Day ten: Victoria

So on Sunday morning, we left our Vancouver hotel around 9:30am, and had to catch the 11am ferry to Victoria. The hotel had a complimentary breakfast – basically the key ingredients to my parents LOVING the hotel is that it should have a jacuzzi and free breakfast. The breakfast was decent though carb heavy (waffles, pancakes, toast, yogurt). We had woken up around 6:30, excluding my brother. My mom and I did a quick walk to the steam clock, and made sure to get back before 9:00. I think we probably could have walked around a bit more and taken in more of Gastown’s brick cobblestone ambiance, but oh well. Nothing was open at the time anyway.

Our hotel, the Hampton Inn, was right across from the football/soccer stadium, BC Place, and a BLOCK from Costco. Everyone in my family was seriously bummed that we hadn’t had the chance to go out and explore Costco. I made up for this by going to the Richmond Costco on Monday, right before going to the airport, but I do kind of regret not having the delightful experience of walking to a Costco. We had some sandwiches with us that we had taken from the cruise, which we ate on the ferry to Victoria.

The ferries here seem really well run – I would hope they work just as well elsewhere in America, but who knows. It got us into Victoria around 12:30, and we drove to Butchart Gardens, about a half hour drive. This is often on the top 10 gardens in the world – I would say it was nice … but I personally liked the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens even more (maybe because that was like a nice surprise and was an easy bus ride away) yet I’ve never seen that one listed on any top lists. There were way more people at Butchart Gardens, understandably, and while it was really nice … it also seemed, I don’t know … kind of basic? Like, not as creative as as Edinburgh Gardens which had a lot of interesting touches like the greenhouses and composting area and such.

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The Butchart Gardens money shot

Nevertheless, we took our sweet time here, about four hours in the gardens. I wanted to make sure we got a FULL experience, as I don’t want to have to take a ferry out to Victoria Island again in my life (not that it was a bad experience, there’s just so much to do in the world and it seriously takes up so much of the day just to get out to the island). Unfortunately, while walking around the Japanese Gardens, my dad’s leg really started to hurt, so he had to sit through the rest of the day with my brother (I think my brother was relieved) and even as we left Canada, he is still clearly limping. AHH my parents are getting old!!!

After Butchart Gardens, I made a quick stop at a really cool looking rock wall I had seen driving in – from what I can tell, it was built right next to an elementary school and seems to be free? There were zero reviews for it on yelp, so I don’t know how new it is. It seemed WAYYYYY higher than any other wall I’ve seen in climbing gyms. I don’t know how to convey my first sight of this wall, but it was almost like a mirage. Imagine driving past just fields and fields of grass and then out of nowhere there’s a towering structure that turns out to be a ROCK WALL! Sooo cool, I’m honestly considering returning to Victoria Island just to try the wall out.

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Such a cool wall

Then we drove to the hotel I picked out, the Chateau Victoria. The hotel has the feel of an old hotel, with attempts to modernize it, but you can still smell the oldness of it in the paint and the wood. I was really relieved that it was essentially a suite, with one bed in a room and the other in the living room – even though it looked odd, at least we weren’t all in the same room breathing together. I think that is the one thing that really sets me off about vacationing with the entire family – my brother likes to sleep late and have the tv on, and while my parents seem to sleep with it ok, I end up stewing in my bed thinking “JUST GO TO SLEEP OR LEAVE!”

Because my dad couldn’t really walk around, and because my mom and I were probably sick and tired of eating out all the time, we walked out to get Subway sandwiches to bring back to the room to eat. My parents LOVE Subway, so I knew this would actually delight them, though it’s the kind of thing that annoys my brother. Well, while ordering the Subway sandwiches for my parents, I decided I no longer wanted a sandwich, because it just seemed so sad in the Subway (and the guy didn’t seem to really know how to make sandwiches that well, no offense to him). So my mom walked back to the hotel with the sandwiches (the greatest thing about traveling with her is that she actually has a better sense of direction out of everyone, even though she generally has no idea what the plan is) while my brother and I walked around “looking for restaurants” which was more like, I was yelping as we ambled around.

We settled on a place called Bin 4 Burger, which featured gourmet burgers. They had fried red onion rings which were REALLY good and a selection of sauces – I chose curry aioli to go with our fries, and it was REALLLLYYYY good. I was debating between a vegetarian burger called “Mr Bean” and another burger that was a mix of pork/chorizo, with panko fried goat cheese. I ended up choosing the latter. Even though the vegetarian burger sounded sooo good, I never end up getting those because I’m always like WHAT IF IT’S TERRIBLE?!??! And I’ve never walked into a burger place thinking “I am craving a vegetarian patty.” It’s just such a risk that I’m not willing to take. The burger place was really good though – I usually don’t bother linking to restaurants in my blog posts but HERE IT IS.

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A classic ugly picture of DELICIOUS food

We then walked back to the hotel room, and my mom tried to go to the jacuzzi but unfortunately there was a group of three that took it up the rest of the night, so she decided to just shower and go to bed. I stayed up a little later to finish a game of sudoku and some youtube, before heading to bed around midnight. SO SAD, the last night of the trip!!!

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Day nine: Vancouver

OK the day of our cruise check out! We were luckily placed into a later check out time, which worked well with me, because there wasn’t thatttt much I wanted to do in Vancouver. I enjoy Vancouver but when I first visited, I thought the architecture was hideous. Even though it’s considered a beautiful city, presumably for the trees and the water, I feel like the architecture is irredeemable. I also feel like there are more high rises here now than I remember, but come to think of it, it’s one of the few cities I’ve visited that doesn’t have undergoing construction littering the skyline.

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We had to leave our cruise rooms by 8am, and leave the cruise ship at 9:35am. My mom and I ended up waking up around 6:30am, and we went to the breakfast buffet around 7am. I kept wanting to have a conversation with my favorite employee of the trip, the bouillon lady, but I also felt rather self conscious and didn’t want to disrupt her work. I’ll never know her!!! Haha I did finally get a glimpse of her name tag though, which was Natalia. Though, I feel like these are not their real names, and that the cruise line assigned them names that people would feel more comfortable with. Like, of course you’re going to give an Eastern European woman the name of “Natalia.”

Anyway, goodbye to Natalia Bouillon, my favorite employee. My family took a few pictures of Vancouver from the top deck of the boat, and I enjoyed having the time to do that. Then we had to leave!

Here is where I WENT WRONG IN MY PLANNING! I decided to get a car from the docks to the airport in order to pick up the rental car, as it cost $50 more to pick up from a different location. I assumed there would be Uber here, but it turns out there isn’t. So the taxi ended up being $42, and I wasted an hour of everyone’s time. SIGH SIGH. What we could have done in that hour was walk to get the rental car from another location, then drive to the hotel, then walk around the Costco that was located A BLOCK from our hotel. Sadness.

