The crew pulled anchor late last night, and we cruised overnight to our new destination – Cascade Creek Anchorage. From here, it’s possible to take a 5 mile hike to Patterson Lake. It’s now Tuesday, May 21st, and our first week of cruising is almost half over. This was a very relaxing day – the scenery was not quite as impressive as the previous day, but nothing to complain about.
I was once again up before 5am. When I looked outside, I saw another boat:
What’s this? Another boat at our private anchorage? It turned out this is the Safari Quest, another Un-Cruise ship, and crew were here to hike to Patterson Lake and do maintenance on kayaks stored over the winter.
It was another beautiful morning – all the sunshine you could ask for. We only had one event scheduled – a Skiff Tour. This was going to be a nice day to relax and catch up on some sleep.
I took some more early morning photos before heading to the lounge for coffee
The early risers club gathers in the lounge for coffee
The forward part of the lounge – the ship wasn’t fancy, but it was very comfortable – just right!
The bar – passengers ran a tab throughout the week, and paid up on Friday evening.
This little bird was waiting for me when I went back to the cabin to check on Lou – still sound asleep! How did he do it?
After breakfast, we watched one of the hiking groups getting a ride in the skiff to their starting point.
The Skiff Tours were our favorite activity during our first week – we will try the kayaks later in the week, and we’ll even do some of the easy hikes during weeks 2 & 3. Captain Dano was our skiff guide again, and he tried his best to find a bear, but no luck. He did keep us entertained with stories about the area. Today we saw several different types of birds, including harlequin ducks.
Some photos from our tour
The Safari Quest was still there when we returned from the Skiff Tour – I must have liked that boat, since I have way too many photos of it. As you can see, still not a cloud in the sky, and jackets were certainly not needed today.
I don’t recall if any group actually made it all the way to Patterson Lake, but I don’t think so. Being one of the first groups out this early in the season, the hikers were often trailblazers, since the guides hadn’t had a chance to scope things out. Being able to get close-up photos of wildflowers would have been nice.
Here are some photos from the Un-Cruise Photo Share taken on the hikes
Folks took advantage of the sunshine to lounge on the deck, and the crew even moved cocktail hour outside. The crew on the Wilderness Discoverer always looked for ways to make our day more enjoyable, even if it meant more work for them. They also served tasty appetizers every day at happy hour – but you better move quick if you want to get a sample.
Enjoying cocktail hour on the sundeck
Marika told us about tomorrow’s plans as we wrapped up our time on deck before dinner:
Dinner this evening was – I have no idea – I forgot to make a note of it, but I’m sure it was good. It was a lazy day – just what we needed. We didn’t get much of a sunset, so I had to help this one along in my dreams…
Today was Tuesday, May 20th. A most important day – my 60th birthday. I convinced Lou to play it low key on the ship, but there were numerous congratulations, and it was such a nice way to enter into my next decade. It was also a great day to reflect on how fortunate we are to have reached this stage of life mostly intact, and in a position to enjoy such an adventure. I thanked Lou for arranging the trip, and set out at 4am to see what I could see.
We were cruising towards an anchorage in Thomas Bay, near Baird Glacier (not an impressive glacier, but one that is accessible for shore walks). I’ll let the photos tell the story of my very early morning on deck:
A pre-dawn view – the “blue-hour” effect was very pronounced in Alaska. This is the period before sunrise, and after sunset, when the landscape takes on a lovely blue aura.
I thought someone was following us, but we were towing one of the skiffs
Cruising in May gave us the opportunity to see lots of snow on the mountains
It was time for coffee, and there was always some available in the lounge. I took a few photos of the interior of the ship to share:
A peek down the hallway on Deck 2 – this is where folks stored jackets and boots, and we also had lockers outside.
The Activity Board – each evening, Marika (Our Expedition Leader) would tell us about the options for the next day, and we would select our choices. They would then post our schedules on the board so we could see it first thing in the morning.
Fortified with caffeine, it was time to go back on deck, where the day just got better. The weather was unbelievably good, especially given how rainy it had been in Juneau.
And, because it was such a nice morning, here are some more photos showing the beautiful landscape and some early risers
Today was our first time to experience a full day at anchor. This is where the “Adventure” part of our Un-Cruise comes into play. We had options to go for a hike on Baird Glacier, take a skiff tour, or do some kayaking. There were also paddleboards available for the more adventurous. We were originally signed up for the Glacier Hike, but I wimped out after hearing it would be slippery and rocky. I had started an exercise program several months before the cruise to prepare for the hiking. Unfortunately, my knees didn’t appreciate the effort, and I’d tweaked one just before the cruise. Lou also had some restrictions on exercise, but was fine for moderate hikes. No since whining about it, we knew we wouldn’t be able to participate in everything, and we still found plenty to do each day.
