Category: Wilderness Discoverer

More 5/27: Cruising Through Chatham Strait

We departed Klawock after lunch, and at 1pm we were passing by the local sawmill – another industry supporting those who live in Klawock:

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We cruised for a couple of hours, all the time keeping a lookout for whales.  They’re out there, you know…  At 3pm we had our first sighting (at least that’s the first one we saw).  Pretty far out there, but definitely a humpback whale:

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Mid-afternoon wasn’t the greatest time for photos, especially with the water being a little choppy.  But, that didn’t stop us.  Rather than show you lots of pics with a little bit of whale, here’s a collage made up from one of them, as he was preparing to do a dive – we watched this type of action for about an hour:

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We were happy – we’d seen more whales.  But, wouldn’t it be nicer if they came a little closer to the boat? We did see more whales, but they kept their distance from the ship:

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In the meantime, a bald eagle flew overhead, checking us out:

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And, some of us entertained ourselves by playing a new version of “Capture the Flag.”  The goal was to get a shot of the Un-Cruise banner with all the letters showing:

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And then, we had some whales venture a little closer:

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While they weren’t right next to the boat, it was possible to get a good photograph with a zoom lens, or a good view with the binoculars.  Here’s a series taken of the same whale as he/she does a dive:

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Warning – this next section may only be of interest to photographers.  So, how close were we?  I have no idea, and didn’t think to ask the guides.  It might be possible to calculate the approximate distance, given the size of a whale fluke, the focal length of the lens, and the resolution of the camera sensor, but that seems like a lot of work.  All I cared about was getting a decent photo, even if I had to crop it in Lightroom after the fact.

To illustrate this point, here is one of the shots I showed in the first collage – when the whale was really, really far away:

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You can definitely see that it is a whale, and the photo doesn’t look too bad in the mini-collage.  But, it lacks sharpness and detail, and there’s not much you can do with it.  The screenshot below shows the photo in Lightroom, and gives the context of just how small an area was cropped out to produce the final photo:

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Here is a similar shot when the whales were closer to the ship:

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Still not perfect, but it’s much easier to do something with this shot than the first one.  The crop rectangle for this pic is much larger than the one above.  Here’s a Lightroom view which shows what it looked like before cropping, and how much of the whale it would show if cropped to about the same dimensions as the far-away tail:

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Confused yet?  It really doesn’t matter – just wanted to give an idea of what we meant by “closer to the ship.”  (These were all shot with a Canon 5DMIII using a 100-400mm zoom lens at 375mm).

Semi-Technical Discussion Over – we won’t go through this again.  There will be more whales coming up in future posts (yay!), and I’ll just comment if they were really really far away, far away, or pretty close …

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We watched the whales until Happy Hour, then I took a break before Lou signed me up for Whale Watcher’s Anonymous.  Lou chose the duck for dinner and said it was some of the best he’d had. Around 8pm, I was back on deck, planning to try for sunset shots:

At 8:15pm, the water had calmed down, and a little color was building in the sky

At 8:15pm, the water had calmed down, and a little color was building in the sky

 

A different view before 8:30pm - some color, and some interesting clouds, but it was still very light outside.

A different view before 8:30pm – some color, and some interesting clouds, but it was still very light outside.

 

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Watch Out !!! You never know what danger lurks around the corner …

 

Couldn't really get a good sunset photo, even though the colors and clouds were strong.  So, I did what any Instagram user does, and applied a filter to turn it into art (or not!)

Couldn’t really get a good sunset photo, even though the colors and clouds were strong. So, I did what any Instagram user does, and applied a filter to turn it into art (or not!)

5/27: Klawock & Tlingit Culture

27May-56Our destination today is Klawock – a town of about 850 residents and a major center of the Tlingit Culture. Fishing and tourism are two of the major ways the people in Klawock support themselves. The tourism industry revolves around people who come in for fishing and hiking trips. Commercial tourism built around the cultural aspects of the area is not currently a big business – our tour was arranged by the Un-Cruise folks. In fact, we didn’t even see a single souvenir shop our our walks. Klawock is 56 air miles from Ketchikan.

