Being neither rich nor famous, you may wonder about this post from the start. Turns out it really is more about who you know sometimes.
Quite a few weeks back I was having a phone conversation with our friends Adam and Ellen from Boulder, CO, and they decided they wanted to come for a visit. You know part of how the visit went from my earlier post, but as the saying goes, there is more to the story. While we were talking they expressed an interest in going out on the boat, and really wanted to see Glacier Bay. Their visit was going to coincide with about the 8th month of Nicole's pregnancy, so sailing was possible but unlikely, and a trip to Glacier Bay on our boat (about a 2 week affair even being as close as we are) was pretty much out of the question. Being from Minnesota and thus preprogrammed to make everyone around me happy regardless of the cost, I put my feeble brain to work and came up with a grand scheme to make everyone happy. The company I work for, Allen Marine, had recently gotten into the overnight cruise business with an offshoot company called Alaska Dream Cruises, and had set up a "friends and family" offer that was not only too good to be true but also matched some of the possible dates for our friends visit. After some calendar searching we found a date that worked for all of us and booked two staterooms on the Admiralty Dream for an eight day trip around Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska. The luckiest part of this trip is that it started and ended in Sitka so we wouldn't have to hassle with getting a pregnant woman on a plane. These trips are on relatively small ships, 120 foot long with less than 70 passengers at most, offer plush accommodations and gourmet food, and include activities and stops exclusive to this company. Given that our staterooms for the four of us would have cost well in excess of $17,000, you can now see the justification of the title of this post.
A picture is worth a thousand words, but I'm pretty long-winded so I'm going to go ahead and give a run-down of the trip day-by-day with lots of words and pictures.
The trip started in Sitka on July 28, aboard one of the Allen Marine 65' catamarans for a lengthy sea otter and whale watch tour. This is kind of a warm up for things to come, but also gave passengers a chance to see the beauty of Sitka and it's surroundings. We did see quite a few otters and a lot of Bald Eagles, but the Humpback Whales stole the show with lots of tail slapping and general ruckus right alongside the boat. It was also a chance for us to meet our fellow passengers, and after several hours of sightseeing around Silver Bay and Sitka Sound we met up with the Admiralty Dream and transferred over to start our cruise.
Once aboard we got a quick orientation from the crew and were shown to our rooms to unpack and relax for a bit before the first of many incredible meals. Evenings usually had some sort of program in the lounge, and for the first night there was a meet and greet with introductions and name tags. The crew had been pre-warned about Nicoles "condition", but we were guessing there were already some whisperings about us amongst the other passengers and Adam had a great idea for some fun with the name tags, as you can see in the picture. The ship continued through the night so we could arrive early at our first destination.
After lunch we did a bit of shopping nearby, and then we were given the choice of either riding the Mount Roberts tram or going on a whale watch tour out of Juneau. Because the weather was cloudy and overcast we thought the view from the tram would be blocked and the four of us chose to do the whale watch tour. The trip lasted several hours with good sightings of seals, sea lions and eagles, but again the Humpback whales stole the show. Lots of whale activity from a good sized group and a very rambunctious youngster made for a good show. After the tour we all boarded the Admiralty Dream, headed about an hour out of Juneau to the Orca Point Lodge for dinner. Orca Point Lodge is an event center located on Colt Island. It is also owned by Allen Marine, and is used in conjunction with the Juneau tour division for dinners and special events. Our dinner for the evening included halibut, scallops, and all you can eat king crab, with a campfire on the beach afterwards for desert s'mores. Not too shabby.
Day five was our trip to Glacier Bay. We had visited Glacier Bay on our own boat in 2009, but as we were coming to realize on this trip, having someone else drive, navigate, and cook, tends to change the experience you have. The first change was that, being on a tour boat, we stopped by headquarters in Bartlett Cove and picked up a park ranger and a cultural interpreter to ride along with us for the day. They both turned out to be quite knowledgeable and did a great job of answering our questions. Our route for the day took us up to our first stop at South Marble Island for some bird watching, including sightings of both horned and tufted puffins. There is also a large population of sea lions on South Marble.
From South Marble we headed for Gloomy Knob, a large rocky, cliff area known for good wildlife spotting. Just before Gloomy Knob, we got a tip from the park ranger and made a slight detour into a small bay where we spotted several wolves on shore. They had been seeing the wolves for the past few days so it was great to have some "insider information" to know exactly where to look. As we continued north we spotted several brown bear sows with cubs, and a lone mountain goat high on the cliffs. From Gloomy Knob we made a pass east of Russell Island to look for more wildlife, then the decision was made to head west and try our luck in Johns Hopkins Inlet.
Johns Hopkins is one of several inlets in the park with active tidewater glaciers. The glacier was recently in the news after a massive landslide covered a section of ice further up the valley. It is also an area used extensively by seals as a nursery and pupping area. Because of it's importance to the seal population, the area is closed to boat traffic for a good part of the spring and summer, and inaccessible many other times of the year because of the heavy ice conditions, so a visit to this area of the park is somewhat rare. The ranger thought we might be the first boat of the season to try to get in, and as it turned out the ice was still too thick to make it all the way to the face of the glacier, but we did get some stunning views of the surrounding landscape, and a lot of sightings of both young and mature seals. At this point we turned around to head back south, stopping by Lamplugh Glacier and in front of Reid Inlet to view several more glaciers. Arriving back at park headquarters to drop off our two guests, we took enough time at the dock to let everyone stretch their legs and visit the park lodge before heading out of the park just after dark.
After traveling through the night, back past Juneau and down Stephens Passage, we arrived at the entrance to Tracy Arm. Tracy Arm is probably one of the most stunning destinations in all of southeast Alaska, which is really saying something in an area of stunning landscapes. The arm is a narrow fjord stretching back almost 30 miles from the main waterway with steep cliffs on either side rising to over 5000 feet in places. The arm forks at its head and each branch features its own tidewater glacier, making the trip up the inlet beautiful and sometimes treacherous because of the large amount of ice in the water. This ice ranges from ice cube sized all the way up to house and building sized icebergs, many in stunning blues and whites.
We found the waterway relatively clear of ice compared to our trip in 2009, and got to visit both arms and watch the ice calve off the glaciers. The weather was cold and rainy like it was for our earlier visit, but it almost feels right for the surroundings. We spent the majority of the day transiting up the fjord and back and watching the glaciers at the head, and exited back into Stephens Passage just before dark.
I'm not sure if I mentioned earlier in this post, but the food throughout the entire trip was fabulous. As a special treat for our last night on the boat, the pastry chef went all out and dessert consisted of a collection of incredible treats. This was certainly not a trip for someone on a diet.