On the eighth day of this 11 day exciting cruise, Seabourn Sojourn approaches Juneau – the capital of Alaska. You can see four huge cruise ships belonging to different liners anchored at the port. The inclement weather at Juneau is unmistakable. You keep your fingers crossed, unsure of your Dog-Sled tour to Norris Glaciers. Perilous windy conditions at Haines a day before (as mentioned in Part 2), that compelled the organizers to cancel the trip aboard ‘White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad’ in Skagway is still fresh in your mind to enough keep your worry alive
It’s 10 am and guess what? The weather Gods have begun to smile. The piercing Sun’s rays through innocuous clouds create a striking spectacle. The Tram-Way, right on the Pier, resumes its journey up and down the Mount Roberts. The Ship’s sound system officially confirms that the tour is ON. The Helicopter services to Norris Glaciers have resumed. The mood is turns joyous and gleeful.
Juneau the third largest city of Alaska after Anchorage and Fair Banks is named after George Juneau, one who supposedly discovered Gold here.
Surrounded with vast Glaciers, Juneau receives a massive 10 feet of Rain each Year. Large swathes of Mud Flats emerge during the Low Tide due to an astonishing 25 feet difference between water levels during High and Low Tide. Interestingly, despite being the Capital, Juneau is not connected by land to any other part of Alaska. Either Air or Sea is the only route for you to reach here.
From pier by Bus to Helipad at Douglas you reach in 20 Minutes. On arrival, you get a short safety briefing after which you are handed a pair of Over-Boots, useful for Glacier landing.
At the Helipad four bright red-white color Six Seater Helicopters are waiting to take you off along with 20 other guests.
Serendipitously you are seated on the front row besides the young svelte and feisty Pilot – “Jenny”. Ensuring that our seat-belts are accurately fastened and head phones properly placed, poised Jenny presses the button to put Rotor in motion. And there you GO….. UP, Up and Up along with the other three.
In the next 20 minutes of this spectacular heli-flightseeing, Jenny takes you over the harbor, then from over untamed wilderness of the valleys, striking ice-fields and jagged mountain peaks and then through the ethereal clouds; below you see mesmerizing white streams formed out of melting glaciers flowing down the mountains from different directions to get collected in glassy alpine lakes.
Jenny now begins to descend and there you see, right before you, this massive, massive glacier. You realize you have arrived. The awesome Norris Glacier, as mesmerizing as divinity, is now everywhere around you. It’s ubiquitous. You can feel it under your feet, on your palms, your breath filled with its aroma and your eyes stunned.
You feel yourself on a different planet. This breath-taking sight of pure white and scintillating blue snow all around is inexplicable. Just ahead you see dogsled camp where scores of distinctly furred Huskies (Dogs) are barking vehemently. Presumably this is how these canines welcome their Guests. You then see few sledges consisting of two separate parts but attached to one another to accommodate four guests plus an expert at a time.
In a short briefing, Maria, your assigned expert, educates you on how to start and stop the sledge. When she shouts “Whoa”, the Dogs shall stop and the last man on the sled has to stand on the breaks behind. If the dogs have to turn Right she will shout “Gee” and for left “Haw”. Every Sled Dog is seemingly been trained to act on these commands.
Soon thereafter eleven strong and enthusiastic Huskies pull your sled speedily zipping across various portions of this pristine glacier. This 2 Mile long exhilarating trip takes approximately 25 minutes before you are back from where you began.
You are airlifted back by the same Helicopter to the Helipad in Douglas and from there to the pier by Bus. Across the pier, on the other side of the street you see queue of eating joints, shops selling souvenirs and T Shirts, Jewelry stores displaying alluring semi-precious stones (particularly Tanzanite). After some shopping, you are on board Sojourn.
On the Ninth Day of its voyage, Sojourn anchor’s itself in the middle of the Bay at Inian Islands. During this short halt of few hours four orange color Zodiacs (Inflated motorized Boats) ferry you to the area populated with exotic marine live. You can also opt for Kayaking if you so desire.
On reaching the mouth of the Pacific-Sea meeting point, the scene gets intense. The heights of waves increase dramatically and Zodiac goes up and down in a Sea-Saw Moment …. On your right you see dozens of differently colored Sea Otters with distinct mustache swim together. The Zodiac operator steers the boat towards that direction for their closer look even as these wonderful animals look at you questioningly as if you are a trespassers.
A little further you see a host of light grey Sea Lions popping their heads out through the waves. Just then you are startled as a large Sea Lion puts its head above the water with a sizable Octopus safely clinched between his jaws. Before you could focus to capture him straight in your Camera, he turns to vanish. You feel sorry for not having got his priced frontal shot. Nevertheless a profile with one tentacle of the Octopus still hanging out was there for you as a consolation.
Then there were attractive dark grey tall necked Cormorant Birds, White & Brown color Seagulls and traditional Bald Eagles in this unique blend of land, Sea and Ocean. You are back on your ship after a thrilling two hours.
The final stop of this Cruise is at a place called – Icy Straits. There are back to back two excursions here. First is to the Inland forest, reputed for Brown Bear Sighting. All excited you reach the forest by Bus in anticipation to see some bears as in Ketchikan (described in Part 1). But it turned out to be a Damp-Squib. No Brown Bear cared to show-up at that time of the day. Day Off for the Bears?? May be …… So we returned, unquestioningly disappointed.
Next, was the high-speed whale-watching cruise to ‘Point Adolphus’, a favorite place to sight Whales in their natural habitat. The first 30 minutes went waiting for the elusive Whale. Another disappointing trip? You ask your-self. Just then a huge Humpback Whale pops out not very far from the boat. Then you see another and then another on the other side.
There’s excitement everywhere. Guests run from one side to another to get the better shots of these giant mammals. The clicks of cameras continued ceaselessly. Capturing “Tail Up/Fluke” shot of the Whale, the one most sought after. The ‘joie de vivre’ was palpable.
As this riveting action was in progress, the Captain receives a message from another boat nearby informing him of the presence of the Killer Orca Whales around there. Captain’s priorities change almost instantly. He puts this boat in top Gear and speeds towards that area.
Just then someone shouts – “Orca-Orca”. All eyes turn to see not one but two unmistakable ‘Orca Whales’, also known as ‘Killer Whales’ having distinct Black backs, White sides and White patch above and behind their eyes. Nothing could have been more imaginable, exciting, enthralling & exceptionally rewarding. Click!! Click!! Click!! and the clicks continued till one of the Orca zooms underneath the boat and disappears.
Oh!! What a Sight!! What a Trip !! You tell to yourself. It more than compensated for the failed earlier trip. An endeavor worth every penny and every effort!!
Back on the ship, it was time to resume journey for the last time before reaching the final destination – ‘Seaward’. After a day at Sea, a special Dinner on the final night, intermingling and exchanging co-ordinates with fellow guests, assuring each other to remain in touch, we bid warm Good-Bye to one another.
Next Morning, on the 11th Day, you are at the Port of Seward. As you disembark to board the Bus for Anchorage, you look back at this imposing Ship and reminiscence, vividly the unforgettable experience you had in the past eleven days. A voyage of life time.