 

We had been cruising all night, and were still in motion as the sun was coming out behind the trees:

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The sun isn’t the only thing up and about at 5am – a hardworking crew member washes down the bow:

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A cup of coffee and a quick check of the menu was next on the agenda:

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It was too nice a morning to lounge around inside, so back outside to check out another surreal Alaskan morning:

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Slipping back to the cabin to make sure Lou was awake for breakfast, I had to maneuver my way through early morning Yoga Class – they were in full crouching tiger mode.  We had a new Wellness Instructor this week – Shannon (who had the most delightful Georgia accent).  She also held stretching classes in the afternoon, and it’s amazing how much just 20-30 minutes of stretching helped tired muscles.

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More photos from this unbelievable morning as we cruised into Klawock:

We were able to dock at the pier, and were introduced to our guides for the day. Victor had lived in Klawock all of his life and is currently one of the city officials. He told us about the history of Klawock, and also shared many stories about Tlingit Culture. He brought two young people with him, his niece Sidney and James, who had recently graduated from high school.

As we got off the boat, the water was amazingly clear, and Lou took these photos of sea creatures from the dock (which would be the logical place, as it’s unlikely he would dive into the water… ):

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This is a salmon cannery that is no longer in operation. Klawock was the sight of the first salmon cannery in Alaska – built in 1878. As Victor said, “when was the last time any of you bought canned salmon?” As in other parts of the country, newer methods for preserving fish have made many canneries obsolete (we still prefer tuna in a can, but that may be habit and nostalgia).

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Our first stop was to see a beautiful canoe, a gift which was made by a man in Seattle to honor his wife’s parents. (In return, Klawock gifted a totem Honor Pole, which is displayed at the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle – an important part of the Tlingit culture is maintaining “Balance.”)

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Some of us sat out part of the lecture – it was very interesting, but it was also such a gorgeous day to just sit and soak in the sunshine:

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Hannah & Beth posing as we wait for the next part of the tour.  A word about our expedition guides – they were all enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their subject.  Many had backgrounds in natural science, and all had an obvious love of the outdoors, especially the natural wonders found in Alaska.

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After learning about the gift of the canoe, we split into two groups. Our group walked to the Totem Park – this park has 21 totem poles.  All of these are Mortuary Totems, so they each tell the story of the person who is being honored, and there is a place for ashes to be placed in the pole.

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From the City’s Webpage:

Klawock’s Totem Park has the largest collection of authentic totem poles in Alaska. The park displays original and replica totems from the old village of Tuxekan. The City, assisted by the village corporation’s donation of whole logs, recently built a carving shed to house many of the totem poles during restoration. Visitors are welcome to drop by to see the carvers at work. It is located across the street from the mall.

Lou took most of the photos of the totem poles shown below, and of the carvings we’ll see in a minute.  He was intrigued by these, and it’s also the type of stuff he likes to photograph.  I took a break from the camera for a while, just to enjoy the day.

 

After looking at all of the totem poles, we walked about a mile to the Carving Shed that is built as a replica of a Tlingit Long House – a communal living space.

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Sidney and James told us about the carving shed and some of the history of totem poles.  One of the problems the Tlingit  are trying to rectify is the issue of losing their language – many of the people Victor’s age aren’t able to speak the language, because they were never taught.  There is a concentrated effort to teach young people, and Victor was quite proud of Sidney’s ability to speak Tlingit.  The tour of Klawock was informal, and we were encouraged to ask questions.  Here, Sidney and James share a laugh with fellow passengers:

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Photos from our tour of the Carving Shed and Long House follow – these are the older totems to be restored.

 

We learned how the story of the totems belongs to the person who commissions the carving, so James said he couldn’t tell us much about the new totems being carved.

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Taking time to admire the flowers and weeds as we walked back to the boat:

We returned to the Wilderness Discoverer in time to have lunch as we started the next leg of today’s journey.  Visiting Klawock was exactly the type of experience we’d hope to have when we signed up for small ship un-cruising, and we’re happy to say it lived up to expectations.

