On July 6, 2016,
My wife and I flew to Vancouver, B.C. to sail on the Island Princess on its 7 day north voyage to Whittier, AK. As in recent years, we also booked the return week back to Vancouver since this gives a better chance of at least one decent day in each port of call as well as in Glacier Bay. This year we enjoyed our 12th and 13th Alaska cruises. They are definitely my favorite destinations.
For the first time in our experience, the weather ranged from good to excellent both directions and I took advantage by revisiting several peaks which I had climbed on previous trips in clouds and even snow enjoying seeing where I had been!
We flew non-stop on Air Canada from Vegas to Vancouver in the morning and paid $2.75 each for the convenient SkyTrain which runs from the airport to about a block from the cruise terminal at One Canada Place. After boarding the ship around noon, we left our carry-on items in our stateroom and enjoyed a nice lunch at the Horizon Court buffet including roast beef and fried scallops. Then, we headed back into town and found an outlet in the train station where we could buy a couple of Compass cards which enable you to prepay future travel which is loaded on a credit card that is scanned in (and then out) as you use the public transport buses and trains. This worked well on our return and we are set for our next visit as well.
About 4:30 pm, we left the dock and started our journey to Ketchikan, our first port of call.
July 7 - Sea day
This was a sea day and we had lunch in the dining room where they offered a very nice chef’s salad, etc. That followed a small order of fish and chips that were offered as part of the Pub Luncheon after we attended several guest lectures. That evening was the first of two formal nights and, as usual, Princess had a champagne waterfall event where they also offered hors d’oeuvres and generous quantities of champagne. Later, for dinner, the menu included fresh Alaskan halibut which we selected over our normal pick of king crab legs. After dinner, we enjoyed a good production show by the singers and dancers with the Island Princess band.
crab cakes at the Grill
July 8 - Ketchikan
We arrived and tied up at Dock 4 from which I hiked to the trailhead to Deer Mountain
and proceeded up to the summit. It was quite a contrast to last year when it was raining lightly and the trail was like a stream with several inches of water cascading down the mountain. The trail was in good shape except for one washout where a little scrambling was needed.
Ketchikan from Deer Mountain
The view back to town was quite a nice reward for the effort which required about 4 ½ hours. The estimated mileage for the hike is about 9.5 miles with an elevation gain of about 3,000’.
July 9 - Juneau
Juneau from Mt Juneau
As we cruised into port, it was apparent that this would be a great day to climb Mt Juneau
since all the local peaks were clear of their normal cloud cover. We had a long day in port arriving at 8 am and staying until 9 pm. I was one of the first passengers ashore and headed for the trailhead which is about 3 miles from the dock on the Perseverance trail. Pat decided to book a whale watching trip being offered on shore by about a dozen different vendors about ¼ mile from the ship near the Mt Roberts tram station. Whale Tales had a smaller boat which held about 16 passengers and had room for one more to fill a half day trip. She declined to pay the initially offered price of $150 and they quickly reduced the ask to $75 which she accepted. On their bus to the boat, they made a detour to the Mendenhall glacier to pick up a couple of the passengers, so she got a bonus trip there on the way. The tour saw only a few humpback whales, but they did get to see a pod of killer whales several times during the ½ day trip and got quite close to them. Some of our fellow passengers managed to see humpbacks bubble feeding which is quite a treat.
Meanwhile, after a brief detour looking for the trailhead, I met several locals who gave me good beta and I started the climb. As noted, it was a beautiful day and the climb was uneventful until I reached the summit which I had visited once before on a cloudy day with snow spitting out of the sky. Due to the poor visibility that day, I was not sure if the summit was just out of sight, but it turned out that I had been on the right one. Standing on the summit and looking back into Juneau, I spotted a couple of mountain goats. The climb from the ship was about 9 miles roundtrip with a gain of about 3,600’.
mountain goats on Mt Juneau
stream near top of Mt Juneau
Back onboard, I had one of the best food items offered the entire cruise. One day each Alaska voyage, Princess offers halibut burgers at their deck 15 grill. They have adapted a recipe from a Skagway eatery and it is amazing! (The next two days they offered fish tacos and crab cakes, respectively). When Pat returned from her whale watching, we went back up and I enjoyed another one with her. After dinner that evening about 10 pm, Pat and I walked out on the Promenade deck forward on the port side where we saw 3 Dall’s porpoises escorting us out of the Gastineau channel. When they surfaced and dived back, we mistook them for killer whales since they share similar markings, but the next morning we learned what they actually were!
July 10 - Skagway
was another long port call running from 5:30 am to 8:30 pm and we decided to take a rest day after the rigors of the past two days. After a late breakfast, we headed toward the AB Mountain trailhead, but stayed on the trail running along the Skagway river following it downstream to see Smugglers Cove which we had never visited. After checking it out, we hiked up to the Dyea Road and followed it back into Skagway turning our outing into about a 7 mile hike.
July 11 - Glacier Bay
We entered Glacier Bay about 6:30 am and saw dozens of humpback whales on the starboard side of the ship early in the morning. As we approached the Grand Pacific Glacier, there was some excitement as a sow grizzly and two of her cubs from last year frolicked along the shore on the starboard side for about 10 – 15 minutes as we sailed by.
We enjoyed good weather all day and finally sailed out of the bay about 3:30 pm after disembarking the rangers who had spent the day aboard providing commentary and answering questions. That evening we enjoyed the second formal night including a Captains Circle party where we received a nice bottle of wine as the second most travelled passengers aboard Princess ships.
