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Home > Member Reviews > grandmaR's Port Reviews of Ketchikan, Juneau, Icy Strait, Anchorage

grandmaR's Port Reviews of Ketchikan, Juneau, Icy Strait, Anchorage
Amsterdam cruise in May 2011
Member Name: grandmaR
Cruise Date: May 2011
Embarkation: Seattle
Destination: Alaska
Member Review: grandmaR's Amsterdam Review
Ketchikan
Port Rating: 5.0 out of 5+
Ketchikan - we took the duck at 8:30 and I am satisfied with that choice. The early duck was better as the later ones were crowded.

There was a plastic overlay with round portholes in it that we could open or close. But it was still very hard to take pictures as the holes were up above head level so I either had to hold the camera over my head, or stand up. It was a bright sunny day and was soon quite warm in the Duck. We could take off our coats that we had put on in anticipation of it being cold. We only had 11 passengers so we were able to spread out and even change seats. Our guide was Lily and she was really amusing. First we had a tour through town, looked at the salmon ladder, went by Dolly's House (whorehouse), Gas was only $3.959 - Lily said that was because they got it from Canada.

Then we went into the water, and motored out of the marina. We saw some bald eagles on the breakwater, but I didn't get a photo. When we got back to land, they had to clean the Duck off and they got some bull kelp out from the wheels and showed it to us.

We could also have taken the trolley and would have seen more of Creek Street (former red light district), and we could probably have bought a ticket for that on the docks too. All the docks seem to have people selling non-ship-excursion tours which I did not know before I went. I don't know if Bob would have done a float plane trip or not. I know I went on a sea plane from Key West to the Dry Tortugas, and he refused to go.



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Juneau
Port Rating: 4.0 out of 5+
Juneau - we had the Grand Tour of Juneau with the Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau Gardens and the salmon hatchery.

Just like in Ketchikan on the dock there were all kinds of booths for various tours - whale watching, zip lining, fishing, and glacier and city tours. As soon as the bus came, we got on - we were the first ones on and got the front seats. The driver gave us all a wrist band so we could get into the Mendenhall Glacier visitor's center.

The bus driver was a cute little girl named Camille. She told us about various points of interest in the town, including the capitol which she said was one of 11 without a dome. Of course, you can't drive to Juneau - they have roads but they don't go anywhere except in the area. You either have to come by boat or by air so a dome would have been too expensive to ship. She pointed out the governor's house, and it seems like every tour driver said that they saved money on the initials because the current governor's initials were also S.P. like Sara Palin's.

The weather was really good and we could see the range of mountains in the distance which are usually snow covered. We got to the Mendenhall Glacier, and had some time to go to the museum and walk around and take photos. They had an elevator and I took that and Bob walked up the steps. We could have walked out to the waterfall if we did it quickly, but neither of us tried it. At the visitor's center, we saw the film, and it explained that the glacier ice is blue because it is so dense that it absorbs all but the blue light spectrum.

After the glacier we went to Juneau Gardens, which had upside down trees - due to a landslide that blocked the road, all the debris and logs were pushed onto this property and the man (Steve) who owned the property conceived the idea of sticking the top down in the ground and using the roots that were in the air as a kind of planter. They took us on a tram ride up the hill and then we walked up to a platform to see out over the Juneau.

Then we went back to the garden center. There I saw that I could have had a wheelchair and not had to walk up the hill. They had a little cafe there and Bob and I got some chili (came out of a can and was heated up in the microwave) as we weren't getting back to the ship until afternoon. They also had a web cam of their eagles nest.

Next we went to the salmon hatchery and they explained how they raised salmon. They collect the eggs and milt and then raise the small salmon to a certain size and let them go out to the ocean and swim around for a couple of years and then they come back to the hatchery to spawn. They had a little aquarium there.

Camille was a wonderful guide and it was a good tour, but we probably would have been better to do the City, Glacier and Salmon Hatchery which was half the price and leave out the Gardens and gotten lunch somewhere else than the Garden Cafe.

Camille dropped us off at the Tramway which we had tickets for. After I had signed up for the tickets someone said that we shouldn't go in bad weather - fortunately we had really good weather. You can buy the tickets there on the dock - we wouldn't need to get them in advance.

We also did the Salmon Bake in the evening, and I did not think it was as good as the one I had in Seattle 20 years ago, but the salmon was good and they had very good cornbread.


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Icy Strait
Port Rating: 3.0 out of 5+
We took the Whale watching, but we saw whales everywhere and closer, so I might have opted for the Forest and Nature Tram at about 1/3rd the price. We didn't need tender tickets since we went early. The very hardest part of this excursion was going down the steps to the tender and climbing the ramp to the dock.

Since I don't have room to do Tracy Arm as it isn't a port I will say that I enjoyed it. I was out on the verandah and a hummingbird flashed by. We didn't get to the glacier which was a disappointment, and also I wished that we had gone to Glacier Bay



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Anchorage
Port Rating: 4.0 out of 5+
We did the train and I enjoyed it. The train was supposed to go up to Grandview but because of avalanche danger we only went to Whittier and had some money refunded. We had a very short bus ride out of the port (including passing Elmendorft AFB) to the Anchorage depot which is on the National Register of Historic Places where we picked up our box lunches and got on the train.

