An Empty Nester Alaskan Adventure | Where to Go & What to Do

Empty Nest Blessed by Suzy Mighell

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If you’re looking for an empty nester getaway that will have you marveling at the beauty before you, an Alaskan adventure is ideal. This summer, Bob and I took a 10-day cruise in Alaska. The majestic scenery in Alaska left us nearly speechless.  (And that’s sayin’ something for this girl!) Today I’m sharing the details of our trip, including our cruise ship, our itinerary and ports of call, and what we did in each place.

Why a Cruise?

Since Alaska has such rugged terrain, and there is so much beauty to behold on the coast, a cruise is an ideal way to see this state. Bob and I love a cruise because we can unpack once, we have a home base that is lovely, and we can have breakfast in bed every morning if we want! It’s the way we’ve chosen to see the world. (More on cruising in general in an upcoming post.) We booked our cruise through our favorite, oh-so knowledgeable travel agent, Tom Pecena of Ahoy Cruises. Bob and I are kind of high-strung and anxious travelers, and Tom’s attention to detail and patience with our endless questions never ceases to amaze us. (He even called the day before we left to see if we had packing questions! We did.) Although several cruise lines go to Alaska at various times of the year, we chose to sail on Oceania Cruises Regatta. It’s a smaller ship (824 passengers max), which is ideal for seeing ports and coastline that the bigger ships cannot access.  We’ve sailed with Oceania before, and we like that line. Also, we didn’t want a lot of kids on our cruise, and we liked the itinerary:

Seattle, WA (Embarkation)
At Sea – Cruising the Seymour Narrows (Only the smaller ships can do this, and the scenery was unbelievable.)
Ketchikan, AK
Juneau, AK
Haines, AK
At Sea – Cruising the Hubbard Glacier (The smaller ships can get closer to the glacier.)
Icy Strait Point (Hoonah), AK
Sitka, AK
At Sea – Cruising the Outside Passage
Victoria, BC, Canada
Seattle, WA

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Seattle, WA

Bob and I headed to Seattle about two days before we sailed off on our Alaskan Adventure because we wanted to catch the top sights in this quirky seaside city.

 

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The Space Needle is a must-see in Seattle.
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In Seattle, be sure to hit Pikes Place Market for great food and gorgeous views.
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We loved shopping at the Amazon Go store, where no checkout is required!

 

Besides the typical Seattle tourist spots like the Space Needle and Pike Place Market, the Amazon HQ  (you can take guided tours!) and the Amazon GO store are fun destinations. The city is easily walkable, and there’s a monorail that runs between the Space Needle and downtown’s Westlake Center Mall. My friend, Suzanne Stavert, writes the excellent travel blog, Adventures of Empty Nesters, and her recommendations about what to do and where to eat were extremely helpful. (Bookmark her site!)

Seymour Narrows

The Seymour Narrows is a 3.1 mile long narrow channel that lies between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia. It is known for its swift-moving currents. Cruise ships have to onboard a specialized Canadian pilot to navigate the challenging waterway. The views from either side of the boat were amazing.

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Burberry Check Cotton Shirt | Essential Black Slim Pants | Red Suede Ballet Flat

Ketchikan

Ketchikan’s history dates back to 1883 when a man named Snow built a salmon saltery. In 1900, with the fishing trade flourishing, Ketchikan had a population of 800 and was officially incorporated. It’s built along a steep hillside, with sections of the town built right over the water on pilings. Today, it’s a town of 14,500 people largely known for an outstanding collection of totem poles and native art. Sadly, in the summer the waterfront is dominated by touristy jewelry stores that cruisers typically associate with the Caribbean. Bob and I opted for a kayaking excursion that got us out of the city and onto the water.

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Looking chic in my life vest and bib! (The bib is the blue drawstring thingy around my waist that kept me from getting soaked in our kayak.)

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We got up close and personal views of harbor seals, sea otters, and bald eagles. (And we didn’t tip over, despite my poor paddling technique!)

