As I was shivering in a very large metal flying machine I couldn’t help but contemplate what makes us wander from home. I love home and all its familiarities, its comforts and its mundane routines. But I suppose I must have a little adventurous spirit and a desire to see other parts of our world. I know for this trip I was influenced by the opportunity to spend time with two great friends, Chuck and Debbie, friends that geographical distance sometimes makes our closeness difficult. We met in Seattle, having arrived on separate flights from different states but began our cruise together in search of the beauty of Alaska and certain we would collect memories to forever cherish.
We had the opportunity to spend a little time in Seattle before we boarded the Ruby Princess. We knew visiting the Pike’s Place Market was at the top of our list, and it did not disappoint. If you have never been it is actually a farmer’s market but not like the ones we have in Oklahoma or Kansas. Of course seafood was the primary commodity for sale. We took photos outside the first Starbucks, watched them throw fish (after much searching), shopped through hundreds of small booths, purchased beautiful bouquets of fresh flowers and thoroughly enjoyed our morning. The temperature was perfect, upper 60’s, and thank you Seattle for not raining on us. Chuck had purchased a selfie stick for our vacation and we used it many times, this was our first attempt, good job Chuck!
This was taken as we went through security to board the ship. Debbie set the alarms off and was pulled aside for an individual scan, she made the cut, thank goodness. This was our very first on board photo , we had our beautiful Seattle bouquets. Please notice Chuck’s smile, Debbie had Chuck practice smiling after this. I have to say thank you Chuck and Debbie, you made me smile a million times on our trip. Our first night on the ship we had a wonderful dinner in a beautiful dining room. Great food, great friends and great fellowship, what more could you ask for? We were all ready to return to our staterooms early. The travel day, change of time zones and anxious anticipation had left us needing rest. I think all four of us slept great, the ship seemed to just rock us to sleep.
Our first full day at sea was nice but we needed to get our sea legs. Mike made use of the prescription patches for motion sickness, so happy we made that investment. At lunch time the four of us gathered at a window table on the 15th deck, we were entertained by dolphins and even some distant whales, lunch was pleasant and very relaxing.
On our ship, the Ruby Princess, the full days at sea were formal nights for evening dining. I think Debbie and I both enjoyed getting to “dress up”, Chuck seemed ok with it (or pretended to), Mike not so much. He was a good sport but he much prefers his jeans and boots. We all had a good laugh when he had forgotten to pack black socks, yes, picture black dress pants, nice long sleeve shirt, tie, dress shoes and WHITE socks, still makes me smile. This was my first cruise and I learned photography sales were part of the experience. We are a photo family and I believe the photo opportunity you miss will haunt you far longer than the captured “bad hair day or ugly smile”. These were some of our purchased pics. Chuck and Debbie had really wonderful photos made Debbie had visited with one of the photographers (a young woman from South Africa) and she had recommended to us her favorite setting. We loved the pretty red back light.
The meal was incredible, we took lots of pictures of the food, knowing we could never remember the names of our five course meals. Our waiter insisted we try a special drink after dinner, not knowing it was alcoholic until we had to use our ship cards for it and it arrived in shot glasses. I thought it tasted like cough syrup, but Chuck drank his quickly. I don’t know if he liked it or was just swallowing it to get it over with, but he was so funny we couldn’t quit laughing, he teased reefers might be next. I admit I had to be told what a reefer was, causing another round of laughs. Fun times!
We changed back to comfy clothes and headed to our first show, called Stardust. It was singing and dancing and nice entertainment. Knowing Ketchikan was an early port (6:30 a.m.) we called it a night.
Our first port was Ketchikan, yea for land again. The first thing Debbie and I did upon stepping foot on U.S. soil was reconnect with the electronic world. Ketchikan gave us great cell phone service, we received all our texts, emails and phone calls, I even glanced at Facebook. I called all three of my children, I know it had only been a few days but I needed to hear their voices and know all were fine.
