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Home > Member Reviews > Gawker's Port Reviews of Seattle, Ketchikan, Juneau, Icy Strait, Anchorage, Sitka

Gawker's Port Reviews of Seattle, Ketchikan, Juneau, Icy Strait, Anchorage, Sitka
Amsterdam cruise in May 2011
Member Name: Gawker
Cruise Date: May 2011
Embarkation: Seattle
Destination: Alaska
Member Review: Gawker's Amsterdam Review
Seattle
Port Rating: 5+ out of 5+
Fell in love with Seattle, pure and simple. If I was 25 again I would move there. Loved the light rail, walked almost everywhere. The numbered streets are pretty level & easy walking, the streets that run down to the waterfront are steep and sometimes are just stairs. My legs hurt after a day of walking here, but hey - gave me guilt-free desserts. We went to the EMP, fun if you are a rock music fan like my husband. Lots of interactive exhibits.The sci-fi museum was disappointing, only one exhibit was open (Battle Star Galactica) but the coming up Avatar exhibit sounds like it will be awesome. The desk person gave us a coupon for 2 for 1 admission, so that was nice. 90 minutes was enough time for both museums. Looked at the Space Needle, did not go up. Weather was perfect the two precruise days, 62 F and sunny. Walked to Pier 54 from the Seattle Center, with a stop at Pier 66 Anthony's for a cup of coffee and sit on the deck. Watched the boats in the marina and people walking by. Met our friends at Ivar's Acres of Clams, they set up a table for all 11 of us next to a window. Excellent service, excellent food. I told the waitress they should have a chowder tasters platter on the menu, so she brought me sample 1/2 cups of all 4 chowders at no charge. All so good! I liked the original recipe the best, though. Excellent Dungeness crab cakes and strawberry shortcake for dessert. This was $19.38 on the early menu, get there before 5:30. Took a cab back to the hotel (Sheraton) those steep hills looked a lot steeper after two glasses of wine. The Sheraton is a very nice, upscale hotel. Original Chihuly in the lobby, excellent location. Next morning up early & go to Pikes' Market, 6 blocks from hotel. Walk via Union St., relatively level to market. Pass by the Gum Wall - really fun to see. Piles Market was good, saw the fish tossing, lots of craft type booths. Best parts were the fish and sea food displays and THE FLOWERS OMG. Bought a huge bouquet of tulips and spring blossoms for $15 to take to my stateroom. Enjoyed them for a week. Two weeks later, spent another day in Seattle after disembarkation. DH and a couple guys went to the Museum of Flight, they enjoyed it a lot esp. going through the old Air Force One. Three of us girlfolk went shopping. We started at Nordstrum, they are having a semi-annual sale on women's but I do not find anything I like well enough to spend $300 on. We go to Nordstrum Rack, very disappointed in the quality. Cheap Chinese made shoes they want $40-60 for, torn sweaters 'marked down' to $70. Forget it. We end up back at Pikes market and admire the flowers again. Decide on an early lunch at Lowell's, we get a great table next to the window on the second floor and have excellent food and service. One friend continues to shop, she ends the day not buying anything. The other friend and I go to the Art Museum and spend an hour gasping at the native art special exhibit. Stunning, really special. The gift store is very nice, we bought a couple of things there. Everyone meets at the Aquarium down on the waterfront, downhill 3 blocks from the Art Museum. Very highly recommend this Aquarium, especially if you have kids or just love Aquariums like I do. I could have spent all day there, but 2 hours will be enough for most people. The coral is amazing, extensive touch tanks, even some seals and otters. We sat in a coffee shop for a while - this IS Seattle, after all - and had some laughs with a couple of local ladies. We walked up to catch the light rail to the airport where our hotel for the night is, stopping along the way for dinner at The Bistro at 2nd & Cherry. We have very good burgers and beer, reasonably priced (for downtown Seattle)and very clean place. Around the corner is the entrance to the Tunnel, where all the buses and light rail are. We buy tickets to the airport - $2.50 ea. Very impressed with the light rail, clean and efficient. The station, however, is infested with zombies. Some local college kids are setting up a flash mob of zombies at the airport. Very amusing! We talk with them, take pics, enjoy their zombie antics for the 25 minute trip to the airport. At the airport stop, the zombies go off to join about 200 of their undead fellows to storm the Hilton. We call for the shuttle from the SleepInn Seatac to pick us up. The shuttle is there in a few minutes, takes us to the hotel. The room is very clean and the staff are helpful and friendly. We sign up for a shuttle to the airport at 4 am the next morning. We wanted the 5:30, but it was already full. Note: reserve places in the shuttle as soon as you can. They leave every 30 minutes.