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5/26: El Capitan Cave & Week 2 Itinerary

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We continued our journey back to Juneau, but we wouldn’t be retracing our steps.  This trip will cover the Western Coves of the Inside Passage.  Here’s a map that shows our route for Week 2 (although we went to Endicott Arm, not Tracy Arm, on Day 7):

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In the photos we received for Week 2, they included a chart of where we went each day – a nice touch and something I wish we had for Weeks 1 & 3.  Our journey would take us around Prince of Wales (POW) Island, through El Capitan Passage, and to an anchorage near El Capitan Cave.  This is the largest cave in Southeast Alaska, and those brave enough to climb over 300 steps would be able to take a tour of the cave later today.

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Once again, I was outside by 4am.  We were still cruising towards El Capitan.  The first thing I noticed was the spooky calmness of the water, except for our wake.  It looks like velvet in the photographs.  It only looked like this for a few minutes; as it got lighter, the surface of the water lost it’s velvety texture.

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The full moon was still out in the sky, and the pre-dawn lighting was strange – starting out pink, going to a golden yellow:

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The mountains in the distance began to take on the morning glow:

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I’d been taking photos for about an hour, when Lou caught me taking a photo of my camera – he laughed and told me I was crazy:

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I played around for another hour or so, and never got any real winners, but it was fun.  I’ll count this early morning session as one of my activities for the day.

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Just after 7am, there was a mad scramble to the aft section of the boat – Orcas !!!  Oops, they weren’t Orcas, but were Dall’s Porpoises.  Much smaller, and quicker.  I was still glad to see them, because they are very fast and we didn’t get any photos of them last week (and, I’m sure you’ll figure it out, but the header photo for this post is 3 of this guy stitched together. I won’t do any Photoshop replacing of skies, wildlife, or people, unless it’s really obvious or I mention it).

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Just a few minutes later, we saw whales in the distance – that would be the really far distance:

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We didn’t hang around for long – these whales must have been related to Ernie, because they didn’t seem too interested in taking deep dives.  Several of us tried to get some photos of them, and I’ll show a few more, but these had to be cropped significantly to be able to see the whales.  Plus, the reflections make it hard to see.  That’s why Lou yells at me when I don’t use a polarizing filter …

We watched these humpbacks for about 20 minutes before moving on.  We continued to see some humpbacks in the distance – here’s one with a scenic backdrop, and he’s doing a good job of imitating a log:

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We saw some beautiful scenery as we cruised – strange, but beautiful
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We also saw quite a few bald eagles flying around, even sitting on small islands in the water.  They were squawking up a storm, so something must have upset them:

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We arrived at the cove by El Capitan Cave after breakfast. There were a couple of groups going out to hike up to the Cave. Since there were over 350 steps to climb to get to the cave, we decided to pass. Here are a couple of photos of the hikers from the Un-Cruise photos shared with all of us:

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Source: UnCruise

 

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Source: UnCruise

 

We had an afternoon Skiff Tour, and this one turned out to be a good one:

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Our driver/guide was Mike – the Chief Mate on the Discoverer. Another very interesting guy – he was involved with the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, working with the boats and stunts. That was impressive, but then Lou told me Chief Mate Michael had a few parts in some X-Files episodes – he is now the Celebrity Chief Mate – although you never know which of these stories from the crew you can believe *smile*.  He was also a good Skiff Driver and Guide.

Not long after going out, we saw a sea otter. He just kept popping up and looking at us – so cute.

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And, as we edged along the shore, we saw more bald eagles.

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We saw a few more otters and watched them play – getting photos from the bouncing skiff was tough.  We returned to the boat, to see some folks getting ready to test their kayaking skills.

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Lou skipped the afternoon Skiff Tour; I thought he was resting, but turns out he was spying on some unsuspecting kayakers with the Big Lens.  This is how it’s done:

Thanks for being such good sports!

Thanks for being such good sports!

 

Dinner was a choice between pork loin and airline chicken, and it was good. Laurie gave a presentation on Southeast Alaska, and it was almost 9pm, when we had another wildlife sighting.  Even though it was getting too dark to get a decent photo, we tried anyway:

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We were all quite happy to have topped off our day with a black bear. No complaints today about wildlife – we saw Dall’s Porpoise, Humpback Whales, Bald Eagles, Sea Otters AND a Bear. That may have been more than we saw during all of Week 1 !!! So far we are off to a smashing start.

