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Alaska May 2013

A 10 day Princess Cruise from San Francisco to Skagway, Alaska

Something I've wanted to do for a very long time was to take a cruise to Alaska, to see the glaciers, and learn more about the gold rush, etc. I could never talk Pete into doing it while we lived in California, his argument being that when we go on a vacation, we've got to have palm trees. Well, we are a little late for the palm trees that once existed in Alaska. Scientists studying the Eocene epoch, lasting from 56 million to 34 million years ago, claim that temperatures in Alaska were once as high as 86 degrees, which would easily support the existence of palm trees. Hence, the existence of petrified fossils that are now found there. The most logical reason for this is the continental drift theory. In our time period it's a totally different story.

How did I get Pete to agree to this cruise? I justified it by pointing out that we were short nearly 10,000 air miles with American Airlines to maintain our Platinum status. The perks have really spoiled us. Another factor is that we have now had two trips to Antarctica under our belts, and he knows how much we enjoyed those trips. I chose Princess Cruse Line and booked us on the Grand Princess, leaving San Francisco on 10 June, bound for Skagway, Alaska, and returning on 20 June. We had asked Pete's mom if the and Al would like to come on the cruise, and I was so happy that she said "SURE!"


This is the ship we took, the GRAND PRINCESS, built in Monfalcone, Italy in 1998, at a cost of US $450 million.
It can carry a maximum of 3,100 passengers and a crew
of 1,100. It is 951 feet long, 118 feet wide, has a
draught of 26 feet and gross tonnage
of 109,000 tons.


The map shows our route of travel, and the places where we stopped to go ashore and
learn a little about the history of the place, and believe me, there is a lot of history.



It took lots of time, waiting in lines, but we finally made it onboard. We are on the sun deck,
exploring our home for the next ten days, which we will be sharing with 3,000 or so other passengers.


We are leaving from Pier 35. You can see the Trans America Tower on the right, and at
dead center you can barely make out the Ferry Building. The Bay Bridge is off in the distance.


The Ferry Building is one of San Francisco's most famous landmarks.


It is a breezy day on the bay, as Pete takes our photo at arms length, and with a Caipirinha in hand.


We are under weigh and are leaving the Bay Bridge far behind. It's a beautiful day for starting a cruise.


A hungry seagull comes in close, looking for a handout. Could that be Jonathan Livingston Seagull?


This is just one of the pools. There is also an indoor pool. The huge screen is for movies at night, under the stars.


Our staterooms were supposed to be close together, but I guess since we had different booking numbers, that feature fell through the cracks. Pete and I were at the far aft part of the ship in cabin 714 and Pat and Al were in cabin 309, a little forward of amid ship.

Fortunately for us, the engine room was far below our deck with many decks separating us from the noise. It was quite a hike for each of us to meet at our cabin doors so we could go to dinner or to the shows together. I wished I had thought to bring my walkie talkies that Leo and Carol gave us years ago. That would have made things much easier. For our Grand Tour with Viking in July, we are booked on one of their new "LONG SHIPS", so I will definitely remember to bring them for that trip. Our staterooms on this ship were identical, but on opposite sides of the ship. We both had a nice balcony, but it was too cold to use them.


I got a shot of Alcatraz as we cruised by it. That is one heck of a cold rock to spend much time on, and the prison cells were not designed with comfort in mind. We did the tour of the prison many years ago, and I have no desire to do it again. ;o)

It was the usual cold and windy San Francisco Bay weather. The water must have been freezing. But that didn't stop the parachute wind surfers from braving it. There were several of them, and I watched them as we cruised toward Fort Point.


This kite surfer came fairly closer to our ship. He fell just after I took this photo, and he didn't waste any time getting back up.

Our excitement was high as we headed for the Golden Gate Bridge. We've driven or walked over this bridge many times, but have passed under it only a few times. Twice on a fishing trip for salmon, and this time on a huge cruise ship.


As we got closer to the bridge, the tops of its towers are hidden in a vale of fog, but not for long.


I was amazed at how fast the weather changes. There is blue sky above us as we pass under.


I swear, that antenna which was the highest point on the ship, it looked like it cleared the bridge by only inches.


As we head out to sea, with the prospect of spending the next two days AT SEA, we settle in to shipboard life.


And shipboard life means you wander the decks, and eat, and eat, and eat. Al actually had 5 meals a day. ;o)

There was always something to do, somewhere, and we quickly fell into a routine. We'd have breakfast, then we'd wander the decks. Pete and I would become absorb by our computers for an hour or so each day. Then it was time for lunch.


