ALASKA: UNEXPECTED NATURAL BEAUTY
Cruise dates: July 29 through August 12, 2013
Staterooms: 8303 (first leg); 8210 & 8235 (second leg)
We have taken over cruises with NCL over the last 5 years. We like NCL because it is free-style which means we can leave suits and ties at home, and we can choose when, where and with whom we dine. It doesn't mean you can't bring formal attire; it means you don't have to bring it.
We booked back-to-back cruises from Vancouver to Alaska, and chose the itineraries mainly because of cost. And I'm glad we did. We had superb weather on the northbound cruise to Alaska with temperatures between 13'C and 29'C. We were able to get off the ship and roam around in very comfortable climates. The southbound cruise was somewhat cooler with some rain and mainly foggy days. Still, the weather is not something anyone can control so you get off the ship and make the best of the situation.
This was our first time on the Sun, and we were pleasantly surprised by it. Being an older ship, we expected to find something similar to the Star, but not so. The Sun is well-maintained ship and it sparkles. It is a clean ship - believe me, I've seen crew/staff working very hard to keep it clean and shiny.
On the first part of the cruise we had an interior stateroom. It was a large family stateroom with accommodations for 5, also there was ample room for the 2 of us. We had plenty of storage space, even though we have learned to bring very little in terms of clothing. The stateroom is really a place to sleep, shower and change clothes in addition to storing all the things you may have bought in port.
On the second part of the cruise, we had booked an oceanview stateroom, but 3 days into that cruise we were offered a balcony stateroom (because the guests did not show up), and, of course, we took it. Each stateroom we had was spacious, very comfortable and well appointed. We do not regret any of the stateroom assignments we had. The most important different between the oceanview and the balcony compared to the interior is the availability of natural light as this helps you have a good idea of time of day. Interior staterooms are dark and rely on artificial light, so you never hav an idea of sunlight and weather.
The northbound cruise sailed through the Inside Passage and ported at Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway. The sounthbound cruise ported at Icy Strait, Point, Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, returning to Vancouver through the Inside Passage. Each cruise brought us to see Hubbard Glacier. The northbound cruise brought us into Glacier Bay Natural Park while the second one brought us to Sawyer Glacier. Whittier was our turn-around port, a nice little village that you can see in 30 minutes. To me, though, the glaciers were the absolute highlight of the cruises.
Unfortunately, I did not get to see very much of Hubbard Glacier. On the northbound cruise, the event happened at around 6am, and I decided sleep was more important. I did manage to see some of it as we left, but not enough to make a lasting impression. During the same week, we were able to Marjorie Glacier at Glacier Bay National Park. I was up and fully awake for this one. It was magnificent, so large and so impressive. On the southbound cruise, we got to see Sawyer Glacier which even more impressive. For both glaciers, the Captain, his crew and the pilot navigated the ship in such a way as to give extraordinary vistas with each turn in the fjords. It was absolutely beyond words, and it has given me a new respect for all things involving our Planet and its natural state.
Ketchikan and Juneau were big surprises. I expected to see very small next-to-nothings towns or villages. Each is very thriving city with tourism as the main industry, but they have fishing and lumbering, too, along with various government functions especially for Juneau, Alaska's capital. Unfortunately, as you step off the ship and away from the pier, you are greeted by an array of shops that sell every souvenir possible, from T-shirts to caps, to jackets, and a wide variety of trinkets and decorations. You will also find jewellery shops of every sort, including Diamonds International, Tanzanite International, Colombian Emeralds and Dynasty Jewellers. At first I thought I was somewhere in the Caribbean, but the snow-capped mountains brought me back to reality.
Walking away from these streets, you get into the residential sector with its stores where the local people shop. This was more interesting for me because I like to see where and how residents live. Though I do buy limited but meaningful souvenirs, I prefer to learn what life is like wherever I go. Alaska was no different for me.
Skagway and Icy Strait Point were my favourite ports. In Skagway, as you leave the port area, you continue walking straight along onto to the main street. It is called Broadway Street, and it is lined similarly with all the same kinds of shops I mentioned earlier. The only difference is they do not face you ' you walk passed them ' so the affront is not so glaring. You get the feeling of the small Western towns you'd see in the movies. Here, by using your imagination, you can re-create the Klondike Gold Rush scenes of bustling streets, horse-drawn carriages and men and women in the clothes of that period. Leaving Broadway, you enter the residential area with its array of houses and other buildings, some of which are from 1897 or 1902.Though most seem authentic, I'm certain they have had renovation and refurbishment in the 100 years or so since they were built.
From Skagway, we took our one and only shore excursion. We opted for the White Pass Railway and Yukon Expedition. It was a 3-hour bus drive through Alaska into British Columbia then on into Yukon Territory for lunch. We saw some great landscape, learned about trees and perma-frost, snow and the force of the wind. Once in Yukon, we had lunch and visited the site. It was far too hot at 31'C, and many of the animals looked tired, hot, hungry and thirsty. There was a taxidermic museum of Yukon and Arctic animals. From there we were driven to the train station to take the narrow-gauge train back to Skagway. Being in the Yukon, a place I'D always wanted to go, and taking the train were the highlights of the day. The train ride took us along the Trail of (18)'98 and we heard the glorious stories of people who had come up north to stake their claims and profit from the gold rush. We also heard the tales of tragedy of those who didn't survive.
Icy Strait Point was the only port where we tendered. It is a small place and most of the buildings we saw were either museums or shops. These shops sold hand-crafted goods that represented the area so there was more of an Alaskan flavour than Caribbean in that was for sale. Icy Strait Pointis a rather isolated village with few inhabitants; the neighbouring town, Hoonah, was said to have more, but we didn't go.
We had a great cruise vacation. Much of that is owed to Brian Walters (Hotel Director), Leah Rodrigues (Concierge) and Paloma Pelaez (Cruise Consultant). We cannot forget our stateroom attendants: Madonna, Leonard and Ferdinand. We can neither forget all the great wait-staff who serve dos: Afifi, Ricky, Delcia, Mary-Anne, Ruth, Elvis, Archieval, I Made, and Rodelio. Thank you to each and every one for making our cruise as great a vacation as it could be.
Would I go back to Alaska? In a heartbeat!!