More 5/25: Embarkation Day – Week 2

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After finishing up the flightseeing tour, we were dropped off at the Cape Fox Lodge.  There, we visited with some of the people from Week 1 who were preparing to go home.  We didn’t need to check in, but were able to use the meeting room to catch up on internet activities (like bill paying).  We took the cute funicular down from the Cape Fox Lodge into the Creek Street Area:

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Creek Street is a very “cute” part of Ketchikan.  It is lined with souvenir shops, but there are also galleries, restaurants and a few drinking establishments.  It reminded us of Frontierland at Disneyworld.   Fortunately, today was not a crowded day since there was only one large ship in town.  We enjoyed meandering around, although we didn’t buy anything other than a sweatshirt.

Ketchikan Creek - flowing through the Creek Street area - this was once a red light district, and you can tour Dolly's House if you want to see what a brothel looked like

Ketchikan Creek – flowing through the Creek Street area – this was once a red light district, and you can tour Dolly’s House if you want to see what a brothel looked like

 

We found the perfect shirt for Lou!  Unfortunately, we couldn’t find it in his size.  I may have to track it down over the internet one of these days.

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Lou insisted on a photo of the Alaskan Railroad model locomotive.  I look like an Alien Cyborg in the reflection:

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It was time for lunch and we had vouchers for the restaurant at Cape Fox Lodge – these were given to all passengers who were continuing on the next leg of the journey, and we each had $25 to spend for lunch!  Sounds like a lot, but it wasn’t difficult to spend that in the nicer restaurants.

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25MayPM-14We chose the lightly battered halibut and a cheeseburger for lunch – I love halibut and ordered it every chance I could.  We were also craving something spicy, so an order of buffalo wings with a zesty sauce fit the bill.  This lunch would satisfy our need for fried foods for a week.  One good thing about the Wilderness Discoverer –  there was very little fried food served.  That made it okay to have cookies for lunch.

 
 

After a leisurely lunch, we did some more visiting and surfing on the web, then went back for another stroll through town and took a few photos. There is also time to do a walking or bus tour.  Here are some of the snapshots from the day:

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We didn’t explore the more commercial part of town; the large cruise ships have brought an influx of jewelry shops and such that don’t appeal to us.  Make sure you check the shop you’re buying from if you want authentic Alaskan souvenirs.

We wandered back towards the dock at 3:30pm.  Boarding wasn’t until 5pm, but rumor was returnees might be allowed back onboard early.  We hung out for half an hour or so, and once enough of us were there, we stormed the gangplank and took over the ship.  OK, we were invited to come aboard.

Even the benches and trash cans are cute - this is in the waiting area at the port

Even the benches and trash cans are cute – this is in the waiting area at the port

 

The Island Princess was making announcements, trying to round up all its passengers for their departure

The Island Princess was making announcements, trying to round up all its passengers for their departure

 

The Wilderness Discoverer, dwarfed by the Island Princess

The Wilderness Discoverer, dwarfed by the Island Princess

 

There was some hanky panky taking place on the aft deck!

There was some hanky panky taking place on the aft deck!

 

Turns out - it was just some errant boots from the pile kept on board for guests

Turns out – it was just some errant boots from the pile kept onboard for guests

 

We watched the new arrivals  go through the boarding process

We watched the new arrivals go through the boarding process

 

Chris greeted everyone with the first of his many special cocktails

Chris greeted everyone with the first of his many specialty cocktails

 

Everyone gathered on Deck 3 as we cruised away from Ketchikan, and we prepared for the Emergency Muster Drill

Everyone gathered on Deck 3 as we cruised away from Ketchikan, and we prepared for the Emergency Muster Drill

 

Now, here are two mischief makers :)  This is one of the couples continuing on from the first week.

Now, here are two mischief makers *smile*.  This is one of the couples continuing on from the first week.  I thought there were 20-some people continuing into Week 2, but my notes say 14 …

 

Leaving Ketchikan

Leaving Ketchikan

 

We passed by Guardian Lighthouse as we were eating dinner.

