cart experiences are in no way “fake” and are a great way to get to experience sled dogs without paying as much as your cruise fare for a single excursion!
Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check back next week when I review our time on the Serenade of the Seas! To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.
After our long day in Juneau, the next day we visited two ports: Skagway in the morning and Haines in the evening. This was our first time visiting two ports in one day. We had planned to take a dogsledding excursion through the cruise line for Skagway, but we just planned to explore the town of Haines on our own.
Skagway is a town with a lot of history. After the United States purchased Alaska from Russia, the border between Alaska and Canada was only vaguely defined. When the Canadian government requested a survey in 1871 after being united with British Columbia, the United States thought an examination of the land would be too expensive. In 1896, gold was discovered in the Klondike region of Canada’s Yukon Territory prospectors began heading to the Last Frontier to make the 500-mile trek in search of their fortunes.
Their journeys began by crossing the mountains over the White Pass or the Chilkoot Trail near Skagway. It is estimated that in the spring of 1898, 1,000 prospectors came through Skagway each week. Of all the people who flooded north in search of gold, no more than 4,000 prospectors found any, and only a few hundred became rich.
The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad opened in 1900 over one of the routes the prospectors took in search of their fortunes. The railroad still exists today and is a popular shore excursion for travelers visiting Skagway. This summer, because of Canadian border restrictions, the train was turning around before crossing the U.S./Canada border. I think this would be my first choice the next time we find ourselves in Skagway.
Downtown Skagway features about 100 buildings remaining from the Gold Rush days and is the home of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, so of course, we had to stop in and get our National Park Passport stamped and watch the video about the area’s history. Of course, we also stopped at Klondike Doughboy for their famous Alaska Fry Bread.
All-in-all, Skagway was my least favorite port. I know the town is rooted in history, but it felt the most inauthentic of all of our stops. Everything there exists for tourists in a way that was different from Sitka and Juneau (Haines is the other extreme and you can read about that below). When I travel I really look for authentic experiences and that felt hard to find in Skagway.
Haines is just south of Skagway and refers to itself as the adventure gateway to Alaska. Haines is known for its bald eagle preserve and Historic Fort Steward (its not there anymore but you can read a plaque about it). If you haven’t made plans for Haines, there really isn’t much to do there. It felt like they stuck a cruise port in small-town America. We walked around for about an hour and just got back on the ship. One of my biggest regrets about this trip is that we didn’t book the evening canoe safari or another excursion in Haines because this ended up being a wasted stop for us.
Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to stop back next week when I recap our dogsled excursion in Skagway! To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.
After returning from our whale-watching excursion, we joined the masses at lunch at Tracy’s King Crab Shack. Tracy’s is located right at the cruise ship terminal, right next to where our bus dropped us off. Being right in the middle of the action, of course, the crab comes with a steep price tag but it was absolutely worth it! Tracy’s serves Red King Crab (AKA The Deadliest Catch), but I decided to go with a less expensive snow crab. When I placed our order for one crab shack combo featuring 8 oz of bisque, 4 mini crab cakes, and 14 oz of crab the guy behind the register told me that’s not really enough food for two people so I added the shrimp ceviche. It was 3:00 by now and we were hungry but we could’ve split that and it would have been enough food. With the ceviche, we were stuffed and didn’t end up having dinner until right before the buffet closed that night. If you’re looking for good crab in Juneau and don’t mind paying the tourist prices, look no further than Tracy’s King Crab!
Since our ship didn’t depart for the day until 8, we still had time to explore Juneau after our lunch! We decided to take in the city from above at Mt. Roberts Tramway AKA the Goldbelt Tram. The base of the tram is right at the cruise terminal, on the other side of the parking lot from Tracy’s. I had never ridden in a Tram like that so it was a fun experience! The only downside was that being early June, most of the hiking trails were still snow-covered, so the view was nice, but there wasn’t really much else to do once we got to the top. Once the snow melts, Mt. Roberts is a jumping-off point for several trails varying in length from two to seven miles. Tickets for the tram are $45 for adults so admission could add up quickly for families.
After our journey back down the tramway, we through town to Cope Park where we flew the drone for a little bit before heading back to the ship. We really enjoyed our long day in Juneau! It was nice getting to see so much of the city without a time crunch!
Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to stop by next week as I recap our day in Skagway and Haines, Alaska! To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.
