Monday, July 17, 2017

Alaska Cruise & Land Tour Notes (1)

- How was it?
- Would you recommend it?
That's what my cousins and other potential readers wanted to know, and that's what I'll try to tell you. With the understanding that my notes are purely personal and subjective.

Bottom line: It was great; go for it! But take into account the good and the not-so-good aspects.

First, a photo that summarizes this trip for me: the majestic, visually-elusive Mount Denali:
"Elusive" because more often than not it is veiled by clouds and mist. Our bus-driver /guide /narrator, Becky, said that only 30% of visitors to this area actually get to see the mountain. "Narrator" because that is the term used in the marketing materials everywhere. Never before have I been on a tour where all the guides were also performers, entertainers. (In stark contrast to our guides in China and Vietnam, say, where the solemn guides take their State-appointed responsibility with super seriousness and pour out tons of info as soon as you buckle your seatbelt or step out of the vehicle.)

The above pic lacks the iconic cruise ship, majestic in its own way. That's because Denali National Park & Reserve was part of the land tour we went on prior to the cruise. Which brings me to...
Tip #1: A sea journey in itself is not enough; make sure to book a land tour as well. This may sound obvious, but some people prefer the comfort of the ship. And the ship is indeed comfortable and tempts you with lots of options to waste your time and money. Did I really mean "waste"? Okay, you can call it "spend" if you prefer...

Tip #2: This is Alaska. Weather is unpredictable, even in summer. Here's a view of our lovely cruise ship, the Celebrity Millennium, on the 4th of July 2017, as it docked in Icy Strait Point, Hoonah, where we hoped to see whales. The upper decks with the hot-tubs and tanning beds were all but deserted, as mists and drizzling ruled the day:

So pack a lightweight but warm coat (my newly-acquired Uniqlo, purchased in Toronto Eaton Center, did the trick), a hat, and unless your feet don't mind getting wet (which seems to apply to most Canadians), also waterproof shoes. This sort of grey, wet weather also prevented us from getting a good look at Hubbard Glacier, for instance. Nonetheless, passengers congregated on the deck, cameras in hand, craning their necks and trying to get a good shot. I could see chunks of ice floating on the water, and some shapeless white fluff in the distance that was, apparently, a glacier. Having actually stood on Athabasca Glacier, and seen Bow Glacier in the Canadian Rockies up close and personal, as you can see on my Flickr albums, the Hubbard was a bit of an anticlimax. However, on a sunny day Deck 10 was lovely:

Tip #3: Don't get your hopes up when you're told you'll see lots of wildlife. Mostly, it's a matter of chance. You're in nature. You can't count on wild animals to pop up when convenient for you. I'd love to post a photo of a bear, but the bear is not much more than a brown spot in the distance. I'd love to post a photo of a whale, but I only managed to catch its tail. Here's a relative close-up (thanks to a proper zoom lense, not thanks to my iPhone) of a brown creature with ears munching on grass next to a stream:

We did also see (mostly through binoculars or cameras with good zoom lenses) some caribou, moose, dall sheep, deer, bald eagles, swimming salmon, a porcupine up a tree, and one brave wolf who loped gracefully just a few meters in front of our bus in Denali park:

Tip #4: Travel light. Don't take the cruise's recommended "dress code" too seriously. Sure, if you have a glitzy evening dress or designer suit you're dying to show off, this is a good opportunity. But any decent pair of slacks combined with your fave non-T-shirt top will do. No flipflops or dusty hiking boots, please. I brought a "good" dress (Dorin Frankfurt, my go-to designer in Israel) but it was sleeveless and I was too chilly to wear it. I'd packed my best (D.F., again) black trousers, but had gained weight and could barely button them. Which brings me to...

Tip #5: It's a tricky balance between enjoying yourself on vacation and overeating just because the food is so temptingly set out. The food on board was indeed plentiful, varied, and aesthetically displayed. There are several restaurants, of which we chose the least formal one. Vegetarians and people on various diets will find suitable offerings. Though it always amuses me to see a person piling her plate with a selection of cakes, say, but insisting on skim milk for her coffee. I detest skim milk - it's like putting white water in your coffee.

Well, there's plenty more where this came from, but I won't try your patience.
Will add another post, or two, or three, soon.


  1. I'm really Linda
    Not Pepper. Pepper is asleep

  2. Thanks, Linda. Regards to Pepper :-)

  3. Thx Nina. We're seriously considering doing the cruise.

  4. Glad you finally got that Uniqlo jacket. I gave the one you wore last year to my mother. I know all about the actor/guides. A friend of ours spent all last summer working as one of those in Alaska. As for overeating on vacation -- oy vey. me too!