November 13, 1998
Editor’s note: Since this article was published, many disturbing accounts of polluting practices by the cruise ship industry have come to light. We urge those considering cruise vacations to research the environmental records of the cruise line companies they’re considering. More information may be found at the Ocean Conservancy Web site.
Our ship left Skagway for Haines, 18 miles away. We arrived around 6 p.m. at this little waterfront village — a lovely sight on an early evening. A large new pier awaited our arrival, as well as a bevy of large busses and small vans, ready to take passengers on new excursions, like a salmon bake, or watching the Chilkat Dancers at the Tlingit Tribal House.
The following day, Friday, our ship slowly entered the narrow passageway of Glacier Bay National Park. With dark clouds and chilly, misty rain, we strained to see the steep waterfalls cascading from cloud-topped mountains and tried to locate wild animals on land. Bill spotted a mother bear with two cubs off the leeward side. I missed it, but my husband spotted them through his binoculars. It was eerily quiet as we crept closer and closer to the tidewater glacier.
When we were about one mile away the engines stopped and we remained stationary for a long time studying the glacier and watching icebergs that surrounded us.
The glacier was massive. In contrast with the dull surroundings of black and gray, the glacier was rich in a true Bermuda blue. What surprised me was the dirty black of the glacier on either side of this beautiful gem. One huge area in the middle looked ready to fall into the water at any time.
Ketchikan was our last and most-southern port-of-call. The fourth-largest city in Alaska, it’s considered the salmon capital of the world. We docked at 9 a.m. in clear, crisp weather, a welcome sight after the previous day’s rain and clouds.
Alaskan natives never apologize for their weather. They admit that they get more than enough rain, dark clouds and gloom. Yet, they are pleasant, sincere people who do not let the weather stop them from being proud of southeast Alaska. They joked about the lonely winters when there is nothing to do but hang out in the few local bars. They took for granted the high price of food and having to purchase clothing during rare ferry trips to Seattle.
Stepping out onto the dock, we found buses conveniently lined up right by our ship, ready to transport us to our adventures. Bus #14 took us to the seaplane headquarters for our seaplane trip into Misty Fjords. We drove a short distance along Main Street where houses and other buildings climbed uphill with steep and long stairways several stories high.
Both bus driver and seaplane pilot agreed that this was a perfect day for our flight. The take-off was smooth with no rough waves to interfere. Our pilot, Charlie Kenton, was pleasant and humorous. Ketchikan is actually part of an island, called Revillagigedo (or Revilla Island for short). We continued upward, making a left-hand sweep away from this island and up into the mountains where the stunning Misty Fjords National Monument reside.
Flying into and below mountain tops we spotted many lakes and waterfalls. Tall pine trees covered all but the water’s edge, except for the steepest mountains where bold rock loomed above the tree lines. Everywhere we looked the view was awesome. Clouds begin to hide both sun and blue skies as we flew deeper into the wilderness.
Gradually, we descended among several steep mountains and landed on a still lake. Charlie invited us to get out of the plane and stand on the pontoons. We took turns, carefully watching our footing while taking pictures and enjoying the cascading waterfalls and majestic mountains surrounding us.
Before we knew it, we were back in the plane flying over more breathtaking views. Fellow cruise passengers enjoyed this day kayaking around the piers, away on fishing trips and visiting a native Saxman village.
Leaving Ketchikan in the late afternoon, we passed fishing boats headed back full of salmon. We passed many cabin-like homes of all sizes and fishing areas before reaching total wilderness again.
Sunday was the last day of the cruise, taking us from Alaska back into the waters of British Columbia. Heavy fog blanketed our view almost completely and the ship’s fog horn sounded throughout the morning. By mid-afternoon the fog lifted and the sun appeared, warming the air enough for us to don shorts and T-shirts for the first time on the trip.
Decks became crowded with whale watchers. We grabbed our binoculars and spotted not only whales, but dolphins and kayakers, as well as boats of every size. As the islands went by we looked beyond and saw the regal snow-capped Canadian Rockies.
As our last day of cruising came to an end the weather was picture perfect with a beautiful sunset and warm gentle breezes.
Traveling via cruise ship is actually like having two vacations in one. Most ships have a very active life of their own with great night-time shows, a full schedule of events, a variety of programs every day, and always fantastic food. Plus, you’re able to choose from several on-shore excursions at each port-of-call.
Sue D. Reese