Anyway, we got our rental car (a Camry! Hurrah!) then I basically drove us right back to where we started, and had my family go around Granville Island. It turned out, by an extremely good stroke of luck, I parked off the island and decided we’d just walk there, because I didn’t want to pay too much for parking. REALLY luckily, I found metered parking about a 10 minute walk away from the Granville Island entrance. It was far enough that the time limit was three hours, rather than the two hours that closer meters had. The downside was I forgot that there is such a thing called $2 coins, and I needlessly threw $2 into the meter. But oh well – we walked to Granville Island … and essentially my whole family split up to do their own thing because at this point, everyone wanted to do different things (my brother wants to eat, I want to walk around and make sure I capture every possible picture, my mom wants to look at crappy souvenir shops, my dad just wants to walk around very slowly).

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I walked around the food market a little too long – there was one street with more artisanal craft stores like a BROOM STORE, a glass art store, etc., that I only got to see a small portion of and wish I had explored the entire street. I had assumed there was less to Granville Island than there actually is. It’s more than just the food market! While walking around, I kept seeing ALLL of these parking spots open, FREE FOR THREE HOURS! I was getting SOOOO pissed at myself, for throwing away $8 on parking!

WELL while I was buying up cute little postcards at one of those artisanal stores, the storeowner told me that the entrance of Granville Island had been completely blocked off because a SINKHOLE had appeared that morning! So that was why there was so little car traffic! She mentioned (and I later saw on yelp reviews) that typically parking on the island is a shit show. So I’m really glad I had parked on the street, as I’m sure it would’ve been impossible to get in otherwise. Everyone on that island had essentially walked in! (Later they opened up the entrance to single lane traffic which also looked like a horrible ordeal on the news).

So, I will overall classify our Granville Island experience as a success. It was the same weekend as a Kids Festival thing, which the storeowner said usually makes it the most busiest time on Granville Island. So by extreme luck, thanks to that sinkhole, we were able to have the island a little more to ourselves (though of course, to the detriment of the vendors on the island).

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A concrete company with its silos decorated by Brazilian artists

Well, around this time it was 2:40pm so I drove to our hotel. I honestly thought the Hampton Inn was similar to a Best Western (I think I internalize the name as “Holiday Inn”), but it turned out it’s REALLY nice … and my room ended up being FREAKING $400!!!!! WHICH IS INSANE TO ME. I guess that’s $400 CAD, so luckily it wasn’t as bad in USD.

The room WAS nice, but a suite is probably the way to go from now on if I’m traveling with my entire family (which I hope doesn’t happen again in a very, very long time). I no longer want to ever travel again with my whole family, but I’m pretty sure I say this after every vacation and I always end up feeling guilty and planning a family vacation anyway. I just cannot handle having all four people sleep in the same room. It’s SOOOO ANNOYING. That’s just too many people in one room, breathing the same air, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory style.

Upon entering the hotel room, everyone just sort of collapsed onto their chosen thing and sat around. We kept saying “ok we’ll leave soon!” but clearly no one wanted to get up. I think we sat there for an hour before we gathered our energy to leave. I made my brother drive us to Stanley Park, though I would come to regret this because I HATE his rental car driving style. I must distinguish this from his normal driving, which is typically fine. But for some reason, when he’s on vacation and driving a rental car, I feel like he thinks very highly of himself and starts to drive very riskily and shittily.

I’ve been to Stanley Park twice before, the first time via bike with Kristen, Andria, Leneve and Christina which was really fun. I have memories of me biking with my camera in hand. The other time was with my mom, and all I remember was that it was pouring rain, but we committed to walking around the entire park in the rain with no umbrella. And the entire time, we only saw TWO other people who were committed to doing their running routine in the rain. We kept seeing tour buses pull up to major stops, and no one would get out, and the buses would just continue on.

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This time, we did more of a drive and walk tour. We weren’t able to walk the entire perimeter due to timing and the drag of my dad and brother, which kind of sucks. My mom and I ended up ditching them, and walked the most important parts on our own (which I deem to be from the Bridge to Ferguson Point/the Teahouse). We eventually met up with my brother, then decided to drive around the Park again just cuz. We ended up stopping at a lookout point right when the Princess Cruise we just came off of was leaving the port, so we took a ton of pictures of it leaving. It felt weirdly sad! To see our home of the past week leave without us. Goodbye, Natalia Bouillon!

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Goodbye bouillon. Goodbye ship.

Then we drove out of downtown Vancouver to try a sushi restaurant my brother’s friend recommended called Kushimoto. It’s known for the oshi sushi, which is essentially box sushi? I don’t know why it’s so amazing but I didn’t think it was stellar. The plus side was, the wait to get in was about an hour, so we ended up walking to a nearby pizza place that had AMAZING, unique pizza for SUPER cheap. The small regret is that for a dollar more, we could’ve gotten two cokes, but I had initially been too cheap to pay for the special and hadn’t done the math in my head to realize they were practically giving cokes away! We initially got four slices – a crab, bacon, alfredo pizza, a spinach and feta pizza, a chicken masala pizza, and a honey pork pizza. My favorite was surprisingly the crab bacon. After this, we decided to get another two slices as part of the specials deal, and share a coke between us – this time we got a lamb pizza and an artichoke/olives/something one. Everyone was thrilled and all of our slices and that one coke cost $14 CAD, which is SUPER cheap.

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Pretty darn good pizza

At this point, everyone was questioning whether we should eat sushi, until I was like “the WHOLE POINT of eating pizza beforehand was so we would go into the sushi restaurant semi-full, because we were too cheap to stuff ourselves on sushi! SO we are actually EXACTLY where we planned to be!” and everyone was like “hmm that’s true!” So when we finally got in, we got an udon, two sushi rolls and salmon cheeks. Again, I don’t think the place was thattt amazing but I’m glad we tried it.

Then we went back to the hotel, mainly so that my mom would have time to jacuzzi. My mom and I did the jacuzzi, and immediately afterwards, I went out onto the rooftop to look at the view. My mom ended up getting sick the next day, and she points to this as the reason why. Her words: “I’m too old to have such romantic experiences.” Her doctor told her that she had bronchitis, and it came from over exhaustion and dehydration. So … NOT the hot tub!

Then we went back to our room to sleep and get ready for … VICTORIA ISLAND!!!

 

Day eight: Inside Passage

Last day of the cruise! We arrive in Vancouver tomorrow morning and will have to exit our rooms by 8:00 and my family’s scheduled time to exit the boat will be around 9:35.

Today was a relatively easy going day. My mom’s goals were to do the steam room and the hot tub (success!). My dad’s goals were to eat ramen (success!) I’m not sure what my brother’s goals were. I guess my goal was to do the bouillion station, afternoon tea and gym (success!).

Actually, I guess my day started off with a slight fail, because I wanted to eat at the more formal breakfast as opposed to the breakfast buffet, but I woke up too late. Over night we had to “switch our clocks back” to normal time, which meant that I was no longer granted an extra bonus Alaska hour! So my mom, dad and I had to go to the breakfast buffet. We then went to watch what I thought was going to be a lecture on how they cook our foods, but it ended up being just some sort of singing/comedy show with some of the kitchen staff. The highlight was when one crew member sang a great rendition of Frank Sinatra’s (?) My Way – he had a great deep voice and he ended it with a standing ovation (every other singer had just received polite applause).

