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Printed July 16, 2019

North to Alaska IV: Cruising Alaska Inside Passage – Juneau, and learning how to cruise

By Janice Edwards/ The Bulletin

After leaving the Tracy Ann Fjord, we sailed on to Juneau and got there just about noon. We were blessed with a day of sunshine and cool weather. Juneau was the largest coast Alaskan city we visited, boasting about 190 miles of city and state roads. Juneau is 3,255 square miles and is the largest capital city in America by area. It is also the only state capital which borders a foreign country - transferred from Sitka in 1906.

Before Juneau became Juneau, its name was Dzantik’I Heeni, which roughly translates to “where the flat fish gather.” In 1880, Tlingit Chief Kawee guided Richard Harris and Joe Juneau to the mouth of Gold Creek to locate gold in exchange for 100 wool blankets. The natives had no use for gold, but they did need blankets.

The Alaskan Gold Rush was on, and during the next 60 years, Juneau produced $150 million of gold – which would be equivalent to $7 billion today. Today, government has replaced mining as the main industry, followed by tourism.

This being our first cruise, it took Roy and me until about this day to learn how to cruise being a couple “of a certain age” with bad knees. We selected shore excursions with the least amount of exertion. But what we learned is – there is no such thing as low exertion.

That ship held 2,500 people and had cabins and facilities for all of them - they hand you a ship map when you board. Seems no matter where you are on the ship, where you want to go is at the other end of the ship and on another deck. We were on vacation and getting formally dressed was not in our agenda - we packed and dressed accordingly. Had we changed our minds, we could rent formal wear.

We also learned that papers left in the box by our state room door each morning listed the day’s events. There were Vegas type shows, art auctions, jewelry shows, wine tasting parties, a casino, a lounge and movies both inside their theater and under the stars, among other activities.

We saw (ironically) “Aquaman” during a day sail but found it was too cold to watch the movie on deck under the stars. There were many dining options, but we liked the buffet best – you didn’t have to plan your day around your meals. You COULD stay on board and never go on a shore excursion, but we had one planned for each stop. There were so many choices at each port of call it was hard to decide, but we managed. In Juneau, we selected the Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest.

A tour bus loaded up with those of us going on this day trip deposited us at the Allen family docks. The covered catamaran we boarded was equipped with water jets especially designed to navigate Southeast Alaska passages for propulsion, and the wrap-around window allowed for maximum viewing. Though there was a myriad of wildlife that could be spotted on this trip, we only saw sea lions and Humpback Whales.

The highlight of the trip was spotting a Humpback whale that had returned to the area from calving in Hawaii for 20 + years. Usually whales are given an ID number, but this female had been back so often, they named her “Flame.” She brought her new calf back – they named him “Bunson.” Whales are identified by their tail flukes – none of them are the same. I got a good shot of Flame and Bunson’s backs when they blew, and I even got a good-bye wave from Bunson’s tail fluke as we left.

On the way back to the ship, the bus driver showed us a Bald Eagle and its nest and an unusual sculpture of a Humpback Whale streaming water while breaching. It was the only day we needed sunscreen during the trip. We left Juneau at a little after 10 p.m. and sailed all night docking at Skagway early the next morning in drizzling rain.

Next installment – Skagway and the White Pass and Yukon Railroad

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