Ketchikan was a fun port, easily within walking distance of our ship. We explored on our own for quite a while, the shop owners were friendly and eager to help us. We happened upon some little cars, they were similar to a golf cart and available to rent. I suggested we make use of one and in moments we were off. Mike was our driver, Chuck our navigator, (Debbie assisted). I was designated as the liaison with our “guide” who had remained at the rental store, he could never have fit in our little car. My actual job was to call the “guide” when we were lost, this happened multiple times. We had a fun adventure, we saw a beautiful city, complete with totem poles, the original historic downtown Ketchikan, and I think our favorite, the salmon. Their task of swimming upstream seemed impossible but yet they succeed. They were king salmon, unbelievable numbers of them and they seemed extremely large, and I am not telling a fish story. Debbie took a great salmon video I tried to share but I am simply not tech savvy enough to make it happen. All the salmon swimming photos are blurry because the salmon are always moving, you would think they would be exhausted. Mike took lots of Ketchikan pictures, here are a few.
Having been informed that Ketchikan has rain 365 days a year and that they measure rainfall in feet, not inches, we felt so blessed that a few sprinkles are all we had on our excursion.
After a day on land we returned to the ship for another enjoyable evening. Debbie and I attended a scrapbook journaling class, turned out we knew more than the instructor. Her advice after handing us a cruise themed scrapbook package was, and I quote, “there are samples in the package or be creative”. End of instruction. We were grateful for the fun kit, having already purchased the Alaska scrapbook and accessory package when we bought our first cruise photo. What can I say, we are both crafters at heart.
Dinner was great, we had grown fond of our waiters, they were friendly and trying to get to know us. We took in a show called Once Upon a Dream, another fun production. This day had started very early but another time change had worked to our advantage.
Our next day was to begin even earlier, we were to travel through the Tracy Arm Fjord, beginning at 5:00 a.m., an incredibly majestic passageway. Mike, Debbie and Chuck knew they didn’t want to miss anything so they planned on an early morning, they would breakfast on the 15th deck with a spectacular window table, and take advantage of every photo opportunity. I joined them eventually, I felt reasonably sure our stateroom’s balcony offered quite a nice view. Mike was the earliest to arrive to the photo-fest and was the first to learn an iceberg had blocked the entrance to Tracy Arm. Our capable crew had received special permission to enter Endicott Arm, another beautiful fjord. In this passageway we had an incredible view of Dawes Glacier, check out this photo. After experiencing the Endicott Arm I feel the need for new adjectives, beautiful and majestic are not adequate. I see and feel God in my life everyday but witnessing His Alaskan canvas was beyond inspiring. these are a few examples, .
That same morning after leaving the Fjord we set sail for Juneau, Alaska’s capital. An announcement from one of the bridge officers informed everyone to look port side, a large pod of humpback whales had been sighted. Our stateroom was port side and we were thankful for the millionth time for our balcony. It was difficult to catch a photo of one of the whales but incredible to watch, (I know I have greatly overused the “incredible ” word, please forgive me).
We had booked an afternoon excursion entitled the Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest. Shortly after docking in Juneau we caught a bus to board another much smaller vessel, actually a catamaran.
Our bus driver was a fun young woman filled with Juneau facts and trivia and eager to share. I want to share what I thought were the most interesting. Yearly, Juneau gets 100″ of snow and 90″ of rain, of the 700,000 total population of Alaska 33,000 live in Juneau. Mendenhall Glacier is home to Juneau, we did not get to do the excursion there but just the view of it from our bus made me add it to my list for next time. She explained the top 3 jobs in Alaska, 1) Government, 2) Tourism (no surprise), and 3) Fishing. She shared that the U.S. purchased Alaska in 1867 from Russia for less than 2 cents an acre at a total price of 7.2 million dollars. Only 13 years later gold was discovered in Alaska. She explained the average income in Juneau was $80,000 and the average home costs $350,000 to $400,000. Lastly there is only one fast food restaurant in Juneau, and I bet everyone can guess which one, burgers and fries under the Golden Arches is right.
Debbie and I were both nervous about our Juneau excursion, I feared the smaller boat would be cold, wet, uncomfortable and a recipe for sea sickness. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. The bus ride was in continuous rain but upon arriving to board our excursion boat we found it very nice. The seats were soft and comfy, there were super clean restrooms and a well stocked refreshment bar complete with snacks and diet Dr. Pepper and ice, it was warm and the crew was friendly and informative.