I had to bow out early though in order to make my BOUILLON STATION!!! I got two bowls. I am bummed because my favorite crew member on the ship, the bouillon lady, wasn’t there today. I was totally planning to get her name so that I could put her on my special recognition card. I don’t know why I liked her so much, maybe it was because she was such a nice person who was consistently the face of the bouillon station (my favorite food on this ship). I remember thinking “ha! she seems fun” because when I got one bowl of bouillon, she asked me “what toppings?” and I said “green onion only” and she then went “parsley?” and I went “um… ok!” and she then went “cheese?” and I went “umm… ok!” and then she said “so everything then?” and I said “yeah I guess so” and she added the last topping, croutons. Something about her tone (and her accent) just made me laugh.

Anyway, after the bouillon station, I had no plans, so I ended up going to the gym in the afternoon. Then I was exhausted but was in a weird time between lunch and afternoon tea, so I went to get a hot tuna panini from the 24 hour international cafe that my family had been stealing sandwiches from for our port days (finally I got to eat a HOT sandwich!). I eventually ran into the rest of my family, and after a little walking around the ship together, I convinced everyone to go to afternoon tea, and told them that even if they weren’t hungry, they could just watch me eat. Everyone obliged.

It turned out to be great because I don’t think anyone in my family would’ve thought of going to afternoon tea, but it ended up being a nice, fun, semi-formal but not really, event! Everyone loved the little sandwiches and desserts and tea. We even added the cream and sugar to our tea, which we normally do not do as an Asian family. My second favorite dessert on the ship, a vanilla something something (essentially like puff pastry layered between a vanilla custardy cream) was served, along with scones (yum), cream puffs (vanilla and chocolate!) and other desserts. Then we had an hour to get ready / hungry for dinner!

Dinner, I got MEATLOAF!!! It was delicious. I also got an Alaskan Seafood Soup which was good because it was a little sour like a Thai soup. Dessert we got baked alaskas, ice cream, and a chocolate tapioca pudding. For the past two nights, the ice creams advertised are nothing like the ice creams we actually receive. We were supposed to get a rhubarb and none of them tasted like rhubarb!

Then my mom and I did another crazy windy jacuzzi adventure. A man doing his nightly deck walk passed by us and said “you guys are my heroes” for doing the hot tub in such insane weather. Then we had to go back into the boat and we passed two crew members who were talking by the doorway, and one of them gave me the biggest “what the fuck?!” look HAHA

Now I guess I have half an hour to do my second gym session! I’m trying to power through my last two episodes of Raw Data so I can say that I did actually complete a podcast (I did!). Then tomorrow I have to be ready to take my family around Vancouver! Ugh I feel exhausted just thinking about it. I’m so used to just sitting in my room quietly and feeling comforted that my family can figure out what they want to do on their own.

Day seven: Ketchikan

Today was Ketchikan – pretty much deemed from the start to be the least interesting port of the three. The boat docked in the port at 9:30 and was scheduled to leave around 5:15. My family and I got off the boat around 9:45 or 10:00 and immediately headed to the bus stop. There’s a public bus that will take you to the Totem Bight State Park (the only attraction I saw worth going to). It turns out that this city bus’ last stop is the park so I don’t know if that implies there’s nothing else in Ketchikan beyond this park. There were a few Ketchikan residents legitimately using it to get around. There was one guy on the bus who was getting frustrated with how many tourists were trying to cram on board that he started to yell out to the bus driver, “COME ON FRED! FUCKING FRED! Fucking tourists.” I didn’t turn around to look at him at the time, but later I was really surprised to find that this surly local resident was not a fat white man, but a regular sized asian or else Alaskan native man.

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It rained the entire time in Ketchikan – for some reason I didn’t bother taking my umbrella off the ship, and this would have been the only port that would have required an umbrella. Instead, I just wore hiking pants, hiking boots, and my rain jacket. The bus ride took 30 minutes to get to the park and was crammed with probably 90% asian tourists, 5% white tourists and 5% local residents. My research said it would be $1 each way, but it turned out to be $2 each way. I confirmed online that the fares were as we’d been told, because I did initially suspect Fred was skimming off the top (he wasn’t).

The totem park was actually pretty cool, relative to what else was available to do in Ketchikan. Mainly I just like parks that are by the ocean or have old growth forests, and this had both, which is a rarity in CA. We roamed the park within an hour, which meant that we were able to catch the bus back to town, thank goodness. The buses only run hourly and there truly wouldn’t have been much to do if we had missed the first bus.

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We got back into the ports area and ended up deciding to go back to the ship to eat lunch, as it was around 1pm. This ended up being a great decision because everyone secretly wanted to get out of the rain but no one said this outloud, and lunch ended up being delicious (on top of already being included in our cruise fare, we saved ourselves the trouble of roaming around Ketchikan looking for a restaurant). This was probably my favorite lunch buffet to date, mainly because they had three great cold salads (one with roasted pork, one that I think was essentially with imitation crab, and one with octopus and potatoes). They also had chicken cutlets stuffed with cheese, lamb empanadas, and mozzarella with tomato dish that I liked a lot. Win!

My brother and dad decided to stay on the boat and out of the rain, while my mom and I ventured out. I didn’t know really what there was to do in town so we just wandered around the shops, which is what my mom loves to do. A lot of shops later, we wound up walking around the waterfront area, which is
really about like two blocks long. From there, you can enter Creek Street, which I think used to be Ketchikan’s Red Light District. I also realized there was a street called Park Blvd, which sounded very promising. Unfortunately, my mom had spent so much time in the shops that we didn’t have much time left to complete the Creek Trail that would’ve led us to the fish hatchery. Oh well, it turns out the fish hatchery is closed indefinitely and I think I was probably only a few steps away from finishing the trail anyhow.

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Random garden in Ketchikan

It was lobster tail night for dinner, which I don’t eat, so instead I got a beef wellington. Everyone tonight got the featured dessert which was some sort of round cake made of pistachio creme bulee and a chocolate mousse. It was way too decadent. We also got ice cream, which was supposed to come with mint chocolate, a basil lemon sorbet, and a macadamia nut, but only the mint chocolate tasted as it was advertised. Lastly, our server presented us with a complimentary little plate of small desserts – I tried one and it was SOOOOO good – a chocolate and nut thing. If I had had a ziplock bag, I would’ve taken them all. Laura’s family ended up taking the plate out as we left the dining room, which I’m not sure if that’s considered low classy. Well we did pass an empty table where the group had left their dessert plate untouched, and I did refrain from picking THAT off the table. So I have some standards!

At this point in the trip, I haven’t read a single page of the book I brought (Anna Kendrick’s memoir) and I haven’t gymmed for essentially two nights. Maybe I’ll go tonight. After I close my eyes and listen to this podcast for a little bit…….

So I fell asleep for an hour, then my mom came back to the room and we decided to go use the hot tub on the upper deck. It was FREEZING. There is an indoor hot tub but it’s near seating for the buffet and people are constantly walking by. I knew my mom would not want to use the hot tub with so many people nearby, so instead I took her to the one on the upper deck that I had discovered while doing a night run in circles around the deck. While very isolated, this deck is unfortunately also extremely windy. So windy that even the captain mentioned it today at dinner as a hazard. I had to tie a towel to a metal bar to ensure that it wouldn’t fly away, and hide our robes and clothes behind the drinks bar. Once in the water, it felt relaxing, even though it was clearly freezing outside of the water. AND we were actually situated under a lounge that people take an escalator to get to, and my mom was like “people keep staring at us” haha they were probably thinking “wtf are these insane people doing, hot tubbing in 40 degree weather?!”

