Friday, June 20, 2014

cruising alaska... three weeks later

it's almost three weeks since we bid ncl's pearl goodbye.  that's hard to believe.  they say time flies when your having fun.  being back to the everyday is anything but that so where have these last days and weeks gone?

I've chronicled some of the happenings on the cruise here. there were amazing first time experiences for all of us.  i was thinking today, as neat as those things were, and are, the best thing about this cruise was spending time and sharing those adventures with family. 

our kids were still young the last time we vacationed with my sis and bud-in-law. sis and her family have always lived in the houston area so it's not like we can visit any time we want.  over the years we've done well to get together once a year; twice if luck smiles on us. having our cousin along made this time all the more special. 

this cruise was a series of firsts. first time to Alaska for the three of them,  first cruise for my sis and her hubby. for my wife and me it was our fifth cruise, the second to Alaska but it is so beautiful it could never get old. though we've been there before this time 'round we took different excursions so the things the other three were seeing for the first time were also a first for us.

truly one could take the same trip every week in a season and not see, or do, all there is to be seen and done.  on board the view is always changing. because your not driving along at 70mph there is time to see that mountain as the ship reveals its beauteous backside view, side view,
then front side.  if you happened to see that same mountain on the return trip the viewing would look totally different.

it was a week of relaxation, of catching up.  it was everything i hoped it would be.  it was alaska and best of all it was time with family.

i can't wait to do it again. how 'bout ya'll?


Thursday, June 19, 2014

cruising alaska-- sunday

sunday morning, a week later, finds us back in seattle.  our Alaskan fun is done.  living in little a-town, flights to get back home are limited.  there is an urgency to disembarkation in order to make that last flight out at 11 am.  we opted to "walk off'' instead of the usual routine of putting our bags outside the cabin the night before. it worked out fine.  we were at the curb by 8:30, called the car company for early pickup and arrived at the airport by a little after 9:00. no worries.  back to the same old, same old, but taking with us some special memories. 

on sunday morning before we sailed we took the fast train to the seattle center and wandered through the northwest folklife festival. it was there we saw a haiku drum group of teen drummers.  their drumming was perfection.  who says the youth of today is going down the wrong road?

monday was an at sea day.  not one cruisers look forward to but this day had an exciting rescue at sea by the Canadian coast guard. the rescued had appendicitis.

tuesday was Juneau and humpback and orca action with a harem of frolicking sea lions on the side. wednesday was Skagway and Haines and the float trip down the chilkat river valley.  i'll not soon forget seeing bald eagles in flight.

thursday we cruised glacier bay and witnessed the margerie  glacier calving quadruplets.  friday was Ketchikan.  the misty fjords were carved by the glaciers into rudyerd bay an ice age ago.  saturday was Victoria, BC.  i'll not soon forget the haunting sounds of 'amazing grace" from an erhu played by an Asian gentleman-- for tips.

it's sunday again, the bags are packed with dirty clothes from a week at sea, our hearts and minds filled with the sights and sounds, with the peace, of a world so different from the flat, dry plains of the texas panhandle.

so long, Alaska, until next time.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

cruising alsaka... saturday

 if it's Saturday, we must be in Canada: Victoria, BC to be more exact.'

the pearl pulled in to the pier about 6pm. our stay in Victoria was to be only 6 hours.  we took a tour of Victoria's highlights which meant being bussed around the city while the driver noted various points of interest.  it is a beautiful city with an interesting history.

we visited Victoria on our way back to seattle on our first Alaskan cruise.  this time 'round we got to see more.  our tour took us to mt. doug, the highest point in Victoria.  from up there one can see the city below at every turn. "on a clear day, you can see mt. rainier from up here" said a lady walking her tiny dog.

being in Victoria and in Juneau, Skagway, the glacier bay and in ketchikan pointed up to me how much there is on this big blue marble that passes each day quietly outside my stream of consciousness.  the world just keeps turning. people everywhere live in the moment without being aware of a greater world.

