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Jill Weinlein

Age: 40

Occupation:writer

Number of Cruises: 6

Cruise Line: Glacier Bay

Ship: Wilderness Discoverer

Sailing Date: June 20th, 2004

Itinerary: Southeast Alaska including Glacier Bay National Park

Size does matter when Cruising Alaska

“Three Grizzly bears are off the port side” announced Richard, a naturalist aboard the Wilderness Discoverer, ending our deep slumber at 6:10 a.m. Rushing from our cabin with cameras ready, we saw a large bear chasing two smaller bears near Sandy Cove in Glacier Bay Alaska.

Richard explained that a mother grizzly and her three-year-old cub were running from an amorous male. In pursuit of romance, a male often will try to kill a female’s cub. As she chased her cub into some brush and out of our view, she suddenly turned and waded into the icy water staring at our small ship. Like a dog paddling in a lake, the mother grizzly swam toward our boat about 500 yards away. Richard said this was a very unusual sighting, although bears can swim great distances. Apparently the channel was too wide for her to cross. She turned away from the boat, swam back to land and lumbered away.

This was one of many wilderness sightings on our seven-day cruise through Southeast Alaska. These memorable experiences make the 49th state a premier cruise destination for families.

Our cruise began in the capital city of Juneau in late June. Our 87- passenger Glacier Bay Cruiseline ship was dwarfed next to the mega-ship Princess Diamond and Celebrity cruise ship. Once onboard, we found our stateroom to be the most compact we’ve seen. Imagine the sleeping arrangements inside a small camper. A mirrored door led to the toilet with a showerhead above in a closet-size room. Our daughter after one look said, “This is so cool.”

Our first stop was the fishing village, Petersburg. Mega-ships can’t navigate its narrow passageway, so it’s not touristy with T-shirt shops on every corner. Many of its residents speak Norwegian and their houses are decorated with colorful floral motif paintings.

Sharon, the ship’s Children’s program director led our group on a nature hike. We saw a pair of bald eagles, colorful starfish, sea urchins, ribbon worms, butter clams, periwinkle and crabs down by the tide line.

Later while on a Salmon cannery factory tour, we watched workers cut salmon into strips in preparation for smoking. After the tour we sampled smoked salmon, salmon sausage, and salmon dip spread on crackers. Before dinner, we were alerted to a pod of Dall porpoises on the port side of the ship. We grabbed our binoculars and enjoyed watching these playful black and white mammals frolic in the ship’s wake.

We awoke the next morning to another rare day of sunshine and warm weather. Surrounded by cliffs more than 2,500 feet above the water we sailed up to one of the most dramatic fjords in Alaska, Tracy Arm. Approaching our first glacier at South Sawyer Glacier we heard the sound of a gunshot, but were told it was the glacier cracking. A minute later the aquamarine-colored ice cracked and came crashing down into the water with a huge splash.

We disembarked at Haines after breakfast to stroll around the quiet historic town and up to Fort Seward (the only WWII Army post in Alaska). A scenic twenty-minute ferry ride took us to the old gold rush town of Skagway. Four mega-ships and two smaller cruise ships were docked in the harbor. On any day during cruise season, over 10,000 people tramp down narrow sidewalks and streets buying nuggets of gold and souvenirs. A dramatic three-hour ride on the White Pass and Yukon train took us to White Pass Summit near the U.S.- Canadian border. It was pricey, but the scenery made it worthwhile. The following day we docked and hiked along the Forest loop trail to Glacier Bay Lodge. A park ranger led an evening program and slide show on the beauty of Glacier Bay National Park.

Entering Margerie Glacier and John Hopkins inlet we watched tufted puffin swim among to harbor seals feeding their pups. Later we followed some humpback whales as they breached the surface at least fifty times.

On our last day we anchored in Katlian Bay and kayaked near small islands. During low tide we could see colorful starfish as large as a dinner plate. After a delicious Captain’s dinner, we went back out to watch the 10:30 p.m. sunset.

Richard gave us our last wake up call as we docked in Sitka. By 8 a.m. we shook hands and hugged the 56 passengers and 27 crewmembers who made our seven-day cruise one to remember.

Cruising Alaska is the ultimate way for families to travel great distances in the North Pacific. The wildlife and scenery are awe-inspiring and thought provoking for all ages.

 

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