After that, my mom and I went to the gym before it closed. I didn’t do very much, because you really shouldn’t be hot tubbing prior to exercise, as your muscles won’t cooperate. Then, while she was showering, I sat and watched my brother and dad eat ramen at the buffet. They have the ramen available every other day, and looking around, it seems like the obvious thing for Princess to do is to just have a ramen bar available every night. All around us are Asians, which make up at least 40% of the population on the cruise, and everyone is thrilled to finally have some NON WHITE FOOD! And ramen is SO CHEAP.

Day six: Juneau

I’m exhausted.

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Today was a pretty fun day in Juneau because I spent MONEYYYYY!!!!! I signed up for a $300 excursion to Mendenhall Ice Caves. Prior to going, I thought the ice caves would be disappearing due to global warming. I learned it’s actually the opposite – as the glacier continues to recede, it’ll start to open up more ice caves. So supposedly, these ice caves explorations are actually a relatively new addition to the excursion listing!

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I’ll just skip to the main point and here are the ice caves!

We got into Juneau around 6:30am, so I got up at 5:30 and ate breakfast at the buffet. I’m eating less and less for breakfast because over time, I realize there’s a lot of things I don’t actually particularly enjoy eating (ex. omelettes, breakfast meats). For this breakfast, I ended up getting a single french toast slice, a spoonful of scrambled eggs, a slice of banana bread and then a bunch of fruit every breakfast.

We were supposed to meet our guide at 7:00, and we ended up being the first to arrive around 6:45 (me, Jessica and Laura). We didn’t have the rest of our families come because this was a more strenuous excursion (though still marked as moderate). Our group ended up being a total of six + our guide: it was us three, a 40ish year old couple from Mexico, and a Vietnamese girl from Mountain View who looked our age. Our guide was a youngish female named Brittany who went to one of the Alaskan Universities for Environmental Science and Geology (?) and originally came from somewhere in Colorado. I don’t know why, but I wasn’t expecting a female guide and was pleasantly surprised haha

Upon pickup, we were driven to the ABAK (Above and Beyond Alaska) headquarters which was a relatively large two story building. Along the way there’s an area where you can see many bald eagles, though one person said the area was a trash dump and another person called it a nesting ground. Hm. The headquarters looked like the kind of building that was built by someone who had always dreamed of running a co-op like excursion tour company in Alaska. By that I mean, everything seemed pretty meticulously thought out – from the racks to hang various gear, to tubs that fit perfectly on shelves to hold other gear, to a giant prep room for employees to clean gear and sort Costco purchased snacks for customers … it was really nice! Upon entering this building, you see several wooden benches which have tiny white boards attached where they write the names of people so everyone in the group knows upon arrival where to start unpacking and sorting their daypacks. It was a spacious, open space that still held a ton of gear. And they had canvas printed several pictures that our guide later told us were all taken by customers.

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view of Mendenhall Glacier upon approach

We got nice rain jackets, rain pants, boots, and a daypack containing a helmet, crampons, a hiking stick, a snack bag containing way more snacks than I expected, and a water bottle that ended up being our souvenir. Also, a harness in case one of us fell into an icy hole and had to be fished out (thankfully this did not happen). It was really awesome! So we got our gear, made sure everything fit, then got back onto the van. They took us into the Tongass Forest which was across from the Mendenhall Glacier, and then we walked to an area where our canoe was stationed. After carrying the canoe into the water, we all got in and paddled up to the glacier. Then we hiked a little to reach the ice caves, then walked a little farther up, put on our crampons, and got to explore on top of the glacier. I thought there’d be much more to the ice caves but it was smaller than I expected. Walking on top of the glacier was awesome, I think because I had never walked on top of a glacier before and had no expectations.

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Walking to the caves!

On top of the ice cave, our guide took us to see a huge crevice, in which you could see the gradients of glacial ice blue, and glacial water below. She said in prior years, it was possible to grab a water bottle and drink glacier ice – but now parts of the glacier have opened up and the water has dipped too low. Then she showed us another part of an ice cave where you could see anchors drilled into the ice. She pointed out the dark parts in the ice cave, which represent parts where the ice had melted away and had left behind mainly rock and dirt, which would one day collapse. She also pointed out some roots in the glacial ice, some of which was already starting to poke out, and said this was a relatively new discovery indicating that the glaciers had formed where an old forest once stood.

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Getting closer to the caves!

As expected, I really hated the canoeing part (I hate canoes and kayaks) but it was kind of worth it because you got a really good view of the glacier and its distance from the visitor center. I guess the glacier once actually reached the visitor center, but since its receded in a few decades, it’s now not even walkable from the glacier to the visitor center. I LOVED the crampons part (ice walking) because it seemed way easier to walk downhill in crampons as opposed to walking in shoes on a downhill dirt path. I asked our guide Brittany about ice climbing, which she made to sound like a really fun and totally doable thing to try out one day. Last note, I’ve never really seen glacial blue ice up close and it looks REALLY beautiful.

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Our canoes docking point

After this, we went back to the warehouse, then got taken back to the cruise docks. Jessica and Laura went back to the boat to watch Rogue One, while I decided to walk all around Juneau. I passed through the Main St and stopped in a handful of shops, but mainly wanted to just keep walking as high as I could. I originally wanted to hike Mt Roberts and possibly use the tram to get down, however, I guess they no longer sell one way tickets, and it seemed stupid to buy a full priced ticket if I hiked half of it, so I didn’t bother. Also, I wasn’t sure how long it would take to hike, plus it was very overcast so I didn’t think the visibility would be that great anyway. I loved what I ended up doing though, which was just walking around the neighborhood, ending up at Cove Park, a small residential park, and just seeing all these cool hidden staircases. It reminded me of Seattle, because these staircases would link streets that couldn’t be connected via car. Love!!!!!! By the way, it started raining around 1:00, so thank goodness I had brought my waterproof jacket. This might have been one of my favorite parts of the day, because I just walked around with zero destination in mind, stumbled upon a small park in Juneau, listened to Another Round and Still Processing podcasts, and my feet were nice and warm because I had worn hiking boots. Yay for preparedness!!!

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Random Anchorage garden

I got back on the boat around 3:10 – the boat was supposed to set off around 3:30. My mom and I walked around the decks and watched the boat set sail and then I left her to go take pictures of Juneau in the fog. Today’s been pretty jam packed, and I need to go to the gym!!!

For dinner, it was just my family because Laura’s family decided to try a restaurant for seafood. Today was apparently Italian day – I got a beef carpaccio, a pot roast (surprisingly good meat), and a veal milanese (again, surprisingly good). For dessert I got a hazelnut semifreddo which I already have forgotten about – as a family, we ordered the “sweet & nutritious fruits” and joked about what the fruits could possibly be. I thought it would be the same as the buffet (melons) but everyone else optimistically thought it must be berries. Well, it was melons – watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew … ANDDD strawberries! Big whoop.

