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