Our seats were on the left side and I felt that most wildlife sightings were on the right side. They saw moose and Beluga whales. We saw Dall sheep up high on a crag, and a bald eagle on a nest. But we stopped for the eagle, and all the people on the right got a chance to take photos, which we didn't get for the moose. It was difficult to take photos anyway because of the reflections in the windows, although the windows were clean.

We could go into the bumper section between the trains to take a picture if we wanted it to be without glass, and there was a food car which had a double decker area, but I didn't go up there.

They announced that they would sell a book for $5.00 which had a mile by mile list of what there was to see, but they didn't get to car C to sell it to us before we left at 10:00 am. They did give us a free brochure which had some information on it.

The weather was nice and sunny when we started out from Anchorage. As we left the city was passed (on the right side) and air strip which went between houses in a community. People had their planes parked by their houses.

We passed Potter Marsh which is officially called the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge. Apparently the city wanted to make it a dump, but the school kids saved it. We saw lots of ducks and geese but didn't get photos of them. We went past Beluga Point (where the whales were sighted in the river) and then arrived at Girdwood. I didn't see anything there so it must have been on the other side of the train.

We entered the Chugach National Forest which was where we saw the Dall sheep, and the track ran along Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet which has 40 foot tides. There is a bore tide every day. After that was Portage. I didn't see anything there either. The guides told us that during the 1964 Good Friday earthquake, this area registered 9.2 on the Richter scale - it shook for 12 minutes and dropped 12 feet.

We went through two fairly substantial tunnels and got to Whittier where it was cold and rainy. The guide said they got an average of 1.25 inches per day of rain and 20 feet of snow. They have tunnels between buildings.

We started eating lunch before we got there - it was a good lunch with a turkey sub, chips, and apple and a cookie. We did not get off in Whittier although we could have done.

The tunnels are also for car traffic and are one way so we had to wait to go back. We left Whittier going backwards (and the seats did not switch) and went back to Portage at which point we switched ends again and went forwards to Spencer to see the glacier there. The only way to get to this glacier is on this train. I did get some pictures. Then we went back to Portage (backwards), and got on buses to take us back to Anchorage.

Bob didn't care for the train. He would probably have liked the Anchorage highlights and Aviation Heritage Museum better.



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Sitka
Port Rating: 5+ out of 5+
Sitka - they charged us an additional $25.00 to go to the Raptor Center, but I was glad I went as I missed all the other rehab centers on the tours.

At the Raptor Center, we saw the flight cage where the birds that they are preparing to release are housed. We were not to use cell phones or flash because we were behind one way glass. It was hard to take photos because of the reflections on the glass from the sunlight in the flight cage.

Then we went into a demonstration room and saw a short video, and then they brought in an immature eagle to show us. This eagle was dropped off when she was about 2 months old. She was starving because she had a malformed beak and couldn't tear her food into small enough bites to eat. So she can never be released. I bought a shirt in the shop (an eagle with the caption "I AM smiling"). Bob meanwhile was walking around the outside cages where the birds that can't be released are kept. I went out and sat on a bench in the sun to wait for the bus to come back. I saw a truck come with a travel container (like a big cat carrier) and one of the workers said that they had gotten an eagle from Juneau.

The bus came back and delivered us to the docks where we boarded a catamaran with about 80 other people who had just signed up for the Sea Otter part of the tour. They would have had a chance to eat lunch before they came, which we did not. Bob had a couple of chocolate chip cookies that he saved from his box lunch in Anchorage so we each ate one of them.

The catamaran had a naturalist on board and he kept us entertained with narrative between sightings. It was cooler, so I put my coat back on. We saw humpback whales really really close, and I actually got some pictures of them. We also saw some sea otters, a bald eagle nest with two chicks in it, and even some starfish (which I didn't get any pictures of as my camera was too slow to focus). They served us a sample of smoked salmon, a scone and hot chocolate.

He brought us right back to the ship tender boarding area, which was good as we didn't have to go up the ramp from the excursion dock and down the ramp to the tender dock and then ride the last tender back to the ship. Also one tender wouldn't have held all of us. The last tender was waiting for us to leave the tender dock so it could unload the last group of people.

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Victoria
Port Rating: 4.0 out of 5+
I had been to Butchart Gardens previously and didn't think I wanted to do it again. My previous visit to Victoria was on Victoria Day and I tried to have tea at the Empress but it was too expensive. So that's what we did this time -

Tour of Victoria (I had only seen the area around the harbor before) and tea at the Empress.

The city tour was a pretty extensive tour but mostly of residential areas which somehow I didn't expect. We went to the top of Mt. Tolmie which according to the driver was not really on the tour. We stopped there, and then she drove really slowly over the top. She showed us some churches and a cathedral, and spent a lot of time describing the neighborhoods and how much homes there would cost.

Since we started the tour at about noon, we didn't get lunch. We made up for it at the Empress tea. They seated us at a table with four others. On the table were strawberries and whipped cream and cups for tea which the lady kept filled up. They put two big stands with three tiers at each end of the table. The bottom had sandwiches (and the lady told us which were which - I only remember that there was an egg salad croissant. There were no cucumber sandwiches though. The second tier was scones with jam and clotted cream, and the top layer had little cheesecakes and tarts and petit fours. Afterwards they

gave us a box with tea.

We did some more touring after the tea and got back a little before dinner.

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