Juneau, gateway to the glaciers

Imagine a short ride up the street from your state’s capital to dead end at a gigantic, year-round block of ice. As Alaska’s capital, Juneau is worth a visit, but if you have never walked or been bussed on the Columbia Ice Fields in Alberta Canada, then do so on the Juneau Icefield.

Oohs & camera clicks sound passing the Mendenhall and other glaciers on our spectacular cruise
Oohs & camera clicks sound, passing the Mendenhall and other glaciers on our spectacular cruise

You can take a “flightseeing” tour of the Icefield that includes landing on it and a lesson in how to hike the ice and information on what you are seeing. You can also get a close-up look of arguably Juneau’s most familiar name: the Mendenhall Glacier. To do a flightseeing tour arrange ahead of time with TEMSCO, a veteran Alaskan flight company.

We have walked the Columbia Ice Fields so our choice was to see Mendenhall through our ship’s tour but arrange for whale watching on our own.

Because we arrived before the main tourist season we were able to walk up to a hut on the pier and book the next boat out from Orca Enterprises with Capt. Larry. Not only did he know where to go to find pods of whales, he also knew the islands and channels where we could see eagles and other wildlife. Plus, the boat was small so we could get up close and were not part of a large group.

You have to be quick to catch whales surfacing.
You have to be quick to catch whales surfacing.
An eagle watches for other eagles who land on the tiny grop of rocks
An eagle watches for other eagles who land on the tiny group of rocks
Sea lions jostle to be king of the hill
Sea lions jostle to be king of the hill

As beautiful as we heard Alaska was, we still were not prepared for so many awesome sights. And we hadn’t yet seen Glacier Bay National Park

For more info
TEMSCO flightseeing

Coming Next: Glacier Bay National Park

Alaska, the Inside Passage, part 1

Starting out 

Flying into Vancouver, B.C. is the perfect opener to an eye-popping scenic adventure. Miles of forests, rivers, straits and mountains surround the city, whetting the appetite for the gorgeous scenery to come.  To stay overnight in Vancouver, we chose a hotel on the water within walking distance of our port. But we arrived early enough to take a scenic bus tour around the city. Floatplanes constantly took off and landed outside our hotel, giving us our first idea of how important small planes are for getting around in BC and Alaska.

As host to the Olympics in early 2010, Vancouver  added several hotels so finding one to meet the budget and travel style is not a problem. 

Vancouver BC
Vancouver’s cruise ship port looks like a distant cousin of the Sydney Opera House
Float Plane Landing Vancouver BC
Floatplanes constantly landed and took off outside our hotel



Vancouver BC
Stanley Park, a good place to spend the day, sticks out into the water like a thumb


Jaded travelers may say that Ketchikan, usually the first port of call, is a mere tourist trap. Maybe if a visitor spends the entire time on shore browsing the cute village shops, the person would leave with the impression the town is about shopping.  We did our share of browsing but what we loved in Ketchikan was the Saxman Native Village. The town claims to have the world’s largest collection of totem poles. Many of them can be seen at Saxman, Totem Bight State Park and the Totem Heritage Center.  After sitting and putting away more food that was good for us, we also liked the hike to Saxman, particularly passing trees filled with eagles and houses that had totem poles out front. 

Ketchikan, Alaska
Cute shops attract shoppers in Ketchikan, a fishing village also known for its totem poles

Totem poles line the Saxman Native Village entrance
Totem poles line the Saxman Native Village entrance
Saxman should be a Ketchikan destination
Saxman should be a Ketchikan destination

Eagles take over the trees on the way to Saxman
Eagles take over the trees on the way to Saxman

Links For More Info:

Tourism Vancouver
Travel Alaska
Visit Ketchikan

Coming Up: Alaska, the Inside Passage, part 2

Move travel to Alaska up on the vacation destination list

Alaskan Glaciers
Alaskan Glaciers

You think a spectacular phenomenon such as the glaciers in Alaska will remain amazing no matter when you manage to travel there.  That is unless you attend a climate change conference or the new, temporary “Climate Change” exhibit that opened at Chicago’s Field Museum June 25, 2010. After seeing in graphic detail that Greenland and the glaciers across the northern hemisphere are shrinking, going to Alaska takes on a new urgency. 


 Now that it’s high on the list comes the interesting part – looking at all the options that turn a good trip into a great one. The best options are the ones that fit your lifestyle.



Getting there  


Sunset from the ship
Sunset from the ship

We were traveling with another couple so a few compromises entered the planning. The result was to take a Princess Line cruise from Vancouver, British Columbia, just over the Canadian border, to travel up the Inside Passage. Our option, booked ahead, was to leave half the passengers who were just doing the cruise, then continue on with Princess across Prince William Sound for our land portion. We chose Princess because the company has lodges in different Alaskan locations and buses to get us there so we could relax and leave the arrangements to someone else. That is not our usual style but it worked well for Alaska.




• Book a room in Vancouver or from wherever you will be sailing the night before you leave on your cruise. Not only does this apply to Alaska, but is a good tip for taking any cruise, anywhere in the world. Weather and transportation schedules are too iffy to chance “missing the boat,” as the saying goes.  In addition, towns like Vancouver are worth seeing as part of your trip.

• Consider traveling just before or just after the main tourist season. For Alaska, tourist season is summer when the mosquitoes are large and swarming and the prices are higher. The end of May into early June is a better time to go. The weather is not so cold as to hinder sightseeing and you won’t have to share the sights with hundreds of other visitors. Just add a jacket and a couple of turtleneck shirts to the suitcase.

• Speaking of packing, bring binoculars to better spot whales and other sea life and bring more than one pair of comfortable walking shoes. If you like dressing up, throw the fancy duds into the suitcase but you don’t really need to pack a tux and gown any longer. A jacket for men and cocktail dress for women will get you through the door on formal nights.

  • There is not a lot of open sea time traveling to Alaska.  People who want a spa treatment aboard should look at the schedule when booking the trip, then make an appointment for the treatment well in advance to get the desired time. This is true for any cruise. The same book ahead advice applies to snagging a seat for an evening splurge in the fine-dining restaurant.

Coming up next: Alaska, the Inside Passage