July 12 - College Fjord
This was another restful sea day of cruising to and then into College Fjord from 6 pm to 8:30 pm. The weather was excellent once again as we sailed by some half dozen tidewater glaciers and an equal number of valley glaciers.
Bryn Mawr, Smith & Harvard glaciers (L - R)
July 13 - Whittier
swift and deep glacial stream
Whittier is the turnaround port, this visit is the longest of the two voyages with arrival about 12:30 am and sailaway scheduled for 8:30 pm. We received in transit cards and new cruise cards for our return voyage. When we were allowed to go ashore about 6 am, I headed out to explore a possible climb of Lowell Peak north of town. My plans were cut short by a swiftly flowing deep creek from a glacier blocking my way, so I headed back to the Portage pass trail and hiked across the pass and down the other side to the Portage lake and glacier. It was a beautiful day and I was able to get some nice photos of the glacier which was calving while I was nearby as well as photos of Shakespeare shoulder
which I climbed last year, but had not been able to see due to cloudy weather.
Getting back to the ship in time for lunch with Pat, we decided to head back to the pass so she could enjoy the views also. There were a lot of black flies along the trail in the afternoon and they were looking for a meal!
Portage lake and glacier
We were glad to get back and relax in the mini suite we had booked for the return leg. It was very spacious and probably twice as large as the outside cabin we usually book.
Portage pass (glacier in background)
July 14 - Hubbard Glacier
On our first sea day heading south we visited the Hubbard Glacier near Yakutat Bay encountering the most ice flows of the entire trip. The captain was unwilling to go as close as usual due to all the ice. Once again, we enjoyed the traditional Champagne waterfall event and were pleased to get our same table and waiters, Eduardo and Carlo, from the Philippines. Carlo was taking our coffee card to get us decaf cappuccinos with desert, but not punching it making for a nice bonus. Eduardo had learned that I liked fresh avocado with my salads and was bringing copious amounts whenever I asked.
July 15 - Glacier Bay
fresh Alaska salmon, halibut & rockfish
Once again we sailed into the bay after picking up the rangers and the weather was even better than the trip north had been. Enjoyed the Marjorie Glacier again, etc., etc. On this voyage, the Halibut burgers were offered from 1 – 5 pm and again we enjoyed them immensely.
seal on the ice
July 16 - Skagway
Tundra on AB mountain
We arrived at Skagway about 7am and I headed off to AB mountain
feeling fresh and ready for a big adventure. The weather was warm and there was little breeze in the am so it was tough going due to the heat of exertion. By the time I reached the summit after about 8 miles of hiking and climbing, my dreams of going another mile along the ridge to climb a new peak were trashed. The sun had burned through a layer of clouds covering AB mountain and I was treated to great views in all directions.
AB summit in Skagway
The huckleberries and salmon berries were thicker than I had ever seen and on the return leg I took numerous breaks to enjoy the ”fruits of my efforts”. Since the mountain is about 5,000’ and there are a lot of small ups and downs getting along the ridge, this was my hardest day and required about 8 ½ hours to complete.
Pat walked about 4 miles around town during the day and relaxed on board. We sailed about 8:30 pm.
Skagway from AB Mountain
July 17 - Juneau
Trestle trail in Juneau
After my climb in Skagway, Pat and I headed out to find the Trestle Trail which we had not previously done. It was a nice outing and we did about 15k steps on her IPhone tracker. It was yet another sunny day on this year’s visit which is rare in our experiences there. That afternoon we enjoyed some time on deck chairs on the Promenade deck watching dozens of bald eagles soaring along the sides of Mt Roberts
as well as one adventurous hang glider.
July 18 - Ketchikan
Roy Jones (L) and Deer (R) mountains
Since this was a long port call for Ketchikan and the last chance for a new peak, Pat and I were quickly off the ship about 10 am and heading back to the Deer Mountain
trailhead. Reaching the trailhead after hiking about 1 ½ miles and gaining about 300’, Pat headed back into town while I started up the trail. At the junction near the summit, I followed the trail that heads to Blue Lake and scrambled over a couple of small unnamed summits near Deer Mountain. Then I descended on the far side of these peaks and rejoined the trail after a bit of bushwhacking. From there, I hiked the trail to Roy Jones
mountain. There I took several photos filled my Nalgene bottle with snow and headed back having seen a lot of new ground.
That evening was the second formal night and we attended a Captains Circle party before dinner where we received a very nice bottle of champagne and special photos as the most travelled passengers on this voyage. At the party, Pat enjoyed some special martinis and I had a couple of delicious Alaskan Mudslides drinks.
July 19 - Sea day
We cruised the inside passage during the day watching for porpoises and whales with little reward for our efforts as we headed back to Vancouver for an early morning disembarkation and non-stop flight home on Westair.
Homeward bound! We filled out Canadian customs forms and were able to walk off the ship in the first group dragging our luggage with us and headed to the Skytrain which arrived at the station in 2 minutes and headed directly out to the airport. Our compass passes worked great, but we almost forgot to scan them again at the airport so the trip would be accurately charged to our accounts. We cleared US customs at the airport with little effort and boarded our plane. On the ground in Vegas, we collected our checked bags and walked out of the airport having already cleared customs and used our Uber app to hail a ride which was waiting at passenger pickup for us and promptly took us home for only $24.
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