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Day five: Skagway

I’m exhausted. I thought cruises were supposed to be relaxing but I’m truly exhausted. I haven’t even had any time to go through my podcasts, and I think I’m going to end up net positive because of the podcasts I’m not able to listen to while on the cruise. While in theory it seems like a cool idea to take my laptop out and draft my blog entries on the deck, in reality, it’s too cold and I’ve never seen anyone bring out a laptop, so I would feel really odd to sit out with a laptop.

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Today was our first port of call, in Skagway. Skagway is known for … umm … I’m going to say, the gold rush in Alaska and a train that takes you through Canada. A major excursion here is to take a two hour train ride from Skagway to Canada – it’s $200 per person. Instead, I rented a car (from the only rental car company in town, Avis) for $142 and took my family down the highway which supposedly runs parallel to the train.

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A trustworthy Toyota is a must on any roadtrip

Laura’s family did the same thing, and we decided we’d drive together so we could hand off the camera and take family photos of each other. I’ve learned from this trip that my family is EXTREMELY slow about EVERYTHING. My mom takes more photos than anyone, and several members of my family will meander around, oblivious that a group picture is under way. Shopping is also slower with our family. I’m not sure why though, since we rarely buy anything. I’ll admit that I’m a factor too, because if I could have everything done my way, I would have stopped at WAY more turnouts to take pictures. And when I travel alone, I spend a lot of time double tracking my steps either because I’m lost or I felt the need for a do over.

So the cruise got into Skagway supposedly around 5am – I have no idea, they don’t make announcements when we leave or arrive so I was fast asleep. We headed to the breakfast buffet at 6:30 – I ate pretty light with just some mixed greens (that didn’t look properly washed), a french toast, toast (I hate their toast on this cruise), and scrambled eggs. Then we got off the boat at 7:15, with the goal of “beating the rush” for rental cars at Avis, which opened at 7:00.

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Our ship … or at least a ship … at dock

This is typical of a Laura plan, but we ended up being probably one of the first people to rent a car from them. The entire lot was full, and based on the cars we saw on the highway, I’m going to venture that renting a car in Skagway is not as popular as we assumed. (According to the Avis Yelp page though, there are several 1 star reviews that imply that the company was REALLY busy so I guess it’s luck of the draw).

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View of Skagway from Dyea Ave

 

Thankfully, Laura had pretty carefully planned out the drive. We got into our cars (we both chose Camrys, the only Japanese model) and set off. There was one viewpoint that showed all of Skagway from above – it was a great stop, though not exactly on our route (Dyea Ave). Then we headed to the Klondike freeway aka Route 98 in US and Highway 2 in Canada. About 7 miles in, we passed US customs and then arrived at the Canadian border several miles later (not sure what happens in between the two stops). I forget where I talked to this person, or who the person was, but I ended up finding out that the border isn’t actually open 24 hours, and the guy I was talking to had to sleep in his car and wait for the border to reopen late one cold night.

When we first left, there were zero tour buses, but slowly (because we took our sweet time with our pictures), they started to accumulate. By the time we were on the route headed home, it felt like shuttle buses were passing us every minute.

I will just generally say of the stops: the first memorable one was of the train tracks with a really high backdrop of a water pipe and a waterfall going down the mountain side. Then we had to drive past a short suspension bridge, and there was construction or something going on, so there was a consistent smoke cloud coming from around that area. It looked at first like there was a fire somewhere, but nope, I’m guessing it was blasting of rock?

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If you look closely, you could see the White Pass train

Next memorable viewpoint was of the train station near the Canadian border, then Bove Island, then our time in Carcross, the first town you encounter on the drive. It took about three hours just for us to get to Carcross (it should have taken less than two). The town was much nicer than I expected – there were some buildings painted in a Native American style with merchandise that looked like they’d been plucked out of etsy. A lot of handmade objects like jewelry and soap. I bought soap! Here in Carcross, my family proceeded to eat the sandwiches we took off the cruise (genius idea!)

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Carcross, a bustling (not really) town

We turned around at Emerald Lake, which was gorgeous, but I fear not perfectly documented via our cameras. At this turnaround point, we separated from Laura’s family and proceeded to go back the way we came, but do everything again, slower. I’m glad we did this though, because some of my top sights were seen on the return trip, stuff that I am certain none of us saw because it was obscured from our view on the way up. For instance, my absolute favorite scene so far has been of a frozen river with mountains on the left and water on the left. This was definitely one of the top drives I’ve experienced, and I’ve had quite a few! (Other favorites are the Icefields Parkway in Banff … PCH around Big Sur … PCH down Oregon Coast … drive in Washington to Cascades National Park … drive from Crater Lake up to Seattle … oh I guess my entire roadtrip around the US … the Road to Hana was ok but kind of dry when I went so not that many waterfalls … the Iceland highway … I’ve done a LOT of driving trips apparently!)

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Bove Island Viewpoint

Once we returned from our drive around 4:30pm, my brother and dad went back to the boat while my mom and I walked around Skagway. We had driven through the town so I’m not too sad that we didn’t get to explore more. My brother desperately wanted to make it back to the 5pm dog sledding puppy thing – it turned out that there was a HUGEEE line if you wanted to take a picture with them, but you could have also just passed by and reached out to touch them. I had researched a handful of hikes in Skagway, but unfortunately we didn’t have the time (the boat departed at 5:30), and I’m glad we spent all our time on the drive because it was well worth it. Oddly, my body felt sore after the drive and I’m not even sure why.

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For the day we actually saw two bears – one black bear that came out to look at the highway then ran off when it heard our cars approaching. Then a brown bear on the side of the road on the drive back – having driven in Banff, I now knew the telltale sign of a nearby animal which is that a ton of cars will be haphazardly parked on the side of the road. The brown bear was very large and fat! haha

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Just throwing pictures in randomly at this point because I love these!

For lunch we had packed sandwiches we took from the ship (yay for sandwich bags!). We also had leftover bread from our purchase in Anchorage. I wasn’t that hungry though, and one of my goals for the day was to arrive at dinner actually hungry for once. Success! But then I ended up order a ton for dinner (though I left the restaurant not particularly full because I gave so much away to the rest of the table). For dinner, I ordered a mushroom and goose pate, a crab and artichoke dip (meh, because I don’t love crab), chicken and leek pot pie (possibly my favorite entree of all the meals ever), and a halibut with bok choy and rice (I literally only ordered this so I could get a taste of the bok choy which was totally worth it). For dessert i ordered a really good rhubarb napilatano which came with a really delicious nectarine gelato that paired perfectly.

I failed to gym today, because I went, ellipticaled for 5 minutes, then realized the ship was still at port and I rushed out to try and get a few more precious moments of internet. I was able to post some IG pics and catch up on the world of laineygossip.com. Go me! No exercise as a consequence though. Boo me.

Eyes closing. Need to wake super early for Juneau tomorrow – 6:30am excursion!

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Possibly one of my favorite views of the trip

Day four: Glacier Bay

Whoops. I just realized I rolled two days of photos into the below post. Truly all these glacier photos blended together. Oh well.

Today the boat went to two different glaciers. I think the most important thing to happen was that they opened up the top deck, which was pretty important for good glacial viewings. The skies were incredibly clear today, which made the pictures great. It was surprisingly the warmest day today, it felt warmer than many days in the Bay Area which seems a bit troubling for the glaciers… Also, I saw a sea otter today and a mountain goat in the distance.