Our captain took us many miles into the sea and had what seemed like a magic whale locator. We enjoyed multiple sightings of Humpback whales, even a calf and mother. The calf seemed to want to entertain us and waved again and again with his tail. The calf seemed huge until the mother showed herself and then we found out what huge really was. Our excursion came with a guarantee, if you did not see a whale they would give you $100.00 as you exited the boat. We learned they had never had to refund a single penny.
After the whale show the captain headed to a small island and to our amazement we photographed, watched and listened to hundreds of sea lions. I grabbed a couple of pics of Mike and Debbie in action Whale watching was such an awesome experience, and one I would highly recommend.
We finished our day in Juneau with a little shopping, this was our first port to truly rain most of the day but it did not dampen our spirits. Later back on ship we tried a different dining room and although still delicious we missed our familiar wait staff. Mike and I finished our night with a movie, “Cinderella” was playing and we totally loved it.
I was a little sad as we began to disembark for Skagway knowing it was our last Alaskan port. We were well over half way through our 7 day cruise and I wasn’t ready for it to end. These were the cruise photos as we disembarked for Skagway,
In Skagway our excursion was a train ride called White Pass Scenic Journey, it was in the largest national rain forest in North America. It was almost a 3,000 foot climb in just 20 miles. Shortly after you boarded the train you learned the railway was constructed in 1898 and in just a few more minutes you understood the steep grades and tight curves you were about to experience. I was nervous as the ride began and glad I was sitting on the interior mountain hugging side. Our guide was quick to inform us that when we reached the very top all passengers would switch sides and then we would get the “good” seats, oh happy day. I eventually relaxed, or maybe just made peace with the situation. Maybe it was Debbie’s words of encouragement, she said, “if something happens it will be so fast we won’t know it and then we will all wake up in a better place”. The photo opportunities were endless, here are a few.
There were pretty pink flowers all over the mountain, their name was fireweed. They earned their name by always being the first thing to bloom after a fire had ravaged the land. Fireweed bloomed from the ground up then finally turned to a dandelion like cotton. In Skagway the saying is, “when the fireweed turns to cotton, summer is soon forgotten” and snow is only six weeks away.
Of course we shopped the quaint little city of Skagway, and I do mean little, it is home to only 986 year-round residents. That population grows to 2,500 for the summer and as many as 10,000 tourists daily from early May to late September. We all loved the view of Harding Glacier Skagway offered, it was like a beautiful blue flat mountain of ice, Mike tried to capture a picture.
After our day at Skagway we had a few hours to explore the ship and grabbed a few shots with amazing backgrounds . Our balcony view that same afternoon was of a rainbow on the mountainside , I am still amazed by the beauty.
Our evening meal was grand as always, with king crab on the menu. Chuck had been looking forward to the crab and it was delicious. After dinner we were entertained by Ben Seidman, a comedic magician. All four of us agreed he was very talented.
It was time for the Ruby Princess to head toward Victoria, Canada. The voyage was more than 48 hours, of course sleeping two nights helped pass . There were always many activities the days we were at sea. After lunch the four of us went to a movie. The Longest Ride was showing and Debbie and I are both Nicholas Sparks fans. The guys actually enjoyed it too but were quick to tell us real men can’t live up to the “romance” Nicholas Sparks writes about. It’s ok, we love our real men.
Sea day meant formal dining so we all tried to look our best. The main entrée was lobster, the dessert baked Alaska, and always many courses in between. We were surprised by a parade of baked Alaskas with the wait and kitchen staff joining in. We waved our napkins as was customary and applauded the hard-working staff that had made all our meals not only delicious but beautiful as well. We had some photos with our waiter and junior waiter, both fun and helpful guys. Formal pics after dinner We thought a group pic with the Ruby Princess background would be a great keepsake .
That evening’s entertainment was titled The Colors of the World, it was a musical extravaganza with song and dance from around the world. It seemed fitting because for 7 days we were taken care of in one way or another by men and women from many different countries. We visited with a young man in one of the gift shops who was from Ukraine and I asked him why there were so few Americans working onboard. He smiled and thought for a while and with a thick accent finally answered, “I want to be politically correct with my answer, I think Americans have so many options for employment they don’t need this”. He explained he worked for 6 months, off 2 months, then 6 months and off 3 months, he worked 7 days a week, no holidays.