Here we are at one of Jules Talarico's lectures. Jules is a self styled naturalist. His lectures were generally interesting.


Jules had an amazing array of slides which he presented at his various lectures. He was an Air Traffic Controller with the USAF for 8 years. Following this short military career, he began a 25 year career in education, teaching the earth sciences and biology.


Another activity was the ice carving demonstration. I'd like to see the cocktail glass those ice cubes would fit in. ;o)


It was amazing to see how quickly they went from a block of ice to beautiful figures for adorning the serving tables.


And voila, from start to finish, less than 5 minutes. The blocks of ice were from Columbia. They said why, but I forgot.

There were two wine tasting events on the cruise. This one cost $25 each. Pete and I signed up for it.


The little canaps were selected for each wine we tasted. There must have been 50 tables set up just
like this one. I would hate to be the guy who had to wash all those glasses after the tasting was over.


There were two formal events. Don't they look like a stunning couple? ;o) Al and
I were the only ones with cameras, so we didn't get into very many photo shoots.


Well, maybe one or two shots.


While we waited for the doors to open so we could enter the dining room, they had built
this pyramid of champagne glasses, and there was a long line of ladies waiting their turn
to put their hand on the bottle while the guy doing the pouring filled the glasses from the
top one, while their picture was taken. It seems like a huge waste of champagne to me.

After two days of being at sea, with nothing but blue water all around us, we arrive at Ketchikan at 7:00 am on the 13th of May, and we will be spending 8 hours there. Ketchikan is the southwestern most city in Alaska, with a population of 8,050. It is known as the "Salmon Capital of the World". It's economy today is based on tourism and fishing.


Ketchikan is a quaint little town, where it rains quite a lot.


I imagine that when there are heavy rains up creek, the water level comes close to the floors of the buildings.


There is surprisingly little to see in town. Some gift shops for the tourists, and a tavern or two, but not much else.


Ketchikan is named after Ketchikan Creek which flows through the town.

We had purchased a Tour Package which included a tour of the town of Ketchikan, and we had some time to kill while waiting for that to begin. Part of the tour was a ticket to visit Dolly's house, which normally comes at the end of the tour, but since we had time on our hands before the next tour would begin, they suggested that we go see Dolly's house while we were waiting.


According to the hostess who gave us the introductory speech before we toured the house, she said that Dolly would entertain men at $3.00 for 15 minutes, and there was always a waiting line. Dolly was THE madam, and she didn't have any girls working for her. She took care of all her clients personally, of which there were very many, especially when the fishing boats were in. She did her part in making the history of Ketchikan a colorful one.


Dolly's house today. It is a museum, and one not to be missed if you happen to find yourself in Ketchikan.

Ketchikan's secondary post office box ZIP code, 99928, is one of the highest ZIP codes assigned in the United States.

Our tour took us to see the standing totem poles at one of its outdoor museums. The shop below is where they restore weather worn totem poles, or make new ones to replace those that are too far gone to be restored. We watched through the window as a master carver worked on a new replacement.


It was raining lightly in Ketchikan. It seemed there was no escape from the rain, but it didn't deter us.


Ketchikan has the world's largest collection of standing totem poles.
Three of the totems above are located in Totem Bite State Historical Park.


Totem poles are not religious icons, but recount familiar legends, clan lineages, or notable events. Some
poles celebrate cultural beliefs, but others are mostly artistic. There was even an Abraham Lincoln pole.


There was something strange about Abe's image. Everyone knows he was a very tall man.
But the carver created this image from a photograph he had, which was cut off just below
his waist, so he naturally thought he was a very short man.


This is the Clan House on the site of Totem Bite State Historical Park.


The Heritage Center houses one of the world's largest Collections of unrestored 19th century totem polls.

We enjoyed our tour of Ketchikan. It rained only a little. We headed back to the ship to get refreshed, and to play some cards before dinner. The ship pulled out of Ketchikan at 3:00 in the afternoon, and we headed for our next stop - Juneau. It was an overnighter, and we landed in Juneau at 8:00 the next morning.


Yep, it was raining in Juneau as well. We boarded the tramway to go up the mountain. It still amazes me how we can
trust our lives on a few steel cables to port us from sea level to the Mountain House (Shaa Hit) on Mount Roberts.