We were anchored in a beautiful cove. They always tried to lift or set anchor after folks were awake if possible – it was a noisy process. They set the kayaks out, and adventures began after breakfast (with bacon … oh so good – the chef served a thick crispy bacon that all of us meat eaters raved about. There were also plenty of vegetarian options).
Lou must have smelled the tantalizing aroma of Discoverer Bacon …
Kayaks out and ready to go
Lou spotted a mountain goat up on the hill
Captain Danny demonstrates his Paddleboarding skills. He was passionate about everything, and very friendly. Captain Danny led by example – he did everything from leading skiff tours to bussing tables.
It was time for our Skiff Tour at 10:30am. We enjoyed the skiff tours on the Wilderness Discoverer – we were able to get up close to shore, and there were many opportunities for photographs – although it was sometimes difficult to get good wildlife shots when the skiff was bobbing along – even though we always stopped whenever anyone requested a photo op.
Alison hops out of the skiff to get some Rockweed – also called “Aloe Vera of the Sea.”
We got to taste the Rockweed, and I put some of the gel on my cheek – it was soothing just like aloe vera.
I did not expect it to be so sunny and warm in Alaska! It was a very pleasant day.
A few more photos from the sights we saw on our Skiff Tour
We went closer to Baird Glacier, and it was interesting to see how the glacial silt flowed into the water. We should have asked to go further so we could get a better view of the glacier.
The Wilderness Discoverer resting at anchor while folks are out playing
This photo shows the fantail of the ship – we will dock where the person is standing, step off the skiff and go up the steps to Deck 2 and store our life vests.
We were back just in time for lunch, and then it was a good opportunity to just relax – take a nap, read a book, and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. There was also kayaking and paddle boarding.
Enjoying the late afternoon out on the top deck
The photos in the gallery below are from the Un-Cruise Photo Share site – they sent all of us a link to the photos the guides took during our cruise.
We enjoyed another good meal for dinner, and continued getting to know our fellow passengers. Small ship cruising was turning out to be a good idea.
Not quite 9pm, and we were still waiting for the sun to go down
After 9PM, and the skies are still light. We can see a glow on the mountain in the distance, and the moon is already rising.
We enjoyed a lunch of pasta with sausage and peppers before cruising away from the glacier. Lunch is served buffet style, and there were always at least two options, including a vegetarian choice, and soup or salad. Most days we had fresh baked cookies! There was a pastry chef onboard, and all of our breads and dessert offerings were delicious.
We saw more spectacular views as we cruised out of Tracy Arm:
We approached Icy Falls, and the Captain carefully nosed us in close, as the crew gave directions. Folks had a chance to take photos, and we had a few re-enactments of the Titanic Bow scene. We were just missing a serenade from Celine Dion.
On the way to Frederick Sound, we cruised along the shoreline and saw a bear in the distance. We were excited to see our first bear! He (or she?) was quite a distance away, but Lou setup his tripod and large lens, and was able to get some good shots – perhaps too good for some … Remember, we are in the wilderness, and there is the whole Circle of Life thing.
As we continued cruising, it was time for more Safety Instruction. Our Expedition Guides gave us a demonstration on how to use the Kayaks, and also talked about hiking safety, with an emphasis on making lots of noise so you can startle the bears – and keep them AWAY from you. Happy to report we did not lose any adventurers to startled bears on this trip.
It was time for dinner – we usually ate at 6:30pm, but the time could change depending on what was happening outside the boat. We both chose cornish game hen, and enjoyed it since it’s not something we have often at home. Rock Fish was the non-meat option.
In the middle of dinner, the Captain announced we were coming alongside a Steller Sea Lion haul out – where hundreds of male Steller Sea Lions were making raucous noises. This is where the bachelors come to hang out since they weren’t lucky enough to find a Mrs. Steller Sea Lion. These guys were noisy, and smelly! They mostly slumbered on the rocks, but a few of the younger males were sparring in the water. The average size of Male Steller Sea Lions is 9ft. long and 1500 lbs !!! They have an average life span of over 20 years.
So far, we’d had an exciting day for wildlife – a Bear and a zillion Steller Sea Lions. It was about to get better. As we cruised into Frederick Sound, we saw humpbacks pretty far away (Lou said I was obsessive about seeing whales), and I was hoping we would get a closer view, since Frederick Sound is known for whale activity. We did get lucky, and a lone humpback surfaced near the boat. He was just lollygagging around, showing us his flipper. We learned this behavior is a known as “logging,” and that’s what he looked like – a great big log. He did do a few very shallow dives and show us some tail. Perhaps he was tired from his long swim back to Alaska from Hawaii.
