Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Embarking on a Two Week Adventure in Alaska

Back when I first proposed a trip to Alaska, I knew I wanted to go something fierce, but beyond that I didn't know what the trip itself looked like. I researched all sorts of methods - big ship cruise, luxury cruise, expedition cruise, trip via ferry, trip via RV, and trip via RV and ferry. I pretty much ruled out the RV option early on because of how expensive it is to rent an RV, and then to transport it via the Alaska ferry system. So I waffled for weeks between luxury cruise and expedition cruise. In fact, I almost booked the luxury cruise (aboard the Regent Seven Seas Navigator out of San Francisco) before taking one last look at the videos posted on the Un-Cruise Adventures website. We sat down together and talked it through and decided, quite emphatically, that we were more like the people pictured in those videos than the ones shown in the Regent Seven Seas marketing collateral. For one, I don't own any cashmere sweaters and the last time I wore a formal gown was over 10 years ago.

So, type of cruise decided, we went about deciding which of the several itineraries available from Un-Cruise we were most interested in. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wanted to see Glacier Bay since we hear constantly that our glaciers are melting at an unprecedented rate. I also wanted to see Misty Fjords based on feedback from previous cruisers. I was excited to see that Un-Cruise offered a two-week expedition for 2014 called Ultimate Bays & Fjords that encompassed both, so I set off trying to convince Alan that we should really take a two week trip. I'm not going to lie, this was going to be the most expensive vacation we would have ever undertaken together, so I had to really sell it.

Given that I spend a large majority of my working hours putting together powerpoint presentations, I set about doing just that to make my case. I started with pictures I found on Flickr from previous cruisers, put together summaries of the various locations that were highlighted on the itineraries, and presented a cost differential comparison between the various ships and itineraries we had previously considered. Finally I was able to convince Alan that the two-week itinerary was the way to go, and planning commenced.

Since we live in California and thus don't spend a lot of time in the rain or cold, we basically needed an entire new wardrobe to brave the wet Alaska spring. This meant rain gear, hiking boots, wool base layers, new socks, gloves ... basically everything. I didn't keep a running tally of how much we spent in total, but it wasn't cheap. We just kept telling ourselves that we'll have this stuff for a long time so it was a good investment. (In fact, we were able to put nearly everything to good use during a spring trip to Lake Tahoe where it snowed rather dramatically and unexpectedly.)

Because we weren't nervous enough about our trip, I had a multi-day work event taking place in San Diego just days before we left. We did a dry run for packing the Friday before I left for that trip, so we were well prepared when I came home on Wednesday night to finalize our luggage and toiletries Thursday night for Friday morning's departure. Setting out from Oakland to Seattle, the first leg of our flight was uneventful - just the way I liked it. En route from Seattle to Sitka, we started talking some other passengers who were also going on an Un-Cruise trip. On a brief stop in Ketchikan to drop off and pick up additional passengers, they went to de-board the plane. We asked what they were doing and they said their cruise left from Ketchikan. This freaked us out a bit because we were on our way to Sitka and didn't want to have made a mistake. It turns out that Un-Cruise was running basically the same cruise we were on, aboard the Wilderness Adventurer, departing Ketchikan and ultimately arriving in Sitka. That matter settled we wished them a great trip and sat back for our short flight to Sitka.

Now, I've been on a lot of scenic flights in my time, but the flight to Sitka from Ketchikan is something else entirely. We looked out the window only to realize that we were flying among the snow-capped mountains. Not over them, but through them. You felt as if you could practically reach out and touch the craggy peaks. It was stunning. On our side of the plane there was a semi-frozen, perfectly oval alpine lake the color of milky turquoise. As we descended into Sitka I had no idea where the airport runway was and was a bit skeptical given that we were in a 737 and not a small Cessna like our flights to Tofino. Speaking of, once you exit the mountains, from above Sitka looks remarkably like Tofino in that there are spruce covered islands dotting the landscape, leading to a small harbor town filled with working fishing vessels.