our stop in Victoria was the least exciting for me.  still there will be memories I take with me. for one, pausing a moment to listen to as an Asian gentleman played his erhu in a park across the street from the grand parliament building.

the erhu is a two stringed, Chinese, violin. like so many things, I was oblivious to such an instrument existence until it was the featured instrument of a guest artist with our ASO.  haunting is the word i'd use to best describe its sound. like the erhu, there is a world of experiences waiting to be discovered.

visions of this second cruise to alaska will linger in my memory, i'm sure.  from time to time a wispy glimpse of a whale breaching, the scream of an eagle in flight, the sound of thunder before a "calving" or a wisp of mist from the fjords will slip through, the sound of the erhu along for the ride.  sights, sounds and smells remembered will have to do until I can get back to beautiful Alaska once again.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

crusing alaska... friday

if it's Friday, it must be Ketchikan.

today is another excursion with a lot of getting to and from.  allen marine tours ( transported us to the misty fjords.  the come on suggested we would see bald eagles, whales and other furry and feathered friends in addition to being able to experience this little corner of the paradise also know as-- Alaska.

It took a while on the high tech catamaran, even with its twin 600 horsepower engines, to get to the fjords.  but there was free coffee, hot chocolate and snacks.  in addition there was an on board naturalist, a Tlingit storyteller and craftsman and a video presentation to help pass the time.

as it turns out we did not see an eagle or a whale, nor any other wild life with the exception of a few sea birds that nest on the sides of the cliffs.   wait, we did see harbor seals hauled up on some rocks on our return trip to Ketchikan.

the fjords are beautiful. i'll let some pictures give you an idea of what we saw.


 the punch bowl.

harbor seals
New Eddystone rock
Ketchikan, again.

that street is steep
NCL's Pearl

the misty fords excursion was not exciting but it was fun "flying at sea level" to get to Rudyerd Bay.  

time is nothing to this place.  an ice age ago the glaciers scraped the deeps from solid rock. the seas rushed in to fill the gaps. the mists appeared and the wait began for you to come to marvel in the quiet solitude, the peace; the beauty a gift to be shared with any who may seek it.

that you may not see a whale, or an eagle, is of no consequence. the mists, the 3000 foot cliffs are waiting. come!


Monday, June 16, 2014

cruising alaska... thursday

on our first cruise to Alaska with Royal Caribbean we visited the mendenhall glacier which we viewed from the visitor center.  the mendenhall did not favor us with any calving activity while we were there though we could see results of previous "calvings" in the water at its base.  as awesome as the mendenhall is the absence of "calving" was a bit disappointing.

this time around we cruised into glacier bay.  our first stop was the margerie glacier where we spent about and hour.   margerie was in a giving mood.  a "calving" is often signaled by a "thunder-like" clap  milliseconds before the "calf" plunges into the water below.  it's a real trick to recognize the sound, locate its proximity and get your camera on it before all the action is over and done with.

I managed to capture-- at least a part of-- 4 "calvings".

Again with the spinning watercraft!  not unlike Joe maneuvering our inflatable on the Chilkat the day before, the pilot of the Pearl took us for a little spin as well.  WOW!!

After we left the Margerie, the Pearl visited another of the glaciers in the bay, the Lamplugh glacier.  No calving action was to be seen this time round.  There was much smaller cruise ship positioned nearer the base of the glacier that had apparently allowed some if its passengers to exit the ship in kayaks to explore the glacier more up close and personal.  that would be so cool unless a "calving" crushed your kayak, but exploring by kayak wasn't an option offered by NCL's Pearl.

Glacier bay is graced by not only the many glaciers but vistas that must be seen to be believed. The National Park rangers who came on board for our visit to the bay were a bonus, providing us with historical and anecdotal perspective. Enjoying Alaska's splendor has a way of making time as ethereal as the mists on its mountains.