I realize this may be difficult to read. The Juneau Raptor Center is an interesting and educational visit. This Bald eagle
is recovering from an injury, and will be returned to nature as soon as he is able. It's a great service the folks are doing.


It's a long way down to our ship. Pete's wing span is the same as that of the Canadian Goose.


This is a resin cast of the foot print of an Alaskan Brown Bear. The claws look pretty lethal.


I apologize, this is even more difficult to read, but if you can, the history of
the life of this tree is fascinating. I hope you have a magnifying glass handy.


Inside the gondola heading down, we see the other gondola coming up. The window is spotted with rain drops.


It seems like a very long way down, and the cables don't appear to be strong enough to carry the gondola, let alone us.

Our tour of Juneau took us to a log cabin church, with a beautiful view, and from there to the Mendenhall Glacier.


What a beautiful view of the sound while listening to a sermon. I think my mind would wander. ;o)


From the quilt hanging on the wall, I got the impression that the severe winters present a perfect time for needle work.

In the last frame, the photo was taken from inside the Visitor Center at the Mendenhall Glacier. In 1935 from this point you could reach out and touch the face of the glacier. That gives you an idea of how much it has receded. It has receded 1.75 miles just since 1958, when Mendenhall Lake was created, and 2.5 miles since 1500. The face of the glacier has a negative glacier mass balance, and will continue to retreat for the foreseeable future.


The Mendenhall Glacier was quite impressive, but we could not get very close to it. The
tour didn't allow enough time to walk from the visitors center to the base of the glacier.

We went back to the ship, as it would be departing Juneau at 9:00 pm and we will be heading for Skagway, arriving at 7:00 am in the morning.

We like playing cards before dinner. The game we play is Hearts. There are a total of 26 points with the Queen of Spades worth 13 points, and each Heart worth 1 point. Your goal is to not take any points, but if you manage to take all 26 points, all the other players get 26 points and you get none. It's called shooting the moon.


The drink menu had some great quotes by famous people. Sir Winston Churchill makes his Martinis almost like Pete and I do. We like them very dry, so when at home we put a cap full of dry Vermouth in one glass, swirl it around and then dump it into the other glass, swirl that around and then dump it out. Then we put the chilled gin in each glass. That's close enough to Winston's method.


Scallops anyone? It is so nice to be served a delicious meal, and not have to do the dishes afterwards. ;o)

Through the night the ship plowed north, arriving at Skagway at 7:00 AM. We took the inside passage, and the fiords were a beautiful sight to behold before the sun went down.

The state of Alaska is unique in so many ways. It's a fisherman's paradise, a hunters dream come true and one of the greatest challenges for a backpacker/hiker. An interesting observation is that we bought Alaska from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million dollars. The news magazine I read, "TheWorld" has a section on homes in various places in the country. My current issue has Manhattan as the theme. An elegant 9 room fashionable Beekman Duplex in New York City's finest co-oops, renovated to the highest standards, with a superb layout, East River views, perfect for living and entertaining. Pricing it at $9.85 million dollars, speaks gobs about inflation. I have no idea what a home was going for in Manhattan in 1867, but I'm pretty certain it was no where near what we paid the Russians for Alaska. Today you can pay more for your home than we paid for an entire state. And in Beverly Hills, more than 10 times that amount for a single family "dream home" for one of the stars. That just sort of boggles the mind a wee bit.

In Skagway we took a tour that went up the highway paralleling the Klondike Trail of 98. I'm sure you've seen movies of the gold rush in Alaska.


These men, an estimated 100,000 prospectors, were part of a stampede on their way from Skagway to Dawson at the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers. This stampede was caused by news of the discovery of gold. The Canadian authorities insisted that each man should have a years worth of supplies with him, to prevent them from dying of starvation. The Canadian government did not want to become responsible for them. The men in the photo above were carrying their 2,000 pounds of supplies up the trail at 100 hundred or so pounds at a time. At the top of the climb they would leave their load and go back down for the next, until they had the entire 2,000 pounds of supplies together. Then they would begin the next leg of their climb. The journey proved to be too hard for many, and only between 30,000 and 40,000 would-be prospectors actually completed the trip. Of these, about 4,000 actually struck gold. The Klondike Gold Rush ended in 1899 after gold was discovered in Nome. In terms of gold mining in the Yukon, the gold rush lasted until 1903 when production peaked after heavier equipment was brought in. Since then, the Klondike has been mined on and off, and an estimated 1,250,000 pounds (570,000 kg) of gold has been taken from the area.