There were significantly fewer activities on the boat than the prior day (Sunday). I didn’t participate in anything other than the bouillon station, which has become my daily ritual.

My mom and I woke up and decided to go to the more formal breakfast option as opposed to the buffet. We intended to just go look at the menu, but my mom was like “hey this looks pretty good!” so we went in. Luckily we were early enough to get a table just for two. By the time we left around 9am, there was already a line waiting to get in.

We shared our entire meal, which consisted of muesli (essentially cold oatmeal), scrambled eggs with cheese and asparagus and a potato thing (pretty good), a smoked salmon bagel (good bagel, but it turns out there’s a lunch smoked salmon sandwich that’s better because it’s more salmon and less bread), pancakes (yum), sausage and bacon (I only ate a sausage and even that was too greasy for me), and a hash brown triangle thing. Also, grapefruit and toast. It was a really good meal! I like it more than the breakfast buffet because the quality is substantially better (but because of our excursions, we would often have to do the breakfast buffet due to the time crunch). By the end of the cruise, my mom and I were delighted that we had been able to do this fancier meal.

Then my entire family ate our first meal together (of just the four of us) for lunch. This was another instance of “let’s just look at what’s there and get some fruit” which ended being a full meal situation. This meal was not as delightful for me – I guess the best thing was a smoked salmon sandwich which was pretty generous on the smoked salmon. I wasted some calories on baked salmon and half a deviled egg.

Today the glaciers we visited had more ice in the water, which makes for nice photos. They were giving out blankets for us, though we definitely should have used them yesterday when it was truly freezing, as opposed to today, where I was walking around in a tshirt.

For dinner, I had fettucini alfredo (it made me never want to order this dish from anywhere ever again, it was so terrible), a twice baked goat cheese souffle (it’s good if you’re ok with the idea of basically just eating a bowl of cheese and egg), and then for dessert, a chocolate mint cake (I didn’t taste any of the mint but at least it was relatively light) and ice cream (the only flavor worth remembering was an orange tamirand sorbet). I feel insanely full and after looking at all the pictures we took in front of glaciers, I have to say, I AM SUPER FAT AHHHHH

Time for the gym.

Future note: upon rereading this entry, I realized how little there was in this day. It’s mainly because I’m the only one of both families who would rather sit in the room quietly than go watch productions that the cruise has put on. I haven’t seen a single comedy, magic, or singing/dancing show here. On the last day at sea, I went to watch what I thought was going to be an informative session on how they cook for the boat, but ended up just being the waitstaff doing jokes and singing for us (I left halfway because I HAD to make it to the last bouillon station of the day). I honestly just spend my free time updating and editing my little notepad document with all my blog post drafts so once I actually have internet, I can just go POST POST POST!

Day three: Hubbard Glacier

I’m on the second day of the cruise! I haven’t had a chance to draft an entry but I finally have a moment to myself. Well, currently, it’s essentially my digestion time so I can do a post-dinner workout (and hopefully create some room for dessert session #2).

I honestly have very little memory of what I did on the first cruise I ever took, which happened in high school with Connie Yu. I don’t remember any of the meals or even what excursions we did or how I paid for anything. I don’t think I even remember what it was like to room together! All I remember is watching a ton of episode of The Office off my computer.

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The top of the cruise deck

Today was the first full day of cruising – we went to Hubbard Glacier. Tomorrow is another day of cruising, and we’re headed to Glacier Bay. I didn’t quite realize that going to Hubbard Glacier essentially meant taking the boat to go look at a glacier, do some turns so different sides of the boat would get the chance to get a good picture, and then turn back and continue down the course. We got onto the deck at 3pm, we arrived at the glacier around 4pm, and left around 4:50pm. It was cold and windy on the deck, and now that it’s all over, I honestly think the best pictures we took were at the very end, around 4:40pm, when everyone had already decided to go back to their rooms, the boat turned, and we were still in good view of the glacier but with zero wind.

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I got up around 7:30am today and got breakfast at 8:00 with my mom. It’s buffet style, and unfortunately, at the time we arrived, there were no small tables available so we ended up sharing a table with strangers. (Future note: after this day, our family realized it was pretty easy to just find tables outside of the buffet room and in the indoor pool area, so we always took this option rather than trying to talk to strangers, haha. Occasionally I do wonder what sort of friends I might have made if I were more active and did more activities or talked to people…). My mom is very awkward around English-only speakers and I ended up talking to the couple for a long time. They were from Yorkshire, England and we talked about vacations the entire time. They were retired and had gone to A LOT of places. I didn’t eat very much – essentially just eggs, a hash brown triangle, french toast, and a tiny little watermelon smoothie that was pretty delicious.

I had to rush from breakfast to a 9am talk about glaciers. I thought we would learn about how Hubbard Glacier formed, but I didn’t really learn anything because I kept falling asleep. The slides had a lot of drawings that reminded me of an environmental sciences class, which immediately put me to sleep. Laura was awake the entire time and when I asked her what she had learned, she said “all I know is that the best place to see the glacier will be Deck 7,” which was something even I had been awake to hear and was announced to us about three minutes into the lecture. The speaker ended with the most interesting part of her lecture, which had nothing to do with the topic, and was just her recounting, with pictures, an ice picking expedition she once had on a glacier with her son.

Then my favorite thing on this boat was at 10am, a bouillon station, where I got TWO servings of beef bouillon! Because of my canker sores, I feel like I’m really limiting the type of food I eat. Then our next event was going to a lunch spot to try British style food, where we shared bangers and mash, beef and kidney shepherd pie, fish and chips, and a bread and butter pudding that really just tasted like a dan ta. My favorite was the shepherd pie.

After that I took a much needed nap and woke up around 3pm for the glacier viewing. As I said, a lot of it involves people just standing on the deck watching the glacier get closer and closer. In hindsight, I would have just come out at the very end, and not bothered with the “here’s the glacier for 30 miles away! now 25! now 20! now 10!” pictures.

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On a side note, although this vacation is fun, so far, the views aren’t as amazing as Banff, Canada. There, the water is still a beautiful glacial blue, whereas here it’s already grey from the muddy silt. Sorry, America.

This night was a formal dining night – I honestly don’t eat that much at dinner because I order light plates and share a lot of my food. Today I had a beef salad (yum, pretty good cuts actually), a vegetable dish to share which involved a spinach flan and assorted vegetables (I have to say the spinach flan was surprisingly delicious, but I hated the assorted vegetables because it came with a tomato sauce, which is something I hate paired with vegetables) and a chicken breast with mashed potatoes (very dry). Everyone at the table got the oysters rockefeller as an appetizer (yum, very cheesy and creamy). For dessert I got a really delicious peach and blueberry crumble (with ice cream), and then a mixed ice cream assortment of grapefruit sorbet (very bitter), nutella (not very rich, surprisingly), and yellow peach (the best one).

Now it’s 8pm. And I’m going to rest my eyes!

