Cruise Ships, and Glaciers, but no Bears, oh my! Alaska Cruise: Juneau/Mendenhall​

About eight years ago we embarked on a Carribean cruise on the Norwegian Jewel. And we swore we’d never cruise again. So, how is it I find myself aboard the sister-ship Norwegian Pearl on a cruise to Alaska? A loophole in our agreement. Tawny had never been to Alaska before and always said, “I’d only ever do a cruise again if it was to Alaska”. I agreed because it seemed an easy way to see Southeast Alaska and Glacier Bay, much of which is only accessible by plane or boat. When we asked our daughter if she’d like to accompany us her reply was a swift, “Um,…No”.

And so here we find ourselves departing Seattle on a ship we can see from our deck on a 7-day cruise to Alaska with a few close friends and leaving our daughter behind.

Tawny and I each had our own agenda for the cruise:

  1. Tawny: See glaciers
  2. Marc: Photograph bears
  3. Both: Relax w/friends

We had already pre-purchased our excursions and amenities to achieve these goals. In Juneau, Tawny would be going with our friends to visit Mendenhall Glacier, while I’d be heading on a bear and wildlife adventure via floatplane. We had also purchased the “Adult Ultimate Beverage Package”, a “3 Meal Specialty Dining Package”, and the “Thermal Suite Spa Pass”, a trifecta of drinking, eating, and relaxation.

Before arriving in Juneau we’d have two nights and a full day-and-a-half to bide our time exploring the ship. We leisured ourselves in the spa (best views on the boat are from the sauna), lost money in the casino, attended an “Art” raffle where we won a few bottles of champagne and four “$100 Bid Credit Certificates” (which we determined were a scam for the following day’s Park West “Art Auction”). We whittled away the hours with ample eating, drinking, and playing of board games in the velvet ensconced Bliss Lounge. And spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get our stateroom balcony door fixed.

The door to our cabin balcony couldn’t be locked, and therefore would open and close with each to-and-fro the Pacific Ocean waved at our ship.  It took us two days, eight formal complaints, and this video to explain the situation and finally get the issue resolved.

Cruise problems aside, one thing everybody loves about a cruise is the assortment of towel animals, a virtual terrycloth Noah’s Ark. Our cabin steward Gerry not only helped us get our door fixed and left our room spotless, he’d also playfully place a towel whimsy upon our bed during turndown service each night.

Unfortunately, the night before arriving in Juneau I received an envelope next to the towel elephant left on our bed:

“Shore Excursion Notice – Tour Cancellation: BEAR & WILDLIFE VIA FLOAT PLANE”

“Dear guest, we regret to inform you that the above tour for Juneau has been canceled due to lack of participation.”

I was pretty disappointed. My main goal for this trip was to photograph brown bears fishing for spawning salmon and this was really my only opportunity. While there were other bear excursions offered in ports such as Ketchikan, they were for the much smaller and more common black bears. I reluctantly rebooked my excursion to join Tawny and our friends on the trip to the Mendenhall Glacier.

We arrived in Juneau a little early and had to wait for the 4000-passenger-1100-foot-long-behemoth Norwegian Bliss (the 9th largest cruise ship in the world) to leave port before we could dock.

We disembarked in a light, Juneau rain and waited for our tour bus to drive us up the glacier. Nestled in the Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States, Mendenhall is beautiful, even in the rain. We walked Nugget Falls Trail and Photo Point Trails to take in vistas of Mendenhall Lake, Mendenhall Glacier, and Nugget Falls.

As the rain increased we headed over to the Steep Creek Trail to see if we could see black bears fishing for spawning salmon. Unfortunately, large portions of Steep Creek Trail were closed for the seasonal return of salmon. While there was a large viewing platform from which to watch bears, there were no bears to watch there that day. While disappointing, seeing the spawning salmon struggling up the shallow creekbed to complete their lifecycle was pretty awe-inspiring and the scenery was spectacular.

We visited the visitor center to learn more about the glaciers while we waited for our bus back to Juneau. While there were no bears for me and it was raining during our hike, Mendenhall was a stunning and educational destination for an afternoon excursion.

Once back in eagles-wherever-you-look Juneau we took some time to walk around the downtown area a bit (which is pretty touristy) before ducking out of the rain and into The Hangar on the Wharf for dinner. Housed in what was once the original humble home of Alaska Airlines we each had formidable baskets of Alaskan halibut and chips before returning to our ship for an overnight sailing to Skagway, and our next adventure.

Categories: Alaska, Cruise | Leave a comment

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