We had an early wakeup call for the third morning of our cruise. We arrived in Skagway at 7:00am and got off the ship soon thereafter so we could find out what our options were in terms of excursions. Riding the White Pass + Yukon Railroad and going to the Klondike Summit were some of the popular things to do while in Skagway, however, considering Jody and I did a similar train ride in Peru last summer, we decided we wanted to do something different. In addition to hiking, the other “very Alaskan” activity that I wanted to do was visiting a sled dog training camp, where the dogs prepare to race in the Iditarod. Since Skagway was close to the Canadian border, we figured that our best chances of seeing the dogs would be while we were in Skagway.
After disembarking on Tuesday morning, we made our way to the tourism booth to see what kinds of tours and excursions were offered. I was surprised to find that there were so many options and combinations of activities designed to give visitors a true Alaskan experience. Ultimately, we decided on the excursion that included a tour of a Dog Sled Camp, panning for gold, and a sled ride with the dogs near Yukon. We purchased our tickets for the afternoon and spent the next few hours wandering through the shops of Skagway until it was time to meet for our tour. The town itself was a bit touristy, but historic, as this town was full of brothels during the Gold Rush. Nonetheless, we enjoyed sipping on coffee, sampling popcorn and Alaskan fry dough, and of course, shopping for a few souvenirs!
When it was time for our tour, we met our guide and boarded the van as we began the hour and a half journey to the Iditarod Musher Camp. Our driver was very knowledgable about the history of Skagway, life as a local, and the general area along the way. He knew the best places to stop for pictures of the breathtaking scenery, how to cross the border into Canada without much of a hold-up and kept us running on schedule to allow ample time at the musher camp. Even though he wasn’t an Alaskan native, he was such an excellent guide!
Anticipation grew as we neared the musher’s camp. Soon as we pulled in, our entire group practically sprinted off of the bus and through the gates to where all of the husky puppies were corraled. We would be partaking in our dog sled ride towards the end of our visit, so we had plenty of time to explore the grounds, listen to a presentation of what the Iditarod is actually like from one of the racers, and of course, get in all of the puppy snuggles we (or the pups) could handle!
Our tour also included a chance at panning for gold, since this area is known for the gold rush. I had actually panned for gold before, during a family vacation to Mount Rushmore, but did not seem to be any better at separating the gold flakes from the sediment and gravel. This one was honestly a little cheesy (especially when our guide said we should find exactly nine flakes of gold!), but it was still a fun activity.
Soon after our panning for gold experience, the mushers announced it was time for our ride! Since it was summer and there was no snow on the ground, we were to be pulled in a UTV, rather than a dog sled. Jody was able to grab the front seat with the musher, and I climbed into the bed of the cart and stood with my mom and sister in the back! I wrapped my arm around one of the handlebars, so I could try to take some pictures along our ride. Even then, I was sure I was going to fall off from pure excitement as the dogs took off!
The dogs pulled us along a stunning mountain vista trail for almost a mile and a half. We weaved our way through the trees, alongside a lake and up and down the hills of the Yukon. And even though we were in a UTV, the musher told us when she would put it in neutral and we could really feel the force of the dogs. It was such a surreal experience — one that I’m not soon to forget!
We had a few more minutes to get our final puppy snuggles in before it was time to head back to Skagway. Once we loaded into the van (and rewatched the video of our sled ride that I took fifty more times), we headed up the road just a mile or two to the welcome to Yukon sign! We also visited a local who made her livelihood selling snacks and souvenirs on the side of the road — it is crazy that there are that enough tourists who visit during the summer months that so many of the locals can survive off of what they earn during the four months of cruise ship season!
We made a few more stops for pictures on the way back to Skagway. Before we crossed the border back into Alaska, the sky had gotten quite overcast, so the mirror-like effect the mountains and sky had on the lake above had a completely different look to it now. I’m glad we were able to stop both times to get some pictures! Our guide also had us stop at Bridal Veil Falls– where its direct source of water was from a glacier. I happened to have a water bottle, and he grabbed his mug and we headed down to the bottom of the falls where we could refill with fresh, clean glacier water. He swore it was the best water we’d ever taste, and I’ll admit, it was pretty refreshing!
As we returned to Skagway, our driver kindly dropped us off right at our ship so we had time to run to our cabins and change for dinner. I was eagerly anticipating this dinner because it was King Crab leg night! And since we missed dinner on our anniversary the night before, we were able to celebrate again with cake and our whole family.
Before heading to the evening’s entertainment, my mom, aunt and I walked the promenade deck of the ship. This might sound relaxing, however, we were heading out of Skagway and the winds had picked up quite a bit! Even though the temperatures during the day were unseasonably warm, the evening’s cool air always made an appearance, despite the sun not setting until close to midnight!
Early the next morning, we sailed into Glacier Bay National Park. Several Park Rangers boarded our ship to spend our day in Glacier Bay and be available to answer questions and lead discussions about the glaciers and wildlife that we would be seeing. Jody and I grabbed breakfast and headed up to the top deck just as we were pulling into Margerie Glacier. We headed up to one of the higher decks, in an effort to get a space where we wouldn’t have to squeeze in next to others. We found a spot with a good view, but since it was near the wind-blocking glass windows, it wasn’t great for taking pictures. Our ship, however, did float and circle around so passengers could see views of the glacier from all points on the ship! We even saw an ice calving, which is when a chunk of the glacier breaks off and falls into the bay. We weren’t sure if we would be able to see one, but it was neat to witness it and even get it on camera. It makes a loud booming noise when it does!
