Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park
I’m wrapping up the last few highlights of 2017 in the next couple weeks, and then hopefully embarking on some new things for the new year.
Over the summer, Lindsay and I embarked on an adventure neither of us had ever attempted, one that would take us far from Minneapolis and St. Paul and onto the waves of the Pacific Ocean. For our honeymoon, we went on an Alaskan Cruise.
During our trip to Madison, we’d come up with a nerdy little challenge for ourselves, a goal to visit every state capitol building over the course of our travels through the United States, so we reasoned a cruise would be a great way to visit Juneau. Basically, we planned the whole trip around this, though seeing the glaciers while they’re still here had been a longtime goal of Lindsay’s.
The cruise we opted for embarked from Seattle, and made four ports of call: Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan, Alaska, along with Victoria, British Columbia, and a day spent traversing the waters of Glacier Bay National Park. We would, in essence, be recreating a sea voyage to the Klondike Gold Rush.
It was an experience.
I think I will leave out the name of the cruise ship we embarked on in order to avoid offering any indictment or endorsement of any certain company, especially given that we soon learned that perhaps cruising may not be our favored mode of vacation.
Don’t get us wrong, it was an awesome trip, sailing the rainy, foggy bays, channels, and inlets of the Southeastern Alaskan panhandle, enjoying the majestic landscapes of the wilderness and the quirky towns cut off by road from the mainland. These were all amazing. We saw humpback whales, orcas, sea otters, harbor seals, and, way off in the distance, grizzly bears. And of course, lots of salmon. The ship itself, though, felt a little confining.
Fog on Glacier Bay
In all, it felt like a rather limiting way to travel, having no control over our arrival in port and being forced to curb our explorations to the hours ashore allotted to us. On the one hand, on some stops we had to cram everything we wanted to do into a few awkwardly timed hours, where others we had more than enough time to wander aimlessly. The guided excursions set aside at each port seemed overly expensive and restrictive, and for the most part, we explored on our own once we were able to escape the ship. Most of the trip seemed to consist of relaxing on board with a book, trying to fight off seasickness and the crowds, availing ourselves of our free drinks, though unlimited booze and the wind and waves did not always go well together.
We didn’t really feel like we fit in with the typical cruise crowd and it was hard to find a quiet place to hang out outside of our cabins, though we did find a few cozy spots hidden away at the top or bottom of the fourteen level ship. We may have been antisocial, but it turned out for the best.
Having not much to discuss with other passengers but, apparently, as one fellow passenger waiting in line attempted to engage with us, our assumed shared love of Trump. Incredulously, I could only deny this, prompting more attempts to engage in conversation. What a horrible way to make small talk! I can only assume the camo hatted gentleman in question was mocking us, but it was disturbing to say the least.
In spite of the feeling of being cooped up a bit too much, though, we had a lot of fun times. Here are some of our recommended stops during the trip.
Enjoying a few beers at Cloudburst Brewing
Seattle was a great place to begin our excursion, especially as we got to hang out with my old friend Aaron, who moved there a couple years ago. One of my favorite places to visit, I had not been in town since 2014, so took full advantage of our time there. On Aaron’s suggestion, we had some great wood oven fired pizza and local beers at the Masonry, in the Queen Anne neighborhood north of downtown. We had a couple more great beers at Cloudburst Brewing and then walked down to Pike Place Market to enjoy cocktails at the Zig Zag Cafe, the popularizer of one of favorite cocktails, the Last Word.
The next morning, we boarded our ship and watched the Seattle skyline recede as we sailed up Puget Sound northwards.
Checking out the Alaska State Capitol Building
Juneau was our first port of call, and we sailed into the harbor on a foggy, rainy day, not an unusual experience in a southeastern Alaskan summer. Juneau, the reason we went on this particular cruise route, definitely did not disappointment, even with the limited hours we got to explore it. We managed to squeeze a lot in here! Perched on a channel, the town huddles in between the water and the mountains, the quaint streets bustling with shops. Not unlike the other ports of call, the area close to the docks is dominated by jewelry shops, places to buy fudge, and other venues catering to cruise tourists. Of course, you can’t bring any food items back on board with you, so best eat them fast!
Only accessible via sea or air, Juneau is the most isolated state capital (aside from Honolulu), and it still seems to have kind of an off the beaten path feeling. We walked up the hill to tour the Alaska State Capitol building, a six story art deco building constructed as a federal office in the 1930s, before statehood. Very few people were around, so we wandered the legislative chambers on our own, examining the decorations.
View of Juneau from Mount Roberts
When we left the capitol building, it was less rainy out, so we took the touristy Mount Roberts Tramway, an aerial tram that conveys visitors up the side of Mount Roberts for great views and hiking, through lush rainforests and alpine tundra. Definitely one of the trips highlights. Upon returning to sea level, we enjoyed some lovely cocktails at Amalga Distillery.
Arctic Brotherhood Hall in Skagway, Alaska
The next port was Skagway, a well preserved, 1890s boom town that served as the gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush in Canada’s Yukon Territory, where thousands hoped to strike it rich only to lose it all. Many historical buildings are preserved here, as much of the town is a national historic park. We arrived for the nicest weather of our trip, sunny skies and relatively balmy temperatures with only a few minutes of rain all day. We spent hours wandering from the Union, surviving brothel buildings, bars, general stores, and other places prospective miners would prepare for the crushing journey inland to the Klondike gold fields.
The Coast Range as viewed from the White Pass and Yukon Route
Here, we took our one excursion of the trip, a ride on the White Pass and Yukon Route narrow-gauge railroad up into the mountains into British Columbia, where prospective miners had to lug a full year of supplies to get through customs, leaving thousands of dead horses behind. It was a fun trek away from the ocean for a few hours.
Back at sea, we took a leisurely voyage through the grandeur of Glacial Bay National Monument (described earlier in this essay), even more majestic cloaked in rain, mist, and foggy conditions, before rocking and bobbing into our next destination, Ketchikan.
Ketchikan Creek, Ketchikan, Alaska
In the port of Ketchikan, a fishing town also isolated from the mainland, we braved pouring rain to explore the quirky, waterlogged streets and forest paths. We walked above the rushing torrent of Ketchikan Creek on the boardwalk of Creek Street, through the fringes of the Tongass National Forest to the Totem Heritage Center.
Lindsay returns to the Miniature Museum in Victoria, British Columbia
Our last stop was Victoria, British Columbia, where we wish we had more time. It did happen to be the first time Lindsay and I were out of the country together. We just had an evening there, making a whirlwind tour of the Royal British Columbia Museum, which had some really cool recreations of historic Victoria streets as well as an exhaustive collection of indigenous culture. Another highlight was the wonderfully kitschy Miniature World, the type of weird little place that I love to track down. Lindsay had wonderful memories from her visit as a child, so it was very cool to experience it with her as an adult for the first time. Packed full of tiny dioramas featuring scenes from history, fantasy, and the future (as depicted by mid 20th century toy sized models). This is a piece of Canadiana I was happy not to have missed, and it was nice it was open later in the evening for our visit. Boarding the boat for the last time, we began heading back to the start of the trip.
After we arrived back in Seattle, we were kind of glad to back on dry ground for awhile, and returned to the daily grind of our lives in Minnesota. Just forty seven state capitals left to go!