Between May-September each year is the time when thousands of people all over the world jostle to travel to Alaska, the 49th and the largest State of the US. An over 17 Lakh Sq Kms of this pristinely land in the wilderness offers you an ultimate experience of serene beauty.
Various Cruise Liners offer exciting seven day round trip originating either from Seattle in the US or from Vancouver in Canada. Popular among them are Holland-America, Norwegian, Princess Cruise and few others. These sizeable liners with capacity to carry 3000 – 5000 guests at a time usually have halts that include the Capital of Alaska, Jeneau, Ketchikan, Sitka and occasionally Inian Islands.
However the ones like the “Seabourn”, take you through the internal, exceptionally picturesque one side passage through this wonderland. (You can select to travel either from Anchorage to Seward or Seward to Anchorage). With just 400-500 Guests in this relatively smaller liner, and with Guest to Crew ratio of 1:1, one can be certain of a pampered eleven day sojourn.
Alas, all good things come with a premium. Whereas the popular seven days cruise costs between US$ 2000-3000, depending upon the Category of Cabin you choose (Inside/Seaview/Balcony), liners like Seabourn charge anything between US$ 5500 to US$ 8500 varying upon cabin category and price prevailing at the time of Booking.
My choice for eleven days cruise depended primarily considering the fact that you don’t travel to Alaska many times in your life time. So make it special and elaborate in the first itself.
On reaching Vancouver, on the day your cruise is schedule to commence, you report at the port by 2 pm with a valid US Visa. The Custom, Immigration and Check-in procedures are similar to as when you board any International Flight.
With Check-in formalities complete, you proceed towards your Ten deck distinguished liner -“Seabourn Sojourn”. Through its third deck you enter this elegant centrally air-conditioned, well carpeted imposing craft from where you are respectfully escorted towards a remarkable hall for quick registration formalities. With your cabin keys in your hand you move towards the lift and then to your cabin on the 7th deck.
Open the door and you have before you a lavish 350 Sq Ft. self-contained stateroom. A comfortable bed, an attached bathroom, a Sofa Set, a small Dining table and an impressive balcony right in front. A complementary bottle of Champagne, some fresh fruits and few chocolates placed along with a striking blue Seabourn Jacket on the table broadens your smile. Moreover your checked in baggage has arrived and placed in your cabin even before you have moved in.
As you make yourself comfortable in this exciting environment, its 5 pm and suddenly you feel a soft jerk. Your ship has started to take off. You walk swiftly to the balcony to witness the Vancouver port leave behind you. Splitting the mighty Pacific this small monster begins its 11 day, 10 Stop journey towards ostensibly one of the most sought after place on this planet. Your excitement is easily palpable.
Exploring “Seabourn Sojourn” the gourmet within you discovers its three eateries: A restaurant for lunch & dinner on Deck 4; a semi-open Colonnade right at the end on deck 8 to eat, drink and enjoy the scene behind. A Patio, also on deck 8 with pool besides, serves snacks; and with open Bar opposite, the canapés (refreshments) could certainly turn more palatable. “The Grill by Thomas Keller” too on Deck 8 is the place reserved for dinner but only post reservation. The ship is also equipped with a spa and gym on deck 9. For enquires, expedition bookings etc. Seabourn staff sits at the Square located on Deck 7. Adjoining is a place for Coffee and snacks and an elegant Boutique. For avid Gamblers, you can peacefully gamble at the Casino situated on Deck 5.
After a day’s Sail, Sojourn’s approaches the city of Ketchikan, reputedly the most populated city of Alaska (8000 inhabitants). From the Balcony you see small colorful houses lined up along the coast. On the other side are multiple hills showing up from within the Ocean with charming white clouds romancing its peaks. The scene gets increasingly spectacular as speed boats move speedily from one place to another leaving a trail of white froth behind and Sea-Planes or Float-Planes speed over the surface of Ocean to take off and fly to unknown destinations.
There is no way you would leave this drama uncaptured in your DSLR.
A quick breakfast and as you plan to disembark the ship to visit the city, you are in for an unexpected pleasantly surprise. A stunning Bald Eagle is perched over the lamp-post right in front of the Ship. Was it giving us a National Welcome? Who knows… So now was the turn of the camera to do its job.
The clicks continued unstoppably till the majesty plausibly thought to itself, enough is enough and got airborne.
Ketchikan Island is 55 mile long and 32 mile broad and receives rainfall 300 days out 365 in a year. Fortunately that day was among the other 65. Dry and Sunny. I along with my Nikon D850, ventured on the happening “Front Street” adjoining the pier, lined up with copious
souvenir shops displaying alluring T Shirts and attractive Jewelry and of course the iconic sculpted rock just there.
After a good stroll, at 2.30 in the afternoon was the time for the expedition to “Rain Forest Tongass & Bear Sighting”. Braden takes the 20 of us on a 30 minute drive on his Bus till the gate from where two Young women guides, one of them by the name ‘Calra’ takes over.
Tongass Rain Forest
After saying “Gonesh Chesh Ho Ho” to Braden (meaning “Good Bye from my Heart” in local language), we enter this legendary forest. After a walk through a short trail, you reach a long wooden bridge build around 12 feet above the forest. On one side is a small river and on the other is green grass rich vegetation.
You get the first sight of Alaskan Black Bears as one emerges from within the grass to cross over towards the river. Then suddenly our attention was drawn towards a young bear perched on a branch of tall tree, ostensibly to remain obscure and protected from predators, ironically from within their own clan. The 200-500mm Lens does the trick with some memorable shots getting captured in the SD Card of the camera. As we move further, there are more bears seen meandering and also few Bald Eagles. Each one present is absolutely delighted.
Once back on the Ship after this enchanting albeit extraneous excursion, you take some rest before heading for some wine & dinner and go to bed. The ship slowly resumes its journey towards the next destination -“Misty Fjords”.
The Ship anchors itself at ‘Rudeyard Bay’ passing through a long narrow inlet of the Sea, between high Cliffs, formed by the submergence of the Glacial Valley, also called ‘Misty Fjords’.
The atmosphere outside is incredibly Misty as clouds seem to play and enjoy amalgamating with lofty hills and deep ocean. At 11, four Zodiacs (inflated boats fitted with motors), having capacity for 10-12 passengers in each, take off towards the Fjords.
Meandering between hills crowded with tall Sitka-Spruce, Western-Hemlock and Mountain-Hemlock trees, you come across white seagulls floating over calm azure waters, unperturbed, as rain drops fall and slip down their water repellant feather bodies.
The rains have incredibly beautified the entire landscape with water falling down from nearly every place possible from within the rocks. Passing near one such fall your excitement is ratcheted seeing two fully grown Sea Seals resting on the rock below (one white and other grey) who remained unmindful of us, the admiring humans around.
Regretfully the camera remained ensconced within the bag for fear of it getting wet as this hauntingly mesmerizing 90 minute trip ends. The Mobile Camera albeit came as a succor.
Back on the Ship, it lifts its anchors and slowly moves to the next destination – Wrangell but not before I having some especially ordered Butter Chicken and Rice that evening.
Part 2 and Part 3
The following parts of Journey will include Wrangell, Sitka, Tracy/Endicott Arm Fjords, Haines, Juneau, Inian Islands and finally to Icy Strait Point before reaching the final destination – Seward.