Friday, June 23, 2017

Alaska: Days One and Two

  Everyone has their own idea of what the best vacation destination should be. For some it may be the warm, sun kissed beaches of California. For others it may carving the frosty slopes of the Swiss Alps. To each his own I say. Well, to some of us Alaska calls to us and for only the second time in my life, we answered.
  We chose Royal Caribbean to sail us away to five fun and beautiful locations that Alaska has to offer. So with our bags stuffed with long pants and sweatshirts we got a ride to the airport to whisk us away to our waiting ship. 
  This itinerary would have us setting sail from Seward followed by a day at sea before stopping in Juneau, Skagway, Icy Strait Point, and Ketchikan before dropping us off in Vancouver, Canada. But getting to Seward from Los Angeles is no easy task. Okay it's not really hard but it is a lengthy, tiring and frustrating at times. Our day started at 3:30 am as we did our final bag checks, which were ready to go, then an airport shuttle picked us up at 4:20. Once on a plane it was a two and half hour flight to Seattle, Washington for an hour layover. From Seattle we flew three hours to Anchorage, Alaska where we hopped aboard a bus that would take us to Seward. Two hours away.
  Aboard the bus we got our first glimpses of Alaska's beauty. At this point I'm not sure there is an ugly place in Alaska. Even the strange muddy field that would soon have sea water covering it once the tide returned was gorgeous. Literally mountains on one side of us and ocean on the other. It felt a little like driving along the Pacific Coast Highway only prettier (by my humble opinion.) Of course, the PCH doesn't have Bald Eagle's cruising along side of you either. They were everywhere. It was, SO cool. Soon our ship, The Radiance Of The Seas, came into view and the real adventure was about to begin.
  We boarded about ninety minutes before setting sail. We had enough time to find our cabins and clean up a bit before the mandatory safety meeting followed by our 8:00 dinner time. It felt rushed but we were all hungry so we headed to the dining room for our first hour and a half dinner experience of the week. The ship slipped from the dock as our appetizers arrived and we toasted to our latest adventure. A very long day one was in the books. Tomorrow there would be time to get to know the ship. It was a day at sea. My least favorite part of cruising. But this sea day wouldn't be bad. We actually had a stop to make. Hubbard Glacier was waiting for us to arrive and was ready to make a good impression.
 We were up early, let's face it, I'm up early every day and it's just habit now. We wouldn't reach Hubbard Glacier until almost 2:00 pm. So there happened to be a naturalist on board that was doing seminars on different topics throughout the week. Today's subject, glaciers, of course. She talked of how glaciers form, the impact they leave in their wake as they grind across the Earth's surface, and how most all of the world's glaciers are shrinking. Hubbard, however, is one of the few that is still growing. Her knowledge and great slide show taught us a lot and kept us entertained for an hour. She was definitely more entertaining to listen to than the shopping guru. Yeah, we sat through his spiel as a time killer too. I don't trust shopping guy. He's a salesman and he wants me to think I'm his friend rather than the dollar signs I know he sees me as. He may have the skinny on the best locations to shop in these port of calls but I know there's a contract signed behind the scenes somewhere. I'm on to you shopping guy.
 Finally we are approaching the glacier. We had grabbed a quick bite to eat at the buffet where I snarfed down a quick hot dog and left the family behind in order to get a good spot on deck for photos. Hey it's dog it dog up there. You gotta stake your claim. Unfortunately I would be "lost" for two hours as I stayed on deck during our approach and the majority of the hour we spent side by side with the glacier. Folks had filled in behind me to see first hand the 300 foot tall wall of ice we had skillfully been led to. Hey, it's no easy task to steer around icebergs just so some goofy tourist can take a picture. Good job Captain. We appreciate it.
 Awesome; possibly the only word that can describe Hubbard Glacier. The deep blues and bright white colors looked like some sort of huge birthday cake with sweet frosting daring you to sneak a taste. It made the cruise worth while right there, on the first day.
  Calving is part of the glaciers life. Large chunks of ice continuously fall into the frigid ocean to float off on their individual adventures as they slowly melt away. We got to see this calving in action and while we weren't there for any massive slides, there were a few sizable enough to entice the crowd to ooh and aah. I didn't. Maybe. In my head. Yeah it's pretty cool to see. Like I said, awesome. I suppose the ship will halve to navigate through some of those chunks of ice when it returns in a week. Interesting thought.

 A standard practice for a visit to a glacier is to pick up a chunk of ice to bring aboard for people to see. Sometimes they will carve it on deck to put on a show. This trip was no different. While we took in the beauty of Hubbard, the boys were down in their tiny boat looking for a chunk of ice that was just the right size. It took them awhile but they finally found one. It may have been bigger than they should have tackled because they battled bringing back to the ship. To get it aboard they wrapped it with what looked like a web of tow straps hooked to a small crane. Well, the strapping gave way as they lifted the massive ice cube and they ran out of time so a rescue operation was aborted. No ice sculptures for this trip.
  The hour was up and we had to leave Hubbard behind. We had to reach Juneau early the next morning. Looking back I would have to say that as far as boring old sea days go, this one was my favorite. Nature's beauty is on full display up there and this spot is a shimmering jewel. If you choose to go on a cruise to Alaska make sure Hubbard Glacier is on the itinerary.
 We aren't done with glaciers yet. Day three has another one for us to see in Juneau.

Brandan

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