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After our short time at Mendenhall Glacier, we climbed back on the bus and headed for Auke Bay to catch our whale-watching boat. Once we got to the boat, we sat down on the comfortable, indoor seats as the captain hit the throttle to where the whales hang out.
When booking this trip, I noticed a lot of tour companies advertised that you will get your money back if you don’t see a whale, and now that I’ve been there, I get it. Auke Bay and the Inside Passage is where the humpback whales come in the summer to eat. The naturalist onboard explained that the whales migrate every year from Alaska all the way to Hawaii to mate. But, there is no food for them in Hawaii or along the journey so they have to get all their nutrients for the whole year when they are in Alaska. She estimated there were probably 50 whales in the water around our boat.
If you haven’t been following along on my journey, I should tell you that we left our camera batteries in Vancouver so all of the photos taken on our whale-watching trip were taken with my phone. While I wish I had awesome whale photos, I have to admit that not having my camera really allowed me to live in the moment and enjoy the experience of whale watching. And honestly, I don’t know if my reflexes would’ve been fast enough to see the first glimpse of a whale and move the camera to the exact spot to capture it. Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t try again.
We booked this excursion through Alaska Tales on Viator and I highly recommend them to anyone looking for a whale-watching excursion in Juneau. We had an all-female crew, which is very uncommon, and the boat was much smaller than some of the other ones we saw in the area. When we saw “whale smoke” (what one of the kids on board called when the whale blows air and water above the surface. I liked the phrase so I adopted it) or a glimpse of a whale, the captain would move the boat closer so we could get a better look at it. Not to mention their price was significantly less than we originally paid through the cruise line.
Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to stop by next week when I detail our experience at the Mt. Roberts Tramway in Juneau! To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.
Mendenhall Glacier is a part of the Tongass National Forest in Southeastern Alaska and is located about 12 miles from downtown Juneau. Our Glacier and Whale Watch tour through Alaska Tales, took us first to Mendenhall Glacier before heading to the harbor to catch the whale watching tour.
Mendenhall Glacier is currently 13 miles long and has receded about 1.75 miles since 1929. In 2012, the retreating glacier exposed tree trunks and logs that have been dated to 1,200 and 2,350 years old and are teaching scientists about the ecosystem of Alaska before the glacier formed.
The Visitor Center at Mendenhall Glacier was the first U.S. Forest Service visitor center built in the United States in 1962. Exhibits in the visitor center cover the history of the glacier including what it looked like in 1794 versus today. There are also exhibits about the local wildlife including bears, mountain goats, and salmon.
One of the most popular hikes at Mendenhall Glacier is the Nugget Falls Trail. It is a 2-mile round trip hike from the visitor center and takes you to scenic Nugget Falls. It is a fairly easy, gravel trail and the forest service says the hike takes about an hour on average.
Unfortunately, our tour only gave us an hour to explore Mendenhall Glacier and we spend about ten minutes waiting for a bus parking spot to open up, so we didn’t have as much time to explore as we were hoping. We’re fast walkers and could probably make it to the falls and back in less than the hour that the forest service says the hike will take, but we didn’t want to miss the bus that was taking us to the boat to go whale watching. So, we ended up doing the 1/3 mile photo point trail instead. This short trail is the perfect spot to capture the glacier.
I wish our tour would have been set up so that we did the whale watching first and then had time to explore the Mendenhall Glacier area. It would’ve been great to just take as much time as wanted and then got on the next bus headed back to town. I guess, that’s why a lot of people rent cars when they’re in Juneau. Then you could spend as much time as you’d like exploring the trails. I guess we’ll just have to make a return trip to Juneau sometime!
Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.
After spending the day in Sitka, we woke up the next morning in Juneau, Alaska! Juneau was our longest day; we were in town until 8 pm, so that allowed us to see a lot!
We had originally booked a full-day excursion through Royal Caribbean for our day in Juneau that included whale watching, Mendenhall Glacier, and a salmon bake, but about a week before embarkation, they canceled it. Probably the most frustrating thing about this was that they credited the amount back to our debit card but we were told we wouldn’t have it for 10 days, which was after we boarded the ship. I really don’t understand why with it being so close to sailing, they didn’t just credit our onboard account and allow us to book another excursion through them. Excursions in Alaska are much more expensive than in the Caribbean so we really didn’t want to dish out hundreds of more dollars for something to do this day. We ended up going with a third-party excursion company that I found on Viator that didn’t charge us until 48 hours in advance, by which time we had the refund in our account for the original excursion. It ended up working out because the new excursion I found was $150 per person cheaper than the one through Royal Caribbean.