There were two routes from the ports of Dyea and Skagway to the gold fields, the Chilkoot or the White Pass trails. Our tour took us up the White Pass trail.


A view of White Pass in Summer. The prospectors tackled this trail in winter.



This is at the top of the pass, at the border between Alaska and the Yukon Territory. I had a chuckle at the "Twilight Zone"
at the bottom of the "You are entering a different Time Zone" sign above. The arrow is pointing to Yukon Territory.


This bridge is very unique. It is suspended from only one side. It spans an earthquake fault. At the right end it
rests on the pavement, and when the earth quakes, it just slides back and forth a bit, but does not collapse.
Repairs after a quake entails just adding a little asphalt where it was shaken up, to smooth out the roadway again.


Skagway is a quaint little port town. We roamed around a bit following our tour up the White Pass trail, then back to the ship.

We departed from Skagway at 8:00 PM, and headed south, arriving at the mouth of the Tracy Arm Fjord at 5:00 AM the next morning. We spent 5 hours cruising to the end of the fjord and back.


It was very calm and serene going slowly up this fiord. You can't capture the natural beauty with a digital camera.


It was interesting watching the captain do a 180 turn at the end of the fjord. It was very narrow and he made
ample use of the maneuvering engines on the sides of the ship, essentially turning this huge ship on a dime.


This is the Twin Sawyer Glaciers which dump into the 30 mile (48 km) long Tracy Arm Fjord. Below is a
YouTube link showing what happens when a HUGE iceberg calves off of the face of a glacier. Fortunately
this did not happen while we were there. It can be very dangerous, especially if you are in a small boat.

Some smaller tour operators actually offer tours where you can go right up to the face of the Sawyer Glacier in a kayak. My advice is to stay away from such tours. You never know when a huge iceberg is going to calve right before you very eyes.

We exit Tracy Arm Fjord at around 10:00 AM and head for Victoria. We spend the rest of this day at sea. When we arrive at Victoria at 7:00 AM, we enjoy a leisurely breakfast and then went ashore to take another tour. We were driven to the top of Mt. Tolmie, a mere 380 feet (117 meters) above sea level, to survey the Bowker Creek Watershed, which was once a pristine natural watershed which provided a natural waterway for Coho salmon to spawn. With the huge influx of man, Victoria's Bowker Creek became polluted and ceased to perform its natural function. The citizens of Victoria now have a 100 year plan to restore the creek back to its former beauty and functionality.


As you can see above, the deck chairs on the sun deck didn't get much use. I think the deck hands love these cruises to
Alaska because it makes a lot less work for them. There are a couple of hearty souls in the hot tubs, but nothing more.

Next we visited Robert Dunsmuir's Craigdarroch Castle. Technically it isn't actually a castle, but you couldn't tell from looking at it. Built in the 1890s as a family residence for the wealthy coal baron Robert Dunsmuir and his wife Joan, it is indeed a sight to behold. Robert died in April 1889, more than a year before the construction on the castle was completed. After his death, his sons Alexander and James took over the role of finishing the castle. The initial architect of the castle, Warren Heywook Williams, also died before completion of the castle. I know, this sounds like gris for the mill of superstition. ;o) It is believed that the castle had cost $500,000 when it was built. The crazy thing is that upon the death of Robert's wife, Joan, the Craigdarroch estate was sold to land speculator Griffith Hughes for $38,000. That's not a steal, because at the time there was a huge drop in the housing market, and a 5-room cottage in Victoria could be purchased for $1,500. He subdivided the 27 acre estate into building lots. The castle has 39 rooms and over 20,000 square feet. It became Victoria College from 1921 to 1946.




Robert Dunsmuir's Craigdarroch Castle is Victoria's Legendary Landmark.


Robert Dunsmuir was borne in 1825 in Hurlford, Scotland. His family was engaged in the coal business in his native Ayrshire. In 1850 his uncle, Boyd Gilmour, for whom he worked in the coal business, signed on with the Hudson's Bay Company to exploit a coal finding on the northern coast of Vancouver Island at Fort Rupert. Because some of those who had signed on to go with him decided not to go upon hearing news of the conditions and prospects there, Gilmour sought replacements for his party at the last moment. On 24 hours' notice of this opportunity Dunsmuir signed on. They sailed on the Pekin, bound for Fort Vancouver, via Cape Horn on December 19, 1850. It took 191 days for them to arrive. Today by air it is approximately 21 hours + layovers. I think 191 days on a ship, going around Cape Horn, would be somewhat less than a romantic voyage. ;o)

If you are interested in taking a video tour of the inside of the castle, go to this YouTube link:



The stained glass windows were quite beautiful. Amazing what money can do.


