6am and we are Sitka-bound. We had a nice morning, with just the occasional sprinkle. The views as we cruise to Sitka:
The small ship behind us is the Admiralty Dream – the one we saw during Week 2 with the whale right next to it:
At 8:30am, we were docking, and the gals got us safely secured:
Debarkation was smooth, and we had a chance to say goodbye to the crew and thank them for another good week. We were on our way to the Sitka Westmark Hotel, where we would overnight before leaving the next morning on our journey to Denali National Park.
Here is some info on Sitka from Wikipedia: It is the largest city-borough in the US, with a land area of 2,870.3 mi2 and a total area (including water area) of 4,811.4 mi2. With a population of 8,881 in 2010, Sitka is the fourth-largest city by population in Alaska.
We went to the Westmark where our room wasn’t ready (and wouldn’t be until about 3pm). We were scheduled to go on a Small Boat charter to St. Lazaria Island to see Puffins and Otters. Unfortunately, our charter was cancelled due to problems with the boat. Disappointed, but it was for the best – we still weren’t feeling great and the weather got worse in the afternoon.
We took care of an important errand first thing; packed up quite a bit of our stuff and mailed packages home. Lou also sent his camera gear home. I was worried about this, but it turned out ok. It did take a month (!) for our packages to reach us, but everything except my Alaskan Fudge was in good shape.
We weren’t in the mood for a lot of tourist activity, but did enjoy walking around Sitka. Sitka has a strong Russian Heritage and several of the prominent attractions provide more information about the history of the area. Sitka also likes bears – they were all around town:
We tried a Mexican Cafe for lunch, and it was tasty – we like to sample Mexican Cuisine in unlikely parts of the world:
One place we did want to visit was St. Michael’s Orthodox Cathederal; it was established in the nineteenth century when Sitka was under Russian rule, and is the oldest Orthodox Cathedral in the New World. It burned down in 1966, but was rebuilt. When we inquired about a tour, we were invited to join a tour group in session (from the Admiralty Dream, it turns out), and learned more about the Cathedral and the Orthodox Religion.
Our room was ready when we returned to the Westmark (after buying a few more t-shirts). Ahhhh – we each have our own bed, and the bathroom seems ginormous compared to the previous 3 weeks! This will be a welcome relief from having to clamber over Lou to get in and out of bed during the past week (no photos and no video of that adventure!).
We each took a long shower and a nap. We had dinner plans with Dick & Polly, a nice couple we’d enjoyed spending time with during the past two weeks and hope to see again. We had a pleasant dinner at the Westmark Restaurant, then hit the sack. We had an early departure tomorrow for Fairbanks – 4am!!!
Pretty Flowers in Bloom in Sitka:
The view from our room, overlooking Sitka harbor:
Thoughts on Week 3: Glacier Bay and the Northern Passages on the Wilderness Explorer:
Scenery – A : Spending 3 days in Glacier Bay National Park was a treat, and we would love to go back again. We didn’t find the final few days as scenic as the previous two weeks, but were probably influenced by the rainy weather and the arrival of our colds. Overall, we had great weather for Week 3 of the trip – even though we had rain, it wasn’t enough to interfere with activities if you really wanted to get outside and experience Alaska.
Wildlife – A: How could it be anything less than a top grade? Sure, we saw lots of humpbacks. But, we added Orcas, Puffins, Mountain Goats and baby ones too. And how about the wolf, and a few bears? Of course, we saw eagles and other birds as well. No one could complain about this week’s wildlife sightings not living up to the marketing brochure.
Life Onboard – B: We found the Wilderness Explorer to be less comfortable inside than the Wilderness Discoverer – the two areas that affected us were our room and the lounge. The lounge seemed congested at times with a full complement of passengers on board. The food was good, and we once again got a chance to meet some nice people. We didn’t get to know the staff as well, only being on the boat for one week. Having Ranger Fay (and Miss Elizabeth) join us for the first three days was a plus.
Off Boat Acitivities – B: We had a couple of nice shore walks, and certainly the chance to visit Bartlett Cove was appreciated. Once we left Glacier Bay, it seemed Skiff Tours were given a lower priority than they had been the previous two weeks. Our perspective may be clouded by the weather and our colds. Just like in Week 1, there were a few hard core adventurers who would have liked the strenuous hikes to be more difficult, but you will probably always have people at both ends of the spectrum.
Overall: We may have been more nitpicky about some things in Week 3 because we’d had such a fantastic time on the Wilderness Discoverer. But, don’t get the impression we didn’t have a good time. Not the case at all – it was a great week.
Thoughts on the whole Ultra Adventure: “You’re gonna spend 3 whole weeks on a small boat?”
Was 3 weeks too long? No, for us it was just right. We have spent summers living on a boat a lot smaller than these two ships, and knew we wouldn’t have a problem with being on the boat for so long. By doing 3 weeks, we didn’t have to worry about missing something. We built in time for bad weather and a few lazy days.
What was the best week? There’s an easy answer to this question … we don’t know! We’ve gone back and forth and can make an argument for any of the three weeks being the best. Week 1 touring the Eastern Coves – it was all new and exciting, and seeing both Tracy Arm and Misty Fjords was an unforgettable experience. Week 2 touring the Western Coves – we were into the ship’s routine, and had a balanced week on and off the boat. Some of the best early morning views and sunsets happened in Week 2. Week 3 – Visiting Glacier Bay was amazing, and the wildlife viewing was wonderful. Weeks 1 and 2 gave us a look into Native Alaskan history and culture, and Week 3 included a visit to a beautiful National Park – it’s too hard to choose a favorite!
Were there any negatives? This report has been largely positive and complimentary of both the Alaska Inside Passage and Un-Cruise Adventures. Alaska deserves the praise, because it is so special – there is a reason people go back year after year. And, we were treated to spectacular weather. Un-Cruise Adventures exceeded our expectations, and they strive to provide excellent customer service. The only negative we’ve talked about is the transitional day between each cruise. We found ourselves waiting around in the afternoon to re-board the ship, and that was tiring. This wouldn’t be an issue if you are the go-getter-gotta-see-everything type of traveler because you can easily occupy yourself on those days. We are more laid-back, and would have preferred to have a true “3-week” experience instead of 3 separate 1-week adventures, if that makes sense. This is a fairly minor “negative.”
Will you Un-Cruise again? Yes, definitely. I’ve booked us on the Ultra Adventure for next summer. We’re going to start out on the Wilderness Explorer in Sitka, and I’ve booked a cabin with twin beds. Starting in Sitka means we’ll end the week on a high note in Glacier Bay. We’ll switch to the Wilderness Discoverer in Juneau for two weeks touring the Western & Eastern Coves, and have the same cabin we had on this trip. Switching ships after just one week instead of two will be less disruptive We’ll be going in mid-July, after having spent a week at Katmai watching the bears fish for salmon with Len, our favorite photography tour leader.
JUST KIDDING, Lou!!! We would like to go back to Alaska, and hope another Un-Cruise Adventure will be part of that trip. We are still discussing whether we’ll go in July/August or wait to go later to see the fall colors. But, there are no definite plans, and we’ve sworn off big trips for a year or two. I outlined a slightly different Ultra Adventure in my fantasy trip, but that’s only because we’ve already done the early season visit. I wouldn’t change a thing about the trip we just did – going in May allowed us to celebrate both birthdays onboard. We saw lots of snow on the mountains, had wonderful weather, made new friends, and saw baby animals. It was perfect.
Up Next: The highlights of our 5 day Land Tour start in the next post.