A Travellerspoint blog

From Skagway to the Yukon

sunny 65 °F

Skagway is a tiny town with a year round population of about 700 people. In the summer months between cruise ship employees, tourists, and local seasonal residents the number of people milling about the city can reach 20,000. The town itself stretches about four by twenty street blocks and the majority of the city center sits on a narrow strip of eight blocks. On this particular day our cruise ship was the only ship in port and the town felt like an abandoned ghost town. With so little to do in the city center, most cruise passengers partake in guided excursions, which is how we spent our day in Skagway.


My friend Rose lives in Skagway during the summer months work for the cruise lines. She got us tickets on an amazing guided tour up White Pass into the Yukon Territory in Canada. The tour was phenomenal and took us through six different climate zones as we made our way from the marine climate to lush, forest dense mountains. When we arrived in Carcross, a tiny town in the Yukon, we were literally in the world’s smallest desert, complete with sand dunes. It was slightly odd being surrounded by snow-capped mountains and pine cone laden fir trees while sitting amongst the sandy dunes with an icy breeze blowing past.


I think these photos sum up the extreme diversity in landscape - it truly was surreal!



We spent the afternoon at Caribou Crossing where we enjoyed a BBQ style lunch in a giant mess hall (vegetarian style of course!). Caribou Crossing was a tourist trap complete with gold panning and ATV riding all at an additional cost. I went straight for the dog sled area where I snuggled up with four week old husky puppies. Round and cuddly, the puppies melted my heart and I could have stayed there all day. I was hesitant to watch the dog sledding as I have strong feelings about animal rights, but curiosity got the best of me and I wandered over towards the ruckus of barking. My ideas about dog mistreatment were quickly erased as I witnessed the dogs experience sheer joy while pulling the sled. You may have strong beliefs about animal rights, but I kid you not, these dogs were far from unhappy. As the passengers were loaded, six dogs were chosen (out of about 40 or so) and harnessed to the sled. The chosen dogs leapt for joy and strained against the reins eager to pull the sled. The remaining dogs howled like wolves as they realized it wasn’t their turn. Realizing we were running short on time, we quickly gave the puppies some more love before clambering aboard our outdated motor coach to head back over the pass.


Once back in Skagway, Rose met us downtown and gave us a tour of the sights and took us on a short hike out to Smuggler’s Cove. We enjoyed a surprisingly good dinner at the Red Onion, a former brothel (man, what is it with Alaskans and their prostitutes?!) and then said our farewells before boarding the ship.


The next two days will be spent on board the cruise ship as we sail through the icy waters of Glacier Bay and College Fjord. The geography of Southern Alaska is so diverse and it’s incredible how many landscapes, climates, and weather patterns we have experienced in such a short time. We still have so much more to see, so stay tuned!

Posted by Jennylynn 07:16 Archived in USA Tagged cruises Comments (5)

Trail Blazing in Juneau

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Juneau is truly an outdoor enthusiast’s playground. Just about every sporting activity is found here and with a backdrop of snowcapped mountains and the massive 1,500 square mile Juneau Icefield, it doesn’t get much better. Juneau is a modest sized city of about 30,000 people and the heart of the town sits nestled at the foot of Mt. Roberts and Mt. Juneau.


While in Juneau my husband and I basked in the endless outdoor opportunities. We started bright and early with a trip to the Mendenhall Glacier where we made our way up the East Glacier Trail. This trail runs about three miles round trip and offers spectacular views of the glacier and the Mendenhall Lake. My husband and I have done quite a bit of hiking and my only fear is that we will one day cross paths with a bear. In particular I dread running into a protective mother bear with her frisky cubs. Signs all over the park warned us of the danger of bears, hikers carried bear mace and whistles, and others had bells dangling from their legs in hopes of warning the bears of their presence. All these precautions only intensified my already deep rooted fear. Thankfully, the entire day passed and not a single bear was seen. We completed our trip to the Mendenhall Glacier by walking the interpretive trail which wraps around the lake at the base of the glacier.


We next refueled in town before hiking up Mt. Roberts. This steady but steep hike took us up 1,800 feet into the alpine. Mt. Roberts can also be reached by a short, expensive tram ride, but it was much more rewarding to break a sweat and earn our trip to the top. At the end of the hike we took in the sweeping views of Juneau and Douglas Island and explored the Interpretive Center. On our return to Juneau we hitched a “free” ride down on the tram by spending $5 in the gift shop. It definitely saved our legs and the ride was spectacular.