We passed by Guardian Lighthouse as we were eating dinner.  Dinner choices included teriyaki salmon or game hen and wild rice.  Topping off the meal was a delicious chocolate decadence cake with raspberry sauce.

 

9PM, and its smooth and calm outside.  Just a hint of color in the sky.

9pm, and it’s smooth and calm outside with just a hint of color in the sky.

After a nightcap, catching up with friends from the first week, and meeting new passengers, we went to bed eager to see what the week would bring.  One of us was hoping for more wildlife, still obsessed with seeing more whales.

5/25: Misty Fjords Flightseeing with Island Wings

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I found out about the Island Wings flight seeing tour on the Cruise Critics forum, where it gets rave reviews.  We were fortunate to book a spot for our arrival morning in Ketchikan – and we couldn’t have had a more perfect day.  There were some clouds, but no rain.  Michelle, the owner and pilot, said this was perfect flying weather.  We certainly agree, after our fantastic experience.

Upon arrival at the small Island Wings dock, we checked in and left our backpacks in the office.  Our adventure was about to begin …

These gorgeous creatures were feasting on barnacles at the Island Wings pier

These gorgeous creatures were feasting on barnacles at the Island Wings pier

Another creature from the deep; Anyone remember the X-Files episode, "Ice," where Mulder & Scully investigated the mysterious deaths of Alaskan researchers who discovered parasitic organisms in the ice?

Another creature from the deep; Anyone remember the X-Files episode, “Ice,” where Mulder & Scully investigated the mysterious deaths of Alaskan researchers who discovered parasitic organisms in the ice?

Lady Esther, a beautifully maintained DeHavilland Beaver

Lady Esther, a beautifully maintained DeHavilland Beaver

There were five of us going on the trip, plus Michelle as our pilot.  Lou was given the co-pilot’s seat for the first half of the flight and he enjoyed it.  The windows in Lady Esther were impeccably maintained, so it was fairly easy to get good photos without much effort.  Michelle does ask that you are careful and avoid knocking your lens against the windows.  For this reason, I used my small pocket camera, but it did just fine.

We lifted off over Ketchikan Harbor, and flew towards Misty Fjords.  Michelle provided interesting narration, and also gave us time just to enjoy the wonders we were seeing.  We landed on a small island, where we all got off the plane, stretched our legs, and posed for Michelle as she took our photos.

The photos don’t need any narration, but one comment about our landing out in Misty Fjords; Michelle told us an inexperienced pilot might have difficulties when the water is so still, and the reflections so perfect.  Fortunately, she is very experienced and our landing was smooth!  Also, you can see a comparison of the Wilderness Discoverer to the much larger Island Princess as we do a fly by on our departure and return.

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By the time we’d picked up our bags after arriving back at Island Wings, Michelle already had the next group lining up and getting into Lady Esther.  We waved goodbye, as there were some of our fellow passengers onboard this trip as well.

Posing for a photo - hmmmnn, doesn't look like Michelle :)

Posing for a photo – hmmmnn, doesn’t look like Michelle…

The group was already taxiing away once we made it to the top of the ramp

The group was already taxiing away once we made it to the top of the ramp

If you are ever in Ketchikan, we’d highly recommend a tour with Island Wings.  It was a highlight of our trip, and that’s saying a lot! After having such an amazing day un-cruising through Misty Fjords, seeing it from the air added to the magic.

5/25: Ketchikan & The End of Week 1

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We had a short cruise to Ketchikan on Saturday morning.  After sleeping in until 7am, the first thing I did was check the Wildlife Board on the way to the lounge. This was an informal and fun way to keep track of our wildlife sightings.

Well, son of a …………gun!  Look at that – whales spotted at 5:15am.

The first morning I wasn't up at the crack of dawn, and the whales show up.  All I could do was laugh.

One of the few mornings I wasn’t up before the crack of dawn, and the whales show up. All I could do was laugh.

Breakfast – scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, fruit, and more – was available as we cruised into Ketchikan.  It always rains in Ketchikan, or so they say.  We had another nice day on the horizon.