Our last full day aboard started a little slower, a leisurely breakfast and a late morning tour of the galley (kitchen). On the tour there were beautiful food carvings Our Executive Chef and Maître D began the tour with a food preparation demonstration. They were both Italian and gave a humorous and interesting presentation. They explained that 500+ of the crew of 1,150 were involved in food in some way. They said feeding 3,300 passengers was a huge task but they took great pride in the cleanliness of the galleys and dining rooms and wanted our dining experience to be the best we had ever had. I think it was a job well done. The tour ended with them announcing there would be a Mexican feast for lunch. We were anxious to see the Italian version of Mexican food. I can testify it was different but delicious.
The ship was beautiful and I wanted to share a few pictures of it There was a grand spiral staircase and multiple pools for those brave enough to swim.
At lunch our evening dinner waiter was working on the 15th deck, this deck had 3 different buffets everyday for breakfast, lunch and dinner. His name was Nomer, he was from the Philippines, a family man with 2 children and a wife he was supporting. Most of the crew worked multiple shifts with breaks during the day, Nomer had worked for Princess for 15 years. The four of us were seated at a wonderful ocean view table and as I enjoyed the calm ocean waters I asked him if he had ever been frightened on one of the cruises. He said only once, many years ago on this same Alaskan cruise but in late October. He said the waves got as high as the 15th deck, there were huge pieces of glaciers in the ocean and the ship was rocking so violently no one could walk without holding on to something and most of the passengers were ill from the motion. Nomer told us he thought he might be in the bottom of the ocean that day but now cruise ships no longer travel to Alaska after the end of September.
Chuck, Debbie, Mike and I spent many hours on the 15th deck at one of our many favorite ocean view tables. Often we would just share sodas and conversation or snap photos, but some of my fondest cruise memories happened there. On the last evening, as the Ruby Princess cruised toward Victoria, I think we were all reflecting on the week’s experiences. Debbie, always the clever one, commented, “if a whale would just do a big belly flop this moment would be perfect”. I laughed again just typing her words.
We arrived in Victoria, Canada in the evening, we were only at that port from 7:00 to 11:15, our shortest port of call. We had booked the excursion to Butchart Gardens. A bus took us to the gardens and our driver was very informative. We learned the gardens began from an idea Jennie Butchart had to beautify the worked-out limestone quarry which had supplied her husband’s cement plant. The park is still owned and operated by the same family and nearly 1 million people visit it every year. Being a gardener myself the description of this excursion had me at hello.
Shortly after we arrived I was in absolute awe of my surroundings. There were so many beautiful gardens you didn’t know where to look first. You felt the need to photograph as much as possible then your mind said slow down, just drink it all in. At one point we entered a pathway with enormous redwoods offering shade then you came to a spot that overlooked the sunken gardens, breathtakingly beautiful. I know pictures can never do it justice but here are our feeble attempts. I told Mike, “this is what I want my heaven to look like”. There was a dancing fountain that was in a spectacular setting . I loved this long path of rose-covered archways . I have never used so many photos in a blog before but I just have to share a few more from this incredible garden
I visited with a young man who worked at the gardens and asked him when did the actual gardening take place. Every gardener knows there is weeding, planting, trimming, fertilizing, mulching and more. He said the gardens were open 365 days a year, even Christmas Day, one of their busiest. He explained when the gardens closed at night the first workers cleaned the park and then about 3 or 4 in the morning the gardeners came in and worked until the park opened. He said then the gardeners would head back to their greenhouses and no one ever saw them, all gardening was nocturnal.
I know Victoria is a city I would like to visit again. The bus ride gave us enough of a glimpse of so many sights I know there is much more to explore. Another cruise another time.
I think this may be the longest blog I have ever written and I want to thank my sweet husband for so many beautiful photos, Chuck and Debbie shared great ones too. I have in no way covered everything we did and our little group may be the only four people who read and enjoy my words but that is ok. I would love for Mike, Chuck and Debbie to add any and everything I didn’t mention or I simply forgot. It was a vacation of a lifetime and I think we did what I mentioned in my very first paragraph, we fell in love with the beauty and wild frontier of Alaska and did indeed carry home memories we will always treasure.