Blue_Fluke-AC4x6Matt and I had extraordinary vacation this year. For our five-year wedding anniversary, we took a seven-day cruise through Alaska’s Inner Passage. We began our journey by flying into Seattle, Washington on August 17. Since our cruise was scheduled to begin the next day, we decided to spend the afternoon and evening exploring Pikes Place market, riding the wharf Ferris wheel, and eating at one of my favorite Seattle restaurants: The Crab Pot. Unfortunately, Hemp Fest was going on while we were touring the city, so we had to take some roundabout paths to avoid all of the drug dealers and their usual patrons on our trips along the piers. Thanks to the help of our intrepid hotel concierge, we survived the ordeal and enjoyed our day’s brief sightseeing excursion.

Sunday, August 18, found us sleeping in, packing, and boarding the hotel shuttle bound for our ship the Golden Princess at noon. Within an hour we were on board our temporary floating home and enjoying the view of the Seattle harbor over the ship’s railing on Deck 14. The ship itself was absolutely beautiful and delightful. It featured 18 decks complete with three dining rooms, two specialty restaurants, a theater, a nightclub, a casino, an art gallery, several shops, multiple bars and lounges, four pools, a spa, a library, a wedding chapel, a video arcade, adults-only areas, teen-only areas, children-only areas, and lots of sleeping cabins. Our particular cabin was in the upper forward part of the ship near the spa and pool areas, which came in handy for whale-watching and dining trips.

Our first day aboard ship was spent entirely at sea. That morning proved especially rough for me since I apparently do get seasick fairly easily. Breakfast proved the worst part of my ordeal and so my saintly husband went to the medical bay in search of medicine, while I stared cross-eyed at my plate. After swallowing a couple of pills to relieve my motion sickness and strapping acupuncture bands around my wrists for good measure, I was fine for the rest of the day. Our evening proved quite enjoyable. My husband and I went to a formal dinner and were treated afterwards to a wonderful magic show, followed by the dance performance of two former members of the Russian ballet.

The morning of August 20 dawned bright but cold as our ship pulled into the harbor at Ketchikan, Alaska. I was on deck 14 with my camera to see the first rays of sun break the mists of the mountains upon our arrival. It was simply an extraordinary site and yet it paled in comparison to the beauty that awaited us on shore. Matt’s and my first excursion in Alaska was a visit to the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary just outside the city. While touring the forest of moss-draped alder and spruce, our tour group came across the remarkable site of a mother black bear and her two cubs hunting salmon in the stream. The salmon were swimming upstream to spawn and the bears, ravens, and seagulls were all watching their fill of fish. Our trip through the sanctuary was topped off by having the chance to feed a local herd of caribou and see a master totem pole carver at work. After a few hours of gift shopping in town, my husband and I climbed back aboard the ship and made ready to sail to Juneau.

Our voyage to Juneau, Alaska cut through the heart of beautiful Tracy Arm Fjord. I was on deck 14 and 15 for hours in the bitter cold shooting photos of glaciers, icebergs, snowcapped mountains, green sea, and waterfalls. Those who know me understand how much I loathe being cold; however, my personal discomfort was well worth the result. Once we arrived in Juneau, Matt and I took a mile hike to see Mendenhall Glacier and its neighboring waterfall before hopping a bus back to the harbor and boarding a tour boat in search of whales. We saw not one but five humpback whales feeding in the waters. Four of the humpbacks were feeding together – a very rare habit for that particular species of whale. We also saw Steller sea lions basking in the sun. The surprise highlight of the trip; however, was the moment two bald eagles locked talons just outside the windows of our boat. Unfortunately, I did not get a clear photograph of the exchange, but the image of those two magnificent birds freefalling toward the ocean will remain in my mind for many years to come.

While our excursions in Ketchikan and Juneau proved surprisingly sunny, Skagway by odd contrast was very foggy. Consequently, our bus tour of Skagway and part of the Klondike Highway was shrouded in mist and gave the inuksuks built on the mountain tops a truly mystical appearance. Of the towns we visited, Skagway is by far the smallest. While Juneau sports 35,000 people and Ketchikan supports a few thousand, Skagway is home to only about 700 people during the winter. With the town lacks in population, it makes up for in rich history. Skagway was one of the main gateway cities for people coming from the lower 48 states in search of gold during the Klondike Gold Rush. During the height of the rush, the town topped 20,000 people–mostly living in tents. Despite the cleanliness of its buildings, there is still a rough-and-tumble spirit about the place left over from those earlier times. You can see it in the rock paintings that town artists use to welcome the cruise ships every summer. I suppose a town so dwarfed by the great wilderness would have to have a bit of a gritty streak to survive.

Our last stop before heading home was Victoria Island, British Columbia, Canada. We had little time to truly see the island since our ship docked at 7 o’clock in the evening on August 24. Matt and I ran through the Butchart Gardens as quickly as we could, so that we could see as much of the colorful flowers and plants in the waning daylight as possible. While the garden is lit at night, there really are not enough lamps to properly see the gardens after sunset. I am sad to admit that our tour of the garden was a bit of a bust, but our moods brightened considerably when the garden staff put on an exceptional fireworks display.

We were back on the ship and sailing home to Seattle for the next full day. Once we disembarked in Seattle, Matt and I checked into our hotel room and then spent the rest of our day touring museums, viewing the city from atop the Space Needle, and walking through the Dale Chihuly glass sculpture gardens. Finally, a plane ride, a quick stay at my aunt and uncle’s house, and a car drive brought Matt and I home to West Texas. While Alaska was absolutely gorgeous and I would love to go back, there is one thing that Texas just seems to do bigger than that huge state: gloriously-colored sunrises.

Obviously there are many more photos to come, but I hope this journal gives you all a good taste of the beauty and adventure we encountered during vacation. Until we meet again, I wish all of you brilliant flashes of perspective!

[ O*] Alycia