When we began to sail again towards some of the other smaller glaciers in the park, Jody and I headed back down to our cabin. We were all under the impression we would be at the glaciers all day, but we only spent a brief period of time at each. Jody had gone to the gym, and I was relaxing in the room when I heard the park rangers announce we were arriving at the other glaciers. I sat on our balcony looking for wildlife for a bit but then decided to head back to the top deck to be in the sun.
As we were leaving Glacier Bay, I ran into my mom and we spent the next hour searching the water for any sign of wildlife! While we didn’t see any whales performing any jump tricks, we did see two swim right by the ship and see one splashing in the distance. We also spotted one photogenic otter, who teased us by posing until right when we pulled the camera out, then he disappeared under the surface and swam away!
Thursday was our final stop in Alaska. It was crazy to think how fast our time in Alaska had passed, but even crazier that we had to leave this majestic state. Unfortunately, our time in Ketchikan was short — we docked at 7:00am but had to be back on board by 12:30pm. The one other “very Alaskan” activity that we still wanted to experience, was learning more about the native culture, specifically around totem poles. We found a tour that would take us all around Ketchikan, with a stop at Saxman Totem Park, but would get us back in time for my dad to take my grandfather to the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show.
Our first stop was a totem pole demonstration, where we learned a little about the totem pole carving and painting process. We were also able to examine artifacts and sample Alaskan smoked salmon. After we left there, we climbed back into the van with our guide and drove along the Alaskan coast toward Saxman, which is about three miles outside of Ketchikan. We stopped several times along the water, looking for wildlife and capturing pictures of the captivating views. We saw waterfalls, eagles, and cutest little jam and honey stand, but unfortunately, no signs of bears. Our guide did explain that he almost always sees bears along this route, so the high temperatures are probably why we couldn’t see any. Although it was disappointing, I would rather have beautiful weather, than the rainy and cold day that was forecasted.
The Saxman Totem Park was a perfect place to see a lot of totem poles all in the same location. We learned about the Tlingit and Haida people, local to this area in Alaska, and the significance behind each symbolic carving on the 20+ poles. While the park was small, our guide told us many stories behind the poles and the clan house, which kept it plenty interesting as we learned more about the native people.
Our tour ended back at the cruise ship terminal. My dad and grandfather headed to the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show (this sounded SO fun — we could hear it from a variety of points in Ketchikan!), while the rest of us wandered off to shop for souvenirs and explore the downtown historic district.
Jody and I passed by a crepe shop and decided that a little fuel would give us enough energy to squeeze in as much of Ketchikan as we could before having to be back on the ship. We split a crepe filled with brie, apples, honey, and walnuts – a delicious mid-morning treat!
I had read prior to leaving for this trip that another popular site to see in Ketchikan is Creek Street, which is a former Red Light district and historic boardwalk built on pilings above Ketchikan Creek. In the present day, it is a quaint place to wander through the locally-owned stores and enjoy local art and culture. Jody and I enjoyed spending our final hour strolling along the boardwalk, shopping for souvenirs and participating in salmon tastings. This is also a great place to watch the salmon swim upstream, but we visited a few weeks before that was expected to happen.
Later that evening, back on the Ruby Princess, was our final formal dining night! Lobster tails were served, and the wait staff paraded the Baked Alaska desserts around the dining room. We attended that evening’s production show and spent more time on the top deck looking for wildlife and soaking in our last midnight sunset!
Friday was our final day on the cruise. In honor of our anniversary, Jody and I decided to schedule a couples massage in the ship’s spa. We grabbed breakfast before and headed to the spa for an hour of relaxation.
We spent most of the afternoon getting our luggage packed before heading to an early dinner (Like 4:30pm, early!) as we were scheduled to arrive in our final port of Victoria, British Columbia around 7:00pm. With our limited time in Victoria and no point of interest that we were dying to see, we once again wandered off the ship in the direction of the available city tours. I would have loved to see the city by way of horse and carriage, but I, unfortunately, over-estimated how warm it would be, and was already cold in the light jacket I was wearing. So, we found a driver who would take us to see some of the spectacular gardens and neighborhoods in Victoria.
The gardens were truly beautiful, especially the one the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge often visit when they are in Victoria. Our tour, however, did get a bit odd when our guide started pointing out buildings that were significant to him, like where he went to school, and the police station that he was quite familiar with! He also had a lead foot that tended not to stop until completely necessary (remember my struggle with motion-sickness? Yup. Not great!). While it wasn’t our best excursion, it was definitely one we can look back and laugh at!
We boarded our ship for a final time late that evening and headed to the midnight buffet to snack before returning to our staterooms. We said our goodbyes to our family as we all were disembarking the ship the following morning at different times. Jody and I returned to our cabin to finish packing our luggage and watch us pull out of port one more time. Though it was cold, we sat on our balcony until the lights of Victoria faded into the dark night.
Whew! If you made it this far, you are a saint! This post ended up being longer than I intended, but hopefully, the fact that is photo-heavy made it more enjoyable. If you missed Part One of our Alaska Cruise Recap, you can read it here. Jody and I planned to have an extra day in Seattle after the cruise, so we didn’t fly out with everyone else. A full recap of our time in Seattle will be coming soon!