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Saturday, August 10, 2019

cruising alaska

Hello, again. It's been a while. Two weeks ago, we packed up everything we own into eight suitcases and moved to the other side of the world. Okay, to be fair, we also packed up our dog in his crate, a pack'n'play, a stroller, a car seat, a diaper bag, etc. I don't know how we managed the airports, but then we were here. Hello, again, Taiwan!
In the blur of moving, our 10 year wedding anniversary slipped by quietly. 10 years. We knew that would happen given our moving date, so we celebrated all the way back in May! We did something really out of character for us-- go on a seven day Holland America Line cruise. Anyone who knows us knows that this is definitely not how we travel. The only other cruise we have been on during our decade long exploration of the world was a three day cruise through Halong Bay in Vietnam on a junk boat. While we definitely had our reservations about taking a real cruise, we decided to book it anyway (for a killer deal too).
And I am so glad we did!

We had seven baby free days and nights to relax, hang out, and have fun! We told our room cleaners when we boarded that we would be spending a lot of time in our suite. We told them that we would not do any of the cheesy on board events. We told them that we would stay up late watching movies above the volume of a whisper (a novel experience for us now), we would sleep in and order room service, and we would kick our feet up on our balcony and watch Alaska pass by while drinking all the coffee.
First, I should give a big shout out to Nana and Papa who watched our girl for us while we went on our cruise. Although it was no sweat off their backs, we really appreciate the time they gave us to just be together. Sean and I were together for 13 years before having Ruby, and it was kind of magical to get a small piece of those 13 years back-- even just for seven days. Not that we don't love our life with our kid. Obviously, we do and wouldn't trade it for anything, but there are things we miss.

Like watching TV with the volume turned up past five.
Or sleeping in past 6a.m.
Or being able to read, write, play cards, play video games, brush our teeth, go to the bathroom, eat breakfast/lunch/dinner, etc. without a two-year-old demanding to be a part of the action.
Having seven days to do those things with Sean was amazing.
The actual cruise itself-- the "7 Day Alaskan Explorer" on the Oosterdam ship-- was pretty awesome too. We chose this particular cruise because it left from Seattle and returned to Seattle. All we had to do was catch a ferry from Bainbridge Island to Seattle, an uber to the cruise port, and then walk on the boat.

Our seven day journey took us north to Juneau, Sitka, and the Hubbard Glacier and then south to Ketchikan and Victoria on the way back home. My overall impression? This cruise was great for relaxing, eating, and a very, very light introduction to Alaska. I am used to extended, overland travel in the form of weeks-long road trips through foreign countries. This cruise was the lightest travel I have ever done in my life, but I suppose that is the very point of a cruise, isn't it? Someone else takes care of every detail for you and you are just literally along for the ride.
After our first day and night at sea (I was surprised at how much the boat rocked and rolled and had a hard time sleeping), we were eager to get off the boat in Juneau. We visited the Mount Roberts Tramway, which is literally across the street from the cruise dock. While it is an expensive tourist trap, we still really enjoyed our ride up the mountainside and the light hiking we did on the trails at the top. We found the experience to be like hiking in Taiwan; once you walk a few hundred feet past the gift shop, suddenly everyone disappears. For us, it was likely due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of people on our boat were senior citizens, many with mobility issues. It was nice to have some solitude on the trails although I was paranoid about a bear encounter given the plethora of warning signs around every curve in the trail.
Our next stop was Sitka, which was by far our favorite port of the trip. We spent the entire day walking through the town and its forests and beaches. To get to Sitka, we had to take a 15 minute ride from the port on a shuttle bus. It was efficient enough. The town itself is very small, and we immediately headed to the Sitka National Historical Park located on the edge of town. The trails around the park are very clearly marked and well maintained and dotted with 20 or so beautiful totem poles. Most of the trails wind along the waterfront and have beautiful views of Mount Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano. My favorite moment while hiking was when a large bald eagle landed in a tree top right above us. While we see many eagles in Washington State, it is rare to have one come so close.
Our next "stop" was the Hubbard Glacier, which was freaking amazing! Obviously, there is no dock to pull into at the glacier, so we really just spent a few hours floating in the water next to it. I was actually really surprised at how close our boat got to the glacier considering that a few icebergs calved--meaning broke off-- in just the few ours we were there. The temperature outside became so much chillier as we neared the glacier, and we sat huddled under blankets on our balcony admiring the azure ice and beautiful green mountains.
The next stop was Ketchikan, but we didn't get off the boat. It was pouring rain, and really the only thing to do in town is shop. Since that really isn't our thing and the next most popular thing to do in Ketchikan is take a float plane (so much nope--just google it and see how many people have died recently in plane crashes), we just stayed in our suite and watched Disney's Bears. It was amazing! Watch it. You won't regret it. 

Besides watching TV, we spent a fair amount of time on our balcony admiring the midnight sun. Since we went in May, we didn't have the longest daylight hours Alaska has to offer, but we had close to it. The sun did set nightly, but dusk never quite faded into dark but instead bled into dawn. It was so neat to experience when we were further north in Alaska. The pictures below were taken very late (or early). 
In Victoria, we did get off the boat, but we were sad because everything we wanted to do was closed. Our boat docked at 6p.m., so we didn't get into town until around 7p.m. One thing we were really excited to do was rent scooters, but all the rental shops were closed for the night. We wandered around the waterfront for a bit and then made our way back to the boat to pack our bags for disembarkation the next morning. 

Overall, we were really happy we chose to go on a cruise to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary. We had plenty of time to relax and enjoy each other's company, and we also got to have fun mini adventures each day doing something new and exciting. While it is unlikely we will take another commercial cruise like this again, we still would recommend others to give it a try. 

Our advice? 

Get a signature suite-- the large balcony, Jacuzzi bathtub, and extra room were well worth the extra money. Also, book through cruisedirect to save bucket loads of money; we paid the same price for our signature suite that other people who booked through the cruiseline paid for their much smaller balcony room. Travel in the shoulder seasons-- for the Alaskan cruises, that means May and September. Most important: keep an open mind!

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