to Alaska Plus Much More
by Andrew Johnson
Photos by Lisa E. Johnson
This vacation was an actual family reunion, similar
to a three course meal . . . Appetizer: San Francisco, Main course: a ten-day
cruise to Alaska aboard the Sea Princess, and Dessert: San Diego . . . all
accomplished in three weeks. Relatives from near, and as far away as Dubai
(traveling 16 hours by plane over the North Pole), came to have this glorious
sailing adventure and get-together. And what a time we had!
One of San Francisco’s Famous Cable Cars
First Course: San Francisco
Famous for its Golden
Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf and
those unique cable cars which actually do get one to various places in
the city, San Francisco, with its panoramic views and numerous hills,
is truly the “city by the bay.” One can agree with singer
Tony Bennett who “left his heart in San Francisco.” The
city has a strong sense of neighborhood, each having a distinct identity.
We visited many of each area’s outstanding attractions. We were
located not very far from Pier 39 in Fisherman’s Wharf with its
myriad of restaurants, shops, and so many exciting things to do.
Riding the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad to Skagway
|Second Course: the
Cruise to Alaska
As one could expect from Princess, my favorite cruise line, the ship was all that one could want it to be. The Sea Princess seems to be the only ship of its fleet that has a ten-day Alaskan sailing. (All the others are seven days but with possible lodging stays in our 49th state.) A smaller ship by today’s standards of giant behemoths, it afforded a slightly more intimate feel. Sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge was another amazing experience.
Our first stop in Alaska was Juneau, with the magnificent viewing of Mendenhall Glacier, followed by a boat ride that took us whale watching. The humpback whale was seen in all its glory bubble netting (working in a group to forage for food). We easily were able to know where the group of whales was by the sea gulls that hovered overhead waiting to beat the whales to one of their fish as they came to the surface. Through the whale boat’s sonar, we were actually afforded the opportunity of hearing the “song of the whale,” where the leader was telling the others what to do to get the fish. We even saw a rare breach (a whale jumped completely into the air).
Our next stop was Skagway where we boarded a motor coach for trip into the Yukon Territory, following the path of the Klondike Gold Rush. Included was a stop at a dog sled camp where one could actually pet the pups and also the mountain goats which were there as well. But the highlight of the tour (and of Alaska itself) was the ride back to Skagway on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, the train built in 1898 to accommodate the gold rush. What an amazing and exhilarating experience! Finally, a stop in the town of Skagway itself for a beer at the Red Onion, a saloon and turn of the century brothel, was interesting due to its rustic memorabilia.
Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau
A recovering bald eagle at the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka
|The weather, surprisingly for Alaska (as we had been told), was sunny
and in the low 70s. Not knowing what to expect, we had carted around heavy
layers of clothing which we never used while in port. The day traversing
through Glacier Bay afforded such wondrous views of glaciers. It was quite
cool sailing through this National Park and Preserve, but as we stood on
deck we were amazed by the sights that unfolded before us.
Sitka, our third stop, showed us an all female dance group doing Russian folk dances in the costumes of the time when the city was a Russian town. St Michael’s Cathedral had wonders for the eyes to behold. The Cathedral was completely rebuilt after a fire in 1966 destroyed the original structure. Miraculously, most of the sacred icons and religious objects were saved by the townspeople and can be seen today. The Alaska Raptor Center, a bird sanctuary, afforded us a close-up view of bald eagles and other birds while they recover from accidents before being released. One bald eagle too badly injured to ever be let free is now a resident of the sanctuary, going out to visit schools and attend meetings.
Shamu at San Diego’s Sea World