It was a beautiful day in Glacier Bay.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

cruising alaska... wednesday

wednesday morning found us in skagway.  i'd scheduled a float through a bald eagle preserve, again making arrangements through

this tour involved a lot of getting to and from.  first their was the 45 minute ferry ride from skagway to haines (and back of course).  we were met on the dock where we then took a short walk up the street to meet our guide, Joe Ordondez of Rainbow Glacier Adventures (

ava was not feeling well that morning so it was just my wife, sis, bud-in-law, myself and joe going on the float. joe provided us with rubber boots to keep our feet dry, life vests as well as a sack lunch at the end of the float.

after another 45 minute ride we were putting into the water.  after a quick safety orientation, getting in and out of the raft etc. we were off.  we floated the chilkat and chilkoot rivers through this part of beautiful Alaska.

joe kept up a running dialogue relating the particulars of the area.  but we were here to see bald eagles.  the end of may is not peak eagle viewing season in the chilkat river valley. but "there are resident eagles".  and we did see eagles; not as many as pictures i had been had led  me to expect. (those pictures were taken in november  when eagles migrate to the area)  but we did see eagles; and a black bear and various other feathered friends along this 2 hour float through some of the most beautiful country God put on this blue orb we call earth.

Below are my feeble attempts to record scenes I wish were as clear an those in my memory.


eagles mate for life.  a nest is added to year after year and can weight up to 2000 pounds.

it's hard to get the shot when you're floating by in an inflatable raft trying to take the picture with a handheld camera.

the chilkat and the chilkoot are only 2-3 inches deep in some places.    

A spin on the Chilkat!

take a look at the video below.  A video I ONLY WISH I HAD SHOT of the beautiful Chilkat Rivery Valley  (borrrowed from mizamook filmworks -- via the youtube)

all too soon our time with joe was done. after a quick change of footwear and lunch at the river take out, we were on the road again back to haines to meet the ferry for the ride back to skagway.  a lot of down time was  invested in getting there and back but the time on the river with joe was totally worth it.

if ever I GET a REALLY GOOD camera, and should an opportunity present itself, i'd like to go back to haines in November when the eagles flock to the open waters of the chilkat.   rainbow glacier  adventures also take folks like me on bald eagle photography outings. that would be so cool. 

joe is good people.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

cruising alaska... tuesday

as i said, after monday's excitement, we arrived at juneau at 3 pm.  we soon cleared the ship and were on our way for some whale watching.  i'd arranged this outing through . we were met at the pier and loaded on a bus for the trip to the marina.  our driver noted points of interest along the way.

we soon arrived and were introduced to Captain Scott Monroe and naturalist Luke Black of Alaska Galore Tours. ( )  In comparison to the pearl (2,394 passengers 110 crew), their boat is tiny, holding 16-18 passengers and 2 crew. this smaller capacity allows for an intimacy and access not available on the ncl arranged tours.

during the ride out to the likely viewing area, luke presented interesting facts about the humpback whale, entertained and answered questions. the time passed quickly.

we soon arrived where humpbacks had already been spotted by other boats.  that was a bit of good luck.  one might compare whale watching to fishing.  there is a difference between fishing and catching fish as there is a difference between whale watching and whale seeing. when a humpback breaches it can be 7-10 minutes, up to and hour +, before breaching again.  that's a good bit of waiting, watching and hoping between sightings. we did see several blows and a few tail displays but no pacific life moments. i failed to get any of this action on video.

watching tours have limits imposed on them for the well being of the whales.  only so close and only 30 minutes on a particular whale sighting. 30 minutes is a good amount of time but it flies. in what seemed like no time we had to pull off and head toward another possible sighting area.

as we motored toward a new sighting, Captain Monroe spotted a bull sea lion and his harem of four cows. the captain stopped engines to allow us to see and video a sea lion menage a cinq in action. nature in the raw.  not wanting to cause any sea lion coitus interruptus we soon abandoned the sea lions to their play.

after leaving the sea lions, Captain Monroe's cell phone rang.  "have a seat folks, i think we have something special for you". we quickly made our way to that something special...  ORCAs!!!  the nice thing about orcas is that they breach more often than humpies.  i was able to get some decent video of orca action.


all too soon, our time in juneau was winding down.

many thanks to captain scott monroe and naturalist luke black for a hugely exciting, entertaining and educational whale seeing tour. the sea lions were a bonus.  if i get back to juenau, id like to sail with you guys again.