Juneau

Juneau, reachable only by boat or seaplane, is the capital of Alaska. It sits in the Gastineau Channel, and like many of Alaska’s coastal municipalities, it began as a fishing village. Gold prospectors reached the area in 1880, and it became a gold mining center, with production peaking in 1915. It sits at the base of 3,819-ft Mount Roberts, and today, a tram carries visitors 1,800 feet up Mount Roberts to an alpine area with hiking trails, wildflowers, and views of the Channel. Sadly, it’s main street area has also become a hub for touristy shops that cater to the cruise lines. (Tourism is the largest private-sector employer in Juneau.)

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I shot the photo of our cruise ship that you saw earlier in this post from the window of this tram!

If you’ve been hanging out here for a while now, you may remember a post from back in April called Fit After Fifty (Five Tips to Keep You Strong & Healthy). In it, I talked about the strenuous hiking excursion that Bob and I had signed up for on our cruise. We were already worried about it back then! I’m here to tell you, it was one of the most strenuous things I’ve ever done, but thanks to many, many sets of squats and lunges that we forced ourselves to do the past few months, we made it through the hike! We hiked the 4-mile West Glacier Trail that runs along the West side of the Mendenhall Glacier.

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This view kept us motivated to keep climbing! This is 3/4 of the way up.
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We made it!

One thing I learned on our trip is that there are multiple types of glaciers. Valley glaciers (like the Mendenhall Glacier) originate from mountain glaciers or icefields, these glaciers spill down valleys, looking much like giant tongues. They may be very long, flowing down beyond the snow line, and sometimes reaching sea level. The Hubbard glacier, which we saw later on our trip, is called a tidewater glacier.

Haines

The Klondike Gold Rush of 1898-1899 changed this once-native Alaskan Tlingit outpost greatly. After the gold rush, four fish canneries were constructed, which thrived for a short time. However, the completion of the railway line in neighboring Skagway that same year led to the city’s eventual economic decline. Today, tourism is an important source of income. Unlike Ketchikan and Juneau, however, this community hasn’t let in the touristy jewelry and souvenir shops, choosing instead to provide activities to the tourists which center around nature.

In a brilliant planning move, somehow Bob and I also signed up for another hiking excursion in this port! Luckily it was only 2.5 miles, and the terrain was much easier to navigate. (Also we’d slept about 10 hours the night before and had several cappuccinos that morning! 🙂

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Monogrammed New England Rain Jacket | Long Sleeve Red TeeBlack Classic Rise Slim Jeans | Wool Hiking Socks (a must-have to keep you blister-free!) | Waterproof Trail Walking Shoes | Sunglasses

The majestic scenery of Haines comes from the glacier terrain that formed the area many years ago. Haines is surrounded by mountains and water. Our cruise ship sailed into town on the Lynn Canal, North America’s longest and deepest fjord. It was spectacular. Haines is a part of the lush coastal rainforest that makes up much of southeastern Alaska’s coastline. We hiked into the Chilkat State Park, and we fell in love with its craggy coastline and black lava and granite beaches.

Hubbard Glacier

After two straight days of hiking, we were thrilled to have a day at sea. And what a day it was!

The magnificent Hubbard Glacier flows over 75 miles and has a 6-mile wide face! This glacier near Yakutat is the longest tidewater glacier in North America, and it is actively advancing! If you saw my Instagram post from the Hubbard Glacier, you know that it the majesty of it brought me to tears. It is truly one of the most spectacular sites on earth, and I feel so blessed to have seen it in person. 

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Ever wondered why glaciers appear blue? It’s because the dense ice of the glacier absorbs every other color of the spectrum except blue – so blue is what we see!

Icy Strait Point (Hoonah)

Hoonah, Alaska is a charming little village still fully under the control of the native Tlingit people. It is America’s only private cruise ship destination, allowing only one ship to dock per day. The waters off Icy Strait Point are an idyllic setting for humpback whales. While we were there, Orcas were also sharing the waterway. We took a whale watching excursion, and seeing those beautiful creatures up close was an amazing experience.