Future note: I ended up waking up at 9pm, getting ready for the gym, and accomplishing a mere 20 minutes on the elliptical. I guess the ellipticals here can’t be adjusted by elevation, and my muscles are supremely unused to the angle that these machines are set at. Otherwise I’ve just grown incredibly weak. My mom ended up joining me at the gym, and we worked out until the gym closed at 10pm. Then we went to the buffet to get some watermelon. While there, she ended up getting a bowl of ramen, which we shared, and then I got a sticky toffee pudding. The dinner buffet isn’t that amazing to me though it’s nice to have an alternative. The ramen was delicious, and it’s truly the only good asian meal choice. I’m surprised the cruise line hasn’t done more to cater to an asian palate, and I feel like the first major cruiseline to do so will have a major win on their hands.

Now back in my room and my eyes are struggling to stay open. I guess the ramen did have MSG after all. Or maybe my body’s just thinking it’s 1am and that I should sleep (it’s 12am in Anchorage).

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Day two: cruise embarkation

The second day! Or, the first day of the cruise! Continuing from where I left off with my terrible night of sleep, I intended to wake up at 7am Anchorage time. I set my alarm for 7am, forgot that it was still on CA time, and the alarm went off at 6am Anchorage time (this sadly happened several times on my vacation). Ten minutes into my morning routine, I realized I had gotten up an hour early (and essentially made my mom wake up an hour early as well). But it worked out in the end, because we tried to do so much on Saturday, I don’t think we could have done so if we woke up any later.

My mom, Laura and I ended up going for a walk at 7am at the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. This was highly reviewed as an urban walk in Anchorage, and is a 11 mile path that ends in Kincaid Park. It’s hyped as having great views. I thought we’d be able to follow along the path via car, and then just park and stop when we wanted to walk, but that turned out to be a wrong assumption. It ends up being pretty far from any driving road, as it borders the Anchorage airport. We were able to stop at Point Woronzof, which I didn’t find all that exciting. We then decided to just head straight into Kincaid Park. I envisioned something more like Golden Park, where there’s tons of driving paths and you just stop and can start walking. Instead, it ended up being just one main road you drive down, there’s a few parking lots here and there, and the road eventually just stops in the middle of the park next to a giant disc golf course.

Nothing is marked at all in the park – there was a map of the disc golf course holes, and then a map of the entire city of Anchorage, but no map of the park itself. It was nice just to get fresh air, but technically, all we saw were greenery and occasionally some glimpses of water. Yelp reviews said they had seen bears and moose here – we saw some sort of moose-like creature (without the antlers) but nothing else.

We walked for about an hour before heading back. From here, my family and I packed up and checked out of the hotel. We made a stop of House of Breads and bought a really delicious herb loaf. They offered samples which ended up being huge slices of bread. My whole family was pretty delighted with it. Then we did the drive down AK-1, which I had done the prior night, but was still quite enjoyable the second time around. This time I knew which stops to do, although I did incidentally do two additional stops. We also got to stop at the Bird Ridge Trail, which I had passed before, thinking it was just a trail head. It ended being a really nice stop with bathrooms and a lookout, and was probably one of the better stops. Then we turned around because it started drizzling.

We stopped at Costco to get gas (I got a Malibu for the day and it seemed incredibly gas inefficient – 6.3 gallons for a mere 200 miles!) and then my family delighted in just going through the aisles. The notable differences were a much larger selection of giant blocks of cheese, reindeer sausage, more types of salmon, much larger cuts of meat, much more generous sample sizes, and a ton of outdoor gear. Like, a GIANT tent that looked like it could sleep 10. And a ton of kayaks. Food court wise, they sold beef chili, which my brother got. He also got a fruit smoothie (they seem to only have berry smoothies in our Costcos).

We headed to the airport to catch our shuttle to Whittier, the starting port for the cruise. It’s actually quite a long drive (over an hour, since there’s a one-way tunnel we have to pass through). Unfortunately, the 1pm shuttle sold out, and we had to wait for the 2pm one. After the wait, my family was the first to get onto the shuttle and immediately sat in the very front on the right side. This gave us great views of the AK-1, the same highway I had already been on twice!!! This time we got a tour guide who seemed pretty knowledgeable and spoke in a very calm, soothing voice. Unfortunately, this “hike all day then sleep three hours then continue on with a full day’s activities” finally got to me and I fell asleep for most of the ride and missed nearly the entirety of his narration.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the shuttle drive was that we had to go through a 2.5mi one-way tunnel. Trains run through the same tunnel, so our tour guide said it takes about half an hour for each side to go through. They line cars up based on whether it’s a bus, car, motorcycle, etc and then buses get to go first, motorcycles go last. Each car is spaced out, and will have to drive through this narrow tunnel. He said there are times in the summer when the weather is really nice, and everyone comes out, and he’s had to wait over an hour just to get through the tunnel.

We arrived at the port which reminds me of a little cove. The boarding process took a while, since we aren’t preferred guests or anything. It’s kind of a shit show at the beginning where tons of tour groups arrive simultaneously and everyone is cutting one another. The line moved relatively quickly after we made our way up to the desk though, so off we went. Upon arrival on the ship, we went straight to our rooms. My mom was pretty delighted in the size of the room, as she thought it would be much smaller. My mom and I are rooming together, my brother and dad in a different room. We’re not right next to each other, but are on the same floor, which I think is better, because then we don’t feel as obligated to do everything together.

That first night, you just head to the dining room at any time, so we went right after we got on. I ordered a pork belly, which I gave away like 4/5 of. We also got … hmm it’s already escaping me because I’ve eaten SO MUCH food… I remember getting two scoops of a butter almond ice cream, which I must have eaten with some sort of molten chocolate cake. I imagine I got two appetizers, though I can’t remember what…

After this, we went back to our rooms and had to get ready for the safety session which was pretty meaningless as I currently still don’t really know where I’d have to go in an emergency or how to properly put on my lifejacket. Oh well.

After this, I went to the gym and… that’s it? Man the days really melt away. I know Jessica, Laura and I went to do TV Tunes trivia, which Jessica excelled at and I completely failed at because all of the shows were so old.

I looked through all my photos and it turns out this is the only one I liked from the day.

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Day one: Anchorage

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Hiking in Winner Creek

Ok, first day in Alaska. I really wanted to blog about it before the day ended because it was a pretty great day, but of course, I ended up falling asleep. I think the real downfall of my blog was not that blogging got usurped by instagram and snapchat, or that I stopped going on vacations, but more because I got older and lost the ability to have a full day and still muster up the energy to crank out a post.

Flights to Anchorage started at 6:40am in SJC so I spent the night at Laura’s. Our airport shuttle was scheduled for 4:15am and I woke up at 3:50. My alarm had gone off around 3:45, and I thought only her parents were up, so I just lay there, waiting for my brain to awaken. But when I finally got up, I was horrified to see everyone already up, watching Golden Girls while eating breakfast. Oh well, I still got ready with plenty of time to spare!

We got through security super quickly, essentially losing an hour of sleep for no reason. Laura has the Chase card that gives her access to airport lounges, so we got to relax in the SJC airport lounge, which is an award winning lounge. It’s quiet, has several armchairs, a few couches, several work stations, and free printer access. To access it, you go through the most low key, no frills elevator in the airport. I got a bowl of yogurt and made my own parfait to eat. I also grabbed a banana (that my mom and I would eat on Sunday morning). At that point, I had been about two days into peak canker sore pain, so I wasn’t really in the mood to eat anything.