The excursion we ended up booking was with a small company called Alaska Tales and they offered a tour that took us to Mendenhall Glacier and Whale Watching. Afterward, we got lunch at the iconic Tracy’s King Crab and we took a ride on the Goldbelt Tram (AKA Mt. Roberts Tramway). Then, we explored the city for a while before heading back to the ship.
Chris was able to pick up the new battery for our camera while we were in Juneau, so pictures from the second half of this day were taken on our Fuji. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do this before our whale watching, which was disappointing, especially because I rented a big telephoto lens to catch some whale action shots. I guess that’s just another reason why we’ll have to make another trip up to Alaska sometime!
Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check back next week when I get into the details of our time exploring Mendenhall Glacier! To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.
After learning about bears and raptors, we headed to Sitka National Historic Park. The National Park Service Site is located a short walk from the Alaska Raptor Center. The park preserves the site of the battle between the Russian settlers and the native Tlingit people. The park was Federally protected back in 1890 and was the first federally preserved piece of land in Alaska.
Sitka was home to one of the first European settlements in Alaska being settled by Russian fur traders in 1799. In 1802, the native Tlingit destroyed the original settlement killing many of the settlers. In 1804 Russian forces returned and bombarded the Tlingit during a bloody battle that the Tlingit would have won had they not run out of gunpowder. Instead, they were forced to leave the fort under cover of darkness. The park sits on the site of this battle.
One of the highlights of the park is the mile-long Totem Trail. The park is even known to some as the Totem Park. 18 Tlingit and Haida totems can be found along the trail conveying ancestry, history, folklore, and memorials. There are three main types of totem poles: house posts, which were carved as support poles for a home; frontal poles, which were placed against or near the front of a home; and detached poles which were placed anywere in or near villages. The Yaadaas Crest pole (left) was re-carved in 1982 and the figures on the pole represent the lineage of the family that owned it. The village watchman sits on top to symbolize that the people are being watched over and protected.
The totem pole featured at the top of the page is the K’alyaan Pole which represents the Battle of Sitka. The figure on the bottom of the pole represents the raven helmet of the Tlingit warrior who led the battle. The rest of the pole depicts the clans of the raven moiety. The pole was carved in 1999 and stands on the site of the Kiks.adi fort.
There is much more to see in this 112-acre park than we had time to explore. So, like many of the places we have been lately, Sitka is on our list of places fo us to return.
Thanks for stopping by! To learn more about the Sitka Historic Park and the significance of its Totem Poles, visit NPS.gov. To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.
After our time at Fortress of the Bear, we headed to another wildlife rehabilitation center in Sitka, the Alaska Raptor Center. Where Fortress of the Bear takes in orphaned bear cubs, the Raptor Center focuses on rehabilitating birds of prey: eagles, owls, and falcons. Many of the birds in their care eventually are able to be released into the wild, but some have injuries that are too severe and they get to live out their lives in the center, educating guests about these magnificent creatures and the work of the raptor center.
We started our visit at a raptor talk where we met Owlison (left), a great horned owl, and Hannah, an avian care specialist. Owlison came to the Raptor Center with a fractured wrist bone and possibly some damage to her wing. Through Owlison’s rehabilitation, she is now capable of flight but not well enough to hunt on her own, so she is now a permanent resident at the Raptor Center.
After the raptor talk, we got to see the Flight Training Center where rehabilitated birds are able to practice flying from perch to perch as they would do in the wild. Rehabilitators watch the birds in the training center to determine if they are able to fly well enough to survive in the wild and be released. When we visited the birds weren’t very active but it was very good to see the steps the experts at the Raptor Center take to make sure the birds will be able to survive on their own once they are well enough to leave the center.
While many of the birds at the Raptor Center have sad stories, it is good to know they have a place to live out the rest of their lives (many of which are longer in captivity than if they were still hunting for themselves in the wild). Volta (right) has one of those sad stories. He was found electrocuted, most likely from stretching his wings between two power lines. His carocoid bone was fractured in his fall and without that, he is not able to take flight.
Thanks for stopping by! To read more about their raptors in residence, plan your visit, or donate to their cause, visit AlaskaRaptor.org. To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.