Friday, June 13, 2014

cruising alaska... monday

the pearl departed for Juneau at 4pm on sunday.  monday was to be an at sea day. from seattle to juneau is 774 nautical miles.  that's 891 land miles. point is, at 22-24 knots, it takes a while to get there by ship. 

normally, an at sea day is uneventful, the time passed at leisure.  nothing exciting was expected to happen, although ava and  were sitting at breakfast, seated at a table along the windows when a humpback breached right next to the Pearl.  it was huge! 

so my bud-in-law, terry, and i spent some time on deck and had a few more sightings, but at a distance.  we could see the whales blowing but that was about it.  nothing to get worked up about.

that would change.

about 2 pm, the captain came on the ships intercom with an announcement.  "ladies and gentlemen, you may have noticed that the ship has slowed down and we have begun a turn. there has been a medical emergency on board. we will need to sail in the direction we just came from to rendezvous with emergency personnel.  not to worry, this will only delay our Juneau arrival by one hour".

completing the turn, we sailed back the way we had just come for 3 hours.  i was on deck twelve with what seemed to be half the other passengers when a plane approached the pearl flying low.        it began to circle the ship.

soon after, a helicopter approached.  the fire crews had made ready for its arrival hours before just in case things went wrong.

I/we witnessed first hand the niftiest bit of air/seamanship one could ever hope to see.  the pearl continued at speed as the copter's pilot maneuvered into position, hovering above the 13th deck while matching the pearl's forward progress. a basket and crew member were lowered to the deck to ready the patient for transport. the chopper lifted away, circling a few times before coming in again to take the patient and crew member aboard the helicopter and then the chopper was off and soon faded into the distance.

later we were told the patient had suffered an appendicitis attack, had been taken to a hospital, had undergone surgery and was recovering. certainly the events of monday afternoon were not something anyone expected as we left for Juneau.  it is good to know that ncl knows how to handle such a situation should it arise and did not hesitate to make a passengers well being a top priority.

kudos to the crew of the rescue squad and the crew of the pearl. job well done.

on a side note, as I mentioned, many people were on deck taking pictures and video of the helicopter rescue.  if you notice, the crew member in the door of the chopper (in the first video) was taking pictures, or video, of the pearl as the pilot maneuvered along side.  a rescue at sea was a first for me.  maybe it was his first rescue from a cruise ship.

after the rescue, the ship executed another turn and soon we were headed back toward juneau.  the captain put the pedal to the medal and we arrived in juneau at 3pm on tuesday, only 1 hour later than scheduled, as promised.

not your average at sea day by any means. I hope the patient continues to recover.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

cruising alaska...

we've been back from our second Alaskan cruise almost two weeks now.  after years of cajoling my sister Marilyn and b-in-law Terry, they joined us for the cruise as did our cousin Ava. my better half and i  flew in to seattle on Saturday.  we got in late, leaving only time for dinner before heading back to the hotel to rest up for our sunday departure.

the Norwegian Pearl didn't sail until 4 pm on sunday which left some time to have a look about.  we took the rapid ride from just outside our hotel to the seattle center area where the space needle is located.  the center was blur of activity with the northwest folklife festival going on.

wandering through, we saw parts of the chiluly glass and arts exhibit.

the schedule was filled with different musical acts appearing on the main outdoor stage.  we paused a moment to watch a haiku drum group made up of young teens. it was thrilling. check out the short videos below.  sorry, I didn't clock the name of the group.

after wandering through the center's gardens it was time to collect our bags from the mayflower park hotel and embark the Pearl.
bees were buzzing

time's a'wastin' !!

anchors aweigh!!