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.)
At Sea – Cruising the Hubbard Glacier (The smaller ships can get closer to the glacier.)
Icy Strait Point (Hoonah), AK
At Sea – Cruising the Outside Passage
Victoria, BC, Canada
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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, 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.)
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.
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.
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! 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!)
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 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.
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!)
SHOP MY ALASKA LOOKS