Upon landing we picked up our three checked bags and made our way with the other passengers to a van for Un-Cruise guests to the Westmark Sitka, located right at the center of town, near the harbor. Our room was a bit unremarkable, as you might expect. What I didn't fully expect was broken curtains (Alan fixed it), posters that weren't placed in their frames properly, and ... A TURD FLOATING IN OUR TOILET BOWL. I wish I was making this up, but I'm not. I mean, what do you do with that other than flush it down and laugh hysterically? I guess I could have complained to the front desk, but I didn't. I don't know why; if ever there's a complaint-worthy situation, it's finding a shit floating in the bowl of your supposedly clean room.

Comparing Sitka to Tofino ... while the landscape is remarkably similar, Sitka is very much a working town, not really tailored to tourism. There were only a handful of restaurants in town, and some of them weren't even open that early in the season. After walking around a bit we found ourselves at Ludvig's Bistro with several other Un-Cruise guests we'd seen at the hotel earlier in the day. We didn't have high expectations, but we were very pleasantly surprised. Our black cod tips were excellent! What I liked about the place - apart from the warm and welcoming service - was that it was very clearly a place where locals also ate as there were several other patrons who seemed to know each other and the wait staff.  After dinner we walked around town a bit more before settling in for the night for our departure.


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Next up ... let's sail!


  1. What an exciting adventure. I can't wait to read your next posting.

  2. beckycaudill@gmail.com9:03 AM

    Next post is already up!

  3. I stumbled across your blog while researching the Un-cruise Alaskan cruises and I am so glad I did! My fiancé and I are planning our honeymoon to Alaska next May and have considered one of these cruises. I'm in awe of all the beautiful pictures you took and it sounds like you had an amazing journey! Any tips for new alaskan travelers and un-cruisers?

  4. Hi Sarah - thanks for stopping by!

    The trip was truly remarkable and I have no doubt that you'll have a great time.

    For tips ...

    Wellies take up a ton of storage in your luggage. If you have normal sized calves - not like my giant ones - and don't mind wearing shoes that others have worn before, there are several wellies/gum boots for you to choose from on the boat.

    I have never gotten sea sick in my life, so I didn't bring any dramamine or anything. There was one night, unfortunately, that I did start to feel a bit queasy. I wish I had had some pills that one time.

    If you're bringing a nice camera, definitely make sure you have a waterproof carrying case for it. We wrapped our Nikon in a plastic bag and it died when water got in and puddled around the mechanics.

    Make sure you have a lot of books, or games, or something to occupy your time because you will have a lot of downtime on the boat.

    Definitely buy rain pants and a rain jacket if you don't already have any. They're expensive, yes, and you might think you might not need them, but they are a necessity.

    Don't worry about packing any fancy clothes. The fanciest thing I wore was jeans.

    Speaking of clothes ... I run hot and I found that a lot of times I was too warm at meals. I ended up buying a handful of shirts and flip-flops in Juneau when we did our turnover for the coming week because my Uggs were just too darn warm. Several other ladies on the boat complained of being too warm as well.

    My husband swears by his kayaking gloves. He bought them in Sitka and they worked out really well for him.

    I'm generally not very comfortable in crowds of people I don't know, but my shyness quickly faded. I made myself be open to conversations with new people and in turn I had a great time. I'm now Facebook friends with another couple that was on the second leg of the trip.

    Make nice with the bartender.

    Even if you're an experienced kayaker, go on some of the intro kayak expeditions instead of opting to go it alone. The guides know so much about the area and you'll get a much more in-depth look at the area you're in if you go with them. We never did, and I wish we had because when people came back they talked about all the wildlife they had seen.

    Those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. If you have any other questions, don't hesitate to ask.

  5. Oh, duh. I see now that you're only considering this cruise and haven't yet booked. Sorry, I responded as if it was a foregone conclusion.

    If you're on the fence, the only thing I can tell you is that I consider us a very well-traveled couple, and the Un-Cruise was unlike anything we have ever experienced. I waffled when trying to decide what to do, but in hindsight there is no way we could have done anything else. This is truly a vacation you will not forget.


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