May 12, 2022

May 11, Sitka

Rain was initially forecast for Sitka, but as we arrive there is some sun and scattered clouds. We were unable to book a shore excursion here, so we take the free 15 minute shuttle ride into town.

Sitka is very small, with a year round population of 8,000. The visitor center is very modern with clean facilities. There are the usual vendors selling tours outside. We settle on a 3 hour tour duplicating the tour we wanted but was sold out on the ship.

Having almost two hours before departure, we walk the town. A few stores have not survivied the pandemic. The local merchants are selling mostly local merchandise. None of the Diamond and Jewelry merchants here. We look for a place to grab a bite to eat. Not an easy task.  Stopping at something similar to a convenience store selling mostly candy and cigarettes we learn that next door has good food, and they open in about 15 minutes. You would never guess from the signage that they sold food.  

We decide to give it a try. The beef dumplings were delicious, and everything was very reasonably priced. In conversation I learn that the convenience store does about $100 per day from local residents. When there is a cruise ship in port his revenue jumps to an average of $2000 for the day. He obviously is in favor of cruise ships, a debate that occurs in many ports.

A short walk back to the departure point for our tour. Everyone is there before departure time, 11 people packed into a 12 passenger van.

The first stop is the Sitka Raptor Center where they help injured raptors, mostly bald eagles and owls, recuperate after being injured. Some become permanent residents as they will never be able to fend for themselves, most are released back into the wild.  The majority of the birds are here as a result of encounters with humans or human activity. Well done and interesting. Maybe a total of 25 people. Much better than a couple of tour buses.

Our second stop is a bear sanctuary built in the waste water processing tanks of a closed paper pulp mill. Both brown and black bears are nursed to recover from injury. Unfortunately state laws prevent the bears from being reintroduced into the wild, but there are efforts underway to change that.

Our last stop is at a National Park featuring totem poles. As with most national parks, very informative and well done. I can only guess, but the massive pole if front of the building must reach 75 feet in height and be 4 feet in diameter. All totem poles tell a story, but of course I am unable to read them.

The driver takes us back to the ship at the end of the tour. Another day with no rain.

Many crew members remember us from our cruise to Panama about a month ago. Our waiter spotted us in the Lido during lunch time, remembering not only which table number we sat at but what beverages we usually had with dinner. A command of memory that I can only dream about.

Nearing the end of the cruise I have yet to see a single passenger give a tip of any kind. A sad statement on society that I personally find very disappointing.

Dinner is again excellent in the dining room. It seems much busier tonight, whether that is fact or not I am not sure.  I am on Holland's "Open Dining", but have a reservation for most nights at 5:30 at the same table. The exceptions are the night we arrived in port at 6 PM, and the nights we went to or are going to go to a specialty restaurant.

The production show tonight is a combination of a singer from the group playing most nights in BB-Kings, the two piano players from "Billboard" and the team of dancers. A good show.

Tomorrow we are docked in Ketchikan.  The official docking time is 7:30, but have been told by the cruise director that the gangway will most likely be open just after 6:00, he just isn't allowed to make an announcement until 7:30.

A night to retire early.

Tuesday May 10, Glacier Bay & Icy Straight Point

Again the forecast is for rain and cloudy skies. The Helipad is being opened for guests. The Crows Nest Lounge on deck 11 is the popular spot for viewing the ships progress. I elect to go to the Tamarind Bar on deck 11 midship. With seating for about 50  and panoramic windows all across the ship, it is an excellent viewing place, but unknown by most passengers and never talked about by the staff.

After a quick breakfast I select prime seats where I can see out both sides of the ship.

Slowly the clouds begin to thin and the sun peaks thru. A whale is spotted about 100 feet from the side of the ship. First a water spout, and then he dives with his tail high above the water. The first sighting of hopefully many to come.

The glaciers are small, smaller than I remember from the last time I was here. A few sea lions, or seals, wildlife is scarce, but it is very early in the season. As we cruise Glacier Bay, the clouds get heavier and the sun sparser.

Just as we turn towards Icy Straight Point the rain starts. The clouds are so low and so thick visibility is cut to a few hundred feet.  
In the distance there appears to be another cruise ship, or is it just an island shrouded in the clouds.  Anyone's guess. Ten minutes later the image becomes a little clearer, most likely a cruise ship. Shortly we pass The Serenade of The Seas leaving the dock that we will soon occupy.

By the time we are tied up and cleared for disembarkation about 6PM, the rain has stopped and the sun is out. The air temperature is in the high 40's. We have tickets for riding the gondola to the top of the mountain. Maybe the rain will stay away.

One cable gondola, called the transporter, runs to the the base station of the mountain gondola and to the second pier. It has been open for about two years. The mountain gondola is the tallest in Alaska and goes to the top of the mountain. Only completed in January of 2022 the ride is smooth and the views spectacular from the gondola and from the viewing platform at the top. Not recommended if you are afraid of heights. 

The sides of the mountain are nearly a vertical slope. The pine forest very dense, the snow deep. Installing the gondola towers and cables must have been a challenging project, most likely built by the lowest bidder.

Back to sea level walking along the boardwalk to the museum, a whale continuously puts on a show for the tourists. Every few minutes a spout of air and water spray, then breaking the water and flipping it's tail as to say watch me silly people.

The zip line is another popular activity at Icy straight point. Long and fast it is in continuous use with half a dozen riders at a time. Not for this visitor. 

There is another very small ship at the second pier. The Regent Seven Seas Mariner, promoted as a luxury cruise line.

The rain stayed away and we have enjoyed another great day in Alaska.

Back on the ship, a quick change of clothes and it is time for another show by the comedian. BB-Kings's is packed, we find a seat at the bar. Not the best seat, but at least a seat. His show is excellent.

We are scheduled to leave port sometime after 10. As darkness falls, visibility drops as rain clouds move in again.

Tomorrow we will be in Sitka.