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Ketchikan
Port Rating: 5.0 out of 5+
Weather today, May 15: High of 67 F and not a cloud in the sky. Beautiful day. DH goes fishing for salmon on a ship excursion. It's the beginning of the King Salmon run. There are no salmon in his future, though. Only one person caught a small silver salmon on his 6 person boat, and he threw it back. Oh well, says DH, that's why they call it fishing, not catching, and it was a beautiful day to be out on the water. I take the ship excursion to Totem Bight with a friend, we enjoy the trip and the guide is entertaining and has great stories. The Totem Poles are amazing. Some other friends went on the Misty Fiords floatplane trip and loved it. I meet DH back on the ship at noon, we go back out to walk around town. Ketchikan is very walkable, you can get a walking tour map at the dock that will direct you all over town in about 2 hours. We get the map but end up wandering in our usual way. :) We buy some souvenirs, our best find was polar fleece vests made in the USA for $4 ! Must have been a mismark, but we each got one. Prices here were better overall than any of the other ports for all the usual souvenir stuff. We walked up to Creek street, more shops and go to Dolly's House. Dolly's was a bordello until Alaska became a state in 1953 and it was no longer legal. That was fun & worth the $5. Esp. appreciated the framed original application to work there. ;) We found one store, opposite the museum, that sold original Native Tlinget crafts. Amazing artistry, pricey but we are talking quality here. We have a nice long chat with the proprietor, an elderly Tlingit man who does counted cross stitch, about some of the artists and how they carve walrus tusk and moose antlers.


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Juneau
Port Rating: 5.0 out of 5+
Weather: May 17 Beautiful day, high of 58 F and partly cloudy. This was one of our favorite ports, due in large part to taking the whale watching expedition with Harv & Marv. We had their large boat reserved for our group of 11. Our driver, Kyle, picked us up at the dock as soon as we got off the ship at 9 am. He gives us a tour of Juneau as he drives us to where our boat is waiting at Statter Harbor. There's only on real street in Juneau, the locals just call it 'the road.' We go out with Captain Shawn and Jaynelle, a high school senior. Both are very good, friendly, cheerful, informative. The boat is very comfortable, built for whale watching, a real beauty. Almost right away we find a pod of orcas. Shawn says they only see orcas once out of ten outings, they just pass through and it's pure luck to catch a glimpse. This is the first orcas they've seen this year. There's about 15, including babies. We watch them play for 45 minutes or so, then they move on. We also saw about 6 or 8 humpback whales at different times.At one point Shawn turned the engine off, we are just drifting and watching the plumes, when two humpbacks come straight at us. Shawn says, they know we're here, as he stamps his feet on the deck and talks really loudly. They stop about 30 feet away and dive, two tails like synchronized swimmers. Magic. On the way back, Shawn takes us to a buoy that has a couple of sea lions hanging out, with Herbert Glacier in the background. Back to port where driver Kyle takes us to the Mendenhall Glacier. He gives us a full 30 minutes to enjoy the view. We could have stayed there and walked to the glacier, and taken the shuttle back to port, but we decided to skip the 2 hour roundtrip walk. Kyle drives us back to the pier.We were very very happy with this outing, probably the best excursion of the entire cruise. After a quick bite at the Lido and dropping off some equipment,we went back on shore and shop. Shops are the usual diamond stores, the shopping area is pretty compact. I bought a small, simple jade pendant at The Jade Store for $10, put it with a free whale tail pendent from one of the diamond stores, and get compliments on it the rest of the trip. Now everyone knows my secret bargain!



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Icy Strait
Port Rating: 5.0 out of 5+
Weather: Overcast, high of @43F. May 18 First, I need to say that I enjoyed this port a lot more than I thought I would. I thought it would be cheesy, a made for the cruise trade destination, fleecing tourists our specialty. Well, it is a made for the cruise trade port but I was wrong about everything else. We are tendered onto an old cannery dock. The old cannery has been turned into a museum/gift stores/couple of restaurants. The gift stores have some of the usual fleece jackets and tshirts, but there also is handmade beaded jewelry, handmade herbal salves, and what won my heart a whole room of things the local school kids make, like stationary and bookmarks, and sell to support school activities. Homemade soaps and salves are $3 - $5 each. The local Tlingit village, Hoonah, population about 850, borrowed money and set up the port. They are proud that they paid off the loans a few years ago so now the entire place is owned by the village, which is incorporated. Everyone who works there lives there, they do not allow any of the diamond stores or chains. Our ship excursion (all excursions are through the ship) is an ATV ride through the rainforest. Our leader is Thomas, a Tlingit who was a commercial fisherman for 21 years. He tells lots of bear stories, describes the diet of a native hunter/fisherman which he follows. He says, there was no cancer or diabetes among his people until the Europeans brought processed food. We travel several miles along well-maintained gravel roads, stopping several times to admire the scenery and hear more stories. The ATVs are brand new, everything in this port is clean, organized, and everyone is very friendly. They are just as eager to help us understand their culture and way of life as they are to sell us something. I buy a pair of earrings, beads that look like forget-me-nots, for my daughter because I see the little blue flowers blooming everywhere. Only $10. The lady selling them to me anxiously tells me she didn't make them herself, her mother made them, is that ok? That's fine by me.