We finished up our day in Juneau with a walking tour of the city. Walking amongst the crowded streets of Juneau we watched cruise ship passengers browse the same souvenir shops, selling the same trinkets found in every tourist area, and we began to feel a bit discouraged. Traveling is the ultimate way to learn about different cultures, participate in new activities, and enjoy locally made food. I encourage every traveler to step outside their comfort zone into new and uncharted territory for this is where true travel takes place. We may be traveling by cruise ship, but this is no excuse to cop out on authenticity, life changing journeys can occur anywhere and by any mode of transportation. With that we travel North to Skagway where we will continue our Alaskan adventures!

Posted by Jennylynn 08:00 Archived in USA Tagged cruises Comments (0)

Catch Me in Ketchikan

semi-overcast 60 °F

Arriving in Ketchikan was like stumbling upon an oasis in the midst of a scorched, sandy desert. Surrounded by nothing but ocean for over 36 hours, it was a glorious sight to pull into the beautiful Tongass Narrows where snowcapped hillsides beckoned us in. In many ways, Ketchikan’s beauty is very similar to that of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, and I have to admit that at first I felt I very close to home. That feeling quickly dissipated as I stepped off the gangway bright and early to a crisp, cool breeze carrying the scent of damp Sitka Spruce. Within minutes a bald eagle swooped down from his perch and soared gracefully over the ocean waves. The perfection of this moment could not compare to any other. Although the cruise promotes rest and relaxation, it wasn’t until arriving in Ketchikan that I truly felt a sense of calm.


Ketchikan plays host to a handful of excursions and historical sights, but wandering aimlessly amongst the creaky houses built high on pilings above the water stole our time as we took in all the splendor and beauty that Alaska offers.



A highlight of our walking experience was exploring Creek Street, Ketchikan’s once bustling red light district until prostitution was made illegal in 1954. Today this boardwalk is abuzz with cruise ship tourists, but we somehow managed to make it early enough and beat the crowds. As we made our way toward the end of Creek Street we came across a busty woman complete with feathers and fishnets. She invited us into the famed brothel of Dolly Arthur, Ketchikan’s most successful madam and legend for distributing bootleg whiskey. This museum of sorts highlighted the glory days of Dolly’s once booming business and was a sight not to miss.


We then traveled a bit outside of the city center to visit Saxman Native Village on a guided tour where we endured two hours of off-beat comedy by a transplanted Scotsman. Although I appreciate guided tours for broadening my perspective and engaging my mind, I can’t help but feel somewhat trapped by the touring experience as I am stuck in a designated group for a designated amount of time. In this particular case, the tour was actually quite enjoyable, but several times we wanted to step out of the group to explore on our own. While touring the totem poles at Saxman we learned about the difficulty and time involved in creating these amazing works of art. Back home, totem poles are a standard feature in many public areas as Native American culture is an important component of the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately until now I never had a great appreciation for their significance. It’s important to recognize that a totem pole acts not just as decoration but tells the story of a family, tribe, or significant legend.


It was difficult to leave Ketchikan as we absolutely fell in love with the beauty and charm of the area. Just like being on a tour, cruising only gives you a designated amount of time in each area and my husband and I wished we had the freedom of independent travel. Then again, Ketchikan like many other Alaskan towns is only accessible by sea or air, so cruising allows for maximum coverage in a given time period. Either way, we are very excited to head to Juneau and see what more Alaska has to offer!

Posted by Jennylynn 08:30 Archived in USA Tagged cruises Comments (0)

Cruising to Alaska

Aboard the Island Princess

Stepping aboard the Island Princess was like being swept away in a completely isolated and self-indulgent world. Cut off from the news, email (I could not justify 75 cents per minute for internet!), and my cell phone, I became a victim of forced relaxation. Typically, I am perpetually in motion, tackling one task or another from the break of dawn until late into the night. Aboard the Island Princess I did my best to relax, but between the full schedule of lectures, lessons, and performances, it was easy to stay busy.


We embarked on our Alaska bound cruise ship in Vancouver, British Columbia at midday and set sail by late afternoon. As this was our first cruising experience, my husband and I spent the first day at sea getting acquainted with our surroundings. Our immediate impression was one of awe at the enormity of the ship and everything within it. Outdoor sports courts, pools, theaters, dance clubs, a casino, boutiques, restaurants, and the holy grail of cruising: the 24-hour, all-you-can-eat buffet, were all at our finger tips. We didn’t know what to do or eat first!


