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Cruise: Day 4 – Juneau

September 12, 2010

Or: a city overrun by cruiseships.

6:30 a.m. – it’s Alaska outside!

We again have breakfast in the room, then head to the Showroom at Sea to hear a talk by the Alaska specialist about the geography of the state: volcanoes, earthquakes, mountains and, of course, glaciers. We learn that glaciers appear blue because the ice absorbs all colors except blue, so it’s reflected back.

After, we go down to the third deck to watch the scenery as we approach Juneau. I thought we were passing some small town; only when we saw a cruise ship docked do I realize it’s Juneau, the state capitol!

We eat lunch in the Lido, and Mom manages to have some butter pecan ice cream before we go ashore. I pack for all eventualities, since we have a full day planned: rain ponchos, some fruit, Mom’s medication and insulin, binoculars.

Our first stop is the Mt. Roberts Tramway, which goes up the side of a mountain to a visitor’s center on top. In what has become Mom’s familiar refrain whenever anything scary was happening (like the plane taking off)  she plaintively says, “I wanna go home.” I wonder if some of the people thought I was kidnapping this poor old woman!

That's the Rotterdam waaaay down there!

View from the top of Mt. Roberts

The ride up isn’t scary at all, though we realize how high we were going when we look down.

Mt. Roberts had been mined extensively, and there are hundreds of tunnels in the mountain, some large enough to drive a semi through. I find that scary, though I didn’t tell Mom: what would happen if any of those tunnels collapsed?

Once on top, we look around at the views, and I see some mountain goats on the mountain next door. Then we see a movie about the Tlingit tribe. After, we’re treated to a live performance by the Alaska String Band, a local family who are really quite talented. They provide music to a wonderful show of Alaskan photos. The father looks a bit like John Denver, and between them they play guitar, banjo, mandolin, dulcimer, viola, violin and bass. They’re selling CDs after the show, but it’s such a zoo that I push Mom out of there quickly.

Next is a look at an injured bald eagle, who is a permanent resident of Mt. Roberts due to a damaged retina.

Then it’s on to the gift shop, where I have to remind Mom that we would have other opportunities to shop. Oh, are those words going to come back to haunt me!

When we go back down to sea level, it’s gift shop time again. There are four or possibly five ships in Juneau that day, all bigger than the Rotterdam, and all the passengers seemingly are within three feet of me. The first gift shop is mobbed, and hard to maneuver.  Mom isn’t deterred, however. Here’s how the next hour or so of my life goes:

Holding up t-shirt – “How about this one, Mom?”

“That’s nice, how much is it?


“Too much. What about that one?”

“That’s $12, too.”

“Well, let me see it anyway.”

Repeat 40,000 times.

It’s a wonder I don’t go postal.

By this time, I’m ready for a beer, or at least half a beer split with Mom. Even though it’s a tourist trap, I want to go into the Red Dog Saloon, but it, like the rest of the pier area, is mobbed. I talk myself out of buying a shirt that says, “The drinking will continue until morale improves.” It sounds like something Dad would have gotten a kick out of.

Red Dog Saloon

We have a little bit of time before our excursion leaves, so we go to the Juneau Public Library to check my email. I think it’s smaller than the Twin Hickory library, one of the county libraries.

It’s time for the shore excursion, the evening whale-watching quest, and we travel about 20 minutes north of Juneau, to Auke Bay. On the way, we to see Mendenhall Glacier in the distance, which I had dearly wanted to visit, but figured it would be too much for Mom.

Auke Bay

By now, it’s sprinkling and overcast. The tour, by Allen Marina, takes us out to areas known to be frequented by whales. The staff and crew are great, and knowledgeable. There’s a dinner buffet, but it’s less than appetizing, and includes reindeer sausage and salmon mousse – yuck. We subsist on the fruit tray, which is stingy – Mom and I could put away the strawberries by ourselves. But we don’t – we restrain ourselves.

We find several groups of humpback whales, and see several breaching, but none come fully out of the water. We’re lucky enough to spot orca (killer) whales, too, which are only seen on about 5% of the tours. Because there are so many whales, we don’t make it out to the spots where sea lions congregate. We learn that whales don’t really sleep, but instead take semi-conscious catnaps; in fact, we see one who’s dozing on top of the water. I think Mom imitates a whale at one point.

Humpback whales

I don’t think Mom actually ever sees many whales, given her eyesight, but she does see one that comes fairly close to the boat.

Two orca whales

When we get back to our ship, we’re both hungry, and order a cheese plate from room service. We watch Calendar Girls while we eat. The waters are calm, and I’m able to sleep through the night since Mom doesn’t need help getting to the bathroom.


From → Alaska, Elder travel

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