Some more photos of Ernie, our logging humpback
It was after 9pm by the time we said goodnight to Ernie, so it was off to bed to get some rest before another exciting day.
Here is a recap of our itinerary for Week 1. We set sail (technically, started the motors) from Juneau on the Wilderness Discoverer, and will tour the Eastern Coves on our way south to Ketchikan.
We leave from Juneau on Saturday evening, ending up in Ketchikan on Saturday morning (of the following week).
Our destination on our first full day of cruising was Tracy Arm and the Sawyer Glaciers. We cruised during the night and were into Tracy Arm when I woke up early (which would be the drill for most of the week).
We were beginning to think black & white photography might be the way to go
Still lots of snow on the mountains
Tracy Arm is known for the steep, rugged walls. We didn’t see any wildlife as we cruised by.
It was still early, so there were no announcements over the loudspeaker, but our first stop was North Sawyer Glacier (also called just “Sawyer” Glacier). This is the less impressive of the two Sawyer Glaciers, but it was exciting for us to see our first Alaskan Glacier up close.
Diehards up early and out on the bow
Even Lou got up early to check out the glacier and take some photos. The photos in this report are a combination of mine and Lou’s.
Yes – the fellow next to Lou is wearing shorts and a t-shirt!
We stayed a short time at North Sawyer Glacier, then ventured to South Sawyer. I had read a lot about how so few ships get into Tracy Arm and Sawyer Glaciers this early in the season, so wasn’t sure what to expect. We got very close – perhaps another advantage of being on a small ship.
We can see the glacier – and there is a lot more ice in front of this one
Fortunately, the sun came out for awhile, and the reflections provided nice photo opportunities
We got even closer – I believe we were within a mile of the face, but my memory fails me …
Seeing South Sawyer Glacier this close was only the beginning. Soon, the crew began to lower the skiffs into the water and we were going to get our first chance to get out on the water in the small boats – I hope we don’t get stuck in the ice !!!
The first skiff is lowered into the water
A group of adventurers heads off … will they get stuck in the ice?
It was our turn to go out on the skiff at mid-morning. We put on our rain gear and our life vests and easily boarded the skiff (more about that later). It did rain a little while we were out, but nothing to dampen the excitement.
Captain Dano was handling our skiff – he was previously the Captain of the Wilderness Discoverer, but was getting ready to take over the S.S. Legacy
Laurie was our Expedition Guide for the day – she told us lots about the glacier, and about ice bergs, growlers, and bergy bits
This harbor seal took a good close look at us – harbor seals come to the glacier to have their pups since they are protected from predators
We saw some calving – and felt it too, as the waves rocked the small boats. You can’t get too close to the ice bergs because much of their volume is underwater, and they can tip over at any time.
The blue ice makes a nice backdrop as the skiff goes by …
The shapes and colors of the icebergs were mesmerizing – other worldly…
From the skiff, we were able to get close-up photos of the glacier face
We took a lot of photos at the glacier
We were out on the skiff for over an hour – everyone got a turn in one of the small boats. It was after lunch before we finally picked up anchor and set off for the rest of the day’s adventures. The experience at the glacier exceeded our expectations of what cruising on a small boat would be –
The day had finally arrived! We were going to board the Wilderness Discoverer this afternoon to set off on our 3 week Un-Cruise Adventure. But first, I had a whale watching tour to get to. I had previously booked a morning tour with Harv & Marv – this group gets rave reviews on Cruise Critics Alaska forum. They take folks out in small 6-passenger boats and are known for getting to the good whale sightings. I was outside the Hotel waiting for my ride at 7:30 am. The van from Harv & Marv’s came and was filled with passengers from the large cruise ship in town (the Carnival Miracle).
We had a 30 minute drive to Auke Bay where we were split into our groups for the day. Guess what, no 6-passenger boat for us. We had been combined into their 12-passenger boat. Disappointed at first, I soon realized this was a very good thing. The weather turned out to be terrible – the seas were rough, and the whales were few. I would still recommend a tour with Harv & Marv’s. Oh well, at least I gave it a try. Lou was feeling smug, since he had opted not to go on the whale watching practice run, and was snug in bed.
Captain Shawn tells us about whales. Humpbacks we see in Alaska spend the winters in Hawaii, and were just returning.
The waves were even rougher than they appear in this photo
A view of the Lighthouse – not tilted for artistic effect
We did see a pair of Humpbacks near shore
It was difficult to take photos, since the boat was rocking and it was raining. There will be better whale photos later.