 

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Mama & baby Orca.
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A pair of humpback whales come to the surface.

Incidentally, Hoonah is also home to the world’s largest zip line. With a length of 5495 feet and a vertical drop of 1320 feet, the ZipRider reaches top speeds of 65 mph. We didn’t do it, but several of the friends we met on board the ship loved it.

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Yoo-Hoo, Hoonah!

Monogrammed Sherpa Pullover Tunic | Black Classic Rise Slim JeansWaterproof Trail Walking Shoes | Sunglasses

Sitka

In 1867, the United States purchased Alaska from the Russians for $7.2 million. Sitka is probably best known for being the city where the transfer ceremony occurred. Today, the Sitka community is a blend of native Alaskan Tlingit, Russian, and American. Sitka is one of the world’s best place to view wildlife! The surrounding waters provide food for many species of whale, sea otters, sea lions, and other marine wildlife. When Bob and I are on vacation, we try to get out of our comfort zone and push ourselves to do things that we wouldn’t normally do. In Sitka, we decided to go on a 4×4 nature safari! I’ll be honest. We didn’t see much nature, but we had a blast driving the 4×4!

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Monogrammed New England Rain Jacket | 1/2-zip pink pullover (similar) | jeans (similar) | Waterproof Trail Walking Shoes

Outside Passage

We headed back toward Seattle using the outside passage and loved having a day at sea to rest, pack, and enjoy all of our shipboard friends!

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One of the coolest things that happened on our Alaskan Adventure actually happened on board our ship! We made friends with the Cruise Director, and she invited us to dine at her table one night along with the ship’s celebrity guest lecturer — Hall of Fame Sportscaster Verne Lundquist, along with his wife, Nancy. He told story after story, and we loved getting to know them as a couple! (Bob was in heaven!)

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Bob’s FrenchBlue Sport Coat (in the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale!) | Bob’s Blue Dress Shirt (also in the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale) | Bob’s Khakis (also in the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale) |
Suzy’s Black Shift Dress | Suzy’s Black Open Front Bolero (only $34 and comes in 5 colors)

 

Victoria, BC

Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia. It’s located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island off Canada’s Pacific Coast. It’s a popular tourist destination, with attractions like the stunning Butchart Gardens and the Empress Hotel. We opted to take a picturesque walk into downtown along the Inner Harbor waterfront, and then we stopped at the Empress Hotel and checked out the lobby and the grounds. Along the way, we were captivated by the floating home village at Fisherman’s Wharf – a colorful group of homes that sit right on the water.

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White Utility Slim Jeans (similar) | White Tee (similar) | Monogrammed Pink Tunic Sweatshirt | Sunglasses 

Bob and I are usually beach peeps, so heading to Alaska was a different kind of vacation for us. We loved it! The scenery rendered us speechless more than once, and as Christians, we loved seeing the majesty of the Creator made manifest in His creation. I shared with you all that I committed to focus on my husband and our relationship during our trip, and disengaging was such a sweet treat for both of us. It was a gift we gave ourselves and our marriage! People think that because empty nesters don’t have kids at home, they spend a lot of time alone focusing on their relationship, but we’ve found that this isn’t necessarily true. Committing to get away and intentionally focusing on our marriage was the best anniversary gift we could give to each other.

And guess what? While we were on our Alaskan Adventure, we booked our anniversary cruise for next summer! Since you all know how crazy I am about Mamma Mia, you can probably guess where we’re going…Greece!!!

Have you been to Alaska? What did you love about it? I’d love to know, so leave me a comment, okay? (Especially let me know if the Hubbard Glacier made you cry!)