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Anchorage
Port Rating: 4.0 out of 5+
Weather: sunny and 52 F in town, raining and 42 F outside of town. May 20 We decide to take the Glacier Discovery train excursion because I really wanted to see the famous Turnagain Arm scenery and neither of us wanted to drive. The originally planned 10 hour trip was shortened by 3 hours ($30 pp refund) because of a threat of avalanche. Turned out for the best, a 7 hour train ride was too long as it was. Turnagain arm is lovely, scenery is great but we were really hoping for wildlife. We saw only a couple of sheep and one eagle in the distance, and get a glimpse of the back end of a moose. The guides are high school kids, nice kids but not very knowledgeable. They keep telling us to look for Beluga whales, then I find out later the Belugas don't come until August. Twice the train stops, in Portage and in Spencer, then backs out the way it came. This is the regular Alaska Rail commuter train. There is an observation car but there is an extra charge to sit there, which we did not know about and could not buy onboard.The second time we are in Portage ( the train turns around and retraces it's route) we get taken off the train and put onto buses for the last 90 minutes. We go back over the same route the train had taken. I would not recommend this excursion. DH and I get off the bus in downtown Anchorage and decide to go to the Alaska State Museum. We spend a pleasant hour and a half at their excellent exhibit of older native artifacts from the Smithsonian, we also enjoy some very interesting modern pieces that reinterpret the old styles. We walk the 3 or 4 blocks to where the Holland shuttle will pick us up and take us back to the ship. Anchorage is clean, lots of cheap gift shops, places to eat. Not really a tourist town. I think if we had not chosen to use most of our day on the train we would have liked it better.



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Sitka
Port Rating: 5.0 out of 5+
Weather: 60 F and sunny. May 24 This is the most beautiful port yet, and that's saying something. The harbor is very protected, many small islands and the extinct volcano Mt. Edgecombe providing spectacular views anywhere you look. We go on the Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest, through the ship but run by Allen Tours. This is a tender port but the Allen boat picks us up directly from the ship , a nice convenience. We tool around the bay & out into open water for a bit as the day is so nice for about 2 1/2 hours. We see dozens of sea otters, males and females separate in groups called rafts. Some of the females have babies on their bellies. We see a group of harbor seals sunning themselves on rocks, and we also see a nesting pair of bald eagles. We spend the last hour chasing after a couple of humpback whales. Several good sightings, nice dives with tails etc. Not as good as Juneau but nice to see whales again, and very nice for the folks on board who did not go whale watching elsewhere. No puffins or dolphins. Well run excursion, they give us a great snack of smoked salmon. We spend the afternoon walking around Sitka, very pretty town and easy to walk everywhere. We visit the St. Michaels Russian Orthodox Church, very simple structure with beautiful paintings and icons. We stop at the Red Hot Reindeer Sausage Stand and pay $6.50 for a 1/4 lb. reindeer polish dog, inc. chips and a soda. Great lunch, we sit on the plastic chairs and soak up the sunshine. The dogs are very good, the couple running the stand are a project manager and physician's assistant who work at the local hospital but take their combined lunch hours to run this stand. After lunch, we go to see the Shelden Jackson Museum. This is not to be missed. It is an amazing collection of very beautiful native artifacts mostly from the 1880 - 1910 era. The gift store is small but very nice. I stroked a pillow of sea otter fur, it is absolutely the softest thing I have ever touched. I left it at the museum for someone else, not having budgeted $350 for a small pillow. We walked back to the tender dock, shopping a little as we went, and wishing we had more time in Sitka.



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Victoria
Port Rating: 5.0 out of 5+
Weather: 62 F, occasional light showers. May 26

We took the ship excursion Short City Tour and Butchart Gardens. Tour was ok, nice town. The Gardens were breathtaking, awesome, gorgeous, insert superlative here.

There were brief light showers once or twice, but the Gardens have bins of umbrellas all over the place, you just get one when you want it and put it back in a bin when you're done. Very convenient. There are 4 major gardens, and each is completely different. We spent only 2 hours there, we could have spent the whole day. One of our traveling companions is a Master Gardener and has been to lots of public gardens, and kept saying she had never seen anything as lovely. She just walked around in a daze with a goofy grin on her face. I would love to live close enough to go here every couple of weeks to see how it changes. While we were there, it was like a dream of springtime, tulips by the hundreds, blossoming trees, petunias, flowers I have never seen before. And everything perfectly kept. Back to downtown, I drag DH to the Miniatures Museum behind the Empress Hotel for an hour while the rest of our party shops. I enjoyed it, over 80 exhibits from a circus to a working sawmill to the Battle of the Bulge. I could have stayed longer, but an hour is about the right length of time for most people I think. Victoria is very clean, we felt perfectly safe wandering all over. It is a very expensive town, we felt we found a bargain with a $15 hamburger. After wandering around downtown, we walked back to the ship at a leisurely pace through residential neighborhoods. Took about 40 minutes. Except for the Gardens, not a lot to do here except for a couple of tourist traps like Miniature World. But the Gardens are worth the stop all on their own.

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