Thursday, September 13, 2012

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

I realize that since Madeline has arrived on the scene, Nicole and I have ceased to exist, and nobody really wants to hear about us, but as you can see by the length of this post I put a lot of time into writing it and thought I should at least post it for folks to read.  I promise I'll get more baby pictures up soon.

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.

Day two started with some very early morning whale watching, for those passengers that happened to be up early to catch the show.  Quite a few Humpbacks were sighted in Frederick Sound, and those of us slightly later risers got to see a pair of Orcas before our next stop.  We arrived at the dock in Petersburg early, and after a wonderful breakfast we were escorted into town for our own private show of the Sons and Daughters of Norway Dancers.  Along with the dance performance, we also went on a walk through a muskeg area just outside of town, and wandered through town doing a bit of window shopping before returning to the boat.  Dinner was fabulous, with several delicious courses including a wonderful dessert. (Are you starting to see a theme here?)
Our third day was just a quick trip north up Stephens Passage to Hobart Bay.  Allen Marine and Alaskan Dream Cruises has worked with the local tribal companies to set up a sort of adventure center in Hobart Bay for the exclusive use of our tour boats.  Tucked back in the bay there is a dock for the ship to tie to, giving passengers access to both the land and water aspects of the area.  Passengers are divided into groups for the day, with each group taking turns participating in the three activities.  Our group started with one of the on-the-water activities, a tour around the bay on small motorized catamaran vessels called Zegos.  This turned out to be more fun than I expected.  Nicole and I rode double on ours and switched off driving half way through.  The Zegos are very stable and not all that fast, so the only excitement came when Ellen's Zego overheated and had to be towed back to the dock.  Next up was an ATV ride on the old logging roads that wind through the hills surrounding the bay.  This was the only activity that worried me.  Not because I thought it was dangerous, or because they regularly see bears on the trips, but because I didn't know the condition of the trails and a lot of bouncing might result in Nicole providing an extra passenger for the remainder of the trip.  Turns out some of the other passengers had similar concerns as there was no shortage of people asking if Nicole was really going to participate in all the activities.  I asked one of the crew that participated in the first ATV ride about trail conditions, and he said the trail was fine so off we went.  It was nice to be able to see the bay and the surrounding area from high up on the hillsides, and we spotted our first bear of the trip in one of the streams we crossed during our ride.  After a tasty lunch we were off for our third and final adventure, sea kayaking.  Even the light rain didn't dampen our spirits for a nice long paddle around the bay.  We got up close and personal with a couple of seals as we paddled along the shore, and finally ended up back at the ship tired but happy.  The crew put away all the gear as we snuck in a quick nap, and a bit later sat down to another excellent meal as the ship made it's way out of the bay.
Our next stop was in Juneau, and we had planned to break away from the group to do some shopping in town, but a busy day at the Allen Marine dock meant no available vehicles, so we hopped on the tour bus with the rest of our group instead.  The first stop was the Mendenhall Glacier, where we got a chance to do some walking and see the exhibits in the visitors center.  Nicole and I had been to Mendenhall last year at about this time with my brother and knew the sockeye salmon would be running in a nearby stream, so we headed up the road to check them out before returning to the glacier and the visitors center.  From Mendenhall we got back on the bus and headed in to downtown for lunch at the Westmark Hotel.
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.
Our last stop of the trip was at the small native village of Kake.  Nicole and I had stopped here the year before on our way to Sitka and were not overly impressed, but tried to keep open minds for this visit.  With a decline in both fishing and logging by the village population, there really is no industry in Kake and the inclusion of a stop here by Alaska Dream Cruise boats could signal a change for their future economy.  Unfortunately the organization is not yet in place for tourism and the stop felt like a bit of a let-down compared to other stops on the trip.  That being said, during our tour we had an enjoyable stop at a fish hatchery and bear observation area.  The bears were out and cooperative for picture-taking, and a hatchery worker volunteered to provide an interesting tour of the facilities.  We also got to visit with a local wood carver, and watch a native dance performance at the local school.

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.


  1. Wow! Sounds like the 2.0 version of your Alaska cruising was a major upgrade! Glad to hear you had such a good time - the food looks fantastic.

  2. Sounds like a rockin' babymoon!! So glad all the activities didn't convince Madeline to show up for the party too early.

  3. Cruise, blah blah, food, blah blah.

    So where are the pictures of Madeline??

    Miss you two.