The sights as we get close to Ketchikan

The sights as we get close to Ketchikan

Passing by where the big ships dock on the way to our spot

Passing by where the big ships dock on the way to our spot

Colorful houses on the hill

Colorful houses on the hill

Fishing, along with tourists, fuels the local economy

Fishing, along with tourists, fuels the local economy

We all gathered in the lounge, ready to disembark at 8:30am.  We didn’t have to pack today, because we would be in our same cabin for Week No. 2 of our Un-Cruise.  All we had to do was put our dirty laundry in a bag, and by magic, it will appear clean and nicely folded when we returned to our cabin this afternoon.

Disembarking was a sad process for those who weren't joining Week 2 on the Wilderness Discoverer.

Disembarking was a sad process for those who weren’t joining Week 2 on the Wilderness Discoverer.

There were hugs for the crew as we departed - it was certainly a successful week.

There were hugs from the crew as we departed – it was certainly a successful week.

We had the day to explore Ketchikan, since we wouldn’t be re-boarding the ship until after 4pm.  We had previously booked a Flight Seeing Tour over Misty Fjords with Island Wings, another company that comes highly recommended.  We walked a short way to the “Liquid Sunshine Gauge” in town, where a nice young man picked us up in an Island Wings van.

A look at one of the Ketchikan downtown streets (we missed the classic "Welcome to Ketchikan Banner.")

A look at one of the Ketchikan downtown streets (we missed the classic “Welcome to Ketchikan Banner.”)

Ironically, our first stop in the Island Wings van was at the Cape Fox Lodge - this is where we will be meeting up for Leg 2 of our trip. We picked up 3 more folks for our flight - they were also going to be on the ship the next week.

Ironically, our first stop in the Island Wings van was at the Cape Fox Lodge – this is where we will be meeting up for Leg 2 of our trip. We picked up 3 more folks for our flight – they were also going to be on the ship the next week.

We’ll pick up our Flightseeing Tour in the next post.  Here’s a recap of our first week on the Wilderness Discoverer:

Thoughts on Week 1, the Eastern Coves of the Inside Passage:

sceneryAlaska Scenery – A+  We were so fortunate with the weather, once we left Juneau. Both Tracy Arm and Misty Fjords provided the most amazing examples of wonderful landscapes and our planet’s natural wonders. The opportunities to anchor overnight in beautiful bays provided a chance to take in more of Alaska’s beauty.  The weather was the true star of the week.

finWildlife Sightings – C  We saw a few whales, lots of Steller Sea Lions, Dall’s Porpoise, some eagles and other birds, and some sea otters from afar. Oh, and a bear and some mountain goats … on the very distant shore. The afternoon of our first full day was our best for Wildlife – it was sparse after that. We prepared ourselves before the trip that seeing wildlife was hit or miss, especially this early in the season. This is just how it is in Alaska, and isn’t a reflection on Un-Cruise Adventures.  Our guides did everything they could to find wildlife, and our captain was always willing to stop the ship if we found something.  Not every cruise is going to match up to the photos in the brochure – but some do … keep reading to see how we fared in the next two weeks.

Fortunately, the wonders of the scenery more than made up for the lack of wildlife. And, we had 2 more weeks to go. We felt a little sorry for those who only had the one week on the boat, but most didn’t seem too disappointed – the scenery was so amazing, and the activities kept us busy.

DrinksLife Onboard – A  The Wilderness Discoverer was very comfortable. Our accommodations were good. The ship is clean and obviously well maintained.  The crew was outstanding – friendly, helpful, professional, and all willing to help with anything you needed.  The food was tasty, and plentiful – we never went hungry. We also met so many nice people, and this was an unexpected benefit of cruising on the small ship.

RockweedOff Boat Activities – B  We enjoyed the skiff tours, and found kayaking wasn’t for us. We didn’t do any hikes on Week 1, because I was overly cautious.  Some people were disappointed in the more strenuous hikes – they said they were too slow with too much stopping and talking about plants and such. Most who loved kayaking were in heaven – they said it was some of the best they’d done.  A key learning – if you aren’t happy with the way things are going, speak up.  The crew will do what they can to take care of you.  And remember – this report is about our experience.  Others will have a different perspective.

Overall, it was an A+ week that exceeded expectations, and we were looking forward to the coming weeks. But first, it was time to get on with today’s activity in Ketchikan.