What happens when you take a white-knuckle flyer and stick her in a float plane, flying low over fields of jagged ice? That’s what I set out to find out on a Rhapsody of the Seas shore tour in Juneau. Alaska‘s most touted excursions tend to involve flightseeing — viewing Alaska’s natural wonders from a small, flying vessel like a helicopter, float plane or other very small aircraft. But because I’m a big wimp where aerial death traps — I mean, small planes — are concerned, I tend to miss out on the rave-worthy flights above glaciers and beautiful Alaskan forest.
So when the opportunity arose to take a float plane ride across five of Juneau’s glaciers to spend a few hours eating and exploring at the Taku Lodge, I was a bit shocked to find myself signing up. The idea of taking off and landing in the water was so intriguing — not to mention the mouth-watering promised lunch — that I decided to fight my fears and go.
Did I go through with it and not fling over the emergency door and jump out, bawling like a baby? Hell yeah. But I did it in wimp style. First, I talked to the nice folks at Wings Aviation, who run the trip, who told me all about their safety program and how Wings has gotten the Medallion seal for going above and beyond federally mandated safety regulations. I was a bit comforted that the company takes safety seriously. Plus, the woman on the phone assured me that as the plane’s route follows the Taku River, the plane had a safe landing spot at all times.
Day of, I met our pilot and asked where a nervous flyer should sit. “Are you too nervous to sit with me?” he asked, and suddenly I was elevated from scaredy cat to co-pilot. OK, I didn’t actually touch any of the plane’s controls, but it was cool sitting up front — next to a door for easy escape — where I could see that the pilot remained calm, no red warning lights started flashing and, oh yeah, I had excellent views. A safety speech and an inflatable life vest at the ready were also comforting…but what do you think is in the survival kit in the back of the plane?
I would definitely recommend the tour itself. The half-hour float plane ride took us over several glaciers, and the view of the ice fields from above is quite different from the sea-level view I’m used to. If you’ve never done it before, it’s neat taking off and landing in the river. The Taku Lodge, which is situated across from a glacier, serves up a fantastic meal of local salmon, cheese biscuits, baked beans, cole slaw and ginger cookies that has surpassed anything I’ve eaten onboard all week. One of the staff leads a quick walk in the woods, and if you’re lucky, you’ll spot a few black bears sneaking onto the grounds to check out the salmon grilling over alder wood. We didn’t see any…which given my wussy reputation was probably a good thing.
Wonder what the newly refurbed Rhapsody of the Seas is like? Get Erica’s first impressions here.
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