It was immediately apparent that eating was the number one priority for most of those onboard. Watching individuals return for second, third, and fourth helpings at the buffet really concerned me. Now, I am a total food junkie and I will devour just about anything in sight, but I also know my limits and I never bother with mediocre food. I will be completely honest, the cruise ship food was just average and although the food was free I found no reason to sit all day and eat (You’re surprised? I know, I was too!). I don’t want to completely criticize the food because there were a handful of delicious dishes, but overall, eating was definitely not the highlight of the cruise.


Cruises are essentially semi-inclusive, resorts of the sea and I would not recommend this form of travel for everyone. Although we ate free at several casual restaurants, all other upscale eateries were an additional cover charge. Alcoholic beverages, premium coffee and tea, and soda were not included. In addition, we were badgered at every corner to buy and spend more. All purchases were billed to the room, no cash or credit was accepted, and at the end of the trip a hefty bill awaits. Being thrifty travelers our wallets were not easily bruised, but the majority of travelers stared in disbelief at their grand total upon disembarking the ship.


A highlight of the cruising experience was attending some of the dozens of classes and lectures offered onboard. We particularly enjoyed learning about dog sled racing from first-time female Iditarod champion Libby Riddles. In addition, the cruise hosted an on ship naturalist David Hancock who presented daily lectures on Alaskan wildlife, geography, culture, and art. At various points during the cruise he would broadcast live commentary as we sailed through areas of particular interest.


The next few blog entries will give some insight into each port of call, our adventures in scenic glacier cruising, and finally our journey into Denali National Park. Stay tuned!


Posted by Jennylynn 18:52 Archived in USA Tagged cruises Comments (0)

Unshelved: Library Exploration and Tea Tasting

Who would have thought a library could be so entertaining?

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Whoever has engrained in the minds of the masses that libraries are solemn locations exclusively for forced studying and those rare occasions when the internet is down at home, forget all that nonsense and visit the Seattle Central Library nestled right in the heart of downtown for an unforgettable experience.

I had not intended to visit the library on this particular visit downtown, but my husband and I had planned a morning of tea tastings and when we arrived early we had nothing better to do. I had heard that the architecture of the Seattle Central Library was worth viewing, but let me tell you I was completely blown away by the impressive structure that defied any notion of what a library should or should not look like.


The Seattle Central Library was built in 2004 at a mind-boggling cost of $166 million. The building was designed by Rem Koolhaas, an award-winning Dutch architect whose portfolio includes a long list of projects in cities across the globe. If it weren’t for the clusters of computers, stacks of periodicals, and students studying, the structure would resemble a giant dance club with its steel and angles, neon lit elevators, mod furniture, and sweeping views across 11 levels.


A massive Microsoft auditorium is used for lectures and book readings, an entire floor is devoted to computer and internet use, jam session rooms are available for music practice, and yes, there are even books for your perusing pleasure. For a mid morning on a weekday, the library was more happening than Starbucks, which in Seattle, is saying a lot. However, with library usage up 20 percent in the last year, changes to rules of conduct have been proposed. Patrons will be awoken if sleeping, shoes must be worn at all time, and gasp, loud talking will not be tolerated. Oh, and, all items brought into the library must meet airline size carry-on requirements or they will not be allowed inside. No joke.


Careful not to provoke any hard-nosed librarians, we tiptoed out of the library and made our way to the Vital Tea Leaf to taste different teas and learn about the proper steeping of tea leaves. I was quite excited to be attending a tea tasting as I can’t seem to get through the morning without a cup of black tea. I am also a purist in the sense that I appreciate the aromas and flavors of tea without any added sugar or cream, so with that we sat ourselves down and let the tastings begin. Between ginseng, rose petals, and jasmine I was overwhelmed by dozens of flavors. I typically like my tea fairly rich and full-bodied, but here I had the opportunity to try teas that tasted floral, crisp, and sweet. It awoke my taste buds and I left with a new appreciation for all the endless tea drinking possibilities.



Before leaving downtown Seattle we stopped in Metsker’s Maps where we gathered guidebooks and maps in preparation for our Alaska cruise and jaunt into Denali National Park. The next time you hear from me, I will be aboard the Island Princess headed North into the Inside Passage of Alaska. Our stops include Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Anchorage with several days of scenic glacier cruising aboard the ship. I can’t wait!

Posted by Jennylynn 17:25 Archived in USA Tagged educational Comments (0)

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