I loved the flight from SJC to Seattle – the skies were super clear in Seattle so I got a great view of Mt Rainier and the North Cascades. Thankfully our second leg of the trip got delayed, because we were still sitting on the first plane while the second plane was supposed to board. (Stupid Delta for cancelling our original second leg and booking us on a ridiculous substitute that we would have had no chance of making, were it not for the delay!) The plane from SEA to ANK was actually larger than the one from SJC to SEA. It was super full, everyone was wearing outdoorsy looking clothing, and when the gate attendant announced free check-in because the flight was full, for the first time in my experience, a huge line of people came forward to try to check their baggage in.

I don’t think I fully grasped how long this SEA to ANK flight would take (it took four hours). I had a window seat which was awesome – I could make out Seward Park and Lake Union as we left Seattle, but I’m bummed I didn’t look down to find Greenlake or other major markers. My dream is to move to Seattle so I can fly out of SEA all the time, and that sight becomes mundane to me! I watched the First Monday in May on the plane which was a great movie – The September Issue is actually my favorite documentary ever, and this one seemed like it was produced by the same people, only about the Met Gala.

When we touched down in Anchorage, Laura’s family and I went to get our rental cars and then met up at Moose’s Tooth, a pizza place that looked like it was possibly the most popular restaurant in Anchorage. Laura said it’s featured frequently on “best pizza places in America” shows. We got a tuna pizza and a spicy meat pizza and both were really good. I think the magic is in the pan, which has raised bumps on the bottom to keep the crust from getting soggy I guess. We ended up ordered a large of their most famous type, Santa’s Little Helper, which has steak, chicken, bacon, pepperoni, red peppers, provolone, mozzarella, cilantro, and red peppers, to go. This turned out to be an excellent decision and of course, now I wish I had bought more!

After lunch, we went to check in at our hotel, My Place. It was a pretty nice low budget hotel and perfectly suited our needs for that night. It even came with a kitchenette, which I stuck the pizza into (though I forgot to turn on the fridge, no one got food poisoning). I then quickly changed out of my clothes, at this time it was around 3pm, and then set out to hike. I had found a couple different options, and now I had to figure out which I really wanted to do:

– Flattop Mountain
– Winner Creek
– Bird Ridge
– Eagle River Nature
– Rendezvous Peak

I ended up doing Flattop first, as it’s the most popular hike in Anchorage. I am embarrassed to admit that without an almost excessive amount of signage, I get really easily lost on hikes. I wasn’t even really sure where the trailhead was, and someone pointed it out to me, where the tiniest sign on the ground had been placed. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure if I had parked in the right spot … the trailhead was a bit far from the parking area, which was really just cars parked on the side of a mountain road.

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With podcasts ready to go in my ear (this time, it was Another Round), I started the hike … and pretty immediately took a wrong turn. Rather than climbing to the summit, I thought I was taking a longer, less steep route that would also end up at the summit. It ended up just taking me closer and closer to a snowy peak, and as I continued to hike, it honestly felt like it was snowing light flurries on me. I’m not sure if it was, or if the wind was just blowing snow off the mountain and into my face. But it felt like I was in several different microclimates depending on which part of the mountain I was facing and looking back, I feel pretty certain that I had walked into the smallest snowstorm.

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Not the route to the summit but a path to … snow?

I essentially got lost twice more – I could occasionally make out some people really high near the summit, and I would think to myself, that looks WAY too steep for me. After the third wrong turn, I evaluated my day and decided that I had seen essentially what I wanted to see from up top, that I really hate going down really steep trails, that it might start raining if I got to the peak which would be really terrible for me to come back down, and that there were still other hikes I could partake in. So off I went to head back to my car!

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I figured the summit would probably look similar to this and called it a day

Then I started driving down the AK-1 South which I assume is an extension of the Pacific Coast Highway. So now I’ve officially driven in every state that has the PCH! (I’m counting Hawaii). The moment I started driving on my own from the hotel to Flattop Mountain brought back all these memories of my month in Seattle and all my subsequent Seattle solo trips where I’d just take a car and drive around and hike. Those were probably my favorite vacations to take of all time. So much freedom and adventure!

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The drive was really gorgeous – and I would end up seeing the same drive two more times (once with my family and another time on the shuttle to the Whittier port). There were a good amount of turnouts for photo opps. I had decided to go hike Winner Creek after Flattop, which was about an hour away (so was the Eagle River Nature Center). I chose this because it features a hand tram, meaning you have to get into a little tram and hand power it to crank it and your body across this gorge.

For a “popular Alaskan hike,” it was just me and another car parked at the trailhead. I even got lost here, though there was no reason that I should have gotten lost – there was a HUGE sign to the trailhead which I had dismissed for some unknown reason. Whenever the trail was flat, I would start to run, because it was incredibly isolated and I suddenly got very paranoid of moose, bear, or creepy hikers that might attack me. Spoiler alert, nothing happened. The trail was mostly forested, so no great views, but it was nice fresh air. After 1.5 mi, I reached the hand tram which was pretty cool looking. I’ve seen even cooler shots on Yelp, and I have no idea where you had to stand to take them though.

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To the hand tram!

Unfortunately, I hadn’t realized that the hand tram is CLOSED for the winter!!!! Major bummer that I couldn’t use this super unique hiking feature. The tram was on the other side of the gorge, and after tugging on the rope really hard a few times and it barely moving a few centimeters, I was like, welp I guess that’s not going to happen. I might have missed the tram by just a few days 😦 I ended up wandering around the tram station, and finding a route down to the bottom of the gorge. It was not that hard to get down except for the last bit which involved somewhat of a scramble down rocks. Then I just walked down the creek and happened upon three people setting up their rafts, so I guess this was a well-trodden path. I then walked back the way I came (though I’ll always wonder what I might have missed by not continuing further).

I headed home but found a snow ice place to grab dessert. I wasn’t really feeling like eating actual food, so a snow ice was perfect. There is surprisingly quite a lot of Hawaiian/Polynesian food in Anchorage, it seems. I ended up getting back to the hotel, probably around 10pm. I showered then hung out at Laura’s hotel room for a little bit before taking a nap at midnight. Luckily, I had the foresight of setting an alarm clock so I’d pick up my family when their plane landed at 12:40 because I definitely would’ve slept through their arrival.

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The Anchorage airport was REALLY busy at 12:40am, though I realized it was mainly because there were no standing airport police forcing every stopped car to keep moving. It turns out when you leave humans to their own devices, they are assholes and will decide to block every lane of traffic by just sitting and waiting for their pickup. Thankfully a police car arrived and cleared up the blockage, and extra thankfully, my family had the brains to go down to the farthest door, where there were zero cars waiting.

I drove them back to the hotel and we all ate a slice of our delicious pizza. Then I had probably the worst sleep, because we went to bed at 3am, it felt quite stuffy in the room, and my brother and dad promptly started snoring and breathing really loudly. I tried to fall asleep listening to a podcast episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour, which worked momentarily. I then woke up at 6am… for our second day!!!

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Drive down the AK-1