After our cruise last year on Holland America‘s Noordam, we couldn’t wait to go on another one. Luke has never been to Alaska and it has been 10 years since my last trip so we decided that our one big trip this year would be Alaska!
We went with Holland America again since the Neptune Lounge and the size of the suites were just fabulous. The itinerary is called the 7 Day Alaska Explorer round trip from Seattle, WA. I knew my brother and Regine were also interested in going to Alaska so we invited them along for the trip. This is the route we took:
The first day was sea day. We did see some fish jumping out of the water, 2 dolphins, and 1 whale.
The second day was a highly anticipated stop: Glacier Bay, Alaska. When we entered into Glacier Bay, we were met by the Glacier Bay park rangers and they boarded our cruise ship to provide detailed narration about the park for us along the way. Not long after cruising into Glacier Bay, we saw a beached whale that had washed up a couple of weeks ago. This is a very rare too see. Too bad there weren’t any bears around feeding on it.
The first glacier we arrive at was Lamplugh Glacier. After viewing this glacier for about 30 minutes, we moved on to the glacier everyone has been waiting for, the Margerie Glacier. Margerie Glacier is very special because it moves very fast, in the glacier world. On average, the Margerie Glacier moves 7 feet a day. When you have a fast moving glacier like this, the chance to see glacier calve is very high. When glacier is calving, you will hear thunder-like sounds as the ice is pushing against one another. Luckily, we did see a big piece of the glacier fall into the bay.
After spending about an hour here in front of the Marjorie Glacier, we sailed back out on our way to our next stop, Juneau, AK.
For Juneau, I had heard that going glacier trekking on the Mendenhall Glacier was an option but the whale watching was also really good. The cruise line tours only offered one or the other, not both. I found a tour online that combined both activies into one. This stop is also very long, we were docked for 14 hours. We started our day at 8:30 in the morning. We got to the parking lot around 9 and started to put on our gear: helmet, safety harness, cramp-ons, ice axe, food, and water. Ohh.. and of course, our camera. I have to admit, the gear wasn’t light. I was a little worried but seeing that everyone else was carrying theirs…: P
We were able to see the glacier about 30 min in from the parking lot. I took this picture after about 1 hour of hiking.
Then, as we get closer,
We are now finall close enough to put on our gear for the official glacier trekking part of the excursion:
After we started walking on the glacier, we arrived at our first cave. Our guide took out a drill and secured a rope for everyone to hold on to going down to the cave and coming out of the cave. The blue color of the glacier is just spectacular.
As we hiked higher and higher onto the glacier:
We found this small poud on the glacier by accident, first time for our guides also.
Some more trekking on the ice, about .75 miles in. Notice the right hand corner of the photo, I think Luke left his ice axe there.
Towards the end of the trekking, we arrived at the second cave. This cave was much bigger and actually connects to another cave system underneath the glacier. This is what the entrance of the cave looks like:
This is what the ceiling of the cave looks like, pretty awesome:
This hike took us about 7 hour, or around 8 miles total. I highly recommend this tour as it is well worth it. However, if you are not fit, don’t even think about winging it. The hike is at a pretty fast pace and most of the hike is not on a paved trail.
After the hike, we were rushed to the whale watch. The captain had been waiting for us for over an hour! Captain Greg has the fastest boat in Juneau. His boat can reach 40 knots easy which became a huge advantage for us. We saw a couple of hump back whales here and there. However, Captain Greg was on a hunt for something much more exciting, Orcas! He had heard on the radio that some boats were seeing Orcas way out in the bay. Had we been on a different boat, we would not have the opportunity to even attempt to chase the Orcas. Once we got there, we saw some fins sticking out of the water. As we got closer however, the water was dead calm, not even a small fish let alone a whale or any kind. Suddenly Chung scream pointing to the other side of the boat. He “claimed” he saw a fin but he was the only one. Just as we were all discussing throwing him into the water to lure the whales, we saw the whole pod of Orcas surfacing out of the water.
We counted 8 Orcas in this pod. The leading male’s dorsal fin was huge! Much larger than the rest of the pod. We then saw an Orca come vertically out of the water to spy on us:
This is a very rare sight to see. Our captain was so excited. For someone who does this every day to get this excited, we knew we saw something very special. This is by far the highlight of our trip.
We were tired by the end of the day but it was worth every minute and whatever sore muscle we are going to feel for the rest of the week.
Our next stop of Sitka Alaska. It’s a very small town with a lot of Russian influence. We went on the Sea Otter and Wildlife excursion which picked us up directly from the cruise ship to maximize the time. The main focus of this excursion is to see Sea Otters. Sea Otters are very shy animals and will hide at the faintest noise. We saw a whole group of them rafting together. Along the way, we also some sea lions and these birds that looked like penguins. This excursion was much more relaxing and easy going compared to glacier trekking.
Our third stop was in Ketchikan. We decided to go sea kayaking. This was also an excursion we signed up ourselves instead of with the cruise line. This is us dressed in the kayaking gear and being transported to Orcas cove to start the excursion.
While we were kayaking, we suddenly heard a loud blow made by a whale very close to us. We turned around immediately and a whale was right next to us! I was really excited until the wave the whale made started to rock our kayak. Along the way, we also saw a bald eagle in the nest taking care of her eggs. We also saw 2 sea lions hopping on a rock. We were checking them out and they were checking us out. The guide didn’t want us to get too close in case they started to follow us back to the cove but I didn’t see a problem with that! They were so cute, I wanted to take them home with me.
Our last stop was Victoria. This stop wasn’t very interesting since we arrived at 7PM. There weren’t much to see in town except the Empress Hotel and the harbor area had Victoria Day decorations.
By the next morning, we were back in Seattle and ready to go home. This was yet another great trip. Hopefully our next big vacation isn’t far away.
Word of advice when taking this cruise: Get to the departure port a day early so you don’t have to worry about missing the boarding time. Research your own shore excursion, it’s cheaper! Book a car to pick you up at the port when you get back. Do not take the cruise line’s bus, it’s mad chaos. One thing I really like about Holland America, you can order dining room food as room service, not just the room service menu. Yes, we had lobster, steak, crab legs, ice cream, cakes, shrimp cocktails….etc. delivered to the room and never went to either of the formal nights.