After we’d been out a couple of hours, everyone started making a beeline back to shore
An eagle on the dock, taken as we waited for the return van – it’s raining hard
We made a quick stop at Mendenhall, but it was too wet to do much – a shot of the Helicopter Tours buzzing the glacier
A smiling Ranger, even though she is soaking wet, and getting wetter by the minute
I was back before lunch; Lou had already checked in our bags at the Un-Cruise holding area (next door to the Hotel). We had some lunch and walked around town for a while. It was raining pretty hard. Lou did some shopping, and he picked our favorite souvenir from the trip. Meet “Lou, The Bear.”
The sales lady is laughing, because we had all just figured out that Lou’s name was the same as the bear’s…
We topped off the afternoon with a cold brew at the Alaskan Hotel – reportedly the oldest Hotel in Alaska.
We went back to the Convention Center, where we met some of our fellow passengers and were escorted to the Wilderness Discoverer at 5pm. The Un-Cruise staff had already taken all the luggage onboard the ship.
The Wilderness Discoverer is nose to nose with the Wilderness Explorer
Boarding was quick, even though everyone had to stop for a photo. The photos were used to make a cheat sheet to help us remember everyone’s name.
Lined up, ready to board. Each group was escorted to their cabin by one of the staff.
We were shown to our cabin and found all of our luggage already on board. We had one of the larger cabins on Deck 3 – No. 400.
I wasn’t the only one snapping photos as we left Juneau
Folks are checking out the Top Deck as we prepare to leave. The mid section of the top deck was open, with seating for viewing the scenery and relaxing. Our cabin was on this deck, just behind the Bridge.
More folks enjoying the view – the sun is coming out – a good omen! The door at the edge of the photo goes into our cabin – we also had a large window for viewing.
Still checking out the view, perhaps thanking Mother Nature for the hint of sunshine in our future
We cruised into blue sky as we left Juneau and rainy skies behind
Once settled onboard, we participated in the Emergency Muster Drill, attended the Welcome Reception, and ate dinner. There will be more about meals onboard as we continue the story of our trip – let’s just say we ate well, very well. Dinner tonight was salmon with wild rice. We were totally worn out, so retired to our cabin shortly after dinner – the hectic pace before the trip plus the long day of travel had caught up with both of us.
The Dining Room is setup for dinner – tonight we had salmon and wild rice. The crew is looking apprehensive about this week’s rowdy crowd …
And, a nice dessert. Having a pastry chef onboard didn’t do anything to help our calorie-intake
We spent some more time on deck after dinner, enjoying the crisp air and clouds in the distance
Checking out the Kayaks and Skiffs stored on the aft part of Deck 3
There was some nice light on the mountains as the sun began to go down – close to 9pm
We’ll have better sunsets, but this wasn’t a bad end to our first day onboard the Wilderness Discoverer
Mendenhall Glacier is one of the main attractions in Juneau. It is about a 30 minute drive from downtown, and it is odd to see a large glacier so close to a residential community. It was raining when we arrived, but stopped soon and we were able to get a good view of the glacier. We took the one mile Nugget Falls Trail to a large waterfall near the glacier. There were very few people around, no doubt because of the weather and because it was so early in the season.
A word about viewing photos: Clicking on most of the individual photos will bring up a slightly larger version. Photos in a gallery can also be enlarged – see instructions in the text preceding the gallery in this post.
Our first view of Mendenhall Glacier; it was a dull day for photos, but we still found this to be a beautiful place to visit:
There is a nice new Visitor’s Center, which we thought we would visit after our walk. Unfortunately, it started raining again, so we never made it inside.
We noticed how different the views were, depending on which way you looked. Turning away from the glacier, you’d never guess there was a frozen wall of ice just a mile away:
We decided to do the Nugget Falls Trail – this is an easy 1 mile walk along a gravel path. We didn’t see any bears, although sightings had been reported during the previous days. It kept threatening to rain, but didn’t start until we were almost back to the parking area.
A bear had been seen earlier in the week
You can see how few people there were at the glacier – we saw just three other couples on the trail. Later in the season, a common complaint is it’s so crowded you can’t enjoy the serenity of this special place.
Lou enjoyed taking photos of the glacier, but he prefers to focus on smaller details – like this little bird on the side of the path:
We hung out at the glacier and falls area for about half an hour, just soaking up the strange atmosphere. We don’t see many glaciers in Florida:
Reluctantly, I even posed for a photo in front of Nugget Falls:
Here are a few more photos from our visit to the glacier
We finished out the day by doing a driving tour, taking a brief walk through town, napping, and dinner. It was raining all afternoon and evening, so we didn’t feel like being outside. Dinner was at Zen, the “Asian-fusion” restaurant at The Goldbelt; Lou had lamb and I had halibut – both prepared with an Asian flare.
We couldn’t resist one short walk across to the dock, where we would board the Wilderness Discoverer the next afternoon. It was enroute to Juneau, but the Wilderness Explorer was still at the dock: