Alaska has been beckoning since we went over 10 years ago, and we returned this time as passengers on the Norwegian Jewel with our toddler.
We flew into Seattle, arriving at the Olive 8 late in the evening following our red eye from New York. Usually, these late flights work in our favor with the little one and he falls asleep upon takeoff. However, he refused to sleep on this one and was sufficiently exhausted by the time we arrived (as were we). Behaviors seem to shift daily at the two-and-a-bit age, and life is a very eclectic box of chocolates. Once we all had a good sleep, the hotel and breakfast in particular were lovely.
We spent our day and a half in Seattle doing the expected; Snacking our way through Pike Place, walking along the waterfront, Chihuly Garden, lots and lots of coffee. I also managed to sneak away for some alone time at Mistral Kitchen‘s happy hour which helped me feel like an adult for a little while.
I have been on the Norwegian Jewel before and felt like quality has gone down across the board. Everything was fine, not great. The penny pinching has clearly increased, and the buffet usually is an equal- if not better- option than the specialty restaurants, many of which now charge a la carte. We had a series of promotional offers stacked to give us free specialty meals each day of the cruise and we struggled even using them. Man, the Indian chefs make some delicious buffet curries! Regardless of the rest of the on-board experience, watching glaciers calve from your room is pretty awe-inspiring and makes everything else better.
Juneau was our first port, and Mendenhall Glacier our destination. We chose this for the ease of getting there (only 12 miles from downtown), and were rewarded with some of our first wildlife sightings of the trip. If you look closely in the photo below, there is a family of bears making their way across the bridge, with the park director closely monitoring their whereabouts from further down the path.
We also had the option of adding a whale watching tour onto the bus ticket, but were quite content to watch mama lead her cubs to the beach, see porcupines wander lazily about, and get chance to touch 200 year old glacial ice. The drive back to town also provided some exceedingly beautiful scenery, and we saw numerous bald eagles perched on lamp posts.
Skagway was our next stop, and there was only one option for a train-obsessed little boy- the White Pass Railroad. This trip is NOT cheap even if you book it on your own, coming in at $122* per adult and $61 per child. Other points to consider- you take the train about an hour and a half along the side of mountains, over ravines, and through some of the most beautiful scenery you will ever see. Then, you stop and go the exact opposite direction. This is great for those with cameras, as it affords both sides of the train opportunities to capture it all on film. It can be quite long for young children, and we barely made it off the train without a meltdown.
We also enjoyed some fish and chips at Skagway Fish Company before returning to the ship. With more time, I would have liked to visit Skagway Brewing Company, but we managed to sample the Spruce Tip Ale with our lunch.
Cruising through Glacier Bay is really spectacular. Though the day we went through the inside passage was cloudy and cold, the scenery made up for it in spades. The ship also welcomed park rangers onboard for the day, who made commentary as we cruised and even hosted a junior ranger initiation for the little ones.
We met Ketchikan with a lot of indecision. Morally opposed to booking anything through the ship, we wandered off the boat searching for inspiration. There are few tourism vendors away from the pier, so do not think the grass is greener on the other side. Dangerously close to settling for a duck boat tour, I ran back to the tour office and upgraded to a private tour from Experience Ketchikan via Hummer. This worked for a number of reasons. 1) They had car seats 2) We could go at our own pace 3) We could do whatever we wanted and 4) It was still cheaper than anything from the ship. It ended up being a really great day.
Our guide was really knowledgeable, but also really accommodating considering our needs revolved around a toddler attention span. He took our request “more nature, less city” and ran with it, bringing us to Potlatch Totem Park, to a bear viewing area (which did not pan out as the salmon had spawned already) and tidepooling at a nearby beach. He even voluntarily extended our time together since he only had one tour that day. Cap it all off with fish and chips at Alava’s Fish-n-Chowder right next to our pier, and we all went to bed tired and happy.
Victoria, BC was the final port of call before returning to Seattle. The timing on this visit was a bit of a mismatch for our usual schedule, arriving at 6pm and departing at midnight. This could not detract from my favorite thing to do in Victoria… visiting Fisherman’s Wharf. We arrived just in time for the last sale of fish for the evening, to be fed to the resident harbor seals at the great delight of everyone involved. Downtown Victoria is very hip, with loads of bars and restaurants to choose from. Prince William and Princess Kate had visited that afternoon, so much of the town was lit up like Christmas trees. We returned to the ship relatively early, but managed to enjoy a few hours in this lovely place.
Though our activities and hours of visitation were limited with a toddler in tow, we were grateful to have been able to revisit this amazing route through Alaska and Glacier Bay. In the face of a changing climate, I hope that I am able to continue to visit places like this for years to come as they are truly spectacular.