They did an excellent job in making the castle look as if it is currently being lived in.




It was a nice view from the upper floors. There were four floors, and NO elevator, and the stair cases were steep.
It made me think or our Sierra Vista home in Mountain View, which has 6 levels, but two of them were half levels
which made it essentially five stories, and also no elevator. ;o) Living on the 19th floor in Buenos Aires, I am so
happy that we have an elevator. We've only had to use the stairs once, due to a small fire in the garage, but we
only had to go DOWN.

Of course a visit to Victoria is not complete without stopping at The Empress Hotel.


Our City Tour was a short one, and it did not include High Tea at The Empress. The huge
trees on either side of the entry sidewalk look like huge green hairy mammoths to me.

In 1986 Pete and I drove our Grand Am to Canada to see the World Fair, and on that trip we visited The Empress Hotel in Victoria and very much enjoyed their High Tea, a traditional afternoon British event we were told not to miss. It was great, as the tea was excellent, and they served little sandwiches and lots of sweet cakes and rolls to enjoy with the tea.


I suppose it's pretty obvious why I truly enjoyed that Afternoon tea back in 1986. ;o)


These pastries and sandwiches were mouth watering good.


Victoria is a beautiful city, with lots of colorful gardens. This one is THE PEACE TULIP GARDEN, which is
a lasting commemoration honoring the Canadian troops who liberated the Netherlands during World War II.


The totem is part of THE PEACE TULIP GARDEN. I suspect that
when tulips are in season you would see a vast array of them here.


Across the harbor from The Empress Hotel stands this magnificent Government Building.
Victoria is the Provincial Capital of British Columbia.

We leave Victoria at 2 o'clock in the afternoon and head back to San Francisco, spending the rest of this day, and all of the next day at sea. On the morning of the 20th we docked at Pier 35 and began the ordeal of disembarking. With 3,000 people we knew it was going to take a while, so we shifted our minds into the PATIENCE gear.


The Transamerica Pyramid Tower and Coit Tower are landmarks of San Francisco. We are almost home.

We had a little bad luck in leaving San Francisco. Our plane landed with a failed indicator light, the one that tells the pilots that the wheels were down and locked. The part needed to fix it was not available at the airport, so they had to go elsewhere to get it. We were delayed 4 hours, which caused us to miss our connecting flight from Miami to Buenos Aires. The airline put us up in a hotel near the airport, and rebooked us on a flight the next night. We were a day late in getting back home. We sent an e-mail to a neighbor and asked her to let our cat caretaker know of the delay, and to feed them for one more day. Not that they would by any means starve. ;o)


A few photos from our balcony at the hotel we were put up in. I believe it was a Radisson Hotel, 5 minutes from the airport.

Since our flight was the next night, they gave us two nights so we wouldn't have to spend an entire day sitting in the airport. I thought that was pretty nice of them. We boarded American Airlines flight 909 at 8:30 PM. We have Platinum status so we have Priority boarding. We had just gotten to our seats in row 35, when over the PA we heard "Will Mr. Ronald Weaver and Mr. Peter Macay please come to the front of the aircraft, and bring your carry-on luggage with you." This sounded so much like we were being bumped off the flight for some unknown reason. Pete went forward (without our carry-on) to see what was up. After a long while he came back with a huge smile on his face and was giving me a big thumbs up sign. It turned our that they had bumped us to Business Class, in row 8. It wasn't easy to get from row 35 to row 8 with all of the other passengers still pouring on board with luggage in hand, and trying to find their seats. I went ahead and tried to hold up the flow of passengers so Pete could move ahead 3 or 4 rows with our luggage, then I would let those passengers go past and slithered my way forward a few more rows closer to row 8. After several iterations of this, we finally made it to our seats. Being primarily Coach passengers, the upgrade was a gift from heaven. I never knew how hard those stewardesses worked in First and Business Class. It was a world of difference from those in Coach. They waited on us hand and foot. I felt like royalty. ;o) All things considered, this was a beautiful ending to a wonderful vacation experience. We hope you have enjoyed reading about it.