Alaska Shore Excursions Holland America Line – Part 3

Dolly’s and The Humpback

Whale tailJuneau is the state capital of Alaska but our visit today is primarily to head out for whale watching. We were lucky enough to see quite a few humpback whales and particularly rewarding was a mother and calf swimming together. There’s an uncanny grace to a mammal that can weigh up to 45,000 kg, gliding up to the surface for air, before duck diving to the depths, tail a flipping. Sadly we weren’t treated to a spectacular full breach, so I’m now looking for someone to stitch together all the photos of bits of whale to make a whole one. Bald eagles and seals of various species completed the wildlife menu and a sumptuous lunch of locally caught silver salmon at Orca Lodge was the icing on the cake. That just left enough time to make a quick stop at the Mendenhall Glacier for another close up of this spectacular part of the wilderness. It’s said that parts of the land around the further reaches of the glacier have rarely, if ever, been visited by man and that the animals would not know what to make of a human if they came across one. Mendenhall is also home to a spectacular glacial waterfall, where a tremendous volume of water cascades down. We also watched a local guy take his daily swim in the 2C water, no wet suit, just trunks. Some questioned his sanity, I was full of admiration.

Creek StreetIn the evening we had the chance to meet some of the officers and had an engaging and interesting discussion with senior officer David Buckley, responsible for safety, health and environmental issues. Dinner followed in the Vista Dining room and we enjoyed attentive service and a fine meal headlined by a mouth-watering Thai pork curry. John Joseph then reduced us to tears of laughter during his outstanding one man show in the Vista Lounge. A top day all round.

Steam clockOur final stop in Alaska was Ketchikan which welcomes visitors as the first city in Alaska, presumably because it’s the first place the cruise ships stop when heading up from Vancouver or Seattle. Its main touristic claim to fame seems to be the former red light district on Creek Street, where the boardwalk of bordellos was once home to up to 30 houses of ill repute. Dolly’s seems to be the focal point and claims that here is the place where both the salmon and the men came upstream to spawn, presumably the big difference is that salmon only get to do it once.  The bawdy headline does mask some interesting features, like the use of wooden trestles to conquer the extremely hilly terrain and perch houses upon the hillside. Some residents have a mighty climb of stairs from road level to get their groceries home. There is also a salmon ladder in the thunderous Ketchikan Creek to assist the poor salmon with a particularly tricky part of their journey upstream (right past Dolly’s ironically). Our interesting downtown walking tour was given to us by the Tourist Information Office, where we were assured that (if we followed the route faithfully) it would be flat and avoid the hills. It wasn’t and didn’t!

Totems - Stanley Park, VancouverA sea day took us back to Vancouver but not before we had the opportunity to sample the delights of the Pinnacle Restaurant.

Before we headed for the airport there was time to discover a little of Vancouver. It was remarkably easy to walk around the city and there is an excellent and good value transit system of sky train (some of it underground), busses and river boats to make the most of your time. The city has an easy going feel about it and Vancovians are so helpful, we rarely stopped to study the map (free from the tourist office on the other side of the road to Canada Place) without someone stopping to offer assistance. Engine 374Blessed with unseasonably warm weather we took in the quaint delights of Gasstown and caught the full on the hour performance of the Steam Clock. Cute but not in your league Big Ben, you have nothing to worry about.  Stanley Park is a delight to walk around and the Sea Wall offers a lovely stroll and great views of the city, there is also a horse drawn carriage to tour you around if you don’t fancy walking far.  There were plenty of impressive buildings to admire as we strolled through the city but our discovery of the day was the Yaletown Roundhouse, where the renovated Engine 374 is housed. 374 made history in 1887 when it pulled the first transcontinental passenger train into Vancouver. The culmination of a 10 year engineering project to run a line coast to coast. Look close and you can see the Silver Travel bag hitching a ride.

The Denali visit and Alaskan cruise was an extraordinary and unforgettable experience and one we are delighted to have ticked off our bucket list.

Silver Travel recommends Holland America Line

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Steve Aldridge

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