The best of Alaska is worth far more than precious stones that dazzle in the windows of its tourist hubs.
My last Northern adventure was a 5-day, 2,500 kilometres drive across the Yukon and Alaska. The surreal experience of the great North beckoned my return. This time on a cruise – for a culinary escapade and glacier sighting – without sacrificing my creature comforts.
As the Norwegian Sun pulled out from Vancouver’s Canada Place pier, the horn blasts heralded the onset of my seven days cruise along the coastal waters of British Columbia to Alaska.
Moderno Churrascaria Feast
It was dinner time when our ship navigated through the Burrard Inlet leaving the city skyline in the distant horizon. Service crew were busy scuttling around seating and serving guests at Moderno Churrascaria, the Brazilian steakhouse. The food was impressive.
Just when I thought the salad bar with its assortment of cheeses, cured meats, and specialty salads would satiate my appetite, the scrumptious cheese breads (Pão de Queijo) and fried bananas arrived. I had to curb my indulgence to make room for a feast of skewered slow-roasted meats, carved tableside by Pasadores (meat waiters).
Short video featuring glimpses of delectable foods at Moderno Churrascaria. (Norwegian Cruise Line)
The tasty chicken, beef, lamb and sausages were irresistible. Diners at the neighbouring table agreed. Their plates were piled high with food that could feed an army. My choice pick, the rack of lamb, cooked to perfection – tender, juicy and oozing with flavours.
Along a section of the Inside Passage near the Queen Charlottes, our ship hit the turbulent open waters. Free motion sickness pills were available at the ship’s front desk, but I only found out when the choppy ride was over.
Ketchikan – Salmon Capital
Day three, we arrived at Ketchikan. The world’s salmon capital is a haven for sports fishermen and naturalists. This quaint Alaskan town is set in the steep wooded hillsides with its waterfront supported on stilts. The stair climb to the hilltop homes would make for a good glute workout.
Downtown Ketchikan is walkable via the scenic boardwalk from the dock. Historic buildings, local crafts, souvenirs, restaurants and jewelry stores line the main streets. The vibrant Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures are reflected in the many totem poles and indigenous art displayed around town.
Juneau – Alaska’s State Capital
At Juneau, operators peddling their tours at the city entrance offer day itineraries from wildlife adventures to aerial glacier tours. In the tourist district, busloads of cruisers flood the streets armed with cameras and selfie sticks.
“Try some old fashion country kettle corn,” shouted a lone popcorn maker as I wandered the pavement weaving between strollers, scooters and throngs of shoppers. Their hands laden with buys from the city’s many jewellers, name brand outlets, souvenir stores and art galleries.
The store windows glittered with diamonds, sapphire, tanzanite and precious stones in the warm September sun. The largest jewellery stores in Alsaka are located in Juneau. Purchase from a reputable jeweller and avoid impulse buy. Haggling is common practice for jewellery purchase.
Beware of fake precious stones and watches. One way to check out the store reputation is to do an online search or talk to a respected local business.
Most shops operate seasonally. Getting a refund may not be easy once you leave the city.
After a workout touring the town, a barbeque meal onboard the ship deck was just what I needed. The wafting aroma of freshly grilled meats and fried rice intensified my stomach rumble. I happily polished off every crumb of food on my plate.
Skagway – Frontier Town
The most interesting stop of the three Southeast Alaskan ports was Skagway. It was akin to a time machine travel to the lawless gold rush era.
Wooden boardwalks and restored century old buildings are vestiges of what was once the gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. A popular excursion is the train ride on the White Pass and Yukon route.
Glacier Bay and Hubbard Glacier were awe-inspiring. Truly God’s stunning creations! The best of Alaska is valued more than diamonds and gold.
No amount of precious stones or money can ever recreate these vast magnificent natural wonders that are fast melting away due to climate change.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Glacier Bay comprises of many glaciers whereas Hubbard is one massive glacier. Since Glacier Bay is a national park, a ranger is mandatory onboard.
The ranger narrated the area sights and ecology as our ship hummed quietly while circling the Bay. Gigantic marine algae thrives in the pristine waters. Occasionally the silence of the serene surroundings was broken by bald eagle calls.
Day seven, we reached Hubbard Glacier, the largest tidewater glacier in North America. Chunks of ice breaking off at the glacier edge (calving) felt like bomb explosions.
The summer weather was decently clear for both tours, but it was still cold and drizzling at times. My rain jacket and layered clothing came in handy.
Scenic Alaska Train Ride
At dawn on day eight, we docked at Seward. Still groggy, I rode the train to Anchorage for my return flight to Vancouver. The Alaska Railroad’s Coastal Classic train from Seward to Anchorage was a nice journey wrap-up.
The gorgeous fall foliage was starting to show as our train wove through the mountains highlighting remarkable vistas of the glorious landscape.
As the morning sun rose over the Kenai Mountains, postcard sceneries of snow-capped peaks, glaciers, waterfalls, meadows and rivers came in view.
The 4-hour ride was more than worth it for US$105 (Adventure Class) or US$207 (GoldStar Dome). I would do the train ride again in a heartbeat, and hopefully see more wildlife. It’s a ‘bucket list’ ride for any train buff.