Blessings,

 

 

SHOP MY ALASKA LOOKS

 

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12 Comments

  1. Absolutely spectacular photos. We certainly live in an amazing
    country. I think sometimes we get so bogged down with all of the negativity that we neglect yonder all of the magnificence & loveliness that God has given to us. Thanks for sharing all of the travel points and tips. Alaska has been our “to go” list forever. This was incredibly helpful and inspiring. Be blessed and be a blessing!!

    1. Rochelle,
      Thank you so much for your precious comment! You are so right that we can get bogged down by the world and its craziness sometimes. Alaska really helped me to pull back and gain perspective! I do hope you’ll consider a trip there! I think you’d love it. Thanks for reading Empty Nest Blessed and taking the time to leave a comment. xoxo Suzy

  2. Hi Suzy,
    Not sure if you had time in Seattle to go to tour the original (old) Seattle. So very interesting on the beginnings of the city which were situated at sea level.
    I’m not a cruising fan, but love your story of cruising on a smaller line. Saving this Alaska trip for my bucket list.
    Thanks!!!
    Nancy <3

    1. Nancy,
      We didn’t have time to go to “old” Seattle but I bet it’s fascinating! We certainly wished we’d had a few more days there. It’s an eclectic city, for sure! I think you’d love Alaska, but you should know that the smaller ships do experience more movement than the larger ones. Nobody is worse about motion sickness than I am, but these homeopathic patches (http://bit.ly/2KQoFXq) really worked for me and I used the sea bands on my wrists when the motion picked up. (It was usually at night and we were so exhausted we slept right through it!) Thanks so much for your comment! xoxo Suzy

  3. Great travel post! Alaska is definitely on our list. Have you been to Butchart Gardens? If not, you must go the next time you are near it!

    1. Debra,
      We almost went to Buchart Gardens but then we became convicted by the fact that we even haven’t been to the Dallas Arboretum in years and it’s right in our own city (!), so we opted to do other things! I think you’d love Alaska! Thanks so much for your comment and I’m so glad you liked the post! xoxo Suzy

  4. We have done Alaska 3 times once with Holland America and twice with Princess. Two were land and sea adventures and the last just the cruise. Our last cruise was for our 50th anniversary and we took all four of our children and their spouses with us. It was a wonderful way to celebrate and spend some real quality family time. I enjoy your blog and your insta!

    1. Bonna,
      Wow! You are a veteran Alaska cruiser! Thank you so much for your kind words about Empty Nest Blessed and about my Instagram! You are so sweet. I think a cruise is a GREAT multi-generational trip! When our kids were younger, my parents took all of the kids and grandkids on a Disney cruise in the Caribbean and it is a memory we all still cherish. What a wonderful gift to your family! Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts. I’m grateful! xoxo Suzy

    1. Suzanne,
      It means the world to me that you liked the post! So grateful to you for the Seattle help. I love your blog and I love that you’re an example of an empty nester who followed her heart, who was brave enough to take on the blogosphere (!), and who is out there making a difference and blessing others! Good job, sister! xoxo Suzy

  5. This is great – giving it to hubby to read, too. We are going on an Alaskan cruise this summer – my very first cruise. I have always been afraid I would spend all that money and then be seasick the entire way. I get horrendously seasick. But I have heard people say this is God’s country so for my 71’st birthday I’m cruising to see it. I always thank God in my prayers every night for walking this road with me. I saw Titanic so having God along with me will be a blessing! Thanks again for this post. I always think oh, this is my favorite of Suzy’s posts but then I read another and love that too. I save all of your posts in a file I call Suzy’s Blessings and refer back to them often. Thanks again and have a blessed day!

    1. Suzy,
      Well you are just the sweetest! That really means a lot to me! I think you will love Alaska and you will be in awe of the Heavenly Father who created such grandeur! I am very seasick prone too, so I hope you’ll take both some homeopathic and doctor prescribed treatments with you when you go. They will make you feel like you’re doing all you can, and I think you’ll find you relax and enjoy it more! Thanks for your comment! xoxo Suzy

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